Prologue:

The haunting melody played in her head as she spotted him. Those same ice blue eyes she had loved, the ones she had seen sparkle with mirth, with joy, with sadness, and –dare she remember? – love. The shouts turned into silence, like the armies knew what she was thinking, like they understood the thoughts running through her head, they understood the grieving and they grieved and raged with her. He simply watched her as she watched him. His armies, boasting of proud red and whites, archers, horsemen, swordsmen. He stood there before her, and the melody played, slow and solemn. Their song. She knew he watched her with longing, with sadness, with a cold cruelty to his set and flexed jaw. His emotions were always so tangled, so contradicting, and he made sure she felt every ounce of love and hatred.

All for nothing.

She was no longer loving, no longer kind. He stole her love, and he turned it into something horrendously beautiful. She would win today, for her prince, for her king, for her family, for her armies, her friends, for freedom. For herself. She was something more now, something too great to be forgotten, something forged in scars and pain, but was still humane, still able to love, to care. She knew he heard the song in his head, she knew she haunted him and clouded his thoughts. She'd leave him alive today. She'd let him remember that she bested him. He was always so proud, so intent on serving his kingdom, and now she would ruin it. She would bring it crashing down. The Red King would lose his greatest general, his son, to the Dragon King. He would be humiliated, beaten by his former lover, by his former best friend. He'd wallow, and she was counting on it.

The melody continued to play, but in her head it was more cruel, more conniving, and she succumbed to it.

It was time.

The horns sounded. Her armor was cloying and heated. She knew the black and midnight blues painted on were chipped. She knew there were dents and scratches. She was a warrior, and she had forgotten.

The drums sounded. It was time.

The melody in her head played faster. Ice blue eyes widened across the field, she knew he was starting to understand what would happen. She knew she looked the demon everyone believed her to be. The bright lion prince meets the dark dragon knight. The irony was astounding, but understood. She raised her trusted swords: Ferralden and Grimstone, named by elves and the finest makes in the world. She'd need no shield today.

Flags were raised. Her kingdom's dragon breathed fire and ice tangled around each other amongst black and midnight blue. She looked back to those ice blue eyes she once loved and saw his flag bearers raise their flags: a lion amongst the red and white, clawing at her enemies.

Her captains galloped on their horses amongst the men behind her. It was time.

Ice blue eyes watched in regret as she watched in indifference, the melody playing ceaselessly. She held up her hand, palm up toward the sky;, a symbol in her country. She knew without looking that the men behind her in black and blue raised their palm to the sky. A whole army in eerie silence, rendering their victory to the gods and to the dragons soaring above with their fated riders. These gods were real. She would win.

It was time.


The Beginning

She fled. She ran as fast as her little legs could carry, hoping that maybe she would fly. Maybe the wind would swoop her up, higher than the tree tops, than the castle she lived in. Her tears would dry against the freeing winds, but to no avail. Connolly only had her little legs to carry her small body through the forest. Her mind was in a complete panic. She had never seen such a rich red before, such a blinding, yet unforgettable sight.

She had never seen a man die.

He begged her father, begged and pleaded. His eyes, shining and frantic, begged. Begged even as his bare sun burnt neck was lain out across the chopping block. Begged when her father, normally so kind and understanding, stood above him with the family sword, Nixus.

He never closed his eyes. He cried and pleaded until the moment of his death, and in that moment, the moment Nixus sliced through the bone and sinew of his skinny neck, the man turned to her. He stared at her with those frantic eyes, brown and alive. Then it was over, the squelching sound Nixus left in its wake bespoke a body without a head. It bespoke certain death. The elven sword shone dark red, and the man's head dropped to the muddy ground, forever leaving the body it was attached to. Blood splattered across her father, his elegant brown boots, his crisp white shirt stained with death. The blood pooled from where the stump of a neck lay on the chopping block. Blood seeped in the mud, becoming part of the earth. It pooled next to the man's head, taunting it with the life it once had.

Connolly couldn't take it. Her sister and brother may have seen this before, but she felt tainted. She felt wrong. So she ran. She ran through the woods hoping she could outrun the death she just witnessed. She knew she was running in forbidden lands, but she feared death more then the unknown. So she ran.

