EIDOLON - Keeper of Swords
CHAPTER ONE - Ashlath (Second draft)
With the light of dawn yet to cross the horizon, Illian had received the order to track down a band of thieves that had stolen from the royal family of Dancall. It would have been a public humiliation if word had spread that Tyron, the crown prince of Dancall, had again been caught with his pants down, stripped of his possessions while expressing his manhood with a commoner.
What kept Dancall a city of power was its mighty army. And the soldiers and citizens of Dancall remained loyal to the city only because of its king. Megatuis was a just king who ruled with a caring heart and powerful hand. A king who was loved by all. Unfortunately, his only son had not inherited his character and preferred to play in the dirt, sullying his family’s name and rejecting his royal duties. Since the Queen’s passing, there had been no one to keep an eye on the prince. And as Megatuis refused to remarry, there would be no other heir to succeed him.
Illian cursed under his breath at the thought of Tyron.
“Concentrate, Illian." River Girl's thought caught him off guard; instead of responding in words, Illian loosened the reigns, patted his trusted friend on the side of her neck, and refocused his thoughts on the chase.
They travelled in silence, struggling to follow the bandits’ trail in the darkness. Illian
had given up on employing his own senses and was relying solely on River Girl, her keen
eyesight, hearing and sense of smell. It was arduous to track anything in the Forest of
Darkness during the day and about impossible at night. Unless, of course, you had one of the bloodline horses.
Illian leaned forward in his saddle. "Quiet now, River Girl. First light will soon find
us,” he whispered, though he could have communicated by thought just as well.
River Girl eased her pace to a walk, her steps becoming a hush. Illian smiled as he
strained his ears to hear when hooves met forest floor. Even a skilled rider of a water-descent bloodline horse found it difficult to discern his horse’s strides.
"You've been practicing,” Illian praised River Girl’s skill.
"That I have. Thank you for noticing, Illian."
Illian's smile lingered for a moment longer. Of all the abilities of a bloodline horse, thought communication was his favorite.
"The campsite is up ahead. I detect smoke."
Illian responded to River Girls' thought immediately and slid from his saddle, rolling to break his fall, and ducked behind the
trunk of a dark-wood tree.
"Move around to the other side of the campsite and wait for my call." Before Illian had finished his thought, River Girl had
already vanished into the darkness of the forest.
Illian unsheathed his sword, glimpsing a ray of morning light that had found its way
through the thick canopy that gave the Forest of Darkness its name. "Just in time." He had
speculated and hoped they had remained close enough to the forest’s edge that the sun might still find them. He'd guessed correctly.
Illian rested the tip of his blade on the ground in front if him, and with his free hand, stroked his thumb along the blade until a trickle of blood ran down its edge. Illian closed his eyes and began his heart meditation.
He spoke the first command, "Release."
Illian’s heartbeat slowed, and a dark blood oozed from the tip of his blade. The viscous liquid moved of its own accord, and instead of bleeding into the soil, began to travel upward, mixing with Illian’s blood and gaining in speed as it did. Half way up the blade, it came alive, in an instant reaching the cut on Illian's thumb. It entered Illian’s body. With deadly speed and determination it cursed through his bloodstream, consuming his heart, searching for more life to devour. But Illian’s meditation was complete.
His heart had stopped beating.
Illian waited for the last of the foreign blood to gather in his heart, before he spoke the second command, "Bind."
Illian's heart began beating again, the dark blood no longer flowing of its own will but
now a part of Illian, streaming through his body and giving him strength. Illian rose to his feet feeling stronger and more aware of his surroundings.
Under his heightened senses, the slim rays of sunlight illuminated the forest in brilliant light as they reflected off fern fronds and rocks, leaves and the forked limbs of trees.
Illian could smell a hint of rain in the air, but it would be awhile before it came - if it came at all. What bothered Illian was the smell of the dying fire and the absence of sound from where the bandits had set up camp. Either they had left, which meant he had further chasing to do, or they were still sleeping, including their watchman, something he highly doubted.
Illian stepped out from behind the dark-wood tree and faced the campsite. He focused more of his blood to flow to his eyes.
“Fly.” Illian said, releasing his eyesight from the restrictions of his body.
