It had been 10 years since I had an intimate moment with someone I loved. My husband, King Aelstan III, and son, Prince Prathelwood, were slain by the beast of Eldermoore, a fierce dragon from the legends of old. My daughter, Princess Aesha, left 14 months after their death and after the countless deaths of warriors, knights, hired swords, and local town drunks who had sworn the oath to come back with the head of the beast. I can never forget the way she looked at me. We were both in pain but I found solace in the fact that I believed she and I shared the pain together…that I was not alone. Apparently, she did not regard the same beliefs. The day she told me she was leaving, her eyes showed utter abandonment…complete loneliness. She swore to me that it was no fault of my own and that she was leaving to seek training from the Shaded Tree but I could not…I can not help but think I failed her as a mother.
I haven’t seen her since.
“Excuse me, your majesty, but the town hall meetings are starting soon.”
This nook has become my favorite spot in this miserably lonely castle. I can still see Prat and Aesha racing to get to the playground first and the busy town circle off in the background… Wait, no that’s not right. The town circle can be seen from the northern side, not the southern side.
“Yes, of course. Thank you Rodgen.” I say as I pull away from my cozy nook. My feet are hurting again, great. I stop by the powder room to freshen up before the long meeting. I do not recognize the face in the mirror looking back at me. It’s almost as if I have stepped into the life of another. I need sleep. Maybe I should cancel? No, I’ll push through like always. I splash water on my face and head into the meeting hall.
“ RISE!” spouts a young guard. “All hail, QUEEN Glorieta, long may she reign!”
“Long may she reign” echoes the room.
“Let’s start with the formal complaints” I mutter towards Rodgen. “I would like to get it done as quickly as possible. I’m exhausted”
“Yes, your majesty.” Rodgen grabs my arm. There is nothing but concern in his eyes. “Are you still having those…erhm..visions…your majesty? Please let me send word to my brother. He is only a few days' ride east of here. It would be no trouble–”
“Let’s discuss this after the meeting, Rodgen. One thing at a time.” I squeeze his hand softly.
I glance at the room as I sit, still unable to take my husband’s seat. A few families, by the looks of it, farmers. Two business owners, I’m sure, are here about thievery. And a gaggle of vultures. I will start with them.
“Lord Dandy, good to see you. Please tell me how I can be of assistance today?”.
Dandy clears his throat. “ Well, your Highness…” his high-pitched voice matches his egg-shaped body, “I have come to ask you to call a meeting of the high-council…”
Dandy is always scheming up ways to pick the bones from everyone around him and I have already had enough of his vulturing, “Why, Lord Dandy?”
“Well, the answer is two-fold, your Highness. See the first issue arose a fortnight hence–”
“Please, Lord Dandy…skip to the last line.” I am unable to hide my frustration and my head is now pounding but I still keep a smile.
“Yes, yes, of course, your majesty. I want to claim Lord Tabitha’s and Lord Abdu’s land as my own and after I have claimed what is rightfully mine, I want to impose a living tax on all subjects in the newly created, Dandyland!” Lord Dandy looks as if he had just discovered the cure for death but is short-lived as Lord Tabitha and Lord Abdu erupt in anger.
“Lords, please.” I say
“Dandy, I oughta–”
“You oughta what? You oughta have taken care of your lands and not allowed–”
“I OUTTA crack your goofy egg-shaped body in my frying pan and put you on some–”
“LORDS, STOP” I shout, “Please…I see this is not going to go quickly. Guard please escort my wonderful Lords to the inner dining chamber. My Lords, please go QUIETLY and we will figure this out together.”
“Yes your Highness.” is heard from two of the three.
“Lord Dandy…Am I understood?” I grunt, wanting to just give all their lands to the farmers.
I saw him too late. One of the farmers must have snuck within a few feet of me with all the commotion created by Lord Dandy. Before anyone could reach him he raises his hand and blows a fine dust in my direction.
“Remember who you are, Gloria…” The man is grabbed by many guardsmen but pushes closer, “Remember!” he shouts as he tackled to the ground. “REMEMBER!”
I jump out of the royal chair and pop my gown, releasing the collected dust back into the air. This person is crazy. What was he trying to do to me? I take a step towards the pile of bodies as it hits me, doubling me over.
“It’s burn...burning, mm myy..” I wheeze, unable to finish the sentence. My throat is on fire, My eyes are watering uncontrollably and it feels as if my lungs are boiling inside of me. I try to cough but vomit instead, sight and sound bending with each heave. Time and space warp all around me, slowly at first then picking up with speed until it sounds as if I am being sucked up into a vortex. Then…
My feet… the pain in my feet is almost too much. I stumble, eyes closed because of the piercing light to my left. I catch myself on someone in front of me. I am walking. People are all around me. My head is too fuzzy, I can’t think straight…where am I? The people…so many people.
“Gloria… Gloria…please…for the love...can you hear me?” The sound is coming from…I touch my ear. An earpiece.
“Hel…hh.hello?” I stutter
“Oh Praise Aly’on, Gloria, it’s Rod. Listen. I don’t know how much time we have. You're almost there. Just a little further.”
“Almost where?” I say, still discombobulated.
“I’m going to release a small amount of D-epi to try to help you gather your thoughts. Please listen to me carefully. Try to keep your heart rate down and no sudden movements. This is how you got sucked back in last time.”
