the first chapter is alwasy the hardest for me and it would be amazing if you readers would critique it! thank you and more thank yous! i know its a rough start but it's a work in progress. Sister of Fire Chapter One Night cloaked the city in darkness. Both of Indira's twin moons withheld their light from the world, giving city's dark creatures free rein in the cover of darkness. In an alley, a cloaked figure blended with the shadows. His tall figure leaned against a clay wall. No passersby could see the beast and that was part of his magic. Invisible but always there. Eyes, green cat eyes, peered out from underneath the hood. As if sensing someone or something, the creature hissed, "Come out!" Laughter, dark and throaty, filled his ears. Slowly, materializing from thin air, a woman appeared. She moved out of the darkness. Her body glowed softly with a pale aura. White hair whipped about, as though tossed by an invisible wind. "Do you have it?" the lady asked. Her lyrical voice rose up and down in perfect pitch. Never too loud, never too soft. The tall creature fumbled around. He never like working with these…things. They made him nervous. His hands searched through his cloak and ruffled through pockets. Finally he found what the woman was looking for. The beast drew it slowly out of his cloak. The woman grew excited. Energy flowed through her like a wave. Eyes brighter than the sea widened and she smiled in wicked delight. In the creature's hands lay a dark orb made of glass. Easily enough, the glass object fit into the creature's gloved hand. Darkness shrouded the globe. Yet the woman caught glimpses of red and black swirls clashing. A storm of magic. Fully excited now, the woman lightly danced upon her lithe feet. Eager to touch it, she reached a small hand forward, her eyes shining brighter than ever. Just one touch and she’d hold power on the tips of her fingers. The creature jerked it back, hissing at the woman, “Do you remember your orders?” She drew back, indignant, and spat back at her cloaked companion, “I do. Hand it over.” Grudgingly he held the orb out to her. She snatched his wrist. He tried to pull back, pain flooded his senses. The woman's touch caused pain to sear through his arm and up his shoulder. Black dots blotted out his vision. He fell to his knees. Disgusted, she threw his arm to the side. She picked the orb up and started walking away. Standing up, he slumped against the wall. He rasped, "You are bound to them always. Don’t forget that, not for one minute. Failure will have painful consequences.” She walked backwards, her luminous eyes holding his. With a wave, she turned and sprinted off into the shadows. No sound followed her. –— Scholar Joslyn Simar carried in a box of books that stacked higher than her head. She couldn’t see where she was going and stepped blindly. She stubbed her toe yet again on the corner of a book. Pain shot through her foot. Wincing, Joslyn dropped the books on her desk. Next to another small stack of books. She leaned against her desk and wiped the small drops of sweat off her face. She’d been bringing in books from the palace library all day. Stacks of books covered the floor. The arched window let in light, illuminating her private study. Tall bookshelves gleamed with fresh polish, books filling their shelves. An oriental rug covered the floors, a dragon staring at her with black eyes. “Will that be all, miss?” a servant asked, interrupting her thoughts. She smiled brightly at the manservant. “Yes, that will be all.” She waved her hand. “Just set those books here.” “Yes, Scholar Simar.” He carefully set down the books. He bowed low before leaving the room. Sighing, Joslyn peeked at one of the books. A foreign language, all done in swirling letters and curves, greeted her. The translation needed to be done and soon. Her patron had urgently requested the arduous task of tracing the descendants of the first lords. She never asked the reason, only did her work. A warm nose prodded her hand. She smiled when she saw her dog, Brigan, gazing up at her. The big dog stood up and placed his paws on her shoulder. “Hello, boy.” She patted him on the head and he licked her chin. Scrunching up her face, she gently pushed his paws off her. “Down boy.” He wagged his tail, thumping it against the rug. “No, I can’t play.” She pointed to his corner. “Sit and we’ll play later.” The dog slinked away. He settled down, with his head resting on his paws. There was no use putting it off. Feeling like her work as a scholar was never done, she took up her quill. She read a bit of the piece before scribbling down the translation. A knock sounded. Frustrated that she was being interrupted, Joslyn barely acknowledged the woman standing at her door. “Come in,” she said. She closed the ancient tome, making sure to mark her spot, and looked up. There in the doorway stood a young woman. She dressed in a fashionable outfit, from her powdered wig to the corseted waist. Her tan skin, a contrast to Joslyn’s own, flushed slightly. Dark curly hair was done up in a bun with gold pins locking the curls in place. A large bonnet graced her head, blocking the harsh rays of the sun. Joslyn felt like she should recognize the woman but nothing came to mind. She couldn’t shake the familiarity of the woman as the woman approached. She was young, no line creased her face and her hair was still rich and dark. No grey hairs tainted that pure color. Maybe she had been a student with Joslyn. She was close to Joslyn in age, by her looks. Or she was just a stranger seeking out a