Not sure if the title is final, but you can all read the first chapter. :D Its over 5000 words long though... o-o; I would recommend printing this out, or at least sitting back from the computer. DOn't want your eyes to get burnt out x_X
Chapter 1 :: Prelude
It was mid-afternoon; the sun was aglow just above the horizon, causing shadows to stretch out across the plains and hills. The moon could be seen faintly in the sky, which was slowly fading towards an orange color. A palace perched on a hill overlooked the city of Aqtinar, its streets bustling with people going about the daily grind, lost in their own thoughts. The sky was speckled with tiny birds, all flying in different directions, and the clouds dappling the sky cast a reddish glow. The opulent façade of the palace faced northward, and wrapped in ivy, its columns seemed to stretch up into the sky. Today was a very nice day.
Her long, brunette hair glistening in the fading sunlight, Siren sat down with Iris and Lucia at her stately dinner table. Being the monarch of a country as vast as hers didn’t allow for much time for family or relaxation; so eating dinner with her sisters was going to be a treat. As well as being a strong queen, Siren also knew the importance of family bonds, and had always cherished time spent with her siblings.
Siren was the leader of Neveau, a politically and economically thriving coastal country situated on the continent of Valhera. She was the second ruler in the monarchial dynasty of the Idris family, which started under her father James. Neveau had been formerly ruled by a long line of oppressive, politically unstable, and generally disliked kings and queens, the Kohluas, until the Idris family overthrew them and had James take the reigns of the country. Under the newly appointed Idris family, the country experienced a well needed rebirth. James and his wife Gloria brought prosperity to Neveau, and led very enjoyable lives, getting closely acquainted to many of the members of parliament and nobles; sometimes a little too close.
After their expulsion from office, the Kohlua family left with their supporters and took over one of the smaller, neighboring countries of Lanarr. The only member who stayed behind was Dahlia, beautiful and headstrong, who was currently serving in parliament, the granddaughter of the previous monarch. James found an interest in Dahlia and, unknown to Gloria, had a daughter named Iris by her. Soon after the birth of Iris, Dahlia left the country to take over the kingdom of Lanarr from her father. One year later, Siren was born to James and Gloria, and two years afterward, Lycia was introduced to the family.
When Siren had aged fifteen, Dahlia came with Iris on a trip to Neveau. Through a series of untrustworthy people and a stroke of misfortune, the country soon found out that James had a daughter through Dahlia. A deeply religious people, the Nevorians now despised James for his immoral behavior and proceeded to execute him and his wife. As the oldest rightful daughter, Siren assumed the throne, while the rest of the country hoped for a fresh start. Threatened by angry mobs, Dahlia and Iris fled back to Lanarr seeking security.
That was seventeen years ago.
For a moment or two, Siren and her sisters sat in silence. The curtains hanging on the wall were slowly swaying in the faint breeze, while the fountain outside the window caused the sunlight to run helter-skelter along the walls. The quiet was broken by the manservant coming to present dinner, followed by two others, all three of them carrying gleaming silver platters. Lucia’s eyes brightened from their former lackluster hues at the sight of the food. The chef had prepared a perfectly cooked pork roast, garnished aplenty with apples and spices; a plethora of fruits, freshly picked from the palace’s immense gardens and orchards, providing an onrush of color; and three glass goblets of wine. A generic meal, to be sure, but it was none the less palatable.
Lucia started off the conversation by saying, “Nessa! This dinner looks spectacular!”
“Don’t tell me, tell the chef,” she smiled and chuckled as she started to serve the meal to her sisters.
The crisp autumn air flew in through the open window and danced with the dinner aromas, creating a warm, comforting atmosphere in the room. Iris asked Lucia, “So, Lucy, how are you and Valen doing?”
“Things couldn’t be better,” she laughed, “Just the other day he took me walking in the fields just outside town.” Her eyes glazed over as she smiled appreciatively into the setting sun, then coming back to reality and asking, “How have both of your jobs been going? I’m sure it’s not all fun and games being rulers of your very own country!”
“Don’t even get me started,” Siren remarked, “I barely had time to schedule this dinner, I only hope I’ll actually have time to enjoy it.”
Right then, as if fate were listening, one of the entrance attendants ran into the dining hall, bowed cursorily before Siren and said, “Your highness, a matter of urgency has just arisen. You are wanted in the main hall immediately.” He bent low and tucked one arm under his chest while thrusting the other towards the door.
Siren groaned as she hesitantly arose from her seat, but managed to make her way towards the door, stopping to look back once while mouthing the word “sorry” to her sisters. Her light blue dress fluttered as she walked down the lengthy halls of her palace, passing by numerous family portraits and various paintings by well-known artists. The attendant followed close behind, prattling on about what was happening, but Siren wasn’t listening. She would find out soon enough, she figured. When she turned into the foyer and walked towards the entrance, she saw a group of merchants standing in the front yard; one of them, most likely the leader, was talking to one of the guards.
Their troupe was a mix of both traders and troubadours. The wheels of their wagons were worn, and the horses were drinking eagerly from the trough next to the flower beds. This caravan was no doubt nomadic and Siren wondered what news they could have brought. The leader, wearing a green outfit, turned and noticed Siren walking out the door; he stopped conversing with the guards and stepped towards her while whisking his curly black hair out of his eyes.
“Good evening,” he started, “I’m sorry I have to interrupt your business, but these matters are urgent. First, let me introduce myself. My name is Cloy, and this caravan is my family, if you will.”
Siren replied, “What is this matter that is so urgent?” She said this with a very slight tone of reproach, but Cloy thought naught of it and proceeded to speak.
