A lone figure moved silently through the streets of the city. As he crept through the darkness, he glanced furtively over his shoulder, attempting to see the source of the dread that had filled his soul. He could not see anything in the shadows of the streets, but he could tell that something was following him. A sense of urgency caused him to move forward into the alley that would lead him to the safety of his home. His eyes searched the recesses of the doorways as he hurried toward the safety that he knew would be found at the end of the passage as the sense of apprehension built in his chest.
His terror increased as a wall of darkness barred the pathway that he knew would take him to safety. He turned back the way he came and sensed, more then saw, another dark wall blocking his retreat.
“Knoro Tallarian,” a cold voice echoed through his mind. “Why doest thou defy our masters?”
Knoro’s soul chilled as the icy voice flowed through him.
When he did not answer, the voice slid through his mind again. “Knoro Tallarian, why doest thou defy our masters?”
Knoro’s voice was weak as he began to speak, the icy terror having sapped him of his strength. “I am the prophet of Naratha, the bringer of the Balance.” A soft glow began to emanate from his body as he spoke, filling him with courage.
The blackness retreated slightly as the glow around the prophet began to increase in strength.
“Thy god cannot help thee now.” The shadows cast their darkness forth to assault the globe of light.
Long years of training as a soldier were the only reason that he did not fail to repel the initial assault, but he was not a young man. The continued assault by the evil forces wore on him, forcing him to his knees as he endeavored to keep the light shield from crumbling. Continuing to fight, he slowly climbed back to his feet.
A bolt of the purest black penetrated the light bubble, causing it to burst. The darkness passed easily through the old man’s chest and grasped his heart with an icy grip. Knoro screamed as the pain ripping through his chest caused him to fall backwards.
A bolt of lightning brilliantly split the darkness accompanied by a deafening sound and a concussive force that threw the old man against the wall. Knoro lay stunned on the ground for several moments before his sight slowly began to be restored.
“It is over, Knoro,” a soothing voice floated through the warm night air. “They have been vanquished.”
The old man let out a sigh of relief at the sound of the familiar voice. “Shantar, my old friend.” Stars still danced before his eyes as he opened them, but he was able to make out the familiar form of the Dragon Bard.
Dazed and bruised, the old man climbed to his feet. His heart leapt as a cold, hard, hand touched his arm.
“The Dark Lords are threatened by your words, old man. They will continually try to destroy you.” The voice was soothing, but the truth of the message did not help to calm Knoro. “It is not your time to die yet. You still have hope to give. Be careful, my friend.” His gold eyes began to glow ever brighter as he spoke. "Go home now old friend, you will not be bothered” When he had finished speaking, Shantar turned and disappeared into the shadows.
Knoro’s heart was considerably lighter as he closed the remaining distance toward the end of the alley. As he left the darkness, and entered the lighted square beyond, he took a moment to look at the homes that surrounded his own. The homes were very elegant looking, even in the half-light that was cast by the street lanterns. His home was humble by comparison to the dwellings that surrounded it, but it was more than sufficient for him. He wasn’t as proud as the Elves that surrounded him. His house was a double floor three bedroom mansion. The Elves had tried to give him more when they built the house, but he assured them that it would be more than an old human would need.
He smiled at the memory. He had been considered an Elf friend ever since he helped their king, Paron Elloy, save the black unicorn. Since that time the elves in the city were almost stifling in their affection toward him. They did not allow any other human to live in their quadrant of the great city.
He felt very old as he climbed the few steps that led him to the front door of his home. "I have been alive much longer than I should have." He whispered to himself as he slid the key into his front door. As the door slid silently open, the sound of something hitting the floor with a muffled thud brought him out of his reverie.
The encounter with the mysterious shadows was still fresh on his mind. He quickly spoke the word that caused all of the candles in the house to flare to life.
Grabbing the sword that he had mounted to the wall above the low door, he set about searching for the source the odd sound. He didn’t have to search very long before he found the intruder lying on the floor in his study.
A beautiful woman was unconscious on the floor next to the large desk, her hair splayed out. Knoro could tell that she was troubled by disturbing dreams by the look on her face. He was sure that she was seeing something that was happening far away. He had witnessed her do this many times before.
He lifted her easily into his arms, marveling again at how light she was. She must have been at least six feet tall, with the slight build of the elves. Her deeply tanned skin and dark hair would surely pronounce an instant death sentence if she were discovered in the confines of the city. Shalaranadra Kaarddranan was a dark elf.
