Hey everyone! Welcome to my newest story, something I have been working on during class, not having bothered to take notes. Anyway, it's in its early beginning stages, but I hope that it will continue along nicely. If you could tell me what you think of it, that'd be great! Thanks and enjoy!

Chapter One

Dawn was breaking over the plain, its red light washing over the dry grass and limp flowers. Now the plain lay silent, empty except for the stray rat that scuttled unseen between the stalks that murmured warnings as they rubbed together.

At the trough of a hill where a dark forest met the rest of the fields, a woman paced restlessly back and forth. She was clad in a sort of skin-tight black armor that encompassed nearly everything but her face. Waist-length red hair rippled slightly in the breeze, a crown of white flowers woven securely among the locks.

Her bright gray eyes carefully swept the crest of the hill, waiting for a sign of movement. She felt exposed and vulnerable without the comforting walls of undergrowth to surround her and jumped at the smallest of sounds.

Darvus was late. It was to be expected. He had no respect for her or her people, but surely he would show soon. He wouldn't miss a chance to degrade her leadership or those she oversaw. He would come, she was sure of it.

A centaur stepped out of the forest behind her, watching silently as she completed another circuit. His pale human torso glowed oddly in the murky forest light while his black horse's body was not immediately discernable from the shadows.

"My lady, you should be resting. A sentry will let you know when he arrives," he said in a deep, almost sorrowful voice. "That is, if he ever does."

"He will come," said the woman with conviction.

"But, he will surely send a messenger in his place. You know that he does not trust us to meet him face to face unarmed."

"As he should," she snarled. "After what he has done…all that he has destroyed…"

"It is no use getting yourself worked up. You have traveled a long way—"

"No longer than anyone else has," she interrupted, never taking her eyes off the hill.

"True," acknowledged the centaur, "But we should not expect him to come unarmed either. I feel uneasy with you in the line of fire…"

"I can take care of myself," she said shortly, pacing faster than ever.

The centaur sighed and bowed his head. "Very well."

The women paused mid-stride and looked over her shoulder at the retreating centaur. "Morgan, wait. I'm sorry. I know you mean well. But after the raid yesterday I just—" she paused in an attempt to find words to describe the flurry of emotions running through her.

"Perfectly understandable, my Queen," said Morgan with another dip of his head.

"Now, Morgan," she said with a sly smile, "What have I said about calling me that?"

"I apologize, Lady Gwen," said Morgan, the hint of his own smile unfolding from his bearded chin.

"Good. Now would you please make sure everyone is ready? I do not want to be caught off guard," she said briskly, resuming her watchful pacing.

"Of course," replied the centaur, disappearing into the trees.

The sun continued its ascent into the sky and still nothing and no one appeared at the top of the hill. A track had now been worn into the ground as Gwen's pacing continued. After several more lengths, she stopped, frustrated and angrier than ever at the lack of movement from atop the hill.

Morgan emerged from the depths of the forest once more and stepped lightly to her side.

"The creatures are getting restless," he informed her. "I hope that you will permit me to say once more that I do not believe that he is coming.

"He will come," Gwen repeated stubbornly, eyes raking the horizon. "But perhaps we should just go and look for him?" She rocked back and forth on her toes, as though she wanted to launch herself across the plains.

"I advise against it. You know that they do not feel comfortable in the open, and we would be terribly exposed. Besides, we can only cross to the edge of the Great Plains which is miles from the capital and which we are not permitted to enter."

"He didn't respect our boundaries. Why should we compensate for his?" she asked scathingly though all her anger was directed at the nonexistent group who was supposed to be representing the Southern Kingdom.

"The city is too well protected. We would suffer great casualties and gain nothing—"

"I know! I know!" she snapped. "I just need to think. I was so sure that he would have arrived by now, especially after yesterday…"

"Perhaps if we return home and decide on another course of action…We could leave guards along the forest boundary and—"

A sharp hissing split the air and suddenly Morgan cried out in pain, stuttering forward a few steps with a thundering of hooves. An arrow had buried deep into his flank. Gwen whipped around to see the hillside alive with the movement she had so anticipated. Dozens of Darvus's people now stood along the crest of the hill looking down on Gwen and Morgan, cold leers on their eerie faces.