Freed, Illian’s sight latched onto the sunbeams, leaping from ray to ray as they
crossed paths, reflecting off a rocky outcrop, a dark-wood tree trunk, then another, and
another, until it came to rest above the campsite. Hidden within the sun's rays Illian's sight could now see it all.
It was a massacre.
Bodies lay scattered throughout the campsite, some in pools of their own blood with deep gashes stretching from their shoulders down to their guts, others without a scratch, their eyes blank and wide open. Even in their lifeless state, the slain bandits seemed to be trying to escape whatever monster had attacked them. Illian’s sight lingered on the deep lacerations, he knew of only one soldier powerful enough to wield a blade with such deadly precision. "But
Korgonians, this far south?" Illian dismissed the thought and scanned the campsite for any signs of life.
But there were no survivors.
He pulled back his sight and quickly covered the remaining distance to the campsite. Illian felt his hair rise up on the back of his neck as he entered the massacre, for what his eyes could not see his body could now feel.
Illian sighed, “What horror befell these men that even death could not remove their
“Impossible!” Illian breathed, focused on the half dead man whose bloody fingers trembled as he raised them against the wound in his abdomen, trying to staunch the loss of blood that would soon kill him. "How could he have missed him." Illian darted through the bodies, mindful not to disturb the clues left behind by the struggle that had placed them here and knelt beside the dying man.
He was met with an empty stare.
(Chapter one continued - first draft)
“Your fear has driven you mad stranger. I’ll get no answers from you today or any other day I think. I’ll tend to your wounds and return you to my city. Though I doubt you will live long enough to…”
“He is alive.” The dying man struggled.
Shocked that the man still had the strength left to speak, Illian gently sat him upright.
“He is with them.” The man’s voice longed for something.
“Who is with them? And who are they?” Replied Illian.
“I gave it to him. I told him to hide it!” The man coughed. Blood now spilled from his mouth as he spoke. “He is alive. He has it. And they have him.”
Illian raised his hand against the man’s mouth in an attempt to stop him from saying any more.
“You must calm yourself stranger." Illian pleaded. "Your words will kill you.”
The man’s eyes, stripped of their natural ability by some unknown, stared passed Illian unable to guide his outstretched arm to find its mark. Illian took his hand as the man spoke.
“The boy does not fear the shadow.”
“Why do dying men always speak in riddles?” Illian sighed as he slowly lowered the dead man's hand and lay it to rest on the ground beside him. He quickly raised himself up, gathered his concentration and began hunting for clues. Carefully he moved between the bodies, examining the pattern of footprints left on the ground. As he memorized the last of the footprints he shut his eyes and crossed his legs as he sat down. He let the images he had created for himself slowly find each other in his mind. One by one, like pieces off a puzzle, he began joining them. Illian used the blood to magnify the images. Bringing them to life. He studied each footprint individually until he could recognize every move made by every man. He played the scene over and over again in his head. Each time becoming clearer. Then finally clear enough to identify the perpetrators of this massacre. Illian focused on the face of a man tucked away behind a hood of a dark cloak. He tried moving around the front of the hooded man but every move he made was countered by the dark stranger.
Illian opened his eyes. "Something is blocking my sight. That is how I mist the dying man." He picked himself up allowing the blood to flow throughout his entire body again.
A snap of a twig and Illian reacted instantaneously jumping forward and turning his body around in mid air to face his enemy. He blocked the first blow of enemy steel just inches above his head leaving his torso exposed. The second attack landed as the feet of the enemy kicked him ground-wards. But before he had time to cushion his fall the third attack had already been made. The enemy’s sword had left his hand the moment Illian had been struck to the ground. All he could do was to shift his body weight to prevent the attack from being a fatal one. The sword lodged into Illian’s shoulder as he hit the ground, his own sword falling out of hands reach. A small built man in a dark hooded cloak landed on top of him with surprising force, grabbed the handle of the sword stuck in Illian’s shoulder and slowly pushed it deeper into his flesh.
“Hello Illian.” His voice was filled with an excitement that made Illian uneasy.
“You know my name.” Groaned Illian.
