Zamzahdu, or Central City as most of the fae called it then, was exactly what its namesake proclaimed: the city at the center of the faerie kingdom. The large oak tree that housed it was said to have been there since the creation of the world itself, and its size alone was perfect for the numerous faeries who lived there. And for faeries who wanted to move there.
Which is why it was a perfect choice for Jaketa, a healing faerie, who had decided to move from the country. Currently, having just moved in, she felt just a little intimidated by the amount of faeries that there actually were in the city, but tried to be a little more at ease as she looked for her friend, Basil, on the ground level. Being a good friend of hers, he was the whole reason she had decided to move there, and it had been so long since she had last seen him. Looking around at all the faeries and all the shops, Jaki's head felt like it was going to burst from the effect of the different atmosphere. I hope I find Basil soon... I feel so lost... she thought to herself.
As if he'd heard her thoughts, a shout came from near the central fountain.
"Jaks! Over here!"
Basil waved at her, standing on the rim of the fountain so she could see him. Being one of the royal servants, he was easy to spot in his uniform amongst the other, more common fae. His hair and wings made it easy too; Basil was one of a handful of gray faeries that lived in Central City. One of the few who had no magic.
Jaketa's head snapped toward the sound of his voice and all at once her face lit up. Springing toward him, she happily embraced her good friend.
"Oh, Basil! It's so good to see you again!" she exclaimed, all her worries of the city momentarily vanishing.
"You too, Jaks," he said, smiling at her. He was the only one who ever called her that.
"So, do you know where your new home is? Or do you need to visit the housing agency? I have to be back at the palace by noon, so I can't stay long."
"Yes, I know where it is," she smiled, although seemed a little disappointed that they weren't going to have very long to catch up. "It's nice here Basil, I think I'm going to like it here... of course I'm going to have to get used to how busy everything seems..."
Jaki laughed, running a hand through her shoulder-length purple curls. Really, she hoped that it wouldn't bee too hard adjusting. She knew that she wasn't exactly the most quick-witted faerie out there. Well, with Basil there to help her out, it couldn't be too difficult, right? Basil joined in her laughter.
"It's not as hectic as it all looks, I assure you," he said, shaking his head. "What level are you on? I'll take you there before I go back to work. Maybe we can have dinner together later this evening, if I can slip away for a while."
The gray faerie reached for her bags to help her carry them.
"Level forty-two," she explained, hopeful now that he would indeed be able to join her for dinner.
"Thanks, Basil, I really appreciate the help," she then told him, reaching for her bags as well. Honestly, Jaki wondered how much more difficult this would be without him. She quite literally barely knew anything about the city. It was so big she had nearly gotten lost finding her way here!
As they started their way to her new home, Jaketa, aiming to start a nice conversation, asked, "So, how is life working at the palace?"
"Only a little more strenuous than usual," he said as he guided her towards one of the lifts. "The queen is trying to pressure Prince Safron into searching for a wife. Naturally, he's very resistant to almost everything she insists he do."
"Naturally," the purple-haired faerie agreed with a nod, giving a small sigh. "I could only imagine how frustrating it must be to have a limitation on things such as who you can love..."
"And what you can wear, and where you can go... poor Safron has his entire life scheduled and monitored. My job is helping him got through his day-to-day activities without losing his mind."
Basil told the lift operator they wanted level forty-two, and she nodded pleasantly as she set the dial for the level they needed. He gave Jaki a hand inside, and as the gate was shut, he turned to her with a curious grin.
"You've never ridden a lift before, have you?"
Poor Safron, indeed... Jaketa couldn't help but feel a little sorry for him, and thinking about how unfair and restricted his life must be, her mind started to wander on the subject. She almost didn't hear Basil's question, blinking back to alertness at the sound of his voice.
"Hm? Oh... no, no I haven't..."
When the lift suddenly lurched to life, even if it wasn't a violent jerk in the slightest, her eyes went wide and she wobbled on her feet slightly, catching her balance before she stumbled and then looked embarrassed, her cheeks going red.
"Wasn't expecting that..." Jaki admitted, laughing sheepishly. Basil laughed, leaning against the railing as they rode upwards.
"Don't really need these in the country, huh? It makes more sense than trying to fly everywhere, especially when there are a hundred levels to Central City. Just remember the coloring: all lifts go to ground; red lifts travel between levels one and twenty-five; yellow lifts (like this one) travel between levels twenty-six and fifty; green travel between fifty-one and seventy-five; violet covers all the rest. The only exceptions are the silver lifts; they go directly to the palace and can only be used if you have a key to operate them. You'll see one or two on every level."
"Yeah..." she breathed in agreement, trying to commit what he said to memory.
