Chapter 2:

The First Dawn into a New Year

The Wheel of Miss Fortune [Collab]


Luck and Fate. Fortune and Misfortune. Both were the front and reverse side from their respective coins. Luck decided the future of those simple humans. Some were born with a happy fate but some had fallen away from her hands, fallen into the hands of Misfortune. Entities with the power to bring or take away happiness, they were so close and yet, so far away.

"Hm? Looks like you are trying to be sneaky. What a bad girl, did you think I wouldn't notice?" Lady Luck, the woman in the extravagant witch outfit sneered at the figure who sat deep in the forest.

"It does not matter to me if you are to notice or not. In the end, as long as that child falls for my ruse it is all over for you."

Revealing her true self, the "Lady Luck" who had been trapped in the forest tore away her face like a mask. Her new face was that of a cunning woman whose heart overflowed with malice. Her clothes were that of a proud magician with her bright colors contrasting those of Lady Luck.

Yes, the person resting in the forest was none other than Miss Fortune herself.

"Aw, I should have worded that better. But it's okay. Because of the misfortune that has befallen her life, she'll notice. She'll see there is no festivity without unity."

"Not as long as the high priest is defeated. Once that happens, it will all be over for her."

As the clock ticked closer to the new year, two paths given to her by two deities rested on Kasca's hands.

<<Yawn>>

A certain red-haired girl slowly woke up. Her name was Kasca, and she was about 15 years old. Normally, she would had woken up without any struggle. However, today was different. Tomorrow was New Year’s celebration. The First Dawn festival.

Yes.

A brand new year, in a brand new village. Kasca’s heart was full of hope.
It hadn’t been long since she and her mother had moved into this place, but so far, it hasn’t been that bad of an experience.

…“That bad”.

Despite this being a “cheery” village in the eyes of the world, this place was stuck with strict traditions and rules.

Yes.

Even if technically speaking, they weren’t “outsiders”, because they had lived a long time outside of the town, Kasca and her mom weren’t exactly liked much.

It was as if they were air.

“At least, it’s a lot better than being hurt, right?”

With those thoughts in mind, the family of two, simply kept going their everyday normally.
Until today.
-
Kasca stretched out a bit, before walking out her room. As usual, her mother, had woken up at dawn to perform the house chores before going to work.

“Ya…w..nnn…” Kasca quickly covered her mouth. “Good morning, Mother”.

However, as the girl walked into the kitchen, her mom was nowhere. Instead, the was a cat sitting on the table.

<<Meow>>

The cat looked straight into her eyes, before fleeing away. Before Kasca could react, her eyesight moved to something on the ground.

“!?”

It was her mom.

“Mother!!!”
-
The girl had managed to move her feverish mom’s body to their bed. Her parent was heavy for a 15 year old girl, but maybe it was the adrenaline who helped her with her goal.

“…I’m sorry, dear…” The long red-haired woman said.

“…No, mother. It’s okay.” Kasca replied as she applied a wet cloth over her forehead.

The girl got lost in her thoughts, as her mom fell asleep. She had to do something, but there was no doctor in town. In fact, it would take some time for her to go to the next town over and bring some medicine. However, her mother had insisted there was no need for those. Because, according to her, the high priest happened to be dispelling evil and curses for the festival.

It should help, right?

Kasca knew her mom well, and knew she was probably just trying not to worry her daughter. However… it was giving the opposite effect.

<<Knock, knock>>

Somebody was at the door, but Kasca ignored it. There were more important things to do, after all.

<<knoCK, KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK>>

Whoever that was, either really hated doors or was determined to open it. It was so noisy the dead would wake up. The young woman stood up in one go annoyed. There was no way her mom could rest up like this. She rushed to the door and opened it with violence. Before the girl could say something, another girl quickly pushed Kasca away, and came inside.

It was Loreli. Kasca’s best friend.

Loreli was a girl very down to earth, but full of mystery. She would often talk to Kasca about the weird dreams she had. They would usually merrily talk at their free times. This time, however, she looked very, very serious.

“Kasca, listen.” The dark haired girl said as she grabbed her friend’s shoulders.

