Chapter One

Avix ta Sirium

(Death in Winter)

In Loki, there's a girl, a princess, with an enormous responsibility. Nobody knows it, not even she, and she's not supposed to grasp the concept of its existence until she has fulfilled the destiny that is tied to this responsibility. Her friends have and equally important roll to play, and without their support and their help, she will fail. An evil is rising, and it must be stopped. But how long will it take for her to see it? And how powerful will it become by the time she has the courage, knowledge, and allies to defeat it? Hopefully, she won't be too late. If she is not, her feat will be the most unforgettable battle lay. She will be the greatest sword-song.

* * *

Her boots barely scraped the floor, but her footsteps still echoed down the halls of Vitego as she ran up the corridor to the Falcon Tower. Cele (blessed) was in hurry, going as fast as she could while keeping a steady pace. She was about fifteen, and tall for her age. She wore a commonly used winter ensemble of hers, a pair of black pants with gold trim and a red shirt with white patterned edges. A silver crown was about her head, going in the middle of her forehead in front, with two silver strands that crossed with each other at certain spots. Her blue eyes shined with fear of the unknown, and yet with the longing to have this unknown revealed. Her breathing was heavy, and she had to hurry. Cele was so frightened, so worried. What had been thrown her way this time?

Only a few moments ago, she had been exercising her skill with the sword against one of her friends, Wesinco. Wes always fought with throwing knives, his specialty. It was actually one of the few good things he had picked up from being the son of a merchant/mariner. The two were in the middle of a mock fight when a tiny yellow puffball of a bird, which was technically called a hito, flew into the room, extremely out of breath. Hito were quite common in the castle, for they were used as messengers instead of people, being more reliable. The bird waited patiently until it was noticed, which was when Cele came an inch from accidentally cut off its tail while blocking an advance from one of Wesinco's knives. It cried out in fear and veered to the side, barely dodging the blade. Cele's concentration was broken, and she paused. Wesinco scratched her hand by accident, but she didn't really feel it.

She glared up at the hito, a sort of mustard-yellow in color, and flapping its tiny wings swiftly to keep itself in the air. In its claw it held a tiny piece of ripped parchment. Cele held out her hand and the hito dropped the note into her palm. Opening it up, she noticed that it had two words. Two names on it, Lanfinox and Donuin, and Zane's signature. Zane is another one of Cele's friends, and the person in charge of caring for the hawks and falcons used for long distance messaging. He was also educated in combat, but, like Wes, preferred to fight with the weapon he best excelled in, the whip.

Upon reading this she dropped her weapon, an old sword of her father's, and headed for the tower. Behind her, Wes watched her with a very inquisitive expression. She hadn't told him of anything that was troubling her, so he assumed that all was going well. But this just looked way too ominous to him. After all, as Cele had just demonstrated, she wasn't very good at hiding her feelings. Back to Cele. First, you must understand a few concepts. Donuin is Cele's father, and the King of Loki, making her brother, Lanfinox, and herself, his heirs.

Donuin had left to attend the King's Council, an event held every four months for two weeks in Lafise to discuss important issues between the Kings of the four countries: Loki, Hito, Lafise, and Celedrid. This time, Lanfinox went with the King to Lafise's capital, for he had to learn the ways of the Council as he approached his eighteenth birthday. Earlier that week a message had come by hawk that her father had become ill. Lanfinox was caring for him, but both Cele and her brother were curious as to how such a strong man as their father would catch disease.

All of these things swirled around in her head as she began up the Tower's steps, the hito behind her, returning to its sender for a treat for having done its job. It was dark in the stairway, even though it was midday outside. The only lights were coming from candles placed extremely far apart. When she reached the top she opened the door, and she could tell that something was wrong. She could see it in Zane's eyes and face that whatever the news was, it was anything but good. Some of the falcons screeched a greeting, because she was up there a lot. Others shied away, not knowing her at all, and wanted nothing to do with her.