"Red from one to twenty-five; yellow from twenty-six to fifty; green from fifty-one to seventy-five; and violet for all the rest." Jaki mumbled, repeating it to herself, closing her eyes for a moment to herself. Repeating it again, this time in her mind, she nodded to herself, smiling and opening her eyes.
"I think I can remember that!"
It wasn't long after she said that that the lift came to a halt on their floor and the gate opened. Jaketa thanked the lift operator as they stepped off of the mechanism.
"Oh, and all the lift operators leave after sunset," Basil add as their operator took the lift back down. "But it's easy enough to do on your own, if you need to."
He looked around the rows of small houses.
"So, which number is yours?"
"Number sixty-three," she responded, looking down them as well, only stopping for a moment before started to walk down the rows in search for the specified house. It didn't take very long to find, it, either. Soon Jaketa pointed one out happily and headed over to it.
"Ah, here it is!" she exclaimed, opening the door when she got to it and quickly stepping inside, excited to get a look at where she'd be staying from then on.
"It's just lovely!" she admired happily, placing what bags she was carrying down on the floor before going to further examine the building.
"It looks like you got a nice, one-fae home," Basil remarked as he looked around himself. "Bedroom, washroom, and a kitchen with a fireplace. Very nice."
The gray faerie looked over at the clock on the wall.
"Ah, I have to get going. The queen won't be happy if I'm late again."
Jaki's happiness faded to sadness as the other fae explained he needed to get going, but nevertheless she smiled at him.
"Alright... well hopefully I'll see you later tonight then! I'm still just so glad to see you, Basil."
"Don't stay holed all day, alright?" he called as he left. "Go to market; meet some people."
"Alright, alright!" the female faerie laughed a response, watching as he shut the door behind him. Sighing, she looked around her and then put her hands on her hips.
"Well, I guess I should get myself settled before heading out to market. I wonder if I'll make some nice friends when I do!"
Her eyes lighting up, she quickly went about unpacking her things. Jaki probably worked on this for about an hour or so before she finally decided she had done enough for the day and left her new home, heading Basil's advice.
As she headed to a lift to bring her down to the market, she thought to herself, Well, , if I don't meet some nice people, at the very least I'll learn my way around a little better...
Soon, the lift she had boarded came to a halt on the ground level and, thanking the operator yet again, she exited the lift and started off into the market. This time, since she wasn't looking specifically for Basil, she'd try to absorb other faces and surroundings.
There were plenty to absorb! A whole rainbow of faeries was milling about the marketplace, chatting, shopping, and generally going about their business. A few bumped into Jaki, but made no comment whatsoever about it, as if she wasn't even there.
As interesting as the city was, Jaki was starting to feel a little dizzy. Practically stumbling into a bookshop that she came across half because she was curious and half because she just wanted to get away from the crowd, Jaki gave a small sigh of relief as she entered the much less crowded shop. Either those city faeries out there were very busy or just didn't know common courtesy, because those individuals who bumped into her didn't even give so much as an excuse me! It was a little unnerving.
"Can I help you?"
The shopkeeper was staring at Jaki, midway through placing a book on one of the shelves. Her deep red hair was enough to give her away as one of the fire fae, and in truth she seemed a little annoyed by the new customer.
"We're just about to close for a while for lunch..."
"I'm sorry," the healing faerie apologized sadly. "I didn't realize... I just moved here from the country and don't really know my way around. I'm not looking for anything in particular right now... was really just trying to get out of the crowd..."
Jaketa sighed. She felt like she was making a whole bunch of mistakes without Basil around to help her, and just plain didn't know what in the world she was doing. Embarrassed, she almost wished she had stayed holed up inside.
Turning to retreat back outside, she apologized again, "I'm sorry for bothering you, I'll leave."
"No, no, no. You don't have to leave."
The faerie climbed down from the ladder she was on.
"If it's just refuge you're looking for, you're welcome to stay. Just excuse me while I lock the doors; you can join me for lunch."
Turning back around to look at the owner of the bookstore, Jaki beamed, pleasantly surprised by the offer.
"Thank you so much! That's very nice of you!"
Maybe she wasn't making as many mistakes as she thought...that or she was just overreacting. Maybe the city fae were much busier than she was used to in the country, but that didn't necessarily mean that they were rude, did it?
"Oh, my name is Jaketa, by the way," she added, wondering if she was possibly on her way to making a new friend. The shopkeeper extended her hand in greeting.
"Ember," she said. "Wow, a nice, Rungweh name! I hear so few of those these days..."
She laughed, stepping behind the counter to retrieve her meal.
"Please, have a seat in one of the armchairs over there. I have plenty to share."
"It's nice to meet you, Ember," Jaketa responded cheerily as she shook Ember's hand before looking around and heading over to the specified armchairs. Taking a seat, she took a deep breath and sighed happily, closing her eyes for a moment.
