It was autumn in the city of Kharador.
The sunlight on the rooftops shined golden yellow and flickered on the green and blue banners hung in the streets, from windows, in the market, along the city walls. Even the stoic palace guards who roamed the streets on the back of their great grey Wolves wore green and blue ribbons on their shoulders. October was here, and October meant only one thing for the people of Kharador: the Princess’s Birthday.
The Hounds were barking up and down the cobbled roads, their masters close behind them, running about to buy ale, to buy apples, to buy fish and beef and festive clothes. It was the height of the harvest, and the bounty gathered from the island city’s pasturelands and orchards was plentiful and delicious. The air smelled of apples and sunshine. From the iron gates that opened to the sea to the outskirts of town on the edge of the forest and fields, Kharador radiated light and energy and joy.
In the city’s center rose the palace of the king. White towers that stretched towards the heavens lay behind high white walls heavily etched in heraldry and scenes from legend. Even the door was white, and even though it was as heavy as iron, it looked as delicate as ivory. This door bore a carving of the king’s Beast: the Great White Wolf.
Its great jaw opened, and the door sung outward. A flourish of trumpets, and the parade began. The Princess had come to walk among her people.
It was a small parade. The Princess Aileen was not fond of crowds. She was surrounded on all sides by her father’s knights, riding the backs of impeccably groomed grey Wolves. She rode the back of a white horse with a silver fox’s mask on its narrow face. The Princess wore a dress as blue as the heavens, making her pale face glow like starlight framed by a barely-tamed cascade of curls as auburn as autumn itself. Around her shoulders rested a fire-orange Fox, her Beast.
The Guardian walked before Aileen, gripping the horse’s harness tightly. The Guardian walked in red from head to toe. Even its face was obscured by a mask and a veil. It was tall and slender and silent. The townsfolk stepped aside to let it pass, hardly daring to look at it lest its invisible eyes pierce their minds and drive them mad, or lest it reach out with its long claws and swipe at their faces, or any number or fearsome retaliations The Guardian was rumored to be capable of. For the silent watcher gliding in front of their radiant Princess could not be human, could not be of Sprite-kind, and could not even be part of this world. It did not belong. It could not exist apart from its deadly function as the Princess’s bodyguard. To the people of Kharador, and to the people of Berasia beyond, The Guardian was fear wrapped in a red cloak.
For the Guardian had no Beast.
Every child in Kharador had a Beast of his own, given to him at birth to walk with him until the day of his death. Even the poorest of families kept a Beast in its home. The humans of Kharador were all of the proud line of Hounds: Wolves and Dingoes and Bloodhounds and Bulldogs and Foxes roamed the streets and walked at children’s heels. The Sprites held the tradition of the family Beast by keeping Rats or Ferrets or Weasels or Mice, according to family heritage.
The Beastless were outcasts, misfits, rebels, enemies, or beasts themselves.
The Guardian had no Beast.