Abbreviations You might want to Know:

Abbreviations and Measurements You Might Want to Know:

AE – After the End

BE – Before the End

TE – The End

3 leaves – One foot

2 spikes – One inch

Krek – Army measurement: 50 men

1000AE

Xera looked over her woods through her tower window. Only a trained eye would see it as a tower. Its many branches, placed there by magic and engineering. It had been a full millennium since the End. When the terrible forces wiped most of the World from existence. Now Xera looked over to the East towards the dessert. Thirty years previous, the king of the Dessert had kidnapped and raped one of the Forrest People. Now, that her Mother had escaped, the sign of that terrible two years would be on every Forrest Person. The Gold and Silver would forever mark the Wood Royalty. Is that what the Dessert King wanted? Xera shook her head, chasing away the confusing thought. Now she was Queen, now that her mother had died of old age. A tear slid down a cheek almost as silver as itself. Her advisers told her that she should accept the offer of collation that the New Dessert King presents. However, that would mean being joined in wedlock to the son of her Mother's Rapist. That she could not abide. She glanced at the glimmer of the Dessert Palace, a red jewel against the black sands. She did not know how to handle the new Dessert King, so she wouldn't. That was the simplest and safest way to go about it. She would show no disrespect, simply a polite decline. Her Advisers wouldn't be happy, but it came down to her word. They would not change her mind.

3000 AE

Kriana crouched at the edge of the woods. Xera Woods had been bordering the Frayen Dessert since TE. Now she looked at the black sands, they appeared cool and welcoming, against all logic. Was it true? Would she really catch flame if she ventured into the Frayen Lands? The old Ones said it was so. But then, they also said that the moon had been a tear shed from Queen Xera's eye, and the sun a drop of her blood. Kriana was so caught up in her wonderings that she almost failed to see the figure approaching. At the last moment, she scrambled up a nearby tree, her bow taught and arrow poised.

Arcane scanned the brush. His friends had told him that the Xerans would kill him on sight if he went in there. He laughed it off, saying that no one would shoot a face as pretty as his. He did have a handsome face. Sun tanned, and almost soft, his brown eyes sparkled with the Dessert sun, dark as the sand beneath his feet. His hair was originally brown, but the sun had lightened it so that it was almost a honey blond. He noticed the woman in the shadows, considering the light as if it were a possible danger. What could be dangerous about the light? He was dressed in light clothing, shorts and a piece of cloth over his head to keep the heat at bay. He was well out of the city limits, and so could go without his shirt, though if he were to go back, he'd have to put it back on. He noticed the woman's strange outfit. She was dressed in a light green that almost perfectly blended in with the foliage. Her top was a simple piece of cloth, wrapped securely around her bosom. She wore a skirt made of the same material, though it was tied in a way that showed a large amount of muscular leg. A rope made of wound vines tied the center of the top over one shoulder to the skirt. This seemed to secure both with the same amount of rope. More rope was wound around her wrists and ankles. Slid into these ropes were knives and daggers of high quality. Clever. She had spotted him and climbed nimbly up the nearest tree. As Arcane approached the tree, an arrow shot out and narrowly missed his arm. The woman leapt down from the tree, her arrow never wavered from him. She said, in Plain Speak, the common language of Earth.

"The next will pierce your heart, Dessert Dweller!"

Arcane was taken aback. His friends hadn't been lying. He'd owe them an apology, if he got to see them again. He raised his hands in a show of peace. Her bow didn't lower.

"Would you really kill me?" Arcane asked, figuring that if he was going to die, he might as well get some information before it.

"In a heartbeat, why have you ventured so close to the woods, Dessert Dweller?" Kriana inquired. He was going to die anyway, and the Old Ones would be disappointed in her to let an opportunity like this slip away from her.

"I could ask you the same question…what is your name?"

Kriana stiffened. "Why should I tell you?"

"Because I would like to know my killer's name. If I am going to die."

