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Shadow of the Leviathan: Chapter 2 - "The Waltz of Doom"

by obscureoracle


II

“The Waltz of Doom”

“Must I come, Ma?” Kazriel whined for the thousandth time. He was in his room with his mother, who was searching through his wardrobe for his outfit to wear to the ball. The light of the setting sun fell through the window, hitting the boy right in the face.

Ms. Shady came out with a wrinkled maroon tunic. As she eyed it, she said, “Yes, yes, you have to. It’s going to be very fun, I promise.”

Kazriel squeezed his eyes shut against the blinding light and whispered, “Why? Why? Why, Ma?”

“Because you haven’t gone out in a long time, and I’m worried about you,” came her voice from farther away. “Besides, you’ll be able to see Her Golden Majesty. It is the highest honor.”

Kazriel expected that. His mother and sister were the queen’s biggest fans. Not only because of the law she’d recently passed that gave amounts of support money to single parents, but also because Queen Aurea was apparently the most beautiful, benevolent and caring ruler Chrysos had ever seen. He, of course, had never met the woman, because the last public ball had been many years ago when he lived with his father, who’d then resided in a separate home from his estranged wife, and his father was never the social type.

“What else is there for me to look forward to?” asked the unfortunate boy as he covered his face and sat back on the bed.

“Plenty! There will be much food, multitudes of sweets and pastries but even more amounts of spicy food, for that is the queen’s favorite. An orchestra will be there, no doubt playing her most beloved themes. Many people will be attending, and you will definitely find someone your own age to consort with.

And don’t worry, Kaz! We won’t be staying there forever. We’ll arrive at 6:30 and stay until 9:30. That’s not so bad, is it?”

Kazriel inhaled sharply. “It is! Three hours? One hour three times?! Even if I did find someone to talk with, what am I to do with all of that time?”

His mother gripped his wrists and pried his hands off his face. Her stern gaze fixed on him for a long moment. “Don’t make it worse than it seems. The real event goes on for nearly half the night. Wouldn’t that be much worse?” When he didn’t answer, she continued in a softer voice. “Trust me, Kazriel. This will be good for you. Now, quickly change and wait for us.”

After Ms. Shady left, her son shrugged into his dark red outfit, groaning in disappointment every few seconds. As Kazriel peered into the tall mirror on the door, he picked up a small comb and brushed his tousled dark hair as neatly as he could. Before leaving his bedroom, he turned and glanced back at the interior. Dull and beige as it was, he wouldn’t be seeing it for what seemed like forever to him. He’d miss it sorely.

As Kazriel stepped onto the low cement slab that served as the porch, he heard voices. He turned and saw his neighbors on the street, heading in the same direction. They were all garbed in red, gowns and tunics and dresses and suits alike. As two girls his age passed by, Kazriel very naturally slipped into the evening shadows, out of their sight, and watched them go. His eyes followed their trail until something else stood out to him suddenly--a lithe black figure, hurrying from the other end of the street. It stopped a ways away, concealed in the gloom. Its green gaze fell upon him.

Kazriel crouched down. He held out his hand and made a pspsps sound. The cat darted towards him and touched its nose to his fingers, causing him to smile. He caressed the top of the cat’s head and it purred softly. “Good boy, Charm,” he murmured. “I’ll see you soon, okay?”

The sound of a loud voice calling for him made Charm snap his head in the direction of the noise, and a moment later, run away. Kazriel watched him go sadly, then quickly returned inside of his house. Ms. Shady was there, along with Aestiva. Both were dolled up nicely. His mother wore a frilly, wine red dress with tall boots of the same color. Her black hair had been recolored to hide the greying and tied up in a stylish bun. She’d applied red lipstick and light blush to her cheeks. Aestiva was clad in a large, poofy scarlet gown, and her hands were covered by crimson gloves that ended at the middle of her forearm. Her hair was straight and long around her shoulders. Her makeup had been done the same way as her mother’s and she looked like a younger version of Ms. Shady. Kazriel suddenly felt self conscious. He thought, maybe he was a bit underdressed for the occasion. But then, he reminded himself, no, no he was not. He looked completely fine. He would be fine. Everything was fine.

Ms. Shady stepped out of the house first and gestured for her children to follow her. They trailed behind her, Aestiva clutching the folds of her gown and lifting it so as not to get the hem dirty, and Kazriel in a forward hunched position, his hands at his sides. He did not love being at the center of attention. Many people were looking at Aestiva’s dress, but it didn’t seem like that to his paranoid brain. It wasn’t a narcissistic sort of thing--he just felt like everyone was watching him. Like their eyes were gnawing at his skin, aiming to rip him apart and laugh at his remains. He couldn’t stand it. But there was nothing he could do except continue forward.

