There was something about the House of Dusk that never sat right with her. She did not know whether it be its pletora of tainted windows or its marble walls and flooring, but every time she had to visit the High Lord of the Autumn Court, Errinya cringed. So too even this time, as their footsteps echoed rythmically walking down the corridor. The two guards escorting her were walking with straight backs and they had barely acknowledged her, apart from bowing respectfully when she arrived. Her gaze swept briefly across the many paintings that decorated the marble walls, and she recognized a few, as the familiar scenery that appeared in all the paintings bore signs of her favorite painter. Usually she would have stopped to admire them, but not tonight. The High Lord had seemed very urgent in his message, and she doubted he would appriciate her distraction.
The guards led her towards the salon where the lord was waiting for her, and even though she had learned through the years that he was a paranoid man, he did seem to have grown even more so in the last few months. They had passed more guards in the last five minutes than most Houses had in total.
“I’ll take it from here.” a voice called out behind them and the guards stopped in their tracks, obviously confused at the sudden change in protocol. Errinya turned halfway as to get a better look at the person demanding attention. It was a man; tall and handsome, his chestnut hair a beautiful contrast to his light skin. He was dressed in exquisite attire of brown trousers and kneehigh boots, a black shirt and a dark purple longcoat adorned with silver. He smiled at her as he approached and she was immediately drawn to him and the confident aura he radiated. It was Calian, the High Lord’s youngest son.
The guards bowed at their master before disappearing in the direction they had come from, quietly muttering under breath as they went. Calian bowed gracefully once he reached her, “My lady, as radiant as ever.”
“Calian.” Errinya replied with a wry smile as he proceeded to take her hand and press a kiss upon it, “I see you are still up to your old tricks.”
“You wound me.” He placed his hands above his heart to feint hurt, but the humorus glimpse in his lavender eyes was hard to miss. It was in that moment that Errinya could see the young boy she had grown up with. He was a friend of her brother’s and she felt a tug at her heart. She swallowed heavily and forced a smile as she watched him straighten and offer her his arm. His roguish smile sending shivers down her spine. “It has been a long time, lady Chaeran.” Calian commented as she hesitantly accepted his arm and he began leading her to where his father was. “Too long.”
Errinya avoided to look at him, but she could feel his gaze linger on the side of her face. “Eozen misses you.” she replied quietly, “He could really need a friendly face in these trying times.”
Calian was quiet for a moment and studied her closely. Her icy white hair framed a beautiful face with large, intense icy blue eyes, high cheekbones and full lips that revealed dimples on the right side when she smiled. The pearl-white dress she wore was richly decorated with silver, and it emphazied her curves just enough to be alluring. She was just as beautiful as he remembered her to be, even though a strange sadness emanated from her which he couldn’t put his finger on. Errinya truly was the embodiment of a King’s daughter. He sighed, “And what about you? Do you miss me?”
Errinya stopped dead in her track. Releasing herself from his arm she wet her lips with resignation. “This is not the time nor the place to reminesce.” she replied bitterly, and when she finally looked at him he could see the coldness in her eyes. “You not only abandoned my brother when he needed you the most, you also abandoned me. It’s not something I’m taking lightly.” She then turned towards the door that had been their destination, but as she placed her hand on the knob she hesitated. Turning halfway she looked at him, the coldness slowly being replaced by the same sadness as before, “But yes, I miss you, Calian. With all my heart.” Then she turned back to the door, turned the knob and opened it, disappearing into the antechamber of his father’s study. Calian felt a tug at his heart and as he turned back the way they had come he only had one destination in mind.
Errinya clenched her fists and felt the nails dig into her palms. She knew agreeing to come here alone had been a bad idea, but meeting Calian had re-opened wounds she hadn’t known she had. Eozen hadn’t been the same since the accident and the road to recovery had been anything but steady since Calian’s untimely departure. Her brother had never told her what had transpired between them, but she had her suspicions. She sighed deeply and walked across the antechamber, slowly relaxing her hands so that she could knock on the door to the study.
A muffled voice beckoned her to enter and she opened the door, taking in the homely study with three of its four walls covered by bookcases. The fourth wall was dominated by a large tainted window that faced the beautiful rose garden where she and her brother used to play with Calian and his brothers when they were younger.
“Princess Chaeran.” the High Lord acknowledged as he rose from behind his desk, “A pleasure to see you again.”
