Edward Proves His Worth
It was supper time when Edward saw his chance.
There were trays of food to be taken upstairs, and Edward managed to get in with the tray brigade. They trudged single-file up the stairs in a cautious, but speedy, fashion.
Speed had to be sacrificed when they started up the second floor staircase, which was steeper, and whose steps were less wide. Once on the third floor, they filed into a room whose door had been left open for their ingress. It was the room opposite Zedda’s divination room.
The room they entered was an ordinary one, emptied of all but a long table and three chairs. They set the food trays down on the table in no particular order. Two girls, who carried nothing but silverware, dishes, and napkins, set these items in their proper places. Each diner would decide what to put on their plates, and extra plates were left so they would always have clean dishware every time they ate something different.
The beverage bearer did his job last.
With this done, the group (all of whom looked upon the food spread before them with undisguised longing) filed out of the room. Edward lingered, and was the last one out. When the group started their way downstairs, Edward backtracked, headed in the opposite direction, and turned the corner.
Just then, the door to Zedda’s room opened. Zedda stepped out, followed by Mr. Blessure. Edward wondered whether Callie would also step out; but she didn’t.
Edward held his breath and hoped neither of them would come his way. That would be bad. They seemed, however, to be headed to the dining room that had just been prepared for them. They tarried awhile, in the hall, speaking in the same strange language Edward had heard Blessure and Balooda speak earlier.
What they were saying was this:
Mr. Blessure: “May I ask again why you are apprenticing this girl? Granted she’s Conjuura material, yes; but may I remind you what happened to Uraja Jeuke when she taught it to you?”
“Uraja was an ancient, and weary of life, when I challenged her.” Zedda said, “That wisp of a girl is no threat to me, and I’ll have dealt with her well before she becomes one.”
“Perhaps you’re underestimating her. She did give you a nasty surprise when she reversed the link on you.”
“She merely caught me by surprise. I seriously doubt she has any more surprises left in her. After only a taste of despair, she is utterly enslaved by the hunger. I’ll let her have all she wants, and strengthen its hold over her. When the time is right, I’ll add her power to mine.”
“How will you know when the time is right?”
“There’s a reason why the Conjuura code forbids teaching the Malignium to someone that young: it tends to blow out their moral center. They become selfish, arrogant, and rash.”
Mr. Blessure raised an eyebrow. “Like you?” he asked.
Zedda ignored his jibe. “Sooner or later, she will consider herself strong enough to challenge me. A tragic decision as, unlike Uraja Jeuke, I am still a Conjuura in the plenitude of my powers.”
“Still…I’m not sure I like how training this girl has distracted you from your established routine.” Mr. Blessure said, sounding concerned, “You haven’t even consulted your Seer’s Basin once, since she’s arrived.”
“My omniscience is already a well-settled matter amongst the children. I need not constantly re-prove my ability to see what is hidden; their own fear keeps them docile. You worry too much, my old friend.”
The two continued chatting, but took their conversation into the dining room, closing the door behind them.
Edward wondered what they were talking about, and what language they were speaking in. Although he spoke only Thrist, he had heard a smattering of Yapul and Sardossian spoken; but this didn’t sound like either of those.
The sound of footsteps coming up the stairs broke his train of thought. Edward peeked around the corner and saw Balooda walk up the hall and turn into the dining room. He opened the door, and went in.
Edward went to the door Zedda and Blessure had emerged from; the door without a knob. He looked at the circular symbol drawn upon it and remembered that Balooda had traced the circle with his finger as he spoke the words that opened the door; words that Edward had made it his business to memorize.
Maqwa Tevvis Geffah...
“Crud.” Edward muttered under his breath.
What the shig was that last word? he thought, straining his memory, Something with a “J” sound…and an “M”… Jimmy? Jammy? Jammook… Jammuk… Ah! That was it! It was JAMMUK!
Edward traced the circular seal clockwise with his finger and whispered: “Maqwa Tevvis Geffah Jammuk.”
The door opened, and Edward stepped inside Zedda’s divination room.
Up ahead, on Zedda’s couch, Callie sat; her eyes closed. She seemed to be meditating, or concentrating very hard on something. She didn’t seem to notice his presence.
He walked up the center of the room intending to talk with her, but instead veered off to look at the tripod upon which there was an ornate jade basin, filled with eerie green glowing water. He remembered having seen it when they were brought in front of Zedda; but hadn’t, at the time, had the opportunity to check it out.
He went over to the basin, looked into it.
“Show me my future.” he whispered, half-kidding.
The water shimmered and swirled for a few seconds, grew dark, then returned to its regular glow. Edward slumped, disappointed.
Oh well, he thought, was worth a shot, though.
“What are you doing here?!” Callie’s voice pierced the silence.
Edward was so startled he bumped into the tripod, and knocked it onto only two of its feet. A slosh of glowing water went up in the air, as he stopped the tripod and its basin from falling over. A spillage of its mysterious liquid seemed inevitable, but to his astonishment, the liquid hung in the air. He reset the basin in its place, and watched as the water began to fall back into the basin in slow-motion; without even so much as a drop lost or splashed.