Kazriel knew in his heart that that was the true reason he did not want to attend the ball, and why he did not love social activities as a whole. He’d imagine the people’s heads turning to stare at him, their eyes widening and their mouths opening to boom with laughter and little snickers. He wondered what would happen when he entered the ballroom. What if he slipped and fell? No, it couldn’t happen. But what if, for the event of the ball, the queen’s cleaners had mopped up the floors a bit too well, and so, due to the lack of grip on his old boots, Kazriel went flying? That was a reasonable prediction, surely. After all, the Silver Palace was known for its glowing shine in the moonlight and the disciplined cleaners that kept its state up. It very likely could happen.

Aestiva’s voice suddenly jerked Kazriel from his nervous thoughts. “Where are you going? Not that way.” For Kazriel had been heading towards the rocky cobblestone path that winded up and down and around the terrain towards the Silver Palace that glimmered in the distance. He turned back now and saw that his sister and mother were boarding a small, white carriage pulled by a large black stallion with a splash of white on his forehead. The driver wore a black suit with long coattails. He nodded curtly at Ms. Shady and offered a hand to Aestiva to assist her as she got on the carriage. However, the driver’s gloved hand disappeared as Kazriel neared, and although this was the custom--for men to help women but never fellow men unless it was one of the elderly--Kazriel felt as though he’d done something wrong. He swallowed nervously, gripped the railing, and heaved himself into the carriage.

Inside, it was rather cramped. Aestiva gathered her dress and sat across from Ms. Shady. Kazriel plopped down next to his mother, who scooted over for him. The seats were brown leather, torn and white at the corners. The interior walls were also white, and there were lines of grey spaced evenly throughout the painted areas. As the door slammed shut and the carriage began to move, Kazriel rested his head against his hand and stared out the window. He spied the small, short huts and cottages of the neighborhood that were steadily being left behind. Kazriel sighed and let his mind wander, but not too much to the point that he would become too nervous again.

The journey was a blur. Trees and houses whizzed by until civilization dwindled away completely. A small point glimmered atop a hill in the distance, catching the keen eye of Kazriel. He gazed upon it as the carriage drew closer, noting it to be none other than the famous Silver Palace, second great castle of the Royal Family, where all of the public events were held. Kazriel glanced at his family--Aestiva had dozed off and Ms. Shady peered out of the other window, unable to see the palace.

Before long, however, the carriage had come to the base of the hill. A long line of carts and carriages extended from the base and around to the valley. The driver opened the front compartment of the carriage and called to his passengers. “Sir and ladies, we have arrived. Disembarking will begin soon. Please wait.”

After a few minutes, the carriage halted and the door opened. Kazriel got off first, and found himself looking up at the round green hill that served as the foundation for the palace. The building itself consisted of a base with three main towers. The towers were tall and seemed to glow, and they spiraled up into the sky. As much as he didn’t want to be there, Kazriel was taken by a sudden sense of admiration for the great work of architecture that stood before him. But he didn’t have the time to feast his eyes upon it long, for Aestiva came behind him and whispered, “Cool, isn’t it? I told you it would be fun to come here.” Kazriel was suddenly embarrassed, and he hid his face by turning away from his sister.

Together, the family climbed up the polished stairs, along with hundreds of other commoners. The large double doors of the palace were surrounded by four Royal Guards, clad in red and yellow armor and wielding long spears. They stood with unyielding strength against the tide of people that flowed through the doors.

The inside of the Silver Palace was filled with light and laughter. White chandeliers hung from the ceiling, casting the massive ballroom in a luminous silver glow. The floor was smooth and hard, and the large circular waltz area in the center was painted with the scenes of some tale of mythology, and so was the ceiling. Far ahead was a grand staircase with gilded railings that led up to a platform. Upon the platform was a velvety white chair, the frame of which was bejeweled in gems from across Maerda, the like of which had never been seen before in Chrysos. From the platform there were two closed doors leading away to the left and right.

“Kazriel, Aestiva,” said Ms. Shady. Kazriel looked up at her, dazed. “Three hours from now, I will be fetching you two, and we will leave promptly. Is that clear?” Both Kazriel and Aestiva nodded, although one did so with rigor and the other with slow movement. “Good. Now, you may go off on your own. Remember, don’t consume anything a stranger gives you and do not leave the ballroom. Have fun, children!” With that, Ms. Shady moved away through the crowd.

Aestiva glanced toward the waltz floor with excitement. Before she left, she looked back at her lost sibling and reminded him, “Well, brother, I would accompany you and introduce you to some of my own friends, but I’m afraid you and I don’t get along so well. So this is my advice to you: don’t worry too much, and have fun. Goodbye, now.”

Kazriel’s head felt hot. He touched it gingerly. The world around him shook, and he closed his eyes and tried to regain his composure. Fear had always lived in his heart, but now it showed its face, and Kazriel was overwhelmed. He didn’t know what to do or say or anything at all. He stared down at his feet, afraid.

