Max sat next to Griffa on the back lawn staring at an apple. He waved his hand, and nothing happen. He closed his eyes, concentrating on a spot ten feet away from them. He opened his eyes, waved his hands, and the apple exploded.
“Well, at least that time you did something,” said Griffa pulling a chunk of apple out of Max’s hair.
“Destroying it wasn’t exactly my goal,” replied Max. He reached over and grabbed another apple from the basket next to them and placed it front of them. “What do you think I’m doing wrong?”
Griffa shrugged. “I don’t know. I read the same book you did. I think it will just take a lot of practice. A vast amount of using magic is just the belief that you can really do it. Remember it’s like a living thing. It responds to your feelings and your emotions. If there is doubt in your mind that it can be done, most of the time it won’t work.”
Max nodded. He looked at the apple in front of them, but couldn’t concentrate. “Have you been thinking of the potion Ansel brought back from his meeting?”
“I have. It’s obviously some sort of blood magic. I shudder to think of all the people who are taking this potion. What cost it will have. You know how dangerous blood magic is,” said Griffa.
Max looked at Griffa and felt guilty. She didn’t know that she owed her life to blood magic. Without the potion Max had brewed with Ansel and Issa’s blood, she wouldn’t be here now. Ansel had discussed it with him. They both agreed they had to tell her. Ansel had said he would do it when she was stronger. Max wondered if that time would ever come.
“Is something wrong, Max?” asked Griffa with a concerned look.
“No,” said Max shaking his head. “I’m just thinking. I wish there was a way we could figure out what it really was. It may help us understand what to expect from these newly released magical-blooded folk. How we can best face them.”
“I do want to find out what is in that potion, but Max I don’t want you to think of most people in the kingdom as your enemies. Most of these people probably have no idea what the powers in the palace have in mind. When you take your place as king, most of them will hopefully be your subjects, your people. You need to see them as something worth protecting in this war. If we can figure out the makeup of this potion, maybe we can save them in some way; help them not be cursed by this evil magic,” said Griffa looking at Max.
“You really think there is a way to avoid paying the price for a blood potion?” asked Max.
“I’m not sure, but I want to try to find out a way. A lot of people could be affected by this. People who had no idea what they were getting into when they took that blasted thing.”
Max swallowed and turned his attention back towards the apple as Ansel walked out the back door. He came and sat down next to Griffa on the grass.
“Any luck here?” asked Ansel giving Griffa a gentle nudge with his shoulder.
“Not yet,” replied Griffa. “I think we are making progress, though. Max definitely made the apple do something.
“It looks like he smashed it everywhere,” said Ansel as he picked small pieces of the apple out of Griffa’s hair.
“Like I said, progress,” Griffa gave Ansel a smile.
“I just talked to Hector. He has scheduled a Ring meeting, and he wants all three of us there. It’s in two days. He hopes that is enough time for you to be recovered, Griffa,” said Ansel.
“I take it he has learned something from the writings then.” remarked Griffa.
“He didn’t say, but I guess we will find out soon enough,” answered Ansel.
They were all three quiet for a second before Ansel asked, “So how is this supposed to work?”
“Well in theory I should be able to envision the fruit ten feet over there and then make it travel by magic,” said Max still looking at the apple. “but so far all I’ve manage to do is make it explode.” Max stared at the apple and then closed his eyes. He put out his hand and opened his eyes. Nothing happened. “Ugh, maybe this is hopeless.”
“You can’t give up after one day,” insisted Griffa. “Here let me help. Maybe we can do something together.”
Griffa grabbed Max’s hand and held it. Max could feel Griffa’s magic alive under her skin. He was glad it hadn’t been lost in the potion that saved her life.
“Okay, Max, now concentrate with me,” said Griffa closing her eyes. Max closed his as well. “When I squeeze your hand open your eyes and envision the apple over where we want it to go.”
Max concentrated. He saw the apple in his mind. He saw where he wanted it to go. He felt Griffa’s magic mingling with his own through their conjoined hands. She squeezed his hand, and they both opened their eyes. The apple disappeared. Max and Griffa looked at each other as Ansel got up. He spotted the apple ten feet away and picked it up.
“It’s here. It was upside down, but it was here,” said Ansel looking impressed.
Griffa smiled at Max. “We did it!”
Max grinned back at her still holding her hand.
“So, are you two ready to call it a day? You’ve been out here all afternoon,” said Ansel coming back to them.
