The chamber was hot with the scent of sickness, fear, and a dreadful calm as the gray walls of stone did nothing to cool its subjects. A fire crackled, licking its nearly constant feed of cedar logs to fuel to the room's heat. As the fiery glow from the hearth battled the imposing gray from the open window, a woman panted in both pain and exhaustion.
This wasn't supposed to happen. This couldn't happen. "Mother," she cried. "Mother! Don't leave…you can't leave…" The healers were just standing there, doing nothing. Why were they doing nothing? How could they bear to stand still while this woman was…was…
A long series of coughs followed before the woman on the bed could answer. "Dear, I'm so sorry but there is no choice…" she paused for several deep breaths, shallow, hoarse sounds. "I'm so sorry…there are secrets…never got to tell you…"
"…What? Mother, please, stay, and you can tell me then. Please! Lorenda…Ranara… they need you, what else will keep them from each other's throats?" she struggled to smile. She would be all right. Mother had been sick before, and she had gotten better.
"Look after them, will you? Promise me that? Aside from Madrice, there are few I would trust this to."
Sasilyna sobbed brokenly. She couldn't help the tears that burned down her cheeks "I will…I promise…" Her mother's hand caressed her cheek, brown hair unusually lank against her sweating skin- the same dark brown hair that Sasilyna had.
"That's my girl…my beautiful girl, try to have fun…you always were more serious than the others, and you are yet young," Mother whispered, coughing again. Her unsteady hands moved to the crescent pendant at her eldest daughter's neck. "Wear this always, Sasilyna. It will aid you in dangers I… could not calculate."
"Yes, Mother," she agreed, grabbing a strong but careful hold of the woman's hands.
"I love you and your sisters so much," her mother said, at last with strength. "I …love you…" she whispered, struggling to keep her eyelids open. She failed.
Sasilyna shrieked, shaking as her Mother's soft breathing ended in one last, shuddering heave. "Mother!"
The adults who took care of bodies lingered nearby and eventually urged her out. She was blind to them. Sasilyna stormed past her younger two sisters, who watched with unknowing, wide-eyes, their wild fits of childishness ended for the moment as a strange woman held them for comfort. They were but blurred blobs in her vision. She ran, and ran, not knowing where she went to, but running despite her aimlessness.
When she stopped, it was in the old stable that had been rebuilt into a training room. The image of her mother, spitting up blood wouldn't leave her mind. A sudden pallor to her sun-kissed skin, her hands trembling, and eyes wide – it was not something to happen to a woman still in her years of beauty. She was not old. This was not supposed to happen.
Sasilyna's curves were just budding into the fullness of a woman, with an abdomen tamed by rigorous training. At Mother's request, she had practiced with a variety of weapons, but had not yet found one that suited her indefinitely. Her eyes chose one now. A cutlass hung on a rack by its slanted hilt, resembling the cruel, twisted power of fate. Her hands grasped it in defiance, reluctant to think of her mother, but unable to block her from her mind.
With a jeweled heirloom at her throat and a burning beneath her flesh, Sasilyna began.
The Three Powers
The Castle of Arhymnia
Dreary clouds misted over an early morning, gray as the stones of the castle it covered and the cobbled streets of the town. The blacksmith kindled his fires, the bakers theirs, and the farmers rose early on this day, as all others. Few else were awake, though, sleeping in their beds, subconsciously groaning at the promise of another day's work.
Arhymnia was a fiefdom- not so small that it couldn't accommodate its own people plus travelers, but not so big that crime ran rampant through the dark alleys. A stone barricade, four men tall and one wide, streamed its catwalks around the town and castle, with a small number of watchtowers. Likewise, the castle at the north was not so lavish as to have fountains in every tiled-room and draperies even in the kitchens, but not small enough to be comprised of simple wood and stone furniture, with the only soft comforts being the beds.
Indeed, to the passerby, or even someone within its boundaries, would look at Arhymnia as an uninteresting, but contented, peaceful place. There were, however, three highlights that brought visitors to the land every so often.
First, there was Vharmine, a school of sorts that taught those with Magickal tendencies or ambitions. The academy had everything from Elementals and Necromancers (one to speak of, which was a great number for any place to hold) and alchemists to spare. There was a large library, with rows upon rows of books on multiple subjects of Magick and history alike. Mages and people with growing Magick came from the nearby areas to learn here, so not many were considered residents of Arhymnia.
