Pages Navigation Menu

Australian Fantasy Author (Official Site)

Legends Of Marithia 1 (Uncut & Extended) Preview

cover front

Prologue: Shadowed Origins

“There are those who say that time can heal all wounds, but what would it take to cut someone so deep that you sever their very soul?

There have been many in history who foolishly committed heinous acts within a mask of fear.

Even now, we remain in hiding, awaiting the time to face the sorceress of the demon’s prophecy. The one who those of darkness believe will destroy all who live and breathe.”

(Queen Nymira of the Dragons)

The blisteringly icy air howling over the steep ebony castle walls forced their teeth to chatter and their naked bodies to shiver uncontrollably. Their goosebump-covered skin burned as the hemp ropes were fastened around their pale wrists. Three knights kept their swords drawn and pointed at their prisoners’ chests as they forced them into position, the knights’ shaky grip revealing their nervousness.

The crowd chanted, “Off with their heads! Heretics!”

They shook their fists in the air and spat at the ground in disgust. The knights tied the ropes around the oak posts set deep into the ground near the keep, as the horizon slowly brightened with the first hint of dawn. It would have been a picturesque day if it wasn’t a morning of execution. The surrounding lowlands served as a glorious landscape that housed the cancerous black growth that was Castle Praethorne, which overlooked the lush forests of the lowlands separating him from Greenhaven and the Elven Woods.

Summer was gruellingly hot but autumn was fast approaching and it was known for outrageous snow storms. The chill in the mornings were early signs that winter would be upon them. Snow-covered walls always made the castle look far more appealing.

King Grueber raised his chubby hands high in the air and bellowed, “That’s enough!”

His maroon garb hung loosely from his gut and jiggled with his speech. Grueber loved to address his people, even if they didn’t, and there was not much that he enjoyed more than exercising his powers.

He spat out his well-rehearsed words, “In these times of peace, we must be vigilant in freeing our city of unwanted visitors. We have lost countless lives to the demons and plagues that have threatened our very way of life, have we not?”

The crowd reluctantly cheered in response, and Grueber bathed in their unbeknownst to him, false admiration, with glee before waving their cheers down to continue his speech. They loved him, or at least so he tried to believe. In his selfish, twisted mind, he believed they admired him and he knew he retained his power over them. This was all that mattered.

Although the king was best known in Marithia for his love of filling his stomach and his resulting grotesque plump stature, he had a reputation for cruelty that was famed across the lands. Grueber Saber was the outcast of the Saber royal family and had been cut off from their plentiful purse for the multitude of crimes on their people.

But he was of royal blood. He was provided this small castle by his family to rule as his own. It was a land which he dared not cross as it was said to be cursed by Shindar, who he feared the most, although he often boasted of being fearless of an encounter with the demon of darkness. Secretly though, any avoidance of confrontation was good.

Separated from his family and living a comparatively poor existence, he had renounced his title as a prince and also chosen to ignore the rule of Marithia’s true human king, Robert Saber. Grueber had crowned himself Praethorne’s king and the people obeyed him out of both fear and desperation. Power obtained by the wrong hands could heed the worst results.

He turned and pointed at the wooden posts and the prisoners strapped hand and foot to them. “We are here today because a traitor had not only lived within our walls, but was trusted by all of us, purporting to be our high priestess. She had the gall to hide a descendant of the Vampire King and defy our sacred laws by bearing his child. This act of treason simply cannot go unpunished!”

Grueber was beginning to sweat profusely. He just wanted this over with, if truth be known, so he could retreat to his inner sanctum of plentiful food and wine.

The crowd erupted into another chant. “Punish them! Punish them!”

He leered at the false support but bathed in their bloodlust. There was no better way to show them how great their king was than by giving them what they wanted. It never ceased to amaze him that a show of force would subdue his people for extended periods of time. He knew what the power of domination meant, and he was very good at it.

Looking down to the base of the nearest castle wall, there was a young girl, cowering, barely in her late teens. Her clothes were partly shredded and covered in dried blood; her sweat-drenched skin was revealed in the torn holes of her dress. She was caged behind the crowd, under heavy guard, and whimpered in fear as it was dragged into view and placed by the girl’s mother. He could only see part of her body, but it was enough. He had watched her grow since she was a baby, and as she grew to obtain her beauty, the town long gossiped of the glamorous woman she would turn out to be.

His secretive lust for her was painfully obvious. She excited him, but no opportunity presented itself for him to indulge in his desires. He covered up his perversions with a mask of hatred. He reminded himself that there were plenty of young girls in the castle for him to play with. Kassina was this girl’s name, or so his guards had told him. Her cage was made from metal bars with a splintered floor of wood underneath her.

A woman in the crowd cried out, “She’s just a young girl!”

King Grueber repeated incredulously, “A bloody young girl. Is that all you think she is?”, pointing at the cage.

He dribbled from his mouth and bellowed, “This abomination cannot be allowed to survive and live among us. In your eyes she may look nothing more than a little girl, but when she grows, she will become a danger to us all! As your king, I sentence them all to die. The sins of the mother and father shall be punishable to their forbidden offspring. Bring me their heads!”

He gave the order as if he was ordering his cooks for dinner. Killing was easy, especially when his men were the ones who had to carry out the deed.

 *

Kassina cried aloud with a wavering voice, “No please, we’ve done nothing wrong!”

She tried to appeal to whatever shred of humanity she thought she saw in her king.

Her heartbeat was so intense that she felt it pounding against her rib cage. She didn’t ask for any of this or understand what was going on. All that she wanted was for her mother and father to live and for them to be free with her. She couldn’t understand why nobody was listening to her and what her parents had done. They had committed no crimes— she was sure of it. Surely, loving each other and bearing a child cannot be a crime, can it? She couldn’t believe it to be so.

She looked around staring at so many faces, some of which she remembered playing with when she was younger. Most of their usually friendly faces watched her through scowls and condemning eyes. She felt betrayed, how could their hearts have changed so easily? She couldn’t understand.

