Fantasy novel.

This is mainly aimed at @granthor and @Nagash . Though i certainly would appreciate feedback and opinion from anyone in the community interested in fantasy stories. (This is not related to ashes for anyone wondering.)

Prologue – To Walk a Forbidden Path

Winter’s last breath was more than enough to chill even the largest of beasts that stalked the tundra in the north. The frigid temperatures were ever more present this high in the mountains. The black-clad man trudged through the knee deep snow, uncertain of whether the ground beneath was truly safe to tread upon. A gust of wind from behind pushed him into the sea of white. The man shivered as he pushed himself from the ground. He began to have doubts about his reason for coming this far north. The sight of pine trees in the distance allowed him to steel his resolve. Trees meant solid footing. A foolish yet necessary journey the man thought to himself. That he undertook this dangerous operation in winter was an even further risk, yet it was required. Surely prowling eyes would not dare follow him this far north and this high up, especially not this close to their kingdom.
Darkness approached faster than he had intended. The man checked his travel pack twice to ensure that he still possessed a piece of flint. Within this kingdom, there was more than just cold to be feared. By the time he reached the pine forest, three full moons had already risen high above, allowing the snow to sparkle like a floor of white gems. The man cleared away snow from beneath a tree to make camp. His thin leather gloves made for poor protection against the biting cold. Any semblance of hope for a warm night left him as he realized he had no firewood to put his flint to use. He sat down heavily, keeping his weapons close by. His eyes scanned through the dark of the woods. They found nothing suitable to create a fire. His every breath began feeling quicker than the last.
The hoarfrost on the pine needles twinkled under the moonlight. Steady winds allowed the slender trees to sway with grace as their shadows danced deceptively on the forest floor. The distant howling of a wolf caused the man to grip the hilt of his sword tight. He had knowledge of his movement, yet no feeling of them. His fingers were going numb. He looked down the path on which he came and laughed. For all the power he had come to possess, it was of no match against the law of the world. The unwritten rule that governed the lives of man. The law of nature. For all that man desired, natural order always stood in their way. But desire was also a natural entity, for all born with consciousness possessed it. Desire was why the man clad in black was here.
Staying in one place would cause his body to freeze. Having no choice left to him, he continued further, towards what he could only assume was the summit of the mountain. It felt as if an eternity had passed. His pace had slowed heavily. Warmth began slipping away from his body. He turned to find that he had only come several dozen feet. A dark feathered owl hooted from above. The man’s eyes locked on the large golden beads that stared down from a thin branch. Thrice the owl hooted and then it flew away. A bad omen. ’So it is here where I will finally meet my end. Not the end I imagined.’ Two more steps were all that he could endure. He fell to his knees as his eyes watered. The tears quickly froze, impairing his vision. “It would seem my desire was not stronger than law” he said.
“Do you desire to die so fiercely that you would climb our mountain” a voice answered back. “Oh sheep that has strayed from the flock. I can think of a good many easier ways to die. Or is it that you intentionally chose the cruelest?”
The man in black laughed sarcastically. “It took you long enough. The rumors of your kind’s nightly prowess seem but a child’s exaggeration. Or was I not yet within your borders? Are you going to let me perish here? I imagine I am of little use to you frozen.”
“What is your purpose in coming to our kingdom, lesser creature?”
“I have a proposal for your Queen. One I think she will be very interested in” the man managed to say while his teeth chattered. An audience with the Dark Tide Queen was not merely granted upon request. The creatures of this mountain had a deep seated hatred for humans and thought them as nothing but livestock. Yet the man in black was confident that he would not be denied. He managed to scrape away his frozen tears. The thing that stood before him looked like an ordinary man. Tall and clean shaven with shoulder length black hair. The beast wore a long white coat. It looked past the man, down at the way he came and the things that followed his footsteps. His eyes narrowed and his face slowly twisted into a rage.
The back of the man’s neck was gripped by a cold hand as he was raised up like a glass bottle. He endured the humiliation as the creature dragged him across the snow. “I will present you to her majesty like the dog that you are.” The man’s hand twitched impatiently as it desperately wanted to grip the hilt of his sword. One wrong move and two years of painstaking effort would come undone. His heart drummed furiously against his chest in a confused mixture of fear and excitement. All his planning would be guaranteed to bear fruition if the Dark Tide monarch accepted his proposal. And yet he was still afraid. A part of him regretted what he planned to do. But he could not betray his desires. He had come too long a way to turn back now.
The creature dragged the man into an opening of the mountain. The cave had a distinct and pleasant floral scent, almost seductive to the unsuspecting traveller. The pitch black passage screamed danger and yet the smell was most inviting. It was a way to draw unsuspecting animals into the cave. The man found his senses beginning to drift. Out of instinct he bit his own lip. The pain kept him alert. He was aware that the scent of blood could cause these creatures to become feral, but he feared a poor showing before the monarch would be the end of his machinations. No price could be greater than that which he’d already paid.
Constant grating of his metal boots against the surface of the ground created an irritable noise. Silver light eventually flooded the tunnels of the cave. The man’s eyes widened as they entered into a clearing, a city of fell creatures based in the crater of a dead volcano, and at its center, an ominous yet majestic palace seemingly crafted entirely of onyx. Many stared at the man in black as he was dragged like an animal through their streets. Many curious stares, angered stares, but most were hungering stares. The man imagined them to be salivating behind their teeth at the thought of ripping him apart. His eyes wandered to the various black houses and buildings in the city. A masterclass in architecture he thought to himself. A shame that such talent was wasted on savage beasts.
The gates to the great palace creaked open as the creature dragged the man inside towards the throne room, towards a great hall that was lined with guards in white garb similar to the man’s captor, and at the very end, a red throne so tall, that it was just short of touching the ceiling. Chandeliers hung from chains painted black. The creature threw the man forward several feet. He heard a snap as he landed and felt a sharp pain run along his arm, but he dared not cry out.
“Your majesty. I caught a stray dog before our gates.”
“Thank you, Karaev, you may return to your duty” the Queen replied. The creature bowed and exited the hall, the great palace gates closing behind him. The man in black began pushing himself up with his working arm as he laid his eyes on the Dark Tide Queen. She wore a black dress that extended beyond her feet. Her long blonde hair danced in the air as if a heavy wind were blowing by her. For a vile existence to be this majestic. It could only be an illusion the man thought. Must be. A most beautiful illusion, however. Almost as beautiful as her. Almost. “Stop!” the Queen shouted angrily. “Do not dare lift yourself off of the ground. Filth like you has not earned the right to lay eyes upon me. You who brings sleepless malice to my doorstep. Did you think your puppets would threaten us? Why should I not have you stripped and flayed this very moment?”
The man pressed his face back to the floor and inhaled deeply, all his efforts culminating in this single moment. “I can break the seal that holds you prisoner.”
“And what reason would you have for freeing us? My people haven’t tasted human blood in years. And here you are just waltzing in, claiming you will free us.”
“Not ‘us’. Just you, your majesty. I do not yet possess the means to break the seal entirely. Just crack it enough so that you, the strongest amongst the Dark Tide race, may leave. Or you can feed me to your subjects. Though, do you believe that I alone will be able to sate years of hunger of thousands? The malice you claim I brought. They are but a showing of proof. I will use them to bring about a new era. One where-”
“Enough with your lies! We were deceived once. Not again. Have your leaders finally decided to kill us? Do you finally possess the means?”
“I did not come all this way for a cheap prank!” the man in black cried. “By your leave, I will damage the seal this very instant. Should you doubt my words, you may go to the base of this mountain when I’m finished. All I ask in return is that your majesty protect me. I am confident that I can bring about this new era alone. But I need to make it a certainty. With the help of your majesty, a being as powerful as you, I cannot lose.”
The Queen slowly rose from her throne and descended the short flight of stairs. The sound of each step echoed through the hall as her high heels connected with the floor. She stopped before the man clad in black and held out her hand toward him. He had succeeded. She had accepted his offer, or so he thought. A sanguine spear flew toward him and stopped inches before his face. The Queen pulled his head up by the hair. Her dark red eyes pierced through his façade. The man felt utterly vulnerable. “You expect superior beings like us to be your personal body guard? This era you claim you will bring about. What makes you certain that it is one that my people and I will be happy with?”
“Because it will be a time when you are no longer chained. No longer hunted. Never again betrayed. You will reign supreme over all humans.”
The Queen considered this for a moment. “A human that has turned on his own kind. And you expect me to trust you? Why can I not torture the methods of breaking the seal from you?”
Mustering his courage, the man stared back with equal determination despite his unease. “Can you do it?” he asked.
“Excuse me?”
“I am asking you, oh Dark Tide Queen, can you kill your closest aides, and can you sacrifice them to the abyss? Do you have the courage to look them in the eye as you plunge a knife into their hearts, knowing that they will be tormented for an eternity? Do you have the sanity to send countless innocents to their death, to hear the cries of a child as you impale his mother before him all in the name of a greater good? Do you have the will to hear that child’s screams every night? To be awoken drenched in sweat from constant nightmares? That is what I have done to obtain the power I now have. I… am no longer a person.” The Queen’s eyes twitched slightly as she glimpsed the border of madness, something she had seen before. “Or are you afraid, your majesty?”
“Fear? You would dare suggest that I, Karine Irina Malkieri, the Dark Tide Queen am capable of being afraid?” She raised her head toward the ceiling and laughed. “I know not of your sacrifices. But I applaud your determination. What is your name?”
“What good is the name of a man to your majesty? A man who is about to commit a heinous deed. I will take my life before the end. You need not concern yourself with who I am. A utopia is what everyone wants. Yet each person’s utopia is different. An ideal world cannot exist. If that is the case, then why exist at all? What purpose does it serve other than to just suffer, desiring something unattainable? Dreams? Hopes? Love? All insignificant. All lies. I will burn it all. I will prove that to exist is a falsehood. I will show them the Will of Fire.”
Karine stared deeply into the man’s eyes. He wondered what she saw. Perhaps it was the flames of hatred dancing before an abyss so deep that it threatened to consume all. He imagined she searched for a meaning, a cause to this incarnation of destruction. The reason for such an existence. But alas, how can there be a reason for an existence that is just a falsehood?