Second was the large forest that spread to the Heldis Mountains and past. Titled Feedra's Forest, it was ruled by a nymph of the same name and populated by more of her race. These woods were home to all sorts of animals- wolves, deer, bear, duck, and even wild boars. Arhymnia had a standing treaty with Queen Feedra in which they were allowed to hunt a certain number and type of animals each month to feed the people of the castle and fiefdom.
And the third and last was a woman. Not that she was a stunning beauty, nor that she had extreme Magickal or prophetic powers, but that she was a General. That, in itself, was enough of a wonder for any realm of the Three Kingdoms combined. She was the trainer and leader of the small guard and militia that protected the fiefdom a job which was not much for any man, but an extreme honor or disgrace for a woman. Indeed, some visited just to discourage her from such a position, because it was not becoming of a lady. People scowled, implying she would be better of sewing or sipping tea and gossiping, rather than fighting. A real lady, she had gathered, learned languages, wore dresses, and spent her life as a doll to whatever man or potential man she would be with, they believed. Visitors like this came by so often she barely blinked at them anymore. A real woman, she believed, could throw a punch or thrust a sword, stand resolute for herself, and achieve as much status as a man under any circumstance.
No one quite knew how a creature like she had come about, and no one often ventured close enough to learn.
She slowly opened her eyelids and stared at the ceiling blankly. Stone. This room was one of many in the castle of Aryhmnia, most of which were lesser in quality. The chamber was warm, and turning her head, Sasilyna saw a fire in the hearth. Her fine hands, thin but strong appendages, pulled aside the quilt that draped over her form. Softly, she tested her feet against the floor. Coldness shocked and tinged her toes with a pleasant feeling.
Sasilyna stood, dressed in nothing but a long, white linen shirt. Its sleeves were loose and large, the cuffs embroidered in green. When her hands opened the mahogany wardrobe, not much variety was presented. Almost unconsciously, Sasilyna selected a black leather vest and breeches and boots of a similar material. Closing the doors, she slipped her legs into the leather openings of the breeches before stepping into the boots.
Though she was a General and a warrior, she chose leather for its lightweight protection. Chain mail and metal armor was much too heavy for her taste, and body, and she felt constricted wearing it. Sasilyna was more a woman of fierce combat- fast and powerful, strong yet agile.
Quickly lacing the vest, she walked to a desk against the wall with a simple mirror propped on its surface. Deep green eyes lazily greeted her, as did a slightly mussed head of dark brown hair, fair skin, and high cheekbones. People told her she had her mother's hair…her father's face. She didn't remember him enough to notice.
Turning quickly and looking for a weapon, Sasilyna gazed for the source of noise, but found it only to be Maris. A wolf with sleek, but soft, black fur, pointed ears, and large paws and claws, which had made the tap noise as he had jumped from the bed to the stone floor, stood facing her. He walked tiredly over to Sasilyna, stopping to stretch and yawn halfway.
Relaxing, she bent down to pet her wooly friend. Scratching behind his ears, and then rubbing his back, she brushed her hair thoroughly, returning it to it's normal softness, and then began braiding it.
"How did you sleep last night, Maris?" she said to the wolf by her feet as she intertwined the locks of her hair. He merely looked up at her. Sasilyna chuckled. "Yes, I know, it was a rough journey, but we've been here two days already, you should have adjusted back to the castle by now." They had recently returned from a peacekeeping mission with a fiefdom to the south, Dorma. It was a neighboring country to the bigger kingdom, Gilmorda.
Sasilyna finished the braid and tied it with a leather hide string. Standing up, she put on her weapons, inserting a dagger on the inside of one boot, and strapping her favored cutlass to her side. She looked at herself in the mirror. Around her neck hung a gift from her mother: an elaborate silver crescent moon, tilted upwards with an emerald in its center. Her mother never told her why she gave this to her, or why she had had it, but it appealed to her anyway, and she wore it often, if not always.
As she left the room, Maris took up a leisurely pace beside her.
