Once, I was called Xian. It was the secret name my master gave me. She revealed it to no one, even though I betrayed her. Xian became Serena Jasior. Serena and Xian betrayed Nevalyn, so we could become Imperatrix. We gave Zenobia our master’s secrets, so Zenobia could forge the spear, which she could drive into the Nevalyn’s breast, sending her into the Abyss. Zenobia gave us the secret of forging the slave collars, ankle, and wrist bracelets, which we could use to bind the Serpent’s brood. Only one has ever escaped these bindings. We still don’t know how Kyra Nevalyn did it, but we will uncover her secrets. After all, Kyra has fallen into our hands, once more, hasn’t she? We thought we’d lost her, once she escaped the chains. She never saw our face, not truly. She doesn’t know we’re the Imperatrix. It’s hard, after ruling as Serena Jasior to go back to becoming ‘Xian’. We need to do so, for our little brother’s sake. Yes, we have a little brother. He’s not truly our blood. You only have to look at his golden hair, as well as his shifting eyes, which change from blue to gold to know he’s one of the Serpent’s brood. We found him, when we searching for the Serpent’s kin. You see, when Zenobia drove her spear into Nevalyn, my master cast a curse upon us. We’re no longer be able to use any of the magic she’d taught us. The knowledge is still there, but the power is not. We need people with magical power, so we can draw on their energy to fuel our spells. The slave bracelets and collars are very useful, in binding those people, so they’re of one mind with the one holding their chain. We intended to bind this child, but one look in his eyes, and I…we…hesitated. We took the little boy home, cleaned him up, and fed him. We gave him a name, Stephen Jasior. Yes, we adopted him, making him our own brother. I think we must have loved him, a little. We dressed him in finery, gave him an education, and made him the proper princeling. Xian also taught him everything she knew, well, almost everything. I do have a few secrets I must keep, even from Serena’s heir. Begone, self! We are the Imperatrix. We will continue to speak, as one. We were discussing Stephen Jasior. Every other magic user we either bound with the chain, or inducted into the Order of the Dragons. Not Stephen. Any gentleness we had within us, we bestowed upon him. And how did he repay us? He challenged any one, who wished for his hand in marriage, to meet him in the magical dueling circle. He promised to marry the victor, as well as to hand over to her (or him) half of our empire, if the challenger could defeat him! As if Stephen had the right to hand out our empire like that! We demanded to know what the boy was doing. Stephen said not to worry. No one would defeat him. If anyone did, well, a powerful magic user would be revealed, wouldn’t they? One we could bind to the service of the Empire, or induct into the Dragons. I should have recognized my master’s smile on his face, when he spoke. For Stephen is still one of Nevalyn’s brood. Ever since he issued his challenge, he has defeated and killed every single one of his suitors. Such a waste of magic! I could have used those mages, even if we were weak. No one can enter the magic circle, so I’ve been unable to save any of Stephen’s suitors, or victims. Not once combat has begun between the two magic users. Or so I thought, until Kyra Nevalyn did it. She appeared, out of nowhere, to walk right into the circle. She blocked Stephen’s power, right when Stephen was about to dispatch yet another foolish suitor. Did she want to save the girl that badly? Or was she stopping Stephen from doing something he truly did not wish to do? Yes, Kyra drew our attention to the fact that Stephen might be acting the way he is, because of a curse. On a whim, I decided to become an individual, again, hiding the identity of Serena Jasior, Imperatrix. I played the part of Xian, once more, in Kyra’s presence. I whisked Kyra away from the circle, dodging my own Dragon guards. I introduced myself as Xian, the servant of a powerful noblewoman. I talked to Kyra, using as soft speech, as I could. I’ve managed to gain her trust. I’ve offered matronage to her, as a potential suitor for Stephen’s hand, in the name of my fictional mistress. We failed with the collar and bracelet to keep Kyra, when we captured her long ago. Perhaps honeyed words can achieve what chains failed to do. Besides, she does appear to be the only one with a chance of saving Stephen from whatever ails him. I must play along with Kyra, be her ally, even be her friend, if I am to save him from my old master’s grasp. For we can now see my master; in his face, in his smile, and in his words. How long she’s been possessing Stephen, we don’t know. We must save him, by any means possible. If those means include allying ourselves with a member of the Serpent’s Brood, we will do so. Besides, it’s an excellent opportunity to study Kyra Nevalyn, to discover her weaknessness. When we do eventually put the slave bracelet upon Kyra, it will stay on. You can read about all of this, once our author pulls all our fragments of story together into something complete. We believe she’s considering calling it, ‘A Suitor’s Challenge’. If you would be interested in reading more about us, inform our author. It may motivate our author to spend more time on ‘A Suitor’s Challenge’, turning it into a complete novella, or novel.