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Carnage and Escape Betrayal At Mal Vellas Keep Troubles Farewells and Reunions The War Begins Into Shadow and Flame A Prophetic Birth Red Horde Rising Mordenhel

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The High Patriarch The Final Breath In The Realm of The Enemy The Fall of Lurdizaz The Bull of Ar’Sirhka The Siege of Zikbath Vuir Breaching the Blood Tower Such A King Nargazshad’s Son The Age of Light

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An Emperor’s Madness An Unlikely Alliance Love For the Ranger Ibercium’s Death Seizing Power Journey Home Al’Farhimar the Golden Peace At Last Gift of Death

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1: Carnage and Escape They came on the night of the Foreseeyer’s Festival, pillaging and destroying everything in their path. Ashaleena had taken shelter in the pavilion that belonged to her grandmother, the current Foreseeyer, but that did not mean they did not see the carnage. Riders with rusted armour and hair as black as malice slaughtered all, on horses that Ashaleena knew were demon-steeds called nightmares. Killing the innocent villagers and burning their homes, Ashaleena saw all their sins and could not do anything at the defense of her grandmother. The young woman fell back when the pavilion burst open and her elder brother Jamalor stumbled in with a bloodstained sword in hand. He dropped it as if it was burning hot and said “never before have I seen such spitefulness from Khalvazard! He must truly mean to drive us out!” Ashaleena leant on her knee and said quickly, “when will they stop, Jamalor!? When will we have time to flee on the river-boats?” “I fear we will have no such privilege, granddaughter” replied the current Foreseeyer with a salient point. “She is right, Ashal,” said Jamalor, directing his stern gaze to his younger sister “we will have to run to the river and flee the horsemen with great haste. Besides we best not bother, because most of the villagers have already fled. Well at least I think so” The two youths’ grandmother frowned and justly said “they would not dare leave without their Foreseeyer. Pray tell, Jamalor, what goes on outside?” Jamalor obeyed and moved the silk of the pavilion aside, the carnage too much for him as he returned his head inside. Grimly, he said, “tis not good, grandmother. I think have little chance.” The Foreseeyer crossed her wrinkled arms and grimly said, “Jamalor is right, Ashal. No matter however we try to flee this bloodshed, we will surely join the dead.” Ashaleena shook her head and parted the black hair over her brow, optimistically saying, “well I will try to escape, you two can wait here until they find you!”. With those words she dashed outside and Jamalor failingly moved to grab her. The demon-horses and their riders galloped all over, and Ashaleena had no alternative but to run for her life. She ran across the damp grass and past the burning buildings, her speed hastening as several riders made to pursue her. When she stumbled over a boulder and landed on the grass, she knew her fate was grim. She heard the riders dismount and their heavy footsteps advance. One snatched her up by the collar and turned her to face his wickedly handsome face. The demon-rider was about to gut her when he paused and snatched up her arm, noticing the Foreseeyer mark and saying to his comrades, “it seems we have a Foreseeyer amongst these ilk, let us bring her back to Hellgard for the master to see.” The other riders agreed and one gruffly said, “Before we bestow her to Khalvazard, should we not treat her in a manner we see fit?” The first rider frowned and said, “Grashnid you ugly bastard!! We do not harm prisoners of such value in such a way!!”. The rider suddenly swung out his curved sword and severed off the other’s head, his other comrades clearly not being fond of him and grew happy when Grashnid was slain. “You underestimate the power of a Foreseeyer, even though I’ am only an apprentice!!” hissed Ashaleena, her heart pounding in fear of the demon-riders. The first rider turned to her and struck her across the face fiercely, grumbling “silence whore!!! Your tainted kind are doomed when our master has his victory. When the High Fey King is dead, you and all of your kind will be no more!!!” Ashaleena massaged her wound and heatedly said, “I think your kind’s demise will come swifter then mine!! You can present me before your demon master and he can

torture me to no end, but I will never give up hope in the forces of light!!” The first rider hit her again and said, “I grow tired of your babble! Grauth, Hargla! Get this whelp onto the spare horse and let us ride!!” Two of the demon-riders grunted in response and one grabbed the damsel, the other helping his comrade lift her onto a nightmare and tie her to the saddle. They tied her tightly on so she faced to sky and swiftly mounted their own horses. The first rider, who was clearly their leader, climbed onto his demon-steed and turned to face the burning village. Before they could go, Jamalor came storming over and knocked a rider from his demon-horse and killed him with a well placed stab. The first rider, who was called Tormak, snatched up Ashaleena’s brother with unnatural force and lifted him so he faced the rider’s wickedly handsome face. Shifting his grasp swiftly to the man’s throat, he huskily said, “No mortal bastard can defeat a demon-rider!!” He twisted his hand and snapped Jamalor’s neck. Ashaleena screamed in sorrow as she watched her brother fall to the ground limp. She snatched a knife from the saddle pack and sliced off her bonds, falling onto the grass as tears stained her face. She ran over to her brother and only had a few minutes with him before the riders fixed her back onto the horse. Tormak grew tired of her sorrowful and cursing screams and ordered her mouth to be gagged. He kicked his nightmare’s flanks and sent the horse screaming horrifically as it galloped down towards the river. Leading his men to a halt at the riverside, he uttered foul choking words which allowed him and his riders to cross the deep river from above the water. They galloped swiftly and the surviving villagers watched in anger, until they disappeared into the woods. The sun burst through the woods that surrounded the city of Del Jahvalla, where the High Fey King Baelandyr resided. Del Jahvalla was the ancient capital full of mystery and magic of ancient power, but it was the most powerful city not corrupted by the Demon King Khalvazard also. Its magnificent architecture and the tactics considered when Baelandyr constructed it meant that it was perfect for supplying thousands of lodgings for the Fey King’s loyal men. Presently, Baelandyr himself sat in the High Courtroom and gathered with his highest servants. The King was handsome in a stunning way, his hair as fair as the sun and his two blue jewels of eyes submerged in pools of pure white. His shoulders were distinct by the pauldrons of fey steel that jutted out and he wore an aketon under a cuirass of a similar design and material. Along with his helmet, which he regularly wore, he was protected by a silver fauld, tasset, counters, gauntlets, rerebraces and vambraces lined with gold. At his side he wore his arming sword of gold and silver in a scabbard of hard leather. He inclined his head forward before his servants and said, “my trusted allies, servants and loyal fey brothers. Khalvazard brings forth war and turmoil evermore swiftly and we must act with an iron fist!” A fellow fey man raised his unblemished hand and asked, “but he is to powerful, how do you propose we counter his endless hordes of darkness?” Baelandyr nodded at the man and said, “Uhral has a valid point there, but I’ am still unfaltering to argue. Khalvazard will destroy us all if we do not strike him first. He will bring darkness and destruction to this world and we will have nothing to do about it because we will be dead.” “Then what do you propose?” asked Uhral again with utmost respect. Baelandyr was not reluctant to reply and calmly said to his fey brother, “I, Uhral, propose we seek the alliance of the Foreseeyers. Their power is undyingly powerful and possibly powerful enough to defeat Khalvazard.” Out of his seat rose a young fey man, handsome and valiant at first glance. He bowed firstly and then said, “Master, I have heard grave news on the Foreseeyer’s behalf.” The Fey King nodded in a sign of consent and said, “Speak your mind, Jahlred?”

The young handsome fey called Jahlred swallowed before saying, “Khalvazard has recently ordered a raid on a Foreseeyer village. A party of his demon-riders brought about carnage to this village and from what I have been told by the survivors, they took the current Foreseeyer’s granddaughter. This horrid event occurred merely one day ago.” Baelandyr silenced the rumblings of discontent and said, “I thank you for your information, Jahlred. But why have you so eagerly informed me?” Jahlred bowed again and calmly said, “Because my lord, I propose I rescue this Foreseeyer’s granddaughter and bring her back here to Del Jahvalla?” This was strongly agreed and an older fey woman said, “Jahlred is truly honourable to take up such a task! Our gracious lord would be a fool to refuse him.” The Fey King silenced his servants again and said, “So it is settled. Jahlred shall rescue the woman and bring her safely here, where I will propose the alliance and our undying protection of her dwindling kind.” The following day of her capture, Ashaleena’s captors had ridden swiftly across several rivers and towards the tainted lands of their demonic master. Ashaleena had witnessed the sky rush before her only in small intervals, as she went in and out of consciousness. The nightmares seemed to tire to no end and rode at the same peerless speed, Ashaleena knowing her treatment in the rank dungeons of Khalvazard would surely be ushered soon. The riders, when they rode beside her in furious speed, frowned or smirked at her cruelly, Tormak remaining at the lead and not even speaking to her let alone anyone else. When the halted at a riverside at noon, she felt herself being roughly untied and dropped heavily on the ground. When she sat up and began to rub her head, she remarked, “You bastards are of no kindness.” Her captors, who were all now seated across from her, chuckled and Tormak said, “Hush, whore! Put this is your foul mouth and shut the hell up!!” He tossed a piece of dry meat directly at her and she falteringly caught it. Ashaleena bit into the meat and gagged in disgust, her captors laughing again. She tossed it aside and said as she crossed her legs, “it seems you are of no culinary skill either.” Tormak turned to face her in annoyance and said “if you keep hassling is then we will tie you back up and I shall gag you with my fist!” He shook his gloved fist in the air and his comrades chuckled as the maiden frowned. Ashaleena sighed loudly and lay back against a rucksack, entertaining herself by watching the clouds as they circled. A few hours later, conversation erupted between Tormak and another rider called Grauth. “When will we be back home!? I want to get back to the dungeons!!” whined Grauth grumpily, chewing on a piece of salted meat. Tormak sighed and said brusquely, “the less you whine, the faster we’ll get there! Besides cur, we are not going directly to the master. We have been ordered to visit the Green Sorceress Vivilianon at Hithen Dwa!!” Upon hearing these words with her eyes closed, Ashaleena sat up abruptly and said vehemently, “I have no desire to encounter her, nor shall I be brought to her under any circumstances!!” Tormak turned to face and said amusedly, “you, future-seeker, do not and will not have any say in it! We will take you to Hithen Dwa on the back of my horse if it takes that much effort, but I think we can both agree that you would rather comfort than pain!?” “I have two things to say to you, demonspawn,” said Ashaleena crossly, holding out two fingers to signify her effect “us Foreseeyers do not look into the future, we use our natural talent in ancient magic to harm bastards like you. And secondly, I will not whine about my escort to Hithen Dwa if I can actually ride on one of your steeds rather than how have been before.” Tormak rolled his dark eyes and said, “your terms have been agreed on. But know that once you are in the control of Vivilianon and I will have nothing to say on how

she treats you.” “And how, do you think, she will treat me?,” asked Ashaleena as she leant back and closed her vibrant eyes. Tormak shrugged and said through pursed lips, “a few experiments no doubt, and I have no idea what else she will do. But one thing I do know is it will certainly harm you and make your stay in Hithen Dwa a memorable one!” Ashaleena grunted and crossed her arms, saying quietly, “I shall have my say on that, demon-rider.” Currently, only a few metres away from the demon-riders and their captive, the fey Jahlred knelt in a thicket of overgrown beech trees. Over his back was a sheathed battle sword aptly titled Silverwynd and his blonde hair draped over his perfect face. Relieving his back from its current arc and to a straighter pose, he drew Silverwynd and prowled closer to where the riders were sword in hand. When he noticed the Foreseeyer’s granddaughter he bit his lip in effort to stop himself from calling out and instead cleared the vines from his path. Now he was only a few steps away from the demon-rider known as Hargla, who was preoccupied with chatter amongst his friends. Jahlred took one step and dived back into the bushes when a rider turned his gaze in the fey’s direction. “There’s someone here! In those bushes!,” grumbled a rider, everyone else including Ashaleena turning their attention to where he pointed. The rider dusted off his legs and drew his carved sword, adding, “I’ am going to drive them out!” Those words made Jahlred’s heart pound as he lay in the thicket, sword in hand. When he heard the rider come directly in front of him, the fey crawled closer and held his breath. He could see the demon-rider’s legs and his goal was to impair the demon-rider from walking. Without hesitation, the fey swung his sword in a circular notion and slashed the man across the calves, causing blood to stain the ground and undergrowth. The rider yelled and fell forward onto his face, rolling onto his back and screaming as he grasped his legs. Tormak drew his curved sword and kicked his wounded man aside, stepping to where Jahlred still lay hidden. The fey could see his face glance around from between the leaves of the thicket, and felt his heart pound against his ribs. Ashaleena suddenly stood and queried curiously, “what is it? What felled your rider?” Tormak turned to her with his spare arm outstretched and hissed, “none of your concern! Just sit down and silence yourself!” Ashaleena sensed a tone of nervousness in the rider’s voice, but obeyed and seated herself in her original spot. Her gaze remained on where the fey was hiding. Meanwhile, Jahlred knew he would have to act soon he would be eventually found and slain. He sensed that the riders would not stop until they found him. The rider who had been felled by the fey suddenly ceased his screams and everyone realised he had died from blood loss. Ashaleena held her hands to her mouth in shock and said to herself, “I hope whoever is in there will be my saviour. I do not think I can endure much more of these riders!” Presently, the handsome fey still lay holding his breath as Tormak scanned for him. Suddenly, he leapt from the thicket and drove his sword thickly into the leader rider, leaving it in as he kicked another in the head from mid air. Tormak yelled in pain as he now lay on his back with the sword driven deep into him, shouting to his men, “kill the fey! Slaughter him!” Ashaleena had sheltered herself behind one of the logs surrounding the camp and now watched as the mysterious fey fought off the many riders amassing against him. Jahlred had killed the second rider he had kicked and now wrestled with another on the ground, gasping for breath as his opponent began to strangle him. The other riders circled around with drawn swords and awaited for if their foe killed

his opponent and they could step in to fight. The fey vigorously pushed the rider off with his feet and then seized his head in his legs, cracking the rider’s neck. Another demon-rider stepped in and whacked the fey on the back as he recovered from his previous battle, yelling, “die fey bastard!!” Jahlred turned around and punched him heavily in the face, the rider reeling back and the sound of his nose breaking ensuing. Snatching a sword from the carcass of another rider, the fey finished off his current foe with a well placed slash to the neck. Another rider instantly stepped in to fight and felt the cold iron of his foe’s sword almost instantaneously, falling back as he felt death’s touch. Jahlred withdrew his sword from the rider’s gut and severed off another’s head, his weariness ebbing in as he fought. Across from the current battle, Tormak had removed the sword with much pain and now limped over to his foe with his sword grasped tightly in his gloved hand. Mustering his energy, he yelled and ran forward, bringing his sword down on the fey’s back. Jahlred felt another’s sword slice down his spine and fell forward, blood staining his back. Instantly he met the sword of Tormak, and both wounded men fought furiously as the remaining riders watched in awe. Tormak made to sever off his foe’s head but was violently kicked in the stomach and winded for a moment. Jahlred took this advantage and almost instantly severed off his foe’s defenceless arm. The limb fell to the ground as the rider snatched his shoulder and dropped his sword. Jahlred redoubled and drove his sword through his foe’s skull as the rider tried to find his curved sword. Tormak vomited large amounts of blood as his brain was damaged, falling back onto the ground and convulsing violently. His riders watched in shock as their master lay disabled but did not attack his opponent. When Tormak finally died, his remaining four riders, which including Hargla and Grauth, sped for their nightmares and galloped to safety. The riderless horses also followed with shrill cries of sorrow for their dead masters. Ashaleena stood quickly and ran over to the fey, catching him in her arms when he fell in exhaustion, “I cannot thank you enough, fey. Pray tell your name and if you may need healing? My name is Ashaleena” Jahlred forced himself to smile and rubbed grime and blood of his perfect face, saying huskily, “my name is Jahlred, and I thank you for concern of my wellbeing. Pray thee Ashaleena, have you heard of fey herb called gwalymuine!?” Ashaleena racked her mind and remembered the various herbs she had seen in her grandmother’s shelves and said, “yes, I have.” Jahlred smiled again in relief and said, “I have seen it close to here, in a thicket by a flowing river. Can you retrieve some for me?” Ashaleena stood and said kindly, “I will fetch it for you. But are you sure I can leave you by yourself, what if you die while I’ am gone!?” The fey looked into her jewels of eyes as he lay in her arms and said, “I have enough will and enough fey in me to live long enough for you to return! Now go!” Ashaleena nodded and said, “I will go with haste and return with it also. If you grow hungry or parched, there are supplies in those rucksacks”. She gently rested him on the grass and handed him a linen blanket, rising to her feet and dusting off her attire. The young granddaughter of the Foreseeyer of the river village embarked on her search for gwalymuine and stepped over large thickets as she followed the fey’s vague directions. After crossing a few thickets where the scent of lavender was strong, she began to hear the sound of flowing water and soon came upon the river Jahlred had spoken of. She brushed loose tendrils of her hair from her face and

continued on to where she sighted the bush of the healing herb. She outstretched a elegant hand and picked a few leaves of the white-purple herb, stuffing them into the rucksack she brought with her and turning back to the camp. When she returned to the campsite, she found Jahlred drinking from one of the demon-rider’s unused flasks but still in a state of pain. He rested the flask on the grass beside him as she knelt down to administer the herb and said, “you found it without no trouble I see.” Ashaleena nodded as she concentrated on the herb and said without looking at the fey, “lie on your stomach and lift up your tunic while I administer this herb.” The handsome fey obeyed and winced as the cold air brushed against the bare flesh and bone of his spine. “The wound is deep” he said to her, laying his face against his arms. Ashaleena responded with a grunt and powdered some of the herb between her elegant hands, staining them with purplish white. She dabbed some of the substance on her hands on the fey’s back and closed her eyes as she had a weak stomach. Jahlred snatched a twig from the grass and bit into as unbearable pain stung his large wound. His face sweated ceaselessly as he was administered the gwalymuine but he fought the urge to scream in pain and bit harder into the stick between his teeth. Ashaleena reopened her eyes as she moved her hand away and cleaned them on her dress of black silk, waiting for the effects to begin. Jahlred’s pain gradually ceased and to one point he lay on his back again after the damsel had also administered a long bandage to his wound. He lay back against the cold grass and closed his eyes. Ashaleena placed her hand on his forehead and said concernedly, “you are burning up! Have some more water” she directed the same flask to his lips and held it there while he drank. He rested it himself on the grass and said after he swallowed, “I have never before seen a human female possessing such beauty.” Ashaleena smiled shyly at his comment and replied as she seated herself next to him, “you’re too kind, master fey. But I have suffered much these past days to feel the emotion of happiness.” Jahlred, who was lying under his sheet, pulled it back and sat on the grass, asking with a knotted brow, “what do you mean?”. Ashaleena felt a single tear run down her face and she quickly wiped it off, saying, “my only brother Jamalor was slain by the demon-riders when they attacked”. Upon saying this, it caused her to begin crying into her hands in grief for her brother. A sympathetic look spread across the fey’s face and he wrapped his arm around her and held her close, surprised that she did not decline. Looking up he said, “I’ am sorry for your loss. I too have felt the grief Khalvazard can cause.” Ashaleena looked up at him with tear-sodden eyes and said as she sniffed, “well it is no use dwelling on the past. All I want to know is where we are going?” Jahlred ran his fingers through her dark hair and said as he leant back, “we are going to Del Jahvalla, where we shall both be safe. But we shall embark for the city in the morning.” Ashaleena smiled and dragged another pillow beside the fey’s, lying down and saying to him without facing him, “you are the kindest fey I have ever met. May destiny reward you for your kindness”. With those words, she soon fell asleep. Jahlred took one more draught from his flask and lay back on his own pillow, forcing himself to sleep.

********************* The next morning, Jahlred awoke early and began to burn the cadavers of the dead demon-riders. Before he did so, he scavenged their swords and some of their armour and stuffed them in the rucksacks.

A few hours later, Ashaleena awoke to the smell of burning flesh and said disgustedly, “what is that horrid stench!?” The fey, which stood across from her, laughed and tossed another body onto the burning pile. Wiping his brow, he said, “I’ am burning the bodies so that we do not encounter hungry wild animals. Now pass me that flask by the bed and help me clean up!” Ashaleena obeyed and passed him the flask he had drunk from the previous night, saying as she stuffed the sheet on the grass under her arm, “how do you exactly propose we get to Del Jahvalla with no horses?” “You leave that to me, human” said the fey, not turning to look at her as he stuffed more supplies into a rucksack. Ashaleena stood still, crossing her arms, and said, “well I’ am not walking all the way! I’ll have blistered feet by the time we reach there!” Jahlred sighed as he extinguished the campfire and said, “I have a teleportation spell at the ready that will transport us and our supplies directly to the Three Ravens Inn in Del Jahvalla. So there is no reason to whine for your convenience.” The Foreseeyer’s granddaughter crossed her arms and said mockingly, “well hurry up then, master fey. I grow bored of this wild landscape and never before have I seen Del Jahvalla.” Jahlred swung two rucksacks around his shoulders and tossed the remainders beside him, saying, “the spell will not work when you are that far away.” Ashaleena sighed and moved closer to the fey, saying under her breath, “you fey think you’re so powerful with your ancient magics.” Jahlred turned to her with a unimpressed look and said, “I heard that! So if I were you, I’d remain silent with your snide behaviour or you’ll be left behind”. The fey then crossed his arm on his chest and uttered some feyran words. Ashaleena suddenly witnessed the area around her and the fey engulfed by a blue column and the deafening sound of fierce wind. When she opened her eyes and the sound ceased, she realised she was in a very stifling room. Jahlred stepped away and said with outstretched arms, “here we are! The Three Ravens Inn, directly in the heart of Del Jahvalla,” remembering something, he added, “and we best make ourselves ready as a feyran escort from Baelandyr will arrive soon.” There came a hard knock on the front door and a stout bearded mortal entered a dirty apron over his heavy shirt. The man, who was clearly the innkeeper, turned his attention to Jahlred and said, “ah! Master fey, I trust you got ere well, then? I hope you don’t mind about the lack of beds and other furniture, but this room was recently shut down and we made it a store room.” Jahlred smiled as he dumped the rucksacks around his shoulder and said, “we understand, of course you know we are not staying the night and are meeting men of the Fey King.” “He does to well,” said a righteous voice from outside, a middle-aged fey dressed in the garbs of the Council entering with several others dressed the same. Majority of them had blonde hair as usual, but one, who appeared the eldest, had no hair or facial hair at all. Jahlred smiled again and embraced the fey that had spoken and said, “Moralduin! Tis good to see you are well, how fares the High King?” “He could do better,” replied Moralduin gravely, “I fear he may be ailing. The cause of this is undoubtedly a never before seen “Baron of the Falwuinne Woods” who visited and who, we believe, was a minion of Khalvazard sent to disease Baelandyr.” Jahlred frowned and said as he gathered the rucksacks, “let us hope he does not perish in this dire hour.” Meanwhile, Ashaleena had stood silently waiting and finally introduced herself after her companion failed to, “I’ am Ashaleena, by the way!”. She shook Moralduin and the other fey’s hands and stepped back when she was finished. “Well,” said Moralduin, clapping his hands together and dismissing the innkeeper, “we best head off to the palace!”

The group immediately departed the Three Ravens Inn and exited out into a bustling city centre, where humans and fey alike went about their business in the marvellous city of the High Fey King. In the middle of all the people stood a great spire of solid stone the spiralled upwards so that it was visible over the walls of Del Jahvalla. Some bystanders placed small roses on the base of the spire and Ashaleena felt drawn to do the same. When Moralduin realised her interest he blithely said, “I see you are greatly awed by the Cenotaph of the Feyran Riders. Tell me mistress Foreseeyer, have you heard their tale?” Ashaleena shook her head and arced her forward expectantly. Someone accidentally bumped into her but fortunately apologized. Moralduin directed two of his men to find a suitable quiet alleyway and as they went off, he said, “the Feyran Riders were the riders who served Baelandyr long ago when this war we are enduring was young. You see, the High Fey King was in his hour of need at the Battle of the Fayern Fields and his Riders had recently arrived after the third day of endless battling. Baelandyr knew he could not win this battle but he gave one more throw of the dice and ordered the Feyran Riders to attack on their own. But while they were doing so, the Fey King ordered everyone to move out and they left the riders to their doom. Khalvazard’s army ultimately killed all the riders and Baelandyr is faced to this day with the guilt of his abandoning of his own loyal servants.” “But that still does not explain this memorial” said Ashaleena. “Ah, yes of course!,” said Moralduin as his two men reported back and one whispered into his ear, “back to the memorial. As a sign of forgiveness, Baelandyr constructed the Cenotaph and people to this day leave roses on the spire. Many forgave him for his desertion, but others sadly did not and still do not. These were and are mainly the descendants of the Feyran Riders, the mothers who never saw their sons come home, the wives and children who never saw their father and husband ever again.” “Sounds to me like a sad story,” Jahlred said sarcastically, “even though I have heard it fifty times before.” “Well I found it quite insightful,” said Ashaleena, gently elbowing her feyran friend in the gut, “now which way to the palace?” “This way” said Moralduin, turning left and leading them down a crowded street. A few lanes up when the street broke out into the neighbourhood’s hub, he halted the group when he noticed a brawl beside the central fountain. Two burly men in rags were fighting each other much to the gathering crowd’s protests and enjoyment. Both men hit each other with sticks, snatched pots from merchant stands and broke them on each other’s heads and threw each other into stands and buildings. When the one on the left punched the other in his nose, the wounded one cried, “you bastard!! I’ll gut you dead!!” Guards both feyran and human were instantly dispatched to the scene and pulled both men away from each other, despite their protesting. The second grew so angered that he broke free of a guard’s grasp and kicked him into the fountain, the other man following his foe’s example and hurtling a guard into a merchant stall. The guard stood up and drew his curved sword; remaining well away as the two men began to fight again. He turned to a human guard and said, “These brutes will never stop. It will take dozens of us to break this fight!” The situation grew worse when one of the men grabbed a guard and impaled him on the fountain’s central spire. The bayoneted man yelled for help and two guards suppressed his assailant as others pulled him off the fountain and rushed him away. Across from the brawl that was growing worse, Moralduin drew his curved blade and said, “leave it to these novices to stop a pair of drunken fools!”. He ran towards the brawl and whacked one of the men over the head with the cross-guard of his sword.

The crowd roared as the injured man fell to his knees and guards seized him by the arms. Moralduin bowed to the people but was knocked forward by the other man, who cried almost madly, “you blundering idiot! I was going to kill him! I’ll just have to kill you now!!” Guards leapt at the man but he pushed them back, snatching the fey up by the collar and holding him halfway off the ground. “You drunken fool! You cannot defeat me!” mocked Moralduin, receiving a heavy blow across the cheek by the edge of the man’s sword. The guards made another move to drag the man off the fey and began to successfully do so, until the crazed man out of now where stabbed the fey in the stomach. A pained look spread across Moralduin’s handsome face as he fell back and the guards seized the second insane man, the thousands of voices echoing in his ears. Jahlred and Ashaleena cleared through the crowd and ran to the fey, his feyran bother holding him in his arms. Moralduin’s face was now pallid and his mouth stained with blood as he coughed up the substance. Struggling to speak, he forced himself to say, “I fell cold, the touch of death creeps upon me.” Jahlred shook his head and said, “no, my friend. Repel death’s touch and return to this life.” Moralduin’s eyes widened as he coughed up more blood and he said huskily, “I have served my purpose! My men will take you to Baelandyr,” grasping his friend on the shoulder he said, “my sword, put my sword in my hands!” Jahlred conformed and handed his friend’s sword to him, helping him close his grasp on it. Biting his lip, he mournfully said, “you will have a noble funeral.” Moralduin clenched his sword tightly and coughed one final time, before he uttered his final breath and his body became lifeless. The dead fey’s men now gathered to his body, keeping their silence with the bystanders who stood to watch also. Ashaleena knew her friend was deeply saddened and in repayment for his comforting to her, she wrapped her arm around him while he sat there and spoke to the lifeless body of his fey brother. After some time, one of Moralduin’s men leant forward and said to Jahlred, “the day grows late, we should return to our current task. The local mortician will take his body to the palace tombs this eve.” Jahlred rose from his knees and said as Ashaleena stood beside him quietly, “you are right, lead the way.” And so the group continued their journey to the palace of Baelandyr, until they reached there later that evening. They were greeted by the emissary of the High Fey King himself, a tall blonde fey male who escorted them through the magnificent palace. Even just walking through the rooms and halls of the palace would allow one to feel the magics that existed within as much as the air around the inhabitants. Majority of the palace opened out into lavish and beautiful gardens wild with flowers and vines and where at night you would see the smaller feyran creatures, known as the faeylessa or lesser fey. As they proceeded through, Ashaleena noted a faeylessa seating itself on the balcony of one of the gardens. Upon a closer inspection as they passed by, she realised it appeared to have a thin roguish human torso and fury goat’s legs and hooves. Its curled hair and beard where strangely accompanied by diminutive horns and goatish ears. “You look at the galgwullion on the balcony there?,” asked Jahlred, breaking the damsel’s trail of thought, “impish by visage, but strangely recluse and silently helpful those fey are.” When they arrived at the chambers of the High Fey King, Ashaleena braced herself with manners and good will as the guards opened the doors. She nervously followed

the fey male behind Jahlred and swallowed the lump in her throat as she beheld the Fey King for the first time. Never before had she seen a fey of such imposing power and at the same time unnatural handsomeness. He wore the same armour that he had worn on the night of the meeting which involved Jahlred, except the more expensive things were locked away in various coffers around him. His legendary sword, Willowings, lay in a glass cabinet against the wall of his large bed and the keys jangled at his side. The fey men present bowed immediately and Ashaleena gracelessly curtseyed. The fey king thanked them in feyran and directed his striking look to the Jahlred. The young fey bowed again with more haste and said, “my lord, I have done as you asked, but I need no reward.” Baelandyr nodded as he scoured the room and said curiously, “why is Moralduin not present? Has he taken ill as I have?” “My lord, Moralduin was slain on our way here” said one of the other fey men. “Who committed such a felony!?” “An insane man on the streets” replied the same fey again, this time his tone sounding mournful. “Was he arrested!?” enquired Baelandyr furiously, placing his hand on his chin. “Aye, my lord,” said Jahlred, Ashaleena patting him comfortingly, “we all grieve as much as you do.” Baelandyr suddenly coughed violently and was forced to his chair, his temple writhing with veins. He drank from a chalice of water and said, “forgive me for my coughing and such, but my illness is becoming worse. My physicians say it may be concluding in death.” A shocked look spread across Jahlred’s already stressed face and he said, “but my lord cannot perish in this dire hour. We are on the verge of defeat already!” “That is all I will speak of it, Jahlred!!,” said the High Fey King loudly as he looked up to his lesser with darkened eyes, “now leave me, all of you.” The group complied and paid their respects before leaving with great haste. After departing the Fey King’s chambers, Ashaleena and Jahlred parted with the other fey and retired to their assigned chambers under the stairs that led to Baelandyr’s chambers. The room held two small beds and a cupboard of oak, along with a lavish rug that spread from the door to the wall between both beds. The lodging was windowless and due to its reclusive location, it remained comfortably cool. Jahlred tossed his rucksacks onto the bed on the right and jadedly said, “finally we are here. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ am going to bed.” Ashaleena paced around the room as she examined it and said with her hand on her cheek, “I will go to bed soon, my handsome companion.” Jahlred’s eyes widened at her last words and he said, “am I wrong false to believe you have some attraction to me, not that I blame you as I’ am unnaturally handsome?” Ashaleena smiled and said, “even if I did have some form of love for you, we could never be together forever.” Jahlred knotted his brow as he sat himself on his bed and asked, “what do you mean?” “You know all to well that a fey can live forever unless killed, but us humans usually only live to one hundred or less.” Jahlred rested his head on his hand and said, “so it is. Come sit with me.” Ashaleena gave him a quizzical look as she organised the armour into the cupboard and asked, “why? So you might kiss me?” Jahlred forced himself to laugh quickly and said, “us fey, as you know, rarely court with mortals such as you. We usually remain to wed with our own kind and allow our race to thrive. Such a child to be born to a fey and a human would possess immortality undoubtedly, and also the powers of their parents if they possess any. So therefore if you and I, for example, were to have a child, they would inherit my

feyran immortality and your capability to become a Foreseeyer, nay?” Ashaleena seated herself beside him and asked, “yes, but what is your point?” “My point is that that situation has a one in a thousand probability of happening, so I will not endeavour to kiss you.” The woman placed her hand on his cheek and said, “perhaps one for good measure?” Jahlred’s heart pounded against his ribs and he said, “so you do love me? But a fey is not meant to love a human, I’ am supposed to love another fey.” Ashaleena moved her hand away and said, “I understand if you feel against this. I’ am sorry, forgive me for my intrusion when I have only know you for a few mere days.” “No,” said they fey, looking into her vivid eyes, “I know this is not meant to be, but I cannot deny that I have grown to love you.” Ashaleena suddenly grabbed him and abruptly kissed him quickly and passionately. When she move away, she said with a nervous tone, “that was one and I said one for good measure, so no more of this business.” Jahlred stuttered as she moved to her own bed and said, “of course. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ am going to bed.” “Good night” said Ashaleena as she rolled over to face the wall. “Good night” replied the fey, blowing out the only candle beside his bed and pulling his blanket over him. The room was instantly full of darkness and only the vague voices of people outside could be heard as almost distant whispers. The violent winds from the Bloodstagla Sea billowed throughout the northern parts of Aznar-Kahldum, the lands of Khalvazard. All over this bleak and parched landscape, his forces marched in their thousands, both human and creatures dragged forth from the pits of Hellgard. Distinguishable by their crimson armour and their bloodstained flags, any foes of the Demon King knew to be weary of the armies of Khalvazard. Not many fey lingered in Aznar-Kahldum when it was overrun, but their demon-kindred the thazak-dal’viza, or black fey, were copious in this part of the world. The dark fey were still handsome like their kin, but were predominately black-haired and red-eyed. It was believed that before humankind and demons walked the earth, the black fey and the normal or white fey existed as one race. But one Khalvazard arrived and drove out the feyran race, those who were to weak became the fey and their fleeing cousins the white fey. The dark fey ultimately became allied with no one, but forged an unsteady alliance with Khalvazard. Most of the thazak-dal’viza lived on the Darkharrow Islands off the mainland of AznarKahldum and were famed for their black ships which they used to raid and hassle their feyran kin. The dark fey were wicked beings, and Khalvazard knew his alliance with them would be gone when he vanquished the High Fey King. He would be faced with another enemy, so his desire to win his war had both good and bad consequences. He left it to the black fey to fight their white fey brethren until he had won the war and the black fey had majority of their race defeated. They would be weak from this and their betrayal would be repelled and Khalvazard would become overlord of all the world. His orcish allies on the south coast would everlastingly aid his campaign as they did in the war against the white fey and the Empire. Ashaleena awoke early the next day and left her fey companion to sleep, heading to the garden where she had seen the galgwullion the previous day. She seated herself in one of the white chairs on the enclosed balcony and picked a wild rose, twirling it in her fingers while she awaited the creature to appear. A few minutes later, she noticed it had appeared in the same place and she dropped the rose on the ground in shock. “You seek me, qweladuri?” he asked with his hoofed leg across his other. Ashaleena, who had never encountered such a creature, forced herself to speak, “yes, galgwullion. I seek to know more of you and your race, and why you call me qweladuri ?”

The galgwullion smiled and said as he picked a flower, “firstly, I have a name and secondly, I call you qweladuri because that is what my kin call Foreseeyers. As to your knowledge-seeking of my kind, I can only tell you certain things that will not endanger or expose us.” “Very well” said the young woman expectantly, picking up the rose she had dropped. The lesser fey suddenly disappeared and then reappeared in the seat across from Ashaleena. Sniffing the scented air, he said, “my race is as old as the world, woman. We have walked this land for thousands of years and seen every war and conflict. I myself am only three thousand years, which is nothing compared to some of my friends. As I was saying, the galgwullion are benevolent creatures by nature, but there have been some known to be harmful and malevolent. I tend to steer myself away from those kind as they even play their harmful pranks on their own kindred for their amusement. A way to repel a malevolent galgwullion is to hang a dragon’s tooth on your front door. But of course you can’t do that because the dragons no longer exist. And that is all I can and will tell you of my race.” “But what is your purpose?” asked Ashaleena interestedly. The galgwullion frowned and said, “we have no purpose, like all lesser fey. We are simply existent because the world has chosen us for such a privilege. The kranduil of the mountains, the lallyriune of the sea, all of us faeylessa are purposeless unless assigned to be a mortal’s guardian.” “A mortal’s guardian?” “Yes!” sighed the galgwullion tiredly, “if a mortal saves a faeylessa’s life, than the lesser fey is bound to the mortal as their guardian until that mortal dies. I have never been a guardian and I hope to never be one.” Ashaleena ran her finger along the armrest of her chair and asked excitedly, “could you be my guardian?” “Did you not hear what I just said, qweladuri!? I can only be your guardian if you save my life and I said I will never be anyone’s guardian anyway.” Ashaleena crossed her elegant arms disappointedly and said to the fey, “very well, I thank you for what you have told me.” The galgwullion smiled again and disappeared a second time, this time not to return. Ashaleena sighed and stood from her seat, returning back inside where she encountered a dazed Jahlred. “You’re up already?” he enquired as he rubbed his eyes and brushed his hair with his hand. “Why not?” asked the damsel, smiling at the fey’s awkwardness, “I was speaking to the galgwullion outside.” Jahlred’s tired eyes widened and he said with astonishment, “the galgwullion spoke to you!? Excuse me for laughing, but that is a rare occasion.” Ashaleena frowned at his mockery and crossed her arms, saying, “and why would it not talk to me? I’m perfectly reasonable to speak to.” Jahlred continue laughing and managed to say, “I’m sorry! Its just that faeylessa rarely talk to humans.” “But we are as good-mannered as your kind,” she said, adding, “well maybe not including you, but anyway.” “Come,” said the fey, a smile spread across his handsome face, “enough of this babble. Let us go and have something to eat. I could eat five horses!!” Ashaleena knotted her brow sarcastically and said, “still the comedian even when you’re half awake aren’t you!? I’m surprised and regretful I kissed you last night!” Jahlred chuckled as he noted she was being sardonic and said, “perhaps a second kiss would re-acquaint you with the pleasant taste of my mouth. But after breakfast, I’m starving!!” Ashaleena complied and said, “come on than, lead the way so you can eat like a pig.” Jahlred began to lead her to the main hall when he said, “I actually eat more like a cow, less sloppy which you will note when I eat”. He commenced to lead her to the main hall and when they entered it, they found it lacking company. They and a few

others scattered about were the only people present to eat and it became clear that it was early. After a pleasant breakfast of which Jahlred had two plates of, the two of them visited Baelandyr a second time, this time so the king could make his proposition of an alliance between his people and the Foreseeyers. When they entered, Jahlred noted the king looked worse and said, “forgive our intrusion as you are unwell, but you summoned us.” Baelandyr’s face had become pallid and he continuously drank water. Moving from his bed to the chair at his desk, he said, “yes, thank you Jahlred for bringing her all this way.” Jahlred bowed to his liege and said, “I simply did as His Majesty asked,” turning to introduce Ashaleena he added, “my lord, Ashaleena, the Foreseeyer’s granddaughter.” Ashaleena knelt and kissed the king’s outstretched hand, saying as she stood up, “it is a great honour to meet you, High King of the Fey.” “As it is you,” replied the ill king with a sincere smile, “I have asked for you to be brought here so that I might propose an alliance between your Foreseeyer kind and my people.” Ashaleena became speechless and finally said, “I’ am sure the Foreseeyers Council in Oraolthor would gladly accept, but I cannot confirm such an alliance. I have no authority as a Foreseeyer as I’ am a mere apprentice.” A disdained look spread across the ill king’s face and he said, “mayhap I can venture to Oraolthor when I’ am well once more.” Jahlred intruded and said abruptly, “my lord! You are in no condition to travel and you shall clearly not be well for some time. As this is a dire hour, Ashaleena and I shall go to Oraolthor to converge with the Foreseeyers Council.” “An excellent idea, Jahlred.” Ashaleena stepped forward and curtseyed, before saying, “my lord, might I request an armed guard on our journey to Oraolthor?” “Why not simply teleport to Oraolthor?” asked Baelandyr through weary eyes. “Because, liege, none of our sorcerers have been to Oraolthor and thus do not know the spell to teleport us there.” “After learning that, Jahlred,” began the fey king with a humble tone, “I’ am swayed to consider agreeing to mistress Ashaleena’s request. I shall order an armed guard to join you on your journey far to Oraolthor, as it is dangerously close to the rife lands of the Taint and Vivilianon travels their sometimes with her magics.” Ashaleena curtseyed the fey king and said, “thank you, my lord. And might I ask when you see fit for us to leave?” “A few days will suffice, giving you enough time to ready yourselves and rest” replied Baelandyr, breaking into a violent coughing fit. “That is copious time, liege,” said Jahlred sincerely, bowing low, “and may I ask why you believe Vivilianon is rampant?” Baelandyr rested his arm on the oak desk and said, “she is as unpredictable and violent as a storm, Jahlred. Her minions scour majority of the lands around Hithen Dwa and I would like to be rid of her as soon as possible.” “But what would happen if we were captured by Vivilianon?” asked Ashaleena curiously. “Try to remain positive in these dire hours, mistress Ashaleena” said the fey king with a humble yet imposing tone. Noting than the king was growing tired, Jahlred said sincerely, “thank you for allowing us to meet with you. May we depart your chambers and make ready to embark to Oraolthor?” Baelandyr stood and walked over to where his legendary sword lay in the glass cabinet, running his finger along the edge of the cupboard. Turning back to the two present, he said wearily, “yes, you may go.”

Soon after the two had left, the High Feyran General Xyanus reported to his lord in his pleasant chambers. As Xyanus knelt and kissed his king’s outstretched hand, Baelandyr imposingly asked, “what is your report on the conditions of my lands?” “All is reasonably well,” began the general, “Ath Malavel, Fey-Fells and Dallavor remain strong and ready to face whatever danger is present in the Shafhla Desert. Our part of Borderland remains a consistent and safe path into Imperium and further into the Imperial Provinces. Turning to the west, Jalis Jahr in Verdanvarl, along with Svaeryan Vil and Silvermoon, remain safe and defend our lands from Khalvazard with an iron fist. Onto the southern coast Thornseld and Yardelfall are thriving ports and the chief power of our naval force. As for Sieulad and Zeerafald, no news has come from there on Vivilianon’s actions,” “And how fares Ibercium?” asked Baelandyr, ever concerned for his northern ally. He knew the Empire of the North was a thriving and powerful nation, and had made swift to align with them during their rise to power. “Conceldium is well, although he turns seventy five this month and Perens is eagerly awaiting his time to be emperor. Hyracius, Pereseus and Magnareus in the western Imperial Provinces remain also unharmed by Khalvazard or the black fey.” Heading directly to the central marketplace of Del Jahvalla, Ashaleena and Jahlred began to search around for their supplies. The fey had listed what they needed: a map of the world, food supplies for a week, two portable beds, two suitable horses and at least three thousand gold coins. Deciding to collect the required money, Jahlred parted from his female companion and went to the local hoard hall in the city, withdrawing the three hundred gold coins from his account. Meanwhile, Ashaleena had successfully bought the food supplies and the beds from a quaint general store called Jirvhen’s Fine Goods, which lay in the Market District, west from the Cenotaph of the Feyran Riders. The two once again met at the Cenotaph and only needed to find a reasonably cheap map and the horses. Jahlred had not bothered to ask at the palace as most maps and horses were being used for war. “I know a suitable place that sells maps north of here, known as Kyrand’s First-Rate Books & Maps,” suggested the fey to his female companion as they stood in the overwhelming shadow of the Cenotaph, “as for the horses, the Barrack’s Stable further north has the finest horses in Del Jahvalla.” Ashaleena nodded her beautiful head and replied as she watched birds circle the skies above, “they will be good enough. Come, let us go.” As they were walking to Kyrand’s, Jahlred proceeded to give his companion some insight on their path to Oraolthor. Turning to the young woman, he commenced to say, “I hope you are aware of the various courses we can take to reach Oraolthor?,” Ashaleena nodded and he continued, “the clear safest way would be to pass through the Barrens and through Mel Vellas. Another less safer way is through the Eastern Moors and then directly into the Foreseeyer’s Lands, and the choice is ultimately your’s.” Ashaleena had never been anywhere outside of the Foreseeyer’s Lands and seldom knew and feared the expansive world outside her village. She had never been into the Imperial Provinces despite that Western Colacedes was right on her doorstep, and would one day loved to meet the Emperor Ibercium Conceldium IV in the Imperial Core. After thinking over her two options, she concluded to choose the safest and said, “we shall take the safest road, as I have never been to Mel Vellas Keep nor the Barrens.” “Mel Vellas I agree you have not been to, but you spent at least two days in the Barrens! That was were I rescued you!” Ashaleena rested her elegant hand on her face and said with surprise “but that land is so fertile, why is it called the Barrens?” “Because,” Jahlred commenced to say, waving to another feyran his age when they passed by. A murder of crows were now perched on one of the stone spikes of the Cenotaph, watching everyone austerely. He continued on, “it is called the Barrens

because at one point of the year vapours from the coast combine with the sulphuric gases from the Vehmouth Peaks and then drift into the Barrens, strangely leaving everywhere else unaffected. The Barrens is then clouded in a thick mist that, although not poisonous, makes it extremely difficult to navigate through this part of the world. Many malevolent faeylessa use this mist as cover to commit foul murders and mischief as they are safe from their victims’ eyes. But we will be safe there, because faeylessa seldom approach or harm us higher fey, and legions from Ardel and Mal Vellas scout that area and ensue travellers and tradesmen safe passage into the safer lands.” “Would that not mean with the sulphuric gases in Vehmouth cause the inhabitants to die? Or are the peaks to high up to effect life lower below?” Jahlred realised that this conversation would go on for a while longer and seated himself on one of the benches around the Cenotaph. When the maiden followed his example and was comfortably seated, he continued, “the towns and villages in Vehmouth are unaffected by the poisonous gases from the Vehmouth Peaks because, as you said, they are to low on the ground to become poisoned. The gases travel along the atmosphere, until that air which remains uncontaminated and does not contaminate reaches the Barrens, whereupon it is released and creates the mist.” “Many more questions urge to be asked by myself, but we can leave that for when we are journeying. Come! To Kyrand’s!” When the two companions arrived in Kyrand’s bookshop about twenty minutes later, the human and feyran numbers had dwindled as it was growing close to when most businesses closed. But Kyrand allowed his patrons to come inside and go about their business until late at night, when the old man had to lock up and rest. Kyrand was a friendly looking human, with deep furrows on his brow and under his eyes of the deepest grey and a wispy white beard. He wore low hanging green robes and was aided by a staff of oak. When the two quietly entered, his was notified by the jingle of his bell on the door and looked up with a happy face to see more patrons in his shop. “Master Kyrand,” said Jahlred, bowing kindly to the tradesman in the way the Bards of Sieulad did, a asinine and utilitarian way which was supposed to woo women of the bard’s crowd. Kyrand began to commence giving a gaunt man his change and said to the young fey with his spherical and antique glasses, “what is it you need, Jahlred?” “We need a map” replied the handsome fey, seating himself on a chair in front of Kyrand’s desk. “Of course, it will cost you twenty gold coins, but I’d usually charge double to those I have no fondness for” said the old man, adjusting his spectacles and disappearing to the back room. While he was gone, Ashaleena seated herself beside Jahlred and said, “he seems nice, it is clear that you have known him for sometime?” Jahlred nodded, but his attention was on a window inside the shop that overlooked the city outside. Jumping to his feet and drawing his sword, he said to the mortal woman, “something is not right outside, I’ am going to investigate, here‘s the money” he handed her twenty gold coins, “just buy the map and wait for me here.” Ashaleena sensed a tone of stress and worry in his usually stable voice, and remained where she was told. Meanwhile, Jahlred had left the book shop and now observed a scene of violence from behind some crates. Men clothed in full black armour, including their heads, were bashing a commoner with iron truncheons. The man, who seemed innocent, was crying for mercy but his assailants continued to harm him and caused him to bleed and bruise. When he was so weak he was forced to the ground and beaten further, Jahlred intervened and killed one of the black armoured men. Two others instantly made to seize the fey, but he severed off one’s head and drove his sword through another. The beaten man began to thank the fey, but another man in black

smashed his truncheon on his head, bludgeoning him to death. Jahlred soon avenged the commoner and slit his slayer’s throat. The remaining assailants fled down the street and Jahlred took his chance to interrogate the man on the ground, he was coughing blood and choking. Kneeling, the fey held the man to his face and ripped off his helmet, saying through gritted teeth, “before you die or I finish you off, you will tell me why you attacked that innocent!?” The dying man’s face was pallid from blood loss, but he appeared to Jahlred’s judgement to be from the region of Jalaseus in the Imperial Provinces. Breaking into a spasm of agony, he managed to say, “that man was no commoner, he was a foe to the Great Emperor Ibercium Conceldium IV! He meant to kill the gracious emperor soon, and we simply ended his plans!” Jahlred struck the man across the face in frustration and continued interrogating, “I find that failingly hard to believe, assassin. Yes that’s right, fool, I know what you are by the armour you carry!”. Jahlred shook the man violently, but he was already dead. Rising to his feet falteringly, the fey headed back inside with much on his mind. Upon purchasing a high-rate map from Kyrand, the two companions headed further north to the Barrack’s Stable. The Barracks itself was built on a large knoll covered in green grass and surrounded by wildflowers, as Baelandyr had thought this position to be fitting. The Barracks grounds consisted of individual buildings, the Archery Range, the Stables, the Blacksmith and the Battlemaster’s Manor, which lay east of the Barracks Centre. The current human Battlemaster of Del Jahvalla was Sir Argavald Rethenbar, a tall muscular human man who sported a curved moustache and a long trailing cape of red silk. His title meant he trained squires and fellow knights to serve their Feyran lord well. The Barracks in the north was the human barracks, and the Feyran Barracks lay to the south of the human one. Argavald always made his squires challenge the Feyran ones in sword duels with wooden blades for amusement and gambling, as he would bet highly on his favourite squire. The Feyran knights, who found no joy in gambling, did not place their bets amongst the knights of Sir Argavald and simply enjoyed watching the humans wager each other’s squires. A Feyran squire or two would sometimes partake in the gambling games, but the human knights who were assigned with them would win their rightful money. The squires’ superiors kindly gave the young boys a few coins to keep them happy. Presently, Ashaleena and Jahlred stood patiently on the threshold of the Barrack’s Stable, cloaks whipping around their legs in the pleasant breeze from the north. They were answered by a knight dressed in steel armour; a cuirass, greaves, gauntlets and pauldrons, along with a full helm under his arm. Inspecting the two visitors, he said, “what do you want here?” Jahlred bowed swiftly and said as he stood straight, “we have come to collect our horses, but first we must browse to find the finest. Not to worry about papers, Sir Agravald invited us personally.” The knight chuckled and replied bluntly, “and the Orc King invited me to his lavish feast! Listen fey, our finest horses here are only for the knights and paladins and you expect me to believe Sir Agravald himself said you could come here!?” The knight’s rudeness was cut short when Sir Agravald himself appeared from his manor and greeted the two visitors. Turning to the knight, he waved his hand dismissively and said, “leave us, Terald. These two are guests in the Barracks grounds.” The knight complied and quickly apologised to the two guests, before disappearing into the interior of the Stables. Turning his attention back to Ashaleena and Jahlred, Sir Argavald bowed low and said, “I see you have come to choose your horses for your journey to Oraolthor in the east. Come, follow me and I will show you are many horses”. The Battlemaster led

his two guests towards the back of the Stable Lodgings, where some stable hands tended to the horses in individual enclosures. “You have a fine array of horses, Rethenbar” said Jahlred, striding over to the enclosure of an auburn foal, stroking it behind its ears affectionately. “I see you have taken kindly to the new foal, Jahlred,” commented the Battlemaster, shifting in his steel armour “she was only born a few weeks ago. And of course you understand she cannot be ridden.” Ashaleena lifted her dress to her knees and stepped carefully over the wet grass, dropping her garb as she took Jahlred’s place of petting the foal. “Come,” said Argavald to both of them, leading them to the back of the horse enclosures. Here, a variety of well kept and sturdy stallions st00d patiently or devouring their dinner. “These are our finest stallions of the Barracks, fast and resistant.” Jahlred examined the first horse in line, a towering black one strewn with white streaks. “This fellow seems to be a good horse, sturdy and fast, a perfect steed for a warrior. I think I shall take him.” Argavald gestured to a stable hand who strode over to the black stallion’s enclosure and posted something on the fence gate. Turning his attention to the woman, the Battlemaster asked, “and what of you, mistress Ashaleena? Have you found a horse?” Ashaleena was preoccupied, as a beautiful white mare caught her vibrant eyes, and simply nodded to the knight. The Foreseeyer’s granddaughter took some hay from the ground and fed the horse, patting it gently on the head as she ate. “I presume you will take that mare, Ashaleena?” asked Argavald, the woman nodding again and another stable hand posting something on the horse’s pen at his call. Jahlred clapped his hands together and said “well, we best be returning to our chambers. Argavald, I thank you kindly, and pray tell when we should get the horses as we leave at noon tomorrow?” “Come before you leave, the stables have reserved those two for you and no one, not even the Fey King himself, can charter them. After meeting with Baelandyr, we concluded that your guard will wait here also for you.” Jahlred nodded thankfully and said “once again, our thanks. We shall see you tomorrow and hopefully when we return from Oraolthor.” The next day was extremely frantic as Ashaleena and Jahlred hastened to pack their rucksacks and depart to the Barracks. It was ten in the morning, and the two companions had at least two more hours to get ready until the armed escort would have to disband. Hurrying through the Trader’s District, they strode quickly as they still packed themselves and made sure they looked proper. Ashaleena was brushing her hair as she walked and Jahlred was buttoning up his tunic, although both of them were ready when they reached the walls of the Barracks. Sir Argavald Rethenbar stood patiently at the gate along with the two horses and a gaggle of other chivalric knights. Bowing low, the Battlemaster commenced to say “you have come early, but no matter. The armed guard are still preparing themselves, but they’ll be here briefly.” “Thank you, Argavald,” said Jahlred sincerely, “thank you for all of this. I will one day return the favour.” “Now there’s no need for that” began master Rethenbar with courtliness, “I’ am simply doing my royal duty that is what I do. Besides,” The Battlemaster was interrupted when the armed guard of twelve knights stood ready with straight backs before the company. One, who also possessed a curled moustache and the armour of a high general, bowed lowly as his superior had done earlier and said to the fey and the woman, “Sir Penndren Lythuiane at your service. These are my finest knights at your command and for your protection, within reason.” Ashaleena curtseyed and replied “tis an honour to have you amongst us Sir

Penndren. Pray tell, have you ever been to Mal Vellas Keep?” Lythuiane pondered and finally said “once, mistress. I was summoned to defend its walls from malevolent faeylessa called the Black Kindred of Verzaz Davron. I narrowly escaped the siege with my life.” Argavald grew impatient and said abruptly, “enough of this pointless talk are you off or not?” Penndren nodded to his superior and said, “aye, master. You are right,” turning to speak to his men, he said “come on, lads! Line formation! Follow me and our two companions!” The other knights abided and followed Lythuiane and the other two as they rod slowly out onto the cobblestone road, which led out of Del Jahvalla. After sometime of riding through the city, Jahlred decided that Sir Penndren was the best man to inform of the brutality he had seen in the streets. After the fey had explained what he had seen and heard, the knight was bemused. “So you see I was eager to find out who those men were and bring them to justice!!” exclaimed Jahlred with a rising tone and a clenched fist. “Dressed in black completely you say? I doubt you will have much luck finding and incarcerating those men. By the sound of your explanation, they sound to me like members of the Brotherhood of the Shade, an elite assassin and stealth organization that spans Arzith and yonder. If there is anyone you want to set a score with its Vallabortax, their despicable and macabre bastard of a leader. But I doubt you will have any luck infiltrating their base as it lies in the farthest corner of the Taint, deep underground and a literal labyrinth of a place. Even then, an attempt to navigate to the central plaza where Vallabortax resides would surely get you caught and killed. If I were you, I would just leave it be and speak to the Fey King or mayhap someone less busy like Galverious Harshall, High General of Mal Vellas Fort, or maybe even the Emperor Ibercium Conceldium IV if you were that desperate. Men of such power would be glad to drive out the Brotherhood from their labyrinthicus domain and finally be rid of them.” Jahlred nodded as he absorbed the information and said “perhaps I will get my vengeance some day, mayhap I can embark for the Brotherhood’s base while you are in the safety of Mal Vellas Keep.” After leaving the walls and safety of Del Jahvalla, the party decided to make camp on the border between Del Jahvalla and the Barrens. The long grass stroked Jahlred’s legs as he sat under a twisting yew tree. Sir Penndren and a bunch of his knights sat opposite the fey and enjoyed the ale they had brought. Ashaleena had headed not far north to explore the Barrens further. When she seated herself on a fallen yew branch amongst the long grass and wildflowers, she watched the sun begin to sink into the shoulders of the world. “You speculate about the universe?” came a familiar voice. The galgwullion from Del Jahvalla was seated up in the branch of a yew adjacent from Ashaleena, with his legs crossed. “Fey, tis a pleasure to see you again. Pray tell me, where you have been?” asked the damsel curiously, her jade eyes vibrant with intrigue. “I have been busy, as most of my kind is. I just thought to visit you briefly to see if you were in dire trouble. Well it is clear you are not and thus I should take my leave.” “No!!,” cried Ashaleena, holding out her hand and stopping the creature, “cannot you stay with me on my journey in case danger transpires!?” The galgwullion raised his bushy eyebrows and said dryly, “I have no reason to accompany you, as you have no power over me. I can go wherever I see fit!” Ashaleena was about to say something else when he disappeared from sight with the wind, the damsel crossing her arms gruffly and heading back to the encampment. When she returned, she found most of the guardsmen sleeping in their divans and Jahlred and Sir Penndren discussing something. The head knight was moving his

finger over the outlaid map of Arzith to indicate suitable routes and what was happening in those places. Moving his gloved finger towards the Taint, he said gravely, “here in the Taint, our subterranean spies have informed us that the Brotherhood has recently began to burrow further to expand their territory. Our spies have also told us that their burrowers have reached the border near Shala Vel, and will reach the mountain that Mal Vellas Keep lies against in naught but ten days, or less if they by chance recruit some mining faeylessa like the mountain spriggans.” “This is truly grave news, master Lythuiane,” began Jahlred, his voice low so the knights did not awaken or overhear, “I must intervene with their operations and slay this Vallabortax!!” “Damn your words, fey!!” exclaimed Penndren appalled, “pray wait until we are in Mal Vellas and ask Galverious Harshall for his aid. He will gladly accompany you in efforts to quench the Brotherhood from this land!” Jahlred pondered and finally said “perhaps you are right, master Lythuiane. Forgive me for rashness, but my mind will remain clouded with rage until I severe off that Vallabortax bastard’s head!!!” “Take Penndren’s advice, Jahlred,” commented Ashaleena abruptly, seating herself beside Lythuiane, who was clearly tired, “he is a chivalrous and intellectual man, of that I have no doubt.” “Fine!!,” complained the fey loudly, the knights who were awake looking at him in surprise and confusion, “I will go with Galverious when we arrive at Mal Vellas Keep.” “Of these burrowing exploits,” began Ashaleena, addressing the knight, “would the inhabitants of Luernir not notice some sort of noise or seismic disturbance?” “That is a good question, mistress,” replied Penndren, “but if I know the minds of the Brotherhood better, I’d say they would cunningly burrow around the borders and then straight into Mal Vellas Keep’s mountainous nether. Vallabortax has executed his iniquitous plan with such success by taking into consideration the terrain and structure of Mal Vellas Keep. With his tunnels complete, he will easily be able to deploy his men in large groups to strike the Mal Vellas Keep garrison from where they do not expect it. Just hope that Jahlred and Galverious if he chooses to accompany him reach the Brotherhood’s base and eradicate Vallabortax and any of his high ranking officials who have command over the tunnel operations.” But Penndren’s hope he had fashioned was a falteringly one, as Vallabortax at that very hour had hastened his operation with the alliance he had forged with the mountain spriggans. A few villages off the border between the Foreseeyer’s Lands and the Taint, his tunnellers were working furiously at the rocks that lay in their path. With each heavy stroke of a pickaxe, the more closer it grew until Vallabortax plan was complete. Far through the new tunnels and around the old ones, Vallabortax himself had commenced the interrogation of a Del Jahvallan guard, who had witnessed Jahlred kill members of the Brotherhood. This man was poised to not tell the assassins anything, as he would betray his fellow citizen. Kneeling down, the Brotherhood’s leader clenched the man around the neck and said with a wicked tone, “I know you witnessed the murder of my men, and there is no denying it further. Now you will tell me who killed my servants?” The man shifted as two fully armoured assassins held him by his arms and said, “I told you, I saw nothing! I arrived after the fey had fled.” “So this murderer was a fey, mmm?,” began Vallabortax, his mane of black hair draped over the sides of his cheeks, “where did they come from?” “I don’t know, but I saw him flee into Kyrand’s bookshop in Del Jahvalla. He killed at least six of your men, the others fled when they were overwhelmed by the fey.” “Those other men were shot on sight by your wretched king’s archers! You, as a bastard to him, could have stopped these men from killing mine!!” hissed Vallabortax heatedly, instructing an assassin to the side to strike the man hard across the cheek with a similar truncheon used against the commoner in Del

Jahvalla. “Bastard!,” groaned the guard, massaging his wound and spitting out some teeth onto the ground, “why did you do that!!? I would not have dared to help your men escape!” Vallabortax stepped forward and stamped on a group of the guard’s teeth, ordering another blow to be dealt. Leaning forward after his man had done his duty, the assassin leader said with a deep tone, “I have gotten all I can from you, and as that has happened I have no further use for you,” Vallabortax drew a small dagger from his sleeve and directed it to the man’s throat, “enjoy death.” The man opened his mouth but was ceased when the black haired man slit his throat with such strength and agility no one saw it. The guard spurted blood from his open neck, and the two assassins dragged him off and dumped him somewhere outside a secret entrance of their base. “Yarvaz!!,” said Vallabortax when he and the other man were the only two in the room, “ready my weapons and twelve or so of my men, I will await this fey to come and slay him.” The man called Yarvaz bowed low and said huskily, “it shall be done, lord”. With those words he disappeared from Vallabortax’s presence and left him alone.

