Tevon glanced around at the forest around him, before focusing on the papers before him. It was almost dark, and rain had soaked him thoroughly. The forest was some protection, but not much. Mud and water were soaking on his breeches. It was very uncomfortable.

He glanced around again, shrugging his shoulders uncomfortably. He had the feeling he was being watched. It came often in this forest, but he never got used to it. Sighing, he shoved the papers back inside his cloak and stood up. He shook his blonde hair slightly, to get rid of some of the wetness.

His horse whinnied softly from its tie to the nearest tree branch. Tevon walked over and patted its neck affectionately. The horse nudged his face softly. This horse was the last thing of his parents he had left; it was called Pyres. His parents had been lost in a fire five years before.

Tevon still remembered them clearly. His mom had loved to cook. Children from the village would often come to her for honeycakes. But his dad had been serious to a fault. War had changed him, so every elder had said. Tevon had inherited his mom's gray eyes, but hers had, had more shine to them than his. He carried his dad's serious nature, sometimes.

Tevon grabbed his spare cloak from the branches of a fir tree that was next to them. He shook it slightly, to get dust off. Then he mounted the horse. His village was somewhere to the west. To the east were the Kirikante mountains. To the north was the mountain path. Travelers rarely crossed it; it was difficult and dangerous at the best of times. With the recent spring rains, mudslides were more likely to happen than ever. To the south there was the mountain pass, into the Outside, where the nations and villages lay in usual turmoil, from what rare merchants said.

He nudged Pyres forward slightly. The clouds rumbled in anger off in the distance. Tevon would hear from the elders and his aunt when he got back. He wasn't supposed to leave the village. No one was. There had been recent attacks that had the village in an uproar. 15 people had been killed recently. He could defend himself, he was sure, but no one else had his confidence. Why did I leave the village? And in this weather? He asked himself, confidence wavering like a sheet.

He had listened to the dripping of the rain and slosh of Pyres' hoofs on mud so long that he was confused when he thought he heard footsteps behind him. A slight breeze had blown the sound to his ears. He paused. Was that the attacker? But when he stopped, the footsteps had stopped.

A soft hum reached his ears. It was laughter. Or someone trying not to laugh. Was it the attacker? Lord of Morning help me. What does it want from me? He prayed silently in his head. The bodies of those people, or what was left of them, wasn't how he had hoped to end. He listened intently. The footsteps had started again, softer, yet closer.

When the steps were right behind him, they stopped. Pyres was catching his nervousness and dancing uneasily. The hum had started again. Tevon frowned. What kind of monster was this? He turned his head slowly to face the monster.

"BOO!"

Tevon jumped with surprise. It was his best friend, Levi, doubled over with laughter. Tevon groaned. No wonder the "monster" was laughing. He knew Tevon was frightened and he didn't plan to let Tevon live this down for a very long time, if never. Tevon knew it, and obviously Levi knew it as well, for Levi was grinning with the most mischievous smile Tevon had ever seen on his face.

"You should have seen the look on your face, Tevon!" His slight frame racked with held back laughter. His blue-green eyes twinkling, and his light brown hair fluttering with the wind.

"Oh boy. I bet it was priceless." Tevon replied in a monotone.

"Yep!" He snickered, missing the sarcasm.

You could always trust Levi to make a joke out of everything. Tevon could only recall one solemn event where Levi was as serious as everyone else, and that was when Tevon's parents had been killed. But he was barely serious then anyway. He favored Tevon's parents, or that was what he had told Tevon. Mihael and Tara Raiadon, burned alive when their son was out in the village. Maybe he felt pity?

Tevon waited for Levi to stop shaking with laughter, carefully keeping his face neutral. He knew flushing with anger would be taken for blushing with embarrassment with Levi. "You.. Know what? The whole village is out looking for you. Well, except for the women and children anyway. And we both know that Johanna doesn't count as a woman." Levi snickered.

"I heard that, Levi!" A feminine voice hissed. Levi glanced at the figure emerging from the trees and grinned as innocent a grin he could muster. The girl, Johanna, on the other hand flexed her hands, as to strangle him. She stared, her green eyes on fire. After a moment she flipped her auburn hair over her shoulder and turned to Tevon.

