Beorian Tales: The Elysia Diaries
When Push Came to Shove
Let’s face it: you’ve heard of me. Maybe only in class, or in a book, or from some ghost in one of the old ruins babbling in tongues when my name surfaced. Most of what you’ve learned is probably true. [Except the most important part, the tiny little detail that was left out by that cowardly, bastard son-of-a-bitch conniving rotten ass-kissing liar calling himself Chancellor Moltenscar. I’m going to rip his lungs out through his nostrils and reach down his throat and squeeze his heart like a grape.]
Sorry, I’m of two minds. Literally. There’s the former 12-year-old Senior from Beor’s Mage College that I used to be – and in many surprising ways still am – and there’s the mass murdering cannibal psycho survivor NetherQueen that I’ve become, thanks to a rather bloody, brain-ingesting diet. They cannot live independently of each other. I had a friend from Millston who claimed he heard voices in his head (runs in his family, it seems.) I have only one, but it’s there 24/7. I don’t know how he stayed moderately sane. Wish I could remember his name. It doesn’t matter anyway, because he’s been dead for over 1,400 years. He wanted to die in the front lines while fighting the netherkin. He got his wish.
Before I begin, you should understand a few things:
(1) Time crawls here. 1400 years for you is just under 3 years for me.
(2) The Nether is everywhere and everywhen.
(3) Here, by the portal, I see and hear everything, all the time. Non-stop. Of course, I can’t understand a word. It’s maddening.
(4) Average life expectancy for a netherkin here is three months.
(5) Leaders come and go – quickly. Except for me – thanks to my other, older self.
(6) There are no sweets here. None at all. I would commit genocide for a single crackleberry tart.
There are other quirks of the Nether, but you’ll learn about them if you stick with me on my journey. [Or you can stop right here. See if we care.] Let’s start on the week before the Shove. Let’s begin with the Push.
One week before: The Mage College, Beor (Year 0, B.N.)
I remember sitting in The Keg Runneth Over, with Gristle Grumbleborn and Oneida Thwackerback, downing my third Alchemist’s Golden Ale-monade and laughing at the idea that Alzabar Pandemonium had succeeded in re-animating his own corpse. He was the worst Necromancing student ever to walk the halls of the Mage College, but he’d been admitted because of his exceedingly rare talent of time manipulation, the second one in the College’s history.
“Chancellor Moltenscar threw him out,” guffawed Gristle as she munched on the bowl of mantis pretzels. Gristle was a freshman mage, three years below me, but at 20 years old she was also 8 years my senior.
“Said ‘e couldna ‘ave ‘is rottin’ flesh stinkin’ the place up!” giggled Oneida, using a sliver she’d picked out of the bar table to pick her teeth with. Oneida was a senior at the Royal Military Academy, and my best friend. She’d been my protector since the day we met, 4 years ago when I was 8.
“Let me see,” I mused, “He set the ‘Raise Dead’ spell to trigger at a certain time after he killed himself, using his time magic. And now he’s a lich?”
“Yeah, but Moltenscar sealed his magic, so he’s just undead,” said Gristle.
“Yeah, well, now ‘e stinks as bad as ‘is breath always did!” cackled Oneida, who jabbed her elbow into Gristle’s side, and they both doubled over with helpless laughter.
I actually liked the poor bastard. It would have been very interesting to watch him use his time magic, and maybe solve the mystery as to why it wasn’t a talent that you could learn. I’d already learned as much arcane magic (whether natural, divine or infernal) as I could gain access to in the College libraries. I was by no means a Master of all, but I had practiced until proficiency was reached in each area. I was a star student, a magic prodigy with an insatiable appetite for learning. Battle & Tactical Terraforming magic were specialties of mine – which is how I got into this whole mess – and also how I managed to stay alive.
The Keg Runneth Over was probably the largest Tavern and Inn in the known world – and possibly in history. It was situated within an hour’s walk of the Mage College. (Close enough to crawl back from if you got really wasted, and far enough away that you could get rowdy without worrying about the faculty knowing what you did the night before.) It was a popular place for Mage College students to hang out, as well as recruits to the Royal Military Academy, apprentices to The Beorian Baker’s Guild, and others involved in learning and licentiousness. There were three floors and two basements, a theatre and a house of pleasure: The One Night Stand-Inn occupied the building next door. The theatre was home to, among other groups, Annalie Puki’s School for Exotic Erotic and Death-Dealing Dancers.
So, how did a twelve-year-old manage to gain access whenever she wanted? Let’s just say I can be very persuasive, and leave it at that. Bouncers who said no to me tended to disappear. (Truthfully, I just sent them elsewhere. I’m not murderous. Just determined to get my way.} [Pity. You would be a worthy opponent.]