Her siblings recounted many a tale of how monsters and creatures lurked in these woods, but Connolly didn't believe them. She had yet to see any monsters, she only saw death. Her sister told her of wolves. These wolves were so monstrous, so gruesome, that they were taller than a man, hungrier than a starving peasant, and angrier than a tempest. These wolves loved devouring small children, children that happened to be the same size as Connolly.

Her brother told her stories of dragons. They weren't fully grown, but they were dragons none the less. She may be part of the Dracoria clan, but a dragon would eat her. They were too clever and wise to be beaten by a small child. Their magic would outdo hers in a heartbeat. She would lose, and the dragons may use ice to freeze her feet to the ground, and then they'd use their fire to roast her alive before they ate her for a midnight snack.

Her mother used to tell her more gentle tales. She claimed that above the Dracoria lands, there lived elves. No one knows where their kingdom lay, nor who their kings or queens were, but there were elves in those forests. They had pointed ears and small fangs. Their eyes were bigger and their bodies were leaner, more graceful, than human bodies. They were quick witted and intelligent, and even more humbling, they were immortal. The elves were peaceful creatures, and only showed themselves to mortals they found worthy.

Connolly thought of the tales of wretched wolves and baby human eating dragons, but she kept running, hoping for some kind of reprieve. Those eyes, those large brown eyes that watched her right before death. She saw the life extinguished before her, she mourned it. Her father had taken a life. It was so simplistic, yet so vicious. One moment alive, and the next dead. Connolly wondered about this man's hopes, his dreams, his fears, his loves. Did he have family? Did they know he died at the black stone castle of Dracoria? Did he have children?

Connolly couldn't stand the thought of children hoping for their father to come home, much like she did when her father left. The fear of his death always clutched her small heart. Then the image of her father on a chopping block viciously clawed its way into her mind, and that was enough.

Connolly abruptly sat and cried, her hands covering her face as she thought of her father dying in the hands of an enemy. At their chopping block. She cried as the sun began to set, as the enormous trees around her shivered slightly from a gentle breeze. The air around was warm and lazy, normally a beautiful night in such enchanting lands, but Connolly could only mourn an idea. A hideous and gruesome idea of her father dying.

"Why are you crying?" a gentle voice asked from behind her.

Connolly abruptly stood up, interrupted from her crying to see a girl her age staring at her. The girl wore a white dress that swayed in an unearthly manner with the wind. The girls hair was long, straight, and black. Her skin was pale and delicate, much paler than Connolly's sun kissed skin and freckled face. Her eyes were a bright blue, like the moon on a clear night. So bright blue that they were almost white. Such an enchanting sight, and Connolly could not understand what it was in that moment that felt so strange to her. The air felt like it was crackling, like it was speaking from far away, and she tried to listen, but she could not understand the words.

The girl's head tilted to the side, letting a cascade of straight black hair fall over her delicate shoulder.

"The gods are speaking. Can you hear them?" she said quietly. Her eyes were wide, as if she had never heard it before.

Connolly nodded slowly, "I think so, but I don't know what they are saying."

The girl turned her head, and that is when Connolly saw the pointed ears, larger than her own, sticking out stark amongst the girl's black hair.

"You're an elf." Connolly muttered in awe, her eyes wide as she took in the girl before her.

The girl turned back to Connolly, a frown on her face, "You're a human?"

Connolly's shoulders shrugged easily against her jerkin, "My mother used to tell me they had pointy ears and they lived in this wood. She said they only appear to humans who are worthy."

The girl stared hard at Connolly before answering in a soft voice, "The gods have finished speaking."

Connolly did not know much about the gods, besides their names. What would a god want to say to her, or this girl, "What did they say?"

The girl watched Connolly as if she were confused, as if she didn't understand what she had heard, "They said that fate is swift."

Connolly's brows drew together sharply, "That's it?"

Surely the gods would not waste their time with such a simple sentence.

The girl looked around the darkening woods, "They said more, but it doesn't make sense."

Connolly shrugged, "Maybe we weren't supposed to understand it."

The girl turned back to Connolly and watched her though those ethereal eyes, "You're a Dracorian."

Connolly nodded as her cider colored curls bobbed with her movement.

"I am Caerrin." She said with a smile and a slight wave of her hand.

Connolly smiled back, "I am Connolly."

The girl gave a small giggle, "Connolly, the one with whom gods speak, a Dracorian. My father will find that interesting."

