The Primus really does the housework by himself. Although there are several tasks that he missed, it is still remarkable. The most powerful man in the world sweeping the floor, mowing the lawn, watering the garden et cetera is a mythical sight. Who would’ve thought that he would agree to do those tasks?
My job is then reduced to meal preparation for both of us throughout the day. Again, he insists that I do so therefore I have no choice. By the time I had my dinner, the fever is gone for good. My well-being is restored and I am ready once more for my duty. Now that the other four maids are gone, the Primus told me to just work on the essential tasks for the day, no need to care for them all. That is to prevent another exhaustion.
I mop the floor as he is lounging on his couch in the spacious living room. He stares to the ceiling, seemingly full of thought.
I quickly stand at attention as soon as my name came out of his mouth.
“I’m going for a hike tomorrow.”
That doesn’t sound good. The last time he left is because he’s having a problem with me.
“Don’t worry, you’re doing fine now. It’s just that I’ve reached the lowest point of the island two days ago. Might as well reach its peak.”
I let out a deep exhale. That’s a relief.
“Are you sure, sir?”
“There’s an old hiking path there that I could follow. Besides, Microv will wait for me at its start so it’s nothing to worry about.”
“What’s sir Microv up to?”
“A discussion of our situation. I couldn’t tell you the details. They are just necessary affairs.”
“It’s fine, sir.”
“He believes that the shivering ambience of the peak, topped with the choirs of crickets could bring clarity for his processor to think.” He says. “Personal preference I guess.”
“I understand, sir.” I respond, pretending to flow along.
“I don’t need to ask whether you’ll be fine here alone for a whole day, right?”
I chuckle. “I promise not to overwork myself.”
“Excellent.” He exclaims, rising from his couch. He then heads off from the living room, presumably to his room on the third story. “I’ll make preparations then.” He says as he climbs the staircase.
“Yes, sir.” I reply before continuing to mop the floor.
I conclude the evening by tidying up the bed that I slept on all day since yesterday. I won’t be sleeping there anymore, I’d probably miss it. But well, at least I should be grateful that I got to sleep inside a lavish room.
Once done, I return to my bunk. A knocking on the door prevents me from tucking all in to the blanket. I button up the collar that I just loosen, and put my pin back on top of it. Of course, behind the door is the Primus. I would freak to oblivion if it’s someone else.
“Are you comfortable on that mattress?”
“It’s where we are supposed to sleep sir.” I say to him. “I mean, of course the bed yesterday is amazing I’d say.”
“You know you could rest there for another night, or two perhaps.”
I’d love to but, I can’t. That’s just…not how it works.
“But sir, I couldn’t consent to fall for the pleasure that your lavish properties have to offer. I’m still your maid after all. I still think I don’t deserve what you’ve did to me yesterday.”
If I were to indulge myself in such wealth, I have to earn it through my own blood and sweat. Yesterday was just a mistake. It’s not meant to happen. There’s still some time left before his leave is over. I can fix this. I will not disappoint.
I thought of something that I should say next. Somehow that makes me turn my glance away from him.
“It’s not that I don’t appreciate what you were doing yesterday.”
“I understand.” He says. “Hang tight to that pride of yours. It’s what makes you an ArC citizen.” He turns around and starts walking away. “I’d leave early tomorrow. Please consider adjusting the breakfast.”
“Good night, sir.” For some reason, the realization that he just wished me a good night comes after I close the door to the bunk. And I am once again out of my mind that he just did that. In any case, I do hope that tonight will go well for both of us.
The scorching heat I felt that evening is present again once I close my eyes. But this time, it’s different. It’s pitch black. I look around and finds no crackling embers, no dark smoke whatsoever. Just empty. Aside from that, it is cold. Not a shivering one, but the one just right to balance the flames that’s supposed to be all around me. I wonder where does this come from? How could it lead up to this?
Then a wisp blinks to existence. Its ember glow is against the darkness that envelops me. It whizzes here and there following a random path, like flies trying to find an exit from a bedroom they got themselves into. A moment later, the glow grows brighter. It takes me the next two seconds to realize that it is heading to my direction. Gradually, I make up its petite frame. It’s a monarch. The same one that rained ember upon my village.
