In a land far, far away, there is a kingdom with a fair and graceful Princess called Kaerae, the joy of all those around her.
And across a vast land of young streams, hills, and plains to the East, there is a much more powerful nation with an ambitious ruler, Emperor Pilaf, who declared an ultimatum.
In fear that a war may break out, the small kingdom sends their Princess to wed Emperor Pilaf.
While the Rice Empire where Emperor Pilaf lives is in the far distance beyond even the horizon, the sun hides behind the thick fog of the route, the coldness creeps from the quiet dewy grass floor, and there is no sound for miles.
It is at this time that a Rice Empire’s proxy stops the moving carriages as they arrive in an odd resting spot that was not there before.
The mansion before them looms of chilling phantoms yet the light inside flickers as someone peeks at them through the window. Suddenly, the door crawls open with a thunderous sound, frightening the intended visitors.
An elderly woman of seemingly kindred spirit leaps through the doorway and greets her long awaited guests, “Welcome handsome travelers. Stay with us for the evening.”
“Don’t mind if we do, madam.” Then the proxy order for the stay as everyone is exhausted from the long journey thus far.
And as retainers of the Rice Empire begin to unload themselves, the elderly woman holds her hands together expectantly, “That carriage seems important, who might be the honored guest?”
“It’s…” The proxy hesitates but when he realizes that it is simply a friendly elder woman, he answers, “A future concubine of the Rice Empire.”
Her old shoulders soften while wearing a dreamy smile, “She must be as beautiful as the setting sun and as gentle as a creek in the spring.”
The proxy nods his head indifferently, “Yes. She must be.”
He goes to the carriage and opens the door for the honored guest.
“She’s the one,” the elderly woman gasps and trembles with anger at her own excitement when she has only seen the foot of the honored guest.
“Please watch your step, Princess,” the proxy holds the Princess’s hand as he steps down from the carriage.
“Where are we?” The Princess asks with a worried smile.
“Somewhere in the Great Plain, Southeast of the Rice Empire. We’re almost there, Princess,” the proxy answers gallantly.
The elderly woman glides toward them as if she did not walk, “Allow this humble old woman to offer the Princess our largest and most luxury room.”
“That is very kinds of you madam,” the proxy lowers his head to show his gratitude.
The Princess nods and smiles when she walks past the host with the proxy by his side.
That evening as darkness falls upon the mansion, there is laughter and celebration in the air. The Princess is kept in a room with routine watch by the Rice retainers and is watched carefully by the elderly woman’s hooded servants.
“I got what you asked for, Mistress,” a hooded servant hurdles in front of the old woman with a leather bag.
“Let me see,” the elderly woman quickly snatches the bag. “I see that you got three strands of her hair, her saliva on this spoon I presume, and… Where’s her fingernails?”
The elderly woman drags her servant into another room and her true form manifests itself through seer anger. Her skin is crackly without the slightest amount of moisture. Her hair seems detached from one another as if not cared for in years.
“I've been preparing for this chance in years without caring for myself and you can’t even get her fingernail?” The hag smacks her hooded servant on the side of the head. “Do you see this skin? Do you see this hair? Do I look like I haven’t dedicated myself for this opportunity?”
“No, Mistress.” the servant answers in a meek and trembling voice.
“You deserve my wrath!” The hag’s long, thin, and bony fingers clenched together and an illuminating light of sap green swims around her fists.
“Fair Mistress!” The hooded servant begs at the hag’s feet, “Please give me another chance!”
The hag laughs hysterically, “You’ve died yet you still fear death? You truly are pathetic.”
“Please give me another chance, fair Mistress,” the hooded servant cowards near the hag’s feet.
“Then go and make sure I don’t need to give you a third try.” The hag turns elderly again and shakes the hood servant off her feet.
After the elderly woman had stormed off to entertain her guests, the hood servant glares tirelessly at the transparent girl sitting at the corner of the room.
She brings her knees close to her chest and mumbles, “Don't do it. Don't help—”
“I can't! I don't want to become nothing!” The hooded servant frowns with the corners of her lips touching the dye of her face.
“Is it worth it?”
“I don't know, but I am certain that I rather live this way for the eternity that I have than face what comes after this,” the hooded servant exits the room with a hardened heart, prepared to do as she was asked.
The girl swifts through the walls until she's in the same room as the Princess. ‘What a beautiful person,’ the little girl thinks to herself. ‘But why is she crying?’
The Princess heaves a gentle sigh and wipes the wet corners of his fiery eyes. He tosses and turns until the wax candle by the bed dies.
Underneath the bed where the Princess sleeps, a hooded servant crawls out. Her hands tremble like a nearby volcano is erupting.
She holds the Princess’s hand with one of her own while the other holds a cutting tool.
The little girl winces away, 'Don't do it. She has done nothing wrong.’
And with a simple motion, the hooded servant is saved by the piece of nails she clipped from the Princess.
The hooded servant breathes slowly as she stares at the helpless Princess before her with dilated eyes.
“You mustn't. At least not yet,” the little girl reveals her hiding spot, wearing a terrified expression.
“Why? She needs to die if the Mistress is to replace her,” the hooded servant narrows her brows.