They treaded over red-carpeted stone floors, the walls of which occasionally held bright paintings or vibrant tapestries. Open windows only emphasized the bitter bleakness outside, though sconces and torch brackets were lit in nearly every hall. Vases rested on rare stands, aided by plants, candleholders, or mirrors. The pair continued down a long corridor ending in a set of large, double doors, through which they walked. Looking around, Sasilyna saw a large hearth with a roaring fire, tall bookshelves brimming with reading material, and a handful of early-risers sitting around tables or browsing the bookshelves. This was the Library.
As soon as they entered, Maris trotted over to a tired-looking girl, a little past sixteen springs old, sitting at a table reading a very thick and old-looking book. Sasilyna followed and stopped to stand near the girl. She had ice-blue hair that shimmered in the torchlight, and ended in dark blue tips. Her skin was pale, almost a light shade of blue, and her lips were tainted indigo, emphasizing her hair and cobalt gown. As the girl's hands turned the pages of the book, Sasilyna saw tattoos of symbols on her hands. Maris set his head on her lap, moving a leather pouch that was strapped to her side out of the way. Then the girl looked up, showing twinkling deep blue eyes.
"Lorenda," Sasilyna said. "How long did you stay up? You're not a Vampire, you know, you need sleep too".
"That is where you are wrong, sister, even Vampires sleep, only their resting times are opposite ours. Besides, you're not likely to find many undeads this far south of their homelands, least of all in summer." She laughed tiredly. "I was reading about familiars. As Shakyr is mine, I want a way to summon him without actually calling his name, but so far, nothing. Ah, speak of him…" Lorenda watched as a large raven flew down from the rafters and perched himself on her shoulder.
"Is that book from Vharmine?" Sasilyna asked.
"Yes. Unfortunately this library has next to nothing of importance concerning Magick," she said, standing up, and sighing.
"We should go and eat breakfast then, in the time being. I should also probably wake Ranara. No doubt she's dead asleep from a reckless night of who wants to know what…" Sasilyna suggested. They walked out the door, Shakyr on Lorenda's shoulder, and Maris by Sasilyna's side. They weren't the only ones in the one to have close animal friends. It had been an idea of their mother's, when they were younger. Sasilyna had guesses as to why, but had never received an answer when she asked.
This time they continued down a hall until they reached a flight of stairs going downward, on which they descended. They maintained walking down another passageway, and stopped at a rather decorative door. Here, Sasilyna banged on wooden panels.
"Ranara-wake up! Get out of bed, NOW!" she yelled, and noise reached her ears, sounding much like 'leave me alone' before she began banging on the door once more. "Yes, that's right, you're not going to sleep all day and then wake up bright eyed and bushy tailed for another night of foolishness. Get dressed and meet me and your sister down at breakfast." Lorenda giggled lightly. The eldest sister simply frowned before leading their journey to the dining hall.
As they walked, Sasilyna looked over at her younger sister. She was twenty years of age, four more than Lorenda, but oh how her sister had grown. She was, by far, more mature and relaxed than Ranara. When Lorenda was a child, she had enormous tantrums, and being born a mage, uncontrolled magic did considerable damage to the house and its residents. This continued in small, gradual doses…until their mother died. That was the thing to tip the scale. In a sorrow-laden rage, Lorenda caused huge thunderstorms that sparked forest fires, floods and hurricanes to the northern ocean; major changes in the weather occurred, for the worst, because of her sadness and undirected power. So, at age twelve, it was desperately needed to find some training for her. Sasilyna sought Vharmine; and academy of sorcery, and they were more than happy to take her in. Since then, she had trained herself to control her powers, better direct them, and also attained a great amount of knowledge. Lorenda had achieved an astonishing quantity of self-control, and from the hyper child she once was, to the now mellow and well managed young woman she was now, Sasilyna was amazed at the change, and proud of her younger sister. Like Maris, she treated this sister with great respect and trust, as an equal.
Sasilyna did not give out trust lightly.
As they walked into the Great Hall, the guards bowed in respect, though not paying much attention to the animals. Seating herself, Sasilyna grabbed slices of fresh bread and a turkey haunch off of a large platter, while Lorenda picked at a handful of berries. Ladling some garden vegetables and sauce beside the meat and drinking tea from a pottery mug, Sasilyna tucked into the food that would give her the needed day's energy. Lorenda on the other hand, was merely wiping her hands of the berry juice while she filled a bowl of nuts and turkey pieces for Shakyr, and even took the liberty of giving Maris the other haunch from the turkey. All except for the young mage dug into the food. Sasilyna paused.
