I fumbled with the quill, unsure of what to write. I dipped it into the inkwell again and watched the ink dry and form a skin around the tip of the quill. I then rubbed it off so I could see the skin crack and break, and the fresh ink beneath it would ooze out onto my fingers. I repeated this process several times until all my fingertips had a deep indigo hue.
Elhanan was the one who told me I could write to them. He said it’d be good for me, but I could only do it once for now. I suppose there was much to write about, but most of it I couldn’t mention. It was against the rules. At least, that’s what Elhanan told me. I learned to trust him quickly, and if he said I couldn’t mention things, it was likely for a good reason.
A sudden gust of wind blew through the terrace, ruffling my blank papers and tossing them into the air. I sighed and stood up to gather them. Constant wind was one of the things I had to deal with now. Living in a grassland like Katharos had many challenges like that. As I picked up each paper I realized I was leaving purple finger-sized stains from the ink still on my hands. I took this as a sign and headed back inside. I’d wash my hands, get more paper, find a new place to sit away from the wind, and try again. Balancing all the supplies in one arm, I opened the glass door and stepped back inside the castle.
I wasn’t particularly fond of living at PearlGate. It was a beautiful stone castle with red carpets and golden tapestries lining the walls, but after all the castles and mansions I visited only two months earlier, living in one had begun to unnerve me. Those old castles were one of the reasons I still had nightmares every night. I treaded silently back through the grand hallways, passing portraits of famous TrueHearts and notable members of the Council of Royals. They all had fierce looks painted onto their lips and eyes. I found it intimidating.
I was distracted from the paintings when the smell of hot food wafted past me. At least the cooks at PearlGate were mastered in their craft. The first few weeks after the other new TrueHearts and I arrived, the cooks made a lot of traditional Chorio meals. I still wished they served more of them now.
Just as the smells indicated, I soon passed by the large dining hall where rows and rows of long tables and benches were filled with hungry TrueHearts. I had lost track of time, but I could only guess they were eating the midday meal. I hoped to pass by the wide open doors unnoticed, but, of course, Piper noticed me. It was hard to escape a conversation with that girl. As usual, she was sitting by Larkin and Lachlan, the twin TrueHearts with the envied ebony skin and beautiful black hair. Next to them, Piper looked like dazzling white snow with her pale complexion and fiery red hair. All of them were new like me, and perhaps that’s how we became acquaintances so fast.
Piper jumped up from her seat and came to me, only tripping once or twice over her baby blue robe that all TrueHearts had to wear when they were at PearlGate. I watched her hazel eyes dart between the objects in my hands, quickly assessing what activity I had just been doing. “Have you written anything yet, Blyss?” she asked excitedly. She and Minnie were alike in many ways.
“No,” I answered simply. “Not sure what to write yet.” Piper gave me a sympathetic look. She and the twins knew the ordeal I went through two months ago. Apparently, all chosen TrueHearts were given fake roles at the Day of the Choosing, mostly servant roles, but the Storytellers purposely gave them glitchy magic so they had to go into Istoria early where Elhanan could meet them. For me, however, not even the Storytellers were aware I was supposed to be a TrueHeart. It was a miracle none of them realized two girls were assigned to be Maleficent, but I guess with all the hundreds of thousands of names to go through, they passed over mine without a blink. Elhanan explained I was given a villain role because it tested my strength and resistance to evil. I asked him why they didn’t do this “test” with any of the other TrueHearts. He merely smiled and said I was unique and destined for a greater plan than the average TrueHeart. He didn’t bring it up again, and I learned to stop asking. I considered sending a letter to the Writer, who I was sure knew my destiny from the beginning just like Elhanan. Then I realized I didn’t actually want to know. I had enough to process already.
“That’s okay,” Piper assured me. “You can try again after you get some food.” She tugged at my arm to pull me towards the tables when I resisted.
“I should probably put this away first,” I said quietly, looking down at the purple stains on the paper.
“Oh, of course! How silly am I? Making you eat with all those papers in your hands. Be sure to come back though! We’ll be waiting!” said Piper as she bounded off back to Larkin and Lachlan. I smiled at all three of them and promptly spun on my heels. I navigated my way through a maze of corridors and staircases until I came to my wing of the dormitories. Soon I found the door with 158 chiseled into its wood. At least at PearlGate, each TrueHeart was given a separate room. I doubted I could handle another person sharing a room with me. I’d keep them awake every night with my gasping and crying.
