Chapter 0:

Prologue - A Father's Fear

The Legacy of Xaero: Crucible of Oros

     A child was the best and worst thing to ever happen to Joshua and Karin Roseanne.

     “Hold still.” Joshua said sternly. He tried to ignore the laughter as he looked over his daughter, trying to decide where to start. There were just so many…

     “I am holding still!” Came the expected mewling cry. Well, not so much a cry as an indignant humph! as the pain was more an irritation than anything life-threatening. “Why are they so poke-y?”

     “Because they don’t like to be scared, darling.” He told Autumn, his voice becoming soft again. He couldn’t help it. She was his pride and joy, and the fact she was learning so much so quickly made him feel all warm inside.

     If there was one thing Autumn was good at, it was sticking her nose into places she didn’t belong. All her life, she had somehow managed to get out of her parent’s supervision long enough to get into trouble. At this time, she was only three, and her mom and dad had been distracted giving auntie Aura a tour of the new flower shop, allowing Autumn to stumble into the sole flowerpot that had unbeknownst to everyone, contained a sleeping cactwana. The flower headed reptile had been jolted awake by Autumn’s jostling, and the next thing Karin and Joshua knew, their daughter was crying and pricked with needles from head to toe.

     “How on earth did you do this?” Joshua asked, inspecting his daughter and gingerly removing quills from Autumn. Much to his annoyance, Karin was less than useful, having an aversion to blood and had unexpectedly fainted on the floor, while auntie Aura was bent over from laughing at the plight of her niece. Useless, the both of them, can’t respond normally at all, he thought. “I can’t believe I missed a cactwana while inspecting the pots!”

     “I don’t know,” Autumn answered truthfully. All she had done was zip around the raised bed and picked up the pot in question that had the animal resting near the base of the fairy dusters. The next thing she knew, everything hurt! “But good thing I found it and not a customer.”

     He couldn’t help but agree with that.

     Thankfully, the damage wasn’t severe, and after a shot of healing magyk, plenty of forehead kisses and some ointment, she was quickly on the road to recovery.

     Sadly, her troubles didn’t end there. They never did.

     There was also the scare, when she was five and a half – the half was very important, Autumn would insist– when a group of sky dogs had landed in the field near their home to rest. The pack’s owner, a funny old man who bred them at his farm, had assured them the dogs were quite safe around children. Almost immediately, Autumn had been pushed onto the back of one of the older dogs, and the two rushed off into the air, barking and yelping together as her parents and the farmer chased after them. Thankfully, neither Autumn nor the dog had been hurt, but Karin nearly had a heart attack from the fear of possibly watching her baby girl fall from fifty feet. To their horror, it led to Autumn incessantly begging them for her own sky dog to own. Preferably Sir Woofington, the culprit in question that had taken their daughter on a joyride.

     Autumn gave her parents the cold shoulder for an entire hour when they told her no and that was final.

     “Autumn, this isn’t going to work,” Karin told their daughter as she was holding back a smirk.

     “Yes it is!” She shouted back. Joshua grinned. Looked like Autumn still didn’t understand the concept.

     “I want a doggy! I want Sir Woofington!”

     “Then maybe don’t try to run off into the air,” He teased. “Sir Woofington tried to steal you from us. Why would we want a thief into our home?”

     “Because I want one!”

     Once news that war between Oros and Apa broke out however, Joshua and Karin grew terrified. Wars often took many years to conclude, and the last one between Oros and the Chang during their childhood had nearly seen several of Joshua’s brothers and sisters conscripted in the campaign after being deemed “old enough” by the monarchy. They could hardly believe it, barely fifteen years of age and old enough to go to war? Absurd. Were it not for the fact they had a child to raise, the law would have seen either of them sent to die for the cause.

     Early in their courtship, Karin had begged Joshua not to charm her with acts of heroism or elaborate displays of affection. She had disclosed that such actions had led to some sort of ruination somewhere far along in her family line, and Joshua, confused, though not deterred as he was swept in the throes of infatuation, heartily agreed. Their lives had been subsequently spent doing their utmost not to stand out or to perform anything of particular noteworthiness.

     Well, except for one thing. Joshua was a florist. An exceptional florist. And as much as he loved Karin, he loved flowers perhaps just as greatly. They had spent many nights arguing over the flower shop that would eventually devolve into raised voices, rabid accusations, heartfelt apologies, tender words of affirmation and falling asleep in each other’s arms. And in spite of the addition of their daughter, the two managed to find time for one another, just the two of them.

     Regardless of their sometimes chaotic life together, the fact remained that Joshua and Karin were committed to one another, warts and all.

     Really, the fact she would be growing into her own, becoming a capable and determined woman was incredibly inconsiderate to the both of them, who wanted their baby girl to stay their baby girl. How was that so hard to understand?

     No matter what rules they set for her, Autumn would consistently find a way to break them. It was like she thrived on doing the opposite of everything they wanted. It wasn’t on purpose of course, Autumn loved and tried to follow her parents’ rules to a tee. But the fact of the matter was that adventure was drawn to Autumn Roseanne.

