Scarlet Pine had been all but crawling along the road until she saw the town lights. Her parent's farm, her home, along with her parents themselves were gone forever, her clothes were in tatters, and she had been running for days. She was about to collapse when she finally saw the lights and her vigor returned. Adrenaline took over and Scarlet sprinted to the edge of the town. There she saw her saving grace, an open tavern she rushed in without even looking at the name. She burst through the door and all heads turned to her. For a moment she was happy they wouldn't chase her into a tavern. Taverns were always full of adventures. She was safe long as she stayed in this bar she thought, but then her adrenaline wore off, and in its absence, any energy she might have had left.
"Help me..." She whispered as her knees buckled and she felt herself faint. The last thing she saw was a man draped in a cloak rushing to catch her.
Scarlet awoke on a straw bed wearing a new pair of clothes and a green cape as a blanket. There was also a small stool next to her with a mug of warm milk steaming on it. Scarlet sat up and started to sip the drink. The rest of the room was empty except for a wooden door that led to a hallway she could only assume led to the rest of the tavern and a small window on the opposite wall that looked out at the road. Scarlet wrapped the cape over her shoulders pulled the stool over to the window and sat, snuggled in a warm cape and sipping on a hot drink. The sun had risen not long ago, birds were singing all across the town, children were playing in the street, and a snow-white cat with tan feet was sunbathing on the windowsill.
The carefree feline looked just like Kat the barn cat back home that Scarlet's father never let her name. The parallel caught Scarlet off guard and she started to cry. Her parents were farmers so when the fire started, there was no one nearby to help put it out. No one to help her family. Her parents died in that fire and Scarlet still hadn't stopped to grieve them. Her father's final wish was for her to take his necklace and find a person who wore its duplicate. He assured her that they would help her. After she escaped the fire and searched the ruins for anything of value, there was nothing, she had almost wanted to ignore her father and go to one of her neighbor's farms to ask for help there. The closest farmhouse was a few miles away but it was much closer than the nearest town but something her father had said continued to eat away at her thoughts.
"You must find them, my love. Only They can help you find yourself."
Scarlet had no clue what that meant but they were last words so she decided to trust her father's judgment and go looking, but she hadn't found anyone yet and after last night she didn't think she ever would.
"I can barely keep myself alive alone dad. How am I supposed to find who you wanted me to?" She whispered to herself, wiping the tears from her eyes.
"who are you looking for?"
Scarlet nearly leapt out of her chair at the voice and came shockingly close to pouring milk all over herself.
"Nice catch." said the voice, soft and calming.
When Scarlet turned to look she found that the voice belonged to a slightly pudgy woman with a round nose and big blue eyes. She wore a simple cloth dress that matched her darker complexion and a stained white apron around her waist. Her blonde hair fell in curls around her neck.
"Who are you?" Scarlet asked hesitantly.
The woman laughed. "Who am I? Well, I'm the owner of Ranger's Grace. My name is Jane."
"What is Ranger's Grace?"
Scarlet's second question only made Jane laugh harder. "This is Ranger's Grace!" She managed through gaps of laughter and knocking on a wall. "This tavern you're in. You didn't even read the sign did you?"
Scarlet curled herself into a ball and wrapped her cape tighter. "No..." She mumbled as tears stung her eyes again.
"Hey now darling," Jane stopped laughing in an instant and walked over to console her. "No need to be ashamed about it you were in quite a state last night I don't blame you for rushing in. Now who are you and who are you looking for? A lot of people pass by my humble bar I can probably help."
"You really think so?" Scarlet whispered.
"Of course." Jane smiled. "If I can't help you someone else downstairs certainly can.
Scarlet considered the situation, her father had always taught her to be skeptical of strangers but she needed help and Jane seemed like she was sincere. Her father had told her to find a stranger after all.
"My name is Scarlet... Scarlet Pine." She said sitting up a little straighter.
"Jane Azi," Jane replied rising to stand again. "It's a pleasure to meet you."
"The pleasure is mine I probably owe you my life. I'm looking for a creature that wears this necklace." Scarlet continued pulling the necklace out from under her shirt. "It was my father's final wish that I do."
Jane looked at the necklace and her eyes grew wide. "I know only one man who wears a necklace like that."
"Really?" Scarlet exclaimed. "Who? Where can I find him?"
"People call him Ranger, he is downstairs, and he gave you your cape."
Scarlet soon found herself standing before a man much taller than herself with light blue eyes and long brown hair he kept tied back in a ponytail. He looked about thirty years old. Jane had offered to introduce her to the man she said wore a matching necklace and Scarlet had accepted after quickly opening the window and giving the cat her milk. Jane hadn't seemed to mind. She took Scarlet down to the main serving area and quickly introduced her to the man she was now facing. His name was apparently Marcy and the only words he'd spoken since they'd met were "Thanks, Jane, I'll take it from here." Now he was just staring at her. Scarlet knew he was waiting for her to say something but she had no idea what to say so she just met his blank gaze with one she hoped was just as expressionless. Eventually, he gave Scarlet a small smile and spoke for her.
"You're the girl from last night." He said after what seemed like an eternity.
"Um... yes," Scarlet started. "And you're the man who gave me this cape." She finished fingering the fabric and trying hard not to let her nervousness show. She wasn't sure what about him made her anxious maybe it was his height or the emptiness in everything he did that made him feel alien to her but whatever it was it made her uncomfortable.
The man gave a small nod and motioned for Scarlet to sit at his table in the far corner of the pub. She obliged.
"What can I do for you?" He asked as he took his seat, he never broke eye contact.
