Chapter 1: pay the toll
"Wait, no! I dont want this! I-" but it was too late, the pathway was shut behind him and there was no where to go but forward, wherever that leads. And so it goes, so ends the tale of Quentin Coldwater.
In the blinding light of a kind of godforsaken glitter, it was over. Tearful goodbyes and mementos burned, then that was it. Quentin Coldwater painfully accepted his fate, gave an old friend (friend might be a stretch) one last hug, took his MetroCard, and moved on just like everyone does eventually.
Every part of him wanted to go back, to go home, or even turn back time so he could run a little faster or stop Everett before he even reached the mirror realm. But it was over and done and before he had time to mourn for his friends and his own life, everything went dark and silent. For a moment that made sense to Quentin. When he thought about the end, he hadn’t ever imagined anything beyond life. At time, he even hoped for a quiet expanse of nothingness, no thought, no problems, just nothing. It made sense to him and he hoped for it in his darkest moments. Even after Brakebills and despite having been to and seeing the Underworld firsthand, that didn’t really change, even if everyone passed through there before they found where they were meant to be.
He always felt that there was no place for him in life, so why would there be in death?
He felt like he was floating, no sensation to speak of, stagnant for an amount of time unquantifiable to him in the darkness.That changed when he finally felt something. Quentin felt the motions of his body walking, although he had no conscious thought of making his body do so, his feet coming into contact with something beneath him he could not see and therefore could not confidently call a floor or ground. Then suddenly, his hand came into contact with what felt like a doorknob.
“Penny said this would all make sense, so I guess here we go,” he thought to himself, turning the knob, and when the door opened he found himself roaming onto the banks of a gentle river, the doorway vanishing as if it had never been there to begin with. Maybe it hadn't. The water against the rock of the shore was a deep misty gray color, and it was accompanied by a looming and persistent longing in the air. With the overwhelming sense of dread all around, a cloaked figure stood on the dock.
A loud bark echoed so loud in the cavern, Quentin was sure he almost felt the vibrations in his chest. Chains clanked together as the barks and growls continued, “Quiet, Cerberus! He’s a friend,” the cloak figure said, and the dog that Quentin could finally see as the cavern lit up with gentle fire light settled back down to sleep, and he could have sworn it had three heads.
“Ah, Mr. Coldwater, it’s nice to finally meet you. I've been waiting here for you for some time,” the man turned around, removing his hood, “I am Hades.”
Quentin’s brow turned up in confusion, “Hades? Like the God of the Underworld?”
“Yes, I believe that is pretty self-explanatory by the name, the dog, the river, you get the picture," he threw the cloak from his shoulders onto the gravel next to him, revealing a dark skinned man in a very expensive suit, smoothing out the creases of his blazer "pardon me, my predecessor always pushed for moody theatrics. I've never really done this before so I'd thought I'd give it a try but I don't quite think its my style. Anyway, the long wait, both yours and mine, was my doing alone. I’m sorry to have kept you for so long, it was necessary.”
“Uh huh…” Quentin trailed off wondering if his afterlife was just going to be one hallucination after the next, like that spell Julia and Marina had put him under in his first year at Brakebills. “Well, if you don’t mind me asking, what the fuck do you mean? I literally just left Penny a minute ago.”
Hades nodded, “Ah, well time is a fickle thing as they say, and it moves through the Abyss at will.”
Still maintaining his overactive sense of confusion, “The Abyss? Like in Fillory?”
“The Abyss exists in all worlds, but yes, that is one such land where it slips through to the corporeal realm. Most who travel through it find themselves stuck here without a coin to get them back, so imagine my surprise when your friend, Ms. Cline, made it out intact without a magical vessel to protect her soul.”
Quentin's expression twisted slightly in confusion, but then he remembered with whom he was speaking with, "So do you just know everything about every dead person?"
"Goodness, no," Hades laugh echoed in the cave, "Imagine how much space that would take up in here," he noted, pointing at his temple, "but there is knowledge to be found in all Libraries, especially if one is looking for specific information."
“Right, you read my book, then?” Quentin said, rubbing the back of his neck in embarrassment, “I imagine it was not a very interesting read for you.”
Hades laughed, “Don't sell yourself short, dear boy. Plenty of twists and turns in there. It was certainly longer than most mortal books and surprise, surprise I find myself quite invested in your tale. Now, imagine the shock I felt when it turned out to be a tragedy. And then the Old Gods wanted to usher you into the great beyond as fast as possible," Hades shook his head, "You have caused them infinitely more trouble than any mortal usually manages to in their short lifetimes. They want you gone, and as demonstrated by your over-eager friend back there, they will do almost anything to achieve that. Don’t be upset with Penny, he was not himself as it turns out, and if there is one thing I hate more than tragedies, its other gods coming down here, to my domain, to sway the fates. So, much to the disdain of beings stronger and older than I, I stalled your crossing over and hid your soul in the Abyss. Risky but necessary.”
“But why?” Quentin asked, “I did what needed to be done and I died doing it. Isn’t that supposed to be the end of my story?”
“Normally, yes. However, as much as it is my sacred and sworn duty to uphold the laws binding the dead to this realm, you have more than my sympathies. I owe a personal debt to you and that matters to me more than old alliances. You dispatched the abomination that murdered my wife, so for that, I have a proposition for you. I am here to extend the favor of staving off your journey to the great beyond and returning you the mortal coil.”
Quentin felt like he was hit by a tidal wave. All he could think of was all the things he didn't get to do, or at least things he had done in previous timelines, but wanted to do them again in a world with all of the people he cared about. There were so many things he didn't get to say, things that mattered to him more than anything, that spoke the truth of who he was. He would give just about anything to have a second chance, "You mean, like, I could go home?” Quentin asked in disbelief
“If that is what you wish, then that is what I offer.” Hades gestured warmly, and then stood firm, “Listen carefully, Mr. Coldwater, I read your book and I want to make it very clear to you that this offer cannot be replicated, I cannot offer this to you again. I can offer you this second chance but once. It defies the very fabric of this realm and it is not an exchange that will treat you kindly if it is tossed away. So, I don’t want to see you again until your mortal life is truly over and done, in its proper time, alright?” Hades stated plainly.
“I understand. For so long, I thought this was what I wanted..." Quentin looked at his feet and kicked some gravel. He turned his head back to the god standing in front of him and smiled slightly, "but i don't, not yet. So, if you are offering this to me, then there is someone I should be getting back to.”
Hades smiled coyly, “In that case, I should warn you that about 300 years time did pass while you floated entranced in the Abyss.”
“What you’re saying? That everyone that matters to me is dead?” Quentin choked back the overwhelming sadness that threatened to break through his chest at the thought.
Hades was taken aback at the young man's worry and then chuckled deeply, “No, dear boy, what would be the point of returning you to a world where no one would know to miss you? No, but the fact of the matter is that there is a world you bound your soul to in an act of exponential and ancient magic. The time you spent in the Abyss passed there as well and it will be different when you return.”
“Fillory? From the Drowned Garden?”
The cloaked god nodded, “The magic in Fillory has a certain, let’s say, unpredictable whimsy to it, designed purposefully that way by Ember and Umber. Though I imagine Ember took the reigns on that one, so to speak, since the Wellspring's resources in Fillory are usually bastardized, mostly for trickery and entertainment," Hades rolled his eyes, almost like you would to a distant relative who would consistently get too drunk and dance on tables at family reunions. He turned back to Quentin and continued, "When you spoke your heart's truth and the flower bloomed for you, you bound your soul to the land and the magic flowing through Fillory. It certainly was an unforeseen consequence of such an admission and a connection not even broken in death, which is not something I have ever seen before but was able to use to my advantage and keep you suspended in the place apart from time but not entirely. The Abyss still seeps in through the cracks of the realms so while it only seemed but mere moments for you, as your connection to earth is still strong, time passed differently in the world bound to your soul. It will be different when you go back there, and those differences may be jarring,” Hades paused while Quentin contemplated, “but ease your worries, Mr. Waugh still lives.”
Quentin initially beamed in absolute relief and then blushed, “how much of my book did you read?”
Hades let out a bellowing laugh, “All of it, my boy, but please don’t feel embarrassed. I have read many a dull mortal story, and yours is no different on the surface but my oh my, you certainly have lived a life. And contrary to popular belief, I am a romantic at heart. Though my love story has ended, I want the man who avenged my wife to have the same chance that we did. For all the flaws of your kind, you lot do embrace love wholeheartedly when you commit. I have seen the love of your mortal life time match a love grown over millennia and I don’t believe that story is over.”
Quentin was suddenly reminded of their conversation in the throne room, “I want that. I want to believe that, I do. I want to believe we could have it again but he doesn't-”
Hades rolled his eyes, "you two, I swear," he said as he put up a finger to stop Quentin’s ramblings, “the two of you try so hard to protect the other from your faults and cause more trouble than is reasonable. Still, you cannot believe that man’s obviously contrived story about not loving you in this life. He broke through possession of a godforsaken Monster to let you know that he still lives. That is something I don’t think even I could manage. You don’t think that means something? You both have been bound together since the very first of Ms. Chatwin's timelines. I have seen you and your friends here more times than should be allowed. Your books have been shelved and unshelved more times than I have ever seen so I know what I'm talking about. Save your doubt for something that deserves it, but don't use it to justify questioning that man's love for you. Learn a thing or two from me, don’t accept his defenses in the space of his love because fear is ruling the two of you. You have grown beyond that now, both of you have. And if you don't believe me, look," Hades waved his hand in front of Quentin, a white mist appearing and in it he saw Julia and Eliot in the Brakebills Library, scouring the shelves for something, "even now, even in your death, he searches for you. They both do. Your story isn't finished yet, Mr. Coldwater.”
Quentin watched as they paced across the library carpet he always hated. They both looked exhausted and disheveled, Julia sporting some pretty dark under-eye circles that could've given his own insomnia a run for its money. Eliot hadn't gotten his hair cut since the monster was rid from his body. It was deshelved and his face tear-stained as he limped up and down the rows of shelves. He couldn't hear what they were saying, but Quentin recognized that look on Eliot's face. That look he would get when he was frustrated beyond belief, that look just before he started yelling about the kind of stress he was under and even though the situation was grim and the pain behind his eyes was clear, Quentin's heart panged in a particularly devastated adoration as well as overwhelming surprise that he could recognize that in Eliot, even all these years later.
“In your absence, he has shown a great devotion to you. Even though you are not there to witness it firsthand, I hope you can have faith in that devotion," Hades said, waving his hand again when Quentin put his hand up to touch the illusions of both Julia and Eliot. The cloud faded to mist around his fingertips and disappeared. Quentin exhaled and visibly hunched, "Your death has been harrowing for Mr. Waugh and your friend, Ms. Wicker. They refuse to accept your loss and they search for you. A fruitless endeavor considering that I had you hidden away from even the Old Gods gaze," Hades took a breath, feeling rather guilty about his necessary action to ultimately save Quentin's soul. He smiled and continued, "It is my great pleasure to return you to them, if you are ready to go." Quentin quickly nodded, "Yes, please. And thank you, your...majesty?" Hades laughed and roused Cerberus from his slumber and began to quietly howl, trying to match the sound of his master, "just Hades if you will. Alright, if you are ready to go, Charon?” Hades called out across the water, and a boat rose up out of the river and another cloaked man rose with it, carrying a staff and a lantern. Hades stretched out his hand to Quentin and handed him a coin, “He doesn’t do free rides, not even as a favor to me. So here, take this,” and dropped the coin into Quentin’s hand, then placed his own callused hand on Q’s shoulder, “he will float you down the River Styx to the banks of the River Acheron but after that, it is up to you to find your way back home. It will not be easy, and there will be many temptations out of my control along the way, those designed to keep you here. Do not stray from your path, Mr. Coldwater. Should you veer of course, I cannot rescue you. This is your journey, and your journey alone. Your greatest desire to live will be what lights your way. It may not be easy to find, but once you have found it, you’ll know. Once you've found it, do not let it disappear from your sight”
Quentin nodded and heeded the Old God's warning, “I really don’t know how to thank you.”
Hades laughed and shook his head, “Just go live your life, my boy. Live it with the love that your soul desires most.”
“I will,” Q nodded again, with a new found determination to go home and right some wrongs. He stepped off the dock and into the boat.
“Coin, sir?” Charon asked, with a voice Quentin would have thought was made from gravel. He gestured for payment and Quentin handed over the coin. When he turned back Hades was gone. The dog still slept soundly on the banks of the river as Charon untied his boat and pushed off the shore with his staff. The boat floated out of the cave, out into the gentle ominous current of the lake. They rocked and rocked across the water of a river so wide, it resembled the open ocean. Transparent figures in the water floated, looking lost and confused. Quentin felt terribly for them, and also questioned why his life mattered more than the people lost in these waters. Just as he started doubting his journey ahead, Quentin saw a beckon of soft yellow light on the horizon.
“Charon, where does that lead?” Quentin asked but the ferryman stayed silent.
From his palace windows, Hades saw the boat leaving the harbor under his castle and out into open water across the vast river. The castle had returned to the monochromatic tones of his solitude, all traces of a soft feminine presence disappeared when her life force, the way it had been when they built a home together, had disappeared. He had been using his powers to maintain the parts of their home that mattered the most to her, the garden and keeping the shades safe, but he'd be lying if he said it wasn't tiring work.
The God sighed and sat in a chair by the windows, keeping a watchful eye of Charon and Quentin and keeping the lost souls in the water at bay. A soft breeze blew in through the windows, a breeze like a memory and a subtle scent of cherry blossoms blooming in late spring, "I know, my love. He is on his way home."
Chapter 2: flowers from the homeland
Julia remains levelheaded
Eliot yells at a fire, then a book, then a God
“Are you coming?” Margo asked Eliot with concern when he paused on the porch of the Physical Kids’ Cottage. Usually she would have made some off-the-wall quip and encourage El to follow her inside to make some of his signature cocktails with enough pizzazz to rival a burlesque performer, but she knew today was not the day, tonight was not the night, and she couldn’t help but wonder if that fun-loving, would-do-just-about-anything-for-a-good-time Eliot might be gone for good this time.
He promptly shook his head, “No, I think I’ll stay out here for a while.”
After being freed of the Monster’s possession, Eliot was having a hard time distinguishing what was real and what wasn’t. He knew going inside wouldn’t help matters. He knew that the only difference between the cottage in his mind and the one in front of him was that he couldn’t just make whatever he wanted. He knew that if he went in, there wouldn’t be a conjured memory manifestation of Quentin there to comfort him. In that moment, he wished he was back under the monster’s control so that maybe the reality he woke up to was all just a dream, a really bad dream.
Margo sighed but knew that he needed some space, “Okay, but don’t get possessed or killed, alright? We just got you back and I am NOT going through that shit again, do you understand me?” Margo said, authoritatively. Eliot knew she meant it and nodded, “Okay, good. You say the word and I’ll let 23 know when we are ready to go,” she walked inside the door leaving Eliot to the quiet and watching moths dance around the dim porchlight.
Eliot let out a sigh he held in far too long. It ached when it left his chest and he knelt a little too far into that emotion as he paced up the cobblestone path, back to where they had all be sitting around the fire, the click of his cane echoing against the trees with each step.
You see, the problem with burning mementos is that some of them don’t just burn away. Smoldering embers amongst half burnt items he was sure Q would be pissed at them for destroying. Egg shells lay on the stone edge, and Eliot just knew there had to be some ridiculous story to go with that one, but he wasn’t ready to ask fake Penny what that was about. Turns out, ceramic mugs don’t burn very well, but Alice had taken it upon herself to tell him that story anyway. He hated minor mendings, he hated now what they represented, he hated what they took from him. For a few moments while the peach burned, it smelled like Quentin's favorite pie they would make in the fall. While everyone else sat confused by Eliot's choice, he was in no place to divulge that story.
In the end of their symbolic burning, it was just a bunch of random shit sticking out of an ash pile with some coals still faintly alight and burning. It made Eliot angry. It made him angry that everyone could just let go that easily. That a pile of burnt garbage was all that was left of Quentin.
“So, now what? Huh?” Eliot said out loud, “The rest of them just move on? Julia has magic now, Alice goes to work for the library, Kady commands her hedge witch army, Margo is High King of Fillory, who gives a shit what Penny23 and Josh do, but what about me? Everyone else is just going to move on but I'm not, I can't. So, how am I supposed to do this without you, Q? I can't do this, I can't do anything knowing that you're not here. How do I move on knowing that I lied to you, I hurt you, and I can’t ever take it back?!” he breathed out sharply, his extending diaphragm pulling at his stitches making him wince in pain. He knew that everyone back at the cottage would hear him yelling if they turned the music off but he didn’t care, “It’s so unfair. Why did you have to go and be the hero, huh? For once, I just wish you would stop trying to be a hero, just stop trying to save everyone. But no, of course you couldn’t do that. Well, congratu-fucking-lations, you did it, you saved everyone. You saved the entire goddamn universe and now I have to live without you! What kind of justice is that? I would gladly trade thousands of lives across the multiverse for yours. I would do it and not even think twice, wouldn't even lose a minute of sleep,” he laughed, “but I’m a horrible, deceitful person like that. Selfish and governed by my own wants and impulses, never thinking of anyone except myself. You aren’t like that and that’s why I love you.”
His eyes welled up, but he continued talking to the embers, “You care so goddamn much, always have, and I love you for that but right now...I really want to hate you for it. If you weren't so fucking self sacrificing, you'd be here and this bonfire would have had cocktails and smooth jazz. Instead its a fucking wake and its all your fault. I want to hate you so badly because you don't see how much everyone misses you. I want to hate you for this...but I can't. I never will," he wiped the streams of tears, "but seriously, just know that I’m fucking pissed at you. I’m pissed that you're gone. I'm pissed that you left before I could fix all of my mistakes. I’m pissed at you for trying your damnedest to save me when I didn’t fucking deserve it. Why would you do that? You could have just forgotten me and ran off into the sunset with Alice, at least then you would still fucking be here!” he sighed and shook his head.
“I'm angry at myself. It was my own stupid fucking actions that got us here. All of this shit is my fault. If I had just said yes, you would have just stayed with me in Fillory, getting drunk off god awful champagne and fucking all over the castle. How many of your fantasies would that have fulfilled?" Eliot laughed, "If I could have just let go of everything I was afraid of when it mattered, then maybe I could have made you happy. Then maybe you wouldn’t have tried to stay in Castle Blackspire, then maybe I wouldn’t have tried to kill the Monster to save you, then maybe I wouldn’t have gotten fucking possessed, then maybe you would still be here. But you’re not. You’re not here, Q. It's like I love you more than anything but it doesn't even matter now, it doesn't change this. I'm just hollowed out with this feeling and you’re not fucking here!” he kicked a charred log, sending embers flying out in every direction dancing up into the sky and burning out, “It’s my fault. I love you and I was too cowardly to even do that right,” he sat down in defeat “you’re not here and I miss you. I wanted to be brave and tell you everything, I really did. I promised myself I would tell you everything I should have told you that day and I don't get to do that. I wanted to be brave because that's what you taught me, but I'm not. I'm not brave, Q, not like you.”
Eliot felt a hand on his shoulder, “I miss him too,” a gentle voice told him
Julia’s eyes were welled to the brim with tears, some falling down the streams that had made their home on her cheeks. She sat down next to Eliot and held his hand, “He never told me, but I guess I figured it out somewhere along the way. But that's maybe a story for another time," she didn't think now would be that time to revisit the memory Quentin's ferocity in the face of the monster, even with hands around his neck. "He really loved you, Eliot. He did, maybe more than anyone.”
Eliot looked up at the sky to prevent his tears from falling in front of her, even if she had seen him yelling into the night air, “and I should have been able to give that back to him. He just gave parts of himself away to everyone, his whole life he just gave and gave and when he had nothing left to give, he gave up everything. We all just took and I don’t think any of us really gave anything back to him,” he hadn’t realized he had said that out loud to the person who had been Quentin’s best friend for their whole lives, “I’m sorry, Julia, I didn’t mean that.”
She shook her head, “Yes, you did. And you’re right. I’m not saying that would have stopped what happened, but none of us ever even tried. You weren't here, it's not your fault, but I was and I should have seen it. I should have done something. It always happens when you turn your back, for even a second, you know. I was so caught up in my own fucking bullshit, I forgot. And I would give anything and everything I have to take it back. This magic?” gentle sparks drifted from her fingertips and as she shook her head in devastated rage they became volatile, floating up to the sky and exploding in on themselves, "for so long magic was the only thing I wanted, and that pursuit led me down the worst roads imaginable but I'd still do anything to have it." Julia sighed and resigned herself to the bitter truth that every single situation had been telling her since she flunked the Brakebills entrance exam, "Magic is pain. That's what they say here, right? Maybe someone you even believe it, but I have seen magic. I have felt magic at its most devine and believe me when I say that it is not pain at all. But this magic?" cards lifted from her pocket swirled around them, "it feels like him and every time he was happy and lost and angry and joyful and I- I can't Eliot, I can't hold it. He should be here to do that. I don't want magic this way."
They sat quietly for a moment or two, both of their chests quaking with quiet sobs. “So, what are we supposed to do? How do we move on? How in the hell are we supposed to live without him?”
Julia dried her tears with her sleeve and waved her hand around to send more sparks up to the sky, “Well I don’t know about you, but I don’t plan on finding out,” Eliot looked at her in a deep state of confusion, “We’re gonna fix this and bring him back, Eliot.”
“But that’s impossible. We already tried to communicate with him in the Underworld. If he moved on already, there is no getting him back, Julia. Everyone knows that.”
“Hmmm, sounds to me like that’s what they want you to think. If only we had an ancient, all knowing librarian cursed-to-be-a-book person in my backpack, huh? That may come in handy.” She said with a fierce determination, “I’m not ready to give up on him, even if he already gave up on himself.” She stood and held her hand out for him, “so are you in, or what?”
Eliot was pretty convinced this was a fool’s errand, but he had nothing left to lose, this task could take his life and he was pretty sure he didn't even care at this point, so he took her hand. She helped him to his feet and he said, “I’m in.”
Into the early hours of the morning, they convened with The Binder. It was a longer process than either Eliot or Julia thought it was going to be.
“As The Binder told both individuals repeatedly, The Binder is not an expert in the afterlife, The Binder stated plainly. Even with the powers of a goddess, this would be an improbable feat, never mind impossible for two mortals to accomplish. The Binder paced across the library rug noting its intricate and culturally appropriative design. The Binder continued to explain to Ms. Wicker and Mr. Waugh that the Old Gods keep the secrets of death just that, secrets. They are laws that even gods cannot break without great consequence, said The Binder. The Binder also noted that there is one such God that they could summon and talk to if he chooses to respond. The Binder paused for the two to inquire for more information,” the Binder narrations were really getting on their nerves
“Oh my god, just tell us who, Jesus fucking Christ.” Eliot exclaimed
“The Binder did not care for Mr. Waugh’s tone and also chuckled slightly to indicate that Jesus fucking Christ, as Mr. Waugh so called him, was too new to accomplish what they were asking, despite mortal faith and rumor. The Binder turned to Ms. Wicker and continued, there is one who will speak to Ms. Wicker and Mr. Waugh out of deep admiration for the devotion and tenacity the two have shown in their quest to retrieve Mr. Coldwater’s soul. Hades will speak with you”
Julia paused, “Hades? Like God of the Underworld? Persephone’s husband? As in the spouse to Our Lady Underground, who I killed while I was possessed by a godforsaken Monster with the power to destroy the world?”
“The Binder nodded after each one of Ms. Wicker’s questions to indicate to her that she had said the same thing repeatedly just in slightly different ways. The Binder said yes, Hades will speak with you over the inquiry of Mr. Coldwater’s soul, also known as Quentin, also known as Q, also known as Curly Q-”
“ALRIGHT, we fucking get it.” Eliot shouted, “Just tell us how we summon him.”
“The Binder ignored Mr. Waugh and committed himself to only addressing Ms. Wicker for the rest of their time together. The Binder told Ms. Wicker of a meadow, The Binder pointed to a map on the wall and a little light illuminated, where the two questers would find the God of The Underworld.”
Julia walked towards the wall to a map of the world on the far wall in the Brakebills library, “He left the Underworld and is here on Earth?” she asked, The Binder nodded, “Sicily? Why Sicily?’
“The Binder paced over to where Ms. Wicker stood looking at the map and proceeded to answer Ms. Wicker’s question. The Binder told Ms. Wicker of a lush meadows that were the Goddess Persephone’s favorite that she would visit every time she returned to Earth. The God Hades goes there now to be close to his beloved. The Binder said of course the God Hades knows the Goddess Persephone is not there, but in the wake of the Goddess Persephone’s tragic demise, he has grown dependent upon the mortal custom of visiting a lost loved one’s favorite place to remember them fondly.”
“I’ve heard enough, back in the book for you,” Eliot stood up, “Really, Julia, I think we have all that we need. Please make him shut up.”
Julia gave The Binder a nod, “The Binder recognizes that Ms. Wicker has all the information she needed from The Binder at that time. The Binder would return himself to his pages and-”
He sank into the pages and Eliot slammed the book shut before The Binder’s ramblings could fade out.
“I’m all for this plan, but next time, you might have to talk to him alone.” Eliot noted
Julia laughed a little, “yeah, you’re probably right. So, I guess I should go ask 23 for a lift, huh?”
“Yes! Let’s go!” Eliot said, hoping to his feet fast enough that the wound on his stomach protested, he ignored it and started out the door. Julia was surprised how fast she had to walk to keep up with an injured man with a cane.
