It was the turning into her fifth year, when Anushka would enter the next epoch of her childhood, the first learning years. Being a child whose family was of modest wealth, there were a few minor enchantments that were gifted to her. One was a book that could summon any one of a hundred different fairy tales within its pages with a simple chant. Another was a pair of boots that could lace themselves. And still another was a mysterious card placed within a vivid green envelope embossed with the golden letters of the giver’s initials.
Long ago in times that have now passed into myth, much was different in the newborn world. Moths the size of hawks once fluttered through the sky. The rings on the ringed planet cast a glow upon the face of the new moon. The molten core of the world flowed not only with lava but with magic. And human beings wept tears that were sweet not salty.
It came to pass that two were born upon the earth to the same mother, one right after the other. Twins were rare in those days. The brother was born first, only moments before the sister.
They advanced on Hector’s master, the sorceress. They looked like men, but Hector knew they were not. The spell his master had cast upon his eyes would not last forever, but while it did, he could see their true nature. The spell revealed the “men” for the wretched creatures they truly were. Monstrosities, their rotting flesh torn and seeping with sickly gray effusion as they were forced through the gates of their underworld prison. Demons. The sorceress held a most precious treasure, which the demons’ master desired. She had it in her arms, even as they surrounded her on the high hill behind her home. She spotted Hector. She held aloft the tome.
“Swallow it!” she cried, and as she tossed the book to him, it shrank until it was the size of his thumbnail.
“It is our task to maintain balance,” the god in the gray robes said. He lifted his head up, even though he was half again the sword-smith’s height. He cast his gaze downward.
The sword-smith knelt before the god and bowed his head. When he raised it again, his eyes were full of grief and disbelief. “How can one woman threaten the balance of the world?”
The gray god’s brow creased slightly. “Many ways. By questioning the gods for one, as you do now.”
The sword-smith bowed his head again. “I only seek to understand.”
“It is not your place to understand the will of the gods. Only to accept it.” The gray god’s voice was soft. His tone gentle. But the sword-smith would later remember that it was the first time he heard something else in a god’s voice. A tremor. Of doubt.
The hero Frederick did not know that when he faced the warlock king in battle, he faced his own father. Twenty years past, the babe who was the heir to the kingdom had been sent away into hiding by a fearful queen and mother. Green eyes gazed into green eyes. The warlock did not know his son. He did not know he had a son. Frederick had made it to the chamber in the castle where the king and his fellow warlocks had wrought their blasphemy. An immense slab of stone stood in the chamber, its night-black surfaces swirling with primordial lightning and glittering with stardust.
The hero tried to wound and capture the king, but the king would not yield. In the end, Frederick killed the warlock king. He unknowingly killed his father. As the blood of battle dried, Frederick called upon his allies to secure the great stone. It was not a thing that was meant to be trifled with, not by mortals. But already his fate swooped toward him, for the gods had seen the patricide. They had sent a Fury to punish the hero. They had marked him for eternal torment in the underworld.