Chapter 1: Goldenrod and Orange Lilies
In all of his twenty-eight years of life, Luca had never met a Magician. He'd only ever read about them in textbooks, or known their feats from the bedtime stories his mother told him.
And here, in the past six months? He'd met two. His father's - Cole - had been the first, and the second was a girl who stood before him right now.
Magicians were incredibly rare, and very valuable. He'd been told they were usually the personal property of Kings and Queens, and treated as their most trusted servants and confidants. They could work miracles with just a word from their Noble partner - but great care must be taken, as they were not able to disobey any commands given.
Any Noble in their right mind would do everything to avoid losing possession of one.
And, yet, the Traders Association - or rather, its chair, Lady Evangeline Prosser - was freely gifting him one of hers. He was their new King, and her family wished to pay tribute. He'd need another Magician - especially if he was to surpass his father's legacy.
That's rather unlikely, Cole had warned.
He shifted in his seat, uncomfortable at this proposition, and looked toward the man who stood to his right. "Your thoughts, Cole?"
Cole shrugged. "You've already heard my assessment, sir," he said simply, gesturing toward the woman next to the Magician. "Move forward as you see fit."
"...All right, I'm curious," Luca leaned forward in his chair as he rested his chin on his hand. It was hard to suppress the urge to be ill. The girl that Lady Evangeline had brought was not much younger than he was - and she was here, being given away like livestock. "You said she's a gift , right?"
"Yes -- Now, smile, and tell him your name, dear heart," Evangeline urged. "He will be your Liege from now on."
"M-my name is Alais," the Magician smiled as she spoke in a quiet, raspy voice. Her smile didn't seem to reach her eyes, and she avoided meeting Luca's gaze. "Please look after me, my King."
Luca noticed how her hands seemed to tremble as she fidgeted with her skirt. Both of Alais' forearms were wrapped in bandages that went up to her elbows - and there were visible spots of blood near her hands. He'd been informed the girl -- the Magician -- had been injured just a few days ago in some sort of accident, but was still suitable to serve.
She avoided meeting his gaze, and he spotted what he thought were tears starting to gather in the corners of her eyes.
She's terrified. Luca felt a pang of pity for her. He could only imagine what this must be like for her.
"You'll have to forgive her, she's not been herself since her accident." Evangeline bowed slightly, motioning for the Magician to do the same. Alais copied the gesture half-heartedly.
"Alais, answer me honestly: what commands do you have presently, and from whom?"
She looked up at him, seeming to be stunned by the question. "I must do no harm to myself or others," she responded after a moment, her tone flat and dull.
Luca watched as she tugged gently at the bandage on her left arm, as if pulling it down to better cover her injuries.
"I may not go anywhere or do anything that is not permitted by Lady Evangeline.
I am not permitted to follow commands other than those given by Lady Evangeline or yourself.
I must not allow harm to come to Lady Evangeline or her household.
I cannot speak ill of Lady Evangeline, her work, or her family.
I must put my effort into learning how to follow commands properly."
"That's quite a list," Luca mumbled to himself, listening carefully as Alais continued to rattle off commands in a dull monotone.
"There was also something I was instructed to forget..." The Magician added as she reached the end of the list. "A-all were given by Lady Evangeline, I... I'm pretty sure..."
Evangeline smacked the girl on the back of her head with enough force that it echoed through the audience chamber. "You dull, worthless weed ," she hissed, "If you can't remember a simple command, then how do you know who gave it?!"
"You know the Obligation as well as any other Noble," Luca interrupted, raising his voice just enough to startle Evangeline. "Though I do wonder what that ‘forgotten' command is...?"
Luca watched as the tears that had filled Alais' eyes threatened to spill over.
"Your Highness," Evangeline bowed slightly, "The girl finds convenient ways to lie--"
"And your thoughts, Cole?" he asked, turning to look at the Court Magician.
Cole raised an eyebrow, seemingly bemused by the situation. "Apparently somehow she's found ways to work outside of a command to speak honestly, Highness. Unusual!"
"Indeed it is. How lucky, though, that I've never believed in those sorts of miracles." Luca tried to sound bored by the circumstance. "But given the situation, I'm worried you're seeking some form of sabotage, Lady Evangeline."
