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Prologue

Outcast. Assassin. Traitor. We did nothing to deserve these names and yet they are ours. Aye, our family does not have the best history behind it, yet we used to be honored and treated with respect where ever we went. Now, because of the actions of one, we are shunned.

The country folk—a more superstitious lot there never was—are of the opinion my sister and I influenced the actions of that night. How could we have though? We were not even born at the time. We did not command him to betray everyone and everybeast he loved to the Krazex.

Handle anything They have touched for too long, and you become a minion to Them. So long ago...And yet, not so long ago. For it was on the very night that Fiwrin turned to the dark side that my sister and I were born.

The evil ones at that time were withdrawn and subdued by the King’s power, but somehow they got their claws on Fiwrin and turned him into a tool for their intents. Poor Fiwrin. From what As-sa used to tell us, he was once the most talented minstrel in the lands. He was slain centuries ago, but he haunts us. His spirit works ever to twist our intentions.

I have to go…THEY are near. But one piece of advice, my friend, if you plan to journey in these lands keep your weapons at the ready and your wits about you. You never know just who you will meet….

~Arron Zipharnel


Chapter One

Lurid clouds lazily moved over stygian fields, casting a murky gloom over the already dark lands. Tall, black grass shuddered as invisible threads of wind floated on drafts of air, choking on the dust set up by a bay stallion.

A lone rider wearing a dusky green cloak with a deep, but elegant cowl cast an anxious glance up at the sky, noting the position of the stars, and cursed softly. Eyes like molten silver glimmered with impatience as ebony eyebrows lowered dangerously. The shadows cast by the hood hide most of the rider’s features despite the slight glow that came from the pale skin, but enough was discernible to gather that they were feminine and irritated.

A graceful double recurve bow with silver star designs upon the light wood rested unstrung in a leather scabbard on her back, a quiver full of arrows with white swan flights poked over her left shoulder, and a backhanded dagger with a metal bar and spikes instead of a hilt was strapped to the quiver belt. She wore a calf-length midnight blue riding gown with leather armor and vambraces.

The horse tossed its finely shaped bay head, flinging strands of dark mane into the rider’s face. The stallion’s sleek legs flashed with the speed of his pace as he traversed the bleak plains with almost arrogant certainty. The equine’s intelligent brown liquid eyes gleamed with pride at his incredible speed and impatience that he could not go faster. No bit and bridle adorned the stallion’s head, no saddle cushioned his rider’s seat, and no shoes were nailed to his hard hooves.

The pair was driven to travel across these desolate lands with all the speed they could muster by a grim purpose neither would utter a word about. Dissatisfaction and a grinding desire to go even faster suppressed all other emotions; no time was spared for rest or even a small bite of food. The chilling air would have to suffuse.

A strand of hair worked itself loose from one of the two braids pinned to the rider’s head, hanging in front of her eyes. Irritably, she brushed it back with a slender hand as she chewed on her cheek, eyes flashing to and fro, scanning the horizons for a forest or mountain range. Not seeing either, she heaved a sigh of disappointment. Resignedly, she let loose a howl exactly like a wolf's, knowing that the sound would be heard for leagues in this barren plain and alert possible enemies to their presence. Yet it had to be done; she carried vital information and needed to let the others know as soon as was feasible for she was no innocent bystander to events, but a scout and spy to the Elven King Fornvyl.

A trailing cry from the north-northwest lingered in the wind as a response to her signal sounded out just loud enough for the rider's sensitive ears to pick up. A fierce smile stole across her face and her mount flicked his ears in pleasure, accelerating even more until the passing scenery was naught but a blur and tears streamed from the rider's eyes. She leaned forward, fingers laced tightly into the silky black mane. Their eyes were fixed upon the silhouetted patch that appeared on the horizon. With the goal in sight, the stallion forgot himself and whinnied for joy. A harsh laugh escaped his mistress' lips as she shared in his exhultation. However, it would have been better if both had remained silent.

A winged beast descended from on high, screeching madly. The elf's face grew grim as she recognized it and the stallion let loose a neigh of fear. The elf urged him on in urgent words of elvish; his hooves seemed to fly over the plain.

