Chapter 4:

(AUGUST 11, 2158)

Beyond the Far Away Gates

The hot August morning followed its routine closely, threatening debilitation to all living creatures at the start of the day. Frederick had grown used to it by now, waking early from the heat’s insistent permanence. He awoke this day no different than the rest of the week, his adorable sister sleeping in a peaceful slumber next to him. He found the attachment endearing but couldn’t resist the thought of a nice cool bed devoid of other bodies.Bookmark here

Frederick gingerly climbed over the sleeping girl, and readied himself for the morning procedures; shower, clothes, breakfast, sister. It was a simple enough pattern that he fondly enjoyed. Karin had also fallen into a similar repetition, grateful that she was able to exchange Citizen School for time with her dear brother.Bookmark here

Once both siblings had fully awakened and finished the morning essentials, they made their way down the hill to the City proper. The merry two walked hand-in-hand, playfully leading each other down the snaking hill path. For the first time all week, Frederick sensed a perfect calmness in Karin. She was not dwelling on the soon-to-be departure and instead had her sights purely on the day’s enjoyment.Bookmark here

The sounds of the City were duller during the week. Less people bustled about with a leisurely energy, surrendering instead to the purposeful haste of the professional world. Frederick and Karin preferred days like these. The Central Promenade could be enjoyed with its same architectural beauty but without the added pressure of navigating the added obstacles that were, Citizens. This would be the last day the two of them could enjoy the City as it was in this depopulated state.Bookmark here

Karin, perhaps realizing this, dragged Frederick to her favorite café where they could enjoy each other’s company in the shade. The drinks here were sweet and perked up any less-than-eager morning goers. The usual amount of wandering eyes made their way to the Royal siblings as they sat and enjoyed their morning drinks. Frederick did his best to ignore the annoying glance-stealing that the Citizens around them took. Karin didn’t appear to mind at all.Bookmark here

As they finished their drinks, their talk turned to the next activity that would occupy their time.Bookmark here

“I had something special in mind for you today,” Frederick said.Bookmark here

“I can’t wait!” Karin said excitedly.Bookmark here

Her cheery outburst turned the heads of several Citizens around them.Bookmark here

“Don’t get too excited,” Frederick said, “I don’t want to get your hopes up if you end up disliking it…”Bookmark here

“It can’t be as bad as that musician we listened to the other day,” Karin joked. Bookmark here

Frederick laughed, also reflecting back on the musician they had heard playing two days ago. The poor brass-player had tried to recreate an old 20th century sound that he no doubt learned about in a southern Principality. The structureless sounds of dissonance cost him the attention of loitering Citizens as well as a visit from the patrolling City Enforcers. He was promptly fined for playing inappropriate music and eventually removed from the public sight.Bookmark here

“I can guarantee it will be better than that, at least,” Frederick said with a grin.Bookmark here

The two fiddled around with their empty cups for a moment more whilst continuing their ridicule of the musician. The Citizens around them no longer bothered with subtlety and opted instead for entranced stares. What irritated Frederick most, however, were the lingering stares upon his sister that he could do nothing about.Bookmark here

He hoisted his Magnetic rifle with vigorous style on his shoulder to remind the surrounding Citizens not to get too familiar with their lowly eyes. The message was received and the interlopers went back to their benign day as the two siblings left the café.Bookmark here

The heat had increased yet again and the few Citizens strolling about clung to the shadows of the Promenade shop walls. The siblings did the same. Frederick directed them to the end of the Central Court Promenade where the shopping district turned residential. The place he wanted to take Karin was the small store at the very end.Bookmark here

“Frederick!” came a shout from behind.Bookmark here

Frederick wheeled around in dread, having recognized the voice.Bookmark here

A girl with delicately attractive features was running toward him. Frederick’s left hand was stuck holding his rifle strap securely, and his right was occupied by Karin’s. He was completely vulnerable and the charging girl took the opportunity. With an effortless attempt at stopping her momentum, the girl clasped her arms around Frederick and stole his head down with a kiss.Bookmark here

Karin whimpered out a high-pitched squeak at the unsightly display.Bookmark here

“Damn it, Vaela!” Frederick shouted at the clinging girl, prying her off in an awkward struggle.Bookmark here

“How many times do I have to tell you off for doing that!” he said.Bookmark here

“Until it stops being fun for me!” the girl, Vaela, responded.Bookmark here

“Why are you here?” Karin demanded.Bookmark here

Her face had grown pink in jealousy and all but insisted for the swift departure of this depraved girl.Bookmark here