Cele stood there for a moment while she caught her breath, gazing at Zane. The room wasn't silent, but it wasn't boisterous either, and she heard the door's hinges creak as it swung back into place. Zane's face was so familiar, so warm. His bangs, ebony in color, followed the curve of his face, only staying that way because after years of using a kind of gel to make it that way, it kept the form on its own. Eyes, darker than night. He was a remarkably quiet person, a trait that could either be a good or bad thing right now, but she couldn't decide. He wore brown pants and a green shirt with a border of silver snowflakes around the collar, sleeves and bottom. Over both hands were thick but smooth leather gloves, worn while handling various birds used for relaying information. A pendant hung around his neck, a green emerald sphere wreathed by the silver wings of a falcon, whose body was beneath the orb.

"You sent for me?" Cele asked. She straightened up, bringing her hands off of her knees.

"Sure did. This came for you," Zane replied, handing her a tiny scroll tied with a blue satin ribbon, her favorite color.

She read it silently, while Zane removed his gloves and strew them across an empty perch. Scrawled in her brother's usually untidy script, she picked out: "Dear Cele, Father has died, and I will soon return home, for I was dismissed from council. Before he died, he told me to write to you and tell you that your true name is Kygeru, and you are now an heir to the throne in case of my death. He also asked that I bring you home a loki from Lafise, and he is to be named Netis. I'm not sure why Father requested such an odd name for a loki, but I do believe he had some sort of good intention. I will see you at home. Love, Lan." She froze, and she felt as if her face turned icy white. She couldn't believe it. Her father, Donuin, the beloved King of Loki, was dead. Ariasha, their mother, had been gone for years, a victim in one of those random disease epidemics. Now Lanfinox and she were the only ones left of the royal family. How was she supposed to deal with this?

Kygeru broke out in tears as she dropped to her knees on the wooden floor, and Zane placed his hands on her shoulders, hoping to make her feel better. It worked to some extent, and soon her crying lessened. He kneeled down to her level, and she clutched onto the back of his shirt as he hugged her. Zane had been a close friend throughout the years, and now she felt that he loved her more than a friend ever would.

"'M sorry, Cele," he told her, putting a little distance back between them and placing his right hand on the right side of her face. Her tears came off on his hands, wet and cold. Zane could feel her shivering, both from being so depressed and being up so high in a tower in the middle of a snow-filled winter, so he wrapped his thick cloak around her. She pulled her brown hair, going slightly past her shoulders, out of her face and looked up at him.

Grasping a tiny, star shaped medallion with a sapphire center that her father had given her, she spoke. "It's Kygeru," she informed, still sobbing.

"It's Kygeru." Zane helped her off the floor, down the stairs and a few corridors to her room. There he put her down on her bed, and she asked him to stay with her. He felt a bit awkward, but he couldn't refuse. Zane sat down beside her, and he helped her through all of her tears. All the while he became less tense, and he almost cried himself. He loved her so much, her pain was that effective upon his own emotions. But no tears emerged. It didn't matter to Kygeru, because she knew he was felling grief as well. Or else he wouldn't have held he so tight.

Chapter Two

Miano Ahno

(Friends Together)

In three days prior to Kygeru's letter about her father's death, every citizen knew of the tragedy. Zane had called in all six of her closest friends from wherever they had been to come and see her, and they were presently conversing in one of the three parlors of Vitego Castle when Kygeru walked in. Zane had requested her presence, and she had no idea what was going on when she followed the hito into the room out of pure habit, not even remembering to listen for the voices of occupants before she went in the doorway. Yeah, she was that depressed and her mind was that out of order.

Kygeru was startled, and quite embarrassed, for she had been wearing the same clothes for three days straight, not bothering to change. As mentioned earlier, it was her favorite outfit for cold weather. She smiled, but it became a crooked half smile, an expression she often wore around them, and glared at Zane. "You knew they were coming, didn't you? Why didn't you tell me? I'd have changed!" she said jokingly.

