Chapter 1 - Dark Magic
She took a few steps staring at the ground, seeing the charred bodies. And then she glanced back at Jelric.
“They’re Witches.” Jelric said as he stood beside her.
“But it doesn’t make sense. Why would they kill their own?” Alice half whispered it bending down to examine one of the bodies. She put her hand out feeling for the Magic and nearly fell back as it hit her. Jelric grabbed her arm pulling her away.
“It’s Dark Magic.” Alice said once the Magic had washed over her.
“It still doesn’t make sense.” Jelric muttered.
She shook her head and looked around. It had taken them two days to get here. Two days of hard riding and yet what had they learnt? Nothing. She felt eyes on her and looked around scanning the few trees across the barren landscape but couldn’t see anything. The only people there were herself and Jelric and the twenty soldiers Prince Fain had made them take with them.
“Let’s head back. We’re not going to get anything more from this.” Jelric said and Alice followed him back to the horses. What a use of four days, she thought but deep down she knew if she hadn’t have come, if she hadn’t have seen it for herself, then she would have been even more frustrated.
From behind a small copse Niseri watched them mount up and ride away. She’d seen their approach, she’d been waiting for him because she knew he would come. He wouldn’t be able to resist it. But then she had been there too. The Fae Girl. Even from that distance Niseri could sense her Magic, could feel the power in her. She’d grown stronger. Much stronger. She snarled to herself. The worst thing about losing her ability to channel wasn’t even the loss of power, it was that she could still feel it, could still sense it. It was all around her, everywhere, and yet she couldn’t do anything, couldn’t touch it, couldn’t reach it.
And now the damn girl was there, wrecking more of her plans. They’d set this whole up, burnt some of the disloyal Witches partly as a lesson but mainly to lure him out here. Now it was all for nothing. All they could do now was hide and watch because there was no way they’d reveal their hand, show that they were after the Magi while the Fae Girl was there and could stop them.
No, they were forced to watch now. Watch as their plan fell apart.
Alice sat beside Jelric as the fire crackled away in front of them. The snow was finally melting and it felt like spring was just around the corner. A soldier passed them both some food and she took hers grateful to be eating. It felt like days since breakfast and after seeing all the burnt bodies no one had felt much like stopping for lunch.
“Have you figured it out yet?” She asked him but he shook his head.
“No. Have you?”
“No. The only thing I can think of is that maybe the Witches wanted to leave, to escape, and they decided to make an example of them.”
“But why would they leave their bodies for us to find?”
“That’s what doesn’t make sense. The fact that they left the trail. It’s like they wanted us to find them. If I’m honest I half expected an ambush but there was nothing.”
“No I half expected an ambush too.”
“Is that why you brought so many soldiers?”
“That was Prince Fain’s doing.” Jelric stated. “Besides with you here what need do I have for soldiers?”
“You’re very confident of my abilities…” She smirked.
“I have been for a while. You have control now.”
“My powers are still growing.” Alice said before taking another mouthful of food and feeling as her belly warmed with it.
“I know. I can feel it.”
“Is it normal? To still be growing after all this time?”
“If there’s one thing I’ve learnt, when it comes to you nothing is normal.”
Alice laughed. “I’ll take that as a compliment.”
“You should. I think if you really put your mind to it there isn’t much you couldn’t achieve.” He said and Alice frowned at the tone.
“What do you mean?”
“I know Guillaume spoke with you...”
Alice gasped. “You know?”
“Yes and I agree with him. The Fae are not objects, they’re not simply weapons and to regard them as such does a lot of damage.”
“You want me to unite them?” She half whispered it.
“I think you can do it.”
“But the High King would never allow it. You know him. He has never changed his stance to me, no matter how loyal I am, no matter what I sacrifice or who I save, I am still in his eyes just a possession.”
“I know. But the High King is not the only one to make the laws of this land.”
“Jelric this sounds like treason.” Alice said feeling suddenly uncomfortable.
“It’s not. We’re not talking about usurping his throne. We’re not talking about taking anything from him. We’re talking about giving a whole race of people equal rights.”