They landed on a narrow gravel path amongst wildflowers right at the spot The Binder told them they would find Hades. The sun was low in the sky at sunset and everything was aglow in golden orange.
“I don’t like this, Julia. I mean, he’s the God of the goddamn Underworld. This could go sideways in a bazillion different ways.” Penny 23 told her.
"I know that and he is probably furious with me so if hellfire rains down upon us, then get Eliot out of here," she said determined.
Penny23 huffed, "Absolutely not. We're leaving now, I don't care, I'm getting you out of here."
Eliot turned to him with fire in his eyes, “We are doing this with or without your permission. You don't care, we know, that's been made very, very clear. We get it, and your love for her crosses the boundaries of space and time. But newsflash, she's not your Julia and we're trying to do what you couldn't in your timeline. After all, you’ve made enough choices for her recently, she should be allowed to make her own, don't you think?”
“Alright, that’s enough,” Julia said before the two could fight. She turned to Penny 23 and continued, “The Binder said that Hades would speak to us if we came here. He’s probably furious and grieving, just like us," she said looking at Eliot, "and I feel bad asking him for a favor right now, but we need Q to come home. I will make my own choices and I'm doing this no matter what anyone has to say about it. So, support me and wait for us here, or leave. That's your choice to make.”
Penny agreed to stay at the end of the path while the two continued on foot.
"A bit heavy handed with him, wouldn't you say?" she asked Eliot once they were out of Penny's earshot.
He sighed, "Maybe. It's just... yeah I get it, he's trying to protect you because he lost the other Julia, and maybe that's a sore spot to me because of Q, but I also don't want to see you settle for something that is just someone else coping through you. Quentin wouldn't want that and neither do I. You deserve better than to be a stand in."
Julia shrugged, "yeah, I agree. I appreciate the concern from both of you, but I really can take care of myself. Quentin never thought so but I guess that's a pot and kettle situation. We hadn't really gotten the chance to move beyond that in our relationship, to really trust each other to make the best decisions for ourselves."
"I know you can make your own choices, as you should. It's actually something we talked about quite often. He always hoped you were happy" Eliot said and then stopped himself, "but that was a lifetime ago."
Julia was about to inquire about what he meant but Eliot started wincing after about 5 minutes of walking uphill “Do you need to take a break?”
“No. We’re doing this now. I can make it.” Eliot pressed on.
“Not if you rip your stitches out and bleed. I’m not a goddess with miraculous healing powers anymore, remember?” she took his arm and guided him over to a rock, “Okay, let’s sit for a moment.”
They sat in silence for a minute before Eliot spoke again, “I’m sorry. I just don’t know how much longer I can take this hollow feeling in my chest.”
“I know what you mean, but Q wouldn’t want you to kill yourself trying to get him back," Julia assured him, understanding the irony while she said it.
Eliot chuckled sinisterly, “Oh yeah? And what the fuck do you think he did?”
Julia smiled sadly, “I know, but he never necessarily recommended his methods to anyone else, now did he?”
“No, I guess you’re right.” Eliot surrendered
Julia rested her head on his shoulder, “Look, I know you love him. I know there is a story there that I don't know. And while you were gone, he didn't have it in him to tell it. Now, without him here, I don't expect you to tell it. All I ask is that you have hope, because we are going to get him back, however long it takes, I promise.”
“Perhaps sooner than you think,” a voice said to them under the archway of two trees. Hades appeared to them dressed in a gray suit, accented in burgundy, carrying a bouquet of Plumeria flowers, “but that’s entirely up to Mr. Coldwater.”
“What do you mean that’s up to Q?” Eliot stood up painfully and demanded of the god.
Julia followed after him, “I think what my friend is trying to say here, uh Mr. God of the Underworld, um, what do you mean it’s up to Q?” she said notably nicer than Eliot, trying to not get them killed.
“Have no fear, children. I mean you no harm,” he said, handing each of them a flower, “I find the devotion you have to your friend inspiring. I have already sent Mr. Coldwater on his journey back here to you. However, you must understand me when I say that it is his journey to make. I cannot aid him in anyway or prevent what is to come. I simply provided the means, much to the despisement of some of the Old Gods. But I believe your Quentin deserved a second chance, so I gave him one.”
Eliot and Julia took the flowers and looked at each other for a second, “I don’t understand. Why would the Old Gods care if you brought Q back?” she asked.
“Well,” Hades sighed, “It’s simply not how things are normally done. And since it is an equal exchange of energy, his resurrection will be felt across the multiverse in some potentially negative ways, if he makes it back at all. Not to mention he has caused some trouble for the Old Gods, killing some of their children and such. But what can I say, I want to see how the rest of your story plays out,” he looked pointedly at Eliot, “I was a big fan of your first go around, but it was a little mundane. I’m expecting big things from you two.”
Julia interrupted the God of the Underworld this time, “Again, what do you mean by if he makes it back? Can’t you just materialize him here and the end?”
Hades tucked the last flower into the lapel of his suit, “I’m afraid that as of right now Mr. Coldwater is tied to the plane of the dead and that is a force that even I cannot break. I just work there. He has some things he needs learn and some people to speak to before he is ready to make his way back.”
“Hasn’t he learned enough?! He died for fucks sake.” Eliot exclaimed, “Just bring him back!”
“That’s not how this works, Mr. Waugh. But I’m in a generous mood, and I find myself in the odd predicament of relating to your plight, So, I will tell you this. There will be temptations along there way and there will be creatures that will try to sway him from his path. He will need you both of you when the time comes. In that moment, flower will glow with golden light. You will be able to speak to him for a moment when that happens,” Hades looked at Julia, “Same goes for you, Ms. Wicker. You two are his tether to this world. Answer his call when he needs you most, and he will make his way home to you.”
Eliot looked down at the flower in his hand, “but what if he doesn’t want to come home?”
Hades put a hand on Eliot’s shoulder, just as he did to Quentin, “Oh, ye of little faith, Mr. Waugh. Be the tether, do not give up on him just yet,” when Eliot nodded, he dropped his hand, “Ms. Wicker, a moment?”
“Uh, yeah. Sure,” she cautiously replied, taking a few steps away from Eliot who was staring at his flower, presumably waiting for it to do something. She took a step towards the God of the Underworld and suddenly they were standing alone in a meadow, “Look, I’m sorry about your wife, Persephone. I swear I wouldn’t have called her if I knew that would happen. I’m so sorry.”
“Julia, ease your worries. I know your intentions were pure, but just know that she would have answered your call regardless. She may have kept you at arms length, just as we are tasked to do, but she cared for you deeply. My wife saw something beautiful and bright in you, and you did everything you could up against an adversary even I could not kill,” Hades comforted her, “I just want you to know that there will always be a place in our home if you ever find yourself in search of meaning beyond this plane.”
Julia smiled, not at all expecting that’s what he was going to say, “Thanks, I appreciate that.”
“And just know that your powers exist out there somewhere, if you want them.”
She furrowed her brow in confusion, “but how is that possible? I tore my magic out and poured it into those keys. Not to mention, even if I wanted my power back, I couldn’t hold it without dying.”
Hades chuckled, “Well, I guess you would just have to find a solution to your problem. You have been proven to be good at that. But I’m afraid my time here is spent, I must return to the Underworld.”
“Hades,” Julia called out to him and he turned back on his heels to look at her, “I am sorry, about Persephone. If there was anything I could do-”
“It’s alright, Ms. Wicker. Most times, in surprising ways, the things we love find their way back to us, even us Gods. I believe she is out there somewhere, maybe in the winds or in the flowers or made from the sunlight of a different world. Either way, I believe I will see her again,” he said and faded away, “I hope you and Mr. Waugh can have the same faith,” Hades voice says on the wind.
Somewhere in Fillory...
Walking through the forests of Fillory was more cathartic for Eliot than he thought it would be, although that could just be the famous 0.02% opium in the air, but he didn’t care, “God, this feels so good,” he sighed
Eliot and Margo decided it was time to go back and check on their home away from home, the one they felt responsible for despite being Eliot being overthrown first by Tick and then by Margo, and Margo then being banished by Fen so she could go look for magic axes in the desert. The hitched a ride on the literal Penny23 express and found themselves standing in the Wormwood, on the well beaten but slightly overgrown path on the way to Whitespire. He bid them farewell and disappeared, leaving Margo and Eliot trying to remember what life used to be like in Fillory before. Nostalgia is a dirty liar at best and an evil dictator at worst, but here they were, marveling at the land they both had felt trapped in before, trying to breathe in it's magic and wonder, forgetting all together that it was their 39 deaths and a vengeful Beast that brought them there to begin with. In that moment, it was the only place either of them wanted to be.
“It does,” Margo smiled and took his hand, “Okay, let’s see what-the-what with getting un-banished, my throne back, and my man for some white-hot grief banging,” Margo smiled and then realized the company she was in, “I’m sorry. That came out way harsher than I thought.”
“It’s okay,” Eliot replied quickly, probably trying to convince himself of that more than her. Still, he waited with a flower on his black suit, “It’s going to be weird for a little while. So we’re just going to have to…” Eliot meant to say ‘wait for him to come back’ but he trailed off when the view of a greatly expanded Whitespire came into view, “Margo…?”
“The fuck did they do to my castle?!” she demanded, just as some villagers approached the pair.
“Uh pardon me sir, Crazy question but um Fillory is still ruled by acting High King Fen, right?
“If this is some kind of loyalty test...” one of the villagers asked cautiously.
Eliot back-tracked with Margo standing slightly behind him with her arms crossed in anger and defiance, a tone Eliot did not think was welcome in this Fillory, “Um no, no, uh we’ve just been away for a while.”
The villager sighed, “The Dark King reigns. Glory to his rule. High King Fen and Josh the Fresh Prince were overthrown three hundred years ago. The gods curse them both. Have a good day,” he recited it like a prepared speech and proceeded on down the path while his children followed him.
Margo and Eliot stared at each other for a moment before she said, “what the fuck?”
“No white-hot banging for either of us then, huh?” Eliot replied.
Chapter 3: three more short stories about magic
Alice and Kady have a dispute
Margo and Eliot renovate a house
Quentin takes a walk
Somewhere in the Neitherlands...
The Library was in complete disarray, but misplaced books and toppled over shelves were thought to be the least of their worries. Everett’s quest to become a god bought him many allies, both in the Library and across the universe. Even many hedge witches found themselves on his side despite his genocidal agenda against them. The Librarians that were left to believe that his allies were still at large, so Zelda and Alice made quick work of shutting down almost all functions of The Library until they could locate and extract Everett’s disciples
“I have suspended most everyone from the Home branch while we are containing this issue. We will be doing further screening of Librarians to determine who is still a threat and might want to continue Everett’s work. The Monsters may be gone but Everett could have batteries hidden anywhere, just like the reservoir. Anyone with that much power could be dangerous.” Alice stated, sitting at her new desk with a stack of personnel files in front of her.
“And why do you need my help?” Kady questioned, sitting across from Alice with her feet up on the chair next to her, “We’re not exactly friends.”
“We don’t have to be friends,” she promptly stated, “but you have been elected, I guess, as a leader for the hedge witches and we have reason to believe that Everett had allies in the community, potentially with orders to continue his work if he was unable.”
Kady rolled her eyes, “and you think a hedge could pull that off? You haven’t even released the valve on ambient magic yet and what is out there is unstable. It fluctuates rapidly because of the cooperative magic we did and it's not returning to normal. Only you can do that by restoring the pipes to their neutral flow. Are you even going to because this feels like more of the same bullshit?”
Alice sighed. She put her elbows on the table and rubbed her temples, “we will do it when we have a handle on this situation.”
“Well, while you ‘handle your situation,’ I have to think about the people who depend on me to advocate for them. Living in scarcity does nothing but continue cycles of desperation and violence. So, I will help you once the Library stops gatekeeping magic. Until then, you’re on your own.” Kady declared and then stood to leave.
“Kady, be reasonable.”
She scoffed at Alice, “I am, but you are still out here believing that you have the right to decide what is right for everyone. Remember how well that worked out for you the last time? Oh right, it actually worked out fine for you. All you had to do was sit in a cell for a few months, boo-fucking-hoo, Alice. It was your choice put a corrupt organization in complete power and I refused to be party to whatever witch hunt you are creating to dispatch this manufactured threat.”
“Any system is vulnerable during a regime change and we have no reason to believe that there isn’t a threat.” Alice defended. If she had better sense and intincts, she would be able to believe the part of herself that told her that Kady was right, but she couldn't trust any of her instincts. All they had ever done was lead to destrution and death.
“You sound fucking ridiculous, and this is not a regime, it’s a fucking Library. You are supposed to be all about sharing knowledge and checking out books and the goddamn Dewey decimal system. Just because Librarians have inserted themselves into every magical transaction as judge and jury and even executioner when you think the situation calls for it, it doesn’t mean you should have that power. For fucks sake, all people want to do is check out books and you've all made it a game, limiting access and preaching intellectual superiority.”
Alice crossed her arms in front of her and leaned back in her chair, “That's not what I'm trying to do and I’m not saying we should have all that power, but I can’t just shake up the whole system right now. What you are suggesting would have to be done gradually.”
“Why? It makes no fucking sense to begin with. And how Zelda thinks you are the right person for this job is beyond me. I have watched people die from the fall out of your actions. Someone is always trying to clean up your messes, and it doesn’t always end well. People die, Alice, people have died, and they will continue to die. I guess that I figured now that you have seen that firsthand, that now you know how it feels to have someone you love die to right a wrong, that maybe just maybe you would have changed, but I guess I was wrong.” Kady had a fury behind her eyes. Maybe if it was any other day, under different circumstances, she would have been kind to Alice in light of Quentin’s death, but Kady was finding it hard to have sympathy when she saw Alice making the same choices with a different mask on, it would only bring about the same outcome. She had lost many people to magic but had seen even more death in its absence and conditional return, “I have watched people I love die for magic my entire life. You did this. What you did allowed Everett complete control to do what he did to my people and to countless others in his pursuit for power. You lose one person in that fight, only one. Must be nice, but you don't get to monopolize that pain, Alice. You alone should not get the power to make plans for an organization designed to share information and magic. I will say this once, do what’s right or don’t ask for my help again.”
Kady stormed out passing Zelda, who attempted to talk to her, but she continued her path down the hall and out the door with her middle finger up and directed back at them.
Alice sighed and sat down, covering her eyes, as Zelda entered her office. She tried not to let Kady's words get to her but she found herself failing. It's like Kady said, if this is how she feels after losing one person, how could she make choices for those who have lost countless loved one's from dangerous magic in alleyways and scarcity. Alice lifted her head to look at Zelda, “She’s right. We can’t keep doing this. If we do, we are no better than Everett or the McAlister’s.”
Zelda nodded, with her hands floating at her sides in her usual stance, “I understand but we can’t release magic until we extinguish the threat.”
“We’re not even sure there is a threat. And she’s right, while we twiddle our thumbs, waiting for someone to make a move, innocent people are suffering when they don’t need to be suffering, some are even getting hurt. While we sit here, with magic a-plenty, those people are directly paying the price for our failings. There is a very simple solution that is completely in my power to implement.” Alice stood up from her desk and filed some papers in the cabinet behind her, “Kady’s right,” she turned to face Zelda, “I’m not the right person for this job.”
“Yes, you are Alice. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t have suggested it be you.”
“But if I fuck things up again…there is enough destruction on my conscience. I can barely live with myself as it is,” she sighed, “if I’m really going to do this job, I need to stop thinking that I know what’s best.”
Zelda eyebrows furrowed quizzically, “but that’s what a boss is, Alice. You are in charge, it’s up to you to make decisions for the good of us all.”
Alice slammed her hands on the desk in front of her in frustration, “No, it’s not up to just me. And it shouldn’t be,” she sighed and softened her tone. She knew Zelda was just telling her what she spent hundreds of years thinking was true. “If Quentin taught me anything it’s that sometimes, in order to be the hero, you need to let people help you. No one can be a hero on their own.”
“So, what are you proposing?” Zelda questioned, her face full of apprehensive curiosity.
Alice sat for a minute. What she was thinking was unprecedented and some might even call it crazy, but she knew it was a step in the direction of doing what’s right, “I’m going to need a list of all of the worlds that check out materials from the Library. If we can get a council of people, not just librarians, together to make real decisions about who gets what and appealing outdated rules, I think maybe this could actually work for everyone.”
Zelda was taken aback in response, “what you are suggesting would be next to impossible. There are hundreds of worlds and dozens of governments and some are completely without order.”
“I’m not asking for government officials at all. In fact, it might be best to avoid that entirely, rarely do they actually speak for the people, and hundreds are good, the more perspectives the better. It would be a legitimate council, not 5 of you in a room making decisions for the universe. I have done that and I’m not going to do it again. This may be a Library, but you have all ran it like a dictatorship, deciding who gets what information and when and how often and we are done doing that. A system based in democracy is better than that.” Zelda opened her mouth to interject, “I know what you are going to say, that this is crazy, and I should think this through before making any decisions, but I can’t sit idly by while people suffer. So…I’m going to need that list, so I can get started.”
“I was actually going to say that this is a great idea,” Zelda smiled at her, “I will get you that list.”
Alice nodded, “Thank you,” and Zelda turned to leave the room, floating in the way she always did, “Oh, and Zelda?”
“Please send out a memo telling everyone that we are rendering the Dewey’s useless, and I’m going to need the keys to the pipes. We are raising the ambient magic today.”
Zelda nodded, “I’ll get right on that, boss.”
Somewhere in Fillory...
“Come on, Margo. We can’t stay out in the open like this. I highly doubt that whatever totalitarian nightmare that’s in there will just give Whitespire back to us if we ask nicely,” Eliot said, urging Margo to move down the path.
Margo laughed in her terrifying, daring anyone to challenge her kind of way, “who said anything about asking nicely. If you want to cock out and go home, then by all means go ahead, but I’m getting my fucking castle back.”
“I’m not cocking out,” Eliot rolled his eyes, “I’m just saying, we have been out of the game for…three hundred years, I guess. We have no idea what this Fillory is like and based on that horror movie script those villagers just read for us, I don’t think it would be a shot in the dark to assume that it’s not great. So, I suggest we find somewhere to lay low while we figure it out what to do.”
At that moment, both Margo and Eliot felt magic, like it was flowing through their veins. It had been dampened for so long, that both of them forgot what it really felt like, “huh, I guess blonde bitch isn’t completely fucking the universe. And even if she is, at least we have some lube now,” Margo noted as she conjured electric flashes on the tips of her fingers.
“I think she’ll do great.” Eliot said, turning the leaves pink on a tree in front of them
Margo rolled her eyes, “for such a cynical asshole, you are pretty hopeful.”
Eliot shrugged. He knew where he learned that hope from, “Well, I think I have a lot of practice being powerless to do anything but hope.”
“I know and I’m sorry, but where the fuck are we supposed to go, El? All of our Fillorian allies are more than likely long passed being worm food and it’s not like we really got to know the place outside of the castle,” Margo pointed out. Their rule over Fillory had largely been conducted from the castle and trying to bring alcohol and recreational partying to a land Eliot once described as incredibly dull. Apart from the occasional quest and that one time they were usurped for a bit, they didn’t really know the area outside of what was in the books, well at least Margo didn’t.
“I know a place.”
It was obvious from the landscape that it was a few months into the Fillorian summer and from what they could tell, the locals had upkept all of the farming practices they learned from Eliot some centuries ago. The passing towns seemed to be thriving agriculturally, even if all the villagers looked miserable. Still, they made their way down paths and through the trees until they found themselves a few miles into the Southern Orchard and stopped at a special spot that can only be found if you are knowingly looking for it. When Margo and Eliot reached their destination they both took pause.
“What a shithole,” Margo examined the mostly dilapidated structure.
While a lifetime worth of memories crashed over Eliot, he also couldn’t deny that the place had looked better. It was clear that no one had been here since Quentin and Eliot, not just by how run down everything was, but also by some of their personal belongings still strung about the place showing the weathering of time. Blankets, wood carvings, furniture, there were so many things they cherished during their time there that had simply reduced to rot.
“Yeah, I guess this is what happens with the passing of a few centuries, give or take.” Eliot nodded, picking up a decaying stool and setting it upright. He sighed and took in the view of a life gone by and forgotten, “what a shithole, indeed.”
Margo grimaced, “How are we supposed to stay here? It looks like the roof could cave in if the wind blows just enough to make your nipples hard.”
Eliot tilted his head and nodded in agreeance with her. He then did a series of tuts, and the roof patched its own holes, “it should hold for a while. To be honest, that part is not that much different than when we lived here, but Q was always the one who fixed it. Minor mendings are not my specialty but I watched him do it enough over the years, I can keep it up while we figure out how to get that dictator out of our castle.”
Margo grabbed Eliot’s arm, “wait, you and Q lived here? In this…shack?” she noted while looking at the crumbling building that lacked windows and a front door that was falling off its hinges, “How do you even remember that? That was a different timeline and I stopped you from going through the clock,” she questioned, sweeping some dead leaves off of the bench at the table outside the Cottage.
Eliot chuckled and sat down next to her, leaning his cane up against the table and noting the tiny divots in the rotting wood from that time Teddy took a whittling knife without asking to make Q a Father’s Day gift. He shrugged, “and yet, we both have memories of a life we ‘never lived,’” he quoted, “and there are marks all over this place proving that we did live it. I’m sorry we never told you, I guess it was something we tried to bury, even though I don’t think either of us moved on from it,” he looked off into the distance, sort of drowning in memories.
Margo looked around, as if to see what Eliot saw, but lacked context for what he meant. “So, what? You guys just sat here doing an abstract puzzle for fifty years?” Margo gestured to the mud-covered tiles on the ground.
He couldn’t help but laugh, “Not exactly. Maybe I’ll tell you that story someday.”
Eliot got to work, almost like it was as second nature, to fix up the Cottage. He knew it would never be to Margo’s standards of living, but it would have to do. “you lived in a tent in the desert for a week, you can deal with this,” when she protested over a single bed in the back room of the cottage that was a later addition when Teddy had gotten old enough to want his own room.
Margo went to sleep early that night while Eliot fixed up the main room and the kitchen. Arielle’s dishes were still there, and he couldn’t help but smile. He motioned with his hands, and soon they were clean. While he stacked them up on the shelf, he remembered the time that Arielle came over while Q went to the village to trade magic for food and supplies, “Q isn’t here,” he said to her plainly.
“I know. I was hoping I could we talk,” she said to him, carrying her usual basket of peaches and plums, tossing him one.
“Talk about what?” he said, not confident that this would go well for him in the end. He liked her and he liked her with Quentin, but he knew Fillory and its rigid views. There was no way she’d be with Q and be okay with Eliot also being with Q.
She took a seat at the picnic table next to the mosaic and gestured for him to take the seat opposite her. When he did, she took a breath, “I know that none of us know how long you two are going to be here, I know you both can’t promise to be here forever, but I really care about Quentin, so for however long you two are here, I—
“You’d prefer it if I just fucked off and let you have Quentin all to yourself,” Eliot said sharply, completely abandoning the casual tone he had always taken with her and regretting it immediately.
Her face scrunched up in response, “What? No. Not at all, Eliot.”
“Look, where I come from…in my family…” she sighed and collected her thoughts, “There was never a lot of love around me when I was young. I feel as though we might have that in common,” she fished for confirmation, and Eliot nodded slightly, “even so, I see so much love here even though it’s just the two of you and I don’t want to do anything break that. I don’t want to be the person that forces Quentin to choose which love to have in his life, and I know that you know that he needs as much love around him as possible,” Arielle put her hand on top of Eliot’s where it lay across the table, “I see how much you love him. I’m not conspiring to take that away from either of you. I wonder if you'd maybe consider becoming friends- with me, I mean.”
“Yeah, I think that would be fine,” Eliot smiled
“Good, I’m glad,” she smiled back in such a way that even Eliot couldn’t help but be charmed by her. “I love Quentin, and not right away, but maybe one day, we could all just be happy together. It could be like adding another piece to a puzzle that’s already complete. It would still be what it was, there would just be more to appreciate.” She paused briefly, “I mean, if that would be okay with you…”
Never did he think that this conversation would go that way, but he has been surprised by Fillorian women before, “That actually sounds really lovely,” they smiled at each other for a moment, “Quentin didn't forget to tell you that he and I have sex, right?”
Arielle threw her head back and laughed, "I do believe he did mention something of the sort.”
Despite their mostly unconventional relationship, Eliot grew to care deeply for Arielle. They had forged their friendship on a foundation of farming knowledge and their mutual love for Quentin, but by the time Teddy was born, they had really blossomed into a family, something Eliot had convinced himself that he would never have. She could have just taken Q for her own, had a bunch of kids with him, and left Eliot out in the cold, but she didn’t, and he couldn’t have wished for a better life than the one they all lived together, even if it was short lived.
When Arielle died, Eliot was heartbroken. He could barely handle losing more loved ones than he already had lost, and especially one so special, especially the one that let him be another parent to her son. Even though Eliot had seen people die before, whether by his hand or not, it had always been a violent thing. He realized that he had never watched someone he loved slowly wither away, day by day, until they were gone. He handled it better in a lot of ways, and worse in others, but he knew that Teddy was too young to understand, and Q was inconsolable.
