Note: This is the pre-edited version of the Prologue and is subject to change.
Haven’t you ever dreamed about escaping?”
“More times than there are stars in a midnight sky,” said Dezhan Osei, his bright silver eyes peering out through a window into the lamp-lit streets beyond. “But if we all just ran away whenever times got tough, then who would be left to stay and fight?”
Turning to face his younger sister, Shani, Dezhan could perceive little more than her own silver eyes staring back at him in the darkness of their cavernous front hall. Yet they were hardly alone, for not far behind her, dozens of other eyes sparkled brilliantly in the seemingly infinite void, their shapeless masters concealed almost entirely by both cloaks and spectral shadows.
“I want to thank you all for coming,” Dezhan said somberly. “I know just how high a price we may all too soon be forced to pay. You could have all just remained in hiding or outright ignored my calls for help, yet here you are… each and every one of you prepared to risk your lives or more to try and save an innocent soul.”
Walking slowly through the crowd, Dezhan maintained a tightened grip upon a long defensive staff that he had carved out of a lustrous obsidian wood–though it was not at all the type of wood one might find in any typical forest. Far from it. With shimmering flecks of every color sparkling even in the darkness, the staff more closely resembled a long, ornately etched crystal than any boring old branch made of greenwood. No, this particular staff was made from something far more precious: the heart-like core of an ancient and exceedingly rare variety of Ildarwood.
“Tonight, should the Heavens have mercy, I will once again become a father,” Dezhan continued. “Only this time, I refuse to let one of those white-winged monsters come and take our child’s soul. Not again. Not like they’ve done now twice before. Tonight we must make our stand, no matter the cost, and we must show them all that we will never again surrender our children in the name of their self-righteous faith!”
Yet despite his stirring remarks, not a single sound did those there gathered risk uttering in support, for none amongst them dared heap any further trouble upon the treacherous airs that surrounded them that night. After all, they could never know for certain just how far their impassioned words might fly upon the invisible winds of the spectral realm.
“Now, we have prepared for this night for months,” said Dezhan, his eyes finding those of everyone around him, one pair at a time. “And we have spent every last Starling we have to try and prevent anyone outside these walls from sensing the exact moment that our baby is born… but if they do, then we must all be prepared for what comes next. Should the Astyrians come, then they will show no mercy, and they will stop at nothing until the child is found, even if that means destroying each and every soul that they encounter along the way.”
Then Dezhan shook his head defiantly, for he refused to accept any such outcome. “We cannot let that happen,” he insisted, his sister watching on with pride. “The only thing that matters tonight is getting that baby out into the safety of the Ildarwood as quickly as we can, even if the rest of us can’t safely follow. Only within those woods will our child stand any real chance at a normal, healthy life until this war is finally over and every last Astyrian has been cast out from the Selyrian Union once and for all!”
And as those final words echoed all throughout the halls of the Osei family home, Dezhan could see the sparkling glow of every pair of eyes in the room grow ever brighter, the fury within each of their spirits at least achieving its fevered peak. For far too long, they had all suffered beneath the ruthless oppression of the Astyrian Empire and their endless pursuit of a world filled entirely with only the purest living souls.
Only once Dezhan completed his speech did he turn his attention at last to the enormous Ildarwood tree growing up through the center of his home. Three stories tall with bark like rough hewn obsidian, the towering structure had sprawling branches adorned with hundreds of silver glasslike leaves that glowed gently in the night. High above, a brightly burning sphere of silver spectral energy rotated slowly in place within an eight-windowed structure rising up from the apex of the roof. Yet only from directly below the home’s great domed Asterport could the radiant Ildarstar trapped within still be seen on that particular night, for the thick spectral darkness flowing throughout the Osei family home had been conjured for one singular purpose–to limit all outside perception of every last person hiding within.
“Master Osei,” a man called out suddenly from the corridor nearby. Wearing a pristine gray jacket with an elaborate heart-shaped symbol embroidered onto his left breast pocket, Gemino Verdani had the face and deep voice of a man in his fifties, though he was hardly the first Selyrian soldier Dezhan had encountered who had aged well beyond his years–no doubt thanks the endless rigors of war.
