by J. Wade Harrell
She galloped upon a white gelding of the most elegant sort. It had a long slender neck and a tapered head with a pair of horns curling from its skull. A long mane flowed in its wake brushing against the armor of the most comely rider the mother realm of Lumindor ever beheld. Her brunette hair streamed from a winged helm; it trailed behind her as she charged over a large knoll of thick grass and plummeted into a vast forest of magnificent trees with pale bark. Her path seemed to lead toward the massive palace that rose upward from a craggy bluff in the middle of the lush forest.
Strange birds soared in graceful flight over the treetops and curious hairy creatures scuttled through the rich undergrowth. The path of white stone weaved through the trees, up and down hills, and through gentle dales with crystal clear streams spanned by arched bridges of polished stone. Paths converged beneath the emerald canopy of filtered golden light and eventually the woman sat upon her horse atop a hill with a clear view of Castle Lumindor.
Mortal men rarely if ever set eyes upon the fanciful towers and protruding terraces that gilded the castle mount. Its spires twisted upward of the same pure white stone with the tallest housing a scintillating golden crystal. It was protected by a stout wall full of turrets rigged with capable defenses and accessed by a gatehouse with a long drawbridge that spanned a distance to a smaller mount with a weaving ramp descending to the forested lowlands. Great falls of cascading white water fell from numerous outlets in the castle and its rocky mount lending a misty aura to the acropolis as it plummeted into a hidden lake.
The august gelding glided effortlessly along the paved pathway that meandered left and right and up and down until it carried it’s fair rider to the base of the ramp. The paved incline weaved slightly upward across a stone causeway to a pillar of rock then turned into a roadway traversing the steep ascent.
The hooves of the white gelding clattered with a soothing rhythm as the day proceeded under warm sunshine. The drawbridge was an engineering feat of pale beams and crossboards spanning the great distance between the the gatehouses at either end being a good bowshot in length and wide enough to drive a dozen stallions.
A trumpet announced the visitor and the castle gates gave way to the array of fascinating buildings. The avenues were a good fifty paces wide. Everywhere there were statues depicting great heroes of the race called Mann. Ivory maples lined the streets with fountains billowing frothing water then supplying tiered channels that ran down the sides of the marbles paths. Carriages of white, silver, and gold pulled by white and gray horses provided transportation and guards with golden armor sat upon barded equine beasts prepared to defend the city that seemed to be void of internal lawlessness. So up the broad avenue she trotted her horse and she must have been familiar to the guards for she rode across a parchment thin reflecting pool and straight into the grand palace in the heart of the stronghold.
An arched hall led deep into the interior to a massive room housing six swordsmen carved as pillars touching swords overhead. A host of guards met her and assisted her from her horse. Just beyond the six swordsman the room rose in stepped tiers where a tall throne stood. It was a throne of sparkling amber.
Beside the throne stood three smaller ivory seats on each side. Behind the seats water cascaded softly, fell down the sides of the wide curving stairs, and fed a small fountain. The fair haired woman walked forward past the fountain, across a checkered floor, and stood before the dais.
A guard on one of the balconies blew a horn then after a dozen heavy heartbeats a door opened and seven men stepped out onto the terrace of thrones. There was a bearded man with a crown, golden armor and a royal blue cloak who carried a long mace that could have been considered a staff as well. He took seat upon the amber throne and the other six waited for his command and they sat in unison. The two men nearest him had white beards and robes. Then just outside them were a pair of golden armored knights with white tabards carrying the image of a horse’s head; and the pair at each end were lightly armored men of sleeker build wearing archer’s cuffs.
There was a deep voice from up high that announced the arrival of Lord Arius. “All hail Lord Arius and the six champions of Lumindor.”
The woman bowed in unison with the guards that lined the room and stood upon balconies overhead. Then with his baritone voice he addressed the young woman in the silver robe: “I see you have returned, Berahna. What have you brought with you?”
Berahna, as she was called, lifted the saddlebags from her gelding and sat them on the floor in front of her. “Lord Arius I have travelled for weeks from the far reaches of the realm. I found a spy riding across our lands, stealthing through the night. He was a vile minion of Shadow, a derelict of Discord, sent to locate the next seedling.”
Lord Arius looked a little miffed and Berahna knew her actions were underappreciated. “Show us your evidence.”
Berahna reached into the pack and pulled out a vile looking weapon, a long dagger wrapped in a cloth. When it was removed it spilled forth a black vapor that drifted up in the room. All of the court of Lord Arius gasped and begged her to put it back. The mere sight of the weapon was enough to threaten the stability of Lumindor and the essence it gave off drifted up the great tower. She put the weapon back and then removed another cloth much to the chagrin of the court. Her hand reached into the unfolded cloth and brought forth a gruesome sight, an eyeball. It was yellow and orange, larger than a man’s, and the pupil was long and narrow.
“You see, I slew him as he rode toward the realm’s edge. Where else would he have been headed and who knows how many more spies are out there?”
Lord Arius nodded and she smirked as she put the eyeball away. He leaned back and whispered to the robed men on each side of him and they seemed to reply to his consult. He nodded then leaned back forward.
“You have proven your point, madam Berahna. There may indeed be a threat. I will send my two paladins Orland and Alifur to ride swiftly and defend the seedling of the Seirnod tree.”
Berahna was distressed. “My Lord, with all respect due, their horses are fast but not as fast as my Pantos. I can beat them to the realm’s edge by a week.”
Lord Arius sighed. “Berahna, you should stay home and find you a good husband and bear him great children. Lumidor needs more great mothers.”
Berahna’s face turned red and her brow furrowed with anger. “Is it because I am Mann or because I am not a man? which is my flaw?”
