Untitled Story

by Illadvised Ninja


"What do you mean, you won't let me in? I've been summoned!"

Daniel rubbed his beard nervously, then made a mental note not to.

"No-one's allowed in," the guard repeated. "On orders of the Queen."

"You must be mistaken. I'm a Magi. I received Church orders to come here two days ago. Could I speak with your..." He raked his scant knowledge of military hierarchy, and settled for: "superior. Please?"

On immediate conversion from present experience to memory, he recognized that final word as a bad idea. Nevertheless, the guard looked back and waved a signal to a soldier patrolling the battlements, who promptly disappeared from view. Then he turned around to Daniel again, and subjected him to a searching glare. Daniel tried not to show any visible panic.

A few moments later, the portcullis was drawn up, and out came another guard. The increased shininess of his armour suggested higher rank.

"What seems to be the problem?"

"This guard won't let me in!"

"I'm sorry, sir, but I wasn't talking to you."

The guard answered: "This fellow here claims he was summoned here by the Queen."

"Oh, really. I've never seen you before. What business do you have here?"

Daniel sensed this was his opportunity.

"I was sent here by the Church Elders in answer to a summons by the Queen of Tyrellia."

"So, you're a Magi?" the captain of the guards asked, giving Daniel a quick scan up and down. Dirty traveling cloak. Worn boots. "Have you any credentials?"

"Credentials?" Daniel repeated blankly.

"He looks more like one of those tribal folk from the mountains," said the other guard. Daniel ignored him.

"Yes," the captain said, speaking crisply. "As per the Edict of Malavar, in the year 790, all field Magi must carry various papers proving the are emissaries of the Church. This was to prevent charlatans, who may not have any powers at all, and who certainly look nothing like Magi, from gaining entry to any otherwise secure locations."

A boy dressed in miniature version of Alsentian finery, including a tiny powdered wig, passed by Daniel and through the gate, giving one or both guards a half-hearted wave.

"I see," said Daniel. He hadn't heard of this, but it sounded plausible. This was his first mission, and he was sent out rather hastily and ill-prepared.

If this were the Holy City, he could get his superiors to vouch for him. But this was Tahsis, capital of the Kingdom of Tyrellia; there was nothing to do but turn and leave.

Half a block down the street were a pair of churches, one apparently Jadeite, the other Nephrite. They were directly across from each other, which was unusual -- the two orders, the largest in the Church, were typically at each other's neck. Much of Church politics seemed driven by their conflict, but here the two opposing churches seemed to be hosting a joint celebration -- given the date, either Saint Martha's conversion of the king of Igbodia (which he thought unlikely), or some local holiday Daniel was unaware of.

The festivities took up the much of the street, rerouting Alsentian and Igbodian traders here for the weekly market onto side streets. Looking up, he noticed one of the churches had a bell tower overlooking the castle.

The Kingdom of Tyrellia...

From the bell tower, Daniel could see to the edges of the small kingdom. To the west lay the prosperous country of Alsentia, home to nearly a million souls, and a stalwart Jadeite stronghold. That branch of the Church was virtually the national religion; many bishops and priests held great influence in the government. To the east, the independent nation of Igbodia, a loose federation of fiefdoms giving allegiance to King Matthew the Great, largely falling under Nephrite faiths.

Tyrellia occupied an interstitial strip of land between the two, bounded by the northern mountains (Daniel's home), and the southern peaks that sealed the Igbodian coastline. Daniel's hadn't received much of a briefing, and his family had always avoided dealings with the plainsmen, but he was vaguely aware that this piece of land used to be traded back and forth between countries, and that the House of Tyrellia had blood relations to one or both of the neighbouring royal families.

He looked down to the castle. In the courtyard between the walls and the keep -- which looked unusually small -- was a well-dressed man pacing back and forth. He hoped it was a sign he was awaited.

He began his prayer to Saint Lucas. Power gathered around him, infusing him with supernatural ability. Two minutes later, he was inside the castle.

Ugh. Teleportation always made Daniel dizzy. By the time he regained his sense of self, and purple swirls had finished occulting his vision, he was next to the man he had spied earlier. Daniel bowed to him (a bit too quickly, as blood rushed to his head again), and said, "I am here on-- Behalf. Holy. City. Magi."

His sentence was rudely interrupted and punctuated by some soldiers, who, in addition to restricting his mobility to the minimum deemed prudent (or nil), allowed him roughly a gasp of breath per sentence.

"Really," said the man, who moved in closer. "Which order do you belong to?"

