- July 2nd, 2011
Dalia Ikrova sat near the end of the large table in the center of her chambers, the book of arcana before her, with the flickering candelabra behind her in the center of the table giving only a feeble light, though it was more than enough for her eyes. She yawned slightly and paused to tuck a few locks of her burgundy colored hair behind her ears, taking care to raise them up and behind the horns that emerged out of her skull an inch beyond the start of her hairline. Dalia placed a length of ribbon in the book to mark her place and stood up. The room itself was large, containing three comfortable beds and large armoires in addition to the table. There were windows on the southern side of the room that looked out on the darkened trees of Gronzi Forest outside of the Medvyed compound, the bright moonlight giving the leaves a silvery edge. One thing could be said for her great uncle’s home, it had beautiful scenery.
Behind her, Dalia heard the sound opening and she turned to greet her twin sister and younger brother, but stopped short at what she saw. Her sister, Natasha, was pushing a wheeled tray with their evening meal as normal; but Alexi carried only a loaf of bread, as his other arm was bound in a sling.
“What is this,” Dalia exclaimed. “Alexi, who has done this to you?”
“Leave it be,” Natasha answered flatly, as she lifted the heavy kettle of soup onto the table with one hand, “he was exploring near the stables and the new boy caught sight of him. He jabbed Alexi with the pitchfork before they could stop him.”
“A pitchfork,” she asked angrily. “Did Lord Gurven punish the boy?”
“No,” Alexi said sullenly as he laid down the loaf of bread and sat down. “Uncle Dmitri argued with him over it, but Uncle Gurven said it was my fault for ‘spooking him’ so all he had to do was apologize. He was bigger than me, he could have killed me!”
“This is outrageous,” Dalia said, her grey eyes flashing wild with anger, “a peasant boy attacked the heir of House Ikrova and Gurven does nothing?”
“Lord Gurven does not have to do anything,” Natasha answered hotly,” you know that. We owe him our lives, Dalia! He could have easily left us to the mob ten years ago and then the Ikrova would be as dead as everyone says it is.”
Dalia felt rage bubbling up inside of her. Ten years ago, they had come to live with their great uncle, Lord Gurven Medyved, after their parents had been killed by the villagers under her father’s control. House Ikrova had been a lesser house, allied to Medvyed, a powerful Brevic noble house. Her mother, Katarina, was Lord Gurven’s favorite niece. Their father, Viktor Ikrova, had been a good man, but arrogant, and had angered some powerful fey sorcerer that had cursed him and his line. From what her uncle Dmitri told them, Viktor had thought nothing of the curse until the day when she and Natasha were born. Instead of normal human babies, they were tieflings, albeit unique ones. While both she and her sister had horns, they lacked all other physical features associated with the fiendish creatures—though later it was learned that Dalia cast no shadow, and Natasha was resistant to magic. The villagers had muttered darkly but did nothing, as girls were not heirs under the inheritance laws of Brevoy. Seven years later, when their mother became pregnant again, she prayed to the gods and left offerings to the fey hoping that the baby would be normal. Their father only prayed that the baby be a boy. Alexi was apparently the culmination of the curse, for he was more a tiefling than his sisters were—horns and tail of a goat, pointed ears, and eyes that glowed in the darkness. Within a year the villagers rioted, convinced that the evil had to be purged. Dalia remembered being sent in secret to their uncle Dmitri who brought them here to the Medvyed compound for safety. Their parents never joined them. Lord Gurven allowed their uncle Dmitri to raise the three “monsters” in seclusion, and while she was grateful, she did not feel it excused this treatment.
“If our Lord Uncle won’t punish the whelp then I will,” Dalia said as she stalked towards the door, pausing only to grab her coat.
“And just what will you do,” Natasha asked with a bitter laugh, “impale him on your corkscrews?” Her sister referenced the horns jutting from Dalia’s head, which unlike the goat style of her siblings’ horns, curled like corkscrews as they followed the curve of her skull before jutting out behind her head and ending in upward-turned points.
“It is better than suffering this insult,” Dalia answered coldly before exiting the room and slamming the door.
