Read Shadow Queen Online

Authors: B.R. Nicholson

Tags: #death, #magic, #maiden, #violence, #phooka, #goblin, #queen, #weapons, #fantasy, #reaper, #elves, #blood, #dwarves, #shadow, #astrid, #monsters, #cloud

Shadow Queen

 

 

Shadow Queen

Shadows of Time
Book Two

By B.R. Nicholson

 

Smashwords Edition

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright 2014 B.R. Nicholson

Smashwords Edition

Prologue

I am slouched forward, staring at my
trembling hands. The mass of sadness for the lost little girl and
the tragic blue-eyed elf overwhelms me and flows freely from my
eyes. “Why must you tell me this horrible story?”

His face, full of fire and metal, leans in
close to mine. I feel his warmth drying my tears. It melts into my
skin like sunlight. “You must listen to it. And I must tell it. It
is as hard for me as it is for you.”

“But I don’t understand,” I say, my chest
heaving underneath the weight of a stranger’s memories. “These poor
people’s struggles have nothing to do with my own. How does this
explain this prison? Or that atrocity outside? You have given me
nothing but more questions. I feel as if they shall eat me
alive.”

He hangs his head, his face clenched and full
of suffering. “Then I will tell you more. I will—damn, if only
there was more time!” He jumps up, overturning his chair. He hides
his face from my sight. Before I can speak, I see something
strange, something remarkable. Red glistening feathers cascade down
the stranger’s back. At first, I think they are part of a cloak,
but I look closer. They are wings.

“Please, don’t go. Tell me more,” I say, my
voice pleading, “Tell me about
you
.”

He turns, hesitant. I realize the fiery
feathers extend up from his neck and onto his face. They smolder in
the low lighting of the room.

He reaches down and sits the chair upon its
feet. He stares at it for only a moment before sliding onto its
seat. He flexes his wings to mold themselves around the chair’s
body. Beneath the metal and regret on his face I see something
beautiful. Yet the longer I gaze, the more my heart swells with
pity.

“I have told you of the beginning. However,
there is more I know of the middle. I know Luthen spent many years
rekindling the link between heir and Anvalin. It resisted Anya’s
touch at times. However, she proved the stronger and it was not
long afterward that Luthen began to leave chaos in his trail. In
those days, death reigned supreme.”

Chapter One

“Christophe! Up to the wall. I want a word
with you.” Captain Dafoe’s voice sounded like the growl of an old
hound. The creases around his eyes tensed as he grew impatient with
the slow moving cadet.

“Yes, Captain!” Christophe spilled up the
steps. A gangly youth of fourteen, he was all angles and no common
sense. Even though he was the youngest guard of the Ville de Nord,
the last surviving human fortress on Lythia, his youth guaranteed
the sharpest of sight out of all the grizzled men.

As he waited for the boy to compose himself,
Dafoe wiped a smear of soot from his face with a blackened cloth
and tucked it back into his belt. Summer was dwindling and he
greatly anticipated the returning cold of winter.

“I need your eyes. Look into the distance for
me,” Dafoe said, grabbing the youth by the boney shoulder and
steering him toward the ledge. The Captain could hear the air
escape in one sharp gasp from Christophe’s gaping mouth.

Like a bruise on the horizon, a voluminous
storm cloud seeped from between a ragged jaw of mountains. The
sight reminded Dafoe of an etching he had seen of smoke seething
from a dragon’s open mouth.

Lightning dug into the ground, dragging the
storm cloud along, like a giant spider set ablaze with a ghostly
fire. The speed of the menacing cloud quickened as it spilled down
into landscape, rolling closer to the small human city of Ville de
Nord, and closer to the curious Captain Dafoe.

“Well, what do you see, Christophe?”

“I… I’m not sure. Is it really a storm? I’ve
never seen,
or even heard
, of something so—”

“—Vicious? Neither have I, not in all of my
seasons in the Ville de Nord,” Dafoe said, shaking his head and
rattling the chainmail hood that rested above his eyes.

