Chapter 1:

Prologue One - Ashvallen

Reaver's Song

Ashvallen Silverbough raced up a flight of crumbling stairs, across the sloped and sagging roof of a warehouse and leapt across the expanse toward another building opposite her. For a long moment, the ground lost its sway and Ashvallen was free from the confines of gravity, floating like a silver-haired bird in the azure expanse of the late afternoon sky.

She landed gracefully, her small, lithe form barely seeming to touch the dirty grey shingles of the roof below her feet. Her breath came easily, years spent running from the city guard had made her lungs powerful and her legs tireless. Her small body darted between the chimneys thrusting skyward from the rooms below, her brilliant amethyst eyes darting suspiciously as she ran, searching for both hidden obstacles and the city guards and their hirelings chasing her.

Why were they even chasing her, she asked herself, deftly slipping beneath a low-hanging board a lazy chimney sweep had left behind. She hadn’t even done anything this time. Normally her declarations of innocence were wholly unfounded. She’d been captured and imprisoned many times and each time her loud protestations against any guilt in the crime were bald-faced lies. She’d done whatever crime they’d accused her of, which both she and the city guard obviously knew. She’d done what was needed and gone on about her life filled with self-loathing but free. The game had been played many times over her short 19 years of life. This time, however, the rules seemed to have been altered rather significantly.

The first indication things were not quite the status quo were the twelve guards and nine ranger guild members who’d come to capture her. Traditionally it was two guards who had no interest in doing anything more than the bare minimum. The arrow she’d managed to dodge, but just barely, when she’d first come into contact with the enforcers had been her second clue this lot was serious.

The third and final indicator she was in serious trouble had been the dogged pursuit the rangers had embarked on. Even now they were close on her heels. She was faster than any human alive…probably. But these weren’t just your average humans. These were hunters and trackers who were used to spending hours chasing after wounded and frantically running prey and they were not playing.

Well, she wasn’t wounded yet, but she was definitely frantically running. She wouldn’t be able to keep this up forever. It was time to throw a wild card into the game. Without slowing Ashvallen reached the edge of the building and jumped, the twin curved daggers at her waist slipped into her hands as her jump took her far too high to make the next building. As she fell short of the rooftop by almost a meter she plunged earthward like a stone. Her keen eyes searched for her wildcard and quickly found it, a rotting windowsill on one of the open windows of the building she’d just jumped from. With a flick of her wrist the curved dagger arced through the sky, a thin metallic chain attached to the pommel and secured to a bracelet she wore.

The dagger sunk deeply into the wood and Ashvallen gripped the chain tightly, the resulting tension changing her trajectory dramatically so that she was now swinging directly toward an open window two floors below the windowsill her dagger was buried in. It quickly became obvious however, her angle of descent would take her above the open window and directly into the wall itself. Normally a problematic situation but, with a flick of her wrist the dagger ripped itself from the windowsill and her angle of descent changed once more, allowing her to twist her body slightly and crash through the window into a seldom-used tailor shop. She flicked her wrist as she rolled into a ball and was quickly upright and running once more, the dagger returned to her hand.

Ashvallen reached the stairs and was about to run down when her keen ears picked up the sound of hurrying footsteps coming up from below. The rangers had already caught up? How was that possible? Even people as skilled as they were couldn’t have made it to the building so fast. These people were serious, and she was seriously in trouble. With her options dwindling she rushed back up the stairs and ran toward the far side of the building. She was high up but with a little luck she could make the jump onto the gypsy carriage the old woman had parked nearby last week. With no luck? Well, it wouldn’t be the first time she’d broken a leg.

The window loomed larger as she built up more speed. Faster than any human could manage Ashvallen had just about reached the ledge when a sudden pain behind her eyes blinded her, causing her knees to buckle. A grunt of agony escaped her lips as she stumbled forward, her momentum carrying her through the open window. She fell gracelessly, flailing haplessly as she plummeted toward the ground.

