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The Secret Chronicles

by Jodi Nicholls 2 months ago in Fantasy
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Awakening | Prologue

TSC: Awakening cover - J.L.Nicholls

Thank you for reading! I started writing this fantasy series when I was sixteen, and it's a story I've nurtured for years. So, to honour my teenage self, I'm going to release a chapter every week for you to enjoy. If you like what you read, please follow me for the latest updates!

<->

IT WAS WINTER in the Marshe Arx. Snow fell on the silver wetlands, the flakes vanishing as they touched the peat, while the threat of a graver storm sent most running home to stoke their fires. Experience told them a stiff nightcap and a book would see them through the deluge, and the majority would honour that insight, remaining blissfully unaware of what the night had in store.

Not everyone would have such luxury.

Far from the belly of the Arx, atop an exposed hilltop, a manor waited. Shards of twilight seeped through the shuttered windows, saturating the large rooms in a dusky haze, and shadows hid in every corner, as if prisoners within the isolated walls.

In the vast library, a small tempus counted down the ticks, its tock muffled by the pages of books stacked along numerous shelves. Inanimate by nature, the tempus knew nothing of the dust being wiped from its face, nor the mantel it stood upon or the firehearth it protected. If it could talk, it would speak of the matter the intruders stole to take form: how they flittered and flickered – licks of fire and droplets of water falling from their masses, only to disappear before the manor felt their touch.

It would say they were no louder than the scampering of mice feet: exploring, waiting, growing increasingly impatient for the coming pulses.

For soon the chosen one, the one whose destiny would shape their own, the one being born upstairs at that very moment… would change everything.

<->

Far above, waiting in one of many bedrooms, all present heard the commotion. It did nothing to cure the curan of his anxiety, nor that of his two assistant ministras. Alt-hough aware of their duty, the matter tearing through the manor warned them of the consequences should they fail.

“Try not to be afraid,” a soft voice implored.

The curan looked to the origin of the voice, acknowledging the woman he was there to tend. Lying on a grand bed, obscured by a veil hanging from the canopy above, she faced the large bay windows.

“You know they won’t hurt you,” said a different voice, the tone rough and leaden with fatigue. “They’re just waiting.”

As if in answer, a thud sounded from the pantry below, startling the curan as he dropped the cold compress in his hands. Grabbing it from the floor and handing it to one of his ministras, he wiped his brow with his sleeve.

“Maybe so, Charras, but their presence worries me. I already feel the weight upon my shoulders. I don’t want to fail you.” He cast his gaze towards his patient’s bulging stomach and added, “Either of you.”

More clattering erupted from below, followed by a glass smashing somewhere in the kitchen. The sound of it spurred the ministras into action, each tending to the woman as they dabbed her forehead with cotton cloths and soothed her whimpers with hushed words.

“She’s nearly there, curan,” said one, pulling back the veil so he could see for himself.

Leaving them to their task, Charras rose from his chair and walked towards the windows. Gazing upon the gardens below, he took a breath.

A frost rest on the ground, the promise of winter’s em-brace once an affair his Omea celebrated, now serving as nothing more than a reminder of the cold nights ahead.

“It’s time,” he murmured, loud enough for all to hear.

He didn’t turn to meet their reactions, wishing for the events to unfold before he changed his mind, again. It was enough to hear the shuffling of feet and whispers of decision to confirm everything would soon be in place.

The curan removed his gloves, his patient’s dilation confirmed, and rubbing his forehead to dull the stubborn ache, he stood up and faced Charras.

“She’s indeed almost ready,” he confirmed.

A glare sliced through the twilight, its ferocity such that the curan bowed his head and returned to his duties.

“She’s doing well,” he assured, following it with a half-nod over his shoulder.

Charras immediately withdrew and compelled himself to turn around and stare into the gloom. In the distance, a storm crept closer, the threat of chaos on the winds something he could almost taste. Its power filled him, stirring fear and sorrow in his gut: emotions he knew he needed to bury lest he act recklessly.