"What were you thinking?!" She hissed. "You had the whole village worried sick! What fool-hearty idea led you outside the village walls?!"

"The thought of getting away from you, probably." Levi snickered.

"Be quiet, Levi! I wasn't asking you!"

Tevon glanced at Levi. Making Johanna angry wasn't going to help him explain! When she was in a good mood, more than likely when the first word left his mouth, she would concoct some wild story that only barely stuck with his explanation. Then she would present it to the elders. And she would be especially likely to do it this time. He didn't know why he was out here in the first place. "It's easier to study out here. And those attacks are only at night anyway. I wasn't looking for trouble. Besides, 'Hanna, I can defend myself." That sounded silly when he said it out loud.

"Study?! You idiot! You couldn't defend yourself without a bow, sword, or knife! Which of the 3 do you have on you? Hm? Answer me, Tevon!"

"Give him a chance, you nosy witch!" Levi said, his face twitching from the effort to keep a straight face.

Tevon sighed. This was getting no where and he realized, to his dismay, he still felt like someone was watching him. He had thought that, that was Levi.

"Good lord, save it for later, ok?" Tevon interrupted, in an exasperated voice.

Johanna didn't appear happy to oblige but she shrugged her shoulders slightly. She glared at Levi for good measure, before turning to Tevon. "You're right." The words sounded unnatural coming from her. "But, if you don't catch my tongue, you'll catch the Wise Woman's tongue, and your aunt's." Those words sounded as right as rain though.

If Tevon hadn't known better, he would have laughed. She was 17. Only a year younger than him and she was lecturing him like he was a boy caught filching the pie in the windowsill.

Levi's face didn't stop twitching until she was out of earshot. Then he had burst into a fit of snickers. Levi always was one to filch pies.

"Did you see her face? It was classic! My old mum couldn't of done better! Ha. She's a nosy one, right." He paused for one second before looking at Tevon, still snickering slightly. "You. didn't really sneak out here just to study, did you?"

Tevon shrugged, unsure. Why did he sneak out? There had been a purpose at the time. But every time he thought back as to 'why', it just came to the unnatural conclusion of studying. "I dunno. Hey, let's get back. I'm freezing and a tongue lashing doesn't sound bad, along with a hot dinner and some dry clothes, that is."

"My thoughts exactly."

Levi glanced ahead, whistling the robin to symbolize that Tevon had been found. Birdcalls were often used in the forest.. The only bad thing about them was when it was the bird who whistled and not the man. But, it was still adjusting to spring so the birds hadn't returned yet. Tevon was about to heel Pyres forward when some of his papers flew from his bag. He had forgotten to close it properly. He cursed under his breath and looked at Levi for a second.

"I'll catch up with you later." ~*~

Johanna glanced about the room. Others would have described it as 'warm'. The fires crackling and the modest furniture cast in varying places, she might have agreed with them. But now it seemed almost as though it were a furnace.

She swallowed uneasily.

When she heard the door in behind her click open and shut, she lowered turned and lowered her head respectively and murmured, "Elder."

"Child, have they found Tevon?" The man before her asked.

He might have been described as grandfather-like, in another situation. Right now he was a stern learning-master. His face brooked no nonsense.

"Yes, Elder. Levi Tuhada found him, sir. He has no clue."

"What did he say, child?"

" He said he was out to study, Elder. He doesn't know what happened the night before or I believe he would have been more. perplexed."

"He doesn't remember his trance?" The Elder paused, looking disturbed.

"If I may speak, Arisen?" a crystalline voice spoke out.

Johanna looked in the corner, where the new voice had come from. It was a woman. Obviously an outlander, at that. But who was she, to speak to the Elder in such a manner? She was rich, her white silken dress with its fine cut gave that away, anyway. Was she nobility?

Johanna assumed that much, but she still felt the woman had no manners. Of course, nobility. She thought ruefully.

"Ah, why yes, Aerinn. You have experience in such areas."

The woman, Aerinn, shrugged her shoulders, her light brown curls falling behind them. Her sea-blue eyes looked as though they held knowledge that no one could hope to gain in a lifetime. Strange woman. Johanna thought.

"Well, I believe the. trance. he had had earlier in your company has nothing to do with him heading off to the forest with this killer roaming about. He's not the first I've seen and I do believe the others didn't rush off in danger's way afterwards.