“Tonight, right as the festival starts, a witch will come. Whatever, you do, don’t believe her.”

“…Huh?”

“Listen. In my dream, you came to me running, desperate saying that-”

<<Cough, cough>>

Kasca’s eyes wided, and without thinking twice, she ran to her mom’s side.

“Mother!!!”

But alas, her mom couldn’t listen to her. The fever was way too high. Was there anything she could do?

The fever came fast, robbing Kasca's mother of her strength. Shaking and pale, the transformation couldn't have been any crueler. The sickness showed no sign of shifting, no hint of lifting to a more milder form if anything the chills were intensifying. Her hands were frailty and caution, shaking gently as Kasca focused. In her movements were so much of the woman she was and still is.

They were ashen where the sunlight caught them, not ghostly like a white person, just subdued and grayish. That's the first time Kasca realized how vulnerable her mother was and how much of a toll the sickness had taken.

Kasca knew very well deep inside her heart that there was nothing she could do. The only thing that crossed her mind was that in order to do not fall into the sickness despair, she had to keep on smiling being optimistic. If her mother saw her with such a decayed expression, the girl knew perfectly well her mother would feel guilty about it.

Loreli stayed there, deeply observing the heartbreaking scene. The sickness moved from door to door, unwanted. It washed from the east-side, a slow-moving storm of fever that picked off both strong and weak in equal number. There was no greater pain than this virus, impervious to wealth or pleading.

Her sapphire eyes shined in the faint artificial light that sank her humble home, watching her lying on the bed. Covered in mantles, almost to her nose, her mother finally opened her eyes looking at her with joy. Kasca yearned her mother could absorb the vitality that radiated deep inside her.

Kasca excused herself for a second.(edited)
Winter was especially cruel in these times, devouring all the life that found its way. The wasted window just let in a cold breeze with tiny snowflakes. A chill ran through her body as it collided with fury against the improvised shock absorber created by the only love of her life, the girl who lit her mornings, afternoons and nights.

As much as Kasca's mother wanted to wrap herself up, the sweat kept seizing her. Searching quickly, she manages to find the cloth her daughter uses to wipe her face whenever anyone has a high fever. The water was still inside a bucket, the cloth hanging from it.

The only shelf in the room was its location, her emotions wanting to seize her by watching with melancholy badly done drawings, clumsy colored gifts, leaves of trees of various colors and sizes, photographs and a vase full of cherry blossom petals about to fade. Before the woman could lift her back from the mattress, Kasca had returned, her blue eyes reflecting concern.

Backtracking for just a few minutes, Kasca had just asked Loreli to please wait.

"What you were saying to me... is it very important?" The red-haired girl asked with a decayed expression.

"Yes..." Loreli closed her eyes, anxiety welling up inside her belly.

"Is it alright for you to wait until my mother...?" Kasca found herself interrupted midway.

"I will wait all the time in the world."

"Thank you."

...And now, we skip to the following day: December 31st… What will this day bring to Kasca?

“She’s been like that since yesterday?” Loreli asked. She had come with Kasca to her home after seeing her in the marketplace.

“Yes…it came on all of a sudden,” Kasca said. “I was waking up, and I went to greet her in the kitchen, and then I saw a cat on the table that ran away, and then…” She remembered the words of the mysterious woman, just watch out for cats.

“Did this cat look unusual at all?”

Kasca thought back. “No, it looked kind of like your every day, run of the mill black cat.”

“I see…that’s probably the same one that showed up in my dream,” Loreli said.

“What happened in your dream?” Kasca asked.

“I was walking towards the forest and a black cat came running out. Then you came running towards me, telling me that a witch told you that you had something important to do in the town. You ran past me towards the village…and I turned around to see the village bonfire. It was growing and growing…and it swallowed up everything. All I could see was a black shadow of a person looking at the flames with their arms raised in triumph…”

Kasca looked pale. “What did that person look like?”

“It was a black shadow. All I know is that it was human. I couldn’t tell if they were man or woman.”

