Chapter 1

Chapter 1


Early morning sun glinted playfully off the youth's fire red hair as she wandered through the woods. Despite the biting chill of autumn, the azure sky was clear of clouds and songbirds flitted from branch to branch in the surrounding forest, chirping sweet melodies as if their tiny hearts were breaking.

Finally after what seemed like the hundredth time of jumping at the feeling of some elusive phantom presence, Kaira stopped in her tracks and let her lightsword slide home into it's scabbard.

"Why did I have to wander off from that blasted hedge maze?" She grumbled, hiking her backpack higher onto her shoulder. Daren's going to be worried when he ports back and can't find me. She thought moodily.

Kaira sighed and glanced around, pulling the hood of her brown travel cloak up over her fire red hair. An action more intended to fight off nervousness than the biting cold; it had been more than once that she'd noticed shadows passing among the trees.

The young mage smiled in spite of herself, thinking back on how she managed to get herself into such a predicament. It hadn't been more than a day ago when she was adventuring through the woods with her friend, Daren. Eager to see more of the lands other that those of her home she persuaded her friend to let her walk ahead when he needed to return to town for more magical components. She regretted that decision now more than ever.

"No." She thought stubbornly. "I'm not going to start feeling afraid now. I've been able to live in the woods before. This is my element." Lifting her chin, she tromped onwards taking in the sights. She couldn't help but think that the calm city life had spoiled her.

A thunderous sound from the trees behind her jolted the young traveler from her reverie. Only cold apprehension kept the small yelp from escaping her lips, but sent a chill up her spine. Wasting no time she spun around, giving her only seconds to identify the colossal form of a lizardman as it barreled towards her. Yanking her port rune out of its pouch at her waist, she called upon words of ancient wizards past. "Yas Kal Por."

She spoke with such clarity and conviction that the advancing lizardman hesitated for a moment. Lizardmen were notorious for their dislike of magic.

Kaira suddenly felt the familiar odd tingle run through her body. She groaned inwardly, dread and panic rising. Her spell had failed and magic reserves were low as a result of the failed spell. Kaira cursed silently at the misfortune; failed spells take nearly ten times more energy than they would if they were successful. A quick glance revealed the closing gap between her and the creature, now far too close for her to call another spell. Kaira knew it would be on her before she even had the spell in her hands. Her only hope now was the enchanted lightsword strapped at her waist.

A lump of dread rose in her throat as she drew her sword with unsteady hands.

Immediately her elven childhood teachings on the sacredness of life sprang to mind. No... I can't kill! I'm just a mage - a novice! Her thoughts raced in all directions.

Almost as if sensing her fear, the enchanted weapon began to hum, it's elegant silver curves and edges catching the sunlight. It seemed to dance without moving from her now steady hands. Kaira couldn't quite grasp the dissonant tune, but as the soft musical hum spread through her body, an odd calm settled over her and she was finally able to force the chaos from her mind, replacing them with calm and calculated determination.

This is the way it had to be.

Shoving aside the part of her that she had suppressed so long, the apprentice mage surrendered herself to her training and the fighter within.

The serpent man lunged forward, eyes aglow with bloodlust, tail lashing as wildly as the rust bitten sword it brandished. It's eyes burned with mad eagerness.

Kaira steadied herself, checking her grip and posture as she stood her ground, hidden in the shadows of her hood. The lizardman's erratic charge came to an abrupt halt as their swords met with a clash, the steely ring of metal upon metal reverberated through the trees.

She winced as a sharp pain lanced through her arms. Her opponent was now bearing down on her small frame relentlessly, using its full weight in an attempt to force her to the ground. The mage brought her leg up and out, delivering a solid kick before she dropped and twisted with catlike grace landing on her feet.