2: Betrayal at Mal Vellas Keep The sun rose vibrantly into the sky, painting it into a canvas of yellow and orange. Its rays filtered through the forest trees and onto the man-made road where the company from Del Jahvalla rode in single file. So far they had not come across any armed patrols from Ardel or Mal Vellas, which was unusual. Ashaleena, as she sat upon the white mare she had grown to be friends with, simply thought they were late. By noon, the company had covered a large amount of land in a mere two days. By then, the mists had begun to form and Sir Penndren demanded they find shelter amongst the yew forests. Several of knights commenced to start a fire while the rest of the group sat by the campsite. Penndren assigned two men to guard the path that led to the camp from the edge of the man-made road, which gave them a virtuous view of the environment and the high hills and brooks that surrounded it. A few small patrols from both Mal Vellas and Ardel checked up on the campsite to see if all was well and then departed when they were not needed for safeguarding. By the time the last patrol had disappeared into the mist, the sky grew dark and stars began to fill it. The company grew uneasy and drew their weapons as they knew malevolent faeylessa would most likely be on the prowl. Spears were meekly held in tired knight’s grasps, swords were held in sagging arms and bows were laid against archers’ chests. Ashaleena sensed the encampment was very tired and had to stay awake for majority of the night, so she attempted to cast a shielding spell so the men could sleep. Using her novice spell casting skill and remembrance of ingredients were requiring, she soon had a stem of mithril-flower, two candlesticks and a spare iron shield before her. Crossing her legs, she closed her eyes and held her hands out over the four items. Racking her memory to remember the incantation, she finally recalled it and uttered the words under her breath. A blue light line encircled the encampment and the knights flocked to the woman in intrigue. Then rising from this line came a thin blue dome of light that, when men attempted to, repelled the slightest touch. Sir Penndren stepped forward and said bewilderingly, “I knew not of your power, mistress. We cannot thank you enough for your magical protection.” Suddenly, something lunged at the dome from the outside and everyone stared in horror. A creature, with skin of darkened brown and long sharp clawed hands commenced to lunge at the dome again. “What the hell is that!!?” exclaimed a knight from behind Penndren, drawing his sword like his comrades. “Some malevolent faeylessa no doubt, and praise Ashaleena for casting the spell

before it came!,” exclaimed Sir Penndren sternly, holding his steel claymore close to his chest in preparation to strike, “we best be ready in case it finds a fault in the shield.” Ashaleena’s face showed derision and she knotted her brow, saying, “I will not have to find a flaw in my magic, it can just wait for the shield to expire and it can massacre the lot of us.” “No!!,” interrupted Jahlred with Silverwynd in his unyielding grasp, “we must flee this place, and run far from the Barrens. If we ride fast and ceaselessly we can reach the safety of Mal Vellas. Ashaleena, is it possible to make a small opening in the shield, so that we can pass through on horse?” Ashaleena pondered for a moment as she watched the faeylessa scrape its claws against the shield, saying in deep thought, “I can preform such a spell, but I would be further weakened and could not cast another spell for a few days, unless there are healers at Mal Vellas Keep.” “Of those there is bountiful, mistress,” began Penndren, some of his knights commencing to climb on their horses in readiness, “cast the spell at your own peril.” Ashaleena nodded and outstretched her elegant hands, uttering the words for the spell with the skill of a master sorcerer. A small archway of air, at least two metres wide and two metres high, formed in the dome to the far northern end. Lead by Penndren atop his horse of brown and black, the knights followed him single file out of the dome and hid themselves in the groves. Fortunately, the faeylessa could not reach them as the road there was straight, and the natural path to the campsite had been cleared off by the other knights. When everyone was ready, the other knights grabbed necessities and followed Ashaleena and Jahlred. With haste, the company galloped swiftly to the north, the shield just dying down and faeylessa bounding after them in vain. The malevolent beast was too slow, despite its nimble way of walking, and gave a shrill cry of disdain. Turning to the south, it began to languidly make its way through the yew woods. Sir Penndren Lythuiane led his company far across the wild grasslands and over various bridges, until they finally came to the main road that led into and through Mal Vellas. A garrison tower was positioned at the border and a low stone wall spanned the length of the frontier. The garrison consisted of a mere few men, adeptly trained and masterful warriors, who quickly let them through and remained vigilant for any ubiquitous faeylessa. The road past this garrison led over the large knolls of the Mal Vellas margin and through the village of Wayfarer’s Hamlet, where a few local Mal Vellasians lived fruitless and normal lives. A small fortress lay further up the road from Wayfarer’s Hamlet, known as the Nuthernmoon Fort. The Nuthernmoon Fort was garrisoned by both Imperial and local soldiers and the fort was assigned to protect the hamlet close by. Further past these locations was a crossroad, the first road leading to the ancient Feyran ruins Morguia-Forzth where it was rumoured the corrupted wizard Freza-Kwill resided, the second road led to the western hamlets and towns of Mal Vellas, close by to the Great Plains and the third road led to Mal Vellas Keep and further on into Dallavor in the north-east. The company from Del Jahvalla had encountered a party of pilgrims from Ath Malavel in the north at the crossroads, who were poised for venturing to MorguiaForzth but not entering the ruins themselves. The company farewelled these pilgrims as they headed down the first road and Del Jahvallans headed down the third. Further up the third road was the town of Marshland Crossing, which lay on the largest of about fifteen islets amongst the muddy marshes of this land. This marsh was easily traversable over a series of wooden bridges and following to the northeast, the company came back onto the main road that led to Mal Vellas Keep and further. This road went on windingly to the ramparts of the magnificent fortress and the stunning view of the towering grey mountain that the fort was built into. The company, as they had hoped, made swift timing on their escape from the Barrens and arrived at the bridge that crossed the ravine between the Mal Vellas wilds and the fortress at eleven in the morning, having escaping the Barrens at eight the previous night. General Galverious Harshall and a ensemble of other officials and

commanders of the fortress greeted their awaited guests humbly and led them past the First Wall of Mal Vellas Keep, into the courtyard of the Citadel. When they halted outside a towering statue of Dermonneus the Imperial God of War spearing the Fen Beast in the gut, General Harshall made to greet his guests further, “forgive me for my haste in rushing you in here, but we were expected some malevolent faeylessa to be passing these parts and coming dangerously close to the walls. They have yet to come, which is a relief, for now.” “Cut the apologies, Galverious!,” said Sir Penndren sarcastically, “how have you been maintaining this here fortress?” “Tis hard as expected, my friend,” began the masculine man, his red cape whipping against his legs in the wind, “the malevolent faeylessa known as the grumwulves have been rank in these parts, taunting and annoying our battlement guards. We’ve had two men found dead on the walls with feyran arrows in their backs, no doubt from the bows of the grumwulves. These faeylessa, upon our close study after we found and dissected a dead one, appear to be of high social intelligence and our scouts have found strange cavernous manors, where a grumwulf chieftain resides in the largest of these. His manor lies on the Gwytha Gul Pass, the mountains that join onto our one and stretch along the southern borders, and we believe he is mustering all the grumwulves he can to attack us.” “We have other grave news on this fort’s behalf,” began Sir Penndren gravely, his body draped in the shadows of the towering statue and shrine, “the Brotherhood of the Shade have commenced to expand their tunnel base. They have already mined substantial tunnels through the undergrounds of Luernir and will attempt to drive you out from inside the Back Fort Mountain at your nether. My companion Jahlred here has strongly demanded he tries to kill Vallabortax in a mission to stop or decelerate the tunnel operation and in vengeance of a man killed by the Brotherhood. I told him with consideration of his safety that he should speak with you of it.” “He speaks words I should, general,” began Jahlred, bowing low and quick to Galverious who’s brown mane of hair blew violently in the wind, “pray you will help me quench Vallabortax’s operations?” Galverious held his hand to his hairy chin in thought and concluded with, “I and only I will accompany you, master fey, to the Brotherhood’s base in the Taint if Penndren agrees to remain here with mistress Ashaleena and his knights?” Penndren took this offer into consideration and checked with Ashaleena, before saying, “we agree to your suggestion, Galverious. You two may depart for the Taint whenever you see fit, and we will remain here and defend theses walls with our lives.” “We will not embark yet,” began Galverious, “you are surely tired and must sleep. Let me escort you to the Citadel’s private residences.” The company had dispatched when they arrived inside the Citadel and retired to their chambers, each lesser knight sharing a room with another as vacancy was scarce in the fortress at the time. Deciding to explore the many floors and rooms of Mal Vellas Fort, Ashaleena waited until Jahlred was asleep and slipped outside the room into the stone hall. When two armed guards came patrolling from one of the other open rooms, the woman hid herself successfully behind one of the solid stone pillars that supported the room’s roof. They soon disappeared somewhere else and she quickly slipped into the room where the guards had come from. Suddenly, she stumbled down two flights of stairs and landed hard on her backside. Dusting her head off and releasing she was in a room of complete darkness, she felt someone’s hand latch onto her shoulder like a serpent. They snatched her up and the light of a candle suddenly illuminated, revealing the features of an aged man wearing strangely the robes of a black feyran chaos priest, despite he was human. His dark eyes were filled with anger and his mouth quivered in annoyance. Making an attempt to apologize, Ashaleena said nervously, “Sorry sir, I stumbled. Forgive my gaucheness as I’ am new to Mal Vellas.”

“Foolish youth! You should know better than to encroach where you do not belong! I will let you go this time, but next time you will suffer the consequences. Now get out of my sight!” Ashaleena jumped in fright as the old man let go of her, saying, “yes, sir. Sorry sir”. She left quickly and heard the old man mutter grumpily. When she was half-way back to her chambers, she encountered Galverious pacing the hall with frustration. Turning to her, he asked in surprise, “Where have you been? Guards told me you stumbled into Galent’s chambers?” Ashaleena crossed her arms and stood beside him, saying with little interest, “is that who that old coot is. Galent whatever his name is, what does he do here? He seems awfully suspicious.” Galverious laughed, “Galent! Suspicious! He is as suspicious as you or I, he’s no harm. He’s only here because Duke Varhim Lambarl over at Alderhon, our capital city, assigned him here because he says “we need better protection”. We do not need magical protection; we have the sword and shield to protect Mal Velas Keep.” “He’s a sorcerer I take it?” asked Ashaleena. “Yes, some sort of special kind. Why he wears black feyran chaos priest robes I have no idea, perhaps he likes to wear them. But I promised Varhim that if he was in some chaos cult that he would be immediately expelled from this fortress. Bloody Lambarl demands his citizens in Alderhon are tolerant of chaos cults, but here we have no love for them and do not tolerate them.” “Enough talk of that old man. You where pacing around the room, is there something amiss?” queried Ashaleena. “The grumwulves have struck again, killing two more men on the southern wall. Cursed Galent has the power to be rid of them, but he swiftly declines every time I ask him.” “Why does he decline? Surely as a mage appointed here he is your lesser and must take your orders, nay?” “That is what I said to him, but he says it is a waste of his time to fight the grumwulves and he is not powerful enough. I would think a wizard who can summon the tamed spirit of a dragon for the summer festival could destroy a few faeylessa. I sense he is trying to turn our villagers against the garrison, and we must stop him before he does anything that will endanger us all.” “Let us hope he does not wish ill against the fortress. Good night, general” said Ashaleena, curtseying the masculine man and quietly re-entering the chambers. Jahlred stirred in his sleep when she closed the door and she tiptoed quietly to her bed and pull the sheets over her, trying to get some sleep. As soon as the hour of midnight came, Galent had crept out from his chambers and swiftly scaled the Northern Tower of the Citadel. His intent was unknown to the guards he encountered, and the old sorcerer silently and swiftly exited the fortress from a western post gate. He then prowled silently up the steep knoll and onto the Gwytha Gul Pass, where the corpulent and hairy grumwulf leader awaited. The sorcerer bowed low to this foul faeylessa and the beast throatily grunted. “I’ am at your command, Yizvak-Cornithas-Durm,” said Galent huskily, “although I grow certain that Galverious is suspicious of my activities at night. The almost slug like faeylessa grunted again and snatched a handful of grubs from a bowl at his side, chewing on them loudly. Through his full and marred mouth he said with a choking voice, “good, sorcerer. Yivzak now not eat you like he want before. If you fail Yivzak he eat you!!” “Yes, quite. But my secrecy may become less easier to hide as Galverious thinks me of treason. What shall I do master if he accuses me of sedition!? The Duke would have me hanged!” “Sorcerer not worry Yivzak eat both man if they trouble you again.” A pretentious grimace spread across the old man’s furrowed face and he began to stroke his pure white beard in thought “yes that shall suffice master. Enough of that nonsense, what would you have me do next master?”

“Watch this Galverious “if he intervenes you kill him and return here to Yivzak!!” Galent bowed low and turned, heading back down the knoll and silently into Mal Vellas Keep the way he had came, just as the hour of one in the morning chimed in the Citadel’s bell tower. A murder of crows that were perched on the gothic battlements of the Citadel flocked into the dark sky on the third chime, cawing wildly as they scattered like a cloud of black vapour. Ashaleena awoke the next day to find Jahlred gone and made her way swiftly down the staircase and out into the courtyard, where she found Jahlred, Sir Penndren and Galverious amidst loud chatter. “Are you sure Galent means to betray us!?” enquired Penndren to General Galverious. “My sentries do not lie, Lythuiane,” began the general in reply, his brow matted in sweat from overstress, “they saw him convening with the grumwulf chieftain at Gwytha Gul Pass and my scouts later learnt when they stole Galent’s diary that this chieftan was called Yivzak-Cornithas-Durma and he is a slug of a beast. It may be hard to accept Penndren but it is incontrovertible, we here at Mal Vellas Keep face a three pronged attack. With the Brotherhood, Galent and the grumwulves against us I find it hard to grasp hope my friend.” “We must get aid from Alderhon!,” protested Penndren valiantly, “send a semaphore to Duke Varhim at once and demand he sends some men to help us defend, or he will lose his only fortress defending his lands!” “Varhim will not listen, Penndren. He would never think of Galent’s treason unless I present very believable evidence. He thinks we lie about the grumwulves to get more funds. We have no choice but to face this ill fortune and die trying.” “Penndren is right, Galverious,” began Jahlred knowledgably, “once you and I kill Vallabortax, the Brotherhood will no longer be a threat.” “But I cannot leave me people to die if the grumwulves and Galent strike! They will all die, soldier and commoner alike, if I go!” “Then dispatch Galent before you leave and then you will know we are slightly safer. Trust in my knights, Galverious, they are practiced men at arms” suggested Sir Penndren with a deep tone. “Mayhap Penndren has a point here, general,” began Jahlred, “with Galent out of the way and you and I off to kill Vallabortax, the only threat will be the grumwulves.” “Yes, but they are the most profane of the threats,” said Galverious heatedly, his mind aching in stress, “are you certain you can fend off the faeylessa? Can you dodge they sacrilegious arrows that somehow never fail to miss their target? Because, even though you are a skilled warrior, I somewhat doubt your capabilities against the supernatural and the immortal. I will leave to dispatch the Brotherhood with Jahlred when I know Mal Vellas Keep is safe!” “You have doubt in Sir Penndren Lythuiane!?,” asked Penndren, pinning his friend with an unavoidable question, “I protected these walls, if you recollect, from the Black Kindred some years ago. My sword was able to smite them, nay?” Galverious nodded and said brusquely, “but these are different to the Black Kindred. The Kindred did not fire instantaneous and acute volleys; they engaged us on the causeway in melee combat, where the advantage went back and forth. The grumwulves have the higher ground and surround us from the mountains, where their volleys will strike efficiently and slay us all. “Then call for Varhim’s aid!!,” cried Penndren, deeply frustrated with his friend, “surely he will be forced to come if he wants to keep his fortress!!” “Galent has filled Lambarl’s ears with deceit and anecdote as if he had made the two into potions and made the duke drink them. Even if we kill Galent, the duke will not be swayed and probably less inclined to help us. As I said before, we have no escape, no allies and no choice to fight!” “Then we will fight!,” said Penndren chivalrously, drawing his longsword from its sheath and letting the sunlight beam off it, “we must prepare the keep for the siege to come, arm the men with all weapons possible, and find any male commoners who

can bear arms. I suspect the grumwulves will strike when the moon is out, so we have sufficient time to prepare defences. I know the keep possesses boiling oil cauldrons and other defences, such as in-built ballistae and deep tunnels outside where we can engage our foes with melee.” “Let us make ready, Penndren I trust you to prepare the keep for battle while us three dispatch Galent. You have until dusk, which should be ample time as I will send a final semaphore to Varhim in Alderhon in request for reinforcements. But do not have high hopes, I sense he will candidly refuse and think of me made.” “You will not be disappointed when I’ am finished with this keep. I have managed siege defences many times before, and will study your tactical maps of the area thoroughly before I begin the defences.” “Speak with my head tactician Marthilas Julrad for his help, you can easily find him in the second level of the Citadel,” began Galverious, Ashaleena and Jahlred ready to follow him, “good luck.” With that the three departed the courtyard and entered the Citadel hastily, leaving Penndren who soon followed and met with Marthilas in his study. Galverious quickly summoned some guards to him as he stepped quickly down the stairs to Galent’s chambers, Ashaleena and her fey companion close behind. When they entered the sorcerer’s study abruptly and noisily, the general drew his broadsword much to Galent’s surprise. Rising from his seat, he said “your sword is drawn in my chambers, master Harshall. That is not necessary, there is no danger here.” “Do not forestall your judgement day, old man,” hissed Galverious, his guards drawing their blades also, “your alliance with the grumwulves is clear and you are no longer welcome here. I was tempted to kill you here and now, but I’ am kind and will only let you be arrested under crimes of betrayal to the High Fey King and the Empire.” “Fine, I mean to betray you. Anyway Varhim has never believed you before on my betrayal, what makes you think he will be swayed this time? Besides, I refuse to leave here and you cannot stop me.” “That is where you are wrong, Galent!,” the general said heatedly, holding his sword to his chest, “I will prove to Varhim of your betrayal and if you refuse to leave here at once, I will be forced to kill you.” The sorcerer, strangely, began to laugh. It was a long, malicious laugh, full of evil and something else no one could identify. But it was clear to them that Galent was not going to leave and he would have to be slain. Readying his sword, Galverious stepped forward and snatched the sorcerer’s robed arms. Instant heat began to sear the general’s hands, and he quickly let go. It was clear the wizard had cast some protective spell beforehand. Deciding to take a more aggressive approach, Galverious swung his broadsword in a swift arc and sent air whistling around his blade. The strike hit home and severed off Galent’s right arm almost instantly, the wizard falling back onto the table behind him and clenching his shoulder, blood pouring between his fingers. With his plan in full swing, Galverious commenced to severe off the sorcerer’s other arm in a similar manner. The wizard now lay on his back, armless and defenceless. Gritting his teeth, he said, “you think I cannot destroy you without my arms!!”. Almost instantly he summoned something foul and profane, a demonic and red form of a galgwullion, with wicked red eyes and hair as black as malevolence. Horrendously, the demon-fey grabbed one of the guards and tore off his head in one huge bite. Appalled, Galverious quickly stabbed the beast through the head and felt his sword go as deep as the monster’s chest. Rolling its eyes back in demented pain, the demon-fey began to writhe as the sword was held in its skull. Soon after it evaporated in a cloud of black smoke and the sorcerer realised he was bested by a mere warrior. Dragging him out to the battlement that overlooked the residences of the commoners, Galverious placed Galent’s neck on the wall and held him there. Commoners began to look up and cursed Galverious, others supporting his ill

treatment of the sorcerer. Readying his sword, the general instructed two guards to hold the wizard by the shoulders against the wall. When he was ready Galverious lifted his sword above his head and brought it down heavy, sending Galent’s head tumbling from his shoulders and down below. The lifeless head landed with a thud on the cobblestones below and people gasped in disgust and shock, equally appalled when the body came falling soon after. Rumours of Galverious’ treason and murder soon began to circulate that day, but the general ignored as he was preparing for the siege at hand. He had a mere four hours until dusk and so far Penndren had made good work in defences. The ballistae were manned and loaded along the walls and the boiling oil cauldrons were freshly filled with the liquid. Majority of the army had mustered to the forehead battlement, which overlooked the causeway and yonder that gave commanders a sufficient view. Sir Penndren and his knights, now all in full armour including helms, had positioned themselves in the first rank, followed by about sixteen rows of Galverious’ sturdy soldiers. Jahlred, who had scavenged some feyran armour, a chain mail cuirass, iron greaves, gauntlets and pauldrons and a feyran style shield and curved sword emblazoned with a single gleaming emerald in the cross guard, had joined Galverious alongside Penndren and his knights by six o’clock that evening. Ashaleena had decided to take herself to the tower that overlooked most of the keep, along with the local mages. This strategic position was taken so that the mages could concentrate their magic on the foes bound to come any minute. The commoners unable to fight were rushed by the sentinels into the siege caverns below, where they were given supplies that would last for at least a week. Then they came. Pouring down from the slopes in their hundreds, feyran bows in their impish hands and scavenged mail on their hideous bodies. Galverious instantly ordered a volley to be fired and the defenders watched as it rained down on the grumwulves, killing only minimal numbers. A more successful strike was made by the faeylessa when they released their arrows, killing at least twelve of Penndren’s knights and six of the local soldiers. The general atop the wall ordered for the shields to be put up and the grumwulves second volley was greatly less successful, their foes retaliating with a triumphant cascade of their own arrows. By dawn the next day, the first night of battle had left its scar on both sides. The grumwulves had retreated back into their caves when the sun rose and left their countless dead to be picked at by circling vultures. Up on the walls, majority of Sir Penndren’s knights were dead and only four remained. But the most deadly toll was that of Mal Vellas Keep’s own brave men-at-arms. Ashaleena, when it was safe, had joined the other mages in healing the hundreds of wounded. She was fortunate as her kind had not yet been required to use their magic against the enemy. No news had come from Duke Varhim in Alderhon and Galverious knew that he was not coming to help defend. At midday the fighting recommenced when the grumwulves launched a surprise besiegement while most of the defenders were resting. They just arrived to knock off the siege ladders and send those on them tumbling to their doom. Jahlred who had equipped himself with a Mal Vellasian longbow and arrows as well as Silverwynd could not fathom how many arrows he had shot in the whole conflicts, but he knew they numbered in the thousands. Victory was in the defenders’ grasp, but the opportunity shattered when the grumwulves brought forth some dilapidated battering ram and commenced mauling the gate. Archers from above successfully killed many of the ram crew, but more grumwulves just took their place. Jahlred, heart pounding, took a dead archer with an arrow through his neck’s place and commenced firing arrows with ruthless efficiency. The grumwulves were confused for a moment, until they noticed their superior kinsman and fired their feyran arrows upon. One painstakingly lodged itself in Jahlred’s shoulder, and although it did not effect him and fell back behind the safety of the walls. When he examined where the arrow was lodged, he noticed it was stuck between his pauldron and the flesh of his shoulder. Not considering pain he ripped it out and joined the fray anew, firing his

arrows once more. Above in the tower where the mages were muttering ancient spells Ashaleena watched from the balustrade in shock and awe at what she was witnessing. She had never beheld such a horrible sight and the prospect of war made her feel bitter and ill. It became to much for her to bare that she returned inside and seated herself amongst other resting mages. “War is not a great thing, mistress Ashaleena” came the voice of the mage who had taken Galent’s place Alverhad Hythe, “some are against the very concept whereas others think it is a glorious and honourable thing. I myself wished to never witness it, but fate has chosen my path.” “After Khalvazard’s demon-riders kidnapped me and killed my brother Jamalor, I was introduced to a world I did not know existed. A world of corruption, war and violence.” Alverhad directed his dark gaze to where the conflict was growing worse and said thoughtfully, “it does not look well for our soldiers; the grumwulves have almost broken through. We must stop them with our magic!” Others agreed loudly and all of the mages ran to the balcony and began to simultaneously cast one huge devastating spell. Ashaleena joined in the spellcasting even though she knew it would weaken her severely. Down on the battlements the efforts to repel the siege ladders had failed and the defenders were now in violent melee combat with their faeylessa enemies. The dead continued to build up while the fleeting living on both sides fought for their lives. Jahlred, who was amidst the chief conflict, swung his feyran sword in an upwards arc and sent it crashing down on a unsightly faeylessa’s head. Using his natural agility, he span around to face another and drove Silverwynd through its chest, black blood staining the blade. Galverious meanwhile fought with a more brutal force, hacking, slashing and beating his foes senseless. His men had to hold him back from running into their enemy’s line of sight below and being struck down by arrows. But the general refused and held his shield up when his enemies from below fired arrows at him. A grumwulf made to bring its sword on his head but he spun around and decapitated it with his mighty shield. Penndren fought beside him with the wanning remnants of his knights, holding a defensive position outside the Citadel and fending off incoming grumwulves. His longsword could easily dispatch his feyran foes in large numbers and he used this to his advantage. Driving his sword through a rather rotund grumwulf’s neck, he looked up to notice the mages in deep spell casting. This drove him further to defend the Citadel so that they could employ their magic upon the enemies. By now the ballistae man were dead and the oil pots empty but the defenders still held heart as there was no apparent force winning. Fresh archers from the walls were continuously deployed and kept the ladders at bay, their thick leather armour making the feyran arrows useless. As the battle raged on violently below the mages above were reaching the zenith of their spell. As planned they were to all concentrate their power to summon forth huge fires amidst the enemies to scatter them and also deplete significant amounts of them. The remaining defenders would then retreat into the Citadel with the mages for one last stand against the seemingly endless hordes. Galverious could tell as he was fighting furiously that the mages were nearing the completion of the spell, but something else plagued his mind. The Brotherhood had not yet attacked and where strangely late, although that was a good thing he still felt wary they would strike in the keep’s most dire hour. His most vital action would be to depart with Jahlred in secrecy to dispatch Vallabortax but he felt great betrayal when he thought of leaving his people. As the sullen sun rose into a vibrant sky, the magic fires burst up into the hordes both on the walls and below them. Screams of horrific pain filled the ears of the defenders as they commenced retreating into the Citadel, Penndren and Galverious ushering them through. All the grumwulves atop the battlements were now

unidentifiable, only burning silhouettes of their former selves. Victory was in the grasp of the defenders. All they had to do was snatch it before the tables turned again. The remaining archers positioned themselves on the various frontal balconies and fired arrows at their waning enemies, both with ablaze tips and poisoned ones. The infantry manned themselves at the main entrance to the Citadel and barred the door, the remaining grumwulves who still numbered in their dozens battering it with their tough bodies. Archers fired down on them and destroyed most of them within half an hour while the main door still held strong. Then came a sound no one expected, a low trumpet sounding the arrival of someone. The grumwulves were clueless as to who it was, but Galverious knew it was soldiers from Alderhon. Varhim clearly had sent reinforcements but they were just late. Quickly the Alderhon infantry began to butcher the grumwulves below against the walls until none remained, sustaining only a few casualties. Galverious soon ordered the opening of the main door and the Mal Vellasians poured out and eradicated the last of their opponents with ruthless efficiency, due to their rising morale.

************************** The two armies united on the battlements just outside the Citadel, men singing and shouting victoriously. Galverious forced himself to smile as he congratulated his men one by one. Jahlred, who had been fighting for hours with out rest, had seated himself on the perimeter of the Dermonneus monument beside Marthilas Julrad, who was also battle weary. “We have won, but methinks they had a high chance of defeating us,” he said, wiping sweat from his dark beard, “I suppose you and Galverious must dispatch Vallabortax at once, nay?” Jahlred nodded tiredly and replied, “correct you are master Julrad. Hopefully it will be unproblematic to destroy him.” Marthilas shook his strangely and said, “do not think of Vallabortax as an easy combatant, fey. Legend tells he can severe off your head with a butter knife and poison you with both potions and words. He is a brute man, about six foot five and of tremendous muscular strength. And do not think reaching him will be easy as he his guarded by his kinsman who will fight for him to the death. You and Galverious best muster your fighting skills for a battle with the bastard you’ll never forget. Take my advice and go for his weak points when you duel him, which you most likely will. Vallabortax may be a brute and battle-crazed man but that does not mean he lacks tactical thinking and human logic as you or I do. He will no doubt be clothed in his finest armours as he will be expecting you, so aim for his throat, wrists and shins. A heavy enough strike in any of those three places would easily kill or disable him. As for his guards, you should dispatch them while Galverious duels Vallabortax.” “Words of wisdom, tactician,” began Jahlred dryly, “I shall take them into consideration when my fight with the bastard-assassin comes. But do not underestimate my feyran might!” Marthilas chuckled and said as the two joined the armies moving inside the Citadel slowly, “no doubt feyran might is equal match to Mal Vellasian valour!” Following his glorious victory Galverious held a lavish banquet to celebrate his successful defence. He, of course, sat at the head of the table with Sir Penndren and Jahlred beside him. Ashaleena, who was deep in thought, seated herself next to Jahlred as she spoke little to anyone. Further down the table Duke Varhim Lambarl sat in his glowering mood amongst his family; his wife Allesia, his sons Hural and Dreldal and his daughter Calwynna .Upon her close study of the ageing duke, Ashaleena noted he was not particular happy to be present in his fortress and would

much rather be sprawled across one of his lavish couches as he so frequently did. However his two sons, who were twenty-two and thirty years of age, were thoroughly enjoying themselves as they chattered amongst others present. Marthilas Julrad had seated himself between Varhim and the secondary tactician Allayn Leurbar. As the feats progressed Marthilas turned to the duke who was in deep eating and said, “it is pleasing to see you answered our call, your lordship.” Varhim gave him a sour look and said, “yes well Marthilas we best not celebrate yet as I still have the matter of Galverious’ arrest.” ‘What!?,” exclaimed Marthilas, knocking over his goblet full of wine, “we have proven that Galent meant to betray us, why do still hold him as an ally even when he is dead.” “Galverious murdered Galent, of that there is no denying,” began Varhim, containing his anger as his sons directing their gazes to the conversation, “I have the evidence and the jury right here at my disposal.” “Father!,” cried Hural, eldest of Varhim’s children, “Galent was a traitor, I myself have no doubt in Galverious’ argument. Our garrison here saw Galent converging with the grumwulf leader, who I might add is still a threat.’ “The chieftain is dead,” interjected Allayn Leurbar from beside his superior, the argument lengthening, “when our scouts checked their halls he was found dead with no evidence, his kinsman simply abandoned the manors when he was slain.” “Silence your tongue before I rip it out, Leurbar!!,” hissed Varhim, trying not to draw attention, “that is of no concern to why Marthilas and my own sons argue my judgement.” “I argue nothing, father! I state it!,” exclaimed Dreldal, supporting his brother’s argument, “Galent was a traitor and General Galverious simply dispatched of him to protect our people from danger.” “You be silent too, whore spawn!,” cried Varhim, his voice rising in volume and pitch, “no son of mine questions my authority, you pig-faced mud clothed whelp of a stupid whore!!” Varhim’s wife Allesia squeaked suddenly and rose to protest, “Husband, do not smite our sons and people so. I have never known you to curse your family, yet alone your wife.” Varhim suddenly smacked his hand on the table with such force the sound entered the ears of Galverious, who rose concernedly and strode over to approach the duke. Hushing his tacticians’ protests he said, “from what I hear, your lordship wishes me dead?” “Arrested, general,” sneered Varhim cruelly, addressing the general as if he were a diseased rat, “there is a difference between death and incarceration.” Ashaleena suddenly joined the growing arguments and said to the duke, “excuse me my lord as I have never met you, but Galent confessed his betrayal to us when we confronted him.” Varhim cast her an ill gaze and pointed at her like she was some pest, “who is this ill-bred creature barely sufficient enough to be called a woman!? Is this the somighty Foreseeyer here arguing with me!?” “How dare you!!,” exclaimed Jahlred angrily, drawing his sword and carelessly directing it to Varhim’s throat, “you are the ill-bred one!” The duke struggled to speak as he was in deep terror, but managed to say, “get this peasant-fool-fey away from me! He has no right to jostle his greatness Duke Varhim Lambarl, Fifteenth Duke of Mal Vellas!!” Dreldal stepped forward and gave his father false hope, before saying, “you have brought this upon yourself with your offensive tongue, father. Now you must face your ultimate demise at the hands of this good man.” Varhim’s face became morose and in an attempt to sway his family he said, “Allesia! Help me from the wrath of your son!! Hural, mmmm!? Get your brother to stop this! What about you Calwynna my only daughter, save me and you can become queen of Mal Vellas!!” None of the Lambarl family spoke to him except Calwynna, who said, “I cannot

believe that, father. Your arrogance is shown to its extent here with Galverious and that is all we can take.” “Surely some small mercy for Varhim?,” suggested Penndren, although he had no respect for the duke. “he is but a blundering fool whose mind has become clouded with pride, all he has to do is swallow it and he will be as nice as the rest of us.’ Hural nodded and said to Jahlred, “Penndren here is right. Release my father, fey and take him to his chambers, where he can ponder over his errors this evening,” facing his father he added, “fortunately for you I have shown my mercy and kindness, two things I clearly inherited from our dear mother.” As Jahlred retreated and two guards positioned themselves expressionlessly behind him, Varhim hissed to his sons, “you two have betrayed me to the furthest limit! I thought I raised you to respect your father’s judgement and authority, your foolish mother has clearly swayed you. I shall not speak to you two for some time until you prove your loyalty to me, your lord and master!!” “Neither I nor Dreldal wish to show you any respect, father. You have threatened to murder your defender when he has just saved this fortress from certain defeat. Upon our return to Alderhon, I will immediately order all chaos cults to disband or leave, unless they wish to be executed or arrested.” “You have no power here nor anywhere in Arzith, foolish boy!!,” scorned Varhim with dark eyes, “I will see you are exiled from the House Lambarl as soon as we return, and you as well Dreldal if you question my authority once more!!” “Hythys Lambarl will be burned with you in it and your family safely out if you do that, Varhim!!,” threatened Galverious, his respect for Varhim having disappeared completely after he came to learn the duke wished him dead, “your family’s ancient hall will be destroyed if you exile your sons for no reason. Your ancestor Kyllum Lambarl IV built that from nothing and from his astounding architectural skill his uncle Jalis Lambarl, who was duke, named his heir as he was without children. Kyllum became a fruitful and kind duke, unlike yourself.” “Why do you gaggle of idiots and traitors think you have any authority in Alderhon!!?” cried Varhim, spitting at Galverious’s feet and beginning to stride off. “Go to hell, you conceited bastard!!” Galverious roared, throwing a butter knife so it narrowly missed Varhim’s ear and collided with the stone wall, ricocheting off and landing on the ground. On the following morning the Lambarl family departed Mal Vellas Keep with the Alderhon soldiers upon Varhim’s demands. While the conceited duke left without farewells his family thanked everyone present for their hospitality and apologized for the duke’s errors the previous night. Immediately after, Jahlred and Galverious prepared to embark on their journey to the Taint. Ashaleena, who was searching for her feyran friend, found him in the inner armoury, which lay across from the Citadel. He was strapping on his same feyran cuirass and did not notice the woman when she entered. Putting on his gauntlets, he turned to face her direction and said, “Ashaleena! I was not expecting you at this hour.” “I was just here to speak with you,” replied the young woman, Jahlred permitting her to ask with a nod, “did our fraternising in Del Jahvalla mean anything?” Jahlred’s immortal heart pounded against his ribs as he seated himself and strapped on his feyran pauldrons. Ruffling his blonde hair he said, “that is an precarious subject, Ashaleena. If you thought our kiss was a simple test as we said, then that is that. But if you thought of it as something else, then pray tell me what?” Ashaleena’s cheeks reddened in embarrassment and she said, “you yourself said that feyran kind can never love humankind as the fey will linger but their human companion will expire. Besides, it is foolish of me to declare my love in this dire hour.” “So there is love, is there?,” asked the fey, now fully armoured except his helmet, “if so I will gladly comply.” Ashaleena stepped towards him and placed her hand on his cheek, feeling the

beginnings of stubble. With her mind clouded she stepped closer and kissed him a second time, stepping back quickly. As she seated herself on a crate against the wall, she felt strangely calm and undoubtedly in love. She could not further deny it, she loved Jahlred. Strapping Silverwynd to his side dismissively he said, “you love me, don’t you. As much as it is shunned by my kindred I conform to say the same. They say that feyran and human kind are the only two races in Arzith that feel true love. The orcs of the west only feel the emotions of rage, anger and extreme happiness from dealing harm. The black fey, unfortunately our kindred, are a material race and crave only riches and the death of us.” “Mayhap it is true. But as we are speaking races pray tell me of what race does Vivilianon originate from?” Jahlred shrugged, “some say she is half-orc and half-fey while others say she is a last survivor of the Green Fey, our celestial kindred who in legend were said to come from the heavens to settle here. When the Green Fey came to Arzith, Khalvazard destroyed them utterly. Whatever race Vivilianon is, she is everlastingly dangerous to no limit. If ever you encounter her, never look her in the eyes or you will fall under her commanding trance. Put them out if you have to, just do not look into her eyes and you’ll be reasonably safe. Other word of advice is if you ever venture to Gwysmoore Forest or Sieulad, especially near Hithen Dwa, be wary of Vivilianon’s Argithian Brutes, a type of malevolent faeylessa she has come to possess and tame from their native Aznar-Kahldum province of Argith.” “I love your intellect, Jahlred,” commented Ashaleena with a grin, “it never fails to surprise me of how much you know of this world.” “I may only be twenty-five but us fey have the keen skill to absorb things into our minds we have not actually witnessed or felt. As uncanny as this skill may be it has kept my kin from the desire to live forever for centuries.” “I imagine eternal life would grow tiresome,” remarked the damsel, parting some of her dark hair from her brow, “you spoke of feeling grief in the Barrens after you rescued me, what did you mean?” Jahlred’s azure eyes flickered in remembrance and as Silverwynd hung at his side he said, “my brother was slain on the field of battle five years ago, he was younger than I’ am.” “What was his name?” “Elhir, he was one of my closest friends,” replied the fey, keeping back tears, “during the battle of Verdanvarl he received a halberd to the side, I moved to rescue him but he was overcome by enemies and hacked to death. As the rain poured down and I held his bloody body in my arms I felt such grief and rage I was almost driven mad. My father had worked hard to raise us as feyran paupers and he had intrusted me when we both left home to watch Elhir’s back all the time. I lingered with his halfmad plans and his haphazard journeys only to protect him from the world he was clearly oblivious to. When I told my father he had been slain we both grieved and still do to this day. I have not seen my father for many years.” “Where does he live?” asked Ashaleena. “My family hail from Sieulad, Country of the Bards. I presume he would still be living in our old house in Riverrunning.” “Excuse my demands but mayhap you could tell me of your family?” “Of course,” began Jahlred, using his spare few hours to speak with the woman he undoubtedly loved, “my grandfather Javalas was an original member of the Feyran Riders but retired months before his fellow riders were killed. His wealth was abundant but he constantly returned to Sieulad to visit his family, his wife and four sons, one of course my father. Over on my mother’s side and they were a less fortunate family, her father worked all his life on his farm until he died from arthritis. His name was Kieran, but I never met him as much as I wanted to. My mother fell in love with my father one day in the Bard’s Square in the largest settlement in Sieulad, Riverrunning. He had recently joined the Feyran Legion and was visiting his father and his brothers. Despite that he would loose most of his

wealth my father married my mother and four years later I was born. My uncle Jaeldra was a Sieuladrian Bard and in my youth I learnt how to preform their form of bow. After my grandfather Javalas died from what we fey are offered, a “gift” to die, my family remained in Sieulad and we witnessed an influx of wealth that we inherited from Javalas. When I was fifteen and my brother was ten, my mother Amelia sacrificed herself to safe the rest of our family from Argithrian Brutes. My father Karred was deeply grief-stricken and did his best to raise us without a mother, although he received tremendous support from my uncles Jaeldra, Jamreld and Fargald.” “Well,” said Ashaleena as she absorbed the information, “while we are telling of our families I best speak of mine. Where shall I begin, my family comes from a long line of Foreseeyers. My grandmother is, unless she is dead, the current Foreseeyer of our village and my grandfather was a fisherman who died young. But before his death he fathered my own father, who thus was half-Foreseeyer. My mother’s father was and hopefully still is the leader of our village and cares for me dearly, in fact I should send him a message if my village still lingers. But knowing my grandfather he is a ferocious fighter despite his age and can even fend of demon-riders. As for my siblings you already know I had a brother who was three years older than me.” Leaning his back against one of the pillars that supported the wall, Jahlred asked, “and what of your parents?” “My parents, Lirrian and Audelir, were slain when I was a youth. I was there when they were struck down by raiders from the Taint. My mother’s father chased after them and killed them, but he was forever anguished at the deaths of my parents. He raised me and my brother with the help of my father’s mother until we were old enough, although we still lived with my grandmother.” “I’ am sorry for your loses,” Jahlred said, “it seems we have both felt our fair share of grief and loss.” Just then there came a loud knock on the door and Marthilas Julrad entered the armoury with his cape trailing at his rear. Bowing low to his master’s guests he said chivalrously, “excuse me, master fey. General Galverious wishes to embark now.” Jahlred was surprised by the man who had grown to be his friend’s civility rather than the informal way he spoke to him when not in the presence of woman, which must have abided to his code of chivalry. Snatching up his feyran helmet and tucking it under his arm, he said, “thank you, Marthilas. Tell him I will be there soon.” The tactician bowed low again and said, “I shall see you at the gate”. With that he turned and left the armoury. Turning to Ashaleena, the fey said softly, “I must go, my love. Pray you come to farewell me?” Ashaleena nodded and stood, straightening out her vibrant gown, “I shall.” Cold air blew against the battlements of Mal Vellas Keep as the farewell party, which was kept relatively small by Galverious, all stood around or on the causeway. As Jahlred climbed onto the saddle of the same horse from Del Jahvalla, Ashaleena slipped something into his hand that felt like bone. It was an item of unfathomable value; a dragon tooth talisman she had been given to by her grandmother on her eleventh birthday. Where or how her grandmother came to possess an item of such value Ashaleena had no idea, but her grandmother had told her she had received it as a gift from a man who simply called himself the Eternal Fire. Ashaleena knew all to well that dragon kind were no longer present in Arzith, Khalvazard had destroyed them because he did not want to risk the possibility that the majestic beasts would keep him from conquering. And thus began the Red Prince’s genocide of dragon kind until he drove them to extinction from Arzith. Tucking the talisman into his pocket, Jahlred said to his friends, “I will miss you all when I’ am gone, but look forward to seeing me upon my return.” Petting the fey’s horse, Marthilas Julrad said reverentially, “remember my tactic against Vallabortax, it will serve you well when you battle him. Watch Galverious’

back as he often becomes headstrong and will try to jeopardise this whole effort just to kill one man.” Although the general of Mal Vellas Keep did not hear the remark he said sternly, “we shall employ your tactics against Vallabortax, Marthilas.” Next it was Penndren’s turn to say goodbye, “watch yourselves out there you two, the Taint is a wild land and danger lurks in every corner. Be sure to dispatch Vallabortax soon enough so you can return safely back here and we don’t have to worry about you both.” Surprisingly even vice tactician Allayn Leurbar had some words of farewell, “although I know you little Jahlred, you have proven to become a trusted friend of mine. Watch each other’s backs out there don’t wander or linger in the Taint or you shall become most likely lost. As for Vallabortax, so him what feyran and human men can do when fighting side by side?” Penndren roared in agreement and said, “Aye! Severe off his head and uphold it on his false throne!!” As for Ashaleena, she said nothing much except a casual goodbye to Galverious. While the four other men present were baffling on in conversation, the two had one final kiss before Jahlred left. The damsel felt covetousness to kiss him again and again, which she knew was common when someone loved another. Shifting her arm from his shoulder she said unperturbedly, “be careful out there, Jahlred. Try to get back soon.” Jahlred steered his loyal horse to where Galverious sat mounted on his white stallion and replied to Ashaleena as she followed, “if I’ am to do that they will ride very fast and long, which I’ am sure the horses will not very much enjoy.” “Then do not cause the animals fatigue and they will remain loyal, if you pressure on them for ceaseless riding then they will become unruly and most likely grow less fond of you.” “I shall take that into consideration,” said Jahlred to his female companion. Turning to speak to everyone standing he said, “farewell all of you.” And with that the two riders kicked their horses’ flanks and sped down the causeway and along the road that led into Luernir. The plan was simple; they were to pass through Luernir and then past Shala Vel in the Foreseeyer’s Lands and concluding into the Taint, where they would secretly enter the Brotherhood’s base and dispatch Vallabortax. As the galloped along the road Jahlred could not help thinking of the promise he had made to Baelandyr, about venturing to Oraolthor and proposing the alliance between the feyran race and the Foreseeyers. He had been so preoccupied with the siege of Mal Vellas Keep and his current task that he had no time to do his lord’s bidding right then. He had heard little of Baelandyr’s welfare and for all he knew the king could be dead. As his hours of thorough thinking came to a halt, he realized that he and his companion were already far into Luernir, close by capital city of Suthernburry Knoll, where about five hundred people dwelled. As common in Feyran and Imperial settlements like this one, a fortress was not too far. In the case of Suthernburry Knoll the fortress was the Knoll’s Knee, named this because of its high rising position upon one of the highest hills for miles around. Any travellers willing to pass into Suthernburry Knoll would have to pass through the toll gate that was positioned at the front gate into Knoll’s Knee Fort. Presently Jahlred watched as his horse trod closer to the stone framed gate where an Imperial guard and a local one were stationed. The difference in these two men was easily distinguishable by anyone who knew of the Empire’s power and wealth. This was shown to its full length by what the Imperial sentry had for defence; a steel full helmet with red plumes spurting from the top, gleaming steel pauldrons, gauntlets, greaves and a cuirass and a square steel shield with an globular centrepiece on the front. As for the local guard, he wore a studded mail shirt and greaves and only held a wood shaft spear. Yes the Empire’s wealth was abundant, though Jahlred as he and his companion drew closer to the two sentries. They passed through without trouble and continued on into Suthernburry Knoll, where

they rested at the Green Hill Tavern for a night.

3: Troubles A pallid moon circulated the sky of eternal stars as Ashaleea sat on the balcony of the Mage Tower, Senior Mage Alverhad Hythe beside her along with three more high ranking mages. Their names were Pelendrin Cahlymuir, Hearana Jaelendra and Muthral Arguldrene. Pelendrin was a erudite old fellow of about eighty years whose face envisioned knowledge, with his frost white beard and deep set eyes. He held high position in Mal Vellas Keep as senior documenter of the keep’s library but was also a practiced mage. Hearana Jaelandra was one of the few young and female members of the mages and told Ashaleena when she met her she had come from Vivacia Delamor in the west after her village was destroyed. Her blue eyes blazed with fiery zeal and her fair hair blew as wild as her character. Muthral Arguldrene was a handsome young Shaornian mage who was only a few years older than Ashaleena. He was handsome, but her heart was in the hands of Jahlred. Pelendrin inhaled from a traditional Sieuladrian pipe and said thoughtfully as he examined the night sky, “I have always where the astronomers found the names for the eight star constellations that abide to our calendar. Samhayn, Yille, Imbolick, Ustara, Baltene, Summer Solstice, Lorngnashadi, and Meibon. I’ am Samhayn as I was born in October, but the astronomers seemed to forget the four extra months.” “I’ am Imbolick as I was born February,” said Muthral, “what is your sign, Ashaleena?” Ashaleena, who was in deep thought, said falteringly, “I was born in Yille I believe, which is the Winter Sign, nay?” Hearana nodded gratifyingly, “that is true, Ashal. As for your pondering Pelendrin as to why there are four nameless signs I think none of us here know the answer.” “But do not forget that the signs have a certain element or force to them,” added Muthral, parting some of his auburn hair from his forehead, “Samhayn has Fire of Wisdom, Yille has Ice of Valour, Imbolick has the Sun Eternal, Ustara has the Jewel of Honesty, Baltene has the Flower of Renewal, Summer Solstice has the Crystal of the Light, Lorngnashadi has the Fruit of Love and Meibon has the Autumn Leaves of Benevolence.” “Indeed,” said Alverhad, his first words on the subject, “apparently each sign’s aspect is supposed to show in the person born under that sign. I was born under Meibon so I’ am supposedly meant to be more benevolent.” “Enough of this astrological talk,” said Muthral, his eyebrows darkening in boredom, “does anyone know information of the labyrinthicus passages of the Brotherhood’s base, the Halls of Dusk and Doom?” “The Halls of Dusk and Doom is a dark place built over the ruins of the ancient Dwarven city of Ath-Gul La only a century ago,” said Pelendrin, ”At this time the Brotherhood were a young organisation and were in desperate need of a secret and remote base, and Ath-Gul La had been recently laid to ruins by Khalvazard and its people driven out.” “Khalvazard struck in the Taint!!?” exclaimed Alverhad with widened eyes. “Aye, and he attacked with a very inventive tactic. You see the Dwarven tombs were situated right below the Dwarven Throne Room, which now lays in tact below Vallabortax’s Throne Room. Realising it was incredibly difficult to strike the Dwarves from Zikbath Vuir Khalvazard used ancient necromancy to raise the dead dwarves and turn them against their living kin. The dwarven inhabitants of Ath-Gul La were driven out and the city lay in ruin until the Brotherhood claimed it two hundred years after its abandonment.” “But the Halls of Dusk and Doom hold numerous entrances, how do Jahlred and Galverious know which entrance is suitable?” asked Hearana, her first words on the subject.

“There is the most suitable one,” replied Pelendrin, “it lies on a knoll where the road from Luernir goes to, but it requires a complicated means of entrance. There are four different doors against the knoll but only three levers that will open them. You must try each lever until three of the doors open, but all the doors lead into the same tunnel. If you make an error however, the doors all lock themselves and you have to start again. But I’ am sure Galverious and Jahlred are capable of solving that predicament.” Muthral yawned loudly and said as he stretched his legs out, “I grow weary, perhaps we should meet here again some time tomorrow for further chatter?” Ashaleena nodded as everyone stood from the couches and said to Pelendrin as he passed, “mayhap I could look in the archives sometime?” “Of course,” said the old documenter kindly, “now if you like, the scribes are still there busy recounting the Siege of Mal Vellas Keep for all of Arzith to read. I myself will not be going there as I’ am tired, but if a shrewd looking man with a vulture-like nose demands what you are doing there, say to him that I gave you permission. He is just Greldal Vuran, the senior scribe here.” “Thank you, Pelendrin” said Ashaleena politely, curtseying the mage and farewelling her other friends. She quickly left the tower and headed down two levels of the Citadel until she reached the large doors that led into the library. Without knocking she quietly entered and found a large group of men and women, including a man matching Pelendrin’s description, crowded around the central table. They wrote speedily on paper and in leather-back books, their concentration fully on the task at hand. Only when Ashaleena came closer did this Greldal Vuran looked up and frown. “What do you want!!?,” he cried, flailing his arms in the air impatiently, “we are extremely busy here recounting the Siege of Mal Vellas Keep and six hundred copies have to be ready to be shipped to the Imperial City by tomorrow night!” “Pelendrin said I could be here” replied the damsel prudently, conscious of the man’s temper. “Very well, go about what ever you need to do here and leave us be!” Ashaleena nodded and strode over to one of the bookshelves, labelled as Ancient Lore of Arzith & Legends of Arzith. Soon after she began searching in this shelf she came across a book with a red cover and she decided to look at it. Sprawled across the front in italic was the title: Khalvazard & Other Notable Demons. She opened and commenced to read the first pages: “Many in Arzith know all to well of Khalvazard, but few know of his origin. Khalvazard is said to be the son of the Demon King of Rezvazz-Morttagaldur Arvagth Gryonvaa and thus the heir to the Throne Infernal. His wish to destroy all benevolent races in Arzith is driven by his revenge against Baelandyr, who sealed the portal from Arzith into Rezvazz-Morttagaldur and separated Khalvazard from his demon kin. Ashaleena closed the book swiftly as she felt something whisper in her ear, ancient words in another language, almost sounding like choking noises. Shuddering she strode quickly past the scribes and returned to her chambers, her mind full of questions and fear. “I received a message from Mal Vellas Keep last night,” said Jahlred as he commenced stuffing his bag with his dirty clothes, “from Pelendrin.” “I suppose it was sent directly here from Mal Vellas as the others knew we would stop here in Suthernburry Knoll,” commented Galverious, his concentration on the window that out looked vast plains of verdant grass, “what did it say?” “It said that the easiest way into the Brotherhood’s base is a series of doors known as the Gates of Malice, where the road from here directly leads to. He also added that we should ask around about it and see if anyone knows about anything.” “General Viroseus Maravell at the Knoll’s Knee might know,” said Galverious insightfully, “I have met him once and he seems to know a lot about the Brotherhood and their plans. I’d imagine he’d be in his chambers or office at the fort.” “Well it’s decided,” Jahlred said, making ready to leave the Green Hill Tavern, “we

shall go to the fort and speak with Viroseus and then make for these Gates of Malice.” “After breakfast!!,” groaned the general immaturely, although his companion knew he was be sarcastic, “I hear that this inn makes the best food around, meat imported from Ecymwa, fish and lobster imported from Vehmouth, wine and ale from Ath Malavel and rich desserts from Sieulad!! I’ am salivating already.” “I have had my experience with Sieuladrian desserts in my youth. After we had eaten a filling supper at my father’s mother’s house she would bake the famous Sieuladrian fruit pie; berries, apple and peach inside with a saccharine syrup on the top. I once snuck in several slices when no one else was home besides me and my brother and then I could not eat for a long time.” “Stop!!,” cried Galverious, his childish hunger making him even more noisy, “do not tease me with the fine cuisine of Sieulad. You may not want that but I’ am sure you will go mad for the Ecymwan meats and the Vehmouthan seafood. You mind will feel extreme ecstasy after you eat an Ecymwan sausage and veal, along with delightful Ath Malavelean wine.” “I will not have wine for breakfast. Do these people eat any of their own foods?” Galverious shook his head, “most of the rich folk; nobles, members of the rural Houses; the lord and his family, they do not like most of their local food and prefer to dine on foreign foods. Those who can’t afford such food have to accept their own local foods as that’s all they have.” “You mentioned the Houses of Luernir, what are they?” asked Jahlred curiously. “There’s only four Houses in Luernir; the House Maravell, the House Dremalor, the House Yordal and the House Crowthorn. The House Maravell is the richest House in Luernir and Viroseus attained his position thanks to his father Asperinus Maravell. The second house in wealth is the House Crowthorn, led by Javis Crowthorn and his four sons Mikahl, Derfal, Verdahm and Trened. There is fierce rivalry between the Houses Maravell and Crowthorn to have the highest popularity with the Lord Samath Larkley. The third wealthiest House is the House Dremalor, it is a Feyran House and led by Trythmund Dremalor. The poorest and latest House is the House Yordal, led by Marvelza Yordal who is the local blacksmith as well. The Houses Dremalor and Yordal are friends because they have relatives from both Houses and there has been recent talk between Marvelza and Trythmund about combining their Houses into the United Houses of Yordal and Dremalor or something like that. If you want to get technical than I suppose you could call the Larkley family a fifth House, but Samath and his large family prefer not to be involved in the House disputes.” “But where do all of these people live, I have not seen their houses?” Galverious took a draught from his water flask and continued, “the manors of the Houses and the lord are situated in the western part of town, between Marvelza’s Blacksmith and The Crowthorn Tradehouse. While Samath spends most of his time at Knoll’s Knee his wife and three daughters usually remain in their house and socialize with Trythmund’s wife and his younger children. No doubt Viroseus will invite us to the usual Banquet of the Houses and you can meet all of the members of the Houses.” The sun’s vibrant rays gleamed on the stone battlements of the Knoll’s Knee Fort as Galverious and Jahlred came to a halt outside the gates, their stomachs full from their pleasant breakfast. They were greeted by a man dressed in Luernirian guard uniform, who seemed to know they were coming and lead them into the courtyard. Laid with cobblestones and hewn with moss, the courtyard exhibited a central fountain with a statue of Asperinus Maravell holding up a spear triumphantly, although it depicted him in his younger days. A few metres from this fountain stood the man Jahlred assumed was Viroseus, tall and masculine with the dark hair of his father, as Galverious had told Jahlred. He wore similar armour to what Galverious had worn at Mal Vellas Keep in the presence of his men; a gold cuirass, greaves, gauntlets, pauldrons and a chain mail skirt. This armour would be extremely difficult to carry on one’s shoulders and Jahlred presumed that Viroseus only wore

it because he had the strength to do so. Saluting his fellow general, the son of Asperinus said in a commanding voice, “it is good to see some foreigners here once in a while. You asked my secretary to inform me that you needed to know about the Gates of Malice in the Taint?” “Yes,’ said Galverious, “we are on an expedition to kill Vallabortax and end his plots to destroy the fort in Mal Vellas.” “Yes, speaking of the Brotherhood they have been rife lately, pillaging the towns close to the Taint and stealing livestock. My younger brother Jalrius, who lives in one of these villages with his family, demands I act on the matter at once. He would do it himself if he was a soldier like the rest of us! He’s just a merchant who has great arguments against violence. All well, at least his making money and that’s all our father cares about now as his own coffers are becoming empty.” “You say Vallabortax has been plaguing your bordering villages!? No doubt a scheme to prevent you from aiding us when he attacks!” said Galverious angrily, his very soul growing to hate Vallabortax for his iniquitous cunning and peerless strategy. “Enough of this pessimism,” said Viroseus, “Javis Crowthorn has requested a banquet which I blithely consent despite my father’s hate for the man. It seems our Houses’ rivalry has died down to a small one between my father and Javis. I swear one of them will try to kill the other one of these days. But my father is joining the banquet as he wishes to see Trythmund and Marvelza. I’ am attending for two reasons; to remain a well-respected man and to see Lecera Dremalor, oh how here beauty astounds me so! Although she is only half-fey she is fervently gorgeous!” Surprised by Viroseus’ confession that he loved Trythmund’s eldest daughter, Galverious said, “I agree that she possesses great beauty and I believe that Trythmund will have nothing against it, but your father may. I know your father, Viroseus and he is viciously obsessive and greedy, which I’ am sure you know. I have heard him called names in the Green Hill Tavern like “Asperinus the GoldEater” and “The Gold-Demon of the Maravells”. I would be careful with your father, he may be old but he still has the temper of a storm and the lust for infinite wealth. His greatest fear is not death like most of humankind, loosing all his wealth is.” “Perhaps I can check with Trythmund if Lecera could visit me only in the cover of night. I know she loves me to but if my father caught her skulking about the fort he would think she was trying to steal our wealth and he would blame Trythmund. That is how severe my father’s obsession and addiction to wealth has become. I fear he is on the verge of insanity if he is further exposed to over-wealth. I have tried to cut off his income of money but only he can do that. If I could get him to think what he was signing was something else then I could safe him from himself.” “Your life is full of trouble unlike most others think,” said Jahlred, trying to relate with Viroseus, “I hope you can safe your father from his obsession.” “Thank you for your words, fey,” replied the eldest Maravell son, “but don’t you worry about my personal problems and please allow me to escort you up to my office on the second floor of the armoury.” Ashaleena stirred in her sleep, the cold air from the open window of her chambers brushing against her. The same voices from the library filled her ears and infernal images plagued her mind. Cavorting about in her dreams were all manner of infernal beasts; from just plain annoying imps to horrifying angels with black wings and hair as white as death. These angels of evil danced around the cavern of her mind in horrid glee, laughing like mortal men and women and speaking both in their language and Ashaleena’s. They scratched and hit her amusedly, but she felt no pain. Then they commenced to celebrate their iniquitous existence, some summoning black harps from thin air and striking terrifyingly orchestral melodies while others tossed the imps back and forth to each other. She could not fathom if this as actually occurring or some foul magic had entered her mind. Perhaps upon reading the book she released an evil spirit that now took the form of the one of the angels in her dream. Now only one stood before her while the others entertained themselves, and he was the most handsome of them all. Every thing about him was

perfected, his face, his hair and even his own corrupted soul. Ashaleena was so paralysed by his magnificence that she failed to notice he was now brandishing a fiery spear. Her instincts told her to move quickly but he was even faster. She felt the fiery steel pierce her heart and grasped the weapon, clutching as she looked into the angel’s face. Then she suddenly awoke, in her room in Mal Vellas Fort. Her brow was sweating and she could feel her heart pounding against her ribs, but no pain from where she had been assailed. She thought of Jahlred’s face as she stood, but it did little to help her. Dressing herself in her garb of white silk lined with silvery embellishment, she left her room quickly and went to the chambers of Alverhad Hythe. She knew he may have some way of helping her, if it was with a potion or a spell she did not care. She just wanted to be rid of the demonic angels of her dreams. She knocked quietly on the door of his chambers although she knew he was probably awake and the wizened man answered in his night gown. “Ashaleena? What ever is the matter?” he asked curiously, inviting her inside. His chambers were Spartan if you will a simple bed, desk and wardrobe along with piles and piles of papers and books, along with his staff that was propped on the wall of the door. “It is of great importance, Alverhad,” replied the damsel, seating herself in the desk’s chair while the old sage sat on his bead facing her, “you see after we had our meeting I went to the archives and read up on Khalvazard. As I was reading I felt invisible forces around me and their voices whispering into my ear, no doubt infernal sorcery. Just now I have woken up from a terrible dream were I was encountered by horribly beautiful angels of iniquity, and one pierced me through the heart with a flaming spear.” “It sounds to me like a demon spirit imprisoned in this book has entered your mind in an attempt to drive you mad,” said Alverhad thoughtfully as he commenced rummaging through his shelves, “now there are a few ways to heal you and the choice is yours. Firstly a give you a potion made by the novice Zeerafaldrian mage Berthenad or a potion made by the myself, although Berhtenad’s potion has a faster effect but a higher chance of side effects like madness, over-euphoria and insomnia. Another option would be for me to cast the Spell of Ythril’s Healing on you, but I will be incapacitated for some hours if I do. So which option do you think will fit you?” “I think I will have your potion, as I know you well and I have never heard of nor met this Berthenad fellow” decided Ashaleena, holding out her hand in expectance. “Very well” said the senior mage, dropping a small vial of purplish substance in her hand and smiling as she closed it, always getting contented when he helped others. Alverhad was a kind man and a worthier leader than Galent. He had been forced under the shadow of that betrayer during his time as secondary senior mage but now he could exhibit his full kindness and ability without fearing any superiors. Ashaleena tilted the vial from side to side as watched the purplish substance swirl, saying distastefully, “are you sure this thing is completely edible?” Alverhad nodded reassuringly and said as he piled his books up onto his desk, “it is certain to work, I’ve tested it myself. Its purple hue is just because it is composed of ingredients including teramuth berry. It tastes perfectly fine, believe me.” “I trust your judgement, Alverhad,” Ashaleena said sincerely as she continued to examine the vial, “thank you for your help.” The illuminating candles filled the Great Hall of Knoll’s Knee Fort, both hung from walls and self-standing on gothic and Romanesque stands. At the end of the three metre long wooden table sat Asperinus Maravell in his cantankerous demeanour, gold around his bony hands and his gaunt neck. Across from him in a chair carved with images of lions rearing was his eldest son, who had tried desperately to stop him from bringing his gold. Viroseus had pleaded his father not to display his zealous wealth but Asperinus as usual had accused his son of trying to steal his money. As by Viroseus’ request to Trythmund Dremalor the fey’s eldest daughter Lecera sat beside the honoured Maravell son in a vibrant dress of turquoise and

garnet. Her well-carved features that looked to be fashioned by a brilliant sculptor were indefinitely from her human mother Aliera, but her azure blue eyes and glossy blond hair were inherited from her feyran father. Trythmund and his family sat close by Lecera and Marvelza Yordal, a man of pallid features and night black hair despite his friendly and kind character. No other Yordals were present as Marvelza’s wife was looking after their many children. Seating himself as far as possible from Asperinus and a close as possible to Lord Samath was Javis Crowthorn, host of the banquet, and his four sons. Javis was the man Jahlred had expected, a man of similar age to Asperinus with almost vulture like features; a hooked nose and a pair of dark globular eyes aided by spectacles. His four sons however did not look much like him except that their noses had a slight downwards point and their snobbish behaviour which clearly they had either inherited or had been taught to by their conniving and petulant father. Next to Javis’ last son Trened, Galverious and Jahlred were seated, nearby Lord Samath. Upon discussion of military and trading in Luernir Galverious learned that young Trened was far from as supercilious as his kindred and turned out to be a man less concentrated on what he wanted and more on what others wanted. This was exhibited when servants of his father appeared with entrée dishes; small Ecymwan sausages, Ath Malavelean wine and other rarities from different provinces. When a servant offered some food to their end of the table Trened insisted everyone take some before himself, unlike the rest of his kind who greedily snatched up some food for themselves. During a later hour of the banquet Javis took his chance to be spiteful to his rival in his vulnerable state. Swallowing his food who laid down his cutlery and said to Asperinus, “well Asperinus, now that your coffers are running dry I guess that the House Crowthorn will be Lord Samath’s favourite.” Everyone besides Javis’ three other sons cast ill glares at the spiteful man as they felt less hate for Asperinus and more sympathy. The poor old man was clearly going mad and Javis was wrong to target his vulnerability with remarks. Samath was the first to speak up and grumbled, “why is it with you Javis that the existence of these Houses is some popularity contest for me to judge!? I know you have no respect for me, you just want to use me like a tool of your own bidding. Whereas Trythmund and Marvelza, even Asperinus, know that I’ am a person that cannot be manipulated by your will and used. Leave poor Asperinus to his ailment and you two can continue your war after he is of full sanity.” “Which I presume will be never!? The old git’s gone completely senseless!!” cried Mikahl Crowthorn, soon finding Viroseus’ knife at his throat. Javis stood and snatched the general’s arm as he tried to pull him away from his son, saying, “get that weapon away from my son!! If there is to be blood tonight then I will shed it first!!”. From out of nowhere he produced a knife from his sleeve and sent it hurtling into Asperinus, who fell back onto the ground. Violence ensued between the members of the two Houses present, while everyone else quietly removed themselves from the table and stood safely away. The three Javis brothers were swarming over Viroseus like insects while Javis strangled Asperinus, who continuously beat him with an empty wine bottle. Lord Samath dared not interfere; this was House war to its limit. He was swelled up with nervousness inside as he watched the people fight. The fight got gruesome when Viroseus withdrew his sword and sent it wheeling across Derfal Crowthorn’s chest, killing him instantly. When Javis learned of this he punched Asperinus in the head and jumped off him, driving his knife in a fatal blow through Viroseus’ back. Galverious could not take it any more at this point and drew his sword, despite Jahlred’s arguments. While Javis commenced bludgeoning the dying Viroseus and Lecera screamed sorrowfully as her father held her in his arms, the general of Mal Vellas Keep leapt from his feet and brought the side of his sword down on Javis’ skull. The cracking of bone ensued as the blade entered the man’s head and Javis seemed almost certainly dead. Expecting Mikahl and Verdahm Crowthorn to charge at him, he snatched up Javis’ knife from his bloody grasp and simultaneously drove both blades through the two men’s chests as the charged at him. The two young

men fell back onto the table and jerked in dying pain, beside their paroxysmic father. When the scene was safe Lecera instantly broke from her father’s grasp and ran over to Viroseus lying on the ground, tears staining her face. She held him and kissed him, her heart aching in grief for the man she loved. This brought tears to all present, even Jahlred. Despite her sobs of sorrow Trythmund was forced to take his daughter away as the healers conformed that all the men were dead, even her beloved Viroseus. Meanwhile Trened had disappeared from the scene, shocked by the fight that had just killed nearly all of his family. He was also shocked by his grief as he had not thought he would mourn for his father and brothers when they died. Swiftly he took as horse from the fort and left Suthernburry Knoll and later Luernir, none who were present that night ever seeing him for some time. The five dead men all received interment in the verdant grassland outside town whereupon the people who had known them best attended. Viroseus was buried first in his tomb beneath a knoll, with his sword in his lifeless grasp and a diamond necklace from the neck of his beloved. During his ceremony Lecera spoke of him and how they had hope of one day getting married and having a family of their own. As the general was carried into his barrow an honour song was played by the trumpeters and each person left a white flower on the knoll of his tomb. Asperinus was second to follow and in his ceremony Trythmund and Marvelza spoke of him highly and said they wished to spend their final days with him when he was mentally stable once more. His tomb was beside that of his eldest son, and the same song of honour was played as he was carried to his barrow. Men of the military then spoke words of honour and remembrance of Asperinus’ servitude to Luernir and Suthernburry Knoll. The funeral ceremonies of the Crowthorn men followed similarly and they to were honoured. After the funerals Lecera stayed at the tomb of her beloved, crying for him until her tears stained the long grass at her feet. As he and Galverious trudged over the flowery knolls towards the town, Jahlred muttered a blessing to the House Dremalor in his own tongue. The effects of Alverhad’s potion had been fruitful for Ashaleena. She was no longer plagued by her horrific dreams and was now freer to do what she wanted. She saw Penndren occasionally as he went about his matters. Her deep concentration was on the urge to learn more about the fort’s secrets and history. She searched for hours in the archives for history and secrets of the fort, but no avail. She gave up in her search and took up her time to master her spell casting. Alverhad had gladly agreed to take her up as his apprentice and taught her simple spells at first, both destructive and obliging. But as she began to learn the harder spells she found it most tiresome and she would be unable to practice again for a few hours. She saw her other mage friends frequently at the group’s daily meeting and they shared ideas, while Perendrin nearly always told an ancient tale. Upon one afternoon after her lesson with Alverhad she received a letter from Baelandyr that had recently. She took it from the desk of the absent secretary and tore open the envelope, commencing to read: “Ashaleena and Jahlred, I’ am happy to hear news of your exploits at Mal Vellas Keep and how you miraculously defended it despite the odds. My health is slowly beginning to return to its good condition but news from Sieulad has informed as that Vivilianon is unusually prevalent. Her Argithian Brutes have become increasingly aggressive and have already pillaged six villages on the borders of Sieulad and Zeerafald. I know you are increasingly fastened with deeds to be done but perhaps when you have secured the alliance in Oraolthor you could investigate Vivilianon’s plans. If you choose to take the way through Fey-Fells make sure to venture to Qwela-Vas, the City of Radiance, in the centre of Fey-Fells. Their hospitality is excellent and the city itself is a marvel of feyran architecture. When or if you arrive you should ask for Tehlran Varramuir, he is the

steward of Qwela-Vas. I sincerely warn you not to pass through Shafla Desert and instead go through the Heathmar Forest where the rangers dwell. Yours sincerely, The High Fey King Baelandyr” Ashaleena placed the letter on the table and stood in silence, her mind clouded by thoughts and questions. Thanking the secretary for his service she departed the room with great haste, not speaking a word to anyone as she headed for her chamber. When she arrived she was shocked by what lay before her. The two sentries lay dead with blood around them and the door to her room had been completely torn off. Avoiding the fallen door with her feet she vigilantly entered the room. Her immediate notion was to check if anything had been stolen and when she checked her bedside table her fears became real. The book she had been studying, Margala’s Book of the Dead, was missing and her bedside table had been ravaged to splinters. She was startled when Penndren entered the room panting, soldiers behind him. “What happened here?” Ashaleena turned to him slowly and said, “I have no idea. It was like this when I came. Something or someone has entered the fort secretly and stolen my book and murdered those guards.” “Our worst fears have become real; I recognize the slash marks on the men and your desk. They come from the curved arc-blade of an Argithian Brute.” “That means Vivilianon is trying to get someone killed. But how could her brutes get all the way here from Hithen Dwa without people noticing them?” “They are quite capable of moving unseen and must have past through the Moors of Sorrow and then the Heathmar Forest. Why the rangers did not notice them I’ am most unnerved by.” “But who were they targeting? Me!?” Penndren rested his hand on his chin in thought. A cold draught battered the room and sent papers flying, as if to be cast by some fell sorcerer. With his brow creased in confusion the knight finally said, “I think she is, Ashaleena. If so you must flee the fort soon before you are killed. I will instruct Marthilas to maintain full security of the fort and let no one in without authorization.” “I thank you for your safety, Penndren. But I think the sorceress may not want to kill me but she wants something from me. Perhaps the book her minions stole.” Penndren seated himself on a spare bed and asked hurriedly, “what book is it that is missing?” “It is called Margala’s Book of the Dead” replied Ashaleena falteringly. “I never knew you had such interest in the dark and ancient art of necromancy!? Perhaps the reason this book was stolen is that Vivilianon wishes to raise an army of the dead to plague us. With such a force she could sweep through Mal Vellas and Ath Malavel, even maybe Sulreus in the Imperial Provinces and corner us at the edge of the continent.” “You mean to say this book is potentially fatal!?” “Without second thought, my lady. Any necromantic book is extremely dangerous in the wrong hands. The power of the necromancer that wrought it may even exist in its pages.” “Then we must act now!!,” demanded the damsel furiously, “if Vivilianon comes in possession of the book then she will have it for her own twisted will. She could claim thousands of lives! Curse me for leaving that damned book out where it could be taken!” “Do not stress, Ashaleena,” said Penndren coolly, “I have sworn an oath to protect you and Jahlred and I will do so with my life.” The third night at the Green Hill Tavern had little verbal communication between Jahlred and Galverious. They had not expected the brutal deaths they had

witnessed and were still recovering from their shock and grief, despite the fact they knew little of the dead men. Jahlred found himself overcome by a terrible melancholy mood and spoke little to Galverious who know doubt felt the same. Despite the kind offers of the others at the bar for them to join in the inebriated activities the two men refused earnestly. They honestly did not feel any euphoria from even thinking about revelry with the drunks. They soon retired from the tavern hall and went to bed with sullen moods. Jahlred was woken by a sharp whistle some hours later, as if to be ushered from some man-made instrument. Quietly stepping towards the door he heard faint conversation between the innkeeper and another unfamiliar voice. “I told you lot we don’t need you gallivanting about here anymore!!” protested the inn keeper grumpily, the sound of someone leaning on the wooden floor ensuing as if the other person moved closer. “The Blades have authority everywhere” they said in a husk voice, sounding like someone extremely relentless, “we are allowed to go wherever we want! Do you question the most powerful force in the Empire!? Let alone in Arzith!?” “This is not part of the Empire, lad!,” hissed the inn keeper, who was clearly older than the other man, “this is the Green Hill Tavern in the Feyran province of Luernir! The lands of the Empire exist thousands of miles away from here!” “You are clearly not aware of the sanction made by our emperor and your king some years ago decreeing that we could search all properties for illegal activities and we have the right to arrest those involved” said the stranger gruffly, moving to the door despite the inn keeper’s protests. He turned to door handle and Jahlred was just given enough time to dive under his sheets and hide before the man entered with the inn keeper at his heels. “This is someone’s room! You can’t just burst in here and disrupt my guests!” The stranger frowned impatiently and swung a knife from his belt, holding it to the innkeeper’s throat. Within minutes he moved it along and slit the man’s throat, blood staining the floorboards. As he turned to drag the dead man’s body into the cupboard Jahlred slipped out from his bed and snatched his sword quietly. Almost tiptoeing forward he whacked the man over the head and sent him wheeling into the wall. Sensing the trouble Galverious woke quickly and joined the fray, leaping from his bed and gutting the intruder with one heavy stab. The man grimaced painfully and fell back onto the floor, his mortal bane sheathing his sword angrily. Jahlred knelt down on his knees and examined the dead Imperial’s clothes and insignia on his black tunic; a silver raven surrounded by seven silver stars. “This is the sign of the Dark Blades, the spies grand of the Imperial Court. This man belonged to Emperor Ibercium’s highest men, the Dark Blades. Master infiltrators and assassins these men are. Incredibly dangerous and always untrustworthy.” “But what was this one doing here!?” asked Galverious, astonished. Jahlred rummaged in the dead man’s tunic pocket and produced a small rolled up piece of paper. Reading quickly he said, “this specific man holds here a warrant to take us both into custody and transport us to the Imperial City where we will await punishment for treason against his Greatness the Emperor Ibercium Conceldium IV!!” “Where!?,” cried Galverious, snatching the paper and commencing to read it: “This man and any other members of the Dark Blades given this document have the authorization to arrest one Jahlred , unknown last name, and one Galverious Harshall under the crimes of treason to the Emperor, conspiring against the Emperor and wishing ill against the Emperor. They must come to the Imperial City peacefully they may be given fairness in their trials. Authorized by, Grithmund Xerius, Lieutenant of His Gracious the Emperor Ibercium Conceldium IV”