     “Be careful,” was such a common substitute for farewell in their home that simply saying “goodbye” felt off-putting in the Roseanne household. And it was exactly how they felt every time she left the house. They would say “goodbye” instead of “be careful” and within an hour’s time, Autumn would have found a way to aggravate a predatory animal or adopt a grand remis, bringing it home just as it spawned dozens if not hundreds of young within their homes. Much to Autumn’s chagrin and to Karin’s irritation, the incident happened twice, once when her daughter was eight, then again when she was eleven. Karin swore if she had to eliminate the smell of newborn slimes who had no respect for boundaries or bladder control a third time, Autumn was going to be in serious trouble.

     But for Joshua, he found it incredibly funny and suitable payback for Karin when she fainted during the cactwana incident.

     On the bright side, the second time it happened, one of the remis imprinted on Autumn, and after weeks of pestering and needling her parents, they finally conceded and allowed her to own it. And in the end, her parents came around to the inclusion of Orange the Slime in their family as he became very handy with deterring pests that could ruin the flower beds.

     “Really, I don’t know why we were so hesitant on taking a pet,” Karin admitted, examining the flowers. “This might have been the best idea I’ve ever had.”

     “You mean the best idea I’ve ever had.” Autumn corrected.

     Karin shook her head, indignant. “No, no, I distinctly remember that it was my idea. You said let's keep him. I said, ‘Only if he can help around the house.’”

     “Yeah, and it was my idea to let him patrol the greenhouse!”

     “Fine, how about we split the difference, and say it was both our ideas?” Karin asked, grinning. She produced a brilliantly colored pink and orange flower her daughter hadn’t seen before. “If you say yes, I’ll let you keep this Maor dragon lily that came in by accident for your collection.”

     Joshua grinned. Autumn couldn’t resist adding another exotic souvenir to her collection. Over the years, his daughter caught the same bug he himself had been bitten with. They both loved flowers. Within her room, they had collected, preserved and displayed dozens of flowers from around the continent. Sometimes they would spend hours admiring the petals, and discussing the symbolism of each flower and the culture they came from.

     Of course, life only started to get worse after Karin’s sister Aura taught Autumn all about puberty. With every ounce of diplomacy she was capable, to boot.

     “I’M GOING TO BLEED BETWEEN MY LEGS EVERY MONTH!” Thirteen-year-old Autumn screeched. Behind her, Aura’s smug expression instantly betrayed what she did to Joshua. Damn it, he cursed mentally.

     “Way to play ball,” Karin scowled at her younger sister. “When are you going to grow up?”

     “She was going to find out sooner than later,” chuckled Aura. “Who would you prefer she learn it from? Better it was from me and not the school system. They barely care enough as it is.”

     “Yes, but you’re nineteen! You have all the tact of a lumbering mule.”

     “And I’m someone she trusts!”

     As they argued, Autumn waddled up to Joshua. “Dad, I don’t want to bleed,” she bawled into his arms. “Is there any way to make it stop?”

     Joshua mentally sighed in relief. Oh, thank the Divines, Aura didn’t tell her everything. “Don’t worry, my little flower. It won’t be as bad as she says. It hasn’t started yet, right?” Autumn shook her head, tears flecking the corners of her eyes. “It’ll be okay. This is something you’re mother and I have been prepping for.”

     And yet, as annoyed as he was that Aura spoiled the talk he had been rehearsing with Karin, some part of him felt relieved they didn’t need to do it anymore. Then again, since Aura was the one who had told her, maybe they still should just in case.

     If not for the fact that with the current war going on making roads more dangerous, they wouldn’t have these issues at all. Aura with her skills in Pevrosi had more or less joined the family business, ostensibly to protect shipments, but in reality was only signing on to evade the newly stationed conscription officer in Trent, just half a day’s walk from their home.

     War was as constant to Oros as the existence of humanity, Josh decided. Where there is the potential for conflict, there are those to profit from it, and it seemed like humans were experts on the subject. When the news of the Oro-Apa war broke to the public, it didn’t come as a surprise to Joshua or Karin in the slightest. Tensions between the two kingdoms had been increasing since before their marriage, and with how well the conflict is going now, it might not end for another decade.

     Raising a child during war can be hard enough. But if Autumn decided to enlist? While Joshua felt he could handle the nightmarish thought of losing his daughter, he knew it would devastate Karin.

     The happiest moment of Joshua’s life was when he held his little girl for the first time. A beautiful baby girl, born in the autumn. And in that moment, he believed he completely understood why Karin didn’t want a life of excitement or renown. The thought of losing his precious baby girl was terrifying. And if she died, it would be his fault; he brought her into this world.

     Whatever Autumn did, Joshua decided he would do his best to support her, even if it was something Karin disagreed with.

     Which meant every moment with her should be treasured. Autumn’s innate desire for adventure might lead her to do something rash and end up killing her.