The older sibling stirred in their sleep, rolling over onto their side. They slowly opened their eyes, jumping up and screaming as their younger sibling and the neighborhood kids stared at them. They screamed in retaliation, falling onto the floor.
“Can y’all NOT?!” The older sibling wheezed, a hand on their chest. The smaller children laughed.
“No,” the younger sibling giggled. The older sibling scratched their head in annoyance.
“Well, what do you want?”
“We had cereal and brushed our teeth and we just wanted to know if you could finish the story?”
The big sibling blinked.
“I wanna know what animal the princess picks!”
“And does the king let her fight?”
The older sibling sighed but smiled.
“Let me eat breakfast and get started for the day, yes?”
The children squealed and ran out the room. They followed the older sibling, however. They sat out the bathroom as they showered. They screamed and ran away when the door burst open They waited outside the sibling’s room, then followed them to the kitchen. The sibling grumbled as they poured their cereal.
“Where was I?”
The children started to pop off at once, talking over each other as they tried to remind the sibling what happened.
“The Queen didn’t want to talk to the king!”
“The Princess chose her name!”
“Sanjo is being evil!”
The sibling sat on the couch, as the children continued to ramble off loudly about what happened.
“Th-Thank… Thank you…. THANK YOU…” the sibling said loudly.
The children quieted.
Horns blasted through the streets of Yelrisa. The townsfolk stood on the sidelines, watching in awe as the Queen and King rode side by side on horseback down the streets toward the Temple of Rites. The Princess rode by herself behind them, looking at all the people. She spotted children her age. A whisper in her head told her to follow the laws of a proper royal; you have to show people that you mean business. Another whisper shouted at the other about how you can still be respectful to the people. So she waved to the people her age. The squealed and laughed, waving back. Their parents laughed. The King glanced back at his daughter, his lip twitching at her defiance. Maybe her learning how to be a warrior would put some discipline into her. The Queen glanced at the King. She would have to have a talk with him and her child later.
The Temple of Rites was on the outskirts of town. It was a large abandoned church that was made out of the earth itself and trees that bent every which way to be the structure. The Kings guard were placed in various places as the royal family rode out to the church.
The sun illuminated the blessed church.
The princess stood in awe of it. The King cleared his throat.
“This church was made with the magic of the Reta’an people before the Arrival. This is the only thing that has been untouched by those who Arrived here because they could not see the beauty that was in nature melding with people. 2000 years have passed since the Arrived had become the Sailed. 2000 years this church has stood the test of time, war and blood to bring peace to those who seek solitude or to die for regular people”
The King and the Queen watched as the Princess climbed off her horse and stood at the entrance of the church. The door was made from branches, each twig locking into each other.
“The church also tests those of royal blood. If you fail, you die. Go forth, child. Find your way to the church’s well. Take a sip, you will be thirsty. A sip, if you don’t want to offend the spirits inside. Go forth, child, and let the Reta’an people know that you remember them.”
The wood door slowly unclasped, the doors of the ancient church opening up to the Princess. Her body barely reached to 1/3 of the height of the entrance. She looked into the dark church, small streams of light pouring in every so often. She took a deep breath and looked back. She looked at her mother, who smiled at her and nodded in affirmation. The King looked at the Princess and the Queen and huffed, rolling his eyes.
The Princess nodded and turned back toward the church. She adjusted her outfit, removing the dress part from the waist and clasping it on her shoulders, making it into a cape. She adjusted the pants that were hidden underneath her dress, adjusting her belt with her tiny dirk on her hip. She took another deep breath and stepped into the church, her parents watching her get engulfed in darkness before the doors slammed shut.
There was a knock on the door. The children jumped. The older sibling got up and answered the door. It was one of the older teens looking for their younger sibling.
“Hey, just wondering if my brother is here?”
“Yah, I have all the kids, still,” the sibling said, sighing. The older teen blinked.
“They haven’t left yet?”
The child that was being looked for came to the door.
“They’re telling a story and I wanna know what happens!” The older teen looked at their litter brother and smiled. They dug into their wallet and handed the older sibling some cash.
