Chapter 0:

Prologue

PENUMBRA


A hooded man stood on the balcony of a flying airship, watching caustic smoke swell out from rusty pipes on the deck. His face was concealed by a mirror of some sort, which reflected the yellow moonlight shimmering through the clouds. A pair of dark mechanical wings were attached to his back by a golden strap. He held three navy-blue feathers in one hand, and a wooden pan flute in the other. Bookmark here

A somber tune filled the air as the airship’s crew gathered on deck to listen. They were so mesmerized by the music that nobody questioned the appearance of the flute player. The wind was cold and thin, but the melody was warm and sweet. Bookmark here

“Let’s play a game, shall we?” Bookmark here

The sharp words cut through the crewmates’ trance. Before they could respond, a dozen hooded figures emerged from the shadows, armed with grappling hooks and sleek guns.Bookmark here

A short, stubby man with green goggles stood up and faced the man on the balcony. He carried a palm-sized radio in his back pocket. Bookmark here

“I am Zulu, the captain of this ship. Who the hell are you?” As he spoke, Zulu slowly reached for the radio to send out a distress signal. Bookmark here

“They call me Vulture.”Bookmark here

The signal was sent. Now, all he needed to do was stall for time. Bookmark here

“What do you want? This might be a trade ship, but we’ve sold all our goods already, and we’ve left our gold at the capital.”Bookmark here

Vulture laughed. “I said I wanted to play a game. Why don’t you entertain me?”Bookmark here

“This ship belongs to the Alliance. If you-”Bookmark here

Zulu dropped to the ground with a thud. A feather was lodged deep inside his head, killing him instantly. The other crewmates screamed and backed off in fear. Bookmark here

Vulture’s face remained inconspicuous, but his excitement could be felt from the other side of the airship. The menacing aura he exerted made it impossible for any of the remaining crew members to speak up and dare talk back to Vulture again. Bookmark here

“I want to kill you all, but it wouldn’t be very fun if I did. So we’ll play a game, and the winner will survive! Exciting, isn’t it?” Bookmark here

The crew looked down at their feet in silence, attempting to avoid Vulture’s gaze. Bookmark here

“Exciting, isn’t it?” Vulture hollered at the skies, as if his audience was sitting amongst the clouds. Bookmark here

In unison, the crew nodded vehemently. Vulture raised his hand to signal them to stop. Bookmark here

“I will now explain the rules. There are sixteen of you, well, fifteen of you, and you all have two choices. If you all decide to cut off one finger each, I will let all of you survive.”Bookmark here

Vulture licked his lips. “Alternatively, you can all choose one of you to die, and I will let the rest of you men survive without injury. So, which will it be?”Bookmark here

After a few minutes of silence, one of the crew members spoke up. “Kill Leto! He’s a Trition, not a real citizen of the Alliance.”Bookmark here

Another crew member soon piped up. “He’s right! Leto’s not one of us. None of us Sydurnians deserve to die for a Trition!” The rest of the crew hollered in agreement. Bookmark here

Leto was a short, red-haired boy who couldn’t have been older than a teenager. He looked up at Vulture without saying a word, his eyes full of fear. Bookmark here

“Very well. Is Leto your final answer?” Bookmark here

“Yes!” Bookmark here

“Ding Ding Ding! Haha, just kidding! Wrong answer, my friends.” Bookmark here

The crew froze in place as Vulture’s subordinates raised their guns. In an instant, fourteen crew members fell to the ground. Bookmark here

Leto opened one eye, surprised to be alive. He looked around him, frightened to see so many dead bodies littered across the deck. But he felt no remorse for the former colleagues who had condemned him to death. Bookmark here

Vulture turned around and stretched out his wings. The ruffled feathers straightened as he flapped them twice. As Vulture prepared to leave the airship, Leto called out to him. Bookmark here

“Why did you spare me?”Bookmark here

Vulture paused for a moment, pondering his next words carefully.Bookmark here

“I told you that if one of you died, the rest of you men would survive. Those who betray their comrades are animals.”Bookmark here

Vulture leaped off the ship, leaving behind a silence as cold as the wind. Bookmark here

---*----Bookmark here

Seven years earlierBookmark here

“Icarum, this is the last time I will ever patch up your wounds, so you’d better not get into a fight again!”Bookmark here