“Roger. Send it.” What did I just say? Do I speak that way? In that moment, a warmth flushed over my body and every fiber of my being stiffened to attention. Memories came flooding back all at once.
“Slow your heart rate! Slow it!” Rod blurts through the comms
“You aren’t helping, Rod.” I breathe in nothingness and breathe out all things. My heart slows.
“Sorry. Good to have you back.”
“How long this time? I ask, not really wanting to know the answer.
“Well time is more displaced the closer you get to the center. But roughly 19 months.”
“19 MONTHS? Rod.. I can’t go back in, I may never return.” I slowly open my eyes and look around. There has to be over a million people circling this roundabout. All sucked into their own mind worlds. This evil has to be stopped.
“It’s all or nothing”, Rod says. “We need a better game plan, though. It seems the more people that fall into the trap, the stronger the Torund gets.”
“Well I have been, uh, incapacitated, so what’s the game plan.” My senses are almost complete and the stench is overwhelming. “Has anything changed?”
“Well, we are still 3 miles to your northeast, on the 34th floor of the Highton. We are finishing up the code for the antimatter igniter. This Torund is still the only one on the planet but it is now strong enough to draw sentient beings from all over the solar system to this soul-sucking roundabout, your Majesty.”
“What did you just call me?”. Something is pulling me back. “Rod we have to hurry, I can feel the tug. I can’t go back. My family...they were taken.”
“Stay with us Gloria.. Listen to me, you do NOT have a family. We were tubed babies. Farmed…Don’t forget who you are! I’m pushing 5 milligrams of D-Epi.” Rodgen exclaims.
The Torund sends out the feeding drones to its millions of energy saplings as we all circle the heart like moths to a flame. Once the Torund is strong enough it will collapse in on itself becoming a black hole devouring this planet, the moons, and eventually this star-system. I have to stop it. For Aelston, my love.
“Gloria. You still with me?” I can hear the anxiousness in Rod’s voice.
“ I am still with you. What’s the plan?” I ask?
“We are transferring the code to the igniter attached to your right thigh. It is our belief that, if you can get the igniter in the middle of the roundabout, to the Torund, the antimatter will take care of the rest, your Majesty.”
“Okay. Hurry.” I have to close my eyes. My head is throbbing and small tremors ignite throughout my leg muscles. It feels as if someone is shaking me.
“Your Majesty?...Your Majesty?...” a familiar voice fills my mind.. If only…I’m just going to reach out and touch it. The voice jerks me. “Your Majesty?...MOM!?”
I snap back to the castle, I can feel my eyes are swollen, almost shut, but I can still see out of the right one. The guy has been detained, held down by two guards. The physician is scanning me. No wait.
“Mother, there you are. Welcome back!?
Mother? Why is she calling me… ”Aesha? Oh Aesha is that you?” The pain is child’s play. “Oh my, how I am so glad to see you. Where…When..?” I grab her neck and squeeze, the tears help to rinse out the dust from my eyes.
“Oh mother, I am so glad to see you. I just got back and you’re not going to believe what I found.” She moves to the side and the silhouettes of two figures approach.
I feel a shock in my heart and grab my chest…there it is again.
“Gloria, come back to me!”
Another shock. This one sucks me back into the vision. Moths to the flame…
“Wh…why do you keep bringing me back into this vision? My daughter has come home. Please tell me what it is I need to know and let me return to my family.” I am disoriented.
“Gloria, that world isn’t real, you have no daughter. No family. I am your only family. It’s me…Rod. The Torund is using you…your mind…draining you…draining you ALL to destroy this planet. Remember?! Stay strong and fight!”
“ Yes…I remember. but…Aesha…no...no. The Torund!” I say still trying to filter through the real and fake.
“Yes, the Torund”, Rod says. “The igniter is ready. We are confident you are close enough, now, that you can turn, run a few steps toward the center, then switch on the igniter and throw it into the heart of the Torund. You will need to immediately take cover because there will be a blast of energy. It is unclear how damaging it will be.”
“Okay!” I take the igniter from its magnetic patch. “Is this going to hurt my family?
“You don’t ha…No, Gloria. It will not hurt your family.” Rod says, half defeated. “But go. Do it NOW!”
I turn and face the Torund, causing a pile-up from the mindless bodies behind me. Drones are flying to my location. No turning back now. I begin sprinting towards the Torund.
“My love, My love! Oh my love!”
Is that...No, it can’t be.. I rub my eyes trying to get a clear picture. “Aelstan? And Prat?” I blink my eyes, painfully and wipe as I am running. It IS them. In the castle…? Or are they in the heart of the Torund? I can’t seem to tell the difference.
The drones are upon me now. I scream at the top of my lungs, my arm already in motion. I can feel the drones clinching on to my legs, torso, back, neck and then arms. But I’ve already released the igniter. Haven’t I? I can hear Rod in my ear, calling my name as I am tackled by the drones…
I fade into darkness.
Waking was difficult. It felt like something had been sucking my energy. I manage to sit up in bed and see a familiar face. I smile.
“How long have I…”
“Oh wow...Everything... Everything is so jumbled in my head. Is everyone okay?” I say, still very confused.
“Don't…just rest. And yes, everyone is okay! Let me get the doctor. Oh and you have some visitors. May I let them in?
“Yes, of course!” I straighten up in bed.
“It’s so very good to have you back, your Majesty.”
“It’s so very good to be back, Rodgen!