When Lady Sandrilene fa Toren first learned to see magic, the bloom of soft, silver fire that wreathed Winding Circle Temple had been blinding. Everywhere she had looked, she had seen the glittering blaze of old, powerful magic in the buildings and walls of her home reflected and redoubled in the hearts of her family and teachers. A vast, beautiful weave embroidered with brilliant figures of life and love unfurled before her vision, and listening to the thrumming of the strings, like chords struck upon a harp, she could hear the music of her family’s thoughts, their emotions, their love. She followed the threads that held her family together high into the stormy sky above a sea choked with the dead. She followed them into an inferno that left the thread blackened and scorched, annealed and tempered with the brass glimmer of living metal. She followed the frangible, guttering thread into the darkness beyond, straining to see its dying light reaching into the merciless, infinite black that had claimed her mother and brother.
Occasionally, through the years, her tapestry would grow, as her spindle drew new lives close to her: one string for Pasco, her first student. Another for her uncle, Duke Vedris, and a third for Evumeimei. Each thread had a name, and each connected her to someone precious - save for one. This thread, she had not added herself, and had not named. It stretched far, far and away, into the distant north far outside of Summersea. When her siblings had left Emelan to travel with their teachers to the corners of the world, Sandry would sit upon the roof of the now empty Discipline cottage, tracing the lines that bound her to her family into the horizon and wondering where they lead. She would touch each one with a fingertip, and feel the resonant hum of the soul at the other end - the feeling of fresh earth against her hands, a blast of heat from a forge fire on her face, or the whisper of stormwind through her hair. The last thread, though…
“It’s just so vexing!” she said to Lark one late spring morning. Leaning against her teacher’s shoulder on the roof of the cottage, Sandry sullenly plucked at the magical line with a fingernail, trying to put words to the sensation. “It’s like I’ve eaten a whole bowl of fish, or butterflies, and they’re trying to wriggle all out of me.” Sandry grimaced. “But, not as bad as that. It feels nice, too. Like… like embroidering the perfect stitch, and pulling it tight.” Lark laughed.
“You never let a mystery stay one for long, my dear,” she said. “You’ll find the answer, in time. It’ll be good for you to travel too, once everyone comes home.” Lark’s catlike features spread into a wicked smile in her tanned, olive face. “And I think I have an inkling as to what that feeling you’re describing might be.”
Sandry brightened. “Really? What would you call it? It’s been a knot in my weave for years.” Lark smiled broader.
“Oh no. I’m your teacher still, so I know when you need to find your answers yourself. This isn’t a lesson you’ll learn if I tell you outright.”
“Laaaaarrrrkkkk,” Sandry moaned, but her teacher had stood firm. Sandry would have to be content in the knowledge that each thread her to one of her family, her students, and her teachers. Surely, this would be the same?
In her twentieth year, Clehame Sandrilene fa Toren and her closest threads departed their Summersea home and traveled north, towards her ancestral family lands. After a month on the winding road, in the dark of night, sitting outside of the circle of Trader wagons with the firelight at her back, she realized for the first time where this thread was leading her - to Namorn. To her family.
Could it be Mother or Father? She thought dumbly, but shook that thought free from her mind. She had seen their dead bodies, pockmarked and bloated in bed. Pirisi, too, was gone - and they had all died in Hajra, far to the south. She scolded herself for her foolishness, but then a sickening sense of anticipation rose in her throat. She still had family in Namorn - was it cousin Ambrose? Empress Berenene? Her stomach twisted. She had hoped for... for something. Something precious, and wonderful, a meeting that would help her mend the rift in her heart that her estranged siblings had left. Could her years of childhood dreams have lead to this? A dull, dry cousin whose correspondence had never involved more than ledgers and taxes? An Empress who saw her as a tool in hand? Now, more than ever, she wished she could talk to her siblings about the pinwheeling thoughts in her mind, but they were as closed off as they had been for the last two years. Sandry curled herself tighter in on herself, beckoning her blanket to wrap itself close around her. The evening had become suddenly chill, and the blanket did no good to warm her.
She slept very little that night.
