“May our new leader please rise.”
I watched as my older sister rose from her chair, one that was covered with gold markings along with a clean, black cushion. I slightly tensed and stood up even straighter than I was before as she began walking up the polished, tiled stairs in my direction. Someone must have cleaned them before this occasion, wiping off any sign of the past in order to welcome a new day, a new ceremony. The biggest ceremony in many years.
At my side, my mother stood from her throne, clutching both armrests with her fists in order to help herself up. Her silk sleeves nearly hit the floor where she stood along with a trail of fabric that seemed to never end. Both my mother and my sister looked elegant, their eyes lined with a dramatic shade of black, creating an assertive and dangerous look. Their gowns, my mother’s an off white covered in pastel flowers and my sisters, black and covered with the occasional red rose. She was never one to wear bright colors as her skin was so pale. My sister felt as though black brought out her best features, making her look thin and weak when really, she could crush you with her words. She was into the act of becoming someone that she truly wasn’t.
Mina is her name. It is also my mother’s name but none of us would dare call her by that. The correct word to use would be ‘queen’ as that is her title.
My mother was always someone to be full of elegance, her features were soft, her blue eyes wide and bright, and her lips always being full and painted with a soft red color. Her skin was also pale, that is where Mina got her coloring from. My mother hardly smiled but somehow, there seemed to be happiness always radiating from her features, her skin, even appearing when she moved.
My sister, Mina, followed closely in our mother’s footsteps, mirroring our her every move. My mothers first born was her pride and joy...and then there was me.
Mina reached the top step and stood face to face with my mother. They both offered a slight smile before my sister bowed and folded her hands together, letting them rest just below her stomach.
I tightened the grip on my blade, a long metal pole that touched the ground and stood just barely taller than myself. The blade itself was unique, crafted by hand with two blades shaped like bull horns sticking out on either side. The pointed blade in the middle stuck straight into the air, in between the horn shaped blades.
The whole creation was light and easy to twist around if ever need be. The blades were lined with gold, reaching all the way to the tip, where my enemies would stand. The part I was holding, the thin and cold metal clutched in my left hand, was wrapped with a metal snake that started at the bottom and reached all the way to the top, the head sticking out just as it reached the point where the blade began, baring its fangs in my direction when I held out the blade in a horizontal fashion.
My sister moved over and stood beside my mother. I stared straight ahead, looking out at the crowd of people, knowing they weren’t here to see me. After all, I looked nothing like my mother.
Just as the thought crossed my mind, my mother swiftly stepped forward, folding her arms so they rested outside her abdomen.
“Welcome all,” she began, her voice soft but strict, causing all conversation in the room to come to a halt. Anyone with a brain at all would understand that anytime her voice was heard, the rest of the world was to become quiet. “I am honored to stand here with all of you today and show you something that I am extremely proud of. My daughter being that.” She glanced back at Mina, a small smile forming at the corners of her mouth.
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see my sister, smiling back. The same smile, all of the similarities they shared becoming one altogether.
“My daughter has grown into a beautiful young woman. I couldn’t create her to be a better person if I tried. She is deserving to be queen, to take my place on this throne. Not only will she lead you through all of your troubles but she will be there through it all. The joyous moments, the defeats, the wins, the triumphs, and the losses. Just as I have been over the years.” My mother paused for a moment, allowing a round of applause and yelling to come from the crowd. She nodded slowly, looking from left to right in order to examine the happy faces.
I scanned the crowd as well, just doing my job to make sure no one was planning an attack on my mother or my sister. No one appeared to be upset, all of them were standing from their chairs, clapping wildly. I had to look for sitting bodies, arms crossed over their chests, narrowed eyes and sunken eyebrows. Frowns, looks of pure disgust and evil. Those were my targets. Those were the ones that would try to hurt the powerful.
They were just waiting for the right opportunity.
My mother took a step back and turned towards her throne, taking the crown that was resting on the seat. Covered in gold and diamonds along with other gems of all different colors that I couldn’t name, the crown glistened in the light that was shining from the stained glass windows. My mother held it above her head, causing a roar from the crowd as she turned around to face them. The action sent chills through my body, throwing me off before I could regain control of my own body.
