Realms of the Shadows
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by Anne and Jeff Lambert
Description: Arola wakes from another terrible nightmare, the shadows shifting restlessly above her, waiting for their chance to claim a new victim. Iolet, driven by a desperate, yearning need, braves the shadows to climb Widow's Peak, the highest and most perilous cliff she knows. They are sisters who have never met, living half a world apart, about to be drawn into a conflict that will forever alter their lives. Lumina, dark and sultry, is as cold inside as she is exotic without. Escaping from a desperate past, she, with the aid of her goddess, Quadrini, is bent of world domination. The strife centers around control of an earth crystal defended by the Circle. It's a winner takes all situation--there are no half measures. Iolet and Arola, with elder members of the Circle, aligned against Lumina, and only one faction will live to tell the tale. Iolet, Arola and Teria, Iolet's fiancé and heir to Horizon Isle, come of age in the battle to protect the Crystal and their way of life.
eBook Publisher: Mundania Press LLC/Mundania Press LLC, 2008 2008
eBookwise Release Date: August 2008
3 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [403 KB]
Reading time: 256-358 min.
The beginning of the journey was lost in the mists of time, the time of creation. Only Lascurian, greatest of the Titans, his five children and the formless, shadowed void destined to become the world existed. Lascurian spoke with his children at length about the qualities and importance of their actions but, as with so many children, his sage wisdom and advice fell on deaf ears. Knowing this, Lascurian took the void and gave his children tasks. This would, he hoped, test not only their wisdom and maturity but develop their creative potential and competitive nature.
Sylvanis, the second oldest, was given the task of creating the world. In addition she was required to populate her world with plants and animals of her invention. Thus Entalia was formed. Sylvanis enjoyed her work and created forests and mountains, placing them at intervals so her creatures could live where they desired. Sylvanis gave her creations the ability to bond with each other and to communicate by means solely their own. Lascurian was pleased and gave her dominion over the southern reaches of the world.
Lascurian then allotted his three younger children the task of creating a race to be placed in the area assigned to them. To the oldest of the three, Corellon, he gave the eastern reaches of this newly formed world, filled with forests. Corellon went to her lands and created her race. She determined them to be like her, tall and slim, with a love and respect of all things natural. This reverence would include the magic generally found in nature. She called her race elves. Lascurian was pleased with her efforts.
To Moradin be gave the northern portions, containing vast mountain ranges. Moradin went into the mountains to find the proper spirit for the race he was to create. He marveled in the strength and beauty of the earth and decided his race should emulate these attributes. His race would be long of life and strong in the magic inherent to the earth. To live within the earth as he intended they must be short of stature and very strong. He called his creation dwarves. Again, Lascurian was pleased.
Quadrini, the last of his younger children, was given the western portion and the seas surrounding the land. Quadrini, being the least disciplined, left her task until quite late. When she looked at the land she found it barren and uninviting. She demanded that her father alter these conditions and when he refused she was forced to work within his guidelines. With little thought, Quadrini took pieces of the entire world and threw them together to produce her own race and thus be finished with her hateful task.
The new race had a much shorter life span and like Quadrini herself, exhibited much less dedication of purpose. She called them human. Lascurian, although pleased that she had completed her task, pointed out the shortcomings of her race, causing her to see it as inferior and refuse to have anything to do with it. In time her rage built and she set into motion a plan to rid herself of her own race and gain control of the others.
Finally, to the eldest daughter, Marita, he gave the center of the world and the responsibility to ensure her younger brothers and sisters did not abuse their powers. She was given the task of creating all the creatures to inhabit both the sea and the air. She did so with the simplicity and imagination of youth combined with a wholesomeness and beauty of nature. In this she pleased her father and he gave her a most sacred artifact, a lustrous violet gem, which he located in the center of the world. He explained that it was endowed with the power to save the world should any sibling rivalry threaten to destroy it. Lascurian, in his wisdom, only offered his daughter what she needed to know, thus leaving room for her continued growth and maturity. He set Marita to gathering the brightest, mightiest and most devoted of each race so they might lead their races in times that would encompass the instruction of his younger children.
He called all his children together to set out their final task. They were to be left to their own resources, to build or destroy, to guide and mature each of their races as they saw fit. And through it all Lascurian watched and waited * * * *
Diane shivered in the doorway, her bare feet rooted to the frigid flagstone floor. The room was dim, but not so dark that she wasn't acutely aware of the ominous events occurring inside. Shadows shifted and coalesced above a girl lying on the bed, at times seeming almost to possess her. The ebony forms expanded and contracted menacingly, their shapeless mass threatening to engulf her. Involuntarily, she stiffened, lips stretched back over bared teeth, the muscles of her throat constricting in an unuttered scream.