“You see milady, we travel all over Valhera, trading with and entertaining people. On our journey this year as we were traveling through Synae, we stopped at the capital to do business in the market. While there, one of our young ones was walking through the alleyways and overheard some men talking about an attack on Neveau.”
Siren stood aghast for a moment, and Cloy continued to speak, “Some of us tried to find out more information, but nothing was heard, so these may be just fantasies. But then again, this could be an actual attempt of war on your country.”
“But why do you tell me these things? You bear the Valencian crest on your wagons. Your country is one of our enemies.”
“A war between any two countries is not favorable for a merchant clan. It disrupts trade routes and causes defensiveness and paranoia. No one is trusted, especially travelers. An outbreak between you and Synae would cause distress for not just our group but countless others as well.”
“I see. Thank you for your consideration, and for your time. I will ponder what you have told me and act accordingly. Farewell!” She turned back into the house and whisked back to the dining room where her sisters had carried on a conversation of their own.
The conversation faded when Siren sat back down at the table and Iris asked, “So what was that all about Nessa?”
“Oh, just the normalcy of being a monarch. Nothing really out of the ordinary.”
“Then why was it so ‘urgent’?” Inquired Lucia.
“Who knows? The men probably just wanted a quick answer to their plight. In any occasion, it is not really important. Shall we carry on with our dinner that was so inopportunely interrupted?”
“They may be my sisters, but I mustn’t trouble them with the thought of impending war. The situation may get out of hand. I will have to discuss this with the Star Court tomorrow.” Siren thought to herself and continued to stew about in her mind all through dinner.
The next morning, Siren saw off her sisters as they began their journey back to Lanarr. The pristine horses on the royal carriage were restless and wanted to get a move on. As Iris and Lucia turned to go down the hill, Siren waved until they were out of sight. When she got back inside the house, she quickly took two of her messengers and told them to alert the members of the Star Court about an emergency meeting planned for later that day. They quickly sped off on horses into the city below. She also sent word to other trusted nobles to see if they had heard anything about the alleged surprise attack. Nothing like this had ever happened before, so why now? The Sinians had no motive for their actions, at least, none that anyone knew about.
Synae was one of the strongest military countries in Valhera. They were certainly nothing to be trifled with when it came to war time or military matters, which is why Siren had acted quickly to assemble the court. If the Sinians somehow took control of Neveau as well, they would no doubt become the strongest country on the continent. War was very sparse in Valhera, as many of the regions had good relations with each other, but when started, precautionary measures were always dealt with seriously. When Siren reached her office at the end of the hallway, she shut the door behind her, sat down at her desk and proceeded to think. Her mind raced with the thought of her nation being under siege. Neveau had always focused on their artistic goals and economy, as the threat of war hadn’t come up since the Kohlua’s reign. Suddenly, Siren’s eyes brightened; she immediately got up and floated swiftly through the palatial corridors, making her way to the eastern wing.
She thought to herself, “Why hadn’t I thought of this before?”
When she reached the library, she made her way towards the Nevorean history section. The shelves of the library were stacked from floor to ceiling with books of all kinds; satire, history, poetry, science, and everything anyone could ever dream of reading. The room was circular, all the shelves facing the center of the room, which held a plethora of cozy reading chairs and ottomans. This room was where Siren had spent many days when the weather was dreary.
“For all of us know: History tends to repeat itself.” She turned towards the shelves of inter-regional relationships, scrounging for all the books that mentioned the ties between Synae and Neveau. After only a few minutes, a large pile of manuscripts and texts had accumulated on the burgundy rug in the center of the room. Finally, Siren plopped herself down onto one of the plush chairs and tried to figure out where she should start. She decided to start reading the most recent manuscripts, since she figured the belligerent Sinians wouldn’t attempt to revive an ancient feud that seemingly no one cared about.
After pouring over the books for half an hour, she finally stumbled upon something interesting. Over three hundred years before, when the rulers of Neveau were the Cyrna family, there was an alliance of countries that formed against Synae called The Magicite League. She looked at the cover to see what the book was called. The pages were hardly worn, which seemed to say the book had hardly been open. The cover, however, was weathered and beaten, its leather was slightly cracked in a few places. The title was written in beautiful gold calligraphy, and was also embossed; it read, “Of the Realms of Magic: A Valheran History”. She stopped skimming the pages and read the segment; if an alliance of nations had come together to prevent Synae from doing something, it must be important.
“The Magicite League-
During the reign of Enhelgar of Neveau, the Sinian Empire sought to strengthen their army through use of the magicite. The rest of the Five Principal Nations opposed this action: Neveau, Valencia, Sonoralle, and Etrun. These countries, and many smaller principalities came together to form The Magicite League in 3103. Synae, already the strongest of the principal nations in their army, in both size and strength, continued to grow by educating a select few of their warriors in the Shroud using all of the continent’s magicite.
The magicite are crystals that contain the keys to ancient spells. There are six known magicite: one was given to each of the principal countries, while one was hidden by the magician order. By themselves, the magicite provide simple spells for those who are able to learn them. Each crystal is said to glow a different colour which denotes their energy affinity. According to the magician order, when three or more were brought together, they unlocked great power, depending on which three they were. This great power was thus called the Shroud.
War of the Magicite-
During the years 3102-3106, the Sinians stole the four magicite from the other principal countries. This caused uproar with the other nations, who strived for a balance of power between the nations. As the Sinians raised their army of Shroud Mages, the Magicite League was formed and picked those with the greatest stealth in the regions, employed them under the national seal, and sent them to attempt to bring back the magicite. While the nations of Valhera fought off the Sinians in numerous battles, these stealth teams made their way to infiltrate the Synae government, and won back three of the four lost magicite, while one of the officials fled from of the country with the fourth.
