PROLOGUE





King Maxen of Jilaya shoved his son into the tower’s uppermost room and bolted the door behind them. The jagged sounds of battle on the narrow stairwell below tore at his heart. Men he called friends died agonizingly for the purpose of buying those in the tower a few more precious seconds...precious minutes. All knew they would die...because they could not surrender.

He barely acknowledged Lyon’s gasp of pain as the young warrior fell to the floor at his father’s feet. As his daughter, Lynx, ran to help her brother, Maxen joined his wife at the tower window where she stared down at the destruction below. A tall muscular man, he easily bore the scars of numerous battles as befitted a man born a warrior who became a king by his own hand. His hazel eyes hardened as he saw his city, the last remnant of his proud kingdom, slowly dissolving into flames.

His beautiful city now lay in ruins, it populace scattered to the four winds. As soon as it had become certain they would be attacked, Maxen had ordered his people to leave. Some caravans had traveled across the nearby desert towards the setting sun seeking the green fields of wetter climates. Some caravans had headed south to eventually reach the far-away oceans. A few had headed north towards the unknown frozen mountains.

“Are they all gone?” he asked softly not really wanting to see the carnage below.

“Yes.” Phoenix’s voice sounded very far away. Unlike her husband, she stared at the small pockets of resistance that gradually gave away beneath armored horses, flashing swords, and cold cruelty. Even this high above the fighting, they heard piteous screams for help directed towards the tower. She felt Maxen’s shudder and silent fury at his own helplessness. She glanced at him, her silvery eyes boring into his. “There is no other choice.”

“I know!” Maxen’s head turned as they heard pounding at the door. “But such a decision made weeks ago in peace sits ill with me right now.” After a moment, he continued, “It’s time you and Lynx were gone.” He looked over his shoulder at his twin children...his golden children, he’d called them. Both had inherited their mother’s fair coloring and his bold spirits. He’d held such dreams for them.

Lyon struggled to his feet, automatically trying to put his sister behind him. Lynx shoved him away awkwardly holding a dagger. “I won’t be sent away!” she screamed at her mother. “I saw what they did to Gard...I’ll kill all of them!” She caught her breath as the memory of her fiancé’s mutilated body rose before her. Then she angrily wiped tears from her blue eyes.

“I have very little power left.” Phoenix’s voice was light yet regretful as she continued to watch the courtyard below. “All the Watchers are safely away. The Stones have been scattered. The Gods willing, S’Ten will not get them.” Her eyes flashed angrily as she almost spat S’Ten’s name.

“He will not get you either, I swear,” Maxen vowed softly.

Phoenix finally turned, her silver eyes calm. “I have never feared losing your protection, my love,” she murmured softly.

Lyon glanced at the door and brushed his bloodied blonde hair from his forehead. He saw his parents exchanging a last look of love...his sister trying to control both her rage and fear. “It can’t end like this!” he shouted defiantly. “I won’t have it!”

“We shall see.” Phoenix finally turned from Maxen. “At the very least, we shall not leave them much to bring to S’Ten as trophies of our defeat.” She drew Maxen into the center of the room and beckoned to their children. “You and I, Lynx, we will use the power given to us.”

“It’s giving way.” Maxen calmly watched the wooden door as it began to buckle. He glanced at his son and grinned despite the situation. He and Lyon were warriors. The magic possessed by his wife and daughter mystified and sometimes even unnerved him. He saw Lyon’s eyes glinting with the idea of destroying at least one more of S’Ten’s Black Knights.

Phoenix pulled her daughter into the circle of golden light around her. Slowly Lynx relaxed, feeling herself lulled into sleep despite the sounds of the door splintering.

“Lyon,” Phoenix said quietly.

Despite himself, Lyon automatically obeyed his mother and stepped into the circle of golden light. Being less trusting than his sister, he quickly realized what his mother was doing. But before he could protest or move, he was also lulled into sleep. Slowly Phoenix stepped out of the golden circle.

Maxen moved quickly, his glittering sword slashing at an arm thrusting through the half-opened door. The man on the other side screamed as he lost part of his arm. He glanced over his shoulder in time to see his children shimmer then fade away. “They won’t be happy about that,” he warned.

“They may never know,” Phoenix said, a sadness in her voice for the first time. She touched Maxen’s arm.

Reluctantly, Maxen stepped away from the door. Wrapping an arm around Phoenix, he joined her in the middle of the room. Sullenly he watched as S’Ten’s Black Knights finally broke into the room. He laughed suddenly as he saw S’Ten’s general.

“So, S’Ten prefers to stay safe and let you do his fighting, Lucien?” Maxen jeered. “I suppose some things never change.”

“And some do.” Lucien raised his blood-stained sword in warning. “You know your magic will not harm me, Phoenix, nor my men.” His dark blue eyes burned with anger. His dark red armor was splatted with blood although he seemed to be uninjured.

“Of course,” Phoenix nodded graciously. “Otherwise you would be dust in the courtyard before now.”

“The Stones, Maxen,” Lucien’s voice grated. “Don’t make this any worse.”

“Just hand them over?” Maxen jeered again. “Do you expect me to give S’Ten all that power?”

“And your wife.” Lucien’s teeth bared coldly. “I understand he has a score to settle with her.”

His quickly took a second look around the empty room. He’d been told Maxon’s son and daughter had also taken refuge in this tower.

“He should thank Maxen that all he bears is a scar from the coldfire,” Phoenix coolly interrupted his thoughts. “Had I not been stopped, S’Ten would have been ashes that day.”

“My apologies, my dear,” Maxen smiled. “It was a regrettable lack of foresight.”

“Enough!” Lucien shouted. “No more stalling! The Stones, Maxen! Now!” His hand tightened around the hilt of his sword.

“Yes, it is enough.” Phoenix’s voice dropped in timbre. “There is more in Maxen’s Tower than the Stones. What makes you think we would ever allow them or any of the other artifacts to fall into S’Ten’s hands?”

As Lucien’s eyes narrowed, he felt the temperature in the room suddenly drop. “No!” he yelled lunging towards Phoenix.

Even as he moved, Maxen’s glittering sword slashed upwards, sinking deep into Lucien’s bowels. The tower began swaying as Lucien fell to his knees.

The dying man looked up at Phoenix and snarled. “Damn you, witch!”

Phoenix watched in icy calm as Lucien slumped to the floor, his blood staining the stones beneath him. She ignored the frightened cries of Lucien’s men as they fought each other to quickly leave the tower.

“I’ll not be separated from you.” Maxen warned.

“Nor I from you, my heart,” Phoenix whispered. “I swear.” She felt his warm mouth on hers and closed her eyes just before a tremendous explosion destroyed Maxen’s Tower.

The survivors from the destruction of Maxen’s Tower fared ill when they reported to S’Ten who was marshaling his forces in the nearby realm of Green Hills. Those who survived the warlord’s rage found themselves the first to face the coalition forces headed by the Lords of Woodland and Rhyane.

And despite S’Ten’s best efforts to find them, the Stones of Maxen had vanished.



GO TO CHAPTER ONE



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