1 PROLOGUE

Time flies, seasons brew months to years, but only the brave are strong enough to leave a scar on the hands of tomorrow. Some call it luck, others call it popularity, but Claudius calls it legacy. He has seen the kingdom rise and fall. Men of valor, fierce enough to chase death itself. He has seen seers and Dragon riders, all leaving their mark in history, but none could outlive their time. It was their work that did the talking, and like everything else, that was enough, as far as time and chance happens to all.

Time and chance.

The irony in the word made him bite his lips. It was bitter to swallow, and thinking about it almost shade his skin. Twice he had lived and thrice he had seen his world shattered to nothing. How long will the so-called time and chance deal with him? The brutality was finally going to send him to the void, and if not worse, to the pit of the fallen. He might find peace eventually. The fallen could make him forget what it means to lose everything in life, but that would mean surrendering his soul to darkness for all eternity.

The court rose as the cracking sound of the oak door announced his presence. Men and women stretched on the two sides of the red and yellow hall, and amid the vehement voice of silence, he could hear the pity and sadness lurking in the shadows. Arlen, his wife, had passed on three nights ago. It was an infection, one that had broken her body that even magic could not revive.

He was hurting and the people were hurting with him. Yet he hated pity. It was for that reason he had announced that they came in their ceremonial attire, instead of the traditional white flowing gown. He hated pity, yet all his efforts to put it away had weaned. Arlen's face still haunted him, he could hardly sleep these days.

"Music," He announced and started towards his throne.

Two lions carved from a red stone, stood side by side, contrasting the silver throne that stood in the middle. Claudius was not the first or the second to ascend the throne, and certainly will not be the last. The seat of Rodian had been the greatest since the breaking of the world. It has been passed on from generation to generation. It was a legacy, one which Claudius has kept burning till this day. While his predecessors had waited to merge the world with their diplomacy, Claudius had ceased his chances and had done it with red hands. He was Rodian the Tenth, son of Vercluis of the Nine rings. Emron was his throne and Bel Haven was his footstool. There was no challenging him, and if these people thinks they were going to overthrow him—

Somewhere, the clatter of metals echoed, followed by the cords of a weak guitar. Claudius waited for the slow strings to merge with other instruments and play something more harmonizing, but his brow creased when he picked the first line of the lyrics.

"Bird's on the row?" Claudius' voice reverberated and the music stopped at once, "Why not play the 'Heaven's ascends' or 'love in the moon? Please, I need something to elevate my spirit and not one that would drain my eyes"

Some of the people exchanged a few confused glances. They had converged around him, without permission and the looks on their faces suggested that they were not up to anything good. Were they planning on killing him and taking his throne? Was the prophecy going to be fulfilled today?

"What's going on?" Claudius asked. He was reaching for his sword.

"I wish I can explain". Argo said as she crawled from behind.

Her scale dazzled with the lights of the chandeliers, craving to absorb everything that glowed or beamed. She was a sun dragon, a rare and powerful species. "Something is wrong," Argo added and stood elegantly behind Claudius, ready to turn the people to dust if they showed any sign of violence against the king. Her presence should have drawn the people back to their consciousness and made them think twice concerning their intended action. But to Claudius's confusion, they kept closing the gap until their toes were almost kissing the base of the stairs.

"May my lord never see failure."

Heads turned towards the men on the right end of the court. There were four of them, dressed in a fading green hood, with a gray shirt underneath. Nothing contrasted the similarity in their attire, but for the different cincture that held their waist. The man in the front had a white cord, while the rest had reds.

"Mai Sihiri." Argo hissed and the stones vibrated when she made to step forward, but Claudius held out his hand, trying to calm her. She obeyed him, not that she could disobey. She was his second heart, but he had a greater part of the bond. He was more powerful and could destroy her if he wishes. Argo was powerless towards him, she could not harm him.

"What business does the Dragonslayer have with the king?"

One of the men—the one with a white cord—lowered his hood, and the dark cascade of hair that fell behind made Claudius and the people think twice. She was a woman, and her hazel beautiful eyes added more splendor to the streamlined baby skin.

Claudius swallowed and his shoulders eased when his heart suddenly skipped from the beauty. He has not beheld such beauty since the death of his wife. Every book he had read about the legendary Mai Sihiri had painted them with horror and bravery. With such fierceness, it was obvious why the books never said a thing about how they looked or the color of their eyes.

"Careful," Argo warned as if reading his thoughts.

Claudius needn't ask Argo what she meant. It was a fact, admiring the fading green woman was like putting one's hands on fire and laughing as they burned.

According to the books, Mai Sihiri were not people to be trusted and the painted eyes on their forehead always served as a warning for men who will let lust take the better part of them. They were powerful people, born and brought up in magic but had lost their way in the blight and had been banished to Arthesia, the end of the world. Since the breaking of the world, they had remained in hiding. It's three hundred and sixty-six years, yet here they were, in flesh and blood.

"Victory loves preparation and success is when preparation meets opportunity." The woman said.

"Who are you?" Claudius asked again. He was not going to let down his guard, especially since his people were not showing any signs of stopping them.

"That's not important, my lord and king." The woman said, "While you were off chasing power and wealth, you should have heeded the words of the Mai Sihiri. Now you have brought destruction on all of us."

Claudius tightened his fist on the hilt of his sword as the woman's words sank in. Somehow, it was as if everything was repeating itself. He had seen this event before. But where?

"Never negotiate with Mai Sihiri," Argo warned

Claudius could feel her anger, burning under her breath. She wanted to fight. She wanted to avenge every last dragon which the people of Mai Sihiri had killed.

"Argo," Claudius turned to the golden dragon. Her scale was still glamming and its brilliance was pulsing like a second heart. "You can have them when you—

Claudius paused as an image suddenly flashed in his mind's eyes. It was the event that took place the day his wife passed away. Someone had announced her death to him, six hours before she had died. He hadn't taken heed then but that had cost him. That was the reason why everything seemed to be happening again. Something bad was about to happen.

"What do you want with my daughter?" Claudius asked. He had drawn his sword and to his surprise, he saw his people, every last one of them, pulling out their swords, and instead of facing the Mai Sihiri, they pointed their swords at him, ready to charge.

"The prophecy, Claudius. You should have heeded the word instead of bringing forth an abomination that makes desolate. Again I tell you, victory loves preparation and success is when preparation meets opportunity. You've lost both, and now is the time to pay the price." The woman nodded and the people started towards the throne, charging with hate and rage.

"I can take them," Argo said.

"No," Claudius clapped his hands and an air bubble wrapped him, propelling him from the ground to Argo's back. "You can fight the people. But these Mai Sirihi…there are four of them."

Argo roared, both with anger and sadness, but she did not advance, instead, she stretched her powerful wings and leaped into the air.

"My daughter." Claudius shouted, "Take me to my daughter."

The words were bitter in his mouth, and somehow, he prayed silently that he would be fast enough to save her this time.