Little Vee? What a fireball of a kid. Sure glad I don't have to rein her in every day--just watching her once in while can be traumatic enough...
--Liandra "Wren" Kergatha,
2nd Princess of Cosmodarus
Grand Elders and Little Ladies
Dangling by her fingertips from a parapet battlement, fourteen summer old Vhina Drielle T'Evagduran glanced to the terrace fifty paces below. Violet eyes fluttering, pale hair whipping in her face and heart drumming, she swallowed hard. Tao flight wasn't as easy as Auntie Ziedra made it look. All that spying, she thought certain she'd figured it out! Darn Mother and her 'too young to fly'. She would shredded learn to soar if it killed her!
Vhina's hand slipped and a bolt of fear shrieked through her. She shook her head to clear the spots in her vision and struggled to find a foot purchase on the tower wall to brace herself. The backlash from the failed magic stung. She glanced to the far away ground again. Hitting that granite walkway would hurt a lot more though. She'd fallen from high up before--but never quite this high. It didn't matter if she survived the drop. If there was another "incident" Mother would ground her for a century!
Vhina drew a breath and focused. She felt the warm security of Gaea's energies swelling up from her middle and surging through her arms and legs. With a burst of energy, she flipped herself up over the parapet wall and landed on the edge of the platform.
She sighed. Punishment averted. She cast a look at the parapet access door. No one had come to investigate the sound. She still needed to get down from here without being caught.
Vhina took a breath and pulled her blue academy uniform jacket straight, and ran her fingers through her pale hair to smooth it. Straightening up, she calmed herself. Tall for her age, Vhina was finger-widths from catching up with her mother who was big, even for a human woman. People who didn't know her sometimes thought she was an adult, or confused her with the third princess. Her nonna once joked that the only things she inherited from her human father were his ears and his stubbornness. She wasn't sure she liked the part about stubbornness. Her ears looked a little like her mother's, not being quite as pointed as that of a full-blood elf.
Now, it was time to figure out how to get back to class without being noticed. She brushed at the sleeve of her jacket and heard the disturbing sound of fabric tearing. She looked down and poked at one of several blackened spots in her uniform. The charred material fell apart, the only thing noticeably undamaged was the starburst armband of the eternals wrapped around her upper right arm.
"Errrgh." She rocked her head back. The magic surge from when she tried to fly had ruined her clothing. It was always shredded something. If Nonna or Mother saw her jacket, they would have a fit. Dren, she needed to hide this one and find another. Where to start...?
"I suspect those thoughts will get you in worse trouble," a heavy syrupy female voice said from above.
Vhina jerked and jumped back from the source of the sound. She didn't see anyone until she looked up. A dark-haired woman dressed in white and wearing a crimson cloak stood on the pinnacle of one of the tower pennon staves. Feet close together, arms folded, the wind rustling her long hair and cloak, she stood perched on the tip of the thin rod of wood as if she were waiting for a carriage. Her pale face had a soft look to it except for the eyes which were the color of blood.
As the woman tilted her head to one side, her glistening purple lips pulled into a smile. "I also think your take-off needs a little work."
Vhina retreated a step. She felt a tingle in the back of her neck. This lady must be one of Gaea's daughters. One she hadn't met. Vhina blinked and focused her tao. Lines of color began shimmering and dancing around the woman's body; big magic, bigger even than her nonna's.
She held herself still, thinking back to something Dad told her about meeting powerful people she didn't know. Vhina composed herself and curtsied. She didn't meet the lady's eyes but fixed instead on those smiling violet lips, shiny and wet like the color of crushed wine-berries. "Milady, you startled me," she said in a forced voice. She swallowed, trying to keep her tone level. "Can I help you?"
"My word, such a polite hellion," the woman responded. She reached up and fingered a gold amulet around her neck. "Your name is Vhina, is it not?"
"Just Vee, Milady," she answered in a cautious tone. The colors that swirled around this person didn't appear hostile. Still, based on how long and tangled the woman's aura threads were, she must be someone ancient, someone who could touch Eternity's power. Someone like that could work immense magic. "Mother only calls me Vhina if I'm in trouble, or by both names if I've really done something bad. Might I ask your name?"
