Authors: Jasper T. Scott
by Jasper T. Scott
Copyright © 2012 by Jasper T. Scott
THE AUTHOR RETAINS ALL RIGHTS FOR THIS BOOK
Reproduction or transmission of this book, in whole or in part, by electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or by any other means is strictly prohibited, except with prior written permission from the author. You may direct your inquiries to
Cover design by Jasper T. Scott
This book is a work of fiction. All names, places, and incidents described are products of the writer’s imagination and any resemblance to real people or life events is purely coincidental.
Many thanks to my family, friends, and to my beautiful wife, all of whom believed in me and encouraged me even when I would have rather stuck my head in the sand. You all made the journey worth the effort.
To those who dare,
And to those who dream.
To everyone who’s stronger than they seem.
“Believe in me
I know you've waited for so long /
Believe in me
Sometimes the weak become the strong” —
The frigid air was heavy with darkness and malevolent purpose as Malgore strode down the stone corridor. His steel-studded boots rang against the stone floor with echoing thuds. Torches flickered in wall sconces, revealing black walls slick with glistening green slime and condensing moisture; the torches all but flickered out as Malgore passed; his presence seemed to draw the shadows to him from every crack and crevice in the fortress, rallying darkness like an army to snuff every flicker of warmth and light from the world. The sounds of gremlins hissing echoed down the corridor from somewhere deep within the fortress—
, Malgore thought grimly,
from the very walls themselves
. Haunting echoes from those long dead. The walls of Gadagur were so full with the poisonous residues of tormented lives that they seemed to scream at him.
He whispered a word of revelation and allowed his shriveled hand to trace a long slime-streaked crack in the wall. Sharp images assaulted his mind, subverting his eyes: he saw swords flashing and blood spraying the walls as gremlins fought one another for scraps of food and cloth, the blood of the slain seeping into the stones, a marker for memories long bereft of their hosts. Malgore withdrew his palm from the stones, and fresh blood glistened blackly against his shriveled gray skin. Time was a scroll, written in blood. It was but a matter of knowing the script to read it. Malgore had already seen much. Too much. He had gazed back through time and seen things so wondrous that not even magic could explain them. Lying buried in the ashes and ruins of the past was the key to a power great enough to destroy the Elves with but the twitch of a finger. Weapons the size of a travelling case which could destroy an entire city. Vehicles which could fly so high they joined the mantle of stars in the ether. But it was not enough to merely see the past; to possess such wonders, one had to travel to the past and take them.
Malgore reached the end of the corridor. A solid wooden door stood before him, barred by a heavy beam. A thundering roar rattled the door on its hinges, and a flash of golden light silhouetted the wooden frame. Wisps of smoke curled under it, bringing the smell of charred flesh to his nostrils.
Malgore smiled. “Abrea!” he intoned. The beam barring the door flew off and clattered to the stone tiles, bouncing twice with wooden echoes. Malgore stepped forward, and the door swung open as he mentally guided the action.
The scene beyond the door was of a yawning cave, guarded by deep shadows. From those shadows Malgore heard wet tearing sounds and a loud crunching. He caught a glimpse of movement as his eyes adjusted to the darkness. An enormous hulking shape crouched in the corner. Malgore walked toward it. As the darkness enveloped him, he began to make out more details. His mind filled in the rest, knowing what to expect. He walked straight up to the monster and patted it on its scaly flank.
The monster growled contentedly, and the crunching sounds abruptly stopped as it spat something out. A bent and bloodied shield fell with a heavy clank at Malgore's feet. He smiled to see the Elves' emblem of a branching white elm so cruelly deformed. He knelt beside the shield and placed a hand upon the darkest bloodstain. “Hur paseas su hur pasel arevelada . . .” Malgore whispered and closed his eyes. He sifted through the elf's memories, carelessly discarding them all until he came upon the one he was searching for:
The cold air rushed past his face, buffeting his clothes and whipping his long blond hair into a tangled mess. Below him lay a range of jagged, snow-capped mountains. The constant whoosh of his gryphon's feathery white wings abruptly ceased as his mount began to descend. The mountains gave way abruptly to a twisted forest of trees like gray skeletons reaching with gnarled hands for the sky. His stomach lurched as they glided sharply down to the treetops and then leveled out mere cubits above the branches. The trees rushed by underneath them in a twisted gray blur; the air grew misty and damp, wrapping the forest in shifting gray veils. His gryphon continued on, occasionally flapping its wings to keep them aloft. At last the trees and mist parted to reveal a murky lake. A cabin lay on the far end, smoke curling from its chimney.
As they flew out over the lake, he could feel the power pulsing beneath the sullen gray surface. Something terrible lay concealed in the water's depths, yet knowing it was there gave him comfort. He landed on the shore beside the cabin, and saw a man with a long white hair and beard standing before the entrance, waiting for him.
As he dismounted his gryphon and walked toward the old man, he found that he knew the man's name and face, not distantly, the way that knowledge might have felt coming to him second-hand through the elf’s memories, but rather he knew that man personally, as a rival, a friend, a brother. The man was Gabrian, a wizard from the Isle of Cavendal, once the most powerful and revered wizard in all of Mrythdom, now but a lonely guardsman, forever bound by his fate to wait by Deadwood Lake and protect its secret, a relic so powerful that with it one could transcend the fourth dimension—
“Welcome back, Erathos,” the wizard said as he drew near. “What tidings from Elvindom?”
“Black news, Gabrian. Someone has pierced the veil of creation; he is searching for the relic.”
