Chapter 1

Entwined Destinies

"My name is Elandin Maire." A young man clad like a ruffian knelt before the Oracle of Antasia, a magical orb bestowed to the people of Esplana by the celestial goddess Glacia, which began to glow like a thousand stars, reflecting on his hazel irises. "I've come to learn my destiny. Would you tell me about it?"

A mysterious voice came from the glimmering orb.

Your fate you shall learn

But it is your past that you must first earn

"My past?" he looked confused. "I guess it won't hurt to know."

The voice replied.

The black heavens cry and mourn

As the icy rain wounds like thorn

Yet in that night you were born

In the shadows, miserable and forlorn

"Would that mean that I was born on a rainy night?" He muttered silently, shoving some stray hair off his eye as he brushed them back with the rest of his jet-black hair. Then, turning to the shining orb again, he seriously said, "To be honest, I'm not really interested in my past. As long as I'm alive, I don't give a damn. Perhaps, you may now foretell my future, even if my birth seemed like apocalypse."

Her precious heart you shall capture

And she will be in ethereal rapture

A princess born of the heaven's pearls

Treasure her like a thousand jewels

"A princess?" he asked, mulling over the Oracle's words. "Please do translate."

She shall fall in love with you in time

But your paths must first entwine

"A princess shall fall in love with me?" He whispered to himself, his eyebrows furrowing in contemplation. As he thought about his destiny, it did not sound so bad at all—unlike his past. He knew marrying a princess was something big. "Is this for real?"

As he was about to ask his next question, he heard a creaking sound from above. Cautiously, he glanced up and found the ancient roof of the temple was about to give way, as if something, or rather somebody, was trying to break in. Sensing trouble, he quickly got up and hastily moved out of the way, away from the Oracle. In an instant, the ceiling dropped helplessly right into the Oracle, producing a deafening clash that echoed through the grazed stone walls of the temple, then followed by a loud scream of a woman.

"What the hell?" he cussed as he went to check the Oracle, which seemed to have vanished from its spot. He bent to pick up a slab when something moved beneath the pile of wood and bricks. "Who's there?"

"Somebody…help me…please. I'm stuck…." Came a muffled sound. "…And…I…can't…b-breathe…"

Then, he saw a frail hand and quickly but carefully removed the slabs trapping it. Little by little, the limp body of a young lady was revealed. Gently, she got on her feet and dusted herself afterwards.

"Geez, that was close." She heaved a sigh, wiping the beads of sweat off her forehead. Then, she turned to Elandin when she found him among the remaining pile of slabs, searching. "Thank you very much. I owe you my life." She smiled kindly.

But when Elandin whirled around, it was a scowl that was on his face. "You! You destroyed it!" he growled at her angrily.

She jumped in surprise at his sudden outburst, slipping her hand into the pocket of her ragged pants. Her boots were dusty with traces of mud on them. Her shirt was ripped from her fall. Her short blond hair was a mess with some splinters of wood clinging onto a few strands. Yet her azure eyes didn't fail to define her beauty, even though right at the moment they were filled with fright as she stared at Elandin in terror.

Hearing the thud from the inside of the shrine of the oracle, Elandin's comrades rushed in and were surprised at the sight of the mischief.

"You destroyed the Oracle of Antasia!" Elandin mouthed in frustration, pointing at the young lady accusingly. "How could you?!"

"Dinn! Hell, what happened?" Echo Hales, the amber-haired one, called. Trying to deduce what had just happened, he studied Dinn's expression, as he was face-to-face with this unfamiliar-looking girl.

"I-I didn't mean to b-break it." She stammered in apology. "I didn't know it was there!" her voice cracked when she felt like crying. "I had no idea, I swear!"

The new arrivals walked over to the two, trying to include themselves in the discourse.

"Look, I'm sorry. I'm really sorry." She begged. "I really am."

"Shut up! I've heard enough." Dinn muttered irritably. "Just get lost! I don't wanna listen to any of your stupid excuses. Can't you see? You just ruined it! You ruined everything! I was just about to ask the most important thing about my destiny!" he shoved her away as he strolled toward the huge door of the temple and walked out.

"I think I blew it." She said to herself as she bit her lower lip.

"What's your name, cute?" Iceazaar Linwood, the ash-haired one, turned to her.

"You're asking me?" she blinked in surprise.

"Yeah, maybe." He smiled and looked around. "There's no other new-comer here aside from you."

"Rio" She replied shyly.

"Oh, Rio!" he exclaimed. "I'm Ice." He introduced, pointing at himself. "This is Echo." He motioned to his friend. "And that's Mav, the one with the specs." He added, glancing at his redhead buddy. "He's the brain of the group. And over there is Mr. One-word-a-day."

"W-Who?" Rio pardoned, grimacing.

"His name's Bry." Echo answered.

"Okay." Rio nodded as she studied the dark-haired guy at the far corner. "And who was that?" she asked, raising an eyebrow at the door where Elandin had exited a while ago. "Does he belong to your group?"

