Calamity Isis Mae Sensibility, Gina Wright & Panos Lambros
“You could be an actor Panos, you know that?” Gina commented, once they had left the guards some distance behind. She had hoped that a little praise and the chance to take back some control of his situation would have raised the young man’s mood, but she was disappointed. Together the teenagers had managed to leave the room but Panos would not keep any eye on Gina. Calamity sighed in the hammock.
The rest of their journey was coldly silent, and the castle around them seemed to match the heavy atmosphere. The frosted windows were half covered by snow, and the bare stone corridors were chilly enough to raise goosebumps on Gina’s arms even through her heavy gown. The flour trail eventually led them to a tower with a winding set of mason steps.
“Careful.” Gina said as Panos began to shuffle backwards up the steps, tilting the stretcher, but again frosty silence and averted eyes were her only answers. By the time they had navigated their way to the top, Gina’s arms were burning from taking the brunt of the stretcher’s weight. Panos kicked the heavy wooden door open with his heel, and Gina saw a room hung with blue Sauver tapestries, embroidered with swirling red blood-trails. The marchioness’ pierced claw sigil was painted across the window’s closed shutters, dripping red. It was not a room Gina would have chosen to sleep in, but a bed dominated the floor. A large wardrobe against one wall was the only concession to furniture.
“Let’s put her on the bed.” Gina suggested. Once Cal and the halberd stretcher were resting safely on the pelts, Gina ran back to the door and heaved it shut, slamming the bolt into place. She sighed and started to flex the pain out of her aching fingers.
“Okay Cal.” she said quietly, returning to the bed. “We’re here.”
While Panos stuck close to Cal’s bedside, Gina teased Melvin’s tarot card out of her sleeve. One tap to alert, two taps to relay communication, three taps to close channel. Remembering what the robot boy had shown her, she gave the image of the High Priestess an experimental prod.
Calamity, now with open eyes, let her body sink on the bed. Curiously she looked over to Gina, while holding Panos' hand. The royal male, not used to physical work, collapsed on the bed as well, waning his hastened breath.
"We have to fix my mistake." the marchioness told Gina, giving some direction to new conversation.
“We will.” Gina affirmed. She was less confident than she made herself sound, but she could feel the beginnings of optimism stirring inside her as she worked through the events. “You sent the foreign advisor off to make peace. We made the king see sense. We’ll find the Drac. Once you can walk again, we can start waking people up, and they’ll see. We’ll get the unexpected change that the Note Writer wanted...I mean, what else is there to do?”
She looked down as the picture on the card in her hand dissolved and reformed. Gina saw the rather disarming appearance of the young boy who accompanied the actor impersonator - yet still with the same detached stoicism he walked around with. Gina took it to mean that Melvin was listening, and able to talk. As her card reverted back to the High Priestess, she tapped it twice more and held it up to her mouth, balancing it on her palm.
She wondered what it said about things, that talking to a mute robot on a magical iPhone was still only the third or fourth craziest thing that had happened to her today.
“Melvin.” she whispered into the disguised Tarot card. “We made it back to Cal’s room. So far there’s no sign of the Drac anywhere.”
The image shifted again, this time to a green check mark as if to acknowledge her statement. Gina moved to the bed and sat down next to Cal and Panos, holding the card so that it could pick up their quiet conversation.
“For now...I guess we have to wait a bit.”
Though taken along for the interdimensional journey, Panos was behind on fundamental understandings of how the symbols on his arms functioned in their quest. That irritation, among the other negative feelings festering inside, turned to a stare set on Gina and Calamity, back and forth.
"What are we doing with Uranus' symbol? If it has anything to do with the king's death it should be done." the teenager insisted again against King Kinglos.
"The symbols give us clues on what we should do." Calamity replied with some tiredness within her voice, but she took a moment longer to think about Gina's hint, unexpected change. "If we don't want the council, and the king cannot do what I've made him…"
Gina rested her lips on her clasped hands for a moment, thoughtful. “You don’t think he can?”
"I...could take more leadership."
Gina looked at her friend and realised that it was true. Quite apart from her magic, Cal was born for this kind of thing. She had been showing it more and more over the recent days. She had a different kind of strength from the brutal Sauver marchioness she was impersonating, but as far as Gina was concerned that was a good thing. And now she had the marchioness’ army and the marchioness’ street cred to work with.