Despite the variety of the creatures that Gwen governed, she could never seem to get used to looking at the sole race of the Southern Kingdom. It was with a shudder that her eyes passed over the front line, taking in every uniform aspect; they all looked the same to her.

Darvus's people, the Agne, were all six to seven feet tall with thin muscular bodies and waist length black hair that some had done up in extravagant arrangements. The majority sported shorts and a long-sleeve black shirt emblazed with the crest of the Southern Kingdom: a dragon setting fire to black vines choking a single rose. They were so pale that they seemed to reflect the sun, which in fact did bounce off what looked like green-tinged scales along their hairlines, neck, wrists, and ankles. Pale gray eyes looked down on the forest with faint disgust, the corners of their mouths turned up unpleasantly. The look was reflected in every face Gwen stared into.

Darvus himself, who looked exactly like one of his people, though broader and with shoulder-length hair had a crown seated upon his head while riding a horse back and forth in front of them, mimicking Gwen's pacing.

Behind her, Morgan had extracted the arrow and snapped it in two with a loud crack before throwing it to the ground. Blood flowed unchecked from the wound. Gwen stared at it, as though drawing strength from his pain, looked up into his deep brown eyes and felt fury well up inside her chest. How dare he attack her guard? Without thinking, she spun on her heel and struck a course for the King.

Morgan cantered out beside her.

"Lady Gwen, do not rise to meet him," he pleaded. "It is what he wants."

But Gwen took no heed of the warning. On the hill, Darvus's people were jeering, goading her on, their yells pounding in her ears. Darvus grinned and turned his horse toward her so that they met in the middle.

As they neared each other, he called out loudly so that his voice carried back to the warriors, all of whom had raised loaded bows and spears, "Well, well, well, is it isn't the Queen of the Halflings!"

A loud chorus of insults was raised at these words, so much so that they all blended together. Darvus let it continue for almost a minute before raising a hand for silence.

"Coward!" shrieked Gwen, coming to a halt in front of the king, who looked down on her with an air of disdain. "This was supposed to be a peaceful meeting and you have brought a war party!" She gestured wildly to the warriors, who tensed around their weapons even more.

"Forgive me," said Darvus with the air of someone beginning a pleasant conversation. A condescending smile was hitched unconvincingly on his face. "But it is not in my nature not to trust half-breeds. Surely you know how unpredictable and dangerous they can be."

More roars rose from the warriors, some brandishes their spears in support.

"How dare you? You criticize my people when yours destroyed an entire village yesterday on your orders!"

"On the contrary, my people were merely protecting themselves. Surely even you wouldn't deny them the right to defend their lives when necessary?" wondered the king, his smile guise slipping into an ugly sneer.

"Now, you must forgive me because I cannot possibly see how they were protecting themselves when they attacked the faun village yesterday?" asked Gwen in a mockingly sweet voice.

"It is my understanding that those filthy goats attacked my men first under no provocation. They were simply on their way to negotiate the terms of the use of the Forest Glen—"

"Such negotiations are to be made with me as you perfectly well know," interrupted Gwen coldly. "If the fauns attacked first it was because you were on their land without permission."

"So you teach your subjects to attack first and ask questions later? And yet, you wonder why we can't trust you?" Darvus asked, still in his conversational tone, though his expression was growing uglier by the minute.

"And you would guarantee the safety of one of my people on your land without permission?" shot back Gwen.

"Well certainly," said Darvus, seemingly troubled and hurt by this accusation. "I do not allow such behavior from my subjects."

"Liar!" hissed Gwen.

"Ah, Gwen, you hurt my feelings with such talk. How can you think I would ever allow an attack on one of your creatures without cause?"

"Perhaps it is the sheer number of deaths and injuries that happen to them near your border!"

"Accidents," he dismissed, "Accidents that you cannot link to my people."

