Chapter One

Jasmine Daniels kneels on the front porch, diligently scrubbing the floorboards. Her long blonde-hair is pulled back in a tight ponytail, a few strands hanging loosely around her perfectly oval face. Her blue eyes are rimmed red from crying, a circle of black darkening the left eye. Her green dress is stained with ash and soot, as are most of her clothes. She is a slave in her own house, subject to her Father's harsh blows and cruel words. She wants out so bad but is too scared to do anything, terrified of what her Father might do. Just thinking of it sent chills through her body.
Thinks, of course, hadn't always been so bad. She remembered a time that she had been happy…a time that seemed so long ago. Her mother had been alive back then, though. She was a beautiful woman with long flowing blonde hair and sparkling green eyes. Her olive skin would always darken in the summer, much like Jasmine's own. Her mother had been out picking apples when she was surprised by Terrons. Her body washed up on the shore of a river not far from the house, beaten and bruised. Her father had been devastated and heartbroken. That's when the abuse started. Her father had been so overcome with grief by the loss of his beloved that he couldn't stand to look at Jasmine, her resembling her mother in so many ways. Just the mere sight of her would send him flying into a rage. Jasmine knew she shouldn't blame her father for his actions but she couldn't help it. It was unfair of him to punish her just because her mother was dead. It was cruel and inhumane.

"Jasmine, when I come out there, that floor better be shining!" Jasmine heard Father yell from somewhere deep inside the house. Shaking her head, she goes back to scrubbing the floor, her fingers nearly raw and aching. She wanted to stop, to take a break, but knew that doing so would only result in another beating like the one that had occurred the other day when Jasmine had accidentally dropped a plate while doing the dishes, causing it to shatter. She had to be really careful about what she did around Father. He had a short temper and just about anything set him off.
She is still hard at work scrubbing the floor when she hears a branch snap. She jerks her head up and sees a blonde-haired man in a loin cloth and a darker haired man standing in the yard. The blonde man is tall and muscular but her interest is more peaked by the darker-haired man who has dark, alluring brown eyes. Slowly, she rises from her knees.

"Can I help you?" She asks timidly.

The darker-haired man steps forward. "Maybe. We are looking for someone. A girl…darker than me about 5'11. She'd probably be with some tough looking people…" He glances at the blonde-haired man who nods. "Terrons."

Jasmine starts to respond when she hears footsteps in the house. "What's going on out here?!" A voice bellows from inside the house. Jasmine stiffens and quickly steps away from the door, of which her father comes bounding out of. He looks at the two men critically. "Who the hell are you?"

This time, the blonde-haired man speaks. "My name is Dar, this is Tao." He motions at the man standing beside him. "As he was telling the young woman…we are searching for someone. A girl."
Father studies them closely. "A girl you say? Hmm…I can't say that I've seen any girls round these parts, sides my daughter here." He motions at Jasmine. "Course, I don't reckon I'd count her as being much of a girl." he laughs. Jasmine's cheeks burn with shame…even though she was used to this kind of treatment by her father.

Dar sighs. "Do you know anyone who might have?"

Father thinks for a moment. "Well…there is a village bout a three days journey from here. If she were to stop anywhere, that would probably be the place. I'd suggest you looking there." He glances at Jasmine and then back at Dar and Tao. "It's a fair amount of walkin to be doing and the sun is nearly set. Might I suggest the pair of you staying the night and heading out at dawn's first light?"

Jasmine couldn't help but stare at her father. This was a very unusual thing for him to be doing…it wasn't like him to take in people.

Dar and Tao exchange glances. "Thank you. But I think it would be best if we left right away." Dar replies. "Thank you for you hospitality." Jasmine's heart sinks as they turn to go. She would have like to get to know this Tao better.

"Now, wait just a minute there." Father says, walking down the porch steps. "I can tell that the two of you are new to this area and the journey to Amaranth isn't an easy one…especially not from here. It's easy to get lost here." Father glances back at Jasmine. "My daughter here, she knows these woods like the back of her hand. She'd be able to guide you there real easy like."

Jasmine jerks her head of and stares at her father. This really wasn't like him in the least. Was he actually trying to help them. She sees the gleam in his eyes and then it dawns on her…he wasn't trying to help, he was trying to get rid of her.

"Excuse us for a moment." Dar says and walks back to Tao. They whisper secretively for a few moments, one or twice glancing at her. Dar nods and then turns back to them. "Fine."

Father smiles, turning back to Jasmine. "Well, what are you waiting for? Go on, get your stuff!"

About an hour later, Jasmine found herself leading the two strangers through dense forest and thick underbrush. They are all quit, probably uneasy around her. She'd found that most men seemed to become nervous in her presence.

"Is it as far as your father said?" Dar asked.

Jasmine cast a quick glance behind her. "Actually it's farther. Three days is the time it would take to get there if you walked without any rest or stops. The journey will likely take more like five to seven days journey…depending on how long we walk each day."

