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.