Etrun, being the smallest of the principal countries, allowed itself not to have one of the magicite. The three crystals retrieved went to Neveau, Valencia, and Sonoralle. The colors of the crystals were blue, green, and silver, respectively. Synae kept its red magicite hidden much better than the others, so it was not retrieved. The war ended during the battle of the five pillars in the Freyan Valley, when all the nations signed the Treaty of Freya, which instated a balance of power throughout the continent, and terminated the dynastic style of government in Synae, which was replaced by a republic.”
“So,” Siren said to herself, “this could be the reason why Synae would plan an attack. Of course, none of these assumptions have actually been proven, but…” Her voice trailed off, “In any matter, I will discuss this matter with the Star Court this afternoon.”
Siren left the books she hadn’t read in orderly piles on one of the tables and then took a silk bookmark to mark the page she had just read, tucked the book under her arm, and walked back out intending to find Marco, whose family had worked for the royal families for many centuries, and was sure to know something about the magicite. As she walked through the maze-like corridors of the east wing, Siren looked at one of the older maps on the palace’s walls. The one she had stopped to look at showed many of the major battles in Valheran history. Scanning the vast area, she looked for the Freyan Valley, which was located in the south between the two mountain ranges separating Neveau from Sonoralle. In tiny script that she could barely read, Siren made out the words “Battle of Five Pillars: War of the Magicite”. Even if this wasn’t Synae’s impetus, it was still history which she found very interesting.
She continued through the parlor, stopping to ask a maid if she had seen Marco anywhere, and the maid answered by saying that she had last seen him in the den of the west wing. When she crossed the main entrance, she could see some of the members of Star Court arriving in carriages and the guards attending to them. Siren didn’t think the members would come until later, but when she noticed that the sky was already darkening, she was quite shocked. “Had I been in the library that long?”
Just as she was about to turn down the west wings main corridor, Marco walked out of it. Marco was both proper and dignified, but still presented a friendly atmosphere, which is why many of the people at Idris Palace enjoyed his company and service. His blue-slate eyes noticed the book in Sirens arms right away.
“I see you’ve been doing some reading madam,” he said as he stopped to bow politely.
“Yes Marco, I was just about to ask you about something, if you don’t mind,” she stated.
Scratching his slightly balding head he said, “Well madam, I’m not sure I’ll be able to help, but ask away.”
“I was wondering if you happen to know anything about magicite…”
“Magicite… yes, I remember quite well hearing stories from my great grandmother about them when I was young. They say that they contain memories and thoughts in their purest form.”
“Memories and… ideas? I thought they were used to contain spells.”
“Ah yes, they do indeed. You see, the spells of the magicite cannot be invoked by using words. To use them, you must have a strong desire and passion, and when someone touches the magicite, its stored memory communicates with yours, allowing your mind to receive the knowledge of those who created them. To put it more simply, the spells are stored in thoughts.”
He paused for a bit as Siren turned to wave at the oncoming nobles. She turned to look at Marco and said, “Have you ever seen the magicite Marco?”
“Yes, yes I have madam, on many occasions. I could take you to see it now if you please.”
“You know where it’s located?”
“You mean to tell me you don’t? I was sure that your father would have told you about it.”
“No, I don’t recall him ever saying anything. Could you please take me to it, I may have a meeting soon, but I think it might be important that I get to see it.”
“Well then, let us be off. This way madam!”
Marco was already walking down the hallway, and Siren hastened to follow behind. As she walked following Marco, the sunlight streamed in through the windows, making the halls have a tannish glow, making a very comforting impression. The red velvet rug ran in all directions throughout the palace; it had been tailored to exactly fit the house’s layout, which Siren felt was slightly awkward and unneeded, but it produced a continuous, smooth effect. Marco passed by Siren’s bedroom and stopped at a door to the left of it. Each door was handcrafted, and each had hundreds of carved images on them, but over time, they would get nicked and scratched with this one as no exception.
“It’s in here?” Siren asked.
“Oh no milady, I have just stopped to show you some carvings about the magicite. If you look in this section here, you can see the magicite resting in a valley, with two armies on either side of it. Long, long ago, Synae stole the magicite and a war was started that lasted four years.”
“Yes, I read about that in this book, which is why I asked you about the magicite. This would be…” Siren’s voice trailed off as she tried to remember, and then said “The Freyan Valley.”
The engraving was of and orb with a halo around it, with mountains on either side and two armies, just as Marco had said. She looked closer and could see four men running away from the battlefield, three of them holding orbs, no doubt representing the thieves and countries that regained magicite. When she was finished, Marco proceeded to walk down the hallway again. After a while, He stopped at an immense painting of the continent and its kingdoms in the west ballroom. It covered at least half of the wall, Siren figured. Marco then wrapped his hands around the right side of the picture and grunted as he pulled on the intricate golden frame. To Siren’s surprise, the frame opened outward. This uncovered a part of the wall which had been taken out, making a small sized room a few feet off of the ground. Marco unfolded a short ladder that was stored inside, allowing both he and Siren to climb up with ease.
Stooping down, Marco folded the wooden ladder back up and reached out for the handle on the back of the painting, closing it just enough so it was only slightly ajar. There no torches or lamps in the room, but Siren could faintly see the outline of a door on the cold, stone walls. When Marco reached out to open the door, the hinges squeaked quietly. He motioned her to follow him inside the doorway. When inside, she could smell the musty air and could tell that this place was not frequented often. She put her hand on the walls; the coolness ran up through her fingers into Siren’s arm, making her shiver. Marco reassured her that the path was mostly straight and would tell her when she needed to turn. He thought she could feel that that path was on a slight incline. The magicite was most likely stored underground, to keep it hidden. But why then, was the path leading to it behind a painting at the head of a ballroom? She then asked her butler this question. He explained that if anyone unwanted were to try and get in, they would surely be noticed. The only time that a thief, or foreign spy, could possibly get in was during a party, which would, of course, be held in the ballroom.
