Princess Sylphaen of Dragora viewed her reflection with quiet content. Her long ebony waves of hair tumbled loose over her shoulders. Her garb consisted of a light, silken dress in cold grey, embellished with spindly silver cobwebs over the skirt. Her cloth shoes were a light grey. Her skin was porcelain, made even paler with dread. Even her eyes, usually so bright, were dulled to a monotone grey. Good. Grey, the colour of death. It was fitting.
She noted the tell-tale tremors in her hands. Over the years she had trained herself not to show any sign of fear, to be the picture of stoic calm lest she be taken captive - entirely possible, particularly lately with the dramatic increase in revolutionists' activities - however her hands could not be tamed. Thankfully they could be concealed at least.
'Today. It comes today.'
Sylphaen wrenched herself from her reflection and swiftly donned a grey cloak, drawing the hood over her head. Taking care to be quick and quiet she stole through the corridors as the first grey light of dawn approached the sky gingerly. Soon she arrived at a staircase. She descended.
Down, down the stairs to a forgotten level, a dishevelled remnant of the days when prisoners were kept in dungeons and dragons roamed the Veil.
The underground sector of Ibiskal Palace was a maze of dark, damp tunnels and the faint scent of blood and rot. Although it had been centuries since the Labyrinth, as she thought of it, was used for anything other than rat colonies, a trace of whatever horrors had occurred here hung in the air, sending shivers down the spine.
Unperturbed, perhaps even thrilled, Sylphaen's childhood had been full of this place. She delighted herself in hiding here from her parents, her tutor, the serving staff. She fascinated herself by creating a scale map of the whole Labyrinth. It took her a month and three of her governess' tape measures to complete. By that time she knew her way around as though it was her own mind.
For some reason no one else in the Palace paid any heed to the extra flight of stairs at the base of the West Tower. In her childhood, that made it magical. A lonely child finding her place away from the fussing of her governess and the pressure of her parents. Now, the solitude and invisibility of the place made it a Goddess-send.
Using flint stashed in the hidden pocket of her cloak she lit a carrying lantern that was still stowed in a crevice in the wall from her exploring days. She stood, her heart pounding, in complete stillness for a few moments before a cry from above spurred her into action. She hadn't much time.
'On that day they shall rediscover their maze of the Era of Flame where once you spent your days.'
She hastened as the words of the Oracle echoed around her mind. She was losing this inner battle.
Set on a towering, steeply sloping hill, the lowest level of Ibiskal Palace had but one exit. With one guard. The exact guard into whose pre-shift broth Sylphaen slipped a slow-acting sleep powder. She could only hope that they hadn't increased the watch for today.
Nearing the narrow collapse in the wall, her breath caught in her throat. 'Please.' The lamplight flickered on the walls with the shaking of her hands. She could see the guard in a heap on the ground. 'Please.'
Emerging into the rosy dawn she breathed a little sigh of relief at the empty field before her. Crouching down, she drew the guard's sword and shoved it into her belt. She knew this guard. Ruthless, good at close combat, he kept knives in his boots and a chain in his pack. If anything were to happen, the Oracle had added a safeguard into the powder so that he would awaken when in danger. Sylphaen knew she could rely on him to survive and protect the Palace. Any revolutionary hoping to enter the Palace would kill him first however any attempt on his life would result in his awakening.
'His honour shall save him.'
Yes. He shall survive without the sword.
A movement. In the grasses. She laid her hand on the sword hilt.
The ground erupted as red-painted revolutionaries sprung into action, grass strapped to their backs as camouflage. With a yell, they charged toward her. She had nowhere to run.
'This is it.'
Then something primal took over her, an instinct that she had buried long ago. A wordless scream ripped through her and she flung the lantern over their heads whereupon it landed on the coarse grasses behind them. In the summer heat and the dry air they caught flame instantaneously. The revolutionaries began to change direction, stampeding instead toward the boats on the lake to Sylphaen's left. She walked calmly to the right, toward a large forest. The fire would not take so easily there.
She walked for a long time, until her throat was dry and her feet ached. She would have to find water soon. The sun was high and harsh even through the trees. Gradually as she continued she could feel the air getting colder. She shuddered. A nearby plant glittered with frost. Further on, a light layer of soft whiteness carpeted the ground.
