My story truly starts a year after the incident in that bakery. After meeting with the angel, the council cast me out of the village.
They said I was making deals with the dreadful. They called me a child if the corrupt and demanded that I never return. I've been left to my own devices since then, with no village to turn to.
Davu, Mesi, Auntie, Dad. They are all gone. Or I guess I'm gone. Everyone had turned their back on me. I had to learn to fend for myself. And everyday I was near death. Starving, bleeding exhausted.
And that angel I'd met? It helped me through none of it. Only ever came when I was on the verge of death. I hated it. I'd given up plenty of times, tried to end all but everytime, that blinding light would shine and I'd be brought back to health. Only after I'd come an inch away from death.
It would allow me to feel all the pain and suffering until that point. But never allow me out of my misery.
What else did it expect me to do? I was 16 alone, hungry, confused, angery. I'd been betrayed by the elders, my family, my friends. Even the man I looked up to most, my dad. I had no home.
And this stupid angel told me nothing. I don't know it's powers or how to use them. All I know is that it won't let me die.
After a while I got tired of near starving so, I became a thief and a scammer. The attributes my dad had taught me were at the bottom of society. It hurt me at first. I was betraying the values that I had instilled in me at a young age, but I lost the ability to care very quickly. Afterall, he's not my dad anymore. I have no one to disappoint.
Who cares what my dad thinks? He didn't even try help me.
That was the worst part. Out of everything, none of my family protested my exile, and no one offered to leave with me. I was completely alone. And that made my attitude. I felt completely indifferent to other people.
I hated the empire and I hated the people who followed it. But I also wondered if I hated myself, too.
And the truth is I did. I do.
I quickly lost my conscience and grew cocky. I thought couldn't die, so I was willing to take on any challenge I could. I was purely a thief. And I'd steal from anyone, big or small. Anything to not be hungry.
Really, I had no morals. I'd steal from the poor old man on the street or the king on the throne.
My dad didn't know how to be a man and he taught me wrong. He cowered in fear and bowed to his morals.
Only an idiot could obey some arbitrary rules like that.
No one can get past me. It seemed that I had a natural talent. I thought that my skill in thieving couldn't go any higher.
But one day, I met them, and everything went up from there.
I was sitting in a small camp I'd made in the forest. I'd lit a small fire and gathered some leaves for a bed. It was morning and I was getting ready to head to a nearby village.
It was in the south of the empire, in the same region as the capital, don't remember the name. The princess had just been kidnapped from the palace and everyone was in disarray looking for her. And distracted from thieves.
The emperor set out a 50,000 natni bounty to return her. Admittedly it peaked my interest, but I had no desire to search the whole country for some princess who was probably already dead.
I sighed and stretched. I was ready to go into town, play a few tricks. But as I took my first step, the bushes in front of me rustled.
I pulled out my knife and stared. I couldn't tell if I was dealing with an animal or a person.
"Please sir. Please don't hurt us." The pleading voice of a girl sounded from the bush.
I knew bait when I saw it, I backed up. "Show yourself." I commanded.
Two identical girls emerged from the bushes.
The they resembled the girl on the wanted posters, the princess. Their clothes covered in jewls and shiny things, partially ripped at the bottom and sleeves but still evident of royalty. Their hands were soft and unmarked. Unlike any farmer, thief or scammer you'd ever see. For a second, my heart jumped with excitement. I'd found the princess without raising a finger to look.
But, there was two of them.
"What...?" I lowered my knife, they both looked exactly like the girl on the posters, down to every detail. They even had a capitol dwellers' accent.
"Please sir, we were kidnapped.. from the palace." One of them pleaded.
"We escaped from our thief but we need someone to help us back so he won't find us." The other said.
"Theres a village behind you." I said.
"Thats where the thief is, we just ran away."
"How do you know he's still not chasing you?"
"Look, that way!" I flinched pointing my finger behind them.
They jumped and whipped their heads around immediately. To see there was no one there.
I laughed, "Okay. I'll help you."
"What was that for? Do you just like to scare girls in your freetime?"
