Authors: Elí Freysson
A Clash of Shadows
The Silent War, Book 2
Published by Eli Freysson
Copyright 2015 Eli Freysson
The year 301 After Dissolution. Spring.
The door seemed larger than it truly was. Ominous and intimidating. It was strange to think that a year ago he had entered it gladly into the company of friends.
But then it had been daytime, different circumstances and a different time which would probably never come again. Life had interrupted friendships.
Arvar shook his head a bit. It was no use griping about the way things had to be and even less to be timid.
He looked at his companion to make sure he was ready. The man nodded. Of course. He was always ready.
Their other companions waited outside of the village with horses. This meeting needed to be in secret and waking the commoners would not do.
Arvar walked up to the door and knocked softly, just so a man standing by it would hear.
The door opened and a lantern could be glimpsed further inside the house. The silhouette beyond the crack wordlessly motioned for them to step inside and Arvar accepted. His companion was a few steps behind and made sure to have enough space to draw his sword in a hurry.
The man who had received them closed the door and jerked his head towards the parlour, from whence the light emanated.
Arvar walked there with even, calm steps and stayed calm despite the air nearly vibrating with power. Many sorceries had been woven here recently. Far more than the last time he had been here.
The lady of the house gave them a curt greeting and handed each one a mug.
“Greetings, Herdis,” Arvar said quietly and sipped without sniffing the contents. If he was to be murdered it would be done in a more reliable fashion.
The wine was good and he watched the man who was both the master of the house and the region’s coven leader. He was broad and roughly built, with neat black hair and a beard which hadn’t started greying despite him being in his forties, more than a decade older than Arvar. He sat in a high chair flanked by guards on both sides.
It was appropriate, Arvar had to concede. Though the people of this village didn’t know it, this man was a king. Or ought to be one anyway. Just as Arvar himself.
“Be welcome, cousin,” Kolgrimur said severely.
“My thanks for the invitation.” Arvar dropped his head slightly. A guest must be courteous, after all. Though conflict seemed certain, it hadn’t begun yet.
“Why did you ask for this meeting, Arvar?” the bearded man asked. “Are you hoping that I have changed my mind?”
“I am hoping we can avoid conflict, Kolgrimur. Bad enough that the covens of other lands snap at one another like hungry dogs, generation after generation. We cannot afford to let the Golden Plain coven be split. It will render us vulnerable.”
Kolgrimur’s brows sank a bit and he slowly leaned forward in the chair and pointed a thick finger at Arvar.
steer us towards strife, cousin,” he said calmly but darkly. “You are the one who violates our traditions and convince people to join you. It is you who gather arms and cause ripples among the other covens.”
“We will not win the Silent War by sitting behind a shield. It takes swords.”
“Tovar Savaren agreed with you. I don’t need to tell you what happened to him.”
“Savaren could have triumphed if we had wanted him to.” Arvar glanced at the man who had come with him. “But he wanted to reign as a king. Not work together in partnership.”
“And what do
want, cousin?” Kolgrimur asked and glared at him.
“I want to work together in partnership, Kolgrimur,” Arvar replied. “Our coven deserves more than it has and it cannot have it if the Golden Plain is split between us.”
“True enough, cousin.”
Kolgrimur’s voice was menacing and Arvar couldn’t help but check the men closest to him for any movements. Kolgrimur had neither gained nor maintained his position without fights.
“Work with me, Kolgrimur,” Arvar said and held his hands out in appeasement. “These are chaotic times. Another war between Amerstan and Kossus. King Valdimar is said to desire Pine City and the battles over Magni the Red’s domain is just beginning. And we know Peter Savaren is plotting something. We stole powerful secrets from him and his father and as soon as we master them they can deliver upon us a new future.”
“My answer is no, as before. I mean to wage the Silent War with patience and endurance, as our forebearers. I don’t want you to draw our enemies to the country or give us away. Let alone both. Promise me this and you will have all the domestic peace you want.”
Arvar took a deep breath.
“Very well,” he sighed. “Very well. I promise to keep my plans outside of the Golden Plain for now.”
“For now?” Kolgrimur said and didn’t care for the answer.
“My offer still stands, Kolgrimur,” Arvar said. “And I believe I can change your mind within a year. Farewell, cousin.”
He nodded to everyone present and walked out with his companion in tow. The door was closed behind them and they exited the village quietly before daring to speak.
“Well, that went as expected,” Vajan said.
“Yes. So we will proceed with the plan,” Arvar said.
“Your cousin was right about one thing,” the warrior said with a smile. “This is dangerous. You can’t have forgotten what lurks around the Inner Sea these days?”
“There has been no sign of them for months, Vajan. But that is still no excuse for recklessness. We will just have to do everything carefully and, barring any mishaps, this should work out.”
Leifur rolled his head around a bit to relax his neck. The task demanded total concentration and physical soreness mustn’t interfere with the mind.
He had sat on this little-used dirt road for a while now and the cool night air of Farnar was making him miserable.
Leifur had wrapped himself up in the blanket that hid the ‘materials’ he would need, but it was thin and old and he had neglected to bring a hat.
He wanted to be mad at himself because of it. But the demand for the spell had come at a short notice. Time had been too short for many things, including the traditional precautions.
Pulling a demon into the world of men without preparation was dangerous. But now was the time for desperate measures. The enemies that would soon arrive by this road mustn’t leave Farnar alive. It would be the shame of the coven for generations and a great threat to all he loved.