“But we committed no such felonies!!” cried the general upon reading the letter. “It appears we have been enticed by someone who obviously does not want us to venture to the Taint,” said the fey thoughtfully, leaving the man’s corpse and moving beside Galverious, “but who?” The general’s brow knotted, “it was forged by a man of such wickedness and cunning that we were oblivious to the fact he would do such a thing as this. Vallabortax must have found some way to accuse us for crimes we did not commit!” “No doubt a ploy to prevent us from slaying him,” said Jahlred, “we must leave Luernir at once and head for these Gates of Malice.” “Agreed!,” concurred Galverious loudly, commencing to carelessly stuff his rucksack with his belongings, “pack yourself and we will head to the stables and make for the Taint, we should aim to reach there by dusk.” The two men left Luernir hastily, riding fast across the River Bethlydain and into the lands of the Foreseeyers. These lands were scattered with towering oaks and birches, many inhabited by the woodland faeylessa known as the buiramwynne. The buiramwynne were tall gentle beings with oak skin covered in moss and leaves and limbs much like branches. They only ever harmed humans when the forest, their home, was destroyed for energy. Strangely the two men saw few of the creatures and continued down the Forest Road, which ran all the way to Oraolthor and then into Western Colacedes. The sounds of the woodland filled their ears as their horses led them past Shala Vel, whereupon they encountered some young men sitting on a dilapidated stone wall on the side of the road. “What do we have ’ere then!? Newcomers at last,” heralded one of them, a tall lanky fellow with a beard, “we haven’t seen any foreigners besides those blasted demonriders and men from the Empire pottering about.” “The demon-riders attacked Shala Vel also!?” asked Jahlred as he steered his horse to a halt. “Aye,” said another young man, much more plump than the first, “they attacked here and the Foreseeyer’s Village and took some of us. But they left Oraolthor alone because it’s too hard to attack without being attacked also.” “How many were taken from here?” asked Galverious sternly. “About seven or more. No one important but all of them harmless” said the first man, beginning to juggle some rocks in his hands. “I’ am sorry for your loses,” said the fey, the youths merely shrugging carelessly, “do you know what state the Foreseeyer’s Village is?” “About thirty are dead and seventeen injured, but the village is still full of people,” said the corpulent man, “but they are missing at least three or so people. But we guess that they are already dead.” “One is not,’ began Jahlred, his voice rising in excitement, “the granddaughter of the Foreseeyer from the Foreseeyer’s Village is safe at Mal Vellas Keep.” “That’s good then,” sighed the third man, an averagely sized adolescent of about eighteen or more, “if you’re looking to contact the village and can’t be bothered going there then head down the side road into Shala Vel. The local lord Arthridar Muiragan will gladly take you in or send a semaphore for you. If you just want to contact the Foreseeyer of the Foreseeyer’s Village then speak to Elwinna Ravvenwood, she’s the local Foreseeyer here and lives in her cottage just outside of town.” “Thank you gentlemen” said Galverious sincerely, the men once again merely shrugging carelessly. Sighing the general led his horse down the road towards a crossroad, where he and Jahlred turned right and headed down a road shadowed by a great arch of green vines and foliage. As the sunlight re-appeared they sighted grey smoke rising from a place invisible behind a hedge. As they went further up the road a mossy cottage became visible and they tied their horses up outside the residence’s gate. Striding up to the front door Jahlred knocked twice and leaned against the outside wall patiently.

The door opened to a woman completely dressed in black wispy clothing with eyes of jade and hair of pitch-black. Two things struck her guests as odd, she was at least Jahlred’s age or older and secondly there was a creature sitting on her shoulder that appeared to be a mouse with leathery wings. She guided them inside and directed them to her pleasant drawing room. “Newcomers to Shala Vel I see,” she proclaimed, her pet scratching its ear with its rear paw, “what brings you to my abode?” “We seek the local Foreseeyer Elwinna Ravvenwood, you must be her assistant” said Jahlred politely. “No, I’ am Elwinna,” said the young woman, “I sense you are not commoners to Shala Vel, why do you seek me?” “Your time is obliged, al’verinuin,” said Jahlred, showing respect by addressing the Foreseeyer in his own tongue, “we seek to contact the grandmother of Ashaleena of the Foreseeyer’s Village.” “I do not know this Ashaleena child personally, but I know her grandmother well. I will send her a message indicating her granddaughter is safe.” Galverious tightened his right gauntlet and said sincerely, “we thank you for your help. We must leave now as we plan to reach the Taint by nightfall.” Just then came a loud noise from outside and Galverious instinctively drew his sword. Sensing danger all three inside ducked down as the shadow of someone appeared at the window. They knocked loudly on the door and demanded it to be opened. “Who is it!!?” demanded Jahlred, stepping towards the door with his sword in his grasp. Wiping sweat from his brow with his spare hand, he subconsciously grasped the door knob and flung the door open. At the doorway stood a man dressed almost completely in black armour, with a curved blade in one hand and a circular shield in the other. Grimacing at Jahlred he made to severed off the fey’s head where he knelt, but found his sword stuck in a nearby chair. Retaliating with velocity Jahlred drove his sword through the man’s back as he attempted to release his sword. The man yelled in agony and finally he broke his sword free, using his shield to keep his opponent at bay. Jahlred panted with exhaustion and commenced to hack at the man’s shield, until it broke through and sliced into the man’s shield hand. He yelled again but this time fell forward, his opponent finishing him with a well placed stab to the shoulder. The intruder screamed in agony and fell forward with a thud, Jahlred sheathing his sword. “More come!!” cried Elwinna fearfully, Galverious wasting no time as he ran outside. An arrow zipped past his head and narrowly missed him, the archer dropping from a tree and commencing to fire two more times with little success. With no time to waste the general hurtled his sword into the man and surprisingly pinned him to the tree behind him. The archer was impaled to the tree and his foes sword soon was relieved from his flesh, only to re-enter at his neck. With Jahlred fast behind him Galverious leapt onto his horse and galloped down the same road they had come on, his companion following not far behind. From the side of the road emerged four riders in black with crossbows at the ready, instantaneously pursuing the two men and entering the extremely dangerous situation. An bolt whizzed past Jahlred’s ear and only a few seconds after he ducked and dodged another. A rider was only a few metres from him and could easily shoot him of his horse. Steering his horse with one hand, he commenced to rummage through his rucksack and snatched up a clay flask from within. Taking one last look at the road in front, he turned to face his pursuers and threw the flask into the closest rider. The flask burst against the man’s face and he was pierced with fragments of sharp clay, knocked off his horse and sent rolling into a shrub. Meanwhile Galverious had surprisingly deliberated and two of the riders were in fast pursuit of him with ready crossbows. Dodging both his pursuers’ bolts he steered

his horse around a dangerous corner, one of riders’ horses stumbling behind and crushing its master. The general looked back to check on Jahlred and saw him come storming around the same corner, the other rider close behind. Panicking Galverious still was able to steer his horse and drew his sword, dodging another bolt. Directing his horse back to beside his pursuer he found his blade interlocked with the man’s sword above the narrow gap between horses. He managed to knock the man off his horse, but the pursuer was only winded and remained persistent, running after his target. Not far behind and Jahlred’s situated had grown dangerous, his pursuer was grasped onto the rear of the horse, only a few centimetres from the ground as he held on tight to the saddle’s rear parts. Out of no where he produced a knife from his sleeve and began to poke his arm out in attempts to gouge his feyran foe. Jahlred grasped onto his sword and lifted it up, bringing out down on the man’s elbow and severing of the lower half of his arm. The rider screamed in pain and fell onto the road below, his horse behind trampling over him as it fled in fear. Jahlred swung his sword in a circular notion and turned to face the road before him, catching sight of the rider in pursuit of Galverious. Shifting his sword to waist level he hastened his horse and finished the rider a slash to the back with the side of his sword. His horse came to a grinding halt and skidded across the road, skilfully stopping itself from falling. Dismounting, Jahlred held his sword ready and called Galverious’ name. There came no response, but the sound of distant clamour could be heard. Jumping over an overgrown tree root he proceeded to where the sound came from until he came to an open glade surrounded by wildflowers. It appeared that the man Jahlred had thrown the flask at was still alive, but badly scared on his bearded and dark face. Presently he was fending of Galverious’ skilful strikes with tireless agility, parrying and striking back ruthlessly. Galverious knew he had to buy some time for Jahlred, but he did not know that his friend was present. No concern for himself flared in his mind, only the welfare of others. That was the mind of a man truly loyal and valiant. Putting extreme force into his next strike he bashed the man’s jaw with the pommel of his sword, sending his foe sprawling and trying to retaliate. Attempting to slash at the man’s legs he found his foe to fast as he jumped back and parried tirelessly. Jahlred’s heart pounded as he restrained himself from interfering, knowing that this was Galverious’ battle to fight. Dismounting he strode closer to the glade centre and leant his hand against the bough of an ancient oak. But the tables were turning for the general as his foe battered him with countless strikes from the flat side of his sword. Strike after strike Galverious surged with the desire to gut the man there and then, but he could find no opening to attack. Leaning himself against a tree in subconscious weariness, he watched as his foe advanced on him with a ready sword. The man lifted his sword, swung it twice and then an arrow pierced him in the side. He was instantly killed and the shadow of someone moving filled the woods around the glade. Jahlred found himself deeply confused as to who had slain the pursuer, but found his situation dangerous as someone pressed a small knife to his throat and silenced him. Whoever was there released their knife and sheathed it at their side, revealing themselves to be dressed in brown and green, the colours of a rangers. Their face was revealed also when they removed their hood, displaying a man’s face with a brown beard and neck length brown hair. Leaning on his longbow the ranger caught Jahlred’s attention with a quiet whistle, “who are you two!? And why are you in the middle of the Shala Vel woods!?” Jahlred wiped the blood stain from the side of his mouth and said wearily, “I’ am Jahlred of Sieulad and my wounded companion is General Galverious Harshall. What name might you go about, ranger!?” The ranger glanced around and replied huskily, “my name is Arelldar. I belong to the

Rangers of Dallavor. You’re lucky I came just in time to rescue your friend there. I have to good habit of arriving when I’ am least expected.” Ignoring Arelldar’s words Jahlred instead raced over to where Galverious lay and let him drink from his leather flask. The ranger followed the fey and stood patiently beside a tall tree. Checking Galverious’ temperature, Jahlred turned to the ranger and said, “he is injured badly. Do know of any healing herbs in the area?” Arelldar nodded, “I know of three, all will most likely be able to help your friend. Luithamoor is the easiest to find, a small jagged leaf with a purplish centre colour. Then there’s chylumbaril, a rapid effect herb of a green circular appearance. The third is dwerlam-thanla, a herb that only grows on the wall of a waterfall. You must fetch luithamoor for me while I look after your friend, make haste and I will apply it to his wounds!” Without hesitation Jahlred headed off into the woods in search of the herb, finding a small plant of the herb only a few metres east of the glade. Snatching up some of the luithamoor he winced as the leaf scratched his hand. He returned to the glade avoiding large tree roots that could trip him over and quickly gave the herb to Arelldar. The ranger wetted his finger and began to separate the herb. Stuffing half of the stuff in his pocket he lifted up Galverious’ tunic and grimaced at the stab wound he had sustained. Carefully he applied the herb and the general yelled in agony as he restrained himself from writhing in pain. Once this was done Arelldar stood and watched as Galverious spluttered and coughed, the herb was working. Suddenly his health returned and Jahlred immediately grabbed a white cloth from the rucksack closest to him and tied it around his companion’s stomach, covering the wound. Rubbing his eyes and standing Galverious suddenly stumbled and stopped himself from falling by grabbing onto the closest thing, a tree branch. “Galverious!? General!?,” Jahlred now stood in front of his friend, trying to help him, “can you remember who stabbed you!?” Galverious waved his hand in front of his face as if he was drunk and said stutteringly, “it…it was when we were riding…..when we….we were separated I tried…I tried to chase some of the…the men and one he…stabbed me while I…..I was chasing him! I….I killed him but became dazed from the wound, and chased….another of the men! The….the one this ranger…he killed him.” “He’s delusional!,” cried Arelldar, inspecting the general, “he must still be recovering from his wound. But tell me master Jahlred, where are you two bound for!? I heard the High Fey King sent some people to go to Oraolthor and they were side-tracked, and defended Mal Vellas Keep. Might that be you two?” Jahlred sighed and seated himself on a tree stump nearby Galverious, “it was originally me and my female companion who set out to Oraolthor. But when we stopped at Mal Vellas Keep we were forced to help defend. Galverious here joined the big adventure then. After we had successfully we defended Mal Vellas Keep us two set out for Luernir where trouble was rife, as I’ am sure you have heard. Then we came here to the Foreseeyer’s Lands and were chased by those blasted riders.” “Those “blasted riders” are the skilled cavalry of the Brotherhood. They were sent by Vallabortax himself to intercept you. Many of us here know you’re bound for the Taint to kill Vallabortax. You could use a skilled archer to help you, may I come along to the Taint?” “The Taint is a dangerous place, ranger. If you insist they we are glad to have some help, but if you lose your life your family is not blaming me or Galverious.” “Family!? I have no family,” said Arelldar, no sadness in his face, “they were all killed when I was young. Now I just wander around Dallavor and such doing little jobs.” “Very well, you may join us,” concluded Jahlred, “but no foolishness or we’ll get ourselves killed.” Ashaleena stood alone on the highest wall of Mal Vellas Keep, the cold morning wind blowing her dress around wildly and the freezing climate forcing her to wear a

furskin coat. This wall overlooked a deep gorge known as the Muramuir Gorge, or “The Deep Ice Gorge” in feyran language. The sensation of jumping into the gorge always plagued Ashaleena every time she stood here, but her own logic kept her from doing such a mindless thing. The sun had not yet risen and the moon hung pallid in the sky, the fortress and outlying woods covered in thick mist. This was common at the highest ramparts and towers of Mal Vellas Keep and other towers and fortresses of high rising levels. But these levels were built not for comfort but for a strategic advantage against the attacking force. A familiar hand touched her shoulder and she was broken from her trance of thoughts, realizing Sir Penndren stood beside her and she knew her safety was much better then without him. “It is very cold this morning, my lady. Are you sure you would not find it much more comfortable inside with your mage friends?” Ashaleena looked out at the outlying forests and said to the knight, “they are busy, Penndren. Unlike me they have jobs and must work to live. What are we going to do about Vivilianon!?” “Relax, my lady,” began Penndren chivalrously, “I, along with some more of your closest friends, have devised a plan on how to stop Vivilianon’s schemes. Once Jahlred and Galverious return from the Taint it will be relatively safe here. We have concluded that you and Jahlred should venture to Hithen Dwa and, well, destroy Vivilianon.” “But what of Oraolthor!? Baelandyr is desperate for me to fortify the alliance!!” Penndren placed his hand on her shoulder again and said, “We have contacted Baelandyr and he said he will just send another messenger. Do not worry we have also decided that I and Galverious will also accompany you.” “Very well, have you heard from Jahlred and Galverious!?” asked Ashaleena, her heart pounding against her ribs in worry. “Not since they were in Luernir, they left there three days ago.” Ashaleena frowned and brushed her hand across her brow in annoyance, “then all we can do is wait.” The two men rode swift, accompanied by their new companion . Across the vast plains between the Taint and the Foreseeyer’s Lands they rode with great urgency. Galverious had recovered as logic went but he was still in no condition to fight. As verdant plains became barren landscapes they ebbed closer to the Gates of Malice, every second vital to their mission. They finally arrived at the gates five hours after departing Shala Vel. A natural road lead through the desiccated foliage and to the mound where the three circular doors lay, the four levers adjacent from them. The men tied up their horses at nearby trees and dismounted, striding quickly over to the gates. All of them drew weapons for safe measure, although Arelldar only revealed his bow up which he commented he could load it extremely fast. Wasting no time Galverious heaved the first lever down and a creak erupted from one of the doors. Strangely it swung open with a thud and revealed a circular tunnel leading deep underground. “That was easy!” exclaimed Arelldar, relieved but no unwary. Galverious examined the tunnel closely and held his sword ready as he sensed other human presence, “a trap perhaps!?” His words were right and the three men were baffled as at least ten soldiers of the Brotherhood came pouring out and surrounded them, they were planning on not killing them yet. “You are the men sent to kill our leader!!” hissed one, pointing his sword at Jahlred’s throat as the fey shifted his sword, “you will come with us, resistance will be punishable!!” All three men surged with the option of resistance, but as if telepathically a plan flared in their minds and they complied, the black clad assassins leading them through the tunnel. Positioned at the back the three captives decided to whisper

their plan and put it into motion. “Once Vallabortax has his villain speech I will snatch a sword out of one of his guard’s keeping,” whispered Galverious, continuing to move through the tunnel with only the guidance of one of his captor’s torches, “I will then challenge Vallabortax to single combat and he will not refuse or else he will be shunned by his kin. If things grow bad for me you to interfere and kill the guards.” “Silence back there!!” shouted one of the assassins at the front, grumbling to his close-by companions. The three men ignored this and were so preoccupied with their plan they failed to realise that they were now in a large hall of limestone, no doubt Vallabortax’s base. Their captors pushed them to their knees and positioned them in a single line. When Jahlred dared to look up he met the eyes of Vallabortax. Like cruel pits of endless brutality they were, matched with his black locks and his crimson and black coloured attire. At his side hung a completely silver blade save for a single ruby embossed in the hilt’s edge. Slowly and mercilessly he directed the tip of his sword to Jahlred’s neck, “rise!” Jahlred glanced around and then stood, his heart pounding nervously. Vallabortax slapped his captive softly on the neck with the flat side of his sword and said, “to make your death more entertaining you shall fight me in single combat. Guard! Get this fey a sword.” Jahlred frowned and withdrew Silverwynd, the light gleaming on its perfect steel, “I have my own sword to wield, Vallabortax!” The vile min sneered and held his sword in ready position, “then let us start this little match!” Jahlred did not hesitate and swung his sword at his foe’s neck, Vallabortax parrying acutely and instant swordplay occurring between the two combatants. Sparks flared from the two swords as they met and neither of the men spoke, preserving their energy and duelling with twin skill. Jahlred could fill his arm muscles quivering as he parried and attacked, forcing himself on with more violent attacks. Vallabortax continued to best him with his sword and almost severed off the fey’s arm, fortunately merely cutting it. Jahlred expelled the assassins’ applaud for their leader and concentrated tremendously, keeping his eyes out for an opening in his foe’s movement. With each move of his sword he felt more and more exhaustion ebb in, but fought against it and pressured himself to defeat Vallabortax. Meanwhile Galverious and Arelldar watched powerlessly as the guards held them back and forced them to watch their companion’s duel. Vallabortax was the tougher man but if Jahlred could find some flaw in his tactic then he could kill him. As Vallabortax narrowly missed his head Jahlred suddenly remembered what Marthilas had told him: “He will no doubt be clothed in his finest armours as he will be expecting you, so aim for his throat, wrists and shins”. Mustering his final strength Jahlred swung his sword upwards and in one skilful blow cut the artery in Vallabortax’s sword hand. The man roared in agony and stumbled, his other hand moving to cease the blood from spurting out like a fountain. He looked up as Jahlred’s sword touched his throat. Jahlred now had his foe on his knees, bleeding incessantly and no doubt beaten. Moving his sword in a stabbing position to his foe’s shoulder Jahlred held Silverwynd’s hilt with both hands and surged with rage. “You have bested me, fey!!,” hissed Vallabortax, clutching his bleeding wrist, “finish me like a true warrior!!” “Before I do you will answer me one question!” Vallabortax sniggered and said crudely, “I shall not oblige!!” “You shall!,” shouted Jahlred, increasing pressure on his sword and cutting his foe’s flesh, “who commanded you to kill me and attack Mal Vellas!?” “Who else but the most powerful woman in Arzith!? Vivilianon, you idiot!!,” hissed Vallabortax with a cruel smirk, “now hurry up and end my life before I end yours!!” Closing his eyes Jahlred grasped the hilt of his sword and after a few seconds, he

drove Silverwynd into Vallabortax’s shoulder and through his chest. The cruel man’s eyes rolled back and he fell face first on the ground, not before Jahlred removed his sword. Instantaneously the other assassins drew their weapons in readiness to attack, “you will pay for your murder!!” “You cannot attack me!!,” cried Jahlred, still exceedingly tense, “you cannot attack me by the rights of single combat! The rights of either combatant state that the winner may go free with his or her life and any one else he or she chooses may leave also!” “You are lucky our master ordered single combat or you’d be dead by our swords and axes!!” hissed one assassin, a tanned man with curling black hair and beard. “Release my friends and we will leave this place at once!!” demanded Jahlred cautiously, keeping his sword ready as the assassins abided and let go of Galverious and Arelldar. “Now leave here you feyran bastard!” Jahlred grimaced and sheathed Silverwynd, leaving the chamber without looking at any one. Galverious and Arelldar soon followed in a mood of silence. Halfway through the tunnel the general said to his feyran companion, “to end another’s life is no enjoyment. Let us never speak of this again and just return to Mal Vellas quickly.” Jahlred grunted in reply and that was the last thing anyone said, the rest of the night filled with riding and resting. Meanwhile back in Mal Vellas news from Sieulad had confirmed that Vivilianon’s Argithian Brutes were moving aggressively, attacking small villages. As Marthilas was in charge at Mal Vellas Keep he could not help sensing the signs of trouble. Vivilianon’s Argithian Brutes could easily swarm through the Heathmar Forest undetected and attack Alderhon and later Mal Vellas Keep. Presently he sat in the meeting chamber, in the seat Galverious usually sat in. Around the room various others were seated, Ashaleena, Pelendrin Cahlymuir, Hearana Jaelendra, Muthral Arguldrene, Alverdha Hythe, Allayn Leurbar and Penndren with the remnants of his knights. “Gentlemen, ladies,” began Marthilas with the utmost sincerity, “Vivilianon has shown her aggression by attacking minor Sieuladrian settlements. Our people are dying by her fault and actions must be taken!” “It is not our place to act on, Marthilas,” exclaimed Pelendrin, not a man who loved fighting, “Baelandyr will surely stop her dark plans and we will be safe!” “But what if she sends her armies through the Moors of Sorrow and into Heathmar Forest, then out into Mal Vellas were she can crush us!?” countered Marthilas furiously. “We cannot be certain of her plans, Marthilas!” cried Allayn, rising from his seat, “she could attack through the Shafhla Desert towards Ath Malavel or Borderland!” “Then we shall leave it to Baelandyr, agreed!?” said Marthilas resignedly, everyone nodding in agreement. Ashaleena left quickly and headed the courtyard of the fortress’ citadel, seating herself on the mighty fountain. Then, only to her eyes, appeared the galgwullion from nowhere. Again he sat crosslegged on a nearby wall and seemed barely aged since their last meeting. “Galgwullion!!,” cried the damsel, overjoyed to see him, “you seem to appear at the most perplexing times!” “It is a skill,” he replied, picking at his nails, “but what of you, mistress Ashaleena? How do you fare!?” “My heart aches to see Jahlred safe and well,” confessed Ashaleena with a tone of slight sadness, “I also miss my grandmother and my grandfather at my home, and my dear dead brother Jamalor. But you seem to lift the veil of sorrow upon your sporadic appearances.”

“I’ am thankful for my lack of companionship,” said the galgwullion casually, “I would not have gone this long with my sanity if I had relished such a foolish thing you mortals yearn for.” “Surely you must have some galgwullion who are your family!?” enquired the damsel, placing her feet on the fountain edge. “Us faeylessa have no literal kindred of blood-relation, but some of us think it astute to call each other “kinsmen”. I have never relished the company of another faeylessa and prefer my own mind to talk to.” “I’ am surprised you have not gone insane!!” exclaimed Ashaleena loudly. The galgwullion shrugged, “I have made it sane for three thousand years, so I must be mentally secure.” “You have lingered in Arzith for three thousand years!? Surely that means you have seen most of the world’s history? The dawn of the Empire and such!?” “I wandered this same lands when your antediluvian barbarian ancestors were existent and their social status growing,” pausing he pointed to the great statue of Dermonneus and the Fen Beast battling, “I was one of the few immortals who witnessed Dermonneus’ epic battle with the Fen Beast on the Plains of Sun and Sand.” “But Dermonneus is a god!? How could organic beings such as yourself have witnessed his duel with the Fen Beast!? It was said to have occurred two thousand years ago!” “All the gods could take organic forms until about one thousand years ago,” said the galgwullion knowledgably, “they just feared to come to Arzith’s surface when Khalvazard arose during that time.” “Come, galgwullion,” said Ashaleena politely, “tell me more of the world you have known for three thousand years.” By dawn the next day the three men had arrived on the outskirts of the Shala Vel woods. They commenced down the winding road and received little light from the encroaching tree canopies. Jahlred, who was at the lead, had not spoken a word since their departure from the Taint and remained silent while his two companions talked to each other. Presently they were debating about the best Imperial province between Hyracius and Northern Colacedes. “No, no,” said Arelldar, taking his easy side with Northern Colacedes, “Northern Colacedes surpasses Hyracius by much for its divine ales and magnificent army.” “But Hyracius defends the Empire with great skill!” protested Galverious. “Will you two stop it!!?,” exclaimed Jahlred, his first words for hours, “just try to relax, we’ll be back at the fort soon enough.” “Or else” said Arelldar shrewdly. Both Jahlred and Galverious turned to face him. “Or else what, Arelldar!?” enquired the fey sternly, his blonde hair blowing in the wind like a violent sea of gold. “We could seek out faster transport by means of say, magic? Are you two familiar with the Shala Vel Foreseeyer Elwinna Ravvenwood?” “We have met her, ranger,” replied Galverious, “why does it matter?” A look of thought spread across the young man’s face and he said inexplicably, “if we venture to her abode she could possibly transport us to Mal Vellas Keep by means of teleportation magic!” “Of course!!,” exclaimed Jahlred, keeping his eyes on the road in front of them, “why did I think of it sooner!? Come; let us ride for Elwinna’s abode swiftly!” Ashaleena had learnt much from the galgwullion but as always he disappeared when she was still full of questions. He told her how Vivilianon came to be and the tragic life of the current Emperor Ibercium IV. She thanked but then he had vanished and she was once again left alone in the courtyard. She missed Jahlred extremely, but she knew he would surely return soon.

Leaving the courtyard she headed to her chambers and continued to read her latest book assigned to her by Alverhad, a large one called The Art of Druidry & Our Capabilities to Be Akin with Nature. She found the book most enlightening and it told much of the largest and strongest druid guild, the Vinestone Guild in Vivacia Delamor in the far north-west. The Vinestone Guild was more than three hundred years old and as Ashaleena read of its marvellous acts she longed to venture there and meet the legendary druids. Presently she was reading a lengthy chapter on the current High Druid Dermond Lwynelsta, a feyran male. He had been High Druid for more than thirty years and was a wise old fey, from Ashaleena gathered. He had ventured to Gwysmoore Forest in his younger days and had successfully rediscovered the ruins of the ancient druidic shrine Owl’s Watch. There he rebuilt it and to this day about twenty or so druids dwelt safely within and monitored earthly activities in the forest. Dermond had also protected the fortress city of Jalis Jahr from the hordes of Khalvazard and had helped rebuild after the most recent siege on the city before returning to Vivacia Delamor. After completing this chapter, as by Alverhad’s request, Ashaleena ceased her reading and retired to her bed. She was soon befallen by deep sleep and would not awaken at all that night until morning. Jahlred, Arelldar and Galverious rode swiftly through the wilds of Shal Vel and soon came onto the main road that led to the town and further towards Oraolthor. They were still a fair way from Elwinna’s house but it was located on the side of road. They saw a few buiramwynne in trees or dancing about between them and were not disturbed by the benevolent faeylessa, who simply ignored them or nodded in greeting. As they passed the buiramwynne Jahlred could not help remembering the old legend his father had told him. According to ancient legend a magical buiramwynne city exists in the deepest parts of the woods, only accessible by the faeylessa themselves. The thought of such a place filled Jahlred’s heart with both fear and intrigue. Worst of all it made him miss his father, whose appearance he could vaguely remember. He new for certain his father Karred had a beard and shoulder length hair. He could also remember he had his father’s eyes and sculpted nose. His thoughts were broken when Galverious roused him, telling him that they were near Elwinna’s house already. The verdant forests and buiramwynne had disappeared and now grassy plains bordered either side of the main road, small groups of trees scattered about. Then, suddenly out of nowhere, three bandits jumped out from the shrubs and sealed off the road. Halting his horse like his companions Jahlred instinctively withdrew Silverwynd and held it to his chest, cautiously continuing up the road until he was only a few metres from the three men, alone. “Give us yer money, fey!!” grunted one, pointing his jagged sword at Jahlred with a angry notion. One of the others stepped forward, a more charming and deceitful man, “excuse Morthalguld here, he lacks manners unlike myself. I’ am Reldral and might I ask if you could spare some gold for us three paupers!?” Jahlred frowned, “I think I know bandits when I see them, gentlemen. Now clear the way, we have urgent business. Sensing danger Galverious and Arelldar steered their horses to Jahlred’s side. Reldral gritted his teeth in frustration at the fey and said irately, “you will hand over your gold or die!!” Just as he was about to pounce at Jahlred, an arrow punctured his chest and killed him instantly. Jahlred knew automatically who the arrow had been fired by and without hesitation he and Galverious killed Morthalguld and the third man. Bandits were barely human and no one cared if they were slain, in fact lords accepted it and rewarded

the killers. Ashaleena woke early the next day and headed to the library where her next lesson with Alverhad would be. When she entered she was baffled by the amount of youths seated at one of the tables, until she noticed Muthral Arguldrene was teaching them. Recently Muthral had graduated from the College of Mages and received the privilege of teaching apprentices. These apprentices would not learn to cast magic until they were older, but he taught them the laws and types of the College of Mages. Waving to him Ashaleena strode past the table and seated herself in one of the two chairs at the end of the library. Alverdha appeared soon after and sat himself in the other chair, dumping a pile of books on the nearby desk. He seemed deeply troubled by Ashaleena’s opinion. “What are we learning today, master Alverhad?” she asked curiously, resting her hands on her knees. “Never mind that, Ashaleena. I have something to tell you,” replied the mage as he flicked through the pile of volumes, “I’ am required to leave Mal Vellas for some time, under special request by Dermond Lwynelsta himself. I’ am to leave here by horse and travel to Sommoth and travel by boat to Ferlimwe.” Awestruck, Ashaleena asked,” why has he asked you to come to Vivacia Delamor!?” Alverhad shrugged, “I do not know why, exactly. But rumour has it that the small coastal villages of Vivacia Delamor are continuously raided by pirates from the Blackvale Peninsula in Aznar-Kahldum.” “But you cannot leave! My studies are not complete!” The mage placed the pile of books on the desk, folded his arms into his chest and said sincerely, “forget your studies, Ashal. Jahlred will be here soon and as for your supposed battle with Vivilianon, I commend you for being already skilled enough to defeat her before my teaching.” “But her age is unfathomable!? How can I best a woman as ancient as the world!?” exclaimed the damsel with vexation, truly doubting her skill as a mage. “Enough of you’re self-degrading! I leave for Sommoth next week, at the latest” Ashaleena nodded and quickly left the library, ignoring Alverhad’s calls to stop her from going. Later she paced about her room wildly, the news of her mentor’s departure shattering her slightest hopes of defeating Vivilianon. Her mind was clouded with fury and anguish, and she felt as if the hope had been ripped from her heart and cast asunder. Presently in the distant woods of Shala Vel, the three travellers once again encountered more newcomers, this time appearing less hostile. They were four men dressed in the attire of a man of the Foreseeyer’s Land, dark jade tunics and trousers covered by leather cuirasses and gauntlets. Their leader seemed older than his three companions and looked to be about sixty years of age, despite his greying hair. He also sported a curled beard of similar look to his hair and as Jahlred examined him he could not help seeing some look of Ashaleena in his eyes, that were both dark and vibrant at the same time. He held a wooden stake in his thick fingers and blood was already stained upon the tip, dripping off and indicating its newness. The three other men seemed at least ten years younger than their leader and wore similar clothes, two of them also holding wooden stakes and the third holding a hunting bow, with a dead deer flung over his left shoulder. Halting his horse’s canter and gesturing to Galverious and Arelldar to be weary, Jahlred bowed politely and said,” hail gentlemen. What business do you have in the Shala Vel woods?” The leader stepped forward and said gruffly, “we’ll be the ones asking questions here, fey. There have been rumours of swamp faeylessa from the Eastern Moors rife in these parts. We’ve been out here hunting them, but nothing will replace my loses.” “Forgive me, but what is your name?” asked Jahlred subconsciously, convinced this

was Ashaleena’s grandfather she had told him about. “I’ am Relindahl, but some call me “Bear-Heart”, some, like my family and friends,” replied Relindahl, suppressing tears, “why do you ask?” “What are your loses, Relindahl?” asked Jahlred, ignoring the man’s question. “Some time back demon-riders from Aznar-Kahldum raided our village like they did with Shala Vel, but more damage for us. Nearly half of us were dead when they left, but we were deeply concerned for the loved ones they took. They attacked in three groups, one from the river, one from the woods and one from the plains. The group from the woods took the village priest Rethmuir Arvaldiune’s son Salandir and when our men pursued in their wake, a few days later they found Salandir dead amongst the trees, with a crudely written note. The group from the plains kidnapped the village lunatic Ferlin the White-Fox, who was also found later dead near the Eastern Moors. As for the final group from the river they kidnapped my granddaughter Ashaleena and killed her brother Jamalor.” Relindahl was soon brought to tears and his companions commenced to relieve him. “Ashaleena! Relindahl, there is no need to grieve for your granddaughter! She lives!” cried Jahlred, his heart racing. Wiping his eyes the old man looked up at the fey excitedly and said, “She is! My dear granddaughter is alive! Pray tell, where she is!?” “Safe at Mal Vellas Keep, we are just returning there now” “Tell her that I’ am alive also, and her grandmother too. Tell her also that her cousins and uncle from Ardel have come to help us rebuild.” “I shall, Relindahl,” said Jahlred sincerely, turning to his two companions who waited impatiently, he added, “but I’ am afraid we must go now.” “Of course,” said the old man, commencing to shake Jahlred’s hand firmly, “good travelling to you three. Perhaps I will see you again”. And with that he and his three companions started off down the road towards the Foreseeyer’s Village, the three other travellers recommencing their journey to Elwinna’s house. Alverhad’s days were filled with preparation and his female apprentice and friend found little company in the halls of the keep. All her other mage friends were busy also and she recurrently found refuge for her clouded mind in the library, where she went numerous books of thick size. Almost every day she entered the library she saw Pelendrin at his desk, busy at work, or Muthral teaching the youths as usual. They greeted her but she did not expect them to have time to speak to her. News from Shala Vel had informed those anxious at the fort that the Galverious and Jahlred had safely returned from the Taint and that Vallabortax was dead. Currently they were at the local Foreseeyer’s house awaiting her to finish preparing the teleportation spell. Strangely Jahlred did not mention his encounter with Ashaleena’s grandfather the previous day and simply wrote how he missed her and his other friends at Mal Vellas Keep. This news kept Ashaleena’s mind rational as she reminded herself of Jahlred’s return every time she felt miserable or forlorn. Presently the three men sat patiently in Elwinna’s house as she prepared the circle of white powder, which somehow achieved the teleportation spell. She had welcomed them in late the previous day and had began work on the spell the next morning, telling her guests that it would take some time. Jahlred had seated himself in one of the chairs by the door and now fiddled with the dragon tooth talisman. From afar it looked like a simple dragon tooth, but as he glanced upon it now he noticed tiny etched in runes. This writing was foreign to Jahlred and he had never seen it in his life, nor neither had anyone else present. Although Elwinna had guessed it might have been dragon-writing she was still not certain and Jahlred continued to examine the talisman. “Try one of my books in the shelf,” she had said as she prepared the spell, “there is one in there called Ancient and Lost Languages of Arzith that might be able to translate the runes on there.”

Jahlred had taken this into action and he soon grabbed the book, enthralled by the many lost languages of Arzith, both translatable and illegible. Dwarven, Ancient Orcish and many other languages filled the numerous pages, some with translation guides and some with little information. When he found dragon-writing on the eighteenth page he commenced to translate the language written on the talisman, which was in fact dragon-writing. After about ten minutes he had written the translation on a piece of paper and now what lay written on their confused him. “It says: “The child of a mortal and one of endless life will destroy a coming tyrant”!?” he said, baffling everyone else. “Where!?,” cried Arelldar, jumping up and commencing to read the paper, “so it does. But what does it mean!?” “It is an ancient prophecy,” replied Elwinna, her pet squawking as she focused on the spell, “an ancient Arzithrian prophecy depicts that during some point in time a child of immortal and mortal blood will be born and is destined to defeat a tyrant many thought to be their ally.” “Ibercium is getting old. Do you think that this prophecy may be referring to Perensius!? That he will be a traitorous emperor!?” interjected Galverious, turning his thoughtful gaze from the window and to his companions. “It is possible, general,” answered Elwinna, “after all Ibercium’s elder brothers Teralecius and Geralcius were desperate to get their brother “coincidentally” killed so that they could be rulers. Now they are long dead and Ibercium, they say, is on the verge of insanity. He could die anytime now.” “But how could Ashaleena’s grandmother come to possess an ancient dragon tooth amulet bearing a prophecy!?,” asked Jahlred, baffled, “Ashaleena told me her grandmother said she received the talisman from a man who simply called himself the Eternal Fire.” “Derhayn-Torkandor” said Elwinna subconsciously.` “What!?” replied the fey, pacing over to the woman who was deep in thought. “Derhayn-Torkandor,” she repeated, “your friend’s grandmother did not receive the tooth from a human, she received it from the last dragon Derhayn-Torkandor, the Eternal Fire. After Khalvazard eradicated his kind Derhayn-Torkandor reverted to a human form and wandered Arzith. He must of given your friend’s grandmother his tooth before he died.” “How did this last dragon die?” asked Jahlred curiously. Elwinna finished the preparations and seated herself wearily, “he could not sustain enough of his life essence and eventually died. His body is buried in the tombs below Ferlimwe, his final resting place.” “The spell is ready!?” interjected Galverious. The Foreseeyer nodded and drew a circle in the air, muttering some magic speech. Her pet hopped off from her shoulder and scurried behind the bookshelf, leaving Elwinna to commence chanting. Jahlred snatched up the rucksacks and joined everyone at Elwinna’s side. “Step into the circle!” she commanded, and the three men did so. Suddenly amethyst light encircled them and nothing was visible except that swirling tower-vortex of heliotrope that deafened them with its howling winds. There was a flash of amethyst light and Jahlred felt as if he was slowly rising. Then they were back in Mal Vellas Keep, in the centre of the Mage’s Tower. Jahlred’s heart rose when he noticed Ashaleena amongst the others. She ran to him and he snatched her up in his arms, kissing her again and again. While this was occurring Galverious greeted everyone and introduced them to Arelldar, who took predilection to a blond woman his age or older. “Oh Jahlred I’ve missed you! Is the keep safe from Vallabortax!?” cried Ashaleena as she rested her head in Jahlred’s arms. “Yes, he is dead. But I saw your grandfather on the road to Shala Vel!” exclaimed Jahlred, indescribably happy. “He’s alive!”

“Yes, and so is your grandmother” Later that night the Great Hall of Mal Vellas Keep was full of hundreds, celebrating the return of their esteemed general. In one place sat the four large rectangular tables for the commoners and nobles, while facing against the back wall was the High Table. Sitting here were Galverious, Sir Penndren, Marthilas Julrad, Allayn Leurbar, Alverdha Hythe, Pelendrin Cahlymuir, Hearana Jaelendra, Muthral Arguldrene, Arelldar, Jahlred and Ashaleena. Five large suckling pigs were served for main course, accompanied by a variety of salads and side dishes. Arelldar, who was not accustom to such luxuries, made the best of his time at the keep and indulged in the lavish feast before him. During the culmination of the banquet Galverious made an impromptu speech in which he told all his soldiers they were the finest men in Mal Vellas and the commoners that they will always be welcome in the keep, despite the obnoxious Duke Varhim’s constant visits. After the pleasant and seemingly endless banquet Jahlred found Ashaleena in her room, sitting on her bed with a book. He seated himself beside and kissed her on the cheek as she placed her book down. “I love you, Ashal,” he said, embracing her in his arms, “I hope you can see your family at the Foreseeyer’s Village soon.” “I will, Jahlred” she replied, glancing into his azure eyes that were the colour of the deepest ocean. An awkward moment of silence lingered until Jahlred said, “I deciphered the runes on the dragon tooth talisman.” “Really!? What does it say!?” He untied it from around his neck and dropped it into her hand, “it said that “The child of a mortal and one of endless life will destroy a coming tyrant“. I’ am clueless as to what it means.” “Do not trouble yourself with such farsighted things,” she said, kissing him again, “all that matters is that you are safe.” Suddenly he took her in his arms and pushed her back down upon the bed. With his heart racing his kissed her. Parting her hair he kissed her on the lips again His embrace was pure passion to her, and she relished in his touch. The next morning Alverhad had kindly offered Ashaleena one final lesson in her mage education. He specifically told her to meet him at the fortress gardens, where he said he had a live malevolent faeylessa called a rithrandyr. Sure enough she found her mentor in the lavish fortress gardens, dressed in a garb of blue and gold, with the impish rithrandyr bound by some magical shield. “Ashaleena!,” he cried, gesturing his hand to the faeylessa to calm it, despite its elfin shrieks and blether, “the sun and moon be blessed you brought to the courage to even come this close to a rithrandyr.” “It looks like a simple imp to me, just capable of thieving and other spiteful yet mindless acts” she replied.” “Spears spike your brains and scramble them up like eggs!!” shrieked the rithrandyr, his long curled ears red with fury. “Silence, imp!!” cried Alverhad in reply, sending a small jolt of power into the faeylessa and ceasing its inane wailing. “Master, why have you brought such a rare faeylessa to my final lesson? I’ am no lord or archmage.” “Nonsense! Everyone deserves to see a rithrandyr some time in their life,” he replied shrewdly, glowering at the impish creature when it started scratching at the magic shield, “you see, despite their look of stupidity and infantile behaviour, the rithrandyr species holds surprising amounts of power which are only accessible if the creature is severely angered. The reason for its inability to use this power always

is because only a small amount of its brain is developed enough to do so. This also leads to a rithrandyr’s ability to get lost and not remember where they are, most likely because they at one place for very long periods of time.” “So why do you have one here!?” Alverhad leant on his oak staff and thought as the wind blew his green robes around like a vibrant sea of grass. Finally he said, “oh yes, that’s it! According to the ancient history of this fort there once existed another lower part of the fortress. When a general was killed in battle or died he was buried in this lower level, where they would lie for all of time. They were buried with bountiful riches and when many tried to steal them, the people decided to seal off the lower level. To this day it is inaccessible but after reading many books on the matter I have been lead to believe the key to opening this lower level is not an actual key, but the mind of a rithrandyr.” “Meaning you are going to literally use the mind of this mindless creature?” replied Ashaleena, baffled to no end. “Basically,” said her mentor, “if we can unlock the unused part of this rithrandyr’s simplistic brain we may be able to gain access to this lower level. You see my intrigue to venture into this place is not the riches, but the fact that Zaudurin the White, an ancient wizard is buried in the deeper part of this mysterious catacombs. Just to witness upon Zaudurin lying ageless in his tomb of clear crystal would be worth a thousand golden idols to me.” “But the rithrandyr would need a little bribe to obey you, wouldn’t it?” “Not necessarily, if I can muster enough strength to read the deep cores of his mind I will be able to uncover the way to enter the lower level. We will most certainly have to give him something to ensure he doesn’t writhe around when I read his mind. But what?” “Perhaps gold?,” suggested Ashaleena, remembering from her studies, “the galgwullion like gold! Mayhap the rithrandyr are the same?” “No, no,” said Alverhad, in deep thought, “rithrandyr despise the stuff, they have no use for it.” “You never get me to help you! Pustule!!” shrieked the faeylessa angrily. “What if I offer you the unhatched egg of the white falcon? It would make you a perfect egg meal, or better yet something to show off?” suggested Alverhad, talking to the creature like a child and ignoring its babble. “Prove it!!” shrieked the faeylessa, showing some signs of cooperation. Alverhad nodded and withdrew the large round egg from his robe, saying, “now will you let us into the lower level? You’ll get your egg once you’ve done this” The rithrandyr skulked closer to the barriers and said, “as long as I get my egg I will listen and comply.” “Very well,” said Alverhad, replacing the egg and casting a magical chain around the creature’s neck, “if you dare to defy me you will not get your little egg!” “Alverhad, do you know where exactly this entrance is?” asked Ashaleena as he removed the shield around the rithrandyr and it skulked to his side. “Supposedly the entrance is at the fountain at the centre of the gardens, but only this fellow knows how to get in” “Are there no other, safer, entrances?” Alverhad nodded, “there is a second, located in the secret chamber behind Galverious’ room. But it too is sealed with feyran magics and we best not disturb the general, he has a lot of resting to do.” Ashaleena leant against the branches of a nearby oak and rested both her arms along the tree so she was facing him still. “does he know how to get in?” “Aye!,” shrieked the rithrandyr, “three seals must be broken and the ancient words must be uttered.” “Come on then!” cried Alverhad, leading the rithrandyr along lightly so as not to choke him, while Ashaleena followed close behind, her vibrant jade eyes sparkling with intrigue, fear and excitement. When they came to the fountain the rithrandyr scurried over and began to examine

the dragon statue in the centre that spurted water. Directing his gaunt hand towards one of the eyes he pressed down on it and leapt off. Then the statue commenced to rotate at a slowly gaining speed, the water draining into some hole the statue left as it rose. There was a loud clank when it ceased and the faeylessa balanced himself back on, reaching into the circular drain and retrieving an ancient chest marked with three symbols. The first, at the far top, was a circle with three dots inside and was apparently an ancient feyran symbol for water. The second which was situated at the centre was an eye with a diamond shaped pupil. The third was an arrow pointing south, or perhaps down. Alverhad snatched the chest from the creature and examined the corroded and dirt encrusted keyhole, concluding with, “it’s locked! Where’s the key, imp!?” The rithrandyr skulked back towards the circular trench and pointed down, saying faintly, “the third symbol means down, not south.” “Down there?” interjected Ashaleena, knowing the hole was too small to even fit the faeylessa, “but it’s too small” “But you forget the eye mark! Means “only what faeylessa can see” it does!” shrieked the rithrandyr excitably, eying the white falcon egg. “But where is the secret and invisible entrance!?” pestered Alverhad, growing impatient with the creature’s lack of explanation. “I can see it!” the rithrandyr replied, “can’t you!? Right on the dragon’s chest!” “Where!?” groaned Alverhad, moving to check the statue. “Invisible to mortal eyes it is! But you can still sense it with your hands!” Alverhad tried this and then, although he could not see it, felt a small switch on the dragon’s chest. He pressed it gently and then stepped back as the fountain began to whirr again. Then it split out into two separate parts and revealed a larger hole, this time with an ancient dusty staircase. Wasting no time Alverhad cast an illumination spell on his staff and lead the way down the staircase. The smell of wet stone and moss filled the air, and the atmosphere below was humid yet very cold. Alverhad directed his staff in front of him and revealed a straight square tunnel way which seemed endless. As Ashaleena followed him she felt strangely dazed and kept looking back at the entrance until it left view and the only light was that of Alverhad’s staff. By this time they had reached a large octagonal chamber with nine of what seemed to be tombs against each wall and one sitting in the centre. Cautiously Alverhad stepped over to the central crypt and dusted off the top, reading the writing on it that read: “Here lies General Cercius Xyll of the Xyll Family and last general to be buried here”. “Of course!,” cried the mage, casting a spell to renew the ancient candles and chandeliers on the roof and walls of the chamber, “General Cercius must have been the last general to be buried here, long ago. As for why they sealed this lower level we can only learn from the long abandoned offices of the grave keeper!” “Which way are they!?” asked Ashaleena, leaning her hand on the base of Cercius’ tomb. “Straight ahead, but first we must reward our little guide” replied Alverhad, withdrawing the white falcon egg and handing it to the rithrandyr, who had remained silent. “Thank you, mage!” he shrieked, bounding off towards the exit they had come from. Alverhad clapped his hands dismissively and the two of them continued on straight ahead, where a series of side rooms existed on either wall, most of them probably locked. The final one faced them and was strangely half open, making Ashaleena very uneasy. However when Alverhad gently pushed it fully open she felt much safer and followed him in. But they were not the only thing inside the grave keeper’s offices; he had not

abandoned his station. Now he lay as a decayed and blackened skeleton sitting in his chair, with a quill in his bony hand. Ashaleena almost screamed with terror but Alverhad calmed her and commenced to rummage carefully through the grave keeper’s draws and desk. He was searching for the tomb records so he could find where and when Zaudurin the White was buried. “What happened to the grave keeper?” interrupted Ashaleena, still full of terror. “Charred alive by the looks of it,” replied Alverhad as he read through the records quickly, “but by what I wonder? A dragon!? Perhaps a demon that has seeped from the rift between our world and Rezvazz-Morttagaldur?” “But Baelandyr sealed the portal centuries ago!” “Yes, but only temporally,” Alverhad answered as he continued to search from Zaudurin’s burial details, “but every now and then a demon or minor imp escapes through small rifts and seeks to hide in subterranean places like this. Perhaps a demon or a dragon is the reason these tombs were sealed off?” “I’ am also baffled by your thoughts of a dragon inhabiting these halls! They have been extinct for more than three hundred years!” cried Ashaleena, completely confused, “and I thought dragons were benevolent creatures, so why would one kill a mortal man where he sits!?” “Not all dragons are benevolent, Ashal,” replied her mentor, crying out triumphantly when he found the tomb details of Zaudurin, “finally! It says Zaudurin’s tomb lies in the lower tombs, accessible through the right hand corridor from the Main Chamber, which is where Cercius is buried!” “Are you not at all worried that whatever killed this grave keeper might still be lurking around here!?” exclaimed Ashaleena, parting the hair from over her brow. “Whatever killed the grave keeper did so long ago and is probably sleeping somewhere. If we are careful we will not disturb and awaken it” “So what are we waiting for?” “Nothing,” said Alverhad, closing the record book, “it’s just that we have to be careful in this kind of place. Who knows what lurks in the shadows” “Stop scaring me, Alverhad!” exclaimed Ashaleena, although she was half-joking, “shouldn’t we be concentrating on finding Zaudurin’s tomb and getting out of here?” “A salient point, Ashal,” he replied calmly, proceeding to exit the room and out into the passageway, “and let us begin our search for Zaudurin in his tomb of crystal” With that he began to stride back to the area where Cercius’ tomb was and spoke little, while Ashaleena followed in his wake in mysterious fear. When they arrived at the Main Chamber they traversed the right corridor and followed it down a wide stone staircase and proceeded through more natural looking caverns. Presently in the dim glow of the lanterns re-illuminated the two of them stood outside two separate doors, one which was almost certainly Zaudurin’s tomb. Alverhad rested his hand on the right hand door and struggled to unlock it, casting numerous spells in vain. Finally he checked behind one of the lanterns and uncovered a rusted key that matched the lock on the door. As he unlocked the door Ashaleena could not help hearing a faint rumbling noise, from within the tomb or deep below it. It sounded quite distant but almost gaining in noise as if it was rising. Her thoughts were broken when Alverhad opened the door and she followed him in. Then when she saw it she almost fainted. There was an old man preserved inside a translucent crystal tomb, with his hands crossed over his chest. “Fascinating!,” exclaimed Alverhad, placing his hand on the top of Zaudurin’s tomb, “the legends are true! He has been completely preserved for more then two hundred years!” “But how?” asked Ashaleena, rather daunted by the dead sorcerer’s pallid lifeless appearance. “Simple,” replied her mentor, “the ancient technique of the Feyran Mage Council adopted some fifty years after its opening. They preserved their higher ranking dead in pure crystal, expensive but perfect if someone wanted to be remembered forever. I think Zaudurin might be one of the last people to be buried like this.”

“What do you mean?” asked Ashaleena, noticing two rectangular pedestals each with an ancient book. “Baelandyr banned this practice as he thought it useless; perhaps he even thought it necromantic. But anyway he ordered that it was banned and Zaudurin must have been one of the last to receive the crystal burial rite. Must have cost him a fair amount of money!” “But what of these books?” asked his companion, gesturing to the two volumes on both pedestals. Alverhad frowned confusedly and picked on up, “ah of course! Zaudurin wrote two manuscripts not long before his demise. One was on his theory of how the dragons were not able to defend themselves from Khalvazard. The second was his final few hundred words to the Feyran Mage Council and any others.” Ashaleena reached for the second volume and almost screamed again when she heard a rasping voice in her head. “You! Granddaughter of the Foreseeyer! Why have you come to my tomb!?” it hissed. When Alverhad noticed her troubled look he asked, “what is it, Ashal?” “I heard his voice, the voice of Zaudurin when I touched the book!” she said, heart pounding with fear. “Where!?” enquired her companion, taking the book. Then the same thing happened: “And you! The old mage seeking knowledge. Always seeking knowledge! Your head is not that big, foolish mage!”. He suddenly dropped the book in terror and pressed himself against the wall, “I did think that Zaudurin would be this cruel and petulant! Come Ashal, let us leave!” Ashaleena was about to agree when the same noise from outside filled her ears, the deep low rumbling. Once again it sounded closer and closer each time, but what was it? “Something wrong, Ashal?” asked Alverhad, begin to pace nervously as was his habit. “Can’t you hear that!? The deep rumbling below us?” Alverhad squinted as he struggled to listen, “yes! But what is it?” “Perhaps deep volcanic veins in the earth?” suggested his companion, remembering her geology lessons. “No,” Alverhad proved her wrong, “it sounds like snoring! Yes, far below us something or someone is sleeping.” “But what?” Alverhad shrugged, “a demon perhaps?” Ashaleena shuddered, “let us leave this dreadful place!” Her mentor nodded and just as they were about to leave, remembered to say something, “wait, should we tell anyone else about this?” “Jahlred, mayhap,” said Ashaleena, still full of terror, “and Galverious.” “Perhaps some of the others too,” replied Alverhad, “now let us leave!” As planned they told Jahlred first, when they found him in the western gardens. He wore a plain dark cobalt tunic with a lighter sapphire lining, black trousers and his hair over his face, something that gave Ashaleena yet another reason to kiss him. When they approached him he calmly said, “yes, what is it?” “Jahlred, can we trust you with something you must not tell anyone besides Galverious and any of the others?” asked Alverhad, almost interrogatively. “I guess so, what is it you two are so kept on keeping secret?” “We have discovered the ancient lower level of the keep,” began Ashaleena, “then we found the tomb of the wizard Zaudurin the White.” “Why is it so important to keep this secret from everyone else?” asked the fey, resting his leg on the balustrade he sat upon. “Because you know what all those important mage organizations would do if they learnt we have reopened the lower levels of Mal Vellas Keep!” scolded Alverhad halfsarcastically. “Fine! I swear to keep my mouth shut lest I tear my tongue off as punishment”

agreed Jahlred, picking at a loose string on his tunic.