Griffa dropped Max’s hand and stood up slowly, groaning. “Yes, I think that is enough for today. I didn’t realize I had been out here so long. I think I’ll take supper in my bedroom if no one minds.”
Max stood up as Ansel came over and took Griffa’s hand. “No one will mind. Come on, you need to rest.” Ansel led Griffa into the house and threw the apple backwards to Max who caught it. “You coming, Max?” Max nodded and followed them inside.
Max ate dinner with everyone in the house except Griffa. Ansel told everyone she was fine, but had worn herself out being outside most of the day. After dinner Max sat in the parlor with Issa in companionable silence as they read next to each other on the sofa. He looked over to see what Issa was reading.
“What is that book?” asked Max.
“One Griffa gave me. She had it locked in a cabinet in the study. It’s about blood magic. I’m trying to help her find a way to counteract any curses or other consequences of using blood magic.”
Max looked up at Issa. “You haven’t told her what we did, have you?”
“No, of course not. I thought Ansel was going to tell her eventually. Griffa asked me to help her. I think she’s worried about all the people in the kingdom who will be taking that potion Ansel brought home.”
Max nodded. “Issa, are you worried what might happen because of what we did to save Griffa?”
Issa shrugged. “Maybe, but I meant what I said the night we did it. I would do whatever it took to save Griffa. It worked. She is here and well. Whatever happens, we will deal with it.”
Max put his book aside and turned to Issa. Issa put her book away as well. “Are you worried about it, Max?”
“Yes, I am. I know we did what we had too, but I worry about you and what could happen. I can’t find anything on the effects of someone with non-magical blood because when blood magic was widely used, those with non-magical blood where usually just sacrificed,” said Max.
“Oh,” said Issa. “Well, I guess what will be, will be.”
“Issa, I’m going to find something. I won’t let something bad happen to you. I’m sorry I ever drug you into all of this.”
“I’m not.” Issa took Max’s hand. “I love it here. I miss my father, but I love everything about this place. I feel so connected to everyone here.”
“Even, Ansel?” asked Max skeptically.
“Yes, even Ansel,” said Issa giggling. “He’s not so scary when you see how Griffa manages him. Most of all Max, I’m so happy to be here with you.”
Max smiled at Issa. He brought her closer to him and held her. “I’m glad you are here, too. I just want to keep you safe.”
“I know. I worry about you too and the future, but right now I just want to be here with you. I love you, Max.”
Max smiled, feeling warm all over.
“I know you said we were young, and we are, but I know what I want. I want you. I love you, and I don’t think that will ever change,” said Issa.
Max kissed her. “I love you too, Issa. I know that won’t change.” He kissed her over and over.
The next morning after breakfast, Max was again with Griffa out on the grass with an apple. They had moved the apple several times to different places together. Max wasn’t sure why neither could do it by themselves, but for the moment they were excited they could at least make it work together.
“Do you think this could ever work on something other than fruit or non-living objects?” asked Max after he had gone to retrieve the apple from across the lawn.
“You mean like on people? I don’t know. It would be very tricky, but in theory I think it could work. I’m not sure we are ready to try that, but maybe someday,” mused Griffa. She stood up slowly. “I think that’s enough for today. We have the Ring meeting tomorrow, and I want to make sure I’m in top shape to go.”
Max nodded and they walked back into the house together and into the parlor. Issa was sitting in a chair by the fireplace reading a letter.
“Who’s that from, Issa?” asked Griffa sitting down on the sofa. Max looked at Issa as he sat next to Griffa.
“It’s from my father. It’s the most amazing news. He’s getting married!” exclaimed Issa looking up at them both.
“What?” asked Max. “Married to who?”
“A woman from the West Village. He met her while he was working for her brother. They have been seeing each other since last fall. He is marrying her and moving to the West Village.”
“How wonderful, Issa. When is the wedding?” asked Griffa.
“They are getting married on the last day of summer. He wants me to be there, but I don’t know if that’s possible.”
“Why wouldn’t that be possible? I think Max would want to be there as well.”
“I would, of course I would,” said Max smiling.
“We should all go. I know Nora would want to attend as well. Yes, we shall all go,” said Griffa happily.
“Go where?” asked Ansel as he came into the room. He sat in a chair next to Issa.
“To the West Village at the end of the summer. Issa’s father is getting married,” explained Griffa.
“That is wonderful, Issa, but I don’t know if that will be possible,” said Ansel. “That could be a big risk.”
“It will be fine, Ansel. We can all travel there in a second, attend the wedding, and then come back the same day.” Griffa smiled at Issa. “Hardly any risk at all.”