“Aww, don’t be so mean to your older sister, Karin,” Vaela responded. “I simply saw the two of you walking and decided to say hello.”Bookmark here

“That’s not how you say hello!” Karin retorted.Bookmark here

“Oh? But how else should I greet my favorite brother and sister?” Vaela asked provokingly.Bookmark here

“Vaela...stop, please,” Frederick said.Bookmark here

This attractive girl that had nearly tackled Frederick just a moment ago, was none other than their older sister, Vaela Schraeder. She was granted a sublime beauty that all the Schraeder daughters possessed, but often took liberties in expressing it, rather provocatively. In terms of raw beauty, however, Katherine had total domain over all her sisters.Bookmark here

“I’d ask you to apologize for upsetting Karin, but I doubt that would help right now,” Frederick said.Bookmark here

“But of course I’ll apologize to my precious little Karin!” Vaela said.Bookmark here

Her tone never changed. It always contained an impish air to it, as if nothing could or should be taken seriously.Bookmark here

Vaela embraced her younger sister against the squirming girl’s will and planted a kiss on her red cheeks.Bookmark here

“See, now you don’t feel left out, right?” Vaela said.Bookmark here

“No, that’s not the issue!” Karin replied. “You can’t just go around and make such a scene! And especially not with Frederick!”Bookmark here

“Oh, I see…” Vaela said with bemusement.Bookmark here

Frederick sighed heavily at the constant provocations of his older sister. He knew Karin wasn’t lacking in wit and normally could play along with a joke, but Vaela was something of an anomaly to her. She knew how to push all the right buttons, and in particular, seemed to enjoy using him for such ends.Bookmark here

“I think I know what the problem is now,” Vaela said. Bookmark here

She lowered her head to Karin’s ear and whispered something Frederick couldn’t hear. Karin’s eyes widened in shock and her face became utterly flushed. There was no response to what was whispered, only a shrill sound of embarrassment. Frederick could only wonder at what was said, and fancied the idea of sending Vaela away.Bookmark here

“If you like,” Vaela continued in a barely audible voice, “I can ask if he’ll-”Bookmark here

“No, no, no! You can’t ask that!” Karin cried.Bookmark here

“But what if he also-”Bookmark here

“It’s not the right time for that! Not yet!”Bookmark here

“Oh? So, then you were going to ask him?”Bookmark here

“Alright, stop,” Frederick commanded. He had grown irritated at trying to figure out what exactly they were talking about. “No more, Vaela. That’s enough for today, don’t you think?”Bookmark here

Vaela frowned with a pout, unhappy to end her entertainment so quickly. She rebounded back to a gentle smile just as fast.Bookmark here

“Okay, okay,” she agreed.Bookmark here

She gave a smirk to Karin feeling a sense of victory over a non-existent competition.Bookmark here

“So what are you two doing out here, anyway?” Vaela asked.Bookmark here

“I could ask you the same question,” Frederick retorted. “Did you follow us?”Bookmark here

“Ohh! I see now,” Vaela said. Bookmark here

She turned knowingly to the store several feet before them, looking curiously into the window display.Bookmark here

“You wanted to buy your darling sister a present! I bet it’ll be expensive, too!”Bookmark here

She twirled in dramatic fashion, imitating an old 20th century dancer.Bookmark here

“Leave it to my favorite brother to adorn me with even more beauty!” Vaela proclaimed.Bookmark here

Frederick ignored her claim that it was for her, knowing better than to extend their interaction right now.Bookmark here

“Is this really where you were taking me, Frederick?” Karin asked.Bookmark here

She was less shaken and had recovered some of the paleness in her cheeks.Bookmark here

“It is,” Frederick said and added, “I had something made, just for you.”Bookmark here

Karin went red in the face again but this time, with gratitude.Bookmark here

“So, what did you get her?” Vaela asked.Bookmark here

“That’s still a surprise for another minute,” Frederick said.Bookmark here

“Do I get something too?” she pestered.Bookmark here

Karin muttered under her breath, something a little louder than she intended.Bookmark here

“You already got something…”Bookmark here

“What was it I already got from Frederick?” Vaela asked, swooping down quickly to Karin’s level.Bookmark here

“Vaela...” Frederick warned.Bookmark here

He doubted his harsh tone had any weight in tempering Vaela’s constant badgering, but she backed off all the same.Bookmark here

