Chapter One: A World in Flames
The sounds of the drums echoed over the city of Skalavik. The sun had barely broken over the horizon, but, yet, the city was already awake. The starved faces of people peered out of their doors as prisoners were marched through the streets. Legions and castle guards urged them forward as they marched under Vicar Morninghelm's banner.
The legions' and guards' uniforms shone as the early morning sun hit them. The prisoners marched, bound and gagged, under their watchful eye. The legions and guards eyed the citizens, as if they were daring them to come out and change to change their fate.
They marched right over the dead bodies that littered the ground without a second thought, making it seem as if the dead weren't really there.
No one noticed the young man ducking in the shadows. He belonged to no one, didn't serve a soul besides himself. The only thing he was worried about was saving his brother who was currently being marched to his death.
Dreu darted through a small alley. He still hadn't caught sight of his brother and knew he was running out of time. The gallows were just straight ahead, waiting for this morning's round of victims.
If the king kept this up, there would be no one left in Xandria.
It didn't make sense to him as to why his brother was going to hang. He had not been involved with Dak Morninghelm nor had they even supported him. The brothers had always just kept their heads low, trying to stay completely out of the fight. They just wanted to have enough to eat. What was so wrong about that?
The sun blinded him as he came out of the darkness. Though he couldn't see them yet, he could hear them. They would be coming any moment now.
Dreu loaded his ancient bow. He didn't even know what he was doing, but it was far better sitting around and doing nothing.
The group marched by him. Ahead, he could see the faint outline of the gallows. He was running out of time.
He quickly scanned the group, but there was no sign of his brother. He crept a little bit further out the shadows, daring not to go much further. His hands shook just a bit as he held the bow.
The group was right in front of him now. He scanned the passing poor souls, but, yet, there was still nothing. The nobles were actually calling out to the condemned, making fun of them. Dreu's eyes narrowed. Why would you make fun of someone who was about to meet such an awful fate?
Someone was reading something from the gallows, but he didn't hear the words. Where was his brother? He had to be here! He just had to be! He hadn't been in any of the earlier death marches.
The group had now came to a complete stop in front of the gallows. Many of them were trying to look brave and failing. A few didn't even bother to hid their fear. The first group was forced upwards, bagged, and the noose went around their necks. The level was pulled and their life left them. On to the next group...
Dreu kept scanning the group, but there was no sign of his brother.
Then, something happened. He heard someone yelling at him, pointing at his bow. Swearing, Dreu stepped back into the shadows just as a familiar figure was bagged and the level pulled.
Screams filled his ears as he ran away from the scene. It took him three blocks to realize that the screams were his own.
Queen Amberfall of the Nature Fairies stared at her fleet. Over the past couple of weeks, it had gone from almost nothing to a real fighting force. She watched as the troops started loading onto them, while Quicksilver and Darkcreek hovered above them. One little mistake earned them a harsh tongue lashing.
She crossed her arms over her chest, breathing in the sea air. Things were going just the way she wanted them to.
The troops marched around her, waiting their turn to board their ship. In a matter of days, they would land on the coast of Xandria, where they would hopefully quickly make contact with Dak Morninghelm. The rumour was he and his small group of troops was on the run after a rather ugly defeat in Leira. It was also rumoured though that Queen Ariana had found refuge in a coastal castle. Hopefully, they would be able to reach the queen without too much difficulty.
"You have a letter," Diamondrose said as she appeared at Amberfall's side.
Amberfall looked down at the sealed envelope in Diamondrose's hands. There was no seal and she didn't recognize the handwriting. "Thank you," she muttered, taking the letter.
Diamondrose bowed her head as she turned and walked away.
Amberfall tore open the enveloped and unfolded the letter.
I am going to make this short, since it is far too dangerous to put too much in writing.
I am pleased to say that things are going according to plan and I will be ready to sail out with you as we have already discussed. If I do not reach you in time, carry through with the plan. Do not wait on me or we will lose everything.
Amberfall quickly refolded the letter and stuffed it into her dress. She just hoped that no one had read the letter. Even though it was sealed, you never could be too careful.
