The path back to Calaren town was covered in thick snow. The snow veiled forest hindering what could've been an easy task for Iris and her friends.
By this time of the day, it would be impossible for Iris to reach home before her siblings and mother started worrying about her. Alas, hunting for food around this time of the year proved to be challenging even for someone like her who had grown accustomed to hunting.
Luckily, she and her friends were able to catch a deer and two rabbits that fell victim to her strategically-placed snares. It should be enough to satiate their families for at least three days, by which the three of them would return here to hunt for food.
Iris's eyes swept around the vicinity, trying to find the marks she had left on the trunk of the trees to make it easier for her to find her way home. With the snow almost reaching her mid-thigh, she thought that this was one of the harshest and longest winters their kingdom had suffered in a long time.
The hunt had brought her small group farther than they usually would go, but with the harsh weather keeping everyone in their homes, their resources and food dwindling each day, who could blame them anyway?
However, no matter how desperate they were, Iris's three-man group wouldn't dare to cross the mountain range that leads to Asnar. It was where the magical beings and monsters lived. The three of them wouldn't have any chance of survival as they weren't equipped, skilled or knowledgeable enough to fight the creatures.
Humans residing in the Kingdom of Dravial knew in their hearts that there was nothing they could do against the darklings if the latter decided to break their treaty and invade their lands once more.
There were rumors that nothing was lacking on that side of the continent, but no mortals would dare to trespass the land in fear of what they would find there. No one was able to live and tell the tale from the other side of the mountain range that separated them from it.
'Darklings are vicious beings. Because they aren't capable of lying, they tend to put emphasis on their words and ignore tones and make it up through deception and violence.' Their elders used to say. Even traveling peddlers and merchants recount stories of distant villages and towns left in spilled blood, ruins, and ashes by the darklings.
It wasn't until her magic surfaced that Iris started to sense darklings. It was a nightmare for her. Their presence was so terrifying that it left her wallowing in tears for the three whole months.
She was forbidden by her father to ever speak about the gift that the gods bestowed upon her and to never entertain the idea of cultivating it.
Although Calaren Town was part of the Kingdom of Dravial, ruled by human kings and queens, it was also under the protection of a demon lord of the Court of Nightfall, Lord Kieran Fleurnoir. Or so everyone thought.
The treaty between the Kingdom of Dravial and the darklings had been sealed for far too long that no one was really sure about the terms anymore. The treaty ensured that the darklings wouldn't enslave any humans and protect the neighboring towns and villages from the outlawed darklings who refused to acknowledge the treaties.
As to why the Court of Shadows — consisting of the thirteen demon lords, asked for virgin maidens as sacrifices, no one had any idea. There were speculations, but none of them was able to give light to the terms and only considered it as a ritual to protect their town.
"I see one here!" She called out to Luca, her childhood friend and partner in hunting.
Luca was also her younger sister's beau, and she treated him like her own brother. He was the one who always had her back whenever they were out hunting. His hair was more on the golden blonde hue compared to her pale blond hair and a dimple would appear on his face whenever he smiles, no doubt the reason her sister adores him more.
Luca immediately went to her and inspected the deep gash left on the trunk of the tree Iris was looking at. He adjusted the carcass of a dead doe over his shoulder while their other companion was still occupied, trying to find the path back home.
"What a good eye you have there, Iris. How did you always manage to find the right path no matter where we are?" He asked her with a boyish smile.
Iris merely smiled and refused to answer his question. People would surely think she was a freak, and her whole family may face persecution if they knew what she was capable of.
Because here in the Kingdom of Dravial, humans with magical powers were being persecuted either by being burned alive or beheaded. She and her entire family would be subjected to persecution if others were to find out about her ability.
Her father had already passed away five summers ago, and there was no one to look after mother and younger siblings except for her. As much as she wanted to be like other young ladies in their town, Iris couldn't afford to see her family die from starvation.
From what her deceased father explained to Iris, the Scarborough family came from a long line of maguses, until the previous kings haunted their kind and killed them all. Her father didn't seem surprised to hear and witness how she could heal injured small animals and return dying flowers and plants back to shape.
She was told to keep her ability a secret, as there weren't any humans known to have this kind of magic. Her father also feared that even if she was spared by the royal family and its court, there was no assurance that she wouldn't be forcibly taken away from her family.