I used to write.
I wrote an entire epic Fantasy-fiction series, had it win a few accolades from various writing workshops, got some valuable feedback from the likes of Orson Scott Card amongst others, and even had one fantasy author tell me it was like "too-much chocolate" although I'm pretty sure that wasn't a compliment.
Then I tried to get it published....
I heard it wasn't original enough.
I heard int was too original.
I heard it was too unique.
I heard it wasn't unique enough.
I heard that white-male fantasy writers were passé'.
I heard that self-publishing was bad.
I heard that self-publishing was good.
I heard it was "too politically correct," "too Christian," "too Tolkien," "too Lewis," "too Biblical," and "too anti-Christian," "too Anti-Muslim," "too Pro-Pagan," and "too D&D."
The list goes on.
I gave up.
I wasn't female. Iw aunt ethnic. It was dark. It was kind of D&D, Tolkien, Christian, Biblical, and Pagan. It was bloody, twisted, innocent, naive, and cliche.'
Might not have even been any good.
But I closed my email, my accounts, my publishing links, my contacts' and killed that entire part of my life. I need to get away from something for a while I strived so harder and so passionately for, only to time and time again be rejected over and over and over.
Ya ya ya...I have heard all the reasons to "keep submitting" too: "J.K. Rowling got rejected 8 times" (or whatever), and "so and so got rejected "x" number of times," or "it takes only one," or whatever other jargon there is to keep writers writing and buying issues of Writers Digest and dumping money into each years issue of Writers Digest Online in order to hopefully land that ONE contract.....
then I realized, I am not even sure I care. So here in it's entirety are chapters 1-3 and a brief synopsis of Born of Shadow: The Alliance of the Black Triangle Book 1 - officially put onto the Internet and likely to never be published anyways.
Maybe it's good.
Maybe it sucks.
Maybe it doesn't even matter....
Born of Shadow
The aging abbey of the Lion is manned by a quiet group of retired and battle-worn paladin monks. The men are awoken with the strange delivery of an infant child. Unknown to Jonovan Elrik, master of the abbey, the infant is the kidnapped son of the hero-king Peregryth, ruler of the Kingdom of Furond.
The child however, is not wholly human, and Jonovan's knows he must seek immediate counsel from the sacred Order of the Black Triangle, led by Sfarack, it's mysterious and rarely-seen wizard counsellor. With the child, Jonovan travels to the valley of Nyrdyvia to the Order's sacred underground temple, deep beneath the valley's mist-covered mountain lake.
King Peregryth, heartbroken at the loss of his only heir, and slipping into madness after an unnaturally long life, searches in vain for the missing child, while the suspicion of the child's mother, the foreign queen Aesailya, grows throughout the kingdom.
But in the growing chaos of the Kings illness, the High Senate of Furond, led by the Sorceress-Senator Lady Pellinia Te'surk, seeks to gain ever increasing control over the Kingdom, and bring about her own dark plans for rule.
Conspiring with the demonic gods of Shadow, Pellinia promises to find the child, a half-demon, half-human, and deliver it to the Lord of the dark gods, Abraxus, in exchange for rule of the kingdom and senate.
With the child, Abraxus, the Lord of the dark gods known as the Levulltare, may once again create a bloodline of flesh to rule the mortal realms, and continue the eternal struggle against the Alluve; the ruling gods of light, and their mortal offspring, the inhabitants of Flannessia and all the known world.
Jonovan soon learns of the child's true lineage from the Council of Order of the Black Triangle; born of the demon Glassya, disguised as Queen Aesailya. Jonovan must face the dilemma of destroying the infant and saving the mortal realms from potential war, or raising the boy in the ways of light, and hoping it will choose for itself, to fight against it's natural demonic instinct. Despite the abbey's loyal service and friendship to Peregryth, Jonovan knows the child musty be kept secret, even from it's own father.
As Abraxus and Pellinia plan for a new war of shadow, the demon Glassya and her followers seek her mortal offspring as well. Her time amongst mortals expired, she must now use her own servants to seek out and recover her half-Levulltare child which would give her ultimate power over the Levulltare, and especially, her ruling elder brother, Abraxus.
As Jonovan and the men of the abbey raise the child, they name him Cavalier Elrik after his adopted father, and Jonovan struggles to learn, with Sfarack's help, how to be the father he never intended.
The child Cavalier grows unnaturally fast, taking on the mortal-like physical appearance of his father, and the shadowy curse of his Levulltare bloodline and demonic mother. As Cavalier grows, he struggles to understand the darkness inside him. Striving to control the shadowy embrace that overtakes him, he learns how devastating and vile, and yet, releasing and natural, giving into his dark nature can be. Giving him powers and strength beyond compare, he struggles to fight against his demonic instinct, and battles to control the shadow that consumes him. He learns that ultimately, it is his own personal sense of will, and a desire to choose for himself, which gods he will follow; those of his adopted father and his brethren at the abbey, the Alluve Gods of Light, or those he so naturally feels drawn to-the Levulltare gods of Shadow. With each comes a price he must ultimately decide to pay.
His knuckles crackled like fresh logs on a fire, popping with distinct cracks, and sending sparks of intense pain shooting through his hands. Jonovan rubbed his wrinkled fingers together, warming them as he adjusted his cloak about him at the small desk. He looked at them, worn and aged, and marveled at the strength they once held.
The rain pattered off the tiled roof overhead, as he huddled closer to the small candle set upon the simple wooden table. He moved towards the light, as if the flickering flame offered some potential of warmth. It was cold this evening, unusually so for so late in the spring. The rains followed the snows as usual, but the mountains of the Ered Ethlu’n still lay blanketed in a thick white covering of spring ice.
Once a formidable outpost guarding the western realms of Flannessia from the wild lands to the east, the abbey fortress now stood watch over a now hardly-traveled route. Not even wandering merchants or wayward bands of begging Goblix ventured this far into the mountains.
In season, the mountaintop meadows and high glades could provide a plentiful harvest of grains and fruits, but the winters at this far outpost could be long and harsh. The abbey now consisted only of thirteen Knights, no longer maintaining its military might. The remaining members were little other than reformed warriors seeking days of learning and silence after a lifetime of seeing too much of the evil that the world still held. The gold had lost it's luster, the calls of the gods had grown quiet, and the life of the solitary knight errant was best left to younger men.