4: Farewells and Reunions Alverhad departed for Sommoth the following Tuesday, tired from the previous night of the raucous feast held for him. When he left Ashaleena could not help feeling deeply lonely, although Jahlred and her other friends were still present. Alverhad was her mentor and she longed to learn more from him. But it was not her place to question his choices. Then, strangely, a vast array of letters came for Jahlred and Ashaleena, even some for Arelldar. One was of course from Alverhad who greeted them and told them about Dermond Lwynelsta’s progress with the Blackvale pirates. The other letters were from people they were overjoyed to hear from. Ashaleena received a letter from her grandmother who told her how her family was going well and that the village was gradually being repaired. She also mentioned that her granddaughter was welcome to visit the village. Jahlred also received a letter from a man by the name of Richard Beaumuir, who stated himself as the lord of Riverrunning. He then proceeded to invite Jahlred to his home town for a feast. Jahlred soon replied with the affirmative. He knew this was some attempt to reunite him with his father and went along with it. Up until now he had thought his father dead, but then again Lord Beaumuir did not mention Karred or his state. Jahlred could only hope. Ashaleena regularly ventured to the gardens and encountered the rithrandyr, who was much kinder then before. Perhaps Alverhad had enchanted the white falcon egg? Presently she said on a mossy balustrade nearby the fountain, where the stone paving met the grass. Alverhad sealed the fountain before he left and locked it so it would only open with a special word, known only by those he trusted most. But even though it was locked it was not protected from the greedy eyes of Lord Xyven and his Silver Paladins. On his steed of night black and his demeanor of wicked greed he arrived at Mal Vellas Keep from Ath Malavel. He was accompanied by four Silver Paladins dressed in iron. When they came galloping up the path to the gardens Ashaleena was the first to encounter them, although she had moved away from the fountain. Lord Xyven halted his masculine horse in front of her as he and his entourage came pounding up towards Ashaleena. His eyes seemed pitiless, deep pools of azure tinged with wicked darkness. His black mane of hair was lustrous and streaked with his iniquitous influence over most he encountered. “Child, where is the entry way to the lower tombs!?” he enquired loudly, settling his restless horse. “I’ am twenty-one! And I have no idea what you are talking about” Xyven sighed impatiently and said, “Do not play your imprudent games with me. Do you take me for a fool!? I know more about you then you think.” “Even so, I shall not tell you,” concluded Ashaleena, the look on Xyven’s face telling her he was not pleased, “besides what makes you think you are even welcome here? Did Galverious invite you!?” Xyven paused for a moment, his mesmerizing dark eyes flaring with anger, and said, “Nay, he did not invite me. But I’ am Lord Xyven, foolish girl. I have everything I wish to be mine, and those who defy me will find themselves dead!” Ashaleena almost jumped in fright, but mustered her courage and argued on, “these men only serve you because of your foul magic influence you emit. But I tell you now it will not work on me, I’ am not as weak minded as your men here.” “Enough!,” exclaimed Xyven, his eyes still full of impatience, even pain, “Cedoric, Tiragdor! Take yourselves to the keep’s citadel and find the general, tell him he will

comply with my demands I will kill him.” Two of the paladins nodded and soon galloped off up to the keep, ignoring the guards calls to make them slow down. “You cannot do this!,” cried Ashaleena, furious with the man’s voracity, “you cannot blackmail us like your own men!” “Silence!!!,” he hissed, grabbing her arm and dragging her closer, “you will silence yourself, child. I’ am higher then you in every aspect and you will not defy me nor my judgement.” His hypnotic spell was almost impossible to resist, but Ashaleena fought it off with her own will. Xyven struggled harder to enthral her with his malign stare, muttering words to strengthen his hex. Suddenly something went flying towards him and narrowly missed his head, landing in a nearby tree. When Xyven’s trance broke Ashaleena looked to what had been hurtled and recognized the blade as Silverwynd, Jahlred’s sword. As fortune would have it he soon came after his sword and withdrew it from the tree. Turning to Xyven, who was deeply infuriated, he said severely, “leave her out of this, Xyven.” Steering his horse slowly towards the fey Xyven replied, “why do you care, fey!? Is she your little companion in some passionate liaison!?” “No,” replied Jahlred, ignoring the wizard’s attempt to weaken his willpower, “I do love her, Xyven, and that is why you will not harm her or I will kill you.” “Bah! You trivial threats dither me not, fey,” retaliated the wizard harshly, “where is Galverious!? I summoned him to surrender the lower levels to me!” “He is not surrendering anything, Xyven” The wizard grunted furiously and drew his gleaming sword, “then he will die! Give me a few minutes and I will render this keep rubble at my mighty feet!” “There shall be no such chance,” said a voice, everyone turning to see Galverious stepping down the stairs and onto the grass. He was accompanied by Arelldar and Pelendrin, who both seemed ready to fight, “I will not betray my senior mage and friend.” “Galverious!,” exclaimed Xyven, keeping the greetings short, “you of all people should know no to defy me, nay!?” “Aye, but even so I will not betray my friends who have discovered this lower level,” replied the general, shifting his hand closer to his sword hilt, “so you best be on your way back to Arialdan.” “A man may defy another man, Galverious,” began Xyven, no doubt creating a ploy, “you are a man, but I’ am, however, a god. Defiance to a god is foolish and profane, you know this.” “You claim yourself a god, but yet you possess no godly powers,” countered Galverious, “can you resist death?” “Nay, but I possess the prowess and respect of a god, and I’ am immortal,” continued the wizard, “I may die in my physical form, but my spirit will linger until the end of time.” “All gods are not immortal, so you can be vanquished in some way.” “No!” cried Xyven, giving in to Galverious’ taunting, “enough of this! I will leave you whores and jokers to your idiocy until I find a less diplomatic way of getting what I desire!” Following Xyven’s departure with his White Paladins, news came from Alderhon that the wizard had been there and attempted to find a spy amidst Duke Varhim’s court. They had fortunately failed to find any infiltrators up for hire and soon returned to Arialdan. Galverious posted guards to the fountain in case Xyven or anyone else tried to break its seal. Jahlred continued to change his mind about leaving for Riverrunning, but eventually decided he would leave the following week. The road was much safer now that Vivilianon had called off her Argithrian Brute raids, which puzzled many. All spies who ventured to Hithen Dwa never returned and no one could ever tell what the Green Sorceress was up to. Her tower was impenetrable, or

at least it could hold off bombardment for a very long time, and small campaigns against Vivilianon always ended in defeat. As the tower of Hithen Dwa was situated on a large plateau completely, it held a great view of the landscape surrounding it from all four sides. This strategic position meant it was ideal for fending off siege after siege. When Jahlred finally commenced to plan his journey he agreed that Arelldar could accompany him. The two men would travel to Alderhon by the main road and stay there for at least a night or two, searching for a guide who could lead them to Sieulad through the Heathmar Forest and Shaorn. The reason for a guide was because Jahlred had not ventured to Sieulad since his brother’s death and had forgotten the way to Riverrunning. On that Wednesday evening Jahlred and Arelldar left Mal Vellas Keep and headed for Alderhon. As before Ashaleena felt great sorrow and loneliness from her and Jahlred’s separation and took up minor jobs throughout the keep. By noon the following day Jahlred and his ranger companion where nearing Alderhon, travelling through the picturesque countryside of Mal Vellas. Many small towns bordered Alderhon full of traders and fishermen, who fished from the largest lake in Mal Vellas the Sylenduir Tarn. Vast verdant rolling plains made up most of this landscape, along with dense willow forests. Set aside by the main road was usually a farmer’s farmstead here and there, perfect for travellers as most of these people were convivial and would shelter weary newcomers. Most farms closer to Alderhon grew apples and other produce of high demand, every year venturing to Alderhon with their annual harvest and selling it. Some silk traders lived and worked closer to the woods, where the silk worms were numerous. The main road from Mal Vellas Keep to Alderhon was safe for most, unless you were an infamous criminal on the run. Another positive thing about the rural farms was the fact Varhim’s harsh laws did not affect them. Farmers and traders from the countryside were free of all of Varhim’s unnecessary laws but still abided by the regulations established by the Mal Vellasian government. People were much more acquiescent to abide by these laws than Varhim’s own laws he had made to ensue better living for himself. Corruption was a problem in Mal Vellas’ capital city, and many feared Varhim’s influence would spread to the keep and everywhere else. Even though the keep was forced to obey Varhim that did not mean all the soldiers liked him, in fact most of them despised the man. The Duke was swollen with greed and power and many, if not his own family, wished him to lose his position. His son Hural was deeply respected amongst his people and they upheld his every action. Every citizen of Alderhon wished for him to be duke, but Varhim showed no signs of dying. When the two travellers came to the great gates of Alderhon’s outer district and passed through they asked where they might find a guide. The guards told them to go to the Legless Falcon Inn, which was situated just outside the second gate that led into the inner districts, forbidden to commoners unless they had a permit from the Chamberlain. Without hesitation Jahlred and Arelldar headed to the Inn and tied their horses outside. When they entered, the scent of tobacco and ale filled their nostrils. When Arelldar commenced to scan the inn and saw the amount of drunks, he said, “Look at these men and women! What are they, drunks!?” “No,” said Jahlred, putting pay to his friend’s thoughts, “they’re commoners.” “Can I help you lads?” said a voice from behind the counter, the innkeeper with a hairy brown beard and curly hair. Over his shirt he wore a grimy apron and was polishing tankards. “Yes we need a room for a night or two,” said Jahlred, adding when he remembered, “and I was wondering if they were any guides in these parts? The guards told me to look here.” “Fifty gold coins for the room and as to your question, lad, I know of one fellow,”

began the innkeeper, accepting Jahlred’s payment, “the name’s Serdan by the way. Listen the man I know who can help you is called Breiam, an old chap who’s round here a lot.” “Thank you Serdan, where might we find this Breiam?” asked the fey, cautious of the drunks around him. “He’s over at the corner table as usual, by the performance stage,” explained Serdan, “be careful with him, he doesn’t mess around when it comes to business. Pay him well and I’m sure he’ll be complied to act friendly.” Thanking Serdan again the two men took his directions and cautiously approached a cloaked man which must have been Breiam. “Excuse me, are you Breiam!?” said Jahlred. The man merely grunted, but then said, “who’s asking?”. His voice sounded husky and the two men could see a white beard from his concealed face. “We seek a guide to Sieulad, to the town of Riverrunning” elucidated the fey. “How much do ye pay?” asked Breiam, resting his robed hands on the wooden table. “Three hundred for the whole trip, plus food and beds supplied by ourselves,” said Arelldar, adding, “it’s a good deal.” “I know a deal when I see one, boy!,” grunted Breiam, turning to Jahlred and saying, “I do know the way to Riverrunning from here. And I do need to get out a bit. We shall go tomorrow sometime, see me later about it.” “Thank you, sir” said Jahlred, remembering his manners. “Yes, yes! Don’t grovel me, lad!,” grumbled the old man, “now off with you two! I’ve a night to enjoy here, and I was doing so before. I hear they’re performing Three Imperial Murders here tonight, a good play that one is, full of death and misery.” That night Ashaleena visited the library and decided to do some studying on the keep’s long history. The night grew colder as it wore on and her particularly feathery garb of jade blew in the wind as she progressed along the open area hallway to the library. She passed few guards, as most of them had not yet finished their dinner break, and encounter few scribes and chroniclers when she entered the foyer. To the left was the main desk where Pelendrin was, working hard on new records for the library. To the right began to first two shelves containing Mal Vellasian history, both on the keep and the whole province itself. She greeted Pelendrin as she turned right and commenced to search for the era in history she sought. She sought the period during Zaudurin’s later life, which she had recently learned was when Cercius Xyll was general at the keep. This was over one hundred years ago and as she read on people’s accounts of the wizard she learnt he was also very sinister in his lifetime, and many accused him of necromancy. Later she learnt that Cercius had stopped him from jumping off the keep walls and committing suicide. The further she read the deeper into the wizard’s nature she delved, back to his origins as a young Vallamuiran apprentice. One account from man called Tristain Qwelador, who was one of Zaudurin’s longest and last apprentices, traced back Zaudurin’s grim early life. His family was not rich as many would think but he rose in life and earned himself proper schooling by working as a blacksmith part time. When he was finished schooling Zaudurin sought fortune in Mal Vellas and this was the point of his life when he ventured to the keep. Cercius Xyll gladly welcomed him and needed a wizard of such aptitude during the time of Duke Kyllum II’s reign, when the council grew impetuous and Kyllum needed Cercius’ support. Up until his late life he worked furiously to create the perfect defences for the keep and devised steam run automatons to make up for man’s capability to die. Although these creatures were never built and the plans were given to Tristain, who was now dead, the apprentice had mentioned that Zaudurin was desperate for them to work. When his master died at age eighty-nine Tristain ended the accounts with his departure from the keep, whereupon he settled in Ecymwa and married. But this Tristain must have descendants around somewhere, thought Ashaleena. She found herself reinvigorated and embraced the chance to learn more about Zaudurin. At one point in here long thoughts she even thought of comprising a

biography on Zaudurin. The next morning she began her search for Tristain’s descendants and wrote a letter to the lord of the Ecymwan city of Artheld, where Tristain said he went to live in. She asked if the lord knew of anyone by the last name of Qwelador. Then the following day she received a reply letter, which raised her mood and made her thrilled with the fast progress in her search. The lord, who was named Nathaniel Dourlan, greeted Ashaleena and went on about Tristain’s descendants. He mentioned two different families of the same heritage; one still held the surname Qwelador and their eldest member was the grandson of Tristain. The second family had the surname Cythilmuir and their eldest member was a granddaughter of Tristain. These two would prove helpful in Ashaleena’s search and fortunately Nathaniel left their addresses so she could write to them. Over the next couple of days she wrote to both the Qwelador family and the Cythilmuir family. Breiam led the two travellers out of the city under the cover of night, upon his urging. He warned that guards picked on the few who wandered around at noon and dawn, and most of them would be to tired to notice three cloaked men. Unfortunately to pass through the gate out into the bordering land of Alderhon city required the awakening of the gatekeeper, and Breiam recalled a slight argument with this senile caretaker. Keeping to the shadows and not in the sight of groveling townsfolk seeking reward money from the guards, the three men moved quietly towards the gatehouse. There came a near blunder when a guard nearly saw Arelldar as he ducked for cover and decided to investigate, only to find shadows where the men hid with their obscure cloaks. When they made it to the gatehouse Breiam cautioned the two wait outside and keep watch while he stole the keys. He almost yelled when he noticed the aged gatekeeper sitting back in his chair, snoring very loudly. “Hello, Wickerteeth Tom,” said Breiam quietly, reaching and taking the keys from Tom’s belt. He held them in his fist so they would not rattle and careful made his way back outside. Then he cautioned over to the nearby postern gate and unlocked quietly so that neither guards nor Tom would be alerted. Breiam beckoned for the two to pass through and as they did he sneaked back to Wickerteeth Tom and dropped the keys lightly on his bulging stomach, so as not to awaken him. Just as all seemed well he heard footsteps approach the gatehouse and dived under the table, in the corner so he was invisible. “Tom!,” came a voice, now from the doorway, a guard, “Tom are you awake!” The old gatekeeper suddenly grunted and woke up, almost falling off his chair as he sat up. “Yes, I’ m just resting for a moment.” “Well a few more minutes and then back to work, Varhim doesn’t pay you to sleep and me to wake you up.” Then the guard left and Breiam waited until Tom’s snoring began again and joined his two companions at the other side of the gate. “Someone comes, up the road,” said Arelldar as soon as Breiam was present, stringing his bow, “keep weary.” Then, out of the gloom, came three men armed with rusted scimitars and appearances of Shafhla Desert folk. One stepped closer and readied his scmitar, saying, “who are you men?” “We could ask you the same question” replied Arelldar, receiving a scowl from the man. “I’ am Diraz, and these are my hunting companions Heshla and Ajrish” said Diraz, his tanned skin reflecting his mood. “Shafhlans!? Why are you in Mal Vellas?” asked Breiam, baffled. “We live here,” began Diraz, dumping the deer to his feet that he had over his shoulders, “we left Shafhla because of obvious, the growing danger of our lands and the baron with his harsh laws. Our families are much safer here, although we may not be as wealthy as we were in Shafhla, and Varhim is fair.” “From what I hear of your baron he is nothing compared to Varhim! Can’t you see through the lies and false things the higher class makes you think of Varhim?”

protested Jahlred, receiving a similar look Diraz had given Arelldar earlier. “Does Varhim kill people for minor crimes!? Does Varhim poison the minds of his people?,” began the Shafhlan, “he does not. So he is nothing compared to our baron.” “Forgive me, master Shafhlan” said Jahlred apologetically. “It is alright,” replied Diraz, showing he was a man of compassion, “but I’ am afraid my companions and I must be back to our homes. It was good to meet you men; mayhap I will see you again.” Soon after writing to the descendants Ashaleena received two letters in reply. The first was from an elderly man named Solidraun Qwelador, who was the grandson of Tristain. Solidraun spoke much of his grandfather, although he knew him only briefly, and mentioned his usual tale about his old master, Zaudurin. Solidraun did live in Artheld but was in no condition to travel, later in the letter Ashaleena even learnt he was slowly dying. She replied soon after and thanked him for his information, also wishing him good health. Then she commenced to read the second letter, from a woman called Ehlana Cythilmuir, who was in fact a great granddaughter of Tristain. Her mother, whom Lord Nathaniel had mentioned, was in such ill health that she was unable to write. But Ehlana still told Ashaleena everything her mother could remember of her grandfather Tristain. Once again Ashaleena thanked the descendants of Tristain and continued to search elsewhere for Zaudurin’s past. Her mind kept plaguing her to go back to his tomb, “No!,” she told herself, “not on my own. It’s too dangerous”. By dawn the next day Breiam had led his clients deep into the Heathmar Forest. Before leaving Alderhon he had organised for Jahlred and Arelldar’s horses, including his own one, to be waiting with his friend Sierdah not far from the gates. The forest was a peculiar place, trees twisted and almost ghost like were abundant and an aura of secrecy befell the men. On several occasions Jahlred could sware he saw beady yellow eyes in the shadows between the trees, and assumed they were buiramwynne or something far more dangerous. Breiam seemed untroubled by all of this as he rode at the front, lighting his pipe and speaking to neither of the men. “A curious fellow that one is,” said Arelldar, keeping his voice low so Breiam wouldn’t hear, “I wonder where he is from?” “Well he’s most certainly not a fey,” replied Jahlred, holding his glance on the old man in front of them, “most of us are blonde and blue eyed.” “I’ am half-fey, master Jahlred,” interjected Breiam, not turning to face the two men riding behind him, “my mother was human and my father was a fey.” “But that is extremely rare in this world! And the ancient prophecy says...” began Jahlred. “No, I’ am not the prophesized child, that one’s time has not yet come.” After he minimal success in her search for Zaudurin’s life story Ashaleena returned to the records, whereupon she found another account that mentioned Zaudurin’s steam automatons. The author of this particular account mentioned the Feyran Mage Guild thought of Zaudurin’s ideas as foolish and impossible, which led him to abdicate his position in the guild after being affronted. After his failure with the steam creatures the wizard decided to look elsewhere for knowledge. He met frequently with the last dragon Derhayn-Torkandor and learnt everything the dragon, who had reverted to a human form, could remember about his lost kindred. But Derhayn-Torkandor lived another generation after Zaudurin’s, for he died during the time of Ashaleena’s grandparents. She later learnt that Zaudurin had never asked to be preserved in a crystalline tomb and the Feyran Mage Guild had chosen to do so after his death. As for family no one could find any relatives or descendants of Zaudurin, after all he was an only child and had no direct family anywhere, according to the records. Then it struck her, she remembered the ancient magical ability to know everything about one person with a single touch. The spell

demanded large amounts of energy but Ashaleena was sure she could do it if she concentrated fully. What doubted her was the fear of venturing once more into the lower levels. She could not go alone, but who would accompany her. She asked around the Mages Guild in the keep and soon after her weekly meetings with her friends began again. Pelendrin, Hearana and Muthral had listened to her words and agreed to all accompany her into the lower levels. It would take much planning to go back to Zaudurin’s tomb. The following day the four mages were ready to embark into Zaudurin’s tomb. They had to of course check with Galverious to embark once more, as Xyven was trying desperately to claim it for his own twisted greed. Many of the inhabitants of the Feyran Lands, and even the Empire, believed that he was going insane with power and avarice. These people complained to Baelandyr, who was now in full health, and demanded he have Xyven put out of power, or they would take matters into their own hands. Presently Ashaleena found herself outside the fountain again, this time with her three mage friends. They stood and watched in wonderment as their young friend used the spell only she and Alverhad knew to open the fountain fully. When it was finally open completely Ashaleena lit a torch and led her friends down through the tunnel and into the octagonal hall where Cercius’ tomb lay, among others. Hearana felt great energies of the dead when they entered, and said how their benevolent souls still linger to watch the keep for all eternity. She was a skilled “spirit-speaker” as they were known, and bore the blood of her mage ancestors to feel such a presence. Pelendrin was much more fascinated by the writings on the tombs, and read them as he knew many ancient writings, although these ones where in his own language. He also examined the chandelier once its light was replenished and complimented the skilled craftsmanship. However Muthral, who had been stuck in the library teaching apprentices, felt exploratory and when they came to the gatekeeper’s offices, he was even more so eager. There he sat in his chair again, the charred carcass of the gatekeeper, still untouched save by a single few more cobwebs. After she showed them the offices Ashaleena commenced to lead them down further to Zaudurin’s tomb. When they arrived all four mages even Ashaleena, marvelled on the untouched crystal tomb of Zaudurin the White. His pallid lids where still closed and his moon white beard had not grown since her last visit, most likely not even since his death so long ago. The plan to “read” Zaudurin’s past was simple, Ashaleena would perform the spell, Pelendrin would stay with her encase anything went wrong and Muthral and Hearana would stay watch. Almost as if guided Ashaleena directed her hand over the crystal tomb and outstretched her fingers. Then she closed her eyes and focused, her mind’s image trying to enter Zaudurin’s mind. Then she did it and soon felt herself looking through the eyes of the wizard, in the scene of his first minutes of life. A woman of true beauty, who was probably Zaudurin’s mother, held an infant in her arms. A man, resembling Zaudurin, stood across from her as he watched his son. Both of them where overjoyed to have a child by the looks on their faces. “He is not safe here, Sarthur” began Zaudurin’s mother as she rocked him gently in her arms. “But where can he go, Lera!?,” protested his father, trying not to upset his newborn son or wife. Ashaleena’s mind then turned back to Lera, “we can keep from the knowledge of Rethdoral, my love. Continue our lives and not make him known to anyone but those we trust.” Then the image changed, to a clear later year in Zaudurin’s life, the first day he came to Mal Vellas Keep. The keep looked barely different and as Ashaleena

observed from the wizard’s eyes he approached a sturdy and dashing man, General Cercius Xyll. “You must be Zaudurin! Tis truly a pleasure to welcome you to Mal Vellas Keep” said Cercius, shaking the wizard’s hand. The scene transformed once more, this time to a room where Zaudurin was alone, no, Tristain Qwelador, by Ashaleena’s assumption sat across from him. When Zaudurin turned around he faced something, a bronze reinforced automaton. Although it was lifeless Ashaleena still felt joyous to see it. She was about to reach out to touch it when she flashed back into reality, and rested against the wall of Zaudurin’s tomb. “What did you see Ashal? Are you alright?” asked Pelendrin, his brow creased with concern. “I saw Zaudurin’s past in only a few parts” replied Ashaleena, still dazed from her experience. “Hush!,” cried Muthral from the doorway, “we can hear voices in the other room or somewhere nearby.” Concerned Ashaleena and Pelendrin came closer to the side wall and were able to hear faint voices. “You heard, Bolerius! If Galverious knows we’re snooping round here he’ll hang Xyven!” grumbled one voice. “Yes Argdannor, but we better be careful down ere! You saw the grave keeper’s roasted skeleton!,” exclaimed another voice, who was Bolerius, “I’ m getting tired of this place, when can we leave!?” “Not until we have secured at least one room suitable enough for Lord Xyven to teleport to,” replied the first voice, Argdannor, “once he can he will do so along with his entourage of White Paladins and seize control of these place as much as possible.” The talking ceased and the mages decided to stop these men who clearly served Lord Xyven. Moving away from the wall Muthral readied his staff and led his three friends carefully into the neighbouring room. The two men, who were dressed in robes of black, resembling the deepest shadows of a pit, jumped in surprise and both withdrew swords. “Your escapades end here, gentlemen,” cautioned Muthral, brandishing his staff in a aggressive stance, “leave here and we will let you go with your lives!” Argdannor, who was thinner than Bolerius, looked the young mage in the eyes and replied plainly, “we have orders from our lord, mage. Defiance and unfaithfulness are punishable by death in Arialdan! We have no choice; we do want to keep our lives!” “But you do not have to return to Arialdan!,” protested Ashaleena, gaining both men’s attention, “you are welcome to live here if you ask Galverious, the keep has many fine manors within its walls.” “No, mistress” grunted Bolerius, smirking, “we are afraid that now it is time for you to leave, or we’ll be forced to be violent.” “You are the ones that shall be leaving now,” argued Pelendrin, his piercing stare fixed on both men, “we do not want violence either.” Bolerius was about to lunge at the elder mage before Argdannor grabbed his sleeve and hoisted him back, “no wait! We could escape Xyven, Bolerius!?” Suddenly a tall figure materialized in the centre of the room in a swirl of green smoke, standing between both groups. Dark was his long hair, as black as the deepest pits of Rezvazz-Morttagaldur and his eyes were full of lust, and longing. Lord Xyven had come to Mal Vellas Keep once more. The wizard turned to Argdannor immediately and extended his hand out, as if to grasp something. Then he brought it into a fist and his servant gasped for breath, before he dropped to the floor, lifeless. “His betrayal forced me to the pinnacle of my toleration, I had to kill him,” said Xyven as he turned to face everyone else, saying his words as if little mattered that he had killed Argdannor, “Bolerius on the other hand would never betray me,

because he is to dim-witted and weak-willed to slip from my influence, although Argdannor seemed to somehow? Was it your doing, Foreseeyer spawn?” Ashaleena was in deep thought when he pinned her with a question and she replied vaguely, “I tried to sway his allegiance, I told him he could flee your influence and live here.” “What!?,” roared Xyven, striding over and snatching her arm in his tight yet persuasive grasp. He turned her to face his eyes and although she knew of his foul influence she could not help to look away this time. His brilliance, as dark and vile as it was, was still extremely powerful upon her. In his dark eyes she did not see evil, but lust and spite. Before she knew it she was subconscious and the only thing that filled her mind were his dark amethysts of eyes. She tried to break free of his trance but when she tried she instantly lost all consciousness. “Ashaleena!,” said a familiar voice, “Ashaleena are you alright!?” The damsel stirred, feeling the sheets of a bed under her weight. She could not open her eyes as the only thing she kept seeing was Xyven’s wickedly handsome face. “Ashal!,” cried the voice of Hearana, who was across the room, “Muthral! Get the healer, she is loosing consciousness again!” Ashaleena heard Muthral leave the room and forced her jade eyes open, looking up to the face of Hearana. Her friend rested her hand on Ashaleena’s forehead to check the temperature and said fearfully, “Ashal, you are awake now. We feared that we had lost you to the realm of nothingness.” “Where am I?” Ashaleena managed to say, her head throbbing and her vision obscure. “In your room, at the keep,” replied Hearana with concern, “Xyven tried to destroy your will but he failed when Galverious and Penndren came and interfered, without them the foul wizard may have succeeded. But he is gone back to Arialdan again now, after another fruitless attempt to claim the lower levels.” Just then Muthral arrived urgently with the senior healer Thirlemwe. The old woman came to Ashaleena’s side and administered her a medicinal drink. The damsel reluctantly took it and drank it obediently. Her head soon stopped throbbing and her vision was restored, although something still plagued her. Her inner mind was deeply injured thanks to Xyven, and it would take some time according to Thirlemwe for her to be able to cast spells. The three riders had seen many rangers throughout the Heathmar Forest, most of which knew Arelldar. The main crisis in the forest was the growing number of goblins in the part of Heathmar known as the Old Man’s Grassy Tooth, a jagged mountain range where thousands of goblins invested its natural halls. Old Man’s Grassy Tooth was not far from the main road near the centre of Heathmar and Arelldar agreed to kill any goblins on sight. As ill luck would have it the three men were forced to slay a large group of goblin hunters, but that was all the hassle they received from the vile race strangely related to their superiors, the orcs. Orcs were master craftsmen and warriors, and easily swayed to fight for anyone who paid well or offered protection. Goblins however were stupid and impish creatures made pale from their subterranean lifestyles. One of the main differences between goblins and orcs was that orcs could actually speak the language of mankind as well as their own, Thurgakza, and goblins just communicated with shrill grunts and squeals. When they finally entered the pleasant countryside of Shaorn, much similar to Mal Vellas, they felt much safer. Shaornian soldiers patrolled the roads and Lord Anglus Knoxbrough had set up various watchtowers on the Shaornian highlands and rocky coasts. The further one got to the sea in Shaorn, and Vivacia Delamor, the more diverse the architecture and lifestyles became. The inland Shaornians had traditional countryside houses and castles, whereas the Shaornians of the coast had houses and castles suited to the salty air and constant sea trade from Ferlimwe in Vivacia Delamor and Gathlindar in Silvermoon. The main coastal city of Shaorn was

Yddril, which was situated nearby the shoreline rock faces known as the Sailor’s Peninsula. The main city of mainland Shaorn was Zydoran. Lord Knoxbrough held residence at Zydoran Castle with his family, whereas his brother Carenlus Knoxbrough who was duke of Yddril held his home at Yddril Castle. According to Breiam they would stop at Zydoran to rest at an inn he called the Dragon Ate The Cattle Inn. Zydoran was a particularly large city, the major hub of Shaorn’s inland trade and guild operations. There existed two guilds in Zydoran’s walls, the Guild of Shaorn’s Warriors and the Guild of Zydoran Mages. Bretallus Vuragand, who was captain of the Zydoran Guards, maintained a safe and organised city for the citizens and Lord Anglus had made his name known to most of the Feyran Lands. From what Breiam had told his two companions as they travelled the busy streets of Zydoran, Lord Anglus Knoxbrough was a strange yet kind man. Anglus was very vague at times and even inconspicuous, keeping to his study where he read much on one of his favourite parts of history, the birth of the Empire. His eldest son Siglius took his father’s place in the social favour to the Knoxbrough family. Anglus’ daughters Evaleena and Avella were usually away from Zydoran, and as they were said to be beautiful usually searched for husbands. However Anglus’ brother was moreover strange than him, and enjoyed a exciting life of many social gatherings and maintaining a reputation as a unbound man. Although Yddril was much more lethargic to the Shaornian traditions it was still a beautiful place surrounded by deep blue seas from when side and rolling rice plains from the other. When they arrived at the Dragon Ate The Cattle Inn Breiam paid the inn keeper Darald well and they were supplied with quality rooms. Arelldar soon left to the Market District while Breiam went downstairs from the rooms and drank some ale at the tavern, so Jahlred was left alone to contemplate in his comfortable room. When he glanced out the window he saw a stunning view of Zydoran just as the sun was setting. Far away was the majestic Zydoran Castle, surrounded by the hundreds of buildings that existed within the city’s walls. Directly across from the inn was a blacksmith shop called Huagrod’s Fine Weapons, and at the other side was a commerce office for this district of Zydoran, Maelendar. Maelendar was the district was the finer businesses existed and where the richer folk lived. Arendez was the exact opposite and full of paupers and beggars, despite Anglus’ efforts to end this. Knoxbrough Bastion and castle grounds of Zydoran Castle were situated between Maelendar and Arendez on the Andorlan Hill. Knoxbrough Bastion was the great central building of Zydoran Castle where Anglus and his family lived, along with the Zydoran Chamberlain Tirecius Weire, various assistants and Carenlus sometimes when he visited from Yddril. As would be unkind to not return the favour Anglus seldom ventured to Yddril which troubled his brother. Anglus and Carenlus were good friends, but as brothers they still had a small sibling rivalry. Their father Agneus Knoxbrough, who was aged seventy-three, still lived and had only relinquished his role as lord of Shaorn ten years ago. Agneus lived at Golden Wing Temple, which existed in the snowy highlands of Shaorn, and had been given the title as a noble after his abdication. Golden Wing Temple was an ancient and powerful refuge of Shaorn and Agneus vowed to spend the rest of his days there. The former lord visited both Zydoran and Yddril annually to see his sons. Presently Jahlred sat silently on his bed in the Dragon Ate The Cattle Inn when someone knocked on the door of his room. It was a middle aged man with a grey wispy beard, wearing the regal robes of Lord Anglus’ court. “Forgive me for my intrusion master fey,” began the man, “I’ am Tirecius Weire, Lord Anglus’ chamberlain and trusted friend. My lord wishes to see you at the Bastion” “His lordship requires me?” Tirecius nodded, “he says he knows your father, Karred, from their childhood days. Lord Anglus would be glad to welcome you to Zydoran as he does to nobles.” “I can come now, but prithee tell why his lordship needs me, yet how he knows my father?” enquired Jahlred.

“Come, Jahlred,” began the chamberlain, “let us walk to the Bastion and I will explain.” Reluctantly Jahlred followed the chamberlain out of the inn and up the street towards Castle Zydoran. “So,” he said, gazing upon the towering spires of Castle Zydoran and the Knoxbrough Bastion, “what does Anglus want with me?” “As I said my lord knows your father from childhood,” started Tirecius, picking a loose strand of string from his robes, “but a matter of far greater importance involves you. Most recently my lord’s men discovered a cave not far from here in the Hriskand Highlands where a evil cult were hiding. When this cult was “disposed” of, my lord’s men retrieved an ancient and divine artefact.” “What is this artefact?” Tirecius paused and then went on to say, “tell me Jahlred, what do you know of the many divine items forged by the gods many years ago?” “I know of the three holy weapons of Dermonneus, and the Celestial Mantle of Anindor, god of peace.” “Yes, but have you heard of the Five Divine Mirrors?” asked Tirecius, making his companion anxious with suspense. “Nay, pray tell me of them.” “Long ago in the dwindling years of the gods’ mortality, our god of wisdom Ulrathan forged five magical mirrors of celestial power. The first two, the Mirror of Past and the Mirror of Future, were able to look into the past and future. The third, the Mirror of Sight, was able to look at any location in the world. The fourth mirror, the Mirror of Life, was said to be able to bring back the dead. The fifth mirror, said to be the most powerful, was the Mirror of Valour, was said to turn a man from good to evil, or the other way around.” “But what does this have to do with the artefact found in the Hriskand Highlands?” asked Jahlred, deeply interesting by this subject. “Because the artefact is one of the mirrors,” replied Tirecius, stopping when they had reached the top of the stairs to Knoxbrough Bastion. “What Tirecius means to say is that we’ve found not just one of the mirrors but the last one,” said a voice, coming from someone at the doors of the Bastion. It was Lord Knoxbrough himself, dressed in regal attire and with his legendary blade Loragdur sheathed at his side. “My lord!” exclaimed Tirecius, bowing instantly and Jahlred reluctantly doing so as well. “Thank you Tirecius, you can leave know,” said Anglus, his auburn hair secured by his golden crown of lordship, “as for you Jahlred, you look like your father so much! I understand you are passing through Shaorn to Sieulad, where my old friend Karred is?” “Yes, my lord,” replied Jahlred, saying a brief goodbye to Tirecius, although he knew he would see him again, “although I have not seen my father since my brother’s death I’ am sure he is still alive.” “Send my greetings when you see him,” said Knoxbrough plainly, shifting Loragdur in its gold sheath, “but I’ am sure Tirecius told you of the mirrors and how my men have found one, in fact the last. You see Jahlred, long ago when Ulrathan was forced to give him his mortality until the demon realm is gone like the rest of the gods he entrusted the mirrors in the hands of the Order of Sanctoris. The Order of Sanctoris were a powerful and trusted group founded by the mage Sanctoris Delpheii and basically loyal servants to Ulrathan, who visited Sanctoris Magnus, their main base, regularly. But entrusted the mirrors with the order would be a fatal error as after the gods had returned to the heavens Khalvazard attacked each of the holding places of the mirrors and destroyed all of them, except one. The Mirror of Valour, which was held at the Sanctoris shrine of Gilveth Hra, was attacked like the rest. But these men and women foresaw the attack and employed their escape route. When Khalvazard attacked Gilveth Hra was thrown into disarray, and five priests were able to escape with the mirror.”

“And where was it taken then, after Gilveth Hra was destroyed?” “They took it to the Bloodwall Caves where my men found it. They must have thought it was safe enough and left it there, then the cult came and took control, not daring to use the godly device. But now we have it, and your part in this has come to be prevalent.” Jahlred’s brow creased in confusion, not marring his splendour, “how can I be involved with such a, well, powerful thing as the mirror?” “After much study of the mirror and its ancient powers my scholars and mages have been able to decipher its use. The Mirror cannot only cleanse or corrupt minds, it has the ability to banish evil, such as demons. This device is a weapon we can use against Khalvazard, even perhaps destroy him.” “Even so, the threat of the Gate of Rezvazz-Morttagaldur would still be extant” said Jahlred, believing the destruction of Khalvazard and the severance of the gates would come down to Baelandyr, and not some divine object. “Perhaps we should remain hopeful that Baelandyr will do such a thing,” suggested Anglus to himself, “but I do invite you to still look upon the mirror.” “I would be most pleased to see such a legendary device, please do show me it!” Knoxbrough gestured his hand to the Bastion and said, “the mirror is at the top room of the Bastion, safely confined in a magical shield generated by my scholars and mages.” With those words Anglus led his guest through the gates and into the Bastion’s ground level. The Bastion was a singular tower of iron and stone, reaching four hundred feet with the Flame of Zydoran, the ancient beacon, glowing at the top. The walls around the Bastion formed a circle around it and stood two metres from the Bastion’s own walls. One balcony jutted from the eastern side at about the fifth floor, the Knoxbrough family’s chambers. Two paths emerged from the tower, one at the front and one at the back. Outside these paths the ground was verdant with grass and a few ancient oaks. The four entrances to the Bastion’s grounds each lead to a different place, all their gates closed at dusk. The eastern entrance led from Arendez up to the bastion, while west entrance came from the castle grounds. The south entrance, the one Jahlred and Anglus had taken, led from Maelendar while the north ran down to the Zydoran Prisons. Knoxbrough Bastion was only lit by candles and sustained minimal light, the shadows of the scholars and servants flickering like conflagrations. As Jahlred passed through the reception he noticed the scholars sat on benches, basking in the radiance of the silence and the candles, praying to the ancient gods. They were deeply honoured to have a godly device in their city and thanked the gods in abundance, as Anglus commented. When they came to the staircase the guards either side bowed quickly to Anglus and let their lord and his guest pass up into the second floor. Six more floors to go, thought Jahlred as he trekked up the stairs and waited while Anglus addressed on of his scholars on the second floor. This level of the Bastion was very different to the one below it. Jahlred noticed that most if not all of the men and women wore swords at their sides, until he realised they were the Knights of the Flame, Zydoran’s chivalric warriors, and this level was their congregation room. A circular table of about seventeen or so chairs sat in the centre of the room, where some of the knights were seated and resting. When Anglus had finished speaking to the scholar, which was in fact the Grandmaster of the Knights of the Flame as he later said, Jahlred followed up the stairs once again to the third floor. This floor was the headquarters of the Zydoran Legislative Council and similarly furnished to the two lower floors. No one, besides the subordinates, were present in the hall and no delays meant Jahlred and his host could proceed to the fourth level. The fourth level led to two different levels and was a superior reception floor to the first level, no one could proceed higher up without a permit from the Zydoran Legislative Council. Of course no one stepped in to stop Anglus and his guest from proceeding to the stairs, which split left and right and led up to two different floors.

The fifth level, Anglus and his family’s private level, was accessible via the staircase on the left and only members of the Knoxbrough family, even Carenlus, or someone invited by the lord of Zydoran. The stirs on the right led, which were longer, led to the sixth floor and directly passed above the fifth floor. The sixth level of Knoxbrough Bastion was second last floor and held Anglus’ office and offices of Zydoran High Council members, along with part of the Zydoran Archives. As he glanced upon the effigies of Anglus and other historical Shaornian figures Jahlred followed his host up to the seventh and final level. There it was, suspended in a field of magical energy, the Mirror of Valour. From what Anglus had told Jahlred the mirror in front of him was the same as the one visualised by the lord’s words. The mirror’s exterior was made out of moss-covered divine stone and formed a manic face, the mouth gaping open and holding the mirror’s glass in its jaws. The mirror’s glass was glowing with dim blue light and seemed if one touched it their fingers would pass through the solid glass. “There it is,” said Anglus, breaking Jahlred’s thoughts, “the Mirror of Valour, the last of its kind sitting here in Knoxbrough Bastion.” Jahlred outstretched his hand and felt the energies protecting the mirror brush smoothly against his skin. It was as if the mirror whispered to him, called for him. “Please do hold it, my friend” invited the lord of Zydoran. His guest nodded and clasped both his hands around the mirror’s sides. Surprisingly its stone exterior was not rough and seemingly very delicate, perhaps even no feeling at all. Nor was the mirror heavy as one would think and Jahlred lifted it out with ease. He looked into the eyes of stone and realised the face was a replication of its creator, Ulrathan. Once he had examined the mirror enough Jahlred carefully placed it back in the energy field. “Some say Ulrathan removed part of his soul and forged it into the mirrors when he made them,” said Anglus, making his guest even more interested, “if so we should be honoured to hold the essence of a god.” “Thank you, my lord,” replied Jahlred, expressing his gratitude, “but I should be leaving, my friends await me and I have been gone for at least an hour.” “Of course, Jahlred. I will see you some time soon, you are welcome here whenever you wish, within reason.” Jahlred bowed for a short time and then departed Knoxbrough Bastion, returning to the Dragon Ate The Cattle Inn. Within a few days Ashaleena had made a full recovery and went on with little errands for Galverious and her other friends. When she was required to deliver a sword forged for Penndren to the barracks were had taken lodgings, her friend told her he had made success with securing her protection from Vivilianon and perhaps even Xyven. “Thank Dermonneus I have been rewarded for my efforts at the keep so long ago, I was beginning to think I would be forgotten from list of saviours!” “Well Galverious has told me the jewel in your cross guard was foraged from the grumwulf chieftain’s manor especially for you,” said Ashaleena, “he also told me you have found some way of protecting me?” “Even better,” replied Penndren, keeping his friend spirited, “I encountered your friend the galgwullion and we made a deal that when you are in a life-threatening crisis you may summon him to help you.” “I see where is he now?” Penndren shrugged, “I know not, but he wanted you to have this so you can summon him.” he handed her a diamond glowing with green energy. Ashaleena accepted the jewel and said, “thank you Penndren, may the gods bless you.” “You too, Ashal,” he replied, his chivalric moustache the colour of the mountain bears of The Great Plains, “but I’ am busy and I cannot see any of you much, I’ am sorry.” Ashaleena shook her head understandingly and said, “no, Penndren. You are a

knight and you lead a hectic lifestyle as you’ve sworn your servitude for the good of Arzith and to the ghost of St. Dellindal.” “You understand well, as if you were a knight yourself” replied her friend, bowing low before departing her presence. Ashaleena stood there alone for about a minute as she looked at the gleaming diamond. Then she left the Barracks and returned to her chambers. There she read voraciously as she did until the night grew old and she decided to go to bed. Jahlred’s encounter with the Mirror of Valour had caused him relevance. He had told Breiam and Arelldar about it and how he had met Lord Knoxbrough when he returned to the inn but felt a shadow drape over Zydoran, an invisible sheet of ill fate. When he went to bed his fears were made horribly real by the intelligence of his imagination. His dreams were filled with terror, the voice of what appeared to be Khalvazard filling his ears. The Red Prince said in his wickedly captivating voice that he was pleased Knoxbrough had found the final Mirror, despite the fact his blood would stain the earth. He also mentioned how the Mirror’s power drew him to snatch it from the shadows, threatening to lay waste to Zydoran as a cruel joke, or grim sign. Jahlred banished the voice from his mind and woke, sweating and his heart pounding violently. He sat upright against his bed banister and looked over to Breiam, who was asleep and snoring lightly. The fey combed his golden hair with his fingers briefly and left the room, draping his cloak of purple over his shoulders. The amethyst mantle trailed along the wooden floor of the Dragon Ate The Cattle Inn as its wearer strode down the stairs to the ground level, where the bar was along with a few tables. The innkeeper Darald greeted him as he sat on one of stools and, sensing the fey’s stress, handed him a glass of water. “Bad dreams?” he asked, cleaning the counter with a dirty cloth. Jahlred swallowed his mouthful and said, “how can you tell?” Darald laughed and put some tankards in their cupboard to the side of the counter, “a lot of the foreigners get bad dreams here for some absurd reason. Methinks it’s the restless spirits of the dead, this inn was in fact built over the old Saren family tomb.” “Saren?” Darald nodded, “you have not heard of the Sarens!? A famous Feyran family, lived in Zydoran for centuries, Kildan Saren owns a big bunch of land near the woods. If you ask me, I think he is a fool for buying it. Everyone in Zydoran knows that the Tainted Bone Cave lies a few leagues from Saren Farm. Cursed with rats and undead that place is, whoever goes “treasure-hunting” inside always ends up dead and claimed by the cave, some say its sends you crazy if you stay in for to long.” “Why is Tainted Bone Cave so dangerous?” asked Jahlred, accepting another drink. “Infested with the dead it is, well the living dead. Some say it’s a necromancer who lives within and they’re guarding the reputed golden helm of Etral the Mighty, and I hope you know who he is!” Jahlred nodded, “aye, Etral was a feyran general who fought many battles and saved Shaorn as I recall. He must be a true hero amongst you.” “He is, may Telaara rest his soul in her guiding embrace. The goddess of death may be the bringer of the afterlife but she still cares for the dead and prevents daft necromancers from reanimating them.” Just then the front door burst open and a bunch of drunk youths staggered in. Sensing Darald’s need to serve these men Jahlred said, “I’ll see you tomorrow.” As the radiant orb known as the sun retreated into the mountainous shoulders of the world, Ashaleena made a drastic decision. She missed her family at the village extremely and could not take it anymore, she was going to see them. The journey from Mal Vellas Keep was not far and she would have to pass through Luernir as Jahlred and Galverious had done earlier. With no immediate threat from Vivilianon she was required for duties and arranged to leave at noon the next day. Penndren agreed to accompany as her protector, and she would also have her horse

Thunderhoof from Del Jahvalla. Ashaleena, who as a Foreseeyer held a great connection with natural beings and elements, had grown to trust and appreciate her horse and Thunderhoof had taken a liking to her mistress. It had only occurred to Ashaleena when she was packing her rucksack that she and her horse were strangely similar. Calm and righteous, yet terribly frightened of past fears. Thunderhoof had seen the face of battle and was scared emotionally, becoming very nervous as Ashaleena had noted. It was understandable to that Jahlred and his black horse Nightmane were very much the same. Both man and horse were strong in mind and body, but could be a bit vain at times. Had Sir Argavald Rethenbar purposely shown them both the horses he thought they would connect with so long ago, Ashaleena wondered. Ashaleena and Sir Penndren left Mal Vellas Keep at noon the following day, following the same course as Jahlred and Galverious had done when they went to Luernir. Before she had left the keep Ashaleena was given a small glass orb from Pelendrin who said it could call for the nearest help. She thanked him with a hug, the first time she had ever done so, and farewelled her friends. Penndren spoke scarcely along the road and instead sat with his back straight and eyes on the road ahead. No thief or bandit could knock him off his horse if he sat like that, thought the damsel as she listened to the sounds of rosellas and nightjars as they perched in fertile acacias and the flowing crystalline water streams as the trout swam the current. She could not help to swell with excitement of seeing her family again but reminded herself to keep vigilant of danger along the road. When dusk arrived Penndren found a suitable camping spot under the shade of a large oak, hardened with age. He then headed off into the woods and returned to a deer, which he cooked and served his companion. Penndren was a curious man, always obeying orders and never defying anyone. This made him the best person to trust in escort missions, as Ashaleena had learnt. After a pleasant two day rest in Zydoran Breiam decided to move on to Sieulad. But before they could leave they attended Lord Knoxbrough’s banquet and Breiam and Arelldar became acquainted with Anglus and his family. Lord Knoxbrough’s son Siglius sat with the three guests and talked with them while the banquet went on. Siglius, who was only twenty-eight, was a well educated man and knew much about the Divine temples scattered across Arzith’s southern mainland. His auburn hair and sea blue eyes illustrated his kindness and pure heart, although he was sometimes vague like his father. With the loss of Lady Ganerala Knoxbrough five years ago Siglius and the rest of his family were changed people, once much more happier when she lived. Even Carenlus was a little less jovial after she died. Presently Siglius sat between Arelldar and Jahlred, drinking from a lesser jewelled goblet. It was his birthright to be treated with close similarity to his father as Ganerala’s death had placed him as the heir to the lordship of Zydoran and majority of Shaorn. “Pray tell Siglius, where might your two sisters be?” asked Arelldar, always eager to woo some woman. The son of Anglus gave the ranger a sarcastic glare and replied, “Evaleena is at Yddril visiting our cousins, and Avella has requested absence as she is busy, as always.” “Yes, Siglius,” interjected Breiam, the furrows of his face embedded with the shadows of the candlelight, “your sisters seem as sociable and kind as your mother.” Siglius to no offence to this and sensed the man’s good will, “thank you, Breiam. I trust your journey to Sieulad will be safe with the blessings of the Knoxbrough house.” The three travellers left Zydoran the next morning and headed down the Crystal Road towards Sieulad directly north. As they grew closer to Jahlred’s homeland the forests became more prominent and the pleasant countryside plains disappeared.

This part of the world, between Sieulad and Shaorn, was part-dense forest and partcoastal highlands. As they had decided to take the Crystal Road into Sieulad they did not go through Shaorn’s coast, as travellers bound for Vivacia Delamor would do so. Although it was obvious to the three travellers the part of the dense forest that went east transformed into marshland and later joined the Moors of Sorrow. All manner of dangerous creatures dwelt in the Moors and haunted their bogs and muddy islets. No outsiders ever ventured into the Moors except for the Argithrian Brutes of Vivilianon when they were going to attack Sieulad or Shaorn and some even lived on the larger islets in natural caverns. No one had ever lived to see an Argithrian clearly but those who survived raids said they were human in stature and wore helmets that curved at the back, along with jagged armour and armed with long curved pikes for impaling their foes. It was also rumoured that the Argithrian Brutes were a sub-class of orcs, although most scholars and naturalists highly disagreed. They believed the Argithrians to be something far more ancient, sewn together by profane magic by Vivilianon. The cause of this theory was that when someone got the chance to see a Argithrian Brute’s actual skin, they would find runes carved into their flesh, lifeless but giving some indication that they once illuminated. Now, as the three men grew closer to Sieulad, the guard post of Silvergrove Tower became visible on the horizon, surrounded by the forest on either side. Silvergrove Tower was extremely professional and tactful, maintaining a hardy garrison led by Captain Feridal Aweleynn, a strict but fair commander. But as the three men rode closer to the guard post they noticed someone already there, dressed in the mage’s robes of vibrant colours and arguing with one of the guards, who was in fact Feridal dressed in his armour. “I’ am not allowed to yet you pass without the proper authorization, Annas,” said the captain, as the three riders came close enough to hear, “plus your brother Saryll Annas has been causing trouble over at Fort Vine.” “But I’m nothing like him, Feridal!,” protested the mage, persisting with his argument, “Saryll is younger then me and much less mature and useful! Besides what General Antiro told you may have been “exaggerated”, Saryll was just trying to help in the tombs.” Feridal frowned, “by raising the dead!? I find that hard to see as being helpful, Serinn. I’ am sorry, but I just can’t let you through without your papers.” Serinn’s calm manner faded and he said with gritted teeth, “but I haven’t got them, damn it! Where do you propose I get authorization papers in the wilderness of the Shaornian Heartlands!?” “The only person you can get the papers from is Lord Knoxbrough, or his Chamberlain Terecius Weire, and they are in Zydoran.” “Zydoran!?,” cried Serinn, his face red with frustration, “do have any idea how far form here that is, you fool! It took me a day to get here from there, and when I arrived by stupid horse ran off. Curse Murandas and his stables, cheap and cowardly horses that he charges for more than they’re worth.” “Murandas Ethuul has nothing to do with authorization papers, Serinn,” said Feridal, extremely severely with a harsh voice, “now that is my final word on the matter, so you best be heading to Zydoran if you want to enter Sieulad.” Then Serinn reached into his robes and withdrew a shortsword, smirking at Feridal, “no captain, I will be passing, and so will Saryll and the Asenndar sisters!” Much to everyone’s surprise, except Serinn, his brother leapt out from the nearby bushes with a strung bow. Across from him emerged twin women from the shadows, armed with a sword and a mace. “This is where you hand over your hoardings, Feridal!!” hissed Saryll, directing his bow directly to the captain’s head. The Asenndar sisters stepped closer, but no one noticed the three men on horses just a few metres away. Presently, Breiam retrieved his battle staff and said, “this is where we intervene,

gentlemen. Be weary of these bandits, the Asenndar sisters are two of the most feared and wanted criminals in Shaorn. I’ll take down Saryll, and you two go for the twins. I’m sure Feridal will be happy to see reinforcements.” “But aren’t there more soldiers here!?” asked Jahlred, readying his bow. “Yes, but if we sound the alarm then we will become vulnerable. We cannot risk anyone’s life doing so.” “Then I’ am ready” Arelldar said, his cowl of dark green making him almost invisible. With that Breiam leapt from his horse and charged at Saryll, knocking him unconscious with a heavy hit to the head. The young man dropped his bow and fell back, bleeding from his skull. Then Jahlred fired an arrow at one of the Asenndar sisters and pierced her through the chest, forcing her to fall onto the walls of guard tower. When her sister came to help her Arelldar sent his arrow flying into her head and killed her, grimacing as she fell beside her sister in a pool of blood. Only Serinn remained, and he was giving quite a fight against the captain. He had nearly killed Feridal several times already and was certain that even a man as strong as Feridal would tire. Jahlred readied another arrow and sent the bandit’s sword flying from his hands. With this distraction the captain punched his assailant in the nose and then stabbed him through the gut. Serinn groaned, holding his bloody nose in one and his wounded stomach in the other, and fell to his knees. Strangely Captain Feridal called for guards instead of killing Serinn and they dragged him away, silencing his screams of protest by using a cloth to gag him. Remembering Saryll the captain dashed over to the unconscious man and the three travellers followed, weary from their battle. Just then a guard came running from inside and saluted Feridal. “What is it soldier?” asked the captain, while Breiam stood beside him resting on his staff. “Serinn is dead, sir. He died soon after we took him inside.” “Burn his body, along with the others. But leave Saryll, I will interrogate him.” The soldier nodded and ran back inside. Turning his attention back to the scene Feridal began to search Saryll’s pockets, retrieving a small book. “What is it?” asked Arelldar. The captain suddenly turned to the three men and almost jumped in surprise, “who they hell are you three!?” “We are the men who saved your life, captain” replied Breiam, remaining calm as usual. “Oh,” stammered Aweleynn, extremely embarrassed by his lack of awareness, “I thank you three men for your help, but this should be a sign for you to be weary on the roads.” “Yes, enough of the introductions!,” grumbled the old guide, trying to snatch the book out of Feridal’s hand, “what does the bloody book say!?” The captain gave him a look and then began to read the book, “there is only three pages of writing, the rest is blank. But what is written here I gather that this is Saryll’s journal, and he and the other three were planning to sneak into Sieulad and set up camp at the Fellspring, an ancient burial site. No doubt planning to raise the dead or some necromantic trouble.” Breiam suddenly sighed and shrivelled up his nose, “no, no. The Fellspring, or Mez’Indural as it is called properly, is not just an ancient burial site. You see it holds a little magical item deep in its catacombs, guarded by the daunting corpses of thousands of dead. Even more so daunting is that the relic they seek is held in the fingers of the long decayed king.” “What are you speaking of, guide?” “My name is Breiam and as I was saying about Mez’Indural, it is rumoured to be the remains of an ancient dwarven citadel. When Khalvazard eradicated the dwarves, well most of them, he sacked Mez’Indural’s halls and killed King Rathgard, but he failed to notice the thing he was holding. The Amulet of Mez’Indural was what Rathgard died for and I suspect the reason those bandits wanted it is because it’s

worth about five hundred thousand.” “That’s a lie!,” intervened Saryll, who had recently regained consciousness. Feridal directing his sword to the man’s throat and he moved back “we wanted the Amulet for it’s necromantic qualities, but my brainless brother Serinn wanted to sell it. But damn the bastard, he’s dead.” “And you will join him if you don’t surrender, Saryll” threatened Feridal, a look of unyielding mercilessness in his dark eyes. “Don’t kill me yet, captain,” averted Saryll, crawling to his feet, “I know everyone about the plan, including the knowledge that not everyone involved was here tonight.” Feridal frowned and kept close watch on the man, “what do you mean, Saryll!? Others besides you four are involved in this grand escapade!?” “Two more are involved, those of which my brother failed to mention before you drove your sword through him. Seeing as I have a more decent heart than my runt brother I will tell you these two other’s names if you give me some free will, captain?” “I agree to your terms, Saryll. But your freedom will have strict boundaries you must follow if you don’t want to wind up in a rancid cell again.” Saryll nodded, utmost honesty in his eyes and said, “the two other’s names are Shandur the Silver-Toe and Faeliad Dastorii. Shandur lives in Yddril and runs a so called “trade” company, but he in fact smuggles illegal goods and does business with criminals. Faeliad is a man of noble blood who lives at Greentree Manor in Zydoran, but he may be harder to get to. They both have their parts to play in the plan. Truthfully.” The captain remained silent for a moment in thought and then concluded, “thank you, Saryll. You will be escorted to Zydoran tonight at the earliest and you must promise me no more crime!?” Saryll nodded again, although this time he had a touch of deceit in his eyes, “I promise under my life, captain.” “Very well then,” concluded Captain Feridal, readjusting his gauntlets, “Gariad!!” he cried, a tall handsome soldier running from inside the guard post. He saluted his captain and Feridal proceeded, “I want you to escort master Saryll to Zydoran as soon as possible, but make sure there’s no funny business. If there is, bring him back here and he will be locked up.” Gariad nodded and escorted Saryll inside, the young man grumbling as he massaged his head, still bleeding from the wound dealt by Breiam. The old guide knew that Saryll could and would never forgive him for knocking him unconscious, he had found himself yet another enemy. Turning to the three travellers Feridal said more formally, “thank you all for saving my life. But if you are going into Sieulad, please wait until tomorrow morning! It is dangerous on these roads and I can’t afford more deaths.” Jahlred thought for a moment and said directly to Feridal, “we cannot wait, captain. We must get to the town of Riverrunning as soon as possible.” A look of both worry and disappointment spread across the captain’s face and he said half-heartedly, “very well, but do be careful!” Ashaleena and Penndren had made surprising quick time and were now well into Luernir, even thought it was only their second day of travelling. This province was made up mostly of lush woodland as Ashaleena noted, and was similar to its neighbour, her homeland. Sir Penndren had remained vigil as he was trained to do but relaxed his awareness when they had stayed in Westmiller Town the night before and befriended many Luernirian men of similar rank to him. All the soldiers in this area of Luernir were in servitude to Lord Retheld, who lived in his keep north of Suthernburry Knoll and on the edges of the Deep Forest, where the Ruins of Dwelbrald were. Lord Retheld was a kind man and governed majority of Luernir with fairness, despite his province’s small size. Presently Ashaleena and her escort were travelling the River Road, one which began at the crossroads between Westmiller Town and Derlmoor Village and curved past

the River Bethlydain until it ended, where the road then followed into the Foreseeyer’s Lands. During her journey Ashaleena had been given the time to observe the environment and truly appreciate the beauty of Luernir. “We’ll be there soon, Ashal,” said Penndren, breaking her thoughts, “by noon tomorrow I think we will arrive at your home, where I can enjoy the hospitality of your people.” Ashaleena smiled, “my town is not very big, Penndren. There are only three hundred of us there, and most of us belong to the same families. The Foreseeyer’s Village has a very closely tied together society, unlike your home city in Thornseld on the southwest coast.” “Fifty thousand people live there, Ashal,” he replied, sitting straight on his muscular horse Zaendoril, “I was brought up in the West District, where my father served Lord Adaur for thirty years. When I was old enough I travelled to Del Jahvalla and joined the service of Baelandyr.” Ashaleena paused thoughtfully and said, “Jahlred’s father was in the Feyran Legion before he retired, after Jahlred’s mother chose to die.” “Speaking of him, that valiant friend of ours, we have organised a sort of meeting for you and I along with Jahlred and Arelldar at Oraolthor, where we will then travel back to the Foreseeyer’s Village and finally Mal Vellas Keep. But knowing Jahlred and the war with Vivilianon, that probably won‘t happen” “Why have you stayed with us for all this time, Penndren?” asked Ashaleena, asking a question she had wondered the answer to for a long time. He paused in thought and then said, “Because Ashal, you are all my friends and I would gladly be with you rather then back at Del Jahvalla. I’ am truly grateful for meeting you two, and everyone else, and I will stay with you all until this quest is done.” “Thank you, Penndren” said Ashaleena, with complete sincerity. After passing into Sieulad Jahlred and his two companions travelled quickly across the Saed, the river then ran through most of the province, and past the settlement of Weirtown. Weirtown existed on the shore of the Saed River and was the closest town to Riverrunning, with a population of three hundred. Most of Weirtown’s inhabitants were fishermen or merchants and it was a small and economical town. After they passed through Weirtown they had followed onto the road that spread east to the hamlet of Riverton Glade and west to Riverrunning. They took the road west where it spiralled and was surrounded by lush trees and wildflowers. A signpost back at the crossroads had caused them to stop when Breiam forgot the way briefly but they soon commenced down the road to Riverrunning. As they did Jahlred felt many emotions, he felt happy and nervous, he felt uncertain of his father’s attitude towards him. Karred was a forgiving man much like his son, but would he forgive Jahlred for not speaking to him for more then five years? Presently his hometown was visible up the road, its sandstone walls rising up to line the wicker rooved houses that were typical in a riverside town. Riverrunning was the largest settlement in the area and the Saed ran directly through it, thus bridges were built so people could cross between the districts. A gondola service was available and sailed right up the Saed at both sides, going to places like Weirtown and Riverton Glade. Now they were close enough to see the small gate, where someone stood in full regalia flanked by guards holding torches. Gradually the figure became clearer, he was a middle aged man with shoulder length ashy hair and eyes as blue as the Saed itself. He wore the standard noble attire of this region, a leather tunic and trousers that were complimented by his gold rimmed shoes and scale-design cape. Only a few metres away from him Jahlred and his two companions dismounted and walked over to the man, standing silently in front of him. He smiled sincerely and went on to say, “welcome to Riverrunning. I’ am Richard Beaumuir, and you must be Jahlred, whom I have spoken. This is a ranger friend of yours I see, and I know Breiam all to well from previous encounters.”

“How did you know we were coming?” asked the fey, confused. Richard smiled again, “news travels fast from Weirtown, Jahlred. But let us not linger out in the cold, your father awaits you. Karred will be ecstatic and his been ever since he learnt you were coming.” This time it was Jahlred who smiled, and Breiam said, “thank you for your hospitality in these dark times, Richard.” The lord of Riverrunning nodded and commenced to lead his three guests inside the town’s walls, followed closely by his guards. They followed the main avenue straight ahead until they reached the third junction were the street spread off in two ways, when they turned left down the street. A few metres up they halted outside a large building which was the Great Hall as Jahlred remembered. He had a vague memory of his home but was now beginning to remember it, although it had changed in many ways since he had been here. When they entered the Great Hall the smell of tobacco mixed with roasting meat and alcohol filled their noses, and a loud applause and cheer for Richard ensued from the many townsfolk seated at the tables. The group dispersed and Richard returned to his seat at the high table, and when Jahlred turned he met eyes so like his own. There he was, standing in the light of the chandelier, Karred who looked so much like his son. He had not changed much, although he looked weary and stressed, depicted in his greying beard and hair. Karred had worked hard for most of his life and now that hardship was catching up with him, he was getting old. “My son, you have come home!” he cried, running to embrace his eldest child, something he had not done for a long time. “I’ am sorry I never wrote to you, father. My life has been, full of trouble, these last few years.” Karred frowned and said as he parted with his son, “forgiveness is not needed, Jahlred. It was I who should have written if I needed to speak to you.” Directing his attention to Breiam and Arelldar Jahlred said, “these are my friends Breiam, a guide from Alderhon, and Arelldar. We will be staying for a while so I brought some Mal Vellasian ale for you, father.” “Good,” said Karred, dusting off his hands and directing the three men to seats at his own table, “please sit”. Seated here were some other members of Jahlred’s family, his uncle Jaeldra and his cousins Zaehl and Dalisaih, his mother’s brother Aulras and his wife and his great uncle Xyandir. “Jahlred! My eldest nephew is back here again!,” exclaimed Jaeldra, grinning at his brother’s son, “Zaehl, Dalisaih, be good girls and say hello to your cousin.” Zaehl, who was seventeen, drank from her cup and said unenthusiastically, “hello Jahlred, how have you been!?” “Good, Zae” replied Jahlred, more happy then he had ever felt before except the only thing missing was Ashaleena. Dalisaih, who was sixteen and much more shy than her sister, waved timidly and gave her father a look. Then Aulras rose from his chair and shook his nephew’s hand firmly, “Jahlred, good to see you. You look even more like Amelia then before.” Indicating to his uncle Aulras pointed to Jahlred and Xyandir eyed his great-nephew curiously. “Jahlred!,” he cried, half-insanely, “that’s the one! Sorry for my lack of memory but I’ve got so many blasted children and et cetera I can’t remember them all!” “Hello great uncle” replied his great-nephew as he turned to face his father, who was waiting to speak to him. “Jahlred, are any of you hungry? The kitchen stays open till midnight usually” asked Karred, following to ask the same thing to the other two. “Do you have Sieuladrian sausages available, master Karred?” asked Arelldar, ravenous after eating only Breiam’s cooking for a long time. Jahlred’s father shook his head, “the riverside towns and villages do not make Sieuladrian sausages, instead we make Sieuladrian fish. It is grilled and then served

with lemon and herbs, along with baked potatoes. Shall I order you one, master Arelldar?” The ranger remained silent for a moment and then said, “yes I will have the fish, please. And some ale if possible.” Karred nodded and turned his attention to Breiam, who said, “just ale, thank you”. Then Jahlred’s father disappeared off to the kitchen of the Great Hall to place their orders. “Tell me Jahlred,” began Jaeldra, his nephew turning to face him keenly, “your father tells us you have a so called woman in your life. Someone from the Foreseeyer’s Lands. He also tells us she is a human, and as much as that is looked upon lowly we want you to know we all support your decisions. You are family and we stick together and look out for each other, I don’t want to loose any more nephews anytime soon.” When he mentioned Elhir Jahlred knew he was not joking at all, Jaeldra had appreciated his younger nephew extremely. When he died Jaeldra had wrote a song in memory of him and always played it on Elhir’s birthday. Just then Karred returned with the food and drinks juggled in his hands and carefully handed it out. He was also carrying everyone on the table’s food and drinks and handed them when he could not reach. Finally he sat back down next to his son and took a mouthful from his wineglass, before he began to eat. When Jahlred looked around he noticed that most others in the Great Hall were also eating their meals. He turned back to face his family and noticed that Arelldar was already half-way done with his fish. Breiam however had disappeared and when he asked were he was Aulras told him he had gone outside. He was an peculiar man, always disappearing outside where he found comfort. When everyone had well and truly finished their dinner the family dispersed and Karred stayed behind with his son. When his brother and the rest of his family had left Jahlred’s father turned to him and said, “you can stay in the rooms in the second level here, they’re not much but they are cheap and average.” “Thank you,” said Jahlred, saying goodnight to his father and turning his attention to Arelldar when Karred had left, “when you go to bed speak to Aldgar Serus, he is the proprietor here. If you see Breiam tell him the same.” Arelldar nodded then belched, seating in the chair by the door and closing his eyes, “goodnight.” “Oh, and Arelldar?,” added Jahlred, the ranger opening one eye, “no mischief while we’re here, I don’t want to get a bad reputation in my own home.” On their third day of travelling Ashaleena and Penndren were nearing the Foreseeyer’s Village, as the hour of noon settled. They now rode alongside Berinn river, a waterway that ran past the Foreseeyer’s Village and ended outside Ashynn, a small town outside Oraolthor. The sun was not intense that day, but it was still relatively hot in this region. The grass and forests were still lush, although no wildlife could be seen. When they came to a small mound on the shores of the Berinn they could see a campfire on the other side of the river, where a group of three men dressed in the clothes of Ashaleena’s people, light tunics and trousers along with boots from trekking the sometimes rough landscape. Ashaleena recognised one of these men as Raelin Trouthunter, a man her age or older that was also from the Foreseeyer’s Village. But strangely he and his two companions did not seem to be hunting, they all had heavy sacks slumped over their shoulders, and what appeared to be blood stained one of the other man’s boots. Dismounting and drawing his sword Penndren cautioned Ashaleena to remain at the mound and jumped into the Berinn river. He began to wade through the cold chest deep water and tried to remain concealed from the three men. His chivalric instinct told him something was not right about them, and when he reached the other side of the Berinn he heaved himself out of the water and hid himself behind a bush. Only then did he notice something that was not visible from the other side of the river and turned back to Ashaleena, indicating for her to wait. Nearby the campfire was a man

lying face down in a puddle of blood, three arrows sticking from his back and his throat appearing to have been slit. He was a middle aged man and dressed opulently, and the bloodstained knife Raelin was holding led Penndren to believe these three had killed the man and robbed him. He drew his sword and prowled closer so he could hear the men. “We shouldn’t have done this, Raelin!,” cried one of the other men, who sounded culpable, “because of this we can never return home! Someone will find him and blame us!” “Shut up Beralus!,” hissed the young Trouthunter, not willing to just abandon his so far successful plan, “we’ll bury his body and then go to Yardelfall as rich men! Leave our lives here behind and live off of Zanthos’ money for years to come!” “Raelin’s right, Beralus,” agreed the third man, “we can’t turn back after we’ve already killed Zanthos Drelus and robbed him. We’re rich now and we can leave our silly home here and start anew!” “I suppose you two are right,” stuttered Beralus, who was much larger then the other two, “we can go to Yardelfall and buy new houses, and…” just then Penndren leapt from the bushes and massacred Beralus to a bloody heap. Then he span around and cut off Raelin’s hand, redoubling his attack when the man came charging at him and stabbing him through the neck. Raelin screamed in suffering and staggered over to the shores of the Berinn, his blood spraying into its crystalline waters as he bled incessantly. He squealed some more until he fell back and died. When Penndren turned to face the third man he discovered he had fled the camp with the gold. Ashaleena was shocked at such brutality, but then remembered what Raelin and his friends had done to this Zanthos Drelus man. When Penndren returned with his bloody sword she gave him a look, but dismissed the matter. Raelin deserved his violent fate, but it terrified her to see anyone bleed so much and scream in agony. She shuddered when she looked over to Trouthunter’s bloody corpse, his face and neck stained with blood along with his hand and most of his clothes. Penndren was certain Raelin’s body would stay on the shore, but his lack of confirmation had betrayed him. Raelin’s corpse was tugged by the current of the Berinn until it dragged him in and transported him in the direction of the Foreseeyer’s Village. Ashaleena did not speak to the knight much for the rest of the day, still angry at his slaughter of Beralus and Raelin. Sure those two were blood-mongering thieves, but was Penndren any better? He had scythed Beralus until he was a bloody carcass and completely massacred Raelin, prolonging his suffering. But perhaps it was the knight way, to kill the evil? No! Penndren could not have done that out of honour, he must have been driven by bloodlust. She could not settle on Penndren’s reason for his carnage and she had always believed knights were more diplomatic. As the sun set on the third day they finally reached the wooden walls of the Foreseeyer’s Village, surrounded by towering oaks and vivid wildflowers. Two burly guards stood either side of the nonexistent gate and Ashaleena recognised one of them as Ferhan Isenldir, one of Daohran Isenldir’s many sons. Ferhan was a athletic and brave man who was about thirty years old with a mop of brown hair, eyes of dark jade and tanned skin. In his big hands he held a spear of his people, complete with ornaments hanging of the beginning of the tip. As for his companion Ashaleena was half-certain he was Destan Gaur, a middle-aged man who had protected his village for years. He had the same aspects as Ferhan and Ashaleena, tanned skin and jade green eyes as was common in their people. The only difference was he looked older than the other two and his hair stuck up all over his head. When Ashaleena and her companion halted in front of the two men both of them were speechless. “Ashaleena!,” Ferhan exclaimed, helping her off her horse like a gentleman, “we all thought you were lost.” “Ferhan’s right, Ashal!,” cried Destan, who was almost in tears, “but then Relindahl started to tell us that you were alive, and here you are!” “It is good to see you both survived!” said Ashaleena, overwhelmed by her emotions.

