Prologue

From Inside the Prison

The boy stumbled to a halt in the shadows of a building, trying to calm his heavy breathing and racing heart, hoping they wouldn't give him away. Hearing approaching footsteps, he backed farther into the shadows, fear making him clumsier than he would have liked.

"Where is he?" One of his pursuers demanded. "The Doutarab will kill us if we don't bring him back."

"Just pay attention for his aura. That'll give him away," another voice suggested.

"Right," the first man agreed. The boy could imagine him grinning wickedly, his hope of finding the runaway renewed.

Trying not to panic, the boy slipped as far as he could into the thin alley, hoping beyond hope he wouldn't be spotted. He suppressed his aura, burying it deep inside, hoping to hide it from his pursuers.

One of the two men stepped into the crack of an alley, his dark eyes scanning the shadows. The boy held his breath, his gaze glued on the man, hoping he wouldn't notice him.

The shadows proved to be enough to hide him; the man let out a small huff and then disappeared around the corner. Deciding not to give him a chance to come back, the boy quickly looked for a way out, his gaze trailing along the alley first and then to the roof above him. I guess I'll have to climb, he thought, realizing there was no way out of the alley, not unless he wanted to venture back out into the streets and towards those chasing him.

Lifting his hands to the wall, he searched for handholds. His fingers slipped into gaps big enough for him to get a good grip. Pressing his foot into a hole in the wall a foot above the ground, he boosted himself up and began to climb the wall. It wasn't hard, with how dilapidated it was; it left plenty of ledges and rough edges for him to hold on to. For once, he found himself grateful for how worn down the city was.

Hoisting himself onto the roof, he hurried away from the edge of the building, crouching low on the flat roof in an attempt to hide his presence from anyone below. Finding a somewhat clean spot, he sunk down, letting himself have a moment to catch his breath and calm his racing heart. So far so good, he thought, trying hard not to get his hopes up just yet. But he was determined to succeed. His mind was racing, going over his plan again and again, hoping he could continue through with it with the same level of luck he had seen so far. One thing he knew for sure; there was no way he would allow himself to be dragged back to his father, and the horrors that awaited him there.

When he was feeling rested, the boy straightened and slinked back to the edge of the roof. Staring out over the streets, he watched for any sign of the guards sent after him, a tense silence falling over him. He could see them searching a few streets down, their auras surrounding them in a murky green glow. Realizing they were steadily moving away from him, the boy allowed a small half smile, the first in days.

Sitting up a little straighter, his gaze searched the horizon before him, looking for the faint glowing of the spell doors. He was far away from them now, but to mislead the guards he had purposefully ran in the opposite direction of his goal. They knew how badly he wanted to escape since his last failed attempt to reach the doors. It had earned him a week in his father's dungeons, an experience he would never get out of his mind.

Shivering slightly, he forced those memories away, but not before he noticed one ironic fact about the whole situation; it was odd to him what had finally caused him to incur his father's wrath. Even when the boy had killed one of his kin in a fit of rage almost one month ago, the Doutarab hadn't reacted in anger. But the minute he started questioning the way their people lived, and everything the Doutarab stood for, the boy immediately felt the repercussions. He's completely mad, he thought, not for the first time.

But no matter what the dark creature did to him, he couldn't make the boy turn back. Despite how everyone around him tried to convince him otherwise, he could see with clarity now that the dark power his kind hunted after by instinct was wrong in so many ways. His own search for it had caused him, even at a young age, to have blood on his hands. He felt deep remorse for what he had done in his own quest for that power, and often wondered if he could ever forgive himself. He had done all he could to forsake it and start fresh, but it couldn't change the fact that he had snuffed out another being's life in cold cruelty. And he hadn't done it just once.

The problem with it was, once tainted by the power, his aura craved more of it. And the prison didn't make it hard to find it. It had taken all his willpower to reject it, but he had managed. Over time, it became easier as the change to his aura was more obvious, the murky color of it mixing with the darkness fading to leave behind molten silver.

But, the problem with living the new life he had chosen was it attracted a lot of unwanted attention from those around him. They could sense the difference in his aura that giving up the darkness caused, which immediately urged them to disown him, even torment him for his decision. Between their tormenting and the almost irresistible temptation all around him, it had lead him almost to the brink of insanity, but even then he wouldn't give up his decision. At this point, he was convinced he had to escape, or die trying. There was no life for him in the prison they lived in.

There was one advantage to the whole situation. The spells keeping them in were actually designed to release its prisoners once they gave up the hunt for power. Once their aura was pure, they could leave. With his aura pure he could easily pass through the spells, but the Doutarab, or any of the minions he sent after the boy, couldn't follow him without risking their own life. The boy knew all too well that his father wouldn't give up the power he had gained, even if it meant losing his son. He was counting on it.

Steeling his nerves for the coming dash, the boy stood carefully, keeping his gaze on his surroundings. Running across the rooftop, he quickly jumped to the next building, grateful for how close together they were built. Time passed slowly, the stale, cold air rushing past him as he settled into a rhythm, his gaze locked on the pulsing light of the spell doors in the distance.

It took some time, crossing from roof to roof, before he was forced to climb down to the roads again as the buildings spread out. Coming to a halt, he peered over the edge again, waiting to make sure the road was disserted, and then started down the side of the building. Once he was close enough to the ground he could jump without breaking his neck, he decided to save himself time and let go. Hitting the ground, he rolled with the motion and ended in a crouch behind a large crate.

