A woman stood in a tunnel near the top of a tall mountain. She held a single candle in her hand, but it provided no relief from the freezing draft that swept in from the tunnel entrance. She did not like this place, but her master had demanded they meet here. A sudden scraping sound alerted her to the dark figure’s arrival. A sword hung at his side and a dark cloak concealed his figure.
She dropped to one knee and bowed to her master. “I await your orders and bring you an announcement of importance.”
The hooded face looked around at the markings carved on the walls of the tunnel. “Train your spirit to this mountain. In death you will join those who guard this mountain from all who attempt to remove the broken ring at the summit.”
She briefly scowled as she stood up. She had only been on this mountain for a short bit, but already hated its bitter cold. “I will do as you wish,” she reluctantly agreed.
“You will be unable to pass on the ability once it is done, but I do not expect it to be needed again.” The dark silhouette gave a long sigh. “What announcement do you bring?”
“I have found my replacement,” the elderly woman told her master. “A girl has been born in Tanarad.”
The dark figure stood motionless. His arms were crossed and the shadow cast by the dark hood hid any expressions on his face. “Did you ensure the lineage?”
Lorica’For lowered her head. “No,” she admitted. “I did not need to. She is stronger than any other I have ever known. I could feel her power even as she was born.”
For an instant, a flicker of candlelight illuminated enough of the face under the hood to show a semblance of a smile. Her master was pleased. “I trust you have kept with tradition. Is she ready to begin her training?”
“I have kept her city free of our influence. There are only two members of the Sisterhood alive and they will not take her for another two years. The time has come for the child.”
The dark figure held out his hand and looked at a silver ring forged in the shape of a dragon with amethyst eyes. “Time has passed and new fulfillments must come. She will be the last and the best.”
“Then I will obtain the child and take her to the fortress,” the woman said.
The faintest growl escaped from the figure. “I will personally attend to her with your assistance. Are the troops in location?”
“Jazek is with her apprentice near the city. They fight random battles to keep the enemy from suspecting our true motives.”
“We go now,” the figure said with no emotion. He turned and exited the tunnel. She tossed aside the candle and followed close behind. The wind tugged at her cloak and threatened to pull her from the ledge. They were above the dark storm clouds that covered the land below. The bright stars filled the night sky and a silver moon hung to the west. Her master then yelled out a phrase that echoed its way down the mountain. “Veytabijnor Kell sesakrig!”
Within moments, a large dragon swooped up from the clouds. She hated this part of travel, but it was necessary to cover great distances in a short time. The dragon grabbed the two figures with its feet and jumped off the mountainside, swooping down to the clouds below. Under the clouds, the air was warmer and Lorica’For stopped her shivering. They would arrive at their destination in a few hours and she needed to rest her mind to prepare for what was to come. She closed her eyes and allowed herself to sleep.
Tenaiya sat sharpening his sword. He had fought in many battles and despite the occasional victory the war seemed to be a stalemate with neither side making any significant advances. Most of Tanarad was still free, but he knew the army was growing weary and battle lines would soon break with fatigue.
Tenaiya turned his head as another soldier walked up behind him. “Ah, Sidrahkir!” he greeted. “I hear you are being considered for another promotion. At this rate, you’ll be a captain within a few years!”
“I wouldn’t count on it,” Sidrahkir replied, sitting beside Tenaiya. “If reports are true, I’ll have to survive another battle first.”
“I have heard the reports,” Tenaiya said. “I can believe the Dark Witch is marching her army here to Latan, but I don’t believe she is gathering more troops.”
Sidrahkir pulled out his sword and began to sharpen it. “That’s what I came to tell you,” he said. “Sharpen your weapons and shine your armor. A new report has just come in. Jazek is marching here to Latan as we speak.”
Tenaiya looked at Sidrahkir with a concerned look. “Is there time to send my wife and daughter to safety?”
“I am sorry,” Sidrahkir said coldly. “All roads have been blocked and we are completely surrounded.”
Tenaiya’s eyes grew wide. “That is no battle,” he stammered. “That is a massacre!”
Sidrahkir placed his arm around Tenaiya. “As always, I will fight beside you,” he encouraged with a smile. “All I ask is that you also do your part as you always have.”
“Of course,” Tenaiya agreed. “I’d rather fight beside you than any other soldier of Tanarad. You didn’t earn the nickname Barbidon Slayer for nothing!”