“Griffa,” began Ansel carefully. “We should at least consider that there might be some risk. We know things are happening in the Aurumist. We don’t know when they might move to other parts of the kingdom. “
“Well, you have guards. Those guards are for the king’s protection. They can scout out for us before we go. If things look even a little off, we could cancel. We have to at least try, for Issa,” said Griffa.
Ansel looked at Griffa and then Issa. “I will consider it. Write back and tell him we will try to find a way for you to attend Issa.”
Griffa smiled brilliantly at Ansel. “Thank you, Ansel. I really didn’t have the strength to argue with you much longer.”
The next day was gray and cool for a summer day. Rain fell from the sky, and thunder rumbled in the distance. Max dressed for the Ring meeting and went downstairs to breakfast. Ansel and Griffa were already at the table. Griffa was dressed in her usual Keene finery, her hair braided elaborately on top of her head. She looked magnificent in her black dress with the red and gold phoenix feathers along the waist.
“You look good, Griffa,” said Max sitting down.
“Thank you, Max. I feel good, better than I have in while,” smiled Griffa. She turned to look at Ansel, and he winked at her.
Max rolled his eyes and started filing his plate. “Do you have any idea what was on that scroll they informant gave you?”
“No, I haven’t seen it yet. Hector wanted to read it. I am sure we will find out today,” replied Ansel.
“I’m hoping to get a copy of it,” said Griffa. “I’d like to read it for myself.”
Ansel nodded. “I don’t think it will be a problem. I’d like to see it too.”
Griffa swallowed a piece of toast and asked, “Will you tell the council about us traveling to the West Village later this summer?”
“I will mention it. They may not like it, but I will tell them if we do go, we will take every precaution.”
Griffa nodded her approval.
“We better hurry. I told them we would be there first thing after breakfast,” said Ansel.
Griffa excused herself to get her cloak while Ansel and Max finished breakfast. She met them in the entry way. Issa and Nora came in to wave them off before eating breakfast. Nora brought Max his cloak and placed it on him. With a kiss from Issa and a pat on the shoulder from Nora, Max walked out onto the portico with Ansel and Griffa.
“Ugh, we’ve had such nice days lately. It just had to rain today,” said Griffa putting up her hood.
Ansel put on his hat, “I like the rain.” He held out his arm for Griffa.
“You would.” Griffa took Ansel’s arm. “Come closer to us Max.” As Max came closer, Griffa raised her hand. “There, stay close, and you shouldn’t get too drenched.
The three walked quickly to the meeting hall of the Ring of Nine. They were let in by a small, bald man with glasses.
“Hello, Ansel, Miss Keene, my king. I am particular glad to see you Miss Keene looking so well. I heard about that nasty business. I’m glad to see you have recovered.”
“Thank you,” said Griffa. “Is the Ring ready for us?”
“Yes, you can go right in,” answered the man.
They came to the large double doors, and Griffa knocked loudly. One door swung open to let them in, and they walked into the room.
“Welcome,” said Hector. The Ring stood as they came to the table. They were asked to sit down. Griffa was asked to sit next to Madam Sidora while Max and Ansel sat between the leader of the ring, Hector, and the second chair, Helmer. Helmer was not Max’s favorite person.
“I am glad you could join us today. A particular welcome to you Gryphon. I am sure everyone on the ring is glad to see you alive and well,” said Hector nodding at Griffa. There was a general sound of agreement around the ring. Madam Sidora took Griffa’s hand and squeezed it. Max noticed Helmer was quiet.
“Now, let’s get to it. I was given a scroll from a spy that says it came from the palace. I have examined it. It is writings from a man named Golnar. Much of it is information about a potion he has used to awaken the magical blood in those that magical ability had long lay dormant. It is his observations on how it works, and what happens during transformation. It also lays out what abilities are automatically received, and which will need to be worked on.”
“So, you are saying powers in Aurumist are awakening magic in dormant magic users using a potion? How is this possible?” asked Gorm a tall man with brown hair, beady eyes, and a long nose.
“With blood magic,” answered Griffa. “We have a sample of the potion used. Max and I have been trying to figure out what exactly it is. We aren’t sure of the exact potion, but it is old blood magic for certain.”
“Is it effective?” asked Helmer. “Do we know if it is actually working?”
