Alani: Threads Of Fate

Prologue: Salaya Jasen stared apprehensively at her former lover. Thom of Trebond seemed frozen, his eyes fixed on the child in Sala's arms, his infant daughter. Slowly he said, "Sala, you told me that you had an anti-pregnancy charm. I'm not upset, just a bit confused." She blushed and said that the chain had broken at some point, and she hadn't realized until they were...finished. Thom nodded in understanding and tentatively asked, "Could I hold her?" Sala nodded and gave him the baby. She had his violet eyes and his red hair, although her hair seemed darker. Thom studied the girl, who watched him with a child's fascination at all things new. Quietly he said, "As you told me that she's unnamed, could you name her Alanna, after my sister?" Sala frowned and replied, "I don't want the girl to be named for such a well-known person, but 'Alanna' in my language is Alani. Will that do?" Thom agreed to the name, and the baby was given a naming ceremony. She became Alani Jasen.

Two months later, Thom died at the hands of Roger of Conte. Before his death, he told Alanna the story and at his death, she swore to find the girl. But for 16 years, she could not do it. But then, Alani came looking for her.

Chapter One-Decisions: 16-year-old Alani Jasen stood on the eastern wall of Winding Circle Temple in Emelan, watching the ocean waves with slanted eyes the color of amethyst while the wind tumbled her chin length, arrow straight, dark red hair about her face. She was trying to think only of the familiar view, but found her mind drifting back to the problem that had been plaguing her. Tomorrow she and her best friend, Glakisa Irakory, would receive the medallions that showed their advancement from mage-students to full, accredited mages, entitled to all the rights and expected to fulfill all the responsibilities the rank entailed. Well, Ani thought, that's all well and good, but what's next? Most mages traveled for a time after graduation, but Ani didn't know where she wished to go. That wasn't strictly accurate; she knew full well where she'd like to go, but the idea of it scared her to death. Ani wanted to go to Tortall, which was on the other side of the Endless Ocean, in the area where that ocean was known as the Emerald Ocean. Her reason was simple: the father Alani had never met was a Tortallan noble. She wanted to find out about her family, and Tortall was the only place where she could do so. If she went, she even knew where to go: her father's birthplace, Trebond. And much as she yearned to know the truth of her past, her fear of rejection tempered that longing. After all, what noble family would want to claim an illegitimate daughter, especially one who had lived in the slums of Tianjai in Fatepha for the first eight years of her life, and had never learned how to be a properly bred young lady? None that she had heard of. Still, Tortall was the home of Alanna the Lioness, the first lady knight in a century and the place where they let girls train as warriors. Maybe their nobles were more liberal that most. Still, she was afraid. Alani was a mage, and that brought her a certain ranking, but even her magic was odd. She was an ambient mage, which meant she worked with the magic that was already in things. In other words, the power she wielded was drawn to her but didn't exactly come from within her. Even that wouldn't have been so odd, except that her power was an odd mix. Her power moved through both the wind and the working of glass. It had made for some...interesting accidents earlier in her career. Alani's hard work with her two teachers, Dedicate Sandstone for glass and Tris Chandler for wind, had taught her control. Meditation, the first thing a mage-student learned, was the cause of that. She also knew how to put her magic in glass and how to send it through the winds. She could make protective charms and various magical devices. She could tie up breezes in strings for later use and hear all that the winds heard. Alani was skilled at scrying with the mirror she'd made for that purpose and she was good at scrying the winds as well. She could even scry fire, since fire magic was part of glass magic. Now she called the breezes, even as she performed the spell for wind scrying. Looking at the air, she saw flecks of colored light swirl around her. In them she saw:

She stood on a ship's deck, staring at a bustling city. A stone palace crowned it, towers reaching for the sky. She gripped the rail with white-knuckled hands, fear and hope welling up inside her. Tortallan winds – for this was the Tortallan capital, Corus – welcomed her. She turned and went below, gathering up her belongings.

