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Rough draft prologue

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  1. The Four Elements Of Ethereal


    Book One: Whisperings Of Hope


    By: Brianna M. Sharp


    Prologue:


    The Kingdom of Ethereal is a peaceful place coursing with ancient magic, or at least it used to be. Peace is such a fragile thing. It takes time and care to be built, but can be destroyed in a matter of seconds with no effort at all. On a day forever marked in history by a crimson smear of blood, the kingdom’s peace shattered like a mirror dashed upon the ground.

    In the very moment of that shattering three animals hastened into the night at a meteoric pace. The pulse of ancient magic beating just below the earth's surface began to wither and fade beneath their paws. Their pounding hearts skittered and beat faster as they felt the magic draining out of the land. Breathing out in labored grunts they ran full speed into the eerie darkness of night. Their only goal was to reach the precarious safety of the most potent magic still left in the kingdom, the great enchanted forest Aesculus Sylva.

    A fourth animal cast a shadow from above as he flew, flapping his great golden wings to keep pace with his comrades below. The forest that had been thrumming with life not long ago was now as silent as the grave.

    The four stopped short as they crossed the forest’s threshold. The very air felt wrong, stale, unlike anything they had felt before. It was as if the very rocks and trees had lost their breath of life. Prickling tingles crept up and down their spines as they crept farther into the tree line.

    The once comforting warm moist scent of soil and fallen leaves was now tainted by a pungent sickening taste; the taste of death. More than just twigs and leaves decorated the ground that night. Something new littered the forest floor, the likes of which the animals had never seen. They halted their inching crawl not far from the tree line, as their eyes finally registered what laid before them. Fur and feathers bristled as their bodies quaked beneath them. Scattered across the ground as far as the eye could see animals lay unmoving; almost seeming to be asleep.

    One of the four cautiously moved forward, her soft padded paws made no sound as they trod slowly and carefully. Sending wafts of earthy air up to her keen nose with each step. The other three animals watched their leader with the solemn stillness of a bleak painting. The leader's nose twitched and sniffed the warm summer night air for any new danger lurking out of sight. She cautiously closed the gap between her and a fallen member of her kind.

    For a fleeting moment, the fallen animal looked as if it might spring up from the dirty ground. With fading hopes that the creature was only stunned the leader nudged her kinsmen with a cold black nose. She leaned a sharp ear close and listened with bated breath for signs of life. Her heart sank as if full of sharp river stones. Her head too heavy to hold up any longer drooped down almost brushing the ground. Crestfallen, the leader gathered her strength, then turned back to the other three and slowly shook her head.

    The others felt a sickening sensation clawing at their hearts, for they knew this tragedy was on their heads. They knew that many of their kinsmen laid dead on the forest floor, and many people would soon follow because of their failure. The four animals felt themselves succumbing to an irresistible current; sucking them down into a whirlpool of empty darkness. They sat mutely, hardly even breathing as they drowned inside.

    Suddenly the moonless night sky lit up like noonday pulling them out of their stupor. The four animals quickly looked back the way they'd come. Their eyes widened as they witnessed a treacherous tornado of fire rising up in the distance. It climbed higher and higher into the sky. When it reached an astounding altitude, the flames suddenly stopped their rotation. For a brief, blissful moment, it seemed as if the inferno was about to snuff itself out. The moment passed in a trice and the pillar of flame contorted and spread out into the sky. The flames wriggled and writhed as they took the form of a great winged serpent. The serpent bared its huge murderess fangs. It crackled and hissed throwing ashes and nightmarish embers to the earth below. Thick black smoke clung around it like a toxic aura.

    As the fiery serpent stretched its wings, it flicked its forked tongue like a whip with an ear-splitting crack. The forest came back to life in an unusual way. Instead of the gentle songs and calls of nature; there were spine melting shrieks and battle cries of bloodthirsty men echoing through the trees. Leaves crunched, and twigs snapped like brittle bones as a massive army clad in menacing black armor revealed itself from the trees nearby.

