Nina watched the men from deck toss thick ropes down to the docks. It was fascinating how quickly they secured the ship. She heard the scrape of metal plank settling against the wooden docks as they prepared to disembark. Journey across the Sea of Sages was just the beginning. Looking beyond to the misty mountains filled her imagination with this strange new world… and questions.
The port itself peaked her curiosity with its many merchants and wares lined down the streets, and packed with travelers going either direction. There was already a line forming to board arriving ships – those of well-dressed quality, and all human. That much she could tell.
“They’re not accustomed to your kind yet,” she said to the robed figure standing close by. “Not even a harpy in sight.”
Those white-tufted ears slightly laid back at her words. A sapphire gaze glanced her way. If the ears did not give away his identity, the jeweled eyes would. Although his albino appearance amidst everything else usually turned heads in any new city. He gave her a warm smile.
“You wouldn’t here. And Healers generally don’t deal with non-magic destinations,” was his reply. “Normally, I wouldn’t myself. But this new role requires passage through all types of locations. Astra just so happens to be the central point for the next meeting.”
“And everyone who is magic will be there.” Nina turned to her second companion, a fiery-haired girl with gold streaks curled down around her face. The young Ember Mage smirked. “Except I’ve heard rumors that they’ve started checking for Dark Magic here.” Her gaze trailed past Nina to the prince. “So how are you planning to get her in, Ambassador?”
“Wisdom doesn’t have to do anything,” Nina replied calmly. “He’s done enough to get this far. I can sense things, remember? I’ll know if someone’s coming.” With a sigh, she returned to staring out toward the mountains again. It helped calm her acute awareness of rushing crowds below. Control. Being a Dark One was all about control. She had learned that as a child. Now in her late teens, she felt compelled to accompany the prince and early Ember Mage apprentice. The disturbance in Magic was stronger here than expected, as though a whole slew of people were about to experience Change.
She must have had that blank stare too long, for the she felt the prince’s hand on her shoulder. Nina turned her opal gaze to find the prince motioning to someone below.
“Our guide has arrived,” he said.
“Will she accept Nina?”
“There’s no negative feelings yet, Kendra.”
The girl folded her hands in a huff. “Yes, but does this guide know that you’re here with us?”
“I did mention it to Kris once,” Wisdom said. “Should be fine. She’s accustomed to Dark One appearances.”
“Let’s hope so.” She open her hand and a spark of flame danced across her palm. “I’ll make sure of it.”
“Not here, Kendra.” The prince checked around them to see if anyone had noticed. “They’re quick to arrest those who carelessly display their magic. We wouldn’t want news of your arrest to reach your teacher.”
Kendra was quick to clench her fist. It was no secret how difficult controlling fire could be, but to be accepted as apprentice to an Element Master was both rewarding and intensive in training. The very thought of disappointing any one of the Masters was enough to calm that inner flame.
“Ambassador.” A tall, robust woman came toward them after boarding the ship. Two body guards followed close behind. The prince inclined his head to the black and gold clad figure. Though sleek in looks, he knew from experience she was far from weak. There was purpose to each step, and at each side sheathed a weapon, which her fingers could draw without warning. “How good to see you again.”
Her thick accent captivated the younger two. Kendra pricked a red-tufted ear forward. It was a subtle movement, but one the dark-haired woman flicked her gaze to. As a trained assassin, such movements were not easily missed.
“So this is the one…”
Nina felt herself under the careful stares of the two guards, though they stayed back while the woman stepped closer.
“Like your son. I believe you call them Controllers?”
Wisdom nodded. “She is… and more.”
“But not magic.”
“I cannot contain magic,” Nina replied before the prince could respond. “It is only the energy of one that I can hold and disperse back into a living vessel.”
“You would certainly make for an interesting meeting, but I am afraid she cannot attend. There is already much at stake. Just this morning we had several sightings.”
“I felt it.” Nina tugged at Wisdom’s robe. “When we arrived at port.”
The prince remained calm, though Nina could sense growing impatience with the news.
“Nina can control these happenings, if you’d allow her,” he said.
“We have already disposed of the problem.”
Nina cringed slightly. Disposed could only mean one thing, and by the disgruntled look from the prince, he knew it as well.
“I thought we had an understanding about that,” he said.
“The understanding was to protect my people. What then were we to do? I cannot have chaos — not now. These meetings are too involving as it is.”
“Exactly why Nina needs to be there. They need to see her for what she is. You know how rumors start, Kris. They will eventually hear of her arrival.”
“And will question why I allowed a Dark One into the city,” she finished swiftly. “The situation has changed. This Darkness is spreading even here, to a place where magic should not exist.”
“You’d be lying to yourself if you believe those words,” Wisdom said. “Magic can be dormant, but to simply say it should not exist? Times have changed.”
“And time is running against you, Ambassador. If we get anymore of these disturbances, the Council will be looking for individuals to point blame.” She motioned to Nina. “Ever since your arrival, we’ve witnessed more of these. Who then do you think they will most likely choose?”
“Is this what your meetings have been about?” Wisdom asked. “Picking out a who will be very difficult, because that individual who started it all no longer exists.”
“But influence does,” Kris said. “It is evident in those who choose to use Dark Magic.”
“That would be up to the individual who makes that decision,” Wisdom said sternly. “I hope your Council is not randomly picking people out. Even choosing that route cannot always have devastating consequences.”
The woman sighed. Still, her penetrating gaze refused to submit under the prince’s sapphire stare.
Nina and Kendra exchanged looks of concern. Even the two guards fidgeted with unease, always a hand ready at their hilts.
Finally, Kris pulled back in a collected manner. “You forget, Ambassador. My say-so alone isn’t enough to grant a Dark One access. How will manage that?”
Wisdom was silent a moment before cracking a corner grin. “When you approach the Council, tell them the Dark Ones have sent a representative.”
Nina recoiled in shock. “Me?”
“A brilliant idea!” Kendra agreed. “You’d actually have a voice in the matter, Nina. Just as I came to represent Fire. You can be that voice for the Dark Ones!”
Wisdom crossed his arms and waited for Kris’ response, though she merely shrugged one bare shoulder at the request.
“As you wish.” She motioned for them to follow. “But no guarantees.”