There are a few things that it is imperative I explain before you begin this story. I apologize profusely for the inconvenience, but I believe that it will save time and trouble later, as well as making this story far more readable. (Also, if I wasn't doing this, that insufferable historian Labyn Iscribi would be - and he's millions more boring than me, and you'd need a dictionary. A big one.)

To start off with, I am Lord Cael Navani, Captain of the King's Guard, Councilor to King Bredan Weyal, Chief Musician of Cenosen...and most definitely not a writer (also, addicted to parentheses - you'll be seeing a lot of them). I was prodded (literally, by an extremely long and unpleasantly sharp fingernail) into doing this whole business by a certain female whose name I shan't deign to mention. So don't expect this to be good writing. (And that pathetic poem you're about to be subjected to wasn't by me. The publisher wanted it. I suppose the female wrote it. I haven't bothered to ask.)

Secondly, this entire story takes place on a continent called Elené. It's on your earth, but it's hidden very well, so don't bother trying to find it. (I came to your part out of curiosity - which was an immensely arduous and trying journey, by the way - let a few things slip, and before I knew it, I was being subjected to the aforementioned fingernail.) Elené has its own rules. Magic exists there. There are very distinct races that are most definitely not human. There is none of your electricity or technology or nuclear sciences, although we have most of your other sciences (excluding that idiotic evolution theory). Your history does not intrude on ours (and a good thing too, by the look of some of your rulers). Our worlds are entirely separate, except for proximity of physical location.

Consequently, you know nothing about us. I'll bet you think this is some fantasy story. (It's not. It should be in the nonfiction bit of your library/bookstore/whatever.) So, to my profound disgust and indignation, I have been forced to explain our culture to you as well as provide you with a thrilling "fantasy" (ha!) story.

So. First of all, the races. There are three proper ones, and various mixtures. Most people are mixtures. (To simplify things, I will use your classification of the sexes. Ours vary as to race and - sometimes - age.) We are not human, although we may look - and sometimes act - like we are. We are either Farinn, Dvorisi, or Carini (or a mix of the three). The Farré (I've just called it Farinn - that's the equivalent of your Chinese) are our horsemasters. They communicate very well with horses (and most other animals - horses are just the most useful, so they get mentioned most) and live mainly in areas with lots of plains. A Farin will generally be fair in his coloring, with light eyes. They have about the same lifespan as you humans. Farré can also change shape, although, from what I hear, it's a bit painful for them, and generally shortens their lives.

The Dvori are known as archers. I'm Dvorisi (a Dvorin) myself, actually, or mostly so (I have some Farinn blood - I can change shape, albeit very painfully, and for only short periods of time). We Dvori are tall, very handy with most weapons (your guns escape me, though - so undignified and inelegant), and have very dark hair with grey or brown eyes. We live for about two centuries. I think I've mentioned that I'm Chief Musician of Cenosen - this comes of being Dvorisi. Dvori are craftsmen, artisans, musicians, artists, as well as being warriors. We're very versatile, and therefore far superior.

The Carirn are mages. Quite frankly, they are quite a bit intimidating. They are the race that uses magic, which gives them no end of power (although where they get it from, I can't say - they're very guarded as to their secrets). A Carir will generally be about seven of your human feet tall. They have, without exception, whitish-blue hair and goldeny eyes. They don't look like you humans in the least. I couldn't say why - all of our races are the same basic design as you, and the Carirn are no different - but a Carir could never be mistaken for a very tall human with dyed hair and unusual contacts. Like I said, they're intimidating. The length of their lives depends on the strength of their magic. Don't ask me how this works, but it does.

The Nedis are mixtures. Nearly all of us are Nedisani, technically, but for simplicity's sake we go with the dominant race. Nedis are wild cards. It's very possible to have a short, Farinn-looking man with the grey eyes and lifespan of the Dvori, the magical powers of the Carirn, and the shape-shifting abilities of the Farré. It's also possible to have a man who lacks all non-physical traits of the races and looks like a very ordinary human. Both extremes are rare, though, and you hardly ever find Carini blood in the mix, for various (and tedious) reasons. (I guess they think they're too superior to mix with "lesser" races. Hmph. Prigs, the whole lot, if you ask me.)

