I must stress this is part of the Prologue, the entire first segment, and has not undergone full editing. That said…
Fate reached out and laid his hand gently on the tapestry. Before him laid the tangled lives of mortals and immortals alike, woven together in a breathtaking tapestry that few others could even begin to comprehend. Only his own lady could truly comprehend the breathtaking depth of the tapestry that was slowly weaving itself before his eyes.
Each thread possessed its own purpose, no matter how short it might be. Some threads were those of infants stillborn, their threads cut short almost as quickly as they’d begun, but impacting the fate of their family in spite of that. Other mortal threads were long or short, as seemingly insignificant threads touched on dozens of others. Those of dragons, gods, and other beings of power were still longer, and touched on countless lives that they impacted. Greater still were the threads of the primal gods, those which formed the edges of the tapestry, giving it form and solidity.
But it was a single, seemingly insignificant thread that he gently plucked. And at his pluck, the thread shone a bright gold through the entire weave, and the Destiny of that thread appeared in his mind, causing Fate himself to shiver. He looked back through the thread, at the countless lives that the thread had touched. How the thread passed through the devastation of the Godsrage itself, into the ancient past of the world, and saw where the ancient magic had once touched that thread ever so gently and changed its path.
“What troubles you?” A resonant voice spoke in Fate’s mind unexpectedly. The voice was rich with power, echoing in Fate’s very bones.
“She does, My Lady. I still find myself surprised that you allowed the royalty to cast that spell.” Fate replied aloud, his voice soft as he looked on that thread. “They changed the very weave of Destiny with that spell.”
“No, they did not.” The voice of the Timekeeper was calm, almost complacent as the primal deity who watched over Fate gazed on the weave.
“How did those mages not change the weave? She was destined to die in that tomb, My Lord. It was her destiny.” Fate protested, touching the slight change to the weave, when a single repositioned rock had led a prospector into an ancient cavern.
“Because Time is not written until it has happened, Fate.” The Timekeeper’s voice spoke, and the word caused reality itself to ripple around Fate, as though the multiverse itself stood still in awe for a bare moment.
“But-” Fate took a moment, trying to speak, but was forestalled by his lady.
“We set up Time and Destiny, Fate. We watch over it, and keep it from being damaged.” The Timekeeper’s voice rippled time and the tapestry itself for a moment, but her voice was gentle. “But it is the privilege of all mortals to remake their destinies, should they have the power and ability to do so. And for all that has occurred, she who is now known as Sistina did not have a hand in what has happened. Now she is mortal, yet immortal, and her future is her own to shape. Let her go.”
Fate paused for a moment, tempted to break the strand that stood out for a long moment. But at last he bowed his head and let go of that unimaginably ancient thread, looking over past a point where the thread could possibly break on its own, then potentially stretching out even longer than his own. And Fate replied softly, letting out a faint sigh. “As you say, My Lady.”
Sistina watched the elves preparing to leave and let herself smile inwardly. She had demanded that when the siege by Kelvanis’ forces ended that those who were unwilling to serve her had to leave. However, those who had chosen to stay were on the receiving end of some anger from a few of those who were leaving.
Not that many were choosing to stay, though. Of course Phynis was staying, but she had been uncertain if any others would choose to do so. Desa had been obviously torn between her loyalty to Phynis and her oaths to Sifaren, and up until the previous night Sistina hadn’t be sure which way the mage would fall, but in the end Phynis’ captain had chosen to stay with her after penning a letter to her Queen. Along with Desa had come five other guards, Alissa, Evrial, Helia, Lisa, and Skylark. Of the guards only Alissa and Skylark hadn’t been branded by Kelvanis, which made Sistina all the more surprised that the women had chosen to submit to something that wasn’t much different.
Among the civilians only a handful had chosen to stay. The two dozen guards under Lieutenant Vander were leaving, as was Farlon and most of the researchers. Among the few exceptions were the ones she was watching.
“What do you mean, you’re staying? You’re going to end up magically claimed, just like the people who get captured by Kelvanis!” Farlon exclaimed impatiently, gesturing sharply to their east in his anger and nearly striking a nearby assistant with his emphatic gesture.
“No. I will be living in Sistina’s dungeon, and will continue my research in the library. I asked Sistina myself.” Zarenya Threadweaver spoke with quiet dignity, the middle-aged dusk elf standing straight and firm under the demands of her taller colleague. “Ellis has chosen to stay and assist me. We will continue to perform our calling, and she will give us the freedom to do so.”
“How do you know that she’ll allow that? Once she binds you, you’ll have no choice but to obey her.” Farlon countered, scowling. “You’re risking both your freedom and his on a-”
“No. Sistina could have simply chosen to kill all of us. She could have never given us permission to come here. She could have expelled us into the waiting arms of Kelvanis’ army after we lost her trust.” Zarenya’s voice was calm as she denied his complaints. “Instead she gave us time. I trust her, Farlon. I’m staying, and you aren’t changing my mind.”
