From Fire to Water
Chapter 2 – Enemies Always
As soon as I woke up, I decided that I was going to go riding. It was a beautiful day; the sun shone brightly, and a few white clouds drifted lazily in the sky. I dressed in my riding clothes and sent for my maid and friend, Amari.
"Layna! What are you planning to do today?" Amari asked, smiling, as she entered my room, looking fresh and rosy as usual.
"Oh, go riding. You're coming along, of course," I replied.
Amari's eyes twinkled. "Sure, that'd be fun."
I grinned. I had known Amari for years now. She was my one true friend in this household. I could even go as far as to say that she was my best friend, except for the fact that I didn't trust much anymore, and I didn't have many friends. I had lots of acquaintances, and I knew lots of people, but I didn't consider many as friends.
I hadn't trusted, nor made any friends since . . . since breaking off my friendship with Javion.
Amari noticed my withdrawn expression. "Are you thinking of him again?"
"Him" meant Javion. And yes, I was thinking of him. And how he had ruined our perfect friendship.
"Yes," I admitted with a sigh. I proceeded to pour out all my thoughts to Amari. "Why did he ever have to do that? What did I ever do to him? He just started to ignore me . . . for no reason! I didn't do anything . . . anything to make him mad at me. But he started to become really cold and distant . . . and then I got tired of that, so I told him that we could just stop being friends, but I didn't expect him to agree! But he agreed and said we shouldn't be friends, and then he completely forgot about our friendship! And now I hate him . . . now we're enemies. It's all his fault!" I finished, my eyes stormy and cold.
Amari had heard this story hundreds of times already, but still, she remained patient and a great listener. "This was years ago, Layna," she said softly. "You stopped being friends when you were eleven! Why should you care now?"
"I don't know," I said quietly. "I just . . . hate him so much . . . for ruining all that we had. He was a great friend . . . before . . ."
Amari nodded sympathetically, her straight black hair bouncing up and down. "I understand."
I shook my head in frustration. "No, you don't! I don't even understand."
Then, my pride took over. My head snapped up, and I held my chin high. "But I don't care anymore. Now we're enemies. Those days are over. Now, Javion and I are official enemies. I'll hate him forever."
"If you say so," murmured Amari. "But I think you have it all wrong."
I rode out of Kendalin with Amari and the Water Warriors.
Amari was a Water Warrior, and so was I. In fact, I was the leader of the group. There were twelve people in the group, thirteen including me. All were girls, ranging from ages fifteen to twenty-one. I had handpicked this group, and these twelve other girls were my close friends.
Currently, most of the group was chatting about an upcoming ball, to be held at the House of Cenlith.
"Layna, are you going to go?" asked Leila, a girl the same age as me, and a close friend of mine.
"Huh?" I asked, startled. I hadn't been listening to the conversation, mainly because balls just didn't interest me, and also because I was busy thinking up ways to humiliate Javion in court.
"Are you going to the ball that they're holding in Cenlith?" repeated Leila. "You have to go! We're all going! You just have to come!"
Amari glanced at me. "I can't go unless you go, anyway," she said slyly. "And I really want to go, so . . ."
I groaned. "Fine, I'm going."
Leila cheered. "Great! What will you wear?"
"I don't care. Maybe I'll wear my muddiest riding clothes," I said sarcastically.
Leila, used to my sarcastic responses when it came to fashion, ignored me and began discussing clothes with some other unlucky girl close enough to listen.
"Layna? What are you thinking about now?" Amari asked, as she noticed that I was completely out of all the conversation.
I snapped out of my daydreams. "Oh, nothing."
"All right," Amari said, a bit skeptically. "I'm here to listen if you want, you know."
I gave her a brief smile. "Thanks."
Suddenly, all the conversation behind us came to a standstill. I twisted around to see what had made everyone fall silent. Amari pointed silently to our left. I turned to see a group of people in green and white, the colors of the House of Sorlanth. Javion's House.
My own people were in blue and white. And they were all waiting for my orders.
"What's Javion doing here?" I demanded, angry.
"We're in neutral property," was Amari's serious reply. "This land is claimed neither by Kendalin or Sorlanth. He can come here if he wants to."
I narrowed my eyes. "We were here first. He will have to either leave – or fight."
