In the silence of a hot, summer night, footsteps could be faintly heard approaching Grimma's back gate. The lookout standing guard readied his weapon. The gate opened to the territory of Rankatan, a hostile wasteland filled with lions, raptors, and hyenas waiting to feast on unaware travelers. During the day the dangers could be seen, but at night the beasts were bold and predators walked right up to the city gate without fear. It was not uncommon for a lookout to be standing there one minute and gone without a trace the next, never to be seen again.

As the footsteps grew closer, the lookout grew more uneasy. The footsteps didn't sound like any beast that made its home in the wastelands. These footsteps sounded like something that walked on two legs, and were deliberately coming toward the city at a rapid pace. That meant one of two things: A runner from an outlying camp with an urgent message or a Coalition spy trying to enter the city. The lookout squinted his eyes in the moonlit night trying to see if it was a friend or foe quickly approaching.

Just when the footsteps seemed like they were right next to him, they suddenly stopped. The lookout looked around trying desperately to find the source. He called on all his training to find the person who he had heard, but found nothing. The person had vanished. With his hands gripped tightly on his worn battle axe, so as not be caught unaware, the lookout stood tensely for what seemed to him like an eternity. Everything was peaceful.

Then suddenly the lookout heard the footsteps again, this time running away. The lookout followed the sound, determined to find the source at all cost. But whoever it had been, they were too fast for the orc to catch. As he padded back to the gate, the lookout berated himself for his inability to catch the intruder. Bloodbane would not be pleased with his report, he had let his Warlord down. Almost in response, the lookout heard a sound the chilled him to the bone despite the heat and made his brave heart skip a beat. Bloodbane roaring with rage. Then much closer, the lookout heard something else. For some unknown reason, this new sound terrified the lookout more than Bloodbane's rage. It was the sound of euphoric laughter.

XXXXXX

Alloura Brightstar was meditating in a small meadow just outside of Berserizon City. She often came here to mediate or even just to get away. The calming lake and beautiful trees that surrounded the area filled her with a sense of peace. She had always felt the city was too claustrophobic and although she was raised in Berserizon, she had always felt out of place. She was very young when Lady Vivian had taken Alloura under her wing and told her that she would teach Alloura how to be a paladin. Lady Vivian had told Alloura that she had a special gift. Alloura didn't know what that meant at the time, but was honored that a noble was willing to train her for anything.

Now, many years later, Alloura knew that Lady Vivian had been right. It was obvious that she had a natural ability for using the magic from the world, which her people reverently called the Valo, in ways that even high ranking paladins of the Eos Guardians could not. Though why she had that ability she had yet to find out. Nevertheless, she trained hard growing up, to prove that she would not reject the chance she had been given. Over time, Alloura learned that Lady Vivian saw her as the daughter she never had, rather than some common girl she had decided to teach. Even when Lady Vivian had to lead the Eos Guardians in the battle for the Fount of Zon, a consecrated shine to their goddess Elysha that their enemies, the valem, tried to destroy, Alloura would fly out to the Lady for her lessons. Of course being the diligent student that she was, if the Lady was too busy for lessons, Alloura would run herself though the drills.

However, now she had learned all that could be taught by Lady Vivian and the other high ranking guardians. The time was fast approaching when Alloura would have to leave training and go out into the world. That knowledge terrified Alloura. Although she could handle her weapon fairly well and was the best healer the Eos Guardians had to offer, she was afraid that she would not be able to handle real life. She craved knowledge more than anything. Alloura had no desire to stop learning to live in the real world. As if that wasn't enough to worry about, there was also the matter of Mathus.

Mathus Morningstar was an eligible, young noble who had agreed, with some persuasion from Lady Vivian, to marry Alloura. Lady Vivian had coerced Mathus into courting Alloura so that she could be a true noble. As much as she pretended that Alloura was her daughter, Vivian still acknowledged that Alloura was in fact a plebeian by birth. Alloura knew that Mathus was handsome, charming, and great company. She also knew that Vivian was trying to give her a better lot in life, but she worried about the marriage.

So, she tried to meditate as the sun shone down brightly on her pale skin and long golden hair. Her skin was warmed by it, but her mind and her heart found no comfort. Her troubled mind was too busy trying to find a solution to her predicament, while her despairing heart tried to find peace.

XXXXXX

Llyr Bloodbane, Warlord of the Clans, was annoyed. For the past several months there had been a thorn in his side and the worst part was he didn't knew who it was. From the information that had been gathered, he was fairly confident that it was only one person reeking havoc. If this was indeed the case, how was it possible? How could one person be able to intercept orders to troops and then have the audacity to change the orders so as to redirect his troops to another location? Not only had this person done the seemingly impossible, but then this thorn had eluded Llyr's best spies, scouts, and ruffians.

However, all he had for sure were some cryptic notes signed The Raven and a few scraps of dark purple solcloth with a light blue raven sewn onto it. Llyr was no expert, but he knew the raven was the symbol of the ridius elves. Because of this, he wondered if the ridius elves were involved somehow. That would explain how one person was able to slow the Clans war machine. One person couldn't possibly do that unless they had support, and lately the elves had been reluctant to inform Llyr of certain things. If they were involved, heads would roll. To this end he had summoned Kobus Sargon, Caliph of the ridius for a meeting. When Kobus arrived, Llyr did not waste words.

"What is the meaning of this!" He spat as he tossed the piece of cloth in Kobus' face.

"It appears to be a piece of solcloth, Warlord." Kobus replied calmly, looking down at the scrap.

"Do you think me a fool Sargon! The symbol is that of the ridius elves. I thought you traitorous, but I also thought you more clever."

