"Why me?"

"You intrigue me."

"So? That's your problem. Not mine."

"Like you have anywhere else to go."

There he had me.

Stupid brother. Just had to go out into the ogre wars thinking 'I'm gonna get me some action.' That was about the most idiotic attitude towards war I'd ever heard. Of course, I had to be timid. I had to stay quiet like a good little peasant girl. Simply spending my days shaving the sheep, spinning the wool into yarn and bringing some to sell to the market. Just like Daddy says.

Sigh, every day feels like the same. I don't mind of course. I have life pretty easy for now. The work is easy, the spinning wheel is valuable and I had a job in town that also paid pretty well. I was going to apply for a third this evening at the tavern.

"You're overworking yourself Lor," Mother told me as she lay in bed sick with something the doc can't explain.

"No I'm not," I contradicted. "I need the extra money, especially after we paid that doctor to just come in and say he didn't know what was wrong with you!"

I didn't like doctors very much. These days they demanded so much for the little knowledge they possessed. It was sickening to me. Science...wasn't getting very far as I was concerned. But Papa a liked the doctors, he said to me since I was young that they would soon help many lives and perhaps bring life back when there was thought to have none.

Yeah, I thought Dad was nuts too. I snapped sometimes that maybe Dad should become a doctor if he loved them so much. Mother didn't look so good, and I had already gone over the fact that she would die. I'd known it for a year now. That's how long she's been suffering. There's a feeling inside of me that knows when something is seriously wrong.

My brother was the only one I could level with. I had no idea how my parents could produce either of us. We were so different from them. When I was about 10 I asked my brother if we were adopted. He didn't seem to think so.

Alexander is my brother's name, and all he wanted to do was get out of this place. He and Father fought a lot about the farm. Papa wanted Alex to have the farm after him and Mother, but that isn't what Alex wanted out of life, so he chose the army.

The ogre wars, he told me, were his only way out of this mess at home, and that I should get out of it too. As I turned 17, I realized that he was right. Alex was 18 then, and he left for the ogre wars after training from my uncle's friend, who trained with a knight. So, technically, if Alex survived, he could work for the king.

That would make for a good scenario for both of us. He could free me too. But for now, I figure to by my time would be the best thing. I couldn't leave Mother, not in her state. All Dad does is drink at the bar all the way across town, not even the local one on this side of the town. Nope, he goes off with some of his friends and they drink all night.

Alex used to keep the farm up. When our cows died of some kind of disease, that was a total waste. Now, all we had were the goats and the sheep. That was fine with me, because then I was left with it all.

That same year, Mother contracted her illness, and though it pained me to see her getting worse, I knew the fate was inevitable. She couldn't even make it to church and I hated leaving her alone. Therefore, I hadn't been to church in over 6 months. I knew it was bad when the priest knocked at my door in the 3rd month, asking what was wrong.

I explained everything and since then, he'd been kind enough to make a special house call to us every Wednesday night. Which reminds me, I have to tell the bar tender I cannot work Wednesday nights. Anyway, we prayed with the priest and he gave us a general service and a quick sermon which he preached the last Sunday.

A month later, I fixed up the shed the goats and sheep resided, and I decided to move the spinning wheel inside the house in Mother's room. I'd come in with what needed spinning and worked, whether Mother slept or talked when I was there.

I liked spending time with her, and I knew since she didn't have much time left it was important. I asked her questions when I thought she could handle them, and she answered them, mostly to my benefit. Some stuff I guess I could say I just didn't want to hear, but the fact she was there to answer them was the greatest miracle. I never fussed.

Some nights, Dad would come home so drunk that I had to throw him next door into the pig's sty. Our neighbors didn't mind since Dad hit Alex and things got violent one night a long time ago. Alex was 13 and quarreling over the cow's milk and Dad just got so mad with him and then blamed our poverty on Alex and things just went crazy.

The point is, the neighbor didn't mind tonight, brushing me off as I hauled Papa into the mud then left him there to sleep in his own vomit and slop. I think the pigs didn't mind the company. When I came back into the house, Mother had been sleeping and I sat at the new spinning wheel I had bought in town the other day. It was much larger and I set the basket beneath it.

Watching the wheel was my time to myself. The silence brooded over the house, but I never minded. It was my time to think, to ponder, wonder, and do whatever else I liked. Sometimes I wrote to Alex. He seemed to be doing well these days, which was good. No disease around camp.

