The sun was glaringly bright and shined on top of Shai village. People greeted each other with cheerful smiles and hugs. Butterflies gracefully danced from flower to flower. Windmills were turning at a gentle pace behind the village and looked as if they were the village guardians. It was a wonderful day.
“Wonderful day, my ass,” a farmer grunted, sweat dripping down his face, his large straw. “It’s going to be the kingdom’s best holiday, and we’re stuck here,” he drove his shovel into the ground, “working.”
“Shut up,” another farmer looked at him, his fur striped white and black, a member of the Badggieck species. “We always work, there’s nothing new to it.” He pointed across the field to a young couple diligently working at the edge of the forest, chopping wood. “Take a look at Serah and Rafael, over there. Two young love bees, always working hard, no complaining, nothing. Not even during the holidays!”
“Tch, they’re not even from this kingdom, what they know about our traditions.”
“They’ve been here longer then your two marriages combined, they definitely know by now.”
The love bees were by themselves, finishing up their morning chore of chopping wood. At least, one of them was. Serah pulled her long black hair, tying it up. Wiping the sweat from her brow, she glared at Rafael, “If you don’t stop daydreaming, we’ll be late taking these to Marco.”
Rafael’s eyes were on the axe in his hand, daydreaming about a certain head rolling off it. He tucked away the axe. “It’ll be okay, he’s expecting clients today and there’s no way he’ll mistreat us in front of them.”
Piling the wood into the cart, the two of them were on their way back to their village, admiring the distant mountains in the backdrop. “You’re right,” she tucked a strand of her hair behind her ear, “but, I still want to do our job well.”
“I would, too, if he raised our wages.” Rafael smiled, his crooked teeth flashing.
“Remind me to talk to him about that,” Serah spotted the village entrance and gave Rafael’s hand a warm squeeze. “Race you to the village, and if you win, I’ll make you whatever you want for lunch.” Even before hearing a response, Serah bolted off, pushing the cart with her.
Rafael took another glance at the mountains, and wished every day could be as peaceful as this one and then rushed after her.
Laughing, the two of them entered the village, the dirt road filled with children playing with their toys, some pretending to be pirates, others mercenaries, role-playing as a variety of creatures from around the globe. Ornate buildings fashioned with flowers on window sills, doors, chimneys, every crevice possible. Villagers were booming with talk of the upcoming holiday, Armistice Day.
“I still can’t believe you lost, I was pushing the cart.”
“I still can’t believe you’re a monster,” Rafael paused before finishing his sentence, and decided it would be for the best if he switched subjects, to protect his face. “Hey, let’s stop by Madame Helena’s shop.”
Serah nodded, and steered the cart in the shop’s direction. On the way to it, they passed a favorite bakery of theirs, where the baker was talking to a group of children snacking on his freshly baked desserts.
“How many of you know why we hold Armistice Day? Well, it’s more like a week, really, with how long we celebrate it.” The young scholars shook their heads. The baker continued on. “It’s because tomorrow marks the 270th anniversary of the Eurasian Economic Treaty! Long ago, the rulers of our kingdom, Eurania and the eastern republic Asiana, got into a disagreement on trade, and called for sanctions on each other. Hoping to harm each other economically, they ended trade between them, but in the end, creatures like us were the most harmed! With no jobs, no food, everyone went crazy, and as a result, of all the riots, the kingdom and republic decided to open trade.” The baker noticed some of the children zoning out, and chuckled. “Ah, forget it, you’re all too young.” He handed them out more freshly baked goods and bid them farewell.
Rounding a corner, Serah and Rafael, reached Madame Helena’s tea shop, taking the cart to the back, Rafael knocked on the metal door. A few moments later, a boy younger than ten, opened the door and grinned when he saw them.
“Hey, Lucca,” Rafael said, “Is Madame Helena, here?”
“Yup!” Lucca ran inside to get her. After a minute, an elderly lady with wrinkles tracking her life came out, wrapping a blue shawl around her shoulders. Madame Helena hugged them both, before looking at the cart.
“We brought you some wood,” Serah took out an armful, and Lucca signed her words to Helena. When Rafael grabbed a bundle twice the size of Serah’s, she signed to Lucca for them to stop, although it wasn’t necessary. Both Serah and Rafael understood.
“Are you sure?” asked Rafael. “We have a lot.”
Helena nodded, as a figure came behind her, tapping her shoulder.
