Author Topic: Chapter 8  (Read 7934 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 8
« on: November 21, 2022, 12:48:46 AM »
It happened late that night, and it happened without warning. Tupper, having recovered from the horrific sight and sound of the slaughter, was carrying a clay pot of water over to the side of his bed in the servant’s quarters adjoined to Brinks’ room. He was always thirsty at night, and wanted to be prepared. Then the pot had fallen from his grip, shattering on the floor. His hands were shaking and his chest heaving. Worst of all was his mind! The words were back!

Find and serve.

He crumpled down on the ground, whimpering in pain and fear, as all of those old feelings came flooding back into him. The days, wandering the streets of London, hiding from Muggles and seeking out wizards. The nausea, so different from the experience he’d had earlier today, which never completely vanished until he was in active service to a wizarding master. The pain as he punished himself each time he failed his master, or even contradicted him! It was all back, and it was worse than he’d ever known before!

The door rattled, and then burst open. “Tupper?” Brinks said anxiously. “Are you ok? I heard you cry out, and then heard…” Tupper couldn’t see him from his position on the floor, but he must have called out earlier, and Tupper hadn’t heard him. All he’d heard was the words, and he heard them still.

“No, no, we’re fine,” Brinks was saying to someone out in the hall. “My servant’s just had a fall, that’s all. No need to tell anyone. Off you go!” That was followed by a door closing firmly and locking.

Find and serve.

Tupper couldn’t think, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t even fathom the horror of it all. Brinks wasn’t letting him be, though. “What’s going on? Are you sick? Did you eat something bad? Something worse, I mean,” he added, as their food was literally medieval.

“The words,” Tupper whimpered, tasting blood. He must have bitten his tongue. “They’re back!”

Brinks’ voice softened immediately. “How bad?”

Find and serve.

Tupper couldn’t respond immediately, just clenching his teeth and trying to ride out the nausea and tremors. It was like his body, his human body anyway, was trying to buck him off like a wild horse. As soon as the one tremor ceased, he grabbed for the cabinet next to his bed with shaking hands. Brinks helped him open it, and Tupper seized the knife inside.

Brinks must have realized, in the nick of time, what he would do with it. As Tupper jabbed it at his own neck, Brinks lunged forward and grabbed hold of it. “No!”

Tupper was a lot stronger now than he had been at the beginning of all of this, and for a moment they struggled over the blade. “I won’t go back! I can’t go back! I’d rather die!” Tupper grated out, panting with the effort.

After a few more red-tinged seconds, Brinks was able to wrest the knife away, and tossed it to the other side of the room. He took hold of Tupper’s head, just as he had back in that tor. “Listen to me, Tupper. Listen! I am a wizard, and I accept you into my service. Do you hear me? I accept you into my service! You found me, and you’re serving me. Do you understand? Answer me!!”

The words became dim, almost muted, but they were still there. Immediately, the pain and nausea lessened. It wasn’t gone entirely, but at least Tupper could breathe again. His eyes stayed wide open though, and he glanced at the knife. “I can’t do this! I won’t be a servant again! Going back would be like a butterfly chopping off its own wings and stuffing itself back into its cocoon! Don’t you see? I can’t live like this!” He lunged for the knife, but this time Brinks was ready, and grabbed him by the arm and shoulder. He must have had some experience wrestling or roughhousing, because he restrained Tupper with apparent ease, his arm snaking under Tupper’s and up behind his neck, holding him in place.

Find and serve, the words echoed at Tupper. You will always find and serve. You can do nothing else. You can be nothing else. Find… and serve.

“I can’t live like this! Let me go!”

“You won’t have to for long,” Brinks promised him hastily. “The spell was cast; that’s the only thing that could possibly bring the words back. Now you know what you need to do. You can go back to our own time, and break it then and there!”

“You don’t understand!” Tupper exclaimed, practically sobbing at this point. “Yes, the spell was cast, but I don’t know how, or by whom! I don’t know a thing about it, and I should! The moment it was cast, I should have learned what I needed about it! I failed in my task, Brinks. I failed, and I deserve to die! Just go. I buried the potion by the stream near the tor. I placed three rocks in a perfect triangle around them. And I lied about the tor itself. It won’t be discovered until 1931. You can find another location or just steal a wand then and dig out your own cavern. Just go. Leave me to die and return to your life! Please!”