Mina stepped forward as my mother gestured for her, standing in front to face the crowd. The smile on her face was wide, exposing teeth that were just barely whiter than her skin.
“I introduce you all to the new queen of Novidal, Mina Mondesi!” My mother placed the crown on my sister’s head, letting it rest just as it reached her forehead. The crowd roared as my sister turned around to face my mother, wrapping her arms around her.
My mother held her at arm’s length and tucked a piece of light blonde hair behind her ear before stepping back and bowing before her daughter. I watched this exchange cautiously, knowing this was a moment of vulnerability, someone could strike at any moment. I watched the crowd and luckily, there was no one approaching or even thinking of doing so.
I breathed a sigh of relief and watched as my mother and sister stood arm in arm, waving to the crowd before them. Like I was taught before, I stepped forward and nodded at them both before waiting for the other three guards to get into formation. Two on either side of my mother and sister and one bringing up the rear.
I began making my way down the steps with them following closely behind. Citizens of Novidal began chanting their name, Mina Mina Mina. I kept my eyes on the door in front of me, we were almost there. I could get out of the accidental spotlight soon.
The guards opened the heavy wooden doors, allowing us to pass through into a hallway of silence. I turned around swiftly, facing my mother and my sister just as their smiles faded and they stepped away from each other. They both brushed off and smoothed out their gowns in unison.
“I hate ceremonies. I am totally getting rid of those,” my sister snapped as she adjusted the crown on her head.
“Oh honey, don’t make me regret my decision. I could make your sister queen instead, if that is what you would like. You’re lucky I chose you,” my mother responded softly. Mina glared in my direction but I avoided eye contact and instead stared straight ahead, keeping my eyes on the shoulder pad of the guard that was standing directly on the other side of my family.
“Please, she’s not good for anything other than standing there with a blade in her hands,” Mina scoffed as she placed her hands on her hips. I could feel the heat on my face as she glared at me, trying to get some sign of life out of her sister. I wasn’t one to give it often, only when I was asked.
“None of this is her fault, Mina. She is the way she is because of me. She will protect you for years to come, until you are no longer queen. Respect your sister, without her, you would probably be dead.” With that my mother walked off, knowing that she always had to be the one to say something last. Getting the last word was her specialty, something that I learned over the years of protecting her from anything and anyone.
Mina rolled her eyes and began walking in the other direction, leaving me to follow closely behind. She would have to get used to this, me always being there behind her or in front of her. It was my job after all, this is the only way of life that I had ever known.
Protecting my mother, protecting my sister, protecting anyone that was asked of me, that was my job and I wasn’t allowed anything other than that. I woke up every morning, ready to serve and protect the people that I was told. Not the ones that I had loved because I don’t know how to love like everyone else. Love has never been thrust upon me going either way. My mother never gave me love and I never returned it.
This was just the way of life that I was used to and there would never be anything different. I was stuck like this, the person that my mother created, the heartless stone that was nothing more than skin on the inside.
Twenty seven. Twenty seven. The number of people that have lost their lives at my hand. Normal citizens who made a mistake, thieves, killers, and ones to attempt to hurt the queen. Those are just a few reasons why these people had to die. All of those killings were appointed by my mother and I was to carry out the deed.
Whenever I had the chance, I always killed behind closed doors, leaving just me and the person alone in a room where they would spend their last moments. My mother always wanted me to kill with a rough hand, stabbing, beheading, causing pain before death. I, on the other hand, preferred to kill with ease and silence. My mother never bothered to check in as it was so I could do whatever I wanted to end the lives of the people that were sitting directly in front of me.
My preferred way of killing was through poison, a soft poison called ‘Sleeping Death.’ A light blue liquid that was clear, just appearing as though it would kill you easily and smoothly. When you took a drink, you began to feel sluggish, your eyes heavy. The same feeling came when you stayed up too late and forced yourself to stay awake until you could no longer.