    The four animals darted under bramble bushes quick as lightening just missing being trampled by a brutish warrior carrying a menacing broad sword in his two meaty fists. They peaked out of their hiding place cautiously. The brambles were located close enough to the forests edge to offer them a perfect view of the invasion. They tried to drag their eyes away, but couldn’t help watching as the truculent warriors poured out of the forest like a polluted river.

    The evil festering in the hearts of the army began to bubble over and flow out before them like a miasma; flooding the kingdom with a hopeless air before the fighting even began. The four animals growled and shook at their own uselessness. All they could do was hide and watch the army destroy the beautiful kingdom they had sworn to protect.

    Townsmen stumbled out of their homes clumsily clutching farming equipment and other meager tools as weapons, but were viciously cut down where they stood. They had never known violence and knew not how to defend themselves.

    The evil army looked like a black monster devouring the land, their flashing swords cutting and slicing like chomping teeth. A small child ran towards the four animals in the forest from a nearby cottage. Her little legs moving as fast as they could carry her. As hard as she tried, she could not get them to bring her to safety quickly enough. She was cut down by a giant soldier before she had gone thirty feet from her home. The soldier laughed like a lunatic, and the animals flinched, as his sword severed the girl’s fragile body with a sickening crunch as it sliced skin and crushed bones. The animals had known something evil would take place this night, but they had not been prepared for the graphic images their eyes now beheld.

    The wild soldier left the little girl laying on the ground still laughing; her face frozen by death forever twisted with her small mouth agape. The animals felt their bodies pulling, trying desperately to burst out of hiding to avenge the bloodshed. Their minds just barely managed to hold their bodies back. Only knowledge of their more profound duty was enough to stop them. If they were to fall the kingdoms’ last hope would fall with them.

    Moments after the girl was killed a deafening thunder-like roar violently smashed through the night air vibrating the ear drums of any who heard it. The fiery serpent bore down from the sky swooping aggressively towards the tiny humans below like an owl hunting mice. It flew low to the ground burning everything in its path.

    Crops and fields were set ablaze. Even the fallen towns people who were sprawled out on the ground were engulfed in the angry crackling reds and yellows. The beast spared nothing in its wake, not even the barbarians on the creatures own side were safe. If they did not clear out of its way in time, they too were incinerated by the creature’s wrath.

    A thick sticky scent burned into the animal’s nostrils it had a sort of metallic taste to it as if droplets of blood mingled with the fumes of burning flesh. Broken screams and piercing sobs lifted up into the sky. The keening and wailing sounds wrenched at the hearts of the animals.

    Together the fiery serpent and deranged army made up an unstoppable force. A sad whisper in the back of the animals minds told them the evil army would overtake the rest of Etherial as quickly as they could travel. The other towns would surely be as unprepared as this one had been.

    The townsmen did their best to defend their families but soon began to realize giving in may be their only hope for survival. Any dream the people had of fending off their attackers melted away as they laid down their tools in surrender.

    One of the animals desperately searched for the origin of these woes with his far-seeing eyes. He peered deep into the distance, and finally, he spotted what he was searching for. The imposing figure of a man stood on top of the castle walls. The man had crowned himself since the animal had seen him last. The crown was black and twisted like the man's heart. It was set with four blood-red rubies that gleamed with malicious magic. The kingdom now had a malevolent force ruling over it in the guise of a Dark King.

    The Dark King turned to look towards the animal spying on him from a distance. The king’s dark eyes glinted with a knowing look as he signaled to the fire serpent with a flick of his wrist.

    The monstrous beast soared up into the sky and flew directly towards the animals hiding place. It spewed sizzling flames from its fanged mouth as it barreled towards the cowering animals. They bolted from their hiding place escaping into the protection of the trees, but quickly realized they could not outrun the monster no matter how fast they went. They turned to look their death and the death of all hope in the face with dignity. Their hearts pounded as they watched the flaming menace cross the forest's border, breaching the gap that separated them.

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