Xandra and I are both in shock. The Merpeople believe Xandra killed their Queen. “What do you mean, I killed her? I haven’t been here since I blew up her house,” Xandra exclaims. I groan inwardly. This is really not the best time for her bring up past transgressions. Especially one which could be translated as a precursor to murder.
Kai bangs a heavy fist on the table between us making me want to connect my fist with his face. “You came as you did before with your wild magic and you destroyed most of our homes! You made our Queen bow before you, promised her mercy, but you lied. You took her head, damn you!” Kai is looming over us now and Xandra is rapidly pulling magic. I am right there with her. Why is this Merman making up such heinous lies about my wife? They invited us here under the pretext of helping them find the murderer but now they accuse Xandra? Do they seek war with the Fae?
“Kai, sit down.” Arie’s voice is low and calm as she places a firm hand on her husband’s arm. “We need to get to the bottom of this.” Damn right we do.
“I was in the Cowan realm when you claim this happened. I was checking on the Witches,” Xandra explains but it is obvious her words mean nothing to the Merpeople in front of us.
“We have learned of your Angel heritage. You have the ability to move in and out of Angel time. You could have jumped time lines and no one would be the wiser.”
Arie gives me a pointed look. Is she trying to convince me now? If so, she is wasting her time. Xandra simply is not capable of doing the things they are accusing her of doing. It is beyond her nature. “My wife did not kill your Queen,” I growl for the third time.
“Why do you expect us to believe you when more than a hundred Merpeople watched you take her head?” Kai demands.
I cross my arms over my chest and shake my head in disgust. A hundred Merpeople simply watched as their Queen was murdered. I would be embarrassed to admit such a thing. Then again, it would never happen in the Fairy realm. Dagda’s subjects are loyal and brave. They are not cowards who would allow their Monarch to be killed without a fight.
Xandra presents a logical point. “If I killed her, why did I come here today to help you find her killer?”
Arie keeps her voice even but she is wary. She knows her words could incite the violence she speaks of. “You are arrogant and powerful. Perhaps you came to kill more Merpeople.” Yes, and we began this by sitting down and speaking to them peacefully. Her argument does not make sense.
My beautiful wife tries another approach. “You know, Kallen killed a rabbit once for us to eat and I was so disgusted by it still having a head when he began preparing it for cooking I could barely eat. Beheading is definitely not how I would kill someone.” I try not to smile at the mention of our time in the mountains in the Cowan realm. We have certainly come a long way since then.
Twisting Xandra’s words, Arie asks, “How, then, would you kill someone?”
Xandra gives her a flat, “I wouldn’t.”
Kai is having difficulty restraining himself. If he leans any farther over the table in Xandra’s direction, it will be his murder we will be discussing. If he touches her, his death will be a lot slower than a beheading.
The Merpeople are no strangers to magic. They know there are a slew of possibilities out there for what they claim they saw. “There are spells which can change one’s appearance temporarily,” I say evenly. “If you saw Xandra as you claim, you were being duped. We should concentrate on finding the one who wore a magical disguise and murdered your Queen. You will not find that person in this room.”
Exasperated, Xandra asks again, “Why would I come back here if I killed her?”
Arie shifts uncomfortably before finally telling us the truth. “We did not expect you to honor our request. We were simply trying to determine where the Fairies stood. We wanted to know if they would harbor you, or declare you an outcast. If the former, it would mean war between our realms. If the latter, we hoped for a joint effort to hunt you down and make you pay for your crime.”
Those were probably the bravest words the Merwoman has ever said. Stupid, but brave. They could be enough for Dagda to declare war with the Merpeople if they insist on continuing with this ridiculous, for lack of a better word, Witch hunt. I try again to make her see reason. I have given up on Kai. “This is not a situation with only two possibilities,” I tell her. “You neglected to consider the third option. The one where Xandra did not kill your Queen.”
Xandra is eying Kai. She knows he is ready to pounce and she, apparently, has not realized yet he is beyond reasoning with. “Kai, I did not kill your Queen. I am here to help you discover who did. Can you at least try to believe that?”
This leads to a back and forth that ends with Kai attempting to sic his octopi on her. They get as far as the magical wall Xandra puts up. “I guess you still don’t believe me,” she sighs. It is doubtful I will leave here without punching the Merman if not worse.
Arie considers Xandra for a long time. Finally, she says, “Kai, call off the creatures.” Not that it matters. They are already tiring from their useless attack and will soon be no danger to anyone. Her husband glowers in her direction, but he does as his wife tells him.
