In the Name of Magic
Chris Bedell © 2018
All Rights Reserved
Magnifico was 100 percent black and white. Most people would think it an odd comment to make, but life hadn’t always been dreary.
Fourteen years ago, when I was three, color vanished from my country. No one knew what happened to make it that way, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying to find an answer. I even asked Mom numerous times over the years why Magnifico switched from color to black and white. She shrugged and said my time would be better spent doing other things.
However, I still couldn’t help but wonder because anyone with a brain should’ve been curious about what had happened in Magnifico. At least that was how I felt.
I couldn’t get distracted, though. The execution of King Dorian and Queen Penny at the Lax Stadium in the capital city of Conforia was happening today. And that was where I was with my friends, Katherine, Taylor, and Raquel. The stadium was steadily filling with others who had come to see the executions.
Katherine grimaced. “I can’t believe they gave us the day off from school to witness this.”
Taylor bumped Katherine’s shoulder. “I hate to break it to you, but there are more important things in life than school.”
Life’s unfairness made me snarl sometimes. Kissing a guy twice was the only romance I’d ever experienced because I never had a boyfriend, let alone a first date. So, yeah. I had no qualms about being jealous of Taylor and Katherine’s relationship.
“I know,” Katherine said, sighing. “But I can’t help that I enjoy school.”
Raquel rolled her eyes. “You don’t have to hide behind school because you’re embarrassed you were born without magic.”
“How many times have I told you not to bring that up?” Katherine asked.
Yeah. I noticed all of the snide comments, glares, and obscenities people uttered when finding out Katherine had no magical abilities. But being different wasn’t a reason for cruelty. Katherine wasn’t a bad person.
“I’m sorry. I wasn’t trying to be insensitive. I meant you shouldn’t feel ashamed for being born without magic,” Raquel said.
“I don’t,” Katherine grunted.
Raquel twirled a strand of hair around her finger. “If you say so.”
Sure. Raquel meant well, but she needed to drop the subject. She’d been there when people acted as if Katherine had ten eyes because she couldn’t practice magic.
Taylor shifted his gaze. “You’re so quiet, Max.”
“Don’t you mean Maximillian?” I asked.
Taylor sighed. “Sorry. I forgot for a moment. Maximillian is such a mouthful.”
“Anyway.” I gave Taylor a hard stare. “I don’t feel the need to talk all the time.”
Katherine chuckled. “That’s a shocker. Have you met yourself?”
At least Taylor was successful in lightening the mood because there wasn’t a hint of harshness in Katherine’s voice when she laughed. And if I took one for the group so things wouldn’t escalate, then so be it.
A gust of wind whistled through the air, making Raquel’s curly hair ripple. “I can’t believe Vivian is having her own parents executed…”
“She’ll be a better ruler,” Taylor said.
Katherine huffed. “Appointing herself queen makes her seem self-serving.”
Taylor shook his head. “Give her a chance, and don’t believe all the negativity.”
Katherine furrowed her eyebrows. “Excuse me? Her boyfriend, Sirch Manges, thinks people born without magic are scum. In fact, he wrote a book on the subject.”
Good for Katherine. She needed to stand up for herself. Dating Taylor wasn’t mutually exclusive with thinking everything he said was perfect. Any anger Katherine might’ve had was justified. There was a difference between saying hateful things and getting a book about it published. Yet most people hadn’t been fazed by Vivian and Sirch’s relationship even though his book was published before he met Vivian. Perhaps people thought Sirch was only a provocateur. A difference existed between spouting ideas and dying because of them. Not that I wanted to make excuses for him; I didn’t.
I couldn’t help feeling disgusted at how hatred for nonmagical people existed. Intolerance didn’t make people’s lives better. Okay. Fine. That point wasn’t completely true since Sirch made a little money off his book. But my point remained clear. Bigotry wouldn’t make the average person rich. It was an empty idea to hold onto.