Evangeline blanched. "N-no -- King Luca, I would never--"
"Prove it to me. Rescind every command you have given her, Milady," Luca warned, narrowing his eyes at the other Noble. "Much as I'd like to accept your gift, I'd rather not have to find a spot in the garden for your flowers just to free her from your control."
"Y-yes, of course--" The head of the Trade Association quickly spoke a rescission - causing Alais to fall to her knees in response.
As soon as it was done, he'd heard Cole ask for Evangeline to be escorted from the room -- but missed the entirety of the exchange with his attention on Alais.
Commands had once been described to Luca has being ‘weighty' - and seeing the Magician collapse in such a fashion made him wonder if it hadn't been exaggerated. She seemed so fragile like this...
Wanting to help, he stepped down from the dais and knelt in front of her, offering his hand. "Are you all right?"
She shook her head in response, as a sob escaped her throat.
"I'm... Ah... For your safety and mine... I'm sorry, but I need to give you a command," he managed.
Alais sat up, glowering at him through her now-reddened eyes.
"You may not harm me or any belonging to this household or... Or allow us to come to harm. You may not leave the manor grounds, either." He watched as she wiped the tears away from her face. "So, uh. If you'd like, you can call me Luca. And you're... Alais, right? I just want you to know, you're safe here now."
"...I hate you..." Alais mumbled quietly in response.
Chapter 2: Spearmint and Lilacs
You need to tell them.
Lady Evangeline means harm.
You need to say something.
Alais greatly resented the feeling of waking up the next morning. The Obligations she had been given by... Luca left a faint sensation of something pulling at her focus - it reminded her of her father's cat, who had tugged at her skirts to beg for food in the mornings.
She felt tears gather at the corner of her eyes as she laid there, wanting to forget that stupid cat. Once she started thinking about that damn cat, she remembered how, when she was little, her father had taught her to pet the ridiculously needy cat. And how she missed how her daddy hugged her. And how he laughed. And she hated that all she could remember of him now was his eyes, wide open and seeing nothing, lit only by a golden glow from above.
Something caught in her throat, forcing her to sit up and cough violently. She hated Obligations.
If it meant getting rid of the tug in her head, she would talk to that stupid King today. And his Magician. And whoever else she needed to.
They could handle Evangeline after that.
Alais stretched and groaned as she got out of bed, looking around for her frock. She remembered leaving it on the floor near her bed the night before. ...So where was it?
She couldn't very well meet with the King in her pajamas... Or well, she could. But that wouldn't be very different from some of the plans Evangeline had initially laid out for her back at the Association.
It took a minute before she noticed a small bundle of yellow and light blue fabric, folded neatly on a chair across the room. Her stomach sank when she realized there was a note as well.
Please don't be gross, please. It's already bad enough that you're a Noble...
Gingerly, she picked up the sheet of paper and read:
If these aren't your size, please let the maid know. Cole says you're probably about the same size as his daughter is, so we guessed on the measurements.
P.S. If you prefer pants, we'll need to get you sized properly, though.
P.P.S. I hope you don't mind wearing my colors? I think they'll be cute on you.
Alais snorted and crumpled up the note, but couldn't help grinning slightly at the ridiculousness of the missive. What kind of ruler was this guy? Giving a Magician a choice in something so trivial as clothing?
It didn't really matter. Magicians didn't get choices, and trying to act like anything else was normal would be foolish.
She was going to get a bath, get dressed, and actually have a conversation with a King.
And then... She wasn't sure. She'd figure that part out later.
Looking at her arms, she regretted not having deafened herself instead. Then again, if she had, she'd probably still have those Obligations...
"Ah, if it isn't the newest member of our household~! Have a seat, please." The Magician with a ridiculous magenta aura - Cole, she thought his name was - motioned to a chair as he spoke. "You're certainly an early riser!"
He was wearing an apron and cooking. Weren't there staff for that? ...Other staff? Using a Magician to make breakfast was... Dumb. A waste of time, really.
Luca leaned back in his chair, grinning at Alais. "I was right! You look wonderful! Are you hungry? Cole decided pancakes were in order this morning."
