Lyssana 7

Chapter 7: Forbidden knowledge

Lyssana awoke from a dreamless sleep. Moonlight filtered into her room through a crack in the heavy curtains and she stared at the light in silence. The Corpegara were not awake yet, so she rolled over to look up at the stars. An unfamiliar feeling of melancholy washed through her, as they were so different from the night lights she had used to navigate the islands. Then she remembered the pain of her stay and it fell away with the crash of reality. 

Sunrise was a few hours off yet and she tried to fall back asleep, but her mind was racing over what knowledge  Cavit could possibly know and why he was willing to share it with her. What would be his price? Instead of sleeping she got out of bed to start her morning. A few hours of meditation would  give her the ability to collect herself before the meeting. 

Centered was her being and balanced was the energy that flowed within her. Her mind was blank and free of all worries. She was the magma that flowed through the veins of the earth. She was the lightning that crackled in the sky. She was one with the energy inside her body and with the air around her. 

She could feel the warmth of the sun before it had even begun rising over the horizon and when she opened her eyes, the sky was only a shade lighter than hours before. She rose from her kneeling position and stretched her arms over head to open the wardrobe. Clothed in an orange silk dress, she opened the doors of her room and started her day. 

Cavit was waiting for her when she arrived behind the courthouse, despite it being a half hour to full sunrise. “You’re early.” She stated, mildly irritated she was not the first to arrive.  

“I always am.” His voice was as steady as her own, though he threw in a smile to warm it up. “I hope this place you told me about is as secure as possible, we’re going to need to keep everything I tell you today a secret. You need to swear you won’t tell a soul.” 

“I swear it.” 

They walked in silence as she led him through the outskirts of Istima, navigating through the rocky alcoves of the floating island. The static energy of the Storm Sea grew more erratic as they drew close and she could tell Cavit was growing more nervous. “Don’t worry, we aren’t going into the clouds, only just to the edge of them.” 

“I’m not worried, just curious as to how you found this place?” His voice rose slightly and she pursed her lips at the tone. 

“I stumbled upon it my first week here.” It was not a lie, and it was all the answer he would get until she got some answers of her own. The energy in the air vibrated as she began to descend the steps to the cave below, and the chill grey clouds enveloped her as she scaled the stair. Once her foot hit the platform to the cave entrance she stepped aside to let Cavit join her, though she had to pull him into the alcove as he must not have seen it and nearly continued past her to gloomy oblivion. “This is it.” She stated flatly, leading him into the darkening fog. 

“What is this place?” His voice was little more than a whisper as they continued forward and she offered him a shrug. 

“Istima is full of hidden places to study and practice. You just have to know where to look.” The sun could have been completely overhead and they would have never known, as the light penetrating through the clouds quickly dimmed until Lyssana had to produce a bright flame to light the tunnel. Cavit quickly followed suit and strained his eyes to look ahead, almost eagerly. 

She offered a smile as he looked around with wide eyes. She let her flame wink out of existence and gestured to him to follow suit. They stood in complete darkness before the pinprick lights along the ceiling began to glow like an underground constellation. 

The table Neal had made during their previous visit was still in the middle of the floor at the edge of the pool and she placed her satchel on the ground beside it, eager to begin learning. “So what knowledge is so secret that we had to go to the underground heart of Istima to discuss?”

Cavit took a deep breath and sat on the ground in front of her, pulling out notebooks from his own satchel and placing them in a pile. “This is going to be complex, so I’ll need you to let me know if I lose you at any point along the way, okay.” She nodded and he continued, handing her a notebook that looked ancient. The pages were yellowed with age and a flowing script labeled an illustration of a vague humanoid outline and what looked like two reflections of that outline slightly overlayed. Each layer was labeled as follows: 

Layer One: The innermost layer of an elemental magical being, the Acrocor, is the most primal base of magical energy. This energy defines the individual from birth, resonating with the elements around them from the moment they enter the world. It is the base of their identity and cannot be altered. 

Layer Two: The second layer is the physical body. This is the protective layer to keep the Acrocor safe from elemental damage as the mage grows and matures. The physical body can be altered, as it can manifest from the energy of the Acrocor. 

Layer Three: The outermost layer is the Aura. The Aura is a reflection of the Acrocor, seen as the energy passes through the body. Many mages see only a mirage of an Aura, as it appears to be a nimbus of color surrounding an individual. The intensity of the Aura is directly related to the energy capacity of the Acrocor. 

She took all the information in, eyes scanning over the image and rereading the notes over until the knowledge was ingrained in her mind before handing it back. “Why have I never heard these terms before? If these are notes related to elemental mages, shouldn’t it be common knowledge?” She was more confused now that she had been when she knew nothing. 

“I agree with you, the basics of this drawing should be common knowledge to elementalists, and there are some that speak of the glowing nimbus of color they see around others when they are at their most powerful, but there’s a reason this knowledge is forbidden. Apparently, it is possible to remove the Acrocor from another mage and take it for yourself.” He paused to let the words sink in before continuing. “Now, if the Acrocor is the origin of elemental magic, then this means the mage that steals the Acrocor from another can now have access and be proficient in multiple elements. It also means the mage that had their Acrocor stolen can no longer manipulate any element.” 

She listened intently and felt her face reflect the horror growing in her stomach. “So you’re saying it’s possible to steal another elementalists magic. Against their will? I’ve never heard of such a thing. Is this a joke you’re playing because you think it’s funny to make fun of the new student?” Anger flared in her chest and she glared at him, fists clenching at her side. 

“No, I swear this is the truth!” Cavit put his hands up defensively and his eyes pleaded for her to listen. “That’s the reason this knowledge is forbidden, because stealing another’s Acrocor is beyond illegal, it’s barbaric. To strip a  mage of everything that makes them who they are, it would take a monster to do that. Don’t you see? If anyone had the knowledge to identify and steal an Acrocor, they would be unstoppable.” 

She allowed herself to calm down at his rise of emotion, but the pit of horror in her stomach did not subside. “But…wouldn’t the body have a limit to the amount of energy it could hold before it just…burned up?” She was at a loss for how to explain her thoughts in an eloquent manner, but Cavit didn’t seem to mind. 

“And that’s what a lot of ancient mages believed was Ascension. One’s very soul becoming so powerful it could only exist on the plane of energy. They would shed their bodies and exist at a higher level. Of course it was at the cost of countless lives, but they didn’t care.” 

They stared at each other in silence while Lyssana processed everything. To kill countless beings for the personal hope of living as energy was something she could not even fathom. “Is all this in these notebooks?” She would want to read them all several times. 

“Yes. This is what I’ve been able to gather in all my time at Istima. This is what I came to this school to learn about. I know there are mages out there with this ability and I want to know how to stop them.” 

For the first time, she looked into his eyes and saw conviction, and she believed him. How easy it would be to lie about the use of this knowledge. He could have been wanting to learn so he could collect the Acrocors himself, but in that moment she did not think he was lying. 

“I think I will help you gather more knowledge.” She spoke slowly, her words precise as she watched his reaction. “This issue is bigger than us, bigger than Istima. It’s something that could affect mages all over the world if it got out. We can be keepers of this knowledge and hopefully find a way to keep it out of the wrong hands.” Cavit looked like he was about to cry. 

“You have no idea the relief I feel to hear you say that. I knew you would be the person I could trust to help me with this. Here,” he handed her the stack of books at his feet. “You’ll need to study everything here before we can continue. Just make sure no one ever sees the content of these books, or we may both die for simply possessing the knowledge. It’s been stripped from the libraries. Every time I got close to finding something about it, the pages would be missing from a book, or the book wouldn’t exist at all. This knowledge is being covered up and I don’t think I want to find out what would happen if we got caught.” 