Alani woke from her half-trance as the Hub clock tolled the hour. Cursing, she headed down, fighting a headache. It was time for her daily combat practice with the warrior-dedicates of the Fire Temple. She loved working with them; as a thief, she'd understood the need to defend herself, but now she truly enjoyed learning to wield a bow, staff, and sword. The First Dedicate of the Fire Temple, Skyfire, a former general from Sotat, had taught her all he knew about swords, both long and short(most non-nobles just used short swords, so only Skyfire could teach her to use a long sword.)He'd also taught her to do fighting meditation, with staff and sword. Her archery and regular staff work was done with the other dedicates. Besides all that, she improved her knife skills. After all, her knives were to thank for her work with the warriors in the first place. Six weeks after arriving at the temple, she'd seen some archers attempting to hit a bull's-eye on a distant target. Alani had drawn one of her daggers and thrown it at the target. She hit it dead center. The next day, they invited her to join them. She'd come every day she could since then. 2 years ago, her routine had changed. That was when Dedicate Hawk, the former Shang Hawk, had taken her vows at the temple. These days Alani spent half her fighting time learning Shang unarmed combat to accent the hand-to-hand skills most thieves knew. She also practiced when she woke each morning.

Later, she walked back to Discipline, the cottage where she lived, muscles tingling pleasantly. When she walked in, Shaia, a 12-year-old cook-mage, fixed dinner while her 9-year-old brother, Calren, a healer mage, set the table. Shai looked up when she came in. Cal said, "Ani, Lark and Rosethorn are with Glaki out in the garden. They want to talk to you guys about tomorrow." Ani thanked him and went outside. Standing by the well, she saw Dedicates Lark and Rosethorn, who ran Discipline. Next to them stood Glaki. Alani knew what they wanted. Obviously, the two women wanted to speak to her and Glaki about tomorrow's ceremony. The idea was simple. The two girls would spend the next day in quiet meditation, each in an isolated place that spoke to their power. Ani knew where she was going. She also knew that as the girls' guardians, it was the responsibility of Lark and Rosethorn to instruct the girls in the seriousness of the promises they made to earn the medallions. It was just as important that she and Glaki follow all the preparation rules for the ceremony, or they would be disqualified and made to leave Winding Circle. The women greeted her and began to explain. "Tomorrow is a very important day for both of you. Now, you need to realize that there are many rules to this. First and foremost, you must not speak to anyone until you come back from meditation and have gone through the Room Of Visions," Rosethorn told them.

"When you are meditating, think about your future, what you want to do and where you want to go. Reflect on any conflicts or grudges you have. Try to resolve them and let go. You should come back with a clear mind, ready to face the Room. Also, when you go, bring things that connect you to your past. Meditate on your past. Let yourself see the lessons in your histories. Use them as a guide," Lark continued.

Alani listened carefully to the dedicates as they spoke. For the most part, everything seemed easy. All that worried her was the Room Of Visions, and for good reason. The Room caused a person to see anything it wished. Some people, after coming out of there, looked half-dead. Of course, no one knew what those people saw; all who went through there were expressly forbidden to speak of what happened inside. The Room had worried Ani for years, but she knew she had to go there.

"Any questions?" Rosethorn wanted to know. Slowly Alani asked, "For meditation, can I bring my staff? I meditate with it too." Lark said she could and then Shaia called to say that dinner was ready. The four went inside.

At the table, Alani studied the others. She could see that Shaia and Calren weren't as bright and happy as usual and that despite her cheery front, Glaki was nervous. She picked at her food, which she only did when worried. Lark wasn't herself, nor was Rosethorn. Alani realized that everyone was stressed about the next day. Ani herself was equally concerned about her vision from earlier. Was she meant to go to Tortall? Her mother had thought so; she'd told Ani to go there. Right after doing so, Salaya had died, but Ani hadn't gone. Maybe she should. Well, there was one way to find out.

Excusing herself, Alani left the table. As she walked past Lark's workroom on her way upstairs to her room, she had to shade her eyes. The whole area blazed with magic. She saw it with the magic vision called the Sight that she'd gotten from her mom. Ani's was stronger, though; in addition to magic, she saw death, pregnancy, godhood, lies, and poison. With a different concentration, she saw in the dark or across great distances. It was a useful trait, but could be very annoying as well. Shaking her head to clear it, she went up the steps to her room.

Once in her room, Alani lit her lamp and picked up her scrying mirror from the bed table. Sitting cross-legged on her bed, Ani cleared her mind and stared into the mirror's depths. Slowly her consciousness slid into the picture forming in the glass.

