Chapter 2

As the daughter of nobles, not once in her nineteen years of life did Ilina ever think she would be trying to evade the capture of imperial soldiers. And yet, here she was, being pursued by four men on horseback whom had appeared shortly after she’d fled the Albrecht estate. To make the situation even worse, the fitted bodice dress with a heavy skirt that she wore made it extremely difficult to ride properly. She kept sliding around in the saddle and had it not been for the riding lessons she’d been required to take as a child, she would have fallen off long ago already.

She glanced behind to check on the distance between her and the soldiers, and to her horror, they seemed to be slowly but steadily gaining closer. When she tried to spur her stolen steed faster and it failed to pick up any more pace, she realized that the horse must have started to reach its limits.

Already?! Imperial mounts were supposed to be only the best of the best, with high stamina and endurance. Perhaps her horse had already galloped a greater distance than she’d initially thought. Ilina did feel bad for pushing it so hard, but she couldn’t afford to stop here.

It was only a matter of time before the men would fully catch up to her, so with her mind racing, she began analyzing her options. Originally, she’d planned on going to the neighboring march and appeal to its ruling marquess for help. However, it was still a great distance away and it was a certainty that her steed would completely tire out long before reaching there. So that left her only option, the forest that lay across from the vast field they were currently passing by.

However, Ilina was extremely hesitant to go into the forest – and for a good reason. At first glance, the forest looked perfectly normal and lively, with plenty of songbirds frolicking amongst the trees and even a few deer grazing at the edge of the field. But if one were to venture deeper into it, they would soon find themselves in an area prowling with monsters. This forest stretched alongside most of the empire’s southern border and all locals knew not to wander too far into it, or else risk the chance of never coming out.

And yet, as dangerous as it was, if she somehow managed to survive the forest, she could cross the border and enter the Cordentelia Empire which remained on neutral terms with Azentelle. The queen’s soldiers wouldn’t be able to reach her there. The risk was high, but she had to take the chance. With the opportunity her mother had given her to escape, there was no way she was going to simply surrender now.

Her mind made up, Ilina took a deep breath before gripping the reins and giving a firm tug, guiding her horse off the road and into the field without breaking the gallop. As they crossed the grassy stretch of land, she looked back once more at the soldiers. Their pace had slowed now and realizing where she intended to go, they seemed hesitant to follow.

Now she just had to make sure she made it through the forest in one piece.


The men watched as Ilina entered through the line of trees, not once stopping to reconsider her actions.

“Sir…” One of them began, stopping when the leader held up a hand.

Everybody halted their horses, clearly relieved that they didn’t need to continue pursing her into the woodland.

“She’s as good as dead in there.” The leader said as he eyed the trees wearily. “But just in case, we’ll patrol the edge of the forest. Night will fall soon and she may use the darkness to sneak back out. We’ll remain here until morning and report back to the captain if she doesn’t come out by then. Now, spread out along the entrance!”

He clicked his tongue and urged his horse to begin moving once more. The others followed suit, two men going in each direction alongside the trees.

It hadn’t been very long since Ilina entered the forest, but the sky was already beginning to darken, making it hard to see where she was going. She could no longer hear anybody pursuing her, so she decided to get down from the horse and begin walking, guiding the steed by the reins. It was mostly quiet now, save for the crunching of foliage that the horse stepped on and rustling of leaves from nearby animals.

She tried not to make too much noise herself, but that proved to be a rather difficult task. Her dress was constantly getting snagged on branches and it took quite a bit of effort to rip the fabric free every time. Not to mention her rather awkward gait. Without any shoes on, her feet were getting scratched by rocks and sticks as she walked. It was certainly painful, but alas, there was little she could do about it.

With a sigh, Ilina looked up and saw the dark purple sky through the treetops. A few stars had already come out, twinkling high above her. What a peaceful sight to end an unspeakably horrific day with.

Since it didn’t seem like she was being chased anymore, she decided that she would try to find a clearing and settle down for the night. She could enter the monster occupied part of the forest in the morning, when she could actually see where she was going. It’d give the horse a nice chance to rest too. The only problem was where she’d be able to find water.

As she mulled over that, a sudden low growling noise up ahead stopped her dead in her tracks. The horse, which had been calm the entire walk through the forest, was suddenly displaying a great amount of nervousness. It’s ears were pricked forward, eyes wide, head moving from side to side, and it began shifting from one foot to the other.

Ilina squinted, trying to see whatever was up ahead. Though, she couldn’t see anything as the trees were quite dense. But whatever it was, if it caused this kind of reaction from her horse, it couldn’t be anything good. Praying that they wouldn’t be noticed, she slowly began backing up, pulling the horse along with her.

One step.

Two steps.

Three steps.

Everything seemed good.

Four ste-


The horse stepped on a large branch, sending a loud noise echoing through the trees. Immediately, the growling ceased. The air was still for a moment as Ilina held her breath, body tensed. Then, all of a sudden, a loud roar broke the silence and a large figure came lunging out of the trees.

She let out a reflexive scream and the reins were yanked out of her hands as the horse reared up on its hind legs. Stumbling backwards, she accidentally stepped on the hem of that godforsaken dress of hers and fell to the ground, unable to do anything else to but watch as the horse bolted away. The large figure passed right by Ilina as it attempted to chase the much quicker steed.