“Is it time?” Dezhan asked nervously while hurrying toward him.
“I believe so,” Gemino anxiously replied before wiping his forehead with a damp cloth.
“And you’re absolutely certain she’ll be okay?”
“At this point, I’m not entirely certain I will even survive the trip back down all those stairs,” Gemino replied before turning to leave, “but I certainly hope so.”
“Hang on! What do you mean, you hope so?”
“For the very last time sir, I am a medic not a midwife. Do you really think I happened across that many women mid-labor amidst the fields and forests of battle?”
“Well, no, of course not, but… you said you had at least some prior experience with expecting mothers.”
“Indeed I do. But as you seemed quite desperate at the time, I did not think it prudent to mention that the vast majority of my experience was on a farm raising goats. Now, does that in any way make you feel better?”
“Exceedingly worse, actually,” Dezhan replied as a sudden bout of lightheadedness suddenly washed over him.
“Hence my discretion. Now, is there anything else? Or shall I return to fray, as it were?”
“No, no, by all means, go ahead,” Dezhan said anxiously. “But whatever you do, just… please don’t tell Nenika anything about the goats, either tonight or ever really… or I’m afraid she might never speak to me again.”
“As you wish,” said Gemino, then he respectfully bowed his head before vanishing back into the unlit hall.
Trembling with trepidation, Dezhan turned back towards those who had come to defend his family and took a deep breath before speaking again. “If any of you want to leave, this will be your last chance to go. Just know that I will think no less of you if you do.”
“Well, I certainly will,” his sister boldly replied. Walking towards Dezhan, Shani could offer little more than her hand on his shoulder and a few kind words to reassure him–at least until true danger finally arrived at their door. “Nenika will be okay. I know it,” she insisted. “Besides, it’s not like she hasn’t already done this twice before.”
“It’s not the labor that concerns me,” Dezhan confessed. “It’s what comes after. Nenika is the strongest woman I know–”
“Except for me,” Shani swiftly interrupted.
“–except maybe for you,” said Dezhan. “But you didn’t have to see what she went through after the Astyrians came and took her babies away both times before. When the first one was born, we saw the small black stone he was holding in his tiny little hands, and we knew then and there that the Astyrians would never allow him to see the light of day–not with what they would consider to be an irreparably tarnished soul. But what got us through all those sleepless nights that followed was the hope that our second child would be born holding either a red or blue stone, like one of us. Then when she came out holding a birthstone even darker than her brother’s… well, I’m amazed Nenika’s soul didn’t end up shattered at first sight of it, then and there, let alone once the Astyrians finally came and found her.”
“No one should ever have to see someone they love end up Broken right in front of them,” said Nenika. “For someone to spend the rest of their life without a soul… I mean, that’s barely even a life at all.”
“I agree,” said Dezhan, his thoughts drifting back to the two lost children who had suffered precisely that fate. And so painful still were those scars upon his soul that Dezhan could not help but surrender two shimmering silver tears that glowed gently in the night. Falling swiftly from his ebony cheeks, one right after the other, they survived for only an instant before evaporating into an almost invisible spectral mist. Then for several moments thereafter, Dezhan and Shani watched as the sparkling specks lingered in the air with a haunting allure. Such was the spellbinding beauty of the single most precious substance in all the world: Sil-Verilium, or Silver for short… the lifeblood of all souls.
Only for a moment did the ghostly mist linger in their presence before moving suddenly past Shani in the direction of the Ildarwood tree. Ever so slowly, the flickering flecks flowed and weaved like a freshborn stream as it followed some imperceptible path toward the sea. Then they surged into the tree’s mighty trunk, causing all of the tree’s silver leaves to glow just the slightest bit brighter, even if only for a moment.
“We will win,” Shani insisted. “I promise.”
“We have to,” Dezhan replied, his attention shifting back toward the stairs which lead down into the cellar. For even from that great distance, Dezhan could sense all of the pain and fear erupting from his wife’s aching spirit with nearly as much intensity as if they were his own. Desperate to go down and support her, he knew he could offer no true assistance by her side–not when the greatest threat to their family could arrive at any moment.
