(Figure I’ll share and see how the one piece I got came out. This is the opening for the Prologue, which has yet to be edited.)
Nestled in a valley that follows the sun’s daily path, the central temple of Durag is bustling with activity. The citizens of the small town, which has developed around the holy spire, hurry to get their chores and errands done before the noon execution. Whispers about the prisoner mix with the excited discussions about what the rare event will entail, the conversations causing many to lose track of time. Hundreds of picnicking groups have already gathered on the hillsides in order to get a clear view of the cobblestone circle where four priests are kneeling and praying to the Sun God. The Duragians’ naked bodies are cloaked in thin shadows as they absorb all of the light that touches them. People cheer whenever one of them stands for a second and quietly stretches, the motion done to prevent their legs from cramping. In spite of the open celebration and happiness, there is an undercurrent of fear that is enhanced by the presence of armored guards. The soldiers constantly patrol the dirt roads, their clanking footsteps showing that they are not trying to hide. Security becomes thicker and more varied as one comes closer to the yellow and orange tower, which is topped with a blazing piece of sun quartz. Battle priests block the entrance to the temple, their bodies and staves glowing bright enough to wash away all of the nearby shadows. None of the men and women show any emotion beyond the occasional glint of fear at the sound of chains being rattled within the building.
Only one person finds the display disgusting and nerve-wracking as she weaves through the streets. Protected by an invisibility spell and moving without a sound, Mab is thankful that she has no heartbeat. If she did, the organ would have popped due to the fear of being within the den of the vampires’ greatest enemy. Stopping in an alley, the short and lean burglar waits for a squad of knights to pass by. Listening to their conversation, she moves to the other entrance and adjusts her course to make sure she reaches her target. Another group is in her way, the warriors joined by a battle priest who is telling them where to stand during the execution. She hugs her black cloak tight around her body, the special garment the only thing blocking the sun and preventing her from losing her powers. The idea of being exposed and weakened makes her stomach twist, but she ignores the sensation in order to step into the street once the men and women have moved on.
Not seeing anyone in her way, Mab sprints down the road and glances back to see that she is leaving puffs of dirt in her wake. Hearing a thudding footstep before seeing the knight, the vampire leaps onto a rooftop and remains crouched next to the chimney. She waits for the man to be below her before creeping to the left-hand edge and leaping to the next building. Pausing as soon as she lands, she relaxes when the enemy continues on his way and a minute passes without any signs of her being noticed.
“Can’t believe we finally got him,” a woman says in the alley below. Curious about the conversation, Mab whispers a spell to make sure her invisibility holds and climbs down to a nearby window sill. “Clyde sure caused a lot of trouble. Guess he should have stuck to being a thief instead of adding killing to his list of crimes. He probably would have been ignored if he didn’t cross that line. Think they’ll ever find all the stuff that he and his gang stole? I mean, the Duragians have to want those holy tomes back at least.”
“I heard they deemed those corrupted and won’t go looking,” an older man replies with a chuckle. He stares directly at the hiding vampire, but merely takes out a flask to sneak a small drink. “Probably for the best since his gang is still out there. Have to wonder how bad they are considering the monster they followed. Clyde may have only gone violent a few months ago, but he really made an impact. I heard a rumor that he did it because some paladins wiped out some friends of his.”
“I heard it was because they caught and tortured him.”
“Why would they do that instead of kill him?”
“Maybe they wanted information on the royals since he’s supposed to be a friend of Xavier Tempest.”
“That makes sense. Guess his attacks were oddly vengeful.”
“Hope his gang tries to break him out.”
“Why hope for that?”
“Because then all of them will be destroyed like they deserve.”
The mortals freeze when they hear a low growl and they look around for the source of the noise. Instead of attacking, Mab climbs back to the roof and grips a chimney hard enough to crack the bricks. She swiftly takes a jar of blood off her belt and drains it in one quick movement, the crimson meal helping her regain control. The temptation is still needling at the vampire’s brain, but she pulls out a silver chain with a gold bauble that resembles an ear of corn. Clenching it in her fist, she thinks back to when Clyde stole the worthless piece on a dare and their partnership began. All of the tight spots they have been in over the last two hundred years flood her mind and she pockets the jewelry to make sure her hands are free. A small cut on her porcelain skin causes her to pinch the wound until it heals, the idea of leaving even a drop of stagnant blood behind making her twitch.
With a renewed urge to save her friend and escape the area, Mab bounds and races across the rooftops. Birds are disturbed by her presence and a stray cat hisses, but none of the locals pay the animals any mind. Coming to the edge of the small town, she silently drops between two archers and races forward as they turn around. She barely hears them accusing each other of making contact as she comes to the spire. Remembering the cell location that one of her friends extracted from a kidnapped priestess, Mab hurries around to the back. The enchantment stone is uncomfortably warm to the touch, but she finds that she does not burn like she feared. Gazing up the wall, she can barely make out a window that is barred and gives off a light that looks like it is evaporating into the sky.
