CHAPTER 1: SHORT LIVED FREEDOM

It was almost night by the time Sithik Secario found the ruins specified in the journal. Many years ago his father had given it to him, saying that one day he will need all the help he could get. That day came far too fast for Sithik's liking. The journal held the location of a creature, bound by his ancestor. It told the story of the destruction caused by the creature before its imprisonment, the spells and charms needed to control and bind it, as well as a warning of the danger that could be caused should it ever be released.

In the last few entries Sithik's grandfather wrote of his own encounter with it. How he had offered the creature freedom in exchange for knowledge, and how it had betrayed him by withholding the truth. He wrote of the loss he experienced and a cost paid by the good of the world.

The ruins he sought were hidden away in the Białowieża Forest. As he passed through a disintegrating archway he felt a wave of magic graze by him. He closed his eyes and allowed the barrier to mingle with his own magic and when he opened them a stone ruin overrun with foliage no longer greeted him. Now the entrance way to a very large, very abandoned palace surrounded him, sheltering his aging body from the brisk night air.

Dust caked the floors and furniture, while rodents darted down the halls. The décor reminded him of 18th century royalty. Whoever owned this building at one point was very rich indeed, as Sithik passed various sitting rooms, ball rooms and dinner halls. Portraits hung on the walls and the eyes of the dead seemed to follow him as he walked through the halls. He recognized each person, thanks to the journal he inherited. Naming them as he moved forward, he stopped when he reached a very old portrait. It was ages older than the rest, and portrayed the image of a young woman. She sat regally, staring outward, with a sad expression etched into her face.

As he reached a hand out to brush her face, a floor board creaked behind him. Within a second he had his wooden wand at hand pointed at the intruders face. A shocked young man stood still with his hands raised in surrender.

"Nice of you to join me, Zeke." He lowered his arm and smiled at his young friend. The tall, thirty-something, man smiled back and lowered his arms as well.

"Someone had to keep an eye on you, sir." Zeke Ferai glanced around the empty, dusty halls. "We can't have our leader disappearing at the moment. Plus you-know-who would have my head if I didn't keep an eye on you."

"Ah, so my wife sent you then. What happened?"

"Well, when she realized that you left without telling anyone she pitched a right scary fit. Almost tore of Vidar's head when…" He trailed off as Sithik began to chuckle.

"I don't mean with her. There must have been another attack for her to even realize I left."

"Another family was murdered. This time it was the relatives of one of our newest members. The Shades are getting closer, sir, not to mention far more open and up front about their attacks. Rorik found their bodies pined up on the edge of No-Mans-Land." The younger man looked a little sick at the thought of the families fate.

"It does seem that way, doesn't it?" Sithik sighed, "The Shades seem to be getting more and more restless. Drakor and the others are getting too confident that they'll win this war. It's high time we changed that." He leaned towards the portrait again, only this time his fingers brushed along the side of the frame until they hit a small indent. Pressing gently, he felt the indented wood give way. A loud variety of bangs and clicks sounded from behind the wall of the portrait, startling both men.

With a vicious groan, the massive stone wall swung inwards, opening towards a descending spiral staircase. Torches lit the way as both men started down the steps. The air grew steadily cooler the deeper they went and silence pressured them. No sounds, not even the scurrying of rats or the dripping of water could be heard. Sithik felt his companion grow tense with each passing step. After about an hour, Zeke could remain silent no longer.

"Sir, may I ask a question?"

"You just did, but if you insist on asking another, go ahead." Sithik smiled.

"What exactly are we doing here? When I asked your wife what you were doing, all she said was that you are chasing a myth."

"She's correct on that point. The journal I now have has been passed down from father to son for centuries, and holds many myths and secrets. One of them tells of a creature with immeasurable power and magic, and if we are lucky said creature may help us win this war once and for all." He gazed with tired eyes at Zeke. For too long the world has been far from peaceful and the inhabitants were getting weary of the turmoil that plagued them.

Finally both men slowed to a halt as their path was blocked by a massive stone door. Etched deep into the front of the stone was a warning, written in multiple languages. It was clear to them both that whoever had created this barrier truly feared what was behind it.

"Miles below the Earth, a magically reinforced 4 tonne door, and a rather fierce warning; what exactly does your journal say is in there?" Zeke looked towards Sithik as his leader moved forward and place his hand on the cool stone.

