Today was a day of tragedy, though most did not know it.
Now, it was a dark and cloudless night. Not one sound broke throughout the grand white city of Moz, situated within the valley of a vast mountain range, sparkling like a diamond. Not a single ray of light could shed an ounce of joy upon the city, for it was already condemned by the haze that shrouded it. The mist hovered in the silence of the night, stagnant with the suffering of the land that lay below it. All the while, the people of Moz rested unaware that all they held most dear teetered on the brink of ruin.
“Oh,” Ara sighed as she sat alone in a muddled study at the base of a broad window. Her face flushed as her eyes scanned over a piece of parchment. Her irises, like embers, were so round and passionate, glistening almost red as she eagerly inspected the letter her beloved had left for her. But in that moment, as she realized what had happened, her eyes began to quiver, becoming trapped within garnet walls of fear. After everything they had faced, Stello had abandoned her, leaving their family broken.
Not long ago, I started feeling it again. Do you remember? The strengthening cold and bitter skies were only signs of its return. I can never forget the pain of Frailty’s War. I bear this burden of recalling the horror, and still, it pains me to know even you hold that, my dear.
Unfortunately, I must tell you that soon we will not be safe. The fog has begun to grow thick, and wrath-filled winds blow from the north where Pinea lies, building their empire with envy and hatred toward our sovereign nation. Though we won our place of power here in Moz, I can only say it came at a grave price, one that will plague our world if the bonds of our sins are not destroyed. It is critical that we protect what good is left in this world and amend the wrongs of the past.
I fear the worst for our family and would never forgive myself if I waited for its return. Thus, it is here in a place of faith that I tell you I must leave Moz to seek out its source, and see to it that this force is driven to where it can no longer threaten us. But at all costs, please, remain in Moz and wait.
With utmost importance, take care of sweet Lucia so that she grows into a bold and passionate maiden whose prayers are determined enough to protect and preserve us. I do promise to make it back to you someday. My love shall be with you both. Always.
Ara grasped her blouse. This deepening wound tore at her chest as though she knew, this whole time, that it would be here that her heart would break.
“Lady Ara,” called her loyal maid, Amelia, so struck with concern that the wrinkles in her forehead seemed to suddenly age her ten years. In her eyes was a clinging intuition.
Ara sensed her concern as if the maid already knew, but spoke anyway. “He’s gone.”
“The master?” asked the maid.
“My lady,” Amelia said with grief before bringing her eyes back to Ara.
There was a lull as they both thought. The maid’s stare grew distant as Ara let out a faint whimper, breaking the still silence.
Finally, Amelia asked, “May I ask why the master left?”
Ara’s insides shuddered. “He fears of…” She hesitated, looking at the letter, fully dazed and unable to grasp the idea of its true meaning. It was as if something hid beneath his words, something he was not telling her. Memories flashed through her mind. Her chest tightened. It couldn’t still be out there.
It was her prayers that had saved them. It was her strength, her power that had defeated it in the first place. Could it still exist somewhere, outside the reach of man? “He fears of its return.” She felt the warmth of her tears beneath her eyes once more while the maid’s face paled, her own fears apparent in this revelation. The war was supposed to be over. Amelia wanted to release tears of her own. But still she held an unchanging sternness of stone, something unbreakable. She had to show a strong sense of obligation and duty, no matter the adversity. She had to be strong for the lady, even though she could not be strong for herself.
“Lady Ara, I’m terribly sorry…Lucia—” Her concern for the child shone within the sparkles of her green eyes as she uttered her name. “Should I go to her?”
Ara looked up at her, her amber eyes still wet with tears. Despite the circumstances, she released a slight smile remembering her daughter in that moment. “Yes, please. Thank you.”
Amelia bowed before leaving Ara alone in the reticence of her fractured thoughts.
Ara looked down from the window and upon the rigid streets below, focusing on the mist rising over the horizon. She lay a hand upon the cold glass and wondered what her dear Stello had been thinking. Why would he place this burden on himself, when it was her power that had weakened the evil? Shouldn’t this have been her burden to bear?
She grimaced and bit her lip, as if trying to make it bleed. Her woe turned to anger, causing her pain to tighten as the emotions converged. The thought of raising their daughter and carrying their province alone felt like a mightier burden than whatever quest Stello was chasing. She gave out an indignant roar, slamming her palm against the window. “Stello, why have you done this?! Must you leave us alone? I can’t do this without you…how can I?”
Almost immediately as her hand pressed against the glass, the moonlight broke through the heavy clouds, blasting through the fog and into the window. A distant glimmer of light reflected off something lying on Stello’s desk. She walked over to it, following the light as it sparkled beneath the cover of a cloth. Wrapped in silk was a silver chain. At its base was something white—a divinely cut pendant. Attached was a small scroll with a message written in freshly laid ink, just like the letter: “For Lucia, when she is of age. Take care of this, for she will need it.”
Ara stared, dazzled by the diamond’s beauty. From its side came tiny silver wings, angelically stylized with feathers on its ends—such perfection. She wrapped it in the silk and gripped the gift as she brought it to her chest. In that moment, her heart felt whole again, her pain forgotten and her grief absolved, lifted from her while the pendant left something better in its place: faith. Ara smiled, releasing a faint whisper into the moonlight. “Oh, Stello.”
Dutybound: Prologue – Prelude