"I didn't come here for food," she grumbled, folding her arms across her chest. "Lady Evangeline wants to kill you."
There. She'd done it. The nagging in her head subsided and she huffed as she sat herself down. She sure wasn't going to join these two for breakfast, but she was going to wait for the inevitable shock and awe from her revelation.
"Good morning to you, too," Cole responded cheerfully, as he sat a plate stacked with delicious-looking pancakes and fruit in front of her. "Just so you know, kiddo, we don't typically talk politics at breakfast."
"This isn't about politics," she snapped back, before focusing her ire on Luca. "It's about oaths and Obligations and the things YOU told me to do!"
The young King simply smiled in return. "And I thank you for it! Tell me, how did you sleep last night?"
"Pretty good," she said, feeling the Obligation slip away as quickly as it had settled on her. "But--"
"The pancakes are delicious! Cole even got his hands on fresh blueberries when he came in this morning!" Luca began to dig into his food. "Would you like some syrup?"
Alais grumbled and slouched in her seat. Luca wasn't interested in listening, apparently.
I've done my duty.
She wasn't even sure why she bothered staying at the table, though as soon as she moved to get up, her stomach growled.
"Fine," she muttered, taking the syrup pitcher and dumping what remained on her plate.
If this idiot wasn't going to hear her out, she may as well enjoy things while they were good. They sure weren't going to last very long.
By the end of the day, Alais had been shown nearly all of the King's manor. She was surprised - the last Noble she served under had lived in a grand castle, and kept a large staff. Luca, on the other hand, lived rather simply, and opted to avoid the opulence that most other royalty gravitated toward.
Cole had introduced her to the duties she would assume here; tending the gardens, helping with the house laundry, and standing in open court with the King, listening to people's complaints.
Luca had opted to walk her back to her room, making sure to tell her what were sure to be entertaining stories about the paintings they passed along the way to her room. She hadn't really been listening, nor had she cared about the stupid history of a country she'd been brought to against her will.
She hadn't noticed when the King stopped - causing her to walk right into his back.
"What are you doing, you dumbass?! Don't just stop like that!"
"...But this is your room. ...Or were you looking to follow me to mine, hm?" He grinned as Alais' face turned bright red. "I'm sorry but I barely kno--"
Alais quickly moved to cover Luca's mouth. "I swear on every wrought daemon in this building, if you finish that sentence...!"
Luca's eyes sparkled as he started giggling, seemingly unable to stop himself - despite Alais giving him the most fearsome glare she could manage.
"You know I could have killed you yesterday!" Alais hissed in warning.
This entire situation confused her. First, he'd blown her off, and now he was laughing at her.
She glowered at him as he removed her hands from his face.
"A ‘forgotten' command is basically a giveaway on a plot for murder, Alais," Luca said, offering her a warm smile. "She thought we were stupid. But she won't bother any of us again like that, okay?"
"...So you're going to punish her?"
"No, not without a trial." Luca placed his hands on Alais' cheeks, squishing her face slightly. "Cole's got it handled. Don't worry about it."
Alais felt the Obligation take hold, and felt herself relax slightly. Had she been worried? Surely not. She'd barely known these people for a day. Why should she worry about them?
"Ah - I take that back. I'm sorry, I didn't mean--"
At that, Alais quickly pulled away and stormed into her room, slamming the door behind her.
She heard the king call after her, attempting to apologize, but she'd ignored him. Thankfully, he was avoiding imperatives.
As long as she was here, she'd have to protect him from his own naivete and carelessness. It's not like she really had a choice.
Chapter 3: Aspen and Blackthorn
Courtesy of the Regicide
Luca stared at the bouquet of orange lilies, black poppies, and mixed primrose that had been placed in front of him. He'd gotten flowers before, but only when his father had passed away. Those had been a mixture of bluebells and verbena, and felt slightly less... Ominous.
He'd been so confused by the card that he found himself surprised when Alais snatched the vase from his hands and walked over to the nearest window. The window panes shattered as the Magician used her aura to force them open, just before she launched the vase out to shatter on the ground below.
"Alais! What in the name of Saint Yulia are you doing?!" Cole followed after her as she left the room in a huff. "Get back over here, young lady!"
