"…and I am out with lanterns, looking for myself."
If you ask Margo, she’ll say it all started that night at Brakebills.
She was on Earth making a Starbucks run.
(What? When you live in a quasi-medieval fantasy land you begin to miss the little things, like ibuprofen and decent takeout. And besides, she still had money on her Starbucks card. Who else was going to use it, Quentin? Absolutely fucking not, that nerd was hyped up enough without adding caffeine to the mix.)
She was walking across the Sea, Starbucks and CVS bag in hand, when she’d heard a shout coming from within the hedge maze. She stopped dead, tilting her head curiously, and yep, there it was; a cry for help pierced the night air. Sparks of magic shot above the hedges, and Margo heard crashing as someone was being flung around like a ragdoll.
She turned to face the maze more fully as she weighed her options. The way she saw it, she had three:
- Be the chaotic neutral she claimed she was and let whatever first year had pissed off the hedge animals get their ass handed to them. They made their bed, now they had to lie in it. Also, first year. You couldn’t pay her to deal with a first year.
- Go grab Fogg – who was probably-definitely drunk – and make him deal with it.
- Play the white girl in every horror movie and go in to help the poor fucker.
Another cry for help, this time a scream. Margo stomped her feet, letting out a whine of frustration. Fine, fine, chaotic neutral, her ass. Also, the fact that she knew her DnD alignments was a sign that she’d been spending more time with Coldwater than could possibly be healthy.
After polishing off the last of her caramel macchiato, Margo threw the empty cup into her CVS bag, which had been filled almost to the brim with tampons – more side effects of Fillorian living – and dropped it on the ground. If someone wanted to steal a plastic bag filled with at least ten boxes of Kotex, they could be her fucking guest.
It was a relatively simple spell to open up the hedges. A few seconds after her tut, the leaves and branches were curling back, revealing an opening into the maze. Going through the whole thing was a waste of time and energy, anyway, even when someone wasn’t on the verge of dying.
She stepped through the hole and onto the first path before she tutted again, and again, and again. The hedges parted for her like she was Moses.
At last, she stumbled on a small clearing deep in the maze. In the center of the clearing was one of those creepy fountains, and by said fountain was a girl. She was young, and as Margo had expected, a first year. She was all sharp angles, her pretty face scratched to pieces and framed by brown hair that was tangled with leaves. When she saw Margo, her eyes went as round as dinner plates, clearly torn between relief and embarrassment that she’d been found.
“Alright, kid,” Margo said, hands flying to her hips. “The fuck happened?”
“It was the ghost. I must have pissed it off, I was just trying to play a prank on Wharton.”
Brakebills had a ghost now? She didn’t know or quite frankly care who this Wharton kid was, but the ghost thing intrigued her. Fogg must’ve been thrilled; he’d been wanting one for years.
She really needed to visit Earth more often, she was so out of the loop.
“Well, I must’ve scared it off, so, you’re welcome,” Margo sighed, irritation simmering under her skin. The one time she decided to be nice and it was just a waste of time and energy. “Whatever it was probably didn’t want to take on two magicians”
The girl was staring at something over her shoulder, because of course she was. It was every horror movie cliché; she just knew the damn thing was behind her without even having to look. But she turned around anyway, because she was nosy by nature and wanted to see the new Brakebills ghost for herself.
Only it wasn’t a ghost. It was a person, a person wreathed in blue flame. Margo knew that shade of niffin blue all too well. She was about to glance over her shoulder, tell the girl to run, when the flames flickered and died. A woman was standing in front of her, alabaster skin veined with magic, wearing the same dress she’d been in when she’d died.
“Alice,” Margo whispered hoarsely, all anger gone. She was suddenly very, very cold.
The niffin – Alice – twitched at the name, her lip curling in distaste. But she regarded Margo with cool curiosity, head cocking like a demented puppy as she eyed her up and down. After several frozen moments, she smirked, and vanished in a blaze of blue that lingered in the night air for a solid minute after she’d gone.
“Did you know her?” the girl asked.
Margo blinked, and all she saw was that broken body they had buried in the garden. “I used to,” she said, softly, and is surprised at the wistfulness in her voice. She would never admit it to Eliot, but it had never been fair, losing Alice like that.
The girl was staring at her, so Margo shook her head and schooled the High Queen mask back into place. She turned to the girl, who was clutching some sort of wooden box. “Do I even want to know?”
The girl looked down at the box, and then back up to Margo. “Prank.” Right, Wharton, whoever the fuck that was. First years were irrelevant. “Thank you, by the way.”
“Don’t mention it,” Margo replied, waving a hand. “No, seriously, don’t.”
The girl threw up her hands in surrender, box and all. “I won’t, promise.”
Margo led her out of the maze, snapping at her when she tried to give her name, and sent her off towards the House while she tutted the hedges back into place, good as new. She clapped her hands together, dusting them off, before picking up her abandoned CVS bag and continuing her trek towards the Cottage.