As they walked on, Siren could see a faint blue glow up ahead. As she passed by, she noticed it was a small flower. Continuing down the dank hallway were more of them, and they lit up the path significantly. She took her hand off the wall and looked down at one of the flowers. It had a tapered bell-shaped curve coming up from the stem. The flower itself was white, with a slight blue hue around the outside of its petals. The stamens that stretched out from the flower glowed brightly; Marco saw the inquisitive look on Siren’s face and told here that the pollen of the flowers glows brightly, and sticks to the anthers. He couldn’t, however, explain why the flowers grew here.
“It is said that when the mages of the Shroud came to protect the magicite, they created these flowers this way, which is why they flourish here. I have also seen the magicite of Valencia, where these flowers glow green. I assume that whatever the magicite color nearby is, that is what color the flowers are as well,” he continued.
“I had no idea any of this existed,” Siren said in wonder.
“Not many people outside of the nobility know. Magic is not commonly used or heard of anymore, but some stories are still passed down by the older generations.”
Marco and Siren finally reached a door, and in the wall around the door were carved two pillars and a banner above it with symbols written that Siren had never seen. Her guide told her that he did not know what the symbols meant either, and that only those of the Shroud knew what it really meant. When he opened the door, the entire hall was filled with a purifying light. But when Siren looked at it, it didn’t blind her; it was a soft glow, yet it was able to sufficiently light up the corridor. The halo of light around the orb pulsated very slowly and tenuously. The magicite in front of her was very different that what she had pictured while she was reading. The face of the crystal, if she could call it one, was pearlescent and shone various different shades of blue and indigo. It also seemed to be hollow, and inside of it, gracefully swimming along was something she couldn’t explain. It was like a gaseous substance, but stayed in one form, as a liquid; it swirled about and curled around itself like a lithe dancer waving a thin sheet of silk in the air. She stared in awe as it hypnotized her, making her feel light, as if her spirit were drifting around in her body in the same fashion.
The magicite sat daintily on a shimmering glass pedestal, which bent the light emanating from the orb and cast it on the ground. The room they were standing in was fairly large, large enough to hold a small party, Siren thought. Around the edges of the room were shelves embedded into the walls, which held volumes of books about history, some dating back before the establishment of countries. Siren asked Marco if she was allowed to touch the magicite. He told her she could, as he had done so once before. When she stretched out to feel it, sinuous strands of light started to pierce through the orb’s crystalline shell, and mingled with her long, slender fingers. When her hand touched the warm surface of the magicite, her whole body felt relaxed and her mind felt lifted of its burdens. Then, softly, memories from the magicite drifted into her mind. For her, it was like an orchestra of knowledge playing; she didn’t know which her own thoughts were. It was a heavenly experience for her, but when she finally removed her hand, it felt as if she were submerged underwater; the embodiment of life itself was pressed back down upon her.
She turned to Marco and stuttered, “That… Th-that was… amazing.”
He smiled warmly and replied, “Isn’t it? I still remember the first time I reached out and touched it. It was beyond anything I could have ever imagined, and still is.”
“But how could Synae use something so wonderful for their own ambition?”
“The leader of Synae at the time was very corrupt, and in the wrong hands, anything can be used for malevolent motives.”
Siren gasped as she remembered that her Star Chamber meeting was about to start, as she said, “Marco, we must go back, I have an important meeting to attend!”
He quickly led her back to the corridor. Their eyes did not need to adjust to the darkness; somehow the light and being of the magicite was not bound to mere earthly laws, but instead was ethereal. They quickly made their way back to the ballroom area and hopped down from the alcove in the wall. Siren habitually dusted off her dress and smoothed it while Marco closed up the painting’s secret. When she arrived back at the antechamber, most of the Star Court officials were there, with one or two still coming in through the door.
Siren stood on a platform in the middle of the hall, greeting everyone, “Greetings, I am glad all of you could be here. I’m sorry if this meeting has come at bad time, but an urgent matter has arisen. If you would follow me into the meeting hall, please,” she said while walking across to the southern end of the building.
There were about twenty people that attended the meeting, all of them wearing fine and lavish clothes. Some had come from other cities, but the majority lived in the capital, just at the bottom of the hill. Most of them were glad that they were meeting, since there had been no real urgent matters in the last two weeks. In the meeting hall, the nobles and officials were chatting quietly amongst themselves, both about personal and political matters. The meeting hall was arranged much like the library, a round room, but with a large round dining table surrounded by several chairs, so that everyone could see everyone. After the men and women had settled, Siren clapped her hands, and waiters with plates of refreshments came and put their platters on the table.
“I have had my servants provide a small brunch for those of you who need it, just in case,” she said. Various Thank yous were heard round the table as she continued, “Yesterday word came to my ear that Synae may be planning an attack on Neveau.”
The court murmured a bit but quickly settled down as Siren spoke again, “A traveling merchant group of Valencia came to my door yesterday and told me these things.”
Various members commented on what she had just said.
“But Valencia is one of our enemies!”
“How can you be sure they have not lied to us?”
She replied, “I know it may not seem like a relevant source, but Synae has recently made attempts to strengthen their military, and one should not be too cautious in a circumstance such as this.”
“Why would Synae attack us?”
“Yes, our relationship may not be the best, but they aren’t our enemies.”
“There is no reason why they would do this!”
“I have done a small bit of research and have come up with a theory. I think they may want the magicite,” said Siren.
