In what follows, you’ll find the prologue for Phoenix Rising, the first novel in the Feather & Flame high fantasy series by Beth Ball.
Phoenix Rising Prologue
From the records of Yvayne Shadowbright, lorekeeper
Let me tell you the story of heroes of old,
Whose adventures, now forgotten, were once widely told.
Let me tell you the story of how the old world fell.
Of those who fought to save it, and fought well.
In that age long ago, before the floodwaters rose, there was another name for this world—Eldura, the land that endures. It was one part of what remained after the fall of the first age. Where once there had been a single plane on which the magic of nature mingled, where the six elements engaged in a cosmic, energetic dance, there grew three realms—the Shadowlands, the Brightlands, and, between them, Eldura.
The magic of the titans bound these realms to one another and held them in their sway. But as the goddess Alessandra once more raised her hand to destroy any aspect of unity between the planes, the titans had a choice to make—would they retreat to their own realms and abandon their champions upon the three planes of life, or would they remain and risk losing their home planes, the very lifebeat of their energy?
Three titans left Eldura and their champions behind—Gaia, titan of earth; Atamos, titan of air; and Thalyssa, titan of water.
The remaining three—Ignis, titan of fire; Nyx, titan of darkness; and Ilona, titan of light—bided their time. They held one foot out of the world and one foot in. Elemental magic weakened, and the power that might have spared Eldura, that might have given those who dwelled upon it common cause, grew scarce.
The peoples of Eldura began to fight one against the other, neglecting their common enemy, Alessandra, whose shadow spread across the lands. Some societies created great cities, sheltering behind their walls and the might of their armies. These cities—Bastion, Beacon, Verita, Vestige, Respite, and Sanctuary—banded together, becoming the Cities United, and swore allegiance to the tides of war. Together, they would drive back Alessandra’s forces. Any who failed to join them in this fight, they considered allies of the betrayer goddess and therefore enemies to their cause. Of these cities, Sanctuary was the first to fall.
Other societies clung to the magic and land they had always known. In the early years, the witches of the Emeraude and the servitors of the Pentacle of Lis-Maen bound themselves to the ways of the ancients, to recovering the magic and energy they had once shared and then lost. But as the elemental magics waned, the witches, druids, and other wielders of natural magic had a choice to make—accept their lesser power in the world or find a way to revive the magic they had lost. A second pair of choice joined forces with the first—join the ranks of the Cities United, or commit themselves to Alessandra’s call. The time for neutrality passed below the horizon.
In the Cities’ wars against Alessandra, they found a well of magic and might in the few remaining champions of the titans. Battles proved, however, that Alessandra tracked and targeted the champions, forcing them into hiding. Those who did not adequately disguise themselves found death by the Cities’ swords far preferable to the magical extractions, the rending of souls, that Alessandra used.
And as this one source of hope for the future of Eldura passed out of sight, another came into view. In the forests of Lis-Maen, behind the walls of Delmoir, the Oracle foresaw a new dawn in Eldura, a dawn whose birth depended upon the creation of a powerful magic caster, one who united the six elements at their very core. If such a mage could be brought into being, could revive the magic of the fallen titan Verdigris once more, hope would return to the heart of Eldura. And with it, the promise and possibility of the land that endures.
Delmoir, Lis-Maen, seven days before the fall of Sanctuary
The Oracle ran her hands along the beaded wall of her sanctum inside the Four-Spire. The wooden beads thonked and clicked beneath her fingers as they had for generations of her ancestors. Beneath the spinning beads lay the many twisting possibilities of fate, the countless iterations of what might be. Her responsibility—following after her mother, her mother’s mother, her grandmother’s mother, and so on, back for more than one thousand years—was to discern what the next right possibility of fate was. What would best serve the myriad peoples of Lis-Maen? Renew the druids’ faith in their magic, slake the Sorceress’s thirst for power? She glanced to the sunny corner of the sanctum where her daughter played with sacred crystals cut in the shapes of ancient forest animals. The Oracle shut her eyes. What course would best serve her daughter, and her daughter’s daughter, on across the generations after her?
