Not a cloud in the sky. A perfectly blue expanse over Morhein. Yesterday's rainstorm coupled with a front from Urtoman made the air bearable, even comfortable. Alice hadn't felt a breeze this refreshing since the first few weeks of March. It rushed through the balcony she leaned against and through her well-kept bun.
Morhein seemed so familiar now after having worked here for a few months. She could just barely see Caleb's new smithy. He had timed it just right. Her contract had expired just yesterday, and today was the opening of the new smithy. I wish he had let me help. I've needed something to get my mind off things…From this vantage point, she could make out several small shops and buildings she had frequented on errands. Now, she'd almost certainly never go inside them ever again.
Despite her natural inclination against it, she couldn't help but look over the city from Treyce's mansion balcony. Whatever the state of their relationship, she had to admit he had taste in scenic views. The sight was breathtaking in what felt like an autumn afternoon under the summer sun. In his wisdom, or lack thereof, he had bequeathed his mansion to Firebird. That will was obviously written when they had still been on good terms. If he had written it after the sentencing, he wouldn't have included her in it. She was absolutely sure of that. However, given her current plans, she had no use for the land or his possessions. Once she left Morhein, all of his things would default to the state since he wouldn't be present anymore.
A life sentence to the Prison of Yew Island technically was not the same thing as execution, but seeing as no one had escaped or been released in the five-hundred years since its construction…Alice sighed.
It's Marx all over again. Even the sight up here is the same.
She heard Ine's footsteps before she bothered to walk more softly. "Hey," she called out.
Ine looked positively lovely in the sunflower dress offset perfectly with a warm brown cinch and headband. Only one corner of Alice's mouth curled up. "You look good with long hair."
Ine joined Alice at the railing. "Yeah, well, I still like the pixie cut more."
"How's working at Mr. Dawler's company?"
"Fine. It's slower than being a Falcian, but me and Poppy are getting along."
"Sis, if he had popped the question, I'd have told you already. Actually, probably not since you would have killed both of us."
Alice scoffed, "You're too young to be married."
"Mrs. Dawler was my age. So she's a bit more open to the idea than you."
Alice nodded silently and stared out over the city again. Her heart felt like it was about to be crushed. Ine's voice cracked. "Please don't go, Alice."
"I have to. I don't belong here, Ine."
Ine hugged her tightly, burying her face in her shirt. "We belong together! We're sisters!"
"Ine… I've been running away for too long. It's time for me to go home."
"This IS home!"
Alice rubbed Ine's head gently. "I'll come back one day. I promise."
Don't lie. Even if they don't kill you, you'll end up just like Treyce.
"Ine, I want you to have this." Alice gave her the grass doll. It had become even more wilted and worn since she had last taken it out. Ine accepted it wide-eyed and teary. "I…This is…your mom's…"
"I don't need it anymore. My mother is always with me, but I think you need a reminder…that I'm always with you."
"Alice…I'll miss you."
"Me, too. But I'm happy. You've found a home after all these years." Ine clutched the doll tightly. "But-!"
"Ine, you're not going to be alone again."
"…I know…but you're not going to be there."
"Weren't you listening? I'm always with you." Alice kissed her sister on the forehead and hugged her tightly. "Not even death can separate us." That thought sent chills down her spine.
"Alice…" cried Ine. Suddenly, she pulled a strand of hair from her and Alice's head and stuffed them in the doll. "I'm going…to repair some of the wear and tear…with fresh grass from the buffer."
Alice could hardly hold back the tears.
"OI! You two!"
Nicholas called out to the two of them from the ground. He had dressed formally for the occasion. "It's about to start. Get down here!"
Ine pursed her lips. "I don't particular want to see Treyce carted off to prison. Do you?"
"No," admitted Alice, "but I need to be there."
They arrived at the main entrance to Morhein after travelling in awkward silence for fifteen minutes. Everyone important was present: the king, his council, the captain of the guard, newly promoted Major Dawler, his family, Sir Nicholas, Baroness Redwood, and many more that Alice neither knew nor recognized.
The transport sat several yards from them surrounded by guards. On the opposite end of the plaza they were waiting in, four guards were escorting Frostwyrm, stripped of rank and title. He no longer wore any sort of decorative clothes or had a vibrant color to his face. Instead, he trudged along, chains dangling from the manacles on his ankles and wrists and wore dull cotton clothing. Yet, despite his predicament, despite how the citizens jeered at him for his duplicity, despite how the guards treated him gruffly, and despite how he knew Alice watched his every movement, he kept his head held high with dignity.
