Far Off Unhappy Webnovel

Far Off Unhappy Things

Chapter 16: Far Off Unhappy Things

By Renko Doremi Rodenburg

Maxwell paced back and forth near the window as Alexis carefully slid flexible glass cables into the intravenous ports on his forearms.

Both the intravenous ports and the flexible glass had been his own invention, irreproducible outside Luson. He double checked his equipment, and turned on the filtration machine.

In his veins flowed not the blood that filled the veins of lesser men. Instead, he had replaced all of the fluid with alchemical philters that conducted the soul far better than blood ever would. This, too, was of his own devising. The downside was that none of his organs were functional anymore after flooding his veins with mercury for years, and that his biological processes slowly decayed the crystalline fluids. This necessitated running all of his blood through a filter once a week, before impurities built up enough to have an impact on his health.

From his veins, dulled and muted colours were sucked into the large, glass filtration device he had built. Slowly, the fluids were separated into seven individual components by rotating flasks, the contents of which were then ran through various filtering devices before bright, colourful crystalline fluids were fed back into Alexis’s veins through intravenous drip-feed.

“Is this going to take long?” Maxwell asked him, still pacing back and forth at the window of Alexis’s laboratory.

“About six hours,” Alexis answered.

“Jesus,” Maxwell said. An unknown deity that the boy sometimes swore by- another thing that made him suspicious. “And you have to go through this every week?”

“It’s fine,” Alexis said.

It had been several days since Lady Fleur- the mirror-girl- and the two strangers had come tumbling out of the mirror in the spire attic. He had been trying to get some semblance of information out of them, which had proven extremely frustrating. So far he had concluded that Mary had most likely been displaced through time- although that theory had several issues- and that Lady Fleur had originally disappeared from the spire because Maxwell had somehow hidden or cloaked her. Where Maxwell had come from was still a mystery. The boy’s primary talent of ‘being hard to notice’ seemingly extended to a metaphysical level, making it as if he did not exist at all.

Additionally, the boy very quickly had proven himself incredibly annoying to Alexis. He had an odd habit of trying to sneakily assert himself as a superior to others, which came with a troubling amount of metaphysical weight, as if reality was continuously trying to adjust itself to new standards. As if reality bent and buckled around Maxwell, reshaping itself ever so slightly to the boy’s whims.

Such powers were not unknown to Alexis. After all, Autumn and to a lesser extent Tintenzunge operated on such principles. He understood the basics of throwing words and of the narrative kind of magic inherent to storytelling himself, but he had never seen it wielded so casually and so subtly. Perhaps the boy’s innate ability of ‘hiding’ made it easier for him to subvert the world around him in unseen manners.

The boy held Lady Fleur in an iron grip with his powers. Although a lesser noble from the third circle, she was a noble nonetheless and it was worrying that a completely unknown magician from a completely unknown family had managed to enthrall her. Lady Fleur did not seem to notice or mind this enthrallment, which again could be attributed to Maxwell’s innate sneakiness.

“Are you really sure I can’t leave?” Maxwell asked him, still impatiently pacing back and forth.

“You cannot,” Alexis reprimanded him. “The fate of the Lands is at stake. We need to resolve the issues plaguing the court before the wider world becomes aware of our vulnerability.”

“And when are you going to explain these issues to me so I can actually help?” Maxwell asked.

Alexis sighed. “When Lady Fleur returns and she assures me that she will not speak of the things she will witness here.”

“Why are you letting her leave for errants and not me?”

“Because I do not wish to invoke her anger or accidentally dissuade her from helping us.”

“Tsk,” Maxwell spat.

While the two waited for Alexis to complete his dialysis treatment, the door to his laboratory in the palace opened, and Mary entered, carrying a tray with a teapot and several cups.

“I’ve found hot water and tea,” she said, cheerful. Maxwell frowned, a look of distrust on his face. The boy did not trust Mary for reasons unknown to Alexis, which distressed him in turn. Maxwell was preternaturally perceptive, and the idea he was seeing something Alexis was not was at once infuriating and concerning.

Mary put down the tray on one of Alexis’ many tables, and started pouring hot water through a filter with fresh tea leaves into four cups. “Has Fleur not yet returned?” She asked.

“She has not,” Alexis said. “Though I hope she arrives quickly so I can start my briefing.”

“Do you need help drinking your tea?” Mary asked while carrying one of the cups to Alexis.

“No, I am fine. The cables are quite flexible, I can use my arms and hands,” he answered while taking the cup from her.

“I dislike Fleur,” Mary said. “She wanted to leave me behind, abandon me in the mirrored world.”

Alexis wondered if Lady Fleur was trustworthy as well. There were books in which she was mentioned, apocryphal books locked away in the royal library.

“Hm,” Maxwell said in reply, a big grin on his face. “Around elves, watch yourselves.”

It might’ve been a reply to what Mary had said, or it might’ve been a reply to something Alexis had only thought. He leaned towards the latter, which would make this the twenty-second time Maxwell had replied to something he had only thought and not spoken. The boy could most likely read minds, an ability he was openly flaunting- no doubt to make Alexis feel insecure.

Additionally, Maxwell kept using words Alexis did not know and had not seen referred to in literature either. Jesus. Elves. Earth. He refused to believe these were slips of the tongue- the boy was not so subtly implying he was from another time and space. A worldwalker perhaps.

This too put Alexis on edge. They had been locked into a battle for dominance from the second they met, and it was hard to accurately gauge how dangerous Maxwell really was.

As he monitored Maxwell, he kept seeing the boy anxiously side-eyeing Mary. This was no play or deceit, he seemed genuinely stressed around her. The girl seemed as innocent as she could be and had displayed no unusual powers or knowledge. If Maxwell was as powerful as he kept implying, it was disconcerting that Mary put him on edge.

“Is it painful?” Mary asked, pointing at the contraption filtering the alchemical philters that had replaced Alexis’ blood.

“It is not,” he answered. “It feels quite pleasant actually, having the build-up impurities scrubbed out of my blood.”

“Oh,” she said, and smiled.

“Neither of you know when Lady Fleur will be back?” Alexis asked. Mary shook ‘no’ and Maxwell made a disapproving noise.


Far Off Unhappy Things

Chapter 16: Forever Dying

Fleur was shaking. Rattled. The disastrous expedition in the mirrored world had left her diminished. Spiritually damaged. Wresting control of the mirror artifact had drained her of more power than she thought possible, and worse still, exposed her to knowledge she would have been better off not having.