She nodded agreement before stashing the notes in her bag. “I’ll read these this week and we can meet here again next weekend to figure out how to move forward.” He agreed and they went their separate ways. Cavit left the cave first and she gave him to the count of one hundred before following to avoid any possible suspicion of them being seen exiting the cloud line together. Not that she believed anyone would be looking at the cloud line, but paranoia settled heavily over rationality. 


~~~

A quiet knock at the door drew her attention from the kitchen and she greeted Abby and Neal with a welcoming gesture. They entered apprehensively, eyes wide as they tried to take everything in at once. “I feel like you’ve been holding out on us.” Neal whispered as his hands ran over the silk pillows in the foyer. He threw himself into one of the large chairs facing the fireplace and grinned in awe. “Okay, I could get used to this!” 

“Please make yourself at home. Dinner will be ready shortly.” She stepped back into the kitchen and could hear hushed conversation from around the corner. She remembered her first impression of the room and chuckled at the look of shock that had been across their faces. A few minutes later they shuffled into the kitchen and Abby screamed as Sarpia lifted her head to the newcomers. 

“What is that thing?!” Her hand pointed to the corner where Halvard now stood at alert, awoken by the scream. “Oh my, there’s two of them!” 

“Didn’t you know it’s rude to yell at your hosts’ pets?” Lyssana murmured dryly, whistling the Corpegara to her and handing them each a large bone. They chirped happily and ran past her guests to their favorite spot on the balcony. “They are Corpegara and they protect my home when I’m away. The smaller is Sarpia and the larger is Halvard. They are completely harmless. To you at least.” She did not look up from her final food preparations as she spoke, but she could see the look of fear on Abby’s face turn to curiosity and back to an apprehension. 

“Okay, it’s settled. I want to live here so bad.” Neal was watching the two creatures gnaw on their treats and shook his head in acceptance. “I’ve never heard of them, where do you buy them? A little extra security sounds like a pretty good idea.” 

“They just followed me home one day.” Lyssana shrugged as she laid the fish she had been preparing in the center of the dining table built against the low joining wall of the kitchen and living area. Plates had already been set out and a bowl of leafy green vegetables mixed with a type of pasta cooled in it. “What would you both like to drink? I have water, wine and mead.” 

“Wine for me please.” Abby gave one more glance at the Corpegara before turning back to the kitchen. 

“I’ll be bold for once and go for the mead.” Neal threw Lyssana a charming grin that she pointedly ignored.

Abby snorted, “For once? You’re over the top all the time!” Neal threw her a faux look of hurt and she stuck her tongue out at him. Lyssana rolled her eyes while her back was turned, almost regretting the decision to offer them alcohol. 

Lyssana put the glasses next to settings at the table and gestured for her guests to sit and serve themselves. She allowed them to dish their food first before serving herself. Neal laughed at the disgusted look on Abby’s face as she tried the wine and he offered her a sip of his mead, which she seemed to like better and got up to pour herself a glass. She passed the wine to Lyssana who enjoyed the robust red and chuckled at Abby’s look of dismay. “On the islands where I grew up, we made a drink from the Panat fruit, which has a very strong flavor, so I guess I enjoy full bodied wines.” 

“Damn,” Neal chuckled, “I think that’s the most you’ve opened up since we’ve known you! My turn!” He drained his glass and slammed it down dramatically. “Hi everyone, my name is Neal and I’m just really down to earth. I just feel like I have a pretty grounded spirit. The ladies say I’m rock-hard.” He stopped abruptly, staring at the table in embarrassment. Abby spit out some of her mead in shock.

 “Okay, that was too far and I apologize.” 

Lyssana laughed, which brought looks of shock to her guests faces. “We should all get together and have mead more often!” Neal beamed, his transgression already forgotten. 

Lyssana watched as her guests conversed and she chimed in when the conversation allowed her to be polite. The mead did not affect her as it did the other two; her tolerance to fermented beverages was higher as it had been an integral part of the Saakaran lifestyle.

 This was not as bad as she had imagined it would be – having guests in her home and conversing with them. The Corpegara joined shortly after the three humans had finished eating and Lyssana gave them the remainder of the fish she had cooked, as she had no ice for the icebox to save the leftovers. 

“So, what do your Corporegies eat other than fish and bones? And where do they poop if you live on the top floor of the tower?” 

Abby laughed at his pronunciation attempt and took another swig of mead before tentatively reaching down to pet the closest to her. Sarpia was happy to receive the affection and nuzzled the hand offered. 

“The Corpegara convert their food directly to energy with very little waste. Sometimes there will be calcified nuggets around the apartment if they’ve over eaten, but generally they are so efficient at converting energy that there is nothing to clean up after. And they eat just about anything, but the bones are their favorite and seem to be the best for them, so I make sure that is the majority of their diet.” She recited, remembering the book she had read nights prior. 

“So what exactly are they? I’ve never seen anything like them!” Abby was now on the floor with Sarpia and Halvard both vying for her attention. 

“Unfortunately there is such little known about them that I cannot give you an exact answer. There is speculation that they are simply a form of golem that evolved after they were abandoned. Or there is the theory that they were once animals that had the misfortune of being experimented on by a mage. I was able to find only one book about them and it was very little fact and more so primary speculation.” 

At this point Neal had joined Abby on the floor and they each had a creature sprawled across their laps. Neal traced some of the runes along Halvard’s wing and the small Corpegara hummed in contentment. “Well whatever they are, they seem to be good company. No one should be alone at Istima, even you Lyssana. I’m sure you’ve made some enemies at the school already and it would be a shame to go unprotected.” 

“Not that you can’t protect yourself!” Abby added quickly behind his words. “But I agree that they seem good companions.” 

Lyssana chuckled for a second time that night and turned to look at the four beings on her floor. “A companion was most welcome and they seem to enjoy it here, so we coexist peacefully. I am glad they like you both.” 

“Me too, can we do this more often so we can see them again? I think I’m starting to love them!” Abby pleaded with flushed cheeks. 

“No, I think that’s just the mead talking, but then again you do love animals, so it may be both things!” Neal’s words were beginning to slur and Lyssana handed them both glasses of water in place of the mead. 

“I do not mind a visit, but I’d rather you sober up enough to get home without being murdered in the street.” 

“I think the Winter Court is probably the safest court at Istima. I haven’t heard of a mugging or murder happen yet.” Abby suddenly looked concerned and downed her glass of water.

“I saw a mugging in the Summer Court a few nights ago and wouldn’t put it past someone to bring that behavior to our Court. We may not have such open hostility, but I fear our mages are just as dangerous and deceitful. They may just be sneakier about it. You need to watch each other’s backs.” 

“Wait, you saw a mugging? Why were you in the Summer Court?” Neal suddenly seemed skeptical and she gave him a hard look. 

“Why I was there is none of your concern, just acknowledge that the danger is very real here.” Hopefully throwing him into a wall had alienated him from her and the people looking to go after Lyssana would leave the other two alone, but there was never any guarantee. “I’ve already had threats against me and I’m sure as we progress in our classes they will only get worse.” 

Her tone must have been sobering because the two people on the floor looked up at her with wide eyes and Abby gulped. “Don’t worry Lyssana, we all have each other to look out for us, right?” She turned to Neal and he wrapped an arm around her shoulder in comfort. 

“I don’t think either of you could get rid of me. It’s already too late to make new friends.” He smiled drunkenly at them both and Lyssana rolled her eyes. 

“It’s only been two weeks. I’m sure neither of you would have any difficulty finding new companions.” She would not use the word friend. “However, I will do what I can when I am around to ensure your safety.” Abby smiled up at her and Neal looked like he was about to cry from drunken joy. “I need you for group projects and don’t want to talk to other people.” The joy fell from their faces and Abby grimaced. Neal still smiled slightly and watched her carefully.

“You pretend not to like us, but I’m pretty sure you’re going to call us your friends by the time this year comes to an end!” He beamed at her and Abby, his face flushed. 

Lyssana only scoffed and rolled her eyes. 

The rest of the evening passed without incident and her two companions drank another glass of mead while she was indisposed in her bathroom. She ended up giving them blankets so they could spend the night in the living room and the Corpegara snuggled between the two warm bodies on the floor. She sighed in slight irritation before going to bed and closing her door

Still, she made a mental note to buy a plush carpet and more pillows at her next trip to market in case they needed to sleep at her apartment in the future. But they were not her friends.

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Lyssana 6

Chapter 6: Playing with Fire

The sun was hidden behind large flurries that swirled in the chill breeze. Despite the intruder from the previous day, Lyssana had left the balcony doors open. She would not allow her enemies to believe they had scared her, though in truth she was frightened; but it meant she awoke to a stunning view of the school as it sprawled over the floating island The Storm Sea flashed with its ominous light. It was a stunning sight-and a fitting one. So much mystery permeated Istima, undercurrents of deceit behind smiling faces. Only two  weeks of classes had passed and already she had seen this side of the Winter Court  and if the stories she heard about the other Courts were true, then they were far worse.

The mugging she had witnessed the night before stuck with her as she readied for her day. It had seemed as though three separate parties had all converged without notice, and for some reason she could not shake this feeling of curiosity that came over her. She would visit the Summer Court again when the week ended and look around. 

The peace of her morning vanished with the grating whispers of her classmates as she walked to class. If people had moved from her path before, they now jumped out of her way. Word of what happened with Neal must have reached everyone by now and she groaned internally. At least that little stunt should make some of the students reconsider attempting to drag her down in rank. 

As she approached her desk, an image formed on its surface that appeared to be a crudely drawn depiction of a human male genitalia. Everyone watched to see her reaction, and so she gave none. She took her seat, refusing to notice the new decoration and pulled out her notebook. A huff of disappointment came from the far side of the room and then she did let the smile pull the corner of her lips. From her peripheral she noted their faces, ingraining them in her memory for later retaliation.

Neal took the seat to her right and scoffed at the display on her desk with a snort. “Practicing your artwork?” The disappointment from the corner quickly turned into snickers and Neal turned around to glare at the two young men. “That’s pretty rude. If you want a lady to know you’re interested in her, you’re supposed to give a compliment, not display your inferior sex parts!” 

The entire class erupted into laughter and shock spread over the reddening faces of the two men. It was increasingly difficult to keep only the slight smile on her face, as she wanted nothing more than to punch Neal in the arm for interfering. 

Professor Hurst walked in then and the room faded once again to silence. His eyes fell to the art on her desk as he walked by, but his face remained blank as he continued to the front of the room. “Alright class, we have a lot to cover today, and human anatomy is not on the agenda.” A final round of stifled laughter made its way around the room before he began his lesson. “We’ve been discussing the different frequencies of each elemental ability and how they relate to each mage and their capacity to control their elements.” Lyssana flipped back through her notes to read along as he summarized, noting the elemental frequencies and the numerical system they had assigned to each. “Earth has the lowest frequency and fire the highest. The frequencies are directly related to how much baseline energy each element contains in its resting state. Earth by itself has very little energy, while the other elements are all high energy and more easily manipulated.” 

She turned to a blank page as he took up his chalk and began writing on the board. “Because Earth has the lowest base energy, we associate the numbers 1-3.9 with this element. 4-6.9 numerals are associated with water, 7-9.9 with air, and 10-12.9 with fire. Now, within these tiers, each elemental mage can fall anywhere within the range of their element. For example: Abby resonates at a frequency of 5.4 according to yesterday’s homework assignment. Her frequency is near the median of the water scale, which means her strength is water in solid form as this is the lowest energy, but she can also easily manipulate water in liquid form. Gaseous water is not something she will be able to manipulate easily, but if she could, then her resonance would be closer to 6.9. So you see, the first number in each category corresponds to the element in its lowest energy state, then the second number is the common rest state, and the 3rd is the most energetic state. Obviously each numeral can be accompanied by an infinite number of decimal places, but for the sake of simplicity each of you found your frequency to a whole number and a decimal.” 

He took a stack of papers and began handing back the assignments they had turned in and she stared at the  12.8 in her simple, bolded script. Neal proudly brandished his 3.5 with a crooked grin. “I can control all the earth things!” He wiggled his eyebrows and the black lines embedded in her desk wavered and lifted from the gross shape to twirl in the air and land in the shape of a flower on Abby’s desk. 

Professor Hurst murmured something about “defacing school property” as he handed the last paper to Abby and let the students discuss and compare their frequencies. 

A few minutes of muted chatter followed as the professor began writing notes on the front board for the second part of class, and a few people continued to snicker at the two boys who now hid their faces in shame. Perhaps Neal calling them out had been better revenge than Lyssana could have planned. 

Neal looked over his shoulder then and smirked. “Should have known you were a high frequency elementalist, not many people can heat metal the way you did the other day. So what else can you do besides throw people into walls?” The chuckle that followed his words let her know he wasn’t angry with her over their altercation yesterday, but the glare on Abby’s face said Lyssana was far from forgiven. Then again, Lyssana did not need forgiveness. Neal had known he was pushing her and the consequences of his actions did not leave her at fault. She would not apologize. 

“Pest control was always a specialty of mine.” A smirk took over the corner of her lips as she spoke and a grin broke across his face.

“I knew you had a sense of humor hiding under that tough girl facade!” Robust laughter erupted from him and the professor turned back to the class to signal for silence. 

“It’s not a facade…” Abby growled, her glare turning into a glower as Hurst turned to her and motioned again for silence. 

“Alright class, now that you all know your frequency proficiency, we can move on to bigger concepts. There are some elemental mages who can only manipulate a single frequency within an element – like a hydromancer who can only work with ice – and those that can work with two elements to concentrate on a more specific ability. Take Osteomancy for example: the use of water and earth are both required for mending bones, so many of those specific double elementalists are your healers.”

A curly haired woman at the back of the class raised her hand before asking “How does a mage know if they can be proficient in more than one element?” 

“Some people can go their entire lives not knowing they have a secondary proficiency, but our classes next week will help you all discover if you’re able to work with multiple elements. Some of you may have been tested by a Winter Court Admissions Officer upon your arrival at Istima, in which you were given an array of items to try and manipulate. Our class next week will be a lot like that, but it will be more closely tailored to specific tasks.” 

Lyssana spent the rest of class copying the notes on the board, knowing that the next class was going to be hands on and experimental, but she would have two days from the weekend to prepare. The Sakaarans had mages that were proficient in specific elemental abilities – usually the healers – but Lyssana had not paid much attention to these skills. Her focus had always been on the raw power that was fire. It would be interesting to learn of these more detailed, lesser abilities. 

As the students filed out, Neal shimmied beside her – with Abby on his other side – and grinned. “So do you have any plans for your rest days? Because we should all hang out and get to know each other better!” 

“I have to study for my advanced pyromancy class this weekend.” Her voice was blunt, though she tried to make it sound light and friendly. Abby snorted. 

“You have to study for the next two days? Entirely? With no food or anything? Lyssana it’s only the second week of school…”

It was her turn to shoot a glare at him and Abby added a jab with her elbow. For some reason that irked Lyssana and her eyes narrowed. “You’re right, food is important. We should all get together and eat at my place and just relax for a bit.” Her smile was plastered in a mockery of open friendliness, but Neal jumped at her offer. 

“That would be amazing! Abby and I will be there tomorrow evening! I’ll bring something sweet to eat after dinner.” He caught the sharp jab directed toward his stomach and smiled at Abby with pleading eyes. “It’s going to be a lot of fun, Abs, and we can finally see more into Lyssana’s mysterious life.” He wiggled his eyebrows.

“Okay, tomorrow evening works for me and I’ll bring refreshments.” Abby sounded dejected, but Neal gave her a charming smile and she brightened up. 

Lyssana muttered under her breath, but it would be good for the Corpegara to interact with more people, so at least there was a silver lining. “Very well. My rooms are on the top floor of the West Tower, you can’t miss them.” 

“Wait…rooms? As in more than one?”

“I thought the West Tower was reserved for higher level…rich… students?” 

Their voices spoke over each other and Lyssana hid an irritated smirk at their confusion. “See you both tomorrow.” She veered to the side of the courtyard, leaving them standing dumbfounded in the walkway as the crowd parted around in irritation. 

She entered her next class with a hint of apprehension, worrying over her conversation with Cavit the day prior. He made eye contact and gave her a small smile as she entered, but she gave him only a slight nod in return before taking her seat near the back of the room. Professor Lena entered shortly after and the room fell silent. 

