I come from Amaya. My brother Prater and I used to play in the jungles when we were little. After work in the markets we would venture into the jungles (without our godfather Vigilem's permission of course). It was our special place where time seemed to stop and all troubles would fly away with the Great Falcon Essix himself. In those days we would role play adventures whether it be finding the great tree of treasure or saving the jungle from the evil Stipes, also known as Log Lord. We would also play other games like Hide-and-seek, Jungle races, dueling (with thick sticks) and archery. As we got older the role-playing blew away with the leaves but the competitions never did. Instead we became more competitive and as we became more competitive the games were transformed to fit our edge. The sticks we used to duel now became actual swords we bought from Laminas, the village blacksmith and one of the few females to take up the industry. We also carved larger bows and fashioned our own spears. While hide-and-seek didn't change I would always suggest moderations but Prater knew the moderations were so that I would win. He always seemed to read my thoughts with my facial expressions alone, sometimes even before I knew what I was thinking.
In the month before Prater's scheduled nectar ceremony we sulked out of our house when Vigilem was asleep late at night. Prater lit took two logs from our fire, one for me and the other for him. Fast as a cheetah we dashed into the night to the jungles. At the lining I drew my sword out from an old rotting log and Prater scurried up a thin trunked tree to grab his bow and bag of arrows hanging from a drooping leaf. After hoisting the bow on his shoulder and tying the bag to his belt Prater leapt from the tree and landed gracefully on the ground like a crow. His landing was quite sudden and looking at where he leapt I became unhinged.
"What is the matter with you?" I hissed, "You are going to need your neck for your ceremony and it will do you no good when it's broken!" Plucking cobwebs from his curly ash-coloured hair Prater looked up at me and grinned.
"What is the matter with you, flame head? You are starting to sound like Vigilem." Prater replied. I took some time to think about what to say to the boy spitting on his hands to clean off cobwebs. At the same time I wondered when he was going to stop calling me flame head. Finally I forced the words out.
"My dearest apologies brother but I am nervous for you. Your nectar ceremony is in less than a month."
"Hm, maybe that's why I'm not as nervous as Vigilem says I should be." Prater contemplated as he tightened the string on his bow, "You need not worry Paloma, all I do at the ceremony is drink the nectar. Even if I do summon a spirit animal, which is unlikely, I will be alright with the Green Cloaks. You know I can shoot, duel and I know the characteristics of almost all of the plants of Erdas." He gave me a confident grin but I still had worries deep inside the chasms of my stomach. As Prater walked away I once again squeezed the words out.
"Prater, what the Green Cloaks do is dangerous business. The Conquerors would not hesitate to kill anyone let alone a boy your age."
Prater let out a hearty laugh, "The Conquerors? Do not speak to me of those fools. They probably wear those thick helmets to hide their bald heads, unsightly faces and rotting teeth." I took one step back; I was in disbelief that he would throw his words around so recklessly.
"Be careful of what rolls off your tongue!" I whispered. Prater rolled his eyes.
"Like you don't talk about the conquerors like that." He muttered.
"No! Not in the dark of night when one can sneak up on you!" I exclaimed. As soon as I said what I have said I drove my sword into my mother's old scabbard. This sheath was made from the metals of Jano Rion of Zhong, a far distant land. Etched on the throat was my mother's name, "Matris Amissae EmeraldNebula". I longed to see my parents, I still do, and I would at least like to know their whereabouts. As did Prater, he was five the year they disappeared, I was only two.
Onward we ventured on into the thicket. We continued to march until we reached a large white stone deformed by acid rain. There I grabbed my bow and arrows from a hole at the bottom of the stone and Prater, with all his might pulled our father's sword out of a small wedge between the stone and a thick tree. As the two of us strolled along the vegetation I wondered what Prater was thinking. Unlike me, my brother was very difficult to read, he could tell the truth but use the body language of a liar and he could lie with a smile that coerced others into believing what he says is true. Was he nervous under that monkey smile mask? Or was he feeling what he said he felt?
As we brushed through the branches, without touching them with our torches of course, the two of us reached a clearing of flat land made of mossy grass decorated with colourful flowers, surrounded by thick vegetation. In the rear were large wooden circles with targets painted on them covered in holes made by millions of arrows and spears. In front of us was a stream small, but filled with rushing water sprinting in the dark. This was our secret place, our sanctuary, our true home. Prater and I grabbed hold of each other’s hands a sprung across the stream, not a big feat but better than wading in water that was barely a liquid from cold. In the field of flowers we took rest and we were silent for a while lost in our own thoughts until I broke the ice.
“I wonder what the nectar tastes like.” I pondered aloud. Prater shrugged.
“I’m not sure. My older friends all had their ceremony. Nobody seems to taste the nectar the same,” At the end of that sentence he picked a bright green flower, “Why don’t we ask this guy?” I let out a chuckle, not a hearty one like him but a solemn one. I was never as cheerful as Prater’s peak pluckiness.
“What do you think you will get, if you do get a Spirit Animal?” I asked with a bit of hesitation. Prater gave almost no thought to this and answered immediately and confidently.
“I hope to get a komodo dragon.” I nearly fell over; the only thing stopping me from doing so was the torch in my hand.
“Prater, I do not want to discourage you but… the lizard is from the Lost Lands and that place is full of evil” Prater shook his head; he believed I was crazy?