“It’s happening,” Dezhan whispered, causing Shani’s eyes to widen with concern. It was the first true sign of apprehension that he had seen his sister show in years. After all, in his mind Shani had always been the stronger of the two of them, and where Nenika had brought levity and joy into his life, Shani had always been his rock. His fieresome little fighter. The one who would immediately put him in his place whenever he did or said something even remotely out of line, yet also the first to defend him whenever he was in need of her strength and her support. So to see the fear in her eyes at that moment was all the evidence he needed to finally come to terms with the true immensity of the risk they were all taking that night.
Overwhelmed both by a paralyzing fear and endless doubts for what felt to him like a brief eternity, Dezhan knew that only a single sign from below could offer him some momentary relief. Then at long last came an invisible surge of a warm, exhilarating energy that swept suddenly through the house, announcing to all there gathered that an innocent new soul had finally been born. And in that instant, Dezhan had become a father once again.
“Congratulations, Dezhan,” Shani offered as tears welled up in her eyes. “She did it.”
Exhaling with relief, Dezhan could barely contain his joy as he basked in the radiant afterglow of the phenomena, which left subtle trails of glittering spectral energy all over the house in its wake. Yet only once he observed their ghostly glamor did he realize with utmost terror that the moment he had been dreading for nearly a year was finally upon him.
With his heart racing faster by the minute, Dezhan split his attention between the home’s barricaded front door and the darkened hallway leading down into the cellar. But from which direction terrible news might come first, he did not know. Desperate to ask the only question that seemed to matter most, he contemplated racing down to greet his newborn child, even if only for a few brief seconds. But before that urge became utterly insurmountable, a pair of sparkling silver eyes appeared at the top of the cellar stairs.
Wiping the sweat from his brow once more, Gemino wasted little time in announcing the exciting news that all had been so eager to hear. “It’s a boy, and I’m delighted to say, he’s healthy. And so too is the mother.”
Gasps of joy echoed through the main hall as Dezhan’s guests celebrated the joyous announcement, but alas, neither Dezhan nor his sister were among them, for one single urgent question still needed to be answered, and it simply could not wait.
“What color was it?”
“I beg your pardon?” Gemino gasped with alarm.
“Not the baby, the stone,” Shani clarified with annoyance.
“Oh, yes, of course. That,” Gemino replied, his handkerchief once more finding its way to his dewy brow. “I am very sorry to say this, Mr. Osei, but I’m afraid it’s just as you both feared. The baby’s birthstone was entirely black.”
A sudden gasp from Shani followed as a deep and heartstopping numbness swept across Dezhan’s entire body. He could barely breathe. He could hardly think. Then the cold realization of his new reality began to hit him at last. From that moment on, every life in that house would never again be the same, and he alone was entirely to blame.
“Nenika…” he managed, thinking desperately of his poor wife. In his heart, he could sense her utter sorrow, and more than anything else in the world, he just wanted to go down and comfort her, even if only for a few brief seconds. But alas his time had run out.
From the Ildarstar high above, a droning noise began to sound to announce the arrival of an unwanted guest somewhere outside. And when the warning did nothing to dissuade the approaching intruder, the ever-burning sphere began to spin more rapidly, radiating powerful pulses of raw spectral energy to try and push them forcefully away. But much to Dezhan’s dismay, such measures were of little consequence to the most determined of souls.
“Weapons, now!” Shani ordered, her attention turning in the direction of a blinding white light that had begun to pour in through every window along the front of the house. Only once the darkness within the cavernous front hall was entirely dispelled could Dezhan finally appreciate the grandeur of the guardians he had summoned to protect his family that night. Protected by swords and shields, armor, arrows, and more–each and every piece carefully crafted from a lustrous spectral glass–the defenders were all more than prepared for the battle ahead, even if it was one they could not easily win.
“Go to her,” Shani insisted, turning to her brother one last time. “We will hold them off for as long as we can.”
“No,” said Dezhan, his Ildarwood staff gripped even more tightly than before. “You know what Mama and Papa always said. So long as we always stand together, nothing in the world can ever stop us. I just really hope they were right.”
