~ Dvoday, 16th of Prima, 11831 ~
Pierre awoke to a chill permeating the room, the fire having died down to embers. Pluta lay asleep near his feet, curled in one of the extra blankets that he now regretted tossing aside. He sat slowly and sighed. Everything was still. Throughout his body a residual throbbing synced with his heartbeat, but there was no acute pain.
The moon declared with its phase that he had woken only hours later. He got out of bed, after scratching Pluta behind the ears, lit several lamps, and threw a log on the embers.
Nothing seemed out of place. The room was organized and neat, the events of that day a memory with no evidence. His familiar had cleaned up well; it should satisfy her cravings for a time. The boy was missing, presumably having woken and returned to his duties. He should not have any memory of the time surrounding his death, only a vague recollection of fainting.
Digging through his school bags, Pierre pulled out a notebook along with a glass quill and ink-bottle. He placed the latter two items on his desk and pulled out the chair with his foot while he searched for the last page he had been writing on.
The words shimmered.
There were still spirits of death in the room; the ‘ink’ would have been clear otherwise. It was his own plasma that he had separated from blood cells with a centrifuge. Magic was most concentrated in the blood, taken from oxygen in the air—the very atmosphere of the realm. It was why certain magic only appeared in certain lands. In the case of his cræft, blood turned grey and black and plasma picked up a silvery glow. Without death near it, plasma would be clear, so he used it as an invisible ink. The writings would be visible only for the few who Death clung to.
Finding his spot, he sat, never looking up from the diary, and dipped the quill in plasma to begin writing about the last few days. The party had been a surprise to him but he should have known something would come up. A week previously on the 8th, he had turned twenty-four and those traveling with him had been too quick to let their celebration be put aside until they reached home. He had needed that extra time if he wished to finish everything by the new deadline of tonight’s full moon. Previously, he had estimated half a decade to finish his studies but had finished university with a year to spare. He was in need of a few more days to fully know his cræft. The Ides of Martius came with a full moon that would soothe the spirits and hopefully quicken his recovery.
Now he had an entire year of leniency since he had made a pact with his brother; the prince would take the duties of Piques until Pierre turned twenty-five. He could return to traveling, perhaps outside of the realm this time. Italaviana, the realm to the south of Clandestina and its closest ally, had its own variation of death spirits that bore a bestia of vampire.
And, of course, there was Elizabeth. She had been nearing her fourteenth year when he had left for University. He had just turned twenty. He had known that she possessed a fancy for him, one that he was not averse to and, if truth be told, returned even then, but he had not paid much heed with his leaving. He thought she would be betrothed or wed before his return as was not uncommon. Now it seemed she was not, and the fancy had not passed for either.
He had yet to write about his cræft, spending so much time gathering his thoughts about Elizabeth. Had she heard of what had transpired that evening, what dare she think? After wasting several lines worth of plasma, he put it away and reached for true ink. He would write about Lizzy in a way that he could later reread without having to commit an atrocity.
Pluta meowed. She had woken and was looking pointedly to the unlocked door. Someone was knocking.
“Your business?” Pierre called. Ophion had likely left instructions to the young doctor’s assistants to take care of him. Pierre would have liked to remind his uncle that he could very well take care of himself. With the lamps lit and the light seen from the dark hallway, they would need to ask permission before entering, even if earlier they had come in while he slept. The duc closed the drawer that hid the plasma and shut his journal, hoping it would not smudge.
“To visit, Your Grace.”
The door opened and Elizabeth looked in.
“Monsieur, you are out of bed,” she said, surprised. “I thought you might be up. I was going to wish you well and see how you were doing.” Hearing no command to leave, she took this as allowance for further entry. Pierre stayed sitting before the drawer, unable to think of anything to say.
“You wrote to me often at night,” Lizzy continued. “Remember? You said it was when you felt most well, even after a terrible bout of illness. I assumed this was still the case and came to see you. Is that alright?” The correlation was nowhere near that of some other creatures, but spirits of death, even in living flesh, were not as fond of the day as night.
“Of course,” he finally said, coughing to clear his throat. “Lizzy, is it not far past evening, past midnight? You were leaving with Uncle and your mother this afternoon.”
“I refused,” she said and seemed both shy and proud of the act. “You need someone to keep you company, and there were already whispers that you were feeling worse when we began to pack. Lord Ophion could not stay and I felt I could be of some use. Mother was not entirely pleased, but the lord physician did mention that I had kept your spirits up and that another few days would be of no issue.” She straightened the thick skirts she wore, not meeting his eyes. She was dressed for going outside: boots that laced up to her knees, a coat, and her hair was pulled back in a loose tail.
“The full moon is out tonight,” she continued. “And there are almost no clouds. The entire sky can be seen. Do you wish to perhaps go for a walk? If you feel well, that is, monsieur. The time outside should do you well, the clean air…”
“Certainly Lizzy. That sounds like a splendid idea. You’re quite right.” He was smiling again. The thought that someone both wanted his company after all that had happened, and that it was she in particular, was a joy.
“May I have a moment to dress?” At her widening eyes, he found himself smirking, covering a laugh as she (with a deep blush) stepped back into the corridor. The sleepwear was the same she had seen him in before, but at least then, his duvet had covered him.
“Coming, Pluta?” he asked, going to his wardrobe. She did not reply, already asleep again. She seemed to like and trust Elizabeth, something that Pierre made certain to remember. He picked out one of his less elaborate suits and an overcoat for the night’s air. Heading to the door, he picked up his cane; it was to him what a wand was to a wizard.
He opened the door quietly and walked into the hallway without a sound. When one often snuck out for magical activities, one became well versed in silence. To her credit, Elizabeth did not flinch when he touched her shoulder. With a nod and motion, he let her lead the way.
