Chapter One

The castle had been under siege for what had seemed like forever. Those who had lived in the city had either fled, been murdered, or had fallen back to the castle. The city's defenses had fallen as easily as if they were a child's building blocks. It was only a matter of days, perhaps hours, until the castle itself fell, and there were so few defenders left. Most of them were untrained city boys, but there were those who had fought before in battle. These men now fought ferociously and without regard for their own life. There were, of course, the sorcerers, but we were so pitifully few. What the others practiced could hardly be called magic. Illusionists, that was what most of them really were. They could do nothing to aid our cause. Their skill was only a shadow of the past.

I held my pounding head. It was so hard to concentrate. My finger traced the line I had been reading and re-reading for over an hour: "and to combat this threat, they created a magic to defeat all: the Dragon's Fire" I sighed. Again and again I had read something similar to it, and again and again I had set it aside. There had to be another way.
"Laedon!" Teison called from the doorway above me. "I think I finally found something!" He came speeding down the stone steps. He stopped abruptly and gazed at me in astonishment. "Gods, man, what have you been doing down here for so long? You look like you've never seen anything but this room!"
I must have been a wretched sight. All but one candle had burned itself out and books were scattered all over the floor and piled haphazardly on the desk before me. "Researching." It must have sounded like a pitiful excuse, for he frowned at me as he cleared off a space on the desk beside me.
"With only one candle?"
"It is no matter."
He shook his head at me and pulled a book out from under his arms. "Look. Here, this might be what we're searching for." He flipped through the pages and settled on one. He put an ink-stained finger under a smudged and fading sentence.
I peered at the book. It was the same as the last. "In the battle between the humans and the dragons, there was a magic used that halted all flow of magic." I read no further. I knew what it would say.
"No." I said promptly.
"Laedon, this is something. After so long searching, we've finally found something that could be of use."
"Why? We can't just throw away something that could turn out to be the very thing to save us."
"No, Teison. This is something you don't understand."
He glared at me. "Well, since you know everything, why don't you tell me what you've found."
I matched his gaze. "That is just a rumor. There's nothing to prove such a thing exists."
"Yes, but there's also nothing else that I've found, and nothing to prove that it doesn't exist either. How else could the dragons have been defeated so long ago? Did we toss flaming arrows at them?"
"It's a possibility."
"But not very likely."
I sighed. "Just keep looking. We'll find something sooner or later."
"Any later than tomorrow might be too late."
I opened my mouth to reply even though I knew he was right. I was about to speak when a blast of psychic energy exploded in my mind, leaving my senses reeling. My vision spun and began to blacken every few seconds. I gripped the table so hard to keep myself from falling that my knuckles turned a bloodless white and I was surprised that I did not tear off the wood. My breath came in gasps and my hearing was muffled by the blood pounding in my ears. Such a pain I had never felt before and I feared that I would give into the swirling blackness that was just beyond my reach. If I did, I knew that I would never come back.
I thought I heard Teison shouting my name as I collapsed, but I could not be sure of it as I slipped into oblivion.

I was standing in the middle of a ravaged battlefield. Blackened piles of rubble lay in heaps where houses once stood. Bodies were strewn around the charred earth. My ebony cloak whipped about me in the fierce and frigid air. There was no sign of life in any direction, nothing as far as the eye could see except the dead. So many dead - so much pain. I could feel it in my very bones. I dropped the sword I had been gripping with my bloodied hands and sank to my knees, tears streaming down my face. I cried out in pain, in rage, until it felt like all of my soul had been spent in the scream and had flown out and buried itself in the blood-soaked ground before me.
A soft voice drifted along the wind, but I could not make out the words. " Cursed, fear." It was a song, but I did not recognize the tune.
"Laedon." my head shot up at my name. I staggered to my feet and stumbled across the charred earth, following the eerie voice. I saw a slender figure walking towards me. I could see the tears that were falling down her cheeks from her completely white eyes. Her black hair blew out behind her as she came towards me. She hugged herself as if cold as she sang her song. I reached out to her

And the dream dissolved and I found myself lying face down on the floor. I groaned as a pounding headache obliterated my thoughts. It felt as if my head had been hit repeatedly with a mace.
