When the D’Shaden, an ancient enemy, long thought vanquished, returns to the land of Derania, the princes of the northern and southern kingdoms must unite in a quest to recover a long lost artifact in the shared hope that it may hold the power to stop this threat once and for all. However, even though the D’Shaden’s army is significantly smaller than it was the last time he sought to conquer these lands, the likelihood of his victory has only improved with the passage of time. For the source of all the magic in the world has been hopelessly corrupted. Those permanently connected to it; the elves, dwarves, even the dragons, have been rendered all but extinct, their legend rapidly fading into myth. And there are now more charlatans pretending to be spell casters than actual Sorcerers and Wizards. The truth is, if the princes and their companions fail in their mission, the land of Derania is all but lost.
Of Light and Shadow is a fast paced, action-adventure fantasy novel filled with memorable characters both heroic and villainous, moments of tragedy and triumph, epic battles and surprising twists. If you’re a fan of Terry Brooks, Brandon Sanderson, David Edding, Robin Hobb, and David Gemmell, then this is the book for you.
Sheldon Ramsey lives in the beautiful city of Portland, Oregon in the United States. He is an author and artist (he painted the cover for his novel Of Light and Shadow). In his down time he enjoys reading (naturally), listening to music (turn him onto an awesome new band and he’ll be your friend for life), watching his favorite television shows and exploring his beloved home town.
Prologue from my novel Of Light and Shadow. If you would be interested in reading the next chapter, please let me know. Enjoy
Of Light and Shadow
It began with a whisper.
Autumn was fast approaching the rugged lands of Northern Derania. The cool night winds conveyed the promise of impending winter and the tallest peaks of the Vhagar mountain range, the ceiling of the north, were already draped in white. The hearty men and women who worked this land found that the mornings greeted them with increasingly darker skies and with each passing day the soil was becoming more and more resistant to their tools.
It was around this time of the year that the people of the north would normally be busy preparing for the final harvest of the season and the celebration that went along with it. However, this year would be different. This year the only thing to harvest would be the bodies of the dead.
The old stronghold stood just south of Forsaken’s Gap, a three hundred yard break in the eastern half of the Vhagar mountain range. Beyond the gap stretched the wide valley known as the Abandoned Lands. The stronghold’s walls had once been manned by the finest soldiers, each honor bound to defend the realm from any creature that would attempt to venture south of the gap. But that was long ago. It had been nearly forty years since a soldier had been stationed there. And nearly twice that long since the last stone mason had come to seal up the cracks and shore up the walls. Now the place looked more like a ruin than a fortress and it was rarely occupied by anyone other than vagabonds, criminals and vermin.
Its most recent inhabitant had been a drunkard named Jaren Drummel. Jaren had come to the old stronghold to hide out after abandoning his job at the Snow Crest Inn. He had been hired not even a month before as a favor to an old childhood friend, one of the few who still regarded him kindly. Jaren had felt compelled to leave when he had found himself inexplicably left alone, holding the reins to the lead horse for a wagon loaded with six barrels of ale. Jaren had perfected the art of burning bridges and souring friendships but this act of selfishness would be his last.
Nearly two weeks after his abrupt resignation only two barrels of ale remained and all feelings of guilt and remorse had faded away into the haze of blissful, constant, drunken oblivion. It was a wonderful, faded, meaningless existence, an existence that Jaren prayed every night he could sustain. But, all drunkards know that these seemingly idyllic times inevitably come to a disappointing conclusion. The only difference this time would be the amount of pain that the end would bring. So much pain.
To unknowingly commemorate his last night alive, Jaren had hacked apart the bed of the wagon and made a large fire in the small central courtyard of the stronghold. He had danced naked around the flames, dark brown skin taking on a golden hue, as he sang nonsensical songs and tossed pebbles at the rats that were drawn out of the cracks and crevices in the walls by the warmth of the blaze. He had ended the evening by stumbling up the stairs to the top of the watch tower located in the northeastern corner of the stronghold. He had a filthy, threadbare blanket draped over his shoulders like a cloak, one hand clutching the handle of a dimly glowing lantern and the other a half empty flask of ale.