Suddenly Ferhan seemed saddened and he said, “we did, but my father did not, Ashal. He led a group of us including Rethmuir Arvaldiune and Ehernal Fishmonger chasing after the demon-riders. They took Rethmuir’s son to and the group chased after the riders who had taken him, although some of them went looking for you. News arrived the next day that the riders had massacred my father and the rest of the group.” “Daohran died for me! He went after me!,” exclaimed Ashaleena, feeling weakened by the news, “why did he come after me, Ferhan?” Destan answered his question instead, “Daohran was a loyal man to us all, none more so than your grandparents. He knew it was a suicide mission, but he did not care for his own life. He was willing to sacrifice himself for you and Salandir Arvaldiune. But sadly he died in vain, but he died a hero.” Just then the silhouette of a third man appeared in the direction of the village, the outlines of a bushy beard on his shadow. He stepped forward and ran towards Ashaleena, flinging his arms around her and holding her so tight she couldn’t see. Relindahl hugged his granddaughter and did not want to let her go, he didn’t want her to ever leave again. “Grandfather!,” Ashaleena cried, tears rolling down her face as he held her, “I’ve missed you so much.” “Don’t ever leave again without someone else!,” he said, a look of pure happiness in his dark green eyes, “your grandmother’s still alive and your uncle Naodan and your cousins Roedah and Atheldar have come to help repair the village.” Ashaleena did not say anything and instead shed tears of both happiness and sorrow. Then she remembered Penndren and left her grandfather’s arms. The knight stepped forward and saluted Relindahl, “Sir Penndren of Del Jahvalla, sir. I escorted your granddaughter all the way from Mal Vellas Keep.” Relindahl smiled, “thank you, Penndren. You two are both saviours of Mal Vellas, I heard that my own granddaughter fought and defended the keep!” “The scholars probably exaggerated that a bit,” said Ashaleena with a smile, “but let us not linger out here, I’m sure grandmother is dying to see me.” As they moved to enter the village and Destan and Ferhan escorted their horses, someone yelled out from behind, “you! Knight, come here at once!” It was a old gaunt man, with strands of white hair and bad fingernails. He hobbled forward as Penndren walked over and pointed a wrinkled finger at him, “you’re the one! I recognise footprints from your boots!” “What are you talking about, old man?” enquired Penndren, certain the fellow was mad. “Don’t deny it,” cried the skinny old man, lifting up the severed hand of Raelin Trouthunter, “you killed my son! And Beralus too! Murdering bastard, get out of here! I will wring your neck with my own hands!” Relindahl strode over to the man and held him back from Penndren, “calm yourself, Alderin! What are you saying, Raelin is dead?” “It is because he is a murderous thief, along with his two friends,” said Penndren, Alderin Trouthunter’s eyes flaring with rage as Relindahl held him back, “I only killed them to protect your people, Relindahl. They killed a man by the name of Zanthos Drelus and stole all his money. “Lies,” hissed Alderin, gritting his teeth in anger, “you killed him for no reason! He was going to move to Yardelfall next week and you cut of his hand, you bastard! My own son is dead because of you, you and your murderous rampage.” “I’ am sorry Alderin but I’ am led to believe that your son and Beralus did in fact murder Zanthos Drelus and then robbed him” said Relindahl, the old fisherman looking up at him in painful sorrow and rage. Penndren nodded and handed Ashaleena’s grandfather a extravagant black ring, “I took that ring from Zanthos’ body in case someone called me a liar.” The ring was bloodstained and Relindahl could only believe the knight rather then Alderin, “I’ am sorry Alderin, but your son is a murderer. I cannot banish this knight for anything, instead your son if he still lived. Ferhan, please help Alderin to his

house?” Ferhan nodded and took the old fisherman into the village and they soon disappeared from sight. At that very hour Raelin’s other friend Rendoris was trotting alongside the Berinn, just a few hours from the campsite where his friends had been massacred. He had only one gold sack over his weakening shoulder and his trudge soon turned into a run. There it was a shrill howl from within the trees as he had heard at least fifteen minutes ago. Not daring to look back he ran for the cover of some rocks, but as he did he stumbled and cracked his ankle on the stone. He gritted his teeth in pain and dropped the sack nearby him, grabbing his ankle and tying clothe around it to lessen the bleeding and pain. He looked up and saw something leap out of the forest in front of him. The tall gaunt creature stood a metre taller than him, and resembled a wolf on two legs, with human aspects. It was a lycanthor, remembered Rendoris, a werewolf like faeylessa that prowled the forests of Arzith in search of prey. Saliva dribbled from its maw of yellow fangs and its eyes were as black as the night. The lycanthor howled again and growled at the wounded man, flexing its taloned hands. Then it leapt into the air with its powerful hind legs and landed perfectly in front of him, the smell of blood making it lick its maw. Rendoris was frozen in terror, his eyes meeting the monster’s black voids. He brought himself to realisation and began to drag himself backwards, the lycanthor slowly growing closer. It lunged for his wounded leg and snatched it up in its jaws, Rendoris screaming in pain as he tried to drag himself away. The beast clawed at his back to draw him closer and scarred him unbearably. Then it tossed him from its jaws and sent him into the rocks, instantly breaking part of his spine. Rendoris grew weary and he could not feel anything, not his leg coated in saliva and bleeding, not his broken and scarred back. The lycanthor lunged at him and slashed him across the neck with its claws, ending his suffering. Jahlred awoke at dawn the next morning and dressed himself in his usual attire, strapping Silverwynd to his side. When he stepped outside of the Great Hall he noticed the streets were thick with fog, and no one was walking around. Then he noticed that Breiam was standing just a few paces away from him, smoking his wooden pipe and looking up into the morning sky, muttering to himself. “Up early,” he said without even looking at the fey, “rumours are that members of the Scorpion Brethren prowl the streets at this hour, searching for nobles to rob and kill.” “They are not present here in Riverrunning, Breiam,” corrected Jahlred, receiving a scowl from the old man, “they would not be here, there’s nothing for them.” “Your cousin Zaehl,” began the old guide, changing the subject suddenly, “she seems to have a strange aura about her, and does she possess some sort of power?” Jahlred shrugged as he did not know much about his younger cousin, “she was born different to her sister and the rest of us. It is a rare occurrence in about fifteen percent of feyran children that they are born with black hair and darker eyes. Zaehl is not treated as an outcast or a hindrance, my family accepts her for her difference like they accept my love for Ashaleena.” “Your family seems very candid, Jahlred,” replied Breiam, taking one last breath of his pipe and shoving it in his pocket, “unlike my people’s approach to my family. As you know I’ am half-fey and when my father told his family that he loved a feyran woman they were deeply angered. They banished him from his homeland of Rethbind and he was cast out into the wilderness, where my mother found him. Without consulting her parents she and my father fled to Alderhon at the time Duke Cedris Lambarl, Varhim’s father, ruled Mal Vellas. I was born in Alderhon two years later.” “Times have changed, Breiam,” said Jahlred cleverly, expecting some recognition and then when he didn’t, he added, “not that you were young that long ago!” Breiam scowled at him and turned to head inside, saying with his back to the fey,

“watch your tongue, boy. Someone could rip it out one day if you’re not careful.” Jahlred waited until he had gone inside and laughed, although he knew Breiam was probably being serious. Ashaleena had slept well the previous night, in her own bed in her grandmother’s house. When she awoke the next day she discovered she had slept for a long time, and the village was strangely quiet. Penndren had slept in the Great Hall’s lodgings and when she went outside, she saw no one except Alanna Namiolan, who was the local healer. Alanna was a young and attractive woman with a face framed by tendrils of black hair and brown eyes. She was a practiced healer and had saved Relindahl’s life a few times. She must have been at least thirty, Ashaleena thought as she strode over to the young healer, who was sitting on the shore of the Berinn, washing her clothes. She looked up at Ashaleena with nebulous eyes and said, “the village is so quite, not like it was before they came. Everyone used to be out on the streets and the Inn of Shoreline Luck used to have dozens of visitors. Sevan Darl, who lives across the Berinn from me, says its because everyone so afraid that they’ll come back to haunt us. “The demon-riders were wickedly chivalric,” said Ashaleena, recalling her time with Tormak and his riders, “they affronted so charmingly that it hurt even to look upon them.” “They are strange creatures, Khalvazard’s demon riders,” replied Alanna, tossing her clean clothes into a basket beside her, “let us hope they never come here again.” Since his arrival in Ferlimwe Alverhad Hythe had become very busy. Dermond Lwynelsta was a insistent superior and had tasked him with working on ending the Blackvale pirate raids. Alverhad had been working hard for weeks on his own until Dermond had enlisted a friendly and wise mage called Azzen Aulorn. Azzen was a short and academic man, with a deep zeal for Arzithrian history. He proved a helpful companion to Alverhad and told him the Blackvale pirates’ habits and weaknesses, also that they would next strike the village of Atherand that lay not far from Ferlimwe. With Azzen’s help Alverhad was finally able to present Dermond with a full dissertation on the Blackvale pirates. Dermond was pleased but had asked him to see him in a few weeks time. That day had now come and Alverhad was the Vinestone Guild Hall to consult the High Druid. The atrium of the Vinestone Guild Hall was the embodiment of druidry, a dimly lit room with colours of green and brown all over the furniture and walls. Ysabella Uelren was the senior alchemist at the Guild Hall but also acted in the atrium as a warden. When Alverhad approached she greeted him with a smile. “Is the High Druid present? He requested council with me” said the senior mage of Mal Vellas Keep. Ysabella checked her timetable on the desk and said slowly, “yes, he’s in the Chamber of Xilrian, praying to our Forest Father Dysios. Go right in.” Alverhad thanked her and made his way into the Chamber of Xilrian, where the Shrine of Dysios lay. The Chamber was a square room completely covered in glass panels, representing the Forest Father’s sight of everything. In the centre of the chamber on a rectangular platform was the Shrine of Dysios, where a stone statue of the Forest Father surrounded by his servant nymphs stood. Offerings such as leaves from the resindar plant or sometimes a galgwullion horn were left at the feet of the Forest Father. Presently Dermond stood before Dysios, praying to the god of nature and founder of the Vinestone Guild. Dysios was the Forest Father and brother to Trethora goddess of the hunt. His spirit was rumoured to inhabit the Dim Woods in Vivacia Delamor. Alverhad always felt nervous when he entered the Chamber of Xilrian, maybe it was because he could feel Dysios himself was watching. In fact the god did visit the guild hall when he was mortal and had blessed the High Druid Isten Vrend, Dermond’s ancestor. Slowly and cautiously he approached the High Druid as he prayed to

Dysios. “I sensed your arrival, Alverhad,” he said suddenly, without turning his head or opening his eyes, “the knowledge of Dysios had foreseen it. Please sit in the chair by the shrine while I finish my prayers to the Forest Father.” Alverhad obeyed and sat in a chair directly across from the statue of Dysios, turning his gaze to the forest god’s stone eyes. The soul of Dysios burned within the statue, his essence flared in those imposing eyes. Dermond left an offering of resindar leaves and strode over to his secondary, “it is good you came at the right time. The fifteenth of Lorngnashadi, a fine day in a fine month. But to the matter at hand. You are familiar with your friend Azzen Aulorn and I thank you both for your services to the guild, Ferlimwe and the whole of Vivacia Delamor. But my assistant Relu has recently come to learn there’s a traitor in the guild, and I intend on exposing he or she and expelling them from the Vinestone Guild. Relu began some “precarious” investigations into the matter and he was certain that Azzen was the traitor. However when he confronted Azzen the mage denied such accusations and said if I ever accused him of such things again he would find some way of getting rid of me.” “Azzen is a traitor? Are you sure?” said Alverhad, baffled by such shocking news. Dermond nodded, “Relu is certain it is him, he even saw Azzen meet with a woman called Dainlynn Mondora, some initiator of the “Guild of Szendor’s Dark Will” or something like that. Under my orders Relu tracked down this Dainlynn woman and she was coaxed into speaking of Azzen and the Guild of Szendor’s Dark Will. But then she used some magical item to kill herself, but she said “Szendor will rise and destroy Dysios” before she died. Then Relu confronted Azzen once more and yet again he denied the claims and said he had never met Dainlynn. That is why you must kill Azzen Aulorn.” The last words were blunt and Alverhad was taken aback, “kill him!? But how can you be sure that he is the traitor and Relu is mistaken!?” “Relu is no fool and does not accuse people without good evidence, and he is led me to believe that Azzen is a traitor. Are you suggesting it is someone else, Alverhad?” “Perhaps it is,” replied the senior mage, feeling unwell, “Relu may have got his facts wrong and accused Azzen, whereas it could be someone else within the guild. I’ am even suggesting it might be Relu himself.” “Relu!?,” exclaimed Dermond, “Relu is a emissary, not a warrior. If he is your so called traitor then he would have to have learnt some pretty good blade skills.” “What do you mean, someone was killed?” asked Alverhad, eager to find out who the betrayer within the Vinestone Guild was. Dermond nodded, “a man called Sevenus Rassc was found dead behind Anvid’s Fine Weapons in the market district, with a note reading: “Szendor wished for this man here to die, and his servants have done him well in their service”. Sevenus was not a dangerous man, he was a simple merchant and good person. Whoever killed him must have some reason for doing so.” “Where was Relu on the night of Sevenus’ murder, High Druid?” asked Alverhad quickly. The High Druid shrugged, “I’ am not sure, but I think the day was the tenth of Lorngnashadi, five days ago. Relu was running errands for me from six in the evening to eleven at night, a busy schedule he had. I suspected nothing of his lateness but now you suspect him of betrayal he did seem rugged as if he’d been in a fight and he walked with a limp for about two days.” Suddenly the doors of the Chamber swung open and a balding man dressed in lavish clothes burst in, it was Relu. “My lord!,” he exclaimed, “I heard that you were here at the Shrine so I rushed to tell you. Azzen Aulorn is dead, he was found slain in his study. Looks like someone did our dirty work.” “Good work, Relu. But I’ am not sure Azzen was the traitor and I think his death was unnecessary. My friend Alverhad here tells me the traitor might in fact be you, and I can regrettably agree.” “What!?,” screamed Relu, his face red with anger, “such accusations are absurd!

What gave this man such false ideas?” “I have reason to believe that you arranged for Azzen Aulorn to meet with Dainlynn Mondora so she could initiate you into the Guild of Szendor’s Dark Will, then you blamed Azzen as the traitor and let Dainlynn be captured and interrogated. You then clearly ordered in secrecy for Sevenus Rassc to be murdered and just now I’ am certain you arranged Azzen’s assassination. Such betrayals I did not think you were capable of, Relu.” “Fine, it is all true what the Mal Vellasian says! But it was all to get to you, to exact my dark master Szendor’s vengeance upon a servant of Dysios!” cried Relu, withdrawing a curved knife from his robes. Then he roared in bloodlust and leapt onto Dermond, knocking him to the ground. The High Druid pushed the knife away but his servant was stronger, suppressing his resistance. Sensing a bleak outcome Alverhad hid behind the statue of Dysios. Dermond finally threw the man off him, but Relu leapt forward and stabbed him through the neck. Dermond gasped and fell to his knees, blood trickling down his robes as his old servant stood over him. “At last the servant of Dysios’ blood stains the ground! Bleed, my old master! Bleed!,” he pushed Dermond to the ground and repeatedly stabbed the High Druid again and again, laughing manically, “oh great Szendor, god of darkness! Reward me for my loyalty and service for I have slain the High Druid!” Lighting cracked inside the Chamber of Xilrian and Relu dragged his master’s dead body to the shrine and awaited an answer from Szendor. Lightning erupted again, this time louder that it almost made Alverhad jump, who was struggling to remain hidden. “You have served me well, my child!,” hissed a guttural and ominous voice from thin air, “the blood of Dermond Lwynelsta stains the shrine of Dysios, the false bastard god. One step is complete towards my passing into your realm. For your dutiful and unholy service you have been fully accepted into my dark order of servants. Now go my child of the shadow! Make your dark master proud!” Relu bowed to the voice and then muttered something, disappearing in a flash of light. Alverhad waited a few minutes before he moved, going to Dermond’s corpse that lay on the stairs of the shrine. Blood stained his neck and robes, a grisly sight. But Alverhad was compliant to honour his short-time master, and closed his eyes putting him to rest. As he turned to leave he felt a sudden urge to look upon the statue of Dysios. “Szendor’s servants have triumphed,” said the voice of Dysios, ” Relu has slain his master the High Druid and my guild is leaderless. But your acts of good will here in Ferlimwe should be rewarded, good mage. Do now what must be done, venture to the city of Mithril Vellas and there you will find the temporary base of Szendor’s order and vanquish Relu the traitor. This will exact the vengeance of Dermond, Azzen and Sevenus. Take this as a token of my thanks, it is called the Wings of Dysios. It is an ancient bow crafted by my blacksmith Igdredor and will prove useful in dealing with Relu.” A wooden bow with carved vine inscriptions appeared at the statue’s feet, and Alverhad cautiously picked it up. He felt the warmth of the wood and the care of nature; he would have to leave Ferlimwe. Just then Ysabella burst into the room and ran over to him. “What’s going on!?,” she cried, her confusion marring her beauty, “Relu came in and then there was all this commotion. Is Dermond alive!?” Slowly Alverhad shook his head, “Azzen was not the traitor, Relu was. He assassinated the High Druid and offered his blood to the god of darkness Szendor. I must go to Mithril Vellas as Dysios instructed me, and kill Relu.” “I see,” said Ysabella, taking a moment to absorb the news, “well if your going to confront Relu then don’t do it alone. Take some of the mages here, Terzen Whitesword would be happy to come, and most likely the young Andressu twins Faerian and Densorl too. While you confront Relu I will remain here and try to get things back to normal. Dermond will need a funeral and we need a new High Druid,

perhaps one of his sons Zsianlir or Cyranos. Zsianlir may only be a young man but he is skilled like his father, and so is Cyranos. They will be distraught to learn their father has been killed.” “Cyranos is a soldier and Zsianlir is busy growing up, perhaps their elder brother Alren?” said Alverhad, changing the subject from Dermond’s assassination. “Perhaps, but Alren lives in Imperium and is a citizen of the Empire. The Emperor’s second son Trastor Conceldium is busy over there, and Alren is helping him with the recent outbreak of the Imperial Plague. Even though the situation with the plague is stable Alren is still needed in Ibercium.” “Alren works for the Second Prince Trastor? I never knew” Ysabella nodded, “Trastor is not like Perens, he is more focused on the welfare of his father’s empire. Ibercium cannot do such things as he is near insane, so he tasks Perens and Trastor with care taking the Empire.” “Thank you Ysabella, I plan to leave here tomorrow and I do think I will enlist the help of Whitesword and the twins” said Alverhad, noticing he had lost some of his grey hair from overstress. “Yes, sir,” replied the woman, her voice full of fear and stress, “good luck on killing Relu, avenge our master.” “I will, Ysabella. I will.” Jahlred was happy to see his family, but he felt something was missing. Riverrunning was not a busy town and only merchants from either Vivacia Delamor or Shaorn passed through on their wagons with their monthly trade. Some of them stopped at the Rirath’s Trade Goods and sold some of their supplies before continuing on to their designated location. Azorn Fervilus was the Steward of the Eastern Feyran Lands Trade and dissipated his thick salaries of two thousand gold a month, enough to pay the taxes for his lavish abode Silverhollow Manor in the city of Ashembailon in Svaeryan Vil. Not many merchants liked Azorn very much and tended to take their business elsewhere, ignoring the usually fruitless jobs Fervilus sent them on. When they were not in his presence they spoke of him badly and cursed his name by the greed of Banarticus, god of festivities. Presently Jahlred sat in the foyer of Boatyard, where his father was speaking with the retired sailor Rafian Tiros. Karred was organising the re-establishment of the Riverrunning Armada Fleet, a group of highly trained militia and soldiers aboard boats who protected the town until they diminished forty years ago. Both Karred and Rafian had been associated with the Armada and Jahlred had asked his father to begin a restoration, sensing the Armada could be used against Vivilianon. “I think it is a fantastic idea,” announced Rafian eagerly, seated across form Karred at a wooden table, “most of us are still alive. Segdor Vandaran the Imperial fellow, and Mantorius Victrus the old retired soldier who was in the Feyran Riders, you’d remember him. Trendrick Vandadi is dead though, he was fifty-six and you remember he moved to Dallavor after the Armada was disbanded. Erthrin Naarvil and Lirind Dregdan both live in Weirtown and are retired sailors like me. Of course there’s Vadamus Rentuus, our old captain. I hear from his son Brendin that he died about four years ago. But I think you should lead us, Karred.” Jahlred’s father smiled faintly, “maybe, Rafian. So we’ve got Segdor, Mantorius, Erthrin and Lirind, that’s enough to man one boat. But you told earlier that there’s enough of the young militia and soldiers from Weirtown to man at least seven more boats, nay?” Rafian nodded and laid a map of the area showing the towns that were situated on the Saed, “if what Jahlred has told us is right, then we will be able to strike Vivilianon via the Saed, because as we know when it passes Daelen Bridge it becomes the Vitikus, the river of Hithen Dwa. This river runs directly into Hithen Dwa’s water tunnels and I have learnt there’s a platform about five kilometres into the main tunnel accessible via the Vitikus, and this platform joins onto the lower levels of Hithen Dwa.” “An excellent strategy,” agreed Karred, “if we need one. Planning ahead always does

well, Rafian. Jahlred says that the time to strike Vivilianon is dawning and Baelandyr will alert us when the power of Sieulad can be unleashed. Has Baelandyr mentioned any specific date, Jahlred?” In truth Jahlred honestly did not know, as he had not been the one to receive any official notification of a campaign against Vivilianon and had heard from his uncle Jaeldra. “I have no specific date of attack but I suspect it will be soon. Lorngnashadi is almost over so I suspect Meibon will be the month we strike. The western provinces ready for the battle against the Green Sorceress, but Jalis Jahr cannot lend help as they must defend our lands.” Rafian seemed to agree, “the men will be ready by about the end of this month, then next month we can get supplies and weapons from the Ecymwan armouries. So it is decided that we will strike in Meibon, at the end of the year 179 Second Era. The other western provinces will most likely join in our campaigns, and allies from the Empire may be sent to help. When you leave Jahlred, tell General Galverious that we are ready to fight for our lands! Tell him we also appreciate any assistance.” Jahlred nodded and racked his memory, “we are to return to Mal Vellas on the twentieth of Lorngnashadi. I will inform Galverious that you require reinforcements, but it is likely Mal Vellas will join the main army in besieging Hithen Dwa.” “And our task is to infiltrate the tunnel system and use the explosives supplied by Ecymwa to severely damage Hithen Dwa. Baelandyr’s task, I’m guessing, is to confront Vivilianon and kill her. Then we can focus on Khalvazard and his hordes. But I sense that Emperor Ibercium’s life is becoming increasingly short, and Perensius may not live up to the standards in these dark times.” “Fear not Rafian, I do not doubt the Emperor’s skill, despite his lack of sanity. Trastor is a better man than his brother, but if Perensius is crowned his father’s successor then what can we do about it?” “You’re right Jahlred,” agreed Karred, his face seeming weary and vague, “I believe that Richard will allow some sort of festivities to celebrate the revival of the Armada, don’t you Rafian?” The retired sailor nodded and picked up the sabre from his desk and plunged it into the table, “the day has come to end the sorceress’ madness!”

5: The War Begins: Ashaleena awoke early that morning, the 17th of Lorngnashadi. She felt to stressed to sleep, but could not comprehend why. Nothing plagued her, well perhaps Raelin Drelas’ ill fate did. But that was long since past and she had finally forgiven Penndren for his deeds of violence. She could not even close her eyes, something made her too frightened to do so. Maybe it was the fact that she would have to face Vivilianon, but she had the help of her friends and Baelandyr himself. But yet she doubted herself, her ability, her knowledge. She felt so alone, even though her grandfather was in the same house as her. Relindahl slept, but he was still vigilant and would protect her from anything. He stirred in his sleep and Ashaleena quietly stepped outside. The cold morning air chilled her bones, and her hair was a annoying mess. The grass was freezing on her bare feet and the lack of sunlight made her vision bad, made her even more afraid and alone. She heard the door of her grandfather’s house open, but even though she knew it was him she was still frozen in her tracks. The wind brushed against the back of her neck, making her shudder with fear. “Ashal!” called Relindahl, his granddaughter remaining oblivious. He came closer and sensed something was very wrong with her. Ashaleena closed her vibrant eyes and the first thing she pictured was a burning ash plain, surrounded by lava. Then she realised that this place was RezvazzMorttagaldur, the original domain of Khalvazard. Screams of agony filled the scene,

and corpses of mutilated and burning people appeared. She tried to banish them from her tortured mind, but their wailing stayed. Relindahl now watched as she lay on the grass, clutching her head and shouting for someone to go away and stop the madness. He ran over and shook her, but she was stuck in her trance of terror. “Ashaleena!!” he cried, shaking her in a vain attempt to break her bonds of imagination. Now she was muttering, speaking of ancient bonds and violent retribution. The tale of the Red Prince played through her lips like she knew it by rote. Her eyes stayed closed the whole time, her face becoming pale with illness. Then she burst back into reality and broke into a coughing fit, spitting blood with her saliva. Relindahl called for Ashaleena’s grandmother who lived next door and she came running out in her night gown, cradling her granddaughter in her arms. “Get the medicines in the glass cabinet, a bottle of green liquid!,” she ordered her son’s father-in-law, “hurry Relindahl! I will try to keep her stable. I will not loose my Ashal!!” Relindahl burst into motion and ran into the Foreseeyer’s house, scrambling amongst the shelves and cabinets to find the medicine. “Ashal, can you here me?,” said the Foreseeyer, panicking for her granddaughter’s fate, “stay with me, don’t leave this world!” Ashaleena’s vision was blurry, her head throbbing with pain and confusion. She could vaguely see the faces of her grandparents, and felt the bitter taste of the medicine as she swallowed. Slowly her visioned was restored and her throbbing headache lessened. “Ashal?,” said the voice of her grandfather, still faint in her ears, “can you hear me!?” Ashaleena slowly sat up and managed to say through her dry lips, “yes, but I can still hear them! The screaming, tortured dead souls wailing in my ears! Ceaseless agony for undying souls. Make it leave me alone, grandfather. I do not want such horrible noises!” “Rest, Ashal. The medicine will soon work,” said her grandmother, supporting her in her arms, “now tell us what happened?” It was hard for Ashaleena to remember, it just kept appearing at random points and she had to piece it together again. Why was she being subjected to such psychological torture? What threat did she pose, and to whom? “It was early, in the morning,” she began, her head beginning to throb in searing pain again, ‘”please let me stop, grandmother. It hurts my mind to remember, I cannot think.” “You are clearly ill, my dear,” said her grandmother, resting her palm on Ashaleena’s head to measure her temperature, “you must sleep.” “No!,” cried the girl, not daring to close her eyes, “he can get me in my sleep, when I close my eyes he ensnares me. He wants to kill me, feed me to hounds and rape my corpse! That is what he said! He wants to harm me! But I cannot let him, he cannot triumph. I feel his cold touch on me, his luring eyes of shadow. He calls to me, says my name and beckons me to come into his lands of horror.” “Who, Ashal? Who wants this?” said Relindahl, confident she was going insane. She turned to look at him with wide eyes, and said, “Khalvazard!”. It had been a while since Jahlred had worn his full armour, the heirloom of his family. Passed down generation after generation by his family and all the armour belonged first to his great-great grandfather Thaaron who had fought alongside Emperor Ibercium Conceldium III. Jahlred had only learnt of his ancestor’s veneration on his fifteenth birthday, when Karred had shown him and his brother the armour for the first time. Forged from simple steel and reinforced with marvellous gold and black, the full armour was an honour to wear. Thaaron’s might and guidance remained with the metal and Jahlred was morally strengthened when he saw it again. Karred had told him the night before during the meeting with Rafian Tiros that he should wear it when the Siege of Hithen Dwa came, the following month. For Jahlred it felt like every hour was building up to the conflict with

Vivilianon, in fact it virtually was. All over western Arzith soldiers from Ecymwa and Shaorn prepared to meet their fates in Hithen Dwa. Jahlred had written to Lord Anglus and his brother and they both agreed that armies from Yddril and Zydoran commanded by them would join the battle. He had also heard from Luernir that Trened Unfalud had returned in an effort to redeem his family name, and how he had risen through the ranks of the Luernirian army and had become captain. News came from Luernir to Jahlred that they were eager to join the battle. Presently Jahlred sat in the storehouse behind the Great Hall, polishing the cuirass of Thaaron’s armour. It was dusty and full of cobwebs, as Karred had returned it to his great grandfather’s tomb ten years prior. Jahlred had visited the family tomb many times, and that were his mother Amelia and his brother Elhir were buried. Hero’s Barrow, as it was named after Thaaron’s burial within, stood on a hill directly south of Riverrunning, overlooking the Saed. In the centre of the Barrow was the tomb of Thaaron, where beside it his armour and sword Bittersmite stood on two separate pedestals. Just then Karred walked in and smiled at his son, “so you are fixing up my great grandfather’s armour? You’re going to wear like him before you, son?” Jahlred nodded, moving on to repair the gauntlets and greaves, “Thaaron’s armour would be an honour to wear. You say it was made for him by Emperor Ibercium III’s smiths?” Karred nodded and took a seat beside his son, “Thaaron served him as a good friend and ally, he was a top soldier amongst Baelandyr’s army and died old and with his family. His son, my grandfather Larindahs, wore it only once during the Siege of Riverrunning in 110 SE.” “And what of you, and my grandfather Javalas, did either of you wear it?” asked Jahlred, eager to know of his father’s military career. “My father wore it in Hyracium when he was fighting with Ibercium IV, who was a young man. As for me I wore it until what some dub “Baelandyr’s Betrayal” of my fellow Feyran Riders. After that I felt ashamed that I had not been there to help my comrades, and returned the armour to Thaaron’s tomb. Let us hope you redeem me by slaying many foes.” “I will use Silverwynd also, my symbol of minor office in the Feyran Council. I know I’ am but a scion of Baelandyr’s court but he has rewarded me for five years of service with my mighty blade.” “I care not if you are a scion or a lord, Jahlred,” began Karred, thinking his son was much more successful than him, “I’ am just glad that you are a member of the Council, and that you have done tremendous things these past years. Do not blame yourself for Elhir’s death, in the loss of a son I gained a family champion. Wear Thaaron’s armour and wield Silverwynd with mighty honour and formidable skill I know you possess.” “War is coming father, and I have my part in it,” said Jahlred, swallowing, “but I can’t help feeling something is horribly wrong. I sense Ashaleena is a danger, and I’ am powerless to stop it. I feel she will die and I will be useless in efforts to stop her from dying.” “Tricks of the mind, or demon mind-corruption,” replied Karred, “what ever you call it you must remember it is negative and like a material foe it must be banished. Take heart Jahlred, I know you will succeed.” On the 18th of Lorngnashadi news spread throughout the Feyran Lands that a desperate campaign was being initiated against Vivilianon. Places like Vivacia Delamor, who had just suffered the crisis of High Druid Lwynelsta’s death, and Silvermoon were readying for war. Armies were drilled into their former glory and strategies against the Green Sorceress were all to few amongst neighbouring Lords and Ladies. Places like Zeerafald and Sieulad were right next to Hithen Dwa and had the rare chance to renew their armies and take revenge for over twenty years of harassment from the sorceress. All over western Arzith the Argithrian Brutes were seen on their own spying on the provinces, some intercepted by scouts. But those

who did escape brought the mistress the news and she herself was readying. She knew of the fey Jahlred, the slayer of her lover Vallabortax, and desperately sought revenge upon him and this was the perfect chance. And the girl Ashaleena, whose book of necromancy her Argithrians had stolen seemed to prove useful in the “Rebirth of Vallabortax”. If Baelandyr wanted a real war she was going to give him one. A lone man walked through the streets of Mithril Vellas, with an arcane bow strung to his back along with a quiver full of arrows. As he approached a house he drew a dagger from within his cloak and kicked the door open. Alverhad stepped into the dank room, and smelt alcohol and moss. Relu was definitely here, and when he found him Alverhad would do as Dysios had told him. He cast an illumination spell in his free hand and moved onwards into the house, finding several sleeping men who were probably cohorts of Relu. One by one he slit their throats and found an open trap hole. Here the smell was stronger, and the tunnel downwards lined with moss. But still the senior mage from Mal Vellas Keep climbed down and then he was in a damp smelly cavernous room. He instinctively looked behind him and saw a city guard lying in the green water with his throat slit, and Alverhad presumed he had been dead for days, maybe even weeks. Suddenly he heard splashing and turned back to where the room extended. A brute fat man stood there, with a torch in one hand and a club in the other. “Hey you dirty lout! Owd you get in ere’!?” Alverhad did not bother to listen and sent the man into the wall with a giant fireblast, burning half his body. Sighing he continued through the tunnel-room and found a crude shrine, complete with a skull and red candles. He sheathed his dagger and strung the bow, turning the corner. Relu was there, standing with his back to Alverhad and speaking softly to someone. Without hesitation the mage loosed the arrow and watched it soar towards the betrayer. Then Relu spun around and incinerated the arrow with a fire spell, without even saying a word. He looked different, paler, and darker, as if something or someone was using him. His shirt was torn open at the chest, and a series of stitches ran from his breast down to his stomach. Alverhad dropped the bow and swung out the dagger, but Relu destroyed it with a swift wave of his hand. With his foe weaponless he stepped closer and pressed his hand to Alverhad’s forehead. Then he outstretched his fingers and muttered ancient words, and the mage fell to his knees unconscious. Ashaleena had become strangely vague after her ordeal, keeping to herself and wandering the nearby forests. Her grandmother had been working tirelessly to find out how and why Khalvazard was tormenting her granddaughter but to no avail. Meanwhile Relindahl had been out on numerous expeditions to the edges of the Eastern Moors, searching for the elusive faeylessa that had kidnapped two villagers in the past month. Whenever he went off Ashaleena always watched him on the large hill called Dragon’s Watch, sitting there silently and watching the sun set. Penndren had asked to accompany Relindahl and he had agreed. It was late, and the hunting party was an hour late. As usual Ashaleena waited on Dragon’s Watch for them, but saw no one cross the Berinn. Relindahl and his party were late and it was because they had made significant progress. While trekking through the edges of the Moors they had come across an old man sitting on an islet by himself, a man who was clearly insane. When Relindahl had enquired about the faeylessa the old man had spoken of a cave a few dozen miles away, but the only way to cross was via an old bridge that passed over very deep and thick waters. Relindahl traipsed over another islet, his boots squelching in the vile mud as he used his spear for guidance. His grandson Roedah followed behind alongside Penndren and three other men. The Eastern Moors were a desolate and horrible place, Argithrian Brutes roamed larger islets along with other foul faeylessa.

“Grandfather, what is that on the islet ahead!?” asked Roedah, pointing to what appeared to be a cave a few islets away. “I do not know, Roedah,” replied Relindahl, he and his companions commencing to cross another islet “perhaps we should investigate.” The party made their way over a steep ridge and passed what seemed to be the remains of a cart, its contents spilled and ruined around it. The cave was now at least a metre away from them, and Penndren decided to draw his sword in readiness. The moon was a sullen orb in the starlit sky, shrouded by thick grey clouds. A storm was brewing in the centre of the Moors, Relindahl knew he would have to act soon to avoid it. When they entered the cave the smell of mud and grime filled their nostrils, and everyone was repulsed. But after a long search there was no faeylessa to be found, and Relindahl knew it was time to head home. But the storm was growing closer, the area around the cave was beginning to experience light rainfall. Their only resort was to stay the night in the cave. When Alverhad awoke he found that he was chained to the wall across from the shrine, and Relu standing in front of him. He had removed his shirt and now the mage could see his tattoo adorned body, inscribed with markings of Szendor. He smirked and stepped closer, grunting as his movement strained on his stitches. “I knew you were coming, Alverhad,” he said, sounding disappointed “I even knew you were there when I killed Dermond, but what I didn’t know was if you would make it this far. Looks like I was wrong, the beacon of Szendor was misguided. But I’ am afraid your little adventure is coming to a close.” “What are those stitches!?” asked Alverhad, ignoring Relu’s comment. “Szendor is growing within me, like a child in a woman, but yet for me it is different,” growled Relu “he has tried to come out of me, but every time he fails. And yet he does not repair my wounds, he simply allows me to endure such agony. But when he is born he will engulf Mithril Vellas, and then the rest of the world. And I will be his highest ally, the scion of Szendor.” “But why? And how?” “Simple,” replied the traitor “after I killed Dermond Lwynelsta, Szendor visited me in my dreams and told me of what I must do. Naturally I obeyed him, as he is my lord and master. But enough of that, its time to die.” Relu leant up and pressed his curved knife to Alverhad’s neck, breathing in his face “are you afraid!? You should be” Mustering the last of his energy Alverhad kicked Relu back and broke his bonds with magic. Landing heavily on the ground he grabbed the bow and strung it. But Relu struck quickly and destroyed the bow with a single word. “Your feeble tokens of Dysios are nothing against me, kneel in defeat now!!” hissed the traitor, striding forward with an outstretched hand. Searching for a weapon Alverhad noticed a ceremonial spear hung above the shrine, and with an agility he never knew he possessed he grabbed it from the wall and leapt towards Relu. This time the traitor’s magic was too slow, and Alverhad drove the spear right through him. Relu staggered back and fell to the ground, clutching the spear “you fool; in killing me you have only released Szendor!” His chest began to creak and he screamed in pain as it ripped open. With his last breath he cursed Alverhad in feyran, and then his stitches tore apart and then out crawled a hideous figure. Black slime dripped from the creature’s body, and Alverhad could not believe that such a thing could come forth from a man. As the figure stood the slime disappeared, and his body was revealed. His skin was a stone ashen grey, and his mouth and eyes were almost skeletal. Wheezing gutturally the creature hobbled over to the shrine and took the black robes from upon it, casting the clothing over his grey body. He made an undead wheeze and stood properly, noting that Alverhad was standing across from him. Naturally the mage drew his dagger and readied to fight. But like Relu, this creature

cast the weapon aside and grabbed Alverhad around the throat with thin fleshstripped hands. “Fool, you dare draw your weapon in the presence of a god! I’ am Szendor!” hissed the god of darkness, sending Alverhad flying into the wall with unnatural strength. Szendor approached him and for the first time in years Alverhad was filled with terror. “For my acts of supposed evil I was sentenced to sixty thousand years imprisonment by Gølir, but I escaped! Now, centuries later I have arisen once more, to engulf this land with darkness. And no other god or mortal can challenge me now, the bravery of the fey has dwindled, and I will shatter it!!” “Aroran will destroy you!!” Alverhad roared, although he was doubtful. “He is afraid, less brave than he once was,” gasped Szendor, glancing to the bloody corpse of Relu “he provided me a path to this plane of existence, to escape the lands of Gølir. His soul with be powerful than others. “He was convinced you would grant him a boon, and you only filled his head with delusions of power!” “Enough!!,” roared Szendor, his cold breath drifting towards the mage “you will be destroyed tonight, silence yourself or I will remove your tongue!!” He raised his hand to strike Alverhad done when a fierce white light enveloped the room, blinding both god and man. At the core of the light stood a figure, a figure that adorned temples across the world. He stepped out from the light and it ended, revealing the face of Aroran. He did not say anything, but let out a mighty roar and grabbed Szendor, dragging both of them into the light. Then the light exploded across the room, and Alverhad was alone. It was midnight, and still Relindahl and the others were not back. Everyone was inside except Ashaleena, who did not care the approaching storm. The winds battered the Berinn and the mighty river sprayed water over the bridges in the village. As she was walking Ashaleena felt suddenly overwhelmed with a pain in her stomach, so painful it forced her to the ground. Ashaleena had never felt this pain before but she was half-certain what it was, but it couldn’t’t be! She hadn’t seen Jahlred in weeks; he was far away from her. As the pain subsided she forced herself to her feet and staggered over to the river, and despite her restraints threw up blood into the crystalline waters. The rain pattered on her hair and clothes, wetting them as she stood up. The pain returned and she collapsed, falling back onto the road. She looked up into the stormy sky and clutched her stomach. She was so tired of this constant pain, sometimes she just wanted to die. She did not know what the pain was, but then again she did. But it was impossible, she needed to get inside. Despite her pain she forced herself up and stumbled into her grandmother’s house, collapsing again as the pain was too much. She cried out and her grandmother awoke, running over to her granddaughter. “What is it, Ashal?,” she said, her voice sounding worried “more bad dreams!?” Ashaleena forced herself to nod but was overwhelmed by the pain again, this time it made her cry. She felt weary and barely noticed her grandmother help her onto the bed and search for medicines. Ashaleena was going to say something but once again was beleaguered by pain, soon loosing all consciousness. When she awoke she was in a bed and her throat tasted sour, obviously from some medicine. The pain was gradually subsiding, but she still felt horrible. When she rolled over to face the door she noticed her grandmother pottering around. She noticed Ashaleena and said without facing her, “so you have awoken, but you are still sick. Your grandfather has yet to return, curse the old man!” “But what is wrong with me?” asked Ashaleena hoarsely, “I was perfectly fine before.” “Yes I know, but this in no ordinary pain Ashaleena,” replied her grandmother, rummaging through her cupboards.

“What do you mean!?” said the girl, convinced she was very sick. She slowly sat up and began to brush her hair. “Ashal, there’s something you should know,” began the Foreseeyer, “that pain is usually caused by one thing I know of. There is no problem with you at all, but as I have said there is something you should know. Ashaleena, you are pregnant.” “What!?” exclaimed her granddaughter, dropping the brush and staring at her grandmother, “are you certain?” “Yes, Ashal,” replied the old woman, “you are going to have a child within nine months, but as you and I know it will be no ordinary one. Yes, you know who the father is. The child will be born a half-fey, and you must protect from those who wish ill for it. As half-fey are so rare many seek to use them for their own dark magics.” “But I’m not ready for this!,” said Ashaleena, utterly confused, “nine months you say!? Then perhaps I should return to Mal Vellas.” “This is quite exciting Ashaleena, my granddaughter is pregnant!” exclaimed her grandmother excitedly, “I shall have to tell your grandfather as soon as he returns.” Ashaleena felt strangely vague with the thought of being pregnant and once again went to Dragon’s Watch and waited for her grandfather and the others. She sat on the soft grass and looked over into the dale below, admiring the starlit sky and the lush landscape. When she looked to the forest she noticed a short shape in the trees. Her heart rose in speed as the galgwullion stepped out and bowed politely. She picked up a flower and let it drift in the wind. “Galgwullion, I have not seen you in some months,” she said to him, as he sat on the edge of the hill so his hooves hang over the side, “you are always so elusive.” “I’ve been busy” he said, looking out over the valley as she had done. Ashaleena laughed and said, “with what!? You have no purpose as you have told me and what could a faeylessa be doing in these times!?” “If you must know I have been in Dragon’s Vale, enjoying the company of the nomadic barbarian faeylessa that dwell amongst the sharp peaks.” “I see, and I suppose you came to see me because I’ am pregnant?” added Ashaleena, eager to hear his acknowledgement. “With a child!?,” he exclaimed, receiving a scowl, “I just need my entertainment from a human, but in all seriousness we must speak of this. I sense that feyran man is your child’s father, and that means that your child will be a half-fey. Risky that is, young one. You are aware of the Prophecy, and the things it says are rather linked to the current day. If you child is chosen by the gods to fulfill the Prophecy of defeating a tyrant then you should be busy right now.” “You do not seriously think that my child will be the one in the prophecy, do you!?” asked Ashaleena. “Perhaps, time will tell,” he replied, the last rays of the sun at the edge of the world gleaming on his horns, “just let the child mature and we will see what happens.” “But nine months is a long time, and next month war begins,” said Ashaleena nervously, all this too much for her, “I need to defeat Vivilianon! The whole of the Feyran Lands is depending on me! And I’ am pregnant!” “Stress does not help with pregnancy,” replied the faeylessa calmly, “Baelandyr has enough power to defeat her in single combat. He knows how to defend his lands, he has does so for over two hundred years.” “But he will be leading the assault!!” exclaimed the damsel negatively. She was not brave enough to face Vivilianon, and if she died then her child would to. “Baelandyr’s is not childless,” said the galgwullion, “during the rule of Empress Alycia Conceldium, Baelandyr fathered her a half-feyran child. It was kept secret for centuries and it still is now, young Elendril is now almost as old as his father.” “Impossible!,” exclaimed Ashaleena, picking another flower, “this Elendril cannot exist! Baelandyr is the last of the true feyran race!” “True,” said the galgwullion, “his son is only half-fey, and he is not one of the last true feyrans. But Elendril still holds tremendous power, enough to defeat Vivilianon.”

“Where is he!?” asked Ashaleena, watching into the valley as she eagerly awaited her grandfather’s return. “Below the Imperial Palace, in a subterranean hall,” began the faeylessa, “perhaps if you seek his help you should venture to the Imperial City and speak with him.” Ashaleena did not know the answer to that; she could not decide what to do. The wind battered the large oak trees in the gardens of Ashembailon, a single silent individual making there way to Silverhollow Manor. His face was covered by a cowl of black, and a cloak of a similar design was slung over his shoulders. In one hand he held a fabulous curved blade of silver and black, glistening in the moonlight. He could not wait until it gleamed with red blood. He went by one name, Shadow. His real name was Jarred, but that name reminded him of his past life before he became what he was. He was handsome; black hair, green eyes, and a scar down his eye. He would never forget how he got that scar. No one but the guards where in the streets at this time, the perfect hour to shed blood for Shadow. He slipped past them without a sound and soon arrived at the marvellous Silverhollow Manor. The home was two storeys high, the exterior covered in colourful flowers and the interior no doubt full of extravagant furniture. Shadow’s finger ran across the flat of his blade, and he was about to step forward when someone stopped him. His heart thudded in his chest; it had to be a guard that had found him. It was not, it was his contractor Raol Naradas. Raol was a greying man with numerous scars, an initiator of the Guild of Szendor’s Dark Will. Shadow wanted to be in the Guild, and Raol had confirmed he had to kill Azorn Fervilus to be initiated into the Guild. “Good to see you Jarred,” said Raol huskily, the young assassin turning to face him “your task today is simple, as I have already told you. Azorn Fervilus is sleeping in his chambers on the second floor of this manor. Kill him in whatever way you see fit as long as you are not discovered.” “Do not call me Jarred,” hissed the assassin “why he is up for elimination!?” Raol smirked and said hoarsely “he holds a lot of power in this part of the world, funds much of this area’s armies. If he was to suddenly die then strife and anarchy would surely follow. My master Szendor will be pleased once he is dead.” “It shall be done,” replied Shadow coldly “I will meet at the old well in these gardens at dawn.” Raol nodded and disappeared down the road, Shadow swinging his sword in an arc and slicing a small plant in half. He moved to the front door of Silverhollow Manor and looked through the windows, noticing a brawny guard sleeping in a chair right in front of the window on the left. Shadow searched for other entrances, and noticed a window on the side of the house that was open. He placed his rucksack on the ground while he retrieved a grappling hook from his equipment. As he got up a guard walked past, and he dived down to hide. Fortunately the guard did not see him, and Shadow continued over to the opened window. He swung the grappling hook up and it latched onto the frame of the window. Then he sheathed his sword in the scabbard on his back and began to climb, reaching the window in minutes. He looked in cautiously and saw a lavish room, someone plump sleeping in an extravagant bed. Carefully he pushed himself into the room and landed gently, his hands reaching for his sword. The person in the bed was in fact Azorn Fervilus, a fat aging man with a curled moustache and a double chin. All he wore was linen bed wear, nothing to protect him from Shadow’s blade. The assassin gently rested the side of the sword on Azorn’s neck, readying himself to slice through his skin and butcher him. He swung his sword upwards and was about to bring it down when the door burst open, five soldiers from the City Watch running into the room. Azorn woke up suddenly and Shadow moved, leaping out the window. He broke his arm in the fall and gritted his teeth as he ran for cover, he had failed. Meanwhile upstairs Azorn sat on his bed with two of the soldiers guarding him, his

heart pounding after the attempt on his life. The door swung open and the soldiers presumed it was their companions. A cloaked figure dressed similarly stepped in, with a curved blade in their hands. The two soldiers ran at the newcomer, and were quickly dispatched in a bloody and short battle. The assassin moved for Azorn, who cried “a trap!!” before the newcomer stabbed him in the chest. He yelled for help but the assassin removed the blade and stabbed him again until he lay in a pile of blood on his bed. Shadow ran through the streets of Ashembailon, the three soldiers in pursuit. When he tried to scramble up a wall they caught up with him and dragged him off, beginning to beat him with maces. Shadow felt pain all over and watched blood stain his skin and clothes. Suddenly someone appeared, although Shadow could vaguely see them. The person moved for the nearest soldier and pushed him away from Shadow, decapitating the man and swiftly killing the other two. Shadow’s vision then went out, and he found himself unconscious. News spread fast of the assassination Azorn Fervilus, and many feared the strength of the armies would dwindle with the lack of his funds. Azorn Fervilus may have not been liked by all, but he was a good man deep down inside. Jahlred was reading the report of Azorn’s death as he sat in his chambers in Riverrunning, shocked at another assassination just after Dermond Lwynelsta. Someone was targeting powerful people within the Feyran Lands, and Jahlred knew others would perish. He took some time to think of others with power, and remembered people he knew well who could be up for assassination. War was nearing his nation and the Empire, the last thing they needed was political anarchy. When he remembered the war Jahlred’s heart pounced violently, his fear growing as he imagined the scene: the Siege of Hithen Dwa. He would kill many, well he would try to, and many would die beside him. He was not ready, he knew that with certainty. All the commotion in his life clouded his mind and he was unable to focus on training. At some points Jahlred hated his life, then he remembered all the good things. He rested the paper on his bedside table and took Silverwynd from its sheath, leaving his chambers to the barracks to train. He saw few people in the streets, and when he arrived at the barracks the soldiers let him pass without delay. When he entered the training field he noticed he was the only one except for another who looked strangely like his cousin Zaehl. She was swinging a curved blade at the wooden mannequin with skill Jahlred never knew she possessed. He strode over to another available wooden mannequin and began to strike at it with elegant swordsmanship. He imagined it as a real enemy, imagining himself parrying the enemy’s attacks and retaliating with his own powerful strike. Just then a young female messenger ran into the training field and caught the attention of both Jahlred and Zaehl. The girl ran to Jahlred and handed him a letter, before she departed. Jahlred remained confused and began to open the letter as Zaehl came to see. Inside was the familiar handwriting of Ashaleena, and the message read: “Dear Jahlred, My time here in the Foreseeyer’s Village has been quite enjoyable, despite my encounter with Khalvazard in the realm of insanity. After numerous painful ordeals, my grandmother reached the core of my troubles. Jahlred my love, I’ am writing with the both shocking and wonderful news that I’ am expected to have a child in nine months. Yours sincerely, Ashaleena” Jahlred dropped the letter and stood silently, completely awestruck by the news. He was going to war, and now the woman he loved was going to have a baby. His lip

quivered but still he did not speak, he was too shocked. Zaehl simply picked up the letter and stuffed it in his hands, returning to her training. When Jahlred finally moved he collected his sword and left the barracks. Halfway down the road he encountered Breiam, who as usual stopped him when he sensed something was wrong. “What is it, boy!?,” he asked, dusting off his battered coat “I’ve been looking for you all day, you seem a little absent-minded today.” Jahlred swallowed and said firmly, “the woman I love is going to have a baby in nine months, I’ am going to war and now I’ am going to be a father to the first half-fey since, well, since you! It is all too much for me, Breiam.” “She is pregnant!?,” repeated the guide with a serious tone “that means that the child could be the one from the prophecy! No, this is very bad!” “The war will be over by the time my child is born,” Jahlred replied calmly “if it is the child from the prophecy then I will protect it over my own life.” “Let’s not get to hasty here,” interjected Breiam, disregarding his own hastiness “perhaps when you have the money you should build a house for your family, to safely protect the child. That is if the child is the one from the prophecy, but we still have not distinguished the tyrant of the prophecy, right!?” “Never mind that, I need to think of a name for the child!?” exclaimed Jahlred stressfully, this was all too much for him. “How about Ashyla, it means “guiding soul” in the ancient languages? The As at the start of the name comes from the word aseraa, which means soul” suggested Breiam, beginning to interest Jahlred. “Perhaps, but what if it’s a boy!?” he replied with a salient point Breiam had clearly not noted. “Then you can decide his name, I don’t like naming boys,” said the old guide huffily “besides, what do we have to worry about!? These years are the fading days of the Second Era, a new age is dawning my friend. Although I predict I will not live well into the eleventh century of this era, I still am concerned over what occurs if Khalvazard is defeated. Opportunity for other evils will open when he is dead, Arzith will be with evil for the rest of time.” “We will see what the eleventh century of the Second Era brings us, Breiam” replied Jahlred, finally sheathing Silverwynd. Ashaleena was still deeply surprised that she was going to have a baby in less than nine months, and often asked her grandmother and grandfather what it was like when she was born twenty one years. The world was a different place, Relindahl had commented. According to her grandmother the year 159 SE when Ashaleena was born marked the year the Foreseeyer’s husband died twenty years earlier. Ashaleena had vague memories of her childhood, but remembered her brother Jamalor and her parents Lirrian and Audelir. She remembered sitting in the paddocks next to her mother, while her father and brother jousted with sticks. A tear trickled down her cheek as she remembered them, almost the entirety of her family were dead. Presently she sat outside her grandmother’s house and watched the mighty river flow. When Penndren arrived she greeted him kindly, but noticed Alderin Trouthunter scowl at the knight while he fished. Penndren sat next to her and immediately said, “I hear you are pregnant, Ashaleena. That is good news, I trust Jahlred knows?” “Yes, but this is all to much for me!,” she groaned stressfully “I’ am not ready to raise a child when I’ am meant to defeat Vivilianon in a matter of weeks!” “It will get better,” said Penndren “trust me, my wife was the same. When my son was born she finally stopped stressing.” “You have a wife and son!?” exclaimed Ashaleena, shocked that he had never told her. “Had, my wife died a day after my son’s birth. He died before I could even see him” said Penndren, showing no emotion. “I’m so sorry, I never knew,” stammered Ashaleena “perhaps one day you will find

someone to marry.” The sun set early on that day, the 27th of Lorngnashadi. The palace grounds of Del Jahvalla were crowded with soldiers and their families, awaiting the appearance of King Baelandyr. The generals had estimated at least fifty thousand soldiers had marshalled to the grounds, the largest force to fight at the siege. They flourished the vibrant banners of their king and felt the first excitement of war, they would fight and finally avenge so many deaths at the hands of Vivilianon. The curtains of Baelandyr’s chambers were parted and he stepped out onto the balcony that over looked the grounds, his soldiers and their families applauding his first public address since he had fallen ill. Once the guards had hushed the crowds he began, “my mighty people, in a matter of weeks we will act against the Green Sorceress and she will perish. The generals of the Feyran Lands confirm the united force will be two hundred thousand strong, enough to topple Hithen Dwa in the first night!” The crowds roared in applause, tossing caps and flowers into the air and waving the banners in support. As Baelandyr watched his people he smiled with genuine honour, he was doing the right leading his soldiers to quell Vivilianon. Just then he noticed the applauds had stopped, and the main gates had been flung open by a single man standing in the archway. He was dressed in black leather and a trailing green cape, his blonde hair and blue eyes making it obvious he was a fey. As he strode towards the palace those who recognised who he was either remained silent or quietly applauded him. Baelandyr’s ancient heart seized up when he saw who this intruder was, it couldn’t be! But it was, he looked so much like Baelandyr that he could have been mistaken for his son, and in truth Baelandyr knew it was. Noticing his master’s shock Sir Agravald addressed the crowds instead “for those of you who recognize this fey as Elendril, son of our king, it is true that he has returned!” Baelandyr shed tears for the first time in fifty years and his son smiled up at him. As the crowds applauded this monumental occasion the king headed down the stairs with Sir Agravald and High General Xyanus flanking him. When he finally stood face to face with his son, he embraced him and remembered he had not done so since his son was five years old, more then a hundred years ago. When he had finished Baelandyr asked his son “it is a great enjoyment to see you have home, my son. But why are you not safe in the Imperial City?” “News of the siege spreads fast, father,” replied Elendril, his voice similar to his father’s “I knew you need any assistance in this dire hour and I have come, as will Prince Trastor Conceldium with two hundred Imperial soldiers.” “All we need now is your mother, but she is gone,” said Baelandyr sadly “she speaks to me sometimes, in my dreams. Tells me to remember you, and always strive for goodness.” “She contacts me also,” commented Elendril “but she guides us even in death, we will fight beside each other and defeat Vivilianon.” Sir Agravald handed Baelandyr something, a bronze version of his own crown, and he gave it to his son. He was telling Elendril that he was now a prince in the Feyran Lands, the first since Baelandyr’s father Berhumandas II had been alive many centuries ago. Elendril gladly accepted the sign of power but did not put it on, instead concealing it in his cape and turning to acknowledge the thousands gathered. They applauded him and he bowed in return, the day could not have been happier. Vivilianon’s underlings worked tirelessly to fortify Hithen Dwa, although it was not a physically tough task for the Argithrian Brutes. They were able to hammer in palisades and construct siege engines faster than men due to their physical superiority. Many had commented that Hithen Dwa deserved its name as “Indestructible Tower” as many sieges had been repelled within days. But this

oncoming conflict was the largest Vivilianon’s walls would face, and if she was to survive she would need to use anything at her disposable. The Green Sorceress was beautiful; green skin, purple eyes, black and jagged armour that only covered parts that she needed defence for. She wore her crown embedded with a single amethyst always, to state her dominion over Hithen Dwa and The Moors of Sorrow. Presently she stared at the preserved body of her dead lover Vallabortax; she was beginning the ritual to revive him. Her hand drifted across his cheek and she kissed him, the cold taste of death filling her lungs. Then she pulled herself away from him and retrieved the book her Argithrians had stolen more than a month ago. Her elegant fingers flicked through the pages until she reached the page on resurrecting the dead. Her green lips formed a wicked smile as she swelled with excitement, her beloved would live again and take revenge on his slayer Jahlred. Then Vivilianon recalled that she would receive a petty battle from the Ashaleena girl, and she made a sour look. She cast the necromantic manual aside and laughed as it hit one of the many imps that skulked around her domain. She then retrieved her staff from the wall and strode over to the lifeless corpse of Vallabortax, casting the spell on him. His flesh quivered and he breathed once, but then did not stir. He was alive, she knew this, but he would need some time to regenerate. She began to laugh again, but was interrupted by her subordinate Jugarn, a deformed man she controlled with her mind as she did with the Argithrians. He whispered something into her ear and she nodded as she absorbed the information. She had been told that Elendril, the son of Baelandyr, had returned to Del Jahvalla and intended to fight alongside his father. He will perish with the rest of them, she thought. ******************************* The day had come, it was the 30th of Lorngnashadi. Across the Feyran Lands the armies were nearing completion, despite the sudden death of Azorn Fervilus. In every major city soldiers filled the streets, flourishing the banners of their native provinces. In only seven days the armies of Baelandyr would march on Vivilianon in a final gambit to defeat her, and maybe a war against Khalvazard would soon follow. Morale was stricken low after Azorn Fervilus had been assassinated but it was boosted tenfold with the arrival of Prince Elendril and the news that Trastor Conceldium would be aiding his eastern allies. Blacksmiths were working all day and had begun manufacture of weapons and armour from the middle of Lorngnashadi. For the first time in fifty years the famous siege engines of Del Jahvalla were restored to topple Hithen Dwa, and the Sieulad Armada was in full force led by Karred. Planning for the siege had begun, attacks from nearly all entrances would be covered and wizards and sorcerers all over were busy developing the perfect explosive. As for Emperor Ibercium IV’s comment on the siege, he could only reply with the insane words: “will they be serving cake at the siege!? Chocolate is my favourite!”. In truth the Imperial citizens were growing quite concerned over their emperor’s ability and sanity to lead in such dark times. Presently the second son of Ibercium and a envoy of his father’s knights were travelling horseback through Verdanvarl, plotting their course for Ashembailon. Trastor was a young man of great honour and purity, unlike his ambitious brother but similar to his younger sister Oranna. Any travellers they encountered on the road recognised them as men of the empire by the blue background and red dragon, their symbol, and soon saw the other one hundred and ninety Imperial soldiers marching to Ashembailon. As he rode Trastor could not help but think of his brother, a man he respected as a family member but despised as a person. Perensius was a conceited and shrewd man who expected anything would be done when he asked for it. He was going to be