scholar, like so many did in Amati. Still, there was something familiar. Rising from her seat, Joslyn introduced herself. “I am Scholar Joslyn Simar.” She curtsied and the woman returned the gesture. She laughed, the high pitch grating on her nerves. “Oh, I figured you wouldn’t remember me. Scholar Elexis Calandra.” Recognition hit Joslyn. Elexis served as advisor to Councilor Yin Liang. The tiny oriental man always led some of the most heated discussions in the Blood Court. His name was nearly famous in their circles. Unconsciously, she looked for her scholar’s disc. It hung round her neck, the little plate of steel marking them as scholars for the world to see. “How can I help you, Miss Calandra?” Joslyn asked politely, knowing her duty. She rounded her desk and signaled to Elexis to sit in one of her plush chairs. Gracefully, both ladies sat down. Elexis slowly appraised the room. Her brown eyes taking in all the rich details that Joslyn had added. Joslyn noted, with some no small amount of satisfaction, the jealousy in her eyes. She figured Elexis shared one of the many private rooms in the library put aside for scholars. Luckily, Joslyn never had to share her domain. Due in part to her family’s money and her sister’s power, she was able to keep her privacy. “What are you working on?” she asked, catching sight of her work. Elexis leaned forward ever so slightly, trying to catch a glimpse. “I’m translating a few pieces for my patron,” Joslyn replied, wishing impatiently that Elexis would reveal the motive behind her visit. “Oh, yes, I forget you now advise Councilor Lerosk. How is the Councilor these days?” She flashed a white smile at Joslyn, false cheer masking her jealousy. “Some days are easier than others. It does get hectic when the Councilor assigns me translations. But anything is better than Indiran law.” Both women laughed, not because what she had said was witty or funny, but it was part of the game. The banter, the niceties…all would be played out. “As you know, Miss Joslyn,” Elexis spoke slowly, “I work constantly to serve Councilor Liang. Day in and out, I’m bringing him papers or advising him on this or that matter.” It was coming. The reason for this unusual visit. Elexis shifted uncomfortably when Joslyn said nothing. Clearing her throat, she continued, “Today my patron is attending the Blood Court. Normally I attend with my Councilor, a constant by his side.” She sighed, a deep sigh as if the whole world rested on her shoulders. Silence ensued. Joslyn could tell Elexis was waiting for her to jump in and offer to attend the meeting in her place. Joslyn wanted to hear her say it. “Well, I know how busy you are, but your reputation does tend to precede you. So, I was wondering if you would like to take my chair and act as advisor to Councilor Liang.” She nearly laughed. Elexis meant she couldn’t find another scholar she knew, so she was desperately trying to get Joslyn to take her place. Expectancy hung in the air. She pretended to be deep in thought, like she was actually considering the idea. She gazed out her open window, drawn to the bright blue sky. If she listened hard enough, she could almost hear the crash of the waves down at the shipyard. It was easy to imagine ships, the giants of the seas, filling the ports. Pictures of sailors hoisting the anchors and singing swarthy songs filled her mind. Finally Joslyn answered, “I’m sorry, Miss Calandra, but Councilor Lerosk is also attending the Blood Court today and my priorities lie with him.” Elexis stiffened. “Well, thank you for your time, Miss Joslyn.” They rose and curtsied. With satisfaction lighting up her eyes, Joslyn watched Elexis swish out of the room. She returned to her desk and started her work again. “Miss Joslyn?” Gritting her teeth, Joslyn snapped, “What?” “You have a letter.” The maid slowly approached, afraid that she shared the famous temper that her older sister had. Joslyn snatched the letter. She broke the seal and quickly scanned it. All color drained from her face as she continued reading. Trembling, she dropped the letter. Clutching her skirts, she rushed from the room. Tears streaked down her pale face. –— On the other side of the palace, the Elemental Court held its own meeting. The large amphitheater was empty except for a small group of men and women. By the colors of their robes, dark blue, pale green, earthy brown, all houses were present. Except for water. “I want them gone!” Lord Damien growled. The fearful man bristled violently. His house, the House of Fire, was weak. The continuous cycle of rulers from the House of Water drained his house of their once all mighty power. Lord Damien dreamt of the day when his house would be restored to a position of power, when they could claim the Elemental Throne for themselves and rule once again. “Calm yourself!” A small, muscular woman dressed in furs snapped. Her pale coloring indicated she came from the frozen north, the land of barbarians. Her party, a small band of vicious fighters, kept their eyes open for any spy. No doubt any one of their weapons could end an intruder. “We all want the same thing,” she said furiously, her pale cheeks flushing. The House of Earth spoke up next. Their speaker was a young hunter. Feathers decorated his leathers and a bow was slung over his shoulder. Straight black hair was braided back. He didn’t wear the powdered wigs that were popular in Amati. “Lord Damien has a right, Lady Ciria. His house has suffered the most under their constant reign.” “Thank you, Lord Lakosha.” Lord Damien acknowledged the new