“Yes, Mom.”Bookmark here

“Are you even listening to me?”Bookmark here

“Yes, Mom.”Bookmark here

“What’s forty-two times sixty-three?”Bookmark here

“Yes, Mom.”Bookmark here

Icarum’s mother smacked him on the head, and he winced in pain. He looked up with puppy eyes, and his mother let out a huge sigh as she finished bandaging Icarum’s arm. Bookmark here

“What am I going to do with you? Go off and play, just make sure to be careful. Oh! And come back before six. Your father will be home early tonight, so we’re eating dinner together!”Bookmark here

“Love ya, mom!”Bookmark here

Icarum ran off as fast as he could, straight into the woods where he’d normally play hide and seek with his friends. As he approached a nearby pond, his ears perked up. Someone was playing a familiar song on the flute. It was a Rhean melody, passed down generation after generation by the elders in Icarum’s tribe. The song was also banned by Icarum’s father, the tribe’s chieftain, because he was afraid it would trigger backlash from the Sydurnians. But Icarum didn’t care. Bookmark here

“Brother!” As he skipped over a tree trunk, his foot got caught by a twig, and Icarum tripped over and fell into the pond. The sudden splash caused dozens of frogs to leap out of the water, one of which landed on Igsum’s face. Bookmark here

Igsum laughed as he plucked the frog off his nose. “I don’t understand how my little brother can be so careless when he’s supposedly so smart.” Bookmark here

“Maybe it’s the other way around, and careful people are stupid!” Icarum jumped out of the pond and sat on a log next to his brother. Bookmark here

“Or maybe you should just be more careful next time.” Igsum eyed Icarum’s bandaged arm. “You got into a fight?”Bookmark here

Icarum nodded.Bookmark here

“Did you win?” Bookmark here

Icarum avoided eye contact and shook his head. Bookmark here

“I know you’ve got a lot to prove, but you’re not going to prove it unless you win. Getting hurt for no reason is the worst-case scenario. Believe it or not, I was just like you when I was your age.”Bookmark here

“You were a skinny, black-haired, mischievous, pre-pubescent ten-year-old?”Bookmark here

“I mean, no, not really, but-- how do you even know what puberty is?” Bookmark here

Icarum and Igsum were as different as brothers could be. Igsum was eight years older, with long red hair, a muscular build, and a calm, level-headed personality. Bookmark here

“Anyways, brother, how did you bulk up so much? I’ve been eating lots of meat, but I still look like a stick.” Bookmark here

“Probably because you’ve only been eating meat. I’ve told you that you need a balanced meal, and that includes vegetables.”Bookmark here

Icarum stuck his tongue out and shook his body violently to dry himself. He sent water flying in all directions, soaking his brother from head to toe. Bookmark here

Igsum looked at Icarum with deadpan eyes, unamused, but his expression gradually relaxed as he watched forest birds fly across the pond. Bookmark here

“Icarum, I-”Bookmark here

“Is it about Marie again? There’s no need to be so serious about it. Father stopped talking about her recently.”

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Igsum smiled. Despite Icarum’s carelessness and young age, he could be surprisingly perceptive. Bookmark here

“I’m going to join the Sydurnian Army.” Bookmark here

Icarum stared at his brother in disbelief. “I thought you hated Father for sucking up to the Sydurnians. Then why-”Bookmark here

“Marie and I-”Bookmark here

“Screw Marie. Why do you care so much about some random girl who isn’t even Rhean?”Bookmark here

“Someday, when you fall in love, you’ll understand.” Bookmark here

Icarum burst out in laughter. “Well, this isn’t a rom-com novel.” Bookmark here

“When are you leaving?” Bookmark here

“I have to report to the military office tonight.”Bookmark here

Igsum moved over to his brother and hugged him tightly, much to Icarum’s displeasure. Icarum punched the air and made some incomprehensible noises, but Igsum held him still. For some strange reason, Igsum got the feeling that he wouldn’t be able to see his brother again for a very, very long time. Bookmark here

Author's Note:Bookmark here

Hi everyone! Thank you so much for checking my prologue out!Bookmark here

If you like, comment, and add my book to your library, I'd be happy to do the same to yours :) Even better if you can continue reading! Any feedback is welcome and appreciated!Bookmark here

As fellow web novel writers, let's help each other out! Bookmark here

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