'So this is what snow looks like.'
An icicle hung from a tree. Entranced, she reached up and tapped it. She jumped back at the resulting sound. Slowly, with a rising sense of dread, she drew her sword and held it in front of her with both hands, curiously steady. The same feeling came to her that she felt in the Labyrinth. Like ancient blood and rituals, vengeful spirits that had been polluting the air with the wrath in their souls, otherwise devoid of feeling. It grew and grew as she carried on. It made her want to run and hide, cry, scream, yet at the same time it drew her in.
By this time the snow reached her ankles. She pulled the cloak closer around her. Coming up through the trees . . . What?
A group of trees and climbing plants formed what appeared to be a tunnel. On the other side, snow was falling thick and fast. A gust of wind blew snow through the tunnel, coating Sylphaen. In wonderment, she studied the individual snowflakes on her sword.
There was no consideration. She needed no time to mull it over. She dived through the tunnel, landing in a snowdrift with a 'poof' that sent clouds of powder up around her. Reinserting her sword into her belt she lay back in sensory ecstasy, indulging herself in the fresh sensations. A laugh bubbled up from within her. It sounded strange, alien. She laughed again. Her feet and hands felt like they were burning. Shakily she rose from the ground and found balance. It was curious, sinking slightly into the ground with each step. The snow fell heavier.
She spotted a figure in the distance. Pulling her cloak to conceal her sword she waved her arms. The figure turned toward her and she gripped the hilt of her sword as reassurance. Cautiously she moved toward the figure. As they drew closer to one another it became clearer.
It was a man, in a thick, sleeved cloak and large boots. He beckoned to her with a gloved hand. He was at the bottom of a slope, one that Sylphaen hadn't noticed she was standing on. With her nerves on high she shuffled down, shivering now as the wind swelled. The man stayed where he was, hand outstretched. Her hood blew down and her hair whipped her face. She was fearful now, her hands jerking in spasms. Her foot slipped out from under her and she stumbled forward into the arms of the man. Unexpectedly catching her, he fell to the ground together with her. She could hardly think, breathe, speak; she was so numb. Somehow her legs worked without her instruction. Supporting each other, she and the man stood and battled against the elements to walk across whatever expanse of land they were on.
They walked for what seemed like hours, Sylphaen had no concept of time in the onslaught. Eventually they reached some sort of building that the man appeared to recognise. Scraping away snow from the front of a door, he hammered on it, wordlessly yelling. Someone inside opened it and the pair fell through the doorway, the person slamming it shut behind them.
The floor was a deep, rich wood and warm. She pressed her face against it, comforted by the familiar heat. She closed her eyes. She just felt as though she should sleep. It would be nice.
"Are you alright?" The voice was deep, gravelly, spoken in the dialect of one of the tribes Sylphaen studied as a child.
"Snow is scary" She responded, not knowing what else to say.
"What were you doing out in that blizzard wearing those clothes?"
"Is that what a blizzard is? I've never seen one before. I'm certain that if I knew I was going to run into one I would have worn sufficient attire, though I do not know where I would get it from." She sat up. The man had removed his cloak and hung it on an ingenious hook on the wall the like of which she had never before seen. His face was boyish, soft and she got the impression that he was in his late teens. His eyes were a soft chocolate brown with a golden glint. His hair was golden like the sun and his skin the colour of honey. Realising she was being rude, Sylphaen stood quickly and bowed.
"Thank you very much for helping me. If you could secure me with shelter until the storm passes I would be doubly grateful and would ensure you would be rewarded handsomely. I apologise however I cannot give you my name. If you cannot provide me shelter I shall be on my way now." She swallowed, remaining bowed.
"I'll get you some clothes." She heard him walk away but kept her head down. She felt she had already transgressed enough without the added insult of treating them as inferior. The person who had opened the door was still in the room.
"You can stand up straight you know." His voice was gentler than the first man's. She did as he told her. He was slightly shorter than the other man. His skin was paler too and freckled. His eyes were a bright, clear blue like a lake and his hair . . . His hair was flame orange, the brightest colour she had ever seen on a person. She found herself staring at it, open mouthed.
"Is something wrong?" He queried.
"My apologies but your hair . . . Are you a Fire Child?"
He burst out laughing.