With a breath, he dared a glance at his Omea: his brave and beautiful Isalize, ready to accept her fate. Stooped over her, the curan continually checked her progress: his expert touches an empty comfort.

“Remember the stories, old friend?” he asked, his voice barely audible above the storm’s growl. “Remember how we spent pulses pretending we were the heroes of each tale?”

His hand on Isalize’s wrist, the curan turned to face him. “Old friend?” He contemplated the words before smiling. “Yes, we were young and foolish once. If only we knew then what we know now, perhaps we wouldn’t have listened so eagerly.”

Letting out a bitter laugh, Charras shook his head. “Yet, you are still here.”

“I’m here to repay a word,” the curan countered. “My father’s to you. He made you a promise, and in his death, that promise passed to me.”

“You are here because you still live in hope,” Charras argued. “Even if you’ve turned your back on what you are.”

“Something most would have accused you of, not so very long ago.”

With a grunt, Isalize sat up, halting the ministras attempts to help her. “Things changed, quite obviously,” she said, allowing the resulting silence to give the curan enough time to look ashamed.

“Forgive me,” he said. “I’m not here to pain you further, Isalize.”

“Then please, do not fi—”

Unable to finish her sentence, she took a breath and collapsed back into the sheets. This time, she allowed the ministras to help her.

His heart heavy, the curan looked over at Charras – a mere silhouette in the window’s diminutive light.

“I know this isn’t easy for you,” he said gently, “and I don’t expect you to understand the choices we’ve made. But know we didn’t do it for ourselves.”

His gaze on the gathering storm, Charras sighed a sigh of one long suffered. “We’re Mages, old friend. Our duty is binding, even to those who are outcasts.”

“Perhaps,” the curan replied. “But this isn’t the time to argue it. The elements are near.”

Allowing the warning to hover purposely, he addressed the ministras in turn, directing them to obtain bowls of ice and water while he found and ignited a candle himself.

With them gone, the subsequent lull eased the tension in the room.

“Charras?” Isalize murmured, her plea slicing through the twilight.

He made his way over to her. “I’m here,” he said, leaning down to kiss her forehead – so cold and clammy against his lips.

“Promise me you’ll love her,” she pleaded, releasing a soft grunt. “Promise me you won’t blame her.”

Charras took her hand and placed it against his cheek, her skin amazingly cool for what she was undergoing. He managed a small nod, it being all he could do to stop himself from snatching her away.

“Please,” Isalize whispered, “say it.”

Charras curled her into an embrace. Her narrow frame braced against him, her hands dug into his back and face pressed against his chest like they were made to fit – moulded from heart to soul. She was his and he was hers. Nothing before her meant anything and nothing that came after would either. There was no world worth living in without her.

And yet, he couldn’t speak that truth. The words she needed from him – the ones that would comfort her – were a mere coherent thought away.

He formed their pitiful meaning on his tongue. “I promise.”

Isalize squeezed his shoulders and freed him from her embrace, her forehead to his as the curan and ministras returned and took their place at the foot of her bed.

“Let us begin,” the curan said.

Holding up his ignited candle, he and the ministras wet their lips and started to sing, the melody ethereal but assured as it echoed through the room.

“Vivere, crescere, nascere.”

On the bed, Isalize stirred. Clutching the sheets, she arched her back as another contraction prepared her for delivery, her agonised cries soon lost to the noise of rattling windowpanes, the storm raucous as clouds tumbled overhead and rain hammered against the glass.

Charras knew what he needed to do.

Returning to his station, he edged his hands towards the window’s locks, hesitant at first, but then decided as he liberated the clasps from their hinges.

Fierce, hungry wind reached through the window and howled for attention, the lick of its tongue brushing a lamp off its shelf and dislodging a picture from its hook.

