Western Sand-Sea, 698 Old Valendian.
Dalel Maskra, the head architect of the Dalmascan oil rigs, was overlooking his machines the day his men made a fatal discovery.
“Sir!” His underling, Jaret, reported in, “Something’s jamming the South Pipe!”
“Well, dig it out and get it running!” He shouted back, but the look on Jaret’s face told him the situation was more serious than that. Concerned, Dalel left the control room and headed down to the southern pipeline. A group of his men were dragging out a large object, covered in unrefined oil, from out one section of pipe, while another group had shut down the pipe completely and were working on repairs.
The men set the obstruction to the side, and began casting Watera to wash it off. By the time Dalel had reached them, it was clear that the object was in fact a large scarlet crystal, and at its center was a woman, frozen in time.
“The rock itself looks almost like magicite,” Jaret mused. “It must be worth a fortune.”
“Hopefully more than the oil it wasted,” Dalel grieved. “Still, I feel this may be beyond us. Let me ponder this. Until then, let’s focus on getting the rig back online.”
That night, Dalel returned to his home and posted a note on Clan Centurio's Job Board. A week later, a band of curious treasure hunters and researchers appeared at the site, with the intent of breaking open the stone.
One pick of the axe was all it took to shatter the giant stone. It broke into many large chunks, and on top of the rubble, the woman landed.
Freed from the cryst, her features were clearer; she had thick, long hair that pooled around her as she kneeled, pointed ears sticking out from flaxen strands. Her hair fell into her face, blank, crimson eyes peering from behind thick bangs. Her mouth formed a painful grimace, as if it were hard to breathe. Twin fangs stuck from her mouth. Leathery wings stretched stiffly behind her. She was a beautiful predator, of which there was but one title: Vampire.
The band backed away from the rubble, wary. Only one man, the one who struck the rock, stayed near, frozen in place. This job was supposed to be easy, after all.
The man raised his axe threateningly. Blank eyes became sharp, bestial. In seconds, she was before him. Before the group could blink, she had torn out his throat. She gorged herself until there was nothing left to drink, and let him drop beside her. She looked to the rest as if dazed, then, eyes wide, awake.
Fearful, the group raised arms. The woman barely dodged the kiss of a greatsword, a hurtling fireball, and was grazed by the sting of an arrow upon her left leg. She fled, eastward towards Rabanastre.
The band did not know what to do, only to collect the gems and inform the Knights of the Order of their discovery.
The woman landed just outside the city gates. Her breathing was shallow, eyes panicked. Resting a bloodied hand against the canyon wall, she tried to accept what she had just done. She had killed someone, drank their blood until there was nothing left. She had woken up in a place completely unfamiliar to her. She had no idea where she was. She had only followed the scent of people, of blood.
She tried to survey her surroundings, to decipher how far she was from her home, but as she thought of home her mind continuously went blank. She could not remember where she lived. She tried to bring up faces and names, but couldn’t. Not even hers.
She shook, tears falling from her eyes. Why can’t I remember anything? She mourned, and she stood there, baking in the heat as she composed herself.
After a long moment, she calmed. She realized that she would probably have to hide her wings to fit in; something within her knew that having wings was odd. As she thought of it, her wings vanished from sight. They were still there, she tested moving them as they hid, but completely invisible to the naked eye. She tucked them close to herself and walked onward.
She was just glad she had some form of clothing, and didn’t have to magick those up, either. She wore unassuming clothing, beige pants and a faded green tunic. As she walked up to the gates of the city, she noticed most people wore about the same. She wondered if she hadn’t magicked it up without thinking.
The gates of the city were open, and guarded well, with two men posted at the gate. They wore composite metal vests and leather spats, accented with green. The thought of approaching them made her very nervous. She snuck through a passage apparently meant for merchants to store their wares.
