The tale of Myranda Celeste, a young woman orphaned by a century long war, and her chance discovery of a fallen soldier's priceless cargo. The find will change her life, sending her on an adventure of soldiers and rebels, wizards and warriors, and beasts both noble and monstrous. Each step will bring her closer to the truth of her potential, of the war, and of the fate of her world.
The end of an era is always a time of great importance. Sweeping change. Advancing into a new age. These are surely things worthy of a place in the memory of a people. Too often, though, it is a single event that brings about the most direct change that receives the attention. The blow that ends the battle, the last brick to fall. In our worship of these moments, these endings, we neglect the journeys, the trials, the hardships, and the battles endured to make them possible.
Whosoever is fortunate enough to find this book shall finally hear the greatest of these tales. I have spent much of my life piecing together the words that follow. Most of what you shall read comes from the mouths of the people who lived it. It is my hope, in recording the path taken by these heroes, that those in the years to come will not be blind to the dangers that threatened this world once before. If the unthinkable is once again allowed to come to pass, perhaps the knowledge and the deeds of the heroes of old will stir others to their greatness.
The tale you shall read is of the Perpetual War. If you live in a time or a place that has allowed you to forget this dark era, consider yourself fortunate. To be ignorant of these events is a blessing. However, knowledge of the evils of old is the only protection against their return.
The Perpetual War, at the start of our tale, had been plaguing the world for one and a half centuries. It was a conflict that divided our people. The large farming kingdom, Tressor, formed half of the conflict. It was a land of fertile fields, a land of plenty, that covered most of the southern part of the continent and was home to more than half of the people of the world. They opposed a union of the three remaining kingdoms--Kenvard, Ulvard, and Vulcrest--that had come to be known to its people as the Northern Alliance, and by its enemies as the Nameless Empire. This was a land of snowy fields, dense forests, and icy mountains. Despite a vast disadvantage in strength and size, this Alliance had managed to withstand decade after decade of battle. This conflict was a constant part of the lives of all, and is the reason that what follows must be told.
My place in this tale is small. There are others better suited to put to words what came to pass, but most have taken their final steps down their own paths. Thus it falls to me, lest the tale go untold. I shall endeavor to recount the events in as straightforward and impersonal a manner as possible. Do not imagine this as a tale told by a man. It is merely a record. Words on a page. Words that tell of the most unlikely of events, beginning in the most unlikely of places . . .
The end of the fall had only just come, and already the air could chill one to the bone. Of course, this far north, one could seldom expect anything else. It was not the cold that bothered her, though. She'd dealt with that all of her life. Pulling the tattered remnants of her uncle's old cloak closer about her, she pressed on.
As Myranda strained her eyes against the blistering wind, she saw nothing more than horizon. It would likely be another full day of walking before she saw anything but the unbroken field ahead of her. She shook her head, a faint frown cracking her dry lips.
"I should have known," she said aloud to herself. "He seemed a shade too eager to give me directions."
Myranda had taken to talking to herself to fill the long, lonely, and all too frequent trips like these. With no companion, the only thing likely to interrupt the ceaseless howl of the wind was the periodic noisy complaints from her stomach. That much concerned her. She could afford to buy no supplies in the last town, and no tavern or inn had been willing to serve her thanks to a simple yet disastrous slip of the tongue. Anyone could have made the same mistake. In another time, it might have gone unnoticed--or, at least, unchallenged--but in the world of her birth it was inexcusable.
Two older women had been standing in the street, discussing the most recent news of the war. These days one would be hard-pressed to find a different topic of discussion. In this instance, it seemed that the Northern Alliance had pushed back a rather sizable advance. After three long, bloody days of battle, the Alliance troops had managed to take back the very same piece of land that they had started on. The cost of this maintenance of status quo was the lives of the better half of the troops in the area. In and of itself, such a tale was anything but notable. Indeed, a day without such a battle was rarer than a day with one. The difference on this day was that the Tresson army had lost even more.
The two women cackled and bragged over the victory, each telling exaggerated tales of their nearest war-going relative. "My boy promised to kill three of those swine just for me," one would say. Another would respond triumphantly that all four of her children had made the same promise. It was during this exchange that Myranda made her fateful slip.
"All of those lives . . . wasted," she had said with sorrow.
Wasted! Having your child give his or her life for the cause was the greatest honor a mother could hope for. To speak of such noble efforts as a waste was tantamount to treason. How dare this wandering woman speak ill of the war! After countless generations, it had ceased to be a simple struggle between two lands and had become a way of life. Those who opposed this sacred tradition of noble battle were unwelcome. That one word--wasted--may as well have sealed the poor girl's doom. It had kept her from filling her pack and from filling her belly. Worse still, it had led a seemingly good man to send her through this frozen waste, claiming it to be the fastest way to the next town.
She shook her head again. It was one lesson that she could not bring herself to learn. If someone was going to tell a lie, they would tell it with a smile. Now she found no less than a day of solid travel between herself and another human being. The cold was tightening its grip on the icy field with each passing moment. In perhaps an hour, the last glow of the sun would leave the sky, taking with it the meager warmth it had cast upon the world. The cold of the day was unbearable, but the night was unlivable. Worse, there was a darkness due to the impenetrable sheet of clouds overhead that warned of a snowfall in the coming hours. She had yet to find a replacement for her thin summer blanket, and she could neither afford nor carry a tent. If Myranda was to survive this night, she would need a fire.
Alas, there were but three types of terrain in this land: vast, treeless fields; dense, forbidding forests; and rocky, impassable mountains. She found herself in the first, an icy, barren stretch of land with not a plant to burn for warmth save some sparse grass and tough lichens. Neither would be good for producing anything more than smoke and ash. She scanned the endless horizon for a tree, a bush, anything that could yield a flame. Finding none, she made ready to bed down where she was and hope for the best.
Just as she stopped, the last rays of the setting sun peeking through a rare break in the cloud cover reflected their crimson radiance back from the east. After squinting, rubbing her eyes, and blinking only to find the fading twinkle still present in the distance, she was convinced that whatever it was, it was real.
"It was probably nothing," she said. She glanced back in the direction she'd come, then in the direction she'd been heading. "Which beats every other direction, where there is certainly nothing."
To fill the time as she approached the mystery object, and to take her mind off of the rather dire position she found herself in, she busied her imagination with thoughts of what it might be.