“No. I refuse,” Brinks responded adamantly, and Tupper felt like his insides were turning to lead. “I won’t just let you die here. I know you don’t want to live like this, and I promise you. I swear by God, that I won’t let you suffer like this for long. You and I together will figure out the spell. You and I together will return to our time and break it. And if we can’t, I swear to you that I will kill you myself. It won’t be the first time I’ve had to kill a friend, so I know I can do it!”

Hope mixed itself in with the pain and fear, and Tupper raised bleary eyes up to look at Brinks. “You’d better mean it.”

“I do,” he responded without hesitation.

Slowly, Brinks helped Tupper sit up again. He was breathing easier now, and his mind was starting to work again. The symptoms of the spell must have come back all at once, which must be why they were so severe. He’d been in this time for decades now, without any compulsion to find or serve until now. The dam had broken, and his brain had been flooded as a result. Still, symptoms were fading. He was serving, if hatefully, a wizard. “I won’t be your servant,” he said firmly, wiping at his eyes. There was something in his hand. It was hair. He’d torn out some of his own hair; he’d been clutching at his head so hard.

“I know, Tupper. I only said it so that the spell would back off. In every way that matters, we’re partners. Just like every day since day one, we need each other. I’ll take my lead from you, just like always. Well, most of the time,” he admitted, as Tupper nearly brought up him setting up that encounter with Merlin. “What I mean is, this is still your task and your responsibility. But you’re not in it alone, and you don’t have to be. Let me help you. Honor me by allowing me to share this burden, at least a little bit.”

Through the nausea and pain, the confusion and fear and rage at the words in his mind, Tupper gave him an awkward look. “Honor you? Seriously?”

Brinks smiled slightly. “Yeah, I know. It’s all the chatting with Arthur and his people. I think I’ve been in the sixth century too long.”

“We both have,” Tupper let out with a sigh, leveraging his butt back onto the cot. With deliberate slowness, he leaned back on it. “Ahh, that’s better.”

“I should let you sleep,” Brinks said, standing up. “If you need me to give you an order or something, I could always tell you to punch me in the face. Would that cancel it out, you think?”

Tupper chuckled. “Probably not, but I appreciate the thought.”

Brinks made his way back to the door, and closed it behind him. Not before he’d taken the knife, though.

-.-

Morning came six hours later, but it felt like a lifetime. Tupper’s dreams had been chaotic and jumbled, and he’d had plenty of them. The last one had been the worst. Three words were floating in the air, conjured out of fire from Arthur’s wand and chasing him through the Ministry of Magic. He finally found a way out, only to stumble right into Merlin! He raised his wand and pulled every thought out of Tupper’s head. Then the words flew in through Tupper’s ears, and he was finally at peace, without a care in the world, and served happily for the rest of his days.

What a nightmare! When he woke, Tupper was glad that it was fading quickly. He stared up at the wooden ceiling in silence for a while, trying to make sense of last night. The words were still there, but the nausea was finally gone. The broken dam’s waters had flowed away at last, leaving wreckage in their wake.

Brinks had been right: killing himself would have been the coward’s way out. He still had other elves depending on him in the future. Tupper felt a flash of shame at what he’d tried to do, and gratitude at what Brinks had done. The man had surprisingly quick reflexes, too, to stop him like that.

On to analytics. The spell had come and gone, and he knew nothing of it. How was that even possible? Primitive magic always left traces. Even modern spells left something most of the time. Only highly accomplished magicians like Riddle and Dumbledore were adept at hiding the traces of their spells, and even then, only to a degree. An echo of the echo always remained.

Eventually, he puzzled out what must have happened, and got up. There was a mirror in his ‘lord’s’ washroom, made of silver and mercury, as was common for rich people in this era, but Tupper was afraid to look at it. When he did, he was encouraged. He still looked like a human: fat, bulbous and awkward, but at least he didn’t look too much the worse for wear. His ordeal last night seemed to have passed mostly without a mark. Though there was a cut on his neck from the tip of the blade. Again, he silently thanked Brinks for his intervention.

