~ .oOo. ~
Deep within the ocean, the first pale rays of early morning light began intrepidly piercing through the glistening sky of water, illuminating the vault of deep aqua that surrounded the majestic underwater city.
The energy shield’s faint hum was barely audible over the voices of those already gathered in the marketplace. Even at this premature hour, the city buzzed with a sense of energy, purpose, and life.
“Jeii’teo!” a man called, stepping out from the crowd. A man of great wealth, Jeii’teo noted; he observed how the richly-colored robes adorning the man’s form gave off a sheen of multi-hued blue iridescence as he moved, hinting at their extravagance.
Taking a step out from behind his silk booth, Jeii’teo moved to greet the man. Perhaps he would establish a new customer today; gods knew he could use the added wealth such a client could afford to offer for his services. The district didn’t pay to run itself, after all.
As the man came close enough for his face to be better examined, Jeii’teo’s breath caught in his throat.
It was the Dai'rou.
“Jeii’teo, I have an assignment for you,” the Dai’rou began, neglecting to pause for the reception of the customary greeting Jeii’teo was about to give.
How unlike him . . . And was that the hint of a quiver in his voice?
Jeii’teo swallowed anxiously.
“I realize this is a bit out of your jurisdiction,” the Dai’rou continued, lowering his voice to a fierce whisper, “but my wife’s prized pearl necklace has just been stolen; it’s the most expensive piece of jewelry she owns, and the only one that features the rare transparent form of the stone.
“I fear the thief may have fled the district for a poorer one on the outskirts of the city spiral and, seeing as our district is the one in which the crime took place, he will need to be collected and brought back to our courts for justice. You understand, of course, why I simply had to speak with you face to face regarding such a sensitive topic? I apologize for the inconvenience.”
The tension that had been building within Jeii’teo released all at once, as though a dam had burst, and he heaved a silent sigh of relief. All this fuss over a necklace? He could scarcely hold back a chortle of disbelief.
“Of course, Most Excellent Dai’rou,” he replied solemnly. “I’ll see to it at once.”
“Jeii- . . . Jeii’teo,” the Dai’rou continued, flicking his gaze from side to side before clarifying, “I must insist that you conduct this assignment entirely on your own. It may be dangerous, but I cannot risk my wife’s honor at the hands of any other man.”
Jeii’teo blinked in confusion. “. . . Risk her honor? Surely her locks have not been shorn?” he questioned incredulously. Perhaps the question was a bit too bold for most men to venture; he, however, found himself newly emboldened by the revelation of his special position in the sight of the Dai’rou.
Yet, to play it safe, he included a more reverential follow-up.
“I would never dream of letting such a tragedy befall so great a lady. Consider it done.”
The Dai’rou nodded absentmindedly, clearly affected by his unfortunate circumstances.
“Right. Report back to me as soon as you have word.”
Jeii’teo bowed his head in acknowledgement. When he lifted his gaze to bid the Dai’rou farewell, however, he found the stout man had already turned away to shuffle heavily through the congested courtyard, shooing aside whoever was unfortunate enough to stumble into his path.
Sighing, Jeii’teo gathered up his things and headed home to give his wife and daughter the news.
~ * ~
“Wait, you’re going where?!”
Jeii’teo’s daughter paused from fixing the flowers in her hair, turning away from her dressing table mirror to face him. Her deep blue eyes were open so wide that he could’ve sworn half the ocean would fit in their glistening depths.
“The outer districts. To find and capture a thief and return the necklace he stole from the Dai’rou’s wife.”
Honestly. This was the third time he’d explained the situation. It was as if Jia’alia lived in her own little bubble, with how little she seemed to pay attention to him. Sometimes, he truly wondered if the only things his daughter cared about were clothes, jewelry, and hairstyles . . .
“But, Father, aren’t the outer districts dangerous?” Jia’alia prodded, biting her lower lip. “What if something happens to you? Did the Dai’rou appoint guards to accompany you?”
Jeii’teo felt a soft smile tug at the corner of his mouth. Yes, she did care about more than just herself. She cared about him, about his safety. Even if the worries sparked by that care were irrational and ill-informed.
“Jia’alia, my precious pearl, Taj’erii is one of the wealthiest and safest cities on Tanjia.”
He bent down to kiss his daughter’s forehead.
“I’ll be fine. Your mother agreed to take over the booth while I’m gone; in the meantime, you’ll be left in the care of her maidservants.”
Jia’alia’s expression melted from worry to annoyance. “But I’m 19,327 years old; I’m practically an adult!” she pointed out. “I should have maidservants of my own, by now . . .”
“And you will, when you turn 20,000, I promise. But not a moment before.” They had discussed this many times before, and his logic remained intact; he didn’t want to spoil his daughter any more than he had already been tempted to. He wanted the best for her.
Jia’alia huffed quietly, crossing her arms, but her eyes shone with a quiet anticipation.
“What about when I turn 19,500?”
“I’ll be back before you know it.”
(To be continued . . .)