Prologue

Present Day

The woods are silent, the usual occasional noise of animals or insect song that fills a warm night are oddly absent. If it is possible to see the residents of this wood you would find them in the safety of their dens, not resting, but alert as though anticipating something. Even the usual night loving predators do not venture out of their homes this night. Instead they look as ready to bolt as their prey would be, with restless eyes peering through the thick underbrush. Occasionally their ears prick forward as a light breeze blows carrying the sound of soft laughter and voices through the trees. A lone wolf braves the forest alone stepping along looking ready to bolt at the slightest thing startling him. A large male, he feels oddly compelled to see the source of this noise that adds to the feeling of unease that the woods he calls home pulses with this night. Slowly, he comes over the top of a hill and pauses, spying odd glows dotting the trees, his head tips in curiosity. He is no stranger to peculiar lights but these are different than what he is used to, several times they are completely hidden from his eyes only to reappear almost instantly as though something was running in front of them. Instinct and sense scream at the wolf to run back to his pack but he ignores it going toward the nearest light keeping to the shadows.

Nearing a clearing the wolf can make out several people gathered around a small campfire. The undergrowth surrounding them is so dense here it makes a natural wall providing the wolf cover to not be seen. Looking at the group it was clear they were not from the city that lay below the forest, that place was full of humans and some of these looked different. The smells on their clothing were of different trees and other strange smells that have never touched his nose. Yet here they are in one pack seemingly singing together as the wolf’s pack often did. The feeling of anxiousness and anticipation that the rest of the wood possesses isn’t as intense here and in fact there is a lighthearted-ness that is similar to pups playing. The wolf finds himself very intrigued at this difference and settles in sitting to watch these strangers for a while.

A man approaches the fire, the sound of horse hooves can be heard moving slowly but steadily away from the camp. He hands a woman something, “Liz, all camps are settled in for the night and will assemble at the agreed fronts at first light.”

“Good,” She replies.”That was earlier than we had hoped. Now let us hope that they can find something to enjoy this night before the hardships of tomorrow.”

The others nod in agreement before the bulkiest of those present at the fire launches into a new story from his people, waving his arms dramatically in the air. “So Ordin went into battle, his hammer primed and striking his enemies true,” his voice is gruff and he pauses to take a big swig of ale before continuing. “‘For the Destiny, for our people!’ It was his battle cry, countin’ on the divine to guide his hammer against those who claim our homeland.”

Liz sits in the circle pensively staring into the fire only half listening to the tale of Ordin, who fought for the honor of his race and to reclaim the ancient city they once called home. Most of her mind is drawn into her own worries and troubled thoughts regarding daybreak. She tucks her shoulder length hair behind her ears which came to a slight point and wonders if she is so much different than Ordin. She is about to retake her home from a much larger threat with as much of a force as they could muster but odds are still against them. She feels a special kinship with him because though Ordin had failed he led his people with belief and purpose. That belief was that they could get their homeland back despite the creatures having time to solidify their holdings during their absence and so it was going to be near impossible challenge. Suddenly needing some space she silently takes her leave. No one will notice she figures, being too entertained with the blow by blow telling of Ordin’s story that was now taking place. Unknown to her however she is wrong. Another woman eyes her disappearing back with a narrowed gaze but turns her attention back to the tale with a shake of her head.

Liz walks through the underbrush wall directly to the side where the wolf stands startling him and causing his hackles to raise. She slightly smiles at him trying to offer some friendliness, “What are you doing here? You are lucky I do not spook easily and discovered you before someone else did. Off you go to your pack before you get in trouble,” she tells him her voice barely reaching a whisper.

