Damious must find the Goddess Stone to save his world
| . INNER FIRE
He awoke to pain. Confusion clouded his mind. His body hurt as if his blood had turned to liquid fire and burned him from the inside out. Slowly he opened his eyes. Above him was a grey overcast sky and wisps of smoke. Something was burning and this alarmed him. He could see the fleeting mist of his breathing, but for some odd reason he was not cold. That's strange he thought. He gasped as tried to raise his head. Stars danced in his vision and his head felt as if it would slip in two. What the hell had happened to him? Why was he lying on the ground in pain and where was he. Slowly he tried to roll to his side; he needed to find out where he was.
Suddenly with no warning, fiery pain erupted from his left leg. Reaching down he was shocked to find the smooth shaft of an arrow bolt sticking from his thigh. The surprise was fleeting as the fire erupted anew and sent his mind shattering into confusion again. Tears welled up in his eyes and he decides to just lie there for a moment until it passed. Minutes passed or had it been longer. Nothing seemed to make sense. He was having a difficult time focusing on anything. His mind felt sluggish and numb as if in a fog. Slowly over several minutes his mind started to put the pieces together and panic started to set in. Not feeling the cold, confusion, the burning all over his body.
These things were connected, but how.
The answer was there, just out of his reach but try as he might he could not bring it to light. Suddenly the answer leapt forward and it took his breath. Reaching down to the back of his thigh he found what he hoped was there. Just sticking out of the skin was the arrow head. As luck would have it, it had missed the bone and passed through the muscle to come out the other side. With a little more luck this would be his saving grace, for now he realized the arrow had been dipped in poison
The fact that it had passed through him and not lodged in his leg was the only reason he was still alive. Had it not he would have received the full dose of poison and would most likely be dead already. Gripping the shaft in one hand he twisted and bent. He cried out as the white hot pain shot up his leg, nearly passing out. He lay there only for a moment then reached around and pulled the rest of the arrow through his leg and threw it to the ground.
Having done what he could he lie there, covered in a fine sheen of sweat and just focused on his breathing. In his ears he could hear the rhythmic beating of his heart. Sometime later he awakened again. The pain and poison must have taken its toll and he had passed out .Finally he was able to focus again, his mind seemed a little clearer.
Slowly he began to roll his body over to come up on his knees. The wound in his thigh caused him to pause and straighten out his left leg. For the first time he was able to survey his surroundings and what he saw nearly caused him to vomit. The dead sprawled like a sea all around him. Men, women, even children laid in heaps all around the court yard. The smell of decay and death filled the air and threatened to cause him to heave.
A sudden bout of dizziness over took him and he nearly collapsed.
Placing his right hand on the ground to steady him he closed his eyes once more. Franticly his mind sprang into action, probing his memories of what had happened, trying to piece together the events that had brought him here. Panic began to fill his mind. He couldn't remember how he had got here, or where here was
Tiring to calm himself, he took several deep breaths. He ran a shaky hand through his hair. Looking at his surrounding he saw nothing that looked familiar. He could not recall a damn thing. In fact to his complete shock he could not recall who he was. His panic flared, renewed, threating to overwhelm him as he discovered he had no memory of anything. He could talk, he could move, he knew what had happen since he awakened, but everything else was gone. It was as if someone had reached inside his head and removed his entire life's memories and left him a shell.
A whimper escaped his lips and the tears began to flow down his face. How was any of this possible? What was he going to do? Panic stricken and in pain his mind started to fall apart. He began to weep in sobs and thought maybe he should just lie back down and await the end.
Maybe, the thought occurred to him, he was already dead and this was the way of such things. His head began to swim and darkness started closing in. The pain in his leg was beginning to throb, and he knew it needed attention. He ignored the pain as he slowly began to let himself slip back down to the ground. Darkness closed on him quickly and his last thoughts were of the life he could not remember.
In the failing light of the day the horse hooves pounding the frozen ground could be heard for miles around. Villagers traveling the main road hastened to the side as the war horse plowed its way toward them. All knew to make way for the king's massager coming back from the front for he carried news of the battle being fought for their very survival.
