The conclusion of the adventures begun in The Jaguar Goddess and Yama's Festival- I present The Two Islands, which happens about a year after JG and YF.
**Please note: anyone who read Time's Up in The Jaguar Goddess, Time's Up is the FIRST PART of this prologue. There's another bit after that.
March 12, 482 H.E.
Chanting…. War drums sounded, in the distance.
Dark shapes raced past her; before she could turn to see what they were, she was plunged into icy water. Panic rose up instinctively, but she pushed the feeling away. She had no reason to fear; she was ruler of this coldness, queen of the waves that tumbled and roared across her domain-
And yet she could not breathe; the water refused to part for her-
And the shadows were getting closer, ever closer- always a step ahead of her, but no matter which way she floundered in the silence, they eluded her gaze.
There were drums, pounding in her ears; a shout of defiance, answered by another-
Neither would back down.
But one of them must, one of them had to-
The storm of darkness closed in on her; she opened her mouth to gasp, but the black water choked her. There was nothing, nothing- Oblivion-
Struggling against the dark, she caught a glimpse of light and surged towards it, up to the surface-
Something grabbed her, yanked her back down into the murky water, but she turned on it, hands outstretched. A flash of blue light shot from her fingers, and she was free, free to swim upwards and-
Cyne Hetnim opened her eyes; a beam of moonlight streamed in through her open balcony doors to play across her bleary vision. She frowned, sitting up in a tangle of blankets. It was still chilly at night…. Too cold for an open window.
In fact, she knew she had closed it before she had fallen asleep.
Her brilliant blue-green eyes flickered sharply across her room; nothing was disturbed. Warily, she shifted, then swung her legs over the side of her bed and slid to the floor, waiting for the slightest flicker of motion to give an intruder away.
There were many who would like to kill the heir to the Kyprian throne.
Her cold fingers wrapped around the sea glass she wore on a pendant around her neck, she waited, ready to throw up a magical shield if there was need. Quietly, she crept towards the open door, watching as the curtains billowed in the night breeze; there was a dim light in the darkness that was a telltale harbinger of the day.
"Cyne Hetnim." The girl leapt into the air, alarmed, as a figure stepped out into her vision, out on the balcony. Magic shot from her hand, but it flew right by the man waiting for her. He chuckled. "Is that really any way for an heir to answer the patron god of her land?"
Cyne did not reply; her voice was caught in her throat as Kyprioth, God of the Copper Isles, pushed open the doors and let himself in. The girl gazed at the familiar figure he cut, his peppered beard eerily glowing in the dim light that gathered in the east.
"Beautiful morning," he commented, gesturing out to the skies. "North wind's a-blowing," he added as an afterthought, then chuckled. "As it never does." He sighed, shaking his head as he looked down, as his bare feet. His brightly-colored sarong shifted in the gentle zephyr. Then he looked up sharply, meeting Cyne's uncertain gaze. She flinched at its suddenness, but held the stare as the god's eyes shimmered, burning with divine intensity as he scrutinized her. She had not seen him in over a year. "Time's up," he said abruptly, then disappeared, as suddenly as he had come, leaving Cyne to stare out over the city, harbor, and night beyond.
She blinked, waiting silently as the realization set in; adrenaline coursed through her veins.
Within a year's time… you shall be hearing from me or one of my illustrious siblings. A soft sigh escaped her; she bit her lip, then looked up at the moon, gleaming benevolently down upon the islands. A year. A year of peace. A year since she vanquished Kypria, Panther of the Night.
Dawn was breaking.
"What now?" she whispered.
Queen Dovasary of the Copper Isles fidgeted restlessly at her desk. Her closest friend and spymaster, Aly Crow, stood by the door of the queen's study, waiting. At the sound of a quiet, triple knock, she peered through the peephole, then yanked the door opened and bowed to the girl waiting out in the passageway. Behind her stood a boy and a girl about her age, dressed in the uniform of bodyguards.
