[Black text on white]
A Message from Home
by Jenn Dolari
My dearest Jana and Sylvia,
Allisandra checked her hair in the mirror, noticing grey hairs behind her headband for the first time. Considering everything she'd gone through in the last week or two, she was surprised there weren't more. If her wishes had created the world she now found herself in, she regretted not making herself leader of the Order of the Frozen Dagger. Queen would have been nice, too.
She looked at her reflection in the mirror, and again admired the figure staring back at her. The hands, the face, the shape. If finally living in the body she'd always wanted meant being in the lower ranks of an order she'd created with friends one Friday night with a pair of dice, she could live with that.
Allisandra flipped opened the specially folded piece of paper, the folding was as much of a message as the writing inside. The folds and seals showed this message came directly from the Lady Kalisa, the writing instructing Allisandra to meet her in her compound at the fourth hour of the evening. Allisandra hoped she remembered her own timetables right and that was early afternoon.
She slipped into her boots, and left her apartment, mind racing.
The last week had been frightening. Since having Jana rip her wishstone away from her, Allisandra had been totally immersed in a culture and way of life she'd only glimpsed a few hours at a time at gaming tables. At first there was the fear of being found out, that she really wasn't one of the Daggers, and just someone who had been planted into the middle of the Order. But the longer she stayed, the more she realized this was her creation, the less frightened she felt. Living in this world, this body, was still an incredibly alien feeling...but becoming less alien each day.
Allisandra popped out of her train of thought just quick enough to throw an ice shield up, shattering an iceball.
A young man ran up to her, "It just...just got away from me."
Another older man walked up behind him, thwapping him in the head. "Apologize, Dikaru."
The younger boy, Dikaru, stiffened up and bowed his head. "I'm sorry, Sorceress." He shifted slightly. "I was unable to control my powers, and nearly hit you." He dropped to his knees. "I await your punishment."
Allisandra looked at the trainer, who shifted his eyes angrily to his student. She outranked the man and he wouldn't offer any suggestions on punishment. She held out a palm, and the water vapor began to condense out of the air. "Your punishment, initiate," she said as the condensation formed a snowball in her hand, "is to learn to aim better." She threw the snowball lightly at the top of Dikaru's head, and laughed softly to herself.
She dismissed the ice shield as she continued through the training field on the way to the compound.
Kalisa looked down on the field from her office, remembering a time when a certain other initiate had lost control of an ice storm, leaving the field in a foot of snow in July. It was nice to know Allisandra hadn't forgotten that little incident when punishing this initiate. But at the same time, the Allisandra of late was not the same person of a month ago. She looked the note received from the South a few days ago. Maybe Allisandra simply needed time to gather her thoughts after the ogre fight that had nearly killed her.
She turned to see Allisandra waiting at the open door, waiting to be allowed in. "You wanted to see me, Lady Kalisa?"
"Come in, please." Allisandra entered the office, approaching the head of her faction. "You've mentioned to me several times in the last few days, that you wish to make contact with some petty dictator in the Bexar Empire in the south, yes?"
"Yes. I was offered a position in his court, as a bodyguard."
"And you wish to leave the Frozen Dagger to serve him?"
Allisandra tensed up at the misunderstanding. "No, ma'am. Not at all. There's just...he asked me to protect him through one of his emissaries."
"You." Kalisa's eyebrow arched. "Personally? Why you?" Kalisa softened slightly. "You and I go back, Allisandra. You're very dear to me and I'd hate to see you leave the Frozen Daggers," her hard gaze pierced Allisandra from her soft face, "as no one leaves the Daggers. Ever."
"My allegiance is to the Daggers, first and foremost," Allisandra said, knowing full well that this talk had just gotten more intense than was comfortable. "I can be his bodyguard, and a Dagger." She searched quickly for the right words to follow that up. "Having an eye behind the scenes at his court couldn't hurt. Think of all the possibilities having an official presence in his court could bring, not to mention all the spying that could be done."
Kalisa smiled. The girl was sharp, just the person she needed right now, at the right time. She pulled out a small sheet of green paper. "We received this today, from a business man in the Bexar Empire." She handed the letter to Allisandra, containing a sketch of a jade statue. "This person has asked us to keep an eye out for a jade figurine answering that description. If we find it, the Frozen Dagger would receive a substantial donation."
"You're sending me to the town to collect on a debt?"
