Chapter One

Ithila was in the town marked on the map within hours. When she arrived, the sun was nearly at the western horizon, but there were still people out wandering amongst the streets. She pushed the door of the sole tavern in the town, and was greeted with pipe smoke, the smell of warm food and raucous laughter immediately. She felt like she was walking into another world, one that she had only touched in her previous life. Here, she was no longer Ithila Greaynar, the Guardsman's Daughter, no longer Ithila Greaynar, the trouble maker. She could be whomever she wished here, free to make her own path in the shadows.

"You brainless, lass? Close the door! It's mid snow-moon!" A man called from behind the rough wooden bar. His appearance was equally rough, longish unkempt hair fell in greasy brown strands around the beginnings of a bald patch. His nose looked as though it had been broken in an old fight, perhaps by the knife that had left that thin scar across his face. Ferrety eyes locked onto her, on specific parts of her she would rather not have anyone, let alone a barmy old codger, showing that much interest in. She closed the door with a sharp snap and strode towards a different man behind the long counter that ran the length of the low ceilinged room. This one seemed slightly more respectable, at least he was wearing a clean shirt and his hair looked fairly recently washed.

"Are you the man I need to speak to about a room reservation?" she asked. He looked up, warm amber eyes locking onto hers and dark brown curls bouncing. His hair was neatly trimmed, though a little longer than most.

"Well, yes. But I do need a name. Currently we have reservations for Inglevine, a Marrofinch, someone Castlebaum, and a Malien, but he said that a student of his would be coming, instead."

"My name is Ithila. Malien told me that there would be a room paid for." the man (if she could call him that, he looked to be only a few years older than herself) nodded, and looked at a logbook of sorts.

"Yes, it looks like your friend paid for a room and bought you a horse from our stables. Going on an adventure, lady?" he asked, his soft eyes curious. Ithila felt no reason to lie.

"Perhaps, but perhaps I will just travel, no adventure - or misadventure as the case may be - involved."

The man let out a warm laugh.

"Lady, I do not believe it possible to go traveling in these parts with out ending up in an adventure!" he then sobered. "At least be careful, Miss Ithila. Wherever your road may lead you." She nodded with a small smile.

"Thank you, sir. But if I ever return, how shall I ask of you if I don't even know your name?"

"The Great Innkeeper's Son, the Unknown Harran Amrani!" he said in a deep, booming voice, bowing low enough that his slightly long brown curls brushed the counter. Ithila felt a small laugh rise up inside her, and Harran must have seen her smile because he extended a hand to her in a joking parody of the Court Rules saying, "may I escort this lady to her quarters?" Ithila laughed slightly.

"Certainly."

Harran moved from behind the bar, grabbing a set of keys, and lead her to a door at the back of the tap room. He unlocked the door and held it for her with a mock bow as she entered the dimly lit hallway. Silently he took a candle from the shelf next to the inside of the door and lit it with a deft movement, though without the sound of flint and steel striking together. A small flame flared to life and he fit the thin taper into a holder.

"Alright lady, just this way." He said, leading her down the corridor to the last room on the right. She moved for the door, but instead he gestured up a staircase on the opposite side of the hall, well hidden in the shadows. It lead upwards to a single room, the brass plate reading 'Reserved, by order of the King.' Ithila looked to Harran questioningly. He laughed and said "Just a little joke. It's normally my room, but...well, it's worth it for a maid of your beauty. Speaking of which, I make my business to, ah, ascertain the relationship status of all beautiful women appearing between the ages of 15 and 20. So, Ithila, are you single, betrothed or already wed?"

"Seriously? We just met."

"I was only asking…" Harran said timidly. Ithila rolled her eyes and grinned.

"That's actually why I'm here. More or less…" Harran's face fell momentarily, but it his somber expression was quickly replaced by a mischievous grin as he asked

"Is he...handsome? Rich? Does he live in this town? Do I know him? Better yet, does this Malien dude know him? Am I annoying you yet?"