Scarlet bit her lip. Marcy was a bit scary, his face bore no expression or hint of emotion. He just stared at her. She didn't particularly want to trust him with the only lead she had but then again. He was the only lead she had. Jane had not been lying Marcy was wearing a matching necklace around his neck. A thin silver chain holding a silver almond-shaped pendant with a young girl's face engraved within it and a fancy M engraved on the back.
Scarlet steadied her breath and pulled the necklace out of her shirt. Marcy raised an eyebrow.
"Now, where did you get that?"
"My father gave it to me as he died," Scarlet replied, she saw no reason to sugarcoat the situation. "He told me that only the person with the duplicate pendant could help me Find Myself, whatever that means."
Marcy glanced up and down Scarlet's frame. "Well, what the hell does that mean!" He exclaimed. "I've never met you before. Who was your father? Who was your mother? What do you think you need to find?"
"My Father was named Zawado Pine, My mother was Evelyn Pine, and if I knew what I needed to find I probably wouldn't be here in the first place!" Scarlet replied her voice rising with each consecutive answer. By now most of the tavern was watching their conversation.
"Evelyn?" Marcy repeated. "Where was your mother from?"
The question cooled her growing anger as Scarlet considered it and surprisingly, realized that she did not know the answer. "I'm not sure actually we didn't really fit in with the people at home I knew we didn't belong there but mom always reassured me that they were just fools and that we belonged with dad. She never explained where we actually came from."
"And how old you?" Marcy continued he was clearly putting the pieces together. Scarlet had no idea what those pieces were but at least he had seemed to have found a lead.
"I'm eighteen. Why?"
"Because you match my timeline," Marcy explained without actually helping her understand.
"What timeline?" She pressed.
"I'm not sure yet."
"Now I'm just confused," Scarlet muttered raising an eyebrow.
"As am I" Marcy replied deep in thought.
"But..." Scarlet wasn't even sure what to say to him at this point. "You have a timeline?"
"It's a rather unhelpful timeline at the moment." Marcy clarified, once again in such a way that left Scarlet even more confused.
"I'm beginning to question my father's judgment," Scarlet stated.
'That's probably wise," Marcy replied. "But don't give up on me just yet. Your father's name reminds me of someone and it might be nothing more than a coincidence but the man I have in mind is the only one I can think of who might have the answers we're seeking."
"We are seeking?" asked unable to hide the smile creeping onto her face and the swell of hope in her chest. Marcy was an odd man. If Scarlet took a second to think about it, even his name was rather strange but he seemed nice enough now that he wasn't glaring at her and he did have the necklace. Her father's final wish was for her to trust this man. Less importantly, she was still wearing his cape and it was too cold today for her to want to take it off just yet.
"Of course. I made an oath a long time ago to help anyone who asked it of me, and you, my dear... Clearly need a lot of help." Marcy exclaimed.
He pushed himself out of his chair and flashed Scarlet a quick smile before briskly walking to the center of the room.
"Excuse me, everyone," He began. "but I have just acquired a quest and I need to ask a few favors of you all."
"What can we do for you Ranger?" one man sitting at a table of four asked.
"Whatever it is you need it is yours with my blessing." said a woman at another table.
Scarlet was shocked at the results of Marcy's words, at least one soul from every table offered their assistance without question. As people continued to voice their support, Scarlet slinked over to the bar and decided to ask the first man she saw what made Marcy so popular. He was wearing a simple green cloak much like the one she was wearing and his shaggy black hair fell in his face a bit forcing him to run a hand through his hair every couple of seconds. A longbow was strung over his back and he wore a pair of worn fur-trimmed riding boots covered in mud. The outfit was, as Scarlet realized very similar to Marcy's.
"Excuse me, sir," Scarlet started. The man slid his drink to the person sitting next to him, looked over to her, and pulled a bandana from around his neck over his head to keep his hair back.
"Please call me Damian, I was never very fond of formalities. What can I do for you miss?" he replied.
"Scarlet, Scarlet Pine," she introduced. "I was just wondering if you knew why everyone is so fond of Marcy?"
"Oh, Ranger? Yeah, that man has friends in every corner of the world." Damian answered. "The story goes that when he first showed up in this town he enlisted a dryad to help him clear a group of bandits out of the woods."
"A dryad?" Scarlet asked her eyes wide with wonder she had heard many tales of the graceful forest spirits but she had never met anyone who knew one let alone ever seen one herself.
"That's the story I was told when I arrived and asked your question," Damian responded. "And my cousin has told me many more stories of his exploits."
"Really? that's so cool!" Scarlet exclaimed but before she could ask more Marcy's arm pulled her into the center of the room with him. As she was dragged away she heard Damian mutter something about how "That Ranger is a true drama queen."
"My friends," Marcy started. "I thank you for all your willingness to assist me but all I require for this quest is a pack of rations for both me and the girl Scarlet who I am traveling with and a pair of horses for us to ride to the city of Evermore. I will bring them back as..."
"Actually can you make that three horses?" Damian interrupted. "I'm going to Evermore anyway and I might as well travel with friends."
Marcy laughed and dragged Damian to stand with them in the center of the tavern. He slung an arm around each of them and replied. "Then it's decided! My friends, we are going on an adventure!"
Scarlet couldn't help but smile. What had she ever done to deserve this?
"Thank you." She thought not entirely sure which god she was thanking. Whichever one cared she supposed, she didn't care who was looking down at her, She just hoped that her parents would be proud of her. "I will make you proud dad." She promised herself. "I swear I will find what you wanted me to even if I don't know what it is. I will find it!"