Darkness. That was all that laid before me. For some strange reason, I can’t remember how I got here.
“….” I open my mouth to speak, yet nothing came out. It was as if the black sea shallow my voice.
Where am I? What am I doing here? Fear welled up inside me as I found myself with more questions.
“Catherine.” A familiar voice calls out to me, but I can’t remember who it belongs to. “Promise me you’ll never forget this…” A warm sensation wrapped around my arm and pulled me forward through the darkness. “No matter how dark the world gets, there’ll always be a light to guide you.”
As I listen to the familiar voice, I notice a light shining through the black void, with each step I took, more lights appear in the abyss, washing away the darkness.
“And for some reason can’t find the light then Catherine….” The voice tightens their grip on my hand. With the black sky now lit, I can easily see who’s been guiding me, yet I kept my eyes on the starry sky, scared they’ll leave me if I look at them.
“Look deep inside yourself. You’re a star too; you can shine just as bright.” Suddenly, the voice drops my hand, leaving me alone in the darkness.
“Wait…” I stretch my hand into the darkness searching for the voice.” You can’t! You can’t leave me again! Dad! Dad!” While I panickily looked around, the solid darkness I stood on gave way, plummeting me deeper into the void.
I landed head first onto a wooden floor that smells damp and moldy. “Ouch.” The floor creaks loudly as I pick myself up. Still, in a daze, I look around the dark room. Dusty shelves stack with empty pots took up most of the room space. “It was just a dream.” I made my way to the long wooden table that stood in the middle of the room. On top of the table were two plants with the label “Mom” and “Dad” sloppily written on the pot.
“Could it be, you guys were trying to cheer me up?” Even if it was fake, I still remember the warmth I felt when that voice grabs my hand.
“I’m sorry, mom, dad. I’ve been trying my hardest, but I don’t think I can get our store back.” Tears trickle down my face as I let my pent-up frustration and anger go.
This flower shop was mom and dad little treasure. But the war took it from them. Its only thanks to the Crooked Man buy dad’s shop that the city hasn’t destroyed this store yet. But it doesn’t seem he has any intention of letting me buy it from him. “Dad, what should I do?”
I’m sure if someone walked in and see me talking to plants, they would question my sanity, but right now I need a sign. “So please, dad, help me. Give me a sign.” I clasped my hands together and waited in silence for someone to answer me. Unexpectedly the one that responded to my pleading wasn’t my dad or even the plants. It was my stomach. It growled at me for skipping meals.
“I’m assuming that wasn’t a sign.” I wipe my tears away while awkwardly laughing at myself for asking a plant for help.
What should I do for food? Because I’ve been saving my money to buy the store, I haven’t been eating that much lately. I usually shrug my shoulders and wait till the morning. But I feel if I keep skipping meals, it’ll affect my growth. I look at the mirror in the corner of the room. A brown skin girl with gold eyes that was glowing faintly in the dark stare back at me. Just one glance at my petite body and people will mistake me for a twelve-year-old even though I’m nineteen.
“I can still grow, right?” I look down at my body in disappointment. I heard beastwomen usually have voluptuous and curvy bodies, but can I even be considered a beastwomen? Despite my tail and ears, I’m mostly human.
No point in worrying about it now, I got a bigger problem. It’s already dark out, which means the scum of the earth is roaming the streets. Not even soldiers are dumb enough to stroll around here at night. (Although they don’t come here during the day either.) I guess it’s a good thing I know the slums like the back of my hand. I can easily maneuver through the street without being seen.
A cool breeze greeted me the moment I open the window. After taking a glance, making sure no one was around, I leaped out the window. Perhaps it’s because of the little beast blood in me, but I love high places. The world feels so much clearer from above, with just a mere glance, I figure out how to safely land on the ground. I the pipe that was attached to the side of the store and slid down to the crack pavement. As expected, no one applauds my performance, as everyone was hiding in their homes, leaving the plaza in an eerie silence.
Once upon a time, this place was lively. People gathered around the fountain to meet friends or look at various colorful products that plaza had to offer. How long has it been since then? Since I saw genuine smiles on people’s face. It feels like forever.
With that thought lingering in the back of my head, I quickly made my way to the nearest ally and hid in the dark. Another neat feature of being part beast man was that I could see clearly in the dark, so I didn’t need the sparse lampposts to navigate the streets.
As I wander through the slums, the unnatural silence begins to takes its toll on me. “Where is everyone?” My thoughts unintentionally out my mouth.
I understand not seeing any civilians, but the streets should be teeming with thugs beating up bystanders
Maybe, I should head back home.
“I know you’re there.” A woman voice broke the silence that engulfs the slums.