Breakfast had already been delivered by another servant when he stepped out into their shared area. It was juice of some kind, lemon by the smell, and what looked like roast pigeon. Tupper made sure that the door was closed and locked, and then sat at the table next to Brinks. It wouldn’t do for a servant to be seen eating with his master, after all. They ate in silence, gesturing to ask for something and listening to the wind whistle past the parapets of this tower. When someone knocked on the door, Brinks hastily removed his plate, utensils and cup, and moved them into his room before answering it.

It was another servant, with an invitation from the King to join them for a mid-afternoon trip down to Winchester. Nothing pressing or magical from the sound of it. Brinks instructed him to return to the King with Brinks’ grateful acceptance.

“What do you think that’s all about?” He asked, once Tupper had closed and locked the door again.

“I don’t care,” Tupper said, shaking his head. “Probably more strutting around like a peacock or ranting about ‘cleansing the rabble’ again. Arthur’s supposed to be some kind of uplifting, mythic figure, at least to the Muggles, but he’s looking a lot like Merlin to me.”

“Definitely. So, what’s our plan, then? Assuming it was Merlin who cast the spell, do we try and get him to tell us how? If I get my hands on a wand, I might be able to take him down. Maybe.”

Tupper felt his eyes widen. “No, definitely not. It’s way too risky to the timeline. If anyone saw us, or Merlin told anyone, which is admittedly unlikely, it would definitely make it into the history books. Besides, I don’t think we need him at all. If I’m right, it wasn’t a spell that altered my people at all!”

Brinks leaned forward. “Then what was it?”

“I thought that the spell altered our bodies in such a way that the changes would be passed down from parent to child forever, but those kinds of spells are immensely complex and slow to cast. I would have felt it start slowly, over time. But last night was so sudden, like a dam breaking. I think… that someone created a magical artifact. Like Gryffindor’s sword or Excalibur or something. Indestructible by most standards, and supremely powerful. The moment it was finished, the effect it generates started on me. Probably on other house-elves all over the country. Maybe even the world, but there’s no way to know.”

“This is great! All we need to do is find this artifact in our own time and shatter it, then, right? I know a few spells that could do the trick. I’d need a wand, but that shouldn’t be too hard.”

Tupper held off on the first objection. “So your magic is definitely back, then? You can feel it for sure?”

Brinks nodded happily. “Last night, when you tried… what you did with the knife, I’ve never moved so fast in my life. I wasn’t sure at first that it was my magic manifesting, but I tested it again later, and yeah. I’m back, baby!”

Not entirely sure what that meant, Tupper nodded anyway. “Maybe mine is too.”

He concentrated and held out a fat finger. Then, with a pop of displaced air, he’d Apparated! Just to the other side of the table, but still!

Brinks clapped him on the back, grinning ear to ear. “Good for you! You won’t have any problems getting out of here now, even if things go sideways and you have to run.”

“I’ll take you with me, of course,” he promised. “But are you sure the people here don’t know how to Apparate as well?”

Brinks shook his head. “I’ve been talking with the King and the other knights at every meal, and sounding them out about what they know. They don’t seem to know that it’s a thing. Merlin might, but he works directly for a man who wants to wipe out an entire race of people, or at least force them out of England. Arthur probably would have gotten that secret out of him by now, given how zipping around would be very useful in killing Saxons by the thousands.”

That was probably true, Tupper realized. “About last night. When you made your vow to me, you said that you’d killed a friend before. What did you mean by that? If you’re willing to talk about it, that is,” he added hastily, as Brinks’ expression immediately became troubled.

“No, it’s fine. It’s just been a long time, is all. I told you I was an orphan, remember?” Tupper nodded. “Well, I grew up in a kind of group home in Boston. A bunch of parentless kids were there, whether they were thrown out, or runaways, or addicts, or whatever. All Nomajs of course, but we didn’t know that at the time. It… wasn’t a fun place to be. Crowded, smelly, and harsh. A lot of us had criminal records and were out from juvie. That’s like a detention hall or something,” he added for clarity.

