Chapter One

"Your move."

Lyra bit her lip, she studied the chess board in front of her, king to A5...rook...where do I put the rook?!

Her opponent, Borsche, was one of Lady Edith's more elderly servants. He stared at her, a look of long-anticipated triumph creeping onto his wrinkled features.

Finally, Lyra unsurely grabbed her piece and moved it. She released a long-held breath and waited for Borsche to move his piece.

Borsche eyed the piece, a knight. "A strange move..." He mumbled, troubled.

Lyra smiled cockily, "Move."

Borsche grinned, "I will, but you'll regret it."

The old man stared at the pieces hawkishly. He snatched up his queen and with a near-sadistic pride, blocked the last possible way of escape for her king.

Lyra stared at the board in open-mouthed shock, "How...How..."

"I'm older, wiser, and far more devious than you, child," He said loftily.

"Devious, eh?"

"Oh, yes. Quite. Chess, in itself, is the game of deceit. One must deceive one's opponent into believing they will do one thing and then do the exact opposite. The element of surprise is the most deadly force on earth, excluding pride," Borsche said.

Lyra nodded, she enjoyed listening to Borsche whenever he talked like this. He held something...aristocratic about him, then. She wished to be as wise as he when she was his age, though she would never admit it.

"Now then, get back to work, I don't want to have to tan your hide twice this week," Borsche said, though his frame in appearance, looked old and fragile he was as tough as iron when need be.

Lyra blushed, though she had come of age last year, Borsche still punished her as if she were the rebellious seven-year-old she was when she first went to work under him as a cook's assistant nine years ago. She snatched up her apron and left the backroom the two were in and headed into the kitchens.

XXX

Lady Edith Raajmar stood, leaning against the marble banister of the great, ornamental staircase overlooking the Main Hall.

Servants scurried below her, cleaning and placing tables and chair about the edges of the hall.

It was an annual tradition in her clan to hold a masquerade on Midsummer's Eve.

Edith studied several children playing hide-and-seek behind the pillars supporting the room, they were scrawny, and their clothes unkempt.

She made a noise of disgust, such simple-minded things; they were born into poverty and ignorance, and would die as such. No chance for any of them, and none of them ever knew it. They continued on in their wretchedness, thinking themselves superior to purebreds such as her. Ha! What fools they were, but they were more vital then they knew, these servants did the dirty work. But that was the secret to a good ruler. Keep one's subjects in ignorance and they will continue to depend on you, once they discover their own potential, chaos erupts.

Edith turned on her heel and headed to her quarters. Her hand had scarcely been on the doorknob when she heard "Your Grace!"

She closed her eyes, "What is it?"

A page stood in the hallway, shifting nervously from foot-to-foot, "The Baroness Ixmyr has arrived and requests your presence."

The Baroness Anira Ixmyr stood in the main hall of the Raajmar manor. Her brilliant red hair elegantly coiffed, she wore a simple traveling dress made of thin materials due to the heat. She paced back and forth, her boots tapping against the marble floors.

"Cease your flittering about, child, what distresses you?" Edith asked as she descended the stairwell at the end of the main hall.

Anira jumped at Edith's unexpected appearance, "In private, Sister."

"Very well," Edith motioned for Anira to follow her as she alighted the stairs. She opened a door leading to a small hallway; at the end of the hallway was a mahogany door with a sturdy lock attached to it.

Anira followed her, trembling, she entered the room after Edith; once Edith closed the door she burst out:

"The dragon escaped!"

Edith stared at Anira, her face the epitome of composure, "When?"

Anira wrung her hands, "I don't know--" She began but Edith cut her off.

"Anira Stargazer, you are Luitia Egota! Daughter of the Goddess, trained in the forgotten ways! Compose yourself, youngling!" Edith thundered, her small frame suddenly seeming much larger and imposing.

Anira sat down meekly; she folded her hands and said quietly, "Last night, around three o'clock from what my servants say."

"From what your servants say? Anira, if the mightiest of all dragons broke out of one of the strongest dungeon ever created, you'd hear it. Half of Amir would hear it!" Edith snapped.

Anira's face became a rosy shade of pink, "I was away."

Edith rolled her eyes, "What you do in your private time is your own business, but be discreet. Should the Baron find out about your lover..."

Anira nodded shame-facedly, "Yes, sister."

Edith smiled, the look extremely odd on her cold, but nonetheless beautiful features. "Were there any tracks?" She asked.

"Yes, he made no attempt to conceal himself, he is headed...he is headed..." Anira struggled with the words.

"Spit it out!" Edith snarled.

"He's headed to the Barren Lands," Anira said, her voice positively dripping with fear and repugnance.

Edith sighed, "You are a disgrace," She said, her voice devoid of any emotion.

A brief look of anger ghosted across her face, but disappeared quickly, "Yes, Sister."

"We have no time to waste, I will gather the others, we will hunt," Edith said, she moved to the door but then stopped and shouted a curse in a language foreign to Anira.

"Pardon, sister?" Anira asked worriedly, her large amber eyes filled with surprise.

Edith rubbed her temples, "The masquerade..."

Anira made a sound of surprise, "You would delay hunting for that which could destroy The Society with one fell swoop for a silly party?"

"No, fool! Use your mind!I am subservient to the king. I break tradition in canceling this ball; that causes ripples. People will wonder what happened, they will investigate, if they find I am out hunting a dragon...You figure it out," Edith said, carefully enunciating each syllable as if she were talking to a young child.

