A knock at my office door and I know it is them.
“Come in,” I call as I finish the letter I want my sister to have. I hope she would read it because if I fail, her only hope was within.
Looking up, I watch the three men come into the room and ask them to sit down in the three chairs across from my desk. They are the ones I want to bring my sister, Celine, back to me.
All my life, I have done what was best for my kingdom and my people. I rule with kindness and care for all in Clearwater, and they love me for it. I take my pleasures where I want to and reward the ones who see to them. I am the queen, and I do the best I can to rule on my own.
I hold dark secrets from them all. The people I have tortured, broken, or even killed would surprise my First Commander, Brier. The madness he must feel from losing his Water element. I have my own madness because I am one of the only Fire elements in a Water world and have been forced into ruling it.
“Thank you all for coming in haste. I have a great mission I need doing. And with an urgency I ask that you agree to it,” I begin to say. Seeing I have their full attention, I continue. “What I am about to tell you all, I need it to remain secret. Do you all agree?”
“You have my word, Your Highness,” High Commander Brier Reef replies as the others also agree with their pledge.
“I have tried to be a good queen to my people, but I’m afraid my time is coming to an end. I need a replacement, and I need you all to bring her back for me.” I look at Tate Forrester, a huntsman, who used to be a close friend of my sister. “My sister, Celine, is alive and lives in a small convent on the borderlands of Earthgate. She has been there for the last five years, and I want you to bring her home.”
“Celine?” Tate says in a questionable surprise, and he grips the handles of his chair. “But you said she died. It was what the court had said.”
I hadn’t seen Tate in years, but he has grown into a fine-looking man. Once he worked in the garden here with his family but now he lives his life in the woods alone.
I guess that is my fault. When Celine disappeared, I told them all she had died, and it had broken him. After some time, he just left, and he had been hard to track down. I know if anyone can bring her back, it is him.
He is the youngest of them, only twenty-one and not as broad as the others yet. His young beard suits him, I thought, and I can see he is a severe yet quiet person. Celine would trust him, I know.
“I know. I made it appear so, but Celine is not dead,” I tell him sadly and then turn to the others to explain. “My sister is younger than me by about ten years, and she was so beautiful and kind. I regret sending her away and for what I did. Now I must make amends, and soon before it is too late.”
“What did you do to her?” Tate shouts at me loudly moving to the edge of his chair.
“I loved my husband very much as you may remember, Tate. But when his eyes turned to Celine, I was filled with anger. I thought that if she were out of the picture, he would look at me like that again, but he didn’t. His death came from my hands when I caught him with another woman. I am not ashamed by that, but I am ashamed at what I did to Celine.”
“I can’t believe you!” he shouts, standing and coming to my desk. “Celine didn’t have eyes for your husband; she had agreed to marry me! I loved her, and you took her from me.”
“I’m sorry,” I say, surprised by the intensity I am getting from his element. I don’t like being around Earth elements as strong as him. But he is powerful and robust, and that is what Celine needs to get her out of what I put her in. “Celine never told me.”
“Why would she?” he spits at me, gripping the edge of my desk. I watch the wood crack slightly under the pressure he holds over it. “Don’t think for a minute I never saw the bruises on her. I know you are the one who put them there.”
I deserve his words and what misery that comes to me in the afterlife for what I did to her. My only salvation is the chance I could lift the curse before I die. To give my lands a new ruler, one that would be better than I.
Day by day, I am growing weaker. I have just a few months left, so time was of the utmost importance. I need her brought to me so I can set her free from the curse. I can move on and be free myself. I have plans I am still working on, but I need out of this life first, and it is this life that never should have been mine.
“I was cruel to her out of my jealousy. I will admit to that,” I say, glaring at him but showing no weakness. I am the queen, and he will never dare use his power against me. “I regret what I did, but I cannot change it now. Even still, that is not the worst thing I did to my poor sister.”
“What. Did you. Do?” Tate growls, stalking forward like an animal about to attack its prey. I feel a challenge in it and look away from him. I move to the side of my desk to speak to the others.
“I changed her into a monster. An illusion spell of dark magic so powerful that none can break it. Only I can do it, and I need her here to do so,” I tell them all.
“How could you do that to her, Elizabeth?” Tate slams his fist on my desk. He steps backward and turns around, running his hand through his hair.
“I saw nothing but jealousy for the longest time.” I admit to my selfishness only because I need them to agree to this. I don’t care that this is hurting Tate. As long as they bring her to me, I will use all of them. “Three years passed before I felt sorrow for what I did to Celine. I cannot change the past, but I can change the future, and that is why you are all here.”