One look, said the courageous part of his mind. Just one look around, a quick turn of the head so that you may see what is before you.

No, no! shouted the fearful part. Someone will see you, catch your eye maybe, and they’ll come to talk to you. Do you know what will happen then? Oh, how I shiver to even think of it!

Kazriel’s heart jumped. His head spun. What can I do? What should I do?

Courage said, Look with your eyes. Everyone is absorbed with themselves--they shall not see you.

Fear said, Do not listen to him! He is wrong. He means to lead you to your utter humiliation. Hark, Kazriel! I will guide you to safety.

Courage roared, Hark to me!

Fear bellowed, Hark to me!

Kazriel cried out loud, “Be quiet! I can’t think!”

His mind went silent, perhaps obeying the command. Kazriel froze. The ball continued around him, unaware of his turmoil. He glanced up, quickly, fleetingly. No one was looking over at him. No one had noticed him, even though he’d raised his voice and yelled loudly. The carelessness of the others gave him some comfort. And so, that made the decision for him.

Kazriel fully raised his head and studied the area around him. Most of the people were congregated around the circular waltz area, facing inwards. Some others littered the ballroom, conversing with each other in groups of two, three or four. At the base of the grand staircase stood a short, balding man with long coattails and a tall tophat. He stood straight, with his hands folded behind him and his eyes surveying the sight before him. Kazriel suspected that it was the herald, and to his relief, not once did the herald’s gaze fall upon him.

By the left wall of the ballroom was a long table covered with a lace white cloth. As Kazriel stealthily neared it, he saw that its edges were embroidered with pure, shining silver. Upon the table was an assortment of appetizers, many sweets but many more seasoned and spicy foods, just as Ms. Shady had said. Drinks were on the opposite end.

Kazriel didn’t take anything. His stomach was empty, he knew, for he hadn’t eaten anything since lunch. But it felt full, and not just full, but filled with fluttering butterflies. He felt sick, and although the food looked delicious, he couldn’t stand the thought of eating anything at the moment.

Water, whispered his mind. Water will make us feel better.

Kazriel agreed and grabbed a glass goblet. He took the huge jug of water with both hands and carefully poured a fraction of its contents into the goblet. Under the brilliance of the chandeliers and overall light of the room, the water shone like a shifting, clear jewel. Kazriel brought the goblet to his lips, his hand trembling, and took a tentative sip. The liquid flowed within him, spreading tranquility throughout his body. He felt its cold burst in his chest, and sighed contentedly. The nervous thoughts vanished for some time, and Kazriel resorted to watching the other guests through quick, sweeping stares in between grateful gulps of water.

*

It had been only about thirty minutes since Kazriel arrived at the Silver Palace, but to him it felt like an eternity. In his anxiety, he’d already downed two and a half glasses of water, and now his veins felt like ice and his bladder was full. He couldn’t go on, not only with the continuous drinking (of water) but also with his being at the party. What had his mother said to him? Three hours and he could leave? Kazriel felt like collapsing with exhaustion. He hadn’t even done anything and he was so tired.

But at the current moment, he had priorities. First and foremost was the need for a place to relieve himself.

And to do that, Kazriel would have to brave his worst nightmare.

Better get it over with now, murmured Courage. Fear said nothing, but Kazriel could feel the writhing, snaking presence in the back of his mind. It haunted him day and night, but it was in these types of situations that its true nature was revealed.

However, some amount of bravery was imbued within Kazriel, whether from the water or Courage or by the comforting thought from before that no one would notice him, at least for some time. He shifted his stance and marched towards the herald, empty goblet still in his hand.

The herald saw him approach and straightened. He was shorter than Kazriel, which felt strange to both of them, but all the same he stood with an air of haughtiness. Kazriel inclined his head slightly. “Hello…” he began, his voice shaking. “By chance, can you tell me where the washroom is? …Sir,” he remembered to add at the end.

The herald extended his arm and pointed to the other side of the ballroom, past the waltz area, to a set of doors. “Through there, you shall find them. Men’s on the left.” His voice was curt yet polite.

“T-thank you, sir,” Kazriel said, hearing his own heart beat, the sound echoing through his chest and ears. He moved away from the herald, realizing with growing anxiety that he’d have to travel through the loud and densely packed crowd of guests surrounding the waltz area. Before he could even think of heading back, Kazriel was already swallowed by the scarlet mass of people.