And Jonovan for one, was no longer a young man. He, like his fellow brethren, had grown weary of bloodshed, pain, and of the constant tide of evil that seemed to flood the land in ever-increasing waves. The time had come to seek solace inside one’s own soul, and leave the heroics to younger hearts. His time of adventure had passed into legend. Legends that few seemed to know, or care for any longer. Like the abbey itself, he was worn, tired. And this constantly deteriorating fortress had become little else than a home for retired warriors seeking a life of quiet study. It was in these late, quiet hours, that Jonovan found himself seeking just such solace in the abbey's library, where the evening rain ceaselessly dripped through a myriad of small cracks, crevices and deteriorating holes in the roof, echoing into a vast array of assembled pots like a tingy chorus of metallic chimes.
Add repair library roof tiles to the work detail. Jonovan made a note of it in his journal, propping the leather tassel open with the weight of a small pewter candlestick. The flickering white luminescence cast sharp shadows across the yellowing pages of the small leather tome. He dabbed ink to a small quill and looked around the large library, empty at this late hour. His single flame flickered like an island of light in a sea of darkness. He knew that Sir Hendrick would be up and about, assigned with that nights watch. There was little to guard against of course, but a lifetime of duty had set a pattern of routine, and none saw any reason to deviate from what readiness their aging limbs could still maintain.
As Jonovan set to inking a small illumination, he paused briefly, feeling a distant stir and listening. He strained for the slightest sound, barely audible over the spatter of rain on old stone. Having lived at the abbey for the better part of a lifetime, Jonovan knew every noise, every crack, and every creek of the old fortress. But this was different; soft, like cloth against stone, or the ruffle of old leather. More over, it was the feeling he listened to; the feeling deep within that something stirred, somewhere close. He looked to the balcony overhead, seeing the tall wooden shelves lined with old tomes begin to flicker and glow with approaching light.
A pudgy frame moved awkwardly from side to side, swaying in to the Libraries upper walkway, lamp in hand. Hendrick looked over the railing and down at Jonovan, saying nothing. He had heard it too.
Jonovan quickly doused his candle, lifting his aged white tunic as he climbed the winding wooden stairs. As both men rustled through the darkened halls they listened closely. Jonovan peered out a series of open windows that overlooked looked the front gate and drawbridge. It was then that his eyes, accustomed to seeing in the dark from far too many years spent in the deep places of the world, saw the outline of a figure; quickly fleeing back into the trees.
In the rain, and with snow still clinging to the cliff sides, the winding roads and narrow trails were treacherously slippery. He could not imagine what traveler would come this way at all, much less at such a late hour. As he watched the form now turn back towards the abbey, he could barely make out the face of a woman, aged and haggard. Tears streamed down her line-worn face, and Jonovan could see there terror and fear. Locking eyes in a moment of peaceful stare, the elderly woman immediately turned and ran. In the shadowy darkness, Jonovan watched as she fled frantically into the shadows, disappearing into the forest beyond.
“Hendrick, quickly, see to the steps” he spoke softly, wishing to avoid awakening the entire abbey.
“Aye my Lord” Hendrick spoke with a jump, doubling his step as he bounced down the stone stairwell towards the front gate. “My Lord, come quickly!” Hendrick yelled, making no attempt at silence.
Within moments, much of the abbey was awake. Candles soon filled the halls as men moved at various stages of sleep, all seeing to the late night disturbance.
Jonovan quickly ran past and down the main steps to the large wooden doors. Hendrick stood fast, dumbfounded by what lay before him upon the stone entry.
“Well pick it up by all, and get it out of the rain!” Jonovan barked as he crouched down to what he saw before him.
Set precariously on the edge of the abbey’s lowered gate bridge was a small basket. Jonovan noticed immediately that it seemed of fine workmanship. This was no beggars weave. Inside, atop a tattered wool blanket of simple grey sat a small straw doll, embedded with small stones and alchemic herbs. It was a token, a warning of dark magic.
Jonovan had spent a lifetime studying the dark powers and their worship. He knew their signs, their markings, and much of the old fables of their fallen gods, the Levulltare. These warnings bore this package, and all who received it, no fair tidings, but a cursing even he feared to touch. Resisting his urge to cast the item aside entirely, he slowly peeled back the soiled layers of old wool within.
Bundled in dripping tatters was the barely moving form of what appeared to be a human child; a male, only days, if not hours, old. It sat silent, staring coldly up at the greying eyes of the aged knight. No cry or scream came from the infant, and Jonovan quickly looked towards the cliff sides at what horror would drive one to seek death over such an innocent.
The mountain fog and wet drizzle slowed to an eerie quiet as Jonovan huddled the small package in his arms, kicking the basket away from the step and into the mud with disgust. He covered the child in his own tunic and quickly carried it inside as the gathered knights, acting quickly, closed and barred the front doors, bolting the cross and raising the drawbridge in haste. Jonovan climbed the steps of the main hall looking down on the men and out the open windows. As the portcullis slammed shut with it's great iron clang, he watched in curious unease; it was the first time in nearly an age that the bridge had been moved at all, and he was relieved it still held. He knew not what had delivered this child, but his instincts told him well enough that it was of a darkest evil. As he held the small infant he could feel the slight beat of its heart, faint and uneven.
“Lothlann” Jonovan called out over the men.
“I am here Jonovan” one aging knight replied.
“I fear this child may need a healer at once.”
Lothlann nodded and quickly departed to gather his supplies. His skills in the healing arts were unmatched, and Jonovan felt blessed to have him at his side.
Lothlann hurried to his chamber, grabbing a small wooden box, gilded with healer’s runes and a leather satchel with supplies. His white beard rustled as he frantically packed a small satchel with vials and bandages and headed upstairs towards Jonovan's chambers.
As Jonovan entered his chamber and study, he laid the child delicately on a large wooden table, brushing aside books and parchments. He looked into the child’s glazed and freezing face. The hair, deep black and thin, was crusted with ice and cold rain. It seemed eerily silent, ill, and severely malnourished. Its' dark eyes seemed to glisten with an inner light that Jonovan was not all together sure he trusted. It bore no pupils or spark of life, no human or even mortal signs of color, but simple orbs of the deepest black. And as Jonovan watched, they swayed from a dark chestnut to an ashen black, only to be followed by what, in the fluttering candle light, looked briefly as a tint of crimson.