“Where is she?” Brier says impatiently. I have confidence that if anyone can bring her back to me, he can. Brier is the oldest at twenty-nine and has more skills in battle than almost any other in a lifetime. He is a broken Water element, but the people here respect him highly, and that is why he keeps his place.
“She is at the holy nunnery in Earthgate. She cannot escape because the curse on her was done in ogre blood, so the ogres there have a thirst for hers. They cannot enter the holy ground, and she is safe as long as she remains. They sense she is there and stay close, waiting for her to leave.”
“So, when we take her, they will come after us?” Brier asks. “But you want us three to go alone without an army.”
“Children and holy people see her as herself,” I tell them. “All others see her as the monster and with disdain. I can lift the curse but only for your eyes. I am not powerful enough to do so for a whole army.”
“What does she know of all this?” Lindon speaks up now for the first time. “Does she know you did this to her? And what of her own powers? Shouldn’t they have come into effect when she turned eighteen?”
Lindon is smart, but he is also cunning. He is known for his trickery among our people, and some consider him a thief. He has a knack for finding things, too, which I feel will come in handy. But the main reason I want him is because he is a champion fighter among our people.
Lindon is twenty-five and is handsome and charming. He can lighten anyone’s mood with just a smile. I must admit, I was tempted to try out some of his charms myself but didn’t have the energy anymore. At least not for what I would do to him.
“Her powers are still locked inside her. It was another one of my punishments. They will be set free only if she makes it back here to me in time.”
“Why break the curse now?” Lindon asks, sitting up in his chair. “It has been, what, five years? What are you looking to gain?”
What I had to gain, they did not need to know.
“I am dying,” I answer him bluntly, saying what I know they want to hear. I am good at that and proud of it, and it is was why I am favored as queen. “I have not much longer in this world, and I need to fix what I did to my sister. I would go to her myself, but I need to preserve my energy to break her curse. She must come to me, or she will live as a hag for the rest of her life and will be hunted by ogres.”
I can’t leave anyway. I have much to plan before the time came with Belinda and Fin, my lover now. He is the only other powerful Fire element here, and I relish having his power run through me.
“I will go,” Tate says, looking harshly at me. “As long as you pledge to break the curse from her and set her free. She deserves better than what you did to her.”
“I’ll go, too,” Brier says calmly. “But we will all need top armor if we are going to be fighting ogres. The best in weapons and a boat. Ogres cannot clear water, and we will need that for our travels.”
“Rescuing a damsel in distress is right up my ally,” Lindon says with a half-smile as he crosses his arms. “Besides, I have nothing better to do, and hell, I may garner some favor with the next queen.”
“I will provide you with all you need,” I say, handing them each a piece of paper so they can pick what they need from the castle armory and food banks. “Please take today and gather what you need. In the morning, I will lift the curse from your eyes so you can see Celine’s true form. It wouldn’t do for you all to have negative thoughts about her.”
They all rise and take their leave. Tate is the last to go, and he gives me a look that could kill if he had power such as mine. I have no time to dwell on it. I must prepare for the strength it would take to remove the curse from their eyes.
If anything happens before their return, I am afraid the curse would be sealed.
Having Tate back in her life may be just what she needs. He still seems to have strong feelings for her. If I fail, maybe they could even build a life together. If I had known there was something more, perhaps I wouldn’t have been so jealous.
I return to my bedroom and go to the wall beside the bed where I push an invisible button, and the wall mirror opens to my secret rooms.
At one time, I had been a powerful sorceress, but now I am weak and beyond repair.
I had been twenty when I took the crown. Young to be in such power, and, in some ways, lost. Phillip had been there to guide me. He was my childhood friend, and we grew into love. It didn’t last, though, as cruelty and hate surfaced between us. He was a Wind element, and his powers attracted me to him. Always being with the Water elements became tiring, and Phillip seemed to add something to my own.
Celine had been most kind to him. Always talking and laughing at his jokes. Each day, Phillip’s eyes became more riveted on her than the day before. When I confronted him about it, he didn’t even deny it. He said no man could deny her beauty or her kindness. When he said he had no interest in her, I didn’t believe him.
Over time, I watched them together. Phillip had become harsher with me. Celine also changed, becoming more distant. One night after a ball, I saw them dancing together and confronted them. They both denied everything, and it had made me furious. I was not blind, and I saw love between them.
