Discarding his heavy armor, he rushed over the rocky landscape, his burden lightened as his silver second skin landed noisily against the pebbles. The plans of the Magus had to be delivered and he was the instrument as he had always been. Dropping his greaves, he felt the eyes behind him, the thousands of eyes. The gaze of slaves having dealt with centuries of imprisonment and he was the only thing standing in their way. Sure as the hell they came from they would try to stop him, but he only needed a few more feet, over the crest of the next hill. Onward till sunrise.

Falling forward, he landed on the pinnacle of the hill, struggling to his feet. Oranges and pinks and yellows swirled around the peeking sun. Relief washed over him as the sun rushed across the plains miles away. The Phoenix King would rule another hundred years, against the darkness of the gallows in the heart of the earth.

Then the spines came. The weapons of the most vile creatures pierced his unarmored back. He looked down to see the brown, terrible things dripping with his own blood. The sun washed over them then, dissolving the spikes and the demons behind them with a horrible, and violent, shriek that lasted only a moment. The knight fell to his knees as day broke over the land. He could hear birds in the distance and a small breeze waft over him. It didn't smell like death now. Now, he could smell the lily's and other flowers of the plains so far away.

"I'm sorry... My king..." He gurgled and his empty body slumped forward.

Rade pushed his back against Wyle's, jerking his arm to the side in an arc that slashed the face of a lunging monster. The blood mixed with the darkening crimson already covering both of their forms.

"Wyle!" Rade began stabbing into the belly of the ogre and ripping up. "What's your real name?" Wyle shoved off of his partner's back slicing once and again as he stepped back into Rade. Wyle adjusted the bandana on his forehead, dripping with blood, before he answered,

"Name's Aden pal." Rade heard another monster shriek just as he felt a dapple of blood spatter on his neck.

"Aden. A strong name." He said against the chorus of shrieks and whoops the creatures made, nearly blotting out his words. "Not the name of a thief, I'll be proud to die beside you." Both of them ducked as a spiked ball and chain cut the air, making a whooshing noise. Rade could hear the smirk in Wyle's voice,

"I'm not sure my mother would be so proud. She thinks I'm at the academy." As the creatures closed in inevitably, the pair's laughing could be heard against the wailing and screeches of the monsters.

Arkham sat in the darkness of his chamber, hallowed as it was from the living rock. Shafts of light illuminated the spots of dust that floated on the heavy air. It was cold and damp throughout most of the hive, but this room was warmed by Arkham's magic. The shadows stirred in front of him, forming a figure of jet that stood easily seen even against the perpetual gloom.

"Sir, the scouts have returned from the Eastern Province." The shadowling could feel it's master's gaze upon him and knew that tingling he felt was magic in the air, held back with only the thin veil that was his master's patience, from igniting his form.

"And?" he said, leaning forward into a beam of light, it illuminating only half of his face. The creature responded quickly and curtly,

"Only half of them returned and the Guild now knows someone is hunting them." Magic tightened around his form and the room grew hot, he finished quickly, "We have found the obelisk of the Air!" he spat and as he exhaled with relief, the threat abated.

"Good..." Arkham said, drawing out the word slowly and in a silky extension. "Report back only when you have good news." The creature dissipated but something moved behind him.

Talons clacked across the stone floor and as it passed through a shaft of light, it's myriad of teeth were shown clearly. It hissed and snapped to a killing blow. Arkham's face tightened in an angry scowl as magic met creature with explosive force. He had to hide his eyes as the thing burst into flames and slid backwards, screaming, crawling and writhing as it did so. At last it was silent as the creature's life finally abandoned it's body. Though he called this his home, he shared it still with many terrible, unlearned things.

Rade rushed down the halls of red carpet, archers well on his trail. He wondered how this happened. An entire castle of guards ready to cleave him over the words of a wizard. Tumbling, he fell around the corner, arrows thwacking loudly against his shield and the stone at the end of the hall.

"It's the end of the line commoner, just give up and Arkham's justice will be lenient."