Finding its target on the bed, it ripped the veil aside and wrapped Isalize in its embrace, her blonde hair wild and face slicked with sweat. A desperate howl unleashed from her: a final push as she delivered her baby into the waiting storm.

And then it was over.

As Isalize’s chest heaved and her breath grew shallow, the winds lowered her back onto her pillows. She knew she didn’t have long, but she was thankful nevertheless: grateful she had the chance to see her daughter’s tiny body: wrinkled and perfect as she squirmed in the winds holding her aloft.

Hello, she thought. And then, with a small sigh of relief, escaped peacefully into death.

Charras watched his Omea go, grief overcoming him as she left one life for another. If it wasn’t for his newborn’s screams puncturing the air, snapping him back to reality, he would have crossed over with her in a heartbeat.

Instead, he was doomed to live.

There was no time to mourn, much less react as a burst of flame from the curan’s candle shifted the attention.

Crumbling to his knees and raising it high above his head, the flame burned brightly despite the tumultuous noise and wind. It caught the particles circling the infant, sending a rush of fire that engulfed her in flames and smoke. However, the fire subsided almost immediately and folded to form a ring – a careful flame disintegrating the umbilical cord and cauterising the tip.

A tick passed before the ministra on the curan’s right also fell to her knees, the water within her basin streaming out to join the circle of fire. It traced the path of flames, extinguishing them until it shrouded the newborn in mist and dew.

Then the haze dispersed, leaving nothing but a gentle flow of water that looped around the now silent baby. It was so serene, no one noticed when the remaining ministra fell to her knees and the ice within her bowl also joined the spectacle.

Charras couldn’t take his eyes off what was happening. He couldn’t move, either – frozen as he watched the shards dazzle like crystals within the current. They bobbed gently, distracting his daughter as she watched them circle her.

Flailing her arms and legs, she upturned and faced the ceiling, still unperturbed as she bobbed and bounced in her protective bubble.

But then the water suddenly changed course, spouting upwards before plunging into her open mouth.

Charras took a step forward but immediately stopped when the remaining ice began to mould together – particle upon particle – and encased his daughter completely. All the while, the storm outside reached its crescendo and filled the room with the cries of warring sky.

As the only one left standing, Charras crouched down and covered his ears, which was just as well; for a tick later, the pressure within the room heightened to such a degree the walls shook. Cracks appeared along the ceiling, the fractures expanding and groaning as the foundations threatened to crumble. And just when it seemed they would yield, an almighty thunderclap sounded from outside.

The responding flash of light announced the bolt that flared through the window and struck the block of ice, the force so sudden it caused the shards to implode and rain down like hail.

Charras forced himself to his feet as the rogue bolt lowered towards his daughter’s face, breaking off into two forks and hovering above her pupils – no more than a hairline’s breadth between. They illuminated her warm skin until she blinked and the light disappeared beneath her lids.

It was quick then: almost quicker than it began. The storm ceased and the song ended, leaving nothing but ringing in the ears and dryness in the mouths of those still conscious.

A bitter odour hung in the air, the taste of sulphur and cinder cloying and unpleasant. However, no one paid any attention.

Sat beneath the haze – the open windows slowly filtering out the pollution – each Mage recovered from their ordeal.

It was only when a lux flickered on, its broken shade lying meters away, did the destruction in the storm’s wake become apparent.

Upturned furniture and shattered glass littered the floor. A thick layer of ash covered every surface while the lux’s waning beam highlighted the cracks along the ceiling and walls.

But Charras didn’t notice any of it.

Stood behind a shattered chest of drawers, he wiped his eyes with his sleeve and squinted in search of his daughter.

Spotting her cosseted within the ice ring – the intricate mosaic already melting before his eyes – he made his way over and bent down to pick her up. A force resisted his touch at first, the sensation firm but exploratory, and he waited until it relinquished its protection before scooping up his child.

