Brad Wardell's views about technology, politics, religion, world affairs, and all sorts of politically incorrect topics.
Published on September 20, 2011 By Draginol In Elemental Dev Journals

I had the story for Elemental: Destiny’s Embers in my mind for over two decades. Twenty Years. That’s a long time.

And when Random House asked me to write it, I had no problem providing them with my first draft. Then a second. And so on.  What ended up being printed and available to purchase at your local book store is nothing like what the original drafts were.  The story is the same. Make no mistake, I didn’t have to sacrifice the story. But the way it was written was very different.  Random House had assigned editors and specialists to help me, a first time author, translate my story into a marketable product.  And that’s the first lesson I learned about commercial writing. You’re there to sell as many books. Based on the sales of the book (I wish the game had done as well as the book) it seems Random House was onto something.

But, for those of you who are interested in Elemental: Destiny’s Embers, here’s the very first, unedited (which means poorly written) draft:

Elemental

Destiny’s Apprentice

(c) 2009 Bradley Wardell

MANUSCRIPT DRAFT 0.42

Elemental: Destiny’s Apprentice
Bradley Wardell

 

Prologue

Long ago, the world of Elemental was the scene of a devastating war between two factions of a race of titans. This culminated with a final battle that broke the world and laid waste to the land. This cataclysm ended the reign of these immortal beings and ushered in the time of mortals who struggled to rebuild their world.

When the world was broken, the great continent of Athica was split in two. To the west, tribes of men dominated. To the east, a myriad of races, collectively called “The Fallen”, lived together.

Across the landscape, a handful of artifacts, shards of an ancient crystal worshipped by the Titans rested. The Titans sequestered the world’s magic into these shards and rooted them to the world. From then on, few mortals could make use of magic.

Some mortals, it was discovered, could channel the magic in these shards and became powerful sorcerers. These sorcerers became kings and emperors in their own time. A War of Magic soon raged across the recovering landscape as each faction sought to gain control of the shards.

In the end, the race of men gained the advantage with its Channelers pushing the Fallen back into the wastes of the east. Once satisfied that the Fallen were no longer a threat, the Kingdoms of the west set up an outpost on the very edge of the Eastern continent near the great bridge that connected the two continents. For a long while, there was peace.

As with all things, the time of peace began to dwindle. One by one, the channelers passed on until there was only one left. King Galor, “The Sorcerer King”. Having united the western continent under the flag of his native kingdom, the Altar, he has recently sensed that a grave evil has risen in the far east. To that end, he has sent Lord Tandis the Arnorian, his most trusted advisor, far to the east, across the bridge to the stronghold of Outpost to investigate.

 

Chapter I

The afternoon sun peeked between the forest canopy far above. A whole world of life lived far in the trees oblivious to sunny haired boy far below. The sunny haired boy, no older than 15, surveyed the ground below looking for midnight stones. These shiny black quartz stones were fairly common in “The Henge” as people called it. Little did the boy know that the stones were fragments of long destroyed beings who had been constructed by the powers to battle for this world. All that was left now were their fragments, much prized by the locals for their beauty despite having long ago forgotten how lethal the beings they were attached to once were.

The sunny haired boy was named Xander. He had lived on his own in these woods for many years after his parents had been slain. Not surprisingly, he was far skinnier than most boys his age. On the other hand, other boys his age considered him unusually lucky. Not only did he have a knack for finding the pretty midnight stones but he was friends with Princess Angenica, daughter of the Lord Ambrose who ruled The Henge from the Keep known simply as Outpost.

The Spring rains had made the shallow stream beds rush with water which, Xander knew, made it easier to find the stones. Leaping across one such stream, he found himself amongst several converging river beds. It was the perfect spot.

The boy knew if he concentrated, he could picture every place he might look and soon know the right place to actually look to find what he wanted. Soon enough, Xander saw a couple of midnight stones being uncovered by a nearby running stream.

The Spring day made the woods more humid than they would be later in the year. This forest had grown up around the spine of the empire after the cataclysm. It was still quite ancient as forests go in this part of the world. The forest, however, gave away quickly to the grass lands that surrounded the village that was set just outside the Keep of Outpost.

With his prize in his pocket, Xander began his trek out of the woods and back to town. As soon as he left the woods, he could see trouble coming. Three boys were coming his way.

Xander knew they were coming probably before they knew where they were going. The boys knew he was an easy target. As an orphan, he had no standing in the Kingdom. He had no proof that he was a proper citizen or the descendent of the so-called blood traitors down in Kraxis. As a result, in matters such as these, he was on his own.

Soon enough, the sloshing on the soft ground the boys made marked the beginning of the confrontation. At this point the forest was a good hundred yards behind him and the village that surrounded the keep was still in front of him.

“Well, if it isn’t the skeleton boy,” said the biggest one.

The big one, Morlis, had always been big for his age which more than made up for his lack of wit. He had been a bully for as long as Xander could remember knowing him.

“What do you want, Morlis?” Xander asked. He knew the answer but in his mind, Xander was weighing every option he could think of as quickly he could.

“You hear that, Mor? The skel acts like he doesn’t know what we want. You know what we want. We want the midnight stones you stole from us that you use to impress the princess,” said Vincor, Morlis’s slightly smaller but even nastier friend.

“Give us the stones, skel and we might let you off with just a black eye,” said Oro, the last of the thuggish trio. Oro was the most dangerous of the three. He wasn’t as big as Morlis or as smart as Vincor but he was more sadistic than the two combined.

“How are they your stones?” Xander asked. He needed only a little more time for several options in his mind to converge to avoid the beating the boys intended to give him regardless of whether he gave in.

Oro snorted, “They are ours by right since we belong here and you don’t. You’re just an orphan living off the good will of others. You have no ma or pa so you scurry around the keep. “

Xander inwardly sighed with relief as their window of opportunity closed and many different options now presented themselves to him. Xander laughed “Yes, what you call scurrying other people would call working. Maybe if you didn’t loaf around all day and instead worked an honest day you would appreciate the value of things. You are all 16 years old, a full year older than I am and you’re still nothing but thugs.”

Oro raged, “Get him!”

The three thugs prepared to pounce on Xander when a voice cried “Stop!”

The three boys froze instantly. Behind them walked the Princess Angenica. Besides being the daughter of the lord of Outpost, Angenica had a unique magical talent, anyone would do whatever she commanded instinctively. Everyone but, ironically, Xander.

“You three boys are lower than worms!” Geni said harshly.

“Get onto the ground and slither like worms,” she commanded.

The three boys instantly obeyed without hesitation and did exactly as she asked without question or resistance.

“I swear, Xander. I leave you alone for a few minutes and you nearly get yourself killed,” Geni teased. “What are you doing out near the woods anyway?”

Xander smiled and held out his hand. In his hand set 3 midnight stones.

“Oh, Xander, you’re the best! I don’t know how you manage to find these. I’d almost think you have some sort of magical tracking ability. No one else ever seems to be able to find things like you,” Geni laughed.

Geni was astonishingly pretty for a girl her age. Being the daughter of the ruler of this province, she had utmost personal confidence but more than that, her magical ability ensured she tended to get her way.

Of course, as was quite well known, Xander, like most people, had no magical talent unless luck could be considered a talent. He just tended to know what to do to avoid trouble or find what he wanted to find.

Geni considered the 3 bullies squirming on the ground, now thoroughly muddy. “You three continue slithering until the sun sets.”

Xander couldn’t help but smile as he looked up at the afternoon sun. It would be still some hours before the sun set.

Geni turned back towards the village that surrounded the keep and gestured for Xander to follow her.

“My father is having an important visitor today so I have to find something to stay out of the way until dinner. Let’s go find master Barlon, I hear he found an injured Garling,”

Xander smiled and simply said, “Sounds like a plan.” The two ran towards the village while the three bullies continued slithering in the mud.