Lena stopped at the front of the class and produced a flame in her palm about the size of a hand span. She handed it to the first student before speaking. “Today we will practice restraint and balance. Pass the flame to the student next to you, but be sure the fire does not waiver of change in size. The first student to let the flame waiver will be dismissed from today’s class.” 

Shocked murmurs were quickly hushed as concentration took over each student who accepted the flame from their peer. The fire passed across the front row of the classroom without a flicker, but the student accepting it on the second row had shaking hands and nearly let the flame dissipate before he caught it. A bead of sweat rolled down his forehead and he all but threw the flame at his classmate. The professor shook her head and he let out a dejected sigh before collecting his things and walking out the door. 

Three more students in the next two rows failed to pass the test, but they were not required to leave as the first one had. Instead they were asked to stand at the front of the classroom and observe the students who passed it along correctly. The row Lyssana sat in came next and she watched as the flame came closer. She observed the heat at which it burned and her mind focused on the shape of the flame. As it was handed to her she seamlessly slipped a filament of her own energy into the fire as it touched her hand.. She felt her mind become one with the flame as she turned to pass it along to the woman beside her. As soon as she felt the additional energy from the other woman, she let hers go. It flickered as soon as it hit the other woman’s hand and she cursed under her breath, throwing a glare at Lyssana as though to blame her. Professor Lena tapped the students shoulder and she moved to the front of the room after passing the fire to the final row behind them. 

One more student faltered, making a total of six students that failed of the eighteen that attended the class. The professor  pursed her lips as she eyed the students at the front of the room and her eyes squinted. “Now that you’ve had a chance to observe the successful students, I’ll give you five another chance to pass the flame without letting it flicker.” She produced a yellow flame, hotter and larger than the last and Lyssana felt a twang of sympathy for the students. 

The first one to pass the flame let it cool as she took it, causing the color to darken and a slight flicker at the top betrayed her. The second was able to grow the flame again and bring it to stillness as he passed and was allowed his seat in the class again. The woman that sat beside Lyssana failed again to pass the flame correctly, but the woman she passed it to was able to hold it together. Only two of the five successfully passed their second chance and were allowed to sit again. 

“You three need to leave. I’ll see you next week once you’ve decided to put effort into this class.” Her voice was cool, but Lyssana caught a look of regret as the students filed out. “The purpose of this class is to hone your skills as a pyromancer. This means you need to have a pre-existing degree of control before you can expand your talents. You should be practicing daily on these basic exercises in order to succeed. Istima is not for the faint of heart or the weak, so you need to be stronger. Now, pair up.” Her voice grew harder with the last command and Lyssana found herself looking toward Cavit before she had time to realize what she was doing. He rose from his chair and took the empty seat beside her with a smile.

“Congratulations on passing that pop quiz,” he chuckled. “I’m surprised so many failed, but I suppose weeding out the weaker links is what Istima is all about.” 

“And to you,” she murmured, “your control is pristine and admirable.” 

“Such cold words from a lady of fury.” 

Her head whipped around to stare at him and her brows furrowed. “What do you mean?” She asked hesitantly. 

“Your name, did I translate incorrectly? Does it not mean ‘The Fury of the Sun?’”

A breath caught in her throat hearing the common tongue translation and she could only nod. So few knew the language of the Saakarans and she found herself wondering just who this Cavit truly was. “Forgive me,” she pulled her gaze away from his brown eyes and took a steadying breath. “Not many on the mainland are versed in the Saakaran language.” 

“Knowledge is power, and I like to know as much as I’m able. Not to brag, but I am versed in quite a few forgotten and sparse languages, as well as a few limited and forbidden subjects.” It sounded like an invitation for her questions, but she resisted and focused on Professor Lena as she began to speak.  

“Class, today you are going to be perfecting a skill that will help you with control. You and your  partner are going to take turns creating flames while the other mimics the flame you’ve created. You can have fun practicing with shapes, heat, color; make them as complex or simple as you like. Make note of features you have difficulty controlling so you know where you need to practice this weekend.” 

“I’ll begin.” Lyssana spoke as she held her palm toward Cavit, a brilliant blue flame swirling in the center. She could feel the heat of the flame on her face as she watched  him produce one of his own, the swirling of his fire mirroring hers. 

“Not bad, but now it’s my turn.” He grinned as a flaming silhouette of a horse pranced across his palms. The blue heat faded to match the orange of the figurine until a mirror image moved between her palms. A slow dance began with the horses as they circled each other, and Lyssana was sure to focus on the precise movements of each flame. 

“Complex, but how about this one?” Her eyes narrowed as she pushed the limits of her concentration. Three circling flames, each perfectly round and varying levels of heat to produce yellow, orange and red colors that she began to throw into the air and catch with her other hand. As Cavit created his own circles, she added three more in shades of blue. They must look like an odd pair, juggling an array of flames and staring in concentration. After a few more moments, she let them fade one by one until none remained. 

An echo of clapping surrounded them and she looked up to see every student staring. Cavit chuckled and gave a seated bow to the professor before turning back to Lyssana. “I’d say we certainly made an impression with the class. That’s not going to go well for you I imagine.” 

“What do you mean?” She asked sharply. 

“Well, I saw the way that girl glared at you when she was kicked out earlier, and with that stunt, I’d say you have a target on your back. Istima isn’t a good place to single yourself out.” 

“I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself, thank you. I am aware of the competition here at Istima and I am  fully prepared to do whatever I must to succeed.” 

“Perfect. That’s the attitude befitting the sun’s fury. You’ll need that.” He hesitated, stopping with his mouth open before abruptly shutting it and beginning to form a new flame in his hand. 

“If you’ve something else to say, speak it.” 

Again there was hesitation and the fire lingered in his hands. “If you really mean what you said about doing anything to survive here, I have something that may help.” His voice dropped significantly, and he watched the closer students from the corner of his eyes. “It’s not exactly on Istima’s curriculum, so it needs to be kept quiet, but I could use your help.”

She couldn’t stop the rising curiosity that flooded through her and she too made her voice quiet. “How much does this helpful thing differ from the curriculum?”

“A lot. As in it may or may not actually be forbidden…” 

She thought for a moment as she mimicked the scene of a tiny forest that came to life in his palms. Knowledge was power, he had said so himself, and if Cavit had access to secret knowledge that could help them both advance, then Lyssana needed to take advantage of it. She had been sent here to succeed, no matter the cost. “We can speak more about this tomorrow morning if you’d like? I know a place where words can fly freely with no fear of another listening.” 

He nodded and let the fire fade. “I can meet you behind the Courthouse at sunrise.” 

She opened her mouth to protest that there was no need to meet in plain sight, but the professor began to speak. 

“Very good class. I like the control I’m seeing from everyone, but most of you have significant room for improvement. Be sure to practice because there will be more competitive classes in the future.” 

They were dismissed shortly after, professor Lena saving their lesson for the new week since so many more had failed than she expected. It was a nice change of pace, getting out of class early and having more free time in her evening, and she planned a warm soak to ease the stress from the week. 

“Would you like to get dinner with me?” She had been so excited for the early release that she forgot Cavit was still beside her. He had gathered his things and was instantly keeping pace with her in the hallway as they spoke. 

“I’d rather avoid the dining hall, but I thank you for your offer.” 

“I know of a good tavern close by if you’d prefer?” 

She sighed before nodding and allowing him to lead the way. “I don’t drink alcohol, so I hope this tavern isn’t know only for their inhibiting concoctions.” She meant it as a joke, but clearly her humor was misread because Cavit frowned. 

“Why don’t you drink? Isn’t that what all of us upper class citizens do to handle the stress of heightened performance?”

It was her turn to frown at him. Was he joking in response to her? It was difficult to read this man. “I prefer meditation to handle my stress.” And throwing fire at the wall, but he didn’t need to know about that. “Purposefully impairing oneself is only asking for trouble. Especially here, where crime seems to go unpunished more often than not.” 

Cavit let out a snort and she whipped her head around to look at him. “You think anyone would dare attack us? We are two powerful fire mages that could handle anything thrown at us, impaired or not.” 

“That’s presumptuous.” She muttered. Under normal circumstances, he was likely correct, but she had people watching her every move with motives she was unsure of. Being caught intoxicated would likely not go well. “Worried about that target on your back?” He smirked over his shoulder at her and she shot him a confused look. “I understand your hesitation and respect your choices, I just don’t think you give yourself enough credit. You’re a powerful mage and you should own it.” 

She mulled over his words as they walked out of the pyromancer building of the court, two eternal flames beckoning students at the entryway. She made a mental note to study that, as she had half heartedly done every time the fires came across her path. “Perhaps another time when I do not have plans the following morning.” He seemed to accept this as a compromise and bid her goodnight. She sighed in relief, feeling like she had dodged a regrettable social interaction.

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Lyssana 5

Chapter 5: The Shadows Revealed 

A low growl pulled Lyssana from a dreamless slumber and she rose cautiously from the bed, instantly alert as her hand felt the  knife on the bed stand. A second growl echoed and she slid the bedroom door open quietly. Both Corpegara were outside the bedroom door facing the balcony with wings spread wide and low. The sheer curtains that were usually tied up now flowed in the snowy breeze. Beyond them the darkness shifted. Lyssana dare not risk throwing her knife lest she miss the target and fly into the night, so a flame as tall as her person was conjured to life from each of the torches beside where the darkness had moved. The figure did not flinch as the darkness under their hood was suddenly illuminated. 

Air fled her lungs as she caught sight of cracked gray skin and brilliant orange eyes before her flames were extinguished. She would know the face of a Saakaran anywhere. Were they the true spies following her all over the city? Did that mean her family wasn’t watching at all? Questions continued to manifest as she slowly approached the fluttering curtains. The torches along the rail came to life once more, casting the floor in a brilliant orange light. 

The words scrawled in the Saakaran Runes along the floor stopped her heart cold and she sank to her knees in terror. 

 “Are you worthy?”

She hadn’t slept at all the rest of that night, instead staying up to scrub the ashen words from the marble floor. Worthiness. That had been what the chieftain of her tribe demanded as payment for their brutal hospitality. She had thought they had released their hold on her when she left the island, but the realization that one prison had only been exchanged for another stole the breath from her lungs. 

No. She would be strong. She was trained from childhood to handle any situation thrown at her. She was the first outsider to be recognized by the tribe as a Saakaran and she had earned every rune carved down her spine, and every drop of blood that had resulted. With a final sigh she heaved herself from the cold stone floor and began to draw a plan. 

Sarpia and Halvard followed her pacing with their eyes, heads low and still on guard from the intruder. Every time she realized she was pacing, she forced her feet to stop, but the moment her mind continued the train of thought, so too did her feet. It was nearly time for her first class before she realized her morning had been overall unproductive in constructing a plan to figure out why she was being followed. Was this another test or were they making sure their efforts in teaching her were being brought to fruition? Very few at Istima knew she was raised on the Isles of Hrovati, but how high in the system were the ones who did know; and were they in contact with the Saakarans? Again she stopped her pacing with an irritated grunt and hurled a misshapen flame into the empty fireplace. It fizzled into black smoke that disappeared up the chimney, and she looked down to see one of the tasseled pillows beside her was now black with soot. She would be strong. 

The prior release of energy had helped to calm her enough as she walked to class, but she could still feel her emotions boiling below the surface of her skin. She was sure her eyes glowed specks of amber since any unsuspecting person who fell prey to their glance had hastily jumped out of her way. Still, she was trying to calm down, but the interrupted sleep did not help her mood any. 

“Good morning, princess!” Neal’s voice grated from somewhere behind her and she turned to him with a glare. “Woah! You look like you’ve been through hell. I’m guessing you didn’t sleep well?” The fact that he had immediately guessed her situation further boiled the energy in her veins, but she smoothed her face with an effort and turned back toward the classroom. 

“No, I did not sleep well, but I am fine. Thank you for asking.” A bit of snarkiness crept into her voice and she grimaced at the lack of control over her emotions. She needed to meditate.

 Or set something on fire. 

“I’m sorry to hear that.” His voice sounded genuine and she turned to him in startlement before catching herself and continuing forward. She could almost feel the smirk on his face at catching her off guard and she hated it. 

Neal was silent for the rest of the walk to class, staying just far enough behind her to take advantage of the parting crowd. Abby joined them right before they reached the classroom and started whispering quietly with the water mage. Lyssana only picked up a muffled “tired” and “cranky” from Neal before she stopped listening and took her seat. 

Professor Hurst walked in, sunny disposition clashing with her own stormy mood, and the class went quiet in anticipation. “Good morning, class! I assume you all had a productive day after we went our separate ways?” A sea of nodding heads and murmured “yes” echoed his words before silence fell once more. “Excellent, then I need you to gather into your groups and I’ll walk around as you show me what you’ve made.” The shuffling of metal chair legs grated against a rising headache and Lyssana grit her teeth into what she thought was a semblance of a smile. That is until the person sitting to her left gasped and quickly moved to a seat further away as their face drained of color. Lyssana cursed. This day could not end soon enough. 

The professor made his way around the room, listening to the students explain their projects. He seemed to be nodding with approval more often than not, which was a good sign, though he did grimace slightly at a wilted flower that was held up despairingly by a water and earth elemental pair. “We tried to grow it from a seed last night and this happened. We didn’t have time to do anything else. Sorry, professor.” The soft spoken boy looked like he was about to cry, but Professor Hurst gave him a fatherly grin. 

“Don’t fret, Dalain. This was only the first assignment, and I’m sure you’ve learned a valuable lesson about being sure to have enough energy to follow through with a task!” The boy nodded sheepishly and grinned before sighing with relief as the teacher turned his back to move on to the final table. “Now, what have we here?” Stopping before the group of three has leaned down to inspect the tangled mess of metal on the desk. 

“It’s a blacksmith puzzle.” Neal spoke confidently as he looked at the project proudly. He then lifted the mass from the table and handed it to Mister Hurst for a closer look. “Do you think you can solve it?” Lyssana raised a brow at him, but he pointedly ignored it, an arrogant grin plastered to his face. 

“Well, I do enjoy a good challenge!” The professor plucked the puzzle from Neal’s hand and stared at it for a moment before his hands began to deftly work the loops and rods. “The craftsmanship certainly is sturdy. If I didn’t know better, I would think this came right out of the forge.” He definitely had a glint in his eye as he moved the final loop, scattering the pieces over the desk. “Well done, students! Your use of the three elements certainly made a practical tool that could be sold for entertainment! I’m giving you each one point toward your ranking.” Silence. 

“Um, our what, Sir?” Abby asked quietly, voicing the thought that held all still. Still only silence answered. 

The professor turned to the class with a mischievous grin. “Come now, you’ve all been here for at least a full day and no one has explained the ranking to you?” Confusion and worry met his stare. “I bet at least one of you knows. Come! Speak!” His grin grew wider. 

Lyssana sighed. “Every student in the Winter Court is ranked against the other students. I’m unsure of the specifics, but I believe the ranking has to do with what level each student is in their classes. We are first level students since this is a first level class.” That was all she had managed to put together from the man in the library and the few pieces of conversation from her uncle. Evidently all knew about the ranks, but very few spoke of them. 

“You are very close, Lyssana, well done! However, I am afraid I must correct you on one point. Everyone in this class is a level one ranking with the exception of yourself. I do believe you have a second level class on your schedule, do you not?” He paused for her to nod, “That gives you a level two ranking, congratulations!” 

She could feel the eyes on her back, but refused to acknowledge them. 

“Now, Miss Terasu here is a special case that can lead to some ranking confusion. You see-” he turned to her and whispered “- you don’t mind if I use you as an example do you?” She didn’t really see any option to say no, so a curt nod was given as an answer. He winked and turned back to the class. “You see, each and every student within the Winter Court is given a class rank. Your exact ranking is known only to the Court Council Leaders, who continually watch and record your progress. Since you are all first level students – the ranking is given by class level and not year, as many students in our court cannot progress to the next level in a year.” 

Shocked gasps echoed from every desk save one, and Abby turned to look at her with furrowed brows. “Did you already know this?” Lyssana nodded and thought she saw hurt in the pale blue eyes, but their attention was drawn to the front of the room before she could speak again.

