Things had always been simple in Ianthe’s world. There were the Royals, the Chosen, the Nobles and from there the lesser folk in the kingdom.

It was a common hope that when a youth turned 20, they would become one of the Chosen. It was uncommon, exceedingly uncommon now, for one of the Chosen to be uncovered. Still, the poor and lowborn prayed for it, families put all they had into an especially gifted child in the hopes that they would be revealed as Chosen when they turned 20.

The numbers dwindled year after year as fewer and fewer Chosen were born and the Elders all spoke of what would happen when the day came that the Chosen were so few that they would no longer be able to benefit the kingdoms.

The Chosen were the only reason the four kingdoms came together. Miovia, Mareshomese, Lucana and Mjennic would be warring nations if they hadn’t had a tentative truce to be able to send their Chosen to the Illarum.

As the number of Chosen dwindled, the truce became more and more tenuous. Were the few Chosen worth the power they were giving up? It was a fine balance that was argued on every side.

The year before, the entire kingdom of Miovia had only 4 Chosen born among its citizens and the king weighed his options on staying in the accord. Once again, he put it off for another year and instead focused on the incoming offers on his daughter’s hand.

She would be twenty in one short month and as soon as she was a week passed her birthday, she could be wed. That was the minimum amount of time a noble or royalty was allowed to wait before they could be married, though most waited longer. There was an actual 20 day leeway from your birthday if you were going to be Chosen, one way or the other depending on the full moon. For royalty and nobility, it was a formality. There had never once been a Chosen born from any class higher than the merchant class. It was some sort of unwritten rule that the gods only chose from the lower ranks.

Ianthe was feeling anxious as she paced, waiting for the Lady Amelia to return. She hadn’t been allowed to the throne room for the past ten days while her father took offers for her hand. Her friends Amelia and Liah had both done their best to glean information for her, to see who was in the running for her hand. So far it was the Lord Santino, even though he was twice her age with a daughter only slightly younger than she was. It was a smart match though, and her father would be smart to take it. It was likely few men would be able to beat his offer, or would try given his resources.

Turning again, Ianthe stopped short, staring at the form in all black stepping into her room from her balcony. Her very high balcony, 11 stories above the ground. Gripping her stomach, fear lanced through her, but she couldn’t scream or cry out. She was frozen in place as the being approached her and took hold of her left hand. It pulled her arm out straight and turned her arm so her wrist was up, then, with a blade of light, it drew a rune into her wrist.

Ianthe was finally able to move again, released from whatever magic had held her, once the form had slid out of sight on the balcony. Running to look, she saw nothing but the darkness and shadows cast below from the full moon.

The full moon. The night the Chosen were marked if it was near enough to their 20th birthday.

Ianthe stared down at the glowing rune, the light already beginning to dim.

With a sick feeling, she sent for her father immediately.

He was upset at first, assuming she had sent for him to find out word of who he was entertaining. He had barred her from the feasting below, knowing that if she were to make a choice among the suitors, he would be unable to say no to her, even if he wasn’t the best match. He’d never been able to say no to her.

After she told him what happened, his face had gone pale, and then angry.

“You have been Chosen, Ianthe,” he grated. “I do not know why! It is unfair for them to take you this way!”

“But isn’t it a good thing? To be Chosen?”

“Perhaps for those below, but for us? We don’t need it!”

“Then I won’t go!”

“You must. You have to go… without training you may die. Your own gift will destroy you if you cannot control it. There is no question of not going, my love. You will go and you will train, then when you will return you will be twice the prize! But this is very important, Ianthe. You can let no one there know who you are and no one here can know you were Chosen. Tell no one, do you understand? You have fallen ill. I am sending you to the healers at the Barathrum. That is what I will tell everyone, that you have fallen to the palsy and I am sending you to be cured. Once you have returned to me, we can announce that you were Chosen. Until then… NO ONE can know you are at the Illarum. If anyone else finds out you are there and unprotected, it would be too large a temptation to try and take you.”

Ianthe nodded, looking down at the rune again. It looked like nothing but a small scar now, almost unnoticeable unless you turned it just right. “When must I go?” she asked, trying to sound brave.