Gripping the wooden door frame, her fingers digging gouges in the oak, Diane held her place with every ounce of will she possessed. She gritted her teeth, watching her child twist and struggle against the binding the shadows tried to cast upon her. Should Diane disturb the dream now, Arola's mind could be trapped in the shadow realm forever.
Diane grimaced, deciding that she too would brave the shadow realm tonight, to search for answers to the dreams that were tearing at the very fabric of Arola's reality. The shadows shifted, receding, creeping back into the recesses of the room, heralding the end of this particular sequence. Diane forced her cramped muscles to relax.
"Mama, Mama help me!" Arola screamed, her fingers tearing frantically at her bed covers.
"Arola, sweetheart, it's over!" Diane called, running across the room to shake Arola insistently. "Wake up. Are you all right?"
"It happened again!" Arola's eyes were distraught as she grabbed onto her mother, gripping her tightly.
"I know, sweetest, I know," Diane soothed, squeezing her daughter tightly, rocking back and forth on the bed. "Are you all right?"
Arola hiccupped, nodding, her head buried in her mother's chest. "I guess so. I thought the shadows would take me for sure this time. They wouldn't let me go, no matter how I struggled."
"Well, they didn't succeed, thank the gods," Diane comforted as she kissed the top of Arola's head, staring resentfully at the remnants of shadows. They edged away uneasily, still shifting and coalescing under furniture and in remote corners of the room. Diane held her child at arm's length. "Arola, I must know! Was there anything new?"
Arola twisted away and buried her head deeper in Diane's lap, tightening her grip. They trembled together, Diane giving the girl time to compose herself. The dreams had begun four years ago and had generally been the same. First a pleasant, calming violet light and scenes commonly attributed to a child's vivid imagination. These were followed by an aging lady clad in silver, her vivid green eyes, wide with terror. Despite a description, no one in the village nearby knew the lady of the dream. Finally the lady's visage would fade into absolute blackness, like the ebony nights by the cliffs when the stars and moon didn't shine.
The raw terror in the woman's eyes petrified Arola and it was usually then she'd awaken, screaming. For the past year, Diane had continually braved the shadows for clarification and been denied. She'd found only frustrating darkness where the lady or Arola were concerned.
"Mom, I saw her again, and in the distance a great stag, staring at me from a forest, as if he could see me. Who are they? Why does she haunt me? And that horrible darkness..." Arola shuddered, sobbing.
"I don't know," Diane whispered into her daughter's hair, holding her close until Arola's trembling ceased. She reached over with one hand to light the lamp sitting on the narrow table beside Arola's bed. She pulled Arola upright and examined her tear-streaked face. Silver white hair, as fine as corn silk, framed a face where brilliant blue eyes held the colors of both sea and sky. Her wide eyes were both perceptive and innocent. She smiled. Arola had been but an infant when she'd brought her to this cottage by the sea and was, even at the age of twelve, becoming a shining beauty.
Diane sighed, regretful. The shadows had revealed to her that their lazy, peaceful, safe days by the shore were dwindling rapidly. Other fates awaited them. That much, at least, the shadows had been forced to reveal to her. * * * *
Iolet snuck out of her quarters just past dawn, on her way to the crags. Although forbidden by the keep's overseer, Marie, it was a trip she found herself compelled to take as often as she could steal away. Since infancy she'd ranged the halls of Demondraught, in search of all its secrets. Her adventures had taken her from the lowest dungeon to the highest battlement, but nothing satisfied her need to reach the highest place she knew, Grand Tor.
As she crept along the main hall she felt uneasy. Alabaster and marble statues of her kinsmen lined the niches of the hall, marking the passage of time. This morning, in the predawn light, they appeared cognizant of her passage, their sightless eyes marking her progress. Even the shadows, cringing back from the growing light, felt alert and aware. Iolet shivered, goose bumps forming on her arms and legs and forced herself to move on. She knew today she'd climb higher than ever, at least to Widow's Ledge, the most perilous point on Grand Tor. Shaking off the eerie feeling impatiently, she opened the thick, wrought iron, reinforced door just a crack to check the courtyard. Finding it empty, she slipped through and bounded nimbly across the courtyard, in a preplanned route designed to take her near the stables.
Ilessa's chestnut warhorse, Shadowlass, whinnied softly as Iolet passed. Oddly enough, she felt all the beings in the stable, and they appeared cognizant of her as well. She stumbled over a stone passing by Teria's rooms in the stable and shook her head, cursing under her breath. That man caused her stupid mistakes every time she thought of him. He literally fascinated her. His tousled dark hair and violet eyes trapped her like a rabbit whenever they met. His lazy smile and love of the outdoors had endeared him to her, and her feelings had only deepened since they'd met.