"So now you call my people liars?" asked Gwen dangerously.

"Ah, Gwen, Gwen," chuckled the King as though she had uttered an amusing joke, "Do not pretend that it is not a common trait among half-breeds."

"Do not flatter yourself, Darvus," whispered Gwen. "If one word of what you claimed today is true…"

"If?" asked Darvus, "If? Come now, I thought you said that this was supposed to be a peaceful talk."

"You forfeited that when you attacked my guard," snapped Gwen, indicating Morgan who had remained silent by her side, blood still dripping sluggishly down his flank.

"An accident," repeated Darvus. "Besides, there was no real harm done, and it certainly got your attention.

"You are eating your own words, Darvus," warned Gwen savagely, "I thought you said that no injury would come to my people without cause. I see no cause for this."

"You know, Gwen, I am growing tired of your abuse. I came here today at your request to solve yesterday's dispute and I see no peaceful resolution in sight."

"No peaceful resolution can be made when you continue to sit their and lie about your crimes."

Darvus seemed to swell, his face growing red. "And what about your crimes, Lady Gwen?" he whispered, all air of conversation gone.

"I have never committed criminal acts," responded Gwen, head held high.

"I hate to contradict you Gwen, but there are many crimes that have fallen at your hands."

"Enlighten me, Darvus," hissed Gwen, color rising in her face now.

"Well, where to begin?" said Darvus, mockingly thoughtful. "How about the fact that you continue to harbor those criminals I drove out?"

"Refugees who suffer crimes at your hands will always be welcome in my kingdom. Who I take in is my choice, and none of your business," replied Gwen coldly.

"Or the fact that you deny my greater share of the Forest Glen?" Darvus continued loudly as though he had not heard her.

"You should be grateful I allow you use of the Forest Glen at all, especially considering what happened yesterday…"

"My final accusation," shouted Darvus completely ignoring Gwen's explanations, "is allowing those filthy subjects of yours to thrive when they were sentenced into exile years ago!"

The Agne rose in jubilant support of their leader, their cries echoing across the field so that it seemed magnified all the more.

"Nothing to say, Lady Gwen?" said Darvus, the light of triumph in his cold, black eyes, "Is it because you know you have committed this treason and have no support to back it up?"

"I don't need support for saving and governing those wrongly falsified in your kingdom back then or now," said Gwen slowly.

"Well, of course you wouldn't, would you," asked Darvus like he had been expecting this response, "being a disgusting half-breed yourself?

A ringing silence met these words while Gwen glared back at Darvus with the utmost loathing. But it was Morgan who reacted first. He stepped up to Darvus, quivering with rage.

"You do not speak to Lady Gwen like that!" he roared.

Darvus looked coldly down upon him, a cruel smirk unfolding on his face. He raised his hand, on which sat several heavy metal rings, and back-handed Morgan across the face. The resounding smack made some of the Agne flinch.

"How dare you speak to me?" Darvus bellowed. "Filthy half-breed!" And he spat at Morgan's feet.

Morgan clutched the side of his face, wincing as he applied pressure to the wounds inflicted by Darvus's rings as they swelled beneath his fingers. Gwen looked at her shocked guard, a mixture of sympathy and absolute outrage on her face.

She turned back to Darvus. If she had looked at him in disgust and hatred before, it was nothing compared to now. "You shouldn't have done that," she said quietly, eyes flashings.

She raised her hand in a signal and the forest behind her was suddenly alive with movement. Fauns, centaurs, griffins, and people like Gwen herself poured out of its depths. All of them were laden with weapons that glinted menacingly in the strengthening sunlight, their eyes falling on the Agne with hatred.

Darvus took in their appearance with an unsurprised smile on his face. "I see you have brought your own mongrel war party," he sneered.

"Forgive me, but it is not in my nature to trust the Agne," replied Gwen.

Shouts now rose from her people, yelling abuse at the Agne warriors.

"I'm done talking, Darvus."

"As am I, Gwen. I just hope you said your farewells beforehand."

They both glared at each other for a minute, the same ugly look reflected between them. Then, "ATTACK!" they both cried.

