3. The Castle's Maze
The carriage rolled to a stop at an enormous gate, joining the long line of carts and horses waiting to be checked by the guards. When it was our turn, they simply opened the door, did a quick sweep and waved us forward with a bored look. As soon as we were through, Miriam and I got off, I wrapped in a long cloak, the old selkie dragging me towards a small courtyard filled with... maids doing laundry. This is getting repetitive, I thought with a twinge of irritation. Miriam hates the palace maids. Why make her do this? The answer came in the form of a tall footman walking stiffly our way. Miriam beamed and ran to him, nearly making me trip over the cumbersome cloak. Upon closer inspection, I realised he was not a man, but an automaton, creatures made from clockwork and flesh. He, or it, to be precise, had the aquiline features of high merfolk, but they were soften by the placid expressions automatons always wore, a nod to their status as servants, not people. The other thing which confirmed its identity was the koi-shaped brand on the thing's cheek,the signature of an artist who breathed life into what was essentially a doll. Miriam and the automaton exchanged bows before gesturing to me to come along. I was truly surprised when Miriam began to fuss over the footman, and with a jolt, I recognized who the thing was; Marcus, Miriam's son. Oh god, I thought, what did he do to have them take away his flesh as a punishment? Unless it was punishment for Miriam? They are keeping too many secrets. To my annoyance, I kept tripping over the cloak and had fallen behind my guide(s). My own body felt strangely clumsy, the way it did when before I began training. The Masters had warned about the waters up here, but wasn't it clean enough to have sunlight 14 hours a day in the summer? Or I was just tired. I was definitely tired. Heading out to another 'mission' just after completing 4 others was enough for most people. But since I was Necromica, being overworked was no issue. After all, it was what we were built for; a cheap yet efficient labour source. So much for resurrection.
Miriam and automaton-Marcus stopped at an obscure door on the northern wing of the castle. From here, I could still see the impossibly tall structure that was the royal residence. It was truly a behemoth, an organized jumble of glittering turrets and towers in the middle of a lush coral maze that was a riot of color, dotted with pale statues of humans and land creatures. We entered the maze, and my eyes widened in awe. Every manner of coral was present, from anemones to fans to stag antlers. If one squinted hard enough, they could see the threads of magic protecting the walls. It also distorted the space-time continuum; the castle looked like it was in the middle, but ultimately the royal residence was located elsewhere. The maze acted like a path and a portal at the same time; have clear intentions, and it would lead you to your intended destination. Centuries ago the maze had been built as a safety precaution and a convenient mode of transport; assassins had no way to escape the judgemental magic, and theoretically, you could go anywhere in the city, as long as there weren't restrictions set by the Prime-mage. Well, they'd be proven wrong, soon enough.