Days had passed now since they started their travel southwest. Kasis was already tired and fed up with the journey and would’ve loved nothing more than to return home; back to the inn she called home. But now, the family no longer owned such a place. Four days earlier before they left, everything they owned was sold to purchase two geldings, a mare, a wagon, food and supplies, and fifty crones. Despite the amount of things they gained in the trade, Juels was adamant that it wasn’t a fair deal; even with the fifty crones.
It took some time, but eventually Gillian managed to get his wife to accept the trade and they began their journey southwards, towards the kingdom of Psyren. Gillian was born and raised within those lands; in a small town called Kensil. He had moved away from it because of Lord Abney’s biased and strict rule over the lands which favoured the nomads over others. This bias was so much so that the houses were even made to be shaped like the nomads' huts: short walls with a slight curve in them and a straw roof that curved over the top. As a child, the houses annoyed her foster-father because they could never withstand heavy amounts of snow which made for difficult winters. Furthermore, he claimed that because of the high amount of nomads who migrated to the town every day, the other folk were often neglected and ignored. And all of that because Lord Abney shared the nomads’ descent and believed everyone should live as the original inhabitants once did.
When her foster-father shared all of this with her, Kasis was in awe at his story. She had never heard of him spoke much of his home, but given everything he had told her, she could easily imagine why he would rather forget it. To imagine, all of that simply because he has different blood, she thought. Then she realized that she would rather not move to such a place either as she would be no different from him in the lord’s eyes. She had no idea who her real parents were but she was certain there was no trace of the nomad’s blood in her, less she would have crimson eyes and jet black hair. Their markings were something she wasn’t sure about; were they born with those? Or were they marked after reaching a certain age? When she had asked Gillian about it, he said that he didn’t know either as the nomads kept the mystery of such things a closely guarded secret. The thought only made her even more worried and fearful of the people. She had never seen any but she only heard horrible things about them from visitors at the inn and people around the tow, and she would prefer to keep it that way.
“You don’t have to worry, Kasis”, Gillian had told her when her questions had ceased. “It’s not Kensil we’re going to, I have no love for the place and would never burden my family with it” he had finished.
Kasis’ relief was very noticeable as she sighed deeply; that made the man laugh at her as he rode beside her on one of the geldings. She blushed shyly and turned her eyes down onto the mare she rode on, a light shade of red coming to her light brown cheeks. She wasn’t even aware that her worry was that apparent, but at least now she was at ease. When she stole a glance across at Juels on the other gelding however, her foster-mother's face still remained very impassive and worried. As a matter of fact, she had been quiet for quite some time now, hardly ever saying a word; was something the matter?
Psyren was the only kingdom through all of the Eleven Realms of Arincar which was a matriarchy. Kasis was told that the reason for this was because the ancestors of the Ducalyn, the most common race within the lands, believed that females were more cautious; therefore, less prone to start wars. That view led to very mixed emotions, however; even by Juels’ standards. She believed that war was sometimes necessary and a part of what made people human; that it was only naive for anyone to believe that war could be completely averted or abolished, even though she did not like it. A necessary evil, she called it. Kasis had thought long and hard on those words, two days earlier and even though it was her foster-mother who taught her everything she knew; she could not agree with her this time. War was dirty work and scared her, so she believed that a world without any fighting would be an ideal dream. When she had told Juels this on the third day, her foster-mother simply said nothing to her and urged her steed onwards instead. It was probably since then when the woman had become so quiet, she realized.
The heat was slowly subsiding and becoming cooler despite it was already the middle of Meqahn; the seventh month of the year. It was almost as if the summer had only now decided to subside and let fall begin. Still, she wasn’t used to the heat as she spent most of her time either in the shelter of the stables, the inn or under the covers of the trees within the Kashan Forest. As a result, Kasis found she was sweating a lot and chose to wear light clothing most days; a plain white cotton shirt and an old pair of Gillian’s shorts. It hardly mattered though, as the sun was always beating down on them; she really wasn’t cut out for travelling.