It was no surprise, that Saturday night, that we saw a group of uniformed Seniors from the Military Academy enter. They were led by the half-orc, half-human and unspeakably handsome Adonis Faceripper Bornright. He was brilliant – unbeatable in a fight, able to wield any weapon with ease, and a master of all things martial. He was also rude, antisocial, and in spite of his dual bloodlines he was an equal opportunity racist: he despised everyone. Oneida once told me the only time Adonis ever smiled was when, during his first practice with a Swordmaster at the Academy, the man taunted him. After his opponent’s funeral the following day, no one ever taunted him again. In spite of it all, I admit I was smitten with him.
He was followed by his posse of four. None of them ever stayed on long enough for people to remember their names. I guess no one, not even a helmet-head, enjoys being ignored, or not spoken to unless as a target of insult or abuse. My friends & I had decided to do the kind thing, so we’d assign them a number – sequentially, of course – so we could address them, because Adonis never introduced them.
“Oooh,” cooed Gristle admiringly, “I think blond number 21 is really cute!”
“Seriously? Mustachioed 22 is more my type,” quipped Gristle.
“Shit, they’re headed right for you. What’d you do this time, Leezhee – spelled their team underwear to bunch up when they sweat?” asked Harald Wolfspawn, leaning in from the table opposite theirs.
“No,” I replied, “though that would have been fun!” Truth was, I’d been expecting them. Moltenscar had told me, in a moment of pique, that my name had come up in a meeting of the Royal Military Council. Sure enough, as soon as Bornright & crew got to our table and before we’d even had a chance to insult them, he grabbed me by the shoulder and grunted, “You’re wanted at the War Council. Now. Come with me.”
Gristle, Oneida and I all broke out into hysterics. I gave him my best “Back off, asshole!” look, slipped out of his grasp, and said to his face: “I’m busy at the moment. I’ll take a raincheck, though.” Adonis blinked both eyes to process what I’d just said. Number 21, bless his blond ass-kissing heart, retorted, “Ya canna speak to the Faceripper like that, ya little squirt!” Harald had just begun to tell Adonis to bugger off when I saw the beginnings of a smile on the lug’s face. Then the world went black.
Six Days Before: Adepts Just Wanna Have Fun
In my defense, I never saw his fist coming. I knew his physical speed was many times his mental speed, but that blow came out of nowhere; also, although my intelligence dwarfed his own, I was still a mere child, physically. [If I had been you, I would have ripped his arm off and beaten him to death with it…and then eaten it, to absorb his strength.] Wait your turn, Queenie. This is my story.
Where was I? Oh, yeah. The War Council meeting was a wake-up call – for me and for them. All of Beor knew about the Gate. It had appeared one year ago, with no warning. When it did, anyone who possessed a shred of magic felt it happen, like a punch in the gut. I’d been in the Magical Creatures class when it happened, and most of us were knocked out of our seats. Some students went insane, like my nameless friend – although his was a very mild case. A few days later, reports came in from travelling merchants that the Elven magic city of Shaka-La had vanished into thin air. The last bastion of Elves in Beor was gone, leaving a ring of blood around where the city limits would have been.
I learned the following information at the meeting. At first, only a thousand or so of what we eventually called Netherkin sprang through the Gate, where they obliterated the mountain cities of Hidden Valley and Greater Aendaar. That happened in a matter of hours. I learned that the Royal Military forces had hidden that knowledge from everyone, as long as they could. The official word was that the cities had been stricken with a deadly plague. The truth was that they found no witnesses to the slaughter and had not succeeded in capturing any live netherkin, because they had all died. All of them. Not by sword or arrow or axe or dagger. They were shriveled husks, and the next day all that was left were piles of dust. The citizens, however, were picked clean. Eaten alive.
They sent a force to investigate the Gate itself. It was completely bathed in flames. It was a black stone arch the size of a cathedral. The idiots actually had someone try to touch the flames. To quote Captain Marshall:
“Footsoldier Witleth, as he approached the Gate, became violently ill, heaving bits of blood and chunks of flesh. As he put his hand close to the flames, his entire arm was torn to pieces, leaving nothing but a bone and a bloody stump where it used to be. His fellow soldiers raced forth to help, but watched as his entire body was ripped apart by an unseen force. It is hereby recommended that no one approach the Gate until further investigation.”
There had been other invasions, also kept secret. Those times, those sensitive to magic felt nothing, probably because the Gate already existed in our dimension. Chancellor Moltenscar had pleaded with the King to allow his adepts to close the Gate. In the last few weeks, while the students had been preparing for the 125th annual Magic Music Festival, the Gate had grown to twice its size.
That night, at the meeting, the Chancellor told us that he and the King believed that an invasion was imminent. I was told that my services were required to help destroy the gateway on both sides. I asked how Moltenscar knew that there were two gateways, but the conversation had already turned to logistics and I had no desire to be spoken to like a child.
