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Rated: 13+ · Chapter · Fantasy · #2208309
Part of the 1st book of the Shadowflame Chronicles.
Shadows rippled across the surface of the earth. They ran rapidly over obstacles as if it were thin as water. When any person tried to bar the shadows’ way the dark mass became as thick as mud and convulged on them like a million nightmarish tentacles, dragging them further and further down until they were consumed by shadow. The darkness continued to spread across the known world, ripping apart the threads of reality and leaving behind a train of bleak, dark and ruined cities inhabited by the dejected and lost.

Merely days after the world was conquered by darkness, the culprit arose/ Fast and cold as the wind, she took control of the world and destroyed any left who would stand in her way. Many in the cities attempted to flee, but they were quickly stopped and transformed into her beastly servants. No one knew her name. But a small child called her the Shadowmaster and the name stuck. It was whispered by the frightened people across the land.

The Shadowmaster.

It was said that she controlled the shadows and could control any who had one with just a thought and a flick of her finger. She was unstoppable because who could pierce the darkness the Shadowmaster cast? Who was without a shadow, without fear?

In her arrogance, the queen left many of the villages unchecked as her thirst for power was satisfied for the moment. The world was barren, so why should she worry about rebellion? Little did she know that a spark was growing, a small group of spirited travelers were left, and they were ready to fight back.

Chapter 1
Scritch, scratch, scritch. A short shaggy, grey-furred beast dragged its claws against a stone tablet, carving an incantation forever into the rock. It put the stone into place on a large, monstrous contraption. It stepped back to admire its handiwork, grunting in satisfaction. “I see you have finished.” These words came from a figure clothed in shadows who was terrible to look upon. The Shadowmaster.

Her voice dripped with malice and was cold enough to have frozen rubbing water, but it seemed that she was pleased with the product. “Your majesty,” the monster dove into a deep bow and said in a deep, gravelly voice, “I hope this weapon is to your satisfaction.” “It may be,” the Shadowmaster’s voice was poised and dangerous as an adder, “Should it work.” “I assure you my queen that it is in working condition. It will not fail.” The creature gulped inaudibly as the dark queen began her work.

Shadows began to climb up the machine, filling every crack and causing it to hum with power. The hair on the beast’s body stood on end. Darkness filled the room and the machine began to heat the laboratory. Soon the temperature was so unbearable that the monster began to scrabble about in the darkness for a door, but the Shadowmaster, she reveled in the darkness, basking in the heat of the contraption.

A dim purple light came from the machine revealing its true purpose. It was a forge. A forge of dark fire.

Horrified, the monster ran frantically in the direction of where the door should be. Suddenly, a tongue of flame leaped out and reduced the pitifully despicable creature to a pile of ash whilst its shadow leaped from its body to join the dark mass as if it were coming home.

“Yes Kreach, I find your work very satisfying,” the Shadowmaster cooed as she shut the forge off, cradling the shadow as if it were a baby, “Guards!” she shouted angrily, mood changing quickly, “Bring in our huntress for her debriefing. There is much for us to discuss.”

Hunter sat still, watching a shadow creep up and down a wall, keeping track of its every move. Shadows and dark places had always given her the creeps, and she wasn’t about to start trusting them now. After the dark form had climbed up the wall for the fiftieth time, she silently wondered why she had agreed to take the job in the first place, but she already knew the answer, her three younger brothers were at home she was the only one left to care for and support them, but she couldn’t take the shadow moving with a mind of its own up and down the wall anymore. She pulled out one of her throwing knives and pinned the shadow to the wall.

She glanced up and read off of one of the grotesque guard’s lips, “ Hunter, the Shadowmaster will see you now.” After signing for them to wait a minute, she yanked her knife out of the wall. Immediately, the shadow began slithering across the ceiling. She trudged out of the entry hall and stared darkly at the foreboding entryway.