Sidrahkir grinned. “Barbidon Slayer, Wrath of Tanarad, Narva’s Nightmare; I’ve even heard that the Barbidons use my name as a curse word. Just remember, I couldn’t have earned my reputation without the help of soldiers like you.”
The two soldiers sat sharpening their swords in silence for a few moments before Tenaiya finished and put his away. “I’m going to say farewell to my family,” he said as he stood up. “I will see you when we form up.”
“I’d suggest you be quick about it,” Sidrahkir advised, glancing up as a dragon flew high overhead. “I’ll see you soon.”
The sun was setting when Lorica’For released her mind from the regenerative slumber and focused on her surroundings. The dragon had set them down in the center of a small field and now stood towering over her. Several other dragons flew in the sky above. At the edge of the field, she could see her master talking to Jazek. She walked over to them as she shook away the last bit of haze from her mind.
“They are surrounded and cannot escape,” Jazek said.
“Do not assume this will be an easy battle,” her master countered. The dark figure appeared more ominous than she had ever seen before. “I want the girl and her family alive.”
“How will you find them?” Jazek asked.
Lorica’For quietly snorted in amusement. “The girl is more powerful than you or me,” she explained to her counterpart. “You deal with the defenders of Tanarad and leave the girl for me.”
“Jazek, do not bring your apprentice to this battle,” their master ordered. “A power such as this is sure to be guarded and I do not want to lose all of my loyal servants if things should go amiss.”
Jazek bowed to the dark figure. “While I doubt it will come to that, I will do as you ask.”
Their master gave a few deep laughs. “Send her to Panei. I want to give Tanarad many years to relish the destruction I have planned for tonight.” Lorica’For grinned and watched as Jazek turned and departed to give the instructions to her apprentice. “After Panei, Narva will return to Tanarad,” her master predicted. “In the meantime, we will raise the girl and instruct her in our ways.” The figure held out its hand and once again looked at the ring he wore. “She will complete the prophecy and ensure the final victory.”
“There is much I do not know,” Lorica’For admitted. “Yet, I will do what must be done.”
“There is conflict ahead,” her master warned. “The Sisterhood is aware of our intent.”
“Jazek will deal with their threat,” the woman said confidently.
“Jazek will die,” the dark figure stated with no emotion. “She must fall to ensure our success.”
Latan was a large city in Tanarad, second in size only to Amehtana. The soldiers of Tanarad formed a thin defensive ring around the city to guard from all directions. Tenaiya stood next to Sidrahkir behind their hastily constructed fortifications. Torches illuminated the land before them so the enemy would not be able to attack with stealth. They held their swords ready for the attack.
“Tenaiya!” a woman’s voice called behind him. He turned and saw a woman wearing a cloak of striped yellow and purple, a sure sign that she was not from Tanarad. “I am Darika’Daf. The Sisterhood of Jadela’Mar has discovered that this attack is not to capture the city. You must leave your post and come with me. They are coming to take your daughter, Naiya’Nal!”
“NO!” Tenaiya dropped his sword and began to sprint toward his home. The woman ran after him. Sidrahkir picked up Tenaiya’s sword and chased after them.
By the time Tenaiya reached his home, he could hear the noise of battle from the other side of the city. He broke through the locked door and ran inside. “Paghi’Nal, where are you?” he called. His frightened wife peeked out of the corner where she sat holding a small child and Tenaiya spotted her. “The Sisterhood of Jadela’Mar has come. We must get you and Naiya’Nal out of here,” he said quickly.
Tears dripped down her face. “Where will we go?”
The noise outside was growing louder as Tenaiya grabbed his wife’s hand and began to pull her toward the door. “It doesn’t matter as long as we get you to safety.”
Darika’Daf suddenly stepped into the doorway and blocked their exit. “There is no time to run. Hide the girl.”
Paghi’Nal broke free from her husband’s grasp and ran into another room. She tossed a pile of laundry on the floor and set down her daughter. “Hide under these clothes and don’t move!” she ordered.
Paghi’Nal ran back into the other room and her eyes grew wide as she looked past her husband and Sidrahkir who now stood in front of the open doorway. The entire city was burning around them, but the enemy was avoiding their house. The woman in yellow and purple stood in the street using her magic to blast all the enemy soldiers in sight with bolts of lightning. No Barbidon soldier would be able to get past her.
