Fairy Tale: Lucas’ Origin Story

Elliot sat across the wooden table from Lucas, the setting sun peeking through the high window. “It’s time we had a talk, Lucas,” he said calmly, his hands folded in his lap.
Lucas sat quietly in the chair opposite Elliot. “You apprehended me,” he said, “You stole me away from my companions, and God only knows what you did to them.”
“They’re all being held in custody, for now,” said Elliot, “And their identities haven’t been released. I haven’t yet decided what to do with them. I suppose it depends on your actions now.”
“And what does that mean?” asked Lucas.
“Well,” said Elliot, “You’ve had your little adventure, running all about the continent in an attempt to cause me an unending amount of trouble, but that’s over now. And I think it’s time you took up your role as Prince and started doing some work around here.”
“I’m not a Prince,” said Lucas, “I’m the son of a traitorous liar who impregnated the queen and refused to claim his own son.”
Elliot chuckled, “I suppose it isn’t surprising that you’re misinformed. You’ve never been told the story of how you were born.”
“I’m sure I know well enough what happened,” said Lucas.
“You’d be surprised, actually,” replied Elliot, “But before we get to that, we need to talk about your friends.”
“Let them go, they aren’t part of what’s happening between you and I,” said Lucas.
“But they are, actually,” said Elliot, “And I could have them all executed for conspiring against me, and by proxy the Alexandrian government, but that depends on what you do next.”
“You want me to stay quiet,” said Lucas, “Like I did before. Never revealing your little secrets. And you’re going to use them to bargain with me.”
“Actually not so simple, not this time,” said Elliot, “I’m going to ask you to take a seat as my right hand on the Council, and you’re going to be so close that I can see what you’re doing at all times, and you personally will carry out my edicts that will diffuse this little situation you’ve created. In exchange for agreeing to this, I’ll let them go free, and I won’t pursue them, as long as they never cross back into my territory.”
Lucas was silent. “You’re a monster, a coward, and you deserve to die,” he spat.
“But I wasn’t always like this,” replied Elliot, and he laid his folded hands on the table, “Once I was respectable. I was a Councilman and I fell in love with a woman, I was young and foolish and all I wanted was to reform this country, to make real change, to bring Alexandria to greatness.”
“A woman,” repeated Lucas.
“Yes,” said Elliot, “Your mother, the Queen. She and I spoke several times in Court, and we began to spend time together, she would invite me to the castle to paint, to sing for her, to play instruments in the conservatory. She would invite me in groups, so it was never suspicious, and I was clueless that she shared the affection that was growing within me for her.
And then of course I discovered that she cared for me, because back then I was just a normal man who wanted nothing more than to be happy, and to help my country, and I was not a monster. It was late one night when she asked to stay after the other guests had left, and having been left alone by her servants, she revealed her affections to me, and we stole away to her bedchamber, silently, and when it was done she showed me a way out over the balcony, which was low to the ground and right above the palace gardens. She’d crawled out this way herself, before, to walk around the gardens unsupervised at night, adventurous thing that she was.”
Lucas said nothing, only listened. He’d never heard any detail about his mother before.
Elliot continued, “Of course, things immediately became complicated. Your mother had a weak body, she was prone to sickness ever since she was a child, and after three years of marriage to the king, who you never knew, but who was a gluttonous sloth of a man, a wretched king who did nothing but dine and throw parties and who took no interest in the running of his country, even without any power in it’s rule, after three years of marriage to this indolent slug, she had not produced a child, and it was assumed that she barren. But soon we learned that she was not, because she had become pregnant, and only she and I knew that it was my child.
“Well of course something had to be done. I couldn’t very well allow the child to be born, and I told her that it was within my power to find a doctor, to spirit her away in the night and to have the procedure done, the child removed, and the pregnancy averted. She wouldn’t hear of it.”
“Why did you want her to stop the pregnancy?” asked Lucas. He felt himself nearing tears, feeling so isolated, so neglected, so unwanted, “Weren’t you happy to have a child?”
“No,” came Elliot’s swift reply, “I was not. I wasn’t against the idea of having a child, but I wanted to have a child on my own terms. This baby would be raised by the king, not me, and would never know it’s true father. It would be born in an Alexandria where poverty and squalor were commonplace, not the lofty grandeur of the Alexandria I wished to create. It wasn’t time yet, not for either of us. I spent months trying to convince her, but she wouldn’t listen, and I was so desperately and foolishly young, and in love with her. I couldn’t bare to fight with her. Our arguments turned into passion so quickly, we were so eager to be in love with one another, she who was wed to a pig and I who had pent up my passion my whole life, and never known a woman as my lover.
“But even then, I was determined. I knew I couldn’t convince her to have a procedure done, and by now, the whole palace, and the whole kingdom, knew she was a pregnant. It was being celebrated as a miracle, divine intervention so that the king could finally bare a son. Had the only known the intervention came at my hands. But no matter, I decided I would go for the next best thing.”
“What was that?” asked Lucas angrily.
“I found a witch,” Elliot replied coolly.
Lucas was stunned for a moment, “How did you do that?”
“Oh it wasn’t too difficult, I’m resourceful and I cultivate the proper relationships when they become necessary,” said Elliot, “It wasn’t too much of a challenge to discover an old crone living in the backwoods on the border of Alexandria and the Free Lands, and I found her little home all on my own too. I asked for what I sought: a potion that would kill an unborn child, but allow the mother to live.
“The old witch I’d found was a little hesitant, but when I told her to name a price, she agreed, and the potion was ready within a night. I paid her a king’s ransom in gold and took the potion back with me. I would administer it while the queen, my beloved little queen, slept. Finding my way into her bedchamber at night was a skill at which I was not unpracticed. I slipped into bed with her and she sleepily swallowed the potion when I gave it to her. She fell right back to sleep, and I stole out the balcony and waited.”
“What happened?” asked Lucas.
“The next morning I expected to hear news of a miscarriage, but when I saw the queen she was radiant, and she secretly confided to me that she felt a sudden surge of health, that the baby was kicking harder than ever, and that she was certain her weak system had not failed her child after all, that the baby was hardy and healthy. In fact she had herself examined by the doctors of the palace and reported to me later that night that she was found to be in excellent health herself, more than she’d ever been, and that the baby was doing better than had expected. They were even able to ascertain that it was a little boy, though the methods by which doctor’s discover the gender of a child seems as much to me now based on superstition and wives’ tales as it did then. I didn’t care that I now had a son growing strong and healthy inside her, I was furious that the potion had failed.”
“And then?” asked Lucas.
Elliot raised his eyebrows and said calmly, “Well I went back to the witch, of course. Told her I’d kill her myself for what she’d done, I paid her a small fortune in money I didn’t even have, money I’d taken extra care to have stolen from the castle treasury, not to mention the personal time and labor involved in killing the thief and disposing of the body to hide my tracks.”
Lucas shook his head sadly, “You were a monster, even then.”
“Not just yet, I wasn’t,” said Elliot, “I was still forming into one, but the transformation wasn’t complete. After all my plot had been foiled, the baby was alive and healthy as ever, and your mother had not only forgiven me, but perhaps coming so close to losing everything made her love everything in her life even more. She radiated with light during the pregnancy. The baby was nourishing her, protecting her, shielding her from me.”
“From you,” Lucas scoffed, “You who wanted to take away everything from her?”
Elliot’s face betrayed no emotion. “I wanted to give her everything, Lucas. I wanted to take the Kingdom from it’s corrupt governance and dethrone it’s fat, lecherous king, and give Alexandria a bright future, give the woman I loved a bright future.”
“By killing her unborn child, betraying her trust, and destroying her world,” sneered Lucas.
“Oh don’t be so dramatic,” Elliot flicked his hand noncommittally, “She had shown herself quite capable of producing a child, it wasn’t as though she’d never have the opportunity again, and besides, what kind of child would ever be happy raised with a sluggish oaf of a king, and whose true father was hidden from him, of whose affections he could never partake?”
Lucas said nothing, only felt anger boiling inside himself.
“Well as I said, I went back to the witch, and demanded to know what had gone wrong. This is when she told me,” Elliot adopted an expression of curiosity and bemusement, “that the only conceivable way her potion could have failed, would have been if the child was a witch.
Silence, only more silence. Lucas couldn’t speak, just listened, attention rapt, hanging on Elliot’s every word.
“I was stunned. When I told her that neither my beloved nor I came from families of witches, she refused to believe it, told me that somewhere in our mingled bloodlines was a drop of magic, and that the potion would have been fatal to an ordinary baby, but to a Magickal child, it would only make it stronger. Well, this had clearly been the case. Your mother radiated health emanated vigor and health, more so in her pregnancy than she had before.
“And this, of course, is when I truly became a monster.
You see, it was at this point, having been forgiven my offense, having found my child and my beloved to have been not only unharmed but enhanced and strengthened by the witch’s potion, knowing that the option of claiming the throne was still mine, but that I would just have to wait a little longer… it was at this point that I dove over the cliff and into a sea of anguish and regret from whence there could be no return.
I asked her for a potion that could kill an unborn witch, a Magickal baby.”
Elliot was silent for a moment. His tone was as noncommittal as ever, but his words seemed somehow sincere. Lucas said, “Well?”
Elliot took a breath and closed his eyes, then shrugged, “Well you’re here, aren’t you? You must know the potion didn’t really work.”
“I also know that my mother died in childbirth,” said Lucas with his eyes narrowed, his fists long since clenched at his sides beneath the table.
Elliot nodded, then picked up his story right where he’d left off, “Well, the witch said that it was an offense so grave to kill an unborn child of Magickal decent that she would prefer death. She knew I could have obliged her easily in this, but she didn’t know me well enough to realize I always have a contingency plan.
The woman’s house was an orphanage. How easy it was to threaten to the lives of one or all of her little ones. I honestly doubted there would be much negotiation, I didn’t even have to fetch one of the children and hold a knife to it’s throat, she knew the moment I made the threat that I was genuine.”
“So she made you the potion,” said Lucas, “To kill an unborn witch.”
“She did,” said Elliot, “But it took her three days, and I had to wait in town, far enough away that I didn’t interrupt her concentration. When I returned at the appointed time, the old woman handed me the vial with tears streaking her face, and as she pressed it into my hands, she cursed me, told me that if I were to ever use this potion, that she wished a thousand miseries upon me.
“It’s funny, isn’t it?” asked Elliot, shifting his gaze to Lucas.
“What could possibly be funny?” Lucas seethed.
“Well, the old crone had no problem killing an ordinary baby. She was happy to mix the brew for me and exchange it for gold, no problem. But when she learned that the baby was one of her own tribe, that it was a child of Magick, suddenly she was committing an unforgivable sin, slaying an innocent. She didn’t think the child so innocent before, did she?”
Lucas didn’t say anything, but couldn’t help agreeing, for once in his life, with Elliot. It seemed sinister beyond reason.
