Some people believe they are cursed because they encounter a streak of unlucky events or a bad omen, but I can personally vouch for the fact that they are quite wrong. I've been cursed before, many years ago now, to know that no unlucky meeting or turn of the wheel can cause a curse. I should know—I've had a good deal of unlucky things happen to me.
No, curses must be very much intentional.
But that's not to say all curses are bad. Even if it may be bitter at the time, even the worst of events may serve a purpose. The issue is facing the harsh reality that the purpose presents. But that's why I'm here, isn't it?
Let's start from the beginning.
When I was eleven years old, the family who'd taken me in as an infant—my two lovely parents and younger sister, Juna—all contracted the spotted fever and died.
I don't know whether it was a blessing or a "curse," so to speak, that I never got their sickness, and I don't think anyone else knew, either, because no one took me in after that. I worked whatever odd jobs anyone around was willing to offer in the hopes that one day I would free myself from the pitied looks and gentle murmurs that always seemed to follow me. Those, I knew, were a curse in their own right.
The year I turned seventeen, I finally scraped up enough money to move to the outskirts of town where a small, meager cottage met the woods in a quiet sort of haven. There, for a single moment, I couldn't hear the voices of the children and the nuns and the shopkeepers. I couldn't feel their gaze.
I quickly became accustomed to the peace I found at the cottage, surrounded by the trees and the smell of cedar and pine, and I enjoyed the misty mornings before the sun rose and the townspeople woke. I lived away from the bustle of my childhood and for that reason alone, I believed I was the most blessed person around.
I believed, yes, but that hardly meant I was.
In my hands sat an old, scrappy rod. I fiddled with it while I waited, slowly spinning it in circles on my lap and fingering at its imperfections. The town around me bustled as the people moved to and from their work, rushing to get back to their families and their homes.
I tugged at the cloak around my shoulders and twisted in my chair. "Mr. Hebel, are you done yet?"
I'd been working as a blacksmith's apprentice for close to three years and had suspected for a while that Mr. Hebel, my mentor at the time and owner of the small shop, was giving me little raises the more he noticed how rundown my cottage was getting. He was a kind man, though strict and demanding, and loved his line of work.
Now, as he came out from the back of the shop, his large shoulders drooped and his eyes lacked their normal crinkle. He was not smiling when he looked at me. I put down the metal rod.
"Veia," he said in a heaving sigh and I twitched at the sound of my name. He sat down beside me. "I'm afraid you can no longer be an apprentice here." He ground out the words like he hardly knew them. "We have to close the shop by Monday."
I stared at him for a long moment. "I'm..." I hesitated. I'm what? Confused? Angry? "I'm so sorry for the loss, Mr. Hebel. Tell Maryan I wish you all the best."
He nodded to the shop behind us, then smiled sadly and pressed an ash-smudged envelope in my hand with both of his. "Thank you, dear. You're an excellent worker."
With that, he stood and glanced at the shop's sign, reading HEBEL'S BLACKSMITHING in big bold letters, and started down the town's dirt street, the evening sun casting a red haze on the remaining sets of townspeople drifting down the square.
For a moment I just sat there with the envelope in hand and stared. I let out a short breath, finally, then pocketed the paper and started down the path myself.
My home was not far out from the town, but it was far enough out that no one bothered to visit, which is exactly what I'd had in mind when I'd chosen the tiny cottage. It was really only meant for one person, I thought, which was perfect for my purposes. It had one small kitchen that also served as a dining room, one small living room with my chair and the fireplace in it, and down a short hallway, one small closet and a bedroom off from the rest of the house.
I had never bothered decorating or personalizing my house for any visual interest because I knew it was an utter waste of time and Mr. Hebel would be the only one to care. Because of this, throughout the two years I'd inhabited the little home, the only change that had come to it was switching the sheets and placing a small oil lamp on the desk in my room.
It was twilight by the time I got there, past the willow tree that marked my property and through the stretch of forest to my front steps. I knocked on my own front door just for humor, then chuckled dryly and pulled the key from my knapsack. However, when inserted into the lock, the metal did not make the faint click it usually did. I frowned.
It wasn't locked.
I knew from my unconditional paranoia that I always locked the door when I left. The key slipped quickly back into my bag and I grabbed my knife in its stead, leaving the sheath in my knapsack. I silently cracked the door.
The living room was completely dark. I moved my way through the room, knowing only by experience where everything was placed so as not to run into it, and peered down the hallway. Also dark.
I made a quick jet past the kitchen, the closet, and to my room. All three were just as I had left them.
I pursed my lips and leaned on one leg, debating why exactly my door had been unlocked. If no one had done anything, why had they come?… I continued to ponder as I lit the lamp on the desk, then I froze as the flame started on the wick, spreading light across the pine wood.
There was a thick leather-bound book on my desk. I had never seen it in my life, and yet there it sat.
Whoever broke into my house had done something...
My eyebrows knit together and I inched closer to the thing, lamp in hand and an overanxious heart thumping against my ribcage. I tried to listen to the voice of reason hollering at my movement, but I outstretched my hand anyway and a horrible foreboding rang at the back of my head.
It was too late.
My finger brushed along the edge of the book's leather, then I was thrown back as red sparks burst outward from the bindings. Flashes and pops sprouted from the desktop as I spiraled toward the floorboards and up against the wall on the other side of the room.
I shot a look down at my shaking hand and up again at the desk, my breaths fast and uncontrolled. What was that?
Something crossed my mind suddenly. I couldn't see it, but somehow I knew there was a word on the cover of that book, carved into the leather as if someone had swiped at it with a knife. I saw the shadows of each letter as a scar in my mind and as the image faded, I heard a little girl whisper the word as if she were right next to me, but I was the only one for miles. A giddy smile painted her voice as if she were talking about her most prized achievement and I ran from my own room with the word still echoing in my bones.