The contradiction was that this threat was so terrible that he was having trouble focusing on stopping it.
His brethren hid among the trees and bushes on either side of the road. Everyone had arms at the ready and knew how to wield them with varying skill, but they were mostly meant for support. The ambush lay on his shoulders.
Leifur pushed these thoughts away and tried to forget his emotions as he had been taught. This had to work out.
The spell sizzled in his mind. The air tingled with the energy he had been taught to sense and harness. He had been taught to bathe in power that other men called unnatural and evil. Damned fools.
Suddenly he heard a good impression of a crow’s call. One of his brethren had seen their approaching enemies.
A few moments later he heard a faint noise that became the footsteps of several men. The moment had arrived.
Leifur took a deep breath and made a final effort to clear his mind.
“The moment has come,” he whispered to himself.
He kept his eyes closed and focused on the spell as the footsteps approached. He went over the words yet again and exactly how he was to focus and control the power.
He opened his eyes once the footsteps got uncomfortably clear. He saw a vague silhouette up ahead and five others appeared with it a moment later.
They are about to notice me.
Leifur stood up on his knee and let the blanket drop, revealing the unconscious adolescent on the ground. He had been chosen both for his small size and simply due to being within reach.
The men stopped and braced for trouble without speaking a word. Leifur grabbed the boy’s hair and yanked it backwards. The razor-sharp knife in his left hand slid into the exposed neck in one powerful thrust.
The boy’s life immediately began seeping out and weakening the divide for a few moments and Leifur rapidly recited the words while the enemies drew weapons.
The words, the death and the power he had harnessed together opened a channel into the Underworld and he
with his will. Pulled for something
. Something terrible that would end this menace in moments.
A piercing scream resounded through the night as the demon took on an earthly shape in front of the men: A three metre tall abomination with a mouth full of dagger teeth and claws in place of fingers. The flesh was like tree bark and flames emanated from the head like a crown.
Most would have screamed and fled into the night with prayers on their lips, but the men simply braced for defence with flawless coordination.
The demon roared again with hatred of this world and everything within it and attacked. The foremost man dodged the claws with eerie grace and slashed back with a sword. The wound to the arm merely angered the monster. It blindly strode into the group and swiped at a man with its claws. He was thrown into the bushes with his guts out. The demon then struck again at the leader, who dodged. The claws hit a tree trunk and shattered it like packed sand.
Four of the remaining men surrounded the demon and tried to hold it back with cooperation. The leader separated from the fight and headed for Leifur.
Leifur’s brethren sprang out of the forest with raised weapons and battle cries on their lips.
Most attacked the group dancing about the demon. Another of the foes fell as Bergur drove a spear into his back. Bergur yanked the spear out and raised it for a second thrust into the man where he lay.
The demon picked Bergur up by his head, raised him high in the air and tore him in two with a scream.
Leifur gaped and took his eyes of the leader even though he had now injured both men engaging him.
The cold of the night cut even deeper and Leifur felt an abyss opening in his stomach. The spell had been too successful. The demon was too powerful. Its rage had no direction.
A demon was loose in Farnar and Leifur’s sorcery could not contain it.
The leader ran up to Leifur as the demon’s roar carried far out into the night.
Katja made her way downhill and tried to calm her mind.
The last year had been both good and bad. The victory over the Brotherhood of the Pit south in Baldur’s Coast had been the greatest moment of her life, but then sedentariness had followed.
Sure sure, she and Serdra were honoured guests on Maron’s homestead and Serdra continued her training mercilessly. The winter had been spent on practising strength, agility, reflexes, swordplay and archery. The woman continued with everything they had gone over in Baldur’s Coast, along with skills there hadn’t been time for then. Katja had learned to fight in armour, move silently through urban areas, pick locks and survive in the woodlands. She also had an ever greater command of the stealth language and the signs.
Katja got stronger and more dangerous with each passing week. And she had nothing to do with it. Not since two months ago when they went on a short journey to destroy an unremarkable earth demon dwelling on a beach.
Serdra refused to discuss when they would travel again and problems didn’t come their way either. The homestead was safe and peaceful and off the beaten track. A perfect place to gather strength and discuss secret matters. But Katja had spent sixteen years in the safety of her home village and couldn’t take any more of it.
She stumbled in the dark and undergrowth and leaned on her walking stick with a curse. She had yet again been too restless to sleep and so embarked on a small fishing trip to the lake above the homestead. The two trout she’d caught would make a fine addition to breakfast.
Finding out that she was a Redcloak had been a great liberation. A great relief. But now that she understood her own urges she often found them even harder to deny and stay in place.
Serdra had criticized her a bit for the restlessness and pointed out the potential effects on good judgement. Katja had responded by asking how her own youth had been. It had been one of the vanishingly rare conversations Serdra hadn’t won in one way or another.
Perhaps the woman just didn’t remember the answer well. She was a hundred and thirty three years old, after all.
Or twenty, judging by the face.
Katja smiled a bit.
Now I just need to outdo her in some physical way and...
Katja felt a sudden sting. She froze in her tracks and gasped.
It was the sensation. The one she hadn’t felt since the beach. Something had come to life. Something distant. Something unnatural and dangerous. More dangerous than the wretch at the beach, judging by the power of the feeling. Something it was in her nature to hunt down and destroy.