Chapter Thirty-One: Gem
Victor could only remember bits and pieces of what happened that day. Trying to allot what happened to particular times was both futile and pointless. While the whole experience was disorienting, Victor found it somewhat useful.
From what he could gather, the point where an ordinary day as Vandi’s guard turned into whatever mess it became started when he was having a conversation with Old Forestar in the throne room. Rather, Old Forestar telling him a story with sign language that Victor was still trying to learn. So far Victor deciphered “You and The Grumpy Elf grabbed small round things from trees.”
It was during the story that Victor noticed Old Forestar’s eyes were lingering on his chest once again. It was a habit that Victor had noticed since the first day they’d met, but it was today that Victor decided to look down to his chest as well. His eyes would have widened if they could as he carefully reached a hand up to the center of his chest.
Planted firmly in the middle of his sculpted breastplate was a purple gem. A bright light from it pulsated beneath his hand in a steady rhythm. Carved both above and below the gem were a pair of holes that dug their way beneath the edge of the stone, just the right size for one to squeeze their fingers under.
Old Forestar stopped his story halfway to watch Victor examine this new part of his body. He looked up to Victor with a confused look that conveyed the thought “Didn’t you know about that already?”
Victor’s eyes went back to the gem in his chest. Out of curiosity, he scooped his two fingers into the holes beneath the edge and gently pushed out-
Everything went black.
Old Forestar scrambled forward with muffled swears. He fumbled and caught the gem before it could reach the floor. The gem’s steady heartbeat didn’t stop. He looked up to Victor’s “body” with worry. The statue stayed motionless.
Old Forestar quickly shoved the gem back into the hole in Victor’s chest. He flinched back when Victor started looking around. Victor didn’t really have a face to speak of but his panicked stance told the elf everything he needed to know.
Victor calmed down when Old Forestar gently put a hand on his lance hand. He internally let out a huge sigh of relief. Nothing bad had happened this time.
It was at that moment that Victor finally registered something. Every time that he had fallen unconscious was after someone had grabbed the same area of his chest. After they had moved the gem.
He... He wanted to make sure.
He grabbed Old Forestar’s arm, which made the elf shudder, and place his hand onto the gem. Old Forestar looked up at him in surprise before he nodded in understanding. He pried the stone out.
Victor once again became nothing more than an ice statue.
He immediately felt a surge of power shake his arm. His eyes widened in surprise once he recognized what this feeling was. The familiar handshake of magic, greeting him like an old friend.
Old Forestar tried to bring his arm closer to examine the gem. Victor’s hand was still wrapped around his forearm. Before his arm could go completely numb from the cold, he pushed the gem back in.
Victor wasn’t as surprised when he woke up this time. When he saw that he was still holding Old Forestar’s goosebump-covered arm, he quickly let go with an “I’m sorry” gesture-
Old Forestar popped the gem out again.
The elf closely examined the stone. It was warm, he noted. It was warm like the touch of another person holding his hand. Along with the beating of the light, it felt as though he were holding someone’s heart in his palm.
Disgusted at the idea, he quickly replaced the gem back in Victor’s chest. Victor finished the movement he was in the middle of doing. There was a pause before Victor tilted his head in confusion.
Old Forestar’s brow furrowed and his lips pulled into a frown. He pointed to the gem and then tapped his chest twice with his middle finger.
Before Victor could express his confusion more, he heard the familiar heavy footsteps of Vandi. He immediately stiffened and tapped his lance against the ground twice. Old Forestar’s eyes widened. He grabbed his cleaning supplies propped up against the throne.
Vandi entered the room before the elf could escape out the other door. His eyes narrowed and his lips pulled into a frown upon seeing Old Forestar. He crossed his arms.
“Where do you think you’re going?” he asked.
Old Forestar sort of shrugged with the mop in his hand.
“Hmph.” Vandi turned to Victor. “You. You’re coming with me.”
Victor finally realized that the gem was what kept him awake about a second before Vandi ripped it out.
