It was a cold night’s flight over a city blocked by a thick layer of clouds but Nes assured me we had arrived. Talica. Home. I shared a thick blanket with Lehvie, though it seemed she had no need for it, explaining that it wasn’t that cold despite seeing the snow-capped mountains in the distance.
“Careful,” said Nes. “We’ll be diving below the clouds soon so hold on tight.” We held tight. Rook let out a cry and we submerged under the sea of clouds. Everything turned gray. Rook tucked his wings and throat became bright. In seconds, everything below us burned with an uninterrupted flow of Rook’s fire. I started seeing faint lights below the clouds until eventually they had become obscured by the clouds.
The first thing to hit me was the sudden change in temperature. Instead of cold, it felt like a summer night, warm and tolerable. I looked up at the clouds. There was a light blue layer under it, similar to the ones I saw in Aria that kept the rain from ever touching the city. I looked down. They must have seen this view hundreds or thousands of times, those castles floating in the sky, too. The streets lit below over the valley, mountains on both sides and a great castle nested in the middle beside a flowing river. The land was divided into sections; houses nearest the castle were built close together, farther away the suburbs of mansions, and lastly the green and yellow farms. Best of all were the hidden structures built inside the mountains that reminded me of skyscrapers that had a some of their floors still lit.
“Where are we headed?” I asked. Nes pointed to one to the castles orbiting above the city but well below the clouds.
“We need to drop off Lehvie first,” said Nes. Once we reached the castle, Rook flew in a circle above it as if waiting for something. On the castle’s outer walls I could see people keeping watch, some fully armored and others taking notice of us. There was the sound of a bell and Rook answered it by landing in the courtyard. We were surrounded everywhere by people in red and bearing the emblem of a phoenix with a shield. Everyone kneeled once Lehvie dropped down. One man in particular walked toward her.
“Beck,” said Lehvie, stretching her arms and following it with a yawn. “I’m sleepy.”
“Of course, your highness,” he said. “We’ll escort you to your room. Quinn will be with you shortly.” By then Rook had flapped his wings and ready to fly off. Before that, Lehvie turned to me and waved goodbye. She didn’t say a word, just a wave and I returned it. We flew off for the next castle, and halfway there I could make out its details and recognized one part of it. Once there we circled around like we did on the previous castle, and waited for the bell to ring.
“You’re shaking,” said Nes.
“Huh?” I looked at my hands and saw truth in her words. I made a fist and felt tense. Right then we heard the bells ringing. “Is mom going to be there?”
“She isn’t in the city,” she said, “else she would have been the first to find you. If anything she should be returning soon.” The tension waned.
“We don’t have to land if you don’t want to,” she said, and waited on me but I couldn’t find the words to speak. “You can be Lee from Aria, or Liel, prince of Talica, but you cannot be both.”
“I don’t think it matters who I am,” I said. “People will still come after my life.” She answered with silence. Below in the courtyard I saw people had gathered and I think I could perhaps feel their gaze. The courtyard was filled with flowers of whites and reds. We flew over them and away from the castle, just the same, the bells stopped. We dropped down towards the city and coming to a landing in front of a mansion far from the city center. Nes jumped down and raised her arms to me.
“Come,” she said and guided me to the front door.
“Who lives here?” I asked. Nes opened the door and there was a strange feeling on my nose, like a tickle and I wanted to sneeze. She reached for a crystal on the wall and it lit everything in the room. “There’s dust everywhere.”
“It’s yours now,” she said.
* * *
I woke to find the room vacant except for the few belongs I brought with me, the rest regrettably burned in the incident with Pauline. The door was kept opened like I asked, and one deep breath and I had a strong urge to sneeze. I stood and headed out of the room. There were guards everywhere keeping watch in a full suits of armor, each one bearing an emblem of a phoenix and what seemed like a meteor. Compared to that, I was left with a long sleeve shirt and shorts.
“Good morning,” I said, and the guard outside my door bowed. I looked around and saw just how forgotten the place was. Every surface coated in layers of dust and foot prints where people had recently walked on. On one side there were rooms and on the other a wooden wall that stood out of place. I reached for it and noticed that it wobbled. It’s a sliding door. I opened it to reveal a courtyard with overgrown grass and a fountain thirsty for water. I stepped out. Above me were the floating castles dancing slow around the city. ‘You have a few days to decide,’ I recalled my sister’s words. I went back in and closed the sliding doors.
