Chapters:

Prologue

It’s said that in the early days, the gods fought amongst themselves like squabbling siblings. White fire split the sky, flung carelessly and thoughtlessly from one temple to another.

Those who lived closest to the temples disappeared in a single blast of white light. They died so quickly their souls didn’t even have time to escape their bodies, but were forever imprinted as shadows on the few remaining walls that stood around the temples.

Those who lived in the areas surrounding the temples suffered burns on their skin, as if the sun had reached down and touched them itself. But while the burns on their skin healed, the invisible burning inside their bodies did not, and it consumed them from the inside out. They were dead within weeks.

The lucky few to have survived the burning found themselves blinded by the brightness of the fire, said to have rivaled the very light of the sun itself. Their eyes turned as white as the fire that had been their last vision.

Nature, as a mother is wont to do, wept for Her fallen children. The gods had destroyed Her land in their anger. In sorrow, She coated the land with ash and blotted the sun from the sky. Without the sun, the world grew cold and became gray for years on end. The weak among the remaining people died from hunger, from cold, from illness.

Those few who were strong enough and smart enough to survive the winter were greeted by a glorious sight the day the sun first returned to the east. The sky glowed blood red as if a hundred cities were burning under the fire of the gods, but it was simply a red dawn returning life to the earth.

Nature blessed Her remaining children in many ways. They no longer suffered from the internal burning that had taken so many of their ancestors. Women gave birth easily to strong, healthy children and men were once again able to find game in the thickening forests.

Nature left a reminder of past follies in the skins of Her children – for every hundred children born healthy and sound, one was not. These babies were born with the marks of the burned victims on their bodies, as if the dead ancestors were looking for new life through the children.

No one knew what made these children different, or which ones would survive into adulthood. At birth and through their tenth year, they seemed as any other child – happy, carefree, mischevous. But around the dawning of their eleventh year, these children began to burn from the inside as their ancestors had done. They fell into a fever, their waking moments becoming nightmares and their sleep becoming hell.

Each one burned differently, for different amounts of time. At the end, the weakest ones turned gray as ash, their eyes becoming milky white, and they would pass from this life into the next.

The few that managed to survive often awoke from their fever with a mind honed to perfection by pain. Some even lost the burned scars that had set them apart as children. These that survived became important parts of the community, often serving as healers, historians, generals, and leaders.

As the earth continued to warm and the snows and glaciers receded, the people gathered together and began to rebuild the lives their ancestors had lost so many decades ago. A city sprang to life, buildings crudely constructed from the remains of the temples of the gods. With time, the people found new life in freshly cleared fields.