Having no clue of his feelings, she desperately quelled her own. Suddenly sensing his presence, she gasped. This had certainly never happened before! She felt him turn restlessly on his cot, half waking to call her name. She felt her face flame in response and could sense him laughing softly, still in the midst of his dream. Now she knew he was aware of her as well. Embarrassed by her thoughts, she hurried onward.
Entering the watchtower, she tiptoed softly up the circular granite staircase, past her mother's chambers. Ilessa had moved here after the disappearance of Toscori, Iolet's father, some years ago. As she glided past, the feeling of being watched returned. This time, though, it gave her the comfortable sense of being loved and well protected. She placed the feelings as coming from Aquar, one of her mother's great jaguars.
She climbed to the battlement, taking care not to alert the guard dozing there. Looking back, she could see everything that had made up her childhood. The mounds of hay by the stables had provided excellent camouflage. How often had she used them to hide from her chores? She smiled briefly. The practice fields beyond stood silent and spectral and she winced as she thought about the nights she'd lain awake, so sore from sword practice she couldn't sleep.
Iolet gazed on the shadows huddled at the base of the great towers. Cast in relief, they skittered out of the weak morning light. She stepped away involuntarily. The shadows had been the one fear remaining from her childhood, growing from her father's tales of children being swallowed by them and lost forever.
Iolet leapt from the battlement across the narrow gap to the face of Grand Tor, beginning her climb. Demondraught was carved directly from the mountain itself, with only its highest towers unfixed. With the separation occurring so high above the base of the edifice and guarded constantly, this presented no problems in defense. No one had ever managed to scale the sheer rock face, and thus far no one had, even from this point, managed to scale the mountain itself. Many had tried over the years, proven by the cemetery located beside the keep at the foot of the mountain. The names of famous kinsmen and small unlabeled markers abounded.
At first Iolet's climb presented no problems. It wasn't until she'd passed Eaglet's Nest; an outcropping that looked, for lack of a better description, like a bird's nest, the climbing became more difficult. Iolet's fingers grew sore from slight hand-hold on jagged rocks. The fabric of her breeches shredded as she hauled herself up, inch by agonizingly slow inch. Just when she felt she couldn't go on, a new spurt of adrenalin goaded her onward.
It took the desire of one spurred on by necessity to reach the pinnacle, though to what purpose she didn't know. Despite her torn, ragged fingers and scraped knees, she fought her way up, finally reaching Widow's Ledge, and pulled herself to its summit, panting. She turned to gaze out over the expanse, feeling exhilarated and, oddly enough, almost dizzy as she surveyed the heights to which she'd climbed.
"Good morning, Little One, you've indeed come far. How might I know you, should we meet again?"
Iolet started violently, almost slipping off her slender ledge. The voice had come from the air, from nowhere and everywhere, within and without.
"Little One, take care the edge, 'tis a long fall from your nest. Please tell me your name?" the voice, rich and resonant, pleaded. Iolet stared up and down, desperately searching for the source, to find no one.
"Who's there?" Iolet whispered, gripping the rock against the fear that grew within. Were the shadows finally after her, as her father had long ago promised, if she didn't behave? She shivered, the chill morning air piercing through her clothing at last. "I know no one saw me leave, because Borla didn't stop me."
"I'm here, Borla," came the unbidden answer. Iolet clambered upright, hugging the sheer rock face, searching desperately for lurking shadows.
"No, no, Zephyr," this was yet a different voice, more mature, with a hint of humor, resting on the brink of elusive memory. "This is Iolet, the young girl we've been watching. She's the one you chose, who talks with her mind."
"Well, who's Borla? She said Borla!"
"We'll speak of this later," the hauntingly familiar voice laughed. "Iolet, don't be afraid. I'm your Aunt Syldeth. Do you remember me? I haven't seen you since you were quite young."
"Yes," the memory clicked into place. A woman, accompanied by a great stag. Archery matches with her father, "I remember just a bit. You had a stag, didn't you? He used to give me rides on his back," she replied, filled with wonder at this new form of communication.
"The other voice you heard was Zephyr, a young harpy eagle I've been raising, who's ready to bond with his chosen person. You, Iolet, are that chosen."
"Me? Why me? I mean, I'm honored, but I'm nobody special," Iolet objected, suddenly afraid she'd be in trouble. She usually was when she cut out on her responsibilities and her mother found out about it. What would Mother say this time?