A few gasps were heard around the room, many of them knew the history of the magicite. On the other hand, some were clueless in expression, and Siren was able to tell that they did not know what magicite was. She explained the history by reading out of the book she still held in her hands. Now that everyone was on the same page, they could deliberate. Suggestions flew around the room, some of them wanting to take military action, some sprung for evasive measures, while some still discarded the alleged attack as false.
One of the nobles, who was usually soft-spoken, eventually said, “I remember that my brother sent me a letter from Synae not one week ago, which said something about magicians in the city. Maybe they really are planning an attack through use of the magicite.”
“Did it say anything else about happenings there?” One of the women asked.
“No, I don’t believe so,” the man, named Fiero, replied.
“I think my nan may know a thing or two about magic. My grandpa was a royal mage. Maybe she knows something,” said one of the younger women, named Adrianne.
After another hour of discussion, the panel finally decided that they would choose ten of the royal spies to send covertly into Synae to attain information on their plans, if any. As the gentry filed out of the meeting, Siren walked up to Adrianne and asked her if she would be able to meet with her grandmother.
“Oh yes,” Adrianne replied, “I’m sure she would be more than honored. She lives out in the country with my aunt and uncle, not too far from here.”
“If you would be so kind, would you tell her that I would like to see her? We can arrange a meeting date later.”
“I would be pleased.”
The last of the officials made their way to the entrance room and out the door just as the sun was setting. Siren waved goodbye to most of them, while turning westward to watch the sunset. When all that remained was the yellow glow laying flush against the horizon, Siren walked towards the immense, white doors of the house and sent a messenger out to alert the ten selected spies that they would be going to Synae, and that they should be ready in two days for their journey. She went back to her bedroom and locked the door behind her; she would arrange the assignments for her under cover team in the morning.
Chapter 2. Please don't kill me for having long chapters.
Ha. Tiny text.
Chapter 2 :: Duet
It was morning. The sparrows outside the window were chirping a melodious tune and the ladybugs buzzed about in harmony. As the dawn sunlight shone through the window, a dark-haired girl stirred from underneath her covers. She pulled up the covers and moaned, not wanting to get out of bed. A few silent moments passed until she heard a soft pitter-patter coming down the hallway.
“Oh no,” she thought, “here he comes…”
A small furry body ran into the room, jumped onto the bed, and proceeded to snuggle with its owner. The girl emerged from the covers and hugged her dog while he licked her nose with his tiny tongue. The Pomeranian popped out her arms as she stretched and yawned. He tugged on the covers and then ran toward the kitchen, barking all the way, expecting breakfast.
“Just a sec, Chester!” She yelled, she then sighed, “…Taline, what have you gotten yourself into? This dog really is a handful, even if he is cute.”
The nineteen-year-old got out of bed and slipped on a shirt and a light pair of pants. She shuffled out of her room and into the hall, rubbing her eyes. Her cottage was quaint, resting just outside the city of Aqtinar in a rural community. The wooden floors were worn smooth after years of use; a burgundy carpet covered the hallway leading to the kitchen and dining room. Chester was hopping up and down next to his food dish expectantly. Awake now, the girl took a few handfuls of specially comprised dog food and scooped them onto his dish. His cinnamon-tinted tail wagged happily as he munched on his meal. Taline grabbed an apple from a woven basket on the counter. It’s green peel glittered in the bright morning sun. She sat down at the table and enjoyed her apple as Chester ran in circles around her feet.
In just four days Taline was going to visit her cousin Moira in Synae. She had been making the travel arrangements over the past week and was excited about going. Today she just wanted to relax, so she moved into the living room and picked up a book she was in the middle of. After a few hours of reading about the harrowing adventures of a boy seeking the mysteries of flight; playing fetch in the lush fields in the countryside with Chester; and taking small break in between to catch a bit of sleep, a knock on the door resounded through the house. “Who could that be?” thought Taline. She got up and looked out the window on the way to the door. It was a royal messenger, dressed in an indigo uniform sewn with gold thread and embroidered with the Nevorean seal, a phoenix. Taline opened the door to greet her guest.
The man asked, “Good morrow, is the the residence of Taline Nytte?”
“Yes, I am she,” Taline replied.
“I am here on behalf of Queen Siren; she has requested that you be ready to leave on an assignment in two days.”
Taline stood aghast, and her mind started racing. She had already planned to meet her cousin. Maybe, if Lady Luck was feeling kind, the assignment would be over quickly. “No, that would never happen.”
Just as Taline’s bright green eyes started to fade, the messenger added, “In that time, the Queen will give you the basis of your mission and will send you to Synae.”
“So maybe there’s some hope after all. It just depends on what my assignment is.” Taline replied, “So… is that all?”
“Yes. You will get the details when you go to visit the queen. It is advised that you make the trip today, so you have time to prepare. You will be sent along with nine other individuals. Farewell.” At this, he turned back to walk down the path leading to the next town.
“Wait! Don’t I get to ask any questions?”
His brown hair fluttered in the wind as he turned back to say, “As I said, visit the queen!”
Taline stood at the doorway, slightly miffed by his bluntness. She let out a long sigh and walked back inside her cottage, with Chester greeting her at the door. She smiled when she saw his furry, smiling face. At least they were actually using her services. The government hadn’t given her a mission since spring. Putting on her riding shoes, Taline hopped out the door towards the community stables. Chester was left at home, wondering what happened to his owner, but then turned and ran back to his food dish, quickly forgetting this disappointment.
On her way to the stables, Taline waved to the villagers she knew, but while she was walking across the road, a young man ran through the crowd and crashed into her. Taline nearly lost her balance, but was able to quickly regain composure. With his brown hair slightly covering his blue eyes, the young man quickly ran down the road to Aqtinar.
“HEY!” Shouted Taline, “Watch where you’re going!” She sighed and got back to what she was doing.
