“Hello?” Fae asked, standing at the flap that covered the entrance to Gerick’s tent. She felt like she should knock, but knocking on fabric was impractical.
This is why doors are so helpful.
“Gerick Irsotz?” Mercury asked.
“I’m coming,” came a calm voice from within. The girls stepped away as the flap was pulled aside and a man emerged from the raggedy red tent. His grey hair was tied back in a ponytail, and his blue eyes shone with warmth and kindness. He was dressed in a dark blue jacket with brass buttons that was also a cape – it buttoned closed in the front like a jacket, but rather than sleeves, it had an attached cape that wrapped around, covering his arms. His white pants were tucked into brown leather boots which had sort of “holsters” on their sides that, much to Fae’s delight, contained pens, pencils, and brushes.
He smiled as he saw the girls. “Ah, new visitors,” he said. “Welcome, welcome. To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“You’re Gerick Irsotz?” Fae asked.
“Yes, that’s me,” Gerick said.
“I’m Fae Greyson,” Fae said, holding out her hand. “I was told you might be able to answer some questions about magical artwork.”
“No surprises there,” Gerick said with a wry smile. “Most who seek me out have the same sorts of questions. Let me grab a few seats so we can talk more comfortably.”
Inside Gerick’s tent were several simple wooden stools, small and light enough that he could carry five at once, arranging them in a semicircle outside the tent. Fae and the sisters took their seats first at Gerick’s gesture, and then he joined them. Mercury, Neptune, and Jupiter introduced themselves, and then Gerick turned his attention back on Fae.
“So, Miss Greyson, what can I help you with?” he asked.
“Just Fae is fine,” Fae said, opening her bag and pulling out the sketchbook where she’d drawn her most recent piece, the drawing of the Cartographer’s Waystation. “I… this is my first time to the Enchanted Dominion, and I’d never even heard of the place until very recently. But I have many drawings like this… scenes and places that just come to me, even though I’ve never seen them before. Have you heard of anything like that?”
Gerick took the sketchbook, leafing through the pages and spending a long time on each drawing. “Very interesting,” he said softly as he muddled over what he saw. “Some of these are unfinished.”
“Yes,” Fae said. “I… when I start drawing them, I get into a sort of zone where my hand is working on its own. If I get interrupted, it breaks the flow and I can’t complete the piece. It happens now and then.”
“I see…” Gerick continued looking through the book, and the longer he kept relatively silent, the more Fae’s anxiety grew.
Did he know anything? Would he have worthwhile answers? Did these drawings really mean something, or was Fae just crazy?
“I’ll be quite honest,” Gerick said, lowering the book and casting a long look at Fae, “I’ve only heard of something like this once before, and only in rumors and scattered hints. I tried to track down as much information as I could, because it fascinated me, but there didn’t seem to be much to find – though, of course, I don’t know everything. It’s very likely I missed something somewhere.”
“What do you know?” Fae asked, leaning forward, hanging on every word.
“There was a boy from Earth, a long time ago,” Gerick said. He looked up at the sky, his expression deep in thought. “I’m not entirely sure how long it would be for you. Time is very different in the Enchanted Dominion, and I’m not all that familiar with human lifespans. But it would have been many centuries ago. I certainly never met the boy – his strange case came to the Dominion when I was just a child myself. But he had strange drawings, exact recreations of Locations and even quite a few Enchanted. He only came to the Dominion once, by all accounts I’ve been able to unearth. But while here, he traveled quite extensively. He, too, was seeking answers to why he was drawing these things and people he’d never seen before.”
“What did he find out?” Fae asked. Silently, she wondered why the boy had only come to the Dominion once. Had he found all of the answers he sought and then just left, satisfied? That seemed insane to Fae – her small glimpses of this world so far left her wanting more and more.
“I’m not entirely sure,” Gerick admitted. “I know some of the Locations he visited and Enchanted he spoke with – some of whom are still very much alive, and perhaps they’ll be more receptive to you questioning them than they were to me – and I know that it’s unclear whether or not he ever left the Dominion. Some say that he refused to go back to Earth. Others say he simply vanished off the Celestial Shore. Still others whisper about the Queen, saying that she got to him and stole him away.”
