I took in a sharp breath, so cool it was almost painful. The world was still blurry, but I could see that I was lying on a wooden floor, looking up at brick walls and some strange sort of decorative item. My lungs adjusted to the cold air, slowly getting back to their usual function. The pain in my chest slowly subsided, only to be replaced with a much worse pain. The blistered tissue on my palms came alive, as powerful as if they were still burning. A cry died in my throat, but someone still heard. Hands came rushing to touch me gently, to help me up. Nadir’s face came into view.
He said something that I couldn’t understand, in an angry language, then he looked back at me.
“Are you hurt?” he asked.
“My hands…” I managed to say, reflexively closing them and screaming in pain when blisters met blisters.
His head spun around and he started spouting angry nonsense at someone again, before returning to me. He moved his hand in a simple spell, and cool air washed over me. It made the pain a little more bearable. More nonsense, this time from someone else, directed at him. As the pain lessened a little, I started realising that the nonsense wasn’t so nonsensical at all, but Arabic. And I was right. It was Amin Karimi.
For a few confused seconds, the only thing that registered was that they had both made it through the course before me. Then I realised that this wasn’t the right place. Actually, I had no idea where this was. It was a large room, a basement I thought, and the walls were familiar. I had been tearing at a wall that looked just like it a moment before, while I was dying in a fire. With Nadir’s hands as support I sat up and saw that it was the same room. At the other end of the room, the fire was still burning. I flinched and scrambled away from it and Nadir had to hold me to keep me from making my hands even worse.
“It’s okay,” he said quickly. “Genevieve you’re safe. It won’t hurt you.”
“What the h-.” I broke into another fit of coughs, and he had to hold me still. “Why? Who…?”
“It’s… a long story,” Nadir said.
I followed his gaze to Amin, whose arms were crossed. My breathing calmed enough that I could really take the two of them in. Both men were dishevelled and sweaty with bruised faces, as though one of their fights had turned physical.
When I let my eyes wander around the room, my eyes fell on the one other thing present – that strange piece of furniture, a glass orb in a stand. On closer inspection, a small item floated inside. If I wasn’t mistaken, it was some kind of permanent spell, tied to an item. You use infused items to keep a spell going longer, but this one made no sense at a first glance. That wasn’t the most important thing, though.
“Tell me what’s going on” I said with a cough, but neither answered. “Where are we? What happened to the obstacle course?”
“This is the manor basement,” Nadir said. “You and I were redirected from the course.”
I’d been in the manor basement, I told him, and this wasn’t it. This room didn’t even have a door.
“This is another part of the basement. You can only get in here via a teleportation anchor. That one.” He pointed to the orb. “So you can only get in here if you know where it is.”
“And it’s also a permanent spell,” I said.
“Yes, the item inside. We think it’s a spell that holds the spirit of a ghost.”
I looked at Nadir, as confused as if he’d just sprouted two heads. My head was still spinning, and by now a headache had started at my temples. There were too many things wrong with that, and I couldn’t get a grasp on it.
“Do you mean Orion? Holds the… but that’s not how ghosts work. You can’t… trap a spirit.”
“That spell brought his spirit back,” Amin spat.
I shook my head. “Don’t be stupid. That’s impossible.”
“There’s a fragment from the… the Ink Volumes that talks of it,” Nadir said softly.
“Not you, too.” I coughed. “They’re a myth. They don’t exist and the fragments were made by fraudsters and artists.”
“And how do you explain the eternal fire,” Amin said. “The fire that almost killed you. Is that a myth as well?”
Eternal fire. It was a myth, actually, a stupid myth that told of a fire that ate up magic power and could only be removed by – who else – Wymond Ink, author of the bloody Ink Volumes. Or by someone who knew the right spell. I didn’t look over at the fire. Even thinking about it made me break out in a cold sweat, and if I did it now I thought I’d pass out again. Anyway, the fire’s origin wasn’t important. I stared stubbornly at Amin:
“You made that? Why?”
“A persuasion strategy.” It was Nadir that spoke, with a snort. “He wanted me to help him again, and when I said no, he decided to kill you.”