At the top of the tower was a room. Moonlight shone down through a gaping hole in the roof, its pale light revealing the shattered remains of a desk, a table, a cabinet, multiple chairs, and other unidentifiable pieces of furniture. The light also revealed that a large portion of the floor was sagging, its floorboards rotted and collapsing. Still standing against the northern wall, just beside a small window, was what remained of a multi-chambered cage once used to house messenger pigeons. All of the tiny pins were empty save one. Someone had carved a crude sculpture of a horse or possibly a cow and placed it in one of the cages. Its eyes were large hollowed out black holes. Its mouth hung open, no doubt to signify it was whinnying or mooing, but instead, the thing looked as if it were moaning in agony.
Jaren had stumbled around the balcony that encircled the top of the tower, arguing with phantoms and drinking his ale, until the chill night air had eventually chased him back inside. He had finally passed out on a stone bench built into the wall at the top of the stairs, a fool’s smile shaping his flushed, stubbly face.
Now Jaren’s scrawny, naked body lay sprawled on the old, stained floorboards just below the bench. The flickering light from the nearby lantern revealed bulging eyes and a face twisted into an expression of anguish. There was a sheen of moisture on his skin as if his body had been coated in morning dew and his right hand still held tight to the strap for the flask. He had died in confusion and agony and without ever knowing what it was that had happened to him.
One of the many rats that inhabited the ruins was hunched over Jaren’s outstretched left hand, yellow teeth gnawing away at flesh and bone. The little creature was working frantically, body jerking and flexing as it chewed and chewed on the man’s wrist. It was trying its best to secure a meal and escape back to the safety of its nest before the one who had killed the man returned.
The rat’s ravenous hunger kept it focused on its goal, but it instinctively knew that it was in grave danger. It shivered uncontrollably as the temperature began to drop with unnatural speed. Still the determined rodent continued to tear desperately at the last bit of tendon that was connecting flesh to bone. It would not give up its prize.
The darkness at the top of the stairs swelled and deepened and then moved. Shadows writhed and bulged across floor, ceiling and walls like the dark waters from a nightmare. Their movement was accompanied by an almost imperceptible whispering sigh, like the sound of fine silk being drawn across a woman’s cheek. The darkness moved into the room and surged over both Jaren’s body and the rat, the terrified but determined rodent still urgently tugging and jerking on the hand. Its tiny claws scrapped against the ale soaked floorboards as it struggled to flee with the still tethered meal. The glow from the lantern dimmed to near obliteration as the shadows overcame it, the flame a pale, flickering smudge, the color no longer yellow but a sickly, ugly shade of violet.
The shadows that flowed over the walls, ceiling and floor of the room moved with an unnatural purpose, for at their heart came the creature whom they served. He was a being not of this world, though few knew this or could comprehend what it meant. The consequences of his arrival here had been so great that the world had been permanently reshaped by the event.
Once this had been a world full of magic, the Source at its core so strong and pure and the paths to it so numerous that nearly every living thing was connected to it in some way. Many even had the ability to access the Source to such an extent as to be able to perform the most fantastical of feats. But no longer. Now, the Source was bruised and corrupted, like a fallen peach left to rot on the ground beneath the branches to which it had once clung. The few paths that remained linked to it were slender and brittle and those who still sought to access its power had to do so cautiously or risk being tainted themselves. As a result, there were now more charlatans playing the magician then actual Wizards and Sorcerers.
Once the term monster was rarely used except to describe the twisted creatures that populated children’s nightmares. But, there were now creatures walking the land that even the bravest of men took great efforts to avoid. And there were numerous areas where few humans dared to journey.
The one responsible for this change had been given many names over the years: Master of Shadows, the Dark Dweller, Shadow Spawn, the D’Shaden (translated from the old tongue: Shadow Lord), but it was a Bard named Danwell who had given him a true name: Decimus. The name had first appeared in The Fall of the D’Shaden, a celebratory song depicting what everyone had believed to have been the Shadow Lord’s demise at the hand of the hero Edebrin and his band of five. But, although Decimus had in fact been defeated as depicted in the song he had not met his death, for to the D’Shaden, death was little more than a concept. For as long as the vessel that had brought him to this world remained hidden, undisturbed and unharmed, it would continue to grant Decimus the ability to return, his purpose and determination unwavering.
It was nearly five hundred years ago that a lance of fire and smoke had split the night sky and announced the Shadow Lord’s arrival on this world. Few witnessed the event, occurring a few hours before sunrise, but among those who did were a small band of young Dwarves out hunting wild mushrooms. Curious, they had gone to investigate. The skies to the east were just beginning to brighten when they finally located the impact crater and the thing that lay almost hidden in the darkness at the bottom of it.