Where there is light, there is shadow. I am the shadow without the light. The shadow of nothingness. The VoidShadow


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    Chapter 1 – A Morning

    Aaron awoke to an outburst of brightness. The sudden illumination threatened to blind him if he remained in his current position. Sunlight pierced his empty room. No curtains hung from the windows to shield his eyes. He cursed himself for placing his bed by the window. In the near empty room, it could have been placed anywhere. And yet, he did not move the bed. The rising sun served as an alarm similar to a rooster crowing at dawn. Though on clouded days he usually slept longer than he intended to. He began his morning routine of sweeping the floor and dusting the window sills. His was the only room in the mansion that he bothered to clean. He imagined most other rooms to be caked in dust by now. The halls had webs hanging in the corners. Anyone walking inside would likely assume the place abandoned. There was no furnishing. No form of lighting save for what came through the windows, which was not much considering how dusty they had become in the past three years. No one would imagine the lord of House Caranel to be habiting this place.
    Aaron put on one of his three shirts and a long black coat, his only coat, and headed outside. The cold early spring air was not particularly welcoming. Even after three years, he had not become accustomed to the climate this far north. His boots crunched at every step as they broke the thin sheet of ice created by the morning dew. The small courtyard at the front of his mansion was filled with overgrown and yellowed grasses. It was not quite warm enough yet for them to be vibrant and full of color. The shoulder height stone walls that surrounded the mansion perimeter had small icicles hanging from the ledges. The gray walls were cracked in many places and in need of repair. But that was an afterthought to Aaron. He did not even have the means to furnish what he called home let alone tend to its looks on the outside. A small gate made with iron bars stood between the stone walls. The young lord struggled to push it open as the bars were set too low and dragged across the ground. The iron had turned a dark shade of orange from the years of rust. The door hinge creaked loudly as the gate opened. Aaron had considered removing the gate altogether, but it had become ritualistic to close it every night and then open it in the morning.
    The path from Aaron’s mansion led up a hill. He hummed a tune, an old song his mother used to sing to him when he was a child. The long shadow cast by his body shortened as he trekked up the steep incline. The vegetation of the hill was just as large as that of his courtyard. Aaron wondered what the lands of other noblemen looked like. Whether all pastures of grass around their luxurious mansions were trimmed down. How would one manage to trim the grass of such a vast amount of land anyway? Or maybe most nobles lived in the city and not some remote corner of Illusterra like himself. He let his thoughts slip away as he made it to the summit of the hill, his shadow now extended very far, almost to the walls of Red Vine village. The largest village in the Caranel territory. It was once well known for its wines. There no longer was a winery there. It had been sacked and burnt during Xenaria’s civil war three years prior. The village was surrounded by a wall of wooden posts with two small towers at both the northern and southern entrances. It was commonplace for most villages to have erected walls after the war. The amount of bandits had ballooned since then. Many displaced people had no choice but to turn towards thievery.
    Aaron made his way towards the gate of the village. The watchman atop the small wooden tower was snoring loudly. Sleeping on the job. The young lord shook his head. Normally at this point in time he would expect something along the lines of ‘good morning Lord Caranel’. Palett Vin was the man’s name. Aaron picked up a small stone and threw it at the iron bell hanging above Palett’s head. The man awoke with a start at the sharp metallic sound and turned his head towards the left, looking straight into the rising sun. The bright light caused him to cry out and fall off his chair. “Do not let me catch you sleeping again, Palett” Aaron called from below. “This is your second offense. I will not tolerate a third.”
    Aaron heard the mumblings of a ‘yes milord’ as he walked into the village. Truthfully, there wasn’t anyone else willing to take the night watch and there was little that could be done about it if the man in question was sleeping. Aaron hoped there would not be a third offense. There hadn’t been any reports of bandits raiding any villages or farms in northern Xenaria. It was well known that most of its resources were taken during the war. What followed was a relative period of peace for people in the Caranel territory. It however never hurt to be careful.
    The streets of Red Vine were empty, as was expected this early in the morning. Aaron looked upon the clear glass windows of the shops and houses with envy. An odd thing to be envious about he thought. Nothing particularly stood out in Red Vine, save for the temple which was only slightly larger than the village inn. The temple of Trillia appeared to be a dreary building, similar to Aaron’s mansion. It had been left unattended for a long time. The previous priest had died of disease and the residents of the village were not faithful towards the goddess. There was a joint sentiment of dislike for religion as most people’s prayers had remained unanswered. Many villagers had died from either famine or pestilence during the war. A time shortly before Aaron had arrived to take his place as a supposed noble.
    The scent of fresh bread flowed in the air as a cool breeze blew through the street. It made the young lord’s stomach grumble. He arrived before a small house with a sign above the door that read ‘Madam Valencia’s Bakery’. He went inside and smiled slightly as the warmth of the house embraced him. Empty shelves with flour dust lined the perimeter of a wide room. Aaron sat patiently on the only chair in the room that was placed close to the door. A woman in her late thirties came from around the corner holding a wooden tray full of fresh loaves of bread. Her long brown hair had been tied into a bun. She wore a similar colored apron over a plain light blue dress that had been covered in white powder. “Good morning Valencia”.
    “Yes, I suppose it is. Not like the cloud ridden day that we had yesterday. Are you early today or is it that I woke up late?”
    “Early compared to yesterday, I suppose” Aaron answered.
    “That certainly will not do young man. You ought to let a woman prepare before you show yourself. Too early and you’ll end up with an unripe fruit, sour and tasteless.”
    Aaron shook his head. Valencia often teased him as such every morning. He often wondered why someone with so much charm had not snared a husband.
    “It’s not polite to stare now, Aaron” the woman said as she sliced a loaf of bread. “Though I don’t mind. It means I can still compete with all the other young flowers out there.”
    “And yet you don’t, or at least I have never seen you try.”
