Phaedra hadn’t slept well in days. Travelling through hostile territory had worn her down to the last nerve. The cold camps and Gillam’s awkwardness around Kushlu were hardly helping. She sat up in her bedroll with a scowl and cursed the empty air. By force of what was now habit, Phaedra leaned over and began to shuffle through her pack until her hand found the paesh handle of her dagger. Despite the chill of the night, the feel of stone under her fingertips sent tendrils of warmth up her arm and through the rest of her body. She drew the dagger from her pack and cradled it to her chest feeling the sense of warmth deepen.
Looking around the camp, she saw that most everyone had fallen asleep with the exception of a handful of Gillam’s men who were on watch. Deciding that sleep would simply not come to her as easy as to the others, Phaedra laced up her boots and walked to the far edge of camp with the dagger. She took a ready stance and slowly moved the dagger through a series well-practices offensive maneuvers, but as she twisted to administer the killing blow to her imaginary opponent, the dagger seemed to catch in the air. Curious, Phaedra allowed the dagger to slowly carve it’s own path through the open air and to a nearby tree stump. The dagger continued to entirely pass through the stump with only the slightest resistance and without leaving a mark.
She examined the stump with curiosity. Phaedra had witnessed hints of the dagger’s strange power before, but it had never lasted for more than a moment. Moving back to her original position, she once again brought the dagger through the offensive steps, this time carefully feeling for the invisible chink. She found it again without too much trouble, but instead of following it carefully as she did previously, Phaedra took a deep break and whipped the dagger through the stump.
For an instant, the forest was lit up as a burst of the brightest light pierced the night. Just as suddenly, the light disappeared. Phaedra rubbed her eyes to clear her vision and after moment she became aware that the stump appeared to have split, almost as though the dagger had cut through a seam. However, instead of exposed wood, the split had revealed a wall of solid stone. And from the edges of the seam rippled what appeared to be a frayed curtain of the blackest fabric imaginable.
Forgetting her wits for a moment, Phaedra reached out and touched the stone, although she was careful to avoid the billowing cloth. It felt just as it should, and she felt a twinge of disappointment. She moved to touch the black fabric with her hand, but something in her gut urged her to stop, so she drew her short sword and moved it towards the fabric. As a fold enveloped the end of her sword, Phaedra felt the weapon become significantly lighter. Alarmed, she sharply pulled back to free the sword from the fabric, only to realize that there was nothing to free. The end of the sword had simply disappeared. Excitement flooded through her. She had finally discovered the power of the mysterious blade.
Phaedra had only vaguely been aware of Erol rushing towards her shouting, “What do you think you’re doing?”
The edge in his voice was off putting – did he not understand how incredible this was? She shoved what remained of the short sword flat against his chest.
“Erol! Look at this,” she crowed loudly. Erol examined the end of the sword anxiously.
“Terrifying is more the word I would use.
Phaedra scowled. “Erol… I can cut to other places!”
Before Erol could lift a hand to stop her, Phaedra spun around and flashed the dagger once more through the air, and as she did so, an image of her Dalyrian homeland slipped through her mind. However, when the flash of light subsided and her eyes once again adjusted to the darkness, Phaedra’s breath caught in her chest. The cold air of the forest was now mingled with a warm breeze carrying the smell of salt water, for the image that Phaedra had seen for an instant in her mind’s eye had appeared in front of her. Beyond the rippling blackness she saw an untouched bed, a familiar tapestry, a writing desk strewn with loose bits of parchment and old books, just as she had left it.
My room… My. HOME!
As if possessed she reached a trembling hand through the rip. Stepping forward, Phaedra allowed her head and shoulders to follow, paying no heed to the blackness waving but an inch from her face. As if from a great distance she heard Erol yelling her name. She took another step and her knees buckled, and before she knew it, she was falling forward into the room. Moments before she hit the ground a hand grabbed hold of her shoulder from behind and attempted to drag her back.
