Ashley’s gaze was as unblinking as a fish, and she slowly stood up. “Oh dear, how did I not recognize you at first? Gee, my memory is really fading…” she wandered in thoughts, until she remembered again the question Penny had directed at her. “Anyway, yes I’m alive, but don’t tell the others. Penny, what are you even doing here?” Wait, they know each other?
A surge of hatred flooded through Penny and instantly replaced her surprise. “Why do you care, Ashley?”
“Penny, I know you probably don’t trust me, but I have an explanation–”
“YOU MURDERED THE LAST HEALER, AND BECAUSE OF THAT CHANNARY IS DYING NOW!” Penny was seething with rage, and I tried to calm her down the best I could, though it was hard when I didn’t even know what was going on.
“You actually believe the rumor that Percy created? Just trust me, I was at the wrong place in the wrong time and I didn’t–” Who’s Percy?
Penny’s face was burning now, her hair in a tangled mess, and she was definitely not as pretty as when I first saw her. “IT ONLY MAKES SENSE THOUGH! WHAT ELSE COULD HAVE HAPPENED THAT NIGHT?”
Ashley took a deep breath and reminded herself to stay calm. “When have I ever lied to you, little sister? Just please, allow me to explain–”
Penny grabbed her bow and aimed at Ashley. I tried to hold her back, but she refused to listen and pulled away. “YOU DON’T DESERVE TO LIVE, ASH. You n-never did…” Her hands and legs were shaking, and she couldn’t hold onto her bow properly. Penny eventually gave up and slumped to her knees. When Penny saw Ashley at first, I was expecting it to be a lovely reunion, but I could have been wrong.
“Uh, hello? Can someone kindly explain to me what’s going on here?” I asked as politely as possible. “An unbiased version of the story, please?” I added.
“I’ll do it,” Ashley volunteered, and Penny sat on a rock looking disappointed. “Many years ago, I remember myself as an Archer in King James IV’s fine castle. I am –as you might have figured– the older sister to Channary and Penny, who happen to be twins. My room in the castle was located right next to the Luna’s office, and coincidentally, the only room beside her office. Luna’s the Healer, by the way. During my free time, I often helped Luna with her sick or injured patients, guiding them to the rooms where they would sleep and also calming them down.
“One day, I was fast asleep in my own room, until a scream coming from Luna’s room awoke me. I figured it was midnight sharp, but I didn’t care. I grabbed my bow and arrows and scurried to Luna’s room, finding the door locked. I slammed my bow against the window of the door, breaking the glass. I climbed through the hole I created and accidentally cut my hand on the broken glass, but again, I didn’t care. I needed to save Luna. I rushed into her room, only to find more broken glass scattered on the floor, and Luna, lying unconscious in a pool of blood.”
“No details, please,” I squirmed, scared at the mentioning of blood.
“Alright,” Ashley cleared her throat and continued. “Obviously, I was too late. A few guards swarmed into Luna’s room and saw me standing there with my bow and arrows. Of course, they all thought it was me who killed Luna, no matter how many times I told them I wasn’t the murderer. I never found who the true killer was, but I suspect Percy, the Wizard. He was the one who was the most passionate in accusing me to be the murderer, and he also has shown negative feelings toward me his whole life. Luna happened to be the last Healer remaining, and because someone had killed her, there were no Healers left.
“King James IV banished me from the castle, and I was never to return again. It was sad, leaving the castle I had loved most, but I couldn’t blame King James, knowing he went with the most reasonable theory of who the killer was. Now I’m just living here in the forest, as a lone bandit, dressed entirely in black and wearing a mask so I couldn’t be recognized easily. I even dyed my hair white, so that people couldn’t tell who I was by my once vivid pink hair. Robbing was the only way I could survive, and believe me, I regret all of this. Maybe it would be better for me to die of starvation rather than stealing from others, but it’s too late to turn away from that now.”
Ashley finished explaining her story and took a step back. “It was nice seeing you guys, but I should probably get going now,” she retreated. Before she could go, Penny shed a tear from her eye and jumped to hug her sister.
“I’m so sorry…” she confessed. “I didn’t know… And… and… Percy’s still living in the castle, as if nothing had ever happened… Th-That’s not the way it’s supposed to be…” her words turned into a sob.
“It’s okay, Penny. Just forget it,” said Ashley, lightly pushing Penny away. Penny released her, and asked one last thing.
“Do you think you can return to this castle?” Penny begged with puppy eyes.