    Valencia smiled mischievously as she spread a generous helping of butter on a slice of bread. “Am I not competing right now?”
    “That’s enough butter. It’s rather expensive, you know. Please try using it sparingly” Aaron said, trying to change the topic.
    “I do use it sparingly when it is for myself. You need to eat. Won’t find a good wife if you look too thin!”
    Aaron subconsciously looked down at his own body. He was lean and well-built. A result of his less than ordinary past. He bit into the warm bread slice that Valencia handed to him and the excessive butter rolled down his jaw. The baker pulled up her flour covered apron and used it to wipe his mouth like a doting mother. Aaron looked down in embarrassment, certain that she had set this up intentionally. “I’m hardly thin” he complained.
    “Well it is hard to tell with that long coat you have there. I only believe what I’ve seen. So if you’d just take your shirt off…”
    The young lord sat uncomfortably as he ate the rest of the slices he was given in silence. He stared at the wooden floor but was very aware of the woman intently staring at him. Even after three years of similar treatment, it was difficult for him to adapt to such an odd situation. “You’re hardly like Lord Agrienne” Valencia said after a while. Aaron finally looked up, his eyes asking a very obvious question. He did not like it when his father was mentioned and everyone in Red Vine knew as such. They shared the same sentiment. “You don’t have any of his features. None of his qualities or lack thereof I should say. A very welcoming presence.”
    “Is that not the goal?”
    “Yes. Yes it is. He was… a terrible person. Took what he wanted. When he wanted. And then discarded easily what was… no longer wanted.”
    “You sound as if you knew him personally, Valencia. I was under the impression that interactions with commoners was beneath my father.”
    “Oh it was beneath him alright. Except when it suited his needs. He also had long black hair, not like you. Although I think your short dark hair is charming in itself. Oh I forgot to mention, Sera was here last night. He was wondering if you’d come by this morning. Also, I’d love it if you returned later this evening. I could use a bit of help on deciding what dress to wear for the Triluna festival tomorrow. Maybe I’ll bake a cake too if you want.”
    Aaron watched Valencia for a while, although she now avoided his gaze. She moved about quickly, setting the remaining loaves of bread upon the shelves and then disappeared around the corner. He pushed the door open and pretended to leave, an odd habit he had picked up from a long time ago. “Just the baker’s daughter” said a hurried voice from around the corner. Aaron pushed the door open to the bakery once more, this time with much less sound, and left.
    The smell of hot iron and coal filled the forge room. Aaron was glad to be embraced by the warmth once again. He silently watched Sera Kanin relentlessly hammer at a lump of iron. The blacksmith did not like being disturbed during his work. The iron was slowly being molded into a rectangular box of sorts. Aaron was puzzled as he tried guessing at what was being made. “What are you making” he finally asked, unable to contain his curiosity.
    Sera put his hammer down and inspected his creation. “A spare hammer. Always have a spare. Or so my grandfather used to say.” The bearded man lifted his creation with a set of giant tongs and set it aside to cool. “Jengard says you need a new gate.”
    “Jengard meddles too much. We can worry about improvements to menial things when we have iron to spare.”
    “Lord Caranel, there is lots to spare” Sera said, nodding towards his new hammer piece. “It is not in my right to advise you but perhaps it is time for improvements to menial things.”
    “Relief funds from the capital haven’t arrived for some many months now. Farmers will finally begin sowing seeds again this spring. Until harvest, I will have no tax revenue to better the lives of villagers like yourself, Sera. I have next to nothing to spend to feed everyone until summer passes. The Virk tribes farther north have only been providing us with iron because they value elk that roams northern Xenaria but I have been careless. The elk population has dwindled due to overhunting. I’ll need to sell the access iron to the cities bordering the empire to get a decent price and… I’m sorry. I’m boring you aren’t I?”
    “No, no, not at all” Sera replied. “Such things don’t go through my head well but I don’t mind at all.”
    “You needn’t lie-”
    The door to the forge opened suddenly and a wave of cold air hit Aaron from behind. A massive shadow enveloped his own from the sudden sunlight. He turned out of instinct as one hand reached down to his waist only to grab at air. He’d left his sword back at the mansion. Cyra Kanin stepped through the doorway. She was about the same height as the young lord but twice as wide. Aaron breathed a sigh of relief until he saw the scowl set about her face. “He isn’t lying at all, child. Nothing goes through that head of his. Even without any of his hair, it all just bounces off. Hammering bright and early in the morning. Loud enough to wake even the dead from the War of Ashes. Only Trillia knows how our daughter sleeps through it all. You ought to tear down the forge and build a new one inside Drywood, Lord Caranel. Instead this thing is right next to our house!”
    “Nonsense!” Sera complained. “The forge has been in the family for generations.”
    “But the damn house wasn’t. You decided to build it here is all. Before even telling me!”
    Aaron coughed loudly to interject. Despite being the noble, he felt little to no authority in such a situation. “I believe I should be the one apologizing. I have kept Sera busy with a tall list of orders. Speaking of your daughter, how is Cali doing?”
    Cyra’s expression softened. “No, no child. You shouldn’t be apologizing for anything. The girl has been well since you saved her life way back then. You need not ask us every time you are here. Almost makes me seem unfit to be a parent.”
    “No, that’s not my intention” Aaron said hurriedly. “I just worry. I’m not a physic or anything. I only have limited knowledge of a few herbs and such. I was lucky to have once before seen a similar illness to Cali’s. I’ve heard of diseases resurfacing if not treated correctly.”
    “I know child, I meant no offence. You wait right here and I’ll go make you some eggs. The hens gave a good number of them today” the large woman said as she turned to leave.
    “That isn’t required. Valencia has been more than generous to me-”
    “Not hearing it. All that immoral woman has to offer is bread. You can’t just live off of that” she said as she walked off without closing the door.
    “Can’t live off of bread…” Aaron echoed in a whisper.
    “She breeds chickens right behind the house and yells at me for my hammering. I’d hardly be working this early if it wasn’t for the rooster’s crowing! Lord Caranel, I’d advise you leave now else you will have to force seven eggs down and I’ll bet Trillia’s skirt that she will watch you do it.”
    “And she’ll hunt me down even if I did leave.”
