Chapter 1: The Early Years

Times were hard during the ancient Wingly reign. Mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters were torn from their families and sold into slavery and oppression. Thousands upon thousands of humans were forced to build large cities for the Winglies. These cities, built on the backs of thousands and stained with the blood of many are the only unnatural wonders of the world. All 106 of the 108 species born from the Divine Tree(Winglies themselves and Dragons not included) were captured and used to the liking of the Winglies, or just smothered out of existence before life was even breathed into them. All species were starved, set up against each other, and then forced to fight battles to the death just to survive. The human's morale was low and they could not overcome the Winglies abilities. The Winglies are a species that are extremely adept in magic. The Winglies are a special race, for their magic abilities allowed them to rule over others, kill all who opposed, and stop the greatest killer of all species of all the worlds in the universe... time. Their resistance to age, immortality, made them like gods in their own little kingdom built upon blood. They believed Soa, the Creator of Endiness himself, could not stand up to the superior race of Endiness, the Winglies. Winglies, with their magic, could make their cities float. They thought the gods themselves couldn't do such a thing, so they thought themselves as higher, superior beings. As did the humans... their souls were broken and, therefore, so was their will to fight against the inevitable, a Wingly based world, where no species but the Winglies themselves will rule and all other species extinguished.

Only one species could stand up to the Winglies magic powers. This species was so aggressive, a small group could fend off an army of Wingly soldiers. Their magic power could not be matched by any other species other than the Winglies. The Dragon's size and magic is an incredible combination. Some Dragons have lived for over 12,000 years. If their magic is powerful enough, they can live up to 20,000 years. Although Dragons are the counter answer to the Winglies domination, they take no side. Dragons only think for themselves and can't make a compromise. Their intelligence level is low and would even attack another Dragon if it started any sign of a fight. The Dragons could not be controlled by physical means. Their spirit must be crushed. A Dragon's spirit is a legendary thing. It is said not to exist, for they are so unintelligent, they have no personality, they just know how to fight. But the fact that they could not be broken made the Winglies think otherwise. Maybe the Dragons had a spirit that burns so brightly, that even they could not distinguish it. The Winglies left the Dragons alone, hopefully to become less of a threat. But the Winglies hoped that the Dragons wouldn't mean their downfall. They hoped that no human could have the soul of a Dragon, the extreme determination for justice and survival. The soul of a Dragon and the intelligence of a human are a deadly combination. One that may even surpass the Winglies... even Soa...

Before the reign of Winglies, all creatures lived in peace with one another. They were late bloomers from the Divine Tree, which is believed to be the will of the Divine Tree. The power of the Divine Tree waxes and wanes with the planet's moon, and it loses its ability to hold back some of the dangerous creatures willed to live by Soa. Soa is a merciful Divine Being but if any wrongs were done, the first thought that crosses his mind is punishment. The creatures believe that the Winglies were the will of Soa and his personal world security. The Winglies rebelled against the gods, the brothers and sisters of Soa, and became the controllers of the precious world. In the time before the Winglies, all was tranquil. This is where our story begins. The lands were not divided among classes of humans. No countries existed and people lived on their own. A young blacksmith named Dion married a young woman named Katherine and lived in a small cabin in the land that is now Nissel. Born from their love was a strong young boy who they called Auton. Auton would grow up to be seven years-old before his parents had a daughter.

"Any minute now," said Dion to his son. "You should have a new brother or sister by tonight."

"I can't wait!" the boy said in excitement.

The midwife came out of the room with a distraught look on her face. Dion noticed her expression.

"There's something wrong... isn't there?" asked the worried man.

"I'm afraid so. She is having problems. The baby is in distress and I can't do anything about it until she is ready to give birth," the Midwife said, averting her gaze.

"There's nothing you can do?" he asked hopelessly.

"We'll have to wait," she said at last.

Long hours passed as the Midwife tried her best to calm Katherine. Outside the room, Dion and Auton await the news, anxious feelings rushing through them, fidgeting, thinking. The midwife walks briskly out of the room holding a small blanket. Dion stands up quickly and runs over to the midwife.