[You *are* a child.] Say that again, Your Majesty, and I will throw your damned ancient spirit into the eighth dimension! [You just named your stuffed skippyloom Bornright.] And it was I who beat you within an inch of your miserable self-loathing life, so shut it.
Watching the Chancellor, I couldn’t help but get the feeling that he knew more about what was going on than he was admitting. He’d been uneasy for months. I recalled the day when he’d heard about Shaka-La (a student had rushed in with a special edition of the Beorian Bulletin) and he’d gone deathly pale, ending the class and practically fleeing from the room. True, I didn’t like him – even back then. Gifted pupils who came under his special tutelage tended to disappear with alarming frequency. Which is why his sudden interest in me was both disgusting and dangerous.
[You’re wandering, girl. Get back to the subject.]
Right. The plan, such as it was, entailed the Royal Army and the Mage College Combat Corps, Moltenscar and me. The Army was to stand by Beor’s side of The Gate and stop any netherkin from advancing, should some slip through our attack on the Nether side, where the Combat Corps & Moltenscar were to buy me enough time to destroy the Nether Gate. If it was in a mountainous area, I was to bring the mountains down on top of it; if it was in a plains or grassland, I was to have the earth swallow it. And so on and so forth, because I was the only one skilled in multiple magic disciplines that would stand to have any chance of success in the unknown.
[Never occurred to you, did it, that it might not work? Not even once?]
It would be a very different Beor if it had…
Georgeous Lionheart, Commander-In-Chief of the Royal Army, called the meeting to a close, and set a time for a meeting the day before departure. General Artemis Bornright, under whose command the Mage Combat Corps fell, spoke to me about any special needs I might require for the Assault on Nethergate (as it was being called.) Just because I was feeling cocky, and because she was Adonis’ mother, I asked for a unicorn horn pike-wand, a demonskin robe and an Amulet of Stunned Adoration. To my surprise, she nodded and promised to have them sent to my quarters.
An hour later, I was back in the dorms, thinking about how I’d need to refresh my knowledge of Magical Physics and Theoretical Spellcasting when I nearly ran into Oneida, who was sound asleep on the floor, in front of our room, the door still locked. She’d probably forgotten the sigil that opened it again. I levitated her into bed, where she snored quietly.
I sat at my desk and looked at a small portrait that was partially hidden by my plush skippyloom, a gift from the Lost Menagerie given to me by my grandma. The portrait was of my parents, with four-year old me standing between them. They weren’t good-looking, or famous, or smart. They were poor working folk who couldn’t cope with a highly intelligent child, much less a child who hadn’t spoken a word since the day she was born. So, when they became frustrated with me, which was often, they yelled at me or worse, beat me.
Why didn’t I speak until the age of 5? My mother swore it was done by an Elf she passed on the street. It took one look at one-month old me and drew a sign in the air. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t…I’ll never know. I found my voice, though, one day when I’d had enough abuse. I’m told that my house exploded, leaving me unscathed amidst the destruction.
Did they deserve it? [Yes.] Would I do things differently if I wanted to use time magic and go back? [Maybe not.] Would they be proud of me, knowing that the Kingdom needs my help to save the world? [Considering the outcome, probably not.]
Take it away, NetherQueen. I’m exhausted from holding you at bay. Time to let the bitch out, boys and girls.
First Interlude: My Brief (But True) History of The Nether
I may not be one of The First, but I am The 0ldest. I remember food that grew on the ground, that flew the skies and swam in the waters. We were strong, so strong, but we were few. Our lives were long. Then the others began appearing – flairies on tiny gossamer wings, glowing when they gathered. We were curious and played with them.
They chittered, and we laughed. The places they gathered at, though, began to wither and die, and some of us grew ill and sickly. More and more of the dead spots appeared, until food was scarce. In our desperation, sickened and weak, we began to eat the others. And language was born, and memories, and our world was reshaped.
As time passed, we grew stronger and no longer ate the food that grew or flew or swam. We desired only the delicious taste of the others. More time passed, and where we only gave birth to one or two, we now gave birth to many. And so the numbers of others grew fewer and fewer, and we began to eat each other, for over time we had begun to change, tasting a little like the food we now craved.
Our world became barren. As we changed, we began to become stronger as we consumed each other, gaining the memories and strength of those we ate. Our young were easy targets, and so we changed again, giving birth to hundreds, of which maybe three would survive.
One day, a ring of light appeared. It hurt us to look at it, surrounded in dark flames it was. But its aroma was intoxicating. One of us clawed his way to it and entered it. I did not think it lived. [You were wrong.]
Some time later, a creature appeared, one very tall and slender with long elegant ears. It radiated with a blinding light, moving so fast that it was a blur of bright agony. Our kind tried to storm it for so long that we finally began to change, developing inner eyelids and thick fur to shield us. It was swarmed and ultimately consumed. We broke through the ring of light and consumed many of the ‘elves’ but learned too late that we could not live long in that place; we had to bring them to us.
