Chapter 1

The image would be forever seared into Claudia's mind.

She would always remember how she stood beside her brother, knowing that the shield she held was the only thing standing between her and certain death. The horses around her knew it too, even if the men did not. They knew what waited just over the rise.

Marius glanced down at her. "It's time, sister."

"I know."

King Edrick Septimus rode to the front of the army, his sword held high. His crowned helm glittered in the sunlight, and his steel-plate armor beamed with radiance. "Charge!" The unified armies of Galletia, Arakurrom, Mantarodesyn and the Great Forest roared in answer, pouring down the hillside.

From the other end of the valley, an echoing cry went up and a tide of armored bodies swept down the opposite slope. They moved with inhuman speed, or glowed with unholy light. A curtain of fire crackled through the air as a dark fog descended. The elves of Mantarodesyn began to chant, strange glowing patterns appearing in the air before them.

The human warriors raced to the fore, surrounded by unicorns, centaurs, elves and other creatures Claudia did not know by name. All of them, united under one banner, united under the Light.

And then, they met the Darkness.

Marius was engaged instantly by two leaping werewolves. The charge was led by droves of the inhuman creatures. Their mouths were lolling, baring their fangs for all the world to see. They were accompanied by changelings, who would writhe and alter their form at will. The conniving shape shifters were notoriously hard to kill. Claudia beat a changeling back with the rim of her shield. Harpies screamed in the air above as arrows from the elves peppered their wings. Dark Elves and the Elves of the Deep Forest met in a giant outpouring of magic. Goblins screamed as the legions of Galletia cut them down, and trolls roared as the dusky-skinned warriors of Arakurrom set upon them. One of the men in bamboo armor sliced clean through an ogre that was bearing down on Claudia, it's pock-marked green face set in an expression of disbelief as it died.

The young woman hacked away at anything that came to close. While she was trained in the sword, she was nowhere near as skilled as her older brother. She could, however, hold her own against the goblin savages. Their pale and sinewy bodies fell around her, and she thought she even managed to dispatch a werewolf or two.

The Dark Lord's elves and human spellcasters stood farther up the slope, away from the battle. On Claudia's side, many of the elves did the same. Those that had more martial skills than magical rained arrows down on the armies of Darkness.

The goblins composed much of the Dark Lord's infantry. They threw themselves on the creatures of Light with a suicidal intensity. Their screams were enough to chill anyone to the bone. She watched in horror as a Galletian knight was torn limb from limb by a pack of the feral creatures. They wore claws and bones of animals around their necks and on their loincloths, as though the creatures they had taken them from would send their spirits to aid such vile creatures.

Silver furred wargs loped through the sea of combatants, their glittering fangs red with blood. They brought a chill to the air as they ran past, howling with a sound so terrible that when it reached a loud enough level, men's eardrums burst open. A herd of beautiful unicorns met the largest pack of wargs, driving them away with their sharp horns and lashing hooves. Three of the equine creatures fell to the ruthless, lupine wargs, but many more wargs were pushed back by the creatures of Light.

From quite a distance, Claudia could make out towering blue-skinned figures fighting against a group of centaurs. The horsemen were largely successful in beating the frost giants back with their saddlebows and long swords. The behemoths could be heard moaning even from this distance.

Of course, not all of the Dark Lord's army was composed of vile creatures pulled straight from nightmares. The strange masked people of the southeast twirled and danced through the allied army's ranks, their curved scimitars sparkling as they dipped and twirled. It made Claudia sick to see such flagrant disregard for the Light among her fellow humans, people who would go so far against what was good and right for power or greed. When she had the chance to cut a handful of the lightly armored warriors down, she had no remorse.

And even then, there were other humans. Some wild-haired men from the far north, carrying axes and scarred broadswords, shouting wordless battle cries. Or at least Claudia assumed they were wordless, it was like no other language she had ever heard. Other traitors and defectors from Galletia and Arakurrom, along with mercenaries from other unallied nations hacked their way through the tide of bodies.

Sorcerers were also there in the thick of battle. The mages were able to conjure powerful spells that would sweep aside the opposition. Bursts of fire seemed to be the spell of choice, at least among the magic users Claudia glimpsed. She knew better than to engage them in combat, and to avoid them at all costs. The elvin spell weavers would deal with them with far less risk to their lives.

