The Two Kingdoms - Chapter 3

"A newcomer to the kingdom?" Genevieve looked up from reading over a farming complaint and frowned at the Defender standing in front of her. The news was unexpected but a welcome distraction. At seven months pregnant, her loved ones had gone into a tailspin as they tried to coddle her. Hannah had it even worse; she was ready to deliver at literally any moment, and neither Sara nor Quint would leave her side. Luckily, her patience was up to the task of dealing with them.

November had arrived, marking the eleventh month since the marriages that had formally put a seal on the alliances between Protea, Delphinium, and Celia. The Crown Princesses of all the other worlds in Blossom Field had been born. Hannah's daughter would arrive any time, and while Genevieve was technically due in January of Royal Era Year 3, she fully expected to deliver in December. Nature always came early, and Illusion always came late; Hannah had already reached two weeks overdue.

The Ruler baby onslaught had an unspoken side effect that the average person did not know: all Cultivators tended to be the same age. That meant that even as all ten Ruler Cultivators were born, already born were most of the next generation of Defender Cultivators. They could not be uncovered until their fifth birthdays when their Mark developed as they Activated, but they would share their age with their princesses. Whoever would be Lead Defender would be the eldest, as usual.

It would be interesting to see which element claimed that role this time. It tended to fluctuate among the Metal, Fire, Thunder, and Glass elements. Only rarely had some of the others taken Lead, and never once had it been Iris' Ice magic. Ice too strongly reflected defensive skills, so it would take a particularly special Defender of Ice to be a lead.

While Genevieve looked forward to the new generation, particularly her own daughter, terror lurked under the surface of her heart. Would it be her who became the Apex of Dark? Or would it be her own daughter? Genevieve almost hoped for the latter; based on history, she may not survive to see the events, and that honestly relieved her a little.

She fiercely shook it off and looked at her patiently smiling friend. "What kind of newcomer, Sandra?"

"Barely younger, powerful, and fascinating. She only turned twenty-five earlier this year, but you'd assume she was thrice that from the power and talent she possesses. She's from the Faith of the Goddess." Sandra propped a hip on the edge of the table and smiled. "A priestess, no less."

"Really?" Genevieve heard Matthew clear his throat and realized he hadn't a clue what they discussed. "Oh, Matt, I'm sorry. I never did get a chance to tell you about the Faith." She smiled. "The Faith of the Goddess is a religion of sorts based on elemental majik and a belief in a Mother Goddess and Father God. They're incredibly powerful and do so many wonderful things that we could only hope to emulate. They're known as witches, though there are a very, very few who are powerful enough to become wizards. This woman must be a wizard herself."

"She claims she's only a witch, but I'm not sure I believe her," Sandra agreed.

"Interesting." Matthew slid an arm around Genevieve's waist to draw her closer, and his hand rested warmly over her belly. He looked at Sandra. "Does she want to meet us?"

"She does." She coughed. "I'm warning you now that she's quite sweet and quite gentle, but she's also a bit of a smartass. She and Krysta almost went to war."

"Your twin is a typical Hyacinth Cultivator," Genevieve countered dryly. "She can't beat me at word games, so she looks for an easier target."

"She didn't find it."

"Ha! I think I'm going to like this priestess. Show her in." She watched Sandra head out and then looked down at her husband. He had yet to turn loose of her. She covered his hand with one of hers. "Are you pleased, my king?"

"Very." He turned his head and pressed his lips to her rounded belly. The punch of love for both his lover and his child nearly felled him. He wanted a little girl with Genevieve's sass and stubbornness and his fearlessness. It would be a scary combination, but he wanted it.

A woman delicately cleared her throat, and both king and queen turned to see a slender figure in the doorway. Pale brown hair hung braided down to her knees, and her eyes looked an interesting pale brown as well. The utter loveliness of her face felt somehow surprising. Her beauty seemed to be more than merely physical; it came from somewhere inside her soul as well.

She wore a dark green dress with a white bodice laced on the top, and a blue cloak fastened around her shoulders. She seemed younger than her age implied until Genevieve looked into her eyes. This woman had seen and done a lot in her short life, and there was a core of steel inside her not dissimilar from the Defender Cultivators themselves.

