Prologue | Ad Astra

PROLOGUE 

AD ASTRA

On a midsummer’s day, by an alcove of white sand on a beach, waves crashed upon the shore at a consistent pace before retreating. Wet sand ran along the water’s boundary, holding a footprint’s imprint for the duration of the shore’s short freedom between the waves. Serenity claimed the environment, for the only sound along the shore was that of the waves crashing upon the earth’s solid foundation.

Mountains of rock acted as barriers to exclude a section of shore from the monotonous rest. Behind this secluded section, the land unexpectedly sloped into a mound. The smell of fresh ocean tinted the air, saturating it enough to allow the taste of salt to be palpable on tongues. On the particular day in which our tale starts, the sun shone fondly upon the earth, the air was warm enough to merit the revealing of skin to the elements, and the sky’s bluish tint stretched on for what appeared to be infinity. It was a perfect day that any beach visitor would wish for; but for the most part, the beach was vacant of humans.

Three people had found the secluded alcove to their tastes. One male with golden eyes, just a shade darker than the purest honey, and dark, shiny hair stood barefoot in the mud bordering the saltwater. Descended from a Japanese bloodline, his skin was a consistent taupe color and his face consisted of sharp angles that had only hardened with age and experience. He directed his troubled gaze towards the water, his eyes searching the horizon for answers to his incessant questions. Water tickled his legs in a small caress every time the ocean collided with the shore. A bitter hope caressed his mind. Oh, how the male had dreamt when he was just a child, riding on the outflow of naivety’s wave. He had wanted to rule the world as a military commander. Yet that dream had been dashed with age, realistic perspectives, and limiting experiences.

Another male was further away from the water. In the ever-expanding shade, he slept peacefully with his hands behind his head and elbows pointed outwards. His knees were up so that his bare feet rested against the wooly texture of the blanket underneath him. The shade made his sunburnt skin appear darker. Earlier in the day, he had called the ocean his home and refused to rest as he had tried to conquer the waves. The vividness of the burns somewhat faded the black exquisite tribal dragon tattoo inscribed around the bulk of his upper left arm. His thick chestnut  brown hair, consisting of a mixture of rich mahogany, amber, and cinnamon was all over the blanket. Long and intensive training had sharpened and toned his body into its current build.

An arm’s length away from the unconscious male was a woman. Her back used the rock wall as support while her knees were folded in an upright position. Using her knees as a writing surface, her hand scribbled away in a black leather bound book. Occasionally, her eyes would drift up, and focusing on a distant spot on the horizon, her narrative process halted as she collected her thoughts. She had a story to tell, a story that was requested by the Queen herself. That fact alone was almost too much pressure. Her tale would be housed in the National Guardian Archives, where future philosophers and historians of all genera would be able to study and analyze her historical journey.

As was the woman’s habit, she bit her bottom lip in intense concentration. Like her sleeping companion, she had enjoyed the sun for far too long and her pale skin had transformed into an angry scarlet. The sun’s heat had not dried her hair thoroughly; it was still damp, the midnight mass of it hanging limply in a ponytail. An accidental smudge of ink tattooed her left cheek, similar to the ones that already decorated her hands.

History has always been apart of the present and future, she had written in the notebook, at least as far as the guardians are concerned. Years ago, during the reign of the Conquistadors’ Society, little guardian children were taught about the genesis of their people; they learned about the Divine and their role in the guardians’ creation. When the children were deemed educated enough to think critically, the first waves of Society propaganda were fed to them and they were lectured about the corruption of the guardian Republic. That lecture always ended with a long-winded speech about how the Conquistadors rescued guardian society from it. 

Once the children had been through many years of schooling at the Academia and thus thoroughly brainwashed to the Society’s standards and beliefs, they were taught about Geneva Penndragon’s betrayal to her fellow Conquistadors and were required to write a paper that discussed why Society patriotism was important. This was how things were only a decade ago, and every guardian loyal to the Conquistador government thought it was something that they should be proud to be apart of. Nothing would ever change. The Conquistadors were in power now; the Society would be apart of their present and their future. The Conquistadors had the authority over the guardian people, and their reign was considered a peaceful, prosperous, and happy one . . .

