Soul of Flames

On the edge of the reality we know, there exists a pathway that conceals a realm far more extraordinary than any have dared to imagine. In this realm, a war is raging. And one girl is at the centre of it all. Yet, to fight the suffering, she must learn to accept a heritage that could send the life she knows up in flames. One way or another, she is about to discover that, sometimes, giving yourself to the flames can unlock your soul...


1. Prologue-Assassin V

All is still and silent. The shadow of a new moon adds a hint of depth to the otherwise pitch black night. Good. The goddess of the moon cannot spy on me tonight. The inhabitants of the great beast before me slumber on, unaware that the dawn of the new day will also bring the dawn of a new era. Just not the one they are expecting. I allow a small, pleased smile to creep across my lips-a rare thing. But I am getting ahead of myself. I still have a job to do before the momentous moment that I have long planned for can occur.

 Abandoning my hiding place beneath the well kempt shrubs decorating the outer gardens of the palace-more of a castle, strictly speaking-I sprint to the solid stone wall that guards the innocents inside. Innocents! As if. Monsters, all of them. They took my home, my rightful place, and turned me out into the swamps that border the foreboding forest on the east side of town. Then, they had the nerve to proclaim me an outcast! Well, they're about to see how mistaken they were...

I turn my attention back to the rough stones hovering in front of my face. Many are worn with age, yet the rulers are too proud to have them replaced. Some rant about heritage and whatnot. Ugh. If only they could face the truth. Maybe they could have avoided their fate.

All this whining is getting me nowhere. Swinging my backpack in a graceful arc, I deposit it on the ground in front of my feet, covered in Night Armour-a piece of my past-before carefully removing the grappling hook and rope from inside the tough leather pocket. Settling the pack firmly on my back once more, I set out to find the perfect spot to begin my ascent.

I pick my way through the tall grasses that run parallel with the old wall, careful not to disturb any wildlife that may be lingering there. I don't want to alert anyone-or anything-to my presence. Every few feet I pause and test the wall's strength. Every time it fails; either too soft, too rough, or too loose for me to make my climb smoothly.

Silently, I curse whatever foolish mind decided to leave the wall bare as a monument to the Epoxh xoris Mageia, a time when my kind failed to fully develop our powers, leaving the city undefended. Many wars had broken out, but eventually the Guardians returned and all was at peace again. They stopped the battles, built the shields surrounding our land, then promptly vanished again. 

Maybe it was helpful at the time. But now? Not so much.

I am startled by the sound of metal hitting stone. Glancing up, I discover that my hook has hit a patch of solid stone with only a small hole in the centre in which the metal fingers have buried themselves.

I wrap one hand around the rope and give it a few sharp tugs. A cluster of small rocks fall loose and tumble towards me, narrowly missing my eyes. Frowning, I try again. This time, the stone remains quiet, undisturbed by my efforts to pull it out of the earth in which it is embedded. Satisfied, I grip the rope with both hands, tying the ends around my waist, and begin to hoist myself up the side.

I move with practiced strokes; grip with my hands, wrap my feet in the rope, push up, position my hands higher, and so on. I never slip once, thanks to the rough gloves that cover my delicate hands, protecting them from the harsh bite of the rope. Not that I would have fallen far if I had.

I pull myself swiflty onto the wall once I reach the top, unhooking the grapple and replacing it in my pack. Then I crouch on the wall, taking in my surroundings, marking the spot to which I should return once the deed is done. I am closer to my target than I had thought. My little adventure around the wall might have paid off after all.

From my position atop the wall I can see the whole layout of the palace. Directly below me, on the opposite side of the wall from which I have ascended, are the inner gardens of the palace. These are more unruly than their counterparts, growing in every direction. Roses covered in thorns as big as my little finger, ivy stretching out its finger-like feelers, crawling up the sides of the elegant structure that resides at the centre of the wild mess. Pathways maze through the wilderness, each leading to one of the outbuildings spread hapharzadly around the main palace.

