Author's Note: Okay, I changed this quite a bit. It's a bit more organized, and easier to read I think. Let me know what you think, okay? I'll be updating the rest of the chapters as well, so stay tuned!
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Shadow the Sun
~*Black Nova, Archadion starship in orbit above the planet Lanosh*~
"Lieutenant, have you located the source of the transmission?" Captain Albian asked the Black Nova's science officer.
"I've narrowed it down to the northern continent, but our sensors are having trouble scanning the surface. There's a disruptor field blocking our attempts."
"Disruptor fields, transmissions… I thought this was an underdeveloped planet? How could that type of technology be found on such a backwater planet?" Third Officer Cross commented.
One look from his captain silenced him.
"I won't have your smart mouth jeopardizing this mission, Cross. It is far too important. Now, we have work to do. Come."
~* Forest Village of In Umbra, Lanosh*~
"Today is the day I die, and I am not afraid."
Staring at my reflection in the cracked mirror of my temporary bedroom, I had told myself that every single day. It was never a known truth before, but now it rang in my ears more loudly than ever.
I knew that the life I lived was a dangerous one, that this day could come at any time. I was prepared for it, or at least I thought I was. But are you ever really prepared for the day you die?
"Mirabeth! Mirabeth, they're coming!"
The frightened cries are all the more painful when you know that you are the one responsible for them, accountable for all the lives ended because of your actions. But this was for the betterment of my people, and I could not back down now.
So when it came, I faced it head on. I would not hide like a coward. Not after what I'd done, what we'd all done.
I stood near the front of the crowd, my eyes scanning the scene before me. Trembling bodies huddled together for warmth and protection on this cold, frightening night. Tears streamed down the faces of the children, and some of the adult's as well.
Fear. It was clear on everyone's faces, including the children. Or perhaps especially the children, for they didn't know what was going on. They couldn't understand why we were being taken from our homes in the middle of the night, shoved around by rude guards in heavy armor.
I'm sure it made no sense to them, and that was why they were even more afraid than we, the adults. At least we understood what was happening; the Pope had decreed that we had gone against the Church of Raas and must be punished.
Armor-shielded faces stared us down, refusing us even the slightest glimpse into our captors' eyes. Many of the children flinched when the soldiers came to close, and even a few of the adults shied away.
The guards pushed us through the village, over the dirt path leading to the edge of our safe haven and into the rest of the world. Some of the elderly tripped under such rough treatment. This only angered the guards, but what could they expect? The elderly were unable to keep up the pace that the guards wished us to.
Out in the open, we could see the city lights in the distance. The capital city of Dashi, the royal city Elysium. Location of the Raas Cathedral, where we would be locked up, tortured and possibly put to death. But we knew this was coming from the moment we chose to do what we did. We must face our sentence.
There's no turning back now…
I woke in a cold sweat. Another dream. More like a nightmare, this one. Ever since I was a child, I'd had dreams of the future, usually in the perspective of another person. My father said that it was a trait of our race, the Ra'shen.
The Ra'shen were the descendents of angels, and as such we had many of their traits; wings, improved sense of sight and hearing and some of us, like me, even had dreams of the future.
I stood up from the bed and looked around the small room I shared with my friend Claire. We were staying in a room of one in the home of one of the villagers, sharing a second-floor space. Walking to the window, I gazed out on the quiet town below.
The village was a quiet place called In Umbra, meaning "In the Shadows". If it weren't for the occasional noise of children playing before their parents warned them to be quiet, or the soft clanging of pots at mealtime, I would think it were inhabited by ghosts.
It was late, so naturally everyone was asleep. Everyone except Claire and myself, Melodi Reva. I wish I wasn't in this mess, but here I am…
I worked for the Mercenary's Guild, accepting jobs from clients all around the world. Mostly the clients are local, but there have been a few times that I've had to travel great distances to complete a mission.
As for Claire, I don't know her story, not all of it anyway. I know that she was working for the Pope, and that he was the one who sent us on this mission in the first place.
And that brings me to our current situation. Our mission. I had been hired by the Pope of the Church of Raas to locate a group of people hiding in a forest labyrinth.
I had met Claire a few weeks prior to this, in the Raas Cathedral during one of my other missions.
