A subtle pulse of magic emanated from Viola as she made her declaration.
Avilla screamed, and clutched her head. Cerise was with her in an instant, drawing power from me to do so through their connection, which I readily gave her. Still connected to Avilla's magic, I could feel that there was a strange pattern. It was wrong, it was attacking her, and it was fast... I dropped her out of the time acceleration. Avilla seemed to freeze, a statue in anguish. But at least she no longer got worse at a notable rate when the rest of them were still sped up so much. Still, whatever was affecting her was still progressing, so something needed to be done fast.
Cerise was still holding her. I rounded on Viola.
<Did you do this? She did threaten you, but... she didn't deserve.... I felt the magic, so I know you...>
I paused my jumbled unfinished questions. There was plenty to be said, to be asked and speculated. Yet there was no time.
Viola shook her head. <Not me.>
<Alright. Can you... keep the other goblins calm while I deal with this?>
This time she gave a toothy grin in response. I nodded, and hurried over to Cerise and Avilla.
“Cerise. Do you have any idea what is going on?”
Cerise just looked at me with wide eyes.
“Save her. Please. Anything, I'll give you whatever you... just don't let me loose her.”
“Of course. I'll do what I can. Trust me.”
Then at least one of us will trust me, Daniel thought. Alright, then. Magic time. Would have been easier if somebody knew what was going on. My knowledge, while vast, was quite fragmented and far from organized. Ah, the perils of incarnating at a moment's notice without a plan or experience in the matter.
But at least I was still connected to her magic, so sensing what was happening was easier. There was a pattern in her magic I had felt moments before I had dropped her out of accelerated time. Now I searched for that same pattern, the spell or whatever it was. A curse? But it was difficult – there was no foreign magic there, just Avilla's magic. And what magic I was providing to her that she hadn't absorbed yet. Some light influence from Cerise. But no strange foreign magic that might want to attack her.
“What is it? What is wrong with her?”
Cerise sounded very worried. I looked at her, and noticed that I had been frowning. I smoothed my expression, and gave her a faint smile instead.
“I don't know yet, doesn't seem to be any foreign magic. Or something that is pretending so well that it fools even me. Don't worry, though, I will figure this out.”
There had been an obviously wrong pattern, but it was far more subtle, now that it wasn't moving and acting fast and greedily. Or rather, it was still doing so, but at the same glacial pace as she was. Slowing it down along with Avilla had camouflaged it. It wasn't worth the risk speeding her up again just to find it, though.
But I had seen the pattern for a moment, and that was surely enough. I had Sorceries, after all, to take care of minor details like this. Magic. Recall. Understanding. Comparison. The relevant aspects responded readily, and I saw a full replay of the invasive magical pattern as it had been at full speed, and the same pattern highlighted now with Avilla in suspension.
Now knowing what to look for, I followed it to its source. There was a core to her, which acted like an anchor for the complicated blend of spells that made her who she was. And there, mixed in with everything else, I found it.
“Seems to be a love spell... triggered by meeting royalty, apparently.”
I glanced over at Viola, who was talking to the incredulous goblins of her brother's tribe. She noticed my gaze, and gave me a toothy grin, before returning to her conversation. Cerise followed my gaze, and narrowed her eyes. Then they widened in sudden understanding.
“... and she just declared herself Queen. Fuck. Whatever spell that was must not have distinguished between races. There was no way she was supposed to ever meet somebody not human, so it was likely supposed to trigger on some strapping young prince or princess – out on a hunting party or something. But who would have done... no, that's not important for now, we can worry about they why after the problem is fixed. So, mister Chosen One, tell me why this is so strong? Avilla is good with emotions, she should be able to handle most attempts to manipulate her. And can you with all your powers just vanish it?”
I was tracking the seed of the spell, mixed into her core, the essence of what made Avilla herself. There, that was was one part of the love compulsion, but that over there was not, but... in between it was both.
“Both those questions are related to the fact that this is very much a part of her. The love compulsion is strong because it feeds of her own magic. And... I've given her a lot of magic for it to feed on. As for removing it... sort of. Yes, it could remove it, but it is too tightly intertwined with other parts of her core. Removing it will damage other parts of her. I can restore those, fill in the gaps and heal the scars it will cause... but that still means she'll be different. I can get close, but I won't be able to make her perfectly the same without recreating the compulsion.”
I bowed my head. That was what my Sorceries had told him about the issue, I couldn't just remove it. Mental surgery was very complicated. And while I probably could shape a mind into something I wanted – barring ethical concerns that would stop me from even attempting this – restoring a mind to a previous state with different parts was a trickier matter. My Divine Self would have managed, but here on this world I had just one mind.
“Now, I could do that, with her permission... she's out of commission, though, and not in a state of mind to give proper informed consent. You are the closest one to her, so the decision defaults to you if she can't make it...”
“Yes. If it can save her, do it.”
I held up a hand. “Let me go over the options first.”
“There are options? Besides fixing her? You wouldn't... you can't mean...”
“No, no, no, nothing bad,” I quickly reassured her, before the panic I could feel welling up in Cerise made her do something we would both regret.
