Deviation: Altera Realm book 2 Sneak Peak

The Village

Morning

Syney woke up and reluctantly opened her eyes. This wasn’t the first morning when her dreams had been better than her reality, but weren’t most dreams? She stretched and sat up just as a knock came at her door. It was Noelle; it was always Noelle. Syney smiled and called her into the room. It was so nice to have found someone who was so in sync with her; it felt as though Noelle could read her mind. Syney wondered, not for the first time, whether her personal assistant and friend really did read her mind; she always appeared with breakfast moments after Syney woke up and was by her side when she needed a helping hand or a springboard for ideas. It was a dream come true to have someone she felt so close to.

As Syney scrambled out of bed, Noelle walked in carrying two trays. “They had your favorite this morning!” Noelle said with a smile. She tucked her blond hair behind her ears showing off her flawless light skin. She looked more like a model than a servent to be honest.

Syney’s mouth watered at the thought of the egg-and-cheese-like dishes the Village occasionally served. It wasn’t her father’s sandwiches made of pork roll, egg, and cheese, but it was the closest thing to them the Village served. “Yummy!” she exclaimed, as she jumped onto the couch and dug into the food.

“How are you this morning?” Noelle asked, her brown eyes searching Syney’s violet ones for any sign of distress.

Syney smiled back. “Good. Same as always. Not looking forward to a busy day, but who ever is, right?”

Noelle nodded. “So you don’t feel any…older or anything?”

Syney’s smile fell. “Damn! How did you find out?”

She laughed. “It was put into record when you first came here a year ago.” She paused and flashed Syney a smile. “Happy birthday, Syney.”

Birthday, ugh, Syney thought. That was when this had all started. A year ago Syney was living a normal life in the Human Realm with two loving parents and a best friend who would do anything for her, but then her powers were activated when she had read an incantation engraved on a medallion her birth mother had left with her when she was abandoned as a baby. Those powers led a great race called Magic Users—it turned out she was their long-lost queen—to come looking for her, but they weren’t the only ones trying to find her. They were, along with their Protectors, the Lycins, the only great race that didn’t want her dead, which counted for something. Now, a year later, Syney had been crowned seated queen, which meant she was next in line for the full queenship, and all the other races—the Vampires (killers for hire), the Shifters (who changed into animals when fighting), and the Daemons (who mysteriously had been awoken only months prior)—were still trying to kill her and had succeeded in murdering her adoptive parents, mainly because of a prophecy made years ago. It stated that the Chosen One, the last Vilori, would come to the Altera Realm and change everything while ending the Great War, which had raged for more than a hundred years, and bring peace to the Altera Realm.

It was a lofty goal and one Syney wasn’t quiet sure would come about. She wasn’t an amazing fighter, although she’d received some lessons from Leaf, head of the Royal Guard of Lycins, and she wasn’t very good at magic. The last part she blamed on the Village, the main Magic User settlement. They taught barely any magic to the population, claiming that most magic had been lost, but Syney and Noelle had messed around with it quite a bit during a trip to the Human Realm. There they had met a Magic User named Becca who hadn’t been raised in the Village and owned hundreds of magic books the girls had experimented with. Using magic made everything inside Syney tingle with excitement; to her nothing felt better than using it. Well, that wasn’t totally true. She quickly pushed the thought from her mind.

“Thank you. And if you tell anyone, I’ll kill you,” Syney said, stuffing food into her mouth.

“Oh, well, that’s not going to work. Helen found out before I did.”

Syney rolled her eyes. Helen was actually Seated Princess Helenandrianna,, royal princess of the Crystallianna line of Magic Users. There used to be four royal family lines of Magic Users: the Crystalliannas (the current ruling line with Queen Mellisandrianna and her three daughters Helenandrianna, Adandrianna, and Cassandrianna), the Grendalins, the Blocadrians (who died out when the Great War started), and the Viloris (of which Syney was the only member still alive).

Syney loved Helen like a sister, but Helen, the older of the two, got overly excited about celebrations. “I’m going to have grab her early,” Syney told Noelle. “I really don’t want anything large.”

“You’ll get what you’ll get,” Noelle said.

Syney narrowed her eyes at her, even though she loved that Noelle felt comfortable enough with her to talk that way. When Syney first came to the Village, Noelle had been assigned as her handmaiden, which didn’t sit well with Syney. She didn’t like the idea of having a servant and immediately squashed it by telling Noelle they were friends, not master and servant. That notion had taken a while for Noelle to embrace, but now they were very good friends; in fact Noelle was the best friend Syney had in the Village.

“What do I have today?”

