Chapter 1 - A Change in Tide
Dying light streaked through the canopy of oak trees, my bag lumbered with game from the day’s hunt. Leaves clung to the sturdy branches desperately for life, but eventually subsumed to the breeze that wisped through the forest. Their golden corpses crushed beneath the feet of foxes, elk, or Lariens. Our graceful nature did not discredit our towering demeanor. Although we were not as lofty as the 11ft Frost Elfs, we definitely were not as short as the corrupted Surface Demons that roamed the realm of earth.
Lariens, were an honored race. Our kingdom of Rospria prospered above other realms. Our ancestors mastered the art of seduction to convince neighboring realms of peace and trade. They pleased the realm’s noblemen and fought in their blood-soaked wars. Rospria thrived off of other realm’s quarrels. We dazzled kings and queens with our sorcery, laundering them of their money to build ivory towers and golden ships. Some even idolized us as gods. We built our influence across the realms as a force to be reckoned with. Ironically, Rospria today was viewed as a peace nation. We’ve gone a several centuries' without any major war. Not many Larien generations could say they were raised bonding with other races rather than fighting them.
The farther Rospria descended into Amberrule, the more scare forest life became. The shorter the days grew and the longer the glistening constellations pranced across the night sky. Though the change in tide did not change our celebratory tendencies. One year, my uncle Vale held a large party for the entire kingdom, poor and rich alike. I watched in disgust as the noblemen drank until their consciousness deceived them. Quarrels among families broke into pathetic skirmishes over past faults. Most of my generation sought to mediated our families’ quarrels while others simply ignored their elders and entertained their own company. Young couples danced under the crescent moon as children raced across the dinning halls, giggling over foolish pranks.
Dry grass crunched beneath my feet. A swift breeze caught itself beneath my golden locks, temporarily blocking my view of the vast forest before me. The familiar calling of birds echoed from the tree tops. I scanned for signs of game on the forest floor. A rustle in leaves, or a stir between bushes. CRACK! A twig snapped to my left. I turned, crouching low to the ground with my bow drawn. The wing of the arrow creasing my finger.
A scrawny rabbit hobbled from the decayed bracken. It’s speckled paws clutched between an abnormally plump berry. Desperate eyes wavered in panic when the berry appeared to get stuck to it’s paw. It’s ribs visible from the heavy breathing, either from the ecstasy of food or the depravity of energy extorted. Whoosh! The arrow burrowed itself in the rabbit’s eye and the creature went limp.
A sigh escaped my lips. The substance from the kill was inadequate, much like the rest of the game caught today. I had met with other hunters, and the size of their game was the same. Our numbers were limited, only over a dozen of us hunted in permitted areas to north west of the palace and village square. Here, the trees flourished in vegetation. Wild flowers blossomed and the rivers clear as crystal. Game was typically plentiful. But the season of Amberrule battled to maintain it’s place with Icecrest while snow had delicately blanketed Rospria.
The Hunters. More than just a ragtag group of good doers looking to feed Rospria’s thriving kingdom. We were specially selected by the king himself. Elite soldiers amongst the ranks to be glorified heroes. At least, that’s how I processed it. Who would idolize a soldier who brings food rather than a soldier who fought a war. Our king did, that’s who. I say did because our king, Arte, was well, dead. He had died about 5 years ago. Suffering from an illness only his wife and children knew of. The queen had died about a millennia ago from a group of terrorists looking to rage war upon the kingdoms. Hell Fauns. To be more specific. From Rusmines. A wreched like hell scape enveloped in some of the most sweltering flames known among the races. Hot tempered, but not terrible civilians.
The king’s children; Vale and Ivor, were popular heroes in Rospria. Their tales spread to the richest of rich and poorest of poor. Both know for their stunning looks, striking personalities, and remarkable combat skills. In their youth they fought in the war of realms, bringing Rospria to it’s noble glory. Both romanticized for their own likings. Ivor seduced both men and women. Bouncing from partner to partner, like most lariens. Mastering the art of seduction with his chiseled muscles, persuading his followers to fight in battle. Winning, almost every time. Vale coordinated Ivor’s attacks. His tactics brought peace to the realms. Unlike Ivor, Vale found luxury in silence. Taking the time to develop his thoughts before making a decision. Taking comfort in spells and magic rather than a broadsword. Vale’s masterful mind and incredible spokesmen-ship united the kingdom when tensions had heightened. Similar to Ivor, Vale’s suave demeanor charmed many. But he had only ever had his eyes on one women.