Thomas leaned forward in the saddle. Head low and knees flexing in time with the strides of the great steed. He knew the big roan was at it limit of endurance and still he pushed. Time was now the enemy of the people and all hope rested on the information he carried. For the last 5 miles he had been feeding the roans body from his own inner fire to sustain him, but now that power was waning, getting dangerously low. War horses were built for battle, not for long distant running. Under normal circumstances he would never push this big beast this hard. Nor would he allow himself to drain his Inner fire so low. Thomas was no fool. He knew well the dangers of what he was doing, but what choice did he have. Damious, the high prince, was missing and the Larkens had broken their lines to push deeper into Edenal. Soon their enemies would be at their doorstep and the King had to be warned. All hope seemed to rest on him reaching Edenal Castle.
The big roan stumbled, bringing Thomas back to his immediate reality. As luck would have it the war horse remained on its feet and charged ever forward. He knew the horse was at its end and fed what he had left of his inner fire to the beast to keep him going. Thomas felt the drain on his already depleted life force and almost toppled from the roans back as they rounded the last bend in the road before coming to the gates of Edenal castle. Guards scattered as he rushed passed them into the court yard. Thomas used what strength he had left to pull back on the reins to bring the horse to an abrupt halt. As Thomas leapt from his back and started up the stairs, he heard the big roan fall, dead before the poor beast could hit the ground. Near collapses his self, Thomas paused to looked back only momentarily and said a silent prayer to the Goddess for the war horse and thank him for his sacrifice.
Thomas stumbled up the stairs and through the great doors held opened for him by the guards stationed there. The looks on the guard's faces said it all. As he passed a mirror in the foyer, he stole a quick glance and saw what they saw. He knew his end lie near. Staring back from the mirror was the face of death. His skin was ghostly white, his eyes sunken. Dark black circles lined the underside of his eyes.
Once a brilliant blue now were a dark grey and blood shot. He had given all he was to get this message to his king in time, and if the Goddess decided to call him home for it, then it would be so. In the back of his mind he had no regrets. Damious was his brother, if not by blood then in the bond they had formed from an early age. Thomas was the son of the Kings personal squire and had spent his entire life here at Edenal castle. Damious and he had been taught by the same instructors, eaten at the same table, lived life's ups and downs together. For that, they had sworn brotherhood to each other until the Goddess called them both home. Now Damious was missing in battle and he had to rally the King and all the resources of Edenal to help find him.
Thomas knew his brother still lived. That much he knew for sure. Damious and he and discovered years earlier that their bond for each other was so deep that it had somehow linked their inner fires to one another. The mystics were baffled by this, but time and again the two had shown the ability to sense the others emotions. Over the years, they had embraced this ability and honed it to the point where it almost seemed they could read each other's thoughts at times.
Thomas struggled to keep his footing. His body numbed from the cold of the armor, the last bit of his energy reserves gone. At one end of the great hall he collapsed to one knee, unable to go any further. Fighting to keep the darkness from over taking him, the world began to dim around him. His awareness focused only on his pounding heart and labored breath, his only thought was that he had failed. He had given too much and he was going to die right here so close to the end of his desperate flight. In the fringes of his darkening mind he could hear footfall.
He tried to lift his head to see who it could be, only to discover his eye sight had failed him. Darkness closed in fast around him and in a last ditch effort he opened his mouth to speak. If he was lucky he could still get his message to the king and Damious might yet be saved. To his minds surprise all that escaped his lips was a final moan as he hit the floor face first.
Thomas felt the life seep out of him and he began to sink into the darkness that he knew was death. In his mind he shouted back at the darkness to allow him just a few more minutes then he would go without a fight. Please Goddess he prayed just give him this small amount of time he needed to save his brother's life and he would welcome the afterlife with open arms. Suddenly without warning, fire erupted in his soul. His life returned to him with such force that he cried out in sheer bliss for the blessing he knew he had just received.
Thomas' mind snapped back into focus and he looked up into the face of what he at first thought must be an angel. Her head was slightly bowed and she seemed to be chanting a spell under her breath. He could feel her soft hand gently touching his face and at first he was sure he had passed on and that this was the afterlife. Surrendering himself to the thought he gazed upon the angels face as she slowly opened her eyes. Thomas held his breath to hear the words of the first angel he had met in the afterlife.
"You undisciplined, irresponsible, impulsive fool. You almost killed yourself. Did I not teach you any better than this? "She said with a stern look on her face.