She watched as more troops climbed onto the boats. In about half an hour, everyone would be on and they would be leaving. She looked up at the sky. There was still plenty of daylight, still plenty of time to get a good start.
"Frostfire!" she called as he walked passed her.
He stopped. "I take it that this is important."
"It is." She handed him the letter. "Tell me what you think of this."
He took the note, staring at it with a frown, and then he slowly looked up at her. "So, he's really going to join the fight?"
Amberfall took the note back from him, a smile growing on her face. "Looks like we've gotten ourselves another ally."
Frostfire shook his head. "Do I even want to know what you said to win him over?"
"Oh, I just made it seem like Jessimond was being held by Vicar against her own will." She paused. "If you stop and think about it, she really is. She can't exactly leave now that Nightstone is there."
"Remind me just to never get on the wrong on the wrong side you."
Amberfall shoved the note back into her dress. It had taken everything she had to come up with the lie. Every time she had tried to write something that wasn't the truth, she became physically ill. By informing the king that Nightstone was there and was possibly using magic again, it made the words come out a bit easier.
Since Jessimond was now actually being held against her will.
Darkcreek landed in front of her. The fighting armour on the War Lord shone in the sun, making her look even more deadly than she actually was. "Everything is order."
Amberfall nodded. "Good, we now have to make an extra stop."
Darkcreek just nodded, much to Amberfall's surprise. It was about time everyone stopped questioning her.
"We'll be ready to leave in fifteen minutes," was all Darkcreek said before she took the sky.
Frostfire eyed Amberfall. "Do you think he's really ready and just isn't pushing this to save his daughter?"
Amberfall just shrugged. "I guess we will find out."
"I need to go check on my troops." Frostfire gave her a long look. "Are you sure you'll be okay?"
She nodded. "Yes, I'm sure I will be okay. I can take care of myself."
Frowning, she watched as he walked away. When was he going to see that she could take care of herself? It wasn't like she was going to march to Xandria without the support of the army. She was just going to have to put him back in his place; she had let their relationship take control of their ranks.
The last of the troops climbed onto the boats. She shifted around. She had already said goodbye to her sisters. Honeylashes and Purpleflash had both acted as if it was going to be the last time they saw each other. Amberfall was not going to let that happen. She was going to come back and she was going to back holding Vicar's head.
She winced. No, killing him wasn't an option for her. She had already killed once and it had felt awful. She could still see Teodric's life living him, how painful it had looked. She hated how he seemed to focus on her as he died. Frostfire told her that he hadn't been looking at her, but she could had sworn he had. She just knew it.
The ocean breeze lifted up the ends of her hair, blowing red strands into her face. She reached, taming it upon her touch. If only the world was that, able to be tamed with just the touch of a hand.
Rasorin was still in her mind. The fact that he was moving in Frost Cave Asylum and that Shinydance had predicted him coming back to power did not sit well. If the Dark Wizard and Nightstone were to meet up, she sure didn't want to be around.
Speaking of Shinydance, the little fairy was dancing up the loading ramp, with a broom in hand. The others had groaned when they found out that Shinydance was going with them to Xandria, but she had to go. She was unlike anything Nature Fairy that Amberfall had ever seen. She could have visions. The visions of a Nature Fairy were almost always right. If Shinydance had anymore visions, Amberfall wanted to make sure that she was the first to hear about them.
She walked up the loading ramp where Shinydance had started sweeping. She was humming a song under her breath, completely unaware of what was going on around her. Maybe it would be best if Shinydance stayed out of the main battle, not only for her own safety, but for the safety of the entire group.
Amberfall put her hand on the other fairy's shoulder, causing her to jump. "I think the ramp is plenty clean."
Shinydance bowed, nearly dropping her broom in the process. "Yes, Your Majesty." With her broom in hand, she started skipping up the ramp.
Rolling her eyes, Amberfall followed her up the ramp.
The deck was full of life as the troops bustled around; the officers shouted orders, verbally punishing those who did not comply. The War Lords landed on a neighbouring ship, much to Amberfall's surprise. It wasn't as if she actually wanted to sail with them, but she did kind of expect them to at least come over and talk to her.