Claire was the one who got me the job. She had been working for the church for several weeks, doing other odd jobs, and when she learned of this one she mentioned me. We were told that they had gone against the church and must be apprehended, but beyond that we knew nothing about the people.
The village was larger than I had expected it to be. And it was a real village, not just a bunch of huts and tents where people were hiding. The houses weren't what you'd see in a larger city by any means, mostly simple wood structures, but it was simple and clean. During the day the village was a nice place, pretty with the flower gardens that the women somehow managed to grow.
Apparently it really was a village in the forest, and the people we were looking for had simply come here to hide.
That explains why the people here were so accepting of us when we first arrived. If they had been the ones in hiding, they would surely have been suspicious when we showed up. But they weren't. They were more curious than anything. And now that we had spent time with them and gotten to know some of them, they were beginning to trust us.
And that made what we were about to do all the more difficult.
The Pope's soldiers were on their way to arrest the people we were sent after but they would probably end up arresting everyone in the village, likely claiming they were aiding criminals or something.
"It won't be long." Claire said suddenly, interrupting my thoughts.
"Are you sure we're doing the right thing?"
"What? You're asking that now? You picked a great time to grow a conscience, Melodi." Claire sighed.
I knew Claire was right. But having to stay in the village for so long gave me time to think, and I wasn't sure I liked what I had become.
I never used to do jobs like this. It used to be simple stuff, escorting pilgrimages and wealthy travelers, and now I was hunting down people who would most likely be executed for their crime, without even knowing what that crime was. What if it was something minor? What if it was a simple misunderstanding? Did these people really deserve to die?
In truth, I wished I hadn't taken this job. Especially after living with these people, and after the dream I'd just had. I could feel the fear, the dread of what was coming in that dream. And I knew it was my fault.
"It was only a matter of time before these people were found, Melodi. The Pope had his men looking for them for weeks. If we hadn't found them, someone else would have." Claire spoke up again.
"And that makes it right?"
"I don't know. But it's a little late for that, isn't it? It's not like you can get out of it now. The order to cooperate came from Juno; you can't go against him. The only way out is-"
"I know!" I shouted, turning to look at her.
My outburst startled Claire, who no doubt thought I was angry with her. But really, I was just trying to quiet the nagging feeling in my mind.
"I'm sorry. Let's not talk about it now, okay?"
Turning my gaze to the window once again, I sighed when I saw the fire flickering in the distance, my stomach churning at the thought of what was to come.
"It's time." I told Claire, "Let's go."
Within minutes we had left the village behind and were heading into the dark forest. Behind us the heavy steps of the Pope's men echoed on the dirt paths. Screams and agonized cries followed. My stomach heaved.
"Just block it out, Melodi. We have to go." Claire told me.
But I couldn't just block it out. At one point I turned back to look at the village, and Claire stopped beside me.
"Melodi, stop it! Listen to me!" She hissed, putting a hand on my shoulder.
"You're the one who told me we had to get out quick when it was time, remember? We have to go, now!" I didn't want to admit it, but I knew Claire was right. So I let her pull me along.
Trees, some thicker than the houses in the village and taller than most mountains, surrounded us in an endless gloom. Their entwining branches and foot long leaves hid any light, even on a sunny afternoon, leaving us to trip over the fat roots covering our path. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end as I felt my way forward through Nechadda Forest.
Then there was the wind. It seemed almost unnaturally windy in that forest, and the sound of the wind whispering through the trees had me looking over my shoulder at imagined threats more than once.
After running for a few minutes, when we came to a clearing in the forest, we stopped briefly.
Stopping to catch our breath for a moment, I tipped my head to the side and listened intently to the seemingly silent air. Sometimes having enhanced hearing was useful, and I could hear footsteps in the distance.
"We have to go; they're coming."
Claire resisted the urge to say 'I told you so', and we hurried away.
We didn't make it far, however, when we were surrounded by a dozen guards. They were Allosathian, Juno's men.
Juno was the leader of the Mercenary's Guild. It was located in Allosath, the imperial city of Dashi, the northern continent.
"Melodi, you must come with us. Now. On Juno's orders." The apparent leader said.
"And I'm just supposed to drop everything and come with you?" I asked, cocking an eyebrow. I was supposed to go straight to another job after this one.
