I Tried To Read The 5th Wave And Failed

I just can’t with this book.

I first saw the Fifth Wave in the bookstore a few years ago when it was brand new, and it seemed pretty interesting. It has a very good premise. It’s a dystopian YA novel (strange how that’s not only a genre now, but an oversaturated and cliche genre. What a weird time to be alive) about a girl surviving on her own in the ruins of Earth after aliens show up and destroy the place.

The alien assault comes in the form of “waves.” The first wave is an EMP blast that disabled all electronic devices and cuts off communication. The second wave is a series of bombs dropped into fault lines that trigger tsunamis which wipe out all human life near coastlines. The third wave is a virus, transmitted by birds, that not only causes people to die a painful and bloody death, but also lose their mind to the point that one victim is shown to have been chained to her bed while she ripped her own fingernails out.

The book begins after the fourth wave has begun. It has a pretty strong opening chapter, and I was hooked very quickly. The narrator, Cassie, switches back and forth between recounting the events of her life before and the way humanity dealt with the attack from “the Others,” and her current mission to travel to a nearby airbase where she believes she might find her younger brother, trekking along desolate highway while being followed by a sniper.

At first, Cassie’s tendency to wax philosophical is charming. I mean, if you can’t contemplate the futility of existence in an apocalypse that somehow manages to combine an alien invasion, a superflu, a zombie virus,, a worldwide flood, a super bomb, and the mass murder of all survivors, you really can’t ever find a time to contemplate anything. But as time goes on, it feels like author Rick Yancey was more interested in using the lens of an uber apocalypse to discuss human society than actually telling a compelling story.

And things only get more ham-fisted from here. Every point is driven home without a hint of subtlety, and simple messages that shouldn’t be difficult to grasp are slammed in with a sledgehammer. The most egregious example of this is a moment that made me roll my eyes almost out of my head. I had to put the book down and Google to see other people’s reactions because I was so incredibly annoyed.

At one point, Cassie is reciting her experience in a camp of survivors. They’re all struggling to survive and trying to figure out what the hell is going on, unsure if anyone is ever going to come and help them. Cassie herself makes a brief reference to religion before this scene, simply saying that when it comes to God, she feels like there’s some kind of a broken promise there. But leaving it at that would be subtle and understated, two things that this book is not. We’re briefly introduced to two characters surviving in the refugee camp: a religious fanatic nicknamed Mother Theresa by the others, and “the sole atheist in our camp, some college professor named Dawkins.”

Yeah, that’s a LITTLE on the nose, Rick Yancey. Let me talk about WHY I hate this so much. The point Yancey is trying (read: failing) to make here is that all fundamentalism is bad, both religious fundamentalism and… non-religious fundamentalism? I mean there’s a problem with trying to explain how someone could be a fundamentalist ahtiest when atheism is simply the rejection of a religious claim, but I get what he’s trying to say here. He’s saying that we should be level-headed in our approach to life, and not get lost moving too far to one side or the other to keep a clear view of the situation.

But this is an actual apocalypse story. The other survivors jeer at the atheist, telling him he’s going to hell, to which he reasonably responds, “How would I know the difference?”

What bothers me so much about this is not just that Yancey went with the most obvious and on-the-nose name choice possible for an atheist character by naming him after Richard Dawkins, though that annoys me too. And I won’t dwell on it for much longer, but I have now found two different interviews in which someone asked him about naming his character Dawkins, and in both of those interviews he chuckled and said “You caught that, did you?” Yeah, Rick. We ALL CAUGHT IT. It was not subtle, or clever, it was ham-fisted and graceless. Anyhow, that’s not what bothers me so much. What bothers me is the idea that in a world where all of the conceivable apocalypses have happened one on top of another, that an atheist would STILL be regarded with disgust. I mean, if you need any more proof that there is no God looking out for you, trying looking around at the nightmarish dystopian hellscape you live in. I get that people would probably turn to their faith for comfort, but like Cassie mentioned earlier in the book before this scene, it’s clear that if there was some sort of promise from God to keep people safe, he didn’t live up to it, and may as well not exist anyway. The idea that this ONE character is the SOLE atheist is ridiculous, particularly when Cassie more or less admitted to being an atheist only a few pages ago.

I did manage to get a bit of revenge when, later on when groups of soldiers arrive to take all young children away to safe houses, Mother Theresa demands that she be allowed to leave too, because “women and children should be taken first, that’s just how things are done,” seeming to go out of her way to throw everyone else under the bus. I might have enjoyed this jab at religiosity more if it hadn’t been countered by an incredibly flawed atheist strawman. Not that his Mother Theresa character wasn’t a straw man too, but at the very least, anyone could sympathize with the atheist character.

