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Prologue: Twin Stars


Toras Voldur stood on the balcony of Castle Tugan, looking down at all his people had accomplished. A great city full of trade, craft, and power sprawled before him. Even hours after the sun had set; the city was alive with the lights of his people. Some would stay open all night and rest during the day, simply because many of his people preferred night to day. Also housed within the city was one of the largest, most well trained, and highly respected armies in all of Kayledon. This was Cagar-Tugan, the High City of the Orcs.

Long ago, the ancient, evil god of the Orcs had been destroyed. Faarthus, the god of fire, led the abandoned Orcs west, to the Tharkas Mountains. In a vision, he told the Voldur’s ancestor to begin a more peaceful life among the peaks. Since then, under the leadership of seven kings and five queens of Voldur lineage, the orcan race became more civilized, enjoying a life beyond war and conquest.

Up until then, the orcs had received very little recognition from the humans, even less from the dwarves and gnomes, and outright distrust from the elves. So when the Demon Horde attacked nearly a century ago, Toras’ great grandfather thought it would be best if he gave the rest of the world a reason to trust the orcs.

Crovas Voldur had sent orc battalions from his own front lines to the other sites of the attack—the Urdor Mountains, the Elderwoods, the Kingdom of Valora, the gnome city Mistwatch, and the two great schools of magic, Solreth and Luereth.  

His move was the greatest leap forward for orc kind since the death of their god. The honor and bravery of the orcs earned them the trust and respect of the humans of Valora and Eldrina, and were offered an alliance with both kingdoms. The gnomes of Mistwatch, who were most thankful for the military aid, were now on the best of terms with the orcs, and offered their future services in any endeavors. The dwarves or Urdor were not quite as enthusiastic, but willingly accepted the orcs as comrades, and offered to help mine the Tharkas Mountains.

The elves of Shae’Ildarae, however, still had very little to say to the orcs, though they had received just as much aid as any other area. They had dropped open hostilities and much of their old hatred toward their ancient foe, and no orc living that Toras knew of held any ill will toward the Fey Folk, but there was no openness, no alliance and no trade between them. The elves were known to be somewhat cold to others, especially to humans, but the relations between orcs and elves were downright chilly, and not on the orcs behalf either. Toras had observed an orcan caravan guard offer an elven caravan protection between Shae’Ildarae and Eldrina for no cost, only to see the elven caravan politely decline. When the goblins of Western Urdor swarmed into the Elderwoods, he personally ordered a company of his finest warriors, the Silver Guards, to aid in the fighting. What he received in return was a share of the spoils and curt thanks.

Toras furrowed his brow and crossed his burly arms over his barrel-like chest. He knew the elves could hold grudges on the level of the dwarves, but how long could they hate the orcs for no reason? The orcs had saved their lives and shown them great honor, and still they were spurned.

The king of the orcs stepped away from the balcony and retreated to his quarters. He eased back into a tall, cushioned chair next to a towering shelf filled with literature, most of it history. He gazed around the room, seeking a distraction from troubles he could not face now.

His eyes fell on the ceremonial flame of his private shrine to Faarthus, a gift from the High Priest of Faarthus and his personal advisor. The flame’s dance brought him comfort; it reassured him that the Firelord was watching over him. The God of Fire and Courage had never let down him or his ancestors. He prayed as he stared, asking Faarthus for aid in these matters. He knew the welfare of his people would someday depend on the grace of the elves. He prayed that one day he could gain that grace.

A sudden knock on the door brought him out of his reverie. He grumbled slightly as he stood up from his seat, wondering who would call on him at this late hour. Upon opening the door, he was surprised to see his general and retainer, Ganash, breathless and wounded. A circular breach the size of an orc’s fist in his chain mail leaked blood between the general’s fingers. The wound was large, but he was in no danger of dying.

“My liege, I bring you incredible news!” Ganash said, not waiting for his king’s response.

“If must be, if you cannot be bothered to see a healer before seeing me,” Toras said, indicating the bloody bare patch on his retainer’s chest. “I should make it standard procedure that messages are brought to me only after we can be certain that the messenger will survive!”

Ganash looked at his wound, and then shook his head. “I am not hurt so bad. Many of my men are worse off; it is they who need the attention of the healers.”