"Yes. You are definitely annoying me. But no, I never met the man I was supposed to marry. I ran away when I first heard I was betrothed, sort of…"

"Great! Wonderful! I mean...for me...I'm sorry?" Ithila rolled her eyes and chuckled at the poor bumbling young man.

"Whatever. So, I'm staying here tonight?" Ithila asked, trying to get the conversation back on track.

"Well, yes. I suppose." Harran said, sounding rather awkward.

"Where will you be sleeping, if this is normally your room?" Ithila asked

"Oh, It's not an issue. I don't mind sleeping in the stable, in mid snow-moon. I'll just bring a bunch of blankets and light a fire and probably burn down the inn. But at least I'll be warm..."

Ithila snorted with laughter. "Okay. So are you a professional jester?"

"Well, now that you mention it…" Ithila opened her mouth to reply, but was cut off by a loud crash from the bar. She jumped, but Harran just rolled his eyes and handed her the candle.

"Probably just a barfight. I'll go stop it." he nodded as he left, shooting her a dazzling smile. As he walked away, the flame from the candle dimmed noticeably. She looked at it for a moment then blew it out. That would make the tavern room seem more like her home. She stepped into the room. It didn't have much in the way of personal touches, just a few trinkets here and there. She sighed as she sat on a chair in the corner and dropped her bag. It clinked as it hit the ground, and opened, spilling some of the contents on the floor. She looked dismissively at the mess and leaned back, propping her feet up on the desk. Pulling the map out of her bag, she looked over it, pulling a quill from an inkwell sitting on the side of her desk. She sat back again, and, resting the parchment on her lap, she started silently marking the map. Places she'd dreamed of going, like the capital or another big city, the large wood notorious for being haunted to the north, and from there a mountain said to have a dragon in it. As she marked, she reflected on the conversation with Harran. She had said she didn't want an adventure, but thinking about it, she was incorrect. All her life, she had been bored in her own home, and now that she was able to do something, she wanted to do everything. And everything, whatever it was, included adventure.

"Get the Elemental Bitch. All the ones like her are a danger to the kingdom." A gruff voice echoed up the stairs and passage leading to her door. She stood. There was no way that she should be able to hear voices that clearly from the bar room, or even the lower floor. They were coming up the stairs.

Malien, in his training her, had instilled a nice amount of paranoia (it was a survival tactic, not a mental problem) into her. Following her training, she stood, gathering the mess she had made as quickly and as quietly as she could. Unfortunately, the bag of gold and silver pieces made such an ungodly loud noise that the voices in the hall ceased altogether. In an instant, she had the small pouch in her larger pack and had backed into the wall. Pulling the hood of the thin cloak that she had neglected to remove over her face, she melted into the shadows.

The door flew open with an ear-blistering screech.

"Shadow-Witch! Come out where we can see you!" the man at the door was tall and heavily muscled, she could tell, even through the partial plate he was wearing. With a deep breath, Ithila closed her eyes and allowed herself to fly through the cold dark space that exists between shadows, ending up soundlessly behind the guards looking for her. In an instant, she had flown down the stairs silently, slid the door open and slithered into the tavern room. One day, closed doors would be her downfall. When she was exposed like this in her training, she always felt naked, and the feeling was intensified by the fact that there were actual hostiles in the area. As soon as she was through the door, she slid into shadow again- good thing too. There were guards standing in the now emptied and ransacked bar. She quickly traveled through the room, when she saw Harran, manacles on his wrists, in a corner of the tavern. She gasped, slapping her hand over her mouth when she realized that he was staring at where she had disappeared seconds ago. Staring at his prone form, she realized that she couldn't leave him to be killed by the people that had been hunting her.

She heard footsteps on the stairs and knew that whatever she was going to do, she had to do it quickly. In a moment, she had traveled across the room, to just behind Harran. Quickly appearing and pulling her lock-picks (courtesy of Malien) from her boots, she knelt behind him and whispered,

"Don't make a sound," he jumped slightly, and tried to turn to look at her, but she cuffed him upside the head. "Close your mouth." He nodded as she managed to turn the tumblers in the lock with a click. Leaning close to his ear, she murmured into his ear.

