[I decided I’d post my edited chapter 2 today as I don’t have too much time to write with traveling again. Tomorrow I should be going back to continue finishing Jin’s story, however.]
“Come here, girl.” The Founder’s Chosen bellowed at Alexa.
It was the night before the Founding festival, and her father was in his customary foul moods. She moved up to him, giving a full birth of Lord Le’Arch who glared always glared at her with a cold intensity. Reaching her place behind her father’s throne, she gave a slight curtsey and waited.
“Took you long enough. Take that long to prepare next time, and I’ll have that servant of yours flogged, and maybe you as well.
Alexa nodded to her father, she knew when best to remain silent. Little had she wanted to come to the ceremony tonight. All it entailed every year was hours of nobles, governors, and lords parading in front of her father. Tomorrow would be the royal parade of course, which was fun enough, though all she could think of was the festivals taking place outside the citadel walls. Sometimes Alexa thought her father was as bored as she was, hence the onset of one of his moods. Glancing up she could see bags under his gray eyes. He absently pushed a silver and black lock of hair to the side of his face.
Being his sole heir, there was no way for her to escape these events. If her father had sired more children before the queen died then maybe excuses could have worked, but since she had died giving birth to her there was little chance, and her father would never let her forget it. Though honestly even as he treated and sometimes did have her beaten, she felt sympathy toward him, in many ways she could see her own loneliness reflected in his tired eyes. All she could see was her own future one-day.
After hours of nobles kissing the steps of her father’s throne it finally ended with the priests. The High Priests throughout the world headed by the High Priest himself, Grave Keeper Granatham. His eyes drooped but not in fatigue, but instead, the way in which a cow’s eyes would sink, at least for the few times Alexa had seen a cow. He patted up on his white slippers and places the sword of the kingdoms at the feet of her father.
“So that the order of the one God has lived past his death.” Grand Father Granatham spoke in a clear voice, which belied his physique.
“God from order, order from conquest, conquest from loyalty, loyalty from faith, faith from God.” Her father replayed sitting up from his throne for the first time in the night and picking up the sword. It was said it to be the very sword that killed the One God. It now had seen five generations as a sign of what end the Calamity. One day it would be Alexa’s to wield as a symbol of unity. But not tonight. Tonight she was grateful to merely return to her room at the end of the ceremony and look out onto the city lights to wait for the temple ceremony the next day.
The festival was in full swing, that’s where she always wanted to go. Not the solitude of the citadel, but the rush and warmth of the community in the city below.
And why not? Many a time she had slipped out of her window and down into the garden courtyard. If she could do it now, and try to make it out through the servant’s gate, there was a chance. Still, she hesitated. Indeed her father would be angry if she were caught. Likewise, she had no idea how she would return the same way, or at all for that matter.
For several minutes she stared at the lights of the city filled with a mixture of excitement at the thought and trepidation. Right now all she wanted was to be gone, and this desire finally moved her into action.
Throwing on a light tunic, she deftly parched on her window, swiftly swinging herself off and onto a lower ledge in one fluid motion. She was used to sneaking out into the meditation garden below. The next part is what was challenging.
Avoiding the lights from the windows, Alexa moved quickly to the outer fence of the garden to a place, which housed a small aqueduct to route the water. She had learned long ago that she was just small enough to squeeze herself through the grating that secured it. She hitched her tunic up in a not as she waded through the water. Thankfully being midsummer, it was refreshing if anything else. The Great City was leagues away from the Silt Sea, but during the summer heat waves could still descend on the city from its direction.
Even with the heat, she began to fill a chill after a few minutes of wading deep into the aqueduct. Never before had she had the courage to go all the way to the end. She hoped this would actually lead her into the city proper, but she really had no way of knowing for sure, and as the minutes of trudging through the water began to feel longer and longer she the thought of turning started to cross her mind.
Finally, a faint hint of light appeared at the end of the aqueduct, to which she sped up her pace sloshing through the water. A warm breeze from the exit brushed against her face as she moved up to it and looked out. She was in a higher section of the aqueduct, which met adjoining ones, these, however, were uncovered and slipping out between the bars she was able to work her way down another that led directly into the heart of the light-filled city. The lights and echoes of sounds spurred her on anew, and she began to pick up her pace toward the end of the new aqueduct.
Upon finally reaching the end, she found herself at a sort of water drinking depository in what seemed to be a more impoverished section of the city. Now that she knew she was wading through drinking water she carefully jumped down past the rows of buckets and ladles and onto the broken stone floor of the small courtyard below. No one was in evidence, so she began to hastily ring out as much of the water from the clothes as possible though she soon found that the summer heat was already doing most of the job for her and quickly abandoned that pursuit.
