“Oh, Gods.” The ladies tittered, their voices carrying from the other rooms of the Oblivion Dreams Inn. I stood out on the communal balcony and watched the procession of the two Kings pass.
It was a parade of sorts, the start of the last year of the Light Eon was a special occasion. The Lords and Ladies were dressed in their finest, hoping to catch the eye of the Kings to grant them an audience on this special day. I leaned against the balcony banister as the area around me started to fill with ladies and sirs.
I listened to two women standing next to me, “The Light Prince is handsome. I wish to catch his eye tonight at the Kings’ Ball.” One said excitedly, her cleavage attempting to pop out of her bodice.
“I heard he is to be wed to Lady Isabella and the Dark Prince to Lady Maria.” The other woman answered, solemnly.
“I heard that the Light Prince comes to this Inn sometimes to wine and dine. I hoped he would have been here today.” The first lady sighed as she leaned against the banister.
The other lady moved slightly towards me as she too leaned against the railing, “Maybe he might come tonight.” She hoped.
I moved slightly away from the two women, though I could still hear their chattering. I pulled the hood of my coat lower on my face, hiding my eyes. I pulled down the sleeves of my jacket to hide the tattoos and clothing that marked me as Nevarrian.
“You, there!” One of the women pointed to me. I looked over to her, though she could only see the face mask that blocked my nose and lips. “Who do you believe is better?”
I thought about it for a second, “The Dark Prince.” I spoke quickly in the common language. I heard a growl behind me, but did not have enough time to react before I was pushed over the railing.
I fell into a carriage, and cursed as I tried to regain my bearing. My hood stayed down, but my face mask fell as I scrambled to stand up. I was able to check and found my pack still closed and it did not sound like anything was broken.
“Who are you?” A male voice spoke from behind me.
I turned and faced the pair of Kings. Oh no… I bowed deeply to the both of them, “I apologize, my Lords. I am no one of importance, just a trespasser who was pushed from a balcony.”
“Stand up straight.” The other King barked. I stood up and attempted to fix my face mask, but he barked again, “Stop moving.” I froze in mid-movement. The King barking orders was the Nakara King, Sebastian, making the other King, Monsieus of the Foriner.
Monsieus asked me, “You are… Nevarrian?”
I nodded once, “Yes, my Lord.”
The two Kings looked to one another, before Sebastian barked again, “Sit down.” I sat across from two of three of the most important men in the world.
Monsieus spoke to the driver, “We need to get back to the Citadel in a hurry.”
The driver nodded, as the carriage moved wildly to one side, as he turned the team of horses around. I fell over, but noticed the two Kings wore serious expressions on their faces. The carriage bumped and moved violently as it sped towards the Citadel. I kept trying to stay sitting, but that proved to be a bigger challenge than I thought.
I pulled my face mask up and thought to myself as we were pulling into the gates, Thankfully, I have everything with me. We sat in silence as the driver opened the door and the two Kings climbed out of the carriage. A footman tried to help me, but I was quickly out of the enclosed space. The two Kings and I ran up the stairs into the Citadel’s receiving room. I kept up with the two Kings as we reached a private room.
The guard was dismissed from the room and the door locked behind him. Sebastian sat me into a chair as Monsieus pulled up two other chairs for them. The Foriner King spoke first, “Though you say you are none important, what is your name?”
I spoke calmly through the mask, “I am named Sori.”
Sebastian then asked, “What of the Nevarrians? We have not seen nor heard from them in years and it would break peace to enter their lands.” He then barked, “Lower your hood, but you may wear the face mask, as your custom dictates.”
I sighed, as I lowered my hood. “My Lords, the King and Queen of Nevarra have been captured by the Akiti. Many have been enslaved and the ruler of the Akiti, Estein, has the King and Queen trapped to ensure compliance.”
“How did you escape?” They both asked at the same time.
“I did not escape; Estein sent me.” I looked at the floor, “He says to bow down before him or die.”
The two Kings looked at each other. “The Akiti are back… and their King wants us to bow down to him as slaves.”
“Yes, my Lords.”