“You don’t think it’s a dragon, do you,
Captain?” Christophe turned his head to face him, the young boy’s
eyes large and glassy with fear.

“No, it’s far too big to be that. And look at
the shape! Besides, no dragon would have the need to conceal itself
in a storm. It would wait until the cover of night.”

“Then what is it if it isn’t a dragon?”
Christophe turned back to the horizon, totally absorbed by the
gathering chaos.

Captain Dafoe said nothing and stared deep
into the clouds. It was true his vision was not as good as the
boys, but his instincts were more refined. And his instincts told
him this was no ordinary storm. This was something to be
feared.

“Captain! I think I saw something—or maybe it
was nothing at all—”

“—Make up your mind, boy! What did you see?”
Dafoe rapped Christophe on his helmeted head with his armored
knuckles.

“I don’t know, it’s foolish!” He thought he
heard the boy choke on his words. “I must be going mad, that’s what
it must be!”

“Out with it boy, before I toss you over into
the mote,” said Dafoe, his voice a rocky growl. The boy was wearing
his patience thin.

“I may have seen a city, up there in the
clouds. There were towers and bridges, everything. It was just
sitting there as if the clouds were only fog.”

“You have gone mad,” said Dafoe. He couldn’t
help but laugh at the skittish young boy. He wondered if he had
ever been so foolish at that age. “
Dismissed!”

“I’m sorry, Captain, I’ll return to my post
then…” /Christophe’s face was flushed and sweaty as he stumbled
into a quick bow and scrambled down the stairs.

Captain Dafoe turned back to the sky. The
storm had already drawn itself halfway into the valley. It would be
on the city within the hour. He would soon send for the order to
lock away the women and children inside the castle keep.

Let them have one final moment’s peace.

 

 

***

 

 

The group of boys stood strong against the
salty wind, their bronze backs slick with sweat. The sun beat down
unmercifully upon their heads as the waves beat themselves into
froth at their feet. Though they had been out in the heat for
hours, a single hint of fatigue or thirst would be shameful in the
eyes of their master, Warrior Vintas.

Astrid crouched in the shadow of the cliffs,
picking the day’s lesson apart in her mind. Today had been one of
the final lessons for a few. They would be put up to challenge for
the mantle of warrior within a matter of days. Astrid burned for
such a chance.

She waited for Ethen with fists clenched.
Though he was years away from his rite of passage, he was
invaluable as a sparring partner. Long after the class had left and
when the sun sank into the frothing sea, they would fight and teach
each other what the other could not grasp.

Astrid and her
saida-feru
—sand
brother—had been inseparable since coming together under Healer
Ilsie’s roof. Though both their families had been taken by the
sands of the Great Desert, the sands had also bound them together
in a
saida-felidia
—sand family.

Astrid huffed as she watched Warrior Vintas
praise the class’s prowess. She watched as he nodded his head, his
long red beard billowing in the wind. Though she burned with
jealously, her heart sang with glee. She had finally devised a way
to prove herself worthy of the mantle of Warrior.

Now if only I can convince Ethen…

She saw Warrior Vintas dismiss the class with
a wave of his massive hand. The young warriors scattered and broke
off into smaller groups. Some headed back to the village while
others headed to the desert to hunt for their suppers.

Ethen meandered around the rocky cliffs,
trying not to attract attention from his peers. Astrid crouched low
behind a boulder as she waited for him to get close. She could see
him narrow his sea-green eyes, trying to adjust his vision to the
shadows.

Astrid sprang from her hiding place in one
swift attack, planting Ethen’s face in the gritty sand. She
snickered as she pulled him to his feet.

“You should really be more careful sneaking
around in the shadows,” she said, raking the dust from his leather
vest.

He batted her hands away, a sour grimace
tugging at his mouth. “And
you
really shouldn’t be sneaking
up on defenseless people.”

