Edited October 21, 2015. Originally published on July 24, 2014.
I own nothing of the Black Jewels Trilogy or any of the following novels. All rights go to Anne Bishop. Thanks for Reading!
The journey to Hayll was taken in almost complete silence. Recognizing Arina's need for quiet, none of the Hayllians spoke to her, speaking softly to each other instead while Arina curled into a ball against the wall and stared into the middle distance. Janos lay his head on her lap and went to sleep.
Riding the Red wind, it took three hours to reach the Court of Hayll from the Hall. It was two and a half hours before Arina uncurled and sat straight with a deep breath, finally focusing back on the other people in the carriage. Arina smiled wanly. "I'm sorry about that," she offered.
The Steward waved her apology away. "It matters not, child," he said, serene. "Many newcomers to the Court find themselves homesick. It is well for you to get it out of the way already, than to risk falling apart, later, in public." Smiling, he extended his hand to Arina. "I do not know if you know me—I am Markus Grinalli, the Steward of the Court."
Arina's smile turned real. "Shall I assume that you know who I am, Prince Grinalli?" she inquired, taking his hand in response. To her surprise, he twisted her hand and brought it to his lips rather than shaking it, leaving her blushing.
"You are the Lady Arina Julianne Valini, the Dream made Flesh," the Steward agreed. "It is an honor for you to have chosen our Court for your service."
Arina blinked. "Thank you, Steward," she murmured after a pause.
The man smiled lightly back at her, waving away her thanks before moving on. "Now, before we arrive, there are a few things we should settle. First, while I realize that it is of no concern to the Court, but your physical form is now exactly what we had expected. Could you, perhaps, explain this?"
Arina studied the Hayllians silently for a time. "The Dream is hidden behind the flesh," she said simply. They either understood that truth, or they did not.
"Very well," the Steward murmured. "Such an arrangement will no doubt work best for you as well, particularly as I understand that you wish to serve—quietly." The man gave her a searching look.
Arina nodded, the movement sharp and birdlike. "I'd rather not tell people that I'm the next Witch yet," she agreed. "I don't want that to change how anyone sees me or something. I want to be me, make friends the way that Jaenelle did."
"Those who belong to you will understand the truth of who you are without anyone having to tell them," the Steward commented. "It will change nothing, ultimately. Now, for the basics. You will be staying with a Black Widow Healer who is also training with us for the next few years. Your duties will be as follows…"
Arina listened as the man went through the same list that she had gone over with Saetan the day before. It was only to be expected; every Territory Court in Kaeleer functioned by the same basic rules, and the three long-lived Territories even more so. What happened here was not so different from what would happen in Dhemlen's Court, except for the people and the location.
Over the remainder of the journey, they went over the rules of the Court, including vacation times, the details of the small stipend that she would receive, directions to the city only ten minutes away from the Court on foot, and more. Arina nodded and filed all the information away to go over again that evening once she was settled in and able to take notes.
"Where is my roommate from?" Arina asked Irena as the carriage dropped from the Winds and started up the drive to the Court. The girl peered out the window excitedly, eyeing the towering trees lining the path.
"Reyna is from the jungle," was the cryptic reply. The older Queen seemed to think that that statement was all that was necessary to understand. Arina pulled her gaze away from the window long enough to give the adults a curious look.
"Hayll is largely considered to be split between those who live in the Cities, and those who live in the Jungle…and everyone else, as well, but mostly between those two. We do have fields and such, but no one ever seems to remember that," the Consort mused. "I'm not entirely sure I've introduced myself, Lady. I am Prince Harrison Delanio, it is a pleasure to have you among us."
Arina nodded, grateful. It was a bit embarrassing to realize that she had, in fact, forgotten his name, so she was glad that he reminded her of it. "So, the City people and the Jungle people don't like each other, I'm guessing?" she hazarded.
"Not so much, no," Irena admitted with a little laugh. "Those from the Cities think that anyone from the Jungle is wild and crazy, and those from the Jungle think that City people are arrogant, prissy fools.
Arina looked at the Queen, raising her eyebrows in quiet inquiry. "And you? Which one are you?"
