Sara: Okay...since Eri got us started with the prologue, the next chapter was up to me. After this, every chapter was, and still remains, a duel effort between the two of 's been a long stretch of time between the these chapters - the prologue takes place approx. seventeen years before the rest of the story. So...now that that's out of the way...I present to you Chapter One!

Chapter 1: Concern

It was hot.

A young man with long, dark hair stood over a steaming cauldron, ignorant of the thick heat in the small room. Absently, he pulled several bottles off a shelf, each colored with a different liquid or filled with an herbal powder. Chanting in the tongue of the high mages, he steadily poured carefully timed doses of each solution into the boiling gold mixture. A dash of chamomile followed a cup of ground tree bark. Sapphire orbs closed as the concoction swirled with the spell. Eyes still closed, he reached for the roots of wild ginseng that he sent out his younger sister to gather. His hand connected with wood. He felt around the table. Nothing.

An eye opened ever slightly and glanced to his left, scrutinizing the table. There were no roots. Both eyes opened as Lord Markandeya Livana, known as Mark in most circles, High Mage of the royal human court, turned to glare at the table, as though his will could make the essential roots for his potion appear. The table remained empty. Perhaps she had placed them somewhere else….? A quick scan of the small room contradicted him. He rolled his eyes upward, listening for any sound in the house above him. Nothing.

It did not take this long to gather ginseng roots, not even for his free spirited sister. He groaned. Where in all the layers of Heaven did that girl get to? He specifically told her…

"ASHA!"

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Miles away, a teenage girl with sky blue bangs framing her face wandered through the woods, thoroughly annoyed with herself. How many times had she been through these woods? How many times had she played here as a child? How?! How can I possibly be lost?! She sat down on the top of a rock formation she had passed three times in the last hour and sighed, her chin resting in her hands as she passed the hours trying to remember the way she came. Asha moaned as the skies grew darker, burying her head into her crossed arms as she drew her knees to her chest. Mark was going to be furious with her.

He had told her that he needed those herbs at an exact time. He had told her not to be late. But that wasn't why he would be livid when she got back. Dozens of lectures swarmed through her mind, each telling her off for not being careful, or not listening, or wandering off… She could understand his concern, honestly she could. The world was a dangerous place to live in at the time, and he had gained many enemies with those of rival races, the dragons in particular. She knew she was good bait for her brother's foes, a toy to give him a common ultimatum: her life for what they wanted, or her death if they didn't get it. Each time the situation arose, she could see him torn, somehow finally creating a plan to save her and avoid negotiations with the enemy. She'd lost count on how many times such a thing happened. And then there were times when her brother had nothing to do with it. She knew how much some hated the human race.

And then there was the thing with her father. A man she never knew, dying only months before she was born. She knew little of the story behind that. What she did know, however, was that every time someone came close to mentioning his fate in front of her, Mark would give them a glare that redefined the phrase "If looks could kill." She did a little research of her own, Mark ignorant of what she was doing, and found out her father had died after a battle with the dragons. It summed up a lot…like why her brother and the dragons never got along. Because of that, she guessed, Mark was protective over her-he didn't want to lose her to the dragons like he lost their father. Though, her brother's logic was twisted in her mind. She had no magic like him; she wasn't likely to battle with dragons anytime soon.

She sighed into the darkness of her arms before looking up at the sky. The sun was almost set, and as much as she loved this forest, she wasn't about to spend the night here. She'd give her poor brother more worries than he needed at the moment, for one. And then there was this strange feeling that someone was watching her…

That did it. She stood up, dusted herself off, and carefully climbed down the rocks, prepared to march herself right out of the forest. However, today proved to be a very unlucky day for her, as a rock slipped from under her foot, sending her to the ground with a sickening crunch of a broken bone or two in a crumpled heap. Darkness overcame her, and she lost consciousness.

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Mark paced around the room, stopping only to stare out the window towards the forest for a moment before resuming his trek across the room and back. It had been hours since Asha had left, and there was still no sign. He felt guilty, he had been the one to ask her to go…he could have gone himself. Then they wouldn't be in this mess. If anything happened to her, he would never forgive himself. Asha was all he had left of his family.

He felt the eyes of another following him as he walked up and down the room. He stopped halfway, glaring in the direction of the couch. "What?" he asked through gritted teeth.

The golden-haired elf met his blue eyes with a set of silver, amusement just behind them. He smiled. "She isn't a child anymore. You and I both know she can handle herself."

"Your point, Alexiel?"

Alex threw a cushion at his friend. "You know I don't like my full name, so don't use it."

Mark eyed the cushion in its resting place under the window. He glanced up, only to find himself greeted by the dark horizon of the forest and the twinkling stars above it. He sighed and began to pace once more. Alex rolled his eyes. "She'll be fine, Mark. If it makes you feel better, I can sense that she's safe."

Mark stopped walking to raise a questionable eyebrow at his confidante. "You're sure?"

His answer was another cushion, this one hitting him in the face. He held it in his hand, staring at it. Alex sighed, exasperated. "Yes, I'm sure. I'm an elf, I know these things. Now sit down already, you're making me dizzy!" Mark threw the cushion back at Alex.

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Asha moaned as she slowly sat up. Of all the lousy, rotten luck she had...she just had to become clumsy now. She knew she would have bruises tomorrow. A sharp pain ran down her wrist. She'd end up having to take some her of brother's potions tomorrow, too. Oh, how she hated the stuff he gave her for broken bones. She glared at her hand, pointlessly angry with it for breaking. Once she really saw it, though, she gasped. How…

There was a strong split on her wrist. It was made of the branches and leaves one could find within feet of her current position, but she knew of few who could set a broken bone painlessly with such crude components. Her wrist would be healed in no time. It left her wondering…

"Asha?! Asha?! Are you out here?"

Her head snapped up at the sound of her name, making her forget about her wrist. "Alex?" she muttered. Then, louder, "Over here! This way!"

There was the sound of rustling in the leaves before the tall elf stepped into view. "Alex!" she shouted happily, running into his arms.

The man embraced her tightly, holding her against him. He had been fearful for her, too, possibly more so than Mark. He looked at her like his little sister, but they were also friends, close ones. He ran his fingers through the long mahogany strands of her hair, his chin resting on the top of her head. "Thank the goddess," he whispered to himself. He knew something was wrong, even though he told Mark differently. She was safe, though the air of danger hovered about her. It wouldn't have surprised him if Mark had already felt it. But it was stronger now, and it unsettled him.

"Come," he said, kissing her forehead lightly. "Your brother is worried sick, let's get you home." She nodded, and looked back towards the rocks.

"Thank you," she whispered, so low that only the wind heard her. She allowed Alex to wrap an arm around her waist, guiding her to the right path, both oblivious to the jade green eyes that followed them until they were out of view, bobbing up and down once to accept her gratitude before melting into the darkness.