Glass windows formed the North, East, and West walls of the palace library, letting in plenty of natural light for the scholars who might use its extensive resources. While guarded heavily from outsiders – there were applications that had to be filled before a citizen could enter the library and use sometimes ancient manuscripts – there was still rarely a moment when the library was empty, or close to empty. At the moment, the sun highlighted freshly polished wood bookshelves and furniture, a vibrant cherry color that matched the deep maroon cushions of couches and chairs. Expensive works of art hung on the ends of the bookcases and on the one wood wall where the doors were located. Each depicted some aspect of the kingdom's culture, through festivals and dancing. A light humming filled the air from the multiple mage-powered lights that lightened the darkening corners.
Today was one of those few days where none but two people occupied the room, for many were gathered on the large plateau at the edge of the kingdom to bid farewell to the sun, which, after setting tonight, would not again reach its post in the azure sky for three days, a time where a full moon would be their only natural source of light. When the elfin border had been fully opened for the use of everyone, it had caused a shift in the celestial objects for these past twenty years. Though most everyone had grown used to the event, when it happened every three months, most gathered to wish the sun a good rest, as if doing so would ensure it would rise again. There would be more dancing, some singing, and lots of food and activity.
Kayta never went, preferring to stay at home, where, if she chose, she could watch the orange globe's descent from the West window of the library, and resist the urge to throw up. Every time the sun left, she felt that there would be a time when it would never again rise and the human world would forever live in shadows and candle or mage-light. During the three days of darkness, she carried a large knot of worry in her stomach that grew with every passing hour, until she was sure it would kill her. When she had been little, she had once expressed her fear to her father, King Daniyl, who had assured her that with everyone who loved it, the sun wouldn't want to stay away. He had laughed off her worries and had pulled her close and into a new game. She had pretended to be relieved, but she had refused to go to the ceremonies of good-bye after that, always coming up with a new excuse.
The sun's rays swept across the library, caressing for a moment books, manuscripts and furniture, in a farewell gesture. As shadows began to chase its light from her knee, she reached out to catch it, closing her fist around a light beam, and then looking around, seeking a witness for her foolish movement. Perhaps her mother could use golden threads of magic to light a room, but no one could capture a ray of sunlight. The sun would come back in three days. It had never failed her before. Still, she made the gesture of Mormacok, a fist over her right breast, in a superstitious movement to encourage the sun to return.
The sky faded from blue to purple, and then to black, cuing the lighting of the larger mage-lights, curious balls of light that lived off a small pocket of magic created by even the most inexperienced magic-user. She called one over to her as she took a small folded sheet of paper from her pocket, the most recent correspondence from her youngest cousin, Feryl, on the elfin world. Her parents wouldn't be returning to the palace until most everyone had left the plateau, choosing to mingle amongst the townspeople in the ways of previous rulers, allowing friendships and trust to bloom between the rulers and the ruled.
Feryl wrote her every month, to tell of the latest adventures of Alexia, the trouble maker, and her father's favorite niece, because she reminded him of his sister. He also told news of the rest of the family, from his parent's newest proclamations, to the progress of elf crossings into the human world, to continue their efforts to renew a dead planet. He spoke of the mysterious disappearances of his oldest sister Tisra, who he had caught sneaking out on her horse three times last week. He waited until the end of the letter to mention that his coming-of-age ceremony was tonight.
Kayta closed her eyes and wished her cousin luck, and with good cause. His magic was responsible for the deaths of several hundred elves, and his own father had thought he had vanquished it. Then, it had come back in the form of his only son's magic. After it was found that to kill the magic in Feryl, would end up in Feryl's death, Feryl had been left alive, but alone, except for his family. Everyone avoided talking to him, except for his close family and Kayta. At the coming-of-age ceremony, she knew he feared his complete bonding to the magic.
She sympathized with him more than most knew. She had her own secret, though few except her parents and one friend knew. In a way, she would be disappointing her own kingdom when they sought leadership from her, the day that she would take over ruling the kingdom. No one else could do so, for she was the only child, her mother suffering from a disease not long after her birth, which had left her infertile.