"But why? Why else would he go out? He's no idiot!" Johanna bit her tongue and cursed in her head. She had thought she had learned to hold her tongue when she was a child. "Precisely the question. Johanna is it? But, is there anyone alive that can answer it? Does this killer mark off his prey in any way?"

Johanna did not like this woman. The way Aerinn had spoken to her had implied that she was just a silly girl trying to guess at something that should be obvious. She hated being implied as silly and a girl. She glanced at the Elder. He never let anyone speak to him or his people this way, but, to her disappointment, he was taking Aerinn's words seriously.

"That is peculiar. All the victims were just fine until they disappeared one night and were not found until it was too late. But, you aren't implying.?" He paused, uncertain.

What? What is she implying? That he's the next victim? Blasted woman! Blasted nobility! She shouted in her head. But, as if her thoughts had reached him, he looked at her firmly and murmured, "Dismissed!"

Johanna lowered her head in respect before leaving the room grudgingly.

All the while, Aerinn was looking at her with those cursed eyes. ~*~

Tevon's legs ached. The papers had blown everywhere and looking at them now, he supposed there really had been no real need to save them. The ink was smudged beyond legibility. He led Pyres forward, shivering all over. His drenched clothes and cloak did nothing to protect him from the cutting wind, but he clasped his cloak closer with his free hand, the other holding tight to the reigns. His feet were aching, and mud squishing beneath his step did nothing to heal it. "Stupid rain. Couldn't it of held off until tomorrow, or something?" He muttered angrily.

His one comfort was that he could see the village lights in the distance and, thankfully, it wasn't a long distance.

When he was getting to the outskirts of the village, he noticed several bright outlines from the light. Wagons, that's what they were, and plenty of them. Each had a dim pattern carved on them, but his eyes blurred when he tried to see it; it was too dark.

He was about to turn toward the village gates, when he noticed two eyes staring at him intently from the lead wagon's doorway. One eye appeared to be blind, the other was an eerie yellow. He blinked at them. Then, as if they knew he was staring at them in return, they vanished. Pyres whinnied softly.

Tevon shook his head and walked toward the village gates. But before he had gotten within even two spans, he could hear two voices shouting and those voices belonged to Johanna and Levi.

"How could you, Levi? I thought even you had more sense!"

"Peace, woman! I'll be burned if he can't get papers on his own! So quit your shouting!" "Levi." Her voice sounded strained. Was she trying not to strangle him? "It's well past dark! Soon it'll be midnight!"

"Bloody ashes, Johanna! We found him at the 8th hour!"

"So you suppose he's taking his sweet time?" It sounded almost too shrill to be Johanna.

"I would! What with the big deal everyone is making of this!"

Johanna had opened her mouth to say something else, but she looked at the gates and saw him, her face looking temporarily relieved. Then it looked anger. no, rage filled.

"You've been gone for a long time. What were you doing, I wonder? Where were you?" She said, almost calmly. Only her emphasis on certain words and her face betrayed her. He frowned. She would strangle him if he gave the wrong answer, so the truth wouldn't work. He had been only doing what Levi said, gathering papers, but it couldn't have been almost midnight, could it? He frowned, thinking. Why was it so late when he was so sure it was only the 9th hour?

"Gathering papers, 'Hanna."

"For so long?! Bloody hell!" She was angry, to use such language and still look ready to use more of it. "And don't think you can sway me with that nickname! You ought to be ashamed!" "Give him a break, 'Hanna" Levi said, ignoring her warning about the nickname. "I'm sure all he wants right now are some dry clothes and something to eat. He told me so, didn't you, Tevon?"

Tevon would have looked grateful for the excuse to escape the tongue- lashing, but Johanna would have seen and then he probably wouldn't have escaped until the 1st hour.

"Yes, and a fire wouldn't be half bad either." As Tevon walked Pyres to the stables, he could make out Johanna muttering at Levi "Burn you!" and several other swear words.

When he stepped into his aunt's house he was greeted with her shrill screams of relief and a back breaking hug. After that, she promptly turned stern.