“Now now, no need to fret, students!” The professor’s hands went up in a soothing gesture as he tried to ease the distressed class. “You all knew when you signed up for orientation that Istima is the most prestigious university. There are some of you that will not excel to the degree that you hope. Only the most prestigious will make it to the top of the class. This does not mean those of you who do not make the top ranks are failures! Everyone learns at their own pace, and as you go up in level and rank, that pace will try and challenge every part of you to be the best that you can possibly be.” His words did nothing to sooth the air of the room, and panicked whispers erupted almost immediately. 

“What happens to those that don’t make the next level?” 

“How do we know our rank?” 

“I heard a student died last year trying to test for the next level!” 

Questions bombarded the man at the front of the room and he took a step back in surprise as they grew in volume. “Alright, quiet down! If you’ll let me finish the lesson, then all of your questions will be answered!” The students slowly quieted to silence and gave him their attention once more. “Okay, let’s start at the most basic level. New students arriving each year are given their rank based on their performance in orientation. That’s why the Head Master allows the students to do as they wish, so their talents and strengths can be showcased. Once all students have gone through orientation, the ranking begins. Now, this initial ranking within our court  is determined by the Lead Council, as is the final ranking at the end of each year. Throughout the year, the Court Council can add to your rank based on your class performance. They have eyes and ears everywhere, so your actions are always being watched and evaluated. You must achieve a certain ranking before you are allowed to advance to a higher level class. None but the Council knows what this rank you must achieve is, so you cannot know until you are awarded.”

“That means you’re on the Council!” Neal spoke up, eyes bright in the knowledge he had put the pieces together before anyone else. “You said you’d give us a point, but then you said only the Court Council can award points, so that puts you on the Council.” 

“Very clever, but I’m afraid I am not worthy enough to be on the Court Council.” 

“Wait, so if you’re not on the Council, then how are you allowed to give rank points?” The same meek boy as before, Dalain, spoke up with a hand partially raised. 

“Good question! Well, you’ll be surprised to know that each class also has a ranking system. Your position within the class rank is a factor in your overall rank, since it is reported to the Court Council. So, each class you attend has a rank, and each of those ranks contribute to your overall rank within the Hibernal Court. Due to the complexity of the ranking system, no student knows their exact rank at a given time, though the Council keeps a close watch on everyone. However, you will be given updates at certain checkpoints throughout the year! That way you generally know where you lie in the rankings. The checkpoints are never the same in consecutive years, and are assigned randomly to students. This means that Lyssana may receive her checkpoint two weeks ahead of Dalain here.” 

A girl in the back of the class raised her hand before speaking, “So if we don’t know our ranks but for a few times a year, then how are we supposed to know where we stand in regards to everyone else? The ultimate goal is to be the best, but how do we know exactly who it is that we are trying to beat?”

A smile curved slowly up Professor Hurst’s mouth, as though he had been waiting all class for this question. “Why, that’s easy. You all need to beat the best in your class, and then you can worry about the best outside of it. So you have to outrank Lyssana.”

All eyes swiveled to her and she openly glared at the professors back. A blade between the first and second vertical spinal bones would cause total paralysis, then he wouldn’t be teaching anyone… The thought caught her off guard and she let her eyes fall to the floor. The Saakaran ways were so ingrained in her being that she reverted to their savagery at the first slip of control. Anger flared at herself and when the gong sounded signaling the end of class, she threw herself out of her seat and flew past the other students. It was unfair of him to have put a target on her back like that! Every student in the class would now be trying to outdo her specifically. It was going to be like Hrovati all over again, and she would be ready. 

She was the first out the door, striding angrily down the crowded hallway. Professor Hurst had no right to call her out in front of everyone like that! She was beginning to resent the kind man. She distantly heard her name being called, but ignored the voice and continued forward, not wanting to cause a scene in front of so many people, who were already looking around for the person shouting. 

A hand suddenly grasped her arm and she reacted without thinking. A column of fire burst from her free hand, flinging the assailant against the opposite wall, along with whoever was unfortunate enough to not move quickly enough from her path. Her eyes widened to match the green eyes staring back, and she took a step forward, hand raised in hesitation. Neal just stared at her in shock as he stood up on shaking legs, rolling out the shoulders that were sure to have massive bruises by tonight. 

“You are not a very good people person, you know that?” 

Abby launched herself between them, then, hands outstretched as a barrier. “I think you’ve crossed a line here, Lyssana.”  The pyromancer opened her mouth to protest that it was reflex, but was cut off by the fiercest words to leave Abby’s mouth. “You should leave. Now.” 

She was surprised to see that people weren’t staring, but hurrying away with eyes diverted, practically running once they were out of sight. She sighed in irritation before stalking down the hall and out of the building. 

To say she was on edge was clearly an understatement. The appearance of the Saakarans had shaken her far more than she had admitted to herself, and so she decided to face them head on. Tonight she would seek them out and demand to know why they were watching her. Until then she would go home and try to sleep; a nap should help her head clear. 

She had not spoken a word since the incident this morning, instead opting for silence as she sat cross legged in the fireplace. Sleep had eluded her, and so she chose the second most soothing activity: meditation. Flames danced along her naked flesh as she channeled all anger and rage into the void of her mind. Runes carved into her skin flowed down her spine, helping her focus the energy she exerted. The Saakarans had thicker skin, and when they earned their runes, it became a part of them. Lyssana’s thinner skin had posed a problem when it came to her carving day, and so the runes were actually carved so deeply they cut into the bones of her back. Many years had passed and they were healed, but the focus they provided was vital in certain situations and helped her attune with outside energies. It also meant she was more volatile to those energies as they mixed with her own, and this new place held far too many different magics for her to filter out. Meditation would have to become a daily ritual if she was going to keep her calm. 

If the matriarchs had seen that display they would be ashamed, and she would have been forced to join the fishing boats on their next expedition. The thought of forcing a penance on herself had crossed her mind briefly, but there was no body of water large enough to isolate herself. A part of her was happy over this. Being water locked was as strenuous as an earth elemental being held in the air, arms and legs bound, or the water elementals being forced to the highest peak of the fiery mountain. The air elementals had it the hardest though, being buried in a box below ground for hours on end. The Saakarans were not a forgiving people. Their punishments were harsh, but their rewards were worth it. 

Being in a second level class in her first year proved that already, but now she would have to maintain and excel in her classes in order to rise in ranks. Now that she was feeling more rational, she realized that none in her first level class would be capable of outranking her without cheating, so she would need to be on guard at all times. Neal and Abby would likely not want anything more to do with her after the little display earlier, so she would have to hope that all future projects could be done by herself. A deep breath inhaled as she allowed her mind to clear, focusing only on the heat of the flames encompassing her. She would not fail. She would be worthy. 

~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~

Kelim Hurst smiled deviously as he watched her back disappear around the corner, watching closely to be sure no one saw the facade drop from his face. These new students would know soon enough the hardships this school had to offer, and just how kind the staff was. Truthfully he had been annoyed at his initial orders to make life hard on the girl, for what could be so special about another spoiled brat?  Now he realized why. Her strength was unlike any first year he had seen, and she would need to be pushed in order to unlock her full potential. Perhaps even broken. The child was not malleable enough yet, but Istima was good at bending students to their will. That Lyssana Terasu would be ensnared so deeply in the traps being set around her that she would never be allowed to leave. Kelim delighted knowing he would be rewarded handsomely for his role in this, if all turned out as it was supposed to. Otherwise he might find himself with a slit throat before any could protest. The next class began to file into the classroom and he smiled happily, greeting the students with a renewed fervor, mind mulling greedily over the possibilities.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Time passed quickly in the nothingness of the flames, and when Lyssana opened her eyes, the sun had passed its zenith and cast long shadows from the balcony. She stood easily, her vitality renewed and energy centered. It would be time for her next class soon. The Corpegara had taken posts to either side of the marble pit and stirred when she stood, ears twitching as their heads swiveled to meet her gaze. “I’m feeling much better now, my friends.” Her smile was genuine as they came to her, purring and chirping for attention. Halvard nuzzled her outstretched hand and a quiet laugh escaped her lips as she eagerly obliged, and the petting frenzy began. 

Her second class began without incident, and she threw all her attention to the continued lesson on energy frequencies. It was more mathematics than she had ever done in her life and she struggled to keep up. The concepts they had learned in the previous class were now all assigned numerical values, making the calculations for each frequency arduous and complex. The simplified version of the scale was an assigned number between 1 and 20, 1 being the hardest known rocks and minerals, and 20 being the hottest magma deep under the earth. Knowing these numerical assignments would help further in the class once the students were ready to learn which frequencies they most closely resonated, and they would eventually be able to fine tune their own energy reserves to focus on said frequency and be more efficient with their use of magic. It was quite fascinating, though she looked forward to moving away from the arithmetics and learning more of the elemental use as a whole. 

Her professor was just as kind and hospitable as the first few classes and Lyssana thought she would quite enjoy learning from the woman, who directed them to simply call her Educator Rosa. She was a short woman; her blond hair fell freely around her shoulders as she taught, and though her tone was always kind and patient, there was something about her that made Lyssana feel like she could be sharp when she needed to be. Lyssana was honestly just happy to be another face in the crowd and not singled out. She was sure her ranking in this class was the lowest, so hopefully none of the other students saw her as a threat. 

The class passed quickly, and since the students were unable to make their introductions their first time, Educator Rosa ended the class early so everyone could make their announcements. The teacher started with herself and instructed all to follow her lead. “My name is Rosa and I actually grew up here at Istima. My mother was an Educator and I grew up roaming these halls and dreaming of being where I am today. Teaching the next class of pyromancers is what I love to do, so I promise to give each and every one of you every opportunity to grow and learn and be the best you that you can be.” She ended with a smile as she gave them a small bow and then gestured to the student sitting closest to the front. 

A curly haired woman a little older than Lyssana stood up and faced the class, her hands wringing nervously in front of her as she spoke. “Hello everyone, I’m Kenali, I uh, moved around a lot growing up and got into Istima on my second round of orientation. This is my third year here and though it’s been a difficult journey, I wouldn’t trade it for the world!” Kenali’s reservoir stood somewhere on even ground with Abby, though it was difficult to make a comparison without seeing what her elemental ability was. 

The class continued to introduce themselves in order, each student claiming that Istima was their dream, or that they would fight to be the best. It was a lot of what Lyssana had heard in her other class, though she had to remind herself that these students were far more advanced than the beginner class she was in that morning. 

The strongest student stood then, a tall man with darker skin and pale brown eyes. “Hi all, I’m Cavit, and it’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.” He avoided eye contact with everyone, staring just above their heads as he spoke. “I was actually adopted at a young age, so I’m not sure where I was born, but my family raised me for the purpose of coming to Istima, so it’s always been my life goal. Now that I’m here, I quite enjoy it, though I do miss my family quite a lot.” He seemed to realize he had been rambling and sat down as a red tint crept up his cheeks. 

Then it was her turn and she stood with all the confidence her afternoon had granted. “My name is Lyssana Terasu. I also am not sure where I was born, but I was raised by-” she hesitated a moment, searching for an explanation that would appease the curiosity of the class without giving anything away, “close family west of the Mountains of Angewine. I had heard stories of Istima growing up, but didn’t really know if I would fit in here, but I’m going to do my best to succeed.” It was brief and a lie. She had known her fate since young adulthood, but these people didn’t need to know that, and making herself seem uncertain would perhaps make her seem less of a threat. 

“Very good, thank you class. I look forward to the progression of the year and I hope we can all get to know each other better. Istima is a very good place to have friends to help you along the path.” Rosa’s tone changed just slightly then and Lyssana looked up to see the Educator looking directly at her, just long enough for a single moment of eye contact before turning to the other students. Lyssana almost wondered if she had imagined the underlying warning that seemed to be hidden in those words. The gong sounded and the students began to file out. 

Lyssana was just about to veer off down the hall when a throat cleared awkwardly behind her. She turned to see Cavit, arm slightly extended in greeting. “I’m Cavit, but you already know that from a few minutes ago.” She looked at his hand but did not accept. He pulled in back quickly and stuck it behind his back. “Um, sorry, I’m not good at making friends. Not that you’re a friend, but that uh-” He stopped, ears burning as he fumbled over his words. She felt confused. How could the most powerful student in the class have such an uncomfortable demeanor? “Educator Rosa said Istima is a place where it’s a good idea to have friends and I know this is your first year so I thought I’d offer to be an acquaintance. We are probably going to need partners in this class at some point and you’re the closest in strength to me, so I figured I’d properly introduce myself, if you’d be so inclined to accept, Miss Terasu?” His last words were more confident and she wondered if the awkwardness was an act. Could she trust him? Absolutely not, she couldn’t trust anyone, but having a partner would probably be more beneficial than not. 

“Lyssana. You can call me Lyssana.” His shoulders relaxed at her words and he offered a small smile holding out his hand once more and she hesitantly accepted it with a small shake. “Do not think I will be easy to take advantage of because I am a first year student.” She gave the warning in a pleasant tone and was satisfied to see him blink before answering. 

“I wouldn’t think of it. It takes guts to be allowed into a higher level class, and I don’t think you’re someone I’d like to have on my bad side.” 

“Then I think we will get along nicely.” Her tone dropped slightly as she offered a small smile and he chuckled quietly. 

“I’m not making a mistake by associating myself with you, am I? Because I don’t need a death count on my hands if I’m going to succeed!” He laughed aloud and it was a boisterous sound. Had he just made a joke? It was hard to say, but she decided to play along. 

“A death only counts if you’re caught.” Her tone lightened a little and she offered him a more genuine smile. “I suppose only time will tell if either of us has made a mistake.” 

“I suppose you are right. I will bid you a good evening, and I’ll see you in class tomorrow.” And with that he gave a small bow, turned on his heel and strode down the hall, back straight and head high. No, she did not believe that was a man she would trifle with.

Her evening was free since neither class had given assignments other than some reading and the Corpegara were more than happy to fly around the town as she walked along the rooftops. It was an easy walk as the roofs were mostly flat in this part of the market and close enough together that she could jump from one to the next with ease. It was good to be moving her body again, and the silk trousers and soft leather boots she had changed into were perfect for the job, plus it kept her out of the street and from being seen. 

She wandered long into the dying sun, the playful chirps reaching her ears as she occasionally checked on Halvard and Sarpia. The differences in the courts were distinct from her view and as the left one and entered the next, the roofs grew more sloped. They were not a problem for her deft feet, she was used to running laps around the island barefoot. Perhaps this would be her new exercise routine. More importantly than her footing, the changing of seasons as she passed through invisible lines awed her. How it could be always snowy in her court and always warm in the Summer Court she did not know, but it was a refreshing change, so she slowed her pace. 

Movement on the street below caught her eye and she noticed a spindly creature, surely one of the Len sneaking along as though stalking. She stopped and watched to see what they were after when she saw a robed figure in the alley ahead. Another in silk emerged and they seemed to be arguing before the robed one handed the silken clad figure a letter, in which they suddenly seemed friends. Her eyes narrowed as the Len began to stalk after the silk figure, and out of curiosity, so too did she. Long did she follow the shadowed figures, almost losing interest before they seemed to slow to a stop once more. 

Lyssana landed softly on a roof directly over the empty alley where the boy – she could see he was male now – stepped into the space with a cocky grin. A smaller figure crept into the ally behind the boy then, feet silent as the male did not turn from what held his attention. Suddenly the woman – it was a woman she thought – threw her hands in front of the silk boy’s face and a flash of brilliant light erupted followed by a scream. Lyssana raised her brows but made no move to help. This was not her fight. Then the woman was gone as quickly as she had come. It was quite impressive, really. 

The Len followed and tried to help the boy to his feet. How kind this one seemed, for she had also seen him give coins to the beggar. But the boy on the ground yelled something and the Len kicked his legs out from under him and stole the bag on his shoulder. She couldn’t help but stifle a laugh. Never insult a Len, even a child knew that. She was growing increasingly happy that this was not her court, if a chance encounter showed her this much cutthroat savagery, though perhaps she could use some of these people as friends to watch her back. More likely than not they would put a knife in it, but it was an idea to mull over. 

