Rian takes Kaya into the Greenwoods territory, where she gets her first glimpse of the forest folks. It soon dawns on them that the forest men are engaged in preparing a myriad of weapons. However, a voice broke her out of her stunned silence. Was it the forest folks, or is there something even more sinister lurking in the woods?
A masked man was crouched against a huge stone, his body taut as a wire. He held a spear in a hand, which now rested lifeless over his limp hand.
Inches away from his face was a wolf with a white mane. Its yellow eyes bore into the man as he made a feeble attempt at running away. The wolf had its paw firmly placed on the man’s hand, and its nails were ruthlessly scraping his flesh as blood painted the grass red.
‘Taraksh!’ screamed Rian. He had seen his friend in action on many occasions, but never in such rage. The wolf continued to peer at the man while Rian uttered his friend’s name again. This time Taraksh did twitch his ears and moved away, still growling at the man.
‘What’s going on here?’ asked Kaya, who also looked stunned at her best friend’s wrath.
‘Nothing much,’ replied Myra, who was standing a few feet away, behind a tree. ‘I found this man and was trying to get a good look at him from a distance, but he sensed my presence. He attempted to throw his spear at me. The rest… well, it’s there for you to see.”
The man laughed mirthlessly, ‘The man! Stupid girl. I thought you had more brains than the lot you’re hanging out with. Don’t you know who I am? Go ahead and call me by my real name.’
Myra inched closer to the man. She removed his mask and gasped in horror. ‘Shatanan… No, it can’t be. You… you were dead.’ Myra stumbled backward, and Kaya barely managed to keep her from tripping.
The others shot puzzled looks at each other. Myra added, ‘My father… he had… he had killed you. I saw it with my own eyes!’
‘No, he thought he had killed me. I wanted to reason with him, but he tore my heart away instead. I was driven mad with rage. Yes, I wanted to see him suffer; see him feel what it means to lose a loved one – a wife, a child. How dare you live when my wife and child are no more in this world? I will have my vengeance!’ Saying so, Shatanan lunged at Myra. She was quick to react, stepping away from the spot. Several other forest folks also emerged from behind the trees, each one trying to nab Myra. They were covered with fungi, and small plants and mushrooms had sprouted all over their bodies.
She whirled away and readied her bow and arrow. Rian charged at two of the forest folks, and Taraksh decided to take on four others. His sharp teeth dislodged the forest folks’ limbs, which came away as deadwood. The men seemed too weak to fight. Their presence seemed to have the sole purpose of keeping Myra’s back-up distracted, while Shatanan tried to capture Myra.
Desperate to do something, Kaya held up a big rock and hurled it at Shatanan. While unmindful of Kaya’s presence, he had managed to nod at his men, who charged at Kaya. Kaya screamed, but her friends were too involved in keeping Shatanan’s puppets at bay. Completely cornered, Kaya had no option but to pull out her blade. She also grabbed another sword that lay idle nearby. She drove it into two of the forest folks, who crumbled down onto a heap of wood.
Although momentarily dazed to see the men go down like that, Kaya quickly regained her composure as a few more men charged at her. She struck one of them and ducked the other man’s attempted attack. Another one tried to drag her down, but the moment his hand touched hers, even he turned to dust.
Meanwhile, Rian and Taraksh had managed to get rid of the tree folks. They pounced at Shatanan, their collective force knocking him backward. However, he merely stepped back a few paces rather than falling flat on his back. A menacing smile curled up his swollen lip.
‘Well well well, this is going to be fun,’ he mouthed. Then, all of a sudden, all of his puppets collapsed as his arms elongated like tree branches. With both his hands, he grabbed Myra and Kaya as they tried in vain to attack him with their blades and arrows.
He whirled to the two boys, who had taken a moment to register what had just transpired. Rian yelled in an incensed tone, ‘Don’t you dare hurt them. If you want to fight, play fair.’ Taraksh had gone back to his wolf form, and he looked ready to pounce on Shatanan once he let go of the two girls.
‘Oh, but I do want to fight. But not with children. You’ve seen a demonstration of my power, though I was hoping I would reveal it at a moment of my liking. Anyhow, tell your worthless King and Queen that I’m coming for them. Tell them that my wrath would destroy their wretched kingdoms and obliterate them for good. Only then will the fire in my heart die.’
Myra and Kaya regained consciousness at the Greenwoods castle. Myra was staring out of the window, lost in thought, when Kaya woke up.
‘Here, this will make you feel better’, she thrust a glass in front of Kaya’s nose. The potion reeked of powerful herbs. The pungent smell almost made Kaya retch, but she bit down her lip and held the glass.
‘You know, I’ve spent most of my time learning how to fight. I’m not particularly good at cooking and cleaning, so you can make all the faces you want. But… if you don’t drink it soon, I might as well have to force it down your throat.’
Despite her throbbing headache, Kaya could not help giggling. ‘Do you always try to sound so frightening? You don’t like your father at all, which must means that you must have gotten these drama genes from your mother…”
Myra rolled her eyes, and Kaya gulped down the drink. Her throat instantly felt clear. ‘Um… did I say something wrong?’
‘Shatanan was the king before my father. Contrary to my father, the Vizier at the time, and many other courtiers, Shatanan respected neither the king nor the crown. Many say that he had an illegitimate child with a human woman, and even with several court maids. The rumor spread like wildfire and people were soon after his life. One night, while we were asleep, a group of attackers tried to break in the palace again. Dad was duty-bound, and he ran out of the room when he heard the commotion. In his haste, he left the door open. I screamed for my mother when I spotted one of the goons hiding behind the door. Dad whirled around and threw a spear at the man, but not before mom had shielded me from the man’s axe.’
Tears trickled down Myra’s eyes. ‘After that, it seemed like he lost all ability to reason. In his rage and grief over mom’s death, he killed all intruders, including Shatanan. He became vicious and cruel. Had I not screamed, mom wouldn’t have died trying to protect me. Had I been stronger, she would still be here… had I been braver, dad wouldn’t blame me for her death. It’s as if everything is my fault, and there’s nothing I can do to undo it. Dad wouldn’t love me or even acknowledge my presence. That’s why I vowed to become a true warrior, a fighter.’
Guilt started gnawing at Kaya as she recalled how she had thought of Myra as some nasty princess, even when Rian had stressed that she was just a good friend. Kaya thought of comforting Myra, but no comforting words came out of her mouth. Instead, she said, ‘At least you know who your parents are… I mean, were. I never did. All my life, I thought they had abandoned me, and I had only one person whom I could call family: my grandma.’
‘Oh, great! I see the two of you have woken up. Worried about our health, are you? Well, if we could fight that rotting tree-man, getting you two to the palace certainly wouldn’t have been such a daunting task. Anyways, don’t worry, ladies. We’re doing good,’ Taraksh’s voice floated inside, accompanied by the smell of delicious food.
Kaya had not realized how hungry she was. She made short work of the food while Myra wiped away her tears. A couple of seconds later, she was all business again, ‘So, what did dad say?’
‘Ummm…. we tried to convince him of that creepy guy, but your father will have none of it. Like you, he is convinced that he was responsible for the death of that mad king. Rian has gone to the SapphireWaves to have a word with the queen. He thinks he may be able to convince his mother.’
‘Ok… so what do we do now?’ asked Kaya.
To be continued…
…now that you’re here
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