But the light disappeared, only to reappear with the one who left us, not once but many times. He brought a meal, to be portioned out a tiny piece at a time, and only to the strongest. The one who left us taught us about governments and kingdoms and power. And I rose quickly to the top. No one could challenge me, and I ate all who opposed me. I was Queen, and soon ate all that he brought. He gave a name to the food that we ate: magic. I feasted. I consumed my rivals and their children. No one opposed me. [Yet one did.] That is, until the day that you came, and I was betrayed. [We were both betrayed.]
We were meant to consume each other.
… … … … [Yes.]
Four Days Before (Morning): The Living Library
I awoke the next morning to breakfast in bed with a note from Oneida that thanked me for getting her into bed for the second night in a row. Working magic was as much a physical and mental workout (or more for the greater magics) as weapon mastery and battle tactics. Beds at the Mage College are spelled to adjust to the comfort needs of whoever sleeps in them. The Cafeteria serves (or served, I don’t know anymore) meals that are among the best in Beor, made from scratch and everything natural – no magic is allowed in its preparation or cultivation.
[It must be tasteless, then. Point me to where the teachers are, and I will feast.]
The crackleberry scones, scrambled cockatrice eggs and dire boar sausages were devoured quickly, because G-Day was getting closer and I had some research to perfect, on the mixing of opposing magics. It’s not unheard of – in fact, anyone fooling around with it would create explosions heard for miles. Somewhere, someone must have tried what I was thinking of trying, and made notes. Or had someone else do the writing, in case their hands melted away. I needed to visit the Mage College Library Archives. I was halfway there when Gristle nearly collided with me.
“Blessed Bob the Eldest God, it’s good to see you! What happened at the meeting? Where have you been? Why do they need you? Well, I mean, you’re the most effing brilliant and powerful mage since…since ever, and they need you to what – destroy an entire country?” She hugged me tightly, and wasn’t letting go. Grumbleborn women were like that, it was said. They were passionate, and could kill you as easily with a hug as with a hammer.
I was gasping for air when she blushed three shades of pink. “I’m sorry, Leezhee.”
“It’s okay, Grrrl. But I can’t tell you, or Oni, or anyone. We were all sworn to secrecy,” I answered. That wasn’t exactly true. Everyone else had been, but nothing had been said to me. Because, after all, I’m not stupid. It’s one of those awful truths you learn by being smart, that it’s best to keep things calm and orderly rather than have the general public panic and cause unrest. I don’t like it, but I see the wisdom in it. That’s why I sent a missive to the King, suggesting that there be a sizable contingent of the Royal Guards to help evacuate Tasuil Beor should our effort fail. I also, in case he didn’t think of it, included a list of preparations, needed supplies and a map showing the best hiding places in Beor. I haven’t heard back from him. I met him once, on Registration Day – a nice guy, but easily distracted. I think I intimidate him.
“Leezhee, you’ve still got a bruise where Donny slugged you,” she said with concern, running her small Dwarven finger around the purple blotch. “Do you want me to curse him? A compound arcane curse of hair loss or stomach bugs? He’d hate that, especially if it triggered on the day when he’s playing at the Magic Music Festival!”
[I like your friend.]
I had to think about that. I may have been only 12 years old, but he was my crush. Then again, the handsome bastard slugged me.
“Make it a stomach bug curse. Place it on the mouthpiece of his slide-whistle – I know for a fact he leaves it in his Music Room locker. You can do it now – the Military Academy’s junior and senior years are now training 3 times a day, and that means the morning drill has about 1 hour left. You’re the best, Grrl!”
I watched as she practically danced her way across campus. No one did curses better than Gristle – not even myself, and that’s saying a lot. I saw the Library in the distance, looking like a Giant Winterflame pudding. It even swayed as if caught in a breeze. It wasn’t really a pudding, or course. It was magic of a very high order indeed that gave the Library its daily makeovers. The Library was a temple of books, made from the wood of intelligent trees, and built by Elves many ages ago. If it sensed that you (1) would do no harm to anyone or anything within, (2) had a good reason to be there, and (3) were associated with the College as either a student, teacher or employee, you’d be allowed inside and access to where you needed to go. Browsing, though rare, was allowed under special conditions, which you would know only if needed. And they changed, depending upon who was requesting permission.
The Library also didn’t just have floors – it had other dimensions, as well. The Archives occupied several of them. In fact, a special gateway in time was built to ‘house’ a room that had burst into flames when someone had put a fire crystal on the table and accidentally dropped a very heavy book on top of it. The loss of the scrolls and volumes destroyed had been unprecedented. It had taken many mages of different disciplines working together a full six months before they had the place stabilized. The Library, in its protective mode, kept those mages hidden away in secret rooms, because it had determined their success in freezing a place in time was too dangerous for them to teach others. They’d be long dead, but some say they hear whispers in the dark. To this day, there’s an archivist who brings food to that ‘room out of time’ each night. Whether eaten by a mischievous student or families of mice, no one knows…but the plates and bowls are empty in the morning.