Above ground had overwhelmed her senses; so much noise and smells of blood and meat and emotion, even. She could smell the frustration from the guards, tired of the sun’s rays beating down on them, wishing for something more exciting than watching the gates. She could smell the wine on their breath, the steel a trader was bringing in, the poultry he’d eaten for lunch. She could hear them argue over the trader’s paperwork and how legitimate it was. She could hear a couple marveling at large birds that were being rented out by a small, flying rodent. The birds’ scent was overwhelming.
Underground, things were much more peaceful. She could still smell so many different wares and foods that it sent her nose into overload, but aside from a group moving supplies in the distance and the squeaking of rats, all was quiet.
She wandered this place for a time, taking in the serenity. There wasn’t much to see or do but wander and try to think, yet even still, her memory failed her. Who am I? She had no answer. She decided then, to make a new name for herself, for now.
She paused where water from above flowed in. The sunlight peered through from above, reflecting on the murky water at her feet. She heard the sound of footsteps, quick-paced and many in number, coming towards her. She did not run from them, but turned to face them, instead.
A band of swordsmen and archers flanked her from either side. They were all dressed in uniform, same as the guards at the gate. One man stood taller than the rest, an officer. He had long blonde hair and striking blue eyes, a young man.
He pointed his blade at her. He did not seem to have the intent to strike, but instead defend if necessary. “You are under arrest for the suspected murder of Tajiil Solent of Clan Centurio. Come quietly, and no harm will come to you.” He spoke clearly and authoritatively.
She faced him, allowing her wings to come into view, and nodded. Wasting no time, the men cuffed her, and brought her above ground. People went silent as they passed, a monster and an entourage of soldiers. She was glad they did.
The soldiers escorted her to a large palace, like none she’d ever seen, or could remember seeing, at least. It towered above her, grand. She guessed it could only be a few centuries old, but it was magnificient regardless. The road to its entrance was wide and spacious. She imagined parades and festivals taking place here, fireworks under the moonlight, celebrated by a variety of peoples; was it a dream, or a memory? She wondered.
Inside the palace was just as grand as its exterior, maybe moreso. Servants stopped to gawk as the soldiers broke away, leaving just two and the commanding officer to escort her further.
They traveled up a staircase and through some halls, until they reached a large doorway. Within was a room with an exceedingly tall ceiling from which banners hung, the country’s colors, doubtless. At the far end of the room was a set of thrones, and at them, sat an elderly man and what was certainly his daughter. They stopped five paces from the thrones, and the soldiers brought her to her knees with a shove.
“Your Highness,” the blonde officer began, “This woman was discovered at the oil rigs within the Western Sand-Sea, and has been accused of murder and vampirism. I bring this to you, for we expected to slay a monster, but I do not see a monster here. It is my thoughts that this person should face judgement in trial.”
She looked up, surprised. She was glad she hadn’t fought. She looked up at the king from under her bangs. She wondered briefly if it was offensive to look into the eyes of royalty, but did so anyway.
He was an old man, his head completely clean of hair, a short, white beard upon his chin and jawline. His soft eyes spoke of his kindness to her. She imagined he must have been quite handsome in his youth.
“What say you, woman?” He asked, his voice gentle, but commanding. “What do you have to say of all this?”
She lowered her eyes. “Sir, I mean, your Highness… I… I cannot deny that I…” tears fell from her once again. “I didn’t think, I just saw his axe and I-I was so thirsty, I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t think, I—“ She choked on her words, shaking. She thought she might vomit, but swallowed down her bile.
“Whatever punishment you deliver, I would deserve,” she finished, numb.
The room was quiet for a very long time. She could feel the king’s eyes on her, could smell the princess’s concern and pity. The door creaked from far behind her as someone listened in.
Finally, the king spoke. “I agree, Basch, I would not say this person is a monster,” he said, “but I would also think that this sort of person should not be free to roam the streets, and perhaps cause more trouble, yes?”
There was a pause. She felt her heart pound. “I rule that this person must remain in the castle, where she can be monitored,” he finished. Her head shot up, surprised.