The old man winced slightly with each step as he walked into the sitting room. As the adrenaline rush began to subside, he was able to tell that he had taken some severe damage in the battle with the shadows. He smiled slightly at the woman in his arms as he laid her on the couch. He always looked forward to seeing her, even if the occasions of her visits were never happy. She seemed to only turn up when something horribly wrong had occurred.
Sitting in the chair exactly opposite of the luxurious couch, Knoro kept a vigil over the sleeping dark elf, until he succumbed to the weakness of his human body.
As soon as his eyes closed the dreams began anew...
The dreams always started the same. A horrible beast descended out of the western sky. As soon as the creature set foot on the earth, everything around it began to wither and die. The water turned to sludge, the air became fetid, it seemed as if the world itself was dying.
Knoro watched as the creature devoured everything in its path; villages, forests, lakes; whatever this abomination touched died almost instantly. The path the monster cut through the world was growing ever larger with every passing moment.
Sunset came and went, and still the creature went on feeding. Morning came, but the sun didn't rise. It seemed as though the sun itself had given up the tiny world of Phantaxis.
It seemed like an eternity that Knoro could hear the sounds of the creature feeding. On the third day, a faint light began to glow in the eastern sky. The light grew brighter as a figure approached. It was a young child, and the light came from fire that was burning on the child's back. Concern for this strange child flooded the old man's heart. It didn't look like the young boy was in pain, but the fire burned fiercely in the darkness. As the child approached the hideous creature the flames seemed to blaze even brighter. Suddenly, without warning, the fire on the child's back spread out to form a set of beautiful wings, and the child rose into the air.
As soon as the child took to the air, Knoro noticed the small dagger which was clutched in the child's right hand. It was a peculiar looking weapon, a dagger made up of a tiny gold dragon intertwined and a beautiful red rose. The blade was the dragon's tail and the stem of the rose woven in a cris-cross pattern. The crossbar of the dagger was the head of the dragon jutting out to the right of the blade, and the actual bud of the rose to the left. The dragon's wings protruding from the slanted back of the tiny gold dragon provided a hand grip for the child to hold the weapon.
The child, wielding the dagger, slew the beast that was destroying the world.
With the beast gone, the world began her recovery from the attack.
Suddenly Knoro found himself on a familiar street corner, preaching his message of hope to try to counteract the message that Perin had been conveying to the public.
Perin was well known as a prophet dedicated to the dark lords, so people didn't usually pay her any mind, but when two other prophets began speaking the same doomsday prophecy, the world started to listen. The dark prophets had been prophesying for two weeks before Knoro had his dream that gave him hope for the world. He had rushed out the very next day to try and ease the world's fears, to let them know that there was, indeed, hope.
As Knoro stood on his corner, conveying his message of hope, a handsome man approached him. The man stopped for a long time to listen to the prophet of Naratha speak his words, seemingly glued to every word. After the man listened to Knoro speak for three hours, he pulled a strange looking device out of his cloak.
Knoro thought the device looked like a gun from before the war, but the virus had infected all of the guns. They had all turned into...
Knoro's thoughts were interrupted by the hideous sound of tearing metal. Before he could see what had happened, a beam of laser light pierced his heart, slaying the last prophet of Naratha.
A light hand came to rest on Knoro's chest, and a female voice began to urge him to wake up. He had not realized he had been thrashing around in his sleep, until the hand touched him and had to fight to maintain contact with his chest. He knew he should wake up, but wakefulness would not come. He could hear the soft voice urging him to awaken.
"Knoro, you must wake." The voice almost had a frantic quality to it. "Please,
Knoro, I must speak with you."
Gaining control of his dreams as he had been through many years of military service, the old man forced his mind to regain consciousness. As he neared the point of wakefulness, the voice that had been pleading with him to wake up became ever clearer. It was a female voice, a voice that belonged to somebody Knoro had once known. A sudden impression caused Knoro to believe that, by coming here to see him, this person had put herself in grave danger.
As realization dawned, Knoro remembered the figure he had found on the floor of his study the night before. If the Elfin population knew there was a dark elf in the city, they would surely kill her. Knoro opened his eyes, the light piercing his retina with painful accuracy, to find himself staring up into the beautiful face of the dark elf.
Knoro just lay still for a moment as he studied the face that hung over him like an angel. The woman's skin was deeply tanned, showing that she spent a great deal of time outdoors. Her deep blue eyes regarded the old man with great wisdom and terrible knowledge. Her black hair hung down, framing her face in a picturesque manner that made Knoro desire to just lie there and stare up into that angelic face forever.
