Saki Andrax watched silently as the moon rose slowly above the horizon. A chill wind blew down through the city, whisking through clothes and skin alike. The lonely sound of a wolf howling drifted up on the night. He exhaled sharply, exchanging an uneasy glance with his partner, Mandarc Daringae; wolves were a bad omen. A moment later others joined the wolf in an eerie chorus and Saki and Mandarc took an involuntary step towards each other. "It's a whole bloody pack!" Saki breathed, shifting from one foot to the other.
Mandarc and Saki had been stationed in the northern quarter that night, their duty to patrol the border between the city and the forest. There hadn't been any raids for a few weeks, and the General was getting nervous. The whole city was wondering where and when the human renegades would strike next.
Shivering still, Mandarc nodded, stomping his feet in a vain attempt to regain feeling in his toes. He rubbed his hands together for warmth. "It's so cold out here," he muttered, changing the subject. "I hate winter." Saki nodded in agreement, placing his gloved hands on his slender, pointed ears.
"I feel like my bloody ears are going to fall off," he said, pulling his coat tighter around him. Mandarc opened his mouth to reply but was interrupted by another chorus of howls, much closer this time. With a startled gasp they both whirled around, snapping their guns out of their holsters and faced the long vacant street. There was nothing there but shadows. The two exchanged looks and laughed.
"Fine pair of Legionnaires we make!" Mandarc said with a grin, putting his gun back in its holster. "Jumping at shadows!" Saki laughed.
"After all, shadows can't hurt us!" The laughter died in their throats, however, as one of those shadows suddenly solidified in front of them. The two gleaming black katana blades in its hands reflected the light from the not too distant street lights.
"I beg to differ," said the shadow, in a soft, dangerous voice. With a cry of surprise Saki leveled his gun and fired. Three streaks of crystal clear red light shot from the muzzle towards the shadow. The ebony blades whirred in the air and a soft metallic ring sounded as each of the beams struck the blades. The stranger gave a short, amused laugh.
"Is that the best you can do?" She asked. Her katana were glowing with a slightly reddish sheen that illuminated her face. The woman was wearing a form-fitting black coat that seemed to blur in with the shadows around her, making her form hazy and indistinct. It clung tightly around her waist and chest, but was loose around the arms and below the waist; it seemed designed for fighting. Jet-black ringlets peeked out from under her hood, framing a lightly tanned, elegant face. Her full, crimson lips were turned down in a frown, and set just beneath a gently curving nose. Neither Saki nor Mandarc needed to see her ears to know they were rounded, rather than pointed. But none of this was what made the two take a step back. The shadow's eyes seemed to glow with a light all their own - two points of burnished gold in the darkness.
"Shaidanna!" Saki gasped, recognizing the description of the woman who stood before them. She was considered extremely dangerous. No Legionnaire was to take her on alone - or at all if they could manage. When asked the penalty for disobeying this rule, the General's reply was that there was no penalty, because anyone who did so was as good as dead anyway.
But surely two of the top Legionnaires could beat her,Saki thought to himself. After all, she's only a woman, and a human besides! Mandarc had apparently arrived at the same conclusion. He pushed Saki out of the way and stepped forward, gun in hand.
"Die, savage!" He snarled, discharging 15 bright blue shots in rapid-fire succession. Saki grinned to himself. Mandarc was one of the best shots in the Imperial Legion; there was no way she could block all those shots. Again the ebony blades whirled, and when they stopped, they were now giving off a purplish light. Saki made a strangled sound in his throat. 15 shots and she was still standing. 15 shots and she was still breathing. 15 shots and she hadn't even broken a sweat! Shaidanna smiled, and her eyes gleamed brightly.
"Very impressive!" She commented, her soft voice slightly mocking. "Now, would you like to see my tricks?" She lunged forward without warning or sound.
"Sound the alarm!" Mandarc cried, ripping his shortsword out of its sheath just in time to avoid having his head cut off. Saki stared at him in shock for a moment. "Blood and ashes man! The alarm! Sound the alarm!" Breaking out of his shock, Saki reached to his belt and pulled off his communicator, striking the alert button. This would give him access to every com in the Northern Quarter.