Once you laid down and fell asleep, your body begins to shut down, starting with your brain and then your heart, that stops beating. The process is quick, lasting no longer than five minutes. I always disposed of the body, dropping them down a pit in the room that led to the tunnels below, engulfing their body in flames to be burned. That was the process in order to get rid of people after they died. The grave site was too full, there was no more room. Therefore, the bodies were sent to the lower chambers where a handful of guards managed the dead bodies, letting them burn to ashes.
This way, I could keep the secret with me that I didn’t violently kill these people like my mother had asked. The problem was, I couldn’t say no beforehand. I couldn’t decide whether or not that person deserved to be killed or not. Luckily, my mother wasn’t the type of person to kill without reason. She always thought it through and made sure that the specific killing was the right decision.
Many of the ones destined to be killed were shocked to find that I wasn’t going to cut them up before they passed out due to the pain. Many of them thanked me over and over with tears in their eyes when they found out I would give them the light blue liquid that was so hard to come by. Only royalty could get their hands on it, the ones that included my mother. She never used it and neither did the doctor that lived in the castle. Therefore, I snuck the killing medicine away whenever I could.
My life has always been this way. Ever since before I could talk, I had lived this way. In Novidal, the small village of magical people, I have become nothing more than an invisible when it comes to my family. There is my mother, the now former queen of Novidal and my sister, Mina. She, as you remember, is now the queen. My mother was fairly young when Mina was born, an accident of course as my mother made a mistake with a man before she was ready to have children.
Sadly, in my mind, my mother fell in love and married the man that I have only heard stories about. They had one child together, Mina, before I came along. I turned out exactly like my father, tan skin, dark eyes, and dark hair that had waves going through all the way to the end.
Unlike my sister with fair skin, light eyes, and light hair, I was no joy to look at. Growing up, people gushed over my sister’s beauty and completely forgot that I was there as well, standing close by, watching as the love for the queen’s oldest daughter unfolded.
Three years after I was born, another child came along, another girl, with the same features as my mother but in a different way than my Mina had. My younger sister, Veri, had fuller cheeks and was slightly heavier but still beautiful, a different version of my mother that had yet to be seen.
Along the same time, my life changed forever. My first two full years of life had been nothing more than being left behind, forgotten about, and treated as though I was nothing more than another child that ran by themselves on the street, searching for any scrap of food that I could find. The only one that paid even the smallest amount of attention to me was my father. Although I don’t remember him well, there are still bits and pieces that come through in my mind when I least expect it.
I remember all of the years that my sisters followed my mother around at the hip, copying her every move and making sure that they kept their minds swift, ready to carry out any task that my mother might ask of them. They became elegant women, lifting a pinkie when they drank, cutting their steak with such gentle movements that it seemed impossible that they ate anything at all.
Myself on the other hand, I was a completely different character. I had no choice to be. My life of training began when I was only three years old, just a few days after my birthday. Of course, there was no celebration as I didn’t want one, my parents didn’t bother with things like that when it came to me.
My parents were arguing in the next room while I sat there, brushing out the hair of a doll that once belonged to Mina. She had thrown it at me once when she no longer wanted it as the eye was no longer opening on its own. I was always given the belongings that she no longer wanted, whether it was in decent condition or not.
I listened closely as my mother’s voice was calm but stern, she was trying to get her point across. Mina was in another room, giggling along as she went, playing with her new dolls that had two eyes.
“I am not letting you do this to her,” I heard my father respond after my mother shared her statement. “She deserves to have a life just as much as Mina and Veri. She is your daughter. What makes you think that a life as a guard is the best thing for her?” His voice was loud but also stern, crossing out my mother’s voice if she bothered to speak.
She was queen at the time, just getting started in Novidal when I heard them having this conversation. It wasn’t uncommon to have a woman in power and the man sat aside, living a normal life in the shadows. We wanted to make life as normal as possible after all. In fact, it was strange for a woman to marry, especially if she knew that she was going to be queen. She only had a child to pass on the job of queen and then let the man she used to make a child with, live a life alone or kill him in order to avoid further conflict.