    Seven, unfortunately, was not an exaggeration. Aaron left the smithy hardly capable of moving. Red Vine was more awake now, with shopkeepers opening their doors and children running about the street. Some people waved or bowed towards him. His relation with the villagers had grown over the last three years. Aaron walked too close to the only inn at the village and Master Alvar tried pulling him inside for a meal. The owner of the Drunken Fairy looked a little offended when his offer was declined. Aaron apologized, quickly explaining his current situation which earned laughter. He made his way towards the outskirts of the village beyond the northern gate. The path led on towards the largest structure in the area. Something the villagers once opposed, but to Aaron, it was a necessity. He had constructed a makeshift barracks and had recruited a few hundred young men from within the Caranel territory. Having recently suffered from a war, the people wanted little to do with soldiers and the like. While northern Xenaria saw little combat, the drain on resources such as iron and food were felt throughout the country. As soon as the construction had been completed, there were numerous young men with thoughts of grandeur that had come to enlist themselves against their parent’s wishes. The barracks had been there a little over a year now. Time had washed away any thoughts of dissent. The young men earned wages and the likelihood of an attack in the young lord’s territory were low.
    Aaron saw his few hundred soldiers conducting basic drills on an open field by the building. A person materialized from the shadow of the structure, careful to not be seen. Vian Perza, a Shadow Walker, and Aaron’s childhood friend. His existence was known only to one other in Red Vine. Despite the villager’s general disbelief of faith, Shadow Walkers were considered dark spawn. They were originally a small tribe of one or two thousand known as the Shieda according to Viper (Vian’s nickname). People of status often hired them for assassinations. Men that could travel inside shadows made for the perfect killers. Few Shieda were still left to this day, scattered across Illusterra.
    “You are moving like a slug” Viper said, his voice raspy.
    “I had seven eggs shoved down my throat.” The Shadow Walker smirked. His emotions were only made visible by his mouth. The rest of his face was covered by a black cloth. The Shieda had no faces aside from their mouths. Looking at one had often been equated with looking into the abyss. Viper also chose to dress in entirely black. “How are our aspiring heroes doing?” Aaron asked.
    “Well enough. Better than a few cycles past anyhow. They’re eager for a fight. A few newcomers. I think from some of the farms a little south. Hot headed like most new recruits. Captain Rask was looking for you.”
    Aaron sighed and shook his head. “Of all the days. I’m about to throw up here. Can’t be helped I suppose.” Viper disappeared into Aaron’s shadow as the young lord made his way toward his soldiers. Captain Jengard Rask stood with his arms crossed as a few of his seasoned soldiers shouted orders and corrected movements. Rask and about two dozen others were part of the group that had escorted a then eighteen year old boy from the capital of Xenaria to Red Vine after Agrienne Caranel had died. The bastard son of the previous lord. The Captain’s family had died during the civil war. He had decided to serve Aaron despite not being ordered to.
    “Good morning, Lord Aaron.”
    “I’m not having one. Where are the greenhorns?”
    Rask pointed towards a group of three young men that were sitting on the grass watching the rest instead participating in the training. “Three brothers from the Merlyn Farm. There are three more yet to tend to the farm itself. The largest one in the middle is at least seven feet tall. Bors Merlyn. Couldn’t believe my eyes. Never seen a man bigger than those Virk barbarians.”
    Aaron’s eyes widened. “Seven? Trillia be damned. Does that bear want to fight me?”
    The Captain nodded. “Well you can thank these lads here. They think Bors can beat you in a fight. Buttered him right up and he’s been waiting for you since.”
    “And his brothers have been using it as an excuse to sit around too it seems. Call him over. I’ll end this quickly.”
    Rask himself was a large man, but compared to Bors, it did not seems so. The soldiers were ordered to halt their training. One gold crown was offered to anyone that could defeat Aaron in a fight. It had become a tradition of sorts since the barracks had been built. Weapons were permitted but the young lord always fought barehanded. Most challengers eventually chose to forgo weapons as well as duels usually ended in Aaron taking the weapon and using it to win. The soldiers huddled around creating a ring in which the duel would take place. Bors smiled wide, assured of his victory. Aaron crossed his arms and scowled. “You don’t even greet your lord? My, aren’t you a rude bear cub.”
    Bors beamed even wider and his already round cheeks puffed out further. His curled hair was cut short. “Lord Aaron, let’s raise the stakes. If I win, I take over the lordship of these lands.”
    Aaron laughed. “So that is your game? I’ll agree, although if I do lose, I will go back on my word. As if I’d give lordship to an overgrown buffoon. As recompense for slacking off, if you lose, you and your brothers will sleep outside for a full cycle starting this night. A whole nine days. And you will only eat one meal a day. A soldier has no need for a belly that big.” Some of the young men laughed and the bear cub looked embarrassed.
    “Begin!” Rask announced.
    The majority of cheers and words of encouragement were for the newcomer. They all wanted to see the noble lose. Bors ran at his foe swinging wildly. Aaron barely dodged the blow and staggered back. He had been too caught up in the moment and had forgotten how full his own belly was. The giant man continued his assault and Aaron backed off until he was nearly pressed up against the ring of soldiers. Bors thought his prey was backed into a corner and swung wider than normal. Aaron’s fist flashed forward catching the beast in the nose, and it was the large man’s turn to stagger backward. He tripped over his own foot and fell heavily to the ground. A stroke of luck. Aaron muttered a sarcastic word of praise for the goddess Trillia. He kicked Bors square in the jaw before the man had a chance to get up, knocking him out cold. And thus the fight was ended. “A cycle outside starting tonight as agreed. My offer still stands. A gold crown to anyone who can beat me. One challenger a day.” Regardless of the result, the young soldiers still cheered. Aaron walked off the field, back towards Red Vine and Rask followed for a while.
    “That was… more brutal than normal. The boy is only seventeen. You would usually give them a chance to fight back” the Captain said. Aaron was about to respond but suddenly bent over as everything in his stomach came out. “My lord?”
    “The blacksmith’s wife fed me seven eggs this morning. I didn’t have the luxury of playing around. Seventeen… so he can still grow. Please don’t tell Cyra about this” the noble pleaded, pointing towards his mess.
    “Of course not.”
    Where there is light, there is shadow. I am the shadow without the light. The shadow of nothingness. The VoidShadow
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    Chapter 2 – Friends