“Calm down, and listen. Letting her get hurt is not an option. But there are some, in addition to rewriting her mind. There is... well, I guess it would still affect her mind. This is a compulsion, and can be overwritten by a stronger compulsion. Not many of those out there, but devotion to a Goddess or God would probably do it, as well as some of the stronger magical bonds. Most of those are icky, but quite a few can be bent in more palatable ways. A familiar bond, a slavery bond which you are immediately ordered to ignore and keep acting as if its not there, the magical marriage bond, coven bond, as well as some fealty bonds if the organizations, concepts or people in question have enough of a magical presence to support a bond of sufficient strength. And a lot of minor weird edge cases and unique magics that people have invented that just weren't spread around. So... if you happen to know whether there is anything that Avilla was going to devote herself to anyway, we could just do that...”
“Well... I mean... not like that, I think. Not without carefully thinking about it for a long time. Though, if the other option is to rearrange her mind, I suppose it might be better.”
“There is another option still. It's... the least thorough of the methods. Which means that might be possible to cancel or undo it, or it could just fade it it's improperly done... though I assure you that with my power and skills it won't be improperly done, and quite hard to spot or mess with. Basically, we can leave the compulsion intact and inside her, and just... attach another spell to it. A modifier, if you will. It will alter the effect of the compulsion without touching her core at all. And as for altering the spell, I don't think there is much of a limit. It can be something very different from a compulsion even. Maybe... extra senses? Protection from physical damage? Hmmm... for stability, though, it would be useful to keep the effect as close to love compulsion as possible. Compulsion for some other emotion – or just a different target for the love – would seem closest, but is quite iffy. How about the opposite then? Resistance to emotional manipulation? Should be good enough to resist anything short of a Divine being given the power this thing has already drawn...”
“That one. Definitely that one. You can just redo it if it fails, right?”
“Well... I suppose so, I can add a tracker to it, and as long as I'm not otherwise so occupied that I cannot do anything...”
“Then go with it.”
I focused back on Avilla, and the love compulsion. Just above her core I crafted another layer, to intercept and modify the compulsion. Add a bit here, mix it together to give the magic another flavor... and there it was.
I let her back into accelerated time, and she kept screaming for a bit before stopping looking confused.
Cerise tackled her with a hug. They both started crying and just holding each other tightly. I smiled, happy that I could no longer feel the love compulsion affecting Avilla. I stood around awkwardly for a while, not wanting to interrupt them. Eventually I realized that this would be a while, and it would be less awkward if I didn't stand around watching them cling to each other for support.
“Alright, Cerise, I'll let you explain things... I can answer questions about details later. I should to check on Viola first, though, so I'll leave you two to talk things out.”
I wandered over to where the goblins were talking, dodging some cutlery still suspended in the air. As I came near, the goblins stopped talking, and subtly brandished their weapons. They also shifted so that Viola was protected in their middle.
The goblins shot unsure glances at Viola after she made that proclamation. She impatiently waved at them to comply, and they reluctantly lowered their weapons.
<Our fates are tied together, there is nothing to be won by treating him as an enemy. Not to mention that you could hardly stop him if you tried.>
She nodded respectfully at me.
<Viola. Or it that... Queen Viola?>
A Sorcery poked at my mind, trying to inform me of the correct titles and mannerisms when dealing with goblin royalty. I ignored it; I had been informal with Viola so far, and that should be fine. I would not be adverse to learning how to properly act, but he saw no need to suddenly magically know such things which would would need more of an explanation than continuing to act as I had before.
<I have stated my intention of becoming such, but as yet... there is but one tribe following me, so I can hardly claim such a title for now. Queen To Be, I suppose.>
<So... a Princess?>
<Ah... I suppose so, though that is usually an inherited title... and it doesn't tend to end well. In the rare case that a Goblin Monarch manages to unite goblinkind, their rule tended to fall apart with their demise, and what children remained were crushed under the overwhelmingly high expectations people had for them. I am a special case, though. I am not aware of anybody declaring that they will take the title in advance.>
There were mutters around them. Viola grinned.
<And yet, circumstances have demanded such an unorthodox action. That is what I have been explaining to my dear subjects here.>
<Ah, it seems I am needed elsewhere. Princess, is there anything you need...>
<Some food would be helpful. Our fields have frozen over, after all.>
<I'll see what I can do.>
I nodded to Viola, and went over to see Avilla and Cerise. They both looked uncomfortable, but at least my changes seemed to have taken. Avilla was herself still, no longer in the throes of any compulsion.
I took a moment to double-check my work, just in case. Magic flowed from Avilla's core, fed by my own magic. One of these streams was the love compulsion, but it was altered as intended. Good, everything seemed to hold, and it had also stopped growing uncontrollably.
“Daniel,” Avilla said, “It is good that you are here. Cerise has... informed me of what happened. I owe you thanks, for saving my mind and, I suppose, innocence. Hush, Cerise, there's no need to giggle.”
