Here’s a little taste of Chapter One – please keep in mind that this is a rough, rough draft and far from perfect. Enjoy! Feel free to comment and leave me your thoughts.
The captain of the outer wall regiment of the Regial Guard squinted into the glare of the setting sun, trying to make out the figure coming down the road toward him. Although Captain Nario was fairly certain that the Augiri of old were all but extinct, the disturbing stories about them were all he could think about as the ethereal-looking girl became visible against the glare.
He rubbed his eyes, hoping that the figure was a figment of his overtired mind. He’d taken a second shift today to cover for a guard who had caught some sort of coughing sickness, and his body and mind were running on his last bits of strength. When he brought his hands away from his face, the girl was still there, walking unwaveringly down the road toward him. She was alone. At this time of the evening, the road leading to the Regial Palace was usually empty. Normal people were eating supper in their homes by now.
Nario made the Sign of the Light over his heart and whispered a prayer to the Lord of the Light to protect him if it turned out that she was an Augira who had come to steal their souls. He fingered his sword hilt and turned to Manu, who was standing on the other side of the portcullis. Aside from the sentries far above on the outer wall, Manu was the only other guard on duty with him.
“Manu!” Nario said in an exaggerated whisper, “You see that?”
Manu scanned the road, brow furrowed. Then, he made the Sign over his heart and cursed.
“Shadows ‘n darkness!” Manu said, “That can’t be anythin’ but bad, captain. Are ‘Giri usin’ children these days?”
Manu’s right hand was on his sword, his left clutching his pendant depicting the Lord of the Light.
“I don’t know, Manu,” Nario replied, worriedly watching the girl as she continued toward them. “Does anyone save the Light himself know what Augiri are truly capable of?”
Neither man cared to continue the conversation; instead, they stood at their posts watching the road with hawk-like gazes, bodies taught with anxiety. Both had their swords at the ready.
Nario could tell when the guards atop the outer wall saw the girl by their muttered curses and sudden discomfited movements. Her course was unerringly in Nario’s direction. As the captain assigned to the outer gate, Nario was used to dealing with the various vagrants, lunatics, and beggars who attempted to enter the Regial Palace. However, this one made him more uneasy than any of the others he had had to deal with during his years at the post.
The closer she came, the more troubled Nario found himself. The girl couldn’t have been more than eleven years old, but she carried herself with the deliberate grace of one much older. Her skin was pale, so light as to be almost translucent, and her hair was the lightest shade of gold he had ever seen. She seemed to be walking with unusual slowness. As soon as he could clearly see her face, Nario realized that this was because the child was totally and completely blind. He stifled a shudder as those pale, unseeing eyes met his, cloudy irises so light a blue that they were almost colorless. He rubbed his thumb in a pattern along the ribbing of his sword hilt to help him focus.
Nario chided himself for his nervousness, but he could not shake thoughts of the heinous Augiri and their evil powers. It was said that an Augir or an Augira could steal a person’s life with little more than a hand gesture and a look. Nario tried to remember how their appearance had been described, but he could not.
Surely, he thought, they looked like this one, with her pale skin and unearthly eyes. And what kind of child acts like this, coming alone to the palace at dusk?
As she drew within a few steps of him, Nario’s fellows atop the wall above him tried to move further down without him noticing. He noticed.
Nario held his ground, snarling, “What business brings you to the Regial Palace?”
It wouldn’t do to appear shaken by this child, especially if she was an Augira, but Nario was embarrassed to realize that his hands were trembling ever so slightly. Nonetheless, he glared down at the girl, his right hand pulling his sword out of its hilt just enough to show a thin glimpse of the metal blade in an unspoken threat. The unearthly child just smiled calmly at him.
“I need to speak to Regis Dahven immediately,” she said. The girl’s voice was as delicate as her frame, and she spoke softly. Her words were cultured and sure. “I know how he is going to die.”
Nario couldn’t help but bark out a laugh in shock.
“What? What kind of a joke is this, child?” he asked, “The regis gets a lot of doomsayers and the like, you know.”
