“Your Majesty, Your Highness, forgive me!” a distressed Dunisian soldier cried, bustling into the throne room, “Urgent news from the detachment by the docks!” he panted heavily, somehow keeping good posture despite having to speed through miles of desert heat.
The king rose from his golden cathedra, “Speak.”
His son, Prince Cesar, rested his elbow on the arm of his chair, intrigued by the unexpected message.
He rolled his eyes and pondered to himself. What could possibly be so important that it called for such an informal entry? Surely he had taught his men better than to barge into any the royal chambers without a mere crow of arrival beforehand.
It took a moment for the soldier to find his footing. He inhaled and spoke shakily, his speech careful and prepared, “In under three suns, two of our ships have disappeared, sire. Over two hundred of our men have also disappeared.” he lowered himself on one knee before the royals, heaving heavy breaths.
Even though a chainmail mask covered most of his face, the prince could see that he was pale and on the verge of collapsing. He looked as if he had seen something, but the prince couldn’t determine what it was or could've been.
With a glance downward, Cesar then noticed that this was no new recruit who couldn’t handle a little bloodshed.
All of his men had color-coded bandages around the end of their spears, indicating their rank in the army. As their commander, Cesar had memorized what color represented what rank.
After all, he was the one who proposed the idea in the first place, figuring that those in lower ranks could learn from those higher up. Out of two thousand men, he and Donk decided that this new system was better than having to train the entire army the same, repeated lessons due to a single new trainee.
“Two... two hundred?” Cesar voiced, stunned. “How could this have happened?” he inquired hastily, standing from his own lush, velvet seat.
Alas, the soldier shook his head wistfully, “I’m afraid we do not know, Your Highness, sir. In time we will-”
The prince gaped, “Time? We do not have time! The people will surely notice how many ships have not returned to the docks!” he shouted, stammering slightly, “So many families… they will question where their fathers and sons are. What am I to tell them then, hm? That they left on an expedition unbeknownst to us, their overseers?!” his face grew red, hands beginning to convulse from building anxiety.
“Mind your tone, Cesar! We will figure it out soon. Now, sit and be quiet!” the king barked, forcing his agitated heir back down by his shoulder.
A brief silence then a sharp inhale escaped the king. He spoke, “My boy is not wrong. Families will question where their absent children and spouses are. Our men are yet to be confirmed deceased, yes? Only missing at sea?” he exhaled and lowered to his throne, shifting to find a comfortable position.
The quivering soldier before them appeared uneased, shaking his head weakly, “No, Your Majesty. I apologize. I failed to mention that parts of our ships and our men have washed up on the private beaches of homeowners.”
Both the king’s and the prince’s face blanked, seeming to not understand him at first. “Parts of our… men?..” Cesar tilted his head, staring at his father in confusion.
His father only returned a worried glance. They looked at the soldier, tremoring in place. He appeared as if uttering another word would cause him a breakdown.
The king motioned for the soldier to leave the room, sparing him the trouble of explanation. Hurriedly, the soldier scurried out of the room, leaving the father and son to discuss.
“Son. Listen and listen well,” the prince looked to him, “we cannot afford to let this get out to the people of Dunisia, let alone the entirety of the Seven Realms. Now, I need a moment to contact a specially valued ally. Do not leave this chamber while I am gone. That is an order.” the monarch sighed airily, rising from his throne.
He left the royal hall, leaving his son to his own devices.
Quickly, Cesar stood up from his chair and bolted to a corner of the room. He came upon a secret entryway that was constructed by Donk in his childhood.
As he crawled through the small hole, he found himself wondering. Parts of their men? As in, detached limbs? No, certainly not. What monster in their kingdom- or the Seven Realms, for that matter- has the power to dismember a human being?
He thought carefully and began to name off monsters and monster types in his head.
The Night Clubber and the formidable foe, Balzack, first comes to mind. Cesar had the first-hand displeasure of fighting both in his trials. Usually, they prefer to use a large wooden mallet to crush their opponents, something that flattens the enemy, not dismembers it.
Roseguardians, and their weaker counterpart Restless Armours, use sharp blades with long-ranged and quick attacks. So long as one stays out of the direct line of the assault, due to it being in a straight line, they will be fine.
When it came to his men- the ones that he entrusted to arrive home on those ships- Cesar knew that they knew each type of monster in the Seven Realms, thus why he assigned them this particular task.
They have encountered numerous difficulties, how could they have not foreseen this? Were they not prepared enough? Was his instruction all for nothing?
Cesar shook the thought and promptly made his way out of the child-sized walls and out into an open-ish area.
