A/N: Welcome to my attempt at a novel! -wavewave- I'm uploading as I rewrite; I have a finished first draft, but said first draft sucks hugely and has plot holes you could drive a truck through. You can expect updates fairly often; this story is my baby. -hugs it to death- Criticism is welcome; feel free to pick the thing completely to pieces if you want to.

Oh, and I'd welcome ideas for a less crappy title than the one I have now. -weeps at her own lack of imagination-

Okeydokey then! I am done rambling now! I think.

The 14th day of Winter, in the year 701 A.F. Within the nursery of Sorcerer's Keep, a small baby boy slept. Named Randa Martay ti Orbein II after his paternal grandfather, he was the newborn heir to Lord Teliere of Sorcerer's Keep, and--much to Teliere's pride--already showing signs of having inherited the family magic. Just a week ago, one of the nurses had panicked when she'd walked into the room and found little Randa's toys floating in the air around his crib.

Downstairs in the entryway of the Keep, a Portal opened. Lord Adam Tofka of Yoremont Keep stepped through, and would have collapsed on the spot had one of his escort not hurried through after and managed to catch him.

Back in the nursery, Randa felt the surge of magic that accompanied a Portal. Wakened by it, he began to cry--and his fledgling magic, responding to his distress, went momentarily out of what little control a baby could have over it, and touched three people.

The first was Lord Teliere himself, as he descended the stairs to greet Lord Tofka--and help him to his room, no doubt. Randa's magic brushed up against his shields ever so briefly, then disappeared--but it was enough for Teliere to notice, head snapping upwards to stare in the direction of the nursery.

The second was a young pregnant woman, living within the village just outside of Keep boundaries. Unprotected by any such shields as those had by Teliere, she received the full impact of baby Randa's magic, and the shock sent her into labor, a whole four weeks earlier than expected.

The third was a midwife, living barely two houses away from the young woman. She received the full shock of the magic as well, but merely absorbed it effortlessly into her sleep, producing a nightmare.

Two young women stood together in the middle of a road, covered in dirt and dust and looking as though they'd been traveling for several days. The two looked quite similar, enough alike to have been sisters--they shared their brown hair, blue eyes, and had the same basic form, tall and slender.

That was where the similarities ended, though. Whereas the one had hair that hung to the middle of her back, elegantly long and curled, the other had hair that was barely long enough to make the braid she had it tied back into. They both had blue eyes, but they were entirely different shades of blue--one a deep navy, the other a light sapphire. One had tan skin, the other pale, with a few red sunburned patches on her face.

They were dressed entirely differently. The tan one was dressed entirely in a plain suit of brown leather--tunic, breeches, and boots. The pale one, on the other hand, was dressed in a full-skirted dress of dark hunter green, one which didn't look as though it would have survived the journey they had obviously been through. She had a woven shawl over her shoulders, one into which all the colors of the rainbow were incorporated in numerous stripes.

The tan, plain one held a sword in front of her with both hands, a sword with an opal embedded intricately into the hilt. The other girl--the shorter of the two, although they were both tall--held no mundane weapons, but practically glowed with the force of her magic.

A man stood in front of them, entire form shrouded in shadow, making even the slightest feature of his face utterly invisible. The sword he held had a topaz in the hilt, set in a manner similar to that of the girl's opal; he glowed blackly with the force of his magic, an unhealthy aura laden with the scent of death and blood.

The two girls looked directly at the shadow-man--and smiled.

And the image faded away, replaced by one of a simple room afire, flames crawling up the walls and floor, room filled with an unbearable heat and the all-too noticeable stench of burning flesh. A blue glow seemed to be coming from one corner of the room, and a woman screamed in a mixture of anguish and fury.

And a tiny baby boy appeared, directly in the center of the flames but entirely unharmed by them. He was smiling without humor, a sinister expression that should never have been seen upon a baby's face. He was entirely nude but covered in scarlet blood, as though wearing it in a form of perverted infantile clothing.