“Maybe…maybe that bonfire was a symbol? You know how when someone dreams of getting a rose and being pricked by the thorns, it’s a symbol that your lover is unfaithful?” Kasca suggested. “It could be a symbol of my mother getting sick.”

“I don’t know, Kasca,” Loreli said. She looked down at the floor, worried.
Kasca looked over at her mother. She seemed to be asleep, but her face was still flushed and the blankets were still piled on top of her. Kasca went over and carefully laid a hand across her forehead, just in case the fever had broken, but the heat was still there.

“Did the woman you met tell you anything else other than about the festival?” Loreli asked.

“She told me that the high priest was an evil person and he’s the reason why I don’t have a father,” Kasca said. “How could she have known about my father, though?”

“There are charlatans that observe people and then use that knowledge to trick them,” Loreli said. “Like she could’ve been secretly observing you outside the village long enough to know it’s just you and your mother.” “I don’t think she’s a charlatan,” Kasca said, “but I knew that woman I met wasn’t of this world. Loreli, what do you know about the high priest?”

Loreli shrugged. “Not much, really. He keeps to himself in the Hall of Worship whenever it’s not a holy day. I don’t even know what his real name is. All I know about him is stuff I hear from the other kids and their moms. I’ve only been living here a few months, too.”

Kasca nodded. “I want to go talk to him, but…” She looked back at the form of her sleeping mother.

“I can stay here,” Loreli said. “Don’t worry. I have to look after my brothers and sisters all the time when they’re sick.” She smiled. “Go meet him and put your mind at ease.”

“All right,” Kasca said. She got up from her stool. “I won’t be long.”

Meanwhile, Xander, the high priest, was sitting in his reading room, which was part of the high priest’s living quarters attached to the Hall of Worship. He was tired out after performing the traditional rites of blessing the village bonfire, and wanted to get at least a brief rest before going out and stoking it again.

There was a scratching sound at the door that started out quietly, and then turned frantic. Xander got up and opened the door to reveal a sleek black cat sitting on the front stoop, who stared up at him with golden yellow eyes.
“Well, hello there, little one,” Xander said. “You’re a pretty little creature. What brings you here?”

The cat stretched itself and yawned before stepping it’s way into the building. Xander eyed the animal intently, there was a strange energy about it, not something he could quite put his finger on. It was aware of him on some level above your average animal, it knew it too, yet it acted like it didn’t notice him at all. He knelt down further to examine it, slowly moving a hand over to pet it. The cat only brushed past his hand as it kept moving, settling by the fireplace behind him.

“Heh, not one for conversation I suppose. Even so, the temple is welcome to everyone...”

Xander’s bones groaned and he slowly rose up. However, as soon as he did he heard a faint giggle behind him. Instantly he darted back to see a woman, adorned in elegant violet robes. She had a callous smirk on her face, and her eyes were narrowed.

“How unfortunate...it seems that I’ve already won…”

“Won what? What is the meaning of this?” Xander awed, “How have you managed to transform like this?”

“Listen here and listen well, I want you to finish all of the rites as quickly as you can...if you don’t I’m sure you’ll find that you’re luck will be on the...short side”

Xander’s heart raced, only for a few moments. He calmed down quickly after, and gave a slight chuckle to himself.

“Ah, yes. I understand perfectly now. You’re a higher spirit, and a rather evil one too, I can sense it. Very well, if it’s more power you’re after I don’t mind granting it so long as you’re not hurting anyone in the village”

Miss Fortune smirked, but was quickly interrupted. Lady Luck skid her way past the door frame and quickly rushed in. She held onto the door frame, keeping as far away from the other spirit as possible,

“Don’t listen to her! She wants to make everyone absolutely everyone unlucky!”

“My...Is this your counterpart? Well I’m sure we can come to some rationale here...Why don’t you both explain it to me carefully?”

“There no time for that. She needs to go out right now!” Lady Luck panted

“What’s wrong, not used to exerting yourself?” Miss Fortune sneered

“S-Shut it...High priest, surely you understand the necessity of balance! There is a girl, Kasca, and her mother which both desperately require your help. This festival can’t work without them!”

