Aleda Pain.

Betrayed.

More pain, this was more real than before; it was physical. Artie....

Where was that boy, he was always getting into trouble with out her. Hoping to see him waiting she opened her eyes. Torches burned taking her eyes see prismed shards. She could hardly tell where she was. With her brightly vision clearing she could now see the throng of people who stood close by they were all familiar but their eyes seemed to burn with a red murderous glow. Why, what had she ever done?

It is you they hate; they want you dead, your life force snuffed out like a candle. You are worthless to them.

Shut up! I don't need your poison not now not ever! She could hear the dark laugher surrounding her, swallowing her whole. She was screaming but no sound came out, the people stood impassive watching the girl slide into nothingness.

Now you are in my world child. Reopening her eye she glanced around the empty glass floored room looking for the speaker. Above there was a smoke gray sky where lighting flashed overhead. There was no one there, only the empty spaces.

Who are you? His laugh sent shivers down her spine making the hair at the nape of her neck stand up. Standing she continued to look for the specter that haunted her. Feeling a disturbance in the rooms' aurora, she tried to move away from the glittering air. Suddenly a man appeared, he was dark, evil seeped from his pores making her want to scream. His face was shadowed; masses of dark ebony hair seemed to swirl with its own life. The air surrounding him was oppressive.

I'm your savior; your people were going to snuff you out of existence. His voice now was velvet soft, dripping with honey, compelling her to listen, obey. Go to hell get out of my head. Grasping her temples she began to back up. Telling him over and over to get away from her.

I can never go away little one I am part of your mind, always here. He stared at her with cold, unmoved eyes. Do you want to see something little one? His voice seemed to compel her towards his open palms look and see your future. gray fires began to swirl and pool in the center of his palms. She could hear screaming from somewhere near by, the vision hit her strong enough to drive her to her knees. There was the black man, only he was dead, his body was an empty husk the wind swept it away as she stared at it.

No, I won't look. She forced away the vision and the compulsion to look; she turned her head away fighting him wildly. The vision would not go away, here she was dressed in gems and fine clothing and people were bowing to her calling her their savior, but death was close by. Here was a woman with an arrow protruding from her chest her breathing labored. Stop it! Please stop no more!

Don't look child if you do your soul will belong to him even more completely than it already does!

Hearing him snarl, she winced curling up tighter into a ball. Who are you?

A friend my dear, a friend

Look, you must. LOOK! His command shook her will, but something kept his anger away from her. Something shattered close by. She could smell smoke, her eyes teared but she grinned at him. The drafts of warm, Smokey air were pulling on her, pulling her away from him.

I'm going to wake up. Everything will be alright you aren't real. Go to hell, I am free of your will. You will never control me! A grin flashed across his face, white teeth gleamed in the darkness.

You will never be free, I control your future, I control you! The war continues child! And you are my pawn! With a wave of his hand she felt herself tumble backwards into the clutches of her captors.

? ? ?

A solitary man stood on a rise looking over a field of brown dirt, his eyes flashed with old blue fire. Shaggy blonde hair gently moved in the breeze as he followed the rise of the hills beyond the field. How long ago had he stood here looking down onto this field, he knew not? But the stir of long forgotten memories kept him there just staring into nothingness. Hearing the crunch of leaves behind him, he sent out his magic searching for the invader on his solitude. A gentle brush against his mind told him that she was scanning too. Identifying the bronze aurora to be friendly he released his shield. "Go away Saree, I'm in no mood for your double bladed wisdom today." Never turning to see the dark skinned woman, he could hear her soft laughter and the smell of her exotic southern country scents.

" What is wrong Luthe, the ground was not soft enough for the prince to sleep on? Maybe now the princesses mother will let you marry her, since you have been proven worthy of royalty." Her voice was low and husky, her accent was heavy and she seemed to form her words with almost perfect articulation for them to be recognizable. " I fear you are mistaken my boy."

Luthe glanced out of the corner of his eye at the tiny woman. Her traditional garb was a blood red shot with bronze thread, silver bangles tinkled softly along both wrists. Silver lined her ears bringing an almost Elvin look to her pointed face and a single diamond drop glittered in her nose linked across her face to a drop in her ear. " I don't appreciate your sarcasm Saree Matari she was a good match." he sighed loudly turning away back to his thoughts.