She needed a drink.
If you ask Alice, she’ll say it all started that day in Whitespire.
Quentin had dragged her to Fillory of all places, because he said that being around so much magic could help her acclimate, or what the fuck ever. She didn’t care, she’d exhausted all of Mayakovsky’s books, anyway. Maybe Whitespire would have more, maybe some Fillorian magician could help bridge the gaps she’d lost in her resurrection.
She made sure to bring along all of the spirals she had filled, as well as several empty ones and several books on loan from Mayakovsky – he’d tried to give her more Adderall, which she had promptly flushed down the toilet – as much as he would give her and she could manage to shove into a Brakebills-issue backpack.
(Without any charms to increase its carrying capacity, because both Mayakovsky and Quentin were jackasses.)
Maybe Quentin had hoped she would feel something when he led her into that throne room, when she saw Eliot and Margo on their thrones, when she saw her crown sitting on her throne. He seemed disappointed that her face remained unchanged, still wearing that same cold mask.
(Fuck him, and fuck them too, thinking she’d needed fixing. She had been perfect. She had been everything.)
“You really want us to babysit your girlfriend?” Margo asked, practically sneered as she gave Alice the once over. Alice stared back at her, unblinking, and some expression she couldn’t quite place flickered across Margo’s face. Alice was still relearning human emotions. “Because that really went so well the last time?”
“Alice…look, Alice has her shade, and she can’t even do magic right now.” Alice flinched. Quentin didn’t even notice – he just kept on talking – but Margo did. Her chin lifted, brow furrowing, and she watched Alice while Quentin blabbered on and on. “She has to relearn it from the ground up. It’s just for a little while, Mayakovsky was aggravating her, and I thought that maybe…well, you know, Fillory is magic, so I figured that it’d provide an environment she’d be more used to –”
“Q,” Eliot cut in, closing the distance between them and putting his hand on Quentin’s shoulder. “It’s fine. We got this.”
“I-I’ve got a few things to deal with back on Earth, but I’ll be back to help. With Alice, I mean. Not that she needs me or anything, especially if she doesn’t want me to, but I should still probably be around –”
“Yeah, kind of.”
“Go back to Earth, deal with your shit, then get your ass back to Fillory. Got it? We could really use all the help we could get, right now.”
They kept talking, something about Fillory needing all of its monarchs, like Alice was in any state to rule an entire fucking country. Like she even wanted to. The Alice that had been crowned Queen of Fillory was dead and buried, but everyone seemed to forget that. They were too busy making her decisions for her; whether she had to be human or not, where she would recover, who she would talk to, what she would eat…
Everyone making her decisions for her, over and over again, taking what little control she had and talking over her like she wasn’t even there. Her hands bunched into fists, her lip twitched, she wanted to scream. She wanted the fire back. She wanted to be perfect again.
How dare he?
That same something flickered across Margo’s face again as she stepped out of her throne. Her hands reached out as though to touch Alice, but she stopped, like she was remembering something. She folded her hands in front of her, watching Alice with her usual no-nonsense expression, but it seemed…gentler.
“Alice,” Margo said, and her voice was soft as honey. “If you want to change clothes, we have plenty. Or maybe pick your room, whatever you want to do.” She emphasized the last few words. Whatever you want to do. Margo had read her like a book, she’d always been good at that.
Margo and Alice stared at each other, and Eliot and Quentin stared at them, waiting. It was the first time since she’d been forcibly reborn that anyone had let her make her own decisions. Some ancient, shriveled part of her almost wanted to hug Margo for that.
It took her a few heartbeats to actually remember what it was she wanted. Her human brain was slower, it craved sleep and food but Alice craved magic. Her body would just have to deal. Maybe it would rot away and she would go back to the way it was before. “I want to use your library.”
“I’ll show you to it. You boys hash out all the details, I’ll be back in a hop skip.”
Margo didn’t just show her to the library; she left her there. Alone. To do whatever she wanted, she didn’t want to pry into her business, she said. Alice let her bag slump to the floor, peering at the old rickety shelves so lovingly packed with books.
Alice would have wept if she had remembered how.
But, let’s be real here, it doesn’t really matter how the whole thing got started. What matters is that one day, Alice came up from Whitespire’s library and found out that Quentin had killed a god.
She had been walking past the throne room – her throne room, technically – when she heard her name. She paused by the archway, ignoring the guards watching her as she blatantly eavesdropped. It was her castle too; they could go fuck themselves, as far as she was concerned.
“How long are we supposed to be watching Alice?” Margo had growled, which is what had gotten Alice to stop in the first place. Normally she wouldn’t have cared, but she wanted out as much as Margo apparently wanted her out. “Quentin has a lot of fuckin’ nerve dumping her on us and then bowing out like it’s not his problem. Last I checked he was a king, too, if he wants her here so badly then he needs to pull his weight.”
