Sovereign Daniel rode at a gentle pace through the slowly elongating shadows of evening, the terrain around him mostly rolling grassland dotted with thin copses of trees. He was keeping an eye out for a nice hollow in which to spend the night; he had been traveling for a few days now, but was used to sleeping in the open. He was on his way to a keep in the north, called the Eagle's Nest. There had been no contact from them in some time, and all messengers who had been sent did not return. So the Emperor had sent Daniel, with instructions to see what was causing the silence. If the keep was under siege by barbarian hordes, then he was to assist the Governor of the Eagle's Nest in liberating the city. But if the Governor was entertaining thoughts of treason, then Danny was to “convince” him, in whatever way he deemed appropriate, to come back under the guidance of the Emperor.
This was his first mission in awhile. To tell the truth, life in the Empire had begun to get monotonous, flat. It was like everything was becoming the same, and happening over and over again. And this mission was only because they had no word. Anything could have happened.
Danny had one leg bent around the saddle-horn, with a medium-sized, cloth bound tome propped in the crook of his knee. Idly chewing half-a-mouthful of wheat which he had been steadily transforming into gum for several hours, he strained to read in the failing light. It was a little romance book he had picked up in the market of the last town he had stopped in. The plot had interested him so he had purchased it, even if the steamier bits made his ears turn pink. The odds and ends merchant had sold it to him at a discount, after he had caught sight of the wheel branded on Danny's wrist, the Imperial crest. Sovereigns were given a wide berth in the Empire. In the Imperial city, where much was known and understood about the elite champions of the Emperor, the distance was out of respect. Out here in the rural areas, the distance was caused by fear. So Danny didn't like bandying his rank about while traveling, unless for some reason the authority was needed; he didn't like making people uncomfortable.
Once word had spread that a Sovereign was in their midst, people had almost tripped over themselves to give him supplies at ridiculously low prices; Danny had paid more, and when the people he had already purchased from came to him to offer his money back, Danny told them to keep it. Then he had left as quickly as his horse could ride out of there. He had heard some people speculating that maybe becoming a Sovereign was the secret to eternal youth; that man had looked not a day over fifteen years old. But that was impossible. No one became a Sovereign so young.
Danny was really eighteen, one of the youngest Sovereigns in the service. Being small, and slight for his age, he was constantly underestimated. Sighing, Daniel put thoughts of his past out of his mind, scanning the landscape again for a place to stop. Spotting a likely place, Danny tweaked the reins and his horse obediently turned off the road, heading for a single tree rooted in a soft-looking little hollow. Smiling, he slipped a leaf between the pages to mark his place, shaking his leg out as he slipped it back into the stirrup.
The next moment was a confusing blast of light and sound as a wave of hard, sharp feeling air whipped along his body. His horse neighed and reared back, panicking, but Danny kept his seat, a throwing knife already in his hand. Then in a second the wind and light was gone, and the strangest woman Daniel had ever seen stood in the hollow. She was beautiful in a stern way, back straight and expression austere. Her long black hair floated behind her in a nonexistent wind, billowing gently. She watched him with a coldly appraising, dark eyed gaze.
Danny dismounted his fidgeting horse, calming it with a few murmured words and pats to the neck. Besides, he felt that it would be wrong to talk down to this woman. He kept the knife concealed in his hand, just in case.
“Daniel,” the woman said. “You have been identified as an ideal candidate for inclusion in the Book of Stories. Come with me.” She waved her hand, and wavery lines appeared in the air her fingers passed, forming a strange scar of faintly red geometrical patters. “Touch the portal.”
Danny eyed the strange phenomenon suspiciously. “Are you a sorcerer?” he asked.
The woman shook her head. “I am Lady Ink. You are needed. The Book is unwriting itself, and you are talented and adaptable. Only mortals can go inside to repair it now.”
“What is the Book?” Danny asked, taking an unconscious step forward.
She looked at him strangely. “It is The Book, the Book of All Stories.”
Danny shook his head, backing away. “I can't go with you, Lady. I have a mission, for the Emperor.”
“Your Emperor is in danger.” The Lady said stoically. Instantly Daniel was all ears.
“What? From whom? From where?”
“From the Book. Your Emperor, your World. All the stories are merging, which means so are all the Worlds. Have you noticed? Things are becoming the same.”
Danny nodded hesitantly, his dark eyes meeting hers steadily. “So, I go with you and repair this... Book, and save the... Worlds? There are other worlds out there?”
Lady Ink nodded. “Many. You will visit them in the pages of the Book. Now come. This portal will take you to the Book. But first,” she said, closing her eyes and raising her hand to shoulder height, twiddling her fingers in strange, hypnotizing patterns. In a flash of red sunlight, the darkly metallic shape of an undulating flame appeared between her fingers. It wavered as a square of thin, opaque material coalesced around it.
“This is a Construct,” she said. “My Gift to you. It is an extremely versatile tool. Use it as you will.” She handed it to him, and he watched in wonder as it wiggled and changed shape in his hands, folding in on itself, becoming a thin, slightly textured metal flame that was about the size of a candle flame. Small enough to fit in the palm of his hand, it seemed to generate it's own heat. He nodded his thanks as he slipped it into an inside pocket, wondering how he was supposed to use it.
“Now. Touch the portal.” Her eyes bored into him, reflecting the red light from the sunset. “You may be strong enough to save the other Stories.”
Feeling he had been caught up in circumstances he had no control over, and feeling a great deal of trepidation, he raised his hand. As his fingers neared it, the ramrod straight lines flickered and sparked. He faltered. But, although he was afraid, this somehow felt... right. Like it was what he was supposed to be doing. His hesitation gone, and feeling confident he could deal with whatever was on the other side of this 'portal,' he slid his fingers into the pattern floating in the air. It was cold, tingling; he could feel something like thin wires in the frame of the thing. The tingling spread, and the warm summer evening disappeared. The soft red light from the sunset and the gentle rustling of the tree overhead faded, and Danny was plunged into darkness, realizing he had forgotten to ask how to repair the Book. His last coherent thought was, How am I supposed to save the world...Worlds, alone? And then, I should have spit out the wheat.
For some reason, my computer won't let me upload word files. So, it's in the description. Oh well! Gave me a chance to draw Lady Ink! This is part two of my audition. Enjoy!