"Your Highness," the woman said formally before nodding to the two youths trailing behind her. One of them- the girl- had the same, fiery hair as Aly Crow. It gleamed in the morning light as she moved to her princess's side.
Princess Cyne Temaida Balitang Hetnim smiled and stepped inside quickly. Her delicate features gave her an air of fragility and smallness that contrasted with her clever, brilliant eyes. She was not short, but she was not tall, either; the redhead standing at her side was half a head taller, and her lanky, male guard towered over her.
"Aunt Dove, we have trouble," the young woman told the queen, her calm and easy air fading. Dove raised an eyebrow at her soft-spoken niece. When she had been Cyne's age, she had been even quieter, but she had grown out of it quickly; enemies of the Crown would see it as weakness.
"Indeed? And what sort of trouble have you been alerted of?" she asked wryly, eyes sliding to a paper on her desk. Cyne opened her mouth to reply, then stopped with a frown.
"You have trouble, too? Unrest? Heretics in the north?" She hesitated. "Or foreign threat?" The corners of Dove's lips turned downward; she exchanged a glance with Aly, and missed the one between Cyne and her two guards.
"Tortall… has requested our assistance." She tapped the first roll of parchment on her desk, decorated with the seal of the Tortallan monarchy. "An alliance, against Scanra."
"Even though Scanra is little threat to islands such as us, and the Yamani," Aly muttered. Cyne's eyes narrowed.
"It is true," she said cautiously, turning her gaze back to her aunt. "And Tortall has not needed aid against the north in the past." Dove rose, handing the paper to her heir, who quickly scanned it. "We respectfully request Your Delegation's presence and that of the Emperor's, as we have reason to believe Scanra has found a new ally," she read. Her brow furrowed. "Who? Did Galla decide they have less in common with the eastern lands than the north? Even so, Tortall has no need of Yamani and the Copper Isles- they have Tusaine and Maren and Carthak-"
"Their alliance goes even further than that," Dove replied with a frown. "If need be, Carthak could call in many debts owed by lands south of them." Cyne reread the end of the message, and the signature of Roald II of Conte, King of Tortall, beneath it.
"Delicate matters of security will also be discussed among envoys," she read, then looked up at her two companions, both of whom seemed puzzled but grim. "What does that mean?"
"It means," Aly said darkly. "That we cannot possibly bow out of this. Tortall calls the Kyprians and Yamanis to talk, and with such a cryptic statement dangling out before us…." She glowered. "I'm willing to wager my last gigit my da wrote this; I thought he had finally decided to retire." Cyne hid a smile; it was a well-kept secret of both countries that, for many years, their respective spymasters were father and daughter. "It's a bone we can't afford to ignore," she finished with a scowl. "Ambassadors, courtiers- all the pomp and ceremony will be required. Taybur and I will have to find all the right selections for the delegation- the clever and good-looking, all able to keep their mouths shut but charming enough to keep us a step ahead." She sighed heavily. "And then there's the matter of honor- we'll need them to be important, and someone will have to be very high-ranking, in order to avoid insulting anyone- we wouldn't want anyone thinking we sent a second string of folk-" Cyne turned back to Dove, who was smiling thoughtfully at her. The seventeen-year-old raised an eyebrow.
"What?" Dove watched her silently, still smiling. When Cyne opened her mouth to ask again, the queen raised a hand, her catlike, black eyes boring into her niece's bright blue-green stare.
"What do you think?" the queen asked. Confused, Cyne frowned, but it was Aly who answered.
"Be it far from me to dispute your wishes, my liege," she sighed, but when Cyne turned, the woman was grinning at her with a wicked, calculating gleam in her eye. An incredulous smile wormed its way onto her lips as the girl turned back to her aunt. She meet Dove's gaze silently, waiting for her explanation. She did not have to wait long.
"Cyne." Queen Dovasary's eyes twinkled as she paused, as though making sure she had her niece's full attention. Cyne's reply was a bland, innocent face, although now she was almost certain where this was going. "How would you like to visit Tortall?"
AN: Reviews are appreciated.