“According to Golnar’s notes and our informant’s witness It is working.” Hector looked over the scroll in front of him. “The writings talk of a plan to release magic in the first ring of Aurumist, and then work on those amongst the Aurumist soldiers who have magical blood. This Golnar also has released magic in himself.”
“We also know that Philo is most likely in contact with the palace. He may be traveling there to train the new magic users soon,” related Ansel.
“Are we sure it’s Philo who is working with them?” asked Gorm. “Do you have proof?”
“I do,” declared Ansel. “It was Philo’s son, Marcus who brought the poisoned flower into the house. Without Griffa’s quick thinking, the whole house would have been exposed which could have resulted in everyone’s death, including the king. Max and I confronted Marcus. He said he had no knowledge of any plans, but could confirm that he was given the flower by his father to take to Griffa.”
There were murmurs around the ring.
“Where is Marcus Quick?” asked Helmer. “Can we bring him in? Maybe he knows something.”
“He has disappeared as well,” said Hector. “I believe Ansel has some of his guards continuing to look for both Marcus and Philo, is that correct?”
“Very good. I think in light of all this information we need to be very vigilant. What is said in the Ring, must stay here. I am asking all in attendance to take an oath bound by magic. If anything said here is related to those who would harm our king, they will be banished from Abscon. Does anyone object?” Hector looked around the Ring. The room was silent. “Very good. You are now bound to secrecy. I hate to do that. I want to trust everyone here, but I think to keep our king safe, we must do everything we can.”
“What do we do about this new information? We know they are releasing magic user in the city. How long until it spreads out into the lands?” asked a brown-haired middle age woman across the table from Helmer.
“It seems we have time. They are taking things slowly according to the writings. We have time to plan. We need to find out more about this potion. What it actually unlocks. Gryphon, do you think you can find out more soon?” asked Hector.
“Yes, with Max’s help. I think we can do find out something by at least harvest time.”
“If we know this is happening now, shouldn’t we strike before they gain strength? We have the power now. We could gather forces, sneak into the city, and end those of the first circle before they start abusing their power,” stated Helmer with purpose as he put his hand down loudly on the table.
“That is your answer?” asked Griffa incredulously. “To go and kill all these people who have no idea what’s really been done to them? If that is what we do then we are no better than those in power right now. We must fight for everyone, especially those who are being used by this Golnar person.”
“You do know what they plan to do don’t you, girl?” said Helmer looking at Griffa. “I’ve read this scroll. They want to get rid of all non-magical users. They want to use them where they can and then wipe them out. What say you to that?”
“It’s awful, and it must be stopped, but those who are taking this potion now are not at fault. They will have to learn a new way when Max becomes king, but they should be given a chance. We can’t just go in and destroy the city’s inner ring, killing families. We can’t.” Griffa stood up. “We have to believe every person is worth something, even those who may not agree with us right now. I know there will have to be sacrifices. I know there will probably be deaths, but we must save everyone we can.”
“Well spoken, Gryphon,” said Madam Sidora. “You are right. We cannot destroy ourselves in the war to come.” Griffa sat down.
Hector nodded. “Very true. Gryphon, we will await your report on the potion. If we gain any more information, we will meet again. Is there anything else?”
“Max plans to travel to the West Village on the last day of summer. His particular friend Issa’s father is getting married. Griffa and I will travel with them along with several of my guard. I will have the area scouted before we arrive. If it is safe, I would like Max to be able to go. It will just be a few hours away from Abscon.”
“You think this is wise, Ansel? Shouldn’t we keep the boy here where he is safe?” asked Hector.
“We cannot keep him caged up. He needs to live his life as best he can. I think the risk is minimal,” replied Ansel. Max saw him quickly look at Griffa who smiled.
“If you are sure it will be safe, then I see no reason not to let him go. If there is the slightest thing out of place, I hope you will bring him back quickly,” said Hector.
“Of course,” agreed Ansel.
“Good, is there any objections?” The room was silent again. “Very good, you three may go.”
Griffa stood up and said, “I would like a copy of those writings if you please. It might help when researching the potion.”
Hector nodded. “I will send it to you by tomorrow.”
Griffa thanked him as Ansel and Max stood up. They walked together out of the meeting hall and onto the path for home.
’What do you think, Griff?” asked Ansel.
“A lot of things, but mostly I think we have some good information. We know more than we did before which is always helpful. I hope we can figure out that potion soon. It will help us know what we are up against. Until then, Max needs to continue to study and to train. The better prepared he is, the better protected he is,” said Griffa.
Max agreed. He silently vowed to apply himself even more to become who he needed to be.