As she watched the woman use her magic, Paghi’Nal had conflicting feelings of relief and anxiety for her daughter. The woman was well skilled with her magic and could keep them safe from the enemy. However, the Sisterhood had promised that at the age of six, they would begin to train her daughter in these same magic arts. Watching the current situation, Paghi’Nal did not want to see Naiya’Nal ever placed in such a life-threatening ordeal.
Lightning flashed from the woman’s hands as fast as the enemy approached them. She moved with great dexterity and her offense seemed to take on a rhythm as she turned rapidly side to side to attack each new threat. Paghi’Nal’s belief in their protection was shattered when one of Darika’Daf’s bolts was suddenly deflected back at her, just barely missing the woman and striking the wall close to the doorway. Three dark figures came into view where the bolt had come from.
Jazek laughed as the woman guarding the house dodged the deflected lightning and noticed their presence. “Your overconfidence has caused you to lower your guard,” she said arrogantly. “Now you are surrounded by an opponent beyond your abilities.”
Darika’Daf held her hands ready for both offense and defense. “Arrogance is for the weak,” she coldly retorted. “I am of the Sisterhood of Jadela’Mar and a master of both courage and fear.”
Jazek threw her staff to the ground and let her cloak slide off behind her as she stepped forward. “Your powers are substantial, as are mine. Our skills will determine the outcome.”
“I did not expect you would throw away your life so rashly,” Darika’Daf said as the two women stepped closer to each other.
“There is no escape,” Jazek hissed, a mix of fire and lightning flying from her hands. “If I die, you will die with me.”
Darika’Daf easily deflected the attack and returned it with her own. Jazek stepped aside and the lightning bolts flew past her and cracked against an unseen barrier. For an instant, Darika’Daf paused and her eyes widened as she realized her mistake. Jazek had been nothing more than bait to lure her into the confines of an anti-magic bubble.
Lorica’For watched with amusement as Jazek and Darika’Daf used their magic to their full potential. Fire and lightning wrapped around the inside of the shell until it was impossible to see anything past the bright flickering. As suddenly as the attack began, it ended. Two blackened bodies lay motionless on the ground as the acrid smoke began to disperse. Jazek’s suicide had been successful.
“Is the child here?” the dark figure asked Lorica’For.
“She is inside,” the woman answered. “I can sense her presence.”
Her master stepped toward the house and pointed his sword at the two men standing in the doorway. “Step aside or you will die.”
Tenaiya and Sidrahkir stood their ground. “I would not be a husband and a father if I did not defend my family,” Tenaiya stammered.”
“Only death will end my fight,” Sidrahkir added. “Kill me now for I have hope in a future even after death.”
The dark figure took a few steps closer to the two men and growled. “Such insolence in the face of inevitability is also known as fool’s courage.” His hand waived ominously at the two men. Tenaiya flew backward through the doorway and Sidrahkir’s sword dropped from his hand as he slammed against the side of the house. Lorica’For swept past them and into the house, pushing Paghi’Nal aside.
Sidrahkir tried to retrieve his sword, but instead found himself lifted by the dark figure. The cold fingers were at his throat and he was powerless to resist as he found himself face to face with his enemy in the darkness.
“You cannot defeat me,” the unseen face insisted. “My power transcends beyond this world.”
“Then why have you spent five hundred years trying to subdue it?” Sidrahkir questioned arrogantly.
The dark figure gazed at him and Sidrahkir could feel the cold eyes burning into his mind. “Consider yourself fortunate that I have chosen you to be the sole witness of my destruction of this city,” the hidden mouth said. “Ik shivbijnor Kell yarkrig Amehtana!” he yelled, and with superhuman strength, threw Sidrahkir into the air.
Sidrahkir screamed as he flew through the air. A dragon swooped from the night sky and grabbed him with its feet. He was powerless to resist as he dangled helplessly high above the ground. The dragon flew for what seemed like hours before it suddenly tossed him up and caught him in its mouth. It then swooped toward the ground where a large city began to grow before him. By the time the dragon landed in the city and deposited Sidrahkir onto the ground, at least one of the large teeth had punctured through his armor and into his flesh. He did not know when the dragon departed and lay in pain as he waited for someone to come to his aid.