I collected a bucket of water and towels from the kitchen and began with my room by scrubbing it clean, every inch I could reach. Easy, and I finished by opening the window to let fresh air in. I stepped out of the room to start on the next but noticed something was off.
“It’s all spotless,” I said and looked at the guards, “did you guys help clean?” There was no answer, and I could see my own reflection on the floor. I checked the courtyard, still overgrown an unchanged. “Well, there’s still that.”
I turned back and felt the sliding doors closed shut behind me. I tried opening it with all my strength but it didn’t budge, not even a wobble. Before long it opened by itself and I saw a freshly cut yard and fountain with flowing water. I sighed.
“Great,” these guys are scarier than Aril. I suppose the last thing to do was air out the house, which gave me an idea. “Now the house needs to be aired out,” this time out-loud. Without warning there was a sudden and strong wind. I turned to its direction and saw that someone was on the roof of the house.
“I can see you!” I yelled. The person ducked out of sight. At the very least I could test my boundaries. I headed for the entrance and stepped outside. There was a gate at the end and yet no guard had come to stop me. I made off for the gate and there behind a bush was someone in red. Too easy to spot actually. Time for test number two.
“I want to head into the city,” I said, again out-loud. I heard a whistle go off and within a few moments came a carriage being pulled by two horses. The only thing missing was the driver. The door to the carriage opened itself and I sat inside and waited but the carriage stayed in place. I looked out to the horses. It might seem crazy to me but speaking to a horse was the last thing on my checklist.
“Hmm…” well, I could at least try. “T-to the market place?” The carriage started to move. Just the thought of seeing someone give orders to horses like that made my cheeks red. I should remind myself to buy apples. Now all I could do was stare out the window and see the houses moving by as we headed to the market. Except the view I expected was switched with a strange one. Instead of the houses I couldn’t help but notice people in red jogging in our pace from afar, and some would move from cover to cover. I sighed and ordered the horses to stop. I opened the carriage door and saw everyone resume hiding.
“Everyone,” I said, “please join me.” I waited for a moment but no one came. “That’s an order.”
They came out of hiding and gathered around me, eight in all. A close look and I saw that they traded steel for cloth and all I could see were the red of their eyes, though one was technically pink, all shades of one color. I headed back inside and again, waited for them to act. It’s like babysitting children, they just stood there to the point that it started to get annoying. “Come in.”
Five came inside and I sat by the window. The other three sat at the front on the driver’s seat. If I let them have it their way, I’m scared to think that one of them might ride on the carriage top and scare off any potential neighbors.
We started moving again.
“Your highness,” said the one with pink eyes, and by the sound of it, it was a girl. “Yes?”
“Is it fine to be like this?” she asked. “I believe keeping formation is best for your safety.”
“Is that an order from my sister?”
“Are you not working under her?” I asked. They shared a confused look and turned back to me. Everyone raised a piece of cloth on their shoulder to reveal an emblem with a phoenix and a sword. My emblem.
“Are you the group leader?” which was my assumption, no one seemed interested in speaking.
“Yes,” she said, “only temporarily until Miss Lilianne returns.”
“Princess Lehvie calls her Lilia,” she said, and gave me some relief to hear a familiar name.
“And your name?”
“I’m afraid I cannot give you one.”
One right turn after another and I think I found the boundaries I was looking for. The carriage door opened and I saw the house I had left half an hour ago right there as if we hadn’t moved. I sat there feeling awkward with everyone inside. One of the drivers opened the door for me.
* * *
From A Guardian’s Perspective
“My apologies, sir,” I said, we stepped out and I gave the order for the rest of the group to return formation. Prince Liel stood there watching over the house.
“Would you mind keeping me company?” said Prince Liel, and we walked back inside the house. Now instead of if being vacant, there was furniture everywhere. Luxurious chairs, sofas, purple carpets and the sliding doors were completely removed, letting all the natural light come in.
“We made it more welcoming,” I said. He looked at the newly installed chandeliers we replaced the light crystals with.
“Do you have a preference?” I said and I followed behind him to his room. I closed the door behind us, The bed was switched for a king sized, along with a desk where his stuff was kept, even the closet, as he checked, was filled with clothing that would fit him perfectly.
“Isn’t this all a bit much?” he asked. It would take some time to get all his preferences right, and so for the moment we have the house to resemble the inside of the main castle. The young prince started looking through the contents of the bookshelves and finally found one with pictures and details of flowers. After skimming through some pages he stopped to one of a Blanket flower, then to Ranunculus, following a Talinum and finally a Zinnia. Each one all had one thing in common. They were all pink.