Arie turns her attention back to Xandra and a noticeable change has occurred within in. She is not quite as certain as she was only moments ago that Xandra is the murderer she thought her to be. “When you were here the first time, you were bitten by a textile cone snail and were on the brink of death. Your husband and I had to become quite insistent in encouraging you to use your magic to heal yourself as you did not want to break the rules of the competition.”
“You should have let her die,” Kai grumbles and it is all I can do not to reach over and pound his head on the table.
Xandra shrugs. “No magic was supposed to be used. It felt like cheating.” Her sense of fairness is one of the many things I love about her.
Arie nods once. “So you said at the time. Because of this, I am willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. For the moment,” she stresses.
“What does that mean?” I ask, ignoring her husband’s verbal indignation at the suggestion of Xandra’s innocence.
Also ignoring her husband, Arie responds to Xandra as if she asked the question. “If we have the full cooperation of the Fairy realm, and you assist in our search for the one who murdered our Queen, we will consider the option your husband put forth as true unless there is evidence to the contrary. If this is the case, we expect the Fairy realm to hand you over to be tried by Merpeople laws for the murder of our Queen.” That would never happen.
Kai is beyond pissed. “You do not have the right to make that decision,” he growls to Arie.
Arie eyes him coolly. “I am acting sovereign until a new Queen is elected, so I have every right.” Just as I thought. She would not be the one making these accusations if she was not the acting sovereign. I wonder why she did not mention it until now. This leads to a discussion between Xandra and Arie regarding the succession of MerQueens which are elected democratically.
We need to get the conversation back on track. All in all, Arie’s proposition is the best way for Xandra and me to get out of this realm without inciting war. The sooner we begin the investigation, the better. “Can we see where the incident occurred?” I ask. “I would like to determine if there is any magical residue left. We may be able to identify the type of being whom committed the crime.” My guess is one of the Queen’s own people did the killing. She was not a popular monarch.
“Of course,” Arie says. After a brief glance at her irate husband, she adds, “I will escort you.”
Xandra’s Familiar snarls and Xandra mumbles in reply, “That would have been difficult to do while you were sleeping.”
“Pardon?” Arie says.
Not wanting to admit the Tasmanian devil is her Familiar, Xandra rushes to say, “Sorry, I was just mumbling to myself.” It is a shame she cannot communicate with the beast telepathically. It would prevent situations such as this.
Arie is not convinced but she lets it go. We follow her out of the room and into the adjacent building which was the residence of the murdered Queen. The MerQueen’s home is still in disrepair from our last visit, I note. A constant reminder to the Merpeople of Xandra’s power. I can understand why they would be so apt to accuse her. Arie brings us to a small room at the bottom of the house. The walls and ceiling are deteriorating and could collapse at any time. I scowl as I look around at the crumbling walls. We may be risking our own lives entering such a place.
Arie stops and turns to us. “It is here you, or the other you, killed our Queen.”
Refusing to acknowledge her verbal sniping at Xandra, I ask, “How could this room hold a hundred Merpeople? It is barely large enough to fit us.” Their version of the murder tale is not adding up. There is no possible way one hundred Merpeople were in here and the room has no windows. Kai was lying.
Arie’s new explanation makes more sense. “Only the Queen and her killer were in this room. A hundred Merpeople watched the Queen be dragged into this room and only one came out. The Queen did not.”
Her explanation may make more sense but it does not prove anything. “So, no one saw the Xandra lookalike actually kill the Queen?” I ask, my tone growing harsher as more lies are exposed.
“No,” Kai growls. “Perhaps it was not the Xandra lookalike, as you call her. Perhaps it was the little beast. The one who now accompanies your wife.”
Xandra and I both still. “The killer had a Tasmanian devil with her?” Xandra asks. Her Familiar snarls but Xandra’s only response is to nudge him with her foot. I wish I knew what the beast was saying.
The longer I stand in this room, the more confused I become. I am sensing magic, but it is not what I expected. In fact, it is quite troubling. Making my face a blank page, I ask, “When is the last time this room was used?” It is obviously a storeroom of some sort, but the supplies in here are meager.
“Three months, maybe longer,” Arie says.
“Can you feel magic?” Xandra asks.
Before I can say anything, the beast at her feet begins to snarl again. Xandra’s expression instantly turns to shock. I believe the devil has told her what I already know. Words pass between them and I am fearful Xandra will let her newly acquired knowledge slip. I give her the slightest shake of my head. We need to figure out what is going on before we tell the Merpeople it is indeed Xandra’s magic lingering in the room. Xandra narrows her eyes at me as if chastising me for believing she would say anything. To be fair, her mouth does run away from her sometimes.
Pulling us out of our silent conversation, Arie says, “You did not answer her question.”
I take a slow look around the room while I decide how I am going to answer her question. I decide to stick to the truth as much as possible. “The magic used was very strong. It is like no other I’ve felt. Magic this powerful could easily work a convincing disguise spell.”
