• Prologue
    Kistran stared out her window and rubbed her swollen abdomen ruefully. She grimaced as another contraction rippled through her and wondered when he would arrive. As she stared out at the forested backyard of her humble home gazing serenely as the sunset over the river Dancing Moon, she thought over the last twelve months. She and her husband had shared a blissful retreat from the rest of the world due to having a bit of gold saved from the sale of one of their prized swords. Her husband worked at the smithy in the nearby village of Havenshire. Beringer would actually be closer to home but the town was hardly more than a hamlet and a smithy was not to be had there. A tear rolled down her cheek as she remembered those blissful days of long walks in the woods, cuddling with him by candlelight, and working on house chores while he sat smoking his pipe or carving some small trinket for one of his many children. He loved children very much and would spend hours telling them stories while he worked or showing them how he made the knives, swords, and armor that he created. They would stop in every afternoon and gather around him as he gave out his trinkets and told his stories. There wasn’t a child in any of the nearby villages who didn’t know the name Ravenshed. They had spent many nights praying to the goddess for a child but he had been called off to war before she was able to tell him that she was with child.
    Now she was ready to deliver the child and her husband was gone from her. He had been killed in battle near Kentansville when the dwarven army attacked by night. It had been completely unexpected and some suspected that someone in the Elven scouting party had been a traitor but none could prove it’s validity. She sighed and rubbed her eyes with the back of her wrist. She wore a simple white tunic with three green stripes around the cuffs signifying her rank as healer. She knew the art of herbs but also knew that taking anything for the pain in her abdomen might cause her mind to cloud and she had questions to ask the wizard upon his arrival. Just then she heard a knock on her door and as she turned away from the window she gave a soft gasp of surprise and collapsed to the bed in fright.
    “Sheldon!” She cried in a desperate attempt to sound irritated, “you could have caused the baby to pop out just then!”
    Sheldon chuckled softly, “My dear Kistran, I highly doubt that frightening you would have caused so much fuss, however it might be wise for you to lie down now as soon I will deliver her.”
    “How do you know it’s a girl?” Kistran asked a bit taken aback.
    “The prophecies child, remember I’m one of the few who still read them and can understand them.”
    “You think that this child is the one then?”
    “Yes, but if she is we are about to enter into the darkest time of our history.”
    Kistran nodded gravely and laid back upon the bed her brow furrowed in thought. All her life she had heard the stories and legends of a child that would be born without parents who would lead the Elves back to their original home. She would not only be a mighty warrior and a strong leader but also a very powerful sorceress. One who could wield her powers for good or ill as she chose. The prophecies did not specify whether or not she would be a good leader only that she would be a leader.
    “Well if it is a girl I will name her Calanthra.” She thought to herself, then mulling over the prophecy a bit more she turned wide eyed to Sheldon, “How is it that she is to be born without parents? Her father is dead, so does that mean that I am to die as well?”
    Sheldon merely shook his head as he continued to walk to and fro muttering to himself and grabbing blankets, warm water, leaves, and other necessities for the birth of the child.
    “Sheldon please tell me,” she pleaded her face turning ashen, “I’m not ready to die!”
    Sheldon finished with his preparations and walked to her side, took her hand in his and patted it gently while speaking, “My child, don’t get yourself worked up over the details of the prophecy. The prophecy will be fulfilled as it should be and as with any prophecy it can be dangerous if you try to read too much into what is unsaid. ‘Born without parents’ can mean many things,” he rubbed his hand over her forehead muttering words she couldn’t understand as he did so, as she drifted into unconsciousness his words reverberated in her mind, “fear not child, prophecies are what they are.”
    * * *
    Sheldon hurried along the windswept mountain peak tugging his billowing cloak closer about him as he walked quickly up the path. He carried the basket in his right hand and in the other a scroll of parchment. The child that lay sleeping in the basket was very special but he knew not how things would turn out. “Stupid prophecies.” He muttered under his breath, “Spent my life studying them and still they elude me.” He kept walking glancing towards his destination from time to time but otherwise keeping his head bent against the wind and the now falling rain. He had hoped to have been there before the storm began, if he had used a spell to carry them to his destination he would have been warm and dry in front of his fire place at home but with such a delicate task in hand and no way to know precisely what to expect; he had chosen to go on foot. He pushed on stepping over stones and branches that littered the path and occasionally pushing aside the overhead branch that hung too low – the prophecy buzzing inside his head like a busy bee but twice as noisy and three times as annoying.
