The hour was very early. Two phoenix flew swiftly to a large planet on the bounds of one of the dimensions. They knew their plans; the council who sent them went to a lot of trouble to think them through. They knew exactly what to do. They approached the planet and saw the damage already caused there. It was a fairly large planet, maybe two or three times the size of Jupiter and it was split, light and dark, half and half. This was the planet of the tigers. Their world was in peril. The light tigers wanted peace, the dark tigers only wanted to rule. According to the maps they had studied, on the light side there was a big white castle and on the darks side, directly opposite on the other side of the planet, there was a great dark tower. Each of the phoenix, Ariax and Silver, were headed to these separate places in an attempt to unite the two halves.

They landed directly in the middle and shifted into elves. Ariax's long red hair flowed down past the pale red garments she wore. Silver ran a hand through his short silvery-blonde hair, as he looked down on the elven warrior garments they both wore. In their hilts they both held their own sword and one dagger with jewels set into the handle. Ariax's sword, Selene, was an elven blade, blessed with pheonic magic. Inset with runes long forgotten to all except a select few, with it she could cast a small amount of flame onto any enemy, therefore only she could wield it. Selene had a brother, he was held by Silver. Around her neck and wrist were two identical dark emeralds set into silver. These were the seeing stones of Amun, a gift given to her long ago. They warmed when evil and unnatural was near. Ariax took the name Rowan and Silver took the name Rial. The council had given them a few temporary powers for this mission only. They both shifted into little elf children.

Silver gave a sly smile and said, "see you in thirteen years." Then he shut his eyes, and was transported away to the dark tower. Ariax shut her eyes, and was transported to the white castle. She forgot everything about the mission in the process, something that can only return gradually when she saw Silver again.

It was icy cold in the snow and mist of the palace garden. Suddenly there was a voice; it was soft, but wise and firm.

"What's this?" Rowan felt herself being picked up.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I awoke with a start. I blinked as my dark green eyes got used to the darkness. I looked over my room, the large bed, the circular cupboards, and the white. I didn't know why I had woken up, but it was like a disturbance had rushed over the castle. I racked my brain for the date. Oh yes, the thirteenth. It was thirteen years ago I was found wandering alone in the palace gardens. The empress Amarantha had found me and had taken me in, even though I was not a tiger. She had taught me all the old ways and brought me up as her daughter. She had another daughter too, only one, her name was Naralim and she was heir to the throne. She had the best of everything in her growing up, causing her to go a little soft but she was fair and very kind.

I rubbed my eyes a little and reached down to the little table next to my bed. I moved my hand across in the darkness, feeling for the necklace and bracelet that I had had since I was found. I found them scolding hot but there was no pain or burn. I slipped them on and closed my eyes. When I opened them, I was invisible. I changed out of the warm dress I was sleeping in into a pale red top, loose fitting black pants and pulled my hair back into a loose, low ponytail. I tucked my sword, Selene, away into a secret place in the room. Too many people had tried to steal it.

I grabbed my cloak, crept down the stairs into the hall, and passed quietly through the door that led to the entrance hall. I tiptoed down carpet and sat on the stairs. There in the hall stood a party of six, three tigers and two men and one elf. I could tell these were from the dark side. It was cold so I threw the cloak around me, fastened it at the front and pulled the hood over my head. I walked silently down the stairs. It was easy to tell who the leader was, tall stout man with medium length black hair and black eyes stood with a long dark cloak on. Next to him, stood one who was no doubt his son, he looked like his father but there was more youth in his features. As my eyes slid to the elf a flood of recognition waved over me, even though I had never seen him before. His silvery-grey eyes shone a little as they slid around the hall, looking for something but didn't know what. His two companions kept their own eyes on the door in front expectantly. There was a bang as they flew open.

"Anthonis! You bring more anger to my heart than ever before!" Amarantha stood in the doorway, pale and icy, with long white hair flowing down to just past the knees of the sparkling white dress she was wearing. In her hand, she held a staff with a diamond on its head. "I told you not to come and here you are, uninvited. You have no welcome here, turn back, return to the marshes and fog of your world, unless you come in goodwill."

"Amarantha you ever surprise me. Of course, I come in goodwill, but I have many reasons for my being here. I have travelled far and I am weary and hungry."

"If that is your request for food or sleep you may have some food, but you will not sleep until you tell me your reasons for being here." I crept down the stairs, being very careful to stay in the shadows, for Amarantha can see me when I am invisible. I slowly crept behind Amarantha and to the doors of the throne room. Suddenly the strange elf spoke with a laugh.

"Before we proceed, Amarantha ask the being lurking near the door to show itself." I froze with shock, Amarantha slowly turned around and, to my surprise, laughed when she saw me.

"Rowan, you heard him," she said with mocking scorn. I sighed and shut my eyes. I became visible again. Warmth grew in the room and I pulled the hood of my cloak down. I stepped up to Amarantha's side and stared indignantly at the men now watching me in amazement. I sent a mind thought to Amarantha.

"Please, do not send me away. I do not trust these strangers."

In my head came the reply. "No-one could trust them less than me but if you wish to stay, you may do so. It is nearly time for breakfast anyway." She spoke aloud now. "This is Anthonis, lord of the dark tower and his son Chi. This is his adopted son Rial." She waved her hand absently to each as she said their names. She then turned to me and whispered in my ear," go back to your room and change into a dress similar to mine. Wake Naralim too, she must also be dressed this way. Whether I like it or not, these are now our guests of honour, they will be dressed in richer clothes for the feast too." I nodded, smiled at the strangers and walked off. As I reached the door that lead to the circular hall, which lead to my tower and many other rooms, I turned around and saw the silver-haired stranger watching me leave before he himself was lead away. I pushed the doors open and walked straight to the nearest door. I saw Naralim was already awake. She paced the room nervously then shifted into a woman and brushed her white hair frantically. She repeated this pattern several times before I called out to her.