“There’s the Bambi I know and love,” said Eliot, “I was wondering where your claws had gone.” There was the sound of something being poured, then the clinking of glasses. “And Quentin saved Fillory, I’d say that’s more than pulling his weight.”
“He’s created a shitload of problems.”
“And we’ll solve them! Just let us have this one win, Bambi.”
“Fine, whatever,” Margo snapped. There were a few beats of silence, and just as Alice was considering scurrying back to the library she heard, “Fuck, I still can’t believe he killed a god. Like, holy shit, Q, put that on your resume.”
They couldn’t be serious, right? They were joking?
“Is it, like, sacrilegious to say that he deserved it? Cause, holy fuck, I hated that overgrown goat.”
“Psh, no, he was an absolute cock.”
They were fucking serious.
“What the fuck,” Alice said, bursting into the room. In her shock, she had dropped her book, and any other time she’d be horrified with herself for committing such a heinous crime, but this little problem took a bit more precedence than some crumpled pages.
“Hello to you too, Alice,” Eliot replied airily. “Settling in, I trust?”
“What the fuck,” Alice repeated, once more with feeling.
“Use your words, honey,” Margo sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose. Alice had been in Whitespire for all of twelve hours, and she apparently was already getting on her last nerve. Well, that was real fucking unfortunate for her, since she cared so much what Margo Hanson thought of her, but there were much bigger things at play here.
“Quentin killed Ember?”
“Old news, babe,” Margo said, arching one perfect eyebrow. “We would’ve told you when you got here, but you were a little twitchy from being out of a library for too long.”
“No…” Alice began pacing, wringing her hands, tugging at her hair. “No, no, no. That idiot! How could you let him? Do you have any idea what you’ve done?”
“…saved Fillory and all of magic?” Eliot asked, exchanging a glance with Margo, who shrugged as if to say how the fuck should I know?
“You aren’t getting it!” She was growing steadily more and more agitated. The Plumber, she needed –
Margo threw Eliot another sharp glance, then looked back to Alice. “What aren’t we getting, Alice?.” She was talking like Alice was a wounded animal which, she kind of was, really. Wounded and angry and now terrified on top of all that.
“When I was a-a-a niffin, I saw things,” Alice sputtered, trying to explain it all at breakneck speed, but humans did everything so slow. “I saw everything from the beginning of time. I-I understand the way the universe works, the Wellspring, the hierarchies, the…the plumbing. I was inside it. Gods like Ember have parents, you idiots!”
“Alice, Jesus,” Eliot was saying, pushing himself out of his throne. He approached her slowly, one arm outstretched towards her while the other reached for Margo behind him. It was so like when she –
No. That didn’t matter, now. None of it mattered.
“The old gods!” she shouted, “the creators of the universe, of all magic itself! To Ember we’re like…we’re like toys, but to them we’re…we’re cells. When we’re harmless, they ignore us, but when we become malignant, they amputate.”
“Amputate? Like, kill us, kill humanity?”
“No, no, you’re not listening. Magic.”
Eliot had stopped maybe a foot from her. His arms slapped limply against his sides, finally getting it. Margo was still perched on her throne, though she leaned forward now, her hands folded together and her mouth resting against her fingers.
“How long do we have?” Eliot’s voice was almost a strangled whisper.
“It’s already happening. We won’t be able to stop it.”
Margo surged to her feet, leaping the few steps from the dais to close the distance between them. “We need to get out of here, to Earth, somewhere else. If they’re going to take away magic, then Fillory’s as good as dead and so are we.”
“Fillory is magic,” Alice murmured, turning away from them and holding her head in her hands. “Fillory won’t die immediately, but it will wither. Slowly, over time, it’ll wither and die until there’s nothing left but a husk –”
She turned abruptly and took off running without another word, Eliot and Margo hot on her heels. She meant to go to the library, to start looking for a backdoor, for anything that would help when she found the watery footprints. She slid to a stop, Eliot nearly colliding with her. “He’s here.”
This time it was Eliot who began to run, with Margo shortly after him, but Alice knew better. It was no use; it was already done. She followed the trail of footprints, slowly, hugging herself. She turned a corner in time to see Eliot and Margo collide with a barrier. At the end of the corridor, a man flipped a switch with a wicked smile, and then it was all gone.
It was like the sun had flickered. There was something, it was there and then it wasn’t and now there was just an empty place where magic should have been, a void that they all felt. They were magicians, after all. It was like all the oxygen had been ripped out of the air.
The world began to tremble as the diamonds fell from their towers, no more magic to hold them. There were distant shouts of confusion, of fear, like everyone already knew that this was the end of everything.
Eliot and Margo looked over their shoulders, wearing twin expressions of shock and pain. Margo tried to tut, a haphazard attempt to prove Alice wrong, but she had never been more certain of anything in her life.
Magic was gone.