Monsieus then asked, “What of the Nevarrian Princess?”
“She is to be wed to Estein as he was demanded.” I told them.
They looked at me, their eyes wide, “How did this happen…?”
“The Akiti attacked without warning. When the Princess was a babe, the King and Queen went to save their people, but the Akiti proved too much for them. The Akiti defeated them this last winter. Estein is at the Palace of Asgve in the capital.” I looked up to the both of them.
“Do you have to return to Nevarra?” Sebastian asked.
“Not until the Last Day of the Light Eon.” I answered. “My Lords, have you heard of the Desican Star?”
They both nodded, “It is a legend about how peace was restored to Ada.”
“Have you heard of Sinkta and Athros?” They shook their heads, so I continued. “During the War, then the Desican Star shattered, Anthros, the general to the Akiti ruler, Sinkta, brought a shard to the Caverns. It destroyed the army, the general and the King. Have you heard of the Morokian Star?”
Once again, they nodded, “There was a riddle that spoke of where the Star lies.”
“I read it in a story somewhere,” I told them, ”I believe that this second Star can destroy the Akiti once again. Maybe if I find the Star and bring the entire Star to Estein, all of the Akiti will be destroyed, if a shard was able to destroy their armies and ruler.”
“You want to find a myth and give It to the enemy?” Sebastian balked.
Monsieus looked thoughtful, “She has a point, my bother. If a shard could destroy the army, the whole Star would wipe them out. And you have one year to accomplish this goal?”
I nodded, “Yes, my Lord.”
Sebastian looked to both the other King and I, “Do you even know where the Star is located?”
I shook my head, “No, my Lord. I was hoping to use the Knowledge Repository in order to learn of Its location.”
“That is in the school for nobles. We cannot just let anyone walk onto the grounds.” Sebastian growled.
“Then, sir, might I suggest letting me enroll as a student? I will work during free hours to pay for the tuition and I will be able to find the books necessary to research.” I smiled, though the mask hid my mouth, my eyes lit up.
“The nobles will not be happy about this.” Monsieus shook his head, “But since it is for a greater purpose… Sebastian, if she is telling the truth, we need her to continue her mission. If she is lying, then after a years time, we will go into the Nevarra Desert and she will be executed.”
“Sounds fair to me, my Lords.” I knew what laid in the Nevarra and knew that my mission would come before everything else. “With your permission, I would like to be able to start now.”
The two Kings stood up and Monsieus called in a footman. “She will be staying with us, please take her to the servants’ quarters and she will also be attending the school with the Princes. Her job here is to help the servants when she is not in the Repository. Please pass the message along. Also, please bring her some working clothes, so her Nevarrian ones are not destroyed.”
The footman bowed, “Yes, my King.” He waited at the door for me.
I bowed deeply to the Kings, “Thank you, my Lords. I will keep you up to date on my search. When may I give you an update?”
“We expect a report every week, before maritame of the fifth day.” Monsieus answered.
I bowed again before following the footman out of the chamber. I pulled up my hood and followed the footman through the maze of the Citadel to a wooden door. He opened the door into a small bedroom. “There is a lavatory through the other door. The bed, armoire and looking glass must be kept clean and straightened. The main house keeper will be checking in on you, so be sure everything is in order.” He looked at me oddly, “I know you are Nevarrian and that is why the Kings granted you access to the Repository, but please be careful at the school. Noble children do not know the value of hard work and can be cruel.”
The look in his gold eyes told me that he had been at the end of that cruelty before. “Thank you.” I lightly touched his arm, “But they are human and trust me… After some of the things I have nightmares about, this will be a walk in the park.” He was handsome, though not my type. He was slender and had shoulder length brown hair. He wore a dark blue tunic and leggings. I noticed that he had a scar running from his neck towards the collar of his tunic. There was also a scar crossing his face from his left eyebrow to just above his lip. He knew the depth of cruelty and I felt I had found a kindred spirit.
He nodded and noticed my tattooed hands, “I need to get your clothes, and I will try to find gloves as well.” I pulled down my facemask and smiled to him. He blushed and left me to unpack my small bag.