He did a lot of puzzle configurations on his own after that and Teddy had a lot of sleepovers with Arielle’s sister and his cousins. It was Eliot’s first real experience being helpless against Quentin’s mind. They had been there for years, and the waves that Quentin went through were nothing new, Eliot had always been able to help him through it. Eliot had his own struggles, but he was always there to see the light at the end of the tunnel when Quentin couldn’t.
However, it quickly became clear that this time was different.
In his grief, Quentin blamed himself for not being the magician he needed to be to save her, much like he had done with his father. He blamed himself for not finding a magical remedy in time. There was even once, when his anger took over, that he blamed Eliot for not doing something more to save her. He blamed, and blamed, and blamed until the anger and bargaining were spent. After that, he went quiet and the Quentin they knew faded away for a while.
Eliot would always remember the day Quentin got out of bed quietly and wrapped his arms around his waist while he stood at the sink washing those same dishes. The sudden touch startled him, but Q curled himself into the embrace closer and when he had the energy to speak, he was nothing but apologetic. He was sorry for the things he had said but he felt an overwhelming need to say sorry for the thing in his mind that has always been determined to hurt him, something he couldn’t control, something he believed caused him to not only let Eliot down, but let Teddy down. It took him longer to forgive himself for the latter.
“Don’t be sorry, it’s alright. I miss her too,” Eliot remembered he told him, and hugged him longer than he had ever hugged anyone in his life. He remembered how it felt when Q clutched him so tight that Eliot’s shirt was balled in his fists, knuckles white. When Q finally pulled away, Eliot took his face in his hands, “we are a family and we will get through this, I promise. It’s going to be okay, Q. There is still so much goodness here, in all the things we have built and all the things she left behind. You are so loved, and for the times when you can’t see that, let us remind you, okay?” he said, eyes closed, forehead resting on Quentin’s.
“Okay. And I won’t give up, I promise,” he said. And although it was a gambling promise, he never did.
It wouldn’t be the last time he would be unable to get out of bed or care for himself, and it wouldn’t be the last time they had that conversation, but he kept his promise in that life.
Somewhere in the Underworld...
Charon turned the boat down a separate channel, into the river Acheron, where the moans of the dead and the lost grew louder and louder.
“Cerberus usually keeps them quiet, but the Keeper is making sure he stays close to the Palace so you may leave,” Chron told Quentin in his sullen tone
“Why do you call Hades the Keeper?” Quentin questioned after they had been sitting in silence for most of the ride. Quentin didn’t except The Ferryman of the Underworld would be particularly chatty, so the prospect of asking him even a few questions stuck his interest.
“He is the one tasked with keeping the souls of all mortals who have died safe until they are ready to move on. Someone has to do it, it is among the most sacred of duties, and it's his turn. Though, I suppose it has been his turn for a some time now...” Charon drifted but continued, “He wasn’t the first Keeper and he won’t be the last. Eventually he will move on too, just like Lady Persephone.”
The bank of the river was quickly approaching where faded human figures could be seen meandering in between trees, confused and looking for anywhere to go.
“So, they couldn’t pay the toll?”
Charon nodded, “Correct, I cannot provide passage for anyone without payment. This is what they pay, one hundred years in limbo. Fear not, Mr. Coldwater, their unrest will not last forever. I carry everyone eventually,” Charon gently led the boat to the bank of the river as the wood gave a slight groaning protest as it made contact with land. The yellow light dimly glowed ahead, between the trees. It didn’t seem like the souls even noticed them, completely consumed in their own despair. “This is as far as I go, but your journey is only just beginning.”
Quentin chuckled, “Oh good, that’s just what I need, another journey,” he sighed, stepping off the boat, feeling the crunching of stones under his feet.
“If you wish to return to Earth, then yes. Either way, we will meet again. It’s all the same to me, but I don’t want to be back for you any time soon. You are far too loquacious for my liking.” The ferryman said, blowing out his lantern, “I leave you with a reiterating of the Keeper's warning. There will be those who seek to stray you from your path, do not let them. Remember your purpose and don’t lose sight of it,” Charon said and handed him a white plumeria flower, “the Keeper requested I give you this. Keep it close, you may need it.”
“What would I need a flower for?” Charon shrugged slightly in response, but Quentin took the flower anyway, feeding the stem through one of the button holes in his shirt, “So, I guess this is farewell for now, Charon.” Quentin gave an awkward slight wave and salute, then looked onward into the forest.
It was not like any forest he had seen on Earth, of course it looked similar but for the scarlet hue of the sky, but this forest held more than just lost souls, he could feel it. He halfway had expected it to be an easily given second chance from a god, but now as he looked out upon the forest in front of him, Quentin realized his journey really was just beginning. He thought of Julia and how heartbroken she looked in the light of the campfire. He thought of Alice, sitting there blaming herself. He thought of Margo, how he had been the only one she confided in other than Eliot, and he left it up to her to tell him that he was gone. Eliot…
His thoughts of Eliot were the ones that inspired his first steps into the unknown in front of him. He quietly promised himself that he would get back to them, all of them, no matter what, and it appeared that choice was also made for him. With each of his steps, the path behind him was consumed in moss and mist, solidifying that there was no going back to Hades and moving on and being done with living just yet. And he didn’t want to be done, there was too much to do, and say, and feel, and too many people he loved to leave behind.
Quentin walked the path laid out in front of him, following the light, weaving in between trees, and he could help but remember when Jane told him to do the exact opposite and how necessary it had been at that time. Worlds hung in the balance between the Beast and a ragtag group of grad students, and there had been no gods giving anyone guidance. That path kept him as the center of the story, the hero. He always wanted so badly to be the hero, for something to make him special in the world, but hero wasn’t his role to play. It was only when he got off that path and let someone else rise to the mantle of hero that they all succeeded. They may have lost Alice, then she became a niffin, then she lived in the tattoo on his back for a while, and then they got her back. Good ending to that story, although like any hero’s journey, she was not the same when she came back. Quentin wondered what would be different about him if he made it back to his friends, when he made it back.
He thought of his time in Secrets Taken to the Grave, and how odd is had been. It was odd and yet made sense to him at the time. He couldn’t be sure if wandering in the dark for three hundred years changed his mind, or if it was a literal God giving him a second chance, but he didn’t believe Penny anymore. He used to believe that when he finally did die, that everyone would move on without him and be okay, that they would be better than okay, that they would be better because they were without him and his burdens. Maybe somewhere in his soul, he still believed that, after all mental illness doesn’t just take a vacation, but now he knew that he owed it to himself, and the part of him that still believed in love and magic, to give himself a chance. He deserved a chance, and now he knew he would fight any battle to have that chance, a chance to figure out what happiness means.
The color of the sky above him lost its red tone the further he walked and began to resemble more of the night sky of Earth. Quentin came upon a clearing and decided he needed to stop for a minute. He sat down on a suspiciously convenient tree stump and learned back on his hands to look at the façade of stars. It was beautiful in a strange, particularly haunting way, after all, who knew what was really up there, except whoever hung the lights in the sky of the Underworld.
Suddenly, a rush of thoughts came over him and he couldn’t help but wonder what made him special enough to escape the same fate of the lost souls he saw faintly through the trees. They didn’t see him, they just moaned and groaned with their glazed over eyes as they kept walking and looking for something that Quentin was sure they would never find, even if they walked for a hundred years. Why had he been given a second chance at life while these people couldn’t even rest peacefully? He only ever did one helpful thing and it ended with him dying because he couldn’t run out of a room fast enough. What use could he have and how could Hades be so sure that his second chance wasn’t just going to be wasted on him?
“Quentin?” a voice said from in between two trees on the far side of the clearing. A woman with red hair emerged from the shadows, “we’ve been waiting for you,” she smiled a smile Quentin thought he would only ever see in his dreams and memories of a lifetime long gone by.
Chapter 4: hidden between the trees
Quentin runs into his past
Julia drinks coffee
Margo wants to save Fillory
and even the best of friends fight sometimes
Arielle remembered the first time Quentin came to her in the Underworld. Eliot had already been there for what she imagined was no more than a few months before Quentin showed up, as if those two could have been without each other for any longer than that. She remembered him slowly shaking off his age, favoring his appearance from his mid-twenties, when she had first met him. He had told her everything then, about Teddy and solving the puzzle and Jane, and even the peach trees in bloom the morning he died. Everything was as it should be, she thought, but as quick as they came, Eliot and Quentin faded from view and didn’t come back.
She was a deeply intelligent woman, so it didn’t take her very long to figure out what happened. They had been out of their time from the moment they stepped into Fillory and stayed there until their dying day, but the Universe needed them, so it took them back, so they could finish their quest. And she knew it would be a long time before they returned, and she had told Teddy that he would see his fathers again, but she’d be lying if she said that she didn’t miss them.
Arielle drifted over to Quentin so smoothly, as if a phantom breeze carried her feet, her form blocking his guiding light from his view, “Quentin, where did you go? You were here and then you left. Teddy was so upset when you had gone.”
Quentin froze completely still.
Of all the things he thought he might encounter in the Underworld, whether that be monsters, demons, or three headed dogs, he knew he could take it. He could battle whatever came his way to make it back home, but this was his wife from another lifetime entirely, and she looked exactly like how he remembered with her hair as orange as his favorite sunsets and pinned perfectly, and her eyes greener than grass after the rain.
“Never mind that now, you’re back and we missed you so.”
The air around him became light, a stark contrast to the heavy foreboding he felt since he gained consciousness. She took his hands in hers and looked in his eyes, “We have so much to catch up on,” she hopped in a kind of childlike zeal, “Teddy has been talking about you, and I’m so proud of everything you did for him. He grew into a fine man and that’s all because of you.”
Quentin shook his head slightly, feeling comfort in her words, but ultimately knowing she was wrong, or at least only half right, “Well, I didn’t do it all by myself,” he shrugged.
“Oh please,” she laughed, “only you could raise our son to be the kind and caring man he is. Now, do you want to see him? He misses you very much.”
Arielle turned away from him and danced out into the clearing, “Come, dear. Come home with me,” she said and held her hand out for him and he took a few steps towards her, feeling a dizzy buzzing behind his ears, as he heard a rustling in the trees behind him.
It was then that Quentin felt a sharp breeze of air on the hairs of his arm while looking at Arielle who suddenly went still, her eyes wide, and an arrow plunged into her stomach.
Somewhere on Earth…
Julia sat in a twenty-four-hour diner in New Jersey. Other than a truck driver that came in for an order to-go, she was the only patron and had been for hours. She had no reason to stay in the city. Although her feud with Marina was long over, the hedge witches of New York were still on edge with her, not that she was really in Kady’s good graces either. And with her mother and sister thinking she was dead, a cover up story orchestrated by Fogg after her whole magic abortion/lost shade/evil phase. Even as painful as that had been, she felt as though it was a million years ago.
So much had happened, so much had happened to her, and she couldn’t differentiate one pain for another anymore. It more or less felt like a long continuous trauma that hadn’t yet met its match. Julia thought she had a handle on it when she accepted her goddesshood, but that was short-lived when she had to fix the world because of Alice’s rash choices. Then being in goddess/human limbo had been just another in a long line of disappointing and conflicting experiences.
Now what? Just a regular magician, then?
It appeared so, but she would return it to sender if she could. This whole “magic comes from pain’ idea was fucking bullshit. How could anyone go through what she had gone through and have anything left to give back to a world that just kept taking and taking from her? She always thought of herself as a hopeful person, and she was to a degree, but in light of his deafening absence, she knew Quentin carried a lot of her hope with him.
As hurt and as afflicted as he was, he taught her how to hope. It was way back when they were kids, under that dining table, drawing maps of Fillory and dreaming of finding a doorway to this magical land that seemed like it was made just for them. She had thought it was a fun game, to pretend like you could just escape this world, the same world that hurts the people you love and when you’re a kid you’re powerless to change it, you just get to watch it happen. If you could leave it all and run through a forest of talking trees, what a dream that would be.
It was then, looking at the curly haired boy next to her, with a glint of true magic in his eyes (though neither of them knew at the time just how true it was) that Julia realized he actually believed it, he believed that this place was real, and moreover he believed they would find a way to go there, and be kings.
At first, she thought it was silly, but the more they played the game, and the more her father drank, and the more her sister would sneak out to not come home for days, and the more emotionally distant her mother became, she found herself wanting to believe it. She wished for it to be true, but she never quite got there.
So instead, she believed in Q.
She told herself that she would believe in his belief, until she could find her own. And she did come close a time or two but…
When Quentin kept Brakebills from her, she felt her hope slip through her fingertips, as if she depended on him so much that his secret extinguished it entirely. Although they made up, she couldn’t really find it again. So much hurt, an ungodly amount that she finally sees and feels for what it is, as unfair and harrowing and in light of recent events, she felt her hope was lost for good.
“Do you need anything else, Sugar? I’m going on my smoke break,” the waitress asked, standing to the side of the booth and pouring Julia another cup of black coffee with a pack of cigarettes in her apron.
She shook her head slightly and smiled at the woman, “No, thank you. I’ll get out of your hair shortly.”
“Stay as long as you want, Honey. We’re open either way and I like the company,” she placed her hand gently on Julia’s shoulder then walked outside, leaning with her back against the window, lighting her cigarette, and billowing smoke out into the night air.
Mid-September meant the air had a bite to it that everyone almost forgot during the summer but always came back like a down-on-their-luck relative who asks you for money. No one looks forward to it, but at least it puts things into perspective before the dark months of nothing but perspective. The lights from the diner shone on the trees across the highway and their branches, not yet bare, danced in the nighttime wind.
Julia sat there with her hands warming around the ceramic mug of hot coffee, having done a continuous stirring spell, just watching the liquid turn around and around. There were only two things she was certain of: one being Quentin was on his way home but that could go wrong and he could be stuck there forever. And two, her true magic was out there somewhere, she just had to find it.
She didn’t know where to go or what to do next, so she just sat in the diner, with a white plumeria flower pinned to the lapel of her coat, watching her coffee go cold.
Somewhere in the Underworld…
Blood pooled on Arielle’s dress, and she blankly looked at Quentin before falling to the ground. He ran to her side and picked up her head in his lap, “No, please, I just found you again,” he said, before her form turned into a prickly demonic creature that reduced to dust in his hands and blew away.
“That’s one hell of a mind trick, huh?” said a voice, stepping out of the shadows, “and honestly, I’m a little offended you thought that was me.” Arielle said, slinging her bow over her shoulder. Her hair was in a messy up do, her eyes a little dimmer with dark circles under them, clothes tattered still recognizable as her favorites from their life together. He realized then that this version of her was how she truly was. It’s easy to minimize someone down to their perfections after they die, because you want to remember those things, but her rough edges and snark were just as much, if not more so, why he fell head over heels for her all those years ago.
Quentin just blinked, “wha--what?”
“It’s an illusion, Quentin," she blew a strand of hair out of her face, walked over to Quentin, and held out her hand for him. He took it and she pulled him to his feet. “For those who have been tested, no one has ever made it out," she walked past him to grab the arrow from the burnt husk. She slide the arrow back into the quiver and turned back towards him, wiping her forehead and unknowingly leaving a smudge of ash on her face.
Quentin gently yanked her arm and pulled her to him, bringing her face to his and kissing her gently, trying to fill the space with the millions of things he had wished he could've said to her all those years ago, "you have no idea how much I missed you."
She smiled slightly, "I think I do," she replied, her forehead resting on his before she slide her hands down from his neck to his chest to gently push him away, "but you have to go."
He rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly, "what was that?" he asked, pointing to the carcass steaming on the ground next to them.
"Like I said, it's an illusion, a manifestation of the Underworld's inner workings to keep you here," she said in her subtly short way, the way she always would when she caught either Q or El not fully listening, so she'd have to repeat herself. Even her eyes rolled slightly and Quentin was almost overcome with affection but committed himself to listening this time. "It presents to you a perfect but slightly twisted version of your loved ones, and it tricks you. Thus, you stray from your path so it can keep your soul.”
“Hades said there would be temptations to stay but that I could decide to leave,” Quentin questioned. He kept a hand gently on her arm, trying to steady himself in the moment.
Arielle sighed, “Hades doesn’t control the Underworld, Quentin, not really. Its power exists outside of his, he just keeps it in balance. Seems he was in a kind enough mood to warn you though, so that's nice of him I guess. Anyway, the damned powers that be must stay balanced or so they say. They never do say what happens if they don't, do they?" she asked quizzically but visibly dropped the question to smile slightly at him, "I did miss you though, and some part of me wishes you could stay.”
“Why did you save me then?” he blinked, now unsure what was real and wasn’t.
She laughed and it echoed in the recesses of his memory, reminding him of so many nights they all sat by the fire together, sharing stories, drinking wine, and laughing too loudly after Teddy went to bed, “Because I love you and you don’t belong here yet.”
He wrapped his arms around her and hugged her close. There had been so many things he always thought he would say to her if they could talk again, but all that came to his mind in that moment was, “Thank you,” and when he pulled back from their embrace, his eyes lit up, “I love you.”
She smiled a half smirk, “I love you too but there is plenty of time for all of that later, all the time in the world in fact. Time when we can all be together, but for now it’s time for you to go.”
The golden light gleamed over her shoulder, out in the distance subtly reminding him of his goal and where he is meant to be, “but there are so many things I want to say to you and so many things I wish I had time to tell you about our life and Teddy and-”
She placed a finger over his lips to stop him, then when he relaxed, she moved her hand to rest on the side of his cheek, and he leaned into her affection, “I know, we have been over this before.”
“I have been here before?” he questioned
“Yes,” Arielle nodded, “You and Eliot both. We talked, and we danced, and we laughed, and then you both had to go,” Quentin opened his mouth to apologize, “It’s okay, I always knew my life was but a blip for the two of you, so destined for greatness along with your friends, and I made my peace with that a long time ago. It doesn’t mean that what we shared didn’t matter or somehow mattered less. It was beautiful, and I wished we had more time together, and damn do I wish we'd had more time, that I could have watched Teddy grow up and so many things, but...” she shook off the thought and smiled, “I am so proud of what we made and what you and my darling Eliot did after I was gone. Now, I wait for our family to be together again, so we can move on, but I don’t want that until it's truly time. And it’s not your time yet.”
A few tears fell from Quentin’s eyes as Arielle brushed them away with her thumb. It would never cease to amaze him that she had an uncanny way of knowing exactly what he was going to say and condensing it down from his run-away thoughts. Hearing that she mourned the things she never got to do only spoke truth to what he wished for her with all his heart, a chance to find something out in the world that was really hers. She had never been more beautiful to him than when she owned her own dreams and desires. And with her life gone by, she only wished now for them all to be together again, but firmly knew that now was not the time. It comforted him to know that she would be here waiting for them when their lives were over.
“Here, take these.” She shrugged off her bow and quiver of arrows and handed them to him, he put them on securely, reminding him briefly of his time hunting down the White Lady in Fillory, “Remember what is true and you will make it home, okay? He needs you,” she smiled.
“but what about you? I don’t want to leave you here alone.”
She beamed at him with a hint of sadness and brought her palm back up to his cheek, “Oh don’t worry, time works differently here. To me, it will be like no time has passed at all,” she kissed him softly, like how he remembered she did when they got married. She lingered for just a moment before forcing herself away from want him to stay. He still had his eyes closed when Arielle stepped away from him, slipping her hands from his and he opened his eyes to watch her turn back to the woods, her form becoming more translucent, “I hope that you take comfort in knowing that I’m not alone here, my love,” she said, disappearing into the mist.
Somewhere in Fillory….
Margo and Eliot spent a few days at the Mosaic Cottage together, but when the house work was complete, leaving a functional structure to lay low in, Eliot found himself stretched thin and losing his resolve.
And as Eliot grew tired, lost, and depressed, Margo grew restless. She wanted to fix Fillory and she wanted to save the day, and Eliot just…didn’t care.
Between healing from an axe being plunged into his stomach and waiting for Quentin, he had little energy for anything besides changing bandages and being angry on a level almost inhuman.
Margo couldn’t wait any longer and Eliot was awoken one morning after what he assumed was less than a couple hours of sleep, to find her shoving provisions into a bag and dressed in rags and cloaks.
“I can’t just sit here and wait forever for the Dark King, or whatever that dickhole’s name is, to come get us,” Margo states, pulling a bag onto her shoulder and a hood over her head, “I’m going to go find out what the fuck is wrong with time here and I think I know someone who might be able to help.”
Eliot sat up in bed and put his feet on the cold hardwood floor, trying to limit the range of movement pulling at his skin held together by thread. He stood up, walked across the room, and turned to the window, staring at nothing in particular. It was that kind of million-miles-away blank stare that looked like nothing but hid everything that sizzled below the surface, just waiting for a reason to come out. “Oh, yeah? And who might that be?”
“Jane! Jane fucking Chatwin, the same bitch who got us into this mess of being heroes and dying a million fucking times.”
Eliot stretched painfully to take off his shirt and threw it by the front door to be washed whenever he felt up to it. He snagged another shirt from his bag and strained to put each arm through, leaving the buttons undone, “It was only 39 times, well 40 in my case, but do you really think Jane has any answers? I mean, it's been three hundred years, what makes you think she is still there?”
Margo sighed. This distant and melancholy Eliot wasn’t exactly motivated to do much of anything, let alone stop an evil dictator from the future, and it left her understanding but insanely frustrated, “The Clock Barrens exist simultaneously in time as well as apart from it entirely. The laws of magic around it couldn’t even be broken by a really determined God. If she is still there, she will know how this fucking mess happened and since we are not getting anything from the locals, it’s our best chance. Let's go!" she said, gesturing towards the door.
Eliot exaggeratedly gestured back her to the bandages wrapped around his waist, "I think you might be on your own this time."
Margo frowned, “Come on El, Fillory is in ruins and we need to save it. We owe it to these people.”
Eliot turned around, his tired eyes indicating just how much sleep he wasn’t getting. He didn’t owe anything to anyone, he spent that last year being possessed and now Quentin was gone, fuck everyone else, “Last time I checked, you were the High King of Fillory, not me so it’s not my problem. But wait, you also got banished so it’s not really your problem either, but if you feel like you must then go. Go on your quest. Just don’t die.”
She grimaced, "I don't know where this shit is coming from but its not you. So, put on your big boy pants and let's hit the road."
“NO?" She pressed further.
"Yeah, I said no. I'm not going, Margo."
Margo's eyes widened. She'd never had this kind of push back from him before, and certainly never about their duty to keeping Fillory from going to shit, "Oh, I’m sorry, I thought we did things together, like ruling a magical land and attending magical shroom rituals in the woods under a full moon. I thought we had each other’s backs. I played second fucking fiddle to you when you were High King and now that it’s me and my responsibility, you can’t even be bothered?” Margo accused. She knew where Eliot was coming from but also firmly believed there was always a time to move on. When he didn’t respond she just threw up her hands and shrugged, “So what? You’re just going to sit here forever, gazing out the window, waiting for Q to come back? You told me that Hades said it was his choice. What about the potentially likely scenario that he chooses not to come back? Then what? I get that you two lived this whole other life together, but-”
Eliot seethed, seeming as though being pissed off was all he had energy for these days, “No, you don’t get it. You don’t get it at all.”
Margo sighed, “We have to do this, El. If Q were here, he would be saying the same thing.”
Eliot snapped, “WELL HE’S NOT HERE, IS HE? Look around, Margo! I don't see him anywhere, do you? No, because he's not here, he's dead until he decides not to be anymore," he took a breath but continued, "so, don’t stand there and try to tell me what Q would say as if I don’t already know! And don’t pretend that you’re on some selfless mission to free the people of Fillory when all you really want is Josh back, okay? Stop thinking that you know what’s best and stop lying to yourself and to me, its beneath you.”
“Beneath me? Its beneath me? Wow! Okay, you know what, Eliot? You can just stay here and be a weeping widow for all I care. I’m actually going to go try to do something for Fillory and who fucking knows? Maybe I’ll find some way to bring Josh back, even if it is beneath me, but you know what? At least I give a shit. I’m sure in all of your wallowing you forgot about Fen too. You never gave flying fuck about her anyway, did you? This might be news to you, Eliot, but it’s not all about you and your pain. Grow up and move on,” Margo stomped out the door before turning and yelling back into the cottage, “and I’ll have you know, no one has ever complained about being beneath me,” she said as a matter of fact and walked away, disappearing behind some trees.
Eliot let his feet drag him outside a few minutes after she left. He had thought she might come back, but when she didn’t he knew that he fucked up. He fucked up but didn’t have the energy to care that much or chase after her. He sauntered over to the edge of the mosaic and sat on a log, twirling his plumeria flower between his fingertips and he sighed, “why did I do that?”
He knew Margo loved Q and he knew that she cared about Josh and he knew that she cared about Fillory. He knew that when provoked, she could be just as hurtful as he could to the people she loved most. And most of all, he knew that she was right, even if that didn’t change his mind. Of course, saving Fillory would be number one on Quentin’s priority list, and of course he would place that above himself as he always did, but Eliot was long passed putting anything above Quentin, Fillory be damned. And he knew that was wrong of him on some level, but on every other level of his being, he couldn’t bring himself to care.
Chapter 5: there's reflection in numbers
Margo goes on a walk
Julia sits on a park bench
Alice sits at her desk
Quentin ties his shoes
Eliot can't get out of bed
Somewhere in Fillory...
Margo knew she fucked up.
The leaves of autumns gone by crunched below her feet and she thought about going back to the Cottage a few dozen times before abandoning that idea. As much as she felt sympathy for Eliot, it wasn’t in her nature to just sit around and do nothing, and it certainly was stretching her nature to apologize. Someone had fucked with her friend, her “boyfriend,” her castle, and her Fillory. No matter what it took, she would find out who it was, their weaknesses, and she would end them.