“Madame, where’s the–, oh, Serah and Rafael! Come in!” said Ada, a member of the species Marmota. She was a little bigger than Lucca, her blue apron matching Helena’s shawl.
“We will later, we gotta go back to work,” Serah tilted the cart away.
Understanding Helena, and Ada waved goodbye. Closing the door, Lucca stuck his head out through the gap, showcasing a small sword “Let’s train again!”
“Definitely,” Rafael turned around, “during the festival, we’ll make time!” Heading for the tavern, Rafael sheepishly looked at Serah, purposefully bashing his eyelashes at her. “Even though I lost, can you make me stew?”
She gave him a small look, before sighing. “Fine, but you have to help me.” He smiled from ear to ear. Reaching the large tavern fence, they entered through the back. Rafael went to unload the wood, while Serah went to the stable. He grabbed a pail of grains and plucked a few apples from one of the apple trees, plopping them in the pail. Walking in the stable, he saw her petting a horse, but to Rafael he was a beast. Huge, ate more than necessary, abnormally fast. He’s been with Serah for most of her life, and saved it on a few occasions. Although heroic, Rafael the horse was a little demonic.
“Here you go, Mystic, this is all you’re getting.” Rafael laid the pail in front of Mystic, and he neighed, happily enjoying his meal. Rafael sat down on a nearby bench.
Serah was brushing Mystic’s hair, when she felt Rafael’s gaze on her. “What?”
“You know, you’re just like Mystic.”
“Yep, we’re both beautiful and strong,” she giggled. Rafael gazed at her with gentle eyes, and then headed for the door. Holding onto the door’s handle, he turned to look at her, “No, that’s not it. You see, you’re both evil and-” he was cut off when he ran inside and slammed the door in time to hear a thud on the closed door. Glad the apple didn’t hit him, he headed to the tavern’s kitchen, and created a mental note to never insult hew while holding an object.
After Serah was done brushing Mystic’s hair, she joined Rafael in the kitchen where the cooks were scurrying along making food for the customers. As Rafael was boiling a pot of water, Serah pulled out a map from her bag. “Rafael, when we save up, we should go to the Sky Temple.”
“The one in the Southern Union? Man, we need a lot of money for that trip. You’d think a pilgrimage would be cheap. How about we go East? I want to go on a pilaf journey.”
“We’ll be rich, once we become sky pirates.”
Rafael rolled his eyes. “We need money to get a regular ship, Serah! And now you’re talkin’ about a flying one.”
“Well, at least I can think of things besides food. Sky pirates or not, let’s go to the Sky Temple first, after climbing one of the world’s largest mountain ranges, we’ll stuff ourselves when we go east.” She placed the map back in her bag, rinsed her hands, got an apron, and took out a cutting board from the cabinet under the sink, placing it next to a basket of vegetables next to the sink.
“Fine,” Not really caring where they went first, Rafael just desired to travel, to explore their grandiose world, and to eat delicious food. He stirred in spices to the pot, while Serah added in the chopped vegetables. Just then, a short member of the Reptilion species with a sad attempt of a mustache came through the double doors that led to the main entrance of the kitchen. He glanced around the kitchen, his scaly tail sweeping the floor as he turned, looking at the cooks preparing meals and then turned his attention to Rafael and Serah. “You guys are late.”
“No, we’re not, boss. Besides, nothing bad happened, right?” Rafael took a grape off a vine from a bowl and popped it in his mouth.
Marco scratched his chin, “Listen, I’m having an extremely important guest come over tonight. Stay out of sight.” He left through the same double doors. Both Rafael and Serah looked at each other with a sparkle in their eyes. Just then, the Boss reentered, “I mean it.” and left. They giggled.
After eating the stew, and doing their regular work at the tavern, the two of them went up to the fifth floor to the employees quarters, heading for their room. Rafael grabbed the nearest chair and brought it to the bed where Serah sat, braiding her hair. The windows were opened allowing a refreshing breeze in. Rafael started to read the newspaper, when the sun was blushing into a dark orange shade, when Rafael looked up, “Do you know who this mysterious guest is?”
“How am I supposed to know?”
“Well, um, you’re Boss’s favorite so you should know.”
“That doesn’t mean I’m his best friend, who he tells all his secrets too.”
“Well, aren’t you useless?”
Serah laughed and got up from the bed, slipping into her shoes. “I’ll go get something
quick to eat and a drink for us. I’ll also try to find out some information for you.”