"I have the baby... she's perfectly fine. But..." the Midwife began. "Katherine didn't make it."

"What!" he exclaimed in disbelief.

"I'm sorry... I did all I could do..." after saying so, she held out her hand, holding a pouch. "She said to give you this..."

The midwife handed him the pouch and he opened it. He looked back at the midwife and she shrugged. He took the baby from her and turned to Auton. He knelt down next to him and pulled the blanket aside, exposing a small face.

"Meet your new sister, Auton," the father said showing his son the new baby girl. "This is Rose..."

Rose was a strong young girl. She had long, flowing, oil black hair and in the sun, even had a hint of purple. Her eyes were a dark purple color and always attracted compliments. She was put through a lot of hardship. Her brother, Auton, was very sore towards her for taking his beloved mother away from him, even 5 years after the death when he turned twelve. Her father never paid as much attention to her as he did her brother. He always helped him do his work, learn to fight and carry on their lives outdoors, but always found the time to relax and hold onto the little green velvet pouch. Rose always thought about what could in the pouch. She thought it must have been something of her mother's. Rose never met her mother. She always wondered what she looked like or how things would be if she were here with her. How would she be treated if her mother were there? Anything would be better than this, she would think. Her father made her do difficult activities when she was young. Five years-old was not a good age to be working, especially for a young girl.

As she did the work, her father would teach her brother how to survive in the wild and how to fight. Dion taught him amazing techniques with all sorts of weapons. It amazed her how much her father knew about the martial arts and how to fight with such things. He was a blacksmith, she figured, they have to know how to use what they make. She always paid close attention to her brother's lessons. She would steal a small dagger from her father's weapon cache and practice the techniques her brother learned that day. From all the days she watched them practice, she became almost as good as they were. They never noticed how well she was doing just by watching and eavesdropping on her brother's lessons. She not only learned how to fight, but also how to live in the wilderness. How to hunt was the first lesson she learned. Building homes and temporary shelters and fires came next. She learned enough that she felt she could live on her own one day, when she was older.

Her brother wasn't always mean to her. Sometimes, he was even nice. He would take her to the city every once in a while. Cities were rare in this day and age. Thousands of people living in an enclosed place seemed dangerous and attracted predators, but it had a sense of order and security. Armor clad soldiers with specially made weapons made by Dion himself lined the streets and guarded the gates into the city. Her brother always gave her a little money to spend on things she wanted. Although 5 gold pieces weren't very much, she had been saving for the past few weeks and saved up enough for a ribbon she had been wanting for a long time.

"Here's your money," Auton said, handing her the share of gold. "Don't wander off. Stay where I can see you."

"I will," she said obediently.

She always intended on following his rules but always seemed to become distracted and lost in the crowd. She quickly ran to the store and looked around for the new ribbon. She picked out a really dark, purple velvet ribbon and brought it to the vendor. She looked at Rose and noticed her eyes.

"You have some nice eyes there, young lady," the Vendor complimented. "I bet you hear that all the time."

"Yes, I do actually," Rose said blushing.

"Will that be all, dearie?" the Vendor asked.

"Yes, thank you," she said with a smile.

Rose took the ribbon and put it in her hair. She always wore bows in her hair and wouldn't go anywhere without something in her hair for decoration. She wore them everyday even though her father and brother never noticed or appreciated it. Buying ribbons wasn't the only reason Rose visited the city. She loves to see the city, the huge buildings, the large crowds of people. It gives her a thrill that there is something more than her small cabin in the middle of nowhere. After her exploration of the city, she walked back to the main square. She searched for her brother, but he was nowhere in sight. This had never happened before, so she began to worry. She looked around, but still couldn't see her brother. She looked over in an alley and saw someone kneeling. She walked over to the alley and peered into it. She saw a small commotion, a man hitting another surly man in the face.

"I need the MONEY!" a large man shouted after pummeling the poor bum again.

"I don't have it!" he shouted in reply, trying to prevent further injury. "You keep taking all my money and I don't have enough to get back into business!"

"I don't care!" the man yelled. "I need it or it's my head!"

Rose took a step back and knocked into a stack of empty bottles. The large man looked to the source of the sound only to notice the young Rose standing there with wide eyes. The large man dropped the poor victim and approached her, standing over her.