Traveling to the entrance of the forest, I met up with other hunters. We compared our game, disappointed in our lack of it. We traveled through the city with our game, receiving praise from the townspeople. Many visited by friends and family, chatting about today’s news. Or expressing concerns among family members. Some dedicated their game to elders passing by. The delight of their smiles warmer than a thousand suns. I remained alone. Content, with being alone. Having no intentions of interaction. Having friends had never been a strong desire for me. Especially when my identity remained hidden. I acquainted myself with who I desired. And no one else.
The elegance of the palace loomed over us. It’s ivory grace glimmered with pride. We passed the golden gates that protected the bridge towards the entrance. A deep body of water traced beneath the bridge and around the front of the palace. From an outsider's perspective the waters and durable gate would look daunting for an evasion. But the show of it perceived it’s beautiful meaning of tranquility. There were others ways to the palace, only known to it’s civilians. Loyal and fierce subjects, all of whom ready to defend Rospria.
We marched up the palace steps as a unit. The majority of The Hunters unmasked themselves, revealing their face and hair. I remained cloaked, on request of the king, as well for my comfort. The king deemed it unfit to reveal my face in public as a Hunter, and I agreed. Such steps could lead to a violation of my safety. The guards were familiar with my routine, knowing my status. Except this one guard. A new head guard. His unfamiliar eyes scanned my figure, squinting. Something about his stature rubbed me the wrong way.
“Who are you?” The guard grabbed my bicep, pulling me aside from the group, his deep voice attempted to intimidate. The rest of the hunters stopped, turning to view the scene.
“Excuse me?” I yanked my arm away. Both guards and hunters stood still from the tension hanging in the air.
“I don’t recognize you among my ranks.” He raised his head to lengthen his body, but we were the same height. “Who are you?” He snarled, droplets of spit flung into my face. The crowd gasped as they watched me wipe the spit from my face. The weight in my pocket grew noticeably heavier the higher my aggravation escalated.
“That’s pri-” “Silence. I want to hear it from her.” An accompanying guard sympathized with me, only to be cut off by this idiotic head guard.
“But she’s-!” A hunter butted in, stopped by the same man.
“I am princess Sage.” I declared, my gaze burned into his.
“Princess?! BAh HAHA!!” The guard heckled as he threw his head back in laughter.
But no laughter came from me. His amusement fueled my irritation. My heel tapping impatiently on the stone path.
“State your intention.” His poor recovery from his laughter denounced his demand.
By now every guard and Hunter in the area were surveying my actions. Most knew of my status. If not the exact title than certainly the level of importance carried from my name. “Dropping off my game before attending the king’s counsel.” I found no need to search for a fight. Surely not when others were around. I hoped my answer would satisfy this joke of a guard, “Now if you excuse me...” He stood in my way of the entrance, his chest puffed with his arrogance.
“I can’t let a little peasant girl roam around the palace. Can I?” He smiled with a twisted gleam in his eye.
I took a step into his space, “You will address me as princess.”
His cheeks flushed as he bursted into another disgusting chuckle. He laid his hands on my shoulder, pushing me away from the palace entrance. The air thinned around the crowd, all anxious of my following action as he walked away.
I reached for the weight in my pocket, my hand coiling around a small dagger. It’s slim design held between two fingers. I extended my arm in alignment of my head as the dagger shot through the air. The tip connecting with the lobe of the guard’s ear. His howl relieved me with satisfaction. Blood trickled down his ear as he whipped around, staining the ivory stairs. He huffed, drawing a sword from his sheave. The audience jumped in my defense, but I stopped them.
I smirked as I pulled another dagger from my pocket, twirling it through my fingers. My opponent jumped forward. I jumped back. He held his sword along his shoulder, withholding an attack. He jumped again, and I twisted with a dodge. Snarling, he circled me around the opening the crowd had made. This time, he swung his sword low, missing my thigh. I pretended to swipe upwards, tricking him into defending his upper half as I dived to his shins, nicking them before I rose. An angry grunt escaped his lips as he turned around with a swing. He failed as I shifted my body weight on his abdomen, knocking him to the ground.
“Halt!” An authoritative tone demanded through the crowd.
“Get lost lady!” The soldier huffed faintly.
“Soldier!” The woman made it through the crowd, “Your Grand General is speaking to you."
