Prologue, First Meeting

I was once the queen of the kingdom of Merinthee in the empire Ecasha. My kingdom was one of the light kingdoms and geographically we sat fairly close to the imperial capital. I was very distantly related to the imperial family as were most of the heads of the kingdoms close to the capital of the allied kingdoms.

I am not here to tell you of myself, or the adventures I did not have. I am here to tell you of the great danger that came to my kingdom, and threatened the entire world.

It came during my reign and although I did everything I could to prevent it in the end my efforts came to nothing. Salvation came from the person who, in the end, I expected it from least.

Since I have no better place to start I will begin at what was the beginning for me, and my servant, and therefore the beginning of the end.

It was late at night and I couldn't sleep. I was leaning against a large pile of pillows and staring blankly at a small tapestry that hung above my altar. It depicted a blue bird, a Sherisa, and had been a gift from my husband. It hung from a hook that had been there since before the room had been my mother's. When I had inherited the queen's crown and royal suite there had been nothing on the hook though it appeared to have held a small picture at one time. The paint around the hook, mostly below, did not appear to be as faded as the paint surrounding it. My tapestry was much larger than what ever had hung there before.

*How long have I been staring?* I asked myself turning to glance at a time candle that rested in a holder on a table beside my bed. The hand crafted holder had the appearance of two beautiful and strange sea creatures from the northern sea. The candle was held between the creatures' noses and when it burned down a number of small beads would fall out and bounce down their bodies and fins to land in a dish at the bottom formed by their tales. I must have fallen asleep after all because the candle had burned down almost 2 lines. Normally I can't sit still that long unless I am doing something.

I shook myself and rolled over onto my side. I tried to fall back asleep only to become aware of the presence of a male stranger with Bloodmagics in my room. *How'd he get past the guards?* I wondered but I wasn't awake enough to realize what his presence really meant.

I was certain He was as aware of my wakefulness as I was of His presence and I was positive that pretending otherwise would only anger Him. Darkmages, especially Bloodmages, as He was, were easily angered and He was also quite powerful. I rolled over again and facing Him, opened my eyes. I was not surprised when I saw the tall stranger standing over me with hands raised.

For a moment I did not recognize Him. When, after several seconds, I realized who it had to be, it was too late. Fear, and His fingers on my arm, paralyzed me. I would never be able to escape, not from Him. Even if I could have moved attempting to flee would only anger Him and that is all it would be, an attempt; He was definitely faster and stronger than I could ever be.

What I had read or heard about Him had not been enough to prepare me for the truth. He was evil power given form. The slight curve of His thin lips chilled my blood and I almost cried out at identifying Him.

"I am Lord Delaney," He proclaimed. "Will you submit to my power willingly?" If His words hadn't confirmed my identification of Him His voice would have. His words were colder than the coldest winters, colder even than His touch, and I couldn't refrain from shivering.

I would have laughed if He hadn't terrified me so completely. Despite my fear I was able to muster up my defiance and shout at Him, "NO! I will never serve you!" Perhaps shouting may not have been the best option but it wouldn't have made much of a difference in the end, not for me or my land.

I felt His dark presence brush lightly against my shields. I poured power into them, strengthening them as much as I could. My efforts were in vane. He pushed through my protections as if they weren't there. He entered my mind and did something with His power, making my entire body throb with pain. Knowing He wanted to hear me cry out I tried to remain silent but I couldn't. I felt His satisfaction when I whimpered.

I struggled to pull my arms from his grip, to get away from Him but He held me too tightly. He dug His fingernails into my skin when I moved so I stopped fighting. He didn't loosen His hold on me though.

After a few minutes He dragged me off my bed and threw me to the floor at His feet. I tried to move, to stand, but His magic pinned me where I had fallen. He kicked me then, and I rolled over onto my back.

I lay there flat on my back with my arms at my sides. I could not move at all, I could barely even breathe because of the wait of his power on top of me and because of my fear.

He sat down then, on the bed and put his feet on my stomach. You defy me? He mindshouted, sending waves of agony through my body and magic channels. I gasped involuntarily.

"Y-yes I d-defy you D-Dark one. You will n-never have me, n-n-never," I stuttered between gasps as waves of agony and terror swept through my slender body, making me shake and my teeth chatter. I tried to raise my hands and move aside to remove His feet from my stomach but I still couldn't move, this time because of the terrible pain. "N-no n-not n-never. I will n-never submit t-to evil."