The woman laughed. "I'm a City girl, born and bred. My family has lived in our capital city for seven generations. I love my City—I cannot imagine making my home anywhere else. Though I do respect the jungle dwellers, even though I don't understand how they do it," she added.
"And I'm a Jungle girl," Arina mused, glancing back out the window. Her fangs flashed momentarily in a sharp smile before the vanished again. "I like it," she announced. "I'm pretty wild, after all."
"I can easily believe that," Harrison said, a wry smile flickering across his face. "You are from the Hall, after all. You've lived with the SaDiablo's."
Lady Irena raised an eyebrow at the girl in amusement. "I trust that you won't be too wild while in my Court. We aren't quite as used to damage as the Dark Court was, or the Hall is. Nor are we as powerful. But we have enough Jungle children in the Court that if you wanted to start trouble, it would not be very difficult."
Arina smiled demurely. "I'll be on my best behavior," she purred. "I promise." Janos whuffed softly, obviously unconvinced.
"I am unsure if I can believe that," the Steward remarked, "but regardless, we have arrived. Welcome, Lady Arina Julianne Valini, Prince Janos, to the Court of Hayll."
The Hayllian Court was centered on the edge of the jungle that sprawled over the south and east of the Territory. Starfire Manor was another hour south on the Red Wind—on a map, the Manor was clearly closer to the ocean to the east than the non-jungle portion of the Territory. It was on the very edge of inhabited land, smack in the middle of the wilderness.
The Court, on the other hand, was set at the very center of the Territory, situated exactly between the Jungle and the Cities.
Arina stepped out of the carriage after it pulled to a stop in front of the center building and stared up at the structure with wide eyes. Built of a white sandstone, the Court resembled a Mediterranean Villa, all spread out in a vast arc on the edge of the trees. They weren't tall buildings, most only a story high and the tallest ones were only two levels, but they were elegant in a way that the imposing Hall was not. There was some sort of spell web around over every entrance, presumably to keep bug like mosquitoes and flies out.
And then there were the gardens.
A riot of color spread out in every direction, every kind of flower that Arina could think of represented in the masses of petals, as well as dozens that she couldn't name. Dazzling clear streams flowed haphazardly through the blooms, reflecting the sunlight and—somehow—setting ribbons of rainbows to hover over the flowers.
It was the most beautiful, peaceful thing Arina had ever seen.
Irena laughed softly at Arina's stunned face, taking her hand and tugging her through the winding paths, pointing out the plants that Arina didn't know around the grounds. Janos followed behind easily, keeping one eye on the girl and the other on the surroundings. Arina listened dazedly, simultaneously remodeling the Starfire grounds. This was what she wanted her home to look and feel like. (Not that the manor wasn't gorgeous as was, but there weren't many flowers, just the scattered stands of trees and the grass.)
"And here is where you will be staying," Irena chirped, dragging Arina's attention back to her with a jerk. Looking back at the Main building, Arina was surprised to realize just how far away it was. The Court was really spread out. All the buildings were about a minute walk from each other. The main building had to be about a ten minute walk. Arina blinked, then looked back at her residence. They had come to a halt outside one of the outlying buildings, on the very edge of the left arc of the Court. This one was two stories high, with pillars holding an open porch off the second floor. Large windows wrapped around both levels of the building, most of them open with gossamer curtains fluttering in the light breeze.
"It's beautiful," Arina exclaimed.
Irena smiled, obviously pleased. "Well, it isn't the Hall, but it works for us," she demurred.
"I wouldn't call the Hall beautiful," Arina disagreed absently. "Imposing, yes, but not exactly beautiful."
"Well." Irena cleared her throat and moved on, feeling inexplicably pleased that Arina seemed to prefer her Court rather than the powerful SaDiablo Seat. "Your housemate arrived on Monday," she continued. "She should be here now, actually, so I'll leave you to get acquainted with each other.
Arina barely blinked, and the woman was already twenty feet down the path back to the Main building. Irena waved at the girl before dashing off out of sight. Shaking her head in exasperation at the older woman's antics, Arina turned back to the door.
