I woke the next morning as bits of orange light was pushing its way through the cosy darkness of our sleeping alcove.
"Hmm. Why is my neck sore?" Kalia groaned as she groggily sat up and cracked her neck.
"Come on lazy girls. Yah get dressed." Edde chided us as she slipped through her sackcloth door that formed the back wall between our cots.
I yelped when she kicked the underside of my cot to jerk my body into motion.
"Okay!" I grumbled as I hastily dressed and scratched feeling into my arms.
"You look like an ape when you do that." Kalia chuckled as she smoothed down her tunic and skilfully tied up her hair in a ponytail with a strip of cloth.
"How the heck you can look like a lady of the house in a slave's sackcloth tunic and simple up-do?" I blurted, impressed by her simple elegance.
"Well, I am from more sophisticated stock than most ruffians here."
She wasn't holding back on her ego that was for sure.
"Yah wanna hold yah tongue. Yah talk like that, yah'll get trouble." Edde soberly warned Kalia.
Kalia frowned with worry.
"How did you end up here anyway?" I innocently asked that scored a nasty glare from Kalia's blue eyes. "Ugh. Easy up on the dagger stare, Darling."
"Don't you Darling me, Neven." Kalia answered back. "I have you know that I danced for the Emperor!"
Edde chuckled with understanding. "Lemme guess, yah be kidnapped."
Kalia's eyes widened with shock. "Yes."
"Yeah. Bet yah have lots of siblings. Yah in the middle?"
"Yah like to spend lots?" Edde continued to coolly survey Kalia who was looking worried and impressed by the woman's insight.
"Yes." Kalia answered and groaned when she realized the truth of her misfortune.
"There you go." Edde consoled her with a pat to her shoulder. "Yah be an Unlucky Beauty, but least Fate be kind to give yah to Anwar."
"I guess I better zip my lips." Kalia sighed.
"Good yah learn quick." Edde smiled at her.
She returned to her herding of us out of the room, so we could start our duties.
Kalia and I carried out our first duty at the kitchens, scrubbing down the stone floor until it shined.
Murray made sure we went all out on cleaning the chimney, so our skin was smudged with black soot.
No time for a clean-up as she had us hauling sacks and barrels of food from the storage room to the cooking area.
Kalia cried with embarrassment when Corin and Troy had walked past us along the kitchen corridors for their sentry post and laughed at our black sooty faces.
_"A pair of spotty rabbits?"_ Corin joked, his hands twitching with his laughter.
I answered back with a rude finger, that made their laughter harder.
I groaned and dragged Kalia back to work.
Eventually we were able to clean our faces, limbs and hands near the cleaning well before the Lavatory Circle at the back of our sleeping quarters. This was just before lunch time.
I offered a quick prayer of thanks to Anwar for the food and race out of the kitchen for our next duty in the Sisterhoods hallways and foyers.
My knees didn't creak much when scrubbing, and we finished our jobs a lot faster, which gave us more time to chat and joke around.
Towards the early afternoon, we met with Edde at the garden courtyard and received orders to scrub out the gold gilded corridor and temple foyer before making our way to the kitchen for our evening meal.
I frowned at this order. The temple foyer made me nervous as every sound, even a whisper, echoed loudly.
It didn't help when Edde said, "be careful yuh don't make much noise. Patrons don't like bein' disturbed."
Of course, we'll just grunt and make scratchy scrubbing noises to wake up the whole dead!
I kept my cynical thoughts to myself as Kalia and I gathered our buckets and headed to the foyer.
Fortunately we were the only ones there. I was overly aware of how heavy I scrubbed and the noises my body made.
"Master Asuras did say we could make some noise right?" Kalia carefully whispered.
"I guess." I responded with a lower whispered.
"I think my bones crunch better than a bony-knocker." Kalia sat up to wipe sweat from her brow.
"Bony what?" I whispered with a half laugh.
She described the oblong musical instrument to me, which led to other aspects of her life.
Kalia was the middle daughter of a large family; eight sisters and four brothers to be precise. Her parents were Dweamers (imperial bards for the great Emperor Leinard of the 167th Reign). She spoke enthusiastically about the court dinners she had danced at and the great warnings her father gave in song.
"It helped the Emperor keep the lands safe from the ruthless Northern Bandits you know."
"Northern what?" I ignorantly asked again.
