The Card Dealer: Part 7

Part 7: The Lead 

 

When I got over my initial shock, I left the crowd behind me and slowly stepped over to the poor Merman’s body.  His skin was so pale – almost grey.  The tails of the Merfolk were known for their brilliant colors, but this one’s tail was ashen.  As I knelt down next to him, I couldn’t see even the slightest movement.  I felt a hand on my shoulder.

“He’s gone,” came Mr. Caldwell’s voice.  “I don’t know…why, or how.”

There was no signs of violence, and even then, something like that was rare.  I thought back to the Nymph that had mysteriously passed…could this be related?  I stood and took a few steps back as a couple men came up to take care of the Merman’s body.

“Claudia!”  Leon burst out of the crowd and stopped at my side, and Lex wasn’t close behind.

“Oh no,” Lex breathed, putting her hand on her chest.

“I didn’t do it!”  Leon announced.  No one replied, but I was kind of sad that he felt the need to say that.

“We know, Leon,” I said in a soft voice.  “Where’s Adrian.”

“Here!”  Was the answer.  I turned as Adrian pushed his way through the crowd and towards us.  “What happened?”  He looked at the body, which the men were setting on a makeshift stretcher.  His face paled.

“We don’t know,” I said.  “But…this isn’t the first time.”

“What do you mean?”  Lex asked.  I glanced around the area.

“Hm…not here.  Let’s go back to the shop.”  I took one last look at the scene before me, then turned away.  “I don’t want to see anymore anyway.”

They agreed.  We made our way back to the shop in silence.  I didn’t have to stick around to know what was going to happen next.  Each race had it’s own methods of burial, and a the Merfolk’s method was symbolic.  When a merman or mermaid died, their remains were burned, and their ashes cast back into the sea where they came from.  They believed that if they did this, then perhaps their soul would find peace, and feel at home.

As for the Nymph, he would have been buried by now, and a new tree planted over him.  Nearly every tree in the forests were gravestones, some planted years and years ago, and some were barely taller than me.

When we got back to the shop, and we were all alone, I took a deep breath.

“The day after you left, Adrian, Hyacinth came to me with upsetting news,” I said, turning to Adrian.  His face was still white as a sheet.  I continued.  “One of the Nymph’s had died, quite suddenly.  There was no signs of violence, disease, or anything.  As far as the Elder was concerned, he had been perfectly healthy.”

Adrian nodded slowly, but said nothing.

“This is strange,” Lex said, putting her fingers to her chin in thought.  “I…I have no idea what could cause that…”

“I’m scared!”  Leon whined.  “What if they all blame me?”

“They won’t,” I promised.  “And if they do, I’ll turn them all into frogs!”

At that, Leon giggled.  “Now I kind of want to see that,” he said.  I turned back to Adrian.

“Any ideas?”  I asked.  “Hyacinth had brought me a blood sample from the Nymph, but I couldn’t find anything at all!”

“Is that so?”  Adrian asked.  “I’ll ask Master Grieves about it…he might know something.”

“I hope so,” I said.  I wrapped my arms around myself.  “This is getting too creepy.”

“Yeah,” said Leon.  “Not to mention that the Card Dealer was out tonight!”

I had almost forgotten!  Adrian was looking at me expectantly, like he was waiting for me to say something about it.

“I…I met the Card Dealer…” I mumbled.

“What now?”  Leon said, raising an eyebrow.  “You met the Card Dealer?”

“And this has relevance…how?”  Lex asked.

“I’m just saying that I talked to him,” I said.  “Adrian, you didn’t tell me that he couldn’t speak.”  I crossed my arms and gave him a pointed look.  Adrian only shrugged.

“Yeah, well, you know…details,” he said.  “Was that where you were before someone blew the horn?”

“Yes,” I replied.  “I think…I think the Card Dealer has something to do with it.  The night that the Nymph died…the Card Dealer came then, too.”

“She’s got a point,” said Lex.  “It is strange.”

Adrian nodded absentmindedly.  “It’s a possibility that he might have something to do with it…but how can he kill them when he’s busy doing tricks?”

I scratched at my head.  That was true.

“I don’t know.  I guess I need to study up on that some more.”