Claudia saw a man with pale skin and a giant black sword cleaving through the ranks of her allies, an ice storm brewing behind him. He must have been an especially powerful sorcerer to command so much power. His face was set in a manic grin, and he killed anyone who stood in his way, ally or enemy. He had no remorse, no inhibition. When his steely gaze seemed to track towards the young woman, Claudia turned and fled.

Somewhere, a chimera roared in its death throes. A man with the curling horns of a goat caught her eye as he drove his lance through a changeling mid-transformation. He made no move to attack her, so Claudia thought it fair to assume the creature, whatever it was, was on the side of the Light. She fought with him back-to-back for what seemed to be an eternity. The goat-man was nimble, leaping through the air and vaulting with his lance, striking down enemies almost as soon as Claudia perceived them.

She handled any enemy who came to close; anything the goat-man would not be able to deal with using his long lance. Her shield was damaged now, but still offering adequate protection. She was quickly growing fatigued, the strain on her body from the ceaseless fighting and the burden of her plate armor was starting to take its toll. She steeled her nerve and forced herself forward.

When she and the goat-man were torn apart by the ever-changing currents of battle, she was certain that he had never suspected she was a woman.

At some point in the battle, word was being passed around the allied army of the Light. "The battle at the coast has turned in our favor!" "The fleets from Abattoir and Censhrilac have pushed back the Dark Lord's navy!" "They can't get reinforcements!"

"We don't need reinforcements!" a werewolf snapped as his clawed hands reached for Claudia's throat.

"Of course you don't." Marius's longer sword flashed as it descended, nearly severing the beast's head in one blow. As it was, the lifeless corpse dropped the to the ground. Claudia's brother stood in front of her, her ever-vigilant protector, and stared down the mass of Darkness. "Because you will end here!"

The brother and sister fought side-by-side, cutting through the ranks of their foes. A group of six men from Arakurrom formed a semi-circle around them, their closest allies for the time. They forged on deeper into the army of the Dark Lord. Higher on the hill, several of his indigo-robed sorcerers let out a cry, something that chilled Claudia to the bone.

Shadows began to rise from the ground, misshapen and with disproportionate features. They lurched towards the heart of the conflict, where King Septimus and his band of five elite knights tried to cut straight to the very center of the enemy army. Prince Edrick Octavian and Prince Julian the Bold were at the king's side, their faces hidden behind their helmets.

The shadow beasts loped towards the king. Octavian tried to decapitate one of them, but the beast only struck again. It soon became clear that these things, whatever they were, could not be killed through conventional means.

There was a rumble of thunder from above, and a group of sylphs descended from the heavens. Their white and gold armor flashed, and their pristine white wings carried them through the air. Lightning crackled between their fingertips, and they sent it raining down to destroy the shadow beasts. The elvin mages took heart, and created their geometric spell patterns again. Arrow-like lightning bolts shot from the glowing sigils, lancing through the Dark Lord's army. The sylphs turned their attention to the harpies clogging the air, blasting them away with more flashes of light.

"Come on!" Marius cried as he pulled Claudia along. "It's time to serve our king!" They cut their way through the horde of dark creatures to get closer to King Septimus. And then he was before them.

Dark Lord Kalaryndor rose up before Claudia and Marius. He was easily six and a half feet tall, and the golden horns set on his black steel helm glinted in the half-light. Claudia couldn't make out his eyes in the dark slit, but her imagination filled them in as smoldering red pinpricks of light.

The dark elf carried a longsword at least as tall as he was, and his broad-shouldered build was quite unlike the rest of his frail brethren. His scaled armor hissed as he strode forward. Marius stepped protectively in front of Claudia, though the young woman knew his gallantry was wasted. An eldritch magic permeated the air around Kalaryndor, a terrible power that was more than capable of sweeping aside any who stood before him.

With a single swing of his massive blade, Kalaryndor killed three of the Arakurrom men. Marius lifted his shield. "Stay back, sis. Get out of here. I'll buy you time."