“I’ll come with you.”
“It’s fine. I’ll be back soon,” And just like that, she rushed down. Rafael laid down on the bed, while continuing to skim the newspaper. Talented doctor missing, rapist caught, kid genius from humble origins, army officials visiting local municipals, magic mushrooms, murder spree. With a start, Rafael sat up and flipped to the article pertaining to the viceroys.
“… this year various viceroys and their commanding captains, generals and lieutenants will be traveling to different municipalities under Queen Delfina’s orders to become closer with the people…”
Serah came back in with a tray carrying two mugs of milk with honey and pieces of bread with an assortment of cheese, jams, and dried fruit.
“Guess what,” Rafael asked, making room for Serah on the bed.
“You’re supposed to actually guess. Anyway, I found out that our special guest is gonna be some hotshot from the army.”
“The tyrant queen’s orders. Hey, do you think the rumors are true? About her ensanguating her young lovers and drinking their blood?”
“I don’t know, but, you should give yourself to her and find out.” Serah giggled.
Rafael glared at her continuing on, “I think it’s weird that the Queen’s sending out the army during the holiday. She might be trying to cover up something again.”
“Interesting, have you ever thought of becoming a detective?”
Rafael threw the nearest pillow at her. After getting hit in the face, Serah moved to return the pillow to its original place. Putting her head on Rafael’s shoulder, they intertwined hands. Serah continued, “It’s crazy how she replaced King Alfonso. You’d think with all accusations of her killing him, someone would try to dethrone her.”
“Those in power don’t think like the rest of us, Serah.” Rafael sighed. “At least, we know why the Boss doesn’t want us to be in front of the guests, since they are part of the army. We’ll say something against the army or queen and then… I don’t even want to think about it.”
Serah looked at the clock, and although it wasn’t too late, the two of them had to wake up early the next day to gather herbs, mostly lavender and fennel, for a few villagers in order to make extra wages. “I’m going to prepare for tomorrow.” Serah got up and opened their closet.
“I’ll do it a little later, I’m gonna watch C.S. downstairs, while I put away the dishes.”
“See you.” she kissed him before he went down.
After washing the dishes and putting them away, Rafael sat in the kitchen with a few other coworkers watching C.S. The communication screen was a huge sixty-inch diagonal made out of a dark glass, and was displaying a woman, talking.
“There has been another attack on Munichime. The civilian casualty has been recorded at least 700. The army has yet to announce who is responsible for the attack.” The screen changed to show a city on the verge of destruction. People were fleeing with their children and their cries could be heard. Fires were giving off smoke so high it almost covered the sky. Their boss came in silently and lowered the volume. He joined the others sitting around the table. An elderly man with a bulging mole next to his nose passed him a cup of tea. “Must have been one of the Revelation Groups.”
“Why do you assume it’s always the Revelation?” questioned Rafael.
“Well, they’re the ones that keep doing these attacks, for who knows why. If not them, who do you think it is?” said Adamo, a muscular man with a long scar on his forearm.
“I don’t know. But, for their attacks, there’s been no concrete proof. Could be bandits, or mercenaries or-”
“You sound like you’re a Revelation Sympathizer.”
“Okay, and what if I am?!” Rafael gripped the wooden table and stood up knocking his chair over. Glaring at Rafael, Adamo stood up.
“That’s enough!” Marco yelled. Adamo glared at him. Relaxing his muscles, Rafael’s eyes never left Adamo. “Everyone, go back to your quarters.” As Rafael passed him, Marco put his claws on his shoulder, keeping him still, waiting for the rest of the staff to leave.
While leaving, a man a few years older than Rafael reached Adamo by the door. “Ignore him, he’s an orphan, remember how he came to this village?”
A woman joined them, “Don’t forget they barely stay with humans, choosing to be with the other creatures.”
After everyone was gone, Marco turned all of his attention to Rafael. “That bitch forgot who pays her.” Marco sat down, gesturing for Rafael to do the same. “Rafael, how old are you again?”
“Still a kid, but you’re old enough to control yourself. And why do you get riled up anytime Revelation is brought up?”
“Because deep down, they know that they’re not doing all of these crimes. Just because the Queen found a scapegoat, they’re all doing it too. That’s not right!”
