#00.01 – Emily and Charles

“A Man fell in love with a Phoenix. And the Phoenix fell in love with the Man.
The two sought a place of happiness where they, so different yet similar, could be one.
That was the beginning of the Kingdom of Tomorrow.”

~ History of Cras, Book 1, Chapter 1, Lines 1-3

Before I speak of Cras Credere, it would perhaps be wise of me to speak of our life prior to its founding.

As you all would know by now, my life mostly began in the Human world. Cras was a kingdom that existed beyond Human knowledge, but I knew of this country’s existence through my father, Charles Winters.

He was, to put it simply, a very eccentric man. He had a funny accent, even for someone who lived in New York, and was said to have appeared out of nowhere with a baby girl in tow; no wife, no identification, no family records; just a bag in one hand and my infant-self in another. He looked Caucasian though — that made things easier for him. If I had spoken to any of the young women he attracted to our doorsteps, I would be sure to receive a barrage of praises about how beautiful my father looked, with his light brown hair and bright blue eyes (both of which I inherited from him, not to brag), and a sharp nose and jawline that could probably slice the air around him if he wasn’t careful.

In some ways I figured my father was attractive, but if you had grown up with his random love for poisonous spiders, frequent fashion disasters where he’d mix animal-print pants with rainbow-coloured shirts, and just an inability to understand the difference between degradable and non-degradable trash, much of that ‘beauty’ which the ladies were magnetised by would seem more like a wasted potential than the marks of a dreamy beau.

So yes, anyway, it was my ridiculous father who introduced Cras to me on my fifth birthday.

He returned home rowdy and excited that day; he could barely walk straight before tumbling down onto the carpet. There was a low growl from him, almost like a hiccup, when he began to crawl across the carpet towards a shelf on the other side of the hall. I came out of my room just in time to see him pull out an old leather-bound book from one of the highest drawers.

“I needed the guts to show you this,” he said, his head so near the book it was as though he was leaning against it. He had a smile of glee and pride, though I couldn’t understand if it was because of his baseless courage in taking that ugly book out in front of a 5-year-old, or because he was certain I would like it. “I know you love fairy tales, but how about we read this instead?”

“You stink daddy,” I said.

He then bawled so hard that I had no choice but to apologise.

After putting my father to bed, I had some time alone to browse the book in peace. It did seem rather special on closer inspection. Upon its old, brown leather cover, were gold and silver stitching that formed a tree with giant roots spreading to the back and inside its pages. When I ran my hand across the silver leaves and the golden trunk, I got the light sniff of a flower field, and even a slight summer breeze against my skin. But the windows were closed, and it was already autumn.

“This book is magical!” I thought. I was practically squealing when I opened it up— but that was when my enthusiasm died. The book, despite being so thick, had no images besides a few sketches of maps, a man and a woman, a giant flaming bird, a giant tree, and a castle. At the very last page of the book was something that looked like a crest: a shield with a giant bird bursting out of it, surrounded by roots and branches. Without those, the book was just a codex filled with words I was still too young to read.

“A Man f-fell in lo-lo-love, with a… Po… Pony…? Ponix…? That doesn’t sound right.”

My enthusiasm took a 180° the next morning, when I jumped on the bed of my hungover father and demanded he read the book for me. He looked a little shaken, as though I was a beast, but fulfilled my demands regardless and read the first chapter despite his pulsing headache and urge to bend over and vomit. He did eventually empty out his tummy by the side of the bed, and I spent the rest of the morning cleaning it up for him.

Within the year, I had memorised every single word in the book.

In retrospect, I was quite a scary child. When other kids in my class were still singing “Itsy Bitsy Spider”, I was reciting the contents of this book blindfolded like Mozart did on the piano. No one else had a copy of the History of Cras. I was the one and only. And I loved that.

As my father had promised, he spent each night reading the book like a bedtime story. I would point out each word I couldn’t recognise, demand that he repeated it until I got the sound perfectly, before I was content enough to let him continue. Just like me, my father held passion and love for each chapter and story, as though they were more than just words upon a page… and were a part of the man that made up who he was.

That might have been why he needed “guts” to show me the book. I was almost sorry for taking it from him.

By the age of ten, I had read the book ten times over. I bet none of you were even able to get past the first chapter, were you? But for me, the History of Cras was fascinating. For you, it is just boring old history. For me, it was a fairy tale that could be real.