Within the room an odd figure stood, looking like nothing more than a whisp of smoke. Hunter strode in as confidently as she could, avoiding glancing at her trembling hands. She took a seat at the long ebony table and signed indifferently, “So what do you want?” The figure across from her shook with what appeared to be laughter, but it was unclear because they weren’t facing her. Hunter examined the creature in front of her. Was this really the Shadowmaster? How could such a whispy, non-threatening being hold so much power and fear over people?

She felt a jolt of surprise as she watched something detach from who she assumed to be her employer as they turned. “Beautiful, isn’t it? How dark and light can create something so delicately elegant as this?” Hunter watched the Shadowmaster’s lips as they held up what appeared to be a skein of the finest midnight blue silk, but as she continued to watch, it began to ripple and change form until it resembled an obsidian sword.

Realizing it was a shadow, she recoiled in horror and disgust.“You don’t like it?” the Shadowmaster continued, with

what appeared to be a laugh, “Well then, I do believe that you will take to your task very well.” “And what would that be?” Hunter signed impatiently, fed up with the small talk, her fear growing.

Hunter sat still, watching a shadow creep up and down a wall, keeping track of its every move. Shadows and dark places had always given her the creeps, and she wasn’t about to start trusting them now. After the dark form had climbed up the wall for the fiftieth time, she silently wondered why she had agreed to take the job in the first place, but she already knew the answer, her three younger brothers were at home she was the only one left to care for and support them, but she couldn’t take the shadow moving with a mind of its own up and down the wall anymore. She pulled out one of her throwing knives and pinned the shadow to the wall.

She glanced up and read off of one of the grotesque guard’s lips, “ Hunter, the Shadowmaster will see you now.” After signing for them to wait a minute, she yanked her knife out of the wall. Immediately, the shadow began slithering across the ceiling. She trudged out of the entry hall and stared darkly at the foreboding entryway.

“One, two, three, four...” Bree heard giggles and the pitter-patter of feet as little boys and girls ran off to hide while she counted. In her mind’s eye she could see Tyler already running to a tree stump, Kali climbing into a barrel, and several others crouching in odd places. She chuckled as she saw Kyle hiding under a bed surrounded by mice and dusty boxes. “... Forty-nine, fifty! Ready or not, here I come!”

Bree took her time making it to each child’s individual hiding spot. Every time she found them, she was met with either giggles of delight or groans of despair. As soon as she reached Kyle’s hiding place, she reached under and pulled him out, “How do you do it?” he marveled, eyes wide with wonder.

“Well,” she started off, sitting him on her lap, the other children gathered around, knowing a story was in order, “Have ever heard of the Suthros? They’re tiny wind spirits that whisper secrets in the ears of all who are willing to listen. They can’t be seen, but their voices are breathy and tinkle like bells. They are descendants of the fairy king himself! Some say that if you can make friends with one, they are bound to you for life and will show you things you might otherwise have not seen.” The children gasped. Amazed at her knowledge of the magical world. “They can be found just about anywhere. Oh, and look! There’s one now! Everyone say hi Shuri!”

They all cheered and waved at the invisible being. The sun began to set, casting orange and red rays around the room making it appear to be on fire. Bree sighed and said with a smile, “Alright, now you all had better go home and you don’t want to be late.” The children shrieked with laughter as they ran back to their homes to eat. Bree walked down a well trodden path to the old healer’s hut, watching each child disappear into the homes.

“Nana Bella? I’m home!” Bree called as she opened the creaky door. The hut had shelf after shelf of remedies and herbs that were used as ingredients. “Come in Bree! Come in!” the old healer croaked happily, “There’s someone here to see you.” Bree stopped short, Nana Bella had been bringing in suitors constantly. The healer wanted her to get married, so she wouldn’t have to worry about her being alone when she died. The woman was old, yes, but not that old.

“For the last time Nana Bella, no more suitors! I’m not quite ready to...” she trailed off as she rounded the corner and caught sight of a man who was pale as freshly bought goat cheese and could have been her uncle, or even her father.