None of the three seemed to notice when there was a sudden flash of light. The scenery darkened, but other than that, all was the same.


"Faster! Faster!" The elf urged on her steed as she leaned forward, the wind dragging her locks of hair behind her. the winged creature flew overhead, screeching noisily as it descended upon the rider, bringing her off her horse. Screaming madly, she ripped at the creature, tearing off feathers in her desperate attempt to free herself. The colt, Faensul, reared back on his hind legs, whinnying fearfully.

Pulling out a dagger, the elf, Aelin Zipharnel, stabbed at the beast, the dagger plunging into its flesh multiple times. The creature cawed and twitched in pain, but kept hold of Aelin.


---


Somewhere off into the distance, a shadow loomed over the plains. Air currents swirled about each other in a frenzy, ripping out the grass. A twister formed, sending more air whipping up the surrounding grassland. Suddenly, a bright blue light poked out from the center of the twister and shot up into the sky. The ground shook and a large explosion followed, sending a blinding blue light across the plains. Then, just like that, it ended.

Dreyfus the Bold looked up into the sky as the portal diminished, one hand shielding his eyes from two glaring suns. He muttered to himself as he moaned, holding his aching back. He spit on the ground, taking stock of his foreign surroundings. "Where…am…I?"

A resounding cry in the distance caused the aged man to turn, one of the two suns glinting off of his dark staff. The scraggly gray hairs of his lengthy beard whipped and twirled about each other as the fickle wind changed directions rapidly. Brushing aside the overflowing locks of hair, he identified the rider on the tall plains, a winged creature directly overhead, a gasping stallion striving forward, not wanting to be caught up in the fearsome talons of the giant creature.

"Syllphalian Eagle," he muttered to himself as he noticed the steel-colored feathers that thickly adorned the eagle. Shaking his head, he lifted his staff, eyes lowered, features darkened. "Prakeikimas erelis, tegul jis miršta nuo šių nežinomas žemes."

As he finished chanting, a sparkling green light emanated from the tip of his staff, growing larger and larger by the moment. Then, in one sudden movement, he leaped several meters in the air, seeming to defy gravity, and an emerald bolt shot out of the staff, picking up energy as it gathered momentum, sending sound waves well across the plains.

~*~*~*~

Aelin Zipharnel turned her stunning eyes up in time to see the jade bolt crack into the eagle's body, sending it flying from her form in a flurry of steel wings and harsh cries. The feathers rained down delicately all about her, tenderly littering the ground in a dark sea of shiny steel.

Catching her breath as she landed precisely back on her mount, the elf looked about, searching for apparent signs of life. Sighing heavily, she pressed her palm into Faensul's chest, feeling the brisk beat of his heart fading away to a more normal, resting pace. Placing her hand over her own heart, she gingerly inhaled and exhaled, still wary of her surroundings, not noticing the oddly shaped rock form standing right in front of her.

An agitated Faensul rocked back and forth as a strong scent hit his nose, causing him to trot about promptly in the tall grass, his head lowered.

~-*-~


Among the barren sand dunes, under the blistering heat of the small, but unnaturally close sun, loomed a tower, built out of the dark stone of the cliff face. To tell the truth, that land of sand and rock, of desert and forest, was unnatural, a world created by magic; only in existence to serve its uses to its creator. And that creator was there at the moment…

Resting his aged and hardened hands on the windowsill overlooking his universe, the old man looked toward the north, his land sending him messages from its rocky interior, the sound of hoofs against the sand, voices over the wind, the taste of inferior magic…He has visitors…


It was forever polite to meet one’s visitors…

With a dark smile, he raised his roughened hands to the sky, and felt a surge of electricity as the skies, once cloudless and blue, seems to darken its grin as well…

The skies were not the only things busy that day, if time existed in the warlock’s land; trembling beneath the sand, something flew, to where, even a fool would know the answer…Coming to welcome it’s masters guests…

And suddenly, the creature emerged from its earthly realm…It’s scales and fangs gleaming crimson, and it’s serpent tongue slithering out to taste fear on the air, under the darkened lands of the North…

The Drerlak's eyes gleamed with joy. Finally, his despicable master had let him once more have a taste of the foolish mortals who dare enter his realm. A large shudder passed through its body, as its tongue flickered in and out. These fools, unsuspecting of its ghostly presence, their weak senses soon to be put out of their misery.