She swung her sword back up into a guard position but before the creature could recover, Kaira swept in, descending on the flailing lizardman like a hawk on its prey. It managed to gain its footing once more but not in enough time to avoid Kaira's attack. Twisting her sword upward in a butterfly sweep, she sliced its molded baldric, leaving a nasty gash across the plated scales of its chest. The lizardman hissed in fury and spun in an attempt to face her head on, thrashing aimlessly with its heavy broadsword. Kaira dimly noted with some satisfaction that desperation was beginning to make her opponent move much more clumsily. Twisting sideways to dodge a retaliating thrust, she feigned an attack to it's waist, rolled to avoid another lunge, and coming up behind it, knocked the overgrown lizard upside the head with the hilt of her sword.

Kaira came to her feet, and brought her sword up again for another attack as the creature staggered for a moment. Its dull eyes glazed, hissing angrily one last time before dropping to the grassy forest floor with a sickening thud, bouncing once on the mattress of damp foliage. Kaira sighed in relief and mopped her sweaty brow with the back of her hand.

The sound of mocking applause behind her brought Kaira into a defensive crouch, bringing her sword up once more.

For a moment she considered the possibility that the stranger might be Daren, finally having caught up with her but the steady, deliberate clapping was leaden with scorn. A pair of colorless eyes blinked from the shadows.

Kaira's heart sank. Standing away from the small clearing, concealed among the trees were dozens of lizardmen, just like the one she'd just fought. The source of the jeering applause proved to be a hooded man in dark robes that completely shrouded him in their depths. Try as she might, all she could see of this stranger were his colorless eyes and hands. Hands that were chillingly human, but boasted the smooth and sickly green scales and sharp claws of the lizardmen. Even though she could see nothing of his face, Kaira knew instinctively that he was a mage; the strong and malevolent aura that he exuded had the repulsive taste power drawn of innocent blood. Kaira shrunk back, reinforcing her mental shields against the sickening nausea his aura sent flooding though her body. She noted the that the lizardmen, too, went out of their way to avoid him.

Though she couldn't see his face, Kaira got the impression the mage smiled. "I must commend you, girl," His voice had a horrible sweetness to it that repulsed and intrigued her at the same time. To Kaira, he seemed to purr rather than speak. "You fight very well for a-"

"For a what. A mage?" She stated acidly. The fact that he was a bloodmage repulsed her beyond civility. Kaira held no respect for those who attempted to skip the hard years of learning and training that so marked a worthy and honorable mage. Bloodmages preyed upon the innocents, dealing unspeakable atrocities in order to draw power from their pain and fear.

The dark mage was silent for a moment. Slowly, he moved forward, with his robes hovering just above the ground it was a motion Kaira associated with floating. He peered out at her from the depths of his cowl, the light finally touching his face. The bloodmage smiled and Kaira's knees went weak. The light revealed an inhuman face, bone-chilling mix of man and serpent. His smile held no warmth, only cold hatred, revealing row upon row of sharp, pointed teeth. Kaira knew instantly he was a Changeling.

Oh gods, what have I gotten myself into now. Kaira thought, mentally berating herself for letting her temper get the better of her - again.

Seeing this in her face the magic user loftily drew back into his hood, speaking from its voluminous depths. "Lay down your weapon and we shall not harm you - elf." He spoke demurely but the way he spoke the last word cut like a dagger through her soul with their unconcealed venom.

She flinched, checking her hood, she fingered her eyes. How...? She thought confused.

"You are ashamed? Hmm," He grunted self-confidently. "Half-Elf" he spat, taking in the shadow of puzzlement that passed over her face. "Come now, you can't hide those pretty eyes! Not even from a lowly bloodmage!" He chuckled sarcastically.

Kaira smiled humorlessly. They wouldn't be so confident if my Drake were here. She thought. A pang of sorrow touched her chest as she realized her dear friend wasn't around anymore. If only Cinder were here now. Sighing inwardly, she returned her attention to the hooded man, and the predicament she'd gotten herself into.

