Three years earlier:
Dead soldiers from across the seas lie strewn across the northern flank of the Kulon Forest. The warriors loot the slain and drag them to giant mounds for burning. The Jupami have won another victory, but eighteen-year-old Domu finds no joy in the moment.
Two days earlier, his marriage proposal had been rejected. The sting of that refusal still burns. More shame. The guilt of failing to prevent his brother’s crippling injury had hounded him for eleven long years. Every time he sees Maruli’s crooked shoulder, he relives that moment of inaction—that fraction of a second where he had hesitated—and spikes of remorse sink deeper into his heart. For months, he has toyed with the idea of joining the exodus. The threat of permanent banishment from his family and tribe holds him back.
“But what is my life among my people?” he mutters under his breath, kicking at the ground with his bare feet.
On impulse, he strips a foreigner of his clothes when no one is watching and slips them into his bag along with other valuables. Then, as dusk approaches, he volunteers to take a boat laden with spoils back to Kulon. The first to depart, he rides the swift southerly currents of the Cibanten River toward Kulon and approaches under the cover of night. He lies low in the stern for hours, counting the provisions in the bow, wondering how long they’ll hold him over. When he reaches his village, he doesn’t stop. All throughout the night hours, he passes through the forest. When dawn approaches, he reaches the coastal trading village of Merak.
He is outside the Kulon Forest. He has done the unthinkable. He is now a Forsaken, and there is no turning back.