Arriane Barrow panted as she darted down an alleyway, and tried to disguise herself by blending in with the busy crowd. Since she had left the school building twenty minutes earlier, three cloaked figures had been following the twelve-year-old on her journey home. It had only been two weeks since she had discovered the abnormality in her veins, surely she hadn't been caught already. Ducking into another shadowy alley, Arriane's scream was muffled by a hand covering her mouth. The small girl felt her body being dragged into one of the derelict buildings, her eyes not taking long to adjust to the darkness. Praying to anyone who would listen, she hoped her kidnappers wouldn't kill her. Her family was still reeling from the absence of Shade Barrow, Arriane's older brother who had been sent to the war the previous year.
Once she was finally released, she whirled on the three captors with her fists raised, ready to fight her way out. The two males stood guard whilst the woman with the cropped, blonde hair stepped forward.
"Hey, it's okay. We're not here to hurt you. We just want to help." Diana Farley held her hand out to the shaking – but unwavering – little girl huddled against the far wall. "My name is Diana Farley. I'm part of an organisation called the Scarlet Guard."
The sixteen year old's soothing tone comforted the young girl, who dropped her fist and took a step toward the outstretched hand, placing her small hand in Farley's larger palm.
"W-what do you want with me?"
"We would like you to join the Scarlet Guard because we believe you'd be a great asset to us. Your abilities are extraordinary."
"You know about what I did?" Arriane whimpered. "What's wrong with me?"
"We're not sure yet. We know you're a Red with the ability of Silver. We wish to protect you from those who would seek to harm you. The only people who will know what you are capable of is a small group of trusted Scarlet Guard members." Farley reassured the child, awkwardly putting an arm around her small, skinny shoulders.
"What exactly is the Scarlet Guard?" Arriane turned to look up at the blonde woman.
"We're a militant resistance group of Red rebels. We stand for the freedom and equality of all those living in Silver kingdoms. We recruit Reds that want to fight against the oppression. We'd like you to join us and fight those who would use you or kill you just for being different. We'll take care of you."
Absorbing the information that Farley had given her, Arriane weighed the pros and cons of joining a rebel organisation. Deciding that helping people of her own blood was worth the risk of imminent death. So, she agreed to join.
"I must warn you, if you tell anybody about this, you won't like the consequences."
"Excuse me, Miss Farley-"
"Just Farley." The blonde interrupted.
"Sorry. Look, Farley, I already have to worry about Silvers hunting me down for possessing their powers, I don't think I'm going to want to piss off some military organisation who will also kill me."
"That's some colourful language for a little girl." One of the guards scoffed, turning to face the two women in the room.
"Welcome to the Stilts." Arriane smirked. "Watch your step, there's colourful language everywhere."
"Snarky too." The other guard chuckled.
"You'll fit right in." Farley clasped Arriane's hand, giving it a firm shake. "Welcome to the Scarlet Guard.
Gazing up at the ornate palace in front of her, Arriane Barrow couldn't help but wrap the coat tighter around her, hoping it would draw less attention. Thankfully, the Silvers didn't get her a second chance. Ann Walsh, noticing the young girl's hesitation, gave her an encouraging smile before ushering her into the building as quickly as possible. The Scarlet Guard had managed to acquire a maid position for Arriane at the palace, and despite only being thirteen, she would be serving as a rebel spy. Her small build and innocent features meant that nobody would suspect her of anything mischievous. The only downside to the job was that she was unable to inform her parents of her occupation; a precaution she took to ensure her family was safe if her position was ever compromised. Luckily, the Barrows were too happy that Arriane wouldn't be conscripted that they didn't ask too many questions. The family was still mourning the hole that Shade's conscription had left. It had been two years and the wound was still raw.
Due to being a royal maid, Arriane's uniform as tailor maid and fit perfectly. Sadly, it was the nicest thing she owned. Walking down the corridor, Arriane was unable to stop the trembling of her hands, caused by fear. She was a small fish in a sea of Silvers – surrounded by people that would murder her if they knew what she could do. They would murder her because of the blood that coursed through her veins had no place in their perfect system of superiority.
Now seventeen years of age, Arriane was already hard at work scrubbing the royal floors of the enormous arena. Queenstrial was to commence that very afternoon, and the royal family had demanded that everything be perfect. The auburn haired teenager had been cleaning since the crack of dawn, her hands red raw and split.
Thankfully, she only had one more box to clean before she was able to enjoy some light lunch. As she stood, the cracking of her spine resonated throughout the arena causing the girl to wince at the harshness of it. She had been bent over all morning.
Later, the arena would be filled with sounds far more horrifying than creaking joints. But for now, the growl of her stomach was the scariest thing. She had missed breakfast and her gut was yelling at the neglect. Clambering over the final box seat, Arriane noticed that all the servers for Queenstrial were beginning to file into the palace; it was the most Reds she had ever seen in the palace. Bending down to scrub the final floor, the eldest Barrow girl failed to see her twin sister wander past her. Finishing her job, Arriane dragged her weary body down to the kitchens obviously to the events that would soon take place.
Footsteps echoed throughout the expensive corridors of the palace as Arriane carried a silver platter towards the elaborate dining room. The young woman was serving dinner for the Royals that evening and she had done nothing but scurry back and forth the kitchen, ensuring all the food was on the long table before the Royals and their guests sat down to dine. Certain that everything was in the correct position, Arriane gave a small smile at her handiwork before scurrying into the shadowy corner of the room, joining the other servers positioned around the room. Averting her brown eyes, Arriane refused to even glance at the Royals and their court as they swanned into the room. None of the servants did. It was considered rude and disrespectful.
Once seated, the King of Norta snapped his fingers and the servants surged forward simultaneously to serve the elite members. Leaning over to fill the Crown Prince's water glass, Arriane accidentally looked up and her eyes connected with a pair that looked almost identical to her own. Mare's.
Forcing her face to remain as neutral as possible, Arriane tried to scurry back into the shadows. Unfortunately, Mare (who was dressed in garments fit for a princess) let out a gasp loud enough for everybody at the table to turn and look at the two girls.
Angling his head, Cal caught sight of a woman with the most exquisite eyes; they were a deep hazel with bright golden flecks.
She hurried back to her place against the wall after filling his glass, hoping to remain unseen. Cal knew that it was too late though. Queen Elara's eyes flitted between the servant girl and the new princess, eyes narrowing then the servant shifted under the heated gaze.
"I regret to inform you all, my dear friends, that I am suddenly feeling under the weather. I am most apologetic to cut this wonderful meal short but I ask of you all to return to your rooms. Dessert will be brought to you there. So sorry for the inconvenience." Elara announced to the room, her whisper ability helping convince those who remained doubtful about vacating. Even the servants were booted out of the room before clearing away the dishes. "Not you." Elara demanded as the Red with the enrapturing eyes attempted to leave.
Cal remained rooted in his seat, pretending to be interested in the droplet of water sliding down his glass. However, he couldn't miss the shocked surprise on Mare/Mareena's face, or how the Red's hands shook when she walked to the Queen's side. Her head was down, her shoulders hunched, but Cal could see the straightness of her spine – the hint that this servant was not afraid. She was ready for whatever would happen next.
"Mareena, come here."
Mare wasted no time in scurrying over to the Queen, standing next to the servant who had clenched her hands into a fist. Their closeness allowing them to draw strength from each other. Looking between the two, Cal noticed similarities in their facial features, similarities that Elara would not miss. Most likely, it was a Red thing.
"Now, how do the two of you know each other?" Elara's tone was soft and sugary but her eyes were cold as ice.
Shit, Arriane thought.