It reaches up just in front of my face, struggling with its elegant wings to maintain its level. And before I know it, my left index rises up to meet the lone monarch who then sits on it.
What is it doing here? And the consuming heat that it supposed to bring isn’t there anymore. There’s just warmth. And somehow, I am grateful that it is here.
The Primus left as soon as he had his breakfast. He left me words that has me astonished to this moment.
“You should take a break too.”
It takes me thirty minutes to process that while I’m doing some tasks, as I doubt whether he really meant them or not. That’s when I receive a call from Zen. Aside from his gratitude for my recovery, he said that he’s going to spend his leisure in a park on the outskirt of the town. I first couldn’t believe what I’ve heard. He really told me that he is going to be somewhere, as if I would come to meet him there.
I mean…of course I would. Why not? That’s the reason why I am walking there right now. He had lent his hand for me a couple of times. This shall be my gratitude.
I follow the path that I took when I went for groceries. On the town, I trace the path on its edge that should bring me to the other side, where the park is.
It is located on a hill surrounded only by pathways and grass plains. It’s a convenience for those in town who sought urban-free respite. The park is not that enormous. In fact, it is smaller than the Primus mansion’s fourth layer, the same layer where the mansion is on. Its perimeter is decorated with ebony fence crawling with flowery vines. The entrance itself is made out of bundles of flowers. The combination of both is a sight for sore eyes.
After a minute of wandering around the park, I finally found him.
He is sitting on a bench overlooking a small fountain just several meters away from him. His rifle is still with him, leaning against one flank of the bench.
“It pleases me to see you’re doing well now.” He says as soon as I approach him. For the first time, he directs a grin at me.
Oh, how vibrant this view is.
“I heard that you’re the one who carries me to the bed.”
He sighs. I then sit beside him, my legs tight against each other, my hands are overlapping on my lap. This is the second time we sit together like this. But due to how messed up my feeling was that night, I don’t think I could count that as being in tune with this one. Therefore, it’s safe to say that this is the first time we spend a moment together.
It’s warming up within. But I’m sure it’s not the fever.
As my heart races, I begin to wonder. I wonder whether he sees this moment the same way I see it.
“What do you plan to do here?” I ask him.
“I thought it would be nice if you decide it.”
“But you’re the one who invites me.”
“I’ve covered every corner of this park already. So, I suppose I’ll just depends on where your curiosity is pointing.”
Wow, this boy. Imagine having a rendezvous with a girl and being indecisive on what to do next. He seems to be a thoughtful person. The irony that he didn’t thought of anything to do when inviting me drives a smile on my face. It is tolerable however, if this is the first time he’s up for this sort of activity.
“Well, I hope you don’t mind then.”
“Hmph.” He chuckles. “Go ahead.”
I pick a corner where the flowers are. Their vibrant scarlet petals stand in contrast with their surroundings. Zen says that each of them represents every person in the island who went abroad to serve in the Primus’ conquest. They sow the seeds before heeding the call. Their relatives, be it their wives or children would come here every day to care for the sprouts. Of course, none of those people returned.
Since that’s the case, it’s best not to pick them up.
While moving on to the other section of the park, Zen tells me how this island, despite being remote, was once a prosperous place. That is until the Primus’ conquest. Other than manpower, he bit a huge portion of the resources available from this place. By huge I mean all of them.
What they get in turn, is a platinum figure of the ArC insignia that stands on top of the fountain in the middle of this park. Compared to his mansion however, the insignia is minuscule. No one would notice when it’s placed side by side with the only gargantuan building in the island.
It’s remarkable how not even one person here decided to revolt, or at least protest. Or maybe climbing the gate to his mansion for a taste of looting. No subversive activities whatsoever. I couldn’t determine whether it’s fear that’s holding them back, their lack of pride, or just simply being faithful to the Primus. Zen couldn’t either. But I have doubt that the last one would be the case. That just seems ethereal and unfitting for human beings.