Kassina managed to catch a glimpse of her mother, Niesha. The sight of her naked body being tied up frightened the life out of her. Niesha saw her looking down at her through tears, her voice breaking as she spoke. “My darling Kassina, I failed you… I am so sorry. There is nothing I can do! These blasted Rings of Silence—”

The king’s voice sliced through her words. “Enough! Niesha, our people trusted you to guide them. You thought you could hide a descendant of the so-called Vampire King, the one they call Danton, your husband, and get away with it? You sentenced your own daughter to death the day that you conceived her. What could you possibly have to say for yourself before you die?”

Kassina saw her father narrow his eyes at Grueber and spat in his direction before yelling, “He was more a king than you could ever be, you fat bastard!”

Grueber snarled, “I wasn’t talking to you, night dweller!”

Kassina watched her mother look to the crowd desperately and lock eyes with her. The realisation that the situation was helpless hit her like a shield to her face. She frantically looked around to see if she could reach something and free herself. But the ground only contained loose stones and dirt. She reached out toward a guard’s sword, but it was too far and she snapped her arm back before they could notice. They could do nothing to save themselves, and she looked back at her mother, wishing, that this would end.

Niesha raised her eyes furiously to meet the king’s and spat her words through quivering lips as if they were weapons laced with venom. “You know nothing! I love my husband, Danton! He’s never harmed any of us. You brand me a heretic and try to shift the guilt of your lies and sentence, but it is you alone who are about to murder an innocent child. You are nothing but a bloody coward, blinded by your hatred of anything you do not understand.”

The crowd gasped and went quiet; Kassina only heard her own sobs. She had never heard her mother speak like this. She saw them all staring at the king in shock. A low rumbling of voices flittered around them.

Kassina laid eyes on the man she hated more than anything, the one who ordered the guards to seize them. She wanted nothing more than to kill him with her bare hands for what he had done. The hatred grew in her belly like a virus as it began to consume her.

Grueber’s face contorted and his voice growled, “How dare you speak to me like that. I am your King! You brand me a bloody murderer? I believe my informants, and the creature to whom you bore, your child, is a vampire. But even after the lashes from your barbed tongue, I can show mercy. I make you this promise: if, in the next few moments, Danton is not burning from the touch of the sun, then I will let you all go. How is that for a so-called coward?”

Kassina shook her cage so violently that the skin on her fingers broke and blood trickled down the bars. “Let us go!”

“Shut your mouth, you freak!” a guard said, smashing his fist hard into her cage. The other guard hit her knuckles with the hilt of his sword. Kassina hunched over and cried out in pain as she gripped her throbbing hand. The pain washed over her. She couldn’t understand why they hated her so much. She had done nothing to any of them.

“May you rot like the excrement you are, Grueber,” Danton said, as the sun began to rise. “You are nothing without your inherited power. I swear to you that our murders will be avenged, and that when the day of your death comes, your last rotten breath will be of this day’s regret.”

Kassina crawled back to the closest bars and watched her father. She just couldn’t believe that her beloved father was going to die. The man who loved her since she was born and told her stories when she went to bed at night, would he really be taken from her? She heard him groan as his skin began to blister and burn. The stench of his decay filled the air and the nearest of the crowd paled, dry retching. Kassina’s stomach turned, but she couldn’t look away. At the same time, the rays of the sun breached his skin, and he could not hold back any longer. He let out a blood-curdling scream as his muscles melted off his brilliant-white bones.

Niesha cried, her tears streaming down her cheeks. “No! Danton, my love! You disgusting maggot, Grueber!”

Kassina broke down at the sight of her father burning in the sun. This was all too much for her. Her wailing was starting to reach lands far beyond the confines of the thick, lifeless castle walls.

Suddenly, Kassina’s eyes widened. She gasped when she felt invisible arms wrap around her, holding her tightly. She looked around and saw nothing, but her emotions were too numb for her to be afraid. There was a strong power around her- she just knew it!

A dark, but soothing voice filled her mind. It wasn’t as if someone had actually spoken to her, but like her inner voice suddenly had company, and the company was loud.

Kassina, it’s finally time for the prophecy to be fulfilled. There is nothing I can do for your mother or father, as this will come at a great cost. But if you pledge your soul to me, I will give you power. I will make you the most feared sorceress in all the lands. You will be able to make them all die for what they have done today. Not just them, but all Marithians who have forsaken you.

I don’t understand. Who are you? What’s a prophecy? Kill them, just kill them all, she thought, placing her head in her hands and sobbing as she rocked back and forth, shaking her head violently. She kept telling herself that this was all a nightmare and she would wake up- soon!

I am known as Shindar. It is said that a girl born of both darkness and light will destroy all living creatures and rule a new world under the Blood Red Moon. The seers have predicted your arrival for thousands of years and I have waited what feels like an eternity for your arrival. If you give yourself to me, I will show you how to embrace the darkness, unleash the powers sleeping within you and make everyone answer for their cruelty. But you need to decide now, as I can only save you if you allow me. And you don’t have long to decide. The window of life is closing.

She looked up again and watched as the crowd pelted Niesha with rotten vegetables. They were cheering, “Off with her head!”

She began to realise that this was no nightmare and she was not going to be waking up any time soon. This dark and foreboding castle was where they could all die.

Kassina cried out at the crowd, “No, Mother! Leave her alone!”

She pressed her face up against the inhospitable icy cold bars of her cage, desperately trying to lay eyes on her mother. Her cage had been shifted without her realising.

“Was your king lying? No! Now get on with it and kill the wench,” Grueber said.

The words echoed in Kassina’s mind.

Niesha sounded defeated as she whispered, “I love you. I will always—”. Her words were cruelly interrupted, replaced by a sickening choking sound. The ringing of the blade echoed through the air. Heavy drops of steaming blood pooled near Kassina’s cage before her mother’s head fell hard to the ground in front of her.

The shock of what had happened as she felt the warm blood splatter on her face was too much to bear. Her mother’s jaw opened as if she tried to speak. Blood mixed with saliva flowed out of her mouth. Kassina felt her head spin and struggled for breath as the sound of her heartbeat pounded her ears. She let out a primal scream as she watched the life fade from her mother’s eyes.

She cried aloud, “Nooooo! I’ll kill every last one of you, you bastards!” her voice breaking and wavering in hysteria. Her pain turned to a furious anger and madness that engulfed her very being. She shook her cage so violently that the guards grunted as they used all of their weight to hold it in place. She felt blood streaming down her face as she pounded her head against the bars. The metallic taste of it entered her mouth.

