Alrighty. This is another Sea of Dreams related project that has been left on the back burner and I forgot existed. It was planned to be a multi-chapter viginette on the dynamic and relationship between Lark and Schala in a way the main project wouldn't be able to do.
Little to no action sequences, just straight drama, romance, humor, and fluff. Since it was somewhat inspired by On the Road to Bliss, I was going to find a way to stick a cleaned-up (narrative-wise, anyway) version as its own chapter.
Edit: First chapter complete. Finally.
Chapter 1: In the Beginning...
"Do you have any idea what you've done, young lady?"
The young lady in question shrank back at the accusation, unwilling to look her admonisher in the eye. It was hard to do so when one's accuser was Queen Samele of Zeal. Even more so when the woman was one's own mother.
"I'm not apologizing."
The queen's eye began twitching at the blatant flippancy of her daughter's actions. "Not apologizing for what? For tossing the young Lord of House Dairen into the royal fountains?" Feeling a headache forming, Samele rubbed her temples, fighting hard not to raise her voice. "Schala, you are a princess of the Royal House of Zeal. You are expected to act with conduct appropriate to your station."
Schala could only huff in annoyance. "For your information Mother, it was the Lord Dairen who engaged in inappropriate conduct first. In no way did I give him leave to lay his hands upon me." Though she muttered as an aside, "Potential betrothed or no."
Before the queen could retort, a third voice broke the stalemate between mother and daughter. "Schala has a point, Samele. Being the second family in line for the throne is no excuse for his actions. Besides all that, she's still only fifteen. Give her time to properly come of age before taking stock in these arrangements."
The queen merely gave an annoyed glance to the man she called her husband. "Why am I not surprised that you condone this behavior, Alphard?" Looking from the king of Zeal back to Schala, she stood from her desk. "Regardless, your reaction was unacceptable. You know full well that there are more subtle ways to deal with such complications. As such, you are to come with me tomorrow to the Dairen estate. Zurvan forbid we can salvage this situation..."
Clearly, Schala wanted nothing to do with such an obvious farce. If her mother were as honest as she used to be when she was younger, there was no doubt she would agree. Unfortunately, politics seemed to come first nowadays, and she knew the queen would make it a royal decree if she had to. "As you wish, Mother..."
Before she left the study, Samele leveled a glare at her husband. "Before I forget, you and I need to have a long chat about how our children should behave."
Letting out a long-suffering sigh that wasn't half as fake as he intended, Alphard shrugged his shoulders. "I suppose we'll go for the usual? Argue over our parenting styles and Janus' introversion until the topic degenerates back into politics, finishing off with you cursing me into the jaws of Angra Mainyu?" If Alphard noticed Samele's glare deepen, he didn't show it.
"So help me, I wish it were that simple..."
Schala, seemingly forgotten during the last exchange, let out a breath she hadn't realized she was holding as her mother stormed out of the study. Hesitantly, she gave a glance at her father who had the decency to sheepishly rub the back of his head.
"Sorry for that. How many times have I needed to apologize for your mother lately?"
"I lost count at twenty-three, Father."
"Figures. I suppose it's all just her filial piety talking, really. That's what I get for marrying into the Magi..."
While a literal paradise on the surface, the Kingdom of Zeal was host to two very different trains of thought. The first being the Magi. The Magi were of the thought that magic and power were the cornerstones of their society. It had been through them that the Dreamscape, a realm composed of the collective unconsciousness of humanity, had been discovered, leading to the research of dreams and the abstract such as Time. However, the Magi were often very exclusionist and conservative, sometimes to extremes, having tried for years to force the kingdom to adopt a caste system. If one had no power, be it military, political, or magical, then one was worth less than nothing to them.
It was in these beliefs that Samele Creojeanne had been raised before marrying Alphard.
On the other side of the fence were the Progressives, of which Alphard had grown up among. The Progressives, true to their name, had brought many advancements to Zealian culture, be it technology or the arts. One only needed to see the majestic Blackbird as their greatest triumph to date. Like the Magi however, many Progressives were willing to go to their own extremes: Progress, no matter the price. They feared stagnation above all else, believed that those who contributed nothing to their vision of society were less than garbage, and that to be forgotten was a fate worse than death.
The ironic thing however, was that neither side would have gone as far as it had without the other. Yet many on both would be more than willing to tear each other down if it meant they would remain on top. Such was the folly of human nature.
As such, while both of them were as compromising and moderate as their beliefs would allow, Alphard and Samele's union was laced by the inherent prejudice from both sides. There were enemies all around the royal family, and Alphard knew that Samele would be damned to Angra Mainyu if she didn't make sure Schala had every opportunity possible to nip these potential problems in the bud. What Alphard didn't always agree with was the rather authoritative way she went about it.