“Justice in this kingdom died along with King Alfonso.” said Marco. It was King Alfonso that stopped the poor treatment of creatures other than humans in the kingdom, united all the divisions that formed their strong army, and fought against trafficking. He grabbed himself a mug and poured himself cold tea. “It’s just everyone’s scared of any violence now. For us old guys, that civil unrest that snatched so many lives wasn’t that long ago. About fifty years ago, when Alfonso was young. Whatever the Queen says we go with, we don’t want another strife. We’re all used to peace now.”
“Not all of us,” Rafael fondly remembered his older brother. In his memory, his brother had deep green eyes like him, but his eyes were filled with warmth.
“Most of us,” Marco corrected.
“But the Revelation groups saved many. They saved me. And it was King Alfonso who fought with them during the unrest. When I was younger, kids would publicly declare they would join when they grew up. And now, everyone’s slandering them. Even you housed them-”
“Enough Rafael! The world is peaceful now, that’s all that matters. You and Serah should focus on your dreams.”
“All I wanna do is travel, be a sky pirate with Serah or whatever the hell she wants to do, and meet someone.”
“Oh, good, I thought you were going to say you wanted to be rich.”
“Oh, yeah, that too.”
“With the wages I give you two?” Marco laughed. “Go to bed, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Rooster calls slipped through the opened windows and landed in Serah’s ears. She groaned and rubbed her eyes. She was about to wake Rafael up, but decided to let him sleep in a little longer, since she wasn’t sure when he came in bed.
Screams filled the air, but some of the sobs were mixed with laughter. A five-year-old boy with soot in his hair ran from a smoldering tent as fast as he could. He kept calling for his mother and father but to no avail. All he could hear was a clash of metal. All he could see was blood splattered everywhere.
One side of the clash the tribe members were fighting with their farming tools and makeshift weapons alongside those in white uniforms, with the emblem of red wings with a sword pointing down in the middle.
The boy’s eyes lit up, recognizing their affiliation, the Revelation. They were fighting together against those in metal armor, the army. He kept on running towards the river calling out for his parents when he reached a slope and ran down, getting close to the fishing boats on the sea. When he neared the boats, two soldiers jumped out and grabbed him, yanking him up.
“Is this the chief’s son?” asked one of the soldiers with a dented helmet.
“She has two. Let’s check if he carries the brand.” The other soldier, ragged in breath, pulled up the boy’s tunic, revealing an intricate tattoo on his lower torso.
Suddenly, the other soldier fell to the ground, with a spear sticking out of a small gap between his helmet and suit. Blood seeping out of the wound.
“Rafael, I’m here!” A young twelve-year old boy with matching brown hair and green eyes approached him.
“Ilyas!” Rafael sobbed.
Ilyas jumped, grabbing the spear out of the soldier he killed, and spun it in the air. The soldier threw Rafael to the ground and unsheathed his sword. Ilyas thrust out his spear and it met the soldier’s sword. The soldier managed to deflect the spear and aimed for Ilyas’s head, but he ducked and rolled away. He jumped onto the soldier’s back about to skewer him with his spear, but the soldier pulled him off, slamming him into the ground, knocking the air out of his lungs.
“Ilyas!” Rafael screamed. He grabbed the nearest rock and chucked it at the soldier’s head, bouncing off the helmet. Drawing his attention, the soldier left Ilyas.
Lunging at Rafael, the soldier pulled his sword back, aiming for Rafael’s chest, when Ilyas rammed his spear into his back, breaking into his armor. The soldier turned to Ilyas, but Ilyas was already on top of him, retrieving his spear, he pushed the soldier into the sea and slammed his spear into his throat.
Waiting for the soldier to lay still, Ilyas regained his composure and made his way to Rafael.
“We have to get out of here.”
“What about mama and baba?” asked Rafael.
Ilyas grabbed his younger brother’s hand and walked to the nearest fishing boat.
“They’re probably back at the tribe,” Ilyas lifted him into the boat and began to untie the rope freeing it. When he was done, he heard footsteps appearing behind him. Grabbing his spear, he turned to face them, but paused when he saw he was outnumbered. Instead, he turned around again, and pushed the boat with all his strength into the sea.
“Go!” Ilyas was struck down by a sword, falling to the ground, with the soldiers continuing to attack him. His screams were the most pained Rafael heard that night.
Rafael screeched for his brother, as the small fishing boat drifted away while the moon’s eerie smile watched on.
