Sphene watched Pareu’s steady hand. Words slipped through her mouth, “I don’t know if I can do it.” Pareu brought her hand down as the smile disappeared. “I’m Wiccan’s descendant, but nothing more. I’m not a leader. What if… what if I can’t make the right choices? If I make mistakes, I don’t think I’ll be able to fix them. I wouldn’t even know where to start.”

“Do you know,” Pareu cut her off, “why we wear body paint on ceremonies?” Sphene had long forgotten that story so she shook her head.

“Long ago, the four Children of Gods were great friends and hunted together. It was one evening that Draco became bored of hunting deer and squirrels as they weren’t a challenge to him. That day, he insisted to try to hunt a lion or a dragon as they were ferocious and worthy opponents.

“But the Children of the Gods had made a vow to not kill sacred animals. Lions, wolves, or dragons. So Lily stood up and said that they mustn’t break their vows. And with that, the idea was dismissed. But Draco longed for a challenge. As soon as the Children of the Gods entertained themselves with the hunt, Draco snuck away.

“He found his challenge, a grand male lion lying asleep on the ground. Draco drew his sword and prepared to strike, but even he knew killing a creature in their sleep was a worse crime than killing a man. He grabbed a small black rock and thrust at the beast. The beast awoke and with its deep yellow eyes stared right into his soul. As it saw the boy as no threat, it went back to sleep.

“Draco tossed rocks at the beast, each time with more force. The lion awoke finally, and with a roar, threw himself over Draco. It pinned him to the ground. In terror, he screamed.

“Wiccan heard the scream. He looked around but only found three of the Children of the Gods, and ran to the Draco. Draco was wrestling for his life against the animal when they found him. Leo stepped forward and tried to calm the beast, but it responded with a slash, marking his chest with blood. Wiccan couldn’t stand seeing the other Children of the Gods being harmed, so he pulled his sword and attacked the beast. The beast moved away from Draco and roared at Wiccan. Lily ran to Draco and helped him up, but his arms covered in thick scars.

“The Daughter of the Gods drew her swords and attacked alongside Wiccan. Lily could feel the fear of the creature, but she knew that if she put down her sword, the creature would kill them. In that moment of doubt, the beast slashed her face.

“Wiccan stabbed the creature to distract it so Lily could get away. But the beast was strong. It slashed Wiccan’s arm and pinned him into the ground.” Sphene felt a burning sensation under her arm’s skin. She looked down. For an instant her arm was covered in red blood, but it disappeared as soon as she blinked. Pareu painted four thick branches emerging from the trunk of the tree. She continued, “Draco thrashed forward, and stabbed the beast in the neck. The lion fell, barely able to breathe. Wiccan stood up and raised his sword.

“Lily yell for Wiccan to stop. She plead for him not to break his vows. But they already had. The creature would have died slowly and painfully. They owed it to the Gods to give it a quick death. And so Wiccan stabbed the beast once again and killed it.

“The Children of God bore their shame, self-exiled into the forest for five years. They wore their scars as punishment for their broken vow. When they returned, they painted over their scars a story of the Gods, and each day they would paint it again to ask for forgiveness. That is why we paint our body, as a way to ask for forgiveness to the Gods for all the broken vows during spiritual ceremonies.” Pareu drew smaller branches coming out from the thicker ones, then added more and more. She placed elongated dots around the tree, filling it with foliage. She painted roots over Sphene’s eyebrows and nose. “There is always a way to seek redemption, Sphene. I don’t believe that you will let your kingdom down, but in the off chance you do make an awful mistake, there is always a way to fix it.” She dipped the brush in painted an elongated line over Sphene’s eyelids that framed her eyes.

“If there isn’t?” Sphene muttered.

“Then you can always ask for forgiveness.” She rested the brush on the bowl.

“Are you ready?” Sphene asked, “Are you ready to fight?”

Pareu shook her head, “I don’t know, but I think it’s time to find out.”

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