“You foolish, pig-headed… fine! Have it your way!” Farlon threw up his hands in disgust and stalked away, leaving the other researcher with a slight smile on her face.
Sistina thought she liked the researcher. The woman was generally almost silent, and this had been almost the most words that she’d heard from Zarenya since she came to the dungeon. In all honesty, Zarenya reminded Sistina of herself a little. The researcher’s assistant was a handsome, loyal young man who had more than a bit of a crush on his mentor. Sistina had no idea how the relationship would develop, but it really wasn’t her business. Instead she turned her attention to the other two from Sifaren who were staying.
The last two were some of Phynis’ maids. Lady Maria Northbrook had been with Phynis when they’d been captured by Kelvanis, and she was a level-headed, polite woman. Sistina thought she was good for Phynis, even if the former princess spent a lot of time avoiding Maria’s nagging about her appearance. Another surprise was that Jean Dailos had chosen to stay. Jean was a mousy, nervous maid that had come with the group on their trip down, and whom Sistina had expected to leave. She didn’t object, but it was certainly a surprise.
On the other hand, Sistina felt more than a hint of relief that the others she’d rescued had chosen to stay with her. Ilmas, Lily, and Sina had become something of a reassuring presence in her caves, and without them she’d feel almost empty. She still wasn’t certain about the priestesses she’d rescued, but Amethyst, Diamond, Emerald, Opal, Ruby, Sapphire, and Topaz had seemed to have no interest in leaving just yet. In fact, the priestesses seemed almost gleeful about being in the dungeon. From what Sistina could tell, their enthusiasm was more that they were free of Jared, the Kelvanis official she’d captured during their attempted invasion. At some point she needed to properly interrogate him, but she intended to wait until he was healed a bit more.
Sensing that Phynis was close, Sistina opened her eyes and smiled at the elf. Phynis giggled, approaching to sit and lean into Sistina’s side with a soft sigh, closing her sky-blue eyes as they sat under Sistina’s tree.
“I love you.” Phynis whispered, her voice almost inaudible even within the canopy of branches. The elf’s hair was no longer coming in silver, and was instead a metallic pink that surprised Sistina a little. When she’d brought Phynis back from the edge of the grave, Sistina had tried to make Phynis’ body as perfect as she could, and back to what it should have been, but it was possible that since Phynis commonly dyed her hair pink, that Sistina’s unconscious had adjusted the other woman’s hair. She hoped it wouldn’t matter. Wrapping an arm around Phynis’ shoulders, Sistina pulled her close.
“Treasure.” Sistina spoke softly, forming the word with care. It was easier to speak than it had once been, but it still wasn’t something she was used to. She could understand any language she’d heard thus far effortlessly, but actually putting her thoughts into words was all but an exercise in frustration.
Phynis giggled, and Sistina smiled slightly at the sound. But something about it felt off, and after a moment Sistina opened her eyes and studied Phynis’ face. There was a shadow to it, a hint of sadness that Sistina could barely see. It took her a moment of debating, but she stroked a finger along Phynis’ cheek and asked softly when the elf opened her eyes. “Sad. Why?”
“I’m not sad.” Phynis refuted. At Sistina’s skeptical look she flushed and looked downward, shifting a little. Finally, after a moment more she sighed and shook her head. “Fine, I am sad. I’m sad because everyone is leaving, and with it goes part of my past. I was a princess, Sistina, and I was more than that. I was the crown princess, destined to rule Sifaren, and then it was just… stolen from me. Kelvanis captured me, and a stupid brand was enough to take everything I had trained for my entire life. I once dreamed of being a powerful hero or adventurer, but my duty got in the way. Now I’m past thirty years old, without a hint of training that would actually help you. It’s frustrating, and I’m sad because I was betrayed by my own family.”
Sistina slowly considered what Phynis said, then nodded gently. Her thoughts were racing, and after a moment they fastened onto the city buried under the mountain around them, the fragments of the ancient capital of Everium. And as she considered them, and idea crystallized in her mind. But for now she set it aside and instead tilted her head, opening the passage outward as the Sifaren group began to leave, and asked. “Teach? About Everium?”
Phynis’ eyes brightened at the offer and her slight frown vanished abruptly. “I’d love to learn what you can teach me, Sistina!”
The smile made everything better, and Sistina smiled in return. Leaning forward to give Phynis a gentle kiss, Sistina resolved herself. Phynis didn’t deserve what had happened to her. So if she couldn’t inherit her own kingdom, Sistina would just have to create a kingdom for Phynis to rule.