"Alert!" He shouted. "Alert! We're under attack! The human rebels have - " He cried out in surprise as a dagger soared through his com, knocking it to the ground and smashing it beyond repair. He whipped around to face the opposite side of the street where a young man stepped out of the shadows. In one hand he held a single, deep blue katana blade, and a second was strapped in a sheath at his waist. He wore a dark blue coat, similar in style to Shaidanna's. It was obvious the two were related. His face and features were amazingly similar to the black cloaked woman's, but for the fact his eyes were a cold, crystalline blue. The man smiled.
"Naughty, naughty, naughty," he chided in a mocking tone. His blue eyes began to glow and the air suddenly seemed colder than it had been. Dark clouds roiled in what had once been a clear sky. Saki paled, drawing his shortsword; the man was too close to be able to use his gun in time. Within seconds the blue-cloaked stranger attacked and their weapons met.
Mandarc gasped and dove to the side as an ebony blade descended towards his head, but Shaidanna had anticipated this move and her second sword moved up to catch the Legionnaire in the side, biting deep into his flesh. She recovered from her first swing and brought the first blade up in a swift slash, slicing through Mandarc's wrist, cleaving flash and bone in half. Mandarc screamed in pain and collapsed to the ground, clutching his arm to his chest and curling himself into a small ball. Shaidanna looked down at him with a pitiless smile.
"You'll not be firing a gun at a human again, Elf," she told him coldly. She stepped over the Elf, now close to unconsciousness and headed toward Saki, who was still fighting with her brother. She froze in mid-step, however, when the sounds of shouts and an all too familiar whirring sound of a Hover echoed down the street. Her head snapped up and her golden eyes narrowed.
"Galen!" She shouted. "End it! We have to go!" The man looked up at her and nodded, turning back to Saki. He grinned flippantly.
"Sorry, friend," he threw all the sarcasm he could manage into the word, "it's been fun, but I have to go." Saki gasped and staggered back as Galen launched a rapid-fire series of attacks at him. Suddenly, he stumbled over the curb of the road and fell backwards. He cried out in pain as the blue katana sliced across his chest, leaving a deep gash. Galen's eyes began to glow blue. "Be seeing you," he said as he raised his sword.
"Hold it, human scum!" Bellowed an angry voice from behind him. He whipped around to stare at the dozen or so Elven Legionnaires who stood in a defensive formation around the Hover they'd arrived in. "You're under arrest in the name of the Emperor Talien Tarac're!" Galen quickly altered his stance and raised his sword to meet the beams of light fired by the Legionnaires. His katana began to glow as it absorbed the shots.
Saki snarled up in pain at the human's back, his hatred for the renegade's race reaching a boiling point. He slowly drew his gun from his position on the ground and took aim at Galen's back, ignoring the pain in his chest.
Shaidanna blocked another shot and risked a glance over at her brother to see how he was faring, when she noticed Saki drawing his gun. Her eyes widened.
"Galen, WATCH OUT!" She screamed, dropping her katana as she lunged for her brother. She slammed into him, knocking him to the ground just as Saki fired. The siblings tumbled to the pavement, narrowly avoiding several gun shots. Galen twisted around and grabbed Saki's ankle, dragging him closer. He raised his fist and threw it into the Elf's face, knocking the weakened Legionnaire out.
Taking advantage of the siblings' distraction, the Legionnaires turned their aim on the two humans. Shaidanna twisted around and to her feet, extending her hands towards her swords. They flew as though drawn to her hands. She brought the ebony blades up just in time to block the beams of light flying towards her and her brother.
Galen leapt to his feet, calling his own katana back to his hand and drawing the second. He raised them to defend himself. Within seconds all four blades were glowing brightly with absorbed energy. He looked over at Shaidanna, trying to see if she had been hurt, but her black cloak made it impossible to tell. "Shai! We've gotta get out of here!" He called. He gestured with his head towards the alley. "The longer they stay here, the less chance they've got of getting out!" The two exchanged a silent glance and nodded.