An auburn-haired girl rose from her chair and displayed the wide grin on her face. "We told him not to," Lona replied for Zane. "We wanted it to be a surprise amidst all of the sadness you've been feeling and 'll feel again once Lanfinox is back." Kygeru cocked her head and peered into the eyes of her friend. She saw the white crescent moon against the jade green in each iris, something she found enchanting, and one of the most favorite attributes to the girl's appearance.

Lona was a mage, a magic user who had already been acknowledged by a board of elder mages. Once this had happened, with her training finished, she took up an old tradition. The tradition had no name, but it had been done by almost every mage, so she agreed. It was a complicated spell that made a celestial symbol appear in their eyes. The design varied from person to person, some with stars, and others moons, suns, clouds, or the mage-runes that stood for the signs mentioned previously.

"Well, that does make it less bothering. Plus I am happy to see all of you again. So tell me, what have you all been up to since we last met?" Kygeru questioned. She was allotted a seat close to the fire on a cushion, one of many nearby.

Lona, still standing, was the first to reply. "I was down at the two harbor towns doing research on the ocean's wildlife. The tuinveils (dolphins) continue to amaze me! One keeps coming to visit me every day, because I've been down there playing my flute every morning. I've started to call her Cele, because she reminded me of you. My Cele's pregnant now, and hopefully her calf will be healthy. What would be really scary is if he had an attitude like Lan!"

They all laughed, knowing that it would be frightening. Kygeru had always been the complete opposite of her older brother Lanfinox, thus causing a few arguments between the two over the years. Now, for some reason, Kygeru suddenly remembered why Lanfinox was just called Lan sometimes. He would get there so fast that if you called out his name, all you could get out was "Lan" before he was two feet in front of you. It was a joke that turned serious.

Lona re-seated herself near the fire, where Kygeru and Zane were. She smiled at Kygeru and nodded in Zane's direction, knowing how much he didn't like conversing.

"How about you two?" Kygeru asked in an amusing voice, directing her question to the twins, Aidin and Axtell, who both sat cross-legged on a blue couch. Both were blonde haired, with robin's egg colored eyes. They were identical to the point that they wore their hair differently so that people who had just met them could tell the difference. It would've worked with clothes, but they just happened to have the same taste when it came to colors and styles. Axtell, known for being the more bossy of the two, spoke for both, never changing his position on the couch, just talking very, very loudly. He wore a grass green shirt and black trousers, plain but thick, and had his usual hairstyle, with his bangs and front locks pulled behind his head into a braid.

"We've been here and there. Went to all of the cities, even stopped in Caldarin to visit Lona. We took the most traveled roads, and we noticed that they go around everything. It would take less time to just go through them. Even the mountains. That's some figuring done by Aidin. Truly, the only roads that enter into hills, forests, or mountains are the roads to Vitego. But we mapped everything out, and I know that makes you happy. How did the old map get destroyed, again?"

Aidin turned to his brother, the braids on either side of his head moving in unison since they were tied together. "You don't remember? Bakitenu accidentally lit it on fire with a candle while sneaking around at night and trying to play a prank. On you!"

Again the room filled with laughter, this time harder and louder, because everyone remembered that episode. It was a year ago, and the map happened to be hanging near Axtell's door. It was dark out, around three in the morning, so he had to bring a light. Baki had paused a few moments to laugh, knowing what was coming to his victim, and had placed the flame of his candle underneath the map. It almost immediately went up in flames, and was soon nothing but a pile of ashes. Ky was very upset over the whole matter, because even though the map was horribly inaccurate, it was an antique. It had been drawn by one of her ancestors, Kao, and was a present for his brother, Dateo, when he became King. The twins had proposed that they would make a better one, since they had studied under the field in their spare time.

"Anyway," Axtell started again. "I put it in the old one's spot when I got here. It's much better than the old one, but still not as accurate as we want it to be." He saw the look on the princess' face when he said that and let out a sigh. "Don't worry though, I got Lona to put a fireproof spell on it. Didn't want our hard work to turn into ashes, right Aidin?"

"Yep!" Aidin retorted, making everyone chuckle.

Wesinco, lying on a couch similar to the twins' sat up. He was quiet, like Zane, but not to the same extremity. He still enjoyed conversing, but he never really said much. Lona always said he was a listener, not a talker, which was putting a nice balance into the group. He was usually the one who listened to all of the rambling that the twins and Baki did. When asked why, he just says, "Somebody has to listen. If nobody did, they'd burst from backup of unspoken jibberish."

The tallest one there, he had a tendency of picking on everyone else for seeming so short. Wes was constantly joking, of course, and had a radiant laugh and smile to back it up. His eyes were brown, exactly the same color as his hair, which he kept pulled into a low ponytail. It always seemed a bit untidy, for his bangs weren't quite long enough, so they just stuck out. Then again, his friends knew that that's really how he wanted it to look. Wes was, by far, the darkest dressed of the group. And always was. He wore all black now, and darker shades of blue, green, and red in the summer. Kygeru found it odd, but she never asked him about it. She figured, as well as all the others, that he was entitled to like what he likes without having to produce a reason.

"My turn. I went back to my father's ship and did some fishing and selling in Celedrid's market before returning to my home country three weeks ago. I heard that Cheyso's had another argument with his son, Aerith, who's now missing. Many people's guess is that he came here, to the one country his father would never come to, for he fears that all of our people are as highly trained in fighting as all of us. I mean, we're the only country that holds a tournament where in the end there is a Master for every weapon. Plus, the current champs are all young teens, or, us. I find that comforting, don't you?" he finished sarcastically.

"Makes me feel like a freak," Kygeru answered, twirling a lock of her deep brown hair.

"That's the point..."

"You've had your five minutes in the spotlight, Wes. My time to shine," said Bakitenu, who was on the floor beside him, nudging Wes with an elbow.

"I've been hanging around in Honmio, working in my father's stables. Went up in the Maxis Mountains with a small band of Alundrin. The terrain is so rough up there they needed a blacksmith to go with them and keep their horse's shoes on! I took the job instead of my dad, 'cause he's in no condition to be riding up mountains. I told them they should take loki instead, due to the fact that their paws are so tough they don't need shoes. But these guys acted funny when I said that. They told me they don't trust them."

"Dark loki." Everyone stared at Zane, eyes slightly bulging. He had spoken, and they all knew it.

"What did you say?" Aidin asked. He was shocked. Even to a close friend, Zane speaking was a rarity.

"Dark loki. They're mentioned in that expeditions log that I showed you guys once or twice when we were younger. They lived up in the mountains until about the time the first Kodori town was built. Then they just vanished," Zane replied. The room was silent for a spell, completely transfixed on the moment. Luckily, Lyca got tired of this. It had been one of those awkward times, when you didn't know whether to say something or keep your mouth shut. Lyca decided to speak.

"I'm going to interrupt before this conversation gets any weirder," the girl said. She was a bit stockier than Lona and Ky, but much stronger. She had been leaning against the wall, despite the request of the servant to take a seat. Lyca had black hair with a blonde/white stripe down each side, courtesy of Lona, her best friend. Her gray eyes skimmed over the room, stopping in front of Baki, who was making faces at Aidin from across the room.

The group's attention went over to her.

"Thank you. My days were spent along the Gehan River with my dad. As you know, he's been studying that new race of loki that are being called the river loki. They're really friendly toward us, so I would sneak out at night and become one of them, basically. I hope they aren't missing me." Lyca finished, slightly sad. Her hand went into a pocket of her gray skirt, and she seemed to be turning something over and over inside, but there was no telling what.

That's when a messenger arrived at the front door. "Lady Kygeru, it's time we leave."

"Oh right, I almost forgot to ask. Since you guys are here, would you like to accompany me over to the harbor to greet Lanfinox at Caldarin? He'll be arriving in six days, and it will take us four to get there." Kygeru told them.

"We'd love to," Lona said, the others nodding in agreement.

"So, our Cele finally has her true name, then?" Axtell asked.

"Yep. In case you didn't hear, it's Kygeru."

"Kygeru, huh? Suits you just fine," Lyca said with a smile as they all filed out of the parlor. She had no idea how right she'd be.