In a world that's ruled by demonic forces, hope still remains. Will Amber's persistence be enough to bring down the Queen? Or will Ethylias be forever shrouded in nightmares?
Amber Ruby Garnet Caelum had always tried very hard to make sure that her life lasted as lasting and as enjoyable as it possibly could. It wasn’t an easy task, considering the hostile environment that she had to live in with the other residents of their small village in the middle of a desert. Then there were the ridiculously tall soldiers in their large, bulky, black armour patrolling through and around her home village. They kept on giving messages from the Queen to leave their homes and join her forces, to become her minions for conquering the universe and beyond. Amber was targeted very often since her father trained her well as an assassin. Days were hard to keep track of since the Nightmare Blanket spread over the atmosphere and sent the world into a turmoil environment, making it hard for all creatures to survive, no matter their adaptation to their environment or their resistance to diseases. It had been such a beautiful world, why anyone wanted to ruin it was beyond Amber’s understanding.
Amber was a very skinny young lady with very pale sickly skin from lack of self-care, slightly sunken eyes from lack of drinking water and aching bones, only able to eat and drink what she could salvage from maiming and seriously injuring small armies of soldiers, Abnormal creatures and other monsters created by the Nightmare Blanket that came to the village. Other villagers would immediately swarm her once the last man that she was fighting was down, unconscious. There was a rare occasion when anything ever died, it depended on how desperate the villagers were when they scavenged. Hardly anyone in the village was even strong enough to kill anything. Amber only had little time to rummage through their things quickly and take what she could before she was left with very little or nothing. Bandages covered her body nearly entirely, seeming as health education and knowledge was hard to come by nowadays. Amber managed to get by though, somehow, despite what the villagers kept on saying about her survival chance. Exchanging money with nearby travellers for food and water was her only way in surviving this living nightmare.
Amber refused to have any part of the Queen’s forces since the soldiers asked her peacefully when they first met her because she only wished for her skills to be used for the good of the universe, not to conquer it. If she had the strength, she would cross over the mountains, through the dead forest on the other side and across the wasteland where the Queen’s tower stood to kill the Queen. Amber remembered the first day when the Nightmare Blanket invaded the skies, the Queen’s speech echoed out through the entire world. She invited any knights, heroes, anyone who could fight to come and battle her. Most of the men from the village, including her father, left to battle her and Amber never saw any of them again. She would have gone with them to help but she wished to stay behind in case anything tried to attack the village. None of the men came back and Amber grew weaker with every soldier she cut down. Her mother and younger brother had been dragged off by soldiers on the seventh night and Amber never saw them again. She often cursed her small weak body that she was unable to go out of the village and search for her lost family or go to the Queen’s tower to confront her. No-one in the village even offered to help her across the desert, it was too dangerous for anyone.
Amber couldn’t really understand why the Queen wanted a young girl like her in her army. She was only fourteen after all and in the middle of assassin training. She wasn’t very good army material nor was she good in a team, she was more suited to working alone and off the battlefield, like her father. But Amber wasn’t even ready to be an assassin yet, yet alone ready enough to be on the battlefield. She wasn’t even healthy enough to fight, she couldn’t even kill a small mouse to eat for breakfast. That mouse eventually died of malnutrition and Amber consumed it after giving it a quick funeral out of respect. When she politely declined the offer, the soldiers began to grow more aggressive, trying to drag her out of the village or render her unconscious to take her to the Queen. Amber’s friends had tried to help her multiple times, each time was successful but at a cost. The graveyard was beginning to grow more, some graves with no headstones due to lack of resources. Amber had lost two dear friends to angels who escorted their souls into Heaven. She had lost more friends whose families had decided to leave the village in the hopes of finding a safer environment. Amber had no friends anymore to be with. She was alone now.
Amber had cried herself to sleep secretly when she failed to stop the soldiers from taking her mother and brother away. She remembered lying in the dusty streets, bloodied and too weak to even move a finger. She could do nothing with her injuries but watch her family be taken away from her. When some of the local children and her friends took her home to bandage her wounds together awkwardly, Amber never forgave herself for letting those soldiers grab her mother and drag her off like a rag doll. Amber loved her mother dearly, more than anything else in the world. She couldn’t have possibly borne the idea of being away from her beloved mother before the Nightmare Blanket came. Now, with her mother long gone, Amber was in agony with worry for her mother’s health. Her father would be the same, agonizing over whether she was alright or not. Crystal Caelum was the most beautiful and wonderful woman in the village. She was a peacemaker, she always had a smile on her face and never fought against anything. Not even in self-defence. Amber had never met an angel, but she definitely knew that her mother was the equivalent of one. Her mother was rather modest too, no matter what Amber said to praise her virtue. Without her mother, Amber truly felt that all hope in the world had vanished.