Lothlann quickly lit a lamp, filling the room with a warm inviting glow. Hendrick set to preparing a fire in the stone fireplace. It's growing light cast deep shadows off the wooden beams above, giving the well furnished room a comfortable, almost cozy air.
“His skin is cold” Lothlann said quickly. “We must get him warm, slowly. And fed. Hendrick, fetch me some milk, please, and a bit of Entmoors root from the cookery.”
Hendrick hurried off as Jonovan and Lothlann inspected the small child with a fragile delicacy.
“He appears to be free of harm” Lothlann added. But we will know more tomorrow. May I suggest a warm blanket and close monitoring for now.”
Jonovan nodded slowly. As he looked upon the fragile creature before him, a warm sense of parental charge seemed to overtake him. He marveled as he watched the small infant sit silently, staring about the room with a sense of perception and awareness beyond its years.
Lothlann watched as Jonovan slowly carried the child to a large leather chair by the fire, wrapping it in a fresh tartan hung over the chairs back.
“Warm milk with just a pinch a Entmoor's root oughta' do it some good” Hendrick said as he returned, pouring the mix into a small goblet. As he stirred slowly, the root’s natural spices turned the milk to a soft golden brown, and filled the room with a calming aroma. He watched as Jonovan began to hum gently to the child. He moved across the room past piles of maps and stacks of old books, and handed Jonovan the goblet, hesitating slightly at disturbing the peaceful scene.
“Leave em’ be” Hendrick whispered to Lothlann, placing a contented hand on his fellow brother’s shoulder as they both exited. “He’ll be well come sunrise. Magin' we'll all get a good look at im' then.”
Hendrick's easy demeanor and warm tone gave Lothlann a sense of ease as the two departed. Hendrick too, could feel something stir in the air this night; an ill feeling of murky darkness and warning flowing through the halls of the abbey. Something was amiss, and all awake felt the presence, leaving no one asleep and none at ease.
As Hendrick closed the door slowly, the iron hinges creaking with age, Jonovan slowly turned the child in his arms. Not a sound of disturbance came forth. No cry or fuss. And this, Jonovan knew, was surely unusual.
In the firelight now filling the room, he inspected more closely the child’s wrists, arms and chest for any mark, sign, or emblem that would hint at its lineage. It's nearly perfect porcelain skin said nothing of its' race or age. He turned the infant closer to the firelight, allowing the warmth to flow over them both.
As he gazed at this vessel of seemingly perfect innocence, he watched the fire dance and twinkle in the child's eyes, reflecting back the flickering orange light.
To the untrained eye, the infant had simple eyes of black. But to one who had spent the better half of his life fighting against the forces of Shadow, it was nearly as clear as dawn.
As Jonovan watched, the infant's eyes swelled in the growing fire, their luminescence deteriorating to sockets of oily pitch. It's breathing increased, and the infant stared, unnervingly still, into the coals with a deep gaze. At once its skin tone faded, becoming almost translucent. Fingers curled in unnatural form, and the very countenance of the child took on an otherworldly appearance.
Jonovan withdrew, reeling back as he held the child upon his seated lap. A panic filled him as he pondered what it was he had brought into their midst.
Suddenly, this seemed no human child, that much he knew at once. Be it some demonic offspring or cursed babe, it was indeed marked by shadow beyond his understanding.
His heart weakened and he grew sickened by what he cradled in his arms. This matter was greater than his knowledge. He knew there was one he needed counsel from. One who would surely have an even greater understanding, and familiarity, of what this child may mean for the abbey…and possibly for all of Flannessia.
As the light of new dawn rose over the peaks of the eastern mountains, it bathed the mountaintop abbey in a soft glow, bringing with it a cleansing light after a troubled night.
As Jonovan opened wooden shutters, he looked at the child sleeping soundly in the makeshift bed set into an old trunk at the foot of his mattress. The events of the previous night seemed almost unimaginable.
Never before had the abbey been the recipient of such a parcel, nor had they ever taken into their care any orphan younger than twelve. He contemplated how much, if any, to share with his fellow knights about his late night discovery, and he wondered at the potential futility of this undertaking. Is its destiny pre-set so easily? he thought. Ever perplexing was a strong feeling of nurturing protection. Sorrow. Pity even. But he could not deny a feeling, flowing through every fiber of his being that within this small boy, lay something vile. Something evil.
For as long as any records recounted, the abbey had been visited by a Sorcerer from the valley of Nyrdyvia to the northwest. In that mountain dell sat a small lake, said by some to be as old as the world, and deeper still. There on it's single island, sat a fortress, ages old and crumbling. This Sorcerer, a man known only as Sfarack, was a healer and sage. A historian of sorts of undeterminable age who had resided in these high mountains as long as any could recall. The Lord Master of the abbey would often travel to Nyrdyvia, sometimes for days at a time, to seek Sfarack’s counsel. And so it was with every Lord Master since. Jonovan was no different, although in his more than thirty years serving as Lord Master of the abbey, he had only conversed with Sfarack twice. And Sfarack’s visits to the abbey had all but ended years before. He presumed he had passed away quietly, in some slender tower or silently slipping beneath the still grey waves of the lake. Since peace had come to the high Ered mountains, the need for the abbey's military might had all but disappeared, many of the knights returning home, retiring to their families & lands, and leaving only a handful of aged paladins who now called the abbey home.
He looked to the north and west, into the distance and to the valleys beyond, sighing deeply and remembering his time conversing with Sfarack, and of the wisdom and ageless wonder he felt in his presence. There was more to Sfarack than most knew, and his magic and power stretched far beyond the hunched frame and aging bearded man he portrayed. His instinct told him to rid the abbey of this evil at once. But his sacred oaths forbid him, as did his own moral conscience, from ever doing such harm to one so small, and potentially, so innocent. The dark gods truly are evil beyond measure, he thought, to conceive of corrupting a mere child. Jonovan felt he needed that wisdom now more than ever.