The last few days since they had come stumbling out of the mirror in the Spire attic, she had been wandering around Luson, completely lost in thought. There were things she had to reconcile with herself and she could not do them surrounded by Maxwell or whatever the kid who hung out with Autumn was called or even Amelie.

When she was done thinking, she checked in on Maxwell, still confined to the palace by the young Lord, and went to House Charis to gather things she needed to make a trip.

“Fleur!” Akela greeted her as she came in. “You’ve been gone for days, and so has Maxwell. Are you alright?”

“I guess,” Fleur said. “He’ll be back soon, he’s busy with things.”

House Charis felt cold and empty with his absence. Although she had refused to believe it at first, even denied it to herself, it had very quickly become a home to her. Adventures with Maxwell- although often his ‘adventures’ were just glorified petty theft for his dad- and then dinner with everyone afterwards made her feel like she had a family. A proper family.

She went up the stairs and to her room and to her surprise found Amelie there, pallid and ghastly cheeks red from tears.


The girl didn’t answer, but rushed over to her and hugged her. Hugged her tight enough that she had trouble breathing despite her physical resilience.

“Amelie, what’s wrong?”

“I thought that you left me and would never come back,” Amelie answered, her voice hoarse from crying.

Fleur wondered why she would even come up with things like that.

“Of course I- why would I do that? 

Amelie started sniffling, seemingly having run out of tears a while ago.

“You never play with me anymore. You hardly talk to me. You don’t play games with me or read me books and you are outside with Maxwell all day and-”

She ran out of breath before managing to finish her sentence.

“Amelie, I gave you a corporeal form. I made myself lesser- probably forever- so you could live again. Do you think I would just give up on you and walk away after that?”

Sobbing, the girl said “Yes.”

“Why would you-”

Fleur stopped. Yelling at Amelie wouldn’t help. “Hey, Amelie. I have to go somewhere, talk to someone. Do you want me to spend time with you after? I’ll make as much time as you need.”

Amelie looked up at her. “I don’t understand. You vanished for days and now you have to go elsewhere to talk to someone. I don’t understand what you’re doing, I don’t understand what’s going on and I have this terrifying feeling that you’re going somewhere far away.”

She felt distant. Small. Amelie wasn’t someone Fleur was particularly concerned about. She had been with her for years and unlike almost everyone else, Amelie would probably be with her for a very long time still.

“If I go somewhere far away, I’ll take you with me.”

“Take me along now. I promise I’ll behave. I want to be with you but you’re only ever going out with Maxwell.”

Fleur shook her head. “I can’t Amelie, not today. There’s some things I need sorted out and I can only really do that alone.”

“You never tell me anything,” Amelie said, pouting and still hoarse.

“Can you let go of me? I need to pack some things.”

Amelie gave Fleur a despondent look, but let go.

Fleur then went to sort through her belongings. She changed clothes, from her usual blue dress to clothing better suited for life outside the comfort of the Twin Cities. Maxwell had bought them for her, but pants did not suit her so she rarely wore them. It wasn’t like she often left the cities to begin with.

Amelie stared at her as she changed, but she didn’t worry. Since she had given the dead girl corporeal form she seemed to have lost some of her taste for flesh. Now Amelie only playfully bit Akela every now and then, who could handle it.

After changing into the pants and shirt Maxwell had bought for her, she looked through her jewelry, looking for her mirror and a purple stone on a silvery cord. When she’d found them, she put both around her neck.

“You look so silly,” Amelie said. “The modern adventurer getup doesn’t match that old-fashioned mirror.”

“Tsk,” Fleur spat. “You want me to come back, don’t you? Then I’m not leaving unarmed.”

“Hey,” Amelie said, her mood darkening again. “Where are you going?”

“I have things to discuss with some deeply unpleasant people. But I’ll be back, I promise.”

She then turned to the large, standing mirror in her room, and folded her hands tightly around the purple gemstone on her necklace.

There was someone else with such a stone, the perfect mirror image of this one, and through that sympathetic link she could beseech a mirror to open a path there.

Amelie gasped when the Fleur’s reflection vanished, and the mirror folded inwards, creating a mesmerizing tunnel of reflections to elsewhere.

Fleur stepped into the mirror, and let herself be swept through the mirrored world on currents she had long ago constructed for travel like this. As if blown forward by a terrifying gaze, she was carried through mazes of quicksilver.

Once, this was supposed to have connected every corner of their empire. Once, when humans were larger and still spilled blood in dark rituals to appease their seven pointy-eared elders, Fleur had designed these corridors to tie together the strongholds of her siblings.

Their strongholds- and Eden, now lost, unreachable even through the mystical network.

One of her sisters still inhabited such a stronghold, and as smoothly as Fleur had stepped into the mirror in her room, she stepped out of a mirror in a private study in a dark castle, there in the forests where the sun had been blotted out with magic.

“What the fuck, cunt,” Violet swore, startled when Fleur stepped out of a mirror right next to the desk where she sat reading a book. “Last I checked we have no duels coming up and last I checked my house wasn’t a duelling ground either so you have ten seconds to explain what you are fucking doing here before I turn you into dust.”

“I,” Fleur said sternly, “I Need to talk to Hyacinth, and the pathway to the dueling ground near her house has since collapsed.”

“Insolent bitch,” Violet swore while getting up from her chair. “What could possibly be important enough that you’d break one of our most sacred rules just to save you some time traveling?”

“I’ve seen some things recently, worrying things, and Hyacinth either needs to know about them, or already knows them and has hid them from us. Either way I’d like to speak to her sooner rather than later.”

“What the fuck?” Violet asked, or rather swore. “Is this part of the shit Aster is up to?”

“Aster?” Fleur asked. “What is Aster up to?”

Violet shook her head, slightly less on edge than before. “I dueled Aster a few months ago, and there were things off about them. Their champion carried a spear that killed mine- a beautiful vampire named Kirsten, if you care- by merely touching them. An immortal vampire! Dead from a single fucking scratch. I’ve been tracing their movements through the lands lost since then and have grown a little concerned.”

“Ah,” Fleur said. “Well, that has nothing to do with my problems. Good luck with that.”