"Lorenda, eat more," she said.
"I eat only what is necessary for my magic. I don't suffer from physical exhaustion as often as someone, like you, who is General of the Baron's militia and protector of this province, so I require little and see no need to overfill myself," she replied, smiling delicately.
Sasilyna looked at her evenly, "And am I overfilling myself?"
"Oh, no, you are eating the proper amount needed to keep up your strength."
"Then you're not eating enough."
"Well, yes, I guess you're right. Perhaps it would… serve my Magick better if I eat a bit more daily, like you… I think it would improve my powers to do so…" Lorenda said. While she sliced a chunk of the turkey off, the guards were standing by, eyebrows arched at the maturity of such a young woman. But if their surprise then was something, what came through the door made their mouth drool uncontrollably. Even if it happened every single morning.
Ranara had entered the room, dressed in her normal attire. Since their mother died, she had changed for the worse, wearing clothes similar to what a gypsy in a bawdy house would wear. Her taste in leather ran similar to Sasilyna, as was clearly shown by her boots and red breeches, cut to mid thigh. Strapped to her side was a small, brown pouch, with a wriggling something in it. Red hair was pulled back into a ruby-encrusted, gold bracer atop her head. Several daggers were clearly visible, while others Sasilyna knew were hidden carefully. A face with cheekbones like her own smirked delicately while bright green eyes twinkled, the paleness in her face almost glowing.
"Something amusing?" she asked, plucking an apple from the basket and biting deftly into it. She ate more than Lorenda, but her body had an inhuman smallness-her legs, arms, hands, and fingers, were all spidery thin, and she was an inch shorter than Lorenda, two shorter than Sasilyna. All this was an amazing feat for someone of seventeen years old, and enough to make any boy or man stare; the guards were no exception. Upon seeing Sasilyna's frown and look of distaste, however, they quickly regained posture and looked away. Ranara was now sitting comfortably sideways on the chair, lying across both of its arms, legs swung over the side.
"Disgusting was the word I was looking for," Sasilyna said calmly and emotionless. She hid her annoyance and rage. This was her sister…
"I know what you mean. Lorenda…that filthy bag of feathers simply must go," she said. The young mage almost glared.
"Just as soon as your writhing ball of vermin goes out the door," Sasilyna retorted in defense of Lorenda, who was carefully in check, as always. But now, the red-haired sister took the wriggling thing that was in her waist pouch out. Smooth green scales plated like metal armor around the creature as it coiled around its owner's wrist, hood relaxed, but ready to flare the instant of danger.
"Slyfrys doesn't like to be shut up…" she cooed, holding his poisonous face near hers.
"Nor do you," Sasilyna said loudly, violently stabbing a mushroom and sprout on her plate before sliding the morsel into her mouth
Ranara glared at her, yet spoke to her snake instead, "There, there, pet, why don't you go dine on a mouse or something." She set the cobra on the flagstones, smirking at the havoc it might wreak upon being seen.
"Lorenda, why don't you go upstairs and take a nap?" Sasilyna said, diverting her aggravation. "When you're done, you can go to Vharmine and look up what you need for Shakyr."
"Very well then," she said, smiling. "I will do so. Farewell," bowing her head slightly to Sasilyna, Maris, Ranara (who only nodded carelessly back), Slyfrys (who paid no attention at all and slithered on), and finally, as she walked to through the doors, to the guards, who bowed deeply with reverence. Such respect shown to others from one so young was not a common sight.
"So…how is it with Miss-Magick?" Ranara asked with curiosity, obviously not noticing her utter rudeness.
"Well, it's safe to say that she's much smarter than you, not to mention, more successful," Sasilyna replied bitterly.
"Well, she's got logic, yeah, but I'm street smart," she said defiantly. Typical.
"If you were street-smart, than you wouldn't wear the things you wear. You don't know how many men out there are three times your size and just looking for some-"
"Quite the contrary big sis', with this attire, I can wrap the entire male population around my finger and bend him to my will," Ranara said with significant pride.