"I'm fine. I'm fine." I mumbled softly, wishing that he would speak quieter. I feared that anything more than a whisper would kill me.
He bent down and turned me gently over. "What happened? All of the sudden you just blacked out!"
"Solais tried to break through again." I whispered.
"Break through? Gods, you're trying to prevent him from using magic, aren't you? That kind of magic hasn't been seen since before the Dragon Wars. The skill level for something like that is beyond immense. It's suicide!"
I had a difficult time listening to his words. I had devoted a lot of energy to creating and strengthening the barrier that stopped Solais from using sorcery to tear the castle apart stone by stone. It was very difficult to do anything that distracted part of the consciousness when dealing with something as complex as a barrier of this type.
Solais was a mastermind at the art of battle and he had no mercy when fighting. He was also a sorcerer, unlike any I had seen in this age. He laughed as he tore apart our defenses; he laughed as he slew our men with his tainted power. He led his own men with an iron fist, drove them to extreme lengths for the sole sake of reaching his own ends.
"Since the Dragon Wars. Yes, I know."
I hated the fact that he was looking at me with fear. I had not had much choice in the matter. I could not let Solais succeed or our people would suffer a death beyond anything anyone ever should.
He was silent for a while. "Laedon," he began hesitantly. "If you can do something like that, then couldn't you destroy Solais and his army?"
I shook my head. It was too complicated for me to explain to him. Even if I had the power, I would not stoop so low as to murder by the thousands. I would not have their blood stain my hands. Besides, there were certain limits on using magic to slay another, much less thousands. I had no idea how Solais had been able to wind his way around such limits. "Help me up please."
His eyes grew slightly wider, as if touching me would taint him, or invoke my wrath. Slowly, he put my arm around his shoulders and helped me back into my chair.
My hands shaking, I started looking at the book again.
"I'm sorry." Teison said quietly before he gathered his book in his arms. He paused in the doorway. "I'll continue looking for a way to stop him."
I bent over my work. My hands were still shaking and the words kept blurring before my eyes. I flipped through page after page but I saw none of it. Soon I began to imagine the continuous battle cries of the defenders and the screams of the wounded on the stone wall outside. I could not hear them, but the jarring clashes of swords and the twang of bowstrings being released resounded in my soul. I could feel every wound and every drop of blood spilled and it painted my vision red so that I could not help but see the bloody defenders in my mind's eye.
There was no time. Teison was right, but I feared that any solution that did not come by nightfall would be far too late. I tried to make sense of the words on the page I was reading but all I could see was death. I could not force myself concentrate. I heaved myself out of my chair, staggered drunkenly to the stairs, and began the long ascent to the castle walls. The dream I had had kept haunting my thoughts and I could no longer put any effort into my futile attempt to find any help. There was none.
When I got to the walls, it was far too quiet. The drums of war still pounded in my heart and the distinct absence of the ring of steel on steel made the silence seem deafening. It was almost as if nothing had happened, and I could almost believe it but for the battle-weary soldiers patrolling the walls. It was obvious how tired they were. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a man that had fallen asleep in his armor, an empty bowl of what I took to be food resting in his lap. Some of the soldiers were too tired to even look for the enemy and it seemed that they no longer cared if they lived or died and others stared lifelessly at the fog-shrouded battlefield. Many of the soldiers had bloody rags tied around some part of their body. They should have been in their beds but I knew that we could not spare them, no matter how grievous their wounds were.
I turned towards the voice. "My lord Vadrel."
He strode briskly toward me, his face carefully controlled, and stopped me in mid-bow by grabbing my arm. "Walk with me." He said through clenched teeth as he turned and walked in the other direction, nearly pulling my arm off.
"What is it my lord?"
"It's this damnable fog. You can't see a thing through it. They could attack at any second, and we would have no warning at all. It's been a long time since they last tried. They're just toying with us." He stopped abruptly and released my arm. "Laedon, the next charge will shatter our defenses."
"We will all die here before we let that happen, my lord."