Something moved against the blue cloak, and Genevieve's eyes widened as she realized there was a small blue and white dragon sitting on the woman's shoulder. The dragon had eyes in a matching shade of color to its owner, and it looked an eerie replica in shape to the silver pendant that the woman wore around her neck, including having very unusual horns. Dragons did not normally possess horns. "It's not often lately that we have dragons on Earth," Genevieve said softly. "They left us not long before the end of Harmonic Era. Twenty-five years ago now, or around that, since the Majik War."

"Indeed. But they do still sometimes come to the physical realm if they find a witch to bond with." The faintest hint of an accent flavored her words though it was not recognizable. She smiled. "This is my guardian, Haeth. I am Priestess Liena Aria." She dipped into a graceful curtsy. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Your Majesties."

Matthew kept an arm around Genevieve's waist as he stood. His eyes studied Liena curiously. He recognized her last name, and he thought he recognized her face as well. Since she had not remarked on it personally, he kept his mouth shut. It would be her business alone. "The pleasure is ours, priestess. What brings you here?"

She linked her hands before herself. "A vision of the future."

That startled Genevieve and Matthew alike. No mortals were capable of having premonitions, let alone visions, of the future. It was a gift left only to those of the Protea Kingdom, Aster Defenders, and Claret. If Liena had the gift of Sight, then the Guardian of Destiny had decreed she was of critical importance somehow. "Really?"

"Really. It is of Blossom Field in general, and the two High kingdoms in particular. I wish to share it, but on a condition."

"And that is?"

"If my vision is correct, I would like to become part of the kingdom." She smiled a bit ruefully. "I'm a bit solitary, and I am . . . gifted. None of the covens here suit me. I would like to find a place within the Protea Kingdom. Witchcraft majik, as you know, blends well with the magic of Cultivators. I wish to be the High Priestess of Protea, if you will have me."

"Does it?" Matthew asked Genevieve.

She nodded slowly, thoughtful. "We've never really had a chance to see how much, though. The kingdom has never found a witch with a gift powerful enough to truly affect Cultivators. Witches are the only beings other than Cultivators to have elemental powers. We call what they use 'majik' since it is like our magic yet different. Karalyn can use Water Flower Element magic in ways to bolster and benefit her world. Sandra can use Water Flower Element magic in ways applicable to battle such as directed blasts and the like. A witch with Water majik could actually control and manipulate bodies of water. Healing skills are not dependent on an element, so Karalyn and Sandra's ability in that regard is irrelevant in comparing the differences between Ruler, Defender, and witch. Witches can heal, too, if they have that particular skill. Certainly, some elements are more suited to it than others, but in Cultivator history, there's been at least a handful of healers of all elements."

Liena smiled. "We witches received our majik as a gift for claiming Destiny as our Goddess. Witches are not too terribly different in some ways from Cultivators, but we do have some distinct qualities. We can evolve into wizards, for example. A witch must choose one or two elements to specialize in and once chosen cannot deviate. She will learn one or two specialized categories of majikal skills, and never really go beyond that since she cannot flex her gift that far. Contrarily, if she were to evolve into a wizard, she could pick up to three more elements and up to two more skills. Wizards are quite rare, though. One in a few hundred thousand or so."

"I understand there's a third level." Genevieve cocked her head.

"Indeed but it has never been seen or obtained yet. It would require a witch to be born with infinite majik, and as we all know, infinite power of any sort is not exactly common." She smiled. "We are otherwise much alike to Cultivators. We have either a Light or Dark personal core, and we call ourselves White or Black witches depending on that."

"What do you possess?" Matthew asked curiously.

"I am a White Witch who chose Ice and Illusion as her elements and Sensing and Spiritual Healing as her skills. Sensing means I can sense when energies are out of balance, events are moving or holding still, or even read the energy inside other people to determine their own personal stability. It enhances my Sight to make me a good prophet."

"And certainly a fit for the kingdom!" Genevieve held out a hand with a smile. "May I?"