She headed for the door, intending to spend as little time around Violet as was possible. Behind her, she heard the crackling of electric energy, and as she turned around she found Violet covered in red arcs of electricity, her hair standing upright from static build-up.

“Take a shortcut straight through Hades, you fucking cunt,” Violet spat as she stretched out a hand towards Fleur and discharged a bolt of red energy.

It struck the mirror around Fleur’s neck and electrocuted Violet’s reflection, who- together with her material, real world counterpart- collapsed on the ground, convulsing and foaming at the mouth.

“You-” Fleur started, but decided it wasn’t worth it to pick a fight with her hot-headed sister. “I really hope that wasn’t intended to actually kill me, for your sake,” she said instead, and then she headed out of the door.

Violet’s fortress hadn’t changed much. It was dark and brooding- lacking both windows and candles. What few people there were present were mind-broken vampire maids, akin to Octavia. Fleur wondered why she kept those around, but Violet had always been a little strange. Preferred to be holed up in the dark to study thaumaturgy.

There weren’t any guards in the building nor outside, and the door was unlocked though inscribed with runes to ward it. She’d spotted similar runes at regular intervals on the walls as well, and wondered what Violet was warding herself against. Humans wouldn’t bother her here- this was vampire territory. The vampire lords and ladies allegedly adored Violet and kept her around as an advisor, so they wouldn’t bother or threaten her either. Perhaps then she had made dangerous enemies, or perhaps she was simply paranoid.

Luckily, the fortress wasn’t smack in the middle of vampire territory. Having to walk through that brooding, dark, mist-covered forest for several days in a row would’ve been a nightmare. Instead, Violet lived almost at the edge of it and two hours after leaving the fortress behind her, Fleur left the forest and stepped back into the familiar world of red, yellow, orange and brown.

This far away from the Twin Cities there were few trees. The landscape was instead covered in heathers, shrubs and long grass. There was something about the soil here that made it difficult for trees to grow. ‘Blasted’, Clementine had called it ages ago. A blasted landscape. Still, things did grow. Hardy plants. Food too, since there were agrarian settlements scattered throughout the area. It’d be quite a distance to Hyacinth still, but just like time, distance was distorted in the Lands Lost. And Fleur knew more tricks to manipulate that to her advantage than most. She had invented half of them, after all.

Jogging along the heath she tried to once again fall into a pace the Huntsmen of this era called ‘Seven League Striding’, and at the same time clenched her mirror amulet in her hand. ‘You cannot leave a room if you do not first cross half the distance to the exit,’ she muttered to herself. ‘You cannot cross the remaining half without first crossing half of that.’

If you could stretch space into an infinity of infinitesimal lengths, then what would the opposite of that be? The mirror-world counterpart of a paradox was a paradox still, but one that cut the remaining distance to Hyacinth’s hovel in half.

There was something exhilarating in exerting her powers like this. Despite, or perhaps because of having diminished herself when she brought Amelie back to life and then losing a significant amount of power to the mirror in the Spire she felt strangely alive right now, running along the heath. More alive than she had in decades.

Despite her great speed, it was nightfall when she reached the hovel where Hyacinth lived.

It was small. Hyacinth lived in abject poverty, foregoing the wealth of the cities, of the riverlands, of the vampire courts. Fleur had never really understood it, but she didn’t understand any of her sisters. They usually only briefly interacted when it was time for each other’s champions to fight, anyway. But not tonight. Tonight she wanted answers to questions she hadn’t been able to conceive mere weeks ago. She took a deep breath and knocked on Hyacinth’s door.

The witch in all black opened the door. Despite her great age- she was easily twice Fleur her age- she was still as beautiful as she had been four hundred years ago, when the seasons fell.

“Fleur,” she simply said in lieu of a greeting.

“Hyacinth,” Fleur answered.

For a while they stood there, looking at each other. For a moment, anxiety gripped Fleur by the throat. Only for a moment, and then she managed to swallow it.

“Where have you been wandering?” Hyacinth asked.

“The Twin Cities,” Fleur said. “Autumn has made me a noble.”

“Ah,” Hyacinth said. “Yes. Of course. The young nobleman was with you last duel.”

Richard. Whom Hyacinth’s champion had killed and eaten. She couldn’t bring herself to be mad. The last four hundred years she had lost a champion every six months. She’d known how it would end the first time she kissed Richard. If she was to be mad at anyone, it would be herself.

“Why are you here, Fleur?” Hyacinth asked. “We have a pact, remember. We do not intrude on each other’s territory directly.”

Fleur shook her head. “I don’t care for the game anymore. There are things we need to talk about. Things I have seen. Things I cannot forget. For the first time in my life, things have changed. Truly changed, and I can never go back.”

Hyacinth nodded. “This day was long overdue. Come inside, I’ll get you something to eat and drink.”

Her house was small. A tiny, cluttered living room, a kitchen that doubled as a storeroom and a bedroom. To Fleur’s surprise, Hyacinth had a candle lit on her dinner table. She wondered if perhaps Hyacinth could not see in the dark as well as she could. Fleur sat down at said dinner table, while Hyacinth picked up the candle and headed into the kitchen. Not long after she carried a wooden tray with two drinks on it. The glasses were rough and unrefined, primitive. The drink inside reeked.

Hyacinth sat down across from Fleur, and looked her in the eyes. It was strange, sitting here with her older sister. Their only meetings had been in an antagonistic context- part of the great game, killing each other’s lovers for eternity. It was strange that Hyacinth seemed to have been expecting her. She’d fantasized about angrily storming into her house, and demanding answers. She’d expected conflict. But Hyacinth didn’t seem angry, or tense.

“How have you been, Fleur? You look well. Your adventurer getup suits you.”

“I haven’t- I haven’t been well. I’ve never been well. But I had consigned myself to this being all there was to it, Hyacinth.”

Hyacinth nodded. “You had. Did something happen?”

Fleur wondered how much of the last few months she should relay to Hyacinth. If she had learned anything in her long life, it was that it was wise to keep as many cards close to her chest as possible.

“I joined up with an adventurer, looking for a new life again. The spire, the nobility, it bored me.” It was not entirely untrue.

“Hmm,” Hyacinth said. It put Fleur ill at ease.

“He is strange. Involved in odd things. Knows things he shouldn’t. Has powers that rattle me. It was with him that I ran into something terrible.”

“And now you know the truth of this world,” Hyacinth said.

