Chapter 1

One year after the events of Allegiance...

Peace.

Sweet peace.

In the mountains of Medrana one could finally find himself in perfect balance with nature and with the world. The bright, warm sun was always visible. The grass was green and the rivers were calm. The tame animals would eat from your hand. It was a paradise. The view from upon the mountains was unlike anything in the Realm of Neleb. Living on top of the mountains of Medrana could make you forget that not so far away a fierce war was raging.

Lives lost.

Livelihoods destroyed.

And all the while, change.

Everything had changed for Alex Sant. One day he had been happily living in his village, going about his day to day life and the next day he had been orphaned and uprooted from his home. The Omega Faction who had rescued him and most of his village from the enemy soldiers that had attacked the village and murdered hundreds had removed him from his village. Alex still didn't understand the fullness of it all. A young wizard apprentice, Luna Danisha, who had presented him to her colleagues as a Sentia Variüm, a Red Knight, had discovered him.

To the best of Alex's understanding, there had once been a group of highly powerful men and women who had been imbued with powerful magic that made them impervious to most magic. It also allowed them to wield powerful magic against any that would stand against them and their mission to preserve balance in the Realm. There had been hundreds of them, but for some yet unknown reason they were wiped out in a short period of time.

After that, life had been a blur for Alex Sant. He had been imprisoned within a prison of magic and had simply walked through it with no problems at all. When a magic spell was cast on him, Alex somehow managed to reverse the spell and send it back at the wizard who had cast it on him. He also demonstrated that he could use magic – something that he had never done before – when he healed a critical injury of another apprentice.

As a Red Knight he should not have been able to do either of these things until he had been imbued with the power to do so. Alex had had no time to dwell on the source of his abilities as assassins soon attacked him and his friends. With the help of a sword which contained the soul of a woman who had been trapped within the blade for centuries, he, Gavin Just and Luna Danisha had been able to defeat the assassins. But they were captured when a highly trained assassin of the Master confronted them.

With further help from Gavin Just, they had escaped but as they were leaving the Master possessed the body of Luna and kept her in the Tantalius where they had been brought to. They had been forced to leave her behind and had both lost a friend.

Alex had been taken by the Median Wizards soon after to be trained by them in the ways of the Red Knights. He had been living in the mountains of Medrana ever since then, training with the Median Wizards.

However, he knew that his training was coming to an end very soon. After all, he was only to be trained by the Median Wizards for exactly one year before returning back to the Omega Faction to be trained in the ways of battle. In fact, it had been precisely three hundred and sixty days since he had left to be trained.

He had spent his days training in the ancient ways of magic, meditating, memorising spells for almost all instances and studying subjects such as mathematics, science and the history of the Realm of Neleb.

Today, he prepared himself for the Trial of Three. He sat under a tall tree that he could still not yet identify. Blooming flowers and budding blossoms surrounded him. The rhythmical sound of a nearby small waterfall aided the calmness of the place. Alex would come to the place often to sit and enjoy the peacefulness around him while it still lasted.

He sat cross-legged with his back straight and his eyes closed. His other senses were tuned into the nature around him. Through meditating often he had come to learn that if one's mind, body and soul were clear, everything became much clearer. It had taken a while to come to grips with this but eventually Alex had come to master meditation. He could hear the smallest of animals around him. He could smell the scents of the flowers around him to a degree that he had never experienced before. He could taste the air going through his nostrils and mouth, a sweetness that he had never stopped to appreciate before. He could feel the softness of the breeze caressing his skin.

It had taken a while to learn to tune in all of his senses at the same time with almost no concentration. He had fallen asleep the first few times but now it was second nature to him. Some nights he didn't even have to sleep any more, he simply sat and meditated, listening to the night around him.

As Alex sat under the tree, his neck length blond hair being gently ruffled by the wind, he wondered how Gavin was getting along at the Omega Faction Fortress. He knew that he would be returning there soon and all of his questions would be answered. If there was one thing he had learned about the Median Wizards, it was that they were not very forthcoming at all when they needed to be. They had a remarkable way of avoiding questions and changing the subject before one had even realised that the change had been made.

Alex's meditation was interrupted by a disruption in the nearby grass. His eyes shot open and his right hand went from his knee to the jewelled hilt of his sword that he had laid on his lap. He heard the gentle and almost silent extraction of a blade from a sheath and he tightened his grip on the weapon. His other hand dropped to the other end of the scabbard of the sword.

Alex waited. He knew what was coming and he smiled.

A figure dropped from the tree above him and landed in a squatting position in front of the teenage boy. The figure was a young female dressed in a black leather battle-suit that covered her whole body in a one-piece armour. She wore a piece of black cloth that covered from the bridge of her nose down to her neck, obscuring her face. In her left hand she held a beautifully crafted sword which Alex had come to know as a katana. In her right hand she held a smaller version of the katana which Alex did not know the name for.