"Boo," she jumped a mile and then spun around with her own short staff, diamond glowing and I froze. Literally. I could feel the ice spread from my toes to my neck before she realised who I was and removed the spell.

"I am so sorry but you startled me."

"I didn't mean to startle you," I said; glad to feel the warmth in my body again. I then explained the events of the morning and she jumped up to get ready. She showed me three different dresses and asked me which looked most like the dress her mother was wearing. I nodded at the third, told her to meet me in the hall in half an hour and walked out. I climbed the stairs to get to my tower. My room was smaller than Naralim's but it was higher, not many here liked heights and I was the only one. It was a high tower but not the highest. That was for spells and magick. I reached my room and walked directly into a smaller one. I looked at all the clothes around me then lazily waved my hand and three dresses appeared in front of me. I grabbed an off the shoulder dress and the other two went back to wherever they came from. I slipped the dress on; pulled my hair out of the ponytail it was in and put it in a higher one. I gazed at my reflection in the mirror. In the royal family, I was not of blood. The other two were almost human but a little different. Their hearts were not corrupted so easily. I was an elf, I was different and I could not take the throne. I knew that if I could I would be allowed to, I was undoubtedly stronger then Naralim was. I grabbed a circlet with an emerald the same as mine and walked out of the room, leaving no trace of my ever being there. I waited in the hall, humming to myself and swinging the circlet in my hand. A few minutes later Naralim came out, I stopped humming, fixed the circlet into my hair and we left. As we walked into the hall, every gaze was on us. I looked around the room and noticed the silver-haired elf was staring at me. His eyes pierced mine and I mumbled to myself.

"Silver." At the same time, he recognised me. All of a sudden, my memory returned. I remembered the mission. I remembered Silver. My instincts told me not to reveal that to the others just yet. I turned to the other companions and gasped. Anthonis was holding Silvers dagger near his belt. I ran all the way back to my room, grabbed my own dagger and hid it in the folds of the dress. I walked swiftly back to the hall, sat in my usual position and said nothing about my disappearance.

We tucked into breakfast and Anthonis talked light-heartedly with Amarantha. I did not hear their words but there was an obvious tension between them. Anthonis spoke aloud now.

"Well back to the meanings of our journey. I come in an offer of unity. I offer my son for marriage to Naralim, heir to the throne." Around of surprised faces circled the room, except Silver's and mine. The council, of course, did not tell us what would happen next. Naralim got up and left hem room, Amarantha went after her, leaving me alone with the men. Anthonis stood up and whistled loudly. There was a loud bang as the doors were bashed open. A host of dark looking men entered. My eyes darted over them, quickly counting them.

"About five hundred." I thought to myself, "I can't do this." They were all wielding swords, bow, and arrows. They stopped and shot a shower of arrows into nearby rooms but the tigers were too fast for them. The few men in the hall shot answering arrows and the host advanced. I shifted into elven clothes and picked up the knife from where it had fallen. I ran forward as Silver did the same thing. We fought slowly the beings on the stairs and slowly won them. We dashed forward into the hall. Silver walked in and alerted Amarantha and Naralim. Then he ran with me to my room. I grabbed Selene and threw off the circlet I still had on.

"I wont tell them about you which means you can stay with them and play mediator, but please fight with me. I can make a potion that will make them forget your involvement," I said, panting heavily.

"Ok, sounds like a plan." He grabbed me and hugged me tightly. "I missed you, good friend."

"I missed you too." We broke away and ran down the stairs. I saw Naralim and Amarantha still in deep discussion. When we reached the halls we saw just how well Amarantha's men were trained, they had killed of most of the men before they had been overcome themselves. Silver and I ran to the hall and saw there about twenty men taking orders from Anthonis to go this way or that. With a wave of our hands, all the doors slammed and locked themselves. Suddenly all the eyes in the hall were on us.

"Traitor!" yell Chi.

"Oh I'm not that bad!" he yelled back and laughed. With that, everyone sprang to action. Silver and I ran from them, trying to wear them out, we then turned and fought. I drew Selene and she seemed to glitter at the thought of battle. We fought and it seemed, as the half hour of the short battle was a dance, we sifted through the men, dicing in and out in what I could only describe as a game. After the fight was over, I sheathed my sword and took a drink of the draught in one of my pockets. I smiled as warmth returned to me and weariness left my limbs. I turned around slowly to face Anthonis and Chi. Chi charged at me while Anthonis made his escape. Silver chased him. Chi and I fought for what seemed like hours, in reality it was only about an hour. We were as good as each other, it was constant, blocking and advancing. In one flash, his eyes went almost serpent like and I faltered. In that second I ended up flat on my back, Chi sitting on my stomach. He held a short knife at my throat.

He bent over and whispered in my ear. "Gotcha." In one swift move I reclaimed one of the arms ha had pinned above my head. I ran a finger from his forehead down to his nose and shook my head slowly and sadly.

"No, you don't." I laughed softly, at that split second, there was a flash of white, and Chi was knocked off me. Shortly after that, there was another flash and two snow-white tigers now circled him. They shifted into women and he attacked. He went for Amarantha first and I found myself striding forward omitting a powerful threat.