“Thank you. I’ll be back later with lunch. I’ll also let the other folk know where their sibs are.” The teen took off.
The older sibling looked at the money in their hand. It was $50.
“Huh…” They pocketed the money and closed the door.
The children were waiting for them to come back to the couch. With sudden enthusiasm, the sibling hopped on to the couch, making the children gasp.
The Princess jumped when the door closed. Her eyes started to adjust to the darkness as she started to move forward. The streams of light that had shown the open bits of branches popped up like well-placed candles on the walls. The dirt under her boots was soft and seemed to be untouched. She took a deep breath, inhaling fresh air that seemed different from the outside. She put her dirk away and took off her boots, wiggling her toes in the dirt. She giggled and started to move through the church. As she passed underneath the rays of light, they disappeared. As she moved forward, the church behind her started to morph into an actual stone structure. Quiet whispers floated behind her, unheard to the Princess. Spirits started to walk behind her, people from lives before. Warriors, scholars, mages, curious people with nothing to lose, headstrong people with everything to prove; they all followed behind the Princess in procession.
As she stepped onto the altar, the church creaked, wind rushing through the branches in front of her. A wall of branches moved out the way for her, a long stone hallway lit by candles in front of her. She took a shaky breath, clutching her boots to her chest. She took a step forward into the hallway, the door behind her closing quietly. She pulled her boots back on and started to walk. The hallway seemed to go on forever before it slightly veered toward the right, the left, down, up, left, left, right, down, down, down down, right. Her feet started to hurt. Her legs were screaming. Her throat was dry. She sat for a moment, taking off her boots again and continuing. Left, right, up, up, left. She heard a noise. A whimper. She blinked, looking around. She placed her ear and a hand to the wall as she walked, trying to find the source of the noise. Maybe there was a hidden wall somewhere. The noise turned from a whimper to a huff to a grunt to a… a snore? She blinked, leaning against the wall with her body. The wall gave way, causing her to stumble into a room, filled with bags and chests full of coins and jewels. She looked around, ignoring the shiny gems and diamonds that twinkled at her in juicy temptation. She stepped over expensive silks, passed long-lost lore that would have given her more gold in this room. She stopped when she came up to a small beast, nestled in a pile of fabric. It was a dog. It had a long but curly tail and a pushed in face. It was tan on the body and brown in the face. It twitched and groaned, having puppy dreams. The Princess fell in love immediately. She sniffed and slowly reached down to pet the dog’s head. It snorted and opened its eyes, looking up at her. It barked and wagged its tail.
“Ohhhhh,” The Princess cried through a smile. The dog got up, stretching out and shaking itself awake. The dog was about a head taller than the Princess but still seemed to be a puppy. It barked again. The Princess stood up.
The dog barked.
“…I… I can understand you?”
The dog barked twice and wagged its tail.
“So… This would be like my mother and her bird friend?”
The dog huffed and sat down, grunting at her.
“I see… Well… I don’t know why you’re here, but I have to do a thing. So we should keep moving.”
They left the room, the dog right behind her. Left, right, left, right, left, left, left, up. The dog noticed the Princess getting tired, so they stopped walking and yipped. The Princess turned around and looked back at them.
“Are you sure?” she asked. The dog barked again and laid down. Hesitant, the Princess slowly got on the dog’s back. The dog slowly stood up and barked before taking off down the hall in a sprint. The Princess held on tightly to the dog’s fur, her legs and feet starting to relax. The dog ran for miles down this hall. It felt like hours before the dog slid to a halt in front of an entrance. The Princess looked up. A giant, round room was before them. In the middle of the floor was a well. How to get there seemed to the be problem because there was no floor, it seemed. The Princess hopped down and walked to the edge of the hallway. She peeked over the edge. The darkness seemed to go down for forever. Up, however… A single beam of light came down from the shaft, illuminating the well. The princess looked around, before shrugging and gathering the last of her spit and spitting to the darkness. It landed as if there was a floor. She slowly touched her foot onto the darkness, gasping at the fact there seemed to be something solid there. She slowly started to place her full weight on the invisible floor. It started to shake.
