Chapter 3
Crafting a Shadow

AT 1082 (AZ 1454) - Early Spring
The Black Keep, The Darklands

The arrival of the Zephyrians was mere months away. The Monarch Lich would see that they received a proper welcome to the Darklands. Because their defeat was inevitable, he was already making plans for the next stage of the war. Zephyr itself was the prize and preparations were already underway to clear the road westward.
A chamberlain walked into the throne room. He was one of countless thousands returned from the land of the dead by the Monarch Lich's power, but this one was special. In his previous life, he was Pollux, the last king of Old Euros. In fact, many of the servants working in the keep were once members of the royal family, but of the four kings of Euros, Pollux was the only one the Monarch Lich was able to recover. There would be many more dead kings to serve him once his armies marched through Zephyr.
Speaking of which, it was that very subject that brought Pollux to the throne room.
Prostrating himself before the throne, Pollux said, "Your Majesty, it has arrived."
"At long last," the Monarch Lich said appreciatively. "Summon the shadow walkers."
"It shall be done, Your Majesty."
It did not take long for the shadow walkers to emerge from the shadows cast by the sconces lining the walls. Led by Udun their high priest, they approached the throne and bowed to the Monarch Lich.
"You have summoned us, Your Majesty," Udun said.
"The final component has arrived," the Monarch Lich said. "Prepare the ritual."
"Will Your Majesty be attending?" Udun asked.
"Yes," the Monarch Lich replied, "I will see the rite performed myself."
"We will convene at sunset, Your Majesty."
Sunset was still several hours away, but there were many preparations to be done for the ritual. As the appointed time approached, Monarch Lich made his way to the courtyard. In the center of a circle formed by nine lamps burning with ghostly blue flames lay a young female shadow walker. Performing the ritual were three shadow walkers led by Udun, three Black Xotika led by Hazila and three Trolwifs led by their matriarch Alah-Orah Sidh.
"This ceremony of blood and fire will now begin," Udun said.
The nine convocants began chanting. They drew out stone daggers and ran the blades across the palms of their hands. Squeezing their hands into a fist, the blood dripped into the burning lamps, the flames sparking and flaring. An attendant bearing a small pouch slowly began to walk around, taking something from the pouch and dropping it into the flames. It was the final component that made the entire ritual possible, a lock of hair carried all the way back to the Darklands from Zephyr. The blue flames flared again and turned green as they consumed the hair. The female shadow walker in the center of the circle writhed and moaned. The spell was beginning to take effect.
The process was not quick, nor was it easy. Her long limbs twisted and shrank and the color drained from her skin. Her body rounded out into soft curves and more prominent features emerged from her mostly flat face. Long flowing hair sprouted from her head and she let out one final gasp as the chanting stopped.
The shadow walker was still for a few moments before finally stirring and awkwardly rising to her now smaller feet. Seeing the product of the spell's success, Udun turned to the Monarch Lich and bowed.
"The rite has been completed, Your Majesty. Uruni is ready."
The Monarch Lich descended to approach the shadow walker. The nine and their attendants all parted to clear the way, bowing low to the Monarch Lich, but the young shadow walker remained standing upright. Even after her ordeal, she was still bold, unlike so many others among his subjects. That very boldness was the reason he chose her.
The ritual was a complete success. The shadow walker had flawlessly taken the form of Zephyr's halfbreed princess. The rest would be up to her.
"Make ready for your journey, Uruni," the Lich said. "Do not fail me."
The false princess smiled and said, "Leave it to me, Your Majesty. Zephyr will be waiting for your triumphant arrival."