The moon had just begun its ascent when she closed the door to her rooms. She tossed the Corpegara some food and drew water for a bath. It was time to take advantage of this beautiful tub, and as she soaked, she read through the books of her second level class and started to understand the frequency algorithms, though her knowledge was faint at best. She would need to do better in order to pass this class. Perhaps Cavit could actually help her? He would be seeking something in return though, and she was unsure what she was prepared to give in exchange. Abby and Neal were clearly in it for her knowledge and power, if they were still on speaking terms, but this Cavit was stronger, so what did he have to gain? With a sign she closed the books and drained the tub, closing the bedroom doors as she crawled into bed. Hopefully tomorrow would bring a better day. All she could do was hope. 

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Lyssana 4

Chapter 4: The Inner Workings of Winter

Though Neal had not left them waiting long, the time spent passed in near silence. Abby picked at her food while Lyssana sat reading her book about the Corpegara. The more she learned about them, the more of an enigma they seemed to be. Though their origins were still a topic of debate, the book seemed to be spot on for the remainder of the information. The Corpegara could be found in the wild at the highest peaks of the Eastern Angwynn mountain range. All lived in a single colony with as many as fifty individuals. She would have to make a future trip to visit them for study. 

She lost herself in the pages and aside from a few glances, Abby left her alone. Lyssana allowed herself to focus on the other woman only in her peripheral for the simple fact that the energy radiating from the water mage was calm and soothing – very much the feeling of standing on the beach as the tide ebbed and flowed, perfect ambiance for Lyssana to ignore the room around them.

A young man walked in then that shook the energy of the room to its core. His elemental reservoir matched Lyssana’s perfectly, and the room fell still as she looked up to find his gaze already on her. He gave a single nod of respect and she returned it with an equally respectful bend of her neck. Only then did the room seem to release a breath as people continued with their conversations, though the vibrating hum of energy now seemed to consolidate on either side of the two mages, no person wanting to be stuck in the middle of that torrent. Even Abby moved from the right side to Lyssana’s left, clearing her throat with an excuse of wanting to eat some of the roasted potatoes on that side of the table. 

It was easy to be drawn into another energy, especially if said energy was as powerful or more than your own, and so Lyssana could feel the resonance that charged like a raging storm, waves crashing violently against anything that dare stand in their way. It would be easy to find herself getting lost in that storm, but she did not let herself get close, instead pushing her thoughts to another subject. It was a subconscious ritual she had learned as a child, to avoid being pulled in and instead close your field of focus so the invading energy could not get in. She could still feel him, but it now was a haze of recollection, like looking at something in the strained fog at the edge of your vision. 

“Can you feel it too?” Lyssana looked over to Abby who was now openly staring at the young mage dressed in dark blue silk seated at the other end of their now empty table. “Of course you can, he’s as strong a you. I just don’t understand how you aren’t bothered by it.” Rose colored Abby’s pale cheeks as she spoke and her eyes dropped to avoid the fiery gaze of the other woman. 

“What does it feel like to you?” The question was arbitrary and could have been taken as rhetorical, but Abby answered anyway. 

“Well… it’s like – okay, so your energy is like-” She squinted at Lyssana, as though trying to find the right words. “-a volcano about to erupt. Like magma bubbling right underneath my feet. It’s quite overwhelming and chaotic, actually.” She moved her gaze to the man, looking away quickly as he raised his head in their direction. “His is harder to avoid, probably because he shares my element, but it’s just strong like a river barreling through a gorge.” 

Lyssana knew there was nothing that could be done and so she nodded before closing her book and sliding it back into the leather satchel she carried. The energy of the room had finally settled into pockets of like elementals and she smirked at the noticeable difference from before he had entered. People gravitated into groups that synchronized with their own energies, creating pockets that flowed around the room in varying intensities until the only open space was that at her table. 

Neal chose that moment to make the most obnoxious entrance, whistling a merry tune that fell flat in the high ceilinged room. “What’s got everyone so weird today?” He asked loudly, throwing himself into the seat opposite her and grinning at the state of the room. “You’d think they’ve never seen a little friendly competition. Though it looks like his resting face isn’t as mean as yours, so he’s got my vote.” 

She ignored the jest as she pulled out their class notes, scanning the pages as she tried to take over the conversation. “What do we want to compete for our tas-”

“We should do something over the top and make everyone else jealous!” He interrupted, that mischievous glint in his eye. She cringed at the thought of drawing even more attention and shook her head. “We have three of the four main elements, so our task options are many. It needs to be something that obviously uses all three elements without too much explanation when we turn it in tomorrow. I think we should look into metal work.” 

Neal seemed to contemplate a snide remark before he shrugged and looked between Abby and herself. “You the boss, fire babe.” 

“Call me that again and I’ll stab your face.” 

His hands went up defensively as he choked on a laugh and glanced at the forks gathered at the center of the table. “Too far, got it.”

Abby’s face broke into a grin and Neal threw a wink in her direction. An eruption of crimson covered her face and she stared at her lap as Neal turned back to Lyssana. “Working metal is good and all, but what are we going to make?”

“We can make a blacksmith puzzle!” Her face had lightened a few shades but it still held the reddened embarrassment that was becoming a staple of her personality. “I used to play with them when I was a child and it shouldn’t be too difficult to make one.” 

Neal agreed immediately, but waited for Lyssana’s approving nod before speaking. “I was going to keep this a secret for myself, but since we are a team, I guess I can share it with you lovely ladies.” Another blush from Abby and a narrowed gaze from Lyssana ensued before he continued. “It’s a cavern I read about in the library. I’ve only been once, but there’s a large iron ore deposit and a pool that gathers water at the center. It’s plenty big for all of us to work and I think it’s perfect.” 

Another nod from Lyssana and an excited smile from Abby was all he needed to jump out of his seat. “Well then what are we waiting for? Daylight is wasting, you know!” Both women stood more gracefully and gathered their things before heading toward the door. Neal paused only long enough to grab a roll of bread before taking the lead of the group with a smirk in her direction. 

The entrance to the cavern rested on a jagged edge on the abandoned north sector of the Claral Court. The sun here cast eerie shadows and seemed just bright enough to cause them to squint at the staircase leading down into the storm sea that surrounded the island. 

“This looks…safe.” The hydromancer’s voice wavered and her face seemed paler than usual as she peeked over the edge to oblivion. 

“Without risk, there is no reward!” Neal’s voice took on a lecturing tone as he strode toward the first step. “These steps are sturdy, I can personally attest to their structural integrity.” 

“Don’t strain yourself with a heightened vernacular.” Lyssana muttered as she motioned Abby behind him. If the woman was going to pass out, Lyssana wanted to be there to catch her. 

“I heard that!” Neal growled, upset that his professor voice had been broken. “See, I bet that other guy is a lot nicer than you. I’m going to be his partner next time.”

“He doesn’t even go to our class!” Abby snapped out of her panicked trance, though her hands pressed against the rock like a lifeline. “Are we almost there?” 

“Just a little further. I told you these stairs are sturdy, you aren’t going to fall.” 

Lyssana let the conversation fade from her focus as she felt the deep vibrations from the storm clouds they walked through. The energy beckoned to her, just waiting to be mixed with hers again. The temptation was strong, but she ignored it, focusing only on the way the air made the hair on her arm rise. It was exhilarating and a twinge of disappointment filled her as they slipped below the cloud line and onto a shadowed ledge. 

“This is it, just at the end of the tunnel. Lyssa, can I have some fire to light the path?” 

“Only if you use my name.”

“Please, Lyssana.” 

Abby rolled her eyes as a flame sprung to life in Lyssana’s outstretched palm and they followed Neal into the damp darkness. The tunnel was not long, but it seemed to oppress the light of her fire, making their shadows dance menacingly along the walls. There was also a noticeable lack of sound. No wind or echo of their footsteps, just complete silence. It was suffocating. The others noticed as well, but no one spoke, they only hurried through the tunnel until a large gash in the rock opened to a dark cavern. 

The sound of dripping water and cave crickets delighted their senses along with the smell of dampness and moss. The light of her flame reflected off the waters surface and threw patterns all over the cavern, giving enough light to see clearly. The pool at the center of the cave was crystal clear and seemed to be deceptively deep at the center where water trickled down from low hanging stalactites covered in green lichens. It was the most serene place she had been since her arrival at Istima and a feeling of peace washed over her. 

“Pretty impressive, huh?” Pride filled his voice, as though he had been the creator of this retreat. 

Abby could only nod as she looked around, her periwinkle skirts swirling as she turned. “It’s beautiful,” she choked, tears welling in her eyes. “Why do I feel like I could stay here forever with no worries?” 

“It’s most likely the result of an ancient enchantment, set here by whoever found this place first.” Her voice was steady and Neal watched her with a questioning look. “There is no telling what magics lie dormant here. I think we should be cautious while we work.” 

Neal ignored her and walked to the waters edge, holding his palm toward the ground. As his hand rose, so to did a pedestal of earth about 2 paces across with an indent in the middle; where Lyssana placed the flame. Abby took position closest to the water and she gathered streams around her from the pool. The water was even more crystalline up close and it seemed to refract the firelight into tiny rainbows across their faces. “We should get started if we want to finish by dinner.” His voice was clear as red-brown chunks of iron began to pull from the walls of the cave to converge in the upper flames of her fire. “Lyssana, I need the top portion of the fire hot enough to melt this, but try not to melt the stone beneath.”

She scoffed at the word try, though she did as he asked. The metal turned orange, then a straw yellow as Neal began to shape it into nine individual sections. Each piece was a thin rod the length of her pointer finger with varying sizes of hooks and loops on either end. Abby then started to direct the proportions and angles of each piece, submerging them with tendrils of water as they were complete and letting them cool at her feet. The sizzle of water hitting the metal echoed around the cave as they worked, and Lyssana saw the signs of strain on her companions as they continued the tedious work. Neal’s face was coated in a thin layer of sweat and Abby looked pale and exhausted in the flickering light and though Lyssana felt her energy dropping, she expressed no outward repercussions of the task. 

There was no way to tell how much time passed while they worked the strenuous details, but she estimated it couldn’t have been more than a few hours at the most. Her energy reserves had just barely drained when the final piece landed at Abby’s feet and she let the fire dim to a cooler flame. Abby sank to her knees and began assembling the pieces with deft fingers. 

“Wow, this is perfect! Great job Neal!” She looked up at him with a wide grin before hastily adding “and you Lyssana. Thanks for the fire.” 

Lyssana rolled her eyes and reached for the puzzle, giving it a once over before stuffing it into her satchel. “I’ll hang onto this until class tomorrow.” 

Abby looked about to object, but a glance of amber eyes shut her down quickly. “We should get a pretty good grade for this, being able to use three elements and all.” Her voice trailed off as she looked back down to the ground and Neal offered her a hand to help her up. 

“We don’t know the skill levels of the other students in our class, but I’m hopeful for the best.” He gave Abby a quick grin as she heaved to her feet and offered a small smile in return. “It was your idea after all, so I’m sure the professor will be impressed.”

Lyssana knew if Abby’s face wasn’t so pale from exhaustion that it would be flushed at the compliment, so she walked away, tired of their back and forth. “I have other things to do tonight, but I’ll see you both tomorrow. Sleep well.” She allowed a hint of sarcasm to touch her voice as she looked over her shoulder and saw both faces go scarlet at the insinuation. She took their silence as her leave and transferred the remaining fire from the pedestal to her hand before exiting into the dark tunnel. 

“You’re a jerk and I’m not going to feel any sympathy when she burns your eyebrows off one day.” 

“Me? I didn’t do anything to Lady Fire…besides, my face wouldn’t be perfectly symmetrical with no eyebro-” 

Giggles faded behind her as she made her way home. Her day was far from over as she had another class before dinner. Her steps slowed as she made her way up the spiral staircase separating the market level from the upper class residency buildings and a shadow caught her eye. Unnatural shadows swirled in the alley below her and as she watched, a figure seemed to move around the corner, taking the shadow with it. Her pace quickened as she made her way deeper into the Winter Court, satchel jingling with every step. These people following her would not get the opportunity to see her unhinged. With a set jaw she pushed it to the back of her mind. 

She doubted their grade would be as remarkable as Neal and Abby seemed to think, but it was a solid project for the provided parameters of a first level class. Her next class, however, was a level two class that she had placed into from her orientation performance. It was specific to fire elementals and she found herself the second strongest in the class as she took her seat in the back. 

She learned about the different frequencies in which the elemental energies rang, and why some mages were prone to one over the other. Fire, due to its natural state as high energy, was very volatile and moved faster than the other elemental resonances. Her notes were diligent as she listened to the experienced professor go through each element and describe its state and natural movement. Earth was solid and would not move unless energy was applied, making it the lowest elemental frequency.

 She hung on every word, happy to finally have a subject she knew little about. She understood the second level elemental classification as the lecture took a challenging turn with the numerical assignments to each frequency and the equations used to estimate each mage’s ability with a certain frequency. 

She was pleased when the lecture ended late and the class introductions were skipped. As she was about to slip from the class when her name was called by the professor to come to the front of the class. The other students glanced at her as they filed out of the room, leaving only her and the blond woman who taught the class. 

“I  am sorry we missed your introduction, I was very much looking forward to it.” Her voice matched the kindness that shone in her green eyes and Lyssana was  impressed to find that their energy levels were nearly equal in strength. “I wanted to take a moment to personally introduce myself and offer any assistance during my office hours should you need them. You are only the third student I’ve ever known to be allowed an advanced skip to a higher class, and I imagine such a jump can be difficult, so please don’t hesitate to see me if you have any questions about the lectures.”

“Thank you professor. I wish to succeed here at Istima and I am honored to be allowed a seat in your class.” She bowed her head in respect before being dismissed.

Such hospitality was uncommon in her experience at the school and she allowed herself a small smile in relief, though it quickly vanished in place of suspicion. She would have to keep a close eye on the professor until she discovered the ulterior motive to her introduction. 

With the collaborative assignment complete, Lyssana needed only to write a report for her second class using the equations taught to estimate her adjusted frequency to the fire elemental forms. Then the rest of her evening would be free to spend with the Corpegara and let them fly around after being cooped up all day. 

They were happy to do just that, cooing excitedly as she entered the apartment and she could not help but smile at their greeting. She opened the balcony doors and they took off over the Court, staying in sight of her rooms as she settled to write her report. Their loops and spins grew more intricate as the evening progressed and she chuckled once at a failed landing that had Sarpia rolling across the room, wings sprawled. She perked up at the laughter from Lyssana and immediately launched herself back at Halvard with a playful growl. 

Lyssana only stopped to eat when they both landed, seemingly content with their hours of play and watching her intently as she cooked three large fillets of the rainbow scaled fish. They consumed the fish in under a minute and settled for a night of sleep. She sat on the deck long into the night, reading by the light of the moon until the final page of her book closed. She knew now the Corpegara needed a balanced diet of both meat and bones to help regulate their density when flying and swimming, so as not to sink or crash.. Though not omnivorous in the wild, hers seemed to particularly enjoy these sour orange berries that she had no name for. Tomorrow night would be their time to fly around as she stocked up more food for the hungry beasts. The events that had transpired in the dining hall made her even more hesitant to return regularly. 

She changed from her silk dress before falling face first into the crimson sheets of her bed. Despite her hatred of the extravagant  cushions, she did admit the silk was much to be desired. Not even two weeks in and this school was already making her soft. With a grunt she pushed herself up and threw the sheets and cushions to the floor, opting to sleep on the mattress alone. She could not afford to be soft. She would not let this place break her. 

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Lyssana 3

Chapter 3: Dreams and Memories

Smoke churned all round her, the stinging pain bringing tears to her eyes. There was no relief. The mountain was so unkind. Her child-mind did not comprehend why this was happening. Why had she been sent to an island of fire? There was only pain and sorrow in her heart as she looked on through the flames, knowing her new guardians would not let her out until she had paid her time. Lacuna wept, tears streaming clean rivulets into the soot that covered her face. 