“The queen?” Fae asked. “What would the Royal Family want with him?”
“Not that queen,” Gerick said, shaking his head.
“The Queen,” Mercury said, and the way she said it was similar to Gerick, putting an emphasis on the word as if it were a name, not just a title. “No one speaks her name. But if she went after the boy…”
“Then she could want Fae as well,” Neptune said.
“What’s so dangerous about her?” Fae asked. “And why won’t anyone speak her name?”
“Because to speak it is to invite her attention,” Gerick said. “Though if you must know a little bit more… she is often spoken of as the Nightmare Queen.”
“Paints a pretty strong picture, huh?” Mercury asked. “If you talk about the Royal Family’s queen, you’re talking about Queen Enchanta. Otherwise, ‘the Queen’ refers to the Nightmare Queen. She rules over fear and terrors, the unknown, and the things that prey on us in our deepest slumber.”
“What would she want with the boy?” Fae asked.
“It’s unclear,” Gerick said. “No one I spoke with was able to answer that much. Like the other information about what happened to the boy, they seem closer to rumor than fact, but… I can’t simply dismiss them out of hand. The boy vanished, and no one knows to where. It’s worth exploring all possibilities.”
“So what else can you tell me about him?” Fae asked.
“Early on, it seems he simply wanted to know why he was able to draw these things,” Gerick said. “Personal accounts talk of the boy’s innocence and curiosity. Those who spoke or met with him early in his journey speak of him fondly.”
“I feel like there’s a ‘but’ coming,” Mercury said.
Gerick nodded. “Those accounts are from early on,” he said. “As time passed, the boy seemed to… change. It’s unclear exactly how young he was when he arrived, but either way, change is no surprise. It is the essence of humans and Enchanted alike to change as time passes. But the boy seemed to develop a sort of… obsession. The latest accounts, nearest to the boy’s disappearance, talk of him frequently – and sometimes rather aggressively – inquiring about Collapse.”
That word hung in the air, and judging by everyone else’s reactions, Fae should have a chill running down her spine. “Collapse means something in this world, doesn’t it?” she asked. Locations, Enchanted, the Nightmare Queen… the way they name things makes it hard to tell if a word is a regular word or has added meaning.
“Indeed it does,” Gerick said, nodding gravely. “Collapse is one of the Intangibles.”
“Intangibles are…” Mercury started, pausing in thought. “Well, let’s start before that. The Dominion and the Enchanted are really big on prophecy and destiny and stuff like that. You know about Locations with a capital ‘L’. There are also Characters, with a capital ‘C’ – important figures in prophecies and history, and they’re often recurring figures who have specific roles to play in the world and the destiny of existence as a whole. The Queen is one of those.”
“And then there are Intangibles,” Neptune said. “These are forces of magic that transcend both physical form and conventional magic as means of describing them. Many of them are greatly coveted by those with a desire for power or change. Collapse is… one of the more ominous Intangibles.”
“Anyone who’s asking about it, or trying to find or obtain it in some way, is probably lost,” Jupiter said. “If you’re someone who wants Collapse, that likely means Collapse has already found you.”
“Indeed,” Gerick said. “Collapse has two components. Many believe it to be a creation of the Queen, but no one knows for certain. The first component is… an infection of the mind and soul. It creates in the infected a desperate, obsessive desire to find and obtain the second component, which…”
“No one knows for sure what it is,” Neptune said. “Lots of rumors and hearsay, but the warnings about Collapse are so strong that no one uninfected seems to know anything of substance about it – so they can’t help the infected find it.”
“There are just the words passed down by the Fates,” Mercury said. “I don’t remember the exact wording, but basically they say the Collapse is a weapon that tears apart the human mind and will, enslaving them to some other being. Most interpret that ‘other being’ to be the Queen, but it isn’t specifically stated.”
“So basically, he lost his mind,” Fae said, disappointed at the turn of events. “Which probably means he never found what he was looking for.”