"If you so much as touch her I will break every bone in your body with my sword." My words echoed powerfully around the hall and he withdrew, shying into a corner to cower before me. Amarantha clenched her fist as if to grab something and in her hand appeared her staff. Chi froze but Amarantha stopped the ice before it reached his neck.

I raced off down the path Anthonis had taken and found the two fighting in the Sparring/Training room. They were fighting a similar battle to the one I had just fought and it was fierce. I grabbed a nearby staff, permitted myself a small smile, walked confidently into the fight and knocked Anthonis hard in the chest. To my surprise, he flew along way and landed with a loud smack against the wall. He lay slumped where he landed. I motioned with one of my hands and his unconscious body obediently followed after me. I strode out of the room and went back to the Grand Hall. I saw Chi out cold on the floor. We followed Amarantha and dragged them into a luxurious. I shot Silver a questioning glance then looked to Amarantha.

"We are not barbarians, even to our enemies," she said in answer. We laid them both onto big beds, tended their wounds and they slept soundly. They could probably have stayed this way for days but I had other plans. Amarantha, Silver and I stalked out of the room and headed directly to the Throne Room, pausing only to cast a powerful spell on the door to seal it. Amarantha told Naralim to go and get some sleep while she spoke with me and Silver. With little protest, Naralim left.

"Excuse me." Silver called out to Amarantha. "Could I please have a few moments with Rowan?"

"Of course." I followed Silver briskly out of the room.

He turned to face me. "We cannot tell her of our mission or my involvement either."

"But how shall we cover for it?"

"I'm sure we will improvise." We walked back to the throne room and found Amarantha in deep discussion with one of her tiger guards. The head judging by the markings around his eyes.

"Menthales here was just telling me of your deeds, Rowan!" She said to me heartedly. She now turned to Silver. "Rial you surprise me. But why?"

Silver looked at her and said, "it is out of mercy I did that, your highness, but I merely laugh that you did not realise." A flash of anger surged across the empress's face but it was quickly quelled and an unnerving calm was now in her voice.

"I see," she laughed softly then continued," if that is the way you go then you may spend the night with your own." Silver nodded and bowed. "Rowan you may take him to the cell and let him in, but return quickly for I have many questions to ask of you."

We stalked out of the room and walked with great speed to the room where the others were held. I removed the spell with a disinterested wave and let Silver through.

"Don't drink the drink I bring tomorrow, it will make them forget." Silver nodded and crashed onto a bed, Chi stirred in his sleep but did not wake. I walked out and flicked my hand, casting spell on the door no one but I could break. I walked back into the throne room.

"Ah! Come follow, you must be tired, very hungry and wishing to change into more comfortable clothes." Amarantha beamed at me.

"I have no hunger or weariness that can't be healed by me." I reached into my front pocket, pulled out the bottle and downed most of the remaining contents. "Ah, much better. Maybe you should have some before I go and change." I held out the bottle and looked at it strangely. I watched her face as she drunk the rest of it. Her eyes brightened and she grinned at me.

"It's magical, elven, I think."

"You got it, come, you follow me." I took the bottle from her and it shattered into tiny dust particles, its magic spent. We went up to my room, wiped Selene with a cloth then threw both the cloth and the blade into a nearby fire. Amarantha leapt up in shock.

"Not to worry, it will not even heat this blade. I am merely cleaning the dirt they call blood off my sword." I think I surprised her a little when I reached into the fire, pulled out the sword and sheathed her.

All she could say was, "oh." I changed into the same thing I had worn when I was invisible. She grabbed my cloak and wrapped it defensively around herself.

I grabbed her thick white one and said, "its yours." We put the cloaks on properly and covered our heads. I walked out of the room leaving Amarantha no choice but to follow. We walked to the garden and then passed on to an outer tower. We climbed the stairs and sat on the roof. We stared out into the deep night. Out to the far right of my line of vision was a deep ridge, at the bottom of which was a thundering river fed by the mountains. The mountains themselves were thick with caves and tunnels, in these tunnels lived men. The same river ran back through down to a large lake. In this lake it was told there lived a race as old as time. No one had ever seen them and their existence was never certain. I turned to Amarantha.

"I can't really explain so you are going to have to trust me. I am here to keep the peace." Amarantha did nothing but nod as she turned her eyes back to her land. We sat in silence for maybe an hour.

I stood up and said quietly to myself, "I should go and prepare the food." I picked Amarantha up from where she had fallen asleep and travelled back to the palace. I waved off the worried guards at the door, explaining she was only tired and needed sleep. I took her up to my room and laid her on my bed. I then went straight to the kitchen. I hushed all the other cooks out and set about looking for the herb I needed. It was not in store so I sent for the one who was named after it. The tiger guard was confused by my request but he went for it straight away. He came back soon after, passed me the herb, hovered for a moment then left. I put the herb into boiling pot of water and added a dash or three of sweetening herb, powdered down and added to honey. I drew a small vial of powdered with long forgotten. I took out a pinch and put it into the pot. I poured it instantly into two cups, bore them straight to the cell and set them down on a table. I walked over to Chi and tapped him softly on the nose, instantly waking him. His dark eyes pierced mine and I stumbled backwards as he clasped his hand onto my neck. He held me up and pushed me back until my back hit the wall. Hard. He dropped me down to his height and pinned both my arms with one hand. He tightened his grip on my neck; I could feel every breath leave my body. I struggled madly but it only caused the breath to leave faster. I kicked him, kneed him, but his grip was too strong. I was beginning to get dizzy when he leapt back with a yelp of pain. He had run his hand over my necklace and it was scolding. I felt all the control return to my limbs and was soon on top of him. I had my hand at his neck and was about to break it when Silver pulled me away. I nestled into his arms and turned to face Chi.

