Author's Note: This is part three of my Reedsy-cast series, The Guilds of Atmos. There are a few new characters and Guilds introduced in this part, more detail in the comment below. If I haven't gotten to your character in this part, I promise I will in the next. Thanks so much to the person helping me plan this series that prefers not to be named. And it applies to the prompts because there are spirits. Thanks for reading!
The Court of Elders sits around a large oval-shaped wooden table, the scars and knots on the wood under their fingertips tell a story, Atmos’s story. Only the ignorant think of trees as thoughtless beings, everyone knows they are the most ancient, stoic statues. They watch as everything passes by; the evolution of the Guilds, magic, and time itself. Their lifetimes outlast ours by centuries.
The Elders are the only ones that can even begin to compete with the knowledge of the trees. Their ancestors have watched over the city, setting the law and maintaining order, since the very beginning. Today, as they meet around the table in the cavernous room at the center of Dragonspire Palace, their shared residence with the Artists Guild.
The head of the Elders, and by extension the ruler of all of Atmos, calls the meeting to a start.
“As you must already know, we are gathered here today to discuss an important upcoming event, the Choosing Day,” Adela announces, her regal voice echoing across the spacious room. Her twin daughters, Sia and Karina, sit by her side, poised postures and silenced mouths. Sia’s chocolate brown hair is braided back in an intricate design pinned with jewels, and Karina’s violet hair is twisted in an elegant bun on her head. Matching silver tiaras sit on their heads, marking them as children of royalty.
“By the looks of it, everything is in order for the gathering tomorrow. Remember, at this is time, with all guilds gathered together and competing for positions, it is crucial to display an image of unity,”
“Lady Adela, has the perpetrator inside the walls been caught yet? It is surely dangerous to have a criminal lose inside the walls,” Jade asks, a child of another one of the Elders, hoping to one day officially join the court.
She is silenced with a glare, but Lady Adela continues on, answering her question.
“The guards have no report on that at the moment. The incident is not to be mentioned outside these walls. The Warriors Guild has been told the warning was just a fluke in the defenses. Not a real breach.”
“What about the Warrior girl Nainika? She still seems suspicious of the incident,” Izzie asks, an observant leader-in-training. Her waist-length platinum hair gleams in the low lighting, reflecting light across her honey-colored skin.
“That’s nothing to worry about, she’ll be taken care of. Give it time,” Adela’s voice has an ominous undertone, chilling the room in a matter of seconds.
“The Choosing Day is Atmos’s most important tradition, I am trusting all of you to make sure everything runs smoothly.”
They all nod along, doing anything else would be unthinkable.
The next day, the Elders stand in a line on the marble stairs of Dragonspire Palace. In front of them, the Guilds talk amongst themselves, their varying personalities making for interesting conversation. The contrast in a beautiful way, like a thousand different colors of paint, swirled together.
For the last week, the children of Atmos have been training, trying out a position in the three guilds they strive to be a part of the most. Trainers from each of the guilds report back performance scores to the Elders. By the end of the week, on their Choosing Day, each member-to-be has a short interview with the Elders. If they pass, which is most likely to happen, they join the guild of their choice. If they fail, they are forever in debt to the Elders, serving them as servants and performers in the Jesters Guild.
Adela clears her throat, handing off her staff for Sia to hold before she addresses the crowd.
“Timber, please come forward for your interview. Pass and you’ll be admitted to the Artists Guild, fail and you’ll be stuck with the Jesters until the day you die.”
A girl with dark hair and bottle-green eyes hesitantly emerges from the masses. A silence settles over the crowd as the first victim walks through the front doors of the palace. It only lasts for a few seconds, the tranquility, before the buzz of the masses continues.
Lily acts as an escort, guiding the children to the room where their interview is conducted. Being one of the most trusted Warriors, the Elders don’t hesitate to put their lives in her hands. She proved herself a loyal soldier years ago, making them bend the rules for her. Deciding not to shut down her secret services when they found out.
On the eastern side of the town square, the Artists guild watches, silently cheering on the girl in the spotlight. They have dressed in their finest robes and cloaks for the event, Ame’s attire a deep purple adorned with gems and Emerald’s a silky pine green.
Luna has her sketchbook tucked under her arm again, ready to jot down a thought or sketch a daydream at a moment’s notice.
“Do you think she’ll make it?” Ame asks, watching Timber disappear through the heavy oak doors.
“I would count on it,” Luna replies, softly smiling, “I’ve seen her around town a lot, and she played for me. Her music is remarkable.”
