My Ranking Points
Yup. This is a long as heck chapter. Have fun.
Featuring: Throwing your pyrokinetic out of a trebuchet.
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Witches & Warriors
Queen Alina Verdan Lazur
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The problem with calling a council meeting is that your enemies are present to overhear all of your plans. So, the morning after my planning session with Mikah and Rory, I don’t, in fact, call a council meeting.
Instead, I crowd all of my best allies into the Court Mage’s office.
“Why? Why in here?” Lillian sighs, hunching over her desk. “And don’t you outsiders touch anything!”
Reina immediately grabs the nearest bottle of bright fuschia liquid. “Who wants to bet I can flip this one and it’ll land right-side up?”
“No! Absolutely not!” Luna runs over and snatches the bottle out of her hands, careful not to break it. “Are you trying to burn the castle down?”
“Not since Lina started running things.”
“Wait, you tried to burn the castle down?” Devyn asks.
“Not on official record, I didn’t,” Reina says.
“So you did,” Mikah sighs.
“Can we get to point?” Rory yells over everyone. They fall silent. “Thank you. Lillian, if you would?”
Lillian moves the few objects left on the central work table onto other available surfaces, and executes an intricate series of taps along the table’s surface. Nothing happens, and she scowls, looking around. She sighs again before waving hands around a bit, causing the heavy curtains to draw aside, revealing an intricate stained glass window, designed as a map of Veritaria. Even with the angle of the sun not hitting the window due to the palace walls, light seemed to shine through it, hitting the desk at a perfect angle, displaying the map. Lillian repeated the tapping pattern on the table, and this time, the map seemed to shift and mold, mountains and castles rising up, formed of light, to create a scaled, colored, magical map of the whole island.
Lillian slides a few seemingly random objects and our most recent map full of predictions underneath the newly formed map, causing a number of small, human figures to appear across the map, though most are gathered in Medias. The notes we’d written on the paper map take form on the larger map, glowing words in the sky. She adds one finishing touch – another pattern of taps – and weather appears in the skies of each House.
Rory, Arden, and Mikah are unphased by this new development, but Reina, Devyn, and Wysel stare at the map for a few seconds. I can hear Devyn whisper “Whoa,” under his breath. Reina breaks out of her awe and bats a hand through the snowy tips of the Belleval mountains. The light making them up flickers for a second, before morphing back into place as if nothing had happened. Rory rolls his eyes before beginning to speak. I do my best to not take over – it’d taken some convincing from Mikah and Arden not to want to explain all of our plans myself. Apparently, they thought the stress would get to me.
“Last night, a number of realities hit us while examining the current state of Veritaria. Most, sadly, were not good ones. We’re in a difficult position, and Queen Lazur has assigned me, as her shadow, the task of assisting her and Mikah in formulating a plan to get us out of it.” He turns to me.
“Alina, I thought things over further last night and believe I have some new ideas, if you’ll allow me to share them as well as what we’ve already discussed.” I nod. More plans were always better, so long as they didn’t leak to the Resistance.
“Well, let’s start with the good news, then. Predictions from the front line suggest that our side will take House Fontor within the next week. The enemy forces have been pushed back to the house’s capital, and from what I understand, they’re going to bring in one of Lina’s siblings from their commander’s post in Saunwen, most likely Dawn. We doubt the city will hold out against a magical assault at all, and once the gates are down, it’s a matter of a day, maybe two, before we’ve officially taken control.” The Fontor crest loses its color, before becoming tinted with the signature teal of House Lazur instead.
“Unfortunately, there’s a lot more bad news,” Rory continued. “We’ve accepted it as inevitable that House Lazur will be forced to pull back to the mountains. We believe that once this happens, the House will be able to hold against all further attacks. Neither Avery nor Xenon is experienced with fighting on such terrain, let alone trying to force troops across it to invade.”
“And even if they did manage to cross, that would put them within range of Niebo Strych’s long-range experimental siege weapons,” Lillian chimes in.
“When were those completed?” I ask. “Last I checked we hadn’t figured how to-”
“I managed to find lost texts in the castle archive that solved it. From there, I simply routed a small portion of the former Tarski fortune into the project. Evidently, not that much. You didn’t even notice.”
“Right,” I sigh. “Well, that’s good.” Lillian nods, both agreeing with me and signaling for Rory to continue.