Anira stared at her abashedly, "Forgive me."

Edith rolled her eyes, "Summon the Sisters; you are to hunt without me."

Anira nodded, "Yes, Sister." She stared at Edith, waiting for another command.

Edith turned to her, "Well, what are you waiting for? Go!" She hissed.

Anira shot up and bolted out of the room.

Edith sank into a chair, she cradled her head in her hands, massaging her temples, "Fools," She muttered.

The nerve! The incompetence! How dare that little slip of a thing be rewarded with Throar the Magnificent! To keep that dragon in captivity...what power Edith would've held! And look what Anira had done with this display of trust! She had let the beast escape!

Muttering incoherently to herself, Edith left the room with a swish of her velvet skirt.

XXX

Lyra poured in flour to the mixing bowl that would soon be bread dough...maybe.

She expertly stirred the flour in with her hands, enjoying the feel of the sticky mixture between her fingers.

"Hurry the 'ell up!" Raphire thundered, she was a stocky middle-aged woman who was the unofficial ruler of the kitchens when Borsche was away.

Borsche was outside overseeing the cooking of the roast pork, and thusly Raphire had snatched at the chance to establish her power.

Lyra paid Raphire a stony look before resuming her work at a quicker pace. She cast a glance about the kitchen; most of the other servants were women her own age. They were wide-eyed girls who were positively terrified of Raphire. Jumping at the sound of her voice and nearly crying whenever she berated them.

Lyra had come to work at the kitchens early, as punishment for some of her childish mischief gone awry. She had been far too proud to even flinch at Raphire's voice, Lyra laughed at the woman, called her a hag.

This only maddened Raphire, she had given her more work than most children could take. Scrubbing more floors, slicing more vegetables, kneading more dough, than any of the other servants did in a week.

Lyra never verbally complained, though her young body had taken a toll. It finally got so bad that the woman had taken pity on her and lightened her load. After that the two had worked out an odd unspoken treaty of understanding.

"Quit yer daydreamin', girlie! Her ladyship isn't paying ye to sit around lollygaggin'! 'Urry up!" Raphire scowled at Lyra.

"She ain't payin' you to order us around, either!" Lyra shot back, merriment dancing in her eyes.

Raphire gave her a glare, "Cheeky li'l imp!"

Lyra grinned, "Yep." She quickened her pace as she worked her fingers through the dough, quickly turning it into something that resembled a loaf of bread. She gave it to Akira, another servant-girl to put it in the oven.

"Now that you've finally decided to work," Raphire said with mock patience, "Cuff's switched ye to wash work, yer cleanin' her Ladyship's room, hop to it!"

Lyra sighed, she hated cleaning the bedrooms but she was good at it and was normally elected to do the job. "Quit yer squawking, I'm going," She tugged the rag she used to keep her hair out of her face (and food) when in the kitchen at shoved it in her pocket before grimly leaving the bustling kitchen.

She climbed the stairs and navigated her way to the East wing of the manor, through many staircases and hallways, to Edith's room, she opened the door and proceeded into her massive bedchambers.

The girl looked about at the velvet and satin covered bed, canopy and curtains. She groaned, "Hateful little..." She berated no one in particular, she hadn't even started and she felt like quitting. Ah, well, she told herself; let's get on with it.

With that, the little maid busied herself about the room.

Squelch! Lyra scrubbed her sponge against the tiles of Lady Edith's bathroom sink. She muttered curses under her breath, none of them being particularly repeatable. to mixed company. "Why do I always get stuck with this?" She mumbled, dipping her sponge into the lye water.

When she finally finished the bathroom, she walked back into Edith's bedchambers, stopping to admire her work.

The entire room was done in a dark marble-green and gold; Edith's official colors. The canopy had been switched, the sheets changed, the rugs beaten and her writing table switched.

Now all that remained was taking down her velvet curtains and beating them, Lyra's most hated job.

The girl moaned and rolled up her sleeves, "Might as well get it over with." She took her stool and sat it by the large windows that looked out on the front lawn of the estate. Lyra undid the bar on the curtains and proceeded to (with the usual difficulty) take the curtains down. She huffed and puffed as she finally got them all down and tried to gather the ridiculously enormous curtains into her somewhat small arms. Lyra jumped down from the stool, curtains still in hand, and, with green velvet trailing behind her, left the room, cursing the curtains in many less-than-creative ways.

The velvet curtains were so massive and bulky that they blocked off the girl's vision and only memory of the halls and many staircases saved her from getting lost in the estate, or at least running to a wall.

She marched on along with her bothersome bundle, until she encountered something in her pathway. Lyra was already going at such a pace that whenever she bumped into the obstacle she sent both it and her to the ground.

The curtains flew into the air and landed on her face, blocking everything. She struggled with the troublesome things before finally coming face-to-face with a fuming Lady Edith.

Lady Edith stared at Lyra disdainfully, she had already stood up and was towering over the girl, "Watch where you are going, little one," She said coldly, "If you rip those you will compensate in full for them."

Lyra's eyes widened, she scrambled up and curtsied, "Forgive me, your ladyship!"

Edith rolled her eyes, "Run along." She sailed on past the girl and was gone as quickly as she came.

Lyra breathed a sigh of relief as Edith rounded the corner, "Far too close for my liking," She said to herself and went about gathering up the curtains once again