She had a long journey on foot ahead of her but having previously been banished and left to die of thirst in the desert, she was prepared. She beat those odds and she would beat these too, no matter how mountainous they seemed, what with being thrust three hundred years into the future and trying to overthrow an oppressive tyrant sitting on her throne. And if she had to do it alone then so be it.
Though, she did realize that she may have expected too much of Eliot. They had always faced whatever troubles they found themselves in together and it only just occurred to her as she stormed off that maybe Eliot was at the end of that unrelenting rope.
Maybe he just couldn’t take anymore.
These days, all of their issues were woven and tangled together in and amongst a million other issues, so while she did want to save Josh, Fen, and Fillory, she also wanted her best friend to be who he was before.
With her sights so focused on her own determination for answers, she seemed to forget in those moments, standing opposed to the person she loved and trusted more than anyone, that he had been possessed for the better half a year. She was happy when he came back, and she was happy that he apparently sorted some of his shit out, but that that joy quickly turned sour when she had to tell him that he came home to a world without Quentin.
“I really told him to move on, goddammit,” she said to herself and sighed, bringing her fingers up to her temples, making clockwise circles in frustration with her own insecurities.
However deep their friendship was, she knew it was different than what Eliot had with Quentin and had been from the start, even when they were just friends. It had never made her jealous, or maybe she never realized it made her jealous until she was standing in a cottage in the woods yelling at him about moving on from Q.
Admittedly, not her best moment.
Their first year at Brakebills was blurred together in hazy memories of drunken debauchery and endless partying, yet somehow, they still managed to pass (most of) their classes. It wasn’t until The Trials that Margo finally understood her magical acid trip companion as someone who craved love and acceptance to the very core of his being. She only ever wanted the freedom to be whoever she wanted to be, to not have to ask for permission or make herself small to fit where she wanted to be. Eliot was the only man who never demanded that from her. He wanted Margo to have a safe place to be who she was, and for the first time in so many years, she let someone into her life. She allowed him to give her that safe place to just be. And though she tried to remain stoic and uncaring, she gave that to him in return. They had a whole year and a summer together, just the two of them, and she wouldn’t have traded that for anything.
On the first day of term the next year, when Eliot came back to the Physical Kids Cottage jabbering on about some perspective incoming first year student named Quentin, some part of her knew that their us-against-the-world dynamic was going to change. What she didn't expect was how much she would love him too.
It wasn’t immediate, but sure enough, that moderately socially maladjusted nerd unknowingly weaseled his way into their lives and they welcomed him with open arms. Somehow, he fit perfectly and their hours between classes were filled with awkward hilarity and more love than she thought she'd ever know. That was before he dragged them through some of the worst shit they couldn’t have even dreamed of. And it wasn’t Q’s fault, she knew that, but she wished so badly that they all could have just been normal magicians. She wished they weren’t prophesied or volunteered to save a distant land she read about in books as a kid, to stop the Beast or die trying.
And they did die, so many times.
Still, she could never blame Quentin, and the more time they spent together, the more she understood why Eliot was so enamored with him. Was he devilishly handsome and full of mysterious charisma? No, but he was adorable and cared about everything so goddamn much, she often wondered when he might run out of space in his heart. He cared so much it was no wonder that the weight of the world swallowed him up sometimes. There was a simplistic goodness in him, not impressive but intrinsic, that touched everyone around him even if they greeted him with disdain because it highlighted what they may have lost somewhere along the way. Quentin believed in magic and he believed in her and somehow that made her believe again too. Quentin deserved to live a good life, just as much as Eliot did, and she hoped for all of their sakes that he would find his way back to them.
The world, she had noticed both on Earth and in Fillory, was noticeably heavier without him, and seeing all of the things that once lit that childlike spark in Q’s eyes now held a sharp and bitter hollowness that not even the 0.02% opium in the air could lessen the weight of. She didn’t know that she had room in her heart for anyone more than Eliot and herself, but she found Q there and it stung sharply.
Tears rarely left her eyes, but as she left the Southern Orchard and gazed upon where Chatwin’s Torrent flowed into the Burnt River with streams down her cheeks, she saw her fierce determination to save Fillory for what it was. In a sense, Eliot had been right, Margo did want to save Josh and see where their story might go, but if he hadn’t been so grief stricken, he may have also seen in her resoluteness something that even she was just now coming to realize. And to her surprise, it was for Quentin just as much as it was for herself.
“He loved this place so much, no matter how many times it broke his heart.” she thought.
But make no mistake, this was her story just as much as it was theirs. She wasn’t a supporting character, or a recurring cast member, and she refused to be reduced to such, especially in her own eyes. Margo could live with other people underestimating or devaluing her, they had been doing it her whole life, but if she devalued herself then she would truly lose everything.
It was evidently clear that she was the only one with any resolution to fix this shitshow and as far as Margo was concerned, she was the High King and she would burn down anyone who kept her from being exactly who she wanted to be.
She would also have to punch Quentin when he got back for forcing her into this moment of self-reflection.
Somewhere on Earth…
“Your wards are pretty good. It took me a while to find you,” a voice said sitting down next to her on a park bench.
Julia sighed, “Not good enough apparently. No offense, but I kind of want to be left alone,” which was true. Between trying to find her powers like Hades told her to do and being worried about Quentin down in the Underworld alone, she didn’t have the energy for useless conversations with people who only ever wanted something from her.
“Totally get that,” Marina said, putting her hands up in surrender, “But I found some information I thought you might want.”
“What information could you possibly give me that an ancient, all-knowing librarian trapped in a book couldn’t tell me?” she asked, patting her bag, stretched at the seams from holding the Binder.
Marina laughed the same sort of condescending laugh Julia remembered the Marina from her timeline laughing. As much as she wanted to move on and leave things in the past, that was kind of hard to do with the girl who you accidentally on purpose got murdered in your ruthless quest for revenge, “Well, for starters, The Binder isn’t all knowing, he just regurgitates what he already knows in never ending narrative prose, which makes him sound smarter than he actually is. I, on the other hand, am more interested in the science of magic, which historically is more reliable than men and their ideas being regarded as all-knowing. Salem, anyone?”
She made a compelling point, that to which Julia was almost interested in indulging and her curiosity was known to get the better of her, but something held her back, “Wait, why are you helping me?” Julia asked, making Marina pause after pulling a leather-bound book from her bag.
Marina blinked, “Well, you brought me to this timeline? Healed my scars with your goddess magic? Saved me from dying from The Beast aka your best friend? What a dick,” she said, then inhaling through her teeth knowing she said something wrong, “I’m sorry about him in this timeline though.”
“It’s alright,” Julia dismissed and pressed on, “but you already gave us shelter in your stolen apartment when we were in hiding after you helped us break the identity spell. I just want to know what your endgame is here. The Marina I knew wouldn’t just give out free information or favors, so color me suspicious.”
To her surprise, Marina sighed, “Look, not everyone gets a second chance at life, okay? And as I am coming to really understand it, I’m the 23 chance for Marina Andrieski, and even the 23rd version of me got a second chance thanks to you, and that is some kind of luck that might just be unquantifiable within the laws of the known universe,” she paused and looked off into the trees, watching some leaves fall to the ground, “I’m not trying to be someone else because I’m pretty fucking fantastic. But it would be ignorant to assume that if I get it wrong this time, I can just do it again. So, I’m trying to be fractionally better. Helps me sleep better at night and my girlfriend likes it when I’m merciful,” she looked at Julia and winked, “It also wouldn’t be such a bad thing to have a friend who is a goddess.”
“Oooooh, so 23rd timeline Marina Andrieski has friends, does she?” Julia teased
Marina smiled and swished her hair out of her face, “Only given very special circumstances.”
“Okay, I’ll bite,” Julia smiled and caved, “What do you know?”
Marina triumphantly grinned, “So, we may be consulting a book for this theory, but it is, in fact, my incredible critical thinking skills that will pave the road to your success,” she said flipping through the pages, written in Latin, with illustrations of Proserpina and Ceres depicting the changing of winter to spring, “Now, we all know the law of conservation of energy, that it can’t be created or destroyed, that it can only be transferred from one form to another. Magic is energy, so it works in the same way, with some variations. It can turn kinetic into potential energy between transferences, so what it turns into might not be equal to what it was but can be under the right conditions,” Marina paused, and looked at Julia before continuing, “I don’t mean to open tender wounds, but that’s why you were able to grow your power from a tiny seed, when it had been previously been fully fledge god magic.”
“I’m okay to have a clinical discussion about this, but thank you for the training wheels,” Julia noted.
She nodded and continued, “Phoenix metaphors aside, essentially God magic is much more complex than regular magician magic, since it exists and functions outside the Wellspring. It has the ability to revert back into sort of a zygote form, so to speak, when it is damaged or amputated. However, without some type of greater intervention, it still holds the sort of genetic properties assigned to it. Persephone changed it, down to its most fundamental properties, so it would belong to you. That’s why it doesn’t fit anyone else, but just like with magician magic, if it doesn’t fit it self-destructs, which is why magical transplants don’t work.”
“So…my powers exploded somewhere?” Julia asked
Marina shook her head, “No, if it did, we would all know. There are consequences when gods die, their magic included. My theory is that your magic went somewhere else.”
Julia blinked, Uh, yeah. That’s our entire dilemma here. How is this helping me?”
“I’m not done,” Marina laughed, “so, since hellfire hasn’t come raining down or the oceans haven’t risen ten feet overnight, it stands to reason that your power is sustaining itself somewhere else. It went there when it was expelled from your body. By the way, if you want me to fry Penny for that, I can.”
“Not necessary, but I appreciate it. I’m angry but we’re cool. Actually, we’re not anything. I’m not looking to fill whatever fantasy timeline 23 me was for him,” Julia shrugged. And she really wasn’t. Ultimately, we are all products of our experiences, and the Julia he knew was a different person. And while it was nice to have that kind of attention from someone again, it simply wasn’t sustainable, even without him making decisions on her behalf, but that was the last straw. He said he would stick around, but she really just wanted him to go find his own place in this timeline that wasn’t contingent upon her.
“Oh please, they fought just as much as anyone. Why do people forget all the bad shit or even just the normal shit when people die? Remembering only the incredible moments is dishonest. It’s a fucking lie, it’s ridiculous,” Marian fumed, and Julia agreed but gestured Marina to continue, “Right, back to more important things. So, based on what I know, the only logical conclusion is that your powers are existing somewhere that is a part of you, but apart from you.”
“What does that mean?”
Marina sighed, “Not sure really, but the only way it can be sustaining itself it to be attached to something with your magical genetic makeup?”
“I haven’t birthed a child anywhere…” Julia blanked
“No, no, not like a genetic makeup in the way we think of it. The term in this context is much less specific. Basically, it means anything living on its own because of your magic. Something that, with your intervention, now thrives but on a scale capable enough of holding your power until it finds its way back to you. Anything like that out there?” Marina asked Julia, inquisitively.
Julia thought for a moment, twisting the ends of her hair around her finger, staring at the illustrations in Marina’s book. She hadn’t really thought back on her time as a goddess until now and she performed many ‘miracles’ for people all over this world and many other worlds. But those had been regular human children for the most part, nothing capable of holding god magic within their being. Maybe it wasn’t a person though, maybe it was something else.
After a few minutes, when raindrops began to sprinkle from overhead, Julia said, “I think I may have an idea.”
Somewhere in the Neitherlands…
With ambient magic released and flowing freely, the Neitherlands branch of the Library was cleaned up in record time. Alice and Zelda were streamlining plans to reopen the other branches on Earth, open to all Magicians including Hedge Witches.
“Kady, can I talk to you in my office, please?” Alice called out to her from down the hall while she was smoking with Harriet.
Harriet and Zelda had more or less patched things up after Everett’s demise, Zelda finally admitting that the Library could run better and more inclusively. For so long, Zelda believed in Everett’s ideas of elitism and higher magical education being reserved for only classically trained magicians. He took her under his wing, so who was she to argue with the man who saved her life. Her daughter, on the other hand, may not have known exactly what Everett was planning, but she never trusted him and eventually couldn’t stand idly by while her mother blindly followed his every word, so she left.
Alice and Zelda were still at an impasse with Harriet in regard to the texts in the Poison Room, but they had shelved that argument for another time, so they could spend their energy reframing the Library’s infrastructure as an institution of accessible knowledge rather than a tyrannical prison.
Kady rolled her eyes to Harriet, who thought Kady was very funny, but signed for her to follow Alice just to see she wanted. Kady got up from the bench where they sat and made her way down the hall.
“And what can I help you with, your majesty?” Kady said bowing humorously. Their dynamic had been like this for week, but Alice was just thankful Kady was no longer punching her.
She handed Kady a certificate and a pin, “Since you have been doing so much work in helping us, I wanted to make it official and declare you a fellow member of the Order of the Library of the Neitherlands.”
Kady pursed her lips, “Yeah, no thanks. I’m just here to make sure you all don’t fuck this up again.”
“At this point, it’s just a formality. In the future, it will grant you your rightful place at the table for all major Library decisions going forward,” Alice stated, handing over the frame and pin to Kady who took them apprehensively, “And I wanted to say thank you for all that you’ve done here. We all know I couldn’t do this alone but--”
“Eh, that’s not entirely true. Zelda wanted you to do this yourself. You were the one who decided to bring in the people you trusted to disagree with you and challenge you at every turn. That takes guts and I guess that kind of makes me hate you a little less,” a look spread across Kady’s face that, if Alice didn’t know any better, was almost a smile
Alice laughed, “Well thanks I guess,” she did appreciate that compliment coming from Kady, even if it was dressed in her usual dismissive sarcasm.
Kady nodded and turned to walk out of the room, “Oh wait, one more thing. I had an idea that I haven’t brought up to Zelda yet, but I wanted your opinion on. What if, in each of our Library branches on Earth, we had classes. Maybe like a community college of sorts, so hedges can gain new skills safely. I want to lessen causalities of back alley and internet magic.”
“How would people apply to get into these schools? Would they have to pay for these courses?” Kady asked, keeping her promise to question every plan Alice had, in depth. Even good ideas can and will turn sour if not planned properly or not accessible.
Alice tapped her pen against the palm of her other hand, “I wasn’t suggesting charging a fee, they would be open to anyone with magical aptitude on any level. I was also thinking, though we would need to coordinate some serious changes with Dean Fogg, that if students complete a certain number of courses, then maybe they could enter the graduate program at Brakebills."
"You really are trying to shake up the whole thing, aren’t you? Just etch-e-sketch erase all of the rules?”
Alice placed her hands on her hips, “Maybe I am. As they are, the rules are shit and don’t benefit nearly enough people.”
“Well, we certainly agree on that.” Kady smiled.
"I have seen what Hedges can do and I know that Brakebills would benefit from their skills. There are so many talents that haven’t been accepted in and that needs to change. No age limit either, Sheila is so talented, and I bet there are more people out there like her that could do so much good in the world if only they had proper training.”
Kady waited, then nodded, "I wish something like that had been around for my mom. She spent her life chasing back alley magic. It wasted my childhood, got me pawned off on distant relatives, and then got her killed."
"I know. I am sorry for your loss," Alice said sadly and Kady brushed it off as though it no longer hurt her. Alice knew it was a sore spot and decided to continue, "That's why I'm trying to do something to avoid more loss in the future. I've seen what it does to people, I have felt that desperation for magic, and it kills people slowly or in an explosion. I’ll need to coordinate with you and Fogg for a list of potential teachers who would be willing to teach hedges at these branches for a decent wage.” Alice noted down on her legal pad, scrawled all over with inks from various pens.
“A paid gig? I can have a list of twenty competent Hedges on your desk by the end of the day,” Kady laughed and turned to leave the room, while Alice called Zelda on the intercom to let her know about her plan. “And Alice?”
“Yeah?” she asked, a little excited and disheveled, putting her hair up in a bun.
Kady took a breath, deciding whether or not she should say what she was thinking or shake it off with a never mind, but instead she just said it, “I think this is a good idea...if we can pull it off that is. And I really think that Quentin would be very proud of you.”
The comment caught her off guard. She thought for a second, sitting in her chair and looking around at the shelves around her and all the people bustling outside her office door over Kady’s shoulder. She was proud of herself for all that she had done, but she certainly didn’t let herself steep in that ego trip for long, because whenever she did that in the past, bad things always followed. She often needed to see her actions through someone else’s eyes to know if it was a good or bad thing, and that someone was usually Quentin. They didn’t always see eye to eye, and so much had happened that strained their relationship, but she still wanted to believe in goodness, even if she couldn’t identify it in herself.
She was fixing the Library because it needed to be fixed, but also to convince herself that goodness still existed in herself. She also did it for Q. She was fixing the things she knew he believed were wrong and it was easier to acknowledge those things with Kady around ready to fight her at every turn.
Alice didn’t get the chance to apologize to him on this side of her growing and trying to be a better person, and she never properly thanked him for her second chance at life mostly because she was on the fence about it, herself. She wanted fixing the things she could to be her apology, and she poured everything she had into it.
Later that day, she managed to sneak past everyone celebrating the Library finally being functional again and popping champagne. Even though it was a tremendous victory to have the Library up and running so soon after everything went to shit, she still could not find it within herself to be in a celebratory mood. She meandered in the shelves for a while and she didn’t know where she was going until she got to the shelves of their books, Eliot’s next to her book, with Quentin’s space bare. She looked on all the surrounding shelves, but couldn’t find it until she backed up to get a clearer view of the higher shelves and ran into a cart that said ‘to the Poison Room’ on it. she rubbed her leg in pain and caught a glimpse of a forest green cover buried under several copies of forbidden spell books and dangerous configurations that could cause an ice age or stop time all together.
Why were they sending Q’s book to the Poison Room?
There weren’t supposed to be any further articles going to the Poison Room without the approval of Zelda, Harriet, Sheila, Kady, and herself. Alice looked around to see if anyone was watching but she only heard the distance tones of an old jazz record spinning on a record player and the other Librarians laughing and pouring more drinks. With the coast clear, she magicked a simple cloaking spell on another book, tucked Quentin’s book under her arm, and stepped silently back to her office.
Somewhere in the Underworld...
Quentin kept walking. His golden light shining off into the distance showing him the way, and a bow and quiver in tow, he kept walking. The air around him had gotten colder and at it set all of his nerves alight, now startlingly aware of every tiny movement around him.
The sky didn’t have a change from night to day, it was more like an eternal dusk with just enough light to see ahead of you, but not enough to make it far without the willpower to do so. He found himself wonder where, out in all of that pain and misery, did Arielle find herself waiting all this time and would still be for the foreseeable future. And there was nothing he could do to bring her with him.
Quentin tripped suddenly looked down at his feet with his shoelace untied, which deeply confused him. He was dead and technically had no body, so he also technically had no shoes. So, why was this manifestation of a shoe untied and why was it possible to trip over. He decided not to contemplate it further, knowing that trying to compartmentalize all of the ins and outs of the Underworld might just drive him insane.
He found upon a clearing and stopped to tie his shoe.
Footsteps crunched behind him as he pulled one loop through the other, and he drew an arrow through his bow immediately.
“Woah, Dad. You’re going to hurt yourself with that thing,” Teddy said, appearing to him the same young man he was when he left home for the first time.
“Teddy?” he questioned, but keeping his weapon raised heeding Arielle’s warning.
His son smiled at him, “Yep, I came out here to find you after Mom told me you were here. It’s good to see you. Looks like you’re on your way and I'm not trying to stop you but Grandpa really wants to see you before you leave.”
Quentin lowered his bow, “He does?”
Quentin hadn’t allowed himself to think about his dad because when he did, his heart ached. He blamed himself not only for his father’s death, but also for not being there for his funeral. To think that his dad was buried with no one around who cared about him broke Quentin’s heart.
His dad was the one person that Q never doubted always loved him, even if he didn’t always know how to show it. When his parents split up, he made the choice to live with his dad, even though he still had to go visit his mom and her new wife for a few weeks every summer and listen to her tell him he broke everything he touched. While his dad did express frustration with him at times, it was always quickly overshadowed in his apologies for his lack of patience and unwavering support for whatever Quentin wanted to do. So, when Quentin had told him magic was real, it came as no surprise to Ted since he had seen it in his son’s eyes for since he was little.
“He does?” Quentin chocked up.
Teddy smiled at him, unblinking, “Of course. He loves you so much and says you have so much to talk about, things he didn't get a chance to say to you.”
Suddenly, being able to sit with his son and his father was the only things that Quentin wanted. He walked towards Teddy and hugged him tightly. The hug was prickly but Quentin barely noticed and didn’t mind.
“Alright, let’s go,” Quentin sighed, pulling away from Teddy and walking a few feet ahead of him, lacking a direction and gesturing for Teddy to take the lead.
The sky got a little darker for some reason. “Okay,” Teddy said, gesturing to the woods behind him, holding out his hand for his father, “Let’s go. Mom will be there, and then the whole family will be together again.
Quentin did a double take, “But I just saw your mom. And it's not going to be the whole family, Teddy. You know that?”
“What do you mean? Everyone who matters to me will be there,” he asked quizzically.
Then Quentin remembered.
“No. Eliot matters to you, Teddy. And he’s not here. The whole family won’t be there," he stated while doing the arrow spell Penny taught him behind his back. "You're not real."
To his horror, Teddy’s eyes turned yellow and his body twisted into a demon-like creature that was suddenly charging at him.
He shot the monster. The black dust coated the ground in front of him before it disappeared completely.
The real Teddy did not show and Quentin was left standing among the twisted trees, the golden light dimly lighting his way and slowly flickering out.
Somewhere else in Fillory…
A few days after Margo left, Eliot woke in the Cottage to a chill in the air and sunlight streaming through the windows.
It was the kind of morning that, a lifetime ago, would have either Quentin or Eliot slipping quietly out of bed to start a fire in the hearth and putting the kettle on before climbing back into bed next to the other.
They did that more after Teddy set out on his own, just spent mornings in bed with tea, reading the same 4 books over and over, but it started in the early days at the Mosaic, and while Quentin was quite the prolific reader, there was a certain intimacy to being read to that he enjoyed more than anything. And Eliot’s favorite mornings were spent reading aloud, waiting for his tea to cool enough to drink, and running his fingers through Quentin’s hair.
“Do you think we will ever get more books? Even I’m starting to get sick of The Girl Who Told Time” Quentin asked him one morning, about 3 years into their quest, “Our vague guest appearance isn’t even exciting enough anymore. Not to mention the moral conundrum I find myself in every time we read it.”
Eliot nodded, shutting the book, and trailing his hand from Quentin’s hair down his back and back up again, “We could always try to find a way to the Neitherlands and steal some Library books. Maybe their defenses are weaker in the 19th century.”
“It’s the 19th century on Earth, but I think the Library exists in some kind of weird liminal space. I mean the Neitherlands never change, so I doubt it would be much different from the Library we remember.” Quentin shrugged, not thinking their thieving efforts would amount to much, “Also, what is it you keep telling me?" Quentin rose to his elbows to be face to face with Eliot,“We could be done tomorrow for all you know,” he mimicked, “So we could be back home with my own library soon enough.”
“Mmm true, we could be done tomorrow,” Eliot mused, leaning down just slightly to gently kiss Quentin, who then hums contentedly and rested his head on Eliot’s chest.
Eliot missed his old life, so desperately. He missed the booze, the parties, the excitement, his Bambi, modern amenities, all of it. But…there was also something about this life he wasn’t ready to say goodbye to yet, and it didn’t take a genius to guess what that could be.
He didn’t know what would happen if they went back now. Would they still spend their quiet mornings like this? Would Quentin still want Eliot to read to him? Would they still be like this? Would they even be together at all?
It would take another few years, after Arielle had joined the picture, for Eliot to be entirely honest and communicate to Quentin out loud to the level in which he loved him. To no one’s surprise, it was all encompassing and complete.
“Well geez, maybe next time tell me before I marry someone else,” Quentin laughed, lying naked in bed with Eliot one slow morning. His hair was longer and his laughter lines around his eyes had become more pronounced in the years that had passed.
Eliot laughed too, shaking off the nerves he had, and rolling over onto his side to rest one hand on the side of Quentin’s neck, rubbing his thumb back and forth, “Oh, I don’t know. I think it all worked out pretty well.”
Quentin’s laughing faded out and all his features softened as he brought on hand up to graze his fingertips along Eliot’s jawline. It was quiet, simple moments like this that cemented what they were really here to do and filled in the design of a beautiful life.
“Did you ever imagine, back in our old lives, that we’d be here?” Q asked
Eliot slightly smiled, “In a cottage in the woods of a magical land with no indoor plumbing?”
“Okay, the plumbing is a work in progress,” Quentin laughed, “and no, I mean us, together? Did you ever think…”
Truth be told, of course Eliot did. If he was really honest with himself, he was one of the biggest hopeless romantics in the entire universe, that part of him was just hidden behind magical cocktail mixology and lubrication spells in 8 different ancient languages. After Quentin passed his entrance exam into Brakebills, the seemingly unlikely prospect of them falling in love was all he could think about, even while he watched Q obsess over Alice Quinn for months. He likes to think he played it cool, though.
Margo often asked Eliot what was so special about Q and he hoped that one day, if they ever got back to their old lives, he would get the chance to tell her just how special he was. But Eliot grinned anyway, “Maybe I did.”
That’s just what Quentin wanted to hear.
