As Celeste had decreed, everyone stayed at the manor over the weekend. Nadir and Amin were the first to be interrogated, and after that me. But everyone was pulled into the dining room and spent a few hours being grilled. Celeste led the interrogations with Hemlock.
They mostly asked me about the fire, but also about the ghost spell. I told them what I knew, which was that there was no way Orion had killed himself with a spell like that. Not that they needed me to say that. Anyone with a passing knowledge of magical theory knew that. I didn’t even really believe it was a ghost spell at all. Theoretically, it was possible, but in reality, the amount of magical energy you would need to pull it off was way beyond even the most magically charged witches. The whole thing was dubious.
Celeste thought so as well, but there was no doubt that Orion had been murdered. After my last interrogation, she followed me to my room and said that the case was looking very bad for all involved. It was normally hard to tell who had cast a permanent spell. It wasn’t like you left a signature behind, but Celeste told me in confidence that they had good evidence that it wasn’t as the trio said.
“You know your broadcast was cut off when you came into that fire, right?” she told me, one day while tending to my hands. “Well, Gabriel stopped the tournament right away and got a hold of me and Cloris, then we all went looking for the three of you. We had no clue where you were until Isadora suddenly yelped in pain.”
I remembered the alarm on the spell, the one that had suddenly pained Nadir as we opened the box. Celeste nodded.
“That was how we found the three of you as well. When the alarm went off, she realised someone was messing with the spell and she took us to the secret basement room right away. As for what the spell actually does, we’re going to interrogate Isadora next. She’ll likely tell us. Hopefully she’ll tell us how she managed to cast it as well.”
“And what will happen to her if she really…?”
“If she killed him, then she’ll be punished for it. Even though he probably allowed her to do it and it was to save him, it’s still against Council laws to take someone’s life. I imagine that she’ll be without magic powers for a long time. Maybe under house arrest. There’s a punishment for not registering that spell as well. It’s a unique situation, because there aren’t many cases like this, at least not where there’s a ghost involved.”
I nodded, and then her words really registered. “But Gabriel said he knew about-.”
“Yes, he’ll be without powers as well.”
“What about the Tournament?”
“They’re going to be looking for a new organiser. I think you’ll receive a job offer, as a matter of fact.”
The room went quiet except for the clock on the mantle ticking. I swallowed something and said:
“But then I can’t participate.”
“With seven victories, don’t you think it’s time to do something else?”
I was going to protest, but then I noted her use of words.
Celeste stood up and stretched. “This stays between you and me for now, but you’re going to be declared the winner again. Mr. Hazan is disqualified.”
“He would have won?”
She nodded. “He made it to his final teleport first. Mr. Karimi disappeared from the Course soon after and Cloris and I were both behind you. So yes, if it wasn’t for Mr. Karimi’s intervention, he would have made it back first.”
Now I felt even angrier that he did this. The indignation built up in my chest until I couldn’t hold myself back from spilling it all to Celeste. The man was an idiot. One of the most talented people I had ever met, and he decided to throw away his abilities and everything he could have accomplished on that.
Celeste listened patiently and said at last: “Mr. Hazan isn’t nearly as bad off as you might think. He will likely lose his magical powers for up to a year but he’s not the one who planned this, nor was he the one who used blackmail and a very dangerous, unregistered spell.”
“How do we know he didn’t?” I asked. “Amin couldn’t even cast that transformation spell, so who’s to say it wasn’t Nadir who created the fire?”
She took a deep breath.
“Of course, I am looking into that possibility. I’ve also been suspicious of him all along, but I will say this: That during our interrogations, he seemed less like a villain and more like a frightened young man who misses his grandfather. And who is very concerned for your health.”
I looked down at my hands and the bandages and tried to ignore the fire that lurked in my mind every time I looked at them. “I don’t know what to do.”
The tournament. The fire. Impossible spells that turned you into a ghost. Nadir.
I didn’t say any of that. Instead I shrugged and said: “Everything.”