“How did you know?” Fleur stammered. She felt small, like a child. She loathed being talked down to, especially by her sisters. It brought back unpleasant memories.

“Clementine was the first to figure out what had transpired,” Hyacinth said. “She has since departed this world. Where she walks now I know not.”

Anger welled up in Fleur. “Do all of you know? Did you all just decide to- again- keep me in the dark?”

Hyacinth shook her head. “No. Clementine figured it out and confided in me. I’ve suspicions that others have since made similar discoveries, but you know we do not talk.”

“I need more information, Hyacinth. I still cannot make sense of what exactly I’ve seen.”

“Tell me,” Hyacinth said. “I know only what Clementine has told me. I haven’t seen past the illusion myself.”

Fleur took a deep breath. Now she did feel like she had the upper hand. “Alright,” she said. “In the attic of the Spire, they keep an artifact. It is a mirror, more beautifully made than any other I have seen in my life, yet I did not make it nor did I know of its construction. My adventurer friend and I, we discovered it after finding someone who had traveled through it into my mirrorworld.”

“A backdoor?” Hyacinth asked. “I know little of your mirrors, but it seems odd that someone else could access your world.”

“Not just a backdoor,” Fleur answered. “It is a doorway to everywhere. Transcendental. We fell into the mirror, and I saw everything. The whole of reality unwinding like a fractal tapestry before me.”

“Ah,” Hyacinth said.

“For every world that exists, there exists an uncountable number of derivative worlds. For every choice made, time splits and splits again. Every path that has been, that is, and that could be. Some are more real than others, more luminescent. Some are darker, vestigial. Shadows. But ours- our world is illusory. A mirror reflection of sorts. A shadow cast by a much brighter, much more real world. I am not the real Fleur, and you are not the real Hyacinth.”

Hyacinth shook her head. “I consider that rhetoric reductive, but carry on.”

“There’s four of me, four reflections. I stared them in the eyes. A Fleur wearing a flower wreath in the leaven garbs of a dryad. A Fleur in a royal dress, presiding in a palace of mirrors. Me, a Noble of Autumn, and a Fleur dressed in white and icy blue, who lives in a land of eternal snow.”

“Four remnants of a world that was,” Hyacinth said.

“What does that mean?” Fleur asked. She hoped she managed to hide the desperation in her voice. “I thought time stopped not long after we killed our father. That we had broken time and space, and now had to persist in the doomed world we had created. In the corpse of the world we had strangled in its infancy.”

“I don’t know,” Hyacinth said. Her voice was solemn. “I presume that somehow, Eden was split into four when we did the deed. Clementine compared it to paintings. Shards of a broken mirror as an analogy might make more sense for you.”

“A girl wandered here through the mirror. Wandered here from a different Lost Luson, where it is always summer.”

“Have you found anything else?” Hyacinth asked.

Fleur stopped to think. “What do you mean?”

“More is afoot. Things have been put in motion that ought to stay still. Two of your siblings are conspiring against Autumn, though on opposite sides of a conflict with another.”

“Things- things that ought to stay still? What are you talking about?”

“Things are bleeding into this world. People from far off places are manifesting here.”

“Lost things have always found their way to these lands, like some transcendental dreg heap,” Fleur said.

“Not like that. There are people who do not belong here, scheming against each other. Plotting. And ever so recently, time has started moving again. The inexorable crawl towards Winter has begun.”

Fleur shook her head. “That makes no sense. How can that be?”

“I know not,” Hyacinth said. “All I know is that things are moving towards a conclusion.”

A conclusion, Fleur thought. Things did seem to have been moving forward at an odd pace recently.

“There are things happening in the Palace of Autumn,” Fleur said. “The court alchemist tried to apprehend me, and told me he needed help to try and figure out a solution to an impending crisis.”

“Then you should return post haste and keep your eyes open, Fleur. We have invisible enemies working against us,” Hyacinth said.

“What about the duels?” Fleur said. “I- I have thought about giving up, Hyacinth. I’ve thought about stopping, and fading away.”

“That that thought even occurred to you is proof that time is moving again. We’re no longer in an unchanging stasis. But you needn’t worry about it. Things will have come to an ending before your next duel.”

Fleur shook her head. “I wish you did not speak in riddles.”

“I do not,” Hyacinth said. “But the future is a vague thing, and can be hard to see.”

“I suppose,” Fleur responded.

For a while they sat in silence. Fleur tried to drink the somewhat alcoholic, thick sludge of what seemed to be fermented pumpkin, but couldn’t get it down her throat. Hyacinth seemed to like it, and drank her glass in silence.

“I-” Fleur started, but fell silent again. She didn’t know how to broach the subject, nor did she know if she actually wanted to open up to Hyacinth like that.

As if reading her mind, Hyacinth reached out across the table and took Fleur’s hands into her own. “It’s okay, Fleur.”

“I don’t know how to deal with not being the real me. With being a reflection.”

Hyacinth shook her head. “You are the real you. Everything is naught but fragments of larger things, deluded that they are the whole. Everything around you is equally ‘real’ as you are, and your thoughts and feelings are your own.”

Swallowing her tears, Fleur pretended to understand.

Far Off Unhappy Things

Chapter 16: Eyes to See

“It is truly astonishing,” Maxwell said to Mary. He sat a distance behind her, enthralled by diagrams he had drawn himself.

“There’s no stars at all in this world,” Mary said wistfully while looking up at the sky. They sat on one of the many palace balconies, waiting for either Lady Fleur to return or Lord Bloodrose to be relieved of his court duties.

“Isn’t it just that the sky is perpetually overcast?” Maxwell asked her.

“No,” she said. “There’s no stars behind those clouds. I’d sense them. I have kinship with stars, you know.”

‘Hm,” Maxwell said.

Lord Bloodrose- Alexis- had refused to update them on the going-ons he needed help with until Lady Fleur returned. Instead, she and Maxwell had spent the last few days trying to figure out the mysteries of the mirror, the artifact found in the Spire attic.

She partially knew, of course. She had eyes that could see what was hidden quite clearly. It was hard to keep true secrets from an astrologer. That, and adding two and two together. The God of this land, Prince Autumn, was conspicuously absent from dealings with His court, so she assumed some calamity had befallen the Prince.

“It’s a perfect plane, a sheet that cuts through reality. But it’s not just a sheet. It’s an intricate maze, a pattern, a fractal of light and crystal continuing on in perpetuity on the inside,” Maxwell said. “I feel like I could spend my entire life and never truly understand the artistry that went into making it.”