They called their discovery the Acreum, Dwarven for dark star, for that is what they at first believed it to be. Massive and resembling a twenty foot long, pitch black apple seed, the Acreum radiated such a bitter cold that it was impossible to lay a hand upon its surface. Even the leather straps that were used to haul it from the ground had to be replaced multiple times because they kept freezing and breaking. It was as if a piece of the night sky itself had broken off and plummeted to the earth.
Dwarves were usually a wise and cautious people, but their obsessive need to solve all the mysteries of the world occasionally led them to make uncharacteristically poor and even reckless decisions. Consumed by curiosity, the Dwarves decided to transport their discovery back to Lorador, the undercity they called home. It was the most fateful decision their people would ever make; because of it, neither they nor the world would ever be the same again.
When the Acreum was presented to the Lumeron, the Dwarven Council of Wizards, they immediately recognized the danger that such an unusual and foreign object represented. In a decision that very nearly saved the world from the Shadow Lord’s taint, the Lumeron had the thing taken down and locked away in one of their most secure vaults. But, alas, the need to understand the strange and unusual, inevitably led one of the Wizards to seek it out.
Feeling safe within the security of the rune etched walls of the vault, the dwarf had used his abilities to study their mysterious discovery. It was during his efforts, that the Acreum first became linked to the Source. With that momentous act, this dark star, this vessel, this womb was awakened. And so was the being that dwelled within.
Nearly five centuries had passed since that fateful day. So much had changed since then. No one had laid eyes on a Dwarf or an Elf or even a Dragon in hundreds of years. Many had begun to doubt that such creatures had ever existed at all. In fact, the only thing that remained the same since the Shadow Lord’s arrival on this world was the Shadow Lord himself.
In the room at the top of the tower, Decimus didn’t even pause as he passed over the bodies of the drunkard and the ravenous rat. Behind him the shadows slipped and slithered over every surface in pursuit of their master. Eventually the flame in the lantern on the floor returned to normal, its golden light reflecting off the fine dusting of frost that now covered the lifeless forms of both man and rodent.
In the northern wall of the room were the collapsed remains of a pair of double doors that led out onto the balcony. Decimus and his escort of shadows moved out onto the platform and found a sickly looking man waiting there for him. The man wore dingy black robes that hung loosely on his body. His face was hollow cheeked with a pinched, pointy nose, closely cropped piss-yellow hair and a short, unkempt beard. His skin was pale and the unusually dark veins beneath it ran their course looking like the undulating, branching lines of a river drawn on a map made of cheap parchment. The vast majority of the inhabitants of this land were Ulion, an old Deranian term meaning “True Blood”, and could trace their lineage back to their homeland of Bauliuon far to the southeast, now long abandoned. Their skin was the color of freshly tilled soil and their hair was black as night. This man was clearly not one of the Ulion. Even if he could color his skin and hair to the correct hue, his thin lips and narrow nose would reveal him to be Abaku, an outsider.
The man was staring down at the unseen horde that surrounded the stronghold. The glow from the campfires and burning torches made it appear as if the lights of a thousand stars were being reflected off of the still, dark waters of an encircling lake. Only the constant sound of guttural voices, accompanied by occasional shouts, shrieks, screams and the unmistakable sound of metal clashing against metal dispelled the illusion.
The man moaned softly and shivered. Stuffing his hands into the armpits of his robes, he turned and regarded the one who had caused the temperature to drop so suddenly.
A swelling mass of constantly moving shadows filled the doorway and at its center was a depthless, impenetrable black form, vaguely humanoid in shape. There was the semblance of arms and legs, a torso and a head, but little else was discernable. The creature’s face was featureless but for the eyes; thin, glowing slashes, each spilling a pale, blue mist. Around the creature swirled silent ghostly flames that produced neither smoke, heat nor light. Danwell, the Bard, had called it Shadowfire.
Staggering, the man reached out a hand to clutch at the nearby railing. He would never get used to the unsettling feeling of vertigo that struck him whenever he looked upon the D’Shaden. It was as if he were teetering at the edge of a bottomless pit, just moments from toppling in.