“Now. Tonight. You must bring nothing, my little Ianthe, those are the rules. Wear a simple dress, bring nothing with you and go outside. Find the highest point you can and stand and wait alone. No one may watch, no one may wait with you. That will be the east tower, Ianthe, up where the scorpions are placed. Go now and find a dress, ask Hipatia to use one of her daughters dresses. Tell her you mean to spy on dinner below and she will let you. Change quickly and hurry. I love you, Ianthe. Return to me soon and remember to tell no one who you are. Pick another name for now, for your training. Go.”

Ianthe hugged him quickly, not bothering to hide her tears as he tried hard to hide his own. In less than an hour, she was climbing the ladder and pushing up onto the high tower with the four scorpions pointed out past the city walls.

It was cold, the wind bitter up here and she didn’t know what she must do now. Wait. Should she just stand there? Could she sit? Get out of the wind?

A cloud covered the moon for just a moment and Ianthe looked up at it. When she looked down, a white griffon stood in front of her, it’s eyes the same glowing silver as the moon.

“Oh!” Ianthe yelped, shocked as she stepped back.

Turning, the griffon showed a saddle on it’s back and a small double stirrup so Ianthe could climb up. She was expected to RIDE on this creature?!?

She supposed she was. Stealing herself, she hurried to the animal and climbed up, settling herself quickly and trying no to let fear overwhelm her. Spreading its giant wings, the creature ran towards the edge and hurtled itself off, gliding away from the castle with a graceful ease.

Ianthe looked back in amazement, even as she began feeling dizzy and out of focus.

She woke alone in a bed, a simple cot made of old canvas. It was uncomfortable and her body ached as she moved to sit up, looking around at the stone walls of the tiny room. There were no doors, just openings into the hall and Ianth could hear that she was not alone as she moved to peek out.

“Hello?” a male voice called.

“Where am I?” a girl asked.

Ianthe peeked out and the man was in the hallway, moving down to look in another room. “Where are you from?” the man asked, looking in the further doorway.

“Mareshomese? You too, you sound like.”

“Yes. We’re in the Illarum!” he told her excitedly. “We were Chosen! Weren’t you? Chosen?”

“The shadow? That locked me all up and wrote on me with the light?”

“Yes! The same happened to me, then the eagle came and got me! Come on, let’s go see where we are!”

The man turned and noticed Ianthe peeking out.

“Hello!” he called with a smile.

Ianthe felt panicked. She couldn’t let anyone know who she was and her accent would give her away immediately! Instead, she waved at the man, then the girl as she peeked out.

“Three of us! All at once!” the boy breathed. “Mareshomese had only five all of last year and now 3 all at once! This is exciting!” he laughed. “I’m Toliver, what’s your name?”

“Janine,” the other girl offered, looking Ianthe over.

Ianthe shook her head slightly and turned away, moving down the hall to the door.

“You don’t have a name?” Toliver asked congenially.

“Maybe she can’t talk?” Janine offered.

“Can you talk, little one?” Toliver called, catching up as Ianthe reached the huge wooden door.

Reaching passed her, he pushed it open and they all looked out into a large, circular stone room. There was a fire in the fireplace and a tray with bread, cheese and fruits on it, as well as a pitcher of water. There were no other doors, just the one they came in. There were three couches arranged facing each other and Janine went in and sat on one looking amazed.

“This is so lovely! Feel how soft they are! And look at that! Is that fruit? I’ve heard of fruit, but never thought I might see it! Or taste it!” she breathed, leaning in and picking up a grape. “It’s so sweet!”

“I’ve had apples plenty of times,” Toliver spoke up, also picking up a few grapes. “But never these. What do you suppose they are? I grew up on a farm, how about you?”

“I was in the city, my ma was a washerwoman at the laundry and I am too. What did you do on the farm?”

“Grew apples. Lord Hallowary’s orchards.”

“Hallowary cider? I heard of that! What about you, there? Don’t you want to try these little blue fruits? They’re very sweet!” she called.

Ianthe glanced at Janine, shaking her head slightly as she looked around. As she turned a full circle, she realized the door they came in was gone. Running to where it had been, she pressed on the wall and tried to feel where it was.

“Would you look at that!” Toliver laughed. “Magic! How soon till we learn do you suppose?” he asked Janine.

“Dunno, but I hope I have the healing touch! They do so well in the city, they’re like royalty!”

