PROLOGUE

Reflection of Summer

What marvel is this?

Of a sweet summer night,

embraced by eternity's lover.

Of my beloved Guardian,

floating midst the ebony puddles.

Of roses blooming under the stars,

staining the world 'til withering of autumn.

Crumbling under my clumsy toes

soft, windblown petals,

as I dance to the quell of summer's song.

I can see summer near,

through barricades of iron mirrors.

Distant reflections piercing through and through,

glaring into the pits of my eyes.

Clawing and eroding till blood oozes no more,

with only darkness to sooth the wounds.

O, woe the severance of summer and I

O, how I curse and scream,

I can only admire summer from afar.

Craving to taste the sweet nectar,

longing to smell the sweet aroma

wafting from ripened fruits and flowers,

perfected under fair Guide's care.

O, how I beat and howl,

I claw at the unmoving barricades.

Blood trickling down my hands,

the iron mirrors shines mockingly,

revealing my sweet summer's requiem,

the petals rot beneath my feet.

What horror is this?

Of a barren winter's day,

cloaked by shriek of reality.

Of surfacing gnarled roots,

Sapping the life from the world.

O, my dear Guardian!

The irons have branded you.

Summer now buried under the sour earth,

waiting for the Messenger's ascent,

counting the stars until time.

- From The Tale of Sayree and Kaiin-

It was a bright spring day. The scent of freshly cut grass and newly blooming geraniums came wafting through the open windows of the ancient castle. Outside, the lazy ripples on the blue lake refracted the gentle rays of the sun, staining the stone walls of the building with playful lights. On the far side of the lake, a thick forest of vivid green pines, firs and maples swayed with the mellow breeze and a lush field blotted with wildflowers paved the way back up a gentle hill towards the estate. It was a well-cared for building, despite standing for over one and a half millennia, and had been extended several times, apparent by the grey cylindrical towers merging into the more faded grey of original building.

The thick gnarled pillars forming the arches of the front entrance was breath taking. It towered over the height of ten men and it would take the arms of eight men to wrap around the base, delicately carved with vines, sprites and flowers. Beyond the arches, tall spires and thick towers could be seen, stretching towards the sky and not even the dulled colour could detract from the grandeur. To the distant north of the main manor and the northeast of the lake, the two white peaks of Pillar Mountains broke through the wispy ring of clouds and stood proudly above rest of the snow-capped Northern Alps, creating an idyllic backdrop to such an impressive castle.

"Please, my Lady, follow me."

She followed soundlessly, clutching her school bag tighter. She was failing to resist the urge to bolt the other way, and yet her feet automatically followed that balding man striding in front of her. They strode down wide hallways with walls of dull gold and curtains of rich, wine-coloured velvet. The beige stone floor was embedded with crystals and pearls that also crept up columns that towered from the high ceiling every fifty paces or so. It left no doubt in visitor's minds that this was one of the nation's finest and most expensive schools.

Left. Right. Left and finally left again.

They finally arrive at the room slightly different from the rest of the school. It was even more opulent – which she had thought to be impossible. Polished ebony doors adorned with intricately engraved golden handles opened to reveal a classroom draped with indigo silk brocades that tumbled down in luxurious waves. Waxed ebony desks and padded chairs with bejewelled armrests were made to match the crepuscular theme of the room, yet the gold-veined, marble floors reflecting the light from the numerous tall, arched windows gave the room a spacious and aired appearance. In the two front corners of the room ornate flower arrangements rested upon tall crystal craved vases, the green foliage overflowing and meandering their way onto the floor. She could faintly catch the sweet aroma of the roses and wild rubywilts. A large life-size mural adorned the back wall in which a tall woman stood on the top of a grassy hill with the sunset washing the clouds a bright orange and contrasting blue, wild golden curls flung behind her, white linen dressed her body revealing toned arms and legs, a golden staff in her left hand and a jewelled sword in her raised right hand, ready to strike. Below, a battle raged with armoured men and women struggling against each other. Sae'Ella, the name echoed in the back of her mind, the RuZanian Goddess that was called upon when riding into battle and the one RuZanians prayed to for compassion.

"Excuse me, Lady Midow?" The man pushed his thick glasses up and motioned for her to follow him. Taking a deep breath, she walked to the front of the classroom. The room was so quiet that she could hear her heels clicking on the floor. She stood at the front, and took a look at the class. Twenty or so faces looked back at her. She could feel their eyes on her, judging her. Her hands itched to smooth her new uniform. Some people were frowning. Other's expressions she could not read.