lord. Lakosha didn’t return the acknowledgement. Maiyun Lakosha didn’t need Damien as much as Damien needed Lakosha. The young earth lord knew this, and so made the barest of promises. The game was to keep his house protected, even while he treaded the dangerous waters of conspiracy. Lady Cria smoothed her fur coat, the spotted fur of the lynx. “I just feel that we need to move carefully. If they,” By they she meant the water lords and ladies. “find out…” Lakosha interrupted. “What can they do with three days left before the houses change? They know that the other houses will reject anything they put forward. The Elemental Court is at a standstill until a new ruler is chosen.” “Not unless they move in secret,” a dark, velvety voice said. The lean warrior blinked in surprise. Behind Lord Damien, a dark figure moved. A flint struck and bright sparks blinded the others. A small candle lit and the orange flames lit the pale features of Elisabetha Simar. She rose up and stood behind Lord Damien. Her face seemed cut of marble, its pale contours shaping a stunningly beautiful face. Red hair was pinned back, a mass of bright fiery curls. Dark green eyes stared calmly at the other lords and ladies. The black dress she wore set off her shoulders, revealing their bright paleness. It formed tightly to her waist, fitting like a glove. She rested her hand on Damien’s shoulder. The fire Lord covered it with his own tan one. A light squeeze passed between the two before she discreetly withdrew her hand. “The House of Water cannot move against any house openly. Not with the changing coming so soon. That doesn’t stop them from moving about in secret.” Lakosha and his group watched Elisabetha closely. The earth lord tried to focus on what she was saying but his eye wandered over her form. Elisabetha caught Lakosha’s gaze and gave him an inviting smile, her red lips parting seductively. She might not be able to stray from Damien’s bed at the moment, but that didn’t stop Elisabetha from playing, especially if it was to her advantage. Lady Cria, being the only other female present, wasn’t swayed by the woman’s looks. She remained focused. “Do you mean to say that we are in danger?” Elisabetha faced the northerner. It annoyed her that she couldn’t steamroll this group that she had seduced and bribed her way into. “I am not suggesting any physical danger but if the water lords and ladies are smart, which they are, they are preparing for any situation. I know for a fact that have spent weeks grooming their most powerful, graceful, intelligent members of their house.” Elisabetha paused, locking stares with Lady Cria. “It’s also easy to presume that they are preparing for a downfall. Even if the House of Water loses the throne, they will still be entrenched in heavy parts of court and society. They may not be able to do anything forward against us, but do not think that will stop them from attacking in secret.” Ciria mulled over her words. “I disagree.” “As do I,” Lord Lakosha managed to break his gaze away from Elisabetha. “It’s never been in their nature to strike out. If anything, they’ve always been the last house to rouse to anger or to fight. I’m with the original plan. Get the young royals here, every heir we can find.” Ciria nodded in agreement. “Damien, if you want to rebuild your house, I suggest you do the same. Of all the houses, yours is the weakest. You stand to lose the most if the crown passes onto House of Earth or Air,” Lady Ciria advised, looking around Elisabetha. She rose up, finished with this meeting. The front of the skirt revealed white legs and a dagger strapped to her calf. Her stocky guards circled her, stepping into an easy formation. Elisabetha silently called herself a fool. Her chance at manipulating this group of lords and ladies was gone. Ciria had recognized her for what she was; a scheming woman with plans for power. With more power and influence in the Elemental Court, Lady Ciria would stop any motion by Lord Damien if she felt the smallest hint was influenced by herself. Turning her gaze towards Lakosha, she felt confident that, with time, he’d be under her spell. Much like Damien was now. The earth lord was young and new to his position, most likely unsure about how to move forward. She’d be able to…help him in his duties. Lakosha slung his bow around his shoulder. He grasped a large spear, intricate designs carved into the body, and motioned for his followers to come. Other westerners, dressed in similar leathers, stalked after Lakosha. That left her and Damien alone. Throwing herself on his lap, she gave him a brief kiss. “That didn’t go as planned,” she stated. “They still won’t give their full support. They give me empty promises, and all we can do now is hope that the elementals want a Castellon to receive the crown next.” Damien played with a loose curl, wrapping it around one of his beefy fingers. “They still vie for the throne themselves. They are bringing the best of their house, hoping for that ever elusive throne,” she commented, “when they don’t even realize that, by guaranteeing our house is picked, they stay in power.” Elisabetha referred to the triduum, the three seat head of the Elemental Court, shared by the ruler and two other lords. The House of Fire was especially eager to usurp the House of Water from the triduum, effectively removing them from power. “Have all the Castellon descendants arrived?” Damien asked. His hand stroked her waist. “Yes, my lord. They are all here and settled comfortably.” “Soon, Elisabetha,” he promised, “soon we’ll be in charge."