Author's Note: And so the story starts over. For those unaware, this is a new and improved version of Embers of Life, which I felt needed to be redone despite the positive reviews it received. It follows the same plot as the original, yet many parts have been rearranged and expanded on. Hopefully you enjoy this as much as you did the original.

-BlindFury the Ultimate

Embers of Life: Prologue

Outcast... betrayer... a young woman born with great power and promise who threw it all away to follow her heart. Such is the tale of Osthato Ikonoka: The Soulless Monster.

When the young girl was born, like all Valkyria that came before her, she was to be inspected by one of the tribe's Elders. Should deformity in the flesh or any other sign of weakness be found, the newborn was declared unfit for further ascension and discarded. If the child could not pass from the safety of its mother's womb into the world beyond, if they were unable to pass the first true test of the living, how could they possibly hope to survive in a land where only the strong could survive? There was no room for weakness in a culture based upon feats of strength and combat, where only the victorious could rise to the elite of their society.

For the young Elza, daughter of Aurelia the Farseeing, it was her destiny to join this elite.

Even at a young age the Elders could see the girl was special. For the first nine years of her life they watched on as she grew. Watched as her power began to develop with a speed never before seen in the Valkyrur's entire history. When her training began on her tenth birthday, as was their custom, she surpassed all the high expectations placed upon her time and time again with seemingly little effort. What took the older and more mature Valkyria years to achieve, she could master in just a few short months, sometimes only weeks. When combined with her desire to learn and a wisdom far beyond her years, Elza's potential seemed unlimited, and her progress amazing, earning the title of 'the Prodigy' to her name. By the time her eighteenth birthday had come and gone she had already earned the right through combat to lead Queen Valkyrur's royal guard, becoming the youngest Valkyria to ever reach such high station. In this stretch of time, neither treachery nor defeat blemished her unparalleled ascension. Truth be told, the only real obstacle that prevented her from becoming a full Elder, the highest position in the Valkyrian culture below Queen Valkyrur herself, was her youth. Even that appeared a trivial matter, delaying what many already saw as inevitable.

Perhaps she could have one day again become the youngest to reach such position. Perhaps she could have one day have earned the right to call herself an Elder of her people had fate not intervened, turning the Valkyrur's greatest prodigy against them.

It all began little over a year before what would later become known to history as the War of the Valkyrur. For centuries the Valkyria had loathed the very existence of the Darcsen tribes that inhabitated the land near the heart of Europa, believing them to be an inferior race hardly above the foul beasts they hunted. Dark tales of their "greedy and evil ways" had spread like wildfire over the years, distorting the line between fact and fiction to the point it was impossible to determine one from the other. This one-sided animosity from the Valkyrur came from a deeply ingrained hatred towards Braen, the husband of their chosen leader Azura, who ultimately betrayed his wife out of petty jealousy and greed, and who the Goddess' struck down in punishment immediately following Azura's demise. It was the Valkyrian belief that Braen and those who willingly followed him were transformed into filthy, dark-haired versions of their former selves, forbidden from ever returning to the Valkyrian Dynasty under pain of death and to be treated no better than rabid animals and other foul beings. When several Valkyria were ambushed on patrol by those bearing the emblems of the Darcsen clans, war between the Valkyria and Darcsens became a matter of when, not if.

At the time, Elza had appeared to be a natural selection to become the tip of the spear for the Valkyrur's war effort. Instead of leading a direct invasion however, they chose an alternative method for a first strike. First they would remove the snake's head, knowing the body would soon follow. For a fortnight she travelled, her speed decreasing in favor of caution the closer she was to reaching the Darcsen city of Narda, known today as the Gallia's capital city of Randgriz. She waited for darkness to descend upon the land before making her move, effortlessly infiltrating the castle and cutting down all the guards in her path. Everything seemed to be going well until she reached the room where her target lay resting. Silent as the night surrounding her, she charged in with the intent to kill, only to freeze up when she saw his face.

