Chapter 3.1: The Broach

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Walters, Seldor Slice. Kingdom of Seldor

"You aren't what I expected," Allison Rose said to the squat, smiling woman sitting before her

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"You aren't what I expected," Allison Rose said to the squat, smiling woman sitting before her.

"And what did you expect?"

Allison raked her eyes around the paltry, circular room. "I don't know... Something impressive."

The woman was unfazed. "You haven't met many witches, have you?" Allison chewed her lip, then shook her head. "You'll find them as varied as any other group. Don't judge us all by what you see from me."

So I came to the worst witch in Seldor. "Am I wasting my time or can you make it?"

"You said you want to be a waikan?"

"I'm hungry for knowledge."

The witch revolved a wooden ladle around the pewter cauldron simmering over a hushed fire. "The Order of the Waikan is for the most serious minds. These studies, skills and recipes take time. A waikan must be dedicated, focused, and patient."

Don't make excuses, you old fraud. Even a waikan apprentice can make what I'm asking for. "I suppose some are slower than others."

"And some who desperately wish to join the Order who, sadly, show no potential."

"Are you implying something clever, witch?" said Allison. "Do you know who I am?"

The waikan was weary but unfazed. "Only one out of ten who enter the studies are eventually initiated as a waikan. Many don't make it through the first week. It is not an implication but a fact, Princess."

"I'm more serious than you can even dream, witch. I could throw away all the coin you'll see in a lifetime and not even notice." Allison leaned back triumphantly. No one dares to challenge a Rose. We hold more than just venom in our fangs.

"Wealth does not make one serious, your royal highness. In fact, for many it is quite the opposite." She looked the Princess up and down disapprovingly.

Allison hated the witch yet felt surprisingly lashed by her reproach. Even a bad witch is a witch nonetheless. And that means she is dangerous.

"It is done," the waikan said, drawing a ladle and brimming a vial with the taupe liquid. She pressed a cork in the top. "Ten whites, Princess."

"That much?"

"Special price for you."

"Probably double the usual mark-up." Allison fished the coins from her pocket and tossed them on the ground. The witch looked amused but bent to scoop them up. Allison spotted her chance and quickly snatched a small gold broach with the symbol of the waikan from the table and crammed it into her pocket. Is that worth ten whites?

"It better work," said Allison. "You don't want to me to come back."

"I pity whoever you use it on."

"They deserve every bit of it and more."

She departed in haste, marching with her head down and cloak drawn. The waikan's cottage lie on the outskirts of the town of Walters, which though had less than a thousand residents was still one of the bigger villages in the panhandle known as the Seldor Slice. The glowing lanterns and torches of the inn where her family was lodged twinkled through forked tree branches. The roll of distant voices and bustle of carriages echoed through the crisp night air.

She paused and straightened her gown, taking quick inventory to erase any evidence of what she'd just been doing. Though her father was the most dangerous, he was the least of her worries. Mario Hernandes has the greatest eye for detail. It was hard to slip anything past her father's master of counsel.

Allison's fingers closed around the poison vial and she drew it from her cloak. So small, she thought. It felt hot, and not just leftover heat from the cauldron. Poison is power. It thrilled her to carry such a thing. She stuffed it in her bodice and laughed out loud.

"Serves you right, bitch!" She was positively gleeful.

An exchange of voices shook her back to her senses. You can't get caught, you fool. She scurried through the shadows in the direction of the inn.

Her family had commandeered the entire compound: the common area, the kitchens and all the rooms. Allison didn't know or care about the specifics of the deal offered the owner. Her father's two favorite methods were either to offer exorbitant fees (coin was one of the many things House Rose had in ample supply) or employ simple monarchial right, often under threat of violence.

Allison navigated between a pair of bored guards through a side door, a shortcut to the regal suites. It was all very cramped and shoddy in Allison's opinion but apparently the best Walters had to offer. Since this was the only thing resembling a city in the entire final hundred miles, it would be their last major stop before the capital.

Allison pushed through a door into the room where they were being kept. Two nursemaids jumped in surprise and departed hastily when they saw the Princess. Allison towered over the two tiny forms lying in the crib.

"The Royal Twins," she said. She leered down on her twin step brothers. It had taken her father three wives to finally get the sons he desperately desired. Allison had been born from the second wife and her two-years-older sister, Cambria, from his first. Allison's mother, after giving birth to a girl followed by a slew of miscarriages, had been executed in a public display of some infamy, a gruesome echo of what had happened to Cambria's mother after her own accused infertility.

But now, finally, my father has his heirs.

They were Identical in their cuteness. She hated them equally.

She plucked the vial of poison from her bodice and held it to the lantern light. What would happen if I poured even a few drips down your tiny, innocent throats?

"You're late for dinner," said a voice behind her. She could never mistake that oily Mekisan accent.

"Good," she replied, not turning. "I'm always waiting for father, he can wait for me for once."

"He is not a patient man," said Mario Hernandes, stepping towards her cautiously. "And he has a surprise for you."

Allison's blood went zero. Her father's master of counsel wetted his lips nosily with an ocher tongue.

"I don't like his surprises," she said.

"Nobody does."

"Do you know what it is?" Mario nodded. "Am I going to like it?" Mario shook his head.

"He is scheming, your royal highness. He is most dangerous when he schemes."

Allison forced a dry lump down her throat. Mario whirled away and vanished like smoke on a breezy day. Allison gripped the edge of the crib containing her twin stepbrothers until her fingers went white. A surprise for me? That I won't like? Her mind raced through a hundred possibilities, each as unpleasant as the last.

She spun away with a huff. As Allison marched for the dining hall, she fingered the vial once again. Everyone knows who the real enemy is.

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