“Master,” Azcadarian said in a hoarse voice and was immediately overcome by a coughing fit. When he finally recovered he was leaning heavily against the railing, black sputum glistening on his lips and chin. Wiping his mouth with the sleeve of his robe, he produced a silver flask from his pocket and, after unscrewing the cap, took a long drink. Sighing, he said, “I’m sorry. It seems that I need to come up with another potion. This one isn’t having much of an effect any longer.”
Decimus remained silent.
Taking another swig, Azcadarian closed the flask and returned it to his pocket. Turning back to the railing, the Wizard regarded the restless horde hidden in the darkness below. “The Rocha, Berenti and the last of the Minotaur tribes have come to join your army, my master. Even if the Northlanders were somehow able to amass all their forces, they could not hope to stand against your numbers. I don’t believe we need delay any longer.”
There was a whisper of a sound and a brief, painful drop in temperature. Azcadarian felt a sharp, icy pain in his head and his stomach twisted.
“What of the Dragons?” the Shadow Lord asked.
Eyes watering, Azcadarian took a moment to respond. The D’Shaden’s voice was just as unsettling as his appearance. It was soft and echoed as if they were standing in a large cavern instead of under the night sky. And, even though the creature was standing right behind him, his voice always sounded as if it were coming from far away. Then there was the piercing pain that lanced into ones’ brain whenever the Shadow Lord ventured to speak aloud. He had the ability to simply send his words directly into a person’s mind. But, so many people ended up in a convulsing heap on the floor as a result, many dying, that he now forced himself to audibly vocalize whenever direct communication was unavoidable.
“It appears the rumors were true,” Azcadarian said, fighting through the pain. “Bolazar is all that remains of their kind, my master.” Seeing the shadowfire surrounding the D’Shaden suddenly flare up, a sure sign that he was agitated, the Wizard quickly added, “But the good news is that the Dragon comes to serve you once more. He should be here by…well, I expected him to have arrived already actually.”
“What became of the other Dragons?” Decimus asked, the ghostly flames still spiraling around his body at a much more rapid pace than usual.
Struggling to repress a cough, Azcadarian replied, “This I do not know, my master. No one does. Since you were…uh, last seen, the Dragons, they just…they just started disappearing. Perhaps you could ask Bolazar himself, once he arrives. He must have some idea as to what happened to them all.”
Decimus didn’t respond and the shadowfire continued to swirl angrily around him.
Clearing his throat, Azcadarian tried to steer the conversation to a less irritating subject. “Two of the Vorakye have requested permission to join your army.” Scratching at his beard, the Wizard shook his head. “I’m not sure if it’s wise to allow their kind amongst us. They’re simply too dangerous and unpredictable. I was tempted to—” The man’s voice cut off as the cold pain in his head suddenly intensified.
“Vorakye?” The Shadow Lord asked, his voice so soft one could have mistaken it for a whisper.
“I’m sorry, my master,” Azcadarian said, suddenly realizing the obvious. “Of course you are unfamiliar with these creatures. They were created after your, er, while you were away.” Swallowing hard, he continued. “A few hundred years ago the Sorcerers of Koramar created these beings. What their original intentions were for the creatures is unclear. However, after a short time, the Vorakye began to behave in a manner the Sorcerers found to be displeasing. Basically, they began to think and behave independently and turned on the Sorcerers. From what I’ve been told, only five of the creatures survived the rebellion.”
Finding he was enjoying the act of teaching the Shadow Lord something for a change, Azcadarian continued, “Vorakye have the rather frightening ability to absorb those they come into contact with and, though the person or animal is killed in the process, they can then take on the victim’s form. They even retain their memory for a time to further aid in infiltration. They are, unquestionably, a very dangerous enemy to have but also, and for the very same reasons, a very dangerous ally. Although I doubt they would be of any threat to someone like you, my master. Still—”
“Bring them to me,” Decimus said, simply.
“Uh, yes, of course,” Azcadarian replied with a frown. “As you wish. It’s just that word of the Vorakye’s presence has already caused some disruptions. No one wants them around. Even the Berenti won’t tolerate them in their camp.”
“No matter,” Decimus stated, his voice an icy needle in the darkness. “They will not be here for long.”
“Oh, excellent, my master.” The Wizard nodded his head and shuffled his feet nervously. He wasn’t too happy to have even a single Vorakye nearby. He knew how their kind never stopped trying to add to their collection, and a powerful Wizard would make a tempting target. Granted, his powers would only be accessible for as long as they could retain his memory. Still, it was enough to keep him on his guard until they were gone. “I will have them brought to you. Shall I inform your army when we will begin our march?”
