A Message from the King
When I close my eyes, the Saybaro is there.
I hear the trickling of the river, the whispering of the wind through the long grass and the leaves of the ancient oak tree. I feel the warmth of the suns on my face, the tickling of many small fish nibbling harmlessly at my toes as my feet float in the strangely warm water of the river. I smell the fresh country air and the sweet scent of the local wildflowers in bloom.
In my mind’s eye, I can picture everything with perfect clarity: the looming mountains, the sweeping plains, the remnants of the stone tile path surrounding the single tree in front of the dilapidated mansion I call home. More than anything, however, I see my bridge.
Although sturdy enough for use, the simple construct of wood and stone had begun to show signs of its age. One side of the once elegant whitewood railing had long since broken, the other wobbled in the wind. The boards creaked under my weight and vivacious ivies had laid claim to the ancient stone supports, though the latter wasn’t so bad. The ivy blooms in the late months of summer, covering the bridge with lovely blue and purple flowers.
It was on a warm summer day some years ago that I sat beneath the shade of the tree that stood between my home and my bridge, my attention caught in a book on the Streamer Arts. After marking my place in my book and setting it on one of the broken tiles near the old tree, I turned to face my target: a cardboard box marked with the logo of the Zuen Mega-corporation. I took Glint, the battered ancestral sword of the Sakamota family, in both hands and closed my eyes.
I cleared my mind and focused on the sound of my breath. With each exhalation, the world around me faded away until all that was left was the sound of my breathing. I had done this hundreds of times; meditation was and is still a part of my daily routine.
As I held onto my mental focus, a stream of energy blew across my skin and through my hair like a warm breeze. This I knew to be the lifestream, the constant flow of life and magic that flows from Vinta.
The first stream was then joined by a second, faint at first, but gradually coming into focus. This one I knew well: it was the tree behind me, its stream old but comforting.
I gradually became aware of other streams from my surroundings; the river, the mountains that surrounded the Saybaro, and even the ivies on the bridge. I could even feel the flow coming from Glint, its stream like that of an old friend.
It was my own stream that I felt last, and with it came a renewed awareness of all the others; at that moment, I could see the Saybaro as if my eyes were open.
Slowly, I reached out with my mind and pulled the separate streams into my own. As more and more energy poured into me, I could feel my own aura grow stronger. Opening my eyes, I saw the blue and green wisps of energy encircling my body. I shifted my focus to Glint, willing the wisps of energy into ancient blade.
As the last few wisps of energy gathered in my katana, I felt the sense of anticipation that had been growing inside me reach a peak. Without a moment’s hesitation, I swung Glint at the box, sending out a wave of prismatic light that hit the box dead center, sending it flying as though someone had given it a good kick.
I watched with mild surprise as the box spun high in the air, soared past my bridge, arced downward, and eventually bounced off the head of a familiar man wearing a golden band embroidered with the insignia of the Wenapaj Royal Family. He was Devon Ulyndia, the Mox Wazoo, leader of the Royal Guard, one of the King’s chief advisors, and my boss.
Wincing, I rushed over the bridge. “By the Creator! Are you okay, sir?”
He laughed as he handed me the box. “No harm, no foul, Jimmy.”
I offered him my hand, but he ignored it, clapping me companionably on the shoulder instead.
“It’s been much too long.” He glanced me over for a moment before asking, “New duds?”
Tugging at my black silk shirt, I said, “This is a keikogi.” Patting my black satin, billowy pants, I continued, “And this is a hakama. I imported them from Earth.”
“Well, it’s a good look for you, especially with your dark skin. I gotta say though, it makes your hair look almost completely white. By the creator, if it weren’t for your gray eyes, I wouldn’t believe you’re the same kid who showed up in the palace over a decade ago with that battered old sword.”
“Katana.” I corrected him, my hand brushing against Glint’s hilt. “It’s called a katana.”
“Still fascinated with that old Earth culture, eh?”
“A trained samurai can take down a troop of soldiers armed with energy rifles with nothing but his blade.” I said,. “I’m still a novice, but I can demonstrate if you want.”
“No thanks, Jimmy.” He reflexively put a hand to his head. “My ears are still ringing from last time.”
“As you wish.” Gesturing to the mansion behind me, I asked, “Are you thirsty? I’ve got some tea brewing in the kitchen, if you’re interested.”