    “A child born without parents shall restore the balance once lost. Before the balance still in question meets its mate the counterweight shall be weighed heavily upon it casting the world into a dark and stormy time. From the depths of the vale shall come a mage bent on destroying the very essence of living the reign of the mage shall equal that of the restoration of the balance. To keep the mage at bay the balance must be restored but in order to restore the balance the mage must first wage war. From the bosom of the remaining Aldurrian race a sorceress born and bred in the arts of her ancestors will lead a victorious reunion with her country and she will be forced to choose to either join the mage or fight against him. To join the mage would cause darkness to fall upon the land for all time but to fight the mage would bring darkness for a time.”

    She sat up in bed and pushed the covers back as soon as she heard her parent's door click shut down the hall then quietly slipped out of bed. Sitting down upon the edge of it she leaned over to grab her shoes that she had placed nearby and slipped into them, then grabbed her dark green cloak from its peg by the door and slipped out of the room closing the door with a soft click behind her. She pulled the cloak close about her as she made her way down the hall to the stairs. She took the stairs two at a time her right hand trailing down the polished wood banister as she descended. As the second floor landing came into view she saw a figure looking up at her watching her descent.
    "Aye lass, ye're up a bit late aren't ye? Asked Seth, the butler, his intense brown-eyed gaze focused on her taking in her woolen cloak as she paused hesitantly one foot paused halfway to the next stair.
    "Shh, she whispered allowing her foot to finish its descent to the next stair, and putting a finger to her lips as she ran her other hand up and down the polished wood with nervous urgency, “mum needn't know that I'm up, as she'd only get upset."
    Nestrah, a small red-haired Elven child, resumed her descent and upon reaching the second floor landing looked up into Seth's kind old Elven face meeting his stern gaze.
    "Please Seth, don't tell mum? She pleaded her eyes searching his for any sign of leniency.
    Seth sighed, his stern gaze melting into one of resignation and amusement as he remembered those same words being spoken by Nestrah's mother when she had been her age.
    "Alright lass," Seth replied shaking a finger at her, "but ye'd better not get into mischief."
    Nestrah’s face broke into a grin, "I promise I won't. She told him as she hugged him fiercely, then scampered down the stairs noting the smile on Seth's weather beaten face and him shaking his head at her as she descended. Once she reached the marbled tile of the first floor, she turned left towards the hall that led to the kitchen. She walked through the kitchen past the rows of pots and pans hanging on the walls, the counters that took up the back wall broken only by the large wash basin where the pots and pans were scrubbed, and weaving her way through the two rows of long tables where the cutlery were kept along with the baking supplies, and past the three hearths that lined the one wall, and finally out the back door which led into the castle's service garden. This was where the servants were given their breaks on warm spring and summer days, a welcome respite from the heat of the kitchen. The servants were the ones who took care of this special garden, they kept the weeds pulled around all of the flowering bushes, trimmed the hedges, and watered the plants, often getting as much water on themselves as on the plants. This was King Altherion and Queen Cathradal's gift to those who worked for them. All of the servants of the household considered it their sanctuary. It was the one place that they could feel truly belonged only to them. It was also the place where he told Nestrah he would meet her.
    "Nestrah, there you are! I was afraid that you'd never show."Sheldon called to her from a bench nearby. He stood smoothing his royal blue ceremonial robes as he awaited her approach.
    "Seth stopped me." She explained a bit breathlessly as she came to stand before him.
    "Ahh, so that's what took you so long," he nodded slightly, "he won't tell your mum." He told her with certainty.
    "Why must we keep it secret? She asked him looking up into his blue eyes.
    He squatted down so that he was at eye level, gathered her to his knee, and then began to explain, "Your mother was taught in the same manner as you when she was your age and the same with her mum before that, many generations have been taught in this manner. It's tradition more than it is anything else, now but back when teaching one such as yourself started this tradition, it was necessary to keep it secret. Even now, keeping it secret has its practicalities, one never knows if or when a healer, oracle, sorceress such as yourself will be hunted again, thus it’s always safer to assume you're being hunted to keep you safe."