“Thankfully, you don’t need to do anything. Take a few days to recover and heal up and then I’ll get someone to take you home. I don’t think you should be riding a broom anytime soon.”
On Wednesday, the Council witches told us that they were done with their interrogations – for now – and that Cloris and I were free to go. Celeste arranged transport for the two of us for the next morning.
The very same afternoon, they held the saddest excuse for an award ceremony I had ever seen. It wasn’t like it was usually a huge affair, but this was downright pathetic. Only three of five participants were present and the Council witch who gave me the award was bleary-eyed and pronounced my name wrong. Nobody mentioned the other contestants, the organiser or the two commentators who were all suddenly absent, replaced by gloomy Hemlock who watched everyone like a hawk. The conspiracy theories practically wrote themselves.
It left me with a bad taste in my mouth which didn’t get better when I came back to my room and saw it wasn’t empty as I had expected. A familiar black-haired man sat on my bed.
I stopped in the doorway with the stupid trophy in my hand.
“You’re not supposed to be here,” I said, setting the trophy on the mantelshelf. “You’re supposed to be locked in your room.”
Before he could reply, Celeste appeared behind me and said:
“Genevieve, it seems Mr. Hazan got out of his room. Now, it would be very wrong if he were to talk to anyone and in a quarter of an hour I’ll discover that he’s gone, come here, and admonish him severely before taking him back. Understood?”
“What are you doing?” I asked in a whisper.
She sighed. “Probably losing my job if the seven times champion of moonlight tells anyone that I just let a criminal into her room.”
“Why would you do this?”
“Giving you a chance to shout at him or whatever else you want. Fifteen minutes. Not a damn word about it from either of you or I swear I will curse you.”
I folded my arms over my chest. “Curses don’t exist. They’re a magical impossibility.”
“Are you really willing to bet on that, Thorne?” Celeste said, not without a glint in her eye and then her face softened into a smile: “Go on.”
She closed the door and left us alone, but it took me what felt like ages to actually turn and look at him. He looked more ill at ease than I had ever seen him, which was saying a lot. It seemed he had a special talent for being utterly uncomfortable in his own skin.
I sat down on the bed as well, but on the other side and with my back turned to him. More minutes passed in awkward silence before he said:
“I’m very sorry for what happened to you, Genevieve.”
“I never realised before how totally inadequate a word sorry is.”
“It is,” he agreed.
I turned sideways and looked over at him. He still had his back turned to me and I noticed that his shoulders trembled.
“I don’t really want to talk to you,” I said.
“But I want to know how you did it.” He looked at me over his shoulder, eyes questioning. “Ever since I met you, I’ve been acting like an idiot and on the night of the gala, I kissed you. How did you make me do that? Was it some sort of potion or…?”
“No,” he said, turning like me to sit with his side facing the other side of the bed. “No. I helped with the break-in and I know I hurt the people who live here but I never did anything to you. I had no delusions you would even speak to me, let alone… it was nothing like that.”
“It was just an act then,” I said. “You pretended to like me to distract me, so the two of you could make it off with the spell or…”
“I didn’t pretend. Amin wouldn’t have blackmailed me if I did.”
I blinked away tears. “But you lied.”
“Not about that. Genevieve, I wouldn’t even have stayed for the rest of the tournament if I didn’t like you. I had no desire to win and thus no need to stay after I stopped helping Amin. I really mean it when I say I didn’t think you would even speak to me but when you did…” He let out a shaky breath that sounded almost like a sigh. “Trust me, I know how much of an idiot I am. If I were sensible, I would have left as soon as the plan fell through. Or at least, I would have told you about all this before the obstacle course.”
“That’s what you were going to tell me,” I said, remembering what he had said before the final discipline. It felt like years ago.
He nodded. “If I’d had any idea that he would hurt you, I would have come clean in an instant.”
My hands throbbed painfully but nothing hurt like the hole in my chest.
“Why can’t you just not like me?” I said, annoyed at how childish I sounded. “If you’d only say that it was all an evil plan and you did it because you’re evil, I could go home. I could prepare for the next Tournament and forget all this ever happened.”