At any rate, just when I began to feel really interested in what was happening to Cassie, the story switches perspectives rather abruptly to another character called Zombie, previously Cassie’s high school crush, and his experiences becoming infected with the plague virus, and subsequent recovery. He’s hooked into a computer program called Wonderland that “maps” his experiences, basically downloading his entire personality, memories, feelings and thoughts into a computer, and then he’s sent to boot camp to train in becoming a soldier. Calling the computer program Wonderland is one of several cringe-worthy literary references that might have been clever if they weren’t so cliche. It reminds me of the villain in Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series being named Valentine, or the way the Looking Glass Wars tried to turn the Mad Hatter and Chershire Cat into anime-style martial arts badasses. It just feels so… silly. There’s kind of a trend in this series of giving silly names like Wonderland, Zombie, Nugget, Razor, Poundcake, and Dumbo. Sometimes they feel like they’re supposed to be references to other works, sometimes they just feel like unfortunate nicknames.

The story switches back to Cassie and manages to get very interesting for a few chapters, because the sniper who had been following her is an alien. Up to this point, no one has seen the aliens, but it is known that there are aliens masquerading as humans and killing people, which is called the Fourth Wave. The Fifth Wave, by the way, is never explained or even mentioned in this book, and won’t be addressed until the final book in the trilogy, but I digress. So the aliens have basically attached themselves to people’s brains and possessed their human hosts, but they aren’t a conciousness which replaces the old one (a la Stephanie Meyer’s the Host), they are still the same person they always were, only they’ve been “awakened” to who they truly are. The alien, Evan, is having trouble deciding on what to do because during the time he was hunting and stalking Cassie, he became attracted to her and began to become obsessed with her, unable to bring himself to kill her, instead nursing her back to health.

Evan is a pretty interesting character. He’s conflicted and you can see that his humanity is ultimately overpowering the alien part of himself. It does however worry me that since he is set up as Cassie’s romantic interest, this book continues the disturbing trend in YA fiction of having a female protagonist fall in love with an abusive or obsessive male partner who gives off some distinctly rape-y vibes. Still, because I’m me, I was just happy to finally have a cute boy involved in the story who I could be vicariously attracted to, because what is young adult fiction without sexual tension?

This, unfortunately, is when the book grinds to a complete halt. Evan and Cassie end up sharing a kiss and he climbs in bed with her, at which point the camera fades to black and we switch to Cassie’s younger brother, a terrified seven year old named Sam, who is brought into the safe houses after being separated from a girl he meets on the bus, and the narrative returns to Zombie, who is now in boot camp. And the book goes Full Metal Jacket on us. And you know, I really tried with this part. Firstly, I find military stories entirely boring, particularly when they involve boot camp, because I tend to view boot camp as a very strange form of physical and mental torture that we as a society have sanctioned as perfectly alright, and this book continues to espouse the supposed virtue of emotionally and mentally destroying a person through weeks and months of torture before “molding them” into a soldier, which even in real life seems to have little effect but destroying a person’s natural empathy and replacing their personality with that of a cold and ruthless machine designed to serve it’s masters, sacrificing any humanity.

But again, I digress.

I have difficulty with boot camp stories because of the above mentioned reasons, but also because it’s really not what this book has been about up to this point. And exactly halfway through the book is a very strange time to take on such a drastic change in tone. I mean, yeah, it’s still the same hopeless dystopia as the first half, but at a certain point the utter hopelessness of the story becomes unbearable. I mean, there IS no victory for these characters. At this point, most of humanity is dead. Even if they somehow defeated the aliens, there’s nothing that can be done, humanity will not survive beyond this point, any attempt to survive is pointless. And Yancey has said that the point of this story is not about victory but about endurance, but still, how compelling is a story of endurance? I mean, at the end of Gary Paulson’s book Hatchet, the main character does eventually get to go back to society. His endurance pays off. Where is the pay off here?

The thing that really pushed me over the line is that the book goes into gruesome detail describing the fate of the people who died, particularly through the lens of Casssie’s younger brother. Not only does the narrative go through the horrific details of his mother’s death and the way he lost everything he ever loved, but it does so while retaining his point of view, so that characters are still called “mommy” and “daddy” and we can see his innocence shattering. It all becomes so incredibly depressing that it’s almost too difficult to bear. This whole book is just steeped in hopelessness, and that’s the problem with it. Once you’ve breathed a sigh of relief, things can only get worse. There is never going to be any payoff for these characters.