“Far be it from me to refuse your hospitality.” He said, clapping me on the back again as we crossed my bridge and walked toward the mansion that had been my home for the preceding thirteen years.
According to official Wenapaj record, the Saybaro Mansion was nearly three-thousand years old. Built from wood, stone, and steel by a nobleman of the same name, the mansion had three floors that extended into the surrounding mountains and a deep basement. Back in the day, it was home to over three-hundred people: friends, family, and servants of the long departed Saybaro family. By the time I arrived, however, the third floor had collapsed making the second floor mostly unusable, and only a few rooms on the first floor were still livable.
Of course, that was thirteen years ago. As I pushed open the double mahogany doors, Devon let out a low whistle.
“Damn, Jimmy.” He said, staring around the restored foyer, “You have been busy, haven’t you?”
The lobby floor was a collage of mismatched, multi-colored tile I had scavenged from around the Saybaro. The only furniture to speak of was the old grandfather clock against the back wall, which had been there since I first arrived. Wide, sweeping staircases circled up the walls of the lobby up to the sealed doors on the second and third floors.
Devon seemed impressed despite the lack of furnishings. “If I ever need to redecorate, I’m definitely gonna give you a call.”
I bowed me head respectfully at the compliment. “Still a work in progress, of course; I’ve only just started clearing out the second floor.”
“So the first floor’s done?”
“For the most part, but-”
“Well there you go!” Devon said. “Impressive work, especially out here in the middle of nowhere. Where did you get the materials, anyway?”
“Scavenging the ruins.” I told him. “And through the Weave. I found a good supplier that was willing to deliver.”
“I’ll see about getting you some compensation on that.” Devon said, still looking around. “You are restoring a national monument.”
“Any assistance would be appreciated, though not expected.” I told him. “After all, this is my home. Shall we go to the kitchen?”
My kitchen was a moderate-sized room with a black-and-gray tiled floor. A counter ran around the entire room, on which rested about a dozen cooking devices I had ordered throughout the years.
As Devon sat down at the table in the center of the room, I pulled two mugs from a cabinet and filled them both with some of the green tea I brewed to go with my lunch.
As I handed him a mug, he commented, “Nice shot with the box, by the way. How long have you had the Streamer talent?”
“Hard to say.” I replied, sitting beside him, “I only realized myself last winter. I was in the middle of my daily meditation when I opened my eyes and saw Glint levitating in front of me.”
Devon laughed. “I can see how that got your attention.”
I smiled, not mentioning that Glint had fallen almost instantly once I broke focus, landing point-first only inches away from my leg.
Shaking my head, I asked, “So, how has it been?”
He shrugged. “Same ol’, same ol’. One new thing, though; my oldest boy just joined the Royal Guard.”
“Really? I’m sure you’re very proud.”
“Oh, I am. He’s a bit timid, but he’ll make a good guard.”
“I’m sure he will. He’s your son, after all.”
Devon chuckled appreciatively, though there was a slightly uncomfortable tone in his voice I couldn’t help but notice.
“You aren’t here for the tea, are you?” I asked, lowering my mug.
He let out a sigh. “I’m afraid not. I’ve got orders for you from King Iniagus.”
“Truly?” I said, curiosity piqued, “What does His Majesty want with me?”
“Hang on a sec.” After a few moments of digging through his pockets, Devon produced a folded piece of paper. “On this, the thirteenth day of the third month of summer, in the Creator’s year of 77645, the presence of Jimmy Olsen Sakamota, blue-rank of the Royal Guard of Wenapaj is requested at the Royal Palace by his most benevolent, wise, and honorable royal highness, King Geraldo Iniagus the XXVII.”
“Do you know what this is about, Devon?” I asked.
He shook his head. “He would only tell me that it was of the utmost importance that I bring you to him immediately. I tried to get more information, but-”
Devon suddenly choked on his tea. Concerned, I asked, “Are you all right?”
“Bathroom.” He muttered before heading toward the door on the right.
“It’s not that way.” I warned him, but he was already gone.
Shaking my head, I cleaned the mugs and put them in their proper places. As I poured the remaining pot of green tea into a pitcher and set it in my refrigerator, I considered what the King’s new orders would entail.
While I had no desire to leave my posting permanently, the idea of leaving the Saybaro for a short time was worth considering. I hadn’t been near civilization for ages. It would be nice to see Yesrej again. Perhaps I could take the opportunity to pick up a few things for the mansion.