“Your father was a great champion of Mann, Berahna. If he were available, I would call upon him immediately but his slumber will last another five hundred years at least. This is a job for Lumindor’s own champions. There is a grievous awakening in the realm of Shadow and I fear it is most potent. Take your sword and go home for now. Your scouting is most appreciated.”
* * * * *
So Berahna left the court of Lord Arius that day disturbed by the treatment she endured at the hands of the thrones of Lumindor. She rode out of the castle, crossed the massive drawbridge, and descended back into the forest where she felt most at home. She knew her gelding could outrun any warhorse in Lumindor and in her mind she was quite capable of defending the Siernod tree against anything that Shadow might send to destroy it.
It would not be long before the two paladins, Orland and Alifur would be riding toward the east for the Siernod tree. Berahna knew that she could rider faster and longer on her white gelding than even the paladins and their strong warhorses. Thus it was not long before she gouged her spurs into the flanks of the white horse and sent it darting off along the marble path.
She rested for a few hours cradled in the roots of a large tree and took back to the road the next morning and it was but a couple hours into the ride when she saw something appear along the path in front of her. Through pale boughs that draped across the ivory path and the emerald leaves that rattled in the breeze, there was someone standing in one of the dim shadows that fell along the road. She slowed her horse then adjusted her belt so that her sword would be at the ready should she need it.
The fair warrioress peered carefully through the leaves that hung low. Between her and the figure was a brilliant shaft of light that made it hard to see who or what was standing in the dim portion of the path. He stepped forward. She put her hand on her sword. His robe was illuminated. The fact that it was silvery white relieved her as she peered under the hood that hung over his face. He tipped it back to his shoulders and the white hair and beard shone in the sun and his face was that of Raladur, one of the two Wizards of Arius’ thrones.
Berahna halted her approach and let her sword rest at her side. Raladur stepped forward with the aid of his bleached staff. Berahna dismounted and bowed with respect.
“My Lord Raladur, what brings you about my path?” Berahna asked
The white haired elder leaned firmly on his staff and stared into her dark eyes. “Sweet young Berahna, daughter of Urghard, are you making so much haste you fail to consider your enemy?”
“My enemy is making his own haste. If I do not hurry, the tree may die. You serve Lord Arius and he does not like the idea that a woman might be the one who saves an entire realm from ruin.”
Raladur nodded. “Let me inform you that there is much more to this than meets the eye. While I agree that there is sentiment upon the thrones that this is no work for a lady, I respect your courage and strength. However, The paladins are the most outfitted for this task.”
“You are no different, Lord Raladur–”
With the stroke of his finger, the wizard cut her short, “Ah-ah, you are mistaken. If you will calm down and listen to what I have to say, perhaps you might see things more rationally.”
Reluctantly the warrioress silenced her lips and gave Raladur a moment to speak.
Raladur urged her to sit up on a rock beside the path and she did so reluctantly sensing she had no time to waste.
“My dear Berahna, the realm’s edge is far away. Indeed your horse is faster than the paladins’ and you could beat them there with ease. However, once you get there you must be outfitted with the best weapon you can wield.”
“But my sword is strong, crafted on the best forge in Lumindor. It rarely dulls and cuts through the foulest of beasts like a razor.”
“Foul beasts, yes. Minor beasts of shadowy origins, fine; but what you are facing now is something the likes you have never seen before. The magic is strong and normal steel, even the steel of Lumindor, cannot harm it. Very few weapons can penetrate the evil that protects their manifestations.”
Berahna looked down at her sword. It was a fine sword, a blade crafted by the most meticulous blacksmiths in the realm, but she knew of what Raladur spoke. She knew all the old stories her father told her centuries ago. He told how he was plucked from his simple life and thrust into the struggle against Shadow. His past memories drifted away with the wind and he became a new man recruited to fight for the cause of Light and he fought the foulest purveyors of Shadow with a powerful sword.
“But such weapons are not found in every armory nor are they crafted by every hand that tends to an anvil, my lord. I must fight with what I have.”
“You are so different than your father,” Raladur said with brief chuckle. “It took so much convincing to get him on board with the cause. Not quite so with you.”
“Perhaps I live to carry on my father’s name,” Berahna said.
“One thing you have in common is that you both do it your own way. I came to admire that quality with your father but sometimes the wisdom of others should be heeded. You will arrive before Orland and Alifur most certainly. However once you are there you will be ill equipped to handle what confronts you.”
“And what is it that you fear so much, Lord Raladur? What is it that is so much more loathsome than I have already defeated.”
Raladur hung his head. Berahna could tell it burdened him to even speak the name of the one who was coming. “Everend. A wicked sorcerer and necromancer from a bygone age. He was once Mann but was twisted by Shadow into the being he is now. Your father banished him centuries ago but now my guages sense he may have arisen in one of the far realms.”
“So he wants to destroy the seedling of the next realm to spawn?” Berahna asked.
Raladur shrugged. “It doesn’t make sense. I suspect he wants to taint it–bend it to Shadow’s liking. Nevertheless, upon his arrival, all manner of the Nine Hells will follow him.”
“And why do you tell me I need a better weapon? Only to discourage me and frighten me from fulfilling my mission?”
“Not exactly,” Raladur said. “I sense the blood of Urghard flows rich in your body. It is quite possible that you can wield your father’s sword.”
“No,” Berahna blurted instinctively.
Raladur pulled a long white and gray pipe from his robe seeming to not have heard what she said. He took a set of sparking stones in his other hand and with a few clicks the pipe’s contents ignited and gave off a sweet smelling smoke. Raladur looked upward and exhaled a white cloud. The old wizard began to mumble and then the smoke boiled and slowly surrounded them.
