Chapter 1

The world was covered in darkness. It was only when the sun peeked from its hiding place that colour exploded into the small town of Jultre in the Forest Nation. With that burst of colour from the East came the life of the town. The farmers woke to feed the animals and work the fields, and the merchants and shop owners opened their stores to the quickly filling streets. People could be heard shouting friendlily at one another, advertising products for sale. Town square became the locus of travellers, with many storytellers and circus freaks to entertain passer-by.

Ilya was on such passer-by. She wore a cloak to hide her armour, and her dragon was in the forested lands surrounding Jultre, probably hunting or doing some other activity.

The Forest Nation was long since allied with the Mountain Nation, and it was only for a reason of secrecy that she rode in on horseback. Her horse was a fabulous dapple-grey mare named Pathway, after the stone roads that her colour so closely matched. It had been a rather cold ride into town that morning, and though Pathway seemed to not mind Ilya was thoroughly chilled.

Like most Mountain people, Ilya had darker skin than the people of the Forest, but not quite as dark as the Sea people of the Sea Nation. Her skin was olive toned, but in the times of summer she darkened to a golden brown colour.

It was one such summer when the sun shone down strongly upon her and Pathway. They had been travelling together for almost a week, and Pathway had shown to be a strong and steady companion.

It had been several days since Ilya had last been into a town, and she longed for a bath and proper meal.

She turned into the nearest inn and rented out a stall and room for the night. She later bathed in frigid water that had barely been heated and ate a scant meal of potatoes and goat.

By the time she returned to her room, tiredness tugged at her lids and she flopped onto the cold hard bed and drifted into a cool darkness.

When she roused from her sleep, several hours later, the sun had already begun its descent over the horizon, and the active playful tone of the town quieted to an ale-filled glee, as drunken men began to boast about the size of they buck they killed or mountains they trekked. Foreigners were an especial interest to the townsmen, and they would rally around travellers like flies to a sick cow.

Ilya spent her time sitting in the various inns and bars and listening to people, and watching people, and occasionally talking for people. She had long ago found that bars were where information was spread the easiest. It had become her ritual in the weeks she had been travelling.

She was searching for a sorcerer whose name she didn't know, whose face she's never seen, and whose voice she's never heard. And yet, it wasn't that hard to get information about him.

"Did you hear? About the…" the drunkard leaned in closer to the people sitting at his table, including Ilya. "About the sorcerer?" He finished.

"Yeah, Louis told me he was something of a Prince, or more, a princess,"

"Aye. He has hair down his feet, and he dresses like a noble,"

"What's a noble doing here?"

"I heard that he's a fugitive from the Savannah,"

"Savannah. Damn them!" One man shouted, raising his glass for a toast.

"Where's he now?"

"I heard he's at that pub across the town. What is it again? Smugglers! That's what it's called,"

"No, I just came from there,"

"Oh really? Hmm, maybe he's turned in for the night. No matter,"

And the conversation resumed its form of brags and jeers, and Ilya ended up just sitting silently listening. At was not long after midnight, when Ilya was going to go check out Smugglers that the sorcerer strolled into the bar and sat down at Ilya's table. Everyone knew what he was, because of his blond hair and pounds of gold sitting around his neck and wrists.

"You that guy from Savannah? Lot's of stories been circulating 'bout you,"

"I'd imagine," the sorcerer replied, twisting his long braided blond hair over his shoulder to prevent it from dragging on the floor. "What've you heard?"

"I heard you're a fugitive, and that you're worth a pretty penny,"

"I'm not wanted, if that's what you're implying,"

"So you're really from Savannah?"

"Yeah, you've ever been?"

"It's a place for whores and blackguards, I've no interest in it,"

"Really? I've got none but an interest in whores and blackguards. They make life more exciting," The sorcerer said, and he and the other men at the table laughed and grabbed bear mugs off the nearest bar maiden's platter. They clinked their glasses together and drank, in the joyous manner that men do.

When the men began to get too drunk for decent conversation, they slowly began filing out of the bar, until eventually Ilya and the sorcerer were the only two left.

"You're a quiet lad. Haven't said a word tonight have you?"

"I don't believe I have," Ilya answered.