I strode through the first floor with a purpose. I came to an abrupt stop when I reached the stairwell to the archives. Waiting for me was an old woman with silver hair neatly fashioned into a chignon. A pair of spectacles glinted as they hung on a chain around her neck. I was about to utter a sharp criticism, that I didn’t need a chaperone, when she laughed. “She was right about you,” she said, “That you’d take offense.”
“Who?” I asked, ready for any answer except the one she gave.
“The Librarian, of course. Everyone asks for the Archivists, but no one asks for the Librarian anymore. I wonder why? Of course, the Library itself guides everyone to where they want to go – the normal places. Did you know it was Tungjii Luck himmerself who insisted that there be a Librarian? The Elves were quite annoyed! That’s how the story goes around here, anyway. I’m Archivist K.J. Worling, but you can call me K.J. Follow me, and we’ll go to Contrarian Magics.”
As we made our way down, walls warped, we saw copies of ourselves walking upwards, and other visual and temporal distortions. “How come you’re…” I began to ask, but she finished my sentence for me. “…not dead? Not a ghost? Someone living has to bring that food to that room – you know the one? And take back the empty plates. Not just because ghosts can’t carry anything, but ultimately, it’s because I don’t think that they care. Ah, here we are. Watch the doorway, it changes size often.”
We entered a room that had a small table and two chairs. They were exquisitely carved, made from what appeared to be wood, but gleamed like crystal. On the table was a pot of tea, apparently hot (as steam was curling from its spout) and two cups and saucers. And it would have been entirely dark, were it not bathed in the light of millions of stars, either twinkling steadily or, on occasion, streaking across the sky. It most certainly wasn’t the Contrarian Magics Wing. I thought about demanding an answer, but thought better of it. I wasn’t really afraid. The room was, in fact, rather peaceful. I found that most curious of all, if this place was what I thought it was.
[You have never told me this story, nor is it anything that I have assimilated or managed to rip from your memories. How is that possible?]
Rip away, Bitch Queen. You’ll never find out.
K.J. was already seated at the table, and poured two cups of tea. “The Librarian asked that I bring you here. I know you’re curious, so I’ll tell you.” “I know you will,” I said, and took a sip of the ambrosial tea. “But let me guess. I’ve read treatises on this, but always thought they were scholarly aggrandizements. It’s the Beginning Place, isn’t it? The only one who came close to describing this accurately was Rusalu N. Guile!”
Miss Worling’s eyebrows raised. “Yes. To the point, then. Beor has a problem. You have been asked to help with it. The Gods are interested in you, young lady. What you do, and what happens to you, will shape the future for good or ill. The Librarian wishes to give you some information that may prove helpful. She’s going to send you a vision right about…”
Four Days Before (Afternoon): Skincare, or How to Stretch A Meal
The agony was excruciating. Every part of my body had screamed with a pain so intense that, blessedly, it soon turned into numbness. If it hadn’t, I would surely have gone insane. Looking down, I noticed a mass of bloody muscle, bone and tissue. I felt a tug on my other hand, and shifted my eyes to see the skin being peeled from it by a hand that was clawed.
“This is the tricky part. Your flesh is so thin here, it can tear very easily.”
I knew that voice, and my blood ran cold. Slowly, I looked up to see a gobbet of yellow bile drop from his mouth, a mouth that was puckered like dried fruit, desiccated and cracking open in some places. The bile splattered into my hand. I watch my muscle mass bubble and steam, as the rest of the skin was lifted off with ease.
He held up an entire, still-bleeding but empty sheath of skin, sans hair. When he turned it around, I saw who I was. I was looking at the skin of Mirella Brokenclaw, a brilliant 3rd year student whose skill in Precognition was unparalleled. She had been one of his ‘special interests’ in the past few months. The thing that wore the Chancellor’s skin placed Mirella’s flesh over a chair, reached behind itself and removed Moltenscar’s withering outsides with one hand. After that his shape blurred.
The next thing I see, a split-second later, is Mirella’s form shape itself onto him. It appeared to bubble, as if it were boiling from underneath. The creature screamed, and then put Moltenscar’s flaking skin over Mirella’s wet and fresh one. It billowed out like a balloon, and then deflated with gouts of blood mixed with bile squirting out of eyeholes, nostrils and mouth that were refitting themselves. This all happened in a matter of seconds.
It was the most frightening and revolting thing I’d ever been made to witness. It was also somehow strangely fascinating, as I wondered how it had all been accomplished. It definitely involved several magical disciplines. I felt a claw rip across my (Mirella’s) throat, and the vision began to fade as I heard him say, “I think I’ll consume you entirely. She doesn’t deserve you.”