“Father! Mother! Please help me!” Her cries were swallowed by the sounds of lava surging beneath her perch on the cliffs edge, heat rushing to meet her tender face. She curled tightly in on herself, trying to be as small as possible. Lacuna could feel the strands of her hair singing in the heat, and it burned as it whipped around her huddled frame. Hours went by; until she had no more tears to cry and until her voice ran away from all the strain. Then she hid her face in her knees, begging everyone she had ever met for it to be over. Even the images of her sister smiling down at her brought no more strength. She had given it all to the angry fire below. 

She did not know how long she silently wept, but when her arms grew tired from fatigue, and she let her face rest against the side of the cliff; she wished for death. She hoped and prayed for death, angry that she did not have the energy to pull herself over the edge into the river of lava below. It was all she could do to simply exist. Closing her eyes, she felt herself drift away. 

Lyssana woke to the sunlight warming her face as she blinked the dream away. Lacuna. She had been called that in another life. It meant “The one with a missing piece,” or so she had been told. How cruel to name a child so. A cold feeling of anguish curled tightly in her chest, but she took a shaky intake of air and let it melt away. It had been ten years gone since the last dream of her childhood invaded her sleep, and it disturbed her that these memories should surface now. She allowed herself a moment to breath before rolling out of bed, opened the doors to her living space, and froze. The food she had bought the previous day covered the marble floor, smears of light pink pulp sitting on top of the counters. Her eyes narrowed as they settled on the two heads that popped out of the basket and tilted in opposite directions at her arrival. It wasn’t anger that stilled her feet, only shock at the sight. 

She quickly closed the doors once more and turned, pressing her back to the dark wood as she took a deep breath. She had read that the Corpegara were mischievous when bored, but her rooms were a mess! Why had she made such an impulsive decision to bring home two creatures she knew so little about? Another breath was inhaled to suppress the rising panic, and she flung the doors open and strode forward into the kitchen, hands on hips as she looked at the two stone creatures. They turned to her again, faces full of picturesque innocence. She stared them down for a moment before sighing and letting her hands fall to her sides in defeat. At this change in demeanor, both of the Corpgegara jumped out of the basket and sat on the counter in front of her, chirping excitedly, though as she continued to watch them, their ears fell back against their heads and they seemed to sink into themselves. “Are you both quite finished now?” They both looked back up at her, ears once again lifting to their full height, dark eyes meeting hers. “Very well. Let’s get you both cleaned up. Follow along now.” With that she turned on her heel and walked back toward the bedchamber, two stone figures in tow. 

Giving them a bath had begun quite easy, as Lyssana discovered they very much enjoyed staring at their distorted reflections on the copper bathtub as they splashed in the shallow water.  The shop keeper had claimed they could understand the common tongue, and so far they had seemed to comprehend everything she said, so she began chiding in a gentle tone. “If we are all to cohabitate peacefully, then we need to set some ground rules.” They both stopped splashing and turned to her, as though giving their complete attention. She smiled and began washing the smears of fruit off their intricately carved bodies with a soft cloth she had found stocked in the washroom pantry. “Firstly, no more destroying my food for your entertainment. It is very costly and a lot of work to walk into the market to buy. I will get you whatever toys or materials you require for entertainment so long as you promise not to destroy my things. Do we have a deal?” 

Both Corpegara turned to each other before looking back to Lyssana with a nod and a quiet chirp. Their wings unfurled as they sat in the copper basin, waiting patiently for her to continue cleaning them. “Excellent,” she mimicked their chirp with the pitch of her voice and a smile broke across her face as she moved the cloth down the length of their wings. They really were quite spectacular with their hard gray skin that seemed to be carved with tiny ruins. Some level of intellect was present because they really did understand her words and react accordingly. They were impressive creatures to say the least, and she very much looked forward to reading more about them in the evening. “Secondly, you both need to remain in my apartments when I am away. That means classes and whatever related errands I will be required to participate in. I can’t have you both making a mess of the city while I’m away.” She regarded them seriously, stopping her cleaning to drive the point across. They didn’t seem pleased with the notion, and the smaller one snorted its displeasure. “Will you agree to this rule if I promise to take you with me when I go on personal errands around the city? Is this a compromise you can agree on?” 

She would have to limit her time in the city with these two in tow if she was to avoid drawing attention to herself. Perhaps only shopping under the cover of night would help? Lyssana very much doubted it, but she didn’t know what else to do at this point. Two less enthusiastic hums  answered her and she nodded in satisfaction as she grabbed a towel from the wash stand. 

“Very good. We will most likely have to add to these rules as time goes on, but for now these are the only two I will put in place.” She paused, draining the tub and watching their curious stares as the water swirled down the drain. “I suppose you’ll both need names. What shall I call you?” Lyssana rose from her crouch, motioning the two figures to exit the tub so she could dry them off. They very much enjoyed the soft towel as she rubbed them down in turn. They had not responded to her question, though she had not expected them to suddenly speak names to her, so she tentatively spoke her next words, wishing not to offend. “Sarpia and Halvard?” They paused, turning to regard her with their dark, non blinking stare. After a few moments of silence, they chirped to each other and nodded, their wings rising and falling as they seemed to discuss her proposition. The smaller of the two circled her and sat at her feet, staring up expectantly as Lyssana lay a tentative hand on its head. “Sarpia?” The creature chirped and nodded, swinging its head to the other and chirping again. “…and Halvard?” At this, they both cooed and began prancing around the bathroom, as though proud they had names. “It’s settled then! Welcome home, Sarpia and Halvard.”

 She could not stop the grin from springing to her face again as she draped the cloth and towel over the tub to dry. Now to clean the rest of the mess and go buy more food. 

She remembered well the places she had visited the previous day and her trip to market started just the same, with the exception of the two Corpegara wheeling and circling overhead. For two creatures made of stone, they seemed to float effortlessly through the air, rising and falling with the birds that rode the wind. She could not feel that wind in the streets below her two companions, due to the unnatural weather patterns produced by the Courts. 

The chill of the Hibernal Court did not bother Lyssana, for the fiery magic in her veins kept her body at a comfortable warmth, though she supposed the large fireplace in her sitting room would keep anyone who did not have this ability cozy enough from the wintry air that surrounded her residence.

 The Corpegara didn’t seem to mind the cold either, which made taking care of them a little easier. Their distant calls were never far  as she continued her shopping. The Merchants were the same discriminatory scoundrels, though she had learned from her observations and wore a muted orange dress, still silk, though no embroidery. The prices were slightly less, higher than the people in linen or wool paid, but less exorbitant than before. Lyssana wished she could wear the linen dresses, but she knew people watched her, and her appearance must be kept for those spies of her family. For now, however, she had to get ready for the first days of class, and that meant cleaning her apartment and getting Halvard and Sarpia whatever they required to entertain themselves in the days to come. 

After two tragic mishaps that resulted in the purchase of nearly a dozen small shelled creatures, three large fruits that resembled trees, and a pair of femurs from what she only assumed was a goat; Lyssana finally trudged back into her apartment with two shapes waiting patiently on the deck. She happily gave them the bones they had dived a shopkeeper for and set about cleaning the mess they had made the previous night. 

The pulp from the carintas was easy to clean from the marble floor, and after an hour passed, her rooms were back to the pristine condition in which they had been given to her. With a sigh of relief, she walked back to the deck to find her two companions purring contently as they gnawed on the bones she had given them. They seemed to be slowly eating the entire thing, their stone teeth grinding the bones down as they ate. It was fascinating to watch, and she found herself mesmerized by their methodical chewing. The sun would be hitting its zenith soon, and she was appalled that so much of the day had already passed. With a final look at the Corpegara, she donned her hooded cloak and set out to find the materials she would need for her first classes. 

The main building of her court, where she had done her testing, was no less spectacular that her first visit, and she found herself observing the stained glass windows as she walked the corridors to the main lobby. The room that had been previously cleared now held rows of tables, each full of food and lined with the students of The Winter Court. She frowned for a moment, weighing the option of eating here or waiting until after she got back home to make food, but the hunger in her stomach made the decision for her. She grabbed a plate at the nearest table and began piling it with food. 

For the most part, everything was delicious. The exception was the orange pie she had tried that ended up tasting like cinnamon, but had an unsettling musty odor. She discovered later that it was made from a lichen that grew to the far north of Apaernore, making it a delicacy for the fine tuned palates of the Hibernal Students. She would leave the sweets to them, for she preferred the spicy dishes that were mostly untouched on the tabletop. The fermented spicy cabbage had been quite delectable, and she would need a recipe for that to make on her own time. 

As she filled a second plate, a figure took the empty seat beside her. His head was level with hers and covered in dark, shoulder length hair. Dark green eyes sparkled mischievously as he extended a hand in her direction. “Hi there, I’m Neal. I saw you sitting over here by yourself and figured you could use some company!” 

She stared at him, her only response a blink of annoyance at her disrupted peace. Dealing with the Corpegara the last few days had left her little time to cook for herself, so this space in the dining hall was already an unwanted necessity.

Neal dropped his hand, his smile faltering slightly. “That’s alright, you don’t have to talk, we can just eat quietly.” He looked smug as she turned back to her food, opting to ignore him completely. “Oh, yum, this pie is my favorite!” He openly laughed at the disgust that crossed her face, and quieted again at the anger that replaced it. 

“If I wanted company during my meal, I would have chosen a seat around people. You’re intruding upon my peace.” Her voice was strained, appetite suddenly gone as she looked at the food on her second plate. The tribe she was raised in taught her to let nothing go to waste, so she ate methodically, tasting nothing. 

“Maybe you just didn’t realize you wanted company. Or maybe you’re just too shy to ask for friends? Waiting for a dashing stranger to sweep you off your feet?” 

Hands closed tightly in a fist around her fork, and the room seemed to grow slightly warmer as she glanced at his smirk. This man was clearly getting enjoyment from trying her patience, but Lyssana Terasu didn’t have any patience. It wasn’t needed in her previous lifestyle; for elemental magic followed the emotional stereotypes well. Her keepers, the Saakarans of the Isle, were some of the greatest elemental magicians known to date, and they were not a patient people.

His voice was grating. Each word forcing her fists tighter around the steel. “You know, people are going to have to collaborate to get through these classes. I’ve heard they are pretty brutal. We could be partners, you and I, and-” His voice was cut short by a yelp of surprise as her fork landed next to his hand on the table. A sliver of smoke rose from the polished wood where it landed, and her fist unfurled from the handle. 

“Your hospitality is…endearing.” She sneered the word through a clenched jaw. “But I am not in the mood.” Her chair echoed as she pushed it backwards in the now silent room, and an amused laughter of “Fire mages are so touchy” followed her exit. 

She calmed considerably as she made her way to the library; all the pent up emotion now dispelled. A smile greeted the third year student behind the desk. “I’m here for my class schedule and supply list.” 

“Name, please.” 

“Lyssana Terasu.” The man behind the desk shuffled through stacks of folders, a bored expression on his face. He looked much older than any of the other students she had seen thus far, but the name plate he wore clearly stated a third year rank. 

“I got a late start.”

“Pardon?” 

“You’re wondering why I’m so old and only hold a third year rank, right?” She nodded, though any embarrassment she should have felt was nonexistent. “I had to work here at the library for a few years before I saved up enough to attend Istima, so I got a late start.” No remorse filled his voice. The words were spoken matter of factual, as though he were oblivious to the fact that many other students would be embarrassed to admit such a low social status. 

“There is nothing wrong with a delayed start.”

“There is also nothing wrong with being yourself, as many here would try to make you believe.” His words had a cryptic feel to them and he handed over a folder with her name scrawled across the front, face still bored. “So many people come here to be something else, but they are all still the same on the inside.” She accepted the paperwork and he turned away without another word, humming a seemingly familiar tune as he shuffled more papers around.

She shook the conversation from her mind as she wandered the shelves, selecting the books listed on her parchment. A few other students meandered through the meticulous library, though each was keen on their objective.

The first day of class was nauseating. Lyssana was so nervous, but she refused to let it show. With a straight back, she walked into the meticulous, well lit room.  A large window took up most of the back wall, and fifteen desks filled the room, five precis rows of three. The jars lining the left wall were all facing the same direction, labels written in a fancy, flowing script. The desks appeared unassigned, so she took the middle desk in the second row, sitting forward as other students filed in and filled the surrounding seats. A familiar face slid beside her with a cheeky grin. “Hey there, stranger!” She glanced at him, acknowledging his presence with a nod, her irritation masked with nervousness. Despite his overly pushy demeanor, it was nice to see a face she recognized. 

“Good morning, Neal.”

“You just aren’t a very cheery person are you? Or is it that you’re not a morning person, hm?” There was a hit of playfulness in his tone, but she would not take the bait, instead turning back to the front of the room as the professor walked in. His robes were immaculate, and a deep purple, which accented the auburn hair on his head.

“Good morning, students! Welcome to your first class here at Istima! My name is Professor Hurst, and you all find yourselves in Intro to Elementalism.” His cheery voice grated her nerves even more, and Neal chuckled at her lack of response with the class as they returned the salutations. 

The mood quickly turned to business as he began the lesson and Lyssana found herself fully engaged in his teachings as he explained the fundamentals of elemental magics. “Elementalism is so fascinating because it requires a family heritage in order for the correct energies to be felt and manipulated. This means elemental magic can’t be used by just anyone, you have to be born with the ability for it!” His enthusiasm was impalpable, and she wondered if every person in this forsaken court had lost their mind to a peppy disposition.

 “That means each and every one of you is special. Your magic is unique to yourself alone. Though the Winter Court is currently working on a project that will isolate the exact criteria that gives us this ability to manipulate specific energies, we are still a long way from discovering it. Perhaps one of you will discover those secrets in the future, with the help of your classes here at Istima.” He paused for dramatic effect. “Now, we all know that one’s ability in elemental magic varies between mages. Some have a very strong ability, and others can barely manage to move water in a bucket. Most elemental mages can only control one form of a single element, but there are a rare few who can have a disposition for another class of an element. This being said, it is possible that some of you can manipulate energies outside the element you normally control. However, it is important to remember that this talent is very rare and difficult to master.” Several confused glances from the other students confirmed Lyssana’s own thoughts as she listened to the lecture. 

Professor Hurst must have noticed her face in the crowd as he stopped to smile, as though he had expected this reaction. “Miss Terasu, I presume?” The room fell silent, all eyes turning to face her as the room fell deathly silent. She gave a slight nod. “Your display during orientation was quite impressive, I’ve been told.” He waited only a moment for a response, in which she gave none, though a few irritated faces glanced between her and the professor. “You are confused about my earlier statement, yes?About the ability to work with more than one elemental class?” It was clear he would not continue until he elicited a response, so she spoke.

“I am only curious what you define as separate elemental classes?” More hushed whispers followed her question and the professor gave a satisfied nod. She ignored the glances that fell on her, and the quiet questioning mummers about her testing. She wondered if she may have to accept that a disadvantage was in place here at Istima. If these professors spoke so openly about her in front of the students, she was sure to have a following against her. Professor Hurst had just put an open target on her, and already she could feel the hatred in a few of the glances. 

“A very good question,” he praised. “There are four primary elemental categories: fire, water, earth, and air. Within each of these categories are classes, or forms, of that element. For example, within the category of fire there are multiple forms this element can take. These are referred to as classes within the category.” He grabbed a piece of chalk and began drawing a circular diagram as the class scrambled for parchment to copy. “The secondary form of fire is magma, air has a class of wind, water has ice, and metal is a class of earth.” Each of the elemental categories were encased in a large circle with the classes written in a smaller circle directly attached to the class, forming a diagonal and horizontal line with the circles. 

“Now it’s very important;” he turned back to the class, locking eyes with each student before continuing. “This is only the most basic breakdown of the elemental classes. From here, the elements begin to work together to form the other classes. This is where elemental mages must work together in order to complete complex tasks. This is where your first assignment of the year comes into play. You must pair up with another elemental mage in order to complete a simple task. The task can be anything you decide, but it must be completed with magic alone, and it must require the elements of each mage in the pair. Any questions?” He gave little time for anyone else to speak before he started pairing students. Of course, with a class of fifteen, there was need for a group of three, and who better to end up with two partners but Lyssana? Neal seemed ecstatic to be partnered with her, and she rolled her eyes at him, though the petite blonde woman with bright blue eyes seemed terrified. 