“I never said I agreed with everything she says or stands for,” Taylor said. “But Magnifico needs peace, not rioting and looting.”
“Vivian isn’t some savior,” Katherine said, pursing her lips. “Her parents ended the Goblin War eventually.”
The Goblin War. It was an interesting phrase. There was nothing like mentioning that to start an altercation. A person either believed in the war or didn’t. Depending on who you asked, some people thought it was a waste of time and that the goblins living in the south posed zero threat, while others considered the opposite to be true. Though, two things that couldn’t be debated were how King Dorian and Queen Penny had raised taxes to pay for the war and how they slashed spending on domestic projects such as programs for the poor or building highways. Because even I understood how that infuriated people struggling to get by.
Taylor pouted. “But at what cost? I lost my father.”
Yes. Taylor was foolish for overlooking Sirch and his potential negative influence over Vivian. But life wasn’t black and white like Magnifico because even I couldn’t fathom losing a parent at seventeen. So, his father’s death was bound to cloud Taylor’s judgment.
“Please don’t put words in my mouth,” Katherine said. “I wasn’t trying to make light of what happened to your father.”
“I know you weren’t, but I don’t think Vivian will cause problems,” Taylor said.
Katherine gritted her teeth. “Well, Vivian’s boyfriend, Sirch, is already waging a verbal campaign against nonmagical people. He’s saying they made the previous king and queen start the Goblin War in the first place.”
“Don’t overreact, babe,” Taylor said, tugging the sides of his peacoat. “He’s only trying to create a dialogue.”
“This isn’t funny,” Katherine insisted. “There are already whispers about making nonmagical people register soon.”
“That’ll never happen,” Taylor said.
“How can you be sure?” Katherine asked.
Taylor sucked in a breath. “Vivian has better things to do than target nonmagical people.”
Raquel snorted. “Real psychopaths get other people to do their dirty work for them.”
“Exactly,” Katherine said. “Besides, I don’t even know why we’re here.”
“We get extra credit if we go today. Although we have to remember to have a parent sign the form,” Taylor said.
“Wow. Vivian is already having the schools indoctrinate young people,” Katherine said.
I agreed with Katherine. Being proud of living in Magnifico was one thing. But it was another to have blind loyalty. Taylor’s constant nagging over the last couple of days hadn’t helped garner any sympathy, and his insistence had made him resemble a bully.
I glanced up at the sky for a moment when a shadow passed overhead.
Damn. The puffy gray clouds soon pattered rain down on the crowd.
Katherine grunted. “Great. Rain is what we need.”
“I’ve got us covered,” I said.
One flick of my arm made silvery lines appear around the four of us, then vaporize into thin air a moment later.
“You don’t always have to show off your magic,” Katherine said. “If I knew it was going to rain, I would’ve brought an umbrella.”
I bit my lip, a metallic taste filling my mouth.
Sure. Feeling bad about Katherine not having magic was natural. But it wasn’t my fault, and I had only tried to do something nice by casting a protective anti-rain enchantment.
“Let’s hope Magnifico can move forward,” Taylor said.
Raquel nibbled at the corner of one of her nails. “I want to know what’s taking so long for the execution to begin.”
Katherine tucked her hands in her coat pockets after a gust of wind nipped at our faces. “People are rarely on time for anything. You should know that?”
Taylor gave Raquel a teasing wink. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you’re excited about the execution.”
“That’s ridiculous. It’s cold, and I want to be done with it,” Raquel said.
Sure. The enchantment I’d cast might have protected us from the continuing stream of icy rain, but magic still wasn’t perfect. There was no such trick to keep people from feeling the chilly air. At least from what I knew, because I was only seventeen.
“Don’t be so hasty. Getting rid of Penny and Dorian is important to the future of Magnifico,” Taylor said.
Katherine’s nostrils flared. “There’s no guarantee Vivian will be a good queen. The execution today might only be for show.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Taylor said.