“Anyway, when my magic started bubbling up, this lady from the MACUSA—that’s kind of like the American Ministry—showed up and said I’d qualified for training as a wizard. I wasn’t the only one, either. Another kid named Kenji was also manifesting magic, and I told her about him. Ken and I were the weirdest kids in that place by far, so we stuck together. Then, when we were in training, we remained close.”

He sighed. “The American system isn’t great. The wizard school we trained at was almost as poor as the group home, so we did most of our learning on the street. Still, we learned a lot, including how to pose as Nomajs when we had to. That’s one of the reasons I like them so much, actually. They can do so much without any magic at all, or much of anything, at least the ones in Boston do.”

“I take it you were stealing things even then?” Tupper asked, careful to make his tone as neutral as possible. Fortunately, Brinks seemed to understand that, and nodded.

“It started out just so we could feed ourselves. Before we could zip places, we’d use our wands to climb up sheer walls, open cabinets through the window, and float food out, which we would eat up on the roof. Ken was better at it than me, but I was quieter. Eventually we fell in with Torkin, a real scumbag who had us doing more complicated jobs. He taught us how to bypass wizarding traps and locks, and he paid us more gold than either of us had ever seen!”

Brinks’ eyes were lost in the past. Or the future, actually. “It wasn’t long before we were breaking into wizard houses to steal some valuable painting or gold cup or fancy magical device. Torkin had a few others working for him; all about our age, who joined us for some of the jobs. Then, when we were ready, he had us go up against the MACUSA itself. He wanted us to rob one of their storage facilities on the south side of the city, hidden under a Nomaj bank.”

He focused on Tupper. “You knew your father, if only for a little while before he died. You gotta understand, I had no one. Not even Ken at the beginning. When I wasn’t just stealing to survive anymore, I looked up my mom’s family. I had her name from my Nomaj birth certificate. Turns out I’m actually a descendant of George Armstrong Custer. Or I will be, I guess. Still not used to the tenses.”

Tupper blinked at him. “Wait, I read about him when we were in Boston. He was a famous Muggle-killer, wasn’t he?”

“Specifically, the native ones. The Nomajs who lived there before Europeans started coming across the sea.” Brinks grimaced. “He was a real piece of work; I can tell you.”

Realizing that he didn’t really know his own ancestry, Tupper didn’t know what to think about that. Elves had descended from humans, so for all he knew, he was descended from Jack the Ripper or something! “Wait, Custer was a wizard?”

Brinks nodded. “He hated the Indian Nomajs for the same reasons the American ones did, though. He saw them as primitive savages who needed to be pushed aside or wiped out, so that the Americans could keep on growing our country. He couldn’t kill them with magic, though, because it’d be too obvious. Besides, the Indians had wizards of their own. They used a different word, but it’s pretty much the same thing.

“Instead, Custer created an artifact, like the one we’re trying to find here. A pipe, that was supposed to be given to his enemies. When smoked, its smoke would spread out and be breathed in by a bunch of people all at once. Then, in a day or so, all of them would be dead. It could spread, too, from person to person like a disease. It was a horrible thing, made by a horrible person. At least he never got the chance to use it. He was killed at Little Bighorn just after making it.”

Tupper could only imagine. His understanding of American history wasn’t that extensive, but he knew at least some of what the Americans had done to the native Muggles. At least Brinks acknowledged his ancestor’s crimes. “Why did you bring it up, though?”

“Because when Torkin sent us into that storage facility, he told me we were after a set of gems owned by a very rich American wizard. Each one was supposed to be worth thousands in gold! He lied. Two of us were a distraction, meant to pull aurors away from the area, and Ken and I were supposed to sneak in and disable the traps to open that one vault. Inside… was the pipe that Custer made!”

“Ah,” Tupper nodded in understanding. “The pipe could be sold to some monstrous person, and used to kill a lot of people, even wizards, before they knew what was happening. We have some things like that in Britain too, I’m afraid.”