Through the black and blood-thrum of her eyelids, a wide-winged phoenix slid through the invisible currents of the vast woodland of her imagination. The beads spun without the urging of her fingers. The Oracle inhaled a sharp breath.
Behind the closed eyes of her mind, the phoenix descended from the skies. As she landed upon the leaf-ridden forest floor, her wings collapsed in at her sides. The phoenix raised her regal head. And she transformed from bird into woman, with flowing hair and pointed ears. The markings of each of the six elements glowed about her—the sacred signature of Verdigris, the lost titan.
Here is your answer, the whirring beads spun to say. Unite the six, and a wandering soul will return. In her wake, for good and ill, many destinies will be fulfilled.
The Oracle stumbled down the beaded hallway, desperate to reach the desk where she kept her eagle’s feather quill and ink. She gently pushed her daughter aside on her way. She shut out the young girl’s questions and cries. The child could wait. She had to record the beads’ words. They had been decades without a prophecy to guide them, and she would not allow this revelation to ring out in vain.
The beads spoke in riddles at first, but with the quill in hand, their message would become clear.
“Mama—” Her daughter tugged at the sleeve of her robe an unknown but short while later. The beads had stopped their clinking whirl.
She smiled at her daughter as she rolled the scroll of her record shut. A messenger would deliver it to the Sorceress, and they would meet to discuss the next steps forward. “What is it, light of my eyes?” Her mother had always addressed her thus, and it had thrilled her as a child. She hoped it might soften the blow when her daughter took her place.
“My phoenix toy,” the little girl said, holding out both her hands flat.
The phoenix’s wings had broken—snapped from the mystical bird’s spine. The gleaming ruby toy grew cold in her hand.
Sweat prickled across the Oracle’s brow. Two final messages from the beads, one for each wing.
First, she could not send the scroll to the Sorceress as she had been preparing to do. A sense, low in her gut, directed her to the beads’ desired recipient, an ally in the druid conclaves, a young female elf. Her friend would know what to do.
The second half of the beads’ message weighed heavily upon the Oracle’s already laden heart—the phoenix the beads had promised would indeed come to be. But she would be broken. Both by the Sorceress and by her daughter. They all had to play their part.
The Oracle’s letter reached her ally, who met the owl-bearer on her daily walk through the forest outside the conclave of Willow Glen. She brushed long, garnet hair back over her shoulder and read:
I write to you of what I have seen. Sanctuary will fall, and with it, the foundations of our hopes for joining the Cities on our own terms. The remaining Cities, Respite above all, will wish to blame Lis-Maen for our insistence upon neutrality, what they believe to be a naïve dream and not the birthright of all. The Cities will punish our people for their own failures. They will use our ancestral lands as the buffer, the shield against the brunt of Alessandra’s forces they have lacked for so long.
You do not need to be a seer, as I am, to understand what will next transpire. The Sorceress will never allow the Quadrate to be treated in this way. She and the other two would sacrifice the whole of Lis-Maen before surrendering a drop of power from the capital in Delmoir. And you know who will be waiting to receive them with seemingly empty, open arms.
Alessandra has been planning for this through the ages. The betrayer goddess works within her own time. She remains independent of the fevered rush mortality inflicts upon politicians and generals alike. She has no need to hurry, not while she believes she will soon gain control over the Wheel of Fate.
For now, the wheel rests safely beneath the soil of Lis-Maen. There it must stay, for the good of all.
A time of danger approaches. There is no alternative path around it. Strained alliances lead to misunderstanding and betrayal. We have but one spark of hope against the coming press of darkness—the phoenix, harbinger of Verdigris, draws near. As Lilith foresaw, the phoenix will return to us a wandering soul, that of Lilia, reembodied. She seeks the one to whom she bound herself, Hugh reincarnated. Without him, she has no hope of fulfilling her sacred destiny.
On the back of the scroll above the seal, in the Oracle’s same, fevered hand, she found the final piece of her note: You know what you have to do.
The druid smiled. For once, she did.
Phoenix Rising is the first novel in the new Feather & Flame high fantasy series by Beth Ball.
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