THE PROLOGUE

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RIFTOSH, 4225

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RIFTOSH, 4225

He stood below the tree, the branches void of leaves or flowers, the white stone that it had claimed as it's bark like the skeleton of what was once beautiful and flourished.

It was a question of faith, of loyalty and honour. For hours, days, years even - he had been praying each morning, visiting this very spot in the heart of Aidoniir. He would stand under the barren canopy of the Nilusia tree that proudly grew from between the tough ore of the mountain, waiting.

Waiting with hope and serenity in his heart, for the beginnings of new life, for a blossom of colour that would spark between the tree's brittle bones.

In truth, he had been here since the moon had arisen the night before, his midnight transparent cloak adorned with the stars and the constellations that graced the sky, cascading from his shoulders and gently brushing the white stone floor with each exhale.

The King was downed in hues of cobalt, the stitching and hems of his tunic a dazzling gold that complemented the simple crown resting atop his caramel strands. It was a honourable outfit, the golden brooch shaped like a star with a crescent moon carved to the centre, holding the cloak in place.

On a day like today, the grand hall would be full of his people, for they gathered here each day to socialise and gossip, but since his arrival the doors had been closed, leaving him alone with his silence and plea.

Or, perhaps, almost alone.

They didn't speak as they came to stand beside him, rather simply slipped their hand into his own and gazed at the tree.

He had always envied how warm a Nishes skin was, but fire was in their blood. Pure rays of sunlight flowed in their veins and enriched their heart, warming their soul and filling them with a golden light. It was the element of their race, the mark of their royalty.

In the end, however, it wasn't the warmth that comforted him, but rather that it was them beside him. The softness of their hand in his was a luxury that he never forgot, even when he had forgotten everything else.

"Dawn has arrived," the human hummed softly, a caress in their tone that made him feel safe and loved. He would never grow tired of their sweet tone, never forget the endless times it had brought hope to his life.

However, the arrival of Dawn was no priority in his mind, so the gentle words caused no hindrance or hesitation in his wait, for deep down, today he only cared for one thing.

If Nera, with all the light and peace that flowed through her veins, heard their words of love and saw their world of serendipity, then perhaps she would bless them with their heart's deepest desire. Perhaps today the smallest of flowers would begin to sprout from the long dormant branches.

He had to have faith, and so the King stood under the tree, his hand held by the friend who had stood by him beyond time, and he waited.

Once, almost eighty years ago, the Nilusia tree had homed one golden flower, her delicacy gentle and pure, her petals strong and filled with an intense radiance of life. But alas, under the cruelty of the world and the darkness of the void, she had fallen and died.

Since then, there had been no life within the entanglement of petrified wood, though it did not mean life still didn't bloom with the blood of Nera.

There was one other flower, one that may have not stemmed from the stone branches, but it was a child of the tree nonetheless. For over a hundred years it had been dormant, nothing more than a bud yet to bloom.

For many of those years, the last bud of the Nilsuia tree had been lost, it's existence unknown and forgotten by the world until its unexpected discovery only decades ago.

Ten years ago it had awoken from its slumber, showcasing its soft petals to the world, and since then it had not wavered or wilted.

It's petals were an icy blue, the edges dyed with the hues of sapphires and azure, the colour as vibrant as the life that possessed it.

It rested on a pedestal of pure quartz, which glistened under the light of the white flames, it's stem leading nowhere, without roots to provide for it, and yet it lived on.

The flower, as delicate and beautiful as it was, hummed with life even when it seemed impossible.

"Will you tell them our story?"

Again, the high regal voice was barely above a whisper, but this time the tone had faltered, as if they feared asking the simple question.

But the King simply smiled, finally looking at the friend that stood beside him. They refused to meet his gaze, their teary eyes focusing on the cracks of the stone as the roots delved into the ground.

"I will tell them the story of a fox, an eagle and a turtle."

In a way, he had answered truly, for the story of the three beings was their story; it was everyone's story, for it was the tale of their world and how it had come to be. Without the nimble fox, the resilient eagle and the patient turtle there would be no soil beneath their feet nor air to breath.

There would be nothing; nothing but an ever expanding darkness as the void consumed all that laid before it.

"And the lion?" A tear slipped from their wide eyes as they looked up at the King, a fear dancing behind the shades of green, but shadowed by the fierce loyalty they held.

A small dark glint sparkled in his eyes, and his breath catched as he thought of that same lioness. He knew its place in the story, understood its place in history, but the scars would never fade and speaking of such would never be easy.

Rather reluctantly, he sighed, and with a tense jaw he promised, "and the lion."

Their lips wobbled as they lifted into a watery smile, the hold on the King's hand tightening as they rested their head against his shoulder. "Where would you start?"

He leant into the warmth, grateful for the closeness of the embrace.

"At the beginning." The King hummed into the dark smooth strands of hair.

He would start at the beginning, a myriad ago, when all that existed was time and destiny, and he would tell their story.

And it would include today, the day where in a chasm deep in a mountain, two friends stood under the ivory branches of the Nilusia tree as a pale pink bud began to grow.

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