The man leant up and whispered to the a young woman, then abruptly turned and walked out of the room, sparing her a small glance on the way out. As the balding man walked out, so did the feeling of safety. She now felt naked and vulnerable – although there weren't any visible signs of discomfort on her face. She was a reserved girl, though certainly not shy. Her closed manner was often mistaken for aloofness. Some might have called her cold, inscrutable or shrewd but no one could doubt her frankness or intelligence. A close friend told her once that she did not make the best first impressions. It wasn't that she was ugly, her friend had explained, in fact she was quite beautiful, ethereally so. The problem was that she was almost too pale and her contrasting black hair and high cheekbones only served to highlight large unusual eyes that hinted at knowledge beyond her years. Her eyes often seemed like they were seeing into the depth of one's soul. It unsettled people, magnetising and repelling at the same time, and together with her reserved manner, it made her seem unapproachable, indifferent and intimidating to some. Somehow that memory didn't bring much comfort to her present situation.

"Class," the beaming woman cleared her throat. "I'd like to introduce you to a new student. This is Rishala Midow. She has recently moved to this town. I'm sure you'll make her more than welcome." Rishala internally cringed at her full name, she much preferred 'Riah' which is what her friends called her. Remembering her briefing about the etiquette in this nation, she bowed a little and mumbled a greeting. The teacher turned to face her, casually tucking a short golden tress behind her ear. "Rishala, my name is Lady Orelle. This is our class and we are very glad to have you with us. If you have any problems, I'm sure all the students and I would be happy to help you where we can." Riah nodded and murmured a 'thank you'.

The slender woman indicated a spare seat in the back row. Without another word, Riah held her school bag to her chest once more, moved to the back of the classroom and quietly slid into her seat. Clearing her throat almost nervously, Lady Orelle continued with her lesson while Riah settled into the surprisingly soft seat. The reality of starting a new life was beginning to hit her. She was in an unfamiliar environment where no one knew of her past. No one knew anything about her or her family or the last few months of her life. In a way it was a good thing, but the tugging at the back of her heart alerted her of her desire for the familiar presence of her brother and friends.

Riah had moved in with her maternal grandparents a few days ago and it was not by choice. In fact before this, Riah had never formally met her grandparents. It was said that they were present at her mother's funeral, but she was still a babe and of course had no such recollection. Her grandparents were heavily involved in the court and politics of the nation and never really approved of her mother's marriage to her father. After the death of her mother, there wasn't any further contact between the two households – until recently. Nevertheless, the move to a new nation, a new town was necessary and the safest was with her grandparents, or so the priestesses told her family. So surprisingly with no resistance on her grandparent's behalf, she was here in this filthy rich school, one of the most renowned and esteemed schools in the 6 nations, not to mention in the most prestigious class of the entire year. A world away from her previous life.

Riah looked around the classroom. In front, sat a girl with who was quite infatuated with her own hair, often twirling the long blonde locks around her fingers or examining them for split ends. She did it constantly and Riah had taken to calling her 'the hair girl' since she did not know her name. There was an empty table to her right and to her left, sat a boy looking out the window – though looking seemed to be an inappropriate description as his eyes were closed. She couldn't tell if he was sleeping or just ignoring everything. What surprised Riah was his unusual hair colour - it seemed a silver-blue in the streaming sunlight. There was only one other person Riah knew with silver hair, though without the blue sheen. He was slightly older and quite trained in the use of magic, which was the reason for the unusual hair colour. She had been told that the trained mages had quite unusual hair and eye colours as influenced by their preferred elements. Riah briefing wondering if that boy was similar, though he was much too young! Perhaps he was what people called...an albino?

"LaSeera," hair girl's head snapped up. "Where was the final battle of the Dark Wars?"

"Uh….uh…Thaeris…no! Illemala!"

"Yes, it was Illemala," Lady Orelle nodded and then after a moment of indecision, tentatively added. "LaSeera and Elyra, please refrain from passing notes during class."

Hair girl and her neighbour on the left, Elyra, nodded slowly and seemed to slump in their seats from the drawn attention of the class.

In the front right corner of the classroom was a group of four girls who caught Riah's attention. The first thing was the very elaborate hair styles, decked with jewels and hair ornaments, makeup that seemed only fit for courtesans - at least the courtesans from Riah's hometown. Then it was the clear metallic tinkling of jewellery clashing against each other as they leant over to talk to one anther. There seemed to be a bubble around the girls as Lady Orelle would only give them disapproving looks now and again, but never out rightly scalding them.

Lady Orelle seemed to be very passionate about her subject of History; her eyes alight with excitement as she talked about the Dark Wars that was the biggest and darkest period in the history of their kingdom, Ciiorlis. Listening in every now and again, Riah sighed - as interesting as the topic was, she couldn't seem to calm down and the lesson seemed to drag on. When a bell finally sounded throughout the school signalling the end of the class, the classroom was suddenly full of noise and movement. The scraping of chairs and murmurs of conversation began to escalate. Lady Orelle pursed her lips in disappointment at the end of her class. She tucked blonde strands of hair behind her ear and gingerly reminded everybody of homework, hesitating slightly at the inattention of the class before sighing in resignation and exiting the classroom.