Mary shook her head. “You just need to figure out how to tune it so it can send me home.”

“I’m a boy wizard, not a silversmith. I don’t know the proper rituals, the proper order of conduct to get it to do what I want,” Maxwell said.

She’d grown to loathe staying here in the autumnal lands. She missed the scorching heat of the Lands Lost she came from, the beautiful daughters of Princess Summer and the bustling of her own Luson. This world in contrast was cold, it was desolate. It had a beauty of its own- but it was a cruel kind of beauty.

“We’ll figure it out,” she reassured the boy, smiling at him. “Your Lady friend can help. So can Lord Bloodrose, as soon as we’re done helping him.”

“Hmm,” Maxwell said, as he took his writing implement out of a hidden pocket and wrote something on the massive sheet of paper he’d been drawing his mirror-theories on.

The door to the palace balcony- in actuality an aerial loading dock, though this world curiously lacked the flying machines she had grown accustomed to in her own- opened, and Lord Bloodrose walked out.

“Lady Fleur has arrived,” he said. “I’ve collected some things in my quarters, so if you would accompany me there, we can get started.”

Mary jumped up. “Alright!” She said, causing both Maxwell and Alexis to look at her weird. There was something about her demeanor they took offense to, it seemed. Maybe gloom and glum were a societal norm in a land that was trapped in a forever fall?

As she followed the two men through the palace, she tried to focus her gaze on Maxwell and once again failed. She wondered what he was doing to make himself so hard to truly look at. When they reached Alexis’ quarters, Lady Fleur was already waiting for them.

“Hello,” Maxwell said as he walked in. “Lady Fleur,” Mary said, nodding to the woman as she walked in after him.

Alexis’ quarters were massive. Most people didn’t have a house as large as his bedroom. Or bedroom- it had a bed in it, but beyond that it looked more like a garish ballroom haphazardly converted to a science classroom. Which was what it was, Mary realized.

“Go take a seat over there,” Alexis said, gesturing at some chairs he had piled up in the corner of his room. He pulled a cart full of assorted garbage Mary could only guess the function of in the same direction, then wheeled a blackboard over as well.

When they’d all grabbed a seat, Alexis started his explanation.

“First of all,” He said, then shook his head. “No, that’s wrong.” He was lost in thought for a moment, then started scribbling something on his blackboard before immediately erasing it again.

“Alright,” he said. “What I’m about to tell you is secret. Not a word of what we discuss leaves this room.”

Mary nodded, and saw Fleur and Maxwell do the same.

“A while back, Autumn was attacked by a witch- one of Lady Fleur’s sisters-”

“What,” Fleur said, distraught. “That’s impossible.”

“Can you- can I finish my explanation first?”

“Apologies,” Fleur said, staring at the floor.

“Autumn was attacked by a witch. She was targeting the court poet, and Autumn, one of his consorts, and I all got caught up in it. Autumn was poisoned with some power relating to Winter, the archenemy. Right now he’s confined to his quarters, incapacitated and attended to medically by me.” Alexis’ voice was stern and solemn. “In my search for a cure, and in trying to figure out why exactly the witch attacked us, I’ve uncovered a great many other problems. It seems that the Prince being poisoned is merely a symptom of some deeper rot.”

“Huh?” Maxwell said. “What do you mean?”

“Winter,” Alexis said while simultaneously writing it on the blackboard. “What’s up with Winter?”

Nobody replied. “No takers?”

Fleur shuffled awkwardly on her chair. Maxwell frowned, desperate to come with an answer. Mary couldn’t help but giggle. It really was like a classroom.

“What’s so funny?” Alexis asked.

“It’s like we’re taking an exam,” Mary explained. “You’re our teacher and we’re the students who didn’t pay attention.”

“Sometimes,” Alexis said, “it feels like I’m the only person paying attention in the entirety of the Lands Lost.”

He shook his head, then continued. “Winter is one of the forces opposing Autumn. It is death, icy cold. The other opposing force is Summer, which is life, raging flame. These are fundamental to the principles of alchemy as well.”

“And Spring?” Mary asked.

“Spring?” Alexis said, confused. “That’s not a principle I’m familiar with.”

Now Maxwell laughed, and Lady Fleur made a pained face. She wondered if they had already figured it out, because if they did, Alexis was ironically the only person in the room not in the know of the truth of the world.

It wasn’t like she’d known for a long time, either. Not until she had accidentally wandered into this land of eternal autumn.

“Spring is the birth of life,” Maxwell said. “It’s the beginning of the year. Summer is its height- it comes after Spring. But when something can go no higher, it starts to go down. Autumn is decay. Old age, the graying of hairs. Winter is the lowest point. It is death. But after death comes rebirth- Spring returns. You managed to become a court alchemist without knowing this?”

A deadly silence fell over the room.

“Heretic,” Alexis muttered.

“Maxwell,” Fleur whispered under her breath. “How do you know this?”

“Did I say something weird?” Maxwell said, feigning cluelessness. It was well done. Anyone else would have fallen for it. Anyone who did not have the eyes Mary had- eyes to see things hidden. Maxwell was a master of deception. Every single thing he said he said with calculated precision. Everything he said was to some end, to make someone think things he wanted them to think, to ever so subtly guide the people around him. It was almost terrifying- but she was accustomed to people like this. The sycophants that surrounded Lady Summer in her homeland were no different, if usually a little more blunt.

“It is always Autumn,” Alexis said. His voice was harsh, almost hateful. “The Princes do not follow each other like some cycle. They are constants. Autumn should’ve burned out that rotten Church of the Wheel ages ago.”

“Church of the Wheel?” Maxwell asked. This time his confusion sounded genuine.

“The thrice-damned cultists in the villages near the black forests,” Alexis said. “They spout heresies like yours, that the world is cyclical.”

This was going the wrong direction. Whatever Maxwell was planning, it was aimed at getting one over on Alexis. She had to intervene.

“Let’s keep the theology debate for after this,” Mary said. “We have very important business at hand- we can burn Maxwell at the stake after he’s helped us.”

She glanced at Lady Fleur, who was still frowning, deep in thought.

Alexis took a deep breath, and continued. “One of Lady Fleur’s Witch sisters worships Winter. She attempted to assassinate Tintenzunge, and in the process she poisoned Autumn. Normally, this should be impossible.”