Mother woke up abruptly as I was thinking about the stars, and she broke my thoughts.

"What's wrong?" I asked quickly, setting my work down and leaving the wheel to slow.

I knelt beside her and as her eyes met mine, I could see something was different.

"Loretta," she said. "You know, I think I know what is wrong with me."

"What Mama? What are you talking about?" I asked.

"I'm not with God, and he wants me to be there with him. He needs me up there. Honey, I know I haven't been there for you, but I want you to do something for me," she said.

I listened further.

"Get out of here."

I blinked abruptly.

"What?" That was something I didn't expect.

"I heard your father and how you smashed him with another bottle. You need to get away. Get yourself a decent job, and a nice place. When Alex returns for temporary leave, I want you to take the spinning wheel, the goats, the sheep, whatever you think is valuable, and I want you to get out of here."

"But what about you?" I asked.

"God needs me."

"How do you know Alex will come back?" I asked.

"God told me so. Now please, Lor. I'm asking you to pack some things tonight. Alex returns tomorrow afternoon. An officer told me so while you were out last night. I sent him a message to take you to another town, miles away from here. I need you to do this for me," Mother explained. "I-I'd rather you didn't watch me die like this."

Tears swelled in my eyes as I took her hand and bent my head so I could lean against her.

"I'm sorry, Mother."

"Don't be sorry, my child. God needs me, and I must go upon his calling to me. You, I want you to make a life for yourself. You know how. I know you do, and I know you can make it. I know I should be dressing you for that ball next year, but I don't know if I'll make it to see you walk down the stairs..." She stopped talking.

There was a ball I was supposed to attend when I turned 19. I was 18 right now, and Alex 19. The ball was for all girls turning 19, and it was a big affair dealing with a coming of age when girls are supposed to find their suitors. All sorts of men are lined up and we dance with each one. Some are older, some are younger, but there is a lot of dancing. I knew how to dance, which wasn't the problem. The problem was that the mother is supposed to be present to agree with the suitor the lady has chosen. If the two don't agree, then the lady must go with who her mother likes.

"I know you'll pick an interesting one," Mother finished. I smirked. I always found the most eccentric people to be the greatest. They had the most to say.

If my mother couldn't be there, Alex had to escort me and I knew he wasn't about to get in my way when it came to men. The women could pick the guy, but the guy had to accept her before she could show him to her mother (in this case, my brother). So, that's how that whole affair worked. We picked out my dress when we knew I wasn't getting any taller, and I loved it.

"At least you know what I'll be wearing," I told her.

"I can picture it," she assured me. "Get packing, my dear!"

She pushed on my shoulder, nudging me away, and I went into my room where I dug out a few travel bags. One to strap around my back and a few more to carry. I needed at least one for the animals. We only had two goats and four sheep, so it wasn't much. It was just enough. I took care of the animals before myself. I packed the brushes, the milkers, the buckets, and put food in another bag for them. I took all we had left of it until there was nothing left but the old nails, screws, hammers, and rotting wood in the stalls. I left that stuff in my room just in case.

Then I moved on to my own stuff which again, wasn't much. I packed the dress in the middle of my best skirts and tops, hoping it would stay nice. They were mostly church clothes. Then I put my hairbrush, some ties, my bandanas, and the little jewelry I had into another along with some shoes. I stuffed that stuff in as much as I could fit, leaving an outfit out for tomorrow. My pajamas also fit in that same bag. So, I had four bags in total. That wasn't too bad and they weren't really too heavy. Just the animal stuff was actually what I would consider heavy.

As I came out from my room, Mother told me there was something else I should take.

"Take my boots and anything you want to keep. There should be another bag in there. I want you to have them. When you're done with that, I have something special for you."

Chapter Two

I couldn't believe I was doing this. I went into my parent's bedroom and found the other bag Mother wanted me to pack, and it was fairly large! I packed a few of her blankets and her boots like she wanted me to have. I took one of her skirts I always liked along with the matching top.

I went into her jewelry box and found her pendants. I took all of them, worrying about what Father would do with them if he had the chance. I also took her expensive perfume and the other two pairs of clothes she had for farm work. The bag wasn't even nearly full when I was done so I stuffed another blanket and my pillow in there along with Mother's hand mirror.

"Are you done?" she asked as I came out with the bag that seemed rather flat. I nodded, still wiping away some tears. I told her what I was taking with me and she seemed to approve.

