The country was churning with festival and ecstasy. The stingiest of merchants had taken to the streets, throwing out products as though they were plentiful as rain. Street beggars had thrown away baskets in place of a partner’s hand, swaying to the same rhythm as those who roamed the city.
The darkening eastern sky meant nothing to the people, for their lanterns lit more than the sun could hope to—the candle sitting at each window a symbol of their unwavering respect, a loyalty to rival even that towards the king. No storm could ruin the Gathering, and none ever had.
“Rejoice! The Saviors are here again!” The chants could be heard, beginning in one street before passing along to the entire kingdom.
“Long live the Golden One!”
“Death to the Eighth!”
People laughed and cheered as the theater curtains raised, displaying plays that recalled the previous generations’ battles against the Eighth, the Soul Stealer whom the Saviors were destined to kill.
These festivities weren’t foreign to Edmund, but the knowledge of who they were meant for was enough to make him shrink back in his seat.
He sat in the back of the carriage, on velvet seats worth more than his life, and placed a hand against the glass window, watching as passersby saw his left eye and shrieked. There was pointing, whispering, waving, and glee. Ed sunk back into his seat, his old habits rising to the surface. Shaking his head, he glanced ahead, where he could see the dwindling buildings behind the occasional bobbing of the driver’s head.
In his hand, Ed gripped the invitation, his ticket to the life he’d never dreamed of having. But most of all, the strength and power it symbolized. He traced the envelope’s ornate wax seal, which he’d replaced as well as he could. It had seemed a waste to discard it.
Invitation to Willis Island
To: Sir Edmund
Sir Edmund. It felt foreign on Ed’s tongue, though he’d be lying if he said he disliked it. Shaking his head, he placed it back into his pocket, giving it an added pat for extra security.
Up ahead, the buildings cleared, paving a path for the dense trees and steep cliffs, sights that made Ed relax his shoulders. Home was still fresh in his memory, after all, and even if he hadn’t liked the people, the scenery had always been comforting. Of course, such a moment wouldn’t last long, as already a huge stretch of water could be seen, lingering beneath the horizon.
There, the distant silhouette floating atop the waters was no more than a speck of the island’s true mass, its presence masked with hours of travel left to go. The Willis Island, home of the seven Saviors.
My home now, Ed corrected himself.
Up ahead, the driver gave the horse a second whip, sending the carriage speeding along the rough road, dust clouds left in its wake.
Throughout the kingdom, the festivities slowed as the storm made its presence known.
The flames burning false statues of the Eighth were put out, the only trace of their existence left in the soft sizzle that slipped beneath the rising wind. Banners were blown loose, lost in the looming sky.
The citizens rushed to return to shelter, abandoning the colorful streets. A few murmured and pointed at the sky, to the east, where thunder roared.
Rain wasn’t uncommon in their kingdom, but never during the Savior’s Gathering.
“An ill omen,” some whispered. “The Golden One is trying to warn us!”
“It must be the work of the Eighth,” others said. “They must be strong this generation.”
As the final merchants abandoned their stalls and fled, the chorus of rain came roaring from above the clouds, as though the wrath of the Golden One themself was pouring down on them.
There was a single boat waiting at the shoreline, large enough to accommodate two people. The polished wood was new and recently cleaned, the paddles without a droplet of water. Each Savior had their own canoe specially made for them, and this one was Ed’s.
Opening the carriage door, Ed awed at the clear waters, stretching far beyond what his eye could see. The waves caressed the shore, swaying in the breeze, unaffected by the mass of clouds rolling from beyond the mountain.
Stepping outside, Ed’s foot touched only air as he plummeted forward. He was saved by the driver, who managed to prevent the landing of his fall. Still, the damage had been done, and Ed could already feel his face flush.
“Um, sorry,” he managed to choke out.
The driver in question, however, was too preoccupied with the sky to answer, casting wary glances at the approaching storm. He looked back at Ed.
“You’d best hurry, before the storm comes. I’d escort you myself, but…” the man’s voice trailed. He cleared his throat and gestured to the canoe. “Traditions,” was all he said. He helped Ed take his bags from the carriage, a total of one light shoulder bag and a half-filled sack at Ed’s side. He attempted to hide the worn cloth behind his leg, but the driver didn’t seem to notice.
Ed stepped into the canoe and fingered the paddles.
“Do you know how to row?” the driver asked. Ed stared at the water surrounding him, the waves still immune to the oncoming storm, though the heightened wind indicated that wouldn’t stay the case. He’d never so much as stepped foot onto a boat before—the mere sight of water was enough to make him swallow.
He nodded, however, and adjusted his position on the seat, tucking his belongings snugly under the wooden plank.
“There will be servants on the island waiting for you,” the driver explained. “I suspect the other Saviors have already arrived, they’ll be waiting in the mansion.”
Of course. Ed lived far from the island, and as a result, he’d traveled farther.
The driver gave the sky another stare. “I know it isn’t my place to say, but do try and hurry,” the man added.
Ed nodded. “Um, thank you,” he said. The driver simply nodded, pushing the canoe into the water with a final wave.