Liena smiled and took her hand. Genevieve's eyes immediately began to widen as she felt the majik shooting up through her arm. Cultivators could recognize the elemental core of majik inside any witch, but she had never felt anything that strong before. Sandra was right: no matter what Liena claimed, she was not merely a witch. If she did not stand on cusp of being a wizard, Genevieve would eat her crown.

Silvery majik glowed across Liena's eyes. "Ice, melt into the warmth of Nature."

Genevieve could feel a sudden flood of elemental magic moving into her body from where their hands clasped, and it not only made her suddenly feel refreshed, it also soothed her somewhat restless unborn child. "How did you . . .?" Her wide eyes stared at Liena. "What did you do?"

"I changed my element into yours in order to bolster you. That is what a witch can do for a Cultivator, should we manage to resonate properly."

Genevieve shook her head. "Well, I'm not about to turn you away! You have a deal, Liena. I do not doubt that there are many things you will be able to do for us that no one else could." She smiled. "Including ease my cranky daughter where no one else could!" Her eyes narrowed a bit as Liena winced. "Priestess, why does that make you pull a face?" She crossed her arms. "Just what vision did you have?"

"Uhm." Liena coughed. "Here, Your Majesty, please sit down." She nudged Genevieve's chair closer. "Please trust me, you want to be sitting." Once the queen had complied, Liena sighed. "The status quo of millions of years is about to shatter. Queen Hannah shall deliver a son any minute now, and your own will be born within the next month, Queen Genevieve."

"Just Genevieve," the queen corrected only to break off as the rest of the statement sank in. "What?!" She looked down reflexively at her rounded belly and then up again. "A son?!" She looked down again, this time in consternation. "Is that why I could not think of a name for you?" she demanded.

Matthew shook his head. "I'm having mental whiplash. To be told only daughters ever come to the Blossom Field kingdoms and then to discover, actually, no, not this time." He frowned. "Why? What caused this sudden change after so long?"

Liena smiled. "You and King Quint. You are from outside the galaxy."

"But why would it matter if my husband is from inside or outside the galaxy?" Genevieve protested. "I know it was unprecedented for me and Hannah to have soul mates from outside, but, is it truly that big a deal?"

She shook her head. "Biological gender is determined by a father, Genevieve, but magic always plays havoc with genetics--and mentalities, too. Only potential fathers who have not been subjected to the interplanetary inbreeding of the galaxy would have genes strong enough to potentially override the incredibly potent Ruler Cultivator magic of the queens. Didn't you wonder why every Cultivator of a planet has the exact same hair, eye, and skin color of her lineage, no matter what her father brings to the mix? Even the Defender Cultivators have magic that has become inbred, proof that it is not wholly blood alone that plays a part."

"It feels a bit scary to hear you say it that way," Matthew murmured.

"With good reason! Unless the lineages are someday rebooted, they might become too inbred to reproduce at all, and no world can exist forever without a Ruler. But," she carried on despite their horrified looks, "that is not likely to happen. Destiny would not allow it! She is now starting the reboot process by bringing in intergalactic blood, and it has already had an impact to produce male Ruler Cultivators for Protea and Delphinium."

"Is that the only change in our way?" Genevieve asked dryly.

"Hmm, no, but I'm not sure quite yet just what they will be." Something powerful moved through her eyes. "Time changes," she murmured. "Destiny waits." She shook it off. "There is one other thing to warn you about, though I know not how it will play out. I only know it will. Neither High Prince will be able to pass along their Ruler Cultivator magic to a child as more than a flavor of Dark Nature and Light Illusion. So the reboot probably has more in store that we may not expect."

Genevieve rubbed a hand over her belly and then linked her fingers with Matthew's when his hand covered hers. "I'm not sure what to say." A sudden flutter of panic filled her heart. "Is this . . . is this a sign of . . . of the Apex coming soon?" Silence answered her, and it spoke volumes. She took a deep breath and then let it out. Her granddaughter or great-granddaughter. She would not have to see the kingdoms fall; honestly, she did not think she would be strong enough.

The door to the drawing room burst open and a maid scrambled inside with barely a bow. "Queen Hannah just gave birth to a son!" she blurted.