Suddenly, Feryl's letter was ripped from her hand as a tall redhead flopped onto the couch in front of her, mischief dancing in green eyes. "Ooo! Another letter from the depressed cousin," she cooed, hanging her head over the edge of the couch. The mage-light's glow seemed to kiss the newcomer's face and body, chasing shadows from her slender form and caressing firm muscles born in the training yards. She batted long eyelashes Kayta's way as she scanned the letter for anything of importance. "Oh!" She jolted to a sitting position. "It's his coming-of-age ceremony tonight! Wow, I'm sure he's excited." She pretended to read the next few lines carefully. "Never mind, then. More boo-hoo, I'm the bringer of doom; my magic is awful and going to kill more people if I don't disappear." The letter was thrown to the side, and Kayta had to refrain from picking it up right away, for that would only encourage her trouble-causing friend.
"You're too mean to him, Aima." Kayta leisurely smoothed the wrinkles from her dress before bending down and picking up the letter, folding it and putting it back into her jacket's pocket. "You don't understand what he's been through. Can you imagine everybody being afraid of you because of something you were cursed with just by being born?"
Aima thought a moment. "Nope. I think he just needs someone to jerk him from his misery. His parents treat him with kid gloves and his sisters are too busy with their own troubles to bother with his."
Kayta looked at the star-speckled sky. "Things are more difficult on Doran."
"Just because they make them so. Remember, I visited there and witnessed everything first hand. Too bad I didn't think to check in on Feryl. Oh wait, he wasn't born yet. To think that he's now older than me, even though he was born sixteen years after me. How does that work?" Aima kicked aside some books off the end-table.
"The elfin world works differently than us. Remember, they grow up fast, and then they grow old slow. After his coming-of-age ceremony, Feryl will grow up just like us." There had been a scientific reason to that theory, but Kayta hadn't bothered to learn it. It was too long and boring. She had just remembered enough to explain the basic theory to her friend.
"Ick. I wish my childhood would have been so quick. It would have been nice for some things to be forgotten quicker." An impish smile graced her face, causing her green eyes to sparkle. "I tend to get in trouble pretty often."
"We know," a male voice sounded from behind Kayta, making her jump in surprise. She hated it when he showed up like that. His accent was one that matched one of the south kingdoms, where he had spent most of his childhood years. He hadn't lost it yet, as he had only returned home a few weeks ago, where he had taken up post as one of the librarians. "You never lost that quirk, Aims."
A pretty pout formed upon Aima's lips as both ladies turned to greet their visitor. Another tall red-head, a masculine version of his twin sister, Zam, was enough to take any woman's breath away. Despite his work in the library, he had developed muscles few librarians could claim, and though he was thin, it was a lean thin, one that said that he could move quickly, with a predator's grace. His dark eyes were more hazel than green, and shadows lurked in their depths, as though he had seen troubles while away in the south. Aima had once told Kayta that her brother was almost too intelligent, and that it was his brilliance that caused him to be so silent.
"I just wanted to let you know that the library will be closing in five minutes, Princess." He bowed in Kayta's direction and began to walk away, as silent as he had arrived.
"I don't know about you, Aima, but your brother is kind of creepy. It's a little difficult to believe that you're related, nonetheless, twins." Kayta was wrapping her shawl around her, so she missed Aima's worried glance toward her brother. "To this day, I'm surprised you didn't accompany him down south, as close as you two are."
Aima shook her head, and grabbed her friend's arm. "My place was here, not down there. Besides, I was able to befriend you, and I was always allowed to go visit him whenever I wanted. Remember that I used to disappear for days at a time? I went to visit him, see how he was going." She sighed, blowing a kiss in her brother's direction, trying to catch a fleeting smile, but he had already turned to his duties. "He used to be the mischievous one, believe it or not. Actually, he used to be the one to get me into trouble."
Hearing her friend's stomach growl, Kayta turned her mind away from imagining Zam as playful and a trouble-maker, and suggested they raid the kitchen for an evening snack.
He watched as the princess left the library, arm in arm with his only family, best friends. As soon as they had left the library, he used a small bit of magic to close and lock the library door before he headed to the North window and looked around. Princess Kayta had once expressed fear to her father regarding the coming darkness, and while King Daniyl had brushed her off, he had asked Zam to find out more about the darkness. What he found had been harmless. The new magic pouring into the deadened world sent the sun to sleep for a few days once every three months. However, Zam had remained concerned.
