In a realm somewhere outside the boundaries of the normal world, a vast chain of islands hung high above the clouds. The few outsiders who were able to gain access to these islands could scarcely put their beauty into words. It was the closest thing to paradise for most. All the same, not all of the inhabitants of this land were completely at peace.
On one particular calm, sunny day, a young man walked gloomily through the soft meadows of one of the smaller isles, his head down while his hands were clasped tensely behind his back. His name was Edgar, and despite his appearance, he was not human. He was the son of Oberon and Titania, the King and Queen of the Fairies and all the other supernatural beings that resided in this land: the kingdom of Etheria.
The young prince stopped walking in a clearing bordered with exotic flowers and delicate, whimsical trees and shrubs. The wondrous appearance of his homeland did little to lift his spirits, however.
"If only I knew that she loved me as much as I love her," Edgar muttered to himself, "There has to be a way I can prove my love to her. There just has to…"
He lifted his head, stared at the distant wisps of cloud that filled the azure sky and sighed heavily.
Meanwhile, on another chain of islands located in an ocean rather than in the sky, King Alexander, son of King Graham of Daventry, was deep in conversation with his queen. They stood together in the throne room of the Castle of the Crown, which was otherwise empty.
"Cassima, something isn't right," he explained. "I've learned that a person who practices magic gets feelings like this sometimes, and they usually mean that something is amiss."
Queen Cassima looked earnestly at him, with deep concern in her emerald eyes. For the short time that she had known Alexander, there had been nothing but peace and understanding between them. Alexander had done so much for her and her kingdom – The Land of the Green Isles – and leaving his homeland to rule with her gave her no reason not to love and trust him even more than she already had. Still, the way he was acting now made her a little ill at ease.
"Alexander, you shouldn't worry," she said gently. "The chaos has been resolved, the least you can do is relax. Besides, what could be wrong?"The memory of a letter written in a strange, scrawled hand rose to the surface of Alexander's memory. It had been gnawing at the back of his mind for months, but only now did he truly understand why it had been causing him so much anxiety…the wicked scheme the letter's author had described…that strange name signed at the bottom…
"Shadrack! The only other wizard I know of who is a member of the Black Cloak Society. For all I know, he could still be alive – and plotting revenge."
Cassima shuddered slightly. What little she learned of this strange society was far more than she had cared to know.
"Was he the one who advised Alhazred to 'take care of me' when I was imprisoned in my own room?" she asked. Though she had only read Shadrack's letter once, it had burned itself into her memory as well.
"Of course," Alexander replied. "I've been having such awful dreams for the past few weeks…I couldn't tell what was causing them at first, but now…I simply can't think of any cause other than the sorcerer who penned that letter."
Cassima nodded, placing a hand on her husband's shoulder.
"I understand, Alexander. If Shadrack is still alive – and I feel in my bones that he is – he can be up to no good. We've foiled the plans of Alhazred – the one Shadrack was trying to help in taking over this kingdom – so why shouldn't Shadrack be planning some way to avenge Alhazred? And who can say what such plans might be…what do you think we should we do?"
"I don't know," Alexander said with a sigh. "And I can do nothing myself. I have an entire kingdom to govern; there's still some damage that has been left unsettled…as much as I wish I could, I just can't go out into the world to find out what he's up to..."
It grieved Cassima to see her husband in such a helpless state. If the thought of Shadrack had troubled Alexander's mind for this long simply after seeing the man's name, it would certainly be a long time before Alexander could be at peace again. If there were only some way to help him…
Then, a wild, irrational idea – one that was simply too great to let slip – struck her.
"That's why I'm volunteering," she said firmly.
Alexander stared at her, his blue eyes wide.
"What? Cassima, what do you mean?"
"I mean what I say," Cassima said. "I volunteer to hunt down that foul Shadrack, or at least find out what he is scheming. If he means to harm you…"
Alexander spread out his arms.
"Cassima, why would you want to do that?" he cried. "Who knows how powerful this sorcerer might be? And after all I went through just to be with you…I love you, Cassima, I can't just…"
Cassima drew close and clasped his hands tightly. Alexander dumbly looked down at her delicate hands. The insignia ring that he had given her on their wedding day encircled the third finger of her left hand. He looked into her eyes again as she spoke:
"That's why I want to go, Alexander," she said quietly. "I love you. Please let me do this. I would put my life on the line for you. After all, you saved mine."
