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Chapter One


Morning arrived quicker than it was wanted for the inhabitants of the Hall of Kings. The King and Queen were in bed, embracing each other and enjoying the comfort it provided. These days, the King looked forward to the moments with his wife, because they were the most peaceful parts of the day to him.

Just last week he had been successful in talking Nova Roma to join the Alliance of Nations. It wasn't an easy task, considering the war that waged between Silmaria and Nova Roma two years previous.

They now joined Shapeir, Surria, Denya, Eastern Fricana, and the cities of Spielburg, Willowsby, Johnsburg and Betelgeuse in the Alliance - sworn by Honour and contract to assist in the aide if any of the others were attacked. (In fact, Nova Roma is the first nation not affected by the King's heroic deeds to join the Alliance. Willowsby, Johnsburg and Betelgeuse are a triangle of small villages where the King grew up, and were the first to join, along with Shapeir.)

A sudden rapping on the door brought the two lovers out of the euphoria of each others presence.

"My Lord, the Archmage wishes a word with you," came a voice from the other side of the door.

"Can it vait?" asked the Queen to the guard. Turning to her husband, she looked into his eyes, "It is too early for zis! Every time he summons a meeting vith you, it brings bad news. Can't you stay home for once, Devon?"

"Elsa, love... That bad news is precisely why I must go." He kissed her forehead, and climbed out of bed, his muscles flexing with every movement.

"Tell Erasmus I will be with him shortly," Devon yelled at the door, and started getting dressed.

"My Lord, he is, ah... He is waiting for you in the dining chamber." came the reply.

"Vell, if he vant's to meet in our home, he gets ze both of us!" She was already out of bed and pulling on her clothes.

"So, dear boy. The reason why Fenrus and I..." The voice echoed throughout the chamber. Erasmus' face was formed by the chandelier, which had contorted itself to a close resemblance of the Wizard's head.

"I actually had nothing to do with this, for once..." remarked the large rat sitting on the table, interrupting the talking lighting fixture.

"Yes, well, the reason why I'm here is that I got an urgent message regarding you this morning, Orion."

"You're quite the popular person at the moment!" quipped Fenrus.

"Yes, this message was from your father."

"My... Father!?" it was more of a question that came forth from his lips than a statement.

"Yes, Myrlinus Aidendale."

"So, you got us out of bed because Devon's father sent you a message." Elsa was somewhat annoyed at the news.

"Well, yes. It was more because of the contents of the message than anything else, and Orion seemed the best candidate for the job, as Rakeesh's leg is hurting more-so in his old age than it did ever before, Danielle's not the young Paladin she once was, and as I'm sure you know, young Madrick's got his hands full at the moment."

"So, there's something going on back home? Severe enough that a Paladin is needed?"

"I'm afraid so. Five people have disappeared within the past week, and strange creatures..."

"I prefer the term 'abominations of nature,' Erasmus," Fenrus added.

"Yes, yes, I suppose you would, Fenrus," the metallic head of Erasmus continued, glancing down at the rat, "these 'abominations of nature' are attacking closer and closer to the town, that people are afraid to leave the town during the day, and lock themselves in their homes at night."

"And to top it all off, Baba Yaga's set up camp, and I smell a rat behind this, and I don't mean myself!" Fenrus nodded in addition.

Elsa looked at her husband, Orion al-Rashid - born Devon Aidendale - and she was amazed at the calm look on his face. She knew what was going through his mind, and didn't want it to happen. His family could be in trouble, and he'd do anything to help. Unfortunately, it would mean leaving his new family.

"Elsa, love" he looked into her eyes, "I have to go."

"I know," she could see the hurt in his eyes, and knew she couldn't join him. "I love you!" she placed a hand on his cheek, "Remember zat!" He smiled weakly in return.

"Then I shall inform your father of your impending arrival. Meet us at the gazebo in an hour, Devon." The chandelier smiled, then creaked back to it's original shape.

"Rather impatient, eh Ori?" Fenrus smiled at his old friend. "Listen, be careful out there. I know you can fend for yourself, but we all know how... charming Baba can be." The rat crept over and sat on the table in front of the king. "This isn't the Baba we've all come to love either."

Orion looked down at his old friend. "Meaning...?"

"It seems this is the, er, daughter of the Baba Yaga you've met. Apparently, ages ago she seduced a weary traveler by trickery, and birthed children to him."

"You mean she forced him into ze relationship!?" Elsa looked appalled. Orion looked worried...

"You said 'children', she had more than one child to him!?"

"Frightfully so," Fenrus said. "What's worse is, the lad she tricked into loving her managed in time to fight off the curse, and tried to escape."

"Tried? I have a feeling he didn't succeed..."

"No, but you've met him... You see, after killing him in her rage at his attempted escape, she realized that she did love him, even if it wasn't returned. His head now guards her hut..." Elsa looked sick in the stomach.

"Yeah, I've met him... Pleasant enough person for a talking skull..."

"Just giving you a 'heads' up. I'll leave you to get ready, and say your farewells." Fenrus reached over and patted Orion's hand with his paw. "I'll see you in an hour..." With a dazzle of light, Fenrus was gone.

Orion sat there staring at the table where Fenrus just sat. "I don't want to leave you... I don't want to leave Myron..."

"Then don't!" his wife reached over and pulled his hand to her lips and kissed it. "Don't go..."

He looked at her, tears forming in both their eyes. "I have to.. I won't be able to live knowing I could have helped, but didn't..." he was going to add 'because I was selfish', but that was a far stretch, it was love and family, but his honour as a Paladin called, and Elsa knew this.

He stood slowly, squinting back the tears, and left the room in the direction of the nursery...