“I’m sorry Council—What did you say?”
The petite woman stared at the group of men at the end of the hall, their hands folded neatly in their laps, the middle Councillor—a steadfast man of many years—had eyes on her and only her.
“You have passed the tests Alisa, with flying colours. The best marks ever been seen in the exams. In the entire history of the Academy—”
Almost beaming with pride, the young woman knew her knowledge was beyond what someone of her age should have—but something in the tone of the man’s voice made her wary of crowing her victory too early and making a fool of herself in front of so many.
The Councillor quickly set her right, proving her wariness. “But you are not eligible for Matriarch.”
A gasp rose around the hall and she reeled. A woman—her mother—could be heard shrieking above the crowd in the large room. Demanding that the Council that her daughter should be made Matriarch, that their decision was flawed.
But Alisa only looked at the group of men, trying to ignore the uproar in the hall behind her. The reaction she gave now, would be what the Council would take into account— not the ravings of a woman who had grand designs on her only daughter.
“But—why?” Alisa stammered, gaze shifting to every, single Councillor; her voice betraying her confusion; her hands starting to sweat. “Why would you let me sit the exams, if I was not eligible? Why build up my hopes, if I am not to be Matriarch?”
“We wanted to see if you were as impressive as we had all thought, as we had all hoped. The next Matriarch had already been chosen, before you sat for your exams.”
The words seemed hollow, an excuse to justify their actions and she frowned, lowering her gaze to the floor in front of her, wondering what they had in mind for her now.
It should have been her.
Alissa knew she was top of the class, highest ranked of them all.
There had been an expectation, since she had been a child. When she had first entered the Academy; an institution of magic and regulation, a place that kept the realm of the Humans and the Realm of the ’Other’ separate—that with her unrivalled knowledge of their world and culture—she would become the next Matriarch. One of the most powerful women in the whole Fairy Void.
So, why had the Council decided that she wasn’t the one? What had she done that had caused the position to be taken from her? If she was not to be the next Matriarch, then who had been chosen? Surely there was no one else, who could rival her in knowledge—was there?
She slowly lifted her gaze back to the group, needing answers.
Her hopes and dreams had been of this one role. To be the Matriarch of the Academy. One of the many that was dotted through the Fairy Void. She would have become one of thirteen women that helped to keep the most powerful and dangerous creatures from wreaking havoc on the Humans.
“What is my fate Council? If I am not to become Matriarch?” Alisa asked, her voice betraying her fear. Would she now become a Priestess? Tasked with helping the Matriarch with their duties and teaching others—or would she drop even lower than that—stay an Initiate? The maids of the Academy. She knew she would never survive the cruelty of being a lowly Initiate for the rest of her existence.
“You are to be Harnessed—to a Guardian.”
The words struck Alisa. Deep, penetrating and cold.
“NO!!!” Alisa’s body swivelled, seeing her mother standing, her body rigid with anger. “You cannot do this! Alisa cannot be Harnessed. She is too important to be Harnessed! She should be Matriarch! You’re wrong! All of you! Wrong!!”
Priestesses around her, stood. Forcing the woman back to her seat, the look on her face at being manhandled, bordering on beetroot red and her eyes bulged.
Alisa turned and stared, making eye contact with each and every one of the Council members. Finally, she settled her gaze on the Senior—Trenton—his thin frame, hunched over, his skin weathered; but his eyes were bright and intelligent, trained on her. She cleared her throat, lifting her chin as she addressed them. “Is this the full will of the Council?”
She chose her words carefully. Not wanting to anger them. The Council held high power, they could make her life in the Academy very, very difficult—if they chose to.
Trenton regarded Alisa, his gaze sliding from her to her mother and then back again.
“Yes. It is.”
The lump in her throat threatened to choke her, but Alissa let him continue.
“You showed such promise as a Priestess. Yes, you would have been the Matriarch—the most magnificent one the Academy has ever had the pleasure in receiving—but—” He leaned forward, making sure she understood that his words were important. “Someone has seen more to your future, than becoming Matriarch.”
Another gasp rose from the Hall and it was not difficult to figure why.
The Council had sought an Oracle. It was not an uncommon thing to happen, the Council asking for the opinion of an Oracle, before appointing important roles, especially an important role such as Matriarch. Obviously the Oracle had seen that Alisa was to be Harnessed. That this was the one and only future that she had. Fate was not so easily twisted.