Tiptoeing for some reason out of the courtyard she listened for a moment for the sounds of the festival. It was strangely quiet here, but before long the tones of laughter, music, and singing could be heard down one of the far alleyways, after that she dashed after it.
Suddenly, as if she had stepped into another world, Alexa was in the middle of a large courtyard filled to the brim with people. Booths for merchants, games, and displays could be seen everywhere. Strange and exciting, sights and smells filled her vision, to a degree which was a mixture of overwhelming and yet the most exciting thing she had ever seen.
Hardly knowing where to start, she found herself pushed along by the crowd from booth to booth. A booth packed with silks from the legendary land of Xi’an that she could see through and was light to the touch yet strong as leather. Another with flowering birds from the infamously dark and vast jungles to the south, their bright feathers in stark contrast to the frightening tales she’d heard of that place. There was yet another with laden with gems from the Everstill Mountains, which glittered in the lights of the festival like stars. This merchant said that his stock would be the last to come from the dwarves for a long time. She was about to ask about the dwarves which few men had seen when she was bumped into by a throng of people shoving their way to an inner part of the square.
Following them, she was led to the center of the plaza. In the middle was a giant statue of the first of the Founder’s Chosen. Underneath was a tall man, or rather a tall Elf. Alexa had never seen one before as most non-humans were distrusted and not allowed into the count. She stared for a long time and was glad that her long gaze was hidden in the rest of the throng. As she studied his long white hair and ebony skin showing from beneath his gilded red traveler’s clothes she wondered why the rest of the crowd was beginning to settle down to a quiet murmur. Immediately the answer to the question came, however, as the Elf pulled a long lute out of a bag at his feet, straightened up again to his full height, and began to play.
His words were coarse and rough, not at all what she had expected from elves, as the lush melody in some other language wove its way through the hushed crowd. She could see in intricacies of the notes as the elf’s fingers brushed over each cord. Her father had bayed her learn but not even hear teacher was as skilled as this one. The tune picked up the pace, and his fingers leaped up and down the neck with a skill that she had never seen anyone in the court reach, all the while his voice propelled along like a bird of prey diving through the air towards its quarry. Sure that this was some kind of story, she tried to make out the words, but she had only been instructed in the human and trader’s dialects, so this tongue was utterly lost on her. Culminating in a swell of pitch the rhythm shifted again and ended like water following down a drain, and he was finished.
The entire crowd was silent for a moment in the vacuum of sound, until someone started clapping and all around her people begin to join. “Who is that?” She turned to ask a middle-aged woman next to her.
“You don’t know?” The woman responded in surprise. “That’s Levette Arashok. The most famous elf in the world! He’s welcome everywhere but the court as of course no elf can be. That doesn’t stop the court coming to him on special occasions though I hear even if they keep it on the down low. Sobs if you ask me, elves may be dirty little schemers, but Arashok is a genius. Once you hear his music you know, am I right? Those up there in the palace know it too, just can’t come off their high horses if you ask me…” The woman was about to continue on when Alexa hastily asked another question interrupting her. “What was the song her sung about? I’ve never heard it before.”
Again the woman looked started, in part by the interruption of her spewing of opinions and in part by the question itself. “Why that was the song of Elysium. Of the paradise that was lost from before the calamity. Where all are free, and there are no more tears… I shouldn’t think you’d be able to understand the words, good girls like you shouldn’t be able to speak the tongue of Varath. I don’t even, but we all know that song. You really haven’t heard it before? Are you from around here?” With that Alexa hastily bade the woman thanks and slipped back into the crowd, the fewer people asking questions about her, the better.
Attempting to worm her way close to Arashok she shoved and twisted her way against the throng until she reached the outside of a tight gathering of people pressing with questions and autographs. The Elf was so tall and lanky she could see him over the heads of the people grouped around him. He just stood there quietly accepting the praise without much in the way of comment. If she hadn’t known better, she would have guessed there was something of sadness in his features. Suddenly she hesitated for a moment before slipping into meet them. Such a man she decided that meeting him in this way was not what she wanted, in fact, no meeting would be better than to press in like one of the rest and she backed away into the mob.
When she finally made it to the other end of the crowd, she felt a dab of moisture hit her cheek. Looking up into the sky she felt another slapped her forehead. It was rain, the first of the season. Summer rains were rare here in the capital, but a solstice rain was even more so. Slowly but surely more droplets began falling, and the other festivalgoers started to take notice.
