Short Story: What Else?
I hear from readers that they love glimpses into the scenes that didn't make it into a book.
WHAT ELSE? is taken from THE LOST MAGIC. It's a heartwarming scene between Bianca and Derek that I had to cut—mostly because Bianca's character development needed to move forward in a different way—but that I really loved because of the connection between them.
It takes place during THE LOST MAGIC, in the Throne Room, which we don't get to visit as much as I'd like. For Derek, it's a place that serves as a reminder of his responsibility to the Network (when his love of all things Protectors threatens his concentration).
Also, what's more fun than cake between father and daughter?
If you haven't read THE LOST MAGIC yet, then click here to purchase your copy today.
I hope you enjoy this quick, free escape.
* * *
The Throne Room lay down the hallway from Papa's office, through an elegant set of doors that held an inscription of the history of the Central Network in swirled carvings.
The top left of the door featured Esmelda, the first High Priestess who created the Network paradigm out of utter chaos. That was thousands of years ago, when mortals lived in Alkarra.
The High Priestess before Papa, Mildred, rested at the bottom right corner, designated by a roaring lion. With every new leader, the magical carvings shifted and changed, allowing the next to appear. How would Papa be represented?
I didn't want to know that answer for a very long time.
With a shove, I pushed open the heavy doors.
Red-and-gold carpet led me to the feet of two dragon thrones on a raised dias. The High Priest's throne, where a weary body now relaxed, stood slightly forward. The position indicated Papa's status as Highest Witch of the Central Network. Painted depictions of forest dragons filled the backs of each large throne, equal in size and height.
There were no windows in this room, just the flicker of tired torchlight and the hollows of chiseled stone walls. A pair of curious eyes glanced up as the door scraped shut behind me.
Papa's dark eyes were tired, and his once neat hair disheveled. He'd unbuttoned the top of his shirt and sprawled on the chair as if he'd just run for hours.
"Merry meet, Papa."
"Bianca," he drawled, his voice lined with amusement and exhaustion.
He straightened with a conspiratorial gleam of his eye when his eyes snagged onto something behind me. "What have you got there?"
Two chocolate cakes with whipped, white frosting and a thick cherry glaze trailed at my back. I'd finagled them from the kitchen by swapping dishwashing duties with Fina.
"Something you earned."
I sat on the open High Priestess throne and spelled the largest piece of cake to Papa. Two clear forks, made from spun sugar, stuck out of the top of each. They would last just long enough to finish the dessert before crumbling into delicious dust.
Papa groaned through the first bite.
We ate in silence, the lovely quiet of the Throne Room permitting us the calm I'd long sought after the tempestuous first Esbat of the Celebration.
Papa, like me, held no innate love of intense social conventions. His solitude and privacy was, perhaps, his greatest sacrifice as High Priest. The Throne Room provided a solace that not even his apartment gave.
Some wily witches often snuck up there to ask questions and had to be fended off by Reeves. For some reason, no one ever considered the Throne Room when they searched for him. Perhaps because of its usual traditional, ornamental use.
"So," I drawled once my plate disappeared back to the kitchen. My whirling mind had calmed, but Papa still frowned at his half-eaten slice. "How was the Esbat for you?"
He sent a glower my way.
"Niko is more angry with me than I thought." He rested his weary head in his hand, but his gaze sparkled with a bit of mischief. "And what did you think from where you listened in the rafters?"
I lifted an eyebrow. "You knew?"
"Now I do."
I scowled at him and he laughed. With a sigh, I mimicked his slouched posture. "The North's declaration of isolation was . . . upsetting."
"It impacts your Sisterhood?"
"Among other things. Are you nervous for the next Esbat?" I asked.
He blinked a few times, as if extricating himself from deeper thoughts, and I wondered what moved behind his gaze. His eyes drooped now. In a few moments he'd be asleep on the throne if I didn't get him back to his apartment.
"Not nervous, but concerned."
"You think it may not go well?"
"I think it's been set on an entirely different course now," he murmured. "Any hope of peace and solidarity was just shattered in a single sentence. Geralyn prioritizing her Networks over peace with other Networks sets a precedent. Niko will follow, even just if to spite me."
"And the South?"
Papa's jaw clenched. "We shall see," he murmured.
"My offer still stands," I said lightly. "Appoint me as Council Member over Letum Wood and give me the ability to marshal the forest in the South's defense. Maybe I could even get a belua or two to to listen."
Papa burst out laughing.