Attentions are turning at us as we move from one section to another. It’s unsettling to be the attention center, especially in a moment like this. But perhaps a moment like this is what causing us to be the attention center. Maybe the sight of a maid of Creatio Genetrix leisurely walking alongside a male partner is one that never occurred around here. I couldn’t help it. This is a chance for me to spend more time with Zen, and there’s no way I’d let them pass.
And so that’s how it goes for the rest of our walk in the park.
When we head out, we stumble upon two more people that Zen seems to be accustomed with. They greet each other in turn. Another boy and a girl. My sight couldn’t turn away from the girl. She has such exquisite features that left me speechless for a moment, especially her white skin and long straight hair. For some reason, those made me insecure.
“So,” The boy says. “This is the girl you’ve been looking forward to?”
“Ah seems like you have an excellent taste, Zen.” The girl follows up. “I think she’s lovely.”
She then approaches me and gives her hand.
“Hello, my name is Julia.” Besides her features, are her eloquent voice that left her even more endearing up close.
“Pleased to meet you.” I shake her hand. “You can call me Lena.”
The boy steps forward. “Mine is Lennard.”
“Pleased to meet you too, Lennard.”
He then chuckles. “The fact that Zen’s indifference twenty-four seven could impress a maiden is amazing.”
“Uhh…” is the only word that I could utter for the moment as I turn a weird face to Zen.
Zen shares my glance for a moment before turning back to them.
“Now you just made her nervous.” He says.
“Excellent sign then. That means she’s really into you.”
Ehh!? That’s when Zen turns to me.
“I hope their words just slips past your ears.” He says to me, pointing at them.
“Don’t be like that, Zen. You see how red her face has become.” Julia says, clapping her hands.
Really? Me? Red? I quickly put my hands on my cheeks and sinks my head. But I guess it is already up for show to everyone.
“Aren’t you supposed to patrol the town?” Zen asks.
“We got the outskirts.” Lennard responds. “And just happened to stumble upon you.”
Zen turns to me again and sighs.
“Oh well, guess no use in denying it.” He says. “Lena, we’re officially couple now.”
What!? I freeze in place to that statement. My heart skipped a beat. And I think I just got struck by a lightning bolt. I mean really? Am I…am I in one of my fever dreams?
Zen scratches his head. “Of course, that is with your consent. Our next dating activity would be to wander around town in accordance with these folks’ patrol path.” He continues. “What say you?”
“Eh, right away?” Julia says.
I can’t believe this is really happening. But well, since he doesn’t hide it anymore…
After a long pause of me gazing down at my feet, I clasp both hands in front of me and nod.
“Gladly. I consent.” I say.
“Really!? Accepted immediately?” Lennard’s jaw dropped.
Julia gasps, covering her mouth.
Even Zen opens his mouth slightly. Perhaps he too couldn’t believe that I would come up with such response in a brief timespan. Then his grin returned. Truly a captivating sight.
I look down, closing my eyes and slightly covering my lips as I let out a tiny giggle. As much as I wanted to yell out for this exhilarating moment, I have to remain calm. It’s in our discipline. Although I believe I have violated it about two times in this mission. I have to be grateful that there are no higher-ranking officials that catches me during those moments.
“Ahh alright, alright.” Lennard blurts out, stepping past us. “You lovebirds can go up your business waltzing, teetering, and giggling like no tomorrow. I’m proceeding with my duty. Come, Julia.”
Julia follows up. Just after she steps past us, she halts a moment and leans toward us.
“Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t follow us.” She whispers and winks.
And of course, we follow them, ignoring Lennard’s apparent inconvenience. I believe he is actually fine with that. We share a lot of stuff throughout the day. Mostly how we feel about this town, and our past.
Notably, Lennard’s past. He was once a part of a decentralized reign which is divided among many clans. Despite the peace, those clans hate each other, always seeking opportunities to climb toward total dominance in the reign. And so war is of the norm. To mitigate this, the central government conducted a game every season, joined by the clans. It’s a bloodless conflict where the victor could obtain an accepted yield of other clans’ ownership. Basically, the clans wager their prosper for a chance of a better one.
