"A place fit for a queen."
From the moment Brandon Winters lived, no one would have expected the fortunate turn of events for him. He was a farmer's boy, with only his mother to look after him and raise him. His father was a familiar stranger, only blurry shadows of a masculine figure who would ruffle his hair and call him 'buddy' as a baby. His mother never imparted a word about him so he was as good as dead. Still, that did not make either of them bitter. The large estate in Duchess County was a paradisiacal land, complete with forests and streams and miles and miles of open land. It was a slice of the earth that only the rich could afford, something Brandon never understood, as his mother was always concerned with funds. And when the question was raised, it was dismissed with a saccharine smile and a promise of an answer that never came. Game and fresh produce were always harvested and sent to various companies in New York to make ends meet. The manual labour for Brandon, when he wasn't attending a school two hours away from his home, was a perpetual lesson - to work hard for something he needed, to appreciate the beauty of life and the importance of family.
Until the day when a visit from a man he did not know took his life in a different direction. He was smartly dressed, shoes shined to look like jet-black jewels that were flecked with the farm's mud and foliage.
"I am your father's lawyer," was his way of greeting. The news of his father's death was nothing that fazed Brandon who was in his early twenties and caring for an elderly mother. He was already dead to him. What was more startling was that his father was actually some business tycoon who left his family to build the entrepreneurial empire that he cared so much more about. The lawyer handed Brandon the details of to a bank account with a few million dollars left to him by his father. The lawyer left afterwards. The money was put into a stock investment and it just grew, slowly but it always grew. Brandon only took out enough to give his mother a quiet life in the suburbs. He was smart about his expenses until he met her.
A beautiful woman with long chocolate hair and donned in a dress of emerald wandering an agriculture museum's greenhouse by herself. Brandon could only watch. It was as though the flowers grew brighter when she passed by, like they rejoiced with her presence just as he did. It was just like this almost every week. He'd return the greenhouse with the hopes of seeing her there and they'd share shy glances and smiles. Eventually, a conversation was shared between him and the woman - who always smelled of roses - and she fell for his humility and their mutual love for nature. Their conversations grew more and more frequent until they started meeting outside of the greenhouse and built a connection between them with every joyful smile shared. It was a rocky relationship, with her disappearing from his side every time the cold and snow came rolling in but she would always come back and he would love her like she never left. He was besotted, spending his savings on a large chateau for him and his love to spend their days in. The area surrounding their home was teeming with plants and was always alive with chirping birds and other animals frolicked in the numerous flower beds he bought. It was much like the greenhouse where they first met. A place fit for his queen. This love - after a couple of years - produced a beautiful baby girl with eyes like green jewels.
The woman's face fell when the baby was born. She gave her love a kiss on the cheek before sleeping and was gone the next morning, strange objects taking her place in the bed beside him: a thin, bronze blade - no wider than a finger and no longer than a teenager's forearm and a letter. The note had in it an address and one sentence from Brandon's beloved. "Our child is extraordinary." Brandon waited for her to come back like she normally would. Winter melted back to Spring and she never did.
Brandon named her Katherine Rose, after his mother and the middle name a tribute to his missing love who was right about their little girl. He raised her in their big home, setting aside more money to more than provide for her while the rest was put into an investment so their funds would keep growing. Katherine had the same affect on the flora around her as her mother did, often spending hours outside with the plants daily. She grew up to look more and more like her mother every day and her eyes, which were the colour of the dress his love wore when they first met, he found was bittersweet.
She continued to surprise him still when, at five years old, she sat outside, her voice heard from inside the house and having a conversation with someone he couldn't see. He was panicking, anxious and scared of a stranger that could have got to his little girl. As he made a mad dash to his backyard, he saw no one he didn't recognise. His little girl was sitting on the grass, eyes bright as she spoke to a stray cat as if it understood her. Katherine continued to commune with animals as she grew older and Brandon could not comprehend how it all could be. His love' gifts for their daughter were hidden away in a closet and as she showed more and more of her extraordinary abilities, he wondered if it was time to bestow them upon her - should her gifts attract unwanted attention. Katherine earned the name 'Kitty' from her first conversation with an animal and was quite fond of it.
