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Prologue

A New Star

“Those at the serpent’s head first swallow the tail of defeat.”

-Articles of the Mahann

The Senashow walked down a passage, observing his surroundings, trying to remember how to get to the Queen’s study. His eyes scanned the dim, torch-lit hall. Flickering light played on the granite, giving it the appearance of shifting in and out of existence. The smell was earthy from the recent rain; he could still taste the last bit of moisture. The scent was not unpleasant; it reminded him of home, as did the stone on which he trod on. Most men had a difficult time walking these dark halls without tripping on the uneven stone floor or occasional rug, but this was not a problem for the Senashow, for he was not a man. He was not even human, for that matter.

It was a chilly spring night, the castle drafty and cold; no doubt from the feeble craftsmanship of dull human hands. The Senashow hated these old human dwellings. They were so poorly made they didn’t even keep out the cold. It was cold at home too, but at least there the stonework kept out the. He honestly didn’t know how these creatures had made it out of the Stone Age.

A particularly uneven stone on the floor caught his attention. Pathetic beasts, thought the Senashow as he walked. They are not fit to clean our boot straps, and here our Queen, their Queen for that matter; is living among them. Disgusting! That was beside the point now. There were more pressing matters on the Senashow’s mind. What if the prophecy is true? What if the new star in the sky this night is a sign that it is coming true? It was not in his nature to believe in what he would call “mindless mysticism,” but he did know the Resistance and the crusade Twigs did. If there was anything worse than people believing in prophecies, it was that people usually found ways to make them come true. It was for that reason he was in this horrid place tonight. One of the signs of the prophecy had come to pass not more than one day ago.

As he passed another corridor he saw a door at the end it open, flooding the hallway with light. Bah, thought the Senashow, the animals can’t even see unless it is as bright as the noonday sun. He was near the kitchens, full of light to enable the servants -- or rather the slaves -- to see what they were doing. As the warm air from the cook fires flowed into the hall, the smell of the food forced him to admit that at least the animals could be taught to cook. Whenever the Senashow passed too close to people he caught little glimpses into their minds, if you could even call them that. Most showed the fear and panic the servants felt upon seeing him. Good. Fear your masters, filthy apes! he thought with derision.

As he approached the Queen’s study, he could see the door at the end of the hall. There was a man coming out, another Iumenta like himself. He knew this person. He was Parkas, the Queen’s chief warlord. He was a tall, slender man, with a firm jawline and an wolf like appearance. His light grey skin shone in contrast to the dark hall, accented by thin lips and pale yellow eyes. At first glance he appeared weak and frail, but he was an Iumenta like the Senashow. Iumentas, like Elves, had deceiving appearances. They are at least fifteen times stronger and faster than any human, with sight rivaling that of any bird of prey, and such sensitive hearing that they can hear a heartbeat across a room. They are also immortal, or as close to immortal as one can be.  They do not age, and would live forever unless physically killed.

None of the Elves or Iumenta appeared over twenty-five years old. Parkas had been the Queen’s chief warlord for over a hundred years. His long silver hair fell past his shoulders, and he wore a black belt with a sword hanging from it. The sword was in a grey sheath with a polished steel handle. A sapphire embedded in the hilt glinted in the near non-existent light, so fine was its quality.

The Senashow saw Parkas was flustered and displeased. He obviously did not have a pleasant conversation with the Queen. Fantastic, thought the Senashow.  The Queen was temperamental in the best of times, but to have her already upset before he even delivered the news of the prophecy.... The Senashow knew that the news of the prophecy would enrage the Queen if she took it seriously, and she should, it was always an uncomfortable subject.

He walked up to the door and knocked three times.  A cold voice came from within.

“Enter.”

The Senashow opened the door and entered the room. The Queen was standing in front of an archway that led outside to a terrace and the castle gardens. The candlelight mingled with moonlight, bathing the room’s many books and paintings in warmth. The light from the fireplace against the far wall added an almost peaceful glow. The fireplace itself was square and framed in white marble. His eye moved up the large mantelpiece to take in the massive tapestry hanging on the wall.