Daniel's face was turning purple. "Jaanite."

The man looked him over, his face unreadable. After a minute he turned to the soldiers, and said, "You can let him go, I've been expecting him. He's a Magi sent by the Church."

He turned around and gestured for Daniel to follow him. "Come with me," the man said. The guards released him. Daniel followed.

"My name is Vargas," he said. "I'm the steward of this castle. We have a bit of a problem. I'm glad you could come."

"Err... you're welcome."

While saying this they walked through the grounds between the wall and the entrance of the keep. Daniel was struck by how little room there seemed to be. The castle was even smaller than he had anticipated; he wasn't sure were the barracks were, but they certainly couldn't be within the castle itself. The keep itself looked the size of a large barrack or outpost, really. Given local history, it probably was.

Daniel rubbed his neck. He suspected that tonight, while trying to fall asleep, he will have to contend with aching limbs and a stiff neck.

"Sorry about the rough greeting. We have a bit of a situation," the steward said, as they entered the building. "A few weeks ago the Queen gave birth to a baby boy, Prince Tofino. Shortly after that the Queen grew ill. She was restricted to her bedroom."

"You think the illness may be magically induced?" Otherwise, Daniel thought, it'd be a job for a healer, not a Magi.

"You'll see soon enough."

They were walking down a long, wide hallway in the centre of the keep. He couldn't be sure, but Daniel suspected they were drawing near to the other side of the building. A variety of doors and intersecting corridors kept the walls from being uninteresting expanses of stone, like the floor..

Suddenly a pair of doors, very near to the end of the hallway, opened up on either side, accompanied by a groan only Daniel could hear.

"Sirs... what can I do for you?" asked Vargas obsequiously.

The one on the left wore an exaggerated version of the fashion in Alsentia: a powered wig, an elaborate edifice of coats and shirts, with lace as mortar, and a short length of hose descending into leather boots, whose tops reached so far up the leg when straight that they had to be folded over then back up again, resulting in brims around his calves. Daniel wondered if the man collected rainwater when walking outside.

"I demand an audience with the Queen!" he expectorated unto the steward.

Not to be outdone, the other gentleman spoke up: "As do I!" This fellow wore severe clothing, all black and white and straight. Something about the cut of his coat and the fitting of his trousers suggested they were custom-tailored; the man's beard (Daniel felt a bit of jealousy) certainly required at least an hour of fussing in the morning. He, like Vargas and almost everyone else Daniel had seen in Tahsis, wore no wig.

"Ambassadors," the steward began, "you're well aware that the Queen is refusing to see visitors. I must ask that you be patient."

"Patient! I've been patient for the last week! If the rumours are true, the Queen is on her deathbed... or worse! It's my duty to inform the King of Igbodia whether or not we shall have to dispatch troops to ensure... stability in the area."

"By all means, send a squadron of armed men. That always leads to increased stability. Why, we can ask the king of Alsentia to send some troops too, and together they could ... keep the peace! Sometimes I ask myself why we even bother keeping soldiers of our own when we could just rely on the generousity of your countries."

The two looked confused for a moment, then the other, the Alsentian, stepped forward and said, "Please inform the Queen that the King of Alsentia, her favoured cousin, wishes it be known that the Kingdom of Tyrellia has our support in this darkest hour."

"The righteous nation of Igbodia is willing to do what we must."

"I shall pass this all on to the Queen, thank you. Now, if you'll excuse me, we must get going."

"Who's this?" asked one of the two.

Vargas, who was about to pull Daniel into a side room, grimaced to himself, then turned around and said, "A Magi sent by the Church to aid our Queen."



Daniel nervously rubbed his scrubby facial hair. "Err, Jaanite, actually!"

"Bah! That's not even really part of the Church."

"Hear hear. And you're not a Magi. You're too young."

"If you'll excuse us, please," said Vargas, then bowed so deeply to the ambassadors that they had no choice but to bow again in return. With the Magi in tow, the steward strode up to the massive door at the end of the hallway, then turned around and glared at the noblemen 'til they left. Once they were out of sight, and he was certain no-one was spying on them, Vargas turned to Daniel and said, "Now that they're out of the way, let me show you to the problem."

Vargas opened the door into the throne room. Daniel hesitated for a moment, suddenly remembering that he had never been in the presence of royalty before. Nevertheless, he crossed the threshold and looked around.

He was fairly certain that was not usual for a throne room.

"Her Majesty, the Sovereign Queen under God of Tyrellia," Vargas said, then bowed deeply. Noticing his companion was still standing, he grabbed his shirt and pulled him down.

