As expected, the dining hall was large—excessively so. At the center of the room was a long mahogany table set with a gold silk tablecloth and a vase of hydrangeas. Surrounding it were multiple circular tables, each with a smaller vase of blossoms. This added up to a total of seventeen tables in the room.
Towards the back wall, an ornate grandfather clock ticked, separating two curtains that presumably led to the kitchens. Ivan’s eyes scanned the walls, keeping an eye on the three exits at the left, right, and back of the room. Based on the exterior measurements of the mansion and the distance Ivan had traveled here, he estimated the dining hall was located in the center of the manor.
Scattered about the room were six other people. Four seemed to be hunched over a card game in the center table, their faces hidden from Ivan’s sight. A fifth was sitting at the sideline, watching the game. Her clothing was casual, but was a recent city style. An average citizen, Ivan guessed, slightly relieved that she at least appeared to be practical.
To his right was a boy sitting at a circular table. He was reading, and his work boots and fingerless gloves indicated a working class citizen, most likely an engineer. He was the first one to notice Ivan, who’d set his bag down on the table nearest the exit. The boy raised his head and nodded at him.
“Hello,” he greeted. “It looks like you were the last to arrive.” His words were friendly enough, but they betrayed his aloof demeanor. Ivan shook his hand, and the callouses on his fingertips confirmed that he was most likely a mechanic, or at least in a job that fiddled with metal tools.
“It looks like it,” Ivan said. “My name’s Ivan.”
“Mortimer,” the other Savior replied. He had a bored look in his eye that Ivan suspected was habitual and not meant to offend. Across the room, the city girl had noticed them and was gesturing to the four playing cards, who now walked over.
While rare, there was a chance a Savior could have prior knowledge of one of the others, as was the case with a certain Savior heading their way.
Now done with the card game, she skillfully performed cardistry, though her eyes were focused forward as though her hands were separate entities. She wore an eccentric outfit, the type you might find in a circus performance, and the black and white striped umbrella lying on the center table confirmed her identity.
“Hello,” she said cheerfully, setting the cards down with a flourish. “What’s your name?”
Ivan furrowed his brow. “You don’t remember me?” he asked. It was true, they’d only met once, but it had been a rather severe situation.
At this, the other Savior tilted her head and eyed him. Ivan frowned, about to comment.
“No, wait,” she interrupted, tapping her head. Ivan sighed.
“It’s fine if you forgot.”
“I don’t forget anyone,” she said. She chuckled. “It just takes a while to sift through the inconsequential ones, if you know what I mean.” She snapped her fingers. “Ah, you’re that Ivan kid, right?”
Ivan nodded, frowning. Inconsequential? Unless he was remembering wrong, which he doubted, he’d literally set the circus tent on fire.
“And you’re Lucine,” he said. Standing beside Lucine, another Savior laughed.
“It looks like a lot of us have prior connections,” she said. Her clothing was generic village wear, though her heavy cloak and sturdy bag indicated she was probably a traveler of some sort, which was reinforced by the bags hanging on her belt. Most likely a traveling merchant, Ivan guessed.
“Fay,” she said, extending a hand. At least this one seemed friendly enough.
“Prior connections?” Ivan asked, eyeing the three others. Beside the city girl, one was staring at the floor and had average clothing. A middle class family. The third’s outfit appeared conventional at first, but upon closer inspection, she wore an unfittingly ornate dagger at her waist, which bore the crest of a noble family—one that had served the kingdom for generations, mainly in combat work as royal knights, the king’s assassins, and other jobs that fit the category. Definitely someone to keep an eye on.
Fay gestured to the girl in question. “I met Echo on my travels,” she said, “and Lucine and I have also met before.”
“What a coincidence,” Ivan said, trying to sound unironic.
Echo gave a quick bow. “Echo,” she said, glaring at him. The city girl stepped forward.
“Iris,” she said simply. Fay glanced at the last Savior, who’d been staring at the ground for some time now. Even after a nudge, she still didn’t move, so Fay sighed and gestured to her.
“And she’s Willow,” Fay said in a slightly exasperated tone. Ivan raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. Mortimer glanced at the clock.
“It’s late,” he said. “I haven’t seen any of the mansion workers yet.”
“Looks like none of us have,” Ivan muttered, suddenly aware of the pain in his stomach.