Cold water hit Rafael like a slap on the face. He jumped out of bed, coughing, and turned to see Serah giggling with an empty cup in her hands. “Now you don’t need a shower,” Serah threw a hand towel at him. “Breakfast is ready, you can get dressed after we eat.”
The smell of eggs and tea hugged Rafael, and eased his tension. The table looked like a feast to him. In reality, it was just pieces of bread that were decorated nicely with a heaping of omelets. The tea cups were white, cracked and had daisies painted on them with little pieces of mint swimming in them.
They sat down and began their meals. After a few bites, Serah looked up at him. “Same nightmare again?”
“The one and only,” he gave a half smile. “But after eating this I’ll be fine again.”
“What happened to finishing off the king?”
Rafael slurped on his tea. He used to tell Serah that one day he would go back to finish off whoever ordered the attack on the village, even if it was the King of Tunis himself. “Given the chance, I definitely would. But, now, I just want to live peacefully. And travel.” He chewed on his food. “Who’s to say I can’t do both though?”
“Whatever you do, I hope you’re still happy.”
“Can we not be sky pirates then?”
She froze and stared at him. “Forget what I said. C’mon let’s go, I want to make it to the play today.”
Rafael groaned. “They do the same play every year! Let’s just skip it.”
“No, this year they’re doing something special, something like about a boy going to a boarding school, but finding out his dad’s the evil dark lord, and he has to travel the world obtaining a relic from all the different species to defeat him.”
“Oh, that does sound cool.”
“Exactly.” The two of them finished their breakfast, and got themselves prepared for the day. Serah headed for the stables first, waiting with Mystic. She kneeled down, and grabbed her two identical daggers, the handles were made of smooth black leather. Placing them into the holsters on her hips, she grabbed her cape off of Mystic and wrapped it around her shoulders.
Rafael entered the stable, his spear attached to his back, held in the holster around his torso. He walked to her, pulling his hair into a small ponytail. “Ready to go?”
She nodded, and the two of them got onto Mystic. She tugged on the reigns, and the two of them left the stable. Despite the early hours, many of the villagers were up, preparing for Armistice day. Today would be the start of a festive week. They greeted whoever they came across as they left the village.
They were riding at a leisurely pace towards the vineyard. When they arrived, Serah snatched a juicy grapevine and split it in two, giving Mystic half while she and Rafael shared the other. Getting off Mystic, the two of them headed for the hill behind the vineyard. On the top, they found lavender, filling the entire horizon, painting a breathtaking view. The two of them never tired of seeing the sea of purple dance, it was their special place. Some of the petals flew off, into the sky, swept by the wind, carrying the sweet scent into the air.
Serah crouched down to gather bushels of Lavender into a sack, Rafael right next to her doing the same. After filling up a sack he turned around, and began refilling another. As he worked, he looked up, and saw the village. He noticed a few moving dots heading for it. Squinting, he could make them up to be a large caravan. Looking down, he went back to his work, trying to convince Serah to choose a different occupation than sky pirates. His main point was to let the current pirates out in the sea turn into sky pirates, and they just follow their wave.
He failed to convince her.
When they were done, they headed down the hill, to Mystic, grabbing another grapevine for him. They rode off to another patch, where fennel amongst others were growing.
Once there, they took out their tools again and began to dig out the plants. Concentrating on his work, Rafael finally got his hands on a fennel plant. “The hell? This one looks like a deformed onion.”
“They all look like deformed onions.”
Rafael tossed the deformed onion away.
“Rafael! Why did you do that? That was a good one!”
“That one gave off a weird feeling.”
“Go bring me the onion… fennel now, or sit with Mystic and let me do the work.”
Rafael glanced at the demonic horse and then went to retrieve the fennel plant.
“Child,” Serah smiled at him.
“Demon,” he smiled back, returning with the plant, and dropped it in the sack.
On the way back to the village, Rafael vowed to never eat anything with fennel, causing Serah to launch into salesman mode, convincing him of the benefits of the plant. She was explaining how it relieves stomach aches when they reached the outskirts of the village.
“Why is it so dark?” She pointed to the sky above the village, drastically darker than the surrounding sky. “Is it going to rain?” She quickened their pace to the village.
As they got closer, Rafael sniffed the air, panicking. “That’s smoke!” Galloping towards Shai village’s entrance, the smoke was more apparent, as billowing pillars of it were sprouting out of various places in the village. Screams were coming from every direction.
Rafael remembered the caravan from earlier, and clenched his spear tight, still on his back, his knuckles turning white.