Alexander looked worriedly into his wife's eyes. Then he took a deep breath and looked at her sternly.
"No. I don't want to lose you again, Cassima."
"You won't lose me," Cassima protested. "I promise you won't…"
"I can't let you do this, Cassima," Alex reasserted. "I just can't let you do this."
Cassima looked into his face one last time. Realizing that she would get nowhere by arguing the point any further, she sighed deeply and slowly exited the throne room.
Alexander watched her leave, wondering if he had truly made the right choice. The feeling that Shadrack was plotting revenge still burned fiercely within him, and there was no way of knowing how deep and dark his plot would be. But he couldn't let Cassima be separated from him…he just couldn't…
Alexander made his way towards the twin thrones at the end of the great room. He sat down on one of them and pulled a small object out of his pocket. It was a small, blue-green, stone pendant carved into a perfect spiral, strung on a fine metal chain, something he had discovered amongst Alhazred's possessions which had puzzled him endlessly, yet at the same time made him too anxious to show it to anyone else. He turned it over and over in his hand, examining it from every angle.
"I asked your mother about how you were to get to the Land of the Green Isles," Rosella said. "She said it would be almost impossible to reach it by sea, even for a fairy. And since your parents' swanship had that little collision with one of the islands, it's become even more impossible."
Edgar nodded as he examined the odd pendant, which shone in the midday sun as Rosella held it in her hand. His plan to visit the Land of the Green Isles was one that he had hatched quite recently. Though he had no doubt that Princess Rosella of Daventry loved him, he still felt that he hadn't proven himself to be the prince she truly deserved. He fervently hoped that her brother – the newly crowned King Alexander – could in some way advise him on how to prove himself to her.
In darkest hours of the following night, in the large bed shared by the king and queen, Alexander tried to sleep, but the dreams would not leave him in peace. He tossed and turned fitfully as voices started crying out from the darkest corners of his mind.
"So she gave me this little heirloom of hers," Rosella explained, holding the pendant closer to him. "Pretty, isn't it?"
"Yes," Edgar agreed. "It looks pretty old, too."
The voices…he had heard them before, but the voices he heard now weren't the evil, hissing ones that had plagued his sleep for so many nights…they were pleading…persuasive…what were they saying?
Let her go.
Let her leave.
As the voices grew in intensity, Alexander violently thrashed about in his sleep, finally flinging his right arm out to the side and striking Cassima, who awoke with a tiny gasp.
"Titania has no idea where it came from…" Rosella said, turning the pendant over in her hand.
Cassima sat up and looked helplessly at Alexander, who shuddered and moaned occasionally, as if he were in physical pain. She doubted that waking him would do any good.
She had to do something. Anything. She couldn't watch him suffer like this.
Cassima carefully rose from the bed, stepped into her shoes and changed into her clothes. Ironically, the outfit was the same one she had worn on the day Alexander had saved her life – the pink dress with the green and blue skirts worn underneath it, the broad golden belt and gold embroidery, complete with the light green headdress with the sapphire bordered in diamonds at the front. She hoped to be able to save his life in return – if indeed the situation was that dire.
Reaching over to her bedside table, she picked up the dagger that Alexander had given her on that day – he told her it was a gift from the Winged Ones. Regardless of where it came from, it had helped both Cassima and Alexander turn the tables on Alhazred, and Cassima had cherished it ever since.
Cassima checked herself over – though all she had to her name was a heart-shaped golden locket with pictures of her parents inside it, her wedding ring and the small dagger, she strongly felt that she was ready for anything. It was time to go.
"…But she assumes it aids in travel."
Cassima walked quietly around the bed to take one last look at her husband's face. As she stared sadly at his pallid features, her eyes were suddenly drawn to something sitting on Alexander's bedside table…
A small, blue-green pendant on a silver chain.
"It takes you to any place, any person, any thing you can envision," Rosella continued. "At least…that's what she thinks it does."
Something about it made Cassima suspect that the pendant wasn't just a simple piece of jewelry. There was something unusual about it…it seemed almost magical.
She carefully picked the pendant up, making sure that the chain didn't make any noise. Clutching it firmly, she leaned close to Alexander and whispered:
"I'm sorry, my love. Don't worry, I'll be all right."