“As you can imagine, I was beside myself with guilt this entire time,” continued Elliot, “Oh I sat up all night, every night, in that little inn in town, weeping like a child, wondering what had become of me. I kept telling myself, ‘it isn’t too late to stop,’ but somehow I knew I wouldn’t. I knew I would follow through. It was in my nature. I would have Alexandria, I would have the Queen, and she would be mine, and then, when I had built a world worthy of a child, I would bring one into the world.”
Lucas was bothered by the implication that it would Elliot bringing the child into the world and not the child’s mother, but he said nothing.
“If I had a child now,” Elliot continued, “It would be discovered to be mine. I have dark hair and dark skin, the king was red-headed and pale, even though his wife was fair and blonde, it would be too easy to see, especially since we knew the child was a boy, and there were already rumours across the court about the queen having an illicit affair. Shadowy figures had been seen lurking near her dressing room balcony at night. And here I had been so careful not to be seen. No one knew it was me, but if there was a suspicion, it would be confirmed all too easily the moment the boy was born.”
Another long silence. Always a silence between them, the boy and the man. This silence seemed to contain more than any previous quiet that befell the two, in it was anger, resentment, pride, hatred, too much to ever speak, to much to ever truly understanding, from either side.
“I did as I had done before,” said Elliot, and he sighed, a sad sound, an emotional sound, a completely unexpected sound, “I slipped her the potion while she slept. I cried, and she remained asleep. I stayed by her bed all night, tucked into the shadowy corner of her chamber. In the morning I slipped into the closet and watched, expecting her to awaken that large belly deflated, I expected the tears and the blood, and knew she would never forgive me, but I also knew she wouldn’t stop loving me. I knew she would eventually move on. I was making a cut in her skin that could never heal, but in the end, we would still have our life together. I’d made my decision, I was following through.”
“And then?” asked Lucas, unable to stop himself.
Elliot was gazing down at his folded hand. His eyes flicked up to look directly into Lucas’. “And then, my son, you were born.
“She awoke to gasps of pain, as I knew she would. But when the nurses, the servants and the handmaids flooded into her room, it wasn’t what I expected. The baby hadn’t been miscarried, instead the nurses announced gleefully that a little head was poking through, with a face, that the child was not only being born, but he was coming fast. The birth happened like lightning, so fast was it all. I thought she was miscarrying. But the doctors found their way in, the baby was born, the chord was cut, and I heard the crying. Her child had been born a month and a half early, tiny but resilient, and his cry was loud and strong. He was placed into his mother’s arms.
“She wasn’t dead, she’d survived the birth. I saw her, through the slit the open wardrobe door, the morning light falling in beams on her and her child in the bed, she cooed to him softly, whispered things I will never know to him. And then she did a curious thing, she looked directly at me.
“No one in the room noticed. They were all too busy fussing in the corners with fresh clothes, bedding, setting up a makeshift bed for the baby who had not been expected yet. But she looked directly into the wardrobe, and right at me, I could see her pale blue eyes reflected in the sunlight. Her expression was something between pity and sadness. In the days and years since, I’ve often pretended that it was an expression of forgiveness. I’ll never know. Because at that moment, her eyes rolled back, and quite suddenly her head lolled and she fell back onto her pillow, the baby still safe in her arms, and died.”
Elliot was tracing a finger nervously along the table, something he’d never done in Lucas’ presence. He was looking down at his hand with an expression that was difficult to read. His voice had not cracked, his eyes were not wet, but there was a sadness there, Lucas suddenly saw, and it was a deep and unreachable void.
“When the servants realized what had happened they shrieked in terror, they grabbed the baby and fussed about her, ran off to find the doctor, to see if there was yet some way to rouse her. But they knew. And so did I. I stood there, my legs aching from standing all night in that closet, staring at my beloved, laying dead in the bed where we had created this child, this child that had taken her life not because she was too weak to give birth, but because I had MADE her too weak to do it. The first potion strengthened the baby so much that it strengthened her as well, but the second potion, which was meant to kill the baby, only spurred him to leave her body too soon, and perhaps all the strength she’d had left was in that child within her.
“When the servants had fled, there was a moment when the room was empty, and I ran out of the wardrobe, sealed the door with a plank, and fell onto her body on the bed. I touched her face, wept loudly, not concealing myself for fear of being heard. There was banging at the door, the king was outside, demanding to know who was in the room, what had happened to his wife. But I just laid my head against her naked breast, which had not even suckled her newborn yet, and she was well and truly dead. In agony, I pulled kissed her dead lips, and pulled myself away, leapt out over the balcony and into the gardens, and no one ever knew how the door had been barred, no one ever knew it was me.
“Perhaps it’s because everyone was so caught up in grief over the loss of their queen, or perhaps it was because the baby had had the fortune to be born with his mother’s hair, eyes, and skin tone, that no one suspected me. At her funeral, I saw the king weeping, and I saw the little baby boy being held by a nursemaid. I still hadn’t seen his face, hadn’t seen the face of my son.
“It was easy enough to creep up to his bedchamber, because the king was foolishly sleeping the apartments near Court, not in his own well-guarded chambers. The mystery of the crying voice within the queen’s chamber had now been chalked up to the supernatural, they believed it was the ghost of the Queen’s father weeping for her, that he had barred the door and held his daughter in his arms as he wrenched her, tearfully, away from her child and into the next life. Such foolishness.
The king had only two guards outside his door, and the rest of the palace guard was otherwise occupied because the funeral for the Queen had taken place only hours before, and most were still seeing to guests from neighboring settlements and mayors of provincial Alexandrian towns. It was too easy to incapacitate the first guard, then the second, and to make my way silently into the king’s bedchamber, where I murdered him effortlessly in his sleep, not even waking him to tell him what a sorry swine he was, how he had stood between all of my goals, and how I would never allow him to win.
“It was a scandal beyond all scandals, of course. But now, the boy was the only member of the royal family left, and I offered to help with raising the child. I was thought selfless, but I agreed that I would help look after him and move into the castle. He would need care and love, after all,” Elliot’s tone was grave and solemn, “What he needed was supervision. But I’d already volunteered myself to be his caretaker, I couldn’t very well kill the damn child now he was alive, and besides the thing had done so much to ruin my life that I wouldn’t have been surprised if he spit fire in my face and charred me on the spot, and as you know, that is partially what happened.
“The first time I met the little child he was sleeping in a bassinet, the nurses had allowed me access, cautioning me to be quiet and let the little one rest. I stood over his cradle and looked in at the little sleeping thing on the cushions. A little wisp of hair that was so light brown it was almost blonde, and I leaned in and picked him up. My heart sank when I held this warm little creature in my arms. I’d destroyed my own future, and now I’d destroyed his. And I was now an indentured servant to this child, because I alone knew he had Magick within him, and it would be up to me to stifle it, suppress it, and hide it from everyone else. In order to keep this child from exhibiting his power, I would have to commit my every moment to making it’s existence so miserable, so devoid of familial affection, that he could never use his power. I would have to break the spirit of the baby my beloved had just died to bring into the world.
“A thousand miseries, indeed. And then you grew up, and now here we are.”
Lucas didn’t know what to say. Tears had long since began falling from his eyes, his fingers were no longer clenched, but splayed helplessly across his lap. He sobbed openly. He tried to look at Elliot through the blurry vision. “You treated me the way you did,” he sobbed, “To try and contain my power? My Magick?”
Elliot nodded, “It wasn’t so hard, I hated you anyway, even though you’d done nothing wrong. Your existence was a blight to me, and it was easy to mistreat you.”
Lucas pounded his fist onto the table helplessly, “How could do this to me? Isn’t it enough that you destroyed my mother with your scheming, that you kill everyone who comes near you, why would you torture me too? Did you think it noble of you?”
“What do you suppose the superstitious Alexandrians would do,” Elliot raised his voice, “If they had discovered that the Prince was another Daemon Child of legend, spitting fire from his fingertips when he wailed? Do you think they would have been merciful? Heavens no! They would have declared you an abomination unto the Unknown God and sacrificed you then and there.”
“You don’t know that!” shouted Lucas, “And even if they had, why would you not defend me?” He stood from his place at the table and slammed his fists down again, feeling more emboldened than ever before in his life, “Why would you not protect me, love me, treat me as a father should? Why would you not be my father?”
Elliot leapt from his position and pounded his fist into the table, “I was never a father!” he roared, “I was never meant to be your father, and you wouldn’t die when you were supposed to, and you took your mother out of the world when you came!” His eyes burned, his tone was vicious and seething with poison, “I hated you from the moment you were born, and despite feelings I couldn’t overcome when I saw you that first time, I vowed to be strong enough to protect you by letting myself hate you, it was better than killing you myself!”
“You weren’t strong at all!” cried Lucas, “You were too weak to kill me OR to be my father, so you chose to let me die a slow death from inside out, and now I’m a weakling because of it! I’m broken, I’m destroyed, and it’s because of you!” Lucas reached down under the table and in a fit of rage, toppled it to it’s side.
Elliot threw his head back and laughed, “You don’t look so broken to me, boy!”
Lucas threw himself at Elliot, but Elliot was quick, and with a deft hand he grabbed Lucas by the shoulder and plunged him into the floor, hard. “You were a mistake from the beginning! Your very existence is your crime, and as always, I am cleaning up your mess and paying for your sin! You are the encumbrance to me you’ve always been, but still I let you live, even in your tenacious defiance!”
Lucas glared up at Elliot, “I hate you,” he hissed through gritted teeth, “I hate you and I always have. You’re more of a monster than I ever knew. A thousand upon a thousand miseries will never be enough for you.”
Elliot bent down to his knee and swiftly grabbed Lucas by his collar, pulling him so close Lucas could feel his breath when he whispered to him, “You are my misery. You have always been. And I have accepted the burden of letting you live, but I may yet change my mind.” He shoved Lucas back down and stood to his full height, then continued, “Stay here and think on what I’ve told you, and decide who you want to become. If you wish to be a Prince worthy of the title, this is the beginning.
“You are an adult now, you’ve been told the story of your birth, and you can decide to pursue me to the ends of the earth on a quest for vengeance, or you can decide to follow my orders and lead your people. You can also stay right here in this room and cry for the rest of your life, I don’t care. I’ll send food to you if you like, and you can live right in this little cell, and die of misery. I stopped caring the moment I poisoned your mother, I stopped being human then, I lost the ability to love, or to feel compassion. Your tears mean as little to me now as they did when you were a squalling newborn. Die in misery for all I care, but do NOT stand in my way again.”
Elliot turned on his heel and marched down the steps and slammed the door on his way out. Lucas curled up and sobbed into the stones on the floor.