"Marius, don't…"

"Step away from them!" The clear voice rang out across the battlefield, and all conflict ceased for a moment. A figure in shining steel armor stood high atop the eastern hill. He dug his heels into the sides of his white warhorse, and the mighty creature charged down the slope. The radiant figure raised an opalescent sword over his head. "Kalaryndor, your fight is with me alone!"

Prince Allister leapt from the saddle and came to stand before Marius and Claudia. The sword in his hand sparkled, revealing a pale amethyst band running up the blade. Kalaryndor hissed when it was turned on him. Allister stalked forward. "Yes. You feel its power, don't you? You know exactly what this is!"

"You defile me with its mere presence," Kalaryndor hissed.

"Gaze upon the Bringer of Morning, the Dawn Sword!" Allister gave a fencer's salute. "Now, shall we duel to the death?"

Kalaryndor and the Prince met in a clattering of metal. Marius and Claudia could only watch in amazement as the two master swordsmen engaged and disengaged, both of their faces masks of grim concentration. Allister's golden hair was plastered to his brow with sweat. Kalaryndor's breath came in shallow hisses.

When the dark elf raised his hand high, Allister slammed into him with his shield. "The time for magic has passed! This is a battle of blades! Can you at least fight me fairly?"

"I may be the Dark Lord," Kalaryndor spat back, "but I am not without my honor."

He halted in his casting, and resumed the clash of blades. Claudia felt the raw power seeping from both of them, the energy and emotions. Marius winced as an arrow wound in his shoulder started to take its toll. Claudia's left index finger traced a pattern in the air, and she laid her palm against the damaged tissue. A brief emerald green light glowed, and Marius smiled his thanks. "You shouldn't waste your energy, sis."

"It was a cantrip. It's fine. You needed it." The brother and sister were back to back, fending off the creatures that tried to aid the Dark Lord.

With a savage cry, Allister drew back. Then, he pushed off his back foot and drove his sword through a miniscule chink in Kalaryndor's armor. The Dawn Sword pulsed once, and Kalaryndor screamed.

The sound would haunt Claudia for the rest of her life.

Many members of his army scattered then. Those that remained fought without hope, for they knew that scream was a death knell. Kalaryndor sank to his knees, into the mud, and tried to staunch the blood pumping from his chest. Allister wrenched the Sword out and held it high. A pillar of light descended from the heavens, dispelling the tempest the dark elves had summoned.

Kalaryndor roared again, his head thrown back in agony. His gauntleted hands curled into claws, and his eyes gazed up at the sky. The sound that came forth was one of wordless rage, abject anger at the world for forsaking him so.

Then, he bent double and clutched his torso. His armor screamed as the metal was rent asunder, and Kalaryndor became his own funeral pyre. Acrid black smoke burst from his body even as fire consumed him. The fires washed over Allister, Claudia and Marius, choking them, smothering them.

As Marius dragged her away, back through the ranks of the Dark Lord's fleeing armies, she felt a Presence in that smoke, something Other. A great and ancient power, something so great and terrible she could not even begin to describe it. And then the smoke began to fill her lungs, her eyes, and she wanted to rip off her helmet, breathe in cool refreshing air, but she could not, because the smoke was now in her lungs, sucking the life away from her…

Claudia sat bolt upright in bed, her covers in disarray and drenched in a cold sweat. She clutched her heaving chest, trying to force her breathing back to normal. The battle was over. She and Marius had survived. Everything should have gone back to normal.

The Darkness was defeated, and already the scars on the land were healing. Good had triumphed over evil, and there was nothing to fear anymore. The shadows that had once gripped the land had been banished by the Light, and already a new age of peace and prosperity had dawned.

So why was Claudia still tormented by these strange dreams?

She made her way to the window of her tower room and stared out at the moonlit grounds. The war was over, and peace had returned to the land. Dark creatures no longer roamed the countryside. Everything was supposed to have gone back to the way it should have been.

So why did she still feel so unsettled?

A/N: So, this is my new project. I'm pretty sure this will be like no other fantasy story you've ever read. The line between good and evil is never black and white, not here at least. This is a new, unique take on the fantasy genre. How many stories have you read that are told almost completely from the perspective of the villain?