That's enough knowledge about the races for now. You'll also need some geography, I guess, since the female hasn't seen fit to include a map (which would be the sensible thing to do). My country is called Alinadal. It lies in the east of Elené and is rather large. Two mountain ranges run through Alinadal - one in the very east, near the sea, and one on the western border. The capital, Cenosen, is in the eastern range. The space between these ranges contains a desert plain (Dersugnae; main city of the same name), a forest (the Wold; main city Silvald), and a marshy sort of place, which I find immensely unpleasant (the Borg; main city Iverdal).

A second country is called Aireol. Aireol is a long-standing enemy of Alinadal, and is therefore not to be trusted under any circumstances. Rumor is that a very powerful and evil Carirn is currently ruling Aireol. (I personally don't believe this rumor, because Aireol has always had a ruling family, and they were definitely not Carini last time I checked. Unless there's been a coup. That would be interesting, I suppose, and very bad for us. Anyways...) The country is west and slightly north of Alinadal, and is large (about two-thirds of the size of your Russia - by the way, Russia is ridiculously large. Anyone sensible would cut it up into two or three chunks. But I digress.). The capital is on an island at the meeting of three rivers. (At the time of this particular story, the capital has never been conquered.)

The last significant country is Narat. Narat is immensely paranoid of everything and everyone - or its rulers are, at least. They actually have a force of Carir that move the capital around every once in a while - can you believe it? It's hell to try and find it for diplomatic missions. I once spent three months searching for it (by which point, my message was rendered obsolete anyways, which was immensely frustrating). Narat's in the very northern bit of Elené, and it's very cold up there. Highly unpleasant.

Oh, yes - there's one more country (albeit insignificant): Nehofa. The name is almost bigger than the country, which is merely a very small island that is entirely one city (it's not even as big as Cenosen, or even that marshy Iverdal spot). It's off the coast of Alinadal. As I said, it's not very significant.

So, enough geography for one moment. You have to know a little bit of culture in order to not be entirely confused, and possibly a little about character backgrounds and things. (The female made me catalogue all the people in my story, even little nobodies like some of my cousins. It was an odiously tedious task. You should definitely pity me.) So. Culture. We do have lords and ladies in Alinadal, but the titles are generally earned rather than inherited. (Mine was earned, for invaluable services rendered to the current king - namely saving his life countless times. Well, okay, once. But it was enough.) Being a lord isn't all fun and games, though - you get to be in charge of a district. Districts are small pockets of land (rather like American counties, or some of the smaller states) and each includes an academy, which the lord (or lady) gets to be head of. (Yes, yes, horrible syntax. I'm not a writer, remember?) Each Alinadalian citizen spends three years at an academy, where they take nine courses per year for a total of twenty-seven (twenty-seven being a perfect and incorruptible number for reasons that are beyond me). The students can go on to study specialized things at a Great Academy, or a Military Academy, depending on the student's preferences. Personally, I attended both simultaneously, because I'm talented like that.

And the characters. I believe you already have a good idea of my illustrious personality. Our king, Bredan, has a very quick temper (he gets in rages all the time) and is altruistic (which sometimes helps to balance out the temper). You'll meet the two resident rats in the Pathetic Poem. Let's see...you need to know Balifé Seali and Basiniecu Cairni. Bali (as we call him) is imperturbable, has a son who's about twenty, and is very trusted by Bredan for good reasons. I like him. Basiniecu (we also call him Cair, because Basiniecu is a bit of a mouthful - Bredan calls him "white bird" for reasons known only to himself) is about nineteen or twenty and is a widower with an infant son, Culo (I understand this is a rude word in some language in your world - Spanish, I believe. Please ignore that. Culo does have an accent over the "u", which makes a difference). His wife died in a tragic accident, and he seems to be a bit paranoid of things now, which has the added effect of making him very polite and earnest. Cair is a good sort of person, doesn't really have faults except for general paranoia, but can become a bit tedious. Anyone else I can introduce to you as we go along.

There! Indubitably I will have to expound on this information frequently, but for the moment, consider yourself sufficiently educated.