“You could.” she agreed. “The king seems willing to listen to us now, and he’d do better with you advising him than Hedspeth and Avery.” She smiled slightly. “Like the old joke, do you want to speak to the man in charge or the woman who knows what’s going on.”
She glanced at Panos, and sensed the unspoken question hanging in the air. And if the king still needs to go?
Gina pursed her lips. There were still doubts about the king’s strength, to be sure; even if she had no doubts about Cal’s. But then she thought of Editha’s half-baked plan for a coup, and of vengeful armies screaming down into Greywall as everything spiralled out of control.
“We’d have to be careful, though.” she reasoned aloud. “Hedspeth and Avery might be out the way, and I don’t think that Charlie bloke means any harm, but there’s still the military advisor...Theodore Dutt. The council were trying to get him and his army onside too. I spoke to his daughter though, and he doesn’t sound much like the plotting type.”
She looked down at the card.
“Melvin, you and Jeon saw the council. If the king gets better and the people go back and spread the word, would they let Hedspeth call off the plan? Do they want what’s best for the kingdom or do they just want to rule?”
The Probe sighed someplace in N-Space, then sent the image back of several crowns sitting in a crimson pool. After a few seconds of that, it then sent a picture of Jeon lying on the ground, stabbed with a dozen blades in his back while a healthy king stepped over him.
Gina bit her tongue, hoping that she understood. More than one leader would be chaos...but if the king didn’t die, the councilmen might hold Jeon responsible.
Calamity nor Panos saw the foreboding card, thus Panos shifted on the bed to Calamity's direction.
"This is a debacle, it would be stupid to try taking more power. It'd be social suicide." Panos was scolding her, but still he kept close. Calamity's stomach twisted inside; was this what her mother felt? It was disgusting that, for a brief moment, her own mind humanized her mother's tactics. I left him alive, and now it turned into something out of my control. Was my mother bloodthirsty or just doing what she must to remove complications?
But her mother was outright cruel, that wasn't effective leadership. "It's not over yet, and now we know the intentions the king has because I made them." For a moment the teenager paused, unnerved by such power, "When he's sober he will do the best he can." she reassured them all, including herself. Closing her eyes, a sigh filled the room.
Panos conceded, "Better him than you..."
The image on Gina’s card shifted to a question-mark.
“Cal used her power on the king.” Gina explained to the robot on the other end of the line, and laid the card in her lap so that Cal and Panos could see it. “So he’s gonna be sober from now on and do what’s best for his people.”
It was still an uncomfortable thing to say out loud.
“Course, if he’s gonna have a chance he needs to stay alive, which is why we need to keep Hedspeth and O’doln the hell away from him. And why we need to find the Drac.”
She bit the inside of her cheek again, thinking.
“What if…?” She looked up at Cal and Panos. “The people came here ’cause O’doln promised them they’d see the king taking action. Once Cal’s up and about again, we can start waking them up - what if we let them go back and start spreading the news that the king did something right for once. Let the council hear that, then convince advisor Dutt that it’s no longer the time for a coup. They went to him and Cal because they didn’t dare move until they got both of them onside - they wouldn’t dare if you went back to supporting the king, right? Not if the folk in the street were starting to shift opinion too. They couldn’t blame Jeon for that.”
"The king solving Calamity's mistake isn't going to be enough." Panos said with clear cut cynicism. "They want power and the people are selfish. He should do more than capture the prisoner." Laying down, the Grecian royalty locked focus onto the ceiling, "If he executes him and declares war, history shows it the stupid will rally and cheer his name."
"Panos." Calamity held his hand supportively, even when she felt she wanted to cry and be held in her crippled state, "He won't do that. He will do what is best, and that kind of politics isn't for the people: it would be for self interest."
But it wasn't like the person whose role she jumped into wouldn't have supported further open war with the Draconains. The hated sentiment among the masses, at least here, was present. She glanced to Gina, wanting to hesitate about executing someone - their hands already bloody.