School was a nightmare for Kitty with her dyslexia and ADHD and struggled in most classes. The only class where she was at her best was art where reading and writing were hardly necessary. She had a unique way of seeing things and of expressing herself through paint and oil pastels. But Brandon's fears came to light when she had turned 10. Her powers only grew and she was intelligent enough to try and figure them out herself. But as she came to understand herself more and more, Kitty drew attention. As she was walking home from school with friends, something caught her eye and she bade them all to go on without her. A group of buskers were on the other side of the street, playing and singing songs and having fun. Kitty couldn't help but follow the music and crossed the street towards them, noticing the sign at their feet that asked for donations. She tossed a few coins in to the small hat behind the sign and she noticed buskers tense and pause a moment before playing once more. She stood back a little and pulled out her sketchbook and pencil, sitting on the asphalt in front of them and began sketching the musicians into her book. As she looked up, their images began to flick into something else, guitars and microphones looked like awful weapons in her peripherals and their bodies sometimes looked gross and leathery in nature. Kitty dismissed it is as her dyslexia acting up but it was a stroke of inspiration, drawing what she saw into the page resting on her knee. Until the music was replaced by vicious snarling. Kitty tentatively looked up, her bright eyes wide with horror. She had no clue what to think.
The images stilled and instead of happy musicians, she saw four leathery beasts with wings, wielding small blades that were once drumsticks and microphones. Kitty screamed and stumbled backwards, tripping over the kerb and over her own feet before she scrambled back up, holding her book close to her chest as her little feet rhythmically slammed on the asphalt. She glanced behind her and aside from the strange and concerned glances of passers-by, she could only see the monsters were growling jets slicing through the air and chasing after her, horrible teeth bared and arms outstretched to grab her. She was panting as she ran, making a turn into a play-park. All she could think of was getting home. The cold tiles beneath her bare feet and the softness of her couch and the warmth of her father's hugs before he asked her what she wanted to have for dinner. As soon as her feet landed in the grass, she sunk through the dirt, her vision going dark as she felt her body compressing in on itself.
Brandon was home, in the kitchen, preparing Kitty something small to eat when she got home from school. He looked out into the garden and saw something sprouting out of the ground. A rose sapling grew and grew into a majestic rose with petals that were the colour of jewels. With wide eyes, he ran outside. Was it his love come back at last? The rose disintegrated as he approached it, leaving the unconscious body of his little daughter. Filled with panic, he hurriedly picked her up and ran her into the house. Brandon tried many things to wake her up but Kitty's eyes wouldn't open. He heard the hungry growls approaching their home and he ran to the kitchen and armed himself with a kitchen knife. The leathery monsters burst in through their door and he slashed at them, the steel going through them as though they were a thick fog, much to his dismay. And then he remembered the sword. He ran to an armoire in the living room, opening a hidden compartment and pulling out the slim, light blade, driving it into the torso of a creature. Golden ichor poured out of a hole in its chest. He separated its head from it's bird-like body and the pieces became a fireworks show. Brandon desperately slashed and lunged at the rest of the creatures until, like the first, they erupted in a shower of golden sparks. He heaved and panted, dropping the sword and kneeling by Kitty's side, trying to wake her. In the midst of the battle, however, the harpies slashed into Brandon's spinal cord, making him lose all feeling in his legs.
She didn't wake for a fortnight, doctor after doctor coming over the visit and they all concluded that she was just too weak, her heartbeat faint and breathing rate slow. When Kitty finally woke, her father nearly knocked the breath out of her lungs with a hug. Brandon, now confined to an electric wheelchair, told her everything, how she came home in a rose that left her unconscious and too weak for so many days and how he fended off the horrible things that came after her. Once she had fully recovered, he insisted she take self-defence lessons anywhere, doing whatever she liked to help prepare herself. Brandon also showed her the small sword that saved her life, telling the story of her mother: a woman he knew so well, and at the same time, not at all. He told her that all her abilities came from her, though he wasn't entirely sure what she was. He showed her the address and made her memorise it, only knowing it to be a safe place fit for his little princess. Her father left the decision to Kitty as to when she decided to go there. It was a lot for a ten-year-old to take in but she did as he father told her.
