Note: Due to demand, I have decided to rework this story. I would be grateful if you could give me any suggestions on how to better work this piece, whether it be grammatical slips or the fluidity of dialogue and other features.


► Prologue

The secret was to find Death.

The boy raised his head and gazed up into the high-arched dome of the temple where its height became lost in shadows. Death, the words felt as a whisper upon his lips, cold and fathomless.

If anyone had passed him at this late hour, they might have guessed his age as fifteen or younger. Skin clung to the structure of his jaw, and his body was far too thin to accommodate for his height although he held himself graceful nonetheless. Food had been sparse this winter with hardly enough to be rationed for creatures such as him. He was so frighteningly thin, a hand could have snapped him in two. However, what made his appearance most astonishing was his hair, a mass of unusual thickness that tangled about his shoulders, matted in lard from the kitchens of his Master's home.

The tracery of moonlight slanted through the stained-glass windows, casting shadows across the floor. The room was semi-circular, cold and airless, built upon a rampart of stone. Overhead, the ceiling soared hundreds of feet and was supported by monolithic pillars of soiled crystalline. Markings were chiselled into these – deep, long strokes that were worn away from the bodies who pressed against them every day during the services.

He walked along the aisle, beyond the podium of candles whose flames had burnt long ago, beyond the statue of Thera, with a casket filled with pieces of rubee from those who wished to show their devoutness. Only this evening, he would not pay tribute. She was an aging deity, the Goddess of Rebirth. She would play no part in what was to come.

When he reached the altar, he paused and ran his eyes along the passage of stone that led to the adjoining chamber. A symbol was inscribed at the foot of the archway, an arm's length in diameter, etched in gold leaf. Two wreaths were pictured, curled about an oval glass mirror. It was an impressive work, commissioned by the monarchy in the late 51st century Siennel to serve as the emblem of the Minhali Dynasty before the Great Rebellion. A foolish line of Kings, his lips flickered at this thought. They had never truly grasped Naraiya's power. Instead, they had appointed hundreds upon hundreds of Guardians to protect the State. And what good had arisen from this? They were now eradicated, as they should have been centuries ago.

'A fascinating mirror, is she not, young Hedley?' Footsteps came from behind him, sharp upon the chancel steps.

It was rare to be addressed by his true name, other than "slaveboy" or "white-skin" or "miserable filth", for Gaiyans knew the consequences that would arise if they began to treat his kind as their equals. His own Master would sometimes draw him by the ear whenever he suspected fraudulent acts upon his behalf and settle the fire irons close to his ribs, which were all skin and bone, until the heat caused a startling shriek to erupt from his throat as well as the truth soon to follow.

Careful of his expression, he turned to face the owner of the voice. He was tall and willowy, a common attribute amongst his people. Tiny leaves were embedded in his skin, accompanied by a braid of balding thin hair cascaded over one shoulder. He was most notably a Councillor, the boy presumed, noting his ashen-grey robes which were prominent of the Gaiyan Council. Even his wings showed signs of his high status, for they were etched with a gold shimmering design that was far grander than those held by the common Gaiyan. But his eyes were most prominent. Dark green irises forever wearied by the endless hours of talk in the Council Halls. 'Come now, my lad.' His smile was soft. 'Surely you have other business to attend to than to spend these late hours confessing to the Goddess Thera?'

The boy turned his head just enough for the Councillor to see the disinterest upon his face. He would keep silent, if only to rid himself of the old man, or else he might call for the Gaiyan Force thinking he was here without the consent of his Master.

'I can see something troubles you,' he continued. 'Tell me, is it understanding that you seek, or retribution?'

The boy laughed. 'You are foolish, coffin-dodger. Go away, and leave me be.' He turned his shoulder in signal that he had grown tired of pity, that he would speak no more. He hugged his cloak about him and left by the chancel stairs.

'She is not here, if that was your intention.'

The boy halted. If this man knew of his desire, it was merely a feigned attempt upon his behalf. 'I suggest, old man, if you wish for your daughter to continue breathing as any of us, that you keep your ramblings to yourself.' The flames flickered in his eyes, a dark polished surface in the hollow of his face. 'Olivia. Is it not?' He fingered the rustic knife beneath the folds of his cloak as he witnessed the shift in the man's expression. A small smile crept to his lips. 'Dear, dear, and just an infant…'

With a cry, the Gaiyan's wings flew forth and he lunged forwards, but the boy caught his arm and twisted it beneath his grip.

'Patience,' he said, laughing quietly as he held the knife against his ribs. Oh, there was loathing in his eyes – the Gaiyan could barely retain himself from tearing through him as his wings fluttered in exertion, even though he was just a boy – but there was also fear. Yes, an emotion he knew all too well, only now he had learnt how to control this, to use it to his advantage. 'Kneel,' he ordered. There was no compassion in his voice.

Gasping for breath, the Gaiyan struggled to his knees, allowing his wings to slump about him in the fear that if he moved, the knife would come tearing through them.

The boy lowered his head and chuckled, toying with his blade 'It is rather ironic, is it not,' he said, 'that I should be the one to hold such power over you. I, a Human.'

'She will never listen to your call,' the Gaiyan's voice had grown thin and trembling. His eyes glanced towards the blade, nestled close to his flesh. 'She will only reveal herself when –'

'Ah, but you underestimate me.' There are others, he thought. Others who will call upon her, who will bend her power to their will.

All of whom I shall control.

With a rough gasp, he let go of the old man. The Gaiyan shuffled backwards, whispering his prayers to whoever was listening above, and fled. It was true, the man had tested him with his tiring words of wisdom. But he would not speak. Not when he valued his family so dearly.

'To the Ecronians: the fools of this world,' the boy whispered in silent toast, and raised his eyes to the symbol of the Minhali. Behind him, steps led away from the chancel as the Councillor stumbled through the aisle, tripping over the casket of rubees laid out for the Goddess Thera.

He ran his knife along the tip of his finger, hardly wincing as blood drew from his flesh.

Tonight the Guardian would be his.