“We have a Chosen with the growing touch come out to the orchard every year! Hallowary hires him to come out and touch the trees every spring! Wouldn’t mind having a growing touch! What about you, little one?”

Ianthe looked at him again, then looked around the room, wondering how they were supposed to get out.

“Come and sit down,” Janine called. “Dunno where you’re from, but you needn’t be afraid. I know it ain’t Mareshomese, but even if it’s Lucana or Miovia, we won’t care. Once you’re in the Illarum, once you’re Chosen, that’s all there is for you. There’s no more division. It’s the law here. And what do we care for all their politicin’ anyways? Ain’t like their problems mean anything to any of us, that’s why they always Choose our kind. Cause we don’t care about who’s from where.”

“You’re wrong,” a loud female voice announced, making all of them jump and turn to her. “You do not get chosen as you imagine. Your ability to wield magic is born within you.”

Ianthe looked over the tall, handsome woman. She was as large as a man and built like one, but stunning in a way that made you stare.

“So why do nobles never get chosen?” Janine asked.

The woman smiled slightly. “It is uncommon, but not unheard of for a blue blood to be chosen. The problem with… nobility is too much intermingling of the blood lines. Their family trees have too many… shared branches so to speak. Innate magical ability is hereditary and very very few nobles lines have it. Since they stay within their own lines and don’t branch out, they have no gifts surface. There are times, though, when a line comes in contact with another line and they come together after many many generations and create someone who is gifted. Chosen.

“My name is Felina and I am here to answer a few questions and go over the rules before taking you into the Illarum.”

“We aren’t IN the Illarum?” Toliver asked.

“Not quite yet… we are… at the entrance, so to speak. Sit down, all of you. I would have each of you speak your name to me… or the name you wish to adopt if you would like to step away from your old life. Leave it behind as some do.”

“We can pick new names?” Janine asked excitedly.

“A great many do. They associate their old names with the lives they had before coming, many times not very nice lives. They want a new name for their new life. Will you be taking a new name, then, Janine?”

“Yes, I… how did you know my name?”

“I know all of the names you all arrived with.”

“Yes! I’ve always loved the name Evanora! I met a lady once and her name was Evanora and it was just SO lovely to hear it and say it!”

“Evanora then,” Felina smiled.

“I’ll keep Toliver,” Toliver grinned. “It was my fathers name, and his fathers name. Good enough for me or anyone.”

Felina gave him a nod and a smile, then looked at Ianthe.

Ianthe looked at her, blushing, but couldn’t come up with a name she would mind being called for however long this all took. She was still in shock over all of it! The nobility and royalty didn’t obsess over the Chosen like the commoners did.

“We can always come back to it at the end,” Feline told her gently.

“We don’t think she can talk,” Evanora spoke up.

“Perhaps when she feels the time is right, she will have something to say,” Felina told her. “Now, let us go over the rules here first. I am sure you know most of them already. There are no countries here, no allegiances to your old lives. The Illarum is of all and of none. Not a hard lesson for most to learn, but for some this may be a difficult thing to master.”

“How soon do we find out what touch we have?” Evanora asked quickly.

Felina gave her another patient smile. “You will all be sorted into your respective gifts once we are inside. You will live with and train with your fellows.”

“Will we all be together?” Toliver asked, his eyes flickering to Ianthe as his cheeks turned pink.

“You will live and train only with those who you share a touch with. After today, none of you are likely to see each other again until your training is over. Perhaps you may see each other out in the world, or here if you stay after training. Many Chosen live here after training.”

“So you know that none of us have the same touch?” Evanora prompted.

“I know that none of you have the same gift,” Felina agreed, amused. “I know what your touch is, but I will not tell you. That is for another to do and not my place. The next rule is about listening to your instructors and doing as you are told. You are all adults now and not children, so you will be treated accordingly, but you WILL respect your instructors and follow the rules. If you do not, you will be bound from your gift and sent away. Your free time is your own, but you will not try and leave the Illarum or bother any of the other students. You will not leave your level and try to gain entrance to another level. You will not harm another student, an instructor or yourself. You are not required to make friends or even be friendly here, but we do recommend it. There are services here for a great many things, we encourage you to make use of as many of them as you like, especially learning to read and write. If you do not need these services, please refrain from being judgemental of those who do.”