Using her favorite trick, Mab grows metallic claws that easily push into the stone and allow her to climb. A slight pain ripples along her arms as she touches more of the holy magic that is within the spire, but she ignores it and powers through the numbness. Eventually, the strange sensation is nothing more than an itch, which allows her to move a little faster. The vampire takes her time and avoids going near any of the other windows, the muffled voices giving her enough time to adjust her ascent. Once she is thirty feet off the ground, the cautious burglar hisses another spell that masks the holes she has made. Hugging the wall, she listens as a guard passes below and never breaks stride.
Mab is about to continue when a young priestess sticks her head out of a window that is only a few feet to the vampire’s right. She hangs there as the red-haired elf stares directly at her and squints as if she sees something. For a moment, it appears that the stranger is about to reach out and touch the burglar’s side. Preparing to grab the extended limb and toss the mortal to her death, Mab remains still until she is sure there is danger. The priestess’s fingers are an inch away when the spire shakes and forces her to go back inside. Another violent impact threatens to dislodge the vampire, who rushes up the wall and stops just under her target. She starts to raise her head into view, but ducks back down when a searing heat skims her hair. To her horror, the billowing light has knocked her hood off to reveal her short, brown hair to the sun and her powers begin to vanish. Before she loses her claws and plummets to the ground, Mab swiftly covers herself again and revives her invisibility spell.
“You better not say you’re here to rescue me or ask if I’m in here,” a deep voice says from inside the cell. The rattling of chains nearly drowns out the long sniff that the prisoner ends with a low sigh. “Caught your scent a while ago and was hoping you wouldn’t be stupid enough to try this. Used the last of my strength to shake this place, which was supposed to knock you down. I assume the others are somewhere around here.”
“Titus, Bob, and Luther are on the edges with the rest of your shock troops. Chastity stayed behind and Kenneth is waiting for me on the hills,” Mab responds, her claws growing long enough to push into the room. She bites her lip to prevent a yell in response to the pain of her nails getting snapped off. “What are you doing, Clyde? They’re going to kill you if you don’t get out now. Xavier sent some help too if you’re worried about us being outnumbered. We all believe you’re worth saving, so don’t be a jerk.”
“Better a jerk than an idiot,” the prisoner states, his badly burned arm stretching through the bars. His charred skin falls off his fingers as he wiggles them and the bones starts to crack before abruptly healing. “They have at least fifty chains on me because I’ve nearly escaped twice. Tried to do it without killing since I didn’t want to give them too many reasons to pursue me. You’re the best at picking locks, Mab, but even if you could do it in time, the light in here will put you on the chopping block too. It’s a new spell that they made just for me. Burns my body to the bone and then heals it to start again. Guess I really pissed these bastards off, huh?”
Against her better judgement, Mab laughs along with her friend who she fears has given up on escaping. “Well, you did try to steal one of their holiest relics. Not to mention spreading all those rumors about you killing a lot of them. Seems you lied and tricked your way into a big mess, which only I can get you out of. There’s a window below that I can knock on and sneak inside once the juicy morsel opens it. I’ll save part of her for you if you need it. Please tell me that you’re not giving up. It isn’t like you.”
The air next to Mab shimmers and becomes the translucent form of a tall man wearing all black. His black hair rolls down to the middle of his back until he ties it into a ponytail that whips in the wind. Sparkling blue eyes peer into the green irises of the other vampire, who shakes her head to avoid being hypnotized. With a small shrug, the illusion takes a seat on the wall and picks at loose threads that keep appearing on its clothing. For a brief moment, the outer layer of the construct vanish and the toned body is left exposed, flickering scars appearing to mimic the current condition of his true form. The fake Clyde flashes its fangs and licks his lips before conjuring a beating heart in his hand.
“I don’t know what I’ve done,” he explains before taking a bite. Peeking through the window, he sighs at the sight of his mangled form an instant before it abruptly heals. “That is getting very tiring. Look, I got myself into this mess after all of you were telling me the heist was a bad idea. My own fault for listening to a seer . . . and then draining him instead of keeping him around. I’ll consider this a learning experience and meet you guys later. No reason for anyone to get hurt or killed on my behalf.”
“You’re up to something,” Mab whispers in a low voice. A distant blast of magic is met by echoing cheers, a sign that most of the town is in position for the execution. “This isn’t the time to do something crazy. Whatever you’re planning can be done another way. Just come back with me and tell the gang. All of us together can make it work like we always have. For all that is unholy and blighted, stop making this difficult.”
“You’re rather pathetic when begging.”
“This is a stupid way to die, Clyde.”
“But according to the seer, I am not meant to die here.”
“Yes, you’re going to die about two miles away in an execution circle.”
“Don’t worry because everything has been taken care of.”
A blast of light strikes the illusionary figure, which dissipates into a mist that covers the invisible burglar. Looking down at the startled priests, Mab remains still until she is sure they have spotted her. A volley of beams erupt from the Duragians, but the spells are absorbed by the thin layer of Clyde’s aura that sloughs off his friend’s body. The solidified magic becomes a thick sheet of energy that explodes upon impact. Clanging footsteps and a chorus of screams erupt from the warriors that turn the corner in time to get hit by the blinding flash. Several minutes pass before anyone can see again and they quickly scan the area for Mab. All they find is an abandoned pure black cloak that is burned around the edges and an unconscious archer who has been stripped naked.