Notes: So I finally did it, I finally wrote it down. I’ve had this origin story for a while now but refused to write it down. There’s a lot in Fairy Tale I haven’t written down, but more on that later. If you notice any kind of spike in writing quality halfway through, that’s because I began this scene in the middle and wrote to the end, and by then I was a little drained but I forced myself to go back and write the beginning. Reading back over it I can tell that the beginning of the scene isn’t as eloquent (is it pretentious to refer to your own work as eloquent? Because I’m inferring that the second half is eloquent. Fuck it, we’ll call it eloquent) as the second half, but the lesson I learned? I would rather have a crappy finished draft than a wonderful unfinished draft. I can DO something with the first, and I can’t do a damn thing with the second. Again, more on these issues later.

Also I’m aware that there are some continuity errors in this story, I can only spot one and it’s not hugely important, and some other things were clearly making-it-up-as-I-go-along. That’s why it’s a draft, people. Stop judging me!

And finally, no, I’m really not comfortable with the fact that every scene between Lucas and Elliot/Varner/Braeg (yeah, his name changes a lot. I can’t frickin’ figure it out) ends with Lucas crying. I don’t need him to be a super strong protagonist, and an important part of the story is how weak he feels, but I’ve gotta stop ending every chapter with him either crying or sleeping. I get that writers project themselves onto their characters, but he’s not allowed to be THAT similar to me.

The Prince and the Chancellor

1

Varner sat with his legs crossed and an arm stretched out lazily on the fallen trunk. The fire crackled between them. Lucas narrowed his eyes. Varner grinned.

“I’ve come to offer you a deal,” said Varner.

“I don’t make deals with you,” seethed Lucas.

Varner raised his eyebrows and nodded, “Probably a good policy, but this one may be beneficial to you.”

“What if I just kill you instead?” said Lucas through gritted teeth, glaring across the clearing and through the flickering fire.

“Well,” said Varner with a calm look, as though considering this, “I suppose that would be difficult for you, because my soldiers have surrounded your camp site, and if they don’t hear back from me in…” Varner pulled a pocket watch from the breast pocket of his coat and glanced down at it, “…about ten minutes, they’re to attack immediately and take no prisoners.”

Lucas glared and the fire between them jumped, taking on new abstract forms, growing wider and burning hotter, “I can burn you in that time.”

