Chapter 1

Tangled Shadows

Beauty and power so distant, so mortal hand could grasp it, no mortal mind could ever comprehend. Their eyes glistened, a thousand of thousands on the back of eternity. They must see everything, he mused, as his feet struck the dirt road and picked the safest path for the rest of him to follow. They must see everything, with so many eyes fixed on this world, they must see him on this night. Or they could be blind, so caught up in their own glamor, of the splendor of their lives that they saw nothing. How alike that would make them all. Regardless they served as light for him, for themselves, there purposes were only for him to guess and turn to his own purposes. As he turned all things to his purpose.

"What's so funny?" Anna snapped, she was winded and rather cross with him, but that was to be expected. Full with child, drained by that... that thing in her throat that sucked the very life from her heart, her soul... She'd have to have been a saint to act otherwise, and he knew from very personal experience that Anna was no saint, no angle. And unlike all the other foolish men of his specie he found no fault in her faults, they were a strange comfort to him. A promise of sorts.

"The sky, what else would cause me any humor?"

"If you like it so much why don't you marry it?" He laughed at such a juvenile taunt, just as she expected him to. "Seriously Riuan, there are times I think your more attached to the heavens then to me." The pain in her voice was genuine, and despite the danger that was slowly creeping up on them he stopped. Because she could not wade through the moonless night safely she was forced to stop as well.

"Don't be jealous Love, the sky and I are just old friends, that's all."

"Isn't that supposed to be the 'sky and me'?"

He only took both her hands and lead her further up the rocky trail. In the darkness she smiled, and though she could not see it a rare smile found it's way on his sun tanned face. Again they forgot the danger, and were the youngest of things, walking together in the dark. An old custom from the man who called himself Riuan's village was that a man and woman went to walk at night to propose, a futile gesture really, for the second they'd laid eyes on each other they knew what they were. It was forever unspoken of course, Anna's lover had many enemies and a few so called "friends". To those people who called this man friend, companion, a whole hearted man was not in their intrest. Anna was to have been dealt with. After all it was in Riuan's "best interest" that he not attach himself to anyone, not with his curse. Well to Ruian, he called it a divine blessing, but to Anna it was a curse, and that of the darkest breed.

Lights ran across the rocks far below them, they were looking for a woman who could not run, a wounded woman, they also were looking on the western side of the rocky hill. Anna giggled and Aurian snapped his hand over her face. He leaned in close, and his voice was little more then a breath against her ear.
"They may be blind but they have dogs, they haven't sent them out. I imagine there were some difficulty getting them to participate in this hunt."

Ana nearly choked on her laughter. Oh they would hunt, they'd run to the south, away from the Ranch and from the hill they were climbing. Using that she dog and placing her near the southern edge of the camp had been genius. It had been his idea after all, but she'd completed it. She'd suggested taking the two Hunters out on walks to keep them in shape, and she always took a southern route, and when they smelled that dog she'd freed them. They'd gotten used to that, very used to that, and who ever was guiding them had better work his arm free of the leash, or that person would be short a limb. As he pulled back his hand she kissed his palm, and her lover tousled her hair.

"I would not grieve an eternity spent in your company, doing the most simple of things. I would not grieve the loss of so called adventure, I would not grieve all riches I would never see because of that simple life. For I would have them all, I would have more, every time I looked in your eyes."

"And how long have you been thinking that line up Ruian?"

"Since the moment I saw you." He shrugged, or rather she thought he shrugged. In the darkness it was so hard to tell. "You know how bad I am at this."

Yes how she knew, and knew what all of that simple word truly compiled.

"They'll be lead astray for a while, but you'll have to keep going." Perhaps sensing her fear he smiled, and laid a hand on her shoulder. "Don't worry it's easy to go down, smooth as- well let's say it's smooth and leave it at that."

"I don't think I want to know what you were going to say. I'd probably be something nasty about women."

"Not against women in particular, I was only going to admire a certain part of female anat-" A rock smacked into his armor, thrown by the woman he had first hated then grown to love. He crossed his arms in front of his chest, and though he was certain she couldn't see the gesture she could sense his darkening mood. "You better get going, I think I hear them coming."