In what sounded like newfound confidence, Grueber yelled, “Guards, prepare a pit and open the cage. Stone her!”

The crowd erupted in cheers, excited by their unquenchable bloodlust.

Once again, Kassina felt the presence of Shindar and began to feel comforted by it. Nobody who loves you remains in the realm of Marithia, but I will always love you, Kassina, and I will let you grow to be a woman before unleashing your immortality. Do you want to be saved?

Kassina heard her piercing voice echo throughout the city, “Yes, Shindar. Save me!”

The crowd laughed at her pleas while the guards readied the stoning pit. She saw a tall man wearing a heavy robe step back, staring at her cage. He stumbled backwards over loose rocks and yelled out as he ran toward the castle’s closed gates, “No! It can’t be him… we killed him! Let me out of here – now! Let me go.”

Shindar persisted with Kassina. Do you pledge your soul to the darkness, to fulfil the prophecy of the Blood Red Moon and serve me, Shindar, as your new god, and become my instrument of darkness for all eternity, to become my child?

“Yes, I will do anything. Save me!” Kassina said, her words erupting through sobs of desperation and a shattered heart.

A voice from the crowd yelled, “Nobody will save you, little witch. It is time for you to die.”

Shindar’s words intensified. Repeat these words carefully after me. Liberate me ex inferis…

“Liberate me ex inferis,” Kassina said, chanting as she was roughly dragged along the ground by the guards. Dust blew up from the ground to blanket her cage from sight.

At that moment, the skies darkened and she looked up to see thick black clouds cascading over each other as they raced, menacingly, over the terrible scene unfolding below them, and succeeding to blot out the sun. It was then that she sensed the crowd panicking in terror before she felt dizzy and lost consciousness.

 *

Grueber watched as the guards dropped the cage in shock, crying out that they couldn’t hold onto it. Kassina’s body shook ferociously before the cage exploded, the bars shattering as they became projectiles that tore through the flesh and bones of the crowd around her. One lodged into the skull of a guard who dropped to his knees before slumping to the ground. Screams and terror filled the air.

Kassina felt herself rising upward to hover beside the few shards left of her cage, her eyes a fiery crimson and her hair slithering unnaturally in the air as if a hundred snakes had grown from her skull. The tips formed snake heads and they hissed at the king in unison. A terrible, thundering voice exploded from her lips.

“How dare any of you judge me! Only gods can judge. Your world will never be the same again, and your brutality will have been for nothing. The prophecy will be fulfilled and all of you will serve me in the underworld!”

The possessed Kassina raised her arm and pointed at the scattering crowd, then turned and pointed at King Grueber. The voice spoke through her again. “You will all die, and countless generations to follow will again live in fear until the time of the Blood Red Moon. Every last one of you will bow to me in a new world of darkness! I will have my revenge— and it will be complete. Be warned!”

 

The thunderous clouds rumbled menacingly and red lightning crashed into the surrounding lands. Grueber fled as fast as his stumpy legs and fat belly could carry him, escaping towards the perceived safety of the castle turret, locking the doors behind him as he ran through. He didn’t care who else died, he just wanted to be sure he was saved.

Let them all starve or be butchered, he thought. He was determined to live. His people banged on the doors and desperately pleaded for their king’s help. He ran to a window to watch what was happening outside. One of the guards swung a sword at Kassina’s neck in an attempt to decapitate her. As he swung the blade, she disappeared before their eyes. The sword cut deep into the breastplate of a charging guard, who screamed out in pain, his hot steaming blood spurting into the air and running down his armour.

The dark clouds again rumbled menacingly as rain pelted the crowd. They screamed helplessly as the rainwater turned to acid, melting the flesh off their bones. Grueber’s eyes widened at the horror of the sight before him. He could only watch from his turret window as more and more bloodied bodies disintegrated before him. A demonic face illuminated clearly in the clouds, its mouth gaping wide as it sucked the souls out of their melting bodies, their white glows flying upward like fireflies and disappeared.

“By the gods,” Grueber said, “What have I done?”

This was not a good day, he thought.

 *

Kassina had no control over her body, but she watched them all die. She felt glad that they were in agony. Let them feel her pain, she thought. They deserve to die!

Kassina squinted from the bright lights of Shindar’s spell. Everything rushed around her and she couldn’t make out any details of her surroundings. She felt herself being pulled as if she were a fish caught on a lightning-fast line, unable to control her destiny. She watched as her hair glowed and then returned to its former state, flickering wildly around her vision. She brought her broken hand to her face and watched as her body healed itself. She felt no pain as her bones snapped back into place. Her skin closed itself as if it had been seamlessly sewn back together. She wondered if she was dead. Was this the path to the afterlife? she wondered. Death was something she would welcome, still harbouring fresh images in her mind of her parents’ demise.

After what seemed an eternity, the blur of colours ceased as she landed harshly on the marble floor of Shindar’s dark tower, bewildered and confused. The pain coursing through her body was a clear sign that she wasn’t dead, or at least she thought not.

A familiar voice spoke nonchalantly. “Welcome to your new home in the underworld, Kassina.”

She lifted her head and vomited violently onto the floor. The acidic bile burnt her throat and mouth, inducing further dry retching. Wiping her mouth clean and blinking hard to clear her vision, she slowly lifted her head to see the back of a tall figure hidden within a heavy ornate robe, decorated with images of skulls forming in front of her.

She looked around.

They were in a throne room, oddly devoid of any ornate trinkets or decoration. She was surrounded by skeleton warriors in crude armour who bowed with all deference in her direction. Her face twisted as she wondered why they were bowing at her and what it all meant. Her exhaustion was taking its toll and she nearly dropped to the ground.

She found it hard to focus on anything around her.

Shindar turned around and reached down to pick her up from the floor and gave her an affectionate embrace as she continued her sobbing. She was surprised that on the surface, he appeared to be a tower of a man, but like any other man. She could feel a power from within him, resonating from him. Her eyes widened and body trembled as he carried her. Through quickened breaths, she asked, “What do you want from me?”

