1 Prologue

In the middle of a thick forest, where the sun struggled to shine through the canopy, a boy around the age of seven sighed loudly as he picked up a chunk of wood. Although he already knew his way around the forest, it was still very difficult for a child to roam around, but it was crucial that he gathered as many branches and stray pieces of wood as he could. Even as he tossed his new findings into his sack, his eyes were already darting around in search for more. Truthfully speaking, he had already collected enough firewood. Or, more accurately speaking, he had collected as much as he could manage to carry.

The forest path was not an actual path, so to speak. One moment of distraction could easily make one lose all sense of direction, turning their surroundings into an impenetrable maze, and even if they knew which way to go, they had to maneuver around stray branches in rocky, uneven terrain. It was no easy task, especially for a child who had only now reached the age where he could walk properly. The boy took a few quick breaths and straightened up, dusting off the small hands that had been resting on his knees. He had started the day telling himself that filling up his sack before nightfall was near impossible, but he had been diligent enough in his task that he could make it home before sundown. With this in mind, the boy once again looked ahead and made his way home. The thought of his mother's proud smile as he showed off the results of his day's work was enough to make him want to run home right away, but he knew better than that. Running through the forest would only drain him of his strength faster.

The sun had begun its journey towards the western peaks by the time the boy made it out of the forest. Free from the shadows of the forest, he could make out the shape of a hill, a short distance ahead. Over this hill, there was a small peasant town of just around twenty households, and it was there that his mother would be waiting for him, in the two-room cabin his father had built at the edge of the town. Though worn out from the day's work, he picked up his pace again, knowing that his destination was so close now.

As he walked, he imagined his mother in the kitchen, preparing dinner wearing her wool apron, with just a hint of a smile on her face. His little brother, still only two years-old, would probably be setting the table, ever eager to help out. Soon, he thought, the three of them would be sitting at the dinner table together. The boy would boast about how strong he had become, and his mother would compliment him for filling up his basket. His brother would then whine about how he could also manage the feat and beg him to take him with along next time, and the boy would refuse right away. He knew that his mother would smile through the whole conversation.

The boy glowed with excitement just thinking about it all, and happiness filled his heart. Though everything he had just imagined was simple day to day life, each moment spent with his family was precious to him. He knew that the rest of the townspeople looked upon him with pity and compassion, but he didn't let that bring him down. Rather, he felt a sense of pride and joy knowing that each day, he was doing all he could to protect his mother and brother. As he made his way over the hill, he saw the outline of the peasant town. Sweat covered the entirety of his face, but he felt accomplished. No longer needing to conserve his strength, he ran home as fast as he could, to the small house with the small garden.

"Mom! Mom!" He yelled out as he opened the front door. And yet, his shrill voice, filled with excitement at the prospect of boasting about his accomplishments, was lost in the darkness of the house, answered only by an overwhelming loneliness. Faced with a reality he had never even imagined, the reality of a quiet house, the boy was at a loss.

"Am I in the wrong house?" He wondered briefly. But everything about the house was just as he was used to, from the table occupying the living room to the dried vegetables and many pouches on the wall. To the wall on the right, there was the chair, made specifically to seat two people, as he knew there would be.

"Mom?" The boy called out to his mother again, his voice low, yet there still was no answer. "Mom...?"

No answer came from his mother nor from his brother. The boy dropped his basket by the entrance and walked towards the closed door on the other side of the room. The liveliness in his step was now gone, replaced with a heaviness he couldn't explain, and the bleakness of the house had turned his face grim. He turned the knob of the door and hesitantly pushed it open. There, he was met with more silence. The room felt even gloomier than the living room. No matter how hard he looked, there were no signs of people. The boy's mouth went dry, and his hands shook uncontrollably. A sense of fear, stronger than he had ever felt before, took over him. All rational thought left him as tears began streaming down his face. He ran out of the house, his only source of strength being the sheer instinct of having to find his mother.

Though the boy ran out of his house in tears, crying out for his mother, there was no answer from anywhere in the peasant town. He had run across the whole place, shouting, and finally came to a halt at the center of the town. There was no one around. No next-door neighbor to ask him what was wrong in his gruff voice, nor the kind lady upstairs from him to ask him where his mother was, why he was alone. Not even Brüelle, his only friend in the whole town, was there.

The boy finally stopped crying, realizing that the town was devoid of people. He wiped his tears and walked around, searching for any signs of people, but all he could hear was the wind blowing all around him. When he once again reached the pole at the center of the town, the only conclusion he could draw was that he was the only person left in the town.

"I have to look for Mom." He told himself.

A more rational approach to the situation would have been to perhaps look for clues that could help explain the problem at hand, but the boy was still just a child, and all he could focus on was finding his mother. "Perhaps," he thought, "she has gone out, along with everyone else."

With this in mind, the boy ran to the opposite side of the hill from which he had come from, all the while shouting out for his mother.

As he made his way back again, he saw that the stars he used to watch with his brother now shone brightly above, though he did not have the heart to look at them for long. He returned to the peasant town, his head hung low and his steps heavy, and as he made his way toward his house, he was struck with one thought and one thought only: perhaps his mother had already come home. With this, he began to run once again. He was already exhausted, having roamed the forest and run around the town all day long, but he pushed himself to run, full of the expectation that his mother and brother might have returned home.

"Mom!" He shouted, louder that he had all day, and flung the door open. Once again, he was met with the same grim silence, but it felt worse now, after everything. He leaned against the door, desperately trying to hold back the tears welling in his eyes, but to no avail. Without bothering to wipe them off his cheeks, he laid down on the chair, finally resting his exhausted body. "I'll just wait here." He thought to himself. "If I wait, maybe she will come back." He soon fell asleep with tears still trickling down his face, unable to withstand the fatigue he had accumulated through everything.

****

The boy dreamed. Dreamed of a large back, sitting on the rock outside his house and earnestly striking something. As the boy approached, the figure turned to face him. The face he saw smiling at him was that of his father, from when the boy was even younger than he was now.

"Did you sleep well?" His father asked, looking at him intently.

"I did, Father." Answered the boy, smiling brightly. "I had a scary dream."

His father turned to his work again and went back to striking the object in his hands.

"What did you dream of?" He asked the boy again.

The boy realized that his father was crafting something and walked closer to him, trying to see what it was.

"I'm not sure. It was so scary, I couldn't stop crying."

His father let out a hearty laugh and set his hammer down. He had been embedding pieces of metal into a block of wood.

"Are you okay, now?"

The boy couldn't resist his curiosity and took another step closer before answering.

"Yes. What are you making?"

His father lifted the block of wood to examine it and began to drill a hole through the top of it with a gimlet.

"This? It's a gift."

The boy watched as his father passed a piece of string through the newly made hole in the wood.

"Is it for Mom?" He inquired, fascinated.

His father brushed the sawdust off with an old rag and set out to polishing the metal embedded in the wood. His expression became somewhat dark as he answered.

"No."

"For Aime, then?"

"No."

"So, it's for me?"

His father raised the piece of wood, which could now be suitably called a pendant, examined it thoroughly, and turned to smile widely at the boy.

"Yes, it's yours."

He then put the pendant on the boy, who had started to examine it for himself. The pale wooden pendant was about the size of his father's thumb and had a square piece of metal embedded in the center.

"This will protect you now."

"What?"

His father simply smiled again, but the boy felt a pang of sorrow as he looked at him.

"What's your name?"

"My name?"

"Yes, your name. What is it?"

"My name is…"

"That's right. Don't forget it. You must remember your name."

"My name is…"

<Prologue> End

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