"It's so nice in here..." she mused aloud. "Nice and quiet; I can actually hear myself think."
If there was anything she was going to have to get used to other than the hustle and bustle of city life, it was definitely the amount of noise that seemed to fill the place. Jaki had felt that it was almost as if the voices and sounds were actually going to engulf her. Regardless, she was sure she'd get used to it soon. Ember laughed, sitting in the armchair across from her.
"That's the idea: having a nice, peaceful place to sit back and read."
She handed Jaketa one half of her sandwich.
"So, you said you moved here from the country?"
Gratefully taking the food offered to her, Jaki nodded.
"Just today, in fact. I met up with my good friend Basil, who lives here, at the central fountain a few hours ago and he escorted me to my new house. He had to go back to work, though, and so I was left on my own to come out and hopefully meet a few new faces."
Laughing sheepishly, she admitted, "I personally don't think I'm very good at it, but I did manage to make your acquaintance, so I must be getting somewhere!"
She then took the opportunity to take a bite out of the sandwich half she was given.
"Basil..." Ember repeated, eating some of her sandwich while she thought. "No, I don't believe I know that name."
She shrugged, leaning further back into her chair.
"Did you know that there are exactly 41,029,173 different faerie names, excluding Common loan-words, so that no two fae ever have the same name at the same time? Fascinating, isn't it? I mean, my name is obviously borrowed from Common, but yours, Jaketa... such a lovely Rungweh name, and you were fortunate enough to have it before someone else claimed it! Marvelous, no?"
Jaki's eyes widened as she listened to Ember's explanation.
"That many names? No two having it at the same time? Goodness, that really is amazing..."
Thinking about the fact that she was the only fae in existence right now to own that name... that every fae was truly their own, individual being... it was so overwhelming she seemed to lose herself for a moment in her thoughts. For a moment Jaketa was completely silent, staring off into space, when suddenly she snapped back into attention.
"I am rather surprised you know such a thing, though, Ember..." she admitted, a little curious. "How were you able to find that out?"
Maybe it was her, but Jaki didn't think that such a precise number was exactly common knowledge. The other fae shrugged, as if it wasn't all that impressive.
"I read," she stated plainly. "Mostly old texts that need to be re-written in the modern script, occasionally scrolls that need to be written in Common. It's such a shame our own language is dying out in favor of a universal tongue. It's a bit depressing..."
Ember sighed, standing up and wandering over to the counter again.
"I completely forgot to pour us some drinks..."
Suddenly, there was a frantic knocking at the door of the shop. Another faerie, this one a young man with blonde hair, was tapping on the glass, motioning for Ember to let him in. She rolled her eyes.
"Go around back!" she shouted at him, pointing towards the back of the shop. He looked frustrated, but quickly vanished as he darted away from the door. Ember shook her head.
"Kloud: always getting into mischief."
Her eyes following the blonde faerie until he vanished, Jaketa looked back over to Ember again, looking just as questioning as before.
"Kloud?" she repeated. "Is he a friend of yours?"
Sure, it was a question with a rather obvious answer, but it didn't hurt to ask. For all she knew he could be a relative or something.
"You could say we're something like acquaintances," Ember began to explain when from the back, Kloud reappeared. Pausing to catch his breath, the faerie removed the pince-nez he wore and rubbed it with the cuff of his sleeve.
"That was a close one, eh?" he asked Ember, as if she'd known what he was running from. "I swear, that damn baker has it out for me!"
"Seeing as you've robbed him twice, it doesn't surprise me."
Ember frowned, folding her arms across her chest.
"What did you take this time?"
Kloud held up his arms in defense, returning the small glasses to his face.
"I ain't take nothing this time, really! I was just paying for what I took last week!"
He hadn't even noticed that Ember had a guest. Stunned by Kloud's rushed behavior and Ember's seeming annoyance, Jaketa watched the conversation between the two, intrigued.
"Robbed the baker, twice..." she repeated quietly, thinking aloud. "Oh my..."
In all honesty, Jaki wasn't really sure what to do: sit there, be quiet, and wait, or (intentionally) speak up. She just hoped it wouldn't get awkward... that could sometimes happen when someone else unexpectedly entered the scene.
But Kloud finally noticed her.
"Oh," he said, straightening and taking off his hat. "My... eh... 'ello miss. Didn't see you there... eheh..."
He fiddled with his hat. Ember laughed.
"She doesn't bite, Kloud, and I doubt she'll turn you in. Goodness! Sit down, pouhe!"
He promptly plopped on the floor without another word.
Ember was right. In fact, rather than acting hostile or disproving, Jaketa laughed at Kloud's display, smiling widely as she introduced herself to him, as well.
"I'm Jaketa; I've just moved into the city."
Kloud leaned on his knees.