Varner smiled, “You can certainly try.”

Lucas clenched his fists but remained standing still.

“Now,” said Varner in a calm voice, “As I was saying, I may have a solution to all of our problems that involves little to no bloodshed.”

“I highly doubt that,” replied Lucas, “You’re a deceiver and a fool. I won’t let you win.”

“It isn’t a matter of winning, Lucas,” said Varner with a collected smile, “It’s about surviving. And right now, your friend Hephaestion is being held in a cell beneath Baelfire Castle, and in two days he will be executed for your abduction, and then the crime syndicate he handed you over to will be hunted down and killed as well.”

“Except that none of that is true,” said Lucas, “Hephaestion didn’t abduct me, men you hired tried to abduct me, and they failed.”

“Well yes,” said Varner, “But only you and I really know that, and there’s no reason they have to know it.”

“King Baelfire will listen when I speak,” said Lucas, “I will find a way to talk to him.”

“You may yet,” replied Varner, “But it won’t be soon enough to save Hephaestion’s life. Look around you,” he gestured to the campsite, “You have no horses, no carriages, no way of getting to Baelfire within two days, and no matter what shortcuts you’re trying to use, getting there and preventing an execution are two entirely different matters. Do you know the process you must go through to speak to a King directly, even if you are a Prince yourself? They’ll think you an imposter and throw you into the cells along with Hephaestion before you get a word in.”

“It’s better than doing nothing,” said Lucas, “I will not let him die.”

“You may be able to do that in an easier way,” said Varner, and he leaned forward with his elbows on his knees, his hands pressed together, “I’ve come to offer you an arrangement.”

Lucas paused. “Spit it out,” he said.

Varner grinned, “So cordial. Alright, here it is: I contact the King, which I can do much faster and more effectively than you can, and call off the execution, saying that I’ve found you and the real culprit, and Hephaestion is released into my custody. I take him back to the castle and he remains there under house arrest for as long as I like.”

“So you can use him as a way to keep me in line, right?” said Lucas.

“Would that not be preferable to his death?” asked Varner.

Lucas remained silent.

“And either way, there’s more to it than that. You can be reunited with him. You come back to the castle with me, and there, you and Hephaestion will remain comfortably in the castle, under my close supervision. You can spend all the time you like reading books in the library or frolicking about the Royal Wing with your friend, I don’t care.”

“So you want to silence me,” said Lucas, “And you’re going to use Hephaestion to do it.”

“Sweet prince,” said Varner with a twinkle in his eyes, “Why do you ever think I allowed him to sneak into your caravan in the first place? Don’t you think I have enough watchful eyes that I saw him steal the paperwork and enter your retinue? But I allowed it, because I knew he would prove useful to me. You’re a stubborn boy, Lucas, but I do know how to play my cards, and we both know you have very few friends in this world. It isn’t hard to kill one, or to control you by threatening to kill one.”

The flames roared. They were burning the entirety of the logs now.

“I have friends now,” said Lucas, “And we are not going to let you, or the Church, take over this continent and turn it into your own personal dictatorship.”

Varner burst into laughter. “Dictatorship?” he said, “Lucas, you’ve got me all wrong! What I want is the best for everyone! Alexandria will flourish and I will claim my rightful place as King! You will be Prince, the Church will have it’s power restored, but they’ll be under my thumb! They can enforce their religious law as much as they like, so long as I allow it,” he laughed again, “Everyone benefits! Can’t you see that what I’m doing is genuinely best for everyone?”

“No,” said Lucas, “You’ve been killing people, blackmailing, manipulating every angle, so that you can put yourself in power. Why? Why is being King that important to you?”

Varner’s smile dropped from his face. “Because it is my rightful place, it is where I belong. It is what I have deserved from the moment I was born. It’s what your mother wanted-”
Lucas held out a hand and the fire shot forth to lick at Varner’s boots. He pulled his feet back hastily. “Don’t you dare speak about my mother,” Lucas whispered.

“But Lucas,” said Varner calmly, “She wanted the best for you. Don’t you think you would be better served with me as the rightful King?”

“So that you can return to expansionism?” asked Lucas, “So that you can claim every territory as part of Alexandria? Then what, move onto the Eastern Continent? The Islands? Will you then march the armies of Alexandria up to the Barrier itself and try to tear it down, so that you can claim the Other Realm for yourself to?”

Varner raised his eyebrows, “Now that is surprising. I honestly hadn’t expected you’d figure that part out on your own.”

Lucas was taken aback, “What?”

“The Barrier, yes,” said Varner, “That’s exactly what I want to do. It’s the reason I’m helping the Church. Their so-called Angel wants exactly the same thing I do: the removal of the Barrier.”

“The Barrier keeps our world from being sucked into an ocean of chaos!” shouted Lucas, do you want to unleash darkness upon the world and become some kind of demon king?”

Varner laughed again, “What an imagination you have! Demons? Darkness? No, sweet prince, the Barrier is simply that: a force that divides us from the world outside. There is an entire world outside of the Barrier, and all of us are trapped within it! When I bring it down, I will be the ambassador for this continent, and for all of it’s people. I will lead Alexandria into the next age, I will free all people from being caged within it’s magic.”

“You don’t know if anything you’re saying is true,” said Lucas, “The Church itself claims the Barrier keeps darkness at bay, and they’re allying with you to help destroy it?”

“The Church says what it thinks it knows, Lucas,” said Varner, “Their ‘Angel’ thinks differently. He has proof of a world outside, and I believe it. When the Barrier comes down, I want to be standing at the forefront with a hand outstretched to greet the rest of the world.”

“Or you want to unleash dark magic upon the entire world, and make yourself it’s ruler,” said Lucas.

Varner shook his head, “You oppose the Church, and yet you believe their doctrinal teachings? There is no evil in this world, Lucas, there is only courage and fear. I will not be afraid of old magic, I will not be afraid of the Barrier, and whether the world likes it or not, I will release it from it’s prison.”

“And how am I going to help you do that?” asked Lucas, “How does keeping me trapped inside the palace help?”

“Because no one outside of the palace will know you’re there, of course,” said Varner, “They’ll still believe you gone. Oh, the people have their doubts about me, but they rally around the Royal Family as they always have. If they believe someone has abducted you, they’ll support me in any decision I make to rescue you. They needn’t know that someone is pulling the strings, they just need to give me the power to take action.”

“And what will you use me for?” asked Lucas, “Conquering every neighboring country and territory, accusing all of them of abducting me, until you’ve finished the entire continent?”

“Now that isn’t a very reasonable course of action, Lucas. I have my own designs on how to go about it, but all that matters now is that you’re going to take my offer, return to Alexandria with me, and your friend will be saved.”

“And as for my other friends?” asked Lucas, gesturing toward the tents.

“Yes,” said Varner, “I’ve given some thought about what to do with them. As of now they really aren’t any threat to me, but I don’t doubt they’d try and rescue you. I suppose exiling them to the Islands will have to do. I could kill them, of course, but I’m letting all of your allies live to show you that I truly mean well. They can carve out a life for themselves on the Islands, don’t worry, and you and Hephaestion will go back to Alexandria. Everything will go back to the way it should be.”

Lucas took a deep breath.

Varner stared at him.

There was a silence punctuated by the crackling of the fire. It wasn’t burning so hot or so strong anymore. In fact it had returned to it’s original state and seemed to be dwindling. Lucas felt a sinking feeling.

“There’s nothing else I can do, is there?” he asked himself quietly, aloud.

“No,” answered Varner, “There really isn’t. Either you accept my offer, or I have my soldiers kill all of you, and that includes you, Lucas. I can pin your murder on agents working within Baelfire just as easily as I can your abduction. A crowd rallies around a murdered monarch far easier than an endangered one.”

“I…” Lucas felt lost for words, “I don’t understand… why not just kill us all?”