Slipping inside, she found that the door opened directly into a neat little sitting room. Sheer white curtains waved lazily in the breeze drifting through the open windows, sending dappled sunlight onto the pale wood coffee table, and the cream silky fabric on the sofa, loveseat, and armchair. Everything in the room was either white or cream colored; the wooden surfaces were obviously old, worn perfectly smooth by centuries of use, and the fabrics were clearly soft and well-worn as well.
It was a very welcoming, peaceful room, if a bit too white for Arina's tastes.
*I am afraid of moving in here,* Janos told her. He sniffed at the table. *It would break if I hit it.*
White stone and golden beads hung in the doorway at the far end of the room. Brushing through them sent a chiming whisper through the floor—apparently there were small bells woven into the strands as well, scattered among the beads.
A hallway painted burnt orange lay on the other side of the door, with three dark brown (actually real and wooden) doors along the length, two on the left and one on the right side.
The single door opened into a cheerful, yellow walled kitchen and dining room. It was a pretty little space, still welcoming but more excited and active than the front room. Arina could see herself spending time in this room, cooking and relaxing and getting to know her housemate. She had never liked to be idle—and while she had never been comfortable in the kitchen in her parent's house, she had taken advantage of the home economics room at school multiple times. She suspected she would downright enjoy cooking here. Better yet, there was enough open space for Janos to relax in as well.
On the other side of the hall, the first door opened to reveal a small guest bathroom, with cream walls and white marble furnishings to match the front room.
The final door led into a more private sitting room, with light blue walls and oak wood furnishings. Several bookshelves were set into the walls, containing tomes on Hayllian history, politics, culture, cooking, and geography. There were what Arina vaguely recognized as popular novels from the whole Realm, and a section from Hayll specifically, as well as older novels and literature. The room contained two desks, small and elegant along the inner wall, unobtrusive. Huge windows on the two outside walls gave breathtaking views of the jungle. It was somewhat surprising to realize just how close the house was to the trees—some of them were just about brushing against the windows.
In the corner of the room, Arina spied a spiral staircase that wound its way up to the second floor. After one last cursory glance around the room, she started climbing, with Janos air walking after her.
The stairs opened out into another lounge, this time more worn, more used. It was loss formal and poised, but actually lived in. This was where Arina would relax when there wasn't anyone over, or when it was close friends. Here, the room furnishings were very different from every room downstairs, a much darker theme setting a quieter, calmer feel than the bright rooms down below. Dark red walls glowed warmly in the noon sun filtering in through the massive windows, the vast expanse of the jungle stretching out beyond the glass frames. Dark and polished wood desks and bookshelves and tables were set around the room and against the walls. Armchairs and couches were scattered around the other furniture: three chairs circling a table here, two small couches by the bookshelves over there. They were all black leather and deep gold velvet.
Black and gold beads formed a curtain over the door, and more bells sounded as Arina brushed through them. The sound was lower than downstairs—maybe the bells were made of a different material or something. The hallway was painted deep purple, almost blue-black, with the door that she had just exited at the far end of a short hall. Another door was in the hall, this time with an actual wood door. Opening it to stick her head inside, Arina found a soothing blue room obviously set up as a general workroom, but specifically for a Healer. Belatedly, Arina remembered that her housemate was a Healer as well as a Black Widow.
Arina paused, trying to remember her housemate's name. She knew it, she did, they told her—but somehow it got lost up with everything else they told her, and now…she couldn't remember. Wincing, she hoped desperately that the girl would introduce herself when they met. It was easier to remember names when they had a face attached anyway.
When the short hallway dead-ended, it turned into a longer hall that spanned to reach both sides of the house, with the short hall opening into the very center. There were two doors in this hall, one to each side of the short hall. The door on the right was a plain, white painted wood door, but the one on the left had several signs hanging off of it, and it had been painted orange. Arina walked over to take a closer look, slightly disbelieving. WARNING: DO NOT ENTER—LAIR OF JUNGLE GIRL was printed across the largest sign. Another said: DO worry: My bite is worse than my bark.