"When I give the order, all hell breaks loose, alright? Throw everything you can at them," He nodded silently, and she'd swear the torches lining the walls grew brighter, heating the room. She shook her head, reminding herself that she didn't have time to think about that then. Watching, she jumped with a yell. As she did so, her earlier words rang true. She had her blades out, getting ready to attack the guards, when the torches and fireplace erupted. She let out a shout and dived back as one of the men were engulfed in flame. Turning to Harran, she nearly froze up. Nearly. He was standing, a look of concentration on his face as he was engulfed in flames as well. However, the flames he was covered in seemed almost… alive. Shaking her head, she knew they had to run, no times for delays.

"Harran! Come!" the man jumped, as if startled out of a trance, then nodded and ran towards her. She grabbed his arm, wincing slightly as she realized it was still quite hot, and sprinted out of the tavern, the elbow not connected to the hand dragging Harran covering her face as she coughed. They stumbled out into the street, but Ithila didn't stop there, however, she did let go of Harran's arm, fully expecting him to stay behind. She sprinted into the stables, throwing herself over her horse's untacked back and kicked it into a gallop.

In seconds, she heard hooves behind her and turned, getting ready to gear her horse faster to lose the guard. Instead she saw the youthful face of Harran behind her. Her grip on the horses mane tightened and she yanked back, in her shock thinking they were reins, and the horse reared up with an indignant whinny. When the horse's hooves touched ground again, it sprinted off down the path leaving Ithila horseless in mid snow-moon with the guard after her for no apparent reason and only one thing to take her frustration out on.

"Damn it, Amrani!" she shouted, standing up and dusting herself off. "You're lucky I didn't have my pack on that horse! I would have lost everything!" Harran, looking sheepish looked at the livid girl.

"But you didn't… that has to count for something, right?" Ithila let out a yell at Harran's comment and walked up to him, still awkwardly sitting on his horse.

"Yes, I didn't lose everything. I only lost the easiest way of transportation to the next town and the one person that can help me. It's not like I'm STRANDED IN THE MIDDLE OF A FOREST MID SNOW-BLOODY-MOON!" Harran winced at her outburst and slid from the bare back of his mount.

"Sorry. But you heard them! 'Get the Elemental! They're all a danger!' They may have been going after you, but now they know that I'm an elemental as well, they'll be after me!" Ithila glared, grey eyes widening slightly as she walked up to the man, his brow furrowing at her approach. He didn't have time to react before her fist collided solidly with his nose. His hand flew up to the ruined appendage, and he looked at her like she was insane. Stepping back, Ithila spoke again.

"If we're going to make it to the next town before daybreak, we'd better get moving." At that, she turned and walked away, leaving a stunned Harran to loop a length of rope around the horse's neck in a makeshift lead and follow.

Ithila walked, a scowl on her face as the steady steps of Harran and the horse sounded in the background. She could feel him wanting to say something, the wish radiating off of him, but he didn't speak up. In some ways, his silence was as annoying as it would have been if he was talking.

"If you want to say something, say it." she said, not looking back. She heard a slight pause in his step, and he didn't speak for a moment, as if calculating whether this was a trap or not.

"Something?" he finally said, and Ithila decided she liked it when he was quiet. "Anyway, I feel like you're not telling me something. Why were those people after you specifically?"

"I don't know," she responded dully.

"How did they know who you were?"

"No idea."

"Why did they say that Elementals were a threat to the kingdom?"

Ithila shrugged.

"What's your element?" Ithila raised an eyebrow.

"Shadow. Darkness."

"...that's not creepy at all…"

"You asked." Ithila said, sending Harran a grin. He shook his head and sighed, then started chattering again.