He donned a fresh tunic and surcoat as the abbey stirred with the sounds of morning duties. The smell of Wormwood seed and smoked sausage filed the cookery, and Jonovan looked to the child, stirring gently. Not a sound. Not a cry.
The boy’s eyes, dark and glistening, looked softly at his new found guardian; his skin now taking on a more normal tone of pinkish hue. A faint smile etched the infants face as it peered up from beneath a drape of fur. Jonovan too, found a smile working its way across his worn face. His scraggly, silvering beard widened with his smile, filling the room with a new sound. One that never in the history of the abbey had echoed through it’s walls; the laughter of a small child.
The moment was quickly stalled by a light tap on the chamber door. The wood creaked as Hendrick peered into the sun-filled bedroom. Finding them both awake, he walked in slowly, smiling wide and bidding Jonovan good morn before jeering cheerfully at the child.
“I suspect m’Lord we will need to discuss with the brethren what to do with our...newest resident” he said softly.
“Aye, we will” Jonovan sighed. “Although I fear we have little time for such formalities. At morning meal perhaps” he said with a dismissing tone. “But we will be leaving soon to seek additional council in the North. Today perhaps.”
“Today?” Hendrick questioned. “M'Lord Jonovan, perhaps we should...” he trailed off, letting his words fall silent. He knew of what Jonovan spoke. He had served with the brethren for nearly a quarter of a century, and in that time had heard many of the rumors and myths about the abbey's ties to an even older, more ancient brotherhood to the north.
It was something very few spoke of, and even fewer were party to. The Abbey of the Lion had, in its long history of guardianship over the mountain passes, always kept close ties with the ancient Eldar of this region. It was more and more rare that their paths crossed, given that the abbey had all but retired from its former military duties, and had become little more than a rarely visited outpost on a long forgotten road.
“Would you have Khamul ready your horse then Master Jonovan?” Hendrick asked as he assisted wrapping the child in fresh linens. Both men fumbled with the wrapped cloth, clumsy and out of place in the care for a child.
“Yes, I suppose we had better depart after morning meal.”
“Who would you have accompany you? I of course will be happy to care for the child while you are away.” Hendricks' clean shaven chin smiled wide, hinting that he rarely subjected one of the abbey's horses to carrying his overweight frame for any distance if avoidable.
“No Hendrick, that won’t be necessary. I will be traveling alone. And the child” Jonovan continued reluctantly, “will be coming with me.”
“The child?” Hendrick asked, struggling to hide his curiosity at why this infant warranted such haste.
“All shall be explained in time” Jonovan said. “We will be down shortly.”
“As you wish M’Lord” Hendrick said with a smile, turning to exit and softly closing the heavy wooden door behind.
As the abbey's main bell rung in its deep metallic-pitched tone, calling the men to morning meal, Jonovan stepped out into the hall wearily.
“Time to meet the others” he whispered softly to the child, holding him gently as he shut the door behind. He stopped at the top of the stairs, looking west out of a small window. He peered at the sky as clouds rolled smoothly over mountains, shrouding the valley of Nyrdyvia in its ever present fog. Beyond, he could see the lands of the Kingdom of Furond. The sun would soon be shimmering from the its golden towers as it bathed the rolling hills in the crisp yellow rays of early spring.
He drew a deep breath, momentarily closing his eyes and conjuring in his mind the prayer of a spell from ancient days. He whispered softly into the morning sky, letting his words flow from his aged lips like rings of pipe smoke. He spoke in an ancient tongue; a paladin blessing, uttered low and deep. It formed golden circles, swirling onto the blanket and bathing the child in a soft hue of holy magic. Sparks of light floated and shimmered as the prayer of protection fell upon the child, facing what Jonovan hoped for its sake, would be his first morning of many.
Magic had always been present in Flannessia, and the paladins of the abbey held it sacred. Prayer and Magic were oft considered rival enchantments, but the abbey and its close allies knew that they were indeed one in the same. True magic in the world was open to all the mortal children of the Alluve who trained and studied the subtleties of its ways. But few had the discipline to master it as easily as steel. The paladins of Flannessia’s holy orders knew both, and they knew them well. So well, that an individual’s power was neither immediately visible nor known, but considered a force far too sacred for visible display. After a lifetime of training, Jonovan still felt as if he had only but scratched the surface of the magic available in the world.
He descended the stairs past the main floor kitchen towards the large common hall, the sun now shimmering through the ancient stain glass windows of the abbey’s great east wall. The light bathed the room in a reverent iridescence, filtering through the colored glass depictions of the order's forming, their part in the first Great War of Darkness, and their holy dedication to the gods of light, the immortal Alluve.
As he entered he looked upon the main pane where two soldiers, stopped in a forested glen, prayed over a dying brother. Their silver amour glistened in varying patches of glowing glass, while the red rampant lion of the abbey's banner, almost life-like in the shimmering light, seemed to flutter and wave. Various symbols decorated ornate corners of the massive glowing wall, each with an arcane history all its own. Throughout the ages, the abbey had gathered a diverse group of knights, at times comprising of paladins from elvish, dwarven, and even the occasional Halflan lineage. Each wore the white tunic and holy symbol of the Order of the Lion, and each hailed from distant corners of the realms, uniting in service to the gods of light under a common standard. He knew that what he held in his arms this day would require in him a new strength, a new determination, and a renewed vigor. One he had not yet known in this life.
Several of the brethren were already assembled and silent, and stood ceremoniously in respect as Jonovan approached the massive wooden table centered in the abbey's large hall.
“Please, be seated” Jonovan said with a dismissive wave, slowly sitting the child into his lap in a large wooden armchair. He felt this no time for formalities.
The table spread through the room in a long empty line, chairs of the fallen still left at their place in remembrance and respect for positions not yet filled, and never forgotten. The last remaining men sat at the western most end; minuscule in comparison to the once great hall. Their numbers now dwarfed by its vast emptiness. Rows of arching buttresses and wide smooth columns held aloft a ceiling of exquisite workmanship and intricate symbols, their meaning and magic now lost to the centuries. Numerous banners of varying heraldry hung silently from the vaulted beams, and the great fireplace sat bare. All told more of the abbey's glorious past than it did its humble present.