“Because,” said Varner, “I want what is best for you, and for all of Alexandria. I may seem malevolent to you, but believe me when I say that you are young and naive. It’s easy to believe my hand is always working toward a dark purpose, because it gives you a reason to keep hating me. But even if we don’t like one another, I still will do what is best for you.”

“Wait…” said Lucas, “If you’re going to make yourself King, what about me?”

“You’ll remain the Prince, and my heir,” said Varner.

“But they don’t know-”

“They will, eventually,” said Varner, “When the time comes.”

Silence.

Two men, one very young, one aged, staring at one another from across a clearing, a dwindling fire between them. The young man’s scarf blew in a light breeze behind him, the older man sat still on a fallen tree.

“You had better make your decision quickly, Lucas,” said Varner, “Because our ten minutes will be up very soon.”

“You won’t really let them kill me, will you?”

“Oh, I will,” said Varner, “I want what’s best for you, but if you’re going to be defiant until the end, so be it. My heart is cold enough not to lose any more sleep over your death.”

Lucas narrowed his eyes. The fire jumped back to life. “That’s why I’ll never follow you,” the fire leaped skyward and sparks flew, “That’s why I’ll always oppose you. You are a heartless, thieving, capricious liar!”

There was a rumbling sound.

Varner grinned. “There’s a small army approaching, Lucas.”

Lucas looked around in panic. The trees were shaking.

From the tents, Bronwen and Dexter shot out to Lucas’s side, each holding swords. Imogen and Eric stepped out tentatively from one of the tents, Imogen clasping the Green Book close to her chest.

“Told you,” said Dexter to Bronwen with a smile as they each joined Lucas on either side of him, “I knew he wouldn’t comply with the Chancellor.”

“I suppose I really was wrong about you, Lucas,” Bronwen said quietly, taking up position next to Lucas with her sword ready, “You are braver than I thought.”

Varner narrowed his eyes and stood, drawing his sword. “You will all die as fools.”

The rumbling came closer.

Lucas glared at Varner. “Bring your armies, I don’t care, I will save Hephaestion, and I will stop you.”

Varner drew his sword with a shink! And held it out toward Lucas, “You can try and stop progress all you like, Lucas, but it will happen, whether it’s I who leads the charge or not.”
The rumbling stopped as they stepped out of the forest and into the clearing.

Not soldiers. Wolves. Bears. Stags. Foxes. Wildcats. All of them growling, all of them posed in expressions of hunger.

Varner’s eyes widened as he looked around the clearing.

Sanrin stepped forward from the trees, his white catlike ears pricked up tall, his tail swishing cheerily behind him. He smiled. He spoke.

“Your army is dead, Chancellor Varner.”

2

“You know,” said Dexter cheerily, “I like him much better this way. He isn’t nearly as threatening.”

The sky was lightening as the daylight approached. Eric yawned sleepily as he propped himself up against one of the tents. Imogen sat by the fallen tree, studying the Green Book. Lucas stood with his arms crossed next to the warmth of the fire. Sanrin sat in the clearing, petting a lynx that lay purring happily next to him. Dexter and Bronwen were both towering over Chancellor Elliot Varner, who was bound with ropes and gagged, sitting propped against a tree, his eyes open but issuing no sound, his face betraying no expression of shock or outrage.

“The question remains as to what we do with him now,” said Bronwen, “More soldiers will be on their way when they learn of what happened.”

“How exactly did they die?” Dexter asked, turning to Sanrin.

Sanrin’s ears pricked up and he glanced up at Dexter, a careless and easy expression on his face, “Well, the animals, naturally. These soldiers have been hunting the wildlife for months, often for sport, and destroying habitats to build strongholds. All the creatures who attempted to protect their homes were ruthlessly murdered. It wasn’t hard to ask them to rally together to stop the soldiers.”

“How did you convince animals that prey on one another to work in collusion?” Bronwen asked.

“Well I suppose it’s a part of what we do,” said Sanrin, “My people communicate with the land itself, as well as it’s creatures. On their own, the inhabitants of the forest wouldn’t have attacked head-on and together, but I was able to convince them to put aside their differences momentarily, and when the fighting was done, I brought them here, and as you saw, they all went home without much fuss.”

“You people really are remarkable,” said Dexter, awestruck.

“I’d like to think so,” Sanrin replied coolly, “It’s a pity the predecessors of people like Chancellor Varner decided to inflict genocide upon us.” Varner shifted in his place but said nothing. The lynx looked up curiously at the sound, then closed it’s eyes and resumed napping.

“Still,” said Bronwen, “You may have stopped his retinue of soldiers, and those already stationed nearby, but more will come, and we need to decide what it is we do with him.”

“We could bring him with us,” said Dexter, “Have him confess to Baelfire his involvement in his crimes, then we could free Hephaestion and depose Varner as ruler of Alexandria.”

“I doubt it would be that simple,” said Bronwen, “It’s still a long journey to Baelfire, and when the Church learns of this they won’t be keen on losing him. We will have two factions, the Alexandrian army and the forces of the Church, looking for us, while we travel with a prisoner in tow. Even if we made it to Baelfire, he could still deny his involvement in his crimes, we have no proof, and we can’t count on his testimony. Showing up with both Lucas and the Alexandrian Chancellor bound and gagged just makes us look the more guilty.”

“Right,” said Dexter, and he drew his sword, placing it against Varner’s neck with an absent and unconcerned expression. He glanced over at Lucas, “Do we kill him then?”

Lucas looked away from the fire, “Go ahead, just don’t make a mess.”

Dexter shrugged. “Well,” he said to Varner, “Looks like you’re going out the same way those who got in your way did.”

“Wait!” shouted Eric, “We can’t just kill him! What does that say about us?”

“That we are men of action?” suggested Dexter with a lighthearted smile.

“Or that we’re no better than he is,” offered Imogen, looking up from the Book, “Murderers.”

“It isn’t as though he doesn’t deserve it,” said Dexter in the same carefree tone, “We would be avenging those who he’s murdered.”

Bronwen folded her arms and said nothing.
“Sanrin?” asked Dexter.
Sanrin shrugged, “You can do it, I can do it, I can ask a tiger to do it, however you like, really.”

“We’re being awfully flippant about murdering someone, don’t you think?” asked Eric.

“Let him die,” said Lucas coldly, “He’d kill us all himself if he had the chance. In fact, he did have the chance very recently and if not for Sanrin we’d all be dead.”

“Right,” said Dexter, “Then I’m counting three votes for killing him, two against, and one undecided.” He smiled at Varner, “Majority rules, I’m afraid.”

Varner glared silently at Dexter.

Dexter drew his sword back.

“Don’t,” said Bronwen.

Dexter sighed and rolled his eyes, “Bronwen, I was just about to kill him. Can’t I do anything fun around you?”

“He’s protected by the Church,” said Bronwen. “We kill him, and the Angel comes after us.”

“The Angel isn’t any more interested in his safety,” said Dexter, gesturing to Varner with his free hand, “Than he is in ours. To the Angel, Varner is a tool, just as the Church is a tool to the Chancellor.”

“Inevra will no doubt be here soon,” said Bronwen, “It may best to simply leave him here. If he’s found murdered, it may not help our case.”

“Actually,” offered Sanrin, “His entire squad of soldiers will be found mauled to death by wildlife. I can have him killed in just the same way and no humans will be suspected at all. The animals are still hungry.”

“He isn’t our concern,” said Bronwen, “Speaking with Baelfire is. Killing him doesn’t change a thing. If we kill him, Alexandria will be thrown into chaos, with no Chancellor to lead them, the Senate will be furiously debating who should take control.”

“What about their prince?” offered Eric.

Lucas turned to Eric, “I’m not ruling Alexandria. And besides, it’s against the law.”

“If there were ever a time to amend the law, it would be now,” said Eric.

“May I offer a suggestion?” said a voice.

Everyone in the clearing, including Varner, turned to look toward the shadow where the voice had come.

He stepped forward.

A tall man, wearing a tightly-fitted black coat, with long and straight dark hair, and eyes the color of charcoal. He wore a gentle expression, and his eyes seemed to convey innocence, peacefulness. His hands were in his pockets as he smiled toward the assembled.