The woman sniffed and stepped off the pole and landed on the parapet deck in a flutter of clothing.
Vhina caught her breath, lurching back a step but forcing herself to hold her ground.
The dark woman raised an eyebrow at Vhina's reaction, and flipped a few strands of dark hair over her shoulder, long fingernails flashing as though on fire. "Vulcindra," she answered. The woman grinned with bright white teeth. "They call me that whether I'm bad or not."
Vhina dipped her head. "Milady Vulcindra." She recalled the name from somewhere. Something she overheard in a conversation with one of her aunts, something about wanting momma Gaea to 'do something about her'. She wished the green mother were here now. Even though she was being nice, this lady was frightening. Vhina measured her breathing and pushed her feet into ready stance like her G'yaki teacher taught her, loosening her muscles and marshalling her tao energies. The key Su'ko had told her over and over was to be ready to fight without looking ready to fight.
Vulcindra put her hands behind her back, cast her gaze skyward and looked around the empty stone battlement that stood in the eastern corner of the citadel. "You needn't be so tense, Child," she said. "I'm not here to do you harm."
Vhina knew better than to believe that. She cast a look toward the parapet door. It was a long way away--and locked. Why did she have to lock it? Being made of thick wood bound in iron she couldn't break it in one shot like she did the flimsy interior doors. Focused back on Vulcindra, she doubted running would do any good. Someone this old and powerful could probably teleport like many of her father's friends. If nothing else, she could fly. How else did she get up on that pole? Her only chance to escape might be a distraction of some kind.
"Milady, you'll pardon me, but the tactic of cornering me alone suggests you aren't here to do me a favor."
Vulcindra pressed her hands together. The woman seemed delighted. She stepped closer and leaned forward. "Indeed. How old are you, Vee?"
She frowned. Why did she want to know that? "I'll be fifteen come summer."
The woman nodded. "Fifteen," she repeated, straightening up. "You have excellent trainers. Do you like working with Su'Ko?"
She loved Su'Ko even though the woman made her train the hardest. She didn't think she should tell this stranger that. "She's okay," she responded in her best neutral voice.
Vulcindra raised an eyebrow. "Interesting. Well, Vee, I couldn't help but notice you were trying to teach yourself to fly."
Vhina gave her a guarded nod.
"I can teach you to fly and a lot more," Vulcindra said.
The girl felt a shock of excitement that she quickly capped. Learn from this dangerous lady? It didn't make sense. She glanced over her shoulder and looked around the parapet. Aunt Liandra told her to always look around when someone offered something for free. Her throat felt abruptly dry.
"Why?" she said in a tiny voice.
Vulcindra eyed her. "Why what?"
"Milady, why would you teach me? What, uhhm, what do you get?"
The dark-haired lady clapped her hands. "Pragmatic as well? What a delight you are. What do I get out of it? I get a student who is beholden to me, who could do me big favors in the future. That's not unreasonable is it? I help you and sometime later you help me when I need it."
It didn't seem unreasonable. Still, she had heard enough bedtime stories to know how such deals usually ended up.
Vulcindra over-rode Vhina's objection with a wave of her hand. "You don't have to answer now." In a blink, the woman flashed and appeared by Vhina's side.
Vhina lurched but Vulcindra already had a hold on the metallic armband of the eternals. She started to raise a magic defense and thought better of it.
"Was Advocate Koass serious to have you wear this?" Vulcindra asked.
She looked down at the elaborate band. Filigrees of metallic thread described interlocking starbursts in gold and silver. Four seasons ago the Advocate Eternal had given it to her and told her to wear it at all times. The device possessed powerful magic but she'd never been told what it did. She had her suspicions though.
"Milady, I don't know what you mean."
The woman sighed and let go. "Your clothes are a shambles. Let me do you a favor." She gestured.
Vhina tensed as a blue-green light wound out from Vulcindra's fingers like a dozen tiny glowing snakes. The strands hummed as they rushed through the air, spinning around Vhina's middle, arms and legs. Wherever the magic touched, it felt like hot damp breath on her skin. In the faded glow, the fabric of her clothing no longer appeared damaged...