It was quite peaceful, with all three individuals on the beach engaged in separate activities, but somehow still interconnected.

The sleeping male exhaled deeply, startling the female. The male standing in the evanescent confines of saltwater glanced back, just as the female’s eyes moved to him. Their eyes met and the exchange of smiles was instantaneous. Unspoken decades of friendship echoed between them. The female glanced away and down at the male beside her. She gently scraped back a piece of petulant hair that rested against the male’s nose. The male shifted in awakening and opened his eyes. As he returned to full consciousness, a smile lit up his expression. He placed his hand over hers.

. . . However, history is written by the victors. All of the propaganda promoting the Conquistadors’ reign as peaceful, prosperous, and happy led to ignorant, blissful thinking from the denizens of Lyrana, the guardian world. All governments have skeletons locked in their closets, and the Conquistadors’ were not immune. They did not reign over Lyrana as saints, and they had plenty to conceal from their people. Yet, most guardians had been blindsided by the era of prosperity after the Millennium Civil War, so they chose to ignore every inclination in their guts that the Conquistadors’ had and would continue to commit despicable acts against humankind. Life was peaceful again; all enemies to the Conquistadors and guardians had been exiled or executed after the frightening terror of the Millennium Civil War. That was all that mattered. People could enjoy the vast, majestic landscapes of Lyrana again. They could spend their evenings in public. Commerce started to increase again. Children returned to the Academia to continue their education while adults returned to their regular jobs. There was laughter in the air, feasts shared at parties, and an overwhelming sense of safety again. The Conquistadors were saviors. War had disrupted the guardians’ lives once. With the Conquistadors in power, evil civil war would never happen again. 

However, the Conquistadors’ reign was built on a foundation of iniquity, and all anyone had to do was open his eyes to see it. The three rulers committed horrifying acts as leaders, from genocide to whoring, while leading the nation of guardians. Guardians turned a blind eye to the mass killings. Their ignorance was complicit in those deaths. 

The second male returned from the ocean, his feet speckled with coarse sand. He plopped down on the blanket’s edge. For a second, no one said anything and an easy silence was allowed to reign between them. Then, the second male sporting the chestnut hair said something, something incomprehensible and distant, something that made all three erupt in uncontrollable laughter. The laughter was the type characterized in close friendships, the type of laughter that made bodies convulse, eyes scrunch up in pleasure, and mouths grasp for oxygen. The woman’s notebook slipped onto the blanket from out of her lap.

. . . And as one could predict, without a check to hold history in balance, history twisted itself into a vicious circle, set on destructive repetition. We three, Levi Nichols, Christian David Nathaniel Asherton, and Briara Victoria Penndragon, stood as a bulwark at the forefront of history’s storm. Later, we would be hailed as heroes. The events that attacked us were only our destinies, however. We were just marionettes in a massive game: two males, one female against the might of the universe. All three of us would face the oncoming wave of destruction and pandemonium as a direct failure from the guardians’ fault of not learning from the past and we would be expected to do so to save the humans, daemons, and guardians from absolute devastation. 

An embarrassed flush heated the girl’s cheeks, making her appear years younger than she really was. Her hand moved to where the accidental ink smudge was on her cheek. She missed it by inches, though, causing the Asian male’s laughter to intensify and the hard lines on his face soften. The chestnut-brown haired male smiled lightly and took pity on the girl. With a small amount of personal salvia on his index finger, he removed the smudge from her cheek. His finger rested against her skin for some time, forgotten as silent communication passed between them in their shared gaze.

. . . This is our story.

* * *

Our story begins on the first day of February 2031, my twenty-third birthday. In fact, the day itself and the days following it didn’t deviate from routine, but the dream of the beach with the three individuals was one of the few things that made my birthday different than any other day.