A part of me was hoping that he would leave, seeing that we were here first and thus dominated. Yet, another part of me hoped for a fight, so that I could prove to Javion that we were better than him. And that part was what scared me.
We halted and waited for the new group to retreat. But they didn't. Instead, they rode directly towards us. I scowled as I realized that Javion was in the lead.
He rode directly up to us and halted. "Lady Layna," he said politely but coolly, giving me a slight nod.
I gave a cold nod in return. "Lord Javion. What are you doing here?" My voice came out sharper than I intended.
He shrugged. "Taking a ride – what else?"
I narrowed my eyes. "What else? What else? The last time you came up to us, we got in a big fight. One that we won."
Javion's eyes flashed. "You pushed us off a cliff into the river. You cheated."
Immediately, I was defensive. "We did not cheat!" I blazed. "If you remember, you had twice as many people as us. That was unfair. But we still won." I smirked, and I heard some girls laughing quietly behind me. They, too, remembered that fight, which was the one that had caused us to become dubbed the "Water Warriors".
Javion glared. "Fine. A rematch then."
"No," I said adamantly. "We won. You lost. Get over it."
"Fine, then. A race. With stakes. Whoever wins can dare the other group to do whatever," Javion said calmly. It was a common thing to do; many young people had races or competitions with high stakes.
I contemplated that. I had never yet lost. The Water Warriors had always been able to beat the other team, no matter what.
"Deal," I said. "Choose your riders. Three from each team." Turning away from him, I assessed my group. Leila, me, and another girl named Maya were our fastest riders. We could outrace anyone. Satisfied with my choice, I turned to see whom Javion had chosen as his riders. I recognized one of them as a youth around the same age as Javion. I'd seen him around, usually with Javion, and I'd seen him at court parties and such. He was the son of the lord of Devolan, and Javion's new best friend. His name was Damian, and I had to admit, he was handsome; with golden-blond hair, blue eyes, perfectly chiseled features, and charming smile that would make any girl melt.
But I detested him as well, because he was the one Javion had left me for. His new friend. The thing was; Damian never failed to be polite to me. If he ever noticed my coolness towards him, he didn't ever mention it. He continued to be nice and friendly, despite all I did to make him go away.
The second rider was some guy I didn't recognize. He was tall, probably a foot taller than me, and he had dark hair, hazel-green eyes, a square jaw, and the look of one who was serious and dedicated in all that he did. He was wearing gold and red, the colors of the House of Cenlith. I assumed he was some type of noble, from the loose silk clothes he wore. I found myself analyzing him, looking for flaws; weaknesses that I could use against him, to my advantage.
That done, I looked at the third member of Javion's chosen. Seeing who it was, I scowled. Of course Javion would be in the race. He was the Sorlanth group's third rider.
"Ready?" Javion asked coolly.
"As ready as ever." I met his gaze square-on.
His eyes clouded for a second before he looked away. "We start at that rock." He pointed to a tall, flat rock by the side of the path. "Where do you want the finish line to be?"
I decided then and there that I would make this race as challenging as possible. "We end by Jaeval." I named the barony estate that bordered the peasant villages.
Javion's eyes widened slightly. "You want to go through the cliffs?" he asked incredulously.
It was well-known that the cliffs were dangerous. Rocky and steep, it was also narrow and winding, and the shortest route possible to Jaeval. If anyone fell from the cliffs, they were as good as dead.
I met his gaze. "Yes."
He blinked. "But -" he said, fumbling for the right words.
"Are you scared?" I couldn't help taunting him.
"Of course not," he said sharply. "But if anyone falls, it's going to be your fault."
I scowled. "Go the long way to Jaeval, then," I snapped. "I don't mind. We win the race, then."
He stared at me for a minute unblinkingly, and then said, "Fine. We'll go that way." He turned and nudged his horse over to the rock.
I sprang off of my horse, and called Leila and Maya over to me.
"Got any ideas?" Leila asked.
"Yes. You keep watch on Damian at all times. Make sure he doesn't do anything dirty. Keep ahead of him if you can. Don't let him out of your sight, or he'll cheat." I told her. To Maya, I said, "Keep an eye on that other guy. Do the same thing. I'll be watching Javion."
Leila and Maya nodded, their faces set and determined.
"Oh, and one more thing. I don't care how badly we're losing – but don't cheat. No matter what, don't cheat. It's not worth it to sink below our level," I said.
