"Studies show that when people are presented with too many options - too much variety - their reaction is to choose nothing."
Eden wrinkled her freckled nose and stared down at the palace courtyard. Hundreds of guests had arrived and were floating about; their elaborate, beautiful clothing making them look more like candy than humans from her perch atop the sandy palace walls. More candies were still pouring in from the towering stone doors off to her left.
"Just think it through," Eden said flatly. "Or at least sit up and pay attention, Rose. This is supposed to be last minute research, not sun tanning time."
Her partner let out a relaxed sigh from behind her but stayed sprawled out, choosing instead to use her brain. Though she was as blond as they came and at certain times lazy, she was not by any stretch dumb.
"You think it's why the king hasn't chosen a wife. He has the pick of the litter, but there are just too many women interested in him. Poor fellow…” Roselle said with a sickly sweet sarcasm that was her specialty. Half the time people couldn't tell if she was serious. It took Eden years to develop the skill.
"So what makes you special, Rosie? Your golden hair? Your blue eyes? He's seen it all before. In fact, I see one of you right there." Eden pointed, half mockingly, to a bubbly blond woman with a hunch in her shoulders. Eden recognized that hunch, the stiffness in her posture. She was trying to be outgoing, but she was insecure.
In truth, nothing like Rosie who seemed powerful in poise and posture.
Not that it mattered. There were at least three men who seemed to be talking over themselves to get that young woman’s attention. Eden wondered if she even cared, or if – like every other girl here – was just waiting on the king.
Roselle jostled Eden’s elbow as she crouched down next to her, but the wind caught the blondes’ blinding white cloak and whipped it up near her face. It was so reflective under the blistering sun that just the accidental glance at it made Eden's eyes hurt. They didn’t need to worry too much about being spotted though. They were positioned high enough up on the wall lining the palace courtyard that nobody would be able to discern their faces. Just a couple of kooks that were looking for a fall.
But sitting this close together, they must have looked just plain peculiar to any observant onlooker. Eden's cloak was black, and it was always black even though the cloaks were reversible - white for day time, and black for night.
"Are you kidding? That scrawny thing?" Roselle exclaimed, feigning hurt over Eden's choice for her clone. "If that is me, then that is you!" She pointed to a tall, dark haired and gangly woman lingering at the edge of the food table, who clearly wanted to eat but couldn’t muster up the courage to put anything on her plate. Twice now Eden had seen her put a morsel back simply from insecurity.
"Paranoia to the point of not being able to function?” Eden replied sullenly.
The woman was also way too tall, hair more of a chestnut brown than Eden’s chocolate, and she was pretty sure that this woman didn’t own a single freckle with skin as pale as that, though she was quite pale herself. “Accuracy was never your thing, was it? You could at least try."
Rosie lifted a manicured hand to her pale pink lips. "Oh, you're right, my mistake." She pointed to a man instead. This got a tiny smirk from Eden. A tiny one.
This tiny smirk, however, was a big deal to Eden. Rosie was special. It was more than anyone else had gotten out of her in a very, very long time.
“You’re hilarious, Little Lotus,” Eden said, “but that won’t be enough to seduce the king. Do you have a plan?”
“A plan for this? Are you kidding?” Roselle yawned halfway through the sentence and tucked her hands into her cloak’s sleeves. “You can’t plan stuff like this. I know you and the boss seem to think so, but truth be told, there is no way to know which direction a conversation with the king will take. I could be interrupted. He could be offended by my very presence. He could be interested in men – who knows?”
“Well, you’re not wrong...” Eden murmured. Though from what she had seen of Rosie’s seduction tactics, men were usually more offended when she left their presence.
“I’ll just do what I always do – I’ll be myself. I even have an entrance strategy planned.”
This piqued Eden’s interest enough to get her to turn away from the colorful, boisterous crowd below. “Don’t you mean an exit strategy?”
“Why would I need that? If things somehow manage to go bad, I have you, Little Loon.”
Eden let out a soft scoff. “You know, I often feel an overwhelming sense of doom when you talk.”
“Why? You’re an expert at escaping. It’s kind of your thing.”
Eden closed her eyes and knuckled them roughly. The sun was starting to give her a headache. “I don’t like escaping. It means something has gone wrong, that we didn’t plan ahead… that we didn’t do our research beforehand.” She nodded to the crowd below, to make her point. “That we were careless.”
Rosie sighed, catching her drift. “You’re such a hard ass. This isn’t even a dangerous mission.”
A tiny bolt of panic went down Eden’s spine, which she suppressed immediately by tensing her body. “I’m going to pretend you didn’t say that.”
“Oh, come on. So I have to seduce him. I could do that with my eyes closed.”
“And where are you going to run if he finds out who you really are, Rose?” She stood from her crouch finally, and swept her arm in a semi-circle. From so high up, above everything and everyone, it was inarguably clear just how trapped they were. The ocean hugged their tiny world from every side, and it was endless.
“Nobody is going to find out who I am – who we are. Nobody ever has.”
“That’s what I’m saying. He isn’t nobody. He is the king, and he’s dangerous. Please take this seriously.”
“Fine,” The Lotus drawled.