“Noooo,” she squeaked, rushing across the floor. She clutched onto the well when she made it to the platform. She took a deep breath, looking over at her new friend. The barked and wagged their tail.
“Thanks…” She slowly stood up, looking into the well. She pulled on the rope, bringing up the rather small bucket full of water. Her throat started to scream for long sip, but her legs carried her back over to her new companion.
“Here,” she said, setting the bucket between the dog’s feet. The size of the dog’s feet and the bucket were comical. The dog whined, looking at the bucket and back at the Princess.
“Positive,” she said, reaching up and rubbing its head. The dog took one lap from the bucket, emptying it. The Princess laughed, before a loud noise from the well startled her. The platform that held the well started to move up, revealing another platform that extended to the hallway. The Princess and her companion quickly moved onto the platform, riding it as far it could go. The light that came from the ceiling that had illuminated the well was closed, now that the well had perfectly fit into it. Still, the platform kept going up and up, the ceiling opening up to sunshine. The Princess and her friend flinched and closed their eyes, trying not to get blinded by the sun. She slowly opened her eyes, looking around at their surroundings.
They were standing in the middle of garden. Big bright and colorful flowers surrounded the two. Birds chirped and smaller critters scrambled across the grass. Down the walkway, there was natural fence made up of trees that had a well placed hole in the middle. It showed the mountains that was Yelrisa. The Princess smiled as she looked through the hole, seeing the procession of her mother and the King head back to the kingdom. Her heart and stomach suddenly felt heavy and anxious.
There was a giggle. The Princess and her companion turned around, watching a figure disappear behind a bush. The followed quickly, trying to stay on the trail of the figure’s royal blue train. They had disappeared into a maze, getting lost trying to find the person laughing and singing.
The two found themselves standing in front of a god. They stood 14 feet tall, covered from head to toe in a royal blue hooded robe that covered their eyes. They hummed quietly, arms stretched out to greet a family of little green birds.
“O, little Aife Mujahida,” they boomed, their ruby-red lips shining like freshly spilled blood in the sun. Their moved their body, their robes looking swirling like a calm river in the late spring. The Princess immediately fell to her knees. The god laughed.
“There is no need to kneel, little one. Please stand, we are equal here. However, you must hurry. Your life is no longer about numbers, letters and joy. You will endure heartache, betrayal and vengeance before you must take the seat that was stolen twice before you. O sweet Aife, you will find yourself at the end of your wits even though you are so still so very young. Take the lessons of war and defense, of distrust and unapologetic love, of self-preservation and taking care of others to heart, O dear one. You are the one to bring the cloud of destruction down and cleanse this world with the fires of compassion, understanding and swift justice. Please, O Aife, don’t let the fires and the blood of your home, of your past, keep you down. You must and WILL overcome those lessons, lest you end up like she and he.”
Princess Aife looked up as this giant deity towered over her. They reached up, pulling back the hood, revealing eyes that looked like the night sky, stars and all. They smiled, picking up Aife in their arms, a giant hand cupping her small face.
“Be strong, vulnerable and, most importantly, be you, Aife Mujahida. The world of Melaeye needs your spirit at this time. Trust the hawk and the owl. They will help you build your own realm.”
They set Aife onto their companion. They draped a long sleeve over the two, blessing them and dressing them in grey and green colors. Aife suddenly had a large stick on her back.
“This weapon shall grow with you. It shall be brazened with your vengeance and truth. It strike down those before you and they will be blown away as ash. Your companion and friend knows the way home. Please hurry. You won’t make it in time, but she will have the last say.”
They pointed to the hole in the fence. Yelrisa was on fire. Aife gasped.
“How do I get there from here?”
The god smiled and turned into a gust of wind. Aife’s companion took off in a sprint toward the hole, jumping through it like a circus trick. They fell hundreds of feet, the wind gently carrying them to the kingsroad. When they landed, the wind danced away as loose leaves.
Aife and her companion took off toward the fiery kingdom.