Through the side of his mouth, while bowing, Daniel whispered, "Is that... that the Queen?"

The room was decorated heavily in an attempt to dispel the plainness that otherwise permeated the building. The walls were adorned with tapestries, shields, swords, busts, and paintings. At the back were large glass-paned windows, revealing that they had indeed traversed across the entire structure. Much of the floor was ordinary stone, but strips of mosaic ran down either side of the room, and thick carpet softened the path up to the singular throne, which was, as Daniel expected, slightly elevated compared to the rest of the room, ensuring that the occupant of the chair would wield the slight intimidation gained from looking down at everyone else.

Not that that was necessary for this particular occupant.

Daniel was stunned. He had been sent out by the Church, yes, but their message had been brief and to the point: attend the Queen of Tyrellia. Despite having grown up in the hills overlooking the kingdom, he had to rely on help and directions of commoners along the way to guide him here. They had not given any indication regarding what he was meant to do, what the problem was.

If they had even known.

He filed that thought for later perusal.

In the throne was a creature of normal human size, with two arms, two legs, a torso, a head. It was (partially) clothed in a yellowed dress, billowing sleeves on her forearms, a veil going from its forehead back and dangling over her shoulders, and a heavy skirt pooled around her legs. For some reason the dress left her torso bare, freeing Daniel to make a few preliminary observations: some sort of pendant lazed around her neck, intricate criss-cross scars covered the top of her chest and her neck, and, going be the unusually large mammaries, she was definitely female.

Other than the scarring, Daniel had had dreams much like this. But things were quite definitely wrong her.

"Err," he said through the corner of his mouth to Vargas. "She isn't supposed to be green, is she?"

A fringe of horns ran around her forehead, only a few inches long in the middle, but stabbing out on the sides. They were countered by another two pairs of horns visible from the back of her head, likely tearing through the veil, Daniel guessed. Her eyes were flat and black, nestled in slitted eye cavities. As he watched something came up from the bottom eyelids and briefly covered both eyes; did she just blink? Her nose was merely lump; her ears were tiny and inhuman, pointed sharply away from her head.

That wasn't the worst, though. Daniel felt a shiver of revulsion as he looked over her hands. Were those gnarled claws or leaves?

"To answer your question, no, she is not typically green. Or" -- Vargas waved at the creature vaguely -- "that, really. And that, right there, is crown prince Tofino."

And that was the worst. An otherwise human child nestled in the creature's arms.

Daniel looked closer at the child.

"Sorry, didn't you say the Queen had just given birth to the child a few weeks ago? He looks much older. He even has hair."

The creature looked up at Daniel, then back down to the child. That was the first time she recognized their presence since they entered the room.

"The pregnancy was unusually long," said Vargas. "After giving birth, the Queen became unwell, and within a week became the creature you see before you."

"Oh," said Daniel. "And the baby?"

"Once she regained her mobility, she took the baby from the wet nurses and has been... nursing him... herself. I believe that might explain in part his, err, rapid development."

Oh no, thought Daniel, then followed it up with a swear he'd be excommunicated for if said aloud. "What exactly do you want me to do?"

"See if you can heal the Queen," said Vargas.

That's exactly what I didn't want to hear, thought Daniel.


Daniel had to make two trips to the apothecary to get all the supplies he needed. Vargas gave him special dispensation with the guards, allowing him use of the front gate, but crossing still required several minutes of arguing. He was annoyed to note that the boy he'd seen earlier again went through the gate without being stopped or asked what his business was.

Nevertheless, he eventually had everything he needed to run a few tests. Vargas insisted on being there, and watched with interest as Daniel went through the various rituals, prayers, incantations and supplications that, through the grace of God and the intercession of the saints, allowed him to divine some information about the problem at hand.

What he discovered was puzzling. It would seem it was neither sickness, curse, nor spell. The creature seemed to have a soul, but clearly wasn't intelligent. She seemed to act instinctively, and only roused out of her chair once when Daniel took the boy too far away.

The boy. Prince Tofino. Daniel examined him and found nothing wrong, physically or magically. He was much too big for his age, yes, but other than that, he seemed a perfectly healthy boy.

"Vargas, I'm... I'm not certain exactly what's going on. I'm going to have to get in touch with some people at the Holy City, see if they have anything they can tell me."

"Do you have any idea what happened?"

Daniel forced a chuckle. "I think you'd probably have a better idea than I. Are you sure nothing unusual happened after she gave birth?"