“Ah, about that,” Fay said, “I went to the kitchens earlier. It looks like the food’s already been set up. Didn’t see anyone, though,” she added. Lucine, who’d begun messing with the cards again, chuckled.
“I bet they’re all dead and stuffed in the basement.” Iris flinched.
“What makes you say that?” she asked.
Lucine shrugged. “I think it’s the most logical conclusion.”
Ivan snorted. “How so?”
Lucine gave him a steady gaze, then returned to her cheerful smile and shrugged. “Doesn’t it sound the most interesting?”
“I think there’re more creative solutions than that,” Ivan retorted, already foreseeing a long eight years. He wouldn’t even have minded if someone else from that circus troop had been picked. In fact, he would’ve welcomed it.
“Hey,” Iris interrupted them, turning to Fay. “You said the meal was in the kitchen, right?”
Fay nodded. “It’s cooked and everything.”
“Then let’s eat without them,” she suggested.
“How rebellious of you,” Lucine said, slapping the deck of cards back together. Willow jumped. “—but then again, I doubt they’d say anything to the Saviors.” Lucine turned around. “Alright, forward march!”
“Are we soldiers?” Ivan muttered, standing up. He glanced at his bag. After some thought, he swung it over his shoulder. One could never be too cautious. Besides, Fay also had her bag.
Seeing the others leave, Mortimer sighed and set his book down, following the rest of them to the kitchens.
There was something to be said about how orderly the kitchen was.
As Fay had claimed, the entire dinner course was laid out on the counter, which was constructed over a fireplace to keep the dishes warm. A back pantry was stocked with vegetables and meat, barrels and barrels stacked as high as the ceiling. Even Echo had been impressed with the meals.
There was even an entire wine cellar filled with expensive bottles and brands, which Ivan and Lucine had decided to explore. Ivan looked around, but could find no faults with the storing method. Even the temperature in the room was perfect.
“Ah, the drink of the gods,” Lucine said, inspecting one of the bottles. “How much do you think it’s all worth?” she asked. Ivan was bent over a different shelf, carefully dusting them. He squinted at the labels, many of which had faded.
“More than your life,” he replied, picking one of the bottles up.
“More than you could steal?” Lucine said, smirking. She set the wine down and stood. “Well, we’d best go back to the dining room. I’m assuming the others have set everything up already. Besides, it’s too cold in here.”
Ivan, however, was busy memorizing every label. “Wait,” he muttered, shaking one of the bottles. Lucine raised an eyebrow and headed up the stairs in theatrical steps, her voice animated.
“Oh, I see. You want me to leave you alone. Okay, I didn’t see anything. Definitely no thieves, and certainly no missing bottles. No suspicious people, no fires—”
“Cut it out!” Ivan snapped. Sighing, he placed the wine back and followed Lucine to the dining hall.
Sure enough, Mortimer and Iris had just finished setting the last dishes on the table, which was now completely covered. The others were already seated and had begun eating. Fay glanced up.
“No servants,” Lucine said, taking a seat beside Fay. Ivan grimaced, having forgotten their original purpose. He sat at the end of the table, beside Mortimer, and inspected the silverware. He found nothing unusual with them besides their price. It felt wasteful to use such expensive utilities so casually.
“Maybe they’re trying to surprise us?” Fay suggested.
“A terrible surprise if they are,” Ivan said, sipping some of the soup. It was good, much better than even the noble food he was occasionally able to steal. The seasoning was in just the right amounts, the ingredients evenly cut and in perfect proportion.
For a while, the seven ate silently, save for the occasional “pass the salt.”
Finally, once a majority of them had finished eating, Echo dabbed her mouth with a napkin and said in a serious tone, “Actually, I’ve been meaning to ask you,” she began, nodding to the other six Saviors. Ivan paused, glancing up.
Once Echo was sure all eyes were on her, she leaned forward and continued, voice quiet. “Have any of you killed before?”
A hush fell over the room. The clinks of forks stopped as all six golden eyes focused on Echo. Finally, Mortimer said, a blank expression on his face, “No.” Iris bit her lip and shook her head. Willow shuddered and took to staring at her leftover food.
Fay sipped her tea. After a long pause, she set the cup down. “Well,” she said carefully, “I suppose if any of us did, we wouldn’t say it.” She gave a crooked smile. Willow laughed nervously.
