Here is Chapter 11 of my novel, still in progress. I hope you enjoy reading the chapters as I write them. Note that this is all FIRST DRAFT. A lot will change in the second draft, but the key elements of the story will remain.

Without further ado, then:

CHAPTER 11 – Juniper in Megan’s Place

 And just as suddenly, the three of them were once again awake. Empress Sylphia put fingertips to her temples, concerned that her tiara had slipped. King Ansel was less deft about it and his left foot stomped the floorboards with a surprising boom as he caught his balance. The nearest guards were also awakened from their mindless states, but by the they could react the two royals had already recovered.

 Tensia awoke with a start, conscious that her body had been essentially operating without her conscious guidance, and looked at her hands as though she’d never seen them before. Looking up, she became aware of the presence of Megan again, but this time Megan looked slightly different in a way that Tensia found elusive. Megan was with an old but dapper gentleman wearing what she could not have known was a cardigan sweater, along with a peculiar round-topped hat with a narrow brim. She eyed the two of them narrowly. Several things were off about this new encounter, and all at once.

 “Weren’t you just here? How did you move so quickly? And who is he?” She

waved in irritation at Seth.

 “I’m sure I don’t know what you mean,” said Juniper, equally perplexed.

 She doesn’t sound the same, either, Tensia thought, and filed the fact in a side corner of her mind for future reference.

 “Good evening, your majesties – your grace,” Seth said carefully, and gave a slight, stiff, but unmistakable bow, and eyed the three citizens of the Alterwhere to see what they would do.

 Tensia instinctively knew that she was not to question this peculiarly dressed old fellow, but wondered how she knew that. Her brow knit. She thought better of betraying her condition to the new visitors.

 Ansel was simply groggy, and once again, surprised to be self-aware. Sylphia, however, was considerably less cautious about it.

 “What is this sorcery? I am not some plaything, to be brought in and out of – of wherever I was!”

 “I believe,” said Tensia, “that this girl, is known to us, despite her newness.” Her memory of the prophecy was still fresh in her mind, despite her sporadic self-awareness.

 “Excuse me?” Juniper cleared her throat. “My name is ….”

 But like Megan, she couldn’t say her own name. She tried not to say “Celestia”, but that was the only name on her lips. She choked it back, and managed a gurgling sound, but nothing more.

 “- that this whomever she is – ” She glowered at Juniper. ” – has something to do with this, she’s at the center of it somehow.” She examined Juniper closely. “She looks the same as a moment ago, but somehow I sense that she is not.” She sniffed at Juniper. “No, definitely not the same person, though to my eyes she is identical – and something, I know not what, tells me that both she and this man are powerful beyond measure, but chooses not to expose this power.” She turned to Sylphia and Ansel. “Beware, your majesties. All is not as it seems.”

 Seth knew immediately that this might be trouble. “If I may be allowed a moment,” he began, but Sylphia held up a hand to silence him.

 Sylphia looked at Ansel to see what his take on the statement was, but found no solace or guidance there. “I am not without abilities in these matters,” she said. “I am Sylphia, Empress of Urendell, and the full spectrum of the Old Magick is mine to command.” She closed her eyes, stretched out her fingers, and allowed that magick to flow through her, the better that she might learn the true nature of the strangers before her.

 The currents and zephyrs of the primal magicks flowed through Sylphia’s senses like a tidal wave of music. It was amazing, and jarring, and overpowering. Sylphia was astonished by this. Whenever she had used her powers before, the outcome had always been certain.

 She was the beloved Empress of Urendell, and therefore Matriarch of the Fae. She had walked through the stories her world had laid out for her, but she had done so then as a sleepwalker. Now it was different. She was fully awake, and import of everything she was, and as the terrible power of her true nature struck her like a tidal wave. Brilliant light leaked out from behind her eyelids, which now snapped open. Her breathe caught in her throat.

 Holding her hands at her temples, she crumpled, shaking, to her knees. Juniper and Seth became aware of a low, harmonic rumbling sound that it seemed only they could hear, and looked around for its source. Ansel, alarmed, crouched to put a comforting arm around Sylphia’s shoulder, but he was restrained from doing so by Seth.

 “What’s happening to her?” Juniper cried out, and knelt to try to help the stricken monarch, at the same time afraid to actually touch her.

“She’s tapping directly into the Wellspring,” said Seth. “We have to stop her!”

“What do you mean, ‘wellspring’? Is she going to drown now?” demanded Juniper.

“The Alterwhere normally guides important people like Her Majesty here in the use of magick — but she’s trying it without that guidance. She could destroy herself!”

“Keep your distance!” It was Tensia, and she meant business. Seth and Juniper hesitated for a moment.

Juniper looked back at Seth – should she keep moving forward, or back away? She made her own decision. This was the moment. How many movies had Juniper seen where the protagonist reaches out and makes contact with a vastly larger world? She took a deep breath, braced herself for an epic metaphysical experience, and gingerly reached out.

There was a small popping sound as her hand contacted Sylphia’s face, like a violent electric shock, or a gunshot. The light emanating from the Queen’s eyes suddenly went out, and her eyes were her eyes again.

“Ow!” said Juniper and the Empress in unison, and Juniper’s hand flew back. She shook it with vigor, hoping to get the sting out of it. It was then that Sylphia fell over sideways, making no attempt to catch herself. Her eyes were still open, but her gaze was fixed on nothing. The murmur of conversation in the room was quickly replaced by assorted gasps of surprise as those nearest reacted to the scene. This time the guards did step forward, grabbing Juniper by the arms and pulling her back – and as they touched her, they awoke, and quickly released their grips in surprise, looking at one another to see if the other guards were experiencing the same thing they were.