Berahna sensed something strange as she peered into the haze that was before their eyes. There was a shadowy object and the eerie song of chimes drifting about the breeze. She stood and walked forward to see what it was, for there was nothing but trees before Raladur began to smoke but now he appeared to be in a transe.
She stepped forward a couple paces and the sight she saw terrified her. There was an array of ancient stone pillars grown up with a few spiraling vines and upon a square slab in their midst was a heavy sarcophagus sculpted with heavy floral embossments but without a lid. Lying in the stone box was a dark haired man who appeared to be sleeping but deathly pale. From his breast to his knees there lay a shining sword in the sleeping man’s grip. As she looked closer the man had features similar to her. It had been hundreds of years since she last saw him but she was very certain it was her father.
The smoke vanished and she found herself staring at a tree. She wheeled. Raladur was sitting there on the boulder putting something back into the folds of his robe.
“Lord Raladur, you suggest the impossible.”
“I do not know what you refer to,” The wizard replied wide eyed.
“You would have me travel to the forbidden tomb and take up the impossible sword of which only one can wield.”
“As I said, the blood of your father flows richly within you. The forbidden tomb is a five day ride north for most, less for you. Beware, the paladins of Lumindor have entered the forest and make haste.”
“Even if I could possess the sword, I would arrive at the realm’s edge so late, perhaps even after the paladins. The sword is not mine to hold.”
Raladur shrugged. “Perhaps you are right. It was just a thought. Maybe you are not as valorous as I thought. Anyway, Lumindor has need of me thus I must go now. Choose your fate wisely.”
The wizard stood and walked back the direction from which he came with his staff in one hand and pipe put to his lips with the other. He faded into the shadows and vanished in his pipe’s misty cloud.
* * * * *
The horned gelding named Pantos glistened in the sun as heavy lather saturated its ivory coat. He ran valiantly never seeming to tire but it was only about an hour when the road split giving a choice to continue eastward or to turn north. Berahna knew the path northward was a detour to the forbidden tomb where her father lay in a stone box holding his sword Eldursil recuperating for the next great battle against Shadow. Her face was as hard as stone and she swerved not to the left but continued onward straight for the realm’s edge to reach it long before the paladins of Lumindor would in order to defeat the shadowmancer Raladur referred to as Everend. Everend was not a new name by any means but an ancient name, a name not spoken in centuries. The vile lord of Shadow long banished but hardly defeated.
The sun was sinking lower as the miles sailed by. Overhead a dark creature glided with sprawling draconian wings and Berahna new it was of not a creature of Lumindor. Many thoughts raced through her mind: Shadow moves fast yet they must not know the secret location of the Siernod sapling for the cries of the ancients would send tremors through all Lumindor should it fail. Perhaps there was time for such terrible creatures just might be immune to normal steel as Raladur suggested. The wizards were wizened men of old, not prone to lie or exaggerate. Their words were facts and fears were well founded.
Berahna brought her horse to a halt on the white marble road then she sighed and shook her head. She tilted it downward and looked back across the forest from the hill she stood upon and could see the faint outline of the castle mount as the sun sank behind it. Then abruptly as she stopped she wheeled the gelding in a half rotation and galloped off to the west once again.
After finding the north road she raced through the forest gliding over its gentle hills. When her ride brought her near her intermediate destination, Berahna stopped for the night. The moon was obscured by mist and the path to the forbidden tomb was dark. It would be wise to wait until morning to ascend the narrow path. She rested with Pantos in the forest preparing for the jaunt up to the forbidden tomb. After a few hours of restless sleep she awoke and looked at the narrow gate entangled with trumpet vines. The gate was stone and rose to an overhead arch giving access to the narrow path of marble similar to the roadway that continued north.
Berahna cinched the straps on her armor securing her pauldrons, her breastplate, scaled girdle and greaves, and then sat the winged helm upon her head of flowing dark brown hair. She strapped on her sword belt, mounted her horse, and charged up the path by the light of dawn. The path began rise steadily then the forest thinned and gave way to a weaving ridge that ascending into vaporous mist. Statues of armored warriors seemed to stand guard on either side yet she passed quickly along the rising and curving path without hinderance.
The final rise allowed the stone pillars to come into view and the ground leveled to a gentle mound with a few surrounding trees where the peripheral area faded into the mist. The ivy and trumpet vines climbed all the pillars but what struck her most were shadowy forms with flapping wings above the sarcophagus. A winged sentinel lay on the ground in front with a wide gash in his chest. His golden armor torn apart by some incredible set of talons.
The two flying creatures were obviously minions of Shadow. They hovered over the stone box and were reaching down into it to grasp the body of Urghard. Berahna bolted forward ripping her sword from its scabbard and charged into the open tomb yelling as she went. The creatures sneered and shrieked. They spotted her with their yellow-orange eyes. Their faces were dark with mouths that moved with ebon lips that protruded into beak-like growths. Other than leathery wings they had a pair of appendages that were somewhere between arms and legs in form and their tails were long and reptilian.
She had little time to react as they flapped toward her with uncanny speed. She used a pillar as a shield and swung her sword around catching one in its scaled underbelly. The sharp blade split its flesh spilling tubular entrails onto the ground. The beast shouted in pain then plummeted into the mist.
She heard a noise behind her and she ducked just in time to avoid the brunt of the razor sharp talons of the other creature but they did strike her left pauldron scarring its surface and knocked her to the ground. She scrambled to her feet and prepared for it to return. She heard it shrieking in the mist then it emerged again. She brought her sword point up just in time to drive the point into the creature’s throat. It emitted an evil hiss as it writhed on her sword. The weight of the beat brought the sword to the ground where she twisted the blade and then she stomped the head of the creature until it stopped moving. She sneered as she jerked her sword free and kicked the foul being’s corpse into the misty void.
