A Very Strange Questioning
Melina blanched, but forced a smile and replied lightly:
"Who, may I ask, is Selina?" Septimus asked in a dangerously calm voice, his sword moving to her throat.
"She is a very nice girl. She will help me to run away. She is right here," Melina explained, her eyes opened wildly and gazing at her captor with naivety. I bit my lip. Either she was going crazy or she was a terribly good actress.
"If you don't tell me the truth, I will rip you to pieces," the prince said through gritted teeth. "Who? Were? You? Talking to?"
His blade was now a millimeter away from her skin… Suddenly, Melina's whole expression changed. Her eyes narrowed, her brows furrowed, and her lips that were opened with fright became a tight line. The girl jumped away from Septimus, snatched a stone that was lying on the lid of one of the barrels and chuckled:
"Well, the fearsome prince himself. Just take a step ahead and the stone will be thrown at you."
I was stunned. So was Septimus – though he, of course, tried to hide it.
"Who are you?" he asked, attempting not to stutter.
"My name is Selina," the girl snapped. "I was born here. This stupid fool Melina can't take care of her body, so the body needed a new mind."
"Do you know where the Royal Stone is?" the prince wanted to know, his tone almost polite.
"Maybe. Maybe not," Melina (or Selina?) laughed. "I will not say to you where it is until I have fifty thousand gold stormguldens in my possession."
"Now, Melina or Selina or whoever you are, you are not allowed to talk like this to me!"
Septimus jumped to her, his sword raised, and instantly the girl threw her stone at him. It narrowly missed his head and crashed onto the floor. Shocked by the loud crash, the girl stood still for a moment, and Septimus took no time in punching her in the face.
She collapsed onto the floor. The monster just calmly stood and waited for her to regain her consciousness. I quietly sent a healing spell.
The poor girl opened her eyes and groaned:
"Oh… where am I… what happened?"
"You throw anything at me again, you miserable rat, and I'll cut your arm off," Septimus threatened.
Tears welled in Melina's eyes:
"Sir, I can never bring myself to harm anyone!" she cried.
The prince thought for a while, then seemed to make up his mind:
"Sit here. I'll come in an hour, and I hope you'll remember where the Stone is by that time. Oh, and if you talk to that Selina of yours again, I'll feed both of you with sulfur."
He left in anger, banging the door loudly. Until his footsteps quieted, Melina was silent. Then, she sighed with relief and called me:
"Illusia, ma'am! Are you still here?"
"Yes," I came out of my hiding place. "Melina… what was this?"
"This," Melina said proudly, "is my invention! I am playing the part of a woman with multiple personalities. This was my first practice in front of Septimus. Did you like Selina?"
"She doesn't exist?" I asked for safety – I was too confused.
"Of course not! I made her up. She is an elfin warrior, Selina the Fierce. She is fearless and cunning and controlling and hates me, though pretends to like me."
"Oh, Melina, are you sure you won't go genuinely mad with these disguises?"
"What's the risk?" the girl's momentary bravado faded. "I'm telling you, ma'am – I'm scared. Septimus has already dropped hints like 'such a beauty being wasted', and sometimes… the look in his eyes when he's questioning me… Oh! I wish, I really do wish he'd be furious at me and kill me!"
"Melina, now I've decided. You're going with me to the Silvery Hill."
"No. I'm sorry, Illusia, ma'am – but no. It is less dangerous. At most, I will suffer – but the rest of you will not. Or – oh, I forgot, I had the idea – can you turn me into an animal after all?"
I couldn't have a chance to answer, before the door opened wide to reveal Septimus and several armed soldiers. They had obviously been listening at the door since Septimus left the cellar. I shrieked in fright. One of the soldiers ran to Melina and put two stones into her pocket. I knew them well. These were the runes. The runes with the protective spell. Half of them. The other half was presumably
The group took out their bows and arrows.
"Shoot everywhere!" Septimus yelled. "That witch isn't going to get away!"
"Illusia, run to where you came from!" Melina screamed. I saw it was the best choice. If I was caught, Melina would be in a still bigger trouble than she was now. At least, thankfully, she hadn't mentioned the location of the Royal Stone in the second part of our conversation.
But I couldn't leave her alone, with these brutes. I did the only possible thing. I shot a transformation spell at myself. It was dangerous – Mom and Aunts always said it was to be used as absolutely the last resort. Yet now it was the last resort. A shiver went through me, and I felt horribly weird. My body shrank like a balloon, only a hundred times faster. I felt two more limbs growing from my body, and two pairs of wings – from my back. My limbs were now thin and covered with fluff. My ears became long and even thinner. If I had been visible, I would have seemed an ordinary plain moth.
Naturally, everyone, including Melina, thought I returned to the world of the Moonlight River. When I hid myself in one of the half-opened sacks with flour. It was very uncomfortable, I would have sneezed if a moth was able to do it. But it was safe from arrows.
Meanwhile, the arrows went literally almost everywhere, just as Septimus had ordered. As they hit no animate thing, Melina smiled:
"She managed to escape!"
Septimus snatched her by the hair and pulled it hard. Melina yelped and whimpered in pain.
"You're going to pay for this," he barked. "Selina the Fearless, indeed. Guards! Take her to the Black Cell."
Melina cried as the soldiers gripped her wrists and pulled her away. She somehow managed to break free and sank to her knees in front of Septimus.
"Oh, please, sir, pardon me! Don't throw me into the Black Cell, whatever it is! I am sorry! I will never try to trick you again!"
"Will you tell me where the Stone is?" Septimus raised an eyebrow.
"Yes, yes, I will, if you'll only pardon me!"
I sighed in despair. What fools we were! We entrusted the Royal Stone to a weak young girl with no magical abilities. Of course, her spirit was quite strong, but still it could be broken. After so many hours of torture, she obviously could bear it no longer.
"Well, then, where?"
"I… I threw it down the stairway… in the palace… to the Gloomy Cellar!" she sobbed. "R-Rubianne must have p-picked it up already!"
"She hasn't!" Septimus exclaimed triumphantly. "If she had it, I, as a Stormhold royal, would have certainly felt the Stone changing from her magic. I feel nothing! Rubianne didn't certainly expect the Stone being hidden under her very nose! Guards! Tell Commander Mirle and his men that I order them to go to the Gloomy Cellar and search for my Stone."
"Yes, sir!" the soldiers shouted in unison and left.
I made a ridiculous dance of triumph (especially ridiculous since I was a moth in a sack full of flour). Melina never ceased to amaze me. And I was fooled by her fake surrender as well!
What was more, I knew something Melina didn't know. The soldiers were going into a trap – unless they had a Babylon candle, which I doubted. If they mustered the courage to go to the Gloomy Cellar, they would never get away from it – the stairway was broken.
"C-can I go away now, sir?" Melina asked shyly.
"No," he cut her short. "You are going to stay here until I have the Stone in my hand. You're a clever girl, how can I know it's not another of your excellent lies?"
Melina, who had previously almost relaxed, stiffened again. She trembled in fright. Septimus wasn't anything like a fool, obviously.