"That's Dinn." Echo answered. "Never mind him. He's kinda moody sometimes."

"I guess I really pissed him off." Rio said worriedly. "Really, I didn't mean to…"

"We know that. He'll get over it, don't worry." Echo asked. "How did you find this place, anyway?"

"How were you able to get there on top?" Mavis Straigh was more into detail.

"A couple of thugs were after me." Rio narrated. "Somehow, I've managed to climb my way up there to escape. But then the roof gave way and so I fell."

"Are you a troublemaker?" Ice asked. "You sounded like one."

"Think what you like. But don't underestimate me." She muttered in a sort of warning, which caused some exchanged looks from the men. "How about you? What are you all doing here? Fate-hunting?"

"You can say that." Ice replied.

"Actually, we're on a journey. And we just happened to pass by Gale Shrine." Echo explained.

"Really?" Rio exclaimed in delight. "Well then, maybe I can join you."

The four glanced at each other.

"Er…that's kinda hasty." Mav said to her.

"Please…" she insisted, her azure eyes were just too endearing for them to resist her.

"I really don't know…" Mav said thoughtfully.

"I don't think a girl can survive a journey like ours, honestly." Echo said.

"Why don't we consider it first?" Ice asked the three. "Sounds like fun."

"Well, actually, it does." Echo admitted.

"And besides, I wanna know how it feels to have a woman in the group." Mav added. Then he turned to Rio. "You have to be smart."

"That won't be a problem." Rio muttered excitedly. "I told you, never underestimate me."

"Count me in." Bryeon Aristide finally spoke.

"NO WAY!" Dinn glared at the five, and then he focused on Rio who melted on her spot. "There's no way this accident-prone troublemaker is joining us! You will have to kill me first."

"It will be my honor." Ice said.

"Thank you very much." Dinn winced in sarcasm.

"Come on, Dinn. She said she was sorry." Echo said.

"Sorry or not, the Oracle is still in pieces and it's all because of her." Dinn continued.

"Speaking of the Oracle, what did it tell you?" Mav asked. "Was it able to say something about your fate before it broke?"

"It said I'm gonna marry a princess." Dinn replied flatly, not so interested in the subject.

"Whoa! That's great, Dinn!" Ice exclaimed. "Well, who's the princess?"

"That's it! I wasn't able to ask anything about her because this menace ruined everything."

"Ooh, that's bad." Ice muttered in regret.

"I'm sorry." Rio muttered silently.

"Well then, I guess we can all look for the princess." Echo announced. "We can all proceed with our journey and find your princess. That way, Rio can tag along."

"That didn't go pretty well…" Even though he wanted the lady to join them, Ice was not convinced with Echo's words when Dinn didn't say anything. All they needed was his approval.

Finally, Dinn gave up and turned to her. "You owe me this one."

"I'll keep that in mind." She nodded in agreement. "Thanks."

The sun rose high above the clouds. Its rays peeped through the thick jacket of towering trees, revealing its golden beauty. Below, the sound of a woodpecker nipping a nearby tree chorused with the crackles of the coat of fallen leaves beneath their feet.

"May I ask? What's a lady like you doing out here wandering?" Echo stepped behind Rio. "Where's your family?"

Rio slowed down to let him catch up. "Actually, I ran away from home."

"Really?" Ice's eyes shot open in astonishment. "I wasn't expecting that. Where's your home?"

Rio thought for a while before she answered. "Never mind…in a not-so-famous town. I bet you haven't even heard about it."

"Try me." Ice smiled.

"Why did you run away then?" Echo went on, ignoring Ice's question.

"Because the Oracle told me to do so." She replied flatly.

"How ironic." Dinn overheard their conversation and grimaced. He was a few steps ahead of them, together with Mav and Bry.

"It's true!" Rio yelled at him. "I've dreamed about it."

"Maybe you've got the wrong end of the stick." Dinn chuckled in mockery.

"It's not funny." Rio pouted.

"Did the Oracle also tell you that you were going to break it?" he went on.

"So what if it did? Happy? It even warned me about the most conceited and inconsiderate jerk in the entire realm of Esplana." Rio answered back, unable to stand his arrogance anymore.

"Was that supposed to be me?" Dinn was now facing her.

"You're the biggest smug I've ever known." Rio muttered, shaking her head as if feeling sorry for him.

"I don't believe this." Dinn held out his hands and continued walking.

"Can't think of anything else to insult me, huh?" Rio yelled at him in challenge.

"You just wait, woman." Dinn murmured to himself. "Better keep that roguish head of yours empty."

"What was that?" Rio asked in confusion.

"Dinn can read minds." Echo explained.

"…Every now and then." Ice continued in a snicker as the three of them proceeded in walking.

"Just bear with him." Echo smiled.

"I bet he's still thinking about that princess who lives in god knows where." Ice added.