A voice as pure as Lumindor’s waters called out from behind her as she caught her breath: “Oh daughter of Urghard, thou art most adept with sword.”
She wheeled amazed to see the mortally wounded sentinel talking. He leaned against a stone pillar with a gentle smile on his face. Blood ran out of his chest and stained the ground. Vessels could be seen pulsating within the gaping wounds.
“You should be dead,” Berahna proclaimed.
“Certainly, but I cannot die until the warning flame is lit.”
Berahna looked up and saw a huge brazier above the sarcophagus. A half dozen torches burned with an eternal flame around the open tomb. She nodded and used one to reach up and light the brazier. The sentinel smiled then closed his eyes as the flame blazed high into the sky as if to both serve as a warning pyre to Lumindor and ward off Shadow for a time.
A tear formed in her eye. It ran down her cheek and dripped onto the silk robe that adorned Urghard. She touched his face then ran her fingers over the jeweled pommel. The champion had a firm grip on the sword but as the tear soaked through his robe the sword began to glow with a faint golden aura and the warrior’s grip loosened slightly.
Slowly, she allowed her hand to grip the sword and it came off Urghard’s chest with ease, his fingers releasing their grip willingly. She took the sword in both hands and held it close to her breast. She felt its warmth then raised it high. The mist seemed to part and the rays of the sun struck the blade with brilliance and it emitted a hum that caused the metal to vibrate. She squinted as she looked up at the point of the sword and her vision was washed by the blinding light.
She awoke from a blackout that could have lasted for seconds or even hours, she was not sure. She picked up the sword and stood then noticed something with wings gliding downward. She poised herself for another attack but soon realized the wings were of white feathers and another golden armored sentinel was arriving. It extinguished the flame and landed in front of the tomb, gave her a nod of approval, and took up its guard post without a word.
With sword in hand, she found her horned gelding and rode back down the winding path hoping the detour was not time wasted.
* * * * *
The eastern road wound for many miles across the vast forested realm. Berahna wondered if she had fallen behind the paladins from the thrones of Lumindor during her detour to the forbidden tomb. She wondered how badly Lord Arius really wanted them to beat her. Twin tears streamed down her cheeks as she thought about the man who sat upon the Amber Throne and commanded all of Lumindor; and the entire cosmos as far as Light was concerned. What could have been . . . had he been able to see things much differently.
Castle Voldengrod now jutted above the trees. It was a remote outpost of Light situated about midway between Lumindor and the realm’s edge. Its towers were nearly as impressive as those of Lumindor but less numerous. Berahna kept her focus on the road avoiding the temptation to stop for rest at the castle. She wiped the moisture from her face and sent Pantos screaming into the night.
Scath d’Pohl, A centuries old crater, a remnant from Shadowfall, still fractured the realm. The road ended and now Pantos descended into the vast depression of blackened stone monoliths left by the forces of Discord. The crumbled stone crunched beneath the gelding’s hooves as gravity seemed to grip him with greater force. When they reached the floor there were fissures oozing with black stuff that turned into wisps of dark mist and slithered upward into the air. If Everend were to appear as foretold by Raladur, the crater Scath d’Pohl could be the entry point into the realm.
Nevertheless, Berahna pressed onward galloping between the towers of rock avoiding the fissures of leakage. The bottom of the crater featured a swirling substance so black it could not be described. Around it was a dome of golden light that seemed to be a sort of protective barrier. Berahna knew it was the stuff of Shadow and of such potency it had the power to alter the balance of many realms.
Pantos climbed up the far side of the massive crater where she found a trail but not a paved road. It cut through the forest that began to thin into intermittent clearings of grassy knolls. The path began to wind harder and descend with every turn and a few days later she found herself staring out over a massive marsh that extended as far as the eye could see.
The path took her across many soggy islands and through shallow lakes. At times it seemed as if she had ridden in circles trying to find the shortest path across the great marsh. It was late in the evening one particular day and she saw two figures ahead sitting upon great steeds. She approached with caution along the edge of the flat island of green grass. As they came into better view she recognized them. The paladins of Lumindor.
Orland had a shock of golden hair flowing from his helm to match his beard as well as the shiny armor he wore. Out of that flamboyant helm shot two sapphire colored eyes. Across his back was a large hammer. Beside him sat his counterpart, Alifer, who had darker hair and shorter beard seemed younger. He carried a shield and a longsword. Both wore the white tabards with golden borders and horse heads and on their back were draped long royal blue capes. The massive steeds were equally adorned with bombastic apparel.
Orland the bold paladin spoke first as she was within bowshot. “Aye, Lady Berahna.”
She rode slowly up to the Orland and Alifer.
“Good day to you two,” Berahna said.
“I did not expect to see you,” Alifer said patting the neck of his war horse. “I thought your mount was a trifle fleet for our big stallions.”
“Perhaps the marsh is more suited to the astute than the swift,” Orland chuckled.
Berahna smiled in good humor. “Let us just say I had to pay someone a visit on the way to spot you a fair start.”
“You are quite the humorous one,” Orland replied. “Perhaps we could form an alliance and defeat the shadowmancer together. We could show you the proper way out of this marsh and ride together to the Seirnod sapling. Would you care to join us?”
Berahna smile. “I thought you would never ask.” She peered into the distance cross the confusing maze of islands and shallow waters then turned her smile back to the paladins. “But no.”
Alifer grinned and shook his head while Orland nodded.
“Then good fortunes on your continued journey my lady. If it were not for the great affection your and our king have been known to show one another in the past, I would arrest you for interfering with royal affairs.”
