Roy broke from his spot at the end of the line. Without looking at any of the ones he passed he made his way to the center of the line. He stopped at the tall woman with horns.
“ May I call you Elayne?”
“ You can call me whatever you like, Roy.” Elayne smiled and shifted her eyebrows.
“ Okay then.” His stoic face twitched slightly.
She heard a stifled snicker come from another girl. Someone had a sense of humor.
“Then Elayne,” Roy recovered. “I would like you to meet Specialist Bass. She is skilled at… she’s… I am sorry Aurora, I don’t want to base all your qualifications on your race.”
“ It’s fine, I don’t mind,” said the woman with a tiny smile. Her voice was full yet soft.
“Alright then, Aurora, since it seems you prefer first names, she is a Bovinae. They are feared for their strength and near invulnerability. I have witnessed her break through brick walls with her bare hands. And I have watched bullet, arrow, spear and sword graze or bounce off of her. If I was without my magic, then I am unsure if I could best her.
For her size and width, her legs were like tree trunks. Her arms were stocky and chest full. Her face had a soft beauty to it. Not the kind that would turn heads but one that seemed timeless and inviting.
“You flatter me, but I know I can crush you Roy,” Aurora joked, her ears moved as she chuckled.
“You’re a cow,” said Elayne. “I mean literally not figuratively. Oh, you know what I mean.”
“Yes, I am.” She touched one of the curved white horns behind her temple. The points were sanded down. Her ears stuck out horizontally from her head and were covered in fur that was the same chocolate brown as her hair.
“Do you hear any better with those?” she pointed to her ears.
“Yes actually quite well. Thankfully though they bend enough so that I can sleep on my side.”
“ Hm. How tall are you?”
“Six foot eight. Just a head taller than this Nord.” Aurora pointed a strong finger at Roy.
“ How much do you weigh?”
Roy’s bushy blonde eyebrows knit together in a hilarious way.
“I am much denser than your average Alpha human. Therefore my muscle weighs more than normal.”
“I don’t care, spill.”
Aurora’s big lips shifted. “Two fifty.”
“Interesting. Your legs, at least what I can see, aren’t that defined. Are all your muscles like that? Big without definition?”
“Yes, definition isn’t always strength. Even when you’re supernaturally strong like me.”
“How much can you lift?”
“Last time they measured was half a ton, and that was over my head.”
“You should be proud you can lift that much and still look like a woman.”
“Ah, thank you.”
Roy looked about ready to say something, but Elayne continued on.
“Oh don’t be offended. I wish I had a shape like yours. Not all the muscles of course.” Elayne smirked.
Aurora had a friendly nervous smile. “Okay.”
“One more question before Roy’s head explodes.”
“Do you have a tail? You have the ears and horns but do you have the tail?” Elayne tapped her lips in anticipation.
“Yes, I do. I keep it hidden in my skirt.”
“Let me see your tail if you would be so kind.”
“Alright.” She reached into the back of her skirt and with one quick motion flipped out a well groomed brown tail with a puff of hair at the end of it. Aurora turned to the side. The tail swished in the air lazily.
“Does it always do that?”
“Yes, it always does it. It’s a reflex.”
“Does it feel pain?”
“Yes, but not as much as any other appendages.”
“Interesting. You can put it back or away or whatever. Don’t feel like you have to hide it though, especially around me. Alright?”
Aurora seemed a bit perplexed. “Okay.”
“I like you, you don’t ever say no to me. I need someone like that. Near invulnerability helps too. Would you like to serve under Roy as my guard?”
She straightened herself in the line. “I will be happy to serve.” Her tail swished faster now.
“Excellent. Next then, Roy.”
Roy nodded and started to move down the line.
They stopped in front of the human woman with jet black hair. Her onyx eyes had a slight narrowness to them. She was a bit shorter than Elayne and more athletic in frame. Her tag read: Yamada. If Elayne was correct on her Eastern names, then Yamada was from the country of Rising Sun. An island nation whose only worthwhile export to Elayne was animation and comic books you read backwards.
Elayne had to have this woman as a guard, even the Cord agreed.
Yamada didn’t seem as excited for this as Elayne.
As Roy was about to speak Elayne put a hand to his mouth like one might brush the neck of a horse. “Shh… shush now. I know what I want to ask.”
Roy sighed quietly through his nose in defeat.
“Alright Yamada, how much do you weigh? I’m kidding, but your blush was quite funny. No, what is your first name?”
“Hikari, ma’am. I am sorry I don’t mean to disobey, I am not used to addressing a leader in such a casual manner as you requested.”