"You are happy that she refused you, she as not meant for you and you know it Luthe." She was now looking in the direction that he was " I don't know what you northerners see in this place it is too green for me. Personally give me a ruddy colored desert any day." Luthe began to agree but decided against it.

" It is worse here than in the black forests, yes?" Luthe continued to look out not really seeing anything. He had been appalled by the death that was slowly creeping into the land in the dark forests, but here the damage was worse. Far worse. He kept his emotions to himself, not a single sage here understood their leader, and he guessed that none truly cared, except this one. Saree was the healer and one out of two sages he trusted, turning toward her he let her mull over the question waiting for her answer. Finally it came, " Yes it is worse here." She glanced south " does it continue the farther we will go." He noted the sadness in her voice.

"The reports I've received say yes and it only gets worse." Luthe shook his head in disgust. " This is a waste, it truly is." Her head was bowed in thought, teeth chewed thoughtfully on her lower lip

"We did this didn't we?" Luthe's head came around sharply, eyebrows raised in question. " Well. in lessons all mages learn that 'we' can use the powers of the earth to draw upon in emergency. But there have been a lot of emergencies." Her voice dripped with sarcasm " our people have grown lazy and fat on gorging on the precious life force of out earth." she stopped staring in horror at him thinking she had said to much.

Luthe smiled slightly, trying to reassure the woman. "You are learning quickly, and your observations are correct." Glancing back out at the darkened landscape he sighed; "we must hurry back, let us not give Stella the chance to use the blasted horn of hers. Luthe watched her smile spread in agreement but end in a wince when a long, low horn call entered the silence of the setting sun.

"Too late." Luthe smiled and enter the woods not looking to see if she had followed.

? ? ?

Pain lanced though her skull as shrieks form near by stalls awoke her from her sleep. "Aleda, I need you wake up" the boy's voice was choked and coughs.

"Artie," Aleda was surprised with her own body lethargic response to her commands.

"What's wrong?" Opening her eye's she could hardly believe what was raging around her. Red flames licked along the large rafters enveloping them sending smoke down engulfing the entire barn. Horse screams brought her back, looking towards the young boy Aleda stared at his large fearful eyes. " What happened, how did this happen Artie?!" Aleda jumped up, grabbing the boy's arm she ran towards the closed doors. Yanking the inner door open she gasped in fresh air, eyes still stinking she thrust Artie out into the night. Taking a deep breath Aleda ran back into the barn, only hearing the boy's cries faintly. Come on Aleda you can do this! Reaching the first stall Aleda un-did the latch with deft fingers, hoping that the horse inside wouldn't kick her, she didn't need to get broken ribs now. " Donzi don't you go any where, do you understand me." Aleda gripped the large jumper's nose forcing his compliance with a slight mental pat. The horse's white-rimed eyes roll wildly but he followed her out and stood still waiting for the others.

Moving quickly Aleda went along the rows forcing her will on each horse. She could hear the beams groaning with their strength sapped out but the fire. Returning to the front Aleda grasped Donzi's and his neighbor manes tightly and began forward towards the barn doors. A loud groan made her glance up, the charred beam was beginning to crack coming closer to her and the animals. Forward the horses complied without resistance.

By the time she reached the door, her mind had begun to fog with the smoke, making her stagger. Deep within Aleda could hear his laughter at her body's weakness; straightening in defiance she pushed against the large door.

Pushing again she found that the door was stuck, "No, NO! Let me out!" Aleda tried to scream but it came out as a croak, coughing ensued bringing her to her knees.

I win; you loose child the man's voice echoed in her mind sending chills down hr spine. Aleda swayed dangerously close to collapsing.

Never! I will get out. Aleda thudded on the door again trying not to think about the heat from the flames or the animals that had placed their lives in her hands. " Let me out, open, please open!" Aleda could feel the air around her become charged with something that pressed at her. Fresh air filled her lungs when there was none to be found, strength flooded her worn body allowing her to stand. Placing her hands on the door, Aleda spoke one word, softly but it seemed to echo out into the night, round the crackling fire and towards the closed doors. "Open"

The air groaned with power as the double doors flew open, releasing the horses from her compulsion Aleda staggered to the ground. Donzi shook his head gently, snorted and walked out into the open ground, the others followed into the hand of the awaiting villagers.