Chapter 1: The Siblings
July 17, 1891
The District Three Arc
A wave of aches comes over me as I’m knocked to the ground again. I fight against the pain in order to move. As I gather myself, I hear footsteps thump on the wooden floor panels ahead of me. I sit up just in time to see a practice sword cutting through the air aimed at my forehead. I shriek and jerk my head left. Praying to be spared by not only the sword but the terrifying woman wielding it. Seems as if luck is on my side, the wind stings my cheek as it misses my face by inches. I pause to take a breath before jumping to my feet.
“Damn, Brianna! This is not actual combat!” I bark out. She glares at me with a hint of disappointment in her eyes, nothing new.
“You’re too weak,” she says.
I push down the urge to swing on her. Instead, I’ll use my words, “we go again.”
She rolls her eyes and sighs deeply. “And what will make this time different, Alyssa? You’re gonna get knocked down in a different spot?”
“No!” I say boldly. “I don’t care how long it takes. I’m going to best you one day.” Whether I truly believe that or not is up for debate.
“This is a waste of time,” She says with a smirk. “You’ve challenged me once a week for the past three weeks and it always results in the same outcome.”
Some sisterly love. Brianna is the one person I’d love to be trained by but she has no interest. “Wouldn’t it be beneficial if I was as strong as you and Elijah?” I ask. “You training me would speed up that process!”
She stops smiling. “It would be beneficial, but you’re hopeless. I could be doing more important things.”
“More important things?” I scoff. It’s always been like this between us. She’s been distant her entire life and I’m stuck fishing for her approval, attention, anything. I suppose the sword combat would get boring, I’m nowhere near her level. In that case, let’s switch things up. “This time we use our element seal.” Her expression shifts from boredom to confusion. I’ll take that as a positive sign. “You’re joking, right? You know Father forb-“
“Who’s gonna stop us?” I ask.
She points to the door behind me. “Your boyfriend outside for one.” I turn back to see David’s silhouette through the glass. I honestly forgot he was standing guard.
“For one!” I yell. “David is not my boyfriend. And two, he won’t step in, trust me.”
She stands quietly for a moment until she throws her hands in the air. “Fine,” she says taking a few steps back. “I won’t use my ability, it wouldn’t be fair. Instead, I’ll use yours.”
“You’re funny.” I audibly laugh. She doesn’t respond, instead raising her right arm revealing the light seal on her palm.
“Your ability isn’t too different from mine,” she says. “I channel aura outwards from all angles, while you channel directly on the seal.” The black seal on her palm glows white. Filling the small training cabin with white light, immediately I feel a wave of pressure and heat. Of course, she’s already this good at my ability.
I plant my feet as best I can to avoid being pushed back. I look down at my armor and see small holes being burned into its metal, shit! She’s abnormally good at this. I raise my right hand and focus all of my attention on my seal. I feel the warmth building in the center of my palm. My seal begins emitting light and I envision sending out my own waves.
Our family possesses the light element seal, a seal that only appears in our family. It allows us to control light in various ways. Each member has a certain ability. In my sister's case, two or three. I don’t know, I can’t keep up at this point.
My ability is something called radiation. The way Father explains it, I can bend existing light in the atmosphere, heat it and send it out as invisible waves that eat away any and everything in its path. That’s if I was any good at it though. I quickly glance down at my armor, the holes are growing larger, and my skin is starting to itch as well. My waves aren’t at the same intensity as hers, I doubt I’m even doing much damage. I close my eyes and imagine two waves colliding with each other. One belongs to her and the other is mine.
While building aura energy in my palm, I envision my wave eclipsing hers. Suddenly the glass windows of the cabin shatter and gusts of hot wind pierce the air wildly. I open my eyes and see that she’s being physically pushed back by my waves. Looking down at my armor, the burning has stopped. Oh my God?! I hear the door behind me swing open. “Your highnesses, may I please ask you to stop?!” I hear David yell.
My eyes haven’t left Brianna, suddenly a blue aura forms around her right palm. She’s the only person in our family who can make pure aura energy visible. She uses that pure aura to increase her speed, strength, and stamina. Enough about that though, did I really push her so far that she’s switching to her ability?! “What happened, Bri? You’re giving up that easy?” I yell from across the room.
In an instant she dashes from the other side of the cabin to the middle, closing half the distance between us. Another dash and she’ll be right in my face for an attack! This isn’t good. I place my left hand on my arm to stop my hand from swaying. Then focusing on increasing the intensity of my waves, I’m able to push her back slightly.
The aura around her right-hand spreads all over her body and she begins walking through my waves and pressure. She gets in a stance like she’s ready to dash again. I think I’m done for. I look over at my practice sword on the ground. I doubt I’ll be able to reach it in time. I glance back over to Brianna and all I see is ‘attack’ in her eyes. She dashes and I put my hands up, anticipating to be hit when suddenly I feel a brush of heat fly by my right ear, ringing it in the process.