The front door flew open an hour later, “Peaches and plums, anyone?” Arielle called into the house.
“Yeah, just one second, love!” Q sat up and yelled, leaning back down to kiss Eliot deeply, then sliding out of bed, pulling on his shorts from the floor.
“Ah, seems everyone is indecent then,” Arielle laughed as she entered the room, giving Quentin a kiss on the cheek and taking off her apron.
Quentin pulled his shirt over his head and fed his arms through the sleeves, “Hey, babe? Did you know that Eliot loves me? Like a lot?”
Arielle faked a dramatic gasp, “WHAT? I have never heard such a thing! Has he been trying to steal my husband away this whole time with his cooking and sexual expertise? Whatever will I do now?” she wailed, throwing the back of her hand up to her forehead and then laughing.
“What can I say,” Eliot chuckled and gestured a shrug, “He’s pretty irresistible and you can’t blame me for trying.”
“That’s true,” Arielle laughed, pulling her hair back in a ponytail and walking over to the side of the bed to give Eliot a kiss on the cheek too, “Now, it’s time to get up.”
“I thought I already did that,” he joked.
“Ha-ha, hilarious. Come on, that puzzle isn’t going to solve itself,” she smiled and walked out of the room.
Sure, Eliot could have hidden Q away all to himself when Arielle first showed up selling fruit, but Eliot loved her too and she was good for them, and they were good for her in return. They all loved each other endlessly, though none of them would truly understand what that meant until the next spring when Teddy arrived.
That’s what this morning reminded Eliot of. The hollow silence of the Cottage and the empty spaces between his fingers and absence of his family only highlighted for him that those memories were a lifetime ago.
He didn’t make it out of bed that day.
Eliot was stirred the next day, almost evening, by a knock at the front door which was odd seeing as how none of the nearby villagers would come close to the mosaic for fear of being persecuted by the Dark King for practicing magic, and Eliot had put up pretty advance cloaking spells around the property, just in case anyone did come around.
The knocking at the door had him stumbling across the floor with a flimsy defense spell behind his back. He opened the door ready to fire it off, but the striking blonde hair let him know right away that he couldn’t have imagined who he would be seeing at his front door.
“Alice? What are you doing here?” Eliot asked blankly.
”I think we need to talk.”
Please leave kudos if you enjoyed this chapter. If you have time, please leave a comment letting me know what you liked and what you didn’t like so much. Would love to have a discussion about it. Thanks for reading! <3
Chapter 6: crossroads of the mind
Margo steals some fruit
Alice and Eliot have chat
Fen and Josh get drunk
Julia goes on her own quest
Some Teds talk to Quentin
Somewhere in Fillory…
Much to her surprise, Margo’s taxing saunter through the desert was preferable to her trek to The Clock Barrens. Though she may have been incredibly dehydrated and hopeless, at least then she had a hallucination to talk to. Lonely wasn’t a feeling that Margo found herself having often, but when she did, it snuck up on her psyche until she felt like the only person in the world and wishing she had a someone, like hallucination of Eliot, to talk to.
Her journey took her longer than she anticipated. She sought shelter with a few families and asked them about the Dark King, hoping to get information, but they all clammed up with the same rehearsed script she had heard with Eliot when they first got back to Fillory. No one had ever seen the Dark King’s face or ever seen them leave Whitespire. Her presence started to cause some panic in the villages she visited so she decided to remain hidden until she spoke to Jane.
After, what she assumed was a few days of getting turned around and lost, Margo stumbled exhaustedly out of the Darkling Woods and took a break on a large fallen tree that laid across her path. She noticed soft lantern light over the hill from where she sat, got up, and proceeded with caution towards the light that she hoped meant people, which she hoped meant food.
It was a small village on the edge of the woods, and she stayed under cover of brush as she passed through. Using simple illusion magic to blend in, and sleight of hand to discreetly pocket food from some market tables, Margo left with her cloaks full of fruit and bread. She didn’t know what the rate of inflation was but she knew there was no way it should be that expensive to buy some fruit. She would pay back what she took once they got back into Whitespire and took back their thrones, and she would also need to fix whatever economic crisis Fillory had found itself in during her apparent three-hundred-year absence.
The fungi growing in rings on the ground told her that she had reached her destination. The larger circle in the middle had the strongest protective wards known to any magician in any world. She had been allowed access before, so she regained her determination to stomp through the barriers into the clearing where Jane Chatwin stood humming with her gardening shears, “Hey, Jane,” she said, a bit winded.
“Oh, Margo! Thank the gods,” Jane exclaimed, pocketing her shears and stepped away from pruning her plants, "you took your sweet time, didn't you?"
“Look, I have had my fill of long walks for the next century and frankly I don’t have the patience right now for witty quips, so can you just tell me who the fuck this Dark King asshole is and if you know where Fen and Josh are?”
“Well, I was just about to suggest, or plead rather, that you take these annoyances off my hands,” She waved her hand off into the distance, seeming to pull both Josh and Fen out of nowhere, “they have not ceased talking since they got here and their frantic worries are given me a migraine, which is quite an accomplishment on their part because I am dead! I had to use a considerable amount of magic to create a separate time pocket for them just to get some peace and quiet.”
“Yeah, that sounds about right,” Margo admitted and shrugged.
Fen and Josh gasped, suddenly were aware of her presence, “MARGO!” they both ran to her and each too hold of one arm, Margo left reluctantly sandwiched between two of the most melodramatic people she had ever met.
“We didn’t know if you would come back!” Fen said, “The Dark King’s men rode in on horseback and laid siege to the castle, we had to escape using a secret tunnel underneath the library. It led all the way to the Wormwood and then we made our way here to ask Jane if she knew anything about who could do something like this and how we could defeat them,” Fen quieted to a whisper, “she has been less than cooperative.”
“I heard that…” Jane said, annoyed and hoping to return to her quiet solitude, “and I told you both a million times before, I don’t know anything about the Dark King, as you so call them. Their cloaking magic is unlike anything I’ve ever seen and as such is outside of my area of expertise.”
Margo sighed, “So, you really don’t know anything? Nothing about how to stop this or return Fillory to the way it was? Or even why this is happening?”
Jane pursed her lips, “I’m sorry, Margo, but this might be one mystery that can’t be solved by manipulating time.”
Margo pushed Fen away from clinging to her arms and took a step closer to Jane, “Then what the fuck am I supposed to do? My kingdom is being ruled by a tyrannical overlord, like the fucking eye of Sauron or some shit, and you can’t even see what he’s up to. So, pray tell, what am I supposed to do here?”
“Remember what I told you Margo; your story is yours. You have all you need to solve your problems. You may feel all alone, but you’re not.”
She sighed, “I get it, Jane. But honestly, I don’t think that sentiment is really going to help this time. The circumstances are much more complicated, in case you hadn’t realized that while you sit here in your time pocket of all moments at once.
Jane nodded, “Alright then, even without my full sight to help you, I think you might need to request the council of beings stronger and more powerful than I. After all, I am but a humble magician albeit with a slight power boost,” she remarked, waving her pocket watch with a familiar key on the chain next to it, “There are those out there with more resources than I and they should be arriving shortly. You know them and you’ll need them since it appears as though you and your friends might have an inviolable adversary this time,” she shrugged, not confident that her charges could beat the odds against a threat that even she couldn’t see coming.
“Well, we’ll see about that,” Margo stated, determined all the same. She turned back to Josh and Fen and said, “You guys go ahead, you have overstayed your welcome by about three hundred years.”
“Come again?” Josh questioned as Fen nodded and lead him out of Jane’s realm by the elbow.
Margo sighed and turned to face Jane again.
"Something else you needed, Margo?" she questioned.
"I just...I need to know...is Q..." Margo sighed, closing her eyes for a moment to regain her bearings before opening them again to stare Jane down, "is Quentin going to make it home? If he's not can you please just tell me. I can handle it if I have to and then I can prepare Eliot for that possibility but this waiting...I can't...so please, just tell me."
The sight of Margo's eyes welled up with tears tugged at Jane's deepest sympathies. She'd seen all their deaths so many times but it never got easier, "If it were up to me, Margo, he would have been right back where he started as soon as he left. Unfortunately, this time Quentin's fate is out of my hands. I can only see the outcomes of decisions made and it changes all the time, like the tide. I cannot see what happens until he decides. I'm sorry, Margo."
With her hands balled into fists on her hips, she looked down and shook her head, trying not to disclose how upset she truly was to Jane, "No, I understand. That's fine," she wiped her cheek on her sleeve, "But just so you know, those rules are fucking bullshit."
"I absolutely agree, but it stands as so," Jane said sadly, "if our little tomato makes it back, I will be happier than you know. So many things in this world depend on him. I would hate to see what this world would become without him."
"Me too...me too," Margo replied, leaving Jane's realm and dwelling on a version of this reality where she might have to live without one of her best friends and tell the other that he isn't coming back.
Josh and Fen stood on the path waiting for her. Margo walked up to them as Fen fixed Josh's unkempt hair, and pulled her hand away as if Margo had interrupted something. After her conversation with Jane, she couldn't be bothered to care.
"Are you okay, Margo?" Fen asked her when she saw Margo coming up the path, wiping her under her eyes.
Margo roughly finished wiping away her tears and said shortly, "I'm fine. Let's just get the fuck out of here." Thankfully both Josh and Fen had changed into rags in order to escape Whitespire and no one looked at them twice as Margo led them back through the nearest village, “I don’t understand how that much time could have passed. We were only camping with Jane for a few days...” Fen said
“One of life’s many whimsical fucking mysteries, like we needed more of those,” Margo groaned as she walked past a table and snagged up two bottles of Fillorian wine from a vendor, “We’ll need this when we get back to where we are squatting. Not only are times stressful as hell, but the company is also less than enthusiastic." she sighed, deciding to explain further, "it’s just a little peace offering for Eliot.”
“Eliot is alive?! Thank the heavens above,” Fen exclaimed as they were entering the thick of the Darkling Woods, “Oh, no Margo, let me go ahead of you, you’re going to get us lost.” Fen took her place ahead of Josh and Margo on the path, seeming to count her footsteps, “So, how is he?”
“He’s…um...” she sighed but decided to be honest, “not good. He’s not good, Fen. He took an axe to the gut, my fault, and Quentin is dead. So, yeah, he’s in rough shape. More like bent so far out of shape, he is almost beyond recognition.”
“Wait, what do you mean Quentin’s dead. I just saw him. We had cake!” Josh lightly brushed her arm, hoping she would turn around and look them in the eyes to deliver that news. Josh learned a long time ago not to be so presumptuous in assuming any of them were his friends, but he knew that Quentin was at the heart of it all and the only reason why any of them came together in the first place.
She violently shrugged her shoulders up and down, “He’s dead, Josh. Q died when he opened the Seam to get rid of the Monsters and Everett went with them. He got caught in the crossfire, which he may or may not have done on purpose, so the rest of us just get to sit with that horrific possibility. Uber-23 and Alice were there and they didn’t come back with him. Said he exploded in some evil fucking soul-eating dust or some shit. I don’t know. What I do know is that he is dead. He’s dead and he was my best friend so that really fucking sucks. Meanwhile, my other best friend, who was in love with him, is an absolute fucking wreck,” she exhaled, “Sorry, Fen, I didn’t mean –”
“Oh, Margo, I’m not that dense. I already know that Eliot is in love with Quentin. It’s ridiculously obvious. And I know our marriage was an arrangement, but that doesn’t mean I’m stupid for caring about him. And I’m really sorry about Quentin,” she put her hand on Margo’s shoulder, “We never got to spend much time together but I know he was incredibly important to you, to both of you, I’m sorry Margo.”
Margo put her own hand over Fen’s, “Thanks. It fucking sucks, but I’m doing alright considering. Granted, I have been a little distracted trying to find you two to really notice just how much it all fucking hurts. Not to mention, Eliot and I had a fight before I left and we both said things we didn’t mean. I just want to fix it. I want to fix everything so we’re all okay.”
“I think it has been made painfully and repeatedly obvious that we will never all be okay,” Josh pointed out
Margo squinted her eyes in thought and tilted her head in contemplation, “good fucking point.”
“What is it that you always say?” Fen asked, “It’s just the universe deep-dicking us?”
Margo laughed for the first time in weeks and she felt just a little fraction of her tension fall away, “yeah, but there isn’t any room for enjoying it this time. It’s all just a steaming hot pile of shit, but at least Q is on his way home, so hopefully this whole trend of absolute suck turns itself around soon.”
Fen and Josh both stopped walking and looked at each other, “what do you mean Quentin is on his way home? He’s dead.”
“Ah well, you know what they say, when a God orders you a special one-time offer to return earth side, you take it. Especially if you have a jilted husband from another timeline left here broken hearted like a wartime widow.” Margo said, kicking a stone up the path and kicking it again when her foot met it again.
“I am so confused. What are we even talking about right now,” Josh asked, clearly lacking context for all that had transpired.
Margo sighed, “buckle in, kids, its story time.”
Somewhere Else in Fillory…
While most things in life fell into a basic pattern of predictability that Eliot found incredibly dull. However, there were still a few things that suspended him in a state of utter shock and surprise. Falling in love with Quentin hadn’t so much been a shock to him, but actually understanding what that meant was something else entirely; the level to which he had found himself enthralled in adoration spanning decades was astounding and cosmically unforgettable.
Finding a best friend in Margo was actually a little more surprising for him, in the sense that he never thought he would find someone that complimented both his carefully crafted persona and who he truly was quite the way she did. Soulmate was not too far a stretch away from describing what they meant to each other, yet words would always fail to describe just how much he missed her over the years while they were in Fillory. When he remembered those last few years, when his memories of Margo became fuzzy, he felt his heart break all over again. There was nothing he could want more than to have Quentin and Margo in his life at the same time.
Becoming the High King of a magical land only heard of in kid’s books he never bothered to read was again a step up on his barometer of being surprised. It didn’t make him believe in destiny nor he didn’t love the weight of responsibility or the fidelity spell, but the pomp and circumstance was always his cup of tea. When he became High King of Fillory, it made him finally believe that he was meant to do something more with his life than drink and party until his liver inevitably gave out.
Still, of all the grand surprising moments and as much as Eliot was a gambling man, he never would have bet a cent on Alice Quinn showing up at the cottage door.
Apart from the moment in the park, with all of his sights hyper-focused on Quentin, Eliot hadn’t really been face to face with Alice since they were at Castle Blackspire when she had fucked up the whole universe (but in hindsight, he also did to a certain degree) and then that awful memorial bon fire after he was freed of the Monster. That, of course, was when she told him exactly how Quentin died and that they had rekindled their nuclear relationship just days before they all lost him to the mirror realm.
Needless to say, Eliot wasn’t in the mood for pleasantries, “What are you doing here, Alice? We don’t have anything to talk about.”
She looked away, awkwardly and kicked at the dirt a little with her shoe, “I think we do, but I also just wanted to check and see how you’re doing.”
“Oh, just swell. You know? I’ve never been better,” Eliot scoffed. It was the kind of thing that people said to someone who so obviously wasn’t okay, when they felt they needed to say something, but didn’t have anything to say. He had little patience for it.
Alice shuffled uncomfortably, “I get that it’s a little awkward coming from me, but I really do just want to make sure you’re okay. After everything, it would be understandable if you weren’t and –”
“No offense, Alice,” he held up a finger to stop her, “but you might actually be the last person I would want to discuss this with,” he stated plainly, turning back into the house.
“Sure. Who would find that offensive?” she shrugged, “But, I know why you feel that way. While I can’t imagine what being possessed feels like, I get what you are going through on at least some level.”
Eliot exhaled, almost amazed at her arrogance, while his own possessive arrogance stood there being short with her, “You don’t get it. Why does everyone think they get it? It’s not something any of you get because none of you know and I’m not going to talk about this with y--”
His train of thought was completely derailed when she took a green-covered book out from underneath her coat.
“I know, Eliot. Okay? I know and it’s okay,” she said, holding the book out to him, “It took me a while to see what has been there this whole time but I get it,” she tried to hand it to him, “it was particularly obvious this last year, but I think I just didn’t want to see it. There is just something about the written word that has a certain indisputable candor to it, don’t you think?”
He hesitantly took Quentin’s book from her shaky hands. He remembered back to the library, when he almost got everyone killed. He remembered holding Mike’s book and how thin it had been, his life the lacking years to fill in more pages before it was cut short by his own hand. Quentin’s book, on the other hand, was the opposite of that.
He understood, while holding the weight of it in his hands, that he really was holding the weight of a life and all of Q’s stories. Essentially two lifetimes, bound in a moss green cover, and he finally knew what Zelda had meant when she said it was precious.
He looked up to Alice, then back down to the book and walked around her out the door. He placed it on the wooden table outside and the sun shone overhead, everything glaring in Eliot’s eyes after spending days upon days indoors with the curtains drawn and under the covers.
He sat down and just stared at it while Alice sat down opposite him, “What do you want me to say?” he asked but did not look at her.
“Nothing, I just want to be here for you. You’re miserable and we both know that he wouldn’t want that for you,” Alice stated as a matter of fact. Eliot shrugged, not because he thought she wasn’t right, he knew she was, but because he felt his own mental wellbeing paled in comparison to the love of his life marching through the valley of death to come home.
After a moment of silence between the two, Alice sighed and fessed up, “Look, after I was called away to the Library, I was a wreck. I was lonely and I suddenly had all this responsibility, I just felt so lost. Everyone else was thrilled that things were finally running somewhat smoothly and I don't know, I was missing Quentin maybe, and I guess I thought reading his book would make me feel better, if you can believe that. But it wasn’t on the shelf, it was on a cart to be sent to the poison room. I didn’t authorize it and no articles are supposed to be sent there until I do a complete catalog so we can determine what texts are truly dangerous. I know for a fact there is no reason for this to go there, so I smuggled it out of the Library.”
"Isn't that against the super important laws of the Library?" he questioned sarcastically.
She smiled but replied, "actually yes. Very much so, and this is a book of life so yeah, I would essentially be burned at the stake."
He couldn't really tell if she was joking or not, but a more worrying thought crossed his mind, “Did you –” Eliot began to ask her but was interrupted.
“Yes. I read it, all of it,” Alice said and placed a hand on Eliot’s across the table, “I just need time to figure out what is going on in the Library and find out who is going against my orders, but I won’t risk his book being lost in the process. And when I read it, I realized there would be no safer place to keep it than here…with you.”
She trusted him with something so sacred to the, albeit corrupt, organization she swore her allegiance to and she trusted him to keep it safe.
Alice had read Quentin’s book and now she knew everything. Upon realizing that, Eliot’s eyes widened as if a secret he had never meant to tell was suddenly released to the one person he thought it would hurt the most. Even though they had long missed the mark to be friends, he cared about hurting people and that included Alice.
“You know what it’s like to be loved by Quentin, better than anyone,” she said but Eliot opened his mouth to object, she held up a finger to stop him, “Of course, better me. But I know enough to tell the difference between it being real or just another way for him to run away from something. That’s what it was, even if I didn’t want to see it,” Alice sighed exhaustedly, “He tried, day and night, for months to save you, but I’d be lying if I said he didn’t lose hope a time or two. He loves you so much, Eliot, but he had to look at you every day when it wasn’t you. And he watched the Monster do horrible, horrible things” she shook her head.
She was there, trying to help, watching Quentin fall apart day after day and was practically powerless to do anything about it, “After he time travelled back to when we were at Brakebills South – when he wanted to us to be together again, I knew..." she sighed looking down at her feet. She blew the hair out of her face when she looked up again to look Eliot in the eye, "I knew that he was just tired and scared. I was tired and scared too, but mostly the world had gone to shit and I fucked everything up and I just wanted to feel something safe and familiar. I let it happen because I was running away just as much as he was. I think I still am to some degree...”
Eliot tried his best to shake off the sudden realization that Quentin spent so much time with the Monster while it paraded around in his body. He had drowned time and time again in his own grief that it mostly slipped his mind. It was easy to be self-centered when confronted with such pain. It’s harder to think about what the other person, who isn’t here anymore, felt in those final months and moments. Maybe it would explain why what happened, happened. It took everything in his power to swallow that haunting feeling it was the fallout from his impulsive decisions that drove Q over the edge, “So, what are you saying, Alice?”
“I’m saying if you’re hurting as badly as I think you’re hurting, you need to let it out. Don’t worry about my feelings in this situation and don't be afraid of it. You have to let it out or you'll drown in it,” she assured him, watching the man sat across from her slowly lose the composed façade he constructed. She flipped to one of the back pages, filling itself in passed where the text read and so ends the tale of Quentin Coldwater. The charcoal ink was filling in Quentin getting onto Charon’s boat, and Alice pointed to where the text stated that he paid the toll, “It’s already set in motion. Quentin is going to come home but that doesn’t make the overwhelming hurt of his loss go away. It doesn’t make watching him die leave my mind when I try to sleep at night. It’s still so incredibly painful, but we all have another chance to care for him better than we did before. Who gets a chance like that?” she questioned and sighed, “And I know you lied before to protect him or whatever, but when he does come back, you need to tell him the truth, Eliot.”
“You think I don’t know that?” he scoffed, “Jesus Christ, what do you people think I was doing locked inside my brain for all those months? For just that one moment of control over the Monster in the park, I had to face my deepest shame and regret. And I mean really face it, understand it, challenge it - the whole deal. And out of every bad thing I have ever done, can you guess which one took the cake?” he paused. It was true, rejecting Quentin was the single most selfish thing that he had ever done. It was the one thing he had done that led to consequences on a universal destructive level, and for all intents and purposes, Alice understood the consequences of such choices with those repercussions, “You think I don’t know I fucked up? You don’t think I look back, every minute of every day, thinking that maybe if I had said yes, when he asked me if we could do the whole things again, that maybe we wouldn’t be here right now? That we wouldn't be having this conversation? That he would still be here?”
He hastily got up and started pacing back and forth, almost performing his pain and regrets, “Imagine this, let’s say, for shits and giggles, that maybe I don’t reject him because I’m too much of a coward to love him? Yeah? And maybe I don’t let him go on that boat quest alone that only drove him to closer to the pit. Then, maybe he doesn’t decide to take the knight’s place and stay in Castle Blackspire forever, maybe I don’t get possessed trying to save him from that fate, maybe he doesn’t run himself into the ground trying to save me, and maybe just maybe, he’s still here today. Maybe we figure out how to stop the Dark King together, or maybe we just say fuck Fillory and go back to earth,” he inhaled and continued, “He’d probably be a teacher or something equally admirable and under appreciated. I’d probably be an extraordinary award-winning party planner, which is not at all admirable. Maybe we stop going on these insane fucking quests, maybe we just do party trick magic, or maybe we give up magic altogether and settle down with a nuclear family until that inevitably implodes because I’m too selfish to love anyone the way they deserve. That causes us to lose touch with each other, becoming deeply unhappy, and then we end up messily divorcing. He takes the kids and moves back east and my business would probably tank, you can’t depend on the economy these days. So, I lose everything and end up living in an apartment with a roommate before I inevitably crack into full blown drug addiction and alcoholism and die of an overdose. That entire fucking mess I've seen play out way too many times in my head, its the exact thing I told myself I would never fall into because I was taught that that's what love gets you. But you know what? All of that garbage that I told myself I would never put myself through, all of that would be worth it if he was still here. I would take the dive into that inevitable misery for just a few years of making him happy before I fuck it all up.”
Alice paused, eyes wide at how dark and depressing he took that hypothetical, “How long has it been since Margo left…?”
Eliot shrugged, “about a week.”
“Figures…” she sighed and readjusted her glasses, “you have sat here, alone, stewing in all your grief and any "what ifs" you can think of. Eliot, you two lived an entire life together, you cannot think that it would end like that this time? That’s ridiculous, but either way, you don’t have to think about all that right now. You two can talk about this when he comes back and--”
“But you don’t know that he’s coming back so don't you dare promise me that he is,” Eliot said pointedly “None of us can promise that. Do you know why there aren’t a bunch of dead people resurrecting and coming back for their loved ones all the time? Because its insanely difficult to get out of the Underworld, near impossible. Hades himself told me that it plays upon your demons and your sympathies to keep you trapped. You and I both know that Q has enough of both to last a thousand years down there.”
Oh, she knew, she knew more than most, and the only one who knew better was standing right in front of her, slowly unraveling every fiber of his sanity, “Eliot, you need to have hope. Do you think he’s not strong enough?”
His eyes widened in a misplaced fury, “I know he is strong enough, Alice,” he said was a fire that was she had never seen him have before about anything, “but I know it’s supposed to trick you and keep you there. He might be the one who can beat it, but we won’t know until he does. I know he is strong, he brought you back to life for Christ’s sake. Against all odds, he did it, and wouldn't listen to reason to the contrary. And would you look at that, here you are, in the flesh! All because he refused to give up. He is the strongest, most stubborn person I have ever met. So, I know that he is strong, but believe me when I say that I’m not. I’m not strong and waiting here for him is the single worst thing I have ever had to do, but I deserve it. This is all my fault and its tearing me apart in every possible way.”
Alice stopped him, “You do not deserve this and it’s not your fault. It’s mine.”
“What do you mean?” Eliot just stared at her.
Alice sighed, “I was there. I could have… I could have pulled him away. I could have made him follow us, Penny and I both could have, but we didn’t. He told us to run, so that’s what we did. We ran, and I thought he was behind me, I really did,” her voice quaked heavily but she continued, “But when I turned around, he just stopped running and I saw him… He was so tired, Eliot. But you have to know, it was only that one moment. There was nothing he wanted more than to see you again. Nothing. Not even dying. It was just that one split second when he just…stopped.”