"He can read minds?" Rio said to herself, as she studied Dinn from the back. Now, where did I hear about these people?

Suddenly, they heard a series of horse neighs from afar followed by the sound of heavy hooves pounding the earth beneath.

"Horses?" Ice raised a brow.

"Soldiers, maybe." Echo said.

"Why? Is something wrong?" Rio asked.

"Nothing, it's just that soldiers don't usually get this far especially in a dense forest like this one." Mav explained. "I think we've already reach the heart of it. Hurry, let's move on."

Echo grabbed Rio in the arm as if to guide her but she refused to move. Instead she stared at the huge tree behind them, catching a glimpse of hooded figures in the shades.

"They're not soldiers." She muttered silently. "I think they're here. I don't know what they are but they're watching us."

"What?" the five said in unison as they all turned their gazes to where Rio had hers directed.

Quick as a flash, six hooded figures revealed themselves and stormed towards them.

"Let's go!" Ice yelled as he started to run, looking for something to grab on, like a low branch, so he could get ready to fight.

Echo did the same thing but he had Rio tagging along. Without a word, Bry vanished from his spot and reappeared on top a huge boulder with Mav, as they both watched three of the attackers approach Echo's tree with Rio hanging desperately onto one of its branches. When she launched herself from the ground a while ago, she almost stepped on a squirrel crossing the branch she was supposed to land on. So avoiding the little animal, she lost her balance and tripped, but she had managed to grab the next branch.

"Hang on, Rio!" Echo yelled from above as he positioned himself so he could reach her. "Grab my hand!"

"I can't!" she cried helplessly as her arm muscles were about to give way. She watched the hooded men nearing her. With every inch they take, she knew she was doomed. Suddenly, she sensed a presence beneath her.

"Let go!" came a shout from below.

"What?" she yelled back as she saw Dinn standing directly beneath her.

"I said let go!" he repeated impatiently. "They'll capture you if you don't."

"Dinn, be sure to catch her!" Echo called to him, as the enemies were closer than ever. "It's really high from up here."

"Just let go!" Dinn yelled at her for the third time.

With one last deep breath, Rio broke her grip from the rough branch and kept her eyes firmly shut, not wanting to open them again to watch her breath-taking fall. After a few seconds of what seemed like hell, Rio felt herself in the steady arms of an angel. Finally, she opened her eyes and found herself gazing at Dinn.

"Don't worry. I've got you." He said soothingly.

"T-Thanks." She replied silently.

"Hurry, we've gotta hide somewhere." He put her down, scanning the place, and spotted a thick row of bushes. "Over here." Gripping her hand, he quickly led her behind the shrubs just as the hooded figures were distracted by Echo's darts.

"Here. Wash your hands with this." Dinn tossed a small bottle at her.

"Huh?" she caught it, seeing her abraded hands slightly bleeding because of the cuts she got by her tight grip on the coarse bark of the branch. Then, she looked at him.

"It'll sting a bit, though." He continued, glancing at her. "But you don't get the scars afterwards." He added, staring at her hands.

Rio thought for a while. "I'll do it later."

"All right." Dinn shrugged as he sat on the ground.

"Those were the bad guys that were after me." Rio ducked beside him. "Only now there're six of them."

"I thought you said you didn't know them." Dinn eyed her suspiciously.

"Not until I saw clear image of them." She reasoned out.

"There must be a big price for your head." He concluded as he studied her.

"Shut up and don't you dare scare me like that." She glared at him.

"I'm not trying to scare you. I'm just theorizing here." He looked out and saw there was only one enemy left standing. All the others were knocked down on the ground. "Let me have that." He sneered, grabbing the stiletto tucked inside his right boot. Then, he stood up and aimed his weapon at the remaining enemy.

"Dinn, wait!" Ice stopped him.

"He could be useful to us." Echo said.

"Let's see who ordered them to seize us." Mav added.

"Not you. Me." Rio stepped forward. "They wanted me but I have no idea why."

"Well then, let's find out." Dinn began to focus his mind.

"You're not going to learn anything from me." The hooded man croaked.

"We'll see about that." Echo said.

"Watch out!" Bry yelled all of a sudden, grabbing Dinn's dagger from his hand and throwing it at the enemy. It dug right into his chest, killing him.

"What did you do that for?" Ice demanded.

"If I didn't, he's gonna explode and we'll all be dead." Bry explained.

"Smooth." Echo snickered.

"All I know is that they've been following me ever since I left home." Rio said. "I thought I already lost them somewhere."

"What did they want from you?" Echo asked her.

"I actually don't know. I don't have anything valuable." She answered as she pulled out her pockets to show that they were empty.

"Did you learn anything?" Mav asked Dinn.

"They worked for someone powerful." Dinn answered.

"Someone powerful? And he's after you." Ice turned to Rio. "Or it could be a she."

"I don't know." She shook her head. "You're not getting rid of me, are you?"

"I've warned you." Dinn glanced at them all. "She's trouble."