Dancing, moving, warm bodies jostled him around, and although Kazriel was taller than some, there were still many people who dwarfed him, as he was not yet a matured adult. Kazriel wanted to close his eyes, but he couldn’t without being unaware of where he was. There was too much noise, too many smells and not enough vision. All he saw was red. All he heard were snippets of conversations, cut off by another pair of voices speaking even louder, louder, louder, until Kazriel clapped one of his hands over his ear, the other hand still occupied by the goblet. His heart was in his throat; he felt like vomiting. And the need to get out, not only away from the people but also into the washroom, grew more dire every second. He breathed hard, his mouth open, and whispered, “Let me out… please…” although he could not even hear himself over the deafening sound of other people.

The scarlet shadows pressed in around Kazriel, almost choking him, and he felt that death was not the worst to happen to a person. For whatever this was, this torture, he wanted it to end, to leave so badly. And then… it did.

Kazriel stumbled forward and emerged out into a less crowded area. He looked up, finding that he’d escaped the large cluster of guests. Other people still littered this area, but Kazriel felt so much better now that he was out of that hellhole. He clutched his tunic around his heart and stood still for a few moments, eyes closed and breathing deeply. I’m fine, he told himself over and over again. I’m completely fine.

As he steadily regained his composure, Kazriel glanced around and saw that the washroom was just a ways away, about five, big strides. He let go of his tunic, his hand sweaty, and again looked around. Quickly, he mustered up the small bit of courage he had left and deviated from his path, instead heading to the left. As he passed by a servant holding a silver tray, he slowed for a moment and placed his empty goblet on it, then continued to walk in that direction. I don't want anyone thinking I’m acting strange by walking this way only to rid myself of that cup, he said to himself. Kazriel neared another table of appetizers, identical to the one across the room. He pretended to survey the foods and beverages in front of him until he was sure no one, the servant or the herald or the crowd, was looking at him.

But before Kazriel could make those last strides to the washroom, a voice sounded behind him. It was unfamiliar and female. “Excuse me?”

Kazriel very slowly, extremely cautiously turned around. A short girl, around his age, was speaking to him. She had golden brown curls and wore a flowing carmine gown. Her face was round, her skin pale, and her smile was warm. She opened her painted red lips and spoke again. “Hello! My name is Carla. Would you like to dance?”

Instead of immediately jumping into another wave of adrenaline, Kazriel only froze. He said nothing. He couldn’t say anything. His mind went blank, and his ears no longer picked up the sounds of the party; for him, everything became utterly, deathly silent. His throat dried until it felt as though his tongue was covered in heavy dust. He stared back at the girl’s expectant gaze, unable to speak. For a single moment in time, Kazriel heard only one thing: Why me? a small voice inside of him wondered, sad and lost and lonely. Why must it always happen to me?

Kazriel couldn’t breathe. His peripheral faded into darkness, and all he saw were the girl’s probing eyes before him, two green shards that showed him his own distorted reflection, in which a frightened boy struggled to function after being asked a simple question. In those few seconds, Kazriel realized just how pathetic he was, and he grew extremely revolted with himself. He was nothing but a wretched little crybaby, a coward who would never go far, a worthless loser.

Kazriel looked directly at the girl and politely said, “No thank you, miss.” And then, he left.

*

“Stupid, stupid, stupid! You’re so stupid, you--!” Kazriel whisper-screamed. Tears streamed down his face, but he furiously wiped them away. “And now you’re crying. Look at you, you pathetic fool! You can’t do anything right, and you decide to cry about it? What right do you have? What right? Huh?!”

He was in the men’s washroom, locked away alone in a stall. No one else was present. Kazriel wanted to scream, loud and clear and for everyone to hear just how upset he was. Not with anyone else, but with himself.

“I hate you,” he whispered. He was talking to himself, his own spirit within him. “You ruin everything.” That was addressed to Fear, the bane of his existence. “You never help me.” That was for Courage, whose words offered him no solace. “I can’t take this anymore. I wish… I wish I was never born!”

He collapsed on the floor, sobbing into his hands. If I hadn’t been born, he told himself in his head. …then I wouldn’t have to deal with this.

Courage said, Don’t say such things. It isn’t very nice to yourself.

“Leave me alone,” Kazriel whispered. “I hate you, I hate you, I hate you. You act like my friend but you’re really my enemy. Both of you! You-- you’re so--!” He couldn’t finish his sentence, as another wave of utter despair crashed over him.

His hands covered his face and withheld the light from him. In darkness, he was granted clarity.

I always knew there was something wrong with me. That some sort of accident occurred during my birth, and that’s why I was born afflicted with such worrisome thoughts and attitudes. I’m not supposed to be alive, and with bitter spite, the universe gave me a life of fear.

No. You’re not like that. You were meant to exist. We all were. In life, it’s not about how you began. It’s about the contents, and how you end. What matters is your memory, your legacy, not your creation.

Hah hah hah! The fool has finally come to the realization that he is insignificant. Don’t you see, Courage? He has been enlightened! With this knowledge, I am sure he will do something absolutely heroic, such as weeping for hours on end, isolating himself in the shadows, or, perhaps… ceasing to live? Of course, I mean this only figuratively. The light will fade from his eyes and yet he will continue to exist. Exist, but not live.