The little boy is thrown into boot camp, a ludicrous idea even for a dystopian novel, and the drill sergeant taunts him about the death of his mother, which is probably more monstrous and unforgivable than anything that’s happened up to this point. Now granted, this drill sergeant is an antagonist, but the scene is framed in such a way that it suggests boot camp is a GOOD thing, so what is the message being sent here? I don’t know, but honestly this is the point where the book became too much for me and I had to put it down. I skimmed summaries for the rest of the book and then the rest of the series to sate my curiosity about what happened next, and I’m going to talk about it now, so consider yourself spoiler warned.

This boot camp section carries on for a while, and the narrative doesn’t return to Cassie for a long time, which as I said, grinds the story to a halt, because even though Zombie has been introduced, the central story was still mostly about Cassie. Halfway through the book is a bad time to give this novel a deuteragonist. We’d already followed Cassie, Evan and Sam, and Zombie’s section had been brief enough that it didn’t detract from the overall narrative. Frankly, I just don’t have the patience for this kind of storytelling. I know it may be important to switch focus, but I had to keep willing myself to read on beforehand, through all the gloomy atmosphere, because the story was essentially pretty good and was rolling along. I don’t have it in me to put with a boot camp section, not now. The military aspects of the book seem to be glorifying the military and even though that’s another discussion for another time, it was just too harsh of a tonal shift for me.

So, I was genuinely curious about what the hell the Fifth Wave actually was, and apparently it isn’t even explained until the third and final book in the trilogy. The big secret is that the aliens were never on earth, they were always acting remotely, and the mothership doesn’t actually house the aliens so much as it houses their equipment and their weapons. They controlled people by mapping themselves through Wonderland and then uploading themselves into people’s brains. This is meant to pull the rug out from under you, but Yancey actually did a very weird thing in the way he told the story in the first novel. You see, we learn from Cassie that the military are actually alien-controlled humans, but we switch to Zombie and Sam being cared for by the military and being given explanations about what the aliens are, even though we as readers KNOW they are the aliens. But, the information they’re giving the protagonists seem to be true, so it’s kind of a triple-bluff. I wish that the author had picked a better method of explaining the central story than several info-dumps from the point of view of side-characters, given by unreliable characters. Worse, the villains mostly seem to be pretty good people, except for the two military drill instructor types.

The general theme for this book seems to be that we as the reader are shown something, and then the characters are put into a situation where we know what’s happening and they don’t. That’s a good storytelling method in and of itself, but unfortunately, things get wonky from there. Right when I as a reader think I know what’s going on, the “bad guys” are acting good, and we’re left to wonder who exactly is the villain here. And this isn’t done in an interesting, morally ambiguous way, like a political tale in which every player has their own ends and the lines between good and evil become blurred, it’s just clunky and indistinct, leaving me as a reader not sure if the antagonists are lying or telling the truth, and not sure if the narrative itself is lying to me or telling the truth. There are lies hidden within truths hidden within lies, but it’s spun in a very ineffective way, and just left me scratching my head and unwilling to keep slogging on once the focus of the book shifted halfway through.

In case you’re curious, the ultimate ending of the series apparently keeps piling cliche upon cliche, because the sole fault in the Wonderland program is that the aliens didn’t anticipate that LOVE would become involved, and basically, love can break the spell that the program has on people, as it did with Evan and his (creepy?) romantic obsession with Cassie. Yes, that’s right, it’s the old “love trumps everything” trope, but wait, it gets better.

The reason that the aliens sent their ship there was to destroy human civilization, because humans were destroying the environment and wiping out other species, and apparently the Others go from planet to planet, wiping out civilizations that pose too much of a threat to their environments in order to keep life going. But if that’s the case, what about the Others themselves? If they have this kind of sophisticated technology, then surely they must have developed and incredibly advanced civilization that DIDN’T harm the life around themselves, in which case they could use their technology to travel to planets and help other races to take care of their home worlds, share their own technology with them, or hell, even take over the planet and become benevolent dictators. It seems like the Others went through a HELL of a lot of trouble to wipe out the majority of the human race when inevitably another race will eventually evolve to take it’s place and create it’s own civilization. And from what I can tell from plot summaries of the rest of the series, the real origins of the Others are never explained and they’re never even communicated with directly. What a let down.

The Fifth Wave, by the way, is a series of child soldiers trained by the aliens, who go and destroy what’s left of humanity, by tricking them into thinking they’re killing alien-infested people. Even though the people training them to do this are actually alien-infested, but actually not because of the whole Wonderland thing and ugh, my head hurts.