The dark Elf’s lovely face suddenly contorted in a grimace of great agony. She had to place her hand on the edge of the bed to keep herself from falling to the floor. Knoro could now see the deep lines that had been etched into her face as a result of some great tragedy.
"What has happened, Shala?" Knoro tried, unsuccessfully, to diminish the concern in his voice. "What is wrong, my friend?"
Shalarandra Kaarddranan stood where she was for a long moment, not daring to speak. Her entire concentration was riveted on just standing against the onslaught of the unnatural pain that assaulted her. Standing, Knoro helped Shala over to the chair that stood by the door to his bedchambers. After he eased her into the chair, Knoro hurried over to the stove to fetch a cup of tea for the woman.
As he returned to the chair, holding the warm cup in his hand, he noticed the distant look in the elf's eyes. She was somewhere far away watching some event that was hidden from the human's vision. From the look on her face, Knoro guessed it was a terrible vision for her to behold.
Tea?" Knoro offered the small cup to the entranced dark elf.
Shalarandra just looked at the cup, not recognizing what it was. She then looked up at the human before her, and the light of recognition lit her face. "Knoro." She breathed a sigh of relief. "We must talk."
Knoro nodded, looking very concerned. "Yes, you must tell me what has occurred."
Shala shuddered as she began to speak, not wanting to hear her own words.
"They have come," were the only words she could get to pass her lips.
A confused look came over Knoro's face. "Who? Who has come?" Seeing her reaction to the revelation she was trying to get him to see, Knoro wasn't sure he really wanted to know.
She looked up into his face, calmed herself, and forced herself to explain. "There has been a great shifting in the balance. An unnatural element has entered the conflict, and it is not friendly to our cause." Shala had to pause for a moment to deal with another onslaught of pain. Gathering her strength, she continued. "The Dark Lords have come." Shalarandra Kaarddranan lost consciousness as soon as she had finished speaking.
Not sure what to do next, Knoro just sat and watched his friend sleep. She was beautiful in her dreams, even though it was obvious to the old human that her dreams were very troubled. He stayed by Shala's side for two hours, when a slight flicker of her eyelids told him that she was about to awaken. As she returned to the world of wakeful nightmares, she sighed for the brief respite that waking always gave her, the period of time where there were no dreams. She smiled briefly at Knoro, then the waking dreams started anew.
"Are you seeing them again?" Knoro asked.
Shalarandra nodded. "They are looking for something. Something of great power."
Understanding ignited in Knoro's eyes. Without a word he turned and strode purposefully from the room. When he returned, he held some sort of ball, or orb. Shala had to shield her eyes from the brightness of the sphere.
"What is it?" Shalarandra asked, trying to look at the globe.
Knoro began to explain. "The Dark Lords' power is limited on this plane. Here they are nothing more than very powerful wizards. They are searching for the one object that will complete their power while they remain in the world. This is," Knoro lifted the sphere slightly, "the Sun Fire Orb".
Shalarandra looked at the strange sphere, not noticing the pain that looking directly at it caused. She had heard stories of the Sun Fire Orb. The power held within that crystal globe was the power with which worlds were created or destroyed.
"If the Dark Lords get their hands on that orb, there will be no stopping them."
Shala's voice shook as she spoke.
Knoro offered the orb to Shala. "You must take this and hide it. Hide it where the
Dark Lords will never find it." He looked out the window; according to the stars dawn was still two hours away. "You must go quickly. If you are found in the city, your life is forfeit."
Shala nodded. She accepted the offered sphere. "Watch yourself, old man."
"I will." Knoro promised. "Be careful, Shala. Watch over her, Erik."
A strange voice sounded from somewhere in Knoro's mind. "Always."
Shalarandra Kaarddranan slipped silently into the night, and Knoro watched the doom of the world go with her.
Several hours later, Knoro was out on his street corner, preaching his message of hope. A handsome young man had stopped to listen to him. The strange man had been listening to the prophet intently, a genuine interest reflected in his charcoal eyes.
After a few hours of listening, the man approached Knoro.
"Greetings old one, how fares thee?" The man's accent was difficult for Knoro to place.
"I am well, thank you." Knoro acknowledged the man's hail.
The man approached Knoro, interest mirrored in his handsome face. "How
Comest thou by thy words of wisdom, old one?"