"Not at all. In fact, he's made another generous donation up front, to guarantee the delivery of another message. I simply would hate having to have him slip through our fingers, should we be able to perform some other valuable services for him. You wish to go to San Antonio, and now I have a need for someone there. Like you said, having an eye behind the scenes at Vengeance's court couldn't hurt."
Time away from the Daggers would be welcome, thought Allisandra. Between the ogre fight with Jana and the brutal schedule imposed on her by the Dagger, she had no time to simply sit and contemplate her new existence, and how it was progressing. Allisandra examined the sketch of the figurine, an Asian woman with a sad look on her face, standing in prayer. "I'll do it."
"You leave tomorrow, then, Allisandra. Safe travels on your journey."
Jana opened her eyes, snuggled up in her hide sleeping blankets. She always loved the feeling of the little pocket of warmth under her blankets, bravely protecting her from the morning chill. She laid there for a moment before pulling the covers off and feeling the morning air bite into her skin, only to roll over and find a man dressed in a blue tunic standing at attention over her. She jumped to all fours, hopped back, and brandished her knife at him. The man never once flinched.
"I am Frostwind Tharil, of the Frozen Daggers. I come bearing a message for Jana Anderson, under orders of the Lady Kalisa." Jana did not move an inch, and neither did Tharil, for quite some time. "Miss Anderson, I was sent to find you, not harm you. If I don't get nervous, neither should you."
Jana got up from all four, keeping her dagger in hand. "You're a long way from Vita, Tharil."
"I was under orders to find you, and your recent adventures have not made it all that hard." He reached for the scroll capsule on his belt, causing Jana to grip tighter on her dagger. "Jill says hello, by the way," he smirked. He pulled the gold trimmed blue capsule from his belt, and offered it to her. "A letter. From a friend."
Jana looked at the scroll, cautiously, and, sheathing her knife, took it. The capsule was patterned with a light gold trim of snowflakes, and a dagger button for unlocking the capsule. Pressing it, the scroll clicked in half revealing a rolled up letter, a sketch, and several gold coins.
I hope this letter finds you in good health, wherever you two may be. When I made contact with the Daggers, I was surprised to find they already knew of you and that you were adventuring in the wilds. I decided I would trust them to deliver this letter to you, and give them a few baubles to make sure it was delivered.
I owe you both a great debt for freeing me from my culinary nightmare, and I feel like I've not thanked you enough. But at the same time, I again would ask a favor of the two of you.
I've enclosed a sketch of a jade statue, part of a collection of figurines found in the Bexar Empire. It was stolen from the State Museum some time ago, and the museum would like it back. But I would like you to find it first. As you know, I was at the restaurant, celebrating my wife's birthday. I've not seen her since we created this world. However, while visiting the museum, I saw this jade statue you see in the sketch I've sent. It is carved to look exactly like my wife.
On your journey, please keep an eye out for this figurine. I would rather you find it than the museum curators. Together we could find the artist, and perhaps my wife.
I've left you with some of the gold coinage of the Bexar Empire, it should help you on your way. Find her. It's been such a long time.
Till we meet again,
My dearest Jana and Sylvia,
Jana looked at the sketch, a likeness of a woman standing in prayer, crying. "She's beautiful. Do you know where she might be?" she asked the courier. There was no reply, and when she looked up from the paper, Tharil had gone, as silently as he'd entered, leaving only the quiet rustling of the wind through the trees.. "I guess he wasn't paid enough to stick around."
She looked at the clothes she'd been wearing since her trip from State College. Her T-Shirt had ripped up and down her arms from passing twigs and branches during her trip, and the jeans, while tough, were much too tight. Her skins were much easier to maneuver in, not as tight, not as restricting. After changing into them, Jana picked up her pack, and slung it over her shoulder. "Careful!" yelled a voice from inside.
"Sylvia? Why didn't you tell me he'd been standing there all this time?"
"Even I have to sleep sometime, Jana," she said wearily.
Jana removed the leaves and brush camoflaging the motorbike from prying eyes, dusting off the seat. She looked up at the mostly blue sky overhead, "It's gonna be a nice day for a ride, Sylvia. Where should we go?"
A minute or two passed before she responded. "Northeast. There's someone Northeast of here with a gem."
Jana revved up the bike and took off towards the rising sun.
"And besides, he looked kind of cute," Sylvia said wistfully just before noticing Jana was heading southeast.