Nario heard a grunt from Manu, who was watching the exchange and ready to lend his sword should it be necessary. Nario cocked his head to the side and met her eyes, measuring her words. The girl sighed, but did not look surprised at his disbelief.
“I understand your skepticism,” she said, “but I’m afraid I truly am serious. I thought he should know. I really cannot tell you any more than that. I am willing to wait as long as it takes for Regis Dahven to understand how serious I am.”
Although she acted normally enough as she spoke, Nario knew better than to let his guard down even the tiniest bit. Everyone was aware of how wily Augiri were. He kept his muscles tensed, his hand never leaving his sword hilt.
Light, does she really believe what she’s saying? Nario wondered. What kind of twisted Auri would allow her to see the future? The only true way to know how a man’s going to die is to be the one doing the killing.
He had made the signal for one of the guards atop the wall to get a Hand of the Light – or at least a Lucid One – to the front gate as soon as he had seen those unearthly eyes. A Hand was comprised of at least five members of the Order of Illumination. Usually, they contained at least one Lucid One, a person with bi-colored eyes who was born with the innate ability to sense Auri in others. There weren’t many Lucid One’s these days, but most of them joined with the Order. Being at the palace, there was a greater chance that a Lucid One would be summoned to assess the girl.
During the aftermath of Kortara’s Ruin, Lucid Ones were forced to join the Order to help in the hunt for and capture of Augiri. Over the past hundred years or so, the role of Lucid Ones had changed due to the decrease in the number of people born with much Auri, and it had been years since they were required to join the Order against their will. Lucid Ones were still relied upon to deal with these situations, but Nario felt confident that, even should the Light send a Hand without one, they would be far better at handling this disturbing girl than he.
At this point, all he needed to do was keep her from stealing his soul until they arrived.
“Then you will wait,” Nario said. He took a risk and added, “I’ve alerted the Order of Illumination of your presence, and a Hand should be arriving any minute now.”
There, Nario thought. Let her also understand that I am not without backup.
She nodded, but made no other movement. Nario found himself staring at her eyes, and he quickly looked away upon the realization. He was unnerved when he heard her laugh. The girl’s laughter was brittle, full of the bitter knowledge of life’s pain that a child her age should not know. He suddenly went cold all over, wondering what malevolent use of Auri had allowed her to know that he’d been staring, hands itching to trace the Sign over his chest again to protect against her abnormal abilities.
“I have no Auri, and I am no evil Augira” she stated plainly, as if reading his mind. “The sudden rustle of your uniform gave your behavior away. Besides, staring is not exactly an uncommon reaction when people see me. You’d think I’d be used to it by now.”
Nario met Manu’s gaze over her head, and both men grunted in response.
The palace road was devoid of passers-by, and, aside from Nario and Manu, the girl was alone out here. There were guards atop the wall, of course, but they were high enough up that it was easy to forget their presence. Nario might have felt more exposed, but the truth was that the palace housed the two most important men in the country, along with their loyal followers and guards.
None of whom took kindly to those who used Auri in any way.
Both the regis of Alcostia and Alcostia’s Light, the head of the Order of Illumination, called the Regial Palace their home. Since the founding of the Order, the Light had been expected to work closely with the regis; providing Alcostia’s Light with living and work quarters within the Regial Palace seemed the most efficient way to ensure this.
The Order of Illumination was the national religion of Alcostia, and they were a highly militarized group. The Order had been founded in the aftermath of Kortara’s Ruin, and took up the task of eliminating any potential Auri-related threats to Alcostia. Hands of the Light were charged with the capture of any San-Augiri or Augiri to protect the people from their evil Auri. No one wanted to repeat Kortara’s Ruin, so the Order had practically limitless resources.
Regis Dahven had just as much power as the Light, but he was not known for using it as justly. This Regis had wild mood swings that were infamous throughout Alcostia; depending on the day, a man convicted of a crime could receive a death sentence or a complete pardon. Either the Light or the regis could have the girl thrown into prison or killed without protest if she appeared to be a threat to Alcostia.
For someone who seemed as much an Augira as this girl, Nario thought, walking up to Regial Palace is beyond foolish – a death wish.