Far, far away from the isle of Atlantis . . . something stirred in a place where no creature had ever stirred before.

That place, in the most remote reaches of the spirit realm, was a bottomless pit darker than the darkest void. Black clouds swirled around its center, roaring constantly, ready to suck in and tear apart whatever fell in. Any creature who came too close faced almost certain annihilation.

The Maelstrom.

• • •

Yet at this moment, something appeared in the Maelstrom’s stormy center—the first sign of life ever to emerge from its depths. No other being had come out of that violent place before—because no other being possessed the same will for survival, hunger for power, or desire for revenge.

Of course, no one saw it happen. For to come anywhere near this place was to risk being swallowed forever by the black hole. And besides, what first appeared was very small, so small it would have gone unnoticed.

A hand.

The first bony fingers reached out of the swirling center, grasping at the shreds of clouds, climbing slowly higher. Then came a wrist and arm, wearing the shreds of a tattered robe. Next emerged the head of a man—narrow, as sharp as an ax blade.

Dark, jagged scars lined his face. A black earring, chipped and battered, dangled from one ear. And from both sides of his pointed jaw grew menacing, bloodred tusks.

But the most terrifying features of this face were the eyes. Dark gray, with fiery red centers, they seemed to swirl with their own vengeful storms. Any creatures who looked into those eyes would quail in fright—and know the truth.

Narkazan had returned.

For centuries, the immortal warlord had battled to seize control of the spirit realm, to dominate all its places and peoples. From there, he hungered to conquer all the mortal realms, as well—starting with the one called Earth that was the stepping stone to all the others. And in recent times, he had nearly succeeded, vanquishing almost all the spirits who opposed him. Only a ragtag group of rebels remained, led by Sammelvar and Escholia—spirits who believed that every creature, whether mortal or immortal, deserved to live freely.

Then, when he was just about to crush the resistance once and for all—by destroying them with the ultimate weapon, the corrupted Starstone—a most unlikely foe had appeared. A young man named Promi, a lowly mortal, challenged him and stole the Starstone! Aided by a wind lion, the young rebel managed to escape Narkazan’s entire army of warriors. And then, most surprising of all, he hurled the warlord into the bottomless pit from which no one had ever returned.

Until now.

Narkazan’s eyes burned wrathfully. Clenching one fist, he vowed to the roaring clouds, “I shall find you, worthless rebel who bears the mark of the Prophecy. And I shall make you suffer as no one has ever suffered before!”

He continued to climb out of the swirling hole that had swallowed him. Using all his will, as well as his remaining dark powers, he pulled himself higher, clawing his way toward the rim.

Slowly . . . steadily . . . Narkazan advanced. What was left of his robe, shredded by the swirling winds, barely clung to his body. His skin had lost its normal silvery sheen from the constant battering; it now looked like dark gray metal. His narrow face was thinner than ever. And his legs and arms shook with strain.

The fire in his eyes, though, had not dimmed. If anything, the sheer rage in those eyes had only swelled.

Finally, after many more hours of climbing, he reached the rim. Hauling himself onto the edge, he stood there, arms crossed. For a long moment, Narkazan peered into the dark, spinning depths of the Maelstrom. Then he turned to face the rest of the spirit realm.

“I have returned,” he snarled. “Soon that will be known throughout this world—and all the other worlds, as well.”

The winds shrieked and howled even louder, as if the black hole itself felt his wrath.

Narkazan’s eyes narrowed. To demolish all his enemies, including that rebel Promi—and to sieze control of Earth and the rest of the mortal realms—he would need to raise a whole new army of spirit warriors. And that army must include a host of mistwraiths, the most terrible fighters anywhere.

“I will need something else, as well,” he declared to the swirling black clouds. “A mortal—someone greedy and arrogant enough to do my bidding.”

Closing his eyes, he turned his full awareness toward Earth, searching the minds of mortals for the ally he required. After a long moment, he opened his eyes. His search had been successful.

He had found a ship that had recently sailed from a land called Greece. Its main sail bore the design of a blue dolphin. And the ship’s captain, who was steering steadily out to sea, burned with desire for power.

Narkazan chortled to himself. “Yes, that one will do. Soon he will have a dream that will change his life—and his world.”

He clenched his fists. “But first . . . it is time for revenge.”