No! Do not say that! I will not allow it!

There is nothing you can do. He cannot live with this understanding. He cannot live knowing that everyone else has a place in the world, everyone except him.

Yeah, you’re right. I’m nothing. Nothing but a nuisance to those around me. Shall I just stop, then? Stop caring about everything and everyone? I mean, it would really help if I could stop thinking. Get rid of all these thoughts. That’s the root of all this, right? My brain is the one messing with me. Funny. Laughable, really.

Then why aren’t you laughing?

I can’t.

Can’t you? Let’s try again.

No. I’m done with all this. No laughing, no crying. Only drinking. It makes me feel good, even if I’m not feeling good.

*

He opened his eyes and took his hands off his face. He slowly got up, unlocked the stall door, and went out into the deserted washroom hall. He turned the sink on, washed his face, and then dried himself. He glanced around, looking anywhere but at the rows of circular mirrors.

It wasn’t until he was almost out of the door that Kazriel realized the ballroom had gone completely silent. No one spoke, no one moved. The masses of people had changed position, so now they lined the path from the entrance to the waltz area to the grand throne at the top of the platform. Kazriel’s shoes hit the floor quietly until he stood behind the guests, craning forward to see what was happening, at the same time making sure he shrunk beneath the heads of the people in front of him whenever someone caught his eye.

The herald from before was now standing at the side of the entrance, his tophat making him look taller than he actually was. A moment later, a short, silver-haired and violet-eyed woman came forth from the entrance, wearing a wine-red gown with white silk gloves. The herald boomed in a voice that could reach the gods, “Lady Xelia Nyxa of the Burgenshire!” He then raised his tophat to the woman and bowed low to her. The noblewoman continued forward and branched off from the path to join the throng of guests.

Two more people issued from the front entrance. One was a tall and broad chested man wearing a black musketeer hat with a flowing red feather. At his side was a rather tall woman with a heart shaped face in a traditional dress. Her hair was deep purple, and many people in the crowd began to whisper when she entered. The herald, however, was unfazed, and he called the names of the two nobles with gusto. “Lord Audax and Lady Caerelia Lukairn!”

More nobles entered, but by then Kazriel had zoned out. His eyelids drooped, and he suddenly realized how exhausted he was. The ball, along with his earlier breakdown, had taken a toll on his body and mind.

Kazriel retreated to the food table and groped for another glass. He poured it to the brim with ice water and raised it to his lips. He drank and drank until he could no more, and in his brain, he broke. Instead of people-watching again, he only stared at the table before him, blank shock taking over his mind and numbing his thoughts.

It was quite some time later when Kazriel felt a tap on his shoulder. To him, he’d only been standing there for ten minutes or so, but in reality, his perception of time had completely frozen, and the world passed him by while he remained unchanging. Now, Kazriel turned around almost robotically. A tall, wealthy man with fiery hazel eyes had approached him. He wore many medals upon his maroon garb, gold and silver and bronze and platinum, each one flashing in the candlelight. His hair was neat and brown, and a mustache of the same color curled over his mouth. When he spoke, his voice was deep and held an air of authority. “Quite an array of sweets, isn’t there, lad?”

Even if one had the confidence of a clown and none of the social anxiety of Kazriel, they would falter beneath the powerful gaze of the nobleman. Luckily for Kazriel, the events of the past two hours had mentally crippled him and left him numb. His fear was disappeared now, and he met the man’s eyes with a blank stare. “Yes…? Who are you, may I ask?”

The man inclined his head and held his hand to his torso. “I am Baron Swanhilde of the Insurgents. And you, boy?”

Kazriel only understood half of the man’s sentence. He managed to say, “My name is Kazriel Shyshadow. I come from the village of Penrith. Do I have to call you by a specific honorific, sir?”

Swanhilde chuckled. It was a raspy yet low laugh that seemed to engulf the air around Kazriel’s ears. “It’s alright, boy, you needn’t. Worry not, for I am not one of those self-absorbed aristocrats that brood over a title. Call me as you want.”

Kazriel nodded politely, marveling at the baron’s high class speech. “May I also ask, what are the Insurgents?”

“The Insurgents are political enemies of the queen.” Swanhilde dropped his voice to a barely audible tone. Kazriel strained his ears. “That means they do not like the way Queen Aurea rules Chrysos. We want to overthrow her and replace her with one of our own elected leaders.”

“Okay.” Kazriel didn’t really care, but he didn’t want to be rude. He'd only asked in faint curiosity, not because he wanted that whole big explanation. But... he had to admit he was taken by some sort of interest after learning that the queen had a feud with this man of might, who seemed so strong and yet so kind. He wondered, for a fleeting moment, what really went on in the world of aristocrats and monarchs. “I will admit… I have never seen the queen before.”