Xandra’s magic is one of a kind and she could easily have done the spell if she learned how. But, how in the hell did her magic get here when she was not here? Disguising one’s appearance is one thing, exactly mimicking another’s magic? Impossible. Yet, here we are.
“Can you be more specific?” Kai growls.
I shake my head and full out lie this time. “Too much time has passed, the water has washed away too much.” Could Xandra’s magic still be lingering from when she blew up the house? No, I do not believe so. This magic is too new.
While I am busy lying to protect her, Xandra is conversing once again with her Familiar. The beast has wandered over to the fish cage and is sniffing around. Whatever he is saying to her has Xandra even more rattled.
“What is the beast doing?” Kai asks.
Xandra glances back and forth between Kai and her Familiar. “Um, looking for food.” She is a terrible liar.
I need to move things along before one of us says the wrong thing and starts a war. The sooner we get out of here, the better. “Are the passages of your realm guarded?” I ask, hoping for a clue as to where the imposter came from.
“Aye,” Kai says. “Most have been sealed. We do not believe the killer,” he looks at Xandra in disgust, “came through a known passage. She appeared many leagues from the closest one.”
“She could have swam here,” Xandra suggests.
“Those who witnessed her coming say the sea opened for her,” Kai argues.
I groan inwardly. The only one who can tear the fabric of the realms like that is Xandra. But, I know in my heart she did not do as they accuse. So, who would have the power to mimic her abilities? Keeping my growing panic from my voice, I ask, “What do you mean?” Perhaps it was not really like Xandra’s ability. Perhaps it was an illusion of some sort.
To my great surprise, Arie’s face twists in irritation. “You cannot believe every fanciful tale,” she says to her husband. In response to my question, she adds, “The witnesses claim it was as if a passage was made from sea to sea, a window opened and she swam through it. It closed after her.”
I need to work hard to school my face. Though she does not believe it possible, Arie just described Xandra’s ability perfectly. I glance at my wife and her calm façade is crumbling. We need to get out of here before she accidently confesses to something she did not do.
“Where did the killer go after leaving here?” I ask, hoping to move the investigation along again.
Kai’s face turns red. “We do not know.”
Not only did he do nothing as his Queen was murdered, he also did not bother to give chase? Crossing my arms over my chest, I push, “How did she get past you?”
“Her magic, it was…” Kai hesitates, trying to hide the shame on his face. “It was too powerful to penetrate with our weapons.”
Xandra’s expression is looking guiltier by the second. “What efforts, besides contacting the Fae, have been made to find the guilty party?” I ask Arie.
Her eyes downcast, she says, “We do not know what else to do. We thought we knew the identity of the killer. Now that this may not be the case, what is there to do? The killer is no longer in this realm, therefore, we do not know where to look for her.”
I want to rail at her. I want to tell her she is crazy for suspecting my wife. But, I cannot. The initial anger I felt at the accusations is fading. It is being replaced by incredulity and fear with a healthy dose of curiosity mixed in. By all accounts, Xandra does seem to be the guilty party. Yet, she is not. It simply is not possible. Perhaps Grandmother or Dagda can put the pieces together better than I can. First, I need to warn Xandra she is letting her fear begin to show. I go to her side and take her hand. I squeeze it slightly, hoping she understands. Her face clears so she must. “What would you like us to do?” I ask.
Arie sighs. “I fear there is nothing which can be done. You are no more able to track the killer than we are.”
“We may be able to do more. We will discuss the matter with our King and determine a course of action. The Fae will do everything possible to help you.”
A distinct snort comes from Kai. His wife gives him a stern look before saying to us, “We appreciate any assistance you can lend us.” Her head bows slightly. “Thank you.”
“Taz,” Xandra calls. “Time to go.” Her desire to be gone from this place is evident in her tone.
I need to be certain we will have safe passage. Normally, Xandra would simply open a passageway between realms wherever we are, but that is not wise at the moment. So, we will need to swim to the nearest existing passageway. That gives the Merpeople ample time to attack if they discover we are lying to them. “Are you willing to let us leave without incident?” I ask, ready for a negative response.
Kai’s answer is written all over his body from his pinched, scowling face down to his twitching tail fin. He wants to put up a fight. Arie, on the other hand, has a defeated air about her. She knows she cannot hold us here against our will. Even if Xandra was the killer, she would have already proven the Merpeople are powerless against her. Not to mention, Dagda would declare war in a heartbeat if he discovered anyone was holding his daughter against her will.
Arie takes the only logical course available to her even though it is killing her to do so. “You will meet no resistance in your departure,” she says evenly.