"Really now? Bet this is quite a change of pace for you. Name's Kloud."
He bowed his head again.
"Nice to meet you, Jaketa."
"It's nice to meet you too, Kloud," she responded, giving a small laugh and agreeing with him. "Yes... the country was nowhere near this full. I'm sure I'll adjust soon enough, though."
Jaketa felt like she had worried over how hard it would be learning to keep up with the city far too much today... and it wasn't really even extremely far into the day, either. In any case, the blonde fae seemed like a pretty nice guy, so far. Ember looked at the clock on the wall.
"Ezmawb!" she exclaimed. "I need to reopen soon."
Kloud jumped to his feet.
"Then I best be off. Wouldn't want any trouble if they saw me pop in here. Hey Jaketa, need a tour of town? For a few small gems, I'll take you around."
"Oh! I'd really like a tour, actually!" she replied, standing. Jaki didn't want to be in Ember's way while she was working, and she really did need to get to know the city a little better. All she really knew was where the castle, the market, and her house were located. And she really didn't seem to mind paying, either. In fact, she immediately began fishing in her pocket and pulled out a few small gems, just as Kloud had asked.
"Is this enough?"
He took the gems and carefully inspected them, squinting through his pince-nez.
"Perfect... these'll do nicely, thanks!"
Kloud quickly pocketed his pay.
"So, off we go! We'll start at the middle and work our way out from there!"
"All right!" Jaketa agreed cheerfully, turning toward Ember before they headed toward the door. "Thank you so much for the lunch, Ember. It was very nice meeting you!"
Hopefully, they'd even see each other again soon. Who knew? Maybe Jaki would be in need of a book in the near future.
"Don't get into too much trouble!" Ember called as they disappeared from the shop. Kloud jogged ahead, stopping at the central fountain.
"So, what do you know already, so I don't go repeating anything?" he asked. Jaketa thought for a moment.
"Let's see... I know that we're in the market, which is on the ground floor, I know which lifts go where, that the palace is on the top floor, and that my house is on level forty-two."
"Forty-two?" Kloud echoed. "Really? You got some nice digs then. Ember lives on level one so she's close to her shop, even though she could afford to live at level fifty if she wanted to."
He sat down on the edge of the fountain.
"Well, as you can see, this is the town center. If you read around the edge of the fountain, you'll see the direction you need to go to get to a particular kind of shop. I'm sitting on the bookstore, for example."
"Around the edge of the..." Jaketa repeated, trailing off as she examined the edge of the fountain, eyes going a little wide as she read a few of the directions that were listed. "I see! I'll keep that in mind in case I get lost!"
That really was a useful piece of information; she was already glad she had taken this tour. All of a sudden, a thought came to her and, turning to look at Kloud, she asked, "Say, where do you live?"
He had commented on her home and even Ember's... but he hadn't said anything about his own home. The blonde fae laughed a bit nervously.
"High enough to take a lift, low enough to fly," was his answer before he changed the subject back to the tour. "So, now that you see what's around town (and around the fountain), where would you like to visit first?"
Jaketa seemed confused by Kloud's answer, not really understanding what he meant. Maybe it was some sort of city expression...
Pondering over this for a moment, her mind was on the verge of escaping her yet again when he changed the subject, and she smiled.
"Oh... I don't know... um... how about the fairgrounds? They seemed like a fun place to go!"
"Heh, alright!" Kloud said, laughing as he led the way. "Not that there's much of interest there when there ain't festival or celebration going on, but it's nice enough on its own, I suppose."
The fairgrounds were just outside of the marketplace, in a section of the tree's roots that had cracked up, opening to the sky. Small flower gardens surround the field, but otherwise it was empty.
Kloud turned back to face Jaketa, arms outstretched.
"Well, here it is!"
And she seemed delighted by the emptiness. For a moment she just gazed up at the sky and, taking a deep breath, let it out slowly, for a moment almost imagining that she was back in the country again.
"It's nice out here," she commented, looking over at Kloud. "I can only imagine how festive it gets on times of celebration. I'm excited to find out!"
Kloud nodded, looking around himself, even though he was more acquainted with the place.
"Well, you'll find out soon enough. The queen's throwing another shin-dig to try and get her boy hitched... again. Pity really. Prince Safron should get to figure the love thing out at his own pace, you know?"
Sadly, Jaketa nodded.
"Yeah, my friend Basil, who works at the palace, told me how Prince Safron is being pressured into finding a wife... I think it's terrible that..."
Trailing off mid sentence (a bad habit of hers) the purple haired faerie noticed something on the blonde's right hip that caught her attention. Curious, she asked, gesturing toward the object, "Kloud, what's that you have there?"
The young man raised an eyebrow before looking towards where she had pointed. He quickly realized what she had meant and laughed, removing the metal hilt from his hip.
