Of Days Past
A young ghost Draik looked up from the pillowcase she had been embroidering. Had she heard her name? She waited, unsure.
In a few more seconds, her question was answered. "Riallia, I've already called you once!" the voice thundered. "Come down here this instant!"
Oh, dear. Judging from the tone of her mother's voice, the elder Princess of Calladamos was in trouble. Big trouble. "Coming, Mother!" Ria called, setting down her work. She ran out of the room as fast as she could – her mother had sounded terribly impatient – before remembering the reason she had been told princesses never ran.
Of course, the real reason was that it looked undignified – though, after falling down a flight of stairs, Ria decided that the reason that princesses never ran was because of their long, floor-sweeping, easy-to-trip-on dresses.
Ria's mother chuckled affectionately as she looked down at her eldest daughter. "Oh, Ria. How in Calladamos did you manage to get tangled up in your own dress?"
Ria's annoyed glare and flaring silver spirit glow showed that she was in no mood to joke, so the royal Zafara knelt down and stroked her hair. "All right," she said softly. She meticulously untangled the Draik from her silken bonds.
As soon as she was freed, Ria looked herself over, wincing at the bruises on her arms and legs. "Ouch," she said.
"That was quite the fall you had," her mother noted, eying the bruises.
Ria grinned sheepishly, her spirit glow dimming in response to her embarrassment. "It was," she admitted. "Could I have a Healing Potion?"
The Empress nodded, and then cast a transporting spell, moving a potion from the room it had been to her palm. She handed it to Ria who, with a grimace at the scent, gulped it down. The bruises faded – not completely, but almost.
"Thank you, Mother," Ria said, looking up at the aforementioned person with her blue eyes. "You called me, right? It was the reason I ran and ended up falling."
"I did, dear. I have a guest for you; that's why I called."
Ria frowned, looking around suspiciously. "A guest? Who?"
"You'll see." She turned around and called, "Gareth!"
"Gareth," Ria said. "That's an odd name, in my opinion."
Her mother shushed her.
From a nearby door – the library – a young red Lupe emerged. "Empress?" he said uncertainly, flame-red spirit glow flickering. Then he caught sight of Ria. He ducked back into the room – the library. Even from inside, the Zafara could hear furious whispering.
"This is an awful idea!"
"Gareth, be polite. That is the elder Princess of Calladamos. Stay on her good side!"
"Good side!" There was a quiet snort, presumably from Gareth. "Snobby princesses do not have a good side."
Ria's confused frown turned into an antagonizing scowl. "Mother. Are you telling me that I fell down who-knows-how-many flights of stairs for some rude, presupposing Lupe? He's my guest?" She sent a contemptuous glance toward the double wooden doors of the library.
"But why? I know that you are worried about my making friends and all that, but why him? I thought I was supposed to go to Celia's today, anyway. I'd prefer her to him."
"Gareth's not here to make friends, exactly," the queen admitted. "Though it would be easier on both of you if you two were. He's a squire; that is, a knight in training."
The Zafara waited for this bit of information to sink in; Ria was intelligent, and she would surely connect the dots and protest.
But she wasn't shrieking her discontent, which simply meant that she hadn't understood, and so her mother would have to spell it out for her.
"Ria," she said, with the gentle voice of someone who is delivering bad news, "he's your knight. Yours and Atlanta's, anyway."
Ria's spirit glow flared, as expected. "I don't need a knight! I can take care of myself. Look!"
The Draik brandished her now-empty potion bottle like a weapon, pointing the mouth away from her. She began to chant a spell, stumbling a bit over the ancient words, and ball of fire appeared in the bottle, pulsing and growing with every word. Then, Ria uttered a final sharp word, and the ball of fire shot out of the bottle, hitting the door where it was promptly extinguished. It left a blackened, sooty indent in the otherwise smooth wood.
Ria smirked triumphantly. "See?"
Ria's eyes, however, told quite a different story than smugness; it couldn't have been clearer to the Empress than if she had spoken the words aloud: 'Please don't make me go in there!'
But she had to make her, and so she would. "The only thing I see," she said sternly, "is a scorch mark on wood and two doors that are about to be opened. Come along, Ria."
Gently but firmly, she gripped her daughter's arm and led – more like dragged, but oh, well – Ria into the library, where Gareth was still arguing with whom the Zafara supposed was his instructor. The brown Grarrl, who was frowning at Gareth, turned to the royals before him and bowed.
He said to Gareth, "Don't let palace life soften you up, all right?"
Gareth flashed him a grin that disappeared when he glanced back at the royals.
The instructor started to leave the room when he stopped and said to the Zafara, "Take care of him."
She couldn't help thinking that Gareth was here to take care of Ria and Atlanta, not the other way around, but she nodded and said, "We will. Won't we, Ria?"
Ria gave her mother a venomous look which she quickly masked with a sweet smile. "Oh, certainly. You needn't worry."
The Grarrl nodded and left.
The Zafara clapped her hands. "Well!" she said cheerfully. "Welcome, Gareth. I'm sure you and Ria will get along."
Ria stepped out from behind her mother, and her blue-eyed glare met his green-eyed one.
The war had begun.
At first, Ria tried to ignore Gareth; his presence was not one she longed to be in the company of. She did not appreciate being called snobby, and she did not like the fact that her mother didn't believe Ria capable of taking care of herself.
Gareth, in return, ignored her. He spent his time exploring the palace, reading, staring longingly out the windows, and sword fighting in the training room. Her training room, her lovely, amazing place of practice! For magic, not swords!
