This was Jaundi’s worst nightmare.
Heart pounding, she hacked through the dense forest with her quarterstaff as she chased a figure in a bright red cloak. She didn’t know a thing about the person that she was chasing, only that the prince and princess's word was law and that Jaundi was to do whatever she said. The vegetation in the forest was an obstacle course, she cut down one bush and an even bigger one reappeared in its place. At least fifteen minutes went by before she lost patience with both the forest and the person she was persuing and pointed her quarterstaff straight at the cloaked human.
“Halt! By order of Princess Fera and Prince Kearn, I am placing you under arrest for crimes against the kingdom of Daernia,” she shouted in a shaky but firm voice.
The figure stopped, startled by her outburst. “Jaundi, is that you?” The figure sounded like a child, but she didn’t know which gender.
She took a deep breath. “Come with me, boy.”
“Yes, but only under one condition.”
“And what might that be?” Jaundi forced out, lowering her weapon shakily.
There was a strange silence between the two as the boy was still facing away from her. Rustling leaves and blades of grass occupied the lack of noise. A few birds squawked in the distance, as if encouraging the boy to answer.
“What do you want?”
He seemed to go out of his trance when she spoke again.
“I wish…” he started, his voice breaking. “I wish that you would look at me and not see a monster.”
Jaundi inhaled sharply. “Fine. I will do this thing you have asked of me,”
The boy unclasped his red cloak, flinging it to the ground. Jandi’s eyes went immediately to the back of his tunic. Some spots of the potato sack tunic were missing, displaying silvery scars. His body was so skinny that every single vein seemed to be raised on his skin, which was clamped onto his bones. Sores, scrapes, burns, and bruises stained the boy's skin, most of them on his legs. Then, Jaundi glanced at the part of his neck that was hidden by his red cloak.
She let out a primitive scream and backed into the nearest tree. “Vicious…” Jaundi’s lips moved to form the word but no sound came out.
The boy turned around to face her. “Wow. After all these years, you still remember me,” he said, a creepy smile stretching across his charred face.
“I will never forget what you did to Serenity and Ifre, Vicious,” she braced herself against the tree as he walked forward.
“I never thought that you would think that you would,” Vicious stopped moving, only a few inches from Jaundi’s face, his sickly sweet-smelling breath filling her nasal passages.
She pressed her back against the tree, even more, to get away from him, the bark and rough edges cutting into the yellow and steel-plated armor and slightly piercing her yellow tunic.
“I knew that you would never forgive me after I cursed them,” he continued. “But I also knew that it was the only way that I would get you to see me, who I am on the inside.”
The soft tone and choice of Vicious’s words made Jaundi gasp quietly.
“I wish things did not have to end this way. I hope that you will understand.“
“What are you do-,“ Jaundi´s words were cut off when Vicious seized her quarterstaff and aimed it above her head.
“Goodbye,“ he whispered, blinking away the tears in his eyes. “I love you,“
Jaundi´s world went dark
2 Years Later: Teari
With shaking hands, Teari unfolded the letter that had the inky imprint of Daenria as she was taking a nice walk. She exhaled when she saw a smudge of blue ink in the top right corner of the paper, a sign that no one had gone through it. She looked at the contents of the letter.
I pray that you get this message. My siblings and I’s villages have been burned to the ground in a horrible ambush. We and two other girls whose parents were killed are the only survivors. I did not catch their names but while we ran, they both shouted like maniacs, “The Curse! The Curse! It has followed us and besieged the rest of the kingdom!” I did not know what to make of it, only that you would know exactly what to do.
Unfortunately, my youngest brother of only 12 years of age, Rowan, was captured by a fearsome mob of bandits called, “Screech and Shudder.” We had tried to prevent that misfortune, but we were severely wounded before they left. They cut Phade deeply in a cut on his hip and a gash on his forehead that is still bleeding even after days of treating it.
We need a place to stay in the meantime, and you are one of our last existing allies. I throw myself at your feet and beg for shelter. We are at your mercy.
Ember, Phade, Sperce, Sharina, and two girls.
Teari reread the letter that contained the terrifying news. The Main Southern villages were gone, burned to ashes. Rowan was captive by Screech and Shudder, the same group that had planned and executed her mother’s demise two years ago. Two orphaned girls who had clearly lost their minds, probably going into shock. Her friends were wounded. Phade, if he wasn’t dead already, was closer to it with every passing second.
Teari folded up the note and stuffed it in a small bag that she kept by her waist for her few precious valuables such as her five gold coins and a few small rolls of bread. Her combat boots struck the floor and gave off a quiet thunk as she walked, then quickened her pace as she neared the castle.
“Halt!” a soldier pointed his spear at her as she sped past the outer palace patrol. When Teari didn’t, he grabbed a torch and hurried over to where they lit the signal fires.
“Do you want me to alert the royals?” he shouted directly at her.
“I do not care at all! I need to alert them!” She grabbed the torch from the soldier and lit the signal fire. The person who could see it would light theirs and so on until everyone knew that something or someone was coming quickly.
“What have you done?!” the soldier screamed.
“I have made your life a nightmare.”