Here are the next 3 pages of the prologue.
Kortara opened the door and the passageway torchlight threw a swath of yellow across the dark cell floor. The occupant, a boy no older than his eleventh year, cringed away from both the light and the open door.
Reaching inside a pocket in his robe, Kortara procured a half loaf of bread, some wedges of cheese, and a round fruit of some kind. He smiled as the boy’s eyes widened, taking in the bounty before him. Slowly, the boy crept forward as Kortara held the food out toward him enticingly.
“Go ahead,” he said soothingly, “take it.”
According to Pevnir, a hard day’s ride had brought the boy to the capital yesterday morning. He had been living on the streets of Old Malbec, and the Order had discovered him after he had been caught picking pockets. The constable had considered the way the boy had so successfully swindled the good people of his town to be nothing short of the work of an Augira. Of course, the Order had been obligated to take matters into their own hands, and, of course, the boy was probably innocent of all charges. Well, all Auri-related charges.
Kortara stood in the doorway, feigning patience, while the smells of the cell accosted his nose. The boy still stank like a street urchin, and Kortara resisted the urge to wipe his hands on his lavish robe. After a brief moment of indecision, the boy lunged for the food and began wolfing down the bread and cheese, watching Kortara with wide eyes.
“I thought you might be hungry,” Kortara said invitingly, knowing full well that he had ordered the boy to be given only water since his arrival. The boy kept chewing and nodded. Kortara waited patiently as the boy continued eating.
There was, after all, no hurry.
How long has it been since I’ve been able to access Auri, to feel that singular rush of power through my veins? Two hundred years? He sighed. Still, this one may finally have enough Augiri ability for me drain that I may actually be able to complete the Marks. The Nameless One knows that I have waited long enough, trapped as I am.
After years of madness, confined within the mind of a madman, Kortara had finally come up with a plan. It was a wild idea, one that had no precedent. The plan was simple. As he had in his prior life, Kortara would drain the Auri of others to fuel his own power, but this time he would be trying to channel their Auri in an attempt to resurrect himself in this body, without the other personalities that also inhabited it. It was a long shot, but Kortara had waited long enough for even a long shot to seem worthwhile.
The only problem was regis Dahven. Where Kortara had been an Augira born with a strong ability to access Auri in not only himself, but in others, regis Dahven – this body he was confined to – had not a shred of Augiri heritage. Dahven couldn’t access Auri if his life depended on it. And that meant that Kortara couldn’t, either. So although Kortara had been attempting to drain prisoners of their Auri throughout the past two years, none of his attempts had been successful.
At first, he’d picked prisoners at random for his rituals. No one missed those in the Illuminated Dungeons, so Kortara had little concern about being caught. After multiple failures, he had begun to wonder if bloodline might be the key to the puzzle. Perhaps those with Augiri heritage held the key – if they possessed the ability to access Auri, maybe it would flow more easily from them to him. So, Kortara had begun tasking Pevnir with finding prisoners with more promise.
Kortara pulled himself from his musings and eyed the amount of uneaten food in the boy’s hands. Any minute now…
Suddenly, the boy’s eyes seemed to unfocus and he sat down abruptly. The remaining food tumbled from his hands and he slumped to the ground. In seconds, he was unconscious.
Kortara dusted off his robes and exited the cell.
“Pevnir,” Kortara said, “Please collect the body and bring him to the chamber. I will meet you there.” Without waiting to see if his orders were received, he strode briskly down the hall.
After walking even deeper into the underground labyrinth of passageways, Kortara stopped in front of the door that looked like the entrance to a Temple of Illumination. The stone was carved with artistic flair, scrollwork and imagery surrounding the doorway. This, however, was no Temple of Illumination. He slipped in quietly, soaking in the ambiance.
The chamber was a round room with a domed ceiling. The walls had shelves carved out of them and shadowed nooks and doorways. In the center was a large slab of stone surrounded by torches in metal holders. Although much of the chamber was dark, the stone table in the middle was well-lit. Kortara inhaled deeply, breathing in the earthy scents of candles, soil, and stone.
It was perfect.
This far underground, no sound leaked out from under the door of the chamber. The servants were banned from ever coming this far into the Illuminated Dungeons, and there were sentries loyal to his cause posted throughout the tunnels. Kortara tolerated no interruptions. He was drawn from his musings as the door opened and Pevnir entered, carrying the boy over his shoulder. Kortara stepped to the side as the guard passed and laid the boy on the stone table.
Kortara watched in silence as Pevnir arranged the boy on his back, legs straight, arms to his sides. Both men had done with many times before, and there was no reason to speak. Finished, Pevnir turned and, after bowing to his leader, made his way to the door.
Kortara did this part alone, and his followers understood.
He took a long knife off of a shelf to the left of the altar and slowly approached the unconscious boy. Kortara took a deep breath and called back knowledge that was centuries old. While his left hand held the knife, he used his free hand to draw a complex symbol in the air before him. He had memorized the lines and symbols that made up the Opening Marks, the symbols that allowed an Augira to access Auri. In the dim lighting, Kortara imagined that he could see the Opening Marks shimmering in the air in front of his face, .
Once he finished, he slowly made two shallow cuts along the inside of each of the boy’s wrists. Then, he made matching cuts on his own wrists, letting the blood from the knife mixed with his own. Kortara focused all of his mental energy and pressed his right wrist against the boy’s right wrist, following with the left. It was crucial that his focus never waver; that was why he never allowed his followers to observe the ritual.