“Ah Bree,” he smiled as he surveyed her thin frame, “Bella has told me so much about you. Please, sit.” He gestured to an empty chair that seemed to have materialized out of thin air. Dumb with shock, she wordlessly sat down as Nana Bella began to chatter, “He says his name is Prosper Moon! He’s a light mage and has taken a particular interest in you. He wants to take you on as an apprentice!”

“Yes, thank you, Bella for the introduction,” the mage said stiffly, interrupting her ramble, “You see, I have been looking for a hundred years, and you have shown the most potential out of all the other possible candidates. I need someone to pass my skills on to, and it seems that you have been chosen as one of the last of my kind.”

Bree was flattered, but also frightened as she spoke, “Thank, thank you for the kind offer sir, but I, I think you have, have the wrong person, I can, can’t do magic. I, I’m nobody. I’m just me.”

“I understand your concern child,” Prosper said with a frown, “But this chance comes once in a lifetime. You have a spark of magic inside of you, and a chance to use it. Don’t pass it up.” “I, I don’t know what to say.” “You don’t have to know what to say, tonight, but tomorrow I expect an answer.”

They spent the rest of their meager meal of potatoes and fish in a silence that was only broken once or twice by the old healer’s friendly chatter. As Bree turned to go to her cot, the light mage hissed in a voice that was not his own, “Shadows are falling on this town, and they will not forget.” She pretended she didn’t hear anything, but really her mind was wirling with a thousand unbidden thoughts as she climbed into her cot. Who was this man who spoke of light and shadows? What would they not forget? Why did he seem familiar? What did he want? It was all as foggy as her past, if
only she could grab one of those elusive memories out of the mist.
Prosper watched the girl recede into slumber thoughtfully. It had been many years since he had brought the child to Bella’s hut to be healed. Both her mind and body had been broken by the fire he had rescued her from, but she had healed quickly for one so small and hurt.

Bella sent him a constant stream of letters updating him on the condition of the girl. By the time she was ten, everything was healed except for her memories. Bella christened the child Bree and continued to send him letters, asking for advice and telling him about Bree. He would have come sooner to see her, but he was busy with his son, Marcus, who was old enough to be on his own and sadly had no magical talent.

A few months ago, the old woman had sent him a letter expressing her concern over the girl being left alone when she died. Prosper wrote back telling her to find a suitable husband for Bree. It seemed that Bella had put his advice to use based on Bree’s original reaction to a visitor.

Only a week beforehand had the old healer clarified why she was worried. Bree cast no shadow and knew a lot about magic, but from where she was unsure of. She also muttered incantations in her sleep. Prosper immediately saw
signs of untamed magic and came down to the village to train Bree.

He chuckled as he lay down on his cloak. She was just as Bella described her, shy, modest, and stubborn as a mule. He closed his eyes and welcomed the grey twilight of sleep.

Bree woke in a pool of dark purple blood. She was panting and sweating heavily having woken up from a nightmare. Her mind was still flooded with the horrible images of fire and ice. She crept out of the hut, wanting some fresh air. Outside, she was met with a similar horror, shadows covered buildings and people as dark fire consumed several huts on the horizon. She ran to a nearby house and attempted to shake awake the little girl inside.

At her touch, the shadows receded, but the child remained sleeping no matter how hard she shook. “Please please Cleo, please wake up,” she sobbed as she shook her again halfheartedly. “There're shadows everywhere, and I don’t know what to do. Please, Cleo.” “They can’t see or hear you.” she glanced up and saw the mage who had come just that night. “Why?” she croaked weakly, choking back tears.

“The shadows have become so strong they control from the inside,” he said matter of factly. “Come, we must flee before the town is consumed.” “No, I can’t leave. What about Nana Bella and all these other people?” she gestured about her, resolve strengthening. “But you must or else you will be lost to shadows!” Out of the corner of her eye she noticed dark flames lapping against the walls. “Not to shadows but to
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, preparing to run to a well. When she opened her eyes, the mage was being consumed by fire. Bree was logically terrified and began to run. The monster that had once been a mage tore after her with inhuman speed. She toppled a pile of boxes in his path, but he ripped through them easily. Shadows pulsed beneath the creature’s flaming skin as it raged through houses. She didn’t stop running or look back as her village was consumed by fire and shadows for fear that she wouldn’t be able to continue.