“How do you know this?”
“King Asarial had a vision. Our enemy has been to the Necromancers' Tomb. It is only a matter of time before he comes here.”
“That is not yet known, but he must be powerful to commands the spirits of the Necromancers.”
“I'll leave at dawn.”
“No. All is not yet lost. Not even the spirits of the Necromancers could find the relic, not with all the power of the Elves and wizards to shield it from their eternal gaze. We must stand fast.”
“If it is only a matter of time, then take the relic to Elvindom. It will be safer there.”
“No! Many a pure heart would be tempted to right the wrongs of the past, yet with unspeakable consequences. No, you must stay here and draw out our enemy. Discover his identity and defeat him.”
“And if he defeats me?”
“It must not come to that.”
“Surely you have not come all this way to deliver a warning.”
“I come bearing a gift as well.” Malgore watched the elf's hand extending to the wizard. In his palm lay a glowing sapphire set in a gold pendant and attached to a heavy gold chain. “May this give you strength enough to defeat whatever forces come against you.”
The wizard's eyes widened and he reached for the amulet with a trembling hand. “A firestone! Where . . .”
“It is Asarial's. His power is greatly diminished without it. He has entrusted it to you for the sake of our cause.”
“I will guard it well.”
Malgore broke contact with the bloody shield, and the flow of memories danced away in streaks of fading color. He smirked to himself
. An Elvish firestone and a decrepit old fool. That is the best defense they could muster?
Malgore stood and turned to the monster beside him. Its appetite sated, the dragon now lay on the cave floor, the rhythmic sound of its breathing accompanied by contented little puffs of smoke curling from its nostrils.
“Arise, Valkyl,” he said, patting the dragon's diamond-hard flank. “We're going to see an old friend.”
* * *
The wind cut through the forest of dead elm and oak trees with chilling force, tugging at Gabrian's flowing white beard and hair and plastering his brown robes to his lean frame. The trees groaned as though angry to be awoken from their eternal sleep. Not a leaf rustled in the wind, for not a leaf remained upon the branches. Nothing had grown in Deadwood Forest since Gabrian had been exiled there with the relic so many years ago. It had been so long now that no mortal man still lived who remembered the forest's original name. It had been the Golden Forest, so named for its eternally sunny skies and the brilliant shafts of light which had filtered down through the canopy, wrapping the forest in gilded light. But no more. Ever since the relic had come, the entire forest had been poisoned by its presence, frozen in exactly the state it had been when he'd arrived: cloudy, cold, snowy, gray . . .
Gabrian stood outside his centuries' old home, elmwood staff in one hand, relic in the other, waiting. With Asarial's firestone amulet to augment his power, Gabrian was confident that he could face whoever came for the relic. The old wizard could sense the man's approach, just as the air grew heavy with moisture before a storm, so too it grew heavy with malevolence as his enemy approached. And that man was coming.
There came an ear-splitting screech and then . . .
Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh . . .
A shadow passed over the misty gray canopy, and Gabrian looked up. Directly overhead, scarcely concealed by the mist was a dark shape of enormous size. A monster.
It had been so long since Gabrian had seen its like that for a moment he just stood there, frozen. Could it be?
Then as if in slow motion, the monster's head poked out of the mist and a roar and a flash of light were Gabrian's only warning. He dove away from his home, into a snowdrift banked against the water's edge.
A roar of billowing flames struck his humble cabin and Gabrian felt a stab of loss as he heard wood splintering beneath the assault. At his back he felt a wave of heat so intense he feared that the flames had already engulfed him.
Gabrian rose from the snowdrift, his beard and hair tangled with clumps of white. He turned to see his home ablaze and a wall of flame rushing to greet him as the monster adjusted its aim. Gabrian lifted his staff and pointed it at the creature overhead, uttering a vengeful rebuke, “Lashas ara eglasinada!” The gemstone set in the top of his staff glowed brightly for a moment, and then the flames abruptly vanished, both from his home and the monster's gaping jaws. He watched with a grim smile as the creature coughed pitiful clouds of smoke, trying with all its might to breath fire again. When it failed, the
whoosh, whoosh, whoosh
of its wings batting the air, drew nearer and the beast quickly swelled in size. Gabrian scrambled to get out of the way as it set down with an ground-shaking
. It was then that he caught a glimpse of the rider on the monster's back.
“You,” Gabrian said as the man hopped down from his dragon and threw back his cowl to reveal a horrid countenance, twisted with evil and rutted with years beyond reckoning.
“Am I not expected?” the man, though he was not a man at all, asked in a strong, melodic voice which belied his age.
“If I'd known who exactly to expect, I might have prepared a better reception. Unfortunately your mount seems to have toasted what little means I have to welcome you here. Where are your armies Malgore? Have you come to defeat me alone? That was foolish of you.”
Malgore's lips twisted in a cruel smile and his yellow eyes narrowed, seeming to blaze brighter for a moment. “I think not,” he said, crunching with steel studded boots across the icy ground. He gestured with a withered hand to the faintly shimmering orb in Gabrian's palm. “I have come but for a moment, to retrieve what's mine and then I'll be on my way.”
Gabrian held the orb aloft. “You came for this? It is but a useless trinket. The past cannot be changed Malgore, you know this.”
“One can but try.”
Gabrian whipped the orb inside his voluminous sleeve, concealing it from view. “You shall not have that chance.”
Malgore growled. Upon hearing the sound of its master's discontent, the dragon turned its head and fixed Gabrian with its icy reptilian gaze. “You will yield it or I will kill you.”