Land of Terran: The Revelations of Oriceran, Soul Stone Mage, Book 4
By Sarah Noffke & Martha Carr
The Kingdom of Virgo has lived in peace for thousands of years… until now.
“That fucking little fucking fucker,” Azure said to herself, already starting to pace in the cabinet room. She couldn’t believe that she didn’t see this. How didn’t she know that Ever had a side motive? She knew all along that he was secretive. Maybe she guessed that he was hiding something, but not that he’d betray them.
“Queen Azure,” Gillian said at her back. “Finswick just came and got me. He said you needed to see me and that it was urgent.”
Azure narrowed eyes on the gnome. “Yes, I do, but first I have a few questions for you.” She pulled her wand from her hair, making it fall down on her exposed back. Azure had returned to wearing uncomfortable dresses that didn’t cover enough of her upper body and also sought to tangle her lower half with overflowing material. Presently she wore a black and white medieval gown, but with a modern flare.
“You keep a lot of secrets from me, Gillian, and I’m starting to question the logic of allowing such a person so close to the crown,” Azure said, a tone in her voice like she’d never used. Was this what betrayal did? It made reasonable people doubt their own friend’s loyalty.
Gillian, not at all appearing flustered, pressed his hands behind his back and cleared his throat. “Withhold, Queen Azure. I don’t keep secrets but rather withhold information.”
“I think this might be a game of semantics,” Azure said, pressing her eyes shut and feeling the stress around her mount on her shoulders. It was like a giant had taken a dive from the high wire and landed squarely on her head.
“Is my honesty in question, Queen Azure?” Gillian asked.
“I believe that everyone’s honesty is currently under question,” Azure said, lifting her eyes to the entrance where racing feet could be heard approach.
The door swung open and Monet stood breathless. “Is it true? Say it isn’t so.”
“I’m afraid it is,” Azure said, reading the confused expression in Gillian’s eyes.
“But with the Light Elf gone, how will I secure more Cheetos? Blisters ate all of mine. And the Dark Market is currently out,” Monet said, real fear growing in his eyes.
Azure nearly allowed herself to laugh. Leave it to Monet to loosen her up with this ridiculousness during a huge moment of frustration. “That shouldn’t be the main concern. Ever has taken off with the Book of Branches.”
“He’s done what?” Gillian asked, his mouth hanging open.
Azure flicked her wand at the note Ever had left and it flew through the air and straight to Gillian. He took it and eagerly began reading.
“I say we behead him when he’s found,” Gran said from just behind Monet. He stepped away from the door to allow her entrance.
“I actually think that might be a brilliant idea,” Azure said, forcing herself to sit at the table. Finswick entered next, Richard following him. Her father looked as though he hadn’t slept well the night before. The adjustment, she’d learned from Finswick, hadn’t been smooth. The witches and wizards were polite to him, but also watched him constantly, not offering him the hospitality that was usually synonymous to Virgo. And Emeri, a time or two, according to the Finswick, had been found having hushed conversations with him. The previous queen, devoid of magic, hadn’t been able to put a protective spell around her conversations, and so Finswick had heard the pair fighting over something to do with lifespan. Emeri had apparently stormed off saying something about how they’d both suffer the same fate now.
“You elect three people from outside your species to sit on your cabinet and now you wonder why one has betrayed you.” Monet shook his head and clicked his tongue.
“People aren’t untrustworthy just because they are different from us. It’s more about what’s inside their hearts, rather than what makes up their DNA,” Azure said, tapping her wand on the surface of the table.
Gillian passed the note to Richard who appeared to still be in the dark. “I wouldn’t have guessed this about Ever,” the gnome said, sliding up into one of the chairs around the table.
“Do we know when he left?” Azure asked, staring around at the various faces.
“It couldn’t have been long ago. I was actually up studying the Book of Branches up until a few hours ago,” the Queen Mother said, pulling a potion bottle from her robe and taking a drink of the split pea green liquid.
“You were? Did you learn anything?” Azure asked.
“I learned that I didn’t speak Greek,” Gran said with a laugh.
Azure’s head sunk down lower with disappointment. “Ever must have been waiting for you to leave so he could steal the book. I had left it in his care overnight.”
“Yes, and I’d asked if I could have a go at it for a bit, which he allowed,” Gran said, wiping the corners of her mouth with a handkerchief.
“Did anyone else see anything?” Azure asked.
“I saw the insides of my eyelids and had this dream about this big chested mermaid named Candy. She had a way with—”
“Anyone see anything relevant?” Azure cut Monet off, shaking her head at him.
Richard shook his head. His face was still covered in confusion, but his mind seemed to be working something out. “If Ever only left recently, he might not be to the border yet, or only recently. I could go and speak with the Orcs? Find out if the Chief or his men saw anything.”
“Yes. Go directly to the southwestern border,” the Queen Mother said, holding her hand up in the light streaming through the nearby window and watching it with great interests.
“And why…” Azure asked.
“Because I didn’t learn much from reading the Book of Branches, but I did learn that many of the oldest dryad tribes still reside in the forest to the west of here, the area that borders the river, on the other side of the desert.” Gran clenched her hand shut, a victorious smile on her face.
“What are you doing, you crazy old witch?” Monet asked, throwing his feet up on the table and leaning back.
The queen mother slammed her hand down on the table crushing a metal object in her palm into bits. Screws and small parts rolled in various directions. “I’m destroying what I believe to be a spying device. I’ve noticed the strange metal bugs around and just realized they must be spies sent from the Land of Terran.”
Azure turned her focus to Richard. “Is that possible?”
He nodded. “I had heard Phillip brainstorming about such an idea before, but he hadn’t secured the right means for it before. He must have found a source.”
Azure blew out a long hot breath. “Okay, so we can assume that the Duke of Terran knows about the Book of Branches and Richard’s alliance.”
“That latter part doesn’t change a thing, but I do think I need to set off to alert the Orcs or find out how long ago Ever passed through the border,” Richard said, standing tall.
Azure nodded, glad that someone was actually being proactive. “Yes, please do that. Take one of the fastest horses to save time.”
Richard nodded, sweeping from the room. To say it felt weird ordering the previous emperor of Terran around was a huge understatement.
“Gillian, can we get that copy of the Book of Branches that the gnomes made?” Azure asked.
He shook his head, a rough look on his face. “I wouldn’t advise it. Firstly, they are still creating the book based on the fast copy they took of it. I’m certain it won’t be ready for quite some time. And secondly, they have restricted who can access the book.”
“But I loaned my copy to them,” Azure complained.
Gillian shrugged indifferently. “That doesn’t really matter. That’s not how gnomes work.”
“So now what are we going to do? Head willy nilly into the mountains looking for Ever?” Azure asked.
“I can track him,” Gillian offered.
“Oh, look who doesn’t want to be beheaded by the queen mother,” Monet sang.
Gillian ignored the wizard and slipped down from the chair. He began walking back and forth, his short strides working double time to cross the short space he paced. “If we leave right away then Ever’s trail should be fresh. He’s fast and knows the forest well, but I know the mountains better. I can inquire along the way to see if anyone saw him pass through that area.”
“Okay, it’s a plan that involves much uncertainty and a bit of faith, but I’ll take it,” Azure said, rising from her chair. She turned her eyes to Finswick, standing by the fire. “Please enlist help hunting down and destroying these spy bugs. I can’t have Phillip knowing any more than he does.”
The cat nodded and strode from the room, his tail high in the air.
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