“If there’s nothing else, would you mind if we had this time to ourselves,” Frederick continued.Bookmark here

“Fine, fine,” Vaela said. “I just wanted to see you two before I have to leave.”Bookmark here

“You’re leaving, as well?” he asked.Bookmark here

He couldn’t help but find immediate sympathy for their common plight.Bookmark here

“Father finally found a good match for me, or so he says...but I think Katherine coordinated the whole thing,” she replied.Bookmark here

Frederick couldn’t help but feel it was the same with his own circumstance.Bookmark here

“Where are you going?” he asked.Bookmark here

“To the island Principality in the West. Deslin,” Vaela said. “I leave in four days.”Bookmark here

“You’ll be in one of the safest Cities in the Alliance, then,” Frederick said.Bookmark here

He was glad for her. He wished no ill will for her and found a hidden comfort that should the need arise, Karin could safely seek shelter with another member of the family. He disregarded the recent contention between the two in favor of his own idealistic vision.Bookmark here

“And is your marriage to the first prince?” Frederick prodded, wanting to know just how much authority and power she might suddenly get to wield.Bookmark here

“He’s the King, actually,” Vaela said proudly, “His father and mother, the former King and Queen, recently passed. Unfortunately, the prince was an acting diplomat and is still stuck in some mire of bureaucracy in the South. I’ve been told I may have to wait for a month before he returns.”Bookmark here

“Why not just stay here until you know he’s back?” Frederick asked.Bookmark here

“The arrangement is already sealed, Frederick. Once I step foot in that City, I’ll be acting Queen. I figure I may as well try to make myself at home and orient myself before my King arrives,” she said.Bookmark here

Frederick pondered on her words, relating it to his own situation. As a prince, a Schraeder prince no less, he could easily take full authority over the City of Illica and its surrounding Principality through marriage as his father had already pushed for. Should things become too dire, he might need to consider that option as a last resort. It would be an admission of defeat, though, as he would be committed to dying to the last Citizen there...He found nothing charming about the idea.Bookmark here

“Perhaps I’ll call on you for aid in the South,” Frederick said.Bookmark here

He didn't really expect he would call for aid, and he jested the words more than not.Bookmark here

“I’ll send anything I can to help,” Vaela replied.Bookmark here

He sensed that she truly meant it, and got the feeling that she might send aid even if he didn’t ask for it.Bookmark here

“Well, I have a few things of my own to do, so I guess I’ll leave you two darlings alone,” she said.Bookmark here

Vaela grabbed Karin again in a forced embrace and gave the girl a loving peck on the cheek. She whispered something in her younger sister’s ear, this time causing no fluster from Karin. She turned and swooped in on Frederick once again and pecked him too, no longer finding joy in antagonizing Karin like she had before. Bookmark here

“Eccentric, crass, improper…” Frederick said aloud to Karin as Vaela grew smaller in the distance. Bookmark here

“Deviant, overzealous, seductress…” Karin mimicked.Bookmark here

He laughed at the harsh words, finding the one-sided chemistry between the two sisters darkly comical.Bookmark here

“But, I suppose she has a certain charm to her,” he added, attempting to lighten the piling derision.Bookmark here

“An arrogant charm,” Karin corrected.Bookmark here

Her frowning face turned back to its normal loving cuteness as she reflected on her anger and irritation. Frederick smiled at the young girl’s self-denial.Bookmark here

With Vaela’s parting, Frederick and Karin were finally left to enter the store they stood in front of.Bookmark here

“Welcome,” the shopkeeper said as the two entered. “Ah, yes, this must be the young princess you were ordering for the other day.”Bookmark here

“Indeed it is, and I’m hoping she likes what I picked out,” Frederick responded, giving Karin a warm smile.Bookmark here

The store they had entered was filled with glass displays and cabinets full of glinting metals and jewels. Each rock, gem and metal varied in size and were priced respectively. Every Citizen could afford these shining trinkets as the commercial overindulgence for such valuables was wiped away with the new ethics and morals of their victorious Alliance.Bookmark here

There was a natural appreciation for beautiful adornments in Citizen and Elite alike, however, so a compromise was made. The gem or metal could be bought for a nominal fee, but the expense came in the creativity of the desired cut or engraving.Bookmark here