Eliot’s lost all composure and cracked apart to his very foundations. He fell to his knees in defeat. Both Eliot and Alice cried to themselves for a minute, until Alice got up from the table, walked over to him, knelt down, and hugged him.
He clung to her arm and cried, “It’s not fair. I just want him back. If no one gets to be happy in the end, then what’s the fucking point of any of this?”
Alice pulled away from Eliot to look him in the eyes, taking her sleeve and wiping tears off his face, “I will not hear you talking like that. There is a point to all of this, Quentin taught me that even if sometimes he didn’t believe it himself. But you know what he did believe in? He believed in all of us. He believed in us when we are literally the most fucked up, rag tag group of grad students. For some reason, he believed we could save everything. And guess, what? We did! Though admittedly things got fucked it up along the way,” she shrugged and laid the collar of Eliot’s shirt flat, “I have lost his trust before but you need to know that he never gave up on you and we can’t give up on him now. I don’t know what comes next, but everything is going to work out. And even if it doesn’t, we’ll figure that out together too, okay?”
There were a lot of things Eliot knew to be true about Alice Quinn: genius level intellect, her moral compass didn’t exactly point due north, and she not so secretly wanted everyone’s approval…until she didn’t, which was when things got really dicey and borderline terrifying.
Compassion was something he had never seen so pronounced in her. It was then he thought that this woman might be a different person than the one he met a few years ago. So much had happened, it would be ridiculous to assume she was the same when he certainly wasn’t the same person either. Granted, his idea of her that changed over the years was mostly rooted in the perception that she had grown to be a backstabbing asshole with a superiority complex.
She had died in an act of heroism, then turned into a horror, even by Niffin standards. Then she was brought back to life and something complicated inside of her psyche just snapped.
After that, Alice didn’t hold much regard for humanity or the ability of the masses to make good decisions. She knew that, when given the option, the decisions she made were catastrophic and that lead her to believe that everyone’s choices would be just as catastrophic if they were given the chance to make them. Like so many misguided people before her, she thought if you take away options, you stop the chaos. That was the greatest mistake she ever made. She thought she could see life from every perspective. She thought she saw that undeniable selfishness and the violence that lived inside anyone who had the potential to wield magic.
While that selfishness and pain may have been factors of what it means to be a Magician in her eyes, there is an undeniable truth she realized while locked away in a jail cell: that if you take away options, you also take away the good things that can be given by those who just want to make beautiful magic.
Contrary to her actions, her base instinct was to make something beautiful with the gifts she had been given.
There was a reason why the first spell she ever mastered was to bend and shape a glass horse from nothing but a marble and give it life. It came from a place within her that didn’t yet know of destruction and death. It came from the love of a brother who sat down at a kitchen table on a rainy Sunday afternoon with his little sister to teach her a magic trick.
So, Alice stayed with Eliot after nightfall, when all their tears had dried. They sat quietly and ate butter with honey on toast while watching campfire flames dance.
“I would be lying if I said I found this ambiance calming,” he said after a long silence.
She laughed sadly and nodded in agreement. Neither one of them spoke much after that and when the nighttime chill set in, Alice thought it best for her to take her leave back to the Library.
“I really don’t want to leave you here alone, but I should probably get going,” she stretched and handed back the blanket Eliot had given to her a few hours before, “Oppressive organizations to reform, mysteries to solve and all that, you know?”
“Yeah, certainly sounds like busy work.”
“Well, I lifted your lifetime ban, as long as you promise not to burn anymore books. So, if you ever get bored or just want something to keep your mind busy, we could always use some extra hands,” Alice stood from her place on the long log in front of the fire, “I fired most everyone else,” she shrugged.
Eliot chuckled, “that’s probably for the best. And thank you for the offer, but I think I’ll stay here. Would hate for Q to come home to a dark and empty house.”
In truth, he was just too tired to even attempt to keep his mind occupied cataloging and shelving books. He welcomed Alice’s company, but didn’t relish the idea of keeping up appearances around people who had no idea what was really going on, which he admitted was a strange change because keeping up appearances used to be the all-encompassing goal of his life.
Alice nodded, seeing the lantern by the door lit. She assumed he always kept it lit, in hopes Quentin would be able to find his path back to the place he had once called home.
They heard chattering, shuffling, and the breaking of branches from the woods. Eliot leapt to his feet so fast that he felt lightheaded, he felt someone come through the wards he had put around the clearing. Alice and Eliot both stood in a defensive stance, not sure what threat would emerge from in between the trees.
Fen and Josh stumbled out in the clearing where the cottage rested, with an open bottle of Fillorian wine and laughing at nothing in particular
“Eliot!” Fen shouted, and on her feet while walking over to him. He caught her just before she landed on the ground and pulled her to her feet, “I’m so glad you’re okay,” she slurred, “and I’m reeaally sorrrrry about Quentinnnnn. He was so smart and…and his hair was so soft…”
Margo followed behind them, coming into the light of the fire and making eye contact with Eliot. Her eyes were instantly apologetic and then confused when she caught sight of Alice standing next to him.
“Uh, thanks Fen. I appreciate it.” he said, walking her over to the bed they had put outside decades before, “I think it’s best for you to lie down for a while.”
As soon as he said that, her head hit the pillow and Josh hit the ground. They were both snoring within seconds. “Yeah, I’m just going to leave him there...”
“Fine with me,” Margo shrugged, and waved her own unopened bottle of wine, “you mind if we talk?”
“Not at all,” he smiled.
“I should go,” Alice noted, walking away.
“You’re welcome here anytime, Alice.” Eliot said, giving her a quick side hug before she left.
She nodded happily, pushed her glasses back into place on her nose and tucked her hair behind one ear, and disappeared in between the trees.
“I’m gone for a week and you already find a new best friend?” Margo said, disappearing into the house and reemerging with two glasses. She did a few tuts and popped the cork out of the bottle, “Color me surprised. I also would have thought there were better candidates for the position.”
She poured two glasses of wine for them, almost filled, and handed one to Eliot.
“Alice isn’t so bad. But fear not, Bambi, she is not my new best friend. We just had some things to discuss and some differences to settle,” he assured her, taking a rather large swig of wine and swallowing it harshly, “I always thought Fillorian wine was an acquired taste that I had not yet acquired, but now I think it just might be gross.”
Margo nodded, “Yep. Yeah, it is,” she said grimacing, “but I knew you and I needed to talk and we’ve always hashed out arguments over a wine and cheese table. This is the best I could do under the circumstances.”
“Well, you’ve done marvelously. And you have found two expelled stand-in royals from centuries gone by, so cheers to that,” They clinked their glasses together as Josh let out an almost exaggerated snore from where he lay on the ground a few feet away, “That’s what did it for ya, huh?”
“That is a long story and frankly I am not so sure that I’m up for sharing when I have yet to hear the details of your love affair with our best friend,” she topped off her glass, “I don’t do this very often, so bear with me. I am – I’m sorry, El. I really didn’t mean what I said when I left and I should not have left you here alone.”
Eliot shook his head, “I had a lot of time to think about it and you were right. I haven’t been supportive of you in the way that I should have, in the way that you always are for me. And you’re right, maybe Q won’t come back. That’s his choice, but either way, I’m going to be a better friend to you,” he sighed, “I remember what it’s like to have you missing from my life. As much as I loved that life, that was the one thing in it that I wished was different. I love you and unfortunately, we’re not going to see eye to eye on everything.”
“I’m finding that that’s true,” she shrugged, put down her glass, and took a few paces towards him. She had never liked hugs, felt that kind of physical connection too intimate for her liking, lacking the space for empty, disingenuous affections. Eliot’s hugs, on the otherhand, had always felt comforting to her. They were the only embraces she went out of her way to ask for, “I love you, too”
Margo pulled away after a moment, Eliot taking his ringed hand out of her hair, “and Quentin will come home, you idiot. If he doesn’t, I’m marching my ass to the Underworld to drag him back here by his ears.”
Eliot laughed, not thinking for a second that she might be joking. Josh and Fen snored again from across the yard leaving Margo and Eliot the one two conscious and laughing together, “on that note, I guess I should tell you a story.”
Margo smiled brightly, “I guess you should.”
They clinked their glasses together and the fire crackled loudly when Eliot threw another log on the flaming ashes to keep it lit, “Alright, where should I start?” he pondered for a second, “well it took a year.”
“A year? What the hell is wrong with you? You didn’t make a move before that?”
He chuckled, "I didn’t even make the first move! He did!”
Margo’s palm met her forehead, spilling some of her wine on the ground, “Wow… Quentin made the first move. I have never been more surprised or more disappointed in you.”
Eliot told her the story of their life, up to Teddy’s twelfth birthday, until Margo fell asleep against his shoulder. She lightly snored, clearly much more tired than she had let on. He took her head in his hands, stood up, and gently put her back down to rest using his coat as a pillow. The fire had been reduced to coals, so he got a blanket from the house and covered her to keep her warm. He picked up the bottle next to her and walked over to where Josh still slept, bottle in hand, and was able to take it from his grasp without waking him. Eliot dumped out the booze next to the plum tree on the edge of the clearing.
Somewhere on Earth...and then Fillory...
“You don’t have to come with me, you know?”
“I know but I’ve never been to Fillory before and I don’t think there is a documented account of a goddess getting their magic back and I want to be the one to write about it,” Marina said, collapsing over the arm of the couch, “plus, my girlfriend is working on her new art installation and too busy for me so I’m bored as all hell anyway.”
Julia laughed as she packed a bag with The Binder, extra sweaters, and snacks, “Who would’ve thought? Marina Andrieski is surprisingly a nerd.”
“I don’t know about the Marina from your timeline, but I have no shame about that,” she stated plainly, fiddling with the rings on her hands, “What is taking him so long?”
A swoosh came through the room, “I’m right here. Are you guys ready to go?” Penny asked.
“Yeah, just give me a second.” Julia said shoving the rest of her books in her bag, “Alright, all set.”
Marina stood up to meet them in the center of the rug, and they all joined hands. By the time Marina and Julia opened their eyes again, they were standing on the edge of a cliff in Fillory, overlooking the expanded Castle Whitespire.
“Oh…that’s new,” Julia said, “and I have a feeling Margo and Eliot didn’t suddenly decide to remodel the castle.”
Penny23 stretched his arms above his head, “Yeah, it was like that when I dropped them off here.”
“And you didn’t think to mention this?” Julia asked annoyed.
Marina’s eyes travelled between the two of them, “alright, enough. We’re on a mission here. Julia, we have to stay focused,” she reminded, then looked at Penny, “and if we need you, we’ll send a rabbit. Is that right, did I get that right? I never read the books.”
Julia rolled her eyes, waved at Penny, and walked away from them both. In a quick swoosh, he was gone, leaving Marina’s feet tromping quickly behind her to keep up, “Are you sure you know where you’re going?”
“Yep. Couldn’t forget it even if I wanted to.”
The wind blew through her sweater, leaving her shivering, but she paced on. She had expected to take this journey alone, but she had to admit, it was nice to have someone with her that she almost considered a friend. It did have her missing her best friend though.
They walked as long as their feet would take them before they stopped by a small stream as the sun was setting, “It’s getting too dark. We need to set up a shelter here for the night,” Julia set her bag down on the ground and did a few tuts that had vegetation clearing, branches gathering from all directions, and fronds draping over them as they fashioned themselves into a makeshift shelter. “all those survival spells other you forced me to learn weren’t so useless after all,” she noted.
She unpacked some snacks and they ate in silence before Marina drifted off. Sleep, of course, did not find Julia. She sat and contemplated all that could go wrong in the days to come. After all, she didn’t exactly have a road map to the potential consequences of retrieving her powers and it wasn't like a pro at this whole goddess the first time around.
“I could sing if that would help,” a small naiad from the stream offered
“Thanks. Maybe later, if I can’t sleep,” Julia said and shut her eyes
The water backed away from the bank just a little, “just call on me when you need me, goddess,” the naiad said, sinking back into the water.
Julia smiled with her eyes closed and rolled over. She tried to sleep, but a small glowing from her lapel on her jacket prompted her to open her eyes.
Somewhere in the Underworld…
”How long is this going to take?” Quentin thought to himself. He clutched the handle of his bow so tightly at any subtle rustling sounds from the trees. The air wasn’t stagnant as an ominous wind blew through his thin cotton shirt, making him really feel his body for the first time since he had been there. The sky above was always dancing between hues of orange and red. The golden light ahead of his shone brighter as the air became colder and colder.
He saw his breath create a cloud in front of him and he rubbed his arms with his hands to generate some kind of warmth, some kind of relief that didn’t come.
“Dad?” a voice called out to him suddenly.
Quentin shook his head, like he was trying to shake the voice out of his ears, “No, please, not this one again. It hurts too much.”
A hand came to rest on his shoulder, and Quentin flinched, “Dad, it’s me. It’s really me,” Quentin turned around and he was face to face with his son, the same way he looked when he left home, leaving Eliot and Quentin to be empty-nesters at the cottage, worried out of their minds for their son while also enjoying the quiet and privacy. “What are you doing here? You’re not supposed to be here yet.” Teddy questioned
“That’s a long story…”
Teddy sighed, not wanting to press his father further on what that meant. He was sure he wouldn’t like the answer, “Well, do you mind if I walk with you? You can tell me your long story”
Quentin laughed, “I would like the company, even if you are a spidery demon trying to trap me here for all eternity.”
Teddy laughed, "well I guess we'll see where the day take us then."
They walked for a while and Quentin told him about Hades' offer and Teddy talked about his daughters and how he was excited but also incredibly sad he was that they might be joining him soon.
When Teddy got married and had kids, Quentin was only caught off guard by just how much he loved his granddaughters. They were wild and courageous and rebellious and everything he knew they would have to be in a land that didn’t award very many opportunities to women. They were the greatest comfort to him at the end of his life.
After Eliot had passed, Quentin moved in with his son’s family. There was no need to stay at the mosaic, having solved the puzzle and given the key to Jane, and he was getting too old to live alone. Still, he went back there every day, for as long as he could, just to sit with Eliot and talk to him. Sometimes the youngest girls would go with him and ask their Grandpa Eliot questions just hoping Quentin would answer them and tell them all the stories he had to tell them.
When he started to get too tired and his bones too frail to make the journey, he would ask them to go and sit with Eliot for a while. “He gets awfully lonely, you know. He’s a part of our family and what do we do in our family” he would ask them
“We make sure everyone knows they are loved,” they would answer their grandfather and Quentin reply with a tired but sweet smile.
The younger girls would clamor around Teddy when he went out to the garden with a pocket knife his fathers had given him for his fifteenth birthday, and they would pick out which flowers they would take. He would cut the stems gently and tie them together with a bit of ribbon. The older girls would walk them to the mosaic so they didn’t get lost and after a while, the bouquets really started to pile up, as each girl just had to bring one for their grandfather.
The pile of flowers only grew and grew as the months and years wore on. The flowers went to seed and grew on their own by the stone Teddy had carved for his father, and more flowers bloomed still when he had to carve another. He was laid to rest right beside Eliot and plum trees grew all around them.
Even as they grew up, the girls never missed a chance to bring them flowers.
These were the things that Quentin knew happened, almost as if he remembered remembering them, but they were so distant that it feels like a story he heard about someone else. It was almost like watching a movie through a sheer curtain; he saw what happened and he felt it, but its hazy.
Some of the girls shared their grandfathers' magical prowess and made their way hopping between worlds. The others remained in Fillory and lived out their lives, raising their children and grandchildren and great grandchildren, all the while, the trees they had planted generations before grew into an orchard that prospered and never fell.
“When they all get here," Quentin choked up and turned to his son, "please tell them that I love them, so much, okay?”
He nodded, “I will, Dad.”
They fell silent again as Teddy felt like he upset his father, like he reminded him of a life he might have missed, “What do you miss about back then?” Quentin asked him.
“Oh, I don’t know, Dad. I miss a lot of things,” he said, sadly, “I miss the first snow of the year and the first harvest of the season. I miss you and Papa starting fires in the oven and baking bread, though let’s be real, you did not do much of the baking,” the two of them laughed, “We mostly just made a mess, but the bread was delicious. I miss the rivers that didn’t have lost souls in them. I miss mom’s harvesting aprons that smelled like her and peaches. When that smell faded years after she was gone, it was like I lost her all over again... I miss a lot of things,” he told his father sadly, “But I know that my wife is here and some of the girls, and i know that peace is coming. When all of our unfinished business is done and we can be together, then better things will come.”
Teddy smiled and Quentin’s face fell, “I hate that I’m leaving you all here to suffer.”
“We’re not suffering, Dad. We are just waiting. Those souls, those moaning souls, they are the ones suffering. They are the ones without complete consciousness and without agency. We know what we are doing and we know why we are here. This is a waiting station and while I wish we could all move on together, it’s just not meant to be yet. I’m not alone.” Teddy assured his father but the sky grew darker overhead, even though Teddy didn’t seem to notice.
“But if I just stay here, we can move on right now, you and me and your mom. The suffering ends and we can all go to the better place together,” Quentin theorized frantically as his golden guiding light was clouded by mist.
Teddy shook his head, “That’s not how it works. Even if you are here, we are still waiting. Part of our family is still out there so just because you’re here doesn’t mean that it’s time to go, Dad. I’m sorry, I love you, but there is more to this that just that.”
Quentin put up his hands in surrender, “No, of course, I get it. You had your own family and I’m just thinking back to the times when you were little and we were all together. I know that’s not the full truth and I know there are more people you love, of course I know that,” he sighed and dropped his bow on the ground, “It’s just that, if I stay here, I can wait with you.”
“No, Dad, you can’t stay here,” he said plainly.
“But I can. It’s easy, I just have to stop walking and we can be together, like how it’s supposed to be.”
Teddy shook his head and shock his father’s shoulders a little harder than he might have meant to, “No, you have to go back. I told you, you can’t leave Papa out there on his own.”
“He’ll be fine, Teddy. He will find someone else and –”
“No,” Teddy said sharply, almost startling his father, “You don’t get to tell me that, Dad. Mom died when I was four and I grew up knowing the two of you together. I’m not saying this as some kid who doesn’t want their parents to split up, I’m saying this as a man who grew up watching his parents be so incredibly and so annoyingly in love. You don’t get to tell me that he is going to move on because I know that’s a lie. He loves you more than anything, there is no one else,” Teddy tried to talk some sense into his father, but Quentin just shook his head, “you're the one who taught me the value of family. And you're the one who taught the same thing to your granddaughters. We don't leave our family behind, Dad, and we always make sure they know they are loved. Right?" Tears ran in streams down his cheeks but he nodded at his son, "right."
"So listen to me when I say that you are not supposed to be here yet. You still have a life to live.”
“But I really don’t, son. I did what I needed to do and I’ve lived more life than most people get to. I had our life together, raising you and solving the mosaic. I had a life with you and your mom and Eliot. I’ve lived my life. I can stay here now.”
“You had your life with us, but you are of Earth. You and Papa were meant to collect a key, the rest was just confetti. That doesn’t mean that it didn’t matter or that it wasn’t a good life, it absolutely was, but Dad… you have more to do. You have the chance to live again. You can see places you’ve never seen and do incredible magic, I don’t know, have more kids or whatever you want, but you have been given a chance from a god to live again. No one gets that chance, you don’t even realize how special that is and he gave it to you. You have to take it.”
“I can’t just leave you here…” he said. The flower on his shirt started to glow faintly.
Out of the trees another voice came to them, “Stay here with us, Curly Q.”
“Dad…” Quentin said breathlessly
Teddy stepped back from his father, “Dad, who are you talking to?”
“Come on, you know you want to stay here. It’s so tiring up there, and for what?” Ted said, beckoning his son to take his hand. Quentin walked towards him slightly but felt Teddy grab onto his arm.
“What are you doing? It’s time to go! Papa needs you. You can’t stay here.”
Ted’s eyes squinted, “Eliot will move on and be happy without you. You are needed here. Your family needs you here.”
“You guys need me,” Quentin said in a kind of trance, still trying to pull away from his son.
Teddy stood in front of Quentin, “No, Dad. We don’t need you!” he yelled and Quentin was taken aback, almost heartbroken, “I didn’t mean it like that…”
Ted shrugged, “Listen to your son, they don’t need you. Maybe they never did. You stuck around for so long, you just held them all back. You can’t do anything right. You weren’t even there when I died. I died and it’s your fault for bringing magic back. You deserve to be here.”
“I deserve to be here,” Quentin repeated
Teddy pushed his father back further away from whatever force was messing with him, “Look at me, Dad. Look at me,” he squeezed his shoulders tighter until Quentin finally looked him in the eye, his pupils dilating and returning to normal, “You have to keep going. You’re almost there. We are okay here and we will wait for you, but it’s time for you to go. You deserve to be happy, Dad.”
It was all too much for Quentin, he broke down and shuddered while tears continued to fall from his eyes. He crumpled to the ground and Teddy kneeled in front of him, refusing to leave his father. Quentin still heard Ted’s taunting behind his son telling him he deserved to live and be happy. The flower only glowed brighter until he finally picked it out of his shirt button and looked at it, not knowing what it was for, but clearly it was calling him for some reason.
A golden mist of pollen arose from it and formed slowly into a shape, “Quentin?” a soft, familiar voice called to him.
“Julia? What – how is this possible? I don’t understand.”
She sat up hastily, “Hades told me to keep it close, that you might need me,” she exhaled sharply, emotions suddenly overcoming her, “I miss you so much. Please come home. Please.”
“I don’t know if I can. I’m so tired, Jules. I can’t do this.”
Julia cried, “Yes, you can. Do you hear me? You can. You are the strongest person I know. Please, Q. You have to come home. I need you. Eliot needs you. We all need you, please.”
Quentin felt like he was hyperventilating and then got slightly annoyed, figuring he wouldn’t have to deal with that when he was dead, “You are the strongest person I know, Jules. I hope you know that,” he said with a not so subtle note of goodbye.
“Quentin Makepeace Coldwater, do not give me that shit, okay? I know that I am strong and I know that I have overcome some really fucked up shit, but I didn’t do that alone. And I am telling you that you are strong too because you need to hear it. You need to come home. There is so much fucked up shit happening and we need you. But more than that, we love you. Eliot and I were about to march down there ourselves to get you. Please, Q. I love you. Eliot loves you. Please do not make us live without you, we can’t bear it,” Quentin didn’t say anything, but even through the golden pollen, he heard her desperation. She sighed, “I’m back in Fillory, Q. Its autumn here and the trees are changing colors. I’m on a quest and I wish you were here. A naiad just asked me if I needed a lullaby to fall asleep,” she laughed, “I’m on the precipice of something big, Q. I really think it’s going to be…something. And I just wish you were here to see it.”
Julia didn’t know if regaining her power was going to be good or bad or somewhere undecidedly in between the two, but she knew it was going to be something never done before. It was certainly something she wished she could share with her best friend.
“Just try. Please,” Julia pleaded, “Not for me, for you. But if that’s too hard to do, then please do it for me. Or do it for Eliot. Just please, come home.”
Her voice was so soothing, just as it had always been for him, especially when he was in a back place, it would be fitting that her voice would help guide him out of hell. The sky lightened up just a little above and he sighed, “Okay, Jules. I promise.”
She sniffled and cried, “Thank you, Q. Please don’t forget that I love you. I always have, even when I have been raging pissed at you, okay? I love you so much, please don't forget.”
“I won’t. I never have forgotten that. I love you too, Jules. I'll try to make it home, okay?” he smiled
The pollen manifestation collapsed and blew away on the breeze, leaving Quentin alone with his son. “Was that aunt Julia? I really hope I meet her one day.”
Quentin stood up, grabbed an arrow from his quiver, and shot the manifestation of his father he knew, with the newfound clarity in his mind, wasn’t real. The spindly creature was finally visible to Teddy as it screamed and died in a pile of ash.
“What was that, Dad?”
Quentin sighed, picking up the arrow from the pile of ash the creature left behind, and put it back in his quiver, “a demonic entity disguised as your grandfather, trying to get me to stay here.”
“Why would you listen?” Teddy asked, confused.
Quentin shrugged, “I don’t know. It wasn’t anything I haven’t heard said in my own head.”
Teddy shook his head, “No, I mean why would you listen when grandpa is right there?” he asked, pointing up the path from where they stood.
Ted smiled kindly at his son, “Hiya, Curly Q. Why are you here, son?”
“It’s a… it’s a long story…” he told him, just like he told his own son.
He nodded sadly, knowing in his soul what that meant, “Well then, come on, boys. Walk with me for a little while.”
Both Quentin and Teddy jogged to catch up to Ted as he turned and walked up the path, following where the golden light would have been shining if Quentin could see it.
“You know, I always wanted us to be able to talk about...stuff. And not just your college applications or the weather, but the real stuff. I just wanted us to get everything out on the table and in the open, set out all the pieces to the problem and try to put it together, and with determination and a little luck, soon enough the problem is solved and the plane is flying.”
Quentin laughed, “More plane metaphors? Really? Look at where we are.”
“Shut up, smart ass, I’m trying to make a point,” Ted said, laughing along with his son and grandson. He sighed and continued, “I must admit that I didn’t imagine I would die of brain cancer and I hoped to every god I could think of that you wouldn’t be here even if I did. But here we are, so I guess we are having this conversation now,” he had his hands in his pockets and shrugged awkwardly, “I was just a simple man, who split from his wife and had my kid full time even though I didn’t know what I was doing. I failed in every way it is possible to fail in life, but none of that ever really bothered me. No, it was this. This is what I was always scared of. I was scared you would be here, that you wouldn’t be able to find anything about life worth living for. Ever since, oh I don’t know, after your tenth birthday or so, this is what I’ve been afraid of, Quentin,” Ted admitted.