Gillian had promised them that it would only be about five days travel to their location; the Citadel. He claimed it was the safest spot to find shelter during troubled times since it was considered neutral territory despite being within the lands of Psyren. Because of this, no matter what conflicts arose within Psyren the Citadel was often left unscathed as no one dared to trouble the city and honoured its treaty; even though it was founded by a queen of Psyren in the first place. Juels also didn’t agree with this however, believing that the city would be a very valuable resource that the royals should use to their advantage. The Citadel is known for its various many academics that make it their goal to learn as much as they can about the world and document it. This made it a place overflowing with valuable information and her foster-mother believed that information could be used to do many things if anyone could grasp it, so for some reason, it seemingly annoyed Juels that no one ever did and would instead share it so freely. Dangerous, was what she called it. Well, Gillian also mentioned that another reason no one could take control of the Citadel was because it was a very well protected and fortified city, housing close to five hundred thousand soldiers by itself and capable of withstanding a siege for ten years if needed.
Another thing he pointed out was that the city still holds a very close relationship with the nobility of Psyren and could therefore still request aid from the kingdom should anything befall them. As a matter of fact, there was one case in the past where the Grey Valley Kingdom attempted an assassination of the Phoenix Queen of Psyren some hundred years ago, by infiltrating the Citadel. Although he didn’t know the reason for sure, Gillian believed that there was some secret fight between the two royals for some time that reached a boiling point, causing the Right Hand of the Reaper to attempt the assassination. Ultimately, the plan failed and the infiltrators were swiftly caught and executed, by the Citadel no less, he continued. The ending results were an open war between the two kingdoms which only ended when Psyren called for a truce, all the while, the Citadel stayed out of the conflict yet being the ones who started the actual bloodshed. Regardless of the story, however, Juels’ opinion on the city had hardly changed.
After cresting the top of a small slope, a river became visible at which Gillian smiled.
“See that river? That’s the Saruk. It stretches all the way to Daent Basin and if you look close enough, you can see it leading into the Khasim Gulf; that’s the western river of the riverlands; of Psyren.” he said excitedly, following the river along with his finger and pointing it out to Kasis.
“Where’s the Citadel? I see only plains and then trees, Gillian” Juels said stubbornly; her first words in hours or maybe even all day long.
“You’re right. That’s probably the Lone Forest. We might’ve strayed a little far west is all. Once we reach the river though, we can follow her eastward until we see the Citadel and that should be simple enough, given the size of the place” he said with a nod to his wife. He began urging his steed onward, and the beast obeyed.
Reluctantly, and with a stern face, Juels followed on her black gelding, followed by Kasis and the mare being pulled along by her foster-mother. She couldn’t help but wonder though; just why was her foster-mother so against this? It was her idea after all to travel and leave behind Ireida. And from what her own husband had said of the place, the Citadel seemed amazing and promising; so why was she so reluctant about it? Although she contemplated simply asking Juels, she was sure the woman would only give her a roundabout answer or dodge the question. That was a skill she acquired to avoid answering questions she didn’t wish to answer. Then again, maybe she was just reading into it too much? Gillian has been her husband for some ten and more years and didn’t seem to even notice her behaviour. Eventually, she decided to simply cast aside the thought and continue on with their journey.
It was past the hour of hunting; close to the hour of eve, before Juels said they should stop and set camp. They had just reached the riverbed and she figured it would be a good spot to camp the night, being close to a supply of water. So, reluctantly, Kasis began looking for a spot for them to spend another night under the stars. It wasn’t truly all bad to her; she enjoyed staring at the stars but she definitely hated the rocks beneath her while she slept. And the noises in the dark often scared her too. Juels and Gillian slept close enough to her so she felt relatively safe, but her imagination still ofttimes wandered; specifically back to that day in the forest. She had still been trying to forget what she saw then but was having no such luck. Almost every night now she would wake up screaming and drenched in sweat just moments before the sword would bite into her face. And each time she did, both her foster-parents woke with weapons drawn from their bedsides and readied for battle, leaving her feeling silly and embarrassed when she had to explain it was only a dream.
She had never seen either fight with a weapon but the idea of her foster-mother being able to use a sword didn’t seem that difficult to imagine and was definitely reassuring. Gillian, on the other hand, was a different story since he seemed so reserved and quiet. Still, she had to admit that there was since in being armed while travelling, even if you didn’t know how to fight. They had even given her a dagger as well. There was no war; not yet at least, but there still existed bandits and highwaymen looking for easy coin. And a family of three travelling with a wagon filled with possessions would probably look like an easy target. Thankfully, they had not come across any such incidents since they began their journey, and now that their goal was so close, Kasis doubted any would happen now although she was still on edge at nightfall.