Berahna smirked. “The king has no use for a woman whose deeds are as sprightly as mine. Good luck and good day.”
Berahna saluted the two paladins then charged off through the shallow water toward the next island.
* * * * *
The appearance on her face was not one of delight nor was it one of a determined victor. Discouragement flourished in her eyes and her lips drooped with frustration. Pantos sloshed through the marsh as they headed in no particular direction. The goal was to find an island they had not yet set hoof upon but it was still appearing that they trotted in circles time after time before eventually finding a new island to cross bridging the way to some other portion of the marsh. Deep down she wondered if she should have not at least followed the paladins until she was back on unbroken land but that would be admitting reliance upon their knowledge of the region. Furthermore, it would look dishonorable to use them then break a promise, thus she trudged onward hoping to find dry land some time then allow Pantos to once again sprint to the lead.
A smile came across her face as she spotted a long hill ahead and she knew she had found dry land. She spurred Pantos and the horned gelding leaped into a gallop through the water. The hill came closer until it was so close she could see its individual blades of grass. Pantos’ hooves landed on the shore and they darted up an incline where she decided to rest for a few moments.
Pantos came to a stop and Berahna dropped the to lush ground with a large grin on her face then flopped on the ground to give her aching posterior a rest. The ground felt good. She was tempted to nap for a bit but she knew that there was no time to waste in order to beat make time against the paladins. She was beginning to think that the detour to the forbidden tomb was a bad idea. It cost her so much time it only made her mission trivial. Now, the mission essentially turned into a race to see who would get there first, if the shadowmancer did not beat them and destroy the tree before anyone could stop him.
She remounted Pantos and they were off once again ascending the grassy hill toward the realm’s edge. Once she got to the crest, she realized something disheartening. The land mass was only a much larger island and the far side descended right back into the never-ending marsh.
The warrioress on the white gelding of curved horns and slim skull danced impatiently over many more soggy islands of tall grass once again and the depressing jaunt lasted for days. The terrain was beautiful, no doubt, with its pristine blue waters, the colorful fish that swam over the pale sands, and the large lily pads that drifted on the surface. Trees with aesthetically pleasing curves grew here and there giving roost to the many birds that inhabited the marsh. There were huge aquatic turtles that swam slowly through the waters and many other beautiful creatures of scale and feather but her goal to reach the realm’s edge in a hasty fashion was endangered by the maze-like quality of that particular section of the realm.
A day later she lost her patience. She took it out on a small tree with her sword and hacked up some firewood in the process. In keeping with the code of Lumindor, she used her bow to kill what she needed to sustain her body and roasted said beast on the fire.
She lay in the marsh watching the stars twinkle in the heavens as they shone down on the water. Her ears were drawn to a sound. Water was sloshing. She grabbed her sword and leaped to her feet. What was there?
“Who is it?” she called out into the darkness. “Orland, Alifer, is it you?”
There was no answer. The sloshing seemed to be getting closer and she picked up a burning stick from the fire and held it before her. For some reason Pantos was not alarmed.
She eased toward one of the nearby trees with its wavy trunk and waited in the shadows. She saw a form moving through the night. She cocked her sword ready to fling the blade but she stopped suddenly as the campfire painted the face, a familiar bearded one.
“Raladur, why did you not answer me?”
“Greetings, Lady Berahna. My hearing is not quite what it once was. I apologize if I startled you.”
“What brings you here?”
“Oh, I was lacking of tasks at the current time and I decided to see how you fared. You seem to be doing quite fine.”
The old wizard peered over at Pantos and saw the sword of Urghard slung on its side. “I see you found it.”
“Aye, I did. You did not tell me I would have to fight for my life to gain it.”
“And I had no idea at the time that Shadow’s plans are as intricate and devious as is now quite obvious. The minions have found some way of entrance. My suspicion is that they are paving the way for the Shadowmancer. It is now a race to the realm’s edge, my dear Berahna and it would seem you might need some assistance if you are to have any chance at a timely arrival.”
Berahna shook her head. “when I beat Orland and Alifer to the sapling, I don’t ever want it said I relied upon aid. I can do this all myself.”
Raladur nodded with understanding. “This is about more than just a personal victory, my lady. This is about the life and death of a new realm some day.”
Berahna bowed her head and cupped it in her hands. She then raised back up and sighed. “if the Paladins are better than me, then they should fight Shadow. If I cannot beat them on my own, then I do not deserve to be the one defeating Shadow.”
Raladur nodded again. “You are wiser than most, lady Berahna. Lord Arius would be most wise to have you.”
“Lord Arius cannot admit I am near his equal. Otherwise I might have accepted his offers long ago.”
“Well, my lady, it has long been my job to council all the thrones of Lumindor so it would be wise if you would take some small advice from me as even the Paladins do in times of tribulation.”
“And what small advice would you offer?”
“I can tell you that the paths to glory are often shown by fowl of the air and even the foul of Shadow have a glaring weakness.”
“You speak in riddles, Lord Raladur.”
“You would not have me hold your hand to victory now would you, my lady? but rest assured, this is nothing more than the Paladins already know.”
Berahna furrowed her brow and raised her shoulders with confidence. “Of course not. I don’t need anyone’s assistance in this. I can do it all myself, and I will.”
And so she went Forth charging on Pantos through the shallow waters and over low hills that stood above the surface. Once again the maze of islands and shallows frustrated her so she took a break. She stared from atop an island out over the marsh. She could see a mass of dry land off to the east but how to get there was quite a puzzle.
A shadow whizzed across the island and looking up she saw a large swan flying to the north. She thought nothing at first then the words of Raladur sprang up in her mind. “The paths of glory are often shown by fowl of the air . . . .”
