Prologue

 

“How could you?”

Arthen’s voice hung in the silence of the chamber. He stood there, eyes fixed on the high lord. “Answer me, Yansor!”

“Yes, Arthen, you are dying. I warned you, but you wouldn’t listen. You should have been more careful, held more respect for the Order.” The high lord spoke quietly, eyes steady on the outraged young man. “You forced my hand.”

“More respect for the Order?” Arthen’s lip curled back in disgust. “Who has done more for the Order than I? Who protected us all, when Dethar emerged from the shadows? Who fought against him, all these years, while the rest of you ran and hid?”

“Your service only worsens your treason!” Yansor’s voice hardened. “You’ve betrayed us all. You lied to your brethren; insulted the very core of our traditions. You care for nothing but the praise of that high elven witch!”

“You are a fool, Yansor!” Arthen spat. “What have you against the queen? Our purpose is the same as hers: to fight the Demon, and to stop the Keepers’ return. Are you affronted that she didn’t seek you out herself? You’re not even worthy to speak her name!”

“Eliaquel is a traitor, no different from yourself!” Yansor barked.

“Without her, we cannot hope to win!”

“She’s a wretch! She abandoned us, shunned us, ignored us for all these years! Our ancestors debased themselves in their attempts to recover her, but she would neither forgive nor forget. She cannot help; she will not help! I won’t allow it. You and she are two of the same, tied down by the foolishness that the same leader who failed to win the last war will be our savior in the next. The Order of Watchers is the only hope now, and as high lord, it is my duty to ensure that we have full control.”

“Do you really think that killing me will stop her?” Arthen’s tone was ominous. “You can’t even open your mouth without stupidity tumbling out of it. How little you even know. The Keepers of Fire cannot be matched by your power. They’ll fall upon you and the Order like they’ll fall upon everyone else, killing and burning in the fury of revenge. You’ll never be fit to stand up to them, and they’ll laugh at your attempts.”

“How dare you speak such words!” Yansor shouted, eyes flaming with hatred. “It’s a pity I didn’t poison you sooner!”

Arthen smiled. “That won’t be your last regret. Without the aid of the queen, you will never defeat the Demon.”

“I have no need of her, and no need of you! Impudent lout!”

Arthen opened his mouth to reply, but gasped as a searing pain wracked his chest, burning like acid through his body. Falling to his knees, he struggled for breath, eyes watering in agony. 

“Yansor, please!” he cried. “You don’t know what you’re doing!”

“I have no care for you now, Arthen,” the high lord growled. “Your death is a blessing to the Order and to the world.”

“You don’t know what the Keepers can do, Yansor!” Arthen choked. “You doom yourself by killing me! Eliaquel will never help you if you destroy me now! Dethar will run wild! You sentence all Mel’tar to death!”

For a moment, Yansor felt his resolve soften as he watched the young man, fighting for his life. How proud the high lord had been to bring him to the Order. Arthen had shown true promise, but everything had changed now. 

“If only you’d followed me, Arthen Brightscar,” Yansor said. “You could have been of immense help. Die in peace. Our work will carry on.”

The pain was intensifying, but Arthen bit back his cries, glare trained on the high lord. 

“Your end is not far off,” Arthen warned. “Beware the wrath of the High Born Queen!”

“Farewell, Brightscar.” Yansor turned away.

The poison had done its work.

Arthen slumped lifelessly to the ground.

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© M. K. Casperson