Author's Note: This is the first chapter of my second story. I hope you guys enjoy it and please review.

Chapter 1: As the Rain Falls

The storm was coming.

Ellya glanced up at the gray winter sky as she hurried down Mistal's main road. The blacksmith's house was in the very center of the small village. It was such a convenience seeing as many of Mistal's visitors were armed travelers and were usually gathered at the town market, which was also located in the center.

The blacksmith's daughter, Carithy, had turned fourteen the day before. In her hands, Ellya carried Carithy's belated gift wrapped carefully in a small box. It was a doll. Every girl in the village received a doll on her birthday from Ellya's mother. Ellya couldn't possibly imagine how it was possible to memorize so many names and faces. Ellya didn't think it was necessary, but ever since Ellya had begun wandering in the woods alone, Aristene her mother, had begun questioning Ellya's involvement with other village girls.

It was Aristene's hope that by sending her daughter to Carithy's home, friendship would bloom between them. Ellya disliked the idea very much, but out of her love for her mother, she had obliged. However, she knew that it was with Carithy that friendship would never be shared.

As she rushed past people who were clearing away carts and stalls to avoid the foreboding rain, she considered whether or not she should trip accidentally and soil the delicate gift box. There were a few dogs sauntering back and forth between closing food stalls. Perhaps she could get them to play with it.

She shook her head, ridding herself of such mischievous thoughts. She couldn't damage the gift. She had promised her mother that Carithy would receive it undamaged.

The blacksmith's store came into sight, and she sighed uncomfortably. Soon, she would face that evil witch of a girl.

When she reached the door, she rapped upon it softly, wishing she could propel herself to run before it was too late. But when the door opened, it was too late.

Green vibrant eyes framed by a halo of rich brown curls stared blankly into Ellya's own dull blue ones. Carithy wore a long brown dress that hugged her slim figure. Around her head was a small silver circlet, a valuable present from an aunt somewhere across the kingdom. Tiny colorful jewels encrusted the brow.

There was no smile, no greeting.

Ellya stared apathetically at the angel replica. If only everyone could see the true demon inside.

Carithy took her present without any word of gratitude.

"You're late," was all she said before she slammed the door in her face.

Ellya blinked for several seconds before muttering, "You're welcome."

She turned on her heels and retreated home, not discouraged, but rather content that her work had been done. Her fifteenth birthday was in several months, and she swore to herself that she would never act so rudely to anyone who remembered.

That is, if anyone did remember. She cast the thought away. No. The Goddess would remember. She would honor it. She loved her loyal followers.

The roads were already vacant when the first few drops of late winter rain fell. Ellya hastily sprinted into the woods bordering the village.

She loved the fact that her home was situated within the quiet sanctuary of the forest. No noise but the sweet sounds of the Goddess's nature. She had always wondered how one could live with the loud clangor of village life.

The Goddess had given her a warm home with two loving parents. For this she was extremely grateful. With a quiet prayer, her unease and spite wore away, and she could never have felt any more satisfied.

Soon, the rain fell in heavier, rounder drops, but the downpour did not cast a gloomy veil over her satisfied mood. The lake was just up ahead. She could hear the curious pitter-patter against the lake's surface. And just past that was where her mother waited, perhaps with a hot bowl of soup and a soft dry towel.

Her father was no doubt returning from a successful hunt. Ellya would welcome him home as well and together, they would share an adequate dinner before a comfortable blazing fire.

She smiled to herself as the lake came into view.

Yes, she had so much to smile about.

As she continued her travel beneath the cover of the forest canopy, she caught movement in the corner of her eye. Her stomach leaped as her eyes shot to the shadows. Her hand rose to clutch the metal pendant hanging at her neck. It was a symbol of the rising sun, an arch of silver metal from which thin rods for sunrays protruded. It was the rising sun of the Goddess, Armedica.

Ellya quickened her pace.

It's just the grass bending under the storm, she told herself. The grass always does that. There's nothing to worry about.

A streak of lightning streamed across the dark sky. One second later, thunder roared. Ellya flew ten feet up into the air.

She was prepared to sprint off past the loud slap of water against water, when a moan sounded from the lake.

She froze, her limbs suddenly stiff.

There was nothing demonic or bestial about the sound.