“I never wanted you to worry about me, Dad," Quentin said, wiping his cheeks, "and I did find things worth living for, I did," he smiled slightly, catching a quick glimpse of Teddy to his left, "It’s just…I needed to save everyone. You wouldn’t understand.”
“I do understand, Quentin, but you don't always need to throw yourself into the line of fire for everyone else,” he yelled a little harshly, which spoke to a frustration in him that Quentin was very familiar with, “When you were born, you had this incredible wonder in your eyes. And as you grew, all I saw was a little kid that was fascinated by everything around him. Maybe every kid has that but I didn’t care, you were my kid, and I knew, even then that you felt so much, more than most. I tried for so long to protect your heart, but the harder I tried, the more it drove you back into yourself. And all those hospital visits…”
Quentin had never heard his father talk about the hospital stays, much less cry about them, “I read every pamphlet and went to the family support groups when you refused to go, but every time I would try to talk with you I just… I couldn’t…” he shook his head, “I failed you in those moments. And I know you remember when I was hurt and frustrated but I hope you know that I love you more than anything. You’re my son and I have never loved anything like I love you. When you came back from your ‘other life’ I hoped you would finally know what that feels like,” he said, smiling at Teddy, “to love your child and wanting more than anything for them to find their happiness and to protect them from all the horrors of the world. I couldn’t protect you from yourself, and I wish I could have. I couldn’t even protect my own mother from it, though I never told you that and I’m sorry I didn’t. I isolated you in your pain out of my own fear. I feared that if I spoke about it, it would make it that much more real and that was selfish. I almost lost you more times than my heart can take. I see clearly now all that I should have done for you and I’m sorry I didn’t know how to do those things when I was alive.”
Quentin stopped walking and just hugged his father, “I know you did the best you could, Dad. I know that.”
Ted gripped at Quentin tighter before pulling away, “I love you, Curly Q. I wish we had more time, so I could make all my wrongs with you right. And as much as I have missed you, you can’t stay here. It’s not your time yet. So, I will do what I should have always done, to care for you by telling you the truth; you have to go, the way home is that way," Ted pointed ahead at something Quentin couldn't quite make out, "Go live your life, whatever that looks like, and if you can’t find the picture-perfect happiness, then the best thing you can do for yourself is to find a place that feels like home.”
“He has a place like that,” Teddy told his grandfather and smiled.
“That’s where you will be safe. That’s where you need to take all the heaviness and the hurt you hold inside yourself and put it down. Even if you feel the weight of the world crashing down on you, you will be safe there to lie down and rest. And don't forget to take your medicine,” he said pointedly, making Quentin laugh as he recalled all the times his father asked the doctor ‘does he really need those?’
“Go and live the best life you can. We will see each other again one day, but I will not let you stay here, not like this.”
Quentin thought for a moment, staring at his father and his son. He was happy they found each other, “Okay, Dad.”
Ted nodded, “Okay, Curly Q. And by the way, I like that Eliot kid. He can cook and you two sure raised one hell of a son,” he said, wrapping his son in his arms, “I will always be with you, okay? Both of us will,”
Arielle came out from between the trees, “And I will too.”
He stood there looking at his family. Though there were some notable members missing, he felt such a wave of love crash over him. The look of adoration on each of their faces seemed to be something foreign to him, but it had been there the whole time. Often times in life, feelings get hidden for fear of being too intense but death didn’t have this hang-up. His father, wife, and son all looked at him the same way he had never seen in life, the way they looked at him when he wasn’t looking. It was the way they should have loved him without reserve, the way they were no longer worried about it being too much.
He packed up his bow and quiver in his hands and smiled back at them before continuing on his path, “And say hi to Julia for me. I miss that girl. Please watch over her, son.”
“I will, Dad.”
The golden light, showing him the way home, was burning brightly out in front of him, brighter than it had ever been.
Quentin was ready to go home.
Thanks for reading! Please leave a kudos or comment if you enjoyed :)
Chapter 7: rivers and roads
Marina tries to be comforting
Alice gets drunk and regretful
Eliot keeps a light on
Julia finds something she was looking for
Quentin gets chilly
For one brief moment, Julia Wicker was talking to her best friend again, begging him to come back, and before she knew it, before she was ready, the golden glow from the flower dimmed until went out completely and turned to dust in her hands as a soft wind blew through the trees above her. She frantically tried to gather all the dust back into her hands, as if that might somehow bring back his visage, but it just blew into the water and floated downstream.
It was then that, for the first time since Quentin died, Julia cried.
She let out every tear she had been holding inside since Penny and Alice, disheveled and grief stricken, dragged their feet into her hospital room to tell her that they lost him. She had consoled everyone else in their grief and she trudged forward, determined to find a way to bring him back and swore she would stop at nothing. And she handed out that foolish promise like tokens to anyone who needed it, but she hadn’t cried.
The occasional tear would spill over the edge every now and then but hadn’t broken the carefully constructed seal in her heart that prevented a real “salt the earth and damn the powers that be” kind of cry you let out when you lose someone you love. Speaking to Quentin and then losing him again opened the flood gates within her that she had kept locked down and holding water in a particularly bitter way. There had been a hollowness in her heart since he died, an acknowledgement that there was something within her that was missing. She was so sick and so fucking exhausted of that feeling.
Hearing his voice, and hearing him sound so tired, broke her in the same way it had every time she visited him in hospitals throughout high school, only this time it felt permanent. This time he was really gone, and even though he promised her that he would come back, she finally felt the overwhelming reality that there were so many forces, beyond them, working against that very promise. For the first time, it suddenly felt as though there was a very real possibility that he could never come back, that he could be stuck there forever, and they would all just have to learn to live with it. It was a truth she had been scared of since they were twelve, the first time Q was in the hospital. She remembered that first night after they took him away, it was the first time she prayed to anyone out there who could be listening, she prayed for something out there to stop it before it even happened. Even now, it was a truth that she hadn’t yet accepted, not until it was ash blowing in the wind.
Sobs rocked her chest and a hesitant hand found her shoulder as Julia realized that Marina was awoken by her soft sobs, “Are you okay?”
Water in the quiet stream began to rise as the small naiad brought her friends to the surface and sat together on river rocks. They sang a soft melody, hoping to sooth her her sorrows.
“I uh, I’m not very good with this – uh, feelings. But is there anything I can do anything to help?” Marina asked, genuinely trying to comfort Julia.
Julia shook her head and sniffed her nose, “No,” she said, putting her hand on top of Marina’s, “but thanks for trying.”
Marina was only able to smile awkwardly and ask as the naiads sang softly, “what happened?”
“That, my timeline jumping friend, is a very long story,” Julia noted plainly, dipping her hands in the water, washing her hands of ashes that still lay gathered in her hands.
Marina shrugged, squeezing Julia’s shoulder just a little, “Well, I’m up now. Your crying made sure of that, so we’ve got time.”
Without any excuse not to, and a rare impulse to get some things off her chest, Julia told her the tale or more so the cliff notes version of her childhood with Quentin, all the magic and pretending, how this timeline had treated them, the Beast, Brakebills, losing magic, Alice's betrayal, the Monsters, losing Persephone, the Seam, and the flowers from Hades. The sun was rising on Fillory before she came to the end of her story, all the while they naiads sang soft melodies to her.
“He should be here, it’s fucking not fair,” she mused to the running water in front of her.
“He’s coming back though, yeah?” Marina asked, trying her best to be comforting. “He’s on his way, right?”
Julia sighed, “Yes, but it’s not a sure thing. He could always choose to stay there and --” she took a deep breath before more tears could fall over the brim of her eyes, “I’m scared he won’t come back. For years, this is what I’ve been terrified of. That he would leave, like this, permanently, and we’d all be left here figuring out how to fill his place even though no one can.”
There was no answer and there was nothing Marina could say, no sentiment she could offer, that would lessen the weight on Julia’s heart. The only thing they could do was listen to the naiads’ soft lullaby and watch the sun come up.
Somewhere in the Neitherlands…
The Library was silent but for a few new apprentices shelving books. Alice and Kady had finished their council meeting a few hours prior and decided to take a well-deserved break by cracking open some vintage whiskey they found in a vacant office down the hall.
“Wait, wait wait, you have a Master’s Degree in philosophy?” Kady laughed, pouring herself another drink. She stopped laughing for only a moment to say, “No offense.”
Alice laughed and took another sip, “some offense taken but even I can see the irony of it. I guess even then I was looking for more answers than could realistically be given. I didn’t even pursue it, I just kept taking the classes and reading the books, searching for something I didn’t know that the time, but I never found it. One day they were just like, you met all the requirements, here’s your degree.”
Kady nodded, “I suppose that just goes to show you that even people with fancy degrees don’t know shit sometimes, huh?”
“Of course, they don’t, I certainly don’t. The technical stuff, the intricacies of magic and science, I understand inside and out, but all that abstract shit, all the “what we owe to each other” and nonsense like that, I’m totally lost,” she laughed. She shoulders shook and then settled, “I always have been…” she stated maudlinly. “Alright I think that’s probably enough for me,” Alice said putting the cap back on the bottle and shuffling to her feet and it took a moment for her to regain her bearings
“Woah Quinn, you really need to learn to handle your liquor better,” Kady chuckled to herself, and downing the rest of her glass, “though it’s probably for the best. I wouldn’t say I got this or any of my other talents from the pure ease of life, so probably best you stay a lightweight” she caught Alice’s arm to prevent her from falling over in front of her.
“Oh yeah, instead of taking up drinking, I just resorted to becoming a vengeful force of pure magic with no moral compass that reaped havoc across the multiverse,” she laughed, “maybe I should have tried booze first.”
“Yeah, that was really shitty of you,” Kady sighed and rolled her eyes slightly, “Come on, let’s get you tucked in.”
Alice shook her head, “I still have a few things I need to finish up here.”
“Fine, you’re just going to pass out at your desk anyway,” Kady noted and Alice slightly nodded as she led her down the hall to her office door. Her sat down in her chair and her head immediately fell in her hands, “I’m heading home, but I’ll be back at the end of the week. I expect a progress report.”
Alice nodded slightly and her eyes shut before Kady closed the door behind her.
When she finally did wake, she felt groggy from the hangover, but also acknowledged that it was more sleep than she had gotten in months. Before she opened her eyes, she was immediately alerted to the rustling sound of papers and pages turning in books.
“So, this is your new calling? Tending to the books of the multiverse?” she heard a voice say from the corner of her office. She did a quick tut that illuminated all of the candles in her office, the flickers of their flames dancing almost up to the ceilings. Much to her surprise, the one who sat in the chair was Hades. He sat with one foot rested on the opposite knee with a book held open in one hand. She also noticed that he’d already helped himself to the liquor cart, clearly finishing off the bottle of whiskey her and Kady had opened earlier. She thought to mention it, but then decided telling a god that his etiquette was somewhat lacking was a bad idea.
While he looked up and admired the architecture, he continued, “I must say, for all the places in this wide universe you have discovered and burned, it is surprising you’d choose something so…mundane.”
Alice shrugged, “Well, if you’re like me and going to put down roots anywhere, a library of practically infinite knowledge isn’t the worst choice.”
“Mmmm, I suppose not,” he said, pursing his lips and tapping his ring clad fingers on the side of a glass of whiskey.
Alice leaned back down at her desk and put some file folders that were laying open in front of her back in the drawer, “What can I do for you, your majesty?” she asked with one eyebrow raised.
Hades scoffed, “Enough with the formalities, you and I have history enough to simply get to the point.”
Alice waited but the god looked back down at the book in his hand and licked his fingertips to turn the page. “Was there something in particular you came to talk to me about? You’re not usually the kind to just drop in for old time’s sake.”
“Ah, yes,” he noted, taking a swig of his drink, “I just wanted you to know that you can cease your manhunt for who removed Quentin Coldwater’s book from the shelves.”
She stood from her chair, crossing her arms, “it was you.”
“Of course, it was me,” he laughed.
“But why send it to the poison room?” she asked, accusatorially.
He smiled, amused at her direct tone, “Apart from not wanting anyone else to know that I helped your friend, since technically I’m not supposed to? I don’t need more lovesick mortals crawling to me from the depths hoping to get special treatment.”
Alice’s eyes narrowed suspiciously, “then why does Quentin Coldwater get special treatment from the God of The Underworld? What makes him so special?”
“Ah, you need not concern yourself with such things, Alice. But I knew that if you read his book, then you would know where to take it. You and Mr. Waugh needed to clear the air, devoid of any latent animosity. It was a test and I’m happy to say you passed.”
Alice clenched her teeth and her hands made fists down at her sides, “what kind of test?”
Hades looked up at her as she seethed. He shut his book with a loud thump and stood with undeniable authority but quickly softened, “It wasn’t a test to see who holds more of Mr. Coldwater’s heart, I wanted to know if you could truly see where you are needed most.”
“WHICH IS WHERE?” she exclaimed, throwing her arms up, “I have literally no idea what I’m doing in this job or…anything else for that matter. Do you know how hard that is for someone who used to know everything? There was once a time when I knew everything!” she sighed, “it seems like a million years and lifetimes ago, but fuck, it’s like there is this itch I can’t scrath. Going backwards is harder than it should be.”
“No, you thought you knew everything. There are still many secrets in this realm and beyond that you haven’t unlocked yet, my dear. And you are not going backwards at all, you are moving forward, just as you should. That itch, as you call it, is exactly what you should be afraid of. It exists to burn you to the ground. Forsake it. Allow me to ease some of your worries; you are on the right path, as are all of your friends. For the first time in 41 lifetimes and beyond, everyone is heading towards their full potential instead of away from it into death. Trust me, after I’m done here, I don’t want to see any of you for a long, long time,” he said rolling his eyes, “which again is why time magic should not be left in the hands of mortal magicians…” he mumbled under his breath.
“How are we all exactly where we are supposed to be when we all feel so lost and Quentin is dead?” she questioned the god, arms crossed in defense.
Hades sighed, “You are just going to have to have faith that you are all on the precipice of both pain and greatness. There are still many challenges ahead but if you stick to the path, you will triumph over them. Mr. Coldwater is on his own journey that is so entangled with those who reside in this world and the worlds beyond. There isn’t anything you can do for him but continue on your path. Alice, you are needed here most, to bring order to this chaos, which admittedly should be a challenge for you… but it will also be the most rewarding work you have done thus far. Should you continue, you will come to understand this life, lives beyond, and yourself more than you ever thought possible, even beyond what you learned as a Niffin. You are not without knowledge, it is all around you,” he said gesturing to the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves all around her office.
“It is time that I go, but fear not, Alice, The Library is secure in all realms and you are changing things for the better. Bring magic to the people and watch your life unfold before you,” Hades calmly said before disappearing into dust, leaving his half-finished whiskey on the floor where his feet had stood just a moment before.
“Well, what the fuck am I supposed to do with that?” she shrugged. She never did care for the notoriously vague advice from gods. But what else could she do but learn to trust her own intuition and have faith that everything would work out, and god, she hoped against hope that they would all win, really win, just once. Once would make it all worth it, if they could stop the literal or proverbial bad guy and all live to laugh about its years from now, that would make it all worth it.
Somewhere in Fillory…some time ago
“I’m done, I’m not doing this anymore,” Quentin said one morning after working into the late hours of the night before on a pattern he would have bet his entire first edition Fillory and Further collection on it being correct. It wasn’t of course, and he proceeded through the day in a vile mood that got increasingly intolerable as the morning droned on and while Eliot set up for more patterns.
Eliot put the last tile in a stack on the brick edge of the mosaic, “We don’t have any other options, Q. We can’t go home. Even if we did somehow make it back to Earth, we’d be in the wrong time.”
Quentin sighed loudly, “So? We can find a horomancer or something, I don’t know, but this is ridiculous. There is no end to this puzzle. It’s impossible.”
Eliot looked off into the distance over Quentin’s head, “Maybe it is, Q. Maybe it is impossible, but we literally can’t do anything but what it asks of us. I’m trying to make the most of it and right now you and your shitty mood are not helping.”
“Oh, I’m not helping?” Quentin asked, accusatorially and tilting his head up further to meet Eliot’s eyes, which evaded him, “What about you, huh? We’ve been at this for over a year and you’ve been drunk the whole time! If you think you can drink your way through this like a fish, your liver is going to give out before we are even close to solving this stupid fucking thing.”
Eliot just turned and walked away from him. He went back into the house to gather more parchment, shook his head to himself, and took a deep breath. He walked back out the door to find Q waiting for him angrily, so he tried to refocus the conversation instead of getting angry at him, “fine, you know what, it doesn’t matter. The bottom line is we could be done tomorrow for all you know. We can’t throw away all this time we’ve invested,” he paced over to the table, laying out some sheets and gathering various colors of chalk, “You want to live your life, live it here,” he said under his breath, not meaning for Quentin to hear it.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Quentin retorted.
“You know exactly what that means,” Eliot said a little louder with a certain venom he hadn’t known he was harboring.
Eliot had spent all morning stacking up tiles in the order they would go in for that day’s pattern, hoping that this new method would expedite the process of going through patterns more quickly. Quentin in his own anger and irritation got up from where he sat and kicked them over, “oops,” he said unapologetically.
“What is your problem?!” Eliot exclaimed, throwing down his papers on the table
Quentin exaggeratedly shrugged, “What’s my problem? My problem is I want to go home. I don’t want to do this anymore and you’re looking at me like that makes me crazy. You’re not even hearing what I’m saying! All you’re doing is laying out your little chalks like this is a good life that we’re living here but it’s not!”
Eliot stared at him blankly as he seethed under the surface. It wasn’t the first time they had this disagreement, both of them being on either side of it depending on the day, but for whatever reason Quentin’s words cut into an insecurity in Eliot he hadn’t known was so tender, “So, what? Is this about Alice or something? The peach girl maybe?”
“Jesus fucking Christ, Eliot…” Quentin sighed and rubbed his temples, “No, it’s not about Alice or the peach girl, her name is Arielle by the way. But no, it’s not about either of them. I just don’t want to do this fucking puzzle anymore! Why is that so hard to believe?! Why does it always have to be about something else?!”
Eliot threw his eyes wide, “Because things are always about other things with you! Believe it or not, this monotonous tedium is not exactly my idea of fun either. It was only tolerable because we were doing it together, but that must have just been my own delusion. You are clearly miserable so, from the bottom of my heart, I extend my most sincere apologies that you don’t have better company for this stupid goddamn quest.”
“Oh my god, Eliot, this is ridiculous. Not everything is about you, okay? I miss home! I miss my books, I miss the internet, I miss indoor plumbing, I miss Julia, I miss Margo, I miss not always being on a quest which is weird for me because that’s all I ever wanted. I miss things! What is so awful about that?!”
Eliot pursed his lips, “Nothing. But just remember, we are trying to clean up your mess,” his words stabbed through the tension between them like all the air had been dispelled from the world. His eyes widened a little, but he said nothing. Eliot just turned his back to Quentin and started off into the woods in a haste, as if he could outrun what he’d just done.
It was a long walk to Chatwin’s Torrent, or what would later be named Chatwin’s Torrent, which is where Eliot realized he was heading absentmindedly as the sun moved across the sky that afternoon. Each and every step felt heavier as Eliot wanted to turn around immediately and go back and apologize, but he also knew that without space to breathe, that wouldn’t be any help to either of them.
As he stepped up the beaten path, he heard the babbling of the water over the smooth river rock and sighed.
“What seems to be troubling you, sir?” a voice asked him. Eliot looked around and realized the voice came from a small woman sitting on a rock. She sat there with her knees tucked under her, and an enthusiastic look in her eye, the kind that was so eager to help that Eliot often found insufferable.
“Who are you?”
“I am the River Watcher. It the sacred duty of my family passed down through generations,” she said happily, “So, what appears to be ailing you?”
“Nothing,” Eliot noted, gesturing up and down his torso, “See? No broken bounds or gaping wounds.”
The small woman nodded, “well, as the protector of these healing waters, I can tell you for certain that not all wounds can be seen.”
He sighed, “Ain’t that the truth.”
She squinted at him a little, “are you a child of earth?”
Eliot and Quentin had made a decision when they got there, that in order to stay focused on the quest and have as little impact on the future as possible, that they would keep a low profile and not drawn attention to themselves. Eliot did feel as though he could not lie to this woman, so he said, “Yeah, but I’m here for –”
“Something important...” she said, “it evades me, but I can tell its purpose is true. So, please feel free to drink the water and be on your way.”
“Don’t I need twenty pieces of gold or something?” Eliot questioned.
“These waters belong to this world, and you are in this world, so why would I charge you for using a natural resource?” The River Watcher asked, equally as perplexed, “that’s akin to thieving and selling the stolen goods for profit.”
Eliot shrugged and laughed a little to himself, “Well, I hope your descendants share the same sentiments,” he said under his breath. He fell to his knees against the dirt and cupped his hands into the water and brought some to his lips. He drank a little and sat back.
At first nothing happened, and then suddenly, he felt lighter. He thought he imagined the feeling of a weight being lifted off his shoulders accompanied by the feeling of taking the deepest breath he could muster and exhaling, almost as if he’d been underwater without knowing it, “Woah, what was that? What happened?”
The River Watcher shrugged, “it seems the waters have eased some of your worries and allowed you to return to a more stable state of clarity. Have you been feeling isolated or lost in any way? Maybe more irritable or erratic than usual?”
“Well…yeah, but I wouldn't say that’s unusual for me,” Eliot sighed, “how did you know that?”
She shrugged, “it’s my job to understand these things. The effects of the water will metabolize from your system in a few days, so take some with you,” she waved her hands and a jar filled with the river water appeared in Eliot’s hands.
It was dark by the time Eliot made it home. Quentin had already stacked all of the tiles back up and dowsed the fire outside. A lantern illuminated the inside of the cottage and a steady stream of smoke was puffing out of the chimney. He took a deep breath, walked up to the front door, and pushed it open.
Quentin was curled up on the couch with a blanket, tea in front of him that had already gone cold, and his book laying open face-down on the floor. Eliot thought he might be sleeping, so he shut the front door quietly and put the jar down on the small table inside.
“How the hell were you able to find hooch in this place?” the lump of blankets asked from across the room.
Eliot rolled his eyes, but felt more levelheaded to brush off some of Quentin’s passive aggression, “Its river water from Chatwin’s Torrent. The River Watcher thought I might need it later, so she made me a to-go bag of sorts. It’s not the most exciting party favor I’ve ever received but it sure is effective.”
Quentin sat up and rubbed his eyes, “but you don’t have a broken leg and you didn’t get your hands cut off?”
“Apparently it does a lot more than heal broken bones and reattach limbs. I guess it’s also sort of like Fillory’s natural antidepressant,” Eliot shrugged and walked over to the couch, gesturing to Quentin if he minded if Eliot sat down. He seemed open to the idea. He went to sit up, but Eliot just lifted his legs, sat down, and laid them over his lap, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean what I said before. None of this is your fault.”
Quentin shook his head, “No, it is. You were right, this is my mess. I killed Ember and got magic shut off. The whole reason we are on this fucking quest to bring magic back is because of me. Otherwise we wouldn’t be stuck here.”
“Q, you had the best of intentions when you did that. And frankly, I should thank you because I was stuck here. I would have been a goner along with the entirety of Fillory if you hadn’t done that. So, thanks Q.” Eliot smiled and rubbed Quentin’s leg.
Quentin gave a forced smile back at him, still harboring feelings of incredible guilt.
Eliot hesitated, “I’m going to ask you a question, Q, and I will accept whatever your answer is.”
“Are you upset by being stuck here,” he paused and took a breath, “or by being stuck here with me?”
Quentin blinked at him for a split second, still baffled he would ask that. He sighed heavily, “El, come on.”
Eliot held a hand up, “No, look, I know that we get along most of the time, but I also know that recently we complicated our friendship, and if that fucks things up for us, then I’m more than willing to go back to –”
Quentin sat up sharply and suddenly kissed him quiet. He ran his fingertips along Eliot’s jawline and let them tangle in the curls behind his ear before pulling away to look at him, “I’m going to be bold here for a minute so just deal with it,” Quentin smiled.
“Okay,” Eliot said quickly, Q’s sudden burst of affection silencing him upon request.
Quentin sighed, “You’re the one who said let’s save our overthinking for the puzzle, and I’ve been fine with it, but I think you have been giving me a run for my money in the overthinking department,” Eliot shrugged in response so he continued, “I’m not upset because I’m stuck here with you. I am upset because I miss our real lives. I miss so many things, El. I know you know what I mean…”
He did. He missed being the king of his castle, both at Brakebills and in Fillory in the future. He missed Margo, in fact no words known to man could describe just how much he missed her. He got used to not getting attached to people or places, but he did miss his home and the only other person, apart from his present company, he let truly know him. He counted himself lucky to even have Quentin here, even luckier still to feel Quentin’s fingers locked in his hair and his lips against his, he just didn’t know how real it was or how long it would last, but he was determined to enjoy it while it seemed Q's better judgement took a vacation.
If he dived too far into this feeling and let himself fall completely like he felt he was starting to, would he eventually be crushed if and when they got back home, to their other lives, only to find Quentin didn’t want it anymore? Would he find himself alone with all these emotions for someone he should have never crossed that line with? A life with Quentin as a friend and nothing more would be tolerable, but a life without him…
He didn’t think he could survive that.