“If you even think about it I’ll make sure you die on the way there...”

Before any of them could interject, both of them heard a causal knock on the door to the temple. Xander eyed both of them and gave a heartfelt chuckle,

“Ah. Judging by both of your expressions I suppose that means Kasca has arrived yes? I’m sure both of you have your reasons, but please...try to enjoy the festival. I’ll continue the rites as normal when the festival, it’s nothing more than dutiful obligation anyway” He smirked softly

Lady Luck stammered on her words, “W-Well that’s not the way this was supposed to go…Gnhh, you’re already winning this thing aren’t you?”

Miss Fortune only giggled lightly, “You really are an idiot aren’t you? I’ve had the upper-hand this entire time...”

“Noisy!”.

“So noisy. Can’t these two ladies take their bickering to someplace else? The whole point of this little feud of theirs is pointless.”.

“Makes me want to throw myself off a cliff. But why am I even acting as the newbie here.” Xander thought.

Knock! Knock!

“Please! Hold on to your horses I am coming” Xander replied in a brute tone and then almost immediately remembered that he must behave immaculately.

He started sweating because Kasca’s visit gave a clear indication that he had also been included in this fight. He rushed and opened the doors for Kaska.

“Well somebody took their sweet time.” Kasca said.

“My sincere Apologies! Please come inside” uttered Xander in a worried voice and closd the door hurriedly as she entered.

“Guess there’s no way out now” Xander thought and slowly lowered his head to talk to the child. Upon his observation he noticed her mental trauma. Even her young blooming face was then pale with fear coupled with insomnia.

“Have you not been sleeping lately?”.

“Since the last few days?” Xander inquired.

“Yes, father. My mother was…” Kasca was interrupted while trying to reply.

“Stupid girl” Xander suddenly cut through Kasca’s words and went on saying “don’t try to risk your life for saving other people, you have a life too which certainly won’t perish alongside your mother’s.”

“Follow me” Xander uttered.

Leading Kasca to the great hall he finally spoke “All right child I’ll listen to what you have to say.”

They did not go on about for long but even in this brief exchange the ladies of fate had spoken a few words that were certain to give both hope and despair to a child, or perhaps the latter. But still as an elder his duty was to lead her into the light. No matter how much these things bored him, how tedious it was, Xander always kept his irritation aside and performed his tasks perfectly just like the dedicated high priest everyone expected him to be.

The news itself was frightening but still there were numerous ways to overcome it. As for starters he could have directly used his authority to make people attend.

“No, fun.” Xander thought.

“They said you could bring about an end to the misfortune lingering in this village, right?” Xander asked.

“Yes, that’s right father” Kasca replied.

“That voice you keep hearing did mention about your mother, right? Why not start from her?” Xander asked.

“Huh! But father she specifically said everyone” Kasca resisted.

“Listen child! It is true that you’re giving her hopes and dreams shouldering her every need and it may take you a while to understand but your support is nothing more than a curse upon your mother. Her young child who should be playing out with her friends is busy taking care of not only a household but also a sickly dying lady.” Xander exclaimed with a sigh.

Listening to Xander’s words Kasca wanted to speak out but was stopped as Xander added saying.

“Take her out for a while let your mother see her child smile without worries. For once again become a child” Xander exclaimed with a smile.

Kasca wandered through town with clenched teeth. Xander's voice echoed over and over inside her head, haunting her like a eerie lullaby. Agitation burned in her throat like acid as tears threatened in her eyes. She wondered how that man, who carried such a high position and respect along with it, could be so useless and cruel.

Stupid Girl. Don’t try to risk your life for saving other people. You have a life too!

She would question the audacity of his words if he didn't hear them come directly out of his mouth. Don't risk her life to save her mother? He didn't get it! Didn't he know that for her, her mother was everything? A flood of happy memories washed over her in bittersweet reverie. Her mama! The one who cared for her when she was sick, who played her when she was well, who loved her and encouraged her to grow and find happiness! Mama! If anything, Kasca felt like her filial piety was for naught. It didn't seem like she could do anything to help the woman who did so much for her.