Frostfire stood next to her, carefully studying what was going on. His wings were still out; the feathers on the tips blew in the gentle wind. "We are ready. Even the human ship is ready."
Amberfall jerked her head. "Good." She looked up at the raised deck where the ship's captain was standing. The captain caught her eye and her nod.
"Forward!" the captain yelled.
The ship jolted forward. Amberfall started back at the Zanian shore as it grew smaller and smaller. The sea breeze beat against her face. This was it...This was actually happening. They were sailing off to war.
The merpeople jumped through the water, crying out words of support and guidance. She wished they could enlist the help of the merpeople, but there was no way they would survive in the colder Xandrian waters.
Frostfire leaned against the railing, tucking his wings in, and allowing them to disappear into his skin. "Are you ready for this?"
Amberfall nodded. "Think so." She stared out into the never ending blue. It really didn't matter if she was ready or not. This was actually happening. They were going to war.
Queen Ariana Morninghelm looked up from the lengthy report she was working on. If everything went according to plan, Dak would have everything he needed in a matter of days. Everyone thought she was spending all this extra time at the country castle in mourning. No one would ever think that she was actually drafting a war plan.
Dak was going to need all of this. Vicar had everything he needed in order to launch a successful campaign. Dak, on the other hand, had pretty much nothing. He had his assassin training, but that was about it.
She was still surprised that he had gone through with the plan and had actually killed his father. Spilling a little something into Teodric's drink had been rather brilliant. Of course, fleeing so quickly had not been in his best interest. What amazed her was the flight of the Nature Fairy Queen.
"A letter has arrived for you, my Queen," a servant said, standing in the open doorway.
Ariana smiled sweetly at the servant, trying to shift her face into that of a mourning widow. She was even solid black to add to the affect. It did seem to working; everyone was being extra kind to her. "Thank you."
"Where would you like me to put it?" the servant asked, still not coming into the room.
Ariana got to her feet. "I'll take it."
The servant didn't move as she approached. She reached onto the tray, taking the letter. The tray was shaking. Frowning, Airana looked at the servant, who was shaking and had a rather nervous look on his face. Why would a servant so nervous? They were used to working with royalty, so it couldn't be that.
Unless, he was a spy for Vicar.
She knew there were people watching her, but she really did expect her son to do better than this.
"You may go."
The servant scrambled out of the room.
Ariana looked at the letter with a frown. While it didn't seem like someone had opened it, she couldn't be sure. She just hoped there wasn't anything dangerous in it. She didn't want to have to turn her own hand on Vicar nor did she want him to turn on her.
She broke the unknown seal.
You probably do not know me, but I know your son. He and I work together at his other job. I hope that makes sense.
Anyway, something has come up and it regards your daughter. Our friend, a certain duke who has been exiled from the castle, will not help us unless he has something in return. This is something that Dak and I do not have the authority to grant.
I guess there's no other way to put this, but he wishes to marry royalty. He has set his eyes on your daughter. He claims that the general will not mind.
I do not wish to be blunt, but we need this deal. If we do not take it, I feel that our cost will be lost. As you know, we are in a hard place and are struggling to get out of this very difficult position. I don't want to force your hand, but we really do need something. At this point, I would say that any kind of help would be a blessing.
Your son did not wish for me to reach out to you. He doesn't want you to know how badly our cause is going. If there is anything you can do to help us, it would be greatly appreciated.
I want to put more in here, but I fear that our movements are being closely watched.
Ariana pinched her temples as she finished reading the letter. She had intended for Alse to marry General Malculmus Irondrifter in order to gain his legions. However, Duke Aymon Eaglemore would almost be as good. He held just about power in Leira as Irondrifter did, though he didn't come with legions. However, if Eaglemore could persuade his uncle to loan them the legions, it could work. Eaglemore did certainly have the funds to support Dak's campaign.
She went back over to her writing desk and pulled out a clean piece of stationary. She tapped her quill against the desk before she started to write.
Alse would understand. Besides, Duke Aymon Eaglemore was closer to her age than Irondrifter.