Jonovan stared at his plate of apples, sausage, cheese, and freshly baked bread. His appetite had left him. No one spoke, and the hall sat eerily silent. Only the occasional chirp of a spring bird broke the morning from beyond the glimmering glass, as Jonovan finally looked up at his gathered brethren. He glanced at each momentarily, seeing in them fatigue, old age, and worn limbs. Most had long since left families and homes and resigned to retiring alone in the mountains. They were humble men, but also...broken.
“I fear what I have to share with you my Brethren.” Jonovan spoke slowly, ringing his frequently aching hands in nervous anticipation.“My heart deceives me in my old age. My years away from battle have...softened this old paladin’s heart.” He paused in reflection, letting the tension ease momentarily. “Please, eat” he continued with a wave.
men picked half-heartedly at their plates, eating silently as curiosity, and matters far more serious than toast and jam, held their attention.
“As you all know, we have a visitor. One that, as I am sure many of you have gathered, brings with it...a disquiet.”
Each of the men had over their lives, developed the same innate ability to almost feel the presence of evil when near, in all it's forms. And each could feel a disturbance in their normally quiet home.
Maldrek, heavy-set with deep blue eyes spoke first. “M’Lord Jonovan, whatever it be that left this cursed child upon our door had no just intentions to be sure. That basket bore this order no good will.”
“Sir Maldrek is correct” Jonovan said sincerely. “But it is far worse I fear. As much as I find myself longing to find a reason to keep this child in our care, I find every ounce of light in my soul telling me to be rid of it as soon as possible.”
Godfrey, sitting at the far end of the table, his cleanly trimmed beard twitching with thoughtful contemplation spoke next.
“Jonovan, we need not feel wrong about placing the child in the care of the Knights of Urst, or even perhaps the Armies of Furond to the West.” He swallowed a bite of sausage as he continued. “They have most excellent facilities for caring for such orphans, and placing them into righteous and noble duty.”
“I’m afraid Godfrey,” Jonovan started, taking in a deep breath as he continued, “this is no normal child. Although you are wise to suggest such a course. Noble and reasonable as the suggestion may be, I worry it is not so simple. I know not by what means the gods have delivered such a child to our door, but it is in that lack of wisdom that I must seek from those more wise than myself.”
Jonovan’s words hung in the air, and all waited, listening intently as he elaborated further.
“I leave with the child today, to travel to Nyrdyvia. There I must meet with Sfarack. It has been nearly and age since he has graced our abbey, and we are in need of his counsel now more than ever. I pray I am being over cautious. I've noticed in this child...certain traits I had hoped I would not. I fear this child may be the harbinger of something larger than we realize.”
“Upon inspecting the infant last evening, I could find no mark, no sign, or brand even” Lothlann interjected. “It is unlike the old cults to leave such a child without mark or devilish script of some kind.”
“That it is” Jonovan agreed. “But I can find none.” Only orbs of black, and deeper still by the light of fire. His skin is of pale white, his breathing erratic. But to his eyes...”Jonovan trailed off as he looked down at the child in his lap. “They are not...mortal. Of that there can be no doubt.”
“What of it's deliverer?” Maldrek replied. “Did you or Hendrick at all see anything of note Master Jonovan?”
“That disturbs me deeply” Jonovan replied. “From what little I could see through last eve's storm, it seemed nothing other than an old woman. But in her eyes was a fear beyond reason. What evil would drive her to such madness? To abandon an innocent and flee as if a horror followed her....There is more to this than we see. Of that I am sure.”
Jonovan lifted the child slowly, letting the woolen blanket fall to the tabletop and turning the child softly in his arms. He held the infant aloft, letting the men look upon its small fragile frame. “It is only in it's eyes that I can see a lineage of Shadow” Jonovan said frustratingly. “And I doubt my judgment even in this.”
As the sun's morning rays shimmered through the paned glass, they shone down on the infant, radiating its skin and crystalline appearance. Light filtered across its arm, and at once, brought with it a sudden scream of discomfort and cry. The child lurched in pain, and Jonovan quickly covered its exposed skin, hold it close and calming the cries to mere whimpers.
All in assembly sat silent. There could be little doubt.
“I know not what burden we now have undertaken” Jonovan finally said, breaking the stunned silence of the room. “This is beyond my power to comprehend. And worst of all, my emotions plague my judgment.”
“The horses are prepared for morning rounds m’Lord” Khamul said, a younger member of the abbey who had joined their ranks only some seasons past. “We can have them ready for your journey within the hour.”
Khamul’s skill as a horseman and stable master had proved valuable in the abbey's aged condition. He represented one of the last of the new recruits, his time now reaching nearly seven years. Little was known of Khamul, other than his desire to toil for long hours alone in the stables. Some believed he was serving a penance of sorts, devoting his soul to the gods of light for some unspoken crime. Others that he sought only peace and solitude, away from the cares and strife of war. It was an introverted devotion none questioned.
“Our swords are at the ready m’Lord” Sir Dalrec replied somewhat over-exuberantly. Dalrec was the youngest of the men, having only been with the order three years. He had grown up in the shadow of the abbey, in the village of Coldendale in the valley below. Through his youth, he witnessed the knights of the holy orders riding through the valley’s of the Ethlu’n to war; defending the mountains from forces he had only been told of, but had never actually seen. He longed his entire life to serve at the abbey-to don the white mantle and shining mail, and to fight alongside his childhood heroes. He was young and often brash, but he represented the hope and glimmer of days gone by for all the aged knights.
Jonovan smiled. So many youth it seemed, no longer desired to seek out the quiet places of good and light in the world, but often sought life only where it seemed most visibly present; the cities, ports, and crowded trading centers across Flannessia. For fame and glory went the mantra. But life at the abbey moved far slower. Quieter. And it offered neither fame, nor glory. It was a rare thing indeed for one as young as Dalrec to seek service to the Alluve in such a secluded and remote sanctuary. There was little heroism to be had. Little adventure.
“My thanks to you both” Jonovan said. “I will saddle and equip with provisions for only a few days. I should not require more than that. But I will be traveling alone. I hope to return sooner, if it be Sfarack’s will. If things are as I fear, do not lament my absence. I fear time is not in our favor in this matter. Hendrick, I charge you as Master of the Order in my absence, as per our tradition. I know not why this infant was left. Nor when those who may know of its location might come searching, if at all. We know not what form this child may take, what powers or nature it may hold. I pray Sfarack can provide us with the council we seek.”