Knoro offered his usual answer to the question. "My God has spoken these words to me."
The strange man smiled wickedly, as he pulled a laser pistol out of his cloak. "Thou speakest in jest. The heavens have been locked"
The pistol immediately began to writhe and shift, as the virus took hold of its technological systems. A strange bestial awareness began to form somewhere in the circuits of the, now possessed, pistol. Laughing maniacally, the man just let the pistol fall. A technological terror in the form of a scorpion landed in the space where the pistol would have hit the ground.
"Who are you?" Knoro asked, never taking his eyes off the scorpion.
The man bowed deeply. "I am called Dareth, however thou canst call me the
Lord of Night."
"No!" Knoro couldn't believe that he was standing face to face with one of the
Lords of Darkness.
"Believe, old one. Thy life is forfeit. Thou wilt not defy us again." Dareth motioned to the small robotic scorpion. "Destroy him."
The small creature sprang to life. Lifting its tail, a stream of light shot toward the old man. Long forgotten soldier's training took over, increasing the old man's reflexes allowing him to dodge the destructive light by throwing himself to the ground. Lightning quick, the scorpion was on the old man, claws tearing chunks of flesh from his body.
Knoro tried to brush the "bug" from his cloak in a desperate attempt to save his own life. Catching the small machine, he flung it as far as he could. The act gave him a small respite from the attack, but within moments the laser scorpion was back, renewing its attack with a fanatical fervor.
Knoro dodged another blast from the scorpion's tail, again throwing himself to the ground to do so. This time, however, the scorpion was already there, waiting to tear the old man's throat out with its mechanical claws. With a short scream that ended in a choking sound, Knoro Tallarian, prophet of Naratha, drowned in his own blood.
A bolt of light, similar to the ones that had come from the scorpion's tail, streaked from the shadows near a building on the south side of the square, striking the mechanical abomination, destroying it. With a cry, Shalarandra Kaarddranan rushed out of the shadow to confront the Dark Lord, but he was gone.
People began to gather around the scene of the murder, and Shala was seized as soon as she was seen.
"She killed Knoro. The dark elf must die." These calls rang out from the crowd as
Shala was dragged to the courthouse.
The trial was a short, unjust affair, consisting of the judge asking for Shala's confession to the crime. When she wouldn't give it, she was sentenced to immediate death.
As Shala was dragged from the courthouse to be executed, the crowd scattered at the sight of a small crossbow that floated up to the prisoner.
Shala regarded the crossbow solemnly. "Erik, go tell Ahlana what has happened.
It is up to her to stop it now."
The crossbow vanished into thin air, and the hatred returned. The crowd surged forward, beating the dark elf woman as they dragged her to the gallows. The executioner put an end to the cruelty as soon as the group reached the gallows.
"Patience, people, it is no fun to execute a dead prisoner." A hateful murmur spread quickly through the crowd, but the beatings ceased.
The hangman met the crowd at the bottom of the steps. He helped the prisoner to her feet, gently brushed her off, and led her to the top of the steps where she would meet her death.
Fitting the rope around Shala's neck, the hangman asked the requisite question.
"Any last words?"
Shala looked at the crowd, and then the hangman. "This is murder; you are executing an innocent person."
A stout man at the front of the crowd was furious. "There is no such thing as an innocent dark elf!" He yelled.
The hangman walked over to the lever that would release the trap door. "There you have it." He pulled the lever opening the trap door under Shala's feet.
Shalarandra Kaarddranan's neck broke with an audible snap.
Among the crowd, an evil man smiled as the first of his enemies was put to death. The balance had now shifted ever further in his favor. The watchers of nature were now fewer in number, and the first of the so-called "Guardians" was now destroyed. Unfortunately, Shalarandra had taken the secret of where the Sun Fire Orb was hidden to the grave with her. It didn't matter to Dareth; he had all of eternity to find the Orb. Naratha and the rest of the council were locked in the Heavens. There was nothing they could do to stop Dareth and his brothers.
Another thought crept its way into Dareth's ancient mind. The creature that had just been killed was a dark elf. A smile came to his lips instantly as he whispered his comment to Shala's spirit. "I created thee, I destroyed thee. A fitting end."
Everything was falling into place. With the death of the first Guardian, events were set into motion that were beyond any mortal's power to control. One by one the Guardians would perish. When the last Guardian was dead, there would be no one to stop the death of the entire world.
Three hundred years later a young elf awoke, sweat beading on his brow.