“You are crazy, Elizabeth!” Celine shouts at me in the hallway. “I am tired of always being blamed for everything. I don’t want Phillip like that, and he doesn’t want me.”
“Every time I turn around, you are with him,” I shout at her as I grab her arm in a bruising hold. “He doesn’t smile or laugh with me like that, but he used to. When he wanted me.”
“We are the royal family. We must be social with our people,” she tells me, trying to pull away. “Something you don’t like to do.”
“You don’t have to do it with my husband!” I yell as I slap her hard across her face and let her fall to the floor.
“Elizabeth, stop!” Phillip comes out into the hall and jerks me around to him. “She is just a child. You can’t keep abusing her like this. There is already talk.”
“If you would keep your hands off her, I wouldn’t put mine on her!” I push him away. “How dare you parade her around on your arm!”
“She is fifteen, Elizabeth! She has to have an escort to these things,” he yells at me as he helps Celine up. “Who else is going to do it when you won’t?”
How dare he touch her! I just told him not to do it. Rage boiling over in me, I spark my hands at her skirt and light it on fire.
Celine screams as she falls back to the ground. Phillip smothers it with her skirt and beat it out with his own hands.
“Celine, are you okay?” he asks her, and she nods. The closeness between them makes me sick, and I am about to do it again when he stands up and slaps me hard across the face. It is the first time he had ever hit me.
“You lay one more hand on her, and I am leaving,” he says sharply, right in my face. “I will not stand by and watch you abuse her anymore because of me.”
“You will not leave me,” I challenge him.
“I am already halfway out the door,” he snaps. “My bag is already packed.”
His confession stuns me. I have no idea he was serious with his threat until just now. I can’t lose Phillip. He is everything to me even if we didn’t get along like we once did.
“I have stayed this long only because you promised to stop this,” he goes on to say. “But it’s only getting worse. I make this promise to you now—touch her again, and I am gone.”
I realize then that I need a Fire element to help balance my rage and take it from me. So, I send for one. When Damon Firestone came, who do you think his eyes turned to as well? My darling little sister.
That was the last straw. His refusal and Phillip’s were enough to send me over the edge. I go to my secret rooms and chant a spell out of ogres’ blood that would give an illusion of a monster.
Knowing that Celine will be dominant when she comes into her powers, I have to do something about them. It is possible her magic could destroy the curse. I don’t want that. I have some of her blood and mix it with water as that is her element. I forge it together and lock it into a capsule. I then place it within the blood curse and join them together.
I prick my finger and drop my blood in the potion now, bonding it to myself so that no one could break the curse. Only with my blood could it be altered or broken.
Once it is done, I take the potion to Celine’s room by the hidden passage and enter. She is sleeping in her bed as I look down at her. I hate her beauty, which I don’t have. I hate her for having the love of my husband and of the other I so needed. Because of her, I would never get to find the balance I need. My rage only builds inside me, and it is all on her.
Slowly, I pour the liquid potion over her head, chanting the last bit of my curse. She wakes, screaming from the fire of my blood within it that seals the curse. As she tries to get out of bed, I slam my fist into her face twice until she falls back into bed, unconscious.
In the end, Phillip did leave. He tried to make a new life for himself, but I destroyed him as well, along with that sweet little whore he had been living with.
“So, did they agree?” my lover, Fin, says as he comes into my rooms. Only him and one other I ever allowed in here.
“Yes. They will be leaving tomorrow,” I tell Fin as I work on the potion for them now.
“Good. I needed Brier out of the way for a while,” he says as he wraps his arms around my waist. “Do you think he will kill the ogre?”
“He must if he is to bring her to me,” I tell him as I pour the liquids together. “It is time for him to die too.”
“I still don’t see why you just don’t kill your sister,” he says in my ear.
“Because I have better use for her alive,” I say, annoyed. The truth is I don’t want to see Celine dead, but I can’t tell Fin that. He is my Fire element, my balance, and I need him for what I am planning to do. “You will see in the end.”
“Um, your twisted little plans always seem to work out so well,” he says. “I am just happy to know that damn ogre is as good as dead. He is a loose end that doesn’t need to get out.”
“Yes, and it’s kind of ironic, don’t you think?” I say, finishing up the potion and turning into his arms. “Brier will kill his own brother and not even know it.”
“Your wickedness turns me on,” he says as he picks me up. “Do you have the strength?”
“For you, my love,” I say as I let him carry me from the room. “I will find it.”