“Good God,” whispered Bronwen.

“Well, not exactly,” said the man.

Bronwen lunged forward from her position and stood by the campfire, drawing her blade and holding it ready, an expression of caution on her face. “Everyone, run.”

Sanrin stood up, “Who is this?” The lynx by him stood and stretched, seemingly unconcerned.

“I am so unused to introducing myself,” said the man in a calm and soothing voice, “But I will do it,” He bowed low, humbly, with a smile, “I am Drosselmeyer, representative of the Unknown God, Angel of the Heavens, arbiter of all mankind, and bringer of miracles as well as destruction to the unfaithful.” He stood straight. “A pleasure to meet all of you. I’ve heard so much from Inevra.”

There was a communal intake of breath. Dexter came and joined Bronwen by her side, his sword ready. Lucas stared, dumbfounded. Eric stepped back in shock. Imogen stood instantly, closing her book and holding it close to her. Varner looked on wordlessly.

Notes:

This was a scene that I came up with at work, and took care to write down some of the dialogue into my phone and email it to myself. As it happened, when it came time to write this scene, I had absolutely none of that dialogue available to me, as it was still lost somewhere in my email and unavailable to me due to lack of internet connectivity. Still, I thought this scene had a lot of potential, and I really enjoyed the idea of Chancellor Varner and Lucas sitting down and having a real conversation in the midst of all the drama and turmoil. It’s worth noting that this scene contains an experimental character I named Sanrin, as I have an affinity for elf-life or otherwise non-human people with connection to the flora and fauna of nature. A cautionary note, this scene ends somewhat abruptly.

 

Respite

Adam closed in on Lucas from behind and instantly the warmth of his bare, downy chest closed in around Lucas’s bare back, and Adam’s arms coiled around Lucas’s waist, pulling him in securely as he leaned in to nip gently at Lucas’s right earlobe. Lucas blushed and hid his face under Adam’s chin.

“Good morning, sunshine,” said Adam.

Lucas made a whimpering noise that suggested embarrassment, his face still hot.

“I was worried when I woke up,” said Adam.

“Why?” said Lucas.

Adam leaned his head down and nudged against Lucas’s cheek with his nose, planting a gentle kiss there on his burning cheek. “Because I woke up and you weren’t there.”

Lucas gave a gentle laugh. “I wasn’t far, just enjoying the sunrise.”

“That’s not very fair,” Adam said gently into Lucas’s ear in a voice that suggested an erotic playfulness, sending shivers down the back of Lucas’s neck and warmth down his spine, “You were trying to enjoy it without me.”

“I-I,” Lucas stammered, losing his breath, “I d-didn’t want to wake you…”

“Well,” breathed Adam into Lucas’s ear, “I hope next time I can wake up to a kiss from the most beautiful man I know…”

Lucas turned away from the rising sun and nudged his way under Adam’s chin, burying his nose in Adam’s neck, feeling the soft hair of Adam’s chest brushing against Lucas’s own mostly bare chest, and wrapped his arms around Adam, who enclosed Lucas with his own warm arms. “Adam…” he breathed against Adam’s neck.

“Yes, sweet boy?” said Adam gently, bringing a hand up to run his fingers through Lucas’s hair.

“Let’s go back inside…”

“Are you cold?” Adam said with a smile.

“No, not as long as you’re here,” Lucas closed his eyes and breathed deep of Adam’s scent: a little bit of sweat mixed with soap and something else… something remaining from last night, something that smelled of passion and sex and the scent of a lover.

“Don’t you want to watch the sunrise, beautiful?” said Adam in a gentle, warm voice.

“I’d rather watch you…” whispered Lucas, running his hands down Adam’s strong back and slipping them into the waist band of his trousers, feeling the muscles of Adam’s buttocks begin, and elliciting from Adam a quiver that he could feel behind Adam’s downy stomach pressed against his own.

“You really are insatiable, aren’t you?” Adam breathed into Lucas’s ear, in that voice that again suggested romance, a cadence that made it sound like Adam was up to no good and he knew it, and was proud of himself.

“Please,” Lucas breathed, one single word combining with the whole of his body as he pressed his waist, and the hard erection there, against Adam’s waist and felt something stiff prodding back at him.

In a moment Adam had swept his hands down and lifted Lucas from his feet, holding him like a child as Lucas wrapped his arms around Adam’s neck and began kissing him fervently, and with the precision of one carrying something delicate which must not be broken, and the haste of an impatient lover, Adam whirled around and carried Lucas back into the tent, and pulled closed the entrance way behind him, the morning sunlight not reaching through the folds of the doorway and touching the young men who lay grinding against one another, kissing as though the night had never ended.

Madeena

Madeena

A raised, circular dais sat in the center of a round open-air pavilion, surrounded by a mote of clear blue water in which water cascaded down from the ducts encircling the dais. Blue and yellow lilies floated along lazily, with little bridges connecting the central dais to the rest of the open room. A large domed ceiling, raised high by white concrete columns, showed paintings of colorful birds and butterflies flitting about in a blue sky. The sun shone in on this magnificent sight and illuminated the complete view of the entire city outside below, a waterfall running down out of the high acropolis and into the river that wound through the entirety of the city.

Philip led the way for the party to the central dais, where purple and blue fluffy couches lined the edges near the ducts, and in the center, a mosaic tiled painting of a woman surrounded by blue waters, white raiment winding round her legs, waist, chest and arms, and bright red hair billowing out behind her, her eyes closed and her arms spread in a look of serenity, the white fabric of her gown flowing out in every direction, as she seemed to sink into watery depths.

Seated with her back to the city below on a purple sofa was a woman who wore an exquisite blue silk gown, with a translucent blue wrap wound about her arms, and long chestnut hair billowing down her shoulders to her bosom, her bare feet resting on the mosaic tiles. Philip led the group across one of the small bridges onto the circular dais and gestured for them to sit. Lucas and Eric sat on one of the couches directly across from this yet unnamed woman, Imogen taking a seat next to Eric, and Bronwen and Hephaestian sat on another sofa near them. Philip politely seated himself on a sofa next to the woman.

She spoke. “It is good to have visitors here in our realm,” she said, “It has been many, many years since anyone crossed our borders.”

Lucas didn’t know what to say, and looked to Eric and Imogen, who also seemed unsure. Bronwen looked on silently with her arms folded, and Hephaestian leaned forward intently, his elbows on his knees and his chin resting in his hands.

“Allow me to welcome you in my official capacity to Madeena, city of the water” said the woman with a smile, “And allow me now to introduce myself as Illina, Grand Matriarch of this realm.”

“How is it,” asked Imogen timidly, “That this place could be hidden as it is?”

“My servant Philip no doubt explained to you that we are a Lufian people,” replied Illina, “We worship the goddess Lufia and practice the craft that was handed down to her people by the fairies themselves. I am told that you, Miss Imogen, are a witch?”

“This is true,” said Imogen with a gulp

Illina smiled, “That is good to hear.”

“I’m not used to that kind of reception, ma’am,” said Imogen.

“Of course you aren’t, my dear,” said Illina, “But we here in Madeena are all Lufian, to the last.”

“Do you mean to say that you’re all Lufian witches?” asked Imogen.

“No,” replied Illine, “But we are all worshippers of the goddess, and those of us who do not possess a share of her power and who cannot possibly become witches are acolytes. I myself am a witch, but Philip here, for instance, is an acolyte.”

Philip smiled at Imogen sheepishly.

“We all do our part to serve the goddess,” said Illina, “And we can do so freely here, as as you said, our realm is hidden from the outside world.”

“May I ask how?” asked Imogen.

“It is quite simply old magick,” said Illina.

Bronwen raised her eyebrows, but Illina didn’t notice it.

“Old magick?” asked Imogen.

“Yes. Tell me, are you familiar with the triad of Grimoires produced by the goddess’s first acolytes?”