# # #

Lord Ambrose was a powerfully built man. In his youth, he was a warrior without peer. His skill with weapons was only surpassed by his ability to lead men. Until he had been assigned to lordship of the Henge, Ambrose was a well known adventurer.

The years out on the Henge had not been pleasing to him. He desired to return to the wilds and continue his adventures. But with his wife gone, he now had other responsibilities and the King had been adamant that he guard and fortify Henge and its Keep “Outpost”.

Now, word had been sent to him that the King’s high advisor, Lord Tandis would soon be here.

Lord Ambrose had not seen Tandis since he was a small boy. His coming meant the circumstances were dire. But since the death of his wife 3 years ago, the Fallen had not troubled the Henge. So fierce had been his wrath against the tribes of Fallen that not a single Fallen had been seen in years.

Ambrose was a champion of men. Unlike his daughter, he did not possess the ability to force people to do his bidding. Instead, his magical ability were undirected. It was sheer presence. Things and people just tended to go his way no matter what. But leadership skills were real and required no magic. He won friends and allies easily while foes feared but respected him.

His once jet black hair had begun to gray around the edges. Like most of those who descended from channelers, he had been sent to the city of Capitar to be tested to see if he could channel the magics in the shard that was rooted there. He learned he was no channeler. Instead of disappointment, he felt relief. He had no desire to sit on a throne but rather he sought to adventure across the world which he did for many years.

Only a channeler could legally inherit the throne of the kingdom. Even if it wasn’t legal, as a practical matter, only a channeler would have the magical might to command the respect of the many provinces that made up the Kingdom. Without that power, the kingdom would likely break up into petty city states again just as the lands of the Fallen had done so when the last Channeler of the fallen had been slain many years ago.

His daughter, Angenica, would turn 16 this very Summer and with that would come the testing where she would travel to Capitar to see if she could summon the elemental forces of the shard to her bidding. Lord Ambrose had mixed feelings on that test. If she succeeded, a heavy burden would fall to her in the future. If she failed, it would mean that the Sorcerer King would continue to have no viable heir and he was long past the time when one would have expected him to make way for another.

Lord Ambrose had not sensed anything out of the ordinary in recent times emanating from the east. He had begun to send his scouts further and further East to try to confirm the misgivings that the Sorcerer King had but to no avail. The Fallen seemed to have disappeared entirely from the world as far as his scouts could discern.

Looking through the tower window, Ambrose could see the country side. In the distance, he saw his daughter running and laughing back towards the village with her urchin friend. Those two had become close friends since the death of his wife. He knew why she liked him – he was the only one who seemed immune to her power, something he had promised to look into someday. Having a friend who you knew liked you because of who you really are was a feeling that his poor daughter would ultimately have little experience with.

Turning his glance to the north, he could see the riders that accompanied Tandis trotting towards the keep. Their horses looked weary from what appeared to be a journey made in haste. At that moment, a knock came at the tower door. Mirdoth would be there.

“Enter, Mirdoth,” Ambrose said calmly. Ambrose continued to watch the travelers make it to the keep wall and then turned to Mirdoth.

Mirdoth had been advisor to Ambrose’s father. The years had been quiet and that time had been gentle on Mirdoth. Now in his 90s, Mirdoth was coming to the end of his service to the house of Aereon. Despite his age, Mirdoth appeared far more youthful. Most men only lived to theirs 70s.

Long white robes covered Mirdoth’s thin frame. His eyes were long and his face lined from years of serious study combined. But his eyes still glowed with a sense of mirth that was notorious in his youth. His hair had had been black once but was now white as snow. In Mirdoth, Ambrose could see a shadow of things to come for him if he lived to be as old as Mirdoth.

“The Arnorian has arrived, My lord.” said Mirdoth.

“I see that, my friend. Have you sensed anything of the evil that our lord king has sent him to warn us about?”

“No, my lord. But when the king sends the Arnorian this far from the core of the kingdom, the need must be great. The need must be…imminent,” Mirdoth said at last.

Ambrose frowned. Tandis the Arnor or Arnorian as Mirdoth liked to call him, looked like a mortal man but it was known by some that he was no man. He had appeared as he is for as long as any living man could remember.

In Ambrose’s youth, when Mirdoth was his mentor in the realm of history, Mirdoth would read of the heroic deeds of Tandis the Arnor during the War of Magic. Some said he even had fought in the wars leading up to the cataclysm.

History had written that it was Tandis who made the difference in the battle of the Henge when the Fallen had recruited the Black Dragon to their cause and had laid waste to much of the combined armies of the Kingdom. Tandis alone fought the dragon and smote it with his mighty sword.

A herald came to the door to announce Tandis’s arrival. Ambrose beckoned him to show the Arnorian in and Mirdoth and Ambrose sat on two of the 4 chairs that surrounded a large wooden table. A servant came in ahead of Tandis and placed glasses of ale for refreshments.

Lord Tandis entered the tower. He looked unchanged from the last time Ambrose had seen him. He had brown and silver hair and his face had been lined over time with the cares of the world but was untouched by age. Unlike most men, Tandis had no facial hair. Mirdoth’s beard flowed far below his chin while Ambrose possessed a short black beard with touches of gray sprinkled through it.

“Welcome friend Tandis,” said Ambrose. “I so wish that your visit did not herald dark times. I would so much rather spend the evening having a great feast in celebration of your visit. My father told me of the great gatherings that his father and you had after the triumph in the War of Magic.”

Tandis smiled and the lines on Tandis’s face faded for a moment. One could tell that while Tandis had led a long life with many struggles, he was the kind of man who was no stranger to feelings of love and joy.

“It is good to see you, my lord,” Tandis said. His voice filled the room. Neither loud nor quiet, the voice of Tandis had a soothing quality to it that seemed to project itself exactly where it needed to be.

“I wish the circumstances were indeed not so dire. A terrible thing is rising in the east. War will soon be upon your door and it is a far greater war than any has seen since the War of Magic,” Tandis said gravely.

Ambrose was struck by a foreboding. For war to come now when he was in his declining years with no male heir to stand in his steed was wrenching.

Mirdoth, who knew that Tandis had no sense of the dramatic was shaken. “What could it be? Have the Titans returned?”

Tandis frowned, “No. The last of the titans has not been seen since the Empire of Sorcery. But there are worse things in this universe than the Titans. I fear that something of incredible power has been awakened and is manifesting itself to the east. It will not be long before it reaches towards your realm, my lord.”

“What could it want?” Ambrose asked.

“I cannot fathom the desires of a being of this kind. Mortal desires such as wealth and power are meaningless to sentience of this scale,” Tandis began. “I do have some suspicions, however.”

Mirdoth whispered, “The shards. It must want the shards.”

But Tandis shook his head, “At this point, anything is impossible. But I have no doubt that it will happily make use of them. It was with those shards that the titans created the Fallen in the first place along with the other ruined beings of this world.”

Ambrose sat in silence for a moment. “What is your counsel, Lord Tandis?”

“Many things. First, prepare your keep for battle.”

“Second, evacuate your civilians across the bridge.”

Mirdoth was aghast. “That will cause a mass panic. It would take months to organize an orderly removal across the bridge.”

Tandis paid him no heed and continued. “Third, pray that The Destiny have provided a potential counter to this doom.”

Ambrose chuckled ruefully, “I have long had little faith in unseen gods, my Lord Tandis. Especially since the death of my beloved wife.”

“The Destiny are not gods of the personal nature,” Tandis replied. “The universe is a very big place and no one knows what the powers beyond this world have in store. But the events unfolding at this moment are on a scale that I hope that they choose to influence in what ways they can.”

The three sat in silence.