As I was awaken by Galileo’s usual morning clamor in the desperate search for caffeine, the dream teased my conscious thoughts. Instinctively, I knew that the woman was me. I also recognized the Asian boy. After all, he had stolen my childhood heart and possessed my friendship. Levi was a few years older than me, but I cherished the limited time we were able to spend together nonetheless. Whenever Levi’s companionship was in near proximity, I didn’t want anything to do with my bookworm nature. Levi himself became extremely bored only after a few paragraphs in any book. Instead, he was the type of man who would relish in the fact that he had appeared in an unusual, yet highly valuable when all was said and done, girl’s dream. No doubt, whenever he could sneak away from the military barracks and to Vollioppe Gaean’s downtown district to drink liquor with the most worthy, he entertained everyone with stories of his fairy girl. For his captivated listeners, my existence took on an implausible, fantastical quality. I was something out of a fairytale, something they had assured themselves was all fiction and no fact. He earned an entertainer’s standing amongst the Vollioppe Gaean’s bar patrons from those majestic tales and never blushed from shame either. That was Levi Nichols for you, and I can’t say I didn’t love him for it, boastful nature and all.

I couldn’t ignore the dread that the dream had brought, especially where it concerned Levi. Levi was on the fast track to accomplishing his dream of becoming a military commander. Already at twenty-five, he had completed years worth of training and had flown through the mortal ranks of the guardian military to the prominent position of sergeant, a high achievement for someone his age and particular non-magical status in a magical society. It fragmented my heart to even consider the possibility of his bitter failure that my subconscious had portrayed.

As for the second male in my dream, he was a complete and utter bewilderment. Never had I seen him in my years. Galileo was under orders from the Conquistadors to train me to be highly observant. May the Canon of Gods or even the Divine strike me down with a lightning bolt for my arrogance, but I knew I would have remembered both his face and name if I had ever met him. I would have been subjected to Galileo’s interrogation regarding him if I had, all to improve my memory and analyzation skills. Everything would have been fair game: his appearance, his mannerisms, any insights or predictions I had gained about his character and future. No one I had met was exempt as far as Galileo was concerned. Thus this male was not one I had met on the streets of the world.

Thus was my puzzlement over his appearance, his actions, and our shared actions of tenderness and familiarity that represented something deeper than the average platonic friendship.

There was another oddity in the dream that irked me: the words I had written in the notebook. I certainly understood that every government had its own secrets. Yet, I had never considered what the Conquistadors’ were, what kind of skeletons were hanging in their closets. I had never desired to. They had given me everything I had wanted, had made me into who I was today. As far as I knew, this was the same for the other guardians’. The Conquistadors had taken Lyrana from the ashes and transformed the guardian state into greatness.

Laying in bed, sheltered by a million and three bedsheets (or so it seemed), with my teeth gnawing on my bottom lip and my mind lost in deep thought, was how Galileo found me when he opened my bedroom door, a gigantic coffee mug in hand. A massive piece of Black Forest cake with mounds of icing, cherries, and a single flickering candle floated before him. His eyes widened in amazement over seeing me awake at this godforsaken hour; his lecture died a premature death at the apex of his throat. I already knew what it consisted of, and shelving my dream for later contemplation, I obediently rolled out of bed to start the day. Galileo wished me a “Happy Birthday” as the cake flew into my hands. That was it for the birthday celebration and Galileo departed so I could get ready for the day. As I threw on clothes and brushed my hair, I nibbled at the cake, which had been brought from one of the quaint bakeries down the street.

Without looking back, I marched out of my room and down the stairs. My days were ever the same, consisting of studying, debating, and in the evening, ballet, and would be until I was deemed educated and prepared by the Conquistadors. In their plans, I was to be educated in the ways of covert intelligence retrieval.

In other words, I was to be trained as a spy.

Unbeknownst to all of us, the higher authorities in the universe had other plans. Spy, I was to be, but not on the Conquistadors’ terms. Had the Conquistadors embraced all of my oddities, they would have realized larger powers were maneuvering pieces into play.

But, alas, I am getting ahead of myself. In order to understand what was to come, one must be aware of what came before.

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