• Prologue

    The room was dark and hot. A moldy, dank smell wove its way through the air, despite the lack of a breeze. In the back of the room, the darkness was chased away by a small candle, which illuminated the figure of a man pacing back and forth. The only sound that could be heard was the shifting of his clothes and the tramp of his feet on the hard-packed earth. Suddenly a sharp knock rang out inside the room.
    “Enter.” The man’s voice was tense and gravelly. There was a creak, and suddenly the room was filled with the light of an oil lantern. The figure that carried it was neither man nor beast, but something in between. He shuffled rather than walked, and his back was stooped. A dark, hooded cloak obscured the rest of his features. The man’s face, now in the light, was pale and bearded, with thin, pursed lips and high cheekbones. His nose was long and pointed, and his eyebrows were dark and thick. His eyes were stark white, and had no pupils. His face looked like a nightmare come alive, and was sure to strike fear in the hearts of those who saw it.
    “Master, I bring news from one of the dark forests. A crow there witnessed the birth of a baby. The mother was an elf, but the father must have been human. The child did not have the mothers’ blue skin, or long fingers. If not for the pointed ears, it might have been mistaken for pure human.” The creature had a whining, oily voice. As he spoke, he moved slowly forward to bow in front of the man.
    “NO! How could this happen?” The man strode across the room to grab the creature’s cloak and hoist him into the air.
    “Master, I do not know! Who does this elf think she is, to defy your order?”
    “Why was she not stopped?” The man shook the creature roughly, causing him to whine in pain.
    “I was not there, Master! I am only a messenger, I do not know the mind of an elf!”
    “Yes. You are right. It was not your fault.” The man took a deep breath and seemed to regain control over his temper. He set the creature down and stepped backwards, his hands clasped together.
    “Now tell me again. What did the crow see?” The man closed his eyes and waited.
    “The crow, Nielsa, was on her way back to her nest- empty of course, because of your order- when she heard the unmistakable sounds of a woman in labor. Now she recalled what you had said, that no baby was to be born and live this year, so she flew to have a closer look. That’s when she saw the scene I described to you before. She expected the mother to kill the baby, or abandon it for the forest creatures to kill. Instead, the mother picked the baby up and stumbled away with it. That was when Nielsa stopped watching and flew to the nearest messenger outpost.” After delivering his message, the creature stood wringing its hands, as though expecting more blows from the man.
    “Here is what you must do. Send a message to all outposts, telling them to be on the lookout for a blue elf, female, with a human baby. If spotted, the mother is to be disposed of, and the baby brought to me. I want to take care of it myself. Make that part very clear.” As the man spoke, the creature nodded his head up and down in agreement.
    “Master, what about the crow?”
    “Nielsa? No one except my guard can know about the baby. The crow is of no further use to me.”
    “Yes Master, yes, very wise.” The creature bowed and scurried out of the room.

    Later that same day, in a dark forest . . .

    She ran until her strength left her, and then collapsed on the ground. The baby in her arms squalled, but she had no energy left to feed it. Something was wrong. She was still bleeding, and although this was her first child, she knew this should not be happening. Her vision blurred, and her stomach heaved, though she hadn’t eaten in days. She felt a cool, wet cloth on her forehead, and a comforting voice murmured in her ear.
    “There there. It’s going to be alright.” The voice was old, and female. A human.
    “I’m dying.” It took so much strength to whisper those words.
    “I know. I’ll look after your baby. I’ll look after your little girl.” The woman dribbled clean, fresh water between her lips, though she could barely swallow.
    “Yes. Look after her. Look after my little Renna.” She closed her eyes, her head swimming. She remembered how hard the birth had been, and then after that, the crow that had been watching, the crow that had caused her to run away rather than rest.
    “The crow! The crow saw. It knows. It must not find her. Don’t let the crow find my Renna!” She gasped the words, shuddering in horror and fear for her baby.
    “Shh-shh. It’s ok. I’ll hide her. Your little Renna won’t be found. Renna. Does she have a last name?” The old woman cradled her head. She wrapped her arms tightly around her baby, cradling her.
    “Her name is Renna . . . Ivy . . . Bluestone.” She coughed, and reached out to grab the old woman’s arm weakly.
    “Promise me. Promise me you’ll protect her, grandmother.”
    “I promise. I promise to protect this little girl, Renna Ivy Bluestone, with my life if it is needed.”
    She stretched out her arms, holding out the baby. She felt the baby’s weight leave, and relief washed over her.
    “Thank you.”
    The old woman watched as the mother’s eyes clouded over. Slowly she stood, carrying the baby in one arm. It cried in hunger, oblivious to what had been lost. The old woman gathered leaves from the ground and gently covered the dead woman. Soon all that could be seen was a dark mound of brown foliage.
    Moving slowly, the old woman walked up to one of the trees nearby. It was an enormous oak, almost four hundred years old. It towered over the trees around it, reaching up into the late afternoon sky. She knelt beside it, tugging on a root. The root lifted, pulling with it part of the ground in the shape of a door. With a grunt, the woman shoved it all the way open. She climbed gingerly inside the hole, disappearing into the ground. The door snapped shut, and it appeared that none had been to disturb the quiet forest.

