~Prologue~


Imoro the Wood Nymph calmly wandered the forests of Oraklees, the sun beating down on his light bronze skin. This was his life. As a Wood Nymph, he served little to no purpose in the complex Oraklic civilization, and rather enjoyed the absence of organization. Yet, despite his love for adventure, sometimes he wished for someone to accompany him on his journeys through the Oraklic wilderness. Sadly, the Wood Nymphs were few and far between, and they were the only forest creatures of any intelligence. Though in the forests of Oraklees, intelligence was not an attribute of the feared.

The main predator of these evergreen wilds is the Lindworm, a fifteen foot long, wingless, venomous dragon. They have two small arms that crawl across the forest floor, dragging an enormous tail behind them, able to strike fast as a whip. Their head is three feet long, their teeth sharp enough to rear into any kind of skin and their eyes keen enough to dodge the fastest arrow. Lindworms were known to feed on all creatures, but that Wood Nymphs were a delicacy.

Behind a tall tree was a large female Lindworm, her tail wrapped around three of her surviving children. Her eyes were loosely shut as she tried to catch a small bit of rest. Her children had been keeping her awake for weeks, and it was wearing out her body and instincts quickly. The poor mother was deprived of most of her energy, and hoped very much for a little boost to help her raise her children…

A spike of adrenaline coursed through the mother Lindworm’s blood as she catches the scent of a traveling Wood Nymph. Her children needed food, and so did she. It was the perfect source of food for her entire family, something that she greatly needed. She kept her head low, her eyes open in small slits, peering through a large shrub into a small, grassy clearing. Pieces of armor and old, decaying bodies sat outside a large cave at the other side of the clearing, but that was not where the scent came from.

A low tree branch snapped, and the mother Lindworm flinched, nearly waking her children. The bronze body of a Wood Nymph stepped softly into the clearing. “What in the world?” Imoro asked himself, shaking nervously at the sight of a decaying Elven body. Most of the flesh was completely gone, but there were still bits of it hanging on the skeleton. Imoro knelt by the skeleton, observing it, attempting to figure out the cause of death. “Well, it wasn’t a Lindworm… What could it have been?” From behind a nearby shrub, there was a loud hiss. The hiss of a Lindworm. “Oh dear…”

Imoro leapt for the cave as the Lindworm, in a flash, hurled itself from behind the shrub, jaws wide open. With its speed, it caught up to Imoro, snapping its jaws shut around a small pack on his side. The Lindworm tore the pack from the Wood Nymph’s belt. “You b*****d!” Imoro cried, turning around and kicking the Lindworm in the face.

The angered mother staggered slightly, watching Imoro dash inside the cave. It whipped its tail into the cave, smacking Imoro directly in the side, smashing his body against the cave wall. His forearm cracked, and he screamed, falling to his knees. He began to crawl further into the cave, when an unfamiliar figure stepped from the cave’s black shadow. He was an old man, wrinkled and lean, his hair long, grey, and matted. He had a large beard that fell on his chest, and pale white skin. Yet he wore a set of armor crafted from the body parts of Draconic Demons. There was only one man who had the skill to create such armor… “What’s going on here?” he asked, his voice deep and scratchy. “I don’t really like trespassers. You should watch where you tread, Nymph.”

“Please help me!” Imoro plead. “My arm’s broken. I’ll die out there!”

The old man sighed, rolling his eyes. “Get up, then.” The old man stretched his arm out to help Imoro up.

“Sir, that’s my broken arm.”

“Oh! Sorry, my mistake.” The old man retracted his right arm and helped Imoro up with his left. “Follow me.” He ordered. Imoro followed the stranger deeper into the cave, and soon they reached a small fire, that, for some strange reason, produced no smoke. “Have a seat.” They both sat down by the fire, and the old man reached into a large bag. “Want a chicken breast?” he asked.

“Well, I don’t want to impose. I guess not-”

“Have a chicken breast.” The old man cut into Imoro’s sentence and tossed a chicken breast into his lap. “I’ll fix your arm after you answer a few questions for me.”