Felina went on, but Ianthe only half listened as she looked around the room again. How had Felina come in? Was it truly magic? What sort of magic? The others had spoken of touches and healing and growing. What else was there? She wished she had been more interested and learned more about it, but it had all seemed like some sort of commoner fairy tale to her. How long was this going to take?

“Are there any questions?” Felina asked, standing.

No one spoke as they all stood as well.

Felina looked at Ianthe, still smiling patiently. “If you like, you may choose your name once you are placed. I know how overwhelming this can all be for some. Come, all of you.”

Turning, Felina walked towards a wall and as she got close, a light appeared in it. As Felina passed through the light, it became a door into a large atrium full of trees, plants, glass windows overhead and sunlight. It was beautiful and majestic, even to Ianthe.

A diminutive young man stepped up, giving them all the same patient smile Felina had. “Welcome, new students! Come this way and we will get you to your new homes! All you need do is step into this door here and you will be sent to your level. You will each have a guide there waiting for you! They will be students as well, but further along than you and used to things, they will help acclimate you and answer the more specific questions you might have about your individual gifts.”

Evanora didn’t hesitate, rushing up into the lighted doorway. There was a small flash and the girl was gone. Toliver was more hesitant, but he stepped up and in slowly, also disappearing in a flash of light.

The boy looked at Ianthe, still smiling. “It won’t hurt, you have my word. There’s no reason to fear anything here. If you’re afraid, I can take you through?”

Ianthe lifted her chin and walked up to the doorway, then blinked.

She was in a pergola outside in a garden, gauzy white curtains shading her from the sun.

“Welcome!” a smiling, bubblingly cheerful girl called.

Ianthe looked her over, then gave her a neutral nod.

“I’ll take you on the tour and take you up to the dormitory for your training group, but I can only do that after you decide on a name? Do you not want to keep Ianthe? It’s a truly lovely name. If you’d rather, we can call you Orchid? As your grandmother used to? It means the same without giving your real name.”

“Orchid is fine,” Ianthe agreed with another nod. How much did they all know about her?

“Come then, Orchid, I will show you around!”

“May I skip the tour?” Ianthe asked softly. “What is this place? I was never trained with any knowledge of the Illarum.”

“Yes, I suppose you would not have been,” the girl smiled sadly. “I am Lavora, by the way. You are in… well… this level is to train those with a mind touch. We are similar to those with healing touch, but we work in the mind. Much of what we do is removing bad memories, altering memories. That sort of thing. Not you, though. This is just as close as we could get you. Your touch deals in the Spirit, Orchid. You will dwell here and spend your time among the Mind touch Chosen, but you will train alone.”

“What is the difference between mind and spirit?”

“Mind can alter a memory, Spirit can enter a mind and give a whole new memory, real or not. Spirit can enter dreams and change thought patterns. Make a bad man good. A good man bad. It is very dangerous in many ways. If a Spirit is strong enough, they could enter a mothers mind, make her kill all of her own children and she will wake remembering none of it. Or she will wake remembering it and raging about why it needed to be done. Those with this gift… they must be watched carefully. If they come into their gift and do not have the right temperament for it, they are bound without ever knowing they had the gift. You will be the first to train here as Spirit in over two hundred years.”

“Hello Lavora,” an older man spoke, walking up to the pergola. “I see you are giving our new student entirely too much information. As soon as Marcus told me you were to be the liaison this round, I knew I had to get here right away. I fear I am too late.”

“I’m sorry, Paul?” Lavora asked uncertainly.

“Not your fault, Lavora. I should have been up earlier knowing the new ones came in today. No one imagined a Spirit would be brought in. It’s fine, child, run along. I will see to Ianthe’s inprocessing. Go speak to Marcus.”

“She has decided on Orchid,” Lavora spoke up quickly.

“And yet it has not been changed?” Paul spoke, an eyebrow quirked. “Child… you have to actually want the change for it to work. You need to either convince yourself you want to be called Orchid, or you have to agree to let people hear your real name. I know your reticence, but things aren’t like that here. Anyway, if they know what your name is and what it means, then you cannot hide here. Your purple eyes will give it away. They cannot know one and not the other, do you understand?”