Luca looked after them numbly. He wasn't sure what to think as his thoughts wandered to the title on the notecard that had come with the bouquet.
He'd heard the name before - and knew what it meant. Stories had circulated in Noble circles about the Regicide's targets and the damage he left behind in his wake. Some cities had recovered, and established a different form of government, without reliance on hearing the voice of the City Daemon. Others though?
There were plenty of cities where they simply collapsed without a ruler to manage them. Sometimes, outside Nobles came to claim the riches and Magicians left behind, seeking fortune and power for themselves.
Nobody really knew who the Regicide was, though. He'd usually worked in secret - but on the rare occasions he had been spotted, there were no survivors left to tell the tale.
If the Regicide was coming for Luca, though... There wouldn't be much he could do about it.
It was Alais' turn to cook dinner - and if the burnt fish she'd served wasn't proof enough that her mind was elsewhere, her sulking had confirmed it.
It'd only been half a year since Alais had been gifted to Luca, and while she'd become friendlier over that time, she still had days where her foul temper came to the fore. Usually, Cole was able to refocus her on a task or a chore like cooking or gardening, but there were other days where it was better to simply avoid the Magician's ire. Today, unfortunately, seemed to be one of them.
"Y'think you could blacken mine a bit more?" Cole teased, reaching to ruffle Alais' hair. "It's been a while since I've had crunchy fish!"
"Oh, shut up," Alais growled, before stepping away from the wood stove. "I'm done. You can cook it the way you like."
"Hey, now -- Alais--" Cole tried, sighing as she stormed off. She was gone and out of sight before he knew it. "...Oooph. I don't miss dealing with Cris through this phase..."
Luca looked up from the reports he'd been reading over. "Good to know it'll end one day..."
"...One can only hope," Cole joked, before seating himself and digging into his meal. "But I imagine she's as rattled as you are."
"I'm not rattled," Luca muttered in response. "Just deeply confused as to why the Regicide would send flowers to me."
"Death threats aren't rational, Luc."
The Dark Hour was upon Luca before he knew it - and he was no closer to figuring out why the Regicide had singled him out, or when he would strike.
Was it even worth trying to figure out? Any accounts of an attack by the Regicide usually mentioned that they hadn't seen the attack coming, or that his victim had been poisoned. And it'd only been after the fourth or fifth Noble dying by the same poison that they'd noticed any relation between the attacks...
Luca had turned over all of the information he'd had (except the now-dead flowers and vase) to his guards and city investigators earlier in the day. They were the experts, after all, and would surely have more information at their disposal than a singular, sleepy King. Still, it was hard to quash the desire to do his own digging, if only for peace of mind.
With that last thought, he yawned and stretched - finding that he ached all over. At the very least, going to bed meant he'd be far more comfortable than staying here, and poring over what was probably useless information.
Sleep might not be a bad idea, either.
"You're up late."
Luca shouted as he found himself greeted by a pair of brightly glowing red rings outside his bedroom door. He took a step back as they moved toward him, seemingly glowing brighter with each step.
"W-why are you--" He stammered, "J-just stop where you are and light up your face already!"
The Magician stopped moving forward and used their aura, now spread around hand to illuminate their face. It was just Alais.
"I'm not the Regicide, you know," she said, looking annoyed. "So can you rescind that command."
Luca sighed in relief and mumbled a, "I take it back," before heading to his door. "You may want to consider not standing around in the dark like that."
"Yeah, well, if you'd gone to bed at your normal time--" Alais followed him into the bedroom, "I mean, it's the Dark Hour, what did you expect?"
"I dunno, everyone's usually asleep." He flopped down onto his bed and listened for a few minutes as Alais paced back and forth in front of his bed. Though she was quiet, the sound of constant movement grated on his already frayed nerves. "Is there a reason you're here?"
She paused and started to say something, but quickly stopped herself and resumed pacing. "It's... it's... ...a thing," she finally managed.
"Alais. I am tired. All I want is to get out of my damn binder and into pajamas. Tell me what you want so I can go to sleep," Luca snapped.
The Magician stopped pacing as soon as the command had been issued. "I want you to command me to kill the Regicide." Any trace of emotion that Alais had just moments before seemed to be gone - and something about her tone chilled Luca to the core.