“I don’t think the High King will see it like that.”
“No, probably not but we can make him see it.”
“You would help me with this?”
“I think you’ll find the majority of the Magi would help you.”
“Your Magic is different. The way it works, the way it even pulls from the elements. You maybe Fae royalty but to the Magi you are a leader too.”
Alice frowned confused. “How can that be?”
“You are Magic. Pure Magic. Magi channel Magic, we read it. We can read what you are even if some of us don’t understand it.”
Alice sighed. “I don’t want to be a leader. I don’t even want to be their queen.”
“You didn’t want to be Fae either but look what you have achieved, what you have accomplished since you’ve come into this world.”
“A lot of death and a lot of destruction.” Alice replied thinking back to how only months before she was locked in a cell, bound, half broken, and collared while people were literally fighting and dying over her.
“But you have saved people too. A lot of people. And now you may be able to save the Fae too. You know what it is like to be collared, to be held captive, but you also know what it is like to be free in this world.”
“But I’m not free. I’m still the High King’s possession even now.”
“You are freer than any other Fae in this world. So imagine what it would be like to be hiding, scared for your life knowing that one wrong mistake could mean your imprisonment. You could change that for them. You could give them all a life, a place in this world. ”
Alice nodded. She knew he was right. He was always right. But it scared her too. What if she failed? What if she couldn’t do it and all she ended up doing was exposing their existence and leaving them in even more danger than before? It was okay for her, she was safe, comfortable, but the other Fae; if she messed it up would they ever recover?
“How are you doing? He asked her after a few moments of watching her thinking.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean after Yannis.”
“Oh. I’m okay.” Alice said knowing that that was only partly true.
“And Prince Fain?”
She looked at him. Over the last month he’d become more of a father figure, more of a support than she’d imagined. “What about him?”
“How are the two of you?”
“It’s complicated.” She stated “I feel conflicted. Before I was so focussed on him, on us, but now.”
“Now you want your independence?”
“Not exactly, I just want space to be me. I feel like I’ve come into this world and it’s changed me, altered me, I feel like I need to learn who I am now.”
“That makes sense.”
“I also feel like if I am going to try to help the other Fae then I need to focus on that.”
He nodded. “I was thinking about the Prince’s powers.”
“He doesn’t have any.”
“Exactly. You made him half-Fae. He should be showing something by now.”
“So what, I did something wrong?” Alice said feeling weird about even talking about it. It wasn’t like she’d intentionally tried to change Fain. It had just happened and to be discussing it so openly felt uncomfortable at best.
“Not wrong. But I think the issue is with you.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’ve been thinking about this for a while. You have the ability to take Magic, to strip it from people. What if for Prince Fain to develop Magic he needs you to give it to him.”
“But I thought that was what I’d done, when we…” She blushed feeling embarrassed again.
“You changed him but I think you need to do more. You have control now, if you were to consciously transfer power, then maybe.”
“Has the High King asked you to say this?” She asked suddenly suspicious of his motives. It would just be like Uther to do that, she thought.
“No.” He said giving her a reassuring smile. “We haven’t discussed it in a long time. He thinks the Prince’s only power is the communication you have in your heads. He believes that is all he may have.”
“But you think he could have more?”
“If you wanted it. I think the power is in your hands to make it happen.”
Alice sighed thinking. Even if she could, would she want to make Fain more Fae? Would she want to somehow give him that power? It wasn’t that she was worried of what he’d do with it, it was just that she knew what it did, what it was to be Fae. Did she really want to inflict that on him?
“It’s just a thought.” Jelric said gently and she gave him a smile.
“I’ll think on it.” She said.
They rode back into Temoor two days later. It felt odd to be returning. It had felt odd to be leaving too, to be even allowed to leave and especially odd that it was just her and Jelric.
They dismounted and walked up the steps between the Lower Castle and the Upper Castle. It was one of the few bits that hadn’t changed, that hadn’t needed to be fully rebuilt. Alice glanced around, seeing how the setting sun was casting red light all across the stone. For a second she could see herself, walking down with her hands above her head, as she and General Gare surrendered. As she gave herself up to Yannis.