She didn't exactly know what to expect when it came to the appearance of the Darcsen leader, but the tales that surrounded Orion had given her the impression of a weathered and weary old man. It shocked Elza to discover that, rather than the old man she imagined, Orion appeared to be roughly the same age, at most a couple years older than her. For the first time in her life the young valkyria hesitated, halted by the unfamiliar grip of doubt and uncertainty. However she was quick to recover, berateing herself for her moment of weakness as she moved to kill him a second time.

That moment, small and instantaneous as it was, proved to be all the time needed for success to turn to disaster.

What exactly happened has never been properly determined. A popular reiteration of the story is that the Darcsen leader already knew of an approaching assassin and had simply feigned sleep to draw them in closer. Another version tells of a pair of guards that had found the bodies of the guards Elza had killed earlier, chancing upon her as they rushed into Orion's room to warn him of the danger. Regardless of the reason, the facts remained the same. For the first time in her life, Elza had failed to complete her mission.

Events following Elza's capture are fractured at best, most of it lost for eternity with only the smallest of scraps remaining to piece together the true history that preceded the War of the Valkyrur. All we really know is that Elza was spared of execution, as this was not the Darcsen way.

Instead, Orion treated his attempted murderer as if she were an honoured guest, allowing one of the Valkyria to see the Darcsen's world in all its glory for as long as she was among them. Initially cold-heartened and bitter to those around her, Elza gradually began to take in her new surroundings with something akin to awe. Indeed, the Darcsens were an intriguing people. From the moment they woke they devoted themselves to the perfection of whatever it was they pursued, their discipline proving equal if not greater than that of the Valkyrur themselves. In their eyes they were all equal, working together to form a better society for all, regardless of upbringing. Elza was also surprised to learn the word Darcsen meant 'to serve', and that Orion believed his life to be in the service of his people, willing to sacrifice anything to ensure their safety. He was not the monster the Valkyrur portrayed him to be, but a kind and honest leader worthy of respect.

The more she learned about the Darcsen tribes, the more she came to realize the lies and slander of her own people. Guilt filled her heart as she realized her race had condemned another for crimes they had never committed. The Darcsens were peaceful and innocent, most unaware of the stigma branded upon them by Valkyrian lore. Their kindness to her, a stranger, a warrior from a land of war and battle only made it hurt all the more. She began to question why such misunderstanding came about between the two nations and why no one had ever attempted to fix it. Her loyalty to her people never truly recovered once such thoughts entered her mind, nor did she really notice as it began to waver.

What she did notice were other feelings she had developed. Feelings that grew stronger whenever Orion was near, causing a sudden tightness in her chest that always left her short of breath. He always treated her as a woman over a warrior, admiring her more for her grace and beauty than how she wielded a lance in combat. In time, their heated arguments turned to time spent alone together, learning more about the other's history and upbringing. Time and time again she tried to pull away, tried to reason that a Valkyria could never love a Darcsen the way she did. But the heart rarely listens to reason from the mind, and exactly one year from the night she was first captured, the two gave into each other and their passions for the other.

Unfortunately, their happiness could not last forever.

Believing Elza had been killed by Orion one year ago, Queen Valkyrur ordered her former Captain of the guard, Deyanira the Shadow of Flame, to train and prepare three of her finest soldiers and lead them on Elza's previous mission to eliminate the Darcsen leader. One of these three chosen, known throughout the Valkyrur's lore as Leona the Crimson Blade, was said to be the strongest soldier in the Queen's army, her twin blades permanently dyed red from the blood of her fallen enemies in battles past. The other two chosen were Spera the Swift, the youngest but also of the same generation as Leona, and Kendrath the Dauntless, a warrior who had served as Elza's right hand and most loyal servant. Both were known for their power and possessing great skill that was second only to their loyalty to the Valkyrian prodigy.

They left for Narda with a vengeance, seeking to avenge the loss of their fallen prodigy and deliver a decisive opening strike against the Darcsen tribes. Upon discovering Elza was alive and well, living peacefully with the enemy, Leona, Kendrath and Spera were overjoyed to see their sister, relieved that rumours surrounding her death to be false.

