【 Chapter One 】
Amber Obscura was born in a land of distress and war. Her mother was extremely sick due to the food and medical supply shortages across the area - the consequence of the fighting and disagreement between groups. It broke out quite suddenly, two groups with opposing beliefs, morals, ideas. And at times like those, a little push is all it takes for chaos to erupt.
The outcome of these shortages was a tragic one - the mother died shortly after giving birth to her healthy baby girl. But not before giving her the name Amber, after noticing the beautiful, copper-yellow shade of her child’s eyes, outlined with a ring of hazel.
Amber’s father was the leader of the rebel group who fought against the injustice and harsh, unfair treatment of the opposing band. Because of this, he was always in great danger of surprise attacks and other hazards, so his newborn daughter’s safety wasn’t guaranteed when she was around him for long periods of time. Instead, his father, Ruey Obscura, tended to the young girl, providing her with the loving care and treatment she needed. They continued living there for almost six months - until they no longer could.
The conflict worsened, and tragically, Amber’s father, Khane Obscura, was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He died, and so the infant and her grandfather made the decision to leave the land and become refugees in a country far away from the violence and strife that they were forced to bear.
However, Ruey was an old man, weak and tiring, so he made the painful decision to hand her over to foster parents, though still able to see her when he wished. She lived with a woman in her thirties named Mazel Orthid, with fair hair, blue eyes and an impressive figure, who worked as the editor-in-chief for a popular fashion magazine. She was the wife of a man called Theodore Orthid, and the two lived with their two other children - a girl a year younger than Amber called Meadow, and her little brother Jackson. Meadow wanted to be just like her mother. Jackson wanted to tame lions.
Amber never really felt that close to her foster family. Meadow was now fifteen and had a huge interest in all things fashion and beauty. As for Jackson, a young boy in Year One, he was still fairly innocent to the world’s injustices, always laughing and earning approval and adoration from those around him. Theodore was the product manager of a large, popular technology company, and was often away running various errands with his secretaries and businessmen and women. And since Mazel was often busy with her job in the fashion industry, it was usually Amber who was left to look after her foster siblings.
So, when she could, she escaped from the grand house of the Orthids by running off into the nearby forest, smothered with bushes and leaves painted vibrant shades of green, wildflowers that blossomed proudly around them, showing off their vivid coloured petals, and thick sturdy trees with their branches outstretched high above the ground, the light of the sky shining down in bendy, crisscrossed shapes below. She would climb up them eagerly, swaying on her own DIY rope-and-branch swing, and either read thick-paged old fiction books or sketched in her pad.
Sometimes she would stay there for hours at a time, undisturbed by the busy lives of her adopted family and the roaring of cars beyond the gates of the forest, the rushing of people going to work and meeting at nearby shops and houses. There, she could escape to mother nature, and there was nothing she loved more.
Amber had also had a husky with grey and white shaggy fur, gifted to her by Ruey on her thirteenth birthday, which she named Marcel. Marcel enjoyed his long treks in the forest just as much as Amber did, and would often wander around near her or lie beside the tree she swung from while she was reading and sketching. Her drawings often consisted of mythical animals and forbidden lands, characters from fantasy novels and princesses that rebelled, turning against their natural Disney fate.
Some days she would approach the edge of grassy slopes and dips leading to small waterfalls, and stepped dangerously close to the edge, her eyes locked onto the skies, imagining the feeling of flying, of being free of the uncertainties of the world, free of humans’ distress and confusions. Marcel glanced at the rushing waters for a few moments before deciding that he didn’t like heights after all, gambolling back to the safety of the inky-green bushes and trees.
“I wish you wouldn’t spend days on end in those woods, Amber,” Mazel commented one day, frowning in annoyance after Amber came home in the early evening. “You get all dirt and muck on your designer outfits! Most of your tights have gags and ladders in them, and I’ve given up buying you white clothes now. You need to try and set a better example for your siblings.”
Meadow came downstairs while she was speaking, her dance clothes not having the slightest mark on them as she told Mazel that she was ready to go, looking Amber up and down with a raised brow. Amber glared straight back, then pushed past her to go upstairs into her room. She’d chosen the attic instead for sharing a room with Meadow, which was big enough for a bed and beanbags, with a small window at the far end, the ceiling arched. Amber had decorated the space with fairy lights and candles, blankets and pillows, with her favourite books and old journals stacked in light-wood bookshelves, vinyl records hung on the walls.
Amber often visited her granddad after school, when her siblings were at clubs and her foster parents still working. Although she did have house keys, she loved talking to Ruey about foreign myths and legends, discussing scientific cases and ultimate questions, or just sketching in the comfortable silence of his home. Ruey lived in a small bungalow on the outskirts of a nearby park, content with living a simple life with his old Siamese cat, Celeste. He worked privately as an anthropologist, fascinated by human behaviour and actions, and would always be delighted to see her, showing her his latest ideas and biological studies.
“Could humans ever, like, gain superpowers? Flying and manipulation, and other unnatural traits?” Amber questioned him one late afternoon, inspecting his recent works in interest. Ruey sat himself down slowly in his cushioned armchair, leaning back and peering at her over his glasses.
“Our biology denies it so far, Amber. But maybe, maybe one day something could change that. There was once a story from Vatican City - you know, an enclave in Rome - of a scientist who searched for years and years to find an unnatural species with powers just like that. And he did find them, though god knows where or how. He was ruled insane when he told the government his plans to help them put an end to the world’s problems with them, and after the mockery, he disappeared along with the breed. Nothing was ever heard of him again.”
Amber’s eyes widened in curiosity. “Really?”
“Really. But there was no true proof, since he didn’t actually show people the kind, although he swore that he was holding them in a safe place. So who knows.”
Amber and Ruey had one of the closest relationships a granddaughter and grandad could have, sharing the same historical and science-based interests and wonders. But her foster parents - especially Mazel - didn’t know what to think of the older man, though she would never admit to it in front of him.
“I know that you two are very close, but that man puts too many warped ideas into your head, Amber. When was the last time you had a proper, normal conversation?” Mazel had asked her in disdain.
“And what might a proper, normal conversation be to you? The best neckline style of a dress, or what’s really too short a height of a skirt?”
Mazel scowled, and Theodore sighed, looking up from his work papers.
“Well, there’s no problem with them discussing history and... what is it - science? - together, since those two subjects are quite important in exams at school. But he’s a nice guy.” He looked over at Meadow then, who was delicately piecing together a bead bracelet on the couch.
“Why don’t you go to talk with Ruey with Amber one day, Meadow?”
Meadow looked up, her expression wary. “I’d rather not, to be honest. I mean, yeah, he’s nice, but wouldn’t that be a bit awkward? And anyway, I hardly know him - he isn’t my relative.”
Amber stayed silent, distracted by sketching her idea of what the scientist from Vatican City looked like, along with the species he’d discovered, her bright eyes darting across the cream pages. She was usually seen as an unusual girl by classmates, Mazel and Meadow, because she’d often have her head in the clouds, and her interests were focused more on the impossible things rather than reality.
She’d always hoped, and deep down was certain that there was so much more to life than it was seen as. Everything she read, the science-fiction and fantasy tales, was inspired by something, and she wanted to know what that something, or somethings, was so badly. Wanted an adventure like the ones she read about to happen to her, an amazing, indescribable change. Just something. Anything.
But I can safely assume that the adventure that she was very soon going to partake of was not anything like the things she imagined and sketched and read about.
After all, what would wishes and dreams be if they turned out exactly the way you visualized them?