Malice in the Palace
The palace was nothing short of marvelous with its gleaming silver and gold walls, beautiful stained glass windows, and lofty towers. To be honest, the palace looked exactly as it had during my first visit: like it had been plucked from the pages of a fairy tale.
I did notice one difference, however. The reason I hadn’t seen the palace as we approached the city was because the palace wasn’t in the city at all, but rather above it. Clouds seemed to gather around the foundation, making it seem as though they supported the palace. The other end of the massive chain I had spied earlier was attached to a large winding mechanism on the side of the palace, though I imagined the whole thing was essentially for show, much as the chains that bound the Shineside of Rimstak to the Shadeside.
The road we were walking down was lined with apple and orange trees, imported from Earth and flourishing. Devon plucked an apple and tossed it to me before picking an orange for himself. As I munched on the tasty fruit, my eyes fell to the lanes of water between the trees and the road. The water was clear enough to see many multi-colored fish flitting about beneath the blue stream.
As we neared the entrance to the palace, I heard Devon mutter “Ugh. I was hoping I’d get back before he arrived.”
I followed his gaze to two people standing outside the entrance. The first, and the most striking to my mind, was the idestan woman. The green band on her arm marked her as an elite Royal Guard. From the insignia embroidered on the side of her band, I knew that she was part of the palace defense force. Her long, dark hair hung nearly to her feet in a series of braids, and her skin was as dark as my own. I guessed her to be around my age, perhaps slightly younger.
I could tell she was naturally dark-skinned because much of her skin was easily visible; the breastplate she wore had a large opening just above her sizeable bust, and her selanium-thread skirt barely reached her mid-thigh. She wore armored plating on her arms and legs, but these too had large, intricately patterned holes in them. It was as though whoever had designed the woman’s armor had been far more interested in emphasizing the feminine form than creating protective gear.
The other person was a Galden boy who couldn’t have been older than fifteen. His clothing was no less bizarre than that of the female guard: a dark blue overshirt over a sleeveless tank top, a pair of jeans with one leg a foot longer than the other, a tiger-striped bandanna keeping his spiky dyed blue hair from hanging in his light brown eyes, and a pair of what appeared to be flight goggles over the bandanna.
Even though I’d like to think it wasn’t in my nature to judge, I knew from the moment I saw him that he was trouble. Indeed, it appeared as though he were getting into trouble as we approached; the woman’s face was practically livid with rage. As I passed close to the pair, the woman suddenly stiffened.
“How dare you!” She shrieked, taking a swing at the boy.
The boy had the presence of mind to dodge. Unfortunately, this left me (or more specifically, my stomach) in the path of her fist. I staggered backwards, my ears ringing from the force of the blow; she had knocked the breath out of me, an intensely unpleasant experience.
As I gasped for air, the woman held both hands to her mouth. “Oh! Oh, by the Creator, I’m sorry! Are you okay, sir?”
“I’ve been better.” I gasped as Devon helped me steady myself.
The woman guard put her hand on my shoulder, a look of guilt on her beautiful face. “I’m so sorry, sir. I was trying to hit that little …”
She looked around the immediate vicinity. Scratching her head, she muttered, “Where did that little rat go?”
Sure enough, the boy was gone. Apparently he had taken off just after the woman swung at him, a wise move on his part.
I was feeling a bit better. Well, at least I wasn’t gasping for breath anymore. Coughing, I said, “I’ll be fine. Who was that anyway?”
“Luminous Arc Skylad.” Devon told me, “He was also called here by his majesty.” Turning to Sera, he suddenly turned stern. “You should know better, Sera. I know Arc’s a bit bothersome, but-”
“Bothersome? That little punk grabbed my butt!” She said, her cheeks growing even darker.
This didn’t seem to surprise Devon. “Nevertheless, you are a member of the Royal Guard, and he is one of the people you are sworn to protect. If I see you attack another citizen, I will put you on report. Do you understand?”
She looked as though she would have liked to argue. Instead, she bowed her head, saying, “I understand.”
Devon’s expression softened. “However, if I am not around, feel free to act as you see fit. I can’t say I like the boy any more than you do, and Creator knows you shouldn’t have to put up with that kind of thing.”
A smile slowly spread across her face. “Yes sir.”
“Jimmy, I’d like you to meet my protégé, Sera.” He puffed out his sizeable chest, adding with obvious pride, “Second place winner of our last tournament. Surprised the heck out of all of us, especially me, and even gave the shadow who won first place a run for her money.”
Sera’s blush spread across her mostly visible body. “I was lucky; I had a good teacher.”
Devon guffawed, saying, “Balderdash! I was lucky to have such a good student.”
Patting me on the back, he continued, “This is Jimmy Sakamota, specialist and samurai-in-training.”
I bowed my head. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Lady Sera.”
She cheeks went even darker. “Please, call me Sera.”
We shook hands. She had quite a strong grip.
Coughing slightly, Devon said, “Well, we’d better be going. It’s nearly dinner time, and you know how his majesty gets.”
Sera smiled. “Only too well.”