I set the supplies down on my little desk and went to wash my hands in the bowl of water set out by the maids. I asked Elhanan once if the PearlGate staff were chosen from Chorio too. He shook his head and explained they all were retired characters that were hand selected to come here after their Stories. The Truehearts were against advertising their existence, so much so that even their staff were specially chosen and sworn to secrecy the rest of their days.
Once my hands were decently clean, I came to my little mirror and dresser. I attempted to smooth the wrinkles in my robe, but I had no such luck. I rearranged my short brown hair and attempted to put on a smile. With all these things completed, I returned to the dining hall.
“There’s cherry pie for dessert,” said Piper as I sat down with a plate of food, “your favorite!” Her attempt to lighten my mood was much appreciated.
“It had better be hot when I grab a slice,” I chuckled. “Cold pie is pointless.”
“Pumpkin pie tastes alright cold,” Lachlan commented.
“But they never serve pumpkin pie,” his sister Larkin pointed out. Lachlan rolled his eyes and laughed.
“I’m so glad today’s a free day,” said Piper. “I don’t think I could handle seven days of straight training without some sort of compensation.” Her reminder of our classes made me groan. Four days a week, new TrueHearts had to attend trainings to master their magic. This would be so for the next two years until we were approved to go out into Istoria and do our job. Being cooped up in a castle for two years was never something of which I wanted to be reminded.
“It’s a bit boring though,” Lachlan replied. “They give us a free day, but we can’t leave PearlGate. I’d rather just train every day and finish faster.” They began to debate whether having free days was good or not, but I opted not to listen. My thoughts were still drumming about the letter to Mother and Leo. I was beginning to piece together what I wanted to tell them now, but most of it I couldn’t.
Dear Mother and Leo,
I’m writing to tell you that I made it safely through the Month of Midnights. I’m so sorry to have hurt you for running away. Believe me when I say I did it not in spite of you, Mother, but rather with the hope that I could be a daughter to you that didn’t die a cruel and wicked monster.
As it turns out, the Storyteller was right. I never was meant to be Maleficent. The Writer was instructed to purposefully assign two girls the role of Maleficent. One of them would find her way into Istoria, be tested for her resistance against evil, and eventually find her way to her actual destiny. They never wanted me in a Story. Maleficent was just a way to get me across the border where they could meet me safely and in secret. I have actually been chosen to be a TrueHeart. Only the Council of Royals, the Istorian Guard, and the Writer know of them.
Elhanan, a sort of advisor for new TrueHearts, explained our purpose to me this way: “TrueHearts are the subconscious good that fairytale characters have. They act as a sort of guardian angel that discreetly encourage people to do what is right. They provide the balance of good and evil in Stories.” For each main character, TrueHearts are sent to make sure they choose the right and ethical decision in a Story. With evil being such an unpredictable element, the TrueHearts were created as another level of security to ensure each Story’s success. As a TrueHeart, my new home is at a castle called PearlGate. PearlGate is situated in a third realm identical to Istoria, but it is called Katharos. Katharos is much smaller in comparison to Istoria and Chorio. It is made up of a large grassland with a few little forests sprinkled throughout. No one is allowed in, or even aware of, Katharos unless they are a TrueHeart themselves or have permission to enter.
For two years, I must study and train at PearlGate. I am not allowed to leave until the leader of the TrueHearts, Vangelis, approves my developed abilities. Once I am ready, I will be sent into Istoria for different assignments.
Even when my two years have passed, I cannot return to Chorio. First, because it is against the law. Second, because even if I could, I would not be able to. When I was at the Writer’s, he told me he took away most of my magic, where in fact, he actually bestowed on me my real magic. Unlike traditional Istorian magic, TrueHeart magic embeds itself inside me, making me dependent on it. Istorian magic does not do this, therefore letting people like the Istorian Guard cross between the borders with only their magic disabled. Elhanan taught it to me like this: Istorian magic is like a functionable organ, but you could live without it. TrueHeart magic is like the blood, heart, and brain all in one that must never be taken away or shut down. For this reason, when I once tried to cross into Chorio with TrueHeart magic, I could not breathe the air and thus began to choke. According to Elhanan, TrueHeart magic is much more powerful and gives us the ability to become transparent and slip into someone’s soul.