“She’s different than the other two. Veri is only two months old and I can already tell that she is going to be like me. Romy needs a different life. One that she will fit into.” My mother kept her voice low but having heard my name, I inched closer to the door, trying to catch every word.
“I will not let you do this. Our daughter is not someone that you can manipulate. What if she gets hurt? What if someone tries or succeeds in killing her? How will you feel?”
“Then that is her fate.” At that time, I didn’t know what that meant. I had a feeling that it didn’t mean something pleasant as it involved the word ‘kill’ in a conversation that was definitely about me.
My mother ignored my father’s words and a week later, I ended up in a stranger’s home, a blade in my hand. I had a teacher, a middle aged man that was too rough with his touch and always yelled at me when I messed up.
I was trained, day after day, month after month, year after year. Guards went through training as well but I was something different. I was being taught in the ways of fighting with strategy, killing without emotion, hurting without sympathy. I was becoming something of an assassin, even though I never wanted to say that was the case.
I had always heard about assassin’s, their jobs given by the people that were above them. What was different about me? Nothing. Growing up, I tried to sort out the similarities and differences, weighing each category back and forth. I knew how I saw myself. Was it the same for everyone else?
Over the years, my heart wilted, all feelings for my mother and sisters slowly faded along with my father disappearing. No one told me what happened to him and I never bothered to ask, he was only a figment of my imagination.
The citizens continued their fascination with my mother, wondering how someone could be so perfect. On the other hand, my fascination for her was quickly disappearing, leaving me with nothing more but pure emptiness on the inside. All of my emotions disappeared as I turned into a killer with every slap of the hand after I stepped too quickly or every whip that scraped my back when someone was too quick for me.
I learned, I adapted, until the day I turned sixteen. My training was over, anything that I could have been was completely gone and there was nothing I could do in order to bring myself back. I was to become an emotionless guard at my mother’s side in order to protect her from anything that could do her harm.
She called me into her office that day, the sound of my armor clanking around, filling that empty room. My leather boots hit the ground softly, all the way to where she sat, behind a desk with a book laid out in front of her. She didn’t bother to look up at me as I approached but instead made me stand there for a few moments before finally sitting back and removing the glasses from the tip of her nose.
At that time, I hadn’t seen her in a couple of months as I was training so hard to meet my deadline. She didn’t look older as it seemed like she never aged, the true trait of a queen.
“Hello Romy,” she began. She brought her hands together, folding them neatly in front of her on the desk. I nodded quietly in her direction, avoiding any sort of eye contact that I could.
I had grown to be thin, not very tall, but very stealthy due to my years of training. I had become the fastest, the strongest, the smartest. My teacher deemed me ready to protect the queen.
“I’m sure your teacher has done you well. Today you will complete your first killing.” I held my breath as she stared into my eyes, pausing for a moment as though she was searching for a reaction from me. Or maybe searching for her daughter. “Just last week, a young man tried to stab me with a knife but was captured by the guards and has been held prisoner ever since. Your job is to kill him.”
I nodded slowly, my posture straight, hands folded tightly behind my back. If I could see, my knuckles were probably white due to squeezing so hard.
My hair was pulled tight behind my head, as I always wore it, letting it hang down in a ponytail down my back. I never liked having short hair, keeping it long was my specialty. My sisters on the other hand, seemed to always have shoulder length hair to match my mother, like I said, copying her every move.
My heart was pounding in my chest as I walked into that building, my mother following behind with two guards on her side and another one bringing up the rear. I ignored the crowd watching silently as we made our way through, their warm bodies circled around us in dome fashion.
I led my mother up the steps to her throne that seemed to be taken everywhere, from the castle, to the hall, to the arena, the place we were in then.
“Return to the ground area,” my mother instructed once she was seated. The remaining three guards stood on her side, protecting her from any angry citizens that disagreed with this death. I did as I was told, returning to the middle of the arena and finally taking a moment to examine the crowd. Many of them were staring at me, pointing in my direction and examining my armor.