“What do you mean?” Maxwell asked.

“Autumn is a God,” Alexis said. Before he could continue, Maxwell interrupted him.

“I know that, I mean what changed. What is not-normal right now?”

“Ah,” Alexis said. “I’ll get to that. I would chalk all of this down to a Winter plot to expand the domain of the death god, Prince Winter, were it not for something odd the Witch said. She accused Tintenzunge of wielding a magic that was dangerous to the very fabric of the world. That she was going around killing everyone who wields this art. Tinten claimed- I mean Tintenzunge- claimed that this was impossible, that he was the sole wielder. I did some digging, and found this untrue.”

“I see,” Maxwell said.

“What art is this?” Fleur asked.

“Tintenzunge has such a mastery over written and spoken language that he can change the world around him just by speaking aloud,” Alexis said. “He has achieved this by staining his tongue with inks and paints to learn to speak in their language.”

Fleur gasped. She almost choked. “Oh Clementine,” she muttered, tears welling up in her eyes.

“Fleur, are you okay?” Maxwell asked, reaching for her shoulders. She pushed him away, and made a waving motion. “I’ll- I’ll be alright, give me a minute.”

“Lady Fleur,” Alexis said, almost reverent. “Do you have wisdom about such things?”

Slowly, Lady Fleur calmed her breathing. When she had regained her composure, she said: “We have to kill Tintenzunge.”

Alexis groaned- a far cry from his previous reverent tone, and grabbed his own chair to sit down on. His head held in his hands, he sighed.

“What is it with you witches? Autumn forgive me, I was afraid it would come to this.”

“Is something wrong?” Mary asked.

“There are factions scheming against Autumn, and loathe as I am to admit it, Tintenzunge is probably among them,” Alexis said. “When I researched Tinten his art, I found a long history of heresy going all the way back to when Autumn fought the Winged Witch. Yet Tintenzunge claims he invented the art himself. I fear he might be a puppet of one of our enemies, if not a puppet master himself.”

Mary couldn’t help but shake her head.

“What is it, Mary?” Alexis asked.

“How do you know none of us are in on this plot? Your enemies could be in the room with you right now.”

Alexis smiled. “How do you know I don’t already know which of you is a traitor, and I’m trying to bait your puppetmaster out in the open?”

Cute, she thought. From the corner of her eye, she saw Maxwell feigning to shift uncomfortably on his chair. She wasn’t falling for his acting.

“No,” Alexis continued. “I’ve already deduced our real enemy. All the rest- all the rest is secondary. The real problem is this.” As he said it, got back up from his chair, and rifled through his cart of trash. He took out a vial of gray liquid, and held up high for all to see.

“What is that?” Lady Fleur asked. “The poison?”

“It is not the poison that poisoned Autumn,” Alexis explained. “But it is a poison nonetheless. Someone has introduced a new principle into the world, and this is its refined form.”

“Hm?” Maxwell said. “What does that mean?”

“Ah, as an alchemist my studies of choice are refining principles into material form. The liquids I replaced my blood with are such refined principles. Life, intellect, lust, they can all be rendered into physical form given the right solvents.”

Lady Fleur shook her head. Maxwell seemed entranced instead. Mary herself was quite familiar with the concept- Alexis his alchemy was but a pale imitation of the great works the alchemists in her version of Luson worked. Like everything else, it was less here. Decayed.

“I see,” Maxwell said. “What is this substance, then?”

“I’m not sure,” Alexis said. “It has profoundly odd properties. At first I thought the Witch had managed to make alkahest, but isn’t quite alkahest. It’s an unknown principle, a new force.”

“Alkahest, the universal solvent,” Maxwell said. “Wait. You got this from the Witch you captured? Fleur’s sister?”

“I distilled it from her blood,” Alexis said.

“You what,” Fleur said, angry. “You dare lay a hand on us like that?”

“My apologies Lady Fleur,” Alexis said. “I meant no disrespect. The infection is killing her as well- I only meant to help.”

Fleur shook her head again. “Go on, but this isn’t over.”

“Where was I,” Alexis said.

“A new force,” Maxwell replied.

“Yes. The substance has remarkable properties. Seemingly benign, but underneath it is an insidious poison. It makes clocks tick with nobody in the room to witness them. It makes organisms mature faster, it makes plants grow where previously they did not. Logically, I thought it was the universal solvent at first- the apex of alchemy. The cure-all. The basis and the end point at once, alpha and omega, such things.”


“Everything it touches, though enhanced at first, then withers and dies. It decays, rots, rusts, ages. And it isn’t just this vial of liquid, or the form it takes in the Witch her body. It’s everywhere. Somehow, someone has introduced this concept of inexorable decay into the fabric of our world.”

This was one of the first pieces of new information Mary got today. It fit neatly with the rest of her hypotheses, so that was good.

“Oh Jesus,” Maxwell suddenly said. “It isn’t a new concept. It’s not new. Fleur, we have to go.” Immediately he got up, and took Lady Fleur by the hand, urging her to get up and leave with him.

“Wait,” Alexis said. “What do you mean?”

“Maxwell,” Fleur said as she was hesitant to get up. “What?”

Maxwell looked around, and for a moment dropped all his acting. It was refreshing to see, like a sheen of oil suddenly washed off of him. Then the veil he had carefully constructed around him reasserted itself.

“Time,” he said. “Time has started moving again. Fleur, we need to go talk to my father.”

Fleur’s demeanor turned to ice. It was almost palpable. No, not almost. It got perceptibly colder in the room.

“Alchemist, me and Maxwell are leaving. Things beyond your understanding are moving against us.”

“I am getting so unbelievably fed up with this non-stop posturing,” Alexis screamed. He was scary when he was angry, Mary realized. Of course he was. He held power. Real power. He could have them beheaded, or thrown into a dungeon. His anger wasn’t impotent.

“You,” he yelled while pointing at Maxwell. “You keep oh-so-subtly implying you know more than me, that you’re better than us. Somehow you managed to enthrall even Lady Fleur here with your nonsense.”

His gaze shifted to Lady Fleur. “And you, your arrogance is even more insufferable. You’re an anxious wreck. Yes, you might be a million years old, and you might have been some goddess in the distant past, but I don’t want to take lip from someone who starts crying when a conversation doesn’t go her way.”