"What were you doing out there in that forest, and all alone, might I add?" She gave him no chance to answer as she bustled about, getting him dry clothes and some dinner. "I would have expected that from Levi, but never you! Why, my poor dead sister would turn in her grave if she learned what you had just pulled! Just think of what she would say!" She paused. "Now put on these clothes and be quick about it! Eat your dinner, as well. Wash your hands before you eat that! Warm up, Tevon dear, you look chilled to the bone! And then once you're finished with dinner, it's off to bed with you! The Elder has called you before him tomorrow at midday!"

Tevon choked on the chicken he was eating. The fire was warm and dry clothes certainly were a nice change, but he wasn't noticing them anymore.

"Elder? Good God! What does he want with me?"

"Be more careful swallowing, dear!" She paused. "Bless my heart, I honestly don't know, dearie. But it must be urgent. He came to give the summons himself." She tsked. "Ought to be sitting by the fire, he should, what with this cold and his age. Shouldn't be running about to fetch mischievous boys who worry their aunts to death!" She frowned at him, then settled down in her warm chair to continue the knitting she had dropped when he had walked in.

"I'm sorry Aunt Temaile. I shouldn't have worried you. I promise I won't go out there again without your protection." He sighed with exasperation.

"You ought not go out at all, what with these times." She frowned, her gray eyes twinkling in the light. "None of us would, if not for the need of the game." She looked at the clock and then down at him. "Are you finished, dear?" Before he could even nod, she pressed on. "Well, what are you doing up? Off to bed with you!"

He sighed. Temaile was like his mother in plenty of ways. It was no surprise since they were sisters. He just wished that sometimes she would be less motherly. He trudged to his room. He was asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow.

~*~ Johanna sat on the top of the village gates, as she had as a child. She was running over everything in her head. Or, everything was running over her head. She had no idea which; she was only sure of the questions buzzing in her head.

Who was that Aerinn woman? What was she doing here? What was this 'experience'? Why was Tevon sneaking out at night with this killer running about?

A rabbit screamed in the forest.

She sighed. What was going on? The forests had been safe for as long as she could remember. Now everyone was scared to go out without someone with them. Why did this monster come?

So many questions and no one to answer them at all. She was training to become the Wise Woman, and the Wise Woman should always have answers. Maybe the Current Wise Woman could help her?

"Johanna?" A familiar crystalline voice called out.

Johanna looked down. There was Aerinn. What does she want? She thought spitefully. She had already assessed that she did not like this woman. But Aerinn was waiting for a response. Johanna was tempted not to give her one, but she was above that petty nature.

"Yes?" She answered curtly.

"Could you come down? I wish to chat, not shout."

Chat? Burn the woman! But none-the-less, Johanna jumped down from the wall.

"What shall we 'chat' about. Aerinn, is it?"

Aerinn chuckled. "I wonder. Has anyone in this village ever had. Hm. 'strange' abilities, shall we say?"

"Old man Conner was able to tell a lie as if it were truth. Is that the type of ability you want?" What did she want?

"Hm. Possibly. Has anyone ever done anything like the trance?"

"Yes. Mistress McClydine did once and she soon passed away after."

"Ahh. Tell me dear, anyone else?"

Was this a joke? Johanna looked at her angrily, hoping the darkness hid her expression. "I'm sorry. I will have to sleep on it. I'm very tired."

"I sense the spark of ability in you. Very well, I shall talk with you soon, morning willing. Goodnight."

With that, Aerinn turned to leave. What does she mean, 'spark of ability'? Not more questions! Curse her! Johanna glared at her retreating back, before walking to her own home.

Johanna's brothers and sisters were asleep by the fire when she got home. Miana, the oldest, she was only 2 years younger than Johanna, was nodding her head from her chair. Johanna sighed. Her parents had been gone for awhile; they were the merchants of the town.

She slipped to her room quietly and opened her chest. She pulled out a crystal, held by a leather cord and tied it around her neck. It was her favorite piece of jewelry. No one knew she had it. She had found it in a broken stone. There had been ancient writings beside it, but none she could read.

The day after she found it, the attacks started. ~*~

Tevon was in a pitch black room. He could only see himself and he was alone. But then he turned around and he saw a woman in the prime of her years, wavy golden hair held back by a ribbon. Her light blue silk dress made her look as though a queen and her velvet cloak almost confirmed it for him. A necklace full of gems surrounded her neck while strings of pearls lined her hair. Her gray eyes stared at him, twinkling. "Mother!" He cried, rushing to her open arms. She embraced him smiling. "Yes, Tevon? You act as though I've died and come back to life."