# # #

In his dream, Tandis was always back at home in the distant past. He and his friend Tylan were racing over the water. Once they realized that if they ran fast enough that even the water could not block them the world was theirs to know.

On occasion, Tandis would look behind him and see the great wake he and Tylan were leaving. Ahead, a new land, a new continent stood ready to be explored.

He was in the Springtime of his life. His powers growing each day and there was no limit to what they might accomplish.

“I’m so glad you’re back, Tandis!” Tylan exclaimed. Tylan had been his friend since the beginning.

“I wasn’t gone!” Tandis laughed. “I watched the formation of those mountains! It was breathtaking!”

Tandis and Tylan were very different. While both immortal, they both felt time very differently. Tandis had no sense of it. He could watch two continents slowly collide over eons. Tylan, like others of his kind, sensed each day, each month, and each year as specific units that they felt and measured.

“You are so strange, Tandis,” Tylan said. “You and the fledglings, you would watch the stars form and end if you could.”

“Oh yes!” Tandis said happily.

Tylan laughed.

“Did you know some of the fledglings are able to make...um, more of themselves,” Tylan asked.

“I heard something of it. I don’t have much time for them, their light is so dim and their curiosity so limited. I’m far more interested in what King Metronir and Lord Avalan are working on,” Tandis replied.

“Yes, they believe we will be able to travel between worlds! I cannot wait! Speaking of which, I am due back at the council!” Tylan said.

Without another word, Tylan disappeared over the horizon.

Tandis smiled as his friend left. The shores of his world were beautiful beyond description. He looked into the water and his vision changed.

He saw Tylan slain by Lord Avalan to save Tandis’s life. Flames were ungulfing the lands. Tandis fell to his knees in grief as time stood still for a moment.

Suddenly, a ghostly form of Tylan stood in front of him.

“The Fallen are not the source of your concern. It is not about conquest. He seeks the silver orb!” Tylan said.

Tandis blinked, “Who?”

“The nemesis. You must avoid him at all costs. Instead, recover the silver orb, bring it to safety,” the ghost said.

“I don’t understand. You’re not Tylan, this is a dream!” Tandis said and tried to rouse himself.

“We will help you. The undoing of the nemesis lies in a boy, find him, set him on the path,” the ghost said.

Tandis found himself awake in bed again.

“The Destiny!” Tandis said aloud. He was alone. It was night. He was in a room in the inner mansion of the Keep of Outpost residing in the Eastern Henge.

With his thoughts collected, Tandis set his mind to understanding his vision.

# # #

Chapter II

In northern hills of The Henge, Calis surveyed the surroundings. The boy had not been on this side of the great bridge since Tandis had rescued him as an infant. 16 years ago, Calis had lived in the province of Kraxis which had been part of the Empire of Sorcery a little over a century ago.

The Empire of Sorcery had attempted to build a coalition against the western Kingdoms that was made up of men, Fallen and even dragons. In the aftermath, Kraxis was a place of turmoil where the Dragon Lords had begun slaughtering indiscriminately. Tandis had arrived in time to put down the Dragon Lords and rescue him as an infant. What had happened to his parents he never knew.

Since that time, Tandis had raised him and had been on many adventures. He had seen much of the western continent since then but still knew relatively little of Kraxis other than that men of the Kingdom despised those who came from there believing that the men of Kraxis had betrayed their own by joining the Empire of Sorcery.

Calis had been small for his age and his dark hair and angular facial features marked him as having come from Kraxis which tended to result in, as his companion Tyrin would say, “excessive scrutiny”. For that reason and others, Tandis tended to keep him and his elite group out of the cities of the west.

In the past year, a growing spurt had unexpectedly made him taller than most of the men in the camp. The men in this camp were his family. With no other children to play with, Calis was somewhat socially awkward around peers.

Each of the men in the camp were part of Tandis’s elite company. They were known as the Crimson Knights in the land. Each one was a champion of men in his own way. When together, they represented a nearly unstoppable force despite there always being fewer than a dozen of them.

When he was 8, Calis had come to recognize how extraordinary his companions were. He couldn’t understand why Tandis had invested so much effort into him. Uthirmancer, a man of many talents told him not to fear.

“If Tandis has you with us, there must be a very good reason,” Uthirmancer had explained to him.

Soon enough, Calis would begin his journey towards understanding what Tandis had seen in the boy, even as an infant. While exploring the desolate province of the west when they came upon a lost ruin. Inside the ruin, there was a pedestal that surrounded a ruby red crystal. The crystal itself was on the ground and when one of the company tried to pick up the relatively small crystal, he found it was too heavy to even budge.

“Don’t bother,” Tandis had told the man. “Even I would not be able to move the shard. The shards are locked into the roots of the world and cannot be moved. At most, the area around them can be fortified and protected but the shards themselves are unmovable.”

Calis, however, found that he could make the crystal glow by thinking hard. Soon after, he learned he could make things catch fire just by thinking about them. This came as quite a surprise to him and to the others as well – except Tandis.

Tandis never seemed surprise and in time, he taught Calis how to direct his abilities and soon he was able to cast spells.

After that time, Tandis made a point to have the company visit other places known to have these shards and Calis learned to make use of them as well to do everything from moving heavy objects from afar to causing dust storms to manifest as well as crushing objects from a distance.

Calis’s favorite spells were the ones that let him enhance himself. One spell granted him incredible strength for a short time. Another spell let him run nearly as fast as Tandis could which was saying a lot.

More recently, Tandis had been working with him on a spell that would create an invisible barrier around him that would protect him from most types of “mundane” attack. Unfortunately, he had not yet mastered it. It only worked when he was actively concentrating on the spell.

For a long time, Calis did not realize just how unique he was. It wasn’t until his 12th birthday that Tandis sat him down and explained that he was now old enough to understand the ways of the world. Calis, he said, was a channeler. A channeler is a being who could make use of the full spectrum of magic on this world. As he got older, he would become better and better with using this magic.

“Nearly all the magic of the world was now locked inside the shards,” Tandis had explained. “This was done by the Dread Lords, titans of long ago who feared the power of mortal men. But in time, the Destiny had influenced events such that men began to be born who could ‘channel’ the magic from these shards.”

But, Tandis impressed upon him, he must be very careful to only use magic when he was with him.

“The use of magic makes an impression on the universe,” Tandis had told him. “Even I, am very careful when to use magic because I do not know what dangerous things may be lurking out there that might take notice if I were to use magic carelessly. In your case, the concern is more concrete – you are a child of no standing in the Kingdom and yet you are, legally the heir to the throne of the Kingdom being the only man-channeler in a position to succeed the Sorcerer King. But the Sorcerer King is unlikely to view your existence favorably.”

“Why?” Calis had asked. “I don’t understand.”

“Because your lineage is unknown and your birth took place in the east in one of the ramshackle Empires of old. There is great distrust of all things on the east side of the bridge,” Tandis explained.

But with time and care, Tandis promised that he would train him to be the kind of man that even The Destiny would demand become the heir of the Kingdom.

And so Calis waited. And today, he waited for Tandis to return. Tandis had not taken the company with him, at least, not the elite part of it.

“I can’t bring you down into the keep, I’m afraid,” Tandis had explained. “Mirdoth and his blasted Elemscope would quickly figure out who and what you are. You will need to stay here.”

But Tandis was wary and had left Uthirmancer, Tyrin and the others here in case trouble arose.

“Dinner!” Okuls bellowed. The fat cook always managed to keep the company well fed. A fact that his friend and mentor, Hildros, seemed very appreciative of.

Hildros had been the one who had taken care of Calis on a day to day basis. He was gentle and provided him the order to the chaos of a life that was always on the move.

The people of the Kingdom in the west had lived in peace for nearly a century. As Tyrin said, often, the men of the west had grown complacent. Very often, a village or even a small town stood on the verge of being destroyed by creatures of darkness that still lurked in the deep places of the world but were turned back or thwarted by this unique company of men.