For Frederick, price was a hand-waved issue. This in turn, put considerable pressure on his person as it became his responsibility to wow and amaze with a truly creative piece of art. His hopes right now, were just that.Bookmark here

The shopkeeper went into the adjacent back storeroom and returned with a small locked box. He procured the key from a loose pocket and presented the fresh jewelry on a velvet cushion.Bookmark here

Karin inhaled sharply at the elegant gift being presented to her. Her hand reached for the silvery chain and unraveled the length of a dazzling locket. The narrow chain was impossibly studded with small diamonds and incredibly detailed markings. Only holding it up to one’s eye would show the brilliance of the craftsmanship. The silver locket itself was expertly engraved and chiseled into a detailed vignette of a long-forgotten palace garden, suffused with exotic flora and fauna. The entire little masterpiece fit squarely in Karin’s delicate hand.Bookmark here

The young girl was absolutely speechless. Her brain told her to cry and her body told her to jump in glee. She froze in a state of indecisiveness.Bookmark here

“That turned out quite beautifully,” Frederick said.Bookmark here

He took the necklace from her hand and laced it around her neck.Bookmark here

“You have quite the eye, Mr. Schraeder,” the shopkeeper said, admiring the beautiful ornament around the young girl’s neck. “I’ve seen all manner of designs come through here, but I’ve never quite seen something of such simple form containing so much refinement.”Bookmark here

“I learned from my father that you shouldn’t cover up beauty with more beauty,” he replied. “He used to give our mother small gifts and nice clothes that always seemed rather plain by themselves, but when she wore them, even the most professionally tailored dresses or colorful gems couldn’t compare.”Bookmark here

Frederick was glad to have remembered something so small and seemingly insignificant. The objectivity of beauty was not something taught in Citizen School, in fact, it was entirely missing from the core teachings. He now understood why. Looking at his still stunned sister, he noticed a new perfection to her angelic visage, something that could never again be replicated anywhere else. Bookmark here

He understood perfectly well that the locket had nothing to do with this newly discovered beauty emitting from the girl. It was a secret he refused to reveal to even someone as trivial as the shopkeeper. It was the primal joy of altruism. It was seeing Karin light up with curiosity, joy, affection, delight, excitement, shock and many other emotions all at once. It was the rare state of seeing everything together in a natural form. That was the source of this perfect beauty.Bookmark here

If you don’t know what makes something truly beautiful, he thought, then you will never truly see anything unique in this world.Bookmark here

The thought was pretentious, he knew, but he couldn’t tear himself away from it.Bookmark here

“I’m going to assume you like it?” he asked Karin, trying to restart her thoughts.Bookmark here

“I love it!” Karin exclaimed, "It's positively wonderful!"Bookmark here

Finally settling on how to react, she embraced him completely and held true for what seemed like ages. And for her, it just might have been. Bookmark here

Frederick stroked the girl’s hair in adoration and cherished the entire feeling of the moment. With any luck, moments like this would become mental braces for his upcoming time away.Bookmark here

“It really does look beautiful on you,” he added.Bookmark here

“Does it make you-no, nevermind,” Karin began to ask.Bookmark here

“Does it make me, what?” Frederick tried to inquire.Bookmark here

“It’s okay, I’ll have my answer eventually. For now, I’ll just have to wait,” Karin said.Bookmark here

He gave a playful frown to the young girl, accepting that he would just have to be patient with Karin and her feelings. A greedy side of him wanted to know everything she was thinking right now, but the calmer virtuous part of him knew not to spoil such things.Bookmark here

“You two are quite the couple,” the shopkeeper said boldly.Bookmark here

His eyes framed the perfect portrait of the duo as they held a picture-perfect pose.Bookmark here

Even Frederick blushed a little at the shopkeeper’s words. Normally he might challenge an indecent statement like that, but he chalked it up to a connotative misunderstanding.Bookmark here

“Thank you very much,” Karin responded politely.Bookmark here

Her face was alight with joy at the man’s words.Bookmark here

After relieving the shopkeeper of their awkwardly long show of affection, Frederick dealt with the trifling procedures of patronage; fitting the necklace length, choosing a jewelry box and finally paying for it all.Bookmark here

For the rest of the day, Karin walked with an alluring step, twirling her new little treasure around her neck. Her thoughts were solely on how best to repay this precious gift, something with which he would always remember her. The words Vaela had whispered to her earlier, spun around in her head in a dizzying mess. She didn’t dare announce them, for she didn’t yet have the courage.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.