His pride shrank to the size of a raisin. Hastily raising in order to impress. “Oh! Grand General Villis! Please excuse me!!”
This woman’s expression hardened by the soldier’s disrespectful tone. A golden hue radiated off her skin from the amber sun. Her stance alone asserted her power. “Grand General Villis.” Her eyes surveyed the scene. “What is the meaning of this?”
Vale’s one lover. Grand General Villis. Headstrong, but always with good intentions.
“This peasant girl tried to sneak in with The Hunters! Disguising as one of them. She’s trying to kill the king!!”
“This peasant girl is your princess.” Villis declared. “Soon to be YOUR ruler. What authority do you possess to treat her with such disrespect?”
“Princess..? Oh Princess Sage! I’m so sor-” “Save the apology. I do not take kindly to half-hearted apologies.”
“Soldier Rel. You have 10 minutes to be at the lodge.” Villis’ voice echoed amongst the crowd. Her serious tone motivating the soldier to scurry away.
Villis’ deadly glare met everyone in the crowd, prompting all to disperse to their continued tasks. She held her head high until none were looking. All, aside from that irritable soldier, knew not to anger Villis. She commanded the entirety of Rospria’s army, shortly after Ivor stepped down as general. He was too reckless as a soldier to remain the general of the whole army. I handed my bag to a fellow hunter, instructing my game to be sent to the maid’s quarters.
We strolled through the palace as equals, discussing the events that just unfolded:
“What was that for?” Villis asked, her hands placed behind her back.
“I did not take off my hood. And when he questioned me.. I may have thrown a dagger at him.”
“Sage!” Villis halted. Intrigued by my actions. Despite her best efforts to conceal her emotions, pride illuminated from her stature.
“What?! He refused my demands.” I defended myself.
Villis shook her head, “Which were?” A small chuckle escaped her lips.
“To let me inside the palace.”
“Sage, this isn’t how you gain respect of your people.” Her demeanor changed, back to what it once was.
“Well I’m not their ruler just yet, am I?”
“You don’t blame me, do you?”
“I do not.” Her lips pursed.
The closer to the royal quarters we got the more intricate the walls became. Our boots clicked along the darkened marble flooring. The smooth tones reflected our presence down the halls. Gorgeously designed chandeliers brightened the corridors with their soft glow, hung to the vaulted ceilings.
“He probably did that because you’re so young.” Villis started again.
“I am not young! A mere 21,000 is all!”
“Wait til you’re Vale and I’s age. Then we can talk.” She chuckled as we turned one final corner, into the most elegant hallway. “Well, I suppose I will be seeing you at the banquet tonight?”
“Banquet?” I paused at the door handle.
Villis’ expression softened as she methodically placed her hand over the bridge of her nose: “Dear Rospria.. Did Vale not tell you??”
“Tell me what?” The thumping in my chest grew noticeable.
She opened her lips to speak, but fell silent. “Better have him explain himself...”
With Villis gone I stood at the door alone. Knocking twice an old, raspy voice responded with courage. The door creaked as the brilliant light blinded me. My eyes adjusted to a extravagantly designed room, the king of Rospria seated upon a golden chair beside a dormant fireplace. His aged eyes acknowledge my presence when I entered. Closing the door, I turned to a shimmering blue light.
Arte’s aged skin desaturated into a radiate health, his pale tone glowing from the setting sun. Black roots blossomed from the dead roots of gray as thick locks laid across his chest. His once silver pupils shifted to a crismon red as Arte was no longer present, Vale was.
“Greetings Sage,” A peaceful smile made it’s way to his face, “How was today’s hunt?”
“Scarce. I believe most creatures have taken shelter for Icecrest by now.”
Vale’s posture remained upright as he sipped a liquid from his cup: “How was today’s hunt?” He asked again, putting a different emphasis on the sentence, setting his cup down.
“You just asked that.” I sighed, knowing full well what he meant. “... It was, refreshing.”
“Refreshing?” A smirk took form over his lips. His eyes satisfied with my response.
“Don’t get your braids in a knot.” My insult led to a smile.
Vale laid in sophisticated golden robes, with Rosprian sigils woven intricately in black. “I take that you enjoyed working beside The Hunters.”
“I never said that.”
Vale crossed his arms, “Oh? But I thought it was, refreshing.” He leaned forward with a mischievous smile.
“The forest. The air. The sway of trees...” I gestured towards the balcony behind us. “You know I am not fond of hunting along side strangers.” My hands found their way to my biceps.
