“I allowed the Fire Prince and Water Princess their victory,” Amber mentioned over supper.
Her husband, Granite, glanced up from the knife he was polishing. No matter how many times she told him not to bring weapons to the dinner table, he still insisted. “Indeed?” he asked. “Just as you knew full-well that Laura intended to banish us the moment we stepped into that chamber, five hundred years before?”
Amber brushed his comment aside – he never appreciated the full depths of her plots. “Indeed. My fifteen years in Klarand were at their end, the Klaranders had tasted my power and cowered appropriately, it was time to withdraw and prepare for the final war.”
“You’re still obsessed with that, are you?” asked Granite, sliding the knife into his sleeve. “Why can’t you be content with the realm we’ve been given, the task that has been asked of us.”
“A barren land peopled with the cast-off criminals from the other islands?” asked Amber. “Perhaps such a place is good enough for you, but I remember when we were greater than that.”
“As do I. Oh, how far you’ve fallen, Amber.” Granite stabbed a chunk of his steak and thrust it into his mouth.
“No thanks to you and your insistence in undermining every forward step I take. Come now, my husband, don’t deny that you do it. How many of my prisoners have you helped escape? It is fortunate that I prepare for it accordingly, or else where would we be.”
“I dare say not much worse off than we are now, my dear wife,” said Granite, staring hard at her. “After all, you tailored the Water Princess and Fire Prince’s prison specifically for their escape. They hardly needed my help.”
“I meant for them to escape the prison, yes, but if it weren’t for your meddling, they wouldn’t have made it out of the city.”
“I thought you allowed them their victory.”
“I didn’t want them to gain it so easily,” Amber pointed out. She shook her head to focus her thoughts again. “However, it is time to move forward to better and greater horizons – Rizkaland itself shall be ours this time – no shadows to lurk in for us this time. We shall be king and queen!”
“You, at least, shall be queen,” said Granite. “I fear I shall always be in your shadow for the rest of our life.”
“Perhaps if you weren’t so bent on being a thorn in my side, we could work things out,” said Amber, standing up, and slinking over to his side. “As it is, I don’t dare let you get any glory.” She leaned on the back of his chair, and wrapped her arms around his neck to whisper in his ear. “Just imagine the power we would wield if we worked together, my dear husband. No one would stand in our way.”
“And that it is precisely what I fear, my dear wife,” said Granite, patting her hand, and then with one deft motion, he lifted her arms up over his head and stood up. She instinctively tried to pull away, but his grip on her wrist was too tight. “But why must things be this way? Why can’t we live simply and not have whole worlds under our thumbs?”
“We tried it once,” Amber spat. “Look what happened, Lintooalintae fell apart when we let them rule themselves.”
“But it plunged into misery when you assumed full control,” said Granite. His gray eyes bored into her, deep and sad, and before she had time to move, his other hand wrapped around her head, and his lips crushed against hers.
She flailed. She didn’t have time for this tonight. She had to…
He released her, and retreated, only looking back when he reached the doorway. “I shall be in the courtyard. Do what you think you must and let me know when we’re ready to fly to the mainland.”
“We – we won’t be flying this time,” she informed him, as soon as she caught her breath.
He said nothing, but raised an eyebrow.
“I have another, grander plan for our arrival in Rizkaland, but you can be sure that I’ll come get you when we’re ready to leave,” she informed him, summoning every bit of her dignity. “Do me a favor, however, and make sure there are none but ourselves in this castle.” Then she turned and swept out of the room before he had a chance to say anything in reply.
After living her whole life in this terrible castle, Amber scarcely needed to watch where she went. Instead she focused on a much more pressing task as she walked. Fishing through her pockets, she pulled out a black dragon scale and peered deep into its depths.
The scene began as it always did, a cheering crowd – silent of course, for the scale’s magic was pictures, not words – as she herself stood there, drinking in the attention. Ah, to have that cheering crowd today! Then the sky grew dark as the people turned away from her, towards the horizon where mysterious rider sat silhouetted against the sky, astride a richly purple haranda. The crowd parted to allow rider and steed to pass through, cheers rose for her benefit, not Amber’s.
They reached Amber’s stage, and the rider dismounted – a girl, dressed in too much purple herself, no older than sixteen, for as she and Amber circled each other, it was like looking at two sides of one mirror, save for the colors the girls wore.
Then the struggle began, as it always did. The purple girl launched herself at Amber, and Amber caught her, all too ready for the trick. Amber watched on, hoping, willing herself to win, but as always, the scene faded black before the battle ended.
“One of us will die that day,” she muttered, squeezing a fist around the scale. “I’ve worked too long, too hard for it to be me.”
She shoved it back into her pocket as she stalked down the halls with doubled vigor, as she hoped that fury would erode the knot of foreboding that sat uneasily in her stomach.
She arrived in her library, the result of many, many years of work and toil – for most of the books were of her own writing. However, it was not the written word that demanded her attention, but the shelves of amulets, trinkets, and other talismans that she had collected over even longer years of patience and study.
Crossing over, she pulled a long chain of red diamonds off of a top shelf and placed it around her neck, systematically tapping each gem as she paced up and down the room. With each tap, the air crackled with the energy it released. Once every gem had been tapped, she took the necklace off and returned it to its place, and picked up a flat silver disk etched with symbols instead. Rolling it on its edge between her hands, she left the room and paced down more passages and halls, muttering beneath her breath.
