Prologue part I

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.*

"Let them go! Stop! I'll do what you want... I'll do as you ask..." His feeble cries barely escaped his burned lips as he watched his children being beaten with the damned yellow sânziene. 

Threads of blood trickled down the nearly naked backs of his daughters as Nakul struggled in the grip of two of his kin. Draks trained in the art of war—elite warriors.

The Empress, glaring at him with serpentine eyes, moved closer to his face and smiled. 

He couldn't help but be struck by how an unrealistically perfect smile could hold so much hostility and malice. She spoke in a voice so velvety it should've been soothing, but instead, it froze the blood in his veins: 

"The girls will be kept in our quarters until you have completed your mission."

 "Please. I will keep my word."

 "You would... But until then, they will be safe in our care."

Nakul wanted to howl and strike, to take his children and run with them until he reached the Great Braa, but he couldn't. 

God hadn't answered any prayers since he had set the Guardian to lock the gates, watch over the whole world, and not let any nation mix with each other anymore. 

His girls' shrieks were like sharp knives piercing his heart; his gaze moved to their little faces, caressing them one by one. Pain etched deep into their innocent eyes.

What a miracle had brought them into the world—such a rare trio, triplets. Their mother had loved them with the same fervour.

 She would have died again to see them now in the grotesque hands of those who have no peace until they have made the things of the world to their liking, disturbing the quiet lives of others by taking and deciding for them under the pretext of achieving a better life. 

What a joke!

He gritted his teeth, knowing it was futile, but he owed it to the children to give it at least one desperate try. 

Turning his eyes to the emotionless face of the Empress, it pained him to see in her the similarities to Nala. But that's how they were—the iele, with translucent, whitish skin that made you think of sea foam with just a faint hint of green that was almost unnoticeable and of unmatched beauty. This bit of green was what attracted him to them—to Nala.

The sânziene, on the other hand, the other sister nation to the iele, had much more human-like skin, though more translucent and in a way even seemed more earthy with their obsession with knowledge, rules, and style of living.

Not that the leadership of the Iele and Draks hasn't had that lately... – Nakul tried to reason, looking directly into the Empress' eyes, which were watching him like an interesting object of study.

"If the Guardian left the gates unattended, I'm sure it's part of a plan outside our knowledge. The Great Braa wouldn't have allowed it if things were different. He must have other plans—"

The Empress's cut was icy and turned vicious at the end: "You. Kow. Nothing. Commoner! The rules of the universe forbid any other Guardian but that slippery Inemin Rugnis or her descendants..." 

Her eyes widened and then narrowed fiercely, and, breathing heavily like she had run, she added, "Shapeshifter, the task remains: you will go to Earth, find her, end her life, and return with proof of her death!"

The pleasant smile returned, and she gestured to the frail forms of his children, who had nearly lost consciousness at the hands of the barbarian who held them. "Or these little ones you have hidden so well all these years will die a slower and more painful death than you can imagine. You must fulfil your duty to your people and work with us to protect our world!"

"You speak of protection after beating children!" he spat.

"Oh, but you saw how quickly you agreed! It's all about efficiency, dear fellow!" 

The Empress's amusement faded, and she spoke seriously: "They will be healed and treated royally by the time you return. What is a little pain for a greater good?"

A strong snort escaped Nakul's lips and her mood changed in a split second. Looking at him through narrowed eyes, she waved around to his home.

He closed his eyes; he already knew what she wanted.

He couldn't comply with the cruel stupidity of the Empire's demand for total devotion and dedication from each individual without concentration on one's own being.

 They were asked to think as a whole and not on their own, which is against nature itself; every being has its own kind of development and needs.

When he met Nala at the great annual dance that once a year allowed all nations to mingle and participate only in the glassy spectacle of breeding, he couldn't let her go. And she more than agreed to hide together and raise their children, rather than hand them over to the nurseries. 

If a Drak impregnated Iele and had a daughter, that daughter went to Iele's realm, where they are taught to connect with nature and animals; as was the case with Sânziene's impregnation, their daughters were sent to be trained in the secrets of knowledge and wisdom-sharing. And if he were a boy, he would go to the world of Draks to train in combat or the art of forging and controlling fire to shape it into weapons...

So, they run together that night and find this secluded part of the drak world where they build their home. Near the Guardian's place, were no one would come.

"You created this for yourself—a home away from the rules and the eyes of the law. I assume you understand that you must pay for your choices."

His heart sank because he knew now he had no choice but to obey. The safety of his children was at stake, and their cries tore at his core. Nakul's voice broke as he said:

"I'll go. Please heal them. Please!"

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