Prologue to Return of the Vinslings. The rest of Part I can be found in my portfolio.
That was the only thing five-year-old Carson Krot could feel as he lay trapped underneath the rubble of the destroyed home, his left eye the single patch of skin left uncovered by dirt and stone. Barely able to breathe, he could hardly have managed to cry out for help even if his mind were clear enough that he could think to do so. His sister Krystal lay beside him, face down, unconscious.
She was the lucky one.
Terrace Larsen’s heart beat fast as he looked down through the night on the ruined home from the window of the resistance cruiser. Flames still flickered, and Terrace could glimpse bodies crushed in the rubble.
The cruiser landed, the doors sliding open. The other resistance soldiers fanned out, looking for survivors. Terrace walked forward, dazed. Then something caught his eye. Kneeling beside the body of a fallen man, he saw a symbol engraved in steel on the man’s left pauldron: one he recognized all too well.
“The Darkness. Jadis Larsh,” he whispered. Despite having been defeated and driven into hiding by Terrace and the rest of the resistance at the Battle of Meridian seven years ago, the militant group had been unusually active as of late, attacking several leaders of the resistance… and now they had attacked Terrace’s best friends.
“Commander Larsen. We’ve found them.”
Terrace looked up to see a resistance officer standing beside him.
“Are they alright?”
The officer winced. “They… come and see.”
Terrace rose to his feet and walked over to where the other resistance soldiers stood. They were looking downward at the remains of Caroline Krot and David Grail, ripped apart, crushed, and utterly, completely dead.
Terrace breathed heavily, struggling to hold back his tears. They'd been heroes. Instrumental to the downfall of Darkness. More than that, they were his best friends. He’d fought with them, laughed with them, cried with them. And now they were gone, yet another victim to the rage of war. He was so sick of this. So sick of giving everything he had to the cause, only to lose it.
“I’m sorry, Terrace.”
Terrace looked away.
“We want to give them a flame burial.”
“Can we not take their bodies back?”
“Sir, you know the tradition.”
“What of the children then? They have two. Twins.”
“We scanned the area as thoroughly as we could but could not find them, sir. The killers likely took them. Or they’re already dead.”
“Fine. Do it. Just don’t expect me to watch.”
The resistance soldiers pointed their staffs down at the bodies as they chanted the burial salute. “May the ashes of these heroes fly forever on the wind!” Flames leaped from their staffs and consumed the bodies as the resistance men stood in reverent silence. Then, hesitantly, they began to make their way back to the copter. But Terrace stayed still, staring into the distance.
“Terrace, it’s time to leave.”
“I’m not leaving.”
“Terrace, staying here won’t make them come back.”
“I’m not leaving.”
“You don’t understand. I’m not going back to Artensia, or Mage City, or anywhere else. I’ve had enough of this. I’m leaving for the mortal world. To live out the rest of my days in peace.”
The resistance officer sighed.“Are you sure?”
“Then it’s been an honor serving with you, Commander Larsen.”
The soldier walked into the cruiser, and the doors slid closed as it took off, leaving Terrace behind. He continued to stare into the distance, thinking.
He didn’t want to leave the resistance. Not completely. There were good people there. They’d given him a new life when his life had been taken from him. But ultimately, they were a resistance, a war effort.
He’d had enough of war.
There was a mortal town nearby. From there, he could start a new life. It wouldn’t be much, but it would have to do.
He began to walk off.
Carson lay still, terror amplified by the sounds of soldiers rustling through the night. He heard the roar of an engine and bright light flashed in his one open eye.
He had been lying here for hours now, the claustrophobia and hyperventilation building. Finally, something inside him snapped and he called out into the night.
It was the voice of a young boy- quiet but still audible. Terrace stopped looked back, then shook his head. It couldn’t be anything but a hallucination. The team had scanned the area. Everyone was dead.
“Enough. They’re gone.” He again began to walk away, but again came the cry:
“Dad! Help! Please.”
Terrace looked back again, then began striding back toward the rubble, searching for the source of the cries. Again and again, the cry rang out, Terrace searching desperately, but finding nothing. Several times he thought to give up, but every time the cry sounded again- the voice of the boy, thought high and childlike, oh so similar to that of his lost friends. He continued to search. And then he found it: a single blue eye staring out of the rubble, utterly terrified.
Kneeling down, Terrace waved his hand and the rubble fell away, revealing a young boy and a young girl. The young girl was face down, completely unconscious, but the young boy was awake and shaking. Terrace’s heart sank. He knelt down and stretched his hand out to the boy. The boy shrank backward.
“It’s alright. I’m a friend. What’s your name?”
“C-c-Carson,” the boy stuttered. “C-c-c-Carson Krot. What happened to… what happened to Mom and Dad?”
Terrace hesitated. “They’re gone,” he said finally. “But I am here.”
And slowly, the boy reached out and took his hand.