Fear, pain, and agony – emotions hitherto foreign to Harissa Ackerman – descended upon her like a tempest, forever altering the fabric of her existence. Her idyllic life in Eathros, a tranquil village on the outskirts of the Kalahari kingdom, was upended in a heartbeat.
Her father, Chief Antoine Ackerman, was the esteemed leader of this close-knit community. Life in Eathros was marked by simplicity and contentment, with its residents living harmoniously as one extended family. Their bond was fortified through the rigorous combat training they undertook, rendering them formidable in times of strife.
Madam Julia Ackerman, Harissa’s mother, was a woman of captivating beauty and indomitable spirit. Her long, ebony tresses flowed like a cascade whenever she donned her elegant dresses. A warrior herself, she stood as one of the village’s fiercest combatants, often fighting alongside her husband. This earned her the coveted title of the village’s strongest female.
Alexander Ackerman, the eldest child and only son, was followed by Larissa, and then Harissa, on the verge of turning twelve. Preparations were afoot for her approaching birthday celebration. She was the spitting image of her mother, in stark contrast to Larissa and Alex, who revelled in combat training and warfare. Harissa’s passions veered towards history, politics, and leadership, endowing her with an early, multifaceted education.
As her twelfth birthday approached, a week filled with activities lay ahead. She yearned to organize a literary competition for children her age. However, Larissa, with her father’s approval, proposed the addition of a duel to the festivities. The final duel was scheduled for the eve of her birthday, with the victor granted a wish on the special day itself. Harissa, disheartened by the idea of violence marking her celebration, acquiesced reluctantly.
On the eve of her twelfth birthday, the duel’s final match unfolded between Alexander, her brother, and Ianthe Romayn, his longstanding rival who secretly harboured affection for Harissa. Their ferocious battle played out before an enthusiastic crowd, even as both combatants sustained grievous injuries. The allure of the grand prize stoked their determination, but it was evident that Valeria, Harissa’s close friend, held a clandestine affection for Alexander, her emotions swinging wildly as the duel progressed. Harissa, unable to bear the sight of two brave warriors teetering on the precipice of death, leaped into the fray, terminating the fight with no victor.
Her impulsive act was met with a scolding from her parents. They were agitated, fearing for her safety. Little did they realize that love, not violence, had prompted her to intervene.
Her mother, in particular, reprimanded her sternly, admonishing her for the recklessness of her actions. Her father, though no less concerned, consoled her with a hug, wiping away her tears. Despite the chastisement, Harissa bore no remorse, driven by her conviction that love, not combat, should define her twelfth birthday.
At approximately two o’clock on the fateful Saturday that was her birthday, the Ackerman family was jolted awake by cacophonous cries and distant sword clashes, followed by a thunderous explosion and a plume of black smoke. Antoine and Julia Ackerman, clad in confusion and shock, emerged from their home, bewildered.
They were soon joined by villagers who rushed toward them, wailing in distress, upon hearing the cry of the second-in-command: “We are under siege! The village is under attack!”
In the blink of an eye, terror descended upon Eathros. Over a hundred lives were extinguished mercilessly as the villagers were massacred and their homes reduced to smoldering ruins. The air was filled with anguished screams, the stench of burning flesh, and the palpable torment of those undergoing unspeakable horrors. Even the village warriors met their gruesome end without a fight.
The marauders, triumphant and sadistic, took delight in the massacre, showing no mercy. The identity of their leader, the face of the monster orchestrating the bloodshed, was revealed to the Ackerman family as they knelt, powerless, before their tormentors.
“Search the house,” their commander commanded his cohorts, and they proceeded to ransack the Ackerman residence.
Julia, her eyes welling with fear and tears, confronted the stranger. “Who are you, and what do you want?” she asked, her voice quivering.
Laughter erupted from their assailants, and the commander relished in their misery. “I like feisty,” he declared. “Bring her to me.”
As they attempted to drag Julia toward their leader, she resisted fiercely, her strength and determination a testament to her ferocity. Turning her gaze toward the house, she spotted Harissa, her hazel eyes wide with fear. With great effort, she uttered the words, “Run, Harissa! Run!”
This marked the last exchange between mother and daughter. Harissa stood by the window, paralyzed with confusion and terror, her gaze fixed on the nightmarish tableau unfolding before her. She witnessed the brutal defilement of her mother, the merciless dismemberment of her father, and the grotesque massacre of her fellow villagers. Her mother’s head rolled to the ground, and Harissa’s scream pierced the night.
As the marauders stormed her room, intent on capturing her, Harissa managed to evade their grasp. She sprinted with every ounce of her strength, propelled by adrenaline and the specter of their leader, whose image was seared into her memory.
Days turned into weeks as Harissa remained on the run, her body pushed to its limits. Exhausted and desperate, she collapsed, her head colliding with a jagged rock. Her body succumbed to the trauma, and she lay on the ground, teetering on the brink of death.
Fortuitously, the Duke and Duchess of Islandes, returning from a journey, chanced upon her lifeless form. Their compassionate hearts moved them to aid the wretched girl, who was discovered to be miraculously alive by one of their accompanying guards.
Isidore and Isadora Floros, rulers of the province of Islandes in the Doxa kingdom, adopted Harissa as their own. Her survival came at the cost of her memories; she could not recall her past. Moreover, the traumatic head injury affected her speech, causing her to mispronounce her name as “Aris” instead of “Harissa.” Thus, “Aris Floros” became her new identity.
Islandes, with its capital city of Rythfork, was a haven of warmth and beauty. Harissa adjusted to her newfound life under royal guardianship. Her days were marked by stability and comfort, the memories of her past gradually fading into oblivion.
A decade passed, and the time had come for Troy Eridian Vernadoz, the twenty-five-year-old Crowned Prince, to partake in the kingdom’s tradition. In a grand selection ceremony, he would choose his bride from a bevy of eligible young ladies who would vie for his favor, igniting a competition like no other.