House of Enchanted: The Revelations of Oriceran, Soul Stone Mage, Book 1
By Sarah Noffke & Martha Carr
Azure and Monet could be found in the high tower in the House of Enchanted most days. Although adults, they still played games in the small room as they had done since childhood. Some people never grow up. The young wizard always complained that it was too stuffy in the sunny room, but then grumbled it was too cold on the grassy lawn outside the estate.
“You’re such a baby,” Azure remarked to her friend, who had thrown off his robes and was fanning himself with the six playing cards in his hand.
“And you’re such a bitch… Oops, I meant witch,” he shot back, winking at her.
She didn’t return the wink as she picked up a card from the deck. Elements was their favorite game, best played in a large room where there was space enough to dodge the penalties. However, all the other rooms in the House of Enchanted always seemed to be occupied by some witch passing through, or council meetings, or other clan business. The House had been extra full lately since witches and wizards had traveled there from all over the kingdom of Virgo for the upcoming coronation. Some would lodge in the House, although usually it was occupied fulltime only by Azure, her mother, who was the current queen, and her grandmother, the queen mother.
After a moment of deliberation Azure discarded the Three of Wands. Monet flashed her a devilish grin, his light-green eyes sparkling. He’d always been full of mischief. People said it was because he had been born during a meteor shower.
“You’ve made it another round, but I fear your pretty white dress and blue hair won’t stay dry for long,” he said, pulling from the deck. A second later his face broke into an expression of shock and he covered his head with his arms just before a flood of water fell from the ceiling, as if it had been dumped from a bucket, drenching him.
Azure broke into an easy laugh, pulling her long gown up off the wooden floor where the water was puddling. Pulling her wand from her bluish-gray hair, which had been pinned into a bun at the back of her head, she flicked it at the water. It evaporated immediately.
“See where talking shit gets you?” she asked, looking interested in his answer.
Monet slapped the card, on which a shower of water could be seen, down on the discard stack. He tossed the other cards he’d been carefully constructing into the right combinations onto the table.
That was the thing about the card game Elements. A player would spend a great deal of effort trying to arrange a hand that would win, but pull one penalty card and the whole hand was ruined. Literally ruined. They’d been through hundreds of decks of cards since they’d started playing the game as kids several decades ago.
“Oh, just you wait! You’re going to get the fire penalty and then watch who’s laughing when your cards burst into flames,” Monet said.
Azure dealt Monet a new hand just as a loud eruption of voices echoed up from one of the bottom floors. Virgoans were so damn loud when they got together.
“Are you nervous?” Monet asked over his cards.
Azure bit her bottom lip and shook her head, keeping her eyes lowered.
“You’ve never been able to lie to me, so don’t even try,” he warned.
She dropped the pretense and pressed her cards against her chest as she leaned forward. “Wouldn’t you be, if you were me?”
Monet blew out a long breath and nodded. “Fuck, yeah! There would be no sleeping potion that could help me rest. I’d chew my nails until my fingers were bloody bits. Hell, I’d run so far away from Virgo that no one could ever find me.”
“You’re not helping,” Azure stated, suddenly feeling cold as a shiver ran over her skin. She pulled the shawl attached to her white satin dress over her arms, which were now covered in goosebumps. It was a new dress, and like everything the witches of Virgo wore, it was finely made with a large bell-shaped skirt and intricate needle work.
“You were born to be queen,” Monet declared, hesitating as he took another card. He sighed with relief once it was in his hand—not a penalty card.
“Thanks,” Azure muttered, peeling a card off the deck. The Six of Potions.
“No,” he said with a laugh. “I mean, you were literally born to be queen. You’ve been preparing for this your whole life, and everyone is looking to you to lead our kingdom. What if you fuck it all up and we waste away because humans from Terran poison our wells? Or what if…”
“Shut up, Monet, or my first order as Queen will be to banish you to the uncharted parts of the Dark Forest,” she said.
Monet shrugged. “You can do better than that. Sentence me to something ghastly like collecting ogre toenails or having evening chats with your gran. And besides, I’m kind of intrigued by the Dark Forest. I don’t see why everyone is so scared of it. Bunch of fraidy cats.”