Liena grinned, and Genevieve scowled at her large belly. Matthew just sighed. "What are they naming him?"

* * * * *

Not quite a month later, Genevieve went into labor early as had been expected. Liena tended to her as right of her position as High Priestess, and both Tessa and Matthew stayed by Genevieve's side. After many exhausting hours, finally, the next Protea Ruler Cultivator was born. And, as had been predicted, it was a little boy.

Though the intergalactic blood of the princes' fathers had been enough to bring a new gender, it had not been enough to completely override the lineages. High Prince Robert Delphinium had his mother's unruly curly white hair and light gold eyes, and High Prince Evan Protea had his mother's glossy black hair and vibrant pink eyes. The familiar Flower Mark of their world had etched itself on their small chests over their hearts. Fully Activated Ruler Cultivators, yet male. The whole universe could only shake its head. Leave it to Blossom Field to take something common elsewhere and make it unusual.

It took only a few months before people realized that the princes had, in fact, inherited something more from their fathers: their personalities. Robert hauled himself to his feet at four months of age, took off running, and no one could catch him again unless it involved bribery with sweet things. Evan opted to crawl before running, but as soon as he did gain his feet, he rarely stopped to catch a breath.

The poor Defender Cultivators found themselves with a whole new respect for their predecessors. They had not just the precocious two princes but also the Crown Princesses of their worlds to watch over. Finding the next generation of Defenders could not happen soon enough!

As the Protea Prince's first birthday was celebrated with a party, Shanta observed from within the Realm of the Gods. She watched for a bit before turning away, and she then turned into her husband's chest and bumped her nose on his powerful muscle. "Ow." She rubbed her nose as she stepped back again. "Orion, don't sneak up on me!"

"I wasn't sneaking." He lifted a brow. "You weren't paying attention." He tugged her into his arms and rocked gently. "It’s nearly time, isn’t it?"

She took a shaky breath. "Yes. I knew that the signs would start becoming more blatant, but this was not in my list of possibilities!" She rested her head on his shoulder. "I wish I could warn them."

He frowned and pulled her away enough that he could see her face, but what he saw didn’t reassure him. "You mean you didn’t give the priestess that premonition?"

"No." Her protea-pink eyes slowly widened. "I thought you had." She slowly turned back to the globe and watched Liena create majikal creatures to entertain the ten young Ruler Cultivators. "She saw it on her own," she murmured.

"She has a direct connection to Destiny." Orion didn't make it a question because it wasn't one. "She is not Protean, and she is not an Aster Defender. She is certainly not related to Claret or Pallas, so, if I did not give her the vision, then she has Sight directly from Mother. I had wondered why I felt such a kinship to her," he admitted. "I now wonder just how we are connected." A thought occurred, and his eyes narrowed briefly. He would have to check to see if he was correct. It could be important.

As if she could read his mind, and there were times it truly seemed she could, Shanta murmured, "Everything that happens now is important. Destiny has something planned for Liena's bloodline. There is a reason for everything."

* * * * *

Time, as Liena had noted, always changed, and it always passed along. Little over four years went by before the next significant change began to rear its head. Evan had just had his fifth birthday, meaning that all young Ruler Cultivators were of the right age where their magic would expand outward, connect to the magic of their Defender Cultivators, and draw out the awakening of the next generation. Robert and Evan would connect to their twin, and the now Elder Defenders would use those invisible beacons to find the next generation.

At least, that was how it usually worked. Robert, as was his way, started off the oddities anew by not sending out any pulse of magic. His parents and the Defenders urged him to do it—stifled magic could be dangerous—but, despite the concern, he felt no desire to try. In a way, it did not surprise anyone who knew him. Fearless was not the word for him; 'foolhardy' was more often heard uttered by more than one Defender.

Worse still, he had proven to be a quick learner and early bloomer where Delphinium gifts were concerned. Amongst those gifts was the ability to utilize Illusion magic to literally phase in and out of spaces without being found. The boy could not be kept still! When Hannah went to fetch him for lunch, she could only sigh at seeing his room empty. "Quint!" she complained, her tone aggrieved as she went into her husband’s study where he was reading a letter from his family, "your son has done it again."