Laughing as she ran to an awning on the side of the courtyard while others yelled in surprise and fled to shelter. She observed the various people in the crowd as they all reacted in different ways to the sudden downpour. One older man with all sorts of glowing relics on his person, that she took to be a wizard, ran as fast as he could to a covering across from her, sparks flying off of some of the relics as others gave him a full birth. He began to curse as he checked them for damage. Another large, but younger man with a broad scar across his face, and skin as tan as the autumn leaves began laughing and held his face and hands up to the sky as if praising the one god for this rare miracle. A woman, who had been sitting on another side of the giant statue became visible as the crowds moved away merely sat there in the rain and watched much like Alexa, a bemused smile on her face as if the increasing downpour wasn’t even there. Or maybe it wasn’t for her. Alexa noted a glowing relic at her waist and drops of rain turning to steam in a light halo around the woman. Another wizard maybe? Better than the other at least. There where other’s too, mother’s, fathers, their children, merchants, travelers, priests even, at one point Alexa also thought she saw a man dressed as a Keeper of the Night, but he disappeared into a crowd at the far side of the plaza.
“You’ll never see such a mix of people anywhere else in the world than on this night.” A bemused voice behind Alexa said, and she turned around to find its source, a boy about her age. Tall with rusty brown hair, freckles dotted his face with a complement of a crooked smile, which gave him a playfully mischievous countenance. His clothes were simple but not too terribly so. “You look new here.” He said maintaining the broad grin.
“Uhh, yeah, ha, actually. How’d you know?” Alexa answered unable to suppress some light laughter. She was new here, even though she’d grown up in the capital her entire life.
“You can always tell an out of the towerer, even more so at the Founding festival. Wide-eyed, the lot of you.” He let out a short laugh himself; Alexa thought it matched the sound of the rain pattering above their heads. “My name’s Tyler by the way.” He added while extending his hand.
Taking it in hers, she returned his grin. “Alexa, good to meet you.” They stood there a moment until he deftly cut in again.
“What have you seen of the festival?”
“Just some of the booths and Arashok’s performance. Quite impressive, I’d-“ She cut herself off remembering how the woman was surprised she’d never heard of him before. “-I’d like to hear him again sometime.”
“I think that makes about all of us.” He looked up past her and out to the square. “I think he’s taken off though. If we’re lucky, he’ll come back next year.” He thought for a moment then asked, “Hey have you seen the animals?” The grin quickly returning to his face.
“Animals?” She was about to ask more when he interrupted this time.
“I’ll take that as a no, my fair lady. Follow me.” He took her and began to lead them through to the far side of the awing.
She was about to protest but then realized she actually liked the idea of running through the downpour and matched his step as they ran out into the center of the square and toward the far side where steps led into another connected courtyard.
Upon reaching it there, she could see there were more covered awnings that were hastily being set up, but not for people. The only people were the ones either taking shelter or setting up the new coverings, for cages and cages filled with beats from every corner of the world she’d heard about it. Each on laminated by energy powered light relics. Not the typical wick and candle. She’d seen such in parades from the castle before but never been this close.
Quickly she skipped over to the nearest one. From what she remembered in the pictures of her book it was a Chimera. When she got close the head, shaped like a lion, it’s fur matted and wet from the rain turned to her and let out a growl but then turned away ignoring her again. “First time seeing one?” Tyler asked walking up behind her.
“Yes… before it’s only been in books.” Alexa returned, keeping her eyes fastened on the beast. “How did they capture it?” She asked one of the men throwing the tarp over the cage.
“Hunters in the north. They used some sort of sleep drug to pacify it. I just work here.” The man responded getting back to his work as fast as possible to avoid the rain.
Tyler acted as if the rain didn’t bother him at all, squatted alongside Alexa. “Beautiful creatures aren’t they?”
“Yes.” She replied as they continued to crouch. The men finished putting up the tarp and moved to another cage. She studied all three heads, one snake, one lion, and the third that of a ram. All of which seemed unhappy in the wet. Though now with the tarp, they began to shake themselves dry. She wondered what land they came from and what the climate was there when suddenly a cry came from a cage further down.
Both of them quickly looked up to see one of the changes had been ripped open and some beast she’d never seen before with legs like a centipede and mouths all the way down it’s front with razor-sharp teeth. Each leg looked as sharp as one of the Keeper’s of the Night’s swords, and it currently had one embedded in the chest of the workers.
The other workers were screaming, and one was calling for the Keepers though who knew if one was even still around. The creature began to eat the screaming worker one bite at a time to Alexa’s horror. She stood transfixed for a moment watching the gruesome scene. Before she knew it, Tyler had run past her toward the creature. What was he doing? She thought, but all she could do was stand up and yell, “wait!”
“It’ll be fine!” He called over his shoulder sliding to a standstill in front of the creature, which roared at him with all of the mouths that were currently unoccupied, that being several. How it knew he was standing there was a mystery to Alexa, as it seemed to be lacking eyes. Not ears of some sort evidently as Tyler began to whistle a high-pitched note that fluctuated periodically. There were screams from the workers and other onlookers around the edge of the square to stop, or that he was crazy, and while Alexa couldn’t refute them, there was something in the way he moved and acted that assured her he knew exactly what he was doing.