Even worse, the ultimate end for Cassie is that she downloads the memories and personalities of thousands of long-dead humans into her own mind, basically becoming Super Cassie and going on an army-of-one rampage against the antagonists, ultimately beaming herself onto the mothership with a bomb in hand, blowing herself up and destroying the mothership in the process. I don’t know if this actually defeats the Others, because clearly if they’ve done this with other planets before, they must have more ships. Did this really accomplish anything? So we have a combination of the “love conquers all” trope, the “humans will destroy the planet” trope, and the “sacrifice yourself to save Earth” trope. It’s kind of sad to me that a story with such lofty goals ends with such cliche set pieces.

And then finally, the epilogue of the series involves Zombie and Sam wandering through the ruins of the old world, basically just continuing to survive, and having some philosophical discussion about what a realm is. And that’s it. Like I said, there is no victory. No matter how long Zombie, Sam, and the other survivors make it, no matter how many generations of their children survive, humanity is still dead, all of human history is still destroyed, all of the art and music and literature and memories of past generations is gone. And the world isn’t rebooted in an Eden awash with possibilities, it’s on a planet in which much of the life has been destroyed and what land remains is littered with waste. The end.

How incredibly unsatisfying.

And that’s the Fifth Wave. I couldn’t bring myself to finish it, and honestly I’m kind of glad I didn’t. It set out with some lofty ambition, but ultimately feels pretty pointless. The point of a dystopian story is to try and overcome the dystopia, to begin rebuilding, to create a new and better world, but this? This is just sad, and hopeless from the very beginning. Pain stacked upon pain, often in horrifically morose detail. It’s strange to me that in the world of YA fiction, you can’t directly talk about penises or breasts and you can’t do any more than imply that sex happens, but you can spend chapters describing blood leaking from the eyes of children and infants dying in their cradles and bands of marauders murdering (and raping?) children. It’s a pretty sad state of affairs in general that we are so much more comfortable describing horrific violence in gory detail than talking frankly about something as natural and harmless as consensual sex. Not that that’s Rick Yancey’s fault, it’s just an observation, and it’s certainly not a new one.

And now, I can finally go read Mercedes Lackey.

A Prologue in Darkness

So let me explain what this is. I’ve wanted for a long time to try and condense my thoughts about Christianity into one place, and I doubt it’s something that I could ever encapsulate within one project. But I’ve thought of an idea for a book, in which I go through the major points of the Bible and talk about my perspective on those stories and characters, and how they’ve influenced the world today, and basically just try and deconstruct Christianity, to understand something that has caused me so much heartache and which I feel is such a powerfully harmful force in the world.

Truthfully, I’ve always found most of Christianity’s central mythos incredibly uninspiring, at least when told from the point of view of God as the protagonist. There’s not a lot of magic and adventure, and it’s mostly concerned with farming and deserts. As for the players of the story, Satan is by far a more interesting character who seems to have a much more moral stance, and God consistently behaves in ways that are irrational and inexplicably cruel. Earlier today I wrote down a conceptual outline for the chapters of the book, with each chapter being focused around a certain character or character. For instance, chapter one would be called Adam and Eve, chapter two would be Satan, chapter three would be Cain and Abel, etc. And I could go chronologically through the Christian Bible and touch on the things that interest me and that I want to talk about. The final chapter would be focused on the central character of the Bible, God himself, and would cover the book of Revelation.

I started to get ideas for a prologue, starting the story out right before the creation of the universe, and treating God in the most sympathetic and compassionate light. I’m actually really quite proud of this so I’d love any feedback you may have.