He didn't look up, but he did grin. "That's my boy." Her hand lightly rapped him in the back of the head, and he laughed. "Hanny, we knew from before his birth that he had magic. Before we even knew he was a he. We knew what we were going to be in for with a child of Illusion and Light—we just had to look at you." He sat back on a sigh. "He is a fully Activated Ruler Cultivator of Delphinium whether he can pass along that magic or not. That means we have to deal with the quirks that go along with it. Honestly, my only concern is for your lineage and how it will someday carry on."

Hannah had some suspicions on that score but said nothing. Sometimes her planet's Light core gave her borderline Sight of her own, but never in a way she could express in words. "I have every confidence it will work itself out somehow," she said only, though dryly. "Even if I do feel as if Delphinium is in for an adventure with our child as a king!"

He grinned and tugged her down onto his lap to link his arms around her lightly. "He's a boy just like his father, love."

"Why couldn’t I have gotten a nice girl who would behave herself?" she sighed.

"You would be bored senseless," he countered cheerfully. Because she had to grin at that, he had to kiss her, and they very quickly forgot what the subject had been to begin with.

They heard Robert making a gagging noise and broke apart with laughter to find him watching them from underneath Quint's desk. Quint released Hannah so he could reach under the desk and pull the small boy out. Or rather, young boy. At five, Robert already showed signs of getting his father's height as well. He stood closer to the height of an eight-year-old.

"C'mon, you," Quint said. He waited for Hannah to stand and then stood with Robert in his arms. "Lunchtime." He put Robert down and smiled as his son scampered out of the room. "His mother's appetite. I don't think it's entirely being a magically-oriented sort that makes you plump, my love."

"Is that a complaint?" she asked dryly. Her breath stopped as his hands curved around her waist and deliberately flexed to test the softness of her flesh. He leaned down to nip at her ear, and a flush came to her skin. "Quint."

"I love every inch of you exactly as you are," he murmured huskily. He teased her nape for a moment before releasing her. "I'll prove it again tonight. Best go catch our son before he eats the furniture."

She beat a hasty retreat before she insisted on a long lunch of their own, and he grinned as he followed her out into the hall. He had gotten halfway toward the large banquet hall when he felt a familiar power. "Liena?" He glanced to the side just as she rounded a corner, and he smiled. "What brings you here?"

"Courier service!" she countered dryly. "I volunteered to deliver some books back to Hannah, and I caught wind of the erstwhile Light prince, so I thought I'd offer to hunt him down. I saw him go tearing past, so I guess that's not needed anymore."

"Ha! Not this time, though it was close." He ruffled her hair affectionately. "But I am sure he'd like to see you."

"I'll stop to say hi," she started to say as she removed his hand from her head, but the moment their skin touched, she went utterly still. Her eyes unfocused as she seemed to stare at nothing at all.

Quint's entire body tensed. He knew that look far too well. It was the familiar gaze of someone with Sight who had just had a vision enter behind her eyes. Better than entering directly into her mind; it knocked her out when that happened, and usually gave everyone a panic attack until they got reassured it was 'just' a vision. "Liena?" His alarm only mounted as tears began to well in her brown eyes and then spilled down her ashen cheeks. "Liena!"

Her eyes focused on him and her lips trembled open. "Oh no. Oh gods no." She buried her face in her hands. "Why did you make me See that?" she demanded raggedly. "Damn you, Destiny!"

"Liena!" Quint grabbed her shoulders to give her a quick shake. "You're scaring me!"

"Don't make me tell you!" she pleaded. "I don't want it to be true!"

"Then you had really better warn me what is so terrible!"

"You won't see your daughter's birth!" she nearly shouted.

He froze and his hands dropped from her shoulders. "I and Hannah will have a daughter as well?" He let out a long breath. "That explains the problem of the lineage, then. How won't I see it, Liena? How much time do I have?"

"I don't know." Her shoulders slumped. "I don't. I . . . just don't. I'm so sorry, Quint. I'm so very sorry!"

