Four deadly trials to give me the chance to unleash my full magic potential.
Trials that will determine the fate of the entire kingdom.
I don’t know what they will be or what they’ll do to me, but I know they will change me.
Like they change everybody that survives them.
Including my sister.
Leanne always had my back. Her kindness and righteousness were her best features.
Until she reached her fourth trial. The only one that happens behind closed doors, away from prying eyes from the public.
She became coldhearted, ruthless I might even call it. Turning her back on everybody who stood by her side.
And that is not the right path when you become queen of the largest kingdom in Ywerene.
However, because she is the eldest and our parents died, she had to take over.
Now I am the next in line to take on these trials.
Which is why I’m here during most of my free time, to clear my mind.
A beautiful green landscape. Grass and flowers grow around me, surrounded by the trees. Birds chirp, predators prowl, all the animals living in harmony. The sun illuminates everything with a golden glow.
I feel at peace here.
Animals can vary from deer, to mice, to gendrils.
A gendril is a wolf-like creature, roughly half the size of a horse.
The one that has her head laying in my lap is an exception though. When she stands, her shoulders reach my elbows, she could easily lay her chin on my shoulder if she lifted it.
Her name is Yuno.
A trusted companion that has been here since I saved her life many years ago.
She used to live in the capital, until Leanne’s first law was to banish her back to the forest.
Now she meets me here every time I visit, as if she knows I need her company.
We usually only lay in the grass, looking at the moving clouds above our heads, listening to the rustling of the wind blowing through the forest.
It calms me and the humming magic beneath my skin.
My magic has been split in half since birth.
One half, earth and air, have been at my disposal.
The other two, fire and water, are sealed behind one of the four layers around my soul until I pass the trial that breaks their layer.
I hope it’s the first one that does so.
“Dawn!” someone shouts behind me.
Glancing over my shoulder, I peer between the trees. Nothing is to be seen at first sight, until somebody with crimson red hair emerges from behind a tree.
“There you are,” Madion says, her dark red lipstick always perfect.
Her hair is in the braided crown it is every day, courtesy of her mate Jade.
Their story started in Jade’s homeland, Yedel. Madion had to visit as our General and met Jade.
Starting as enemies and returning as a mated pair, with a story still triggering nightmares for both.
“What can I help you with, General?” I ask, smiling as I lay down.
She does the same and drags her hand through Yuno’s fur, who nestles closer to my side.
Madion looks me in the eye, so I can’t ignore the subject I probably don’t want to talk about. “Well, princess, I wanted to see how you were doing. You left in quite a hurry yesterday.”
“I’m fine, I should’ve walked away from Leanne sooner before it got out of hand,” I say. “But it is what it is. I’m going to do these trials, with or without her support.”
“You could have waited a few more years, you know,” she counters, putting her hands behind her head.
“I could have waited until I hit the age of five hundred, but it won’t change my situation right now. I need it to change.”
Turning onto her side, Madion says, “Then know that you have our full support. Jade’s, mine, and Nate’s.”
Nate. The apprentice of the best blacksmith in Iluniel.
We met a few months before Jade came along. Our meeting was eventful and not entirely in a good way, but it shaped our friendship into something we are now proud of.
A person that understands you, believes you and always chooses your side.
I wouldn’t know what I’d do if he never appeared in my life.
Especially when my parents died.
Madion and I were wrecks, trying to comprehend they were gone. Jade was there for Madion and Nate was by my side every day, for anything I asked of him.
“I know,” I mutter, dragging my hands over my face. “I just wish Leanne would support me too. She is always sitting by, on her throne, crown on her head, acting as if she is the only person that matters in the world. I want us to go back to the way it used to be, but that last trial, that night, did something to her.” I look at Madion. “And I plan on finding out what.”
With that, I get up and make my way back to the town. Madion hurries after me and Yuno retreats into the forest.
Two scrutinizing gazes land on me once I come close to the town’s gates.
My guards, Adrian and Jake, stand side by side, arms crossed over their chests.
Adrian’s shoulder-length blonde hair shifts as he cocks his head to the side to inspect my state. Jake’s dark eyes roam over my weapons and clothes to find any blood or injuries.
I take my time to inspect their leather chest plates, the royal sigil stamped in the center of it. Their usual outfit when they’re on duty. Together with a sword and dark pants.
Once they find I don’t have a scratch, they let me through.
Madion and I turn left to go into the town. Shops and houses are scrambled together.
