“Ya kesei, Yen!”
Yennefer turned sharply at the tone. “Nei, Garibold,” she cautioned, flashing her grey eyes that had now flared into a vicious storm. “You should remember to whom you are speaking to.”
Sir Garibold flinched back, quickly bowing his head. At the very least, the man could recognise when he’d overstepped his bounds.
“I deeply apologise, Empress,” he said. “I hope you can understand I only bring up such matters for your benefit.”
Yen inclined her head, maintaining the dignity of her class; though other unfortunates tended to confuse her ‘dignity’ with ‘vanity’.
“I am aware that my lack of Companion is not favourable among the Court or the Flyless,” she admitted, hiding her mild embarrassment behind a curtain of thick raven hair. “But I will not take your harassment today. I will find my Companion in time, you and the Masters must simply be patient and stop demanding for it to fit your schedule.”
She turned to look out the window of her chambers, watching Fliers ride the winds with their Companions. Some were stags with the wings of eagles, while others were snow leopards with a peacock’s tail and wings. Then there were the smaller Companions; ones that were taken as pets as they were incapable of holding the weight of a Flier. The children often owned rabbits with long, feathered ears. The creatures would hover low, their ears flapping to keep themselves airborne. Yen herself owned a Siamese cat with feathered ears and a tail. She named him Utu, as his narcissistic personality was that of a god. As of right now, Utu was bathing in the sunlight at her feet, red and black feathers glowing fiercely.
The floating city before her was dotted with glistening lakes and golden temples. Lush plants marked paths around the city, down from the Court and into the markets. The vibrancy of the colours sparkled, bringing joy in all the people, including herself. Despite her annoyance, her frustration, and her worry of incapability, Yen adored her city.
Utu meowed, removing himself from the sun and began rubbing against her legs. He meowed again, this time making his demand for food more obvious instead of feigning love. Yen scooped him up in her arms, and he hissed in protest.
“I will walk the forests, Sir Garibold,’ she said, already walking out of the room. “Perhaps this is the time my Companion will reveal itself to me. Will this please the Masters for at least one tiresome day?”
“Indeed Empress!” he bellowed after her. “I will inform them not to bother you for the rest of the afternoon!”
“Let us hope so,” she muttered.
Utu growled in the back of his throat.
After walking the bamboo forest for hours, Yen arrived at her hideaway.
It was a small clearing with a shallow stream bubbling quietly nearby, the bamboo leaves rustling. Birds chirped sweetly, the occasional swallow darting swiftly along the ground, before soaring into the air. The sun illuminated the spot, golden light brushing through the gaps in the trees. It was as if the gods themselves had created this place, but even they could not bring themselves to hoard its beauty; only the worthy could find such a treasure.
Utu batted his paws in the stream, trying to catch his reflection. Yen could not help but giggle at the feline. Within the Court he was grumpy, digging his claws into her skin when she brought him down to the kitchens. Only after being fed the latest catch of the day would he be content to be carried around.
When Yen first found him in the Markets, nothing but a flea-ridden abandoned kitten, she never imagined him to turn out the way he did. She could still remember the day, as though only hours had passed and not years. He was a tiny thing; the runt of the litter. His smoky fur was matted with filth, and his feathers had split apart. He had even pulled some out due to stress. But when she had picked him up in her hand – just one hand – he’d made a squeaky little noise and begun to lick her fingers. Yen couldn’t leave him after that.
Had she known the whole act may have been a ruse and he would grow into a self-entitled arsehole, maybe she would have put him back in the little box and walked away.
Nei, she thought, watching his curious joy as he tried to puzzle out why the cat in the water copied all his movements. A bond had been forged that day. Not even Yen could be that callous.
Though the Masters believed so.
Yen bowed her head, the weight of their expectations, and the expectations of her people overwhelming her. They wanted so little from her, yet at the same time they wanted so much. Companions were as common as cats, dogs, and butterflies. They dominated the earth and sky. They seemed to be an endless population, all waiting for their human Companion to find them.
It was not asking for much, that the Empress of Jada follow the country’s history and become a Flier, a strong Companion sitting by her side. She was elected by the Masters because of what a magnificent Flier she was – Yen had demonstrated that many times during her life – and they believed they would not have to wait long for her to find her Companion. Even some of the most reveled and loved Emperors and Empresses had been late-bloomers.
But the Masters were growing impatient, and even the Flyless themselves were questioning their monarch.
Utu made a sudden growl, and leapt into his water-twin, bringing Yen out of her thoughts. He hissed as the water drenched his fur and feathers. He leapt away growling furiously, and darted to Yen’s feet, immediately plonking himself in the sun and trying to lick away the betrayal.
Yen smiled and bent down to scratch behind his ears, before halting suddenly, a gasp slipping from her lips.
Black as ichor, dotted with golden spots, and eyes as blue as sapphires, was a creature that only legends spoke of. It parted the trees, and slowly stepped its way to the stream. It gave Yen a wary glance, before deciding her existence was nothing. It slinked completely out of the brush, revealing a long, four-legged body with a golden tail. A mix of feather and scales, glorious and majestic.
The clearing had become silent. The swallows had vanished. The leaves stopped rustling. The stream no longer bubbled.
Yen’s eyes widened, both afraid and utterly hypnotised by the mythical creature before her.
The monks spoke of a prophecy. [MG1]
He that sights Jadansi will ride the winds and flame.