    One hundred miles away, in a towering fortress…

    “In the year of the falling stars, a child will be born. It will have the power to overthrow the Lord Cyra, though sixteen summers will pass before it comes into that power. If the child does not live through sixteen summers, none will be able to challenge the Lord, and he will become the mightiest, cruelest lord this world has ever seen. Not for another thousand years will there come a person capable of defeating him.”
    A misshapen old woman, the one who had been speaking, bent her head slightly, her sightless eyes peering into the darkness.
    “That is the prophecy, m’lord Cyra, though it has been many years since I have been permitted to speak of it.” Her voice creaked like an old tree in the wind.
    The blackness shifted slightly, and the sudden flare of a candle illuminated the figure of a man. His eyes were stark white, without pupils.
    “Yes, yes, I know the prophecy, but what does it mean? What is this ‘power’ that is spoken of?” Cyra hissed slightly, barely containing his anger.
    “M’lord, that I cannot tell you. I am only a simple seer, not a diviner of secrets. All I know is that the power will be one this world has never seen before.” Though blind, the woman stared straight at Cyra as he questioned her.
    “Very well. Look ahead one more time. Tell me if you can see anything more, beyond the time of the prophecy.”
    “Aye, m’lord, I will try.”
    The seer bent forward and reached her hand into a silver bowl set before her. It rested on a slimy, dank, solid rock floor, and clanked slightly as she drew her hand away. In her palm rested three, sparkling, black stones. A symbol was carved on each stone. One symbol was a circle, with an arrow in the center pointing upwards. The next symbol was six intersecting lines in the form of a star, with a square around the point where they crossed. The last was a spiral. The woman clasped her hands together, shook the stones, and cast them onto the cold floor. Next, she unhooked a beaded bag from around her neck, opened the top and released an albino mouse in between where the stones had fallen. Instead of running away, the mouse walked from one stone to the next in a deliberate pattern. First, it walked to the stone with the circle on it, then to the star, then back to the circle, and finally it walked to the stone with the spiral. The seer held her hand above it, feeling its path, and every time it stopped at a stone, she quickly felt the engraved symbol. When the mouse had completed its course, she scooped it up and placed it back inside the bag.
    “M’lord, the stones do not tell happy tales for your future. You will have a rise in good fortune, for that is what the circle predicts, but then your path will change and trouble and uncertainty will arise from the star. You will survive that, and your fortune will rise again, but then your fate takes a turn for the worse. The spiral indicates that something will go very wrong, but further than that I cannot see.”
    “Someday I will make you regret those words, seer. For now, however, you must live. But do not rest easy, for I promise that I will prove your vision wrong. Nothing can stop me, as I am the strongest person alive in this world!”
    Cyra stood and kicked at the stones, which still lay on the floor. They scattered, rattling across the floor, and he blew out the candle, plunging the room into darkness once more. There was the creak of an iron door, the slam of it shutting, and then all was silent but for the sound of footsteps along a hallway.
    “Aye Cyra, it is true that you are the strongest alive in this world. But I did not tell you the reason I could see not see more. It is because the spiral indicates death. And as you should know, not even the strongest can return from the dead.”
    The seer stooped and collected her scattered stones, knowing exactly where they were even with her unseeing eyes. She picked up the bowl, placed the stones inside, and followed Cyra’s path out the iron door.

    Chapter One

    “Now let’s see. First we need to make you, my little Renna, a birth certificate. For a month from now, of course, when the year of the falling stars is over. Ho-hum.” Cradling the baby girl, the old woman walked down a set of earthen stairs, making sure the trap-door latch was shut tight behind her. She emerged into an underground cavern, the dirt supported by tree roots that twined down to form makeshift chairs. The ceiling was low enough that a man would have to bend his head to fit underneath, but the stooped old woman had no trouble making her way across the floor. She opened a small wooden door on the far side of the room and slipped into a space that was clearly a bedroom. A small hammock, crafted of vines and lined with sheep’s wool, hung in one corner, and in the other stood a chair and a nightstand. Atop the nightstand sat an oil lantern, which the woman lit deftly with one hand.
    “Here you go, my sweet Renna. Hmm. We need to shorten that, I believe. It’s too much of a mouthful for my tired old tongue to handle. Reny. Ren. Ren, I like that. Like the bird, but spelled differently. Well then, little bird, this is to be your room. It’ll do me good to see this room used again, seeing as how it’s been empty since my children have up and gone. Oh, and that’s another thing. What are we to have you call me? Not mom, I’m too old for that, but I don’t like the sound of grandmother.”
    As she spoke, the woman set the newly christened Ren down inside the hammock and started to tidy the room. Clouds of dust arose as she beat a pillow that had been sitting on the chair.
    “Ah-choo! Goodness, I didn’t realize how dusty this had gotten. Ah well, there’s time enough to fix that later. Now what was I saying . . . Oh yes, what are you to call me? I think . . . Selma. That’s it. Beloved one. Selma. Seeeelma. That will do for now.”