Okay, so it wasn't hers, technically; it was for residents of the palace, but Ria did not consider the brick-furred squire a resident so much as an uninvited, overstaying guest. Ria's mother and father received the Lupe as they would their own son, which Ria despised. They barely knew him, and here they were, showering him with compliments while reminding Ria, on the side, to please be nice to him and please make friends and please do this, please don't do that.
Atlanta, on the other hand, didn't mind him. That is, she was as straightforward and sometimes downright rude in her conversations with him as she was with everyone, but she couldn't care less whether he stayed or not. Ria wondered how the blue Peophin could be so blasé about Gareth intruding on their lives.
Eventually, Ria's mother threatened that, if she wouldn't at least be civil to Gareth, she'd allow Atlanta, of all people, be the queen when she grew up instead of her. The notion was terrifying to both of the princesses, and so, with some reluctance, Ria went to speak to him.
After a few days of expert evasion on Gareth's part, she finally found him in the training room, which gave her an idea so amazing that she was shocked at herself.
"Squire," she said politely, trying to think of a way to put her plan into words.
"Princess," Gareth said, bowing, but he didn't say it like it was a title so much as an insult.
Ria, nostrils and spirit glow flaring, drew herself to her full height – which allowed her about a centimeter on the Lupe – in an effort to look imposing. "Look," she said in her most commandeering voice, "I am not snobby, no matter what stereotype you've been thinking of. Stop pretending to be so stupid and deferential. I have an idea, and it might get you out of here, so shut up and listen."
At the mention of 'getting out of here', Gareth looked momentarily excited, flame-red spirit glow a flicker, then masked it with a look of polite curiosity. "And what is this brilliant idea, Princess?"
"Stop calling me that," said Ria, because the way he said it was gnawing on her nerves. "Or I'll call you Gary. My name is Riallia. Say it with me: Ree-ahh-lee-ah. You can call me Ria."
"Anyway," she continued, "my idea is that you teach me sword fighting. Then I won't need a knight, and you will leave, and everything will be perfect again."
Gareth laughed, not mockingly. "Princess – I mean, Ria, there is more to being a knight than sword fighting. There's a whole series of tests you have to go through – and besides, I'm not even a knight yet. I'm practically one, but I need the go-ahead from a royal."
"Well, good," said Ria. "Royal right here, at your service."
"Not you," said Gareth disdainfully, as if the very suggestion were an insult to his person. "But I can teach you, if you wish."
Ria said, "All right! Let's begin."
It took her two days to quit. Only forty-eight hours – no, even less than that. Gareth was surprised – and frankly, disappointed – with how quick it had taken. Ria was tenacious – as he soon came to learn – able to sit through ridiculously boring things such as having luncheon parties with visiting dignitaries without screaming, but she had absolutely no patience with swords, and she was shy of their sharp blades. Gareth suspected she was squeamish, and sword wounds looked a lot less neat and tidy than ones inflicted by magic did. She stuck with that.
However, it mattered not, because the younger princess, Ria's sister, Atlanta, was interested, willing to learn, and really quite fierce once she learned a technique. She would have made a good knight if she weren't so impatient and so utterly without tact. Usually she was in the midst of taunting or insulting him when he won their matches.
But the good thing was that the Peophin still offered a way for Ria's plan to work. And Gareth had to admit it: he was having fun. The palace wasn't such a bad place to live in, especially with that gigantic library; and the occupants were okay, too. He'd found a friend in Ria, a friend and rival in Atlanta, and – well, he wasn't sure what he could call the rulers. His bosses? His guardians? They dodged such titles just as he dodged Atlanta's blade.
When Atlanta got good at sword fighting, he and Ria presented the plan to the empress and emperor, allowing the Peophin to demonstrate. They weren't crazy about the idea; Gareth supposed they were insulted and perhaps a little hurt that he wanted to leave. Of course, they said they'd feel safer having an actual knight in the palace, to which Gareth responded he was only a squire – and they knighted him, with his own sword, on the spot. Therefore, Gareth ended up staying.
A few years went by, with no major events: the farmers farmed, the bakers baked, the sun and the moon rose and set, and as always, spirit glows of all colours flared, dimmed, and flickered in response to the Calladamiens' emotions.
Then one day it all changed.
Countless Calladamiens remember the events of the day, dubbed 'The Day of Darkness', well. The images are crystal-clear; the sounds keep reverberating through their ears; the emotions and physical happenstances leave marks on them even now, in the forms of scars and not-always-subtle changes in their personalities. The occupants of the castle are all altered; Gareth more taciturn and terse, Atlanta sharper of tongue and mind, Ria more composed and contemplative.
Despite everything, Gareth thinks that, perhaps, no one remembers everything as well as they think; how can they, when the people most associated with the fights against the Guardians and shadow creatures are long gone, long Forsaken? While he knows there had been an empress and emperor of the city, he cannot recall their names, their species, or anything about them. He always feels a dull sorrow when thinking of the casualties of that day, but it is not true sorrow, it is detached – these are people, after all, that he has trouble believing that they ever existed. Did they ever exist, or are they merely figments of his imagination? Is the 'sun' one, too? Gareth does not know.
However, he does know that, whoever the Protector is, she is late. The city needed protection long ago; anything that she does now, if she does indeed exist and is not some myth, would be a rescue mission, not a shielding from harm.
He also thinks that 'The Day of Darkness' is a misnomer. Every day has been dark – in more ways than one – since then, and it seems a given that the future of Calladamos will remain as such.
This is the city of glowing hearts, and yet, at the same time, it is the city of shadows.
This isn't of the main Calladamos series; it's a backstory. My other stories may help you understand it better, though.