She lunged forward with her larger sword and Alex pushed the sheathed sword up and deflected it away from his head.

Alex drew his sword from its scabbard, holding the sword in his right hand and the jewelled sheath in the other hand. The girl launched a series of strikes, lunges and thrusts at Alex who neatly blocked the attacks with both sword and scabbard in unison. This went on for about a quarter of a minute before the girl finally forced both of her blades into a lock with Alex's sword and scabbard. Alex pushed away but the girl pushed back harder so Alex also increased his exertion against her blades.

Suddenly, the girl released her swords and they fell to the ground. Alex shot forward and the girl grabbed his neck in a choking grip and squeezed slightly against his windpipe. Alex dropped his sword and scabbard.

She whipped the piece of cloth from over the bottom half of her face, revealing a stern frown on the face of Alex's opponents.

"How many times have I told you to be wary of improvisation?" she said as she released Alex's neck.

Alex took in a deep draught of sweet, clear air. "Two hundred and sixty-seven times," Alex replied with a smile as he sunk back to the ground and leaned against the unnamed tree.

"Your arrogance will be the death of you," she said as she dropped down next to him.

She was Heather Raven, the other part of the story of Alex and Gavin's escape from the Tantalius. She had turned against the Master and had killed his host body that he required to live, hence why he had quickly taken over Luna Danisha's. She had given the Omega Faction as much information about the Master and his armies as possible before being assigned as Alex's personal bodyguard. She had been teaching Alex how to handle a sword ever since they had arrived in the mountains of Medrana. She was a ruthless opponent and Alex was yet to beat her in one of their sparring sessions.

She flicked a strand of her silky black hair behind her ear. "Why do you spend so much time out here?" she asked Alex.

"I like the peace and quiet," Alex answered. "I used to live in a noisy village that was destroyed by soldiers. I then spent the next fortnight in a 'war'. This serenity is new to me and I love it."

"The silence disturbs me," Heather shook her head and the strand of hair fell back in front of her eyes. She flicked it behind her ear again. "All I have ever known is war. I miss the heat of battle and the thrill of the fight."

"But you've only been gone for a year," Alex observed as he leaned forward and retrieved his sword and slid it back into its sheath, laying it in front of him neatly.

"It is long enough to make me go soft," Heather said. She looked slightly ashamed of herself.

"You are still one of the most formidable opponents that I have ever seen in my life," Alex tried to console her.

"And just how many formidable fighters have you seen in your life?" she asked, staring into his eyes – hazel brown versus ice blue.

Blue lost as Alex dropped his eyes to the ground with a submissive smile. "Okay, I see your point, but still, if you can beat a Red Knight..."

"An untrained Red Knight," Heather interrupted. "You are not much of a challenge."

Alex covered his heart with his hand and put on a look of mock sadness. "I'm very offended by that statement," he said with a smile.

"When has tact ever been my strong area?" she asked with a hint of a smile. "Here's a clue: never."

"You wound me," Alex stood and picked up his sword.

Heather grabbed her weapons and the two of them began to follow a nearby path back to their abode.

It was a fifteen-minute walk back down to the temple where Alex and Heather had lived for the past year. It was a single building in which all of the Median Wizards lived. It was however, fairly huge. In fact, it was enormous.

It had been constructed of a strange white wood and its windows had no glass, just an empty square or rectangle cut into the walls. On each corner of the temple was a curved edge which pointed upwards to the heavens. The roof, the only thing on the temple not made of the curious white wood, was made of individually crafted tiles. It slanted upwards in the same curving manner and gave the temple a very Eastern look.

As Alex and Heather trudged down the well-worn path to the temple, various Median Wizards and Wizardess's met them. They bowed to Alex and Heather as they walked past calling out greetings such as 'Blessed day to you' or 'May peace find you always' or 'May your path always be bright'. These greetings were always directed at Alex. The men and women that lived in the temple rarely spoke to Heather except to ask a general question like 'Are you hungry?' or 'Can I get you anything? and Heather never said anything to them either except to answer their questions, usually with a one-word answer. Heather claimed that it was because they were afraid of her and her reputation. Alex always laughed and changed the subject but he still kept a mental note to ask her or them the real reason for the silence.

As Alex and Heather parted ways to go to their separate destinations Alex had a feeling that a thousand eyes were watching him. He turned around to appease the sensation. The men and women of the temple were going about their daily business. He pushed the feeling to the back of his mind and quickly jogged up the three steps to the main door of the temple and pushed one of the huge doors open. He couldn't help but feel at peace as he stepped into a corridor. Immediately he turned left and opened another door and entered a huge hall.