Riah leant back into her armchair, softly blowing a stray lock of hair out of the way. From the corner of her eye, she saw the group of four girls stand up and walk towards her, their hips swaying with every step. Having a sinking feeling about the meeting, Riah closed her eyes and hoped they would go away.

"Rishala, is it?" She opened her eyes and saw a pretty strawberry-blonde haired girl looking down at her, the three other girls flanking behind her. Riah nodded and said a 'Hello'. The girl's lips slowly formed a smile – a sickly sweet smile. She tossed her perfectly curled long hair behind her shoulders and delicately extended her hand. Perfect long manicured fingernails with golden bangles decorating her wrists. Riah slowly extended her own.

"I'm Va'Lel SaKaiya."

"Let's have a look at you," another girl said. "What's your background?"

"I'm sorry...?" Riah stared blankly at the auburn haired girl with freshly painted bright red lips.

"Rishala…your name sounds Illemalan," she quipped, her full red lips a distinct contrast to her creamy skin. "Which city are you from?"

"Here, stand up," A third girl pulled her up, her dark red haired and light blue eyes stood out against her tanned skin, her piercing eyes reminded Riah of a hawk's gaze. Va'Lel looked her up and down whilst the smallest of the four girls circled her. She felt like some doll that these four girls were debating whether or not to buy. Riah was about to open her mouth to speak, when Va'Lel asked the circling blonde girl, "What do you think, Xalia?"

The blonde girl looked at her and smiled kindly, almost apologetically. "Not bad," she turned back to Va'Lel. "Around five foot five. Nice figure. Skin seems to be in a healthy condition, just a little too pale - nothing we can't solve. Eyes are quite unusual - I'm not sure how to describe the colour. Hair seems fine and well cared for, however the style is not very exciting, a new hairstyle would be required."

Riah frowned and stepped away from the girls. A slight blush settled across her cheeks - those girls just critiqued her looks in front of everyone and spoke loud enough for the entire class to hear! Composing herself, she settled back into her padded seat. "I'm sorry, but I don't remember asking to be examined like some mannequin," She frowned at the girls. The girls stared back at her in astonishment. Suddenly, she realised the classroom had gone quiet, warning bells rang in her head but she couldn't take what she said back. No, she would not take it back. A part of her rational self cursed her damned pride, but thinking quickly, she found a slight medium by saying something more neutral. "I'm sorry if I have offended you, but I'd appreciated it if you do not do that again."

There was stunned silence from the group for a fleeting moment, but then it disappeared. "How…how dare you speak to us like that!" the red lip girl hissed, her dark eyes flashing. "Do you know who we are?" Riah glanced up at her from the corner of her eyes. Obviously her 'neutral' comment did not seem to placate the group. Anger and embarrassment flushed the red lip girl's face.

"It seems that she is quite ignorant, Kenelle," Va'Lel tossed her hair. Running a hand through her hair with bangles jangling in the process, Va'Lel's almond shaped eyes locked onto Riah's own. "Listen, pretty girl, I am the eldest daughter of the SaKaiya Eza'Rera family and I'm also the king's niece. You do know the SaKaiya family, don't you? We're one of the nine High Houses of RuZane, and I'm the daughter of the Eza'Rera family, who are the first family of the House. In other words, I'm the daughter of the most powerful family from the SaKaiya High House!

"Kenelle is the sole daughter of the second house of the Zhidey family, also another High House of RuZane. Xalia here, her father owns the biggest oil mining and refineries of the Loa Islands and this is Lyřil. Lyřil's family is one of the wealthiest in Kalow." Va'Lel pointed to the dark red haired girl who had pulled her up from her seat. Xalia smiled smugly at her introduction and stood up just that little bit taller.

Riah took a deep breath, trying to keep from snapping at those girls – she really didn't give a damn about their linage or wealth. "It's very nice to meet you then," Riah said mildly and once again turned to look out the window. From the corner of her eye, she could see outraged expressions on their faces.

"Look here, Rishala, you're making very dangerous enemies," Va'Lel snarled. "Don't come crawling to us when you regret what you did today."

"We could've helped you to turn yourself into something great, but you rejected it," Kenelle smirked viciously, her dark eyes narrowed to a slit. The girls swished off.

Riah blew some more stray strands of black hair out of eyes, sorely frustrated. The atmosphere in the room was suffocatingly tense as the girls made their way towards the windows on her left. She sighed. She wasn't planning to fit in anyway, and she wasn't here to make friends either.

"Teyian!" a breathy voice exclaimed. "Why are you sitting by yourself here? You should come and join us!"