"I know. That's what I wanted to speak to you about." He sighed. "Every man here would die to see this castle defended, but it's going to fall, regardless of how many throw their lives away to defend it. I don't want that to happen to my people. I want them to live on and have the chance to lead happy lives. I don't want these men to cover these walls with their blood. I am responsible for them, and I will not have each and every one die to delay the inevitable."
"We have not lost hope yet, my lord. I'm sure I'll be able to find something soon."
"Laedon, I'm not stupid. I know you haven't found anything." He sighed again. "Laedon, this is hard for me. Please try to understand. Promise - promise me that if I die here, you will find a way to protect my people."
"My lord,"
"Promise me, Laedon. Do you understand what I am asking you to do? I have no heir, no one to become king if I die."
"My lord, I am not the person to ask this of."
"Who, then? No one else here knows the role of king as you do. Who better to ask than you? You have advised me many years and your wisdom on matters of state surpasses anyone else here."
I reluctantly nodded in consent, though my heart felt heavy for it. "I swear it on my life." The words left a bitter taste in my mouth. I felt like I was going to throw up.
His eyes softened. "Thank you, Laedon. You have ever been faithful to me. I'm sorry that I don't have a better way to repay your courage."
"Stay alive and we'll call it even."
He stopped and leaned on the stone walls. "You know I cannot leave this castle. It will be my last duty as King. I have ruled here, and I will die here, defending my kingdom to the last."
I looked at him intensely as he gazed out on the fog-covered ruin that used to be a city. He turned to me and gave me a weak smile. "My sacrifice won't be in vain, though. I'll die so that others may live. If I were to flee, the tyrant Solais would undoubtedly tear down every village and city in this entire kingdom looking for me. I cannot have my people die like that. I won't have them live under the shadow of a madman, either."
"My lord, I did not agree to do this so that you could die here and-" I was cut short by pounding footsteps racing towards us. I turned to see a messenger that looked as if he was about to collapse.
"What is it?" I called.
"Urgent summons for the king!" he yelled to us. "On the west side!"
I looked to Vadrel as he spun on his heel and took off running. "Get me my sword!" I shouted to the messenger as I took off after the king. His stride was longer than mine, so when I got to the west side of the castle, he had already gotten there. The breathless messenger arrived moments later with my battered sword. I buckled it on, my headache long forgotten in the chaos of the moment.
"What is it?" I asked Vadrel quietly, who was kneeling beside a man that was pouring out blood from a deep sword wound in his side. The makeshift bandages had already been soaked with the blood that was now pooling on the stones around the soldier.
Vadrel lifted his hand to stall my question, not even taking his eyes from the wounded man.
"Enemy in the walls." the soldier rasped.
"Did you get a glimpse of his face?" Vadrel asked softly.
"No. I'm sorry, my lord, so sorry. I failed you." His face was a mask of pain and it was clear that he was using the last of his strength to talk. "Sorry, Lord Vadrel." He breathed as his body gave up the fight to cling to life and his last breath sighed out of him.
Vadrel sat back on his heels. He gently closed the nameless soldier's eyes. "Go in peace, my friend. May you find happiness as those you left behind will not." He said softly. He stood up. "You," he said to the commander of the west wall. "See that you find the despicable enemy that managed to slither through our walls. I'll have no one here that will be a threat to any of us. Use any means necessary."
"Yes, my lord." the commander said as he turned to his men and started giving orders.
"Laedon," Vadrel turned to me. "Gather my personal guards and the sorcerers Teison and Jadeen. I have need of them." I bowed and strode briskly away. Within a half of an hour, we were all standing in the king's personal chambers awaiting his orders. He paced back and forth, his arms crossed over his chest. He stopped a few times, as if to speak, but then resumed pacing again. He finally uncrossed his arms and clenched his fists at his sides as he stopped and faced us. "What I have to ask of you all is very difficult for me to do, but it will probably be even more difficult for you to understand." he paused. "I have heard that those who dwell in the mountains of Asahn are exceptional in everything they do. The treaty we have with them is very thin, but we are desperate and every other option has been exhausted. This castle will fall. I know it; you know it. We need all the help we can get. I need you all to go as envoys to them to plead for their aid. I need you all to go because you are the only ones I can afford to trust anymore and I know that you will see the job done. Also, if I should fall, I know that you will be the most loyal to me and see this request fulfilled for me. If not for me, then for my country." He clasped his hands behind his back. "What I ask is not an easy thing, I know this very well myself. I'm asking you to on a mission that may or may not succeed. It is a fools gamble, but only fools can succeed in places where the wise have fallen."