"You are special. It was given me to know," the eaglet's voice reproved her sternly. She smiled, in spite of herself. He certainly was confident!
"We've little time we can speak now, but if you agree to a bonding like that of your mother and her cats I'll show you how," Syldeth said, her voice becoming fainter as the whistling wind tore around Iolet.
Iolet shivered, wishing she'd brought her cloak. It would make climbing more hazardous, but at the moment, that didn't seem to matter. She'd stay here forever if she could. "All right," Iolet nodded, shivering. Was she insane, hearing voices so plainly, although no one was there? She decided it was safest to play along, at least for the time being. "What now?"
"Go carefully down the mountain and think about the honor this bestows. Talk with your mother and let her explain the bonding. If you agree, return to this ledge tomorrow and we'll speak. Go now and be careful, for with you rests the hope of many yet unknown," Syldeth's voice reassured her.
Iolet, still shaking, more with reaction than cold, eased her body around and perched carefully on the edge of Widow's Ledge. She wrapped her arms around herself and looked down, drawing deep breaths, striving for calm. This was insane. What would Mother say?
Looking down, she could see the inhabitants of Demondraught stirring. With a pang of regret, she realized she'd again missed her morning chores. Even now she could look down and see the stocky form of Borla. The woman's legs pumped as she crossed the courtyard. She only moved like that when she was furious. Iolet knew she'd been searching high and low. For Iolet, of course. Her mother would probably find out, and then there would really be trouble. But then again, with her hearing voices like this, maybe it wouldn't matter. Realizing the answers to her questions lay below with her mother; she eased herself off the ledge and rushed down, slipping and sliding in her haste. * * * *
Jagua padded forward silently, his golden, watchful eyes surveying the grove as he entered, his black furred muscles rippling a silent accompaniment to his moves. Timareen, aged Seeress and Guardian of the Sacred Grove, had arrived yesterday. Ilessa, Jagua's Bondmate and Mistress, had tasked him with coming to meet the Seeress. It was not an onerous duty.
Timareen and his Mistress had a relationship of many years, and Jagua and his litter-mate, Agua, had shared them all. Jagua sat silently behind the old woman, respecting her scrying. Timareen, he knew, had remained all night, attempting, as Jagua's Mistress had been for the past few months, to read some meaning into the shadows, some hint of direction and intent.
Timareen sat immobile and in the first, tentative peach strokes of sunlight, scryed the sluggishly retreating shadows for answers. She'd taken a position he was familiar with, cross-legged, straight-backed and motionless before the multifaceted amethyst. She'd laid her staff, made from a sapling taken from this very grove, to one side of the crystal and her rune carved silver medallion to the other. The night visions had revealed themselves, but still she waited for the sun to focus its light through the trees.
Jagua knew that the shadows cast by the morning sun should facilitate her vision of what might be, and maybe in this oldest and most sacred spot, answer her dreams of the one who comes behind.
The light crept down the leaves and along the textured trunks of trees as the sun ascended. The grove swam in a rich violet light that ultimately banished all the velvety night shadows, leaving only the light shadows of the crystal. The glow of the gem painted a portrait of Timareen that showed the wisdom of age as well as the great power resident behind her gentle eyes.
"Good," Timareen nodded, looking at her medallion. It had begun to glow like the crystal but in a deeper velvet hue. It was a piece of the grove's central crystal, taken centuries ago when the dwarves had wrested it from the earth. The smaller pieces had been set in the rune covered silver circlets for members of the Circle. Offsetting its velvet aura was the distinctive green cast provided by her staff. The light of the earth was vital to the Seeress, who, above all, held the world in balance.
"What is it you see, Reen?" the thought broke Timareen's concentration and she jumped. "I did not mean to interrupt you."
"Jagua, where did ... how long have you been here?" Timareen gasped, hand shaking as she twisted her upper body to face him.
"I arrived several hours ago, while you toiled in the shadows. You were troubled so I did not disturb you," Jagua thought, gliding closer, muscles rippling under sleek ebony fur.
"I should have known your mistress would send you," Timareen smiled as she reached out to stroke a gleaming flank.
Jagua leaned into the caress, and then nuzzled her hand. "You look tired. What worries you so?"
"It's not what I see in the shadows, but more that they refuse to release their secrets of late." Jagua glided by her hand, turned and positioned himself so that she was again able to caress him. She smiled, the first glimmer of the old Timareen he'd seen. Timareen ran her hands through his thick fur, massaging. His eyes half closed in bliss, the huge black feline didn't move. Timareen continued. "This frightens me, but more than that there is always her. She's yet nameless and very young."