“I won’t blame you for a second if you do. It’s only understandable that you never want to see me again.”
I jumped to my feet, turned to face him, and shouted:
“That’s not how it works! Stop being nice! Just be evil like Amin, so I can stop liking you. Tell me you did this to manipulate me and use me and that you never even liked me. I want you to just… stop being you because I can’t stop liking you! And I don’t want to like you anymore because what you did was stupid and dangerous, and you ruined everything that I loved about this Tournament.”
I stopped, having made my way to where he sat amidst my ranting. He hadn’t moved a muscle since I started shouting.
“The Tournament used to be easy,” I continued, less loudly than before. “My life used to be easy. All I had to consider was what to do for the next Tournament. I worked, prepared, participated, and I won. Sure, everybody hated me, but at least I didn’t have to worry about next year or the year after that, because I always knew what came next.”
“If I could take it all back-.”
I cut him off: “Well, you can’t.”
My eyes were getting teary again.
“Nothing will ever be right after this.” I sat down again, on the same side of the bed but as far away as possible. “I want to go back to the way things were. But I don’t. I want to forgive you. But not really. I wanted to win that stupid thing,” I pointed at the trophy on the mantel. “But now I don’t want it. You’ve made a mess of everything.”
He nodded. “That’s true. It’s what my grandfather always said.”
I shook my head.
“I’m sure he didn’t.”
Nadir sighed deeply. “He did. The whole reason I was trying to get him back was that I’m useless without him.”
“If you’re trying to make me pity you, it’s not going to work,” I said.
“I’m not.” He looked up at me with tears in his eyes, then wiped them with the back of a hand. “I’m only telling the plain truth.”
And he really was. Or at least he was telling me something he thought were the truth. Though how he could believe it I didn’t understand. This was the real winner of the Tournament and one of the most gifted people I had ever met, and he was completely convinced of his own worthlessness.
Despite my misgivings, I leaned over, put a hand on his arm, and ordered him to look at me.
“Nadir, you are a liar and an idiot, but you’re not useless. You would have won if you didn’t get disqualified, so if you’re useless that would make me even more so. I’m not.”
“No, you’re not. We used to watch you in the Tournament, grandfather and I.” He looked up with a little smile. “He always said that if I had been more like you, his life would have been much easier.”
My insides twisted because of the way he said it. “That’s terrible.”
“He was under a lot of stress, raising me.”
It was hard to imagine that raising Nadir could ever be stressful, but I didn’t say anything. I couldn’t make sense of my emotions at the best of times and whenever he was involved it became worse. The only thing I could figure out was that I wasn’t angry at him anymore. I wasn’t sure that I forgave him entirely, but the anger was gone. Celeste was right that he wasn’t a villain.
I took a few hesitating breaths, and then I moved closer and touched his arm again.
“I hope you won’t do something like this again,” I said. “Please, promise me you won’t waste your abilities like this again.”
Nadir sat completely still, as if my hand were a butterfly that would leave at the slightest stir.
“I won’t. And I’ll do my best to help the Council clear this up.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Clear what up?”
“Ms. Aura told me that they’ll have to investigate these Ink Volume spells. They have to be registered and potentially banned. Since my grandfather was very interested in the Volumes, I’ve offered to give them his research notes when I find them.”
“He’s never allowed me in his study and I haven’t even been to his house since he died, so once I’m back I’ll start going through the place. If anyone knows anything about the Volumes, it would be him.”
“Well, once I’m back at the archive, I’m not going to move the Ink Volumes out of the Myths and Legends section, just so you know. I’m not convinced.”
“What about the spells?” Nadir said. “A ghost spell and eternal fire.”
I shook my head. “Not buying it. We’re a far cry from having two or three or eight volumes of dark spells. We have two spells that are maybe dark and strange but every single other spell that someone has claimed was from the Volumes has been disproven. Even if they did exist, there’s no way they would have survived beyond those few fragments.”