"You have been watching this whole time, haven't you?" the large man said with an evil grin on his oversized face.

"Er... no. No," Rose said in a panic. "I was just leaving!"

The large man lunged at her and dragged her into the alley by her hair. Rose fought back with her nails and teeth, but the man had a firm grip that a small girl could not break. The man brought her deeper into the alley, dropping her on the ground next to the ragged bum. The victim took this opportunity and fled from the alley, screaming for help. Suddenly, the man collapsed holding his side in pain, a sea of red pouring from just beneath his ribs. She looked into the face of a man who she knew all too well. Auton was holding a dagger covered in blood, standing over the unconscious body of the sorry excuse for a man. Rose was overcome with emotion and began to cry. She ran to Auton, grabbed onto his shirt and cried into it. He knelt down and hugged her tightly to ease her fear.

"I told you not to wander off..." he said to her.

"I'm sorry!" Rose said sincerely, tears pouring down her face.

"Let's go home," Auton said, standing and tugging her.

They both left the alley and headed for home with today's sales and purchases. When they reached the cabin, they gave their father the money and items to continue his work. He went through everything, checking the items off a list he made in his head. After he finished searching the items, he asked how their day had been.

"So, anything interesting happen?" Dion asked while marking something down on a sheet of paper.

Rose looked at Auton, knowing she would get in trouble for what had happened earlier that day. Auton looked back at her and then looked at his father.

"Nothing interesting. Just the boring trading assignments you gave me," Auton said with a quick smirk to Rose.

Rose looked at him with a shocked expression. This is the first time he had stood up for her and even kept a secret for her. She was astonished but hid her feelings and looked at her father.

"Alright... well, back to work," their father said, not seeming to notice their little exchange.

Auton left the room and headed outside to collect wood to cook the evening meal. Dion walked over to his smelting equipment and dropped a small sapphire into the hot liquid. The liquid turned a light blue and began to harden. As it hardened, Dion poured the mixture into a mold and put the mold in cold water. Steam shot up in big clouds and filled the room with the smell of hot metal. The mold set and he opened it up to reveal a saber with a light blue tint in the blade. He worked it into shape, hammering it, heating and cooling in succession. Finally, he polished it, fashioned it with a blood red hilt and it was a finished product. He placed it on a shelf on the wall and sat down in his chair and began to caress the green velvet pouch. He opened it a little to reveal a small red shine, not too bright, but enough to catch a child's attention. Rose walked over to her father and sat down in front of him. She felt a warm radiance come from the pouch and she stared into the red glow. Dion, noticing his daughter's gaze, closed and placed it in his pocket. Rose wondered more than ever what was in the pouch. Never in her life had she had the ability to ask her father anything about her mother. But today, she felt as if she had become part of the family.

"Daddy... what is that?" she asked curiously.

"This?" he asked questioningly, pointing to his breast pocket.

"Yes... I see you holding it all the time and I was wondering... what is it?"

"This... is a burden..." he clutched his pocket bitterly. "It will never be anything more than a burden."

"A... burden?" she asked, tilting her head.

"Yes... this will never concern you so there is no need to know what it is."

"Can I at least see what's inside?" she asked hopefully.

Dion looked from Rose to his pocket and back to Rose again. He sighed, removed the pouch from his breast pocket and opened it. The pouch held a small red orb, about the size of a large pebble. This red orb glistened in the firelight that was radiating from the fireplace, sending a range of reddish lights onto the wall behind them. The orb was perfectly round and the redness was deep and solemn. Warmth radiated from it like it was filled with a permanent flame. It was not perfectly red, however. It had a small darker red spot that looked like a small slit or a cat's eye. She stared at it with awe and couldn't take her eyes from it. She gaze followed it as her father put it back in the pouch and replaced it in his pocket. She looked disappointed when he put it away, pouting her lips. Dion got up from his chair and walked toward her. He patted her on the head and walked away. Before he went into his bedroom he turned around.

"I like the new ribbon," he said smiling.