emperor relatively soon, and the Empire would experience a bad emperor since his ancestor Emperor Totallus I. Trastor and Oranna both dreaded the day that their elder brother was crowned emperor, and Trastor had a bitter feeling his sister would not live to see the height of Perensius’ rule. The prince and his envoy crossed another bridge, and the illuminated city of Ashembailon could be seen in the horizon. Imperial horses were the finest in Arzith, and covered a lot of land with much speed and agility. They were also sturdy horses, and could withstand any climate, within reason. Such fine horses had to be trained for such tall and strong people as those of the Empire. Most Imperial men stood from five foot five to six foot four, and the women stood five foot two to six foot. Trastor was six foot three, a towering stature that reflected his personality. His brother was only five foot nine, and Trastor often stressed to his brother that tall men make warriors, and short men make diplomats. Perensius of course would reply with a snide remark, followed by an insane comment from their father if he was present. Trastor usually went along with his father’s mad babble, treating him like the old man he was. Perensius on the other hand dealt with his father by shouting at him and calling him an idiot. This made Oranna greatly emotional as she cared for their impaired father and was touched when he made a face like a sad dog would do. “Master Trastor!,” said one of the knights beside the prince, breaking his line of thoughts “we should reach Ashembailon within the hour, and the rest of the army within two hours.” “Good news for a change,” replied Trastor with a smile “hopefully we can get straight into the fighting as soon as we arrive.” No one spoke for the rest of the journey, and found their chambers in Ashembailon most sufficient. When the servants and the chamberlain had gone the knights broke into conversation, except Trastor who retired to his private chambers to sleep. Jahlred watched as the original Sieulad Armada packed their galley with provisions and weapons. The small galley called the Pride of Riverrunning was a particularly good ship, equipped with small ballistae on the sides and large amounts of provisions. Although they were not sailing for Hithen Dwa today, the sailors still thought it necessary to ready the galley to join with the other smaller boats. It had been decided that the Pride of Riverrunning was the command ship as it was the largest, and after seeing the boat Jahlred had begun to think of joining the river attack. Sometimes Jahlred could not think straight and he struggled to focus. His father joined him at his side and smiled at his son. “you seemed troubled, I was the same when your mother was pregnant.” Jahlred smiled back. “even so, war is a dark time and I will struggle with Ashaleena to raise a child in such turbulent hours.” “Have you made your decision, about joining the river attack or fighting in the main force?” asked Karred with a serious tone, his eyes deep in thought. “I’ am sorry but I fight better on land than on a boat, but I pray you fight with success,” said Jahlred, his father appearing to be untroubled by this “perhaps you should seek the help of Zaehl, I have seen her fight and she is surprisingly skilled.” “We will see, my son,” muttered Karred “we will see.” Trened Crowthorn watched as the night sky changed, sitting on a large boulder in the central area of the Barrens. He was surrounded by a scattered army of four hundred from Luernir, bound for Del Jahvalla. Since his father and brothers had been killed Trened had endeavoured to redeem himself with successful results. Now he led the army of Luernir to fight in the Siege of Hithen Dwa, he would regroup with Baelandyr’s main force in Del Jahvalla by tomorrow. Trened’s army was joined by Lord Samath Larkley himself; a man fit enough to fight alongside his men. As Trened and Samath watched the generals rouse the soldiers to march, they returned to their horses to lead the army on the final stretch to Del Jahvalla. Trumpets sounded and the Luernir army began to ride, gradually growing in speed

on their horses. The sound of hundreds of hooves soon erupted, and they covered large distances thanks to their steeds. In truth Trened felt confident about the siege, but still was quite shocked at how far he come, to being a general of Luernir. He had definitely regained his family’s honour by becoming a military commander, and he knew his was doing the right thing by fighting Vivilianon. He had been pleaded for help by Jahlred, and he had gladly accepted the offer to crush Vivilianon. Ashaleena was glad her grandfather had returned to the village with Penndren and her cousin, but thought it amusing to not tell him of her pregnancy. But on about the 3rd of Meibon she began to show obvious signs and he knew she was pregnant. He was not angry but rather cheerful and more inclined to do various jobs he was supposed to do as chief. Others in the village like Alanna and Destan Gaur also learnt of her pregnancy and gave her their blessings. Ashaleena had not received so much attention since she was a child, and she could not resist accepting it. By the 7th of Meibon her signs of pregnancy had become even more obvious and she felt increasingly tired. She had never contemplated having a baby and was not prepared for the many challenges it brought on. She was happy most of the time, but she still had not heard from Jahlred and was worried he was too stunned to reply to her. Due to the fact she was usually unable to walk around Ashaleena had seen the fear of war in her people’s eyes, even in her hard as steel cousin Roedah. She knew most of the people in her village were extremely brave and righteous, but those skills could be weighed down by the physical superiority of the Argithrian Brutes. No matter how hard Roedah trained he would almost certainly find a good opponent with any Argithrian, and whether he was strong enough would be revealed in a matter of days. The following days that past from the 7th of Meibon until the 12th held much; the final preparations of the armies, Imperial Prince Trastor’s arrival to Ashembailon, Elendril’s training in his father’s secret combat reaching its end, and of course the gears of war beginning to grind. By now the minor armies were gathered at camps on the edge of the Heathmar Forest, and the main army had begun to march from Del Jahvalla in a wave of thousands of soldiers. At the edges of the Heathmar Forest the armies of Luernir, Mal Vellas, Dallavor, and Ardel had begun to set up temporary camps. In his pavilion at the heart of the Luernir camp Trened Crowthorn was planning his attacks on a detailed map of Hithen Dwa. He concentrated on the plains that surrounded the fortress known as the Plains of Zaerce, where the main force would strike. Trened was both confident and nervous; the army of his province would be fighting far more brutal beings than usual. Even the strongest soldiers found that just one Argithrian took skill to take down. He had begun to study the construct of the fortress itself, learning of the internal schematics and the underground levels. He had changed a lot since he had first met Jahlred and Galverious more than three months ago, and not even those two knew of his romance life. After his military reputation ascended he had met a woman called Tirael who was training to be a healer, and she fell for his sense of honour. Soon they became very close and Tirael even accompanied Trened and the army. He had begged her not to come for her own safety but she had insisted in helping with the injured when the time came. She was beautiful; blue eyes, black hair and a kind person. Trened had never thought he would meet someone who loved him due to his bad-tempered family members. But they were dead, and he felt little emotion of them when he thought of their deaths. Trened rolled up the map and left his pavilion to visit Tirael in her quarters. As he progressed through the camp soldiers acknowledged him and proudly wore the insignia of Luernir; a silver wolf on a blue backdrop. When he entered the healers’ tent he noticed that Tirael was tending to the wounds of a beaten up and bloody scout. “What happened!?,” he asked with concern for his fellow men “how was this man

injured?” Tirael gave the wounded man some water and said “he was scouting the close areas to the Moors of Sorrow when something attacked him, possibly an Argithrian Brute. He would have died if his comrades hadn’t rescued him.” “We must move out then, we meet the other armies with Mal Vellas, Dallavor, and Ardel in Ashembailon and then march as one force to Hithen Dwa” replied Trened, moving to leave the healers’ tent. He headed outside and found his squire eating dinner with some other soldiers, asking him to send an emissary to the other province camps and notify that Luernir was moving on. About an hour later the emissary returned and confirmed the other three camps were beginning to pack up and move on as well. Trened thanked the messenger and his squire and returned to his pavilion, beginning to pack up his belongings and helping other soldiers with heavier furniture. It was about midnight by the time the Luernir camp moved out. Prince Elendril, if he thought himself worthy to be called that, sat in his chambers at the palace in Del Jahvalla, contemplating the days to come. In just three hours the main army would move out and head north-west to Hithen Dwa, where they would set up camp on the edges of the Plains of Zaerce. Elendril’s eyes seemed distant as he gazed out the window that overlooked the palace grounds, he had not been in this room since he was four years old. He remembered it clearly, his mother Alycia and his father standing beside him as he played with his wooden toys. He returned to his preparations and recommenced packing his belongings, the sun necklace his mother had given him dangling from his throat. When he was finished he gave a brief prayer to Telaara that if he died she would guide his soul into the afterlife. Then he gave his belongings to the squires and headed down to the throne room, where his father was gathering with his generals around the large circular table. Their chatter stopped briefly when Elendril entered and quickly took his seat, the generals beginning to talk again. Sir Agravald seemed rather annoyed by the generals’ bickering, and sighed as they continued. “Silence!,” ordered High General Xyanus, moving on to speak after everyone was quiet “we have already agreed that we march in less then three hours, the other armies are already awaiting to meet with us in Ashembailon as planned.” “But I’ am awaiting the arrival of five hundred soldiers from Caenlas, we cannot leave when they are coming!” argued General Dareus, a rather prudent yet hasty commander. “Enough, Dareus!,” silenced Xyanus with annoyance “we already have enough men, besides we have not heard what our lord has to say.” Everyone looked at Baelandyr and he said tiredly “Dareus will receive his men from Caenlas, we will meet them at the cenotaph of my grandfather Berhumandas. Then we will commence our decided march.” “I agree,” said Uhral, one of the Council members chosen to attend this meeting “we can always find luck with the quick visit to a past monarch’s monument.” Dareus smiled and beckoned to his squire to send a message to Caenlas, but Xyanus seemed rather disappointed with his king. Caenlas was not far from Del Jahvalla, and lay between the cities of Elelorala and Eäel Durac. The meeting disbanded and Baelandyr pulled his son aside for a moment while Xyanus and Agravald spoke amongst the generals that remained. “The time has come for war, my son,” said the High Fey King “you are ready, I have trained in my secret combat that only my grandfather knew before us. Destroy many foes with its devastating effect, but try not to get yourself killed. You must join me in phase two of the plan.” “Phase two!?,” asked Elendril, his eyes deep with confusion “I simply thought we were waging war with Vivilianon.” “No, once she has been defeated we must concentrate on my demon nemesis,” explained Baelandyr, remembering the time Khalvazard had said that they were

both not that different “the time is nearing to finally rid him from this world.” “I will join you then as I have now,” agreed Elendril valiantly “no I must go to the palace grounds, where our army amasses.” Baelandyr farewelled his son and returned to his throne with Sir Agravald and Xyanus at his side. They spoke for a while, but did not mention the war against Vivilianon at all. Soldiers were already assembling in the palace grounds, men not only from Del Jahvalla but from all over the Del Jahvalla Province. Main forces from Eäel Durac and Aäenlorn had travelled the short distance to Del Jahvalla and had gathered with the main force. Elendril watched from the palace doors as his division assembled. He commanded a cavalry unit of twenty two Feyran knights, and would attack in the second wave after the archers and low ranged siege engines attacked the walls. Spies had confirmed the main conflict would no doubt be on the Plains of Zaerce, and Elendril knew the fight to the fortress itself would be costly. When his squire arrived with his horse he joined his regiment but did not unsheathe his enchanted spear that helped him perfect the secret combat his father had trained him in. After about an hour the whole army of fifty thousand was assembled in the vast palace grounds and news reported that Baelandyr was preparing to address his army again. When the palace doors opened the soldiers applauded their king, who as usual was flanked by Sir Agravald and Xyanus. When the noise died down he began to speak “my honourable army that stands before me today, I have but a few words to speak before we march to glory or defeat. But I know you men have the skill to defeat our foe, prove the legend that a man cannot defeat an Argithrian wrong and fight well. As we march past Aäenlorn and Del Liraen, we will stop at the monument to my grandfather were will make this fifty thousand into fifty thousand five hundred!!!” The army roared in applause and flourished their banners, following the orders of their nearest general to move to the gate. Baelandyr was handed a chalice of water by Xyanus as he turned and thanked his friend. Then he moved towards the gate with the other two and met up with their squires. As the mounted their horses the army halted at the gate and Elendril came galloping up to join his father. When they reached the army they positioned themselves at the front and Baelandyr waved as his people applauded the army as it made its way through Del Jahvalla. Every person that saw the army waved and gave their blessings, Elendril contemplating that he could have been treated the same in the Imperial City if things were different. By the time the army was at the main gate they were followed by a crowd of thousands of citizens and sentries who offered their undying support. While the gate opened the soldiers’ loved ones said goodbye and Elendril noticed how many of them were fathers, how many of them would leave their wives to become widows. When the huge army disappeared into the landscape the crowds disbanded and returned to their normal routines. The army headed directly north-south in the direction of the Cenotaph, along the main road that covered most of the Del Jahvalla province. From Del Jahvalla to the Cenotaph of Berhumandas I Baelandyr rode at the front of the army with his son and his two most trusted commanders beside him. Behind them were seven rows of cavalry consisting of Feyran knights, light cavalry, chariots and chariot ballistae. The there was a large gap between the cavalry and the infantry that was filled by the siege engines such as trebuchets and onagers. They marched on until they reached the verdant glade were Berhumandas’ memorial stood, the last rays of sun reflecting off his marvellous statue. By about sunset they had joined up with the five hundred infantrymen from Caenlas and continued on into Ardel, stopping to camp in the middle of the province at midnight. Elendril helped set up the thousands of tents and when dinner was cooked for the army he sat with his regiment, learning about most of the men. Their leader was a fey called Sir Liradas, a battle-scared warrior originally from Rethbind. It was by one in the morning when the majority of the army except for the sentries

retired to their tents. But Elendril remained in the cold air of the Ardel heartlands, training to perfect the secret combat. Prince Trastor Conceldium sat alone in his chambers at the royal grounds in Ashembailon, polishing his sword. In the radiant light of his room his features were displayed at their full; his blue eyes like new cobalt mined from the mountains, his short black hair like a fountain of dusk, and his stature that of a soldiers. His tossed aside the clothe he was using to clean his sword and sheathed it. It was a blade of Imperial design, but more lavish than a standard soldiers due to Trastor’s royal blood. Some much was happening in his life he couldn’t think properly, often finding comfort in his own company. Ashembailon had become increasingly busy after the armies from Shaorn, Luernir, Mal Vellas, Dallavor, Ardel, and Silvermoon had arrived in the capital of Svaeyran Vil a day ago. Collectively the armies were at least two hundred thousand strong, and combined with Baelandyr’s force of fifty thousand five hundred they would the largest army ever assembled against Vivilianon, beating the twenty thousand that failed in 101 SE. Trastor had seen some many soldiers from all the provinces assembled that he memorised their insignias; Shaorn had the hawk in flight amongst a sea of green, Luernir had the wolf with a blue scenery, Mal Vellas was mightily represented by a rearing lion, the symbol of Samhayn was the emblem of Ardel, the dragon for Dallavor, and the moon and sun for Silvermoon. When Trastor became fed up with thinking he left his chambers for the great balcony that overlooked the Nimeron Forest. The forest of cypresses spanned two hundred and fifty square miles and shielded the sacred Grove of Trethora from danger. The Grove was an overgrown and holy place to the goddess of the hunt and according to local lore no animal would harm you if you stood in the vicinity of the holy area. In time the Imperial prince had grown to admire Ashembailon’s unique location and architecture, but with Azorn Fervilus’ assassin still on the prowl he felt increasingly on edge. What if he was the next target in a chain of assassinations!? First Dermond Lwynelsta, then Azorn Fervilus, was there some connection? Trastor had heard “guild of Szendor” mentioned by people and had never heard of a guild to Szendor in the Feyran Lands. When the main army from Del Jahvalla arrived in two days and merged with the armies in Ashembailon Trastor would fight alongside the Imperial soldiers he had brought with him, could this be the perfect opportunity for an assassin to strike? He just tried to ignore the idea of his assassination at the risk of becoming severely paranoid, as his father sometimes was. After his arrival in Ashembailon on the 12th of Meibon, Trastor soon received a letter from his brother carried by a message falcon from the Imperial City. As Trastor expected his brother gave him advice that was practically a way of teasing him, as Perensius believed himself to be better then his younger siblings. Trastor certainly knew were the cruel streak in Perensius came from, their ancestor Emperor Totallus the First was exactly the same. But Totallus’ child was ironically the opposite, and Trastor hoped that Perensius’ children would be good people. He had a wife, Trastor’s sister-in-law Maria, and everyone except Perensius knew she loved him but hated his spitefulness and she had been forced to marry him. Whenever the Imperial family ate dinner Trastor and Oranna removed themselves from their brother’s company and ate with their father in his chambers. Trastor had remembered his father’s eighty-ninth birthday, a day he had spent with his younger son and daughter on the 8th of Lorngnashadi. Perensius had not taken an interest in his father’s birthday since he was about fifteen, and Ibercium practically forgot him. But when it came to his own birthday on the 13 th of Baltene, Perensius made a very big deal of it. For his thirty-eighth birthday Perensius had thrown a huge party that literally surpassed his brother’s small thirty-sixth. Even though Ibercium had his children when he was in his fifties he was still lively then as opposed to now. He just seemed to lack the driving force that made him an energetic man. But who could blame him, not many eighty-nine year olds were not

exactly capable rulers of kingdom that spanned twenty provinces. When Ibercium’s madness began, back when he was about seventy-eight, the physicians described his major ailment as dementia, but also severe paranoia. Trastor just decided to absorb the beautiful sunset and banish the troubles from his mind, not wishing to think about his brother. The jagged spires of Hithen Dwa pierced the air like black daggers on the horizon, the mighty fortress perfectly situated on the plateau. The central tower loomed above the two keeps either side, the windows illuminated by the faint candles within. The fortress was visible past the dense forests that surrounded it, particularly on a smaller plateau five hundred metres to the east. Three of Baelandyr’s scouts stood on this plateau, ready to confirm their sightings of Hithen Dwa to their king when the time came. The main army was camped on the eaves of the forests, almost on the Plains of Zaerce. The second force had yet to arrive from Ashembailon and the generals struggled to keep their men in high morale. The scouts had seen little activity from their strategic position, but they still saw the battlements and the Argithrian Brutes all over the fortress. When the scouts returned to the camp they confirmed their sightings to Baelandyr and his generals, but yet the army remained immobilized. When the second army arrived from Ashembailon late tomorrow, the armies would unite and begin to take their positions on the Plains, the siege would begin. Elendril picked at his meal supplied by the army’s cooks, and placed his plate on the ground when he had enough. He was tired, but he knew tomorrow he had to muster his strength to fight. His black hair gleamed with iridescence in the dim candlelight of his pavilion, and his eyes seemed clouded with thoughts and troubles. He held a lot of responsibility in the siege and many expected him to excel in leadership, but he himself doubted his lack of experience and skill. He only wanted to command his single regiment and focus on group attacks, not lead large amounts of the army on desperate skirmishes. Whenever Elendril tried to sleep he could never calm himself enough to relax, and instead paced around his room nervously. His father and the other generals seemed perfectly normal, although they were all probably fearful as well. The feyran prince waved to a battalion of knights in slack formation as they passed his open tent. He knew about ninety seven percent of the army was fearful of defeat or worse, the death of Baelandyr, but Elendril knew they would succeed. Then he remembered that he would have to face Vivilianon alongside his father, and felt sick in his gut. He almost retched for some strange reason, but he brought himself to control his sickness. Jahlred had once again changed his mind about his actions in the siege, now he was going to travel to the Foreseeyer’s Village to be with Ashaleena in her time of need. Arelldar had volunteered to join Karred and the Armada during the siege and Jahlred had greatly appreciated his friend’s consideration. He left Sieulad as soon as possible and travelled the same way he had with Breiam and Arelldar. His journey would then take him to the Dome of the Sky, an ancient shrine where the mages there maintained one of the finest teleportation systems in Arzith. This means of travel would take him directly to Bjurnag’s Glade, which was situated near to Dragon’s Watch. He expected to finally arrive in the Foreseeyer’s Village on the 28th of Meibon, close to the new year. He would wait with Ashaleena until she gave birth, and then hopefully Khalvazard would’ve been defeated by Baelandyr. Jahlred was one of few who knew of the second phase in Baelandyr’s plans; the attack on Khalvazard. This demanded a lot more soldiers than the attack on Vivilianon, but the Empire was also going to fight Khalvazard in a final gambit to defeat him. Presently he rode on his horse through the rugged lands of Zeerafald, crossing yet another bridge covered with foliage. The sun had begun to set in the horizon to the left, but still he travelled on with no plans to rest. As his horse Nightmane stepped over the last part of the overgrown bridge, Jahlred noticed a shape stir in the

shadows of the forest to the right of him. Nightmane seemed unstirred and continued on down the road, caught by surprise as the shape leapt from the shadows and pounced on him. The creature clutched the horse’s neck in its jaws and threw both horse and rider into the air. Jahlred was hurled into the bough of a tree and felt his elbow smack against the branch and break the humerus in his right arm. He yelled in pain as he fell onto the ground, using his unharmed left hand to unsheathe Silverwynd. He searched the area for signs of the creature, but only saw his horse Nightmane lying motionless near the bridge. His heart filled with terror as he cautiously moved towards his horse, checking for signs of life. Nightmane’s spine had been severed, and Jahlred knew he was dead. Shedding a single tear he stood and began to search for the attacker, Silverwynd ready in his hands. Jahlred had no idea what had attacked him and his horse, but it most certainly was dangerous. Then he noticed a shape in the foliage nearby, and the sound of heavy panting. Raising his sword to chest-height Jahlred carefully approached the bushes. The sun was almost fully gone now, and it was hard to see, but he couldn’t mistake two large elliptical eyes staring at him. The stench of his horse’s blood filled the creature’s breath, and Jahlred forced himself back in terror and disgust. The creature yowled piercingly and pounced out from the foliage, saliva covering its gapping jaws. It made an effort to tackle Jahlred, but he pivoted and sped for the bridge. The creature chased after him with astonishing speed, but Jahlred still ran. He sought cover under the bridge and dived into the swampy waters, wading through them until he managed to hide himself under the bridge. When the creature arrived it raised its elongated head and sniffed the air, howling when it sensed the fey under the bridge. As it approached on four legs Jahlred saw it fully for the first time. It was bipedal, obviously, and was covered in thick leathery skin, covered by tiny hairs. On its corrugated back Jahlred noticed a crude saddle, which indicated it was a creature used as a steed. Now the monster was at least two metres away from him, and he could smell the horrifying and rancid breath. It was about to rear up when a commanding voice made it stop. Out from nowhere its rider appeared, a being Jahlred recognised as a demon rider. But they only ever rode nightmares!? Why did this one ride something far more evil? “Where is your prey, Vlarjakka!?” said the rider to his steed, who now behaved like a little pet. It growled and directed its slobbering jaws to the bridge, whereupon the rider drew his sword and climbed onto the saddle. The beast called Vlarjakka led its master towards the bridge and sniffed the air for signs of its prey. Jahlred had to act now if he wanted to escape with his life. Taking a deep breath he dived into the marshy waters and held his breath. The water was clear, but full of moss and forms of aquatic plants like duckweed and lily. He swam below for about five metres until something snatched his shirt and dragged him out from the water. He felt the cold steel of a sword on his neck, and then the best Vlarjakka dribble on his shoulder. The rider dragged him up and jabbed the tip of his sword into Jahlred’s back, directing him to the bridge. “What have we here, Vlarjakka!?,” sneered the rider, smirking at the fey as he pushed him over “a tasty fey morsel for you to eat, just like your massacred his horse!” Jahlred scrambled for Silverwynd with his broken arm but the rider evaded him, stamping his foot so the fey lingered in pain. He knelt down and punched Jahlred in the jaw, taking his sword and grabbing the fey’s wrist. The rider rested the side of his sword on the area of Jahlred’s bicipital tendon in his broken arm and slid the sword downwards. The blade slashed through his skin and muscle, Jahlred gritting his teeth in pain. The smell of fresh blood stimulated Vlarjakka’s predatory senses and he stepped forward, sniffing Jahlred’s open wound. Flies gathered around it and the pain was unbearable, but Jahlred would die if he didn’t do anything. Vlarjakka opened his jaws and made to bite the wound, Jahlred grabbing Silverwynd and stabbing the creature through the roof of its mouth. Vlarjakka yelped in pain and staggered back before collapsing.

The rider was about to stab Jahlred when he cried “alluris!” and sent a bolt of lighting flying into the demon rider, sending him flying into the river. Jahlred’s unharmed hand tingled with energy as he stood, confirming that the rider was dead. He trudged through the wildlands of Zeerafald for hours, from dusk until midnight. When he found a dried up cypress tree in the middle of an abandoned pasture he decided to rest and repair his wounds with magic. He tossed his rucksack aside and sank to the ground, cradling his badly damaged arm. Racking his memory for healing spells he finally remembered one and uttered the words “syloran ignarus!”. A ripple of blue energy enclosed his broken and wounded arm, beginning to mend his flesh and bones. It was quite painful, but Jahlred didn’t care much as he was too tired. When he was suitably healed he rolled out his bed and blew out the meagre fire he had started a few hours earlier. The morning light radiated on the forests surrounding the Foreseeyer’s Village, the few villagers who were awake appreciating this rare occurrence. Ashaleena sat on Dragon’s Watch and observed her cousin Atheldar and some others as they returned from the early hunt, with two boars and a deer. She was about to join them below when she suffered the same pains she had when she discovered she was pregnant. Ashaleena barely made it to her grandmother’s house before she collapsed in a chair. “What is wrong with you now?” asked the Foreseeyer as her granddaughter sat in the chair silently. She clutched her stomach and her grandmother knew exactly what she was talking about, leaping to her nimble feet and fetching some medicines. After some examination of her granddaughter she finally spoke “my dear! It seems that your pregnancy has been hastened by some unknown force. You are now due to have your child in four weeks.” Ashaleena swallowed heavily and accepted the glass of water her grandmother handed her. Four weeks! She was barely ready to give birth, and whatever happened in that time would surely affect her. When her pains subsided she left her grandmother’s house and headed over to help Atheldar and the others with their boars and deer. He had inherited the so-called “family beauty” and possessed the olive tan and jade eyes like his cousin and the rest of his family. As Ashaleena watched him cut the deer with his rusted knife she could not help to notice he seemed uneasy, possibly because Relindahl, Naodan, and Roedah were all at the Plains of Zaerce by now. Atheldar was only nineteen, and had never imagined the task of temporarily leading the village as he was the only male heir of the chief present. Before he died Jamalor was the apparent heir to the leadership of the village, and Ashaleena’s father Audelir before him. Atheldar smiled at his cousin as she took helped some others salvage meat from the daily catch, using another rusty knife that had been discarded by someone else. As she struggled to chop a particularly rough piece of meat, she wished Penndren was here to help her. He too had joined her grandfather to fight at the siege. She eventually gave up and decided to instead help carry the meat to the inn. Jahlred knelt silently on a particularly large red boulder in the heartlands of Zeerafald, scouting the area for signs of enemies. He had barely recovered from his encounter with the demon rider and although his physical condition was better, he was still a bit shaken by his near-death experience. He swore as he saw no signs of the Dome. It was somewhere in the heartlands of Zeerafald, he knew this, but where? Skidding off the rock he dusted off his trousers and ran his fingers through his sweaty blonde hair, before beginning to trudge through the dirt and sparse lawn. Every few minutes he checked for signs of the Dome, but to no avail. He was not pleased, with his horse he could cover much more area than as he was now. As he made to find his carafe of water he noticed something glimmer on the horizon, just for a second. He drank plenty of water and then began to head in the direction of the spark, half-certain he was hallucinating. With the sun beating down on his tired

body and the moisture practically sucked out from his body, he wandered onwards in desperation. When he was about five miles away he could see the Dome visibly now; an one hundred and twenty feet high octagon built out of grey stone with a giant gold statue of Anindor rising from the centre of the roof with sceptre in hand. Two ten feet tall iron doors made up the entrance, and only the mages inside had the ability to open them. If the Dome had somehow been abandoned, Jahlred was incapable of entering. As he approached the doors an arched window from above swung open, revealing a man dressed fully in black robes with a hood covering his face. Shielding his eyes from the sun he asked as the fey leant against the wall “what brings you to this sacred place, fey? It has not held Ritual for fifty years and the magical secrets it held are no longer here” “I seek to use your teleportation mechanism!” replied Jahlred, his exhaustion forcing him to drink from his carafe again. The mage remained silent and then disappeared back inside, slamming the window. Jahlred’s heart sank in failure, but he was swayed as the doors slowly opened. As they did he could hear a liturgical chant resonate from within the walls, a prayer to Anindor. The chant continued until Jahlred could see who they were, five mages standing in a line at the doorway of the Dome. When they finished they bowed to Jahlred and he stepped inside the Dome. It was refreshingly cool, and he basked in its temperature as the five mages led him into the main hall of the Dome, where a statue of Gølir stood, chains extending from his hands with both Szendor and Lørandur bound to them. “It is an honour to have such a guest as you, master fey” said one of the mages, removing his cowl to reveal his face. He was bald, as customary with mages of Anindor, and a white wispy beard extended from his wizened face. What Jahlred noticed the most was the mage’s sign of office, a black circle with a dragon in the centre tattooed to his forehead. As the other mages removed their cowls Jahlred noticed similar motifs on their foreheads. “I see you have noted our symbolic mark,” commented another mage, a younger looking man with no facial hair and deep blue eyes “it is our mark that links us to Anindor’s wisdom. Adepts bear the stag, mages bear the eagle, senior mages bear the lion, and high mages bear the dragon. As for our leader, Lady Arora, she is the only mage of Anindor to bear the image of Anindor himself on her back, as she is the most connected with the god of wisdom. Unlike us male mages she and the women are allowed to keep their hair.” “I seek to use the Fieldcraft of Arrastor, your fabled teleportation device, to take me to the Foreseeyer’s Lands,” began Jahlred, speaking with respect “I know that the Fieldcraft can take me directly to Bjurnag’s Glade.” “Indeed it does, a majestic creation of Lady Arora’s family,” said the bearded mage, resting his hand around his staff “I’ am Bandor, and my friend who spoke earlier is Aramos. Come fey, I will take you to Lady Arora and we may consult with her.” As Jahlred followed Bandor and Aramos through the main hall the other mages dispersed. Bandor led them through a corridor with a crystalline ground which ended at another pair of ten feet tall doors. Together Bandor and Aramos magically opened them and led Jahlred inside. The room within was made entirely from black iridescent crystal, with four pillars rising from the floor to support the roof. A red carpet lined with gold trailed towards the end of the room, where it ended at a throne of pure gold and azure. In it sat a woman dressed in a dress of gold fabric scattered with sapphires, with a gold diadem rested on her auburn hair. Her piercing green eyes stared at the newcomers with a glint of excitement. When Jahlred fully noticed her he realised she could not be older than twenty-two, which was the biggest shock. She tilted her head and spoke with a young and rebellious voice “a fey has come, interesting! But what does he seek, Bandor?” “He seeks to use the Fieldcraft, my lady,” replied Bandor, his eyes remaining always on his superior “I thought I should ask you before we allowed him to.”

Arora stood up and began to step off her throne with precise elegance, keeping her eyes on Jahlred the whole time. She stopped in front of him and pressed her finger on his neck. “A young fey! Twenty five years old, with a woman he loves who is…., pregnant!? Yes, I can sense that.” She removed her finger from his neck and smiled at him audaciously, before addressing the other two and dismissing them. When they were gone she pressed Jahlred against her body, moving her leg upwards. Jahlred did not know how to act, but was most shocked when she pressed her bosom to his chest. The she pulled herself off him and began to fiddle with the gold necklace that hung from her neck. “Cheeky,” she said to him, as if addressing a child or dog “I do not think the mages would think it good if you tried to flirt with me, let alone press my bosom so close to yourself!” Jahlred was shocked; he did not know how to act as she appeared to be joking with him. She was attractive, but Jahlred’s heart was with Ashaleena. When he finally was sure she was joking he smiled as she returned to her throne. “May I use the Fieldcraft, my lady?” asked Jahlred, trying to ignore her flirtatious behaviour. Arora inclined her head forward and said “you may if you desperately need to use it, but I warn you that it is free of charge. Now, come here so I might enjoy your touch once more!”. Jahlred stepped forward and remained silent as she stepped over to him and ran her finger down his back, making him extremely uneasy. “Please,” he said, gently pushing her away from him “I have a woman I love, you must understand this.” Arora seemed disappointed, but withdrew herself from his touch and beckoned to her assistant; a short bony man she called Burad. She instructed him to fetch Bandor and the other mages to prepare the Fieldcraft. Burad disappeared down the hallway and returned with Bandor and the other four mages soon after. “You seek me, mistress?” asked Bandor, his voice calm and respectful. Arora smiled eccentrically and said “yes Bandor, our feyran guest wishes to use the Fieldcraft for his own purposes, to transport himself to Bjurnag’s Glade.” “Of course, mistress,” agreed Bandor, smiling vaguely at Jahlred “I will withdraw myself along with the other council members to prepare the Fieldcraft” “Thank you, but I told him it was free of charge,” replied Arora, laughing loudly as she made no sense “you are dismissed, all of you.” Bandor and the other four mages bowed to their leader and left her throne room, talking amongst themselves and some praying to Anindor to guide their magic. Jahlred made to follow them, but he felt some supernatural force halt him in his steps. When he turned to face Arora he noticed her hand was outstretched and magical energy was glowing in her fingers. He was growing quite sick of her games, but he supposed she was little more than an extremely intellectual child. He tried to break free from her bonds, but found himself unable to ignore her powerful magic. “You may go, Jahlred,” she said, releasing him with a movement of her hand “but do return when it suits you, I would be happy to bless her when she comes.” “Her?” said Jahlred, as he turned to leave. He stepped towards her as a smile spread across her face. “Ashyla, Jahlred,” she replied, her eyes twinkling “your daughter”. How she could know, thought Jahlred. Unless she was extremely akin with magic that she could sense future events through the thoughts of another? “My child will be a girl?,” he asked curiously, completely stunned that she could know such a thing “you know her whole life?” Arora nodded “she will come her with a man called Arelldar when she is fifteen, she will save us, Jahlred. You know what from; he will betray Baelandyr when he becomes emperor.” “Arelldar!? What does he have to do with this?” said Jahlred, believing his friend was of little significance in the play of things, except with women and archery. “Make him her guardian, Jahlred,” advised Arora, extremely wise for her age “he will

protect her to the death, even though he knows little of her.” “Thank you, Arora,” said Jahlred, Silverwynd drifting in its hilt “I will go to the Fieldcraft now, but no doubt I will see you again.” As he began to head towards the door she waved to him, whispering something to herself. Jahlred hastily left, taking the same path Bandor and the other mages had to the Fieldcraft Chamber. When he arrived he beheld the majestic device for the first time, four jagged toothlike spires that rose from the ground, surrounding a central platform covered in ancient feyran runes. In the atmosphere inside the Fieldcraft green energy flowed above in a truly astonishing way. Bandor and the other mages stood around the perimeter of the Fieldcraft, chanting to prepare the device. The energies intensified in force, swirling fiercely and enshrouding the platform in green mist. “It is ready” said Bandor, stepping away from the mechanism with a tired sigh. His fingers tingled with the remnants of his magic. “Thank you” said Jahlred, shaking the mage’s hand firmly and stepping onto the platform. The energies that now surrounded him had a profound effect on his mind, they reached out to enshroud him with thousands of years of knowledge, but Jahlred knew this power was reserved for Arora. Diverting his mind from the energy as it tried to feed him its knowledge, he was relieved when it finally retreated into itself. Jahlred noticed Bandor raise his hand and cry “aethelios oe nalas!”. A bolt of blue energy flew from his fingertips and joined with the Fieldcraft’s own energy, teleporting Jahlred in a flash of white light. The next minute he landed with a thud on his knees, gritting his teeth as he scrambled for something to help him up. His eyes were blurry and he could vaguely see outlines of green around him and at his feet. When his vision finally returned he noticed he was in Bjurnag’s Glade, mainly because of the mound that rose from the centre. He staggered in the direction he made out was south, still light-headed from the Fieldcraft’s side effects. He wandered over to the forest and retched, wiping his mouth and moving towards the exit in the glade. He used trees for balance, his stomach aching and his head throbbing as he went. As he stepped out of the glade a cool breeze wafted over him like a thin sheet of silk, strangely healing his after sickness. He drank from his flask and then turned to face north, where he saw Ashaleena sitting on Dragon’s Watch, a steep hill that overlooked the Enador Valley and the Berinn River. She stood up, not because she noticed him, and turned. When she saw him her eyes lit up and she ran to him. Jahlred caught her in his arms and kissed her again and again, feeling the baby kick inside her. He fondled her silky hair with affection and she kissed him back. “Oh Jahlred, you have come just when I need you,” she said, tears of happiness falling from her eyes “I’ am sorry that the news of my pregnancy might have startled you, but clearly you are as happy as I’ am. How did you get here?” Jahlred smiled “I travelled to the Dome of the Sky and came here by means of the fabled Fieldcraft. But Ashal, when I spoke to their leader she knew of our child.” Ashaleena seemed troubled by this notion “what did she say?” “She told me the gender of our child, I do not know how she could know” said Jahlred, remembering not to mention Arora’s physical attraction to him, whether it could be called that or not. “Tell me, Jahlred” said Ashaleena quietly, resting her head on his chest. “She said it would be a girl, and that she would come to the Dome of the Sky when she was fifteen with Arelldar” he said nervously, stroking Ashaleena’s hair. “I have news also my love,” said Ashaleena, readying herself to tell Jahlred of her hastened pregnancy “our child, well daughter, will be born in four weeks. Stay here with me; I do not want our daughter to have never known her father because he died in war.” “I’ am not leaving here anytime soon, Ashal” promised Jahlred, his heart filled with happiness. Together they begun to make their way to the Foreseeyer’s Village as the

sun set on the 14th of Meibon.

********************* The many banners of the Feyran Lands flourished on the dead and parched Plains of Zaerce, carried by soldiers marching towards Hithen Dwa. The mighty fortress towered over the High Fey King’s army as they marched as one force, the sound of boots stamping on the ground as they stayed regimented and without sign of fear. Baelandyr and Xyanus rode on their horses at the front of the army, protected on their nether by Feyran knights, one of the two battalions led by Elendril and the other by Sir Argavald. Prince Trastor and his reasonably large force mingled with the two battalions of knights, mixing hues of green, blue, gold and silver. Behind them marched the army of Shaorn, led by Lord Anglus and his brother dressed in their fully armour. Following the Shaorn army was the Luernirian force, a small but powerful military led by Trened and Lord Samath. The four larger armies of Mal Vellas, Ardel, Silvermoon and Dallavor comprised of the battalions behind Luernir’s army. Then followed the one hundred men from the Foreseeyer’s Lands, including Relindahl, Naodan, Roedah, and Sir Penndren. The backbone of the army was the huge force from Del Jahvalla. Of course there was the naval force from Sieulad sailing up the River Vitikus to breach the inside of Hithen Dwa when the signal was given. The huge army halted about two hundred metres from the walls of Hithen Dwa, the siege engines rolling forward and their engineers beginning to load them with ammunition. The enemy responded by preparing their own crude trebuchets and ballistae. Above on the walls thousands of Argithrian Brutes stood ready on the battlements, dressed in their jagged black and silver armour that covered their whole bodies. Most of the Argithrians carried their favoured weapon the pike, but some were equipped with crude bows and arrows with heads of crow feathers. High above the central tower loomed over the lower walls, a single column of black stone where Vivilianon herself now probably observed from inside, waiting for Baelandyr to confront her. When the time came for him to give his rousing speech to his army, Baelandyr steered his horse Saerora down the gap that separated the soldiers. “Men of the Feyran Lands,” he began, holding his legendary sword up high “today we fight not for honour and wealth, but for the freedom of our families from the powers of evil that dwell in our own lands. I ask you, as men of not only the Feyran Lands but men of the Empire, to lend your sword and skill and fight this foe that stands before us. They say that Hithen Dwa is impregnable, let us put pay to that legend!!” The army roared in response as he galloped back to his position next to Elendril, raising sword and spear in glorious optimism. The Argithrians above responded to this speech with roars and grunts to unnerve their enemies, and it worked on some of the less experienced soldiers. The Argithrian commanders, who were defined by their larger armour and figure, sounded boar-tusk horns to ready their fellow kin for battle, the lesser Argithrians roaring in vicious bloodlust. They yearned for it to begin, the bloodshed to commence at their own expense. Xyanus received direct orders from his king to take the opportunity to begin the siege, commanding the trebuchets to ready. As they wound back a particularly large Argithrian commander begun to shout offences in human tongue. The trebuchets loosed and came crashing down on the walls, one crushing the large Argithrian. Another barrage of trebuchet fire pelted the outer walls of the fortress, denting and smashing the walls. “Archers!” roared Xyanus, directing a battalion of expert archers into firing range. They readied their arrows and let them loose into the Argithrian hordes, the creatures proving so resistant that more than one arrow had to be used against one. The enemy responded to this volley with their own crude bows, loosing arrows down towards the archers. Their screams echoed as they were plucked down one by one by the Argithrian archers. The battle to secure the outer walls became a desperate campaign, and the

commanders agreed to send in the battering ram to breach the Great Gates of Hithen Dwa. Goedras was a mighty and ancient battering ram, and as it rolled forth its ram’s head of gold gleamed in the scarce sunlight. When it was in position some of the engineers begun to attack the Argithrians defending the gate with their bows, while the rest of the group operated Goedras. Once it pounded against the gates, the sound resonating across the Plains of Zaerce. A second time it shook the gates but did not breach them. The third swing broke through some of the gate, but still it remained unbroken. The fourth time was given more power, and shattered the gates as if they were glass. Goedras’ engineers moved out and retreated from enemy fire, Argithrians crowding the breached gate from within. Xyanus steered his horse over to the Shaornian army and pulled Lord Anglus aside. “Take the breached gate first, Luernir will follow if you suffer heavy casualties!” ordered Xyanus, out of breath. Anglus nodded and turned to his army, addressing all of them “men, we attack the gate! Follow my lead!”. He then steered his horse and galloped over to the gate, beginning to hack down the Argithrians that were pouring out. The Shaornian army followed him, flourishing the hawk in the sea of green on their banners as they charged. The two forces clashed at the gates, bloodshed and death ensuing. Anglus struck down dozens of Argithrians on the safety of his horse, leading a group of his riders through the gates and trampling the Argithrians. He drove his sword through one’s chest and spun his horse around, noticing a cloaked figure amongst the Argithrians. As it approached him he saw it clearly, a hooded being dressed in black with a mouth of fangs. Its eyes were covered by a plate of grey steel, embossed with demon runes. It lunged at him with a clawed hand and grabbed for his head, Anglus saving himself with a swift sword attack. He then noticed his army was gradually thinning, although his brother was still fighting tirelessly, and called for the banner carrier to flourish the white flag, which indicated the need of reinforcements. Outside the fortress Xyanus saw the flag clearly and directed Trened and his Luernirian army to assist Shaorn. He watched as they charged through the gate and dispatched the over massing Argithrians. Within hours the force comprising Shaorn, Luernir and Ardel had secured the outer walls, but the two strongholds and the central tower, protected by the inner walls and another gate still remained. The soldiers were given direct orders to burn corpses from both sides, and the Argithrians on the inner wall soon abandoned their posts as the sun set. The outer walls had been secured and the generals hoped that the Argithrians would not resume their posts on the inner walls. Meanwhile the ships from Sieulad moored to the shores outside the sewer entrance into Hithen Dwa, led by Karred. Arelldar stepped off the ship and stretched his arms, yawning as he retrieved his bow from the cargo. Despite his tiredness he still assisted Rafian and Jaeldra with the armoury cargo and helped hand out the weapons and armour. When everyone was armoured up Karred ordered them to assemble so he could speak to them. When they were in one big group he began “congratulations men, we have successfully reached Hithen Dwa undetected. But the task of infiltrating it still remains, and the men from the Pride of Riverrunning command ship will accompany me, Jaeldra, Arelldar, and Rafian into the sewer system. If things go bad the rest of you will reinforce us. Everyone got that?” The group replied with grunts and dispersed the group from the Pride of Riverrunning staying with Karred and the other three. Among these men were Segdor Vandaran, Mantorius Victrus, Erthrin Naarvil, and Lirind Dregdan, the original members of the old Armada. They talked amongst themselves for a moment, before they made their way into the tunnel and drew their weapons. Karred, who was leading the group, lit a torch and the tunnel fully illuminated. It was made of old grey stone and covered with moss, and the water was green with filth. As they passed Arelldar noticed something floating in the water, a disfigured corpse. “What is that, floating there!” he exclaimed, drawing everyone’s attention to the

body. The group crowded around the river. “Mantorius! Check it!” ordered Karred, holding his torch in terror. Mantorius obeyed and stepped into the shallow waters, wading towards the corpse. When he turned it over everyone gasped. The skin was pale and blood surrounded his mouth, the corpse’s eyes pallid like two pools of faded silver. Mantorius shook him to see any signs of life, but the body did not awaken. “Foul sorcery,” said Jaeldra, helping Mantorius out of the river “the sorceress means to play with our minds. We must move quickly.” They walked for about two metres into the tunnel until they came across an archway that went off to the side. Within was the lower levels of Hithen Dwa, but the shadows of Argithrians were visible in the lamplight from within. Readying his sword Karred led the group inside in single file. When he stood but a metre from an Argithrian he lunged forward and drove his sword into its back, crying “die fiend!”. Jaeldra and Arelldar followed behind him as the group began to attack the Argithrians. Arelldar fired two arrows at once and in doing so saved Jaeldra’s life. Karred fought with such fury it could better his glorious ancestors, rejoicing with his brother in the victory. One of the group, Mantorius, decided to scout the cleared hallways and set off on his own. As he turned a corner he noticed something stir in the shadows, a cloaked figure. The light of his torch seemed to affect it as it lifted its head and beared a fanged mouth. Mantorius froze in terror and stepped back “shadow wraith!!”. The wraith leapt onto him and clutched his head with both hands, draining his life. When the others answered to his call in a rush the shadow wraith had fled and Mantorius lay lifeless. His body was now almost skeletal, as if the life had been drained from him. “What killed him!?,” exclaimed Karred, disgusted by his friend’s ill fate. Segdor knelt down and checked for a pulse. As he stood up he said “as I thought, Mantorius’ life was drained by a shadow wraith, and this one is still alive.” “I’ll take it, come with me Arelldar!” said Jaeldra, the ranger readying his shortsword and heading around the corner despite Karred’s protests. Jaeldra waved his torch all over to drive the creature out, but to no avail. Then he noticed a shape clinging to the roof, and ordered Arelldar to stand still. When he moved his torch up the shadow wraith shrieked and leapt down, lunging for him. It clutched his head as it had done to Mantorius and Jaeldra could feel the life being sucked out from him. He gasped for air as Arelldar tried desperately to safe him. “Karred!,” he cried, readying his sword “Karred come quick!”. He charged at the wraith and stabbed it in the back, distracting it from Jaeldra so it released its grip on him. The shadow wraith spun around to face Arelldar and hissed at him, moving to grab him. Just then Karred spun around the corner with the others behind him and brought his sword down on the creature’s neck. Its head toppled off like a black fruit and Arelldar grimaced as its green blood sprayed all over him. Pushing the corpse off him and ran over to Jaeldra and handed him a carafe. Karred’s brother seemed rather pale but other than that the shadow wraith had not drained his life completely. Karred helped his brother up and for a brief moment they were still, bursting into action and continuing down the hallway. The group followed the corridors until they exited into a large stone octagonal room, with a crude chandelier hanging from the ceiling. When the group noticed an Argithrian sitting at a small table nearby they jumped into action, but Arelldar quickly disposed of it with a well placed shot to the eye. “Move!” ordered Karred, ushering the group in to set up a perimeter. When everyone was in he gestured to Segdor and Lirind to cover the door. Three or so Argithrians lumbered and instantly the group burst into combat, Arelldar dispatching one of them with two arrows. Unfortunately for Karred he had chosen a foe that was wielding a hammer, and he had to dodge its fell strikes before he made his own effort to attack. “Arrow!” he yelled to Arelldar, stabbing the

creature in to foot as the ranger fired an arrow into the Argithrian’s forehead. While it was distracted Karred stabbed it in the chest and joined up with his brother to finish the third one off. Everyone panted exuberantly and Karred commenced to lead them into the next room. When they entered they found a flight of stone steps in the far north corner, but Argithrians were many in this room. Arelldar fired an arrow and started the combat, fighting from afar while his comrades felled their foes with melee combat. He was about to yell for Lirind to move but he was too late, the soldier was sent flying into the spiked chandelier and impaled on the lighting fixture. Karred yelled in frustration and killed another enemy, Jaeldra pulling him away from the Argithrian that had killed Lirind. “How many more will die!” he roared, hitting his sword on the ground. No, he wouldn’t give into sorrow, he had to fight. He gave a might yell and leapt onto an Argithrian’s back, stabbing him several times before he was finally slain. Karred dropped his sword and stumbled back, overwhelmed by the loss of his comrades. Before him lay a scene of bloodshed; bodies of both man and Argithrian Brute scattered with red blood and black blood mixed, weapons scattered all over and bloodstained. “We must move,” said Arelldar, leaning on his longbow “we cannot linger here” Jaeldra sighed and said “he’s right, come men let us move. The day is not ours yet one”. The group moved on into the next room, but Karred lingered. His brother came to him and rested his hand on his shoulder “they will avenged, brother. Before this age is over, they will be avenged. ae lewen saleh, guide your sword!” Karred smiled faintly at his brother and held his sword close to him “ae eras silari lura, I have some hope. Let us do what must be done, for the honour of our forefathers” They moved into the next room to find that the group had already disposed of the enemies inside, and a passage that lead upwards signified they were reaching the entrance into the fortress’ upper levels. “Let us hope we may enter undetected, like shadows on the ceaseless wind” said Arelldar silently, raising his bow. The first day of the Siege had ended, and now the army gathered in their camps on the Plains of Zaerce. Presently High General Xyanus made his way through the restless men to report to Baelandyr. He found him standing alone in his tent, with his sword held loosely in his hand. “What have I become, Xyanus?” he said, facing the wall. “A king worthy of his forefathers” said Xyanus, striding over to his lord and resting his hand on his shoulder. “Am I any better than the foes I slay? I think I’ am not worthy to belong to the House of Ithuriel,” muttered the king, his eyes vague with doubt and sacrifice “will my own malice be my undoing? So much blood has been shed on my behalf” “My lord! You are king of the feyran people!,” said the High General, shocked at his master’s doubt “I doubt not your leadership nor the bloodshed you have wrought. Hearken to the call of your forefathers; they will guide you in this war” “How many dead, Xyanus?” asked the king, resting his sword in its sheath. The High General paused for a moment and said “five hundred, my lord. Among them was Galverious’ lieutenant Marthilas Julrad” said Xyanus, not a man that loved war despite his military career. “A man that knew Jahlred, he will be honoured when this is over” said Baelandyr, drinking from a chalice of wine. “How do we act tomorrow, my lord?” asked Xyanus, taking a seat nearby the king. “Swiftly, we must take the inner walls,” replied Baelandyr, resting the chalice on the table “tomorrow the bloodshed will be countless, and unnecessary” “Ae vanos lera isari ie sudrae, ae ehren!” said Xyanus, arguing that the bloodshed was necessary.

“It is not, and I am ashamed to be held for it,” said Baelandyr with a troubled look “leave me, please”.

6: Into Shadow and Flame Jahlred had become acquainted with Ashaleena’s grandmother rather quickly, and Ashaleena knew her grandmother liked him. News from the Siege had reached the Foreseeyer’s Lands, and they were grieved to learn that half of their men were dead. Fortunately Relindahl and the other three had not fallen, and probably readied for the next day of battle. Presently Ashaleena, her grandmother, and Jahlred sat together in the old woman’s house. They were eager for the signs of the Meibon snow, an occurrence of which Jahlred had never thought would happen. “Snow, here?,” he said, baffled by the thought “I suppose those Imperial lands up north get it too, Western Colacedes and et cetera.” “It does snow here, but never in winter for some odd reason” replied the Foreseeyer, her eyes deep in thought. “Pardon me for asking, but how old are you?,” said the fey, trying not to sound confronting “it’s just that you must be over one hundred to have met DerhaynTorkandor” “I’ am one hundred and twenty nine,” replied the Foreseeyer cheerily, although Jahlred was certain she was only eighty or younger “I was blessed by the Eternal Flame, I was one of the last people he spoke to before his death” “I wonder if our kindred live,” said Ashaleena, changing the subject “grandfather, Naodan, Roedah, and Penndren?” “Penndren is at the Siege!?” asked Jahlred, surprised. He had never thought Penndren would join the men of the Foreseeyer’s Lands to fight! Ashaleena nodded and reached over to him, whispering something into his ears. He heard it clearly, and again was shocked be hearing such things about his friend. He had never known that Penndren had loved a woman and fathered a son, but was somewhat saddened by the news that neither of them lived. “Well,” said the old woman, clapping her wrinkled hands together “I should be helping with dinner. I’ll leave you two alone”. She smiled at them both and tottered out of her house. When she was gone Jahlred leant over to Ashaleena and kissed her on the lips, placing his hand on her soft cheek. He moved his other hand to her womb and felt the baby move inside, she was less than four weeks due. “I love you,” he said, releasing his touch and wrapping his arm around her shoulders “I hope she will be safe from evil, Ashal. Our daughter will have a significant part to play in the fate of things” “Stay with me,” she replied, kissing his other hand “do not miss the birth of our child. I would be saddened if you were not here” “I’ am not leaving, my love,” said the fey, fondling her hair with the arm he had around her shoulders “I will stay with you even when the walls of this world are torn apart. When chaos and violence reign supreme I will stay with you until the end” “But I will die and you will linger with our child,” she said, fearing the day their love would be shattered, the day when she died “I would stay with you too Jahlred, if only such chaos and violence were not around us in this troubled world” He pressed his finger to her lips and hushed her “hush my love; all that matters now is that I love you. I will always love you. Ashaleena cried out and sunk her face into her hands “this is all too much for me, Jahlred. I love all that is good, but I fear loss will play a part in our lives forever.” The army of Baelandyr attacked early the second day, scouring the outer level of Hithen Dwa of the few enemies that chose to linger there. It was planned that no attack on the inner level was necessary, and Baelandyr, Xyanus, Argavald, and Elendril would make their way to the central tower in a diplomatic manner so they

would not be attacked. While Elendril was readying himself a young man stepped towards him and greeted him. Elendril was surprised to see someone greet him at such a time. “Excuse your majesty, my name is Roedah Nethuriel, son of Naodan, son of Erandalas of the South. I may be young, but I’ am still a worthy soldier. Please may I join you on your journey to the keep?” Elendril was shocked, he had never known a soldier to muster enough strength for such a task, but instead replied with a question “Nethuriel!? You have the blood of Ashalora, and the woman Ashaleena, nay!?” Roedah nodded “Ashalora is my grandmother, and Ashaleena is my cousin. I fight partly for my family, as my cousin Jamalor was slain as well as his mother Lirrian and his father Audelir.” “Give me your sword,” ordered Elendril, holding the man’s sword in two hands we he gave it to him. He examined it thoroughly and then said “it is a fine blade; use it well to smite your foes. As for your brave request, you may come at the risk of your own life.” Roedah concurred and began to polish his sword, while Elendril joined his father and the two generals. Baelandyr nodded at his son as he approached and said wisely “the time has come my son. The burden of doing this, the seemingly ceaseless struggle to overcome will finally be complete. Let us end this” The gates of Hithen Dwa lay bleak and open and as the group passed through the gates the Argithrians on the upper level watched silently. Baelandyr remained calm as he strode up the hill to the second gate, the four other men following him from behind. The sun flared like an orb of fire in the sky, and they sweat like livestock ready to be butchered. Such an appearance marred Baelandyr’s usually angelic and valorous demeanour, as well as Elendril’s. The two mortal men Xyanus and Agravald were covered in heavy armour, and their hair was drenched in sweat and grime. As for Roedah he seemed unaffected by the heat no doubt mustered by the Green Sorceress. The entire journey from the first gate to the second gate seemed like a burdening quest, and it was all done on foot. The group halted about a metre from the inner gate and waited for the enemy to open them. A pair of two metre tall Argithrians stood at either gate winch and grunted as they turned them, what was visible of their green skin also covered in sweat. The crudely decorated gate swung upwards and standing on the other side was Vivilianon, with Jugarn and two Shadow Wraiths beside her. She stepped forward and her three companions followed slowly, the Shadow Wraiths eager for the life of the four men that stood before them. When she was close enough the Green Sorceress spoke “so you have come, o’ mighty fey king!? The fate you have sealed here is a grim fate, and you will fall to not my sword, but the sword of my minion Jugarn!” A terrified look spread across Jugarn’s disfigured face and he grabbed his mistress in an effort to plead her to not make him fight “mistress! I cannot fight with hands that are awry! My fingers are to bent and my hands are to swollen! Pray not to make me fight, I beg of you!” “Silence, Jugarn!,” ordered Vivilianon, striking him across the face with her hand of long filed nails “you will fight for your lady’s honour! I will only face him if you fail, which I know you will not!” “I will not fight this cripple, Vivilianon,” declared Baelandyr “he has only become what he is by your hands and your magic. I will fight no man with a fate such as his. As for your wraiths, pit them against us and see what fate you find for yourself!” The fey king raised his spear hand and with supernatural force hurtled the weapon through the chest of one of the Shadow Wraiths, impaling it and staining its green blood on the stones of Hithen Dwa. “Kill him, Jugarn!” ordered Vivilianon heatedly. When her crippled minion did not

comply she ordered the remaining Shadow Wraith to dispose of him. It floated towards Jugarn and enveloped his head in its clawed hands, draining his life in mere seconds. The wraith had drained everything from Jugarn, he was now a disfigured skeleton with the few bits of skin that remained tightly covering his body. Roedah could not stand to see such a fate and raised his sword, charging at the wraith. It spun around with unnatural speed and grabbed the young man’s head, letting out a husk cry of hunger as it drained his life. Elendril leapt forward and employed his father’s secret spear combat, slicing off the wraith’s head and then impaling in a matter of seconds. He withdrew his spear and kicked the creature back, turning his attention to Roedah. Checking for a pulse on the now pale man he found no sign of life, and roared in anger. Moving to kill the sorceress he noticed she had gone back to her tower and now a large group of Argithrians were approaching. Leaping into the air he landed in front of one and impaled it through the neck, redoubling to slay two more. His father and the other two joined the fray and Baelandyr employed the same tactic as his son with devastating results. Within a few minutes the entire group of Argithrians lay slain in a pile surrounding the four men, their blood staining the stones as the Shadow Wraith’s had. Baelandyr wasted no time and stormed into the central tower of obsidian, smashing the doors open with bloodstained spear in hand. Vivilianon stood in the centre of the first level, her staff rested gently in her hands. When she noticed Baelandyr charging towards her she sent him flying into the walls of her tower. Elendril sped forward and sliced the sorceress across the cheek, creating a deep scar next to her mouth. She clenched her cheek as her black blood stained her fingers, sending the fey flying back with her spare hand. Baelandyr tried to stand up but she rushed forward and grabbed him by the neck, her nails digging into his skin. The High Fey King felt the air being stopped at his throat and kicked in an effort to break free. Elendril rose steadily and with his spear in hand charged at Vivilianon, impaling her through the back. The bloodstained tip of the spear narrowly missed entering Baelandyr, and he fell to the ground as she dropped him. Vivilianon staggered backwards and screamed as Elendril ripped the spear out, running to his father. She fell back onto the floor and clutched her wound with both hands, breathing heavily. Her amethyst eyes glinted with tears of pain and something else that was unidentifiable. When Baelandyr had recovered from his wounds he went over to her and strangely held her in his arms. “You know Vallabortax cannot be resurrected, and I understand the love you two share,” he said quietly, addressing her in a way she had not been spoken to in many years “your life on Arzith ends now, but I offer you a fate better than this one in the realm of the gods. What say you?” Vivilianon coughed blood and groaned in pain “please relieve me of this agony. I have sought redemption for many years.” Baelandyr rested his palm on her forehead and uttered the words “rest in the realm of the gods, fallen one”. A blue light enveloped her and the others watched as she began to change. Her green skin was replaced by the radiant skin of a fey, and her amethyst eyes were changed into blue as distant as the sky. Her hair changed also, into blonde as fine and soft as silk. But her blood was now red, and when she was changed her life was gone. Baelandyr stood silently and said to the other three “it is done, she has been redeemed. Call off the explosives, the day is won” Xyanus saluted him and headed back to the camp, heavy rain beginning to fall on the keep. The rainfall fell on Baelandyr as he walked alone back to the camp, his eyes deep in thought. Karred raised his torch above his head as the group loaded in the Ecymwan explosives, dumping them against the stone walls of Hithen Dwa. They were simple rounded orbs loaded with explosive powder, but as they appeared simple they were still deadly. Karred knew he would have to keep some distance from the explosives in risk of his own life, and he also knew he could only command the detonation

when the entire fortress was empty of allied forces. “Keep the pace men,” he said, directing them to dump the explosives in certain places “we must be ready to escape here with our lives” A man stepped forward and saluted Karred before saying “sir, we have just received direct orders to stop the explosives, No need to take them out either!” Karred nodded and rounded the men up, directing them back down the way they had come. He noticed Jaeldra was not among and searched in vain for him. “Jaeldra!,” he called into the corridors “it is time to leave this place, Vivilianon has been defeated!” No reply and that made Karred really worried. Raising his sword he headed down the hallway he had last seen his brother pass through. His torch illuminated little of the room and he called out for his brother, once again with no reply. Then he noticed something stir in the shadows and raised his sword steadily. Then, as if out of nowhere, Jaeldra stumbled out of the shadows and almost made his brother jump. He was covered in blood, but it wasn’t his own blood, it was someone or something else’s. “Where have you been!?,” exclaimed Karred nervously “the war is over, Vivilianon is dead. It is time to go home.” “She’s dead!? I was busy scouring these halls,” replied his brother “then it truly has ended, her terror is over.” “Come, let us leave” said Karred, turning to leave. His brother made to follow him but Karred heard his footsteps suddenly disappear. When he turned around Jaeldra was gone, and his sword lay on the ground. With the hair on the back of his neck prickling Karred held his torch upwards and saw the most horrible thing he had ever witnessed. His brother was lying on the ground, blood staining his chest and mouth. But this time the blood was his, and Karred sensed that he was dead. He knelt down and shook his brother. But Jaeldra was dead; Karred knew it when he saw him lie there motionless. Karred swelled with rage and as he rose from his knees he saw what had killed his brother. Standing in the shadows was a crippled and disfigured man who seemed to look like Vivilianon’s subordinate Jugarn, but Jahlred had heard that he too was dead. In the man’s growth-covered hands he held a bloodstained spear, and a sickly smile spread across his ugly face. “What are you!?” cried Karred, both disgusted and enraged by this hideous creature. The cripple raised his morphed head upwards and said “what am I!? What are you, hideous ugly beast! I’ am perfect, that is what my mistress told me before she made me perfect.” “Your mistress is dead;” said Karred, clutching his sword angrily “and you will soon join her for what you have done to my brother” “Dead!?,” shrieked the cripple “by your hands no doubt, you will pay!”. He lunged forward and attempted to gut Karred, who stabbed him in the gut. The cripple fell back and groaned, his twisted body writhing on the ground. Karred panted and sheathed his sword, turning his attention to his dead brother. He knelt down and closed his eyes, shedding tears as he left. He would have to tell Zaehl that her father was dead when he returned to the group, something he could not face. When Shadow the assassin finally woke up, he realized he had been asleep for a few weeks. What stunned him even more was where he was, in a furnished room with someone sitting across from him. He forced himself up and felt his head throb, and noticed the person approach him. It was a woman his age or younger, with thin black hair and Shadow thought she was vaguely attractive. What made her unusual were her eyes, the whites of them were a deep red colour but her pupils were colourless. “You are awake, finally!” she said, her eyes wide as she scrutinized him. Shadow, who was quite afraid and confused, managed to say “who are you!? Where am I!? I was meant to met with Raol and claim my reward.”

“I did that already, and Raol’s dead,” she replied with her eyes still wide and frightening “my name is Tessa, Tessa Demonspawn.” Shadow groaned in pain and massaged his head, “you did my job!? How long have I been asleep?” Tess paused and then said “about three weeks. The war’s over, Vivilianon is dead. But I brought you here.” “Why?,” asked Shadow confusedly “what have I done to you? I have never met you!” Tessa pressed her finger to his lips and silenced him “I have sought a male of your kind for many years, and now I have succeeded. Now, you will do what I ask.” “And what would that be!?” asked Shadow, looking into her dark foreboding eyes. “You know,” she said, a strange smile spreading across her face “I’ve done something for you, now you do something for me.” “I’ am in no condition to do what you are suggesting….” he began, Tessa running her sharp nails across his face. Strangely he made no effort to resist what she was trying to do, despite the fact he felt dreadful. But unbeknownst to Shadow his fate was sealed by what he was doing with a woman he had only just met. Jarred awoke at some time in the day, in the same bed in the same house. The only thing that was different was that girl Tessa Demonspawn was sleeping beside him, and he had realized what they had done. He pressed his knife to her throat and awoke her “listen here you! I know what we did and you are a filthy woman for it! Give me a reason to not slit your throat here and now!” Tessa smiled and flicked the knife out his hands “because I said so, and whatever I say happens. Now go bathe yourself, you smell like human.” “If I’ am a human than what are you!?” scowled Jarred, pushing her off him as he slid out of the bed. She sat up and her eyes had that look again, that pitiless evil look. She smiled again and said “I’ am half-human, my father was a demon called Azarkan. Now go and bathe yourself!” Jarred cursed under his breath and obeyed, picking up his knife on the way to the bathroom. He was too confused to complain about anything, and he felt a strange connection to the woman in the other room. When Karred told his niece that her father did not survive she sobbed for hours and he was too sad to even sit by her. He had lost another of his family, first his wife, then his son and now his brother. Why were the gods so cruel to his family!? He had loved Jahlred’s mother. Such a punishment as the loss of his brother seemed unfair, was he to be the last of his kin? But then he remembered Jahlred and hoped that his last son would be spared. When he finally went to bed his dreams were ravaged by his dark nightmare, images of his brother dying and dark flames engulfing him.