    He stood keeping his left hand on her back as he went on gesturing occasionally with his right, "You may choose to be a healer, or an oracle, or a sorceress like your mother, but for you to use all aspects of your gift is asking for trouble. This is why a Wizard of the First Order must teach you. Your mother learned a little about her other two gifts but chose to be a sorceress, the same with her mother only she chose to be an oracle, and thus your mother can’t teach you because her gifts in the other two aspects are so limited. If you wanted to be a sorceress and no more than that, then it would be possible for her to teach you. Does that make sense to you now?”
    "Kind of." But if mum knows about it, why can't I tell her?
    "Well, does your mother ever tell you to eat a vegetable that you don’t like?
    Nestrah nodded, "I hate spinach and mushrooms," she made a face "but mum says they'll help me grow so I have to eat them anyway."
    Sheldon nodded, "Suppose your mother told you that she wanted you to become a sorceress like her, but you wanted to be a healer, if you continued learning to be a healer don't you suppose she'd be disappointed that you didn't do what she wanted you to?
    Nestrah nodded, "She'd probably make me feel bad about my decision," she said pausing to think a moment as she rubbed her toe in the dirt thoughtfully, "and then I'd become a sorceress even if I didn’t want to." She added.
    "Right, that's why she's not involved in your training. This is your first really big decision in your life and you can't get help from anyone but me. Even I can't really do anything to help you reach this decision except teach you how to use these aspects of your gift, you must choose which one will bring you the most happiness and help you to make the lives of those around you less burdensome."
    “Are you going to teach me here, in the garden?” She asked gesturing around the garden.
    Sheldon chuckled, "dear me no, I’ll be taking you to the Cathedral of Wizardry which is where we live, work, and play. Most of the rare items of magic are kept there along with our vast archives. There aren't as many wizards there at the moment as the Cathedral's primarily used as a meeting place now, although there are still wizards and their families who call it home. But enough talk, the night is getting away from us and I have things I must show you."He squatted down and gathered her to his knee once more, "Now listen closely I want you to wrap your arms about my neck and hold on tight, I must cast a spell in order to get us there and back before first light."
    Nestrah did as she was told and with his left hand he held her close to him as he straightened using his right hand to cast the spell. Nestrah closed her eyes and a sensation like that of floating flowed through her along with images of brilliantly swirling colors, all at once it ended and she opened her eyes.
    "Are we there yet? She asked leaning back slightly in order to look about her.
    Sheldon chuckled, "A typical question, yes dear, we’ve arrived." He set her down on the frost-covered grass and took her hand as she continued to look about her.
    "Are we still in Lycanshire?” She asked as she drew her cloak closer about her to keep out the sudden chill, while taking in the breathtaking view of the snow capped mountains which although beautiful she found them to be very different from the usual forestry that surrounded her home in Lycanshire. She pulled her hood up as gentle snowflakes began to fall.
    "No child," Sheldon replied with an easy smile that lit his eyes a deeper blue and a shake of his head, "we're in Naskin near Netisha.” He watched her eyes grow large as saucers and her jaw drop as she realized how far from home she was."This is why I had to use a spell to get us here, it’s an easy enough spell that before long you’ll be able to use it on your own and we can begin meeting here." He told her as he gestured toward the building up ahead.
    A bridge that spanned a fast running river far below cut off the building from them. It was set on a little used road in the Jeneznian Mountains about a day and a half's journey by horseback from Netisha. The building looked as though it was part of the mountain itself appearing to have been cleverly crafted out of a single boulder and perhaps it once had been but not without the use of magic.
    The bridge also looked to be carved out of the same stone as the Cathedral itself, and it spanned a chasm of dizzying proportions.
    Nestrah looked towards the building, still holding Sheldon's hand, and noticed that there were several windows in the Cathedral all of them lit by flickering flames like puppies with tails wagging in greeting to their master.
    Sheldon and Nestrah walked across the stone bridge in silence. Nestrah looked about her with childlike interest taking in the details of the expanse of clouds overhead with a few stars bravely peeking through, the snow capped mountain peaks surrounding them, the low moan and high whistles of the wind as it swirled around them in great gusts, the frost-covered ground with little vegetation other than the tall fragrant pines back behind them, and the snowflakes that kept landing on her outstretched palm and melting before she could get a good look at the shape of them.
