Prologue - A New World

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Tall pillars of blackened glass doth stand,

Wrought by those of magic.

A portal's gate to the foreign land,

Evils of which brought naught but havoc.

Be wary young children; stray not too near,

Or be sucked inside—exposed to its fear.

Beyond the between whose dark makes you blind,

Lay ghastly horrors of a monstrous kind.

~

Irelia inhaled deeply, allowing the cave's damp air to fill her. It smelled of seawater and rock. Though comforting, it did little to dampen the voices in her mind—voices that plagued her for months since the turn of her thirteenth year. Even now her mind throbbed against them, fighting them. She placed her palm against her flushed face whilst holding a torch aloft in her other hand. Only then did she glance about, plotting a path with her eyes, which her slippered feet soon followed down to the floor of the cave.

This was her chance to escape her insanity. Another opportunity might not present itself, especially under the careful eyes of her kenna. Fear gave her pause. She stopped to listen before glancing about, only to find darkness. Nothing but the trickle of water could be heard. After several moments, she continued forward.

Two tall pillars loomed before her, their mirror-like black surfaces dancing beneath the flame of her torch. The symbols upon them appeared to flicker and transform in the firelight. She reached forward, tracing her fingers along the ruins. These markings represented the old way of writing: The Aldinn Málasarlaí was a dying language, though its magic would remain the same. Its symbols were imbued with the forces necessary to transport her away from this accursed place.

A tumbling rock stilled her heart as it echoed through the cave. She pulled her hand away from the pillars and turned about, lifting her torch high, glancing around for an unseen pursuer. Only stillness met her regard. Sighing, she shook her head, attempting to push her mother's words from her mind, "My dearest Irelia, never venture through these pillars. You must promise me! The world beyond is a strange one—void of magic."

She knew nothing of the pillars until the eve of her thirteenth name day, when her mother brought her deep beneath the city of Kastali Dun. A new city it might have been, younger than the monarchy itself, but the caves beneath were old beyond measure, just as this portal was—the first of its kind—with an ability to transport her to a world beyond her own. Her mother spoke of the portal as though it held evil, as though it was a thing to be avoided.

She felt the frown pulling at her lips even now. Surely an environment void of magic could not be bad, especially for someone like her who longed to escape the confines of her mind. The lands beyond would help her with that. She held fast to the hope; it was all that kept her going.

Several strange voices intruded into her thoughts. Her head pounded in response. Instinctively, her free hand went to her forehead. Her eyes squinted against the intruders, watering in earnest as tears of pain rushed forth. This was the only way—this gate was her way to freedom. She needed to escape before the voices drove her mad, before the truth was revealed, leaving her exposed to the judgement of the world, leaving the king and queen of Dragonwall subjected to the questioning public. Hearing voices within the mind could only be linked to insanity; she was sure of it; she dared not be pegged as insane.

She took a deep breath, knowing that her destiny lay before her. She was meant to seek a life better than this one, one where her mind was her own. The gate beckoned her to pass beyond its barrier, offering her exactly what she needed. She longed to walk into its midst and rid herself of the plague for which she suffered.

She gave the cave one final glance before taking a deep breath and burying her fear. Then she stepped forward. Her feet carried her, one at a time, until she was swallowed up by darkness.

The cold left her gasping. It struck new terror into her heart. Around her there was nothing. She cried out in alarm, reaching forward into the darkness as she dropped the now extinguished torch. She stumbled in the emptiness, groping desperately. She despaired. Soundless screams poured from her lips. And then she was surrounded by warmth. A long sigh of relief escaped her lips.

She opened her eyes to find glowing orange light—comfort after such a frightening ordeal. The snare of fear loosened its hold upon her heart as she studied her new surroundings. Torches and great pyres rested atop an elegant marble floor. Everywhere there were large columns of white limestone supporting a vast ceiling. Statues and sculptures sat upon plinths much larger than any person. She looked upon her surroundings in awe. She could only guess that this was a large temple for the gods; there was no other way to describe it.

When she looked behind her, she saw no sign of the portal that ferried her through. In that moment, she knew there would be no returning home. Courage and hope were her only companions now.

For a moment she stood still, waiting, hoping beyond all measure that her plan had worked. As time ticked by, she was met by silence. Ever so slowly, the ache in her head dissipated into a dull throb before disappearing entirely. A relieved smile spread across her face. Her mind was alone.

Joy took hold of her, lifting her heart. This new feeling was magical, even if there was no magic in such a world. Turning full circle, she stopped to face the goddess before her and gasped. Standing tall was Asjaa herself, for who else could it be? She blessed the Mother of Protection for ferrying her soul to this new place.

She had only just gotten to her knees to pray when a loud shout sounded behind her, echoing into the rafters above. More shouts followed the first, disturbing the peace in the great sanctuary. Still she knelt, praying, thanking the Mother. She was not afraid, for Asjaa guarded her in this world as she had failed to do in the last.

A tight grip encircled her forearm, pulling her to her feet. Still she remained calm. She did not protest, for the Mother was with her. Instead she squared her shoulders and lifted her chin, for she was Princess Irelia. She confronted her captor's accusing brown eyes. It was her destiny to come here to this place, this new world. Her life awaited her and she welcomed it.

Irelia, daughter of King Eymar and Queen Isabella, would finally be free of her suffering.


⭐️🌟⭐️🌟⭐️ Thank you for reading. Please consider voting if you enjoyed this chapter. I have posted a short discussion below. ⭐️🌟⭐️🌟⭐️

DISCUSSION: Irelia is a thirteen year old girl who fears what is happening to her. She began hearing voices shortly around her thirteenth birthday. She clearly does not know that they are the voices of the Drengr. Rather, she believes them to be some frightening figment of her mind.

Q1: Do you think it was brave or cowardly of Irelia to venture through the gate into the world beyond? Why?

Q2: Do you think our current cast of characters—Claire, Talon, Reyr, Desaree, Saffra, etc—know about the caves under the city?

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