The sun shone down brightly on this hot summer day. The people of the town were busy at work trying to sell their wares to travelers that were passing through, and children were playing in the shade, and occasionally splashing into a small pond to cool off from the hot sun. It was an idyllic place in an old world, but it wasn’t entirely as safe as it appeared.
Snakes often hide in tall grass or deep shadows.
The Monarchs were drawn to this town, and everyone knew who the Monarchs were. They were guardians, a race of supernatural people that existed to protect and preserve humanity. Any time the Monarchs showed up at a city or village, that meant the townspeople were going to be protected from something.
One might think that the Monarchs were bad omens, but the humans didn’t see it that way. The Monarchs always won their battles and always protected the people and they were well loved for everything they had done. They had even been crowned as the leaders of humanity because of their dedication.
The Monarchs rode in on horses, looking entirely heroic. As soon as the people saw them, they immediately removed themselves from whatever they were doing to watch the Monarchs arrival. The children ran over and stood at the edge of the street and screamed and cheered for them, hoping their favorite Monarch would notice them and wave. The adults bowed low and offered them fruits from their market stalls, or baskets that had been intricately woven. The Monarchs were very humble and tried to refuse the wares that obviously helped the humans in their livelihoods, but they eventually took the items when the people refused to take no for an answer.
They felt they would be more readily protected if they offered gifts to the Monarchs, but that meant they weren’t offering gifts to the temples of the Immortals. To some that could be seen as a sin, but the Monarchs were more loved than the Immortals had ever been in this era.
“Thank you, good people,” Dari said in her deep but feminine voice. “We have come to protect you from a monster attack that we believe will strike tonight. We wish that you would all stay inside your homes as soon as the sun begins to set. We will keep you safe tonight.”
There were cheers and lots of praise being showered on the Monarchs for their good works and their foresight to be able to track the monsters and know their town was in the path of destruction. Now they would live to see another day! All thanks to the Monarchs!
The Monarchs dismounted their horses and a stable boy immediately came to take care of the horses at no charge. The innkeeper also approached them and offered the largest room he had to give, at no charge. The Monarchs readily took the kind offer and began to follow the man, but then a loud voice interrupted all the celebration.
“You bring a curse upon us!”
The Monarchs looked back and saw a priest standing at the entrance of a temple. He looked furious, but the Monarchs weren’t sure why he was mad at them. They were just doing their job and serving the people as they always did.
“And how have we done this, priest?” Luca asked as he turned around to face him. He looked intimidating with his shining armor and sharp features. He sounded mocking in his tone, or perhaps condescending.
“You have made the people forget who they must really worship! We must give gifts to the Immortals so they continue to protect us by keeping our world living and functioning, but now they throw their gifts to you and forget the ones who created the very world we live in!” The priest exclaimed and waved his hands. “Ari is here! The Immortal of the Rising Sun has come to put you in your place!”
All the Monarchs turned around quickly to look at the priest now. Luca’s brow furrowed and the rest looked concerned, but not quite afraid.
The humans around them, however, were immediately on their knees with their gazes fixed to the ground. At that moment, the priest stepped aside and bowed to his knees and a regal but clearly enraged figure walked out of the temple.
Ari was tall, as most Immortals were, and had bright orange hair. Freckles trailed across his face and his skin was tanned darkly. His eyes were a deep green and his gaze was fixed on the Monarchs in their shining armor.
“Here you are again,” Ari said in a booming voice. “Here you are meddling with my people and receiving their first fruits when they haven’t visited my temple since the last harvest.”
“How is that our problem, Ari?” Luca questioned as he stepped forward.
Dari put a hand on Luca’s arm to stop him, but he just shrugged his arm away. They had been receiving threats from Ari lately to stop their reign and just continue normal guardian duties. Most guardians didn’t become the leaders of the human race, after all. Most of them lived quiet lives, just moving to villages and towns and cities and protecting humans from some trouble and then returning to their quiet lives. Never had guardians had such a spotlight on them before, and Ari did not like it.
“Lord Ari,” Dari began respectfully. “We don’t want to have any trouble with you. We often encourage the people to pray to their Immortals, we are not asking for them to give us gifts that belong to you.”
“And yet they do it anyway,” Ari spat. “Don’t try to act innocent. You’re living above your means!”
“We can’t rise and set the sun like you and Azi! You can do more than we can, your existence is far more than ours is! Why take issue with us for doing what we love to do?” Luca continued angrily.
“Luca,” Minhee whispered. “You’re frightening the humans.”