Her horse galloped along a forest trail. The wind whipped at her hair and cloak. She wore a short sword and dagger at her waist; more knives were hidden in her clothes. A bow hung from a saddle hook and a quiver of arrows was slung across her back. Luckily, the prominence of her weapons and the fact that she was not a rich traveler discouraged raiders. The trees began to thin, and suddenly she was at the crest of a grassy hill that looked down upon a large, seemingly prosperous village. East of the town stood a fortress, built around three towers, one thicker than the other two. On the leftmost and middle towers, flags caught the breezes. One was a gold key on a brown field; the other was a gold lioness rampant on a red field. Alani's breath caught as she looked at it. There was the place where her family lived. There was the place where she could discover the truth of her heritage and find where she truly belonged.

The mirror fell from Alani's numb hands, hitting the floor with a bang. Luckily, it had protections against breaking on it, or it would have shattered. Without bothering to pick up the mirror, Alani got up and strode over to her lamp, calling the flame to form a disc over her hands. It flowed to her like water, and she watched it, clearing her mind and waiting for a picture to appear.

Alani walked into the room, heart pounding. The two people inside watched her. The woman – her father's twin – looked just like her. Slowly Ani moved forward, wondering –

She lost the vision. She'd done too much and was too tired to keep going. Alani barely managed to pull the bed covers down and lay back on the bed before unconsciousness claimed her. That night she dreamed the question over and over: Am I meant to go to Tortall? An answer was whispered in her ear, but when she woke, she couldn't recall what it was.

That morning, Alani dressed in a white novice's robe. She combed her hair with a carved wooden comb her mother had given her. Staring at herself in the wall mirror, she saw a pale, determined young woman, eyes and hair blazing. Smiling slightly, she turned, grabbed her staff, and did some practice moves. She repeated this process with sword, knife, and hand-to-hand moves. When Lark called the kids down to help with breakfast, Alani went, but before doing so, she picked up her mirror and put it back on the bed table. Then she headed downstairs.

Everyone knew that she and Glaki couldn't talk to anyone, so out of respect, they stayed quiet. When breakfast was finished, the girls went upstairs to get what they needed. Alani grabbed her staff and tugged the miniature of her father off the wall. As it was a pendant miniature, she put it on a chain and slid it round her neck. Then she slipped into her cloak and went to her meditation spot.

Alani had picked this spot three weeks earlier. It was a tall rock on the beach, 5 feet from the ground at its highest part. It faced east and was directly inside a wind current. Being on the beach, it was surrounded by sand, which was an essential component of glass. Because of all this, it was the perfect spot, a place where her powers were intertwined.

Ani spread her cloak over the rock but did not climb up. Instead, she began doing fighting meditation. After an hour, she tired of that, so she clambered onto the rock and began regular meditation. Her mind whirled with the Tortall question, and she had no answers. Alani studied her dad's picture, yearning to know what she should do. The magic around her heard the plea and suddenly she was surrounded by a whirlwind of air and sand that flashed with colored sparks. The vision came unbidden to fill her mind, knocking out anything else.

She wore a dress. Not one of her wraparound skirt and blouse getups or simple frocks either. This was a fancy, noble lady's dress, cloth of silver, skirts whispering around her. She waited for the herald to announce her and her companions, who were her aunt, uncle, and her three cousins. Then the herald called them and all six headed down. She was escorted by her eldest cousin; he was just her height, though four years younger than she was. They knelt before the king and his queen before moving to join a cluster of family friends, all of whom wanted to meet Alani. All at once a boy her age and two inches taller stood in front of her. He was handsome, lean, with a tanned face, chestnut hair, and emerald eyes. He asked her to dance and she accepted. They moved onto the floor as the tune switched to a waltz. Slowly they glided and Alani's heart pounded from a type of fear and exhilaration she'd never before experienced.

A hand shook Ani's shoulder. She looked up to see a wind-tousled Lark, who said, "Ani, it's time to go! Come on!" Ani slid off the rock and gathered her things. Her heart pounded, with sudden apprehension and a revelation. Her fear was of the Room, but even more prominent in her mind was the knowledge that she was meant to go to Tortall after all. Perfect.