"Ah, this? This is my zehwelt. Don't they have these in the country?"
Jaki shook her head.
"No... well... if they do, it's not very common and I just haven't really noticed it."
Pausing, she asked sheepishly for good measure, "... What exactly is a zehwelt?"
She had heard the term before, but didn't exactly have a good grasp on the concept. Kloud shook his head, smiling as he held the hilt out in his fist, allowing a crackling blade of electric energy to materialize.
"Long story short, it's a sword made up of magical energy," he explained, demonstrating a few casual tricks. "The hilt allows me to focus my magic into something solid, making these very efficient (and easy to maintain) weapons."
Jaketa's eyes went wide, fascinated.
"Well isn't that interesting! I see... that must be very handy in case of an emergency. I can understand why you'd prefer that to carrying around an ordinary sword."
Kloud nodded, twirling the hilt in his hand for a moment before holding it out to her.
Jaketa blinked, surprised at the offer, but then hesitantly took hold of the hilt.
"Well I guess I could try..." she agreed, looking down at the object in her hand and then focusing her energy, trying to materialize it. A purple spark jumped to life on the hilt, but then flickered and vanished. Her face went red, embarrassed. Giving a laugh, she looked down at the item for a moment before handing it back.
"Well I tried, I guess it takes a bit of practice..."
"Quite a bit," Kloud agreed, returning the hilt to its place. The faerie rocked on his heels for a moment.
"So..." he began. "Wanna go visit your friend up at the palace? I know how to get us in..."
"Oh yes, I'd very much like to visit him!" Jaketa responded excitedly, but then paused, frowning slightly. "But... but is that even allowed?"
She didn't think that commoners were allowed to enter the palace... at least not unless they worked there, like Basil.
"Is it allowed..." Kloud echoed, chuckling as he headed towards the fairground lifts. "If you can ride a silver lift, you can enter the palace. Come on! I'm sure your friend will welcome the surprise."
"Well... I guess, if you say so..."
She had to admit, the prospect of seeing Basil was a bit too tempting, and she found herself following Kloud to the lifts. The fairground lifts were unattended, most likely because they weren't really used when there weren't any festivities happening. Kloud marched right up to the silver lift, pulling something from his pocket to unlock the door.
"My key's a bit worn, so give me a minute."
Watching Kloud in silence for a moment, Jaketa finally asked, "How did you manage to get a key?"
She remembered Basil telling her that you needed a key to operate the silver lifts, and so she had figured that only certain, specific people were able to attain one. She couldn't help but be curious as to how Kloud had received one of them.
He stopped working on the door for a moment, pausing before he turned to answer her. He adjusted his pince-nez, looking over its rims.
"It's a really long story I'd rather not discuss right now."
Jaketa went silent after this, waiting for him to finish. She had to wonder if she was asking too many questions. She kind of felt like she was... but then again she was new to all of this, so it was understandable. He went back to working on the door, but soon turned around again, almost as if knowing he hadn't fully answered her question.
"Look," he said, holding up a small, well-worn silver key. "I really do have my own key to the lift, if you're thinking otherwise. I just don't like explaining how I got it, ego?"
"Okay, okay!" Jaketa responded, holding up her hands in surrender. "I believe you; I never thought you didn't... I was just curious, and surprised you had one. That was all..."
Kloud took a deep breath, nodding before turning once again to the lift. Moments later, he had it open.
"There!" he said triumphantly. "Now we can ride straight to the palace! You ready Jaki?"
Much calmer (and politer) now than he had just been, Kloud held the door to the lift open and a hand out to help her in. Jaketa beamed and nodded as she entered the lift with Kloud's help, bracing herself for the lift to go into motion. She couldn't help but feel a little nervous, though, going to the palace. She wanted to see Basil and all, but somehow felt like she wasn't really supposed to be there.
They rode upwards in silence, the lift gliding effortlessly towards the palace above. Kloud was busy rolling one of the gems he'd been paid with between his fingers, but when they were closer to the castle, he tucked the item away and began slowing the lift.
"Now, this may be a little interesting," he said, his voice quiet. "See, the guards and I aren't on particularly friendly terms, so I'll take you as far as I can and tell you what to say, but I can't go in with you."
"What?!" Jaketa exclaimed in alarm, quickly lowering her voice, and adding, worried. "I can't go in alone! It's... it's the palace! Even if I got in there I'd have no idea what to do!"
She was scared, frankly. She hadn't expected Kloud to say that he'd be leaving her; he knew so much more about the city than she did. The other faerie scoffed, bring the lift to a halt at their platform.
"Just tell them you're looking for your friend... or that you'd like to apply to work there. They seem to lose servants rather quickly, and if you have any domestic talents..."
Kloud's ears twitched, and he glanced towards the gates.
