A Suitor’s Challenge is nothing for Zenobia, Empress of Kalanthia. Did we not forge the chain which bound Nevalyn herself, giving Serena Jasior the opportunity to become Imperatrix? Wooing one little Serpent-Born prince is nothing, even if Serena holds him close to her breast. She ought to remember to whom she owes her throne. Any rivals are nothing to us. We are more powerful than them all. We shall win this challenge. We are the true Imperatrix. Once Stephen Jasior is ours, we will be the only Imperatrix. No Serpent-Born girl is going to stop us, no matter how powerful or charming she might be. She is just one more thing Serena has which should be ours. We will not be denied what is ours. No one can stand against us for long.
X is for Xian
Once I was Xian before We became Serena Jasior. Once I was a fearful servant at the maw of the Serpent, worshipping Her glory. We took some of that terrible glory into Ourselves, uniting the lands in an empire against the Serpent. We became those lands’s Imperatrix, their weapon against Her.
Now We seek weapons, human tools of Our own among the Serpent-Born. We hold them to Our breast even when they may bite Us. We become Xian once more to earn a tender young Serpent Born’s trust when she faces A Suitor’s Challenge. This challenge will devour her before she even steps into the arena to confront what burns within our Stephen’s eyes. She needs Xian to navigate those perils and We need her.
Thus We…I…become Xian again. Remembering what it was like to singular and small. Remembering what it was like to struggle and hope.
It’s both frustrating and intoxicating. It cannot last, yet can anything? We…I…simply hope to build what will endure for as long as it can.
U is for Una
Stealing Myself From Shadows is impossible so I entrust my hopes, dreams, my revenge to others. One is particularly My Tool, My Treasure for he is the son Duessa Ashelocke stole from me in her avarice and appetite. Damian Ashelocke is the weapon capable of slicing through my enemy’s Web of Inspiration for all he wishes to be the spider at the center of it. Only when he does will My Cusps Overfloweth. Only then will Stefan Ashelocke, Redcrysse, and myself be avenged.
R is for Rhodry
There’s Trouble at Caerac Keep. It’s taken my mentor and kin, Daeric Nevalyn away. It’s creeping up the walls, whispering in the wind. It’s spiriting people away, sucking the spirit right out of them, leaving them in a swoon. Just as it visits me nightly, sending me into a swoon of ecstacy I dare not speak of. It’s hatching out of an egg, whispering to me of A Suitor’s Challenge centuries ago, a trouble brewing before there was a Keep.
I’m not sure if all of these troubles are linked or not. I’m going to find out, even if I have to work with companions who believe I’m evil, incapable, or some sort of snack. I just hope I can keep Kevin, the bartender at the Tipsy Hedgehog and the closest thing I have to a friend far from this trouble. For I fear trouble is coming for all of us. When it does, it’ll be wearing a very different shape than the one too many assume is its truth.
Q is for Questioning
I’ve used names as if they were masks. Now I question them all as well as the people I thought I was. Who am I? What am I? More importantly what purpose do I serve in the World of Ouroborous?
I’ll help Kyra with A Suitor’s Challenge even thought I fear for her. My innocent students, Kyra and Stefan. They didn’t deserve to be swallowed by the Serpent, enslaved by the Dragons or a scheming Imperatrix. What point is there in power if it cannot protect those without it?
The Serpent in all Their ambiguous totality isn’t enough for Their people. The innocent need a champion, a god who’ll protect them and what’s pure in Ouroborous. Even if it leads to Trouble in Caerac Keep centuries later, even if fractures the world, the Dragons must be stopped. They shouldn’t be allowed to round up children, carrying them off in chains. They shouldn’t be able to stop those who remember from passing on their tales, giving the listeners a chance to think about them.
The Dragons are almost as big a problem as the Serpent. Daeric Nevalyn is right. Something needs to check them as well as his eternal mother, slithering within the hearts of her brood.
I agree with Daeric, yet I question what we’ll do to stop these forces. I’ve already given up a measure of my self and strength to do so, pouring what’s left into questions. Questioning is whom I am now. Questioning is what I’ll be.