“There is nothing for you to fear here, Kassina, least of all me. You are safe now, and I’d never harm you, far from it. You have been a long awaited guest in the underworld. I will take you to your quarters for you to get some rest and warm up with some food and drink. We will have much to discuss, and you’ll need your strength. All will be explained to you in time. Dry your eyes and to cry no more.”

She finally allowed her body to relax as Shindar carried her down the dark corridors. She was being held close to his chest, as if it was her father carrying her. It felt comforting. Laying a gentle kiss on her head, he eased open the squeaky door to her new room, and sat her down on a warm bed. She suddenly realised how weary she was.

Shindar sat by her side and lovingly said, “Rest now. When you wake up, I will have one of our servants take you for a bath and see to some new clothes.”

She heard his voice, but struggled to keep her eyes open as she began to drift away to sleep. She had nothing and nobody left in this world and felt she had no choice but to submit to whatever would happen to her now. This was her fate, whether she liked it or not. She didn’t know if he was telling her the truth or whether she would be a lamb to the slaughter. Whatever will be will be, she thought.

 *

Shindar pulled her closer toward him, laying her head on his chest and stroking her hair. “I was also cast away from their world, as if everything I had done for them meant nothing, and yet they took the only people I loved. You are home now. Sleep my child.”

He hummed a soft lullaby to help her sleep and raised his hand to her face. He watched as his hand glowed and the light spread across her. He had to be sure that she was the one. The light turned to blood-red and his softly spoken enchantment confirmed it. He knew that they were right. He had no intentions of leaving her side that night. After what felt like an eternity, he was now the closest he had ever been to victory. It would be a long, arduous path, but he would rule Marithia and she was the key to it all. She was now his most important and cherished possession.

 *

The events in Castle Praethorne had set the prophecy of the Blood Red Moon into motion. King Grueber’s selfish acts were ultimately his undoing. He had indeed survived, but he was a prisoner. Grueber found himself locked inside his fortified tower, watching his subjects continue their lives in peace without his close-fisted rule. None of them wanted to free him from his self-inflicted demise. His mind broke before his body, leaving behind a raving husk of bone and fat roaming the halls before his heart succumbed to darkness.

 *

Marithia had long since recovered from the first ancient war against Shindar and the Forces of Darkness. Marithia itself was a large continent surrounded by uncharted wild seas. Its lush landscape gave the Marithian highlands an enchanting beauty that served well to mask the darkness within.

When the first great war had ended, its survivors banded together and agreed to a new age of peace. Their leaders had met on the battlegrounds to discuss the future of the lands and how they could co-exist peacefully. It was decided that they would co-exist in their own settlements.

The great dragons that protected the realm, suffered immense losses of life in the war, and retreated back to Trahoterra, the island home of dragons. Elves and humans founded their own new settlements, as their homes had been destroyed in the war and their ruins held only bitter memories.

Humans took refuge in the deserted golden city built by the ancients long ago, called Greenhaven. It was named to symbolise both the protection found within its walls and the lush surroundings lying without. A king was crowned to rule the lands and order was swiftly restored. However, not all humans wanted to live inside their protective walls, opting instead to build their own settlements which were eventually scattered throughout the lands.

The elves moved to the familiar territory of the woods, and used their enchantments and magic to found Veldrenn, the Elven City.

Amid this segregation, vampires, who were once under Shindar’s control, wandered the lands aimlessly, feeding off anything they could find. The elves publicly declared that no vampire would be tolerated within the walls of Veldrenn after the Vampire King had allied with Shindar’s Forces of Darkness.

Humans were more forgiving toward vampires, much to the dismay of the elves. Vampires were allowed to live among them and were treated as citizens of Greenhaven, providing they agreed to abide by the laws of Greenhaven. Breeding between human and vampire was strictly forbidden and vampires were allowed to only feed off prisoners and animals. Any vampire descendants of royal blood were excluded from the agreement and would be killed on sight.

From time to time, rogue survivors of Shindar’s army attacked settlements. They were blind to the reality that the war had already ended and mindlessly carried out their lord’s final commands. They were defeated in battle. Tensions remained high, but the attacks lowered in frequency and intensity over time. Shindar’s defeat returned him to the underworld where he waited patiently, anticipating the prophecy that would allow his return. The dark underworld existed in a parallel realm that could only be reached with the aid of powerful magic. Shindar, an ancient force of evil, never gave a reason for starting the war, and his motives were enigmatic to Marithians. However, over the long years of peace, many Marithians had forgotten his name and foolishly allowed his memory to become a distant one.

Vampires swiftly established a civilisation within a civilisation, blending in with humans and steering clear of Veldrenn. Over time, beauty returned to all of Marithia’s war-ravaged lands. Sadly, this age of peace would be relatively short-lived.

 *

Due to the ignorance, stupidity, greed, and indulgence presupposing of one man; death for one and destiny for another was a tick of a heartbeat away. Only the subject of fate’s hand, the protagonists, were yet to be aware of it.

Chapter 1: Marithia

 “If you are fortunate, you may sense when I am near. A chill may slowly ascend like a spider up your spine to warn of a darker presence nearby.

 I am the chosen one, commanded only by the great Shindar. Many have fallen in their quest to find me.

 If it is answers or power that you seek, you must locate my tower and gain my favour.”

 (Kassina)

It was almost a millennium ago that Shindar had obtained his child of prophecy. King Grueber’s execution of Danton had sparked a revolt from vampires. They exacted their own bloody vengeance by hunting down any human they could find. In their bloodlust they made a critical error by firstly underestimating but then ferociously attacking them. The elves immediately stood their ground and put up a courageous fight. Veldrenn was fortified against the sudden surge of attacks, and after a brutal war, the elves emerged victorious. As it often does, however, victory came at a grave price; the elves were driven to the brink of extinction.

Humans and elves put aside their differences and entered an uneasy alliance to drive back the remainder of the vampires, who were picking off anyone unlucky enough to cross their paths. Greenhaven was the shining jewel of this newfound alliance, and within its walls was a promise of security. It was decreed that all vampires were to be killed on sight. A new flag was woven, depicting human and elven knights standing guard. It was proudly flown as a symbol of strength and unity.