Swanhilde smiled thinly, a queer glint in his eye. “Don’t worry, ’tis not as if you have missed out on any particular honor. She isn’t much to look at.”

Suddenly, the ballroom went silent. In unison, the dancing guests stopped and everyone turned towards the elevated platform at the back of the room. “Ah, speak of the Devil,” the baron whispered to Kazriel. The boy gave him a sideways glance, then looked back at the area of everyone’s attention.

From the door to the right of the platform, a giant knight appeared. He was huge in stature, tall, heavy-footed and broad-shouldered. He was clad in plates of dark, deep green that appeared to be fashioned in the likeness of reptilian scales. A helmet covered his face, and upon it rose a crest of spikes that trailed down across his armor. A massive, deadly-looking greatsword was slung across his back, and when he strided across the platform to stand next to the throne, the whole room seemed to shake.

A blade of awe-inspired fear slashed through Kazriel’s null state of mind. For a few moments, he simply stood there, wonderstruck by the masculine mightiness of the scaly green knight. “Who-- who is that?” he murmured to Swanhilde.

“A soldier worthy of note,” Swanhilde said. “Sir Rykkeros Poisonweaver, commonly referred to as the Basilisk. He is of the Spellbound Sentinels, an order made up of twelve of the best warriors in the realm. They are tasked with aiding and protecting the queen. They are perhaps the only people in the queen’s court with both brains and beauty, and appear more majestic than the ruler of Chrysos herself. Although, I suppose it is not too difficult to pull that off.”

The herald from before stood at the base of the stairs and shouted, “We present our greetings to the brilliant sun of Chrysos, the beacon of hope and symbol of strength! Her Golden Majesty, Queen Aurea Chyrsos!” Then, he removed his hat and knelt.

The rest of the guests followed his example. “Come now, lad. We must,” said Swanhilde, and both of them knelt. Kazriel’s head was facing the floor and he dared not look up. The ballroom was completely silent for a few, long seconds.

Then, the soft pitter-patter of footsteps sounded from far-off. The whole ballroom seemed to hold its breath. In the absence of all noise came the sound of someone sitting down on a soft, velvet cushion. She sighed and said, “Rise, all. I welcome thee.”

Everyone got to their feet and cast their eyes upon the queen, Kazriel and Swanhilde included. Kazriel sucked in his breath, very surprised.

She was garbed in a simple, blood red gown, but the jewelry was more excessive. Rubies glittered everywhere, around her hands, on her throat, on her head. Around her left arm was a thick, golden armband that didn’t match the rest of the outfit. It was inlaid with three, gleaming white gems and had a powerful aura about it. As for the queen herself, she was dark of both complexion and hair. The former was a warm honey-brown, while the latter was down, falling around her shoulders, with the front strands braided. Her face was round and her limbs thin, but she was large around the abdominal area, and her dress stuck out further from that place. The unevenness in weight distribution caused her to look strange and rather unsightly, or so it seemed to Kazriel. She sat straight and tall upon her grand throne, her face an unreadable mask.

“I welcome you all to the Red Waltz of the Silver Palace,” Queen Aurea announced, her voice regal. “Enjoy yourselves here, and dance to your heart’s content. May this night be merry!”

The guests echoed her cheer. “May it be so!” Their voices loudly filled the room, their excitement becoming clear. Then, the ball resumed. Men and women slid across the floor, their steps graceful, their bodies spinning like leaves in the wind. A beautiful tune began to play from the corner, where an orchestra had set themselves up shortly after the queen’s arrival. The noise of conversations tinged the warm air again, and life went on.

But not for Kazriel. He shook and he trembled. He coughed and he cleared his throat. “W-what…. what was that?” he stammered.

“Hm?” Although unfazed, Swanhilde was deep in thought. He studied Kazriel curiously.

“It’s just…” Kazriel whispered shakily. “I have heard all these stories of how great the queen is. My mother and sister both love her so much. Even though I did not care much, for I don’t concern myself with the affairs of others, I actually looked forward a bit to seeing the queen for the first time. And now that I have, I feel… like it has been quite underwhelming. Or rather, disillusioning.”

Interest lit up the baron’s face. “What makes you say that, boy?” He eagerly awaited the other’s response.

Kazriel shifted uncomfortably. There was some feeling in his gut that told him something important. That he felt… utterly disgusted. “I think-- I think it is because in all the books I have read, kings and queens are always very fair people. But Queen Aurea is not only unlovely and plain, but also grossly fat. I cannot stand it. It is not how a queen ought to look.”

Swanhilde said nothing. He only laughed softly to himself and nodded, that strange look returning to his eyes.