"Ah, then what of the women that you disgrace?" These arguments were more common than not. "Why would you even think of wanting to walk nearly naked to prove something? Anyone can bend a man to those whims; it doesn't take much."
"Disgrace? I amaze them with my talents!" Ranara claimed matter-of-factly.
"The only thing amazing about you is your foolishness." With that, Sasilyna stood up, pushed her chair in, and motioned for Maris to follow her, as he had long been done with his meal, leaving nothing but a well-cleaned bone.
That was where her family ties ended. Sasilyna was polite enough upon initially meeting someone, but the slightest sign she saw of danger in their soul and her cold guard went up. She'd long been close to her sister and Maris, but Ranara was a very different instance.
The only reason she protected this town and estate was for her mother and the Baron Bestole and his wife Madrice. They had accommodated for her pregnant mother with a stern husband, and after he'd left, they still comforted and allowed her to stay. Then, after her mother's death, she'd become closer to both of them…never quite having or wanting a father figure, but accepting their compassion nonetheless. Sasilyna wasn't a soldier… she was a General and a warrior, making her own rules and following the ones she assimilated into her system as well.
Sasilyna dismissed her disgust of Ranara and concentrated on arriving at the guardhouse, to check on things. Walking out of the castle, she parted chickens and goats out of her way as she stepped onto the dirt road through the village. Maris was controlled, and simply looked at the animals with curiosity. Walking past merchants with their stands of goods, she moved towards a tower-like building along the city walls, and when she reached it, she rapped lightly on the oak door.
"'Eh, who be there?" a voice answered.
"General Sasilyna, come to inspect the catwalks, archery posts, sentries, and the gates," she replied.
"Ohhhhhh, aye General, c'min then," a man said as he unbolted and opened the door. The man had a helmet tilted atop his head and several teeth missing. Graumel. He was a veteran of some minor wars past in a land to the east. He was loyal enough, if a bit useless and drunk. Sasilyna stepped over the threshold, looking around the guardhouse where a square table had gambling games scattered on it. She walked to the side of the room and climbed a flight of narrow stone stairs that opened onto the catwalk surrounded by battlements.
Ranara sat comfortably, apparently bored while contemplating the ceiling. Inside, however, a small battle waged. It's none of her bloody business how I dress…it's comfortable…she thought. Really? Then how is it trying to breath with that corset tied tight and those leather leggings so taught around your legs you're sweating raindrops, the other side of her battled. It went on for minutes, the one side thinking logically, the other putting up a stubborn front.
Tired of her argument within, she set her hand on the table for Slyfrys, who had returned with a fuller stomach, to slide up. He made no motion, but looked up at her defiantly.
Ranara sighed exasperatedly, "You don't have to be in the bag if you stay around my neck." At this, he somehow understood, slithered up her arms and loosely looped his body around her neckline, leaving his tail to hang lightly wrapped around her upper-arm. She walked out of the room, ignoring the guards who were looking her over, and made her way outside, where she decided to head towards the stables and pay her horse a visit.
A/N: Last edited 12/26/06
Sasilyna Delkyn – (Sass-ill-inn-a Dell-KEEN or DELLKin) The General of Arhymnia, main character, with a slightly broken sense of family. Was quite close to her mother before the woman died, but never knew her father well.
Maris: (Mah-ris) Sasilyna's black-furred wolf friend.
Lorenda: (Lor-en-duh) Sasilyna's youngest sister, a Water Elemental mage that is sixteen years old.
Shakyr: (SHAH-KEER) Lorenda's Raven familiar.
Ranara: (Rah-NARAH) Sasilyna's younger seventeen-year old sister, dresses in revealing clothes in an attempt to stay away from emotional attachment of any sort.
Slyfrys – (Slih-friss) Ranara's pet cobra, helps in thieving. He IS poisonous.
Vharmine – (Varr- MEEN) The Magick Academy Arhymnia hosts and Lorenda learned from and still visits.
What's going on in the next chapter
Flashbacks to explain a bit of the sisters' past, all three sisters sense some other presence in the castle, we find out where Ranara works and she meets one of the new characters there, she takes him to the castle, where his brother is already there.