Chapter 1:  Written by Arella Ashkenazic

Sassira

It was the biggest mistake of my life.  At least, that's what I had thought.  Now things are different.  I'm older and, well... things have changed.  I was an idiot then.  Of course, so are most young elves.  That's what my mother used to tell me.

There are some things that you regret doing all your life.  One of those things is when you screw with the balance of destiny.  I did that.  Unfortunately, if you screw with Destiny, she sends Fate to screw with you.

My mother used to say that all young elves are foolish.  But, who's to say that twenty-three is young?  I used to spend all my time with gnomes and dwarves, so I expected to live as long as them.  That was when good ol' Mom told me that my life expectancy was nine hundred rather than ninety.  Shock treatment!

So, I'm guessing that you're now wondering, well, what the heck happened?!  Well, I'll tell you.

It was the fourth out of our five seasons, at the end of... aw, heck, I can't remember which war.  We're always at war.  Well, maybe not us, but someone is always at war around here, and we Forest Elves are always trying to help everyone... except the Plains Elves.  They're just stupid dirt worshipers.

This whole thing landed me into quite a predicament.  Okay, number one, I should not have gone near a mage.  Number two, I should not have tried to help him.  Number three, I should not have continued when I found out he was a Plains Elf.  And, number four; I should most definitely not have had sex with him.  But I never told you that!  At least, not until later in the story after my father finds out, so if you tell him, I'll kill you.

I was on vacation, and sort of being an ambassador for my father into my hometown, Sunset Dale.  We were supposed to bring some supply wagons in, but with the war going on, you never know who you can trust, so I went on ahead to make sure that we could get through without getting attacked.  It was a good plan.

The real shock was that when I got there, no one was around.  The tree houses had been completely abandoned, and not even a child or pet was left.  The whole area was filled with silence.  Not only that, but the wagons disappeared, too.  I never found them.  We lost over a hundred people to some unknown enemy that made them vanish in thin air.  I never got a chance to ask, but I bet that he knew something about it.

Talon and I decided that we would look around and see if we could find anything to report back to my father about.  At least Talon didn't disappear.  She's the most beautiful griffin in the world and my best friend.  We've been together for ages.  When my father found out that I'd end up running all over the continent, he bought her for me and we've been together ever since.

Talon looked around the woods cautiously, her voice deep and wispy like it always was.  "Evil here, Sassi."

"No duh," I responded.  Sometimes I wonder if she thinks that I'm still a child - though we're the same age.  I wouldn't ever tell her that technically I am still a child.

Anyway, you could feel the evil in the air.  It was almost choking me.

There had been a lot of evil around lately, more evil than I had ever known in my life.  Someone had summoned demons and they were harassing all of the three kingdoms.  The mages were trying to stop them, of course, but I had to wonder which mage it was that summoned them in the first place.  Mages are the most untrustworthy people on the face of the planet.  They're sneaky, secretive, and arrogant, especially Plains Elf mages.

I quietly climbed up into one of the trees, years of gnome training kicking in immediately.  Talon disappeared into the forest.  I knew she hadn't really left me at all, but was in search of the source.  If there were any danger, she would come back.  Not that I couldn't take care of myself, of course.  I'm very good at it.

The trees were darker than usual, their leaves hiding out most of the sun.  They looked almost black, and the trunks were a deep brown.  Sap was slowly flowing out of them like the life had been sucked out.

I searched the tree house I was in for bodies, but couldn't find any.  Not even an animal's body could be seen.  Whoever or whatever did this was very adept at what they did and made sure not to make even the slightest mistake - which is very hard when it comes to wiping out a city.  How would I know?  I wouldn't, but it's a good guess.

I began to search the house to see if there was anything useful there that could provide some sort of clue for me.  I opened drawers carefully, sifting through papers and objects.  The house was very tidy.  Even the children's rooms were completely clean.  Obviously, someone had cleaned up his or her mess.

On the floor, though, under the table that had all the chairs pushed in, there was a talisman.  It was small and silver with a symbol that I couldn't make out on it.  A mage's Mark, which are necklaces that usually are in the shape of their personal symbol.  I knew that if I could get it back to Cambidron and my father, there might be some chance of finding out who it belonged to.

Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance.  There was a sound outside on the ground that startled me so bad, I dropped the Mark and flew out to the front of the tree house.  And what happened?  Guess.  Below me stood a mage, but not just a normal mage, a Plains Elf mage, and a very beaten and bloody one at that.  Go figure.

I thought for the briefest of seconds that the Mark might belong to him--but instantly knew it didn't because he was wearing one around his neck.  Obviously this wasn't the same guy which was a relief to me.  I let out a soft sigh and he looked up.