The wind suddenly encircled the girls and the leaves rustled all around. Caerrin turned in a circle before watching Connolly once more, "The gods say not to mourn."

The sun had gone down, and the woods were embraced by darkness. Men in the distance shouted, and flickers of light could be seen through the thick of the dark trees.

"I must go Connolly of Dracoria. We will meet again." She whispered along with the wind, quiet and captivating with her nearly white eyes. She moved easily through the darkness until Connolly could no longer see her.

"Goodbye." Connolly whispered, the sound being drowned out by men shouting her name. Her father and his men had come to find her, and it was time to leave, but she hoped she would see Caerrin the elf again.


"Connolly, do you understand why he was killed?" Dacian Dracol watched his youngest daughter in earnest. He was not prone to yelling or shouting in anger. He was stern with an honest face. His eyes were a blue green and his hair was a thick dark russet brown. His beard was neatly trimmed to his face, his cheekbones high. His brow was proud as was his manner. He knew that Connolly was only eight, but it was time she understood the laws, and the reasons behind them.

Dacian watched as his daughter slowly shook her head. His second in command, Fenton, stood behind him in the threshold of the great black doors to the castle, furious at Connolly for making him search for her. Fenton's heavy breathing and glaring grey eyes made Connolly uncomfortable, and Dacian knew it.

"Fenton, have the men check the perimeter, and escort my son and daughter to their chambers." Fenton nodded slightly before stalking outside to the darkness in his black tunic and midnight blue cape. The Dracorian colors. The colors he served.

Dacian turned back to his daughter, "Connolly, do you know what that man did?"

Connolly shook her head again, her cyan eyes roving the black stone floor. Dacian lifted her small pointed chin. She looked so much like her mother, more so than Arvia or Dallon. Connolly was the only one who received her mother's curls, her pert nose, and those freckles. She even smiled like her mother, but she wasn't now.

Dacian knelt down to his daughter, "That man killed many others, Connolly."

Connolly's eyes snapped to her fathers as he continued, "He killed other people, innocent people. He did terrible things to them. Unspeakable. I uphold the law here for King Davian, and he entrusted me to make the decision."

Connolly looked back down to the floor as she wrung her hands together in anxiety. She still didn't understand. She wasn't sure if she wanted to.

"Do you think I made the wrong choice, Connolly?"

Connolly knew her father wouldn't regret his decision for a moment. He truly wanted to know what she thought of the matter. He still watched her, earnest, yet soft toward his daughter.

"I-I think I do." Connolly whispered softly.

"Connolly, I want you to understand that a life matters, and that having the power to take it is great. Too great to bear for some." Dacian felt weary after he said those words. Killing is what he knew, what the king needed. With the unrest in Elentris, and the king fixing matters to his southern border, these sorts of responsibilities fell to his Captain of the Guard, Dacian.

"Is it too great for you?" Connolly asked as she grabbed her father's hand. He looked so unhappy in that moment.

Dacian smiled at his daughter's gesture and he ran a hand though her silken curls, "No. When it is too great, men go mad with power. They tend to kill because they can, not because it is necessary."

"Are there men who do that now?" his daughter's face scrunched up as wondered aloud.

Dacian's gut twisted as he looked out of the massive blackwood doors. He had a feeling Elentris was overrun with men who killed because they could. He looked down to his daughter's hand clasped in his, the fear working its way into his mind. War was coming, he could feel it coming softly, slowly. He had so much to protect, so much to lose.

"I met an elf." Connolly softly muttered, a slight secretive smile on her face.

Dacian stared down at his daughter for a moment before laughing. Connolly smiled up at him, loving to hear his boisterous laugh that was so rarely heard in these castle halls. She wanted to tell him everything about her new elven friend, but before she could speak, her father ran his hand through her hair again, "Elves have not been seen since your mother died, child."

Connolly felt the loss strike her, but her father kept his smile as he tugged her hand, "Come, let's meet with your older brother and sister. Maybe they will enjoy the tale of your adventures in the forest since they fear going in it."

Connolly walked with her father across the courtyard entrance of the castle to their small wing of rooms, unable to believe what she had just heard, "They're afraid?"

Her little cry of indignity set her father laughing again, "Yes, sweetling, they will be so jealous that they're younger braver sister found the courage to meet an elf."

He set about in rich laughter at the thought and walked with his youngest daughter, savoring their time together, knowing it would soon end.