The ringing is so loud that I fall to my knees, grasping my ear to make the ringing stop. Looking up, I see Brianna just a few feet away from me in the same position. “That’s enough, don’t you think?” I hear from behind me as the ringing begins to subdue.
I look back to see Elijah standing next to David. “I could feel the pressure of the aura from across the mansion,” he says. David walks over to me and holds his hand out, “are you okay your highness?”
“Thanks, and yeah I’m good,” I say grabbing his hand and pulling myself up. I turn to Elijah, “your bullet trick is not nice!”
“You should be thanking me,” he says, “she was about to take your head off.”
Hmph. I turn away. I will not acknowledge that. Brianna storms her way over toward us. “How did you do that?” She asks me with a serious face.
“How was I able to overpower you? I don’t know,” I shrug. “But anytime you want tips on my ability, Just give me a call.”
“Don’t get smart with me! How did you do that?” She shouts grabbing me by the armor. I don’t think we’re talking about the same thing here.
“Alright, alright! I said enough,” Elijah says separating us. “What’s this all about anyway?”
“Nothing,” I say under my breath. Brianna smacks his arm away from her. “You use that bullet trick on me again and I’ll take your head. I’ll be in my room,” she says heading for the door.
“Wait, sheesh. So dramatic,” Elijah groans. “I really don’t care what the fight was about. Father sent me to find you. There’s a council meeting tonight at five, he made it imperative we be there.”
“Just the two of you?” I ask.
“Yeah, I guess so,” he says awkwardly turning back to me
“There hasn’t been one in almost two years, that sounds imperative to me,” Brianna says.
“Well, did he at least say what it’s about?” I ask.
“I’d also like to know,” David says. “General Thomas didn’t mention this to me.”
Elijah shrugs, “I don’t know! I’m just the messenger people.” David and I give each other a look. I can see in his eyes that he’s thinking the same thing as me. Go talk to the general directly. As sad as it is I can’t just go to Father. He’s either too busy or will just brush me off. “Well then,” Elijah says. “Uh, I’m going to go get a couple of drinks before this thing starts, otherwise I’ll be falling asleep.”
I look over to the standing clock in the corner of the cabin, 2:30. I should have enough time to go see Thomas and get ready to attend because I will be attending this meeting. I’m not going to get pushed over to the side like I’m not a part of this family. Elijah heads out, and as David and I are about to leave, Brianna walks over to me.
“Are we still forgetful or are you ready to explain how you somehow negated my aura?” She asks. Negated her aura…?
“I still don’t know what you mean,” I sigh.
“Right. Just be ready for a rematch,” she says walking out of the cabin.
“I can’t believe my ears,” David says. “Did she just acknowledge you?”
I believe she did, maybe for the first time ever. Even as kids she was cold and distant so I love this step in the right direction for her. “Enough about her,” I say. “Let’s give the general a visit.”
We step outside and I feel radiated with new energy courtesy of the sun and a cool breeze. I untie my dreads and shake them so the air hits the rest of my scalp. The left side of my head is shaved so having one side hot has always felt uncomfortable. Dreads, twists, and long hair period is a staple of this family. It took me ages to convince Father to let me try something different with my hair.
“Uboni looks nice from here,” David says glancing over to his left. The Valentine mansion sits on top of a hill overlooking the city below. “Does it?” I ask. “Even with all the rich snobs who live down there?” He looks at me confused. “For someone trying to become queen, that’s a terrible way to start.”
“It’s not like I hate the people of Athys as a whole, it’s just this city!” I say.
“Oh, right. I’m sure that makes it okay,” he sarcastically replies. “You also realize that you’re a rich snob? You’re one of the Valentine princesses.”
“And I can’t stand it!” I say with a smile. It’s nice having someone who I can just be me with—none of the annoying royal formalities and titles. David really is my only friend. I lucked out with having him as my designated knight. He’s essentially my babysitter. I’m the youngest, sixteen. So, of course, right? Like I can’t handle my days of just walking the mansion halls myself. Brianna and Elijah had to go through the same thing.
Before Thomas became the general he was Elijah’s designated knight. I couldn’t imagine that. Thomas is a great general but his social skills and care for anything outside of the military are almost non-existent. But David, He’s a really nice guy, one that’s pretty handsome, but also six years older than me. So, there’s that. “And how’s your dream of becoming general going since we’re judging each other,” I ask.
“Well, not very good if I’m not even in on the loop of council meetings. Things have been relatively quiet so this is a surprise for me,” he says. David’s also a member of the knight squad. A squad that handles special missions given to them by Father. There are twelve knights in the Valentine army. Only three get chosen. It’s a very sought-after position. “At least you’re invited to the damn thing,” I say.“It’s like I don’t exist to this family.”
We make it to the steps of the mansion. Passing the fountain and reflective black statue of Richard Valentine. The first Valentine king and the first person in recorded history who was born with the light seal. Our family’s dominance stretches back to the 1600s because of him and that seal. His rise to power is studied in our textbooks today.