The beginning is not the beginning. The beginning of all things is a mystery, perhaps forever unsolvable. We don’t even know that there was a beginning. But this story begins with a creature, a being who is alone, floating in the vast darkness of the cosmos, floating in nothingness. We don’t know what he looks like. We only call him “he” because it’s the way he will later refer to himself. Perhaps he is vaguely humanoid, with two arms and two legs, hands and feet, and a head fitted with eyes, ears, a nose and mouth. Perhaps he is curled, fetus-like, sleeping in the vast emptiness, dreaming in the dark womb of nothingness, waiting to be born into the cosmos. Perhaps he is a tiny speck, perhaps he is large and monstrous, and perhaps, like all of existence, he is void and without form.
Where did he come from? Does even he know? Is he the only being in existence, or is he a being left over from some previous existence? Was there an ending before all of this? Was there a cataclysm that destroyed the entire cosmos and reduced it to nothingness, leaving only this sleeping catalyst? Was the past universe like a plant that upon it’s death, drops seeds of new life, and this sleeping creature is that seed? What is the nature of this being? Does he have emotions, thoughts, desires? Does he feel pain or love, is he lonely? Is there anyone to equal him, a companion to share his existence with, another being like him? Could he even create another like himself if he wanted? Were there others like him once, and now only he is left?
Perhaps he unfurls his body, such as it is, and stretches his muscles and joints, such as they are. Perhaps he looks around and sees the nothingness. Perhaps he feels afraid. Did he have a mother or father? Did he have a family? Does he remember the answer to this question? Perhaps he looks behind himself, at that expanse of darkness that is the same as every other expanse of darkness. Does he see the past? Or is it as much a mystery to him as it is to all who come after?
Those answers will never come. The mysterious being closes his eyes and gathers his thoughts and emotions. He gathers everything he has, and prepares for one magnificent display, he prepares to create everything. He holds out his hands, and he opens his eyes and his mouth, and creation begins.
A vast explosion, a soundless cosmic bang, and all the light of all the stars and all the galaxies comes pouring from one point of light in the vast darkness, and that point of light is the being who lay in the darkness, and from him come planets and meteors and dust and fire, moons and nebula and molecules and atoms and cells and water, from him comes the infinitely expanding universe with it’s constants and it’s laws, it’s various physics and biologies, it’s planets of rock and mountain and ocean, and from him comes mathematics and science and future and past and magic and reason, pain and hope and love and loss and possibility and infinity.
He finds himself floating in a sparkling universe, still racked with the painful explosions that are it’s birth cries, he looks around at the terrified newborn cosmos, and he smiles, holds out his hands over a sphere of water and rock, and he opens his mouth to speak.

The Folly Of King Roseline

The entire court stood as the door behind the throne opened and the king himself came through, standing atop the high platform overlooking the circular room. He was a man of great girth, wearing a large fur robe of purples and golds, with white beard, hair, and bushy white eyebrows. His eyes were bright blue, like those of his daughter. This was the first time Lucas had ever seen him.

Lucas took a breath, steading himself. How had made it here? He was standing in the center of the great open court, where rows of seats lead up the sides of the hall, holding senators and clergyman, and the king himself stood beside his great throne at the top of the hall, so that the area took the shape of an arena. And Lucas himself stood a raised platform in the center of the room with steps leading to the top, where he might be seen by the king and all the court at once. He knew that was he was doing was dangerous, but still he tried to remain calm. It was what had to be done.

“His Imminence King Roseline.” the guard to the King’s left announced in a booming voice, and the king sat upon the tall, gold and purple throne.

The king spoke, his voice deep and carrying around the large chamber, echoing clearly off the walls, “State your name for the court, young man.”

Lucas took another deep breath. “I am Lucas Ballanheim, Prince of the nation of Alexandria.”

“And why, Prince Ballanheim, have you come before my court today?” The king asked curiously.

“I have come to tell you of a plot to destroy my kingdom, and yours.” Lucas announced. There were murmurs from around the great hall, but the king remained silent, and placed his hands together thoughtfully, interlocking his fingers.

“This is a serious allegation, young Prince.” the King said. “Of what plot do you speak?”

“As you know, Your Imminence,” Lucas continued, “The royal family of Alexandria plays little part in the governing of the country itself. We are but figureheads, and our duty is mainly to help the people on a more personal basis, rather than to decide on their laws. You of course know why Alexandria is ruled by a Consulate, and not by her King.”

“I do,” the King spoke, “It is because of the legend of the Hell Child, who was born to the Alexandrian king of hundreds of years ago, and who had the terrible powers of a demon.”

“Indeed, Your Excellency,” Lucas agreed, “And it is said he had power over fire, over water, air, and earth, the great elements that make up our world. He was filled with the stubborn arrogance of a child of three years, and when his powers began to take form he could not control them, and so at a whim he burned the townspoeple and the houses, destroyed the castle around him, and even killed his own mother. The child became possessed by anger and rage, and ultimately had to be executed after he’d killed much of the Alexandrian population.”

“This is a tale known to me, and to my court,” the King spoke, “Why do you tell it now?”

“Because it is important that it be known that this is more than a legend, but historical truth, Your Excellency. The Hell Child was real, and there were many ideas as to what gave him this terrible power. Most among the court of that time believed him possessed of a demon, but in order to be sure that none of the Alexandrian royal family would ever be born with this power and use it to rule, it was decided by the people and agreed upon by the King of that time himself that Alexandria would be ruled by a democratic body made up of representatives, and the King himself would hold no power over the country.”

“Indeed, young Prince, as I have said, I know the tale,” the King’s voice had just a touch of impatience. “And again I ask what this has to do with any plot against my country, or your own?”

“Because, your Excellency,” and here Lucas paused, closed his eyes, and breathed deep again, steadying himself, “I am descended of the same line that bore the Hell Child, and I too have these powers over the elements.”