He that sights Jadansi will rise or fall in his horror.
“Mei gods,” Yen whispered. What on Jada do I do? she thought. Utu was frozen at her feet, just as taken and fearful of Jadansi as she was. For undoubtedly it was she. The colour, the shape, the eyes, the feeling of majesty…
Jadansi crouched down, and began lapping at the water. Utu sniffed at the air, feeling more confident that the wonder before him was not threatening. Yen wished she had his bravery. Her feet were firmly planted to the ground, as though they had taken root beneath the earth.
Utu sniffed again, before taking slow and quiet steps toward her. Jadansi glanced up from the stream, giving another wary glance between Yen and her stupidly courageous cat. Her snout twitched, sensing any sign of malice plaguing her air.
Utu walked a few more steps, his ears pricked up and head cocked to the side.
“Utu,” Yen whispered, stern yet afraid for his soon-to-be-shortened nine lives. Utu ignored her, watching Jadansi. He cocked his head to the other side. Jadansi copied his movements. Yen could not understand why, but it seemed like this beast was more peaceful than the stories told. More peaceful than the monks prophesised.
Jadansi sat on her hunches, her tail swishing to and fro with grace.
Utu was now directly opposite her on the other side of the stream, merely a metre apart. He mewled. A quiet noise that Yen had not heard him make since he was a kitten crying outside her bedroom chambers. It was a noise that begged attention.
Jadansi mimicked his cry, her eyes glistening in the sunlight.
Utu, the little bastard, then trotted through the water – that water that he loathed but a moment ago – and circled Jadansi, rubbing his face through her sides and legs, brushing his tail in her face, and licked her paws.
Yen couldn’t remain still any longer. She forced herself up, and cautiously walked toward her cat. Jadansi showed no behaviour that indicated irritation or malevolence, but Yen had seen dogs playing turn violent, usually ending with drool and blood dripping from the victorious muzzle. Greater being or no, Utu’s life meant more to her than prophecies or enlightenment.
“Do not fear, Yennefer.” Her voice was sweet, calming.
Yen halted her steps. Jadansi watched her curiously, now ignoring Utu’s sucking up. Yen was too dumbfounded to comprehend the words that had fallen gracefully out of Jadansi’s mouth. Words.
Yen felt as if her entire vocabulary had been erased from her memory. She had questions, fears, hesitations, all of which she suddenly could barely utter. But one thought, one sentence, she knew she could make.
“Could I please have my cat back?” Yen asked, losing all her entitlement she had with Garibold earlier.
Jadansi smirked, if that were even possible. With a few quiet mews to the tiny creature circling her feet, Utu trotted back to Yen. She grabbed him instantly, scowling as he dug his claws into her shoulder.
The silence was awkward. Yen didn’t know what to say, or if she should just leave and pretend she never saw the living prophesy before her.
He that sights Jadansi will ride the winds and flame.
He that sights Jadansi will rise or fall in his horror.
“You are not male,” Yen finally said, then immediately regretting her rude tone.
“And how would you know, Empress?” Jadansi retaliated, rather annoyed. “Would you like to check as your vets do?”
Yen laughed nervously, imaging a scene of vets spreading Jadansi’s legs and checking private areas with small candles, murmuring to themselves at the strange texture and colour of her scales and feathers. Perhaps they should find second opinions to have a more accurate diagonsis?
Jadansi’s eyes narrowed. “That would be unpleasant and unnecessary, Empress.” Yen’s eyes widened again in horror. “Now if you’re done ogling, we shall discuss what you came here for.”
Yen tightened her hold of Utu. “What I came for?”
“The Masters are causing you trouble, are they not? I know. They demand you find a Companion. Admittedly you can understand their frustrations, Empress.”
Yen bowed her head, feeling as if she were being scolded by her mother. She was a mischievous child. Once she had let a herd of Unmatched stags out of a stable – slightly out of anger that not one of the beasts wanted to Match with her – and her mother, upon discovering what she did, shook her head sadly. “I’m not angry, Yennefer. Those stags would have Matched with someone within the Court. Someone would have found their Companion, and I am sad they will have to wait longer. I’m disappointed you thought of yourself before you thought of others.”
Somehow knowing her mother was disappointed was worse than her locking her in her chambers. Just as Yen let down her mother, she had let down her country and people. And now that she was staring into the eyes of a worshipped creature, it was odd to admit she felt it all over again.
“You have not failed your empire, Yennefer,” Jadansi said. Yen looked up, feeling almost a sense of relief. “You will not bring the fall of the city. You will bring the rise of it. They are closed-minded and will never see greatness. Not if you don’t show them.”
At that, Jadansi bowed her head, sat up and left as quickly and silently as she had come. Yen watched her leave, though not comprehending that Jadansi had actually gone until the breeze returned, and the swallows resumed their dance in the air.
Perhaps the monks were wrong. Perhaps they were right. Jada may fall under Jadansi’s horror, but clearly that day was far away.
Utu meowed, releasing his claws from her skin and sinking into her arms, letting comfort consume him. How rarely this happened.
Yen looked at his face. Eyes closed, a small smirk, soaking up the warmth of the sun, seeing the light dance over his feathers. She knew then.
Yen smiled, feeling confidence surge through her veins, finally having an answer to a question that plagued her for too long. “I will.”
[MG1]introduce this earlier perhaps? Bit sudden