• I will never forget the day I witnessed my uncle smother the bright flame of Aidan, my soul mate. I will never forget the day my overwhelming grief of losing him would cause my uncle to deem me useless, steal my fire, and cast me from the heavens. I will never forget the day when my soul felt like it shattered beyond repair and nearly lead me into madness.

    My name is Ariana. I am a phoenix and the rightful heir to my kingdom.

    My kingdom was once peaceful and powerful. I lived happily with my father, the king by blood, and my mother, his soul mate. I helped to raise my younger brother, Silas, and played with my two older half-brothers, Vesper and Argyros. They were born to my mother, and while most kings would flat out ignore b*****d children like Vesper and Argyros, my father accepted them with open arms. He was kind. We were happy.

    But that all changed when my uncle Thaddeus – my father’s younger brother – lost his soul mate, Selene. When he realized what had happened, he snapped and went stark-raving mad. He had survived an explosion, and Selene, who was right beside him, had not. In fact, her body was much more battered that his was. From then on, he went on about how soul mates are useless for keeping our race strong if one of them is weaker than the other. He preached about how the weak needed to be eliminated and that only the strong should survive and be able to reproduce. In secret, he somehow brainwashed plenty of good men and, with their help, usurped the throne and imprisoned my parents. Soon after, Vesper, Argyros, and Silas fled, fearing for their lives. I stayed to try to fight for my kingdom.

    For the next century, my uncle ruled the kingdom and treated his subjects like humans treated livestock; he chose who would reproduce with whom – he would use brainwashing spells to force them to do so (which is probably how he swayed those good men to his side) – and he had no regard for how his actions brought pain to others. He went so far as to end the relationships of soul mates. He would order the ones he deemed useless to leave their soul mates under the threat of death. If they refused, then he’d kill them. If they were both useful but together did not serve his purposes, then he’d forcefully separate them and prevent them from seeing each other. I’d wander the halls at night, hearing the grief-stricken wails of separated soul mates echoing from the dungeons of the castle. It wasn’t too long before my heart grew weary with grief for them.

    Generally, phoenixes born out of a union between two who are not soul mates tend to be weaker, but my half -brothers are oddities. It may be because a genuine love blossomed with my mother and their father before she met my father. But no one knows for certain. They are fraternal twins, with Argyros having silver hair and being powerfully built and Vesper having black hair and having a less impressive build while still being equally as strong as his twin nonetheless. I’d say a proper term for Vesper is spring-loaded. They are also oddities in that the colors of their feathers and hair are extremely rare.

    Phoenixes may all look the same when engulfed in flames as tales and legends depict us, but in the absence of flames our colors can range from light red to dark violet. Though fiery colors like red and orange are more common, green, blue (like Silas), indigo, and violet are fairly common as well. Even rarer are black and white like Vesper and Argyros. There are none that are pink or brown though. The rightful king or queen by blood is always radiant gold as is the rightful heir. Occasionally, a younger sibling ascends the throne if the rightful king, queen, or heir dies before they have children or ascend the throne. In this case, the first born child of that younger sibling will still be gold.

    Those of the royal bloodline are also only able to reproduce with their soul mate. It is said that this is because the strength the young are granted as a result of the profound bond between their parents keeps the royal line strong. This bond found in finding and uniting with our soul mates grants us even greater power, but it comes with the cost of being dependent on the presence of our soul mates. Prolonged separation from our soul mates weakens us and fills us with grief and longing. Death of our soul mates can shatter our souls and lead us into madness if we are weak of spirit. Occasionally, hatred has been known to take over in some individuals – like Thaddeus – and grant some sense of power. For some it is too much and we burn ourselves in our own flames so that someday we will be reincarnated and be able to find our soul mates again without remembering the pain. If we are able to hold on though, the time will come when the Sun Goddess, Hyra, and the Wind God, Erion, will guide us back to them and our souls will be healed. We’re all taught this from a very young age. Apparently my uncle missed that message, though, and he could never understand why his selective breeding method isn’t working. The resulting young of unwilling unions are not only weaker than normal; they also have trust issues from a very young age as well which causes problems for him.

    When Thaddeus saw that none of his efforts were working, he turned to my parents and forced them to conceive another child, resulting in my youngest brother, a red phoenix named Soren. He had hoped to use him in his scheming. Due to resulting from a union between soul mates, Soren is powerful, but like most of the young that result from my uncle’s schemes, he is mistrusting and rarely smiles because my parents’ union was unwilling. By that point, my uncle didn’t care about converting others to see his way, so he paid little attention to Soren when he was a child. I raised him and taught him as I was taught. But shortly before Soren reached the age in which he would be useful to my uncle, Silas managed to sneak back into the kingdom and fled with Soren. He offered to take me along, but I refused to abandon my kingdom and our parents.

    Soren’s disappearance enraged my uncle when finally he bothered to notice. So he turned his sights on me. It wasn’t too long before he discovered that I had found my soul mate in Aidan. He ordered Aidan to leave me, but Aidan refused. And just as I stumbled upon their meeting, I witnessed my uncle break Aidan’s wings and tear into him like a wild animal. The last thing I saw before I flew into an insane frenzy was the life slipping from Aidan’s eyes. I screamed and attacked my uncle, but he overpowered me, snatched away my fire, and cast me down to suffer in the world of mortals below.

    When I awoke, I felt like I had no meaning. I felt the most painful numbness I had ever felt. I couldn’t feel anything, yet I could feel everything. Emptiness and overwhelming grief both filled me at once.

    I picked my battered and broken body off the ground and walked. I prayed to Hyra for solace. I prayed for the pain to go away. That’s all I wanted.

    I walked aimlessly for days, not noticing the rumbling of my stomach and how thirsty my body was. I passed through human villages, ignoring the curious murmurs about what could have happened to me and who would do such a thing to such a pretty girl. I passed through forests, not caring about the splinters and cuts I got on my body. I just walked.

    Eventually, I happened upon a crystal-filled cave where my prayers were answered. I suddenly felt all the warmth and love of Hyra surrounding me and then nothing. I was frozen in a crystal tomb where I slept for many years, not feeling a thing.

    Next thing I knew, I was released. I wanted to cry and scream my pain to the heavens and beg Hyra to let me sleep again. But inside all the pain I felt a tiny glimmer of something I hadn’t felt since before my kingdom fell from grace: hope. It was very small, but it was enough to lead me out of the cave. The sight that greeted me caused tears to spill down my face.

    A bright light on the horizon filled my sight. Invisible to mortals and those who don’t need it, it is a perpetual beacon to phoenixes seeking their lost soul mate. Aidan had been reincarnated.

    With renewed strength and hope, I assumed my phoenix form and took to the air. Thaddeus might have stolen my fire and my kingdom, but he can’t steal away what I am.

    With Hyra – my healing mistress – and Erion – lord of the winds that guide me – on my side, I aimed for that beacon. I would not stop until I found Aidan…. No. Not Aidan. Not anymore anyway. Zeke. A voice kept whispering that name in my mind. He is now Zeke.