If you were worried about my journey during the Month of Midnights, then I can put these worries at ease. I befriended Upright, a man whose bestowed amagic made him a dwarf to become the future Grumpy in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. I also befriended a faery by the name of Minnie. She is ever so lovely, and one of the happiest creatures to fly in these realms. Upright, last I heard, is doing well in his Story, and Minnie has become a schoolteacher in her faery village. There is one other person that I’d be foolish not to mention. His name is Rudy. He was chosen to become Prince Charming in Cinderella, but a rather unusual glitch in his magic sent him into Istoria where he and I met. In a heartbeat, I can say that Rudy is my best friend. He cares deeply about me, and he makes me laugh. Besides you two, I miss him most.
As it turns out though, he was never meant to be Prince Charming either. For a reason that Elhanan will not tell me, Rudy has been put in the Istorian Guard with his brother Jamie. Oh, you should have seen Rudy’s face when he was told this! The Istorian Guard was what Rudy really wanted in his heart, and now he can actually be apart of this. Rudy has a sort of need to go save the world and help people. In that respect, he reminds me much of Father. Rudy comes to see me whenever the Guard makes its round into Katharos, them being the few that are aware and allowed to enter. To my surprise, many of the Truehearts are actually wedded to members of the Guard. Their children automatically become TrueHearts or part of the Guard, whichever they choose. I suppose this all should make sense to me since we are only allowed to socialize (and that means marry too) with TrueHearts and the Guard. My three TrueHeart friends, Piper, Larkin, and Lachlan, all predict I shall marry a member of the Guard as well. Of course, they think it shall be Rudy. Rudy and I don’t talk much of marriage though, but I think you’d approve of him, Mother, and you’d like him very much, my little Leo.
I yearn more than imaginable to see you both. Once the retelling period begins in a few weeks, the Writer will cast a spell to slow down time in Istoria and Katharos. Every year here will be five years back in Chorio, meaning by the time my two years’ training is completed, you will be seventeen, Leo, practically a grown man! I wish I could write more letters than this, but Vangelis does not permit more than one letter from each new Trueheart until after their two years are complete. Then I may send a letter once a year, though it must be approved before sending to ensure I do not reveal anything I’m not supposed to.
Please write soon and give it to the Istorian Guard when they pass our village. Tell them who I am and that I help with “character development.” They’ll know what to do with it. I love you both with all of my being. I wish you good luck in the coming years, and, though it is unlikely, I hope to see you one more time. Give my broken bed frame all my love.
Postnote: tell no one of this letter. Should anyone ask of my welfare, tell them you do not know and that you figure I became Maleficent. Watch Leo especially. He must learn to hold his tongue to protect me.
After lunch with the other three, I went back to my room and decided to write just that. I presented it to Elhanan that afternoon, though I knew he would say no. He read it, handed it back to me, and shook his head.
“Blyss, my dear, I’ve already told you what you cannot mention. You know we can’t send this,” he said with a frown. I quietly took the letter back to my room. Using it as a reference, I wrote a new one, and to avoid anything secretive, I chose to write more on my adventures during the Month of Midnights. I returned to Elhanan’s study where he approved it with a relieved smile on his face. He pointed me towards the the wax seal stamp and left me to finish addressing the outside of the letter. When I was sure Elhanan was back in his book, I produced the first letter from the pocket of my robe and swiftly replaced the two. Sealed and ready for delivery, I placed it on the stack of letters other TrueHearts had written. When I returned to my room, I used an old survival spell I learned to set the second letter ablaze. For the first time in two months, I felt something near happiness.
A sudden knocking on my door startled me from my naughty deed. I quickly kicked the remaining cinders of the letter under my bed, calling out, “Coming!” to whoever was listening. Thankfully, it was not Elhanan at the door.
“Oh, hello, Larkin,” I said, my heart beginning to calm down.
“Lachlan and Piper want to try the new archery range set up outside. I thought you might like to come with us,” she offered casually. She tucked a few curls behind her ear and lifted her eyebrows expectantly. Larkin was the most cool and composed of the TrueHearts I knew, and she could hide and reveal emotion as she pleased. It was hard to escape her strong, locking gaze.
“Yeah, I’ll come. I can tell Piper I finally finished the letter,” I replied. Larkin gave a smile and stepped aside to let me come out into the hall.
