“Do you understand your task?” the king asked. I bottled up my fear and bowed my head solemnly. The king nodded, his features relaxing. Even though I had worked closely with him for almost two years, he was still intimidating. Perhaps it had something to do with his cold, blue-gray eyes or his demeaning gaze. Maybe it was how he spoke slowly and softly, making one feel like a child who had broken his mother’s favorite vase.
I’m told he wasn’t always like this. He once had a queen and a young son who would have been about my age had he survived the Great Edgehollow Fire. It happened many years ago. From what I’ve been told, the queen wanted to take a vacation out of Riverhall. She said that no one ever visited Riverhall and no one ever left. It was boring, and she wasn’t wrong. The king saw reason in her words and reluctantly agreed. Unfortunately, the day before the royal family planned to leave Riverhall, something urgent came up that needed the king’s attention. He told his wife and son to go ahead without him while he stayed in Riverhall to finish his work. Although she was unsure, the queen agreed and set out in the royal carriage with her son.
They arrived in Edgehollow late at night and made their way to Indigo Castle to stay the night with the royal family of Edgehollow. After a good night’s sleep, they got back in the carriage to go to their final destination, Rose District, Edgehollow. Rose District was a beautiful tourist attraction. The air smelt like flowers and not one piece of trash littered the streets. It was a friendly place, the opposite of Riverhall. Perhaps too good to be true. The queen and her son reached Rose District in the afternoon and decided to do some sight-seeing. They visited the North Plaza and tried the famous rose gelato. All in all, a very fun day.
The royals went to bed with a smile on their faces. But when they woke up, that smile immediately turned into a frown.
“Your Highness! Your Highness! Come quickly!”
“What? Is everything all right?”
“We’ve received word that there’s a fire in North Plaza. It is spreading quickly and we must leave!” the queen woke up to a knight telling her the dreadful news. She immediately roused her son and they left Rose District behind. As they were making their way to the Edgehollow border, they were stopped by one of Indigo Castle’s knights.
“Wait, wait! Stop the carriage! I have a message from Queen Helena! She and the other members of the royal family have made it out safely. But you are in danger. The fire has reached the border already.” the knight panted.
“Well then, we certainly cannot continue this way, and we do not know any other route back to Riverhall.” the young prince stammered.
“I know, that is why I’m here. I know a route, east of the Platinum Gate, crossing through the meadow. I can take you there.” the knight responded. They agreed and turned around, hoping that this knight knew his way back.
Meanwhile, the queen of Riverhall had already fallen asleep in the carriage and did not hear the conversation with the knight. She awoke to a distant rumbling sound. Surprisingly, no one else had heard it yet.
“Stop the carriage!” the queen ordered. Almost immediately, the vehicle was brought to a screeching stop, and the queen gingerly stepped out into the fresh air.
“What is it, Queen Caroline?” a soldier asked. The queen sniffed the air. A distinct tinge of ash.
“I hear it. The fire. It is coming towards us. Why are we going on a different path?” the Queen inquired. As her soldiers explained what had happened, she felt a sinking feeling in her stomach. We won’t make it, she thought.
Suddenly the prince felt a jolt and he lurched forward in his seat.
“ALEX!!!!” the queen shouted, throwing herself at the falling carriage.”
“I’m alright, mum.” the prince responded. The queen sighed.
“It seems like one of the wheels has fallen off. I don’t think we will be able to make it any farther by carriage,” the Indigo Castle knight announced. “We will have to go on foot.”
“Look at the queen! It is not healthy for her to go on foot in her condition,” the handmaiden countered. And she wasn’t wrong. The queen was going to give birth to her second child any day now.
“No, Margaret, I can do it,” the queen said to her handmaiden. “We need to get out of here.” So they walked. And walked. And walked. Right into the fire’s deadly jaws.
By that time, the king of Riverhall had heard the news of the fire and was contemplating how to save his wife and son. Unfortunately, it was too late.
The fire surrounded them, leaving them trapped in a box of flames. Every second, the fire inched closer and closer. Only the Indigo Castle Knight survived to tell the tale.
He never discussed how he survived, but people had made guesses. There were rumors about him for months. He is dead now but will be forever remembered.