7: A Prophetic Birth Jahlred sniffed the cold air, raising his head and gazing into the river that ran through Ashaleena’s village. When he heard the news that the siege had ended, and that Vivilianon was dead he was shocked. But what struck him like cold iron was

the news that his uncle Jaeldra was dead and that many other people he knew had fallen. Marthilas Julrad had also perished, and a few generals Jahlred knew from Baelandyr’s council. Ashaleena’s family returned swiftly and eagerly, with only a few men dead. One that had perished was Roedah, Ashaleena’s cousin. She sobbed when the men of her village carried his dead body up to hill to the Great Hall. Jahlred and Ashaleena stood amongst the crowd and saw another body being carried up, and that face was unmistakable. It was the face of Sir Penndren Lythiuane, only it was pale and lifeless. He wore his finest armour and held his sword on his chest. Ashaleena gasped in sorrow and tried to run to the carriers, but Jahlred stopped her. “I’ am sorry Ashal,” he said, sadness swelling in him “Penndren is dead, he died a hero.” “No!,” she cried “don’t you say that! He’s not dead! Not Penndren!”. Just then she felt searing pain overwhelm her, and she collapsed and grabbed Jahlred for balance. He caught her and sensed what was happening, carrying her to her grandmother’s house. He kicked open the door and placed her on the bed. “I think it is time!” he said to her grandmother, Ashaleena screaming in pain. “I suggest you leave, Jahlred,” she said, handing her granddaughter a glass of medicine “birth is only beautiful after the baby is born.” Jahlred knew that Ashaleena needed him, but he had to leave the room. He stood outside and heard her scream, restraining himself from running in to her rescue. He was weary by the time Ashalora called him in. He almost fainted when he saw Ashaleena lying under the sheets, with a tiny child in her arms. He ran to his child and kissed her on the head. She was tanned like her mother, but her eyes were blue like his. “How are you?” he asked Ashaleena, kissing her. She shrugged “I’ am fine, Jahlred. All that matters is that she is alive, our daughter. Have you decided her name?” “You want me to decide!?” Ashaleena nodded “you can choose, Jahlred.” He instantly remembered the name Breiam had told him, Ashyla. But would Ashaleena like it? “Ashyla,” he said, looking at the baby “if you don’t mind?” Ashaleena laughed and kissed him. “I love it” The spires of the Blood Tower loomed overhead as the messenger approached Khalvazard’s dark tower. He walked with a limp, due to a nasty attack by a pack of hellhounds during a mission to Harrow. His hair was grayish-white and held a tinge of darkness, and his eyes were the colour of stone. Around his mouth was some stubble and over his shoulders was a heavy furskin camp he had taken from the hoardings of a Kharsh chieftain. When he arrived at the Blood Tower two Watchers stood waiting either side of the doors. They were dressed in chaos armour and both held long ceremonial pikes. As for their faces they obscured by horned helmets. The Watchers of the Blood Tower let the messenger pass and he entered the first level of the Blood Tower, Khalvazard’s “personal room”. The Red Prince was sitting on a bed of dark silk, wearing an open fur tunic which displayed his chest with a few scars from previous wounds. His black hair flowed over his shoulders and onto his chest, and his eyes were an unnatural red as usual. Around him were five seductively beautiful women, fondling him and whispering to each other. But these were not women, they were succubi. Their eyes burned with red fury and their only intention was to seduce and devour the souls of men. But these succubi, these whores of Khalvazard were somewhat different. They were only there to appease the Red Prince. He noticed the messenger approach and pushed all the succubi off except one. He glided over to a wooden chest and revealed a curved ceremonial dagger, the succubus smiling when he returned. Without saying anything he sliced down her arm and sent her blood flowing. Writhing with pleasure he devoured her blood and she screamed in half pleasure. “Yes, my lord!!” she screamed, groaning in painful pleasure “devour my soul!!”

Khalvazard growled like a beast and threw her onto the bed, digging his mouth into her neck and using the dagger to slice her all over. He roared with desire and drank as much of her blood as possible, knowing she could not die from blood loss. He growled again and pulled up her dress, his eyes glowing with evil pleasure. “My lord,” said the messenger, and Khalvazard threw himself off the succubus and wiped his mouth free of blood, liking his fingers in search of remnants “I bring news from Hithen Dwa.” The Red Prince threw the succubus off the bed and she staggered onto the ground, covered in her own blood and sweat. Her skin was repaired she thanked her master, before leaving with her fellow demon-kind. Khalvazard was covered in the woman’s blood, but as he stepped of the bed it disappeared in an instant. “What is it Azkel?” he asked calmly “has Vivilianon succeeded in destroying Baelandyr’s army?” “No, she is dead” said the messenger Azkel. Khalvazard frowned “damn that useless bitch, I will have to crush him myself. His arrogance blinds him, he thinks he can ambush me but I will annihilate him!!” “Of course my lord,” said Azkel half-sarcastically “shall I mobilize the armies?” “Yes,” said Khalvazard, adding as the messenger turned to leave “and have my servants bring me a young fresh human woman, I thirst for virgin blood!” Azkel nodded and took his leave. Such carelessness could be his undoing, though Azkel as he departed. When Ashyla was officially named, the whole of the Foreseeyer’s Village celebrated a life-changing birth. She had the blood of a Foreseeyer and the blood of a fey, thus she was immortal unless killed by another, which would be highly unlikely until those against her would learn of her birth. Her eyes were green like Ashaleena’s, and her skin was tanned like her too. But the few hairs on her head were blonde, a trait from Jahlred. Even in the euphoria that ensued he still felt odd after what Arora had said to him in Zeerafald. Arelldar was yet to even know of Ashyla; he and Breiam had left for the east on “important business involving Lord Xyven”. He was too confused to even decide how to protect his daughter from evil, and Khalvazard was rife. Presently he sat alone in the inn, drinking lightly and pondering his next move. He had many allies, but they were all over the world. His eyes drifted upwards when the inn doors opened. Then two people entered a man and a younger woman. Their skin was pale and their hair was black, but their eyes were blood red. The man was dressed in royal attire; a tunic encrusted with gold, a silver diadem laden with rubies, black gloves and a long black cape. The woman was dressed less elegantly to her companion, but her beauty was divine despite her red eyes. These two were dark fey, and the innkeeper reacted instantly. Taking a club from inside the front desk he charged at the male, who gutted him with a curved sword. Others in the inn reacted to this and attacked the two newcomers, who easily dispatched them. Jahlred caught their eye and he shuddered as they approached. “I bear greetings from the Blood Lord of the Dark Fey,” said the man, the words sliding off his tongue like poison “I’ am Estor, and my female companion here is Sariel, niece of the Blood Lord. You are Jahlred Naethora, son of Amelia and Karred” “Why does it concern you, thazak-dal’viza?!” scorned Jahlred, noticing Sariel’s disappointment. “We have come to learn of your daughter Ashyla, the one from the Prophecy,” replied Sariel with a voice of elegance that held the same effect as Estor’s “my uncle seeks the power she possesses, but as she is a baby she is not yet “full-circle”. But when she is my lord’s actions will be swift to acquire her. She is not just a half-fey, her ancestry holds many powers. My uncle seeks to unlock them when the time is right.” “Why are you telling me this?,” said Jahlred angrily “you will never touch my daughter!”

“It is beyond your power to stop, Jahlred,” said Estor, retaining his calmness “the Blood Lord will use your daughter to make himself a god.” “And I presume my daughter will die in the process!?” “Of course, but it is for a good cause,” said Sariel “she will be recognized as the rise of my lord’s power in history. Farewell, Naethora” Jahlred moved to attack them but they disappeared into thin air, using some magical item. Surging with rage he returned to Ashaleena. “What is it, Jahlred?” she asked when he entered. “Two dark fey came to the inn and told me that the Blood Lord will use Ashyla to make himself a god!” he replied angrily, kissing her. “Jahlred, she will not be taken by dark fey,” said Ashaleena calmingly “we will not let it. I promise you.” Jahlred smiled vaguely and began to pack his things “I must go to Shadowwell and seek council with the Blood Lord.” “No,” said Ashaleena, shocked “you hold no power to negotiate with him. I love you Jahlred, but you must promise to stay here until Ashyla is safe.” “She will not be safe until the Blood Lord is dead, Ashal,” Jahlred said, swinging his bag over his shoulder “I hate myself for leaving you both, but I must do all that I can to protect you.” He kissed Ashaleena then their sleeping daughter, and went to the door. “Stay safe Jahlred,” she said worridly “I love you.” He headed to the stables swiftly and took a horse out of the village and rode swiftly into Luernir, plotting his course for Thornseld, where he would seek a loyal captain to transport him to neutral waters. After that he would have to disguise himself as a dark fey, and take a raider’s ship to Shadowwell. By the third day he had reached the outskirts of Thornseld. Thornseld was a mighty port city surrounded by forests on one side and the sea on the other. With a population of 230 million people, it was a massive city that flourished in naval ways. Jahlred entered without any hassle and visited the shipyard in search of a captain. The shipyard smelt rank of tobacco and alcohol and many of its patrons were drunk. He searched for a captain and finally had a choice of three. The first one was a scruffy drunken seadog from Thornseld who agreed to take him the whole way to Shadowwell, the second was a well-kempt captain who maintained civility onboard his ship, and the third was an ex-pirate with one eye and one leg. Wanting to keep safe Jahlred chose the second captain, who only demanded three hundred gold coins for the journey aboard his ship the Paradore. After he was paid he introduced himself as Captain Elderoth Matthias. The Paradore was a suitable galleon holding a crew of two hundred and six hundred rooms for accommodation. Elderoth had a wife and three children, and they all lived onboard in private quarters. His wife was a quiet dark-haired woman called Maria and his two sons and daughter spoke little to Jahlred as they waited for the crew to board. By the time everyone was on it was night, and a growing storm was brewing in the centre of the Bloodstalga Sea, known as the Eye of the Maelstrom. Unfortunately for Jahlred, Elderoth refused to take him further than Szenkar Island, which lay about three hundred kilometers from Shadowwell. The dark feyran pirates were known for marooning each other on Szenkar Island, where they rarely survived off rum and rotten foods. Even human pirates, as few as they were, marooned each other here as well. The Paradore set off by around eight and sailed into the night untroubled. About half of the crew, including Maria and the children, went to bed. Jahlred talked to Elderoth on the deck, or the bosun Andrei, who was of San Abassidan decent. He spoke of the distant kingdom of San Abassid, and of his king Reynos Carloza II. A light mist rose at dawn around the Paradore, but Elderoth and the others seemed untroubled. As they began to drift past small islands Jahlred came to realized how brutal marooning was. Every second or third island had a dead pirate or sailor on its shores, some Andrei even identified as former captains. Most were dark feyrans, but

there were many sailors holding cargo beside them, obviously thought useless by whoever killed them. At midday some of the sailors claimed to see a pirate flag far behind the Paradore, but Elderoth thought nothing of it. Jahlred became wary and about an hour after he saw Elderoth’s son go over to the edge of the ship and watch the sea. The next thing that happened went so fast Jahlred was stunned. Maria ran forward and grabbed her son, both of them landing on the deck. Seconds later a canon ball smashed where the boy was standing. The whole ship erupted into chaos and ran forward their weapons. “Pirates!!” yelled a sailor. A dark feyran pirate ship loomed behind them, twice the Paradore’s size. They fired again and killed two sailors. Elderoth took charge and rushed his family to safety below deck, while Andrei ordered the crew to return fire. Severe damage was done to both ships by half an hour, but Elderoth refused to fall back. Then the dark feyran’s boarded the Paradore with merciless rage. They cut down disorderly sailors in their wake and a man who appeared to be the bosun followed after a path was cleared. He was a dark fey who would have been more charismatic without the badly sewn up scar down his cheek and greasy black hair. His ragged coat dripped with sea water, as did his saber. In a husky voice he ordered his men to tie up Elderoth, Andrei and Jahlred, who he thought to be a royal with many riches. “Search for the fey’s money and bring it to me!,” ordered the bosun, and three men obeyed. They returned soon after with empty hands. “We found nothing in his quarters, bos’un!” “What? You lazy muts don’t know where to look,” grunted the bosun “but I’m guessin’ he does’nt have any money, eh fey?” Jahlred frowned at the bosun “I’ am a passenger of no riches. I’ am bound for Shadowwell to meet with your king.” The group of pirates burst into laughter and the bosun said “Vaonlas is not our king; we have no king save the Prince of Gold, who has not been seen for thirty years. Men, kill the captain and the bosun.” Before Jahlred could say anything the pirates stabbed both Elderoth and Andrei, and threw them overboard. The remaining crew of the Paradore roared in anger but the dark feyran pirates seemed untroubled. The next thing Jahlred knew he was being dragged onto the other ship and thrown into the prison below deck. “Welcome aboard the Wretched Sylvan, fey!” roared the bosun as he tossed Jahlred into the prison cell. When he was gone Jahlred rested his head against the wall and sighed. Oh what if Ashaleena knew what trouble he was in! He slept for half a day, and completely ignored the meager food supplied. At dawn he was woken by someone trudging down the stairs and approaching his cell. They ran their saber across the bars and cackled drunkenly. The newcomer was surprisingly well-kept, his hair and clothes laden with trinkets. His face was barely scratched or cut and his eyes were dark and imposing, definitely the captain. “Bedtime’s over, fey,” he said with a laugh, unlocking Jahlred’s cell and dragging him to his feet “onto the deck now, and make it quick.” Jahlred obeyed and stepped onto the deck, into broad daylight with a hundred pairs of eyes glaring at him. He recognized the bosun and several other men. The captain followed and stepped beside Jahlred, his men roaring “boys, we got a fey amongst us. Now we have talked about this and we have reached the decision to take him to Shadowwell and get us all five thousand gold!!” The crew roared again and chattered amongst themselves excitedly. The captain turned to Jahlred and smiled, showing yellowed teeth. Strangely he put his hand onto Jahlred’s shoulder and said “tell me fey, how do the whores fare in fey-land!?,”

Jahlred punched him and surged with rage. Laughing the captain cracked his jaw back into place “oh! You’ve got some fight in you, that’ll sell you as a mercenary!” Jahlred was forced to wait on the deck while the captain and the bosun readied the boat for Shadowwell. They left half an hour later and the bosun rowed with four other men, while the captain watched Jahlred closely. As they approached Shadowwell the city loomed in all its splendour. Positioned on a peninsula the city was an architectural marvel, despite being one of the enemies. The dark feyran master architect Xendorlin built Shadowwell in 266 FE for the Blood Lord Roedaur in exchange for eternal life. However upon the completion of Xendorlin’s second marvel, Xendorlin’s Library, the dark fey betrayed and killed him. As they approached the quay lined with galleons, Jahlred made out Sariel and Estor standing amongst other dark fey royals. But neither of them stood out, it was a tall man that stood in the middle of the group in a dark aura. He was dressed in high regal attire, with the most lavish diadem Jahlred had ever seen rested on his black hair. The thing that made him stand out from the other dark fey nobles was his dark beard, as if forged of darkness and hate. The captain knelt down and whispered into Jahlred’s ear “Vaonlas, their king. Prepare to marvel in his glory.” The small ship pulled up at the head of the quay and the bosun moored it with ropes. Then the captain dragged Jahlred onto the quay and up onto his feet as if he was a rag doll. Sariel, Estor and Vaonlas all approached them with precise elegance. Estor paid the captain and then they were off, leaving Jahlred. Vaonlas did not even speak as if he felt that no others were worthy to hear his voice. Then he spoke “welcome to Shadowwell, Jahlred Naethora. I’ am the Blood Lord Vaonlas, and you have already met my niece Sariel and my trusted servant Estor.” “Rise,” ordered Estor subtly, and Jahlred obeyed “respect our king.” “Jahlred, your daughter,” began Vaonlas “such beauty she will come to possess, tis a shame she will be destroyed for my cause. But she will be venerated.” “If you dare lay a finger on my daughter or Ashaleena I will destroy you, I swear it!,” hissed Jahlred, slowly rising to his feet. “Take Silverwynd,” ordered Vaonlas, and Sariel stole Jahlred of his only weapon “yes Jahlred, of course I know your sword.” “What now, uncle?” asked Sariel. Jahlred sensed a tone of fear in her voice, as if she feared the Blood Lord’s wrath. “He will be welcomed to the palace, with his own chambers,” concluded Vaonlas, smiling in a way that enraged Jahlred to the core “but I will place him under house arrest.” “I will escape,” growled Jahlred “one way or the other, I swear to you I will escape!” “Enough,” said Vaonlas, unmoved by Jahlred’s words “Sariel, Estor! Take him to his chambers at once. Farewell Naethora, till I summon you again” Jahlred suppressed the rage to destroy Vaonlas as he strode up the steps and swore to himself that he would kill him before this was over. Tired and in need of time alone, he obediently followed Sariel and Estor to his chambers. The walk to the palace was brief and the roads were empty, as it was early and the sun was not yet full. When they reached the doors of his chambers within the palace, he noticed two guards standing on either side of the entry way with ceremonial spears and armour. Both guards held their spears so they intersected with each other and covered the door. When Estor took the key from his robes they returned to a different stance and let all three of them inside, although Jahlred swore they gave him a look. His chambers were surprisingly up-class; with traditional architecture easily distinguishable. He had a bed, a balcony, a desk, and a cupboard for his belongings, those of which had been lost on the Paradore, which was probably halfway back to Thornseld with its remaining crew. “We take our leave” announced Estor calmly, and both he and Sariel left the room.

The guards resumed their previous stance from when they had arrived. Jahlred fell onto the bed with a thump and ached with tiredness. Then a horrible thought arose in his mind. If Vaonlas could use Ashyla to make himself a god, then did Baelandyr possess the same power to do so as well? No, that’s foolish! I myself do not understand Baelandyr enough to now his limits, but even I know he would never do such a thing as what Vaonlas would do! Or maybe he would? He banished the thought from his mind and tried to sleep. Surprisingly news of Jahlred’s capture had reached Del Jahvalla via a semaphore from Shadowwell dated the day of Jahlred’s arrival, 10th of Samhayn 180 SE. It was given to Baelandyr at once. He was deeply troubled by a letter from Vaonlas, as he had been the one who had killed Vaonlas’ father Shurak in 115 SE. He opened the letter on his throne and read nervously: My distant cousin, We have fought each other four and a half decades now, and I grow tired of this kin war. We are brethren; we were once the same people. But now I have the perfect weapon that has availed even you. I now hold Jahlred Naethora at my palace and he will only be returned in exchange for his daughter Ashyla, who will be raised in the dark feyran court and taught not to question my judgment. Yours sincerely, Vaonlas Baelandyr summoned Xyanus, Agraveld and Elendril to his throne room at once. When they arrived he read them the letter and they all seemed deeply troubled. Xyanus spoke the first words “Vaonlas has long since been your enemy as much as Khalvazard has. We should crush him while he is weak!” “No,” said Elendril, stepping closer to his father “what weapon does he speak of, father?” Baelandyr sighed “the Prophecy has another side, which says the prophecy child has the power to make one Ascend to the title of a god. This is what Vaonlas seeks, and with that power he could obliterate all of Arzith. He knows I have the power to Ascend with Ashyla’s sacrifice too, and he wants to push me to do so.” “But you would never!” said Elendril furiously “Of course I would not!,” said the High Fey King “I have strong enough willpower to resist such a weapon! But Vaonlas wants to test my will before he Ascends.” “What is our next move?” asked Agravald. “We will bring Ashyla, and Ashaleena,” decided Baelandyr “convincing Vaonlas that we have agreed. Then I will destroy him Jahlred and Ashyla will both be safe.” “It shall be done, my lord” agreed Xyanus. They all bowed and left the throne room, leaving Baelandyr to think. Two days later, on the 12th of Samhayn a convoy from Del Jahvalla arrived in the Foreseeyer’s Village, seeking Ashaleena. They entered her grandmother’s house and bowed to her respectfully. “Mistress Ashaleena, we have been sent by Baelandyr,” said the captain, who Ashaleena vaguely recognized from Del Jahvalla “Jahlred has been taken hostage by the Blood Lord Vaonlas. He will only be exchanged in return for your daughter, however Baelandyr has agreed to bring you and your daughter to Shadowwell as a lure and destroy Vaonlas, ensuring all of you are safe.” “Jahlred!? He’s in danger….” began Ashaleena, but the riders had already gone outside to wait. Sighing she changed into her favourite dress and took Ashyla from her cradle. The captain escorted her to a carriage drawn by two white horses and returned briefly with her few belongings. Then he wished her well and went back to his horse

in front of the carriage. Ashaleena remained in silent nervousness, looking at Ashyla’s confused face. She had never been any where out of the Foreseeyer’s Village and was barely a month old. She held her close as the carriage began to move, protected by the riders in front. Jahlred’s first hours in Shadowwell were the most excruciating hours of his life, being unable to do anything except pace his room and take out his rage on the room, without thinking of the consequences. If only he had Silverwynd, he could slay the guards and destroy Vaonlas. But his sword was deep in the Blood Lord’s vaults, locked away until Baelandyr answered Vaonlas’ demands, which would probably be never. This solitary confinement was sending Jahlred insane, this inability to do anything to protect Ashaleena and their daughter. Hours passed and he slept in intervals, waiting for even a conversation between the guards to stir. But they never spoke, only when they switched posts. Sariel often came to his room and offered him the choice to convince Ashaleena or Baelandyr to bring Ashyla, but he angrily refused. He could do nothing to stop the choices of others, but he would sacrifice anything to protect his daughter, and Ashaleena. He became so bored that he counted the hours, and what seemed to be days later he reached the thirty sixth. Three days he had been alone, confined, and it seemed to him like years. At the thirty seventh someone came to his chambers, and the guards opened the doors. He expected Sariel or Vaonlas, but it was a face he recognized instantly. Ashaleena was standing right there, with Ashyla in her arms. Baelandyr stood behind her, with Vaonlas and Estor keeping an eye on things. Jahlred kissed both Ashaleena and their baby, who had already begun to rapidly mature and change. She wore the dress Ashaleena’s grandmother had given her, and her growing blonde hair reminded Jahlred of himself. Her big green eyes stared at him curiously and he smiled. Ashaleena stepped aside and allowed Baelandyr to enter, who smiled and shook Jahlred’s hand. Willowings hung from his belt and Jahlred sensed that he too urged to destroy Vaonlas. “All of us will now go to the High Chamber” ordered Vaonlas, and Baelandyr instantly began to work. Jahlred then noticed a small curved device latched onto the High Fey King’s neck, as well as one on Ashaleena. Jahlred knew what these were, for he even had one attached to him, they were mind-scryers created by the dark fey centuries ago. Mind-scryers were tiny leech-like creatures that when attached to a person they could read their every thought and transmit any traitorous ones to the Blood Lord. It stung the skin and was impossible to remove, unless the Blood Lord ordered it. The High Chamber was an auditorium of black and white marble, with a raised pedestal at the centre of the room. Atop this was a stone throne upon which the Blood Lord sat during meetings. Vaonlas positioned his three “hostages” in seats upon the pedestal, near his throne. Then he sat and Sariel stood beside him. Everyone remained silent until Vaonlas stood and walked over to Ashaleena and demanded that she give him her daughter. Even Baelandyr was nervous. “No!” said Ashyla determinedly, crossing her little arms. Her eyes stared at the Blood Lord with unwavering fortitude, something Jahlred unmistakably recognized from Ashaleena. Vaonlas knelt and held out his arms “come, Ashyla. You can trust me!” “No!!” she said again, frowning at him. Vaonlas grimaced and snatched her from Ashaleena, who whimpered quietly. Baelandyr slowly rose and his hand drifted to Willowings, Jahlred and Ashaleena remaining silent. Sliding the sword from its hilt he ran at Vaonlas to strike him down. The Blood Lord spun around and sent Baelandyr flying across the room, skidding across the pedestal. The mind-scryer must have detected the High Fey King’s motives. Growling, Vaonlas handed Ashyla to Sariel and drew his own sword. He strode

forwards to finish off Baelandyr with a smirk on his face. Baelandyr had him convinced until he pushed himself up and swung Willowings forward. The blade glowed with golden light and sliced through Vaonlas, instead maiming his soul. The Blood Lord roared and stabbed his sword into Baelandyr, damaging his soul as well. Then he staggered back a few metres and fell unconscious, although he was not dead. Sariel handed Ashyla back to Ashaleena and ran out of the High Chamber, fearful that she would be next. Baelandyr was injured, although he didn’t show it, and he was in need of magical restoration. He tore to mind-scryer off his neck and trudged back to his seat. Then he dropped the sword and fell into his chair. Ashaleena held her child close and removed the mind-scryer from her neck. Jahlred did the same and held out his hand to Ashyla, and she clutched it tightly. “Oh Jahlred,” sighed Ashaleena “when will it be over?” “It is, my love,” replied Jahlred wearily “she is safe, I promised you that I would make it so. We are safe, I promise you, Ashal.” Ashaleena smiled vaguely and gently placed Ashyla on the ground, holding her up right. She played with her only toy, a wooden horse carved by Relindahl. Baelandyr finally stood and said “I’ am ready, come closer and we can return home. I have Silverwynd too, Jahlred” They both stood and closed their eyes as Baelandyr uttered the words of teleportation. Then they were in Del Jahvalla, directly in front of Baelandyr’s throne. Prince Trastor paced up the steps of the Imperial Palace for the first time in weeks, his bodyguard following close behind. When he reached the top his mind surged with memories of the Imperial Palace, his life-long home. It was a marvelous building; a Romanesque citadel of majesty and historic prominence. His brother met him outside the palace and smiled, although Trastor knew it was insincere. “Brother,” said Perensius coldly, not even bothering to signify his respect for his younger brother “it is good to see you home again.” Trastor followed him into the Throne Room and muttered under his breath "save the lies, brother. I know you despise me.” When they entered he saw his beautiful sister run over to him and hug him joyously. When she was done she smiled at Perensius, who frowned in return. Sitting in his throne was their father, muttering to himself madly. He looked even worse than before, their poor father. Oranna walked over to the throne and said to Ibercium “father this is your second son, Trastor. Do you remember him?” The Emperor nodded shakily and smiled as Trastor approached him. He knelt and paid his respects to his father, who barely noticed. Then he turned to his son with wide eyes and said “did you bring back cake!?” Trastor’s heart stung with sorrow from seeing his father like this, he was once so jovial and wise, but his madness had ruined his mind. All of his family felt his pain, but not even they could read the dense labyrinth his mind had become. Whatever thought of reason and knowledge that sparked would be crushed by his growing madness. But now his mind was elsewhere, drifting out of the Palace and into the days when his father ruled. In his youth he walked through the streets of the Imperial City and behaved like a peasant, although he also acted with dashing charm and wit. Gone were those days when he could speak his mind, share his great knowledge. “We must go,” said Perensius, scowling at his father “there is to be a banquet tonight. Oranna, take our brother to his room.” Oranna winced in sorrow and obeyed, escorting Trastor off towards the West Tower. But Perensius lingered, and pulled aside his most trusted servant Declarnus Pracaldii, a shrewd ambitious husk of a man. “How goes the interrogation?” whispered Perensius into his ear, making sure his father or his retainers did not overhear. “The madman persists to deny any involvement, and as for the second task, the

scarabs have been acquired,” replied Declarnus “and I have not forgotten which poisons for whom, my lord. Your sister will perish tonight, I promise you.” “Good, she has plagued me for too long,” growled Perensius “tonight shall be her final night, and then my father will relinquish his sovereignty to me. Show me the madman, I will speak to him.” Declarnus nodded and lead his master down dark passages to the mental asylum below the Imperial Palace, where Ibercium would linger if Perensius had his way. He stopped at the third cell to the right and ordered the overseer to unlock the cell. Within the cell sat a man with his arms around his legs, and his straggly hair dripping with water. He had only been in the asylum for a week, unknown to anyone but Perensius and his trusted allies. The man looked up as the two men entered. “Rise, madman,” ordered Declarnus, and the man stood feebly “now tell my lord what you told me!” The man opened his mouth and revealed yellowed teeth “I told you already! He has arisen; he has come to our lands to destroy us. Szendor is rising! Szendor has risen! He will be the death of us!” “He told me the same,” said Declarnus to Perensius “what he speaks of I have no idea.” “Szendor, you say?” Perensius said to the man, who looked at him and whimpered “the god Szendor? He is taken a physical form!? How do you know this?” “I have seen it!,” cried the madman “I swear to you! He came to kill, to destroy us all! Even the Red Prince is afraid! Even the Blood Lord is afraid! Even Nargazshad is afraid!!!” “Enough,” ordered Perensius, turning to Declarnus “this man is insane, dispose of him in which ever way is quicker.” “No lord! Please!” screamed the madman with tears in his eyes, grabbing Perensius’ leg. He spun around and kicked the man in the chest. With that he left with Declarnus, surging with nervousness and rage. The banquet at the Palace followed a few hours later, with Trastor’s beloved wife Maria and his infant son Arothor present. Also there was Perensius’ wife Marie and his two year old son Sameth, who Perensius demanded be called Perensius II. Oranna was there too, with her husband Lastorus. Perensius seemed rather too jovial, Trastor noted, as if he had achieved a great feat. He was suspicious of this and kept his eye on his elder brother throughout the banquet. But apart from that he let his troubles stay away and enjoyed himself. At one point of the banquet Oranna even announced that she was pregnant, which Perensius seemed angered when he sneered at her silently. After the banquet the guests parted and went to their chambers, except for Trastor who pulled his brother aside. “I don’t know what you are up to, brother,” he hissed “but you best stop it, because I know how much you hate Oranna, I know you would rather see her dead then have a child!” “Bah! You know nothing, Trastor!!,” replied Perensius furiously “always she is commented for her beauty and her intelligence, but me I have nothing! Even you, with your military prowess and obedient wife, it churns me with anger at the fairness both of you have!” “But you are the one out of all us that is going to be emperor, Perensius!,” frowned Trastor, reading through his brother’s wall of lies “surely that is enough to satisfy you, to make you feel loved! You are the most powerful of us, and you still want more.” “I want respect from my people! From my wife!,” roared Perensius, knocking over a wine goblet, his face red with anger “I will be their lord one day, and they hate me! Even more then our ancestor Totallus the First! Do you know what that feels like!?” “No I don’t, because I do not think of being a god! I do not think of being the greatest emperor in history!” “Leave me,” hissed Perensius, and his brother obeyed and left the room in a furious

manner “you have crossed me on the wrong night, brother.” Trastor stormed back to his room and kissed Maria, who noticed his anger. “What is it Trastor?” she asked, straightening her dress. “Nothing,” he replied, not wanting to involve her in his argument with his brother “I’m fine.” Later that night he tried to sleep, but could not seem to loose suspicion of Perensius. He drifted into sleep but was woken when he noticed something sidling across the beam of his bed. It was a beetle the size of his palm, but it was gold and black unlike any other creature he had ever seen. It also had a deadly looking jabber that pulsated at the end as the beetle scuttled closer. It dropped onto Maria’s pillow and crawled onto her neck, then stung her. Trastor ripped it off and stepped on it, noticing another one of a different colour crawl onto his hand and sting him. He threw it off and turned to his wife, who had gone pale and still. He shook her desperately but she didn’t move. Then she did, but only her eyes and mouth. “Maria? Are you alive?” he panted desperately. “Yes, but I can’t move my arms or legs,” she said feebly “Trastor, I think they’re paralyzed” “Hold on, I’ll get the physician!” he said, clutching her hand and then rushing out the door. He ran straight into someone, Fahrelus Dordea one of Perensius’ scheming allies. His hair was wet with grease and in his hand he clutched a sword, which he swung at Trastor instantly. Trastor grabbed his wrist and flipped the sword out of his hand, threw him to the ground and stabbed him without a word. He turned the corner in a violent fury and struck down several more of Perensius’ henchmen when they came at him. Then he saw his brother standing outside his chambers, with Declarnus there too. Perensius saw as his brother approached and held him against the wall with his sword across his throat. Trastor surged with rage and pressed down harder, choking his brother. “This was your doing, wasn’t it!!?” he roared. Perensius did not reply and he repeated the question even louder. “Yes, it was my doing” he managed to murmur. Without thinking Trastor threw his sword down and broke his brother’s nose with his fist. Then he grabbed him by the collar and smacked him against the wall again. Declarnus tried to sidle off but was ambushed by Arthuras Pretoran, an Imperial commander and good friend of Trastor. He threw him to his knees and the man whimpered feebly. “Trastor!? I heard of the attack, where is Maria?” asked Arthuras with little breath. “Dying because of this whelp!!” he hissed back, indicating to Perensius whose face was covered in sweat and blood. With thinking once more he threw his elder brother to the ground and kicked him in the stomach. “Trastor!,” warned Arthuras, turning to leave “let him go, he has learnt his lesson.” But Trastor ignored him and drew his sword, swinging it downwards to strike Perensius. Then a hand grasped his wrist and stopped him. It was the Emperor, his white beard growing whiter every day and his childlike eyes with a look of sadness. “No, my son” he said, and Trastor dropped the sword. Perensius took his chance to escape and ran, screaming curses to his brother. Declarnus followed, not before bowing feebly to Ibercium. With that the Emperor looked at his son for a moment then left, leaving Trastor to rush to save his wife from his brother’s doing. Jahlred took to retiring to the library at the Palace that night, while Ashaleena and Ashyla slept in the same room they had used before they last left. He did not read or talk to anyone, but simple sat and thought. A few minutes after he saw Ashaleena enter and sit beside him. He smiled faintly and she did back. “Jahlred,” she said “I’ve been thinking, perhaps we should seek blessing for Ashyla?” “Of course, but from which god?” asked Jahlred. “I have a feeling Jahlred, that we should bless her under Xianla,” murmured

Ashaleena, her voice faint and weary. Unknown to Jahlred but her mind was racing with a thousand voices. She stood and yelled; tossing the book she was reading into the shelves and falling to her knees. Jahlred grabbed her and his voice was faint in her ears “Ashal!? Ashaleena!? Can you hear me, it’s Jahlred!? Ashaleena!” She looked up at him with tears in her eyes and said wildly “help me, Jahlred”. Then she fell unconscious and Jahlred took her to the healer’s antechamber. He rested her on the nearest bed and called for the senior healer Strendor. The old man came to her bed and administered medicine, comforting Jahlred as he left the room for more treatments. An apprentice Jahlred knew as Triadra from dwelling in the palace followed Strendor back into the room and began to pray to the gods for help as Strendor gave Ashaleena more medicines. When she finally came to she was weary and oblivious to where she was. She saw Jahlred, and two other people standing around her bed. “Your awake,” she heard Jahlred say “I thought I’d lost you.” “What time is it?” she asked faintly. “Ten,” replied Jahlred “are you alright?” “I’m fine, where is Ashyla?” she asked. “Safe, but I fear you are not,” said Jahlred “Ashal, he has begun to speak to you again, hasn’t he?” “Who?” she said, her voice nervous and weak. “Khalvazard, Ashal” “Jahlred! Help me,” she begged feebly. “I will, Ashal, I promise”

8: Red Horde Rising: Prince Trastor stood at his wife’s bedside all the previous night, until the healers could do no more but let her pass. They left him to his mourning and offered their blessings. He was furious, with himself, and more so with his deceitful brother. He began planning for his beloved’s funeral, and saw little of Perensius. At midday he left his chambers and went to the gardens, where Maria lay on a bed of stone strewn with mayflowers. He walked to her body and looked up to see everyone present. Then he noticed a cloak figure amongst the crowd. His sword slipped from its hilt as he stormed down the stairs and grabbed the man, tearing off the hood. Perensius looked him in the eyes, gritting his teeth. His brother roared and slashed him across the face, from his left eye down to his chin. Perensius fell back and clutched his face, while Trastor stood over him surging with rage. “Guards!” he roared, and the royal guards grabbed Perensius and dragged him off. The funeral went on as if everything was usual, and Maria was buried in the same mausoleum as the Empress Talivia Conceldium, Trastor’s mother. When they sealed the mausoleum he left and spoke to no one, with his son in his arms. Leaving Arothor with his aunt, Trastor headed to the guard depot where Perensius had been taken. His brother cowered when he entered the room and sat in a wooden chair with his hand to his cheek. “Free his bonds” ordered Trastor, and as soon as this was done he grabbed his brother and held him to his face. Apart from his grievous scar, he had a broken nose and a black eye. “Why?,” Trastor muttered “why!!?” Perensius whimpered before he spoke feebly “it was a mistake, the poisons were mixed up! That one was meant for Oranna!!” “What!?” roared his brother “Oranna!? Did you just say!? So even if they would have been correctly used, our sister would still be dead! You filthy bastard!! Give me one reason why I shouldn’t kill you here and now!?” “Because,” Perensius managed to say, and his brother’s grip loosened “even if you wanted to be emperor, killing me would deny you that right. It would be assassination, brother. Choose your next move carefully, or you will regret it if you kill me” Trastor let go of his brother’s collar and Perensius sat back in the chair, frowning as the guards tied him up again. His brother approached him more calmly and sat in front of him, staring at him as if he was a prisoner waiting to die. “So I can’t kill you, but I can exile you,” he muttered, his eyes dark and relentless “what do you have to say about that, Perensius?” “How many years?” he replied, accepting his fate. “Fifteen, and I’m being generous,” decided Trastor, standing and placing his hand on his brother’s shoulder “I’ll get our father to sign it, and you will be forced to leave” “What of my wife, and my son!?” protested Perensius desperately. “They have done no wrong; they will stay here if they want to” “Please, Trastor!,” begged the eldest son of Ibercium Conceldium “let me stay here, I cannot bear exile. It would destroy me!” Trastor said nothing and looked at his brother, giving him some hope. “Ten years,” he changed his mind, pitying his brother the tiniest bit “that is all I will give you, now you must leave here tomorrow. Never to return until your exile is done.” “I will return emperor!!,” roared Perensius, suddenly regaining his iron will “I swear

by the gods I will get my revenge on you! I will utterly destroy you! You will never be emperor, and neither will your children, or their children! Mine will rule for centuries! Conceldium, bloodline of Perensius!! My name will echo through eternity, my image will be painted upon the walls of my palace!! I will be god!!!” Trastor struck him across the unscarred side of his face and knocked him back into his senses “no, brother. You will never be a god, nor will you be emperor!” “What lies!! Travesty!! Betrayal!!,” continued Perensius, always keeping his eyes on his brother “I will be lord, I will be emperor, I will rule for eternity and onwards!! I’ am a god amongst men!! Perensius, a mighty man and his feeble brother crushed like a bug!! Damn you, Trastor! Gods burn your soul and devour your innards! You will burn in the Infernal Realm; you will perish like your wife!!!” Trastor grabbed him and threw him off the chair, sending him crashing into a nearby beam. As Perensius regained his feet his brother grabbed him by the shoulders and forced him forwards. “Gods forsake your soul, brother” he muttered. Then he knocked Perensius out and ordered the guards to lock him up. In the weeks that followed the victory at Hithen Dwa, the lands of the white fey began to settle once more. The armies returned to their homes and disbanded, while Baelandyr and his companions returned to Del Jahvalla. The final death toll at the fortress was ten thousand men, and their families mourned when they returned in caskets. Not since the death of the Feyran Riders decades before had the people of the mighty city mourned so. Del Jahvalla lost its busy streets and hushed down, as little as five or so walking the streets in the middle of the day. Out of the city’s population of seventy two thousand, two men in every family had perished. The graveyards built up, and the homes dwindled in populace. Among the casualties of common soldiers were those of importance, generals, captains, council members. The most important person to die was Vahmridas Zaratheld, a feyran warrior almost as old as Baelandyr. Though no one of authority saw his death, it was rumoured that he had been overwhelmed by Argithrians and hacked to pieces. Baelandyr struggled to prove to his people that Vivilianon was once of good nature and propaganda news sparked up across the city’s news givers. They dubbed the Green Sorceress as a “heartless bitch the world will not mourn”, and that Baelandyr was “a foolish leader to uphold her goodness”. After a few days these words were hushed by the king’s officers, and none of it emerged again. Soon after more troubles drowned out the tale of Hithen Dwa, and Baelandyr turned his attention to his western borders. The provinces of Ithilor and Caradir were under heavy attack by the Red Prince’s armies, and the garrisons would fall without intervention. An army lead by General Xyanus soon came to Ithilor’s aid, and repelled the demonic hordes. But another attack would be costly, and the Emperor was convinced by his son to sign a document to reinforce the garrisons in Ithilor and Caradir. As a sign of good will Baelandyr repaid him with a large sum of money, and Imperial soldiers gradually entered Ithilor and Caradir in groups. But yet with these little troubles Baelandyr was notified of the strife between Perensius and Trastor, and the mass assassination attempt on the Emperor and his younger children, of which the only casualty had been Trastor’s wife. The culprits were identified as Perensius and his greasy allies, and it was also said that assassin scarabs were used, although Baelandyr doubted that the dark fey had anything to do with it. As for other news he received a letter from Alator Crystalbearer, king of the Elindorian Islands, stating that he would sent ships to attack Blackvale and Harrow when the time was dire. As for Reynos Richardo del Marcias II, king of the island kingdom of San Abassid, little was heard from the wealthy nation about attacking the Red Prince. However the king offered his blessings and hoped that days of peace would follow. The whole of Arzith knew that the end of an era drew closer, that either Khalvazard or Baelandyr would fall at the final hour of a mighty war. Darkness would engulf the world, or light would prevail and Arzith would forever be in peace.

************************** The chambers of the Blood Tower echoed with the screams of Khalvazard’s virgin prisoners as he drank their blood and mated with them like an animal. His corrupt, cruel way would disgust any nobleman. But he did not care; he indulged in the violent passion and bloodshed. When he was done he banished his human virgins, the women screaming in horror and sorrow, from his presence and began to speak with Nargazshad, lord of Rezvazz-Morttagaldur and known to the fey as ArvagthGyronvaa on an infernal plane of existence. His father was even more corrupt them him, something he grew insanely jealous of. But Nargazshad lacked the zealous and wicked ways of indulgence and punishment that Khalvazard exhibited. His very soul was carved and full of pure, black tainted evil. No other thing was as evil as Khalvazard; he was beyond being even called evil. He was “divinely iniquitous”. And yet nothing to satisfy his lust and love to be what he was, beautiful on the outside but hollow and corrupt on the inside. He could not be given a name that would entirely encompass his ways, vampire, corrupter, Red Prince, bloodthirster, bloodbringer, hunter of virgins, red wolf of the night, son of the highest evil, reaper of souls, slayer of humans, bane of light, luster of women angel of death, they all were too little to describe his evil. He was all of those and more, he was an angel of passion, lust, seduction, blood, flesh, sex, violence, corruption, malice, fire, and so much more than he could not express. He was like an insatiable wolf of the night, who relished in blood and flesh and the torment, and pleasure, of others. His heart was full with more than just ash; he burned with a passion fiercer than the fires of his home. Nothing could fill the hole of longing he had, he would forever be like this until he was no more. Nargazshad had given him such a burden, such a gift, such a plague of the mind that drove him insane. He was an animal, he longed for the touch and the blood and flesh of women, and he was feral and unpredictable. Yet other times he was dashing, macabre, sinister, handsome, and seductive. Khalvazard was an enigma, and he longed for all that he thirsted. Blood drove him to slay thousands, lust drove him to capture virgins, and all that he did was to fulfill his own uncontrollable hunger and lust. His eyes burned with an ancient fury and malice that would make even the sturdiest warriors loose all hope. His hair was as dark as the deepest voids, like the fur of a black ravenous chimera. But all of that was nothing to his words that would make men loose all hope and charm women of mortality and immortality alike. He was a wasp, seemingly approachable but deadly. And yet he was not Nargazshad’s only son. Khalvazard had five hundred brothers, and he had trouble remembering them all. But he could easily remember the three he despised the most. His brother Kaldrazzi, a demon-spawn that was even more merciless and ravenous than himself. His brother Mordezzor, a wicked and powerful sorcerer-type spawned of his father and his mother Azkallia, Red Queen of the Succubi. And finally his brother Durzhan, who appeared only as a flickering shadow on the fiery wind, whose words were only that of poison and loyalty to Nargazshad. Those of Khalvazard’s brothers that angered their mighty father in the slightest way were discarded, burnt in the pits of Rezvazz-Morttagaldur. His tale was a sad one, full of torment, lust, anguish, and malice. Arelldar lifted his head and smelt the cold air, turning back over the hill to overlook what he and Breiam had just done. They had just slain a bunch of Lord Xyven’s knights patrolling Arialdan’s borders. He placed his bow back on his shoulders and began to salvage some arrows from the dead knights. Meanwhile Breiam returned with some sort of amulet in his hand. “Found it!” his said happily, and Arelldar looked at him and sighed. “What is it? I have know interest in trinkets, Breiam” “I found this on the commander, Flent or whatever he was called, the one you shot

through the head. It is a chaos rune, inscribed on the gold. Xyven must been summoning demons, and this must be some unholy warden.” “Demons, perhaps you are right,” said the ranger, recalling what he sighted moments earlier “I saw something in the forest over there, a winged creature. But then it flew off, although I think it will linger.” “Where!? We must hurry!” growled the guide, grabbing his staff and running off into the forest. Reluctantly Arelldar followed him, and when he caught up they began to search the area. When Arelldar looked up he caught sight of something perched in the highest branch of a tree. It was a woman, only she had the legs and wings of a bird. Her feathers were blood red, but her skin was pallid and carved with chaos runes. She was feasting on the corpse of a deer, gnawing at its spine. Arelldar frowned and sent an arrow flying into her thigh. The creature screeched and fell from the tree. As the ranger approached Breiam joined him and loosened the grip on his staff. “A harpy, but here in the middle of Dallavor!?” he speculated the possibilities, and it was highly unlikely unless Lord Xyven had carved a portal into the Infernal Realm. “What is it!? Some sort of demon!?” asked Arelldar, eager to slit the monster’s throat. “Yes, hurry up and kill her before she recovers!” growled Breiam, and the ranger slit the harpy’s throat. He wiped her black blood clean of his dagger and sheathed it. “Arialdan is not far now,” said the old man, dismissing the harpy “we must move and kill Xyven.” “Kill him!? You said we were just going to spy on him!!” said the ranger angrily. “Baelandyr sent us on a mission, Arelldar,” explained Breiam “we are to seal a portal mustered by Xyven, and if the task of killing him is immediate, than we shall take the tilting blade of war and jab it into his heart!” “Good,” said Arelldar, crossing his arms “this adventure reminds of those of yore. Full of demons and heroes, all we need is the women. I know of an excellent town in these parts, where the women are as bountiful as the sun!!” “Hush your sordid mouth,” ordered Breiam, scouting with a seeing stone “no magic evades mine eyes or the seeing stone. We are safe to cross further, but be weary. Who knows what foul creatures now haunt these lands.” Arelldar nodded and took the lead, climbing on his horse. The two men rode into the open fields and over a mossy hill, until Arialdan was insight. An almost purple sky hailed overhead, and the city was overcast with malice and darkness. Xyven’s taint had spread far worse than imagined. “How do we get in!?” hissed Arelldar, reaching for an arrow from his quiver. “Without the need of arrows, put it away!,” growled the old man “the portal is bound to be at the central tower, and Xyven acts like a beacon of the dark forces. Slay him, if necessary and the darkness will be washed off Arialdan. But how to get inside I do not know…” “What of the postern gates?” Breiam looked at him and shook his head “nay, they too well guarded. Stealth must be our main weapon. And whatever magic we possess. But wait! Teleportation could be are sharpest blade against our foe. But Xyven could disrupt the feed of magic and land us in some foul pit.” “I do not care; just get us in there so we can end this,” dismissed the ranger “I will gut the sorcerer myself if I have to.” “So be it,” decided Breiam, readying his staff “brace yourself.” He held Arelldar’s shoulder with one hand and muttered the words in Feyran. With a blast of blue energy they vanished, and reappeared in the centre of Arialdan. The houses were distorted and twisted with macabre adornments, and the civilians wandered somberly all dressed in black. But others stalked the streets, hulking red demons summoned forth by Lord Xyven. Some climbed atop walls and hollered wickedly, while others prowled wispily and glanced up with yellow eyes. Yet they did not attack the people of Arialdan, as they all wore wardens against them. “We are in a very dark place, keep watch,” advised Breiam, meeting the glare of an

almost bipedal demonic creature “we are not safe here, unless we have wardens.” The demon looked up again and slobbered, prowling forward. Others of all kind followed him too, glowering at the two strangers. From impish creatures to great lumbering beasts of fleshy mass, they all smelt humanity. Without hesitating one lashed forward, and Breiam snatched a warden from a doorstep and threw it. The demon lunged back with a yowl, and the others stepped backwards in fear. There was a hiss and Breiam looked up, noticing a bat-like monster perched above him. It slobbered on his shoulder and hissed again, climbing downwards. “You are not of Lord Xyven’s favour!!” spoke the bat-like creature, standing on two legs. He stepped forward and then morphed into a dashingly pallid man. This was no demon, it was a vampire. “Back, son of Vorstahn!!” growled Breiam, waving his torch at the vampire. The vampire looked at the gathering demons and laughed “I’ am Ckarl von Harston, a servant to Lord Xyven. As I said, you are not of his favour.” “It appears that Arialdan has become a cesspool for all manner of demonspawn,” whispered Arelldar, looking back at Ckarl “how do suppose we get out of this one, Breiam?” “With this,” he replied, and plunged his staff through the vampire’s chest “damn your soul, vorstara!” The vampire shrieked and stepped back, cursing in Rezvazzi. He shaped back into the bat creature and ripped the staff from his chest, soaring into the air and swooping towards Xyven’s dark tower. The other demons growled and hissed, but retreated and went about their antics of mischief and chaos. “I never knew you possessed such skill!” exclaimed Arelldar, checking for enemies. Breiam picked up his staff and said dismissively “tis not of importance. We must reach Xyven’s tower if we are to destroy him or the portal. And expect to see Ckarl again, I merely injured him. A greater weapon must be used to bane his ilk.” With that he began to walk towards the dark tower, and Arelldar reluctantly followed. Ashaleena was frightened, and as Jahlred watched her sitting nervously there he too felt afraid. The Red Prince was plaguing her mind, ravaging her thoughts. It was the one thing Jahlred was powerless to stop, and Ashaleena would continue to suffer. He stood beside her in her chambers as she held Ashyla, who looked as if she was three years old. After a brief conversation with Strendor, Jahlred kissed both Ashaleena and their daughter on the head, before taking his leave. He was required to speak with Baelandyr on a matter of urgency. When he arrived he found the fey king seated in his throne, staring vacantly. He looked up and gestured for Jahlred to sit. “I hear of Ashaleena, is she hale?” he asked concernedly, dismissing the servants present. “Nay,” replied Jahlred, remembering Ashaleena’s lapse of unconsciousness “Khalvazard has entered her mind, and I’ am powerless to stop him.” “He has done this before, with the Emperor Totallus II in 1099. He filled his mind with false hopes of power and wealth, which ultimately lead Totallus to believe he could kill the Red Prince. He led a foolish attack and was slain during the battle; I bore witness to it beside my father. I hope Ashaleena does not meet a similar fate.” “As do I, but why have you called for me?” Baelandyr swallowed as if to show fear and said “you are aware of the attack of Ithilor, nay? Well, matters have worsened. Khalvazard taunts me into attacking him, something I have not contemplated for many years. He has a servant in our midst, Lord Xyven.” “Lord Xyven of Dallavor!?,” queried Jahlred “I thought him as evil, but not a minion of Khalvazard.” “He is one of the Riders of the Dusk,” said the High Fey King solemnly “they are demonic riders from Harrow, eight merciless scions of the Red Prince. Xyven is one of them, and the rider you encountered in Zeerafrald was another. His real name is

impossible to say even in our ancient tongue, so he called himself simply the Flayer. He was cruel like most of the Riders, and he takes his name from his torture of skinning his prisoners. Six more evade our eyes, but they are indefinitely somewhere in the wastes of Harrow.” “This is ill news,” replied Jahlred “but why is Xyven of our concern, should we not be turning our attention to the Red Prince himself?” “Xyven has opened a portal in Dallavor, and as that land is under my watch he must not go unchecked. Breiam and Arelldar, your friends, have gone to Dallavor and plan to infiltrate Arialdan and kill Xyven. If they fail, then the task falls upon you Jahlred.” Jahlred nodded and took in the information. “As for Ashaleena, I can help both of you,” said Baelandyr, changing the subject “think of it as compensation for your quest, which I’ am not angered by the fact it is unfinished. Several hundred years ago, I came to possess a book written in 500 Second Era. It told of an ancient plant root that allowed the user to enter the dreams of another. I possess one single spring of this plant, and you may be able to save Ashaleena by fighting the Red Prince in her dreams.” “How is such a dimension accessible by a single sprig of a plant root?” “I’ am unsure of its anatomy, but I’ am certain that it will be able to help you,” said Baelandyr “it is safely concealed from all eyes but mine.” He stood and turned to face his throne, muttering ancient words. A hole cracked open several inches from the throne, and illuminated a passage below. Without a word Baelandyr climbed down and Jahlred followed. They ended up in a marble room, lined with tombs. There was one at the end of the tunnel, that of Baelandyr’s ancestor Elingor the Eternal. An effigy adorned the top of his tomb, as did the tombs of Baelandyr’s father and grandfather, and his brothers. “This is the ancient burial place of my forefathers,” said Baelandyr, lighting a torch “it was built below the palace to keep it safe even if the walls of the city crumble around it. The plant root is in a jar by the tomb of my father.” Jahlred followed the king to his father’s tomb and glanced upon the bass relief statue of Berhumandas II. The king was pictured as he was in his later days, bearded and perfectly shaped like his entire race. In his hand was a replica of the Sceptre of Celestariel, and atop his head the crown of the fey. Baelandyr took the clay jar from beside his father’s tomb and opened it, taking the twisted root. He placed the jar back and spoke in feyran, most likely blessing his father. Although Berhumandas II had chosen the gift of death centuries ago, his memory still lingered and Baelandyr still acknowledged him as if he was alive. He handed the root to Jahlred and said “guard it well, and use it wisely. We must leave now, we cannot linger lest the spirits of my forefathers rise from the realm of Telaara.” They departed the subterranean tombs and Baelandyr dismissed Jahlred, who hurriedly went to Ashaleena. His journey from the throne room to his chambers seemed to take forever as all he could think about was helping her. When he arrived she kissed him and he showed her the supposed cure to her plagued mind “I’ am certain it will work my love. Trust me, I will save you.” Ashaleena was nervous, but she trusted Jahlred utterly. Before they began the process she glanced upon her daughter and kissed her on the head, in case that would be the last time she saw her. Then Jahlred drank the liquid form of the root and within minutes both of them were asleep. Jahlred opened his eyes and found himself in a mist strewn landscape, surrounded by the mountainous walls of Ashaleena’s mind. He walked a few steps and heard Ashaleena’s heartbeat, as if it were right beside him. He spun around and expected to see her, but he was alone in this impossible realm. Then the most unlikely noise filled his ears, the sound of hooves galloping towards him. Suddenly a carriage was speeding in his direction, drawn by nightmares and adorned in gold and red. The cart came to a halt directly next to him, and the driver appeared as a ghastly skeletal spectre. The phantom opened the doors and out stepped a youthful red-eyed man. The Red Prince stood

before Jahlred, dressed in armour as red as blood with his black hair strewn about his shoulders. A long black cape lined with red trailed behind him, and strangely he bowed to Jahlred. “It is odd that I would encounter you here in the dreams of your beloved, Nethuriel” he said, his voice soft yet corrupting. “You know my name?,” replied Jahlred, feeling for Silverwynd at his side “how so?” “I know many things, like the fact you did not have your sword when you fell asleep,” said Khalvazard, smiling with a terrifying effect “I’ am no fool. I’ am over a thousand years old, and I have seen horrible things.” “Why are you doing this to Ashaleena!?” demanded Jahlred. “Because she is vital to the fate of things, as are you, and as is your daughter,” replied the demon with a wicked smile “you recall the Blood Lord’s efforts to ascend to godship, nay? I too have use for Ashyla, all in due time.” “No demon will steal my daughter away, I swear!!” “Enough, I waste my time speaking to you,” silenced Khalvazard harshly “in the realm of dreams I can wield any weapon, as you can too. Choose wisely, for the victor of this match will decide the fate of your beloved. Know that although we will not die in the true realm of existence, we will still suffer pain here! Now let us fight, o’ son of Nethuriel!” In an instant a flaming sword appeared in his unblemished hands, and Jahlred visualized a weapon too. Within seconds his hand grasped a golden blade, and he swung it at the Red Prince. The demon taunted him with laughs, and parried with unyielding skill. It reminded Jahlred of the demon riders in the Barrens, only ten times as worse. He let his guard down for a second and Khalvazard took advantage, sending him flying across the floor. Jahlred opened his eyes and saw Ashaleena standing before him. She helped him up and made to kiss him, but as she did her mouth morphed into gaping jaws and whatever the monster was tried to bite him. Jahlred threw himself back and recovered from the illusion, reentering the fight with his foe. As he parried Jahlred realized he could summon anything in this place, and visualized the first thing that came to his mind, Nargazshad. The lord of RezzvazzMorttagaldur came to shape between them both, and Khalvazard stopped dead. He stared at the illusion of his father and bowed, letting his guard down. Jahlred grasped the opportunity and ran at the Red Prince, scything him across the chest. Minutes later he was sucked out of the dream world and awoke in his chambers. Jahlred stood and felt no sword in his hands, and saw Ashaleena. She seemed different now, normal. She was safe, and so was he. Then he noticed something, another person in the room. No! It was Khalvazard, he was still dreaming. “What is this!?” exclaimed Jahlred, grabbing Silverwynd from beside his bed. The Red Prince smiled and said as he stepped closer “it is a dream within a dream, an illusion of another illusion. It is a mirror shattered, and this is the largest and most realistic shard. I have far more powers than you know, Nethuriel. You cannot escape this nightmare.” Jahlred roared and ran at him, scything forward with Silverwynd. Almost impossibly, Khalvazard eluded the attack and knocked his foe forward into the wall. Jahlred toppled over and when he regained his feet he was held at sword point. “Let me put this in your language, Nethuriel,” muttered the Red Prince, using a tone of somewhat disappointment in his voice “ae edralas deas isari, I thirst for your blood. It is different in my language, nurkash tork vahkir!” He lunged forward with his blade and stabbed Jahlred in the breastbone, twisting the sword. As he pulled it out Jahlred grabbed his wound and snatched Silverwynd. Taking to his feet he sliced across Khalvazard’s legs and disabled him. Suddenly Jahlred felt a hand on his shoulder, and awoke sweating with a throbbing pain from his wound. His wound was real, although it had been dealt in another dimension. He turned to see who had pulled him out of the nightmare and Ashaleena stood beside him. He stood up and kissed her, his wound intensifying. “Stay here, Jahlred” she said urgently, leaving him. Suddenly the thought occurred

to him, he would have to face the Red Prince in this world to truly save Ashaleena. Far in the wastes of Aznar-Kahldum, in the province of Mirzabul the Portal surged with fiery energy. The sky was red above it, and stretched on for miles. Before the Portal stood two figures, a tall handsome man and a hunched feeble husk of a man. The first, who was in fact the Red Prince, took a step forward and held out his hand, so that the energy focused into his palm. With a mighty grunt he threw his arm downwards and cast a flame into the earth. From the embers rose a cloaked figure, with a steel helm marring their face. “Father, I’ am honoured to be in your presence once more” said Khalvazard, gesturing to his companion who handed him a gold chalice full of blood. The Red Prince handed this to his father, who drank down the liquid and discarded the goblet. “The offering will suffice, a virgin’s blood,” muttered Nargazshad, speaking an ancient and scarcely used language known as Rezvazzi “why have you called me!?” “My armies are wavering,” said his son in Rezvazzi, using guttural tones “I need more demonspawn, send them to me. If you do so father, you will receive more virgin’s blood every full moon!” Nargazshad frowned, barely recognizable with his ethereal visage, and replied “nay my son, your brother Mordezzor has shown his worth. He has sacrificed ten thousand virgins to me. But, your request is not excessive. A host of demonspawn will arrive under you command in two days. And hasten your destruction of the Celastariel, I grow weary.” Khalvazard nodded and he and his companion bowed to Nargazshad. Then the Demon Lord took his leave, and disappeared in a burst of red flames. The Red Prince smiled in success, he would lay waste to the Feyran Lands soon enough. Ashyla sat on her father’s lap as they sat in the shade of the silverblossom tree in the gardens of Del Jahvalla. Her blue eyes seemed vague, as if she was in another place entirely. The summer breeze drifted across the battlements as the ancient city lay calmed and unscathed by the dark knife of the Red Prince. From where Jahlred was, he could see far past the city and across the green fields where farms grew, until his eyes could no longer pass the Iridian Mountains that curved outwards from the east of Del Jahvalla and around until they ended in lush woods. These trees were of an ancient type, and spread as far as Farador, overlapping grassy fields and dampened marsh. The sight of forests was magnificent during summer, as green as they would become. The forest faeylessa within the canopies and undergrowth sang ancient melodies to herald the New Year, and the archives began the new book of the year 1255 Second Era, marked at the beginning of its pages with the Siege of Hithen Dwa and the death of Vivilianon. But still the dark storm brewed in Aznar-Kahldum, ready to amass the lands of the free in a dark wave of shadow and malice. In the distant island kingdom of San Abassid, the Reynos or king ruled in wealth and peace, for now. His neutrality in the war against Khalvazard had proven positive, as much of his funds could be used on stretching out his kingdom. This had been so since the founding of San Abassid, and as it was in Elindor too. The current king of San Abassid, Richardo del Marcias II was nearing fifty summers, and showed no signs of slowing down. Although he did not want involvement in the war, he was still of great respect towards Baelandyr, and remained close allies. Alator Crystalbearer, king of Elindor, also held a similar stance. He and the feyran king were of the same kin essentially, despite their factorial differences. Afterall, Baelandyr sought a powerful ally and Alator was that man, as he possessed a mighty stone of ancient magic, thus his fathername. But despite their remoteness, San Abassid and Elindor were still vulnerable to the dark encroaching arm of Khalvazard. Pirates from the Darkharrow Islands and Blackvale harrowed the coasts of Chendor and the Coasta los Oros in San Abassid. Their goal was to sack the coastline cities one by one and enrage the kingdoms

further. But Elindor and San Abassid possessed mighty navies, equal to that of the dark fey, and defended against their seaborne foes. Pirates were also prevalent on the darker shores of San Abassid, men who were fighting against their own people to spark chaos and damage wherever they could. Jahlred held his daughter’s hand in his own, watching her play with her many playthings. Ashyla was almost a month old, but looked nearly three. Her hair was black like Ashaleena’s, and her skin tanned, so her eyes were the only physical thing inherited from her father. Of other things inherited from Jahlred, her immortality, her iron will, and her strange maturity. Baelandyr had explained the strange occurrence of Ashyla’s rapid growth, that it was a common sign of a half-feyran child. He recalled Elendril’s infancy and his short-lived haemophilia, and it was clear that he too grew exceedingly fast, abnormally in fact. But this did not plague nor trouble Jahlred and Ashaleena, they were astounded but understanding of their daughter’s odd maturing stages. Baelandyr also explained that when the child reached five, she would mature normally, and that the maturation did not hasten too fast. As for Ashyla’s childhood and adulthood, her parents were unsure of what would happen to her. The eyes of the Red Prince had surely observed Ashyla, and he knew her as a powerful weapon as Vaonlas had done. But he was too aware of the Blood Lord’s current condition, and what provoking Baelandyr had done. Although Khalvazard was invincible, he did not enjoy scars of any sort. “Remember this day,” said Jahlred quietly, smiling at his daughter as she looked up at him “this is a day of peace, and I hope, little one, that you will see many of them.” Ashyla smiled back and he held her close to him, fondling her hair. He looked up and noticed the feyran royal guards standing in position, overlooking the entire city. They defend Del Jahvalla to the death, just as Jahlred would defend both his daughter and Ashaleena. Jahlred seemed untroubled by his encounter with the Red Prince, and ignored it almost entirely. He was now focused on aiding the free people of Arzith, and his family. He had not heard from his father, but he seemed scarred deeply by the loss of Jahlred’s uncle Jaeldra. As did Dalisaih and Zaehl, who after loosing their father and mother so short apart were changed. But Karred’s loss was the greatest, and loosing his surviving son would utterly destroy him. At was as if three daggers had been plunged into his heart, each lined with the poison of grief. First his beloved wife Amelia to the swords of bandits, then his youngest son Elhir to the hordes of the Red Prince, and his brother Jaeldra in the Siege of Hithen Dwa. All dead and Karred blamed himself for it. He tired so desperately to remove those emotional daggers and heal the pain, but he had lost so much he could not forget. This grief overwhelmed Jahlred’s father, and it was the man he had known since his late childhood. Jahlred could scarcely remember Karred before his mother died, and he wished that his father could be without loss. Jahlred feared those words drifted through Karred’s mind occasionally, the words that would accept the Gift of Death. Karred’s soul would be taken to the land of the gods, and his body left lifeless to the world. His soul would travel Illeyil, the universe, for millennia, and perhaps further past even the eyes of the gods. Such was the fate of only the fey, an endless peace in the dimensions of Illeyil, watching Arzith like a celestial bird. The bell tower at the palace struck the cord of noon, and Jahlred glanced below as the city’s centre began to fill with its inhabitants. Of the two million people in Del Jahvalla, at least a quarter now bustled about the city going about their business. The Council of Del Jahvalla held seating, and emissaries from San Abassid, Elindor, and Sha’Amruhl were present. The topics of Ithilor and Caradir were to be discussed, and the ongoing and seemingly endless war with Khalvazard. As a member of the Council, Jahlred left his daughter with Ashaleena and arrived along with other local members. He glanced across the table at the Shafhlan emissary, a plump rosy cheeked man by the name Mahbeddin ah Shuruf. Then he eyes drifted to the woman from Elindor, a

blonde haired woman with blue eyes and a wispy garment who had yet to introduce herself. Baelandyr finished speaking the Mahbeddin and seated himself, declaring the beginning of the assembly with a greeting to all “welcome to the twelve hundred and fifty sixth assembly of the Council of Del Jahvalla. Present are as follows; Mahbeddin ah Sharuf, 13th Duke of the Shafhlan Township of Raphasay,” he gestured to Mahbeddin, and everyone greeted him quietly. Baelandyr continued and one by one pointing to those present “Roledo del Orcios, High Chamberlain of San Abassid. Lady Calawaye of the Isle of Chendor, accompanied by her guardian Gamaroc of Astorlen. Lord Bredan of Ithilor, Lady Kassalay of Farador, Lord Herrom of Caradir, and finally Lord Samath of Luernir. I now call this assembly open.” Mahbeddin rose and silenced the low conversation “I will now give my report on the condition of Sha’Amruhl. Baron Al’Fahrimar has reached his thirty-eighth year of rule, and our economy is currently at a high. Armies are stable and suppressing both goblins and Hashin rebels.” “Thank you, Mahbeddin,” said Baelandyr, closing the report and turning next to Roledo “if Chamberlain Orcios would like to continue?” “Thank you, fey king,” said Roledo, his accent strong and foreign to most of the fey present “the Kingdom of San Abassid is managing stably. Ships still harrow our shores from Blackvale, but our navy stands strong and ship production is fast. Reynos Richardo II has recently celebrated the marriage of his eldest son Marcosio III. That is all.” Baelandyr allowed the Council to ponder for a moment, and then turned to Lady Calawaye “mistress Calawaye, we may continue with you.” The Elindorian woman stood, and her bodyguard Gamaroc took his position behind her. She cleared her throat than began “Alator Crystalbearer sends his greetings and condolences to your mourning nation. He also congratulates your victory at Hithen Dwa, and hopes Khalvazard’s defeat will soon come. That is all I wish to speak of.” Calawaye sat down nervously and Baelandyr hushed the voices of interest. Then he did something that no one expected, he unsheathed Willowings and place it vertically in front of him. “My blade is stung by the blood of war,” he said loudly, echoing in the high halls of the palace “we have all witnessed the age of the Red Prince, and our ancestors did, and our descendants will if we do not defeat him. The time is now, and I call forth all the armies of the free to join with me and strike the Red Prince. What say you?” Mahbeddin rose hot and flustered and said angrily “how can you demand such a deed for my Baron!? Al’Fahrimar is troubled by the Hashin rebels in his homeland. We shall help you when you have us! This is a foolish move!” His final words in Shafhlan seemed to unscathe Baelandyr, and he turned to Lady Calawaye. She sat silently for a moment, than said with courage “King Alator would gladly join a final war against the Red Prince. You have his promise.” Baelandyr thanked the woman and turned to Roledo, who smiled “as does my Reynos. He will honourably end this age of darkness.” Mahbeddin scoffed and suddenly pushed out his chair, excused himself, and then left the assembly. The room remained silent, and it was clear that the Shafhlans would not comply. But Baelandyr had enough armies at his rally, and could strike Khalvazard and end him. The fate of Arzith rested on his hands, and he must rise and defeat the Red Prince of the Infernal Realm. The vampire Ckarl von Harston crashed through the window of Xyven’s tower and forced himself onto the ground. Standing, he morphed back into his human shape and dusted off the shards of glass. He looked up and saw his master seated in his throne. “Disturbances, Ckarl!?” he asked, unimpressed. “Yes, my lord,” hissed the vampire, wincing from the pain of his wound “two strangers, one tried to slay me.”