"Thought it would be funny." I shrugged. Truly, I wanted to see if they were genuinely scared. "I'll get you to Tetani as long as I get my money."
Their eyes lit up and they cheered their thanks.
"We'll start towards the capital in an hour."
"Actually sir- it'll be quicker if we go to Tetani. Our grandparents live there and they'll help us get back."
"Tetani isn't a place where royalty would live."
Tetani is as close to a wasteland that a village could get. I'd passed it only once or twice. I would peer through the broken down walls surrounding the city and only see poverty. The streets were littered with death. I saw no purpose in trying to rob anyone. I'd expect a village to be in a condition like that after years of war, but instead, it was in the heart of one of the most peaceful empires, only a few hours from the capital.
"We used to spend the winter in Tetani all the time." One of the twins dismissed.
I had a suspicion that something was up with them, but the 50,000 was enough to make me ignore it.
"Okay, fine. Still, be ready here in an hour. I need some things in the village."
"But- the kidnapper-"
"You've made it this far alone. You'll make it an hour or two more."
One of them got up and grabbed my arm, "Please sir. Let's leave now, I don't know if he's still looking for us."
"No one is out here. I've checked."
They gave up and sighed.
I strolled into the village and the strong scent of a variety of food swirled around me. The sun was blindingly bright, so I kept a view of the ground and led myself around by smell.
A pair of feet came into view in front of me. By the gold around his ankle I could tell he was part of the military.
"Excuse me sir." I stepped aside and passed him. He said nothing and continued to strut forward after I moved aside. But I soon noticed, the town was rampant with soldiers. They were everywhere.
Bunagos, was bustling and loud. You're forced to quickly learn how to weave out and around people in order to get anywhere in this town. But the soldiers here were something else. They took up more space than they could use. It was like they had a barrier around them three times their size.
They stuck out of the crowd like lampposts at midnight.
I was lucky to have stopped and moved, I'd heard they were known to be vicious in this town. Had I run into him, I might not have returned to the girls.
I was quick to make my way to a stand and leave. If there were one gamble I would not take, it would be with those guys. I've never stolen a thing while they were around, and I wasn't going to do it that day either.
So, I paid. I was arrogant but not stupid.
The cities surrounding the capital, Bunagos included, had heightened security, looking for the daughters. And for some reason, I had them in my grasp. It was enough to make me smile, just a little.
But, still all alese soldiers, why me?
I headed back to the camp. The girls were huddled under a tree. They shot to their feet as I approached.
"Finally! Let's get out of here." One cheered.
"Why didn't you turn yourselves into one of the soldiers?"
The excited grins on their faces faded to frowns.
"We're doing you a favor. Why are you questioning it?" The other one asked.
"Answer my question."
"Calm down, Selam." She sighed, turning to me. "We aren't supposed to tell you this, because.. you're a peasant, but we think the soldiers are the ones who plotted to kidnap us in the first place."
"Why didn't you say that first?"
"We didn't know we needed to."
Too many things weren't making sense. The fact that they were twins, or that they want to go to Tetani, and their fear of the soldiers.
"The deal is off. Find someone else." I stated. I started to walk away.
"Shanti!! Don't let him leave! Do something!"
"I don't know what to do! He's just walking away!"
"Okay. I'll be honest with you. We were trying to scam you.... BUT! Since you saw through it, we'll split the pay."
"What do you mean?"
Next thing I knew I was walking through waves of starving, dying bodies in the heart of Tetani.
It was truly dreadful. There were enough homeless people to fill rooms with their severed hands alone. Their houses were destroyed and run down. But ahead of me, all I could see was the pristine shining mansions. Made of golds, marble, and other shiny things.
The windy plains that Tetani sat in picked up all the debris and made the air around the city brown. The gray clouds in the sky meeting the brown environment below it looked like the work of a Hell's Storm.
But Hell's Storms are incredibly rare, especially in the Plains. I shook my head and hurried towards the mansion. The smell of iron began to make my nose burn.
The smell was almost unbearable. "Are you sure this is you grandparents home?"
"It is." One of them said, blankly.
