In Eldritch, beauty was everything. From flower-covered roofs, to glistening white walls, to multitudes of fountains, the city was the epitome of splendor. It wound its way up a hill, and at its peak stood the palace, the crowning masterpiece. The whole place was carved from white marble, but the structure was so open it felt like a garden. The palace’s gates were open to the surrounding city and all shared in the prosperity. King Delle and all the royal court sent generous offerings to the lower city, and it was said the poorest of his subjects was richer than a lord anywhere else.
Despite all this peace and contentment, security was always needed. Aladon was in the King’s Guard, a master with both sword and spear, and sworn to his protection. The safety of today could be completely shattered if anything should befall the King. Having grown up outside Eldritch, she understood how unique this kingdom was and how rare and fragile was such prosperity. She would never let anything hurt it.
It was still dark as she opened her eyes and slid off her bed. Aladon always slept on top of her sheets while at the palace. She wanted to be ready at a moment’s notice, and the climate typically remained temperate.
Pushing the exhaustion out of her mind, she began assembling her uniform. A bright steel breastplate lay over her loose white tunic, and her legs were bare except for the leather ties from her studded sandals. She hated how her sandals shimmered. She hated the way the tunic flowed. She hated practically everything about it...besides the huge spear she got to carry everywhere. Gently, she let its weight pass back and forth between her hands.
“Al!” A harsh knock broke her reverie. “You ready?”
With a sigh, Aladon opened the door and strode off towards her post. The sky was grey and looming, but within the hour, the sun would pierce the clouds and evaporate their very existence.
Aladon liked the morning shift, though in some ways it was peculiar. No townsfolk meandered into the gardens, and no audiences were held by the Upper Court. The palace was usually quiet, except for the constant stream of servants rushing about. Today, however, the silence weighed down the air, smothering even the birds.
Before entering the Royal Quarters, Aladon picked a couple of flowers and stuffed them into her waistband, savoring their subtle scent. She then relieved the guard on duty and began her watch.
Down below in the lower town, most people were still asleep. This could not be said of Miro. Maybe their mind worked a little too fast, or the morning star was a little too bright, but they found themselves drawn to the roof every morning to watch the sunrise.
Miro hung their head and swayed their feet back and forth, tempted to jump off the roof to the street below. Their mother forbade it ever since they broke their arm trying it two years ago, but Miro was determined to do it successfully. It may have seemed foolish, but Miro saw the festivals every year and watched the cadets tumbling across the houses like they were picket fences.
Just as they leaned forward, they caught a glimpse of bright gold. A sliver of sun slowly inched its way up, sending a cascade of orange glow across the flower rooftops. Miro’s lips parted.
Pulling out their notebook, they sketched it. The pastels smeared across their fingertips as they desperately tried to fix a mistake. All too soon, Miro heard their mother’s voice calling them to help with breakfast. They set down their notebook, discontent with the finished product and took one more glance at the road below. The jump would have to wait.
Aladon had grown used to the long hours on duty. She appreciated the time to think and the silence she was charged to keep. Even the guards at the other doors seemed more like statues than her partners. Aladon used this time to plan her “evening activities.” Not everyone in this luminous city could be perfect, and Aladon had learned an important lesson when she was first brought here. Kind people can be particularly gullible. Now she used her free time to line her pockets and enforce her own vigilante form of justice. True, it wasn’t particularly honest or good, but she at least tried to con and steal from people in an “honorable” way. Though if she was really honest with herself-
A scream cut through the air, echoing off the marble walls. It came from inside the Royal Quarters.
Aladon rushed inside, past the Prince’s and Princess’s apartments, and saw the Queen’s chambers full to bursting. Every member of the entourage and the Royal family was crowded inside.
Aladon’s steps slowed as she saw King Delle standing...safe, in the centre of the room. The Queen leaned against him, her face pale. A million questions raced through Aladon’s head, but she kept an air of professionalism.
As the entourage parted, she noticed many of them were crying. There, lying on the floor, was a Nefiem.
The Nefiem were a small group of special servants for the King and Queen. They flanked them at all times, their faces lowered and covered with thick white paint. Their uniform was so distinctive and restrictive that they barely seemed human. They floated mere inches from the King and Queen, like guardians or deadly shadows. Aladon had never looked one in the eye, let alone seen one eat, talk, or smile.
Yet spread on the floor was a Nefiem, her eyes frozen by death in a look of terror. Next to her was another Nefiem, weeping and clinging to her.
“Ah, Guard! Thank you for your speed. One of our trusted Nefiem has...perished.”
The King nodded, commanding the other Nefiem to his side.
Aladon bent down and began examining her body. A quick appraisal showed no signs of poisoning or open wounds.
“I would not worry, Guard. I do not think this is in any way an assassination.” the King encouraged.
“Of course, Your Highness. I just had to confirm. I will call the physician.”
“Yes, see to it that he is brought at once.”
The Queen shook her head in bewilderment.
“She was totally fine yesterday...how, how could-”
“Shhh....let it be, my Love. I’m sure she’s at peace.”
Turning to the mourners and spectators, the King sent them away with the flick of his hand.