Oh, and where could she start on her beloved little brother? Her little brother that was only twelve years old. Amber absolutely adored Jasper, despite the odd one or two arguments. Jasper was very shy, he hardly socialised with any of the other children and Amber had to literally drag him out of the house to get him to soak in some sun. If there was anyone who had paler skin than Amber, it was little shy Jasper. The reason why the children had pale skin instead of a natural tan was because Crystal personally said that they were unattractive and Amber began to think the same when she began comparing her tan to her normal skin colour. Jasper just didn’t like going out of the house so rarely got any sun on his skin. Amber beat herself up the most when she saw him being tossed over a large shoulder and carried off, away from the village. Amber never dared step out of the village and into the desert, even though she knew that was the only way to try and find her mother and Jasper. But with her injuries, Amber was unfit to travel alone.
She was suffering from staying in the village too. Because of the Nightmare Blanket, more and more sandstorms had been hitting the village and leaving the area buried in sand constantly. Efforts to clean up the village long died out so the whole place was a complete mess. It’s pretty nasty for the village because it attracts deadly poisonous snakes and all kinds of other threats like Outlandish Vultures and other Abnormal monstrosities. Amber had been bitten a few times whenever she found a snake in her home but she knew how to suck poison out of wounds so she only made sure to be bitten in the places where her mouth could reach. At least that gave her a higher chance in surviving through the nightmare. Even if it was hopeless, Amber just lived, waiting for her father to return home.
Amber never had many friends that were adults in the village. She was a very reserved person, always wanting to be with people her age and afraid of anyone that was ten years older than her and not related to her. Because of this, the adults never liked her back or even made the effort to get to know her. Especially since she often caused mischief when she was playing with her friends or if she was in the middle of assassin training. Then everything began to go sour for Amber and the rest of the village when one adult came up to her and said that she may not live much longer and her father may not be coming back. Amber was furious and she punched the man who had approached her, breaking his nose on purpose, then went up to her room to cry. She couldn’t stand it when people told her what may or may not happen. It is irritating and rather boring when someone keeps on telling you the same things over and over. Amber chose to ignore them eventually and when she began to ignore them, they began saying that she was living in denial. It was very irritating.
It was on one blistering hot day, when Amber heard the Outlandish Vultures attack the village, that things began to go differently for her and her luck. She ran out with her old whip and charged towards the large skinny creatures as they circled the local young children playing in the dusty streets. She hollered out loudly in her hoarse voice to make them take heed of her warning and run off, back into their ruined homes for safety. Amber roped the Outlandish Vultures together to restrain them as people scurried out of their barren houses and huts to kill the bloodthirsty and rabid monsters. But her whip stretched and snapped from its overuse the lack of care Amber was able to give it. Amber could only watch with a horrified expression as they took off, snapping their beaks angrily and dived for her. She raised her arms and prepared for the sharp beaks to tear her apart and eat her flesh. But they never came. What Amber felt instead was cold wet blood splattered onto her dry cracked skin. Opening her amber coloured eyes slowly, Amber lowered her arms warily and stared blankly with a slack jaw at the decapitated vultures in front of her. Blinking in confusion, Amber slowly lifted her head up and saw a woman with blood dripping off her curved black blades. With blood red eyes, she turned her head to Amber and grimaced. Amber scowled in disgust as she shook her arms out to get rid of the black blood that was splattered all over them.
‘Sorry about that, little one,’ the woman said as she placed the blades in her sheaths on her belt ‘At least you are unharmed. I suppose that is the main concern instead of your health after all. Here, let me just get that for you…’ She gently brushed the blood off Amber’s face and arms then delved into one of her pockets. Amber studied her curiously, from her long matted black hair, to her pale skin and to her blood red eyes that glowed brightly. The woman pulled a crumpled photo out of a young girl with shoulder-length pale violet hair and blood red eyes like hers. She looked no older than the age of twelve and her face held a nasty scowl towards the camera.