“The pleasure is all mine, my lord.” Errinya replied respectfully as she placed a hand above her heart, “My father also sends his regards.”
“And I will send mine,” the High Lord sat back down and gestured for her to take a seat opposite him. “but I fear that is not why I asked you here.”
Errinya walked across the room and sat down, “And why did you send for me, my lord?”
The High Lord was quiet for a moment, absent-mindedly running his hand through his beard. It was evident that there was something that bothered him. Something that disturbed him to his core, but yet he seemed hesitant to tell her what it was. Instead he turned his gaze out the window, where the setting sun colored the sky in beautiful colors. Then he suddenly snapped his attention back to her, his dark gaze intense as he focused on her.
“What I am about to tell you can not leave this room, do you understand?”
Errinya looked at him in surprise, but she had learned over the years that arguing with the High Lord was fruitless. “Of course.”
He took a deep breath and relaxed, folding his hands in his lap. “You have felt the ripple, have you not?” he asked, but didn’t seem interested to wait for a response as he continued without pause, “Something is about to happen. Something that is barely mentioned in the ancient texts. I do not know what it is, but I do suspect that it will turn our world on its head.”
“My lord,” Errinya interrupted him, “what is it you’re talking about?”
The High Lord glared at her for a brief moment, not too pleased having been interrupted. “I believe the Portal will open.” he replied hesitantly, “And when it does, nothing will be the same.”
Errinya arched an eyebrow, not sure whether to believe him or not. The Portal he refered to was the remnants of a time long forgotten, the two vertikal metal spires the only evidence of the ancient Fae that first arrived from the stars. It was standing on a small island in the middle of the chasm that seperated the two Fae races, accessable only by flight. It was said that it once was connected to the mortal realm, but that the ancient Fae closed it when they realized that the mortals grew weary of them.
Rumours among the courts lately had painted the High Lord in a paranoid light; they suggested that he sat with his nose deep in ancient books and texts, rarely emerging from his study. Right now, seeing the fervor with which he spoke, she wondered if there was more than a grain of truth in them and she smiled hesitantly as she slowly stood, “Of course, my lord, if you say so.” But as she turned to leave, the High Lord said something that made her pause.
“Believe me, Errinya, our world will burn.”
She slowly turned back to him and she had a hard time masking the discomfort the comment had instilled in her. How could he possibly know about the visions? She hadn’t told anyone about them. “Excuse me?” she asked, “What did you say?”
A pleased smile spread across the High Lord’s lips as he leaned forth in his chair, resting his arms on the desk, “You know just as well as I do that something is about to happen, we just do not know when.”
She wet her lips and took a deep breath, “How did you know?” she inquired, “I have not told anyone…”
“That is not important, my lady.” he replied softly as he too stood, slowly making way around the desk. “What is important is that we both know things are about to change.” He went on to place a sympathetic hand on her shoulder, smiling softly. “Do not worry, dear Errinya. You will not be alone when the time comes.”
She gave him a thankful smile before wishing him a good evening, but as she left the study behind a strange feeling settled in the pit of her stomach. She had, in fact, felt the ripple and she had suspected something was going to happen, she just didn’t know what and that bothered her. As she walked down the corridor she felt how her head began spinning and she stumbled as her sight became blurred and an intense headache kicked in. The pain made Errinya collapase on her hands and knees with a cry, grimacing in pain as strange images of a ruined city flooded her mind. Images of crumbled ruins, bloodfilled streets and dead people lying everywhere. Then, these images changed to depict people she had never met, in places she had never been. As she collapased fully, screaming in agony as she pressed her hands against her temples, she could hear a voice whisper to her.
‘Our world will burn,’ it said, ‘unless you save it.’
Then, as quickly as it had come, the headache disappeared. Errinya blinked disoriented a couple of times, her vision being blurry and unfocused. She slowly removed her hands from her temples and sat up, barely recognizing where she was. As her vision slowly cleared Errinya looked around the corridor, but as it landed on a tinted window she remembered where she was. She remembered her conversation with the High Lord, and she began realizing how right he had been. Errinya was pulled from her thoughts by hurried footsteps and a guard appeared from around a corner.
“Milady!” he called out as he ran over to her, his heavy armor clinking as he moved. “Are you alright?” he wondered as he carefully helped her to her feet, brushing off a few specks of dust from her dress as she regained her balance. “I heard your screams…”
“I’m fine.” she assured him with a soft smile. “I was not paying attention and must have tripped over the hem of my dress. I’m very sorry if I troubled you.”