“I know more than your name, Vian halfbreed.” The man smiled. He forced his sword a little deeper into Illian’s shoulder. Just then Illian increased the blood flow into his shoulder preventing the enemies’ sword from penetrating any further.
“Only a few people know me by that name." Illian confessed. "Who are you?”
The man’s face began to disappear behind a mist in the hood of his cloak that absorbed all light that fell upon it.
“I am Ashlath of the Shadow Born, and you will fear me.” He hissed.
Illian could feel the words entering his body manifesting themselves into physical fear with the sole purpose of controlling him. He closed his eyes remembering the fear that hung over the dead bodies of the thieves that lay all around him.
"Is this fear your weapon then? Is fear what killed those men?" Illian spoke without opening his eyes.
“Closing your eyes will not stop the fear Illian, it will consume you.”
With those words Ashlath pulled the sword out of Illian’s shoulder, held it high above his own head ready to deliver the final blow.
“What a disappointment you are. And to think he sent someone stronger than myself to kill you. You will not save the boy!”
“Now River Girl!” Illian opened his eyes as his trusted friend burst through the trees. His enemies gaze momentarily shifted towards the charging horse.
"Come!" Illian called to his sword as he lifted his hand. It flew through the air, over his body knocking Ashlath’s sword to the ground and finding his own hand. It was now Illian’s turn to strike as he swung his sword aiming for his enemies’ exposed chest. Ashlath leaped backwards into the air to avoid the blow. Illian knew that with his injured shoulder he would not have the speed to land the attack, but he had counted on his enemy dodging it. Ashlath was met with a powerful kick from the hind legs of River Girl as she ran past sending him flying through the air. Immediately Illian pulled himself to his feet, held his sword to his shoulder and called for more blood.
More of the dark blood leaked out the tip of his blade straight into his wound stopping the bleeding. He held his sword ready. Ashlath pulled himself up holding his chest where the horse had kicked him and smiled.
“You look different. You are strong, aren’t you?” He turned his head northwards and whispered. “Kill the boy.”
Ashlath looked puzzled at hearing Illian's words.
“Surely not? Are you thanking me for killing the boy?”
Illian smiled. “No, I’m thanking you for directing me to him.”
Ashlath charged, screaming hysterically. Illian took an attacking stance at his unarmed assailant and waited for his moment to strike. He stood steady until his enemy was on top of him. A thick mist swarmed around Illian’s body as he switched to defensive and blocked the hidden sword aimed at his heart. He spun and lowered himself to his knees to avoid the second attack meant for his neck and in the same movement thrust his own sword into the unguarded back of his enemy. Ashlath pulled himself off of Illian’s sword allowing the blood to flow freely from the wound. Taking a few steps backwards he stumbled and collapsed to the floor. He turned to face Illian.
“Impressive, you saw through my little trick. But I am only a soldier with smoke and mist for weapons. You will need to do a lot more to defeat my brothers.” Illian watched on as his enemy laughed out the last of his breath.
CHAPTER TWO - A Boy is Saved
Illian had no time to examine the body of this new enemy that had appeared without warning. He had to catch up with Ashlath’s voice before it reached the boy. Illian sheathed his sword keeping its blood in his body to control the bleeding from the wound in his shoulder. He called to his horse as he ran in the direction that the voice had been spoken. River Girl moved alongside Illian and lowered her neck. Grabbing hold of her main with both hands Illian lifted himself up onto her back.
As they sped through the forest Illian strained his eyes for any trail the voice might have left. Just then River Girl lifted her head.
“Illian, there is an unnatural smell on the air.”
“That must be it. Follow that smell.”
A few black scared trees were the first signs that they were heading in the right direction. Then Illian saw it, a haze pushing its way through the air.
“Ride River Girl, we must pass it to see what waits for us up ahead.”
River Girl responded to Illian, as she always did, and found more speed. They overtook the voice and Illian could feel the uneasiness it brought over his friend. He lowered his head and spoke words of courage to her. River Girl neighed loudly and left the Shadow voice in the distance behind her.
They reached an unnatural clearing in the forest - deliberately cleared by men. Illian pulled River Girl to a stop. Just outside the clearing, hidden within the shadows of the trees, the two companions looked on a gathering of soldiers in the centre of the clearing. They were all wrapped in dark robes which made it hard to focus on any single individual, but Illian could make out the symbol of a ship flying a red flag on the shields the men were carrying.