“I wish I could, but…” she sighed. “No one would trust me now, not after the incident that occurred many years ago. Percy hates me, Penny. You don’t understand; he’s been jealous his whole life. He wanted to kick me out of the castle, and with so many people trusting him, he can develop more conspiracy theories about you and I, and you could be in danger. I could have started a whole fight to defend myself all those years ago, but that would only cause more conflict and distrust. The better choice would be to simply leave the castle and keep the peace. I’m so sorry, Penny…” Ashley ran deep into the woods, black cape blowing behind her, until she was out of sight.
“That kinda brought us off track,” I pointed out. “We were supposed to find the berries.”
“Oh. Right…” said Penny, kneeling down to study the berries again. “Dark blue berries with turquoise spots, big pointy green leaves… uh… tiny red-and-yellow flowers…” she mumbled to herself. “Ooh! Found it!” Penny exclaimed, lifting up six bluish berries strung from a small branch.
“C’mon, let’s head back,” I pleaded.
Penny led the way as we were heading back to the castle, and I noticed she had a concerned look on her face, so I decided to ask her about it.
“Is there something wrong?” I asked. “You seem to be a bit…” I looked for the right word. “Gloomy.”
“Nah, I’m fine,” Penny replied. She noticed I wasn’t satisfied with that answer, so she decided to give in. “Looking back at my life a few years ago, I didn’t realize how much Ashley had cared for me. She could tell how much I wanted to be a part of the Battle Team, and she even resigned from her own spot in the team to let me join; as you know, she then began to care for people with Luna. She taught me the basics in archery and eventually the advanced tips. Though I was later removed from the Team, I was glad to have the experience. Anyways, Ashley was always there for me, and yet today I called her a murderer and a liar.”
“It’s okay, Penny. That isn’t worth hating yourself for,” I told her.
“Yea, I guess. Now I just wish she could be with us in the castle. She’d know exactly how to heal Channary, unlike me, who is just panicking.”
“I don’t think she would want to be back in the castle, to be honest. It’s quite a big transition, considering what people probably would think about her. No one would trust Ashley, and Stephen Supercell would be the one to decide whether bandits should be allowed in the castle,” I said.
After the conversation, we arrived at the castle and entered through a side entrance. Penny returned to her own room, and I decided to find my friends in the Game room. They asked where I was, and I simply ignored the question and joined them in a game of checkers.
Dinner soon came, and as quick as a flash, it was nighttime.
I must say, life was going quite well for me at this point. Exploring the castle every Sunday, practicing in Training Camp every Monday, a series of battles every Tuesday, meeting Ashley in the forest every Wednesday, learning Archery from Penny every Thursday, practicing my hobbies for the rest of the week– my life was happy and full. Meanwhile, I received notices from Penny on how Channary was doing, and I was happy to hear she was getting better.
I won almost every single one of my battles on Tuesday, and King James even told me I was his favorite in the Team, despite the others having more experience. I had to face quite a few Legendary warriors in the battles, but King James somehow managed to win. Maybe it was his strategy? I could tell that the Battle Teams that other kings had used were changing a bit, and there seemed to be a lot of Hog Riders and Giants around in the Arena.
A few months later, I found myself fighting in Royal Arena! I was coming closer to achieving my goal and battling in Legendary Arena, but there was still a fair distance to go.
King James welcomed many new warriors to his castle, including the hyper Fire Spirits and the shy Ice Golem.
During this time, Scarlet was still hostile to Joe, but I realized she did have a soft side as Violet had said. Hunter began a bit annoying, following us all the time and that sort, but we eventually got used to him and opened up our group of friends. Ashley was asking about updates on what was going on in the castle, and Penny told her everything was just fine. We continued asking Ashley whether she wanted to come back to the castle, but she refused with a passion every time. Scarlet, Violet, and Joe didn’t have a clue about my visits to see Ashley, as each time I told them I was just exploring the forest with Penny. Penny and I were getting closer, and I soon realized we were more than just… well… friends. About a year had passed since I had first joined the castle.
Overall, it seemed as if nothing could ruin my life right now, until one seemingly normal day, I woke up and headed downstairs for breakfast, interrupted by a tall, blonde man dressed semi-formally. He didn’t dress at all like the rest of us at the castle; in fact he looked as if he came from the future. He looked familiar, but I couldn’t pinpoint who he was. I was soon struck by realization, and I immediately recognized this man. He created me. He found me a home here in this castle. He could be no one other than Stephen Supercell.