"You are. It's Kriana. Now, what is yours?"

"Arcane. I am pleased to meet you, Kriana."

Kriana raised an eyebrow in surprise.

"I did not know Frayens could be so polite, even in face of death."

"We can be many things." Arcane said. If this was going to be the last chance he'd get to flirt with a beautiful woman, he'd take it.

Kriana laughed, and lowered her bow, relaxing the string so that it would not shoot.

Arcane saw this as a sign that she might be wooed after all.

"You handle that bow like you know what you're doing."

"I do know what I'm doing. You dodged well. Not all would hear the arrow before it pierced their flesh."

Arcane bowed in gratitude. They both turned at the sound of footsteps coming from behind them. Mikal, Kriana's best friend glided from between the leaves as Carina, Arcane's Sister hurried over the black sands.

Both froze at the scene, unsure of what to do. Finally, they decided to ignore it for now.

In almost perfect unison, they said.

"Something terrible has happened." They looked at each other; in scorn, amazement and distrust. Arcane and Kriana brought them out of it.

"What happened?" Kriana asked of Mikal, as Arcane started to speak rapidly in Frayen.

Mikal answered in Xerian; "Darklings have begun to invade Prester."

Kriana's eyes widened in shock, "What? I thought the Great Sea kept them from our Island. How could they have reached us so soon?"

Mikal shrugged lean, muscular shoulders. He was almost exactly Kriana's height of 18 leaves. Xerans had the reputation of being very tall. Mikal didn't answer, but simply grabbed her arm and lead her into the forest. To this Kriana argued loudly.

"Excuse me! But when have I ever needed leading? I am—"

"You are supposed to know to kill them on sight! Yes, you are Royalty. I'm not blind. I saw you. You were talking to him." He swore, "You were flirting with him! What would the old ones say if they knew?"

Kriana paled; a cool trick, considering that her skin was silver and gold.

"You're not going to tell them, are you?" Kriana asked, she knew her friend wouldn't want to get her in trouble, but Mikal had an annoying habit of sticking to the rules.

"No. But, by Xera, Kriana! You were flirting with a Dessert Dweller!"

"I was not." Kriana said, her fear subsided now, and she could be defensive.

"Oh, yeah." Mikal imitated her laugh, and exaggerated it to sound five times as girly.

"Oh, Mr. Dessert Dweller, you're so strong and handsome."

"I never said that!" Kriana countered, outraged and semi embarrassed. A faint blush crept up her cheeks, so faint that only someone who really knew her would notice it. Someone like Mikal.

"You're blushing! You were flirting with him! Xera's Cloak! Have you lost your mind?"

"Have you lost yours? What about the Darklings that is supposedly invaded Prester?"

That made Mikal silent for a few seconds. Showing how truly serious this was. He nodded and motioned for her to follow him.

"The Queen will explain it to you."

Meanwhile Arcane was having a nearly identical chat with his sister.

"How dare you flirt with that Xerian floozy?! The Darklings are attacking Prester! You are needed elsewhere!"

Arcane was getting angry. "She is not a floozy! Did you see her skin? She is Royalty! She is a direct line of descendent from Thia and Fray. She has as much our first king in her as her first queen."

Carina took this in stride. "She, she, she. Does she have a name?"

"It's Kriana."

Carina hooted. "Whoooo! You've got it bad! You like a Xerian!" She then continued in a sing song voice.

"You like Kriana, you want to kiiiiiiiiss her. You want to—"

"Enough! Where am I needed so desperately that you had to come out to the edge and find me?"

Carina huffed. She was about a full spike shorter than Arcane, which made her to be about eighteen leaves and eleven spikes. "You take all the fun out of things."

Arcane swung an arm around her shoulder, to her annoyance, "That's what brothers do." Then released her and let her lead him to where the Heads were waiting. Being a Duke always means that nothing is easy. Not even war.