When Victor woke up again, his distance from the floor was greater. Rather than the crystalline body he was growing accustomed to, his gem was wedged into the chest of a stone figure. His limbs were thick with sculpted muscle and in his hand was a stone warhammer.
He blinked his eyes, relieved to be able to again, and took a look around. He was in a city. While it was dusted with a thin layer of snow, it didn’t seem nearly as cold as Valhall looked. The people bundled up in warm clothes stopped in their tracks once he met their gazes. He couldn’t quite place why, but for some reason the street he was on felt familiar.
A hand barely came into his view and snapped its fingers. Victor looked down to see Vandi stare up at him with indifference. Vandi, he noticed, was now over two feet shorter than he was.
Once Vandi was sure he had his attention, he started walking. Victor took that as a signal to follow him.
A portly man marched up to Vandi. His skin was turning red with rage. Vandi didn’t pause as the man waved a thick finger in his face.
“What do you think you’re doing?” he barked. “You can’t just take that! I spent five weeks on that statue!”
Vandi rolled his eyes and snapped his fingers. Victor knew instantly that Vandi wanted this man out of his way and that Victor would have to move him. His face formed a frown at the thought. He slowly approached the man, hoping that he would get the message and run away.
“You just appeared out of thin air and then started to act like you own the place! Just who do you think you... are...”
His words faded from his mouth as Victor towered over him. His face paled and he slowly stepped back. Victor felt a sort of pity well up in his chest at the look of betrayal in the man’s eyes.
“Hmm...” Vandi’s face twisted up into a smirk for just a blink, then it went right back to his cold stare. “Come on.”
Victor obediently marched behind him through the city. Vandi held his chin up high and paid no attention to the frightened civilians. Victor, however, was all too aware of the terrified stares following them. He took a deep breath and kept his eyes to Vandi’s back to ignore them.
Suddenly, Vandi stopped in the middle of the street, his posture stiff and his eyes straight ahead. Victor could vaguely see the small mounds that used to be wings shift beneath his coat. The fairy clenched his fists and took in a deep, shuttering breaths.
Victor looked around to see what was wrong. It was simply a city street. The only odd thing about it was the pointed shadow looming over the city. Why was he acting like that?
Victor very cautiously and gently placed his hand on Vandi’s shoulder. He whipped around and slapped the hand away. He clutched his hand immediately afterward, presumably because he forgot Victor was made of stone at the moment.
"Don’t touch me,” he hissed. His voice was deep with pure venom. ”Especially not here.”
Vandi shook himself out of his stupor and continued forward. His pace was faster now. Victor struggled to keep up with his stride.
At last, they were in front of a place Victor found familiar.
The gates to the King’s castle.
The guards instantly raised their spears at the two of them. Victor flinched back at their glares. Vandi, however, didn’t bat an eye.
“I would like to speak to your... ‘king.’” Vandi spoke with a sneer on his face.
“He doesn’t do meetings with just anyone,” one of the guards answered.
“Does the new king of fairies sound like just anyone?” Vandi retorted.
The other guard scoffed. “You don’t look like a fairy.”
Victor saw Vandi’s wings twitch. “I assure you, I am.”
When he tried to walk past them, they both lowered their lances in an X in front of him. Vandi didn’t say a word to them. He just sighed a single word and snapped his fingers. Suddenly, the guards were hanging in the air by their ankles. Their lances fell to the ground with a clatter. He strolled right by them.
It was when he was a good distance away that Vandi finally snapped his fingers again. Just before the poor knights could hit the ground, Victor carefully caught them. He set them gently on the ground before running after Vandi. Both guards were thoroughly rattled.
The cluster of people in the entrance hall parted ways when they entered. The usual cacophony died out. The maids with their towels and trays and whatever else were in their hands shielded their faces from view. The trainee sorcerers with tomes and scrolls in their arms screeched to a halt, papers spilling to the floor. Older knights kept their juniors tucked behind them.
“Who here can lead me to King Dominique?” Vandi asked. When there was no response aside from the drawing of swords, he tapped a finger against Victor’s gem. “Don’t bother. Now where is he?”