"Javion will cheat," Maya objected. "He's a noble, and everyone knows nobles are born and bred to cheat – and lie."
"Layna doesn't do either," Leila said on my behalf, frowning.
"I didn't mean Layna," Maya said quickly. "She wouldn't ever do that. I'm just warning everyone against Javion.'"
I nodded. "I understand. But we won't cheat. We can win honorably."
"Hey, ladies, if you don't mind, we're all waiting for you," Javion called over.
"Let's go show them just what it means to challenge a Water Warrior, shall we?" I asked with a wicked grin.
Leila and Maya grinned as well. I vaulted gracefully onto my horse and trotted over to where Javion and his two other racers were waiting for us. Damian gave me a small smile, which I didn't bother to return. Mean, sure, but I didn't like him very much, so I didn't care.
"Let's go," Javion said. "On the count of three. One . . . three!" He and his riders took off.
I cursed softly under my breath, and immediately bolted after him. So he had begun to cheat already. That was alright. We would still win.
I leaned forward on my horse, which was named Quicksilver. The name was fitting; he was gray, with a silvery mane, and he was fast.
I relished the feel of the wind blowing through my hair, and the sweet smells lingering in the air. Rhythmic hoof beats pounded against the soft ground, as the two groups drew even.
I saw Javion glance at me, but I pointedly ignored him and poured on the speed. Quicksilver sped up obligingly, passing all the other horses.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Damian shoot forward, his steed's speed matching mine. A quick flash of gold on my left made me turn my head slightly. The sunlight sparkled off of Leila's golden curls as she drew even with Damian, determined not to let him pass her.
We were entering the woods. Sunlight was caught high above us by the network of intertwining leaves and branches of the trees. The sunshine filtered through the leafy canopy, pooling in emerald shafts of light before us, leading the way.
Leila was the first to enter the woods. I was right behind her and Damian directly behind me. I didn't bother to turn around to check the status of the other riders. All that meant anything now was to win.
Suddenly, off on my right, Javion sped up and raced ahead of me. Anger fueled me, and I shot after him, but Damian cut in front of me.
I scowled. So that was Javion's plan. They were going to let one person win, and the other two would keep us occupied. I smirked. There was no way I was going to let them win this race. If they were blocking this path, I would take another.
So I bolted off the path.
I knew this place better than most others. Ever since I was young, I had loved to ride through these woods, and along the steep cliffs and precipices near the Jaeval estate. I knew a bunch of shortcuts and hidden pathways that no one else knew about, due to my intrepid interest in exploring.
The path I now took was relatively new. Soft moss and grasses grew, and trees loomed on either side. Quicksilver stretched out into a full gallop. The soft sounds of the forests were all around us, and the wind whispered past. I smiled. The others would be taking the longer way. Not only that; their path was worn and used; a path made of sand and dirt. This trail was fresh and still green, and unused; since most didn't even know it existed.
A sudden burst of sunlight in front of us told me that we were now out of the woods. We only had a little further to go; then the cliffs; and the barony of Jaeval would be right in front.
I took a quick peek backwards, and saw the other five racers race out of the forest. The guy from Cenlith was in the lead, and his horse was pretty fast. Leila and Maya were right behind him, and then Damian, and lastly, Javion.
I grinned to myself. Javion wasn't going to win this race. I laughed out loud in sheer pleasure, feeling the exhilaration of the contest rush through me.
I was almost at the cliffs now. The cliffs bordered near the mountains, and, though the mountains weren't that tall, a fall from the cliff would mean death. I concentrated now only on the narrow rocky ledges. The cliff was only wide enough for three abreast. Even then, it was still dangerous.
Stones clattered under Quicksilver's hooves. I gently guided my horse, although he knew the way well enough himself. We had come this way often. I glanced to my right, and saw the ground dropping sharply away. The view from up here was incredible. Lush and verdant land spread as far as the eye could see. A dark-green pine forest was close by, and further on, there were little thatched roofs and straw cottages, where the villages were. I glimpsed the palace far off; a twinkle of gold and crystal on the horizon. It sparkled in the sunlight, as alluring as an evening star.
Wrenching my gaze away from the view, I concentrated on the road in front of me. Hoofbeats behind me alerted me to someone fast approaching. I crouched lower over Quicksilver, spurring my horse on.