The bitter cold that radiated from the Shadow Lord intensified as he spoke. “As soon as the Dragon arrives we will remind the humans that this world no longer belongs to them. To defy me is to welcome death. It will be their final lesson.”
Azcadarian clutched his robes tight to his body, a moan escaping his mouth in a billowing cloud that hung before his face. When the D’Shaden got worked up a man could quickly find himself turned into a pillar of ice. Squeezing his eyes shut against the stinging pain brought on by the plummeting temperature, the Wizard spoke through clenched teeth, “Your patience…will soon…pay off, my…master.”
There was no response from Decimus but the temperature was growing warmer by the second. Relieved, the Wizard turned and found that he was alone. Out of the corner of his eye he caught a slight movement and watched a trailing blotch of darkness slither across the remains of the balcony doors before slipping around the corner and disappearing into the room beyond.
Azcadarian released a breath that he felt he had been holding since he first discovered Decimus had joined him on the balcony. He was alone again. He felt the tension finally begin to ease from his body. But, then his eyes were drawn to the darkness beneath the collapsed doors. Movement. A subtle shifting in the shadows. It could simply have been caused by a cloud passing in front of the moon, or…
Azcadarian frowned and willed himself to turn away. Ever since he had first been in the presence of the D’Shaden, he had never been able to look at a shadow without suspicion. He knew the stories of the shadows being alive, being Decimus’s servants, his spies, were all nonsense. The shadows that followed the D’Shaden around, the ones that truly did serve him, weren’t natural shadows. They were some sort of extension of the creature, or possibly of the thing that had brought him here, the Acreum. But, it wasn’t as if he could command the shadows beneath someone’s bed to come to life, reach up and drag them down into the dark. Or, at least the Wizard was fairly certain that wasn’t the case.
Fighting the urge to glance over his shoulder at the shadows behind him, Azcadarian placed his hands on the railing, and stared down at the flickering lights of a thousand campfires. So many different creatures were hidden in the darkness below. More than a few of the races gathered here hated each other almost as much as they hated humans. The Minotaur and the Rocha had been fighting for countless centuries. And the Trolls and the Berenti had a natural animosity towards each other. And yet, here they all were, side by side. Granted, this temporary truce, if one could call it that, was not exactly peaceful, and there had been plenty of bloodshed between the various races. But, overall it was a remarkable feat. A feat that had only been achieved once before; the last time the D’Shaden had attempted to conquer these lands almost five hundred years earlier. Whether or not he would be successful this time would depend on a number of factors, perhaps the most important of which was the Dragon.
Just saying the legendary Dragon’s name would cause many a man to look to the sky in fear. And even if he were truly all that remained of his mighty race, a single Dragon had been known to decimate entire armies, reduce whole cities to cinders and turn the mightiest fortresses into rubble. It was difficult to imagine a more valuable ally.
Azcadarian lifted his eyes to the star filled skies to the north and frowned. Where are you, Dragon? His right hand slipped into his pocket to clutch a small, hard cube resting there. Your master grows restless. Tracing a symbol on one side of the cube, the Wizard’s frown slowly curled into a crooked grin.
He had a feeling he knew what was delaying Bolazar’s arrival. The Dragon, no doubt, wanted to confirm with his own eyes what the Wizard had told him. After all, nothing could block a Dragon’s gaze; not magic, not rock, not even an entire mountain. And seeing it was Azcadarian’s momentous discovery that had finally given Bolazar a reason to reenter the world, it was understandable that he would want to be certain the reason was legitimate.
Azcadarian knew that it was. He wasn’t foolish enough to lure the mighty Dragon out of his long slumber with a lie. And although he could appreciate Bolazar’s need for confirmation, the Wizard hoped he didn’t linger long. It wouldn’t be wise to make the Shadow Lord wait, no matter who you were.