‘Have you seen my only granddaughter, Vienna?’ the mysterious woman asked with a somewhat pleading expression ‘She can turn into a wolf, about half my size, with lilac fur and is about twice my size if she came in her feral form.’ Amber studied the picture carefully with narrowed eyes then shook her head. The woman sighed exhaustedly and put it away. ‘Do you know the way to the Queen’s tower by any chance?’ she asked ‘She’s been trying to get there and I’m trying to stop her and bring her back home.’ Amber’s eyes widened. She paused, closing her eyes and picturing a rough map around the area which she knew about.
‘At the moment, it’s a long and harsh journey to get over to the tower that everyone wishes to get to,’ she explained and pointed to the landscape that surrounded the village ‘There’s the mountain range to cross over and if my geographical knowledge is correct, on the opposite side to where Vigour Village is, there is the dead forest to get through on the other side and then the brutal wasteland to cross which stretches for hundreds of miles. I don’t think it’s possible that a girl this young could possibly survive despite what she may be because for one, there is no source of water that she could freely drink from and there is little life that she could hunt if she’s a werewolf.’
‘Vienna is a formidable young lady,’ the woman cut in curtly with a proud smile ‘Like yourself, young one. I’ve heard of you, you must be Crystal’s daughter, Amber, is that correct?’
Amber’s whole body perked up as if an electric current had just flowed through her and injected her with life. It had been a while since she heard her mother’s name. It had been four long months since the Queen’s Nightmare Blanket took over the atmosphere and her family was forcibly taken away from her. Amber barely even remembered what they looked like. But when Amber heard her mother’s name, she immediately remembered her mother’s appearance from her short silver hair to her tiny pale feet.
‘Do you know my mother?’ she asked quietly in wonder with wide eyes ‘Do you know Crystal Caelum?’ The woman nodded once.
‘She was brought to what’s left of my home town,’ she explained ‘I’m one of the better-off people and I bought her when I saw how she was treated. She was the only woman on offer. She got lucky too, I was nearly out of money when I was trying to outbid all the men who wanted to have her.’
‘What about Jasper?!’ Amber’s voice became louder as she abruptly interrupted her ‘Jasper, my little brother? He’s about twelve now and he’s got short silver hair with bright green eyes and extremely pale skin, please tell me you’ve got him too?! Please tell me that you bought my little brother along with my mother too?!’
She clung onto the woman’s smooth black cloak tightly, staring up at her with wide eyes. Amber just had to know if her precious little brother was alright, since she let those soldier brutes take him and her mother away. The woman gave her a sad look and sighed, patting Amber’s head gently.
‘I’m afraid there was no boy of that description,’ she said forlornly ‘Crystal told me that your little brother was sold off to another family in what’s left of the city that they had been previously.’ Amber’s face fell at the information and tears brimmed her eyes.
‘No way…’ she whispered in disbelief. She bowed her head and covered her face, trying to compose herself so she wouldn’t look like so much of a mess. When the woman put a comforting arm around her, she collapsed into her embrace, hugging her tightly to hide her tears from the world.
‘My name is Xeann Murphy,’ the woman introduced herself and patted Amber’s soft silver and blue locks comfortingly ‘I’m just passing through this village to retrieve my troublesome runaway granddaughter. I’m truly sorry I can’t be of much help to you, I really am.’ Amber looked up and frowned curiously. This woman looked awfully young to be a mother, let alone a grandmother. With a kind and warm smile, Xeann brushed back her long sleek ebony hair back into her hood. ‘Is there a shop anywhere where I can restock my items?’ Amber shook her head grimly.
‘This village has no contact whatsoever with the outside world,’ she explained with a sigh ‘We can only salvage from the Nightmare Blanket’s monsters, Abnormal creatures and soldiers that come by here every day. We can only drink blood or water that the soldiers bring and we can only eat their flesh if we can manage to kill them. We’re desperate because money means nothing here anymore.’ She sagged her shoulders and sniffed. ‘We can’t even afford for a professional scavenger to help us find something that would do us some good.’ Xeann looked down at Amber forlornly.