They had never seen a woman become a guard or in my case, an assassin. Women, in this world, were considered weak and good for nothing except to sit behind a desk and look pretty. That’s what many thought about my mother but no one ever said anything as they were too afraid to have their lives taken away from them due to a small complaint.
Moments after reaching my spot, the heavy doors creaked open, revealing a young man that was not much older than myself. His hands and feet were shackled, causing him to shuffle in, kicking up dirt as he went. The guards on either side didn’t seem to care as they pulled him along, making this process quicker.
One of the guards approached me with a blade in his hand before thrusting it in my direction. “From your teacher,” he mumbled. I recognized the snake as soon as it hit my hands, I had learned to use the twisting body as leverage along with an extra grip. I had been using the blade ever since I was six years old, tall and strong enough to hold its weight. After that, every blade seemed uncomfortable in my hands.
The young man stopped in front of me and was forced on his knees by the guard that kicked him in the back of his legs. I winced slightly as he went down, just as his dark hair fell in front of his face. In the silence, he began to weep quietly, the only sign being that his shoulders were shaking slightly.
How was I to kill this young man? Was he crazy? Most likely since he tried to kill the queen but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he should lose his life. Sure, he went to the extremes but life was so fragile nowadays. Why waste it?
I glanced back up at my mother and she nodded firmly before I turned my attention back to the young man. Now, he was looking up at me, his striking green eyes being the first thing that caught my attention. I felt a twinge in my chest, something I had never felt before. He was an attractive young man, a beautifully sculpted face with no scars other than the fresh ones that he had just earned in the last week.
My heart was racing and my hands were shaking as everyone held their breath, waiting for me to kill the man kneeling in front of me. I had never killed before except for sticking my blade in plush dolls that were to represent my people.
“Get on with it!” I heard a man yell from the crowd. A small burst of applause followed and I squeezed my eyes shut, taking a deep breath in order to calm my racing heart.
“Please don’t,” the man whispered in front of me. He shook his head slightly, his tears staining his cheeks.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered back. Before I could think about the situation too much, I tilted my blade at a certain angle, stabbing him in the heart along with his vital organs with the other tip of the blade. He would die quickly if his heart couldn’t function properly.
I removed the blade quickly from his body and took off running towards the doors just as the crowd cheered for me, chanting something that I couldn’t quite make out. Was it my name? All I could hear was my beating heart in my ears as I sunk down against a wall, bringing my knees to my chest and dropping my blade to the ground. A small amount of dust rose into the air before settling once again, leaving me alone in the silence.
The faint sound of the crowd chanting filled my head along with the sound of a guard approaching my wilting frame.
“The queen wants you to escort her out,” he told me. His deep voice filled my ears and a fit of rage rose inside of me as I realized my mother was going to make me live this through. I couldn’t just run from my troubles, I would have to get used to this. Killings were going to be apart of my life whether I wanted them to be or not.
I got up slowly, dusted myself off, and picked up my blade. The doors were opened and I made my way back into the arena just as the young man’s body was being dragged away by a guard riding a horse. A trail of blood followed him and I studied the dead man’s face to see that all of the color had drained, his eyes were closed, his lips a light blue color. That was the result of my work. He died at my hand.
My mother stood up straight, hands folded in front of her with a look of nothing more than disgust on her face. She wasn’t proud of me and she never would be, no matter how many people I killed for her.
My legs wobbled as I made my way up the steps, towards her. I turned around just as I stood in front of her and took another deep breath, ones that were coming far too often. I could feel her eyes on the back of my head, burrowing herself through my flesh in order to see my thoughts. I wouldn’t put the ability past her.
I led her out of the arena along with the other guards following closely behind. I stepped in the puddle of blood that was beginning to dry in the middle of the arena, ignoring as it slightly splashed against my boot. The rest of the guards and my mother stepped around it, making me feel worse.
My first kill was complete and I had the blood to prove it. Nothing could stop me now.