It didn’t seem likely that Devon would be back in the near future, so I decided to go ahead and gather a few supplies for the trip. Nothing overwhelming, of course; just an overnight bag in case it took a little longer to get back than I expected.
As I crossed the tiled floor of the lobby, I caught a flicker of movement out of the corner of my eye and quickly spun about to face whatever it was.
For just an instant, I thought I saw a shadow beneath the western stairwell, eyes glinting in the darkness. When I walked around the stairwell, however, I found nothing but an empty cardboard box filled with old books I recovered from the remains of the second floor library. I concluded that it had merely been a trick of light; perhaps it was one of the cats that had a tendency to sneak into the mansion. It wouldn’t have been the first time I received a nasty shock from one of the mouse-hunting feline vagrants.
Shaking my head, I continued across the lobby and pushed through the doors that led to the west wing of the mansion. I had done more work in the west wing than in any other part of the Saybaro, mostly because my own living quarters were located there.
There were doors on either side of the corridor. The doors were unlabeled, save for the fifth door on the right: room 113.
Room 113 was my room, and had been the only livable room in the mansion when I first arrived. Despite my fascination with the culture that had inspired the samurai and my family blade, my room was much like the room I had back when I lived in Rimstak.
I walked around on the fluffy, dark blue carpeting, enjoying the feel of it tickling between my toes. My bed was still unmade; the comforter lay in a heap on the floor and the pillows rested on my desk. My previous day’s clothes were hanging off the edge of my computer monitor.
I approached my bookshelf. Pushing aside various science fiction and fantasy novels, I picked up a small box no bigger than my fist. It was just a simple wooden box, but tourist who had given it to me in exchange for a room for the night assured me that no one other than myself would ever be able to open or break it. While that claim was debatable, I nevertheless used the box for my most precious of possessions; things that could never be replaced.
As I opened its lid, I found myself staring at the picture of a man and a woman hugging each other. Both tall and thin, the man had gray eyes and light blonde hair while the woman had a slightly darker complexion and stark-black hair. They were smiling; the picture had been taken shortly after they had been married.
They were my parents. It was the only picture I had of them; most of our family possessions had been destroyed during the Corruption that had claimed their lives.
Just beside their picture was another, this one drawn and colored by my own hand. It was of Uncle Ann, the Rimstakken who had raised me after the death of my parents. Her curly red hair hung just past her neckline, and her blue eyes seemed to sparkle even in my drawing. I had even added a smudge of grease on her cheek, as that was how I always remembered her.
Shaking my head, I rifled through the bottom of the box. Most of it was, admittedly, junk that I just didn’t want to throw away: a few pretty stones I had found in the river, a pressed flower I had gotten from an old girlfriend in Rimstak, a small device I had made under Uncle Ann’s tutelage that did absolutely nothing aside from making an annoying chirping noise.
Beneath all the junk, however, was something I valued above everything else, even Glint. I pulled it from the box and held it in cupped hands.
It was my mother’s wedding pendant, a heart-shaped piece of amethyst held in a tangle of golden wire. It didn’t necessarily bring back happy memories, but it was the only thing I had of my parents other than Glint and the picture.
I reluctantly set the pendant back into the box and grabbed the blue armband for which I had been searching. Iniagus was very lax in regard to uniform codes, but the armband was required. It not only marked me as a member of the Royal Guard, but also indicated my rank.
It took more time to find my backpack than it did to actually pack. I packed some clothes, my journal, and had just shoved a handful of shards into the side pouch when I heard Devon’s voice in the outside hallway. It was too muffled to make out, but he sounded like he was arguing with someone.
As I opened the door, I heard him say, “… back to Iniagusville before-”
“Excuse me?” I said, closing the door behind me.
Devon jumped, his arms inexplicably outstretched toward the door to the Lobby. “By the Creator! Don’t scare me like that, Jimmy! I don’t have any heart problems, and I’m not looking to find any!”
“My apologies, Devon. I had no intention of-”
“No, it’s fine. You just startled me, that’s all. I was just having a word with one of the King’s Shadows.” He tapped his earpiece meaningfully.
“Is everything okay?”
“Yeah. She’s just a bit further from her post that I would’ve liked, that’s all.” Rubbing his hands together, he said, “Ready to go?”
“You bet.” I hefted my pack. “Let’s head out.”