“The current worst possible outcome is that we fail to repel House Xenon from House Lesey, and they would begin to occupy that territory. From there, the Resistance would a full hold on all land directly surrounding Medias. If this comes to be, we must assume their next move would be to siege the city. If this is the case, my plan is not, in fact, to properly defend Medias. Rather, we would put on a good show, make them believe we’re dedicated to keeping the city, and in reality, we would evacuate taking all important supplies and personage with us.”
“What about the farmers?” Arden chimes in.
“With the Queen’s approval, I have a plan of action for that, as well.” I nod to him again. He takes a deep breath before beginning to talk again.
“One would think that there are no routes out of Medias, or for that matter the castle, once we’ve put a full defense in effect. However, through talking with the cartographer, I managed to find these,” he says, pulling a scroll off of Lillian’s desk. He unfurls it, and places it with the other scrolls under map. After a few seconds, a new object appears in the sky above Medias – a scaled-down model of the castle, exact in every way.
“These are the original floor plans for Castle Veritas, and they reveal a crucial strategic point. The Castle has an extensive maze of catacombs beneath it, where the Tarski kings of old were buried. However, this isn’t the catacombs’ only purpose. If one has a map – which we do – you could successfully navigate to one of 4 escape routes going under Medias and up into the borders of a surrounding House, leading out of the castle. Supposedly, they were built to be used in tandem with a proper magic user – the entrance to the catacombs, the individual tunnel entrances within the maze, and the exits from the escape routes, are denoted as magically sealed. Fortunately, Lillian believes that it would be simple for her to create magical keys to all of the entrances, so that we could evacuate as many people as we need, while keeping all of our magic users in one group. The entrance to the catacombs is right outside this office, and Lillian has already successfully opened it once, last night. My plan, if everyone agrees to it, is to evacuate the majority of Medias’ population through the tunnel network, with special focus given to the farmers that have been trapped here for the past 2 months. Ideally, we would draft a party of those willing to take the risk of travelling through Lesey, and we would protect them until we reach House Taled. I’ve already sent word to their heads of house requesting shelter there for the entire Rogue court if the Siege comes to fruition. Taled would, effectively, become our new base. Once safely across the Taled border, the farmers would be free to return to their homes, as Fontor will already be part of our territory. While the rest of the population is evacuating, some of the SOCs students and staff would presumably stay behind to man a shadow defense of Medias. I suggest them only because the Resistance seems least likely to kill them. It’s more likely that they will try to turn them to their side. The city’s outer wall doesn’t need to manned, except for perhaps the gatehouse. We can hold them off from breaching the city gates for a day or two, and then we can leave them unmanned. This will give the facade that we’re putting up a real fight with a small force. From there, Castle Veritas should be able to hold for a good week or two, between the trained fighters, the trebuchets, the bridges, and everything else, it shouldn’t be that difficult. After we’ve held out long enough to exhaust some supplies – enough to make it seem like there was some sort of a real force – we’ll send a signal to them through Lillian telling them to maximize their defense without manning it and evacuate through the catacombs. After all of this, we’ll need to lay low for a while in Taled, especially since we can’t have the Resistance knowing we’ve escaped, which will give us time to think and recoup. I already have plans for after this fiasco is over, but I’ll leave those for once we’re safely in Taled.”
The room is silent for well over a minute as the reality of the plan settles in. It’s a lot. And it makes total sense.
I take a deep breath.
“Are there any standing conflicts with or objections to Sir Rory’s plan of action in the coming… Month?” I ask. No one objects. “Wonderful, if anything pops up, let me know-”
“Let me know,” Rory corrects. “The Queen will be busy setting up a public meeting to alert the general populous of the evacuation plans.”
“Wait – What if word leaks out through the citizens that this is the plan?” Arden asks.
Rory appears blindsided, as if he actually hadn’t thought of this eventuality.
“We shut down the messenger hub,” I say. “And close the gates. We’re getting ready for a siege, no one will find it odd. If the people can’t communicate for the time being, word of it will never leak.”
“How are we supposed to communicate?” Arden asks. This is followed up by a heavy sigh from Lillian… Again. “Oh. Right,” Arden corrects herself. “Nevermind.”
“We also should start evacuating people as soon as we can, we don’t need to tell them what the long term plan is, just that we are expecting Medias to come under attack and that we are moving everyone for their own safety. We’ll put Lillian’s keys into the hands of the best, most loyal Knights we can spare and send them on their way. With the Resistance houses not expecting travelling parties that they’d never know could be from Medias everyone should be able to reach safety before the attacks even start. Lillian, is there any extra security you can give the groups?”