For as long as he had known her, Samele was the type of person to bear the heaviest burdens. As such, Alphard always feared that the pressure would eventually break her.
Schala's voice brought Alphard out of his musings. "Forgive me, Schala. There are too many things on my mind these days." Heading out of the study, he motioned for her to follow. "Walk with me."
As the two left the study, servants bowed as they passed, while security forces snapped to attention to salute the king and princess of Zeal.
"Were my actions truly so out out of line, Father?" Schala found herself asking. "One would think that many of the noble houses could afford to be humbled."
"Normally, I would agree," Alphard replied with a slight chuckle, "However, every action holds consequences, and despite appearances to the contrary, we have few actual friends in power, save for the Gurus." At Schala's confused glance, he clarified, "Your mother and I ended up stepping on quite a few toes when we came to power. We've ended up having to make so many deals and concessions to keep the nobility pacified, it's a wonder we're still able to get anything done. Then there's the fact that the Sun Stone threatens to burn out on us. The times are becoming uncertain..."
Schala lowered her head in thought as she digested her father's words. She had heard the rumors of the Sun Stone, but this was the first she had heard of the politics. Was the Royal Court really that dangerous?
"Your mother, bless her heart, truly has been working day and night to keep the kingdom from panicking," Alphard continued, "but the problem lies in the fact that even though I'm there to help her, she stubbornly insists on doing everything herself. Hells, she's always had that problem, even when we first met..." The King then turned to his daughter, a serious expression on his face. "That's why I want you to promise that you'll help me look after her."
This was the first time in her life that Schala had seen her father look so solemn. He must truly be worried if he was willing to tell her this. "Janus too?"
"Janus is still a little to young for such a responsibility. Until he gets older, it will have to be up to us."
"Okay. I promise, Father," Schala agreed with a nod, although a pout formed as another thought came to her, "but if I have to get engaged early, I want to be able to choose my fiancÚ. I don't want to have to go through another Dairen."
That brought a hearty laugh out of her father, something that had been in short supply in her family for months.
The desert sands reached out as far as the eye could see over the walls of the city of Medina, the unfortunate consequence of attempting to use ancient technology found beneath the northern ruins without trying to understand it just a century prior. He had heard the stories of how green the continent had once been, and seeing all of the man-made oasis set up over the years, he could almost imagine it.
Still, there was a long way to go. The desert would probably not become verdant again for many years, and certainly not in his lifetime. Then there was the issue of them. The war advisors did not know how Porre had managed to set up a base camp so close, but as long as Medina's walls held, the Mystics would repel them again and again.
But for now, such esoteric thoughts were the farthest from the mind of Cain Cray, Medina's prince, son of the 5th Fiendlord. No, his current thoughts were a bit more practical, particularly concerning his very pretty companion.
"...and that's when he found the scorpion in his pack. You should've seen him, jumping around like a madman!"
Long, silky black hair swaying in the breeze, the girl attempted to stifle a giggle at the prince's anecdote of his first journey ever taken to the northern ruins. "Was the Lord Chancellor able to regain his dignity after that?"
Cain could only sheepishly rub the back of his head. "For a... given value of dignity. His legs were swollen for a week afterwards." That had brought another laugh out of her, and if there was anything Cain found most appealing about the opposite sex, it was a genuine smile.
It was difficult to believe that merely two years ago, Ana would come into his life in such a way. For so long, he had been at the mercy of an arranged partnership with a girl he had known practically his entire life. It wasn't that he didn't like the Sage of Marbule's daughter. Hells, she was practically his little sister in all but blood...
...and therein was the problem, compounded by the fact that she clearly didn't see him as a sibling like he did her.
As he debated what he should do or out to get out of said arrangement, one of his father's scouting parties had found Ana, unconscious and alone in the sands. A refugee of Porre's recent expansion attempt, she had been given asylum within Medina's walls, to the grumbling of some of the more hard-lined Mystics.
Ana had taken a shine to Cain immediately, and although he was hesitant to accept this stranger into his heart at first, in the face of her energy and enthusiasm despite the tragedies that had befallen her, he soon found his heart soaring whenever she was nearby. From there, infatuation blossomed into something more, and in two short years, he had found the girl he wanted to spend the rest of his life with.
Political consequences be damned.
Speaking of political consequences...
"Your timing is impeccable as always, Master Tamlen," Cain remarked with a slightly exaggerated bow to the the squid-like Mystic emerging from the stairway below. Ana, in contrast, settled on a simple smile and wave. "What can I do for the Lord Chancellor?"