The men had put together a single large table by combining a series of small bench tables that were stored in the wagons. Calis took his place at the table and was passed a plate of venison, sweet potatoes, and to his surprise, a bowl of strawberries were being passed around.

With the camp attendants down south with Tandis, it was only the 10 of them left.

“I must admit, I had gotten used to having those camp followers helping me out,” Okuls laughed.

“Indeed,” Uthirmancer laughed. “But of course, because Tandis took them, he had to ride a horse and you know how impatient he is having to ride horses. The followers slow him down.”

“Politics,” Tyrin said.

“What do you mean?” Calis asked.

“Old Tandis would rather just have run down there. Would have been faster. But he also knows that if he doesn’t show up looking like a lord he’s going to have a hard time getting them to take him seriously,” Tyrin responded.

“Aye,” Hildros said. “Most of ‘em have no idea who he is. Makin ‘em just pack up and go ‘cross the bridge is a mighty big thing get folks ta do.”

The light-hearted conversation was interrupted by alarms from Kespar and Bili, two of the elite soldiers who had been keeping an eye on things.

Uthirmancer stood up from the table and hurried over to Kespar who was looking through a metal device that had been made long ago. Kespar handed the device to Uthirmancer.

“Gods!” Uthirmancer exclaimed. “My friends, to arms! Now!”

Tyrin had reached Uthirmancer.

“How many?” the old thief asked.

“Thousands. Probably close to 500 coming this way,” Uthirmancer said.

Okuls looked at the camp and then back to Uthirmancer.

“Not saying we have to of course, but maybe we should, well, you know, run away?” Okuls said with a smile. He was no warrior but could certainly take care of himself in a brawl.

“That might be the wise course,” Bili said.

Just as they were deciding what to do, Uthirmancer yelled out a warning, “Sions in the camp!”

Suddenly, two skinny gray creatures were in the camp. One had long straggly white hair, the other had no hair.

Kespar drew his sword and raced towards the creature.

The creature paid Kespar no attention but instead closed his eyes. Suddenly, the horses in the camp began panicking and fled in all directions.

As Kespar reached the creature, the other creature had run over, put his hand on the creature’s shoulder and both disappeared.

“The horses!” was all Calis could say.

“Prepare yourself, lad,” Hildros said. “Without the horses, we’ll be fighting them here!”

“A thousand versus ten?” Okuls complained.

“Not very fair...for them!” Hildros roared.

With little time to prepare, Calis and his companions took defensive positions in their camp as nearly a thousand Fallen soldiers descended upon them.

Chapter III

The village of outpost was a hive of activity as the town folk prepared to evacuate. Many of the village’s inhabitants had never been across the great bridge. Most, in fact, had never left the sight of the keep.

Men first appeared on the eastern continent shortly after that cataclysm. The world was in ruins and people of all races migrated across the world in search of life. Men had populated the Eastern Henge and Kraxis. The rest of the eastern continent remained dominated by “The Fallen”. The Eastern Henge had been the location of the pivotal battles during the War of Magic. Kraxis had allied itself with The Empire.

Since then, the eastern Henge had been the Kingdom’s outpost on this continent, hence “Outpost” being the name given to the Keep and the adjoining village. For generations, descendants of the Kingdom armies who had been victorious over the Fallen had lived here. Now, people were being asked to pack up and leave the only homes they had ever known.

A light drizzle made an already unpleasant task even more unpleasant. It was still early Spring and the weather was still quite cool. Combined with the wetness, the villagers found themselves loading their possessions into wagons to be quite miserable.

Xander stood in the entry way to the stables that he had called home for many years. The people of Outpost were not an unkind people but being on the frontier, they were a stern people. Orphans like Xander were tolerated but none considered it their responsibility to take care of him.

His parents had lived in the woods just East of the keep. They had little desire to interact with the village and had long been self-sufficient. When he was 10, a man had come to their home. He had not said a word and with a wave of the man’s hand, a flash of light had destroyed their home, killed his parents and left Xander under a pile of rubble.

For awhile, Xander tried to live on his own in the woods. For that first summer, he was successful at teaching himself how to hunt. But as the Fall came, he came to realize that food was only a fragment of his concerns. The stockpiling of wood and the canning of fruits and vegetables, tasks that his mother and father had always spent time on for reasons he did not understand at the time became clear.

Half starving, 10 year old Xander had made his way to the village of Outpost and collapsed in a haystack in the stables. The stable master let him stay and paid him 3 copper a day to help tend to the horses. There he had lived since.

That Winter was particularly harsh and Xander was grateful that he had made it to the village when he had. But he quickly came to realize that he had little understanding of people. As a result, he spent much of his first year observing them. He knew he was an outsider and very much desired to “fit in”.

At first, because he was so thin, some of the boys had labeled him “skeleton boy”. Such names had little effect on him. Being on his own, he did not have the luxury of worrying about his “feelings”. Practical issues like not dying were of central importance to him.

Xander had been self sufficient for so long that he seemed to carry an aura of confidence around him. As a result, he was not shy, to put it mildly. He eagerly met new people and only slowly understood the artificial social structures that people had erected.

The first Summer Xander had spent in the village he had discovered the Copper Flask, the village’s popular pub. Children were not generally seen at the pub but that was primarily because any upstanding parent would never allow their children to be seen there. Xander, having no parents, had no such restriction. The 11 year old quickly became familiar with the pub. While not allowed to buy drinks, he was allowed to spend his earnings on the myriad of games that the pub offered its patrons.

Soon, Xander discovered the game of “Needles”. The game consisted of a large checkered board on the wall with each square having a number on it. The squares with the largest numbers on them were surrounded by squares with the smallest numbers. The object of the game was to throw three “needles” which were essentially small daggers at the board to get the most points. The player with the most points collected a copper coin from the other players for each point he scored.

Xander quickly discovered that he wasn’t just the best at the game, he was unbeatable at it. Whenever he threw his needle, he always could see in his mind every possible way of throwing it until the opportunity to throw it just the way he wanted came up. Then he would throw it just as he imagined and would always get the highest score.

While the patrons were, at first, amused with Xander’s success, it did not take long until he was no longer welcome at the Copper Flask. He did, however, leave considerably wealthier than most would ever expect a 11 year old orphan. He would soon no longer be mistaken as a “skeleton” as he now had enough money for adequate provisions.

As time went on, Xander found himself spending his days closer and closer to the village’s keep. During the day, the Keep’s massive iron gate was raised and children were welcome to play in the courtyard. While exploring the courtyard, he saw a young girl with golden hair standing in front of a row of boys who were doing the strangest things. At first, they were hopping on one foot, then they would be spinning around and around.

As Xander approached the girl, an old, fat woman ran up to the girl and admonished her, telling her to stop. Xander heard the girl say, “No. You want me to have fun. Now turn around and go inside.”

To Xander’s surprise, the old woman smiled, turned around and hurried inside while the row of boys continued to jump on one foot. Xander’s curiosity was peeked and he approached the girl.

“What game is this?” Xander had asked.

“It’s called do as I say,” the girl replied.

“That doesn’t sound like much fun,” Xander said.

“Oh, you will like it. Now hop on one foot too,” the girl commanded.

Xander frowned, “I don’t want to. Why should I?”

And in that instant, all of the boys stopped jumping on one foot. Looked at each other and fled in all directions. The girl’s eyes widened, her concentration had been broken by the new boy’s disobedience.

“I said, hop on one foot”, the girl commanded, raising her voice and her eyes furled with concentration.

“And I said I don’t want to,” Xander replied.

The girl turned around and ran into the keep crying.

One boy who had been jumping on one foot cautiously approached him and asked Xander, “How did you do that?”

“Do what?” Xander had asked.