The guard looked at her cautiously and she could see that he didn’t really buy her excuse, but he then nodded slowly. “Do not worry about, my lady. I’m just glad you are alright.” He then glanced in the direction she was going, “Shall I accompany you to the door?”
Errinya shook her head, “No need, sir. I can see myself out.” She then thanked him for his help and then hurried off towards the door. She didn’t know why, but she had no desire to stay any longer than necessary. But at the same time could she not shake the feeling that something was going to happen; the air was stiff and it felt almost as if it vibrated. As if it was waiting on something with a bated breath.
The chilly air that greeted her as she stepped outside was welcoming, even though the heavy feeling was even more pronounced out here. Errinya took a deep breath. She felt the air fill her lungs with the familiar rosy scent that she had always loved, before slowly exhaling again. She noticed that the two guards that had arrived with her was sitting on a bench, playing dice and she cleared her throat. They scrambled to collect the dice before jumping to their feet, saluting her in an effort to regain some of their dignity.
“Milady!” they echoed in chorus, “Is everything well?”
Errinya nodded as she glanced up towards the sky. Seeing the nightsky slowly settle across the world and the stars that appeared filled her with a calm she hadn’t felt in a long time. “Yes,” she responded quietly as she turned her gaze back to them, “but let’s just go home.”
The guards nodded as they spread their wings. Lifting off of the ground a massive force swept through the air and knocked them off balance, sending them all tumbling to the ground. Errinya landed on her back with a painful shout and a sharp pain shot through the back of her head. One of the guards quickly crawled over to her, checking her for any kind of injury.
“Are you alright, milady?” he asked worriedly as she sat up, dazed from the impact. She grimaced slightly, but nodded hesitantly as she wondered what had happened. The force that had swept through the area had left an impact in the magicka as well, she could feel it and it felt as if it had been ripped apart at the seams. Something odd was definitively about to happen and she wondered if this was what the High Lord had talked about. The guard helped her to her feet and they made ready once again to fly back home, but the shadows that flittered around them made her pause.
Errinya hesitated and looked around in an effort to find the source of the shadows, but when she found none she realized just what it was that caused them. Panic grabbed hold of her and she looked up, seeing the guards some distance away, but before she could call out to them with a warning, a loud and sharp whistle echoed across the yard. Out of nowhere more than a dozen Veiled Shadows appeared; agents from the Shadow Court.
Policing the magical flow through the world, and the use of it, was the Shadow Court’s main objective, and they had been doing it for millennia without fault. What had changed? Had Morvred lost his touch?
Errinya had no time trying to come up with a reason to why they would appear here before they attacked with such ferocity that it left her stunned. She gasped, not wanting to believe her eyes. The Shadow Court openly attacking was nothing more than an act of war, and she didn’t want to believe that they would abandon their duty only to attack the other courts. Her thoughts, however, was interrupted by a shout and she realized that they had noticed her presence. Two attackers approached with their weapons drawn and she could see their glowing eyes behind their helmets. It was evident that they did not distinguish between people.
The guards stepped in front of her to shield her with their weapons drawn, causing her to come to the painful realization that she was unarmed and that she didn’t stand a chance against them.
“Get to safety, milady!” one of the guards ordered her, “Get back to your father and tell him what has transpired here!”
Slowly spreading her wings made her groan in pain. Her right wing strained as she remembered the impact earlier and she realized that she must have sprained it when she fell. It made it impossible for her to fly.
“I-I can’t fly…” she mumbled as the attackers raised their weapons and readied themselves for a fight.
“Then RUN!” the oldest of the guards shouted as he pushed her away from them as he parried an attack and Errinya realized that that was the only thing she could do. She spun around and darted through some bushes in the direction of the forest, because she knew that if she only reached it would she be able to get to safety. Dodging a lowhanging tree branch, Errinya felt rose thorns digging into her thighs. They left a dull sting and ripped apart the bottom of her dress. She could hear the sound of steel hitting steel and she dreaded for the guards she had left behind, silently praying that they would make it out alive. The pursuing sound of footsteps and wingbeat spurred her on, and she feared that her prayers had gone unanswered.
As she finally reached the edge of the woods she felt a disabling pain in her left side and she stumbled a few feet forward before tumbling to the ground. A whimper escaped her when she felt the arrow protruding from her midsection. The shouts and footsteps of her pursuers came ever closer and it was with some effort that she pushed herself off the ground and dragged herself into the embracing darkness of the forest.
