“What is this?” Vespera sniffed, looking down at the battered book before her.
“We don’t know highness,” the fairy who had brought it to her said nervously, his eyes downcast. None of the light court dared look at Vespera anymore, but she found this did not bother her as much as it had at the beginning.
“How did it come to be aboard the ship?”
“We don’t know that either. It just... it just appeared in the wing room.”
“The wing room?” Vespera sniffed, her golden eyes narrowing. “Did you find it yourself?”
“No, highness,” he stuttered, shifting his weight a little on his feet.
“Send for the fairy who did.”
“Of course highness, right away highness.” He ran without looking back. Vespera watched him go, her eyes as always drawn to the puckered scars she could see through the thin material of his shirt. If she could have no wings, then her court would suffer with her. She sat there for a moment, staring at the almost familiar book until a small fairy girl moved slowly into the room. She was young enough that her wings still grew back, the small stumps flickering slightly in fear of the Queen.
“Where was the book?”
“It was next to the prototype highness,” she looked at her feet just as the messenger had.
“Somewhere it could not have been placed without someone noticing,” Vespera frowned slightly and then rose to her feet. “Morena, I have need of your assistance.”
“Why should I assist you, sister dear?” Morena did not move out of the shadow – a shadow which had been unoccupied until Vespera called her name. The voice was a soft, almost lizard like hiss.
“Because I have reason to believe this will take us one step closer to finishing Tatiana for good.”
“For good? Is that such a wise thing to do? She is, after all, the Queen of Life and without her...”
“I think Tatiana over estimates her importance. A new Queen shall be chosen.”
“A new Queen?” Morena blinked, “Such a thing is unheard of.”
“Then we shall make it heard of. Take this book,” she waved towards the glass table, next to which the girl still stood, “And make sure Tatiana sees it. Make sure she opens it.”
“Who will be Queen?”
“The word you brought me – Tatiana’s daughter. She will, I think be able to take the role. Who better to take an unheard of position than an unheard of hybrid?” Morena hesitated and then reached for the book, her pale hand darting into the light for only the briefest period of time before snatching the book back into the shadows.
“You – girl,” Vespera snapped, “How long has it been since your wings were trimmed.”
“Erm... three months, highness,” she looked to her feet.
“Very well. I shall do them myself. Now.”
Tatiana blinked, her eyes a little heavy. The Cotillion had gone on too long for her taste, but then she could say the same of them all these days. Not too far away she could see Tangle, red eyes fixed upon the Queen as though she was worried. Perhaps she was afraid. Most of the court was these days. Glancing up to the sky, Tatiana saw that the stars were bright that night, something that was always guaranteed to send her into an even darker mood than normal. She stood and the dancing stopped, the music ceasing in an instant. Turning, Tatiana moved from the bower towards her own personal chambers, brushing aside the curtain of feathers to prevent them catching in her hair.
As soon as she was behind the curtain she reached for the black cloak that hung on the wall, swinging it over her wings. She took a deep breath, taking in the faint smells of the cloak – flour, sugar and a hint of forget-me-not. Even after so long it still smelt of Lionel.
But that, she told herself yet again, was not why she kept wearing it. Sighing, she headed to the cabinet and lowered herself into the seat. Everywhere her feet met the ground, tiny flowers began to bloom; flowers covered in thorns that wilted when she was but three steps ahead. There was a slight snuffling in the corner and Tatiana leapt to her feet once more, moving across the room to see if there was anything wrong.
Rose always slept fitfully, her eyes roving from side to side beneath their closed lids, her brow drenched with cold sweat. Tatiana pressed a hand to her daughter’s forehead then leant down and kissed her gently. She often hoped there was something she could do to ease her suffering, but short of combining this half with the other there was nothing.
She only wished she would one day find something she had missed, find some loop hole or clause in the treaty that allowed her to take her daughter into her court once more, except that she knew there was nothing such as that within the papyrus scroll the wizards guarded so tightly. She sighed and turned away from the bed. Her eyes fell upon a book she was quite sure she had never seen before. It was handsomely bound in dark leather and a strange symbol adorned the cover – it was not, Tatiana knew, a symbol of one of the courts, nor of the Wizard’s guild, which meant that it was something new.
