“Thank you.”, she broke her silence, trying to sit a bit more upright on the soft cushion, “And yes, I’ve got a question. If those cards are so special, from another world even, how can it be I have been able to use them so easily? Could anybody do that? Summon those ghosts, I mean. And if they are that dangerous, can I be sure that this incident had no negative side effects for me? Other than landing in prison, of course.”
Lord Jeneyeru Nightwise raised an eyebrow at Lotye O’Tulvar suddenly speaking up. From her restrained posture and the way she tucked into the light breakfast on the table — surely, the guardians should feed their prisoners better, yes? — he had almost expected her not to speak at all. But now that she had, the wizard graciously inclined his head towards her.
“Excellent questions, Mistress. You see straight to the core of the matter, as a student of the Purifying Lake should. In fact, the Daemon Arcana are ridiculously easy to awaken. Anyone with any aura at all might do it without half trying, just as you did.” The wizard swept a hand through his hair and toyed with the end of one of the multitudinous braids. “Forgive me, I am engaging in a little hyperbole, but you know what I mean. Anyone with any decent level, whether they are trained or not. That is what makes them so dangerous.”
“The cards, ladies, are a trap for the unwary. For the price of a minuscule sacrifice — a few drops of blood or what have you, depending on the suit — they will grant their user, momentarily, the power to command dark forces, but that is not the true purpose of the Arcana. They were truly made to corrupt souls.”
Jeneyeru picked up the box and cradled it in his hands, upon his knee, contemplating the simply carved, black lid and what lay beneath it. The contemplation took him far away from the room full of the sparkling sunshine of Sesus, to a place infinitely darker.
“The lure of easy magic becomes a lust, an addiction to power. When it takes so little effort to do such dramatic things, there become fewer and fewer dramatic things one will not try.”
The black box in his hands, the black thoughts in his mind — perhaps it was an illusion, but the bright, clear air around the Shadow Master seemed almost to darken as if echoing dark memories of temptations and miscalculations long ago and far away. But if mistakes had been made once upon a time, the expression in Nightwise’s eyes suggested they had not been made by him.
“The effect of using these cards, Mistress O’Tulvar,” he said, “is, over time, to make your soul rotten and foul and ripe for harvesting. Divine Caillech, who watches over the fate of every soul in Aeldreth, has banned this magic from her world because it is a poison. What you may suffer as a result of your exposure to it remains to be seen. It depends on how open you were to the cards, for how long, and how strong you will prove to be.”
A soft cough from a doorway. A bent and wizened old man stepped into the room.
“Pardon me, my lord, the lady’s bath is ready, and I have sent an order to the closest tailor. I expect they will send up a fitter with some ready-made garments within the hour.”
“Very good, Thimble.” Jeneyeru glanced up and immediately struck a wry face. “What is this now?” he said.
“Your lordship said–”
“Oh, don’t,” Jeneyeru held up a hand, glaring at the valet with nearly parental disapproval. He shook his head. “Pooka.” At which the aged Thimble giggled with the voice of a child.
“Mistress,” said Jeneyeru, “you may cleanse yourself at your leisure. If you ladies have nothing more to ask, I will complete my own preparations for the day as well. We have much work before us.”