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. Dari led them, her dark tight curls framing her face elegantly as her dark skin shone warmly in the sunlight. She was often seen as the leader of her group, even if she insisted they were all a team and she wasn’t more important than any other.
Apinya rode just behind her and she smiled pleasantly as she saw the humans just ahead. She tucked her thick straight black hair behind her ear, and wiped a bead of sweat from her tanned brow. It was a very warm day, and she was grateful to only be wearing their light armor at this time.
Minhee was behind her, looking around absently and seeming almost as if he was daydreaming. His skin was very pale in comparison to the first two, and even his eyes were a lighter shade of brown, but his eyes were narrow and soft looking. He had short light brown hair that was ruffled lightly by a warm breeze that blew through. He appeared as the most gentle looking of all the Monarchs.
Hector and Jakob were riding side by side, having a chat about the last time they’d been in this region fighting monsters. Hector had silvery blonde hair with skin a shade paler than Minhee’s, and his eyes were light green. He was very expressive with his big eyes and bold features, which always brought a smile to others. Jakob was quite the opposite with dark tan skin, black hair that hung just below his shoulders and was back in a ponytail. He had a round face, narrow eyes not unlike Minhee’s, and he had an easy smile. He also couldn’t hide his feelings very well, as he was prone to emotional outbursts. But he was the youngest of the Monarchs, after all.
A group of servants followed directly behind Hector and Jakob, one for each Monarch. These servants were willing humans that had come to their castle to help them in their daily lives. When the Monarchs had been called leaders of the humans and the crowns had been forged, the humans came to serve and so the Monarchs were grateful. They needed people to help them with their sudden responsibilities as leaders, since it was far more than they had before. These humans were trustworthy to them, and they seemed grateful for a life serving their greatest heroes.
Lastly came Luca, as he often rode behind everyone in their group to make sure they weren’t being followed. He had the sharpest features of everyone, with his sharp jawline and cheekbones, and everything about him was very stern. He had bright blonde hair and icy blue eyes and a spattering of freckles across his nose and his cheeks because of spending so much time in the sun. He was the only one wearing heavy armor at the time, because he had been on watch duty last night and they had been concerned that the monster group that was hunting nearby might attack them. From the sweat on his brow it was clear he was anxious to remove this armor soon.
The Monarchs were immediately surrounded by the humans of the village as they held up fruits and baskets and whatever wares they had from their market stalls.
“Please, Monarchs! Take our gifts! We wish for your continued grace and protection!” A woman cried out as she held up a basket of fruit to them.
“Don’t these gifts belong at the temple?” Apinya asked as a basket of freshly picked corn was thrust into her arms. “You must give your gifts to the Immortals.”
“The Immortals do not hear us, Lady,” An elderly man said as he leaned on his cane. “You must know this, since that is why you have begun protecting us with such fervor.”
“We protect you because that is what we were created to do,” Minhee said politely as he looked at the humans that pressed so close they couldn’t even dismount their horses. “But we do love you greatly, and so we will protect you whether the Immortals hear you or not.”
“Thank you, good people,” Dari said in her strikingly 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 their servants came around to take their horses to be watered and fed. A heavy set man quickly approached and bowed before them.
“Won’t you come and stay at my inn, great Monarchs? I assure you there will be no charge,” he said with a warm smile.
“There must be some charge. Aside from our number, there are six servants. We’ll need a great many beds,” Hector said as he tilted his head curiously. “Please, tell us what you’d have us pay for a night.”
“I cannot charge the Monarchs and their honored servants! Nonsense! Now, come and follow me,” the innkeeper said as he turned and bustled towards the nearest building.
“We’ll leave payment in the room before we leave,” Dari said with a wink to Hector as she turned to begin to follow the innkeeper.
“You bring a curse upon us!”
The Monarchs looked back and saw a priest standing at the entrance of a temple. He looked furious, and they could only assume this had to do with the ongoing issue between the temples and the Monarchs. It was seen as a grave sin to not offer gifts to the temples of the Immortals, but lately the humans had only been offering gifts to the Monarchs wherever they would go. Some would even make pilgrimages to the Monarchs’ castle to leave gifts there.
“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 know very well! You foolish creatures, you take gifts that are not intended for you! You may have been created by the One as the Immortals were, but you are nothing like them! Can you create land and sea? Can you create life itself?!” 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 began to chatter fearfully and one adolescent girl reached out and grabbed the back of Apinya’s tunic.
“My lady, please protect us!” She whispered.
Apinya looked back at the girl and put a hand to her cheek gently. “Have peace, it’ll be alright.”
At that moment Ari stepped out of the temple in all of his furious glory. The priest was kneeling down with his head bowed, and in their fear every other human followed suit to kneel and bow their heads. They did not want to be struck down by this very real Immortal that had appeared inside their small village for the first time ever.
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.
“Luca,” Dari said in a warning tone, but it seemed he wouldn’t heed her.
Ari looked upon Luca with a cold stare. “You do not deserve their constant praise. Why should they pray to you and worship you? Prayers are meant to be answered by Immortals! You are nothing but a wisp on this plane of existence, and you were never intended to have any sort of ruling power in this realm!”
“Lord Ari,” Dari began respectfully before Luca could say anything spiteful. “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!”
“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? We only wish to protect humanity!” 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, they were given free will by the One. 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 rooms for themselves and their servants. They all sat down while Luca had his servant remove the heavy armor he’d been wearing.
“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 the servant set aside the breastplate and began taking off his greaves “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 as he stepped away once the servant had finished taking off his armor and took it away to store it in a corner of the room. “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 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.