"I got you some refreshments, wake up your father yourself!" With that, I broke from Silver's arms and stalked out of the room without looking back, sealing the door as I went. A loud knock echoed around the palace. I walked to answer it and as I did, I created an orb with the seeing stones to see who was there. A heavily cloaked figure stood alone at the door. I moved the orb on from him and a little way off stood a party of three. Two tigers and one man. I opened the doors with a wave of my hand.

"Welcome stranger, what bids you here with your party?" The stranger passed through the door and I stepped up defensively. He removed the cloak from his head and stepped into the light. On his face was a wide grin.

"Rowan, I have heard but tales of your beauty and none come close to the real thing."

"Mian, I have been awaiting your arrival, news does travel quickly by the wind for I know I am not the only one who hears it." I gave Mian a close hug. Mian was another son of Anthonis and the only to bear any sign of his mother. He had brown hair and brown eyes. His mother, Mithlithiel, was known to be the only light in that part of the world. She had passed away long ago and with her death, the spirit of the land had died too. Mian and I had been swapping tales on the news for a very long time. I was pleased to finally meet him in person. We talked as we walked to a sitting room. His tigers and man followed loyally and I waved a hand down the path leading to a lesser dining hall.

"You will find refreshments down there." They didn't move and I grew impatient, I turned to Mian.

"Go on," he said. He turned not to me and took my hands with his own. He gestured to sit down; I took my hands back and sat.

"You have come for which reason?" I said, confused.

"My father and brother, they are mine, I want to take them back," he said suddenly.

"Then you cannot talk to me, you must talk with Amarantha."

"Take me to her."

"She is fast asleep, she will not wake for a few days at least neither will her daughter Naralim. They needed the sleep. They had many shocks and used magick too advanced. Amarantha has left me in charge."

"Can I see my family at least?"

"Of course," I got up and walked calmly to the door. "Follow." I showed him to the room. Chi and Anthonis were slouched over, struck be some headache they did not know of. That, of course, was my potion, memories of this sort were not easily removed from the mind, and they had to be torn, leaving a searing headache. I offered them each a small vial, which they grabbed greedily, fooled by the illustrious purple bottle. By the pain in their eyes, I could tell it had worked. It stung like hell going down but it got rid of the headache and they were now rendered completely helpless. They could roam freely around the castle and not do one bit of wrong. It was a spell I was very proud of. I looked around for Silver, I felt him slip behind me, invisible. I turned around and leapt for the space, I kept going until I hit him and then we rolled a little because of the force of my jump. He appeared again under my grip and I stood up, offering him my hand. He took it and we both stood there, shaking with laughter, then he saw Mian, ran over to him and bowled him over. I left them as they were and walked to the hall where Mian's companions were eating. I noticed that the man was of resemblance to the men that had attacked.

"What brings you here?" I said in peace as I sat down and filled my plate hungrily.

"Assessing the damage done to my troops." So he is one of them.

"You will find none to assess. Your men are dead."

"Sorceress!" he snorted and started towards me.

I held up my hands in defence. "Nay, warrior."

"I doubt that you would have killed my men alone."

"Nay again. I was not alone, I had many of the empresses warriors and I bear Selene."

"Selene! I have heard mere stories; she cannot be as good as they claim her to be. A sword is only as good as its bearer." I shifted in my seat, uncomfortable with the eyes that were now studying me. They were filled with greed, malice, hurt and great weariness.

"Aye she is, I suggest you get some sleep, you will find spare rooms that was." I waved a hand down the said passageway, at the same time removing his sword and other weapons and watched them float up unnoticed. The man got up, shot me one last smirk then walked out as if he were the most important man on the planet. The tigers trailed after him. I shot a mocking smirk at his back and retreated to my own room. Amarantha was in my chair so I shifter into a leopard and curled up in a big squishy chair. I slept for a couple of hours only. I was woken up by a creeping presence. I sat up, shifting into an elf as I went

"Who's there? Show yourself if you are not afraid." Amarantha stirred and at that point, Chi removed himself from the shadows. He was walking straight towards me when he was tackled by some unseen threat. My spell. He scampered away in his panic. After that I knew I would sleep no longer. I wrapped a cloak around me and traipsed quietly down to the palace. I stepped outside and went to the place I had been found. I sat there for a while then shifted into a phoenix and took off. In a few wing beats I spiralled upward then paused to take a look around. The moon shone down appealingly on the lakes dark water. I shot over to it, landed on the soft, white, sandy beach, shifted into an elf and sat, staring into the water. After I while I started to sing, which quickly turned into singing, my voice cutting like a knife through the silence around me.

'My spirit shall not be broken,

I will carry on into the night,

When the darkness folds around me,

I will clear it away,

To restore the light,

I can run no further,

Nor hide from truth,

I will find,

What is mine,

And lead the way again.'

I paused to study my surroundings for a while. Suddenly a slight movement called my attention to the water. I saw a curious silhouette; I could feel eyes studying me now. I called softly to it.