“Ah,” said Astrid as she folded her arms at
her chest, “you’re really no fun, are you? Some Warrior you’re
turning out to be.”

“First of all, I did not ask to be a
Warrior,” Ethen said, kicking Astrid’s feet out from underneath of
her. “And secondly, you’re just as badly suited as a Healer.”

Astrid rolled her eyes as she flipped herself
onto her feet. “Did you really have to bring that up? It’s not my
fault everyone’s so damned determined to make my life
miserable.”

“Ha! Miserable?” Ethen shot a puff of sand
from his nose. “All you have to do is mix up a bunch of herbs, burn
some sage, and call it a day. You’re not expected to actually
kill
anything or be expected to sail out to sea, of all
things…”

Astrid nodded, knowing how much Ethen dreaded
his approaching rite of passage for the mantle of Warrior. Each
candidate would be assigned a monstrous desert beast and are then
expected to deliver the dead creature back to the Grand Sage
herself. The Great Desert had no short supply of savage
creatures.

“You’ll be fine,” she said, twisting his arm
around his back, placing him in a firm headlock. “You’re really not
as bad as you think.”

“I’m not the one losing to a girl,” he said,
strangled on his words.

Astrid laughed and slammed him onto his back
in a single swing of her arm. “Enough whining! I have something
important to tell you.”

Ethen signed as he stumbled to his feet. “Why
do I have a feeling I’m not going to like this?” He winced as he
rubbed the new bruises on his backside.

Astrid glared at him before continuing. “I
finally have a plan to get the Council’s attention.”

“Oh, I’m definitely not liking this,” he
said, a scowl forming on his tanned face. “The Grand Sage will
exile you this time for sure.”

Astrid swung her fist at him, narrowly
missing. “This time will be different. I’ll
make
her see
that I’m worthy of being a Warrior.”

Ethen shook his head as he brushed the red
sand from his blond, unruly hair. “Well, it sounds idiotic so far.
But I have a feeling that I don’t really have a choice, do I?”

“Of course not,” she said, flinging her
thick, red-dyed braids out of her face. “Just wait until you hear
the plan.”

 

 

***

 

 

Lightening rattled the city walls, shaking
chips of stone and abandoned bird nests from the parapets. Captain
Dafoe had rallied the soldiers to their places on the wall, barking
orders to be ready to fire their cannons and arrows on his word. He
gripped his sword as he watched the sky. Sweat beaded on his brow.
He could hear the scampering footsteps of Christophe as he ran back
and forth from the armory, gathering bundles of steel arrows in his
arms and distributing it to the eager soldiers.

The monstrous city loomed over the Ville de
Nord, low enough to scrape the tiles from the tallest towers. On
the underbelly of the giant rock that held the city was an inverted
atrium of glowing blue glass. The outside of the atrium shimmered
with hissing sparks.

“Set your sights to that, soldiers!” Captain
Dafoe screamed over the crashes of thunder, pointing his long sword
toward the atrium.

Suddenly the glass sides slid open, allowing
thick, oily smoke to pour out and sink down into the city.

“Fire!” Dafoe ducked down into an archway,
not knowing what to expect from the demonic city. The whizzes of
arrows and rumbles of cannons clouded the air. Bright plumes of
orange erupted around the atrium. The younger soldiers cheered,
some just from excitement of seeing their first real battle, while
the grizzled ones waited anxiously for the smoke to clear.

The haze cleared quickly from the storm’s
fierce wind. The atrium remained untouched, black smoke still
drifting from its core.

Captain Dafoe’s mouth was agape. He could see
the atrium from where he crouched, its wicked black metal gleaming
with a scratch. Dafoe quickly pulled himself to his feet. His chest
burned with fear. “To the gatehouse!” He growled the order again,
brandishing his sword above his head, swinging it like a banner.
The soldiers dropped their weapons and clamored over one another,
spilling through the gatehouse’s narrow entry. The black cloud was
creeping along just above their heads and was almost within
reach.

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