You can't turn a thoroughbred into a prisoner. There's always just a bit of defiance left in them. Alice respected the composure he exhibited in the face of such turmoil. The escort stopped in front of the king. He frowned before bellowing, "Frostwyrm, for your crimes against the state, you are hereby sentenced to the Prison of Yew Island until the day you die. Do you have anything to say before you are exiled?"
Treyce titled his head and smirked.
"Yirdis is dead, and Lomany has the Secret of Magic. I regret nothing." The escort hurried him towards the transport amid jeers and advancing citizenry. Alice couldn't take it. She slipped in through the guards and called out the Treyce in the Old language, "Is this all a game to you?!"
He responded in kind, "Everything is game. We've been over this a dozen times, Alice."
"So we were just a game?"
"Of course. I used you, and you used me. We were each other's tools."
Alice blotched red. "The word is 'friend' not 'tool'!"
"Alice, they're the same thing, the same word. Stop splitting hairs."
"…you never understood…and you never will until you see the difference!"
Before she could continue, the guards pushed her back and him into the transport. She saw his face flash between the bars in the rear of the cart, and then he was gone. The cart slowly rolled along until it was clear of people at the entrance, and then it sped up westward for the coast. Surrounding it were horsemen. Redwood had declared that she would keep Vate from attempting something sneaky when they skirted the border, but she couldn't promise anything. The Vatian king was always trying to anger his brother.
Alice looked at the back of the retreating cart until it vanished behind a corner.
This time, he really is gone, isn't he?
Ine tugged at her sister's sleeve. It was time to go.
"Good bye, Ine."
Ine got up on her tiptoes to hug Alice at shoulder height and whispered into her ear, "Alice, there's one last thing I want to tell you. My full name is Francine Greenthumb. And if you tell anybody, I will murder you."
Alice struggled not to snicker and promised not to tell a living soul. Toby flashed a smile and shook Alice's hand. She pulled him into an embrace. This time, she whispered deathly quiet into his ear, "If you fuck my sister before you tie the knot, I will find out, and I will come up here and personally make sure you can't do it again." She flashed him a reassuring smile to let him know it was mostly a joke. Mostly. Toby's face remained blanched until Ine held his hand. Cecil nodded silently to Alice. The two of them hadn't really connected in the past few weeks since his return, but they held a mutual understanding of being overprotective older siblings.
Mr. and Mrs. Dawler hugged Alice and said their goodbyes. Mrs. Dawler was particularly hurt by Alice's departure. They had gotten to know each other quite well, and both already missed the other.
"Lady Firebird," grinned Poppy.
"Miss Morning Star."
Poppy went red with embarrassment. "Dun call me that. I ain't a Falcian no more."
"Well, I never was, but you still call me 'Firebird.'"
"Take care, Poppy. I found my way without Treyce. So will you."
Alice mounted a horse the king had supplied for her journey as thanks for ousting Lord Frostwyrm and slaying Ivanna. With a final wave to everyone, she kicked the horse into a canter. It had been a very long time since she had ridden horseback. Her legs would probably ache before the sun went down. To her amusement, Nicholas trotted alongside her on his own horse until they reached the entrance. "So did you consider my offer to stay in Corth?"
Nick grumbled. "Why? We need an expert in southern language to translate the secret!"
"Then get Treyce to do it for penance. Or find Doctor Elle. I told you that she's up in Urtoman or the Outlands by now. I can't stay here any longer."
"No, Nick. Stop-."
Nick cut her off with his horse and pulled up alongside hers. Before she could protest, he pulled her head towards his and planted a kiss on her lips. After several seconds of silence, he pulled away and whispered, "Please don't go."
"Nick, you know that this is simply making it more painful for me to go, not more likely to stay."
"What about your promise?" he said angrily. "Aren't we partners now?"
Alice sighed. "Nick, let go."
Her heart constricted. She didn't want to do this. "Nick, I need to go home. I'll come back. I promise."
"Your promises are starting to become less valuable," he spat.
Alice's brow furrowed. "Nick…"
"You know what? Go. If you're that hell-bent on leaving, then go."
Alice closed her eyes. I'm making a mistake. I have to fix this right now.
I can't stay any longer or I'll never leave.
But I can't leave him like this.
…I'll have to.