As Jonovan turned to leave, quickly nibbling on a scrap of meat while balancing the child in his arms, he faced the brethren each eating slowly and taking in his words.
“Knights, I would ask of you one last request. Speak not of this to any. We may find that our lonely mountain abbey sees visitors once more in the coming days. My heart yet tells me that this serves some greater purpose. I pray I have the wisdom to understand it, but there may be those who may not be all they seem. The Dark powers of the Levulltare know no limit to the paths they will seek to once more infiltrate this mortal realm. Clearly evidenced by this child. Think not that these are but fables for children. Nor that the dark powers lay in rest. They may once more become all too real. We had best be ready.”
Jonovan tugged on the steel buckle as he secured the aged saddle in place. He loved the distinct smell and gentle crackle of old leather.
Erovus, his tall grey mount, seemed to whinny more these days, showing signs of age and tire much like his rider.
Jonovan had ridden Erovus far longer than any normal horse. But the Erostols were a rare breed, bred from elvish horses for their unusually long life and astonishingly brave and intelligent behavior. He didn’t much care for keeping Erovus in a stable at all. Over the decades, the abbey’s stables had been finished to a degree that made them comfortable by the highest standards, rivaling that of most fine inns. Horses and their companionship had always been an intensely religious belief amongst the order, as had a deep respect and admiration for all animals.
Jonovan could feel the years pull on him as he through his leg once more into the stirrups. He settled into the worn leather, feeling his mail move over his thighs and drape to just above his knees. His body creaked and moaned in subtle revulsion to the saddle, an immediate reminder that it had been far too long since he had been on the back of his old friend. A curious blend of emotions filled him as he wondered at his course of action. And he pondered if seeking Sfarack’s council in such matters was even necessary at all.
He worried this was but a foolish errand and that he should immediately make for the hamlet of Coldendale in the Valley below, or even to Orûd Tellûr southward to deliver the child to those far more adept at its care than an aged band of paladin-monks.
And there was of course the concern that Sfarak may not be alive at all. It had been quite some time since he last sought his counsel...so many questions over such a small thing he thought.
With his sword at his side, Jonovan took the child from Hendrick. The small infant was draped in thick blankets and nestled gently into a sling. Jonovan slung the leather strapping over his neck and arm, creating a safe and steady transport, the child still eerily silent. Jonovan donned his steel helm and hood against the chill of the morning, and slowly walked Erovus from the abbey’s yard to the drawbridge and eastern gate. The snow still sat heavy over the mountains, and the journey to Nyrdyvia was a full day’s ride in the best of conditions.
As he exited into the meadow overlooking the valley below, he turned back to see Hendrick raise a hand in farewell. He immediately turned west, looking over the forests and swaying pines, the three companions seemingly alone on the edge of the lonely mountainside. Jonovan’s experience in the wild had taught him one thing to always remember above all; when setting off on an errand against shadow, one is never completely alone. He suspected this errand would be no different.
He had chosen to take the high forest road west form the abbey before skirting north along the old trail through the lowland woods to the edge of Nyrdyvia. The trail was a scraggly path that wound above tree line along a barely traceable rock strewn path.
It renewed him to feel a steed beneath his legs, armor on his shoulders, and the winds, filled with the scent of pine, spring meadows, and thawing snows sifting across his lined face.
Erovus trotted leisurely along the faint trail he knew so well. The path had grown thick with underbrush and new wildflowers sprouting forth in the spring warmth. Jonovan took in a deep breath, absorbing the surrounding panorama.
Beyond the plans of kingdoms and gods and all the ways of war, nature prevails he thought. Snow came and went, trees still grew, flowers and birds and animals of every variety still called the Ered Ethlu’n mountains their home. No ill conceived plans of power, nor ways of violence and oppression could keep out the overpowering rule of the natural world. It was a refreshing and enlightening thought.
He looked westward as the road spread into a widened path. In the days of war, this trail lay hidden just above the old forest highway; nearly a horse’s height into the trees and just out of sight. The soldiers and supplies in those days travelled from Furond in the West to the holy city of Paladine in the East, then on south to Sulu'r Tol and Urst. As war spread west towards Furond, great armies moved along the main forest road; a nearly constant flow of carts and siege engines, horses, supplies and soldiers, wearing flat the soft forest dirt.
In those days the knights of the abbey of the Lion were commissioned to protect the forces from the Duchy of Urst as they marched to aid in the wars against the armies of the north. In an uncharacteristically cunning maneuver for a race of rough and wholly unintelligent in-bred beasts, the Ork tribes had arranged terms with a race from the far-eastern lands of Alquadjinn; a distant realm of vast deserts and furnace-hot wastelands. As Jonovan looked at the forest road below, letting Erovus move swiftly along the narrow path, he remembered the first time he witnessed those eastern caravans; driven by the cruelest of slave masters, their processions were often times miles long and made for an easy target for the less formal fighting style of the knights of the order, and their wilderness allies.
He was jerked from his early morning daydreaming by the small cry of his infant companion. He reached to his saddle bag, pulling from it a small skin of milk. Slowing Erovus, he proceeded to administer a mid-morning meal. He looked tenderly at the child cradled in his arms, and thought of all that there was that still remained in this world worth fighting for. Never again did he wish to see evil spread through these highlands as it once did. But he knew that it still lay hidden, just out of sight, waiting. And even decades after, the hills and passes were far from safe. Peaceful, quiet maybe, but not safe.
The order of the abbey, as small as their numbers now were, still stood as a beacon of light and good upon the mountainside. If it only ever served as a reminder of what could be, perhaps that was enough.
As the trio moved slowly along the winding paths that morning, Jonovan found a sense of peace and energy filling his aging bones. To be outside, in the high mountains in spring, and once more with a mission and a journey; these were as the days of his youth. To carry a sword by his side, to feel Erovus move beneath him, sure-footed and solid on the rocky trails; memories he had all but forgotten.