He was part of the Santoso clan, who have wagered much since they are faithful in his skill. But he was sabotaged at the final phase of the game. And his clan lost that much. Disillusioned, the clan master decided to execute him, his own son. Only thanks to his butler that he escaped. He lived here ever since.
So it seems that everyone here have an unpleasant past. They who once lived a decent life, until the unfortunate fell upon them. Just like me. If I have a spare fortune, I might return here and improve the quality of this place. I don’t know when will that time come. But it will come.
I return back to the mansion as soon as the clock hits evening. Zen accompanies me all the way back. The most memorable would be when the back of our hands just happened to touch, and Zen just proceeds to cross my index finger with his. That was half the way up to the mansion, and remain that way until we reach the place. His warmth, his scent, lingers there. For a moment, I am attached to my right index. I find it hard to pull it away from my nose as I climb up the mansion’s gardens.
That was a wonderful experience, one that I’m sure would linger in my mind for the rest of my life and would probably emerges in the slightest of my leisure.
“Zen…” I mention his name as I gaze into the mansion’s magnificent ceilings.
The two men had initiated their hike at sunrise, now the sun has set when they reach the peak. The darkish gradient of the sky on top of the bird-view of the remote island is an astonishing view that left them silent. Their coat flutters in the wind as their sight sweeps from one side to the other.
“So,” one of the man barks. “I take it that she doesn’t mess up anymore?”
“You were too harsh on her, Microv.”
“Guess I was too harsh on anyone by your standard.”
He sighs. “I mean you burst through every door that you came across.”
“Well, apology. Breaching doors are what I am made for.”
Their sights then turn to the dark skies filled with glimmering stars.
“You know, for a moment…I thought you’re already too old for this.”
“See where the reservoir has brought me.”
“You almost popped like a bubble back then. It’s a goddamn fortune you survived.”
“That’s what it means for one to take risks.”
A silence ensues as both takes a deep breath.
“It’s been a while isn’t it?”
The Primus nods. “I wish we have a full team here.”
“I miss her.”
“You’ve made an excellent couple.”
“That kid was a sweet lass. Never seen anyone like her before.”
“You were too busy grinding your gears in the warzones.”
Microv chuckles, “What else should I be doing? Massacring discount ostriches that ate our crops? Bloody hell, even my ancestor wasn’t good at that.”
“I believe you’d do that to fill your leisure.”
The Primus pulls out a bottle of water and takes a sip from it.
“Would you look for another partner?”
Microv shrugs. “No idea. My arse is wrinkling you know. If there’s another, our flesh has to be the same. For her safety.”
A stream of air streak through the Primus’ mask. “Right. For her, ‘safety’.”
“Katrina might break apart if I do it, literally.”
“Such reason really held you back.”
“At least snuggling wasn’t so bad. Love it when she rubs her nose on my chest.”
The Primus then let go of his backpack and sits down. “I hope the reason we’re here still lingers within your memory.”
“Of bloody course, they do.” Microv says, vigorously turning to his master. “But first, get a snoop on this.”
Microv hands him his binocular and points to a certain direction. The Primus stands up and grabs the device, training it to the direction his subordinate is pointing.
Over there, he sees what appears to be a speedboat parked on the most remote section of the shores. The binocular’s night-vision feature allows him to peer through the darkness.
“What an odd little fella.” Microv barks.
“Can you make out its details from here?” The Primus asks, still peering through the binoculars, adjusting its magnification and focus.
“If only it isn’t so far as well as so dark.”
The Primus, realizing something, turns down the binocular.
“This island has a notable dock you see. There’s still an active community managing that.”
“Rite. This island has been a great contributor to our cause.”
“The question now…” He pauses, turning to his subordinates. “Why would someone land a boat on a point that’s barely noticeable, with no overseer whatsoever, instead of the docks?”
Microv returns the gaze of his master. After leering back to the direction of the boat, he realizes what comes into the Primus.
It’s because they don’t want to be noticed.
“Those crimson thralls…” Microv says.
“How fast can your module make you run?”