Okay...I'm back and I'm so ashaimed I left THAT up for all to read... *slow sad headshake*. I was climbing walls editing and revising and so, I deleted the other story, and this is...now here. Same story, better written. R&R

Prologue::: In the East

The hot red sun hung in the sky, looming over the dry desert, the sea of grasslands, the cities and the villages. The silks and velvets he wore were soiled from long weeks of riding, his legs were numb from aches and his face was sunburnt. His horse was close to death from their journey, its ribs showing clearly under its skin. His traveling party had long since abandoned him and his food and most of his water had gone with them. But here, it was cool, still and silent. Unnaturally so.

They thought Illyrio mad for choosing to come here, out so far from any town or waterhole. Perhaps he had slipped into the abyss of madness, if only just a little. Anyone who came here for this purpose would have to be half crazed or desperate.

Their cave was dark, deep and some said shrouded with death and demons from their dark deeds. His horse refused to come any closer than the top of the hill that descended into the cave. It was a steep slope, but also a short one.

Illyrio's feet slid on the round jagged stones beneath his feet and he very nearly dropped his linen wrapped bundle a few times. It was heavy, one end heavy than the other and his plump arms were tired by the time his feet settled on the flat stone floor inside the cave.

There was something in the air that made his flesh crawl, something that sent an unpleasant shiver up his back. The only light came from the half caved in entrance behind him. Suddenly he wished he were back in his house, back in Pentos with a comely whore warming his bed and sweet summer wine in his belly. He wished for the soft silks that lined his bed and the spiced meats and butter soaked vegetables and soft breads that used to be laid before him in the evening. He longed for the comforts that used to be his, before the Dragon Queen destroyed it all.

He found himself facing the light, as if he unknowingly made his choice to abandon his mission. No, someone whispered. No...

A puff of air, so sudden it made him jump and drop his bundle, beat against his back gently, from behind him in the cave. The linen made no sound as it hit the stone floor, but the bones inside made a sound so loud he was sure his horse (if it wasn't dead yet) had bolted away from the hill. The skull rolled out after the long thin bones had scattered, the gold seared to the crown made a guttural scrape against the rock it rolled against.

He expected horrors beyond imagination, a hideous hag or a monster from a nightmare. His eyes bulged at the feast before him. A long table, filled with roasted pigs, turkeys, a hefty leg of lamb with warm juices pooling in the plate, ale, wine, beer, boiled potatoes with spices, warm breads, sweet soups...it was all before him, lighted by some unseen torch.

Illyrio did not think; he ran to the banquet and tore into a turkey leg while the hot juices ran down his chin and tangled into his matted beard, his fears melting away as the tender meat slid down his throat.

The half eaten turkey leg had long been discarded for the lamb leg when a hallow tap made him snap his body around.

It was a woman; she was too thin and willowy to be anything but. Her body was crouched down and in her hands was the golden skull. Her body was in the shadows, under the glare of the light from the entrance so he was unable to see anymore of her.

Too stunned to utter a word, he watched her, the food turning to ash in his mouth.

She stood after a few moments, and she was skinnier than he could have thought. Her skin hung over her bones, her vest and trousers must have been leather once, but it was so tattered, so shrivelled, it could be mistaken for seamless rags. She had little hair, only a handful of long strands hanging from her head. She turned to face him, still covered in darkness.

"Gold does not pay for life, old man." she rasped. The golden skull fell to her side with a loud clunk. "Eat, love, enjoy this bounty. The body is so much sweeter when it's happy. Anguish bitters the meat." her voice was raspy, rough and low. If he only heard her voice, it would have been hard to tell if she were man or woman.

Sometime before, he had swallowed the mouthful of lamb. "I-I-I d-do not u-understand."

"You want to pay for life," it whispered walking forward with soundless steps. "But we have no use for gold. Only life." She stopped in front of him, towering over him by a foot. She stunk of dead bodies, and the skin expanding over her breasts and neck was leathery looking, grey.

"Please... it's not m-my life, I bargain for...it's my k-kings." Illyrio whispered. He wanted to move, to run, but his feet remained planted.

"Such a devoted servant," a deeper voice hissed to his left. Another woman slithered toward them, but she was balkier than the other and when she drew closer he saw why. She was shielded with a bronze breastplate, forearm and shin guards and a helmet circled her head. The leather shirt and breeches under her armour had long since aged away and it was plain that her skin was like the other woman's. Illyrio's stomach clenched and his bowels turned to water.

"Devotion casts a bold taste. Too bold." a third voice rumbled. It was this voice that scared him most; the way is boomed louder than the others', the way it held such rage and hatred. The third woman was suddenly at his side before he could look to where she came. She was the smallest. She was the thinnest.

The third woman came just under his chin, and he wished that she was as tall as the others, so that he did not have to look upon her. Her face was half a skull, half a rotting corpse. The left half was bone, scratched and broken in some areas. At first he thought her eye socket was empty, that was before a worm slithered from it before falling to the floor. The right side was uglier still, rotting flesh still clinging to the bone of her skull and jaw somehow. The flesh of her cheek was gone, eaten away by some insect, and her rotted teeth showed through. Her right eye was still there, bulging from the socket, black as night. The flesh of her head still grew hair, dark and thin like the other two. He stared at her a second, before he turned away retching up the meat and wine he had consumed.

"You want to pay for the life of a king..." the armoured creature hissed.

"His life will cost you." the first one rasped.

Illyrio coughed and did not lift his head. "Yes—" cough "so—" cough "so be it."

An echoing growl pierced the air, and only after a moment Illyrio realized they were laughing.

"Life has been bought. Let the king have life." the rumbling voice of the third monster announced.

They were upon him before Illyrio could take back the pledge. Sharp teeth ripped into his body, blood spurting from the wounds. He screamed loudly, but the creatures ignored him, tearing at him, eating him.

As Illyrio screamed, the bones he dropped began to tremble and pulled together once again. When Illyrio's screams fell silent, a gasp emitted from the entrance of the cave, where bones once littered.