"A rat's hide, it'll be lenient." Rade spat removing the knife from his boot and flinging it around the corner. The blade spun perfectly, but arced too soon, sliding uselessly at the feet of several smirking archers. Decoratively, a shining suit of armor held a large battle axe which Rade soon filched. Trying the handle to the door at the end of the hall confirmed his suspicions that it would be locked. The strikes were loud and hard to duplicate with the heavy axe. They ground against the metal of the door's handle three times before finally giving way. Off balance the axe nearly slashed his knee on the backstroke, but that was merely an after thought as he tossed it into the room and slammed the door. Gritting his teeth, his muscles strained and nearly buckled as Rade gripped the sides of the heavy oak cabinet and slid it across the door. Pushing his back against it, and the inevitable advance of the guards, was the first time he saw her.

Finely garbed, her pearl dress complimented her fair skin and rouge cheeks. Blonde hair fell behind her in a collection of curls. The woman's tears were the only thing to upset her otherwise gorgeous ensemble.

"You're here!" she began, "You're finally here, just as my dreams told me." Her round face melted his knees when she smiled and ran towards him. Though there was something in his stomach, the same one he'd felt when originally breaking into the castle, that pulled at him hard, warning him. Quickly ignoring it, Rade knew that the archers would be upon them soon. The woman's eyes were unlike anything he'd seen before and he was mesmerized by them. They were an intense blue with white starburst shards within them. Thinking a moment, a spear could've jabbed into his side and he would've accepted it willingly.

"Who're you?" His throat was tight and dry and the words barely came out.

"Christa, I'm the princess of the Phoenix King and I need your help." She reached in her bust and Rade held his breath before exhaling when she removed the charm that the chain necklace held. It looked old at the least, a crimson gem set into a faded, gray metal. "I've seen it..." Christa said, moving just next to Rade, as if to whisper, "The war that's coming. This is a piece of it and everyone in our land will suffer for it." The tears welled up in her eyes again and Rade felt the unusual want to hold her. Christa looked up to him, "Will you go with me to the Fire Plains? It's the only place we'll be safe with this until they give up." Someone kicked the door and Rade awoke from his dream-like state, throwing himself against the cabinet to hold the men back for at least a few more minutes.

"Please Rade..." He leveled a serious gaze at her as she used his name, "I love you, I've always loved you. Let's runaway." The woman began to sob, her chest jerking with each shudder of tears. Grinding his teeth he removed the sword from his back and growled as he thrust it forward into the wooden cabinet. There was no death cry, but there was blood on the end of his weapon.

"I don't know what magic you're using lady, but we do have to go, right now." Replacing his weapon in it's sheath, he put a hand on each of her soft shoulders. Christa nodded and rushed over to the window beside her ornate bed, unlatching several locks and dispelling some kind of magic. Smashing against the wall with a sudden crash, the windows were thrown wide against the coming storm's wind. Christa turned and stood on her toes, soft hands pulling Rade's face down into her kiss,

"Always remember, I loved you..." Trying to form the words, only silence hung between the two. Rade could feel her cheeks stiffen as she smiled. Then she choked and gagged, her back standing violently erect. Looking past her shoulder, Rade could see a chorus of solid black figures within the knotted limbs of the cherry blossom tree. He could feel their gaze upon him, a satisfied and amused look, before they leapt away faster than any Human could possibly move. Shaking with panic, he fell with her, holding the princess in his arms. Blood was all over him from the several thick quarrels that had penetrated her back. Christa pushed the necklace into his chest,

"Take it to the Fire Plains Rade..." she gasped, sharply taking in air as the stinging pain coursed through her, "It's the only way to be sure, the only way to hide it from..." Blood gargled her last words and her head sank limp just as the cabinet crashed and splintered to the floor.

The archers flew to Christa's side. The dozen or so of them turned pale, held their hands over their mouths or signed many prayers to Silvanius. One even started to sob in the rear of the precession.

"Tell the King..." The captain began holding the breath stone he knew to be useless in his hand, "That his daughter is dead..."