In the dimly lit room of the West Tower, something was happening. An eerie glow suffused the chamber, highlighting the harsh, arrogant features of a hooded man who stood rigid in the doorway, a look of triumph etched into his granite-like visage. The source of the light was as of yet unseen, hidden beneath the lonely stones of the ancient fortress.

"At last, I have found it," the mysterious man muttered, pushing back his hood in a hard, swift motion. He stepped further into the chamber and scanned it thoroughly with his glittering, frozen pale blue eyes. He was the first mortal in the room for over five thousand years but the thought gave him no pause at all. He had never been a cautious man, and he saw no reason for him to begin now.

"Encanth des Mortos Nectaire dus Maelvos," he chanted in words of an ancient tongue long forgotten by most mages many centuries past. A strange ambience fell over the room, and the very air condensed. The silence was so thick it seemed you might have been able to cut right through it, and time seemed to have no place here. Heat rose up from the ground, forcing the man to stagger back; white light flared brilliantly, crackling and sparking. It made his eyes burn and water, made his entire body shudder, sweat drip down his forehead. After what seemed ages, but was in reality just a few seconds, the odd heat dissipated, and the night regained control once again. The room reeked of magik, dark and ancient.

The man opened his frosty blue eyes, and a chilling grin spread across his angular face. It did not make him look any kinder; if it was possible; it further brought out the cruelty stamped on his patrician features. His gaze was riveted on a single object. It lay in the center of the room, amidst exploded blocks of stones; the thing he had been searching for more than half his existence. Gingerly, with care uncharacteristic of the mage, he walked to the object and stooped to pick it up. He gazed wonderingly at the item so tiny in his palm; it was a marvel something so small would be his way to everlasting power.

This was worth all the years and lives spent on discovering its location. Even his mentor had not been able to discern its location, only him, after ages. Now that he had it, the dark mage vowed, nothing would stop him, nothing. Turning and leaving the chamber without even a backwards glance, he clenched his fist around the object as if afraid it would vanish into the night and remain lost for another eon. He walked down the hollow corridors of the stone stronghold, ignoring the ghostly stirrings around him. Once he exited the abandoned fortress, he reached into his saddlebag and pulled out a small mirror. Concentrating on the name of his slave, he did not even have to speak before the mirror's surface flickered and a terrified looking man came into view.

"Y-Yes Master?" the weaselly man croaked. The slave was terrified of his master, not only because of his merciless nature, but also because when he looked at you, those ice pale eyes pierced through you, and chilled your soul.

"It is time to awaken the gryphons. I have found it," the mage said, making his slave wince.

The man flicked his wrist cutting off the slave's reply and replaced the mirror into his saddlebag. He untied his stallion, a menacing beast with a midnight coat that blended in with the shadows of the night, and deep demon black eyes, won in a risky gamble with a great Demon. The Dark Mage was used to taking risks. Then, staring off into the depths of the starless night with a smug countenance he repeated:

"I have found it. The Key of Relsinth."

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"I don't believe you'd like it if you knew you were no longer the hunter, but the prey." A low, musical voice mused as its owner gazed at a man on a large black beast riding steadily towards the Lost Valley of the Kings. The mage was blissfully unaware he was being watched; he did not even sense the spell as he rode. Sirath was a skilled caster in a magik most had never experienced before, so it was no surprise to her that the Mage could not feel it.

"You think you are the greatest, hmm? We'll soon change that." As she heard footsteps behind her, the flaxen haired woman lazily waved the image away from her mirror, and turned to face the doorway.

A short man wearing the blue herald's uniform came into view in the doorframe, and when she motioned him in, handed her a small brown package, bowed, and stepped, rather quickly, back out of her chamber the way he had come.

Sirath smiled; no doubt he had heard the tales of what fate befell those who crossed the Raven Queen. She opened the package, and as Sirath realized its contents, smiled with a viciousness that made her look rather like a hawk. The relic parchment may have appeared worthless; however, to the high queen of the Coterie of the Ravens, it was invaluable. It held the spells of dark magik her ancestors had delved into long ago, when they had been cast off the high city by the Gods. Now, finally, they had enough power to regain their place at the side of their long last companions of the Clouds.

Once, ages long past, the Coterie had controlled the high city of the clouds where the Gateway to the Immortal Lands was, and though now lost, with the Key of Relsinth found, they would be able to open the portal at last.

"Finally, we will be able to regain our rightful power, and crush the Mages at long last." She picked up her small ring, a band of pure obsidian to denote her as a member, and donned a dark linen cloak. Glancing back into the mirror and into her own kohl-lined, dark olive eyes, she saw the rimming of ebony that marked her as queen and smiled again. She picked up her quiver and bow, just in case there was any trouble on the way to the cave. Vagrants and mages haunted the roads, and she could not afford any nuisances this night. The last gathering would be tonight, and they would begin their attack on the world of the mages, beginning with the Dark Mage, and the key that now lay in his possession. Then they would once again live within the region of the clouds: Anathalos.