I pulled out seven sets of undergarments, Nevarrian black tunics and leggings, face masks and a piece of black sheer fabric that covered my hair. Our culture demanded that while in public, we wear something to cover our face and hair. I chose to take it the step further and only leave my eyes, fingers, heels and toes showing in daylight.
I also pulled out four talismans and a dream catcher. I put one talisman on each wall and hung the dream catcher over the bed. I said the ritual blessing, “Though my home may be far, bless this room, my God, Kitarr.” The talismans glowed softly as they reenergized the dream catcher.
I hung up my clothes and looked at myself in the mirror. I had red dusted blonde hair, hazel eyes and wore silver wired glasses. My arms, shoulders, legs, heels, toes and fingers were tan. I was pure, almost glow in the dark white from my neck to my mid-thighs. I remember the seamstress shouting out my measurements for my clothes, 42 inch chest, 31 inch waist and 40 inch hips. There was a knock at the door, “You may come in.”
The footman came in, followed by a giant woman. The footman set the clothes down before getting kicked out by the large lady. She had long brown hair, blue eyes and was just large. She watched me as I put most of the clothes up, except for one outfit that I could change into, along with a pair of black gloves. I looked up at her, “How may I be of service?”
She growled at me and raised her hand to slap me, but stopped herself. “I am Liber, the head house keeper for the Citadel. The Kings told me of your schooling and that you are to use the Repository. That being said, I am a harsh task mistress and I expect you to pull your weight around here. We wake up at dawn everyday to start the cooking and cleaning.” She looked me sideways, “Well, do not just stand there. Get changed while we talk. You are wasting time!”
I nodded, “Yes, ma’am.” I started to undress, taking off my outer wear, only left with undergarments and a sash tied around my breasts to keep them from being loose. I picked up a small half shirt from the pile. “Ma’am, what is this?”
She smacked her head with her hand, “That is a bra. It keeps your breasts bound and tight to your chest. It will keep them away from anything that could hurt you.” She eyed my body, “I am surprised that you have not heard of them before. It is like what you are wearing, but it goes over your head and the straps keep them from falling off.”
I nodded and took off the sash then attempted to get into the bra. Liber sighed and ended up helping me when I was confused. “Now that you know how it works, we wake up at dawn and I expect you down with the rest of the staff for breakfast ten moments after that.” I continued to dress as she spoke, “We eat a light breakfast and then get to cooking and cleaning for the Citadel. What do you know how to do?”
“Ma’am? I have never worked in a place like this, but I am a fast learner. Where do you need the most help?” I admitted and offered.
She sighed. “Until we learn what else you can do, can you at least serve coffee and tea?”
I nodded, “Yes, ma’am.”
“Every morning before they head to school, the Princes meet their fathers for coffee and tea. You will be serving them, along with small amounts of breakfast for the day. If you mess this up, I will…” She paused. “Well, I will figure something else out. After serving them, you will come into your room, make it straight and change into the school uniform. The Kings have told the headmaster that you will be wearing a modified uniform and why you are there. After schooling, you are to do your research in the Repository, as well as the work the school wishes you to do. From there, you will come back here and serve the evening coffee and tea at dusk. We will also be training you in other areas after this time, so we can better learn your abilities. Do you understand?”
“Yes, ma’am.” I caught myself in the mirror and almost did not recognize me. My red-blonde hair was tied into a braided bun, leaving the tattoos on my shoulders clear. The working uniform I wore was a light brown with a white apron. The long sleeved tunic and pants hung well on my figure, not showing curves, but not so big that I was lost in a mountain of fabric. I put on the gloves and the sheer fabric over my hair. The only parts of my showing were my shoulders, face and feet.
Liber handed me a pair of house shoes, a pair of boots and two other uniforms. “The slippers are for the house and the boots for your school uniform, which is the black dress. Most of the other students wear blue, but this is closer to your heritage.” I set the shoes on the ground and the uniform on the bed. The other uniform was a shortened hunter green dress with black and bright green striped stockings.