I understand the king’s attitude toward this. I too have lost someone I loved. My sister was one of the dead in the Edgehollow Fire. She was there to visit Rose District as well. It was tourist season and Rose District was very populated. I would give anything to see my sister again just one more time. I need her guidance and love. Her sweet smile and sparkling blue eyes. But of course, I’m not allowed to grieve. Riverhall doesn’t have a single graveyard. According to our government, allowing people to grieve stops them from working and being productive. So every time someone dies here, their body gets shipped to another city to be buried or cremated.
I know, it’s pretty gloomy here. People don’t visit Riverhall very often. It’s a small town, and everyone knows everyone else. When there’s someone new here, the king sends soldiers to spy on them and make sure they don’t mean any harm.
People say Riverhall is a terrible place, but to me, it’s just home. I’ve gotten used to the cold and gloomy atmosphere here. Riverhall has two seasons. We call them Sarc and Lise. Sarc is the season of disaster. We get earthquakes, hurricanes, and floods. It’s extremely rainy.
Lise, on the other hand, is beautiful. Everything is coated in a layer of snow and it is when we have our biggest holiday, Zian. Zian is celebrated by every district I’ve heard of. It is one of the only things that makes Riverhall a bit less gloomy.
I didn’t sleep the night after I got my task from the king. I kept thinking about it. He wanted me to capture and kill Blue. Blue was the most famous criminal in Riverhall and beyond. We didn’t have his picture, fingerprint, or any information about him. We didn’t even know his real name. Many assassins had been tasked with the same thing as me and failed. Blue was smart. He had spies watching the king’s every move. By this time, he must have already found out I’m after him.
The next morning, I started to come up with a plan. There was no way I could do this alone. But what if I didn’t have to.
I found myself in the king’s court at 3 pm. I twiddled with my fingers as I waited for him. What if he said no, and thought I was just complaining. He’d have me executed! But that was a chance I had to take.
“Azalea, you had something to tell me?” the king called to me. I hadn’t even noticed he was talking to me. I was too lost in my thoughts.
“Yes, Your Majesty, I wanted to bring an issue to your attention. This task you’ve given me- killing Blue, it is a very difficult task to achieve on my own. Could Zayn and Andre perhaps join me in this mission?” I stammered. Zayn and Andre were the other two assassins the king had hired. Unfortunately, they were usually never assigned a job. I was always the king’s first pick. I guess it’s a good thing, but it was too much work for me to do alone.
“Zayn and Andre, hmm? Well...I don’t see why not. You will leave two days from now. Zayn, Andre, come here, I’d like to have a word.” the king responded. I stood in silence watching as my colleagues strolled up to the king, shooting me scornful looks as they went. I didn’t know what the king said to them, but it was none of my business.
I stepped outside into the pounding rain and sighed. Soon, Zayn and Andre joined me.
“Hey! Azalea! What was that for?” Andre called. I didn’t respond.
“She’s a girl, she obviously can’t handle it on her own!” Zayn replied. They both laughed. I felt rage rise inside me, but I still didn’t say a word.
Before I knew it, it was time to leave. I packed some dried food and water in my bag, along with my silver bracelet from my sister. I met Zayn and Andre outside the palace as we prepared to leave. It was still raining hard.
“Hey, look who’s finally here! Took you long enough!” Zayn sneered. I rolled my eyes. I was used to this kind of treatment from them.
“I bet she was doing her makeup and hair as all girls do. Who are you trying to impress, huh?” Andre remarked. I felt my fingers curl into fists. That was enough.
“Don’t you dare stereotype me! I’m starting to regret bringing you along!” I yelled and punched Andre in the face as hard as I could. His hand went straight to his nose. When he pulled it away, I saw that his nose was bleeding. He glared at me, but he shut up.
“Oh sweetheart, this is just the beginning. You’ll be spending a lot of time with us. Get used to it, or I’ll make you regret what you just did to Andre..” Zayn warned. We were off to a great start. If I was lucky, I’d have to spend at least three months with these two. I sighed and thought about my sister. What would she say? Probably something like,
“When we get put in the worst situations, we have to hope for the best and plan for the worst.” I smiled at the thought of her. With her by my side, I could overcome anything.