‘Such horror fills these lands,’ she murmured as she looked out at the desert that surrounded the village ‘Is that what the Queen really wants…?’
‘Take me with you.’ Xeann looked down as Amber tugged at her belt. ‘I want to go to the Queen’s tower,’ she said ‘My father went to fight her but he never returned and I want to look for him now. I’m worried for him, even though I shouldn’t but I haven’t seen him in months. Please, I promise I won’t be a burden…’
‘No.’ Xeann placed a hand on Amber’s head and sighed despondently. ‘It’s too dangerous for you,’ she explained ‘The Queen is merciless and I’m only pursuing my granddaughter.’
‘But I want to come with you!’ Amber pleaded ‘Please, I’ll only go as far as when you find your granddaughter and then I’ll cope on my own! I won’t slow you down and I won’t get in the way in anything, I promise!’ Xeann sighed and pulled away from Amber’s grip.
‘You may follow me for a while but that’s all I can offer,’ she compromised after staring at her for a few long moments and Amber’s pale face lit up hopefully, making her smile softly ‘Crystal has told me that you have a strong heart and determined soul but I don’t know if you’re in any condition to travel considering what has been happening for the past few months…’
‘I’ll keep up with you as much as I can!’ Amber stood up straight, despite how much her body protested ‘I honestly won’t be a burden, I promise! I can take care on any Abnormal creatures on my own and I’ll deal with any personal problems to avoid slowing you down at all.’ Xeann sighed as she stared up at the mountains. After a while, she looked back to Amber.
‘You can come with me to the village by the mountains,’ she said with a nod ‘I know that they should have the right amount of medical supplies there so you can rest and recover more than here.’ Amber’s eyes lit up and she hugged Xeann as tight as she could.
‘Oh thank you!’ she exclaimed ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you!’ She pulled away.
‘Wait here, I just need to go and get the supplies I’ll need!’ she said before turning and running into the small ruined hut at the end of the street.
Xeann smiled sadly, as if she was going to cry, while she watched Amber’s frail figure disappear from sight and looked around the dusty dry village in dismay. She was sure that just last year, it would have been bustling with so many people and much more colourful. The well that stood a few yards away from her must have been flowing with water for the villagers and tourists and there would have been lots of laughter in the air as the children played along the dusty streets. But ever since the Queen rose to power and released the dreadful Nightmare Blanket, Xeann had not heard a single child’s laugh or any signs of happiness in children. Not even a little fake or weak laugh. Being a very experienced and dedicated mother herself, the fact that children were not as happy and healthy as they should be during the early stages of their lives saddened her greatly. When Amber came running back out with nothing more than a small dagger in its sheath and a small cloth wrapped in a bundle, Xeann saw how Amber’s state of health would hinder her progress in finding Vienna. The poor girl was only fourteen and she seemed to be pushing her limits too much. Xeann considered picking her up and carrying her across the desert but then reconsidered, seeing that Amber was determined to get through by herself.
‘I’m ready,’ Amber said as she stopped in front of her ‘Shall we go?’ Xeann smiled and placed a hand on her shoulder.
‘Shout if you feel like you’re falling behind,’ she said in a motherly tone ‘I will carry you across this desert if I have to.’
Amber nodded and took one last look around the village, a bit hesitant to leave it behind, before following the vampire out into the desert. Xeann pulled her hood over her face more as Amber hobbled after her with only her bandages and tattered shorts covering her body. Realising that Amber would be cold during the night time, which was approaching rather fast, Xeann took off her cloak and placed it around Amber, simpering when the heavy weight made the young girl stumble. Amber looked up at Xeann in her ethereal beauty.
‘But don’t you need it?’ she asked ‘It is your cloak after all…’ Xeann shook her head.
‘You need it more than I do, little one,’ she said ‘You’re younger than me, therefore you need it more.’
‘I’m not that little!’ Amber argued with a scowl ‘I was the third tallest out of my friends before the Nightmare Blanket came.’ Xeann’s lips quirked into a smile at Amber’s reaction.
‘Compared to me, you most certainly are, little one,’ she said with a soft titter, placing a hand on Amber’s head as if to prove a point and stalking off in her black leather high heel boots across the sand dunes ‘You know, I’m pretty sure that without my high heels, I’d still be taller than you.’ Amber pouted sulkily and hunched her shoulders moodily with an unattractive scowl as she turned and gave her a coy wink with a smirk. ‘Well, come on then, little Amber. Without dillying or dallying, we should be able to reach Vigour Village by dawn if we continue to walk across the desert like this.’