“I wasn’t going to kill her!” Amin said. “It’s not my damn fault if she kept casting spells.”
“Yes, because the six times champion of moonlight is just going to sit down and wait to be rescued,” Nadir growled. “You idiot. If you-”
Amin replied in angry Arabic, and they started going back and forth, speaking harsh words that I didn’t understand. My head throbbed painfully, and I screamed at them to shut up. I instantly regretted it, as Nadir had to hold me steady until I’d finished nearly coughing up my lungs.
“What do you mean help?” I asked when I could talk again, though my voice was feeble. “Help with what?”
I saw both of their gazes turning to the orb.
Nadir sighed and said:
“We came here looking for that. At the beginning, I helped him with…”
He didn’t even have to say anything.
The impossible break-in. With everything else, I had pushed that out of my mind and ignored that I only knew one person who could have pulled it off.
“The ice woman,” I said. “It wasn’t a break-in at all – you transformed her and ordered her to search the house…” Like Celeste had said.
Nadir’s shoulders slumped. “I’m sorry.”
On top of everything, on top of the blisters, the sore throat, and the trembling in my body, tears formed in my eyes “Why would you do that?”
“I was going to tell…”
“Shut up,” Amin said. He was standing by the orb, looking on it with a strange madness in his eyes. “You two better start looking at that spell before I spread the fire.”
Almost without thinking, I readied a spell, but as soon as the electricity touched my palms, it sent jolts of pain through my burnt palms and I screamed. Nadir immediately cast a spell to cool the skin.
“Just let her out of here,” he said.
“When you tell me how to cast the spell,” Amin growled.
I took a better look at the orb, and now I could see that the object inside was a small jewellery box. A string of pearls was hanging out, frozen in time. There was no doubt in my mind that the box was the spell, not the orb around it. The orb was just meant to contain it and work as an anchor for entry to the room.
“Get the box,” I told Nadir.
While Amin watched us, palms ready with a fire spell, Nadir did as I said. He sat down next to me with the box in hands and let me carefully move it around with an unburnt fingertip.
“Right, so this is the stupid mythical spell that made you commit a crime,” I muttered under my breath.
Nadir lowered his head and spoke so quietly that only I heard. “Genevieve, I’m sorry. I wanted to tell-.”
“Did he make you do it?” I whispered back, searching his eyes for an answer.
After a few seconds, he shook his head and said: “Not at first, no. I’m really-.”
I brushed him off. “There’s no time for that.”
All I wanted was to get out of this basement. My body still shook, and the fire crackled insistently, as if it wanted to remind me that any time, it could come for me…
I steeled myself, angrily wiped the tears from my eyes and focused on the spell. The second impossible spell I had seen today, if this was truly a ghost spell. And Amin wanted us to reverse engineer it without any aids.
Reverse engineering spells wasn’t as easy as a potion. Every potion ingredient had a unique effect, and it was a matter of isolating each effect and the conflicts and combinations. But spells were based on energy created from movements, and the easiest thing was to reverse engineer it as it was being cast.
Doing it when an object had been infused like this one was a whole other matter. It was sort of doable. There were things about objects with a permanent spell that could tell you what kind of effect it was. But it was never with a hundred percent certainty. A sheen on an object could mean it was fireproof but could also just be a regular infusion. Faint little lines could mean it was a travel anchor, but sometimes they showed up for transformations as well… and so on. Newer literature even cast doubt on whether it was possible to reverse engineer spells at all. It was part guesswork, part luck at the best of times. But why not use a scientifically dubious method to chase a myth.
I eyed the box closer.
“We’ll have to open it,” I said. “But without breaking the spell on it, so carefully.”
“I don’t care what you need to do – just find out how to do the spell or I’m going to burn-,” Amin said.
“Yes, we heard you the first time,” I replied.
I grasped the lid of the box with my fingertips, but I didn’t have enough strength, so I let Nadir open it. He took a hold of it carefully and pried the lid open. He managed it without breaking the spell. Not, however, without yelping in pain.