I snapped my head around as a man grabbed on my shirt, "Please sir, my kids are starving, please help us."
I tried to shrug him off of me but he kept pleading.
"Sir, sir, what's going on here." I demanded.
"It's them." He stretched out a shakey finger towards the mansion. "They've gone crazy. They raised our taxes so high. And anyone who can't pay..." he began shaking more.
He whimpered and cried as he pulled down his sleeves revealing his full hand. His whimpers developed into full sobs and then to screams as he exposed his hands.
He only had one finger on each hand. His index on his right, and his middle on his left. I could see the bare bone of his open wound on his left hand, like his finger was freshly cut.
I looked at the twins, but they had continued walking. Like they didn't even notice.
It was a horrifying trek through a sea of poverty and misfortune. In their eyes you could see a disgust at the two princesses in front of me. They were dressed in nice silk. Not a hole in their clothing above their knees and cloth cradled their feet protecting them from the elements.
But next to the distaste and the hatred, there was fear. It was then that I came to the conclusion, I was traveling with monsters. Or at least the spawn of monsters.
They are no different than the man who'd disgraced me that day in Obi's bakery.
However, I don't care. They are going to get me what I want.
The pristine white of the palace only stood out amongst the orange air that circled it. It gave it the eerie look of those haunted mansions from ancient world books my aunt would always read to us. I felt a part of my childhood curiosity reach through me. The wonder and amazement I would've expressed back then was hidden under a year of solitude and stoicism.
Not to mention the death that surrounded us. The stench made my eyes water and progressively, the twins squeezed closer and closer to me. The closer we got to the palace the less death there was, but that didn't stop the hateful stares that followed the two as we walked by.
Progressively, the homes went from tents and shacks to wooden houses with broken planks, falling apart but still intact. The rich in this city lived like the poor in any other.
I was traveling with the offspring of tyrants. It felt like forever before we reached the gate of the palace. The guards in front of it eyed me suspiciously.
There had been a nationwide search for a single princess by the entire military. Yet here I was, a loner appearing with two twins.
They eyed each other before letting us in. Not a word exchanged between us.
Before we could reach the door, a woman came running out. Her grey-white hair stood out against her brown skin. It almost glowed against the orange atmosphere above her.
She wore a huge purple jacket, fitted with a fur scarf. Her nails were long, half the length of her finger coming to a sharp, threatening point at the end. She was decked out in golds from head to toe.
"Grandma!" One of the twins exclaimed, reaching her arms out.
Grandma? This woman looked at most 40. Other than her white hair she was still quite tall. Her face had nearly no wrinkles. And she still had the stature of a 20 year old.
"Oh where have you been Shanti? Did that man hurt you?"
"No, Granny I'm okay. He didn't do anything."
"Good." She sighed, looking at Selam, "I see you brought that rotten child back with you too. She probably is the one who got you to leave."
"No no, Grandmama, we were kidnapped."
"By who? This boy!?" She pointed to me.
"No, a man disguised as a soldier. This guy has been so kind to me. Please allow me to serve him the reward in full."
"Well, boy. How did you find them."
"I'm a vigilante. I saw these two girls, tied to a man by rope and I knew I needed to stop him. I slayed him and brought the girls here."
"So you weren't interested in the money and glory?"
"Uh.. of course! Not." I scratched my head Selam was coaching me from behind her grandmother's shoulder. "I had no idea these two were royalty and I had no idea the king had twins. I just saw two ladies in trouble and knew what had to be done."
She smiled. "A man as honorable as you deserves a hefty prize. The 50,000 was for the princess. As for the other, I shall award you a marriage. My apologies as the more well-favored already has her husband arranged, but Selam is open for you to claim."
I glanced at Selam as she silently cursed the old woman before holding her thumb up and nodding her head at me.
"I accept your offer. I'd love to marry your granddaughter." I dipped my head.
"Perfect. You look like a dirty farm boy so we'll get that fixed tonight before you three are sent off to the capital with your spoils."
Harsh. But everything is going according to plan.
"Please follow my servant to your rooms for the night while we ready your company for the travel."