Luca had trouble finding his voice again, but managed a quiet, "But nobody knows who he is, Alais."
"Gold aura. Tawny. Taller'n Cole."
She'd... seen him? When?
"Tell me to kill him, Luca."
Chapter 4: Tea Roses
Life has been unkind to Alais.
Alais, in our time, is about 10. Dusk time is funny like that.
Alais Talvas had been a very good girl.
At only the age of 14, Alais had been entrusted with a very important job, that she couldn't tell anyone about. Lady Natalia, the Noble who always gave Alais fun commands, had a very important meeting with Mr. Talvas - Daddy - and a friend that day. She needed Alais to help keep it private and a surprise for everyone else.
"Alais, you must stand outside and keep people from entering through the door. Only open it when you are given the password 'Roucy'. Please repeat the Obligation I just gave you back to me."
"I'm gonna go and stand guard outside the door! I can only unlock it when someone says 'Roucy,' right?"
"Yes! Very good. If you need anything at all, knock three times and your father will answer the door. Do not enter without doing this first."
Alais nodded and smiled, before going to stand outside.
She was so happy to be trusted!
She remembered when Daddy had first introduced her to Lady Natalia and her husband Aleksey. Aleksey was not special at all - but he was still very nice to her. Natalia though... Natalia had helped her unlock all sorts of magic and secrets and fun things with her power. She'd taught Alais that words from some very special people were like a key, and that she could continue to teach her all sorts of magical things if Alais promised to be her friend.
Because of the promise, Alais could not do anything that might hurt or endanger her or any of her family or their staff, even by accident. And she needed to be glad to be with Lady Natalia. And of course, because Lady Natalia and Alais were best friends now, Alais needed to listen to her, even if Daddy disagreed with it.
It was okay for Alais not to listen to Daddy, because he wasn't special. Not like Lady Natalia was, anyway.
When Alais' mother had disappeared, Lady Natalia had said that Mama had gone on a long trip to visit a friend. Alais had wanted to cry, but Natalia said that big girls didn't cry. That Alais should dry her tears, and she should be happy. Mama would be helping other people, and she should just forget about her, just as Mama had probably forgotten about Alais. It wasn't unusual for Magicians to do that, after all!
It wasn't long before Alais realized she couldn't remember Mama's face. But at least she didn't feel sad anymore.
And when other Magicians came to visit, Alais forgot them, too.
"It's curious that a child is out here alone."
Alais looked up to see a stranger with golden eyes, staring down at her. She could barely see his face with the sun in her eyes, but she frowned at him as he moved toward the door.
"You should go away," she warned, putting her hands on her hips. "You're not supposed to be here!"
"Oh, but I'm seeking passage to Roucy," he responded.
He'd said the password! She felt the command take control as she reached for the door, and made sure it was unlocked by using her magic. "Okay!"
The gentleman thanked her and opened the door, smiling in a way that Alais thought was weird and a little scary.
After he'd gone in, she'd heard the door click shut.
It wasn't long before Alais didn't feel as happy as she had before. Like Lady Natalia had taken away those words.
The words that kept her in front of the door had gone away, too.
But Lady Natalia hadn't taken them back.
She heard some noise from inside - like furniture was being knocked over, but then it stopped.
Curious, she tried the door, finding that Lady Natalia's friend hadn't locked it behind him.
"Lady Natalia? Daddy?"
She heard something in the sitting room hit the ground.
"...Are you guys okay?"
As she moved further into the house and reached the room where Lady Natalia was having her meeting, she froze.
The stranger stood there, hand glowing with a bright golden aura. He was a Magician. Something about this seemed wrong. He shouldn't be showing off like that.
Lady Natalia sat in her comfy chair, but she'd dropped her glass of wine and spilled it all over the carpet. She was staring at her ceiling, and didn't respond when Alais called for her.
Daddy... Daddy was on the floor. He'd been hurt, somehow. And he wasn't breathing, either.
They were both dead.
The Magician said something to her, but she hadn't heard it.
And then he left.
Alais had been lucky enough that Natalia's real friend - the one from the Traders Association - found her a few hours later.