Eden let it go at that, though she wasn’t blind to her partner’s tone and growing resistance to these sorts of missions of late. A few years ago she was the greatest temptress that Eden had ever seen. She could wield a man like Eden wielded knives. She turned husbands on their wives. She turned friends since childhood on each other in jealousy.
And she was so malicious about it that even when they stood in the ruins of what once were their lives, she looked like an angel.
The Lotus reduced men to rubble, but Eden tried not to occupy her mind with questions of whether or not they deserved it. She and Rosie simply did as they were told. Nobody crossed the boss and got away with it. No, you worked for the boss or you worked against him.
And they were no exception.
‘Maybe you waited too long to give us this mission, Thetan...’ Eden thought.
Rosie wasn’t the firecracker she used to be, but at the same time, she needed as much practice as she could get for a mission of this caliber. The king was no swooning schoolboy, and he was clearly looking for something in someone before he tied the knot. Something he hadn’t found yet. Eden didn’t know anything about romance, nor did she care, but the declaration of this ridiculous party had motive behind it, and she could discern it wasn’t merely about fun. Clearly everyone who had raced here had reached that conclusion too.
But Roselle needed the surprise factor – to be a fresh face in the sea of women below. No doubt he had seen many of them at least once already. Their world was small. Surprises were a force to be reckoned with.
“I wonder why he is doing this all of a sudden...” Rosie murmured curiously, touching a slender finger to her mouth in thought.
Glad that her partner was reorienting her focus, Eden asked, “What, the celebration?”
“Yeah, and the sudden interest in finding a wife. I mean, what’s the hurry? He’s still pretty young, right?”
The Loon nodded. She’d never seen the king up close, especially since he was known for keeping to himself, but he wasn’t any older than thirty at this point.
The sudden push for a wife had been a shock to Eden too, because she was normally aware of such drastic happenings in the city long before normal people were.
Because even though he was after a wife… Thetan was after something much different.
Magic. Or more specifically – the secret to the king’s magic.
“It’s hard to say but I wouldn’t dwell on it.” Eden crossed her arms and stared thoughtfully into the distance. “Let’s be clear; your mission is to get him to fall in love with you and open up to you. It’s not about getting married and playing wifey, as much as that might be his aim.”
“Easy for you to say. You don’t have to sleep with him.”
“On the contrary, I would advise against sleeping with him.”
“Really?” Roselle asked, lifting a fine brow. “That’s not normally these things go.”
“I’m aware...however...” Eden paused and lifted her eyes in thought. “I’ve heard talk around the city. Apparently the king has been taking women into the palace. Frequently. Sometimes at night, sometimes even during the day.”
“What do these women say about it?”
“Usually say he gave them a tour.”
“Yeah, right!” Roselle laughed and banged her knee with the heel of her hand. “Like anyone believes that!”
“Exactly,” Eden replied. “One thing is for certain; he has no interest in these women beyond these... tours.”
Stifling her laughter, Rosie nodded. “So you want me to play hard-to-get.” She flicked her glimmering, white cloak out behind her and then rubbed her hands together somewhat evilly. “My favorite.”
Pleased with her partner’s growing, though well over-due enthusiasm, Eden forced herself to relax. “Let’s head back. I think we should wait until nightfall before you make your grand entrance.”
“Yeah, any earlier and I’d seem desperate, wouldn’t I?”
“You would seem just like the rest of them.”
Eden signaled with her hands to their aid down below. Only a moment later, a sturdy, steel arrow whistled through the air and buried itself deep into the stone wall just under her feet. Attached to its end was a thread as fine as spider silk, but as strong as tightly-coiled rope.
“Eden look! Look!” Roselle was suddenly squealing, grabbing at her shoulder.
Eden turned slowly, expecting that the king had finally made his appearance, but her partner was pointing way over the pretty palace walls and out into the expanse of the sparkling, blue ocean. Her stomach flipped.
She saw the giant waves immediately, crashing away from a huge, smooth, dark blue mass coiling in the water. The bulk of the celestial creature was curving back into the ocean but Eden wasn’t surprised. Barely anyone had ever seen the creature and fewer still had seen its face.
They stood in awed silence and watched as a gigantic, translucent fin spliced out from the water and spread with stunning colour, like a bubble jellyfish that Eden had once seen stranded on the beach.
“This is the second time I’ve seen Brontide in my life!” Rosie yelled in glee and waved to the giant creature, obviously taking that opened fin way too much to heart. “We definitely have luck on our side now. Ah, I feel good.”
“That’s just a myth, Rose,” Eden murmured, though she knew just about everyone believed seeing the powerful creature brought good fortune.
“How many times have you seen it?”
The Loon stayed quiet, unnerved, but her partner was too distracted to even notice her silence. Eden turned away the first chance she could without alarming Rosie, but not too far below the surface of her skin a quiet anxiousness was churning.
How many times had she seen it? Too many times to be normal, and far too many times to mean anything good. She had a bad feeling of late about their guardian, Brontide; a small inkling that it wasn’t so much everyone was watching it... as it was watching them.
But clearly the God’s presence was giving the blonde some cheer and enthusiasm, so Eden just bit her tongue, hunched her shoulders and waited for the beast to go on its way.
They stood there back to back; the extroverted sun and the introverted moon; the daytime, and the night time; the Lotus and the Loon.