Toras was taken aback. “I thought you were overseeing a standard patrol of the Northern Hills! What creatures gave you and your company so much trouble? I’ve seen you lead a unit against a score of trolls with no casualties.”

“T’was no creature that was responsible for this,” Ganash told him. Toras’ confounded stare bade him to carry on. “We were patrolling the Northern Hills, as you said, on the plateaus south of Reylyn’s lair. One of my men cried out suddenly and pointed to the sky, where there were fiery rocks falling from the heavens! The storm was upon us before we could seek shelter. Some have been injured grievously.”

“A meteor shower?” Toras wondered, bringing a hand up to scratch his short, ash gray hair. “Our seers never predicted one. Could this have been an attack, the work of a sorcerer, perhaps?”

“No, my lord,” the general answered. “We were too remote, and Reylyn would have informed us if there was a troublemaker on the loose.”

Toras furrowed his brow for the second time that night. It could not have been Reylyn. She was a quiet one for a dragon, and seemed to regard the orcs as her children. It seemed that Faarthus had given him more mysteries instead of answers.

Just then, an orc clad in the red and gold robes of the Faarthus priesthood came down the hall to stand behind Ganash. He had long, raven black hair and a red tattoo upon his forehead, contrasting the gray-green skin of his orcan heritage. Toras knew the orc as Iksol, his most trusted advisor and high priest of Faarthus, with as much faith in his god as in his king.

“Sir Ganash!” Iksol scolded sharply, a fiery glare in his dark eyes. “I warned you before not to disturb the king after sunset! He specifically requested that he wasn’t bothered tonight, so be gone from his presence at once!”

Ganash bit back a wicked retort. He loathed the priest, feeling he was nothing more than a sycophant begging for attention. But he would not disgrace himself in front of his king, so he held his tongue.

“It is all right, Iksol. This is urgent business,” Toras said, gesturing for him to calm down. The priest quieted, but eyed the general with contempt. The king turned back to his retainer. “Can you bring me to where this happened?”

“Certainly, milord,” Ganash responded, ignoring Iksol’s glare.

“Take me there now,” Toras demanded, already moving to his armor stand.

“May I accompany you, my lord?” Iksol asked.

“This is none of your concern, priest. This is military matter that has no bearing on you.”

“Not my concern? No bearing on me?” Iksol said, looking appalled. “Faarthus would be displeased indeed if the high priest of his most prominent temple was unconcerned about fire from the sky! This may be a sign from the Firelord himself!”

“Iksol, you may join us,” the king said, sheathing his sword. “Come, my friends, we have a mystery to unravel.”

Ganash rounded up as many of his orcs that were healed well enough to travel, after his own wound was tended, and ordered a return to the meteor site as part of the king’s escort. On the way, Toras spoke with some of the soldiers, trying to find out as much as he could about the phenomenon. The orc that had seen the shower first readily offered his account of the events.

“I was keepin’ me eyes peeled for the Red Lady, just t’see if she be out fer food,” he started. Reylyn was often called the Red Lady by the common folk, as not many were aware of the ancient red dragon’s true name. “Then I sees a star, red as blood, flickerin’ like a candle in th’ sky.”

“That’s not all too strange,” Toras answered. “On some especially clear nights, you can see colored stars.”

“But tha’s just it,” the soldier said, smirking, “it weren’t there when I looked b’fore! Then, well, I ain’t too sure, but it looked like summat ripped a hole in the sky, filled with liquid flame! I hardly saw them rocks comin’ before they was on top o’ us.”

“Rubbish,” Iksol mumbled, off to his king’s side. “You need to lay off the drink a while, soldier.”

Toras turned an ill look toward the priest. “What makes his word less truthful than my own? What reason do you have to doubt him?” The advisor deferred his glance, looking quite abashed at the scolding. The king turned back to the soldier. “What is your name?”

“Kronta Baangs, majesty,” the soldier said proudly, bowing his head.

“Kronta, you are a boon to Cagar-Tugan’s forces. Your warning may have saved the lives of many warriors. I will see you commended before the month is out.”

“Thank ye, majesty,” Kronta smiled. Iksol frowned and wondered if his king was truly impressed with such a coarse soldier.