"Hello?" It started to turn away. "No." I found myself standing. The figure turned and walked towards me. I saw its face in the moonlight now. It was a she. Almost everything about her was blue. She had very long, darkest blue hair, pale blue skin, deep blue eyes and a dress that shimmered different shades of blue in the light. On her head was a silver circlet. She was very tall and had the commanding presence of the elves. She was not an elf though, she reminded me vaguely of the sea dragons and serpents I had seen on other worlds. She reached out and touched my skin, I replied by copying her movements. This was the way of saying greeting I guess. She started to speak to me, but I did not understand her words. She removed her hand from my cheek and pointed curiously at me, and then she pointed at the sky. Had she seen me flying? No, she had not. I would have sensed it. I always sense it. Suddenly she turned her head as if distracted by a call unheard by me. She gave a sort of wave and disappeared with a splash. I sat down and stared into the water, trying to remember all the things I had ever heard about the water people. It was then, in the deepest night that everything went silent, not a breath of wind and I felt a disturbance surge forth from the castle. I shot away, passing through the bushes with amazing speed and agility. I smiled as I remembered shifting but decided this was more fun. In half and hour I reached the castle, flung the doors open and headed to where there were loud voices.

"Don't. dare... touch." I walked swiftly on my toes so as not to make any sound of my approach. The doors to Naralims room were open, betraying the voices from inside. Amarantha and Naralim stood together, on the floor was a slumped figure and stooping over him was Anthonis. Silver stood silently to the side and Mian was nowhere to be seen. I walked slowly to the slumped figure and saw it was Chi. I small pool of blood issued from a deep gash in his throat. He was dead. I waved my hands, removed the blood. His eyes looked glassy and they chilled me to the bone. I took Anthonis's cloak and placed it over his son. I stood up and looked around, all eyes were on me. At that moment Naralim burst into tears and sank onto the bed, Amarantha sat down, put an arm around her and spoke mutedly to her. Anthonis shrunk into a pile. He wasn't going anywhere; his hope was all but wiped out. Chi was his hope for the future, Rial could not take the throne, he was not of blood. His other son was weak, a good warrior with a strong heart, but he did not have what it required to lead a nation of angry tigers. He was not strong enough. Silver stepped up to me.

"Come, I will tell you of this evenings events." We walked hurriedly from Naralim's room to mine. He turned to face me and laughed ironically. "It is so simple really, Naralim not really a trusting person always kept a dagger near her bed, well Chi was in her room, fiddling around with her hair and such, she woke up but she didn't realise who it was. She got out of bed, slipping the dagger in her palm, he drew his own blade to her neck, she was faster and she killed him. I gasped, despairing. Things were gong to be a lot harder now. I turned to him.

"Go find Mian, if he does not know he will need to be told and if he does.well.." He nodded curtly, and then strode off. I went back to Naralim's room. I stood uncomfortably for a moment, made an attempt to speak, then left. I passed silently down to the dining hall. I did not grab food instead just took a drink of the draught and took a gulp.

Something flew out at me and I ducked instinctively, it sailed harmlessly past and turned around on the attack. Instead of leaping, it shrunk. becoming human. I saw now that it was Mian; he shocked by the death of his brother I could tell. I ran up to him and hugged him, he pushed me and I stumbled backward, shocked. He shook his head and mumbled how sorry he was, repeatedly. At this point Anthonis appeared at the door, very shaken, I stood torn as he moved to get something to eat. His eyes were empty as they searched for something he could not see. Silver appeared out of one of the narrower corridors leading to the dungeons. Anthonis found what he was searching for and his eyes brightened, but with malice.

"You can tell Amarantha to expect me back, for revenge!" He strode out, Mian followed, Silver shot me a worried look and left after them. I stood there and gathered myself from the little puddle I had melted into. I told myself this was not the time and went to Amarantha.

"Lady, I fear a war coming." She stood up in shock; Naralim was nowhere to be seen.

"Come with me please?" I followed her up to the high tower; I knelt down, faced the white wall and cast an orb onto it. Shown on it were the men. As if borne by the wind itself they were just inside their own boundaries, already sending out messengers to find men strong enough to fight, it looked to be an army of around ten thousand. Amarantha left my side and a pattern fell into the hours that followed. I sat and watched, keeping track, Amarantha would come in and check on me. A tiger had been appointed to keep me in comfort and nourished. By the fifth day, I was drained. It had taken a lot of my magic to keep the image on the wall. I sent the tiger out on a mission and then turned to the window, I shifted into a starling and flew down to my room's window, which was conveniently shut. I flew around to the doors and saw there a conglomeration of tigers, the queen's messengers. I landed in a thicket nearby and shifted into a tiger, then joined the fray silently. These messengers had been sent everywhere, for the realm of white was not one united. It consisted of states or provinces. Each had its own laws and elected its own leaders, names senators who represented that state in the empress's halls. They were held in the highest honour of kings in their own states. They also had an army from their own population. The townships on the dark border were provided with more men on the empress's word. The doors opened and I slipped in among them. When we reached the throne room I passed through into shadow, unnoticed. Despite my weariness, I stayed to listen. The head of them, who I recognised as Menthales, stepped up to Amarantha to pass on the news. They spent a while in discussion with everyone looking on expectantly. Amarantha nodded and he stepped away. She spoke softly to herself.

"Five thousand, well I guess that's reasonable, buts it's not going to be enough." I stepped from my hiding place. As myself I walked to the empress's side.

"What of the men of the caves?" I tried to shake off the weariness but it grasped my shoulders.

"The men of the mountains," she repeated softly, "we have not had anything to do with them in an age."

