Prologue 0: Phoenix

Here in the ruined city, the black night sky held violet clouds and a yellow moon. Moonlight illuminated the streets enough for a running figure to be seen.

The figure cloaked in black rushed through the streets. Its red hair trailed behind it like a dancing flame, its every light step almost as soundless.

Something must have befallen the place that was terrible enough to melt glass and steel, reducing skyscrapers of an age past into blackened resemblance of tree stumps, those that one would find after a violent forest fire. Even months after the incident, the young redhead lady could still smell the burning stench left from the catastrophe.

In her arms was a bundle of clothing. Even as she ran, shadowy figures overtook her, leaping over the splintering ruins like weightless marionettes pulled by invisible strings. There were about half a dozen.

She found her way ahead blocked by a lone figure, the leader of her pursuers. The silhouette looked human enough, just with long limbs out of human proportion.

"Hand it over!" it hissed in a snarling, bestial half-whisper, as if the voice was right by her side and not yards ahead.

The young lady stopped in her tracks. In a force of habit, she straightened her spectacles, shutting her eyes for a split second.

A split second was more than enough for her enemy to close in on her like pouncing wolves. Snarls resounded in the night.

The magic she used was strong, but it left no sparks of light or sound. Despite its disappointing appearance, it was deadly. Her pursuers fell lifeless around her, limbs twitching like a bug in its death throes. The lady panted, breathing heavily for the first time. Running took less energy than that last spell.

She knew she was close enough into escaping the wastelands. The teleportation circle she set up was just half a mile from here.

Then the world tilted under her feet. The ground under her slanted as if the direction of gravity had shifted, as if the city itself was a table being raised slowly from a corner. Her eyes widened in utter horror.

Only one being was powerful enough to produce that effect.

IT'S HIM!

She could handle six or seven Lurkers without flinching, but not this particular monster. Even the term 'monster' was a tame understatement for the...

The earth split in front of her with a screech that was beyond deafening. If she had screamed, she wouldn't hear her own voice amidst the rushing noise. She nearly dropped the bundle in her arms.

No, it can't be it can't be it can't be, the world is doomed theworldisdoomedtheworldisdoomed…

Out of the fissure, a dense purple torrent of magic burst out, blindingly bright. It shot violently to the skies and the fissure grew, encircling her as the torrent widened. She was trapped in an island, which then became a cage of magic destructive enough to disintegrate a skyscraper into fine atoms. If she touched it with her little finger, she would be reduced into air molecules.

She hesitated, shielding her eyes.

And then there was that presence. She could feel it approaching, closer and closer from a distance unknown. She had no idea whether it was right in front of her or miles away, but it made her feel as if a clammy and cold hand was slowly materializing and wrapping itself around her heart. Cold sweat trickled down her forehead. Her knees twitched, then buckled. On her knees, it was all she could do to prevent herself from falling face down and blacking out.

A voice that was not hers seemed to whisper into her head: "Die..."

It's definitely him! HIM! I'm doomed. Dead. He's going to kill me. He's going to tear, rip, destroy, torture, disembowel, gut, shred...

Me.

Her life flashed before her eyes. The teleportation circle was half a mile away. She was cornered by a being that she wouldn't stand a chance going against. Just feeling her opponent's otherworldly presence drained all hope away. It was as if Death itself had touched her.

His mere presence was enough to overwhelm her. The torrent of magic was just an unnecessary display of power.

That was when the bundle in her hands glowed. She felt a burst of energy inside her.

Wait, it's… she's…?

She barely understood what was happening, but she instinctively knew what to do.

"Live!" a voice in her head screamed, but it was not in real words. It was emotion, an emotion that every human being could understand – pure feeling – that transcended language barriers and vocabulary. It was not hers, but she obeyed it.

Her visage of fear was replaced by cold, calculating confidence. Just as the torrent of magic solidified into something like ethereal crystal, she held out a hand and chanted under her breath.

She didn't have to go to the teleportation circle.

The telepad will come to me.

A chunk of rock bigger than a dinner table exploded into being. Etched on it were complex sigils and runes. If not for the unworldly amount of background noise, the sudden teleportation would have produced quite a booming noise. The young lady touched a sigil and was no longer there.