“Everyone has to do what the princess says. She has the magic,” the boy explained.

That was how Xander met Vinco, who was Xander’s first friend in the village. It would be a friendship that would not last since many of the boys would come to miss the attention of the princess and later resent that the Princess gave increasing amounts of attention to the orphan boy.

For the first couple of years, Geni and Xander were bitter enemies. She could not abide by someone not doing as she commanded. But all that had changed the summer of her 12th birthday when her mother had died during a raid of Fallen while out near the woods. The tragedy had changed Geni to be more serious and mature. The loss of her mother had forced Geni to grow up early.

Geni was not your typical spoiled Princess like they had in the courts of the west. Being out in the frontier where there was danger, she had a tough, practical side to her. While no one would mistake her for a commoner, she hardly dressed daintily.

Being 15, she was only a couple of years from being considered a lady of the court of the Kingdom. Her golden hair contrasted starkly with her father’s. Her slender body and piercing blue eyes always seemed full of wonder if not a little mischief. Her Great Uncle, the King, was a Channeler. Magic tended to run in families. While she and her father were not Channelers, they were a rarity amongst the people of the Kingdom in being able to use magic at all.

These memories of the village would soon be all Xander would have left. He wondered what would happen to the village. He wondered what would happen to him. He knew he wouldn’t be going over the bridge. Whatever problem these villagers had was not something that was his business. No one would care about the comings and goings of an orphan boy. He was old enough now that he was quite certain he could handle himself.

Xander didn’t really have a choice, however. Men, even children, of no standing were not allowed across the bridge. The Kingdom was always fearful that Fallen agents, even men, might cause mischief. While Geni would no doubt vouch for him, only her father could do so for it to matter and that as unlikely to happen within the next day.

But he knew he’d be fine. He knew many secrets of this area. He knew the woods very well and if necessary he knew he could hide in any of the many caves the lined the cliffs of the Spine of the Empire. He could take care of himself.

As much as Geni liked to think she kept Xander out of trouble, Xander did the same for her. On more than one occasion he had saved the reckless young girl from either embarrassment or minor injury.

Xander fondly recalled the time they were walking through the village and Xander yanked Geni back just as she was about to step under a window in which an old woman was dumping the contents of a chamber pot. The old woman was aghast at what she had almost done. Geni, on the other hand, immediately demanded how Xander had known to pull her back.

“Because if you had stepped there a bunch of filth would have fallen on you!” Xander had said. Geni always hated when he answered questions with such obvious answers.

# # #

Mirdoth peered through the Elemscope he had inherited from his master long ago. The Elemscope was not designed to look at the skies but instead at people. He had it pointed at members in the courtyard. In the center stood Tandis who was helping villagers to pack their worldly possessions.

Lord Ambrose entered the room, “Mirdoth, we too must soon prepare. I’m surprised you haven’t packed that contraption given how important you believe it to be.”

Mirdoth smiled, “Oh it is, my lord. The Elemscope is ancient. My master gave it to me and his master to him. When I view people through its prisms, the magical essence of each person is shown. But I would not cut short the opportunity to look on the Arnorian.”

“What is it you hope to find out, my friend?” Ambrose asked.

“I want to see how the fire of magic glows in him compared to most people,” Mirdoth explained.

“Indeed? But most people have no magic at all, do they not?” Ambrose asked.

“On the contrary, my lord. Every living thing in this world possesses magic. It is only a matter of degree. We are saturated with it. Some of the ancient texts even say that long ago we had vastly more magic. Perhaps we were all like the Arnorian,” Mirdoth continued.

Aiming the Elemscope at Tandis, Mirdoth gestured to Ambrose.

“See here,” Mirdoth said. “Long have I hoped that Lord Tandis would visit so I might see him through this device,” Mirdoth said.

Ambrose looked through the Elemscope and each person had, to varying degrees, a hint of red energy about them. For some people it was very dim, in others it was visible. In no one, however, did it shine brightly except his daughter who he saw walking across the courtyard. She glowed like an illuminated ruby through the scope.

“Not surprising that Geni is quite illuminated, she has the same power I have,” Ambrose commented.

“Not quite, my lord,” Mirdoth began. “Your talents are similar but not the same. Her talent is specific. She can command people to do specific things and they will obey as long as they understand her. Your talent is much more general. Your commands set the tone. They illicit an emotional response. It’s not specific like your daughter’s but it doesn’t require men to understand you either.”

As Ambrose turned the scope to follow his daughter, a blindingly blue light caused him to wince.

“My gods!” Ambrose exclaimed.

“Exactly! The Arnorian! His magical potency is so great that it is blinding to look at. Note that his glow is not red like all of us but blue. His magic is of a different kind,” Mirdoth explained.

Ambrose nodded and saw that his daughter was approaching that urchin boy. He peered through the scope to see if he could get a measure of the boy’s power. What he saw was as startling as what he saw with Tandis.

“Mirdoth, the boy. Look at the boy!”

Mirdoth took the Elemscope and peered at the boy. What he saw made no sense. The boy had no glow at all. In fact, the boy seemed to cast a shadow about him. When Princess Angenica approached him, her own glow began to dim. In fact, all those who walked near the boy saw their own glow dim on approach and return to their native levels as they moved away.

“What does it mean?” Ambrose asked.

“I…don’t know. The boy is totally devoid of magic it seems. But it’s even more than that as he seems to affect others as well,” Mirdoth observed.

“But if he was just devoid of magic, he would simply not have a glow. But he not only doesn’t have a glow, he seems to cast a shadow, what do you think that implies?” Ambrose asked.

Mirdoth had no idea. He wished his master were still here. His master had lived through the end of the War of Magic and had been to the Empire of Sorcery. He would have known what to make of this.

“Perhaps we should ask Lord Tandis,” Mirdoth finally suggested.

“No,” Ambrose said slowly. “Lord Tandis has long been our friend. But something tells me he is not really here for our benefit. I have a sense of men, my friend. Our lives mean nothing to him. I don’t trust him.”

# # #

Tandis watched as the last of the villager carts began its journey towards the great bridge. With any luck, they would be across the bridge by nightfall. He had already sent his camp attendants back north towards the bridge.

The attendants wouldn’t be returning to his camp, which, Tandis knew, would be much to the consternation of his company’s talented cook. Tandis smiled but things were getting too dangerous too fast.

The evil approaching was searching. Tandis could sense it. For months Tandis had felt an ancient darkness returning in the far east. He could not quite place what it was. It was familiar and yet alien at the same time.

Every fiber of his being ached to confront this evil. With his elite company of men, he felt certain that he could drive back whatever vile force was approaching. But the previous night’s dream had shaken him. He had not worried himself about the fate of the orb since well before the cataclysm.

His kind didn’t even know it was here. When he had unexpectedly found the silver orb on this world, he had been very careful not to use it lest it shine as a beacon to all of his kind who would no doubt tear this world apart to possess it. Instead, he had hidden it away in a place where even its brilliance would be blunted. Now, somehow, he was expected to move it.

Moving the orb seemed an impossible task. If its current hiding place was not enough to keep this ancient evil from finding it, how would bringing it out into the open help? He dare not use the thing himself as it would bring every immortal creature of good or evil bearing down to this tiny world in haste which would certainly result in a second cataclysm.

Frustrated, Tandis merely waited for the solution to somehow present itself. In hindsight, it had been a mistake to hide the Dred’nir bane here in this place. But he could think of nowhere else to have done so. He had gone over the options in his mind a thousand times. He could only mask its presence in a world that had magic. And his native world certainly had magic but his kind had fought over the object for eons. That world was not an option. By contrast, the mortals of this world couldn’t wield it and there was, at the time, still enough magic on this world to construct a place of hiding.