Vale’s tone shifted. His thin brows raised, causing his forehead to crease. “And you know that they’re not strangers.”
“Strangers, Soldiers, Citizens; they are all the same.” I stated bluntly.
“But they’re not.” Vale criticized.
“I do not need another lecture from you!” I rolled my eyes as I took several steps away from Vale.
“They’re your people. People you will rule in the near future.” His objective manner rang throughout the room.
Both my chest and airway tighten: “And, if I don’t want to rule?”
Truthfully, I didn’t want to rule. I was not one for comradery or compassion, nor leadership. I... “I’m afraid you don’t have a choice, my dear.”
My fists rolled into balls. “Why not?” I snapped.
“Because you are Arte’s adopted daughter. Ivor is off on Nedyre or Lefary. Vale is dead. You are the next is line for the throne.”
Vale faked his death about a century ago. Escaping the chance to become king of Rospria. Envy crawled up my throat... I could only dream to have the same luxury as him. I was not Arte’s adopted daughter. Vale, obviously, wasn't dead, and he ended up as king anyway despite his attempts. And Ivor...
I took a deep breath, attempting to recollect my thoughts. To silence my pitiful emotions. “It’s not true though.” My eyes glossed with remorse.
“To Rospria it is.”
Vale could not say anything else to bring comfort. He sat on the chair of the dead king, silent. Both of us at a lost for words. Both of our hands, were tied. Because to Rospria, Vale was dead. And... The truth was, I had a right to the throne... Ivor. When him and Vale were off making these whimsical legends that I had grown to know, Ivor bounced from partner to partner. Seducing who he could to recruit as many soldiers as possible for the war. And like any reckless man, he impregnated a woman. I never learned her name, but she died during birth after the war. Vale recalled his brother descended into madness, and grew too unstable to raise a child he did not wish to have. Ivor gave me to Vale and told him to rid of me. But Vale chose to keep me. Him and Villis have taken care of me ever since. And Ivor.. Knew nothing of my existence.
“Is that what the banquet is for?” I found myself speaking.
Vale’s eyes widened, breaking his upright posture, “Who told-” “Villis.”
“Of course she did.” Vale looked down to his palms, smiling.
“She made it seem like she expected you to tell me sooner.” Vale chuckled by my response. He nodded, admitting his faults. Nothing made him smile more than the mention of Villis.
“So, this banquet? What is it for?”
“To announce your presence as queen. You need to establish your credibility as a princess before you become ruler. The kingdom would be suspicious to an unmet ruler.”
My body shifted from his words. “What do you require of me?” I asked cooly, gulping down all visible anxieties.
“Yourself.” Vale’s eyes softened, “Be vulnerable to the task but do not reveal too much about yourself.”
“I will reveal what I wish to.”
“Keep your pride in check. You aren’t a teenager anymore. You mustn't act like one.” Vale stood, towering over everything in sight, gracefully moving to my side. “I have taught you all you need to know about becoming queen. Your reign will be revolutionary.” He rubbed his thumb over my shoulder.
“... I thought I would have more time.” I stepped away from him, uncomfortable with this softness in which he did not often express. “You were the one who faked your death. And eventually put on the face of the dead king.”
“That wasn’t my intention. But sometimes, life evolves into a form that we find unsatisfactory. I did what I had to do with the materials given to me. And Rospria needs a new ruler. I cannot keep up this Arte crusade for long.”
Pools of liquid rushed to my lids. Vale wished to embrace me, yet, chose not too. Instead, his slender body paced back to his seat, picking up a book. “Smile, Sage. Nothing will change between us. Villis and I will be beside you every step of the way with our council.”
“I know, I just- nevermind.”
“I suggest you head to your quarters. I’ve already sent your maids.”
With nothing left to say I turned away, pausing as I reached the door handle, “I love you.”
“I love you too.”
“Oh Rospria!! What have you gotten yourself into!” One of my maids cried, rushing over and taking me by the arm.
“It’s only a spot of dirt.”
My maid, Amber, widened her eyes in dismay, “A spot of dirt?!” One of these days I’d surely give her a stroke.
“It will all come off once I enter the bath.” And with that Amber dragged me to the wash room, tying her voluminous hair into a ponytail, highlighting her sharpened jawline.