She didn't bother to look back at Nicholas, but she could hear him sigh in defeat. It pulled at her heartstrings. It wasn't until she reached the corner that Treyce had disappeared behind that she looked back. Everyone was waiting at the gate, waving. She waved back, and she heard a collection of goodbyes roared at the top of their lungs.
"I'm not leaving. Just going away for a little while," she said to herself. After another minute, she reached the fork Cecil had told her about. Treyce had undoubtedly taken the right path that led to the coast. She went left towards the south. The prospect of who and what awaited her back in Kreathor did not sit well with her, but she accepted her fate. Both she and her mother knew it was the right course of action. I hope. God, if you're listening, please let me be able to see Ine again. Let the Almertha be merciful on me. Within a few days, she'd be in Jorgein. Then she'd head south along the river and reach that bridge once more. The legal identification card that read 'Alice Flanagan - Raven Stormhawk' brought her a bit of ironic happiness.
Nothing but blue skies ahead.
"Your majesty, the prisoner."
Blaise was tossed into the throne room, beaten and bloodied. His lips was cut, and a dirty scab covered his forehead. The interrogators had broken him this morning as evidenced by the burn marks on his arms, and Queen Andraste had ordered for his presence. When he didn't push himself up, the soldiers grabbed him roughly under each arm and pulled Blaise to his feet. When he groaned in protest, one of them backhanded him across the face without any hesitation.
Andraste sat upon her gilded throne, her slender legs crossed in an informal fashion. She looked down at Blaise with a bemused expression on her pale face. The throne room was always kept darker than the rest of the palace as Andraste felt her silhouette garnered more fear and respect than her mere appearance. Blaise did not doubt that. He has been privy to see her unveiled face in normal light. The darkness hid her imperfections by forcing the onlooker's mind to fill them in with their imagination.
His imagination was overriding his memory. The queen looked like an elegant raven ready to pluck out its victim's eyes for a small meal. To her right sat the much younger Princess Adrianna, who still donned the white and rose color scheme Blaise had seen so frequently in their school days. In contrast to her colorful gown, she had elected to magically color her hair an ashen white. Even in the dark, he could see the pain on her face. Perhaps her lunar magic afforded her more brightness in the dark.
Consort Arcturo sat to Andraste's left. Her left hand clasped around his right, but Blaise saw no love between either of them. Their union was pure opportunity. Like Adrianna, Arcturo's hair was white, but that nothing to do with magic. It was the remnants of his imprisonment in Azara. Every follicle from his head to his beard was white, a testament to his ten years of suffering. Compared to Adrianna, however, he had a vengeful fire in his eyes. No doubt news of the Alchemist had rekindled his desire for revenge. He believed the Alchemist had murdered his sister. Blaise had never been able to bring himself to tell Arcturo of his error. Now, he cursed his weakness, but soon it would all change.
Andraste spoke with a silky voice. Between the darkness, the braziers, and strange incense of the throne room, Blaise wasn't sure if her voice truly sounded like that, or if his mind was playing tricks on him.
"Blaise, I am disappointed in your conduct." She enunciated the last part with particular disdain, like a mother scolding her child. "I have given you redemption for your sins, and you discard it like dirty rags. You have met with the Alchemist to discuss a revitalization of the Green Army. This cannot stand."
Blaise grinned, revealing his bleeding mouth.
Andraste clucked his tongue. "I see you have no remorse. Very well. We do not suffer the forgone. Kill him."
As a soldier approached Blaise, he released the tiny pearl Emilia had given him. All she had said was that this would give him time to escape while dealing an incalculable blow to Andraste. In the weeks preceding his imprisonment and even while being interrogated and tortured, he constantly tried to figure out what this thing was. Certainly, she had not told him so as not to give away the game to Andraste, but his trust was beginning to wane. Before he hesitated a moment longer, Blaise tossed the metallic pearl onto the floor, and it rolled a few feet.
At first, it did nothing except make the soldier and Andraste pause. It slowly opened into an orchid-like figurine and projected a light into the darkness. Everyone covered their eyes from the sudden influx of light. Once they became accustomed to the light, Blaise's face filled with wonder.
The Alchemist stood before them.
To be more accurate, an image of the Alchemist stood before them. He looked around at the throne room to confirm his surroundings. His voice spoke in the characteristic dual gendered echo people feared above all else, "I have reverse-engineered your telemagick pearls to do more than send signals to runes, Andraste. I can now send an image of myself to you and receive an image of your surroundings in real time. What with the war over, I have had time to pursue my hobbies."