    Viper resurfaced again when Aaron had left the vicinity of Red Vine. The Shieda preferred a life of isolation. They were hated ever since they existed, or so Viper was told. Shadows were a cold place. The Shadow Walker tribe was originally based in the Mahjur Desert. An ideal location for the Shieda. The desert heat allowed them to freely utilise their ability. Shadow Walking was a way of life to them. Used to make life more convenient. Viper had not told Aaron about the biting cold inside of shadows. He could not. Aaron had greater responsibilities and finding out about the pain of traversing the umbra would be just another burden to him.
    “How different this place looks from three years prior” Aaron said as they descended the hill back towards his home. “The mansion was burnt to its foundations. We had to camp outside during the late weeks of winter when we first arrived. The builders that were sent from the capital were late. What a terrible time.”
    “I remember.” Viper remembered better than anyone. As someone who was forced to stay out of sight, he’d often taken refuge in the shadows of trees or be forced to camp without a fire. “Red Vine was little more than a graveyard. Too many starved to death. It has bothered me, but were you ever told why the wildlife here were not hunted prior to our arrival?”
    “Yes, actually” Aaron said. “There are no hunters here. Father… He banned all forms of weaponry or practice of hunting and the sort. The village solely got by on trading. While profits were decent, Agrienne took most of it for himself. No one knew how to hunt when the war began. And all forms of iron, be it knives or even forks were smelted into ingots and sent to the capital. Firewood was soon spent. Winter claimed many lives.”
    The Shieda looked up into the sky, trying not to recall the past. He saw an odd cloud in the shape of a mask with an ominous smile. A far too odd of a cloud. He recalled something amusing and smiled slightly. The cloud did not appear to move like others floating by. “Aaron, does that cloud look odd to you?”
    “Which cloud?”
    “The one in the shape of a mask right there”. Aaron appeared confused. “Do you have a headache by any chance?” Viper asked.
    “Now, that you mention it, it is throbbing slightly. You don’t mean…”
    “I might just get a headache myself” Viper said.
    Aaron laughed. He opened the mansion doors to find a man wearing a white jester’s mask standing in the center of the empty room. He wore a tight fitted matching white shirt and trousers and his blonde hair was tied back in a ponytail with bangs hanging at the front. “Jack the Jester. Why now after three years. Finally started to miss us?”
    “It’s Jahck by the way not Jack” the masked man said.
    “Still that same joke… There was no difference in how you said that. And take that stupid mask off its hurting my head.”
    Jahck took his mask off to reveal his striking features. His hairstyle often had him mistaken for a young girl despite his lean body. “I thought you’d be rich. Have a bunch of fancy stuff. This is worse than our ship. Not that I mind it of course. Feels right at home.”
    “Pardon me for not being able to live up to your expectations” Aaron said sarcastically. Jahck was another childhood friend of Aaron and Viper. He was also the most mischievous.
    “I actually did start to miss you both. Having fun just isn’t the same all on my own.” Jahck said.
    “I imagine as such. Eksa never found your antics amusing. Did you really stay with her for the past three years?” Viper asked.
    “I just got here and that is what you ask me? I’m famished. Anything to eat around here or do you just cook rats?”
    “You’ll find dried meat in the pantry by the kitchen” Aaron told the blonde haired man. “Come meet us upstairs. There is much to talk about”
    Jahck chewed on a piece of meat loudly. He was as obnoxious as Aaron remembered him to be. But he could hardly be hated. He was the kind of person that brought a unique set of colors to an otherwise colorless situation. Not always a happy set of colors though. Aaron assumed that his odd personality was a result of unfortunate events prior to their first meeting. “You’re not thirsty after having travelled so far?” Aaron asked Jahck.
    “Not really. Met some merchants along the way. They appeared to be coming here but turned back. Too many Silver Tail wolves on the road. Infested would be a better word. As if they had run out of prey to hunt.”
    Aaron looked visibly disturbed. “They have run out. We’ve hunted all the prey and now there are no merchants coming to Red Vine. Some leader I turned out to be. Anyway, how is Eksa doing? And the Serpents of course. Do we still control the seas to the south?”
    “We?” Jahck asked. “I wonder what the villagers will think when they hear Lord Aaron Caranel considers himself to still be a pirate! Caranel. Never heard that name from you. Your father’s I imagine? I don’t know much about the Silver Serpents. I left them before the arrival of winter and have been searching for you since. Although The Crow split from the group and has constantly been challenging Eksa for supremacy of the seas.”
    “Challenging Eksa…? Why?” Aaron asked with sudden curiosity.
    “Hawthorne split?” Viper also asked.
    A mischievous grin spread on Jahck’s face but only lasted for a second. “Admiral Dhorjun… died. Captain Eksa was named the new admiral of the Serpentine fleet. And so The Crow split.”
    “That seems like an awfully short story…” Aaron said with a raised eyebrow.
    A sudden drum of heavy fists at the front door stole away everyone’s attention. Jahck and Aaron made their way down the stairs to find Captain Rask standing in the doorway struggling to breathe. One of two doors were broken and collapsed on the floor. The Captain pointed at it with a worried look.
    “Never mind the door, the wood was rotting anyway. What had you running here?” Aaron asked.
    “The Virk. They are here again. More than usual this time.”
    “Nothing to fret over. I did invite them for the Triluna festival tomorrow, when last they were here. I’m surprised they remembered the date. Red Vine hasn’t had any celebrations in years so I was hoping it’d be well to perhaps share our cultures.”
    Rask still looked worried. “That isn’t it. I remember that. But they are armed. I don’t think they’re here to celebrate anything.”
    “Captain, you are thinking too hard. Wiseman Garran is with them isn’t he? Send him here and I will speak about your worries” Aaron said. Rask glanced at Jahck questioningly. “He is an old friend of mine. Nothing to worry about.” The Captain bowed before making his exit. Aaron sat heavily on the steps to the second floor of the mansion, unaware that his black coat was picking up too much dust. The Virk were a people of many tribes and were constantly caught up in tribal wars. Garran, an elderly red bearded fellow, first made contact with the villagers shortly after Aaron’s arrival in Red Vine. As a Wiseman of his tribe, he sought to establish a friendly relation with the Xenarians. His newly elected chieftain was a young man with hopes of uniting the Virk lands under singular rule. Garran often spoke highly of the man. The Wiseman was kind to Aaron when they met in the past. He would arrive with carts of iron mined from the Eld along with food items that grew in the mountains. What worried Aaron however, was the unhinged nature of the Virk warriors. Each one well-built and nearly twice the size of the average man. They carried broad double sided axes and were dressed in thick furs. They reminded Aaron of his crewmates during his time as a pirate. Unpredictable and dangerous.
    The Wiseman arrived with the support of a walking stick, something that had not been there when he’d last come in early winter. His back was more hunched than usual. Beside him was a tall woman with dark brown hair tied in a single long braid. Viper disappeared before he was seen, and Aaron stood to greet his guests. “Lord Aaron. You seem well, yet stressed.” The Wiseman’s accent was thick. The common tongue was familiar to the Virk but not often used.
    “I had a peculiar morning, one might say. I am honored that you have come on the eve of our celebration. I hope tomorrow’s festivities prove more hospitable than my house.”
    “I do not dislike it” the woman beside Garran said. “Maybe bigger than necessary but it is a sight in comparison to our homes.”
    “Well you should come see our cities then” Jahck cut in suddenly, smiling with pure charm. “A far better sight to behold. I would love to give you a tour around all Xenaria, my lady.”
    The woman’s lips curled into a small smile but she did not blink even once. Jahck’s fingers twitched. He was used to having women fall for him on sight. He seemed irritated. Insulted even. “Is this what your people call… courting?” she asked Aaron. “Apologies for the late introduction, Chieftain Caranel, but I am Yelena Venin, wife to Chieftain Avrar Venin. Perhaps I will accept the offer of traversing your lands if asked in a… different manner.”
    The woman’s pale blue eyes had a cold and bewitching tone about them. Something tugged at Aaron’s mind and a dull aching in his head confirmed his suspicions. Magic. Of what manner he couldn’t guess but he pulled his eyes away from hers and the pain left as well. “No matter, your presence is an honor to us. Pardon Jahck’s folly. He is impulsive at times. Almost too much. Let us speak of more relative matters. What have you brought for me, Garran?”