Later, when Kronta was out of earshot, Toras gave his advisor a much angrier look than he had earlier. “For someone who brought up the possibility of this being the work of the Firelord, you are being rather narrow-minded.”

“My lord,” Iksol began apologetically, “The common mind is quick to fabricate spectacular details when it can get attention. I will be quite able to discern the nature of these meteorites when I have inspected them. Until that time, I have only his word.”

Toras eyed his advisor, and then chuckled. “Again, I see the attitude that earned you the title ‘Scholar of Flame’, the mind that burns away false knowledge until only pure truth remains.”

Iksol smiled humbly and bowed. “I believe you selected me as your advisor because of that very title?”

“Just don’t burn too quickly, scholar,” Toras warned, “or not even the truth will remain!” 

The night waned as the group marched, and dawn was fast approaching as they came upon the plateaus where the meteors had landed. Toras understood immediately just how lucky Ganash and his soldiers had been. The once wide, flat plateau was now a scarred and pocked waste. The enormous, spire-like meteors stood like gravestones over the empty graves of the fortunate soldiers.

“How many lie beneath these stones?” Toras wondered in awe, speaking to no one in particular.

“None, milord,” Ganash told him. Toras stared at his general in disbelief. “Thanks to the soldier you were speaking with, we escaped without casualties.”

“That soldier is up for a promotion,” Toras said as he surveyed the destruction before him.

“Aye, milord,” Ganash responded, in full agreement with his king.

Iksol, in the meantime, occupied himself with the meteorites. He put his hand near the surface of one, to test its temperature. It was warm, but not hot enough to burn. When he placed his hand to it, he was surprised to feel a smooth, glassy surface, like a crystal.

“Majesty,” one of the soldiers called, “the Red Lady approaches!” Toras looked up from the crater he was studying with Ganash to see the huge red dragoness descend just outside the boundaries of the meteor site. Many of the soldiers backed away when she landed, but none of them took flight, for it was well known that Reylyn was an ally to the orcs. From head to tail, Reylyn was about fifty feet long, and about three orcs tall at her shoulder. Her brilliant orange eyes always seemed to glow with their own light. Massive, powerful wings tucked themselves against her back as she surveyed the damage. The sun continued to rise behind her, and it seemed to onlookers that she was wreathed in a flaming halo. 

Toras walked over to her, followed by Ganash and Kronta. They stopped just beyond the edge of the site, keeping a respectful distance as she looked around. Toras held back a smile, waiting for what almost always preceded a meeting with the Red Lady.

When she was done, the dragoness turned a sly smile upon the three orcs before her. “All right,” she boomed. “What have you boys done to my favorite sunning rock?”

Kronta and Ganash paled at her words. Ganash had never actually met Reylyn, and this first meeting seemed like it would be his last. However, Toras, who had known her since he was young, said, “We thought you wouldn’t notice, at least until you lied down.”

Ganash nearly fainted out of disbelief, shocked that his king would be so disrespectful to such a powerful creature. Kronta seemed to brace himself for whatever fiery end she would put them to.

But the great dragon just chuckled, a light sound that seemed out of place for a dragon her size. “Well met, King Voldur, I hardly believed a simple meteor shower could take you from your home.” She noticed the behavior of the orcs flanking the king, and said, “What's wrong, soldiers? Lost your nerve?”

Toras smiled, and answered, “Nothing, my lady. They just aren’t used to your disarming sense of humor.”

“Well, a dragon my age should have a good sense of humor,” she responded playfully. “Otherwise, we’d just eat anyone we had no taste for!”

Kronta and Ganash chuckled nervously, and the king nodded his agreement. Iksol approached then, cautious as he always was around Reylyn. It seemed to Toras that Iksol had very little trust in the Red Lady, as she was still much of a mystery to many of the Cagar-Tugan orcs, and was still not sure how to approach that mystery. 

“Greetings, Red Lady,” Iksol started. “For what reason have you come to us?”

“To you?” Reylyn said curiously. “My dear priest, I came here to sunbathe. It is merely a coincidence that you are here as well.”

“Indeed?” The king interrupted. “Then you have no knowledge of why this happened?”