Blaise chuckled to himself. Emilia could never stop being cheeky. Conversely, every other person in the room couldn't speak, even Andraste.
The Alchemist continued, "I going to end this farce once and for all, Andraste."
Arcturo was the first to regain his composure. "You dare show your face here, demon? Now that you have foolishly told us how you are accomplishing this…feat of magic, we shall use it to pinpoint your exact location just like we do with the telemagick gems! We will hunt you down and purge your evil from this world!" Adrianna gripped her seat tightly but remained silent. She had abandoned her hatred for the Alchemist long ago despite being as justified in it as Arcturo, but seeing the one who had killed her best friend, Emilia, right in front of her sent chills down her spine.
Andraste merely looked bored. "Tell me, Alchemist, what are you going to do? Send magic through your device? If that's the case, then I'll simply send it back through."
The Alchemist chuckled. "I have long ruminated over my failure, Andraste. Many a night, I would lay awake, wondering what I could have done better to save more lives on both sides, how I could have killed you without sacrificing my men or my humanity. I eventually came to the conclusion that I couldn't. That everything was as it could have been. That it was impossible to defeat you."
"It seems you have grown wise in your absence, Alchemist. Tell me, if you know-."
"I'm not done, Andraste," interrupted the Alchemist. Blaise forced himself not to make a sound as Andraste's face blotched so red in anger, not even the darkness could hide it.
"Someone showed me the answer I had been burying inside me all this time because I discounted its power. I thought it would merely leave me powerless and not accomplish anything. But I know now what the answer is. It's so simple, it baffles me." The Alchemist reached for his hood to lower it. "The truth will set us all free…" Emilia's voice rang out, "and end your reign." Emilia looked at the three with sadness in her eyes. "I am Emilia, abdicated princess of Etuskani."
Acturo walked slowly towards the image with his hands outstretched. "…Emilia…? Impossible…this is a trick! My sister is dead!"
"There used to be a secret passage from the third floor corridor to the kitchen. You'd use that every Thursday to sneak me pastries while mother and father were still alive."
He went silent and fell to his knees sobbing. Emilia wanted nothing more than to hug her brother, but even if she allowed herself, her image would pass right through him. Showing emotion at this point would weaken her position.
"Adrianna, I'm sorry…"
Memories of holding Emilia's dying body flashed through Adrianna's mind. It couldn't be. But if Arcturo believed this was truly his sister…It had been a ruse. She had faked her death. Twice. That's why Emilia had felt so surprised to see her. That's why the Alchemist never attacked her forces. It wasn't out of trying to avoid defeat. It had been Emilia this entire time.
Emilia closed her eyes. She couldn't even look at Adrianna. "Adrianna…I'm sorry for everything, including what I am about to do."
"…what? Emilia, what do you…?"
"Adrianna and I…used to be…lovers," declared Emilia.
Adrianna's face blanched. She had broken the promise after all these years. She had revealed their secret, and in such a humiliating venue! No, this was even worse. Emilia was the Alchemist. That meant people would reason Adrianna had been cavorting with the enemy. Emilia…how could you?!
"It seems…" mused Andraste as she looked to her consort and her younger sister, "I have some very late Spring Cleaning to do."
"Really, Andaste? Even though you knew my identity all along?"
The red on Andraste's face returned.
"It was all just a coincidence that you set my beloved's battalions to force me to maneuver? That you convinced my brother to be in the frontline in that last battle? That you sent the man who had a schoolboy crush on me to find me? You knew I was the Alchemist this entire time, and you withheld it from Arcturo, Adrianna, everyone."
Adrianna looked at her sister incredulously. Arcturo glared daggers.
"Hmph, of course I didn't tell them. How could you expect me to keep Adrianna and Arcturo's support against a villain like you with such a powerful conflict of interest?"
Emilia barked a laugh. "You're serious? Are you sure it had nothing to do with the fact that you didn't want me killed in the first place? Because of B.L.U.E.?"
"If I had fallen in the Green Rebellion, B.L.U.E. would have been unearthed quite quickly, and your reign would have been over much more quickly and with more blood."
"Sister, what is Emilia talking about?" asked Adrianna defiantly.
"Nonsense. It's a bluff."
"Is that so?" mocked Arcturo. "And how do we know you're not bluffing right now? You are quite prone to bluffing yourself!"