The task itself was vague and could be anything, though the rules of the assignment were specific enough. Neal was an earth elemental, and the woman who had quietly introduced herself as Abby was a water mage. That gave them many options of creation, and Lyssana’s mind filled with ideas as the professor continued. 

“Other elemental classes require more than one category of the elements to make them work. Mist, for example, requires the primary use of water and a secondary use of wind in order to manipulate it. Most of the time this requires two mages – one of air and one of water – but there are some mages who can manipulate certain classes of another element.” Excited voices erupted around the room, and Neal looked at her with an eyebrow wiggle. She shot him a dirty look and proceeded to copy the new circles on the board. “Working with wood requires the use of Earth and Water.” He drew circles connecting all four elements of the board, writing words in them. “Acid, earth and fire. Lightning, fire and air. And they only get more complicated from there.” When he finished, there was a diagram of circles, all connecting within the elements. “Now you understand your assignment. You must work together to create something or complete a task that one element alone cannot accomplish. Class dismissed.” 

Since this was her only morning class today, Lyssana had quite a bit of free time to begin the assignment, and it seemed Abby held a schedule similar to hers when the three compared. Neal had another class immediately, but promised to meet in the dining hall for the midday meal. The smile she pointed toward Abby was an attempt at comforting, but the woman shrank back with a flinch, and the smile faded. “Should we wait in the dining hall then?” The young woman glanced at her and shrugged, eyes returning to the ground in front of her. “Do you know how to speak, or are you a mute?” Lyssana’s words were riddled with irritation as she began walking to the dining hall. Abby followed, though she said nothing, a pout setting on her face. 

“I’m not used to being around people. I’m sorry.” Her voice was quiet, nearly a squeak as they walked down the bustling halls. People seemed to move out of Lyssana’s way, so a path cleared in front of them, but she took no notice. 

“Don’t apologize for something you have no control over, it only makes you look weak.” The words were out before she even realized what she was saying, and a wince was suppressed. “Those words were ingrained in me as a child. I know they are harsh, but they are necessary. Especially in a place like this.These students will take every advantage they can get, even at the expense of someone else.” She glanced back at the shorter woman, eyes now wide as she comprehended the fiery mage’s speech.

“Your family must be very harsh for such words. They may hold some truth, but that does not make them kind.”

“I would not know, for I have not met my family. But I do know that kindness is unnecessary for learning, especially in this place.” She paused for a moment, contemplating her next thought. “I…must admit that I am envious. You have clearly been raised in a much more…gentle environment. I wish I had a family like that.” 

Abby started, confusion marring her porcelain features. “You have me mistaken, Lady Terasu. I was raised by my mother alone. I have no other family.” Sadness filled her eyes, and they began to water, though she blinked it away quickly. “I was raised in Akatsan. My mother is a teacher that studied their culture and language, so I’m more used to being around the Akatsi than I am humanity.” 

Lyssana let out a snort, though she flashed the water mage a smile. “The Akatsi are long winded and social within their tribes, yet you do not carry these characteristics. I do see how being around so little of humanity would have you shy. Worry not, I can feel the potential you have, and I think you will do fine here.” It was as close to a compliment as Lyssana knew how to give, and Abby didn’t seem so bad. A complete polar opposite, but a decent talent, with her energy nearly half what Lyssana held.

“And what about you? You say you don’t know your family, but you clearly have money, and a reputation it would seem. Professor Hurst mentioned your testing at the orientation. What did you do?” 

“You sure do ask a lot of questions, Abby. Perhaps one day I will indulge, but now is not the time. Too many ears to hear, you understand?” 

Abby did understand, and she begrudgingly let the conversation fall away. They reached the dining hall in very little time, as the path cleared before Lyssana. She had an air of command about her, and people seemed to feel it as Abby did. The woman was absolutely terrifying, but Abby was happy to be on her good side…at least she thought it was the good side. Now it was just time to wait, and eat. 

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Lyssana 2

Chapter 2: New Beginnings 

Lyssana eyed the rooms she had been directed to, gold gilt covering the legs of the three chairs in the sitting room matching perfectly with the maroon pillows; the golden tassels streaming nearly to the marble floor. A vexed gasp caught in her throat. She would have been happy with a hut in the courtyard, but an ‘anonymous sponsor’ had paid the rooms off for her. Not even past the first day and people were already trying to purchase her loyalties. No doubt the owners of said sponsorships would be slipped to her in a way that would be made to look like a mistake, but already she found herself seeing the clear currents of deceit and privilege intermingling here. But I could navigate the waters of the islands, I can navigate these. A thought that was supposed to have been encouraging only made the tension in her stomach seize again and she dropped her bag with a thud to the chair closest to the door. All three sat circled around a pristine marble fireplace as tall as she was. Why anyone would ever need such a thing confused her, but she walked past to discover the other atrocities that lay in wait, for it seemed the entire apartment carried the same theme. 

The bedchamber was more extraneous than she could have ever imagined and she closed the door quickly, blocking the view of the posted bed that held a canopy nearly to the ceiling. The floors were marble as far as she could see. A small room lay open opposite the bed chamber. What was most excitedly a kitchen! She would not have to sit with all the other students in the common rooms. The first smile of the day graced her lips and a small sigh of relief dropped the tension that had been holding her shoulders stiffly. Golden tiles lined the deep sink and wood stove, surprisingly unstained from soot or ash. It was going to be awful keeping that clean.

With hesitation, she walked toward the large double doors that led to the bedchamber. They opened without a sound, the heavy wood gliding effortlessly to their open resting places against adjoining walls. She had to stifle a gasp as the horrendous sight before her was washed in light from the sitting room. A large four post bed was the staple of the room, with a carved wardrobe sitting opposite it. A stand mirror reflected an open bathing chamber around the corner, the copper bathtub shining brightly in the dark room. She walked to the closed windows, throwing back the curtains to let the sun bathe the room in brilliant light. It seemed the room caught aflame, the bright silks coming to life under the brilliant rays. Bright reds covered the bed in all shades, while the cushioned stool at the foot hosted a dark burgundy to match the curtains. The wood was all a dark color, an unfamiliar variety and all carved and gilded with gold. The wardrobe was a masterpiece with animals she had never before seen carved along every inch. She found herself drawn to it, eyes wandering over the carvings as she opened the doors. The creatures almost seemed to move, their movements likely reflecting how the animals moved in real life. The enchantment was heavy and probably the result of a master enchanter. A piece of furniture this large and so strongly enchanted must cost a fortune!

Disgust instantly washed over any awe she previously held toward the furnishing, but she pulled open the doors anyway, stifling another groan at the sight. Silks in all shades of red, yellow, and orange filled the wardrobe, with muted browns peeking through on occasion. She fingered through the garments, holding up a few and gaping that they were already her size. All of this had already been here on her arrival, her place in this school already guaranteed. She had not earned her place after all, but it had been bought for her. Anger then replaced disgust as she paced the room, kicking her silk skirts with every step. Lyssana Terasu was not a woman to be trifled with, even by her own blood. She had been brought to this school with the purpose of earning a name for herself in the eyes of her father, but in this moment she wished nothing more than to bring him down. Her feet stopped pacing as she turned back to the wardrobe, a plan falling in place and a slow smile creeping on her lips. She would do what was asked of her, but Lyssana Terasu already had a well earned name that she carried with pride. The title she had been given upon exit of her naming trials; of which the Saakarans were quite harsh. Their overall dislike for humanity had already put her at a disadvantage on the island, but she had risen quite high within the tribe before her summons here. She would show her family that she was good enough, and before this was done, her father would pay for all the wrong that had been done to her. 

With a final look through the wardrobe, she discovered several large purses of gold, two daggers with batteries sewn into the leather hilts, and a belt embroidered with golden runes. She pocketed some gold and tucked the daggers into her boots before standing before the large mirror in shock. The reflection was not the Sakaaran warrior she had worked so hard to become. The runes in her skin were all covered beneath the silk gown she wore; her hair slightly frazzled from the day. With a sigh, she reached up to straighten it, hoping the image staring back at her was suitable enough for a noblewoman. One last glance in disgust at the woman in the mirror and she was off to search the city for some food. 

She had no idea how to cook. Somehow there was a vendor with fresh fish on the floating island, though none of the species she recognized. Asking directions on how to cook the rainbow striped fish resulted in an exasperated look by the few other people at the stand, and mutters about “didn’t the lady have servants for such menial tasks?” She had paid the man and quickly left the stand, berating herself at her idiocy. Life here at the school was going to be a difficult adjustment, but she was a survivor. She would rise through the ranks and stop only when she was killed, for her life had been given a new purpose. 

Streets jutted into dark alleys at every turn and she watched everyone closely. In some of the alleys she thought a figure shrouded in darkness could be seen, but she dismissed them as students practicing magic in preparation for their tests. Who was she to understand the Umbral Court and the darker magics they prided themselves on? 

She paused at a stand with round, red fruit as the prided item for this shop owner, and as she inspected one of the items, the conversation happening around her caused brows to furrow. 

“Yes, I’ve told you already, the carintas are a half dram each…” at this Lyssana raised her head, for the last patron had been told the carintas – that had to be the red fruit in her hands – were a whole dram each. Then she noticed the shop owner eyeing the patrons as he spoke. “… and if you don’t like my prices, you can find another shop! But I guarantee you’ll not find any as fresh as these unless you carry yourself to the orchards to pick them!” 

The woman he spoke to wore a linen dress with no embroidery and she frowned deeply as she handed a gold bar to the man to be weighed. As Lyssana caught the man eyeing her, she hastily put in her basket and handed over a few coins; for though she was unaccustomed to the noble life, she knew she needed to learn all she could before someone thought her out of place, and so she paid the outrageous prices for her wares without complaint, all the while holding her head high and looking down at those around her. 

Lyssana found herself walking further up the tiers of Istima as she wandered the city. Past the large cathedral like buildings that seemed to rise from the ground at random intervals to the docks where more eager students were unloading themselves and hurrying to the center of the island. The evening would be upon them soon and the last students would be in their testing for the day. She wondered if the school went silent at night, or if it was always so bustling. Her gaze found the stormy moat surrounding the island and a sense of calm washed over her. She could feel the static energy from the lightning in the clouds and she let the chaotic energy mingle with her own. It was an odd sensation, though pleasant enough. If she closed her eyes, she could almost reach out and feel the bursts of energy as the churned beneath the surface. It was exhilarating as she added her own magic to the mix, causing colorful bursts to mingle with the lightning, creating a muted light show beneath the clouds. 

With a start she realized a few people were pointing to the displayed phenomenon and she slipped back into the crowd before people could begin questioning the cause. She did not believe any had seen her, but she chastised herself for being so drawn in to something she did not know. It would not do to get herself killed before she had even been here a day.  It was so strange being in this tide of chaos. Someone had all but bought her way into the school; so how many others in these streets were here by money and not talent alone? 

These thoughts haunted her as she made her way back to the apartment, eyeing store fronts that seemed of interest and making a mental note to explore when she was not so exhausted from the day. She stopped in her tracks at an enchanters store, her feet moving toward it without her volition. The inside was filled with magical objects of every shape and size, some carved with runes and some clear of any markings. Something tugged at her energy, drawing her deeper into the store with almost a sense of urgency. Never had she felt such a calling at this level and it concerned her. She did not stop until she stood before a pair of gargoyles, their features carved in exquisite detail to the point that their eyes seemed to follow her every movement. She found herself fighting back the urge to reach out her hands, for she was unsure what magic would activate at her touch. A shopkeeper was beside her in a moment. 

“Ah, good lady, I see you’ve found the stone guardians! You are the first customer in twenty years to have expressed an interest! What a grand day this is!” 

She could not hide her shock, turning quickly to look at the young man with eyes wide before her attention fell back to the creatures before her. “What exactly are they and why do I feel them drawing me in so?”

The man smiled in her peripheral vision and spoke in a smooth tone. “The stone guardians are exactly that: protectors. But they aren’t the average guard creature, no! They choose the people they wish to serve and protect! Your energy must be what’s attracting them to you, so they reached out to get your attention; it’s how they communicate, though they also understand the common tongue in which we are speaking. They are officially known as Corpegara, though no one quite knows what they are in truth. They’ve just sat here on this shelf for nearly twenty years, occasionally grabbing the attention of a passerby, but none have been chosen to take them home.” 

Lyssana stared in awe at the guardians, her hand moving forward of its own accord to touch them each in turn. They came to life under her touch, their wings stretching as though they were woken from a nap. The shopkeeper took a startled step back, gawking at the creatures in shock. “Th-they’ve never awoken before! I-I think this means you must take them with you now, for they’ve chosen you!” He sounded as shocked as she was feeling and a grin broke across her face as she handed the man the pouch of gold at her waist. 

“Is this sufficient?” She asked, turning at last to the man who nodded fervently as he took the pouch to the front counter to count the gold. The creatures made quiet chirping noises as they watched her, each taking a turn being pet with her free hand. Were they sitting on the ground, they would come no higher than her knee, but they seemed to enjoy their perch on the shelf, vying for her attention. She could not stop smiling over making her first friends at the school, knowing full well that her apartment was going to feel less empty with these guardians present. 

The man came back with a significantly lighter pouch, but she paid no mind, knowing full well there was gold to spare in her wardrobe, but a frown crossed her face as she looked down at her only free hand. “How will I get them home?” The frown deepened as the man stiffed a laugh behind his hand at her ignorance; though he quickly stopped at the look on her face. 

“Ah— my lady, they have chosen you and are now bonded to your energy signature. They will follow you home of their own volition. They are your problem now.” That last line was meant to be muttered under his breath, but he did not take into account her incredible hearing and her frown deepened. To remedy his clear mistake, he handed her a locked book. “This will give you all the information you need to know… free of charge.” She doubted that very much. Judging from the gold missing from her pouch, he had taken enough for a library. 

“Very well…” Lyssana took the book, obvious questions beginning to surface as she turned it over in her hands, but  the young man bowed his way out of her view and around the corner. 

“No refunds!” She heard him yell from a distant aile, but curiosity quickly replaced the annoyance she felt as she examined the book. It had an enchanted lock unlike anything she’d ever seen before, tiny engraved runes in a neat row along the metallic spine. She sighed, wondering what she had gotten herself into as she looked to the Corpegaras a final time before waving them to follow.

“Come little ones, let’s go home.” 

A crowd of people gasped as she walked from the store and the two winged beasts flew out after her, shooting high into the sky and flying circles around each other. So much for not making a scene, she thought bitterly, but was unable to harbor such negative thoughts as she watched them fly and play overhead. 

Her rooms were in the largest tower on the second highest tier of the city, giving her a  view of the school from one window and a view up at her court from the other. The highest tier was dedicated to the courts and while some courts held students in their midst, the Winter Court used that space for extravagant displays of their magic within, leaving the students to the tier below. Lysanna didn’t mind though, for it was fewer stairs for her to climb.

Upon reaching her room, she deposited her basket in the kitchen and opened a door on the opposite end of the apartment that led to a balcony where her friends already waited. They cooed as she sat in a wooden chair, turning the locked book every which way to try and figure it out. After a few frustrating minutes she looked to the creatures, holding out the book with a look of irritation painted quite plainly on her face. Another chirp sounded as the smaller of the two – yes she was just beginning to see the subtle differences between them – extended a granite looking snout and tapped the book on the spine above the runes. The engravings flashed brightly and the book fell open in her hands. She eyed the one ruefully before settling in to examine the ancient looking pages. 

Lyssana began to read aloud, which they seemed to quite enjoy as they curled around themselves on the ground at her feet.