"Then maybe it is time you did?" I replied then went to my room to sleep. I slept for two days and probably would have kept going if Amarantha hadn't disrupted me.

"Rowan, your advice has paid off. Three thousand march to the palace as we speak."

"That is indeed good tidings, lady." I sat up.

"I know," she said wistfully, "but will it be enough?" It was then; I remembered something I had been trying to forget. I jumped out of bed and shifted into an eagle. Amarantha looked at me in shock.

"Don't ask, just get on." I flew out of my room, people stopped to look as the reddish-brown, enormous eagle flew the span of the great hall then shot out the doors and flew away. A few shot arrows but they sailed harmlessly past. I touched down next to the lake and shifter back to an elf.

"Sing." I commanded her, the roughness of my voice catching her off guard. She started to sing uncertainly.

"The night is dark and hope seems all but gone,

Your dreams don't haunt your sleep as they do mine,

I hope, you see, that blessed be,

Your heart will be true to the end."

A splash alerted us to the water, as a male appeared. He had been watching us that I already knew but how intently I wasn't sure of. He went to Amarantha and began talking to her. I don't know who was more surprised when she replied in the same language - me or her. They vanished into the water, leaving me behind. I sat down and waited, observing the sunlight and the lake and how it all looked in the daylight. The breeze ruffled my hair as the hours past lazily into the deep red of late evening. As the suns sank the lake blazed red from the reflection and I shut my eyes to protect them from the glare. It was a small splash a few moments later that caused me to open them again. The sun had sunk far enough for the glare to be bearable and I saw Amarantha leaving the water with a grin from ear to ear. I glanced at her questioningly.

"Not now," was all she would say on the matter. I shifted into an eagle and flew back to the palace while opted to walk. I went back to sleep and sensed movement in the castles shifting through my dreams. I awoke to a slight movement in my immediate vicinity. Amarantha told me to put the dress on and meet the guests downstairs. It was most certainly a grand affair. The halls had been done up most fancily and we all entered the grand hall as a group. It was then I understood why the palace had been so busy, a grand table had been constructed, made of the precious stone Mith, and shaped like a tear drop. After we were all seated Amarantha stood up. Silence followed gradually.

"I thank you all for coming," she laughed, "standard line. I will not waste your time with idiotic speeches on how grateful I am for your help, which you already know. I would actually like you to meet two incredible people. You have all heard the legend of the lake people, the Illiants. Well as our guests of honour tonight are Miandra, princess of the lake and Wildern, the king." She motioned to the side and only now we noticed the two people seated at her side. They were the girl and the man we had seen. "They have given one thousand soldiers to our service and five hundred of their best bowmen." There was complete silence followed by a single cheer and loud applause. It was the senator whose province included the lake, soon after everyone had joined in and the halls echoed with laughter and applause. Presently the food was brought out and for the next couple of hours, and courses, there was much chatter and laughter. At one point, Miandra caught my eye, waved, I laughed and waved back, and we both went on talking. Before dessert was served, the hall was brought to silence yet again by Amarantha.

"Just before dessert I would like to treat you all to a song," she paused, "but I can't sing. So I would like to ask Rowan to treat you to a song." There was a loud cheer and I laughed, and then stood to the side.

"I will sing the song, The Springs of Azalea, the story of the legendary Shapeshifter home. I warn you, it ends sadly."

"I would be honoured if I could join you, Rowan." Miandra stood up and faced me.

"Of course." She stood next to me and the hall grew silent. I began to sing, my voice sweet and she joined in with a cool steady tone. We sang of shifters- artisans, traders and leaders. We sang of the beauty of the world Azalea, the forests of wildlife, rivers, oceans of sea life, lakes of deepest blue. We then moved onto the corruption of the leaders and lastly the destruction of the shifters and the loss of beauty and knowledge. There the songs ended, in most of the eyes on us, were tears.

"That song is not yet complete. The story ever grows as the sad tale of the fallen shifters continues." I sighed, remembering my time there also. We returned to our seats and dessert was served. I noticed that throughout the meal Naralim has said very little. She was too ashamed I suppose. She had buried herself in studies. Soon dinner was over, all the guests were escorted to rooms and I went wearily to mine. I changed into some loose fitting clothes and looked about me. I was tired but not sleepy, so I picked up Selene from where she was and began recharging her magic. I hadn't been doing this for long when I heard a sharp whistle, I used Selene to slice the arrow in half and I searched around the room for the arrow that loosed it. My eyes settled on the door where Miandra stood laughing.

"Good move," she laughed, I motioned her in with a questioned glance, "I begged your mother to let me come, she gave in." I laughed with her and waved my arm, a bed appeared. I put Selene away and tucked myself into a big squishy couch. Miandra just sat down on the floor. We sat and talked well into the early hours and then went to sleep and slept well into the afternoon. Naralim timidly tiptoed into my room.

"Miandra has to ummm.. go now, yes." Miandra left with Naralim. I put everything away and then drifted downstairs. I grabbed something to eat then went upstairs to watch the lands through my orb. And then it stopped.

"Silver!" I exclaimed to myself and went back downstairs.

A pattern fell into the next few months, people drifting about, air electric, everyone was waiting. Winter rushed past, bringing us closer and closer to the fate that awaited us all. One afternoon a single man came to the steps.

"The dark army is marching," then he fell down dead from sheer exhaustion. Finally, the day had come; I changed into elven warrior clothes, sheathed Selene and the dagger and pulled my hair out of the way. I went back down and saw Amarantha and Naralim were coming as well. We just locked eyes and walked out to greet the face the army gathered on the steps and surrounding fields.