Noelle took out a large, black, leather-bound journal she used as a datebook. She recently had received a promotion of sorts as Syney’s assistant. Every queen had one, and after Syney’s coronation, Queen Mellisandrianna had tried to assign some girl she’d never met before, which didn’t go over well with Syney. Ever since Syney had come to the Village, Mellisandrianna had made it no secret that she didn’t like her and would do a whole hell of a lot to get rid of her, preferably through death. No way would Syney let her assign an assistant she had chosen. Syney had stood up at that council meeting and requested Noelle but was not so nicely informed by Princess Adanna, who was almost a clone of her mother, that handmaidens couldn’t move up in position. So Syney did the only thing she could and made a motion to abolish the stupid rule, thus allowing Noelle’s promotion. It passed, with seven votes to three. Not bad for her first move toward change in the Village.

“You have a council meeting at eleven. I put you in for lunch at one. Training with Leaf at three. Dinner at six thirty. The welcome-back dessert thing for Prince Brian and his party at eight.”

“Do I have to go to that last one?” Syney asked, making a face. Prince Brian had made it his mission to court Syney when she had first come the Village. He was sneaky about it, though, and it had backfired in his face. Shortly after that, he had left on an extended hunting mission. Why they would let a royal prince and a party of nearly twenty out in the neutral territories in the Realm was a mystery to Syney, but the group recently had returned, and tonight the big “Let’s celebrate the fact that you’re not dead!” party was taking place.

“Yes, you do. Prince Brian asked for you specifically,” Noelle said, rolling her eyes.

“Of course he did. He wants to be king. But he needs to understand that he isn’t getting into my bed.”

Noelle shifted a little. “So how are things going…there?”

“With my bed? It’s always been very comfy,” Syney said, getting up and pulling a dress out of her closet. She looked down at the stiff purple dress and tried not to groan. The dresses worn around the palace reminded Syney of the Renaissance Faire she had gone to when she was younger. Back then she had been in awe of the long dresses and corset tops but now that she had to actually wear them on a daily basis she preferred her leather pants and sweaters. Unfortunatly, now that she was seated queen, she had to wear them.

“Um…Here, let me help.” Noelle stood and helped Syney into the dress.

They did this in silence. Syney knew what Noelle’s comment really meant but didn’t want to talk about it, ever. She gazed at her reflection in the full-length mirror and grimaced. She’d worn these dresses for four months and still detested them. Not that she looked bad. The dress did hug her waist, giving her a nice hourglass figure, and her auburn hair stood out against the light purple color. Even with that she was still debating making a motion at the council meeting regarding the royal dress code when she heard a knock at the door. She sat down and yelled, “Come in!”

She forked some food into her mouth as Leaf walked in. He towered over the girls with his large, square shoulders and long, muscular arms and legs. His dark blond hair was cut short and he was dressed in a simple outfit of dark pants and tee shirt. He was the benchmark for all other Lycins in looks and spirit.

He bowed to Syney. “Good morning. I was hoping to get a report on your new Protectors.”

When Syney patted the seat next to her, he slowly sat down. Each Magic User royal had at least three Lycin Protectors, which were chosen in an ancient magic ceremony shortly after the Magic User was born. Syney’s ceremony had been held after she was discovered; only one Protector was chosen at the time, but she’d been assigned a few since then. Most recently Leaf had assigned her two females, Poppy and Posey, and one male, Birch, to join Reed, her current Protector. Reed was assigned after Syney had been in the Village for a few months and had been attacked in her rooms by an unknown Magic User man. He recently had been promoted to her first Protector; even though he was almost half of the other three’s ages, they all reported to him.

“They’re good,” Syney said.

“I need more than that,” Leaf said in his deep, even tone.

“OK. I don’t think Birch likes taking orders from Reed, and the other two need to learn how to smile.”

That remark earned a small smile from Leaf, not something Syney had seen recently. “I’ll speak with Birch,” he said. “How’s Reed handling being your first?”

Syney shrugged. “Good, I guess. He seems unsure when it’s just us, but he turns all big and bad in front of the others.” She laughed. “It’s adorable.”

“You might want to watch Poppy,” Noelle chimed in. “The other day in the dining hall, I heard her talking about Syney. It wasn’t anything bad, but she could become a security risk.”

Syney and Leaf stared at her.

“What? I’m picking some things up. I’m surrounded by wolves all day long.” She rolled her eyes again as she picked up her tray and Syney’s.

“I’ll keep an eye and an ear out for that. Thank you, Noelle.” Leaf stood. “I’ll see you at the council meeting,” he said to Syney.

Syney nodded. “Hey, do you think I could get a dress code passed that banishes dresses?”

“Would it matter?”

“I guess not. I just don’t like them. They’re itchy.” Syney pouted.

Leaf shook his head and left the room.

Noelle took his abandoned seat. “At least yours is prettier than mine.”