“Well, I guess we’re about to find out…”
And so the time had finally come. Not since the end of his Trials had Dezhan allowed the hard-earned balance within his soul to sway so completely back toward the one spectral element it had been aligned to since birth. Yet in that moment, he had no other choice but to proceed. Closing his eyes, he recalled the frigid rush he had always experienced whenever he permitted the power of pure Frostwater to flow through him. More than any other substance drawn directly from the spirit realm, it was the one most capable of draining every last trace of energy from a living soul.
Opening his eyes once more, he revealed to his younger sister their bright blue hue, while in her eyes he saw the golden glow of an altogether different spectral element–the one she had struggled to control since the day that she was born. It was her gift and her curse, after all–an alignment toward Goldenfire, the ultimate source of all passion and rage in every spirit in the world.
Together, their two souls balanced each other perfectly, giving Dezhan and his sister hope that they might just survive the night ahead, so long as they continued to stand firmly at each other’s side.
“Here they come,” Shani announced, both of her daggers at the ready.
Then at last came the echoing thuds of three loud booms as the Astyrian outside firmly pounded against the family’s Ildarwood door. It would be the soldier’s one and only attempt at civility, and as soon as it was clear that no answer from within would come, they would have no choice but to force their way in.
“Brace and shade!” Shani shouted as she covered her eyes. Seconds later, a cloud of spectral darkness surged toward the door to try and diminish the corrosive effects of pure spectral light upon an unprotected soul. And though the guardians within were kept safe–if only for a moment–the entrance to the Osei family home most certainly was not. Crumbling into a fine spectral dust, the door and front wall did not stand a chance against such formidable power, and Dezhan could only hope that he and his defenders would somehow fare better in the face of yet another such attack.
Peering through the remnants of the darkness left lingering in the air of the home’s exposed front hall, Dezhan could barely see the subtle shape of the enemy standing outside. With blinding white eyes and enormous wings made of pristine white Ildarglass, the Astyrian more closely resembled some great yet sinister angel than an armed and armored agent of a ruthless enemy force.
“Bring us the child,” the Astyrian beckoned, her voice made all the more ominous by the distortive effects of her Ildarglass helm.
In response, a volley of Ildarglass arrows soared into the air from behind armored railings high up on the home’s second floor. Yet all it took was an outstretched hand from the soldier to project a shield of pure Asterlight in front of her, dissolving every last projectile before it could even hit its mark.
“Pathetic,” the soldier scoffed before finally stepping inside. And from that moment on, her vengeance was swift. With little more than a flex of her enormous wings, a barrage of Ildarglass feathers shot forth, colliding with an assortment of shields before striking a handful of targets, Dezhan’s sister among them.
“Shani! Are you all right?” Dezhan implored after watching her fall to one knee.
“It’s okay, I’m fine!” Shani insisted, her left shoulder lightly grazed by the jagged shard. Yet no damage was there upon her skin, for such was the extraordinary nature of Ildarglass–it could only ever harm a soul.
Staring down at the shimmering stream of Silver flowing out from the open wound, Dezhan held his hand over the source of his sister’s suffering to try and freeze it shut. And though the frigid sting of Frostwater was far more agonizing for Shani than the wound itself, Dezhan knew from experience how effective that particular element could be at numbing one’s pain.
“I hope you’re ready for a fight,” he told her as the Silver flow subsided at last, leaving behind a lingering mist that surged swiftly towards the soldier who had caused the spectral wound.
In response, Dezhan’s beloved sister stared back up at him with eyes far brighter and more golden than he had ever seen before. “Aren’t I always?”
Then together they raced toward the Astyrian, joining the fray at last and fighting to defend the life of the newborn child in the cellar below. In the moments that followed, Ildarglass weapons and armor collided with unbridled fury as flashes of every color lit up the night. But with each passing minute, more and more of Dezhan’s defenders fell to the Astyrian’s unrelenting wrath, leaving soon only a handful of them left between the soldier and Dezhan’s infant son.
“We can’t beat her like this,” Shani shouted over the mayhem. “You need to use the tree, now!”
Stunned by her words, Dezhan turned his attention back toward the Ildarwood tree which had protected his family and their home ever since he was a little boy. And though the very thought of sacrificing its life brought him immeasurable pain, he could conceive of no other means of defeating the ruthless invader inside his home.