“I’ll construct the keys so that they only give safe passage through one way. After the evacuation parties get through, they’ll turn to dust, and no one will have a chance to steal them and use them against us. Other than that, I can our officers the identity-hiding enchantment most of the Rogue Nobles already have. I suspect we’ll all be using that when we travel through Lesey with the farmers. The civilians shouldn’t need it – no one will be after them, unless the Resistance wants to show off how much they really are monsters,” she responds.
“Fabulous! So, now that everything is sorted-”
“Wait,” Mikah says.
“What now?” I sigh. “We’re all going to be late for the Council meeting at this rate, and that will be suspicious.”
“The Rogues. Our other magic users. Are they evacuating or staying here?”
“We can split them up. A few can go with each evacuation party. I suspect Ghadir will want to stay here to supervise the faux defense with Lady Maline, but knowing him, he’ll send Darya to travel with us. Maybe a few more will volunteer to stay and man the castle, but they’ll likely scatter with everyone else.”
“Do they have any fire manipulators?”
“Just an idea about that whole faux defense thing that might throw the Resistance off their game.”
“Logic says the Resistance will bring proper siege engines. Knowing Xenon, they’ll have several siege towers primed, even though Veritaria hasn’t seen a siege tower in over 2 decades.”
“Your point?” I press, not caring for Mikah’s teasing way to getting to his idea.
“I want to shoot our best fire magic user out of a trebuchet and into a Xenon siege tower so they can burn it down, and the other towers with it. Give them an identity enchantment and they’ll come out unscathed – they can flee to one of the other houses no problem.”
“Yes,” Reina chimes in. “I like this plan.”
I give Mikah a look that says ‘Why? Just… Why?’
“You can take that one up with Ghadir, I’m not getting involved.” I don’t like the glint in Mikah and Reina’s eyes, but I ignore it in favor of wrapping this up with a solid plan. “All right, we’ve got a plan! I think everyone knows what they need to get busy with, so everyone… Go… Do your things.” Apparently, my lack of real rest was getting to me. I couldn’t even talk with confidence.
Between me, Rory, and Mikah, we manage to sell the basics of the evacuation plan to the Council without attracting suspicion from the Resistance Nobles. There’s fighting when I mention that all communications, both incoming and outgoing, will be entirely shut down, even to Nobles, but thanks to Rory, attention is soon shifted away from that and onto the fact that the Resistance Nobles that remained in Medias would be evacuated with everyone else and allowed back to their Houses safely, as opposed to being taken prisoner. At the mention of being taken prisoner, even the angriest Nobles become quiet and forget about the communications issue. Either they agree or they’re prisoners of war. We’ve forced their hand.
Right as the idea passes a vote, and becomes, officially, the plan for saving Veritaria, Arden opens the door.
“Your Majesty? Sir Devyn needs to speak with you. It’s a matter of great urgency.”
After my meeting with Devyn, I drag myself down to Lillian’s office again, with Mikah going off to deliver word of the siege preparations to SOCs and the other wall. Lillian opens the door, apparently unsurprised.
Lillian rolls her eyes and steps aside, allowing me to enter. As I search around for an empty scroll, Lillian returns to her work bench to work on the keys to the tunnels. Eventually, I find what I’m looking for, and sit down at the desk to begin work on my speech to the city I’ll have to make 2 days from now. The Council moved it past, and news of a public meeting should be spreading steadily. I expect the other news – that all outside villages should prepare to evacuate to the nearest House and that the gates of Medias will close on the sunset of the day of the meeting – will also be getting around, with much more controversy surrounding it than a simple public address announcement.
It takes me around an hour to finish the speech, at which point I ink in the final period. Just as I finish, Lillian stops work and spins her stool around to face me.
“What’s wrong, kthnuh?”
“Nothing’s wrong,” I reply. “And I’m the older sister, I should be the one comforting you. Kthnuh.”
“Don’t lie to me Alina, I’ve been letting you use the secret passage from here to the library ever since you became Queen without question. I understand, you don’t want to step in that throne room-”
“I’ve got no problems with the thro-”
“Last I checked, you haven’t been inside the throne room since the day we won the Battle for Veritaria. And you haven’t, even once, actually taken the throne. Believe me, as you Mage, I’m well aware of the vast cocktail of mental pressures and different forms of stress that keep you away from that room, and soon you won’t have to face them. But… Listen, I know I’m not Mikah, and I don’t know you nearly as well as he does if I’m being honest with myself. But I do know that you need to face your fears, Lina. You’re leading Veritaria, now. You are the Queen. And it’s time you fully accepted that. Now, you’re going to take my hand, put on your crown, and together we’re going to walk up to the throne room, and we’re going to stay there until you can manage to sit on that throne.”