He must think he's mighty because he's the high priest. But really, he's the lowest of the low. He was no help to her at all.

Kasca stumbled over to a errant bench, far away from the hustle and bustle of town, plopping down with a heavy sigh. She wanted to hurry home and get back to Loreli and her mother, but her talk with Xander drained her of energy. Her desire to heal her mother, the one person she loved more than anything, seemed a little more futile.

"What am I supposed to do now?" Kasca murmured, placing her face within her hands. Loreli encouraged her to be optimistic, but she just couldn't bring herself to feel that way.

"Who says you have to do anything, sweetie?" The smooth voice snapped Kasca from her thoughts. She looked around, but there was no one to be found. Instead, her eyes drifted down to silky black cat snaked between her legs. The same black cat she saw on the day her mother took a turn for the worse. "M-m-meow."

A gasp tore from Kasca's throat as she shot up from the bench. Hairs stood on the nape of her neck. Her body quaked with fear and anger. She felt the urge to place all her anger and frustrations all on this cat, who seemed to be oblivious of her troubles. Yet she couldn't help but be mesmerized by the kitty's eyes and how they twinkled dangerously.

"It's you!" she cried out. "What did you do to my mom?"

The cat didn't respond. Instead, it offered her a toothy grin before darting down the street. Kasca didn't hesitate. She ran after the cat, who darted her and there, as if they were playing a game. But Kasca wouldn't let it get away.

Not this time.

After she weaved around to catch up with the cat, Kasca couldn’t help but feel that the cat intended for her to follow. The cat took to places that covered with snow and yet somehow familiar to Kasca. She avoided some trees and bushes that tried to stop her - either guided markings or obstacles to protect her from whatever the cat wanted her to go.

Even though she wanted to leave behind the words from the high priest, his cruel voice still echoed in her mind. As she continued her trek, only stopping to catch her breath - and yet the cat managed to wait long enough to wait for her - and glaring at the cat. For her, that cat represented everything - her mother dying, the high priest refusing to even give a sympathetic word, the fact that without Loreli, Kasca was nothing. She was nothing. She was no one.

Her mother was a kind healer. She took care of the village when no one else in the village could treat them. For the high priest to cast her mother aside, she was angry. She didn’t want to stop after the first time - she nearly completed stopped to cry once again but this cat… this animal… this animal was a curse. Her mother would scold her for dismissing black cats as superstition but Kasca couldn’t help it.

Kasca’s tears stung as the sharp cold did but she was determined. At the end of the cat’s journey must be something that created a sense in this nonsensical situation - and Kasca needed to wrestle out the answers. She had a task to do, but every way except with Loreli, was blocked in some way.

Was this what it meant to have Miss Fortune smile upon you? Kasca would rather spit at her if it meant all these terrible things stopped happening. Frustrated, hungry, tired, and ready to quit, Kasca pushed herself on. The cat meowed in a frustratingly gentle way. A comfort or a tease, Kasca wouldn’t know, but she knew it angered her.

Did it want Kasca to follow her after all? The death of her father, the oncoming death of her mother, Kasca wasn’t sure where she would go after that. Would the high priest be callous enough to cast her out of the village? Would he mark her as cursed - for not having her father around and for her mother to be ill? This scared her more than she’d like to admit.

The determination to salvage what she had left - what is left of her mother’s health, the protection of her own self - pushed her to follow the cat. It got colder and the wind pushed her back as well. Kasca had to grow as a woman and learn how to rely on herself. While her mother’s health hung in the balance, Kasca must do what she could to save her - even if Miss Fortune asked for her own life, she was determined to give it if it promised health and the well-being of those in the village.

"Yes? Please come in." The high priest spoke, opening the door that led into his room. But he was met with nothing but empty air. Xander scratched his head. Wasn't that girl coming just now?

"Congratulations, you officially did a great job!!" The lovely woman in the witch clothes clapped her hands together before resting her elbow on Xander's shoulder. "A great job messing up that is!!"

"Wait a second." He frowned as the realization hit him all at once. "You don't mean-"

"For crying out loud, aren't you the high priest? Shouldn't you be well aware of these possibilities already?"