It took her a few seconds to realize that he had complimented her. She touched the top of her head and realized she still had the ribbon in her hair. Before she could open her mouth to say her thanks, he walked into his room and shut the door.

Rose couldn't stop thinking about the red orb. She spent all the hours she had free thinking about it. It was quite a change from wondering what was in it in the first place. Her heart, she thought, it must be mother's heart. Now that Rose has the feeling of being a member of the family, she decided to do something nice for them. She took some rope and a wagon and went into the woods to collect wood for a fire tonight. Auton always found wood nearer to the cabin but she couldn't find any fallen branches. She ventured further and further into the woods until the cabin was out of sight and her father's sounding hammer was out of earshot. She walked farther away from the cabin and realized how far she had gone when she reached the small creek about five miles away from home. I can't believe how far I traveled, she thought. I better get home. Before she returned home, she grabbed as much wood as the wagon would carry and headed back to the cabin. She was about three miles from home when she noticed some animals that had fled from nests she knew to be around her cabin. That's odd, she thought. These animals always stay around our home. Two hours later, she was a mile away from home and she caught a smell of smoldering wood. They must have a fire already going, she thought. I guess we can use this wood for tomorrow.

As she approached her home, she noticed a lot of smoke in the woods. More than a simple bonfire could create. As she got closer, the smoke got thicker and she began to worry. She walked faster toward the cabin and eventually left all the wood and ran toward her home. The smoke was so thick, she couldn't see. When she reached the clearing, her jaw dropped and she fell to her knees. What she had been trying to return to was not there. The cabin was burnt to a crisp and was almost completely gone. There were still small fires burning and the smoke was still rising into the blue sky. Rose stayed there, soaking in as much as her mind could take at one time. Something struck her and she stood up quickly and ran over to the burnt cabin. She looked around and saw two corpses on the ground, burnt to charcoal. She ran over to them and looked down on them. Weapons were in hand and looked like they didn't even have a chance. Limbs were missing from the bodies and large gashes could be seen in the flesh. Her knees buckled and she fell to the ground. Her mind was racing. Who could have done this, she thought. The information seemed to be waiting for a good time to sink in and seemed to have gone into her brain all at once. At last, she realized what had happened. She couldn't contain her emotions anymore and they were released in shrieks and tears. Rivers of tears ran down her face in a constant stream and fell onto the bodies where they were soaked in by the dried, burnt flesh. She continued to cry uncontrollably and couldn't get a grip on herself. She knew she had to get up but her body wouldn't respond. She began to think of what her brother would say to her if he saw her like this.

"You crybaby!" her vision of Auton yelled. "I can't believe you are like this! We didn't raise you so you could cry your eyes out!"

She thought of how her father would react if he saw her like this. It already made her stomach lurch and threw up her last meal at the thought of it.

"Rose!" the Dion image urged. "Get up! You can't be like this! Your mother didn't die to keep you alive just so you could cry! Get up girl!"

As if she had heard her father's real voice, she caught a grip on her emotions and pulled them in to see them no more. She looked down at her father's burnt corpse. She looked at it, as if wondering why he left her. She noticed something clenched in his fist. She put her hand on her father's burnt fist and pulled it open, each finger being torn from its former position. The hand crumpled away into ash and she sat there with handfuls of her father's skin and bones clenched in her hand. She couldn't hold back her emotions again, but fought hard not to cry. She succeeded but her stomach was not a strong. She threw up again off to the side and wiped her mouth. She continued to open her father's burnt hand and finally found what was in his fist. She grabbed the small, green, velvet pouch and the small red orb that resided inside. She opened it and overturned the pouch and let the orb fall into her hand. It emitted a small glow and warmth radiated from it. She looked at it for what seemed to be forever, but she quickly came to her senses and put it back in the pouch. She took her new ribbon she had bought and put the pouch on it. She looked at the rest of the scene and saw her father next to the blue saber she saw him create the day she asked him about the green pouch. She grabbed it and wrapped it in the ribbon and searched the rest of the wreckage. Nothing of hers was left. Everything was either destroyed or taken. Who could have done this, she asked herself. She fled to the edge of the clearing and looked at the wreckage as a whole. It looked as if someone had come for no reason at all... just to kill... She knew that if that were the case, she couldn't stay there long.