Naiya’Nal hid under the pile of clothing that her mother had dumped in the hurry to hide her. She did not understand why everyone thought she was so important, but she stayed where she was hiding. She could hear the noise outside, but remained oblivious to what was really happening and the real purpose for the commotion. It had now become quieter and she could hear footsteps enter the room.
As Naiya’Nal peaked from under a robe, she could see the feet of a woman wearing a cloak of black and purple. “Hello, darling,” the woman smiled bending down to see the girl. Naiya’Nal tried unsuccessfully to crawl further under the pile of clothing as the woman grabbed her by the arm.
“Don’t worry; I’m here to help you.” Lorica’For picked up the small girl and bundled her in a warm cloak. “I’m taking you to a safe place,” she reassured. “Your parents are already there.”
“Where is that?” Naiya’Nal asked.
“Someplace wonderful,” the old woman answered, touching the child’s forehead and causing her to sleep. “It’s going to be a long flight.”
Lorica’For walked outside to see a three waiting dragons. Tenaiya and Paghi’Nal were bound together to be carried by one dragon. Lorica’For would take another. Her master would take the last. “Bijnor Kell seshkrig!” the dark figure yelled. The dragons grabbed their passengers and flew into the sky.
Lorica’For’s master watched the ground below them. An entire army and a willing servant died to obtain a single girl. It would be some time before Tanarad would recover from this attack. Narva would spend many years ravaging Panei and honing her skills before she returned to Tanarad with an even greater army. In the meantime, Lorica’For would train the girl. If she became half as good as predicted, she would shape the future of the world in ways still unknown.
When Naiya’Nal opened her eyes, she was lying on a bed inside a room made of smooth black stone. Three candles on a table against the far wall provided illumination in addition to the small red-stained window on the wall above her. She slid off the bed and walked over to a cabinet. Inside it were some new clothes. She changed into a purple dress with black and red trim. She found a comb and began to pull at the tangles in her dark hair. Naiya’Nal didn’t know where she was, but as the lady had assured her earlier, she was somewhere safe.
The door creaked open and disturbed Naiya’Nal from her activities. The same woman had taken her from home stepped into the room. “Where are we?” Naiya’Nal asked.
The woman smiled at the small girl. “You are a very special girl!” she said. “We are in a very strong castle in Sarda.”
“Where is Sarda?”
Lorica’For laughed. “You have a lot of questions,” she said. “If you come with me, I will teach you everything you ever want to know!” She held out her hand and Naiya’Nal took it.
Naiya’Nal’s eyes took in every detail as the woman led her through long hallways, up and down stairwells, through many rooms, and even outside. They stopped for a meal at one point and Naiya’Nal decided the food was better than any she had ever tasted. After lunch, Lorica’For took the girl to the top of the tallest tower.
“Look around,” Lorica’For said, motioning past the parapet. “Everything you can see is Sarda. Someday I will take you to meet the Barbidons who live near here.”
Naiya’Nal took in the sights. She could look down upon much of the rest of the castle and the lake surrounding it, and even past the lake to the mountains to her right and a bleak landscape to her left.
Lorica’For suddenly turned. “Ah, my master has come to see you.” She turned the small child to face the tall figure coming toward them.
He wore a black cloak and a sword was at his side. His hood was down and she could see his pale white face with dark purple eyes. He looked like a man, but showed no signs of age. The head was bald and had a single dragon drawn on it that stretched from front to back with the wings out to either side. He stooped down and took Naiya’Nal’s hand as he looked at her with a smile. “Long have I waited this day,” he said. “I am pleased to finally meet you!”
“Where are mama and papa?” Naiya’Nal asked.
The man gave her a concerned look for a few seconds before giving his answer. “I’m sorry, they aren’t here yet, but don’t worry, they will be safe.”
Naiya’Nal shook her head. “I want mama and papa!” she cried.
The man placed his hands on her shoulder. “Did your mama and papa ever say that you would be taken away?” he asked.
She looked in his face and wiped away a tear. “Yes, but why?”
“I will tell you,” the man said. “You were going to be taken away and taught how to use magic, but bad people tried to take you first. We had to come and save you from the bad people. You are safe here and we will do all we can to get your parents.”
As Naiya’Nal smiled and hugged him, he looked up silently at Lorica’For. She too smiled because she now knew they had the trust of the little girl. Her training would begin and eventually they would unleash the deadliest woman the world had ever known.