"Remember this! We ride not to conquer but to defend!" With that the army marched forward, we passed swiftly over land each day and camped each night. One night when I at last got sick of the slow progress, I went to Amarantha.

"Lady, I request that I choose a few and go ahead to keep an eye on things and start the camp."

"Ok, fine, but send word often." She knew better than to try to argue with me. I nodded and went off to find people willing. I gathered a five tigers, ten men and fifteen Illiant bowmen. We set off down a rough path, we followed it through a dark misty forest and lost track of time. Toward the end of the forest, the path died away, when we stepped out of the forest we were near blinded by the brilliant setting sun. We travelled swiftly over many fields, sending scouts forwards and backwards. It was one cool afternoon when one of my scouts rode back to me from in front.

"They are camped a few miles from here, stupidly enough though, in the middle of a valley."

"Send word to my mother, tell her to make haste," I paused and yelled to everyone else, "set up camp!" He galloped off quickly on his horse. My own horse, Misterian, neighed quietly where she stood.

"Well Misty, lets go take a look ourselves." I jumped onto her and we galloped away silently. We passed over rolling hills swiftly and silently. We came to the foot of a hill, which I knew dipped into a valley. As we climbed, we hid into some trees. I looked out onto the valley, a huge camp was assembled, and I could see it temporary. I started a little; a sword was drawn to my neck. I didn't panic though it was Silvers. I knocked it away, ignoring the pain from the cut it caused on my wrist, and turned to face him.

"Thought you might be here, Anthonis knows about your little scout group."

"Hmm, I wonder how?"

He ignored my comment and went on, "and he sent me to keep an out."

"Well I can see you have done just that."

"You are lucky it is me who found you and not one of those thing he pulled from the ground."

"I could have handled them." I pouted then turned back to the valley, the sudden breeze ruffling my hair.

He tucked a strand behind my ear, "Ari, you are being far too careless." I turned to tell him not to worry, but he was gone. I looked curiously around, cast one last glance as the vast encampment and climbed onto Misty. I arrived back at camp at the same time as the scout I sent out. He ran to me.

"They have increased their speed, they will arrive soon."

"Ok take some rest." He bowed and walked off. Sure enough a few hours later Amarantha and the host appeared. They had travelled a long distance at short time but none appeared to be willing to rest. We packed up camp quickly, leaving tents for Amarantha, Naralim and a few defenders.

"If they come for you, it is lost anyway." Amarantha begged me to stay but I mounted Misty anyway. "Give us four days, if no message comes, return to the palace." I galloped away and did not turn around. We encircled the valley and waited. In the morning, the camp was packed up and all the troops were rallied. It was then I made my move. I motioned to my own troops and all the bowmen stood forward. They each had an arrow in their hands. I called out.

"Anthonis! Will you call off your advance?" He turned around in surprise.

"Never!"

"Fine." I motioned again to the bowmen; they all shot their arrows. All found their mark and we all ducked as answering arrows were shot. I leapt off Misty and slapped her on the flanks and she galloped away. I drew Selene and gave the shout to advance. My bowmen shot more arrows while the soldiers attacked. They were excellent shots, finding a target with their keen eyes and matching it with cunning speed. The battle between us lasted for days. Anthonis, Silver and Mian had drawn to the side to watch while I fought with my own cunning and speed. After the main fight was wearing down, about twenty remaining men and me turned to face fifteen of the enemy that was headed toward us. I drew a deep, long breath and as I did time seemed to slow down. I looked about, taking in the hardship and bloodshed of the past two days, the enormous task we had all completed. I saw the pale blood that ran from the bodies of fallen comrades and a new hatred was born. I began to mutter a spell, repeating the words over and over again, blinking deeply until a wind that blew only me sent my hair spiralling backwards and I took Selene and made a wide arc in the air with her, fire jumping from her tip in glee. All the men died and I stood there panting at the great amount of magic used to cast that great amount of flame. I turned to my men.