She watches as the wolf slightly tilts his head at her words as though he understands them and is considering obeying. The tip of his tale wags a little bit in the fashion of his domesticated brothers before he turns and disappears back in the shadows of the trees. Liz finds herself smiling again before continuing on. There was no moon tonight, a blessing for her camps of warriors dotting the landscape. Normally it would have made it hard to see but her eyes had no trouble avoiding debris that covered the floor and dodging around trees. She moves through the night as if she is one with it, blending into it as she had always done. Glancing around the lights from the fires appear to be slowly fading away to dull sparks flickering through the trees. Those who are in the other camps must have succeeded in finally finding peace this night and their cares are at ease enough to allow sleep to happen. She pauses near a creek staring into the water tumbling over the stones thinking of the trials tomorrow would bring. Watching the current she thought of how different of a person she is since the last time she had graced these woods. It was time to see if who she has become is strong enough to stand for those who believed in her.

       Is this not what this is all about? Belief that our side or his has right to rule and dictate how things go. What is all that really separates us from one another anyway? It is a thin line, one that is how we go about things though both methods seem to involve bloodshed. The end result though is older ways returned or one man’s bloody vision continued. Failure though simply rests on one slip up on anyone’s part, one thread coming unraveled will do it and I have to hold them together.

Liz is seen as the living legacy of these old ways making failure in the coming days not an option. Doing so would make all their work over the past months fall apart since the lines of allegiance are still too fragile and new. She feels they could splinter at the slightest sign of failure never to be resurrected. Because of this view of her and belief that she can bring what they all desire they all came together to stand side by side for the first time in over half a century.

`       Still, Liz wonders as she walks away from the stream, is that enough? It sounded fine in the story with Ordin’s belief in himself, his men and his cause allowing his failure to still be a success and an idealistic lesson for generations evermore. She doubts though if failure does come tomorrow it would be looked at in the same light.

Liz takes a deep breath to collect herself gazing out over the ridge that she has wandered to. Below her is the city of Ravenwood and the field that surrounds its walls with the Zuran River flowing through it separating the city in two. Instead of soft lights from street lamps and watch towers the entire city is awash with a reddish glow that reflects off the sky as it fills with smoke. It serves as a harsh reminder of her last views of Ravenwood when she had stood not too far away trying to catch her breath.

“There you are, your-” A voice comes from behind her.

“If you even finish that thought Cat, I do not know what I will do,” Liz threatens.

Cat moves to join her on the edge. “It’s who you are, well your birthright I guess you’d say.”

“That may be, but it does not mean I want it said to me. It makes it too real still.”

Cat shrugs, “It has been weeks, but whatever you want. So are you done brooding up here?”

“Brooding?” Liz sputters. “I am not brooding.”

“He’s down there, causing more trouble tonight by the looks of it,” Cat changes the subject knowing better than to press too much.

“I know,” Liz sighs looking back down at the burning city.  “And tomorrow we meet him in battle.”

“Think he’d have better things to do, that idiot. I wonder if there’ll be anything left for us to save?”

“It is hard to say, you would think that keeping his people happy would be priority not burning down the city. But he was never one for the right priorities.”

“Yeah, he had you for that,” Cat quips then shakes her head. “That stupid brother of mine. Why did he have to do this?”

“The same reason people have done such things throughout history. Greed and power, thinking their way is right-”

“Belief,” Cat fills in quickly.

“Yes, that.”

“It’s why we stand with you.”

“I know, but I still wonder if it’s enough,” Liz’s voice is a whisper on the breeze. “If I am enough.”

“It is and you are,” Cat replies passionately. “You’ve called people together who haven’t been in ages, and he can’t compete with that. If we do fail then you have planted seeds of hope and thought of what can be done and people will try again.”

“Perhaps,” Liz watches the red glow over the city flare near the palace. “I guess however tomorrow turns out it will be better than this.”

“Of course!” Cat pulls at her hand. “Now come on General, among other titles that you won’t let me say. Let’s go back before the story finishes.”

Sighing, Liz allows herself to be led away, glaring at Cat for hinting again at the things she was avoiding thinking of. As she was pulled away from the cliff she seals away the dark thoughts and doubts from her mind or tries to at least. There is no use dwelling on the future, but thoughts of the past still slip in when one doesn’t notice, often causing just as much trouble as those of the future.

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