She spurred Pantos and charged down the hill following the white swan. It led north to another island then back east. It turned three more times crossing more shallows and islands before it landed. That left Berahna sitting still upon Pantos. The swan swam among a gaggle just off the edge of the island. She was close but now she had to make her way to land and that she did. She was exhilarated as soon as Pantos’ hooves struck the beach and they found a way to climb the steep cliff through a ravine and were racing across the green hills to the east. Pantos’ speed was a premium once again with very little in their way. They forded streams and bounded over gentle ridges beneath puffy clouds that occasionally cooled them with their fresh showers.
After a week of galloping across the eastern hills Berahna found a deep river that blocked their way but it wasn’t very wide as it cut a chasm through gray stone. She followed it upstream and finally came to an old cobble bridge overgrown with vines. It arched up over the river and appeared solid enough to attempt to cross.
She urged Pantos toward the bridge and its hooves clattered in song as they ascended towards the apex but just before they could reach the top, they were taken completely off guard. What erupted out of the air was the most hideous thing she ever saw. It started like smoke and it took partial form with numerous black tentacles terminated with five clawed appendages arranged radially about the tentacle tips. The coiling serpentine limbs were nigh uncountable as they flowed from a body so vile it was difficult to look upon. The body hovered in the dark vapor, had a single yellow eye, and insect-like maw with jittering mandibles dripping with green ooze.
One tentacle lashed out and Pantos used his incredible ability to rear backward and allowed Berahna to slide to the ground while he pummeled the tentacles that flailed at him with his hooves. The gelding whinnied loudly and Berahna thought about drawing her sword but instead grabbed Eldursil from Pantos’ barding.
Pantos continued fighting the creature but the taloned tentacles locked into the white horse’s hide and lifted it off the ground. The demonic beast slung the gelding aside and he screamed as he was flung over the bridge.
Berahna was enraged and she held the sword of Urghard high in the air. It flashed in the sun and sent a deep warmth down her arm and into her body. The blade glowed like the sun itself and radiated light all about the bridge but the creature thrust two tentacles toward her body. The long devices of evil flesh were met by her warm blade and like the sharpest edge ever seen it sliced clean through them causing the creature to shriek.
Before the beast of Shadow could recover she launched herself toward it with the point of Eldursil forging ahead and a handful of tentacles zoomed toward the blade and wrapped it in a mass of serpentine flesh. Slightly hindered, Berahna and Eldursil would not be thwarted. She continued driving her legs as her eyes shot forth determination from the winged helm. Tentacles bounced off her armor as she dove headlong into the monster’s shadow delivering one massive do-or-die attack.
More tentacles came coiling around her arms and legs. She shouted as she was being slowed but with every ounce of strength she had she managed to thrust the blade forward and jab it into the creature’s ovate body below the slavoring mandibles hungry for her flesh. The hide was hard at first but after the blade penetrated it felt nearly as if it pulled her in and as the sun drenched steel tasted blood her muscles were fueled with more strength and she drove the sword completely to the hilt causing the creature to hiss and shriek as if some feline creature were being tortured in a most gruesome way.
The single eye illuminated and the tentacle went limp then the fleshy beast slithered back into whatever netherworld from which it came leaving a cloud of dark mist swirling over the bridge.
Thoroughly exhausted she managed to peer over the bridge to witness Pantos’ fate. The elegant gelding lay on the shore of the river with its white coat tainted with spatterings of blood. She bounded off the bridge and scurried down the steep incline and slipped down several sheer faces of rock and then dropped onto the gravelly bank. She ran over to Pantos and she could see that he was still breathing. She took some water and washed his wounds and then applied some salve and caressed his head.
Within moments, the horse scrambled to his feet. He was wobbly but alive. He drank from the stream then he whinnied telling Berahna he was ready to ride onward. She smiled with a rare show of happiness these days then climbed onto his back. They found a slope and made their way back up the steep bank then crossed the bridge a little more carefully and galloped onward.
The remaining days flew by and The sky began to turn darker blue and the stars were faintly visible even in the light of day. The air thinned and more rests were needed. The air became colder and Berahna drew her cloak about her body to keep her comfortable. The edge of Lumindor was drawing near. The grasses grew thinner and the land flatter. The air whistled as it crept slowly over the surface and drew streams of dust with it that swirled around Pantos’ hooves.
The sun sank below the edge of the realm and nightfall descended upon her. There were massive storms to the east but they were not clouds of the skies but flashes of cosmic lightning worlds away spawned by swirling chaos over the Sea of Limbo. As Pantos took her closer to the realm’s edge, the land became more broken and less gentle than the bulk of the realm. There were great upheavals of the crust with bizarre twists and angles. Jagged shelves of earth loomed from the edge into the great void that was the Sea of Limbo and dusty tiers of scrubby earth jutted at odd angles and were silhouetted against the rose tinted horizon.
She looked north and south but it was something to the south that garnered her gaze. A twinkling light hinted at something worthy to investigate and it took most of the night to traverse the broken land shunning rest and wanting to put an end to her journey.
She saw two beasts coming her way and she put her hand to Eldursil only to realize that they were war steeds. Their barding was that of Lumindor and it was quite obvious these were the mounts of Orland and Alifer. Pantos whinnied and the three horses seemed to communicate for a moment snorting and nervously shaking their heads. Berahna patted the neck of Pantos and entrusted the gelding’s instincts and rode onward.
