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12/11/2004 7:31 PM

I am innocent, his soul cried out, but how many exiles had said the very same thing? How many drunks in taverns had buried their heads in their cups and mourned the loss of what was once there’s?

Lori wrapped his rough palm around the wooden chalice and brought it to his lips with a certain kind of fatality. He knew where this path was leading. This road to the abyss was of his own making, and he welcomed it. Perhaps when he finally stood before the dark queen Narcissi in her realm of lost souls, she would grant him that which his soul craved above all else- oblivion.

“Sheikh Lorien Archelaos, you have been found guilty of the crimes laid before this tribunal. Your sentence will be to spend the rest of your days beyond the boundaries of our lands. Do you understand?”

All he had now were his memories. The reminiscences of a once proud lord who had been betrayed by a woman. And a human woman at that. He would have done well to listen to his father and stay away from the bedazzling sorceress, but he had been young and headstrong, and oh so much in love. Now he was paying for that foolishness with his exile. It was a bitter taste on his tongue. Exiled for life. A dark shadow and no one to call friend, except the wooden cup in his hand, and the tired sword by his side.

He thought back to the last ten years, no time at all for one of his kind, but a lifetime for a soul in exile. The sword had earned him coin as a mercenary. He knew how to use his sword. His father had not stinted in his training when he had been a young noble, and the sword now earned him a living. Silver for fighting other men’s battles. Gold for spilling the blood of a stranger. Life mattered little to him now. He awaited death with open arms.

He’d been pre-paid for his mission in recovering Duke Origan’s stolen amulet, but the weight of the purse in his breast pocket was beginning to lighten with the passage of each day. It was time to commence his mission. Lori knew that he'd require help this time. He was a born tracker, but the thieves’ guild who had taken the amulet had a vast network in the city. He only had the one lead, and even that was a tenuous one. The merchantess, Lena. He’d arranged to meet her at midnight tonight.

Lori emptied his cup and was about to rise from his seat at the corner table when he first scented the danger. If his senses had not been so dulled by wine, he might have sensed them sooner.

His golden eyes raked the crowded tavern, his wits sharpening as the adrenaline began to course through his veins. The tempo of his heart increasing to a rapid tattoo. They were here! The only thing in his life left to fear, and hate. Were-hunters!

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