I cast my eyes to the carpet as my stomach twisted itself into a knot. Asahn. My homeland.
"We have been as of yet unable to find a way to counter the magic of our enemies. It is more powerful than anything we have ever experienced. Solias, their leader, may soon stoop to the level of necromancy. We need to stop him before he becomes that powerful. I'm not sure if you all will find what we're looking for in Asahn, but there is an old song that says the people of Asahn will protect anyone in times of need. They are all exceptional fighters. If we cannot find a magical solution, then perhaps they will be willing to fight alongside us."
"My lord, you're asking us to go to a people who have secluded themselves, a people that have separated themselves from the world, on the basis of a song and an ancient treaty that may have never existed in the first place?" one asked.
"I will not have you all die here for a vain cause."
"We will die to see you live, my lord. I would hardly call that a vain cause." I spoke softly, but all turned towards me.
"I shall die here whether or not you do. If you live, I can know that my kingdom has a chance for safety."
"My lord. We will see your wish fulfilled, but this castle will fall even if we get aid. There is no way help can arrive in time." another said.
Vadrel sighed heavily. "I know, Thomas. I know. You're all dismissed. Please think on what I've said."
As everyone turned to leave, Vadrel softly called my name. I turned and walked towards him. He was looking out the window at the constant drizzle, his brow creased with what I supposed to be inner worry. "Laedon, whatever happens to them please guide them. Lead them. Be a kind and just leader. Heaven knows they'll need it."
I stared at him as he sat in silence. Finally, I replied, "I will."
He nodded as if satisfied. "I would not loose you, Laedon. You know that. You have ever been loyal to me. But I fear that my reign is coming to an end after all of these long years." He laughed softly. "I've been king for almost no time at all, and I'm happy to get rid of the duty already. It is so much sometimes. The years weigh like lead on my heart and my shoulders. It is no easy thing. I am glad." He waved his hand at me, and I bowed and left, his words echoing in my thoughts. They troubled me, but I had other worries for the moment.
I walked again on the ramparts, the icy wind blowing in my face. Asahn. The very place I had no wish to return to, yet my duty to my king was shoving me there. I wondered was Isariah still the man he used to be? How could I return to them? I knew what the king had heard about but still, it was the very thing he could never have. But I doubted that there was another choice.
I turned and leaned again on the cold stone wall and gazed out. I squinted. Nothing. I could see nothing. I looked up to the sky, the tiny droplets of water falling on my face. Would the earth never be peaceful? This land had been so wracked with wars that it was amazing that people were still living in this pathetic excuse for a world. This war was but another example of a tyrant searching for power.
Solais was not the first to thirst for the blood of thousands, but perhaps he was one of the more dangerous to have ever walked the earth. He was one of the few born with what is known as true power - a level of magic that had not commonly existed seen since the Dragon Wars. Yet, Solais's magic was, in a way, still incomplete because he had not had the proper training, so he had no comprehension of how to use his power. That was what made him even more dangerous. He had no knowledge of the consequences of his actions so he would use his powers in any way to gain what he wanted. He would destroy everything if he was allowed to live. The natural balance of the world would be upset beyond repairing if he were to use his magic as freely as he had been. It had been lust and greed that had prodded him to attack, and it was a mindless cruelty that drove his actions. With such feelings in ones heart, the world could only suffer.
I looked again to the yard. There! Was that something? I squinted. Yes. They were here again, using the cursed fog to mask their position. It was almost too late. I spun on my heels and went racing towards the alarm bell, my heart thundering in my chest. "Attack! Attack!" I cried as I raced up the steps to the tower. I skidded to a halt in surprise. The bell was not there. I paused only a second, my mind racing. Something was wrong. and then I knew. It was his breath that betrayed him and my own sword training and reflexes that saved me. I ducked the sword that whistled towards my head and I rammed my sheath viciously into my would-be attacker's side. The blow threw him off balance and his sword clattered to the stone floor. I swung again and my sheath struck his face with a sickening crunch and he staggered backwards, his hands flying to his heavily bleeding nose. He fell to his knees, looked at his blood-covered hands, and turned his baleful gaze to me.
