“You have got to be kidding me? Do they have absolutely no sense of honour whatsoever?! Twigging incredible!”
Mineral pinched her lips into a hard line in an attempt to keep from laughing. It wasn’t funny, not even a little bit, and she understood Ember’s indignation. Magmus’s pained gaze darted between his enraged soon-to-be bonded queen and Mineral.
Mineral and Ember had been sharing their breakfast routines as usual when King Magmus entered the room and dumped the aggravating news. What made the situation hilarious was the normally calm Ember’s reaction and the number of words she practically sputtered out.
Mineral had known Ember for almost three moon cycles now. At first, she had been shy and reserved, afraid and troubled. Then she evolved, found her phoenix powers, and literally rose through the skies in flames. And these days, Ember was mostly serenity and wisdom herself, at least on the outside. But it seemed even the Keeper of the Realm had a limit.
“I’m not surprised,” Mineral said sympathetically. “At least King Magmus won’t have to fight them off in duels.”
Ember made a growling sound, and Magmus shot Mineral an annoyed look. Mineral grimaced. She knew better than to get involved.
“I can’t believe dignitaries and royals would travel here with the sole attempt to sway my affection. What a low opinion they must have of me!” Ember gritted her teeth.
“It’s politics; it has nothing to do with you. To take the only Keeper of the Realm as Magmus’s queen gives the kingdom more power than what the others consider comfortable. Of course, they will try to sway your decision. I’m really sorry, but not surprised,” Mineral added delicately.
She had been a ruler much longer than either Magmus or Ember. So, she knew her fair share of ugly politics and lobbying.
“It feels so respectless and dirty,” Ember said, shuddering.
“I’m sorry, my love. I just wanted to warn you. They will each want to seek an audience with you,” Magmus rumbled, in what Mineral had learnt was his dragon voice, which seemed to surface whenever he was angry.
“Absolutely not! They will have to wait until everyone has arrived. Then, I will see them at the same time and tell them to their faces what fools they are,” Ember bit out, her hands firmly planted on her hips and her large, vibrant fiery wings rustled threateningly at her back; her eyes burned orange from her anger. Her beautiful red hair was practically plaited and hung over her right shoulder. Mineral silently thought that she wouldn’t miss the lecture of dignitaries and royals for the realm. She could even offer the queen-in-waiting a few tips in private later when Ember had calmed down.
“My sweet one, I think I hate it even more than you do,” Magmus grumbled and closed Ember in his arms.
Ember sighed and melted, burrowing into his chest lovingly. They didn’t have anything to worry about. A love like that would survive a bunch of stupid rulers any day.
Mineral felt a tug in her heart. Not that she was remotely interested in King Magmus, but she longed for that kind of love… And there was only one male with whom she wished to share it. She wasn’t sure she could ever have that, though. Not with her dark past and the terrible mistakes she had made. She felt broken, and most days, she questioned if there would ever be a way out. Mineral wasn’t sure what she would have to do to free herself from the sticky dark tendrils, the fear, and the anger.
This uncontrollable anger which burned in her and made her particularly nasty to be around when under pressure – it was a rather effective way to send people running. Just ask any one of her royal advisors back home or the Fenilyan Council of Elders, and they could all confirm what a difficult queen she was. New representatives familiar with Mineral’s reputation would shudder and fidget in front of her. And strangely, they all seemed to draw out the worst in her, and she would inevitably lose her temper – and then hide behind it. But inside her, she felt as if she died a little every time the anger raged. Mineral wished she knew why she was so angry – it felt like a beast chained against its will deep inside her. It roared and pulled at its restraints, refusing to submit.
And then there was the grief, so deep and devastating that anyone would get lost in that inky pool of lamentation. Happiness and love were feelings she didn’t know how to feel. Sometimes, at least since she arrived in The Kingdom of the Eternal Flame, Mineral thought she had felt sparks of them, as fleeting as passing thoughts, but still small sparks. She held them in her memory, desperate to watch them grow.
Somehow the darkness would have to give, because she had important things to accomplish. The hopeful whispers from her soul, and the Mudowar’s faith in her. She had been called – not that she knew exactly what was expected from her, but she had to try.
Mineral decided that Ember and King Magmus needed time alone. In any case, Mineral had an idea she wanted to explore before her magic practise session with Elder Flicker began.