“You could do a duet with her, playing the violin. And I could join you on the piano,” Varsha suggests, fingering a loose thread on her berry-colored robes.
A few minutes later Timber emerges outside again, a relieved smile lighting up her face. She passed, becoming the newest member of the Artists Guild.
Ivy walks up to her, greeting her and pulling her toward their packed group. The crowd watches them again, clearing the way for a path as Ivy leads the way. Now that one trial has been passed, the crowd turns back toward the palace, awaiting the next name called.
Akshaya is up next, a girl with straight black hair and dark eyes, aiming for a place in the Writers Guild. Similar to the first trial, the moments she spends inside the building are filled with tension. Luke, Sapphire, B, and Annebelle whisper amongst themselves, anxiously awaiting the announcement that decides the girl’s fate.
“Do you still remember your trial?” Sapphire asks, wrapping her indigo cloak tightly around herself to shield herself from the harsh wind.
“Of course,” Luke says, “I’m glad I chose the guild I did, I miss Mira sometimes being in separate guilds, but writing seems to be my destiny.”
Sapphire nods along, “Same with Ame, it feels like we’ve drifted off a little since our Choosing Days.”
“Remember it’s about where we fit best,” B states, playing with a lock of her hazel hair, “It was never much of a choice, we choose the future that belongs to us.”
When the doors are pushed open again, and Akshaya walks out proudly gazing down at the crowd, Annabelle welcomes her into their group. Introducing her to each member of the new generation of scribes.
Nevada and Sarah pass their interviews in turn, both of them finding their place in the Explorer’s Guild, welcomed by Meg and Jay. Judging by the wondrous expressions on each of their faces, both girls are dreaming about their upcoming trips out into the Unknown. The journey is a dangerous one, but the Explorers haven’t lost hope of completing their mission yet. They still hold on to the belief that another city is out there flourishing, no matter how faint it may be.
Almost every name has been crossed off the list in Adela’s hand by now, boys and girls of all different talents passing in and out of the palace.
The Warriors Guild paces restlessly at the front of the crowd, armed with an assortment of metal blades. Katelyn, Carolina, and Sophie lean against the railing keeping the crowd contained, their cloaks shedded and draped across the bars.
Meanwhile, Nainika stands at the far corner, preparing Julian and Draco, Celeste’s brother, for their test. Both boys trained with her for over a year now, apprenticing her in the hope that one day they would become a defender of Atmos.
Nainika seems on edge, unlike her usual collected demeanor. She keeps her voice low, cautious not to let it carry far.
“Are you sure you’re ready for this? You don’t have to do this, you’ll be putting yourself in harm’s way,” she warns.
“I’m ready, this shouldn’t be too hard,” Julian says confidently, stroking the pet black panther he’ll be leaving at the Warriors Guild when he takes the trial. The thick midnight-black fur weaves through his fingers in waves. Draco, holding tightly to Celeste’s hand and gripping his sword, nods tensely.
Isaac stands to the side, also worried about his younger brother. Brooke murmurs assurances, trying to put him at ease, but the words don’t register.
“Isaac, try not to worry, you brother has been training for years. He’s ready for this,” Brooke says, gently. Her eyes flitting between the brothers.
“I just don’t know if I could live with myself if he got caught,” Isaac replies, lost in his nightmares.
Nainika calls them all in, and they huddle in a tight circle. She drops her voice even lower, if at all possible as she says the next words, “Remember the plan. Once you’re inside, under no circumstance should you reveal what you came for. Stay quiet, under the weather, never give anyone any reason to suspect you.”
“It’s okay, Celeste,” Draco whispers, trying to reassure her, “Staying hidden is one of my talents.”
“We’ll watch over each other,” Julian agrees, patting Isaac on the shoulder to snap him out of his trance. He twirls a spear in his hand, the blade cutting through the crisp, icy air.
As if on cue, Adela steps up for the last announcement.
“Julian and Draco, please come forward for the trial that will determine which guild you call home. Pass and you will work with the Warriors Guild, fail and you will serve the city as Jesters forever.”
The boys jog up the polished stone steps and disappear inside solemnly. No one talks for the next few moments, instead they stare at the doors, unable to look away.
Isaac wrings his hands and Brooke pulls on her hair, as Nainika continues pacing.
When Adela receives word of how the trial went, and she clears her throat to speak one more time, the entire city holds their breath.
“The Jesters Guild now has two new members, Arwen please show them to their positions,” she says, as a servant girl with wavy blonde hair and blue eyes comes forward. She is dressed in simple clothes, unlike the extravagant robes the rest of the town wears. A Jester.