A hiss sang from the windowsill where a black and white cat sat staring at the pair.
“Oh, Finswick, you know I didn’t mean any offense. You’re braver than a whole gaggle of wizards,” Monet said over his shoulder to the feline, whose green eyes were narrowed at him.
“I am going to order you to not offend on the day of the full moons!” Azure exclaimed.
“Just sentence me to death, why don’t you?” He set down his cards, popping a finger into the air like he’d just remembered something. From his breast pocket, he withdrew a small amethyst in the shape of a teardrop. “I’ve been thinking about it, and I wanted to get your take. What do you think about having my soul stone fashioned into a bracelet?” He positioned the stone over his wrist, closing one eye, trying to imagine it.
“I think you should put it into a choker,” Azure offered with a laugh.
“Jokes aside, I need to figure out what to do with it. I was thinking that having it set into a braided leather wristband would be neat,” Monet said.
Azure regarded Monet’s soul stone with an edge of longing. She didn’t have hers yet, and wondered what shape it would be. Maybe a teardrop like Monet’s, or heart-shaped like her gran’s.
“You worried about coughing it up, aren’t you?” teased Monet. “Maybe you’ll be the first witch to choke on a soul stone.” He clutched his throat, pretending not to breathe.
Azure made a face at him. “I’ll worry about it when my magic is at full strength.”
“That’s almost here.”
“My mother has said more than once—”
“It’s a source of power and rejuvenation.” Monet finished her sentence, laughing.
“Okay, it just seems strange to me to vomit up anything, much less a stone that will be a source of power for me. But then we lose our baby teeth, don’t we? Part of the process of maturing, I suppose.”
“Nature is weird,” Monet agreed.
“You don’t have to wear it. Some Virgoans don’t. My mother, for instance,” Azure said.
Monet waved her off. “Of course I need to wear it. And everyone knows it’s best to keep the power of the soul stone nearby.”
“Or maybe it’s better to keep it hidden so it can’t be stolen. Remember those humans from Terran who supposedly stole a bunch of soul stones from our clan?”
“It’s good to hear you thinking like a queen,” a voice said from the door.
Monet and Azure turned to find a woman in a green dress with long, billowing sleeves standing at the entrance. The chiffon matched the woman’s emerald-green hair, which was braided down her back. Feathers lined the collar of the dress, which, like Azure’s, was too edgy to be classified as truly Victorian. The dress was like most things in the House of Enchanted—elaborate and full of detail.
“Hello, Mother,” Azure said, staying seated as Monet quickly stood up.
He bowed slightly to the queen. “Hello, Queen Emeri. I didn’t realize you had mastered the anti-aging spell. You look a hundred years younger than the last time I saw you.”
Not at all impressed, the queen pursed her lips. “That would have been yesterday, since you’ve apparently decided you’d rather hang around here than make yourself a valued member of the clan.”
It wasn’t that Monet’s charm didn’t work on the queen. She just loved to give him the impression that it didn’t.
“I’m thinking of asking Charmsgood if I can work in his shop, actually. Learn potions from the very best,” Monet offered.
“Well, you’ll have to find him first,” Queen Emeri said. “It appears he’s gone missing, but he might just be off in the mountains or at the ocean scavenging for potion ingredients.”
The kingdom of Virgo was large; thousands of witches and wizards inhabited it with room to spare. Still, not all of the ingredients for potions could be found in their immediate area, which was a landscape of rolling grassy hills and trees. Of the many places to live on the planet of Oriceran, the witches and wizards thought Virgo was the best. Azure herself was certain of it, even if her opinion was based on limited experience, since she’d never actually left Virgo.
Maybe one day she’d travel the world. But for now she had to focus on Virgo. Azure was going to have to lead her people soon. A lump rose in her throat; she hoped it was her soul stone waiting to be dislodged, but knew it was actually nerves.
Find out more about Sarah Noffke and her other books at http://www.sarahnoffke.com