There were gasps among the court, more murmurs, and even a few loud objections. “This boy is mad!” One man shouted, and “Get him from the stand, we’ve more important matters to deal with!” from another. The King raised his hand and slowly silence fell once more over the court.

“This is an interesting claim to make, Prince Ballanheim,” the King said, “Particularly since anyone who truly did posses this power would be immediately perceived as an enemy of the state and too dangerous to be allowed to live. Have you proof of this claim?”

“If I would beg your indulgence, Excellency, “Lucas said, “I will demonstrate my power to you all. No harm will befall anyone, I promise.”

The King sat back in his throne and laid his crossed hands upon his lap. “You have my permission.”

Murmurs from the crowd began again, but Lucas turned to face those to his right. “Those of you who stand near the torches!” he shouted, “Take them from their positions on the walls and bring them forward, toward the dais.”

There were shouts of disapproval, but the King held up his hand again. “Do as he asks,” he said, “I would see this demonstration.”
From both sides of the hall, the guards standing near the torches on the walls took them from their places in the stone and brought them forward, so that all light but the torches behind the king now glimmered at the bottom of the dais. Lucas closed his eyes. He had done this a thousand times with the candles in his room, it was his favorite trick, it always soothed him. He thought of those times alone in his room, and he felt a twitch in his hand and a tightening sensation inside his head.

He reached out from within himself to the flames in the torches, he felt their heat with his mind, and magnified it. There were gasps from the crowd but Lucas didn’t need to open his eyes to know why. The flames in the torches had exploded into brightly burning fires much larger than they had been. He felt with invisible fingers each flame and pulled on them all at once. There were screams from the crowd as the flames all left their places atop the torches and floated to the top of the dais, and gathered into one large fireball, hovering over Lucas’ palm. He reach out with his mind and felt the flame in the torches behind the throne, and they too exploded into larger fires, and he pulled them forward, past the king and they joined the fireball hovering in the air over Lucas’ hand. He opened his eyes.

The only light in the room was from the great ball of light and fire he held swirling in his hands, red and blue and orange. It’s heat was immense. Lucas held out his hand and the ball of fire rose a few feet into the air. He stared at it.

“Fire, your Excellency.” he spoke loudly. “Fire is the great power of man. The power to create fire lies with humankind alone. At times, fire is the light of hope and warmth in the darkness of the night, and at others, fire is the heat of burning homes and destroyed cities, a terrible power that consumes forests, animals, people, any who stand in it’s wake. The human will is like fire, it can be used for comfort and warmth, or for destruction.”

The King spoke slowly, “That is…” he took a breath, “An impressive trick, young Prince.”

“But it’s not a trick, your Excellency.” Lucas looked up at the King, and with his mind he grabbed hold of the fireball and it flew over his head, and fanned out into a flaming cage that surrounded him upon the dais, and then the flames withdrew into smaller fireballs that hovered around him, illuminating him and casting dim light on the hall and on the king overhead. “This is the power the Hell Child posessed, but as you can see I am not a child possessed of a demon, but a young man who can control it. I can control the elements of fire, water, earth and wind. And this is crucial to understand, because it is the basis of the plot that threatens both our kingdoms.”

The King spoke, “Young Prince, this is indeed a marvelous display. However this kind of power is dangerous for the reasons you already know. You bring it forth into my court and demonstrate this power for us, but there had best be a very good reason. Tell me now of this plot, I’ll not ask again.”

“Your Excellency,” Lucas spoke clearly so that the entire court could hear him, “The Consul of Alexandria, Lord Brais, seeks to gain this power that I possess. He would seek to use it rule over Alexandria, and your kingdom of Hephaestia, along with all the other kingdoms of the world, and make himself Lord Sovereign over all men.”
Shouts of outrage filled the hall, while other members of the court remained staring at the fireballs that circled Lucas in silent wonderment.

“This is a grievous accusation, Prince Ballanheim,” the King spoke, “You had best bring forth some evidence of such a plot. Alexandria and Hephaestia have been allies since the foundation of both kingdoms, and to imply that your Consul seeks to take power from us is treason toward your own nation, be you the Prince or not!”

“Indeed, it is treason, Your Excellency.” Lucas said, “And Consul Brais has betrayed his own nation and yours in his attempt to gain this power.”

“If indeed the Consul sought to use the power you possess, why has he not enlisted you to do his bidding, or why has he not sought some way to steal the power from you, could such a thing be possible?” the King asked.

“Because the Consul, like many of the members of the high court of Alexandria, know of my power and view me as a threat. Though this is the power the Consul seeks, he has attempted to have me killed several times now, and my deployment as an Ambassador was a ruse to exile me from my Kingdom. As you know men dressed in the armor of Hephaestian soldiers attacked my retinue.”