Tandis had long loved this world if not necessarily the beings of this world. He wept when the Dread Lords, the so-called “titans”, had come to this world. It was inevitable they would come to this place with so many shards of the Telenanth laying rest here. Even now, Tandis could feel the power of the remaining elemental shards of the world that lay waiting for more Channelers. Only the aging Sorcerer King and his own apprentice, Calis, could use the shards now. It had been a generation since any other channelers had been born.

What Tandis did know was that The Fallen would be here by morning. The village would be near empty and the garrison was well trained and of a hardy folk. With any luck, they would hold the Fallen long enough to allow the villagers to escape.

He was disappointed that Lord Ambrose and Mirdoth had elected to stay behind to defend the Keep. It wasn’t necessarily a foolish decision. This Keep had been especially made to hold off just such an onslaught. Even a legion of Sions would have difficulty cracking open the Keep. The great iron gate had been enchanted long ago to resist virtually any kind of attack and the castle had been engineered to thwart virtually any type of traditional siege.

In addition, once the attack commenced, Tandis would return to his camp and bring down his company. Even if things went poorly for the Keep, it would be many days before it would be in any serious peril, more than time enough for his elite warriors to flank the invaders.

Looking around, Tandis saw the sun was starting to set. Soldiers talked in hush voices and he saw the Princess arguing with a young boy. It was at that moment that Tandis first saw Xander and immediately understood. Moving faster than any mortal man could imagine, Tandis bounded in front of Geni and Xander.

“Princess, I need you to go see your father, I must talk to this boy,” Tandis said gravely.

Geni was tempted to disobey but knew that the Lord Tandis was not one to argue with and left.

“Boy, there is little time. Do you know of the deep forest and the mountain edge at the end of it?”

Xander looked up nervously at the man. Lord Tandis was an imposing figure even in the best of circumstances, but when rushed, the true depth of Tandis’s might tended to seep through. Xander nodded.

“Where the rock turns white and is most steep there is a hidden cave,” Tandis began.

“Yes, I know, I’ve been in it,” Xander interjected.

Tandis was surprised and confused, two feelings that were quite alien to him. “What? They are hidden. Magically hidden.”

“Well apparently not that well magically hidden. I’ve been in them and explored the outer parts of the cave for years,” Xander said. Xander understood that his confidence could be interpreted wrongly and did his best to subdue it.

Tandis paused a moment. Then he looked over Xander and smiled. “Yes, I suppose I should expect that. Look boy, I must leave in haste. I need you to head into those caves and make your way to the long stone bridge that is deep within the cave. There I will meet you.”

Xander was afraid, he had never been that deep into the caves, “stone bridge? I’ve never gone that far!”

But Tandis was already moving away and yelled back “It’s just beyond the dragon’s lair.” and he was gone.

“Dragon’s lair?” Xander croaked to himself.

# #

High above the keep in the hills that surround the north side of the village was Nym. His pale, gray wirery frame stood motionless as the sun set. Like all of his kind, Nym preferred the night. With scarcely any perceived effort, Nym dashed to a closer position as the last vistages of sunlight hit. His impossibly fast movement made him merely a blur of motion.

The village had an unexpected calm about it. Cooking fires dotted the landscape below. Soon, they would head north to cross the great bridge to the west. The villages, however, were not what Nym was interested in. Nym was looking intently for the Arnorian. His master had told him that Lord Tandis would soon make his move that would lead them to their prize. This time, nothing would stop The Fallen.

Chapter IV

The villagers had been implored by town council to leave prior to dawn and they had heeded that warning. Now, as the sun began to rise, the Spring morning was totally silent except for the sounds of doves that lived in the woods to the east.

The garrison was well trained for this very moment. Most of the men had never seen any of the race of The fallen in their lifetimes. What they did know came from stories from their childhood. The Fallen had once been men it was said. But the titans had taken them and twisted them into beings that could be bred for war. In many forms the Fallen came in. The worst of them were known as Sions, beings with supernatural powers that were as unpredictable as they were malicious. For this reason, the men of the Outpost had been trained in personal discipline more than anything else. Fear of the unknown can eat away even at the mightiest of warriors.

The village was entirely deserted and its silence was unnerving. Lord Ambrose and Counselor Mirdoth walked amongst the men in the keep to reassure and inspire. Lord Ambrose showed no sign of fear or uncertainty and this proved to be contagious. The men were visibly relieved when he spoke a word or even glanced in their direction.

But Lord Ambrose and Mirdoth were far from certain. Ambrose was no channeler but he sensed a great forboding that was approaching from the north east.

“Do you sense it, my lord?” Mirdoth asked.

“I do indeed my friend. Powerful. Unbelievably powerful. I need not your Elemscope to tell that something of unrivaled potency is approaching.

The Keep had been constructed shortly after the War of Magic. Its very walls had been enchanted and its iron gate fortified by many different spells. Ambrose was not so much worried about the Keep being breached but instead of the inevitable siege.

The village would no doubt be destroyed in the course of the siege. This saddened Ambrose. More than most, Ambrose had seen a lot of things and the almost naiveté of village life was the king of thing he had fought for. Now, its destruction was assured.

“Where is Lord Tandis?” Ambrose asked to no one in particular.

Tandis was in the hills above the village with Xander. From the hills, Tandis and Xander could see the army of The Fallen approach. It had been a century since The Fallen had gathered in such numbers.

Tandis eyed the approaching army closely. This was worse than he had expected. They were organized and disciplined. No marauding warriors here. These were soldiers who had been trained. Man for man, a warrior of the Fallen was far more lethal than a soldier of the Kingdom. The Kingdom had prevailed during the War of Magic primarily due to superior strategy and tactics and the discipline of well trained soldiers. This force, however, appeared as professional and disciplined as any army the Kingdom had put together Tandis thought.

“The journey to the stone bridge that leads out of the underground city will take several days, do you have enough provisions?”

Xander nodded. He had ample experience living on his own without the benefits of “civilization” and was well prepared.

“Your constant enemy will not be The Fallen but the darkness itself,” Tandis said. He reached into his robe and pulled out several strange objects.

“These items will help provide you with light and fire. Guard them well, I know you have your own provisions but unless you’ve ever spent an extended amount of time in a cave, you cannot adequately begin to imagine what it’s like to exist in total darkness for days at a time,” Tandis explained.

Xander was unusually independent for someone his age due to circumstance. Now, it paid off. Xander had spent the early hours putting together only the things he absolutely needed. His backpack included his trusty cooking pan, his pick shovel, along with enough rations to sustain him for some time.

Tandis explained the plan, he would head to the cave while Tandis went to the north to fetch his company of elite soldiers who would return to help disrupt the likely siege of the Keep. Then he would head into the caves and meet him.

“Ready?” Tandis asked.

“I’m ready but I don’t think..” Xander began.

“What is it?” Tandis asked.

And with a fluid motion, Xander brought out his pan and moved it up in front of Tandis’s chest just as an arrow intersected with it. The loud thunk acted as a signal to a group of elite Fallen soldiers to ambush the two.

The Fallen normally roared a battle cry when they went into battle. At least, that is what Tandis remembered. The nearly two dozen Fallen soldiers that rushed towards the two were almost completely silent. Clad in identical steel scale male with helmets that had a dagger shaped point at the very top, the soldiers swept down with large two-handed swords with murder in their eyes.

Xander had never seen anyone of the race of the Fallen. At first glance, these soldiers looked like very muscular men. As they got closer their gray skin and white hair distinguished them from men. They were also far faster than men carrying the same equipment could ever hope to be.

Tandis barely had time to bring his sword out to parry the first blow. The clash of steel rang throughout the woods.

“I don’t understand how I didn’t sense their approach,” Tandis frowned.

“Why are they attacking us first?” Xander said as he dodged an arrow and ducked beneath a sword sweep that would have removed his head from his soldiers.