Arina giggled. The signs reminded her of pop teen culture back on Earth, it was hard to believe that she was still in the Realms. Apparently the two weren't actually that different—there were definite similarities, at least. It certainly made it easier to like her new housemate, and she hadn't even met her yet. She liked it.
Rapid footsteps on the other side of the door indicated that the other girl had sensed Arina's psychic presence despite her not having knocked. The door swung in, and the girl on the other side stared in surprise at Arina, even as Arina stared back at her.
The other girl was about at medium height—five foot five inches—and very pretty. She was slender and downright dainty, with absurdly delicate features. Her black hair fell to just past her shoulders, and the ends were dyed blood red and cut raggedly. Her wide golden eyes were framed in thick mascara and red eye shadow, and they seemed to be larger than normal eyes, though that could just be the make-up.
Ripped black leggings showed under a short, dark red skirt, equally ragged. A black and silver tank-top completed the rather punkish look. Arina blinked slowly.
"Hey," the girl chirped. "I'm Reyna. You must be my housemate—Raleigh said you would be arriving today. I should really stop doubting him," she mumbled to herself.
"I'm Arina," she introduced. "Arina Valini." Janos padded up behind her and leaned against her legs. Reyna's eyes widened almost comically. "This is Prince Janos," Arina added. Her eyes flickered to the signs on the door, uncertain. "We're, uh, not from around here," she added, fumbling for words, unsure of how to say "hey, I'm from a completely different dimension and you are about the last thing that I was expecting" and already regretting saying anything.
Reyna's smile dimmed somewhat. "Which city are you from?" she inquired.
"Ah, well," Arina twisted a strand of hair around her fingers as she tried to figure out what to say. "I don't really think that the Hall counts as a city," she confessed. Reyna raised a single eyebrow in surprise.
"The Hall? The Hall? SaDiablo Hall?" she said incredulously.
Arina shrugged, tugging at her hair. "Jaenelle and her family found me and brought me here—to the Keep, then the Hall. I stayed with them for a while, and I visited Glacia too, but just the Territory Court, nowhere else. Anyway, I'm moving into Starfire Manor, after my apprenticeship. I've already bought it, and everything. So I guess that makes me a jungle girl, too," she finished.
Reyna blinked as she unraveled that statement, then laughed in delight. "Great! I don't live that far away from Starfire, how wonderful is that? I have a feeling we are going to have a lot of fun together!" Spinning around, Reyna grabbed Arina's hand and tugged her into her room. The Queen stumbled slightly over the threshold, almost falling into the space. "Come in, Prince," Reyna called over her shoulder to the Warlord Prince dog.
Light blue walls splashed with bright yellow was the first thing she noticed, followed by the green and orange bedding, a painted white desk, black carpet, and an open closet bursting with clothes in every color imaginable.
"Wow," she managed. "This wasn't at all what I was expecting."
Reyna shot her a sideways glance, smiling wickedly. "What were you expecting?" she purred.
"I have no idea, but not this. After all, your door is painted orange, but you came out dressed so—I don't know. Why is your hair dyed?"
"Because I'm wearing black and red. Tomorrow I'll dye it whatever color I'm wearing. It changes every day, just like my clothes!" Dropping onto her bed, Reyna studied the other girl as the Queen looked around the room, reading the spines of the books. With the metallic streaks in her hair and the strange, gleaming silver eyes, Arina looked like nothing she had ever heard off. And—Jaenelle? She called Witch by name? Plus there was the dog—definitely kindred, and a Warlord Prince to boot, but not one of the Scelties. This breed was bigger, and scarier looking. But she had never heard of any dogs that looked like that. The closest thing would be the kindred wolves, but Janos was not a wolf, even though at first glance he looked like one.
"When you say that you aren't from around here," she started, slow and careful, Arina's earlier words of 'Jaenelle found me' ringing in her head. Arina turned from looking at the bright yellow bookshelf in the corner and eyed her, raising her eyebrow in silent inquiry. "You aren't from Kaeleer, are you?"
The other girl's face closed, turning utterly unreadable. "But you aren't from Terrielle, either." It was a statement, not a fact. If anything, Arina's face went even stiller, as if it was possible. "And you can't be from Hell—the Demon Dead can't walk in sunlight," she waved a hand at the wide window spilling golden light and birdsong. There was still no response from the silver-eyed girl. "So…where are you from, exactly?"