Mary suppressed a chuckle. Alexis ignored her.

“Well,” Maxwell said. “Have you considered I feel the exact same way about you? Posturing about being a Lord of Autumn and Court Alchemist while you know less than nothing? You effectively arrested us and locked us up here to play detective so you can feel involved in the things going on around you. You might be the smartest person in the Lands Lost, Mister Bloodrose, but that doesn’t make you the most important, and I think that-”

“Shut. Up,” Alexis screamed as he dashed towards Maxwell. Before either Mary or Fleur could stop him, he had tackled Maxwell and had his hands around his throat.

“I have had it with you,” Alexis screamed. “I’ve had it. You spout heretical nonsense and pretend it makes you smarter than me, pretend to understand things while in reality you understand nothing at all. So you have some metaphysical ability to hide things and some power over words? Is that all? You should be glad I recognize you have some measure of passing skill and asked you for help, you ingra-”

A tremendous noise echoed through the room, a dull explosion louder than anything Mary had heard in her life. In shock, she jumped up from her chair. Alexis let go of Maxwell, stumbling backwards, bleeding alchemical liquids in every color of the rainbow as he grasped for a wound in his abdomen.

“What?” Alexis gasped.

“What?” Fleur said.

In his hands, Maxwell held a small, black device. It was smooth, refined, and although it was of a make Mary had never seen in her life before- it was unmistakably a firearm.

“What sorcery,” Alexis managed to say in between gasping for air and making odd, gurgling noises. He stumbled backwards, fell against his blackboard and tripped.

“This,” Maxwell said as he held the sleek, black device up for Fleur, Mary and Alexis to see, “Is the concept of ‘murder’ alchemically distilled into a mechanical device, you third rate wannabe alchemist.” He shook his head, hid the gun in the folds of his robes, and spat on the ground. “If you survive your wounds, contemplate what happened today, and think twice the next time you assume someone is beneath you or defenseless. Come on Fleur, we’re leaving.”

An awestruck Lady Fleur let Maxwell drag her along. As they left the room, Mary rushed over to Alexis to provide medical assistance. She still needed him.

Far Off Unhappy Things

Chapter 16: Forever Autumn

“Hold my hand, they can’t see us,” Maxwell said as he dragged Fleur through the hallways of Autumn’s palace. Normally it would have been impossible to escape- if Autumn wanted to find them he would, hidden or not. But Autumn was in a coma, and Maxwell doubted anyone else would be able to see him.

They made their way through the maze-like palace, and just in case, left through a side exit that descended into a tunnel under the hanging gardens instead of through the main gate. Maxwell knew the place off the back of his head, and so did Fleur- she seemingly agreed with the route he was taking to escaping, anticipating every turn he made, every flight of stairs he went up or down.

“Maxwell,” Fleur said, a weary resignation on her face that was unusual, even for the elf her usual dreary demeanor. “Maxwell, we have to talk,” she said as they left the tunnels beneath the gardens and appeared in the city proper.

“I know,” Maxwell said. “I know. But we’re heading somewhere safe first. I don’t know what all Alexis has stashed away for a rainy day, but it’s better not to underestimate him. He really is too clever for his own good.”

House Charis was neatly hidden in narrative folds, but it made too much sense for it to be attacked if that was where he set the next scene- so instead he was heading straight to Allestar’s underground hideout. He wondered what his father was up to- he had left some weeks ago and not returned, and had left Darcy in charge of the household.

“Where are we heading?” Fleur asked.

“You’ll see,” he said. He couldn’t help but grin.

They crossed the grand bridge and headed into the Merchant’s quarter. There, he dragged Fleur into an alley descending under an overpass with too many buildings crammed on top of it. One seemed to be hanging over the street, only held aloft by wooden beams anchored into the building next to it. The alley circled around, and ended up in a little hidden garden. It was tiny, surrounded by blind walls of other buildings, and contained nothing but a well, some grass and some rose bushes.

The well was covered and sealed with a padlock. Triumphantly smiling, Maxwell pulled the key out of one of his many hidden pockets and opened the well.

“After you, my lady,” he said.

“What is this?” Fleur asked. “We’re going through the sewers?”

“No,” Maxwell said. “You’ll see.”

Fleur shook her head, pulled up her dress so as not to stumble down the well and lowered herself into it, down the stairs anchored into the brickwork.

Maxwell went after her. The soft hum-buzz of electric lights greeted him as he reached the bottom, where Fleur stood waiting for him. A small tunnel led to a wooden door with another lock, and he went ahead to open this one for her as well.

“Tada,” he said as he revealed his sanctuary to Fleur.

To him, it wasn’t too special. To the girl who had only ever known this fantasy land, the hideout must have been astonishing. Electric lights, not mechanical lamps nor alchemical crystals or magic torches lit the room. Steel file cabinets lined the walls, and a massive pinboard was covered in pictures, documents, notes, all inter-connected with various colours of tape. Next to it stood a desk with a laptop attached to a printer. Next to that, a fridge.

“What is this place?” Fleur asked. There was a reverent tone in her voice.

Delighted that he managed to impress the immortal woman once again, Maxwell could only smile at her.

She wandered around for a bit, then stopped in front of the pinboard.

“This,” Maxwell said. “Is a comprehensive analysis of every major faction in and around Luson. Their movements, their allies, their resources. Their connections to one another, their alliances and animosities.”

“What for?” Fleur asked. “This is insane. You’ve been spying on every person of note in the city.”

“So have you,” Maxwell said. “What did you think we did with the documents we stole from other merchants and from nobles?”

“I-” Fleur stammered. “I underestimated you and your father.”

Maxwell smiled. Finally she was beginning to see him as an equal. Finally cracks were beginning to show in her stagnant worldview.

“We have a problem,” Maxwell said. “A big one.”

“Yes,” Fleur said, her amazement making way for concern. “But nothing new was revealed to me in the palace. What worries me- is you.”

Maxwell had to admit that perhaps he had underestimated Fleur as well. She seemed more on top of things than he thought.

“Hm?” He asked.

“You have knowledge of things you have no business knowing,” Fleur said. “How do you know how the world used to be, before the seasons fell?”

Maxwell shook his head. “Take no offense, but I probably know more about this world than you do.” He couldn’t quite tell her he was from elsewhere, that he had the benefit of an outside perspective.

“I see,” she said. “What are you, Maxwell?”