There was another moan, and she realized that it came from the location she'd seen movement. She observed the shadows even closer.

Hidden behind the tall weeds and blades of grass was a figure sitting against the root of a tree. It was a man. His chest shuddered as it rose and fell, indicating heavy, forced breathing.

Ellya gasped aloud. Papa!

She tore through bushes and weeds and out into the rain. She raced to the man's side and knelt, seizing his hand in hers.

She was about to speak, but he opened his eyes. She took a sharp breath and instantly dropped his hand, drawing away.

He was not her father, but a wounded stranger. And he didn't appear to be that much older than she was. His wound must have been in his chest, for that was where she saw and felt thick, warm liquid. She glanced about. Had he been attacked? Could his attacker still be there, watching as he died slowly and painfully?

He heaved a breath. "Iveyleth?"

She did not understand what that meant, but said, "You've lost much blood. You need help."

She applied pressure to his chest, but he endeavored to push her away.

"No," he muttered. "I . . . I've no reason to live . . . Leave me . . ."

But she ignored him.

"Leave me, girl!"

She glared at him for addressing her as a mere child, but carried on her task of keeping him alive. "The Goddess would never forgive me!" she said, turning her head in the direction of her home. "My home is not too far away. Come with me, and we will provide you hospitality."

"I appreciate your aid," he replied, "but my grave lies here."

She released a chuckle full of disbelief. "Here? In this cold forest when it's raining heavily and when there are creatures preparing to feast on your body? I cannot leave you here. The Goddess would never forgive me!"

He watched her carefully, but allowed her to help him sit up. She could see he was very reluctant.

"My sword . . ." He was reaching for some long object beside him. Understanding, she took the sheathed weapon and buckled it around her shoulder, over her chest.

She had already assumed that this young man was no threat. And if he was, she still could not leave him here to die. She spotted a dagger sheathed in his right boot. His small soaked bundle of belongings lay a few feet away. Slinging that around her shoulder, she helped him rise to his feet.

He must be a traveling warrior, she mused. Something clicked in her mind. Perhaps he is on a quest! Sent by the Goddess herself!

More than half his weight became her burden. Though, she stood firmly, giving him his balance.

Could he be a knight? She continued pondering as they began heading in the direction of her home. Could the Goddess possibly have sent this young knight here for me to find and fall in love with? Me, an ordinary, common girl?

A warm blush rose to her cheeks as she furiously shooed the thought away. How could she be thinking of that when this young man was seriously injured? She began to believe that he was right on referring to her as a child. She should be asking him if he was all right!

She did, and he responded with a pained grunt. She interpreted it as a no.

After that very informative conversation, silence stood between them. Ever so slowly they trekked past woeful trees and windblown bushes, dodging branches that were bent down from the rain. It was taking so long, she feared she might have gone in the wrong direction.

She had once asked her father why there was no path from the village to their little abode. He had said that it would define the location of their home, that uninvited villagers and thieves would know easily where they lived. The only people able to visit them were friends who were often escorted.

Ellya believed that her parents had chosen to live in the forest because it was in nature that they could hear the words of the Goddess.

Well, at the moment, the sky was flooded with the Goddess's tears and her storm was unrelenting. In the past few weeks, the land had been assaulted by storm after storm. Many assumed that she was informing the mortals that spring was fast approaching. With the evidence of bright lightning and howling thunder, others believed that she was warning them about their habitual sins.

Yet a few others did not think that the Goddess was weeping. The storms, to them, were a sign of a dark, ominous future, one that would affect the entire kingdom of Thiran and its people.

The young man she was holding up was huffing out quick, sudden breaths. Just a while ago he had wished to die. He currently did not seem to have that same wish. His staggers were terribly slow, but Ellya could still feel the desire to live coursing through him.

Her steps were beginning to falter as they moved. His unbalanced weight was leaning on her even more. She struggled to stay upright and keep him from falling unconscious.

"We're almost there," she said, though she wasn't sure if she was reassuring him or herself.

Right when she stopped to let him catch his breath, footsteps sounded from somewhere beside them.

Ellya's stomach frisked. The rain wasn't heavy enough to make such distinct noises.

"What was that?" the injured man asked, breathless.

Thunder echoed in the sky, and she wondered if that was what she had heard. But she could have sworn, it sounded so close to them.