He emerged to a large balcony that was also forged by Donk. It gave a stunning view of the setting sun, depending on the time of day, behind the ancient temples.
Hidden from the public view with little natural light, it was quite dim. Only when the sun shines from the west, then the fullness of the tunnel is illuminated.
Cesar propped his arms upon the railing and held his face in his palms, basking in the warm glow of the sun. He closed his eyes and lamented, “Why can’t it go back to much... simpler times, I wonder…”
“Hey! Cesar, come on! Look at this!” a boy with bright purple hair tugged on the older boy’s arm, attempting to haul him closer to the jagged hole in the sandstone.
Cesar chuckled lightheartedly, “Be patient, Lazarel, and keep your discord at bay for now. Father does not know of this installation quite yet, and I would like to keep it that way.” he bent down to his height teasingly and put a finger to his lips.
A girl with a high ponytail and pink hair then entered their field of vision, her eyes sparkling with excitement and innocence.
She giggled playfully and grabbed the prince’s other arm, “But he’s right! Mr. Donk went above and beyond, Cesar! He must really like you!”
Cesar exhaled and pinched the bridge of his nose, “You two need to quiet down it is giving me a such a vexatious migraine,” he smirked, “and of course Donk likes me. Father entrusted him to assist me whenever he was needed. We would have a problem if he did not like me, yes?” Both small children nodded along.
Lazarel strolled away from the other two. Teresa and Cesar grew confused and looked at each other, then back at him. He then attempted to lift two large blades that had been lazing amiss on the floor.
“Put that down, now!" Cesar approached him warily, "Do you not know better than to play with things that do not belong to you?” he seized the blades from Lazarel's hands and set them on the display rack where they should have been. "The last thing I want is for you to get hurt." he groaned.
The soldier-in-training scowled, "Well, it isn't my fault that you always talk like you're so high and mighty! Maybe try and talk to us like we're your actual friends, yeah?"
Cesar heaved Lazarel up to eye level and frowned, “Both you and Teresa are ten years old, I am twelve. Unlike your crows and caws, I prefer to keep a calm, collected head. A proper calm and collected head."
Lazarel shimmied himself out of Cesar’s grip and put his hands on his hips, “Oh, proper my arse !”
Eye twitching, Cesar ran a hand through his hair, “And there you go, proving yet another one of my already correct proclaims right once more." he allowed his hand to fall into Lazarel's hair, ruffling it out of sorts.
Lazarel stuck his tongue out, Cesar smirked in amusement.
Teresa yanked on their arms and stammered angrily, “Can you two stop it? We have to show Cesar what Donk made, come on!” she sprinted off towards the very much noticeable hole in the wall that acted as the entrance to their new play area.
“Teresa, wait!” Lazarel and Cesar trailed behind her, resuming their petty quarrel while she was out of earshot.
Once the three gathered at the opening, Cesar tilted his head, "Are you sure this is safe? I have a distinct feeling that it is not very secure." he looked at Teresa and felt around the edges of the hole cautiously. "Not that I care if I cut myself, but if it is a danger to you I won't allow-"
Both twins then used Cesar as a stepping stone to swing themselves inside the compact chasm.
Panicked, Cesar quickly pushed himself through, not wanting to lose the twins. "Oi, wait!" he called, crawling further and further into darkness, not knowing where he was going or where his friends went.
The deeper he descended into the tunnel, the hazier his vision grew. Soon, the twilight of the Dunisian skies washed into view, and Cesar took a moment to take note of his surroundings.
Now realizing that what he was observing was now present-day and not a memory lost to time, a disappointed grimace grew on his face.
With a stir and a gaze to the crescent moon, the prince made his way back to the throne room, blurred memories resonating and resurfacing left and right.
To his dismay, he found his furious father sitting on his throne expectantly.
"Good goddess, why ?" Cesar huffed, looking up at his father, fully prepared to face punishment.
However, the response the prince received wasn't what he assumed it to be.
The Dunisian ruler sighed heavily, "Boy, you are just as disobedient as you were in your childhood. However, I do not have time to reprimand you to the completest extent," he rubbed his temples. "Tomorrow, you are to meet with a highly vigorous family. Bruises with only make us look bad, yes?"
Cesar nodded in understanding, "Who is this family?"
His father dodged the question, "To your quarters, son. And make sure you are at your best when you leave your chamber in the morning."
Confused, yet still accepting the terms the monarch gave, Cesar bowed and retreated to his room. He dressed for bed and laid down.
Tomorrow is another day- an important one, at that. And he vowed to represent a respectable front that prides himself and his people.
If only he knew the boy he was about to meet, then perhaps he would have known better than to act like a stuck up royal.