“Yes,” said Imogen, “My mother taught me about them. The Grimoires of fire, earth and water, simply called the Green, Red and Blue Books.”

“That’s correct,” said Illina, “Your mother must have been a knowledgable servant of the goddess.”

“Yes,” said Imogen, “She was well-known amongst Lufians. She was called Phoebe the Wise.”

Illina looked startled, “Your mother… I did not know that Phoebe the Wise had ever had any children.”

“She adopted me,” explained Imogen, “She never had any children of her own.”

“Then let me say,” said Illina, bowing her head with reverance, “That is an honor to meet one so closely connected to a woman who is considered among our lot to have been a saint for our cause.”

“She disliked being referred to that way,” said Imogen, her voice quieting a bit.

“Of course, she would be humble,” said Illina, “But your mother, you know, was our champion during the first schism of the Angelist Church. She led many Lufians into hiding and away from persecution. In fact, she helped to create this very city.”

“She did?” asked Imogen in wonderment.

“Yes. As I mentioned, there were in those times three tomes valued highly above all others to Lufians. One of them, the Red Book as we called it, was seized by the Church and destroyed. The elders themselves hid the Green Book, and it’s location is still unknown. The Blue Book however, remained with a small group of witches, of whom your mother and I were a part.”

“She never mentioned anything like this city, or your name, that I can remember,” said Imogen.

“Philip tells me that have only just become a witch, correct?” asked Illina, “That you have been an apprentice for many years?”

“That’s true, yes ma’am,” replied Imogen, “I am seventeen now, and my initiation ceremony was to take place a few days ago, however my mother was…” she hestiated, “She was killed.”

Illina placed a hand over her chest and a look of sadness fell across her face, “I am truly sorry to hear that, child.”

Bronwen spoke, “An assassin in employ of the Church killed her in cold blood,” she said with an angry tone, “I intend to bring that assasin to justice personally.”

Illina looked shaken, and placed her hands on her lap. “That is one way of resolving the matter, however Lufians do not always advice retaliation in such a way. Violence always begets more violence.”

Bronwen said nothing.

“Please,” said Imogen, “Go on. We can talk about my mother later. I want to know the rest of the story.”

“Of course,” Illina nodded and took a deep breath, composing herself. “Your late mother and myself were part of a group of elite witches. Our power surpassed those of our peers, and, during the first great schism of the Angelists, the Lufian elders handed over authority of the Blue Book to us, imploring us to try and devise some solution.

“Nearly no one has ever seen the contents of any of these books, but what I can tell you from my own experience is that the runic and archaic language is difficult, if not impossible to understand. The books were written by the hands of fairies who attempted their best to write in language we might understand, but the structure of sentences and words do not make sense. Symbols and words are playfully scattered across the pages, little drawings surround the incantations, even bright little smudges litter the book where the fairies themselves kissed the pages. Their words are sometimes indiscernable, and only through meditation or an intense connection to the spiritual can one read their mysterious text.

“So it was that your mother, myself, and a few other witches sat down with the Blue Book, each of us scouring it’s pages to try and find answers. Spells for protection, spells for the endowment of powerful magick that would enable us to defend ourselves. We tried many things, but often we misused the magick in the book and hurt one another, or did nothing at all.

“It was Phoebe who at last woke me up in the middle of the night, along with the others, to say that she had devised a plan. A passage within the Blue Book spoke of an unseeable veil of protection that would sequester a region into an unknowable place, accessible only by those who knew how to work the magick of the spirit. We were in a hidden and remote village at that time, and together we tried the spell, attempting to hide our little shack from the outside world.”

Illina was quiet for a moment.

“What happened?” asked Eric suddenly.

Illina looked up at Eric, “We were successful. The doorway to our humble makeshift home was quite literally a passageway that could lead us back to the physical world. There was nothing, however, outside of our small house. We looked out the windows and saw only an endless mist. So we were able to undo the spell, and the house came back into physical existance.”

“I’m not sure I understand,” said Imogen, “Did the house stop existing physically?”

“No, it simply didn’t exist in the material and seeable world anymore,” replied Illina. “As you can see by looking around, the water, the stone, the fabrics, these are all very real. But the world in which we now reside is seperate, a spiritual place that was created specifically for the purpose of housing this city.

“But I get ahead of myself. After the success of our first spell, we sought the elders immediately and informed them. Phoebe proposed that we find a city large enough to enough all of the Lufians and sequester that city into the unknowable realm we’d brought our little house into. It was a brilliant plan, but unfortunately we were running out of time. The inquisitors from the Church had already begun to march into our lands, and Lufians were dying.

“In the span of a week, our acolytes and many witches themselves gathered the Lufians from around the countryside and brought them to a small city built on a river. It was one of the ruined city of Old Times, and many were the weary Lufian witch or acolyte who sought refuge there. It seemed a perfect fit for our needs, and so, Phoebe and myself, the others of our select group, the elders, and the many witches who had come from around the countryside gathered together, and in unison we performed the spell.

“The results, well… they stand before you.” Illina smiled. “We were successfully hidden from the outside world, here in this realm.”

“But you said that it was an unknowable place shrouded in mist,” said Imogen.

“It happened that when we first looked out our windows in that small house where first we performed the spell, all we could see was mist, and indeed if you look out behind me at the city, you will see that beyond the trees surrounding Madeena, there is a rolling mist permeating the air. But we were able to bring the land, the trees, the river itself, all of it, here into this realm. We don’t even know now what exactly this place is. We still receive the light of the sun, however, and at night the moon climbs into the sky as it does outside. We call this place a spiritual realm, but it is entirely possible we opened a portal that relocated this city from one area of the world to another.

“Where once this city had stood there was nothing, a chasm in the earth that became a grand lake. After the spell was successfully cast, we were able to return to the outside world as we needed, and were careful not to leave traces of ourselves or to reveal the way in. There are several entrances to the hidden city of Madeena from outside, but only a witch may enter, or one in possession of an enchanted item that a witch has blessed.

“We attempted, the elders, many other witches and myself, to gather Lufians from farther away, but our efforts cost the lives of many elders and witches. Phoebe herself accompanied me on many pilgrimages to the other lands on this continent, but we were successful in saving only a few lives, while many witches were captured by the Chuch and executed for heresy against their Angel.

“Upon a regrouping of all the Lufians we could gather, it was decided that our best option was to cut our losses and live here in this city, simply allowing time to pass. Many of us were uncomfortable with the idea of hiding out here while others lost their lives, and indeed many witches chose to abandon the city, taking their chances in the outside world, hoping to guide as many of the faithful to safety as they could. Some returned, others were never heard from again.

“All the while, the rebuilding effort continued. We gathered materials from the outside world as needed, and built the little paradise you see before you, filling it to the brim with art and literature that paid homage to the goddess Lufia, and we gathered here in this high temple many times for worship in those days. We were grateful to have found safety.”

There was a long silence, in which everyone seemed to collectively contemplate quietly.

“There has to be more to the story, though,” said Hephaestian, “Because Imogen’s mother left the city, and you said the three Grimoires are lost.”

“You’re correct,” Illina nodded in Hephaestian’s direction. “It was Phoebe who caused the trouble, though I don’t blame her at all for it. She was fervent in her belief that hiding here, abandoning the other Lufians to die, was an arrogant act. She had wanted for a long time to go back to the outside world. I had been able to convince her to stay, assuring her that her guidance and her power were put to the best use here in the city, but there came a time when even I could not assuage her anymore.

“Phoebe herself was the one who took the Blue Book and fled. She said that if one sanctuary could be created for the witches, so could another, and it was I alone who saw her that night, saw the Blue Book in her hands, which she had taken from the temple by some clever means that I didn’t know and didn’t care to ask about. I begged her to stay, but she was unassailable. It was her ardent wish that Lufians everywhere find safety, and not just a select few.

