SPOILER ALERT ahead,
for those who haven’t read
A Queen To Come
The coppery tang of magic stung Sky’s nose as he stepped into the crypt. The moon shone bright enough in the cloudless sky that he didn’t need a torch to find his way. Two thick, large candles burnt on either side of the entryway into the crypt.
Sky knew Sophie would be here. The smell of magic proved it.
It had been three days since Gayle Mendosa died, and it hit Sophie hardest. It was no surprise that she was here using her magic trying to prove that Gayle was still alive.
Sky blinked in the dim light and searched for his sister. He started to get slightly nervous. How many times had she cast the same tracking spell? The remnant particles of the magic stung his eyes and prickled on his skin. He stepped further into the Mendosa crypt.
Because of ancient tradition, Affinites and Asters weren’t buried. Queen Aiyana had been a descendant of the earliest Vikings in Denmark, and had brought her beliefs to Saluverus. The dead were burnt on high funeral pyres, with the belief that the smoke of the flames would bring them to the stars. The same stars that had given Aiyana the power to defeat the Higher Kings to begin with. The remaining ashes were then buried within the cliffs, making the dead a part of Saluverus, and Affinite and Aster history forever.
Only later were the family crypts created. And the ashes were now encased in glass boxes; to be placed within the walls. A golden plaque with a name and two dates was placed over the opening, sealing them inside the rock.
Three new plaques had been placed in the Mendosa crypt this morning, but there were no ashes encased in glass within the wall behind them. Sophie was kneeling before the wall underneath them, and she was chanting softly.
For two days straight the current generation of Asters had been working together with the four remaining Ceders and the three Elders. All these living Asters had spent day and night casting any spell they could find to see if Gayle might still be alive. Countless possibilities were considered, and they had clung on longest to the hope that something was blocking their magic to find her. Yet even with three generations of Aster magic they couldn’t detect any life or magic.
Gayle Mendosa and her magic were gone, and they were not coming back.
“Soph,” Sky said, moving towards his sister.
Sophie stirred, registering Sky’s arrival. She paused her chanting only for a second before continuing. Her long, wavy blonde hair floated around her head as the magic of the spell took hold. As Sky stepped closer another smell aside from the copper of magic hit him.
Stronger than it should be. A lot stronger.
Sky broke into action. He didn’t care that he was interrupting Sophie in the middle of her spell. Even though he knew that doing so could be extremely dangerous; an unfinished spell could have catastrophic consequences if left unstable and up in the air. Sky fell to his knees beside Sophie and saw what he dreaded when he first smelled the blood.
Sophie’s left palm was cut open and bloody. She’d been using her own blood to strengthen her magic for the spell. But what he saw… cut open was too nice a description for how her palm looked. Shredded was a better way to describe it. She should’ve been using blood from the vials in the laboratory. That was the whole reason she and the other Asters gave blood every few weeks; so that they didn’t have to cut into their hands every time they needed blood as a stronger agent for a more effective spell.
“Soph, stop it!” Sky commanded.
Sophie only shot him a look, but didn’t break her chanting. She started to lean forward, ready to draw her blood on the ground below the map of Brazil that lay unrolled in front of her.
“No!” Sky reached out and took her wrists in both his hands. He raised them up, so that Sophie couldn’t reach the ground with her bloodied, shredded hand. There was a crackle in the air as the spell was interrupted, but Sky didn’t pay any attention to it. Sophie’s face was ghostly pale and her lips were blue. Her grey eyes were bloodshot and wild. The state of her absolutely appalled him. He couldn’t imagine what effect the tracking spells had on her every time they drew a blank.
Spells took a toll on an Aster’s energy as it was. Combine that with Sophie’s desperation for the spell to work when clearly there was nothing to find… She would cast the spell again and again, hoping the next would lead to something different. It was draining her utterly in the process.
How many times had she cast the spell already? How close was she to casting that one spell that took whatever energy she had left, and kill her? By the looks of her grey skin, Sky guessed she wasn’t far off that point at all. He didn’t want to think about what would have happened if he’d been any later.
“Let me go!” Sophie struggled, but Sky was stronger. There was barely any energy left in his sister, and her efforts were an incredibly weak attempt at loosening his grip on her.
“You need to stop! Are you out of your mind?” He held up her torn left hand and showed it to her. “What were you thinking? You know this will kill you if you keep this up!”
“I have to keep this up—even if it kills me… it has to work!”
“It won’t work! If it didn’t work the first time, then the second, third, tenth time isn’t going to be any different! Dammit Soph, you’re supposed to be the smart one around here!”
Tears were rolling down her ashen face now. “It has to work! She has to be alive—I have to find her!” she sobbed.
“If she was alive, we would have found her already. You know that,” Sky said. He tried to keep his voice calm, but the urge to throw her over his shoulder and shimmer the both of them out of there was hard to ignore. She needed to get to the Medical Bay as soon as possible to get her hand checked out and her strength and energy restored before it was too late.
“Come on,” he said, his voice softer this time. “I’m getting you out of here.”
