The curtain hung in the distance shimmering in the sunlight. All the colors of the rainbow danced along its silky surface. This angelic miracle is what he was after. He would destroy it and no one would be able to stop him. Gethen signaled his army to proceed... a grin spreading across his face. He was unstoppable. As he drew closer, he began to make out three distinct figures standing in his path. Golden light surrounded them. Gethen's grin faded as he roared in anger. The figures did not stir. He knew they had heard him yet there they stood defiantly. Did they truly believe they could protect their precious humans from him!
"So be it", he ground out through clenched teeth. "FORWARD"
Slowly the massive army again began its march across the lushes plains of Arcadia... straight towards the radiant beings ahead.
Asterope watched as the light of the fire danced along the cave walls. It was so beautiful.
"Daddy, tell me another story." She whined as she snuggled closer to her father.
Malcolm Dorsov groaned as he turned to look at his restless daughter. "Asterope its the middle of the night and I just told you one."
"Pleeeease" she pleaded. "Tell me about the King's Warrior."
Pretending to be very stern, daddy answered, "Alright...But no interrupting." Asterope nodded eagerly.
"Once upon a time, there lived a great and just King. His people loved him greatly and all that he gave them. For his enjoyment he appointed champions over the people, entrusting to them portions of his power. These champions used this power to do many wonders. All was well for a time...till corruption was born. Out of the champions came a man of great darkness. His name...was Gethen. Retreating beyond the borders of the great King's land and his loyal subjects, Gethen hid himself away in a dark forest. There he conjured up many an evil, going so far as to call forth those trapped in Gehenna, land of the damned. In time he established an army composed of traitors, exiles and vile creatures to march on the King's land and take the throne. But as Gethen and his horde of evil began their advance, the King and his champions meet them and a long bloody war emerged, both sides suffering many casualties. The champions fought hard but soon came to realize there were too few of them to continue to hold off the powerful hellish beings of Geheena. The King also realized that by giving so much of his power to so many the power had diminished. Now neither he nor his champions could protect his people from Gethen. One day the King was struck down by a poisoned arrow to the heart. His power tried to heal him but it was not enough. His champions begged him to take the power he'd given them so that he may save his own live, but he refused. Instead the King called forth his four daughters and in the presence of all those who had stood by him he gathered his power back to himself. Then with his final breath he released unto his beloved girls the magic. Now only they held power strong enough to defeat Gethen. But of the four sisters only one had the courage to fight. The youngest, Shaleh, went out alone and challenged Gethen. The battle ragged for days until suddenly in a flash of light and sound it was over. When the smoke cleared...neither Shaleh nor Gethen could be found. In fear of the other sisters the horde scattered, retreating into the darkest corners of the world. The champions, in their excitement, left the sisters standing on the battlefield to return home celebrating the victory and mourning the dead. No one ever saw the three sisters again but some say they left this world to form a barrier between our world and the spirit world in fear that Gethen's spirit somehow survived. Others say the sisters ended their own lives there alone side the grave of Shaleh; ending magic once and for all.
As the story came to a close, Malcolm glanced down at his beloved daughter, her sleeping form curled tightly against his side. Why hadn't he noticed before how much of her mother she had in her. The long, black hair, deep, blue eyes and warm, olive skin all mirrored his beautiful, late wife. He leaned down and kissed the top of Asterope's head. She would be turning 9 years old in less than a month and he had yet to think of a gift for her. Not much profit came of a temporary caravan guardsmen always on the move. Suddenly an idea occurred to him. He would scrape together every last coin he could for the rest of the month, then he would find them real home. For her birthday he would give his daughter a place to finally settle... permanently. He was so thrilled over this idea he couldn't sleep the rest of the night.
The next morning Malcolm decided it was time to travel to the city. It was a good day's journey from their private cave and if he was to afford his daughter's gift he needed to find some good work fast. As Malcolm saddled Horse, unfortunately named by Aster herself, Asterope packed the last bit of kitchenware. "Alright sweetheart let's start off shall we?"
"Yes...Pa...pa." At the note of distress in his daughter's voice Malcolm spun round to face her, only to find a pile of packs and bedding wavering before him. Laughing at his daughter's strength of will and independence he quickly reached down and lightened her load. Asterope breathed a deep sigh of relief, giving her daddy a big smile of appreciation. Once the last of their belongings were tied down on Sadie, their mule, Malcolm reached down to lift Asterope onto Horse's back. As he did so Asterope threw her arms around her strong daddy, gave him one sloppy butterfly kiss, and whispered, "I love you daddy" into his ear. In that moment, Malcolm truly believed he was the happiest man alive.
Asterope loved her daddy so much. So much so that at times she became almost giddy with contentment. This morning she was so happy she almost forgot her dislike of traveling. Almost...Yet not quite. As the long hours passed her earlier cheerful contenance quickly began to fade. Rain had been scarce this season, leaching all moisture from...well... everything. Every step Horse made sent billows of dust into the air where the harsh wind caught it up and sent it swirling. It coated her mouth and teeth no matter how tightly she pressed her lips together. Daddy had even given her his handkerchief to tie around her face, yet the dust still got through. Her eyes felt stiff and dry, just like everything around them. Asterope patted her dad's arm to get his attention but then realized she was to afraid to open her mouth for all the dust. In misery, and with tears welling up, Asterope closed her eyes and leaned back against her papa turning her face into his arm.
Malcolm realized they needed to find shelter soon. Less then half way to the city the wind had begun to pick up. Now they were in the middle of a windstorm that was growing fiercer by the minute. He was sure there was an old abandoned cabin somewhere along this route yet couldn't be sure where with the amount of dust flying through the air. Suddenly, a faint outline of some large object materialized before them. Dismounting Horse, and holding tightly to the reins, Malcolm reached out to determine the nature of the silhouette. To his relief it was a stone building. He hurriedly felt along the exterior searching for the door. Once found, he forced Horse and Sadie inside and quickly shut the door. Malcolm first set to work filling a basin of water from the indoor pump to bath Aster, who still sat whimpering on Horse, than rushed over to help his little girl down. After washing most of the grime and sweat away, Malcolm shook out the blankets and lay his dear girl down. Next he brushed the animals down. The wind outside howled even louder upsetting the horse and mule. Malcolm quickly emptied two sacks of their belongings and slipped them over both animals heads. Suddenly there was a noise at the door. Someone was trying to get in but Malcolm had locked the door behind him. Though he refused to leave anyone out in this weather he wasn't about to not take any precautions. Reaching into his boot, Malcom pulled a dagger and unlocked the door. As the door flew open, forcing Malcom to the wall, he watched as a mass of cloaked figures collapsed on the floor in a heap. As the figures began to scramble over each other to get out of the wind Malcom tried to shut the door. But the wind had become so strong he was worried he couldn't do so. Two of the cloaked figures rushed over to help and together they got it closed and locked once more. An adable sigh went out through the cabin as everyone slumped to the floor in exhaustion. Someone began to laugh. Another joined in, than another and before he knew it even he was joining in.
"So, who's company do I have the pleasure of meeting on this stormy day," Malcolm inquired as the laughter began to fade. As one, the cloaked figures rose. There were about twelve of them in all and then what looked to be a child. A man stepped forward and pulled back the hood of his cloak.
"My name is Agnarr Sadavin, Duke of Chaznare, and this is my lovely wive Rizalia and daughter Mira. We are traveling from the kingdom of Negwen. These are my faithful subjects and comrades in company. And to whom do we owe our gratitude, for rescuing us from such a dreadful fate?"