Further off, I spy the stables and weapons rooms, housing only the best equipment for hacking away at your enemies. I may have to pay it a visit before the night is out. To the west is a sea of hedges, twining around each other, criss crossing to form convuluted trails through the endless maze.

I turn my eyes away from the awe inspiring site to face one of even greater granduer-the palace itself. A majestic structure, built many millenia ago, complete with turrets, ivy rope gates and many twisting passages. From where I sit, facing the south side of the castle, a single turret fills my sight. Housed inside are the royal couple, fast asleep and dreaming of the future that will never come.

But something is amiss. Instead of being shrouded in the shadow of the night as it should be, the turret rooms blaze with the light of dozens of candles scattered around the room. Whispered voices come from inside. I focus, using my over developed sense of hearing to discern their words.

"Not long now, you're nearly there. You're doing very well, just one more push for me." This was a woman's voice. The maid perhaps? Grunts came from inside the room, followed by a muffled shriek of pain.

"There there, it's alright sweetheart, I'm still here. Just do what the nurse says and it will all go away soon." I knew that voice. The King! But why did they need a nurse at this hour of the night? Unless...

More shrieking cut off my thoughts, followed by piercing, high pitched cries. No, it couldn't be! They were early. Too early. I listened for more cries, but could hear none. The nurse was uttering condolences to the Queen, apologising for something. I shuffled closer to hear and had to jerk back quickly as the King pulled the nurse aside.

"What happened? You promised us this would go smoothly!"

"It should have! They were all set to come at midday tomorrow, all four, I sw-"

"Then where are the other three? And how do you explain the midnight setting?" The King's voice was getting louder, angrier. Something had gone seriously wrong. The King sighed, releasing his anger in a sharp puff of air. "Just explain it to me tomorrow. Right now we must go through the proper ceremonies. Would you go and fetch the priest?"

"Of course, your majesty." The nurse scurried off down the hall, eager to leave the scene. I would never get a better opportunity than this. Time to strike.

I kneel, slipping my hand into a hidden pocket in my Night Armour, and wrap my fingers around the crystal handle of my favourite knife. Grasping it tightly, I slide it from its sheath and proceed to edge closer to the window that leads to the King and Queen's bedroom.

I can feel the low hum of power that threads its way through the room, centering itself in the three humanoid figures in the middle. The threads coalesce there, pulsing and dancing, flowing in waves. I am struck by the sheer amount of raw energy flowing through that room. It is like nothing I have ever felt.

I would love to stay and revel in the magic all night, but I have a job to do.

I reach the edge of the window and pull myself over the side, landing soundlessly on my feet. I rise and approach the regents. They haven't noticed me yet. They are too busy smiling at the infant nestled in their arms. Well, that is a complication. But one I can handle, none the less. Time to finish what I started so many years ago.

With that thought I push off from the wall, launching myself at the happy couple. One quick stab through the King's heart puts an end to him. To her credit, the Queen doesn't cry out. Instead she rises, a dagger clutched in her own hand.

Too bad she is too afraid to use it.

I drop to the ground and roll, coming up behind her, slashing her thigh as I go. She begins to turn towards me, eyes fearful. But she is too late. I bring the knife down through her back, twisting it as I do. Her mouth opens in a silent scream and blood bubbles up around her lips, spilling over her chin as she slumps to the ground. Two down, one to go.

I turn to the final obstacle, lying helpless on the bed in front of me. A baby girl. She stares up at me, violet eyes searching my face, locking it in her memories. Knowledge is in the child's eyes, knowledge it has no way of knowing. I know now that this is the real reason I have come tonight. To stop the legacy before it can begin. This child would have been the end of me. Not any more.

I raise the dagger high above my head to deliver the fatal blow that will free me. I close my eyes, savouring the moment. Then, in one clean swing, I force the dagger into its last target...


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