“When is this to occur?” She asked quietly, dropping her gaze, knowing that if this was indeed the will of the Council—then she would have no choice in obeying.
“At the first available opportunity—”
“Alisa!” Her mother stood again, her face still red, but tears streamed down her cheeks and she could see the anguish in the woman’s eyes. “Don’t do this! You don’t have to be Harnessed! You can reject it!”
Alisa turned her attention back to the Council. The disgust on some of their faces, showed that her mother—Deena—had overstepped her mark with her words.
Hope flickered inside her. She could reject it? Move to another role? Alissa lifted her head, wanting to know. “Is it true? I can reject being Harnessed?”
Trenton’s gaze moved to the woman behind her, anger showing, before they shifted back to her. His lips opened, not far, but enough to hiss. “Yes.”
The people in the hall behind her gasped again and Trenton turned to his fellow Councillors. They whispered amongst themselves, before he lifted his head, addressing the room. “Clear the Hall. All bar Alisa, Deena and Lacey are to leave and bunk down for the night. Curfew is in place and any caught out of their rooms will be dealt with accordingly.”
The hall broke into an uproar, as the Priestesses cleared the tables, ushering their charges back to their rooms. Within minutes, the 600 strong men, women and students had vacated the Hall, leaving the three designated women behind, the tables still laden with food.
Alisa turned and watched aa her mother turned her dark gaze to Lacey, hate spewing from her in toxic waves.
In turn, Lacey—Alisa’s teacher—held her head high. There was a reason the Council had asked her to stay, she would not be swayed by a woman who seethed hate.
Trenton stood, his hands clasping in front of him and he looked down to the women in front of him. His gaze finally coming to rest on the girl at the centre of the maelstrom.
“Alisa. You may reject the Harnessing. It is in your right to do so, for it is a massive responsibility. You will be Joined to a Guardian for the rest of time—you will control them, guide them—all while they protect us. But you will want for nothing, for no other station demands more respect than that of a Harness.”
Alisa cocked her head to the side. She knew very little of the mythical creatures that she was supposed to be joined to. “What of the Matriarch? Surely she is more important and powerful than a Harness?”
Trenton smiled and shook his head, he stepped around the large table, leaning against it, his hands coming to rest in his lap. His gaze stayed trained on her.
“No child. A Harness is the highest that one of our Order can become. A position only chosen for the strongest, most promising of the Academy’s Initiates. The Harness is a position that had to be debated, conferred decided upon by not only the Matriarch of the Academy in which they come from, but those of other Academies. Many, many hours are put into the decision and we would not have made it, unless we saw in you—that of which the Oracle saw.”
“But—” Alisa was confused; it was such an impressive role, one that would see her become more important than she had ever imagined possible and that thought scared her. Why had she been chosen?
“Alisa.” Lacey came up to her side and placed a hand on her shoulder. “Take it. This is the other path you have been searching for. Being Matriarch is one thing. Yes, you would have been powerful—but you would have become bored. The Matriarch is all pomp and circumstance. She is all politics, ceremony and—”
“Stop it!” Deena came up to the pale haired woman and pulled her to the side roughly, stepping close to her. “I will not have you poisoning my daughter with your lies and deceit! There is nothing better than becoming the Matriarch!”
“No—” Lacey shook her head, smiling at the woman. “Alisa will know more power as a Harness, than she will have ever experienced as Matriarch. She will know the support and protection of one of the most powerful beings in known existence and only the death of her Immortal Guardian will be the death of her.”
Alisa looked at her mother, seeing the woman’s face, her anger and she knew that the head-strong woman was having a hard time in keeping her composure. She looked to Lacey, seeing the woman’s calm face. “Also, I do not lie, Deena. I am not capable of lying. You know that.”
“You lie perfectly Lacey. I know for you have lied to me before—” Deena glared at the woman in front of her, before her gaze shifted past her daughter, finally settling on the Council, as if she needed to explain herself. “It was revealed to me, through Lacey, more than 20 years ago that I would birth the next Matriarch. If Alisa is not to be the Matriarch, then who is? For I only have one child—”
Lacey laughter broke through her mother’s words and Alisa looked at her, seeing her shaking her head, as if she thought Deena’s words false. She looked back to her mother, seeing the dark-haired woman bristle, her face brightening with red again. “What is so funny Lacey? You are the one to have lied—”
“No dear Priestess—you are. So blind are you with Alisa’s certain glory and power that you have easily forgotten your indiscretions as a teenager.”