Vhina pulled at her sleeve. The jacket looked newer than it did when she went to academy this morning. She blinked and looked up at the powerful woman. She bowed. "Thank you, Milady. That was very gracious."
Smiling, Vulcindra drew a long nailed finger down her pale throat. "Think nothing of it, Child. Do keep my offer in mind."
"Actually, Vhina," a melodic female voice said from behind her. "You would be wise to forget you ever saw her."
Vhina stepped sideways so she could see this newcomer but still keep an eye on Vulcindra. The first thing she noted about the intruder was her metallic gold skin glinting in the late morning light. She had silvery hair that reached all the way to her ankles. She wore a simple sleeveless indigo blouse tucked into matching jodhpurs. The dasta Fabrista starburst crest was stitched in gold over her left breast and into the hip swaths of her pants. Like most of the Kriar Vhina had seen, she looked young, her smooth oval face flawless and calm. A triangular red matrix jewel pulsed above the woman's all-black eyes that shone like pieces of the night sky.
Already tense, Vhina's heart picked up speed. As she had done with Vulcindra, she probed the new person's aura. Vhina blinked and wiped at her eyes. Lords, she'd never seen magic this big except in Mother Gaea! Who was she? She thought things were bad before. This lady was at least as strong as Vulcindra--maybe stronger. Now what did she do?
Vulcindra rolled her blood-colored eyes. "Theln, what the frell are you doing here?"
"Vul, that's my line," the lady called Theln said. "Vhina is the niece of my apprentice, blood of my line and my next apprentice."
Apprentice? Vhina's jaw dropped and she stared at the beautiful Kriar lady. Auntie Janai's magic master?
The dark lady folded her arms. "Theln, she's about as related to you as I am."
The Kriar lady laced her fingers together and gave them a crack. Reddish trails of sparks began to wind around her arms and a white light shined in her eyes.
Vhina looked back to see how far it was to the tower wall. If those two started fighting she would need to get behind cover fast. Magic large enough to flatten a village rasped and sparked around Theln's hands.
Vulcindra's gaze stayed fixed on the spiraling energy. "You needn't get so riled. I didn't do anything." She shook her head. "I didn't even touch her."
"Vul, you talk to her again when an adult isn't around and I will personally turn you inside out."
The dark-haired lady blew out her cheeks. "Theln, pull that post out of your arse! You know what's coming. We need her." She pointed a finger at Vhina.
The gesture made Vhina clutch her chest.
"That is not our decision."
"Like frell it isn't," Vulcindra snapped tossing back her hair. "Mark me, those babies on the council will lead us to destruction!"
Theln snapped her fingers and pointed at Vhina. "Miss Sheento, come get your sister."
Before Vhina could move, a rush of air and warm arms engulfed her from behind. A familiar aura, normally soothing but now prickly, pulsed and surged protectively around her like a gleaming second skin.
"You okay, Vee?" her older sister Daena asked in a tight echoing voice.
Vulcindra held out her hands in a placating gesture. "I swear. You two are over-reacting."
"Oh no we aren't," Daena snarled. "If I was over-reacting you'd be doing a tour in the void right now. Stay away from my little sister!"
Vhina looked up at her elder sibling. Her glowing green eyes were narrowed and shining like stars, wisps of auburn hair fell across her face. She felt her sister's arms trembling as she clutched her. Daena was scared! She didn't think anything scared her big sister. Vhina turned in her sister's grasp and hugged her tight. "I'm okay. She really didn't do anything."
Daena stroked a hand through Vhina's hair and nodded but she continued to glare at Vulcindra.
The woman stared at them with gleaming red eyes. "I'll leave for now, but I'm going to knock some sense into you people. The Chyrith are coming and we've played around long enough."
"Yes, yes," Theln said with a dismissing sweep of her hand. "Just be-gone."
With a growl, the lady vanished with the flash and a thump of in-rushing air.
"Thanks," Daena said to Theln. "With Mother Gaea out of reach, I didn't know who else to call when I saw it was Vulcindra."
Theln bowed. "That's fine." She leaned her head to one side, silvery hair falling across her ageless features. "I trust you learned something, Vhina?"
Vhina nodded. Next time she tried to fly it would be closer to the ground.