Someone in the crowd pushed a greying human man to the gap between them. Oswald, Victor realized. The color drained from Oswald’s face. His steps were wobbly and he was very obviously trembling.
“F-Follow me...” he said.
All of the eyes in the entrance hall followed them until they were gone. Then Oswald lead them through many many hallways. It felt painfully long as there was dead silence aside from their footsteps.
At last they arrived.
The king’s throne room was spacious. At the very end of the room was a tall throne with deep purple seatings. On either side of it were heavily armored knights. On the throne was an elf with tanned skin and silver hair. His eyes widened with fear.
“What are you doing in here?” one of the guards barked as he raised his broadsword.
Vandi raised a hand. “I simply wanted to introduce myself to you, your Highness.” A cruel smile graced his lips. “I am Vandi Fafnir, the new king of fairies. I’m glad that I can finally meet you.”
The king kept his face a blank slate. “What happened to Queen Freya?”
Vandi shared with the king a look of grief; rather, as much grief as he could fake. “My Lady Freya is, unfortunately, deceased.”
The king’s brow furrowed. “She’s dead? Freya is dead?”
“Her omnipotence wasn’t as absolute as she thought,” he answered. “Now, would you like to discuss some propositions or not, Sire?”
“Yes.” King Dominique nodded. “Let’s.”
Victor had toned out most of the conversation after he realized that most of their talk would have words he wouldn’t understand. Whatever they were talking about, King Dominique didn’t seem too pleased about it.
His attention was grabbed again by a simple phrase.
“By the way, how is your son?”
King Dominique stiffened. His eyes narrowed like bottle-green glass that was about to cut Vandi into ribbons. He leaned forward in his chair and gripped the arms of it until his knuckles were white.
“How do you know about him?” He tried to keep his voice even. He failed.
“Freya knew about every curse ever placed. Your son was the talk of Valhall a few hundred years back. You never did catch the culprit, did you?”
Victor almost thought Vandi would burst into flames with how intensely the elf was glaring at him.
“I could catch them or their next of kin, if you’d like.”
The two guards looked from each other to their king. King Dominique breathed in a heavy sigh. Slim fingers went to his temples.
“I’ve given up on that endeavor centuries ago. Even if they’re an elf who’s still alive, they probably wouldn’t have even stayed in the country. Right now, all I want is my son back.”
“Was he taken?” Vandi asked with genuine curiosity.
“He was taken last week by a-”
Everyone turned and looked at Victor with wide-eyed surprise. Victor clapped his hands over his mouth. He hadn’t realized that he could talk again...
His eyes widened and he took cautious steps away from Vandi. The fairy was reaching his hand toward his chest again.
“King Vandi,” King Dominique said with something akin to disgust in his voice. “You created life and brought it here?”
“Sire, there is a big difference between creating life and animating something.” Vandi swiped and reached to grab the Stone of Life to no avail. “I can promise you, this thing being able to talk is a mistake.”
"King Baudouin’s Dad,” Victor said to the flabbergasted elf. ”Don’t trust Vandi! He’s a bad fairy!" He continued to stumble away from Vandi’s grasp. ”He-"
Before he could say more, Vandi finally managed to slip his fingers underneath Victor’s gem and eased it out. The stone statue froze in a cowering position.
Suddenly, Victor was conscious again and slammed against a wall. He didn’t have time to register where he was before Vandi’s furious face took up his view. The fairy’s molten gold eyes were piercing through him.
“This whole time?” he growled.
Victor once again lacked a mouth.
“I’ve had a poor excuse of a homunculus... A doll as my guard this whole time?!”
Victor slid to the floor as Vandi kept standing over him.
“I should’ve known! A mere animation shouldn’t be able to have emotions! Hell, a mere animation would actually be good at taking orders!” He was yelling more at himself than at Victor now. “Why didn’t I just use the Stone of Life for an animation spell? It would have been ten times more powerful anyways! Now what am I going to...”
Then an idea dawned on him. His whole face lit up for a moment before it curled up into an eager grin.
“You... You brilliant little prototype!”
With that, he let go of Victor and vanished.