“It’s unlikely we’ll ever know,” Gerick said. “But I can direct you to those who spoke with him, and those who directly sought him out when they heard about his story. With your situation being so similar to his, they may very well open up to you and share things they wouldn’t tell me.”
“But there’s nothing you can tell me,” Fae said glumly.
“Don’t be so hasty,” Gerick said, smiling. “Examining your drawings, it’s clear to me that they are not magical in nature.”
Fae stared at the man, her heart sinking. Not magical in nature? But she…
“Do not worry,” Gerick said, noticing Fae’s expression. “That doesn’t mean you came here in vain. You see, magic is tied to artwork in many ways. There is, of course, artwork that is in itself magical – that is primarily what we work with here in this camp. The Plains of the Fallen is a place for those who were forgotten in life. We use our artistic talents here to do our best to make sure they are not completely forgotten. Our engravings on the tombs themselves, as well as artistic works made here, help to return memories of the forgotten dead to the rest of the world.”
Fae loved the sound of that. It was like she had thought while walking along the burial grounds. Art can make sure that those long gone are never forgotten.
“There is also artwork that is born of magic,” Gerick said, “but does not have magical properties itself. That is what you have here. Magic, as you said, brought these drawings to life through you. And the mystery behind that magic is what you seek to unravel, yes?”
Fae nodded. “Absolutely,” she said. “If someone or someplace is calling out to me, I need to know.”
“And I can help, though not as much as you might have hoped,” Gerick said. He leafed through the sketchbook’s pages, until he stopped near the beginning. “It’s telling that you would draw the Eventide Archive. It’s a repository of knowledge, certainly, but more than that, it is currently maintained by Selphine Miora, the Archivist. She may well have known the boy from long ago better than anyone else.”
Gerick passed the sketchbook to Fae, who took out a pen and labeled the drawing he’d indicated as the Eventide Archive. It was a cut-in interior drawing, showing a view of a building’s interior as if one of the walls had been cut out entirely. It certainly looked like a “repository of knowledge” – books were here, there, and everywhere, though it wasn’t much like a library. The books weren’t sorted on bookshelves in neatly arranged aisles, but instead existed on smaller shelves that were constructed in such a way that they were integrated into and around stairs, tables, benches, and windows, forming a really pleasant place of study and research.
“How much was she able to tell you?” Fae asked.
“I can’t be sure,” Gerick said with a wry smile. “She wasn’t willing to tell me very much. Inquiries did not appear to be very welcome. I met with her on three separate occasions. Twice she at least seemed to be too preoccupied with her work to speak with me, but the third time, it was more clear to me that she was avoiding speaking on the subject. I had the sense that it was a painful subject for her, though I can’t be certain. But with this drawing and your story, she may be far more receptive to your questions.”
“Thank you,” Fae said. She smiled a small smile, feeling a slight bit of relief. Things seemed more ominous than she’d expected – talk of a Nightmare Queen and a dangerous infection called Collapse – but she had a bit of a way forward.
One step at a time. Even if those steps are small.
“If you’d like, spend some time here before leaving,” Gerick said, standing. He looked up at the sky. “Looks like we’ll have rain soon, and there isn’t much cover out on the Plains.”
“And it’s a long way to the nearest exit,” Neptune said.
“And someone looks like she wants to stick around for a while, anyway,” Jupiter said, grinning at Fae.
Fae couldn’t help smiling. Why wouldn’t she want to spend more time here? I have got to check out all the artwork here. And maybe I can find something to bring back for Shana. She’d like that.
I hope she hasn’t been trying to get a hold of me. How long am I going to be gone? Have I been reported missing already, just like Caleb and Delilah? Does Shana know?
Maybe I should have said something before I left.
Don’t worry, Shana. I’ll bring something back for you. I don’t know when I’ll be back, but hey, turns out there’s a lot I don’t know, and that list keeps getting longer.
Even knowing that, Fae was excited. There was a lot she didn’t know, sure, but she was learning quite quickly, too. And if she could visit more places like this, with artists openly celebrating their work? Well, then this journey was going to be the time of her life.