The disk and necklace had come to her many, many years before, but she had used them only twice before, for their magic was unnatural, ripping and tearing at the very fabric of the worlds. It took many years of patience and preparation to use them, especially as she was about to now – for she wasn’t escaping into another world, but carrying this castle to another point in this world.
Her steps carried her out to the courtyard, where Granite was waiting for her. He said nothing, but she felt his eyes fixed on her as she marched out to the very center of the courtyard.
“Is the castle empty?” she asked.
She threw the disk to the ground, and the air about them shattered. Light and sound were sucked away, leaving them in a trembling darkness that crackled with energy. A terrible sound, more felt than heard, trembled through her.
With a flash of light, the world shot back normal. Amber breathed in deeply of the sweet air of Rizkaland – so much the better than the rancid winds that blew through that island of banishment which the Rizkans named for her. She turned to her husband.
“It is done, we are in Rizkaland at last.”
Granite nodded slowly. “So be it.”
Ignoring him, Amber strode confidently to the gate, mentally going over the speech that she would give her new and soon adoring subjects. She would have to allay their fears, of course, since they’d no doubt heard nasty rumors about herself, rumors that she was to blame for the planting. But, of course, it was only Klarand that she meant ill, for the cruel mistreatment she’d suffered at the hands of the Ten. She had nothing but good-will for Rizkaland itself. It was a simple matter, twisting history.
She reached into her pocket to search for the star that would give her the strength to open the gate of her own power, since she didn’t have servants to do it now.
“Watch your step, Silver, you stumble blindly in the dark, thinking you see plainly, but there is a cliff right before you, and you shall surely fall.”
“Hello to you, too, Laura,” said Amber, turning to the girl who addressed her. “Come to tell me more of your grim predictions?”
“I would if you would listen,” said Laura, shaking her head. “But I’m afraid that you haven’t heeded my words for over four thousand years, and I don’t think you’ll begin now.”
“I’m no longer a child, Doorkeeper.”
“No one is beyond the need of good advice, Amber. Not even myself.”
“So you’ve come to tell me once more that you disapprove of the choices I make? You yourself warn to never judge!”
“Unless you are placed in a position of authority and asked to do it.” Laura folded her arms behind her back and stared at Amber unflinching. “I do not judge, Alphego has judged you already. I come to warn. Turn back now. Please. Rizkaland does not need you.”
“I have been promised!”
Laura shook her head. “Alphego sometimes gives us what we want, not because it is best, but because we will have it no other way. You will suffer the consequences of your decision, as will Rizkaland itself. Will you come to regret it? I cannot say.”
“You cannot say?” asked Amber. “You, Laura, who knows all things future, cannot say?”
“Amber! There are things that I know that I cannot speak. You march smiling towards your death saying that you live.”
“Do I die? I thought the fate of my battle was uncertain? Either of us could win that battle, and I intend for it to be me.”
“Intentions don’t change your fate. Decisions do.” Laura stared hard into Amber’s eyes. “And you have a decision in front of you right now. Do you carry on as you are, do you hasten your death. Or shall you turn back, and carry out the task that Alphego asked of you.”
“I cannot turn back now.”
“You could, but you won’t.” Laura turned away with a shake of her head. “You’ve set your step, and nothing I can say can sway you until you meet with the Tela Du in battle.” Then she turned back to Amber with a hard expression. “Give me your cloth.”
“My cloth?” Amber repeated, her hand instantly reaching to cover her heart, where she had tucked the shimmering bit of silver cloth that had extended her life far past what was natural.
“Yes, your cloth.” Laura held out an expectant hand.
For a moment, Amber was transported back six thousand years to her childhood when she would give the Doorkeeper anything. Without further protest, she pulled out the cloth and placed in Laura’s hand.
Laura balled her fist around it. “I never told you the history of this cloth, what it was meant to do.”
Amber chose not to answer, though her curiosity burned. It wasn’t often that Laura chose to meddle with any of the magical items that Amber had collected over the years.
“Neither did Queen Jade, did she? No, she was ashamed. These cloths are the failure of Luna, and they tried to hide it with glory. Queen Amorite forged them with a drop of my blood, in hopes that it would give her and King Flint control over me, and over my powers.”
“Is that why you have such an obsession with me?”
“It’s a very small part of it, Amber.” Laura’s eyes softened a moment, as she shook her head. “Queen Amorite failed. Instead of gaining control of me, she put her and her husband under my own power, and trapped themselves apart from time. Their deaths could only come at my permission, and the cloths and my control would pass on to the ones who brought about the deaths. An endless cycle that only I can break.”
Then, with a sharp movement, Laura ripped the cloth in half. The sound tore painfully through Amber, and yet the cloth remained whole and unblemished.
“I have just given the Tela Du permission to kill you. Guard yourself Amber. You march towards your death.”
Laura shoved the cloth back into Amber’s hand and spun around and marched away. Amber stood still, the Doorkeeper’s words washing over her painfully. Slowly she replaced the cloth, noting how it tingled painfully.
She turned back to see Laura speaking with Granite, but Laura looked up and met Amber’s eye.
Laura’s eyes narrowed, and with a voice that Amber had only heard her use twice before, she whispered, “Go.” The castle trembled with the word’s power.
Amber turned and fled.