“Not anymore than you or your soldiers. I did sense something strange, however,” she said, looking away as if recalling a dream. “I do not think it was connected with this meteor shower, though.”

“You may be wrong, my lady,” Iksol said. “I have a feeling this was no ordinary meteor shower. These meteorites are quite peculiar.”

As if to prove his point, sunlight washed over the field as the sun crested the mountains in the east. The light revealed the meteors as translucent, blood red crystals. At the heart of each, a fiery glow sprang to life when touched by the sun’s light, as if fed by the fires of daylight. The “hearts” throbbed in sync with each other, as though connected by some magic.

“By the shinin’ flames!” Kronta whispered. He walked up to the closest spire and laid his hand on it. A few moments later, he pulled away from it suddenly, as though it burned. “It moved!”

“What?” Toras and Iksol said in unison.

“It . . . It twitched! Like some creature’s heartbeat!” Kronta stammered. Reylyn approached a larger meteorite, and laid her large ear to it, closing her eyes. When she opened her eyes and pulled away, she nodded. “I couldn’t have said it better myself. In two hundred years, I’ve never seen meteorites like these.”

“Majesty, I am beginning to believe Sir Baang’s story,” Iksol confided to his king.

“All right, men,” Ganash ordered. “Sweep the area. If you find anything at all, report to the king or myself.”

The group split up into pairs, save for Iksol, Toras, and Reylyn. In order to put the soldiers at ease, the dragoness used her aura magic, the innate magic of all beings on Kayledon, and transformed into an auburn-haired, orange-eyed human woman dressed in crimson robes. Such was her favored form when dealing on the terms of the smaller creatures of her realm.

After about an hour of scouring the plateau, Ganash returned to Toras, excitement evident in his features.

“Come quickly my lord! And you, scholar, I wouldn’t want you to miss this,” he said, and then started back the way he came. Toras followed on his heels, Iksol and Reylyn close behind. He led them to a ring of meteor spires, where Kronta stood waiting, over a crater in the middle of the ring, his back to them.

“What is it?” Reylyn asked.

Kronta turned to them, a bewildered expression on his face. “It . . . It be a child, m’lady,” he said. Sure enough, when he stepped out of the way, they could see a half-orc child, asleep and unbothered by the dawning sun. Toras and Reylyn’s eyes widened, and Iksol whispered a prayer. Reylyn said some words of magic, conjuring a wool blanket to her hands. She moved next to Kronta and gently wrapped the child, not disturbing his sleep.

“What can this mean?” Toras breathed.

“I do not know for certain,” Reylyn said quietly, smiling. “But it seems that you have been blessed with a half-orc son by Faarthus.”

“Me?” Toras exclaimed, trying to keep his voice low. “What are you talking about?”

“Aye, it be true, sire,” Kronta said as he looked upon the child. “He’s got yer royal crest on ‘is forehead.”

“That’s not all,” Iksol put in. He gently took the child’s right hand so everyone could see a red symbol the shape of a fiery star, Faarthus’ holy symbol.

“This child has been blessed by the Firelord,” Iksol proclaimed, “A favored soul of fire and courage!”

Toras felt as though he was seeing everything for the first time, and his vision was sharper and clearer than perfect, razor sharp crystal. The legends he had studied, the deeds of the past, and his own prayers to Faarthus, they all swirled together into a single, unified vision. A vision, Toras believed would lead his people to immortal glory.

The Orc King took his adopted son from Reylyn’s arms, and turned to his retainer and his spiritual advisor, never once taking his eyes off the child in his arms.

“Gather the men, so we can return,” he said, smiling gently to the sleeping boy in his arms. “We have much to prepare for.”


Deep in a forest far from the Tharkas Mountains, a lone creature watched a star of red light disappear from the western sky. The same creature had witnessed a similar blue star extinguish right above his favorite spring. His surprise was great when a bowl shaped formation of blue crystal suddenly rose up from the depths of the pool, bearing a humanoid infant boy.

Any other creature may have been scared away or could not be bothered by such a trifle, but Poerna was an asperi, a wind horse of startling intelligence and virtuous spirit. He walked on the air over to the crystal bowl, to find the child alive and asleep. He nudged the floating crystal to the edge of the pool and gently lifted it on to the lush grass.

