Chapter 1: The Obsidian Spire
ONE YEAR LATER
“You can’t leave me!” the girl shrieked, writhing against her enchanted chains.
“Goodbye, Esmer,” James said as he spun on his heel and strode away.
Waking with a start, reality cascaded like a torrent of fire over James and burned away all his dark phantasms. A cry of horror almost escaped his lips. When he opened his eyes, all James saw was the interior of a jail cell, dimly illuminated by a strange green torch across the hall from the tiny room. The hard black stones of the floor hurt James’s back, and so he scrambled to his bare feet. James wracked his brain, but he could find no justifying reason for him to be in a jail
cell. Last night he had gone to sleep safely in his home, and with no guilt in his heart. Now, his dark dreams and the heavy aura of the place weighed down on his soul like stones, drowning him in despair.
“Hello?” James meant to shout, but in fact whispered, hoping that there was some mistake and that he would be released immediately.
No one answered him. In fact, the place was completely silent, and not even the strange green flame gave any noise or comforting warmth. Suddenly James shivered, realizing that it was very cold. The stones, which he noticed were all of the very darkest hue, seemed to radiate chill. James realized with a start that he was not in the dungeon of his hometown, Capria. All of the official buildings in the city were made of white stone. So, James decided, I’ve been kidnapped. That would explain a lot. Whoever had kidnapped him, however, was clearly overconfident or not very thorough. If they had paid any attention whatsoever to their victim, they would have noticed that he was slim- slim enough to get through the bars of the dungeon clearly meant for grown men. As the twelve year old squirmed through the cold iron bars, he laughed quietly to himself. Then he realized that he was not, in fact, alone. Down the cell-lined hallway of the
dungeon, there was a door, and blocking the door was a sleeping man with long, wild grey hair in garments so frayed and patched that James decided that not one thread was from the original set of clothing. At the other end of the hall was a dead end. Clearly the man was there to guard James.
James crept up to the guard, and decided that he could not get past him without waking him up. Upon closer examination it was clear that the guard was gaunt and his fingers were long and had talon-like fingernails. A crooked dagger was at his side, but that didn’t worry James too much. In his pocket he felt the familiar weight of his medicine bag, which his kidnapper or kidnappers had obviously neglected to remove. James rummaged silently through the bag for a moment before coming up with the vial of black liquid. He fingered the rim for a moment, just as he had done a hundred times since first receiving the potion. The golden rim was shaped like a dragon with tiny ruby eyes, and the stone cork was engraved with magic runes. With a quick movement James uncorked the vial and drained the bitter contents. A tremor went through his body, and the darkness swallowed him up until he was merely a walking shadow. Although he knew that in that form he made no noise, he tip-toed as he stepped over the form of the man and hurried into the chamber beyond.
It was circular, made of the same black stone, lit by the same strange green torches, and had prison-hallways leading off in all directions. In the far corner of the room was a spiral staircase that led upwards, around which grisly instruments of torture sat grimacing at James and making him shudder. Everything was silent, like a dormant volcano, but from the blood-stains on the walls James concluded that the torture chamber had not always been empty. Eager to get away from the sickening room, James strode over to the staircase and began to climb. Doorways led off to the right as he continued climbing until he was dizzy and short of breath. Finally he came to an ornate iron doorway through which he could hear a conversation.
“You have failed, Cidius!” hissed a voice in an accent that James had never heard before. The ‘s’ at the end of the name was drawn out like a snake. “Without the prince we cannot invade Cithara!”
“We performed the ritual to the letter!” cried another voice, in that same accent. “Never before has the Nether Realm sent us such unsatisfactory results. It is a shame, I would have been delighted to feast on such chaos as we would have had tomorrow…”
“Silence!” shouted another voice, this one with command and condescension. “We shall continue with the invasion as planned. Due to Cidius’s foolishness, the head of the lion was not cut off, but that shall not stop us. Our return from the Nether Realm will be complete tomorrow, and the mages of Istris cannot be confused any longer. Our fate shall be worse if the fools have warning of our arrival. The Black Crown has spoken.”
James had completely forgotten about the guard, and when he came screaming up the stairs shouting like a madman James froze with fear. At that moment James began to feel the effects of the potion wearing off, and he slowly but surely started to materialize. When the madman started getting very close, James had only two choices- to keep climbing the stairs, or to go through that terrifying door. To go up was useless, because there was no way James’s short legs could keep him ahead of the wild man.
What James saw as he opened the door would change his life forever.