“But it was not Hephastia’s doing!” the King shouted angrily.

“Of course it wasn’t, your Excellency.” Lucas spoke calmly. “It was a mercenary band employed by the Consul, and wearing your uniforms. Though the Consul himself told you he believed Hephaestia to be innocent in this, he orchestrated by attempted murder so that the people of Alexandria would think Hephaestia an enemy, and support the inevitable war he will declare upon your Kingdom.”

“This is preposterous!” shouted on the courtsman. “Your Excellency, hear no more of this child’s fanciful tales!”

The King remained silent, his head bowed in silent contemplation.

“Yes! Have the boy removed from the court this instant, and send him home to be tried for treason against his own country!” another courtsman shouted.

“I am not surprised as the outrage, your Excellency.” Lucas spoke calmly and clearly. “There are those among your court who are in league with the Consul, and wish you take you from your seat of power.”

Screams of outrage once again filled the hall. Lucas shouted over them, “The Consul has made empty promises of giving them wealth and power if they join him! He seeks to dethrone you and then to move on the other nations of the world!”

“Silence!” the King roared, and the protests subsided. “Silence all of you! Now, Young Prince, you are beginning to try my patience. You have implicated not only your own Lord Consul but also my senators and advisers in treason of both our Kingdoms, and still bring no proof of this plot. You have demonstrated only this remarkable ability, which I cannot know for certain is not some clever and well-demonstrated ruse.”

“I have evidence with me, Your Excellency.” From within his vest Lucas produced the small, leatherbound journal he’d read in the carriage, the journal he’d kept close to him at all times and let no one else see. He held it up for the court and the king to see. “This is the diary of the scientist Magnus Cornelius, member of the royal family of Hephaestia three generations ago.”

“Magnus was a traitor who was exiled from the Kingdom, a barbarous liar who sought to take the seat of power from my great-grandfather and make himself king of Hephaestia.” the King spoke.

“Yes, it is the very same Magnus who wrote this diary, your Excellency.” Lucas said, “And in it he chronicles his discovery of the Mage-Kin, those who posess my powers and the powers of the Hell Child of historical fame. He traced back his lineage and learned that from his mother, he had the same blood as the blood that flowed in the Hell Prince, and believed that he too had the power to use this ability, which he referred to as ‘magic.'”

Now there was silence among the hall, and all that could be heard was the flickering of the fireballs that very slowly orbited the dais upon which Lucas stood. He continued, “Magnus was unsuccessful in his attempts to harness the power of magic, but continued his research, and until he discovered a vampire.”

“A vampire!?” one of the courtsman shouted. “You would have us now believe fanciful tales of fairytale monsters?”

“Yes, sir.” Lucas shouted back, and then looked toward the king. “Magnus discovered a living vampire, and bound him within his laboratory, experimenting on his blood, and asking of the vampire questions. He experimented on human subjects as well, and finally when the vampire did manage to escape his imprisonment, he not only killed Magnus but made him into a vampire too.”

“This is foolishness, Young Prince.” the King spoke, “You would have me believe now in tales of magic, fairytale creatures, and implicate yourself, my court, my ancestor and your own Consul in these accusations. You are either mad, or very stupid.”

“I am neither, your Excellency.” Lucas spoke loudly. “It is my very existance and the knowledge of my power, coupled with the Consul’s discovery of this document, that has lead him on his quest to obtain the power of magic, and use it for his own ends. I’ve shown you that my power is real, and I can prove that this is the authentic journal of Magnus Cornelius.” He opened up the front cover of the leather binding. “He placed in the cover his seal, written in his own blood, as is sometimes the custom among Hephaestian royalty. Look now.” Lucas placed his finger to the round blood seal that bore the letter “M,” and it began to glow a blue light. “When touched by one who had the power of magic, it glows blue. It was the blood of Mage-Kin, the same blood that flows through my veins, and that of the Alexandrian royal family.”

“Lucas Ballanheim,” the King spoke again, “Your tales are fanciful indeed, but even if I were to believe them, what is it you would have me do? Even if the journal were penned by my ancestor, what lends truth to it’s tales, other than the trick which you have now performed for me? What is it you want from me?”

“Expose the truth to the people of both our nations, confront the Consul about his actions. He hasn’t yet found some way to use the power of the Mage-Kin, and since he is not of my blood he may never, but he is killing innocent people in his attempt to do it. He has destroyed villages on the other side of the world where native peoples claim to know the ways of magic, and he even now plots at war between our nations. If he does find some way to harness the Mage-Kin’s power, he will be unstoppable in a war, and will claim Hephaestia as his own. I have brought you proof, the diary of Magnus, written by the hand of Hephaestian royalty, be he an outcast or no, and I have shown you the power myself. Even if the Consul doesn’t gain this power, suppose there is someone else in the world whose blood is the same as mine, and who also possesses this power? He may find one such as this, and use them as his weapon of domination.”