Then he opened his mouth and laughed--and it was not any baby's giggling that emerged, but a deep, full-throated chuckle, one that belonged to a fully-grown man.

The old woman sat straight up in bed, glancing about wildly for a moment before realizing that it had all been a nightmare. Still, some odd terror of the dream lingered, making her shove aside the bedsheets and grab the small candle on her nightstand, holding it high in an attempt to banish the shadows of midnight.

After a few moments, the pounding of her heart finally subsided, and she shook her head at her own jumpiness as she set the candle back down on the nightstand. She should know better, than to have been so frightened by a dream.

The door flew open, lamplight flooding into the room and making the shadows jump and wriggle as though they were alive. Young apprentice Mary stood in the doorway; the light was coming from behind her, making it impossible to make out her form without squinting.

"Ma'am, Mrs. Farmer's baby's comin', they sent me to fetch you--"

The woman sighed, rising from the bedsheets and having to stifle a groan as her arthritic knees throbbed--Healers they might have in abundance, but there was nothing even the most skilled Healer could do about the natural aches of old age. "I didn't think she was due for four weeks yet."

"She's not, it came early. She's not doin' too well, I really think you'd better hurry--"

"I'm hurrying, I'm hurrying. Give me a little time, Mary."

The midwife wrapped a coat around herself and headed down the stairs, with Mary following. Her dreams were forgotten in the rush of activity that followed--a rush which included the birth of a baby girl, with both mother and daughter completely healthy, a matter of pure luck with a delivery this early. Later that night, she sank back into her bed with a sigh and slept peacefully, a sleep without dreams.

Whatever had disturbed her rest earlier did not come back.

Healer Saran cursed under her breath, bending down to pick up the damp rag she'd dropped. Snatching the jar of salve from a shelf, she turned on her heel and hurried back over to the poor lad's bedside.

The boy laying white as death among the sheets had just turned twelve a week ago; young, far too young to have already been the victim of the nobility's political schemes. Although he'd been rushed off to the infirmary as soon as he'd been injured, none of them were sure there was anything they could do for him; even as Saran rushed back to his side, he lay deathly still, mop of red-brown hair contrasting harshly with the whiteness of his skin.

Saran smoothed his hair away from his face, then frowned. His skin was cold, and he was almost too still...

No. Please, Goddess, no...

She sank to her knees beside the bed, staring in shock at the chest which stubbornly refused to rise and fall.

"Saran?" Another of the Healers ran over, frowning. "What's wrong? What happened?"

"The worst," Saran said numbly. "Someone has to go tell Lord Remont his son is dead."

The door to the lounge swung open, flooding the room with light from the hallway torches. Lord Jaser Forrest stood framed in the doorway; stepping inside, he shut the door and blinked, waiting for his eyes to grow accustomed to the much dimmer light within.

It was no surprise he could barely see; the only light in the room was from the fire burning in the hearth. Lord Loye Remont sat in a chair, staring expressionlessly into the dying flame and sipping every now and then from a large decanter of brandy.

"I come with news," Jaser said, crossing to stand in front of the other Lord. "We finally managed to get an answer out of the man. He claimed he was sent by Lord Teliere Orbein--then died." He raised a hand, displaying the silver chain they'd found around the assassin's neck. "These things are fairly common when sending assassins. They're magicked, to kill the wearer instantly if they betray their master." He tucked it back into his pocket.

For several long minutes, Loye said nothing, drinking every now and then from the bottle of brandy. At last he looked up at Jaser, face expressionless. "I just came back from the Healer's. Stefan is dead."

Jaser closed his eyes, bowing his head in silent mourning. "I'm sorry, old friend," he said quietly, knowing how empty the condolences would be.

Loye stood up suddenly, tossing the empty bottle to one side, where it smashed and scattered glass along the floor. "Lord Teliere Orbein, you say? Well, then, if Lord Orbein is going to kill my son--" He looked at Jaser, eyes alight with fury.

"I'll raze Sorcerer's Keep to the ground."