"Are there any shortcuts?" Tao butts in.

Jasmine can't help but laugh, something she hadn't done in years. "Afraid not. The shortcut in these woods would likely get you lost or worse…killed. No, it's best to stick to the safest route."

She hears one of the men walk up beside her. She looks out of the corner of her eyes and sees Tao. "I know it's none of my business but I was wondering how…how you got that bruise. Your father, did he…?" He pauses

"You're right. It is none of your business." Jasmine snaps unintentionally and starts walking a little faster, getting ahead of them. "Keep up. We need to make the best of the sun we have. It's not safe to walk at night.

We rest at sundown." She shouts, briefly glancing behind her. She looks back in front of her and stops in her tracks. A few feet away, standing in their path, is a menacing looking tiger. Jasmine looks at it fearfully, unsure of what to do.

"It's alright. He's not going to hurt you." Dar says, walking past her. She stares in amazement as he walks over to the tiger and lays his hand on its head. "Jasmine, meet Rue. Rue, meet Jasmine."

Jasmine looks doubtfully at Dar who only smiles broadly. "Um…hi?" She says to the Tiger, slowly and cautiously walking up to it. She extends her hand slowly and Rue first sniffs her hand then licks it.

"He likes you." Dar says and Jasmine can't help but smiles.

"That's good. I guess I won't have to worry about him eating me in my sleep." She retorts, shaking her hand and stepping back. She lets out a small scream as she feels two furry things crawl over her feet and steps back, tripping and falling against Tao who looks down at her, smiling. Jasmine jerks away from Tao, composing herself and looks at Dar who is holding two rodent looking things.

"Sorry these two little rascals scared you." He laughs. "This is Kodo." He holds out one to her. "And is Podo." He holds out the other one to her as well.

Jasmine laughs nervously. "Any other animals I should know about?"

"Sharack." He holds out his arm and an eagle swoops down, landing on his arm.

"Well, this one seems nice enough." She says. "Now, shall we move on?" She starts to walk around Dar.

"Wait. Sharack says that there are Terrons up ahead." Dar interjects.

Jasmine stops and slowly turns around. "You say he said?" Her eyes widen. "You're…the beast master!"

Dar nods. "Yes, I am.

Jasmine gets angry. "When were you planning on telling me this?" She crosses her arms. "And further more…why do you need a guide? I'm sure the animals could tell you the safest way to go through these woods.

"You're right." Dar says, turning to look at her. "I don't need a guide but we wanted to get you away from you father."

Her heartbeat quickens. "Why?" I look at Tao and see compassion in his eyes.

" Because we know what he's been doing to you…by that bruise on your face and the way you acted around him. We wanted to free you." Tao replies, smiling a little bit. Jasmine is speechless. She is unaccustomed to such kindness.

"How touching." Jasmine whirls around and sees a tough looking man standing behind her. Her eyes widen as she sees the skeletons on his shirt and the others standing behind him. His blue eyes lock on hers and he smiles maliciously. "Well, this must be my lucky day. I get to kill the beast master and get myself another pretty girl." He steps towards her.

"Touch her and you die." Dar says protectively, grabbing her arm and snatching her behind him where she stands beside Tao, stunned.

The man laughs. "Well, well, well. It would seem that the beast master has a new love interest." He smiles again. "Tell me, how long has it been since you're beloved Kyra passed away?"

"You mean when you killed her, Zad?" Dar growls.

Jasmine stares at the man, fear in her eyes. "It was YOU!" She yells all of a sudden. "You killed her!" She tries to run at him, but Tao holds her back.

Zad glances at her and smiles. "Ah, she speaks. And what a beautiful voice she has. Tell me, who is it that you think I killed?"

"I don't think…I know." She growls, fighting Tao.

"Jasmine, please." Tao begs. "You must calm down."

"You don't understand!" She cries. "He killed my mother!"

A mockingly sad look passes across Zads face. "Oh, no. Not your mother. What have I done?" the men behind him laugh.

"You will pay for what you have done with your life!" She cries, the sky growing black.

Everyone looks up at the sky. "What the hell is going on?!" Zad exclaims looking back at Dar and the others. His eyes lock on Jasmine who's eyes have clouded over and are now misty white. She is no longer struggling but is standing completely still, staring at Zad.

"Zad…" She bellows in a strange, hollow sounding voice very different from her own. "You have taken the life of one who she loves. Long have I laid dormant, waiting for my moment to make you pay for doing this great injustice against her. Now, you die." Jasmine holds up her arms. "Behold, my WRATH!" All of a sudden, a gigantic lightning bolt strikes the ground in front of Zad, causing him to jump back.

The men that were standing behind him flee, some even screaming. Zad glances once more at Jasmine, then turns, and flees himself. With Zad disappearing from her sight, Jasmine closes her eyes and she falls limp in Tao's arms.

"Um, Dar. What was that?" Tao asks, fear in his voice.

"Tao, I have no idea."