It was a short walk down the hall to the courtyard, and Dalia ran as fast as she could so that her sister could not catch up to her, but Natasha did not follow. She slowed as she entered the open space, the last thing she needed was to be attacked herself. The Ikrova children had always lived a sheltered life here, their existence known but never spoken about. Only uncle Dmitri, their mother’s older brother, treated them like the orphaned children they were.
As she neared the stables, Dalia realized that she did not really want to harm the boy. Natasha was the fighter, she was the scholar, and even Natasha had seen that violence would not work here. No, it was her great uncle that she was mad at, him and his horrible treatment of her and her siblings. Sighing, she veered away from the stable and down a path leading into the woods.
I could just go back to the room, she thought. But no, Natasha would tease her the rest of the night, and that was not something she wanted. A walk in the woods would give her time to finish cooling down and let Natasha worry about what she was doing. Dalia enjoyed walks in the forest, as she loved studying the various plants and animals she encountered. She pulled her coat tighter and fastened the buttons to keep anything unwelcome from getting inside. The greatcoat was her prized possession, cut in blue cloth and embroidered with gold thread and buttons that bore the phoenix that graced the banners of House Ikrova. It had been a gift from her uncle Dmitri on her birthday, last Rova.
After walking for an hour, Dalia sat down on a rock to rest before heading back. The woods were dark, but she needed no light to see, even though the details were in shades of grey instead of the greens and browns they should be. A rustling caused her to freeze and hold her breath. There were many creatures in these woods, both natural and otherworldly, that she hoped to avoid. A small fox, its coat of a mottled pattern, emerged from the bushes in front of her, and Dalia breathed a sigh of relief.
“You gave me a fright, little one,” she said with a smile. The fox took a few cautious steps forward, watching her.
“I won’t hurt you, it’s alright,” Dalia said soothingly. She reached into one of her inner pockets, pulling out a bit of dried meat that she always carried there for her little walks and offering it to the small creature. “Come here, that’s right.”
The fox moved closer and took the bit of meat from her hand. Its eyes watched her intently, but it did not seem as skittish as other foxes she had come across during her walks—it seemed… smarter. Cautiously, Dalia reached her hand out to pet it, encouraged by its lack of fear. When she made contact though, a rush of feeling went through her, as if she were in the fox’s mind.
“What,” she exclaimed in confusion, “how…what just happened?” As she stared at the fox, she had the sensation that it was amused. That it had been waiting for her, that she had called it.
“But that is impossible,” Dalia said aloud to the fox. “I have not spoken since I entered the forest and… wait… the ritual?” The fox wagged his tail. “You are my familiar?”
The night before, Dalia had been reading a tome about the practices of witches, and she had tried to cast the ritual for summoning a familiar, but she did not know that it had worked. She had tried study wizardry before with no luck, and she was no sorcerer, but she felt a pull towards arcane magic in some way, so she had researched witches. Apparently, that had been the correct path.
“So I am a witch,” she mused aloud. The fox yipped excitedly and ran down the trail towards the compound for a few feet before returning. Smiling, Dalia understood and jumped off the rock to race after him.
An hour later, she burst into the room she shared with Natasha and Alexi, both of whom jumped at the crashing open of the door.
“Dalia, where have you been,” her sister asked apprehensively. “You didn’t really hurt that boy did you? It’s been hours and…”
“No, I didn’t,” she said hurriedly as she ran to her armoire. “Where is my old pack?”
“What? Why,” Natasha asked as Alexi stared at her like she were a wild woman.
“I’m leaving, going to travel the world,” Dalia answered, finding her pack and stuffing it with clothes, an old bedroll, water skin, books, and other things. "Maybe I will even go all the way to Absalom!"
“Dalia, that is crazy,” her sister cried. “You can’t go out into the world, they will kill you!
“I can cover up,” she replied.
“What about your shadow,” Alexi asked quietly.
“I have found my shadow,” Dalia said with a smile. Her siblings stared at her as if she had gone mad. “Senka, come,” she yelled into the hallway in response. In walked the fox, now clearly mottled red and black with a white tip on his tail. She had chosen the name on purpose, an old word from a dead language, but with a strong meaning to her.
“What is that,” Natasha asked in a very unamused tone.
“Senka,” Dalia said smugly, “my shadow.”