"Other than falling sick, no."

The Magi stood around lamely for a minute, wondering what he should do now.

"You've had a long journey. Please, stay here with us for tonight."

"Thank you, sir."

Dinner was as awkward as expected; Daniel sat at a smaller head table with Vargas, the ambassadors, and a few other notables of the castle. He answered various questions people had about the Holy City ("Yes, it's true, everyone there is celibate"), Jaanism ("We believe that the Scriptures are divine, but interpretations are all too human"), and whatever else crossed their minds.

After dinner, once safely in his assigned room, Daniel burned some incense, ran through the rosary, and, freeing his mind to divine energies, established contact with the Church. In the Holy City were a few rooms of lesser priests, whose calling to aid the Church lead to endless dispatching and reception of messages.

His message was short: a few images of the creature and the baby, the results of his tests, and the information he'd picked up thus far.

For a moment, after his vision cleared, he thought he was back with his family in the Long House. He'd only finished his training as a Magi a few weeks ago; as a reward, he was given a few weeks to visit his family, who he hadn't seen in years. But after a few short days he received a message from the Church, and messages cannot be ignored; he felt it coming with the onset of a headache and clouding vision, and moments later he was talking to someone no-one else could see. Then he came...

"Excuse me."

...here. Tahsis, Tyrellia. A guest room, second floor, the castle. He mentally reoriented himself and opened his eyes.

"Yes, Vargas?"

"I assume you were just speaking to the Church? Do they have anything to say?"

"They're going over what I imparted to them. They should have a response later tonight."

"It's funny," said Vargas, "I've never really understood the concept of Magi, or your powers, to be honest. It seems counterintuitive that God, in his fairness, would give such a powerful gift to some of his people."

"Well, the Church teaches that we're given these abilities to help out those less fortunate than us."

"That's exactly what the Church would say."

"It's true. We're above the petty squabbling found in the rest of the world."

"Right. You go for a higher order of squabbling. Why else do you think I sent for a Jaanite priest? You folk aren't the most common of Magi."

Which is why they sent me, thought Daniel. I was the closest.

"As it stands, I have my suspicions about your power, the power of Magi. How do you know it really came from God? Why do some people outside the Church have the power? My power here was gained from years of service and being close to the Queen. It feels more ... trustworthy.

"Anyway, what if you're unable to heal the Queen?"

I can answer that, thought Daniel. "If I'm unable to solve your problems, the Church will send down a higher Magi from my order to solve your problem. I wouldn't be surprised if one was on his way right now. In the meantime, do your best to keep things here stable."

"Stable, right, absolutely. Good night, Magi. I hope you get your answer soon."

It came early in the morning.

Daniel was having a dream, the one he had on and off since he was a child. It started off at home, and inexorably resulted in him naked, running through the trees of a moonlit forest. He rounded lichen-clad oak, but the vista on the other side of the tree washed into the summoning chamber in the Holy City.

His conscious mind surged to the forefront. "Yes? You have something for me?"

The priest quickly looked down, and Daniel realized his mental representation was still stuck in dream mode. "Sorry."

Minutes later Daniel was up and dressing. There was a buzz in the air; he had the distinct feeling that something was up.
Well, all he had to do was find Vargas and tell him the Church findings. Then he could figure out what was going on.

He knew something was wrong the moment he looked down the first floor hallway to find the throne room doors flung open.
If Vargas was anywhere, he thought, he'd be in the middle of what's going on.

Daniel cautiously walked down the hallway. As he drew closer to the throne room, he began to hear voices.

"...unforgivable! You're violating dozens of treaties! Get your troops out of here now!"

Daniel glanced through the doorway to see soldiers -- non-Tyrellian -- spread out around the room, Vargas in front of the throne, protecting the Queen (who held the child), and a young man with full armour and a scabbarded broadsword in the middle of the room. Daniel immediately pegged him as Alsentian, largely based on the fact that he wore a wig.

"You misunderstand me, steward. The Queen has been turned into a monster; it's only a matter of time before she goes crazy and starts killing her subjects. I'm merely trying to prevent the collapse of Tyrellia into anarchy."

"But-- This is an act of war! If you seize control here, the Igbodians will attack! People will be killed."

"Irrelevant people."

Vargas reached down, pulled out the broadsword, and swung it as hard as he could against the man's side. His armour protected him, but the blow was strong enough to dent the plate and knock him to the floor. Various soldiers rushed forward; the Queen in her chair, after seeming completely oblivious to what was happening, stood up and began screaming an unearthly sound. Its echoes battered Daniel on all sides and turned his innards to mush; he could barely imagine what it must be like to the people closer to her.