Although Amber was the same age as me, she did not treat me as a peer. Not that she should, given that I am her princess and she my servant. But, unlike most of my subjects, I cared deeply for her. Despite her disciplinary tone, she was the closest thing I had to a friend. Her and maid Vitanni, who bounced into the room like the ray of sunshine she was. She came bearing all sorts of exquisite lotions, her curls bobbing with her body.
I would usually be able to convince Amber to wash on my own, it took years of persuasion, but she granted my wish eventually. Although this was a serious occasion, one that she would refuse to let me prepare for on my own. It was her job, after all. And Vitanni followed Amber’s lead. Although Vitanni was only child, barely old enough to become a servant herself. But she made excellent company.
“What did you do today princess Sage?” Vitanni seated herself by Amber, handing her the materials she required during my bath.
“I went and hunted, just for you.” I leaned over and tapped her button nose. “I sent my game to the maid quarters.”
“That is very kind of you princess Sage. But not necessary.” Amber's comment masked her appreciation.
“But I thought it was.”
A hesitant smile appeared across Amber's lips. “We’ll be too busy to eat anything tonight. We’ll be serving at the banquet.” She lifted my arm to give it cleaning.
“I only just recently found out about this banquet.” I said, caught off guard by the pause in Amber's behavior.
An unknown emotion filtered over her gaze, but she remained silent. “What is it Amber.”
She shook her head, “Nothing princess.”
“Amber...” I tilted my head, unsure whether to show concern.
Amber pursed her lips, “Just some irritated thoughts that I have. I assure you they’re nothing, princess.” She avoided my gaze as she retrieved a towel to dry me off.
“If you refuse to tell me," I stepped out onto the cool floor. "Than I command you to tell me.”
Amber's demeanor shifted into a less confident one, her chin lifted high in an attempt to gain that courage back: “... Arte has a habit of making last minute plans. And it just stresses me out, princess.”
“Is that all?”
She hesitated, watching Vitanni dry off my hair as I sat on my bed. “It’s a lot of work for Vitani, and I worry.”
Vitanni's nose wrinkled in defense, “I don’t mind as long as it’s for Sage!” My heart grew warm from her voice.
“Princess Sage.” Amber corrected sternly, almost fearful of my reaction.
“It’s okay Amber.” I smiled, sharing a compassionate look with Vitanni's golden orbs.
Amber left momentarily to fetch my dress for the banquet. She returned with elegant silks wrapped around her arms. We moved in front of a mirror, where the peach colored dress complimented my porcelain complexion. It's design flowing gently to my ankles. The intricacies of it's design embellished in gold that wrapped around my waist, slimming my figure. Vitanni helped with the golden arm pieces than draped from my shoulders and connected to my arms.
“What if... you had no tasks tonight?” I spoke as the maids continued to work.
“That’s impossible.” Amber shook her head, focused on the detailing of my outer eyes.
“Not if it’s on my command...” Amber stopped, disbelief painting her features.
“Really? For us?” Vitanni chirped, holding a small stool in her hands.
Amber continued to work, dismissing my request, “That is nonsense, princess. We don’t ge-”- “On my account. I insist.” I pulled away to make sure she was listening. “Come.”
“Do you like that one?” Vitanni presented me with a beautiful golden necklace, one that wasn't too regal.
I nodded, which put an adorable smile on Vitanni's little face, proud of my approval. She hopped on the stool, balancing precariously on it to reach my neck, her little hands tickling the back of my neck.
“I can put that on instead Princess Sage, here-" Amber rushed over as I noticed the stool beginning to wobble through the mirrior. "Let me take care of it.”
“No! I got it! I can do it!” Vitanni insisted, sticking her tongue out in concentration. “MMmmm THERE! Finished.” She cheered to herself.
“Thank you, Vitanni.” I rested my hand on her shoulder, expressing gratitude.
As Vitanni and Amber completed the finishing touches, they began to gossip about current news around the Omnirealms. Talks of another war among the Surface Demons on Earth, the chilling earthquake that rocked the sands of Snara, and the royal family in Nedyre. This led to the mention of Ivor's name, who currently resided on the peaceful seas of Nedyre, neglecting his rightful duties in Rospria.
A burning ember began to grow over my heart... What coward, abandons his own child? What coward, asks of his brother to dispose of it. Ivor. Ivor did. I wished for nothing more than to be among his presence, demanding answers and proving to him the kind of woman I'd become. Prove to him that I could lead a kingdom. Prove, that I was worthy enough to be his daughter...