"I see, you're not a lad at all," The sorcerer answered. "Shouldn't you be home, with your husband?"

"What makes you think I have a home or a husband?" Ilya said in an almost snippety manner, crossing her arms and glaring at him.

"Take off your hood and let me see your face, young maiden," the sorcerer ordered, and when she didn't move he added, "I won't bite, I'm a gentleman,"

"What kind of gentleman keeps the company of whores and blackguards?"

"One that has been betrayed by his kinfolk,"

"Forgive me, I spoke out of turn,"

"No, you're right. I'm more of a rogue than a noble now,"

"What brings you to this town?"

"I'm on the run,"

"From whom?"

"A certain Mountain woman," He answered, looking at her. She shied away from his gaze, feeling relieved that he did at least not know about Eternal. When she didn't reply, he gingerly touched the edge of her hood and pushed it over her head. "I thought so,"

"I hadn't realized you'd noticed," She said as explanation. "You have no reason to run from me,"

"I realize that now. So why have you been stalking me, if I am not the lamb to your wolf?"

"Are you aware of the political situation in Savannah?"

"Political situation? The king's an asshole and everyone hates him, but as far as I know there is no particular event that has occurred," He said thoughtfully, giving her full eye contact.

"Savannah is on the brink of a civil war,"

"It's always been on the brink of a civil war,"

"Yes, but now the opposition has an army,"

"Are you saying there will be a rebellion?" He asked, tilting his head to the side.

"Yes,"

"And how is this of your concern?"

"A civil war will leave the Nation vulnerable, and the Savannah's allies, the Sea Nation, will probably take over. That leaves them too close to the Forest border,"

"And the Mountain Nation is allied with the Forest Nation,"

"We are,"

"To be honest with you, I have no interest in saving that blasted Nation. More than just the nobles and the state have done me wrong. I owe them nothing,"

"That's all right, I'll not convince you by force," She said, disappointed. Most of the people who had been sent on various recruitment assignments had not failed, and it would be a source of shame to her. "Very well then, I will travel to the base a lone warrior. May you find good luck on your travels,"

"You plan on traveling alone?" He asked incredulously, placing his hand on her shoulder.

"If you are not my company, then yes,"

"I do not approve of a woman travelling through the Savannah Nation alone," He expressed.

"I can care for myself,"

"Here perhaps, but in Savannah, if a woman are without guide then harm will befall her,"

"It is a shame, for I am without guide," She slumped down over the table, resting her chin in her hands. "It is inevitable that I travel there, and I will make do with what I have,"

"What makes you think you are without guide?" He asked slyly. She raised he head and glanced at him.

"I thought you had no interest in the rebel cause?"

"I am not a rebel, though I will gladly be a mercenary,"

"You'll not be paid,"

"The company of a woman is pay enough," She looked at him sceptically, frowning.

"When do you wish to leave? And shall we travel through a direct route or along a road?"

"We should leave at daybreak,"

"Direct or through a route?"

"It is your decision… I don't believe I know your name,"

"Ilya. And yours is?"

"I don't have a name," He said, smiling ruefully. She looked at him with a horrified look on her face, stunned.

"How? It's like… it's like not have an identity. It's like not being a person,"

"In Savannah, sorcerers are more images of power and wealth than actual people. We are celebrities, but for the most part we do nothing of value except look rich and powerful. We are merely representatives of the king and his power, not individual people,"

"But surely, when you were birthed…"

"I did once have a name, though I don't remember,"

"So what am I to call you?"

"I am known as Skyweaver,"

"Skyweaver? I've read that name somewhere… in a historical document. Are you named after Skyweaver, the famous sorcerer who could control the elements?"

"I am Skyweaver, the famous sorcerer who could and still can control the elements,"

"How? My archives dated back a hundred years,"

"I am much older than that now," He said, gazing off into the distant wall of the pub. "Sorcerers gain many abilities other than just magic. Physically we are a stronger and more agile. Another ability is agelessness," He explained with a shrug.

"The dragon riders are like that too. They can see better, they're stronger, they don't age… but as price they cannot bear young,"

"It is the same for all magical beings: agelessness, physical superiority, magical abilities, and infertility," He said, downing the last of his drink. He rose from his chair. "Shall we leave?"