“What are you doing here, Edward?” Callie asked again.
“I suppose I could ask you that very question.”
“You’re not supposed to be here.”
“Neither are you.” Edward countered, “You’re supposed to be with us. Instead you are here. Why?”
“You wouldn’t understand.” Callie answered, “You should get out now, before Zedda finds you here.”
“I don’t think so.” Edward said, “Not until I get some answers.”
A thought then entered Callie’s head.
A terrible and un-Callie-like thought.
Before Zedda had left to go eat, she had given Callie some mental exercises to do while she was gone; promising her that before the day was done, she would get a chance to use the Malignium. The exercises were to strengthen and ready her mind for her coming exertions.
Callie felt ready right now, and even had a victim in sight.
“I’m sorry Edward,” she said, “Come on over here and we’ll figure things out, together.”
As she walked towards him, a hungry look passed over her face. Edward knew that look well; he had seen it on Zedda’s face before she had brain-drained him.
This was no longer the Callie he knew.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” Edward asked, feeling the familiar pangs of fear and loss enter his heart, “Get away from me!”
He turned and ran.
When he got to the door, it opened for him; and shut itself behind him.
Callie was left alone. The look of hunger on her face was now replaced with a look of confusion. The fear that was visible in Edward’s eyes (fear of her!) disturbed her greatly.
Gods, what was I thinking? she asked herself, but knew well the answer to that question.
Oh Edward…I’m so sorry…
She turned and walked towards the tripod and basin Edward had almost overturned. She looked at her reflection in the water.
“I’m losing myself.” she said to her reflection, “What am I becoming?”
The water shimmered, and then a face appeared in the water.
It was Zedda’s face, or so she thought at first. Then, the truth of it hit her harder and cut her deeper than her father ever had.
It was her.
Rather, an older version of her, with a forehead splotch identical to Zedda’s. It was her as she would be, years down the road, if she let things continue as they were.
“No! Please no!” she cried, and clapped her hands to her eyes to blot out the vision.
But the obscene hunger inside of her also spoke.
Oh yes! It said, And when the time comes, you won’t be strong enough to resist me!
Leaving behind, for the moment, the depressing conundrum of Callie’s upsetting behavior, Edward decided to risk checking out another room. He went to the end of the hall and turned the corner. Doors to rooms were arrayed before him; all of which looked alike, except one.
At the end of the hall was a knobless door painted in a manner identical to the one on Zedda's divination room.
He went over to it, traced the seal on the door with his finger, and said: “Maqwa Tevvis Geffah Jammuk.”
The door opened, and he entered.
He immediately realized that this had to be Zedda’s private room.
There was a lush, four-poster bed on one side of the room, an antique rocking chair next to the window, and a large roll-top desk.
On one wall, there hung a painting of a dark forest. Edward wondered if there was a safe behind it, like in the movies, and tried to move the painting. It swung open, like a door. Behind were shelves, built into the wall like a medicine chest. On the shelves were clear crystal eggs, on little stands; with things encased inside of them.
Some of these were stones with symbols drawn on them, odd geometric shapes, tiny scraps of paper with runic designs, and some even had colorful gems inside.
Two in particular caught his eye. One had a tiny version of the Sarrgoset Hotel in it; the other had a tiny scale model of the town of Murgent itself.
Edward decided to take one of these eggs for closer inspection later. He chose one, closed the picture door, and departed the room.
He turned the corner and ran right into Egann.
“There you are!” Egann whispered in an angry voice, “Alixa told me you didn’t return from the tray brigade. What do you think you’re doing?! Do you want to get us all in trouble?!”
Egann didn’t wait for an answer. He tightened his grip on Edward’s shoulder, and led him back down the stairs. Once they were on the second floor, Egann breathed easier, and released Edward from his deathgrip.
“What were you trying to do?” Egann asked again, “Get yourself torn to shreds? Trust me, it’s rather unpleasant.”
“I was information gathering.” Edward replied.
“Well...did you gather anything useful?”
“Not really.” Edward said, thinking it best to keep his stolen trinket a secret for now, until he could study it in private.
Egann sighed. “Edward, I used to think like you do, a lot of us did. We thought we could think our way to a solution. We plotted and planned, to no avail. Nothing has worked; Zedda is as protected by her magic as by Blessure and Balooda. She can’t be killed; not by the likes of us, anyway. We just have to deal with the fact that while she’s alive, we’re stuck here; and she’s gonna stay alive for a long time.”
“But if we could find a way to negate her magic…” Edward said.
“You’re forgetting one thing,” Egann said, “Zedda’s magic keeps us alive---all of us who have died at the hands of Balooda or Blessure. This includes your friend Mike, remember? If Zedda dies, so do we; and if we go, he goes too.”
Edward had to admit he hadn’t thought of that.
Their situation now seemed even more insurmountable than it had before.