The forest stretched tall and ominous around her, trees stretched out their branches to grab her dress and hinder her progress, gnarly roots seemed to do their best to fell her to the ground. Shuna paused only a moment to tear her cloak free from a branch, the soft, dark beige fabric already torn in several places, her heart beating painfully in her chest, her breath ragged, but if she stopped running she would remember. Pulling her cloak tighter around her to avoid getting snagged on more branches Shuna pressed on, although she was not used to such physical activities and more than once did she stumble over nothing, in her defense however her long dress was a hinderance. Had she walked through this forest a normal night she would likely have been more than a little afraid of being alone in the dark and in such a remote location but tonight that didn’t face her. Shuna finally had to slow down, chest heaving as she gasped for air she leaned against a tree, the rough bark pressing into her back. Her head spun and she had to force herself to take deep breaths to avoid falling to the ground. Not occupied with her panicked run anymore her thoughts strayed back to the reason she was even here. The day had gone along like it normally did and after her usual duties were over Shuna had taken one of her strolls outside, of course as a princess she was not allowed to just leave the castle alone so instead she had to take her walks in one of the many castle gardens. Only when she had realized the late hour had Shuna hurriedly made her way back inside where the night made a turn for the worse. The sight greeting her was her family seemingly dead, the shock had almost been too much but as she knelt in desperation by her younger brother’s side she felt some sparks of hope. His still warm skin, the peaceful expression he wore as if in sleep seeded the belief in Shuna that her family was not lost. Her many tries to rouse her brother from his supposed sleep was futile however and a rustle of fabric against the floor snapped Shuna’s attention to the far side of the room. The figure was dressed in a dark cloak so Shuna didn’t fully see the person’s face but she felt it was a woman and despite not having any real proof of it her brain pushed the word witch into her thoughts. Scrambling to her feet Shuna could only stare at the dark figure who came closer with every step. “There you are princess,” her calm attitude could not hide the hate and malice that mixed in her voice. “I was wondering where the last one of you self righteous, ignorant people were hiding, but how kind of you to place yourself in my way.” Shuna who had always seen herself as a capable woman in danger could only listen to the frosty voice rooted the the floor unable to move or speak. Her thoughts reeling as to why this woman was doing this, what did she have against her family? It may seem arrogant of her to not make the connection instantly to the witch hunts and this angry woman but that was how she had been raised. “Now my sweet princess,” in the witch’s mouth those normally caring words only sounded eerily hollow. “It is time for you to complete my curse although it is a bit sad for you to miss the wonderful chaos your country surely will fall into.” Her words ended in a laugh that didn’t reach her eyes, with tinges of madness nestled within. That was when Shuna finally snapped out of her paralysis, eyes wide with fear she turned on one heel and ran for all she was worth. Following her out of the room was words in a language Shuna had never heard, they snaked into her brain and clawed at her consciousness, for a moment it felt like a sticky darkness pulled her backwards and down into an abyss. As she struggled to get further away from the witch the darkness slowly let go of her mind allowing Shuna to quicken her pace once more. Now she was far from the castle, in an old forest that she had only heard stories about, above her in between branches she saw the dark night sky grow paler. She had been running for most of the night and only adrenaline could have made that possible but now not even that was enough to keep her going for much longer. She had been caught in despair all this time, after all how did you conquer a witch especially while not being able to use magic yourself. But then old memories came back to her, bedtime stories from her childhood, they had been full of magic and wonder, and some had even taken place in this very country. Could there be some truth to them? What if witches and sorcerers still lived in this land, some who had survived the burnings and now lived hidden. It was a farfetched thought but Shuna needed any kind of hope she could find to not fall victim to the despair that threatened to overtake her if she let her guard down. It was then that the day turned upside down once more, a melodic song weaved through the trees, a soft melody that somehow resonated deeper than it should have been able to. Turning her head back and forth, scanning the trees Shuna’s eyes fell upon a bird, a pretty little thing with sky blue feathers and a fluffy white chest. It’s tail feathers a little bit longer than normal but what she focused on was its dark eyes, they somehow seemed different from a normal bird, like the animal hid some deeper knowledge. The bird looked at her curiously, tilting it’s head and hopping a bit closer on its branch, in a weird way Shuna got the impression of being examined, which was utterly ridiculous as it was just an animal. But then it flew forward, it landed on her shoulder and pecked at her neck before it flew off as fast as it had come. Shuna looked at it quizzically as it landed in a bush just a few feet away and chirped at her, before moving another four feet and repeating it’s urgent call. However strange it may sound Shuna could only guess that the bird wanted her to follow, but that was crazy, right? Birds didn’t behave like that, it was not possible. Then again her family had just been cursed by a witch so who was she to say what was possible or not. Tired in both mind and body Shuna didn’t have the energy to debate the craziness of her actions and simply followed the bird as it kept leading her deeper into the forest. After what seemed like hours for Shuna the bird stopped suddenly, it chirped happily before taking off into the treetops and vanishing among the leafy crowns. “Hey, don’t just take off, I don’t know where I am,” she called after the blue creature, only to snap her mouth shut when she realized she talked to a bird. Looking around in resignation wondering where in the world the strange bird had led her she caught sight of something out of place nearby. It was stairs leading up a steep hill, the stone was old and worn but it was definitely man made, Shuna’s heart leapt with equal amounts of joy and fear. It could just be an old remnant of past inhabitants but there was a possibility someone still lived here, and deep down a part of her hoped it was someone skilled with magic that had avoided the witch hunt even if it was a very slim chance. With a nervous heart pulsing in her ears Shuna gathered her pale dress in one hand and started the long way up the stone stairs.