Knowing it would be pointless to refuse, I said goodbye to Claire and followed the men back to Allosath.
"You were told not to see that girl," Juno said before I'd even stepped into the room.
I knew that Juno didn't approve of me spending time with outsiders, but I honestly didn't care. I never told Claire what my work entailed, so I figured it wasn't Juno's business.
"What difference does it make if I see her? She doesn't know anything about my work. So why do you care?" I asked, and spent the next while listening to him explain why I must always do as I was told.
He threatened to kick me out of the guild, but I pretty much ignored him. He'd done that before, and he knows that if I leave my father leaves, and he needs my father.
My father was the best mercenary in the guild, and the top source of money for it. It was him that I was supposed to meet up with after the job in In Umbra, in fact. He was working in Vistal, the imperial city of Johel, the southern continent.
I met up with dad in Johel an hour later, apologizing for keeping him waiting.
"Did you have trouble with the mission?" He asked, wondering why I was late.
"No, not the mission…" He realized instantly what I meant, and put a hand under my chin to look at my face. His pale grey eyes searched my face.
"Did he hurt you?"
"No, not this time. Just yelled a lot."
Dad nodded once, and I could see the relief in his eyes before he turned away. That was one thing I could always count on; my dad's support. He stood up for me, no matter what. I knew that if Juno ever hurt me like he had before, dad would be right there, healing me and nailing Juno to the wall.
My dad was a traditional soldier. He fought in the Allosath--Amborna Conflict when I was still a child. Back then, he had dark brown hair, though now there were more than a few strands of gray in it. Sometimes he jokingly blamed them on me.
As for our assignment, we were sent to meet with the Alura of Johel. The Alura was the King's second child. The first was heir to the throne, the second held the title of Alura, which was basically the same concept as being the 'chosen' for something as decreed by the church.
I didn't fully understand the whole concept. But I knew that it must be an important title if it were given to a prince or princess, especially since they already had a title.
We had been hired to accompany the Alura to a ceremony in a nearby town. Or at least, my father had. I was only there for one purpose – to be a pretty face. As insulting and degrading as that was, I had little choice in the matter.
And I knew that as long as I suffered through it graciously, there was bound to be good money waiting for us when we were finished. The request came from the king, after all.
"Tell me again why my father hired you? I'm sure he could have done better than a simple mercenary." The Alura, Prince Alec Kaiser, questioned as soon as we entered the room.
He was an arrogant jerk, this Alura, nothing like the one from Dashi at all. The job wasn't easy, and I could tell that dad was about ready to throttle the guy.
"Your father wanted to hire someone from outside of his kingdom. This ceremony is supposed to be something you attend alone, right? But since your father wanted you to have someone to guard you, he had to hire someone who wouldn't be recognized by your people." I explained, and Alec's grey eyes turned to me.
"Well, at least I won't be without female companionship." He said, looking me over.
Okay, now I'm ready to throttle the guy. Before I could respond, however, my father spoke up.
"We will be leaving first thing in the morning. Be sure you're ready. We will meet you at the city gate."
"Right, right." Alec answered dismissively, still watching me as I left the castle behind my father.
"This is gonna be more trouble than it's worth, isn't it?" I asked Dad as we headed to the city gate.
"Most likely. But we have little choice."
"It's hard to believe it's been nearly five years since we've seen him. He hasn't changed much, has he?"
"No, I don't believe so."
Five years ago, my dad had been the one to train Alec how to fight. He typically used a short sword, but he could use magic too. I couldn't use magic, but I did have one trick up my sleeve: I was an alchemist. I could alter the chemical properties of an item, turning it into something else, meaning if I had the proper ingredients I could make healing potions.
It was pretty useful, but I would have preferred being able to just use healing magic sometimes, in case we didn't have the proper ingredients. Fortunately, my dad could use magic and thus use healing spells, but I always felt bad leaving it to someone else all the time.
"What gave you the right to tell him that?!"
I had contacted Juno when we returned to the guild, and clearly he was unhappy.
Apparently, he was mad that I told Alec he why his father hired us. Hey, who knew? Certainly not me. Okay, yeah I did. But honestly, it gets old.
"What difference does it make if he knows? At least this way he'll actually go along with it quietly for a change!" I argued.