You’ve been awfully quiet, Queenie. Have I given you food for thought? Pun intended, of course.
[I shall starve him. And then I’ll have him eat himself.]
We’ll take turns, then. It will be a very, very long meal.
Second Interlude: Blame It On The Elves
Although by her own reckoning she is much older than I, here in my world she is still a mere child. It enrages her that I call her a child, and so I do it often. I have learned much from her – how beings in her world think, live, procreate; learn, love, go to war; and how magic is part of their day-to-day lives.
The first creatures from Beor to enter my world were magical – and they began our doom and destruction and descent into chaos. Have I not said that in the beginning we were peaceful? It is easy to forget when confronted with what we have become. The arrival of an elf in our world sealed our doom, for they are more magic than flesh and blood. So, how did a door from her world open into mine? We have thought about this for a long time. And we now say, blame it on the delicious elves.
[This theory is mostly mine, so I’m jumping in.]
Take it away, child.
[I hate you too. My world works according to certain Laws. Magic breaks those laws in both subtle and destructive ways, though it has laws of its own that it must obey. The Elves used to be tribal, like the Orcs. Mid-sized enclaves, mostly pastoral in purpose and nature. Humans and dwarves began building schools to study magic, and cities grew up around them. The Elves, being snobbish, decided to outdo them. They built the Magic City of Shaka-La.]
All that tasty magic, concentrated in beings and buildings and being used every second, for hundreds of years…I drool just thinking about it. But the child figured out that so much magic must have worn away at the…how did you say it?
[The fabric of Law. Magic is chaotic, so in time the fabric had some holes in it, where Shaka-La was built. Leading, I think, into a place where Chaos rules. And the first ones to make it through – were the smallest. Bugs. Birds. Flairies.]
Magic does not work here. It is, however, a substance we now must have to survive. If we could do magic, however, we would be Gods. Do you want us to be a God, child? Would you enjoy having unlimited power? Think of what we could do together!
You are quiet, little Elysia.
[Gods in my world do not have unlimited power. The Librarian, in case you didn’t guess, is a God, and as much as she wanted to stop Moltenscar, she could not. Even Gods must abide by rules.]
Is there nothing in your world that does not have to obey the rules?
Well? Is there nothing?
[Love. Love, and Demons.]
One Day Before: To Thine Own Self Be True
I was ill for the rest of that day. K.J. cleaned up my vomit, several times, apologized for the Librarian, and then brought me to Contrarian Magics, where I spent a good 24 hours researching twice as much as I’d expected to. I had several suspicions, thanks to that vision, that if correct could prove vital to surviving long enough to take down the Nether Gate and for the Mage Combat Corps should I (and Moltenscar?) fail. I don’t like doubts, because they make you lose precious seconds when making decisions on the fly.
On my return to the dorms, I slept 10 hours, and awoke to find breakfast in my bed again. Strange, because I didn’t remember seeing Oneida at all. The note attached was from Gristle, and read: “Just because I’m your best friend, and a pretty awesome one at that. Curse is cast. He’ll get a lovely case of dysentery!” I was beginning to regret my decision, when one look in the mirror showed that I still had a faint black corona, even at 5 days afterwards.
The Nether Gate mission began tomorrow. The operation was being headed by Commander Lionheart and whatever psychopathic murdering creature was masquerading as the Chancellor. The only reason I could imagine the Librarian sending that delightful vision was that perhaps, just perhaps, I was to see that Moltenscar was sealed in the Nether? How did he/it figure into things? What was stopping me from exposing him right now? The answer was that he could escape in whatever time it took for the authorities to arrest him. He wielded magic that I didn’t yet understand.
He was also a cannibal who kidnapped, tortured and killed skilled magic students. He’d keep doing it, as long as he needed to refresh his skin. And as soon as that thought hit me, I spent the next 6 hours learning all I could about reptiles. I had been feeling melancholy, and had intended to spend the better part of the afternoon with Alzabar. True, his magic had been sealed, and he was an undead zombie, but that gave him a particularly interesting and unique point of view. It would certainly take my mind away from tomorrow’s worries. But snakes and how they might figure into magic was a far more worthwhile way to spend my time.
I was interrupted around 7:00 p.m. when I heard a familiar voice say, “I knew you’d be here! Come with me, now. We’re waiting for you at The Keg!” When I arrived, Gristle led me upstairs to one of the many private dining rooms, and there was Oneida, grinning like a partially drunken fool (which she was), Harald, Alzabar, and four other students whose intellect was high enough so that I didn’t scare them.
“A toast to the pride of the Mage College, Elysia!” shouted Peter Pena, the rising star of Polymorphing.