Meanwhile, reports of encounters with rogue shadow demons were whispered among all Marithians. Fear spread amongst the people, as did the spreading of a prophecy that would save them. It spoke of a weapon, Talonsphere, and a boy of dragon’s blood. This prophecy was never seen to be realised, and after so many years, the prophecy was reduced to a tall tale and a legend for songstresses to sing as the so-called written memories of unseen dragons were reduced to a myth. A consequence of all this was that the Marithian economy suffered greatly from the never-ending battles. Mysteriously, people disappeared on their travels to She’Ma’Ryn, the City of Wonders, and knights commonly accompanied hunters for protection, with gold to line their pockets for their troubles.

Shindar’s Forces of Darkness were not so brazen, but were stealthier in battle. The new human-elf alliance proved effective, and the Forces of Darkness were outnumbered. Unrelenting blades and arrows held back their reign of terror. Kassina had grown under the guidance and training of the demon of the underworld, and she soon became a feared force to be reckoned with throughout the lands as Shindar worked her tirelessly to gather the souls required for the prophecy of the Blood Red Moon to be fully realised. Its unquenchable thirst for more was almost maniacal. Regardless of all the souls that she dispatched in Marithia and sent to Shindar’s grip in the underworld, it was never enough.

Greenhaven held the majority of the human population in Marithia. For the prophecy to be fulfilled, Greenhaven would have to be successfully infiltrated from the inside. Segregation and panic were necessary if there was to be any chance of the great city being taken.

Vampire numbers had thinned over many years of battle. As a final, desperate act, they abased themselves at the gates of Kassina’s tower, becoming Shindar’s servants. Their numbers grew once again.

The tower was the heart of the Forces of Darkness, and was surrounded by dying lands that eroded the lush earth at a slow but steady pace. The lowlands surrounding the tower had almost completely dried up, and were plagued by decay as the life was drained from them.

Greenhaven adopted a policy of zero tolerance as its walls were filled to capacity by those seeking refuge and protection. Defiance, thievery or any breaking of the sacred laws was met with fair but brutal punishment. Entry to Greenhaven was restricted, and its inhabitants rarely left its protective walls to allow others to take their place. Order was upheld within Greenhaven, as both elves and humans focused their strengths on their common enemies, and hoped that they would be able to keep their walls safe for eternity.

 *

She flew gracefully in the limitless blue sky, each rhythmic beat of her large wings propelling her closer to her destination. The wind caressed her scales like a mother warmly cradling her child. It had been a long time since any dragon had flown this far into Marithia, but she immediately felt at home in its familiar skies. She tried to block out the memories of the atrocities she had seen over the millennia; memories that never seemed to disappear from her mind.

Nymira was one of the few ancient dragons who had fought in and survived the first war against Shindar. Over hundreds of thousands of years, dragons had witnessed the world change around them, and they, in turn, had changed with it. She knew that many Marithians foolishly believed that dragons had fallen into extinction. It never worried her, as their belief enabled the dragons to live a life of secrecy and watch events unfold in Marithia.

Dragons could only be seen if they allowed themselves to be. Over countless brutal years in the world, the power of evolution had granted dragons a precious and invaluable gift: they developed the ability to adjust their scales to enable them to hide within the world around them. By this means they successfully managed to remain hidden from the rest of the world for tens of thousands of years. At times dragons could be heard or even felt, but were often sadly mistaken as only a figment of the imagination. Although they had largely faded from the memory of Marithia, they had not become indifferent to its destiny; where opportunity presented itself, they influenced events in history for the protection of Marithians. Nymira always saw their existence as necessary guardians, and to ensure that what has long been foreseen will take place.

She indulged in a brief moment to observe the changed land of Marithia rolling by beneath her. Dragons were the most sensitive beings to the effects of magic and the power emanating from the Elven Woods hummed through her bones. She equally felt the dark magic plaguing the lowlands from Kassina’s tower as if a storm cloud covered her. She narrowed her eyes at the last time she had ventured to the lowlands and stood beside the Dragon King, Karven, in epic battles.

Though they were both dragon royalty, it was Karven who orchestrated their movements and she trusted in his wisdom. He led them into battle and had a courage that she always felt in awe of. His respect was earned, not a birthright.

The time will come for us to face each other again, Shindar, and we will be ready, she thought.

It was not time for Shindar, or even his accomplice, Kassina, to know of their presence. The element of surprise was a powerful ally in the art of war.

It had been a treacherous journey, but Karven had sent her personally, and she would never be able to forgive herself if she let the great king down. He had stressed to her that today’s events were of immense importance, and she had almost reached her destination. She returned her attention to her mission and pressed on toward Greenhaven.

The city had taken hundreds of years to complete and was a wondrous sight for her to behold after such a long absence. Its buildings were covered with a solid layer of shimmering gold that was visible from many great lands and could have been used as a navigation point for those who attempted to brave the deadly seas, if the seas had not been a fatal journey for any who had set sail. Sadly, no sailor ever returned home alive.

This great stronghold was now home to thousands of women, men and children. They earned their entry with gold, trade, or through those who held the power to influence. Some, if they were incredibly lucky were awarded it for service to the crown. The city had prospered and many trade routes were now well-established. Some called it paradise, most who lived within its walls simply called it home, but all who walked the lands of Marithia simply called the city Greenhaven.

Only a soft swell of wind granted any hint of her presence as Nymira landed as gracefully as a butterfly on its gleaming walls. She took a brief moment to steady her grip in the cracks between the stones, folded her great wings, and scaled the walls to find a window overlooking the great throne room. After what felt like an eternity of searching, she found one and peered inside. She came face-to-face with a Marithian guard peering out the window and nearly leapt backward but reminded herself that she could not be seen. The guard stretched his neck and moved away from the window.

The throne room was filled with dusty beams of vivid yellow light as if it were lit from the heavens. Intricate furniture and beautifully painted walls provided an air of elegance to Greenhaven’s royal quarters. Great statues of heroes throughout the ages were almost brought to life by the many colours of the stained glass windows. Statues of powerful warlocks, armoured knights and two dragons were neatly arranged in the corners of the room. Nymira recognised herself in one of the statues and smiled as memories of the ancients returned to her for but a moment, but was then tinged with guilt at their history. She reminded herself that this was not the time for reminiscing or romancing the past, and focused on the events taking place.