Lucine chuckled. “True. Wouldn’t want any witnesses, right?”
“Nope,” Fay said. Iris shifted in her seat. Echo’s expression remained stern.
“I’m asking because it’s important,” she said. “We’ll have to kill the Eighth, and I want all of you to know what you’re getting into.”
“I assume that means you have experience?” Ivan said, glancing at her dagger.
Echo shot him another glare and nodded. “Yes, as a matter of fact, I do. I have no problems with killing when necessary, and I certainly won’t hesitate with the Eighth.”
“Neither will we,” Fay added. Echo gave her a grateful smile.
Lucine was busy slicing another piece of cake, her appetite still very much alive. “You know,” she said, raising an eyebrow, “We should probably figure out what our powers are. I think it might be helpful.”
Echo frowned. “Traditionally, the servants verify our identities. They’re the ones to introduce us,” she explained.
“Yes, but they’re all dead in the cellar,” Lucine said. Iris choked.
“Would you please stop saying that,” she muttered.
“I agree, it ruins the mood,” Fay said, nodding towards Iris. Lucine sighed.
“If you say so.” She set her fork down. “Anyways, I don’t think we need to worry. I think our left eyes make it pretty obvious who we are,” she said. There were murmurs of agreement.
“Echo, it should be fine,” Fay said. Echo gave her another look, then glanced around the room and sighed.
“Fine. I suppose I should start, then.” The Savior cleared her throat and stood. “All of you already know my name, and I suspect a few of you may be aware of my heritage.” She made a point to direct her gaze at Ivan, who sighed in annoyance. So she’d noticed. Echo turned back to the others. “For those not aware, my family has served the king for generations as both knights and assassins. I am the latter. That is why I consider it my duty to slay the Eighth, and I am not afraid to do so.”
“And? Your ability?” Ivan asked, tapping his finger. Echo shot him another glare.
“I would be the Fourth, the Wish Granter,” she said. “That is all.” She sat back down.
“Wasn’t expecting that,” Ivan muttered. Out of all the potential abilities Echo could’ve had, the power of the Fourth felt out of place.
“What about you?” Echo asked. Ivan looked up.
“Who’re you?” Echo said, voice cold.
Ivan frowned. Aware of the eyes now resting on him, he sighed. “I’m the Sixth, the Truth Teller,” he replied. Lucine snorted and started trembling with laughter.
Before further conflict could ensue, Fay said, “I’m the Watchmaker, or the Second. What about you, Willow?” she asked, nodding to the girl.
Willow, who’d been staring into her tea, now jumped, eyes darting around. She lowered her head and said in a soft voice, “Um, the Seventh… Impersonator.” Ivan raised an eyebrow. Another unexpected one.
“I’m the First, the Creator,” Lucine said, having gotten over her earlier outburst. She was now spinning her empty tea cup around her finger, the occasional lingering chuckle interrupting the steady rhythm.
Ivan physically choked and had to convince Mortimer, who was giving him what he assumed was a worried expression, that he was fine. “You?”
Lucine’s smile widened. “That’s right, I am the closest to the Golden One, your chosen leader, born to raise the kingdom as the wise one. Bow before my actions and worship the land that I walk upon,” she said dramatically, momentarily setting the teacup down for added effect.
“…That’s a lot of land,” Willow said quietly, her brow furrowed.
“She’s joking,” Fay whispered to her.
“I’m the Third, the Seer,” Mortimer said, throwing the conversation back on track. Lucine frowned and returned to twirling the cup, her moment of fame lost.
“I guess that leaves me as the Fifth, the Memory Weaver,” Iris finished. She paused. “Actually, I was wondering, do any of you know how to control your power? I mean, besides the initial burst of energy. I haven’t been able to use my ability at all,” she said. Fay nodded.
“I know what you mean. My power kept going haywire.” She paused. “Oh, but ever since I came to the island, it hasn’t so much as appeared.”
“It’s normal,” Echo said. “Usually the Saviors lack control over their gifts until taught otherwise. I doubt any of us can use our abilities yet. That’s what the servants were supposed to do, to teach us,” she added, glancing at the kitchen curtain. It remained still as ever.
“Willow,” Fay said, leaning over, “you can use your power pretty well, right?”
