Kailor: I'm back again! Read it read it! I don't own anything except the idea. Whoot!
Naruto: We've been in Spain! Yo quierro RAMEN!!!
Nuriko: No hablas ingles!
Kailor: Liar! On with the story!
Setsuna rubbed her dark eyes and shook her head to dispel the fuzzy dreams she'd been having. Today was the day she found her new job. As any slave would, she wanted nothing more than a job at the palace. There, slaves were fed, clothed, bathed, and even let to roam free every now and then. Her master had never been mean or cruel but the black-haired slave wanted to see more of the world. Getting a job at the palace was the first step. Maybe her friend, Copper, would get a job there too and they could work together.
She quickly donned her best tunic and trousers. Her master had laid them out the night before. For a second she felt the pain of leaving Master Kiona again. If she got the job she would not see the kind old seamstress again. She'd live in the palace and everyone outside the walls would be out of reach. Setsuna sighed. No use feeling bad about it. All kids grew up and moved out one day. Even slaves sometimes.
Copper was lounging against the wall of the hut when Setsuna stepped out. Her brown hair was neatly combed and bound back and she also wore her best outfit. Her brown eyes held excitement. Setsuna smiled at her old friend and they began the long walk to the wall of the palace.
The guard outside nodded as they explained their purpose in coming and let them through. Inside was a large crowd of townsfolk and other slaves. Job Application day was a big thing for the country of Mania. People came from miles around just to find the job suited to them. Setsuna and Copper were some of the lucky few. Most masters would never let a slave leave to find another job. Setsuna fiddled with the metal collar around her throat and raked the crowd for any other such collars. Two boys and a girl were standing off to the side from the rest of the group. Each sported a metal collar and an apprehensive look. She and Copper made their way over to them.
"Oh, good. We thought we were going to be the only slaves here." The tallest guy had dark black hair and green eyes. He greeted them with a respectful bow. Nobody had ever bowed to them before so it made both girls flush slightly. "My slave name is Iron. My master is a black smith obviously."
In Mania a master named their slaves after things that they dealt with. Like a black smith naming their slave Iron. Each slave had a given name as well, the one they were born with. Should they earn their freedom, they dropped their slave name and referred back to their given name. Copper's master was a miner. Copper told them as much and bowed back. Setsuna waited for the others to introduce themselves.
"My slave name is Bolt. My master is Seamstress Diana. I'm sure you've heard of her." The other girl said, nodding politely, her hazel eyes as warm as her brown hair. Setsuna had indeed heard of her. Seamstress Diana was her master's sister.
"I'm Sole. My master's a shoemaker." The shorter guy stated shyly. He shuffled his feet subconsciously, his dirty blonde hair in his gray eyes. Setsuna smiled kindly at him.
"I'm Patches. My master is Seamstress Kiona." She saw Bolt's eyes light up. "Hopefully I'll be able to use my given name soon." The others nodded their agreement.
"Oh, good. Everyone's here. Please line up here! Orderly fashion now!" A tall man in green was waving from the palace steps. They quickly hustled into line next to each other.
The man walked slowly down the line, gazing at each of them. By the time he reached the end of the line, he'd told seventeen people to leave. Neither Setsuna, nor her new friends were asked to go. She sighed silently.
"Alright, those of you that want jobs elsewhere please take a step back." To her amazement, everyone except the five slaves and four other people stepped back. "Good, all of you report to the back field. The rest of you, follow me." Setsuna fell into line behind Iron and they followed the man in green into the palace.
The floors were so clean she almost felt bad for walking on them with her bare feet. The ceiling reached so high she actually hurt her neck looking up at it. Everything was straight and tidy, unlike her master's house. Kiona never bothered keeping the place well kept, for nobody but her and Setsuna were ever inside the actual house. Unconsciously, Setsuna straightened her tunic. Copper poked her in the ribs silently and winked. Instantly, she felt better.
The green man stopped in front of a set of bronze doors that reached well over Setsuna's head and looked at them. "Beyond these doors is your destiny people. Good luck."
The doors swung open.
Inside was the legendary throne room of the King and Queen of Mania. Everything was bathed in gold, including the guards, silently lining the walls. The red carpet and the dark hair on some of the guards stood out from the sun-colored surroundings. At the head of the room was a seven foot high throne with purple drappings and cushions. On either side of it was a smaller throne with blue cushions and silver trimmings.
They were marched down the blood red carpet and stopped before the giant throne. Setsuna swallowed as best she could with her mouth feeling like cotton. Copper bounced on the balls of her feet a few times before breathing deeply and stilling herself. Two people down from her, Sole was obstinately staring at his feet. Bolt was gazing, open mouthed around the room. Iron simply gazed ahead, hands in his pockets.
Setsuna suddenly wished she had pockets to put her hands in. Now she had no idea what to do with them. She tried crossing her arms, but that just seemed to laid-back. She put them on her hips. Now she felt like she was about to tell the King and Queen off. She clasped them behind her back. That worked.
"Please welcome, M'lady, Princess Konoka Konoe." A large golden door beside the thrones opened and a girl wearing all white stepped through. Setsuna felt her jaw hit the floor and saw Iron's eyes widen.