 *

Greenhaven’s royals wore only the most elaborate clothing available in all the lands, woven by both human and elven hands and detailed with patterns taken from nature. They were a stunning combination of rare furs, jewels and the finest of coloured silks. The king was no exception, dressed in a jade coloured garb, but the beauty of his attire did nothing to hide the expression of anger on his face.

It was not the first time that Vartan had knelt before his king, but he feared somehow that this would not be a pleasant meeting. He had managed to obtain his knighthood as a teenager, even though he did not descend from royal blood, and after many years had become a respected leader of the Knights of Greenhaven. So much had happened since he left his farm when his brother was brutally murdered, and this was the life that he lived out in his memory. It was a dream come true, his brother’s dream. As a man of more than twenty six years in this world, he had endured more than most his own age. This was meant to be his new life, and it was one that he had worked hard to build. He had never expected things to go so wrong and feared what may come.

The king’s voice was strong in his ears. “How could you allow this to happen? She was almost killed, Vartan! I trusted you with her life, and after I put my daughter in your care, this is how you repay me? Look at her, damn you! I demand an explanation!”

Vartan drew a deep, ragged breath into tired lungs surrounded by heavily bruised ribs, removed the bloodstained helm that was partly obscuring his vision and took a brief moment to observe the room. He knew that his king was only reacting the way that any father would and he braced himself to endure more of a battering before he would respond.

King Arman and Queen Andrielle had produced only two children, Princess Helenia and Prince Derian. The two differed from each other in every aspect and had never gotten along in their childhood. Vartan grew to hate Derian and had caught him in awkward situations around Helenia and throughout Greenhaven, but could never prove any wrong doing. He had asked Helenia about him on many an occasion, but found it to be a sensitive topic that was not up for discussion.

Derian sat comfortably beside the king, with a sly smirk on his face.

He’s enjoying this too much, Vartan thought.

Vartan’s instincts told him that the attack on the royal guard could only have been successful if the assailants had known precisely where Helenia would be travelling to, and the number of knights that would accompany her on her journey. Derian was one of the few people privileged enough to be entrusted with such sensitive information, and he hungered bitterly for the power of the throne. He knew that the king was in danger, but how could he ever tell him that his own son should be exiled? It was not his place, but he swore an oath to protect him as well as the queen and their children. The complication of the oath was something that he struggled with every day. How could he be made to protect the one person that he hates the most? He couldn’t even bare to look at him any longer in case his face painted his true feelings. He looked further.

Andrielle was the Queen of the Elves, and with her marriage to Arman she had forged a new alliance between humans and elves that would see the two races joined for eternity. She had always been kind to him, and Vartan knew that she had the king’s best interests at heart.

He couldn’t shake his feelings toward Derian and refocused on him. His emotions pulsed around his veins as if he had drunk a bottle of wine laced with hatred. The king was still young, and the wait to inherit the crown through his father’s natural death was too long for Derian to bear. The prince threatened more than the stability of Greenhaven.  If the Elven Queen were ever to be harmed by human hands, then it would ignite bloodshed the likes of which hadn’t been seen since the ancient war. He had read the many books in the crown’s libraries and knew of the bloody battles and countless lives that were lost. That was a history he would do well to avert repeating.

Vartan looked to Helenia and was momentarily lost in her beauty. The princess’s face was kind, her skin pale from lack of exposure to the sun. A head of contrasting chestnut hair was accentuated by her elven ears poking out of the straight strands. Her bright blue eyes looked deep into his soul, and he managed a smile before quickly looking away. He knew that Princess Helenia, at an age of eighteen, could only be wed with the unconditional written approval of both the king and queen. The last thing he wanted was for them to realise that they were secretly courting each other. Suitors from other settlements would soon be seeking her hand in marriage, looking to forge alliances and further strengthen Greenhaven.

The love between Vartan and Helenia had existed in secrecy for many years. They had never been physically together, at least not in a way that could be found out. He was a mere farm boy turned knight, whose only tangible riches were those that the crown treasury allocated him for performing his duties to the throne. What hope could he ever have of gaining the royal blessing to marry the princess? He shook his head as he sighed heavily at the seemingly insurmountable dramas he faced.

He hadn’t focused on the words of the king, but could gauge from the tone what they had meant. He did hear the words spoken about him putting them in the path of thieves. Vartan placed his silver helm, which the crown had provided to him, beside his right foot with a loud thud that echoed far down the corridors of the royal chambers, and began to speak slowly through his cracked lips.

“My king, we barely escaped with our lives. This ambush was not by chance. They were armed with weapons forged by skilled hands, and fought with a purpose unlike that of any thief I’ve ever met in battle.”

A familiar voice penetrated his mind. Be careful, Vartan. I sense darkness around us.

The elves held many well-kept secrets; Helenia’s ability to speak through minds was one of many elven gifts she had been born with and practiced privately with Vartan. Her sweet voice was welcomed in his mind and he wished they were outside of these walls.

Forgive my intrusion, but she speaks the truth, young knight.

His eyes widened at the force of the disruption. This voice was unknown to Vartan, and it sounded almost bestial. It held such immense power within it that Vartan was left momentarily stunned. Who was this speaker and why are they talking to him? He looked around the room, but nobody was paying him any particular attention and most of them were staring at the king.

She must had realised the power of her inner voice as she lowered it to a calming whisper. There is something you must see, and it is of great importance. Open your mind to me, and I promise you will come to no harm.

Given his predicament, he figured he had nothing to lose by indulging this strange voice. What’s the worst that can happen? he thought. Vartan focused hard on clearing his mind and felt a sudden jolt as a connection was made. Unbeknownst to him, it was with the dragon suspended from the outside wall. He felt himself become dizzy and his vision blurred.

 *

With a blinding flash, Vartan found himself hovering above a place he’d never seen before, a dark room lit only by soft candlelight. It was as if he was within the walls themselves, and had become one with the stone. The sensation was unlike anything he had experienced before, or so he first thought. It was as if he was dreaming, but it was the most vivid dream that he could almost taste and feel. There was a familiarity of this sensation he recognised from his childhood, but before he could pin it down, he heard the soothing sound of water as it gently trickled somewhere beyond the light, and soft footsteps approaching from afar.