Or perhaps something old. A faint memory tickled the back of her mind, of the day when the world was born. There had been a book then, bound well in leather such as this one. But then that book had been in far better condition. This book seemed to be missing pages and its binding was broken in places. She moved across the room and picked it up – could it be coincidence that this book had found her just as she made her wish? There was no doubt in her mind that it was the book that had found her, rather than the other way round.
She traced a finger along the symbol and with every movement it seemed to become more familiar and with every second she became more certain that this was something she had seen before. There had been, she thought, people with it then as well – a woman, and a man, although she could not remember their names. Perhaps they had not had names, for many beings had not in those early days.
Her fingers strayed, almost absently, to the edge of the cover, and she opened the book somewhere in the centre pages. The words on the page began to glow silver before she could quite make out what they said, merging together in such a way that soon the whole page shone blindingly bright. Tatiana dropped the book, taking a step back, ensuring that she stood between this thing and Rose. The light grew brighter and she threw up an arm to shield her eyes.
To her horror, the arm seemed to fade away before her, pulled into the pages of the book. She could not scream as the rest of her was dragged in with it, to a place far from her own world which suddenly found itself to be without one of its pillars of existence.
This is not something any world can survive without for long.
In the shadows of the room, Morena frowned – she sincerely hoped Vespera knew what she was doing. Her sister was easily more powerful than she – darkness was after all easily dispelled by light – but in recent years Morena had come to think that perhaps Vespera’s exile had made her more than a little mad.
Three Months Later
“This is not how it was supposed to be!” Vespera shouted angrily, her emotions for once getting the better of her, “This is not how things were supposed to turn out.”
“Do you think the petty grievances you have matter to me?” Latanya looked up at Vespera, her eyes deep pits of black, “Do you think that if you were to beg me to leave her here I would? I learned mercy from you, Vespera, and you were a terrible teacher.”
“Latanya, please,” The Queen of Light found herself almost in tears, “This whole world is collapsing – we need a Queen of Life and Rose is the only one capable...”
“Wrong,” Latanya interrupted her, “Completely wrong. Rose cannot be Queen of Life. Perhaps, were she whole and entirely fey, it would be possible, but she is incomplete and even in this pathetic excuse for life humanity taints her every breath.” Latanya looked down at the creature in the bed, “It is kinder that she dies.” Vespera lunged to try and stop her, but Latanya’s wings got in the way, shadowy tendrils binding her legs, preventing her from moving any nearer to the bed as Rose was lifted, almost lovingly, into Death’s embrace.
The hybrid stopped breathing. Vespera slumped to the ground of what had once been Tatiana’s bower – the walls were now broken, the plants dead, as was nearly everything in this world. “There is still a chance for redemption,” she heard Latanya as the other Queen walked away. “Bring her back, Vespera, and we shall unite the courts and bring life back to our world.”
“You know, I think, where she has gone.”
“I... yes I do.”
“Then follow her,” and Latanya was gone. Vespera sat for a moment, trying to take deep steadying breaths but each and every one was restricted by the harness strapped across her torso. The metal wings she had construced weighed her down, clinking as she pushed herself to her feet, but she would need them – there was no telling what was in the world through the pages of the almost familiar book.
But where was the book? She had not seen it since seding it to Tatiana with Morena.
"The book goes where it will," a voice said from behind her and Vespera's head jerked around to look at the woman who had joined her.
"Who are you?"
"I am Lady Ink," she said moving forward, her steps carefully measured and equal, until she stood before Vespera. "You have aided the destruction of the book - the book looks for those who will help restore it, and yet you had someone other than the one the book sought sent to the realm of stories."
"What do you mean?" Vespera stood only to find herself shorter than the newcomer. Still, she was a Queen and had the aura of a Queen - that should count for something.
Except that it seemed not to affect the stern woman before her. "Your world unravels around you - not just by your own foolish actions but by the ending of the book. You must go inside and retrieve the one you sent."
"But the book..."
"I can send you to the realm of stories, the location of the book is of little consequence to that."
"Then... then I am ready."
"Remember - even should you bring her back, your world shall continue to fade until the book is restored. There is nothing to be gained by returning before the book is whole." Lady Ink reached out a hand and laid it upon Vespera's shoulder. "Go, find her and repair your world." Vespera closed her eyes as the silver light washed across her skin, bathing every inch of her before fading away.
Elsewhere in that world, lights began to flicker and die. Candle flames puttered out, lightbulbs broke and then up in the sky the sun ceased to shine.