He caught her in a tight hug. "I don't blame you! If anything, I am sorry you had to see it if it has to happen!" He let go and added, "And I think you'll forgive me if I rush to hold my wife and son."

"Go, please." She watched him run off and then curled her hands into fists. "Damn it!" she whispered again, more viciously. "Why me? Why am I the one you chose to see that?" She swung around on her heel. She would head back to Protea and immerse herself in the kingdom and try desperately to forget what she had seen. It would come to pass far, far too soon.

She found an unexpected reprieve in the form of landing on the Portalpad of the garden only to discover that not only was it unusually raining, but there was a familiar Nature magic lurking in the gardens. She could only sigh. Protea had a very temperate climate that nearly never rained, and what rain did come tended to come without warning when Nature power overflowed. "Because, of course. Evan!" she called as she headed into the bushes. "You had better come out before I play dirty!"

Inside the drawing room on the second floor, a conversation not unlike Quint's and Hannah's happened between Genevieve and Matthew. It centered on a prince with more sass than sense, and the unfortunate effects of a child being given two doses of the same Flower Element magic. "He left a tree in his playpen! Which he climbed to get out," Genevieve complained at her husband. "Trees are your specialty!"

Matthew could only wince wryly. "Guilty as charged. But it is your ability to meld into the land that makes him impossible to track! At least Krysta's Air magic makes her a good tracker, even of people who can disappear into the ground."

"She practiced on me," Genevieve admitted ruefully. "And we have Liena as well. She should be back from Delphinium any time. The Elder Defenders have their hands full. Though neither Evan nor Robert have sent out magic, the princesses have, and the younger Defenders have begun to respond. Tessa said that she hopes to have found the new Defender Cultivators within the next week."

"I suppose we'll then see why our son didn't . . ." He trailed off as a figure filled the open doorway. "Uh-oh."

Genevieve turned and discovered their priestess had returned as expected, but she was soaking wet, muddy, and distinctly unhappy. Her arms held an equally muddy and soggy Evan. A grumpy Water dragon draped over her shoulder. Genevieve tried her best, but she finally had to laugh. "Afternoon walk, Liena? What happened?"

"A botched land meld in the middle of a storm!" She shifted her hold on Evan when he tried to squirm out of her arms. "I'll get him cleaned up. Let's go, boyo." She caught him higher when he tried to get his feet on the ground. He, too, stood taller than average. "No, you don't, you little scamp!"

Matthew began to frown as he realized she would not look at him directly. "I'll give you a hand," he offered. He followed her out into the hall and then asked softly, "Liena, are you upset with me for some reason?"

"No!" Her lashes flinched. "Damn it all." She heard the small device he wore to allow communication with the other worlds began to buzz and could only be grateful for the distraction. "Go ahead and answer." She hurried into Evan's room and divested him of his dirty clothes before taking him into the bath and running water in the tub.

"That was Quint," Matthew said a bit grimly from the doorway behind her. "And I think I now know what's wrong. He told me what you saw, Liena. May I assume you saw the same for me?" She said nothing, but her silence was an answer all its own, as was the sight of Haeth beginning to pace over the counter in an echo of her mistress' upset. "Why, Liena? Why are these things happening? Second children born to the kingdoms after sons were born? Quint and I apparently dying before our daughters are born? Why?"

"I don't know!" The words were torn out of her, and she fought back her pain when Evan frowned at her. "It's okay, honey." She put him into the tub of hot water and distracted him with a toy penguin. "I've had some bad visions." It appeased him, and she moved out of the bathroom. He was too smart to risk hearing the conversation. "I didn't ask to see what I did," she told Matthew in a low voice. "I asked even less to break down in front of Quint and have him force me to tell him what I saw. I don't know anything. I just feel things."

"Do you feel that my daughter will be the one of the prophecy?" Silence again met him, and his stomach clenched painfully. "What is Destiny planning with all this?"

"I don't know that either." She sank down onto a chair. "I just don't."

"Is there anything else strange happening?"

Her lips twisted into a wry smile. "So to speak."

©Stacy J. Garrett. Do not reprint or redistribute without permission.

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