We shot out onto wide, flat land again, and I breathed a sigh of relief. So far, the dangerous part was over. And so far, we were winning.
Concentrating only on being in the lead, I failed to look behind to check the stats of the other riders. If I had, I would have known I wasn't in first place any longer.
The only warning I got was the quick hoofbeats to my right. And then, before I knew it, someone had cut in front of me. Green and white silk flashed, and I felt anger and disbelief course through me. The only rider wearing those colors was Javion.
How had he ever managed to get past me?
I knew that I wouldn't be able reach him. He had taken a shortcut that even I had forgotten about. And that shortcut made all the difference.
He skidded to a halt on the boundary of the barony Jaeval. I caught up a few minutes later, scowling and very angry.
"I won," Javion said lightly.
I opened my mouth to accuse him of cheating, and then remembered that shortcuts were allowed. I closed my mouth, glaring. "So?"
"Why are you always so cold towards me?" Javion asked suddenly.
I was thrown off-balance by the unexpected question. "W-what? Why am I always cold towards you? In case you forgot, you were the one who started to ignore me first!"
Javion dismounted, refusing to meet my eyes. "I had a reason," he mumbled.
"No you didn't," I said forcefully. "You just didn't want to be friends with me anymore. Well, that's fine with me. But don't ask me why I'm mean to you. You started everything. You deserve everything I'm giving to you."
"What if I said I was sorry?" Javion asked unexpectedly.
I was climbing down off of Quicksilver. At his question, I almost fell off the horse entirely. My foot slipped off the stirrup, and I fell. Before I could hit the ground, though, Javion caught me. Scowling, I pushed him away. "Don't touch me," I hissed.
Javion looked hurt for a second. Well, what was he expecting? For me to thank him and be eternally grateful? I think not. I glared at him as if the fall was his fault, which, partially, it was.
He glared back. "I asked you a question."
"You know my answer," I shot back.
"So you'll forgive me?"
"Quit deluding yourself," I snapped. "I'm never forgiving you. Ever."
"Good, then. I don't know why I even bothered to ask," he huffed.
I ignored him. Quickly advancing hoofbeats alerted me to the others' approach. Leila came first, the guy from Cenlith hot on her tail. Damian came third, and Maya last.
"Who won?" Leila panted as soon as she had jumped off of her mount.
I scowled, and that was all the answer they needed. Damian cheered, and Leila and Maya glared daggers at Javion.
"We win, so we call the stakes," announced Javion.
"Shut up and get on already. I want to get out of your miserable company as soon as possible," I tossed at him.
Javion pointedly ignored me, and went to converse with his teammates.
I sat down on the ground, and Leila and Maya flopped down on either side of me. "What happened?" Maya inquired. "I can't believe he actually won. And we let you two stay alone. I'm surprised neither of you killed each other yet."
I made a face at her. "He used a shortcut, one that I forgot all about. And I came close to killing him . . . I wanted to . . . does that count?"
Leila laughed. "I'm not surprised."
"I wonder what punishment they're going to give us," I said gloomily. It would be just like Javion to make us do something extremely embarrassing or mortifying.
As if in answer to my question, the guys walked over. "We came up with something," Javion declared.
"If it's something really humiliating that will make us ruin our reputation forever, I am so going to kill you," I warned.
Damian grinned, and Javion smirked. "Then you probably won't end up killing me. There's a dance being held at Cenlith in a few days. You all have to go."
I stared for a second. "That's it?" I demanded.
"You want more?" Javion asked, raising an eyebrow.
"I never said that," I muttered.
I refrained from saying that all of us were planning on going to the ball anyway.
"It's just . . . we expected something worse," Maya, the honest one, explained.
"It's bad enough for Layna. She hates balls," Javion said.
"How would you know?" I retorted. "You don't know me anymore. We're not friends anymore, remember?"
A flash of something indiscernible flashed in Javion's eyes, but a second later, it was gone. "I know," he said quietly. "I know."
I lay awake that night, tossing in my bed. His words played over in my head.
What if I said I was sorry?
I knew what my answer was. I could never forgive him for what he had done.
We're not friends anymore, remember?
I knew, too. Our friendship was over. Now, we were enemies, and we would be enemies always.