"You really know nothing, do you?" She shot back, annoyed and shook her head when I poked my tongue at her.
"The Northern Bandits are a ruthless bunch of robbers who attack travellers on the Armia's Alpine range." A far-off look entered her eyes as she talked more about her home land.
The conversation returned to her dances.
"I danced the Salome's Wishes before the great Emperor, you know, great god Dan keep him strong. Now look at me, a scully slave." She sighed with a forlorn expression.
"Could be worse, you could be dancing for that creepy Chief right now." I joked, hoping it would lift her spirits, but her face tensed instead.
We went back to our scrubbing.
Footsteps entered the foyer. I cringed, imaging whoever entered was going to walk over the spots we had just cleaned and dirty them again.
I muttered a curse, chucked my brush into my bucket, stood up and faced Master Orlando Asuras.
He greeted me with kind yet shrewd eyes. His indigo robes billowed about his ankles near Kalia's head.
She snuffled and blew out a mighty sneeze.
The man lowered his head towards her.
"Bless you," he said with a smile.
Kalia scrambled to her feet and cowered behind me. Wet drops, from her brush, trickled down the back of my legs. I felt her hands pressed against my side.
"I see you girls are being good servants for Anwar. Edde tells me good things."
I raised my brows.
"Keep up the good work, oh, and mind the drips," he said with his eyes pointed to Kalia's brush.
Kalia tossed her brush into her bucket with an "eek".
"Master Asuras, um, what does Our Lady's Magician do, um, here?" I awkwardly whispered.
"Me? Well, most of the time I entertain our patrons. I oversee your needs, your mistresses and the sisterhood."
"Oh," I whispered and felt concerned I was behaving inappropriately.
Orlando's smile went wide and reassuring. "It's okay child. No need to fear you've done wrong. It is better to know the importance of others."
A group of white robed ladies with rose coloured sashes across their chests entered the foyer and called for the master's attention.
"Please excuse me while I attend to our patrons." Orlando whispered and approached the ladies.
Kalia and I went back to our scrubbing.
Voices and footfalls faded out of the foyer and a while later we were alone to finish off the floors.
We finished up the floors in diligent silence. Eventually making our way to the slave kitchen for dinner.
Edde sat with us. She didn't say much at the table and Kalia was quiet when we ate our broth. It was only when we returned to our cots, Kalia spoke to me again. She voiced her concern that she had been brooding over.
"I shouldn't say this, but there is something about the Master that unnerves me." She frowned.
"A bad feeling?" I whispered, making sure Edde couldn't hear in her connecting sleeping alcove.
"No," she replied. "It's just a feeling I got when he left. A sort of shiver down my spine. It usually means something bad's about to happen."
I laughed it off. A feeling wasn't really anything to go on.
"We're servants of Anwar. What's the worse that could happen?"
Kalia bit a nail. "Worse? Neven didn't you almost get eaten by Preena? Who came to save you, so you owed him your life?"
"Yes. He did. I'm working for Anwar with you. I"m sure he's a good guy." I tried to reassure her.
"I don't know. Men who are certified to practice magic continue to hunger for more. I'm worried he'll try to draw out your black magic."
"What? I don't have black magic." I scoffed.
Kalia dropped her hands and faced me with an incredulous expression.
"You stood before us with black magic light swirling about your hands. A spell came from your mouth. Next thing, black lightening was shooting out of your hands to turn every single Ratshiki demon into stone." Her voice nervously quivered as she recounted a fact I had no memory of.
"I didn't." I gasped.
"You did. It was both terrifying and magnificent." She explained and instantly changed the subject to cleaning utensils.
"I honestly don't remember." I gulped down my worry.
Kalia stopped her recount to talk about her favourite cleaning tools. She went silent and faced me with a heavy sigh.
"I know. Otherwise, I wouldn't be chummy with you. Neven, I'm not going to lie when I say that sort of power scares me. No one I know has that power. I doubt even the Grand Master of The Zone. For a slave, who is not licensed to practice, hold this power; this is a death sentence. I don't know if you're lucky to be spared by the Master or if this is a calm before a storm. Frankly, I see your life balancing on a precarious edge more than mine." Kalia gravely informed me.
"Let's not talk about this any more." She closed the conversation and snuggled into her cot for sleep.
I did the same, snuggling underneath my blanket and closed my eyes to try sleep off my worries.