Deena’s face went pale, her mouth becoming slack and her gaze shifted from Lacey, to the Council, then finally to her daughter. Her hands shook in front of her, her gaze finally dropping to the floor and her voice became quiet. “I don’t know what she is talking about.”
The pale woman stopped laughing, her face becoming serious.
“A child—one born 20 years ago, a girl with raven black hair and dark eyes. So cold of heart that she could be no others than yours. She was found in the chapel, still bloodied and wet from her birth—” Lacey stepped forward and placed her hand on Alisa’s shoulder. “Only this child before you is not her.”
Alisa slowly shifted her gaze to Deena. “Mother?”
“I—I was so young.” Deena whispered, her voice almost choking.
Alisa’s heart hammered in her chest, her hands sweating as she felt her face chill, knowing she was paling. Her mother’s words were shocking and she glared at her. “What? Who is my sister!?”
Deena looked at her daughter, tears rolling down her cheeks. “Francesca—”
Alisa felt instantly ill.
The one girl in the whole Academy—the whole Void—who hated Alisa more than anything. The one girl who made her life a complete misery. She had been her only rival, in the choosing of Matriarch. “No—”
“Alisa—” Deena stepped forward, but her daughter stepped back, shaking her head.
“You lied to me!” Alisa turned her gaze to Lacey, before moving them to the Council. She suddenly realized what her mother had said earlier. Deena had been told that her daughter would be the next Matriarch. Well it certainly wasn’t going to be her and she suddenly realized why. “Is Francesca the next Matriarch?”
Trenton’s eyes had not seemed to shift from her and he pursed his lips, nodding slightly. “Yes.”
Alisa felt hot tears prick at her eyes and she pursed her lips at the man who seemed so calm. “Would I have ever become Matriarch?”
Trenton shook his head, lowering his gaze as he did so. “No. Only the oldest child—an only child—will ever become Matriarch. If the Oracle hadn’t seen you Harnessed, hadn’t known of your lineage—you would have just become an Initiate and nothing more, your powers would have suffocated. Always under the thumb and shadow of your half-sister—”
“Half-sister? Do we not share the same Seed-giver?” Alisa asked, perplexed.
“No, you do not. Francesca is of Tobias. You are not.”
“If I am not of Tobias? Then who is my Seed giver?”
She knew some small details of what a man and woman did, to conceive a child. But she wondered who would have given their seed to her mother to allow her to be birthed, who would have slept with such a cold woman.
“Marcus.” Trenton replied.
Red hair, pale skin, green eyes. Marcus was one of the most senior members of the Council, behind Trenton himself and Alisa’s gaze landed on the handsome man. His green eyes focused on her and they smiled, even if his mouth did not and she immediately felt at ease. If this man was her Seed-giver, then she was grateful. He was always keeping an eye on her, praising her whenever he could—now she knew why.
Alisa looked at the Council and lifted her chin, addressing them, but her question was aimed solely at Marcus. “And what does my Seed-giver think of his offspring being chosen as Harness?”
All eyes went to Marcus and his mouth finally smiled as brightly as his eyes, seeing the defiance and headstrong tendencies of his daughter and he leaned forward, staring at her.
“My offspring is to do what she feels as she should. It is not for me or her mother to make the decision for her, I will not do so and I urge her mother to follow suit. She is of adult age, of adult mind—she needs to make up her own mind.”
Alisa turned her gaze back to her mother and saw the look on her face, knowing that the woman would not be far off venting her anger on the man or any other of the Council members. Alisa was her daughter and in her eyes, she made the decisions when it came to her future and that was exactly how she spoke, when she opened her mouth.
“I will make the decision for her if I feel she is about to make the wrong one—”
Alisa glared at her and squared her shoulders at the woman. “No.”
Her mother’s face paled and she looked at her with wide eyes. “What?”
“You cannot even tell me the truth. You will not make the decision, I will.”
“But—” Deena stepped forward, as if to try and touch her, comfort her—change her mind, but Alisa stepped back, shaking her head as she crossed her arms over her chest.
“No, mother. I am more than capable of making the choice of what I am to do for the rest of my life and beyond. And you have another child, one in privilege to see to now.” Alisa turned to the Council. “I do ask of one thing before I make my decision—”
Marcus smiled and waited for Trenton. “And what is that Alisa?”
“I would like to meet who I am to be Harnessed to—before I make the commitment.”
Deena groaned and Marcus beamed, knowing that at least his offspring had his determination and not the stubbornness of her mother.