The Legionnaires watch the silent exchange with unease; humans were generally unpredictable, and these two were notorious for it. They hurriedly tried to reload their guns, which by now had all gone empty. All hands froze, however, as Shaidanna and Galen's eyes suddenly flared brilliantly, and their glowing swords began to pulse with light. An unseen wind stirred their cloaks.
As one, the siblings pointed their glowing blades at the Legionnaires and the light in the swords shot forward, flying through the air like lightning and striking the Hover. The explosion was deafening and the Legionnaires were hurled in all directions. Most lay unmoving as the Hover continued to burn. Galen turned to grin at his sister.
"They're so pretty when they ex . . . " he stopped talking. Shaidanna wasn't paying attention to him. Her eyes were narrowed, as she stared down the street. He frowned. "Shai? What is it?" He asked. She shook her head and turned around to face him.
"It's nothing. Thought I heard something is all." Galen frowned, his lips pursed tightly. He didn't believe her when she said it was nothing. She didn't get that look in her eyes for 'nothing'. She glared at him. "Look, whatever it was is gone now, all right?" She said. "Right now, we've got to get the collars out." Galen finally nodded and the two headed back towards the alleyway. He noticed Shaidanna casting several glances over her shoulder at the vacant streets behind them though as they made their way through the streets again.
General Kai A'Linoroc's head snapped up at the news.
"What? When? Where?" He shouted. Flustered, and just a tiny bit awed (this was the General Kai after all), the young Legionnaire took a step backwards.
"The . . . the Northern Quarter sir," he said. "The reports have identified Galen Stormbringer and Shaidanna."
"What?" The General cried again. "Shaidanna?" He suddenly smiled. "Finally! She's come out into the open!" He leapt from his chair and hurtled around the desk, pausing only for a second at the door to strap on his gun and a broadsword. "I've got her this time."
Then the stunned Legionnaire was alone in the General's office.
Galen stuck his head out around the wall, making sure that there were no Legionnaires in sight before gesturing for the others to follow. He stepped out into the moonlight, followed by a dozen frightened Humans, of all ages, and Shaidanna, bringing up the rear. The Humans following him were a wretched looking bunch; most were battered and bruised. They were all dressed exactly the same, in a plain, utilitarian gray uniform, each with a symbol woven onto the breast pocket. The symbol of the House they belonged to. Though Galen couldn't see them, he knew that on the feet and palms of all of them except for the youngest were tattoos, bearing the sign of house that had owned them. Around each neck was a shiny steel ring, bearing a striking resemblance to a collar.
These were the 'collars,' the Humans enslaved to the Elves since the day they were born. Just the thought of it was enough to make Galen's blood boil. He thought back over the history of the Humans and Elves as they stalked silently through the night, every now and then stopping to check a street or alleyway for any sign of the Imperial Legion.
About a hundred years before, the Elves had been nothing more than children's tales; stories told at bedtime to sooth a child into sleep. The Humans then had constantly been at war with each other, mostly over things like Technology. Shaidanna had told him that Humans had become so caught up in Technology, and so puffed up with pride and conceit that they didn't realize when the Technology began controlling them instead of the other way around. So busy were they focusing on their Technology, they failed to notice the threat from underground.
Apparently several thousand years before even that, the Elves and Humans had both lived on the surface of the Earth as they did now, with one exception; the Humans weren't held as slaves. The two races had been at war. A horrible, dreadful war that went on for a very long time. The Elves had outnumbered the Humans, both in numbers and in strength, but Humans are far from easy to kill. As the story went, 7 Humans struck up a deal with the elements; Earth, Fire, Water, Air, Spirit, Light and Shadow. By giving themselves over to the elements, they gained the power – the magic – they needed to win the war. Thanks to their new advantage, the Humans managed to push the Elves back, finally making them retreat to the caverns and recesses under the earth, where they should have stayed forever.
But they didn't. They bided their time, waiting for the moment when they would be able to get revenge and reclaim what they considered theirs. Meanwhile, the Human's Technology was gaining strength, and slowly but surely they forgot about the Elves, and about the magic that allowed them to defeat their ancient enemy. Over time Elves and magic became nothing but legends, to be laughed at and passed off.