After some time, she found a spot and deemed it good enough and began setting down the blankets in the area; all beside each other. Soon enough, Gillian emerged from between a clump of bush bringing with him all sorts of fruits, berries, and herbs.
“These will help make a good stew, I bet” he said as he went to the wagon, rummaging through the items looking for a pot no doubt. His wife emerged shortly afterwards later carrying a series of rocks in her hand and began to outline a circle for a fire.
Within another hour, the sun was getting ready to set and he had a multitude of different smells coming from the pot. The rabbit meat used could be easily smelled, but because of the different fruits, berries, and herbs Gillian had diced up and used, it smelled even richer. As expected, the man was, without doubt, a talented cook; even Juels agreed with that.
“Same as always, Gillian. You can cook so well that any nearby beasts would surely come at us, ready to steal our food and eat us while they’re at it” she jested.
With a smile on his face as he stirred the pot with a wooden spoon, he replied, “Well, if you’re still the same woman I married, I suspect they’ll take one look at you and run away just as quickly”
Kasis watched and listened to the banter between the two from her blanket with envious eyes. It was always a curious and interesting thing to see how they joked with each other, she told herself. Usually, for a typical man or woman, such statements would be taken as an insult and start an argument; and yet, these two only smiled and laughed. She wondered if she would ever be able to find love like that. And then, she quickly tossed aside the thought with a nervous chuckle. As if a girl as shy and timid as her would even have the courage to speak to a boy, much less marry or fall in love. At the very least, she was thankful that Juels seemed more like herself now.
Jumping to her feet, she went to her mare and began brushing the horse’s hair with the thick brush she kept on her person. She had always wished for her own horse, but she had never imagined that this would be how she would get it. It would be the only way though, now that she reflected on it. They never made enough money for her to have her own horse like it was a pet; they weren’t nobles let alone, rich. Still, she would’ve preferred to be able to keep the inn and life she had in Ireida even if it meant giving up her horse. She wasn’t well known or popular in the town, but it was all familiar to her; familiar and homely. Now, they uprooted their entire life and were moving to a safer place; and for what? A gut feeling? Maybe they would be able to resolve the boy’s death without a war; couldn’t they? Wasn’t that the purpose of nobles anyway? To lead their people and avoid war? Why couldn’t they just work out some punishment and leave it at that? Why must it lead to –
“... -sis. Kasis!” the voice burst into her thoughts, making her flinch.
“Yes?” she called out to no one in particular, confused.
“Child, if you spend much more time brushing that horse, I fear you’ll brush all the hair out of him. Now come and get something in your stomach” Juels called out to her.
With a meek bow of her head, she made her way towards the others where they stood holding three bowls between them. Soon enough, they were all sitting and eating; speaking of various things, trivial things. Eventually, the conversation became focused on the Citadel once again.
“I wager we should see it before the noon sun tomorrow, and reach it just soon after; if we get an early start anyway” said Gillian while sipping on his stew. “Would be nice to beat the sun before it gets that hot”
“Agreed. It’s been a bit cooler lately but not nearly cool enough” pitched in Juels. She was also having a hard time from the heat during the travel and eventually decided to wear a leather vest and even tore one of her older shirts to be shorter. That piece of the shirt was what she used to wrap around her hair but she was still often drenched in sweat; although it’s not as if she wasn’t used to it. Gillian on the other hand seemed to have it the hardest; he often looked weak and dizzy after just a few hours of riding and his clothes were stained with the smell of sweat. At least he finally had the chance to wash them thanks to their camp being directly beside the river, she thought.
“And then? What’ll we do once we get there?” Kasis asked looking to Juels for answer. Oddly enough, Juels didn’t have a response to that and instead looked to her husband. It was queer to see her without a solution or remark to a question. Was that maybe why she seemed so uneasy earlier? Because she wasn’t familiar with Psyren nor keen on going to the Citadel? It was her idea to leave but it was Gillian who decided that it should be the Citadel.
“Well, we could easily buy some land with the crones we got from selling the inn. Some wood and stone too. Could build ourselves a new inn and home if we wish. Or we could go a little further south after seeing how this whole thing blows over and end up in Holstead if the Citadel doesn’t work out. Holstead won’t be as nice, but it’ll be cheaper, that’s for sure” Gillian answered. His wife remained silent though; her face unreadable. Kasis assumed that meant she wasn’t exactly pleased with either option.