“If the habit won’t break, then who am I to force it. No matter how much I hate that title. I am hardly a leader though. If you wish to refer to me as ‘Princess’, then I have no problem with that.” Elayne removed her hand from Roy’s mouth and wiped it on his shirt. “So Hikari, what’s your specialty?”
“What did you do in the army with that skill?”
“I killed people quietly, Princess.”
“You killed people? With that little sword on the small of your back I assume. Is that a tanto blade?”
“Yes, it is.”
“You dropped the title. No, don’t worry about it. I can tell you’re a bit upset. You probably don’t think your skill set is of interest to me, but you’re wrong. You see I’ve figured out a few things in the last few moments. One, you must have served alongside Roy here. He’s not the type to recommend someone he’s not fought with. Two, you have nearly as many medals as him, so you must be good. Third and last you are the only two here to have this.” Elayne pointed to a little medal on the right side of Hikari’s jacket besides her rank medal. “That circle is the international symbol for a magic user, Roderick always has one pinned to his lapel. I suppose in the army they put another symbol in it to further clarify the wearer’s magic type. Roy’s has a little music note in it. Yours has two little Eastern characters I can’t read…”
Hikari swallowed a lump in her throat. “They are the Rising Sun characters for Shinobi. You may be more familiar with the title Ninja.”
“Talk about burying the lead. You practice Ninja magic? Roy, why didn’t you tell me this? I don’t care if I was telling you not to speak; you should have just said ‘Ninja magic.’ So, what can you do? I’ve never seen anyone practice it in real life.” Elayne tried to remain as calm as usual. “Is it anything like the show Haruko? I haven’t really watched it, but I know it’s pretty crazy.”
“That show is rife with fiction. There are three different kinds of magic in Rising Sun and they had to use ours. Actual Shinobi magic deal more with illusions, speed of movement, and manipulation of energy and other natural forces. Mostly I used it to break through enemy lines, steal classified information and take out targets. I typically specialize in offense not defense. I mean no insult to you, but I came here…”
“To see the mysterious Princess? The one that never speaks to the press and has only one or two pictures of her floating around the net? I can see your point. I suppose that’s why no one else turned down their application. I’m sure many of you would be better suited fighting or leading troops than guarding. But who would turn down a chance to meet the aloof Princess or dine in the Great Castle? I am not upset, I had my own agenda as well. Although I have to say you are wrong Hikari, I do have need for you. I already have a woman who is twice my size and bulletproof, but I have need for offense. Who better to deal with an attempted regicide-minded maniac than a Ninja? I need someone sneaky, in fact my Royal duties might require that. Now would you deny me, when my need is so great?”
“No, I would not. It would be a great honor to serve you Princess.”
“And I am honored to have you.” Elayne raised her voice and did her best to adopt a tone like her mother’s. “Now then I apologize to those not chosen. I am sure you all are extremely talented, but I’ve only need for three. I wish you the best in all your future endeavors. This is not goodbye, you are all invited to a feast. Eat well, rejoice, and give your congratulations and farewells to your classmates. I will see you momentarily.” I’m off to change into something less expensive, she wanted to say but didn’t. Elayne curtsied, the soldiers bowed low.
Roderick appeared at her side as the soldiers were being ushered toward the dining hall by the castle guard.
Elayne waved at the three as they departed. “Make sure those three are seated by me at the head of the table,” she told the magician.
“I have already texted their names to Ms. Lynch, Miss Elayne.”
“So you’re finally using the phone over magic?”
“I figured out how to increase the size of the words so that I don’t need to use my glasses. Ms. Lynch prefers texts to a disembodied voice in her head, so everybody wins.”
“You’re going to be replaced by technology talking like that.”
“Magic will always have a place in this castle.”
“That is something you say quite often.” Elayne paused for a moment. “How confident are you that you will be able to move and anchor the Cord again?”
“I have done it before, Princess. It used to hang from between your eyes when you were born. Are you certain it needs to be moved?”
“I am going out in public tomorrow, with as much security as possible. We live in the twenty-first century I doubt many women wear diadems, let alone know what they are.”
“What about your new guards? Surely you don’t mean to keep it a secret from them.”
“They will be told eventually. I expect they have their own secrets to conceal. Everyone does.”
“Did the Cord approve of their selection?”
“Vehemently. Practically chose them itself.”
“What is its goals to pick such people and such a mission?”
“Your guess is as good as mine. Although I am fully capable of my duties it wasn’t all the Cord’s choices that led me down this path.”
“Of course, Miss Elayne.”
“Now let’s move this accursed thing, so I can join them.”
“It will be quite painful, you cried something awful the last time.”
“I was also two years old. Come on, I haven’t got all night.”