Author's Note: This is the only time I will put an Author's Note in a story—all others will go in my profile. :)

Prologue

"Why does Mother insist on this every year?" Jael asked while he and his brother tramped through the melting snow and emerging grasses.

Phael shrugged. "I haven't the slightest idea," he replied.

All of Cuur--probably all of Nuün, actually--was anxious for what would come tomorrow: the first day of spring. Already, the traditional green ribbons to celebrate this annual event were being hung around the city-state in various captivating patterns. Especially in the center of Cuur. Most families had their own traditions though, and Phael's was no different. His father usually planted the crops for that year in their small garden on the morning of the first day, and the whole family worked to cook a feast for that night.

The day before, however, the children of the family went out to collect the first blooms of the year for a bouquet which would serve as the center piece for the feast. It was Phael's mother who favored this tradition--the rest of them couldn't care less as to whether or not it was continued. Especially the sons, who had to do the collecting.

Which was nearly impossible as hardly any flowers bloomed before the first day of spring.

It was a family tradition though, and as much as the task annoyed them, they could hardly refuse their own mother, so they went though with it every year. Every year, they got mocked by other teens in Cuur, and every year, they ignored the taunts in favor of pleasing their mother. They had much more to fear from angering her than from amusing their peers.

"This is going to take forever," Jael complained. "Look, we'll be much faster if we split up. I'll go that way," he pointed to his left, "and you go that way." He pointed to his right. "We won't go beyond shouting distance of each other, so we'll be able to call each other if we find something. What do you say?"

Phael nodded. "Sounds like a plan," he said before he and his brother parted ways. Left alone with his thoughts, he wondered for the umpteenth time why his mother insisted on this tradition. He thought they should allow the first blooms to grow, not pick them. But he had learned long ago that there was no arguing with his mother, so he did what she said without questioning her.

Being careful not to go to far, he wandered for a bit in the direction in which his brother had directed.

After a few minutes, he still didn't encounter any blooming plants. When his brother and he had been working together, they had only found one plant, and it had been an hour since their mother had sent them on this task. He was starting to wonder if he would ever--

Spots of color--and not green--caught his eye. Heading closer, he discovered that it was a rose bush. A rose bush with multiple, deep red, blooming flowers. It was almost too good to be true. Eagerly, he bent to pick a couple of the flowers. (No more than two though. One of his mother's rules about this tradition was that there be a variety--no more than two of the same flower.)

Gingerly, he reached down into the bush with his left hand to pick one of the flowers. He began to curl his hand around the stem. His pointer-finger began to sting--he realized that in his excitement, he had not been careful to avoid the thorns. He shrugged it off though--what would one little prick do?

He began to pull at the stem, but the flower would just not budge. That was odd--usually they didn't provide that much resistance to pulling. Usually, he would just use a knife, especially since the stem came cleaner that way, but they'd only thought to bring a knife…a knife which was currently with Jael. He simply pulled harder, but the stem still wouldn't budge.

His annoyance was forgotten, however, at the sound of his brother's distant shouts. "Hey Phael, come 'ere! I found some!" Forgetting the roses, he turned and hurried back in the direction of his brother's voice.

His slightly bleeding finger was also forgotten, as was the tiny bead of blood that trickled ominously down the stem of the roze.