Chapter 1

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The crops swayed softly under the evening's sun as the wind blew across the field. Aimlessly, Jia wandered along the meadows and trees outside the village of Makmangchon. She had lived there for what seemed like forever. It was getting late and the area was not exactly safe at night due to thugs and other criminals lurking in the forest at night. But there was no one who would worry about her, no one to return to. Not anymore.

Until three years ago, Jia had been living with Hyun-Woo in a cabin in the village near the capital city. Before he had passed away he protected her, trained her, raised her. To the other villagers, he was known as her uncle, raising her after her parent's death. That wasn't even far from the truth. The guardian had been protecting the young woman ever since she fled the royal palace following the king's assassination.

The village was different from the capital city in pretty much every aspect. Most of the villagers were peasants. Poor farmers who barely made a living out of working their land. Their huts were small and their clothes dirty but they were good people, none of them ever attempting to bring anyone harm. And even if they weren't exactly friendly towards outsiders, they still accepted her as one of their own. One of them, Woo-Reuk, even took her in after her guardian's death.

She wasn't the only alleged orphan living with him. He was like a father to Moo-Myung and Mak-Moon. Both boys had no family out here of their own, Mak-Moon being separated from his by the city wall. Even though they all wouldn't have met if it wasn't for a series of unfortunate events in each of their lives, she liked the place her life had lead her. She liked the village, the peace, her two big brothers, the freedom. But nothing ever lasted for long and she had known for a long time that things would have come to an end.

It was kind of foolish of her but she had hoped this would at least go on for a little longer. And now she felt lost, discouraged. So she did what she always did when she didn't know what else to do: Just keep going. One step after the other, just don't stop. Even though she didn't know where exactly she was going, wandering around felt better than standing still. Because if she stood still, her thoughts would keep raging and drive her insane. So she kept walking.

She suddenly stopped at an old pine tree. Her gaze wandered over the area, examining every single one of the trees, every house in the distance closely. Even though the scenery was still the same, this place seemed to have changed. Slowly, she ran her fingers over the pattern of bark, remembering the countless times she had been under this exact same tree.

"Ha! I beat you again!" Jia said laughing while she leaned against the stem of the old pine tree, breathing heavily.

"Damn, I really thought I could win this time," Mak-Moon sighted but his lips were curled in a slight smirk.

"Well, I guess I'm just faster than the two of you," the girl beamed as she plumped herself down on the grass.

The boys sat down next to her, both way less exhausted and trying to repress a smile while she leaned back against the tree. "We'll see, Kangaji," Mak-Moon said, rustling through the younger's hair to tease her.

Kanganji = 강아지, Korean meaning "puppy", a common nickname for kids

For a while they were just quiet, watching the sun disappear behind the city walls as the sky changed its color from blue to violet.

"Don't you wonder sometimes what your family is doing? Living behind these walls?" Moo-Myung asked, looking up to she sky where the first stars came out.

Jia's muscles tensed and she opened and closed her mouth without being able to form a response. Could he really know about this? She had never even mentioned she had been to the city or knew someone on the inside. For all they knew, she was born on a farm further south, lost her family in a fire destroying their house. She had been so careful, there was simply no way he could connect her to someone inside the capital.

Luckily, Mak-Moon saved her by responding to the question that was in fact directed to him. "Every day. I wonder if they are healthy, what they have eaten today, how tall my sister has become... She might be around Jia's age by now," he replied, a little sadness mixed in his voice.

"I'm sure you will meet her again," the young girl tried to encourage him, now a bit more relaxed.

"I wonder if she will even recognize me...We were so young when I left" Mak-Moon sighted. It was painful to see him like this. Sad, discouraged... She was so used to him being the one lifting their mood.

"You still got me, remember? One day we'll go into the capital and find her. And until then, I'll be your little sister!"

"You're right. I still got the two of you" the elder agreed and smiled softly, his eyes still pinned to the horizon.

Should she have come with them? Less than a day had passed since Mak-Moon and Moo-Myung left for the city and Jia hadn't found the courage to return to the village, to their empty cabin. So instead of facing this reality, she had been wandering through the woods and fields, along all those paths they used to walk together. For a moment she considered running away again, never to return to the village of Makmangchon. But she knew she was just being foolish. At the end of the day, she would come back anyway.

"Stop wailing like a little child and go back home" she scolded herself. The young woman shook her head in resignation and sat down in the grass, her head leaning against the old tree's stem. "Besides, it's not like they've abandoned me. It was my choice to stay here. The capital city is dangerous enough on its own. They don't need me to put a target on their backs"

They left last night for the city, leaving her behind. She could have come with them but she had declined their offer. To protect them, as she took satisfaction in telling herself.

And it was true, her presence would bring even greater danger to a journey that was bound to be difficult. Even though no one in the capital would recognize her face, she knew there were many opposing the royal family and assassins ready to complete the job the treasonous guard had failed years ago. By returning, she would pretty much sign her own death warrant and so would everyone accompanying her.

She had told herself such things whenever Mak Moon and Moo-Myung had talked about returning to the capital city to hide something that was equally as true: She was afraid. Afraid of the place she had left behind so long ago and the person she would have to become again if she ever returned. But she refused to admit such thoughts. There was no point in thinking about this and any further contemplating would only lead to more sorrow.

Instead, she rested her head against the stem of the tree and gazed to the place the sun had disappeared a while ago while she unconsciously fiddled with the old red ribbon tied around the wrist of her left hand.

~•~•~

Wow, I really didn't think anyone would read this lol
I haven't come back to this in a few weeks cuz I had to study but now that this is not only for me anymore, I'll work harder and update more often! Pinkie promise
So thanks to my 3 or so readers, I won't let you down!
Love you guys, have a nice day <3

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