“To Leezhee!” was echoed by all. The next hour flew by, with much toasting and eating, laughing and, of course, theorizing about tomorrow. Not even Oneida knew the whole story, though as a senior she would be on alert at the College. Gristle, as a freshman, would simply go about her day. The sound of heavy boots was heard outside the door. Entering the room, a Royal Guardsman motioned to Oneida, who walked steadily over to him (which after 6 Execution Ales was impressive), where they whispered to each other. She shook her head and scowled as the Guardsman left.
“E-lysia, by order of General Artemis Bornright, I am ta ess-cort you to a meetin’,” she said in a voice that implied she thought this to be a very bad idea. A chorus of protests erupted, which Oneida silenced by pounding the long wooden table with her fist, snapping it in two. Drinks and plates went crashing to the center in a loud heap. “She’s ta come NOW.”
“It must be very important,” I said to my friends, “It must be new information about tomorrow. Thank you all for doing this tonight. It…,” and I paused. I’m not good with people, not really. But these were my friends. “It means a lot to me.”
Oneida was silent for a while. I noticed that we had stopped in front of the house next to The Keg Runneth Over.
“Why are we in front of the One Night Stand-Inn?” I asked.
A soldier stumbled drunkenly out the Inn’s door, being supported by a burly man in a smith’s apron. Oneida knelt so she could face me eye-to-eye. “Doona do this. ‘Tis Bornright pri’ledge ‘n pride at work ‘ere. I swear by all tha’s holy, iffen ‘e hurts ya, I’ll kill ‘em.”
“Oni, you’re drunk. It’s the General I’m seeing, right? Not Adonis.”
She started to say something when my shoulder was grabbed by the same Royal Guardsman who’d been at the Keg. “Come with me.” As I was led into the house of pleasure, I heard Oneida begin to softly cry. If you have any brains at all, you can guess what happened after that.
I was…I AM…brilliant, talented and perhaps the greatest living mage in Beor (if I do say so.) But I was twelve years old. I knew about men and women, but none of it affected me. I was TWELVE. It was Adonis Bornright who had ‘commanded’ my presence, who unleashed on me his fury for being stationed at the College and not on the front lines tomorrow, unlike me. It should have been him leading the charge. I took that away from him. So now, he was going to take something from me.
As his implication registered, I began to gather my spells. But nothing happened. And Adonis, goddamn his black-and-blue soul, slowly smiled. “Go ahead. Try and hurt me. You can’t. This room’s a Dead Zone.”
Adonis Bornright took what he wanted.
I want no sympathy from you, Bitch Queen. Not. One. Word.
G-Day: The Shove
I didn’t sleep. I spent the early hours figuring out how to work around a Dead Zone. Sometime before dawn, the One Night Stand-Inn crumbled. Everything and everyone had been reduced to dust. I was pissed off, and the day was just beginning. Just after dawn, I said goodbye to Gristle and left the dorms. In front of them were a contingent of Guardsmen, who were waiting to escort me to the Head of the Mage Combat Corps, where I’d ride with General Bornright and the thing called Moltenscar to the Gate.
Before we got there, I saw the Guardsman that had interrupted my party last night. I was feeling listless, so I cast a Lifesteal spell on him. It was vampiric and invigorating, but it didn’t make me feel any better. One moment he was upright, the next he collapsed, dead. One boon I’d learned from how to enliven a Dead Zone was the art of Silent Casting – no vocalization or staff or wand needed.
The career soldiers marched in silence, while the younger Mage Corps was loud and voluble. I think they’d been given less information than I was as to what to expect. We passed by the mostly empty village of Greater Aendarr, and saw flocks of untended cows and sheep wandering fields that were quickly becoming overgrown with weeds. We passed into the mountains, and after an hour or so, Commander Georgeous Lionheart called for a halt and addressed the company of 10,000.
“This is where you will camp, and where we will stand ready to defend our people and our country,” he said, “should these two adepts fail to destroy the gates.”
He motioned to Moltenscar, and then to me. Moltenscar rode up beside him. I stayed put, and a murmur spread throughout the troops. I gave the Commander my best ‘So what?’ look, and surprisingly, he stopped looking at me and continued.
“We do not know what the enemy looks like. We do not know if they are waiting for us. Our Adepts must first destroy the gate on their side, and then the gate on ours. If they fail, the enemy will come through by the thousands. And we are all that stands between them and our loved ones.”
He knew how to give a speech. The troops were looking confused, scared and worried. “Will we succeed in holding them back?”
Silence. He scanned the crowd left to right, and front to back, and repeated his question. This time, they roared, “Yes!”
“Will our adepts destroy the gates, and stop them forever from invading us?”