No need to ask who them were, she knew, he knew, and that's all that mattered. Then with a whimper she reached out towards him for one final embrace, she held onto him, pressed herself against him, and found his lips in what for her was impenetrable darkness. The man who called himself Ruian pulled back first, for the first time in several years he felt the wind forced from his lungs. Then she pulled away from him, held his hands in her own for a breath. Then with a fearful glance over his shoulder, down to where 'they' milled about, their lights getting ever closer, she left. Anna ran like a frightened rabbit, scrambling away from wolves of this world, of so many worlds, all of them baying at her heels. For the longest moment he stared at his hands, forced himself not to watch as she made her way through the darkness that no human's eyes could pierce. If she fell and he saw he would go to her, for he could not help himself. Now that no one could see him he wiped his left hand on his pant leg, tried to wipe away the chill of the parasite's phantom touch that was so cold it made his hand ache. His right though, he savored the ghost of her pulse. What faint scent of her was in the air, was torture to him. The empty night seemed to rush in and drown out the sound of her voice from his mind, everything conspired against him, threatened to rip her from his mind...

"No, not this time, never this one, not the one who bears my child." And for once the numbing shields he had built over so long pulled away, they allowed him to recall with great detail all his memories of her. They stopped trying to erase Anna from his mind. And for the first time in a century he knew pain, knew that death would claim her and he'd not age a day, knew that his son would grow old in his arms and die. And for the first time in nearly a century he wept, and ths stars, oh so beautiful and so distant paid his bitter tears no heed.

Boots ground into the earth, spurned the earth, as each step seemed more eager to destroy it then the last. Such steps ground into the earth so close to him that his eyes fluttered open. He had fallen asleep, had fallen asleep when he was supposed to be doing so many other things! Cursing himself he found his knees, a boot slammed down onto his back, it wasn't hard enough to hurt, but it did make him lose his hand hold on the gravel and slowly slide down to the ground.

"Well, well, well, what do we have here, a run away?" There was the creek of leather, the slight sigh as it was forced to unwind and drop closer and closer to the ground, at last followed by a dull thump. "Know how we punish little worms like you?"

Had he been in a beter position, one where he wouldn't be eating gravel if he opened his mouth, he'd had said something. Without any warning he rolled to the side, and the Desian lost his balance. With a cry he slid down the hill, started a small avalange, and quite helpfully erased a great deal the tracks that he and Ana had made on their climb up. Desperation made the whip wielder lash out, and by some fluke of luck his whip wrapped around a decent sized rock. Slow, with grace, he picked his way down the hill to the Desian's side, or rather to the rock his whip was wrapped around.

"Please, help!" The half elf cried out, with his metal helm off he looked shockingly human. There were only the smallest of points on his ears. But pasted that, the difference was so small it made Ruian shake his head in disgust. "look, my companions' are a way's off, they wont hear or see anything. If I let you go they'll never hear about it, and so will no one in the Ranch..." The whip unwound a little and the Desian squealed, the sound was a great deal like the sound a pig makes right after it enters a slaughter house. "For the love of Martel, help me, please!"

"Love?" The man snorted. "A sadist such as you can't understand love save what perverse pleasure he gets off causing others' suffering." He drew out his long sword, an obviously magical weapon that glowed with holy writ, and was infused with the essence of mana. Fire licked the edges of the weapon, it was as if the sword had just been pulled out of the forge. "A monster such as yourself would never understand the write of Martel, nor the truth of Martel, even if I bothered to explain it in the most simple terms found in your sad excuse of a language. Martel is mercy, Martel is love, Martel is sacrifice, so in the writ of Martel I will answer your pleas." The Desian's face lit up in hope, the next words the man spoke made the whip wielder's face pale. "I will admit Martel would put me to task about the way I apply her teachings, but I imagine she'll forgive me in this case. Love, your love is that of another's death, of another's pain. So responding to this love of yours I sacrifice my time to remedy your sick mind, to cure it the only way I can." With a gesture, so light it seemed little more then a shrug and half hearted swing, the man tossed his blade from his right hand, to his left, and slashed not at the whip but at the stone. There was a hiss, then molten rock dripped onto the whip and began to burn it's way through the whip that had drunk so many's blood. "My mercy is that of Martel's, and that good half-elf can only be found when the eyes of this world are forever closed." The half elf managed one loud scream before falling to the earth, and while the fall shouldn't have killed him the multitude of glass and jagged rocks did what gravity could not.

