“Are you sure you’re going to pay for this?” Ellis looked at the price tag. Her eyeballs nearly fell off.
“What? Do you think I would lie?”
“So that’s the dress you want right? I think it compliments you well,” Matilda nodded in satisfaction.
“Miss, if you’d like, you can use the changing room.”
Matilda laughed, “Catherine, I agree with you. Go try it on, Ellis.”
Catherine was the owner of this clothing store and the person who knew Matilda best. Many of the clothing inside Matilda’s closet was filled with dresses that came from this very store.
“Go on,” Matilda dragged Ellis to the changing room, she slammed the door shut.
Sighing, Ellis adjusted the lock and looked at her reflection in the mirror.
‘It looks different from my usual style but... it’s alright?’
A snowy white silk gown wrapped around her body, her bare shoulders exposed with thin white laces that wrapped around her neck. The loose ethereal flow of the garment from top to bottom with orderly pleats. A not too tight bridal dress with an open slit to the side. Complex motifs decorated the pleated areas. A mix of gold and diamond-looking jewels.
“I give 90 out of a hundred,” Matilda judged, looking at Ellis from head to toe. “Miss Catherine, we’ll go with this one.”
“Good pick, anything else?”
“Nah,” Matilda waved her hand, “Just this one is enough. For now.”
And that was how the dress ended up in Ellis’ hand.
“Where to next?” Matilda asked, exiting the store.
“Uh..” Ellis looked at the shopping bag she held in her hand. “I still don’t get it. Why do I need this?”
“I haven't explained to you yet have I?” Matilda scanned the streets.
Interlocking storefronts were built along the gentle curve of the path, all of which were familiar to Matilda. People strolling by this district held bags of shopped items. The smell of food came from a distance, enticing their appetite.
Matilda then looked to the sky, “What time is it now? How about we go get coffee, we’ll talk about it there.”
“I.. don’t understand but sure..”
A coffee bistro was located close to the edge of the pillar. It was a few blocks from the clothing store they came from. The interior was constructed with rich wood. From the walls to the counters, it had been properly varnished and well maintained to the point where Ellis could see her reflection on the surface. She had come to the bistro before, remembering that crazy promotion they had where coffee prices were slashed to 3 copper coins a cup.
‘And when Curtis found out he..’
They chose a lone seat outside the bistro. A parasol shading them from the sun. The chairs were made of metal bent into a frame with flower patterns.
Ellis looked past the fenced ridge, at the endless sky. Clouds stacked tall like a mountain, and on some of the floating islands afar, she could barely make out the starberry vineyard and golden rye growing there.
“Thank you,” Ellis returned her gaze to the cup of iced tea in front of her, paid by Matilda yet again.
“No problem,” Matilda smiled and drank her iced latte.
Taking a sip of the iced tea, Ellis was about to open her mouth to ask about something when Matilda spoke first.
“Do you know the real story behind the Jesters?” Matilda spun the lathe of the latte with the metal spoon, making no eye contact.
“The real story?”
“Well, this is one of the reasons why I’m here. My father told me to explain what happened 11 years ago. At least it would help give you some peace of mind. I’m sure they don’t mean any harm to your partner, Curtis.”
“Um, ok?” Ellis tilted her head.
“Here I thought you would give me a more surprised expression,” Matilda too tilted her head.
“Ah.. well, I was able to talk it out...” water condensing at the outer glass of her drink. Cooling a small area of the table around the cup, the weather was quite hot.
Matilda yawned, “11 years ago, there was a skyship which my father boarded together with the current king. That was before the king’s enthronement. The ship was headed for the Trinity kingdom, as an envoy or something like that.“
Matilda’s reminisced the story which her father had told her countless times.
“On the last day of the trip, there happened to be capriciously dewing. The sky was glowing orange, the world was dark, it was the brink of dawn, day slowing fading into the night. They were closing in on Trinity Kingdom. Though, that’s when someone realized that there was something wrong. Dewing was the incorrect event, it was water particles in the air suspended by magic. Queen Celestia, who was on board was the first to notice. Surprisingly, that meant that she had already reached the stage where she could ‘feel’ mana,” Matilda chuckled. Well, Matilda herself was of a magic talent.
“Large scale magic,” Ellis muttered in thought.
“Nobody understood why the dewing was caused by magic, and one by one, people started to die.”
Ellis’ eyes widened.