Sky started to guide her to her feet, but she once again resisted him. Sophie shook her body and pulled on her arms. This tug was even weaker than her first attempt to shake him off. It sent a shock of worry through him.
“No. One more time! Once more, you’ll see! She’s not dead. I’ll cast the spell. You can help me; with our magic together the spell will be stronger. We’ll break through whatever has been blocking me so far. You’ll see. She’s still alive. She has to be…”
“No! Listen to me.” Sky crouched back down again and took her ghostly face in his hands. He stared into those thunderstorm grey eyes that he’d known all his life. There was always such strength in them; so much more than he had ever expected to come from that scrawny little girl he saw for the first time when he was just four years old. That strength was gone now. She was terrified. She didn’t want to face the consequences of what it meant that Gayle Mendosa, their Queen, was dead.
“Take a breath,” he said. She stopped struggling. Her shoulders slumped but she kept her eyes on him. Her eyelids drooped slightly, but Sky could tell that she was holding on to every word he was saying. Utter exhaustion was closing in on her, and it wasn’t the natural kind. It was the kind that would take her away into a deep sleep; one that she might never wake from if he didn’t get her to the Medical Bay fast.
“Take a breath and think. I know you want it not to be true, but it is. No number of spells is going to change that. You know that what you’re doing here is useless. You are only hurting yourself by doing this. And I won’t let you. She’s dead, Soph. Gayle Mendosa is dead. I’m sorry.”
Sophie’s bottom lip quivered. “Then we’re doomed.”
“We’re not doomed.”
“She was born for a reason,” Sophie whispered. Her voice was so raspy it was like she’d inhaled a large amount of dust. “Our magic won’t be enough. She wouldn’t have been born the Queen if we didn’t need that magic. Something’s coming, and the Asters won’t be strong enough to stop it. She was born to save us.”
“Save us from what?” Sky asked. He knew there was a sliver of truth to Sophie’s words, but he couldn’t let her think he believed it, too. And since there was no immediate danger detected on the radars, there was no reason to worry yet either.
“I don’t know,” Sophie breathed. “But it’s coming, and she won’t be here to help us stop it.”
There was another crackle in the air that broke Sky’s stare with Sophie. He looked around and saw that the magical particles floating around them had started glowing and swirling with life. The ground under their feet rumbled. Sky’s gaze shot to the map on the ground next to them. It was covered in Sophie’s blood, which now seemed to hiss and brighten with energy.
“Right now we have other problems,” he said flatly. He jumped to his feet, pulling Sophie up with him. The unfinished spell stirred in the air.
“Dammit,” Sky muttered as he pulled Sophie behind him towards the entrance of the crypt. He would’ve preferred to shimmer the both of them out of there on the spot, but if this spell was going to explode the way he expected it to, he first needed to make sure there was no one else in the vicinity who could get hurt.
Blood from Sophie’s shredded hand coated Sky’s skin and the cuff of his coat. Sky hardly registered the warmth of it.
“You’re the one… who stopped me,” Sophie huffed, dizzily.
“For all I knew that was the one that would kill you,” Sky said, almost one hundred per cent certain that he was right, considering it was an all-time miracle that Sophie was even on her feet right now.
Sky pulled her out of the crypt and onto the stone walkway. He whirled around, checking that there was no one else near the Mendosa crypt. When he was certain no one was, Sky turned around. Sophie’s eyes had closed entirely now, and her knees buckled. Sky shot forward and managed to catch his sister before she hit the ground, unconscious.
The second he held her comfortably in his arms he glanced back into the crypt. A bright light shone from its depths and was getting brighter.
“Crap,” Sky muttered. “Someone’s going to have to clean that up.”
He gripped Sophie tighter in his arms and shimmered before the unfinished spell exploded.
Once the blue light of his shimmer had vanished, Sky was standing in one of the patient wings of the Medical Bay.
A woman behind the desk near him shrieked as he appeared out of thin air.
“Show me to an empty room and get me Bianka Mazur!” Sky ordered.
The woman didn’t hesitate for a second. She gestured to a young nurse, no older than Sky, who had just come around the corner. Sky recognised her. “Marlena, find your mother immediately,” the woman commanded with an accent Sky couldn’t quite place.
Marlena Mazur was a Polish nurse and the daughter of the Chief Medical Officer of the Medical Bay on Saluverus. Sky didn’t want anybody less than Bianka treating Sophie.
Marlena and Sophie had been friends for years now, and she shot a worried glance at her unconscious friend in Sky’s arms before dashing off to find her mother.
The woman behind the counter, in her thirties Sky guessed, hurried around her desk and led Sky all the way down to the end of the corridor and gestured for him to go into a room on her right.
“I need a phone, now,” Sky snapped. He didn’t bother being polite. He would thank the woman after he was sure that Sophie was all right. Right now, by the way he was holding his sister he couldn’t tell how well she was breathing.
The woman nodded and ran back down the corridor.