A tall figure began to materialise in the darkness. It wore a crimson hooded robe and had a small dark wooden chest in its hands that rattled heavily with the sound of coins. The hood hung low and shielded the face of the figure inside it, but there was something painfully familiar about it, and a wave of uneasiness overcame Vartan. This must have not been the first time that they had met.

Calm yourself… this is only a vision, Vartan thought.

An old wooden table bearing various marks of wear sat alone in the darkness. The figure hesitated for a moment before easing toward the table. It began to be illuminated by brighter lights which revealed the intricate golden artwork on his robe. The chest he held bore the royal crest of Greenhaven.

That’s not possible! Those chests are only given to—, he thought.

Yes, young knight, your eyes do not deceive you.

Another figure approached with much haste from the darkness, and Vartan felt sick to the stomach at his presence. The new figure swiftly pulled his hood back from his head to reveal himself and spoke quietly but forcefully. “It is all here. You are well-compensated for your troubles.”

That’s Derian! I should have known, he thought.

He felt his anger build like a bonfire. Whatever Derian was up to, it wasn’t good. Such was the feeling he got whenever he saw him. He was trouble and he knew it.

“Ah, that may be so, young prince. As you know, she’ll be protected and this brings danger which our kind does best to avoid, do you understand what I’m saying?” the mysterious man said.

Derian’s eyes narrowed at the man. “Stop your whining and your pathetic attempts at extracting coin. I’m sure you can handle some guards, can’t you? Or should I seek out someone else?”

“Your words are needlessly sharp, young prince; doubting our abilities is a wounding of our reputation. I hear whispers of a knight leading them. He has a particular talent for disposing of demons. Tell me what you know of him?”

Derian sighed loudly, reached into his robe, and snatched a white scroll bearing the royal marks of Greenhaven.

“Here’s a map of the surrounding lands; it details where Helenia’ll be. I’ve already a plan for… dealing… with Vartan. If you manage to kill him yourself, it’d save me a lot of trouble and land you the role of military advisor to me as your new king.”

Derian unrolled the scroll on the table and pointed out the exact location of the ambush. “This is where you’d get rid of them. If all goes to plan, and you perform your duties without incompetence, then the king’s famed knights won’t be around to protect him, will they. Without the knights, we won’t have a problem. Now get to work and prepare. It’s time for my precious sister to have a little unfortunate accident.” Derian said, his dark laugh disgusting Vartan.

The man scoffed and snatched the scroll from the table. “We don’t question jobs we are given; we only question payment. But I now see why your cold heart is truly worthy of Kassina’s affections. Cold and dark.”

Derian grabbed the man roughly by the throat, and brought him close to growl in his ear, the man hissing at him in response. “Never forget who you’re talking to, snake! Did you bring me what I asked for?”

The mysterious figure forced away Derian’s hand, reached into his coat, and slowly drew out a tall, dark bottle of liquid. He swirled it in front of Derian’s face.

“Don’t lay your hands on me! I am not one of your servants. Your moods are disturbingly unpredictable. The next time you grab me will be your last, do I make myself clear? Understand that I fear you not. You best appreciate how difficult it’s become to fulfil your requests. People grow suspicious of disappearances…”

The words dulled as his senses blurred, and Vartan braced himself for what may come.

 *

“Vartan! Vartan? Why do you not answer me?” Arman said, now standing from his throne.

Vartan drew another deep breath as his mind hazily returned to the present as if he was a sobering drunk. He suddenly remembered how this had all felt familiar. It must have been a dragon, but was it really the time for this to happen? He hadn’t heard anything after all these years. His head felt like it had been struck like a bell from the connection with the dragon’s mind, and he brought his hand up to his forehead in a useless attempt to ease the throbbing pain within.

Vartan, what happened to you? Even I lost you there, Helenia said, her voice ringing with urgency in his mind.

Helenia stood confidently to address the room, but the look of concern on her face worried him. “Why blame Sir Vartan? He laid down his own life and if he hadn’t, I might not be here now. By the gods, just look at him! He is clearly wounded. I suffered only a scratch and I am here to tell the tale. Isn’t that what is most important, father?”

Vartan’s vision fully cleared and he watched as Arman turned his attention to his daughter and sat back down on his throne. He didn’t look pleased and he had never seen his king so distressed.

“Helenia, you forget your place. We are all relieved that you have returned to us. But until you have been asked to speak, I urge you to display one of our most practised virtues—patience,” Arman said.

Helenia dropped heavily into her chair after her father’s reprimand. Her face reddened and her nostrils flared as she shot Vartan a glance.

I can do no more to buy you any more time, Helenia said, her voice soft in his mind.

Arman turned to Vartan and cocked his head slightly. “Helenia’s earlier report left no doubt that you fought with honour, Vartan. However, I simply cannot excuse the fact that Derian had warned you of this earlier, and yet you continued as planned.”

Vartan scrunched his eyebrows as the confusion set in. He had never been warned by Derian or otherwise. He always knew that the prince was up to something and it seems that his plans are coming to fruition.

The king stirred in his chair as he continued. “This is a failure of your sworn duties, and therefore you must be punished. There cannot be laws for some and exceptions for others. You put my daughter, our princess, in danger. You knew your oath since the day you were knighted.”

Derian glowed with delight at the contempt being shown to Vartan, a conniving smile dancing its way from ear to ear.

This was his plan for me all along; how to deal with me? Vartan thought. Then I truly have nothing to lose. I must warn the king, no matter the consequences.

He drew a deep breath and his heart raced at the words he knew he must speak. He realised that once he followed this path, then he risked losing everything.

“Your Highness, I received no warning from Prince Derian. Surely with wisdom well beyond your years, you can see you are being fooled.”

Vartan shifted his narrowing gaze to Derian and pointed in his direction, his face turning grim as he growled the words of his accusation. “King Arman – Your Grace. The gutless coward who dares to call himself your son is the traitor. He poisons your blood with corruption and betrayal!”

Collective gasps and murmurs filled the room. Derian retained his smile, but his cheeks were reddening and his eyes spoke tomes of the fury within them. Vartan knew that his time to speak was quickly running out and he only had one more thing to say before this could spiral out of control.

Vartan smashed his armoured fist into the ground, the force of the blow sending shudders through the walls of the room. “Will it take the death of our princess to make you see that Derian wants you dead?”