With a yawn, Lady Luck snapped her fingers and sat down in midair while crossing her legs. She had hurried to have a word with the high priest exactly because she wanted to prevent this from happening, but what was done was done. No use crying over spilled milk.

"No, don't give me that." Xander still had trouble understanding. "Even if it was a High Spirit, how could it take control of my body like that?"

That's right. Xander's recollections had stopped the moment he had approached the door in order to let Kasca in. His consciousness had come to a bizarre halt, but the memories of what happened were flooding in. Memories of his unusual harsh behavior and cold words. They weren't words that he had chosen. The evil spirit must have taken control of him. That was the most logical solution but...

"Not really. They were still your own words." Lady Luck corrected him.

"What!? But I didn't-!"

"Here is a quizz for you! What's the name of this location?"

"The Holy Halls of Worship? By why does that matter?"

"Uh-huh. And just who are you supposed to worship? What deity were these halls created for?"

"That's..." Come to think of it. The whole idea of worship was just passed by as a tradition. But what was the truth behind years of history here?

The priest had to recognize that was a fair point but it still wasn't enough for him to believe her. Not until she made everything click.

"Praise is something that comes from the heart. Even if you are doing it by obligation, do you know how the world was created? Through the power of words. While you are here praying and praising someone to go on with your day, all of that keeps making Miss Fortune stronger. You have turned the evil spirit into the new deity of this town!"

With this, he understood what the evil spirit had truly done. Rather, it was the power of influence. If his heart continued to sing praises for this deity, her influence was enough to cloud his very being. This of course, would apply for anyone who had continued to follow his teachings, giving more power to Miss Fortune. This is why the festival was such an important point.

The festival would happen when the clock reaches midnight and the calendar moved into the new year. For spirits and deities, there was higher meaning in the sign of a new beginning. If this went though, the remaining energy in Lady Luck would fade and Miss Fortune would reign over the land.

He finally realized as much but... the fact that he had been so harsh towards the one in need remained. No, something beyond that clicked.

The town had been corrupted by the malice of Miss Fortune and the one who had been working as a healer was none other than Kasca's mother. The true reason why that woman had fallen ill... it was because she had unknowingly taken on everyone's impurities. This couldn't continue like this. But... the girl who had come to him for help, the one who he had called stupid. Where had she gone to?

That was a good question to make. Exactly where had Kasca gone to? Well, that was quite easy to answer too. Aimlessly following the black cat had led her to the one place all villagers kept away from Lune Forest.

Everyone claimed that the forest is a portal and that those who pass through it may never return. However, others claimed having survived reported feeling despair about their future. As if misfortune itself had smiled upon them for the rest of their lives. Mysterious, isn't it?

Once Kasca began feeling ill, recalling that that cat was an ill-omen as well, she stopped on her feet.

Why was she risking it all going after it? Yes, it angered her and it was perfectly understandable. She had just been called stupid by the priest, all her hopes and dreams crashing down like a big tidal wave. Yet, she had one mission to accomplish and she would not let a silly cat take over her emotions like this. Even knowing that Miss Fortune asked for her own life, she was truly determined to do everything that was in her power to bring well-being to those in the village.

She had to go back. Back to the village as soon as possible. The pure anger she felt against Miss Fortune would have to wait.

Little time remained for the festivities to take place after all. Even if all her paths were blocked, she would find a way to pass through them even if it was with pure willpower.

Every sprawling tree she passed under reminded Kasca of a watchful guardian, a silent sentinel of the groves. That's when she realized how further in Lune forest she had gone into by feeling spellbinded.

The foliage became thick and lush, forming an arch of fairytale-green above her head. Berry trees flanked the trail, making it impenetrable on either side. Shuffling noises came from deep in the interior, deadened by the cunningly woven web of leaves.

Then a finger of supernatural light poked through the mist. It was followed by a whole loom of light, filtering down in seams of gold. The growl of a cat split the silence just as the forest became flooded with light.

"And I was having so much fun with our chasing montage." A cold voice sent shivers down Kasca's spine. "You are such an indecisive and contradictive child."