She must be talking to someone there’s no way anyone could notice me sneaking in the alley.
“If you don’t come out from the shadows within 5 seconds, I’ll consider you an enemy.” The hostility and agitation and her voice felt like it focused me. I desperately wanted to run away, yet I instinctively knew that would make things worse. I nervously step out of the alley. A woman with a long brunette braid draped over her shoulder stood in the middle of the street, tapping her foot impatiently with her arms cross. Standing next to her was an elderly man with short gray hair. On his waist was a black sheath with an intricate gold design that made it feel like it belongs in an art museum. The two both wore pure white uniforms with strangely no speck of dust on them, but what truly caught my attention was the scarlet tags that dangle from their necks. Even though it was the first time I ever saw them in my life, I knew instantly those tags represented the Royal Guards, the King’s right-hand man.
“What’s a young lady like you doing out here at night?” The first one to speak was the old man, unlike the woman who's giving me a sour look, I didn’t sense any hostility from him.
“I-I was just going shopping.”
“I see, sorry to bother you, but you mind If I ask you a question?”
I quietly nodded my head fearing they won’t let me go even if I said no.
“Do you know who the Crooked Man is?” My mind went blank, as I tried to wrap my head around the old man’s question.
The king whose been silent for ten years suddenly decides to send his best men to this backwater town. I’m not sure what they want with the Crooked Man, but I know I don’t want any part in it.
“I’m sorry, I never heard that name before.”
“Yea, right. Everybody we ask ran away in fear, I’m positive you know who he is, you’re just too scared to say, right?”
Is that why the streets are empty?
“Old man, use your sword on her if she’s telling the truth, it won’t affect her, correct?”
“W-what?” I back away from the elderly man who calmly lets out a sigh. “Bella...” The man smacks the woman on the back of her head.
“What the hell was that for old man?! Have you finally gone senile?!”
“The reason why people keep running away from us is because you keep terrorizing them!” I slowly back away from the two as they argued. Perhaps sensing I was looking for an escape, the two gazes fell back on me freezing me in place.
“Sorry, I didn't intend to waste your time,” The elderly bows his head to me.
“It- it’s fine.”
“Old man, your sword.”
“Shut it.” The old lightly hit her on the head again. “Thanks for your help, and I hope you have a safe night.”
“Um, you too.” I awkwardly walk past the two who were still bowing their head. I wanted to head back home, but it seems they were heading towards the abandoned plaza where my father flower shop was.
Were they really Royal Guards? They didn’t act like I would’ve expected. Either way, it best to avoid them, I don’t want to get involved in whatever they’re doing.
And hopes they’ll be gone after I’m done shopping, I headed towards the market, the streets became brighter and livelier a far cry from the ghetto. It almost feels like I enter a different town. To think a couple of coins is all that it takes to change your life around.
“Mom, I want to try the food at that stall!” A little girl pulled on her mother’s dress desperately trying to pull her to the place she pointed to.
“I don’t know it seems kind of expensive honey.”
“Price means nothing if I can make my little princess happy.” A man walks over to the mom and child, going by their warm expression it seems that was the father.
“You really will get it for me, dad?”
“Of course.” The girl happily bounces towards the store. The parents follow behind their daughter with a gentle smile on their visage.
I turn my back towards the happy family. What should’ve been a heartwarming scene was nothing more than a cruel reminder to me. Regardless of how hard I tried, I can never have what that little have
What should’ve been a heartwarming scene was nothing more than an annoyance to me. I bit my lower lip to hold back my bitterness and envy. Just as I was about to walk away, an ear-piercing scream brought my attention back to the family. A guard yanks the little girl off the ground.
“What the hell are you doing?!’ The dad rushing to save his daughter but was swiftly pin by another guard.
“Is she the one?” The guard dangle the frightened child near an oversize man who was wearing a fancy-dress shirt that was clearly too tight for him. I took a step back after realizing who it was.
“No, she isn’t the one. The girl was a bit bigger and more obnoxious.” After realizing it wasn’t their target, the guard drops the girl onto the hard pavement.
“You bastard!” The father shouted my exact thoughts.
“Apologies, it seems your child wasn’t the one that stole money from me.” The noble said coldly and without looking at the victim.
I heard nobles were prideful bastards, but I didn’t think he would go as far as to attack every little girl they see, just to get back most likely what he consider pocket changes to him.
“I should warn Lily.” Just as I was about to run back to the slums, I notice a pouch dangling from his waist: an obvious bait, but one I couldn’t ignore. “You want to challenge me again, huh? Alright, I’ll gladly take some extra pounds off you.”