(A/N: This story is long, and its chapters, in general, are long. I don't know if it counts as an epic since the timeline is short, but a lot happens. I just wanted to warn you before you jump into this monster.

It is rated M for what will become obvious reasons. Lemonade and violence abound...well, the latter abounds and the former shows up eventually, but teases pretty hard.)

Avenari - Prologue

October 20, 1945

It was a quiet night, warm despite impending autumn, and a few remaining crickets chirped halfheartedly as they prepared for cooler temperatures. The light of a waxing moon flashed cyan and white across thousands of glossy leaves in the canopy of an ancient Banyan tree which arched its branches over the stones. One stone was older, worn from years of heat and cold, rain and sun; the other fresh and new, giving off a polished sheen which outlined the sharply carved letters on its face: Henry Theyer—1909-1945—Beloved Father, Wonderful Husband, Dearest Friend—You Will Be Missed. Before the newer stone, a honey-oak casket hung suspended over the six-foot-deep abyss, gleaming bronze in the flickering candlelight.

There were perhaps a dozen present to bid farewell to the recently deceased, standing in a tight line before the priest and the box. Henry had been well-respected and well-loved, leaving behind only one living relative. He had been one of the lucky few spared the terrors of the War, allowing him to stay home and care for his daughter. However, three nights prior, the Reaper had at last called him home.

At the foot of the casket stood a girl of seventeen in a plain black dress to her ankles. Cinched around her waist, beneath her long, auburn hair, was a black silk sash once owned by her late mother. Her eyes shone chestnut through unshed tears and the comforting embraces of her two dearest friends loaned her much-needed strength as she clutched a snowy white rose with intense concentration.

The tears had long stood in her eyes, threatening to fall, but she refused to break. She had to endure. She had been through this same scenario once before, for the one whose stone sat quietly beside the fresh grave. It was something she could not have stopped, something so far out of her control that all she could do was refuse to let her tears take control. All the people around her would see was a determined, delicate visage. If nothing else, she would not lose to this. Her mother had taught her strength, and this was her test. She would see her father off with dignity, the only proof of her love that she could offer now.

Somewhat apart from the main group, her caretaker and tutor of the past five years stood watch. His suit was a simple, black linen number designed to attract as little attention as possible. His concern for the girl's well-being was apparent, but not just because of her recent loss. Hidden beneath the brim of a hat, no one noticed his warm, gray-green eyes watching the night.

She had requested a nighttime funeral so that it would not interfere with her tutor's work, yet there was still much he kept hidden about what he did during the day. For the moment, he was content with waiting for her to grow up a bit more, quietly protecting her in secret.

In time, the priest finished his eulogy, and the straps were released to slowly lower the casket into the darkness below. The girl stared, fighting the rising panic, the terrifying knowledge that she would never see her father again, that she was now an orphan, that death had once again stolen her happiness away.

This time, there was no one to blame.

Once the casket reached the bottom, the pallbearers removed the straps. The cemetery's caretaker then took a ceremonial shovel of dirt from the nearby mound and dropped it onto the lid, letting rocks and soil clatter off like the rattle of Death himself.

The priest uttered a prayer, but Henry's daughter couldn't hear it above the ringing of blood in her ears. Steeling herself, she stepped forward and dropped the rose into the grave, watched it vanish into the endless abyss of the Earth.

"Goodbye, Dad. Be happy with Mom," she whispered.

"It's okay to cry," murmured one of the boys when she returned to them. He planted a gentle kiss on her hair. "Sam and I will always be here for you."

The other twin nodded in agreement and rubbed comforting circles between her shoulders. "Come hell or high water, we'll be your family for as long as you need us, Lynn."

"Indeed. You are not alone," her tutor added with certainty. Nobody noticed as he glanced off to the side and tilted his hat up slightly to peer into the darkness beyond the lanterns' small pool of light.

At last, her façade gave way under the weight of her tears. She hooked her arms around the brothers' necks and let them be her last remaining anchor in the world. "Thank you," she whispered hoarsely, before breaking down at last.

Less than a hundred yards away, a figure dressed in black—though not for the funeral—had watched the little event from his seat atop one of the oldest tombstones. His clothes were crisp and clean, tailored to show off a lean, tall frame; his dense, raven hair trailing lazily down to brush his shoulders and wisp across his thickly lashed eyes in the light breeze. He had watched with eyes like chips of sapphire glittering in the moonlight which played shadows across his pearl skin. His gaze held the intensity of a predator.

Passersby had noticed the beautiful man and murmured to each other as the crowd dispersed, but he had remained still and observant, ignoring the gossip, perched on his seat like a curious raven.

The girl, Lynn, had at last allowed her friends to lead her away, and the watcher's eyes had narrowed slightly as they walked back to the brothers' old truck. In particular, he had watched the guardian, who had sensed the presence, but was too preoccupied with Lynn's distraught state to do anything more than silently request that she be left alone.

Long after the mourners had gone, and long after watching Lynn, her guardian, and the twins ride off, the stranger at last stood with a relenting sigh and walked over to the open hole in the ground. He stared at the white rose, contemplating his next move, cursing himself for getting attached. In the end, he nodded decisively.

"I'll leave her to you, Simone," he murmured to the air, reaching into his jacket and withdrawing a deep crimson, budding rose. A flick, and the rose floated down to cross stems with the white.

He frowned at the flowers, then added after a thought, "However, though I will forget for now, if the opportunity arises I will take her from you. Time is my greatest ally, and none of my enemies are capable of stopping me." A sweet rush of air carried a familiar scent from the nearby grass, and he cast an almost melancholy smile up at the road. "Goodbye for now, Lydian," he whispered gently.

Within moments, no sign remained of the beautiful stranger, but for a red rose lying beside the white—evidence which would vanish forever when the diggers returned to cover Henry Theyer's grave.

Time froze. Memories were locked away where pain could not reach. Life moved on, oblivious to the past, and more than fifty years would pass before the wheel of fate again resumed its natural spin.

I'm pretty sure that this goes without saying, but this is a story I intend to publish. I have been working on it for over ten years. It is over 300,000 words long and is equivalent to my firstborn child. I've heard a few scary things about FP and rampant plagiarism. Therefore, if anybody reposts any of my work on another website, plagiarizes it, or does anything whatsoever that I feel is inappropriate, I will remove all of my work and begin the hunt.

In addition, I respectfully request that my honest readers quickly inform me if they spot shady dealings involving Avenari or any of my other stories. That way I can at least attempt to correct the issue, rather than have to actually take this all down. It's up for a reason - I want you to read it and tell me what you think - and that can't happen if there are dirtbags afoot.

tl;dr - Don't steal my intellectual property, let me know if someone else does, and enjoy the story. Peace out. Rated M. I love you all - but not the dirtbags.