Staring as it rushed by, she could see that it was a bear. Or at least, a creature that resembled one. It had a similar size and build, but its fur looked stiff and almost spike-like. The cute, rounded ears that could be found on all bears was absent on this creature. And its claws? Dear god, they were huge. Each once was almost as thick as her wrist and there were four on each foot. It didn’t even look like it was walking on paw pads, just claws.

This was definitely one of the many monsters that dwelled within the deeper part of the woods. So what was it doing here? Ilina knew for sure that the distance she and the horse had walked had not been enough for them to have reached the monster-filled area. Well, whatever the reason, she had more important things to think about at the moment.

The bear-like creature had stopped going after the horse and now turned its heavy head to stare at her. She let out a soft whimper, her legs trembling far too much for her to get up. Somehow, this was far more terrifying than watching her nursemaid get beheaded in front of her.

It slowly turned its entire body to face her and a growl rumbled in its throat, drool dripping from its partially open maws. She was able to get a look at its teeth and boy, were they worse than the claws. There were at least three rows of decent sized, razor sharp teeth inside its mouth. One bite and she’d be a goner. Ilina didn’t know which one would be worse, getting bitten by those teeth or slashed by those claws.

One thing she knew for sure was that she needed to run. Except, her body wasn’t listening to her. Her mind was screaming for her to move, but her body remained firmly seated on the ground, legs still trembling like that of a newborn fawn’s.

The creature began walking towards her, its pace so slow it almost seemed as if it were taunting her. Ilina could only watch in frozen terror as it gradually neared her, its claws making a horrid dull thudding sound against the ground with every step. Then, when it was close enough that she could actually smell the stink of its breath, an ear-shattering screech of a bird filled the air. It caused the creature to pause for a moment and look up, and that was all the time she needed to push herself up and start running.

Surprised that her body actually listened to her this time, she figured that it was the piercing screech that shocked her out of her frozen state. But what kind of bird could possibly make such a loud sound? Her ear was still ringing from the noise. It couldn’t be another monster, could it…? She shivered again at the thought. One was more than enough.

As Ilina dashed through the forest, not even paying attention to which direction she was going, she could hear the creature chasing after her. Even though she was weaving through trees grown closely together, it seemed to have no problem following her. With its large build, it was probably just bulldozing its way through, but she didn’t bother turning to check. She continued running as fast as she could, barely noticing all the cuts she was gaining on her feet nor the way her dress kept getting caught on things. She simply functioned fully on her flight mode, letting instinct take over.

She ran and ran until her lungs were burning, always feeling the creature right after her. And suddenly, she burst out of the trees and into a small, moonlit clearing. Stopping, she gasped for breath as her eyes darted around, looking for anywhere to escape to.


Spotting a hole big enough for her to fit through at the base of a very large, clearly old tree, Ilina made a mad dash for it. She dropped to her knees and quickly crawled in, desperately pressing herself up against the walls of the hollow space. It was bigger than it looked, with enough room for her to lay down. And with how far back into the hollow she was, she probably wasn’t visible from the outside. Pulling her knees to her chest, she buried her face in her arms, trembling as she waited for the monster to come sniffing at the hole.

Seconds passed. Then minutes.


Everything was deathly quiet. That was odd. What happened to the creature? It had been making such a ruckus when it was chasing after her, so why the silence now? Had it discovered her and was now just waiting for her right outside of the tree, letting her be consumed by fear? She wouldn’t put that past it, considering how it’d been seemingly taunting her earlier.

A frightened whimper threatened to escape her lips and she buried her face deeper into her arms.

This was the worst. What had she been thinking, assuming that monsters would be better than the queen’s soldiers? If Ilina could go back in time, she’d choose the queen’s soldiers over the monsters in a heartbeat. Attempting to cross the forest and enter the Cordentelia Empire seemed impossible now. There was no way she could go back out and face more monsters.

With those thoughts swarming through her head, she remained curled up in the corner of the hollow for what seemed like an eternity.

Ilina woke with a start, jolting so suddenly that she ended up banging her head against the low ceiling of the hollow. With a groan, she curled back up, cradling her head. “What the…” She mumbled in a confused state.

Had she fallen asleep sometime during the night? She didn’t remember doing so, but she must have. What time was it? Was the monster gone?

She stiffened as she remembered the bear-like creature that terrorized her last night. Hesitantly, almost wondering if she should just go back to sleep and forget about reality, she raised her head to listen to her surroundings.

Everything was as quiet as she remembered, which was odd, considering the amount of sunlight streaming into the hollow through the hole. It was definitely past morning, so why were there no birds chirping? Surely there had to be at least one bird chirping away. But there was nothing to be heard except for the sound of tree leaves rustling from a breeze.

Why was it so quiet?

She felt a chill go down her spine at how creepy the situation seemed. Unsure of whether she should remain in the hollow or take her chances and leave, her gaze wandered around her hiding space. And that was when she noticed it.

There, resting on the ground opposite of Ilina on the other side of the hollow, was an egg.

— New chapter is coming soon —
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