The bloodmage smiled again, sending a chill up Kaira's spine. His golden eyes gleamed with menace as he gestured to the lizardmen. They had all fanned out, completely surrounding the two of them.

Years of endless drilling and training flared to life as Kaira dropped into a catlike crouch, sword in hand and ready to defend herself against an attack. She swore under her breath, mentally berating herself for allowing them to surround her, now she had no choice but to try and find out what all this was about. If she was lucky, maybe she'd find an opportunity to breach their wall.

Watching the hulking towers of muscle around her, Kaira nearly laughed aloud at the thought of that. She knew she wouldn't have a chance against brutes that size, no matter how lithe she was. My chest would sprout metal before I could take two steps.

"Who are you? What do you want?"

"You didn't think we'd let you come all the way out here with that drake, did you, half elf?" Was the rejoinder. "Now, be a good girl, drop your weapon, and you shall remain unscathed." He spoke with exaggerated clarity, as if addressing a child.

Kaira frowned. The dark mage watched her intently, saying nothing more. He had avoided her question, that was no surprise. But he'd referred to her thoughts instead. She'd never mentioned her Drake aloud. Kaira's eyes narrowed with suspicion. Ever since she was young, she'd possessed the strange gift of reading a persons thoughts and emotions, as well as projecting her own. One of the first things she had learned was to block these intruding projections, and at the same time she mastered keeping her own thoughts from projecting on others.

Kaira peeked out from behind her mental wall for a moment, searching the mage for thought patterns. She was nearly floored when her gift touched nothing but air. She fanned out her search, but only met the sickening presence of the lizardmen. Kaira recoiled in disgust. Giving herself a mental shake. The mind of a monster was never pleasant to touch and mindtouching a lizardman was worse than submerging one's entire body in excrement, they were that despicable.

The Changeling lifted a scaly finger and tapped the side of his forehead. He grinned and shook a chiding finger at her. "Uh-uh. No sneaking around, halfblood." His eyes darkened. "You sicken me with your presence." He spat.

"The feeling is mutual." She muttered, trying to mask her puzzlement. Despite her cool exterior, Kaira's mind rang with uncomprehending shock. Her gift should have protected her mind against any probing he would do. What was more, her gift should have detected his presence - according to the complete absence of any semblance of thought patterns he didn't exist.

A thought occurred to her and she reached out with a magical hand, tentatively checking if the mage was just an illusion, or projection.

Her breathing quickened when she "touched" a solid presence. There was no evidence of a projection spell.

He - It - was very real.

She pulled back, attempting to put as much distance between her extended ability and his.

Too late. Kaira gasped when she felt another force, colder than death seize her own recoiling aspect. Shock barely registered before a sudden searing pain shot through her. Kaira nearly doubled over as she felt all the air being knocked out of her. Her entire body threatened to fail but she somehow managed to hold her ground. She refused to let him weaken her. But when she didn't fall, another bolt of pain shot through her. This time driven by mad, unbridled hate. Kaira screamed. The world began to swim and she crumpled to the ground, clutching herself in agony like a thousand daggers and bolts of lightning striking her all at once.

Kaira didn't know how long she laid there, curled in on herself as the aftershocks of pain rippled through her body. Time ceased to have meaning as she struggled to keep hold of herself and reality. She coughed, fighting to pull enough air into her lungs to steady her trembling muscles, beads of sweat stood out on her pale brow.

Finally she was able to gather her scattered thoughts enough to think coherently. She shuddered at the remnants of pain. Never before had she even heard of such magic as this. Again, she wondered why she couldn't sense the dark mage's mind. Loathing flared up in the pit of her stomach at the thought of the bloodmage watching her. Kaira defiantly forced herself to stand, noticing that she had maintained a grip on her sword. Kaira winced as she transferred the sword to her left hand, a fresh memory of the agony came clear; her sword hand was bloodied and sore from maintaining a death-grip on it for so long.