“Those shields bare the symbol of the Korgonians. But what are they doing this far south of their borders?”
River Girl moved nervously.
“Yes my girl, I can feel it getting closer.”
Illian closed his eyes and using the blood’s energy still in his body he pushed his sight forward once again.
He saw the Korgonian captain standing in the centre of the ring which the group had formed around him. He stood slightly taller on a mound of earth, and there beside him was the boy. Illian pulled back his sight to the cries of the Korgonian soldiers.
“Aargh! We’re getting bored of waiting for him. Let’s kill the boy now.” The Korgonian captain grabbed the boy by the back of his shirt and lifted him up so that the entire group could see him.
“Have you already forgotten what the Shadow has promised us if we give him the boy?” He shouted.
Illian's concentration broke as Ashlath’s voice moved over him out of the forest towards the Korgonians. River Girl neighed and reared up ready to speed off after it.
Illian held her back.
“Not yet girl. This could be vital information as to who the Shadow is and what he wants. We wait until the very last moment.”
Illian turned his focus back on what the Korgonian captain was saying.
“If we let the Shadow take the boy then we will get our chance to kill thousands more than we did today.”
The rest of the Korgonians lifted their arms up into the air with approving cheers. River Girl moved forward. Illian held her back once more.
“Let the Shadow have this weak, worthless boy. And let us have an army bigger than all the Kingdoms!”
The Korgonians burst out in war cries as the shadow’s voice reached them. It cracked the air above them like thunder.
“Kill the boy!”
The captain of the Korgonians drew his sword, raised it high above his head ready to strike down the boy. His heart filled with rage realising that his master was dead along with the promise of an army.
At that moment another voice cracked above the Korgonians where they stood. This time it was Illian's voice.
“Release the boy!”
All Korgonian eyes turned away from their captain - now focused on the rider approaching them. The Korgonian leader pointed his sword in the direction of Illian. His voice full of anger.
“He has killed the shadow. He is the one that has taken our army away from us. Korgonians! Kill him!”
With those words the rage that was the Korgonian captain’s became the rage of each and every one of his soldiers. All Korgonian swords where unsheathed ready to strike the man who had taken away their one chance for an army.
But Illian was already upon them.
The Korgonians could not brake into formation quick enough to prevent Illian’s attack. Illian had raised himself to his feet as he rode River Girl. They approached with speed as River Girl broke left just in front of where the Korgonians stood. They were to slow to react. Illian, with both hands inside his robe, launched himself off his horse flying through the air over the soldiers towards the Korgonian captain. Pulling out a bag of fire dust in each hand, Illian spread his arms out leaving two trails off fire dust through the Korgonian crowd. As the bags emptied, Illian drew his sword and descended upon the Korgonian leader. The Korgonian threw the boy to the ground and swung his mighty sword in a wide attack on Illian. In one flowing movement Illian knocked the Korgonian and his sword to the ground. He came down on him forcing his own sword deep into the Korgonians chest. Cries of horror filled the air as the remaining Korgonians took a step backwards.
For a moment there was silence.
Illian grabbed the boy and pulled him in closer.
“Stay close on my back if you want to live, boy.”
Once again Illian reached into his robe this time pulling out two greyish stones, one in each hand. He crashed them together, breaking them and creating a shower of falling stars from his hands which fell onto the fire dust on the floor. Two walls of fire immediately rose where the fire dust lay engulfing any Korgonian standing to near. Illian started down the centre of the two walls of fire slashing through the panic stricken Korgonians, sending them to the floor one after the other. Illian felt the tug on his robe as the boy held on struggling to keep up. As Illian broke through the circle, a Korgonian hand grabbed at his ankle bringing him down face first to the ground. Illian spun around onto his back and saw a Korgonian warrior standing above him, sword raised, slowly fall to the floor. Behind stood a small boy with a bloodied sword. Illian jumped to his feet, took hold of the boy and ran calling to his horse. River Girl arrived and Illian lifted the boy onto her back and swung himself up afterwards. Together they rode off un-chased, except for a few angry cries from the confused Korgonians.