She gestures for the boys to follow her to the edge of the stage, where they are ready to cater to the Elders every need. The town might have expected the boys to burst into tears or beg the Elders to reconsider, but they only smile as they take their places.
From down below, Nainika smiles and discreetly nods at them. Step one of the plan, complete.
Outside the wall, deep underground beneath the endless sand of the Unknown, the Obsidian Hand has plans of their own to take down the Elders, to tell Atmos the truth about their world.
Micheal leads Billien down the hall to the meeting they’ve been instructed to attend. The tunnels are dark and mysterious, rumored to be the home of the Unsettled. Spirits that weren’t content with the lifetime they spent on the ground, their souls forever wandering, haunting the world of the living.
Not to be confused with the Spirits the Prophets talk to, the controllers of fate. Those Spirits are collected and powerful, the future of the universe held in their hands. The Unsettled, they’re nothing.
“What was it you told them, again?” Micheal asks, glancing to his side. He wears a long dark cloak, the hood covering his curly brown hair. A pet scorpion rests on his soldier, menacingly clicking its pincers.
“That I’m out mapping the Unknown,” Billien replies shortly, never having got along with his fellow partners in crime very well. Preferring the company of his best friend back in Atmos.
“Lucky thing you choose the Explorers then, you have the most convenient excuse to leave Atmos,” he says, factually.
“Obviously, I made that choice fully understanding the effects. I left the Inventors for a reason,” Billien’s eyes look a little distant as he says this, no doubt remembering his choosing day, two years ago.
Richly colored robes in every shade, a shining steeple, fragile tension. Adela again, her voice magnified by a small charm. Reading out names.
Standing beside Danny as they both waited, seconds merging into hours. Their hands tucked deep into their pockets, struggling to keep from shivering. His robes a sea green and hers a marigold yellow.
Name after name. Passing in and out of their ears, neither of them daring to speak more than a few words. Waiting. Then finally,
Watching her make her way slowly through the crowd. Holding his breath for the few minutes she spent behind the intimidating doors. Letting out the breath as she came back out, smiling brightly. Congratulating her for making it into the Inventors Guild, even though he always knew she would.
Then his name was called. His worn leather boots echoing as he made his way down the palace halls, careful not to scratch the floors. Making a good impression with the Elders was everything.
Starting his interview with a brave statement, asking to switch guilds. To join the Explorers, knowing it was his ticket to outside the walls. His only way to help the Obsidian Hand make real change.
Emerging back into the chilly outdoor air, hundreds of people turning to watch him. Adela’s voice, terrifying in its beauty, “Billien, the newest member of the Explorers.”
Danny’s face falling into shock, and after that, when the shock wore off, betrayal. Her best friend chose to leave her. She didn’t look back after that, not to tell him goodbye or wish him luck, she turned away.
Billien and Micheal eventually make their way to the door and pull it open, revealing two figures huddled inside, Tiffany and Jasey.
Jasey sits on a chair at the metal table, tugging on her ebony-black and violet hair. Her eyes are squinted in concentration, making an attempt to connect her mind with another. Being a Prophet before she left Atmos for the Obsidian Hand, she is the most intune with whispers.
“There, that’s it. I entered his mind,” she tells the onlookers, hands clenched together, her complete attention on the task at hand.
“Can you hear him?” Tiffany asks, her eyes wild and filled with curiosity, “Ask him if he made it inside.”
“Where are you?” Jasey murmurs quietly, her voice echoing throughout his mind. Using their rare telepathic powers to communicate from city to city.
“I entered Atmos a few days ago, with barely any struggle,” Ethan replies, sending a message back to her, “I’m outside the palace right now, preparing to enter at nightfall.”
“Be careful,” she tells him, concern lacing her voice.
“Of course, this should be complete in no time,” he says.
“And when the first step is over, what then?” he may have gotten inside the walls, but they still have so much more ahead.
“Once I do what I came for, we free the people of Atmos,” that’s always been the goal of the Obsidian Hand. It’s what she signed up for, Jasey reminds herself.
“See you soon.”
“In no time at all.”
“The plan is ready to go, right on schedule,” Jasey speaks aloud, summarizing the conversation for those not inside her head.
“It’s all in his hands now,” Tiffany says, “Let’s wish him luck.”
Billien nods, his eyes sparked with anticipation. Silently praying that Atmos won’t be ruined for what they have done, that once Danny finds out what he has done, she can find a way to forgive him.
“There’s only one thing left to do now, wait. Let’s enjoy the peace while it lasts because once this erupts, things won’t be the same again.”