It was then he noticed the symbol. A silvery blue marking of an eye in a crystal seemed to be etched onto the infant’s left hand. Poerna knew the symbol, for it was the symbol of Taelri, the goddess of water and magic. 

“No ordinary child, this one,” Poerna thought, though it was obvious by the spectacle through which the baby had appeared that he was special. He considered what he must do, then took the edge of the bowl in his teeth. With the magic of air inherent to his species, Poerna tread on a cushion of air, slowly climbing the air. Soon, he walked above the trees, the wind tossing his long mane and tail.

At first, he considered taking the infant to the elven city Fisathvanna. There were plenty of people there, and more opportunities for him to be found. But Poerna had no love of cities of any kind, and found that a horse walking on nothing but air tended to frighten people, no matter his intentions.

His mind then turned to the elven and human village of Tyhal. It was much nearer than the city; he could make the village by morning at his current pace. He knew a family there as well, one that would have no problem finding a home for a mysterious half-elf child.

As dawn drew near, Poerna touched ground on the outskirts of Tyhal, by the edge of the western orchards. The cold breeze wafted the alluring scent of fresh apples to his nose, and he suddenly remembered why he loved visiting this village. Poerna was not the type to take without asking first, so he left the fruit for later, making his way to the village.

True to its reputation as the Treehome Village, Tyhal could easily be passed over by anyone who did not know where to look. Any human or dwarven visitor would have looked for dwellings around the trees, or even inside the trees themselves, but Tyhal’s architects must never have figured out an efficient way to implement that idea. Because the trees in this part of the forest grew so close together, the only room for any domicile was up where the trees were not so close. High above the forest floor, there were bridges, walkways, ladders, and several crude lifts that connected the tree houses of Tyhal. Only one home, in the hollowed base of an enormous oak tree in the center of the village, was near to the ground here, and that was precisely where Poerna was going.

Not knowing whether the occupants were asleep, Poerna gave himself an inch or so of air to walk silently on, but his efforts were unnecessary. Before he even got close, he could hear Siali singing, probably while she was working. Sure enough, when he could see the entrance of the oak tree house, he could also see the young elven woman on her knees, tending to a garden. Her soft-looking black hair was tied back in a braid, and she wore a course leather apron and thick gloves, holding a small gardening spade.

He approached without a sound, and then pawed the ground when he was close enough. She looked up quickly, seemingly startled, but her eyes brightened when she saw the wind horse. She stood as though to welcome him, then noticed his curious burden. He set the crystal bowl with the child on the ground before her, and she gasped.

“I couldn’t think of anyone better,” Poerna said to her, communicating telepathically.

“Where did you find him?” Siali asked, her tone breathless. Poerna explained the circumstances under which he found the child, and she almost laughed in disbelief.
“What does this mean?”

“I haven’t a clue,” he replied. “I might know someone who would know, but this child needs a home first.”

Siali’s eyes grew sad for a moment, and then she said, “My father and I will be happy to look after him.”

Poerna regarded her sternly. “That was not what I meant.”

“I know,” she answered softly, “but perhaps this is my gift from Taelri.”

Poerna sighed, which sounded like a normal horse’s snuffle. About a decade ago, Siali had lost her human husband in the Goblin raid. She believed that one day his loss would make sense, that Taelri would repay her sorrows.

“He is marked by her,” Poerna said. “Perhaps what you say is true. But know this: he may one day have a destiny greater than this place, greater than all of the Elderwoods. This is a selfish decision on your part, even though it is made with good intentions. If it comes down to it, you must let him go, for he is blessed by Taelri, and she alone can decide his fate.”

Siali was silent for a moment, and then she nodded her head.

Poerna turned about. “Take care, Cat Shadow,” he said, calling her by the Common translation of her name. “I will return in a few days.”

Siali watched the wind horse ascend into the sky, galloping to the clouds. She picked up the infant and crystal bowl, and turned to see her father, the elder of the village, come out of the oak house.

“What is that?” The old elf said, his eyes wide.

Siali smiled, looking to the face of the boy, his face lit by the dawning sun. She looked at her father and said, “This is our future.”

This story is the property of Tyler Clapp, Author (AKA "Cael") Copyright DarkFireGraphics.com