Amber stared at her high heel boots oddly with a curious face, wondering how they weren’t sinking into the baking hot sand before running up to catch up with her, her petite bare and bloody feet leaving small prints alongside Xeann’s. She paused suddenly and frowned before looking up at Xeann.
‘Wait,’ she said and grabbed her hand, pulling gently ‘I want to say goodbye to my friends first. It won’t take long, I promise.’ Xeann paused and looked down at her curiously before smiling and nodding.
‘Alright then, lead the way,’ she said with a curious tilt of the head ‘I suppose they deserve to know where you’re going at a time like this.’
Amber grimaced and led her to the graveyard that was north of the village. There was a wooden fence surrounding it, worn out from all the sandstorms and creatures attacking it to try and get in. Only three quarters of the space had headstones for the different bodies that were buried in the sand. When Xeann recognized the ill-made gravestones, she covered her mouth in horror as she realised that Amber’s friends were dead. Amber smiled grimly as she looked up at her.
‘It’s not that bad, at least they’re at peace,’ she consoled the woman as tears welled up in her blood red eyes.
‘Amber, how old were your friends before…?’ Xeann’s throat seemed to close up at the mention of children dying. Amber sighed forlornly and bowed her head, hunching her shoulders sadly.
‘Well, Sabrina was eighteen and Abigail was seven,’ she murmured, enticing an agonised gasp from Xeann.
‘Children?’ she rasped in horror as they stopped at one end of a row of small gravestones. Amber nodded.
‘Sabrina was a sorceress, very intelligent and hardworking, while little Abigail was a tame harpy, hoping to fly one day,’ she nodded to the respected spots ‘They were close friends and both of them gave up their lives to save me. Both of their deaths were horrible and undeserved but pretty painless thank goodness. I can’t be more grateful to them than to grant their last wishes and stay alive…’ Abigail’s spot lacked a gravestone so instead her name was written on some cloth and weighed down by a small rock. Xeann took in a sharp breath and Amber turned her head, grimacing when she saw a large hole that could easily fit a body in. Her name was marked beside it.
‘Amber, what’s the meaning of this?’ Xeann demanded fiercely turning her fiery gaze at her. Amber sighed and hunched her shoulders.
‘The remaining adults of the village reckon that I’m not going to live much longer, despite my perks of being an Enhanced creature,’ she murmured ‘They’ve prepared my grave for about a week and plans for my funeral are being arranged. I have been trying my best to stay alive because I’m young enough to believe that my father will come back someday. They’ve all been saying that he’s dead but they’re wrong. My father would never die easily.’ Xeann suddenly grabbed Amber by the shoulders, got down to one knee so she was at eye level and shook her firmly.
‘No child should ever be buried,’ she said sternly, glaring into Amber’s eyes determinedly ‘You are going to live and survive through this, Amber. I promise you, your life will be normal again and I will make sure that this whole Queen business is done and over with! And after that, you will be with your family and you will live the happy life that you and other children deserve! Do you hear me?!’ Amber nodded shakily, her amber coloured eyes wide slightly from Xeann’s outburst. Xeann suddenly hugged her tightly and sobbed. ‘Forgive me, I love children with all my heart. The thought of them having to die under these conditions.’ Amber hugged her back and patted her soothingly. She turned to Sabrina and Abigails’ resting places and sighed.
‘I’ll be alright, you guys,’ she said with a weak smile ‘Just wait for a little while longer. I’m going to come back soon and I’ll bring Jasper back like you wanted, Abi. And I’ll find your parents too if you want, Sabrina. I’m sure I’ll find them somewhere now that I’m going out there. I promise that I’ll find my parents as well. I’m sure father is still out there somewhere, alive.’ She sighed and turned away. ‘Alright, I’m done.’ Xeann nodded and pulled away, standing up while wiping her tears way.
‘Right, Amber. Let’s go.’ Amber nodded vigorously as they left the graveyard and headed south for village at the edge of the desert. She paused and looked back to her village briefly, silently saying a last goodbye and then running after Xeann to catch up with her.