“Captains, form your camps and position your men when you’re ready. Then report to me. Chancellor, Elysia, you are to follow General Bornright to the Nether Gate.” My rapist’s martial mother, with myself and the murderous Moltenscar behind, rode through the northern gap, and there it was – exactly as it had been described. I don’t know what I had expected, but what I didn’t expect was the stillness and the utter quiet. This massive archway, rough-hewn from black rock, and ringed in flames so dark red they were the color of dried blood, and the almost liquid shimmer of black water that stretched inside it, made no noise whatsoever. It felt entirely unreal. Moltenscar rode not three feet away from it, a shimmering barrier surrounding him. Whatever he was, he did not seem afraid of it.
“Come back here, now!” the General shouted. At the same time, a gout of blackness spiraled out of the center, where it might have ensnared the creature masquerading as Moltenscar, but it had gotten away in time. It turned toward the Gate and hissed, a most unhuman-like sound that startled even Artemis Bornright. Then the rumbling began, a sound like the mountains were trying to stand up and walk.
“What’s happing?” cried the General.
“They know we’re here!” barked the Chancellor, “Elysia, we have to do this now! Are you ready?”
“One moment! General – tell your rapist son that I’m going to stab him in the heart with his own goddamn dick! See you later!”
As I wrapped myself in protective spells, adding a few the Moltenscar creature didn’t know about, the look I saw on the General’s face was priceless, as I saw my words sink in. My hand was grabbed tightly by the Moltenscar creature, but before we stepped through the Nether Gate, I looked right at him/it and shouted, “Your home awaits!” and leaped.
It felt like ants were crawling up and down my skin. We were on a flat mountain top. It was dark, the sky and land were different shades of grey. Another, identical Gate was behind us, shining like a small sun, bathing us in blinding light. I walked to the edge and looked down. Far below, there was a mass of creatures – the netherkin. They did not seem to be moving. I heard another hiss, then turned to see Moltenscar standing right behind me. “How did you find out?” it said, in a voice that sounded the way a cheese grater would if it could growl.
“I had help in high places,” I cooed. “Say goodbye to Beor!” As I began a spell of soil collapse, he chanted at an inhuman speed a spell of volcanic eruption. A mini-cone opened on the other side, spewing forth rocks as the mountain began to shake. He grabbed a small airborne chunk, already cooling though it left a burn mark on his hand, and turned to go. Looking back down the mountainside, I saw that the netherkin horde had gotten closer. A few dozen feet ahead of them was a startlingly tall and muscular one, with long black hair and wearing a makeshift crown. A look of sheer hunger shone on its face.
Thinking fast, I made the necessary calculations, and sent a temporal fix spell at him. He had underestimated me, and as the Bubble of Beor space surrounding him dissolved, his piercing shriek was cut short, but not before he shoved me away.
Of course, being close to the edge, I fell. My fall came to a stop as I slammed into the wall of slow-moving netherkin. Unfortunately, my concentration had wavered, and my own connection to Beor burst. Suddenly I felt the feet of hundreds of netherkin stampeding over me.
“Your Queen is hurt!” shouted Moltenscar. “She is helpless! Attack her now, be rid of her forever!” Through hairy legs I saw him, his skin-sleeves sprouting flames, as he stepped through. The soil erosion spell combined with the impending eruption spell was about to destroy the Gate, so I acted quickly and sent a variant of a magic missile spell through the gate, and created a building- sized bubble around me of Beor space. Nether time slowed once more, and I walked my way past hundreds of Netherkin to escape this dreadful place.
I was fueled by anger, by desperation, by failure, the need to kill that raping bastard, and to rip the Moltenscar creature limb from limb (saving the world, of course) – but the Gate was already collapsing. A minute more, and the arch would break. Two minutes more, and the mountain would be a pile of molten rubble. And I might be trapped here forever. Or not.
I am Elsyia, and I am brilliant. If anyone can figure out a way back, it will be me. Leaving the mountain, I tripped on something, watching it roll downwards. All around me, netherkin were throwing themselves at me, mouths drooling and eyes glazed over as they bounced off of my protective bubble. I reached the thing I had tripped over. It was your severed head, Bitch Queen. I don’t know why, but I looked for, and found, the crown you wore. I placed it on my own head. It fit surprisingly well.
[This is, after all, all about me.]
No. It’s about *us*.
I walked for about an hour, until I came to an ocean. Dark grey water. The netherkin didn’t follow me into the water. When I came to a large rock, I sat down, and started talking to you. It was when you started talking back that I knew I had gone a little crazy.
[I should have been dead, you know. It was your bubble that kept me alive.]
And then you told me that I should eat you. I put that off for a couple of days. But I saw netherkin eat other netherkin. I looked for food, and found none. Not even in the water. So, in desperation I ate you, and when my body processed you, my Beor bubble burst. I was now part Chaos, living on Nether time, and vulnerable.
[You learned what I knew about survival and how life was and is now in the Nether; and I learned your language and about your world. We are an invincible team, you and I.]
We are the NetherQueen. And if you are reading this, tell he who masquerades as Moltenscar that we are coming for him.