I was the only one in Allosath who ever shouted back at Juno, except for occasionally my dad. I think it surprised him at first, that a mere kid would stand up to him. But I never gave up. This time, though, I knew something was different.
Juno didn't continue yelling; instead, he simply looked at me with his cold eyes and evil smirk.
"You know so little." He stated calmly, moving closer to me. Then, without warning he backhanded me across the mouth.
I hit the wall behind me and tasted blood.
"Do not assume you know anything, girl. You know nothing. You are a worthless mistake your father never should have made, and I never should have allowed you to remain here. Get out of my sight, Ra'shen." He hissed, spitting out the last word as if it were distasteful. Then he turned away from me, and I quickly left the room.
As soon as I opened the door, I found my dad standing there. He looked worried, especially upon seeing the blood on my lip, but I just pushed past him and walked down the hall. He immediately followed close behind.
"It's just a little blood. Don't worry about it."
"Melodi." Dad said, pulling me to a stop and turning me to face him.
"I don't want-" I began, but he interrupted.
"I'm sorry." He said simply.
"I'm sorry. I should have been in there with you."
Oh. Wasn't expecting that.
"Don't say that. It's not your fault; you were needed elsewhere. You're not responsible for this."
"Nevertheless, I should have put off the task assigned me, and stayed with you. I certainly know what he is capable of."
"It doesn't matter; I've taken a lot worse than that from him before." I said, and he frowned. He didn't like it when I mentioned that. I shouldn't have said it, but he needed to know I could handle a simple backhand.
As expected, he didn't answer to that.
We spent a few more minutes together, and then I left his office and headed to my room. As I neared it I turned a corner and found Mikhail waiting at my door, and mentally cringed.
Mikhail was another mercenary with the guild, and I tried to avoid him as much as possible.
He and I didn't really get along. He thought he was God's gift to women, and the sad part was that most of the women in Allosath agreed. And he was abrasive, rude, egotistical and- well, you get the idea. I basically hate him.
I turned the corner quickly, hoping to get out of sight before he saw me, but I was too late.
"Ah, Melodi, there you are."
"What do you want, Mikhail?" I asked as I continued walking, making him have to run to catch up.
"Now, now, don't be like that. You know, I could help you with your problem with Juno." He said, lowering his voice to sound inviting.
"Help from you? I'd rather have my wings ripped out." Which is incredibly painful, by the way. Thank you, Juno, for that lesson.
As I tried to get away from Mikhail, he suddenly grabbed my arm and turned me to face him.
"What do you think you're doing? Unhand me." I ordered, but he wasn't really in a listening mood right now. I twisted my arm abruptly, trying to shake him off, but his grip was surprisingly strong.
"Why don't we discuss this like rational adults, hmm? I'm sure we can come to an arrangement that's mutually beneficial." Mikhail continued.
"If you want it to be mutually beneficial, then die. That way I won't have to put up with you, and you won't have to worry about me killing you for this stunt."
With a speed I didn't know he possessed, he violently twisted my arm and shoved me back into the wall, pinning my other arm down as well. Then he brought a hand up to my face and ran a finger over my jawline, leaning so close that I could feel his breath on my face.
"It's such a shame. When I became Juno's second in command I was going to allow you to serve at my side, but I suppose now that is impossible." He whispered.
"You, the second in command? Don't hold your breath. You'll be lucky to keep the position you have." I spat, venom dripping from my voice.
"Hmm… perhaps you do not have all the information. Poor little mistake."
"What did you say?!"
"You heard me; you were a mistake. Lord Juno never should have allowed you to stay here, and I guess it's my job to rectify the situation. Goodbye, Melodi."
Suddenly a burning pain seared through my middle. I looked down. Mikhail had driven a knife into my stomach. I could only stand there, stunned. After a moment he wrenched it out and released me. I hit the ground hard. I couldn't breath. It was as if all the air had been sucked out of my lungs. My arms and legs felt like rubber.
I tried to speak, but when I opened my mouth all that came out was a low moan. And blood. Lots of blood. I could feel it running down my chin. My whole body felt covered with it. The sticky warmth enveloped me like a cloak. I tried to sit up, but I couldn't move. I could hear blood rushing in my ears, muffling the sound of Mikhail's laughter. Then everything went dark.