She ran from the clearing, blue saber in hand along with the green pouch, and headed for the nearest city, Caldera. It was a forty mile hike and would take days for her. It was getting late and she decided to set up camp. She was glad that she had paid attention to her brother's lessons and learned how to do this. She collected wood and small branches and some large leaves. She set up a fire with the wood and made sure it stayed lit. She put the branches together with ripped bark and put the leaves in it to fashion a small bed. She then took the pouch and put it on around her neck. She grabbed the blue saber and went out to find some food. As she approached a small tree, she found a small bird's nest with a dozen eggs in it. How convenient, she thought. She grabbed all of the eggs and put them in a sack. She walked back to camp, grabbed a flat rock and some more sticks. She propped the rock up with the stick and let the rock get hot over the fire. She cracked some eggs onto the rock and watched them cook.

"I don't know what to do... I... can't... what should I do?" Rose asked herself.

Her fire burned resiliently and the eggs cooked quickly. She took the eggs off the rock and ate them quickly. She laid herself back in her poorly fashioned bed and looked up at the dark velvet sky.

"How am I going to survive? Why did they have to die!" she said, worried about her existence.

Rose felt her emotions surfacing again but she quickly grabbed onto them and dragged them under again. She felt worse than she had before and knew of no remedy for it. She thought and thought of how she will live without her family. Her brother was her protector and her father provided for her. She would have to do both things for herself now at the ripe early of five.

"I want to get back at their killers..." said Rose suddenly. "I don't know how... how to find them... but when I do... I will kill them... kill them all!"

Rose thought more until her mind was completely exhausted. She closed her eyes for mere seconds and fell asleep just as quickly. She woke up early, before sunrise, and stomped out the remaining embers of her fire. She grabbed her small bed, her saber, the green pouch and the rest of the eggs and set off for Caldera again. She thought more as she walked. Time passed quickly and she wasn't getting very far in the time she wanted to. The eggs weren't going to last very long. She had eight left and won't last for another two days if she ate all three meals. She decided to skip the midday meal which would allow her to reach Caldera the day her last eggs are used. She set up camp again at nightfall. She set up another fire and cooked more eggs. She decided that she would practice her skills with a saber for she had never used one before now. It was a longer sword, not intended for her and a little too heavy. She thought that if she used it enough, it would get lighter over time. She went over basic forms she had seen her father do and remembered them step for step. She would slash repeatedly with the saber, following the form perfectly. When the eggs were done, she stopped and ate her small meal. She went to bed shortly after. She awoke the next morning and continued her walk to Caldera. The time passed faster and faster. Before she knew it, she had two eggs left and she was in the third day into her journey to Caldera. That morning, she made the last of her eggs. She quickened the pace and noticed the trees were beginning to thin out. She sped up the hill and reached a point where no trees were in sight. She reached the top of a hill and looked down below the base to see Caldera at the bottom. She rushes to the bottom quickly. By the time she reached Caldera, night had fallen and Rose was tired. She reached the gates and the guards stopped her.

"What are you doing here? Don't you have a family to go home to?" the decorated guard asked.

"I think I've seen you before," the other guard said, rubbing his chin with his thumb and forefinger. "You're Dion's daughter, right?"

"Dion? The blacksmith?" asked the decorated guard with surprise. "So you're his daughter. What brings you here?"

Rose opened her mouth to say something but nothing came out. The guards looked at her with a puzzled look on their faces. Rose then felt dizzy and collapsed. The guards screamed for help and she blacked out.

...:Seven Years Later:...

"HEY! GET BACK HERE! THIEF!" a lone shopkeeper yelled, running after a child.