She enrolled herself into gymnastics classes - not wanting to trip over her own feet when running away again - and into fencing lessons - so she knew how to use that strange bronze blade. Kitty enjoyed the classes, however difficult and draining they were. She focussed more on the ribbon dancing potion of gymnastics, loving how the strip of satin moved with the dancer, often drawing her classmates and teachers mid-performance. She studied both skills day and night for almost a decade, using her newfound gymnastic abilities and practicing up in the many trees planted around their home. She practiced her ribbon dancing and fencing in the large backyard.
Other monsters came. In the eight years she had been under instruction, she had encountered another monster. When she was 15, a beautiful woman visited their home, rendering Brandon speechless at her mocha skin and dark hair that was so much like his past love's. Kitty was not fooled. She saw through the veil. Her slight hissing on the letter S when she spoke was highly suspect and in not too long at all, the illusion lifted and showed huge and grotesque tree-trunk-like, serptentine structures in the place of her legs. The dragon lady's eyes kept flicking back and forth between Kitty and her father while she feigned a saccharine smile and spoke to her father. While she was engrossed in conversation with her dad, Kitty furtively backed up and reached for her sword, driving it through the dragon lady's head, interrupting her mid-sentence. She disintegrated into embers, shocking her father. The danger was too real and she simply wasn't imagining her encounter when she was younger. She informed Brandon of her decision. She would go to that mysterious address once she had finished school, as it was the only way she could disappear from her community without raising suspicion. Her presence drew creatures to her father's door and she could not allow that.
She slacked off in her school work in the following three years, not seeing the point in exerting much effort in something that she was going to abandon. In truth, she wished she did not have to go. Kitty wished for a normal future where she could go to art school and work as an artist-in-residence in the museum of her dreams. But it was not worth putting her father in danger. She focussed on her gymnastics and fencing lessons more than anything, turning parks and forests into her apparatus as she climbed up in the treetops and almost flew as she travelled from tree to tree, being surrounded by healthy plants only boosting her strength and endurance.
Two weeks after her eighteenth birthday, she woke up in the middle of the night and quietly packed a duffel bag full of clothes and hid her savings in the corners of her bag, only keeping twenty dollars in her pocket. She wrote her father a note and left the sword to him. She was doing this to keep him safe but who knows who - or what - might arrive at the chateau to look for her?
It took her half a day to travel to Long Island, spending most of her money on food and transport to the city. A taxi took her from a mall to the empty strawberry fields that the address led her to. The driver questioned why the girl wanted to go out to the middle of nowhere but shut up as the last of her coin landed in his hands. She trekked up the hill, unafraid. The grass beneath her feet and the sweet smell of fruit kept her upbeat. She was still in her element. Kitty approached a tall archway with a large pine tree beside it. Strange symbols were engraved onto the stone and she squinted her eyes. The symbols rearranged themselves and she gasped a little. She could read it.
She stepped through the pillars of stone and was overwhelmed at what she saw. A community, a home with other people like her and training just as she was. She saw creatures of all kinds. Nymphs, tree-people - all of whom immediately caused Kitty to recoil. Anything she hadn't seen before was first met with hostility for all creatures she hadn't seen before once tried to kill her and her father. Still, she knew she lived in a knew world now and was determined to know everything she had to know about it.
She felt a kinship towards them all, but especially to those with an affinity for nature much like she does. She spent her afternoons when not training on rooftops or treetops, drawing everything she saw and everything she found amazing: the lava wall, the archers, the cabins, the campers. It was all beautiful to her. As soon as she arrived, looks of interest from those whon noticed her were directed at her. Kitty saw that they were looking not at her, but above her. She cast her eyes skyward and saw the shimmering image of a rose above her head. The campers were all whispering but what stuck out was a name.
Her determination to learn and to train, from then on, only grew.