Her old friend, Elder Zeith, had sent her here because he believed Elder Flicker was the one who could help her learn to control her magic, and it did seem to be working.
Mineral thought about her magic practise sessions as she hurried down one of the many airy and bright hallways of the castle. The marbled floors shone with the vivid colours of the volcano, dominated by burnt orange and burgundy. The darker shades made Mineral feel more at home, even if it was only the floors. The walls and ceilings were made of glass, with architecturally challenging golden middle sections joining the large glass shapes into geometrically intriguing constellations. It was quite different from the predictable architecture of her own palace.
A couple of dragon warriors bowed in respect as Mineral passed them by. After all, she was a queen visiting, regardless of the reasons for her presence.
The magic practise sessions were going well, she thought. It was as if all her powers had been thrown at her without any instruction or anyone to guide her. Prior to this, her abilities reacted randomly to any emotional trigger she encountered, primarily the royal advisors who would drown her in questions and politics. Finally, Mineral was able to feel a semblance of control, albeit a fragile one, after receiving Elder Flicker’s reassuring guidance and firm instructions.
Turning right at a junction, Mineral headed up the staircase leading to the floor of her guest quarters. She was already accustomed to long hallways and staircases. Her own palace, the palace of Fenilya, was in that sense no different, and in every other aspect, the differences remained extreme. Whereas the castle of the Kingdom of the Eternal Flame was situated near the top of a volcano, the palace of Fenilya was situated in a large cave deep below the grassy, muddy plains of the marsh that surfaced her kingdom. Fenilya itself was an underground kingdom. Mud, white clay, and stone formed the palace into a building of wonder. Pillars with intricate patterns, jewels phased into the clay, see-through floral screens, and window frames, all of which are illuminated by bioluminescent fungi, flowers, insects, and bacteria. Entwined roots formed architectural titbits and framed many portals. The green shades that covered the ground above were, in fact, unusual and foreign to the kingdom below. Flora and fauna of the depths and the darks were quite colourless, shadow grasses and moss, until they glowed – then the whole kingdom seemed to ignite with the colours of a rainbow – still the surroundings would remain obscure and dark, but magical.
Mineral reached her guest quarters and entered unceremoniously. It was both a pain and a relief to be without maids and servants constantly attending to her every whim. Here, she was left to her own thoughts and the slow days. She worried for the kingdom in her absence, but they would all be better off if she learnt to master her magical powers.
Mineral walked to the large desk in the small study that connected the common area. When seated, she placed a couple of sheets of paper on the desk. She lifted the peculiar pen – that had been carved from the minerals of the volcano, coloured in burnt orange, burgundy, and rose – and tried to see where the ink was inserted but couldn’t figure it out. Then, deciding it must be a magical pen of some sort, she got to work.
The first letter was fairly easy to write. Her regular notes to Elder Zeith kept him informed about how she progressed in her training, and then she always requested updates from Fenilya.
Mineral had left the elder in charge while she was gone. Together, they had agreed that she’d never give away details of where she was if her letters were intercepted. Elder Zeith hadn’t wanted to worry her when she was in such a bad place to begin with, but he wanted them to take every precaution. He told her firmly that this perceived threat might just as well be nothing but ghosts in his mind.
Mineral had known Elder Zeith all her life. Even if she had made his assignments and duties difficult, he had always remained by her side, patiently waiting for the day she’d need help – as if he knew it would inevitably happen.
Mineral scribbled down her progress in unspecific terms, riddling the most significant details. Because of their agreement, she couldn’t outright tell him about her connection to the Mudowar. Yet, a part of her wished she could – this piece of information made a huge difference.
It was nothing short of a miracle that the Mudowar had awakened and was, in its own indescribable way, helping her to heal. She recalled the day when she unintentionally summoned the mud serpent for the first time and everyone present fled in terror. The dragons took to the sky, carrying the elementals without wings, but Mineral heard the Mudowar’s deep, soothing voice inside her mind instantly. A voice almost as deep as the rumbling voices of the beasts of Njordea. What a wonder it had been to finally come face to face with the magical source of Fenilya, and to begin the journey of understanding where her own magical powers came from. The Mudowar had explained that their powers were connected, and to Mineral’s relief, it didn’t mean that she would ruthlessly control the large mud serpent, but rather that she wasn’t alone and that they were meant to work together.