When Sandry and her caravan had met Empress Berenene on the road to Dancruan, she almost went limp with relief. The feeling redoubled that night, when Ambrose had called upon them unexpectedly. It was neither and none of them. It did, however, lead them into the royal palace - it was clear that it ended somewhere within. During the rare moments she and her family had to themselves, Sandry prowled the halls like a restless animal, spying out the glimmering thread and following until it ended in a locked door or solid wall. It was a maddening, daily cat and mouse game of trying to follow it before a guard found her and returned her to the Empress's side, or worse, one of her pet men set upon Sandry to harry her like a fox in a hole. The thought of her answer being so close gnawed at her the entire time she was at Landreg house, and made her more eager to return to Dancruan than she would have been had she been in her right mind.
In the end, the answer appeared quite unexpectedly. There had been a banquet in the honor of another of the Empress’s cousins, from Lairan. The banquet hall was the very picture of regal decadence and excess - great horns overflowing with fruit, pastries emblazoned with the house colors of the great families in attendance. There were entertainers and musicians alike: Trader sword jugglers and fire breathers, mage-worked fireworks and illusions. It was a gay affair, and Sandry did her best to appear invested and delighted with each new presentation, but her inattention was obvious. Briar was even tempted to reopen their mental connection to tell her off, as he could see her eyes flitting to and fro as it followed her meandering thread tracking somewhere out of sight.
For all of her distraction, it seemed that none of the members of the court were mindful enough of her mannerisms to catch her distraction, or at least, too polite to mention it. Briar had claimed the first dance from her, using the opportunity to hiss a hurried scolding in her ear as they passed one another. Then Fin, Jak, then Shan had taken her onto the floor in turn. Each new unwanted display of attention and affection made Sandry want to scream, but she took a breath, counted to five, and imagined back-stitching a pleasant smile onto her face.
But then - a surge of emotion - tenderness, shock, heat that roared through her newly reopened connection and flooded her body and made her muscles loose - struck Sandry like a fist. She swayed, her mind reeling from the sudden sensation - Daja. Daja, and Rizu. Suddenly all of the people, the dancers, the court and their eyes upon her became very, very bright, and the chatter and music raised in volume, stabbing in her brain.
Mumbling an excuse to whoever she was holding onto at the time - she thought it might have been Fin? - Sandry stumbled and fled the hall.
Weaving through bodies the best she could, if she hadn’t been in such a high fit of disorientation and… and something, she might have noticed the girl meekly picking her way through dancing couples, walking with her shoulders hunched and head down. At the very least, she would not have walked directly into her and sent the both of them careening wildly to the ground in a messy tangle of silk and limbs.
The jolt cleared a little of the fog from her mind, and Sandry hurriedly sprang to her knees, reaching towards the girl and opening her mouth to begin to apologize profusely. Stupid, stupid, stupid! She berated herself mentally. The voice in her head sounded very much like Briar. What’s gotten into you? One handsy noble toady and you go all to bleating pieces? Get a hold of yourself!
The girl was sitting now, looking straight at Sandry, her cheeks flushed and red. Dark chestnut brown hair tumbled messily - Sandry’s doing, no doubt - around her face; it was too wavy and light to mark her as Yanjingi, but her almond-shaped, deep brown eyes still marked her as hailing from a similar part of the world. Sheer, transparent silks wrapped loosely around her body, exposing a very untraditional amount of leg and back. It was certainly uncommon dress for this part of the world - was she one of the dancing girls from earlier, foreign and lost?
“I am so, so very sorry,” Sandry stammered, holding her hand out to help the girl up. “I don’t know what’s gotten into me, I’m all a—”
Their eyes met, and Sandry’s lips went slack in stunned surprise. All thought left her save for one: All her life, she had wondered why this thread was so different from all the others. Still bright, still shimmering with powerful magic, but not silver like the ones that connected Sandry to her family. As the girl raised one hand to her cheek, eyes wide and starting to brim, Sandry saw the thread she had followed for most of her life tied with a small, neat bow upon her smallest finger. So that was why, she thought dumbly to herself, as the girl sprang to her feet and bolted from the room, leaving Sandry sitting on the floor. So that was why this thread was red.
My crimson string of fate.