The prince’s smile turned instantly to a vicious scowl as he exploded from his seat. His voice broke and his body shook as he screamed, “What lies! He’s the one who betrays you all, not me. How dare you accuse me without a shred of proof?”

Derian turned to the king. “I demand that Sir Vartan be dealt with! I’d never hurt you, and if granted, I’d kill him myself for simply uttering his vile words.”

Vartan eyed Derian closely and rested his hand on the hilt of his sword. “I’d like to see you try, snake.”

He saw the surprise in Derian’s eyes and managed a smirk as he knew that the prince’s mind would be racing.

Arman gestured briskly with his hand for Derian to sit back down before returning his gaze to Vartan. “Sir Vartan, you’ve left me with no choice. I don’t know what has affected your mind like this. Your service to the crown is well-recognised by us all, and I will show you an appropriate amount of leniency. Guards, seize him. You are hereby banished from our city’s walls. If you choose to ignore my order, you will face the executioner. May peace be with you always.”

Vartan felt his stomach drop at his king’s words. The weight of his failure to warn the king was now hanging heavily on his heart. He lowered his head and prayed that Arman would listen. Maybe not now, but once he had time to digest his words.

Two towering guards approached and grunted as they pulled Vartan up off the ground, marching him out of the throne room and towards the gates that led out of Greenhaven. As a last ditch attempt, he turned his face toward the throne, before reaching the outer doors.

“My king, I beg of you. Remember my words! I spoke the truth,” Vartan said.

His mind was suddenly filled with the dragon’s powerful voice.

Until we meet again, young knight… You are very brave indeed. We will work well together, and it will be soon.

Meet again? Who are you? Vartan thought. His words echoed in his mind as if it had been suddenly emptied.

The stark reality of being exiled and on his own, hit him hard as the doors slammed behind him.

 *

The golden walls shook ferociously as Nymira launched herself off them to climb freely into the humid air. She stretched out her enormous wings to glide gently away from the castle, before flapping them hard, so beginning her long flight back to Trahoterra.

Nymira thought he was everything that Karven said he would be, and more. She knew that the time of realising the prophecy was coming and she couldn’t wait to see him reach his full potential. Everything was going as planned, even if the young knight didn’t know who he was.

He’ll discover himself soon enough, she thought, smiling. He is going to experience a life unlike anything he could have imagined. We will be there to guide him and help him reach his full potential. Yes, this young knight will be fine, we will make sure of it.

 *

Vartan’s relentless captive walk toward the outer walls continued. He let the bustling sounds of the busy city drown out his concern, but he vowed to do whatever he could to protect the crown, even if he couldn’t live within the city’s walls. As they reached the main gate, he saw that other guards must have already prepared a horse for Vartan, and a heavy sack packed with supplies. A crowd had begun to build from all the commotion and people stopped what they were doing to watch Vartan be dragged to the waiting horse.

One of the guards leaned in to whisper in his ear. “Vartan, you have to leave Greenhaven. We must follow the king’s orders, but know that you leave with honour— and there are many of us that believe in you.”

Vartan was surprised at the guard’s words and nodded appreciatively to the men. He didn’t expect admiration, and swiftly mounted his horse as the main gate was gently lowered by its heavy chains.

“You forget your armour,” the two guards said in unison, displaying toothy smiles.

One of them held his bloodied helm, and the other threw him a shiny new sword by the hilt. He caught it with his right hand and brought it up to his paling face to admire the gift. Vartan tapped the blade against his helmet in customary acceptance and ran his fingertips over the weapon. The sword was still warm to the touch, and felt strong, but agile. It was a sword of immense quality and, underneath the pain of the events unfolding, it was all a welcomed touch of kindness even though it was unexpected.

This is not the sword I thought I would leave Greenhaven with, but it will do, Vartan thought as he let out a submissive but equally defiant sigh.

Vartan slowly turned his head to the guards and asked, “What have I done to deserve this?”

The closest guard glanced around before whispering, “My lord, you have always looked after us and our welfare. We heard about the ambush, and that your sword was damaged beyond repair. Must have been one heck of a battle defending Helenia’s life. We thought your replacement sword would serve you well in your travels— this was the best we could do without arousing suspicion.”

“Thank you for that. What are your names?” Vartan said, sheathing his new sword.

The other guard lowered his voice and rushed his words. “Aidan and Stenwulf. As royal guards, it would have been our duty to be alongside Helenia during the ambush, you follow me? Nobody else but you survived. Consider our debt paid.”

He smiled in return and thanked the gods that some good could come out of such an awful day. Taking the opportunity, he whispered to them, “The king’s life is in danger. I beseech you both to watch his back carefully.”

Aidan nodded before turning toward the crowd and slapping Vartan’s horse. He pointed at the gate and cried, “Be gone as fast as your horse can carry you!”

I won’t forget your kind deeds, Aidan and Stenwulf. I pray that we meet again, Vartan thought, his mood sinking as he realised that this may be the last time he set foot inside Greenhaven. He loved his new life in the city and was not ready for this change.

He roughly slid his helm back over his head, put his sword’s leather strap gently over his shoulder and rode as hard as he could out of Greenhaven’s gate. Looking back over his shoulder, he saw a furious Derian watching him closely through the throne room windows. He imagined the many ways that his name was cursed under his vile breath and hoped that he would choke on his words. He turned back to clear the drawbridge. His horse’s hooves hit dirt as he left clouds of dust in his wake, galloping to a new and unknown future.

It had all happened far too quickly, as if it had been a freak whirlwind that had torn apart his structured and carefully planned life. He clenched his jaw, spurring his horse to ride faster.

Helenia, I will see you again? he thought, determinedly.

His horse was true and swift.

He thought back to the purpose he had set for himself all those many years ago, since the memories of his brother, Finn. It had been so long. This was meant to be his brother’s dream that he was living out. He felt guilt wash over him as he failed to see it through.

He wondered if his parents, Victoria and Leon, would judge him harshly for his exile.  They were always so proud of his knighthood, even if they never wanted to leave their farm to join him. This could crush their pride.

Vartan only heard the wind howling past his ears as he left Greenhaven with a troubled heart.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *