Prologue

The kingdom of Lioshina, home of the elves, rose above the smaller domains that surrounded its glimmering walls.  It shone crystal-white; the peaks of its towers appeared tall enough to reach the two moons of Esclar, which hovered silently above in the night sky.

This particular evening, the activity in the city surrounding the castle was at a minimum; for every citizen, despite their status, was in attendance at the palace.  All were formally invited and informally commanded to attend the party that was being held in honor of the newest member of the royal elfin family.

A prince by the name of Aarik had been born only two days before.  As was custom in Lioshina, the party was coordinated so the people could get a glimpse of the child who would soon be their leader, their king.

The night had just begun to grow old and the party die down when the last and only unexpected guest arrived.

Two great, oak doors that rested at the rear of the throne room were pushed opened with a soft swish.  The fluid motion of the once-locked doors startled the murmurs and voices from within to silence; everyone's eyes were drawn to the two entering forms. 

The first figure was a young woman with the deceiving looks of being in her adolescence.  She wore deep purple robes that fit every curve and bend of her petite body as if it had been designed for her specifically.  Rich, dark brown hair reached down to mid-back, laying lightly over delicate shoulders.  Her eyes were warm and knowing; a deep pool of purple, just as her robes, traced in liquid silver.  Wisdom beyond her supposed age glowed deep within them.

Her appearance seemed to shift.  When first looked upon, the mysterious woman was as plain as the deserts on a summer day.  But after a second glance, one had just found an oasis of beauty hidden deep within her simple features.

Those around her found themselves holding their breath and praying she didn't look their way; but at the same time sighing and begging silently for her to grace them with a simple glance.

She was a boring school girl and a breathtaking goddess.  A hero and a villain.  A blessing and a curse.  As steady as the mountains but as unpredictable as the ocean.  She was a sorceress.

Standing at her heel was a white tiger, his yellow eyes glimmering against the torch-lit room.  He was twice the size of other beasts of his kind and twice as beautiful.

Guards scrambled to withdraw, their eyes wide with horror as they quickly sheathed the swords that had been pulled free when the doors first opened.  The peasants, lords, and ladies who attended all pushed aside, struggling to form a path for the newcomers; a path that led to the matching thrones at the head of the room.

With grace, the sorceress and the tiger both moved forward, down the pathway created for them.

Though elves were proud, they bowed down to the newcomer, despite her not being of Lioshina royalty.  The woman seemed to take no notice, for she had eyes only for the king, who stood at the end of the hastily-formed path.

Once she was within three feet of him, the king bent on one knee.  The queen of the elves stepped back, her eyes wide with fear and awe.  "Sorceress Khimee," the elfin king greeted softly, keeping his gaze pasted at her feet.

"Good king, stand," she replied kindly, a smile traced against her soft lips.  He did as she ordered.  "I have been informed that, only a few days ago, a child has been born to your family."  The king nodded.  "I have come to see him."

A soft gasp escape the queen's lips and she covered her mouth with one shaking hand.  The young woman who stood before them in their court was the most powerful being that their meek planet had ever encountered: A sorceress with unimaginable power.

Khimee turned her purple-silver eyes to the woman.  "Fear not, Milady.  I mean him no harm," she promised gently.  "I only wish to grant him my blessing."

The king of the elves gave a brief nod, stepping in front of his wife.  "He is in his room, Sorceress Khimee.  If you would be so kind as to follow…?"

"But of course."

The elves of Lioshina watched as their king walked from the throne room and out two back doors, followed by the sorceress.  With a soft command from her, the tiger stayed amongst the guests in the main room, his yellow eyes flickering out to the terrified elves.

The two were silent as the king bustled down the echoing hallway, the sorceress behind him by a short distance.  That particular wing of the palace was small, having only the rooms belonging to the king and queen, their servants, and the prince.

Once arriving at his young son's bower, the king reached forward with a slight amount of hesitance, then pushed the grand doorway open.  He and the guest walked inside.

It was dark within, the only light coming from a large window that overlooked the Great Garden of Lioshina.  As her eyes slowly grew accustomed to the darkness, Khimee let her gaze wander around the room.  A smile formed as she examined it.

Water designed as an elaborate fountain flowed from the left wall of Prince Aarik's room and down into a pond, which then moved to a stream.  The stream flowed across the bedroom and out toward the garden.

Khimee's eyes moved up the wall to the roof.  The elves had used what little magic they possessed to create the image of the night sky on the ceiling.  Along with the stars in their correct constellations, the two moons of Esclar were painted masterfully in the child's room.

Seeing her gaze, the king told her, "The moon is replaced by the sun during the day and images of trees appear on the walls."  She gave him an approving smile.

The king and the sorceress walked over a small, wooden bridge which led them across the stream and to the cradle of the prince.  Khimee peered inside of it.

Prince Aarik was still awake, staring at the  stars above him.  His gaze, however, moved from the ceiling to the sorceress when she came into view.  Curious, almond-shaped, brown eyes examined her face as Prince Aarik gargled happily.

Laughing, Khimee brushed her fingers against Aarik's cheek.  "A healthy babe," she sighed softly.

The king debated mentally with himself before slowly asking, "Sorceress Khimee?  Do…can you tell…about what kind of a…a ruler he will be?  Will he be a…a good one, ma'am?"

The sorceress looked up and met his brown eyes.  "My lord…I am afraid that is a difficult question to answer.  Every person has a different opinion of a good ruler."

He stared at her intensely.  "I will be satisfied with your opinion, ma'am…if you a-are willing to give it."

She nodded, but was silent for a moment.

"…In my opinion, Milord…" Khimee paused, looking down at the babe, then back at his father.  "In my opinion he will become the greatest ruler Lioshina has ever witnessed."

The king grinned, pride filling his chest at her prediction.  He opened his mouth again, and began to ask, "Will there be many wars-"

Before he was able to finish his sentence, Khimee snapped, sending a soft echo through the large room.

Once the friction between her fingers broke, all time froze.  The king paused in mid-blink, mid-sentence.  The wind discontinued to blow against the walls of the castle, children outdoors stopped arguing, and balls hung suspended in air.  Time ceased to move forward.

Khimee turned to the small child in the cradle behind her and smiled down at him.  He, with the exception of herself and the tiger, was the only thing on their small planet that wasn't frozen in time.  She reached down into the crib and picked him up, brushing her soft lips against his cheek.  The young prince giggled, flopping his small arms at his side.

"I have a gift for you, Aarik," she said, grinning as he grasped her finger in his small fist.  "A gift you won't understand for a long time."  The baby's brown eyes rolled up to meet her own and they locked.

The prince stopped squirming in her arms and stared as she slowly began to whisper in a language that very few understood, "Oshina toyne ras koisne.  Wsnaro anea tomo."  As the words formed at her lips, the silver in her eyes began to glow, sparkling with the power that flowed from her.  The prince was bathed in purple and silver as her spell grew louder and flew through the room, the magic engulfing his small form.

Slowly, her chant stopped with dimming eyes, and she set the mesmerized babe back into his cradle.  She promised, "When you're ready and only then, you'll know what to do."  Khimee glanced down at his arm, where a small mark in the form of a teardrop began to appear.  Her lips twitched, threatening to smile as she snapped again, returning time to its original pace.

The wind blew, children screamed, and balls fell back down again, as if there had never been a pause in the void known as time.  The ruler of the elves finished his blink and ended his sentence, "-In his rule?"

"That is not for me to say, Milord," she told him with a small bow of her head.  "But now, I'm afraid that I must be going.  I have other matters I must attend to."

The king opened his mouth to respond, but Khimee didn't give him a chance, walking from the prince's room in silence as her robes swirled and danced around her ankles.

After retrieving the tiger that had accompanied her to the palace, the sorceress walked from the throne room and out into the crisp night.  Wind nipped against her cheeks and fingers, but she paid it little mind; her eyes were set for the line of trees that was formed just outside of Lioshina, and she wouldn't stop until she reached them.

Khimee didn't dread the distance she had to travel, nor did she dread the rocky terrain ahead of her.  Instead, she rather savored them, knowing that the long walk she faced would be one of the last moments of peace she would have for a long, long time.

She glanced toward the tiger at her side and said softly, "He is getting stronger, my friend, much stronger.  But he won't guess…not for quite some time…"

Khimee reached the line of oaks that she had marked as her goal.  It was only then that she turned around to face the palace once more.  Her purple-silver eyes gliding over their smooth walls, as words formed at her lips again,  "Just remember this, little prince," she said into the night, preparing to resume her long walk, "sometimes, danger's path is the safest place to be…"