    “More iron as requested. And ale” Yelena said. It was Aaron’s turn to be irritated. Garran clearly had no authority here and negotiating with a stranger was unsettling.
    “Henceforth all negotiations will be done through Yelena. It is by order of Chieftain Avrar” Garran said, noticing the young lord’s unease.
    “Oh… Are you no longer trusted by your chieftain?” Aaron joked. The Wiseman’s eyes held a sullen expression. “I hope there won’t be much of a change in our agreements. The elk your people value so much has been scarce of late. We have been careless in our hunts. The predatory population is much greater now.”
    “It is not a matter of trust. Garran is aging. He will stay in our lands and teach our young. It is my hope that you do not find me disappointing, Chieftain Caranel. My husband has completed his conquest of our lands. We are one nation now. We would like for you to be the gateway to a more cooperative relation.” The ice in the woman’s eyes danced about again. The dull ache in Aaron’s head returned with it. “As for our agreements, we will require much more than what you have been giving us in return for your precious iron. We have a larger number of mouths to think about. If your hunts are not fruitful then there are perhaps some other object we could agree upon.”
    Aaron was beyond upset but he maintained his calm regardless. The trading of deer meats was a mere formality. The young lord knew full well that he had been on the receiving end of good faith. The Eld Mountains were rich with iron and Garran had promised to provide it in return for friendship. Aaron’s eyes narrowed as he returned Yelena’s cold gaze with a disappointed look. The dull ache in his head grew stronger. “I’m afraid you will have to allow me time to consider before I can accept this sudden proposition.” Yelena frowned. “I’m sure you are tired from your journey. You are welcome to use any of the rooms in my home, though they are not very clean mind you. I do not tend to them often.”
    “Your offer is appreciated, Chieftain Caranel. I will return to our encampment outside your village. My husband is overprotective. Our warriors will be searching for me if I am gone too long.”
    Aaron and Jahck watched Garran and Yelena ascend the small hill before disappearing out of sight on their way to Red Vine. Aaron slammed his working door shut behind him as the two went back inside and the door broke, unsurprisingly. “Fuck.”
    “I have not met a woman that has resisted me like her” Jahck said. “Aside from Eksa that is. This Yelena Venin must really love her husband or she is void of any emotion.”
    “The latter I would guess. She believes I will accept such unreasonable demands if I stare into her eyes long enough. My head throbbed whenever I looked into them. She has magic of sorts. Her guards she says. They have walked past the training recruits to come here. She clearly does not think much of them if she dared to show such hostility.”
    Jahck pouted, still feeling insulted. “Loser. An absolute loser. Needs magic to bewitch another. I have no need for such things. For I am Jahckrin the Jester! The most beautiful man in all Illusterra!” the blonde man sang as he danced atop the broken doors, further crushing them with each step. A wide grin suddenly spread on his face, revealing two pairs of fangs. “Do you remember what we used to do to those openly hostile towards us? They still do it down in Kovar. It has become part of the town’s culture.”
    “I remember well” Aaron said. “And I’m not particularly proud of it. I was impulsive then. And Brash. The same rules that applied to pirates do not apply here. Don’t act out of line Jahck.”
    “Yes of course.” A line Aaron had heard from the mouth of the jester before. It usually meant ‘I will walk on the border of acceptable behaviour.’
    Aaron sat back down on the dusty steps of his stairwell. He stared hard at the checkered pattern floor of his mansion, carefully considering his next actions. Losing patience, he sighed and returned to his room followed by Jahck. The sunlight shining in the room made it feel warm and welcoming. Aaron shuddered, suddenly remembering Yelena’s ice cold eyes. She had frowned when he did not accept her offer. She expected acceptance. Or obedience. He would need to be wary around her and she would likely do the same. The young lord sat down on a chair, the only chair in the entire manse. His near empty chambers would not be considered empty had it been the cabin of a ship. A bed, a table and a chair were all that occupied the large room when it was void of people. Aaron’s sword rested against the table. He picked it up and examined the runes etched into the hilt of the blade. A small sarcastic smile spread upon his face. He ran his finger along the runes and felt a small tingle of power run through his hands.
    “Did you ever figure out what those runes meant? I seem to recall you having some knowledge of the runic language” Jahck asked.
    “I did. Runic is ancient. Far beyond my memories. Knowledge mostly lost during the War of Ashes. What I know are the scraps of bits and pieces. But yes, I know this sword’s name now.” A single edged blade that had sharp ends running down its spine. A magical weapon that consumed the user’s anger and hatred and exchanged it for unparalleled physical enhancements. Aaron was immune to magic, a trait inherited from his late mother. When near any sort of magic, his head throbbed. Yet the enhancements of the sword still took effect on him. He assumed runic magic was different to the magic that still existed in Illusterra today.
    “Well, what does it say?” the Jester asked eagerly. Despite being three years older than both Aaron and Viper, he was the most likely to succumb to infantilism.
    “I like to imagine it says ‘Wrath’. The power it provides truly lives up to such an oppressive word.” The sword had been obtained from a Tarmian merchant ship that the Silver Serpent pirates had plundered. The merchant with the weapon had a ledger with all the past users of the sword. It dated back centuries. Each user shared something similar with the rest. The power of the sword was far too addicting and all of its users had fallen into madness. They had committed atrocities before being put down. A dull and obvious scheme to raise the selling price of the weapon. Many people would pay generously for a magical artifact, the Tarmian Empire’s military being among them. The ledger now sat at the bottom of the ocean somewhere, if it hadn’t already been consumed by a fish.
    “What is the actual name?” Jahck asked again.
    Aaron broke into sudden hysteria, his laughter echoing through the room. “I honestly want to believe you came up with the name Jahck. Such a cruel joke. Our ancestors had a twisted sense of humor. Either that or I have read the runes incorrectly. The name of the sword is Butter Knife. Perhaps because the raw power it provides allows one to go through people like a hot knife would through butter.”
    It was the jester’s turn to laugh. A more maniacal laugh, but genuine nonetheless. “Butter knife! A prodigy must have thought of that. To name a weapon so. I would have loved to meet its creator. I think I would get along quite well with them.”
    “I’m sure you would” Viper said, suddenly appearing out of the floor. “I was out scouting the Virk camp, Aaron. There’s a few dozen or so but I imagine it to be enough to go through our, what was it, three-hundred boys? We should be vigilant. They could cause chaos during the celebrations tomorrow.”
    “A few dozen… Normally there would not be more than ten. They’re battle hardened while our recruits are still wet behind the ears. I don’t think it is Yelena’s intention to do anything out of line. She reminds me of The Crow. He would never act lest he was certain of gains. As it stands, we still outnumber them by more than six to one. I figure her magic is one of mental control. I’d be willing to bet Trillia’s skirt that Chieftain Avrar is not the one giving orders.”
    Aaron began regretting his decision of inviting the Virk. Three years since the villagers held any sort of celebration. And now there was a potentially hostile force camped outside his village.
    “Thinking too hard?” Viper asked.
    “I wanted our recruits to enjoy themselves as well. But now… I miss being a pirate. I just had to be the bastard of some highborn philanderer. This job is too difficult.”
    “Now there, even if you weren’t a Caranel…” Jahck began. “Miss being a pirate? Your mother would be rolling in her grave if she heard that.”
    “If she had one. I never buried her. That’s all in the past. Don’t go bringing up depressing memories when I’m already stressed out.”
    “You said it” Jahck rebutted. “Not me.”
    “Aaron, don’t you have too little faith in yourself?” Viper asked. “Too little faith in us? Or are our curses too overbearing to even use? Let the villagers celebrate to their heart’s content. Barbarians though they may be, I’m sure we could get by with the three of us alone.”
    “Being unique is not a curse Viper. You are not darkspawn, and neither is Jahck. You are my friends. But you’re right. I’ve been thinking on this far too hard.” Jahck’s face lit up and Aaron shot him a hard look. He gripped the hilt of his sword tight. The white of his knuckles were made very visible. He felt his anger slowly get drained and be replaced by immense power and confidence. “That’s right. If it is magic, we have it too.”
    Where there is light, there is shadow. I am the shadow without the light. The shadow of nothingness. The VoidShadow
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    Chapter 3 – Failing Fortune