“Thank you, ma’am.” I bowed to her.
She eyed me sideways, “Most people do not bow to me, girl.”
“I respect you. In Nevarra, those who have knowledge and share it are above everyone else. You are willing to share you experience here to teach me something I do not know. You deserve respect.” I smiled to her, before replacing my face mask.
I watched her mouth twitch, giving away a hint of a smile. “I think that as long as you pull your weight, you will be good around here.”
“I hope so, ma’am. When can I start?” I asked as I wrapped the instep of my feet.
“Well, since you cannot go into the school until tomorrow, would you mind if we start your household training now?”
“I would be delighted.” I answered her.
She started to walk towards the door, but I reached it first and opened it. She glanced back at my slippers and spoke, “You are forgetting your shoes.”
I looked down at my feet, not used to wearing more than the thin fabric. I ran over and grabbed the slippers and put them on. “I am ready to serve.”
She shook her head, trying to keep from smiling, as she grabbed me and pushed me through the doorway.
I ran through the halls, trying to catch up to the courier before he could leave. I tripped twice because of the stupid slippers I wore. I ripped them off of my feet and bolted towards the main entrance. I dodged around people, using my momentum to sidestep around maids and footmen.
“Sir!” I yelled, just as the courier reached the door. He stopped and waited for me. I pulled out a letter that someone had handed to me for him to deliver. “Someone wanted me to give this to you.” The envelope held the royal seal and though I was curious, it was not worth my mission to pry.
He nodded to me, but something on the ground caught his attention. “Where are your shoes?”
I sighed, “They got in the way, so I kicked them off while chasing you.”
He shook his head, and that one movement told me that I was wrong. “Do you know why we wear shoes here?”
“Not especially, sir.”
“Have you walked on ice cold floors or burning hot stone?”
I thought about it, “Not the cold floors, but the Nevarra Desert has sand so hot, that it burns the skin and boils the blood.”
“Wait until the frost season comes. It is on its way and you will realize the importance of shoes, miss.” He turned and opened the door.
“Thank you for the advice, sir. I will go find them and learn to wear them.” He nodded once to me and we separated our ways.
I tried to find my way through the Citadel, but was having issues finding the hallways I had traversed. I found myself going down a hallway that looked nothing familiar. I stared at the paintings on the walls, one in particular caught my attention. I stepped closer to the painting and felt drawn into it.
It was a small painting, maybe three feet by two feet. The black frame blended into the midnight picture. There was a lady floating on the water, a halo above her head and on the shore stood a black figure with red eyes holding a bloodied sword. I stepped even closer to the painting, memorizing the details. What caught my eye was what the lady held in her hand. She glowed from an inner light, but the crystal she held lit up the rest of her features, but kept the darkened figure in the shadows.
“Beautiful, is it not?” A male voice whispered in my ear.
I flailed my arms and jumped to turn around. I felt my hand hit skin, as I tried to figure out who stood before me. There was a pair of males, each the opposite of the other. The one I hit was rubbing his tanned cheek with his muscular hand. The other one started to snicker, hiding his laugh behind a pale hand.
I bowed low before the two males, “I apologize, my sirs. I am not used to people sneaking up on me.”
The pale one grasped my chin and stood me back to straight. “It is his fault. He should know better than to sneak up on Nevarrians.”
I felt heat rise to my face, as I looked at the two men. The sun-touched one was handsome, whereas the moon-kissed was beautiful. They both were attractive in their own ways, and I felt my heart start to beat faster.
The sun-touched asked, “You are Nevarrian?”
“Yes, my sir.”
He grinned, “Do you know the princess? How beautiful is she?”
My heart skipped a beat, “Yes, my sir, I know her. She believes that she is not very striking in beauty, though she is to be wed this next Eon.” I did not tell them to whom or why, because I did not know who these two were.
I watched the two of them look to each other, then they sized me up, slowly taking in my appearance. The sun snickered, “Where are your shoes?”