“Well, you do that,” said Adrian.  He got behind the counter and grabbed his robe from the hook on the wall.  “I’m going to open the night shop.”

I nodded, but said nothing more.  My head was too full of thoughts, now.  Lex and Leon both said goodnight, then left the shop to go home.  It made me nervous to have them go off by themselves, but Lex was insistent on going home.

I locked myself in my room, with nothing better to do than study spells.  I sat at my desk with my huge book of sorcery that I had since I was like, ten.  Every spell I knew came from the book.  I flipped through the thick pages, with spell after spell passing me by.  Some I knew, some were completely unfamiliar to me.  I didn’t know for sure if there would be anything about stealing voices, but I kept searching.

It was getting late into the night when I came across a spell called Abfero Vox.  I stopped there to read.  I was pleased to see that it could indeed remove one’s voice, but it looked to be a fairly complicated spell.  I didn’t even think Adrian would be capable of something that difficult.  Of course, I couldn’t be sure if it was the exact spell that had been put on the Card Dealer.  However, if it was, I knew it would have been cast by a more experience wizard, like a Master Class.  I leaned back in my chair with a sigh.

There went that lead, I guess.  Like I always did whenever I stayed up late to study spells, I fell asleep at my desk.

~~~

The next day, I went up to the grassy cliff side overlooking the sea.  Behind me, I could hear the town below.  Even after the death of the merman, it still bustled with energy.  I sat on the ground and stared off into the distance.  The recent events usually had me so on edge that I couldn’t even think straight most of the time.  But when I was up there on the cliff, it all seemed to vanish.  I heard footsteps behind me, and looked over my shoulder to see Adrian coming up the hill with his satchel slung over his shoulder.  He had his wizard’s hat in one hand, and he was wearing his nice robe; he was going somewhere.

“Where are you going?”  I asked, not too hopeful that he’d answer my question.

“Away,” He replied, waving his hat horizontally.  I rolled my eyes, making him laugh.  “Don’t roll your eyes at me!  I’m just taking the goods from the future to Clark, as well as his usual bottle of shiny stuff.  He’s not in town at the moment, so he asked me to come to him.  I probably won’t be back until tomorrow if I take my time, which, I will.”

“Hm,” was all I said.  I turned back to the sea.  “Well, goodbye, then.  See you tomorrow.  Don’t do anything stupid.”

“Yes ma’am,” Adrian said.  He came to sit down next to me.  “You know, it’s hard to believe that it’s only a few more months until you graduate.”

I nodded.  “Yep.  It seems like yesterday when I came here to meet you.  I didn’t like you.”

Adrian put his hand over his heart with a dramatic gasp.  “That pains me!”  He cried.

“Well, I didn’t,” I said.  “But, after a few weeks of being your student, you kind of grew on me.  You’re still awful annoying in all of your mysterious ways.”

“Eh, it’s just the way I am,” he said.  He sighed and clapped his hand on my shoulder, his face turning serious.  “And there’s another trait of mine that I don’t like.  I have a hard time giving praise where it’s due.  I don’t tell you how proud I actually am of you.”

Blushing, I smiled.  “Aw, come on.”

“It’s true,” Adrian continued.  “You’ve worked hard, and I may not be the best teacher, but you’ve really become very powerful.  You always take it upon yourself to learn new things, and that has seriously made teaching you easier than I thought it would be.”

“Ha-ha,” I said in a mocking tone.  “Do you think you’ll take more students after I’m graduated?”

Adrian shrugged.  “I don’t know,” he said.  “I like teaching, but I don’t think I could do it with everyone.  Like I said, you’re easy to teach, and I might not get so lucky next time.”

“So, what’ll you do then?”

There was a long pause, and I wondered if he even knew.  After a few moments passed, Adrian sighed.

“I guess I’ll close the shop,” he said.  I turned to him with wide eyes.

“WHAT?”  I asked.  “Seriously?”

He raised his hands up.  “I might,” he said.  “The shop has made a good living for me, and I like it, but I can’t do it forever.  I don’t want to do it forever.  I want to get out there in the world.  You can’t grow more knowledge if you never go anywhere, and I’m not as powerful as I could be.”