"It doesn't." Sithik responded. He too wondered about his plan as his palm emitted a bright blue glow and the door opened. If only they were not so desperate…

- BREAK -

Somewhere above her the doors to her prison were open again. This time though, something was definitely different. The smell of the new air did not refresh her as it had years ago; this air carried a stench she had not smelt in decades. A trickle of fear flowed through her body. Had he found her? No, it wasn't possible. Her barrier was far too strong for even him to break.

A loud bang broke through her thoughts as the door in front of her opened slowly and torchlight flooded her chamber, chasing away the shadows. Once again, two mortals have dared enter her solitude, this time one had the scent reminiscent of the Forgotten fruit from so long ago and the other, the smell of wet earth.

"Wow. This is one huge cavern." The Earth scented one spoke, in awe of her prison.

"So it would seem." The other spoke this time and strode further into the cavern.

"Is that it? Seems rather small to be the creature your journal spoke of. Actually it looks… human." Both mortals stood a few feet from her form. She pictured in her mind what they would see when looking at her; hands bound in thick shackles and chained to the floor in front of her and kneeling with identical shackles and chains binding her feet, forcing her into the position. The cloak that she had been wearing during her capture hid the general shape and gender of her body.

"Looks can be deceiving, mortal." She spoke with great difficulty. Both men jumped from the sudden noise the lump in front of them made.

"So you can talk, good, this won't be as hard as I had thought. My name is Sithik Secario, Mage of Light. I am the grandson of your last two visitors." The man's voice gained a hard edge as he spoke. "You were the one who told them of their supposed victory, but not of the consequences. Because of you we are now in this predicament."

Mentally she laughed. So he blamed her for the misfortune that has now taken hold of the world, did he? Mortals, always the same, even without knowing the full story he was ready to blame her. Such a young species and already so foolish.

"Is that true?"

"My Grandfather wrote every detail of his meeting with you. So yes it is true." A disgusting hacking sound came from her form. After a few minutes both men realized she was laughing.

"My, my, that's a lovely story but shall I tell you what actually happened mortal? Yes, I think I will. I told your ancestor of the cost he and his would pay for their victory. It was him who chose not to listen to my warnings." Her body moved slightly. "Hmm, I wonder, since you did not know of that do you also remain ignorant of the bargain he made with me?

"Bargain?" The leader glanced back at his companion.

"Yes. The future for my freedom, was our agreement at the time. Yet, I remain in chains. So I believe that I am the one who should be mad mortal, not you!" Her voice grew stronger with use. After being alone for so long, suddenly having company was more than slightly annoying.

"Why? The journal says you have many powers, what stops you from breaking them?" The companion spoke finally.

"Obviously you have not read the journal or you would know that only a son of Merlin can release these chains and the bonds on my magic. The only reason I am conversing with you is because your leader here is the last descendant of that old fool. Now, what must I bargain this time mortal or have you only come to gawk? If it is the latter I ask that you leave soon. Your filthy mortal stench is ruining my air."

Slightly taken aback from her comment to him, the companion grew angry.

"Our stench? That's rich coming from you, beast!" He hissed at her. "Your air already reeks of excrement and other nameable things!"

A fiery flash of anger tore through her body. With a snarl she lunged forward as far as her chains would allow, which only amounted to a few centimeters. She slowly raised her face to look at her intruders, or at least try to.

"What you smell is years of decay! I may be alive mortal but that does not mean I am not dead. My immortality protects my body from fully dying but not from the passage of time, not from rotting!" The companion moved the torch he had brought into the cavern forward to get a better look at her, as she continued her rant. "At three hundred years in my hair, teeth, even my nails fell out, at five hundred years, my eyes too. Soon after that my organs shut down one by one, followed now by the flesh that covers this living, rotting corpse! You have no right to complain about what you can smell mortal! You know nothing!" Both men stood in fear and disgust at what the torchlight showed them. Sunken eye sockets without eyes, flapping lips with no teeth to cover while maggots made their home in her left cheek. The life, no, the death she was sentenced to was far worse than they had thought.

She may have lost her eyes but her hearing and sense of smell had remained sharp through the years. One moved away, the contents of his stomach threatening to make an appearance and due to the loss of heat she assumed it was the companion. From the other she heard no movement but could smell the fear and disgust rolling off him. As a few moments went by his scent began to change, from fear it began to morph into pity. No, that just wouldn`t do! Another snarl tore from her throat, and sent the smell of pity away quickly.