"Yeah, I know what you mean,” he sighed and played with the very frayed strings of Quentin’s hoodie, “I’m sorry. You wanted me to hear you and all I heard was what hurt me.”
Quentin sighed and rubbed his thumb against Eliot’s bottom lip, “Don’t make up fears and then get mad at me when you think they are coming true. We’re clearly not going anywhere any time soon, so you have to talk to me. Whatever you think is happening isn’t happening, okay? We haven’t even talked about what we are to each other now, and we can talk about that later,” Quentin paused seriously, “but regardless, pay attention because I’m only going to tell you this once, okay?” he questioned.
Eliot nodded so Quentin continued, “I am not just going to disappear with the next fair maiden that happens to pass by. I’m not going to give this up for whatever you think I’m going to put above you. I care about you, Eliot. And I need you, right now and moving forward, to believe that. If I didn’t mean it, I wouldn’t have kissed you to begin with. But I did, so here we are.”
“Here we are,” Eliot smiled, leaning closer to Quentin.
Quentin smiled wide, then his smile fell, and he leaned away from Eliot, “so talk to me instead of fighting a fight with me that you’ve invented because we were not fighting about the same thing.”
Eliot nodded guiltily but shook that feeling off when he saw Quentin smiling at him.
“And I will do the same,” Quentin said, “I’m sorry for taking my anger out on you, that wasn’t fair.”
They sat quietly together in front of the hearth, the logs inside having already been reduced to embers in front of them, but still giving off a pleasant warm heat. Quentin had his head resting on Eliot’s chest contentedly, until he got caught on his own train of thought.
“A penny for your thoughts?” Eliot finally asked, trailing his fingertips up and down Quentin’s arm.
Quentin sighed, “It’s just…I know this is my mess. I need to take responsibility for it but it’s so fucking heavy. I caused it all and the guilt of it haunts me every day. I deserve to be here, doing this bullshit puzzle, but I took you away from your life. That’s not fair and its sick that sometimes I’m happy that it happened.”
“I am happy about it sometimes too, a lot actually, even though there are things that I miss. And if that’s sick then so be it,” he smiled somberly, “I’m in this quest with you, Q. We’re meant to do this together. That was made very clear to me when I was given the quest by that flamboyant chicken in the woods,” Eliot said, continuing to rub his palm up and down Quentin’s arm, trying to soothe his worries.
“But what if we never solve this, El? It’s an impossible thing to do. Sure, we could give up and maybe make our way home, but that’s only two keys for a seven-key quest. What if I’ve doomed the universe to a life without magic forever? What if our friends never have magic again? Can you imagine what that would do to them, especially Julia? To think that I’ve hurt her again when she has been through so much, too much already… I can’t do that to her, Eliot. I can’t,” Quentin could feel his chest welling up under the weight of it all.
“Shh, Q. It’s okay. We’re going to do our best to get this done, okay?”
Quentin sniffed sharply and rubbed his eyes with his sleeve, “but what if it’s not enough?”
“If we fail, we’ll do that together too,” Eliot assured him.
Quentin sat up suddenly and planted his lips back to Eliot’s, searching for a more rigorous outlet for his overactive downward spiraling than cuddling on the couch. Eliot would give anything to ease his mind just a little. Sure, cause and effect pointed to their current predicament being Quentin’s fault, but intention was still something that mattered to Eliot. He knew that Quentin would never do something to hurt innocent people, never mind cut the entire universe off from magic. He only wanted to save his childhood safe haven that turned out to be real and be a real home to real creatures.
Quentin wanted to save the embodiment of his own sense of hope, fearing the destruction of Fillory would take too much from him, including Eliot. And he refused to let that happen, and so he stopped it. But now they were stuck hunting down keys, one of which that may very well be concealed right where they lay together, hoping to illustrate the beauty of all life
but what if it’s not enough?
Eliot woke from a seemingly short slumber to find himself chilled to the bone from sleeping under the night sky. Margo, Josh, and Fen had gone inside hours ago and he’d stayed behind to look up at the stars. He clutched the corners of his cardigan and tried to pull them closer to his body in order to find some warmth. His breath steamed from his nostrils and the fire was nothing but tiny embers, so he decided to get up and go inside. The yard was darker than it had been when he had drifted off to sleep and as he turned towards the cottage, he realized why.
The lantern by the door, the one that he had kept burning since he arrived, had gone out.
He remembered that years ago, when Quentin would travel to the nearby villages for supplies that he wouldn’t return until after dark. On one occasion after Arielle’s passing, Quentin couldn’t retrace his steps and spent the whole night outside, unknowingly walking in circles in the cold, in the dark. He was convinced it was being tired from walking that made him a little disoriented and he couldn’t find his way back. It didn’t matter to Eliot, after that night he always stayed awake with the lantern lit, knowing it could be seen through the trees, and that Quentin would be able to find his way home again.
Now, if and when Quentin came home and it just so happened to be in the night, he would still be able to find his way.
So, he retrieved some oil from the kitchen counter and went back outside. The lantern must have been out for some time because it was cold to the touch. He filled the reservoir with oil and closed the glass. He did his simple first starting tut and the lantern began to burn brightly.
That should last a few days, he thought to himself but if he was going to be really honest, he didn’t know how much longer he could keep this up for.
“Are you okay?” Margo asked him when he went back inside and sat by the fire, wrapped in a lump of blankets trying to warm his limbs.
He nodded, “Yep, must have fallen asleep out there. Winter must be coming, I’m fucking freezing.”
Josh snored loudly from across the room, prompting Eliot to roll his eyes. Margo shook her head with a small laugh, “I’ll make you some tea, you big baby.”
“Thanks, Bambi,” he muttered back to her, already drifting off again from the relief of the warm fire and the constant exhaustion that had plagued him since the Monster’s eviction from his body. He was so fucking tired and it wasn’t that keeping a lantern lit took an extraordinary amount of effort or energy. It was the waiting, the seemingly endless waiting that was eating him alive, consuming him and leaving him almost unrecognizable to himself.
Margo, however, only saw her best friend being exactly who he is – caring to an inhuman degree, lost with no tangible way out, and deeply in love with someone out of reach. They judgment of his faults that he would come home so she would be free of the torment of watching the person she loved most waste away in grief, a grief that she could do nothing to stop or ease.
And to Eliot, being possessed by a monster was small potatoes compared to the hollow and empty nothingness of waiting for that love to come back to him.
Somewhere Else in Fillory…
When dawn finally broke, they packed up their camp and continued onward. They came upon a pub a few miles outside of a village. The closer they got to Julia’s powers, the more restless and uncertain she became. Marina trudged on with unshakeable confidence while Julia could do nothing but doubt herself with each step. Lingering in any populated area was a bad idea, but they decided to stop and rest their feet for a while, pulling hoods over their heads in attempt to keep a low profile.
However, the pub quickly quieted upon their entry and all eyes, both human and animal, were glued to them, almost as if they were assessing a threat.
The barkeep grumbled, “haven’t seen the likes of you ladies around here before.”
“They look harmless, don’t they,” a bear in the corner, clearly drunk, chimed in while the other patrons muttered amongst themselves.
“By now, we should all know better than to assume. Anyone could be working for the King, can never be too careful,” the barkeep berated back
“They don’t work for the King,” a voice said from the other corner, surrounded by an entourage, “but they’re not from here. I’ve been to every land from here to the Neitherlands, and they certainly aren’t from Fillory. My guess is they are children of Earth.”
The woman stood, angled hat covering her face, puffy white sleeves draped over her arms, with a pair of guns strapped to either hip.
“Strange to find gun-toting pirates in Fillory, is it not?” Marina asked Julia, loud enough so that everyone could hear her.
The stranger took a swig from her pint glass and slammed her glass down on the bar, “I don’t know what books you’ve read, but it’s a different world out there. And it sure as shit ain’t a fairytale. It’s a war and if I have to defend myself and my crew with primitive weapons of earth, then that’s what I’m going to do.”
“She might fit in better in Texas or something, what the fuck,” Marina mumbled to Julia, who stood like a statue next to her, unmoving.
The woman took one gun from her holster and spinning it around her first finger, “you think I like this? That this life is a dream come true? It’s not, but I do what I have to do for my people. Surely, some part of you can understand that,” she sighed, placing the gun on the table where her crew sat, “I risk the lives of my crew and myself every time we sail in Fillory’s waters or step on her shores.”
Marina tilted her head and Julia asked, “But if trade was outlawed, why risk coming here at all?”
“It’s simple, necessity. Loria has been impoverished since the Dark King conquered Fillory and King Idri fell to the first war. After that, all trade and magical agreements between countries were voided. There are things the Fillorians need from us and there are things we need from them,” she stated plainly, “It’s a broken place, but sometimes broken places still have resources. We’re not here to make problems for the locals worse, we are just trying to maintain our home so we do what we have to do and I haven’t died yet. So, unless you plan on turning me in, we’ll be going about our business.”
“We’re not here to cause problems either. I’m here looking for something I lost,” Julia said plainly
The pirate scoffed at her, “well if its anything worth having, I’m sure the Dark King made it his a long time ago.”
Julia smiled slightly at the ground, “I wouldn’t be so sure. He can’t have anything he wants. I’m here to get it and be on my way, and hopefully restore a bit of peace to this place I loved back when I looked a little different than it does now. The people were more welcoming, and the kingdom wasn’t ruled with an iron fist.”
The whole pirate crew laughed, but lifted their glasses to her, “Well then we wish you luck. We don’t gamble on hope, but you seemed determined, so more power to you.”
Marina and Julia laughed, “yeah, that’s kind of the whole idea.”
Julia turned to walk out the door, but Marina caught her arm, “I think I’m going to stay here. You should go on.”
“I thought this was a serious study for you,” Julia squinted in confusion
Marina shrugged, “Yeah, but the more I think about it, this seems pretty personal. I get a strong feeling that this might be something you need to do alone,” Marina said sincerely.
She nodded, unconvinced, “so this sudden change of heart wouldn’t have anything to do with the hot, gun-toting pirate king now would it?”
“What? I have no idea what you are talking about,” Marina laughed, “okay, so it might be that, but also I think it would be best, for you, I mean.”
Julia thought for a moment, and suddenly found herself in agreement, “Yeah, maybe you’re right.”
“Just don’t die, okay?” Marina smiled and patted Julia’s shoulder before turning back to the bar. It was interesting to see Marina think about someone else needs before her own wants…well in her own way.
Julia sighed and looked around the pub at all the creatures, local Fillorians, and pirates from lands far away, that she knew she could help if she had the means to.
She walked through the village and even with her hood over her head, Julia could tell that her presence did not go unnoticed amongst the villagers. Concerned whispers of who this stranger could be were felt on the chill breeze, telling everyone that the cold winter was on its way. Julia felt a small yank on her cloak and turned around sharply to find a small girl with curly hair gazing up at her.
“Excuse me, ma’am, my mama says I’m not allowed to talk to strangers, but who are you? I’ve never seen you here before and we don't get visitors here, except for a merchant sometimes.”
Julia smiled at her, “I’m just heading to the forest.”
“The talking forest?” the girl questioned enthusiastically.
She nodded, “that’s the one. I think I left something there. I’m going to try to see if I can find it.”
Julia continued walking and the girl skipped alongside her, “must be important. People don’t go into the forest anymore. The Dark King says it’s not allowed. He has tried to burn it down so many times, but it just won’t burn,” she said in the matter-of-fact tone that all little kids have, “the trees on the edge of the woods still give us fruit whenever we need it though. And they hide it when the king’s men come here, like they are saving it for us. Peaches are my favorite,” she smiled.
“I don’t remember planting peach trees here,” Julia muttered
They came upon the edge of the forest, just outside of town. She remembered the border of the forest being much further away but apparently the trees took on a mind of their own. Julia stood there, taking it the sight of massive overgrown wood, branches tangled together, and she felt a subtle hum from the earth and up into her chest, almost like the trees were beckoning her forward.
The girl stood still behind her and coughed slightly to get her attention, “Miss? Is this you?”
“Hmm?” Julia questioned and turned around to look at her. Upon turning she saw a tall woman carved into a tree trunk, standing guard over the path into the forest. The carving had long, flowing hair over her shoulders and the eyes carved had a sort of permanent sadness. The likeness was uncanny.
“Are you Our Lady of the Tree?” the little girl asked
Julia smiled and laughed a little, “I think I was once.”
The girl gawked and the rummaged in her pockets, she came up with a handful of berries, “here, my lady.”
Julia took the berries from her hand and did a few tuts. Before the girl’s eyes, the few berries became an overflowing basket, “here you go, my dear. Go share them with your family, okay?”
“Thank you so much, Miss,” she gasped, did a clumsy curtsy, and took the basket from Julia’s hands.
“ELLIE! IT’S TIME TO COME HOME!” a voice called loudly from the village just a little way back up the path.
“Oh, that’s my mom calling me, I have to go!” the girl took off so quickly and then stopped so fast she sent dirt up into the air, “And miss? I hope you find what you’re looking for.”
The girl smiled at her and something about the sincerity of her voice and the look in her eyes seemed so familiar she couldn’t help but smile back. Ellie took off then, leaving Julia standing there on her own. “I hope so too,” she muttered to herself.
Julia made her way, alone, to the edge of the forest and though her feet planted themselves in the dirt, she felt an almost gentle wind pushing her to enter and claim what belonged to her. She picked up one foot after the other and disappeared in the shadows between the trees.
It was like it was a different place to her than the one she grew and left in the capable hands of local farmers. And though three hundred years had passed, the forest vibrated on a different frequency, similar to what she remembered from her time elsewhere with Iris. The trees almost sounded like they were humming to each other as she walked under their branches. It wasn’t long before she couldn’t remember which way she was going or which way she came from. She didn’t know if it had been ten minutes or ten hours, but she couldn’t feel the twinge of fear that usually came with finding oneself lost, she felt peace for the first time in a long, long time.
She came upon a lone tree at the center of everything. It stood taller than the others and glowed dimly a soft blue. The wind blew for a brief moment and the sounds of cracking bark echoed into the forest, “Ah, we’ve been waiting for you, Miss Julia.”
She stood stunned for just a moment and replied, “Who is we?”
“All of us, the bearers of your power, a forest of your creation. We have long awaited this day, hoping you’d come,” the tree spoke softly.
Julia shook her head, “but I don’t understand. I don’t understand how you’ve grown like this or how so much time passed in Fillory. I don’t even know where my power is, I feel it, but I can’t reach it.”
“Many questions remain a mystery, but you always were the one to find the answers. As for your power, it’s all around you, Julia. It’s us, it’s the ground, it’s the rains above, it’s the fruit that feeds the people. It’s everywhere here,” the tree moved slowly and untwisted her trunk to reveal a glowing blue essence within, “However, it mostly resides here, safe away from the evils and continuing to give in the ways you do.”
Julia took a few steps forward, eyes wide, reaching her hand out to the sudden wave of electricity running through her veins. She quickly jerked her hand back when the feeling of power overwhelmed her body in harsh jolts. “To be unmade is painful, so is rebirth. Of that I can attest to personally.”
She turned her face down in shame for her actions while she was shade-less.
“Worry not, child. All comes in due time, in life, in death, and so on. Our lives are cyclical. Yours is not.”
Julia shook her head, “but I don’t understand. I don’t understand why it’s not just gone. I don’t understand how it made all of this,” she gestured around herself at the vastness of the dark, dense forest.
“You have bound our soul to this land, Julia. You grew this forest from nothing, and as we continued to grow the villages prospered, the elderly don't fall to illness, the children live to see the coming spring, all because of you. The trees on the edge of the woods tell me of the Dark Kings reign and this has protected us from the armies and the flames” the tree gestured a branch to the glowing blue within her, “when you expelled your powers so violently from your body to make the keys, the shell of it still lingered within you, keeping your vessel a divine beacon. Powerless but not completely lost. However, when the last of it was amputated, instead of dying, it endured. It fled and found its way here, to a place you left a part of yourself, both in destruction and in creation.”
Her voice cracked a little in her throat, “I didn’t know that would happen when I did it. I just had to fix what I ruined.”
“Your intentions speak true to your heart. You’ve been to countless worlds and that has never changed. It planted itself here and all the while, it’s been growing and creating beauty where you taught it to,” one of her many branches gestured out into the forest, which had grown exponentially since her magic took residence there and with the passage of centuries.
Julia remember how it felt to force the trees up from the ground and send their roots deep into the earth, and demand that the trees grow food for the people. She had taken everything away from them, so when she planted her feet in the dirt and brought the seeds from below to fruition, she felt like how she imagined a volcano must feel when it finally achieves its purpose. It wasn’t that long ago in her mind, though it felt like ages, but still the forest had fed and protected generations of Fillorians and it was the only solace she found from what she had done when flames danced in her own cold eyes.
“It’s been waiting for you here and growing so that you can be what you once were and more, if that’s what you wish. You have to opportunity to do what you were born to do,” the Great Tree said gently.
Julia let out a shaken sigh, “but how do I know that this is what I was born to be? There have been countless versions of me in countless timelines. How do I know what I’m supposed to do or who I’m supposed to be? I don’t know what path to take, there are too many…and somehow not enough at the same time.”
“We have faith you will make the choice you need to make, Miss Julia. Whatever you choose, there are good things on the horizon for you.”
She wanted to believe that so desperately, she wanted to but the odds stacked against them stood in stark contrast to everything she ever tried to do for good.
The tree snapped and crackled as it shook off its moss and groaned while it reached to the sky to feel the last light of day on her golden leaves. “We have all made this decision together. You have to take it, Julia.”
The heart of the tree glowed in bright blue, reaching out to her as she got closer. Within proximity to her magic, her mind became clear of doubt and mortal whims, and she felt more than anything a sense of truth. As a goddess, she knew things that she never dreamed as a human to even wish to know. Standing in the forest, she knew more destruction would follow if she took what she wanted, what she needed.
“I can’t. It’s a part of you now, it’s a part of the forest,” Julia said hesitantly, fearing the worst but understanding an undeniable truth, “If I take it, you all will wither and die.”
The great tree nodded slightly as her bark groaned, “Yes, we will die, and you will grow. We will live again either by your hand or reborn by the warmth of the coming spring, ” A swift wind blew through the forest and the leaves almost sounded like applause. “Take it and become the goddess Persephone knew you could be.”
“I can’t,” she shook her head, her eyes welling tears at the brim, “I can’t do it. I burned this forest and I felt nothing. It wasn’t until I got my shade back that I felt you all die. I felt it so deep in my soul. It was an atrocity that I was responsible for, I did it, no one else. I killed all of you because I could and because I wanted to. It was heartless and selfish. I can’t do that again. You provide for all the people and animals that live here. I can’t take that away again.”
The great tree’s bark loudly protested at her movements, cracking as she leaned closer to Julia, “My dear child, I see your soul because it is now mine. We are mirrors in a way, you and I. So, I know that you don’t feel that way now. You understand what this means just as we all do, that this is a sacrifice. Make no mistake, it’s not just for you, but for all the gifts you will give in your time. Our people have already tended to the harvest. Nothing more will come until spring and the animals will find their way, I promise,” she sighed and shuffled her branches, “I cannot tell you which path you must follow, but it belongs to you, it is bound to you, and though we are all of you and your magic has brought us splendor and many gifts, it doesn’t belong here.”
Tears cascades over the brims of her eyes and she nodded. She knew what she had to do to stop the terror in Fillory, to help her friends, to help Quentin, to help herself. She reached out a hesitant hand and tendrils of blue light reached out to her, connecting with her fingers and spilling into her veins.
The pain was indescribable, like being struck by a thousand lightning bolts and plummeting into the ground from a great height. Power poured into her body and glowed a map of veins and arteries until all of her shone bright blue and light cascaded out in all directions over the horizon, visible for miles and miles around.
The power drained from the trees and settled into its home, her eyes were the last thing to stop glowing as her human body changed and twisted and came back together as the goddess she used to be and more. When she finally came to, she was on the ground beneath the Great Tree and all the leaves started to fall around her. She looked at her hands, she shook and trembled as she reacquainted herself with the feeling of holding storms and life and wind and all possibility within.
Julia stood, anew, and gently ran her fingers over the bark of the Great Tree, preserving her life force and placing a cold frost on everything around her, settling the forest in for a long sleep inside and early winter. The cold that would come would be extraordinary, the people would stay warm in their homes, telling stories until the world thawed and came back to life.
Many miles away, Eliot stood stunned at the cottage, a dome of light that illuminating the sky before disappearing. And for the first time in a long time, he was hopeful. If Margo couldn’t save Fillory, and if Quentin couldn’t save himself, then maybe Julia would be able to do what none of them could.
And from further away, her light could be seen from Castle Whitespire. Not minutes later, cloaked riders on black stallions by the hundreds clamored out of the gatehouses and their hooves stomped like thunder, a sound the people of Fillory knew all too well.
And even beyond that, Hades stood in his castle at the epicenter of the Underworld and felt the vibrations of power, through the depths, through his own being. Julia was among them once again. The power felt familiar and he couldn’t help but smile sadly, the more she wielded and molded it, the power would become hers and thus the markings left on the worlds above by Persephone would change and dissipate. He knew it was what she had wanted, for Julia to reach possibilities they never could, but still her absence echoed everywhere.
Though they couldn’t live in the Underworld, she would bring flowers every time she returned, even if they only lasted in vibrance for the night. The way she would tend to them as they expired always made him weep. He sat on the throne of the Underworld as God of the Dead, tasked with the sacred duty of keeping the souls of mortals, of beings who knew what it meant to die. And though he had seen it billions of times, that was something he was certain he knew nothing about, not truly. Persephone's loss was the closest as he'd ever felt to death and it hollowed him out entirely. But Persephone, she had always had a tenderness for any dwindling life at it's end. She always took great care of the dying things, where most find it too hard to bring their energies to things not long for this life, that’s where she was both her happiest and saddest, be it a plant or animal or human life, she would always leave ease upon their departure. She would nurture at the beginning and at the end, always. It was the singular thing about her, that informed her whole being, that spoke to her entire truth that made him love her so wholly.
Hades knew Julia had the same intuition and hoped that she could hone that talent so the realms would not be without that kindness for long. He knew Persephone was out there somewhere, and he awaited the time when he could join her on her next journey.
Somewhere in the Underworld…
His breath was turning to steaming clouds as the temperature seemed to drop. Quentin tried to rub his hands together for heat, but he found no relief and instead shoved them back into his pockets as he kept walking.
Had it been this cold the whole time? Quentin thought to himself, maybe he just didn’t notice before, or maybe he was getting closer and closer to being human again as opposed to lost wandering spirit.
There was no day or night in the Underworld, no dawn as proof of time passing, just an endless dusk and he truly didn’t know how long it had been since he’d seen Hades or Charon or the growing number of demons, intent on keeping him there forever.
The colder he got, the more tired he grew, and the more he wished that he could be home.
Not New Jersey, or New York, or even Brakebills. Those places gave him all they could give him, but never the ease he always needed. He was so fucking tired of quests and journeys and craved to remember all of the details of a simple life he lived so many years ago.
It could have been time or being trapped in a physical manifestation of his own depression, but the longer it went on, more it all became blurry and that was the saddest part of all of it, to not remember the little things that made being stuck at a cottage in the middle of nowhere, not only a good life lived, but the best life one could live.
He had begun to forget what the sunrises looked like and how its light glittered on all the tiles, or how the leaves danced on the ground when then wind blew, or how Teddy’s little snores sounded when he fell asleep outside reading, or how it smelled when Arielle baked pie and danced around the living room with Eliot, or how Eliot’s fingers felt when they gently pushed his hair out of his face.
He was forgetting.
His brows furrowed as he tried and failed to access those memories that were guiding him home. Absent of their comfort, he began to panic.
“Okay, okay, this is fine, I can remember. It’s fine.” He tried to tell himself to no avail. Quentin’s hands started to shake as the franticness set into his veins, which was certainly not one of the first things he wanted to feel as he regained his physical body. “Great,” he said rolling his eyes, and rubbing his hands together to try again to warm them.
He took a deep breath, “Okay, let’s try this again,” he closed his eyes and tried to focus.
The blood coursing through his body slowed and his heart returned to a normal rhythm. The chill in his bones lessened, giving him some relief from the shaking to keep warm. The golden light shone before him brightly, and he kept walking.
Quentin rounded a bend in the path and found fog covering his view.
Well fuck. Now what? he thought to himself.
The fog slowly cleared, and he felt warmth on his skin for the first time since he’d set out on this seemingly endless godforsaken fucking walk.
Only a single structure stood at the far side of the clearing he now found himself in. He knew it, he knew it like the back of his hand, as if it were yesterday.
Amongst the log piles and tiles, the peach and the plum trees, he saw the chimney burning away and inside the house was aglow as it had always been. He spotted a single silhouette in the window and he ran as fast as his feet could take him, passed the peach trees, tiles clinking under his shoes, and up to the door. He took as deep a breath as his lungs could hold and exhale sharply as he opened the door.
There, standing in the dim doorway, peace overtook him, and he’d never been happier in all his life, or lives, to be home. He walked in and the door shut behind him.
The dark lantern hanging just to the right of the door swung back and forth in the chill breeze, cold to the touch.
Wooo it’s been a long time since I worked on this but I’m very excited to continue this story. Please leave a kudos if you enjoyed and or a comment with any constructive feedback. Thanks for reading!