“Paloma just because the Conquerors come from the Lost Lands does not mean everything and everyone that comes from there is evil.” He affirmed, “The reason I would like a komodo dragon is because they are misunderstood. I want to prove that their place of origin does not define them.” I nodded. I needed not to argue any longer. Prater was an animal lover and seemed to have a sense of empathy with them.
Suddenly, a ball of venom blasted past our heads. Prater and I shifted our bodies around and saw an anaconda staring at us with its deadly cold yellow eyes. The snake started to slither towards us at a rapid speed. With a yelp we quickly got to our feet and Prater slowly readied a blue arrow into his bow as I unsheathed by sword. As the anaconda prepared to strike again I thrust my sword into him as Prater’s already released arrow whizzed into him. For a moment the snake lay dormant until the arrow vanished into sand and the snake’s head lifted back us, its eyes filled not with malice but with curiosity. Then the snake slithered into the vegetation as suddenly as it appeared. As my brother and I stared at each other in confusion we heard another rustling in the trees.
“Prater, we should go.” I whispered. Prater however kept his eyes glued to the rustling source, unblinking. I became as tense as his bow’s string and started pulling frantically on his sleeve.
“Prater, I don’t feel good about this. Let’s go.” However Prater still was not listening until he saw the blade peeping through the leaves. That triggered him to grab my hand and drag me into the vegetation. With all my effort my legs pushed my body closer to my older brother. Foolishly, I looked back to see armoured men with impure eyes etched under their helmets. Conquerors. Prater looked back also and a picture of fear was painted on his face like a canvas. He skidded to a halt and he grabbed my shoulders with tense hands.
“Paloma I need you to go on without me. Go find Vigilem.” He whispered.
“No!” I cried, “I won’t leave you!” He was undeterred.
“I’ll hold them off. You just worry about finding Vigilem, okay?” He whispered holding back his fear as hard as possible. I shook my head but I bolted still refusing to look back as I knew if I didn’t he would have pushed me into the grove of trees to hide me. As soon as I reached the border between the jungle and the town I heard a piercing scream, a sound that would haunt my nightmares for years to come. The last cry of my older brother, Prater Derideas Nightwanderer.
The next day Vigilem and I buried him in our sanctuary and covered his grave with the bright green flowers similar to the one he picked that day. I burst into tears and flopped onto the dirt mound on top of Prater. In sadness of Prater’s loss protecting me and in hatred of the Conquerors that killed him, also in sorrow for the innocent creatures of the Lost Lands about to endure another blow to their already crumbling reputation.
Three years passed, I still went to the jungles but not to play or practice my swordsmanship and shooting but to mourn my brother. I still practiced my skills but with Vigilem in the back of our house. He was never as challenging as Prater or as skilled with a bow and arrow as him though he really did try his best.
Then came the day of nectar ceremony, I was seated with five other boys and girls my age, we were all seated on a grand auditorium in front of a large crowd. The Green cloak walked onto the stage and spoke into the microphone. I drowned out his speech with my own thoughts, how Prater would have loved to see this, how he would have ran across countries and climbed mountains to come here. Sooner than I thought my name was called, nobody seemed to have summoned a spirit animal, how would I be any different. As I approached the Green Cloak I gingerly grabbed the flask filled with colourless nectar, slowly I took a sip. As soon as I did so the man took away the flash.
At first nothing happened as I expected, suddenly I felt a strange energy surge through my body. Sparks flew out of my body and before I knew it a komodo dragon appeared before me. I would have soon immediate disgust for it were it not for the memory of Prater’s words of wisdom spoken years before. The crowd fell silent, I kneelt to the ground and extended my hand, the Komodo dragon scuttled towards me and with its fork tongue licked my hand. I caught a glimpse of Vigilem looking at me with approval before dropping as quickly as a sack of potatoes.
Later that night there was a knock on the door; Vigilem opened it to a man with stubble on his chin and wearing a green cloak. I quickly dashed to the door with my weapons with my animal (now called Freja) as I knew deep in my stomach what was going to happen next.
“Sir, it seems your goddaughter is no ordinary summoner,” he stated gruffly, “We believe she is a Keeper, someone able to purify animals poisoned by the Conquerors. She shares the same ability as her deceased brother.” The mention of my brother caused me to for once speak without thinking.
“How do you know about Prater?” I asked. Vigilem tried to hush me, to no avail.
“We have observed his battle with a group of Conquerors three years ago.” He continued. I clenched my fist until they were numb from the pressure.
“And you did nothing to save him?”
“We had only two scouts who were unarmed, they would have been buried next to your brother.”
“Did you even consider that I may lent the two my bow or my sword? My brother is dead because you did nothing!”
“It would have been foolish to run into battle outnumbered when there are other days with other battles.” He growled.
“So what? Are you saying Prater was a fool sacrificing himself?” I snapped.
“No.” He replied more softly, “He was a wise boy for his age and you two must have been very close. What he did was not foolish but valiant; he held off the Conquerors very well and gave his life so yours could be saved. He was braver than almost any Green Cloak I have ever trained. What I ask of you is, do you want to come with us and assist in bringing about the fall of the Conquerors?” After some hesitation I asked,
“Is there guarantee I will come back here?” The Green Cloak shook his head.
“No.” I almost did not care for the answer for I already knew what Prater would do and I answered with no hesitation.
“I am ready.”