Blaise searched his memory. Nothing came up. Granted, Emilia had not told him anything about this B.L.U.E., but nothing would match. He knew nothing. Surely it wasn't just a bluff? Then he grinned. Of course it was. The Kuv'Roatal thrived on bluffs and lies. She didn't need a flame or even a spark. She had simply provided the tinder, and it had caught fire on its own.
Andraste sneered. "Listen to yourself. The Alchemist has nothing. She is merely trying to divide us."
"No, you've done that yourself, sister," spat Adrianna. From her chest grew a sphere of moonlight that sprouted thin tendrils. Arcturo likewise drew his sword with his eyes trained on Andraste. The guards looked at each other. No one had challenged Andraste since she had received the crown from her mother, Lia. In fact, no one had challenged the ruler in living memory. They couldn't discern who to protect. "So, this is a coup?" growled Andraste, "Fine, I will squash this rebellion where it stands!"
Emilia twirled her hair absentmindedly. "I'm afraid it won't be so simple. Didn't you hear? Your High Mage is dead. Killed a few weeks ago by a member of the Sed'Roatal. Oh, and she managed to lose copy 97 of the Ren'gom after said Sed'Roatal excised the rune, preventing its remote disintegration. It's now permanently in the hands of Lomany."
The room went silent.
"All under your watchful eye, Andraste."
Now, Adrianna and Arcturo were not the only ones standing against the queen. Some of the court mages and guards sided with the two while others leapt to their majesty's side, still loyal to the crown.
"You have doomed this kingdom with your arrogance, sister!" roared Adrianna.
Andraste roared back, "I have done nothing of the sort! I am the queen of Azara, not you, and I will quell any and all rebellion wherever and whoever it may be. Even if it is you, dear sister."
Emilia looked at Blaise and mouthed, "Run," before disappearing and making the metallic pearl dissolve into dust. He managed to escape in the chaos ensuing from the first battle of Azara's civil war.
Another story finished! And this one is the longest so far. It put a smile on my face to finally be able to pull in the characters back in Azara. I had so many scenes between Adrianna and Emilia from their past, I always found them adorable. Aside from The Cookie Story (which is now on Amazon kindle and blew everything out of the water), this arc is now my most viewed. Unfortunately, it seems arc 2 has been relegated to the realm of Glamour. I'm going to wager that it's because it lacks the "Romance" tag. You know what? That's fine. I'll just have to keep pulling in some romantic elements into the story in order to slap that hot tag on the story i.e. the this-thumbnail-is-a-picture-of-a-sexy-butt strategy.
But now Alice is all alone :(
At least Ine is happy though! And so is Poppy! And Toby (albeit fearful for his twig and berries...)! And...well, Nick got screwed over. Sorry buddy. I liked you a lot, but gotta have that tease in there. Oh, you too, Treyce. You were an asshole. Gotta pay your dues. Which does bring me to the all important question: What to do for the next arc?
I have an overarching structure. I ain't just plodding along like a tavern RP. That said, it's pretty flexible. If you enjoyed the story, I would like input on whether to make the next arc continuing where Alice left off or instead switching gears completely and picking up where Treyce left off. I have both relatively planned out. Trying to reveal too much of my hand, both are, broadly speaking, seeking to have Alice/Treyce go through significant character development (Treyce goes through self-discovery whereas Alice wrestles with disempowerment.) If both seem equally alluring (or equally boring), then the setting for Alice's is at a military academy in Corth (which is preparing for war with Azara) whereas Treyce is going to escape from prison.
So it's between a school-life rom-dram and a prison break-out.
Both have romance elements. Both introduce characters designed to broaden the reader's knowledge of peoples they know (e.g. The Order, Corth, Azara, etc.). Not everybody from Azara is a psycho like Ivanna, and not everyone in the Order is as reckless as Alice. Well, no one is as reckless as Alice. Not even the fanfic off-spring of Naruto, Suzaku Kururugi, and Monkey D. Luffy. *Shudder*
Both of these will happen one after the other. It's just a question of which first. I'm leaning towards leaning towards the Alice arc though. Because, well, I've been wanting to write another school life drama. Yes, I'm that shallow sometimes.
Anyways, if you've enjoyed reading, I've enjoyed you reading it! I know you're not supposed to write for reviews, but it is always nice to know that people enjoy your work. And if you don't, it's really good to know that someone took the time to give some constructive criticism to help make the story better.
See you next time!]