"Impossible! My Empress. Please, do not proceed beyond this point. The Humans block the escape. We are trapped!" Torlill moaned.

"Ridiculous. How could they know of this way? Humans have no sorcerous sight to perceive," Queen Elwyn stopped short, as the first man clad in blood soaked armor plodded through the haze. Elwyn clutched a tiny squirming bundle in her arms, praying the child would remain silent. Her heart stopped as the vision of the murderous beings approached through the misty path. "Only an Elf could show them the way."

Torlill straightened, seeing a gap in their armored ranks. "There is a way. Look!"

"Inioch. What of Inioch? They will close the gap. They will trap him here. I cannot go," Elwyn protested. The thought of leaving the Verdant Court chilled her core. Never before had she stepped beyond the limits of the Court grounds. How could she flee? Julia coughed, protesting her mother's constricting grip. Elwyn looked down at the child, her eyes welled with tears. "I cannot go, Torlill. Take my child. I will stay with Inioch."

"I am your protector, Empress. Your Keeper Guardian, I cannot do as you say, even if you will it." Torlill pulled away from the child. "And only the Empress ca tend a child heir. You presume too much."

"I will not leave Inioch!" Elwyn cried, but she moved behind Torlill anyway. She had to go. She had no choice. Julia bound her to survive.

"There! A sound. Kill them!" Vulgar shouts cracked the tranquility in the misty path. Through windows of warped glass the men dove, stretching and moving to close the gap between them.

Torlill lifted his hands. His fingers fanned open. The air crackled yellow and a crack resounded through a tunnel of gap. The men fell back, stunned. Elwyn screamed, but no sound came from her throat. She dove through the passage just as iron blades clanked overhead. Torlill remained to face the men clad in steel. Elwyn tried to turn - an impossible task in the misty path. Blue arcs of power crackled as her Keeper friend faced off against the men. She could not turn back.

Suddenly the air blackened. The blur of the path rippled as the earth flowed as water. The misty path crumbled. The escape way--her husband's hope of retreat--was broken.

From afar her husband's palace bled gray smoke. A tower crumbled.

Elwyn fought a fit of tears. Gritting her teeth, she coughed, "We are betrayed."

by Ray Bingham, Triumph Studios