Running through the streets and stepping through puddles from a recent rainstorm, Rose hurried into a network of alleyways to escape her pursuers. Ever since she arrived in Caldera seven years ago, she had to rely on thievery to live. She ran through the last alleyway and entered the slums where she lived with two other homeless children. She is the provider for these kids and their only hope. As she entered the small shack, the children welcome her back. She dropped her provisions and went through it. She was lucky this time, she thought, meat, bread, and cheese is hard to carry all at once for three people. She split it up evenly among them and they ate until they couldn't eat anymore. Rose placed her blue tinted saber on her cot and loosened the pouch from around her neck for a few minutes. For a small orb, it is very heavy after some time wearing it. It can double in weight sometimes and it can become a real burden. She ate quickly and laid herself down in her cot. The two children are the same age she was when she first came to Caldera. A twelve year-old providing for two five year-olds made her notice what her father really did for her and her brother before they were murdered. She never realized how much work it really was.

She sat up on her cot and the boys showed her what they picked today from passing tourists. These things were the only ways to provide any form of income for them. When they aren't stealing, they are selling. They steal on certain days so they don't create suspicion when they are discovered at the scene of the crime every time it happens. They usually accumulate enough money to pay for their food for a few days. Some shopkeepers are nice enough to give them the food and let them take it without paying. But usually, those shopkeepers are rarely seen and don't come for whole months at a time. Rose steals or buys food twice a day. Sometimes a third when the harvests are about to end and they need to hoard their food supply. After they went through their pickings for today, they set them on a blanket and carried them to the streets. The items usually go quickly because the people don't like seeing starving children selling useless items for money just to live. Sometimes they slip more money onto the sheet just so they could have a little more. After they sold the items and got a total of eighteen gold pieces, they went to a different store and bought new clothes because the ones they had now were getting ragged. When they returned to their shack with their new clothes, there is a ruckus inside. Some other homeless people from the slums had moved into their small home. Rose entered and the intruders looked at her.

"I guess honor amongst thieves doesn't exist here, does it?" She asked sarcastically.

"We need a house. What are you gonna do about it? You can take ours." The eldest boy said with a wry grin.

"Yours was blown down in the rainstorm!" Rose shouted. "Go back and fix it. You can't take our house!"

"We can... and we just did."

Rose unsheathed her saber and the children backed away. The older boy took out a sword that he stole from a bandit that had passed through recently. The boy charges Rose and she swung her powerful blue saber. There is a small clang as if the blades had barely touched. Rose sheathed her saber and the boy's sword is split in two from point to hilt. The boy ran from the shack with the rest of the children he forced in and they reclaimed their small home. Rose never suspected the saber would be so powerful when she took it from the wreckage seven years ago. She remembered the small sapphire jewel that was put in the mixture for the sword and admired it for its color. But also, she must take into account that Dion had made all the weapons for the soldiers in Caldera and they still stand strong to this day. Her saber must be special because she noticed that Dion never put jewels directly into the blades of other swords. She truly admired the blood red hilt that complimented the blue blade. She had been trying to decide on a name for the blade but nothing had come to mind. She had grown fond to a word that she heard a storyteller say one evening. The word "evenfall" means evening. Whenever she heard it, it sent chills up her spine, like it has significance in her choices somewhat. She later decided to call her blade Evenfall. The blue color applies perfectly to the meaning, she thought. Intruders stole homes from other homeless families all the time. But no one would be ignorant enough to take a home from Rose. She already knew what it was like to lose a home and she vowed never to lose another.

Early that night, Rose lay on her cot looking at the ceiling. The children were outside playing their games and escaping their harsh reality. She was thinking of new routes to use when she stole the food. Using the same route would make them wise to my plans and even lead them here, she thought. She drew a map in her mind and marked her previous routes. She doesn't have to use new alleys, just a different combination each day. She thought of all the alleys she had used and what order they were in. She finished thinking of her route and decided to walk them out so she didn't forget. She left the rundown shack and headed through the network of alleyways to the main street. When she approached the main street, she noticed a crowd of people flocking to the side paths along the road. She wove her way through the web of people and reached the edge of the street. Everyone began to cheer towards the gate. The deafening cheers paved the way for a large, gold plated chariot. A tall, handsome man in red silver armor was in it and waved to the crowd. The crowd cheered again and the man continued past. As he passed Rose, he caught sight of her and stared as he continued down the street. She looked back at him as he went by and felt rage pass through her. She watched him until she couldn't see beyond the heads of the crowd.