“Happy to help. Also, I guess, kinda triggered by me in several ways; the compulsion wouldn't have worked as fast if I didn't feed you my magic. And it only triggered on Viola after she swore to help me and declared herself royalty to do so. Basically don't worry about it, you wouldn't be in this position without me.”
“You were not the one who put the compulsion on me, so I insist on giving my thanks. There, I thanked him. Happy, Cerise?”
Cerise chuckled. “It'll do.”
“Good. In that case, Daniel, can you actually get this freaking thing out of me? I don't care that you transformed it into something useful, I just... I can imagine it squirming inside me, and I just want to claw it out of me. And... I talked to Cerise, we have an idea who may have done this, and we are fairly sure that there are a least a couple dozen more triggered compulsions and other nasty surprises hidden inside me. Please remove those as well.”
“Ah... are you sure? I talked the options through with Cerise, and removing the compulsion would make it necessary to basically recreate you, and I'm not confident I'd be able to do so perfectly even though I'll get close...
“Yes, she told me. And I appreciate that you decided to take the less invasive option. It was the right decision. But now that I am conscious again, and can make my own decisions, I say you get this filth the fuck out of me no matter the cost.”
“Errr...” I glanced at Cerise, who shrugged and started to say something but was interrupted by Avilla.
“Ah, nope! My decision. My... magic core whatever. Cerise doesn't get to overrule me on this.”
“And she also doesn't get to allow me to do this. I don't need her permission. I value her council on the matter, but I have that already.”
Avilla glowered at the two of them, and I had to remind myself that she couldn't hurt me, that I had the power to resist anything she might want to do. And still I couldn't help but feel a bit intimidated.
“Okay, I can see this really matters to you. You are of course correct, and we will do as you wish. But I need you to calm down first. Can you do that? Take a deep breath?”
Avilla glared at me, and I took a step back. Then she sighed and a few deep breaths. Cerise and I exhaled in relief.
“I'll feel better after you removed this stuff from me. But I do feel a bit more calm, yeah. Sorry, Cerise, for going off like this, but I just discovered somebody interfering with my... self... in the most despicable manner, and feel very protective of it. I trust you as much as anybody, but right now... I'm sorry.”
“It's fine, I understand. I'd be worried if this didn't set you off. I won't try to talk you out of things anymore, but listen to Daniel explain it once more, now that you are calm. Please. Just so you actually know what you are getting into, rather than rushing to a decision just because you feel wrong.”
“... fine. Daniel, explain.”
“Ah, very good. So, you have harmful spells as part of your core. Or, at least the one, but I'll probably find more if you suspect they are there. With them being part of you, that makes it difficult to remove them. You can overwhelm the spell with a stronger spell or bond of some kind. The available options for this kinda suck, but I can probably modify one to be better. You can overwrite the effect, which is what I've done – spell is still there and active, but it does something useful instead of harmful. Resistance to emotional manipulation, in this case.”
“But both of those options still leave the original disgusting magic as part of me, just rendered... impotent.”
“Yeah. So there is the option to remove it completely. That one isn't as clean, because it's an intertwined and integral part of your core. Removing it damages other vital functions and aspects of you. I can fill in the gaps, but... I can't just copy the structure of what was there before, that would just be rebuilding the harmful spell. I'd need to rebuild the essence of what you are with a different magic pattern as substrate. I'm not confident I can do that with perfect accuracy. Close, but... there will be changes.”
“What kind of things are we talking about here?”
“Well... likes and dislikes, probably. Suddenly liking licorice, distaste for the color blue, stuff like that. Presumably more subtle, which makes it more problematic because it harder to catch and correct yourself. You'll probably need to redecorate the entire house because it won't suit your tastes anymore, everything being just a bit off, which can be worse than being completely wrong. Memories, while still having the same content, may have different interpretations or emotions associated with them. Emotional reactions may also shift – like, you might suddenly be more prone to happiness when seeing chairs while smelling cinnamon. Minds are confusing and interconnected things, and I would like to stress that I am not an expert on this. I have a Sorcery... several Sorceries... to guide me, but that just means I hopefully won't screw up too badly.”
“Hmm... sounds like nothing that you might not experience after just living your life for a decade or so. People do change. It's fine. People do not have malicious knots of magic intent on ruining their life slithering inside themselves, however, and I don't intend to have that either.”
“... and, ah, I'd, well... I would need to examine your mind very closely, for this to work. You were worried about mental magic before, so...”
“It's about purpose, Daniel. I would not have random people touching me either. But if that person was a doctor needing to examine me to save me from some illness, it would be a different story. That's what we have here, in essence. That does not mean you get to take any liberties – I expect professionalism and respect. Now, I have calmly listened to your arguments and options, and logically thought them through, and... oh, would you look at that! My conclusion is still the same, because I am a freaking genius or something. Or maybe I just don't let emotions cloud my judgement when it comes to important things like this and just because I'm riled up does not mean I haven't given things proper thought.”
“... I still think it was a good idea to have you calm down first and...”
“I know you did, Cerise. Of course you did, and I appreciate you looking out for me even if I don't agree with the methods and... and I'm not getting into this argument again, not now. Magic man, do your thing.”