Bree ran and ran, her muscles straining as she tried to make it to the forest she knew was just over the horizon. She suddenly noticed that the creature was no longer following her, and the village was miles away. How had she run so far in so little time? All thoughts disappeared as pain lanced through her body, and she was cut by what seemed like a thousand brambles. She winced but kept running. The sun began to rise as she ran over the last hill. Almost there! She thought, pushing herself even further. Finally, finally she made it to the forest! Exhaustion overcame her, and she collapsed into a heap in a small clearing surrounded by oak trees.

Kai surveyed the village that had now been conquered for the Shadowmaster once again. His eyes searched the
wreckage of the healer’s hut looking for a person. Where was that blasted mage who had helped in his father’s demise? He glanced at a small black stone he held in the crook of his hand. “Sir,” a small grey creature squeaked, “We’ve caught the mage.”

“Good,” he snapped and turned to see the former mage, who looked to be a shadow of his former self, “Prosper Moon,” he drawled, “So good of you to join us. Seeing as you are in no condition to take care of yourself, you will be staying with us for a while, yes?” The mage grunted, groaned and then crumbled into a pile of ash.

“Well that was anticlimactic,” he muttered and whipped out the stone. Shadows swirled on the surface and settled to show his mother, the Shadowmaster, “We have found the remains of the mage, it seems like the infection of darkfire was too much for him.” “And the girl?” “We lost her, but we are tracking her as we speak.” “Good. I do not want to hear from you until you have found her. Understand?” “Yes ma’am.”

The feed crackled and the mirror went blank. He shoved it into his travel pack. “Leave for the fortress at once. If you see me at all, you will pretend that you don’t know me.” He instructed the horde and went off on his way to find the girl who had slipped through his fingers tonight. The one with enough power to bring his mother’s rule to an end.

Hunter sat at a small table in a tavern called simply, The Rising Swallow. The tavern keeper and her cooks bustled in the back, taking orders from customers and serving them as quickly as possible. She glanced down at her map and set of tools and sighed. For the past hour she had been trying to formulate a plan, but she just couldn’t concentrate. “Studying?” A young man with cropped brown hair asked. She shook her head and pretended to be busy organizing her instruments of death.

The boy shrugged and sat down at a different table. He pulled out a small fife and absentmindedly began to play what looked like a simple tune. Hunter could imagine the sweet tones that filled the air as the whole tavern went still. The melody might have been simple, but it seemed to be one of the most breathtakingly beautiful songs that some travelers had ever heard.

The music ended far too soon for many of the people’s likings and left most of them blinking away tears. It reminded her of the effect her father’s old hunter’s songs had on people. She missed him a lot right now. He would have known what to do. On the spur of an impulse, she waved the young man over to talk.

The Shadowmaster was angry. Not only had her plan to capture the cursed light mage failed, her son had failed to catch the girl that could be her undoing. She was a woman of dark fire and fury. The only thing that had been successful that day was the transfer of control of the dark fire.

Knock knock. The knocks were annoying her more than anything else. Simmering with a silent fury, she opened the pitch black, raven winged doors of her quarters to a girl in simple clothes with scars running down her arms and a few on her face. Burn scars. With a jolt, the Shadowmaster recognized the strikingly beautiful girl. “Get out of here!” She shouted, “I gave you those scars, I admit it! Stop haunting me! I’ll kill you!” Angrily, she threw whatever was closest at the figure that haunted her nightmares. None of the items seemed to hurt the girl. When she was about to throw a black diamond tray, she realized that the apparition wasn’t real. It was an image conjured by her angry, twisted mind.

She blinked and the hallucination disappeared as did her panic. She walked out of the room leaving behind the emotions she kept buried. With a snap, shadows clung to her , making her a beautiful and terrible thing to watch. Gliding down the passageway to the reception hall, she regained her confidence as the shadows wrapped playfully around her wrists. It was time to call on her allies to get rid of the small threats individual towns partially free of her control and after that, to Rorrim.