She stopped, staring at the stone where Gare had fallen after they’d stabbed her.
Jelric turned seeing her frozen and called to her but she didn’t hear.
“Alice.” He said again and she jumped.
“Let’s keep going.” He said gently and she nodded pulling herself out of her thoughts. Out of her head.
Jelric held the door for her as they walked into the room. The High King was stood, leaning over the mantlepiece watching the fire and sipping his drink.
Prince Fain was seated, half in conversation with Ridley but they both fell silent when they saw the two of them.
High King Uther turned.
“It was Witches.” Jelric said going to sit beside Prince Fain.
“What was the purpose?”
“We don’t know.” Alice said as she sat down. She felt Fain looking at her, scrutinising her, and no doubt trying to see if she was okay and she gave him a small reassuring smile.
“All we know is that eight Witches were burnt. Out in the Hinterland.” Jelric stated.
“And they used Dark Magic to do it.” Alice added.
“Was it some kind of ritual?” Ridley asked looking between them.
Alice looked at Jelric. She’d not considered that.
“If it was, it was not something I’d heard of before. Not something I know about.”
“What sort of ritual? What would it give them?” The High King asked.
Jelric shrugged. “There didn’t feel like there was any real point to it.”
“But the Magic they used…” Alice said suddenly thinking. “It felt like there was a purpose to it. It felt like there was an intent.”
“What intent?” Fain asked her and she met his eyes.
“I don’t know. When we were there, it felt like it had been staged, the trail, the markings. But the bodies were real. The Magic was real.”
“You think it was set up?”
“But why? No one attacked us, no one was even there.” Alice reasoned.
“It doesn’t make sense.” Jelric muttered.
“The Witches are up to something though.” The High King said before downing his drink.
“But who are they? Alice put a stop to Niseri.” Ridley said.
“Who else could it be?” Alice asked looking around at them all.
Fain frowned thinking. He’d captured the Lesser King that Niseri had worked with last time. And his brother had executed him. Could one of the other Kings be involved? Could this be simply another repeat of that? Same script, different King?
“What are you thinking?” Alice asked him quietly and he looked at her before shaking his head.
“I don’t know. There are few people it could be but none of them quite fit.”
“Jelric, do you still have your spies?” Ridley asked and Jelric nodded.
“Perhaps it is time we start utilising them more.” The High King stated.
“In what way?”
“See if anyone in your network knows of this burning for one. And see if we can at least eliminate some suspects.”
Jelric nodded and Alice stifled a yawn as he did.
“Let’s call it a night.” Fain said noticing but looking away before Alice saw.
“Agreed. No doubt tomorrow will be a long day.” The High King said and Alice couldn’t hide the smirk. It was Prince Hal’s birthday, and the last full day he would be at Temoor before he was returned back to the safety of Nind. Part of her was envious that he was escaping to it’s solitude and wished she could go with him though she didn’t voice it. She had a feeling, given half a chance, Fain would happily have her bags packed and send her there with the Crown Prince for some more respite.
She got up with the others and walked out the room heading off quickly before she could be tempted to talk to Fain. She wasn’t exactly avoiding him but she also knew given half a chance she’d give up her resolve and be back in his arms before she could stop herself.
“She’ll come back.” Ridley said quietly to him and he turned.
“It’s been months now.”
“And look how far she’s come. How much she’s healed.”
Fain shook his head slightly. He wasn’t sure if she would heal enough. After everything she’d been through, what if she couldn’t heal anymore? What if this was it?
“You need to woo her.” Ridley said.
“What do you know about wooing women?”
“Look at Mira. She didn’t want anything to do with me after the whole Lida thing. After Indi’s death and now…”
Fain sighed. Maybe Ridley was right. Maybe he did need to woo Alice, to charm her. He’d tried the distance thing. He’d given her as much space as anyone could need and while that had done her the world of good, now he felt like there was something else going on, something he couldn’t put his finger on that was stopping her from coming back to him.
“Maybe you’re right.” He said.