Of course, it mustn't be a fast death. The Drerlak wanted to savor the moment, the blood, the fresh serving of meat, and the horse … he had never tasted horse. If a being like this could smile, the Drerlak did, as his form whisked through the breeze like a feather.

The heavy layering of darkness seemed to press down upon Dreyfus's shoulders as he glided down the mountain towards the horse and its rider. Looking up, he noticed the darkness gathering overhead, as if it was only there to target him. Breathing in deeply, he calmed himself, and when he opened his eyes, he was staring into the dazzling eyes of a young female elf.

The horse, its fur glistening, sinisterly eyed the old figure, as if this old man was the cause for his recent problems. Dreyfus raised his eyebrows, feeling a tingling sense running through his veins. Scales slipping against the ground. Claws scraping at the earth. Closer it came. Closer. His hand shot out and grabbed the reins of the horse, which reared up in surprise.

The sharp fangs rose first out of the ground, spilling dirt onto the company. Saliva dribbled down its shiny neck as it pushed itself through mounds of earth. A keen sense of smell directed its eyes downward, where its delicious meal waited. The fearful whimpering of the horse fed his appetite. As his gaze fell upon the colt's two companions, a jet of green light blasted it backwards.

Spitting, it flexed its sore wings and shrieked, piercing through the dark clouds overhead. It couldn't wait. The deaths would be fast now. But something was wrong. The beast couldn't see with one eye. Furiosity filled its life form, boiling blood flowing out of its eye. Foolish wizard. Using his energy in vain. He would be the first to die. Then the girl. Then the horse. Oh, the sweet smell filled his body blissfully.


Momentarily forgetting the excruciating pain in its eye, the beast inhaled deeply and lunged.


Chapter Two

As the foul beast lunged for the wizard, Aelin felt the fire of adrenalin sing through her veins. She whipped out her bow and nocked two arrows in swift motions. Faensul pranced beneath her, her excitement clearly transmitting to him. With a furrowed brow, she released the arrows, aiming for the creature's eyes.

The beast seemed to foresee her actions, but before it could do anything, another blast of green light blinded it, the horse, and the elf. It let out a furious, grating screech.

Aelin shook her head rapidly in an effort to clear her vision. The wizard's voice penetrated the white field. He sounded determined, and altogether foolish in her mind. "GO! You cannot fight this."

She narrowed her eyes, mouth opening to form a protest, but the sound of flesh hitting flesh stopped her. Faensul neighed, rearing, and set off at a gallop. Away from the action.

It had been quite a while since Dreyfus the bold had fought a creature like this one. But he was open to new challenges, even one of this magnitude. However, the Drerlak did not only possess regular demonic qualities. Its very life was artificial, almost a creation, an illusion.

Powerful blasts of energy, taken from the wizard's own reserves, did harm the beast, but made the old man weaker as well. He was distracted as he sent the elf and her steed off towards a safe haven, and the Drerlak saw a chance...

...A chance to flee...It's powers were weakening aswell, it's artifical body flickering slightly at every hit it took as the bearded wizard became less powerful-It was simply too difficult. The reptilian monster had expected amateurs, fools draw there by pure incident or their own stupidity to mess with the Dark Magicks-Not skilled sorcerers. But as he dived into the sands once more, dirt flying behind him as he shot off into the abyss of darkness known as the earth, his mind flashed vengefully-He shall taste that sorcerer's flesh soon enough...When he returns as powerful as before, he shall leave the sands stained red with the blood of Elf and sorcerer...

The ancient man smoothed down his dark beard of gray, his eyes closed as he watched the battle through the fleeing Drerlak's mind, toying with it's memories as a child plays with a puppet. He sees through his creations...He can feel the very ground shake with every step taken, echoing through his veins. Yes. The Drerlak had failed. His compliments to the fellow sorcerer. But his trials are far from over...He has more than beasts of the undergrounds as marionettes...And at that thought, he smiled.

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