In the last second before she was wrenched back into the forest, the face of a startled, middle aged man appeared in the doorway of the room. They made eye contact for an instant, and the rip sealed itself.
“DAD!” Phaedra let out a shriek that split the cold winter air before sinking to her knees in the hard snow. She was vaguely aware of Erol’s attempts to comfort her. She leaned her head into his shoulder and wept.
She slept fitfully for the last few hours before dawn and packed up her bedroll in a daze. All in a moment her life had been shattered. She found it impossible to erase the image of her father’s face from her mind. She had seen him_. She had smelled the Dalyrian sea breeze. She had been home_. A longing such as she had not experienced in years had taken a firm grasp of her heart last night, and it seemed that she would not easily shake it.
As they travelled that day, Phaedra’s feelings of sadness turned so those of anger.
Why are we helping those Aartanian bastards at all?_
Liri’s face flashed across her mind, but it was quickly replaced, once again, by the face of her father. Her father had once been a successful merchant. She had run away from her home to begin with because bad luck had jeopardized his livelihood and forced him to make an unfortunate deal, in which she would be married into a wealthier merchant family. And here, these gutless Aartanians had initiated a war by attempting to choke Dalyrian trade — and we’re helping them get away with it! If the Aartanians won the war it would not only devastate her family, but would be the violent end to the Dalyrian way of life. The thought of an Aartanian invasion of Dalryia made her feel nauseous.
For the remainder of the day’s travel, Phaedra kept herself in the rear of the group, making little eye contact and speaking even less. At one point they encountered a squad of Dalyrian foot soldiers and needed her assistance, but with a thoughtful bluff, the situation resolved itself fairly quickly and they were on their way again.
The party flew a white flag as they crossed the no man’s land, and before long they were greeted with suspicion by the Aartanians. Phaedra had felt her mood darken even more as they drew close to the great city. The streets were largely deserted but instead of concern for the obvious tension, she felt distain for the Aartanian rats, bold while scavenging, but gutless at the first hint of retaliation.
After introducing themselves as scions of House Sandemar and explaining their mission, the group was ushered to the barracks where they met with the general of the Aartanian forces. As she had most of the day, Phaedra stood back while Gillam and Erol spoke with the general, but when Erol presented the general with the Dalyrian battle plans they had decoded, she clenched her fists so hard that her nails dug into her palms. Erol clearly sensed Phaedra distress because when the council disbanded he approached.
“Phaedra…” he started, reaching a hand to touch her arm, but Phaedra swatted it away sharply.
“No. Errol, this is stupid. Why are we helping these Aartanian bastards?” She spat out that last word. “My homeland, my family is in danger — and we just helped them tip the scales!”
Erol, clearly caught off guard by her ardor, failed to reach her with his words. Gillam appeared similarly confused. How could they not understand how she must be feeling? How could they not understand her loyalty must be to her family and homeland, and not to the strange Aartanians? But then, the thought gave her the briefest pause – she too had been surprised. What did she owe her family? They had been willing to give her away. They betrayed her. But then, once again, the image of her father’s face broke into her consciousness and she felt her eyes burn with tears.
“We can’t do this.” She croaked, and with one hand covering her face and the other shoving Erol out of her way, she broke into a run and raced from the room. As she bounded down the stairs, startled shouts called after her, but the only thing she could hear was the rush of pounding blood in her ears. All she could feel was a stabbing pain in her heart. All she could see was the lifeless body of her father… Her mother… Her sister. This was the fate set before them if Phaedra could not find a way to stop the war. She had to go home.
Phaedra burst through the front door of the barracks and whipped around the corner of a nearby alley. Without missing a beat, Phaedra seized her dagger and tore it through the air and stone in front of her. There was a bright flash of light, and when it faded, she felt the cool Dalyrian sea breeze softly brush her cheek, as if to dry her tears. The black curtain rippled as Phaedra stepped from the shadow of the alleyway into bright light.