Tellius Year 632
“I’m home, Ma,” Petrine said, as she stepped into her family’s dwelling, through the front door. The inside was a wide open space, with only a round wooden table separating the entrance from the kitchen, which consisted of a small fireplace and a black pot boiling over it. On the far right side of the space was a set of stairs, which led their personal rooms. Natalya looked up from the hunter’s stew as her green-haired, red-eyed daughter set a hunting spear against the wall and began to take a pack off of her back.
“How was the hunt?” Natalya asked, smiling.
“Not as good this time,” Petrine said, as she opened the pack and pulled out two wrapped bundles of meat. “Something has the deer spooked.”
“Maybe,” the hunter admitted, with a shrug. “That wouldn’t be so bad. We’d have a new hide for winter.”
“And you know how your father loves bear meat. Thanks, hon,” Natalya said, as she took the bundles of meat and unwrapped them to check their size. They had already been chopped into smaller pieces, so she turned around and poured the meat into the pot one bundle at a time, stirring the stew as the pieces fell in.
“So, about going into town tonight,” Petrine began, as she began to head towards the stairs.
Natalya’s smile vanished.
“To fight in King Ashnard’s tournament? Hon, you know how I feel about him,” she said, frowning. “Especially since your father’s a la-“ “I know,” the girl said, “but I’m the best spear in town, and if I can get into the army, Pa won’t have to travel so much!”
“…Well, I can’t stop you, but at least wait until Al’s home.”
“Okay, Ma,” Petrine said, as she started to go up the stairs.
“And stay out of our room. There’s a surprise in there for your birthday tomorrow.” This demand was met with a grunt, as Natalya’s daughter resumed her ascent. The woman sighed and looked out the window, to a still empty road. Alexei was supposed to have returned from his trip to the Ertz Mountains hours ago. Had something happened?
The sun hid itself behind the clouds as Alexei, a laguz man with black hair, grey cat ears, and red eyes, finally appeared on the path passing by his dwelling with a long dagger in hand. He wasn’t alone, however. A dozen hooded men followed him like shadows. Natalya was the first one out of the dwelling, but stopped as soon as she saw the men.
“Al, what’s going on?” the woman asked, gesturing to the hooded men. They weren’t expecting
“I’ve found a way to become whole again,” Alexei said, with cruel eyes, just as Petrine came running out. “And there she is.”
“Pa?” Before Petrine could ask what was going on, the strangers tore their hoods off and fell down on all fours, shifting into grey tigers.
“Come here, girl, and give me back my claws,” her father continued. “It’ll only hurt for a little while.“
As he said this, he walked closer to the hunter, only to be stopped by Natalya. “Move, Nat.”
“Dog’s breath Al, what are you saying? That’s our daughter!”
“She’s no daughter of mine,” he snarled, pointing at the mark on Petrine’s chest. “That Parentless wretch stole my claws. All I have to do is kill her, and we can go back to how it was before.”
Natalya shook her head, tears streaming down her face. “No, I won’t let you. Run, Petrine!” she said as she tried to tackle her husband. Instantly, Alexei stabbed the woman, his dagger piercing through her backside in a single blow.
“MA!” Petrine screamed, just as the cats began to run towards the Branded girl. Terrified, she spun around and ran back into the dwelling.
The last thing she saw before she closed the door was two of the cats jumping onto her mother’s bloody, unmoving form.
Once she was back inside, Petrine pulled the table towards her and threw it towards the door, hoping to slow the tigers. Then she sprinted upstairs, to Ma’s room. There was a window up there, so maybe if she was lucky, she could slip out there and get away before the cats could find her.
Her heart sank as Pa- no, the monster- stared into the window, knife in hand. It was no use, she was trapped.
Petrine closed the door and scanned the room, trying and failing to figure out some possible way to get out of this nightmare. That was when she noticed the birthday surprise: a red spear with an orange flame as its head. The Branded girl remembered looking at it in the town smithy once with her mother, thinking that if she could bag enough game, maybe one day, she could save up enough to buy it. This must have cost Ma most of her savings, Petrine realized, as she picked the lance up. It was warm to the touch.
Her thoughts were interrupted by a huge claw smashing through the bottom of the door, swiping at air. The girl jumped off the bed and backed herself against the window, pointing the flame lance shakily at the splintering door. Time was almost up for her, but there was so much left for her to do! She wanted to travel Tellius and become the strongest woman in the land. And if not that, at least prove that she was more than just a worthless Branded. Not die like this, to these sub-humans!
“I-I don’t want to die!” she yelled, as the spearhead lit itself and she thrust to meet the attacking tigers.
It was raining now. Ashnard hated the rain. It dampened a man’s appetite for battle and washed all the blood away. But, at least it snuffs out some flames, he admitted grudgingly, as he waited outside the ashes of a commoners’ shack.
The royal procession to Terin, had come to a halt by the sight of the still-burning dwelling and the mutilated body outside. The corpse had been a woman, but her face had been mauled too badly for anyone to recognize. At this, the Mad King ordered the Black Knight, his newest Rider, to search the building as he waited outside. That way, if there was a serious ambush, any attacker who got past the knight would be worth his time And so here he was, waiting for his general to return with Gurgurant in hand, in the hopes of some excitement.
“Well?” he asked the Black Knight, as the latter returned, with a girl covered in blood and ash over his shoulder and an orange lance in his right hand.
“Thirteen beasts dead, one man and twelve cats. All slain and scorched, Your Majesty,” the Rider said, coldly.
“Who is that?”
“Their killer,” the knight said, lifting the spear up. “I found her senseless, with this spear stuck in the beastman’s chest.”
Ashnard whistled. “Excellent, from a peasant this age. We will bring her with us, Black Knight.”
“…As you will.”
The Black Knight walked away from his king, returning to his position at the back of the royal train, with spear and serf in hand.
The King of Daein returned to the royal carriage, his bad mood mellowed by that turn of events. This delay hadn’t been so bad, after all.