Author's Note: All the usual disclaimers apply. Light of the Renikai is an original Ley Blake creation, so please don't steal characters, places, names, ideas, etc. This story is rated M for: abrasive language, violence, war, death, suicide, slavery, "adult" situations, and other such unsavory particulars that are unsuitable for a younger audience. Reader discretion is very strongly advised.

Prologue

'Oh Goddess, I beg of thee, please give me Your strength.'

She sat silently in the overly stuffed chair, rocking the small child in her arms almost absent-mindedly. A cool breeze blew gently through the large open doors that led out to the balcony, bringing with it the crisp scent of the autumn evening. The luxurious silken curtains fluttered slightly—the only noise in the vast, ornate chambers. Not even a cricket chirp disturbed the docile silence.

The peacefulness of the room did little to ease her anxious heart, however.

She let her deep blue eyes scan the room once more before dropping once again to the sleeping babe. The week-old boy was the firstborn child of the crowned king and queen of Tesciel. He was the heir to a massive kingdom, arguably one of the most powerful in the entire Realm. A kingdom that would quickly grow into the single most powerful, without argument.

This was only one of the many thoughts that deeply troubled her.

Cairis felt a choking knot begin to form once again in her throat, and she hugged the infant to her breast. How could she ever do what her heart now told her she must do? He was so innocent! This tiny little form, sleeping so soundly in her arms… surely it all had to be a mistake. It was merely a mark, a blotch on the skin that meant nothing. It just couldn't be true!

Her eyes began to water at the thought and she blinked back the stinging tears that threatened to fall. She had to be mistaken, that was all. King Tobias was a good and just man. Queen Arika was as kind a soul as anyone could ever ask for. Their child—this child—was supposed to be a blessing, the ruler that would continue with Tobias' legacy of renewal and usher Tesciel into the climax of its glory. It was the only thing that made sense.

Cairis rolled her eyes upward and let them close as she mumbled a short prayer. It was a mistake. It had to be a mistake. It had been the briefest glimpse while she was changing him. Probably no more than a shadow. After all, the boy had other nurses, and there had been plenty of midwives attending the queen during the birth. If the mark really was present, how could all of those women have missed it?

'You're frightened of nothing, Cairis,' she thought to herself. But she had yet to look again beneath the cloth to confirm or deny her speculations. She was too frightened of what she would see. What if she wasn't mistaken and the mark really was there. 'Then I'd have to do what has to be done about it.' She gulped again, trying to swallow that persistent knot. 'Oh, by the powers that be, I could never do it! He's just a child!'

The young nurse rose slowly from her chair, still holding the baby boy, who was beginning to stir from his slumber. She had to see it and there wasn't much time before someone would come to take him to his mother for his evening feeding.

Cairis set him down gently on the table across the room, a tiny contented gurgle slipping past his slightly opened lips. It didn't take much effort to remove the soft garb, but she hesitated before turning him over onto his belly. She had been debating this moment all day, and now that it had arrived, what little nerve she possessed had begun to leave her. 'No. I have to see. I have to know.' With a deep breath, and another prayer of strength, she turned the baby over and let her eyes fall upon his left shoulder.

And there, just beside his tiny little shoulder blade, was the faint marking she had been fearing to confront for the past hour.

She stifled a cry, lifting a tightly clenched fist to her trembling lips. This was the newborn prince! The heir to the throne of Tesciel. How could the Goddess allow this to happen! Cairis turned him over to lay on his back before stumbling away, confusion and horror burning in her eyes. This wasn't right. It couldn't be! She held back the tears that yearned to fall down her cheeks, refusing for those few moments to face the truth she had revealed.

He bore the mark. That barely visible little smear across his pale skin that looked like a small flame. A symbol of the fire that would consume his mind in his adult years. A symbol of the fire that would spread through Tesciel with his reign, and then spread to every other kingdom, engulfing the entire realm in its darkness.

'How could this have gone unnoticed?' she thought bitterly. How many women had overlooked the birthmark for fear of what would happen if they presented such a thing before their king, the boy's father, as fair a man as he was? But… why? How could they have been so selfish? Didn't they know what this mark meant, what the bearer of such a mark would bring upon this Realm? With a miserably defeated sigh, she realized they probably didn't understand just how drastic of an event this was.

But she did. She had seen it. She was the one who'd had those terrible dreams, the ones that woke her up at night screaming and drenched in a cold sweat. She was the one to whom the Goddess had sent those frightening visions of what would happen, should this person be unchallenged. But, no one believed her. She wasn't of Renikai decent, nor was she fully ordained in the Order—those who, like her, lacked Renikai blood, but believed in the Renikai Goddess. She was just a simple, barely educated, middle class girl, cousin to a friend of the queen, which was the main reason she'd gotten this job in the first place; why would the Goddess speak to someone like her?