Immediately he realized it had been a good decision to jump down the remaining distance, because one of the guards passed by the entrance seconds after he landed on the ground. If I had stayed on that wall a second longer, he would have seen me, he realized. That's too close. Why did they double back this way? He waited in tense silence for a few moments, unable to know for sure if the guard was gone; he couldn't see around the crate without possibly revealing his position, and with his aura as suppressed as it was, he couldn't sense theirs. He bit his lip, listening carefully for any movement or the sound of breathing nearby, anything that would give him a clue to what was happening beyond his shelter.

He was met with silence, and was beginning to realize either the guard was also waiting for him to reveal his position, or he had moved on. Inching forward, he risked a glanced around the edge of the crate. To his relief, the alley was empty.

The boy quickly climbed to his feet and darted to the end of the alleyway opposite of where he had seen the guard. Peering carefully around the edge, he double checked he was clear, and then bolted down the street, trying to stay out of the lighted areas as much as possible. It wasn't long before somebody noticed him, but now he had enough of a head start he figured he could outrun them.

The prison floor curved upward, towards the spells, and the boy felt a bit relieved as he neared it. Finally slowing just before them, he stared upward, sensing the power they carried. Silence fell over him, the only sounds his own heartbeat and the gentle hum of the spells. A bit apprehensive, he approached them slowly, knowing he was at the moment of truth; finally he would find out if his aura was really as pure as he believed it was.

Suddenly the sounds of footsteps behind him shook him from his stupor. The boy flipped around, trying to see how close they were, and then focused again on the spells, knowing if he could just get past the first layer before they reached him, he would be off free and clear. He pushed away his fear, realizing he had nothing left to lose. This was his last shot.

Pressing a hand against the rippling surface, he felt the spells wrap around it as a tingling sensation washed over him. His aura involuntarily came to light, surrounding him in a molten silver glow. Hearing his pursuers get closer, the boy pushed farther into the spells. He felt a hand brush his shoulder, grasping at him, before he sank completely into the magic.

Turning back around, he saw a handful of his father's minions staring back him, a mixture of fear, surprise, and anger on their faces. One of them stepped forward, making the boy take a step back, and reached out a hand towards the spells. His aura came alight, the murky green power sparking angrily where it touched the spells. Smoke trailed off his skin, and he grimaced, trying to fight it. Then he pulled away with a groan of pain, clutching the wounded limb to his chest.

I was right, they can't follow me, the boy thought, smirking now. Knowing he had everyone's attention, he bowed dramatically, and then gave a mock salute as he turned his back on them, towards his ever brightening future.

The spells molded around him. He could feel them testing his aura, probing it for the taint of the twisted power he had once possessed. The tingling sensation intensified until it burned his skin, but it wasn't unbearable—it was almost if the last of his past was burning away as he passed through the spells, allowing him hope for a chance at a new life.

Then came the temptation. He hadn't expected this. The spells were literally handing him a taste of the corruption he had given up. His aura seemed to reach for it, acting on its own volition. If it weren't for his practice at pulling away, resisting the darkness, he would have lost it.

When he felt the gentle breeze blow his hair away from his face, he caught a whiff of a smell that was totally unfamiliar to him—it smelt alive, and fresh, nothing like the monotonous sterile air of the prison he had spent his entire life in. The light of the spells seemed to grow, forcing him to blink heavily in an attempt to adjust to the light, one hand raising to shield his eyes. He had never seen something so bright.

As he continued forward, the spells seemed to thicken around him, making it impossible to move. It wasn't long before his muscles burned with exertion, but he was hardly making any progress. Just when his strength was ready to fail him, the pressure let up and he stumbled forward before he fell, landing hard on something warm. Blinking, he lifted his head and studied whatever it was underneath him, amazed by how soft and yet equally hard it was. The deep brown material clumped in his hand, sticking in bits to his skin, but it fell away when he rubbed his fingers together. It smelt rich, prickling at his nose. Underneath the initial soft layer, he felt a harder, almost damp version of the material; when he tried to dig into it, it didn't give, instead forcing the stuff up underneath his nails.

Too weak to stand but wanting so badly to explore the world he had found himself in, he managed to roll himself over, staring upwards. It was almost as bright as the spells he had left behind, so it took his eyes a moment to adjust. When his vision cleared, he stared up in surprise. Towering, brown, rough and jagged polls surrounded him, their height reaching far above what he had ever thought possible. Each of the main poles broke off into several small poles to spread out above him, their tips covered in delicate, deep green triangular…the boy couldn't find the words for them. Never had he seen such a thing. They looked as soft as paper, ready to crumble under the slightest touch, but when the wind blew through them, they flapped in the breeze, unbreakable.

Above that, the boy caught sight of the roof—or where the roof would have been, in the prison. He had no idea if the world he had stepped into was as encased as the one he had left. But whatever it was, it captivated him. It was a deep, vibrant blue, such a contrast to the greens of the triangular decorations on the poles, and yet it complimented them. It seemed to belong.

A noise caught his attention, soft and trailing. It was high pitched, like the whistle of hot steam escaping from a pot, but gentler. A sound that made him want to listen instead of quickly snuff it out. It flittered up and down through the air, pausing at random intervals but with no clear pattern. Feeling an overwhelming sense of peace wash over him, the boy sighed, content to just rest in the beautiful scene around him, his gaze locked onto the blue expanse above the poles. He knew there was a chance he could be in danger—he had no idea what this new world, with all its vibrant colors and light and wonders, could hold—but he was far away from his father, and there was no way he could follow him. There was a very real chance he could be the only living thing in the whole world, but he was honestly okay with it. For now, he had earned the chance to rest.