"Now, I want you to grab my box of recipes from the kitchen."

I did so, along with the silverware and dinning set she had. Then she told me to grab all the medicine and toss what was expired. I did that too, wondering what she had that was such a surprise.

"Now, that's going to be heavy and fragile, so keep that towards the middle of everything, all right?" Mother asked. I nodded, waiting for her to continue what she wanted me to do. This was the last time she'd ever do such.

"Then, I want you to take half of your father's liquor and sell it off to the local tavern and say that you won't be working there anymore. Take the unopened. They will buy it all back. Get whatever you can for it. Feel free to come back for more, by the way."

I smiled again, knowing the issue was heavy, but that it didn't matter anyway. It seemed lightheartedly to make some fun at it now though.

Mother sighed, having much more to say.

She had me add a tea set to the mix, but only one. I picked our holiday set, asking if I could sell the other. Mother said that was fine with her.

"Take the food, and donate it too the children's house tomorrow before you leave too. Don't forget the wheel either dear."

"I won't," I promised. "What is my surprise?"

"Ah yes!" Mother exclaimed, reaching behind her back and handing me a leather bag. It was filled with coins!

"Mother!" I gasped. "Where did you get all of this?"

"I sold a few things last month like the other couch, a chair, and the rest of my things will be sold to the highest bidder. I arranged it with the mayor himself a long while ago. I knew this day was coming, Loretta, as I'm sure you did too. I could tell my looking at you every day, but you didn't want to face it. Do you accept it?" Mother asked.

"Yes, I accept it. It's God's plan," I answered her.

"Good girl."

I opened the leather bag to see the gold coins and higher forms of currency. I was so shocked and she wanted me to sell more?

"You'll need as much money as you can get your hands on, you know that," Mother told me. "But I want you to be honest about it."

I nodded.

"Good, good. Keep that safe, and remember to take the liquor and sell it off!" she exclaimed. I told her I would, but I wondered what would become of her. She told me not to worry, so long as God had a plan. We all knew he did.

My mind hadn't yet processed what was happening until I was packing up ink and my quill pen in a special case which I fit into one of my lighter bags. Things were cleared out, and it looked like we were moving.

I checked Alex's room and found that he had taken everything he seemed to need. I nabbed his thick chain with a metal cross hanging from it from the dresser. I then readied the liquor in the cabinet to sell. There was a bunch of it! I had no idea Dad bought this much. No wonder we were out of money all the time. I kept the money in a safe place, in my pillow, and set the bottle bag (which was very very heavy) inside my room. Everything was ready for the move.

The hardest thing was saying goodbye to Mother.

I awoke early that morning to find Mother awake but still sickly as ever. I sighed, bringing the liquor to the tavern I worked at as I announced my dismissal. My boss seemed to already have known about it, but I got a good amount for the liquor I sold off to him. At least, I thought it was nice as I added it to my bag of coins. I cleaned out our food supply, tossing what was too late to the pigs next door, and then packing some for myself. I took the rest to the children's house, still seeing it was quite early.

When I returned, there was a wagon parked outside the house, and as I rushed inside, it was my uncle's friends, telling me Alex would be along in a few hours. They loaded the wagon with my stuff and the spinning wheel. I asked about the goats and sheep, and they said there was a place for them where I was going.

I became a little excited as I saw the animals being loaded onto a different wagon, more suited for them. They all fit into one, which was good. Mother told them to grab the broom and her engagement ring, telling me to sell it for a pretty penny if I was in dire need. I kept that safe in the bag.

Alex appeared that afternoon, and I as I ran up to hug him tight, he told me that he would still be at war for another few years, but then he planned to stay with me where we were going. Apparently, he'd seen the place already, but it hadn't been furnished yet. Now it was. It seemed as though everyone but me knew about this! Well, everyone but me and Father. Father didn't really know much though, so that wasn't saying a lot.

It was then I was told Mother would be accepted into the children's home until she passed on or got better by some miracle. Alex assured me of next year's ball I was to attend. He would be there. Still, there was a doubt in my mind about that one.

I took an hour to say goodbye to mother, and I promised to write as often as I could. Reluctantly, I climbed aboard the wagon just as Alex handed me a dagger he acquired while he was in service. I took it gratefully and sat with all my belongings.

The trip took until sundown.