"I have to get moving, but I'll stay nearby. If you can't find me, you can always get one of the guards to unlock the lift for you."
He began to dash off.
"Oh, and don't tell them I was the one who brought you. They'll come after me if they know I'm up here."
The purple-haired faerie breathed as she found herself left alone, nervous and unsure of what action to take. Thinking over his words, however, she took in a deep breath and started to walk toward the gates. A job... actually did sound like a good idea. Being new to the city, she probably should apply for a job soon, and Basil worked there, so she'd have more opportunities to talk to him that way!
Approaching the guards, she stopped, and forcing a more confident (and less intimidated) look on her face, spoke up, "Good afternoon; I'm looking to apply for a job here."
Jaketa really wasn't sure if there was something specific she was supposed to say, but at least she had gotten her point across. The guards turned to one another and nodded, one stepping forward to guide her.
"Right this way, miss," he said firmly, but not in a threatening manner which made things a little easier. "We need to take you to the guard house first for a background check, then we'll see what we can do for you."
Jaki beamed, already feeling a little more relaxed at the absence of hostility that she was clearly expecting to receive.
"Thank you very much!" she said to them gratefully as she began to follow the guard that had moved forward to the guard house.
"What has you interested in working in the palace?" the guard asked while they walked. He gave her a bit of a smile, relaxing his posture and removing his helmet briefly to run his fingers through his hair, a dusty shade of myrtle green. He was obviously an earth faerie.
"Well," Jaketa admitted. "I just moved here, and my friend, Basil, works at the palace, and I thought, since I'd need to get a job anyway, it would be a good idea to work with someone I know. That, and it does seem rather interesting... working at the palace."
"Oh, so you know the gray faerie," he said, chuckling a bit. "Boy, does he get it rough, what with being Prince Safron's personal servant. Guess it works well for him though, since he's still around."
They arrived at the small guard hut where another faerie was waiting for them.
"New applicant?" the guard standing there asked, and Jaketa's escort nodded.
"Friends with the gray faerie."
"Really? Well there's something you don't hear everyday. Come right inside miss; I have a few questions for you before we can allow you to work here."
It sounded as if Basil didn't make much of an effort to make friends... but Jaketa wasn't very surprised. Basil was rather shy. Thinking about what the first guard had said, she went inside as she was asked, waiting to answer questions.
The small hut was sparsely furnished with a few wooden chairs and one table. In one corner was a chest pack full of clothes, bits of armor, and a few personal affects, and a single lantern lit the chamber where to sunlight from the window couldn't reach. The guard offered Jaketa a seat, but did not sit himself.
"So," he began, removing his helmet and placing it on the table. "How long have you lived here in Zamzahdu?"
Jaketa sat when the seat was offered to her, and as he asked his question, looked a little sheepish as she admitted, "Um... about... four hours now?"
The guards exchanged looks, the one who had asked pushing a stray blue curl out of his face as his expression softened.
"Sorry, I didn't expect you to be so new to Central City. Applicants have usually lived here for a bit more than four hours, if you know what I mean. So you aren't familiar with the royal family at all?"
"I know... I'm sorry..." she sighed, looking down at her feet. "I'm sure people are usually more acquainted with the city before trying out for such a job... but the thought of working at least closer to my friend made me feel more secure..."
Pausing, she added, "Um... and although I'm not really familiar with the royal family, I have heard a little about Prince Safron..."
Quite frankly, Jaketa felt kind of stupid right now. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea, after all. Both guards narrowed their eyes, the one questioning her folding his arms across his chest.
"What have you heard?" he asked with a frown. Jaketa blinked, then looked startled as she saw the looks on her face. Oh no... her and her big, stupid mouth!
"Oh, no, no, no! Nothing really, nothing bad anyway! Just that the prince's name is Safron and that... um... that the queen is trying to get him married..."
Oh she hoped she wasn't going to get him in trouble! She left out the part about Safron seeming rather depressed about all of it, because now she wasn't sure if the things he had been telling her wasn't really public knowledge that she shouldn't really be saying now. The queen wanting him to have a wife wasn't really a hidden fact, though, right? After all, Kloud had said that the queen threw festivals just for that purpose. Now Jaketa felt like apologizing that she should think before she spoke, but really, she wasn't quite sure how to go about that, so decided just to keep her mouth shut.
Again, the guards looked to one another, each nodding slowly.
"We ask to see what sort of rumors are going on about the family. It seems you haven't heard anything about our queen, then, who is (after all) the one you will be employed to."
The purple-haired faerie nodded.
"Right," she confirmed. "No rumors at all."
For a moment, she thought that that was a good thing. Rumors weren't usually pleasant things... but she didn't know anything at all about the queen, as they had just stated. That wasn't really a good thing, considering that she was possibly going to work under her. Tentatively, she asked, "Is there anything that I should know about the queen?"