“I can see him wanting the Drac dead.” Gina admitted, unhappily. She couldn’t bring herself to knowingly cause another death either. If Cal’s men even manage to take him alive in the first place, that is.
Cal hesitated. “There were other Draconian...bodies, in the torture chamber. We could use a decoy…”
Gina shivered. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
She rested her lips against her fist, turning her thoughts to the less grisly half of the problem.
“The witnesses too. We can wake them up one by one, so it’ll be easy enough to gauge their reactions. Play it by ear, y’know? If we have to talk tough about Avery’s mission being to put the elves in their place and that Cal’s going to crush any Dracs that come near Whitebar then fair enough. It’ll satisfy the folk who are angry without actually having to do something suicidal.”
Cal clearly wanted to believe her. "If he listens to the people and helps them, it will sway them." But what if the people wanted war? Then what?
Gina could see the doubt in her friend’s face. Even though she did not want to believe Panos’ more misanthropic take on the situation, she couldn’t help thinking of the bloody frescoes plastered all over the Dutt mansion, proclaiming the human kingdom’s victories over all the bestial other races. Hello, ‘War on Terror’...
“I mean…” she began, almost trying to convince herself now. “How would we even go to war with the Dracs anyway? I don’t know anything about them apart from Avery saying that it’d be a really bad idea, and she can’t be the only one. Where even are the Dracs? Do they have a kingdom too or what?”
"Kashar, is the name." Panos remembered from the mocking, annoying Commander of the Guard.
Calamity closed her eyes, wanting to sleep. The two royals now laid side by side on the bed, the prince looking more peaceful than Gina had seen as he was attempting to gain some rest. Gina could feel herself with some systemic exhaustion after all the shock she has endured, along with the fall, and the magical manipulation of her mind through unpracticed magic.
"My...her duty," Cal gestured to herself to indicate the young girl she had taken place of, "Was to hold Kashar back from raiding the empire."
"The Draconian's actions are an act of war." Panos told the girls, "If you do not claim to your people you support some sort of counter attack, you'll be seen as weak." His father was always the bombastic and powerful politician - now he got to act out his influence. It was a highly disliked revelation.
Gina shook her head, ginger hair bouncing around her shoulders. “Avery said attacking the Dracs would bring their whole race down on us, and that we wouldn’t be able to win. I don’t think she was lying either, ‘cause she was worried her home would cop it first.”
The tarot card in Gina's hand beeped. The picture on it changed to tiny figures of the king (with tiny crown) and the councillors who wanted the king dead facing a smaller army of the Drac.
The figures of the councillors clustered behind the king, producing their own swords to face off the Dracs.
The Probe hoped its message was clear. Present a threat that threatened all and put the king and the councilors in front of it. Either they united and stand as one - or they perish, ending the problem.
“All well and good.” Gina said, slumping her chin onto her hands. “Except we don’t have a Drac raiding party on hand.”
Among them a soft breathing began to cycle and the ladies realized Panos had worn himself and fallen asleep. Gina had never seen the pale prince look as peaceful and easy to lay eyes on as this moment. But alas he was a sleeping tiger, sleeping through the girls' conversation, but verbal claws glistened with each subtle shift of his lips during slumber.
Calamity, glanced to her now presumed husband but kept conversation with Gina - trying her best to keep up and be of use as she had been. The most mundane mortal among the three could witness the heavy-eyelid princess clenching her teeth intermittently to think with depth.
"I could make an army. When...I am well enough to have my legs again I could make everyone believe an army had come. They would believe King Kinglos and the Council worked together!" Her burst of voice excited her, then rapidly startled her when she stared at Panos. Luckily the prince didn't move. "If they think about it the memory would be real to them." She said it confidently, but she was still guessing the full extent of her power. Her wayward or disconnected parents never helped anyone.
Gina twisted her hands in her lap. “Maybe,” she allowed, “But that would be a big bit of magic...I don’t want you getting hurt again...”
Gina glanced down at the sleeping Panos, and then back at her equally weary companion.
“Listen, why don’t you sleep for a bit? I’ll keep an eye out. If they don’t find the Drac in the next hour or so they’re probably not gonna, and we can see about a decoy. If that’s not enough to satisfy everyone when we wake them up, then you and the king can talk tough about killing Dracs - and once they’re back in the city who are they to say you didn’t whack a whole load of them somewhere out in the mountains?”