"Amarantha. message. she must come. go!" I then blacked out.



~~~

I awoke with a start, someone had a cold hand placed on my neck. I grabbed it and shoved it away roughly. Silvers face greeted me.

"Morning sunshine." I rubbed my eyes a little and my memory came rushing back. I started and shifted into a starling then flew to the other side of the valley and shifted back. Silver just stayed where he was and sighed. I sat for three hours before I heard extremely fast galloping. I turned to face Amarantha and Naralim, blood pouring freely from a slash on my arm. Amarantha leapt off her horse, tore a strip from one of the bags and tied it around my arm. She hugged me then turned away and plonked herself heavily on the side of the valley, tears welling in her eyes. Naralim gave me a meaningful look, went, and sat beside her mother. I was distracted by their despair; I didn't hear the footsteps behind me until it was too late. I felt a strong arm slip around my neck. My breath ran short as he tightened his grip. Anthonis hissed into my ear.

"At last some revenge." I heard a blade being drawn and I ducked instinctively and yelled in pain as the blade missed my heart and pierced my shoulder. He jumped away for fear of a counter attack. I was too weak; I fell to the ground and lay still. He advanced again to finish me but was knocked away from a tackle from Naralim. She hit him viciously and he held his hands up in defence.

"Stop it!" Amarantha strode forward. "Stop it, no more fighting, I can't stand it." All were silent, watching as she picked up a fallen sword. "I want no more to do with this place, to do with you!" she spat the last word at Anthonis and turned to Naralim, who was crouching over me. "My daughter, Naralim, I'm sorry, restore peace, I can no longer do it, no longer. and Rowan, you were mine for so long and now I feel as if I don't know you, I would like to have. With that she drove the sword through her heart, stared around and then fell, crashing to the ground with a final thud. Naralim picked me up and hugged me. Anthonis ran forward.

"No!" He crouched over her. He was sobbing now. I took one look at his face and knew his story. He had loved Mithlithiel with his life, when she had died; he lost most of what he had lived for. In the dark years that followed, his land lost all spirit, only returning on the rare occasion Amarantha should visit. He had fallen for her but knew they could never be for her sisters memory. So instead of working toward peace his hatred grew, his spite for the white land and the white lady he could never have also grew. He bred his son to take his place, filling his mind with that same hatred.

He picked up the sword Amarantha had died by, it was his own. My blood and her blood shone back at him, striking the final blow. He looked at us desperately then pierced his heart. He lay down, grasped Amarantha's hand and died. Time slowed as these actions sunk into us. I struggled weakly to my feat, I felt all the life drain from me, the fighting, the magic and the sadness of loss had all finally taken their toll on me. To the right Naralim burst into tears and Mian took her hand and lead her away. To me everything faded, I saw Silver's face as I fell, my eyes shut and I felt myself being picked up, I passed out.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"She's going to die." I stirred in my sleep.

"She isn't going to die, maybe you should go and get some rest yourself." I woke mildly but made a very groggy decision not to show it. Two men were arguing, by the sounds of it, Mian and Silver.

"It's been five days, let me use magic!"

"No, she must heal on her own."

"How could you possibly know?"

"I know." Mian said mysteriously. I think at this point someone left I heard the door slam. I waited a little while then woke up, turning over to see who was next to me, it was Mian. I relaxed back into the bed, savoured the warmth for a little, and then sat up, pretending to be less awake than I was.

"Silver?"

"No Ari, it is Mian, you just missed Silver."

"Our name. how did you?"

"It is best not to ask." He winked at me. He nodded.

"What happened?"

"Honestly, you always want to know. Well as you know Amarantha and Anthonis are dead. They are here though, a tomb has been set up for them. We though you were going to die as well no, wait, they thought you were going to die, I knew you were too stubborn to die. I think Silver knew it too, but he underestimates you, always has." I butted in on his story.

"How do you know so much about us?" He made a noise as if he had made a mistake.

"Silver," he offered as an explanation. I wasn't satisfied, it wasn't like Silver to ever admit he underestimated anyone. He went on. "Anyway, you area live now and that's all that matters. More good news, Naralim and I are to marry. We decided it was for the best. The wedding is in a week. There is a feast tonight, it seems you have woken in time. Take this, get changed, then go down to the hall for the feast, it is in your honour after all." After that, he got up and left. I got out of bed and found he had left my potion on the end of my bed. I grabbed it quickly and drunk the entire contents greedily. I flexed my arms, legs and fingers, feeling them tingle as the potion reached them.

There was a soft knock at the door, I opened it and Miandra and Naralim greeted me. I hugged them both.

"We were worried, we are glad to see you up."

"I am glad for your news Naralim, it is indeed wonderful."

"I would enjoy to tell you more of it but alas I must go and prepare your feast." With that, she got up, hugged me again and left. We stood in silence, I moved to start getting ready.

"May I stay?" Miandra's voice was humbled now, as if in the presence of someone greater.

"As long as you don't mind," I said, motioning to the dress. She shook her head and plomped into a chair, continued getting changed.

"My father forbid me to go to the war," she spoke steadily, keeping her eyes fixed on some point unclear to me, "it made me so mad, so I snuck out. I followed you the whole way, I watched you fight, I watched you fall. I wanted to help you but knew I could not. No one could know I was there. It was incredible to watch Rial pick you up. He brushed your hair from your face, thought you were dead. He was infuriated when Mian wouldn't let him heal you with magic. He was worse when Mian wouldn't let him fly you back. He must really love you."

I stood up straight. I was ready but I as pondering what she had just told me. "We are not allowed to love."

"Sorry?"

"Nothing you had better go an get ready."

"Ok." She got up and left. I put the seeing stones on and picked Selene from a chair. I passed her through the fire and sheathed her. The sheath shone, silver, on one side a phoenix, the other, a dragon. I put the circlet on my head and went to the grand hall. I pushed the doors open and there was a loud cheer. I laughed and took my seat at the high table, next to Naralim and Miandra. The feast went well and before dessert was served, I was again asked to sing. I sung of the memory of Amarantha and her deeds, then songs of the war. Then songs of joy and peace, dancing and happiness. Dessert was served and Silver and I excused ourselves. We went to the tomb of Amarantha and Anthonis and said our final goodbyes and thankyous. Since it was acceptable Silver had Nathaniel, but it was not very acceptable to have a lady with a sword so we climbed the stairs to get Selene. As we climbed I asked Silver the question that was niggling at my mind.

"Did you tell Mian about us?"

"Of course not." I nodded, grabbed Selene from my bed and said goodbye to my room. We went downstairs, thanked Mian and Naralim, also said our final goodbyes and good lucks. In the garden, where I was found, we shifter into phoenix and flew away. I felt the Seeing Stones slip into my spirit and a new necklace appeared, a dragon. I smiled, knowing Selene travelled with me again. I let off a bright flash and a new star was born.

THE END