“Why does your room smell like smoke?” she asked as I began to shut my door.
“Oh,” I blushed, “I, uh, was practicing with my magic and cast the wrong spell.” Of course, Larkin knew I was lying.
“Sure, we’ll go with that,” she said and walked down the hall without further comment. I closed my door tightly and speedwalked to catch up with her. The TrueHearts understood that two years confined at PearlGate were a bit difficult, so they constantly updated and created new activities for the young ones to entertain themselves with. Just last week the archery range was announced, and it had become extremely popular already. Unfortunately, today was a free day, meaning the new range would be crowded and filled with bored TrueHearts looking for something new to do.
The archery range was set up outside, a good distance away from PearlGate so no windows could be broken. Piper and Lachlan managed to snatch a station all to themselves, but it was at the far end of the row of targets. As I followed Larkin down to her brother and Piper, it was hard to ignore the disapproving stares from the swarm of blue robes. Though TrueHearts are supposed to be the “good” in the world, it didn’t mean we were without our own imperfections and flaws. Many of the new TrueHearts seemed to think very little of me. Unlike them, I was given a villain role, and some believed the evil magic was still inside me. Others just seemed jealous because they knew Vangelis had something special planned for me. Neither of these things seemed to bother Piper or the twins, but for the others who were still working on becoming more benevolent, I was the girl to be avoided.
“Why don’t you start shooting arrows instead of glares,” Larkin snapped to one young man in particular. I smirked and began walking with my head held higher. At the end of the row, Lachlan and Piper were both suppressing grins. When everyone resumed their archery, we all shared a quiet laugh.
Larkin was as natural with the bow, and Lachlan didn’t do so bad himself. Piper and I were the ones to struggle. At least I managed to hit the target though. Piper almost took out a flock of birds passing overhead.
“Good thing we’re not training to become soldiers,” Lachlan chuckled as Piper handed me the bow in shame.
“We’re TrueHearts,” said Larkin. “We’re not supposed to have a malicious bone in our body, let alone prepare for the warpath.”
“Doesn’t mean it can’t happen,” Lachlan said. “Our magic never actually forces us to be good.”
“But it certainly does encourage it,” Piper pointed out. At the time I didn’t take much interest in their conversation. I drew back the bowstring, aimed at the center of target, and prepared to release.
“There must’ve been a Trueheart who turned dark though,” Lachlan insisted.
“But who would want to? We get stronger magic, a whole realm to ourselves, and we don’t have to retire after every retelling like Story characters do,” said Piper, gesturing to all the nature around her. I could feel my fingers itching to let go, but a distracting movement brought my eyes away from the target. I saw a man, dressed in all black, standing in the middle of the field behind my target. The lofty grasses swayed by his knees, but his focus was on me. He stood a good distance away, but I could see his unmistakable grin.
“They’d turn dark if they were promised something greater, something more powerful,” Larkin answered Piper’s question. The man in black raised his hand and crossed his middle and pointer fingers. I furrowed my brow and moved the arrow away from the target.
“Blyss, what are you doing?” Lachlan asked. The man moved his middle finger down the side of his pointer finger. “Crossing” was a gesture of the utmost offense in our realms.
Fire, my conscience ordered. Without hesitation, I released the arrow.
“Are you insane?” Larkin suddenly cried. She snatched the bow from my hands and sprinted towards the man.
“What? But he...he crossed me! Didn’t you see that? He crossed me!” I called out to her.
“What are you talking about? Thomas was just bending down to pick up his arrow! No one crossed you,” said Lachlan, looking at me as if I had gone crazy.
“Yes, his arrow! He overshot his target,” Piper explained. She put her hand on my shoulder and asked, “You alright, Blyss?”
“No, I’m not!” I said stepping away from her. More and more TrueHearts were now rushing to where Thomas lay with an arrow in his shoulder. Many of them glanced at me with pure hatred. “I swear I didn’t see Thomas. I saw someone else. A, a man! He was in all black. And he was staring at me. That’s when he crossed me!”
“So you shot him?” Lachlan asked skeptically.
“Yes! I mean no. I just-well, something told me to shoot him,” I insisted.