Bree shivered in the cold morning air. She had woken up in the forest glen she had collapsed in, disoriented. The oak trees cast a gray green shroud around the clearing. She seemed to be alone with her broken mind and memories that swirled distantly in the faint whispers of her thoughts.

A twig snapped, alerting her to the presence of another. She spun on her heel and saw to her surprise, not a monster or forest animal, but a boy. He had dark hair that swept across his forehead and pale skin, more pale than the mage’s, pale as well, a blank sheet of parchment. His eyes were the yellow of a haunted wolf’s with black rims that intensified his gaze.

“Hello?” he called out, his voice thin and frightened, “Is anyone out there?” She was glad to hear the voice of another, but she was also wary, seeing as it appeared that he could not see her. “Yes.” She replied and began to walk towards the boy slowly. The boy jumped at her movement. He sighed as he seemed to realize that she was only a human. She reached out and touched him when she was close enough to see if he was real or not. “Phew, you’re not a monster.” she breathed. The boy stared at her, perplexed, but his expression changed in a split-second as he said, “It’s good to see a friendly face after last night. My name’s Twilight, yours?” Bree blinked at his outstretched hand and realized that he was referring to the fires of the night before. How had he escaped? “Bree. How did you escape last night? Everyone seemed to be under the shadows’ influence.” she asked as she tentatively shook his hand.

Twilight winced at the mention of shadows but quickly regained his composure, ever smiling, “I honestly don’t know. I just woke up and felt the urge to run. How about you?”

“Same as you.” she replied, thinking it best to avoid details of the previous night, “Do you think there’s any civilization near here? I mean, besides the village.” “Well I’ve heard that there’s a tavern about three leagues out,” Twilight shrugged, “Would you travel with me to that point?”

Bree pondered the invitation for a minute. It would be good to have company if she traveled, but Twilight seemed rather shifty, but then again, his presence had brought on a surge of relief. After debating with herself and studying her companion further, she reached a decision. “Yes, and maybe a little further.”

“Alright then, let’s go.” Twilight’s expression grew even brighter as he adjusted the strap on his bag and began to walk. Bree followed after him, “The tavern’s west of here, so we should follow our shadows.” She flinched, and he laughed, an awful combination of breaking glass and nails on chalkboard. “I’m sorry. I often forget that wounds like yours don’t heal quickly.”

They walked on for about five minutes in uncomfortable silence, neither one daring to break the fragile ice that separated them. Finally, the air becoming so thick that it was almost impossible to breath, Bree burst out, “It’s fine.” “What?” “The shadows comment.” “Oh.” “Ever since I was little, things have just kind have bothered me, and now I guess it’s just shadows.”

The air seemed to clear, and Bree felt more comfortable with Twilight. “I’ve never seen you in the village before.” She ventured. “Well my dad, the blacksmith, liked to keep me locked up in the back of the shop with my ideas. I only got to come out when he went traveling, and he took me with him.” Twilight recollected. “Wow! You must have seen a lot of places! Were you the one that designed the wedding bands for the carpenter and his wife?” “I didn’t see a lot of places. I was stuffed in the back of a wagon mostly. Yeah, the wedding bands were my idea.”

She and Twilight exchanged a similar question answer banter over the course of a few leagues, and she enjoyed his company. It was nightfall when they rounded a bend laughing, and Twilight stopped them and pointed to a neat little building about a hundred horse lengths away and said, “There it is, The Rising Swallow.” Bree could plainly see that the path was well-used. There were several horses tied up in the stables, so it seemed a fairly trustworthy place.