Once at the stables, Taline looked for Starlight, a strong, black horse with glimmering stars as eyes; whenever she rode a horse it would always be her. Looking towards the palace in the distance, she got Starlight saddled up for the journey ahead. Nimbly and gracefully, Taline jumped onto the saddle, her hair creating an ebony wave in the air. She kicked down against the horse and let out a triumphant “Hyah!” as they both rode towards the city.
Britt slowly rolled out of bed and rubbed his eyes. Outside his bedroom window, the western hills were lit up by the dawning sun. He threw a glance at his clock, which showed a quarter after six. With his dark brown hair littering his face, Britt slinked out of his bedroom and walked across the hallway into the living room. As he walked through, he looked at his unfinished painting sitting on the easel. He had been working on this painting for a few weeks, every so often taking it up into the hills to get a good vantage point of Lake Aria. His portrait portrayed the lake, tranquil and silent, reflecting the azure and violet hues that streaked the morning sky, with only a few wisps of clouds hanging there. This was his first non-commissioned paintings he had done in a while; most of his works were for the nobility in the city.
He waltzed into the kitchen and grabbed some fruits from his fruit bowl and stuck them in his cloth bag. Today was a clear day, so he thought he might spend most of it outdoors. As much as he liked painting, he felt his life was starting to get a bit monotonous. Britt ran his fingers through his hair and let out a deep sigh, the way he usually started out his mornings. While he was an artist, Britt also liked the outdoors and going adventuring, which is why he had chosen to do so today.
When he had made his way outside, the small down was just starting to bustle; mothers were outside hanging their laundry, while some children ran around in the grass. Britt looked up in the sky at the clouds dappling the blue expanse, slowly being carried by the wind from one horizon to another. As he began his arduous trek into the mountain region, he thought it might have been beneficial if he had brought his painting supplies, but he quickly shook it off, reminding himself that today wasn’t a day for work. While he walked through the hills, his blue eyes shining, he passed by some other people; a couple walking hand-in-hand, a woman playing fetch with her dog, children chasing each other while their mothers talked. He took an orange out of his bag, he had just gotten some at the market yesterday; they were imported from across the continent. He reached in one of his bag’s pockets and took out a silver knife, and then sliced the orange in two. As Britt walked towards the precipitous mountains, he peeled his fruit and began to eat. The plains were littered with trees, all of their leaves starting to change color and fall off, creating a blanket of crimson and golden hues over the hills. When he reached the crest of the hill he was walking, he saw Lake Aria. It’s pristine, blue water shone, and the sun playing the water with its deft fingers caused it to sparkle. It was a very inviting sight, so Britt walked towards the shore of the water.
As he walked up towards the side of the lake, he dropped his bag and rolled up his pants. He sat on the edge of a small piece of earth that jutted out over the water and he dipped his feet and legs into the lake. As he did so, ripples started to reverberate across its lucid surface, fading into nothingness as they hit the other disturbances on the water. He looked across and saw that other people were also enjoying the cool water. The couple he had walked past before had also ended up here, and was sitting on the edge of the shore, leaning against each other tenderly. A group of boys were paying in the water, splashing each other and swimming about. Britt leaned back, laying flush against the ground. He looked up in the sky and watched the puffy, white clouds gliding slowly and softly through their heavenly sea of blue. With his eyes half open, Britt enjoyed the time of repose and tranquility. He basked in the warmth of the sun, while the crisp cool air refreshed him and blew through his hair. Out of the disorder of the city, the young man relished the time he was spending just doing nothing.
Still resting, Britt noticed a flock of birds flying through the skies, and started to wonder what it would be like to be a bird; soaring up into the air on feathered wings and being able to look down on the ground below, being able to see everything around him; flying upward, upward, past the clouds on gossamer wings until hanging in ethereal space. Britt knew this dream could never be attained, but he enjoyed imagine what he could do if he possessed supernatural abilities. He pushed himself upward; his lithe, tan legs still soaked with water that had not fully dried; picked up his bag off the ground, and started walking back toward the rural town of Galina. As Britt walked back through the hillsides, he kicked at the dandelions, creating nostalgic memories of his childhood and causing their seeds to fly away with the westward wind.
It was afternoon, and Britt had arrived back at his home. When he opened the door, there was a piece of parchment on the floor, which looked like it had been slid under the door while he was gone. Britt stooped down to pick it up, wiping the hair out of his eyes as he held it open and read it. It read, in the most elegant calligraphy:
“ISSUED TO: Britt Telaeos
By orders of Queen Siren of Neveau
You are hereby summoned for mission notification within
two days time.
Britt stood in the doorway gaping and said to himself, “Mission… notification…?” When he had figured out what this meant, his bright blue eyes started to sparkle as he pulled his fist towards his stomach letting out a satisfied “Yes!” Not even bothering to put his shoes back on, he stuffed the summons in his shirt pocket, closed his door and streaked off towards the palace. As he ran down the main road of Galina, a tall, slender girl walked into his path; being unable to slow himself down in time, Britt crashed into her and sent himself toppling while she gasped in shock. He stood up speedily and gave a hasty, barely noticeable bow of apology, and not wanting to be embarrassed further, continued to run towards Aqtinar.
On Starlight, Taline flew quickly across the fields towards the palace. By traveling around the capital city, she had cut her riding time easily in half. It was mid-afternoon, so there was plenty of time to get to the palace and back. There were only a few miles to go now, Starlight’s muscles rippled as she ran swiftly, her jet black coat also being played upon by the rays of sunlight piercing through the clouds slowly covering the sky bit by bit. By the time they both had reached Siren’s palace, some other people from the capital were leaving, most likely also summoned for this mission. Taline dismounted, leaving Starlight next to the trough by the door. There were two guards standing on either side of the doorway.