The hall was a huge, windowless room that was lit only by candles that were all over the room. The flickering flames danced to the sound of chanting. Alex removed his boots and socks and walked barefoot across the wooden floor to the end of the hall. He stopped before five steps leading up to an alter like object that had dozens of lit and unlit candles set on it. Alex took a small splint of wood from a brass saucer that stood on a pedestal next to the altar. He lit the splint on a separate candle on the saucer and slowly brought it across to an unlit candle. As soon as the candle began to burn Alex gently blew out the splint and replaced it on the brass saucer. He stepped down from the altar and slowly fell to his knees with his eyes closed.

"To the one who sees all and is all, I thank you for this day's breath," he prayed. "I ask that you help me to fulfil my duties both to myself and to the Realm. Watch over the ones who I love and care for and lay your protecting hand around. Shelter them from those who would do them harm. I also ask that you give me the strength to change what I can for the better, the peace for when I cannot change things for the better and the wisdom to know the difference between these things."

When Alex finished his midday prayer he stood and walked out of the Hall of Prayer. He became aware that his sword was clanking against his leg so he held it still with one hand as he walked to keep the weapon still. As he closed the door behind him a voice spoke his name.

"Alexander," it said.

Alex suppressed a sigh and turned. At the other end of the corridor was a man. He was perhaps in his late forties. His head was completely shaved so that it shone like a finely polished jewel. His eyes were almost just slits in his face. He wore a long, light blue robe that fell below his feet and dragged on the ground. It was remarkable that none of the other similarly clad Median Wizards ever tripped over their garb.

"Master Jiun," Alex bowed his head towards the man. "To what do I owe the honour of your addressing me?"

"I received word that you did not attend your training this morning," Jiun went straight to the point.

"I was in the Garden of Teth," Alex told the wizard. "I was meditating."

"Why did you return with the girl then, if you were only meditating?" Jiun accused Alex in a voice that could have fooled anyone into thinking that it was just an honest question. However, Alex had experienced this before and he knew exactly how it was going to go.

"Heather is my bodyguard," Alex said. "Is it not natural that she should accompany wherever I go?"
"Indeed, but there is no danger in the mountains of Medrana, you need no protection," the man countered. "And meditation is no reason to miss your training."

"My time with the Median Wizards is coming to an end, Master Jiun," Alex began. "In a few days I shall be leaving to return to the Omega Faction and help with the war that they fight. Therefore I must be at the end of my training. I have learned all that I can in these past months. I fail to see what else could be taught to me."

"You believe that you are ready for the Trial?" Jiun raised an eyebrow, one of the only areas on his head that was inhabited by hair.

"I have come to an understanding of the arts of magic and the ways of the Median Wizards," Alex continued. "I believe that I am indeed ready for the Trial of Three."

"Do not make this decision with haste, Alexander," Jiun told Alex as he seemingly glided towards the boy and stood in front of him. "The Trial is not something which can be repeated, it is a one-time event that if you fail, you will simply be sent to the Omega Faction to be trained as an ordinary Omega Knight."

"Master, what will happen if I pass the trial?" Alex asked.

"Has it not been told to you before?" Master Jiun seemed confused by the question.

"Yes, it has but I already have the ability to resist most magic and use it as well," Alex pointed out. "What purpose does the ceremony have now that it cannot give these abilities which I already have now?"

"You believe that the Trial of Three is simply to grant a Red Knight power?" Master Jiun had a pained expression on his face. "You are sorely mistaken, child. The Trial of Three is to give the Red Knight the approval of everything and everyone." Jiun elaborated. "You forget that it is also the duty of the Median Wizards to preserve the equality of the Realm, therefore we speak for the Realm. If you do not prove to us that you are worthy of the title of Red Knight then the Realm will not accept as a Red Knight either."

"So it is a ceremony to give me my title then?" Alex attempted to confirm his thoughts.

"It is," Master Jiun confirmed.

"Then I am ready," Alex told the Median Wizard with a definite nod.

"Very well, it shall be prepared for tonight," Master Jiun said. The man then turned and entered the Hall of Prayer.

Alex heaved a sigh of relief and punched the air. He would soon be returning to the Omega Faction and he would honour the promise that he made to Gavin. He would help his friend to bring back Luna from the Master's grasp. He was determined.

All of his training for the last year, for Alex, had been to prepare him for any and all challenges that he might face on the battlefield. He had decided at the beginning of his training that he would be the most powerful wizard that there was and he would defeat and destroy the Master and free Luna from his grasp. Such had been his promise to Gavin and he was going to keep his promise. He went down the corridor and turned down another corridor to see if he could find Heather and tell her that they would be leaving soon.