Sydurnia, Year 813 of Avia, Day 279
“Father is so stupid.”
An eleven-year-old girl in a red dress sat next to a cold, thick window. She breathed out on the glass, watching the mist appear and disappear after a few minutes. Her eyes were green like emeralds, and she wore her fair blonde hair in a neat, well-kept ponytail.
Her eighteen-year-old sister sat beside her holding a mirror and a comb. She wore a huge, puffy white wedding dress, and she tied her pitch-black hair into two elegant braids. She was the epitome of beauty: fair skin, a healthy complexion, and a sharp jawline that perfectly matched the proportions of her face.
A deafening horn thundered across the airship, and both girls quickly covered their ears. Static from a nearby loudspeaker echoed across the room followed by a soft, soothing voice.
“Esteemed passengers, we are ready to embark. Our estimated time of arrival to Enceladus is 4:00 P.M.”
The cacophony concluded, and the older sister made her way to a box of sugar cookies on a nearby table. But the airship wobbled as it lifted off, and she lost her balance. She fell to the floor on her face, dropping her mirror. It cracked into a hundred glass fragments, spreading across the intricate red carpet floor.
Four female attendants rushed into the room with an electric suction device and a first-aid kit.
“Princess Sydney, are you okay?”
The older sister, still face-flat on the floor, mumbled some incomprehensible noises. The younger sister tried her best not to laugh.
The attendants picked Princess Sydney up and helped her back to her seat by her window, then stood patiently at the door, as if expecting Sydney to fall again. One attendant handed Sydney a sugar cookie.
The younger sister moved over to make room. “Still as much of an airhead as usual, I see.”
Sydney laughed. She patted her dress from the top down with one arm, sending dust flying in every direction.
The younger sister coughed and waved her hand in front of her face.
“Cindy, want the cookie? Falling down kind of ruined my appetite.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.” But Cindy took the cookie anyway, and popped it into her mouth. Her sister stared intently.
“Were you saying something earlier? The airship was too loud for me to hear.”
Princess Cindy was surprised by her sister’s perceptiveness. “I said that Father’s stupid. You turned eighteen yesterday, and he’s already marrying you off to that barbarian.”
Cindy continued. “It’s all because of that idiot girl who ran off last year. If she had just gotten married to Brother, we wouldn’t have to go through all this trouble again.”
“Actually, it’s all Father’s fault. Why do we even have to marry those Enceladeans? We can just destroy them with our airships like we did to the Rheans and those other tribes. Stupid, Stupid, Stupid.”
Sydney gazed amicably at her sister. “Once you get started, you really don’t stop, huh?”
“This situation is just so unfair. They probably just want you to leave because of your-” Cindy paused. “Because of Mother. I don’t understand why she hates you so much anyways.”
Sydney’s calm, collected expression juxtaposed Cindy’s clearly flustered one. “If someone was watching us, they’d think that you were the one getting married off. But honestly, I admire the guts of the girl who ran away. You’ve heard the rumors about Brother, right?”
“What, the one where he only hires female attendants and beats them all half to death?”
Sydney nodded. “If I was in her position, I’d also try to leave.”
“Why don’t you? The chieftain’s son that you’re marrying is like twice your age.”
“I’ve heard that he’s quiet and nice. If I ask him to leave me alone, he probably will.”
“You don’t know men at all, do you?”
“And you do? You’re literally eleven.”
Both princesses laughed. An attendant opened the door and walked inside.
“Princess Sydney, here’s the nail polish that you’ve requested.” She handed a jar with sparkling blue dye inside along with a small finger-sized brush.
As Sydney did her nails, Cindy turned around towards the window and looked down at the bustling, smoke-filled city of Sydurnia. Looking at it from above, it seemed as if the entire city was alive, with hundreds of thousands of machines moving at once. Teal copper windmills stationed on top of industrial buildings turned intermittently, and large conveyor belts on the city floor transported millions of people every minute. Even from far up in the air, Cindy could hear the soft creaks and groans of metal sliding against each other.
Cindy’s survey of the city was interrupted by a knock on the princesses’ door. A tall, lean man with short, brown hair walked inside. He was wearing a white Sydurnian military uniform, complete with an army hat and two golden stars above his pocket. Upon locking eyes with Princess Sydney, he bowed respectfully.
Sydney nodded at her attendants, and they hastily left the room. The man stared at Princess Cindy, as if he was expecting her to do the same.
Sydney broke the silence. “It’s okay.”
The man nodded.
“Captain Lee, is everything set up for the wedding?”
“And I assume your mission away from Sydurnia was successful?”
Sydney opened her mouth briefly, but closed it after glancing back at Princess Cindy.
“Thank you, Captain. You may leave.”
Captain Lee placed his feet together and saluted before turning around to leave the room. Princess Cindy looked suspiciously at her sister.
“I didn’t know you were involved with some military man. Is he an admirer?”
Sydney smirked. “Something like that, I guess.” Cindy decided not to press on any further, and the sisters sat in silence.
“Well, Mother wants me to see her before the wedding, so I’ll be off. Let me know if you need anything!”
Sydney nodded. Cindy made her way to the Queen’s suite on the other side of the airship. Dozens of circular windows lined the walls, but the smoke from the ship’s exhaust pipes made it difficult to see through them. The clean, elaborately set up hallways greatly contrasted the dirty streets of Sydurnia.