“Father, are you sure this is wise?” The princess asked. He smiled at her, as if keeping a grand secret. She grimaced, but did not argue.
“Young lady,” He turned to her, “What are you called?”
“I do not know what I was called before, Your Highness,” she said earnestly, “but you may call me River.”
He nodded. “I am King Raminas of Dalmasca, and this is my daughter, Princess Ashelia. I would ask that while you are here, you do not harm its people, especially my daughter. Whatever bloodlust you may have, as you are, I expect you to control yourself. Until you can be trusted, you will stay under surveillance, but I will not hold you to one room. You may wander as you please within the palace walls. Is this understood?”
“Yes, Your Highness,” River agreed.
“You may stay in the servant’s wing for now,” he added as he stood, then turned to the princess, “Ashe, dear, would you kindly show Miss River to her quarters? I have other matters to attend to, and I need the Captain’s assistance.”
Ashelia stood and bowed to her father. “As you wish.” She turned to River, nose high. “Follow me,” she said, her voice haughty. River shrugged. “Lead the way,” she agreed aloofly. With a sound of derision, the Princess walked ahead, the vampire following a few paces back.
A woman opened the door for them; she was older than the princess by a few years, maybe half a decade. She had flowing ash-blonde hair and wore a dark cloak over her robes. “Thank you, Argas,” Ashelia greeted the woman.
“It is my pleasure, my Lady,” Argas bowed. She did not acknowledge River’s presence at all.
Argas and Ashelia talked as they walked towards the Servant’s Quarters, River trailing behind. She slowed at every painting, every sculpture, and every window showing outward. The princess did not seem to mind much; upon noticing the first stop, she doubled back and would give commentary or knowledge about whatever had caught River’s eye.
One particular piece stood out to her especially. “This tapestry describes the Esper Uprising and their punishment delivered by the Old Gods,” Ashelia explained as she stared. She pointed a finger at different Espers as she explained who they were and what they governed. River soaked it in, gazing at the tapestry as if remembering a long dream.
Seeing that the vampire was falling into her own world, the princess touched her hand. “We’re not done walking,” She said with a small smile.
River looked to her, and she drew her hand back, embarrassed. “Uh, I’m sorry for how I acted before. I just feel kind of left out. Father only gave me this task so I’d not sneak to the War Room.”
The vampire shrugged. “It’s cool,” she replied. Ashelia relaxed a bit.
“So, we’re almost to the Servant’s Quarters; just a bit more this way,” the princess directed.
They took another turn and stopped before the door to an empty room. “Here it is,” the princess said lamely. “I’ll leave you to it, we took a bit longer than anticipated, and I’m afraid I’m late to prepare for tonight. If you’ll excuse me,” The princess waved at her and took off, in a hurry.
“Yeah, thanks,” River called from her door, hoping she didn’t sound petulant. As soon as Ashelia turned the corner, Argas grabbed her collar.
“I don’t know who you are or whence you came, but don’t get too comfy,” she sneered, voice low. “The King is a fool to let monsters sleep with the staff, but you won’t be here long.” The glint in her eyes spoke volumes.
“I don’t know who you think you are,” River shot back, knocking the woman’s hand away, “but touch me again and voy a desgarrar tu garganta.” The woman gave a confused look, but left with a snort.
The hallway quiet, River took the time to look around. The hallways and rooms throughout the palace had been large, but this area was much smaller. The doors to each persons’ rooms were close together, and across from her own room was a broom closet.
She turned to her own room. It was small, but big enough for her to feel at home. The bed tucked into the corner left little space between its foot and the wall. Beside the bed’s head was a simple nightstand and across from the bed was a small closet for clothes. The Royal Family treats its servants well, she mused.
She sat on her bed with a sigh. It was neither soft nor stone, but compared to how stiff her back was from however-long she’d been in that crystal…
For someone who can’t even count how long she slept, I’m awfully tired, she laughed to herself as she drifted off.
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