Rory Thorne is a princess with thirteen fairy blessings, the most important of which is to see through flattery and platitudes. As the eldest daughter, she always imagined she’d inherit her father’s throne and govern the interplanetary Thorne Consortium.
Then her father is assassinated, her mother gives birth to a son, and Rory is betrothed to the prince of a distant world.
When Rory arrives in her new home, she uncovers a treacherous plot to unseat her newly betrothed and usurp his throne. An unscrupulous minister has conspired to name himself Regent to the minor (and somewhat foolish) prince. With only her wits and a small team of allies, Rory must outmaneuver the Regent and rescue the prince.
How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse is a feminist reimagining of familiar fairytale tropes and a story of resistance and self-determination—how small acts of rebellion can lead a princess to not just save herself, but change the course of history.
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Once Upon A Time
They named the child Rory, because the firstborn of every generation was always a Rory, and had been since the first of that name had cut his way through the cursed briars on the homeworld and saved the kingdom of Thorne-and, incidentally, the princess-from the consequences of poor manners.
That the latest Rory was a girl and not a boy came as a bit of a surprise. The medical mecha scans had been clear. That little flicker on the screen had been proof of Rory's masculinity. And yet, out she came, the blood-slick product of ten hours of hard work, and the little flicker was nowhere in sight on the flesh-and-blood baby.
"A daughter!" said the midwife. She had been an attendant at too many births across the years to be surprised by the mistakes of a med-hex.
The new father-whose name was not Rory, as he was the second son, and the luckier of the two boys born to his parents-stopped himself, only just, from asking if that flicker might've broken off somewhere during the process, or if it mightn't, perhaps, appear at some point very soon. Then he locked eyes with the new mother and thought better. The Consort hailed from Kreshti, a small independent and allied planet on which skill with combat training was considered both a plain necessity (the neighbors were both ill-mannered and much larger) and a mark of personal pride, and the Consort was a very proud woman.
There had not been a daughter born in the Thorne line for ten generations, not since that first princess, the one who had needed her Rory. And thus, no one knew what to call her.
"Talia has the weight of tradition," said the Vizier. "It is her foremother's name, after all."
"A cursed foremother," said the Consort. "I think not. What's wrong with Rory? That's tradition, too."
The Vizier chose not to argue. He pointed out, to a scowling Majesty, that popular fashion indicated that the name Rory could function for all genders.
And so it was settled. Mostly.
There was another custom, which hailed from the same quaint homeworld story about magic briars and curses and poor hospitality, which had fallen into disuse, victim of the same lack of girl children in the Thorne line. The Vizier (re)discovered it by accident, while looking for appropriate girls' names among the rare, expensive, fragile paper tomes in the Thorne family library, which had been shipped at great expense from the homeworld when the kingdom had become a Consortium and moved its capital to the planet named for its founding line. That collection of tomes was a mark of pride, a symbol of the age of the lineage, and, according to the King, absolutely vital to the integrity and reputation of the Thorne Consortium. Except for the Vizier, the library received no regular visitors.
The Vizier had gotten his position in part because he had, in addition to a doctorate in arithmancy, earned two graduate degrees in homeworld history and folklore. Finding quaint, forgotten, and neglected customs was his second favorite pastime in the multiverse. Explaining to others the relevance of those ancient customs was the first. Besides, he told himself, he would be remiss in his duties if he did not tell the King about the Naming.
He regretted his diligence almost immediately.
"I've never heard of this custom!" The King spun the priceless book and shoved it back across the desk with exactly as much care as he gave his breakfast tray after he'd finished with it.
The Vizier controlled a wince. He turned the book gently and nudged it back across the (imported, expensive, and now slightly scuffed) wood expanse with a fingertip.
"Nevertheless, Majesty. I'm afraid it's very clear. You must invite the fairies to the naming day of a girl child so that they may bless her. You know. Beauty, kindness . . . quick wits," he added under his breath.
The King thrust out his lip. "The boys do all right without that nonsense."
The Vizier did not blink. "Of course, Majesty."
"We invented void-flight and everything. No magic involved. No blessings." The King pointed at the 2D 'cast behind his desk. It was a reconstruction of the exact path the first exploratory rover had taken when it made planetfall. A panorama of dull red rocks and darker sand, creeping toward a sepia horizon. The King had set the 'cast to repeat itself, endlessly.