Reality snapped back to Thomas like a ton of brick dropped squarely on his head. This was no angel. It was his mystics' instructor, Tabitha. Suddenly he could feel the blood rush to his face. At that moment he realized what had happened and how close he had cut it. Slowly he laid his head on the polished stone floor and gave a silent thank you to the Goddess for her grace. Tabitha had brought him back from the edge of death using her own life fire. Each person life fire had a certain feel to it and Thomas could feel hers deep in chest. It was weird to feel that much of her inside him. He had completely used up his to get him here and she was the only thing keeping him alive until he regained enough of his own.
"Will he live?" A deep voice asked.
Thomas lifted his head to see King Wren standing behind Tabitha, his face full of worry.
"For now he will, but he will need several days to recover from the self-inflicted idiotic danger he has put himself in" Tabitha replied.
"My lord" Thomas could only manage a whisper.
"It is alright Thomas, you are safe." King Wren said as he knelled and placed a hand on Thomas, shoulder.
With the help of the king and Tabitha, he rose to a sitting position. As he did the world began to spin wildly and he felt as if he were going to be sick. Closing his eyes, he tried to focus his thoughts.
"Thomas, open your eyes. It will help with the room spinning." Tabitha instructed him.
He opened his eyes and the spinning all but stopped. Someone handed him a tankard and Thomas drank from it deeply. It contained honey ale and was just what the doctor ordered. He emptied the tankard and turned to hand it back to the person who had given it to him. His eyes locked with the man whose eyes were the same, if not older. He could tell those eye had seen tears recently by the blood shot condition they were in. The man well into his fifties was of medium height just like him, but was broader of the shoulders and build like a well-seasoned bull. All those years at the forge in service of the king had filled his frame with iron hard muscle from head to toe.
Thomas reached for the outstretched hand of his father, who gently pulled him to his feet. He was relieved that his father chose that moment to embrace him otherwise Thomas feared he would have simple crumbled to the floor.
"Now, now Garret the boy is fine. Let us all return to the common room to hear what he has to say" Wren said with a pat to Garret's shoulder.
Leaning heavily on his father for support Thomas, Tabitha, the King, and the two guards started slowly down the great hall. Just before the end of the hall they turned to the left, with the exception of the guards who resumed there post, to make for the common room. The room was a meeting place for private conversation that required more one on one attention from the King. Many great debates had been settled in this room between the dukes and lords of Wrens vast kingdom. While King Wren did rule Edenal as he saw fit, he was always open to different ways of resolving conflict. He had stated many times during his rule that the common room doors were always open to those who chose to use it in a civilized manners.
Garret helped his son sit in one of the high backed, cushioned chairs and then took the next seat over and settled in. Thomas laid his head back and closed his eyes for a moment. His head felt as if was splitting right down the middle and he was completely wiped out.
"If you don't mind, allow a few moments before we start. I have asked Commander Kevil of the First File and General Gravis of the ground forces to join us." King Wren said.
Thomas opened his eyes. Neither Kevil, nor Gravis was going to like what he had to report. The Larkens had broken both the First files and the Ground Forces front lines and were now marching for the eastward towards the castle unhindered. While Thomas had no way of knowing how many, he would guess that both forces had lose 60% or more of their men. The rest were falling back to regroup at the Destine River some 15 miles west of here to reform for a last stand line against the Larkens main force. Chances were that the remaining forces might buy them a few days, but within a week, the Larkens would be at their door step.
Thomas looked over at King Wren. He could see the unspoken question plainly on his face. He was concerned that Thomas had arrived here without Damious in tow.
"My King," Everyone turned to see the two men who had just entered the room. The first Commander Kevil was tall, lean, and build like he had been craved from a stone pillar. He wore the standard issued armor of the First File, long ago forsaking the formal armor most wore when at court. The second man was General Gravis. He was Thomas, height with pitch black hair and a full beard. He was dressed in dress armor of the Edenal Ground Forces. While both men, at first glance, looked like night and day compared to one another, most considered them equally the most formable men in the entire kingdom. Both had trained Thomas and Damious from birth in hand to hand as well as weapon training and military tactics.
"Ah, gentlemen now let us begin. Thomas, what news from the front?" The king asked.