Sky hurried to the hospital bed and laid Sophie down on top of it. On the dazzling white sheets, it was even clearer how grey Sophie’s skin had become. Sky reached over and placed two fingers under her jawline.
She still had a pulse, thankfully. It wasn’t strong, and it was getting weaker, but it was there.
“Mum!” Sky shouted urgently up at the ceiling. “I need Katherine or Diana now! No questions, please!”
He knew his mother would hear him. It was both a blessing and a curse that came with their shared magic of Speed and Flight. If anyone who possessed magic would call out their name loudly, they would be able to hear it, along with any short message that followed. Sky just hoped that his mother wouldn’t come shimmering to him first, without Sophie’s mother or grandmother, just to see what it was all about.
Sky kept his fingers on Sophie’s throat and an eye on his watch to monitor her pulse. It was getting weaker by the second and he didn’t know how much time she had left.
The woman from the patient’s desk returned to the room with a phone in her hand. Sky beckoned her to come to him, since he wasn’t about to step away from his sister, or lift his fingers from her skin. The woman hurried closer, holding out an unlocked phone to him. Sky gave the woman a short nod before closing his free hand around the phone.
The woman understood that he had no need for her anymore, and retreated. She did, however, remain by the door.
Smart nurse, Sky thought.
It wasn’t every day that Asters came to the Medical Bay, and no nurse here wanted to be the one on duty if something were to go wrong with them.
There were running footsteps in the hallway and Bianka Mazur appeared in the doorway. She dashed into the room, Marlena on her heels. Bianka stood on the other side of the bed to Sky and placed the palm of her hand on Sophie’s forehead. She then took the stethoscope she had resting around her neck, put the earpieces in her ears and placed the chest piece over Sophie’s heart. She looked up briefly and barked something in her native language at the woman by the door.
Sky watched as the woman disappeared out of sight.
At that moment there was a blue light, and a second later Madeleine Mayne appeared with Katherine Griffiths at her side.
“Sophie!” Katherine shrieked and she rushed to her daughter’s bedside. Sky moved away from the bed so that Katherine could get closer. Sophie remained unconscious when her mother touched her daughter’s forehead.
The woman from the patient’s desk appeared again with a bag of fluid hanging from what looked like a weird coat rack. She was holding the long end of a plastic tube that was connected to the bag of fluid.
Bianka Mazur looked up and, again in Polish, told the woman to come closer.
Sky stepped further back to let the doctor and nurses do their thing. The magical Band, with black inked lines and the symbol of the staff of Caduceus, on Katherine’s wrist had started to glow golden, which meant her healing magic was working.
A hand gripped Sky’s arm and drew him roughly aside. Sky pulled his arm away angrily and turned to find his mother glaring at him. “What the hell happened?”
Sky shook off his mother and turned his attention to the phone in his hand. “Not now,” he said as he started typing in a number.
“Yes, now,” Madeleine pushed. “It looks like she’s dying. What happened?”
Sky stared into his mother’s deep blue eyes, identical to his own. He brought the phone to his ear as it started calling. “She over-used her magic on tracking spells,” Sky said.
“What?” Madeleine spat. “How could you let that happen?”
Sky frowned indignantly. “Excuse me? She is nineteen and the Aster of Knowledge and Health! She should know not to herself,” he whispered angrily.
“These are extreme circumstances,” Madeleine hissed. “You should keep a better eye on each other.”
“Then where were my brothers, huh? At least I found her,” Sky barked back.
“Yes…” Madeleine said, her voice softening slightly. Her eyes drifted over to the hospital bed. “At least you did.”
Sky was about to say something else. He didn’t want his mother to go over to his brothers in a fury, demanding to know why they weren’t keeping a better eye on their sister. But when he opened his mouth to speak, the person on the other end of the line finally picked up his phone.
“Hello?” Axel Reed said.
“It’s Sky,” he replied. And Sky began telling the Ambassador what had happened in the past twenty minutes. He didn’t leave anything out.
“Oh, and the unfinished spell exploded in the Mendosa crypt. That’ll probably be quite a mess,” Sky said finally. On hearing this last bit, his mother turned her attention away from the hospital bed long enough to glare at him again.
Sky shrugged innocently. He ended the phone conversation before Axel could respond. He wasn’t in the mood for the shouting of another angry adult. He would get enough of that from his own mother. But none of that bothered him right now.
The only thing he cared about was that Sophie, still unconscious on the hospital bed, would be all right. Sky watched as Katherine held her glowing hand above her daughter’s face and Bianka cleaned and bandaged Sophie’s bloodied hands. Both of them looked extremely tense, which sent a spike of anxiety through Sky’s body.
He had to have made it in time. She had to be all right.
But Sky knew that even if Bianka and Katherine healed her physically, Sophie needed a different kind of healing that neither the Chief Medical Officer nor the Ceder of Health and Knowledge could provide. She needed rest, and lots of it.
Sky moved through the room and sat down in a chair closest to the bed, but still out of the way from the doctor and nurses. He didn’t know how long it would take for Sophie to recover, but he did know that he wasn’t going to leave her side until she did.