From the north tower of Haven, a young girl watched the Sun set beyond the horizon. The swirl of fiery orange, red and pink played over the water and the sky. Although the beauty of the moment was breathtaking, the sight did not cheer the girl; for as the Sun set, the night began. The nights had not been kind to the youth of late. They brought her nightmarish visions of a far-off land; a land ruined by forces unknown in a time forgotten. She shook her head, her silky golden hair playing over her shoulders. She turned her soft, blue eyes away from the vibrant colours of the setting Sun toward the northeast. She looked toward the Old Continent, Ornland, which her people had abandoned long ago, and where magic still ruled. She wondered what it was like. She thought of the stories her father had told her when she was little. The tales of how the Houses had banded together out of fear and jealousy, and cast down the greatest House of all, House Calm. She thought of the greatest magician to have ever lived, Cadvin the Blue, then Master of House Calm, and of their legendary flying castle, Skywall. Before the magicians had begun warring with each other, Ornland had been a veritable utopia, or so the stories claimed. The magicians peacefully ruled over the peasant folk of Ornland for centuries. She had often imagined herself strolling through the lush gardens of the Druids, and dancing in the great ballrooms of the Enchanters.
However, all such elegance was lost with the coming of the Magicians’ War. The destruction of House Calm had upset the orderly balance of power, and had led to the bloody slaughters and nefarious living conditions that had driven so many Ornish to flee the continent and the old ways in search of a place to raise their children in security. Pursued by the armies of the magicians, the Fled, as they would come to be called, set sail from Cape Destiny toward an undiscovered world. After many weeks, adrift and starving, they sighted land, which they named August Point. Indeed, as they landed, they discovered an inviting, unspoiled wilderness. Fearing the pursuit of the magicians, they constructed the great fortified city of Haven.
She wondered what life was like now on the Old Continent. She feared what life would be like if her dreams were a sign of things to come, as they sometimes were. Suddenly, her reverie was broken by a soft-spoken voice.
“Lady Kayla, I believe it is time for you to retire to bed. You need your sleep,” announced the voice.
She turned away from the window and smiled at her dearest friend and loyal bodyguard.
“Is it time already Thal? I don’t want to sleep.” Despite her protest, Kayla stepped away from the window, walking toward the tall man.
Thalamir Lakechild was a foundling discovered on the shore of the Clustered Lakes, by Coray Silverring, the Count of Freshwater’s cousin. Having no children of his own, the nobleman had taken pity on the child and had adopted him as his own son. Sadly, before Thalamir had reached the age of five years, Coray was lost at sea while returning from a voyage to Brockton. Silverring’s wife died of illness less than a year later, leaving the child without a guardian for the second time in his short life. Out of love for his cousin, the Count took the child under his wing. Kayla Freeland, the Count’s daughter and only child, had just been born. Thalamir was a sad child, who was never heard laughing and seldom caught smiling, but he seemed happy whenever he was with the infant girl. The two grew up together and became inseparable. Kayla always seemed happy, and Thalamir was usually sullen. The two made a strange pair.
From the time she was very young, Kayla could sense things others could not, people’s emotions, desires, needs, and even surface thoughts. She often surprised people by answering a question before it was voiced. Kayla felt she had a special gift, and Thalamir agreed, but adults always attributed her abilities to simple cleverness or luck. Although Thalamir displayed no unusual abilities, perhaps other than rapid reflexes, he had always possessed an unshakeable belief that he had been born for some higher purpose. He was not sure what role he was to play, but he was certain that it was of great importance and that he would recognise it when the time was right. Until he came of age on his sixteenth birthday, on what was guessed to be the day of his birth, he would introduce himself as Thalamir the Chosen. Being part of the Count’s entourage, and close friends with the Count’s daughter, people would smile artificially and let his eccentricities pass without comment. When he came of age, since he was not the Count’s trueborn son but accepted into the nobility because of his upbringing, he was given the privilege of choosing his own name after the fashion the Fled had adopted from their close allies, the Gaurvians. He chose the name Lakechild. He had been named Kayla’s personal guard, which was why he had been sent to Haven along with her.
Her father had decided it would do her good to spend a few years at the court of Duchess Wiseman, the sovereign of the Fled, before she came of age. As the Count’s only child, she would inherit the title of Countess of Freshwater when her father passed away. Unlike the Gaurvians and the Paladins, the Ornish had no laws preventing women from ruling. She wondered how the Gaurvians had evolved such a silly law. Although Kayla liked the Duchess, she missed her father and her home.
Thalamir stepped out of the way as Kayla left the observation room, walking into the wide, dimly lit hallway. Thalamir fell into stride alongside her, and they walked slowly down the tower staircase into the castle proper. Kayla looked over at her companion, admiring his short brown hair, the straight lines of his strong jaw and his electrifying emerald eyes. He wore dark green trousers, a loose blue shirt, and a thick dark brown cape that almost touched the floor. He carried no weapon save a plain oaken staff as tall as he was. Feeling her eyes on him, he turned his head and smiled thinly, seemingly incapable of anything more affectionate. She smiled warmly in return.
“I don’t think that I congratulated you on your victory in the melee at yesterday’s tournament.”
“You did congratulate me, lady. Three times now.”
“Oh,” she answered with a giggle, “well, I am very impressed with you. Not even a bruise on you!”
“I have several bruises, lady Kayla.”
“Yes, well, not nearly as many as the other competitors!”
“I suppose not,” he allowed with a smirk.
“You’ve won two years in a row now! Do you think you’ll win again next year?”
“I don’t know.”
“I bet you will.”
Her broad smile faded a little as she realized they had arrived at her room.
“Sweet dreams, my lady.”
“For you as well, Thal. Sleep well.”
Without another word, Kayla stepped into her room and closed the door behind her. She listened to the soft thud of Thalamir’s footsteps walking a short way down the hall to his own room. She undressed slowly, thinking about Thalamir, her father and other happy things. She slipped on her sleeping gown and pulled back the heavy covers of her bed. She lay down and pulled the covers up to her chin, feeling cold despite the evening’s mildness. She closed her eyes, trying not to think about the nightmares she feared. The reassuring silence of her chambers quieted her thoughts and as she relaxed, she drifted into sleep.
Stretched out before her were the ruins of a once mighty fortress, resting upon a dismal grey landscape. Near the centre of the ruins, she could see a tall sparkling tower. The sight of the glassy structure, shining beautiful white light, filled the young girl with a sense of majesty. As her awareness drifted away from the tower, she perceived a vast domed structure nearby. Although she could sense that there were no living things for an immeasurable distance in any direction, she noticed movement among the ruins near the building. A few stones were pushed aside by an unseen force. A faint, translucent shimmer moved quickly away from the stones. Kayla felt herself moving along with the shape, moving more and more quickly, sensing eagerness and a longing to be free. It darted past the edge of the ruins, and stopped. As she followed, the shimmering ceased and in its place moved a black glistening beast. Its skin had the sheen of polished obsidian; its body was long and thin. Six legs jutted straight out from its sides, but only four were used to propel it along the ground. The other two legs were held raised and the three-fingered claws at the end of each limb clicked together. Upon the thick, spinal column-like neck hung a long head devoid of eyes, ears or nose. A pair of long, irregular, curved horns grew above and below its jaws, creating a grim frame. The creature opened its huge jaws wide, revealing long sharp silvery black canines that overfilled its mouth. It turned its head toward Kayla and suddenly gnashed its teeth.