“What kinds of questions?” Imoro asked, biting into the warm, well cooked chicken breast. The taste of the chicken was magnificent, its flavor incredibly unique. “How’d you cook this?”

“Oh, that? Well this is a bag I had enchanted. Cooks any raw meet placed in it and keeps it nice and warm. Now, to answer your first question, they will regard everything that just transpired outside the cave.” the old man explained. “How’d you manage to break your arm?”

“I didn’t break it. A damn Lindworm did. Crushed my body against the cave wall with its tail and sped away right before you arrived.”

“A Lindworm tried to eat a Wood Elf?” the old man asked. “Unbelievable!”

“We are their favorite food.”

“Wait, really?” the old man asked. “I thought they liked elephant.”

“You’re thinking of the Wyvern. How long have you been in this cave? After all, this is common knowledge.”

“Too long, Nymph. Too long… What’s your name?” the old man asked, an expression of optimism on his face.

“My name is Imoro Falhart.” the Nymph replied.

“Well, Imoro, I’m going to put on a show for you. Follow me.” The old man stood and began to exit the cave.

Imoro stood, an expression of fear on his bronze face. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Entertaining you. What else?” Imoro crept to the front of the cave, fearfully watching the old man step into the clearing. Old b*****d’s going to die… Imoro thought.

“Hello? Hey, free food, right here!” the old man bellowed. “Hmmm… Oh, perfect!” the old man picked up a small stone, gripping it tightly in his hand. In an instant, he hurled it toward a small shrub, striking a baby Lindworm, cracking its skull wide open. There were two shrieks of terror from its siblings. “That ought to piss the mother off.” As he said those words, the tail of the mother Lindworm struck the old man’s legs from behind, making him fall backward. To Imoro’s surprise, the old man was very agile, rolling backward and launching himself back on his feet. “Son of a b***h…”

The green tail came again, headed for the old man’s face, only to be stopped by the old man’s hand.

“You have no idea who you’re messing with.” He gripped the tail tight enough to break bones in the tail. The mother Lindworm screeched, clawing at the ground, trying to make an escape.

“Dear lord!” Imoro exclaimed, amazed by the old man’s power. The old man swung the Lindworm from the ground into a tall, old evergreen tree, knocking it down. It fell with a large crash, pines flying into the air. The old man dropped the Lindworm on the tree. He walked over to the head, which was sitting on the tree, the eyes looking fearfully up at the old man, the mouth partially open.

“You’ve fed on the blood of so many helpless creatures.” the old man growled. “How about you have a taste of your own.” he kicked the mother Lindworm in the jaw, cracking it into many pieces, leaving the Lindworm to choke on its own blood. The old man wiped the pines off of his red and black armor and walked back over to Imoro, who looked up at the old warrior, completely flabbergasted.

“How did you do that? No single man has ever killed a dragon of any kind! How are you not the highest member of the military? How is the world not at your mercy?” Imoro asked.

“It almost was, Imoro. My life was very complicated. You wouldn’t be interested, though.”

“Are you kidding me? I’m more interested than you can imagine! You’ve just displayed power that could be the envy of the world!” Imoro exclaimed. “Who are you?”

“Well… Let’s just say I’m a figure that most people strongly dislike. The life I was leading came to an end many years ago, and I guarantee you I am not the same man.”

“But you’re so powerful, yet so old. You must have been indestructible when you were young.”

“Quit talking about power, Imoro!” the old man ordered angrily. “I do not like the association of myself with power.

“But why not? I would love to be as strong as you! Who wouldn’t?”

“Strength and power are different. I’ve tasted both, and I’ve come to find that power is the bane of all intelligent life. Whenever you think you’ve got it, there’s always someone stronger who puts you in your place. It’s a waste of time, Imoro.”

“But… how could you go from there to here?” Imoro asked.

“You haven’t a clue who I am, do you?”

“How would I?”