“You’re egging on his wrath,” Apinya agreed as she put her hand on her hip. “Lord Ari, we cannot control what the humans do, as you well know. We apologize if we’ve offended you, but we only wish to continue serving the humans. If they choose to see us as leaders, then why is that so bad?”
“Because they worship you as though you’ll live forever,” Ari said as he began to approach them. “But you won’t. You’ll bleed and you’ll die. I’ll make sure of it.”’
The Monarchs tensed up at the very clear threat. Most of his threats weren’t frightening to them, because they didn’t feel like he would ever actually harm them. He was just like a very powerful child throwing a tantrum that he wasn’t getting all the attention he wanted.
But now it was clear that he had had enough of them and he wasn’t going to tolerate how much control they had taken over humanity anymore.
“It doesn’t have to come to that, Ari-” Dari began, but he almost immediately cut off her sentence.
“It has already come to that, hasn’t it? You’ve changed the order of things, Monarchs,” Ari said as he turned and began to walk back towards the temple as his robes whipped around him dramatically. “You may think what you’ve done is harmless, but it is not so. You have taken too much from this world already and you’ll suffer for it.”
“We really don’t want that,” Hector called out. “Ari! Stay and talk with us! We are not unreasonable and we wish to come to a solution that can appease everyone and keep the humans safe.”
Ari stopped, but he didn’t turn around. “No,” he said. “Nothing is going to change how much the humans love you. You’ve already disrupted the way the world is meant to be. The only way to fix this problem is by getting rid of you.” And then with those ominous words he walked back into the temple with the priest quickly following at his heels.
The townspeople slowly rose to their feet and they looked with fear in their eyes to the Monarchs. They obviously didn’t understand what this might mean; were they going to lose the guardians that protected them? Were they going to have to live in fear everyday that monsters were coming and they had no one to save them?
“Lord Ari won’t kill you, right?” a little girl standing near Apinya asked in a frightened voice. She was holding a straw doll that was probably meant to look like one of the Monarchs. Children often played games that involved acting as the Monarchs, after all.
“No,” Apinya replied with a small smile to the child. “Lord Ari just needs to understand that we have not taken his place in the world. We’ll help him understand.”
“Please don’t worry,” Dari said as she held her hands out to the people graciously. “We will make sure you all remain safe tonight and in the future. Everything will be settled. Just trust us.”
The people still seemed apprehensive, but they slowly began to return to their regular chatter and their work. The innkeeper gestured for the Monarchs to follow them into the inn and showed them the largest room. They all sat down and removed their heavy armor so they could rest before night fell.
“Luca, why did you have to antagonize Ari like that?” Minhee asked as he laid down on the bed and yawned. “I think he’s really upset with us now.”
“He certainly is,” Dari agreed. “I’ve never heard him threaten us like that before.”
“I was just saying what everyone else wished they could say,” Luca muttered as he slumped down in a beautifully carved wooden chair. It had likely been created by a woodworker here within the town. “He’s just trying to frighten us, but I’m not afraid. He’s not going to do anything to us.”
“I think he is, actually,” Minhee argued. “He’s never threatened to kill us before, and I think he meant it.”
“We’ll just have to tread carefully from now on,” Hector suggested. “Right?”
“I hope it’s not too late to fix this,” Dari said with a small shrug as she ran her fingers through the tight curls of her hair which were quite frizzy from the heat. “We can’t be careless with our words anymore, and maybe we shouldn’t accept any gifts for a while. We can ask them to take their gifts to the temples instead.”
“But they like to give us gifts because we actually work actively to protect them! The Immortals don’t protect them,” Luca huffed. “We are created to protect them, so we should be given tribute for it. The Immortals exist to keep the world order functioning, as they do! Ari has to raise the sun, Azi has to set it, Nivalis cares for the very nature of the world, and Rahmune nurtures humanity with her gifts of mercy. If they all have their duties and they receive gifts for it while often not being seen by humanity at all, then why can’t we receive gifts for our duties as well?”
“We’re lesser than Immortals, and it’s not the order of things,” Apinya said as she reached over to smack Luca’s knee with her palm. “So shut up. You need to keep your mouth shut.”
Luca frowned at her, and he glanced aside and didn’t seem to want to speak any further on the matter. Dari was worried that that interaction with Ari was going to lead to more danger for them. She knew it wasn’t really Luca’s fault, even if he fanned the flames. Ari was angry at them before he had even said a word.
She just hoped they hadn’t dug themselves into a hole too deep.