Arina turned back to the books, still utterly unreadable. A long moment of silence crept over the room, until Reyna didn't think that Arina would even respond. Then, "Another dimension, not Realm, called Earth. A world where the Blood do not exist. It can be a very good place, but it wasn't for me. I didn't belong there, not ever. This is where I was meant to be."
There was something in her voice that suggested that the Queen wasn't comfortable with the conversation. Which made sense, if she didn't have good memories of the place, but that wasn't what made Reyna stop asking. A double timber had slipped into her tone at the end of her explanation, and Reyna was stunned into silence, finally getting it. She had been wondering what was so special about this girl that would make Witch seek her out and bring her out of an entirely separate dimension into the stronghold of the Dark Court. But the eerie purr that slipped into her voice and made her words almost echo, somehow containing the scream of a hunting hawk left her with only one conclusion.
Arina was the new Witch.
Hells fire, Mother Night, and may the Darkness be merciful.
Then Arina turned, and the frozen stillness of her features was gone, and the girl smiled cheerfully. "It was great to meet you, but I should probably go unpack. Come on, Janos." She headed for the door without waiting for Reyna to get up from her bed, waving over her shoulder as she all but fled the room.
Reyna stared after her, dazed. It was—incredible. A new Witch, someone who would be able to hold the Shadow Realm together—the answer to all of their prayers and dreams. Well, naturally. But—she didn't want people to know who—what—she was, that much was obvious. It was even obvious why not—she would be treated differently if everyone knew what she was. So she would keep it secret, and that would be a task in and of itself. Other than her silver eyes, she could pass for perfectly normal, if they said that the streaks in her hair were dye.
Reyna smiled to herself as she sorted through her thoughts. She would wait for Arina to put her room together before going and talking to her about the plan, but she would prove that Arina could trust her with this secret.
Even if it meant living with a Warlord Prince. Oh well. Hopefully he would focus on Arina more than he did her.
Four hours later, Reyna left her room and went down the hall to Arina's room, raised her hand to knock, and hesitated. She had to get this part right—needed to convince Arina that she didn't care that the other girl was Witch, and instead just treat her like any other girl.
So, that noted and remembered, Reyna started pounding on the door. "Arina," she sing-songed. "We need to head over to the main building for dinner! You have to meet everybody! Arina…"
The Queen jerked open her door and stared at Reyna like she was seven kinds of crazy. "What are you doing?" she blurted out.
Reyna blinked innocently at her. "Coming to get you for dinner, of course," she chirped. Taking advantage of the open door, she slipped past the Queen and tripped easily into the room. "Oh, wow," she breathed. "Pretty."
In the course of only a few hours, the room had gone from default white with placeholder furniture to a deep, velvety purple. The ceiling had been painted black and had strange star constellations painted on it and the remnants of the Tangled Web that put them there. The furniture had been replaced by heavy ebony wood with cast iron decorations curling around the legs of the desk and chair and bed. The light spilling through the huge windows gave everything a rich glow, glittering off the sequined spirals on the comforter on the bed and throwing rainbow reflections on the ceiling.
A large pillow type thing was laying under one of the windows, and the way that Janos was sprawled over it indicated that it was his bed. The bookshelf was twice the size of Reyna's, and absolutely stuffed with books that she had never even heard of before. Black and gold rugs lay over the cream carpet, completing the look.
"I love it," Reyna told Arina spinning around to get another look. "Very chic, if a bit dark. Anyway, we should head out now if we want to get to the main building before dinner starts. I want to introduce you around," she added, darting back out the door and down the hall toward the stairs. "Come on!"
Arina followed just a bit behind, her longer legs making up for the distance between them, somewhat bemused at the other girl's bright attitude. Janos ranged in front of them stalking through the flowers with little growls echoing back to the girls. The pair left the little villa and headed down the flower paths, moving only vaguely in the direction of the largest of the villas.
"What is he doing?" Reyna asked, puzzled.