“I know, but close the shop?  Will you just go off to travel the world?”

“Yeah, that’s what I want to do,” he said.  “Maybe I’ll even go into the school in the Kingdom.  They’re darn hard to get into, but I think I could manage.”

“You want to be Master Class?”  I asked.

“Of course.  That’s what I’ve wanted ever since I was a little boy in the Academy.  Maybe I’ll even become one of the Guardians of the Throne.”

I pulled my knees up to my chest.  “If that’s what you really want,” I said.  “But the Kingdom’s so far away.  What about Lex?”

Adrian rubbed at his forehead.  “What about Lex?”  He repeated.  “Well, I suppose she’ll come with me.  If not…I guess it’s over.”

“Excuse me?”  I said.

“She probably won’t want to move that far, and she most likely doesn’t want a long distance thing going on.  If she doesn’t want to go, then I won’t make her.”

“Then you’d end an eight year relationship just like that?”  I wasn’t sure what to be more distraught about; Adrian leaving, the shop closing, or the possibility that he might break up with Lex.

“Stop talking like it’s final,” he said.  “I have no plans to break up with her, unless she doesn’t want to come with me to the Kingdom.  maybe I won’t even go if she doesn’t want to come.  Besides…”  He trailed off.  “Oh, who am I kidding.”  He dug around in his pocket and brought out a black velvet box.  He handed it to me.

“No way,” I said under my breath.  I opened it up and found a gorgeous diamond ring inside.  “It’s beautiful!”

“I’ve been carrying that around for three years,” he said, staring at the sea.

Three years?”  I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  “What the heck for?  Why haven’t you given it to her yet?”

Adrian waved his hand.  “I haven’t found the right time, or the confidence…or the words.  And now that I might go to the Kingdom without her…I don’t know anymore.”

I furrowed my brow and hand the box back to him.  “Adrian, seriously, could you go on without her?”  I asked.  “Imagine that she disappeared and you never saw her again, or imagine that she went off with a different guy.  How do you feel about that?  Could you live with that?”

“Well…no,” he slowly replied.  “I don’t think I could, really.”  He smiled.  “And if she did end up with a different guy, I think I’d live the rest of my life as a bachelor.”

“There you go,” I said, crossing my arms.  “You have to decide what you want to do.”

Adrian patted my shoulder and got to his feet.  “Right now, I want to get these things delivered, so I’ll have to continue this uncomfortable chat later.”

I sighed.  “Fine, fine.  See you tomorrow, then.”

“See ya.”  He put on his hat just so he could tip it to me, then started down the hill.

Not ten minutes later did Lex come marching up.

“There you are!”  She said.  “Have you seen Adrian.”

“I saw him, yeah,” I said.  “He’s leaving to see that Clark guy, and he probably won’t be back until tomorrow.”

“Oh…” Lex sat down next to me with a pout.  “What are you doing up here all alone?”

“Just trying to clear my thoughts, I suppose,” I said.  I looked at her with questioning eyes.  “Can I ask you something personal?”

Lex shrugged.  “Go for it.”  She stretched her legs out and propped herself up with her arms.

I took a deep breath before asking.  “If Adrian was to close the shop and go to the Kingdom for more schooling, would you go with him?”

Lex knit her eyebrows together, like she was concerned.  “I mean…I don’t know.  That’s a big move.  This is my home.  I’ve never left here in my life, other than to go to the future.”

“What if he asked you to marry him?  Would you go then?”

“That’s hard,” she said.  She narrowed her eyes.  ‘Why…is there something going on that I don’t know about?”

“I’m just asking,” I said as innocently as I could manage.  “But would you marry him?”

Lex exhaled slowly, then brushed strands of her hair out of her face.  “Claudia, I’ve been waiting for him to ask me for a long time.  I don’t mind long dating times, but this is getting to be ridiculous, don’t you think?”

“Eight years is a bit of a stretch,” I said.  To my surprise, tears formed in Lex’s eyes.

“I don’t know what to do,” she cried, wiping at her eyes.  “I don’t want to break up with him, but I feel like he’s leading me on.  I don’t think he likes commitment.”

“I know he cares a lot about you,” I said.  “I think he’s just a bit…afraid, right now.”

“I care about him, too,” said Lex.  “Oh, you have no idea how much this bothers me.  He’s become so distant recently that I don’t even know how to talk to him about it.”