Their walk continued along these lines for quite a while, Harran talking and Ithila nodding and grunting in the correct places. It wasn't until Harran started and looked like something had just occurred to him that he looked at Ithila and asked the question that she had been waiting for the entire time he was speaking.

"Where are we going?" he asked, head tilted to the side.

"I… don't really know. We need to find out why the King is suddenly so anti-elemental. I don't know anything about the King, or the Kingdom though, so I'm looking for… a friend."

"What kind of friend?" Harran asked, not seeming comforted at hearing that Ithila didn't have a plan.

"My old teacher. The one that booked the room at the inn for me."

"You mean my room." Ithila glanced at him and nodded. Harran nodded, and trailed off, rather uncomfortable in the unnerving silence that Ithila emanated. The girl paused on the trail and shifted her pack.

"You got any weapons?" she asked him, and he paused before he answered.

"No, no physical weapons. I do have the flames… but I don't think that counts." he said.

"You know how to use any?"

"I specialize in broken bottle, repair tools and broom… I also know how to use a bow and arrow. There was a stint that I had to hunt to get food, my family was starving," he said, his amber eyes getting distant and looking to the ground. Ithila's own grey orbs looked at his face, taking in his expression.

"What's your family like?" she asked, her voice softer than it'd been in a while. His eyes snapped to hers, widened again in shock, blackened around the edges from when she nearly broke his nose.

"Dead. Uh- the- I mean… they're-they were great!" he said, a weak, faked grin on his saddened face.

"Oh. I'm… sorry. For what it's worth." Ithila said, breaking eye contact and looking at the ground. She resumed her walk, though it looked more of a trudge at this point.

"Question for a question. What about you? Got a family?" Harran asked, catching up with her. She sighed.

"Not really. None worth mentioning." he looked at her, but got the point that he shouldn't ask further, and went back to his (extremely loud) silence.

They arrived at the next town as the sun barely started peeking over the horizon. The horse was exhausted and the man walking next to Ithila was equally as tired. And hungrier. He was eyeing the horse as if he would eat it himself. They walked down the road, through the gate leading to the town square, and Ithila's eyes widened as she watched the people just waking, shuffling around and attending to their morning business, some with seemingly no purpose - she had never seen a town this large.

Harran gazed at her, head tilted to the side as he watched her walk, her eyes wide in awe.

"You never seen a city larger than mine?" he asked. Her silver eyes snapped to him, and she nodded slightly, almost sheepishly. He grinned and grabbed her wrist, dragging her to one of the vendors just setting up.

"You at least need to try fresh roasted chestnuts! And wait 'till you see the smoked turkey legs!" he said, a grin appearing on his face. Ithila wrenched her wrist out of his hand and grabbed his arm instead.

"No!" she hissed through clenched teeth. "If you'll recall, I'm a hunted criminal, and, at this point, you probably are too!" As if to punctuate her point, a glaring sketch of Harran and a hooded figure hung on a board next to them. Ithila looked at it for a moment, then yanked it from the wall, quickly shoving it into a pouch that hung on her hip. Harran stared at where it was for a moment, then looked at her.

"Well. I'm an outlaw… At least they don't know what you look like." Ithila rolled her eyes and shook her head.

"It doesn't make sense how they're already up, how they already put up sketches of us." She looked again at the wall, seeing other posters, telling what the offence was and how dangerous the offender is. Her eyes quickly found the posters for other 'Elementals', as the guard had called them. They were easy to pick out - they all had the note Very Dangerous at the bottom and what their ability was. There were three there, one small girl and two men. Her fingertips brushed the bottom of the parchment, below the girl's name. Annaliece.

Sighing, Ithila let her hand drop - as she did so, she was torn from her reverie by a heavy hand wrenching her around.


A/N: Oh the DRAMA!

So this was posted quite a bit later than I wanted it to be. Long story, but it's here now!

Please read and review, it makes me feel all fuzzy inside when people review and whatnot!

Thanks a million,

~Winglet