Chapter One: The Seer

The wind carried a new scent, an unfamiliar message, but one she had been hungering for untold years. The woman lifted her face and opened her mouth, testing the its taste, its feel. Yes, there was no denying it, now. All of nature was screaming it. The time had come.

Ketti huddled in the alley corner, terror and rage surging within her like crazed alley cats, heart leaping and jerking in dreadful, lopsided rhythm. They were coming for her.

"Do you see her anywhere?" a young boy asked.

Straining, Ketti could barely see him at the end of the alley. He held a large, clay-covered stone in his hand.

A second boy came up beside him, panting. "No, you?"

The first shook his head, lank blonde hair whipping across his smooth forehead.

A third with close-set dark eyes appeared. "Maybe she disappeared," he hissed. A toothy smile spread across his dirty face. "Witches can do that, you know."

Ketti winced. She'd been called worse. "Orphan," "street rat," and "trash" could earn her sneers and scowls, but nothing else. "Witch," on the other hand, could kill her.

"She could have changed into something else," a fourth ventured.

"I saw a black cat up the road," the second piped.

The dark one shook his head. "Aw, she wouldn't be black."

"How would you know?"

"Cause she's blonde, you moron," he snapped. "And white as moonstones."

The blonde looked at his rock. "Unless she was trying to trick us, make us think she couldn't be black. Anyhow, witches are always black cats, aren't they?"

The group shrugged.

The blonde tossed his rock into the air and caught it. "I don't think she's a cat, anyhow."

The dark one's eyes narrowed. "Oh, and you know everything, don't you, Mayo?"

The blonde looked at him evenly. "I'm the leader, Rica. You do whatever I tell you."

"Hey, look!" The second boy pointed down the alley, mouth agape.

Ketti froze, praying to shrink into the shadows, to disappear completely from this world or any other. Fear had its cold, slimy fingers in a vice around her throat.

Rico grinned, eyes crinkly into dark, tiny slits. "It's her."

"Where?" the fourth squeaked.

"There, behind the crates."

It was as death had whispered in her ear.

Mayo looked, and a shadow fell over his face. He trembled for a moment, looking young and helpless. Then, his fingers tightened over the stone. "Come on."

With a vicious crack, it struck the wall above her head. Stones flew while her screams rose on the air like phantoms. Her world was swirling, engulfed in pain. Then, suddenly, all was quiet. The boys' arms hung arrested in the air, each glancing from one to the other.

"Is she . . ."

"I don't know."
"She's not really . . . I mean . . ."

"I think maybe . . ."

They whispered even though they shared morbid thought and the horror traveled through each of them like an electric current, a message without words.

"Great storms, I think we killed her," Mayo said finally, his voice thick with awe.

He stepped forward. "Hello?"

There was no answer.


Mayo shook his head. "If she's not dead, she's knocked out cold."

Rico raised his arm, poised to strike. "Let's be sure, then."

"It's not our job," Mayo snapped.

"Should we get the city guards?" the second boy piped.

"No." Mayo stared at the crate coldly. "If she's supposed to die, she will." He waved the boys away. "Come on. I'm the leader. What I say goes." The words sounded hollow and shaken even to him. "I'm the leader."

Slowly, they dispersed into the street. As their echoing footsteps faded from the alleyway, Ketti, white and slender, slowly rose to her feet, blood trickling down her face. Her pearl eyes shone dimly behind the curtain of silvery blonde hair, her pale lips tightened. Again, she had run, and, once again, she had escaped by a spider's thread, and, soon, she would do it again.

A hand grasped her arm, and Ketti leapt up, a scream crawling up her throat, only to see an old woman, black hair stained with bold streaks of white, and a strange mark on her brow, smiling at her. "Shh, child," she scolded. "The fools have gone."

Ketti swallowed and said nothing.

The woman's smile faded to a confused frown. She lifted a hand to Ketti's brow, and glared at the blood, sticky and scarlet on her pale, long fingers. "They've hurt you? Brutes! If only they knew what they dared to touch," she growled.

Ketti stepped back.

The woman's electric blue eyes sparked. "My child, fear no man," she murmured tenderly. "Your time is coming."

Then, she turned and was gone.

Fire. All the world was fire, engulfed in the heat of his anger. He couldn't see past his rage, he couldn't think, he only acted, only bit and kicked and gouged, only fought for his honor. The last thing he remembered was the cocky idiot spitting, "Oldblood trash. Go tell your people we don't want any more of their kind here. Oldblood trash."

A wound he could endure; a cowardly strike Blaise could suffer without batting an eye, but an insult to his own kind was an unbearable grievance. Now, the coward could only pray for his life as Blaise's brown fingers stretched toward his throat.

Suddenly, laughter rang on the wind. "Oh, my son, my son!" An old woman standing before the onlookers on the narrow street clapped her hands. "I pity the fool that dares to anger you, Solian son!"

Slowly, the cloud of flame cleared from Blaise's mind, and the face of his opponent was battered and bloody, beaten almost beyond recognition, his eyes wide with terror. Blaise's fingers slowly loosed from the boy's throat, and he rose to his feet. "Oldblood trash," he hissed venomously, "and I can still kick your butt any day."

The boy struggled to his feet, and Blaise glared at him. "Go home, Youngblood," he said wearily. "Go home."