"Ahem, well be that as it may I come not to 'gawk' as you put it but with an offer, this time a bargain that I fully intend to keep. Your words have given me much to think on and for now I will put aside my anger and judgement. So my offer is this, I will release you from these chains in exchange for a new set. You would become a part of my organization and help us with our endeavours." The leader shuffled from side to side as he spoke. "Of course you would have a guard round the clock but I'm sure you could live with that."

"So that's my option; one hell or another?" She scoffed, even though her mind was quickly categorizing the pros and cons. Her anger from earlier dissipated as she mentally thought of the ceiling of her prison; was it worth it? To become a pet, a tool, to those she hated more than anything in exchange to see the world again, to see the skies again? The answer came automatically to her mind. Yes, it was worth it.

"If I accept, I will not be a slave, and so I will not be ordered about." Her body visibly deflated. Both men gave off the scent of success; they knew they had her now.

"Of course."

"Then, I accept." She spoke with a solid voice. Surely swallowing her hate for a time would be less painful than slowly decaying in this dank cavern. And at least she'll have her body back.

"Smart decision, now let's get those chains off you." The leader moved closer to her, waving his arms in complex patterns. After a few moments he spoke the words she had been waiting for.

"Daemon dimittam te vincula."

Very slowly the tight chains that had held her in place became loose, the fell off completely. Her old, wizened body pitched to the side as the chains no longer held her in place. Repeating the same arm movements and words the leader then placed his hand on the small of her back, over the rotten flesh. This time a small flash of pain wracked her body followed by a feeling she had long given up hope of feeling again. Her strength was returning.

Flesh grew back, eyes took form, teeth emerged and wrinkles faded. Within a matter of minutes she was back to the form she took before her incarceration. Her magic was back! Well almost, she could feel a barrier around most of her magic. The leader had only weakened the original barrier to allow her more harmless magic free.

With a grace she had forgotten she possessed she rose from the ground to stand at her full height of 5'10. The ratty, torn hood of her cloak fell off her head to reveal wispy, midnight hair that flowed over her shoulders and down to her knees. Curiously, she flexed her hands and moved her fingers experimentally. Slowly, she raised her hands and ran them over her tribally tattooed face, neck and shoulders. She twisted her curvy body this way and that, quickly remembering the feel of her younger body.

"Ahh, yesss." Her melodious voice hissed in pleasure. After living so long as a corpse, she had forgotten what it was like to be healthy and alive. A soft cough caught her attention. She turned her head in its direction and opened her violet eyes for the first time in a millennia. At first the torchlight burned, causing her to raise her arm in defense of her eyes. Blinking, her eyes adjusted and immediately began to assess her intruders. An elderly man with blindingly white hair, vivid brown eyes and brightly colored robes stood closest to her. He had a kind grandfatherly feel but she could tell there was far more to this man than what the eye sees. She assumed that this must be the one who introduced himself as Sithik Secario.

Her eyes fell on his companion. Far younger than Sithik, and far less experienced in the ways of the world he stood in the back watching her with wide green eyes. Shaggy brown hair graced his head and three jagged scars marred his face, reaching from the upper left trailing down to just under his ear on the opposite side. Both men were surprisingly taller than her, with the younger being the tallest.

"You have upheld your end of the bargain and so I shall uphold mine. I am your newest follower, Sithik Secario." She strode forward, still experimenting with the feel of her body. "Before you begin to question if I am trustworthy I shall inform you that all oaths made in this cavern are fully binding. Should I break my end of this deal, I will die. Since I am finally free, in a way, you should know that I have no intention of dying any time soon. As of now, you have my full support." Her eyes flashed red as she fought back her hate inside. Smiling she bowed her head slightly to her new jailor.

Sithik smiled and bowed slightly back.

"Do you have a name?"

"Yes, but it is impossible to pronounce in your tongue. You may refer to me by the name I took in the past though. Amelia Winterborn." She stood regally as she gave her name of choice. In the past she took many names, this was the last one she had used though.

Nodding his assent he held out an arm to his companion, who glared warily at her and took the offered limb in his hand. Sithik then held out his hand to her.

"Take my hand Amelia, and I'll take you to your new home."

No, she thought as she took the outstretched hand with hesitation, you're taking me to my new prison. Then with a loud crack, the cavern was empty.