As Cindy approached the Queen’s suite, she heard the familiar chirps of royal princesses and court ladies. Undoubtedly, they were engaged in their daily routine of gossip. She opened the door with a bang, and all the women looked up at her.
Queen Scarlet was the first to speak. “Cindy, you’re late. Don’t tell me you were with Sydney again.”
Cindy rolled her eyes and made her way to a seat by the window.
Princess Sunder piped up in a high-pitched, nasal voice. “It’d do you good to find some better friends. We’re all so very glad that Sydney will finally leave. I mean, we’re all so very happy for her marriage!”
Everyone laughed, and Cindy faked a smile.
“Good riddance. Her dirty blood makes her fit to marry a barbarian, anyways,” Princess Charlotte added, in a harsh, condescending tone.
Cindy couldn’t hold in her anger any longer. She took a deep breath and opened her mouth to speak. “You are all-”
“That’s enough,” her mother interrupted. She faced all the princesses with a smile. “None of us are fond of Sydney, but there’s no point in bashing a maiden on her wedding day. Let’s just enjoy our last day with her, shall we?”
Everyone nodded in agreement. The usual gossip about dresses and affairs resumed.
Queen Scarlet walked in front of Cindy and patted her on the head.
“I told you to come over because I have a new dress for you to try. Go to the dressing room quickly before we dock.”
“Oh, and don’t be late! We’re not going to wait for you if you aren’t off the airship by four.”
Cindy snatched the dress out of her mother’s hands. It was soft and fluffy, like her sister’s. It was also huge, twice the size of Cindy herself.
Cindy walked inside the dressing room and locked the door. But the moment she reached for the zipper on her back, she felt a sharp pain in her stomach, and her world began to spin. The pain grew greater and greater, forcing Cindy to lean against the wall.
It must’ve been something I ate.
She tried to call out, but nobody could hear her voice. Unnoticed, Cindy fell to the ground.
The wedding hall was filled with thousands of guests, most of which were Sydurnian nobles. They were seated at oval tables facing a large, rectangular podium. The walls were decorated with watercolor paintings, and electric Sydurnian lamps hung from the ceiling, illuminating the room.
At the center of the room was a thirteen-meter-wide chandelier, glimmering with sapphires and diamonds. The candles on its ends were connected with golden chains, the finest metal in the world, mined by the Encelaedeans themselves.
Three long tables sat on the podium. The left one was for the Enceladean chieftain’s family, the right for the royal Sydurnian family, and the center for the betrothed and their parents. A peculiar metal device stood on top of a wooden chair in the middle of the room. At Sydney’s request, her wedding would be the first televised royal event in history.
The lights dimmed, and a trumpet played a fanfare. From doors to the left and right of the podium, the chief’s family and the royals entered the room. Sydney sat silently next to her future husband and her Father. She glanced over to the royal table and noticed that one seat was empty.
King Sydurn the Fourth raised his hand, and the room fell silent. With a loud booming voice, he prepared his speech.
“Today is a wonderful day for both Sydurnia and Enceladus,” he started.
“My daughter Princess Sydney, the beauty of our court, will marry the son of Chief Jean.” This marriage represents the strong connection that our two kingdoms share and is a testament to our bright, harmonious future together.”
As he sat down, Chief Jean rose up. “It is my pleasure to welcome Sydurnia into my humble abode. We are deeply honored to have so many guests, and we have been eagerly waiting for this union for years. As Encelaedean custom dictates, before the marriage, we will begin the water-sharing ceremony."
Two Encelaedean women walked onto the podium with three large, color-coded, eggplant-shaped water jugs. They placed them in front of the King and the Chief.
Chief Jean continued speaking. “This water is the purest in all of Enceladus, taken from the dangerous geysers at the heart of our island. I will pour the water into the cups of my future daughter-in-law’s family, and King Sydurn will pour water into the cups of mine.”
The Chief and the King picked up the blue and yellow jugs respectively. “The final jug will be poured by the husband and wife into each other’s cups. Their jug is white like a dove, and a blessing to their dedicated marriage.”
Each royal cup was made of gold, with a different pattern on each one. The tribal cups were much more simple. They were made of mahogany wood with a ruby planted at the center.
After every cup had been poured, everyone raised their glasses and drank.
King Sydurn stood up once more and called out in celebration. “Now, let the marriage be-!”
His speech was stopped short by a cough, followed by another. On one side of the royal table, Princess Charlotte fell to the ground, choking.
Prince Sydurn the Fifth jumped out of his chair to see what was wrong with his sister. Foam came running out of her mouth. Her eyes rolled to the back of her head. “Guards!” He yelled.
Dozens of Sydurnian soldiers came rushing to his aid, but they could do nothing to help. Not long after, Queen Scarlet collapsed as well, falling face forward onto her cup. Princess Sydney screamed as blood gushed out of the Queen’s nose.
King Sydurn continued coughing until his body couldn’t take any more. He desperately grabbed onto Sydney, breathing heavily. Sydney felt a rush of anxiety overwhelm her as her dying father’s grip loosened.
One by one, the Sydurnian royal family dropped like flies, until Sydney was the only royal remaining. Eyes full of fear, she looked around at her immobile family before staring directly at the television camera that had recorded the entire scene.
The Encelaedeans and Sydurnian nobles froze in shock. Within a few minutes, King Sydurn and Queen Scarlet, along with six of their children, were pronounced dead.