Errinya didn’t know how long she had been running when she collapased on the ground in exhaustion. She crawled up against a tree, feeling the rugged surface against her back. The exhaustion and bloodloss made her light-headed, and she struggled as she tried to get a steady grip of the arrow. She took a couple of deep breaths before pulling out the arrow, screaming in pain as she did. Once it was out she threw it away, cursing everything she could come up with.
She the sat back, her breath ragged as she rested her head against the rugged surface of the tree. The bark cut into her and as the world began spinning, she was glad for it. But she didn’t stay upright long, as she soon lost consciousness and the world around her became filled with a familiar darkness.
Somewhere, in the recesses of her mind, she heard a strange yet familiar voice;
“It is not your time.”
Errinya awoke with a gasp, jolting upright. Sweat was beading on her brow and pain shot through her abdomen as she moved. It caused her to hiss in pain. Moving away the covers and looking down, it dawned on her what had transpired. Looking up she realized that she was back at the House of Dusk. Looking around the room she recognized the tainted windows, the beautiful grey marble walls and the exquisite furniture that filled it. Her eyes then landed on two figures sitting near the bed, leaning against each other as they slept soundly. A soft smile nudged at Errinya’s lips as she studied them; strands of their chestnut colored hair hanging loosely in their faces and their otherwise prestine clothes had become wrinkled from their uncomfortable sleeping positions on the floor. As the door suddenly opened, however, the sleeping brothers stirred and awoke, both immediately turning their heads towards the bed.
“Errinya!” Zindaryn, the younger of the twin brothers, exclaimed as he awkwardly crawled over to the bed, “Thank the stars you’re awake!”
Cassian, the other brother, had decided that the better cause of action was to simply get to his feet and walk over to her, rubbing his eyes with a yawn as he did. Errinya hugged them both tightly, grateful to know that she still remind Neither of them had realized that someone else had entered the room, and the familiar footfall of the High Lord, followed by a guard, caught their attention.
“Ah, good to see you awake, my lady.” the High Lord breathed a breath of relief, “You had us quite worried.”
Errinya looked at him, still trying to comprehend what had happened. “My lord,” she pondered, “how did I..?”
“Ah yes,” he responded with slight resignation, “Sir Crispin found you.” The High Lord gestured to the guard beside him, smiling faintly. “You should be grateful you have such loyal men, your highness. He refused to believe that you were lost.”
Errinya turned her attention to the armor clad man, who ceremoniously held his helmet in his hands. He was young. His white hair was short and meticulously combed back, highlighting a strong jawline and a pair of gentle eyes. They were the same color of ice blue as she herself had. She placed her hand above her heart and bowed her head in gratitude. He nodded once in affirmation, and despite standing relaxed with his feet shoulder-length apart was it noticable that he was uncomfortable.
“With your permission, your highness, I would like to stand watch outside your door.” Sir Crispin’s voice was strong and deep. Pleasant in a way. Alluring, some might say, and Errinya could feel how just these simple words lulled her into an embrace of comfort. Now she understood why her father had assigned him to be her escort.
“Even though I doubt I’m in danger here,” she replied with a gentle smile, but her eyes betrayed her emotions, “I will gladly accept your offer.”
Bowing respectfully before putting on his helmet, Crispin then walked out of the room with firm steps. As the door closed behind him the High Lord visibly relax, the tense aura he had had seemingly evaporating. Slowly approaching the bed he cleared his throat, glancing between his sons before focusing on Errinya.
“How are you feeling?”
Errinya wet her lips and carefully folded her legs. “I’ve been better.” She replied with a grimace as the wound strained, “May I ask where Andras is?” Looking between the High Lord and his sons she felt how worry settled in. “I’d like to thank him.”
Cassian instinctively reached out and placed a hand on her shoulder, causing her to turn her head towards him. The sadness she saw in his eyes was enough to know what had happened, “I’m sorry, Errinya… but he didn’t make it.”
For a moment her world stopped spinning. Despite all the years she had lived was death something she was barely familiar with. The thought of something so finite was more terrifying than anything she had ever dealt with. Covering her mouth with her hand, she surpressed a sob as tears began trailing down her cheeks. Andras had been part of her father’s closest guard for as long as she could remember, and now he was gone. Forever.
The High Lord quietly ushered his sons out the door as their princess slowly came to terms with the finality of life.