Then, a voice called out. "Ellya? Is that you?"

The voice cut through the cloak of heavy rain. Ellya shifted her weight in an effort to turn, almost forgetting that she was still supporting the warrior. He wobbled to the side slightly, and she let him lean on her to regain his balance.


Her father trudged to her side. Oh, how she was absolutely relieved to see him. "I came out looking for you when you didn't come home." He observed the young man she was holding up. "By the Goddess, did something happen?"

"He's wounded, Papa," she explained. "We must get him home."

Without any further words, the big man wrapped the warrior's free arm around his wide shoulders, lifting some of the encumbrance from Ellya. With his assistance, they were able to move at a quicker pace through the dreadful storm. Soon, the cottage came into view, and Ellya inwardly celebrated with joy.

"We're here!" she exclaimed, but the young man did not hear. He collapsed from their arms and upon the mud in one slick movement. Ellya cried out. Her father's fingers flitted across the warrior's wrist.

"His pulse is faint," he whispered. He hoisted the young man to his feet, and miraculously, the warrior was still conscious, but barely.

"Quickly now, Ellya," her father ordered. "We must get him inside."

She sprinted to the door, mud splashing her garments, and knocked upon it with fists. Her mother opened it, a smile and two large, thick cloths for drying at the ready. But her smile soon disappeared as she watched her husband carry in a wounded young man.

Without any questions, she started for one of the bedrooms, which was at special times reserved for guests. "Here, Muran." Her husband, with Ellya's support, brought him in to the room and carefully placed him on the waiting bed.

In the late evening, when the slabs of mud had been vigorously wiped off of the wooden floor, Ellya told her story to her parents, who both received it with grim expressions. She explained it in full detail, but deliberately left out her belief that he was a storybook knight sent by the Goddess.

While Ellya left the sitting room to visit the unconscious warrior, her mother prayed to the Goddess for help. No one knew why he had been by the lake or how he had been wounded. They were not sure if he could be trusted, but Ellya knew somehow that he could be.

She had taken the liberty of cleaning his sword and its sheath. When she had drawn out the blade, she had discovered that it was covered in dried blood. Refusing to ponder on whence it had come, she placed all her attention on the weapon itself.

She had always believed that swords weighed half as much as she did. But apparently, this sword was nothing of the like. The only swords she had ever seen were those in the blacksmith's shop. Besides those, she had never seen a sword so close nor had ever wielded one before.

After the matter of the sword, she saw to the warrior's bag. She discarded the drenched, rotten food within it, but dried the other nonperishable items.

The remaining contents included a few coins, enough to purchase bread and water, a small, wrapped knife, an empty canteen, a tiny, gold intricate locket with a silver chain, and a long red ribbon.

The last two items she pulled out were strange things for a man to be carrying. With curiosity eating away at her, she opened the locket and immediately met the charming eyes of a young woman. Her dark auburn hair was in a neat braid and was tied with a red ribbon. It was the same ribbon that Ellya had recently come across.

Whoever this girl was, Ellya knew that the warrior she had helped was holding these items as objects to remember that girl by. Whoever she was, he held her dear.

Ellya glanced at the warrior asleep in the guest bed. Disappointment stabbed at her chest. So much for her storybook knight.

She could not find herself to look away. He appeared to be only several years older than she was. The blankets did not cover his broad shoulders, and she was able to see a light scar on his neck. Her mother had already bandaged his wound.

She had seen handsomer young men in the village, but that did not change the fact that this warrior was oddly attractive. His wet, black hair fell around his face. His dark features showed signs of melancholy and pain, but other than that, she could not help but feel drawn to him. She hoped that this warrior could still be her knight, the Goddess's chosen . . .

His eyes suddenly opened. Ellya's heart flipped. They were blue, but greener than hers. They gazed at her curiously. He was observing her as she had observed him.

Her face warmed. She tucked a lock of hair behind her ear, looking away.

"What is your name?" he asked quietly.

"Ellya," she answered, eyes reluctantly meeting his again.

There was a slight smile on his dry lips. "My name is Vanden," he said. And with that, he returned once more to his deep slumber.

A/N: What do you think of how this is so far? I would be very happy if you left a review. Advice of any sort is welcomed.