“Of course. You will meet him immediately.”
“Him?! You are to Harness her to a male Guardian?!”
The disbelief in her voice was palpable and Alisa looked from her to the Council as Trenton spoke. “There is no female Guardian Deena and you know that. It is the only option.”
Alisa was confused. So much of this confused her and she frowned, looking at everyone, before she looked to Lacey. “What is wrong?”
Lacey grimaced and sighed, “Usually a Priest is chosen. A male Harness to a male Guardian. They are strong enough to control the Guardian’s powers and keep them in check. But there has never been a Female Guardian, or Female Harness—this is unprecedented Alisa. Unfortunately for you—there is only one Guardian that currently hasn’t got a Harness and hasn’t had one that can handle him—ever.”
Alisa looked to Trenton, her heart hammering, his face stern as he whispered one name. “Skylar.”
~ ~ ~
Marcus was speaking to Lacey, their heads bowed as they conversed. No doubted about her. Her mother leaned against the far wall, her arms crossed over her chest, her eyes dark and angry with the turn of events that had taken place here. Her daughter was supposed to become Matriarch—
Well, one of them was going to be Matriarch and she hated the idea of Francesca being the one in charge of the Academy now. She was power hungry, mean—Alisa knew that she would have to keep close tabs on her half-sister, if this Academy would survive to see the next Matriarch after her.
“Are you ready Alisa?”
Her mind snapped back to the present and she looked up to Marcus, nodding. “Yes Councillor.”
Marcus smiled. “Please Alisa, you know of you sire. Father or dad will be fine, which ever you choose, I will respond to both.”
Alisa blushed and dropped her eyes. “Okay—dad.”
“You know; I am glad that I gave Deena my Seed. You are smart, beautiful. Much more than I thought would come from our union.”
“Did you know I was going to become a Harness?” she asked, looking up into her father’s green eyes, needing to know if this had been a certainty from the beginning.
“Yes.” Her heart hit her stomach and she felt faint. “Lacey told me that the child I would produce, with the woman that I gave my Seed to, would be a Harness. My line is linked to the Guardians and I have only given my Seed to one woman.”
“How would Lacey have known?”
“Oh.” So that was how she told Deena about her child’s fate, how Marcus knew he would father the next Harness. She turned her attention to her mother, seeing Trenton approach her and speak quickly and softly with her.
Deena’s face went pale and her gaze shifted to her daughter, pleading with her eyes for her not to do this, not to go to this Guardian and Join. But Alisa turned from her mother’s silent pleading and looked at Marcus.
“We have to go Alisa.” Marcus linked his arm with hers and as they walked, Trenton stepped in beside them.
“Your mother is worried Alisa; she is under the belief that you cannot do this. That Skylar will hurt you.”
She looked back to her mother. Seeing her sitting on a chair, head in her hands, her shoulders shaking with sobs. “This morning, she told me that I could do anything—”
“And you can Alisa. Do not let her negativity be your undoing. She has what she wanted. Her daughter is the Matriarch—” Marcus added, trying to instil confidence in his daughter.
“But not the daughter she wanted.” Alisa whispered, turning back to the direction they were heading. How could her mother be so callous with the fact she had already birthed a child? She had left it in the Chapel for the Priestesses to find, acting like nothing untoward had happened. She had gone on to complete the Priestess Exams—then had taken Marcus’s Seed, resulting in her birth.
Being Harness to a Guardian was obviously not what she had in mind for her child.
The trio travelled along corridors and hallways that Alisa had never seen, through arches that looked as if they were older than the Academy itself. Before they finally came upon a brass door, thick and heavy.
Two, huge bronze statues stood to each side of the door, their massive swords crossed over the opening, baring the way. Trenton stepped forward, raising his hands.
“This is Alisa—Daughter of Deena. Seed of Marcus. Here to wake the Guardian chained within.”
Alisa watched in amazement as the eyes of the statues glowed, and they raised the swords, lifting them high; until they were above their heads as if ready to reign down blows. There they stayed and Marcus leaned in, smiling. “That, is a good sign.”
“Really?” Alisa squeaked. She was frightened. How big was this Guardian?
“Yes. It means that it has recognized my blood in you.”
“Okay, if you say so.”
The doors slowly opened, allowing them to enter the large chamber. Marcus put his hand down and gripped hers. “Whatever happens Alisa, remember—you control him.”
She nodded, walking with her father and Trenton, towards the back wall, and the figure chained to it.