She kissed him gently, then surreptitiously left the room.
"That's the only non-nautical route you've found, Rosella?" Edgar asked.
"I'm afraid so," Rosella shrugged. "I asked Titania about it; she agreed that it was risky, but if you are so eager to ask Alexander for his advice…"
Cassima silently walked through the moonlit corridors of the Castle of the Crown. She had no idea how to begin her journey, let alone how she was going to leave the Isles.
She felt as if she were dreaming, yet things seemed perfectly clear to her. In her heart, she felt she knew the right path to take…it was just a question of finding where it began…
As she pondered this, she gazed at the pendant she had taken from Alexander's table. What on Earth was it?
"I'm not visiting him only to ask about you," Edgar explained. "He may be able to shed some light on what's been going on here lately…My father said that he hasn't been feeling well these past few weeks. Weird dreams, he says. About some black cloak."
Cassima entered the throne room. The moonlight that shone through the windows high above cast long slants of light on the blood red carpet that ran from the thrones to the double doors leading into the main hall. Cassima tread cautiously on the carpet, heading towards the doors.
"The Black Cloak," she whispered to herself. "What is it? And where is Shadrack?"
Absently, she slipped the pendant over her head, carefully tucking the chain under her hair.
Thoughts of what the Black Cloak and Shadrack could possibly be and how she could find out flowed through her mind with greater urgency. It was evil that she couldn't comprehend, darkness that she couldn't…
Suddenly, a soft glow began reflecting off the red marble pillars nearest to her. Cassima glanced about, then looked down in surprise as she realized that the pendant was glowing. As she lifted it to examine it more closely, she became even more agitated to discover that she was glowing as well – her entire body was shimmering with a light so bright that she could barely see.
"Well, here's the pendant," Rosella said, holding it out to Edgar. "And do be careful on your trip, Edgar…are you sure you don't want me to come with you?"
"No," Edgar replied. "I'm going alone. I'll be all right."
"Well, if you say so…" Rosella said slowly, "But please try not to get into get into any real danger."
Edgar clasped his hands around Rosella's.
"I promise, Rosella. Thank you for everything."
The light grew to an intensity that made the throne room as bright as day. Then in an instant, it was gone, leaving nothing behind but a golden locket in the shape of a heart. It hovered in midair for a moment before falling to the carpet with a muffled tinkle, which was punctuated by an anguished cry as King Alexander woke from his nightmares to find his wife gone.
Early the following morning, Edgar stood in the middle of a small, plain room in the Palace of Etheria that had several tall windows looking out over the surrounding gardens. With him were his mother, Queen Titania; his beloved Rosella; and Rosella's parents, King Graham and Queen Valanice of Daventry, who were visiting the kingdom along with their daughter.
"Edgar, are you sure you want to do this?" Titania asked.
He didn't blame his mother for being concerned. He had been taken from Etheria twice before, and he could understand her reluctance to let him leave the kingdom again all too well, even if he was leaving by choice this time.
"Mother, this should take me straight to the Green Isles and back," Edgar reassured her, holding up the pendant. "What could go wrong?"
"Nothing that I can see, boy," Graham said jovially, "But just remember, Edgar: nothing is as it appears…Nothing."
Rosella had joined him on the last word, which made both of them laugh, causing even Titania to smile at their humor. Edgar sighed and stared at the pendant. After a few silent seconds, he spoke again:
"It should work as long as I focus on an image of the Isles, right, Rosella?"
"Right," Rosella agreed, "At least, that's what your mother said." She nodded in Titania's direction.
"That thing is so old, it may not have any life left in it," Titania admitted. "If it had any in the first place, which I doubt. But theoretically, it should work as I assumed it would."
Edgar slipped the pendant over his head, tucking it down the front of his tunic and turning away from the others.
"All right, I'm ready," he announced. "Let me concentrate."
Edgar closed his eyes and clenched his hands, trying to focus on an image of the Land of the Green Isles, based on the detailed description given to him by Rosella. It was difficult, since he had never actually been there before, but if he concentrated…it just had to work.