The two men laughed, the earth faerie sitting down in one of the chairs beside her.
"Oh, only that her personality is about as frigid as her element. I can only warn you to always step lightly around her."
"So, tell us a little about yourself, miss..." the other guard said, trailing off when he realized he didn't know her name.
"I'll keep that in mind," she promised, before looking up at the guard who had inquired her name and smiled, answering, "I'm Jaketa. I'm a healing fae (if that isn't obvious), and I moved here from the country today."
Realizing that there really wasn't much of interest for her to say about herself, she asked, "What about you two? What are your names?"
Both guards blinked, not having anticipated this question. The green-haired faerie spoke up first.
"I'm Noldur," he said. "And this is Awshil. Earth and water, respectively."
"Back up, Nol. You know we're not supposed to..."
"Relax, will you? It's her first day."
Awshil huffed, shaking his head.
"This is still business."
The earth faerie rolled his eyes and turned to Jaketa.
"Don't mind him. He gets like this sometimes. So, what level are you on?"
So normally, they weren't supposed to talk about themselves? Well that kind of made sense, seeing as they were guards. They probably needed to remain as neutral as possible toward the civilians; it would be pretty bad if their personal feelings got in the way of their judgment.
"I'm on level forty-two," Jaketa answered.
"And you want what sort of job here?" Noldur asked in surprise. "If you're living so close to level fifty, you almost qualify to be a lady-in-waiting."
"How where you able to afford living on level forty-two?" Awshil asked suspiciously.
"What kind of job? I... I don't really know. I guess I just kind of thought I'd accept whatever was given to me..."
Trailing off, she looked over at Awshil and explained, "My father is moderately wealthy; he's a merchant."
The two guards both nodded thoughtfully before Noldur turned to her again.
"Well, then technically the only thing you'd really qualify for is a lady-in-waiting, but that would have to be seriously looked over by the queen herself, since you don't really have the right status."
"If you had any domestic skills," Awshil added. "We could place you with the maids or in the kitchen, but so far you've made no note of any talents outside of being talkative."
"Oh! Right, domestic skills!" Jaketa repeated, realizing she indeed hadn't said anything about what she was good at. At the mention of the kitchen, she added, "I can cook! I mean, I always cooked for my family before I moved, and I was told I was pretty good at it..."
On top of being pretty good at cooking, she actually rather liked it, so working in the palace's kitchen seemed like a pretty nice idea. Awshil rolled his eyes, but nodded.
"Then assuming you get approval by the queen, we can start you as a scullery maid. Would that suit you?"
"Now that's harsh," Noldur said with a grimace. "A woman of her standing shouldn't be given the lowest rank in the royal household!"
"If it suits her, what does it matter?"
Jaketa frowned, puzzled. Quite honestly, she was confused. She had meant she wouldn't mind being a cook, not necessarily a scullery maid. That, and Awshil seemed to be taking her response somewhat antagonistically.
"I'm sorry," she started, trying to remain as polite and respectful as possible. "Did I say something wrong?"
Pausing, she tentatively added, "Maybe if I knew the available positions..."
Awshil started to speak when another guard appeared in the doorway.
"Sir," he said, looking somewhat intimidated by the other guard. "We need your assistance with a situation in the stables..."
The water faerie growled, grabbing his helmet and leaving Noldur to finish the interview. As soon as he was gone, the earth faerie grinned.
"How about we see if we can fit you in as a chambermaid?" he suggested. "Sure, it's a little ways off from cooking, but we don't really have any room for another cook, and it's higher status than a scullery maid. Besides, there's a better chance for a promotion if the queen likes you."
As soon as Awshil left the room, the tension had obviously eased, and Jaketa smiled at Noldur, glad for the change in the atmosphere.
"That sounds great!" she agreed, not really minding the lack of openings for a cook. The role of a chambermaid sounded simple enough for her, she was sure she could handle it.
"Then we're off to meet Queen Juhruna!" Noldur proclaimed, scooping up his helmet as he started towards the door. "Just a word of caution though: don't speak unless she speaks to you directly, otherwise you'll lose your chance for any sort of employment here."
"Thanks for the warning," Jaketa replied, trying to hide her once again increasing nerves. She really was glad Noldur had given her that advice; she might seriously have blown it for herself otherwise. After all, she'd had a bit of a problem speaking without thinking in the past. As the two got closer and closer to their destination, Jaketa just breathed, hoping that the queen wouldn't be as bad as her mind was imagining her to be.
The walk up the crystal pathway leading to the palace seemed longer with each step, and more breathtaking as the gleaming castle reflected the incoming light into thousands of rainbows around them. This fortress was meant to both inspire and intimidate.
"This way," Noldur instructed, guiding her towards a side entrance. "I promise you, the inside is easier on the eyes."