The moment that Kazriel uttered those horrid words, something fateful suddenly happened. It must be revealed that although Queen Aurea was not the most attractive woman, she possessed a different sort of beauty. She had traits others did not, such as the potential to live a long and fulfilling life, a very sharp mind and blood that shone gold instead of deep scarlet. For the queen was one of the Aureum, or the Golden People, and they were an extremely rare kind who possessed all the aforementioned attributes, along with many others. It is for this reason that Queen Aurea had exceptionally keen hearing (and also because her eyesight was below average), and was why she heard what Kazriel said about her.

This event must be thought of as a misty river on a grey day, where Queen Aurea stood on one bank and Kazriel the other. The mist concealing the figure of Kazriel from the queen was made up of the different sounds of music playing, people talking and laughing, and shoes hitting marble repeatedly, all overlapping atop each other. Then suddenly, for a fraction of a second, all of these things went quiet, and what Queen Aurea heard was a young boy with a nervous voice saying, “Queen Aurea is unlovely, plain… also grossly fat.” And then the mist cleared, and the queen saw Kazriel on the other side of that rushing river.

It was on this day, during these fateful moments, that a small fire was lit in Queen Aurea’s heart. She had always been a sensitive soul, and though that fact hadn’t made itself very clear to the rest of the kingdom, she knew it about herself. It benefitted her, allowed her to better understand the emotions of others and help them, but it, like most everything else in the world, was a double edged sword. She couldn’t stand a single bad thing being said about her, and she knew she could not live her life like this. So, upon hearing the words of Kazriel, Queen Aurea took a deep breath and told herself to calm down. The boy knew nothing of her, and she would probably never see him again. Why get offended?

Unfortunately, the flames of sorrow do not easily fade, and as the ball dragged on, the queen kept coming back to the boy’s words. Am I really that ugly? she thought, examining herself and stopping as her gaze landed on her stomach. Lord, he is right. Look at me, I am so…

But something stopped her from finishing that internal sentence. Just as Kazriel had his Courage and his Fear constantly at his side, Queen Aurea had her Pride and her Hatred. While her Hatred was directed at herself, Pride stood up for her. But too much of anything, especially pride, is never a good thing, as Queen Aurea would later learn.

Returning to Kazriel and Swanhilde, after standing in silence for a while, the baron asked Kazriel if he wanted to join the Insurgents. “I think you would make a good addition to our humble organization.”

Kazriel looked at him in surprise. He had never been invited to anything before--not counting the ball, for that was open to the entire public. “I--I-- uh… I am only ninety three years old… merely a boy. Surely I am too young and too inexperienced for such a group? I am also not of noble birth.”

Baron Swanhilde smiled, this time with kindness, so unlike his smirks from earlier. “Worry not. The Insurgents are open to all, old or young, wealthy or poor. After all, liberation is not restricted to a certain type of person.”

“Do you have meetings? If so, what goes on during these meetings? Forgive me… if such information should remain confidential…”

Swanhilde blinked. “No, I can tell you, as long as you promise to never tell a supporter of the queen.” He held out his right hand.

Kazriel stared at it for a moment, then extended his own and shook hands with the baron.

“Good.” Swanhilde’s smile grew in both warmth and size. “You see, we meet about twice a month, but emergency meetings can be called by the higher-ups at any given time. During these meetings, we usually discuss the queen, and all of the ways in which she fails to support this kingdom. Our main goal is to amass enough evidence to launch a rebellion against her, which will begin diplomatically with lawyers and all, but will inevitably develop into all-out war. Be not afraid,” he added when seeing the look on Kazriel’s face. “Sacrifice is required for change.”

Kazriel only said, “I… I’ll think about it.”

Swanhilde nodded once. He glanced around, making sure no one was paying attention to them, and then leaned in close. In a low whisper, he told Kazriel, “Once you make your decision, contact me by blowing this three times. Trust me.” He pressed a small, metal device into Kazriel’s hands, and when the boy looked down, he found that it was a dog whistle.

“Farewell for now, Shyshadow.” And then Baron Swanhilde disappeared into the crowd.

Not a moment later, Ms. Shady rushed up to Kazriel. “Come on, let’s go,” she said, out of breath, and together with Aestiva, they left the palace.

On the ride home, Kazriel wondered if it was such a bad thing to go to the ball after all. Sure, he had a panic attack and discovered how much he did not like the queen of his home, but he’d also found himself a new, powerful friend. It might be dangerous to have that sort of connection to Swanhilde, but Kazriel felt strangely good inside. Maybe social situations weren’t completely pointless. Maybe he’d been seeing the world in the wrong way.