He kicked me hard in the stomach, making me gasp. He then said, "You are already mine even if you will not serve me willingly. You are already under my power."

"N-no n-never!" I had tried to mindcall for help but He blocked me, I tried to move but His power pinned me, I tried a magecall but He blocked that as well. I screamed then and He laughed. I was helpless. He knew I knew and that pleased Him.

"No one outside this room will hear you," He said as if He knew I'd been screaming to get someone's attention. Then still channeling pain through me, He dragged me into a sitting position by my hair.

Wile He still held my hair with one hand He put a necklace around my neck. Once He clasped it He let go of my hair and started breaking the chains of all the bracelets and necklaces I already wore. They were charms and the like, symbols of the light. When He held them I could feel them burning me.

He removed all my jewelry, anything that might give me even the slightest protection against Him. Once He had removed my jewelry He pressed His index finger against the skin of my throat and drew it down, scratching off a layer of skin and making it burn. I shivered, in fear and pain.

"Now you know my power-our powers. Will you submit to me? Will you join the darkness and take all the power we can give you?" He asked.

"Never," I gasped, shaking. When He had removed all the jewelry I wore except for the one necklace that He had just put in place He looked at His fingers. I could see that He had been burnt by the charms as He had held them. He just smirked and rubbed them together when He noticed that I was looking. When He was sure that I new that He was indifferent to the pain in His fingers He dropped all the charms into a small silk pouch.

Silk I knew was the only material that would insulate Him from the touch of the many charms of light that I had been wearing. I suspected that He would deal with them later, away from me, away from my world. He wouldn't want anyone to see His weakness, the weakness that handling charms of light brought about in Him, in all creatures of darkness. Although light burned the unwary dark the dark could just as easily devour or smother the incautious light.

"I will take these," He said putting the silk pouch in a sleeve of His robe. "You will not need them anymore. Not that they would help you anyway. My symbol can never be removed save by my own hand and I can draw power from anyone who wears one of my pendants. You will feel ill soon. You will be unable to use your magic other than to call me. If you tell anyone about me or betray me in any way the pendant will burn you, I will know. You will pay for your defiance. I will draw from you until you are unconscious or until you submit to me," He declared and grabbed me by the arms. Digging His fingernails in He stood up lifting me into the air and threw me onto the bed. I screamed and curled into a ball shaking violently. I doubted I would be sleeping now.

He turned away and sent waves of pain coursing through me again as He walked over to the tapestry and, moving it aside, hung a small picture of Him behind it. He let the pain ease and turned to me. When the pain eased I could think again. "The picture will be there for you, when you change your mind blow on the picture, I will come for you. You will be punished for your defiance," He laughed pitilessly. "Either way, willing or unwilling, you will join me. You will have visions informing you of whatever use I decide to put your power to."

He spun back and pulled the tapestry off the wall, shredded it with His fingernails and turned back to me. "You will show me some respect. Do not cover the picture."

I screamed as the pain intensified again. When I could see once more He was standing in front of the unused servant's alcove. "Bye, little cat," He whispered, and stepped into the alcove. There was a flash of not quite light and another burst of pain. His humorless cold laughter echoed through the room for several seconds after the alcove was empty.

When I could think again, after the pain had left me, I struggled to my feet and went over to make sure He really had gone.

Of Delaney there was no sign, although there was another small tapestry and a scrap of paper with a note on it. Shaking, I picked up the note which said:

You are less than worthless. All attempts to hide me from your servant will fail-darkness calls to her. Cover the picture if you wish, it will make no difference. My powers are far greater than a coward like you could imagine.

Chikaya

He signed it as the master, though in my heart and mind I denied He was my master. His closing was however somewhat true for He was the master of the dark and more notably master of evil.

I couldn't believe it. Shock made my fingers go limp and the paper drifted toward the carpeted floor. Before it landed, however, it burst into flame and all that could be seen of it was ash dust. I staggered back to my bed and fell into it laying there unmoving. I knew that I should hang the curtain He gave me but I no longer had any strength. I didn't want my servant Letana to see the picture.

When I finally managed to fall asleap it was to the echo of His tarable disdainful laugh ringing through my mind.