Depending on where you start the story, it begins with a god.
He cracked the earth when he came--he, and all the other gods he came with. A single landmass was split clean into five with their arrival.
Magic-blooded and beautiful, they brought their wisdom to the Realm of Man.
They brought fire to the tribes of the east; scythe-like swords to the warriors of the south; exotic foods to the burgeoning kingdoms of the east.
They brought magic, too.
The gods procreated with humans, and from their couplings, the godspawn were born. A race of their own, the godspawn each harboured an affinity for the magic of their god sires and dams.
Some could summon flame; others air.
Some could curse and spell and charm, but theirs was a magic so tightly bound to the blood that, in order to be accessed, it had to be bled from the body,
the same way one might tap a cask of wine and watch the liquid slowly seep from the barrel.
A smaller sect of the godspawn, reviled and feared, took to the darker art of death, learning to manipulate bone, capable of reanimating corpses.
These--the bonemages--were feared, as was the god they had acquired their powers from, the same god who had taken the first step into the Realm of Man: Leviathan, the Dark God.
His and his progeny's was a power of darkness, and the humans knew that their lives were like softly burning candles in comparison, waiting to be extinguished.
Oppositely, Alyash and Dalia, the Timekeeper and the Lady of Fate, were the humans' favourites.
But then Alyash died--killed, it is claimed, by one of the godspawn--and the humans started to question if their gods were actually gods at all. After all, how could a god die?
With Alyash gone, the gods panicked. They eventually fled, back to the world from whence they had come, abandoning the humans and the godspawn to their fates.
Of course, the godspawn were no longer called godspawn. Now, they were a species all of their own.
Now, they were called witches.
As the centuries passed, the memories of the gods' existence smoothed over in the humans' fallible minds, becoming shiny and false.
And it became very possible, despite the presence of the witches, that the gods had never existed at all.
So the gods were forgotten, remembered only in far-flung stories and in the magic they had left behind. The world began to stagnate. Empires rose and fell.
Some of the more zealous humans began to worship their long-ago gods as part of a religious faith, but their belief was like smoke: intangible, hazy. Most scorned those of the Old Faith.
They worshipped stories, after all. They worshipped ghosts. They were zealots who sacrificed people on altars to gods who didn't exist.
Nothing much happened for another couple of centuries, so perhaps the story doesn't start there after all. Perhaps it begins later, with a cruel, scorned royal and the rise of a mighty empire.
Or later still, with three sisters and a curse.
Or decades after that, in the ancient kingdom of Tavela, with a king and a queen.
This queen--Ariadne--was an ethereal creature, with fire for hair and magic for blood, and eyes the colour of wet moss.
The king was handsome too, though not quite so pretty as his beloved, with eyes of lapis lazuli blue and a shock of golden hair.
In the beginning of their courtship, the smiles the king offered his queen were free and often.
The queen would always smile back, of course, though hers were smaller, and burdened by the weight of her secrets.
She loved her husband, but she knew, better than most, how love could sour and spoil.
However, in spite of the queen's misgivings, she and the king enjoyed two years of peace. They ruled their people justly and joyfully. The kingdom flourished.
Then the queen fell pregnant.
She should've been happy--she wanted to be happy--but the queen knew what happened to firstborn babies in the Tavelan royal family. She had seen it with her own eyes.
She had seen the king's eldest brother sent back to his family, piece by brutalised piece.
You see, the king's bloodline had been cursed by a wicked witch, who demanded that each firstborn of his family be handed over to hers.
And so, when the queen told the king she was pregnant, the king went to great and awful measures to keep his would-be heir safe.
He banned witches from the land, though not all of them were terrible. The books on witchcraft were burned, and the scholars along with them.
Magic became myth, a thing to be whispered about around campfires. Without it, the land stagnated, and the people became cruel and hungry. Hungry for food. Hungry for power. Hungry for blood.
Nine months later, the queen gave birth beneath a blood moon, to a babe with a fluff of hair like fire. She loved her instantly--a love that felt almost like pain.
She did not think she could bear to lose her.
But lose her she did.
Compelled by ancient and wicked magic, the queen was forced to journey all the way to the western border of their kingdom, where the mountains cut jaggedly into the sky,
separating their lands from that of the cruel Witch Empire. There, still in the thrall of that ugly magic, tears streaking her face, the queen left her baby in the mountains.
And all through the night, the wolves in the northern passes howled.
The queen wondered every day after if her daughter had survived. Malia, she had named her. But the name belonged to a ghost now.
The kingdom, unknowing of the king's curse, was told that the child had died in infancy, that she had been sickly and wrong for the world. The people swallowed the lie, and the kingdom grieved.
Eighteen months later, a second child was born. Little Aeron, with hair like spun gold and eyes like the southern skies. He smiled often and cried little, even as an infant.
And as he grew, he became sweeter still. The queen loved him and coddled him, though never forgot the child that had been lost to her.
Next came Azoah. This child was different. She had neither her mother's flame hair, nor her father's golden mane, but a smattering of black curls.
She had a sweet, soft face that belied a sly disposition. As she grew, she only became more unruly. Whatever rules were laid down, she broke. Whatever foul things she heard, she repeated.
Something had been broken in her, the nobles whispered. Something fundamental. Whether she had been born with it broken, or something in her upbringing had broken it, they did not know.
All the while, embittered by the loss of their daughter, the king and queen's love soured. The king became a tyrant, intent on inflicting his pain upon the world tenfold.
The queen became cold and commandeering, raising her children--especially unruly Azoah--with an iron fist. War ravaged the land, and the people suffered.
They turned on their once beloved monarchs. They whispered their names bitterly, all with the exception of sweet Prince Aeron, the hope of Tavela:
Alexavier the Cruel.
Ariadne the Cold.
Malia the Lost.
Aeron the Kind.
Azoah the Mad.
And so the Tavelan royal family--what was left of it--stagnated and rotted, like the stump of a tree, axed and left to die.
Whilst all the while, in the far reaches of the west, the wicked witch hatched her plots.