“Lucas Ballanehim,” the King loudly said, “A diary and an impressive light show is not proof enough to bring allegations against an allied kingdom that would surely result in a war between us. I will not believe or do anything that you ask, and I have not even myself read this journal.”

“It will be yours if you will agree to what I ask.”

“I will not.” the King spoke angrily. “I have heard enough. You will be taken from my sight, and tried for treason in your own nation. Guards, have him taken away and placed in chains!”

Lucas held up his hand and the flames circling him burst into bright fireballs. “Wait! There is one another bargaining chip I’ve brought, your Excellency, and though it will surely make me an enemy to use it, you’ve given me no choice.” Lucas brought the flames behind him to make a wall across the steps of the dais, so that no one could come forth to seize him.

“And what, impetuous boy, is this ‘bargaining chip’?” The King roared.

“I know the location of your daughter, Cornelia.”

The King’s eyes widened and the court began to roar once again. “He is the Princesses kidnapper!” some screamed.

The King held his hand up for silence and shouted, “Where is my daughter!? Are you the one who has taken her!?”

“No one took her, my Lord.” Lucas said, “She attempted suicide from her window and was saved by a miracle. I know where she might be found. I will tell you her location and give you the journal if you will agree to what I ask. If nothing else, simply ask the Consul about these things, show him the diary, tell him you know the truth of the matter, I will come with you!”

“This is ludicrous, and I will know where my daughter is now!” the King shouted, “Tell me where she is and I may yet spare your life, for any thoughts of sending you home in chains are gone from my mind, knowing now that you are indeed my daughter’s kidnapper.”

“Kill me then!” Lucas shouted, “And play into Lord Brais’ hands! He’s already attempted to involve you in my death, and now you would willingly do it! The people will want a war with you for killing me!”

“My patience is gone from me, boy!” The King roared, “Tell me where my daughter is now!”

“Then you will not speak with the Consul, you will not listen to my plea, and you will do nothing to stop the impending war?” Lucas asked solemnly.

“No, boy, I will not.” The King spoke loudly. “And if you value your own life, you will tell me where my daughter can be found.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, your Excellency.” Lucas said, “Remember, when the Consul brings war to your country, that I brought you warning, and attempted to stop this all before it began.”

“You will be silent!” the King shouted. “Guards! I care not if he surrounds himself with fire, climb the very dais and take him into custody!”

“Goodbye, King Roseline.” Lucas spoke loudly. “I regret to know that a man as wise as yourself would decline reason, and the chance to save his country.”

With a flick of his mental fingers, Lucas extinguished the flames, and complete darkness fell upon the hall. The court began to cry out, and the King with them, shouting for his guardsmen to find the Prince and take him into custody. Lucas felt with his mind in the dark for the floors and walls and even without the sight of his eyes could see where he was and where the others were. Soldiers were running up the steps of the dais, their spears held out stupidly before them.

He jumped from the dais and with a gust of wind helped himself to land somewhat smoothly on the stone floor beneath. Atop the balcony torches were already being lit near the king and thrown down to the soldiers below.

“The doors will not open until we have captured the boy!” One of the soldiers near the walls of the hall announced, pushing back the throngs of people trying to rush out. Lucas sighed and casually walked past the soldiers and the people who could not see him in the dark, and slipped behind the soldiers guarding the doors leading into the hall, and through the doors themselves. He walked casually out into the hallway and turned to go down the steps, to where his companions waited outside the castle. No one would know what had happened inside in time to capture him, and he was safe for the moment as he headed toward one of the castle’s exits. People passed him and nodded pleasantly, unaware of the commotion in the great hall just yet, and eventually when he slipped outside and joined the others, hoisting himself up onto his horse, he sighed solemnly.

“He didn’t listen, did he?” Dexter asked.

“No, he didn’t.” Lucas replied as they began to ride toward the forests.

“You did all that you could, Lucas.” Jared encouraged.

“Still, when war comes, Hephaestia will be the first to fall.” Lucas cast a glance back at the gleaming castle towering overhead. “Who knows what will happen when word gets out that I’m Mage-Kin. They’ll think me another Hell Prince, and I’ll be hunted down.”

“We will protect you then,” Jared said from his seat on his horse.

“But I’m not the one who needs to be protected.” Lucas looked down and sighed again, “The world is in danger now.”