“Do you know Marion, Fleur?”

“I have heard of her. Me and my- my siblings- we do not get along with her. What about her?”

“Do you know her purpose?” Maxwell asked.

“She’s a self-appointed and self-important guardian. Guards a flaw in the skin of the world, so that things from Elsewhere cannot get in.”

Maxwell nodded. “She got indebted to my father, when we were still… elsewhere. My family is from a bleak world, Fleur. Worse than hell. My father took me and my brothers here to escape that place. Marion helped us settle here as repayment for that debt.”

Fleur sighed. “You’re worldwalkers. Like Aster.”

“Aster?” Maxwell asked.

“One of my siblings,” Fleur replied. “They wander beyond, where the seas make way for chaos.”

Maxwell had no idea what that meant, but suddenly recalled a book he had stashed away. He took out ‘Alchemy Most Dark’ and dangled it in front of Fleur.

“Yeah,” Fleur said. “That Aster.”

“Your last name is Scarborough, that’s cute,” Maxwell said. “Savoury sage, rosemary, and thyme, remember me to a lass who lives there- she was once a true love of mine,” he hummed.

Fleur’s mood shifted, and tears welled up in her eyes. “How do you know that song?”

“Oh,” Maxwell said. “Oh my. I- I didn’t know that was important to you. I’m sorry. I should’ve thought before speaking. It’s a well-known poem where I’m from.”

“I see,” Fleur said, sniffling. Stifling back tears. “That- that would have surprised me, but not anymore.”

“We need to figure out who is screwing up this world,” Maxwell said, pointing at his pinboard. “I love this world.”

“It’s been a long time, Maxwell. This world has already ended. This- this is a long, dreary epilogue. It was bound to come to a close at some point.”

Shaking ‘no’, Maxwell rifled through the fridge, and handed Fleur a can of cola. He took out one for himself, and showed her how to open it.

“Beverage from my homeland. Savor it, they’re worth more than half the properties in this city combined. I think you’re mistaken. This world was put in stasis long ago, to preserve it. A memory of what once was. But time isn’t supposed to pass in memories. Memories don’t have a narrative arc. They’re pictures.”

“I don’t think I follow you,” Fleur said. “Then what do we do? Where do we even start?”

“It’s a plot against Autumn,” Maxwell said. “With the world in stasis he can never be deposed. He is God, and in an unchanging world he stays that way. Forever.”

“Yes,” Fleur said. “He is Autumn, He is the world.”

“Hmhm,” Maxwell said. “If someone wants to take his place, they’d have to find a way to make the narrative of the world moving again. But since inevitably Autumn would be replaced by Winter- a highly unpleasant individual, I’ve been told- they need to have a way to put the world back in stasis after disposing of Autumn.”

“What if this is a Winter plot?” Fleur asked. “We need to talk to Achlys.”

“Achyls?” Maxwell asked.

“My sister that Autumn captured. She is a fervent worshiper of Winter. She’s in the dungeons under the palace,” Fleur explained.

“It was her poisoning of Autumn that got us in this whole mess in the first place,” Maxwell said. “But I’m scared we might be missing something. She wouldn’t have been able to do that if time wasn’t moving in the first place. Alexis seemed to think there was a hidden threat pulling the strings as well.”

“This stuff is disgusting,” Fleur said after taking a sip from the cola. She handed the can to Maxwell, who put it on the desk.

“How would you even go around introducing a new narrative into a stagnant world,” Maxwell said.

“You keep saying ‘narrative’, as if this is all some morbid stage play,” Fleur said.

“It is,” Maxwell said. “Life is a stage play. We’re all puppets of things beyond mortal ken pulling on us to entertain themselves.”

“Oh,” Fleur said, as if some revelation had struck her. “I see now. That’s what that meant. The real Fleur.”

“What do you mean?” Maxwell asked.

“It’s something I realized a while ago, I don’t want to talk about it,” Fleur said.

“I see.”

They stood there, for a while. Maxwell got tired of standing, so he sat down, legs crossed. Staring at the scraps and prints.

“Maxwell,” Fleur said as she sat down next to him eventually. “Maybe we can’t do anything. Maybe this really is the end that had been coming for a long time. I- I’m tired, Maxwell. Incredibly tired. Where would we even start?”

“Hm,” Maxwell said. “I have one lead. Someone tried this before.”

“What do you mean?” Fleur replied.

“Someone tried to coup Autumn before. The Winged Witch, the-”

“Clementine,” Fleur said.

“Oh? Is that her name?” Maxwell asked.

“She’s my oldest sister. Was my oldest sister,” Fleur explained.


“She is missing, and most of us presume she is dead,” Fleur said. “She didn’t try to take the throne of Autumn. Autumn put His hands where they do not belong, and she put Him in his place. We are older than Autumn, we were gods before He was.”

“Well,” Maxwell said. “Have you heard the name Emain before?”

Fleur’s eyes going wide probably meant that she had.

“Yes, she was my sister’s first champion. A really nasty piece of work.”

“Hmhm,” Maxwell said. “Do you know that she’s locked up in a dungeon in the Forest of Forever Fall?”

Fleur looked at him, awestruck. “You can’t be serious. That was three hundred years ago. She’s long dead by now.”

Maxwell shook his head, and with the widest smile he could muster he told Fleur what he knew.

“Autumn blamed Emain for his humiliation at the hands of the Winged Wi- I mean Clementine. He had her encased or trapped somehow and threw her in the basement of a haunted tower not too far from the Twin Cities.”

“I didn’t know this,” Fleur said. “How do you know?”

Maxwell only smiled.

“Can you get to her?”

“Hm, I’ve been planning on embarking on a dungeoncrawl for a while now. My dad really, really wants to talk to Emain as well. So I suppose I’ll head to a tavern and hire some hardy folk to brave this haunted locale, hm?”

Fleur shook her head. “We could split up. I am confident I can break Achlys out of the palace, especially with Autumn out of commission. Keeping her locked up in there feels wrong. And she might know things as well.”

“Is that safe?” Maxwell asked her. “What if you run into Alexis? Or worse, this Tintenzunge figure?”

She seemed different now. She’d been changing for a while. Fleur from months ago would have balked at the idea of adventure, at risk. This Fleur right now seemed to beam with energy, and smiled.

“Then I’ll show him that even a pale reflection of the Mirror Witch is not to be trifled with.”


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