A half hour or so later a small Desian patrol spotted him. He had moved a bit, so they could see him better. As one of the archers lifted a crossbow to shot, his companion smacked him so that the archers helmet slid over his eyes. Insulted, the archer kicked his assailant's staff sharply and both half elven men slid down the trail, rising dust and rocks as they fell. Their leader, a scar faced man in black leggings and tunic, paid the infighting no heed. He just kept coming up, a smaller archer came up with him.

"High lord Aurion," The archer bowed low, after speaking his greeting in elvish. The whip welding leader only snorted and stood some distance away, hand caressing the leather grip of his weapon. "A scout, went missing and there was a riot in the human processing facility... We've been looking for you for hours."

"Thanks to you I'd say we lost five of the human's we've been cultivating." The whipper snarled, "damned waste of gald, considering they're worth a hundred a piece."

Aurion shrugged, and the Desian whipper snarled.

"When Ranch-Master Forcystus gets back it'll be your head on a stake. Not that I care." The Desian spat in Aurion's general direction, if the gesture was intended to connect it failed, struck only the base of the rock he was standing on. the younger Desian went pale, gripped his bow, and looked ready to run. Smart man, or rather boy, that half elf couldn't be a day over sixteen. As the Desian grumbled some more about the price Aurion's fingers tapped the hilt of his blade as he weighed the loss of another patrole against his credibility. Finding the figure much to his liking he smiled at the Desian leader, it was a gesture that was all teeth and no warmth.

"I am well aware of the riots, I thought that such well trained beings could deal with the situation. As it is I am officially on leave, and I left express orders that I was not to be disturbed. It's only luck that you found me, since I was investigating a death not too far from here and have almost caught up with the victim's assailant."

"If you're so damned busy why in Martel's name you waiting for us to get up here."

"Last I knew underlings did not question their Master's orders or there Master's reasons."

"I'll burn in Hell before I call one of you pathetic inferior beings master!"

"One more word out of your mouth and you will be sent to Hell by way of my sword, and I promise I wont make your death clean, or quick. Since you're available I'm going to make use of your troop, Commander, or should I say Sargent Mysiun." The whipper, Mysiun, stood for a long moment, then opened his molth, before half a word got out Aurion drew his flaming sword. The Desian whimpered, then drew his own weapon. It wasn't really even a fight, Aurion side-stepped the Desian's wild swing, stepped over the young archer, and thrust with his long sword. Aurion's weapon slammed it into the Desian's chain mail, went through the well made armor, then stopped halfway through the man's ribs. Aurion held back the full force of the thrust, then as his opponent fell to the sandy earth wailing the human withdrew his blade. A sharp kick and he could hear the Mysiun's rib cage break, well most of his ribs in the rib cage were broke, Aurion would not give himself credit for something he wasn't certain of. The Desian wailed, clutched at his chest, and with mad hands ripped off his tunic, the damage was quite visible, to several small shards of white poked out from the black and blue mass that had once been a Mysuin's chest. Red liquid, blood, dripped around the cuts, and with wondering hands the half elf felt at each little piece of white. "You spoke." Was all Aurion said to the wheezing half elf, then he stepped over the dying man's body. He turned when he realized that he was not being followed. "Come, there's some lifting to be done and I'm as certain as Hell not going to do it myself."

With a slight nod of his head the young Desian stepped over the soon to be corpse. He did not look down at the dying creature, for the once Sargent now foamed and grasped at nothing that neither man could see, and it was said that insanity could be handed down from one man to another when he looked at the face of a dying insane man. As they walked the eyes of eternity closed, eternity once dark turned light. And in the light of the coming day the dead would look pitiful to anyone with a companionate heart, to Aurion, who's heart was turning to that of a human's they were carrion. Desian's, he had long ago lost any respect for them for they were blinded by hate, yet it was their hate that he and his allies had to chanal, to rid the world of an even greater evil.