“I’ll call you Zinnia,” he said, “since you won’t give me your name. Do you mind?”
“No,” I said. Prince Liel returned the book exactly where it was placed. He headed for the door and stopped to look at it. The door itself was replaced with one that could be found in his castle. I could see something was off about him. His hand was shaking as it reached for the knob but for some reason he had trouble opening the door despite it not being locked. Where he made contact with the handle it glowed a bright red, this was followed by sparks of light and the knob melted off. This won’t open even if the knob melted for extra security. I grabbed him and kicked it open. There were already a few guards running towards us and I placed him down. I signaled them to return to their spots and I took a look at the prince. He was short of breathing. I got on my knees so that we could be eye leveled then turned him around towards me.
“Are you okay?” I said. “Are you hurt?” There were small tears coming from his eyes, nevertheless, he gave me a smile.
“I’m fine,” he said. I had him moved to the courtyard and sat near the fountain. With a hand gesture I ordered for the door to be removed entirely and the area cleaned.
“Should I call Princess Nes?” I said. There was nothing in the report about any phobias he might have, or of any sickness for that matter.
“No,” he said. His breathing returned to normal.
“Perhaps miss Lilia or Alice will know of the problem,” I said, the prince grabbed me by the wrist.
“If there was one order you would absolutely follow,” he said, “please never tell Alice about what happened.” He let go of me.
“If you promise to seek help,” I said, looking him dead in the eyes. “then I won’t tell a soul.”
* * *
I knocked on the bathroom door, which was all the way opened and letting out a lot of steam out. I walked inside to see the young prince with the head sticking out of the bath. His face went from normal to red in a matter of seconds. I took out pen and paper and went down the list with notes in parentheses.
- Dislikes doors (Talician made).
- Likes books (made a request for history books).
- Dislikes the collection of books on magic we have (he has not stated a reason).
- Dislikes silence (really dislikes when he speaks and the guards don’t answer him).
- Likes speaking about someone named Zeyl and Aril (one of his companions from Aria?).
- Likes fruits (I put in a request for a variety for him to try).
- Likes normal furniture (his words. Will have to see what furniture he considers ‘normal’).
- Likes hot baths.
“Zinnia,” he said.
“Sir?” I said. He flung a ball of water at me and I was covered in water from head to torso. My notes, too, were wet.
I waited outside the bathroom and added another entry to the list.
- Dislikes people joining him in the bathroom.
- Has a tattoo on his arm.
I peeked inside the bathroom and finished adding the entry to my notes.
- Has a tattoo on his arm. It’s a name (Aril Islahn).
It looked like one from a blood contract. Duly noted.
“Your highness,” I said from outside the bathroom. “You have a guest.”
“Who is it?” he asked. I looked behind me and saw Princess Lehvie standing there in waiting and her shadow caught my attention as it was unnaturally darker with mines right next to hers. I ignored it. It’s probably best she does not go inside, but before I could say so, she went running in.
“Lee!” she said. The next thing I heard was him yelling at the top of his lungs and after a moment I heard a great splash. Princess Lehvie came out drenched from head to toe. I changed an entry on the list.
- Really Dislikes company in the bathroom (DO NOT GO IN)
Princess Lehvie left out the room and just as soon I heard a burst of laughter. I went to check on her. The Princess was shooting balls of fire at one of her body guards. One I believe was Quinn, and the one standing next to the princess with a large build was Kerbeck.
Her guard fell on her knees laughing and at the same time careful to dodge incoming fire.
By then Prince Liel came out from his room, fully dressed except for the water falling at the ends of his hair. The Princess composed herself and turned to her brother.
“Beck,” she said, holding her hand out to him. He gave her a letter and the princess in turn handed it to her brother. I saw that the seal belonged to the Queen. Prince Liel opened the letter and read through its contents.
“It arrived just now,” said Princess Lehvie, “Mom will be returning from her trip in Ephram sometime after midnight.”
“She wants me to go to your castle,” said the Prince to his sister. “It says she picked up Alice and others.”
“Nes told me to ask you something, though I don’t understand it much,” said the princess.
“What’s the question,” asked the prince.
“What is your name?”
I had to redo this chapter twice. Sorry for the lateness!
Hope you enjoyed.