Disclaimer: ALL PAOLINI'S. Nothing belongs to me, except Keith's name and personality. Two or three sentences lifted from the book.

Prologue:

Shade of Fear

Wind howled through the night, carrying a scent that would change the world. Keith thought it smelled a bit like horse, and wished that he hadn't skipped dinner.

"When d'you reckon we'll be done here?" he asked, more to make a point than anything else. Dan, fellow Urgal and best friend for as long as Keith could remember, shrugged.

"Dunno," he said. Dan had always been a fan of single syllable sentences.

"I mean," said Keith, "it's not as if this is doing anything good, is it?"

There was a frosty silence. Keith felt the weight of twelve narrowed glares in his general direction, and laughed nervously. A group consisting of eleven armed Urgals and a Shade is not a group you want to be at odds with.

"I mean, this "Protect and Serve" thing is nice, and all, don't get me wrong," said Keith, "but ... er. We've been here all night and I can't feel my feet anymore. I think they might fall off if we don't finish up soon."

This was true. It was also wet, miserable, and too dark for them to even see the weapons they were holding, much less the things they were supposed to be hitting. (That is, if the things they were supposed to be hitting even arrived in the first place.) There was a quiet murmur of almost-agreement among the Urgals. The Shade was not pleased.

"Silence," he hissed. There was silence, because you didn't argue with the Shade unless you wanted to die an exceptionally painful death.

The Shade wasn't the sort of guy who'd sell his own grandmother; he was the sort of guy who'd cut her up and use the pieces for creepy magic rituals. It was the piss-in-your-pants sort of creepiness, the kind that was creepy even by Urgal standards. Keith shuddered, and wished that he'd never even thought the words "Protect and Serve" in the first place.

The Shade was apparently assessing the situation; he was peering around trees and inspecting the forest trail like a man obsessed, twitching like an insomniac with a caffeine addiction.

"Spread out," he said, with a voice that could have sunk the Titanic, "hide behind the trees and bushes. Stop whoever is coming." He then gave them a look of intense loathing, but seeing as this was his customary expression, Keith wasn't sure how seriously he was supposed to take it.

"Or die," the Shade added in a malevolent hiss, puffing out his chest in a way he undoubtedly thought was had to admit that it sort of was. He – along with the rest of the Urgals – shuffled dutifully towards a nearby bush. The actual speech hadn't been nearly as impressive as the pose, though. Keith suspected that the Shade had been reading cheap adventure stories in his spare time – the kind you could get in the capital for half a coin at just about any street corner in Urû'baen.

It wasn't that Keith didn't get the whole "motivating the soldiers" deal, because he did. When it came to warfare, or anti-terrorism, or just about anything, really, trying to keep your people from dying was sort of the point. That wasn't the problem. The problem, as far as Keith could see, was the melodrama.

I mean, he thought, we're up against dangerous terrorists. It's not as if there isn't any risk or nothing. I mean, the way I see it...

The way Keith saw it, the less death threats, the better.

What followed was five hours of boredom and soggy boots and pitch black darkness. Nothing worth mentioning happened at all, really, except that the Urgals got hissed at a lot and Keith was gradually becoming used to the thought of having his toes amputated or magically reconstructed. Keith was sort of okay with it, because he'd had worse during his education. (1)

He wondered what was up with all the hissing, though. It wasn't exactly nice, having a tall guy with ginger hair and eyes like things you might see in a fireplace come up to you and hiss at your face. The Shade sounded like a wildcat when he did it, and there was a lot of spittle involved.

There ought to be a warning about these things, Keith thought, like, "Warning: May Include Big Homicidal Maniacs With Excessive Amounts of Spittle."

Then, finally, the Shade's hiss cut through the air like ninja throwing stars with a poison coating.

"Get ready."

All right, thought Keith, brightening up a little and getting a better grip on his sword, shit just got real.

If he hadn't had the brain capacity of an Urgal – and of course this was perfectly understandable, seeing as this was what he was – Keith might have wondered where that had come from. As it was, keeping the sword straight and attempting to focus on the task in front of him took up most of his attention. Possibly this was just as well.

Three white horses with riders cantered toward the ambush, their heads held high and proud, their coats rippling in the moonlight like liquid silver. The riders were just as bad as the horses in terms of "high and proud" attitude. This was understandable; they were all elves.

Keith scowled. Bloody elves, he could never stand the bastards.

Two of them looked like carbon copies of each other – both had fair faces and angular features and pointy ears and elegantly slanted eyebrows. Elves were all the same, really. If you cut them up, there was never a whole lot of difference between this one and the next.

Then there was the woman. There wasn't much difference, really, except for the fact that the woman was wearing a dress. And had different genitalia. (2)

Keith held his breath as the three passed him, wondering why they weren't attacking them yet. Then the wind's direction turned, and the woman wrinkled her nose.

And she shrieked, in tones approaching that of a dog whistle, "fuck!"

Shit got real.

Keith quickly gave up figuring out what the Hell was going on, and decided just to go with the flow and hack and slash at everything that looked even remotely Elvish. So far, he'd fatally injured four trees. Seeing as he couldn't really see where he was aiming his sword, he thought that this was a fairly decent outcome.

"After her!" screamed the Shade through the darkness, "she is the one I want!"

You weren't supposed to mix business with pleasure. Keith wanted to point it out, but didn't, because he liked his head where it was, thank you very much. Instead, he attempted to follow orders. Because he didn't have a clue where the elf had gone, this turned out to be harder than it ought to have been. When he heard a distinctly female voice curse, five minutes later, he realised that he was running in the wrong direction. Bugger.

Before he even had the chance to slow down, however, the forest exploded like a Molotov cocktail in a flour mill.

Fuck it, thought Keith, and kept running.

(1) Which just goes to show; few things are as cruel as school children.

(2) Then again, you never knew when it came to elves.


Notes: Lawl. This was more fun than it has any right to be. If I went over the top with the similes, then ... er. Sorry about that. Let it also be known that I have a love/hate relationship to all things Inheritance - I love to hate them, or at least despice them a little. Thought I might as well do something productive with all my annoyance and loathing.

Merry Christmas, also. :)