Racing toward the tree as the last of his defenders held the Astyrian soldier at bay, Dezhan knew that his time had run out. So as soon as he had arrived beside it, he placed his hand upon its shimmering black bark and clenched his eyes tightly shut as he channeled every last drop of the Frostwater flowing throughout his soul directly into the tree’s mighty trunk. Then his stomach began to churn as great glowing fissures exploded upward from that spot, each and every one of them full of radiant pale blue crystals.
Weakened by the desperate exchange, Dezhan collapsed onto his knees as he watched every branch and every sparkling Ildarglass leaf crumble and wither before his eyes. Then he turned his attention upward and stared as the family’s protective Ildarstar surrendered what was left of its remaining spectral energy into a raging whirlpool of radiant mist that flowed down into the tree. Only with their combined strength could Dezhan’s final defense stand any chance at success.
“Get out of the way!” Dezhan shouted as Ildarwood roots erupted up through the cold Ildarstone floor of the home’s front hall and began racing toward the Astyrian soldier. Then once they reached her at last, she could not possibly break free of the frost-filled tendrils, no matter how hard she fought.
“You will not win!” she wailed as she released beams of pure Asterlight from both hands, only to watch in horror as they failed to secure her release. Drained of her power by the intense spectral cold, she was left numb and defenseless in a tangle of roots–a weakened remnant of her former glorious strength.
Only then did Shani dare limp toward the restrained woman, armed with only a single Ildarglass dagger. “You came here to destroy an innocent soul, but it looks like yours will be the one that ends up shattered tonight instead.”
“That child’s soul is not innocent!” the soldier shouted defiantly.
“Neither is yours,” Shani replied before plunging the dagger deep into the woman’s heart–the ultimate root of most living souls–sending a shockwave of bright spectral light surging out in all directions and knocking everyone in the room to the floor in the process. The battle, it seemed, had been won–even if only for the moment.
“I can’t believe that actually worked,” Dezhan gasped, barely able to stand from his utter exhaustion.
“Really? Now you tell me?” Shani asked with astonishment from the pile of debris where she had landed. Then both glanced in the direction of the fallen soldier, who appeared cold and lifeless on the ground in an endless tangle of crumbling roots. All around her, millions of miniscule crystals were left scattered across the floor–the final remnants of her once terrifying wings.
“Why don’t you go check on Nenika, and your son,” Shani insisted, her eyes finding Dezhan’s as both pairs slowly returned to their normal silver hues. “I’ll try to get everyone I can into one of the tunnels before a flock of her foul friends shows up. Just do me a favor and tell that grumpy old medic to hurry back up here and help.”
“You got it,” Dezhan replied, finally breathing a sigh of relief.
Limping into the corridor that led down into an old stone stairwell, Dezhan knew that time was of the essence. He would not have long to prepare his family for a hasty escape. Following the winding stone stairs down into the ancient cellar, he then made his way through a veritable labyrinth of passages before arriving at last within the well-hidden chamber where rested his beloved wife.
“Did it work?” Nenika asked from her bed, her eyes still flooded with glistening tears of distress.
“I think so,” Dezhan replied before hurrying over to give her a hug so strong that he feared he might break her with the pure desperation of his love.
“What about Shani?”
“She’s a little beat up from the fight, but you know her. She’ll be bragging about her war wounds just as soon as she can find someone to listen.”
“Not to interrupt this tender moment,” said Gemino, “but I believe there’s someone here you need to meet.”
And that was the precise moment when Dezhan finally allowed himself to fall in love again. Staring across the room, he could barely believe his eyes as the exhausted older man carried over Dezhan’s newborn son. With skin just as dark as his father’s and a head of curly black hair, the baby still clenched within his tiny hands a small polished stone made of the blackest Ildarglass that Dezhan had ever seen.
“He’s beautiful,” Dezhan said with a gasp before taking the baby into his arms at last. It was a moment even more magical than he had always dreamed, and one he could only hope would last forever.
“Brother…” Shani said breathlessly after appearing in the doorway.
“I’m sorry to keep you waiting,” Dezhan replied without looking up. "Medic Verdani, would you mind helping my sister tend to the wounded upstairs?”