He looked at her, stepping back. "But you and father both died. In a fire, when I was only a child. You did die!"

She nodded, as if understanding him. "I understand, my son. I am dead, that will not change. I visit you now to warn you."

Warn? "About what?"

"You mustn't stay in the village. You were born for greater things than being a farmer."

"But. It's my home, why should I leave?" "You must leave. You were born for greater things.. Much greater." She suddenly looked sad. "Leave. Leave. The one will come to you by the 12th hour. Leave, and do not look back."

He looked confused, but suddenly she was getting dimmer and farther. "Why?" He shouted. "WHY?"

"Greater things. Much greater."

Suddenly he heard a scream.

Tevon sat up in his bed and looked around, wiping the sweat off his face. The scream had come from outside by the village gates. He leapt up and pulled on his breeches and boots before bounding out the door, past a shocked looking Temaile. He looked to where the crowd was growing, pressing together to look at something written on the gates. He stood on tiptoe trying to see what they were gaping at. He gave up and asked the person next to him.

"Been a murder! Right in this village. Somethin' peculiar written on the wall. Bloody frightnin'! Now they're right in our own village!"

His nose twitched. He could smell the raw blood, now that it had been pointed out. He blanched. What was going on? He forced his way up front and as soon as he reached it, he wondered why people were fighting to see instead of running away. The man was massacred, his face screwed up in terror. With his blood, the monster had written on the wall.

Tevon read it silently. Lust of bodies, thirst of blood

So is the story of life told.

Love of greed, scent of deception

This is how it all shall end.

Shadowmarked gather close.

Those in truth fall to spears

And the rise of shadow guaranteed

This is how it all shall end

3 of kingly blood and heroes long past

Will rise from a valley long since dead

And be reborn, a child marked dead

This is how it all shall end

Daughter of light, Mistress of beauty

She rallies the cries of the nations

And slays all in her path

This is how it all shall end

Master of War, King of Halancaer

His country will rise again

And his rebirth will be rejoiced

This is how it all shall end

Lord of Dawn, breath of mist

He will lead them forth

The daughter will call her magic

The master shall lead his armies

The lord will draw his sword

This is how it all shall end

Into a losing battle they will charge

The Shadowmarked mark their armies.

The Remembered of the Shadow will charge

This is how it all shall end

Daughter will fire her magic

She will slay the beast of night

But will be slain by the darkness of her heart.

This is how it all shall end

The Master will draw his sword and defeat the challenge

But doomed to die and die again

He will fall to the sword of his enemy This is how it all shall end

The Lord will fight his fellow Lord

Lord of Shadow will fall to Dawn

But his armies will rage on

This is how it all shall end

The Nations of the Daughter

Armies of the Master And the Courage of the Lord

Will rise to the battle

This is how it all shall end

True Blood will course through the fight

Blood will stain red

Bones will crack and sprinkle the ground

Metal will spice and seal the fates

This is how it all shall end

The Lord of Shadow will pursue

But the 3 alone will not do.

The blood of 3 will not seal him

And Blood is how it all shall end ~*~

Levi looked around, to be sure no one was listening. When he was sure, he turned back to the woman before him. She had said her name was Aerinn.

"Tevon's mom was supposed to have some noble blood in her. But I think the country collapsed. War swallowed it, or something like that."

She looked thoughtful at that information. Levi couldn't tell all her expressions, but in general she just looked. Wise. Maybe she was smart, but she looked wise. "Interesting. What about your blood?"

He blinked.

"My blood? I dunno. Me da' ran off a long time ago. My mum's sick. She'll be passin' on any time now."

"I'm sorry for your loss..."

"It's ok. I'll miss her an' all that, but it's better than her suffering it out. Anyway, I couldn't tell you if I was related to a monkey, for all I know about my family."

She nodded, perplexed.

"What about strange abilities? Do you know anyone that has any?"

"What? Like Johanna and her amazing ability to be a pain in the neck? I dunno."

"Thank you for your help. I must go, but we must talk again, Master Levi."

"Just Levi, thanks."

~*~ End of Chapter