They snuck through a side door to the gardens. A certain thrill captured them both at this intimate hour, away from society. She was no longer in the presence of a princeling or a duc, but with an old friend.
Their breath clouded before them, and the frost that covered the ground broke beneath their feet. The duc looked up to the sky and pointed out constellations that had meaning to humans and fée. The moon hung low and full, almost too bright to believe.
“Shall we find a fée ring?” Elizabeth asked, moving to the few flowers that bloomed this early in the year. “The Ides, a full moon, Springfinding within the se’nnight. Fée rings should be everywhere.”
“Since when are you so knowledgeable about magic?” he asked, following her. Many would know some of these or acknowledge them, but perhaps without connecting everything all together. “And as it is after midnight, one could say it is now actually Dvoday.”
“Oh, hush, you know as well as I do that the day’s magic changes at dawn and not midnight. Though, sometimes it does change at midnight… the spirits do as they will, I suppose, time is not the same in all planes,” she answered. He nodded as she spoke, impressed, and knowing well by the spirits that he consorted with that they were often inconsistent.
“I was always curious,” Elizabeth continued. “I am from Trèfles after all, but when I heard your père was from Faery, I began to study more. I wanted to learn everything about magic and to practice a cræft myself. Perhaps study until I was a mage?” She looked up at him as if wanting to know his opinion on the matter. “But the magics in Clandestina are not as, well, magical as in other places. There is no making fire out of thin air or turning into an animal for a human. Some fée have control of these things, but mostly in their own lands.”
“You could still…” He quieted and placed a hand on her shoulder, pointing with his cane. “Look, there in the moonlight.”
She turned and saw several mushrooms growing from the ground at an alarming rate. They only formed half a circle for now—an open fée ring. Pierre’s hand slid down her arm, and their fingers entwined.
“Some fée shall come through it to greet this realm and help ready the forests for Springfinding,” she whispered up to him. “But only after they depart and close the door will a full ring be left behind to allow for a wish.”
She squeezed his hand suddenly. “Perhaps you could pass through it?!”
“I could certainly try.” His père, his birth-father, had been raised in Faery and his infant sister taken there by the late Duc Félicien after his wife, their mère, had died. After that Pierre had been raised first by his uncle and then the roi and reine, who he called father and mother. He knew his sister now walked between the planes of existence, but he had not had much time to learn of his fée heritage.
“Come,” he said, walking over to it and pulling Elizabeth along.
She stood along the outer rim, and he faced the concave opening. Putting his cloak and cane aside, he smiled to Lizzy from across the patch of field and moonlight. Taking a deep breath, he closed his eyes and took three steps forward.
“Oh!” He had not entered Faery but instead had bumped into Elizabeth. His arms wrapped around her, though the force had not been so much that they would have fallen.
“Perhaps something is keeping me on this plane.” She was hiding her face in his vest, but after a moment, braved a glance up at the remark. He kissed her forehead.
“Now, as I was saying of your endeavors,” he continued, without waiting for her reply. He stepped over the mushrooms and headed toward one of the pathways. Lizzy’s hand stayed in the crook of his arm, and they began to walk toward the fountains. “There is healer’s magic in Clandestina. It is why we are so adept with our physical care. Magic of life.”
“And of the opposite,” she said. Realizing what she had done, her eyes widened, and she put her hand over her mouth. “I mean, I know of it, in passing.”
Pierre walked them over to a bench, and they sat together. “So you believe in necrocræft?” Many did not believe the magic was still around; to them it was a rumor told throughout the realm. To acknowledge it openly was perhaps to associate with it, and that was a risk.
“I do,” she said, but her laughter was gone. “To be honest, I do not understand why it is forbidden. One can heal wounds that should be fatal, return the dead to life, and strengthen immunity in a person—there is so much good.”
“And you are adorably focused on all the aspects of life that is in the art,” he said, resisting a desire to kiss her once more and this time properly. “But you forget it is a magic said to come from a ker.”
“A ker?” she asked. Curiosity won over fear and she looked up to meet his gaze. “How much do you know? Do the royals know more than—”
He raised a finger to her lips; she quieted. Oh, how soft her mouth felt even beneath gloves. “I have heard, in passing and through my station, that keres are responsible. Specifically, one. All the others are gone, at least from this realm.”
“Only one?” She spoke even as his hand was still to her mouth, and this sent a shiver through him. He lowered his hand and again placed it atop hers.
“She is a daimon: a spirit of another plane. Spirits of illness and the dead are hers to command, and her will is strongest and most needed in Clandestina. The keres once lived in this realm, along with the fée. Then humans began to settle here. We were healers, so the spirits of agony and suffering, of death, were forced out. They disappeared or fled. The fée went to their own plane. She returned to her birthplace and is the last of the ker as far as I know. So she teaches her magic to those that are open to the old ways.”
“Then why can you heal? Why can you bring back the dead if it is from a daimon of pain?” How very close she was in her accusation. Another thrill went down his spine.
“She has become far more than just a daimon that represents death. Circumstances have forced her into other roles, and she sees the balance that is needed with life and death. That said, we do not live in a realm without illness; you know well that our many healers are needed. Death and cruelty, by our standards, can no longer be the only children of Clandestina, but they are still the elder sisters to Life.”
“So, she is not a blessed spirit?”
“No. There is one explanation that she allows for healing because then there is a higher chance of the healed later dying a more gruesome death. There is also the rumor that those consorting with her are guaranteed a cruel death, so reprieve for minor injuries in some or the return of life from one that may have died peacefully, is of no issue.”
She asked no more questions about it, not even how Pierre knew so much, likely attributing it to the royal status, which was true; most of that he had learned not from Ophion but from Edgard. A part of him wanted her to continue.