Chapter 1

March 19, 485 H.E.

Palace, Rajmuat, Kypriang, Copper Isles

If you were walking around the Rajmuat palace this afternoon, and you had done something to offend The Trickster, it was likely that you were in danger. Later, servants and various visitors would swear that a tornado had been racing through the halls near the royal wing. This was, of course, an embellishment. It wasn't a force of nature, or a creation of a mage, at all. This object in question was, in fact, a very late teenage girl.

Her loose, night-black hair flopped lightly against her tan back, in time with the sound of her blue sandals slapping the stone floor, as she sprinted down one hallway after another. There was no time for slowing down, or for apologizing to the people that she narrowly avoided running into. It was very much past the time that she needed to meet her governess, and her governess did not appreciate tardiness.

She halted in front of an inconspicuous door, the same design as every other door in the hall. She finger-combed her hair to make sure that none was out of place, wiped her forehead to remove any traces of perspiration, and smoothed out any wrinkles in her clothes. Once she was sure that she was perfect, she took several deep breaths, then slowly pushed the door open.

"You are late!" squawked the elderly woman sitting inside. She was perched in one of the chairs in the sitting room, her brown-black hair was pulled back in a harsh bun, and a disapproving frown was settled on her slightly-wrinkled face. This was the redoubtable Lady Edunaret Tomang, matriarch of the Tomang family and feared by nobles – and some commoners – throughout the country.

"I am dreadfully sorry, Lady Tomang," the younger girl replied, dropping into a small curtsy that was made only slightly difficult by the ankle-length, ocean-blue sarong she was wearing, "I was in the library, and I simply lost track of time."

Lady Edunaret sniffed in disbelief. She knew her student too well. It was more likely that the young woman had been off on an 'adventure' with those friends of her. Lady Edunaret disapproved of her charge's hobbies, but could do little about them, lest she admit to the girl's mother that she was incapable of keeping the youth under control and out of trouble. "Your lack of punctuality has already cut today's lesson short. Let us begin before today is a complete waste," Lady Edunaret declared curtly.

The young woman watched as her governess swept out of the room, daintily shutting the door behind her, before she fell onto her bed in relief. The lessons had seemed even longer today, for some reason. She resigned herself to the idea of an hour-long nap before dinner, and had just laid her head on a pillow when there was a harsh knock on her chamber's door. Sighing, she stood up, composed herself as she had before entering her chambers earlier, and then strolled to the door.

She opened the door, and was greeted by a pair of sparkling blue eyes and smiling full lips. Well, there went all chances of sleep for the next hour¸ the girl thought as she narrowed her green eyes. The owner of the sparkling eyes bounced into the room, her red horsetail bobbing against the fair skin of her neck. She looks so different from her aunt, the black-haired girl thought idly as the red-haired youth started to examine one of the many wall paintings.

"So, Ria…" the red-haired girl remarked in an overly-lazy tone. The black-haired girl groaned. "I won't respond to that name, and you know it. Use my real name, or leave," she declared.

"Fine, Ziria," the other teen continued snippily, "Just so you know, your parents want to see you."

"Oh, really?" Ziria asked idly as she began to search through her clothespress for a suitable dinner dress, "And how long ago did you hear that?"

"About an hour ago," the fire-haired teen answered as she stood up to inspect a crowded bookcase, "I got distracted."

"Anilyssa!" Ziria shrieked. She furiously began pawing through her dresses, "We are going to be in so much trouble!"

"I'm sorry!" Anilyssa replied, finally realizing the gravity of the situation, "You know how easily I get side-tracked!"

"You wanted to see me?" Ziria murmured as she came sweeping into the room. Anilyssa trailed behind her, and they both curtsied as they approached Ziria's parents. The two adults smiled lightly at the two young girls, who had a faint redness on their cheeks from running all the way.

"Yes, dear, though it would have been nice to see you when we requested your presence an hour ago," Ziria's mother commented cheerfully, though one – if well enough acquainted with her – could hear a hint of sadness in her tone.

"It's my fault," Anilyssa admitted, bowing her head in apology, "I got distracted, and forgot to deliver your message until only a few minutes ago."

"Well, you are here now, and that is what matters, I suppose," Ziria's father chuckled. Anilyssa's quirks rarely failed to amuse him. He sported a grin on his face, but – like his wife – there was a trace of gloom accompanying it.

"What did you wish to speak to me about?" Ziria inquired as Anilyssa began to back out of the room. This was a family affair, and it was not her business.

"Anilyssa, you may stay," Ziria's mother announced. The red-haired girl walked back to stand next to her raven-haired friend, smiling merrily. She very much liked to be included in matters. It made her feel more important, and kept her from getting in trouble when trying to find out what she was missing.

"Ziria, you know we love you, don't you?" Ziria's father asked, and his daughter grew apprehensive. Whenever something was started with that question, it rarely turned out well. "Of course, Papa, as I love you."

"Darling, you must know that we thought for a long time about this," Ziria's mother urged her spawn, eyes wide and full of emotion, "We did not want to do this to you, but it is the best for…"

The door swung open, and a fairly eye-catching teenage boy shuffled into the room. "Mama, Papa, forgive me for my delay, but I only learned of your summons mere minutes ago," the boy explained, casually surveying the room.

"Eliont, come in," Ziria's father told the boy, "You are just in time. Your sister was late as well," Anilyssa blushed once more, "and we were just getting to our announcement."

Eliont, Ziria's younger brother by two years, strolled to stand with his sister and her friend. His chin-length black hair fell into his dark eyes as he walked, causing him to wipe it away and flash a grin at Anilyssa. Eliont fancied the older girl, though she didn't return the feeling. Anilyssa suppressed a shudder, while Ziria – just barely – refrained from giggling at the actions of her brother and her friend.

"As I was saying," Ziria's mother continued, "We did not want to do this to you, Ziria – nor you, Eliont – but it is for the best. It really is an age-old tradition, and no matter how liberal we may be, there are some traditions that we must agree with. You must know that we are very sorry, but we ask for your cooperation…"

"Excuse me, Mama, but will you please get to the point?" Ziria queried. Her mother tended to ramble when she was nervous, and her two children had found it easiest to interrupt her before she was too far into her ramblings.

Ziria's mother cleared her throat awkwardly, and it was a struggle for the three youths to hold in their amusement. "What your mother was trying to say," Ziria's father interjected, "is that the two of you are betrothed." This proclamation was met with stunned silence and wide eyes. The first to break the silence was, unnaturally, Ziria.

"Mama! Papa!" the girl screeched indignantly, "You cannot do this!"

"I agree!" Eliont added, arms folding over his chest, "This is not fair!"

"Children!" yelled their mother, "This is not your decision to make. It was the choice of your father and I, and it will be easiest if you both respect our verdict now, rather than later."

"But…but…" Ziria spluttered, "We will not even know these people!"

"I know," her mother replied in a more soothing tone than before, "That is why we reviewed each and every candidate several times, trying to find the best match for each of you."

"We won't even get a say in who we marry?" Eliont growled, "Shouldn't we at least have been given that liberty?"

His mother and father looked at each other, seeming to have a silent conversation. Anilyssa nudged Ziria in the side before whispering in her ear. Ziria nodded before opening her mouth.

"But who are we to marry?"

A/N: Well, this is my latest project. I've been working on it for at least a month, and I still have a lot of work to do. I very much hope you all enjoy it. I imagine that you can expect the next chapter sometime in May. I'd like to know what you think of the story so far. Please leave a review and make my day!