    Once they reached the Cathedral, Nestrah saw that there was no doorway to the massive structure, only an entryway, hewn out of the stone of the mountain and finely carved with words and symbols that she didn’t recognize. She placed her hand on some of these symbols and traced them with her fingers then turned to Sheldon, "What does this mean? She asked him her eyes glowing from the light of the four torches that lit the entryway.
    "These symbols and words here," he said as he ran his own hand lightly over them, "serve as both a welcome and a warning. See this part here? -he pointed to some words that looked like the scratching of a messenger bird- "It says, Austriana Ocona Veldt, Vashtu Amis Heldt,"- he read aloud, the words glowing a vibrant white as he read them- "the words are in Ancient Aldurrian a forgotten language by most though there are a few aside from wizards who still know it. It's a hard language to learn because their words often have many different meanings attached or implied to go along with them. If you were to do a direct translation it would read, "Welcome friend foe read enter die." -She looked over at him startled, upon seeing her expression he continued to explain-"In this translation, without the symbols," -he pointed to several of them- "you would have just a bunch of words, but with the symbols to go along with the words it reads, "Welcome friend or foe read these words and enter for death awaits the unwary. This last is the correct translation of it, this word here," -he pointed to another word that looked like the scratching of a messenger bird- "Heldt has various meanings it can mean anything dealing with death like dying, died, dead, death, death stalker, etc, it depends upon the symbols that surrounds these words. The words themselves are very general and not specific at all. These words are like a framework where the symbols make up the actual language."
    "Are there doors where if I didn't know what they said, they would k-kill me? She asked her face becoming ashen.
    Sheldon nodded his head solemnly, "Yes, child, but I'd not let that happen. This was one of the many things that I had to show you. You will be learning this ancient language so that you may know where there is danger in other parts of the Cathedral." he pointed to a door not far from where they stood that was ornately carved in the same manner as the entryway."Some places like that door have shields around them to warn people to stay away, others just have the words. For now this is the only Aldurrian you will need to learn for protection as the way to the archives is safe enough and until you learn more I don’t want you exploring the Cathedral without a wizard."
    Nestrah swallowed and nodded not wishing to consider the implications of disobeying his instructions, decided to push the thoughts aside and reached for his hand, just then a figure in plain brown robes approached, his footfalls echoing off the walls as he came.
    Once he had caught up to them, the elf bowed and then straightened obviously glad to have the formalities done with, "Wizard Sheldonar Ashton Oriden, how are you? He asked stepping forward and clasping arms with Sheldon, then pulling him into an embrace and patting his back affectionately.
    They parted and Sheldon smiled at his long time friend, "Ahh, Travonsar, so good to see you. I'm doing well. How are your wife and little Arielle?
    "Arielle is such a cute little thing always in high spirits and running around the Cathedral as if it was her own playground and Thorana is doing well but her ankle is troubling her some." He looked down at Nestrah who was looking at his luscious fall of red hair so like her own, which he had down around his shoulders. His smile lit his black eyes and the torchlight danced in them as he turned to her, "And who might this pretty young lass be?” He asked gently.
    "I'm Nestrah," she told him pointing at Sheldon, "He's going to be teaching me."
    "Ah, is he now?” Travonsar asked looking over at Sheldon and upon seeing his nod added, "Then perhaps he'll allow me to follow you and keep you company while you're here. The next time you come I'll have to introduce you to Arielle as you look to be about her age."
    "I would like that very much." Nestrah told him smiling as she looked over at Sheldon who nodded his agreement.
    "Yes, I think that would be splendid.” Sheldon told his friend, "Shall we continue on then? I have many things to show Nestrah yet and before long it'll be light."
    Travon and Nestrah both nodded their assent and Sheldon grabbed a torch off the wall from one of the sconces as Travon did the same, then they followed him towards the archives.