“Those who realized in time rushed into the cabin, most people did, and it was chaos. That was also when an internal siege started. The Jesters that were rumoured? They were a group of mages, the dewing was most probably caused by them. My father was fortunate to survive first contact. After that, he protected the people around, the king. It’s his duty as a knight as a loyal knight, something like that. The attack stopped after a few hours. My father got to cross hands with one of them, and he said that the Jester held back, or, that ‘she’, the Jester was hesitating to kill for some reason.”
“The story goes that deep?“ and here Ellis thought it was all a bunch of made-up rumours.
Matilda twisted her body, looking around to check if there was anyone eavesdropping, “My father has a theory. Since everyone is commanded under a leader, they have to follow orders. What if the orders violate our values? Telling you to kill. I believe the situation is like that.”
“You know Queen Celestia? My father said she was taken away midway during the confrontation. That really shocked the king, to have his fiancé at that time suddenly disappear.”
“The queen came back alive though?”
Matilda smiled. “Yes, she did. However, she lost her right arm, due to frostbite. I guess one of the Jesters defiled the orders given and spared her, whatever it was. Most casualties were, statistically, caused by the poison dew. The confrontation inside the cabin only brought about 3 deaths, 10 injured, compared to the 50 or so deaths outside. I think the numbers are like that?”
Matilda looked at Ellis.
“The conclusion is that the cooperation between them fell apart, the Jesters were against one another. If not, they wouldn’t have made their killings half-baked. So, My father and I believe that Curtis will return fine, just maybe not so soon,” Matilda muttered the latter half of her sentence.
“That’s great to hear. Once he returns, the king would probably hold a ceremony for you two.”
Matilda laughed, “What can I say? I’m surprised that you two were the founders after all.
Ellis stirred her tea with her spoon. So that was what the dress was for. Ellis did hear from Curtis that there would be a possibility to be conferred a reward by the king himself.
“You know, there’s apparently a pillar guardian on that pillar cluster you found. They said it’s most probably a lesser geo-primal. There’s this crazy group that was hired to take it down, don't know if they could do it though, sounds surreal... They say that this pillar guardian is quite that aggressive one. It came out of hiding on its own and destroyed one of the camps. Thus, for the sake of the development of land my father said, blah blah.. it would need to be killed.”
Matilda downed her latte.
Ellis rubbed her temples.
Ellis spoke with her hand on her face. “The people that took Curtis away aren't the Jesters...”
“Pfftt!” Matilda spat the latte out.
Everyone in the surrounding area turned to look at her.
“Oopsssss… sorry,” Matilda quickly cleaned her mouth with her handkerchief. Ignoring the mess she made, “Back to topic, what do you mean by that?”
“That’s the point. It’s those people.” Ellis looked at the dripping coffee.
“Those.. People?” Matilda took some tissue to wipe the stain on her clothing and the puddle on the table, “You mean the group hired to subjugate the pillar guardian?”
Ellis nodded reluctantly.
Matilda made a bewildered expression. “Then..then..”
“In the end, Curtis is fine,” Ellis sighed. “If anything, I think you can have your father stop the large scale search operation. He’s at the pillar cluster, most probably.”
“Is that so..” Matilda placed the wet tissue on the side of the table. “How do you even know that? How do you explain that mark on their eye yesterday?”
“That isn’t important. We probably mistook it for someone else..”
Ellis remembered discussing with Tia how possible it would be to stop the large scale search party. It would be troubling if it went on, wasting the energy and time of the involved knights and army.
She had the final call when it came to what she needed to say, even if that meant exposing parts of the secret. After all, from what Ellis heard, there were already several kingdoms that knew of Darwin’s existence.
Assuming they did kill off the pillar guardian, spilling out their name here wouldn’t make a big difference anyways. Though, Ellis wasn’t told that they were going to the new pillar to kill a pillar guardian in the first place..
“A friend of mine told me that the whole thing was a ‘test’ for Curtis, though I didn’t think they would be bringing him together to…”
“That sounds… ridiculous.. What do you mean test?”
“Um, keep it a secret?” Ellis made a silence gesture with a furrowed brow. “Notify your father of course.”
Matilda merely nodded. “Go on? The coincidences sound so interesting. I’ve even heard Curtis was the guy responsible for capturing 20-ish Zenixis members.”
“Uh, what? Since when?” Ellis’ cramped her cheeks