O is for Ouroborous
A Suitor’s Challenge is but a tiny cry within Our coils. Trouble at Caerac Keep is just one of many troubles to cling to our scales. We suffer them, shed them, making way on Our body for another layer of skin. We are Ouroborous. We are the World Serpent, the spirit of the shaking earth you walk upon. The Goddess shaped Us long before the Unicorn walked out of the light to pierce our children with Her horn. We do not expect perfection or purity as She does. We are both god and monster. A spark of Us lies within you all. As long as you exist, We do. If one comes to challenge and consume Us, We simply absorb them into Our collective self. We shift, slither, and change, our land masses moving with Us. You are destroyed, returning to Our maw, only to be reborn. We exist. We endure.
N is for Nevalyn
A Suitor’s Challenge will draw my prey out from the ranks of shivering maidens determined to possess this lovely little prince I’ve shaped and molded, helped to climb to power. It’s not my first climb with a partner, oh, no. My enemies sense me slithering in their midst, but they can’t stop me. Only you can do that, my Kyra. Where are you? Have our enemies sought to claim you as I once did? Have you learned as they must learn that you are beyond all of them? Only I can claim and contol you. Once I do, we will reshape this world, feeding upon it as we were always destined to. Don’t try to fight it, Kyra. It’s far more easy to give into the coils of the world serpent, letting Them consume you. Only then will we consume Them in turn.
K is for Kyra
A Suitor’s Challenge lies before one, one cannot refuse. Prince Stephen Jasior is challenging anyone who wishes to court him to a magical duel. No one has survived his powers in the circle for the Serpent burns within his breast. The Serpent he invited inside him so She wouldn’t take me.
No one knows the tragedy of this beautiful and terrible prince, that he was once a boy, my loyal friend. A friend who came between me and my destined doom. No one knows he’s trapped, screaming within his body, even as he laughs as his would-be lovers and princesses, daring to seek his hand.
To save him, I must court him, To save him I must step into the arena and face the Serpent again. Maybe even invite Her back inside myself.
I’m going to need help if I’m to succeed. If I’m to even step into the area. If we’re going to survive the Serpent, growing hungry and powerful within the prince.
I’m going to need to be stronger than I’ve ever been. I’m going to need faith I can be stronger than the Serpent. That Stephen and I, the bond we once had is stronger.
I’m going to need more luck than I’ve ever possessed.
I is for Isolde
You tell me The Players Are the Thing. That we only exist because of a circle of women rolling dice made us up to amuse themselves. Those dice decide our fate. Such a sadistic whim. These fate-rolling wenches rival the enchantress Fidessa in their enthusiasm to make others suffer.
Amberwyne, for me, you’ve always been my fate, my destiny. The one I left my marble for. I follow you, chasing curses, but I’ve always been chasing you. Have you noticed? Too often your crystal blue eyes are locked on someone else. Your former mistress, Fidessa. Now it’s this girl, one of these girls you say is playing with your fate.
I wonder what your beloved ‘Dessa thinks of your dice rolling fancy? Of what she and her companions have done to us? Fidessa may be the way she is because of these free-rolling Fates.
I may be the way I am because of them.
Is my devotion to you simply the whim of a bored Fate, entertaining herself with my passion? How am I supposed to forgive this if it’s true? How can you ask me to protect her?
It’s too crue and terrible, Amber. I cannot believe you care about this creature who plays with our lives. I cannot believe you expect me to. I don’t want to believe it, to accept this.
I’m terrified of what will happen once I do.
D is for Damian
Who am I? If we’re in the Navel, I’m whomever you wish me to be. Oops, that’s only if you think we’re in the Navel. We may actually be in the Shadow Forest. You got me. In the Navel I was someone I wished I wasn’t. In the Gardens of Arachne. I was always someone someone else wished I wasn’t. Enjoy me while I last Beyond the Door. I’m always Stealing Myself From Shadows, every chance I get, even when they think they’re stealing me. I’m friend and foe in equal measure to The Hand and the Eye of the Tower, depending on what choices they make. I’ll give you A Godling for Your Thoughts? if you ask you for it, but what will I take in return? Only with Christopher am I myself, but he’s still My Tool, My Treasure even if he redefines himself. Especially if he redefines himself. We’re both caught in a Web of Inspiration yet we’re learning to pluck its strands to yield results. My Cusps Overfloweth with potential for all I may give my potential to someone else. I’ll offer anyone a glimpse of the truth who dares to look. No one strays from the path in the Shadow Forest and stays the same. No one wants to. Besides I must maintain a little mystery as I go my merry way. We’ll see soon enough what I’m up to.