The city of Aeho is dictated by a young and self-obssessed tyrant, known as Iona. War and destruction reigns. Suffering increases as a thirteen year old decides to speak against Iona. After the murder of her sister, she vows to take revenge. Finding an exiled boy, she plots with him. But Iona's not the only one controlled by darkness. Who can she trust?


2. Ash

Today is the first day of the fifth year after Emperor Kairu's death and the start of Empress Iona's reign. The loss of our freedom.


I should introduce myself though. I live in the city of Aeho. My name is Ash, short for Ashley. I am 13 years old and I work as a bounty hunter in these parts. Young age for that kind of work, I know, but I need to support myself and my siblings. And that's the easiest way for me to get money. We don't have any parents - they both died, so my 10 year old brother, Carlos depends on me and my older sister, Natalie who we both call Nat.


Natalie always tells me not to be a bounty hunter, but I never listen, and she's realised that. Each morning, we go out together, to look for a mission or perhaps scout for the best places to execute a mission. Maybe complete one. If I didn't have to, I wouldn't kill people. But here, either you do what you can to survive, or you'll starve. Not because there's not enough food, I think to myself angrily. There's plenty - if you're rich. If you are poor, you're screwed. It's that simple.

Quickly tying my hair up in a ponytail, I glance in the mirror swiftly. I don't look out of the ordinary in my black leather jacket and jeans. Good. If anybody rich thinks that you look suspicious, you're instantly arrested and questioned. Once, when I wore a hoodie during a snowy November, I got thrown into a cell for three days. For a rich town, the cells could not get any worse. On the outside, the block looks pretty. Completely different story when you get in - uneven concrete, iron bars, mouldy wooden benches and some hay that has been laid in too much. To be honest, prisoners are better treated than the poor in some respects. Prisoners get 2 loaves a week, while Natalie and I can barely afford 1. 

"It's time to leave." Nat whispers to me, jolting me from my thoughts.

I nod, "Where are we going today?" I ask.

She pauses for a moment, deep in thought. "I guess we could pay a visit to Iona. The list of her enemies... we could get enough money to buy food for a few years."

That's an interesting, dangerous idea. Bounty hunting isn't legal in this city.. unless the empress hires you personally. If she knew that we'd been picking off some of the citizens without being hers, we would literally be dead. "I don't know, sis.. Surely, she'd kill us?" 

Nat shakes her head, smiling slightly. She passes me a slightly dirty leaflet. The title reads 'HIRING BOUNTY HUNTERS'. In smaller print, I can make out the words 'Empress Iona is seeking 3 bounty hounters that are young, cunning and brave.' Even smaller, I can barely see 'If the job is done wrong, the standard penalty applies.' We both know what that means.

The meaning of that leaflet is clear. We have a slim chance of getting the job - a lot of the city will want this. And if we are hired and fail, she'll have us killed (by some cruel method, no doubt). Strangely, I am not afraid.

"I want the job." I exclaim in excitement.

My sister's small smile vanishes off her beautiful face. "Ash, no. This will be even more dangerous than usual and there is no way I am risking you. I- I can't bear to lose you." 

When I hear this, my heart warms despite my disappointment. "Nat.. Please, let me try!"

Shaking her head, Natalie says, "I'm sorry Ash but I cannot let you. Our parents would never have wanted me to put you in such a risk. I shouldn't have shown you the leaflet." 

I shake my head, "No, it's okay. I won't do it."

Nat nods, clearly unconvinced. Every single emotion of hers seems to be glowing off her face - she can never hide her feelings. Not from me anyway. Her icy blue eyes are sharp and scrutinise me, as if she is gazing into my soul. Sizing me up, assessing my capabilities. Unlocking my deepest secrets that I would die of embarrassment if anybody found out, like my irrational fear of spiders. 

Eventually, Nat sighs deeply. "I trust you, Ash. I know you're more than capable of being Iona's personal bounty hunter. But I'd rather go hungry for a few days than lose my partner in crime." After a long pause, she looks at the grandfather clock that we keep in the center of the room. "Shit, it's almost 5. We need to leave soon or Carlos will wake up. No bounty hunting today, let's just buy the essentials from the market and get back."

In agreement, I follow Natalie outside and down the cobble street. We are greeted with the usual disturbing sights: young children shivering on the streets dressed in clothes too thin for this weather, men and women who have illnesses not bad enough to kill them but bad enough to destroy their future. Our lifestyle is far from ideal but I consider myself, Carlos and Nat lucky to have shelter. I shudder in sadness as I hear the daily calls of beggars. My sympathy for them is contrasted with my sister's disdain due to the fact that none of them look for jobs. Heart twisting in sorrow, I continue down the dark street towards where the market stalls are set up. Out of the blue, a strange hand grabs me, "Anything for a homeless elderly woman?" she rasps. 

I try to stop myself from screaming.

But it's okay. Nat has me grasped firmly by the waist, steering me away from her. "No. We have little to nothing to live on ourselves." she snaps.

I shake her off me but I'm thankful that she took control there. "Thanks, sis." I whisper softly.

Natalie gives me a long, heartbreaking look. It's as if her eyes have thawed, suddenly turning into huge pools of affection and care for me. Her response touches me most of anything. "I'll always be here sis. You'll always have me by your side. I promise."     

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