The countess felt the call to the tower before the servants came looking for her. An urgency filled her and she picked up her skirts and ran, not caring who saw her in what she knew was going to be her last dash to see her lover.
He was working frantically in his laboratory, murmuring his incantations as he marked on the walls and the floor. His hand was shaking as he drew the last ones directly around himself and sat down. With a shaky breath, he composed himself and looked out of the circle.
“Oh, good,” he said. “You came.”
“I couldn’t ignore- is it time? Now?” Her breath came out hard and tears had started streaming down her cheeks.
“It’s time,” he nodded.
“It’s too soon,” she said, sinking to her knees outside of the circles. “There’s not a potential heir old enough to even consider claiming the throne. I’m not ready.”
“You’ve been trained for this your entire life, my love. You can do this.”
“I’ve been ruling for years, I can handle that. You can’t go yet.”
“My magic will be even greater once my body has expired,” the wizard said. “I do not regret leaving this life behind except for you. The joy of my old age and the administrator I had hoped for. With this spell, I will continue holding to my vow of keeping this kingdom safe until the proper heir could be found. You will keep to your vow and run the kingdom until that time comes.”
She nodded and they sat, separated by the chalk and gold that so physically represented their duty. The physical separation pained her in ways she couldn’t describe. It hadn’t always been easy being the wizard’s mistress but she’d always had the hope that she could be with him to the end. The last king had been surrounded by his loved ones, grieved over by both his wife and mistress, as he died. It struck her as unfair that her lover would die alone in his tower, denied even the comforting touch of a familiar hand as his body expired. She suspected that, more than wanting to comfort him, she wanted him to comfort her.
“I won’t really be gone,” the wizard said kindly. “The soul glass has been in place for months and I can travel even faster around the kingdom than the swiftest horse could carry me. And you know how these old bones have ached from travel these last few years.”
“I know, my love,” she sniffed. “And I do not begrudge you the end of your pain, as much as I wish to keep you here for my comfort.”
“There is one more thing I would ask of you,” he said. “Not a vow I wish to extract but a hope.”
“The cats,” she said. “You want me to watch over the cats.”
“They are my children,” he nodded. “Moreso than any I would have had physically. They did not ask to become what they are but the world will not be kind to them.”
Her mouth thinned thinking about the experiments he had carried out years earlier, trying to master changing one creature into another. The cats had actually worked relatively well as humans and it wasn’t as difficult as one would have thought to breed them with real humans enough for true intelligence. Few people realized what the wizard had done but there was a whole system among the servants to determine who was human and who was a hybrid.
“I’ll watch after them,” she said.
“Then my last concern is laid to rest. Thank you, my dear, for being here, at the end.” The wizard said and the breath sighed out of his body. She watched the lines on the floor and walls begin to glow as his soul was caught by the spell he’d woven. It all led to a glass in a locket on his work table. It shone brightly for a brief moment then was gone.
The countess rose and walked into the laboratory, laying a hand briefly on her lovers body, and picked up the locket. The slipped the chain over her head and the locket nestled directly between her breasts. She smiled ruefully at what she was sure was not a coincidence then called for the servants to prepare the body for burial.
She made her way to the throne room, already making lists in her head of the moves she would have to make to solidify her rule until a proper heir could be found. Her only desire was to lead the country smoothly through the transition to a new king without civil war. It wasn’t until she sat down in the throne that she realized how much of the castle had been covered with the soul glass. Even the floor of the throne room had been repaved in the glass that would allow her wizard lover to move effortlessly around the kingdom. The throne itself looked as though the glass had been poured over it to harden.
As she sat, the countess felt the throne move around her, parts of it caressing her, and a voice whispered into her ear, “The glass moves when I tell it to. This may have distinct possibilities.”