"You bastard." he growled.
"Where are they coming from?" I yelled, grabbing the collar of his shirt and roughly shaking him.
He laughed. "You'll never find them."
I glared and backhanded him. "Where are they?" I almost missed the dagger that was aimed for my side. I let go of his shirt and jumped back just as the blade grazed my cheek, leaving a thin trail of blood under my left eye. The man then threw his dagger at me and I flung myself to the side, landing heavily on my elbow. I hastily scrambled to my feet.
"You'll die." The man called, bowed to me in mockery, and turned and jumped off the walls.
I lunged forward to grab him, but it was too late. I heard his laughter echo all the way down until there was the sickening thud of him hitting the ground below.
I swore at myself as I raced back down the steps, calling that the enemy was preparing to attack. I nearly ran headlong into Teison.
"Calm down. What's the matter?" he asked.
"They're here. No time. I found their spy." I said as I sped around him. I ran down into the courtyard and raised the alarm. Within a matter of minutes, all of the soldiers had put down their plates, grabbed their armor and weapons, and had taken their posts on the wall.
We waited uneasily and the minutes dragged slower than hours. Men shifted nervously in their positions and the clanks of armor echoed as loudly as explosions so that I cringed to hear them. I spent an hour staring intently into the fog, desperate to see something, anything, that would prove my warning right. But nothing happened.
"Laedon, why are we doing this?"
I turned around. I had not even realized Teison was there until he had spoken.
"It does not look like anything is out there."
He was right. I rubbed at my eyes, my elbow still throbbing a painful reminder how lax our defenses had become to allow a spy through. "I can't shake this feeling I've had ever since we learned about the spy. I know they're out there."
"Even so, why should we do this to our men? It's making them even worse than they were. They're starting to see things that aren't there. They're waiting for a battle that probably won't happen today or even tomorrow. What little faith and energy they had is flagging and when the enemy does come we won't be able to do much to resist them."
"Laedon! LAE-" I turned to the soldier just as I heard the release of a bowstring. The arrow hit him in the head, driven deep into his skull by its momentum.
"ATTACK!" someone screamed and the cry was echoed all around the walls as enemy arrows filled the sky from every direction.
I could hear our own archers bellowing orders to retaliate. Volley upon volley of arrows was released towards the attackers, but it was not enough. They kept coming. It seemed that for each one of theirs that fell, three of ours would fall as well. It was pure chaos. The walls became a sea of arrows and the clash of swords sounded like thunder.
I wrested a bow out of a fallen man's hand, knocked an arrow, and released it. When the dead man's quiver was empty, I began retrieving the arrows lying on the stones or in bodies and using them to shoot at the mass of soldiers below.
"LAEDON!" I spun at the call, lowering my bow. Teison was waving frantically at me and I knew that I hadn't just imagined the panic I had heard in his voice; fear was written all over his face. I handed the bow I had been shooting to another soldier and took off running towards him.
"What is it?" I called. He did not answer, but ran instead. I followed close behind. We ran halfway across the castle walls before coming to a halt behind a circle of determined-looking soldiers. We pushed our way to the center and I then knew what it was that they were guarding.
"My lord! My lord!" I cried as I rushed to Vadrel's side and knelt beside him. An arrow was protruding from his leg and he was near unconscious from the pain.
A healer forced me aside and held a cup to Vadrel's mouth, forcing him to drink it. "The arrow is poisoned." He explained. "Hold him. We have to take this out. It's in deep."
I stared at him a moment and nodded and pressed down my king's shoulders. The healer grabbed the shaft of the arrow and yanked it out in one sudden moment. Vadrel gave such a cry of agony that one would have thought that the entire world was collapsing in on itself, and I feared that if the wound did not kill him, the pain would.