Chapter 1

For Drew

Zeal day was the most celebrated of all public holidays in Entia. The entire city drank, feasted, sang and danced in honour of their most revered hero, Zeal Dawnstar. A huge stone statue of Zeal stood in the Market Square and gifts of wine. flowers and fruits were stacked against its base. Lance Baron, a Captain in the Entian Army and Guard, scanned over the donated tributes and marked out at least five bottles of quality wine that he'd make use of later.

"Hey! Stop! Thief!" A fat faced merchant tried to cover his stall of scrolls and verses with his arms, and his boxes of trinkets with his belly. Captain Baron looked in the direction of the disturbance and saw a nimble figure with corn-blonde hair, skip over the boxes and crates before vanishing along a side-street. There was no chance of anyone catching him, so the Captain didn't even try.

Comet Galeraven whistled brightly as he wandered out of one of Entia's many trading shops. The baubles and poems had brought a decent price, as had the bundle of silks before that. Zeal Day was a haven for a quick thief. A disturbance broke out and got Comet's attention. Disturbances mean crowds and Comet liked crowds, especially if they entailed full pockets. The ale had been flowing steadily all day and along with it, peoples' imaginations. The Guard had been called to investigate a gang of self proclaimed magic users who were paying tribute to their hero, Zeal. Of course, they were nothing of the sort. Even the most ale soaked of individuals wouldn't dare assert a genuine claim to such a power. It would result in them losing both hands, a long jail sentence in exile and decapitation if they managed to survive the first two. Comet swiftly relieved a few bystanders of their coin purses while the Guard bundled the charlatan mages into a locked cart. Good Fortune seemed to have smiled on Comet as a Gleeman decided to capitalise on a ready made crowd and began his tale of Zeal Dawnstar.

Forty years ago, Entia had been quite a different place and magic was at the heart of Entian life. Those born with the Art, practised it for the good of Entia. Men and women used magic as commonplace in their everyday lives, and the Entian Army had Mages in its ranks. It was a beautiful balance of harmony. The men drew from the Forces of Air and Fire, the women from Earth and Water.

Thirty years ago, the Royal Princess Honor Griffon ascended to the throne of Entia, becoming its Queen. The Queen had be born without the Art and resented it deeply. Her insistence that she could be taught magic had lead to the exile of many Mages, both men and women. In time, Queen Honor had to accept that she was not, and never could be, a Mage. At first the Queen sought to outlaw magic in its entirety, but her Council pointed out a huge flaw in this. The Army would be without its Mages. Queen Honor compromised and outlawed the use of magic to her fellow females, allowing it only usable by men who served in her military.

Honor was thirty years old and had been on the throne for ten years when Entia came under threat from the Barbarians of the North Harshlands. They were a savage breed of people who lived in vicious clans and bloodthirsty marauding gangs. The majority of the Entian Army had been sent North to protect the border, but Entia had underestimated the Harshlanders' organisation. The city found itself under attack suddenly, and at very close range, from the west. With the Army in the Northern Territories, Entia was left defenceless. The citizens armed themselves with whatever they could and prepared to make a stand for their city.

Among the citizens were Lore Dawnstar and his wife, Zeal. Zeal had given birth to Lore's son, Clash, only six months ago and she wasn't prepared to have her family overran by Barbarians. The young twenty year old stood with her man who was only five years her senior, and prepared to take on the Harshland Barbarians. While Queen Honor and her Court were making preparations to flee Entia, the Entian people were making preparations to face death trying to defend it.

Zeal's husband, Lore, gave the official account of what happened out on the West Cliffs, outside of the city walls. The citizens were pathetically outnumbered and hopelessly armed. They stood in path of an unstoppable death, and stood proudly. Zeal Dawnstar broke away from her people and clambered atop a cliff rock. She held out her arms and implored the Mystical Forces to assist them. Suddenly, the ground shook with such force that Barbarians and Entians alike, stumbled to their knees. The stone and clay split into a giant chasm directly beneath the enemy Harshlanders and the earth itself swallowed them up. Still the Barbarians came, leaping over and stepping upon their dead comrades in order to breach the chasm. The sky darkened and mirrored the earth as it was rendered in two. The clouds released a deluge of water on a scale that was incomprehensible to the usual mind. The downpour engulfed the Harshlanders and washed them into the yawning chasm, and still it came. Water filled the rift until it began to spill over its rim and massive mudslides followed. Any previously surviving Barbarians were buried under tons of earth, thus ending their lives.

Zeal Dawnstar had disappeared.

Queen Honor let the People have their hero, while actively damning and reviling the evil forces that had taken Zeal. They had taken advantage of a glorious beacon and ripped a young mother from her family. The Queen outlawed the use of magic by men too, and received very little opposition.

Over the next twenty years, and to the present day, Zeal Dawnstar became the icon of Entia. She represented an ordinary woman who had been sacrificed for Entia to survive.