I was surprised he didn't notice me sooner with the way I ran out of the house, but I guess that all mages are sort of dense like that.  They notice the subtle and completely miss the bigger picture. 

His hood fell back from his head, and his face wasn't bleeding as bad as the rest of him, thank goodness.  I was actually able to make out features.  He had blonde hair with a hawk feather hanging in front of his left ear... a pointed ear.  Beautiful eyes, though they seemed to shift color with the light.  I couldn't tell what color they really were.  Even though his face was tight with pain, it was very handsome... for a Plains Elf, that is.  The only thing that was actually offensive about his appearance was the garish tattoo on his jaw and neck.  It was a unique tattoo, drawn in a sort of squarish "C".  I didn't know what it meant, though.  I'm not a Plains Elf.  I knew he was one of them because his skin was a lot darker than mine.  Not chocolate, just tan.  Not that I like that sort of skin or anything, I'm just telling you how it was.  His robes were dark blue... I think.  They were so covered in blood that I couldn't really make out the color.

What caused me to rush down and help him, I don't know.  Another idiot move on my part, I'm sure.  But I am a compassionate person, and he obviously needed help.

As I flipped the ladder down and hurried down the tree to his side, my eyes widened in surprise.  He was so much taller than me!  But then, I'm awfully short for an elf.  Another thing I'm sure my mother would have tried to remedy if she'd had me all over again.  Though she does like to boast about the fact that small babies mean easier births, and I was the smallest and easiest out of the twelve of us.

I wanted to speak to him, but I didn't know what to say.  Instead, I carefully ushered him forward and whistled for Talon to come help me.  There was no way this man was going to climb up a ladder several hundred feet tall to the tree house.

Talon swooped down, gently wrapped her talons around his upper arms and lifted him carefully to the balcony of the house.  I hurried up after them and helped him to a bed, one of the perfectly made ones in the back room.

I carefully went to remove the Mark from his neck to make it easier to take off the robes and tend to his wounds, but he stopped me.  I had almost forgotten that mages refuse to take their Marks off.  Then why was that one on the floor... maybe I could think of that another time.  More important matters were on my mind at that moment, like a man's life.

I slipped the hood through the chain ring that held the Mark and gently began to take off the robes.  He smiled cautiously at me.  Whether he was too exhausted to speak or just waiting for me to speak first, I didn't know and probably never will.

The cuts on his body were the worst I'd ever seen and I had helped in many battles.  I knew immediately why.  They were magic made, which meant that not only were they wounds to the body, but also to the spirit, making them much deeper and much deadlier.  These types of things are almost like poisons to the soul.  What he needed was a real doctor, but since I was the only person in the vicinity, I'd have to make due.  I knew enough to maybe save his life, if he was lucky.

I quickly sent Talon to find the doctor's salves and bandages, which she did, eager for something to do than watch and wait.  Talon is not the most patient of companions.

After she brought them back to me, I covered the wounds with the salve that I felt would have the best effects, but I am no doctor, so I had no way of knowing if they would work or not.  As I finished wrapping the bandages, I noticed that the skin around the wounds was freezing, and the cold was slowly spreading over the rest of his body.  In a matter of seconds after my discovery, he began to shake and sweat uncontrollably.

Unsure of what to do, I made a quick decision.  I sent Talon out to stand watch and quickly stripped out of my shirt and breeches.  Gently pulling him close, I lay on top of him and carefully wrapped my legs around him, hoping that this would ease the chill and fever and cause him to heal faster.

Bad move.  Very, very bad move.  Call me an idiot if you will, but let me ask you a question: What do you think is going to happen if a young female elf is laying on top of a young male elf and they are both naked?

Now, I had seen a naked man before.  As I said, I had helped with many battles and taking care of wounds.  Many of those had to deal with naked men.  What I had not seen was an aroused naked man.  Well, after that, I most definitely had.  Would I repeat the incident?  In an instant.

I'm not entirely sure what happened next.  All I know is that suddenly my whole body was completely aware of him and I had reached down and began touching him.  He moaned softly and moved against me, his hands gently coming up to cup my face and pull me down for a kiss.

Whether or not I actually let him inside me, I don't know, but I don't remember resisting for even a moment.  All I know is that it was glorious.  Amazing, unfathomable pleasure for all.

Stupid, stupid, stupid!!!

But I was on top of him, he was inside me, and we were moving, and I was enjoying it.  I shouldn't admit that, but I am.  I enjoyed it more than I ever enjoyed anything else in my life.

After an immeasurable amount of time, he finally spoke to me, asking softly, "What's your name?"

I smiled, kissing him gently on the cheek, so tired I knew that sleep was inevitable.  "Sassira," I whispered.

"I'm Jace," he murmured against my ear.

When I woke in the morning, he was gone.