“Your majesty, I’m so sorry!” she exclaimed, but the Empress hadn’t heard her. King Ansel gently lifted her to a sitting position, and, believing her dead, bowed his head to touch his forehead to hers. At that moment Sylphia awoke with a start, and the two crowned heads had an unexpectedly painful meeting of the minds. This time it was their turn to give voice to a mutual “ow!”

“What,” Sylphia exclaimed, “was that all about?” She turned an accusing eye to Juniper. “You, who are you? My own connection with the ancient magicks from which the world itself was drawn from the , turned against me — is this sorcery?”

It was just then that some of the guards got unpleasant expressions on their faces, unbecoming of guards with such regal responsibilities. While their chests were armored, their backsides were not, and they jumped and squirmed as they were subjected to accidental comeuppances from unlikely sources.

“Your majesties!” It was the gritty, slippery voice of Basker, who, with his cohort Dartmouth, had just managed to squeeze through the veritable wall of guards in order to see what was going on. As they made their way forward, they too awoke, and stopped in their tracks, looking at their own hands in wonderment as though they had never seen them before — which, in truth, they hadn’t.

“What,” said Dartmouth in his deep croaky voice, “is happening?”

“I think we need to sit down and figure this out before we go any further,” said King Ansel. “I think I’m meant to be King,” he pondered, “so there’s that. And Sylphia is Empress, and you two are her attendants in some fashion. And this is the Sorceress Tensia.” He gave a nod in her direction. “I have no idea how I know all this, as I seem to have just been born, if that makes any sense to anyone.”

Tensia mused, “I am certain it has to do with this girl, though how she could have left to cross the room and be here at the same time, I cannot imagine.” She craned her neck to see over the heads of the crowd.

“That is true,” agreed the Empress, “that is perplexing indeed.” Ansel nodded in agreement.

Both Seth and Juniper raised eyebrows at that one, and looked at each other, and then back at the royals. It was clear that the highborn before them did not perceive Juniper and Megan as two separate people.

“Woman,” corrected Juniper. “I’m thirty-four.”

“And I am quite certain that I do not care!” Tensia spat, though her baleful glare suggested otherwise. She had definitely reacted to Juniper’s age, and Juniper was certain at this point that she was hiding something important. Juniper’s gaze returned to Sylphia, and saw the same note of recognition. What did they both know?

“Whatever you are doing,” she declared imperiously, “it is some kind of magic in which I am not versed, though my power rivals that of the Empress herself, and every class of magick is mine to command.” She looked Juniper up and down, then peered at her through narrowed eyes. “At least I believed so until this moment. But know you in your marrow that I will discover your secret before long.”

King Ansel’s gaze darted between Tensia and Juniper. He wasn’t quite sure what was going on, but he was determined to regain control of the situation. “I believe,” he offered sternly, “that your business here is, for the moment, at a close.”

Ansel’s mind was still a jumble, but he seemed able to draw from a pool of knowledge about himself and some kind of definitive core that told him who the universe around him thought he should be. As the moments played out, he became more confident in this inner knowledge. He was Ansel, King of Avsar, and he knew instinctively that here and now, in this place, his word was law.

Tensia began to protest, but Ansel held up a finger to silence her. “That said, there is a mystery to be solved, and I believe we should be glad to give you audience in the days ahead to explain yourself.”

“Oh, I don’t believe that will be necessary,” Seth deflected. He expected that the King, as with all the players in the simulacrum, would simply acquiesce to the whims of a Gatekeeper, as they had always done since the earliest days of the Alterwhere.

“But I do,” growled Ansel. “Chamberlain Raiklen!”

“I am right here, your Majesty,” said a small, impish man with a wild shock of curly red hair. Neither Juniper nor Seth had seen him arrive. He wore a forest green frock coat, heavily embroidered with gold and silver threads, in the geometric but elegant style of the ruling class of Avsar.

“Chamberlain, please see to it that our … our guests here are given lodging, and arrange for their needs. They will be staying with us for a while.”

“Yes, your Majesty,” said Raiklen, bowing stiffly from the waist. To Seth and Juniper, he added, “this way please.”

“But —” began Juniper.

“No objections, young lady. You are our guests,” Ansel asserted with a growl. Sylphia touched his arm, and he looked at her expression of concern, and completely misinterpreted it.

“Have not a care, my dear,” said the King, and glowered at Raiklen. “We shall take excellent care of them, shall we not, Mr. Raiklen? You understand my intentions?”

He was becoming more certain in his role as King. Somehow he knew he was allowed to take this tone with nearly everyone. Raiklen nodded assuredly.

Tensia realized that if she allowed the unusual girl to leave her presence once more, she might once again lose her awareness of self. Obviously this had not occurred to the King. She wasn’t about to let an opportunity slip away. The King could manage on his own for a while. “If I may, your Majesties, I should like to accompany them. There are questions I must ask that cannot wait.”

“As you will,” said Ansel. He turned his attentions once more to the Empress, and dismissed them with a wave. The scene felt transformed, and to Dartmouth and Basker, it felt remarkably like a tableau, a static scene to be presented rather than lived. Basker hissed at Dartmouth not to, but the toad-like Fae waved his hand before the eyes of Empress Sylphia, and to his surprise got no response at all.

“I don’t know what you think about it,” said Basker, “but to me this seems very wrong. It is as though they are sleepwalking, upright, but not awake. We should separate ourselves from this place for the moment. You and I have ourselves to look out for, and I’d like your opinion on a few things.” Dartmouth silently agreed, and they left, unnoticed.


Stay tuned for the next chapter.

Gene Turnbow

Gene Turnbow

President of Krypton Media Group, Inc., radio personality and station manager of Part writer, part animator, part musician, part illustrator, part programmer, part entrepreneur – all geek.