It was the largest collection of swords, each one crafted to kill a certain type of creature. Eloise watches with a steady gaze as her fraternal twin brother, Evergreen, runs his finger along the curved blade of a Hiti sword. The Hiti blade is meant for a Friosk - a type of creature that can only be slain by having its head separated from its body. The blade of this sword has been crafted just for that.
“Careful,” Eloise says as Ever continues to inspect the weapon, “Don’t cut yourself.”
He chuckles softly, “El, I’ve been swinging swords around since I was a young lad,” he straightens his shoulders. “You don’t have anything to worry about. Micah joins us during the Hunt this year. I’ll be okay.”
Ah. The dreaded Hunt. Eloise inhales as she recalls why they are even in this horrid room in the first place.
Every year, around the time of the Summer Solstice, thirty of the Elite Warriors go on a dangerous and deadly mission at an attempt to gather Blue Jewels from the kingdom of darkness.
The Blue Jewels can only be harvested at the time of the Summer Solstice because that is when they are ripe. The Jewels are crucial to the human lives because when they are ripe and ground up into a fine powder, the jewels are the cure.
Every winter, a mysteriously evil disease takes over the kingdom of the humans, making them prone to attacks from the creatures of darkness. The creature’s goal is to terminate human life and take over the world as they know it. Possibly enslaving the women… or, that’s what the old tales say.
So far, at least five males have survived the Hunt each year, continuously saving the lives of those that they love. The men who survive are known as the Champions. They are required to return to the Hunt each time the summer solstice rolls around.
Most of those men never marry, for they fear death will arrive for them and they can’t bear the thought of leaving their precious women behind. So, they take the “oath”. An oath that is held before the King, and an oath that prevents them from ever being granted the wish to marry… even if they change their minds in the future. They are then labeled the King’s Champions. Therefore, they live in the castle and treated like royalty.
Only one Champion in the history of all the humans has never taken the oath. And that man was Eloise and Evergreen’s father.
Eloise shivers as Ever rambles on about excited he is to serve by their father’s side and to be able to join the Hunt with their cousin, Micah. It’s the first year she’ll be truly alone, and the first year that she’ll have to fear for her brother’s life along with her father’s.
She turns her head away from her brother so she can gaze at the door. It’s been years since their mother was taken by the creatures. But Eloise knows that her father will stop at nothing to continue to go and not just go looking for the Jewels, but for his soulmate. His lover. And for the first time, Ever would be apart of that.
It’s not fair, really. Jealousy sneaks into Eloise’s heart as smoothly as a thief in the night. Women should be allowed to join the Hunt. Especially when they have a mission greater than just saving the lives of the people. She longs for her mother’s presence and her gentle hugs.
Besides, she has never felt like she belongs here, in this castle. Living day after day doing useless studies and useless dance practices with other Royalty ladies. The only thing that has kept her sane for this long is her father’s greatest friend, Syrus.
Syrus is a great warrior who trains all the males in the kingdom to fight as soon as they hit age six, all the way up until they hit of age for the Hunt. He’s been training Evergreen and Eloise for as long as she can remember and it’s their greatest secret. Her father and Syrus could get into serious trouble by the King and Councilmen if they ever found out that they were giving warrior training to a female.
Pft Pfft pfft pftt
The sound of the darts flying out of Micah’s contraption and smacking into the bullseye makes Eloise grin as she balances herself on the edge of the fence, her elbows on her knees and face in her hands, “You get better every day, Micah! I can’t believe you really came up with something like that. It’s not like you were born smart or anything.”
Micah pauses and turns his head to look at Ever, “Tell your sister to go make lip babies with that Gerald guard and get off our backs. I hear he really fancies her.” He then tosses Eloise a playful wink.
“Aw, that’s disgusting!” Shouts Ever as he playfully smashes his fist into Micah’s bicep.
Micah erupts in fits of laughter and darts away from Ever’s next shot, “What?! You know it’s true, Ever! She’s been following us around like a lost puppy for the last three days!”
Eloise scrunches up her nose, “Micah you’re absolutely horrible if you think I’m going to go around kissing random ugly men! And who in the hell calls kissing, making lip babies?!”
“I don’t know, it sounds like a great idea if I was a woman!” Micah retorts with a giggle.
Eloise hops off the fence and rolls her eyes as her brother then decides to full-on tackle Micah to the ground. “You know Ever has been looking for an excuse to blow off steam all day, and you just gave it to him. Don’t come running to me when he breaks your nose! And I haven’t been acting like a lost puppy.”
Yeah right, Eloise. You’re just worried sick about losing your entire family in one Solistice. No big deal.
She huffs at her own thoughts, turns away from the wrestling cousins, and tugs her bottom lip into her mouth as she struts towards one of the Castle entrances. The stress is real. And she’d rather spend her evening with her father, than with a nagging cousin and a stressed-out/overprotective brother. Ever is only stressed because he worries how Eloise will fair when they are gone. He likes to be around to protect her, and she knows he’s going to feel empty without her presence. It must be a twin thing.