Soft warmth began tickling his chest. Edgar opened his eyes to see the pendant glowing brightly through his shirt. His body was starting to glow as well, and it even seemed to be growing blurry around the edges…
Focus. He had to focus. The Green Isles…five large islands, one with a high mountain on it, one with a large palace, one with…
Suddenly, a loud voice began shouting from outside the door:
Before anyone had time to react, the door burst open and King Oberon burst into the room with terror in his eyes, yelling at the top of his lungs. The huge man bent slightly as he tried to catch his breath. He was the one that had called Titania, and even now, he was trying to force out more words:
"The dream," he gasped. "The dream again! The Black Cloak! Coming to get us! Destroy us all! Help! We must get help!"
Everyone stared at Oberon, still too shocked by his entrance to react. Suddenly Rosella remembered Edgar – had his concentration been broken by his father's outburst? She whirled around to see what had happened.
Edgar, still glowing brightly and shimmering faintly, looked confused.
"The Black Cloak…" he said, his voice sounding strangely distant and distorted. "Father, I…No…"
The light grew to an almost blinding intensity, then both it and Edgar were gone.
Rosella's light blue eyes grew wide with fear.
"Mother, what happened?" she whispered. "If Edgar was thinking of something else when he teleported, maybe he didn't go to the Land of the Green Isles! Where did he go?"
"I don't know, Rosella," Valanice said sadly. "Perhaps Oberon's words made him think of something else, perhaps those words even brought back some old memories…and who knows where those could have led him."
Rosella looked shocked at this, then sorrowful. There was no way of knowing for certain what had happened to Edgar. She embraced her mother tightly, who stroked her hair and tried to comfort her. Graham and Titania stared at Oberon, who still looked terrified.
"Edgar was right," he panted. "There is something going on around here – something terribly wrong! My poor son…wherever he went, I daresay my words influenced his future destination. For now, all we can do is hope that he will return…and by Levanter, he's returned to us twice before, hasn't he?"
There was no response.
Far away from Etheria and the Land of the Green Isles, Queen Cassima appeared in a shimmer of white light. She cautiously looked around. The landscape was barren, quiet, and completely black. Everything was colored a flat, textureless black. She thought she could glimpse craggy peaks off in the distance, but it may have been a trick of the light…or dark, in this case.
"Where am I?" She wondered aloud. Her voice sounded odd in the thick darkness. It seemed to get caught up in it and smothered.
How did she get here? Was it the pendant? If so, why did it bring her here? She had been thinking of Shadrack and the Black Cloak Society…had the pendant transported her somewhere where she could find one – or both – of them? The idea was crazy, but it was the only rational one.
"That wizard sure picks some odd places to visit," she pondered, taking in what little she could see of the bizarre landscape. "By the heart of Samhain, who knows what could be out there?"
Predictably, no reply came from the darker-than-night stillness.
"Well, I suppose I'm not going to find anything by just standing here," Cassima decided. Patting the bulge in her clothing where she kept her dagger, she boldly set off into the strange, tenebrous unknown.
Far away from Etheria and the Land of the Green Isles, Prince Edgar appeared in a shimmer of white light. At first, he was so wrapped up in the confusion of his father's horrified words that he didn't notice where he was. Then he slowly became aware of his mysterious new surroundings, and he tried to make sense of it all:
"The Black Cloak…? Either I'm inside one right now or the Land of the Green Isles is experiencing a solar eclipse."
Confused, he slowly looked around.
"Or maybe I'm…not in the Land of the Green Isles…perhaps what father said right before I…"
He paused and stared at the silent blackness about him.
"Oh no. I think I must have made a wrong turn somewhere. Good lord, it's dark…"
Now feeling a little frightened, Edgar began cautiously walking forward in the hopes of finding out where on Earth he was…if indeed he was still on Earth. The black landscape appeared to be utterly unchanging – no landmarks, no stars, no horizon. Nothing.
Edgar walked on for a few more minutes, then suddenly he heard a noise: approaching footsteps. He froze in his tracks, not daring to breathe. Then, he felt something large and warm press against his back.
Cassima's brief journey through this strange place had revealed nothing. She supposed that finding both the Black Cloak and Shadrack were too much to ask for in a dreary land like this. She decided to retrace her steps. Perhaps she could get leave this realm the same way she had entered it. She was cautiously walking backwards when she backed into something large and warm.
Cassima and Edgar each spun around to see each other.
Then they screamed.