When they entered, Twilight led her right up to the counter and said to the rosy cheeked tavern owner, “Excuse me ma’am, but is there room to board two travelers for the night?” The hearty mistress smiled pleasantly and said, “Yes, but it’s rather crowded so it’ll cost you a frond tonight.” “Here you are miss.” He said, placing a silver coin embossed with a fern on it into the tavern owner’s hand. “Thankyou,” She said, pocketing the coin and shouted, “Oi, Royal! Get over here and show these travelers to their rooms!” A skinny boy with freckles and short brown hair, ran up to the tavern owner and replied exuberantly, “Yes mother!” “Don’t you call me mother while you’re on duty. It’s either miss or ma’am.” “Yes ma’am!” he said, saluted sharply and said to them, “I’ll be showin’ you to your room now.”

Twilight followed eagerly, but Bree stayed back, wanting to talk to the tavern mistress. “You’re a quiet one aren’t you?” Bree jumped back, startled, and then stuttered, “Well, I, I suppose I am. I don’t real, really do people.” “It’s alright dear. My Royal isn’t much of one to talk either. He barely spoke a word before he was five! Now what were you wantin’ to talk about?” “I was wondering if you had heard anything about the village that was burned last night. Do you know if anyone survived?” she pressed, hoping to find answers.

“No one but you and your friend lassie. You must have been awfully stubborn to have escaped a fire like that. Now off to bed you pop. It’s getting late and I won’t have my customers grumpy. We can talk more tomorrow.” The tavern owner winked,pressed a shard of crystal into her hand and waved her off to the stairway.

Bree walked up the stairs dejectedly. No survivors. How could no one have survived? Surely someone else could have. She and Twilight had after all. Twilight had after all. Twilight. He had to have been locked in his room, if what she had heard from his true. He logically wouldn’t have been able to have - “Ow!”

Her head snapped up, and she met the bright blue gaze of Royal. “That was my foot.” She glanced down and realized that she had been so lost in her thoughts that she had stepped on his foot. “Sorry.” “It’s fine. People do it all the time. Now weren’t you heading to your room?” “Yes.” “First door on the left.”

Royal stepped aside smiling and watched the pale girl head up the stairway and through the corridor. He then hurried down the stairs to speak with his mother. “Something’s wrong with the boy,” he said, leaning over the counter. “Yes,” His mother replied, “I could smell it right off him the moment he asked for board. He’s completely unnatural. He seems to be a mash of shadows, sinew, bone and death. The girl is odd too. She doesn’t seem completely whole, but she holds a spark of light so strong that his darkness can’t destroy it.” “They’re exact opposites.” “Indeed they are. How is your energy tonight?” “Less drained than usual. When the lass stepped on my foot, it hurt, but it also felt as if for a moment I was better.”

His mother nodded knowingly, “I’m glad. Now, Royal, I know what you’re going to ask, you’ve been asking for weeks, and my answer is yes.” He blinked for a moment, his mother’s decision sinking in. He could travel with Hunter, the lass who enjoyed his music so much, “Thank you, mum! I’ll begin preparations tonight!” He kissed her on the cheek and ran to the backroom to begin packing his bag.

It was dark, but he only needed a little light from the moon to perform his business. He packed provisions quickly, knowing he would need little because the local flora in the forest provided food enough. He packed a cloak, a change of clothes, a knife from the kitchen, and a flint and steel.

He was unable to decide whether or not to bring rope with him. It could be useful, but it could also be a burden to carry and keep track of. He had finally concluded that it would be beneficial to him to bring the rope when a fit of coughing struck him like an arrow to the chest. It sapped away whatever relief he had had earlier. His throat felt as if it were closing like a vise, and his lungs felt scraped raw. Everything was fading in and out of focus and black was creeping in on the edges of his vision. He crumpled to the floor, gasping for air.

He felt hands gently lift him from the floor and thump him on the back, clearing his airway. “Thank, thank you.” He spluttered, gulping in air. It tasted all the sweeter as it passed through his mouth and nose. When he heard no response, he glanced up and saw Hunter. She was making odd motions with her hands as if she expected him to understand. He then realized it. It had never occurred to him in the short week she had been there because she seemed to hear him when he played his fife. The lass was deaf!

© Copyright 2019 U.B. Schultz (tackytyper at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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