Cairis turned back to the child again, her breath weak and staggered. His eyes were still closed contentedly, his mind still drifting amongst the simple dreams of childhood. "Please forgive me, little one," she said softly. Her voice sounded so weak! "This… this is the only way. I have to do this… for the Goddess… for the Realm. I-I'm sorry." Her finger stroked the soft skin above his eyebrows gently before moving across his cheek and resting on his neck.

Her mind began to truly grasp what she was doing as the rest of her fingers positioned themselves around his neck. 'I have to do this… I have to do this…' She kept repeating the words over and over in her mind, but the tears still formed in the corners of her eyes. "I'm so sorry," she begged, her voice cracking under the pressure of her unshed tears. Cairis closed her eyes and began to squeeze the tiny neck beneath her fingers.

After a moment, the baby let out a small cry of protest and began to squirm slightly. Cairis applied more pressure on his windpipe, squeezing as tightly as her broken heart would allow, which wasn't much, but was still enough. Despite her tightly shut eyelids, the droplets of water seeped through, spilling over onto the bare chest of the baby. She continued to repeat her apologies to the young prince, until the squirming slowed… and eventually stopped.

Cairis pried her eyes open as she pulled her hands away from the still child. "Please forgive me," she mumbled earnestly, and, through her jumbled thoughts, managed to recall the motions of the Passing Prayer. She held her hand above the body, as shaky as it was, first forming the symbol of death—an elaborate motion of several curved lines—and then the blessing symbol of the goddess—a four-sided diamond, encircled.

"It is done." She stepped away, turning her back on the table and the dead prince, before finally succumbing to her devastated tears.

A soft knock on the door moments later ripped her back to the reality of what she had done… and the consequences that awaited her. "Her Majesty has sent for her son to be brought to her," a muffled male voice said outside the thick wooden door. Cairis' eyes darted to the baby, and then back to the door. 'I had to do this, it had to be done!' her mind screamed the explanation. Panic began to fill her being as another, harder knock rapped against the bedroom door.

"I have come to take the Prince to his mother," the voice said, louder. The doorknob rattled, and another, even harder knock pounded against the door. "Miss, are you in there? Are you all right?"

Cairis stepped further away from the shaking door. 'I had to kill him,' she thought, her mind's voice no more than a whisper. 'He would've destroyed everything. I had to do it!' She let out a soft yelp as something—probably the guard himself—rammed against the door. His voice was still calling out to her.

She winced at each powerful shot to the door and continued to back away. Her brown eyes scanned the room, searching desperately for an escape from the punishment that would come swiftly against her. The ramming stopped as several footsteps sounded from down the hall.

More guards. Guards with keys to the room. Guards who would drag her away to be imprisoned forever…

Or worse.

'Goddess, please, I beg of thee. Protect me! I was merely serving you! Please!' She could hear the jingle of the keys, and the click of the lock as the key turned inside the door. Another wave of panic seized her as three guards and another nurse burst into the room.

"I had to," she whimpered, frightened tears streaming down her cheeks. The head guard looked at her questioningly, before his eyes fell on the baby, still lying half naked on the table. Cairis continued to back away, the evening breeze blowing gently from the balcony behind her.

"What's going on? Miss-" He took a step forward, reaching a hand out toward her. It was enough to push Cairis over the edge of her desperation.

"Evil is dead, and the Realm is safe!" she cried. "Praise the Goddess!" The guard opened his mouth, but Cairis spun around, and ran as fast as she could toward the balcony. The three guards rushed forward when they realize what she was doing, but it was too late.

'My Lady take me!'

The scream of the nurse rang through the palace as Cairis flung herself over the edge.

---x---X---x---

Ethan slammed against the railing, nearly toppling over himself in his attempt to stop the girl. A few screams rose up from the garden five stories below, and people immediately began gathering around the statue of the dancing angel. Did she know she would impale herself upon the pointed wing? Blood pooled on the ground around the statue and he was forced to look away, his eyes closing as he fought the urge to retch from the sight. He turned back, shaking his head even as the nurse frantically attended the child.

Had the girl really killed the young prince? What had compelled her to do such a thing? He mulled over her final words, a disturbing chill running up his spine. 'Why?'

A gasp and a jubilant outburst came from the nurse as she motioned for him. "He's alive!" she exclaimed and the baby began to cry, as if to prove her correct. She checked over him again before lifting him up to her shoulder, hugging him gratefully. A wave of relief washed over Ethan as he pressed his hand against his chest.

"Thank the stars above," one of the other men said. They all examined the crying babe to assuage their own fears before the other two guards escorted the nurse to the royal chambers.

Ethan waited a moment, looking back out toward the balcony door. He would have to send for someone to... properly dispose of the girl's body. Her words still echoed in his mind.

'Evil is dead…'

He shook his head again. She was one of those deeply religious types—the ones driven mad by their fanatic following of that arcane Order of the Goddess. He sighed softly as he made his way out of the room.

Yes, she was mad. That was the explanation. She had to be.

Who would think an innocent child could be evil?