The tapestry captured his attention. It was about half as tall as the room and was made of black silk. In the center of the tapestry was a six-pointed silver star with a solid pale green circle in the center. Around the star was a half-circle in the same color green, and on the left side of the star were four smaller six-pointed stars, which were dark gold in color. He walked across the study to place a roll of parchment on the inlaid marble desk, unrolled it and took a quill from the gleaming bronze set to sign his name. Out of the corner of his eye he watched the silent Queen as she gazed at the fireplace, where on either side perched two polished bronze dragons. Their tails wound toward the fire and reflected the light across the dragon’s bodies, giving them the appearance of almost dancing in the shifting light.

The Senashow moved to stand in the center of the room. He stood on a fine white and black rug with a depiction of two dragons battling. Like the bronze set by the fire, the Queen often gazed at these dragons for hours while she contemplated. Tonight was no different from most. She stood on the rug looking at the fire. She wore a floor-length dress of crushed black velvet, her sable hair flowing like a waterfall down her back. He caught the aroma of her perfume; it was a light sweet scent that reminded him of the sap of scrub brushes from their homeland. The fragrance was deceiving; it made her seem playful and gentle, like just another silly noblewoman, something she was not.

She turned to look at him. Her yellow eyes bored into him. Irritation was etched onto her strong face, her thin maroon lips pursed in a way he knew all too well. She was wearing a black pearl necklace high on her neck. From it hung a large pale-green stone in the shape of a tear. The stone was not a gemstone, but it still shone brilliantly, and was surrounded with gold. A small grimace crossed her face. She knew that he did not bring good news.

“Good evening, my Queen,” the Senashow said, vainly hoping her mood would soften with some pleasantries.

“Is it?” asked the Queen in a cold voice.  “My dinner is late, and I just spent over an hour with Parkas listening to excuses about why the resistance is still standing. Now I suppose I get to listen to more good news from you?”

It was obvious she was in a foul mood tonight, and that there would be no swaying it. The Senashow paused for a moment to contemplate how to deliver his news to the Queen.

She stood there looking at him with those yellow eyes. Her lips were pressed together again, and her grey skin seemed to glow with a hot anger. Despite the heat of the fury flowing off her, the Senashow felt ice cold. Her rage would break soon, and he wasn’t sure he could stand the force of it. Thankfully for him, he would not have to find out.

At that moment there was another knock at the door.

“Enter!” the Queen growled. She was starting to lose control.

A small servant wearing a cream-colored tunic entered the room. He carried a gilded silver tray of food in one hand and a glass of wine in the other. The Senashow stole into the boy’s mind. It was full of fear; he knew he was late bringing the’s food. The chefs in the kitchen were running behind because the Queen had changed her mind at the last second, and the boy was terrified she would hurt him, or worse, his older brother who worked in the stables. His thoughts were plain on his countenance; the boy looked as though a breath of wind could destroy him. He was trembling slightly and froze inside the doorway. The boy could see that the Queen was angry.

“Don’t just stand there, dog! Bring me my food!” roared the Queen. Her anger was palpable in the room. A wicked sneer began to tug at the Senashow’s lips. He knew that the Queen’s rage would soon be taken out on the servant. He might be able to salvage the night after all.

As the boy crossed the room, his foot caught on the fine rug. He tried to catch himself, but to no avail. The contents of the tray went flying at the Queen as he toppled toward her. With inhuman speed, the Queen sidestepped the oncoming food and grabbed the tray out of the air. She swung it at the boy, catching him in the mouth. There was a crunching sound and a stifled scream. Blood sprayed out of the servant’s mouth and arced across the room, covering the wall with crimson droplets. The Senashow felt a slight plop on his chest.  He looked down to see a small white pebble on the floor covered in blood. It was one of the boy’s teeth. The boy lay on the ground with a hand clamped over his mouth, his tunic now scarlet as copious amounts of blood poured from his ruined face onto the fine rug. The air became saturated with the salty metallic tang of blood. Oddly, the Senashow thought this new smell somehow added to that of the food. He thought he might go by the kitchens after he left the Queen’s study and partake of the offerings.

“Get out,” said the Queen in an icy voice.

The servant grabbed the remains of the food as quickly as possible and backed out of the room, holding his mouth. The Queen and the Senashow, now with a sneer on his face, watched him go without a word. Yes, he would definitely stop by the kitchens.

The Senashow looked at the Queen and started to talk as if nothing had happened. She appeared calm, and the expression on her face was now impassive.

“I am sure that you have noticed the new star in the eastern sky.” The Queen nodded.