We proceed up the steps to the mansion's door and we’re greeted by two members of the mansion's staff. They bow and open the double doors with the Valentine crest carved into them. A red rose with its outline made of gold.
It actually used to be a pink rose but my grandfather changed it as he thought red would strike more fear into our enemies. At the end of the day, our crest is still just a rose. It’s the name Valentine that strikes fear.
As we walk in, two more staff members come to greet us with silver trays in hand. They offer us a glass of water. I take one and down it immediately. My body still feels drained and those steps didn’t help. I thank the staff members and David and I head up more steps to get to Thomas’ office.
The mansion’s decorated with gold and red interior. My family is big on matching everything to our crest. Our military wears red uniforms with gold accents. We reach Thomas’s office, the only door that throws the mansion’s aesthetic off. It’s a solid black door. I don’t understand why, I think he just wants to be different. We knock and he tells us to come in.
“Ah, Your highness. David,” he says bowing to me and giving David a head nod. He walks forward a little, making his face more visible in the light. He’s most recognizable and famous for the scar down his right cheek. He received it in the last war, the Iron Crown war. After my grandfather's death, the other four royal families saw a golden opportunity to take Athys and the Valentine crown.
Despite being young, Father and Thomas rallied everyone together to fend off anyone who challenged the crown. Thomas got his scar saving my father in battle that day. His scruffy beard mostly hides it these days.
“I’m gonna assume you know why we’re here,” I say. “Whose call was it to leave me out of this council meeting?”
“It was mine,” he says bluntly.
“Why? What is going on first of all?”
“We’re handling the situation, your highness. You don’t need to worry about anything.” He smiles.
“And what about me, sir?” David asks. “I wasn’t notified.”
Thomas turns to face him. “Well, David. I didn’t have time to inform you because, as usual, you’re too busy playing babysitter. No offense, your highness.”
David stands there in silence. “Look,” Thomas continues. “I expect you to be there and to step it up. Which is more important? Your duty as a member of my squad, or your duty to the princess as her designated knight? She’s almost an adult at this point.”
“Almost an adult but informing me of information about my family and my kingdom is beyond my capacity?” I ask.
He asks David to please excuse us. “If that’s okay with you, your highness?” He asks glancing back over to me.
“Just say whatever you have to say General.” I mutter.
“Alright.” He clears his throat. “I apologize for my bluntness but...give up on this pursuit of yours. Brianna will become queen and we all know it. You’ll be seventeen soon, it’s time for you to set your eyes on something that will benefit you in the future.” Those words don’t hurt like they used to. I’ve become accustomed to people telling me to give up, it won’t happen.
“This is benefiting my future,” I say. “Because I will be your queen someday, and I’ll also be attending this meeting.“
He smiles but I can tell he’s holding in his laughter. “You win,” he says. “And when that day comes I’ll make sure to buy you a drink.”
“I’ll be waiting on it,” I reply. The room goes silent for a moment.
“You should really get some rest though. You look exhausted.” Thomas finally speaks. I feel exhausted, it hit me earlier but now it’s really bothering me. I must’ve used too much aura earlier against Brianna.
“I’ll see you at the council meeting, general,” I say heading to the door. David walks ahead of me and holds it open for me. As soon as the door closes behind the both of us, that mask of confidence fades. I can say I’ll be queen all I want but I have no idea how to make it happen.
“Hey, what’s going on,” David comes over to ask.
“It’s nothing,” I shake it off with a smile. “I think I depleted all of my aura is all.”
“Aura control naturally gets easier the more you use your seal. You’ll get used to it.”
“That’s if I get the chance to use it. No one besides you wants to train me. I’m misses non-existent, remember? Anyway, I’m gonna go lay down and rest before it starts. I’ll see you then?”
He smiles and takes a few steps back to bow, “yes ma’am.”
I give him a big hug and head upstairs to my room. After taking a quick shower, I fall into my purple sheets and blankets. If the red and gold decor made itself into my room, I would actually go insane. My body feels so heavy like weights are placed on it. I guess I really do need lessons on aura control. I’m losing myself in the coziness right now. I’d love to just sleep, maybe I can take a nap before the meeting.
I look over to the standing clock in the corner of my room, it’s only 3:05. Yeah, I should be fine. I close my eyes with a smile across my face and drift off quicker than expected.
As I’m falling deeper into sleep, I hear a woman speak in a quiet tone. "Darling...” She whispers.
“My darling,” she says again, this time louder and echoing in my head like I’m in a large room with high ceilings. I open my eyes, thinking I’ve awakened but I’m not in my room anymore. I look around but all I see is shiny black slime covering the ground and my feet. Everywhere else is pitch black. I begin to panic when the voice returns.
Repeating the same word again. “Darling.” She whispers, suddenly two hands appear out of the darkness. They inch closer to me and no matter how much I try to back away, I can’t escape them. They gently touch my cheeks and I jolt up from my bed, breathing heavily and feeling nauseous. What the hell was that?! I notice my room is darker than it was just a second ago, I glance at the clock again and it’s 5:15?! Shit!