She went back into the alleyways and emerged further down the road. She wove her way through the crowd again and came out ahead of the chariot. She continued to look at the man as he came closer. He waved again and the crowd burst into a frenzy of excited people. He looked over the crowd and his eyes fixed on Rose once more. He was dumbfounded to see her again and he quickly averted his gaze. She continued to look at him until he was out of sight. She again went through the alleyways and came out at the end of the main road. She saw the man get off his chariot and head into the City Hall building of Caldera. She watched the man's guardians pull up on horses and wagons and head inside. Some remained outside and fraternized with the guards of Caldera. Rose approached the building, wanting to go in. She looked around and noticed no one was watching so she approached the doors and pushed them open slowly so they wouldn't squeak. She entered quickly and grabbed the door and slowly let it down so it wouldn't slam. Her guile was improving. She could sneak into shops without the shopkeepers noticing and leave just as secretively. If she was ever caught, she would use those dark purple eyes and bat a few eyelashes. Worked like a charm, she would say after every time she had been caught. Although it wasn't often, it was handy to have the advantage of her unusual eyes.

She crept past the guards stationed at the big double doors and searched for a way into the courts. She ducked behind a set of pillars and looked around. She noticed a vent on the floor that led into the courtroom. She looked around and ducked behind another pillar. She grabbed the grating and pulled as hard as she could. The grating came loose and she propped it up against the wall and entered the courtroom.

"... happy you are here," catching the end of the Judge's sentence.

"I'm glad to be here," said the unknown man, smiling. "I have traveled a long time."

"I can imagine," the Judge said, pacing. "We are very far from other cities. The closest one is over 300 miles away. It doesn't help that it's also over a mountain range."

"It may be far, but I wouldn't pass up an opportunity to see an old friend," said the man sincerely.

"I'm glad for that. So, how are things going on the war front?" the Judge inquired.

"War!" Rose breathed.

"The winged creatures have taken many villages and towns," said the man discouragingly. "The cities still stand, but at this rate, they could fall by the end of next year. It only took them eight years to build up a force and another seven to attack. It could take us well over ten years just to mobilize."

"Seven years!" the words sounded resolutely in her mind.

"Could this be the end of us?" the Judge asked, crestfallen.

"It could be... But I won't let it happen," said the man, beginning to pace himself. "The people will live their normal lives when I'm through with these strange creatures."

"I'm guessing you'll want this then..." the Judge asks, moving toward a wooden box on his desk.

The Judge took out a large golden scepter with all sorts of jewels and gems in the head. Rose quickly went through the gems to count up its value. It had twelve rubies, six emeralds, four sapphires, two diamonds and a large amber all in concentric circles wrapping around to the top. Rose could easily have stolen that and she and the children could be fed for the rest of their lives.

"It's the Scepter you wanted made," said the Judge, holding it out to the man. "We never had a chance to give it to you because you were never here. Our greatest blacksmith made it, before he was murdered by those wretched creatures."

"Those creatures... murdered him!" Rose thought, welling with rage and confusion.

"It's a shame a man with such a talent for molding metal had to perish..." the man said closing his eyes. "We could have used him. And the sword?"

"It was never found," he said shaking his head.

"Yet another shame," he sighed.

"We have the reports you requested from us," taking out a roll of parchment. "The creatures are closing in around us and we are outnumbered ten to one. What should we do?"

"Ten to one you say?" the man asked, surprised. "Evacuate."

"But... wha... Aren't you being a little too hasty!"

"We have been outnumbered two to one and still lost. No, I'm not being too hasty."

"Well... I shall give the order," the Judge hanging his head.

"I'm glad you are more cooperative than the other Judges I have met with."

"They don't know you like I do."

"And the very same reason why you should evacuate," said the man with a smile.

"I understand," the Judge nodded.

Rose listened to the conversation until its end. The man left the courtroom and she followed along, quietly. The man went into a tent that was set up hours before by his guards. She hid behind the tent and sat near the ropes that tied the tent down. I have to go for scepter, she thought, it's mine by right. She snuck into the tent and walked behind an armoire and ducked, looking for the man and the scepter. She looked over to the bed and saw it propped up against the wall of the tent. She can't see the man and suspected that he had left the tent. She stood up and walked over to the scepter and took hold of it. As soon as her hand touched it, she heard a voice from behind her and she turned toward the flaps of the tent.

