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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
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.
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
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
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
"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
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
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...
...here. Tahsis, Tyrellia. A guest room, second floor, the castle. He mentally
reoriented himself and opened his eyes.
"I assume you were just speaking to the Church? Do they have anything
"They're going over what I imparted to them. They should have a response
"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
"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
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."
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
"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
"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
"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
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.
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.
Final Score: 38 out of 50
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