Mineral and the Mudowar had concluded that it was the presence of the new Keeper that had brought the mud serpent out of its slumber – the very same reason the sleeping Njordean decided to emerge from the mountain. Since the Elemental Realm hadn’t had a Keeper for over twenty centuries, Mineral was certain that more creatures would awaken; more magic would rise to its full potential, and most likely things unimaginable as well. Besides, so much had been lost in the ancient wars, and even more was lost when the last Keepers of the Realm sacrificed themselves and their magic to keep the realm safe by erecting the veil that protectively surrounded the whole realm – like a large golden dome or half bubble. When Ember let them see the magically patterned veil, it certainly wobbled like a bubble.
The second letter was Mineral’s first of a kind.
An Elder had inspired her from the time of the ancient wars and the journal he kept – notes for the descendants of the elementals who had outlived the wars and the unimaginable destruction, the terrible mistakes of their ancestors. She wasn’t planning on journaling exactly, but there were five elementals who were more precious to her than her own life. It pained Mineral that they didn’t know her due to the unpredictability of time in Fenilya, but she hoped that she could at least make up for it by letting them know her.
She would write them letters and it was possible to pass under the veil into the Realm of Man through Fenilya. Mineral knew the Mudowar could not leave the Elemental Realm, but the much smaller and adorable mud pup could and Mineral hoped that he would be able to take the letter to her family.
Mineral’s pen hovered over the blank paper, uncertain, unsure of what to write. Well, best to start traditionally.
Dear Philip, Auran, Brigid, Cordelia, and Devan,
Her heart ached as she wrote their names. At least they were safe in the Realm of Man. Auran was her eldest son, and like herself he had the power to control time – but he had yet to learn how to do it. Brigid was her eldest daughter – very decisive and with an impressive inner strength. Mineral doubted Brigid was aware of how unique this trait was. Cordelia was Mineral’s youngest daughter and something of a romantic dreamer – the kindest soul Mineral had ever met – and Devin was her youngest son – a little trouble-maker that one. She smiled as she thought about them, and then began her first letter to her family, telling them about the Kingdom of the Eternal Flame, the Mudowar, her new friends, how Ember had become a phoenix, and the new Keeper of the Realm.
Mineral continued with the adventure to Njordea and talked about her magic practise sessions. She found that there were a whole lot of things to tell them. So much had happened, but she also made sure to ask them about their life in that other realm, longing to know more about them.
She was uncertain if they would reply, but at least this way, she could let them be part of her journey. She wrote that she missed them and was sorry for how things had turned out – a part of her hated writing this, but she felt obligated to. She also introduced Mudwig, the little – well, perhaps he was only small compared to the Mudowar – mud pup. She explained that she would send him with the letters and hoped he wouldn’t scare them or someone else who might happen to see him.
After contemplating, Mineral decided to use the most affectionate signature of Fenilya:
Yours by Mud and Time,
The letter was done.
Terror beat through her. This vulnerability felt like a very uncomfortable skin. But there was no other way that she could think of. Mineral shook herself, then sealed the letters with her magic, which only granted the intended recipient access. There were those who could still force the letters open, but at least it would prevent the most curious should the letters get astray.
Mineral quickly made it to the royal gardens, staying in the shades as the burning sun had risen in the sky. She pushed a tendril of magic into the soil, calling Mudwig to her. It didn’t take the mud pup long to emerge in front of her. He bounced happily around her until he calmed and sat before her expectantly with his head cocked to one side.
“My cute little one,” she cooed, and he gave her a muddy kiss. “I have two very important assignments for you,” she told him. The rest she conveyed through her magic and mind-link. Still feeling vulnerable, she didn’t want anyone else to know.
Take these letters and deliver them to their recipients. The first letter is to Elder Zeith, and the second is to my Philip and our children. The second must not get into the wrong hands. You must cross through Fenilya and under the veil to get into the Realm of Man.
Mineral showed him her mental map. Mudwig yapped with excitement, as if he had been waiting for an assignment for days on end. Mineral snorted in amusement and gave him the letters, and watched as he concealed them inside his being, the magic of his creature preventing the mud from destroying the paper.
With an increasing heartbeat and an overwhelming feeling of vulnerability, she watched the mud pup as he dove into the soil and disappeared. No matter what, she would continue to send them letters.