Author's Note: Major lateness compounded with significant dodginess makes this a less-than-thrilling chapter. Gomen! Please forgive! _

Episode 1.3 - Red Horizon

She was flying, soaring through the lightning-streaked sky on powerful wings, oblivious to the rain pounding down around her. Dark clouds rolled overhead, and the earth below was a patchwork of fields and rooftops. In the distance, the dark phantom of the Keep rose out of the night like a black horse escaped from its harness.

She was afraid. Each mighty wing stroke drove her towards her terrible goal. The air carried the scent of death. But she was one with the wind. And she was not alone.

The scene melted away. A face swam into view. Familiar; long, dark hair, slanted black eyes filled with accusation.

Gwyn writhed in agony. "Shei…," she croaked, cowering from the incriminating stare, "Shei, I'm sorry, I never meant…"

"You killed me." Her voice, barely above a whisper, sent chills sliding down her spine.

"No…Shei…I never…"

"Murderer…" She began to fade away.

Gwyn reached out to her, trying to hold her back, but it was like grabbing at smoke. "No! Please! Come back!"

"Gwyn…Gwyn…Gwyn…"

"Gwyn…Gwyn…wake up. C'mon, it's time for the announcement." Small hands were shaking her gently. "Hurry up, you're gonna miss it."

Gwyn groaned and rolled over. "Go 'way."

Another shake, this one less gentle. "Come on. You've gotta get up."

She glared at the intruder through half-closed eyes. Fair skin, long, black hair…

Shei!

In an instant she was fully awake, back pressed against the stone wall, blanket drawn up around her neck. Abomination! Shei was dead, slain by her own…

Wait. Not Shei. Alarmed grey eyes looked into her own. Grey, not black. And the raven hair was curled. It was Bast.

"Are you okay? I hope I didn't startle you."

Gwyn managed to shake her head, trying to still the frantic beating of her heart against her breast.

Bast looked unconvinced, but said only, "They're announcing the results of the examination in an hour. I thought I should come and wake you up."

Calmer now, Gwyn glanced out the small window. The sky was still inky from the passing night, but fingers of orange and pink were spreading across the skyline. A small bird on the windowsill let out a tentative warble, then burst into full song as the shining edge of the sun broke through the horizon. Dawn.

"Thankyou," Gwyn said. "I should have been awake hours ago…I must have slept in…"

Bast shrugged. "No problem. Want me to wait outside while you get ready?"

"Ah…no. No, that's alright. I'll be a while."

"Oh, okay then. I'll see you there." Bast rose and departed, leaving Gwyn alone, blissfully alone, in the tiny room.

She half-rolled, half-fell out of bed and limped over to the bucket of hopefully clean water by the door, where she performed the usual ritual of rinse, cleanse, rinse, moisturize, teeth, hair. Probably mostly futile, but Gwyn had always been pedantic about cleanliness.

This completed, she dressed in her best pair of pants and tunic, and glanced out the window. Damn! The announcement would be any minute now. Pulling on her boots, she stumbled out of the doorway and into the hall.

Left? Right? Last night had been a blur; all of the candidates lead into their temporary rooms to await judgement the next morning. It had been dark and Gwyn hadn't been paying attention to where they were leading her. Damn, damn, damn. With a muttered oath, she chose left and sprinted down the corridor.

And collided with the dark-haired young man from weapons training as he came out of his room.

"Watch where you're going!" he snapped, grey eyes flashing. To her fury, while she lay sprawled on the stone floor, the collision had barely shaken him off balance. Furthermore, he made no attempt to help her up.

Burning with anger and humiliation, Gwyn rose to face him eye to eye. Not that this was really possible; he was a good bit taller than her, but the idea was there. Yet even through the rage it was impossible to ignore how strikingly handsome he was. This, of course, only served to anger her further.

"You…you…you low-life…slimy…ignorant…argh!" She stalked away.

The dark-haired youth smiled slightly, and, shaking his head, closed the door behind him.

Gwyn stood near the front row, rubbing her shin with the other foot. The new pants itched and there was no sign of the Guildmaster.

She'd found the rest of the candidates without too much trouble, and slipped into the line next to Bast. Fortunately the Guildmaster was even later than her, and so now she stood uncomfortably in the main hall and waited.

There was an air of excited apprehension all around. Candidates were fidgeting and talking in whispers. Several were pale as bed sheets, and Gwyn felt a touch of pity for them. Perhaps more than a touch. She couldn't help feeling like she was stealing their place in the Order. She harboured no delusions: without the assistance of a certain powerful uncle, she'd have no chance getting into the Scorpion Order.

Suddenly, the main doors swung open and the Guildmaster entered the hall, flanked by lower-level instructors. He crossed the room in a few strides and stood before the assembled candidates. Silence fell.

Bast regarded him from her position near the front. He was a tall man, probably close to six feet, and fair, with striking green eyes. And so young! Why, he was surely not long past twenty. But despite this, his hair was as white as fresh snow hanging around his shoulders. Quite handsome, really.

"I," he said, his voice a bass rumble that didn't seem to fit his appearance. "Am Linus, Guildmaster of the Scorpion Order." From his pocket he produced a long roll of paper. "And on this page are those who, through a firm grasp of battle theory, through careful application of skills in alchemy, and through proficiency with the sword, have secured their place in the ranks. Please step forward…Bast Arillion."

Amid scattered applause, Bast walked to the front of the hall, where she stood behind Linus. Despite the fact that she was potentially still an assassin, Gwyn felt pleased for her, and more pleased that she herself would have a companion in the Order. Assuming she was accepted. Which was perhaps assuming too much.

"Deimos Arillion," Linus read, and the crowd parted for the next successful candidate. Gwyn almost didn't notice who it was, until she caught sight of black hair and grey eyes.

Deimos Arillion? The revelation was like a blow. How could she not have realized? The young man from training was Bast's brother! The genetic markers were plain to see: the thick black hair, the flint-coloured eyes, the fair complexion. Strikingly obvious to anyone with any wits. Which clearly did not include herself. But how could Bast, who, despite her status as a possible assassin, had all the appearance of sweetness and generosity, be related to that…that…that monster?

Gwyn noticed with some satisfaction that the applause was even more subdued for him. Clearly he'd been making himself unpopular with the other candidates as well.

Linus continued to go down the list, reading off a good fifty or so names. But that was only a fraction of the total number of applicants. The Scorpion Order was even more elite than she'd realized.

Then, second from the bottom of the list - "Guineviere White."

Nursing a deep sense of satisfaction, Gwyn rose to embrace her destiny.