The opportune moment. When he was given field training, his instructor hammered home the point that sometimes everything hinges on one little moment, on acting without thought and just doing what you must.

Daniel surprised himself by recognizing when it came.
He ran forward into the room and grabbed the baby (who amazingly wasn't crying), while everyone was still stunned by her scream. Vargas looked at him and said, "Second room on the left! Secret passage! Get her out of here!" Then his gaze was drawn behind him; Daniel turned around to see three guards edge in towards the Queen, swords drawn. The one behind her stabbed; Daniel, Vargas, and child were momentarily enthralled by the blade bursting through her abdomen, covered in filmy green blood. To their surprise the sword began to corrode. The Queen shrieked, whirled around and eviscerated her attacker with her claws.

The man Vargas attacked, who by now had regained his feet, pulled a dagger from a hidden sheath somewhere and re-sheathed it in Vargas's neck.

Right, thought Daniel to himself. I should run.

And so he did.

He burst out into the hallway - at the far end were more soldiers, neither Tyrellian nor Alsentian, thus Igbodian. Daniel ran towards them, then hung a sharp turn left to the door Vargas had recommended. It was already occupied; a scullery girl of some sort was prowling about the room, poking at jewelry, looking through the closets, and otherwise being as nosy as she could.

Daniel realized it must be the Queen's bedroom.

The woman, noticing Daniel, screamed.

"It's alright, it's alright..." he said. "Help me bar the door!"

But the door closed with a click, and seemed to have magically become stuck.

Daniel nevertheless piled handy pieces of furniture against it, more for his peace of mind than anything else, while Prince Tofino stared curiously at the woman.

"I'm sorry," she said to Daniel's back, "I'm not supposed to be in here... but I figured since everything was going to hell, I might as well..."

"Don't worry, it's okay," said Daniel, dragging a dresser over to the door.

"It's just that she stole my sister, I know it... him and her."

"Eh?" said Daniel. "Nevermind. I was told there was a secret passage in here. I'd like to get through there before someone knocks at the door."

"A secret passage? Here? Are you mad?"

There was another click, and the wall slid open.

"Here, carry the prince for me," said Daniel. He stepped forward into the darkness. After the three were in the passageway, the wall closed behind them, leaving them blind.

"Don't panic, I can call for light." And so he did.

The tunnel descended. A growing scent of incense triggered some olfactory alarms in Daniel, but he stifled his growing misease. At the tunnel's nadir it broadened into a cavern, and at the centre was what looked like an altar.

"This is hardly the time, but..."

Daniel looked closer and noticed a groove running along the edges. In the bottom was residue the colour of rust. At the front of the altar the groove widened into a bowl. He looked at the walls.

"This is not good. Someone's been saying the Black Mass."

He looked around.

"Err, excuse me? Are you still here?"

The baby was crawling around the altar. He listened carefully, but couldn't hear anything. Operating under the assumption that she did the sane thing and left - by herself, which wasn't that smart, considering the circumstances - in the direction leading away from the castle, he picked up the prince and continued forward.

The tunnel grew damp and muddy. By the end Daniel had to pick his steps carefully. He emerged at a narrow bend in a river, with water rushing speedily past his feet. He worked his way along the bank carefully until it widened; there he sat down a tree root, the child in his lap.

He mentally reviewed everything that had happened this morning, and found himself terribly uncertain. A quick glance verified that the baby was indeed a boy, which made Vargas's parting comments confusing. And was that really a blasphemous altar in the tunnel?

Where did that girl run off to?

The baby gurgled.

The end.

Raven's Comments:

This story kept me interested and engaged all the way to the end -- at which point I wanted to yell and throw things. :) You've got a fascinating story-world here, I.N., as well as an interesting protagonist and fairly strong technical skills -- but the story ends so suddenly, and with so little resolved, that it's hard not to feel cheated. What caused the queen's condition? Who was the girl? What's the deal with that demonic altar? What happens to Daniel and the baby? For that matter, what happens to the entire kingdom of Tyrellia? You set up a lot of cool ideas, but we never get to see the payoff.

The greatest foundation in the world isn't worth much without follow-through. This story has the potential to be really good -- worthy of long-term hosting at Raven's Lair -- but only if it's finished in a satisfying way. Right now, it's not there yet.

Spelling/Grammar: B-
Technique: B-
Creativity: A-
Artistry: C
Applicability: A

Final Score: 38 out of 50

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