At the same time, Deyanira's shock mutated into an uncontrollable rage. She attacked without hesitation, calling Elza soulless, corrupted by the Darcsen's dark magic. Nothing could be said to stop the old captain, who ordered Spera and Kendrath to kill Elza while she and Leona attacked the city itself. So great was the old captain's fury that more than half the city was wreathed in flames within the hour, countless innocents slaughtered in a matter of minutes. But by doing so the three Valkyrur under her command, already doubting much of what the Queen had said and their people as a whole, lost what little loyalty that remained for the old captain and turned on her.

It was in this chaos that Elza made her choice. Forsaking her title as the Valkyrur's greatest prodigy, she fought back against the Shadow of Flames, protecting her love and his people in their hour of need. The old northern script speaks of a great battle that lasted many days, a glorious and deadly display of power that shook the entire planet to its core. It is said that Deyanira was killed during the battle, killed by Elza despite the agony of her wounds, of which there were many. She did not fear death from her friends, for their loyalty to her proved far greater than the loyalty to their people. It was the first battle of the War of the Valkyrur, and it ended in a stunning defeat for the Valkyria, costing them four of their finest warriors.

The rest of the war is told by what remains of the Old Northern Script, again with many pieces missing and to this day only a few key battles have ever been found and accurately translated. With her love and her newfound generals at her side, Elza led the weak and inexperienced Darcsens to victory in the month long siege atop Mount Tarvus, survived the chaos that was the Battle of Rhak Vir, and captured the city of Danika in hopes of attacking the Valkyrian Capital itself.

Despite her best efforts however, they could only delay the inevitable. Leona was the first to fall, killed by Queen Valkyrur herself on the outskirts of the Valkyrur's captial city. Spera left not much later with the Darcsens too old or weak to fight, seeking shelter by heading north towards a place known only to history as the Forsaken Mountains. Her exact fate was never properly determined. Some tales say she survived, while others are less optimistic.

In the waning hours of the War of the Valkyrur, when one of the more influential Darcsen clans turned their back on Elza in a key moment, the Valkyrur were able to capture their prodigy-turned-enemy and end the war once and for all. Orion met his end during this final battle, but Elza's fate was never determined. Some say she was rescued by Spera in a desperate rescue but was still wounded beyond any healer's skill and died but a few hours later, surrounded by friends comrades she had sacrificed so much for. Others speak of her final act of defiance, sacrificing her soul to fuel the fire that destroyed the city that once dominated the land known today as the Barious ruins. Which of these tales holds more credibility is an answer never to be answered.

Though she did not succeed in saving everyone, it is thanks to Elza and her allies that the Darcsens survived the war at all. They were forced into slavery and would be prosecuted for the stigma of the past over many centuries, but they would survive, and one day soon they will rise and see themselves equals with the rest of society once again.

Their numbers reduced to a mere handful of what it once was, Queen Valkyrur refused to have the truth of the war altered in any way, desiring their fallen prodigy be remembered for all that she had achieved, regardless of her betrayal. Instead the Elders added a tale of caution to all future generations with their retelling of history. It spoke of Osthato Ikonaka, a Valkyria turned monster by the Darcsens evil magic that burned the lands during the Darcsen Calamity that lead to Elza's abandoning of Danika when the monster's instability raged out of control. Osthato, became a warning to all Valkyria, warning all of the dangers of the Final Flame and the consequences for unleashing it. For if any Valkyria were to repeat the crimes of the Soulless Monster, they too would share the monster's punishment.

But with every end there is a new beginning, and every beginning an end. Nearly two thousand years from the end of the great war, another Valkyria was forced into unleashing the Final Flame upon the land, destroying the great citadel of Ghirlandaio. With the end of Elza's tale, another begins to take form, ghosts of the past colliding with demons of the present. But what marks the ending of this tale... that... that is for my little sister to decide...