    “That wily old man lied to me! We’re pulling out. There is nothing to be gained here.”
    “But Captain, the loot is in the Trillian Temple, we’re almost there.”
    Eksa pulled the man in by his collar. “Fuck almost being there! There is no treasure. We’ve been had. Burn as many houses as you can on your way out. No one dares make a mockery of the Red Snake.” A mercenary armed with just a shield ran at the flame haired woman. Eksa’s quick reflexes allowed her to throw her cutlass at her assailant’s unprotected head and she watched the weapon go through the man’s eye. His momentum did not stop however. The shield collided with her side and she fell back along with him, having the wind knocked out of her. On the man’s shoulder plate was the mark of a three pointed flower. Eksa pulled herself up, painfully aware that the cobblestones had scraped her hands. She kicked the man over and took the cutlass out of his eye. “Bloody Trillians and their pissant goddess.”
    The Silver Serpents had raided the small port town of Assak under Eksa’s orders. The town lay at the southwest edge of Xenaria. Assak was built unnaturally. It was a labyrinth. There was one main street and many alleyways. This made the town easy to defend from pirate raids. The rooftops of the houses were painted black. It was revolting. Even Kovar, a city infested with pirates did not look this dreary. Filthy though it may be, Kovar at least did not feel ominous. The lack of color in Assak made Eksa shudder. Dark clouds in the sky did little to comfort that feeling.
    Thunder rumbled overhead. “Quickly, head back to the ships. We will use the storm to flee.” The downpour began shortly after. Fires her crewmembers had started were being put out. “This whore of a goddess never gives with two hands does she?” Eksa ran towards the docks with several of her crewmates. To her horror, she spotted a line of mercenaries bearing the Trillian mark already there waiting for them.
    “Captain!” Severum cried while pointing ahead. The man was her second in command. The only one even remotely qualified.
    “Yes, I can see them you half-wit. At least they cannot burn our ships in this-” A sudden impact forced the Red Snake back on the ground. She felt blood rolling down the side of her head. Her crewmates around her were on the ground also. “What in hell…” A barrier stood between her and her ships. A barrier that she could not see. Someone was using magical artifact. Many Serpents made it beyond the barrier before it was erected and had engaged the Trillians on the docks. Their numbers, however, were effectively cut in half. She looked the other way, towards the temple, to find more enemies gathering every second. The moment Assak’s citizens were behind the mercenary lines, they would advance on the Serpents. Angered and frustrated, she beat at the invisible barrier but to no avail. Eksa turned to face the enemies before her along with a couple dozen others she had with her. “Damn it all.” If only they were still here. If only she still had Aaron’s quick thinking, or Jahckrin’s nose, or Viper’s… “Whatever it is that he does.”
    “What?” Severum asked.
    “I wasn’t talking to you!” Eksa shouted. From the corner of her eye she spotted two of her crew still trying to start a fire on the rooftop of a house amidst the rainfall. “Get down from there you… Do you idiots not even know how fire and water works?” The two did as they were told and joined their Captain. The mercenary ranks had swelled. No doubt there were some already hidden in the many alleys of Assak. They would charge at any moment. Eksa turned back to glance at the other half of the Serpents at the docks. She suddenly realized the house that her two idiots were trying to set alight was behind the barrier. The blockade was small enough to cover just the main street. Another obvious trap to force them into the maze of the alleyways. A gambit she’d take nonetheless.
    Eksa ran into the alley motioning for her crew to follow. Her spirits rose slightly. Fortune still favoured her. “Idiots. If that is their ploy, why leave a ladder in the alley? Climb you buffoons. Quickly now. Slowest one walks the plank!”
    “Captain, what of the sightless wall?” Severum asked, despite being the first to climb.
    “It doesn’t have range. Quit looking down and move!” The Serpents were climbing at a snail’s pace, or so it appeared. Eksa desperately urged them to hurry. The mercenaries would be on top of them at any moment now. A shout from the opposite end of the alley caught her attention. Heavy rains made the alley much darker. She barely had time to register the spear being thrust towards her. Eksa managed half a step backward as the sharp end of the spear tore the top of her buttoned shirt. The assailant’s neck became visible for a brief second and she didn’t hesitate to slash at it. Blood sprayed out onto her already wet shirt. “Using a spear in a tight space. How foolish.” She glanced over her shoulder. Only five more left to climb.
    “I’ll skewer ya like a pig!” Another enemy hidden in the alleyway. A stocky man wielding a fishing harpoon. He was blind in one eye and had multiple scars running down his face. His arm bulged as he raised the harpoon overhead.
    “You… You’re no Trillian.” Eksa knew this man. He challenged her to a duel once. For a jeweled necklace taken from some noblewoman. The scars on his face were given by her. “You’re looking quite handsome” she said with a sneer. The Red Snake darted at her opponent, not wanting to let him close to the ladder. His massive arms looked capable of snapping the object in two. He thrust down with the harpoon but missed by a wide margin. She quickly slashed at him but her thin cutlass was not enough to make any deep wounds in the hulking mass. The man dropped the harpoon and instead tried to grab his foe. Eksa ducked in time to avoid it but her foot slipped on the wet cobblestones forcing her to her knees. “Ugh”. A huge fist flew at her and she barely wedged an arm between it and her head before it struck her. Eksa fell back and slid several feet. To her fortune, her attacker had also slipped and fell face first into the ground.
    Using the remnants of her strength, the Red Snake pulled herself up and climbed the ladder. Trillian mercenaries poured into the alleyway from its entrance. Eksa’s heart skipped a beat when something grabbed her foot. She looked down to see the scarred face giving her a toothy grin, blood gushing out of his nose. Beside him lay her cutlass. Her favourite weapon. A pang of regret ran through her chest but it was too late to retrieve it.
    “Get down ya whore. I’ll carve that pretty face of yours when the lads are done with ya. See how-”
    “Fuck off!” the Serpent Captain cried as she kicked down at the man’s already broken nose. His grip hardly loosened. She pulled with all her might, finally managing to pry her foot loose, but her boot came off at the same time. Eksa ran across the rooftop and jumped down on the opposite side of the barrier. She was dimly aware of the skin peeling off of her naked foot as she ran towards the ships. A Trillian mercenary cut down a crewmember just as she reached the docks. Having no weapon in hand, the flame haired Captain swung her fist as hard as she could, forcing the man to the ground before killing him with his own sword. The Serpents had reclaimed the area but a quarter of them lay dead. A ship could not be manned with too few men. Eksa would be forced to abandon one of the seven remaining ships of the Serpentine fleet. “Raise the anchors. Set sail before those bastards come on to us!”
    The flame haired woman boarded the Scarlet Reaver, her flagship, and made her way down to her cabin. She put on her long coat. The top of her shirt was torn, exposing more than she preferred. She pulled out a bottle of rum before buttoning her coat. The drink burned her throat but dulled the pain of her scrapes and bruises. She sat heavily on her bed and swigged the drink in one go. “Damn it. Damn it all. Damn that old man. Damn the Trillians. Damn that whoreson. Damn Severum and his incompetence. Damn Aaron. And Viper. And Jahck. Bloody deserters.” Trillians. And pirates. In Assak. “Hold a fucking moment. Both of them working together?” She had been played from the very beginning. The wily old merchant at the tavern had lied to her about silver in Assak. The man had been feeding her accurate information about small merchant vessels for a few cycles. Eksa had no reason to doubt him. He had said that the temple in Assak would be guarding a large amount of silver. Promise of fortune was all it took to bait her. And it had cost her a ship and many good fighters.
    Eksa made her way to the deck. Her bootless foot left bloodied marks with every step only to be washed away by the rain within seconds. “Captain! Ships to our left. Towards Kovar” Severum cried out.
    Kovar was where they were headed to restock on supplies. Only one other pirate crew would dare to stand in the Serpent’s path. Eksa hoped it wasn’t so. Hoped it was just another third rate crew that had obtained the same misleading information as her. She pulled out her spyglass and looked towards the silhouettes on their left. Her hand curled into a fist. The flag of the Sea Hounds. A horrid realization sent chills down her spine. The invisible barrier. The ladder. The scarred brawler. All an elaborate scheme specifically meant for her. Eksa’s head strong attitude was well known among the pirates of Kovar. She’d always be at the vanguard of a raid. He knew she would order the Serpents down the main street. Knew she’d recognize the alleys for the traps that they were. Knew she’d detect the ambush that lay ahead. And so the vile magic barrier was then placed. He had conspired with the Trillians. And in the event Eksa realized that the barrier was only short range? She’d be forced into the labyrinth. And to leave a ladder conveniently in the very same alleyway that she would likely enter. Because of course, she would let her crewmates climb before her. ‘Eksa, the selfless pirate’ Aaron had once called her. The safety of the crew was always her priority. The name did not stick of course. She was ruthless to enemies and that was better remembered. But he would not miss such an important detail. In the event the Trillians failed to reach the Serpents before they had finished climbing, there was the scarred man. Another pirate with personal reasons for attacking Eksa. And when that fails as well? Attack the fleeing Serpents at sea. The man with a hundred plans. The One Eyed Crow. “Hawthorne, you son of a bitch.”
    Where there is light, there is shadow. I am the shadow without the light. The shadow of nothingness. The VoidShadow
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    NagashNagash Member, Leader of Men, Kickstarter, Alpha One
    Hello shit void shadow that was a great read why didn't you post this earlier