“I fear to speculate. But for now, I need you to run. I will take care of these,” Tandis grunted.

Xander, unarmed and untrained in combat did not need to be persuaded. Lord Tandis, if the stories of him were remotely true, would be fine. Xander darted through the trees dodging arrows, jumping rocks and underbrush and soon disappeared into the thickness of the woods. The boy was not the target of the Fallen and no pursuit was attempted.

With the boy gone, Tandis narrowed his eyes at the nearly two dozen soldiers and growled, “Very unfortunate for you.”

# # #

Below, Fallen Soldiers were trying to storm the keep. The mighty gate was closed and ready for the attack. The Fallen were not attempting to approach the gate but rather had brought large steel wagons that provided cover but no overt offensive weaponry. The Fallen seemed to be merely waiting for something and taking cover while they waited.

Inside the keep, archers struggled in vain to target the enemy behind their portable fortresses. Mirdoth was up with them and was confused at what he saw.

“Jarak,” Mirdoth began. “Do you see any rhyme or reason to what they are doing?”

“No sir,” Jarak said. The commander of the garrison looked at the encampment below. Approximately 2,500 Fallen soldiers were safely ensconced in the small steel wagons. Neither fire or arrow from afar would be able to affect them.

Jarak could see that they were slowly making a formation but not one with any offensive capability so long as the keep was not breached. Their formation would not be useful during an extended siege either.

Jarak also noted that 2,500 Fallen soldiers were not remotely sufficient to lay siege to the Keep. They would not be able to overwhelm the force of 800 garrison soldiers unless they could get into the keep and there was no apparent way they were going to do that. The keep, as everyone seemed to repeat several times a day had been designed precisely to prevent an enemy from getting inside.

Jarak’s speculation was cut short as a man began to walk towards the Keep. He strode through the main path from the village that led to the Keep as if he were unaware of the battle around him. He was not Fallen however. He was a man. The man was clad in a strange type of dark armor that appeared to have once been white but had somehow become stained almost pitch black except for a few smears that had failed to completely cover it.

The man appeared in no hurry. He strolled as if on a Spring morning walk. The man stopped, well within arrow range. He had no apparent defense, not even a shield. He appeared unarmed.

A Fallen commander approached the man. The commander towered over the man. The commander’s armor could scarcely contain the rippling muscles that were contained underneath.

Mirdoth concentrated and used one of his talents to listen in on the conversation.

“Lord Tandis has headed north to meet up with his company. He had a companion that escaped towards the mountains,” the commander said to the man.

“They failed to subdue the Arnorian?” the man responded. “The arrow I gave your men was special. It should have brought him down enough to be taken.”

“Our scout that survived the encounter says that the boy blocked it…with…with a pan.” the commander said, lowering his voice.

Mirdoth could not read the expression on the man’s face. His hair was mostly gray with speckles of dark brown. In a way, the man looked noble and good and yet, the eyes of the man betrayed him. This man, whatever else he had been, was the source of evil he had sensed. Even from this distance, Mirdoth could tell that this man was the doom they sensed.

“We will need to take this castle and question its leaders,” the man said flatly.

“The keep?”

“Yes, whatever.” the man said impatiently.

Looking towards the north, the man paused and then said, “Have you ensured that the Crimson Knights will not be able to thwart us?”

“Yes, My Lord. I sent a full legion to deal with them,” the commander responded. “They will not be able to stop us this time.”

Mirdoth broke out of his train of thought and quickly instructed the archers to fire on the man. This might be their only chance.

The archers took aim and fired. A hail of arrows took flight to intercept with the man standing with the Fallen commander in the middle of the pathway that led to the gate of the keep. The Fallen commander put his arms up to shield himself from the arrows, a futile gesture.

The arrows, however…missed. There was no apparent shield or defense about the two, the arrows simply did not strike their target. The commander ran back to his men and took shelter in one of the wagons. The man, by contrast, strolled closer to the keep.

“Damn. Fire again!” Jarak bellowed to his men.

A second wave of arrows flew towards the man and again, they simply…missed. Around the man arrows stuck out of the ground seeming to almost paint an outline of where the man had stood.

Mirdoth suspected magic was at work here. Incredibly powerful. Mirdoth imagined that the man was going to send some sort of blast of energy or fury and absolutely destroy the gate if not most of the keep.

“Get ready!” Jarak yelled.

The expected explosion did not happen.

Instead, the man looked at the gate and the gate fell down. Literally. The huge iron gate that had been imbued by special magical properties by a Channeler long ago simply fell over as if the structural integrity of the gate had failed.

The Fallen Commander cried out in a language Jarak did not understand but whose meaning was clear. The Fallen soldiers poured into the keep.

# # #

Geni was supposed to have left with the villagers. Her father had ordered her to do so. But she had undying faith that nothing bad would happen to the Keep as long as her father was here. The keep was impenetrable.

Now, she saw the hulking monster soldiers running in all directions. A few of them had been struck down but for every one that had been killed a couple of Kingdom soldiers had fallen as well.

Uncertain of what to do, she decided the best course of action was to find her father. He would know what to do. But as she attempted to find him, A Fallen soldier was upon her. He attempted to grab her.

“You will guard me with your life,” she commanded.

The enemy soldier froze in his tracks and stiffened. He said nothing and began to escort her.

Soon, another enemy soldier approached and was shocked when he was run through by his fellow soldier. Seeing what happened, two more soldiers rushed them only to be subdued by Geni in the same way as the first one.

Geni and her growing entourage headed towards the entrance to the command tower where she knew her father would be. As she approached, a middle aged man in black plate mail armor intercepted them. The three Fallen guards were a full head taller than the man and bristled with muscles. They were upon the man in an instant but the man easily blocked their blows and sent them hurtling into the wall.

“What do we have here?” the man asked with a smile on his face.

“I am the Princess Angenica. You will do as I command.” she said.

The man’s smile did not even flicker. He laughed.

“Impressive. You will be a valuable asset later. For now, I can’t have you causing mayhem,” and with that the man waved his hand and suddenly Geni felt her inner self disipate. She did not know why but she knew at that moment that her power was gone, at least for now.

The two guards who had nearly gotten themselves killed by aiding her stood up, dazed.

“Put her somewhere secure for now,” the man commanded.

“Yes..my lord,” the two soldiers stammered.

The two soldiers led Geni away while the man climbed entered the tower. A long winding staircase led to the top where he knew the lord of the keep would be waiting.

Kingdom soldiers lay dead and dying on the stairwell, the battle was nearly over. As the man reached the level just below the top floor, an elderly man in a long tattered robe blocked the door that led to the staircase to the top. Soldiers, both Kingdom and Fallen, lay dead in the room. The two men faced each other.

“You!” the man cried. “You shall not pass here!”

The man in the black armor and grim face took in the scene. He could tell that this man was different than the others he had encountered.

“Fascinating,” the man in black to Mirdoth. “You’re a Channeler. But you’re actively trying to hide it. What’s your name?”

The strength in the old man seemed to melt. “Mirdoth. My name is Mirdoth. How…how can you know?”

“That’s for a different discussion. What I will be interested in learning is why you are hiding this fact let alone serving someone who is most definitely not a Channeler,” the man said.

Mirdoth was silent.

Finally he said, “Who are you?”

“Me? I’ve had many names, few of which have been..complementary. But in this context, I tend to be called Draginol. Now, why are you hiding the fact you’re a Channeler?” Draginol asked.

“Very well, your secret is safe with me but I am going to open that door and meet your lord. There is nothing you can do to prevent this,” Draginol said calmly.

Mirdoth knew this to be true. This man...this creatures known as Draginol could barely contain the power that resided with him. If not for his eyes, he would look like an ordinary man. No, not quite ordinary but a noble man. But his eyes betrayed him. The man’s eyes could not seem to quite bottle up the power within. He could not quite put his finger on what about his eyes made him conclude that but there was an unnatural hue to the man’s blue eyes that made it clear that there was something supernatural about him.