“You’ve got that right,” I said.  “Sometimes…I wonder if I can trust him.”  I didn’t mean to start talking like that about her boyfriend, but I had to get it out somehow.  “He lied to me.”

“And me, more than once,” Lex said.  She sniffed and wiped away more tears.  “I don’t know what’s wrong with him, but he’s not acting like himself.”

“I just can’t imagine what could be going on,” I said.  “And with everything else that’s been happening…it’s hard to wrap my mind around it all.”

Lex nodded.  “I just want things to go back to the way they were.”

I wrapped my arms around her.  “I’ll talk to him when he gets back.  I’ll find out what’s on his mind.”

“Thank you, Claudia,” Lex said, rubbing her eyes.  “I’ll leave you alone, now.  I didn’t come up here to vent and cry.”

“It’s fine,” I said.  “You can do that to me any time.  We are friends, after all.”

Lex smiled and nodded.  “Yes, we are.”  She stood and dusted her skirt off.  “Anyway, I’ll see you tomorrow.  If you don’t mind, could you check on Leon for me?  I’m going to the future for the night.”

“I can.  He can even stay at the shop if he wants to.”

Lex shook his head.  “No, just check on him and then get as far away as you can.  He’s in a bad mood ever since what happened with that merman.  He’s convinced that people are blaming him.”

“Poor kid,” I said.  “Well, I’ll check on him.  You be safe in the future.”

“I will.”  She started to walk down the hill, but stopped suddenly.  Her wide-eyed gaze was frozen on the shoreline.

“What’s the matter?”  I asked, getting to my feet.

“Claudia, look,” she said, pointing.  I squinted my eyes and saw what she was pointing at.  A familiar looking merman was laying on the beach.  Even from there, I could see he was alive.  I didn’t waste any time in running down the hill to get to him.  Lex followed.

As I ran to him, the merman transformed into a human, then coughed up a bunch of water.  I forgot they could do that.  A pale pair of ripped up pants replaced his tail.

“Are you alright?”  I asked, skidding to a stop in front of him.

“Claudia?”  The merman asked, looking up at me.  He had dark skin and black hair that fell over his green eyes.  Recognition dawned on me.

“Jules!”  I said, getting down on my knees.  “What are you doing?”

“I need help,” He said.  He grimaced in pain.  “I guess I don’t need my legs right now.”  A glow of light engulfed him, and when it disappeared, he was a merman again.  He laid back in the sand with a groan.

“What’s the matter?”  I asked.  Lex stood next to me with a look of concern.  I had known Jules for as long as I’d known Zion.  The two were close friends, and were rarely apart.  But now…Zion was no where to be found.  In fact, the last time I had seen him was last month.  What a terrible friend I was!

“Wait…have you seen Zion?”  I asked.  Jules ran his hand through his thick hair.

“That’s what I came here for.  I haven’t seen him in weeks, and I’ve searched all over for him.  I wondered if he’d come up here, but that wouldn’t make any sense.  We can’t stay human for that long.”

“Where was the last place you saw him?”  I asked.

“That’s just it…he told me he was following a ship that was heading for uncharted waters.”  He put his hand on his head.  “Oh Claudia, I’m so worried.  That idiot might have gotten himself into trouble.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll look for him,” I said.  “Do you have any idea which way he went?”

“East,” Jules answered.  “I don’t know exactly where, but he went east the last time I saw him.”

I nodded, then got to my feet.  “Go on home, Jules.  I’ll find him.”

“Thank you!”  Jules cried.  “I’ll come back here in a few days.  Please find him!”

I turned to Lex as Jules rolled over into the water and out of sight.

“I don’t like that look on your face,” Lex said.  I crossed my arms.

“I have an idea of where to start looking,” I said.  “We need to go see Adrian’s room.”

~ ♠ ♣ ♦ ♥ ~

 

This part is a bit of a break before things start going crazy!  We are getting sooo close to some big plot twists!  Also, there might not have been any new art in this part, but shout out to Spider-Man lover!  You might have lost your inspiration to draw, but you’ll find it again!  Thank ya’ll for reading!  If you’ve got any theories on what’s about to happen, I’d love to hear from you!  Start up a conversation in the comments below!  See you in the next post, and God bless!

Part 8 will be released on November 30,

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