Chapter Three

Thinking. That was all I did basically. Not very exciting. No no, the exciting part was moving in! When I got everything in the house, the house was still large enough to fit more stuff in it. There was a nice sized barn perfect for the animals and enough to add more.

"No more second or third job," Alex told me. "You can have the farm of your own."

He knew it. I liked the farm too much to let it go. At least until the sheep and goat die. That was what I told myself. This was temporary, and I actually stuck to that promise.

When I walked out of the house the next morning, my neighbors showed up, greeting me with the promise of a dog. Theirs had just had a litter of puppies. Since she was a sheepdog, they offered me a puppy! I expected some type of cost, but they just gave him to me. I named him Gold.

He herded the few sheep I had very well for a one year old dog when I finally got him at my house. I was more settled then.

That year was also the year I had to attend that ball. My neighbors also had a daughter whom I had become very good friends with. Her name was Kate, and she came over it seemed all the time. She was training to be a seamstress in some lady's shop a few streets away in town.

Kate was the total opposite of me, as far as outside appearance. She had blonde hair and green eyes. My hair was dark brown and my eyes were hazel. I knew she loved getting dressed up, and she loved designing her own dresses, though some of her ideas...they scared me.

But she was very forward about them. The shop owner once told her she would succeed very well if she could just focus her forward nature towards selling the products and services already available in their shop. I spent most of my time with her when the farm work was done and I've been to the tailor shop a couple of times more than I would like to admit.

She was such a dream chaser, and I admired that. I sort of went after what I wanted, but mostly, I followed what others said. My farm was mine, but sometimes I took suggestions a little too literally. That same year, before the ball, one goat had died and I knew one of the sheep was on its way. I did her a favor and I didn't shave her. It was colder and I wanted her to keep the wool she had. It was sad to see them die one by one, and I knew I couldn't do it anymore. I cared too much for the animals.

"Yer not breeding them?" Another farmer asked when he came over to get the wool I'd spun and promised him as a trade for something I had borrowed. I smiled and shook my head.

"No, I couldn't do it. I love them too much to see them go one by one like this," I admitted. He just smiled at me and took my wool I offered.

When he left, I found myself sighing a lot. Things were fading somewhat. What was I going to do after the animals were gone? The others weren't far behind the first goat. Alex would surely still be at war. How would I make a living? Maybe I should get a job somewhere. That sounded pretty good, but I didn't know where just yet.

Planning was important, that's what Mother had taught me always. I missed her so, but she still writes sometimes. I tell her about the town, Kate, the animals, and what I've been up to. Once in a great while, the army comes in on rotation and I catch Alex quick. Other times, I get a letter from him saying how bad the ogre wars were getting.

A month before the ball was when things were getting interesting. Kate got her internship with the seamstress, my last sheep had died (she was my best, I couldn't bare to spin her wool, so I let her keep it and I buried her), and the house had begun to feel more homey to me. Alex's letter was full of mystery this time around. When it was delivered to me, I read it expecting the same. Not this time. He spoke of a man who could stop the ogre wars and that no one in the army knew who this man was, but apparently he is feared among everyone, calling himself the Dark One. Someone to stop the war, meant Alex could come home early! That was great news, but he still didn't know if the knights were going to take the offer yet or not.

I dug out my dress, thinking of my mother. I wrote to her that same day about Alex and what was going on. Preparations for the ball were the talk of the entire town, and I assumed it was the same there. I hoped Alex would be home in time. Something bid me to ask about Father in that letter, and I wasn't sure I wanted to know the answer the more I thought about what I had written.

Gold was the only pet to keep me company now, and I rather liked it that way. I felt like I was in some sort of recovery. Getting over the death of my animals was something in stride and it seemed to never end. Now, I knew it would be over. The last had passed. There was no more wool to spin. Thus, the wheel would now sit.

Kate got more and more excited each day that ball drew closer. She wouldn't let the matter rest and that was probably all we talked about until Alex came home a week later for the ball in a few days. He set up in his room across from mine,

"Are you ready?" he asked.

"Yeah, I suppose so," I replied the night we laid out my dress. We caught up some more that night. I was quite restless, and Alex was used to no sleep with the ogre war experience.

"Is the Dark One to help?" I asked.

"The knights seemed to have counseled the king. I think they're taking the offer. No matter what it is, they'd be stupid not to take it. The war affects everyone, and they'd have to be blind not to see such," Alex told me.