But the next thing Dezhan heard was the terrified scream of his wife as Shani collapsed onto the floor. Rushing over to his sister with his son still held tightly in his arms, he could hardly understand what might have happened. But once he rolled her over to inspect her once radiant eyes, he saw the very thing he feared above all else. Within seconds, the brilliant gold of her eyes had narrowed more and more until only a single black dot remained. Then a burst of invisible energy surged out of her, and that was when he knew for certain that Shani’s fiery spirit had somehow been destroyed.
His beloved sister was Broken.
Crying out in pain, Dezhan knew precisely what kind of fate would await her. To have a body without a soul was to live a life without emotion or true purpose. It was far from the future he had always dreamed of for his feisty little sister, and not at all the fate that she deserved. Yet he could only blame himself for what happened. The only question that remained was how it had even happened at all.
Staring back into the passageway, Dezhan felt his heart freeze with terror upon seeing the wingless Astyrian soldier alive and struggling to stand with her Ildarglass sword clenched firmly in one hand.
“I told you, you will not win,” she said, though it pained her greatly to do so. “Now, give me that child so I can cleanse its tainted soul!”
“You can’t have him!” Dezhan shouted before handing off the baby to Nenika and then reaching for his staff. Only this time, he had no Frostwater left inside of himself to use against her.
“Give me a sword!” Nenika demanded, leaving Gemino to try and hold her down.
“You can’t possibly be serious,” he replied. “You just had a baby!”
“Don’t you think I know that?” Nenika shouted. “I’m the one that had it! Now bring me a sword!”
“It won’t make a difference,” said the Astyrian. “I’ve already called for reinforcements. In a matter of minutes, you’ll be outnumbered, and your souls will all be purged.”
“Take one more step, and I swear to the Heavens I will finish what my sister started!” said Dezhan.
“The Heavens hear nothing from the likes of you,” the Astyrian replied before blasting Dezhan across the room with a bright burst of Asterlight. Then she stood quiet for a moment and savored every last ounce of his suffering.
“We need to get you into the tunnel,” Gemino whispered to Nenika, but before she could even respond, the Astyrian broke free from her momentary trance and pointed her sword directly at the trembling, sweat-drenched man.
“Step aside, Medic. You can mend their bodies when I’m done with them.”
“I… I won’t let you hurt her,” Gemino stammered. Placing himself between the Astyrian and Nenika. “Not while she’s still my patient.”
“You had your warning,” the Astyrian replied, then with a single gesture, she released another pulse of light that sent Gemino soaring backwards into a table nearby, nearly crippling him on impact.
All the while, Nenika could do little more than hold her baby tightly and pray to whatever wayward spirits might be listening that they might somehow intervene–if not on her behalf, then at the very least on her newborn son’s. Yet even with her eyes clenched tightly shut, she could sense the Astyrian hobbling towards her. Step by step. Inch by terrifying inch. Soon, Nenika could even sense the woman’s hand reaching towards her. But only in that moment did a deafening crack echo throughout the room, leaving Nenika to open her eyes and wonder what had happened.
“I told you I’d finish what my sister started,” Dezhan said with a huff before dropping the shattered remnant of his staff and breathing a momentary sigh of relief as he watched the Astyrian collapse onto the floor. “I suspect she won’t stay down for long, so I think it’s finally time that we call for Adisa.”
Holding back tears, Nenika shook her head, but deep down she knew that she had no other choice. Kissing her son on the forehead one last time, she reluctantly handed the precious bundle off to his father, then she watched as the man she loved gave the child one final kiss as well.
Bouncing the infant gently in his arms, Dezhan hurried over an exposed Ildarwood root protruding from the wall and grabbed ahold of it firmly. “Wither and fall,” he ordered, causing hundreds of roots hidden within to untangle and withdraw, releasing thick clumps of dirt and a large assortment of rough hewn stones at Dezhan’s feet. In their wake, an unlit passage was revealed beyond, and from the darkness within, a pair of shining silver eyes appeared far off in the distance.
“It’s okay, Adisa,” Dezhan called out. “You can come out now.”