And just off the main road, stands a small cabin. Its front yard covered in fabrics, ribbons, lace. and weapons. The white fence decorated with fine silk that can’t touch the freshly cut grass.
We’re greeted by an ebony-skinned woman, her black and red hair in two braids falling over her shoulders. Madion opens the gate for me and I stop in front of Jade.
“I see you’ve dyed your hair again,” I muse, a small taunt to her always changing appearance. “It looks better than the puke-green from last time.”
One month she has her natural black hair, the next it’s blue, and another month it’s every shade of purple she could find.
You never know what to expect from the warrior by day, and seamstress by night.
“Thank you for pointing out my mistake, Your Highness,” she sneers, followed by sticking out her tongue at me. I return the gesture and Madion sighs.
“Shall we go inside? You said you already made a sketch of Dawn’s clothing for the trials.” She crosses her arms over her chest, tapping her foot on the stones. She’s getting impatient again.
Jade lays down the dress she was working on and jumps up. “I did, follow me.”
She leads us inside, where we stand by a giant oak table, littered with more fabrics, ribbons, lace and weapons.
“I was playing around a bit with the cloak, but I think I came up with a good concept,” Jade says as she digs through a pile.
She pulls out a piece of paper and proudly hands it over.
It shows a rough sketch of me in an outfit I have never seen before.
And heavens, it’s amazing.
It consists of tight dark blue pants, intricate silver embroidery of curls, flowers, and leaves on the side of the legs. A matching shirt, the same decorations running along the wrists and neckline. My leather brown boots and a black cloak.
And of course, the outfit has hidden pockets and compartments for my weapons.
“Jade,” I mumble, watching her from the corner of my eye. “I need you to make this for me.”
Her face lights up at my words.
I hand her back the sketch. “You truly outdid yourself and I’d be honored to wear it during the trials.”
“Thank you,” she says as she presses the sketch to her chest.
Madion takes one of her trembling hands and squeezes, showing her how proud she is of her mate.
“Well, I still need to prepare myself for my dinner with Leanne in a few days, so I’ll leave you two be,” I state, putting my hand on the pommel of my sword. “Shall we meet as usual tomorrow? I’ve been meaning to try a new trick I came up with.”
As Jade puts aside the sketch, Madion answers, “Of course, take some time for yourself tonight. We’ll come pick you up in the morning.”
Then she steers Jade towards the back of the cabin, in the direction of their bedroom, which is my cue to go.
“A bit of advice, Dawn, try to be your most charming self during dinner. Leanne loves that,” Jade calls out, making Madion snort.
I flip her off and exit the home.
Collapsing on my bed, I close my eyes.
Everything that could happen the day after tomorrow, next week, even next month, spooks through my head.
The worst outcome is that I don’t survive the trials, but I won’t lay down my life that easily.
I crack an eye open and look around the room. The door on my left leads to a bathroom, if you go around the corner and open that door, you’ll be met with my guards.
Opposite the bed is a desk I actually never use, it’s more of a storage space for the books that don’t fit the two massive shelves on either side of it.
The only part I love about this room is the balcony though. It gives you a view of the flower gardens down below.
As a child, I used to spend a lot of time there with my mom, making bouquets and giving them to my dad.
He got one every day, yet he never complained, nor did it cease his excitement every time I entered his office.
Since I’ve grown older and they’re no longer here to accompany me, I usually slip out at night to peacefully sit under the large oak.
I stop my daydreaming and walk into the bathroom to turn on the shower.
The water is heated and pushed through the pipes by magic from the people that build them. We only have to replenish the well the water comes from.
I strip off my clothes and wince when I turn my shoulder too quickly.
I might’ve been injured while trying a new maneuver with my sword that I have yet to perfect,
Luckily, Jake and Adrian didn’t find out because they would’ve locked me in my room until I healed.
My healing is fast though, this will be gone within the hour.
If I had been hurt by Alk however, then I would’ve been left with a scar or my death.
Alk is the only substance that can kill a member of my family.
It’s found like you would delve for iron in the mountains, but this was created in a different way. It can be molten into weapons, but also diluted in water to be able to drink it.
An ancestor of mine angered someone many eras ago. The insult had been so grave, that we were cursed with this one weakness.
Dad tried to have everything found and destroyed. We believed he had succeeded.
He missed pieces, because he would not have died if the dagger that went into his heart had not been made of Alk.
I’m not going to think too much about that now. I need to clear my head to let any unwanted thoughts vanish until I can deal with them.
A piping hot shower tends to help with that.