    They walked along with Nestrah, nestled between the two wizards. Feeling securely sheltered from any danger she took in as much detail as she could as they made their way through the massive structure. On every wall there were either beautifully crafted carvings or tapestries, each telling a story. There were carvings of griffins, wizards, and elves all along the walls, the carvings looked alive somehow like they could move to depict the scene of some forgotten diplomacy or tragedy. The tapestries were much the same as the carvings in the way they portrayed movement in order to depict the scenes of battles long since forgotten in the sands of time, or places that one would like to visit where gentle breezes would caress one's face.
    Sheldon led the small trio to one tapestry that was different, it looked like a map but still had that same quality of portrayed movement that the others had, only it was in the wave of trees and grasses, the waves of streams and oceans, and blowing snow and sand rather than creatures that moved. There were places labeled on it as well. Sheldon pointed to the tapestry, "This is a Wizard's Map," he began turning to Nestrah, "that has been used by wizards for years, it's not really special but this will show you some of what you'll be learning."Sheldon said a few words in a language that Nestrah thought might be Aldurrian and the map changed, "This is what it used to look like before the Aldurrian War," -he told her, pointing to a spot in the southwest labeled Aldur, he continued to explain- "here's where elves came from but we were invaded by several lands because of resources we had at that time. We were a self-sufficient land back then and since we were so rich in commodities we sought to help other lands whenever there were disagreements. Often we would ally ourselves with one or the other and supply them but never participated in the actual war."He turned back to her, "There will be many things that you will learn from this map in particular, as the history is as important as the future, although not quite as important as the present."He waved his hand again saying the words of the ancient language, and the map returned to its original form. He looked down at her and gestured toward the map, "How well do you know your geography?
    She shrugged her small shoulders and shook her head, "I'm not sure, exactly how well I know it, but I know that Naskin is in the upper northwest corner of the map. It’s also where dwarves dwell, they have their mines set deep in the Jeneznian Mountains that run the length of the northern part of the world from Lycanshire to Naskin, however there are many different branches off of the Jeneznian Mountains even as far down south as Aldur and Draconia. Many of these mountains go by different names, even though they are actually part of the Jeneznian Mountain range."
    Sheldon nodded his approval, "Right, now then I’m going to take the names off of this map," he waved his hand and the names and places that were once marked with dots and names were now only marked by dots, "and I want you to tell me where each place should be and as much of the history of it as you can."
    "But that could take all night!" She exclaimed whirling back to Sheldon in dismay, "And you have more to show me don't you?
    Sheldon nodded and patiently explained, "But for this exercise time will stand still until you have finished."
    She sighed in defeat and turned back to the map, "Well, I guess I'll start with Lycanshire up in the northeast part of the map," she turned back to Sheldon, "will the names reappear as I touch it, or do I just say it?
    "Just touch it lightly where you want the name to appear, if it’s correct it will, if it's not it won't." He replied gently.
    She touched the map with the tip of her finger to show where she wanted Lycanshire to appear, it did glowing blue as it appeared then turning black as she moved her hand away, "Ashgel is here," she pointed to a small black star on the map, ?it used to be a much larger town with a fortress and?
    "Wait child," Sheldon interrupted her, "I only meant for you to name the countries, I'm not really interested in whether you know where every little town is or not." He told her chuckling softly.
    She sighed with relief, "Well that's good then, I was worried that you had lost your mind!? She chided" him giggling. "Now I can go much faster."She pointed to a black dot west of Lycanshire, "This is Jeneznia, and here to the west of that is Naskin, which is where we are." She pointed to the water that surrounded the northern most lands, "This is the Celentrisian Sea, and down here," she pointed in the center of the map below Jeneznia and Lycanshire, "is the Centaurian Forest, and here," she pointed south of Lycanshire, ?this is Gondor, not much there but the desert, and over here,? she pointed to the west just south of Naskin, ?This is Aldur and to the south of that is Cimarron which is much like Gondor in that there isn't anything there but a desert, and down here at the bottom of the map are the Islands of Draconia, Hallot Springs, and Cimarron. The Celendrial and Mythril Seas runs through part of Draconia, that’s the island that’s located centrally. Half of that island is in the Celendrial Sea and half of it is in the Mythril Sea.?
    Sheldon clapped his hands, "Very good child, but you didn’t give the history, but that’s alright, we’ll save it for another night. Come along then, there’s more to see.”