“Come back to the fire with me. I’ll tell you more there.” Imoro followed the old man back to the fire and they sat down where they were before. “I was banished from Oraklees by the Council of Aarzhans many years ago and sentenced to death for a crime even you should know about. I escaped capture and have lived here ever since. Have an idea now?”

An expression of terror was plastered across Imoro’s face. “You’re Drachen’s Marauder! Admiral Astrauld Drehal!”

“I haven’t been called that in many decades.”

Imoro turned and began to scurry away. “Someone help! He’ll kill me!”

“If I wanted you dead, you wouldn’t haven’t made it into the cave, Imoro.”

“You’re a monster!”

“I am not a MONSTER!” I bellowed, shaking the entire cave. My powers got out of hand sometimes, but this time it probably doomed this Wood Nymph and I. I shook the cave so violently that many boulders that sat on the hillside above tumbled down, completely sealing the only exit of the cave.

“Somebody help me!” Imoro cried.

“There’s no way out, Imoro. You’re stuck here with me.” Imoro stopped struggling and walked back over to the fire, realizing that the old man would probably not kill him. He was still extremely cautious though. “Perhaps you’ll let me shed light on your misguided opinions.”

“Misguided opinions about what?” Imoro asked.

“My life.” Astrauld replied. “You think me evil, do you not?”

“I… I do. But why wouldn’t I? You’ve killed so many people I cannot fathom a punishment worthy for your demented soul.”

“My actions were not without reason, Imoro. All you’ve truly done is assume. Maybe you should learn more about me before making such quick proclamations. You see, the world has falsely labeled my identity as evil.”

“Well you are a murderer.”

“Not a murderer, but a man of war.”

“What’s the difference?”

“A murderer kills without paying heed to those powers above him. A man of war is told to do so by those powers. We live in a world of hypocrites.” Astrauld explained sorrowfully.

“Hypocrites that have kept Oraklees peaceful for decades!”

“The absence of war is not the definition of peace, Imoro. Have you ever been in a city like Nyswor or Helswor?”

“No.” Imoro answered.

“They’re incredibly corrupt, and it’s all because of the king.”

“The son of the man you murdered.”

“That is correct.” Astrauld confirmed.

“Were you not once in a position of power. Did you not contribute to the corruption you speak of?” Imoro asked.

“I did… and I regret it. I found that I was fighting for the wrong cause, Imoro. The king was depriving millions of people of their lives, so I took his life in their honor.”

“Those actions were evil.” Imoro proclaimed.

“Those actions were justified!”

“In what sense? The King never truly took the lives of our peers, Astrauld. It was an illogical punishment for an innocent man.”

“Oh he definitely took lives, Imoro. In his eyes, all of the soldiers were pawns in his cynical game of chess. Completely expendable. I was lucky enough to be a rook on his game board.”

“Why does that matter to you?”

“He was careless! He didn’t bat an eye if a soldier died! He just sat on his damned throne in luxury he never earned!”

Imoro fell silent for a few moments, thinking of how to reply to Astrauld’s latest words. Hesitantly, he asked, “Astrauld, why are you so passionate in this hostility toward the royal family of Oraklees?”
Astrauld thought deeply on how he was to present the reasons for his hostility toward the Royal family. Imoro was just a boy, no more than fifteen years of age. His question was valid, but he did not believe his answer would make sense without some background information regarding… “My life.” Astrauld replied. “There are many reasons, but for you to understand, I must tell you the story of my life. Maybe then you’ll understand the fiery passion of hatred I feel toward the rulers of this sadistic world.”

Imoro took a deep breath before replying. “How will this help my understanding?”

“If you know of my life, you’ll be able to see my viewpoint regarding the royal family correctly. My life has not been all that great, Imoro. I was raised in the small village of Ilkskava, just north of the great city of Nyswor. It is not the action that put my existence to shame, but what lead me to take such an action that is important. To truly make you understand, you must understand how it all began. I proclaim that my childhood was among the worst times of my life, and that the single worst person I ever met was my father.”