“I’m sure you’re right. You usually are.” He looked up and smiled at me, one of his sweet, genuine smiles, though tinged with sadness.
“Probably,” I said. “But maybe I should help out as well. Even if they aren’t Ink Spells, they’re dangerous. Besides, if that spell really created a ghost, I want to research it.”
“Maybe…” Nadir took a deep breath and continued: “Maybe our paths will cross again someday.”
One of his hands grasped mine carefully and we leaned into each other. The thumb of his hand stroked me carefully and we sat there for a long while and though I thought neither of us were really happy, there was a sweetness to the moment. I was content to be silently miserable along with Nadir. Finally, there were steps outside and just before the door opened, he said quietly:
“I’m sorry, Genevieve. I wish we could have met under better circumstances.”
Then Celeste opened the door and scolded him sternly for being out his room. He stood up, gave my hand a small squeeze, and left with her.
His words stayed with me, even after I was back home. The what-ifs made my heart hurt. If he had been there as a normal contestant. If he hadn’t lied. If he had come clean sooner. If Amin hadn’t tried to kill me… And then my brain couldn’t handle it anymore. I had to look ahead, and now that the Tournament wouldn’t be the same I needed something else to do.
I started researching a few minutes after I was home.
I dug into all the books I had always ignored, the ones full of impossible spells and myths and fanciful tales. This time, I really read them, even if I didn’t believe in it. There was no chance that I would find whole truths in these books or indeed even half-truths. But I became certain that there was a kernel of it and as I turned the pages, the search for that kernel of truth consumed every minute of the first day after I had come home.
Those minutes turned to days and the days to months as the history of the impossible spells unfolded before my eyes. I found new purpose in the pages of the myths and legends section, and I chased this new purpose with a determination I had so far only put into becoming the Champion of Moonlight.
Feeling lost? If you’ve forgotten previous chapters and need a recap you can find my recap page here. Be aware that it contains spoilers for the story.
Author’s note: Full stop and that was the end of Champion of Moonlight 🙂 It’s so weird! I started the story on a whim last summer and here we are now. I hope you’ve enjoyed the journey as much as I’ve enjoyed to write it. Now that said, I know what you might be thinking:
Wait, whaaaaaaaaaat?! But it’s not Saturday! What is going on? Chaos! Carnage! Is nothing holy anymore?
Okay, so maybe it’s not that crazy. I merely decided to post today because I’m tired. I’m back in school – well, I’m taking math so I can get into another education and that’s every day for four and a half hours. On top of everything, we’re going to a copper anniversary party this weekend (Is this just a Danish/Scandinavian thing? – it’s a 12½ year wedding anniversary, in case you’re wondering) and it’s a three hour drive away. It’s a busy weekend leading into another busy week with more math. Posting a chapter is a lot of work because I have a lot of stuff to keep up.
I still want to post something Saturday, so there’ll be a type of look at my earlier photos for this, some fun facts, and that kind of thing in case anyone even cares a bit about all that (well, I care, so I’m posting it no matter what – ha, ha!!) – that’s just a post that’s a bit easier than a full chapter to handle 🙂
After that, well, there’s the future and there are other stories to think about. But as for the blog, I need a break. Like I said, I have some very busy weeks ahead and until I’ve adjusted to this new schedule, I don’t want to be posting at least chapters – there might be photoshoots, pre-views or whatever, but no actual chapters for the next two Saturdays. This means the next Monte Vista chapter won’t be out until the 31st of March. I hope that’s okay because I seriously need to chill and just take my time to write without being concerned with all the bloggy stuff 🙂
As for the sequel to this… I don’t know yet. My guesstimate is that I can MAYBE be finished with the first draft by this autumn, but that’s a guess. Until then, thank you so much for reading this little witchy love story of mine. It’s been a true pleasure to share it with you and I thank you all so much for reading, liking, and commenting. Without your input, the story wouldn’t have been what it is now. You are all exceptionally wonderful and kind. I’ll see you in the next post once I’ve had a few weeks to breathe.