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[1.0] - The Girl and the S'aiyah

~ The Girl and the S’aiyah ~

The Braewood Forest, Ithivia
The year 2034 post bellum
Two days before Summer Solstice

After living her entire life as a maid at the Acesra mansion built deep in the Braewood forest, Aryial was accustomed to gruelling work.

But she had never, ever walked so much in one day. It was because she had simply never travelled this far away from home.

Home. She guesses it did count as her home, though the entire grounds, the gardens, the ponds and the hundreds of rooms were all built for one Fae child. A child who was no longer a child, but a man, well into his twenty-third year.

His shoulders were broad as he perched regally upon a stallion in front of her, listening to his tutor talk about current politics of the City. Aryial smiled softly at her unlikely friend.

As if sensing that she was thinking of him, Ivan turned his head subtly to the side as if admiring the trees, but Aryial saw his eyes flicker towards her, she saw the slight tensing of his jaw as he resisted cracking a small smile.

Small chunks of conversation could be heard from the entourage of staff. What was the reason that Ivan got called to the city? Since the entire household and all its staff were accompanying him on his journey, they could only assume that he would be permanently staying there.

Most of the conversation had died out during the first part of the journey as the group had grown tired. As tired as Aryial was, everybody else was so much worse. For some reason, Aryial was unnaturally fit.

She winced when her shoe met a root, causing her to stumble quite ungracefully. Mother above, she hated this.

They came upon a clearing, empty save for a throng of birds singing amongst the treetops. The group was signalled to stop for a rest, and everyone started unloading their packs. Aryial simply plopped hers on a patch of grass.

The warmth of the day wrapped around her like silk while the sunlight trickled through the trees in splintered rays of gold. Every so often, a breeze would wave by, rustling through the leaves on trees that towered high above her in reverent serenity.

The afternoon was nice, it was perhaps four tolls till dusk and Aryial might have enjoyed just being outside if she wasn’t so bored.

Near the centre of the clearing, Ivan sat on a velvet cushion, advisors and tutors surrounding him like mermaids, trying to barter for his favour while educating him on his roles as the High Lord of Winter’s youngest son.

At least, they were trying to, but Aryial saw how Ivan’s eyes often flickered over the blackberries, elderberries and mulberries growing wildly in the bushes as if he wanted nothing more than to rid himself of the tutors and pick some berries instead.

As his eyes flickered to the bird above him, his fingers unconsciously pried a piece of bark off the log at his feet. Aryial studied him as he skilfully stripped the bark until it became long and slim with a pointed end. Ah, that was why he looked distracted. He wanted to paint.

Deciding to do him a favour, Aryial rose her feet and adjusted her rumpled shirt. She had time to kill before everyone was finally rested enough to continue their journey.

Her hair was hot to the touch as she used a strip of cloth to tie it in a simple bun above her neck. When Aryial was young, she had hoped that her hair would change to be the same colour as the icy blonde of Ivan’s hair. He often wore it out, the tips falling to brush his shoulders.

She thought that she could then truly pass as Ivan’s sister, so day after day, she cursed her boring, brown hair and her rounded ears and her brown eyes. But wishing them away never changed anything.

The forest seemed quieter as Aryial walked past the trees, using her shirt as a basket for the berries she picked.

Goading the tutors into fighting with each other wouldn’t be very difficult since they were already so competitive, but getting them away from Ivan may need some effort on her part. She grinned in anticipation.

Sure, Ivan was taught how to play the game of politics, court intrigue and deception from the moment he could walk, but Aryial was always with him, and everything he learnt, she learnt. Including the rivalries between tutors, one she was very excited to utilize.

She dropped a few more berries into her makeshift basket and held in a sigh. It had been two whole weeks since the last time she thought up a scheme, and how boring those two weeks were!

Just as her plan finished formulating in her mind, Aryial suddenly became keenly aware of her surroundings. She paused. It was too quiet.

Her footfalls became almost imperceptible as her body instinctively reoriented itself based on the muscle memory from her training. Step by step.

Aryial made her way back to the clearing, obscuring herself in the shadows of taller trees. Movement from the corner of her eye confirmed her suspicions. She froze. That thing behind her stopped too.

Aryial cleared her throat and willed her hands not to shake. “You must be formidable if you scared the birds into silence,” she said, keeping her voice low. “If you want me to be scared then you might want to show me who you are.”

There was a rumble of a whisper, low and feathery. Aryial could only assume it was a laugh of sorts. She allowed herself to turn towards the sound slowly, her hands lying limply by her sides in apparent surrender, but they were close enough to the dagger hidden under her clothing that Aryial was satisfied.

The creature moved towards her with the kind of languid motion that she often saw in predators who played with their prey. Her heart spiked as she realised who the prey was, but she kept an expression of boredom not unsimilar to the one Ivan bore day after day.

Aryial could just distinguish the blurry outline of a man past the smoky whorls of shadow that leaked and slithered around the creature. She resisted the shudder that threatened to roll through her.

Oh, how Aryial had longed to leave the mansion and have adventures and see fascinating creatures! But this creature was not on that list, and this was certainly not the adventure she had imagined.

Aryial recognized the S’aiyah, one of the few creatures not born from natural means. Nobody seemed to know where they came from, but the Face Queen seemed to be the likely cause.

Apparently, the Fae Queen had disappeared centuries ago, but there were rising suspicions that she was back ever since the S’aiyahs started appearing.

The inky darkness swelled before it retreated, revealing a young man, if you could even call him that. His eyes entirely black and his skin a pale blue, as if something had drained his body of its blood to replicate a porcelain doll. His upper lip drew back into a snarl.

“Scared yet?”

The S’aiyah drew out the word like a caress, but there was a vicious edge to it that made Aryial’s instincts scream at her to run. She stood her ground.

“Not really, no,” she drawled, copying the way he spoke and taking on the confidence of a killer, because if there was one thing that Aryial could do, it was lie.

She lifted a hand, peering at some flecks of dirt that had made their way under her fingertips when she was picking berries. Taking her eyes off of the prominent danger was a gamble she was willing to make, and it paid off.

Aryial’s complete disregard of the S’aiyah’s presence distracted him, she saw the hesitation to attack her when the inky darkness instinctively wrapped around him again. That hesitation was the only reason she was still alive, buying her time to at least study the way the S’aiyah moved.

Her hopes rose. There were scarier things than S’aiyahs, perhaps she could even get away unscathed if her ruse was good enough. The S’aiyah crept closer to her, circling like a vulture, the darkness around him leaving black dust shimmering in the air.

“Such unique features,” it purred, testing her. “You must be proud of whatever unusual heritage you hail from, right?”

Such a carefully worded question, only training kept the bored expression on Aryial’s face as the panic threatened to rise again.

“Now, what would be the fun in revealing everything now?” Aryial’s mouth was dry, but she tried to subtly allude the question with as much mockery as she could manage.

Not subtly enough, however, as the S’aiyah dismissed the darkness with a sneer. Her ruse was lost. “You’re trying to scare me off, girl, with your displays of arrogance.”

Aryial dropped her hand, her other one automatically reaching for a weapon. the S’aiyah continued to circle her, grinning and leering, taunting her. She’d lost whatever advantage she had.

“You almost had me,” he hissed. “But that bluster was all fake wasn’t it? You don’t have power.”

He let out a dry, raspy laugh before flashing Aryial a vicious grin. “Oh no, you are weak.” And with that, he attacked.

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