Chapter 1 – In the beginning …

The world has always been a strange place. Plants and trees spring out of the ground in the middle of a desert surrounding a pool of fresh water. Lizards live in the fire. Fishes have their own lantern to guide their way in the deep of the oceans. A funny looking two-legged animal exists on the good brown earth with a penchant for settling and building and reordering things in the hierarchy of the world.

The sensible creatures stay away from these bipeds. They can smell a bad thing and know when to keep a safe distance. Only, they don't know that the biped has a bad habit of following them. They are not safe anywhere. So, the animals learnt to evolve. They learnt to hide and to adapt. Some learn camouflage, others to survive in the night, and yet others in the cold. Some decided to go away to a different part of the earth while the bipeds were asleep. They stayed hidden in far corners of the world, growing and expanding their own families, occasionally venturing out to learn what they could of the state of other animals and to get news of the strange creature.

Things had been progressing in this manner for many centuries, with both the animals and the bipeds learning, growing and developing and at rare times crossing the others' paths, often with great harm to the other. But all this while, there was something else that was stirring in the core of the world. Something that changed the nature of the earth and the air and the water. It changed some of the animals and some of the birds and created many others. It made a new world.

The older animals welcome the new varieties and showed them how they lived, giving them a fair area for their own kind. And as they had taught their children to stay away from the strange bipeds, so they taught the new arrivals. They told them the history of the old world, and of the earth; they told them of the avarice of the bipeds and its greedy power; they told them of their loved ones, lost to the persistence of the only creatures in the world that used two legs instead of four. They spoke of hate and flight, of the search for safe lands. And lastly they spoke of the peace they had kept by staying away from the cruel nature of the strange creatures.

They new ones heard all that their kin told them and agreed to the wisdom of the old ones. They agreed to hide away as soon as possible, promising to keep in touch.

But these hopes were as weak as hoping that the fire in the earth would not burn the green above when it flowed like water. For the bipeds had seen them and the thirst for power over these new amazing creatures ran strong within their breasts. But the lack of regular food supplies had changed the minds of this primitive race. They had grown sharper and stronger and while the males were more aggressive than the females, all were equally intelligent, had they known what the word meant. They had even acquired a language and could speak, though they often found that there was nothing for them to say, since the entire clan already knew what one knew. And they called themselves Men.

And so on this day that the spies had found out about the new animals, they followed them to their new lairs and then rushed back to tell the others what they had seen and learnt. They told of small animals that talked in a sing-song voice and big ones that had shiny skin like the sun in the sky. There was even one that looked like them, but had four legs. And they were all of all colors.

Hearing this strange tale in a land already strange, the males arranged a war party of fighting men called Warriors to go after these new animals and bring back fresh meat and maybe even capture one or two. They picked up their bows and arrows and hefted tall spears, taking with them skins of water and slices of dried meat and some breads for they provisions. They brought out the big chariots that they had learnt to build and set out. As they left their camps, big shaggy wild dogs accompanied them and the entire party followed one of the scouts out across the wilds.

After travelling many leagues, they finally found the new creatures that had proved to be quite elusive. Hiding within the large forests, the men could often spot a glimmer of color or a swift shadow moving away from them. This did not worry them and the excitement of the chase overtook their minds. Only two of that war party remained unaffected.

When they were tired, they decided to set up camp under two large trees and set about their work. The chariots were arranged around them for added protection and they arranged their bedding around the fire for warmth. But it was then that their scout saw what they were looking for, not too far away from where they wanted to rest for the night. The warriors were pleased to find this creature, for this one alone was as big as the hills and would provide good food for a long time. For all their stealth, however, when they got near the creature, they realized that they were being watched.

Towering high above them was a long sinuous neck glittering in the light of the moon. Even brighter than its skin shone the eyes of the creature as it looked down at the camp of the puny weak creatures that had tracked it. The warriors armed themselves and rushed towards the body, shouting encouragement to each other.

Their ambition was short-lived. A huge, powerful foot with scales like a fish stomped down on half the war party. Their fellows stared in shock but turned towards the creature with caution. No-one ever said that men were the smartest of creatures in the world. The second and third rush decimated the warriors' ranks as swiftly as the first, so that only a few remained. These took the last remaining chariot and fled the forest at once. But on the fringe of the forest were waiting more strange creatures that had the upper body of a man but the lower body of a horse and these creatures killed them without hesitation.

However, there were two of that party who still remained alive. One was the scout who was only a spy and not a warrior. Throughout the fight he had stayed hidden behind the trunk of a huge tree, hoping to escape the eye of the huge beast, and now waited with a hammering heart and bated breath for the creature to leave so he could slip away.

The other was one who was a warrior and yet not a warrior. As she lay on the ground, this lone female who had journeyed for the slaying was different from her kind. She was not weak or easily cowed. She was strong and courageous and was responsible for the dogs that the men used in battle. She had trained them and they listened only to her. She had offered the services of her dogs to the warriors, which was approved. But in return she had asked to be trained as a warrior like the men and to accompany them when they went for war.

The community had been scandalized, much less than the men with whom she trained, and her mother had wept over her decision for days, beseeching her daughter to reconsider and settle down like her sisters had. But she girl had a level head on her shoulders and her father supported her training. And now she was lying on the forest floor, surrounded by her dogs, scanning for any survivors.

Just as she found the scout behind the tree, her dogs growled, hackles raised and menacing the creature that moved into the light cast by the last embers of the fire. It approached on cloven feet, steeping surely on the ground. The female rose and found herself facing a female body that joined onto the body of a horse. This caused the creature to tower over her a bit, but she raised her chin, refusing to be intimidated.

The creature smiled. "My name is Viska, the Watcher of my people. And these forests are under the protection of my people."

"Your people?" asked the human female.

"Yes. I am a Centaur. And my friend over there is Lyseskalaer of the Dragons. Welcome to the Forbidden Forest."