"It's wrong to steal," the unknown man stated.

"Right back at you," Rose said with a grimace.

"I've never stolen anything," said the man, staring at Rose, sizing her up. "You, on the other hand..."

"What do you know!"

"I know that you were in the courtroom while I was meeting with the Judge," the man said smirking. "You heard everything, did you not?"

"I did. And this scepter–"

"That scepter is mine," he interrupted. "I paid for it and it is rightfully mine."

"It is rightfully MINE!" Rose said in anger. "My father made this and it belongs to me!"

"Your father?" he questioned, eyes widening. "Your father was Di–?"

Before the man could finish his sentence, Rose had unsheathed Evenfall and charged him. The man pulled out his sword and blocked her blow. Rose jumped back and slashed again. The man jumped out of the tent and she followed. The soldiers see her chasing the man and they run after her.

"Stop! Leave her to me," the man ordered.

The soldiers stopped their charge and formed a circle around Rose and the man. Rose charged again, blade glinting in the moonlight. The man blocked her strike again. She wailed on him and blow for blow, he would block each and every strike. After fifteen minutes of fighting, the man had not attacked once. She never gave up and continued to slash and strike. Eventually she slashed with all her strength and she cut his sword halfway through. Her sword was wedged in his and she couldn't break free from it. He looked at her face up close, for the first time. Her eyes burned with a fury that he had not seen before. He knew the emotion she was feeling. It was mixture of hatred, anger, sadness, love, and the lust for vengeance all at once. He looked at her eyes through her furrowed brow. She knew he was drawn to her eyes and she began to look back, paying close attention to any sign of his next movement.

"Nice eyes," he said with a smirk.

She her brow furrowed and she pushed down with all her strength. Suddenly, she felt the load on her arms lessen. She watched as he wrenched his blade free of hers, breaking his own blade in half. Her blade fell to the ground and as soon as she heard the clang of the piece of his sword hitting the stone street, she felt the cold steel of his blade against her neck. She swallowed heavily and he looked at her.

"You're too aggressive," he said definitively. "You let your anger take over your judgement. You must remember that anger dulls the blade. Movement is just as important as strength, you must have figured that out by now. You left an opening and I took it, even if I had to sacrifice my blade for it. Other than that, your form was perfect. I have nev–"

Rose quickly batted his blade away with lightning speed, recovered her blade, sliced his arm and backed away. She felt the steel cut her a little and a small amount of blood dripped down her neck.

"You left and opening and I took it, even if I had to sacrifice my neck for it," she goaded, raising her blade again.

The man cracked a wide smile. He began to laugh and he threw away his broken blade.

"I like your style," he admitted. "And you're very experienced. You learned from a real master. Dion must have taught you well."

"He didn't teach me," she said, dropping her guard. "I taught myself."

"That's amazing!" he exclaimed. "Just seeing a form and you can copy it better than the person who showed you! You have a real talent! I bet if we sparred again, you would emerge victorious."

"What's your point?" she asked, now getting irritated.

"I want you to join us. Join our caravan. You can learn to fight and become one of our greatest generals!"

"General? Aren't those positions for... men?"

"Well, yes, but you are better than any man that I have ever fought. Plus, your endless potential can prove extremely useful."

"But... I watch children here and take care of them. Without me, they wouldn't last very long," Rose said worrying.

"Don't worry! We'll take care of them! Please join us!" the man insisted, gesturing toward the soldiers who were still surrounding them.

Rose thought for a short time and thought of the repercussions. They seemed better than what would happen during the evacuation.

"I agree. But on one condition," she said, putting up one finger.

"Name it," he said, victory already spread across his face.

"The children get put in with a nice family that will take care of them."

"It's done. We leave tomorrow. I will give you the night to say your goodbyes. We leave early so get here at sunrise."

The man walked toward his tent and opened the flap. He walked in halfway, hesitated, and walked out again to say something.

"Oh, and by the way," he started. "My name is Diaz. Nice to meet you," an even bigger smile stretched across his face.