"Playing," Arina told her. "He may be a Warlord Prince, but he's only a puppy, really. Just a year old."
They were quiet for a bit, watching the dog with varying levels of amusement.
"It is very beautiful here," Arina said at last, tipping her head up to the sun. "Not that the other Territories aren't beautiful in their own ways, but Glacia is very cold, and Dhemlan just doesn't feel right. And the forest there is boring," she muttered, glancing over at the towering trees covered vines. She had long since shed her light jacket, but kept it over her arm just in case. Similarly, Reyna had a jacket thrown over her shoulder—"for later, when the bugs really come out, the jackets have Webs in the weave to discourage them, I can show you how tomorrow"—and was currently agreeing with the Queen.
"Yes," she said. "Hayll is known to be one of the most beautiful places in all of Kaeleer, and certainly of the non-kindred Territories." There was a distinct note of satisfaction in her voice as she said this. "Even the City people agree that our jungle is the pride of the Territory." Arina slanted a look at the other girl, amused at that, but then they had arrived at the building—"We call it the Principia"—and were stepping up onto the porch, where there were another ten or so teens gathered, and Arina came to an uncertain halt. Reyna seemed to feel no such need to pause, and bounded straight into their midst.
"Hey! Reyna, there you are. Tell Jace that I'm right, Reyna."
"Of course you're right, Mira. You're always right. Unless I'm right, because then you're wrong. What are you right about?"
"I told him that there was no way that Jaenelle Angelline had actually sent her daughter to apprentice here, and I didn't care what he heard or from whom."
"Ah," Reyna said. "Well, actually, I have information on that for you all. Everyone," Reyna whirled in a circle and grabbed the attention of everyone on the porch. Reyna beaconed Arina to come forward, and she stepped forward, nervous. She felt stupid for being so worried, especially after she had survived the Hall and everyone inside it, but…these were the people that she had chosen to live among. This was where she was going to live for the rest of her life, and these were the people that she was going to have to work with. She really wanted to make a good impression.
"This is Lady Arina Julianne Valini. She hails originally from the Hall, but she has chosen to make Starfire Manor her home. She is not Lady Angelline's daughter, but she is, I understand, very close to the SaDiablo family. So, she might as well be Lady Angelline's daughter." The teens all stared at Arina avidly. She flushed slightly.
"Hello," she managed.
"So it is true, then, that Witch has chosen an Heir?" It was a sharp eyed Priestess who said that, eying the metallic strands in Arina's hair with great interest. "Because that's what everyone is saying, but the Hall is being very closed mouthed about it. Not surprising, of course, since it is the Hall, but word does spread. I'm Jasmine, by the way."
Arina blinked at the rapid stream of words. "Well, I don't know what you mean by Heir, but the SaDiablo family took me in, and I don't want to say anything that I'm not sure of. Wouldn't that be Rose, though?"
"You'd think," Jasmine murmured, still staring at Arina.
"Rumor has it that Rose SaDiablo has no intention of taking control of Ebon Avaski, even if she does descend to the Black. Which means that while she would still be Jaenelle Angelline's Heir, she would not be Witch's Heir." Arina turned to look at this new person, curious. It was a Prince, with waist length hair held back in a loose plait. Curiously, there was a seven-pointed star tattooed beside his right eye. He grinned at her and bowed easily. "I am Quinn, Lady Arina. It's a pleasure to have you here."
"Ignore him," Reyna told Arina brightly. "He's a helpless flirt, but he's just a bookworm, despite his appearance."
"What's that supposed to mean, Rey?"
"It means that you look yummy, but you're boring."
Arina looked between the two curiously. "You know each other?" she asked.
"We're from rival villages," Reyna said breezily. "So we have a civic duty to snipe at each other whenever we meet."
"Is that what they call it?" Another Queen drawled. She waved at Arina. "I'm Mirabelle, from Eriborne. Call me Mira." She motioned to the tall—very tall, even by Arina's standards—boy standing next to her. "This moron is Jace, by the way. He's also from Eriborne." The boy, a Warlord, rolled his eyes.