“I have seem to have lost them. I was running and kicked them off because they were in the way. I was attempting to find them when I found this pictu-” I looked at them, and realized that they looked like the Kings, “I apologize for wasting your times, my Princes. I will find my shoes and be out of the way.” I bowed again and ran towards the end of the corridor, but I ran into an invisible wall.
I felt a hand pick me up and plop me back in front of them, “Sir, I need to get back to work please.” I was trying to be polite, but my face hurt from the shield.
The moon produced my slippers. “Do you know the story of Ella of the Cinders?”
I shook my head, “That is not a Nevarrian tale.”
The sun smiled to his friend, as he stole one of the slippers and lifted me of the ground. I panicked, not being able to feel anything under my feet. He placed the slipper on one of my feet and the moon placed the other. I kicked him, forcing him to set me down. The moon just laughed at his friend, “Erick, you can be foolish at times. Nevarrians live in the Desert and do not do well without feeling pressure against their feet. That is why they do not wear shoes, if possible.”
Erick glanced at me and I leaned against the wall, adjusting the slippers. I felt a whoosh of air pass by my head, as his palm hit the wall. He whispered softly, “As the Prince of the Foriners, I demand that you meet me in my room, tonight.”
I watched the moon’s gray eyes grow wide, “Erick, she is a servant of our fathers. She is not allowed into our suites.”
I watched Erick’s blue eyes darken as he turned to his friend, “Stay out of this, Hiku.”
I felt something rise in me, “My Princes, I understand that you two are friends, so I will intervene on your behalf.” I looked straight into Erick’s eyes, as I pulled down my face mask, indicating how dangerous I was. “I will not meet you in your suite, for I have class, work and a mission. I do not have time for petty body games and on top of that, I am untainted. I will not shed blood for anyone but my true love. You can think that you can break me, but my Prince, until you watch your best friend ripped open by a monster, you are only human.” I moved his hand away from my face, and walked away as the two of them thought about my words.
I memorized my steps, hoping to take another look at that picture. Something seemed familiar about the painting, but there was something off about it as well. I pulled up my face mask, hiding my true feelings behind the wall I learned to construct. At night, I sometimes had nightmares, but during the day, I use the light as a protection.
I found my way back to the kitchen, just as the sun was setting beyond the horizon.
“Where have you been?!” Liber yelled at the top of her lungs.
I bowed slightly to her, as she told me to, “I apologize, ma’am. There is no excuse.”
She grabbed me, “What happened?”
“I got lost and accidentally found the Princes. I tried to leave when I realized who they were, but I hit a wall that was not there and was carried back to them.” I looked straight into her eyes, “Does Prince Erick enjoy tainting?”
She dropped me, “Did he touch you?”
I shook my head, “He wanted me to go to his suite tonight. I kindly declined, but I want to know if I am safe here or if I should be careful.”
“I have never heard of a woman deny wanting to be tainted by him. I have also never heard of him tainting by force.” She sighed. “Lumin!” She called over the footman that had helped me out earlier.
He ran over to her, “Yes, Liber?”
She pointed to me, “She is not to go anywhere alone. I am making you her personal body guard.”
His eyes widened, “Erick?”
I nodded, “Yes. I told him that he will not taint me and he took it hard.”
Lumin shook his head and pointed. I looked over my shoulder and saw the kitchen bowing to him. He stood behind me and I could feel the heat radiating off of him.
I jumped towards Lumin, before turning and bowing. Erick walked up to me and lifted my chin to meet his eyes. “This is not a request. This is a command. Be in my suite tonight or I will make your life hell.” He turned on the ball of his foot and walked out.
I felt my knees go weak and, thankfully, Lumin caught me. He whispered into my ear, “I hate to say this, but I suggest going and getting it over with. He has the power to do whatever he wishes.”
I shook my head, before standing on my own, “Lumin, you do not understand. If I am tainted before marriage, my life and other lives are forfeit. I will deal with his harassment, but I will not allow him to taint me.”
Liber and the rest of the kitchen staff looked at me. She pointed towards the door, “Lumin, take her to her room. I think she needs to stay out of sight for a while, until the Prince cools down.” Lumin nodded and walked me to my room.