Though the darkness itself was not a danger, he had spent enough time in Unyl to learn the best opportunities to plan an attack. From the rumors he had heard, and that had forced him to come back home, he knew there was unrest towards the royal family here. It had been brewing since before the border had been opened, and after the border had been opened, it had begun to boil. He had come back home to try to find a way to halt any attempts on King Daniyl and Queen Dansa's life. Though both possessed magic, there were ways to get around such a weapon. The element of surprise was one such method, and there was no better time to attack than during one of the sun's quarterly disappearances. Under the cover of darkness, much could hide the movements of evil-minded people.
He didn't worry too much about the Princess. Though she was frail and often quiet, his sister had become friends with her for a reason. Aima was very much versed in protective magic and had been taught by the best in how to use a variety of weapons. Princess Kayta could have no better bodyguard, and Aima acted silly enough that few would know she possessed such abilities.
Down below, even as the festivities continued, his orders to the palace guards were being carried out. The king and queen hadn't gone to the plateau unaccompanied this time, and more guards were covering all the entrances to the palace, which had been rebuilt after several weaknesses in the structure were discovered ten years ago. He rubbed his neck as the common pain, a reminder of a violent fight he had been in several months ago that had never healed right, returned. As he watched, the dark helmets of the guards could be seen as they settled into position, which they would trade shifts every six hours, for the next three days, until the sun once again rose. Several of the palace staff were also well versed in fighting, and he knew he could take no more measures to make the royal family even safer. Still, something made him uneasy.
In all the rumors he had heard, they had never named the target. He assumed that it would be either the queen or king, for at either of their disappearances, the kingdom would go into panic. The king would refuse to go on until he found the queen, and vice versa. There had been absolutely no mention of the princess, and he knew he couldn't rule out a threat to her. There would be trouble getting through Aima, but even she had her weak spots.
He shook his head and chided himself. He had grown paranoid in the years he'd been gone. He hadn't been studying the books as his cover had said he was. From the moment he was old enough, he had been spy for anyone who had hired him. Even King Daniyl had used him on occasion, and though Zam had often turned down assignments from other kingdoms, he had never turned down his true King.
Lights began to gather in the darkness just beyond the palace walls, the telltale sign that the royal party was returning, probably escorting some of the citizens of the kingdom home at the same time. He smiled as he imagined the bright smiles and jokes that he had often traded with the rulers before he had seen too much. His own soul was too sullied to allow himself to smile. He had seen too many betrayals, been the betrayer on occasion, and though he had never killed unless he would have been killed otherwise, life had definitely changed him.
Long ago, he had taken Companion Aiza's words to heart. She had come to protect King Sukan's mind from something no one had taken the time to tell him. He had just finished pinching his sister for eating his carefully guarded cookie, and they had run into her. She had been magnificent, appearing from the shadows and lecturing him in how to be a true elf, a true warrior and clan member. Even after she had gone, after the various events that had landed him temporarily in the dungeon due to Dukar's betrayal and palace takeover, and then to Queen Dansa and King Daniyl's marriage and subsequent coronation, Zam had never forgotten the way she had been a true example of an elf.
Now, he remembered there had been such fire in her at the beginning. Towards the end, she had grown softer, without as much fire, and shadows had touched her eyes as she found her own mistakes. He had grown determined to follow her ways, all of them, and had trained hard and long to become one of those warriors. He hadn't failed, but he had lost something of himself along the journey. Innocence and a blood-free soul were his price. He had also gained much. He knew Companion Aiza, now Queen Aiza would hardly recognize him. He wondered if she regretted her words, or if she would be proud of him. One time, he had even crossed the border to see her from a distance. She had been magnificent as she had practiced the fighting art, and had nearly spotted him.
A small smile tried to twist onto his lips, but his lips remained drawn and thin. Perhaps he had even grown better than her. After all, she hadn't spotted him. Perhaps in all his travels, he had picked up even more, having learned all the fighting styles of the human world, and that of the elfin world. He turned from the window and picked up some applications to view the library. He would get back to this work, his cover for why he was in the palace. In the meantime, it would do for him. Later, however, he would test the guards, see if they were truly capable of defending the kingdom's most precious treasure.
I hope someone is enjoying this story. Sorry that there seems to be no action, but believe me, alot is going to happen in the next two chapters. You want a hint? Please review!