“Careful,” I said, steadying him as well as I could without using my hands. Then he mouthed: Alarm.
I nodded. If I wasn’t mistaken, the person who cast the spell had felt that as well. Pretending like nothing had happened, we started rummaging around the jewellery box. The string of pearls hanging out of it stayed where they were, stiff in the air.
“They’re a little glossy,” I said, pointing at the pearls. “If we’re running with the stupid ghost spell theory, that could be an energy infusion.”
Or any number of other spells, but I kept that to myself. Nadir nodded and ran his fingers over the surface of the pearls. He pointed out that they seemed to be of a very faint purple nuance, as did all the other things in the box.
“An energy lock,” he said.
“Are you sure?”
“The purple nuance is almost always energy locks. It’s how my statues look when you come very close.”
I pushed aside the disappointment at not having known that, and mentally noted that I should research energy locks. If I survived. Then I rummaged through the box some more. Even without visual cues, a faint humming in it told me that it was infused with energy and a lot of it. Nadir suggested a few other effects that might be in there, but we both stopped talking when I pushed a few rings aside, and the bottom of the box was pitch black.
He ran a finger along the bottom and it came back covered in soot. I dropped it from my lap.
“Who cast that spell?” I asked of Amin, who was pacing.
“Just tell me how to cast it or I’ll let the manor-”
Nadir interrupted. “Do you know what it does?”
“It brings a ghost back. Now tell me how-”
I interrupted him: “No, it kills you. Then it turns you into a ghost.”
Amin’s jaw fell. Maybe it was my imagination, but he looked disappointed.
“You heard her,” Nadir hissed.
“What?” Amin repeated. “It’s not a killing spell. It’s… it’s a resurrection spell.”
I shook my head. “The bottom of the box is covered in soot. You only get that effect with a killing spell. Who is it you want to kill?”
“I-I don’t… no. That’s all wrong. They used it to bring him back. Back from the dead as a ghost.”
“Not with that spell.” Nadir said.
The implications of this spell on this place, dawned on me and I saw my horror mirrored in Amin’s face. If Orion really wasn’t a natural ghost, then somebody killed him. Even if this wasn’t a ghost spell, there was no doubt that it had been used to kill somebody. When they tried finding out if murders were magical, they always looked for soot in the body. I felt cold despite the roaring fire nearby.
Amin looked at the box. “There has to be another spell. The fragment… this is the wrong spell.”
Nadir walked over to him and said:
“I think it’s time to put out the fire.”
For a split second, I thought it was all over. Amin nodded and his face was resigned when he looked up. But just as Nadir let down his guard to stand up, I saw a gleam. I shouted for him to be careful, but in the next instant he was thrown back by a fireball.
He wasn’t down long. He sprang to his feet and fired at Amin, while I scrambled back. I tried to prepare my own spell, but just like before, my palms hurt too bad. All I could do was watch.
I had been wrong about Amin; he really was as good a duellist as Nadir. As good as myself, at least now when he wasn’t bound by rules. He threw spells that wouldn’t fly in a contest, and Amin knew spells that I had never thought of myself, because they were illegal moves in a contest. Electricity, fire, and winds – almost storms, blew around us. I had to roll out of the way when a long tendril of electricity, much like the ones I used myself, zapped the ground right next to me. Then another. I yelped in surprise when a third one came at me. It was Amin, but I realised too late that it wasn’t just bad aim.
Nadir had stopped, mid-stance, to see if I was okay, and in that instant, Amin took him out. He sent a gale of wind at him so strong that it knocked him into a wall. At this distance, I still heard the sound when his skull connected with the wall.
The wind died down, and Amin walked over to Nadir. I sprang up and ran towards them, but Amin held a hand out and showed me how fire danced in his palm.
“Stop right there, champion.”
“You got your spell,” I said. “Just… just put out the fire and let me help him.”
Nadir didn’t open his eyes. I mentally willed him to open his eyes, but he didn’t move a muscle.
“This isn’t the right spell.” Amin lifted his hand. “I’m sorry, but I have to find the right spell. I can’t let you tell anyone.”