"Do you see that, Rupert? We did that. We Thornes. It's amazing. Phenomenal. Beautiful."
"Yes, Majesty." The Vizier did not point out that the rover had been unmanned. Nor did he point out that the rover's landing site now hosted the void-port, a high-end shopping establishment for off-world visitors, and a full set of embassies, and that the King himself had never set foot on that planet.
The 'cast restarted its loop. The Vizier cleared his throat.
"What? Oh," said the King. He blinked and pressed his fingers over his eyes, creating a nest of fine wrinkles in the skin. "What will the investors think? The Thornes will look stupid. I will look stupid. And the Consort will probably laugh at me."
Oh, thought the Vizier. That's almost inevitable. He cleared his throat again. "Call it exactly what it is, Majesty. A quaint custom from the homeworld. Use the Naming as an opportunity to remind your subjects about our origins. Use it as a celebration of our progress."
The King frowned.
"Thorne progress, Majesty." The Vizier smiled. He practiced that smile in the mirror every day. Lips curved around just the palest hint of teeth. Eyes firmly blank. "It could be an excellent public relations move. Insist on a reenactment, of sorts. A pageant. If his Majesty will permit, I've taken the liberty of drawing up some names of suitable ladies who might play the twelve-"
"Fine." The King was already glazing over. He flittered his fingers at the Vizier. "All right. Whatever."
"-but I would like his Majesty's advice on who should play the thirteenth."
The King blinked. "What?"
The Vizier rebooted his smile. "The thirteenth fairy, Majesty. She was the one who cursed Talia."
"Then why would we want her? She was bad luck, right? We don't want bad luck." The King grinned, suddenly. "The Consort's mother would be a good choice, though. Ha. No. Skip the thirteenth fairy. Leave that part out. Make the ceremony an exact reenactment. I want it perfect. Only." He stopped. "The fairies won't come. You're certain. They're not, I don't know, xenos or something."
The Vizier controlled a tiny sigh. "No, Majesty. They are not xenos. They will not come."
The King glanced uneasily at the 'cast, as if the beings in question might be hiding behind the rust-colored rocks. "Well, but, what if they do?"
The fairy invitations were written on vellum, hand-scribed with genuine ink and a genuine pen in period-specific calligraphy that only the Vizier himself could write, much less read. He could have written the cook's favorite cobbler recipe, or enumerated the King's favorite athletic teams, or made a list of all the bullies he'd survived during his childhood. But being both arithmancer and historian, the Vizier was more than a bit obsessive, and very devoted to detail, so it is no surprise that he wrote the invitations as best he could to the specifications set forth in the record. He had to consult with the court astronomer to calculate the calendar for a single moon and the homeworld's longer solar revolution, and although he consulted with local biologists for local equivalents, he chose in the end to use homeworld fauna.
The Royal House of Thorne
requests the Honor of Your Presence
Princess Rory Thorne
First Day of the Seventh Moon
Year of the Wolf
Lacking the authentic delivery system-sparrows being in short supply, and not well-suited to tesser-hex-the Vizier elected to leave the invitations, neatly rolled and tied with silk ribbons, in a secluded corner of the royal gardens. He tucked them into the branches of the single homeworld tree species that would grow in the light of a foreign sun. It was not a large tree, and the Vizier felt sorry for it, burdened as it was under the weight of the tradition.
He gave the gardener strict orders to leave the invitations alone.
When, three days later, the gardener reported the invitations missing, the Vizier assumed that local fauna (probably tree-rats) had developed a taste for vellum. It was an ignominious end to his labors, but then, he was accustomed to that.
The rest of the guests got the standard electronic invitation, delivered from one impersonal machine to another, and filtered up through the appropriate chain of attendants. It was less aesthetically satisfying, but ultimately more reliable. The Vizier consoled himself with the planning of the actual ceremony: commissioning costumes and choosing which women were best suited to play the twelve fairies in the pageant, where best suited meant politically inoffensive, prudent, desirable, and/or necessary, in that order. That was, in the end, a great deal more work than the fairy invitations had been. And it proved to be an entirely wasted effort.
The vellum, ink, and ribbon, however, did not.
On the first day of the seventh moon, which was technically the third pass of the second of the two moonlets, in the year of an animal the only knowledge of which came from old homeworld video footage that only the Vizier and the Consort had bothered to watch, the unofficial Princess Rory Thorne became the official Princess Rory Thorne.