As she approached, one of the guards stepped in front of her and asked, “Do you have an appointment?”
She replied, “Yes, I am supposed to meet Queen Siren today.”
“Do you have any document proof?”
Taline struggled to remember if the messenger had given her anything. She could not recall so she said, “No, I don’t think I do, but I’m supposed to be here to learn about an assignment.”
“Assignment…” the guard stuck his hand in his back pocket and unrolled a piece of parchment, with a list of names on it. He continued by saying, “Please state your name.”
“Taline… Yes, here you are. Please, come in. Her majesty waits for you in the parlor.”
She stepped inside the palace, gaping at the opulence and grandeur of the entrance hall. Busts of previous rulers lined the hallway, and the ceiling was supported by arches, giving the entire room a very lofty air. Taline looked down at the floor and marveled at the glistening tiles, which reflected everything in the room perfectly. A red carpet with gold fringe around the edge ran the length of the hall, leading her vision to a grand bay window which proudly displayed the palace gardens, which contained flowers of every kind. Glass chandeliers hung down from the ceiling, each holding hundreds of candles; Taline wondered how anyone would find the time to light them all. She had never been anywhere so richly ornamented. She stopped along the walls to look at every painting; Taline was so lost in the luxuriousness of it all that she almost forgot why she was even at the palace in the first place.
She said quietly to herself, “Where is the queen supposed to be?” She tried to remember, “Oh yes, in the parlor. But where in the world is the parlor?” Taline was afraid that if she tried to find her way, she would surely get lost in the sheer vastness of the palace grounds.
Once in Aqtinar, Britt started to walk through the streets, stopping to look at what was for sale in the shops all along the alleys. The squared layout of the city made it easy to navigate as he walked toward the south entrance. The palace on the hill in the distance seemed to watch over the capital, its large windows as eyes. He proceeded to walk through the city, stopping to greet some people he knew here and there. The city of Aqtinar was very rustic and had a very homely, close-knit feel, but the population was much more than the city could handle. The streets were crowded and carried a whole array of people, most walking, some in carriages, and some on horses. Britt’s pointed features looked back up towards the queen’s residence, which didn’t seem any more nearer than it had been before. He turned his head towards the sky and started longing to fly once again, just as he had done earlier. He had heard tales of magic when he was younger, and wondered if it could be used to fly. He had never seen anyone flying before, so maybe it was impossible, but then again, he had never seen any magicians either. Before long he was at the other end of the city, and once away from the crowds that filtered in and out of it, he rushed down the path once again towards the estate.
When he finally arrived at the top of the hill, he saw a black horse drinking from a trough. When he trotted up the steps, a guard stepped in front of him.
“State your business.”
“Ah, I’m here to see the queen,” he said.
“Do you have any documental proof?”
Britt pulled the piece of parchment with his summons and presented it to the guard. “Yes, right here,” he replied.
“Please proceed; the queen is waiting in the parlor,” returned the guard as he opened the door and bowed.
Britt strode into the grand hall and marveled at the decorum and intricate detail put into every aspect of it. The entire area resonated with richness. Midway down the hall, Britt noticed a young woman looking at one of the paintings. After noticing him out the corner of her eye, she turned to face him and immediately recognized him as the boy who ran into her while going to the stables, and failed to apologize. She immediately let out a flurry of anger directed out him. As she lectured him about the importance of common courtesy and politeness, Britt looked away to break eye contact and blushed faintly while slowly trying to back farther away from her. Britt wasn’t one for attention, and he usually tried to avoid confrontation unless in situations where it was needed. Here, the girl and he were the only two in the room, so there was no getting out of this one.
Taline finally finished up by saying, “I hope you’re happy.”
To which Britt bluntly replied, “Yes, I guess so.”
Shocked, Taline replied, “Did you even listen to anything I said?”
Taline sighed scornfully and crossed her arms and decided to look at another painting. Britt, on the other hand, walked down one of the hallways trying to find the queen. When Taline noticed he was gone, she looked down the corridors and saw him making his way forward, looking in each room he passed by.
“Hey! Wait!” She exclaimed.
He slowly turned around and gave her an inquisitive look, saying, “I thought you were mad at me.”
Taline paused and composed herself, then replied, “I was. But now it’s all better.” She grinned widely and tilted her head to the right causing her hair to fall onto her shoulder.
Britt looked at her with a strange distorted expression then continued to search for the queen’s whereabouts, Taline trying to follow behind. While walking, they passed a maid, who told them that they were going the wrong way, and directed them towards the west wing. The couple turned back towards the entrance and then turned toward the other side of the palace. They saw a manservant standing in front of a room on the right side of the hallway.
When they both arrived, he said, “Greetings, I am Marco. Please wait here for the queen to see you.” Marco motioned inside the room where there were three chairs seated around a table. A door was on the opposite side of the room, most likely leading to the queen’s office. The only thing audible was the conversation in the other room muffled by the door. After a few minutes, the silence was broken by the creaking of the door opening; a tall, blonde haired man stepped out of the office with a file of papers. He was well dressed, and had an air of mysteriousness about him; his facial expression was intriguing, as he held himself distinguishably. He gave an acknowledging nod towards the two and gracefully glided out of the room.
After he exited, Siren appeared at the doorway, dressed in an elegant blue dress that matched her eyes and tiara. She beckoned for Taline and Britt to come into her office. Once inside, she shut the door behind her and walked around to the back of the oaken desk and sat in the matching chair. Siren went straight to business by asking each of their names. She then turned and pulled out two stacks of parchment from the drawers of her desk.
“Here are your assignments. All the information you will need is here,” she said. Siren pushed the thin stacks towards Taline and Britt, who took them.