“I suppose I might have stopped her by force, had I a mind to do it, but the truth was I agreed with her. It was I who was too cowardly to brave the Angelist forces again, I who could have saved more lives, but I didn’t want to leave. Phoebe’s theft of the book was soon discovered without my having to say a thing, the elders were able to divine it on their own. She was branded by the elders as a traitor, though her abscondence from the city was the impetus for many other witches to go back out into the world. It was because of her benevolent wish to save others that the many Lufians who followed her example were able to save countless lives from across the continent.

“The elders, however, were displeased, as the Green Book could not be recovered without incredible risk, and they refused to send any emissary to retrieve the book for them.”

“It sounds like the elders were cowards,” said Bronwen flatly.

“Bronwen!” replied Imogen in a horrified voice.

Illina smiled softy, “No, she’s right. They were indeed cowardly in that regard. I thought so at the time myself, but as a much older woman now, I’m able to see why they chose not to leave. They wanted to ensure the safety and well-being of the Lufians who had survived the schism, and to educate a new generation who could carry on our philosophies and traditions, who would uphold the ideals the goddess handed down. This was their main focus, and they could do it without the use of one of the three Grimoires. It is believed that the Blue Book was seized by the church sometime later, though obviously not from Phoebe herself. As for the Green Book, well, it’s location remains a mystery.”

Imogen shifted in her seat and leaned closer to her satchel.

“So it has come to be that Madeena flourishes even while the outside world crumbles,” said Illina, “And were we able to combat the Angelists ourselves, we gladly would, but it is not in our power to battle armies of soldiers with magick. The goddess did not give us these gifts to make war or bring death. I believe, however, there will come a time when the Angelist Church falls from favor, and equality is once again the way of the land. Eden has flourished in times when free expression was accepted by all, and even Lufians do not demand that others believe in our ways or uphold our laws. Our reverence for nature is unflinching, and that includes reverence for the lives of humans who might do us harm. So it is that we wait, here in our little paradise, for a time when the world returns to a state of peace.”

“I don’t know if that will happen,” said Lucas, disheartened. “The world is in far more danger than I’ve ever known it to be. The Angelist Church has gained the might of the Alexandrian army, and the plains of the free people are being warred over by neighboring kingdoms. It seems that a new schism is coming, and not just for those who are Lufian, but any who refuse to submit to the law of the Church.”

“As it must be,” said Illina calmly, “For this is always the way with religions. Our worship of the goddess is voluntary, and can be interpreted in many different ways. Though we refer to Lufia herself as a real deity who once existed, there are many among our number who believe her simply to be an emblem of reverence toward nature and life. The powers that we possess, though we say are given by Lufia herself, may yet someday find an explenation through science. It doesn’t really matter, ultimately. We are a belief system with so many facets and different practices that we can come together in peace even among our differences, because our goals are the same: acceptance, love toward others, and the defense of the natural world. We desire to live in harmony with nature. As our city is one with the great river, so too are we one with nature.

“But of course this is not the way with the Angelists. They belief that their faith in their deity grants salvation, and even then only to a select few. They care not for this world or it’s wonders, but for an Otherworld. They refuse to see Eden for the extraordinary beauty that it is, and look heavenward, in the hopes that an Angel will descend, to deliver them from man made poverty and man made hardship. They attack because they are insecure in their belief. They force others to commit themselves to the service of their Angel because they do not truly believe they serve an angel; they simply seek to avoid their fear of death by believing that this world is of no consequence, and they desecrate it accordingly.

“Eventually, though, nature will win. It always does.”

Again, there was a long silence.

“On the topic of nature,” said Philip, finally speaking, “Perhaps we should inform them of our predicament.”

“Yes,” said Illina with a crestfallen look downward, “It seems the best time.”

“Predicament?” asked Lucas.

“Yes,” Illina took another deep breath. “Our utopia has gone undisturbed for nearly fifty years now, but a situation beyond our control has arisen. Sickness has long been something Lufians are known to have a swift command over, as we have been able to cure almost all known diseases through magick or spiritual intervention. However, the people of the city are becoming ill at an alarming rate, and nothing we have thus tried has helped them. We are running out of options. We cannot seek the assistance of scientific medicine without exposing ourselves to the outside world, or worse, bringing into this realm those who might defile or harm us. And yet, we seem unable to combat the disease.”

“What manner of disease is this?” asked Imogen.

“The symptoms are sometimes incongruous with one another from case to case, but all who suffer from the Illness, as we simply call it, experience weakness in their bodies, many experience coughing fits or an inability to keep down food, while others have begun to bleed from their orifices, and others still simply show few physical symptoms but are mentally overtaken, and become unable to speak or rationally process information. A symptom among witches is that their magickal ability weakens or disappears altogether for periods of time. Many have already died. We are entirely at a loss as to what this sickness could be, and have found no way of treating it through medicine or magick.”

“Perhaps something has infected the water,” offered Hephaestian, “If a virus developed, that would be the most effective way for it to be transmitted among all the people here.”

“It’s possible,” said Illina, “But we believe something more sinister is at work. Since magick is entirely unable to undo this disease, or indeed even to fight the symptoms, which it can do in other cases, we have come to believe it is a curse. If magick is unable to heal it, it must be something designed to prevent healing magick from alleviating the symptoms. It must be a curse of some kind, something of a magicakl nature.”

“What can we do?” asked Lucas, “Philip told us that we might be able to help you.”

“I don’t know if you can, but I’d like to try,” said Illina, “You, child, are special, are you not?”

Lucas was silent, and Hephaestian cast a protective glance his way. “Yes, I suppose it does no harm to tell you. I can… I can control fire.”

“Can you conjure it?” asked Illina.

“No, I’ve never done anything like that, or even really thought of doing it.”

“Mother was unable to ascertain what sort of power he has,” Imogen said, “It seems magickal, but he’s never been instructed in the ways of magick whatsoever. Even someone who shows a natural proclivity toward magick must be taught to hone it, but he can bend and shape and move fire any way he desires, and do so effortlessly.”

“Conjuring or controlling fire, or any other element,” said Illina, “Is something that perhaps a powerful may be capable of, for a short time. But to do so with little exertion is a talent indeed. Philip told me of your power. I believe it is possible that your spiritual energy is of a kind not ordinarily seen among humans, indeed I sense something vastly powerful within you. I would like to try, if I may, and harness this energy, however small an amount I may be permitted to extract from you, and see if it can’t be reapplied to solve our rather vexing situation here.”

“Would that put Lucas in danger?” asked Hephaestian.

“Decidedly not,” replied Illina, “I would perform the procedure myself, with the intent of simply borrowing some of his infinitely self-replenashable energy and attempting to use it to treat the symptoms of one afflicted with the disease.”

“So we may have already come in contact with the disease ourselves,” said Bronwen.

“Indeed, it is possible,” said Illina, “And I greatly apologize for putting you at risk. The method of transmission is unknown to us, it does not seem to be physical or spiritual. People simply fall ill with no explenation. If things continue at this rate, the last bastion of Lufian civilization that is known to us could be destroyed forever.”

“I… I don’t know,” said Lucas, “I want to help if I can, but…”

“It’s alright,” said Illina, rising from her place, “Take your time. Rooms have been prepared for all of you, and you are welcome to stay here in the palace. Though as I said, the method of transmission is unknown, no one within the confines of the palace walls has yet been stricken with the sickness, and we are careful who we allow in. It upsets me to behave this way, but precaution must be taken. I ask only that you stay here within the confines of the palace for now, and rest yourselves, while I continue to convene with our elders in the hopes of diving some solution.”

“The elders are still alive?” asked Eric, startled.

Illina chuckled, “No, they are not the original Lufian elders, rather new elders that have been selected over time. I happen to be one of them, as I am Madeena’s matriarch and leader. Please make yourselves at home here, and Philip will show you all to your rooms. Dinner will be prepared soon, I hope to see you all there.”

With a whirl of her beautiful blue gown, Illina turned and left, walking across one of the bridges over the water and out into the larger chamber, where a man dressed in a white robe led her through an open doorway. Philip stood, “I’ll show you to your rooms now,” he said with a smile.