But no one's laughing now,Galen thought to himself grimly. The Elves had resurfaced just when Human technology was reaching its peak. The Elves turned the Human technology against those who created it and in short order had managed to enslave the entire human race.
But the Elves weren't happy with just this.
The time they had spent underground had turned them into a very social race. The distances between continents disheartened them, so they decided to put Technology to 'good use' as they put it. They made a machine that would bring about the Shift.
The results were disastrous – at least for the humans.
The Shift involved the moving of the continents, bringing them back together into one big super continent with the use of Technology. When the continents struck, the effects were cataclysmic. Mountains rose up where none had been before, and disappeared elsewhere, seas dried up and oceans appeared, the earth suddenly dropped away in some places, leaving deep canyons. The face of the Earth was forever changed.
But the Elves had been prepared for this. They shut themselves up in palaces of steel and stone, safe from the disaster wreaking havoc on the earth. They took with them what they considered a 'safe' amount of Humans. Enough to be able to crush any pathetic resistance they may have been able to raise. The rest were left to their fate.
Not one Elf lost their life in the Shift; billions of Humans died.
Galen gasped as someone grabbed his arm and whipped him around. He stared in surprise at Shaidanna's angry face.
"Galen!" She hissed. "You doorknob! Pay attention to what you're doing!" Galen opened his mouth to retort when a unit of Legionnaires ran by the alleyway. He snapped his mouth shut.
"Sorry," he muttered. "Lost in thought." Shaidanna shook her head and rolled her eyes.
"I understand. Everyone gets lost in unfamiliar territory," she said caustically, returning to her position at the back of the ragged line. Galen stood there for a moment, searching for the comeback he knew would dawn on him later, then shook his head, scowled at his sister and started off again.
10 minutes later he spotted their goal - the forest. He grinned.
"We made it!" He whispered to himself. He turned around to address the group, but his voice died as he did a quick head count.
The man was obviously an Elf, with straight, light blonde hair just long enough to brush the tips of his pointed ears. His eyes were almond-shaped and slightly tilted; the irises a crystal blue, lighter even than her brother's. His face was long with sharply angled features, and possessed an agelessness only the Elves could. Were it not for the fact he was an Elf, she would have thought him handsome. He was wearing a fancy embroidered coat, marking him as an Elven Lord of considerable importance. The symbol emblazoned on the left side of his chest, over his heart was that of the rising sun - the House A'Linoroc. The coat revealed a lithe, athletic figure that seemed poised just on the brink of action. His eyes were intent on her, and she felt herself being weighed and measured, as though on some invisible scale.
She met his gaze, eye for eye, keeping a tight reign on the hatred threatening to overwhelm her senses. This man stood for everything she fought against. She had spotted him following her and the others earlier and had hung back just before the border to lead him away from the collars. The man smiled, though his tilted blue eyes remained cold. He dismounted and reached to the sheath at his side drawing a sharp, steel broadsword; guns were useless against her and he knew it.
"Greetings Shaidanna," he said. He eyed the shadows that seemed to cling possessively to her distastefully. Elves did not think much of the elemental magic some humans possessed, and even less of her own element – shadow. Shaidanna scowled.
"A'Linoroc," she snarled. "It's been a while. I should have known a rat like you would show up eventually." She closed her eyes and concentrated, absorbing the energy of her blades into her own body. A dark aura sprang to life around her, and the white light that had flooded the streets dimmed. Kai shrugged unconcernedly, never lowering his gaze.
"What exactly are you planning on doing with all that . . . energy . . . exactly?" He shied away from the word magic. Shaidanna smiled coldly.
"Oh nothing much," she said as she closed her eyes again and focused all her energy towards her hand. "Just this." Her eyes flared open again and she thrust her hand towards him. He growled and dove out of the way as the energy in her body shot from her outstretched hand and flew right through where he had been, striking instead the side of the warehouse behind him, tearing through it. It exploded in a large ball of flame, visible all over the city. A'Linoroc scowled at her as he leapt to his feet. He leveled his sword at her head.