*

It was the morning after the ball. Kazriel had woken up late and was now waiting for his bread to toast. He sat at the kitchen table, remembering the events of last night. He thought about the Insurgents and whether he should join them or not. They seemed to be an honorable group just trying to free the nation from the tyranny of Queen Aurea. Of course, Kazriel didn’t exactly know what bad things the queen had done. He just knew he didn’t like her because she didn’t look like a typical beauty queen. But Baron Swanhilde had volunteered to take Kazriel under his wing, so that’s where the boy knew he could get his desired information from. And, if he did decide to join the Insurgents, he would have to tread carefully because both Ms. Shady and Aestiva adored the queen. They couldn’t find out about Kazriel’s new connections.

As the toaster pinged and his bread leaped out of the machine, Kazriel heard the sound of a door opening and his mother greeting someone. He didn’t think much of it and began to spread butter on his bread. Moments later, a scream erupted from another room.

“What?! I-it cannot be--! … Kazriel Shyshadow!”


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81 Reviews

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Reviews: 81

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Mon Jun 24, 2024 6:29 am
keeperofgaming wrote a review...



When I smiled:

Well, that could have gone better.

First of all I like how you painted his anxiety as freaking out whenever something happened and also noting several instances of his flat out panic on slight problems. It showed his anxious and introverted personality as well as his dislike for said introvertedness. I am quite interested to read more of this story.

I also like how when the Queen showed up. His immediate acknowledgment was that she wasn't pretty. But, the queen's immediate acknowledgment to that was basically just getting ticked off and then self-loathing. She seems to have a few issues, but she also seems to be quite observant. Perhaps hinting at a wiser Queen than first appears.

And I'm not entirely certain, but I'm pretty sure he also noticed that other beauty that was mentioned after his words. His confusion and silence was interesting combined by the guys a little, but wanting him to join their organization.

Also only ninety-three... I think I missed the part where you told me they were elves.

A Line to Remember:

The moment that Kazriel uttered those horrid words, something fateful suddenly happened. It must be revealed that although Queen Aurea was not the most attractive woman, she possessed a different sort of beauty. She had traits others did not, such as the potential to live a long and fulfilling life, a very sharp mind and blood that shone gold instead of deep scarlet.


This is rather interesting because it showed just how intelligent she actually is and also shows just how much, if she is the villain of the story, she can be a threat and, if she is the hero of the story, how much she can help. It pains her in an unconventional way that also shows a sense of interest.

A New Lesson:

Hey, I like long chapters just like the next guy but this is a bit long. Maybe split it into parts like I use to do with the Prime Control.

The Catalyst's Growth:

He gained a bit of confidence as well as finding a confidant who may or may not be a bad person. I'm leaning towards bad person, though.

He discovered his true power and quietly mocking monarchy and has currently gained an ally in a group that wants to overthrow the Queen.

He even states at the end that it may not have been an entirely bad thing to go to the ball, as it's widened his vision if only a little bit.

Needless to say, it's interesting.

Overall:

I am very interested to see how this continues.




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451 Reviews

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Sat Jun 22, 2024 5:25 pm
EllieMae wrote a review...



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Good afternoon there, my friend!! I hope that you have been having a wonderful day so far. I wanted to stop by and leave you a review for this lovely piece! Let's not waste anymore time and let's jump right in!

Kazriel’s heart jumped. His head spun. What can I do? What should I do?

Courage said, Look with your eyes. Everyone is absorbed with themselves--they shall not see you.

Fear said, Do not listen to him! He is wrong. He means to lead you to your utter humiliation. Hark, Kazriel! I will guide you to safety.

Courage roared, Hark to me!

Fear bellowed, Hark to me!

Kazriel cried out loud, “Be quiet! I can’t think!”


Wow, this is written in such a unique way. I love how you used and capitalized the words Courage and Fear and shared thoughts from emotions. I found this to be very powerful in conveying the characters thoughts. All of these different emotions are begging and asking for attention, but Kazriel cannot hear from all of the noise in his head, all of the sounds, emotions, thoughts, and overwhelming things going on. Writing it with these emotion perspectives made it a lot easier to follow alone. It felt very poetic to me as well!!

The journey was a blur. Trees and houses whizzed by until civilization dwindled away completely. A small point glimmered atop a hill in the distance, catching the keen eye of Kazriel. He gazed upon it as the carriage drew closer, noting it to be none other than the famous Silver Palace, second great castle of the Royal Family, where all of the public events were held. Kazriel glanced at his family--Aestiva had dozed off and Ms. Shady peered out of the other window, unable to see the palace.


I wanted to comment on the above quote. I found it to be very detailed and interesting to read. You do a great job describing the physical actions of our characters as well follow them along the journey and story line. I also enjoyed your language- words like glimmered, dwindled, and peered match the mood of this story very well. That is something I really love in your writing, your choice of language and expression thought these poetic sounding words. Awesome work!

Overall, I found this story to be intriguing, detailed, and a great plot! Keep writing. I enjoyed this :D

Your friend,
Ellie

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