"Eriborne is one of the cities, but we tolerate them anyway," Reyna said cheerfully. Arina just looked at her. Reyna stuck out her tongue, then turned to the side as someone called her name. There were another two boys coming up the steps and veering in their direction. Arina blinked and scanned around, looking around at the other small clusters on the large porch. It seemed like everyone separated into distinct groups, although it appeared like all the groups got along with each other. Then she turned back to her own group as Reyna introduced the boys to her.
"Arina, this is my brother, Raleigh, and also Hunter, his friend." It was kind of hard to believe that Raleigh and Reyna were related, considering that he was literally a foot taller than her. But then his head turned and Arina saw streaks of red dye in his long hair, and suddenly the resemblance was stronger. Hunter, on the other hand, wore his hair every bit as short as Lucivar and Daemonar did, which seemed to be unusual here in Hayll, where all the other males she had seen had hair at least past their ears, but usually past the shoulders.
"A pleasure, Lady," Hunter told her, taking her hand and bending over it. Arina's eyebrows shot up. After brushing his lips against her knuckles, he straightened back up with a little smirk. "A true honor. Welcome to Hayll."
Raleigh groaned softly and passed his hand over his eyes. "Hunter, no. Stop."
"What? Jealous, Ral?"
"I was more referring to the fact that you are both pathetic and transparent. What, did you copy that move directly from a cheap romance novel?"
Hunter started laughing. "My dad does it to my mom, you ass. I was trying to be welcoming."
Arina smiled at him. "Thank you, I do appreciate that. However, if you were hoping for anything more than just a welcome, then I have to tell you that I'm seeing someone right now. I don't think you'd like to tangle with him." Because she could already see the look on Lucien's face when he found out that someone was—maybe possibly slightly—interested in her.
Hunter brushed a finger over his Sapphire. "I'm sure I could take him." The others in the group, knowing exactly where Arina was from, rolled their eyes.
Arina looked at his Jewel, then back at him. "Darling, I don't think that the Sapphire can take the Black."
"Lucien SaDiablo. You are…he is…wow." Mira had already said this three times in the past thirty minutes, but seemed just as stuck on this as she had been the first time she said it. Arina sighed, finally giving in.
"What do you mean by that, exactly?" she demanded.
Mira made some odd gestures. "Well, he's the son of Daemon Sadi and the Heart of Kaeleer, you know? He wears the Black. I guess everyone just thought that he was going to have to wait a long time to find his Lady, like his father did. He always seemed so unapproachable, with his siblings, and all the other children of the Dark Court around him. It's kind of amazingly unbelievable."
"Oh," Arina said. She considered that for a moment, then shrugged. "Well, I guess they are a little intimidating when you first meet them. They're actually pretty easy going though, to be honest."
"Easy going," Hunter repeated, incredulous.
"They can get kind of touchy about certain things, I admit."
"You are just as unbelievable as they are, though, so your opinion doesn't count," Reyna said, spearing a piece of shrimp and pointing the loaded fork at Arina before sticking it in her mouth. "I mean, not only is your Birthright the Red, but you call Lady Angelline by her first name. There are probably good reasons that you get along so well with the Dark Court."
Arina eyed her housemate suspiciously, but the other Hayllians were nodding.
"Anyway, enough about the Dark Court for a while," Raleigh said, measuring Arina's increasingly uncomfortable expression. "Starfire Manor, huh? Wow, we thought no one would ever live there again. The matriarch was pretty picky about selling it."
Arina's expression lit up. "Yes, I know. But when I went to visit…" Arina shrugged, smiling softly at the memory. "It was like coming home." "I've been waiting for centuries, my dear." For Sale to Someone Deserving. Home.
"Arina, I think I mentioned earlier that I—Raleigh and I—live pretty close to Starfire. Only about an hour, going on foot and not the Winds."
"It is in the jungle," Hunter muttered. "It's impossible to get anywhere quickly, in there."
Arina cocked her head to the side slightly, then smirked at him. "So you're a City boy, then," she mused.
"Mael," he replied, seemingly in agreement. Arina made a note to take another look at the maps of the Territory as soon as possible. "I don't even know why I'm friends with these losers," he added, teasing.