Without warning the creature lunged at him, attempting to impale him likewise on its sword-like legs. He must have been expecting this, however, as he dodged ahead of it in a swift roll moving directly behind it as it ran into thin air. There were gasps from the onlookers including Alexa she realized.
Nimbly, Tyler followed up his dodge to run up its centipede carapace of a back and held on to the rough surface, all the while continuing his whistle. The creature screamed and thrashed but couldn’t seem to dislodge him. He kept his grip, however, as it bucked and swung its legs to impale him, but they weren’t built to attack its own back. The creature knocked over several stalls and even tried to throw itself into the wall of a building. Sending people who had taken shelter under the side roofing running.
All the while Tyler continued the sharp whistling until finally, it began to relax its legs and the long back went limp. Numbly Tyler jumped from behind and petted its ‘neck.’ The beast let out a soft purring sound, almost like a cat. The guards finally showed up and with the help of some of the workers began to lead it carefully back to its pen. They gave him quizzical looks but otherwise didn’t say anything to him as he strolled back over to Alexa. She was so stunned she barely noticed the rain had begun to recede.
“You’ve never seen that before either I take it?” He asked with his broad smile on his face.
She shook her head in answer. “Where did you learn a thing like that?”
“One learns a thing or two out on the frontier. The first thing is not to be scared of what things look like on the surface. Such as that Squrren there, just because it looks like a monster to you doesn’t mean it is one. It didn’t ever want to be ripped from it’s home in the Silt Sea to be taken to a place like this.”
Alexa looked at the Squrren or whatever it was with a new light. “Who are you Tyler?” She asked turning her gaze back to him.
“Just a humble merchant’s apprentice m’lady.” He gave her an exaggerated bow, which caused her to let out another light laugh. “Now that the rain has slowed,” he added, “the stalls will be opening again. Would you do me the honor me of accompanying me?”
“Of course my lord.” She answered playing along as she took his outreached arm and they made their way back to the merchant’s booths.
Hours passed in what seemed like seconds. They looked at curiosities from places in the world she’d never even heard of. Spices from Xi’an, Cloth from Albion, trinkets’ from the ruins of Nyc that glowed when you touch them, others from the East that would tell you how far you walked with a number that showed on their surface, and far more than she began to lose count.
Finally, she and Tyler found themselves sitting on a bench watching the crowds of people. “I like watching them.” He said nodding toward the group.
“I do too, each one has a story, each from a different place.” Alexa agreed moving closer to him. They were both mostly dry at this point thanks to the hot summer air, though thanks to the rain it remained somewhat humid.
“Exactly,” He agreed, turning to her. “So what’s yours? Where are you from?”
“Me?” For some reason, this surprised her. It made sense, but somehow she hadn’t expected him to ask. “Not too far,” she responded trying not to glace up at the Palace hill.
He placed his finger under her chin, moving it gently to face his again. “What’s that supposed to mean?” He asked.
“I’m just new here… I don’t know.” She answered hastily feeling her cheeks turn red. Thankfully it was warm out.
“You don’t know where you’re from?” He answered with a chuckle. “Pretty important information I’d say.”
“Why? Why is it important?” Her heart was now beating quickly for two reasons.
“Because,” he said moving closer, “to know where you’re going. It’s important to know where you’ve been.” He answered as he leaned in to kiss her.
Suddenly the church clock tower struck out the hour. Six in the morning. She had barely noticed the sun beginning to rise. They would come looking for her soon.
“I have to go!” she exclaimed, pushing away from Tyler.
“What?! Why?” He asked, but she had already started running off down the still busy street.
“I’m sorry! I but I have to!” She yelled back at him as he rose to his feet, stunned into slowness.
“Wait!” He yelled started to run after her. “At least tell me how I can find you!”
“I can’t, I’m sorry! Thank you!” Alexa yelled, turned into a crowd around a corner and then ducked into an alleyway. She knew she had to lose him and get back to the palace. There’d be no end of it if they found her missing. Not to mention what would happen if they saw her on the streets… or what would happen to him. Closing her eyes tight she waited and hoped she had been able to give him the slip. The sound of running came and went outside the alleyway. Success. Though her internal celebration was halfhearted. After waiting for a minute longer. She began to make her way back to where the aqueduct was.
Even though she counted each minute. It felt like it only took half the time it took before for her to sneak back up the aqueduct and into the garden and finally pull herself into her room. Just as she did her ladies’ maid came walking into her room carrying her dress for the ceremony that day.
“M’lady, it’s time to get up, your father has a busy day planned and-“ Celeste, the maid froze while Alexa likewise felt herself freeze in her dirty, soggy clothes with one foot over the windowsill. After a long moment, she continued with what could only be taken as a question. “M’lady?”