A/N This is a combined work by me and a friend of mine who isn't on this site. It's an on and off type of thing as the other author is rather lazy. People on PlaneGate should recognize this.

- Prologue

The sun beat down through the clear sky, pounding on Kyra's exposed neck. Feeling the heat, she shifted her dress's collar up higher, which, combined with the shade from her hair, done up in a ponytail down her back, managed to reduce the light to a manageable amount. With every step, her shoes kicked dust up from the dirt road, to hang in golden clouds framed by green fields. Ahead, on a steep rise, Kyra could see the lord's half-ruined keep, the destination for the basket of greens she carried under one arm.

Unbeknownst to her, a dark-robed figure watched her climb, musing. The girl's green eyes showed intelligence, he saw, and her form was slim and lithe, with more muscle than fat. She would do.

Kyra, meanwhile, reached the base of the tall tower that served as the living, eating, and sleeping quarters for the lord while the rest of the keep fell into ruin. The old grandfathers of the town told of a time when the lord's grandfather had ruled and the keep had stood tall and proud, pennants flying. It was hard to imagine this as she entered the roofless remainder of the great hall, now nothing but a field of cut-short grass with stone walls. The great arms and shields that had once hung on the walls were long sold, and the few tapestries left were obscured by mold. Her attention was drawn, then, to a black horse tied to a standing pillar. The lord did not own a horse. Curious, she advanced, and upon finding the doorway to the lord's tower open, stepped gingerly inside.

"Hello? Anyone here?"

There was no response but silence, and the chirping of birds from the outside. Stepping onto the staircase running up, Kyra called again. "Anyone here? Hello? Hello?"

This time, she thought she heard a response. Encouraged, she shouted again. "Hello!"

This time, she definitely heard a response, a choking scream.

She dashed forward, and out the door leading to the ramparts on the circular flat top of the tower. Once in sunlight, she stopped dead in her tracks. The lord hung, held in midair by some invisible force, spread- eagled, his clothes shredded into strips down his back. His most treasured possession, the family sword, lay mute and useless on the stone near where Kyra stood. A dark cloaked figure stood before him, one hand extended and chanting in a fell tongue. Without a thought Kyra seized the sword where it lay and pointed the tip toward the cloaked figure.

"Stop it!"

The cloaked man snapped his right-hand fingers and a sound like a whip was heard. The lord jerked, screamed, and fell back to hang motionless.

"Stop it!"

The man snapped his fingers, and the scene was repeated.

"STOP IT!"

With a rush of a strange sensation that left Kyra almost giddy, the man spun. His cowl stood forward over his face so that his features were obscured. "Why, why should I?"

The voice hit Kyra like a wave of heat knocking her to her knees. She forced herself back up, and staggered towards him. But instead of looking dismayed, the man looked happy.

"Yes, yes, a fine choice."

Kyra put all of her strength behind it, lifted the sword, and swung. Then all she knew was darkness.