“The Corpegara are a rare creature that are shrouded in controversy and a bit of mystery.” The book was written in a fine, flowery script that she found difficult to read, and almost rolled her eyes as the tone began to reflect that whimsical handwriting. “Though mages argue about the origin of the Corpegara, most can agree that they are the result of enchantment gone wrong. One theory is that they first began as statues that were used for experimentation by several mages to try creating life. Another theory is that the creatures were already alive, but significantly altered by a transformation spell.” The script then went into theories of magic that she could not follow, and she skimmed the page until the words made sense once more. “Despite the origin debates about the Corpegara, one this is for certain: they are fiercely loyal and quite mischievous if given the opportunity.  One scientist wrote that they ‘tend to share many personality traits of a housecat, but with wings. They are quite terrifying in that aspect and you couldn’t pay me to have one, as they sometimes require attention for hours on end!” Lyssana chuckled quietly to herself as she looked over the cover of the book at the sleeping forms beside her. They looked  innocent enough, surely they couldn’t be as terrible as the book stated. A few hours of play seemed like a decent price to pay for some loyal companions. Ignoring the unease in her stomach, she read far into the night, pausing only when she was hungry enough to tentatively try some of the food she had bought from the market. With the first feeling of content since her arrival, she settled in for her first night at Istima.

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Lyssana 1

The sun had just begun its rise as she stepped up to the ferry, gold in hand for her fare. The price was steep, but that was to be expected on the first day of orientation. She held her head high and shoulders back as every step was taken as one who had lived a life of privilege. The image had not been difficult to duplicate, for she simply mimicked the way other girls carried themselves through the town. She took calming breaths as she claimed her spot at the boat’s rail. Storm clouds brewed beneath the hull and stretched all the way to the floating island ahead, like a protective moat that hid unknown monstrosities in the valley below it all.

She tuned out the hushed conversations around her, instead choosing to focus on the energies she felt from everyone. A young man buried in the cowl of his hood was a hydromancer, the energy in his body moving fluidly and in complete synchronization with all his organs. It was easy for her to spot other elementalists, for they were all that inhabited the Islands in which she was raised, though pyromancers as herself were the least common of the Saakarans. Another deep breath was sucked in as the boat lurched forward. She watched the mountain peak slowly grow smaller. This was it, there was no going back now.

The ride was painless and smooth, the boat gliding over boiling clouds at the experienced hands of the ferrymen. They would be doing this all week, day and night until all students had either been accepted or dismissed. Already she had her orientation talent planned, for all students wanting acceptance had to prove their worth. Her orientation envelope had given her specific instructions as she was hoping to gain admittance to The Winter Court. Evidently, the elementalists had a different orientation schedule from all other students so as not to take time away from all other Mages that would be deciding the fate of each initiate. She would be taken to a room to display her level of skill. She would then be judged and either immediately be accepted, declined, or asked to wait until all other candidates had been seen for the day. Then, upon acceptance, all students of The Winter Court would be ranked and assigned lodging from there. Or so her uncle spoke. How he knew so much of the inner workings of a private academy was beyond her, but she had no reason to doubt  him so far.

The boat rocking into it’s dock brought her from her thoughts and she straightened her shoulders once more. It was going to be difficult keeping up an image she was so unused to. She made a final glance over the other passengers before stepping off and shuddered, for it seemed the cloaked hydromancer had been turned toward her, watching. Perhaps evaluating competition? Had that not been her immediate thought when she saw him, was the judgment of her power in comparison to hers? It was impossible to equally compare two elementalists of different class to each other, but she did not believe he would hold the upper hand in a battle. Her skills had been fine tuned since childhood. Once her family realized she did not have an affinity for Alchemy like them, they had shipped her off to the Islands of Hrovati to live with the native tribes. The Saakarans were the majority of inhabitants, and they were neither human nor particularly partial to the arrival of her and her caretaker. The islands were, however, well known for their elementalists. Not only did they hold each elemental ability, but the Saakarans were master elementals, and they had taught her everything she knew. 

It had not been until her name day that she gained absolute acceptance into the Tribe. The day of testing it was called, when children believed they were ready to ride and take on their roles in the tribe. There were only two other pyromancers her age that chose to test when she had stubbornly stepped forward. It had been a brutal day, storm clouds brewing angrily above the active mountain that was the main island of their cluster. To pass her testing and move forward, she would be required to pass through the heart of the volcano and return unscathed. The first to enter had not made it out, and the second returned with a burn across his cheek which would earn another year of trial and study before he would be allowed to try again. She, however, had simply regulated the fire and lava to burn away from her skin, using the energy of the flames to her advantage as she sat in the heart, meditating and learning to understand the mountain. She was the first human to pass and gain acceptance into the Saakaran tribe.

Regardless, none here could know her true heritage, for it was vital to the image of her family that she not exist; much like her uncle though she knew his story not. Instead, she would forever be known only by the name in which she had earned that day at the volcano: The fury of the sun. Rage she always felt toward the world and her family, though hidden beneath layers of meditation and self discipline. It had been little protection from what she discovered in the fiery mountain’s heart.

The crowd gathering ahead was being filed into lines at the base of a huge tower in the middle of the island; the center of learning for the Academy. This is where the administration would spend the majority of their time, governing the Courts and keeping the school in check. It was also where the Academy’s policing force resided. The mages that went out into the world to keep others in check from using magic illegally. Even from her remote island she could recite horror stories about the people who found themselves in the hands of those Mages.

She showed her orientation card to one of the men at the front gate to the tower and was given directions to The Winter Court where her trial would take place. The path was clear and she followed a few other newcomers with the same nervous energy that she carried within herself, though the previous hydromancer was now nowhere to be seen. It was possible he had a ticket for a later day and chose to arrive at the school early. The path led her to a courtyard that diverged into five towers. The largest directly before her had a crest displayed proudly, each quadrant of the crest corresponding to the banners displayed upon the other towers; one for each of the four elements. She did not allow her feet to stop and take in the scenery, instead she kept her gaze forward, determination marking her features as she entered the main tower of the court. There were only three others ahead of her, standing in a line waiting for their orientation trials to begin. The school wasted no time in this matter as there would be many students in the days to come.

Now she could only wait until it was her turn to perform. This first impression would be the only opportunity she had to set herself apart from all the other students wanting to study at The Academy. In front of her was a petite woman with blond hair in delicate curls to her waist and eyes as blue as the clearest waters of Hrovati. The woman turned to her with a judgmental once over head to toe and then sniffed indignantly, throwing her nose in the air and turning forward once more. An obvious aeromancer, though the energy levels she held in her body were minimal at best. The tiny woman’s power was minute compared to the Aeromancer at the front of the line. He stood at least a head taller than any others in line, eyes dark and brooding as he leaned against the wall. He too eyed her up and down before fixing his gaze back to the empty hallway, obviously evaluating her power level with not a hint of emotion. She simply turned her attention to the lanky boy standing between the two Aeromancers. He was skinny and not particularly tall, though of the four of them his clothes had the most embroidery and lace. Did that mean his family was wealthier even than hers? It was difficult to compare her wealth to that of others since she had no point of reference. The Saakarans shared all resources among the tribe, only delegating objects of ceremonial value to the leaders of the tribes and then filtering down to those who stood worthy. She owned only a few gold beads and ornamental pins that held her fiery red hair from her face. She had no need of anything else the Saakarans wore as ornamental. They stood much taller than humanity, their body proportions unequal in every way. They were slender, tall and had eyes much larger that filled their round faces. Two horns protruded and rested atop their heads, curving down to the base of the neck and often decorated or carved with runes. The leaders would often wear gold bands around their horns to display their station among the tribe. She had always thought it beautiful how they each decorated their bodies so differently with paint and the different elemental qualities attributed to their skills. The northern hydromancers often had ice crystals protruding from their skin and hanging delicately from their hair. It was a sign of their control of the elements, and she hoped to one day be as skilled in pyromancy as many were in their own elements. She would have to be.

A figure clothed in brown robes came forward to collect the tall aeromancer at the front of the line and they disappeared from sight around a bend in the hall. Now only two stood between her and the trial ahead. She settled against the wall, eyes watching the hallway for any signs of movement. Her nerves were beginning to show as her fingers tapped rhythmically against the marble wall. She had an advantage over most of these people, this she knew, but the thought was not as comforting as when her uncle had said it. She worried for the man. What had he done to be cast out from the family? He was not an elementalist as she, in fact, she had not been able to figure out his affinity. It was as though he had shielded his energy from being read. The thought mulled in her mind as she watched the lanky boy saunter down the hall. She hoped his confidence was not short lived, but she did not give him any hope of succeeding. His energy was so minuscule that she could not even tell his element.

Soon after the petite woman left and a line had begun to form behind them. She could feel the different energies around her, but her focus was not on the crowd gathering. It was on the hallway ahead. Toward her future. Minutes felt like hours as she waited, going over her routine again and again in her head until… finally! The same brown robed man motioned her forward and she pushed off the wall to follow.

Down the marble hall did she follow him, their footsteps echoing quietly along the polished floors. Tapestries lined both sides of the hall, each alternating various scenes from the different seasons. Their colors were so vivid that it almost seemed to be snowing in one tapestry. She couldn’t tell the material, but found herself transfixed by each one they passed. The hallway abruptly ended in double wooden doors that were as tall as the ceiling. The same crest displayed on the outside of the tower was carved into the wood with such craftsmanship. She could only imagine the cost of having such a door made.

The double doors swung inward and the man motioned her forward silently before turning his back to the door and staring at the empty hall behind her. She took one last breath before stepping forward into a large chamber. A long table sat at the far end of the room filled with mages. These had to be administrators of The Winter Court. Her breaths were even as she walked toward them, stopping at the empty table centered in the room. A battery rested atop the table in the right corner, but she ignored it, instead focusing her attention on the people before her.

A man in orange robes sat at the center of the table and spoke loudly, quieting all soft conversation happening between the scholars. “You come before The Winter Court to display your skill and power in the hopes of admittance to this school. What happens next is entirely up to you. Impress us.”

He was direct in his motioning toward her, not in the mood to waste any time. She contemplated a moment before climbing to stand on the table, earning some incredulous looks from a few of the mages at the table before her, but she ignored them. Her focus was only on the energy she felt beneath her skin, and the energy in the air around her. She cast away all else, for what she had planned would take all her focus unless she wished to burn down the tower. Her arms went out from her sides as flames began to dance across the sleeves of her dress. She had assumed the gold thread had been embroidered with the intent to be used as a source of energy, but she simply used it as an anchor for the flames, letting them follow the stitches along the hem of her gown. Soon the flames danced across her dress, the fabric showing no signs of heat as she made the flames begin to dance. Now the fun part. She could control the heat of the flames and focused the fire in her hands to heat as the fire closest to the wood beneath her cooled. Then, a single quartz crystal was taken from her pocket and held out for the mages to see. Beginning with the tip of the crystal she allowed the flames to envelope it entirely until it was included in the mirage of fire surrounding her. The heat could be felt across the room and she smiled at the sweat that began to form on a few faces.

The flames around her body began to die down as she focused her energy on the crystal resting in her hand. It was nearly as tall as her hand standing up and a few gasps echoed as the crystal began to change colors. She knew the reactions were not from the people she needed to impress. No, the pyromancers all watched with no visible emotion, judging her control of the fire and her own skill in handling the heat of the flames. The battery lie forgotten, for she did not need it and hoped that would add to her impression. A few minutes passed as the colors along the crystal grew brighter and more vivid. Clear to white to yellow to purple to green as the quartz grew hotter and hotter. Eventually the base of the crystal became black and she eased the heat into a gradient. The flames around her died down as she began to cool the crystal. It’s final result was a gradient within the crystal. The point was still clear, but the color moved into yellow then to purple and green, ending in the black base. She saw a single eyebrow raise as she stepped off the table and moved toward the mages. With a small bow she placed the crystal before the pyromancer who had spoken to her before and turned to leave.

“What is your name, child?” He asked. The inflection in his voice has risen since his first words and he passed the crystal down the table to the other mages. A few were astonished by the transformation while others remained unimpressed. She could only hope it was enough.

Turning back to the table she nodded her head and spoke for the first time since her arrival at the school, voice ringing clearly in the marble chamber. “I am Lyssana Terasu.”

“So it would seem,” he grunted in acknowledgement, turning a final time to the other mages and receiving unanimous nods from each in turn. “Welcome to The Winter Court.”

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Lyssana 0.5

Prologue

She tugged at the hem of her silk dress, unused to the delicate, clinging fabric. It was uncomfortable to wear while riding along mountainous paths; and she feared to get it soiled in any way. It had cost more money than she’d seen collectively on the islands, though the letters in her pocket promised enough for a large estate and a wardrobe finer than what she currently wore. A sigh caved stiff shoulders when her companion finally slowed, and she eagerly jumped from her horse, tripping ungracefully on her skirts as she landed. “Must I wear this ridiculous clothing?” She huffed in irritation, picking her skirts from touching the ground as she stomped toward her uncle. She had not known of his existence until three days prior and had since found out that was his preferred method of habitation.

His reply was grunted, mustache twitching as he spoke. “I know you’ve been out of touch with society for a while, but you need to learn the hierarchy pretty quickly. Silk is a sign of wealth, and you are fortunate enough to be a member of the upper class.” His tone nearly matched her irritation, though a level of patience was displayed that she could only hope to ever achieve. “I wish it didn’t have to be this way, kid, but unfortunately that’s the way this family works. We all have to pay our dues.” He turned his back to her then as he removed the saddlebags from his horse, clearly done with conversation until they settled for her lessons later that night. It had been much the same their previous days on the road, for her uncle was a man of few words until it was time to teach.

“I did not realize the price was so high,” she whispered, muttering to herself as she handed the reins to a stable hand.They were staying at The Mountain Pass, a two story inn that displayed a painted bird between two mountain peaks. She would need much rest in preparation for tomorrow, for it had been planned since the day she was born. 

She stifled the gasp at the price for their two rooms – she would have to get used to such money after all – and followed the innkeeper up the narrow stairs to a tidy room. It was quite spacious with a bed against the wall, a wardrobe and a washstand. A window opened to a beautiful view of the Storm Sea. How it raged in the distance, thunder rumbling the window panes while flashes of lighting cast eerie shadows over the trees below. She could see figures moving in the clouds, shapes that no creature she had ever seen fit. What was she getting herself into? 

Their meal was served in a private dining chamber, in which her uncle drilled her for hours on etiquette, how she was expected to behave, and what she should be prepared for as soon as she stepped foot on the campus. Already people were watching the travelers that filtered into the town. The inn was full of arduous nobles preparing for the early day, but she had been fortunate enough to avoid socializing with anyone. Their clothing hosted finer embroidery than many of the other patrons, and it had not even been asked if they wanted their meal in private; it had been assumed. It would take much for her to get used to this life, but she was determined. 

Late into the night did they bid farewell, for once the morning came, they would go their separate ways and likely never see each other again. It was bitter in a way, for he had been the only contact she had on the mainland. All interactions now would be blind. Her heart beat anxiously and once she was finally able to sleep, her dreams were filled with apprehension and her ferry falling from the Storm Sea into a den of vipers.

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