“But my crown is-”
Lillian snaps her fingers, causing it to appear on the desk in front of me. It’s a beautiful thing, really, nothing like Alfred’s heavy old thing. It’s a relatively light circlet, made of silver and inset with teal tourmalines and opals mined in Lazur. The front spines are molded such that they form the image of a unicorn, the symbol of House Lazur.
“What did you say about your crown?”
The throne room is empty, as expected, and Lillian walks me to the center of the long, rectangular room before turning me around to look at the throne.
“I’ll stay here with you as long as it takes,” she says. “Just go. One step at a time. Until you get there. That’s all it takes.”
“I haven’t earned it yet. We’re still war.”
“This is the first step to earning it. And if I’m being honest, you earned it the second you took this burden. I’d have run away long ago if they’d chosen me to be Queen.”
“Lillian…” I trail off, gazing at the huge stained glass window sitting behind the throne. It was redone a few generations before Alfred, showing moments of triumph in the history of the Tarski line. A shining symbol over all of Veritaria remind its people who their ruler was, and why they were in charge.
It was a reminder of why I wasn’t good enough. Why I couldn’t ever be good enough. I was one girl, the first of my line, ruling Veritaria in trying times. I had no history. I had no accomplishments to my name, save for killing the majority of the once-King’s army. As far as I knew from what we’d been taught in school, I was the only Queen to ever truly lead Veritaria. The Tarski Kings had taken Queens, as nothing more than pretty faces and political pawns. None of them had been forced into this position. I had. And so far I’d… I’d kept the nation together. I begun to dissolve the divides between Knights and Knaves. I’d stopped the execution of countless innocent irregulars, all by simply agreeing to take the throne.
I took a step forward.
“That’s more like it!” I hear Lillian cheer from just behind me. Right afterwards, I hear a loud snap of her fingers, and look around. Nothing had changed. Nothing… Until I look down. The plain shoes I had been wearing have been replaced with delicate slippers, the same ones I keep in my room, reserved to formal events. I glance back at Lillian, who merely gives me a pointed look and a shooing motion.
I take another step forward.
Another snap follows.
The plain leather gloves I’d been wearing are gone, white, silk ones in their place. I look up at the window again, taking a deep breath. I remind myself who I’m really looking at. The men in that window were dictators. Murderers. Tyrants. They’d been cursed and were trying to live with it by saying they were better off from it. I was free of that curse. I was meant to break that curse.
I take 5 steps forward in quick succession.
This time, my pants have been replaced with layers upon layers of skirts, forming the bottom half of a proper gown. They’re teal and silver, my house colors, and are bedazzled with countless tiny jewels that shine in the sun coming through the window. Upon closer inspection, they form unicorn designs like the ones on my crown, along with four-pointed stars. North stars.
I run forward, stopping just short of the throne, at the top of the few steps that lead up to the platform it stand on.
Another snap. My tunic is gone, replaced with a sleeveless gown top that matches the skirts. I can feel a cape settle over my shoulders. I don’t even need to check to know that it’s the same colors as everything else. I can feel the silver pin against skin, and am just barely able to tell that it, too, is in the shape of a unicorn.
I look up at the window one last time. This time, if only for a moment, I don’t see the Tarski kings at all. I know it’s not there, that’s just another one of Lillian’s tricks, but when I look up, I see images of the Lazur. I see us landing on the shores of Veritaria, and rising to power. I see us barely alive, but victorious, standing in the remains of the Rogue after the Battle for Veritaria. And in the center of it all, I see what happened just after. Me, with my friends, standing in front of this very throne, knighting each of them. Their new Queen. Alina Verdan Lazur the Radiant.
I turn around as quickly as I can before settling onto the throne, my eyes closed.
When I open them, the illusion of all of it – the dress, the window – is gone. All that remains is the crown on my head.
Lillian is kneeling on the floor, not in a bow, but out of exhaustion.
“Don’t worry – just not used to a spell that big,” she assures me, taking a deep breath before standing back up. My eyes follow her as she stands, revealing a second figure I hadn’t noticed, and who definitely hadn’t been there before.
“Long live my Queen,” Mikah whispers.
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That. That took a lot.
Also, say hello to the new trend of book 2: real medieval tactics as explained in an easy-to-understand format by the children. (Mainly Rory)