I stepped back, moving my hands to cast a ward. Halfway through the movement, the pain was so bad that I almost blacked out. I had to make a jerk with my elbow to complete a flimsy ward, that only just managed to block the fireball, and Amin threw another right away. Then another. I deflected with half-finished shields and pathetic gusts of wind while he drove me back and back… And suddenly there was a tell-tale heat on my back. Flames danced out of the corner of my eye, a strange magical fire that fed off magic power and was now drawn to the fireball in his hand.
Amin threw it at me. My hands couldn’t suffer another ward, and my arms were sluggish from stupid, exaggerated movements that didn’t help much. I did the only thing I could and ducked. And just as I did, I felt a strong pull on my body. Like somebody was trying to yank me away. It was exactly what had happened.
As though there was an invisible rope around my waist, I was pulled away from the fire and Amin and his spell. My head emptied and when I felt solid ground again, there was a strong hand that grabbed me by the arm and pushed me to the ground.
“Stay down,” Celeste said.
She had summoned me to the other end of the room, and she stood before me like a wall. Her blonde hair had come loose, and her eyes burnt as brightly as Amin’s eternal flames.
“The fire,” I said. “You have to make him put it out.”
She stared oddly at me, but at my pleading look, she nodded and turned to Amin.
“Mr. Karimi, put out the fire.”
I could have told her he wouldn’t. He sent another spell at her, but Celeste blocked it with ease and returned one of her own.
She was scary. There was no other way to describe it. Nothing distracted her like Nadir, and she didn’t bother with stances or theories. I’d never seen anyone in a contest move the way she did. Her movements were fluid, adapting to each blow he sent her way; she knew what he was going to do before he even finished a spell. It went back and forth and back again, and even though he was good, her mind worked too quickly for him. Before she hit him, I could tell he was growing tired. And then she made the final blow. He flew, directed away from the flames by her force, and scraped over the floor before hitting the wall.
Celeste didn’t lower her hands right away. She stayed back and observed to make sure he was out, and finally she walked over there and pulled him up by the collar.
“Put the damn fire out, Karimi,” she snarled. She dragged him over there.
She stood by and watched while he did his spell. I couldn’t look on. As much as I would like to know how to dispel the fire, I couldn’t breathe right when I looked at it.
Instead, I went to Nadir, who still lay there. This close, at least I could tell he was breathing. My eyes welled with tears again. That was how Celeste found us. There were only burnt floorboards left where the fire had been and Amin who was lying cuffed nearby. The basement was darker and colder now, only lit by the faint red light of the orb.
“Can you walk out of here?” Celeste asked, kneeling next to me.
I nodded mutely and looked at Nadir. She put a hand on my shoulder.
“We’ll take care of him. Hear that?” She motioned to the orb where just then a group of people appeared. “The cavalry is here. Let’s get you to your room, okay?”
She pulled me to my feet and I took one last look at the impossible spell, the small wooden box, before Celeste’s teleportation spell flung us out of the basement room.
Feeling lost? If you’ve forgotten previous chapters and need a recap you can find my recap page here. Be aware that it contains spoilers for the story.
Author’s note: Hi guys and welcome back to the last but two chapters of Champion of Moonlight. It’s out a bit late today (compared to usual) because I’ve been otherwise engaged (and too lazy to do the photos until this morning… oops). It’s a long one and kind of wordy. There are homemade poses in here too, that I might put up for download soon, but for now I’m really tired and achy (turns out doing yoga five days a week will do that!) and I just want to lean back and relax. I’ve been too busy to catch up to all the awesome updates and as tempted as I am, I don’t think I’ll be able to read them until tomorrow. I think sleep is in my near future 🙂
Anyway, one of my favourite things about this chapter is the fact that Celeste got to be a bad ass at last. My boyfriend has become quite a fan of hers and he lamented that she didn’t get to kick ass during the duels, but I promised him she’d get her chance and now here she is 🙂 Everyone else got to have their asses handed to them by someone, so I’d say she came out on top 😀
As usual, thanks a ton for reading if you’ve made it this far and I’ll see you for the next one! Until then – cheers!