The Wizard took another sip from his flask, swallowing with a grimace. If all went as he hoped he wouldn’t need this foul elixir for very much longer. But, if they were to be successful, a great many preparations still needed to be made. Their enemy mght have no idea that the D’Shaden had returned, or that he had once again gathered an army to serve him, but keeping that a secret would be all but impossible in the days to come. What worried him the most were the Sorcerers of Koramar. To Azcadarian they were the only true threat to Decimus’s almost assured victory. Granted their numbers were a fraction of what they once had been. And, it was true that over the past hundred years or so they had barely been seen, having isolated themselves in the security of their tower. But the truth was, that if they chose to oppose the D’Shaden, they could present quite the obstacle. They were, after all, part of the reason Edebrin had defeated the Shadow Lord so many years ago. However, defeat may not be the right word. Delay was a more accurate description. Nevertheless, the Sorcerer’s needed to be dealt with before they had a chance to decide whether or not they would interfere this time.
Now, before anything else, he needed to find the two Vorakye and bring them to Decimus. Maybe then he would learn what the Shadow Lord planned to do with them. Whatever it was, he hoped it would be something that took them far away. He was constantly on edge as it was; he didn’t need two shape stealers lurking about adding to his anxiety.
Steeling himself, the Wizard used a skill few possessed. He reached out with mind and spirit, located one of the remaining paths to the Source, and linked himself to it. He immediately felt the taint assail him and he had to fight the urge to vomit as his body instinctively tried to rid itself of the poison. Drawing on the power of the Source to fuel his spell, the Wizard stared out into the darkness surrounding the stronghold until, to his eyes, two forms began to glow red.
Good, they were together.
Azcadarian wished he could ensnare the two Vorakye right then and there, reduce them to ash and watch the breeze carry them away. But explaining his actions to the Shadow Lord, who would be very displeased, did not appeal to him. Someday, the Wizard assured himself as he ran his hands back and forth over the stone railing. Someday soon. Then, with a deep sigh of resignation, Azcadarian once again drew on the Source and his body suddenly seemed to fold in upon itself, twisting and collapsing until, with an echoing snap, he was gone.
In the skies above the old stronghold, the moon broke free from the clouds for a moment and the shadows beneath the collapsed balcony doors seemed to darken and expand. In the room at the top of the tower the lantern still sat on the floor beside the bodies of the man and the rat. The light from the gently flickering flame caused the shadows in the room to sway and dance, stretching out and retreating, as if each one desired to be closer to the light but then thought better of it. However, not all the shadows in the room reacted to the lantern’s flame.
The shadows that lay over Jaren’s body, completely enveloping him, did not retreat from the light. Indeed, the light didn’t even cause them to fade. The darkness clung to his body like a shroud, throbbing, pulsing, as if with the beat of a heart. Only Jaren’s heart had been stilled hours earlier.
It continued like that for well over an hour until, with a whispering sigh, the shadows began to slip away. They retreated from Jaren’s body and disappeared into the darkness that filled the stairwell. But what they left behind this time was more than just a sheen of frost. A ghostly flame now flickered around the man’s body. It was a weaker, fainter version of the shadowfire that surrounded the D’Shaden but it was shadowfire nonetheless. It flickered slowly, moving down and around each limb, swirling around his torso, neck and head.
And then the body moved. First one arm, then the next, each bending back as the corpse of Jaren Drummel pushed itself onto its knees and then climbed clumsily to its feet.
The naked corpse of the man whose name no one would remember stood at the top of the stairs swaying slightly, head hanging low, chin practically resting on its chest. At the end of its left arm its hand spun & twisted on a thin length of tendon. Eventually the weight of the appendage finally caused the fleshy tether to snap. The hand dropped to the floorboards with a loud thunk, the shadowfire that surrounded it fluttered dimly for a few seconds, sputtered briefly and then vanished.
The corpse didn’t even seem to notice or care; it just continued to stand there, silently swaying in the dim light from the lantern. It stayed that way for a few minutes, then suddenly turned and began to shuffle off towards the stairwell. As awkward as its movements were, it didn’t hesitate as it reached the top of the stairs and stepped down onto the first step. It swayed there for a second before taking the next step, paused, swayed, and took another. It continued in this manner and soon disappeared into the darkness.
In the room at the top of the tower, the tiny flame in the forgotten lantern continued to flicker, the shadows in the room ebbing and flowing like the waters along some unholy shore, the only sound; the occasional soft thump of the corpse’s halting footsteps as it continued to make its way down the stairwell.