They both laughed for a while. Finally Syney stood and stretched. “Council meeting, here I come. Will I see you at lunch?”

“Of course…and possibly someone else.”

Syney looked at her curiously.

“I heard a certain Vampire has resurfaced in the palace.”

Syney smiled. “Dear Gabe has returned. Good. I loaned him a book I need back.”

Gabe was the only Vampire in the Village; he had snuck in after saving Syney’s life in the Human Realm. The queen had allowed him to stay after he had invoked the Treaty of the Great Races, an ancient document written before the war had started. Syney had found out a while ago that Gabe actually had helped write the document when he was a Vampire king. He also was the most manipulative man she’d ever met, but he still had a very fond place in her heart, as well as a soft one in Noelle’s. Syney liked the match of Gabe and Noelle, but Gabe was one complicated Vampire, with a dead royal Magic User wife and all the baggage that came with that.

Syney met Reed in the hall and smiled up at him, since he was more than a foot taller than her, as she started toward the large meeting room, which held all the Village council meetings. While Reed was a Lycin and a very good Protector, he was more on the lanky side than most in his position. That wasn’t to say he didn’t still look like every human girl’s ideal muscular man. “So how was your big date last night?”

Reed’s cheeks turned a deep red. He ran a hand throught his short brown hair. “I…I don’t…It wasn’t…”

“A date? Yes, it was. You even took the night off, which never happens,” Syney said with a laughed.

Reed sighed. “Fine. It was good. She’s a nice girl.”

“And pretty.”

“Were you spying on me?”

Syney shrugged. “Maybe. It’s not my fault you took her to dinner in the dining hall, where I happen to eat.”

“You should be eating upstairs with the rest of the royals,” Reed grumbled.

“Yes, well, I’m supposed to do a lot of things I don’t—one being ignoring my Protectors.” She put an arm around him. “But I’m not built that way. And you’re like my little brother now, which means I get to pick on you.”

Reed shook his head. “This is the worst assignment ever.” He stopped in front of the meeting-room door and crossed his arms.

Syney smiled at him.

After a moment he gave in and smiled back. “I’ll see you after the meeting.”

She nodded and slipped into the room, making a beeline for her favorite seat across from Mellisandrianna. It had become almost a sport for Syney to fight with the queen during council meetings. Now that Syney was seated queen, she almost felt like she had to. Everyone kept going on and on about how she was the Chosen One, the only one who could bring peace to the Realm. After she had been crowned, Syney decided all her attention would go toward that. She still had no idea what she should do, but the complete opposite of whatever Mellisandrianna wanted seemed like a good start.

After only a moment, as the rest of the council wandered in, Helen slipped into the seat next to Syney and gave her a knowing smile. “Hi, there,” she said sweetly. There wasn’t much that wasn’t sweet about Helen. She was the big sister Syney never had. Her smile reached straight to her light blue eyes, the family trademark. Her dark brown hair was straight and on the longer side but kept simply.

“All right, out with it. What do you have planned for my birthday so I can squash it as quickly as I can?” Syney said.

“Nothing big, I swear. Just some friends at lunch.”

“I only have three friends.”

“I said it was small, and you’re not counting Reed. That would be four.”

Syney sighed. “Listen, I appreciate the effort and thought, but I don’t want to make a big deal out of this. I’m another year older. Big whoop.” Syney looked down at the table thinking of all of her birthdays past, including her last, with her adoptive parents in the Human Realm. It didn’t seem right to celebrate without them so she figured why celebrate at all.

“The celebration of birthdays is a big deal here. You know that. How many celebrations did you go to last year?”

“I avoided most of them.”

“Ugh. Could you at least do this for me? I need a good distraction and celebration!” Helen exclaimed before slumping in her chair.

“How are things going with you?” Syney asked slowly.

Helen sat up. “Fine. Why wouldn’t they be?”

“Oh-kay.” Syney nodded. “I’m just going to let that go.” She didn’t really want to, but she didn’t have much of a choice. Helen had been moody for the past few months, and Syney assumed it had something to do with Leaf—a thought that was just about confirmed when Leaf sat down on the other side of Syney.

Leaf and Helen exchanged tense hellos then continued to ignore each other. Syney looked back and forth between the two. She couldn’t figure out what exactly had happened, but they seemed to be fighting about something. A lover’s spat, so to speak. There were rules against different races becoming romantically linked, but these two had done it anyway—secretly of course. Syney was only one of two people who knew about the relationship, but oddly enough, neither Helen nor Leaf had come to her to talk about what obviously was bothering them. She wanted to lean over and whisper in Helen’s ear that very thing but thought better of it. Lycins’ hearing was at least fifty times better than hers, so Leaf would hear her right away. Instead she settled on writing the question on a piece of paper and slipping it to Helen as the meeting was called to order.