"That's what makes me a human, right?" The girl swallowed every word she said with every little piece of courage she had. "I realized that, no matter what anyone says to me, whatever trick you have under your sleeve, it will not make me stop. If I want to save my mother, I need to do something against you. That's the feeling I get inside my heart."

"Such hopeful words." Miss fortune yawned, her voice echoing through the woods. "Nonetheless, how are you planning to do this if the high priest just disregarded you? It would be impossible for you to run an entire festival all alone, with no support from the villagers at all."

"I know that perfectly well! But...! I know I am not alone! Everyone needs to become united and that is what I will do!"

"Stupid girl, do not risk your life for saving other people. That is absurd and nonsensical."

And that was when the last piece fell into place. Kasca realized something with those words. Miss Fortune, who seemed cool and collected, even cold and calculating, had lost her temper and dug her own grave. Those were almost exactly the same words the high priest had told her. How could Miss Fortune know? Was she there when it happened, hidden around them? Or perhaps...?

"I will not fall for your tricks anymore!" With sheer determination, Kasca ran with her eyes closed, hoping a hunch would lead her to the exit.

The world stopped. With rapid acceleration and a more bounding motion, Miss Fortune came right for Kasca making herself visible. No thoughts came to Kasca except that her fate was sealed.

"I will not let you hurt my friend! Not again!"

Loreli stood in front of Kasca, stealing her breath. She had successfully blocked Miss Fortune's attack. One big question loomed over Kasca's mind: How?

Loreli’s arms were spread wide, and there was a radiant light emitting from both of her hands. “It’s all right, Kasca! I’ll take care of her! Go!”

Without a second thought, Kasca ran aimlessly in front of her, batting branches from her face and getting scratched from thorns and briars. The only thought driving her was, I have to get home. Behind her, she could hear Loreli chanting words in a strange language and Miss Fortune screaming in response, and her peripheral vision glowed with flashes of light in multiple colors.

I didn’t know Loreli was a spellcaster, Kasca thought as she continued running, the night air feeling cold in her lungs. Suddenly, she could see it in front of her: the glow of the village bonfire. The baker’s house at the outskirts of the village was in front of her! She was almost there! Feeling another burst of speed travel through her, she started picking up the pace, until something caught her foot.

“ARGH!” Kasca grunted as she fell to the ground. The earth was still rocky and hard. Stunned and winded, Kasca carefully picked herself up and tried to move her right foot, but felt a sting of pain as she realized it was caught in something. In the dim light from the moon and the bonfire, she could see that it had been entwined in an unnatural looking crop of thorns.

“Stupid, foolish girl,” said a voice, and Kasca suddenly felt something fuzzy against her cheek. It was Miss Fortune, as a cat, mockingly rubbing her head against Kasca’s face. In her clenched jaws was the body of a small mouse, its fur the same color as the clothing Loreli was wearing—

“NO! What did you do to Loreli?” Kasca shrieked.

“Don’t worry. I’ll change her back to a human if you do what I say,” Miss Fortune said.

No, she’s going to use her life as leverage, Kasca realized. This was the worst thing that could happen—an innocent life caught up in Kasca’s mission.

“Give up your mission, and let me take over this village. It won’t be that bad in the beginning. Just a few failed harvests…”

Kasca tried to yank her foot free from the tangled thorns and gritted her teeth as she realized they were cutting into her deeper. “What will you do if I say ‘no?’”

“Well, I am feeling a little hungry…” Miss Fortune lashed her tail merrily.The thorns around her foot seemed to slacken. One good pull would probably pull her completely loose. Kasca bowed her head, looking as if she was deep in thought over the dilemma she was facing. However, her hand found a loose stone, and she was carefully digging it out of the ground, trying to keep it from Miss Fortune’s sight.

“I can’t be waiting all night, dearie. Did you hear my tummy growl just now?”

“Wait, did you hear that?” Kasca said, suddenly pulling herself upwards and looking back towards the forest.

As she did, Miss Fortune’s gaze followed, and Kasca threw the stone towards the window of the baker’s house.

CRASH! 