“But if she dies before the Mistress could replace her, wouldn't those people be suspicious? What if they come to check on the Princess while the potion is being made?”
The hooded servant balls her fist. She takes a deep breath, “Alright then. I'll come back to kill her after the potion is made.”
Then the hooded servant evaporates into dark smokes that disperse like the wind.
“I guess it's okay that my mum replaces you since you're not even happy to marry him,” the little girl stands by the bed.
She reaches for the fiery hair, “You got such beautiful hair.”
“Who are you?” The Princess wakes up from the cold air that the little girl projects.
“You can see me?” The little girl asks nervously.
“Am I not supposed to see you?” The Princess raises his eyebrows, revealing the gem like ruby eyes.
“No? Not unless you're dead,” the girl sucks in her lips with widened eyes.
The Princess shrugs his shoulders, “Well… My future is practically dead already.”
“Why? You're so pretty?”
The Princess chuckles and touches his face, “Well, this isn't my face. I'm here in place of my sister, the Princess who's supposed to marry Emperor Pilaf.”
“Oh no. No. No. No.” The little girl grabs her face, “Then we've been tricked… Are you really not the Princess?”
“Nothing. It's nothing for you to worry about,” the little girl marches nervously back and forth. “Then who are you, really?”
The Princess averts his eyes, “You're not going to tell anyone? I know you're a ghost so—anyway, promise that you won't tell anyone?”
The little girl nods.
“I'm the real Princess's brother, Phelan. And you are?”
“My mum calls me Anastasia,” the little girl nods nervously. “She's definitely going to kill you if she finds out you're not the real Princess. What am I saying? She'll kill you regardless!”
“Who's going to kill me?”
Anastasia bites her bottom lip, “You don't want to know… Do you want to marry the Emperor?”
“I have to,” Phelan knits his brows tightly. “He will have many concubines, I just have to lay low for the rest of his life to save my country.”
“What if you're replaced? Do you still want to live? Do you still want to marry the Emperor?”
“No. I can't burden anyone else with my responsibilities—”
The little girl glares into the ruby eyes, “My mum is going to kill you anyway. Do you want to marry the Emperor still?”
“No. I don't want to marry him, but it's my—”
“Then it's settled! My mum will be coming to kill you any minute now. I'll show you the way to leave and never come back,” Anastasia pulls back to gestures for Phelan to follow her.
“I can't leave. I need to fulfill my duties—”
“Dumbass! Go or else my mum's going to kill you!” Anastasia clicks her tongue angrily. “You're not even the real Princess, just go and start a new life. Don't worry about fulfilling your duties because my mum is going to kill the Emperor anyway. I pity you! Now quit being a baby and follow me.”
As Phelan parts his lips to retort, Anastasia covers his mouth with her cold hands and stares at the slit of orange light underneath the door.
Two shadows cut the single slit of orange light into three.
On the other side of the door, the elderly woman whispers, “I heard you young lads are going to eat dinner?”
“Yes. We will be going to eat dinner,” the young lads answer with a monotone voice and then step away.
Anastasia and Phelan hear someone drink a large slime like liquid and then see green gas swirls through the cracks of the door.
“Look at me. I am a beauty,” Phelan hears his sister’s voice on the other side of the door.
“We need to leave now!” The little girl whispers to Phelan.
Without thinking, Phelan grabs a small box on the stand next to his bed and follows Anastasia out of the mansion under the cover of night.
The fog also hides them well.
Phelan follows the little girl until he sees a flaming green ball fly pass his face with more incoming.
The fright makes him trip and fall into a muddy ravine that slides him elsewhere entirely.
“Phelan! Phelan!” The little girl calls because the fog is yet to be lifted.
“H—Here!” Phelan manages to say as he gobbles up the blood in his mouth.
“Phelan!” Anastasia drops to her knees. “What happened? You're supposed to be free.”
The man looks down at his stomach that has been impaled by a tree root. He laughs while holding the mystery box in his hand, “I guess I was going to die anyway tonight.”
“Don't say that. You don't want to live the life of a ghost,” Anastasia knits her brows pitifully. “I really don't want my mum to become a murderer because she's not one.”
“Consider this an accident,” Phelan closes his ruby eyes.
“I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to lead you to your death, Phelan. I'm just like my mum,” Anastasia awaits the tears to fall from her eyes.
“Then fulfill my last wish,” he coughs more blood.
“What is it?”
The fog begins to lift slowly and Phelan can see Anastasia’s childish face. He looks at the box on his dying hand, “Become my sister and save my country from war.”
“You needn't worry about that. My mum is going to kill the Emperor anyway.”
Phelan stares up into the heavens as the waxed moon glares down at him. He speaks slowly, “He's not going to die that easy, so before then make sure my country stays safe. I cannot fail my sister.”
Then a green light sparks in the distance so Phelan gestures at the box with only his eyes, “Please. Do not let my people die in the struggle between your mum and the Emperor. If you don't do this for me, more innocent deaths will be in your hands.”
“But!” Anastasia struggles to accept the guilt Phelan said in his dying breath. She turns to see the ever shimmering green light and takes the box with her as she runs away in the opposite direction.