Comet paused by Zeal Dawnstar's statue in the Market Square. The artists hadn't quite got the hang of getting the stone to retain colours, but the faded hues were still distinguishable. He wondered how much this iconic tribute had been exaggerated. Obviously the woman hadn't been twelve feet tall, so what else had they embellished? Comet wondered just how red her hair really had been, and if it really had cascaded down her back like that. Clash Dawnstar was as dark as his father so he was no indicator. Had Zeal's eyes really been green? Green eyes were quite rare in Entia. Maybe the artists thought that green eyes were more in line with mysticism that the usual blue or brown. The statue depicted her wearing a simple black robe, as she'd been reported wearing on that day twenty years ago. Would she really have worn black under the hot Entian sun? Above all. could any mortal girl be so perfectly beautiful? Her stone features were serene and exquisite and classically breathtaking. Zeal had been Comet's age when she'd vanished and Comet considered himself an authority on the appreciation of beauty in peers of the opposite sex. He found it difficult to associate this twenty year old legend with the forty five year old Court Advisor, Lore Dawnstar. He found it all but impossible to associate her with Lore's twenty year old son, Clash, also a Court Advisor.

"Oi! Away from those tributes!" Captain Baron's loud voice barked. "Yes you! I'll run you through with this sword, you little shit!" Comet took this as his cue to leave.

Ruby Galeraven kept books for anyone too busy, too dim-witted, or too illegal to keep their own. Her largest contract was keeping books of many sorts for The Web. The Web was Entia's very extensive, very covert and very illegal underground movement. People from all walks of life were associated with The Web, some through choice and many through coercion. For people like Comet who were brought up in the slum quarter, it was a necessity. Running errands for The Web paid well, as did selling commodities to traders in its behalf. The whole show was ran by Shadow who, as his name suggested, was unknown, dark but very powerful. A common thief like Comet had no direct dealings with the sinister Shadow, and he was glad of it. Ruby squinted in the dim lamplight as her son entered the shop. The ramshackle structure of wood and stone was more of a hut than a shop, and it also served as Ruby's home. Comet's own home was another hut next door.

"Write these up for me please." Comet said, handing over his day's takings. Ruby shrugged her thin shoulders and began counting Comet's coins.

"You keeping anything back for food? Don't expect me to keep you." Ruby said flatly.

"No. Write it all up." Comet said and his mother sneered at him. Comet had often wondered how such an unmaternal woman had ever given birth in the first place. She'd been sour-faced and shrew-like ever since Comet could remember. He'd tried to hold his patience with her, telling himself that it can't have been easy for his mother raising twin boys on her own. Comet's father had perished out on the West Cliffs.

"Anything else? I'm waiting to lock up." Ruby heaved a sigh in Comet's direction.

"How much have I got?" Comet peered at the book page dedicated to him.

"More than enough for a decent meal and a warmer room." Ruby turned the book round so Comet could see it.

"You know what it's for." Comet glared at his mother, then tried not to look too disappointed at the sum of his savings. This was his fund for Brand, his twin. Brand had been weak and sickly all of his life. Ruby had only just survived the birth with the intervention of a male mage who had somehow eased her bones so she could pass Brand. By then, Comet had already taken his first, healthy breaths. Comet has saved since he was seven years old and his goal was to take Brand to Tegrid to be healed. Tegrid had herbalists and pure water and it had healing ores and minerals that simply washed up on its shores. Anyone who was anyone went to Tegrid to be cured. For now, Brand was in the Infirmary in Entia, and not recovering at all. Comet closed the book and Ruby locked it in a drawer.

"You leaving now?" She asked wearily.

"Have you been to see Brand today?" Comet asked accusingly.

"No. Zeal Day is a busy day."

"Yesterday? Last week? Month? When was the last time you saw him?" Comet pressed.

"What's the point? He doesn't even know I'm there." Ruby began extinguishing the lamps.

"What's the point? Mother it's Brand! Remember him? How can you just ignore him?" Comet shot angrily. Ruby just shook her head and stood infront of the counter with her keys. "Fine. I'm leaving. I'm going to see him tomorrow. Do I tell him you'll be going later on in the week?"

"Whatever you think best." Ruby opened the door.

"Your heart is as cold as the stone that bears your name. Good night mother." Comet left and walked the few feet to his own gloomy hut. A beggar stumbled out from the shadow of his doorway and startled him.

"Honor." The beggar looked all around its tattered self, then peered into the darkness of the lane.

"What? Go home, wench. It's late." Comet tried to sidestep her without touching her. She was filthy and even scrawnier than Ruby.

"Home. Home?" The beggar looked all around in bewilderment. "There's no magic."

"Oh you're one of those crackpots. You really should get on home before the Guard finds you." Comet waved his hand at the shabby mess of rags and unlocked his battered front door.

"The Queen. I must see the Queen."

"Oh yes? I'm sure you must. The Palace is that way, through the Market Square, past the barracks. You can't miss it. Have a nice night." Comet closed the door on the remainder of the day.

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