“Something told you to shoot him. Well, well, well. You heard it from Maleficent herself. Something inside her told her to shoot poor Thomas. Sounds like the work of evil magic to me,” said the ever irritating voice from behind me. Anthony and his strange little posse approached me with smirks on their faces. Out of all the TrueHearts, Anthony hated me most. I still couldn’t understand how Vangelis could see the good in him. I’d never trust him to be in charge of my or anyone else’s conscious. I complained to Elhanan several times how Anthony and others like him had not a shred of good inside. Elhanan merely laughed and said that Vangelis chose them for a reason.
“TrueHearts are like angels, but we certainly aren’t real ones. We are imperfect too. That’s why we train our new TrueHearts so rigorously. It not only improves their magical aptitude, but it improves their character. Both you and Anthony will mature, and I think you’ll find each other to be good friends someday. Both of you were chosen for the amazing amount of good inside you. In time, exteriors will melt so that you both will see it in each other,” Elhanan had said from his chair by the fireplace. He always looked between me and the warm flames as he spoke. They gave off an orange glow that looked almost too bright against his silver hair and robes.
“If we’re chosen for the good inside us, then why wasn’t Rudy?” I couldn’t help but ask. It didn’t make sense someone like Anthony could become a TrueHeart and not Rudy.
“Rudy’s path travels near yours, Blyss, but for reasons you do not know, it must take a separate course sometimes. A boy like Rudy is needed in other places in the world,” Elhanan smiled. Now face to face with Anthony, I wished for nothing more but to have Rudy’s path be the same as mine. If he were here, perhaps he could stop me from doing anything I’d regret.
“The man looked evil. He could’ve hurt someone,” I said through gritted teeth. Anthony smiled.
“I don’t think TrueHearts have ever been taught to shoot those who are evil. That’s not really our thing,” he said wryly. A small crowd began to break away from Thomas and came to observe us. How am I supposed to argue against that? I panicked internally. We’re taught to show kindness and patience to those who are evil and hopefully convince them to turn from their ways, well, unless their evil is a part of their Story.
When Anthony saw I had no response, he knew then that he had won. “I think Elhanan will want to hear about this,” he taunted with a grin. I watched helplessly as Thomas was carried back to the castle, blood dripping down his blue robe. Anthony, enjoying his triumph, turned around sharply and followed the rest of the crowd.
“Come on, Blyss,” Lachlan urged as he and Piper began to head back.
“I don’t think anyone wants me in there right now,” I lamented.
“Aw, don’t think like that,” Piper encouraged. “You didn’t do it on purpose. That’s all that counts.” Piper may have been right, but it didn’t matter. No one would believe me. They’d blame my old villian magic and insist I couldn’t be trusted. My reputation has been fragile up until now, but after I shot Thomas, it had been shattered. It’d be a miracle if Vangelis didn’t ban me from Katharos.
“You go on ahead,” I said finally. “I’ll come a little later.” After much reluctance, Lachlan and Piper returned to PearlGate, leaving me alone in the empty range. The wind grew stronger, and I was forced to retreat to the shelter of the few trees that stood among the open grass. I found one tree in particular with sturdy enough limbs to support a climb to the top. Peaking my head out past the last branch, I could see all of Katharos around me. Behind me was PearlGate, situated up against the side of the mountains that served as the border between us and Istoria. Everywhere else was a large expanse of grassy meadows. Miles and miles away was the first of only a few forests in our realm. I had been warned about the unpredictability of the forests. Some days they housed good creatures, and other days they were haunted by creatures unimaginably terrible.
The sound of twigs snapping diverted my attention downwards. It was difficult to tell what was down there with all the tree branches in the way. Every time I almost catched a glimpse, it moved away. How strange, I thought. I would’ve seen a creature this big coming towards the tree. A moment of silence passed. My eyes searched frantically between the tree limbs but the creature was gone.
“You missed me.”
The man in black was standing just in front of the tree, looking up at me with a wicked smile and coal black eyes that could never be forgotten. As I thought of what to say, my knee suddenly buckled, and my foot slipped off the branch. My body slammed against different branches as I fell to the ground. I could hear my robe being shred, and I felt long gashes be cut into my arms and face. With a thud, I hit the ground. I saw two men in black draw near me, and they laughed in unison.
“I think I’ll have to take a different approach with you,” they mused before disappearing from my sight.
“Wait,” I croaked. “Who are you?”
It’d be years before I received a response.