"I will see you collared yet," he snarled. Shaidanna laughed, trying not to lean on her katana for support. That attack, coupled with the one she had used on the Legionnaires and their hover earlier, had taken a considerable amount of her own energy. It was one of the few downfalls of the Master Blades.
"I was born a free woman, A'Linoroc," she said. "I was alive before the Shift, and I intend to live a long time yet." Her golden eyes flared brightly for a moment. "But I'll die before I ever wear the collar again." General Kai glared at her.
"You will not have the choice when I catch you, Human," he sneered. Shaidanna's only answer was to laugh.
"I'd have thought you Elves had learned by now . . . " Her eyes flared again, as her cloak seemed to swirl and shift around her. Slowly her face faded from his view until all that was visible was her eyes glowing golden. "You can't catch a shadow." The eyes faded from his sight as the shadows stretched and swirled around him. He looked from side to side, trying to peer through the thick, blanketing darkness. He scowled to himself.
"You realize this isn't going to get you anywhere," Kai told the shadows. "Not your hiding, or your precious rebellion. You Humans who have turned away from the right path. Accept it! Humans are an inferior race. We are your saviors!" Derisive laughter echoed around the streets.
"We shall see who needs saving, Elf." Shaidanna said, her words accompanied by thunder.
"Foolish human!" He shouted harshly. "You can not win! You are doomed!" Rain began pouring down onto the street. Heedless, Kai continued. "But we can save you! You Humans! So violent and unstable! We saved you from yourselves! Without us, you would have destroyed yourselves long ago! It was only our collars that kept you from doing so! You had succumbed to the darkness inside you, and you'd do so again given the chance! We are the light that's missing in you!" A slow smile spread across his features. "After all, what is shadow, but the absence of light?"
"And what is light, but the absence of shadow?" He whirled around to face the sound of her voice just as she dove towards him, katana extended. He leapt backwards, raising his sword as she instantly recovered from the move and swung her swords towards him again, alternately blocking and attacking with one or the other. Kai met her blow for blow, even with a single sword. She was weakened from that blast and they both knew it.
Weakened or not, however, she was still an experienced fighter as well as a skilled one. And for the next fifteen minutes she kept the Elven General on the defensive. Kai grimaced as one of her blades slid across his shoulder, leaving a thin line of blood behind. Her katana began to glow even as his shoulder went dead. His right arm was useless. Shaidanna took a step back, breathing hard.
"Do you give . . . " She stopped talking at the sound of booted feet coming down the street. She twisted slightly to see behind her, and Kai took his chance. Leaping forward, shifting his stance to a left handed one, he brought the sword down. She turned around in time to see the blade and gasped, twisting like a cat out of the way, though the blade grazed her arm, leaving a long, jagged gash down its upper length. She scowled darkly. Shaidanna eyed the approaching Legionnaires, glanced at her shoulder, and then at Kai, his arm hanging useless still at his side. Her wound was deeper than his, but she at least still had use of her arm. He was at a disadvantage. She could beat him. She could destroy him once and for all. Several laser beams flew over her head. Her eyes flared into light.
"It's been fun, A'Linoroc," she said as the shadows seemed to swell around her, hiding her from view until all that was left visible were the eyes, still glowing. "But I'm afraid I must go." Still laughing, the eyes disappeared as Shaidanna melted back among the shadows and disappeared. "You can't catch a shadow," her voice taunted him one last time before disappearing completely. The shadows that had infested the street faded back and away as the streetlights suddenly came back to life with the familiar buzzing of electricity. A'Linoroc didn't pay any attention to the Legionnaires rushing up to him.
"If I can hit her once, I can hit her again," he told himself. "And when I do, I'll make sure she lives to regret it." He pushed his sword back into its sheath and pushed aside a concerned Legionnaire.
"You are mine, Shaidanna!" He shouted to the night. He glared at the shadows that still seemed to sulk around the edges of the light and his eyes narrowed in determination. "Mine."