Moments later, a dark-skinned young girl emerged from the shadows, a look of immense fear worn heavily upon her face. Barely fourteen years old, she had been told almost nothing about her mission–save for how important it was, and what she was supposed to do if she was called.
“Do you remember what we told you?” Dezhan asked calmly. “You just need to take him back into the Ildarwood with you and make it all the way home without getting caught. Understand?”
Nodding nervously, Adisa took the baby from Dezhan’s arms with utmost caution, then she began to rock him gently as he at last began to wail. “What’s his name?” she asked softly, her gaze instinctively finding the child’s mother.
“You can call him Tevaun, after my grandfather,” Nenika replied, one brief smile appearing upon her face before she stared lovingly into her husband’s eyes. “And we will raise him as an Osei, like Dezhan.”
“Tevaun Osei,” the young girl recited. “I think it’s perfect.”
“Just like him,” Nenika replied, her heart breaking more with each passing second.
“You’d better go, now,” Dezhan insisted after taking one final moment to run a single finger along the baby’s soft cheek. “We’ll have to seal the tunnel to the Ildarwood behind you.”
“I think it’s time for us all to go,” Gemino managed, one hand held firmly against the small of his back as he struggled to stand once more.
“Is it safe for her to walk?” asked Dezhan.
“How should I know?” Gemino replied as he stumbled to Nenika’s side. “How many times must I remind you, I’m–”
“A medic not a midwife,” Dezhan grumbled. “I know, I know. We’re all very much aware now, thank you. Now can you please help her up?”
Nodding through his pain, Gemino aided Nenika as she eased herself out of bed, while across the room, Dezhan helped his soulless sister to her feet.
“Do you think he’ll be okay?” Nenika asked, very nearly overwhelmed by the sheer intensity of her pain as she struggled to make her way over to the secret passage. “I mean, are you sure he’ll actually be able to survive out there without us?”
“Adisa’s family will take good care of him,” Dezhan replied. “He’ll be protected, and he’ll be loved, which are the two most important things in the world for him right now.”
“And you’re sure we can’t go with him?” It was not the first time she uttered those heart wrenching words that night, nor would it be the last.
So Dezhan stared deep into his wife’s eyes and said, “Our time in the Ildarwood ended a long time ago, and even if we could find someone who could bind our souls to it again, those woods wouldn’t allow us to remain inside for very long… not after all these years. But Adisa’s family never left, so as long as he’s in there with them, the Astyrians won’t be able to find him. Not without a way to trace his soul.” And with those last few words, Dezhan held up the blackened stone once held by his newborn son.
“Come back here!” the Astyrian woman bellowed from beside Nenika’s bed, her voice far more strained than before.
“We need to collapse the entrance to both tunnels,” Dezhan insisted. “Now, before she tries to follow.”
The time had finally come. And so, with the heaviest of hearts, Dezhan and Nenika Osei stared off into the darkness of the passageway leading all the way out into the Ildarwood. Then for one brief moment, they saw young Adisa’s bright, sparkling eyes staring back at them.
“It’s okay,” Adisa called out. “I’ll keep him safe.”
Shedding just a few more tears, Dezhan and Nenika said their goodbyes in the hopes that they would soon see their son again. Then they walked just a few feet into a second passageway–one which led instead to a safehouse elsewhere in the city–and with a single thought, Dezhan grabbed ahold of the nearest Ildarwood root and willed the entrance to both tunnels to collapse, sealing them in and cutting them off from both the Astyrian and his son.
Left behind in the second secret passage, Dezhan, Nenika, Gemino, and Shani lingered there in the darkness. And in the midst of a deafening silence, Dezhan and Nenika prayed that Tevaun and Adisa both would make it all the way back to safety before the night was through.
They had no way of knowing what terrible affliction the events of that night would leave upon Tevaun’s precious little soul.
If you enjoyed this Prologue, the full version of
The Trials of Ildarwood: Fall of the Forsaken
is available for pre-order here:
Amazon Kindle | Apple | Nook
ALL EDITIONS INCLUDE:
11 Illustrated Chapters | 290 Pages of Story
Map of Silvermarsh | Appendix of Lore
Chapter illustration by David Perez. Concept art illustrations by @izizallart.