Along the Razor’s Edge

Prologue

My life began the day we lost the war.


I remember seeing the fire go out of Josef’s eyes. I remember seeing my oldest friend give up and surrender. “Eskara, STOP! It’s over. We’ve lost.”


We were surrounded by enemies, standing atop the tallest tower of Fort Vernan. The city around us was chaos, a battle played out in the darkest shades of red. Beyond the city was a scorched ruin, fields turned black by fire and war.


“It’s not over!” I screamed, a shard of ice forming in one hand while the other burst into green flame. “We can take them.” Oh the over-confidence of youth, before the hammer and anvil of time and reality have beaten us into whatever shape society demands.


I remember twenty men and women surrounding us, though my memory is fuzzy from the rage. Perhaps it was more like ten. Some were warriors with glowing armour, enchanted to deflect magic. Others were Sourcerers like Josef and I. Well, not quite like Josef and I. We were beyond them. In our prime. Each with five Sources lending us power.


“It’s over,” Josef said again, grabbing my arm and pointing.


Down below, on the field of battle I could see the two armies clashing; crashing against each other. Horns sounded over the din, echoing up to our ears. And I saw flags falling. The tell-tale blue blur of a Chronomancer darting between units, relaying the orders. Our soldiers laying down their arms.


Josef was right, the order had been given to surrender. It might not have reached us yet, so high up, but it would. After ten years of war the Orran empire was crumbling.


I didn’t know it then, but the emperor was dead. While the battle raged at our door and I rained down five types of bloody hell upon our enemy, they had infiltrated the palace and ended the Orran bloodline once and for all.


“Stand down,” ordered one of the Terrelan soldiers. His armour was silver with etched runes glowing pink. There was fear on his face, as well there should have been. I saw it there and smiled. We had already killed so many of his comrades. They were right to fear me.


The sky was on fire, blood red showing behind the grey clouds, lightning rippling overhead and thunder rattling the earth. A Meteomancer beating out a dramatic ending to the ten year war.
There are times in life when it is wise to lay down and accept defeat. It is a lesson Josef learned early on in our lives. I was, as always, the slower learner. I shook my head.


“I will not lay down and…” My mouth fumbled out a strangled cry as Josef hit me from behind, and the world went bright for a moment. The next thing I remember I was down on my hands and knees, staring at stone the colour of ash. It was rough to the touch and cold despite the battle. I have always been attuned to temperature. Pyromancy was the first school I mastered and remains one of my most proficient.


When I looked up I saw a woman rushing towards me, she wore Terrelan robes and her eyes glowed green with her magic. I felt a wave of hopelessness wash over me, quashing my will to fight.


Hands grabbed hold of me from behind and pulled me back to stare at the woman with the glowing eyes. She reached into a pouch hanging from her belt and pulled out a clump of brown weed. I clenched my jaw shut and struggled against the hands holding me, but I was not strong enough. My power lay in magic, not brute strength.


Fingers pushed into my cheeks so hard I felt them puncture the skin. They forced my mouth open and shoved the weed inside. Then there was a hand underneath my jaw, keeping my mouth shut. The taste was bitter and spicy all at once, so hot it burned my tongue and made my eyes water.


Too late, I thought to use magic. With a surge of power I ignited my hands into searing green flame. Those holding me screamed and fell away and I leapt back to my feet just as the first wave of vertigo hit. The world turned upside down and then wobbled, finally righting itself with a violent shake. I was back on my hands and knees again, the green flame guttering out even as I watched.


You can’t control the retching once it starts. Spiceweed is potent stuff. Within moments I was hacking up the contents of my stomach while struggling to breathe. My first Source hit the floor in pool of acidic vomit. It held a faint orange glow already fading. I felt my connection to fire fade with it.


The second Source to go was my connection to the Other World. It was larger than the others with hard edges, and bringing it back up was beyond painful. Somewhere above, I knew the hellions I had summoned would tear free of their bondage and fly away. Unleashed monsters are a blight on the world, but a few monsters to hunt down were less dangerous than I with a Source in my stomach.


My last three Sources I vomited up as well, each with a sticky coating of blood. They were snatched away as soon as I retched them onto the floor. I was exhausted. Bringing up Sources has always been that way for me. It takes such effort, as though my body refuses to let go of the power even once it starts to hurt me. And it has hurt me. Many times.


I lay there on the rooftop of the tallest tower of Fort Vernan, in a pool of my own vomit and blood. Beaten. Stripped of my power. And so fucking angry! My hands were pulled behind my back and I felt rope wrap around them. A distant discomfort I barely registered as the misery of my defeat rose up to claim me.


At just fifteen years old I had fought in the greatest war mankind has ever known. I had been one of Orran’s most powerful Sourcerers, celebrated by our allies and feared by our enemies. I had helped bring prosperity to my emperor’s lands, destruction to his foes. And then I was a prisoner, my power gone with my Sources. There was only one place the Terrelans would send a prisoner as valuable as I– the Pit.

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