"Wonder who he is, this Dark One everyone's talking about," I said.

"Rumor is his son is attending the ball tomorrow night," Alex said.

"He has a son?"

"I guess so. They're just rumors, so maybe not. Word around the camp was that his son doesn't really agree with his father a lot and they see through different eyes. You wouldn't know it to be the Dark One's son I suppose," Alex said.

"Poor kid," I sighed. "Son of the Dark One, no wonder he's keeping in the shadows. If the rumors are true, no one would pick him because of his father."

"Good point."

Chapter Four

My dress was basically a corset, but I didn't mind that. It made me look beautiful, and on the night of the ball, I for once felt like a princess. My deep starlit dress was a that gorgeous blue, and the sparkles reminded me of the stars. There were gems along the corset part before it just hung down. My hair was curled curtesy of Kate, though I'll never know how she did it since she made me close my eyes. I should have peeked.

My shoes were silver in color but hardly that expensive. I wished my mother could have seen me. Alex thought I looked nice, so that was really all that mattered right now. I was escorted with the royal treatment, which could probably be taken literally. Since Alex was offered a position amongst the knights when the war was over, which Alex was sure it would be soon, things were looking up. I took a deep breath as we rode in the carriage together.

"How do you think Mother is?" I asked.

"Probably wishing she were in this carriage," Alex said. "She still writes you, no?" I nodded.

"I'm sure she's doing fine."

I hoped he was right, and as we came up to the town square all dressed in lights of all colors, I couldn't help but stare at the line of guys waiting to be danced with. In a way, I think they had it the worst. If they turned down offers, it was almost like a mini heartbreak to the girl who offered. I wonder if the guys could refuse all the girls there.

"Is that possible?" I asked Alex after I explained my question.

"I'm sure it is," Alex said. "The guys are anywhere from 16 to 20, a huge age difference, so I'm sure some of them say no. There are always more men it seems than women at these dances. I remember when I stood once before I joined the service. I refused all of them because of my service, which I admit was basically an excuse. None of them appealed to me."

I stepped out of the carriage with my brother's arm, and we walked together up the dance floor to warm up my feet.

"But this is your night, not mine," he continued. "Whomever you pick, I'm sure I'll like him. I won't get in your way. This is your choice pretty much, Lor."

No pressure or anything there. No way.

I didn't know what it was about it, but there was a feeling inside of me as I looked at the massive line of boys. There was one that just stuck out to me. It was a false hope, I kept telling myself. The odds of me even getting to him before some other girl was slim, and the fact that he'd accept me was even slimmer.

He looked like a prince, but I don't think he was one. Princes never attended these things made for the peasants and villagers! Still, either his family was desperate or he just saved enough money for something that expensive. If it was the latter, he must be serious about this! He must be looking for a girl.

He looked about 19 or so, at least to me, and since I was the same age, through my body shot an ecstasy I never thought possible. He looked so beautiful from where I was, yet he had no idea who I was. Now that was sad. I had to make him notice me! I had to.

For now, we warmed up, and Alex could tell I'd spotted one.

"Do you know him?"

"No, I've never seen him here before. He's a mystery to me. Do you?" Alex asked.

"No," I replied, letting out a heavy exhale. "I think I'm done warming up."

Alex and I stopped dancing and all through the boring announcements, I stared at him.

Who was he? His hair was dark brown like mine, but his eyes were brown. He wore a glorious golden vest with brown pants, white undershirt, and brown boots. He was armed with a dagger at his side, though I wondered what for? His belt was gold in color, but that was certainly no fabric I'd ever seen before. And his hat, oh it was brown as well. It rounded his head nicely as if custom tailored, and then just above his hair it came outward to a round point. When he shifted to talk to someone beside him, I noticed the gold feather sticking from it.

His hands were bare and white, and I could tell he would be a catch tonight. I just hoped I could impress him. I giggled to myself as I saw his chest was slightly exposed, for he wore nothing around his neck.

I tried to be first in line, but I failed. Some blonde girl got in front of me and then of course, she was popular and had all her friends rush up to her. I was left in the dust basically, but not literally. I sat and waited patiently, hoping I would just get to dance with him.

My first partner was someone I would never, EVER, date let alone marry. If it were an arranged marriage, I would hang myself before it happened. I let that one go, and my next partner, though sort of cute, didn't seem to keep my interest.