The rocking was not something Ed had been prepared for, even though it was such an obvious component. Suddenly, his hands felt slippery, even as he gripped the handles tight enough to make his hands shake. Or maybe that was fear. Ed gave a silent word of thanks to the Golden One that the Willis Island was so large—it’d be difficult to miss, even if his rowing was as bad as he suspected it’d be.
The driver, thankfully, was already too far for Ed to see behind him, which released some of the strain. He’d been told to hurry, but his arms were already feeling sore, the result of years of malnourishment. Still, he kept rowing, even as the sky darkened.
Amidst it, his left eye glowed gold, giving him a light to navigate across the waters.
Soon, just as the wind had picked up and the waves began to leap with fury, the shoreline was in sight, the island a towering silhouette behind.
Breathing a sigh of relief, Ed stepped out of the boat, remembering to tie it down so it wouldn’t drift away. He grabbed his two bags and swung them over his shoulder, his eyes scanning the thick woods. He frowned. There was no one in sight.
The driver had said that the servants would be waiting for him, but Ed found himself surrounded by only forest and wind. Ahead, a narrow road seemed to lead towards the distant mansion, but the dense woods and thick mist weren’t exactly welcoming. Gazing at the clouds, Ed wished he’d brought an umbrella.
It was true, he didn’t own one, but he could’ve bought one while they’d been traveling. There’d been plenty of time, and now that he was officially a Savior, money wouldn’t have been a problem.
Behind him, he heard a rustle.
Relieved, Ed turned around, finding the single outline of a person standing beside the trees, their shadows mingling. The swirling winds made it difficult to discern who it was, but even in his clouded vision, he could see a familiar golden glow emitted from the stranger’s left eye.
He furrowed his brow, about to call out to his new comrade.
Before he could say anything, a single blow to his head sent him sprawling against the forest floor.
The mansion was large, too large for comfort. Ivan paced down the hallway, clenching his fist. Small places offered security, coverage, hiding places. Here, out in the open, he felt exposed, his crimes laid out in the open.
Ivan’s bag beat against his leg, the occasional klink the only sound beside his footsteps. Since arriving, Ivan had yet to meet anyone else. No servants, no other Saviors. His driver had claimed there’d be someone waiting for him, but that had been a lie. He should’ve expected it, the man had done little more than throw him onto a boat and instruct him to row to the island.
As he walked, Ivan found his eyes lingering on the walls, which were lined with ornate wallpaper made of gold. Doing some quick calculations, he suspected the wallpaper alone was worth more than the entire carriage he’d been driven here on. The torches appeared solid gold, too, the adjacent flames separated by a different famous painting. There was even the occasional cabinet sitting at the edge of the lush carpet, vases and jewels laying out in the open.
Ivan cringed. It was irresponsible, so irresponsible of them to have so little security. He’d kept an eye out for traps or hidden mechanisms, but found none. It would be so easy for him to slip one of those jewels into his bag, or even to peel a section of the gold lined wallpaper and hide the damage behind a desk. He had the tools. Ivan tightened his grip on his bag.
Even if he were caught, he doubted anyone would berate a new Savior. Besides, where the mansion was lacking in security, it was abundant in escape routes. Ivan had made a point to stick to the main hallway, least he get lost in the maze of hallways (though he seriously doubted he’d ever be dumb enough for that). Still, he’d watched the forks in the path, the occasional openings and rooms. The large, glass windows were generously spread throughout the mansion, and many of their curtains hadn’t yet been drawn, practically screaming for escape.
Outside, the sky had already turned into an indistinguishable blur, rain drops pelting onto the window pane, their fury spraying mist. Ivan sighed and looked back to the main hall. Once he found one of the supposedly existing servants, he’d have to complain.
Pacing down the wide corridor, Ivan forced himself to keep his gaze focused forward, to ignore the ornaments scattered freely about, each worth more than a person’s life. No, more than two people’s lives.
In the dim lighting, his left eye glowed a golden hue, as it always did when there was a shortage of light. During the month prior, when he’d just received his abilities, the everlasting glow had been annoying to cover and had made the majority of his jobs go poorly. Ivan felt around his pocket for the letter, a smirk crawling up his face.
Well, he supposed it wasn’t so bad. Now that he was considered a hero, he didn’t have to worry about meals or shelter ever again. Not with such a bountiful mansion belonging to him.
Him and six others, he corrected himself. Ivan was only one Savior, there was a total of seven.
The thought alone was enough to make his smile flicker. He was sure the others would be righteous, self sacrificing heroes of legend, the naive city type with no self sufficiency. They were the ones the citizens were celebrating, the ones who’d kill the Eighth and lead the land to prosperity. Not him.
In the very least, it’d be interesting to see how the other Saviors took to killing. Ivan decided he’d give them a few pointers if they needed any, but beyond that, he was satisfied with watching.
Up ahead, the hallway came to an end, a massive mahogany door blocking his path. The handles were solid gold, the wood carved with intricate portraits of past Saviors and their legends.
He placed his hand against the wood, pressing his ear up against it. Solid. If he listened closely, he could hear the occasional mutter, the conversations of other Saviors.
Gripping the cold handle, Ivan stepped into the dining hall.