Willow blushed. “Um, not really…”
“It’s true,” Fay said with an encouraging smile. Willow glanced up, then back at her hands.
“Well, maybe a little… not much, though,” she added sheepishly.
“It’s still impressive nonetheless,” Echo remarked. “Perhaps you could give us some pointers?”
“What? Oh, but I’m not really sure how, and uh…” Willow attempted to explain, her words coming out in incoherent phrases. By the end of it, she’d returned to staring at her tea. Echo sighed in defeat.
“Well, in doubt, you can always ask me,” Lucine said, still twirling the cup around. Ivan grimaced. It hurt just to watch her be so careless.
“So you’ve mastered it?” he asked. Lucine grinned, then tossed the cup upwards. Without thinking, Ivan stood, ready to run across the room. Before he could, Lucine snapped her fingers, the tea cup dissolving into a shower of rose petals. Ivan’s eyes widened as he watched them descent, drifting downwards and landing on the table. Willow was clapping. Lucine stood and did a bow.
“Thank you, thank you,” she said.
Echo was inspecting one of the petals. “Amazing,” she whispered. She looked up at Lucine. “How long did it take to master this?” she asked. Lucine feigned thought.
“Well, you see, it was a long, gruelling process—”
“Didn’t it take you a week?” Fay interrupted.
“A long, gruelling week,” Lucine corrected. Echo leaned forward, eyes bright like a child’s when waiting to hear their favorite nursery tale.
“Does that mean you can really talk to the Golden One?” The rest of the Saviors looked up. Lucine sat back down and shrugged.
“I mean, not really. Contrary to popular belief, the Creator doesn’t actually need approval for everything, just major actions. You know, like killing. For tricks like those,” she pointed to the fallen pile of roses, “I don’t so much as hear a word from them.”
“Oh,” Echo said, disappointed.
The power of the First was considered the closest to the Golden One, the only limitations being an approval before using the gift and an inability to use powers that the other Saviors had, such as not being able to use the power of impersonation. If the Golden One didn’t agree with a usage, then the power didn’t work, effectively turning the First into the Golden One’s faithful puppet.
“Besides,” Lucine added, “as incredible as I am, I’m afraid I haven’t managed full control yet. As of right now, I’m incapable of true creation. I can only change an object’s form, and living matter is completely beyond me.”
“Still, it must be useful, though,” Iris said from the other side of the table.
Lucine glanced at her and shrugged. “Too much so, if you ask me. Everything’s been painfully dull. I thought being a Savior would make life more interesting.” She sighed. “I guess not. No offense, but all of you are boing.”
“There’s always the servant mystery,” Fay pointed out.
Echo frowned and looked around. “They really aren’t here, then?”
“They probably don’t exist,” Ivan scoffed. “We shouldn’t have trusted those drivers,” he grumbled.
“I find that hard to believe,” Lucine said, raising an eyebrow.
Sitting beside Ivan, Mortimer added in a quiet voice, “The food was freshly prepared, so they were here recently.”
“Should we search around the mansion?” Iris asked.
“I believe that’s the wisest course of action,” Echo agreed. Fay glanced at Lucine, raising an eyebrow. The corners of her mouth twitched.
“What do you say, oh wise one?”
“Why not? There’s not much else to do. It’ll be entertaining,” Lucine said, grabbing her umbrella.
“Then it’s settled,” Fay said, standing. The others did the same. Mortimer stared at the leftover plates, then at the kitchens.
“Leave them,” Echo told him. “We’ll come back for them later.”
Mortimer nodded and headed for the door. Before his hand touched the handle, however, he stopped. Ivan frowned.
“I can hear someone’s footsteps,” Mortimer said. Stepping forward, Ivan pressed his ear against the door and found that there was indeed the heavy thumping of a person’s walk. He furrowed his brow. The rhythm wasn’t natural, though. It certainly didn’t sound like a servant. He stepped away. Well, they’d know soon enough.
“Um, is something….?” Willow began, but the creak of the door interrupted her. She jumped back with a soft shriek. The mahogany doors slammed open as a boy collapsed into the room, drenched. Lucine raised an eyebrow and Iris narrowed her eyes.
He was covered with twigs and leaves, his clothes tattered and caked with mud. It wasn’t his battered state that caught their attention, however.
It was his left eye, which had an unmistakable golden glow. Ivan’s eyes widened.