The boy limped away, glancing over his shoulder sometimes in fear that Blaise would come after him again, but the Solian stood very still, as tall as his five-foot-seven frame would allow. The old woman leapt down the dune, cackling to herself. "Ah, son of flame, your strength is outdone by none!"

Blaise didn't answer her. He moved toward the street, fists clenched.

"Oh, you can't run away so easily!" she crowed. "We'll meet again, son of flame! We'll meet again!"

Eglin turned the box over in his hand and ran a finger over its carving. "Where is this from again?" he asked again, his voice calm and cool.

"Aboria," the girl behind the market stand said. "Made by the Polpo natives. Heard of them?"

Eglin looked from the tiny box to the vender girl, her amber-red hair loosely pulled away from her face and wide green-blue eyes. She, in turn, looked at him, white-skinned and haired with eyes as blue and sharp as crystal. She cocked her head. "Heard of the Polpo?"

"Can't say that I have."

She smiled and leaned over the counter, tracing a slender finger over a design on the box. "This is a story box," she began. "The Polpo make it to tell stories. See this here," she pointed, "is one of the young braves and here is the rest of the hunters, watching him track his first kill. Here's the boar." She tapped the lid. "This is where the story ends."

Eglin looked up, half disgusted and half fascinated. "He kills it?"

The girl nodded. "That's called the Testing, when a young boy becomes a free man and a warrior."

"The wind's tongue and the son of ice!" a strange voice cackled. "Ah, as fate would have it, they've found one another!"

The girl and Eglin exchanged embarrassed, nervous glances. "I beg your pardon ma'am," the girl began, but the old woman stopped her with an upheld hand.

She reached forward and clasped the girl's face in her hands. "Ah, my sweet child, my tender Tal, smile, once, so the stars come to your eyes again. Wipe away your tears, for soon gifts shall no longer be shameful" She turned to Eglin. "Sigh no longer, my son, but roar with joy, for your time has come when you will be great and mighty in the eyes of men and the Unseen!" She took both their hands and laughed, loud and clear. "Your time has come, my young ones, the time has come!"

Then she turned on her heel, dancing and laughing, "The time has come, the time has come!"

Mora felt better in the shadow, comforted in its coolness and the coins jingling in her pockets. She rubbed the cool discs between her fingers thoughtfully. They were hers now, not the rich, greedy fool who had denied her bread. No, now she had them, and that's how it should be. Bread for a week now, maybe even meat as well. The tribe would be proud as long as they thought she had earned it. No worries. She leaned against the wall, deeper into the shadows. They never had to know. Besides, they would migrate to the winter caves soon, and they wouldn't turn her out into wilderness alone.

"Counting riches, child," a singsong voice crooned from the light. "Counting riches from pockets not on your trousers. Riches from hands other than yours."

Mora huddled deep in the shadows and bared her teeth.

"Don't think that because you're hidden from my eyes I don't know you're there." A soft, sharp kick met Mora's ribs in emphasis. "Ah, see, I know where you are, child!"

"Go away," Mora hissed.

"Of course, I will. Of course I will!" the woman sang. "I'll leave shadow to shadows till she sprouts her wings of light. Of course I'll leave. I will! The time is coming, Mora dear, it's coming!"

"Come on, Kale, just throw the ball, already!"

The boy grinned, lifted the ball high, and sent it soaring over his opponent's heads as if it had sprouted invisible wings. Kale hooted with glory and darted onto the field faster than all the others. This was his kingdom, his reign. They all knew he was better than they were, just as he did. He flew over the bare sand, his bare feet burning, wishing for the coolness of the ocean tide, but still he ran, caught up in the pulsing life of the game. He kicked the ball strong and clean over the dirt and rubble toward the makeshift goal. He could see the fear and bitter determination in the goalie's eyes, and it only made him laugh. They all feared him; he knew that. He was stronger than they were; faster, smarter, he was everything they ever dreamed of being and more. He kicked the ball through the air, and the goalie missed.

Above all the shouts and cheers of the young sportsmen, all either clapping him on the back or scowling in resentment, a loud cackling rode on the wind. "Ah, nicely done! Nicely done, Kale, son of the sea!" the old woman shouted from atop a dune, her bare, pale arms uplifted and her black and white mane streaming in the breeze. "One of quick feet and mind, you are! "

Kale stood, frozen, his face scarlet with embarrassment as his teammates snickered.

"Do not mind them, boy!" the crone sang. "They are fools. They haven't seen the glory in their midst. The great change is coming, son of the sea! It is time! It is time!" And she leapt away over the dunes, crying still, "It is time! Change is coming! It is time!"

A slang term for the Ancient Races, five races with special connections to the elements (Adyrian: wind/flight, Hydronian: water, Celian: ice/snow, Tyrian: light, and Solian: fire)

The Ancient Race of fire. Solians have the unique ability to morph into giant winged-beings of flame

Term for anyone not of an Ancient Race

The invisible, immortal beings who protect and guide mankind against evil and whose ruler, Reypatri, created all life and then saved it from the Shadow's (Vulan's) ultimate rule.

Helian tribe; Helians are a nomadic people of the planet Heliopi who live in large, family groups or a combination of family groups.