The short tentacles grown out from his neck quivering in slight annoyance, Chancellor Tamlen shook his head. "His Majesty wishes words about your recent... conduct."
Almost all of the good humor left Cain's face. This could only mean his father had gotten word of his plans to elope with Ana. His next words were a quite elegant summation of his current situation.
He turned to his hopefully soon-to-be significant other. "Wonder who tattled?"
"It'll be alright," she said, giving Cain a reassuring squeeze of the arm, "it's probably better this way. We won't have to hide it."
"I hope you're right..."
With that, Cain leaped over the railing to land next to the startled chancellor. Giving a final salute to Ana, he and Tamlen headed over to the palace. "Well, this is a fine mess...," the prince muttered as the two began passing the central market stalls.
Tamlen sighed with a slight annoyance. "You're the one who is threatening to undermine tradition, Young Master. Day after day, Porre is one step closer to breathing down our doorstep. We can't afford to alienate what few allies we have."
A scowl crossed Cain's face at that. "It's not right, Tamlen. A relationship should be based on trust, getting to know someone and understanding both their virtues and their flaws, and then caring for them regardless. Not by some half-hearted political maneuvering or some Hells-damned red string."
Gods, did Cain hate the very idea of the Red String of Fate. To have your 'chosen love' decided for you, connected by a red string, seemed nice and romantic on the surface... but what happens when that love is one-sided, like his situation with Reika? What happens if one party or both utterly despises the other?
Never mind the fact that having a partner decided for you disgusted him to no end, but as far as Cain was concerned, the whole red string belief was little more than a disaster waiting to happen.
"Come to think of it," Cain began again, on a roll with his tirade, "isn't it a bit hypocritical for the old man to give me crap considering how he met Mom?"
The gates to the palace opened just as Tamlen broke into a grin. "Considering the trouble both he and your mother went through, not least of all the for the fact that she was a human..."
Cain opened his mouth to retort, but the words died in his throat as he was forced to at least concede to that. He remembered many of his fellow Mystics giving him shifty-eyed looks as he was growing up. Still, he needed to stand firm.
"His Majesty is the one you need to convince, not me," Tamlen claimed as the two found their way to the double-doors of the throne room, as if anticipating the prince's next words.
Cain found himself agreeing with the sentiment. As the two were waiting to be announced, his bravado began to give way to nervousness. He never really had reason to butt heads with his father until now, but he knew damn well that the man could be intimidating... and so he began snapping his fingers, a nervous tick he had picked up a few years back, the tempo increasing the more nervous he became.
The problem with being the son of a fire demon was that sparks tended to fly.
Cain shook his hand vigorously until the flames that were unwittingly conjured fizzled out. He gave out a slight cough of embarrassment before the doors opened. He had to stop himself from flinching when his father stood up from the throne and leveled a glare at him... And the man wasn't alone either.
'Oh, lovely. Mom's here too.'
Cain shook the cobwebs out of his head. He was going to make his voice heard. No matter what happened today, he would not be bound to a promise he did not make.
It had been two weeks since they found it.
That strange glowing red fragment.
None of the scholars or scientists could tell where it had come from, only that it had been discovered in a nearby seabed.
Its appearance was almost otherworldly. Unnatural. Each person saw it as something else.
Some saw it as a pointed crystal. For others, it was a winged fire.
To Schala's eyes, it was pure evil given the form of a frozen flame.
Nobody knew where it came from...
...until one day, it happened.
A single word, uttered from her mother's lips.
The power it offered...
More and more people flocked to the Flame, not caring about the possibility of being singed... and her mother at the center of it all.
Schala did not notice little Janus cringing from its light. She did not see her father give her a worried glance. All she could see was the danger that this... invader posed...
No. She could not let this thing destroy her family. She would not.
She loved the view from the walls. Yes, it was endless desert, but there was beauty in devastation.
But more than the view of the sands, it was the view of the guards on watch that interested Ana the most. It had taken two years to learn the ins and outs of the city, and now was the time...
Making sure the sun hit the jewel pinned to her blouse at just the right angle, she sent a prayer to the sands beyond.
In a matter of minutes, a bright light shone in the far distance, over and over, almost as if sending a message. Her prayers had been answered.
We're ready on this end. Awaiting your signal.
Ana's smile grew wider. The timing would have to be perfect, but she knew they would come through.
And once her beloved saw Medina engulfed in flames, the beautiful sounds of screaming filling the air, he would finally see the world the way she did, and their joyous union would be complete.
Ana let out a coy giggle at the thought.
The next few days were going to be so much fun.