Chapter 0:

Prologue - The Day We First Met

My Morning Star

     The first memory that I had of her was when we were children. Baddo had introduced me to a customer of his mining company, an incredibly well-dressed man. Seeing how nice he looked scared me for some reason. Maybe it was because this was the first time I had seen such fancy clothes. Maybe it was because he looked like he must have been left out in the sun for too long and was burnt, but I couldn’t help but hide behind my Baddo’s legs, like that could have hidden me from his scary eyes. Something about me hiding must have amused him, because he barked out with laughter.

     “Don’t worry, bushka,” the scary man said. The patterns on his clothing rippled, gleaming with inlaid gold fibers. From the sound of his voice, it appeared that he had traveled here from a land very far away. “He’s just as nervous as you are. Come on out and help him feel welcome.”

     Hiding behind my dad’s customer’s legs, another child poked her head out. She looked as crispy burnt as her dad, but while he looked rough and scary, there was a fragility and beauty I never forgot.

     “Go on, Eva,” The man encouraged. “Say hello.”

     Eva looked like she might be around the same age as me. At her dad’s encouragement, she leapt out from her hiding spot, grinning wide and wildly. “Hello!” She boomed.

     Her loud exclamation scared me. Made me want to shrink in my Baddo’s clothes and vanish. Thankfully he didn’t let me. Baddo guided me into the open, into her orbit.

     We have been inseparable ever since.

     How do I describe Eva? She was everything I ever wanted in a friend. There were times where she’d sneak out of her home and break me out of mine so we could try and teach each other magic against the starry sky. Her eyes were as green as a verdant lake, constantly sparkling and brimming with life, with a smile brighter than the noon day sun. Every time she entered or left the room, I couldn’t help but watch. It was like an angel had descended from the heavens. Wait, that’s not good enough to describe her beauty. Angels and the heavens are still confined to our world. She was… an alien goddess, glowing with compassion and had a mischievous streak that went farther than her hair was long.

     I didn’t know it was love at first. But I’m grateful I was hers, and she was mine. We didn’t even think to call ourselves boyfriend and girlfriend, but we did all the things they’d do. Maybe that was where the problem started. But it was all thanks to my Baddo introducing us to each other.

     Before I continue on, I suppose it would be prudent to explain that Baddo is what we affectionately refer to my dad. His actual name is Shad Carick, and he grew up in a strict household that emphasized their cultural heritage as Vitali descent up south of the Caucus mountains before Baddo’s family moved down here working in the mines. He had been a lot more lax with teaching us his native language, probably because Isa wasn’t Vitali either. Once I had gotten old enough, my Baddo asked me if I was planning on dating Eva. I didn’t even pause to entertain the notion and started laughing. He didn’t like that.

     “Adan,” Baddo said sternly. “Love is a beautiful thing. It gave me you. Don’t hurt Eva if that isn’t something you are considering having with her.”

     “I know, Baddo,” I assured him, despite not understanding what he meant at all. The idea that I could hurt my friend seemed impossible. “I would never hurt her.”

     My father was unconvinced, though. Baddo was convinced I was more ignorant to the ways of the world than the rest of our family, and often would share his wisdom with me, frequently without notice.

     “Son, I think it’s time I told you a story near and dear to my heart.” He continued. “You’re at that age where you may have noticed changes to your body, and you might have noticed Eva changing as well.”

     “Excuse me?!”
     Baddo gestured to himself and then to me. “You’re growing. Soon you’ll be as tall as me. Maybe bigger. We have all heard you train your sceptre late in the evening; Don’t try to deny it, your brothers and sisters know it, and I’ve talked with them then about this when they were your age just as I am speaking with you now. Your sceptre is a mighty tool, but its power should never be abused. Our king has not abused us during his rule, and neither should you wield your sceptre unrighteously.”

     “Why are you calling it a sceptre?!” I exclaimed, feeling the color rise to my cheeks with every word he kept saying. “This is embarrassing!”

     Baddo waved my outburst aside. “There’s nothing embarrassing about it, and after having to explain it so many times I’ve gotten pretty good if I do say so myself,” He retorted. A wild grin split across his face. “But would you prefer I just call it the –”

     “Sceptre is fine!” came my interruption.

     Baddo taught me about puberty. He assured me that everything was completely natural, and with it would come impulses that I could choose to control, or let them control me. I didn’t realize it then, but the wisdom he shared with me was something that helped me understand myself as I grew older, as well as just how often we were controlled by our hormones and impulses.

     But he also told me this particular story from my childhood, something that stuck with me to this day.

     “My boy, I first met your Madda when I started working for the company as ore scouts.” He told me. Growing up, this had been my favorite story to hear him tell before putting me to sleep. “She didn’t really care for me at first, thinking I only cared about profit margins and the company’s image. But that all changed when a ground quake trapped a team of miners within a cave. In spite of my manager’s demands, I abandoned my post and excavated them free, even though it cost us the mine,” He looked off into the distance, at something only he could see. “Little did I know, was that Isa saw the whole thing. Common decency endeared me to her far more than anything I could have said. We barely spent time apart after that. In fact, she confessed her feelings for me years later at that very cave in!”

     What Baddo had, I wanted so very much. I wanted to tell a story just like that to my own children. A fairy tale life, all without ever leaving home!

     The province in Orodin was called Seras, and the town we called home had the name of Havenwood. Havenwood was originally a mining town, settled only a few hundred years ago by explorers on orders from King Devron of the Valley. I think it had something to do with wanting to boost the economy during his crusade against the neighboring kingdom of Apa, so Havenwood was established on the opposite end of the kingdom near the coasts to keep it from being a viable target from the Plainswalkers. The town quickly began to turn a profit, and even grew in popularity once the floating islands drifted in on the air currents, as a tourist destination for the pristine beaches, romantic cliffs and forests the King quickly declared as a nature reserve. Baddo even developed a friendly rivalry with the owner of the West End Hotel and the Reserve rangers who guarded our natural resources. As I got older, I started to get worried that I or any of my family would end up being conscripted for the King’s fights, but thankfully Baddo assured me that our worth to the economy was greater here than on the field of battle.

     What made me nervous however, was that Eva’s family, the Tufas, lived on the border between the Zul and Apa kingdoms, in the north easternmost province of Zul. There were times where I was convinced that the plainswalkers would cross the border and kill her family, or even trek all the way around the Meruya Mountains to attack Seras. Baddo assured me though that the plainswalkers were only at war with us though, and to skirt around the southern mountain ranges would be tantamount to declaring war on the Zul, who we were allied with. But that still made me a little uneasy, because the Tufas were here and not at their home at the border. The Desert Lands were all encompassing from the continent’s eastern border to its southern, so it didn’t make sense to me that Eva would be all the way over here instead of anywhere else in Zul with her family. I guess that was business though, since Edgar was working for my Baddo’s company as chief of security.

     Regardless, I had my best friend. So I was happy. All I wanted was to live a life of stability and normalcy while she craved excitement and adventure. One thing that Eva and I loved to do was explore our hometown. It was always a different adventure every day. Sometimes it felt like we explored everything there was to find in our town. And right as we’d be in the middle of planning visits to the Needle or the other side of the country, something new would crop up that kept us here. There was something odd about Havenwood. Something that didn’t feel right; a mystery, or conspiracy or monster, we weren’t sure.

     All I knew was that Eva wanted to find the answer. Maybe that was what drew me to her. If only I knew then what I knew now, I might have treasured her more. Had I been stronger, maybe she would still be here. And it all started with that day we found that cave, and our lives were changed forever.

Ana Fowl