"Likewise," Raleigh mocked back. "Yeah, it's close. On the Opal Wind, it's only about twenty minutes. Ten miles, about."
Arina nodded thoughtfully. "Are you going to be my closest neighbors?" she asked.
Reyna inclined her head lazily. "Yes. The villages in the jungle are pretty scattered, due to necessity. We all like our space," she added, smirking. "Anyway, our village is called Senka, and it's built in the treetops." Arina gave her a disbelieving look, and she laughed in delight. "No, really, it is. We got the idea from the Dea al Mon, generations ago. So, way before they closed their borders, one of our ancestors visited them and thought—hey, they live in the trees. Why can't we? And we did, because we are totally awesome like that. So, we have a treetop village, with rope bridges between the buildings and everything. Now all we have to worry about are the jaguars."
Arina felt her heart skip a beat. Yes, she was very interested in seeing this village (and she would no doubt be visiting Farostel at his home soon, and would be able to compare) but it was the mention of the big cats that was important to her right now. "Jaguars?" she echoed, leaning forward the slightest bit. "They live in the jungle nearby, then?"
"Yeah, all over the place. They hunt from the treetops, though, so while most things can't get to us in the village, there's still the chance that the cats will run into us," Raleigh explained.
The girl nodded slowly. She dearly wanted to ask if they were kindred, but knew that even if they were, they wouldn't have revealed themselves to the Hayllians. For now, she let the subject drop, instead looking out the window. The sun had set hours ago, not long after they had finished dinner. After that, the Steward had gotten up and reiterated the rules for the group, as it appeared that this was the last day that the 'trainees' were to arrive. Everyone who was going to be serving in the Court for the next year had gotten here, and so the Court got down to business. The First Circle was introduced, and the teens were split up into groups and assigned a circle member to shadow for the first couple of weeks. After that, duties would be assigned and staggered between the groups, everyone getting the chance to work with each member of the circle. Each group had five people in it—Quinn, Janos, and Arina were in the same group (of course Janos was with her), but none of the others were sharing a group. After all the introductions and instructions, though, the Court cleared out and allowed the teens to mingle and introduce themselves.
There were about fifty-six teens that Arina had not already been introduced to, bringing the total up to sixty-four trainees, plus Janos. It was kind of terrifying, trying to remember everyone, but after having all the names swirl around in her head without connecting to faces yet, she gave up. Judging by the somewhat blanks smiles people were giving each other, most everyone was doing the exact same thing.
After that disaster, everyone separated back into the groups that already knew each other, taking comfort in familiar faces. It was approaching 11:30, though, and Arina was planning to wake up early and fly at dawn tomorrow, since she hadn't been able to today, so she needed to go to sleep. Janos was sprawled asleep at her feet already, still a puppy who needed the sleep.
"Well, I'm planning to head to Starfire on our first day off, in two weeks, right? Anyway, tell me where it is and I can swing by. Right now, though, I need to go and get some sleep. I'm an early riser, and I usually try to get to bed before this. Goodnight!" Arina yawned in the middle of her farewell, and she blushed a little as she rose to her feet, gently nudging Janos awake. The others groaned, but everyone was ready to split up anyway, so as Arina headed for the door she was hearing various calls of 'goodnight' from all over the room. Reyna caught up with her just before she actually left the Principia, and the three walked in easy silence back to the house. The white noise from the jungle was possibly the most soothing thing Arina had ever heard, and she kept yawning as they made their way through the flower paths.
Saying goodnight again, the girls split when they reached the end of the hall in their house, separating into their own rooms. Arina changed for bed within two minutes, and came out of her bathroom to find Janos already conked out on the bed. Arina smiled faintly, crawling into bed after him and tugging the comforter over her and called in a lap desk before taking a piece of paper and a pen.
Dear Lucien, she began. Well, I'm here in Hayll, and it really is the most beautiful place I've ever seen…
She told Lucien about her housemate, and the gardens, and the other teens that she had meet, and what she was going to be doing tomorrow. She finished the letter with a simple Love, Arina, and smiled a little triumphantly. There. She would write something to Lucien every single day, Farostel every other day, and the others at least once a week. For now though…sleep.
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