As Devon walked away, I turned to regard Sera. She was very beautiful, if a bit oddly dressed, and she seemed nice. It had been a long time since I had the opportunity to ask a girl out, and Creator only knew when I’d get another chance.
Drawing up my courage, I said with difficulty, “If this is out of line, I apologize, but I was wondering if … well, while I’m in town … perhaps we could get something to eat, or see a movie?”
She blushed, but I could tell from the expression on her face what the answer was going to be. “I appreciate the offer, but I already have someone in my life right now. I may not get to see him very often, but I do love him. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay.” I said quickly, trying to sound nonchalant. “I just thought I’d ask; I don’t get out of the Saybaro very often.”
She patted me on the shoulder, smiling kindly. “Don’t worry, Jimmy. A guy as handsome as you’ll find someone in no time.”
I felt my face heat up. Before I could reply, however, Devon called out, “Jimmy? You coming?”
“Be right there.” Looking at Sera, I shrugged and gave her what I hoped was a winning smile. “Well, I wish you and your friend all the luck in the world.”
“Thanks, Jimmy.” Moving back to her station, she replied, “Good luck with the King.”
The inside of Iniagus’s palace was pretty much the same as it had been during my first visit: tile floors, elegant tapestries, large rooms with no apparent purpose but to house massive portraits of the royal family. There was one difference, but it didn’t strike me as particularly important; there were many long strips of carpet leading in all directions.
“Pardon me for asking,” I said as we started forward, “but I couldn’t help but notice that Miss Sera’s armor-”
“Doesn’t look very effective? Yeah, I know. Iniagus feels that the ladies in the guard should be proud of their figures.” He shrugged. “What can I say? He’s the king.”
“Besides, it makes her look totally hot!”
We both turned to see the boy from before leaning against the wall. “I mean, she looks as though she were made for that armor. Rowr!”
“You’re damn lucky she didn’t rip your arm off.” Devon began, but the boy quickly dismissed him.
“Relax, pops, it was an accident. Not that I’m complaining or anything.” He turned to me and held out his hand. “Luminous Arc Skylad. Call me Arc.”
“Jimmy Sakamota.” I said, shaking his hand. “Jimmy is fine.”
“Nice to meetcha, Jimmy!” He said in a very friendly manner. “So, I’m guessing you were called here to meet the king too, huh?”
“Indeed.” I said, “I don’t suppose you know what this might be about?”
Arc shrugged. “No idea. I’m in the middle of poking around with an old Kindred artifact in the Center at Naidyr when this guy runs in and tells me that Devon here was looking for me.”
I felt a little envious; I had wanted to attend the Center of College, but it was all the way in Naidyr and my bridge-keeping duties made commuting impossible.
“So,” Arc said, rubbing his hands together, “We gonna head to the throne room?”
Devon gestured toward the nearest carpet. “This way.”
Arc shrugged and followed Devon. I followed a moment later, feeling that my earlier assessment had been wrong; Arc seemed a nice enough kid, if a bit chauvinistic.
“Watch your step.” Devon warned as we stepped onto a fluffy red carpet.
The carpet shot into motion like some kind of exceptionally fluffy conveyor belt. Arc fell backwards almost instantly. After a few terrifying moments, I managed to regain my balance.
“Get ready to stop.” Devon warned us.
I barely had time to prepare myself before the carpet abruptly came to a halt. Arc flew forward a few feet and landed flat on his face.
Stumbling forward slightly, I quickly spun about. “What in Nocturnes?”
“Floor runners. Iniagus’s idea.” Devon said. I could tell from the expression on his face that he was amused by my reaction. “They’re installed all over the castle. You almost don’t have to walk anymore, though there’s a broken bone every now and then.”
“You don’t say.” Arc muttered as he staggered to his feet.
It took us three more carpets to reach the doors that led to the throne room. Two guards who looked to be exactly the same stood before the doors.
“Sir!” They said in unison, saluting the Mox Wazoo.
“At ease.” He told them. “Is the Councilor around?”
“Not at the moment, sir.” The guard on the right side of the door said.
The guard on the left side of the door immediately asked, “Would you like us to page him?”
“No thank you.” Devon said a little too quickly. “I’ll escort them in myself.”
“Very good, sir.” The guards said in unison before they both pushed open their half of the door.
The throne room hadn’t changed much since my last visit, at least from what I remembered. Words enter my mind when I think about it, words like huge, magnificent, splendid … a bit overly ostentatious perhaps, but as it was the throne room, some flamboyancy was to be expected. It was a magnificently large room with magnificently large windows that opened out over a magnificent sunrise. The walls were covered with a massive mural, but not of anything specific; t was as though the artist just drew what came to mind: the suns, the stars, an owl, King Iniagus (usually performing some impressive feat), a tree, and more.
The floor tiles were made from echostone, a type of crystallic that emits sound when touched. As we walked across the room toward the throne, the crystal tiles chimed pleasantly.
The king’s throne was like a silvery spider’s web woven between two golden statues. The right depicted Iniagus as a mighty warrior, the left as a powerful mage. Seated in between them was none other than his Majesty, King Gheraldio Iniagus the twenty-seventh.