After a brief pause, Gillian added, “We can think on it once we reach the Citadel. For now, getting there first matters more. That being said, we should get some sleep so we can get an early start tomorrow”.
With that, everyone immediately went to bed and tried to get some sleep. And with sleep, came Kasis’ dreams.
She was young; extremely young. Just barely old enough to walk, but she had no idea where she was walking to. All around her was darkness save for the falling petals of a pink flower with stains of red on it. With each step she took, her foot stepped into something wet; something sticky, but she could never see what it was for everything else but the flowers was black. As she walked through that endless darkness, with no destination in sight, she felt utterly lost and without purpose.
Do not fret child, you are precisely where you should be.
The words came from everywhere and yet nowhere at the same time. It was almost as if they were echoing off of walls she couldn’t see; off of the walls inside her head. That was silly, of course. The voice was in her head, she was dreaming after all. How does one know when they’re dreaming?
This is no simple dream, child.
There it was again; that voice that seemed to vibrate the very space around her. She tried to ask, but no words left her throat. It was as if her voice had completely left her, unable to make a single sound; not even a groan.
Worry not who I am. I only need you to remember what you’ve once forgotten.
With those words, a cold wind blew around her, caressing her in an unseen embrace. The chill carried right through to her bone; so deep into her that it burned her from the inside-out at the same time. What... what is this? What’s happening to me, she wanted to scream. But the words never left her throat; they couldn’t even be formed.
Remember what it is you’ve once forgotten, and then you will see what isn’t meant to be seen.
The chill... the burn... the feeling deep within, intensified at those words. So much so that she jumped up from her blanket; startled and in sweat. The imagery of the pink flower petals were already fading from her memory; the only thing that remained vividly clear was the voice. That dream was not like the others from before. This one was clearly different; too different. As she sat there for a moment, trying to recall precisely what happened, she felt the strange feeling of both frost and fire still burning through her body. For a brief moment, she thought she was still dreaming but when she felt her own skin, she was no longer sure. Either way, it did not answer why she felt this way and that unnerved her greatly.
Getting up to her feet, she looked around the darkness and that was when she saw them. Countless violet eyes were staring at her from the shadows, unblinking and very wide-eyed. Her body froze stiff with fear as her mind began to race in a frenzy. She had never heard of any beast or animal with eyes such as these; but then again, she was still learning about many things. She wanted to scream but... her voice... it was still gone!
Panic took over her now; panic and confusion. She spun around again to find her foster-parents but instead found that she was alone. No, not alone. There were still more of the violet eyes staring at her from the shadows. Her heartbeat was like that of a war drum now and the very moment she decided to run, she tripped on something and fell face-first into the ground.
When Kasis next woke, Gillian stood over her with the sun to his back in the east. Her breathing was haggard and heavy, and her thoughts were muddled and confused. Her head also felt like a crack the size of a ship opened up there.
“What... what happ – “ she began, but Gillian placed a hand to her lips.
“Quiet child. It seems somehow overnight, you’ve got yourself a fever and banged up your head” he told her. She attempted to lift her arm and was shocked to realize just how weak she felt. Still, she struggled to place it on her forehead gingerly and winced immediately at the throb in her head the moment she touched it. She also noticed the intense heat she felt and the sweat beading all over her head; but yet, she could hardly feel the rest of her body. Every part of her felt numb, sluggish, and heavy.
“I knew it was odd you didn’t wake us last night screaming”, he told her with a small grin.
But she did wake, she told herself. She woke up and they were all gone; they had left her all alone in a foreign and dark place. Tears came unbidden to her eyes then, confused by her dream; if it even was a dream. What really was that? And what were all of those eyes?
“Dear, dear child. Everything’ll be fine” he said with a kiss on her head. “Don’t worry, love. Juels is currently shifting over some of the luggage to make some room for you on the wagon” he finished, placing a damp cloth onto her forehead.
After a while, Juels showed up and with the help of her husband, helped Kasis unto the cart; placing her cosily between some supplies on either side of her for some stability.
“If there’s anything you want or need, just shout, you hear me child?” Juels told her as she tied the gelding to the front of the wagon and had it help with pulling it along. It took all of her power just to nod her head in response and give a meek smile, but soon enough that quickly disappeared when she looked closely into Juels’ eyes.
Those were never violet...