The infant, in it's sling at his waist, was barely noticeable. Even in the steep descent to the valley below, the child lay nearly still, barely making a sound. If anything, its silence was unnerving, disquieting. While never a father, Jonovan knew enough to know that seldom were such newborns so quiet. This clearly was no normal infant. All the more reason, he thought, for the sense of urgency.
As the high mountain forests thickened into groves of lush grasses and underbrush, Erovus slowed his gate slightly, drawing Jonovan’s attention ahead immediately. Erovus snorted, stamping his front hooves in a defiant manner.
Jonovan looked up from the child, his reflexes and senses twitching as something lingered in the crisp air. Morning was slowly fading into the warmth of the early afternoon, and he paused Erovus where he stood, his equine companions’ breath steaming in subtle concentration as it peered about the mountainside.
Just ahead, the narrow trail led into a pocket of dense trees, and something caught Erovus’s attention. The well trained steed knew better than to stride head-long into a shadowy thicket if there was something foul on the wind. And Jonovan had learned to trust Erovus’s instincts. Never before had Erovus led him astray, and he trusted his life to his animal companion on many occasions.
As he peered into the thick branches, he could see twisted claws wrapping about the trunk of a gnarled tree. His years of study had taught him to trust his senses when that dark brooding began to fill his stomach, churning his insides into the awareness of unsavory company close by. Something watched. And as it did, all about him became still and silent.
There was no scent; no vile after trail like pungent, rotted meat so commonly associated with mountain Orks, Goblix, or other foul hunters. And the season had grown far too late for even darker fiends to pursue prey this low. No, this smell was different; charcoal, burnt embers, or a fire recently abandoned. A wift of smoldering metal, iron, or blood.
Jonovan slowly moved Erovus closer, approaching the shadowy covering of the grove. The horse whinnied, his ears pricking up at attention. Jonovan scanned the darkness that seemed to thicken like and obscure the trail beyond. As his eyes focused to decipher what lay before him, the darkness itself seemed to move; to shift and take form. Lacking shape, color, and sound, this shadowy depth moved like an entity unto itself. Sounds, subtle at first and growing ever more clear, began to pull at Jonovan’s psyche; his heart failing him, his courage feeling tested immediately and intensely, as if he had never experienced such evil before.
But he knew this presence. He had witnessed similar shadows many times, and he had no desire to encounter their kind again. It was the shadows of the dead. The swirling hues of those without form. The haunting black hunters referred to amongst paladins simply as, 'Shadows.' They were shapeless beings, long dead, but slaves to a darker, more vile service. They were the eyes and ears of the Levulltare. The souls of those destined to shadowy service for all time. Fallen beings, cold and without true form or shape, other than that of the inky mist their masters befit them with.
As Jonovan and Erovus both watched the blackness grow in size and density, the number of shapes within seemed to increase.
Drawing his sword from its scabbard, and letting the blade ring like a trumpet of warning, Jonovan held the blade aloft, pulling from his saddle bag a small metal seal. Immediately he began to chant the words of an ancient prayer he had learned long ago. Ol efla a hlif de verja.
He let the words of the spell softly roll from his breath, holding the small silver symbol by a thin chain. Instantly the symbol began to glow a pale white. It was a small triangle; a pyramid, etched with lines and runes from an Order elusive and ancient.
This was an Order adept at fighting the darkness, not only in this world, but in the very realms from where it came. It was a power beyond time and mortal age, and Jonovan held its powers so secret, so sacred, that not even the brethren of the abbey knew of its existence. Nearly every Lord Master however, had been privy to this secret brotherhood. And it was to this Order that Jonovan now traveled.
A white pulsing light spread from the symbol like flickering flames. Holding his sword high, and tightening his grip on the smooth and battle-worn leather, Jonovan braced himself for the impending attack.
“Your first battle little one” he said to the child, securing the infant in his lap as he leaned forward in the saddle.
Erovus grunted and stomped, preparing for the command from his master in excited apprehension. Horse and rider were as one, and each knew the other from the slightest twitch, so long was their familiar friendship.
The hush of dark whispers began to fill the small clearing. The dark speech grew louder as the shapes took a more visible form, one after another, blocking the trail ahead in a wall of night. Their shapes were hooded, masked, and cloaked; a dense fog of pure black. All hissed in unison as the flames of light emanating from Jonovan's holy symbol grew brighter and more intense in the encroaching darkness.
With a sudden nudge to Erovu's sides, Jonovan charged headlong into the mass of black with reckless abandon, the vaporous shadows shifting and swaying apart as he swung at their gaseous forms.
Erovus, reacting instinctively from years of battle, grunted with ferocity as he galloped at full charge into the void, lifting his legs high and trampling underfoot any physical form he could.
Jonovan’s sword, blazing now with pulsating light, seemed to slice through the Shadows like a solid mass; each foul shade screeching as it fell to the forest floor in a clump of writhing black decay, bleeding in great seeping slices as his sword struck fast.
The glowing sword jerked through its inky victims with a heavy pull, as its aura struck each target. The black remains slipped from the shimmering blade like clinging trails, oozing to the forest floor in drips of sludge. But their numbers seemed to grow with every swipe, and their ferocity intensified. The screeches and cursed whispers now drowned out all sound. No light seemed able to pierce the blackness that encircled horse and rider, encasing the immediate woodland in a surreal otherworldly shadow.
Shimmering amongst a sea of frothing black, Jonovan swung his sword with trained acrobatic finesse, the blade slashing at veins of darkness, and sifting the Shadows like tares of crop.
Stomping through fearlessly, Erovus charged ahead, following the narrowing trail as it twisted and turned through the growing veil of black. The steed’s only focus was on moving as quickly and as swiftly through the woods as possible, the light at the end of the long and narrowing tunnel seeming smaller with every stride.
As the three companions raced through, their hunters in close pursuit, the sun finally pierced the thick branches and overgrowth ahead, at once seeming to slow the pursuing shadows. Ahead lay the mid day sun, lighting a small meadow in a wash of pure yellow. Erovus leapt into the clearing, halting in the open grass with a skidding halt, and panting heavily. Jonovan turned and quickly steered Erovus back, halting as he peered into the darkness of the forests edge behind. There squirming in torturous anger, were the twisted forms of what looked like hooded men; mortal shadows of what they may have once been. Warped and deformed by the ways of darkness, their wrinkled and decaying flesh was visibly lined and scarred from their slavery to the forces of Shadow. The light of the sun pierced their shadowy appearance, showing their true form in all its horror.