“It is one of the signs of the rebel prophecy. It says that when the hero approaches manhood and the time when he will cleanse the land, a star will appear in the eastern sky. The star will be brighter than all other stars and will never dim or change its position in the sky.”

At this point the Queen interrupted. “We do not know that this is the star that is spoken of; it may just be a star.” There was an almost bored tone in her voice.

“Possible, my Queen, but that does not change the fact the resistance could take it as a sign that the prophecy is coming to pass.  I agree with you that a star is just that; a star, but these animals and twigs are superstitious creatures. They will believe anything that might even look like a sign.” His voice was patient.  He knew the Queen had been getting scattered reports for years of signs coming to pass, but nothing ever came of it. But the Senashow knew that this time was different; never before had a new and bright star been seen in the sky, let alone one that fit a prophecy.

The Queen took her time in replying. The Senashow knew she was contemplating what to do.

Finally, and with a careful voice, the Queen answered, “I do not think that the prophecy is coming to pass, as there is no way for anyone to see accurately into the future. I agree with you, the resistance will be moving now that the sky has a new light in it. Send out men to find for one who fits the prophecy’s description. Tell them that if they find one who does, bring him here so I may examine him.”

At this point the Senashow stifled a small cough. “Your Highness, if he is the chosen one and you bring him before you, he could… could… forgive me for saying it, he could kill you, my Queen!”  There was worry in his voice as he said this. The possibilities rushed through his head. If the queen is killed, all these years of work will be lost.

The Queen laughed. “My dear Senashow, it pleases me that you worry about my well-being, even if only for your own safety. It also worries me that you would entertain this mindless mysticism, as you like to call it.” Her voice was becoming cruel and soft, and he listened with rapt attention. “If we capture a boy that fits the description, the rebels will come to save him. In their haste, they will be sloppy and will make mistakes of which we will take advantage. They will be crushed, and in little time we will rid the land of this prophecy and the resistance.”

The Queen continued, a smile crossing her face. “When the boy is brought before me, I will sway his thinking and convince him to join us! I do not believe that there is a chosen one, but the people believe that there is, or can be led to believe as much. We can persuade the boy to believe in our way and then we will have an icon of our own to hold aloft that will silence all our adversaries, for if you remember, the prophecy does not say whose side he will join. It just says he will cleanse the land. If the resistance is crushed, the land will be cleansed, and we will be in power forever and finally have our revenge.”

He flinched inside as her voice took on an accusatory tone. “Furthermore, I do not believe in prophecies as you well know; there is no chosen boy, so it will be a human boy in front of me. Do you think that a human could overpower me?”  The statement dared him to question her.

He resisted and said, “You are wise, oh great Queen; we will set a trap and either way, the fools will spring it. Their own beliefs will bring them down.” There was true joy in the Senashow’s voice now.

Malice flickered in her eyes. “And apparently your beliefs too.”

He stammered, “My Queen… I… I was merely saying...”

“No matter.  You were covering all of the possibilities, no matter how unlikely, and I do not fault you for this. Indeed, it is your greatest strength,” she said.

Relief crept into him. “Thank you, my most kind Queen.”

“Now, we must develop a plan,” said the Queen in a brusque manner.  “We need to make sure that we find someone who matches the description exactly. If we are off in the slightest all will be lost.”

Deep inside the Senashow’s mind a small voice said And if the prophecy is true we will still be safe.

The Queen continued. “You will send out men to the country the boy is said to come from. They will search every boy of the proper age and look for the mark on him. Then they will bring him back to me.”

“And if he should resist, Your Highness?”

“Then they will kill him; he may only be of use if he complies.”

“It will be done,” said the Senashow, bowing his head.

They exchanged a few more words before the Queen dismissed him. As he was leaving the room, the Queen stopped him, “One more thing.”

He paused in the doorway and turned his head back to the Queen, who still appeared calm.

“Yes, my Queen?”

“On your way out, send servants to come and clean this rug.”

“It will be my pleasure,” he answered. Another slight smile began to creep onto his face as he said, “And the dog that caused the stain?”

The Queen replied in a calm and emotionless voice, “He fears that I will take retribution out on his brother, who works in the stables, as I’m sure you are aware.”

“Yes,” replied the Senashow brightly.

“Make sure those fears come to pass.”

“Your will shall be done, Your Highness,” he said as he turned and closed the door behind him.