The field erupted into chaos. The battle shrieks of each side clashed with the other to mingle with the shouts of the first casualties. The dull thuds and sickening slashes of weapons hitting flesh rose with the stench of freshly spilled blood.

Gwen had sprung toward Darvus, bringing out a blade as long as her arm, but instead found herself surrounded by five of his most brutal henchmen. Some of them still bore wounds from yesterday's raid. Morgan was no where to be seen.

"Where's your guard little halfling?" sneered the one directly in front of her.

"Surely he didn't leave you when it takes two of you to equal one full warrior?" jeered another.

Gwen said nothing, eyes flicking from one to another searching for a weakness. They were all armed with swords, which admittedly was only slightly better than arrows. At least she could parry sword strikes. They began to advance on her, and she blurted out in an attempt to buy more time, "If I only amount to half a warrior why is it five one? Afraid that I might beat you single-handedly after all?"

But it appeared that they had finished talking, and continued to close ranks on her. At that point, however, she had realized that almost none of them were wearing anymore armor than a chest protector. She only needed to injure them to get away and a well aimed blow to an exposed arm or leg would do the job.

All of them stupidly had their swords brandished before them, their unprotected arms even more exposed. A quick spin might do the trick.

Gwen held her position as they drew closer, eyes still moving rapidly incase one of them decided to attack. Step by step, they advanced, Gwen analyzing all the while. Then, when there were close enough to count each scale on their faces, she spun like lightning on her heel, sword out.

She managed to catch three of them, blade raking across their arms so they feel back with howls of rage, blood spattering the ground. The other two had managed to jump out of range and quickly retaliated. Gwen ducked one sword and stuck hers into the warrior's foot so that he tripped and landed hard on the ground. Rising up, she was able to turn on the second with a backhanded swing, catching him in the shoulder before punching him hard in the face so blood poured out of his nose.

By that time, the other three had recovered and lunged for her again, faces contorted in fury. But before they could reach her, Morgan appeared out of nowhere to trample them from the side, pounding their bodies into the ground where they did not move again. He turned toward her, numerous wounds on his flank, one eyes swollen shut. As he passed Gwen, she quickly swung up onto his back, one arm encircling his chest to steady herself.

Morgan turned again, racing back across the field. The one she had stuck in the foot had risen gingerly to his feet and slashed at the both of them as they flew by, but Gwen kicked out hard with her foot and he flew backwards to fall still.

All around her warriors fell while others battled on, wounds bleeding freely. More creatures were still arriving from the forest but still more Agne were streaming down the slope. Shadows rippled across the stained ground as griffins soared above them, diving into the thick of the fray to squash two or three Agne warriors at a time before taking back to the air. But, Gwen saw with a jolt that they were terribly outnumbered. Those of her people who still fought were battling numerous opponents and were the worse for it. They were losing.

Morgan was doing his best to weave in and out of the dueling pairs, while Gwen held on with all her might. "Lady Gwen, I do not think this is a fight we can win!" he shouted as he jumped over a fallen faun, an arrow sticking out of his chest. Gwen looked sadly into his blank, staring eyes and knew Morgan was right.

"Fall back!" she shouted. "Everyone back to the forest!"

Morgan took up the cry as well, but there were cries of outrage and protest from her warriors who clearly didn't want to give up and battled harder than ever.

"I said go!" bellowed Gwen. "NOW!"

Around her, her people gave last swipes at their opponents and began to retreat into the trees. The Agne gave cheers of triumph and pushed them back farther. Yet, still some of her creatures refused to stop fighting. Gwen wheeled Morgan towards those who disobeyed, dealing blows to the enemy and glaring at her own warriors who returned disgruntled looks before fighting their way back to the forest.

She and Morgan continued to send their people back, all the while crying, "Retreat!"

It was as they were heading towards one of the last few that Morgan stumbled over a body, pitching Gwen forward off his back. She didn't have time to react as she fell through the air. Her head struck a rock with sickening force and a great wave of blackness rose up over her senses.