Thomas sat up straighter and steeled himself. His train immediately took control and all thought of fatigue disappeared.
"My King, the Larkens have broken our lines and marched for our gates as we speak. The First File and Ground Forces both took heavy loses and are falling back to the last line regroup points. I estimate that we have suffered at least 60% losses. General Marsh dispatched me 3 days ago with orders to ride hard to advise the King of our present situations."
"And my son?" the king whispered.
King Wren locked eyes with Thomas. He could see the next question burning like the sun in the Kings eyes. He could also see the fear that even asking that question had instilled in his King. So without hesitation Thomas offered up what little relief he could for his King. With Wren eyes locked on his he allowed the slightest of nods to pass between them. The affect was immediate. He could see the fear vanish like smoke from the Kings eyes and the blazing determination shine though that was the classic trademark of the King of Edenal.
Both Kevil and Gravis sat with looks of shock disbelief on their faces. 60% loses, that was well over 40,000 men. What was even more unbelievable was that the Larkens forces were of similar size or so it was believed. How could they have had such a distinct advantage over Edenal forces?
"The brunt of the attack came early in the morning a week past," Thomas continued.
"First File forces reported that they engaged the enemy and where holding ground. The day was overcast and cool with limited visibility. By that evening First File had taken minimal loses and were digging in for the night."
"That night the Larkens had pulled back around mid-night. Shortly after a fog rolled in and we lost contact with First File."
Commander Kevil raised his hand in front of him. "Now hold on, what do you mean you lost contact with First File? Did you not have runners from the front lines every half hour?" Kevil asked.
"Yes sir, runner reports were consistent every half hour until the fog rolled in then all runners stopped. At that point Commander of Ground Forces sent a runner to the forward line to discover what had happened. After 2 hours and the runner not returning the Commander feared an ambush on our runner. Commander then alerted all Ground Force to be ready for attack and sent an entire company of man to the front to discover the problem. After 3 hours and no word from the company, the Commander of Ground Forces and the Field Commander of the remaining First File troops decided to move the command group to the fall back position. After issuing orders to set defensive positions, the command group was moved to fall back positions. Sir, the fog started moving in on our remaining forces just as we were leaving. 2 hours after falling back, small groups of scattered men started showing up at the fall back position. Several men reported .....Things appearing out of the mist. After gather as many men as we could we noticed the fog bank rolling in on us. It was then that I was dispatched with this report." With that last statement Thomas' eyes suddenly rolled up in his head. Darkness closed so quickly he had no chance to fight it.
Garret moved quicker than the King had ever seen. In one clean movement he was under Thomas and had him up in his arms before the poor boys head could hit the chair. A second later Tabitha was by his side. She placed a hand on his head and closed her eyes. Several tense moments passed while they waited for the mystic to read the boy. Finally she opened her tired eyes.
"Rest easy Garret, your son is fine. He played a dangerous game to get this information to us, and now he is paying the prices." Tabitha said as she gently stroked Thomas' face.
"He will, more than likely, sleep for several hours before we can speak with him again. Take him to one of the guest rooms up stairs and I will join you shortly. There is a tea that will help his recovery that I must brew first."
"Wren, I sense something terrible coming over the horizon. This boy and your son will be key players. I do not know how this is to be, but I feel it is true. Prepare for the storm quickly for it will soon be on us all" She turned from the room and was gone before Wren had a chance to put to voice his many questions, Garret was no more than two steps in tow.
As they left the room, Commander Kevil turned to the King.
"I take it, from that statement, that the boy still senses Damious life fire, Wren?" he asked plainly. The king and his Commanders had long ago dispensed with formal titles when they were in private. Wren trusted these men above all else.
They were his closest advisors and friends. They both knew of the boy's gift. Garret on the other hand had not been told. It was thought in the early days, when the boys had discovered what they could do, that if Garret was to know he could possibly be used against one or the other boy as leverage to reveal their were about should Garret ever fall into the wrong hands.
"He does and as soon as I figure out where my son went missing you two are going to get him and bring him home." Kevil and Gravis knew it was not just a simple statement from a friend. It was a command from their King. Both men stood together at full attention. With fist over heart they both swore it would be so. The three eyed each other with serious expressions on their faces. Wren was the first to crack. A slow smile spread across his lips, and then all three burst in to laughter.
