- Prologue -
The townsfolk of Loren had a sleepless night. They woke up to loud noise and a great flash of light. When they looked out the window, they saw the tax collector’s house on fire, with all the windows shattered, its roof collapsed, and fire wisping out from all the openings of the house like the tongues of a vile serpent.
“Fire! Fire!” someone yelled, and every townsfolk grabbed their pails of water and ran to the tax collector’s house in a hurry. They emptied pail after pail, but the flames would not come under control. This was no ordinary fire, people thought, for they had dealt with fires in the past and no fire had fought back like this one. They couldn’t even attempt to rescue the tax collector’s family. All they could do was to keep the flame within the boundaries of the house and prevent it from spreading.
They fought against the fire until sunset, and strange enough, when the first streak of sunlight hit the tax collector’s house, the flames wrenched like it was in pain and died out in a puff of black smoke.
“Curses! It must have been black fire,” one of the men said. It was common knowledge that black magic was weak against the light, and the way the fire had disappeared made many of the townsfolk nod in agreement.
The remaining structure of the tax collector’s house revealed itself as the smoke cleared out. A few brave men waded into its scorched foundations, and to their dismay, they found the tax collector’s two children still alive and breathing, cuddling each other in nakedness, yet unscathed from the fire. They also found three charred remains of two adults that were presumed to be Zack and Emily, and that of a smaller male, not quite an adult yet.
And that sent shivers down everyone’s spine.
The tax collector’s family was a family of four. Zack and Emily had two children—a fourteen-year-old boy and a ten-year-old girl—who had both miraculously survived the fire. If the two adult cadavers were Zack and Emily's and both of their children were alive, then who was the third cadaver found in the small bedroom?
As if that wasn’t enough, a couple of days later, the children’s hair and eyes turned crimson red like the fire that they were found in, and no one in town wanted to take them in.
It was good news for everyone that the children’s maternal grandparents turned out to be nobility and wanted to take them away. Otherwise, it would have been a bad omen for the town of Loren. After all, it was bad luck to have one’s hair and eyes turned from being mana-struck. Not to mention, crimson hair and eyes were the worst of the worst: it was the sign of the last prophet who would come in the last days to destroy the kingdom with unrelenting fire.
However, there was no way that a tax collector’s child could be the prophesied prophet. It was said that the prophet’s lineage would be righteous and noble, and everyone knew that a tax collector was far from such a description if not corrupt.
The townsfolk of Loren laughed the idea off. It was simply impossible.
On the seventh day after the accident, a carriage arrived at Loren to take the children away. At last, the townsfolks of Loren were able to relax. If there was an omen at all, it was no longer in their town.