Kobus, not raising to the obvious bait, examined the cloth again more carefully. However, after a minute Llyr had lost what little patience he had left.

Reaching for his axe, he growled. "What do you have to say for yourself...and your cowardly elves!"

"Calm yourself, Llyr. The ridius, as always, serve the Clans."

"Watch your tongue elf, or I will cut it out myself."

"With all due respect, Warlord, I meant that although the symbol is similar, the color tells a different story. This cloth is from a rulum elf."

Llyr stared dumbly at Kobus for a moment then managed to find his voice.

"You mean to tell me that this person that has been disrupting my communications, redirecting my troops, and evading my every attempt to catch them is a Coalition scum!"

"It would appear so, Warlord." Kobus replied calmly, handing back the cloth. "But I can personally guarantee that it is not one of my elves."

Llyr gave Kobus a hard stare, then snorted. "Very well, elf. But if I find out otherwise, I will hold you responsible."

Llyr turned and stormed away. Kobus made a show of bowing low as Llyr passed, then walked away haughtily. From high above, a shadowy figure could just be seen slipping over the wall. Things were going well.

XXXXXX

Alloura walked down the dark path known as Cutthroat Alley unarmed and unafraid. The ridius that made their home in this part of Berserizon City were the lowest of the low. Murderers, thieves, drunks, you could find it all here. Most of the upper crust refused to enter here for fear of ambush. Unless, of course, they had a job they needed done, discreetly. Only the bravest of souls would dare take this shorter path to the Zon Court.

Alloura, however, was never afraid of this dark alley filled with shame and despair. Even as a little girl growing up, she would wander through and try to help those less fortunate than herself. Whether it was to heal wounds they had gotten in some of their "business exploits" or easing the pains from withdrawals that everyone of her race seemed to have, Alloura was always ready and willing to lend a hand. After a while, everyone who lived there knew to leave her to her work and those who didn't got "talked to" by those who did. That is why Alloura was surprised to find that suddenly there was a dagger at her throat.

"What's a pretty face like yours doing in a hellhole like this? Seems to me you've wandered too far from the royal court, M'Lady. Bet I could get a pretty penny for you."

The voice was gruff, and Alloura could feel the bristle of a beard on the back of her neck. Out of the corner of her eye she could see that the person wore an eyepatch over one eye. Alloura quickly composed herself and answered.

"I often come here to help those that are in need of help. I'm afraid that if you are looking to extort money for my safe return, you won't receive a ransom. My aunt refuses to deal with your sort and I have no money myself. At any rate, I feel I must warn you that I am a paladin in training, soon to be a Eos Guardian, and although I have no desire to harm you, I am well versed in combat."

"If you're a paladin, why not fight me? I've never heard of a paladin with self control." the man said tauntingly.

"As I said before, I have no desire to harm you." Alloura replied calmly, ignoring his criticism of her order. "I believe we can resolve this peacefully."

After a moment, the man lowered the dagger a little. "You're really not afraid of me, are you?"

"No." Alloura said without hesitation.

"Why not?"

"Because I know the Valo will protect me."

The man snorted. "The Valo can't always protect you."

"Maybe, but if the Valo fails, these people will not. I have heard rumors of what happens to people who try to harm me. One, I healed myself, and in between moans of pain and pleas for forgiveness, he told me that he had run into a doorway. Many times. With his head."

The man scoffed. "Why would these people, these dregs, care if you lived or died?"

Alloura was thoughtful for a moment before speaking. "I think that I'm the only light they have in the darkness. I give them hope."

It was then that Alloura noticed movement. The dregs, as her captor had put it, had seen her situation and were coming to her aid.

"I do not wish for you to be hurt today and if you wish the same you will leave now." Alloura felt slight movement behind her, then the dagger was lowered even more. The man still held her around her waist however, which kept her from turning.

"Does the brave woman have a name?"

Alloura smiled slightly. "Alloura Brightstar, and yours?"

The man, sensing the approaching mob, lead close to Alloura. His lips lightly touched her neck as he spoke, which sent a pleasant jolt down her spine. She also noticed that as he whispered, his voice had changed. It was more playful, with none of the earlier gruffness.

"I hope we meet again soon, Alloura. Until that happens, by your leave, M'Lady." He then lightly kissed her neck, and released her.

Alloura turned to correct the man. Despite her fine clothing she was not a Lady. Yet all she saw was a figure jumping over the wall as she absently touched where he had kissed her. She looked down and noticed a beard along with an eyepatch on the ground at her feet.

XXXXXX

In the shadow of Cutthroat Alley, a figure was livid with rage. That stupid goblin had gotten the place wrong. Instead of going to Gol'rom to disrupt a shipment of weapons and war machines, the incompetent goblin had sent "the package" to Berserizon City. It was the worst possible place to end up. Gix would pay. One good thing had come from the mistake though.

"Alloura Brightstar." The shadow seemed to mutter to itself as the figure disappeared into it, then there was the sound of a fist hitting the wall. "All I wanted was safe and unnoticed passage back to Valtakunta...although..." The shadow shifted and there was a flash of blue then darkness again.

"Not every woman could still be calm with a dagger at her throat. Occasionally in the past, the dregs have helped one another, but I've never seen them raise up to protect a highborn." The shadow shifted again.

"Alloura Brightstar...I think a very special woman indeed."

Upon finding out her name, the figure had barely vaulted the wall before it seemed everyone in the alley had come to help her. Though intrigued by her, the matter of getting out of Berserizon City was still at hand. Tucking the thought of Alloura aside for the moment, the figure separated from the shadows and turned all attention to getting back to Valtakunta as quickly as possible.