I rubbed my forehead. I felt the beginning of a headache. “Let’s not argue.”
Yeah. There was only so much bickering I could take in one day.
Raquel snorted. “The whole Foley family is nutty. What family accepts their son/brother ran away and doesn’t try to find him?”
“People move on.” Taylor shrugged.
Raquel narrowed her gaze. “That’s harsh.”
“It’s obvious where Prince Stefan is,” Katherine said.
Taylor’s eyes widened in apparent disbelief. “Okay. Where is he?”
Katherine coughed, clearing the scratchiness from her voice. “Fang Manor. Nobody has lived there since the Fang family mysteriously disappeared over a century ago.”
Taylor snickered. “I doubt the Prince of Magnifico is living there. That’s only an urban legend.”
“Then you haven’t been paying attention to the right gossip.” Katherine jabbed at his shoulder.
“Who’d want to live in a haunted house?” Taylor asked.
“The house isn’t haunted,” Katherine said.
Loud chattering echoed through the stadium, causing me to glance around. Every row was now occupied, not leaving even an inch of free space.
Hmmm. The execution must’ve been ready to start soon if the place was filled to capacity.
Raquel gazed at me. “Everything okay?”
“Yeah. I’m wondering when the execution will begin.” I scratched an itch on the back of my neck.
“It might be sooner than you think.” Katherine pointed to the stadium field. I must’ve missed the trumpets announcing the arrival of Queen Vivian, her younger sister, Princess Anastasia, and Sirch. Queen Vivian and Princess Anastasia were both dressed in warm fur coats, dresses, and high heels while Sirch sported a blazer and designer pants.
The former king and queen were led into the stadium devoid of any hint of their royal lineage. Shackles jingling with each step, escorted by two large guards.
Raquel was fixated on Princess Anastasia. I couldn’t blame her, though; I would’ve gawked at Princess Anastasia if I liked girls.
I leaned into Raquel and whispered. “Should we find out if Princess Anastasia is single?”
Raquel pulled back and gave me a dirty look. “Don’t be a jerk, Maximillian. I feel bad for Princess Anastasia. Watching your parents be executed would be devastating for anyone.”
“I’m sorry. I was only trying to distract from the situation by joking around. I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“This will be a historical moment that people will look back on for ages,” Taylor interrupted. Clearly, he was enjoying pomp surrounding the coming execution.
“Don’t be absurd.” Katherine shivered. “Magnifico’s near economic collapse is a trumped-up charge for treason. It’s not like they betrayed Magnifico in some terrible way.”
Taylor’s grin widened. “Some people don’t see it that way.”
“Whatever,” Katherine said.
“Shhh! Queen Vivian is about to speak,” Taylor spat.
Queen Vivian moved to the center of the stadium and waited for silence to fall before waving her hand through the air. “I want to thank those of you who have joined me here today.”
Figures. Queen Vivian must’ve done some sort of magic thing to make her voice audible from hundreds of feet away.
She then unrolled a scroll until it plopped onto the ground. “We’re here today because I care about Magnifico’s future and its culture. I want to see our country prosper and return to its former glory. My parents are guilty of economic treason, and I sentenced them to death for their folly. As per their final request, my mother shall be executed first.”
A guard shoved Queen Penny forward, and she shuffled the remaining distance until she stood in front of the citizens of Magnifico, before lowering to her knees and placing her head on the block while Queen Vivian, Princess Anastasia, and Sirch looked on. The executioner gripped his heavy metal ax and swung. A sickening thud echoed, and Queen Penny’s head rolled into a pool of blood that slowly seeped into the ground. Princess Anastasia seemed to stumble, but Sirch grabbed her elbow to help her from falling in a heap. He growled something in her ear and she straightened, her gaze fixed on something away from the gore that lay only a few feet away.