“That’s right. And Torkin knew plenty of people with no morals and very deep pockets, believe me. Ken knew what we were after, but he’d lied to me as well. Maybe he didn’t want to share his part of the cut, or he knew I’d recognize it—I’d told him about my ancestry by then. Either way, as soon as we got the vault door open, he double-crossed me. He hit me on the back of the head, hard, and ran into the vault. Lucky for me, there was another layer of traps inside that Torkin hadn’t told us about. Maybe he didn’t know. Either way, it slowed Ken down enough for me to get back on my feet.” Brinks trailed off there, his tone still heavy.

Feeling enraptured by the tale, Tupper prodded him verbally. “What happened then?”

Brinks turned haunted eyes towards him. “I warned him, Tupper. I told him that I couldn’t let him do it. We were thieves, sure, but not murderers! Hundreds of people could have died if Torkin got his hands on that and sold it. Maybe thousands. But Ken made a grab for it anyway, so I… AK’ed him.”

Tupper winced. AK was the American slang for Avada Kedavra, the killing curse. It was the only spell in history written specifically to wipe away life entirely. There was no stopping it. “You couldn’t stop him any other way? Tied his legs together or something?”

“We were all decked out with special gear for the heist!” Brinks said helplessly. “No other spell could have gotten through all that! I couldn’t pull the pipe out of the vault either because of the magic around the place. If he’d so much as touched it, he could have zipped out of there, and I would have lost my chance to stop him! I killed my friend—a man I’d known for eight years and grown up next to. Hell, I taught his ass to read. I put him down, just because I didn’t want to end up being like my ancestor.”

Tupper shook his head. “I don’t know if you did the right thing or not, but I don’t blame you. You were in an impossible situation, but at least you got out of it. What did the aurors do when they found out? What did Torkin do?”

“The aurors never found Ken’s body. I disintegrated it, and spread his ashes in the sea. At least he didn’t have a family to worry about him. As for Torkin, he tried to bargain with me, to get the pipe for himself, but I was done with him—with all of it. I tried a bunch of different ways to break the damn thing, but none of them worked. Eventually I put it in a lead box at the bottom of the ocean. At least down there, no one can use it to hurt anyone.”

“Now that was definitely the right decision,” Tupper allowed, and Brinks gave a faint smile.

“I don’t like thinking about who I was back then,” he said softly. “I let Torkin use me to steal all kinds of things. How many other magical devices did I steal for him, that were used to kill people later on? Torkin disappeared, hiding from the aurors after the vault job, so I don’t think I’ll ever know.”

“When we get back, you should try to track him down,” Tupper suggested. “Silence the ghosts of the past and all that.”

“Maybe.” Brinks shook his head. “Anyway. This artifact you talked about. Do you think you can shatter it, at least? This is pretty far back in the past, before they could make things invulnerable, right?”

“I might be able to, but I don’t want to try,” Tupper said firmly. “That artifact, whatever shape it’s in, is connected to every single elf in existence. If I just break it, it could kill all of us instantly! The artifact has to be dismantled, safely, and then its pieces can be shattered. That’s the only way to be sure. Besides, it’s part of history now. I can’t dismantle it in this era, but if I put a tracer on it, I can find it in our own time. I can take it apart then.” He felt a little disappointed. It would have been easier just to break a spell, but this could work too, given time.

“You think Merlin is the one who made it?”

Tupper began counting on his fingers. “The most powerful magician in history, who works for a genocidal sociopath, and has already tried to interrogate us just because we were speaking to an elf? Yeah, I’d say that’s a safe bet.” He paused, concerned. Brinks had a history of racking up gambling debts, or he had when Tupper had first met him, but he didn’t seem to notice Tupper’s verbal slip-up.

“Then the artifact’s probably somewhere here, in this keep. If Merlin can’t zip around, I mean. If he can, it could be anywhere!”

“Let’s start here, and work our way outwards. Did any of your knight friends have any idea where he does his work? According to the other servants, the ‘arcanum’ is just what Merlin calls his wing of the keep.”

Brinks grimaced. “They don’t know much more than how much they adore Arthur, truthfully. Still, we should be able to snoop around a bit before our trip out to Winchester.”

Tupper started clearing the table right away. “All right. We should start searching immediately.”
« Last Edit: March 07, 2023, 05:16:37 AM by Daen »