    The dead do not squabble as this land’s rulers do. The dead have no desires, petty jealousies or ambitions. A world of the dead is a world at peace
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    Nagash wrote: »
    Hello shit void shadow that was a great read why didn't you post this earlier

    Thanks really appreciate it. It just wasnt ready. I'm also not particularly comfortable with posting more until its published and i have a copyright claim on it. Here's to hoping i find an agent and can get the full book out in the near future.
    Where there is light, there is shadow. I am the shadow without the light. The shadow of nothingness. The VoidShadow
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    NagashNagash Member, Leader of Men, Kickstarter, Alpha One
    well if you do get published give me a shout I wouldn't mind getting a copy

    The dead do not squabble as this land’s rulers do. The dead have no desires, petty jealousies or ambitions. A world of the dead is a world at peace
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    voidshadowvoidshadow Member
    edited July 2020
    Random climax idea i came up with in the last half hour for my potential second novel. Tell me how it went.

    Random Climax Chapter – To be a God

    Aaron stood before the Archbishop, runic blade in hand, and ready to strike. Odain held on to his menacing smile. The smile of absolute confidence. Of pure arrogance. It was repulsive. A man who had caused such chaos. He rose from his throne with the golden spear in hand. He let his white and gold robes of Trillia fall to reveal a full body suit of shimmering armor. Aaron had always seen the Archbishop walk with a slight hunch to his back. But seeing the well chiseled muscles along with the look on his face told the young lord that Odain was no ordinary religious head.
    Aaron didn’t hesitate. He wrapped his sword in white flames and allowed the runic weapon to consume his anger. He lowered his center of gravity as Odain leisurely walked towards him. A split second was all it took. As soon as the archbishop entered his range, Aaron lunged and allowed his sword to pierce through the man’s heart. He rent the blade out as viciously as possible. Odain looked down at his wound. The sight of his own blood appeared to mortify him. That was the expression Aaron had been searching for. It gave him satisfaction. But it was snatched away as soon as it had appeared. Odain twirled his golden spear over his head and struck Aaron at his temple. The young lord fell to the floor and his sword slipped out of his hand. The sound of the Archbishop’s laughter echoed through the chamber. The young lord retrieved his weapon and pulled himself up. Odain was standing still in perfect health. No wound remained on his chest. Nor did the white flames consume him. “How…?”
    “Did you think you were the only one wielding magical artifacts, boy? I told you once did I not? I possess far more power than you could ever dream of. So long as I have these items, I cannot be defeated. And I can turn any falsehood into truth. All that you fought for will be brought down before your very eyes. I am immortal. This armor of mine will heal any damage you inflict within mere seconds. You can try cutting my head off, of course.” Odain twirled the spear around to display his mastery in the martial art. “But good luck doing that. You aren’t the only one with physical enhancing artifacts.” He outstretched an arm. A blue ring on one of his fingers glowed and moments later, a bolt of lightning zipped past Aaron’s face. Blood rolled down his cheek from a thin cut that had been made. “Come. Let’s see how long you can keep this deity entertained, lord Caranel. For I am a god.”
    Aaron sneered as he lunged again. Every attack he made was parried with ease. Odain was playing with him. Even with the physical enhancements of the runic blade, the young lord could not keep up. Without magic, he was certain that he could defeat the Archbishop with only his unarmed skills. A spear wielder was all too easy to beat for Aaron, who had honed his bare handed skills to near perfection. But Odain was armed with an arsenal of magical artifacts. The young lord could find no openings with which to strike. His adversary finally got bored and began attacking back. Aaron found himself struggling to parry rapid blows in succession. The speed at which Odain struck with the spear was absurd. The young lord’s muscles trembled with each successful parry. His movements began to slow. He tried remembering the atrocities that Odain had allowed to occur. Tried getting angry to feed his blade further. But his thoughts were clouded for a brief instant by the overwhelming force standing before him. A brief thought of defeat entered his mind and that was all it took. His guard was blown wide open and the golden spear impaled him.
    “A valiant effort” Odain said as Aaron fell to his knees. “But a mere man cannot kill an immortal being. A mere man cannot kill god. Now wither away, oh mortal one. Wither away and die full of regrets, knowing that I will go out and slaughter your friends and your people. And your wife.” Odain pulled the spear out and began walking away.
    “If immortality was all it took to be a god, then Blood mage Ylpha would be ruling this world right now.” Aaron stood up. Dark flames covered his entire body. And his wound closed in the blink of an eye. Odain turned around and raised an eyebrow out of curiosity. “Immortal was it. I make no claims to be a god. I am but a man. But if you claim immortality, then so shall I.” New found rage welled inside Aaron. The threat to his wife was the one thing he would not endure. The runic blade consumed this new hatred and granted the young lord unparalleled power. “Come Odain, the human. Our battle has yet to conclude.”
    “Oh? You are a flame bearer then. Very intriguing, lord Caranel. Very intriguing indeed. I am slightly more entertained now. Human am I? I wonder how long that arrogance will last.”

    Edit: Just realized i turned an archbishop into the mc from the Overgeared manhwa
    Where there is light, there is shadow. I am the shadow without the light. The shadow of nothingness. The VoidShadow
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    granthorgranthor Member
    edited July 2020
    voidshadow wrote: »
    Nagash wrote: »
    Hello shit void shadow that was a great read why didn't you post this earlier

    Thanks really appreciate it. It just wasnt ready. I'm also not particularly comfortable with posting more until its published and i have a copyright claim on it. Here's to hoping i find an agent and can get the full book out in the near future.

    That's why I am writing a story based on the game. Don't want to post something that might be a copyright issue, or my losing it to someone else. lol Plus, it gives me a way to practice a little, then once I figure out my style, I ill work on a novel of my own.
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    Felt like taking a break from fantasy for like half a day and randomly came up with a drow elf sci fi concept just now. Wanted to share it somewhere since none of irl friends or family actually care. Any opinions?

    "Äkhrion Arachnia Malekithai is a drow elf. A noble of the Tenebrheim lunar system. More a part of their ruling class really. And also a part of the Empress' personal family of intergalactic assassins. He graduated from the top of the military academy of Emfloras, an Empire ruled by the Whiteskins. His position was practically guaranteed. His life was set. So how the flying fuck did I become a measly bounty hunter scrounging for pay while I narrate my own life from a fucking prison cell?"
    "You slept with the current Empress during your time at the academy. And you parked your Pegasus on our sacred grounds. Albeit by accident. Don't worry. You won't be in prison for long," Eritra, the Fitzanian guard answered. She had blue skin and webbed ears similar to the now extinct merfolk of Emfloras' home world, Greater Terra. On her neck was a set of gills that helped with underwater breathing and behind her luscious dark blue lips was a set of razor sharp teeth.
    "My entire life is a prison! I keep getting requests from my family to hunt down potential threats to the throne. Disobey them, and I'm deemed incompetent and disowned from my noble blood. Worse yet, they assume I'm being paid by the Empire. I have to waste my precious time hunting down ass hats going after the Empress all the while she tries to hunt me down herself! And on my free time, I'm bounty hunting or doing odd jobs to fucking eat!"
    "Look at the bright side. Or is it the dark side with you drow? I'll treat you to a dinner at my place once you’re out," Eritra said with mischievous eyes.
    Äkhrion looked away. He couldn't deny the invitation. His getting out of prison depended on Eritra's testimony. But Fitzanian women had a bad habit of constantly wanting to mate. And an even worse habit of biting their partners during the process. It was fine for Fitzanian men, who had armor like scaly skin. But for Äkhrion, he feared even living out the night.
    Where there is light, there is shadow. I am the shadow without the light. The shadow of nothingness. The VoidShadow
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