True to his word, the inside of the palace was made of wood and stone: much easier to look at than the shining crystal exterior. They passed down a narrow hallway until they reached the throne room where the guard held up his hand for her to stop once they were in the center.
"Wait here while I ask the queen for an audience," he said, closing the door behind him as he retreated into the hallway.
Jaketa stopped when he signaled for her to do so and waited silently as she was left alone, looking around her curiously but patiently. This was all almost too much to imagine; her first day in the city and she was applying for a job at the palace! Really, she had never even thought she'd move to the city until recently. She just hoped that the queen would accept her. Thankfully, Noldur wasn't gone long and jogged up beside her as the queen was entering the room with several more guards in tow.
"Don't forget to curtsy," he reminded Jaketa while Queen Juhruna set delicately on her throne. For someone as elegant and beautiful as she was, the queen gave off an air of cold arrogance, which was only enhanced by her ice blue hair and pale white skin. She was a water faerie for certain, and Noldur bowed politely when she turned to face him.
"Speak," she commanded, her voice laced with a bitter coldness that could only be matched by the harshest winter. The guard immediately obeyed.
"Begging your majesty's pardon," he began. "This young woman here wishes to apply to be a chambermaid, your majesty."
Queen Juhruna looked towards Jaketa, her eyes inspecting her from head to toe.
"Is that so?"
When the queen turned to her, Jaketa curtsied, just as Noldur had reminded her, and forced herself to remain silent, not wanting to blow her chances at getting a job. She almost wanted to respond... but she was sure she wasn't being spoken to directly, and decided to play it safe.
But the queen's eyes narrowed in disapproval.
"Speak up, girl!" she demanded. "What is your name?"
So, as usual, she had made the wrong decision. Mentally kicking herself, Jaketa straightened and apologized, "Forgive me, your Majesty," before answering, "My name is Jaketa."
She was honestly trying not to sound as startled as she felt. The queen was actually more intimidating than she had originally imagined! Queen Juhruna nodded, resting her chin idly on one hand.
"And you wish to become one of my chambermaids, is that correct?"
"Yes, your majesty," she confirmed. "If you'll have me, it would be an honor to serve as one of your chambermaids."
"Hmm..." the queen mumbled in thought, looking over Jaketa once more. "I suppose Numeh could use an extra hand. She's been slacking a bit lately and could probably use the help..."
She grumbled something under her breath that vaguely sounded like the words "again" and "fired," but it was hard to tell. The icy water-faerie at last nodded and turned to one of the guards.
"Send for Numeh. We'll get her started right away."
Jaketa felt relieved, although she was sure that she wouldn't feel all of her anxiety fade until the queen dismissed her. Just being in the regal woman's presence was enough to make her feel like breathing improperly might get her into trouble. At least she had gotten a job, however. That had all gone over fairly well, save for Jaketa's slight mistake at remaining silent when the queen had expected her to speak. Now, her mind turned to wonder what Numeh was like. She really hoped that she'd be pleasant enough to work with.
The queen rose and began to leave the room.
"I expect that you will be able to handle your tasks on your own within the week. Don't disappoint me, Jaketa."
Her entourage of guards followed her out of the chamber, and as soon as she was gone, Noldur dropped his shoulders and sighed with relief.
"That could have been worse, but hey, at least you get to work with one of the nicest servants here. Just be warned: Numeh has a tendency to try to... uh, play matchmaker, if you know what I mean."
"She's nice? I'm glad..." Jaketa started as she looked over at Noldur, trailing off as she heard the rest of what he had to say.
"Matchmaker?" she repeated, curiously. She knew what he meant, obviously, but she'd never actually seen anyone actually act that way. It made her wonder.
"Thanks again for all of your help," she added for good measure, smiling at him. Honestly, without his advice, she probably would have fallen right on her face. This made Noldur smile.
"Don't mention it!"
"Hello?" a sweet voice suddenly called into the room. "I was told to report to the throne room immediately, but I don't see anyone..."
A young woman peered around the corner from one of the hallways, her cheeks flushing to a shade of pink almost as bright as her hair when she saw them.
"Oh! You must be the one I was sent to greet!"
With a cheerful bounce, she skipped towards them, stopping right in front of Jaketa and dropping into a pleasant curtsy.
"My name's Numeh! I hear I'll be training you as a chambermaid!"
Jaketa beamed at Numeh, curtsying lightly back to her. Suddenly, she felt very thankful for the position she had received; the pink fae seemed very kind, just as Noldur had said.
"It's nice to meet you, Numeh! I'm Jaketa."
Numeh giggled, and Noldur bowed politely before excusing himself to return to his post. The other servant took Jaki's hands and started to pull her into the hallway.
"Come on! There's lots I have to show you!"