Kaira looked up, wiping a trickle of blood from her mouth, and met the mage's cold gaze with an equal amount of ice.

Seeing her stand, the mage grinned, his colorless gold eyes holding hers. "I was told you would be a feisty one." His eyes gleamed hungrily. "That was so much fun." He whispered rapturously.

"Burn in hell." She rasped.

The dark mage actually laughed. He waved his hand through the air before his face dismissively. "I have been many places and done many things, halfblood." His eyes flashed, revealing a tenuous hold on reality. "Burning in hell was among the pleasantries - as you shall see." He stopped laughing abruptly but wicked glee was still evident in his face as he clasped his hands at his waist once more. "My master requested you alive but I figured a little fun would be alright. Thank you, for giving me the excuse to do so."

"I did no such thing."

"So?" He shrugged.

Kaira had to resist the urge to run her sword through him at that point. She had to find out where he was going with this. Quickly she checked the shields on her mind and doubled them.

"Your despicable MindGift can not protect you." He sneered. "You see, halfblood, your gift can not touch me because you are imperfect and limited to the world of living. Now, I'll only ask you once more - You scream very well." He added maliciously, chaffing his hands suggestively.

Kaira winced, she despised the fact that her weakness had given him pleasure but memory of the pain was still fresh and her body rippled with pain, though she refused to reveal any of it.

"Drop your weapon." He snapped. All pretenses had vanished from his voice. Kaira could feel the power shift as the mage gathered his magical reserves. She noticed there was more power for him to call on now - from her, no doubt.

Kaira bristled, regarding him coolly. "Why don't you just make me."

The mage said nothing. Apparently he was serious about the restrictions on him. Kaira adjusted her grip on her sword, fingering the hilt's delicate curves and fine workmanship as she surveyed the situation around her.

Thirty lizardmen. She laughed ruefully. Even if she did opt to attempt an escape, she'd have to fight. She knew the lizardmen weren't bound by the bloodmage's restrictions. When they attacked her, she'd only be able to take down three if Lady Luck favored her; each lizardman was twice as large as she, and probably five times heavier. Despite that, their massive frames and muscled arms did nothing to slow their incredible agility. Their heavy, rust-eaten broadswords and axes were all blunt and dull but Kaira knew that with as much brute force behind them as these vile creatures possessed, they could easily cleave an opponent in two.

Against three she had a chance. But thirty...

Scowling, Kaira flung her sword at the feet of a lizardman closest to her. It immediately darted forward, seizing it greedily. Kaira bit down on the sudden urge to fry it with a lightning bolt for touching her weapon.

The Changeling bloodmage nodded, amusement evident in his hollow eyes. "Wise choice, halfblood."

Drawing herself up, Kaira threw back the hood of her cloak and leveled a steady glare on her captor. Her eyes narrowed and startled hisses escaped from the lizardmen.

"I am not ashamed. Of myself or my heritage." She said coldly, lifting her chin defiantly. "If anyone has to fear, it should be you, bloodmage."

Only now that she had pulled back her hood, could they clearly see Kaira's face. Her skin was creamy and pale, making what little sunlight that filtered through the trees radiate from her face. Her features were delicate and deep set, refined like a marble statue betraying her elven heritage. Long fire red hair cascaded down her shoulders in ringlets and bobbed slightly with the passing breeze.

But it was none of this, which startled so the serpentine soldiers, for the large, slanted almond eyes of the elf-maid before them glittered menacingly. And though her eyes were narrowed in hate, regarding them with chilling scorn, it was clear to all the piercing gleam of her violet eyes.

Emboldened, the hooded creature chuckled with self-satisfaction, as if confirming his beliefs on something. The sound grated on her nerves. "Oh but you should be, foolish child. Did no-one teach you to never trust a snake?"

Kaira noticed too late the lizardman sneaking up on her as she heard a sudden sickening thud followed by numbing pain and impenetrable darkness came crashing down on her.