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It was a quiet gray dawn, and few souls could be seen on the streets of Anathalos. Drelen Mooncaster stood on the balcony of her aunt's pavilion and watched the sun come up over the clouds, breaking into a pink and golden dawn. She was about to leave when a muffled voice halted her.

"Drelen, why're you leaving now? It's so early!"

Too bad that's not a secret paramour. Drelen looked apologetically at the lump under the thick blue bedcover.

"You know I have class at the library this morning. I reminded you last night."

"I know, I know, I just can't see how you want to go. There is no way you would get me to sit through a lecture all morning and then teach those snotty kids all afternoon. I'd rather die," Drelen's twin announced dramatically, throwing the covers off her head.

"Kee, I enjoy my job. I have to go; if I don't then they might not want me to teach anymore."

Kiera snorted. "That's not going to happen. You're the strongest second magi ever yet. I heard Marsi, the woman from the Valley Guard, telling Aunt that everyone thinks you'll be the next Skysoar," she said with pride and just a trace of envy.

Drelen laughed at her sister's pronouncement and replied:

"Go back to sleep Kee, and remember, Seventh hour at the Valley."

Kiera nodded, and Drelen disappeared down the curving stairway. Kiera attempted to fall back asleep, but decided it was hopeless, so slowly got out of bed and walked to the balcony Drelen had occupied moments before. She sighed, remembering the conversation she has overheard between Marsi and her aunt.

Drelen has her place carved out. She's the only student who even has the potential to move up in Magi class. And what am I good at? Spear fighting. She shook her head disgustedly. Normally proud of her intense and advanced talent with a spear, she had lately been finding herself lacking.

Kiera sighed again, all her companions would still be asleep and she had naught to do. She stretched out her wings, the color of new snow and soft as a wisp of cloud. This was the only aspect in which she and Drelen differed at all, for one of the feathers on Drelen's right wing was a pure midnight black. Everything else was identical: same forget-me-not blue eyes and white-gold hair, same golden oval face and determined chin.

"Drelen, Drelen!" Kiera heard her aunt calling at the base of the stairway sounding flustered.

"She's left already."

"Oh dear," Kiera heard her aunt mutter as she walked downstairs.

Aunt Arias was standing in the doorway speaking somberly with a tall man. He gave off an intimidating aura, had sharp features, and a deep indigo wing tip.

He's a cloudsmagi! Kiera thought in amazement, and the man smiled while still speaking with her aunt. Kiera had never seen a Cloudsmagi before; most of them stayed together in their libraries and Edgetowers where they could practice their magic and discover if any among them had the ability to become the bronze of Skysoar.

"Yes, I'll make sure she comes straight to you. I'll fetch her from the library right away," Aunt Arias was saying, and the stranger nodded and flew off as Kiera tuned back into the world.

"What did he want?"

"He wanted to ask Drelen about the Trials." Aunt Arias pursed her lips, and folded her arms tightly in front of her scrawny chest, looking fairly like a wild turkey.

"Trials? I thought you had to be at least a Kelsman before you could enter those."

Kiera knew the Magi levels well, even if you did not practice much magik, you were still required to learn about it. Levels one through three were supposedly beginners, but lately more and more skilled magi had been stopped at level three because they were losing control over the weather. Then came Classman, Kelsman, and Mastermagi, who were honored throughout the community for their skills and guarding of the libraries wards and guarding of the Valley.

Cloudsmagi was the highest group ranking, and most of these were so powerful they did not live among the townspeople; they competed to discover who could become Skysoar, protected the ancient wards on the city, and defended against Dark magiks from outside the barriers of Anathalos. To become Skysoar, you had to be able to enter the Graven path unscathed, for the Skysoar had to safeguard the ruins of the gateway, the Lost Portal that led into the unknown. Kiera's thoughts were drawn back to Drelen, and the Trial.

"Oh dear, I wanted Drelen to help tutor Marvis when she came home. Perhaps after her meeting…" her aunt trailed off, scheduling in her mind, making Kiera bite the inside of her lip. Marvis was a brat who didn't appreciate anything, but Aunt Arias worshipped the ground her daughter walked on.

"I'll go get Drelen now," Kiera said, "and then you can be here when Marvis get back."

"Oh, that would be wonderful," Aunt Arias seemed unaware of Kiera's ire. It was not that she was a tyrant; Aunt just did not seem to be aware of how demanding she was, or how she drained Drelen. Magik took its toll, even on one as skilled as Drelen. Besides, the Trials are supposed to be very dangerous. Doesn't she care? Though Kiera knew her sister could most likely handle the danger, she still wished that Aunt had at least worried.

"Make sure you tell her about Marvis," Aunt reminded, and went into the other room, leaving Kiera to fetch her sister.

Marvis. Kiera rolled her eyes and walked out the door.