She leaned over to squeeze Cal’s hands between her own.
“When you’re up and about again we can see what we need to do. Can you feel anything yet?”
She looked down worriedly at Cal’s feet.
The Probe also known as Melvin felt itself relax a fraction of a percent point. The Humans could do it, masquerade a Drac army. Still, it wouldn't hurt to prep something, just in case.
Calamity leaned her head back, almost falling asleep if she had not jerked her heavy head side to side. Biting her lip, Calamity nodded to Gina's question. "Something, yes..." the teenage girl clearly didn't want to elaborate on her crippled condition. Maybe if she rested long enough, she would wake up well.
However, glancing at Panos who was in no threat of waking up, this was her only time to tell Gina. The most mundane of the three teens could see Calamity's face grimace, her fingers curl tighter around Panos'. "I'm sorry he's been...how he is...I have to tell you...something happened to him while he was with..." The other dead traveler, "Vahsi."
“Oh…” Gina’s thumbnail went between her teeth at the unexpected revelation. “I knew there was something up with him, but...is he okay?”
The question was automatic, but a glance down at the sleeping prince all but answered it for her. She thought back to Vahsi, so abruptly taken from them after storming away from the group on Valkure. She had never truly gotten the chance to know him, because he had never let any of them see beneath his prickly exterior. He was a killer though - she knew that much.
Me killing apparently shocked the hell out of him.
Panos seemed to attract killers, Gina thought somberly. His first husband...emperor Lycas...Vahsi…
You’re a killer too, Gina. Hiss. Shriek. Bang. Gina realised she had crushed a handful of the bed pelts in her fist, and uncurled her fingers with an effort.
Vahsi was gone. The protection he had offered Panos was gone. But other things could linger.
“What happened?” she asked Cal, barely above a murmur for fear of waking the prince.
Melvin frowned ever so slightly. Who was this Vashi? The two girls talked over the sleeping prince. Calamity's voice hitched under breath, she even stammered, but she managed her wits and explained, "He was brutally attacked by a man...he was..." She couldn't continue, using her eyes as the cryptic, yet tragic messenger as they moved down to Panos' hips to deliver the impression on what sort of attack it had been.
“Oh…” Gina said again, more faintly. Her hands went to her mouth, while the anxiety in her chest drained away, dragged down by the sinking feeling in her stomach. Helpless empathy for both Panos and Cal flooded in to replace it.
“I can’t even imagine.” she whispered through her fingers. She couldn’t, and it wasn’t a good feeling for someone who usually fancied herself good at intuiting other people. The worst she and her friends had ever had to deal with were overly-handsy schoolboys running up and slapping their arses. Not the same at all.
“I…” she hesitated. “I promise I won’t say anything. I know he doesn’t trust me the same way he trusts you...but is there anything I can do? Anything at all?”
Melvin's lower lip became firmer. What were they taking about? Calamity brought Panos' held hand near her chest, seeing their imposed wedding rings shining side-by-side. Looking at him a last time she closed her eyes.
"Forgive him for his behaviour." What else was there to do? "If you make the same promise I did, things might change. Promise..." Calamity yawned, "To not leave him."
It was the best advice she had to offer. Panos was intelligent, and Cal knew if they could recruit it and not have it turned against Gina all the time, more could be done.
Gina nodded quietly. “Alright.” She looked down at Panos, then squeezed Cal’s hand. “Get some sleep. I’ll keep an eye out.”
Gina was left alone as Calamity fell into exhausted sleep. She now could see the two remaining companions about her age, both beaten in their own ways by the perilous multiversal journey finally resting. Gina pulled the fur blankets up round both of them and pushed herself off the bed, the Tarot card hanging absently from her hand.
Beyond the locked door, everything seemed silent. Gina padded quietly to the window, rubbing away the ache around her eye sockets with the heel of her hand, and unlatched the shutters. Behind the painted wood, snow lay like fat white caterpillars across the bottom of the glass, and the castle and its surroundings stretched away below under a cloak of white. Gina folded her arms over the sill, rested her chin on them, and let her thoughts drift along with the snowflakes.