Damn. Queen Penny had been alive one moment and dead the next. I couldn’t help the tears that made my vision shimmer. She and her husband had been incompetent rulers, sure, but they hadn’t done anything to warrant a violent death. The days leading up to this moment had even been oddly devoid of shock and outrage.
A second guard shoved King Dorian forward. He placed himself in the same position as his wife; his eyes closed, his face strangely serene. The executioner severed his head with an even faster movement of the ax. King Dorian’s head fell and landed a few feet away from his wife’s. Wow. Even in death, they were never far apart. I hiccupped, thinking of how their lives were cut short.
Queen Vivian jerked her hand through the air to still any murmuring before speaking. “Citizens of Magnifico! We are now free of the tyranny of my parents, and I promise I’ll be a fair ruler to all.”
The stadium erupted into cheers and applause, while my hand remained over my mouth. I hoped it’d stem the tide of what was trying to leave my stomach.
My mind couldn’t help wondering, though. Dorian and Penny were Queen Vivian’s parents. Yet she had had no qualms about having them killed. There was no telling what might happen to anyone else who stood in her way.
I got up from the stadium bench, glancing at my friends. “I need a moment.”
“Are you okay?” Katherine asked.
“I’m sorry, but I can’t do this,” I said.
I scurried past Katherine and Taylor and left the stadium.
I cried for the king and queen despite having no connection to them.
Witnessing my grandma’s death a couple years earlier made me cringe every time something even remotely morbid came up. But my sensitivity was a story for another day.
I scoffed at the far-flung connection. Despite how cheesy she’d sounded for saying, “Nice boys shouldn’t see executions,” she’d warned me that attending the execution was an emotional trigger for me. Given that my sobs were already loud enough to cause a scene, it seemed she was right, and that was the last thing I needed.
An icy sensation crawled up my back. Great, another reminder of the impending snowy season.
“Are you okay?” a voice called out.
I spun around, frantically wiping my eyes.
A man a couple of inches taller than me and dressed in a tailcoat, T-shirt, and shorts, stood in front of me, gripping what appeared to be a locket in his hand. He wore a half mask that didn’t inspire much confidence as it made his identity a mystery.
Guessing the person’s age wasn’t hard even if half of his face was covered by a mask. His wrinkle-free skin meant he must have only been a couple of years older than me at most.
“Can I help you?” I asked.
He sneezed. “I’m sorry. Where are my manners? I heard someone crying, and then I saw you. I didn’t mean anything creepy by it. I only wanted to help if you needed it.”
“Oh, okay. No problem.”
The man continued staring at me. “What’s with the reaction? I mean, it’s not like you’re related to the Foley family.”
I huffed out a long breath. “It’s complicated.”
“I know the feeling.”
“Nothing. It would require too much explanation. I guess I was hoping for closure by coming here today.” He bent his head and studied his shoes.
“I don’t understand.”
A shout from Taylor interrupted my conversation with the mysterious stranger. “Hey, are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine now. I was just…”
I glanced back at the unidentified guy, but he was gone.
A sense of disappointment due to the stranger’s sudden absence was kind of weird but wasn’t unrealistic. Sure, talking to the guy wouldn’t erase the image of Queen Vivian’s parents’ beheadings, but the conversation had succeeded with getting my mind off witnessing the actual moment. A chance to ignore, if only for a moment, how fleeting life was.
Meeting a masked stranger had never happened to me before. Not ever. And although some people might have ridiculed me for placing so much interest on one interaction with a stranger, little moments mattered because even the smallest event changed a life, whether for good or bad.
My gaze shifted, the space now absent of the concerned stranger, until I noticed the locket on the ground, and I kneeled to pick it up. The letter S was engraved on the front. I opened it to find a picture of what was obviously a much younger King Dorian and Queen Penny.
I clicked the locket shut and stared at the S on the front; the man’s comment lingered in my mind. He’d come to the execution to find closure.
“I think I met Prince Stefan,” I mumbled.