“Wait, you aren’t even going to tell us a little about why we’re even here?” Asked Taline.
“As I said, all the information is resting in your hands. But if you wish to have a brief overview, so be it. It is rumored that the Sinians want to attack our country. You both, along with eight others, have been chosen as spies to get in past their borders and learn more, to see if the attacks are true and what they are about. I have done a small bit of research and have come up with a theory that the Sinians are trying to revive the age old practice of magic, and it seems true as I was just informed a few hours ago that the magicite of Sonoralle has been stolen.”
Siren was waiting the arrival of her hired spies, when a knock came on her office door. She allowed entry, and Marco opened the door and entered, followed by another man dressed notably and bearing the crest of the Sonoraian royal family. As he entered, he bowed to Siren, and then sat down.
“Good evening, Jethro,” Siren started, “what brings you here?”
“Urgent matters,” the man replied “I have heard of the presumed attack on Neveau, and of your theory. It turns out that it might be true. Our magicite was stolen.”
Siren stared at Jethro, shocked. “H-how do you know?”
“When we at the palace heard of your theory, we decided to check on our magicite. When we arrived at the site, it was missing. I had just checked on it a month ago, so it had to have been taken within that time. We also recently entertained a party of Sinian nobility, which leads me to believe that they could have taken it, but how they knew where it was remains a mystery. A maid also reported that she had heard some strange conversations while they were there, but didn’t think much of them until now.”
“So, I suppose war is soon to be upon us.”
“That may not be the case. The Sinians might not even be planning an attack. They may not even be the ones who took the crystal. All of this is speculation until we have solid proof.”
“I will still send my spies in. Maybe you should consider sending in some of the Sonoraian spies as well. They may be better received than ours in the Sinian towns.”
“I’ll think about it; that seems like a good idea. I must be going. I have only a vary short time to stay here, and I must be off to the coastal ports. I only stopped by to tell you of the theft. Farewell Siren.”
“Have a safe journey,” Siren replied.
Jethro turned, his white cape flowing softly but beautifully behind him, the gold threads that embroidered the fabric teemed with light on the surface. He waved goodbye to Siren before stepping out the door. Once he had left, Marco reached in and grabbed the metal handle to close the door. Siren stopped him, and she walked out of her main office and headed towards the parlor to wait for the spies to come. On the way there, she notified the guards and made it outside just in time to see Jethro leaving in his carriage, drawn by two magnificent Sonoraian horses.
Once in the parlor, she put the individual files for each spy in the drawers, and waited for the ten to arrive, while talking to Marco, who was standing dutifully just outside the door, preparing himself to welcome anyone who came to see Queen Siren.
“Magicite?” Taline inquired again.
“It’s a crystal that is said to contain magical energies,” replied Britt. Both women looked at him slightly surprised at his knowledge of the magicite. “My grandmother and grandfather used to tell me stories as a child,” he explained.
“I see…” Taline’s voice trailed off.
Siren started to speak again, “I have instructed the other spies to leave as soon as possible, preferably within the next three days. You will all meet at The Guard Post in front of Requiem, and then leave for Synae as a group of ten. Bring supplies enough to last you the journey until you reach the capital city of Synae. In your papers is a signed document that will allow you to get Sinian currency from the people living outside the forest. Once you are there, you can find our contacts throughout the city and stay with them, or find lodging of your own. Do not let these papers out of your possession. Many important things are inside, which should not be put into the hands on Synae.”
Siren stood up from her chair, signaling the end of the meeting. Taline and Britt also did the same, and Marco showed them the way back out of the palace. It was already night when they left, and Taline asked Britt if he needed to get back to Galina, offering to let him ride with her on Starlight. He agreed, and they both mounted the black horse, which looked a mysterious blue in the fading sunlight. Britt found it very awkward to fit two people in one saddle, but the two somehow managed to get into a comfortable riding position, and they were off. Starlight slightly detested the extra weight, but still ran as fast as before.
The three flew along the plains towards the rural town, the moon shone down the land as the last rays of sun disappeared from sight, and everything was bathed in silver. Lights were still on in the city of Aqtinar, mostly the pubs, not the houses. The ride on Starlight went swiftly and smoothly, Britt had only ridden a horse once before, with his father, who currently lived in a fishing village on the coast. Once they reached Galina, Britt and Taline hopped off of Starlight, who seemed to let out a sigh of relief. Britt thanked Taline and ran off towards his house. Taline brought the horse back to the stables, unsaddled her, and led her back to her stall, which had a pile of hay waiting for her.
When Taline reached her home, she saw Chester sleeping on the tiny blue rug next to his food bowl, waiting for the next morning to come. Taline took some of the time before going to bed to pack some things for her journey to Requiem. She readied some pairs of clothing and an extra pair of shoes. She had to find someone to take care of Chester for the time she was gone. She decided to ask the Dalitons, who lived just across the main street and whose children, Jacob and Maria, loved playing with Chester and often asked for visits with the dog.
Taline put the bag by the door of her room and got into bed. She put out the candle that was next to her on the bed stand and curled up underneath the soft, warm covers. She eagerly awaited the next day; she hadn’t expected that something like this mission would make her excited, but it did. She and Britt had made plans to leave together and keep each other company on the two day trip to the forest. She had never been through the forest and wondered what it would be like. As she pondered, Taline’s eyes slowly drooped down until her lids were closed and she was fast asleep.
On the other side of town, Britt had packed a few things as well. He too, brought an extra few pairs of clothes, as well as some other items, such as rope, just incase a problem arose. He doused the lantern hanging from the ceiling as the moonlight streamed in through the glass window. He slipped into bed and fell asleep to the soft chirping and buzzing of the crickets just outside, waiting for tomorrow to come.