19 years. Not much of a life to flash before her eyes, her disjointed thoughts seized on. Her mother had been a slave. All elves were slaves for all intents and purposes, except perhaps the High Elves. Most of them were vanished though, so she wasn’t sure if that counted. Rising up against the humans in general and King Rhade in particular had not worked out for them. Their once timeless fortresses and sprawling cities interwoven with the trees deep in the forests and hills were gone. Reduced to rubble or used as summer homes for rich humans.

Elves had no rights to speak of. They could be killed for any crime, raped at a whim, tortured, beaten, massacred with no thought of repercussions. They were the lowest of the low. Almost. The only thing lower were half-elves like Ashvallen. Despised by both elf and human alike, half elves would never fit in. The two societies never agreed on anything except that half-elves were disgusting, vile abominations, the ultimate symbol of an elf’s humiliation and a human’s shame, regardless of the circumstance of their conception.

Half elves shared two distinct traits: their hair was always a shimmering silver, never lightening to white or darkening and their purple eyes which glowed slightly in the dark. The shades of purple varied from person to person, but the base color was always the same. A glowing, vivid marker no half elf could erase.

Why Ashvallen’s mother hadn’t killed her at birth she had no idea. Most half elves never took more than a few breaths in this hateful, cruel world before their lives were snuffed out. For whatever reason, though, whether some misplaced sense of compassion, a strange motherly instinct she found in that one moment and forgot shortly thereafter or something else entirely Ashvallen had been spared. Not a day had passed since she grew old enough to know the world and her place in it, that Ashvallen hadn’t wished her mother had smothered her in the swaddling when she’d had the chance.

Food had always been scarce or, usually, not there at all. Ashvallen’s mother, Elyra, worked for several of the local petty lords cleaning their homes or caring for their pets. Most nights she would come home bruised and beaten, too numb to the world to even bother crying anymore. Then, one night when Ashvallen was five, her mother simply didn’t come home at all. It was a refrain which played out often among the so-called “free” elves. The ones who weren’t owned directly and at least marginally protected by a human master. Ashvallen had searched for her but to no avail. As soon as the owner of the hovel she lived in found out her mother was gone and no more coppers would be forthcoming, Ashvallen was kicked to the streets.

She had tried to make it legitimately, selling flowers or small baubles she’d found but it wasn’t enough to live on and soon she’d taken up with a local gang. She was small, far smaller than any of the humans or elves even and could get into places no one else could. She was nimble and proved a quick study in hand fighting and the daggers she now carried at her waist. Theft, muggings, scams, murders in extreme cases, these became her daily routine. Not rewarding, perhaps, but enough to quiet the pangs of hunger and allow her to finish another day above ground.

Speaking of ground, she thought as the rough stone streets rushed up to meet her, it looked particularly hard this evening. Her head felt like a dagger had embedded itself behind her eyes and the pain nearly blinded her. She closed her eyes for a moment, the wind blew her silver bangs back from her delicate face and caressed her slender body as it fell. She’d long thought death was preferable to this farce of a life but here, with the cool evening breeze of early spring rushing past her she regretted the coming end. Not the pain coursing through her head and coalescing in her chest for some odd reason, nor the daily hunger which stalked her like a ravening beast or the beatings or torture at the hands of the city guard, but this feeling. This momentary kiss of the wind on her skin and the whispers, no matter how dishonest they were, of a freedom she would never know.

Ashvallen grunted as she hit the ground. It felt far softer than she thought it would be. Blood poured down her face, she could feel and smell it. She felt her consciousness quickly fading like the last rays of the setting sun and opened her eyes for what she knew would be the last time. The room was mostly dark, only a small smokeless lantern in the corner and the light from flickering colorful images on a bizarre painting pushed away the darkness. How peculiar, she thought as the darkness of oblivion closed about her. This didn’t look like anything like a street at all.