Sad music reached her ears and drolled out over the swirling sea of chaos where dark mist oozed in slothful currents. It sounded like a military trumpet exhaling long tones in a low key telling a story of doom. She followed the music like a dog would follow a scent and soon she stood on a craggy ridge overlooking a man-made shelf at the edge of the realm. The shelf was circular, surrounded by a ring of massive flagstones, another ring of water then a grassy knob inside on which grew a stately sapling of large proportion. About the flagstone ring there were four glistening minarets with illuminated pinnacles and a stream of water flowed from each side into the ring of water below. Looking closer, there was something shining in the thick grass and flowers growing around the base of the giant sapling.
There was what appeared to be a corpse, or a body laying motionless on the flagstones. Berahna’s heart thumped wildly inside her chest. Her face was pale and perspiration dripped down her face. She gently nudged Pantos’ flanks and the horse nimbly made its way down the steep incline. The gelding cantered a good stone’s throw toward the sapling shelf and stopped. Without taking her eyes away from the scene nor blinking the whole time, she slid out of the saddle onto the crunchy ground. She took Eldursil and stood before the circular terrace.
A gust of frigid air rolled in off the Sea of Limbo and kicked up dust around her. She ignored the cold and let her cloak dance in wind. She sauntered forward toward the flagstones surrounded by the four minarets. The music echoed off the walls and bounded over the flagstones seeming to mock the dead man in armor that was still too far away to confirm her suspicions. The trumpet music preyed upon her fear prying loose every dreadful thought inside her brain. She began to doubt her mission for the first time and she wondered if fighting for Siernod was worth it. After all, there were other saplings, other worlds to be born.
The sword with blade shining all golden and warm seemed eager to press forward as if drawn by some magnetic force.
Hesitantly she followed the sword’s urging and stepped toward the terrace surrounding the sapling. Thirty brave heartbeats later she stepped upon the flagstones. The sound of a man moaning cut through the sad music but the moaning was not coming from the corpse for it was certainly expired. She spotted the horse head tabard and dark hair and knew it was Alifer.
Her heart sank. Although she had developed a rivalry with the paladins of Lumindor the thought of either of the two pompous cavaliers meeting their doom brought deep saddening thoughts. She remained on alert sensing evil very near. The smell of Shadow was strong.
She took a dozen more paces and noticed what was under the tree. The shiny object was a large golden chest partially hidden by the rich flora. It was immaculately sculpted and bore a pair of majestic cherubims on its lid. But the other striking revaluation was Orland, the golden haired paladin sitting on the opposite side of the massive sapling with his hands nailed to the trunk above his head with a black dagger much like the one she presented to the thrones of Lumindor.
“Orland!” the warrioress blurted.
“Go,” Orland said weakly when he saw her. “Save yourself before it is too late.”
The stubborn woman shook her head. Wuddenly a dome of strange energy materialized around the sapling terrace. It shimmered with purple and lavender veins oozing through a vaporous membrane giving the impression she was trapped in a sorcerous prison. She sensed something more sinister was about to happen and she poised herself with both hands on Eldursil.
The ground began to shake and a dark mist formed near the edge of the flagstones. As she watched, a hideous head took form in the mist. It was a dark head with an appearance similar to a skull but with horns and deep set eyes that blazed within the cavernous sockets. The mist formed an oval void and out from the void streamed dozens of bipedal creatures with four arms and having the features of black and shimmering green insects. The clattered as they raced toward her.
She yelled with energy mustering up the strength to pounce into the fight, a fight that screamed doom. The sword obeyed her commands almost as if it knew what kind of swing or parry she wanted to make even before she thought of it. The sword gathered no energy for the sun was gone now being in the early morning hours but with its stored energy it erupted with radiance as it hummed into battle. The blade struck the first creature that pounced for its demonic master and the blade split the exoskeleton and produced an explosion of yellow muck that splattered in all directions. The sword sang its own song like a screaming tuning fork changing its pitch to form a holy song, a song of Light.
She swung back and forth, up and down, and slung yellow muck all over the terrace. They grasped at her arms and legs, pincers tried to chew off her limbs but her armor protected her long enough for Eldursil to slay each one with a smooth stroke. She roared with increasing courage and fought until every last humanoid insect lay gashed and mutilated in a massive pool of ick and sinew.
She panted as she watched the form in the misty void form from its neck down to its dark bony torso. It had four arms, and a pair of leathery wings, and crouched upon long draconian legs. Long tendrils draped from its jaws and a pair of twisting horns like that of a giant ram protruded from the ebony head. On its body was a set of green armor constructed in the form of chitinous plate and chain.
In her mind, she had not expected that the shadomancer named Everend would hold such a demonic appearance. Perhaps it was some great demon summoned to fight on behalf of Everend. Perhaps it was some manifest avatar. Either way, she knew she was in for one devil of a fight.
She glanced at Orland who was hanging by his hands from the dearth dagger that was gradually stealing his life and threatening the existence of the Siernod sapling. She took one heaving breath as the demonic being, Everend, or whatever it was fully materialized out of the void and then she launched herself with a rigor toward it.
“Slay Everend,” the weak voice of Orland rolled out.
Everend roared with an unholy volume nearly deafening her but she did not alter her effort. She took five long strides and dove at the towering creature and thrust the sword in full extension. The point of the blade struck the curtain of chain armor and tried to take a deep bite the the charge was thwarted. Eldursil’s power was denied penetration and a cold bolt of energy shot up her arm as she stumbled and fell to the terrace.
One of the arms pulled a heavy mace from the thing’s back, a mace glowing with black energy flowing from the realm of Shadow. The mace came down as Everend growled and she rolled swiftly aside. The weapon’s steel head smashed against the terrace shattering stone and shaking the ground. A wave of black vapor erupted outward and sent a painful cold sensation into her body. She leapt to her feet and gripped Eldursil with both hands. Its warmth flowed into her body and invigorated her. She attacked again. Everend tried to block with one of his gauntlets and the golden blade sliced through the forearm severing the limb.