Humanity was oppressing other races due to their increasing population, and forced the other magical races, referred to as ‘Alius’ by Humans, to go into hiding. Then a Human and a Phoenix fell in love, and decided that they needed a new place for their people to live in harmony. So the Phoenix’s younger brother, who came to be known as the ‘Blue Phoenix’, went to find new land, and sparked the founding of Cras.

As you would know by now, most of the History of Cras was falsely recorded. But for many centuries it was upheld as truth. And for me, a young child who didn’t know better, that book was the truth.

I spent quite a bit of my childhood trying to prove Cras’ existence, be it searching the world maps (I believed that it was around the Bermuda Triangle), trying to swim out as far as I could at sea (that often freaked my father out), or watching world documentaries for any hint of Cras’ existence. At first, adults just found my enthusiasm adorable and innocent, but as I grew older, I was called anti-social and insane for speaking of such fantasies. I grew to learn that ‘Cras’ was not something I should mention aloud in public, but one which I could only speak of when I’m alone with my father and his friend.

Now, this friend of my father’s is someone whom I should really speak of at length, as he came to be an important figure in my life afterwards. He had been around since before I was born, though I never really took note of him until I was about three. He was always wearing suits, even in summer, as though any lighter clothing would undermine his dignity, and wore dark sunglasses that hid his eyes. His hair was a silvery blond, but his skin was tanned and olive, which caused his hair to seem otherworldly in contrast. He never took off his sunglasses unless he was alone with my father, during which I would be able to catch a glimpse of the pale-blue, almost white, colour of his irises. It was no wonder he hid them in public, as he admitted to me several years later.

Oh, his name? Did I forget to mention it? I would think you’d guessed by now. But well, for those who don’t know him, I’ll hold off his real name until later. I’ll refer to him as “Uncle”. For the sake of suspense.

Uncle had an accent about as weird as my father’s, so on that basis I could at least determine that they came from the same background. He and my father often spent time together chatting about things I couldn’t understand; most children would just turn these weird adults away as though they were part of the background, but there was something about Uncle that attracted me — not just his Men in Black getup or his strange hair and eyes — but that he, too, believed that Cras existed.

And it wasn’t that he was being kind to a child, like so many other adults. No, there was something in his tone at which he said it that felt as though it was a fact. Not a lie made to entertain the fantasies of a child. He knew it was a fact. Just like my father.

Because of how pale his irises looked, it was often frightening to stare at him straight in the eyes. Uncle often resolved this either by looking elsewhere when he spoke to me, or physically turning my head away whenever I seemed to be staring too long. He was kind, as most close-friends-of-dads were, but also cool and chivalrous at the same time. He didn’t have a beer-belly or a cigarette habit; in fact, his suit did little to hide his muscular build, and his obsession with maintaining it demanded that he lay off all kinds of drugs. He did, however, turn to alcohol for solace, though that was something I only learned of later.

This same cool and chivalrous Uncle came to my father a month before my tenth birthday with three tickets to a cruise. The dates had matched up with my birthday, and he easily won it at a bet with some rich people who got it for free.

“Poker is more skill than luck, after all,” he said, and held those three tickets out between his index and middle fingers. If he allowed himself to have a cigar between his lips, he would have looked like the ultimate mob boss.

Sorry, I digress again.

Anyway, two day before my birthday, just at the break of dawn, my father and I took a bus with our luggage and headed off to the harbour. Uncle was there, waiting, and the three of us settled into the cruise with just enough time to explore its insides.

The destination was Europe, as stated on the ticket (I kept the remaining half of it in my backpack, along with a pen, a notebook, some cash, and of course, the History of Cras). My father had a combination of excitement and worry for the trip, which I never really understood until it was much too late.

“Coming to us with free tickets… A birthday present of all things…” He mumbled that whenever Uncle left us alone.

I assumed he was just jealous and worried that I would grow more attached to Uncle because of the tickets, but in my heart, nothing could beat the History of Cras as a better birthday present. Of course, you could imagine that I decided to keep that a secret, just to watch how my father would fare for the rest of the trip.

I did eventually realise what my father was anxious about. When I got knocked off the ship two days later and found myself in Cras, the reason was all too obvious.

Our route towards Europe lay right next to where Cras was.

Book 0: Cras Kingdom – TO BE CONTINUED