"I am sorry my friends. As you can both see I am under a great deal of stress as are we all. Grav what do you make of this whole Larken thing? Excuse me if I am wrong, but it sounds to me like dark magic." Wren asked. Gravis had dealings with Larkens before. Small border skirmishes had been fought for years, prior to this invasion attempt. Before becoming General of all Ground forces, Gravis had been responsible for protecting Edenals boarders.
"Well now, I'm no mystic, but in 15 years of border patrol I never once ever heard one of my men mention anything about magic. If the Larkens are using it now, I can almost guarantee you it is not something they just now learned. If I was a betting man I would almost bet that the Dark Band is involved."
"Damn Savion, I should have killed him when I had the chance." Wren replied, slamming his fist against the table.
Savion was Wren greatest regret. 10 years earlier he had been caught by Tabitha practicing the forbidden dart arts. At that time he had been a promising student and a ruthless warrior. Truth be told, Wren had at one time considered make Savion his champion after his training was completed. His betrayal had been a deep wound that had never fully healed. Wren had spent many hours helping in Savion's training and he had become very attached to the young man.
Wren had known at the time, regardless of his attachment to the young man, that the penalty for practicing the dark arts was death. Those same arts had been what had almost caused the complete destruction of Edenal in the distant past. They must never be allowed to take root in the kingdom again. Known as the Dark Times, they were now stories that old times told around camp fires to scare the young.
Savion had been lucky that day, for in those days he's king had not seen the death and destruction that magic could cause. Over the years the sight of the damage the Dark Arts had caused had caused King Wrens resolve to harden. However, back then he had simple been too nae, and in that moment of weakness he had stayed Savion's execution and instead banished him from the kingdom, forever.
Gravis laid a reassuring hand on Wren shoulder. "Don't be so hard on yourself, old friend. We have all made mistakes in our youth that have come back to haunt us. It is the Goddess way of testing our resolve."
For some reason that made Wren feel a little better. He always knew the day would come when he would have to reopen this old wound, and it seemed that that time was close at hand.
"What do we know about this Dark band Savion is running with?" Wren asked.
"Well," sighed Kevil, "most of this is what you already know. After his banishment, Savion traveled abroad for a while. He hired himself out to the highest bidder til he made a reputation as a ruthless merc. Then about 10 years ago he aligned up with some Larken outlaws and began to teach them some of what he knew of the Dark Arts. They travel the kingdoms, Hiring out to whoever has the most gold."
"And now you believe he has hired on with the Larkens to help bring us down?" Wren asked.
Both men began to nod yes at the same time.
"It all fits. The things from the mist sure as hell don't sound like anything natural to me." Gravis added.
Wren let out a long sigh and slowly sang to his seat. This was worse than he had feared. And on top of that, his son was missing. Damious was an excellent warrior, Wren had been sure to get him the best training in his youth. He knew that in a battle his son could take care of his self. His two friends in this room would testify to that. However, a father had a right to worry.
"I will speak to Tabitha about dispatching the mystics to the field immediately. In the mean time you two make ready. Have the reservist pulled up and readied for battle. After that you two get some rest and make ready to ride as soon as young Thomas can give me a location for my son." Wren said.
"PAGE" boomed the king's voice.
A young pageboy appeared in the door almost instantly.
"Yes my king" the young man asked.
"Run up to the guest hall and ask Tabitha to join me here as soon as she has settled Thomas in for the night"
"At once my king" the young man turned and left the room.
Both men stood at that and with fist over heart departed the common room to attend to their separate tasked.
Alone at last Wren allowed himself a moment of fatherly panic. Damious was well capable of taking care of himself, but that did little to ease his worry. He needed to know his son was safe. What bothered him most was what Tabitha had said about him and Thomas playing a key role in coming events. What in the hell did that mean.
Mystics had powers that he could only guess at. They kept their abilities to themselves. One thing that Wren had learned long ago was to trust in the words of Tabitha. He just wished he understood who the boys were involved and what he could do to help.
He looked out the window to see the waning light of an already long day and knew there was much to be done and little time to do it in. High King Wren of Edenal lowered his head into his hands and softly cursed for better days.