Almost fifty miles to the north, the last known Dragon in the world sailed in a lazy circle through dense, icy clouds high above the Vhagar mountain range. His eyes, large, multifaceted golden orbs, were directed downward, his gaze easily penetrating snow, ice, dirt and rock to study that which was concealed deep within the earth below. The mountain that held his attention was one of the tallest of the Vhagar ridge. The Dwarves had named it Dravahn. The simple translation meant God’s Tooth. It stood like a towering sentinel at the northern most edge of the Abandoned Lands. A jagged, earthen fang reaching up to rend the sky.
Bolazar had reluctantly reentered the world and was about to ally himself once again with the only creature he had ever feared. And all because a sickly Wizard had been bold enough to seek him out, clever enough to find him and wise enough to know what could lure the Dragon away from the safety of his lair after so many years.
With great intensity Bolazar studied the secrets hidden away within the bowels of the mountain beneath him. He had never truly doubted Azcadarian. After all, who would awaken a Dragon with a lie? But it wasn’t until this moment that Bolazar really believed that what he had wished for for so long could soon be made a reality.
As Bolazar continued to peer into the depths of the mountain, marveling at what he beheld there, he didn’t even notice when his trajectory shifted and he began to descend. A warbling hiss escaped from between the Dragon’s clenched teeth as his gaze remained locked on that which he desired most in this world. What began at first as a slow, downward spiral, quickly increased in speed as the circle of his descent got tighter and tighter, the mountain’s peak getting closer and closer with each passing second.
The Dragon plummeted towards the mountain in what was rapidly turning into an all out dive. It was almost as if the mighty creature meant to spear himself into its rocky side in an attempt to reach that which was hidden below. But then, with a rumbling snort that sent sulphurous steam belching from Bolazar’s nostrils, the Dragon suddenly twisted, scale covered muscles in his massive arms straining as he banked away from what would have surely been his grave.
Shaking his head in an attempt to clear it, Bolazar tried to understand what had just happened. It had been as if he had slipped into a daze; a humming, fuzzy numbness clouding his mind. It was a sensation unlike any he had ever experienced before or any he ever wished to experience again.
Beating the air with enormous leathery wings, the Dragon continued to lift himself higher and higher into the night sky, all the while pondering the situation he found himself in. Eyeing the mountain below a bit more cautiously, a low growl rumbling deep in his throat, Bolazar knew there was little else to do but to keep his promise. He would join the D’Shaden and his horde and would endeavor to change the world once more.
Doing his best to convince himself that fear was not a motivating factor in his decision, the Dragon turned and put the mountain and its secret at his tail. To the south an army awaited his arrival. But more importantly, the one to whom he had chosen to ally himself was waiting there as well. No doubt, impatiently.
Not long after the Dragon had departed, on an outcrop of rock on the eastern side of the Dravahn, a mound of hard packed snow suddenly shifted. Chucks of ice and snow crumbled and fell away as the being concealed within suddenly shook itself to life. Strong winds ruffled a large mound of gray, ice encrusted feathers. Then a pair of enormous, yellow eyes blinked open on either side of a long, black, talon-like beak.
Flexing its wings, the owl turned its head to stare after the Dragon. The winds buffeted the creature with gusts that flung icy clouds of snow at it from all directions but the owl appeared rooted to the spot. It stayed that way, silently staring, wings flexing, until the Dragon was barely discernable in the distance.
There were many similar creatures stationed throughout the lands. These sentinels were each assigned specific tasks by those who had created them. This one had been perched on this mountainside for nearly three hundred years. In all that time it had never left its post; not when one of the Vorakye, in the form of a Cliff Drake, had come sniffing about, no doubt sensing its creator’s influence nearby, not when the one known as the Myridian Man had met his death at the hands of the creatures who dwelt within the mountain below, not when the earth shook with such force that “god’s tooth” was nearly split in two, not when the pale faced Wizard had slipped into the mountain just a few weeks earlier, and not even when the Shadow Lord had emerged just a few days after that. No event in all that time had prompted its masters to send it from its post. Until now. Until the Dragon had arrived.
The owl that had been perched on this outcrop of rock for nearly three centuries, observing but never moving, suddenly tipped forward, wobbled on the edge for a moment, and then toppled over.
The owl fell like a rock, plummeting nearly a hundred feet before its wings suddenly snapped out and it swooped upward. Shedding the last bits of ice and snow from its feathers, the owl turned and headed south, its course precisely lined up with that of the Dragon’s. Its new mission was a dangerous one. But there were questions that needed answers and those who controlled the owl were eager to discover them.