It was the sketchbook that initially caught his attention. Trying to find an open seat, squeezing between tables at the crowded cafe, Neil Falston glanced down and froze mid-step as his eyes fell on a half-finished drawing. Time seemed to stop as he gazed at the image of a regal-looking woman gazing out over a valley. It was only when the artist cleared her throat that he realized he had been staring. “I’m sorry,” he stammered. “I didn’t mean to intrude. Your work is beautiful.” It was then he turned his eyes from the drawing to the artist. Long, raven waves framed her heart-shaped face, large hazel eyes sparkled with amusement as he stammered his apology, and she regarded him with a wide, open smile. She introduced herself as Jessin. Neil was instantly smitten.
Their courtship was brief but happy. All their friends agreed they’d never seen a more beautiful bride nor a happier groom. Their marriage seemed blessed with laughter and happiness, and was all the more blessed when Owen was born. He had his mother’s dark hair and hazel eyes, his father’s olive skin. “The best of both of us,” Jessin would tell Neil with a smile.
But their happy world started to change when Owen was a year old. Little things Jessin would say struck Neil as odd. She would talk about finding suitable friends for Owen – that the children in their neighborhood were all right but Owen deserved friends more like him. He would hear her talking to the baby, telling Owen that of course Daddy doesn’t understand. “He’s not like us.” Soon Jessin started distancing herself from their friends – and demanding that Neil stop seeing them as well.
Jessin continued to change over the following months and years. Though still as dazzlingly beautiful as the day they met, Neil now found her to be cold and cruel to everyone – even their son when he was messy or inconvenient. All attempts to talk with her about it were met with scorn and rebukes. Heartbroken, Neil reluctantly admitted to himself that she was no longer the woman he loved – and that he feared what would become of their son at her hands. She was out shopping when he packed a few clothes for himself and Owen and left.
Father and son moved frequently over the next three months, skipping from region to region and changing names with each move. They finally settled in Region Thelos in a small town called Riverhead. Neil was now Callum Foley and his son was named Collin. He could see in the boy the same bright spark that Neil saw in Jessin, and strove to keep that spark from turning dark and cruel.
Under his father’s guidance, Collin grew to be a considerate, compassionate young man. Though his handsome looks would draw attention, people gravitated to Collin because of his kind, outgoing disposition. Callum nearly burst with pride when Collin told him he was applying to the Academy to study medicine.
Though he had to work hard at his studies, Collin was faring well in Academy. His friends called him Doc in anticipation of his graduation. He had two more years of study ahead of him when he and his two closest friends decided to spend a weekend hiking in the woods. None of them were especially skilled woodsmen, but they figured if they stuck to the main trail on their map they would be fine.
They didn’t realize they were on the wrong path. They didn’t realize how deeply into the woods they had wandered. It wasn’t until they had stumbled upon a rough, stained stone table in the center of a clearing that they realized they were utterly lost – and in terrible danger.
“You are trespassing.” The harsh voice came from just behind them. Collin saw several figures appear from behind trees before everything went black.
Collin awoke to find himself laying upon a richly upholstered lounge. He looked around in a panic before noticing the older man sitting in a nearby chair, studying him. The man smiled warmly. “You are awake. Good.” Collin was sure it was the same voice as he heard in the woods, but his tone was now refined and welcoming. The man gave him a fatherly smile. “I apologize for the reception in the woods, my boy. It wasn’t until the servants brought you back here that I realized you must be one of the Displaced.” Collin sat up but before he could respond the man held up a hand to silence him. “I’m certain you have many questions. They will be answered in time. I will teach you, my boy, of the heritage that has been denied you until now. You may call me Lord Jorsan.”