    She beamed happily now that her first lesson was over, although she felt as though he was just testing her knowledge to see what more she needed to learn, she felt that the night was going rather well, and hoped that when they got to the archives he would have more to teach her. She stifled a yawn as they made their way down the hall towards the stairs that would lead them to the archives. She wanted to look around her, but felt so exhausted that she could barely keep her eyes open enough to see the next step.
    She knew that the stairs they headed down were silvered marble, but that was about as much detail as she took in of their descent. When they finally reached the archives, Sheldon told her that there was an important person that they must meet here, and then he would take her home to her bed and her lessons would be continued the next night. When they entered the archives, a lady with red hair and hazel eyes the same shade as Nestrah’s own greeted them with a smile. "Hello Sheldonar,” she greeted Sheldon, “and this young thing must be Nestrah.”
    Nestrah nodded, and tried to stifle another yawn. ”Oh, she’s tired, the poor dear!” The lady exclaimed, “I’m Kistran, I’ll help you find the books you need to learn whatever Sheldonar would like you to, and now Sheldonar, I think you’d better take your young charge home, or she’ll fall asleep standing up.”
    The world slipped away at that point for Nestrah as she succumbed to sleep, the last thing she remembered was thinking that the lady looked too much like her to not be related, and the next thing she knew she was dreaming about a far away land.

    She woke up and her hand brushed against something warm, she sat up and looked about her, expecting to see her windows and closets that adorned her room but instead she woke up to near blackness. She looked around her as she tried to get her bearings, she knew that she had been dreaming, but already it was fading like a half remembered memory that kept slipping and sliding just out of reach. She moved her head and then slid her hands across the table, they found the book that she had been reading and knocked it to the floor with a loud thump that made her jump. At long last reality set in and she remembered where she was. She was still in the archive of the Cathedral, she had come down here last night to study, Sheldon had wanted her to look up some prophecies for him and she had wanted to keep looking long after she should have gotten herself off for home. Arielle had come down the night before, bringing her a few candles so that she would have enough to see by without straining her eyes too badly. She had been good company for a time, but then had retired. Nestrah sighed and stretched, then stood yawning. Her eyes had finally become accustomed to the near dark and she wandered toward the door, just as she was about to reach it she heard footfalls echoing as someone came downstairs. Her heart began pounding furiously and she began shaking, for she knew whose footfalls these were. She would recognize the sound of his steps anywhere at anytime and as he poked his brown-haired head into the room she gave a squeal of delight. He came into the room then, all in a rush and took her in his arms covering her in kisses even before he had greeted her.?I thought you were gone!? She exclaimed happily, "Didn’t you have some sort of meeting to go to down in Sventonshire? She asked him.
    "Yes, I did my love," Orinsar replied, "but it's over now, in fact it got over late last night and I couldn’t wait until morning to set out on my return trip."He reached into the pocket of his tattered coat and pulled out a small square box."I brought something back for you." He told her handing her the box and looking down at the floor bashfully. "I hope you like it.
    "Should I open it now, or should I wait? She asked breathlessly as her heart leaped up into her throat. With a box like this it could only be one thing, and she didn’t know if she was ready to give him an answer just yet. She knew what her heart told her was true, but there was more to this decision than just following her heart.
    "If you wait, I think I’d die from the suspense."He teased gently. "Seriously, please open it?"
    "Alright."She opened the box and in it was the most beautiful ring that she had ever seen. "It’s beautiful."She told him slowly as she took it out of the ring box and held it up to the weak light."Even with hardly any light at all, it still glows magnificently, but how on earth did you ever?
    "Tut, tut, none of that now. I have been planning this much longer than just going to Sventonshire and seeing it there."He replied gently, then he took the ring from her and got down on one knee, 'Nestrah, kintai, will you do me the honor of becoming my wife?
    Despite knowing that this was what he had in mind, tears flowed freely down her cheeks and she smiled broadly despite them, ?Yes, oh yes Orinsar, it would be a pleasure to be at your side but, I don’t know how well my family will take it. You see, my brothers, they..." Nestrah, your brothers can't bother you once you're away from them, but I understand your misgivings. I have to train with Sheldon to take his place as First Wizard, and that could take awhile. I know that it would leave you defenseless against Devonsar especially. As you've said yourself, there is good yet in Talisaerin if he would only recognize it"