Dances dragged on forever it seemed, and I looked around to see what other girls were doing. Some were hooking up with guys. A few girls already had their pick and were settled! That went quickly for them.

Another dance partner, and he wasn't too shabby. The sad part about him: he was a wood cutter. That wouldn't bring me much, and he was like a settlement if I was desperate. But I didn't want to settle.

One girl had him for her dance partner. The guy I was eyeing. She was leading him over to her parents. No! Wait, he's stopping her...

He declined her offer! Thank the gods. I was so close to him, it was nearly killing me.

"Hey," a girl whispered to me in the transition. A transition was a time when the men could shift around and relax while the girls danced with each other if they wanted.

"Hm?" I inquired.

"Do you want to switch spots. It's only one ahead," she begged. "I want the one you just danced with."

"That guy?" I asked, pointing to the blacksmith. He was all right and in the back of my mind if my catch had already been caught. She nodded. Then I asked who her partner next up was and who I'd be skipping.

"Him," she said, pointing into the crowd. I couldn't make the guy out.

"Which one?" I whispered.

"The one in the hat," she said. My guy! Well, he wasn't mine yet, but I wanted him to be.

"You have yourself a deal," I said, switching our spots as quickly as I could. "Thank you."

"No, thank you," she told me.

He was next, and I was plenty nervous. I stood in the line, and he approached me. I offered a smile and my curtesy.

"What is your name?" he asked.

"I am Loretta," I replied. "And yourself?"

"My name is Baelfire."

Chapter Five

"Tell me about yourself," I practically urged. I was perhaps a little too eager to get to know him, and he seemed hesitant.

"Well, I grew up in a small village, much like this one used to be," he began. "I never knew my mother. She died when I was real young."

"Oh, I'm sorry," was all I could say. "What of your father?"

"He's never been the same," Baelfire told me. Damn.

"I guess you could put me a sort of opposite scenario. My mother is sick now, but it feels like my father is the distant one. He drinks so much I don't know him much anymore," I explained. "But it's okay. I live with my brother now."

"Oh," Bae said, and he seemed to be warming up to me as we got closer due to the dance we were doing. As we walked around each other in a circle, our talk resumed, though onto more uplifting topics.

What else could I say? He was as dreamy as I thought he'd be. Understanding, caring, and most of all, I connected with him. The dance was about to end, so it was now or never.

"Would you mind if I showed you to my brother?" I asked. "I'm sure he'd love to meet you."

Baelfire smiled and looked at the ground for a moment.

"Sure," he told me. My heart skipped a beat and almost had its own attack, so filled with happiness was I!

I took his hand and lead him to Alex. My brother was talking with a knight as we walked towards them and they both seemed very excited about something.

"Alex, this is Baelfire," I introduced. The two shook hands.

"Nice to meet you," Alex said, a smile bursting from his mouth. "I'm sure you'll be very happy with Loretta in this now peaceful city."

Both of use stared at him in wonder. It was no secret as to what was going on.

"The Dark One?" I asked in hope. Alex nodded.

"They made a deal, and now the ogre wars will finally come to end!" Alex announced to us. We stared at each other, but I had a completely different sense in Baelfire.

He looked at Alex, asking if he knew what the deal exactly was, proceeding to warn us about the Dark One.

"He's called that for a reason," Baelfire said. "You must be careful in the deals you make. I've heard...I've heard most times, he gets the better bargain."

"I would not worry," Alex assured him. "Knights were present at the signing. I'm sure things will work out."

Baelfire seemed still a little apprehensive, but I suppose that was normal. Everything he told us seemed logical. Even more though, I was just excited to spend my life with him. I know that seems like jumping a head, perhaps a little too soon, but I was excited!

Alex excused himself briefly, and I looked to Baelfire.

"Please, call me Bae," he told me. "I know what all this means, and to be honest, there's something I need to tell you before we proceed any further."

He walked me away from the rest of the dance floor into a quieter area where we could be alone. For moments, I stared off into the darkness of the light, pondering the stars above as I heard the fountain's soft droplets hitting the water below. Bae cleared his throat and turned to me.

"I don't know how to say this without making it sound...well, not as bad as it really is. All I ask is that you give me the chance to explain myself after I tell you," Bae said wearily. I sensed an urgency in his tone and I asked what it was that had him so troubled.

With a deep breath, Bae opened his eyes, placed my hands in his and seemed to be hoping for the best.

"I'm the son of the Dark One."