Finally united with the warmth of her tiny body, he was surprised by the strength of emotion he felt. It was unlike anything he’d ever experienced – anything he imagined he’d feel when she arrived. An instinct took over: an unsaid promise to always protect her and make sure she knew happiness, despite being certain he would never know it again himself.

As if she could read his thoughts, she stirred in his arms and opened her bleary eyes, revealing Isalize’s sapphire gaze.

“Incredible,” Charras murmured, looking towards his Omea.

Walking over to the bed, uniting mother and baby, he stood back and gazed at them in stony disbelief – denial swearing they both merely slept and recovered from their ordeal. Soon they would wake and his family would be whole again, ready to build their future together…

How sorely he wished it so.

But as reality dawned and he was left in the cold, he succumbed to the darker truth.

“We did it,” he whispered, brushing an ice blonde lock from Isalize’s face. Then, with a final stroke of her cheek, he picked their daughter back up and carried her away.

Death was no place for a baby.

<->

Stood by the bay window once more, Charras watched the rising dawn. It cast the hills a pale blue and orange hue, marking a new day he wasn’t sure he’d survive.

Burying Isalize was the hardest of all trials that night. He still imagined she’d be cold, the curan and ministras having wrapped her in nothing but a flimsy white robe before laying her to rest in the gardens outside the manor.

It was only as they performed the rituals and enabled her spirit to pass through the veil that he accepted the strange finalisation: a chapter ended.

There was no going back now.

“Charras?”

Almost forgetting he wasn’t alone, he faced the curan as he approached, his manner uncertain.

“There’s no need to be wary,” he grunted. “You’re being released from your word.”

The curan didn’t reply. He merely bowed his head.

With a sigh, Charras uncrossed his arms and prepared the casting. Then, placing his hand on the curan’s crown (and ignoring his responding intake of breath), he began.

“Dicio,” he said – the word of power. “Incendiī-Anima.” His Mage name followed. “Dissolvo.”

As the final command escaped into the room, sparks materialised and danced atop the curan’s scalp, fizzling like the dying embers of a firecracker.

When they subsided, he raised his head and ran his fingers through his hair. “Thank you,” he said – the edge of relief unwelcome.

“You’ve repaid your father’s word with honour,” Charras assured.

“Then let me leave you with my blessings,” replied the curan. “For this night and the nights that follow.”

Looking towards the cot where his daughter slept, Charras made his way over. “And how desperately we need them. Now she is here, we know a war is coming. In a decade, all our world will know the same.”

“Then we must prepare,” the curan said. “I will still fight with you, know that, but our son will be spared.”

Fatigue stopped Charras from disputing the curan’s sentiments. Instead, he gathered his daughter in his arms and returned to his station by the window.

“She looks like you,” the curan ventured. “She has Isalize’s eyes, but the rest of her belongs to you. Has she got a name?”

“Indeed,” Charras said. “But I will not speak it until the time comes for others to know it too.”

The curan nodded. “Very well. Until then… old friend.”

“Until then.”

And with that, he was gone, the soft click of a door marking his departure.

In the silence that followed, Charras felt the inevitable well of grief. A vast chasm rose in his chest, hopeless and desperate: despair he hadn’t known before.

If it wasn’t for his daughter stirring in his arms, reminding him of his responsibility and his alone, he often wondered what he might have done in that moment.

Instead, he peered down to meet the already familiar gaze – its vibrance contrasting the gloom – and felt his anguish ease. A gurgle escaped his daughter’s rosebud lips and he lowered his forehead to meet hers.

“It starts, Charlize.”

<->

I hope you enjoyed reading Awakening's prologue! I'll be releasing chapter one next Monday, so please follow my account to keep up with the latest releases. :)

Fantasy

About the author

Jodi Nicholls

As a freelance content writer, fantasy author, and reluctant minion of darkness, I spend my days devouring words and teaching my cats boundaries (which is relentless, unforgiving work...)

Escapism is life. Find me on Insta: @j.l.nicholls 😊

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