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Rhees walked in front of the procession, keenly aware of Dawn’s body on the litter behind him. The cave under the ruined city of Minalav was lined with an oil-filled trench, now lit with flame. Waves from the bay crashed overhead.
That someone would kill Dawn, the Auldmother, was unspeakable. And it was Rhees himself who had done it. The war had been long and bloody, but Dawn had remained neutral, retreating into the forest with her favored children as Roarik the Auldtree wrought destruction on the humans.
It had to be done. Rhees could still smell the forest burning, see Dawn’s calm eyes when she met him and the other hybrids.
Roarik knelt in the center of the cave, a stone tablet in front of him, crown branches greater than that of the northern elk. His sorrow was oppressive in the room, weighing down on Rhees as if it were his own. He’d spent centuries with Dawn, cherished her, fathered hundreds of sprygans with her. And now she was gone. Felled in a war of his wayward passions.
The Ashite king stood to his right, his guards behind him, hands on sword hilts—for all the good it would do them if it came to a fight. Roarik would tear them limb from limb without a thought. He could make a treaty with the next humans to occupy the plains outside the Firstforest. This was not a treaty for any particular people, but for all sprygans and all humans.
Rhees stopped in front of the group and the litter was lowered. The four hybrids carrying it lifted Dawn’s petrified corpse and set her on the stone ground. When treating her body, they had positioned her so that she knelt, head bowed, hands raised.
Roarik reached out, brushing his fingertips down her cheek. “A night unending. My light, my sun.”
Finally the Auldtree stood, placed the stone tablet atop Dawn’s head and hands, and Rhees handed him a chisel. He scrawled Sprygan symbols onto the tablet as he spoke. “Seeds of barkskin and softskins, who to neither belong, but to both bound, you will be Keepers of our Treaty.”
Rhees bowed and translated the words for the humans. Then he spoke in Sprygan, his voice like an elm tree in the wind. “My Auldtree, we will be Keepers of your Treaty.”
Roarik met his eyes, pupilless amber spheres that pierced to his soul, drudging up the memory of Dawn’s death. If you had loved her still, I would have failed. You abandoned her. As he thought the words, Roarik’s own mind matched them. They both knew they were both to blame.
Roarik continued with the Treaty. The words already discussed in advance. Rhees translated, glad that no insults were thrown and no one talked of retribution. The loss of Dawn had been hard on the sprygans, the loss of High Priest Cael had been hard on the humans. Both had been losses for the hybrids.
Roarik and the king signed their names on the tablet and all left the cave save for Roarik.
Rhees lingered, waving his men on. “I’m sorry… I had to kill her. It was the only way.”
Roarik’s anger flashed but dissipated quickly under his despair. He drew the memory again from Rhees’ mind, Dawn’s final words, You must kill me to end it, leave my heart for him.
Roarik stood, towering over Rhees. “We both pay for her death. These… softskins of Cael, use them. Learn of this…” He gestured to the open scar on his woody chest, where the corner of his heart could be seen, woody flesh flecked with hard glowing stone, like that of the fallen stars. “Bring her back.”
Realization struck. High Priest Cael had spoken of restoring Roarik’s heart, the Star of Life. He’d wanted to learn how it worked by studying the remnants of it in his children. They might be able to bring Dawn back if they could uncover its secrets.
Rhees nodded solemnly. How many hybrids would die to get that knowledge? Their blood would be his penance. But they would finally have a home, a place in between the worlds of their human and sprygan parents. Minalav.
A thousand years passed. The Ashites and their dark studies fell to Norgan vengeance. Dawn’s heart remained still and cold. And in the forest, the Auldtree reigned.
According to the Histories, the world’s first war was between humans and sprygans. Humans violated the forests which sprygans held sacred, and sprygans had insatiable desires for their soft-skinned and deeply passionate neighbors. Their only means of communicating with one another was through hybrids of the two species, who often had no wish to be known as such for fear of being mistrusted and ostracized.
The conflict ended when the Auldtree’s beloved Dawn was killed. In the wake of her death, a treaty was struck, separating humans and sprygans at the forest’s edge. These accounts were written by Ashites, based on the word of our sprygan mothers, sources known to be fickle. Yet the Sprygan Treaty is in our possession, its guidance is followed, and peace is kept. So it has been for near a millennium.
To enable trade and discourse on Treaty matters, hybrids of the two species are created in the city of Minalav. We are fashioned of both worlds, yet belong to neither. We uphold the Treaty for our creators, for if we are not of use, we are merely a threat. Norgan rule of the city gave us more autonomy than we had under the Ashites, but we must tread lightly. The Ashites taught us a lesson of great value—it’s safer to go unnoticed than to risk human reverence. Though the Stars guide us with their light, our haven is the shadows.
~Clegram, Seed of Ardisia, Forty-fifth Austringer of Minalav
Starlight Jewel didn’t have a prologue initially. I’m one of those villains in the anti-prologue camp who loves to learn the worlds as I go, so it was only under pressure from others (many confused beta readers), that I added one in.
Does Starlight Jewel need a prologue? What can/should the prologue do? Ultimately, it does not need a prologue, but for those who are not as comfortable being confused about the world for a while, it can certainly help to ease readers into it. Epic alternate world fantasies are complex, Starlight Jewel isn’t an exception. I think my old prologue did that well enough, and was still perfectly skippable for those who are only interested in the story present.
However, I felt that the prologue could do more and be more engaging, and that was ultimately what pushed me to try yet another rewrite. More on that in a minute.
I tried so many different ways before publishing to present the information that we felt was needed, and it was a frustrating process with dozens of rewrites. I finally settled on this diary entry of a former Austringer, Clegram. I thought it could give a bit of framework for the central location of the world, Minalav, and its functioning with the Starlight Company and hybrids.
However, as I read through the first chapters in the SPFBO contest, and read a lot of prologues, I began to form a better understanding of what I look for in an introduction to the world. At this point, I’ve developed a strong dislike of anything that isn’t in-scene. And my prologue is not in-scene.
I’ve also been reflecting a great deal on how misleading the first half of my book is. It doesn’t give a lot of hints as to how dark the world or characters are, and could be mistaken for a romantasy.
So in the rewrite, I decided to attempt two things: to write something in-scene, and to write something that gives hints as to how dark this world is and where the conflict is ultimately going to lead.
Where to start with that? How? I considered doing a Clegram PoV but I couldn’t figure a way to make that seem organic while presenting all the information needed. So… I went further back. Centuries back. To the signing of the Sprygan Treaty and the end of the human-sprygan human war. This is ultimately the spark of the conflicts in the story present.
What led to the Ashites’ corruption? What’s up with all the hybrids being only in Minalav? Why aren’t the humans just killing these hybrid abominations? What do they gain by actively creating hybrids? Those are the questions I wanted to answer or hint at in this prologue in order to send readers into the story present without so much confusion. Of course all these answers are given throughout the book, but it’s helpful as a reader to know what sort of world you’re diving into.
I also was happy to be able to include a scene with an actual sprygan earlier in the book. Having Roarik in the book from the start is something that I feel will be a positive change.
So here it is, the new prologue. I can’t put it in the book quite yet because it’s longer than the former prologue and the designer has to make some changes to the cover because of that.
So what do you think? I’ve been ruthless in ripping up these first chapters on Twitter, so don’t hold back.
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Hybrids from the PoV of an Ashite academic
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