Helen read it and shook her head. Then she slid the note back to Syney without a response. Syney crinkled her nose and, against her better judgment, slipped it over to Leaf. After a moment he gave her his patented “you’re annoying me” look and turned back to the meeting. That was a dead end, Syney thought with sigh.

She turned her attention to Elder Thomas as he ranted about the food at the daily meals. The whole thing was absurd; Syney felt like telling him to get his own ass into the kitchen if he wanted to complain about the food being cooked for him for free by his equals—or at least his own race. The vote to reassign all the kitchen staff and choose new ones fell short but not by as large a margin as Syney would have liked. The whole idea of eating got her to thinking about the dining hall. She hated the way the royals sat upstairs while the nonroyals and Lycins were relegated to the downstairs area. But it was all in one big room with an opening in the middle. Syney had assumed it had been arranged this way so the queen could look down on those below her, but the whole logistics of the room didn’t make sense. It wasn’t very big either. At peak times of the day, some people—royal and non—found they couldn’t eat in the dining hall. There were much larger rooms in the palace, some even more centrally located. If the dining hall moved to another space, there couldn’t be an upper and a lower dining room.

“Is there anything else?” Queen Mellisandrianna asked, her tone more than bored.

“I have a question.”

All eyes fell on Syney.

“Yes?”

“While we’re on the subject of food, I was wondering about the dining hall. Has it always been where it is now?”

“No. Actually,” Helen said, “according to what I’ve read about the palace, it used to be actually in the Grand Ballroom. When my great-grandmother, Queen Lassandrianna took the throne, it was moved.”

“Can we move it back?” Syney asked slowly.

Mellisandrianna smiled at her—her iciest smile that matched her piercing blue eyes. “But why would we want to?”

Syney smiled back. “I was just thinking about the people. The current room is rather small. I know you have your own table, but I’m sure you’ve noticed that on a daily basis people are forced to eat at different times or take their food to go. If the dining hall were in a larger room, everyone in the palace could eat at once if they wanted.”

Mellisandrianna was silent for a moment. Syney thought she actually could see her thinking. “Why the sudden interest in dining arrangements?”

“It’s not so sudden. It’s been no secret that I’m not a fan of the eating arrangements. Haven’t been since I arrived. Moving the dining hall would not only make most people happy because they could eat when they wanted but also make me happy because I don’t like looking down on people, literally.” She placed emphasis on the last part, even though she knew none was needed. She had made her point.

The vote was in Syney’s favor, barely. She knew Leaf and Helen would vote with her. She was surprised by Adanna’s yay vote and made a mental note to look into that. She also had Elder Josephina and Elder Warren’s votes, which wasn’t a surprise. They generally voted with Syney. Elder Thomas and Elder Lawrence voted against her, which also came as no surprise; they both were snobs. They liked Syney and even supported her as queen, but they believed they were above most of the people in the Village. Both queens—Lilith, head of the House of Grendalin, and Mellisandrianna—also voted against it. Neither wanted a lot of change in the palace and showed as much with their votes. But Syney had garnered a majority, which was all that was needed to pass a measure unless otherwise motioned.

Mellisandrianna’s blue eyes turned even colder than usual. “Very well. Justice,” she said, turning to her assistant, “make arrangements to move the dining hall to the Grand Ballroom.” She stood up quickly. “Is there anything else?”

No one moved an inch.

“Good.” She swept out of the room, taking full advantage of her long skirt as she always did.

Syney looked back and forth between Leaf and Helen as everyone else filed out of the room. “Pretty cool, huh?”

They nodded but gave her sad looks.

Syney rolled her eyes. “Come on, guys! I’m supposed to be here to make changes. This is a big one!”

“It is, really,” Helen said.

“But you still didn’t have the votes of almost half the council,” Leaf said quietly.

Syney frowned. “I guess I didn’t, but it just could have been the issue.”

Helen shook her head. “It wasn’t, but it’s OK. Just means you have some more work to do. You need to get on their good side.” She stood and headed out of the room.

Syney looked at Leaf. “Do they have good sides?”

A small smile played on his lips. “Some of them do.”

“Are we gonna talk now?”

He stared at her. “About what?”

“Seriously? Come on. A very tense elephant is standing in the middle of the room, and I’m so done dancing around it. What happened with you and…you know who?”

He stood. “It’s a private matter.”

She also stood, quickly. He wasn’t getting away with that. “And I’m a friend. Whom else can you talk to?”

“No one, which sounds good,” he said with a bow. He retreated out of the room as fast as he could.

Syney watched him go. She put the two of them on her personal to-do list, which seemed to get longer by the day. At least integrating royals and nonroyals was being slowly checked off. Only about a hundred more things to go.

Jennifer Collins 2013