Xyven leant his chin on his hand and said “was one of them a fey, by the name of Jahlred Naethora? Mmm?” “I did not get their names, my lord,” replied Ckarl “and neither were a fey. But we must hurry, they come to slay you!” Xyven laughed “they may try, Ckarl. But they shall fail” Suddenly the doors of his tower were cast open, and a giant fireball flew through. It hurtled into Ckarl, and ended the vampire in a vibrant inferno. Grunting Xyven recovered from the rubble and destroyed the fireball. From out of the smoke ran Arelldar, ambushing Lord Xyven and kicking him forward. Breiam leapt out from another angle and struck the demon over the head with his staff. Almost unscathed, Xyven stood as if nothing had happened and cast both men into the walls of his tower. “Such a meager attempt at my life, I’ am disappointed,” he taunted, grabbing Breiam by the collar of his tunic and upholding him against the wall “your lives end her, first yours, than the rangers. Your quest has failed, and your king has lost all hope. Farewell, old man, may you join your mother in death!” Into his fingers materialized a spear, and with a roar he pierced Breiam through the heart. He let out a cry of pain, and Arelldar struggled helplessly. Laughing, Xyven let him fall and turned to the ranger. Striding forward Xyven licked the blood from the spear and said “ah, I can almost smell your fear, ranger. This is the part where you begin to beg for mercy!” Arelldar struggled with all his might and pushed against the bindings of magic. Suddenly he felt the slightest movement, from his hand. Slowly he reached for his side and grabbed the sheathed dagger. Xyven laughed and readied his spear, pressing it against the ranger’s stomach. With a roar Arelldar forced himself out of the magic and stabbed Xyven in the neck, slicing downwards with a grunt. In a surge of gore and bone the lord of Dallavor collapsed to the ground, clutching his neck. Arelldar dropped the dagger and ran over to Breiam, checking for his pulse. Remarkably he was still living, but only by a thread. With a heave he lifted the guide up and held him around the shoulders, dragging him towards the door. Just as they approached a thunderous roar shook the tower and the door was obstructed by a collapse of stone. “Arelldar,” Breiam managed to say “behind you!” The ranger turned around and loosely dropped Breiam. A red beast of raw muscle and demonic magic stood where Xyven had fallen. It was Xyven’s true form. Roaring, it lunged upwards with leathery red wings and crashed down, sending Arelldar off balance. While the ranger was distracted the demon grabbed him by the legs and sent him crashing into a pillar. Arelldar felt his back creak, but rose anew with sword in hand. Breaim’s heart stung, his life was on a single thread and his heart could stop any minute. He pushed himself up, and ignored his muscles quiver and his heart throb and pulsate thrice as fast. As Xyven approached Arelldar, the guide raised his hand and stepped closer to the demon. “Get out of here, Arelldar!!” he yelled, coughing violently, his fingers glowing with energy. Without a second thought the ranger ran for the door and leapt out. Xyven did not follow, and instead turned to Breiam. “So, you would sacrifice yourself here when you know you have chance of surviving if you escape!?,” growled the demon, his nostrils flaring with smoke “brave, Irontongue. As I recall your mother died by my doing, nay? Laesa was such a beautiful girl, shame she burned to pieces! You would join her, by accepting your Gift of Death?” Breiam nodded feebly. He knew that if he uttered the words to accept the Gift of Death the resulting light blast would destroy Xyven, his portal, and most likely his tower and any other demonspawn. He thought of Arelldar, his mother, and all he had ever known in all his sixty years of life. The words replayed in his head, ae

saestra aethel! I sacrifice myself! “So be it, Breiam Irontongue,” taunted Xyven “utter those words, obliterate me!” The old man breathed heavily and raised his hand as high as he could hold. Then he roared the words with the last of his lifeforce, and his body ignited in white light. The light overwhelmed the tower and burst out the windows, forcing downwards and destroying all within, including the portal. Arelldar heard a massive explosion behind him, and turned to see Xyven’s tower collapsing in a flash of white light. In its place formed a void, surging with red lightning. The demons all across Arialdan and Dallavor too were sucked into the void with astonishing speed, and the city beheld as a great beast of tendrils came forth from the abyss. And only Arelldar with his keen eye, or perhaps some others, saw two figures submerged in midair. One was Lord Xyven’s true form, and the other was a bursting man of white light. With a roar that shook the foundations of Arialdan and yonder, the monstrous beast engulfed both figures with its tendrils, and the void was sealed with a blast of light. All that was left of Xyven’s tower was rubble, and his minions were crushed beneath. A mage raised his voice so that everyone around him could hear “did you all behold that beast!? Twas Aknirnon, one of the Essences of Darkness! We have been spared!” The guards hushed the mage and rejoiced as they were free at last from Xyven’s mind control. They were men again, not mindless puppets of a greater foe. Arelldar’s heart panged with loss and sorrow, and he mourned for Breiam. The old man had become his mentor over the past few months, and he was without a companion on his journey back to Del Jahvalla. The city of Arialdan rejoiced, but one man mourned. The Pact of Free Nations was created to honour the alliance of war between Baelandyr, Reynos Richardo II, and Alator Crystalbearer. All three kings were present by means of magic and Jahlred and a few others were permitted to enter the throne room in the palace. He glanced around as he stood with the other lesser delegates, and observed both Richardo II and Alator. The twenty-first king of San Abassid was a man of tanned skin and black hair and a beard. His eyes were kind and commanding, and his handsome appearance still remained despite his age. Alator Crystalbearer, Eternal Keeper of the Land of Elindor, was tall, almost seven feet tall, and wore long trailing garments. His hair was blonde and long, and his eyes were blue like a fey’s. Around his arms he wore circlets of gold, and atop his head a crown of similar appearance. “I will sign first” declared Richardo, taking the wax and pouring it onto the document. He showed his ring of lordship, a red falcon, and then pressed it into the wax as his seal of approval. He then made way for Alator. The king of Elindor strode forward and poured the wax, imprinted his dragon insignia and stepped back. Baelandyr followed the same and signed with the mark of the Celestariel, retained from the True Fey. He stepped back to his place and the master of archives took the document and placed it into an enchanted box crafted from malachite. At Baelandyr’s order he returned to the archives with his scribes and assistants. “I thank you both for this,” said the feyran king, true to his words “we know our first phase of attack. Across the Bloodstalga Sea a joined force of Elindor and San Abassid will sail towards Blackvale, and my army and the Imperial one shall attack Zenith Muir. We will press on through the coast and reinforce your landed armies in Blackvale. Then the final battle begins, and we press our joint attack on Zikbath Vuir.” “Tis an excellent plan,” agreed Alator “but what of the dark fey, would Vaonlas not ambush our fleets en route to Blackvale?” “Vaonlas has been weakened, and protects only his lands now” said Richardo, receiving a nod from Baelandyr.

“I know this will be costly to all of us, and much blood will be shed,” he said “but we must fight for the future of our children and their children, and now may be our only chance for centuries. Our attack goes as planned. May the gods bless us all.” After the signing, Jahlred returned to his chambers. When he entered he was pleased to see Ashaleena and their sleeping daughter. “Jahlred!,” she said excitedly, hugging him and kissing him on the cheek “how did the meeting go? Did the other kings sign?” Jahlred nodded and fondled her hair “you know I must fight in this war, Ashal. I want you to know that I’ am doing this for you, and our daughter. I must sacrifice much, but I’ am willing.” Ashaleena shook her head “don’t say that, Jahlred. I know you will return, and I will be waiting. You do not have to sacrifice anything!” “Oh Ashal,” he said despairingly, touching her face with the back of his hand “you have no idea. I’ am sorry, my love. But this is for you, and I will die if it means your safety. And Ashyla, she is the future of us all. I will defend you both to my last breath.” Ashaleena understood his driving need to protect her and Ashyla, but she could not imagine dying for no reason. “You don’t have to do this, Jahlred,” she said, a single tear shimmering in the corner of her eye “why do you want to condemn yourself to death for nothing? It hurts me Jahlred, to see you blame yourself for so much that you know is not your fault.” “I do not want to hurt you, Ashal,” he said, his frustration rising “I want to protect you! And our daughter, can you not see that? This is all for you both! Everything I do is for you!” “No,” murmured Ashaleena, standing her ground “you are hurting me now Jahlred. You are protecting us, but we are safe. Nothing can harm me here; you and I both know that. Please do not do this!” Jahlred sighed, and kissed her as if it was the last “I have to go, Ashal. Now, the army marches next week. Forgive me.” “But the siege was barely a month ago!” she sobbed, holding Jahlred’s arm. He looked her in the eyes and she read them perfectly, I must go. He turned away and took Ashyla from her crib, and kissed her on the head “farewell, my daughter. I will return, I promise you.” He placed her back and looked at Ashaleena, who was sobbing with her head in her hands. “Why!?,” he roared, smashing Ashyla’s toy horse onto the ground “why are making this worse for me, Ashal!? It hurts me to leave you, but I must! I thought you of all people would understand that!” He collapsed to his knees and looked at her; he had hurt her even more. He glanced at their daughter, then back to Ashaleena. He held his hands up to his face and they surged with white energy. “Ae!,” the first word of the Gift slipped from his mouth, and Ashaleena looked up. “Saestra!,” the second word. Ashaleena stood and ran towards him, screaming for him to stop. In her bed Ashyla began to cry. “Aethe….” Ashaleena took him in her arms and begged him to stop. He did not finish the words, and looked at her with a pain in his eyes. “Why would you do that, Jahlred?,” she sobbed, touching his face “kill yourself! I’ am sorry, and I know you are too. Please, do not do that again.” “I’ am sorry,” he said quietly “for everything.” She did not say anything, and kissed him. Ashyla fell silent, and the world seemed not as dark as it was before.

9: Mordenhel: The corrupted port city of Mordenhel was the capital and largest city in Blackvale. Its streets were polluted with dark magic and both dark feyran and Aznar-

Kahdumrian pirates and rogues. Lords and demons held most of Mordenhel under their command, and the city was not a safe or peaceful place. The reputed Blackvale pirates dominated the docks and boatyards, while the demon patriarchs and succubus queens held dominion over the more urbanized parts of Mordenhel. Demon patriarchs were humans of Aznar-Kahldum that had part converted themselves to demons, while retaining some of their humanity. The back half of their bodies were covered by black claws that acted almost like armour or clothing, and they were regarded as the highest of humans, as scarce as they were in AznarKahldum. Succubus queens were higher succubi themselves, and ruled over a seductive ilk of six or seven lesser succubi, although Azkallia was the Red Queen of all Succubi. Similar hierarchies were in most of Aznar-Kahldum, although different ilks besides succubus queens and demon patriarchs existed. But in Mordenhel, all patriarchs and succubus queens were powerless over the High Patriarch Narcos Mindflayer. He was the oldest and most powerful of all Mordenhel’s keepers, and possessed limitless power. Narcos had once been a lich too, and transformed himself into a patriarch to further strengthen his powers. He held undying loyalty to the Red Prince, and relished in absorbing the knowledge and memories of humans, thus his name. On this fell night Narcos Mindflayer oversaw a shipment as it arrived in the docks of Mordenhel. The sight of Narcos was terrifying, his body had been almost completely covered by the black claws that surged and pulsated, acting like living armour. They also covered his head, and fed him nutrients and knowledge. His hands were shaped into almost claw-like limbs, and his mouth was full of serrated teeth. As the AznarKahldumrians dragged the shipment before Narcos, he scowled at the humans. Although they were in the favour of the Red Prince, he still did not think highly of them. “That is all, my lord,” said the captain of the ship, holding out his hand for money “my payment was fifteen hundred gold coins, as I recall.” Narcos breathed heavy and long, before speaking “the shipment is not worth such a sum of money, captain. The people of Mordenhel may be in need of this food, but I will not let them be cheated.” “Fifteen hundred,” growled the man, reaching for his sabre “that is my final offer.” When Narcos did not reply he swung out his sword and his men followed. The High Patriarch pulsated all over, and lashed out his hand, enveloping the captain’s face. He struggled and screamed as Mindflayer absorbed his mind and memories. When he was finished Narcos let the captain fall. His face was nothing more than a skull covered by withered skin, and his men fled onto the ship in terror. They loosed the moorings and sailed away as fast as they could, and Narcos laughed. His head pulsated as he thought the captain’s thoughts from his life. With a shudder of pleasure, the High Patriarch left the docks of Mordenhel. The main road from Arialdan stretched from the gates of the city and ran half way into Mal Vellas, where it joined with the crossroads. In the late of night a man rode along this road, with a bow strung to his back and another horse led by rope. Arelldar had left the city not long after the destruction of Lord Xyven, and took Breiam’s horse with him. He rode for miles along the road until it was morning, and he was in Mal Vellas. He encountered many merchants and travellers journeying into Dallavor, now that Arialdan was open once more. He shared a meal with a group of bards from Ardel on his second night of travelling, and later that night took his leave. Until the crossroads he encountered no one, except for patrols who did so much as salute him. At the crossroads he encountered pilgrims en route to the High Temple of Aroran in Farador, and exchanged items he had collected on his journey to Arialdan for a few coins. He then bade the men and women farewell, and continued his lonesome journey. By the dawn of the fourth day, he arrived in Ardel and journeyed to the small town of Bard’s Brook, and took a room at The Enigmatic Harp Inn. He slept for a couple of

hours, and then decided to explore the town. Despite its size, Bard’s Brook was quite interesting. The town square was full with musicians and performers, dazzling the local inhabitants with shows of magic and acrobatics and joyous melodies from their instruments. Children ran around wildly, and their mothers yelled at them angrily. Six doves perched on a street sign, where an old man lay sleeping on the grass, snoring loudly. At various tables men roared in raucous laughter and talked loudly as they drank from their tankards and arm wrestled. Maidens picked flowers from the many gardens, and strew them upon a wooden platform at the center of town, where the aristocrats of Bard’s Brook chatted amongst each other. Arelldar could not help but smile, and took a tankard and filled it with ale. As he walked he caught sight of a most beautiful little thing; a woman with blonde hair standing with her friends. He tried to force himself away, but his instinct made him approach her and introduce himself. “Good day, ladies,” he said, standing as straight as he could “I’ am Arelldar, a renowned ranger and bachelor, mayhap you have heard of me?” The women laughed, but the blonde one smiled and said “I’ am Telaria, daughter of Telern Staghunter. And yes, I have heard of you.” Her friends giggled, and she pulled the ranger aside. He bit down on his lip and forced himself to retain some class. She examined him, and he tried not to look at her directly. “I was only lying to get them away,” she whispered “but truly; you are quite handsome, master ranger. Perhaps we could retire to my house when the festivities are done. What do you think of that?” She ran her finger down his face, and he shuddered. Must resist, he told himself, I must wait until when she says. “Oh but of course, my lady,” he said “where is your abode, pray tell?” She pointed to a group of house on the right “tis the first one in the row, I shall see you there later.” She kissed him on the cheek and then rejoined her friends. Arelldar sighed and realized he was out of drink, and said to himself “ah, I need more ale!” Several hours later, at eight in the evening, Arelldar arrived at the doorstep of Telaria’s house. He knocked thrice, and handed her the flowers he had purchased earlier. As soon as she closed the door she pushed him onto the bed and lifted up her skirt so it exposed her thighs. The ranger surged with lust and began to unbutton his tunic, before he found her on top of him. What ensued was by far the best thing that had ever happened to Arelldar, although he thought that about every woman he slept with. He ran his hands up her thighs and pulled off her dress, letting her slip beneath him.She giggled in pleasure and they existed as one. Arelldar kissed her all over and she said words he did not expect; that she loved him. When they were done the ranger decided to leave before he grew once more ravenous for her touch. “I must go,” he said, pulling on his tunic “I’ am sorry, but my darling that was excellent! Oh I don’t even know where to begin, but I have to go now.” “Why!?,” she queried “I thought you loved me” “Well if this is what you had in mind for establishing a relationship, not that I have anything wrong with it” he began, cursing under his breath. “Marry me, Arelldar!” she said with a smile, and his eyes widened in astonishment. “Ah, that could be arranged,” he said “but not now, I’ am sorry my sweet courgeous wonderful,” he stopped himself from continuing “I’ am needed elsewhere, but I will return my blossom! Do not weep whilst I’ am gone” She kissed him on the cheek and his heart fluttered “return soon, o’ handsome ranger!” She giggled, and he closed the door as he left to drown out her perfect melodic voice, it was torture to not hear it. Far in the capital city of San Abassid, Marcias los Grande, the red falcon flourished

on the sails of the San Abassidan fleet. Numbering from five to six hundred galleons of immense power and cost, the fleet was ready for war. Aboard the flagship were Prince Marcosio III and his royal guard, the Knights of San Abassid. The knights made up half of the army, and were regarded as crusaders of peace and justice. Fronting the army upon land however was a man by the name of Juano Ciercio, a seasoned military sergeant of great military prowess. At noon the people of Marcias los Grande, joined by their king, watched the fleet depart in a magnificent show of pride and patriotism. They sailed towards the land of Blackvale, and were armed for an attack anywhere en route. Within the flagship Marcosio and Juanos discussed their attack plans of the port of Mordenhel, where powerful demon patriarchs and succubus queens dwelled. They were all too aware of Narcos Mindflayer, High Patriarch of Blackvale, and knew that they, along with the Elindorians, would have to destroy him. “Tell me of this Mindflayer,” said Juanos to the prince, moving the pointer onto the exact point of the fleet on his map “I have never heard of him?” “He is a foul creature,” replied Marcosio, placing his finger on Blackvale “he dwells here, so we will certainly encounter him. I will face him, and I will defeat him.” “Be weary, prince Marcosio,” advised Juanos, removing the pointer and placing it on the table “do not play into his trap, or you will most certainly find yourself dead.” Suddenly a messenger scrambled down to the underdeck and ran to the general, flailing his arms wildly “General Ciercio, we are under attack. Dark fey pirates ravage our right side! We have already lost three ships!” “Tell Captain Adorro to engage them with his ship and lead the attack!” ordered Juanos, stabbing the map pointer into their exact position and following the messenger and the prince up onto the deck. A few ships off, black sails flourished in the midday sun as the dark feyran pirates ravage the San Abassidan galleons with ballistae and fire bombs. Following his orders, Captain Adorro pressed his attack and within half an hour the dark feyran ships were sunken and damned to the sea. The fleet continued bound for Blackvale on schedule, and General Ciercio predicted they would arrive in three days. The ensuing siege of Mordenhel however would be costly, and not even he could predict the casualties of San Abassid. As the warm wind drifted through the palace grounds in Del Jahvalla, Jahlred Naethora wandered with his daughter in his arms. At the stone fountain overgrown with flowers he stopped, and gently rested his daughter on the ground. He then took her hands and lifted her up onto her feet. He stepped back and watched Ashyla walk slowly towards him. Astounded he lifted her up in his arms and kissed her on the head. “Bless you, little one,” he said excitedly, and she smiled back “at two months you seem three years and can walk! Wait until your mother sees this!” He picked her up and carried her back to their chambers, where Ashaleena was resting. When they entered laughing she was awoken and smiled as she stood up. “Why are you two so joyful?” she asked, kissing Ashyla on the head. “Ashal! She can walk already! Our daughter can walk!” he said. “Truly!,” exclaimed Ashaleena, taking hold of their daughter “tis a blessing! Blessed are you, Ashyla! I’ am so proud of you, my little daughter!” “Oh, Ashal I love you” he said, kissing her as if it were the last. Then a word came out of the little girl’s mouth than neither of them expected: “death”. She looked at them with a straight face and repeated it “death”. Jahlred looked worried and picked her up “what do you mean, little one?” “Death” she repeated, looking at him with a pain and fear in her eyes. Ashaleena stared at her daughter in surprise and worry. “Ashyla, what do you mean?” said Jahlred, repeating the question more seriously. “Mean death! Bad prince destroy and death!” she said with the little vocabulary she possessed. But her parents understood it was a premonition of some kind, and that many would die in the war before it was over.

She yawned and rubbed her eyes, loosing all seriousness. Frowning worriedly Jahlred placed her back in her bed and kissed her, before turning to Ashaleena. “That is worrying, Ashal” “I know, but what does she mean? And how could she know such things?” exclaimed Ashaleena, glancing at their daughter who was already asleep. “The knowledge is beyond even me, but do not dwell on it, my love” he replied, making her feel slightly better. As the day progressed Ashyla seemed normal as usual, and soldiers flowed into Del Jahvalla as they had for the Siege of Hithen Dwa. Hundreds of armed men and even magic-trained women arrived in Del Jahvalla from the halls of their provincial lords and ladies, and even Lord Bredan of Ithilor arrived with his army atop his bear of war, armed with an enchanted sword eager to smite demons. At supper that evening Ashaleena and Jahlred were introduced to Lord Bredan, who was well guarded by his Grey Rangers. Bredan was a big bearded man with a taste for ale, but he was still diligent and just, and would fight for peace rather than honour. Also on that night the armies of the Feyran Land amassed in the streets of Del Jahvalla and drank to peace and freedom, and many spent what little time they had with friends and family before they went off to war. Other lords and mighty champions rallied to Del Jahvalla, their morale boosted by the knowledge that with this final act they might secure peace for Arzith. Lord Samath of Luernir, who had lingered in Del Jahvalla, took residence at the palace along with Trened Crowthorn, whom Jahlred had grown to know better. Lady Kassalay of Farador had also stayed in Del Jahvalla, with her mighty warrior priests. But even outside Del Jahvalla the armies swelled, and conscripts joined the territorial armies in such a mass that had never been seen before. The White Forge produce mass amounts of weapons and armour, and its magic hearths enchanted them with blessings and extra damage. Dothorn Steelsmiter, the chief blacksmith at the White Forge, even crafted a special sword for Prince Elendril, which was named Aleyas by the blacksmith. But as well-prepared as the armies of the east were, they could not even begin to imagine what things they would face in the realm of the Red Prince. Rumours had surfaced that the mighty Bull of Ar’Sirkha, Khalvazard’s mightiest war beast, had arisen and patriarchs all across Aznar-Kahldum were summoning hordes of demons from the Infernal Realm. The Riders of the Dusk would surely seek to avenge the slaughter of their kindred, and the Essences of Darkness, the darkest of malign beings, had chosen their mortal champions to carry out their bloody will. Soon tainted ground of Aznar-Kahldum would be covered in bodies. A few days after leaving Bard’s Brook, Arelldar arrived in Del Jahvalla with the news that his mission was complete. He met Baelandyr, Jahlred, and Ashaleena in the courtyard. Ashaleena hugged him and Jahlred patted him on the back, but Arelldar knew he would have to break the news that Breiam was dead, or in some other dimension of sub-existence. “Where is Breiam?” asked Jahlred, his smile fading as he saw the look on the ranger’s face. “He did not survive,” he replied bluntly “he accepted the Gift of Death and destroyed Xyven and his portal, but his body was gone. I’ am sorry.” “Do not be,” said Baelandyr, frowning at his self-blaming “he did what he thought was right. He had suffered much, Xyven killed his mother. I think all he wanted was revenge, and he did not care if it meant his own destruction. Where did their bodies go, pray tell?” “Some sort of primordial being took them both from a void” “Aknirnon!?” queried the fey king, and Arelldar nodded. “Nay!,” exclaimed Ashaleena, staring at the ranger “the most powerful Essence of Darkness!? Say it is not true!?” “I say no lies, I saw him, or it, or whatever you want to call it” said Arelldar.

“But just for a few seconds, nay!?” “Yes, I think” Baelandyr sighed in relief “that is good then, he did not have enough time to fully enter Illeyil. If he did our world and most likely the whole universe would have been destroyed. But to not linger on it, he has not succeeded this time.” “Where are my chambers?” asked Arelldar, looking haggard and glum. “We will take you too them,” said Jahlred “we take our leave, my lord?” Baelandyr nodded and Jahlred and Ashaleena lead Arelldar to the lodging area. They stopped at their chambers and introduced the ranger to Ashyla, and then took him to his chambers and let him be. Arelldar sighed and let himself fall onto his bed. He had left the girl Telaria promising her a marriage, but he knew he could not make such a commitment. Her image formed in his mind, and he bit his lip in furious lust. No! She loves me truly, but I only love her for her. On the warm summer morning of the sixth day, the fleet of San Abassid swept across the Blodstalga Sea like a storm of steel and firepower.The massive ships harboured twenty to thirty men each, and were armed with four dangerously powerful cannons on both sides. They were fighting ships, and a fleet of such size could eliminate any enemy fleets en route to Blackvale. As the fleet progressed they moored at the island formation known as the Chain of Exerius, which lay about five hundred leagues from Blackvale. There they joined with the equally strong fleet of Elindor, and the army of galleons and triremes sailed onwards readying their machines of war. By noon the dark and corrupt city of Mordenhel was in sight, and the joined fleet halted about two hundred or so metres from the city. Heavy fog shrouded the fleet, and the guard towers ashore could not see very far in this weather. The first row of ships moved forward, and prepared to besiege the city. At the order of General Juanos they bombarded the docks with a fire of cannonballs and ballistae, destroying the watchtowers and their garrisons as well as their warships and houses in the waterfront. Within seconds the city’s trebuchets opened fire and sunk ten ships in an inferno of wood and fire. The fleet pressed on and moored at the destroyed docks. The Knights of San Abassid and the holy warriors of Elindor rushed off the boats and met with the defending Aznar-Kahldumrians. The pallid and brute defenders were easily slain by the experienced warriors of San Abassid and Elindor. Under the leadership of Prince Marcosio and some lesser Elindorian generals, the majority of the army flooded through the waterfront and hacked down all defending Aznar-Kahldumrians, while General Juanos rallied the others and cleared the docks and defeated the garrisons. At the gates the forces clashed, and the patriarchs and succubus queens of Mordenhel surfaced and joined the fray. They hacked down even the Knights with ease, and summoned dark magic to incinerate and poison the men of San Abassid and Elindor. And yet Narcos Mindflayer was nowhere to be seen, but his dark fortress surged with foul incantations. The battle at the gates went on for over an hour, but the sheer bravery and skill of the attackers even defeated the mighty patriarchs and succubus queens. As they stormed the gatehouse another army swarmed down the streets, brandishing torches and spears. They mortal men led by a demonic monstrosity, a warrior of fire and steel. A flame ghost wielding a burning axe, the fire burned within and around him like an eternal storm of red and orange. “A beast of hell!!” cried a man, just as the fiery warrior entered the first ranks of the attacks and sent them flying all over. He roared like an ancient furnace, and used fire to incinerate the hopeless warriors of San Abassid and Elindor. He stormed through their ranks like a burning pillar, and hacked down the brave and welltrained soldiers with ease. However when he came to the Knights of San Abassid they all charged at him and impaled him with spears and swords, banishing the fire

phantom and pressing on. The surviving Aznar-Kahldumrians, who were mere mortal men and women of some humanity, fled to the safety of their houses and the enemy moved onwards, slicing down those few who chose to stand and fight. The army approached a tower of spiraling sandstone, and out emerged a succubus queen of exalted power and beauty. She stood astride a red and black dragon with a flaming lance in one hand and a whip in the other. But her steed was no dragon, it was something that once was that and had been shaped and morphed by the queen’s dark magic. The beast engulfed the front flanks with fumes and fire, reducing the brave men to ashes. The archers befell the dragon and its mistress with arrows, but they proved useless and those men too were annihilated. Prince Marcosio glanced around him. His horse was crushed by a fallen pillar, his bodyguard was almost completely dead, and his army was failing. The Elindorian generals who had accompanied him were too slain by the succubus queen and her fell mount. When all hope seemed lost, Marcosio looked behind him and saw the flags of Elindor and San Abassid flourish in the wind, and the other half of the army poured down the slope with a roar. They were lead by General Juanos and a few Knights of San Abassid, and in an instant Juanos flung himself from his horse and landed atop the dragon’s head. “Back, foul bitch of hell!!” he roared, stabbing the succubus queen through the chest with a grunt. She fell and landed on the cobblestones, incinerating into a pile of ashes. With a roar that shook the foundations of Mordenhel the dragon shook and Juanos grabbed onto the reins, hoisted himself up and stabbed the dragon through the head. The beast fell onto the succubus queen and Juanos stepped off with a sigh. He helped the prince up and ordered the soldiers to gather survivors, and burn the dead. “Hold on, Prince Marcosio,” he said, placing the man in front of the healer “Lordezio will heal you” The healer, an elder man called Lordezio, held his hand over the prince and with a few words began to sow Marcosio’s wounds together with magic. When he was finished he tended to other wounded soldiers. The first phase of the siege had been a success; all that was left was to destroy the High Patriarch Narcos Mindflayer and the other surviving patriarchs and succubus queens. In total of the fifteen thousand men of the armies of Elindor and San Abassid, they had lost five thousand men to the hordes of the Red Prince. But still ten thousand strong was enough to storm the upper streets and defeat Narcos Mindflayer. The sky was overcast, and the remaining soldiers and knights prepared for the second attack wave. Juanos knew that the death of Marcosio was not an option, and gave him his own bodyguard to defend the prince. The two men deliberated along with General Athorai D’shun, the leader of Elindor’s forces. They knew that defeating Narcos would not be easy, but Elindor’s fine sorcerers and mages were now amongst them, and they could perhaps best the Mindflayer’s magics. But he too had acolytes of evil at his whim, and he would send them out before he himself would fight. The survivors of the siege; women, children, elderly and those men who had not fought were rounded up and kept watch by trained men, but they would not be harmed and realeased once Narcos Mindflayer and any other dangerous folk were dead. Once Mordenhel and Blackvale were captured then the armies of the Empire and Baelandyr would amass through the coast of Aznar-Kahldum and garrison at the captured city. As nightfall came the uncaptured west docks flodded with black sailed ships and the infamous Blackvale pirates swarmed ashore. As they came roaring through the streets, half-drunk and all but driven by rage, the pirates hurled explosive bombs over the roofs of the houses and created a smoke diversion. While the enemy was distracted they swarmed through the undefended area and hacked down unweary guards.

Bidding the two San Abassidans to stay, General D’shun gained control of the situation and eventually destroyed the pirates. A few fled back onto ships and sailed away, possibly to Harrow or Mazith Morga. A party of men burned the remaining ships, and cleared the dead pirates from the ground. The night grew old, and still Narcos Mindflayer did not emerge. Small crowds of desperate Mordenhelans came every hour or so, but they did not even stand a chance against the knights and soldiers. At the rise of the new sun the army was roused, and Prince Marcosio and the other generals prepared to fight. The inner streets had been heavily barricaded and garrisoned overnight, and the High Patriarch had decided to make one final stand and defend Mordenhel. But he had suffered the deaths of many of his subjects, even the infamous Blackvale pirates were in retreat. But for his slightest humanity Narcos Mindflayer did not possess the emotion of fear. He would fight on until he was the last man left, and he knew that swords and steel could not defend against his foul magic. At noon the second gates were broken, and the San Abassid and Elindorian force swarmed through the gateway and hacked through the front line of Mordenhel’s defense. The Mordenhelan militia were weak and easily routed when leaderless, and although some patriarchs and succubus queens took their stand here, they were no match for the sheer skill of the forces of freedom. As they marched through the inner streets the sorcerers and mages summoned blue fire and lightning bolts to batter the defenders and ebb away at their morale even more. But as much as they perished the Mordenhelans were bound to Narcos Mindflayer, and they were under his control until someone destroyed the High Patriarch. His guard took their stand near the fortress, and held off even the Knights and Juanos. The General sustained an injury from a spear, but Narcos’ guard was finally destroyed although the casualties were higher than expected. The army was now close to nine thousand eight hundred, and Mindflayer’s guard and magicians defended the fortress with their lives. But light prevailed over darkness and the doors of Narcos’ citadel were finally breached. The army poured in and chased down those who fled, while they fought those who stood their ground. The few patriarchs that were left put up a furious fight and with their dark magic they slaughtered men with a whip of their hand. The defenders of Mordenhel even realeased monstrous beasts from their cages, terrifying brutish creatures called voargurs. Riding on these beasts were half-insane fiends, short imp-like demons brandishing whips and spears. The voargurs and their riders smashed through the ranks of the attackers and it took the skill of General D’shun to slay the beasts and their riders. The courtyard was captured, and the army swarmed up the upper levels and slaughtered all who opposed them. Foul magicians cast spells to fend of the San Abassidans and Elindorians, walls of fire and orbs of lightning, but even they were not enough. Far above on a balcony stood a withered old man, shielded from the eyes of the attackers. His skin was greenish, and his body was a husk of aging darkness. But this man was a Rider of the Dusk, the Fell Sage. He observed the battle from above with a black crow perched on his staff. He knew that Narcos Mindflayer’s final hours drew near, and that the Red Prince’s armies were eager to crush all hope. With a toothless smile the Fell Sage disappeared, and the battle raged on. Narcos Mindflayer began to grow desperate, and dispatched his finest warriors to defeat the army. Xendari, the strongest of all lesser demons, were unleashed, and these berserk fighters tore the soldiers to pieces. Fused to their rune-escribed skin was banners of the Red Prince, and they wielded two jagged swords. It took some time before the men of San Abassid and Elindor finally destroy the last Xendari, and the Mordenhelans kept amassing to defend. As the battle wore on the attention of everyone was turned to the main stairwell. A figure approached down the stairs, with a crude wooden staff in his almost crippled hands. Narcos Mindflayer walked slowly towards the battlefield, and he was a sight that would

terrify the bravest of men. His human appearance was almost completely gone, and his skin was sort of purple. He held an almost skeletal appearance, but the strange appendages from his back surged with dark magic, these were soul-devourers. “The High Patriarch!” yelled a San Abassidan soldier, before Mindflayer grabbed his skull and drained his life as he had done to the captain at the waterfront. Juanos slashed a Mordenhelan militiaman and turned to face the stairs, were Narcos was devouring the terrified soldiers. He ran at the High Patriarch and stabbed him through the gut. Narcos looked up and snatched the General by the throat, cackling an ethereal laugh. Slowly he absorbed the sword, and began to cover Juanos with vein-like tentacles. They crawled all over the General and forced down his throat. He gasped in San Abassidan and with a grunt Narcos tore out his heart and devoured it. Then his drain appendages crushed the general and several others. He swept through the ranks and devoured others in a similar way, a foul unhuman way. Men tried to harm him with their swords, but they seemed to barely scathe him. With each soul Narcos grew stronger, and as did his magic. He smashed through General D’shun’s bodyguard and approached the Elindorian general, and crushed his skull like a melon. The army had lost hope, their two finest generals were dead, and Prince Marcosio was their surviving leader. The bloody corpses of knights, soldiers, and generals lay strewn across the floor, Now Prince Marcosio rallied the surviving hundred or so to him and they fended off the Mordenhelans while Narcos searched for survivors to drain. The prince saw his opportunity and glanced over to his brother-in-law, Sir Hendrez del Oros. Hendrez was his sister’s husband, and Marcosio trusted him as a brother. The knight captain knew what Marcosio meant, and drew his sword. Slashing through the men he approached Narcos while he was kneeling and stabbed him through the head. In a split second it all went wrong, and Narcos snatched his hand and Hendrez was crushed by his tentacles. “No!!” screamed Marcosio and the High Patriarch laughed. “You are alone now, prince”

10: The High Patriarch: Narcos Mindflayer stood before the prince of San Abassid and the few survivors. One by one he called the men out and drained their lives, until Marcosio was the only one left. “So, we meet at last!,” he said with a laugh, his body bloated and screaming with souls “Prince Marcosio of San Abassid. Allow me to truly introduce myself: I’ am Narcos Mindflayer, lich, necromancer, and of course High Patriarch and All Mordenhel and Blackvale. Born 345 First Era, died 320 First Era, reborn as a lich 400 Second Era, ascended as High Patriarch 780 Second Era. I’ am over a thousand years old, but the souls of others keep me alive. My life has been a constant struggle for true recognition, and now I’ am more than a lich and a patriarch, I’ am one of the strongest sorcerers this world has ever known!” “Gods smite your soul, Mindflayer!” “Hmmm?,” he asked dismissively “your gods are false and weak, my gods are the true lords of the universe. The Essences deserve dominion over Arzith, and even yonder of Illeyil. And one day this entire universe will be engulfed by their dark cloak of malice. I’ am a mere pawn in the greater game of things, and I serve the Essences as they command. It is not for personal gain or power, for it is they who have granted me such powers I already possess. I serve them as a sign of graditude for their gifts. And believe me their gifts are more than any material object, such powers they grant for merely slaying thousands.” “I will not let you live this night, Mindflayer!!,” roared Marcosio, glancing at the almost unrecognizable body of Sir Hendrez “I will destroy you!”

Narcos glanced at the prince and then his servants and they all laughed. But his was the most horrible laugh; his breath stank of undead plague and he sounded almost ethereal. “Nay,” he said bluntly “you will die here tonight, you San Abassidan son of a whore. I’ am merely prolonging your mental torture. Bring me the Psyche Orb.” His servants handed him a magical object and with a toothless smile he placed it atop a pedestal and stepped back. Then black lightning lashed out and forced into Marcosio’s mind. “Increase power!” ordered the High Patriarch, and his servants obeyed. The prince roared in pain as his very mind throbbed in agony. He struggled to push free, but he was bound both mind and body. His eyes burned with white light, and his thoughts were like daggers to his brain. Narcos cackled and grabbed the prince by the face and slapped him on the cheek gently. Marcosio began to scream in agony as the orb seared at his mind. Every thought was painful, and he did not dare to think. “Stop!!” ordered Narcos after fifteen more minutes had passed. Marcosio gritted his teeth as the pain subsided. His heart throbbed, and his breath was heavy. Sweat lined his brow, and his eyes were burning. “Strange device that is,” said Narcos, his voice burning in the prince’s mind “many have succumbed to its power. But your will is a hard one to break. No matter, we shall decide your face another way.” A Mordenhelan stepped forward and spoke “my lord, intruders in the courtyard.” “Eliminate them!,” ordered Narcos, turning to Marcosio “as for you, prince, your fate is a interesting one, for all though you shall not perish this night, you will in days to come. I now over you a crossroads, one path you must follow to fulfill your destiny.” “Never!” “You do not have a choice,” taunted the High Patriarch “your two options are these; fight me in single combat, or I devour your mind and soul like your companions. I do warn you it is not an enjoyable fate. So which do you choose!?” “Neither!” roared Marcosio, his head still throbbing. Narcos frowned and took the Psyche Orb in his bony grasp. With a grunt he focused it on Marcosio, and resumed his torture. The prince roared in agony and the pain increased ten fold. After a few minutes he begged for Narcos to stop. “So you have changed your mind?” asked the Mindflayer, placing the orb back on its pedestal. “I will….fight you!” gasped the prince, his mind burning as if iron pins had been stabbed into his brain. “A wise decision,” said the High Patriarch with a lighter tone “we shall see who’s fate will be true here, or if I can change my own and you yours.” One of his Mordenhelan servants handed him a common steel sword. The he ordered for Marcosio to be untied, and he too was handed a sword exactly the same. He staggered forward and clutched the blade, holding it up to his chest. His vision was blurry, and he could barely concentrate. Narcos dashed from side to side and within minutes he slashed down on Marcosio’s wrist. He dropped the sword and grabbed his arm, feeling the bone snap instantly. With a grunt he forced it back into place and regained his concentration. He took the sword and began to attack the High Patriarch. Narcos Mindflayer darted from one place to another, and his servants laughed as they observed the prince’s hopeless efforts. He constantly lashed out with his appendages and attempted to drain Marcosio’s life. “Enough!,” roared Narcos, paralyzing the prince with magic “you bore me. Perhaps taking this battle to the skies would prove more, interesting. Men, ready my black drake and a kaoshri for him.” When the servants had left Marcosio spoke “what is a kaoshri!?” “A close relative of the dragons, but less powerful and smaller,” replied the High Patriarch, smirking “they are native to the far west land of Charonvir. It will behave

as if you were its master, but at my command it will tear you to pieces.” “I will ride no such beast!” The servants returned leading the kaoshri on a chain. It was smaller than a dragon, and covered in red scales and sharp horns. Marcosio was frightened. “Get on the kaoshri boy,” ordered Narcos “it is safe, for now.” With no other choice Marcosio climbed onto the kaoshri and grabbed the reins. The beast slightly moved, but remained harmless. Narcos climbed onto his black drake, another relative of dragons, and the dark beast spewed forth blacks smoke. The servants stepped back and with a grunt Narcos took to the air and soared up to the zenith of the tower. Nervously, Marcosio moved the kaoshri into flight and pursued Narcos. It seemed that both the kaoshri and the black drake were not allies, and they slashed and bit at each other when they masters grew close. With a roar Narcos single handedly slashed the prince across the arm, and motioned his steed to bite the kaoshri around the neck and send it hurtling into the walls of the higher tower. Marcosio gained control, but both he and the kaoshri were bruised. The beast growled and soared upwards, biting the drake at its belly. Narcos struggled to steer his steed away, and the kaoshri pursued him. The black drake roared in frustration and flew into the open gateway of the massive forge built into the walls of the tower. Marcosio steered the kaoshri in pursuit, and the heat caused him to sweat. He noticed the inferno below, and knew that if he forced the drake down it would burn as well as Narcos. He steered the kaoshri towards Narcos and the beasts began to claw and spew flames at each other. As Marcosio had hoped the kaoshri slashed the drake in the eye with its claw and then grabbed it by the neck. “Throw him!” whispered the prince. The kaoshri seemed to understand and with a swoop it threw both the drake and Narcos into the side of the wall. The High Patriarch fell first, and his drake followed. When they grew close enough to the inferno both Mindflayer and beast were incinerated. A massive explosion ensued, and skillfully Marcosio steered the kaoshri out of the forge. Before he reached the gateway it behaved differently, and began to shake him off. Grabbing the reins as he hung half way off the kaoshri’s neck, he took his sword and stabbed the beast through the head. It tumbled, and he landed with a thud on a lower ledge. He felt something burning hot grab his leg, and turned to see the charred barely alive body of Narcos Mindflayer. Half his face and the rest of his body were burned off and he gasped with his last breaths. “I may die here, but I have done my duty! You will soon join me in the realm of Telaara!” he screamed, and with a shudder of disgust Marcosio kicked him off the ledge. As he fell his scream echoed throughout the forge, until he was finally burned to ash. With a grunt the prince forced himself up and looked around. He had a cut to his arm, he was sweating, and his mind still ached. He turned to face the wall and saw a door leading back into the interior of the tower. He held his sword close and opened the door. All was clear, and with a sigh of relief he ran through the corridor and down the stairwell back to the courtyard. His fallen kindred lay amongst those of Elindor and Mordenhel. He glanced at the crushed bodies of General Juanos, Sir Hendrez and General D’shun. The prospect of loss had finally hit home, and it ached like a dagger to the heart. All these men had died for the prince, and he somewhat found himself accountable for every single one of them. His ears heard something, a distant battle. Taking his sword he ran outside the tower and saw four or five San Abassidans fighting against a voargur. The voargur’s rider laid dead a few metres away, and the men seemed to be winning. With a grunt one of them stabbed the beast through the head and it was done.

“Hail men! Tis I, Prince Marcosio!” called the prince, and the men turned in his direction. Their expressions were shocked and they almost dropped their swords. “Nay!?,” exclaimed the leader in disbelief “we thought you perished in the fortress like General Juanos! Pray tell my lord, is Narcos Mindflayer dead!?” “Aye,” replied Marcosio, joining them “but at a great sacrifice. Send a message to my father; notify him that we need reinforcements if we are to hold Mordenhel until the other armies join us. Watch the shores for pirate ships. Now go, we cannot afford to tarry longer.” The men saluted him and ran back to the docks. “And may Aroran guide you!” Prince Marcosio waited at the fortress until the men returned, panting and sweaty. “We have sent the message, my lord,” replied the captain “it is done. We can expect thirty thousand men in reinforcements to arrive within a couple of hours.” “Good work, I’ am truly grateful,” thanked the prince, receiving nods from the men “surely we can hold off until they arrive. Come, let us retire to the fortress and hold a defense there.” “Aye my lord, but what of the dead? They number in thousands?” asked one of the soldiers. “Burn them, but leave Juanos and D’Shum, and Hendrez,” ordered Marcosio, and as they turned he added “mourn for your kind if they are among the fallen.” The soldiers bowed quickly and left, beginning to collect the dead. By noon the pyres burnt alight, and the dead watched the living mourn. The next day the San Abassidan reinforcements arrived in Mordenhel, numbering four thousand strong. The rest of the Knights of San Abassid had come, and atop his mighty horse was Marcosio’s father, Richardo II. Father and son were reunited, but the king mourned for Sir Hendrez as if he was a son. The city of Mordenhel was converted into a base for the San Abassidan military, and soldiers rallied the civilians and put them on empty boats, telling them to sail to some other infernal port and enjoy their peace while it lasted. The fortress was transformed into a pavilion for the king and his son, and the exterior held the arsenal and canons for further attacks. Pirates from Harrow attacked at brief intervals, but the superior firepower of the San Abassidans eventually destroyed them. But news that the Riders of the Dusk were rallying forces in Harrow meant ill for the defenders at Mordenhel, and the dark host would sweep across the wastelands and crush the San Abassidans. They could only hope that the Feyran and Imperial armies would reach Harrow first, and purge it of its seven masters. At midday King Richardo held a meeting at the captured fortress with his newly arrived commanders. The decision was final to hold at Mordenhel and then when the rendezvous with the greater armies was complete, the march on Zikbath Vuir. Other ill news filled the meeting room, that orcs marshaled in their lands ready to ambush the enemies of the Red Prince and honour their unholy alliance. Vaonlas had recovered from his spirit wound, and with his great loathing of the San Abassidans and Elindorians, he would send ships to ruin them. But with the bad news there was good, and this reassured the defenders of Mordenhel. The High Priests of Altherius Haerthen had transformed themselves into warriors of divine magic, and would march alongside their Imperial kin. They were renowned throughout Arzith as some of the strongest sorcerers, and would devastate the battlefield when the time came. It had been almost a hundred years since the Empire had marched on full war. The last time was when Emperor Darias Conceldium II, Ibercium IV’s grandfather, marched on Zvek and he had mustered every man-at-arms to his disposal. The Siege of Zvek went on for two months, but eventually Jagor Xzenchen, Lord of Zvek, issued single combat with Emperor Darias and killed him. The Empire retreated and vowed not to fight a full war unless it was a dire need. The knight Serodius Charlion had avenged Emperor Darias’ death by slaying Jagor Xzenchen, but Zvek was still a mighty fortress after ninety years.

Prince Trastor would lead the Imperial army into Aznar-Kahldum, as his elder brother Perensius was exiled for attempted mass assassination of his family, of which the only casualty had been his sister-in-law. This news had shocked the San Abassidans, as their royal family was joyous and peaceful. Cultural differences between the Empire of Northern Arzith and the Kingdom of San Abassidan were abundant. Though these nations were both descended from the same tribes, they were two very different peoples. In all its one thousand seven hundred and forty five years of existence the Empire had never come to grasp the concept of piety that the San Abassidans upheld in their very laws. The Empire was ever expansful, and San Abassid was a group of islands that still managed to defend itself. Even the rulers of these realms were different in title and influence. The “emperor” was described as the ruler of all north-west Arzith, dominating power over all other lords of the Empire. The “king of San Abassid” was the lord of the island kingdom, and it was his duty to uphold faith and valour. King Richardo II had never met Emperor Ibercium IV, and his mental condition contributed to this a lot. The king was fearful of the emperor’s madness, that he would somehow contract it or loose his sense of reality. Instead when matters between the nations occurred, as rare as they were, he sent emissaries instead of being present himself. He was fifty three, and he did not want to become insane at such an early age, in his opinion. He thought that Emperor Ibercium IV was completely insane, and afterall he had been almost for all of Richardo’s lifetime. He could only go by what his father Alexandro I had written in his journals. Alexandro I, who had died many years ago, had been a good friend of Ibercium during his time as imperial prince, and they had often discussed military tactics and relayed across each other’s homes. But when Ibercium lost his wife and began to loose his mind, Alexandro saw no way to preserve their friendship, and let his friend be. For this Richardo could not help but to understand the Emperor, although he did not relish in his company. But he would unite with the Empire to battle a common foe, and he hoped their diplomacy would only strengthen in the passing months. But he knew a massive horde waited within the rest of Anzar-Kahdlum, ready to strike like a venomous serpent from the underbush. Elindor’s loss had already forced them to withdraw from the conflict, and matters worsened in Shafhla with Al’Fahrimar. The stability of the free people stood on the edge of a knife, and that knife was wielded by Baelandyr, High King of the Fey. Narcos Mindflayer’s time had passed, he was dead. Mordenhel had been captured but with tremendous cost. But there was one foe everyone knew they would have to face, and his name was the exact in every language, Khalvazard the Red Prince of Rezvazz-Morttagaldur.

11: The Final Breath: The High Fey King Baelandyr sat in his throne, dressed in full armour. Willowings hung from his side, and his ancient spear Galadrom was in his right hand. General Xyanus and Sir Agravald sat beside him in smaller chairs, dressed in full armour too. The other generals and captains stood around the castle hall, discussing tactics and et cetera. Prince Elendril lay in wait at the great doors, seeking the news from the spies that would decide whether all the men in the room would join the armies, who had already made it to Ithilor. Then the doors were opened by the royal guards, and in stepped a rugged messenger bearing a scroll in his hand. When he reached Baelandyr he bowed and handed him the scroll. “Well my lord?” asked Xyanus. Baelandyr finished reading the scroll and rested it on his lap “we march. Ready the bodyguard, the time has come to fight.” The generals roared in excitement and the hall cleared as they dispersed, off to muster their bodyguards. Elendril remained, and stole a moment with his father before they left. “Do you not fear the Red Prince?” he asked, confused by Baelandyr’s always calm demeanour. “I have fought him for over a thousand years, and my father before him,” said the fey king, resting Galadrom on the floor “he is a foe who I have known for eternity. I take this moment now, my son, for the final breath before the plunge of the dagger. My hope of defeating Khalvazard is a faltering one, and my plan is not without fault. But I’ am the only one who can stop him, my son, and we both know that may mean sacrificing myself to destroy him.” “Not the Gift!?” exclaimed Elendril. “It is both our gift and our curse, and we must all come to embrace it,” replied Baelandyr, looking directly at his son “tis such a burden for us to bear, an entire race plagued by a so-called gift to give our lives, whether to end them heedlessly or to save another. Either way many have uttered those words in my lifetime, and I have seen deaths of no need and sacrifice. It was our single parting gift from our True Feyran ancestors, and the dark fey were bestowed a parting gift from our former race. Their’s is a different one, less potent then the whit feyran Gift of Death, but still the Gift of Shadows. You my son know what this is.” Elendril nodded “they have a second form, it allows them to travel the Night Plane as a shade, and they can enshroud entire cities with shadow if they so wish.” “Yes, and these gifts seem to reflect on both sides of the True Fey, before Aseranu Elas. We are the pure and good side, representing the valour of the True Fey. Our fallen kin are the dark side of our father-race, they relish in lust, malice, hate, and the destruction and rapture of peace.” “It is time, father” Baelandyr nodded and stood, with Galadrom in his grasp, and rested his spare hand on his son’s shoulder “ae lewen saleh, ealar. Guide your sword, son.” “Ae lewen saleh, faelor!” replied the prince, leaving his father to himself. Jahlred entered his chambers and called for Ashaleena. When he found her he took her in his arms and kissed her. “It is time, Ashal,” he said, and she rested her head on his shoulder “I must go.” He took her hand in his and looked her in the eyes “promise me this, Ashal. It is all I ask. You must move on if I do not return.” “But you will, Jahlred,” she said, kissing him again “I know you will, I have a feeling.

Stay safe, my love. Ae valen raulorah” He laughed and kissed her “you’ve been practicing. Where is Ashyla?” Ashaleena pointed to the cradle beside the window, as she seemed too sad to talk. He released her hand and approached the cot, where the little girl slept. He rested a finger on her forehead and muttered four words: “ae naethora elidran elare” then he turned away. Bless you, little one. He kissed Ashaleena one last time and took Silverwynd, sheathing it. He could’nt look back, it made him too sorrowful, so he just walked straight for the door and opened it. Arelldar stood waiting outside. “Are you ready?” he asked, sounding excited. “No, but there is no other choice,” said Jahlred, shedding a single tear as discreetly as possible “let us be done with it. Baelandyr is waiting.” Arelldar nodded and then headed for the outskirts of the city. The army, vast and powerful, stood assembled, waiting to bring honour and peace to their families. When Jahlred noticed the soldier’s wives and daughters kissing and hugging them goodbye he only thought of Ashaleena. The army was no way impatient, and relished in their few last moments with their families. An old wizard stood on an elevated rock, raising his voice so the other mages that sat around him could hear and ask the the gods for a bit more luck with their magics. This was the moment that hurt Jahlred the most, leaving his family with the possibility of not returning. Arelldar didn’t feel that at all, he had no family, he was alone. And in a way Jahlred pitied him for that, and he knew Arelldar was not the same person he made out to be. General Xyanus galloped towards them, calling them both. They halted their horses as he did, and saluted him. “Good to see you both,” he said, catching his breath “I trust this has been hard on you Jahlred. But I know you will return, even if others of us don’t. The enemy will seek to kill Baelandyr on the open field of battle, and I’ am the one that must protect him. It is my duty. I will see you soon, both of you. Ae lewen saleh!” He saluted both of them and then steered his horse back to the bodyguard. Jahlred and Arelldar took position when Xyanus took to the centre again. The men called for quiet, and the general stepped forward. “Men, women, children,” he said, his voice loud and assertive “war is not a glorious thing, but that does not mean we cannot bring glory to our land and people. War has become a way of life for some of us, it is all we know. I thank each and every one of you brave people who have joined our lord in his bid for peace. The Red Prince must be defeated, so that our children may live in peace. So that our forefathers may be avenged. Khalvazard is like any other foe, he can be defeated. We may seem insignificant here today, but our entire nation has mustered thousands of men to fight, and die, if need be. The Empire has honoured our ancient alliance and has sent thousands to join us on the field of battle. Their superior machinery and siege engines will crush the Red Prince’s defences, and we will have victory!,” The army cheered, raising swords and spears high. “I ask you now, all of you. To raise your heart and your blade, and fight for not for us, but for Arzith!” The cheers instensified, and Xyanus raised his blade high, so that the sunlight glimmered on the blade. He sheathed his sword as the cheers died down, and praised the men for their valour and loyalty. When he stepped down he climbed back onto his horse and turned to face the horizon. He then raised his hand, and the warhorns bellowed. The army was set into motion, marching to victory and death. Jahlred and Arelldar steered their horses into slow canters, behind the line of knights. It had begun the war to end all wars. By the week the army had arrived in Silvermoon, setting up camp in a hilly area. That night the soldiers enjoyed their final revelries. Arelldar was doing as he always did, enjoy the the company of a woman. This one was a healer, and they both drank heavily and took the moment to enter the tent without Jahlred around. Arelldar pressed her against the bed and kissed her up her

neck and face, laughing drunkenly. Her touch was ecstasy to him, but he was delusioned in his state of primal pleasure and lust. He embraced her below him, kissing her again and again. She, like all women, fuelled his fires of lust and pleasure, only to be discarded after. But the woman did not care, she wanted him. When it was over he kissed her and she left him to himself. Arelldar was particularly grumpy after sex, as Jahlred learned when he returned to the tent. “Arelldar! What have you done?” he said, although he knew the answer. The ranger lay on the bed, aimlessly drinking from his flask. He was drunk and had just had sex, and did’nt reply. “Women,” Jahlred sighed “you use them as sparingly as arrows, Arelldar. Last week you told me you loved a woman, now you are completely changed.” “Women are funny things, Jahlred,” he replied, drinking more from his flask “I use them to numb my life’s problems. Besides, what does it matter to you?” “Nothing,” said Jahlred, sitting on his bed “you just concern me sometimes. Are you seriously happy?” Arelldar frowned at the question “no. Isn’t it obvious? Brieam was our friend, Jahlred. I take loss in a different way, by drowning out my sorrows with alcohol and women. It is my grieving, and I would appreciate it if you knew your place!” Jahlred was taken aback. “Forgive me,” he said “I will leave you.” Arelldar grunted in response and collapsed onto his bed, guzzling down from his flask until it was empty. Jahlred sighed and left the tent. He headed towards the centre of the camp, where he encountered Trened. The man was much more composed and secure than a drunken Arelldar, and greeted Jahlred as he approached. As Sammath’s general he was overseeing the training of a couple of battalions of soldiers on the outskirts of the forest. The Luernirian soldiers jousted with wooden swords and spears, then moved on to more rigorous and real training. As the soldiers trained Jahlred and Trened talked. “Why are you here, Jahlred?,” asked Trened, focusing entirely on the training “you should be getting some sleep.” “I could say the same to you,” replied the fey “no, it is Arelldar. He is a horrible drunk. He is best left alone; I will go to bed when he is asleep.” “The men are nervous,” said Trened “I can sense it. They are not as lively as they usually are. I fear many of them know that their deaths are surely possible, and there are others that have not come to terms with it yet. I have, although I miss my wife dearly.” “We will fight together, the three of us,” said Jahlred “we can fight well, Trened. And we will, I know the three of us will surely return home. You are too pessimistic; seek out the hope, no matter how faint it is.” “I suppose you are right,” said Trened, beginning to pace “what you say are words of wisdom.” The following morning the army mobilized, and began their descent into Argith via the hills that separated Silvermoon and Aznar-Kahldum. The Kydril Pass, gone unused for over two hundred years, was the only way into Argith via Silvermoon and the hills were steep. The carts and chariots had the most trouble, and a few men and horses were lost in the dangerous ascent and subsequent descent over the next day. Jahlred travelled on a cart with Arelldar, digging out the mud when it got in the way of the cart. Rainfall followed on at the end of the first day, when the army had made their ascent to the frigid height of the pass. The night was bitter and cold, and the following morning and descent held cold weather and muddy ground which made it even more difficult to traverse. Baelandyr knew of the dangers of the Kydril Pass, and its conditions were the reason it was became unused. At the zenith of the pass was an old Aznar-Kahldumrian tower rising from the jagged hills, possibly a watchtower from another era lost. By midday on the second day the army had successfully traversed the Kydril Pass, and where in Argith. They followed the road

for a few more hours, before setting up a well defended camp at nightfall. Jahlred sat down as soon as he finished assembling the tent, noticing the flinkering lamplights in the distance. “It’s the Rezvazzi carvans,” said Arelldar, noticing his interest. He took a breath from his pipe and looked out into the darkness. “Should’nt we fight them?” “No,” replied the ranger “they are women and children, men, elders, civilians. They are harmless, Jahlred. They want peace as much as we do. There are some that embrace their demon influence.” “But they are demons! They have demon-blood!” said Jahlred, watching as the caravan disappeared into the distance. “The demon-blood has practically been eradicated by this generation, Jahlred,” said Arelldar, putting out his pipe and taking a mouthful from his flask “they are like a person whose great-great grandfather was a fey, the gene is practically invisible. Not saying that they cannot be evil, most just chose not to be.” “Did they build that tower at Kydril?” asked Jahlred. “No, that is too difficult for them to construct,” said the ranger “Argithrians probably built it. Perhaps it was abandoned when news of our march arrived here. Argith is a barren place, Jahlred. The Rezvazzi humans here are looked upon lowly by the Argithrians, and they are commonly killed or banished by the leaders of the Argithrian tribes.” “How do you know this much?” “Travels,” he replied, being modest “but let us not plague ourselves with this. Get some sleep, I will too later.” Jahlred nodded and put out the fire, getting to his feet. He bade his friend goodnight and then retired to the tent to get some sleep. At midnight the camp received a visit from a group of emissaries from Shurg og Draa, seeking Baelandyr. Their presence in the camp was not a pleasant surprise, and many of the soldiers and mages frowned at the messengers as they passed. Their leader was clearly of ascended power, and wore lavish attire to signify his wealth. They pushed past the tent and demanded the presence of Baelandyr immediately. The leader was dressed in an assortment of black garbs, bound by a silver brace that doubled as protection. At his side he carried a curved blade of Rezvazzi design, bearing runes of his people. His skin was alabaster, and below and around his eyes were black tattoos, ceremonial or for his own purposes. His comrades were more adequately armed, with a mix of black garbs and steel plating. They were armed with pikes, also carved with runes. The messenger stepped forward and tossed a piece of parchment onto the table. Then he stood and waited for Baelandyr to read it. When he was finished he laid it on the table and folded his arms together, waiting for the messenger to speak. “Why have you come?” he asked, watching the three men carefully. The messenger grimaced “you know. You have read the message.” “Parley?,” said Xyanus, speaking on behalf of his master “you seek parley?” “It is not uncommon for us to do so, general,” replied the messenger “my lord seeks to ravage your army elsewhere than Shurg og Draa. If you agree to these terms it would be beneficial to the both of us.” “My lord,” interjected Xyanus “we cannot trust these demonspawn. Their words are full of poison and untruth. They cannot be trusted.” Baelandyr raised his hand and silenced him. He stood, and approached the messenger so they stood eye to eye. “His words are true, Xyanus,” said the fey king, not even turning to face his general “as are his master’s, as unlikely as it is. But I can read it in his eyes, he speaks truth.” Xyanus sighed in frustration and returned to his position. “They cannot be trusted, my liege,” he said, beginning to pace “all they speak of is lies and deceit. He is simply guising his true stance with some sort of magic.” “He is speaking the truth, Xyanus,” repeated Baelandyr, growing frustrated with his general “know your place, and do not question my judgment. Return to your post, Xyanus.” The general bowed apologetically and returned back to his seat, watching the three Rezvazzi closely, resting his hand on the hilt of his sword.

“So king,” said the messenger, raising his head “what say you?” Baelandyr looked at him closely, back at Xyanus and then turned to deliberate. He turned back and the messenger awaited his answer, growing impatient. “I agree to your master’s terms,” he said finally “we will pass Shurg og Draa unscathed, and then perhaps we will meet once again on the field of battle.” “So be it,” said the messenger, grimacing at Xyanus “we will leave, and you may pass Shurg og Draa and we will not attack.” Xyanus rose from his chair and unsheathed his sword, pointing it slowly towards the messenger. “Leave,” he said, defying his master’s orders yet again “or I will butcher you myself.” “We are already, general,” said the messenger, bowing mockingly “and if I were you I would not waste your blade on me, and I think your master agrees.” Baelandyr moved forward to take Xyanus’ blade, but the general outmaneuvered him. “Xyanus,” growled the fey king, staring at his general with anger in his eyes “stay your blade, now. Do not risk our stance with the enemy, we have reached terms. Killing these men would not achieve anything.” Xyanus struggled in frustration, and tried to move towards the messenger. Baelandyr grabbed his hand and held him back. “Stop, Xyanus!,” he finally yelled, throwing the general to the ground “control yourself!” The general staggered to his feet and frowned at the messenger. Baelandyr laid out his sword in his hand for him to take it. “Take your blade and go” he said, staying his frustration. Xyanus bowed repetantly and snatched his sword from his master’s hand. He turned to face the messenger and gave him a foul look. Then he left the pavilion, pushing past the messenger and his companions. The Rezvazzi began to grow discontented and bored, shifting in their armour. The messenger nodded to Baelandyr and then left with the two guards. When he was alone the fey king sighed and fell into his chair. He was angered by Xyanus’ outburst that could have cost him the agreement, but he personally knew the man and his prejudices against Rezvazzi. He believed that all of them were liars and untrue, impossible to trust. Xyanus had been like this since before Baelandyr ever knew him. The general was a different man behind the glamour of warfare and honour, his prejudices and doubts dominated his outside life. Baelandyr had warned him several times before about his impulsive temper, but the general was a harsh man with harsh but effective tactics. Without him Baelandyr would have lost the war years ago, he could not deny Xyanus’ prowess and military skill. His other side would be the ruin of him.

The Red Prince  

An immense and detailed fantasy epic

The Red Prince  

An immense and detailed fantasy epic