"I'm fine here."

It was that boy who sleeping through the lesson – or was it looking outside the window? Riah could see a pout forming on Va'Lel's rosy lips as she slid into the vacated seat in front of Window Boy.

"But, Teyian! You know how much I adore your company," Va'Lel smiled sweetly and reached towards Window Boy's hands. It was clear that Window Boy did not feel the same way – he promptly moved his hands from the desk to his lap. All without making eye contact. Va'Lel frowned, yet the action seemed not to deter her. "Ah! Have you heard, Teyian? I've been invited to attend this cycle's High Court session. Can you believe it? It's still years until my formal debut! My parents are so happy for me! I'm going to be the talk of the RuZane, and my parents say that this is going to elevate the status of our family even more and that I may also get many suitors after High Court! I do keep telling them though, that there's only one person that I'm interested in…" Va'Lel let out a slightly demure giggle and looked at Teyian expectantly who made no reaction.

Va'Lel continued to babble on about the wonderful benefits of High Court until the boy finally interrupt her. "High court's pathetic."

Va'Lel's eyes widened, "You can't mean that, Teyian! It's the most important Court to gain status and respect. You haven't even attended…have you?" Window Boy gave no response. "You have?" Va'Lel voice went up an octave. "Well, I guess that's just what you'd expect from the son of the Eza'Rera CiéLai House. Oh, you do have to give me some advice, Teyian! It is such a harsh place - High Court that is. For a young daughter of an Eza'Rera High House, like me, I would be under such pressure to do well. I couldn't bear the shame of embarrassing the SaKaiya House!"

Window Boy promptly stood up and walked towards the exit of the classroom. "Just keep your mouth shut."

Riah blinked. Although, she didn't understand much of that conversation, she gathered that Window Boy seemed to come from one of these powerful Houses. He also disliked Va'Lel and was not afraid to show it. That thought alone brought some form of comfort to Riah as she settled down to begin her new life in a new town, at least there was someone in this class who is more powerful than Va'Lel.

"What are you looking at?"

Riah snapped out of her daze to see Va'Lel growling at her. "I wasn't looking at anything," she replied calmly.

Hands slammed onto her desk causing her pen to roll off the edge. Shoving her face into Riah's own, Va'Lel's face contorted in anger, gold specks flashing across her hazel eyes. "Just mind your own business. Take this as a warning, you don't want to get on the wrong side of me or my family. Stay away from Teyian. He's mine!" Her voice had gotten progressively louder.

Riah's eyes widened at the echo of 'mine' floating across the room and blackness clouded her vision...

The blackness of the night washed her sight away, leaving only the stalking shadows.

"If you cannot be mine, no one will have you!" came the mixed cry of anguish and fury. The dark figure crept closer. Hands appeared, outstretched and clawed. Skin so pale that the pulse of the underlying veins could be seen. "You will die..." Words blurred together becoming low growls in her ear.

Menacing shadows flickered across her dulled vision. The outline of her attacked loomed close, so close that the smell of insanity filled her nostrils. "You are mine!" The coarse snarl seemed to seep into her ears and the sentence repeated itself in her mind again, and again.

A flash of white broke the darkness, so bright and harsh that it sent cascades of colour spots across her vision. It took a second to register that there was pain. Raw and soul shattering pain that caused the whiteness. So strong that it blinded her and there was nothing else but the searing heat and the piercing shocks flooded her world…

"Good girl, at least you seem to have the brains to grasp the difference between you and I. Remember, I can crush you whenever I want you. You are insignificant and just an annoyance to me, so you better watch your step," Va'Lel hissed low in her ear. Straightening herself, Va'Lel tossed a final victorious smirk and moved back to her seat, her croonies followed closely.

It took a minute for Riah to realise that she was breathing hard and she would have bet her last penny that she had just grown even paler - if it were possible. Va'Lel must have mistaken her reaction to the vision as fear. Her skin felt slightly clammy and a shiver involuntarily shot down her back; that vision felt so real that she could feel the pressure around her neck and the air leaving her. She could also feel the crushing of soft flesh under her hands, the grip tightening and the muscles under becoming taut and relaxing as if...was she choking someone? Or was she being choked? Riah shook her head and looked out the large window at the sunny day to make herself warm once more. She would need to write to her brother about had just happened, he had strange visions all the time, but for now, she would just focus on surviving the rest of the day.

Hi everyone! I'm back! Wow, it's been a LOONNNNGGG time since I updated but fear not, my darlings! I have not been idled. I've been doing a lot of background information for this pet project of mine so that I can write more smoothly, and iron out any wrinkles, holes and imperfections. I hope everyone likes the newer version of Shattered Souls as much as I do. There are still lots of work to be done, so please be patient with me!

Please, please read and review!

~Spek~