As their wounds bled the last drops of unholy fluid from their cursed corpses, the twisting forms now seemed more human. The shadows slithered in hate-filled retreat back into the darkness of the forest, seeking refuge in its depths.
Jonovan cursed himself for his meandering pace, noticing that the day was waining, and that the hour had grown late. He sheathed his sword and quickly turned Erovus back onto the trail, quickening to reach the edge of the Valley of Nyrdyvia before nightfall.
As Erovus glided swiftly through the winding pathways of the mountainside trail, Jonovan could feel the eyes of a thousand beings focused on the small trio as they entered the veil of Nyrdyvia. If in doubt before, he now knew now the severity of this mission. This child was clearly far more important than he had feared.
From deep within the woods, he knew that the fey watched, protecting this region from any and all passers who wished it harm. He feared not their presence, but what he carried.
The Eldar, the very purest of the Children of the Alluve, knew shadow in all its forms. The veil over their world was curiously thin, and they often saw the will of the gods far easier than most humans. He only hoped they would grant him, and the child, safe passage.
As the child stirred in Jonovan’s arms, a pulsating heat radiated from the bundled mass. He felt its heartbeat, erratic and labored. The infant seemed different; it’s eyes darker, the pupils large, black and deep. He pondered the possibility of it’s lineage growing stronger in the presence of the very darkness from whence it came, and could only wonder at the reason for their violent pursuit.
“What evil is it you bear?” he thought to the child. If it was so sought after, who then would have left it at the abbey? He knew now that only Sfarack would have wise counsel in such matters. The politics of the Levulltare must surely be tangled indeed, if their own kind sought to destroy something so helpless.
Jonovan galloped now in ever increasing haste, racing against the slipping of the sun over the western horizon. They soon approached a crossroads where a small trail intersected the main forest road, winding its way down and westward to the Kingdom of Furond and into the rolling green hills of the Riversweep.
As Jonovan exited the tree lined path, he surveyed the road below, looking west and east along the main road. He preferred to not meet, or be met by, anyone as they passed into the vale of Nyrdyvia. Few traveled near the borders of the small valley, and seeing none about the road, and no sign of recent travel, he cautiously directed Erovus down the steep grassy slope and onto the soft dirt of the wide roadway.
They quickly faded into the brush of the northern edge, silently slipping into the shaded cover of the forest. Remembering the sacred marker of this valley, Jonovan scanned for the single white tree bearing the elvish rune; thin, with circles of deep black in its ivory bark.
There as expected, was the small triangle shape he sought. The very same as on his own symbol. The carving was so subtle in fact, that it looked almost natural, as if part of the trees original organic form. But for those who knew, the marker served as a sign and also, a warning. The rune was a glyph; an enchanted ward of immense power. It shrouded the valley beyond in a protective aura that for a millennia, had kept it safe, hidden, and all but forgotten by the world.
Jonovan meandered slowly under the drooping eves and whispering branches, moving Erovus reverently into the mist-shrouded region beyond. A sigh of relief ran over him, knowing that the small party was now safe within the protective borders of Nyrdyvia.
The lake at its center, from which the valley took its name, was far deeper than any knew, and barely larger than a good sized pond. Into the depths of the small valley the trail led, over high stretches of barren moors, sparse with vegetation. It was a place of little else than the solitary, cloud-covered water and a single, lone, barren island. The trail wandered up and over grassy slopes, with little between earth and sky, making the grey cloud cover all the more ominous.
As Jonovan twisted in the saddle, he could sense the energy surrounding them. The valley was a haven for the elusive Fey, and home to the fabled Eldar of Nyrdyvia; a seldom seen, but fiercely loyal brood that guarded the valley with a silent vigilance.
They crested a rise overlooking a small dell below, obscured by a thick fog of rolling cloud cover. The mountains bordering this small valley formed a tightly enclosed wall of protective granite and snow capped spires, keeping the mist covered center well-hidden. Jonovan knew the lake lay beneath the massive wall of moving cloud, swirling and drowning the valley in white mist. He wrapped his cloak tighter around the child, and huddled closer to Erovus as they stepped further into the cold void. As clouds enveloped horse and rider, they grew covered in a thick moisture of cold as the lakeshore drew near. Had Jonovan no knowledge of the terrain, there would be no reason to suspect the presence of water at all, as the fog shrouded the entire valley from crest to crest in a melancholy overcast canopy.
He had little doubt that arrows were already notched and aimed as he approached the rocky shore. Eldarian eyes awaited a simple command from somewhere just beyond the trees. No traveler came this way unwatched, and while the Eldar would immediately recognize Jonovan and know he posed no threat, of the child he carried they knew nothing. But its presence was surely be felt. For it to have even reached this far could only be due to a protection beyond sight, and far beyond Jonovan’s own ability.
Smooth grey stones and dark sands greeted them at the lake's edge. The waters glimmered with an otherworldly luminescence of glassy blue and deep aqua.
Jonovan dismounted, looking to the islands center some hundred yards out, visible only in drifting moments through the swiftly moving clouds. Large grey stones bordered its edge like a natural wall of jagged teeth. The fog allowed only brief, interrupted views of ruined turrets and crumbing walls where once sat a magnificent structure. He sighed deeply, allowing himself a moment of respite as he looked out across the water. One journey all but done.
Nyrdyvia's lake was both ancient and deep. Its waters extend to untold depths, and fable told it reached into the depths of the Underearth itself. It all contributed to the myth and the magic of this hidden place, and there seemed an indescribable energy present in the tip of every wave, and in the very air that circled above. Each element stronger, more alive, than outside the confines of the sacred valley.
As the sun set, the hazy fog gave way to clear overhead skies of darkening dusk and a brilliant display of twinkling stars. Jonovan looked out over the beach. The Order of the Black Triangle as it was known, was so sacred, so unheard of, that the methods they undertook to maintain secrecy were still, even after his decades of service, a mystery, even to him. Jonovan felt a deep, sacred energy course through him. He let his boots settle into the sand with an audible crunch, the water gently flowing over the tips as he briefly thought on the task he must now undertake.