Mirdoth slumped and two guards approached behind Draginol.

“Take him somewhere comfortable. Leave guards out here. I have much to discuss with the lord of this keep.”

The Fallen soldiers took the old man and escorted him down the stairs. Draginol opened the door and began to climb the stairs. At the top, he opened the door and entered.

The tower was empty except for Lord Ambrose who had his back turned to Draginol. He was quietly surveying the battle below.

Draginol could not help but be immediately impressed with Ambrose. Mortals tended to react to his presence with innate fear if not panic. Even Mirdoth had spent a great deal of effort maintaining his composure in front of the dark lord.

Ambrose, by contrast, appeared nonplussed by Draginol’s arrival in the room.

The man had a regal demeanor. He was not wearing armor now. Over on a great chair in the corner of the room rested an impressive set of battle armor that the lord of the keep had been wearing until the course of the battle had become certain.

“I am Lord Ambrose, the guardian of the Henge. You shall order your men to lay down your arms and surrender.”

So strong was the command that even Fallen soldiers out of ear shot suddenly paused without understanding. Some of the younger Fallen commanders actually began to lay down their swords and axes.

Lord Ambrose had been saving all his strength and all his will for this moment. It was so powerful that long after this battle, Fallen soldiers would find themselves avoiding this place. The echoes of the command would permeate the stone walls themselves and become part of the fabric of the environment.

Draginol, however, was unmoved.

“Impressive,” Draginol commented. “I assume that was your daughter we captured earlier as she seems to have a similar gift.”

Ambrose stood in silence.

“Now, take a seat, my lord Ambrose. We have much to discuss,” Draginol commanded.

Ambrose merely smiled and did not make a motion.

“Truly interesting,” Draginol laughed. “Very well, Lord Ambrose. Please, let’s sit together and talk. There is much I would say to you.”

 

If you’d like to read the final version, you can check it out here:  Elemental: Destiny's Embers 

Try to ignore the troll reviews from a particular web forum (note none of the 1-star reviews actually are verified buyers).

But you can check out the Kindle version which lets you read the first couple chapters for free. So you can see how massively different the first part is.

War of Magic was the first Stardock game that takes place on Elemental. The second is Fallen Enchantress.  There are two more (not counting expansions) in the works (one an RPG). As game developers, our goal is to translate decades of lore into an actual game as well as create an environment that is open enough where others can add to it.


Comments
on Sep 20, 2011

I'll admit I was pleasantly surprised by Destiny's Embers.  Not because I doubted Brad's story or ability, but because there is a glut of poorly written (and especially poorly plotted) fantasy out there. 

Meaning this as only compliment (and not a snide WOM comment) I'll say that Destiny's Embers is my favorite part of the Elemental Universe so far.  Followed closely by the cancer.. err excitement over Fallen Enchantress. 

on Sep 21, 2011

Thank you for sharing this.

That reminds me, I've neglected my writing for the past two years. Although, maybe procrastinating wasn't a bad idea. The longer I leave the story to simmer, the better it gets, unless I start to forget things, which I sadly tend to do. The bit where I've been having trouble is defining characters. They started out as amorphous globs, each draft adding a bit more shape to them. At some point I intentionally put them in situations that weren't in the story, just to figure out how they would act. Some of them still weren't good enough, so I took their defining trait, and made it part of other existing characters, but now it's getting a bit too cluttered. It's especially bad since this happens to the main character. 

 I'll probably get back to writing next year, by then I hope to have a better idea of what to do with the story. I know where it starts, where it ends and most of the stuff in the middle, but a lot of connections still need to be made. It also doesn't help that I can't spell all that well.

on Sep 21, 2011

Ah, finally news on the Elemental RPG.

I wonder if it will include

  1. Turn based tactical combat - aka as in the game Temple of Elemental Evil (me go, you go initiative based combat where units alternate movement based on initiative)
  2. Player actions or inactions that can dramatically change the world around them
  3. Time based quests

Example: You learn of an attack on a keep. If you reach the keep in time you can help in its defense and possibly defeat the attackers. If you arrive too late you encounter a keep in ruins with most of its NPCs slain. A dramatic world changing event based on player actions.

on Sep 21, 2011

Cool, I've been meaning to get a copy of the book. Just finished reading A Dance with Dragons the other day and need something to read until the final Wheel of Time comes out in a few months.

on Sep 21, 2011

Something to read to tide you over?

 

Jim butcher has a quirky set of fantasy novels with a detective spicer thrown in. Harry Preston, protagonist, detective, Wizard, with an office in the low rent districts of modern day Chicago.  Awesome.  Always wants to help, kinda like the Rockford Files, on steroids, and working in the realm of Faerie.  He was even the Knight Champion of the Fey Queen of the Winter Court.

Currently reading my first Koontz book.  The Sole Survivor - good read so far.

on Sep 21, 2011

Edwin99
Ah, finally news on the Elemental RPG.

I somehow missed this part my first time through. Now I want to know, what is the second one that's in the works?  WOM, FE, RPG, ???

on Sep 21, 2011

I love that there's a version number attached.  Compsci habits die hard.

on Sep 21, 2011

Actually yes, I once wanted to write a book and I in fact wrote one. I wrote a full length fantasy novel in my early twenties, called Sword, Axe and Crown that was never published.  Much more recently I compiled a collection of short stories originally intended as backstory for a never-realized CRPG based on HP Lovecraft.  Thanks to the miracle of Kindle, this book was (self) published.

on Sep 21, 2011

I personally do want to become a writer, and I am aware that editors can modify a lot in stories, but in the end, I believe it is for the best, as you said, you are there to sell as many books as possible, that way you can write even more.

They work for that, they surely know what's best, even if our idea has to change...

 

Destiny's Embers was really good and I would certainly buy a new book of you (Can you make some of Galactic Civilizations too?) so at least I can tell you that the final version was great (This one is not bad however, just... less good? )

on Sep 21, 2011

screeg
Thanks to the miracle of Kindle, this book was (self) published.


 

Wait.... you can do that!? I may have to re.. reevaluate my priorities.  

on Sep 21, 2011

ElanaAhova
Something to read to tide you over?

Jim butcher has a quirky set of fantasy novels with a detective spicer thrown in. Harry Preston, protagonist, detective, Wizard, with an office in the low rent districts of modern day Chicago.  Awesome.  Always wants to help, kinda like the Rockford Files, on steroids, and working in the realm of Faerie.  He was even the Knight Champion of the Fey Queen of the Winter Court.

 

Dresden, not Preston.  There are about 13 books in it (The Dresden Files) so far, the last 3 or so were #1 NYTimes best sellers.  They just keep getting better, though not as fast after Dead Beat (5th?).

 

The only series I follow these days other than the Dresden files is Harry Connolly's Twenty Palaces series (3 books so far), which is pretty dark, and the monsters and magic system are original and disturbing - in a good way. Highly recommended!

on Sep 21, 2011

I am planning to write a fantasy book, I have created the world and have been focusing on fleshing out the societies so that they feel like a vibrant ecosystem. Haven't written any words  yet, I have no idea what its like to be an author. Its been bouncing around in my head for almost 10 years now 

on Sep 22, 2011

I like it. Exciting. LOVE these parts about the elemscope showing the glow of people and Xander having a shadowy glow instead.

 

I'll try and get the book.

on Oct 02, 2011

I'm now wondering what the non-TBS, non-RPG Elemental game is going to be.

I know the type of game I really want, because I know you'd do a great job at it, but you've already decided so I'll wait and see in a few years.

 

on Oct 03, 2011

All I'll say about it is that it'll be Baldur's Gate style (isometric) and not first person.

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