The princess had long, chocolate brown hair and matching eyes that contrasted beautifully with her thick white robes and the silver crown on her brow. She walked with grace and dignity even with the heavy robes sweeping around her dainty little feet. Setsuna suddenly found she'd forgotten both her slave name and her given name. Princess Konoka passed the blue adorned throne and perched comfortably on the purple throne. By the way the man in green's eyebrows drew together, Setsuna knew this was not where she was supposed to sit.
"My father is out of town, as you well know, Smith. In his absence, this throne is mine. Do you have an objection?" Setsuna had not expected such a cold and serious voice from this chocolate haired goddess before her. Her eyes seemed too warm and friendly for the indifferent tone in her speech.
"I see, M'lady. Of course, I have no objections. I--"
"Then let's get on with it."
Smith motioned the first man in line. "State your name, sir."
"What special talents do you possess?"
"Yes, yes, talents. Do you possess any?"
"Uh. Not-not really, sir."
"I see. You may go."
Everyone looked surprised at this abrupt dismissal, except Princess Konoka. She simply watched Jago leave.
"Next." This continued down the line. Nobody could really think of a special talent they had and the one person who could, said "juggling" and was dismissed.
"My slave name is Iron." It was Iron's turn and he was standing boldly before Smith.
"I can cook, sir." Smith paused.
"Cook? Your master is a chef?"
"No, sir. He's a black smith. I learned to cook on my own when he spent long nights in the smithy and had no need of me." This seemed to please the green robed man.
"Indeed? We shall see how good you are. You will be placed in a probationary spot in the palace kitchens. If you are indeed a good cook then you will be offered the opportunity to stay on." He paused. "What is your given name?"
"Better get used to being called that, boy. Things may be looking up for you. Step aside." Iron bowed and quickly moved aside, kneeling beside the line of guards to their right.
Setsuna bit the inside of her lip and stepped forward. Smith studied her momentarily. She wished he wouldn't. Being short had always been a sore spot for her, but standing next to extremely tall men like Smith made it painfully obvious how height challenged she really was.
"Your master would be a seamstress, wouldn't she?"
"Seamstress Kiona, sir."
"Ah, yes. She is well known. Your talent?"
In her head, Setsuna quickly battled her impulse to run. To tell this man her biggest talent would be revealing the only secret she'd ever kept in her entire life. But it was the only real talent she had. Nothing else would pass for a talent. She'd be asked to leave. Kiona would be quite disappointed. Copper would even be let down. She took a deep breath.
"I am trained in sword combat."
For the first time since entering, Princess Konoka shifted in her seat. She leaned slightly forward and placed her chin in her hand, eyes showing the first hint of interest. Even Copper looked shocked. Slaves were usually kept far away from weapons of any kind. To be trained in the use of one was without precedent. She could see Iron staring at her, half-smiling. Bolt was looking at her the same way she'd been looking at the throne room when they entered. Smith raised one eyebrow, disbelieving.
"Give me a sword." The nearest guard quickly drew his blade and handed it to Smith. He offered the hilt to Setsuna. She grasped it and took the sword. The balance was a little off, but it was manageable. "Captain Brace. Let Patches show us her skill."
Copper and Bolt exchanged a look as the captain of the guard, an average height man with thick bulging muscles and a light step walked to the middle of the throne room. Setsuna placed herself about four feet from him and let her sword hang at her side. The others backed away silently.
"Brace yourself." The captain joked, smiling kindly. He lunged and she immediately knew he was taking it easy on her. Bad choice.
She spun with the grace of years of practice and hit his sword hard enough to knock it from his hands. Before he could grasp the situation her sword was at his throat.
"Brace yourself, Captain." She smiled slightly. His eyes lit up at the challenge.
"This time I won't go easy on you." He said, retrieving his fallen weapon.
"I'd have it no other way." They faced each other.
Setsuna made the first move this time, testing his speed. Brace dodged swiftly and counter-attacked. She blocked with the hand guard and spun her sword hard, loosening his grip on his weapon but not breaking it. He grabbed it with his other hand and spun it in a low arc, aiming for her head. She jumped back. As soon as her foot hit the floor she leapt back at him, side-stepping his sword and swinging her own at his legs. Brace hopped over her sword and lunged again for her middle. She parried, spinning past his now exposed back to take a shot at his legs. Barely dodging her attack, Brace twirled around and drove his sword at her face with all his might. Setsuna blocked, sending a painful jolt through her arms and into her shoulders, locking them temporarily. As a result her next parry was slightly late and the attack that followed almost took out her knee. Brace took advantage of this momentary weakness and doubled his attack, backing Setsuna up.
Wildly, she dodged, blocked, and attacked. Brace, sensing victory, also lost a bit of his control. In that moment, Setsuna found her opening and slid her sword past Brace's hand guard, cutting his finger. With a quick twirl of her blade, she spun his sword across the floor and whipped the tip of her blade against his chest. For a moment he gazed at her as if ready to continue fighting, sword or no. Then his breathing slowed and he smiled, shaking his head admiringly.
A slapping sound made them turn. Princess Konoka was walking towards them, clapping softly. For the first time Setsuna saw a slight smile on her still, impassive face. She stopped before the bewildered slave and looked her in the eye. The princess placed two fingers on the blade and lowered it from the captain's chest.
"What is your name? Your given name?"
Her eyes were so warm, so clear and inviting. Tempting almost and there was a slight edge of challenge in her voice. Challenges were made to be met.
Konoka smiled wider, eyes still locked with hers.
"Setsuna… Welcome to the palace."