"It's not a bad idea," I mumbled.
He finished off his cake in one large bite, wiping a tear out of the corner of his eye.
"How are things with Scarlett and the Council?" he asked, as if he hadn't heard rumblings of the Sisterhood or didn't know the updates. Papa did this sort of questioning all the time. Pretended innocence just to see a different view.
Wily, but smart.
Gave him a full picture of what witches in the Network believed or were saying, which was often very different from the truth.
Perception, he always said, is everything.
"Glacially slow," I said evenly. "Without the North or Regina, I don't see a path forward that allows me to start the Sisterhood. At least not the way I wanted."
"You mean with you as the first delegate?"
He looked wistful for a moment. Papa had always been torn about my drive for the Sisterhood. While he'd planted the idea in my head, over time he'd seemed less inclined to like it. Which had everything to do with my safety.
Still, I think he recognized much of himself in me, and knew I wouldn't be satisfied with less. Beside, my training had proven itself out—I had a talent for this.
At least I could if I had more of the right training.
"Scarlett says I should think of something else." The words flew out of me, and I realized I'd been holding them back. "That I should find another way to be a productive witch in society."
The words hurt my throat.
"Maybe she's right," he said carefully. "Three years is a long time to give to it with no return. There are countless other things you could do with the skills you've learned. Or you can keep taking care of the forest."
My nose wrinkled at the thought. While I adored Letum Wood and all of its significant dangers, such a life would be tedious and boring.
What if I returned to the Celebration in three more years and nothing had changed again?
No, I was tired of watching my friends advance into something else.
"There's not much else I want. I'll make this happen, Papa. The good gods know I'm not good at giving up. On this, I won't sway. The Council will see my side or something else will happen."
Papa laughed, planted both hands on either side of him, and pushed out of the dragon throne. He held out a hand to me and I gave it. Then he pulled me into a warm embrace. I sighed and melted against him.
No matter how old I grew, I doubted I'd ever be too old for the reassurance of Papa's warmth. I tilted my head back to meet his gaze.
"Papa, how are you? Really? You've been working so much and I don't see you as often. Reeves won't tattle on you either, the old goat."
He sobered, even though amusement showed. His hands still gripped my arms.
"First of all, leave Reeves alone. He's not a goat, he's the best butler I've ever had and I don't need you annoying him. Secondly, I'm fine. Tired, but fine. Issues with the South have been encompassing, and today was a big disappointment, but I'm hopeful we'll find some relief by the end."
He squeezed my arms, as if that drove the point home.
"What if Niko or Geralyn stir up more problems?"
True strain showed in his expression then for a fleeting moment, but it cleared. "That is entirely possible, and most probable. We'll figure out a path no matter what presents itself, B. I promise."
"Let me help you however I can?" I pleaded.
He hesitated, then put a rough palm on my face and nodded. His dark hair fell in his eyes in a charming display that made him look like a younger man. Not a High Priest being worked to death by not only his Network, but the desperate needs of another more crippled one.
"I promise. Love you, B. Now go home. Get some sleep, and keep a grip on Letum Wood. It may be the only place I don't worry about these days."
Later that night, my thoughts lay heavy as I stripped out of my clothes, settled for a quick sponge bath, and slipped into fresh, cool sheets. The day unwound in my head.
Geralyn’s announcement should have been the last death knell in my hope of being part of the Sisterhood—or at least one of the first delegates into it. Should have broken my heart in my chest. I should change my plans. Look for another path. Find my purpose somewhere else, like helping people or training or Letum Wood or . . . something.
But I couldn’t.
I couldn’t bring myself to accept the end of hope, any more than I could have accepted that the curse from May would have killed me at age seventeen. I’d saved myself then and I could do so now
Forget impossibility. I had too much invested in this.
Not just the last three years of training, but all the years before it. Since I was a small child, Papa had taught me to fight for my life through my brain and my magic. No, this wasn't my last hope.
If Scarlett couldn’t ensure my place in the Sisterhood would happen in a diplomatic way, I’d just have to make it happen some other way.
The big question that swept me into the oblivion of sleep was what else is there?
* * *
I hope you enjoyed that alternate perspective for Bianca. Reading this, compared to the final version of THE LOST MAGIC, makes it clear that Bianca needed some other avenues of growth.
Namely, I wanted her moving away from her dependence on Derek. Plus, Derek's political position makes it difficult, at best, to support any endeavor such at Bianca's.
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