It shattered the glass, and suddenly there was an angry voice shouting from within. “WHAT WAS THAT?” Growled the baker, and it was all the distraction Kasca needed to pull her leg loose. She limped her way towards the only way she could get the entire village to unite against Miss Fortune—the bell tower.

-

The black cat, Miss Fortune, watched as Kasca hobbled away through slits of eyes. “What an impudent child! Did she really think that she could hobble away from her clutches, but like a old crusty woman? Oh no, this wouldn’t do at all.”

She was in the business of misfortune, and right now, in this dump of a village, business was good.

Poor widdle Kasca, thinking she had the power to change the town’s terrible fortune.

As much as Miss Fortune wanted to get her hands on the twit, it just wouldn’t do for such a beautiful cat to get her hands dirty. It was just a shame that the thorns weren’t enough to stop dear Kasca in her tracks. But that was okay. Miss Fortune had another idea to keep Kasca from spoiling her plans.

“Ah ha ha, what a purrfect idea.” Carefully, she placed her unconscious snack onto the ground. “I’d better do this quickly”, she thought. “I always get super hungry when I cause so much chaos.” The Black Cat lifted her head up, lips curled into a satisfied smirked as a low, menacing “meow” echoed into the night sky.

And when she heard the response, a chorus of mischievous growls, her smirk grew even wider.

She didn’t even bother to nice that her little snack was no longer unconscious.

--

“Young girl, just where are you anyway?”

The high priest stopped, catching his breath. He’d been looking for the young girl who came to seem him earlier for what seemed like hours. But she was nowhere to be found. He may have been young at heart, but the aches in his body reminded him otherwise. Soon, he’d have to ring the clock tower bell to signal the start of the First Dawn Festival. And after the way he treated her earlier, he wouldn’t be surprised if she was doing everything she could to avoid him.

No. He had to find her. He had to do his part to help lift the impurities that plague this town so Kasca could have her mother back in her arms, free from illness.

But where could she have gone? He thought to himself. As he looked out in the dark wood, he hoped that she wouldn’t have dared to go there. The forest was so thick and rife with uncertain dangers. Those who ventured out too far and got themselves into some kind of trouble were in danger of never returning to the village…

“Help!” The breathless cry was enough to make him snap to attention. Breathless and covered in sweat, he watched as the young girl he sent away limped closer to him. “Help! Someone help me!”

“It’s you!” The high priest rushed over to the young girl, both relieved and very concerned. He watched as she clung onto him, eyes wide with terror. Poor thing. What happened to her? “Were you in the forest? I was looking everywhere for you!”

“Father Xander, thank goodness!” He winced as her clung to him even further. “You have to help me, Father! I need to get to the bell tower!”

“Child, what happened? What do you mean?”

“There’s no time! We have to get to the top of the bell tower right now!” Her eyes pleaded with him and he couldn’t bear to turn her way. “It’s about time for you to ring it for the festival, right? Take me there right away!”

“But…”

Xander never finished. His ears perked up to furious the sounds crashing and yelling coming from the houses of the village, and then sound of pitter-pattering feet that grew closer to them. As the confusion around them grew to a fever pitch, Xander felt his blood run cold. A growing horde of furry bodies stared at them with golden glowing eyes and pricked ears. As the horde swelled even further, a chorus of vicious growls and hisses were hurled in their direction.

It was a horrible sound.

Cats! There were cats everywhere. Pet cats, street cats, feral cats, sweet cats, grumpy cats, fat cats, skinny cats, all kinds of cats. They were all together, leaving a trail of broken glass, torn fabric, and all out chaos in their wake, all ready to do the bidding of the one who loved misfortune.

Most importantly, all of them were ready to sink their claws into Kasca and Xander.

Without another word, Xander silently prayed for strength and she swept up Kasca into his arms. The clock tower was in the center of the village, but it was by no means a quick trip.

“F-Father…” Kasca stammered, wrapping her arms around her neck.

“Hold on child, don’t look back, and don’t you dare let go!” he cried. The things he did for Luck! “Let’s make haste to the clock tower! We have work to do!”

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