“They thought they were finished….” Quaos said dramatically. She was telling the story to Kayli and Edjica, the only children currently in the Magiary, but Aniya and Devrin were listening just as intently. “But then, a miracle happened. Hundreds of seahorses came up and surrounded them to protect them from--” The story was interrupted by a thunderous pounding at the door.
“No, don’t stop!” Kayli protested.
“I’ll get it,” said Devrin, already on his feet. “If you get interrupted they probably won’t get to bed till midnight. You or Aniya can tell me what happened, later.” He strode down the corridor to the front door. It was storming too hard for him to be able to see anything through the peephole, so he opened the door.
The man on the doorstep was not dressed for the weather, and his clothes were soaked and ragged; his face was dirty and sporting ragged stubble, his hair unkempt. Devrin thought he must be a beggar, until he spoke. “Is there a woman named Quaos here?” he asked. His voice had a hint of Sarcish accent, under the desperation.
“Possibly,” said Devrin with caution. “Who’s asking?”
“My name is Iaedan. Quaos is a friend of mine, and she’s in danger, though she probably doesn’t know it.”
Devrin studied the man carefully, then nodded. “All right, come in.” He led Iaedan inside.
Quaos was just finishing the story. “And she married the prince and they lived happily ever after.”
“And then she killed him,” added Iaedan.
Quaos gave a bark of a laugh that was cut off when she recognized Iaedan. She stared at him in shock. The children were not amused. “No!” cried Edjica, and Kayli also looked stricken.
“Don’t worry, he’s joking,” Aniya assured them. “They loved each other very much and lived happy and peaceful lives, and never had to kill anyone again. Now go to bed.” With only a few token protests, they went.
“Iaedan, what have you been…? what are you…? What happened to you?” Quaos asked.
“They’re after us,” he told her.
“And that explains it all!” said Devrin
“It does, actually,” Quaos told him sharply. “How close are they, how many are there, and who’s behind it?”
“Close. Lots. King Evrich, who eventually emerged as the demon’s heir.”
“Since this is you talking, by ‘lots’ and ‘close’ I assume you mean armies that are about to descend on us at any moment.”
“That’s about right,” Iaedan admitted.
“We have to go tell Malexandra.” Quaos led Iaedan toward the stairs, but stopped at their foot. “Can you wait down here… just in case?” she asked Aniya and Devrin. They’d never heard her sound scared before, and they agreed anxiously.
“Who exactly is coming?” Devrin asked.
“Armies, apparently, from Sarca, to arrest Quaos for regicide.”
“Right, of course. Well, while we wait to fight off armies by ourselves, what did I miss in the story? I don’t want to die without knowing.”
“Fine, it’s not like there’s anything better for us to do. Basically, there was an epic battle, with the girl and the seahorses and all the creatures of good on one side, and all the creatures of evil on the other side. Quaos went into great detail on the descriptions, but I don’t really remember exactly. Anyway, they were losing and then the prince rode in with an army behind him and joined the fight, and they defeated their enemies and got married and lived happily ever after. Until she killed him, if you believe Quaos’s friend,” she added with a smile.
“You have to admit, in real life it would be more likely than a happy ending.”
“Come on, Devrin, even you’re not that cynical.”
“I’m not saying that people killing each other is always more likely than them getting along, but royal marriages don’t tend to work out, if one of the people wasn’t born royal and it’s a love match rather than being political.”
“They do sometimes!” snapped Aniya.
Devrin was about to continue the debate, until he saw her expression. “I thought you and Skyler were just friends.”
“We were! And then we were practically enemies, and now that we’re friends again, well, I don’t think we are just friends.”
“I don’t even want to think about giving romantic advice, but you do need to remember that 98% of the country hates you.”
“I know! I know! I didn’t say there was any way it could possibly work out--” She froze. “He said ‘armies,’ didn’t he?”
“Yes… what’s your point?”
“Armies aren’t going to march through the capital of Majardea, right under Skyler’s nose, and knock on the front door. They’ll come across open country and arrive around back.”
They rushed through the house. Aniya reached the back door an instant before Devrin, and flung it open.
Iaedan had not been exaggerating. A full army stood facing the building. The rain and wind didn’t seem to faze them in the slightest. A single, armored man rode forward, holding up a scrap of white cloth that was nearly blown out of his grasp.
“Turn over the criminal, Quaos of Sarca, and we will leave you in peace!”
Devrin thought of trying to stall, pretending not to know who they were talking about or saying they didn’t have the authority. He glanced at Aniya. She gave the slightest shake of her head, turned to the soldier, and said, “Hell no!”
The man rode back to join the other men in front of the house. He said something, and they rushed towards the Magiary.
Before they could reach it, a shimmery, transparent wall sprung up around the building. The army hesitated. One of the soldiers touched it, tentatively, then tried to ride through it. It stopped him as surely as if it were made of stone.
“Let’s go see what the plan is,” Devrin said, and they closed the door and went upstairs.
A strong wind blew through the room when Devrin opened the door to the top of Malexandra’s tower, and he saw to his surprise that despite the weather, one of the large windows was flung open. Malexandra faced it, concentrating intently on something, and Quaos stood on the window ledge, facing outwards. Drops of rain battered her and flew past her into the room, but no one seemed to notice. Iaedan was asleep in an armchair in the corner, and they could sense the sleeping spell laid over him.
“…can’t let innocent people take the blame for what I did!” Quaos was screaming into the storm.
“No!” cried Aniya, and before Devrin even realized what was happening, Quaos leapt.
They rushed to the window. They could barely see Quaos’s crumpled figure through the storm, but it was clear that she wasn’t moving. The shimmering wall disappeared as Malexandra joined them at the window, but the army stayed where it was.
“How could you let her…?” Aniya demanded.
Oddly, Malexandra smiled. “Surely you can’t think I would have let her kill herself.”
“But… she jumped.”
“Breaking a fall is one of the easiest things to do, magically, you know that. And Quaos is a good enough actor to play dead quite convincingly. We just need to take her inside before they decide they want her drawn and quartered, or some such thing.”
Devrin began to laugh rather hysterically, and a tear rolled down his face, and he rushed to the stairs. Aniya and Malexandra hurried after them.
Malexandra stopped them at the back door. “Wait here. If either of you go outside, you might give it away.”
Devrin would have protested, if he hadn’t known she was right. Aniya took a tentative step to follow Malexandra outside, but Devrin grabbed her arm. “Do you really want to risk her life on your ability to act as though she’s dead?” His voice was not his usual sarcastic tone but something darker, and Aniya stayed inside.
They waited tensely, both aware that Malexandra was facing down an army who would quite possibly insist on taking Quaos’s “body.” She wasn’t dead, but that could only mean she wasn’t dead yet.
Finally, the door opened. A gust of wind and a shower of rain flew in their faces, and then Malexandra came in, Quaos floating at her side, looking dead.
As soon as the door closed, she popped up and jumped down to the ground. Relief flooded over Devrin and Aniya. “We thought you were dead!” Aniya said.
“I’m sor-” Quaos began, but before she could finish her sentence Devrin embraced her fiercely, and kissed her. It might not have been best of kisses, since Quaos was drenched and shivering, and her near death was on both their minds, but it lasted a long time. Aniya stared at them, then fled. Malexandra had already slipped away.
“I thought I’d lost you,” Devrin said finally. “I didn’t even know there was anything to lose, not like that.”
“That makes me even more glad that I’m not really dead.”
“Was it horrible? They could have killed you.”
Quaos nodded. “I would have jumped for real, if I’d had to. I’m just glad I didn’t.”