Everend displayed even more rage with an skull rattling shout that dazed her senses. Berahna swung Eldursil once more and Everend dodged the attack but returned a blow with the mace that she tried to parry but the force of the blow knocked Eldursil from her grip and sent it skittering across the stones. Its glow subsided.
Everend reacted to the opportunity and with one of his free hands he waved his hand and spoke some unholy word that no Mannish tongue could utter and streaming from his fingertips was an inky trail of substance that turned to dark smoke then swirled around Berahna and coiled around her like a serpent preventing her from moving.
She tried to wrench free but she was frozen in place. She looked at Everend to determine his next move and to her surprise the creature was shrinking and morphing into something else. In a half dozen doomed heartbeats he took the form of a man. He was bald and pale but his eyes were dark and instead of green armor, he was adorned with a black and green robe and the mace was proportional to his body size though he was still very tall for a man standing several heads taller than her.
Everend cackled and walked around her putting her between him and Limbo. She knew it had been a mistake to attempt to attack the forces of Shadow at night for Eldursil was not nearly as strong but had she waited, Orland would be certainly doomed.
She turned her eyes on Eldrusil and reached through the shadowy coils of the vaporous serpent and reached toward the holy sword. She clenched her jaws, flared her nostrils, and focused on the sword and its name. “Eldursil!” she shouted.
The sword moved an inch then floated into the air obeying her call. It started moving toward her picking up speed as she gained confidence.
Everend shouted in defiance another command in a strange tongue. He thrust his hand outward and a black flame flew from his fingertips and formed a rolling ball of darkness. The quivering ball intercept the sword before it could reach her grasp and the sword vanished into darkness.
“No!” Berahna cried.
For a moment she was broken. She could tell the spell that bound her was wearing off but it had also sapped some of her strength. She managed to stagger toward him as he grinned with evil lips and raised his hands before him chest high with palms in. The fingers began to flare up with lavender fire as he prepared to do something most vile to the daughter of Urghard.
“The foul of Shadow have a glaring weakness,” was a phrase that entered her mind.
She sneered as she bolted weakly toward him. Suddenly she shot forward with a surge of energy causing Everend to misjudge her nimbleness and she somersaulted between his legs forcing him to wheel halfway around. As he did, he rotated his eyes to the east, the sun cracked the horizon’s edge, and shot forth its first light into the Shadowmancer’s eyes. The sound that leaked from his throat revealed his wrath at being tricked. He was dazed momentarily by the blinding sun that exposed the dark places of the realm then her lips opened with a shout: “Pantos!”
The white gelding bolted toward the terrace and leaped through the air striking the sorcerer in the chest with his curled horns. The force of Pantos’ blow knocked Everend onto his back near the edge of the terrace. She took her own Lumindor forged sword from Pantos and charged at Everend attacking while she had the advantage. Everend floated to his feet but could not ready his flames before she jabbed her sword into his torso.
Everend shrieked with a terrifying noise and he pulled himself off the blade but then fell off the terrace screaming as he disappeared into the depths of the chaotic sea. She stood tall, her chest heaving for air as she watched him disappear from sight.
* * * * *
Pantos delivered Berahna and Orland across the lands of Lumindor back to the heart of the realm where the great castle stood and where Orland could receive healing by Raladur’s counterpart, Ralabin. Alifer was gone, his body drifted up into the heavens and now it was a race of time to try to get to Lumindor before the poison of Shadow took Orland’s life. The ride took a toll on him but he clung to existence by an incredible force of will and he never let go of his hammer.
Pantos was driven past the point of heroic service as they rode until Berahna’s body was so weak and sore she could hardly cling to the saddle. In fact, it appeared both riders were unconscious the day Pantos galloped up the gateway rock, across the drawbridge, and into the castle grounds.
They both fell to the ground and darkness overtook their souls.
* * * * *
The light was blinding and painful at first then the welcome warmth settled in and she awoke wearing the whitest silk robe she had ever felt. She was alone in the room so she stood and walked to the door of the room of polished marble. Had she died and gone to Valhalla? She opened the door and a hallway led to stairs. The stairs took her down and she realized she was inside Castle Lumindor’s fine palace. She entered the throne room where all the wise ones were sitting including Lord Arius and all manner of military guards were present. Even Orland sat in all his glory. Instead of one absent throne there were two and it soon dawned on Berahna that a throne had been added between Lord Arius and Raladur.
Lord Arius nodded and after many honors and praises, he said something that stunned her: “Lady Berahna, long have I ignored your valor and dismissed your power in womanhood. This day I offer you full glory of the thrones of Lumindor. I humbly ask you to become my queen.”
The look on her face told she was stunned. Her eyes grew wide and she looked away with a grin of unbelief. She thought with mixed emotions as her heart pounded a couple of times then she turned and addressed the king.
“But Lord, I am not immortal. I only live long life as long as I remain in Lumindor. I am of Mann.”
“That does not matter,” Lord Arius replied. “The power to grant immortalship is ours. What say you?”
After a pause she nodded. “I cannot pass up the opportunity to show the cosmos what my kind is capable of. But I cannot sit upon the throne until I scour the far reaches of the cosmos to find Eldursil and return it to my father. The consummation must wait.”
That night, Lumindor saw one of its largest celebrations ever; then the next day, Berahna darted out of the gates of the fair castle on the back of Pantos with a trail of brunette hair following, destined for other realms in search of the banished sword.
Somewhere in the distance thunder shook the ground and an evil laugh drifted on the wind.
– by J.Wade Harrell,
The contents of this page are copyright protected and any copying or use of the contents of this page is prohibited by the author. Links are acceptable.