The party was spectacular. All the guests had, per the King's request, come in historically authentic costume. Or, rather, they had tried. There were imported silks and velvets mixed with Martian brocades and leather (from various animals, both native and not) boots. But the overall shape of the garments was correct, and although the Vizier suspected some of the guests might have chosen less than academically reliable sources for their inspiration, he decided he could not complain.
Even the xenos had gotten into the spirit. The foreign attendees, some of whom had too many (or too few) limbs to manage corsets and hose and boots, came as culturally appropriate inanimate objects. The k'bal had come as a five-armed candelabrum, standing two meters tall, with blue carapace showing where the cosmetics had rubbed off. Each head wore a little flame-shaped hat, made of a fine metal mesh that fluttered with each exhale from its cranial vents. There was a teapot, too: an adapted environmental suit for the mirri President, whose daughter-buds had come as little cups.
When the designated hour for the ceremony arrived, the Vizier rang the silver gong. It was a perfect and exact replica, the original having been lost to looters in the initial instability following the first Rory incident, when the homeworld kingdom found itself absent a royal family and possessed of a very large, overgrown patch of briars. The guests obediently withdrew to the great hall's perimeter. The Consort entered with the Princess in her arms. She, too, wore a costume: an elaborate confection of silk and velvet involving a great many laces along the torso. She didn't look happy about it. Her grim-lipped body-maid, in a much simpler garment, stalked along in the Consort's wake, raking suspicious eyes across the guests. Even the gentle little mirri teacups got a scowl.
The King was already in place on a dais, beside the royal cradle-which was the original-resplendent in furs and reproduction armor. He beamed at the Consort. At the Princess. At the multiverse in general. After his initial skepticism, he had thrown himself into the Naming Day preparations with startling enthusiasm. The Vizier suspected the armor was to blame. It was heavy, metal, ridiculous, and very manly.
The Vizier edged closer to the King, in case his Majesty needed prompting through the script. He needn't have worried. The King boomed out a formal welcome to his guests, presented the Consort, and oversaw the placing of the Princess into her cradle. Tradition dictated that the guests would, one at a time (as species-appropriate), come to the dais and offer both blessing and gifts to Rory. But first, the fairies.
"I welcome first the guardians of my kingdom, on whose goodwill all our luck rests." The King sucked a deep breath. The Vizier spotted motion reflected in the King's breastplate, a pinkish blur, from the far doorway. He turned that way, expecting to see the General-Commander's wife stuffed into her First Fairy robes.
And so the Vizier, man of arithmancy and education, possessor of two degrees in the obscure and overlooked, was the first human being to see a fairy in five hundred years.
She was taller than he'd imagined (because a man does not spend a large slice of his life studying quaint folk beliefs and not wonder what a fairy would look like). She stood at least half a meter taller than the tallest human in the room, which put her at a level with the tallest of the k'bal's cranial stalks. Her dress was an iridescent, impossible close cousin of red, and as unlike red as stars were to swamp gas. Her skin was faintly pink, the palest echo of her dress. Tiny scales shimmered along her cheekbones, her forehead, the proud arch of her nose. Silver-shot vermillion hair, blasted white at the temples, coiled in a severe knot at the nape of her neck. Her eyes matched her hair, bisected by a single silver pupil. She did not walk as much as she floated across the tile. Not a whisper, not a sound.
She climbed the dais. Took her place on the far side of the cradle. Nodded encouragement at the King.
Who stared saucer-eyed at the Vizier. But you said they weren't real warped his lips, fluttered in his throat. Came out as a breathy, strangled, "Wah."
The Consort slid her slippered foot sideways, hard, into the King's armored boot. The Vizier heard the meaty thump and winced on the Consort's behalf. She didn't flinch. Didn't blink, when her husband looked at her.
The King cleared his throat. "Welcome," he said again, to the First Fairy. His eyes clutched at the Vizier. Then, carefully, mechanically, the King welcomed the rest of the fairies. One by one.
By the fourth (aquamarine, angular, and very tall), the Vizier was sure they were xenos. By the ninth (cobalt, whose robes draped in a fashion that suggested rather too many limbs for a human), he was unsure again. By the twelfth (the smallest, pale, and round as the second moon), he simply didn't care. They were beautiful. They were magical.