Ruin of the Bloodmoon PROLOGUE: THE CURSE OF YELTAIN "I w.. I wish you w..were a genie..." "And I wish you were a cheese-elemental." The joke brought the faintest smile to Lucien's face. He continued rubbing the rat between his fingers, holding the rodent carefully as he massaged the little cloak it wore. The boy's teeth were chattering as he muttered the incantation, but thankfully the rat sat still, almost looking bored. The young wizard had found an oak tree to sit against, but it was no shelter from the rain. Lucien's outfit was soaked and there was mud and leaves in his hair. And what wasn't sodden from the rain was wet from his tears. The boy had been crying for the last hour, inconsolable and helpless. If it hadn't been for his rat, he wouldn't have even thought of casting the spell. "He's... he's okay, isn't he? M..Mr T..Tumbridge? They w..wouldn't hurt him...?" The rat glanced up at its master, then looked away. "Just concentrate on the incantation." The rodent felt its master crying again, another wave of grief making his shoulders shake. Then there was a short flash of energy as the Resistance spell took effect, shrouding them both in a thin veil of magic. It was a small relief... but the rat knew it would not be enough. Lucien would not last the night. * * * * * * * * * * * * A half mile away, six figures appeared on a hill overlooking the small forest. Behind them the town of Crowley was overcast with rain and chimneys were belching smoke as the townfolk lit fires and shut up their doors and windows. Yet there would be no warm fire nor sturdy roof for these six men. For they had prey to catch this night. "Little bastard must be dead by now!" spat the first thief. Beneath his hood bloodshot eyes glared down at the forest where Lucien had been hiding since he fled from the Antiques Shop. "Shouldn't've killed the old man," said another, "Kid'll run to the militia first chance he gets." "Not if I gut the little maggot first!" a third thief, with an Orcish taint to his voice, roared. A fourth rogue with the supple figure of the Elvenkind moved between them with folded arms, surveying the small forest. "He's been in there for twenty hours now. He's too scared to break cover." "Maybe the little fuck's already teleported!" gasped a large, burly man who was wheezing at the back of the group. "We're done for, lads! We're never gonna find the---" "QUIET!" roared the leader of the thieves, who stood at the front of the mob. He was dressed like the others - heavy robes, hood and veil - but he carried himself with an altogether nobler poise. Twirling a curved blade in one hand, the man looked down at the forest, considering his options. A minute passed and then he pushed a path through his men and strode back down the hill. On the sheltered side of the hill, near the road that led back to Crowley, the bounty hunters were waiting. The three men were readying weapons, neither really talking to each other, but each feeling the excitement that had brought them out of the town this night. Soon it would be their turn to hunt. They were Tallin, Joff and Fang... and their reputation in this town preceded them. The leader of the thieves approached the bounty hunters, sheathing his sword and lifting a sack that was tied around his waist. Inside were the spoils of the Antiques Shop raid: over 10,000 gold. He took out three pouches from the sack, tossing one to each of the mercenaries. And as his fellow thieves watched him from the hilltop, the leader's rasping voice spelled out the terms. "That's a thousand to start. The rest you get when you bring me the boy. Work as a team or on your own - I don't care. But I want him alive." He closed the sack again and pulled up his hood as the rain fell harder. "We'll be waiting here. Tear the forest apart if you have to."