Shadows and Light
Date: Fri, January 14, 2005
Topic: Stories & Fiction
This is the prologue for a Greyhawk book I started writing when I was in high school, oh so long ago... maybe someday I will put more of the story onto Canonfire! But for now, this much will have to do. The prologue takes place about 20 years before the Twin Cataclysms, and the rest of the story was split up between the present day and various time periods in the past.
I hope you enjoy this bit of writing. Comments, critiques, etc. are welcome as always.
Shadows and Light
Used with Permission. Do not repost without obtaining prior permission from the author.
Prologue: The Suel-Baklunish border (-446 before the Common Year)
The rider reined his horse to a halt and stood up on his stirrups. Looking back over his shoulder the rider pulled his long blond hair out of his face with a pale hand. He saw it again, dust on his back trail. He knew he would have to take care of this now, the rider would have no time later, and an interruption after he had crossed the border could well spoil his plan. He guided his horse into a narrow cleft between two of the huge boulders that abundantly stood at the northern base of the Sulhaut Mountains, and climbed off of his steed’s broad back. Whispering softly to the horse, he tethered its reins to a shrub he found growing at the back of the crack, and turned to create a plan. The man pulled a long rope off of his saddle and coiled it in the center of the trail he had been following. Looking up at the approaching dust cloud, he muttered to himself and started climbing one of the huge rocks that had provided his horse’s shelter. He scrambled to the top like a spider; there he stood in the early afternoon sun. The day was warm, and the man basked in the sun for a bare moment, he raised his fist to the sky and gave out a mental shout. Not a moment later a large falcon circled the man’s perch and then alighted on his raised forearm. The raptors great golden eyes flashed like fire as it looked into its master’s face. With his other hand the man pointed to the advancing dust cloud.
“I need some reconnaissance, go Taheera. Find out their numbers and strength for me, then report back here.” The man threw up his arm and the falcon sped away toward the advancing riders. There was plenty of time to prepare; from the look of the dust, the followers would not arrive for another hour. He looked around at his site; it was a good enough place for an ambush. The trail ran through a gap between two boulders that made the one he was sitting on look tiny about thirty paces past his vantage point. Beyond them it was another hundred yards to the forest wall, and the border. Once inside the forest he would be in Baklunish lands, and the man could continue with his plans to help them bring about the downfall of the empire. Emperor Solon would rue the day he had belittled Zedric of Daance in front of the court. The emperor had sealed the fate of his empire with his mocking words. Now the Suel Empire would fall, and Zedric would make sure that he was the one to bring it down.
Zedric had been waiting half an hour when the hawk returned. The bond he shared with the bird as master and familiar allowed the bird to communicate all that it had seen to the blond man. This would be easy enough, Zedric thought, there where only six of them. They appeared to be barbaric mercenaries, of the type often in the employ of the Suel military forces during these times of war.
Zedric scrambled down the rock as easily as he had climbed up it. There still was a bit of preparation to do. He took the coil of rope in the center of the road and slung it out into great loops covering various parts of the road, then he painstakingly covered all fifty feet of it with dust and debris from the trail. Only ten minutes remained until his company would arrive by the time Zedric had finished his rope preparations. The wizard quickly cast a spell of sleep upon his horse, so that it would not alert others to their presence. Then, standing in the narrow defile that he had hidden the steed in, Zedric wove a magical shell of invisibility over them both. Now all he had to do was wait.
* * *
“Look ahead there, on that boulder, isn’t that the falcon that circled us before?” the first rider said pointing ahead to a boulder near the road. “Cap’n, what do you think?”
“Aye, it appears so,” The grizzled warrior behind him said, “perhaps our quarry is not yet to the forest.” He glanced around at his men. “Time, I think, to tell you who we are after.” He reined his horse to a stop and signaled for his small group to gather around. “I selected you five because you are the best I got, and the whole company could not have moved fast enough for us to have caught him.”
The others brought their horses in close to their leader. “Who is it we hunt, Cap’n?” the man who had been riding point asked, glancing over his shoulder again to look at the hawk.
“I am sorry that we are not getting paid for this venture, but believe me when I say that if the empire falls none of us will get paid ever again. Yes my friends, the very empire is at stake, for we hunt for a traitor that could open the gates for the Baklunish.” He peered at each of the men surrounding him, and then reached up to rub the silver amulet that hung around his neck. “We hunt for Zedric of Daance,” he said.
The men began muttering and making the sign of the evil eye with their hands. The point man cursed aloud. “We love you Cap’n, you know that… we would follow you into the jaws of hell and damnation. But a Mage-Lord, Cap’n, how can we hope to overcome him?”
“Before Zedric’s assassins got him, High Lancer Balocen gave me a ring that will turn aside the Mage-Lord’s spells. It was from him that I learned of Zedric’s treachery.” The captain looked around at his men. Like him, they where Oeridian, large men in scale armor. Each had a large round shield strapped to his back, and a long, straight sword hanging at his side, a couple even had bows and quivers of arrows slung from their saddles. Several bore the scars of their previous battles proudly. With their tan skin tones, dark hair, and square jaws the mercenaries did not look much like their Suloise employers. Indeed, the Oeridians where not much like the Suel, either in appearance or actions, but warriors needed to make a living, and the Suel paid better then the Baklunish. The captain was dressed like his men, with the exception of a silver amulet that was hanging around his neck, and the simple gold band of a ring that adorned his left ring finger. He looked like them too, though he was older, and had gray streaks in his chestnut colored hair.
“What if we fail to stop him, Alonis?” asked another of the riders, an older man who had been with him longer then the rest, the only one among them that felt comfortable calling the captain by name. “What happens then?”
“Then Cyndor shall record our deaths in his perpetual libram, and the Suel Imperium will certainly fall to the Baklunish,” the grizzled captain said. “But why worry? The priests of Cyndor would tell us that our deaths were written before we were born, and there is no changing destiny. Still, now that you know the dangers involved, I cannot force you to ride with me. If you feel that our paths must separate, then depart in peace, and no man will think less of you for it.” The men sat silently on their horses for a moment, as Alonis looked each in the eye.
“Lets go Cap’n,” the point man said. “We need to try to catch him before he makes the trees.” With that they turned their horses and set off down the trail at a fast trot. Alonis noted with dismay that the falcon was gone as they passed the boulder it had been sitting on.
Less then a quarter of a mile on they came to a place where two huge boulders, each more then a hundred feet high lay on either side of the trail, through the gap between them the riders could see the forest not too far distant.
“Damn, he must have made it to the forest already!” the point man cursed. “This will make our hunt all the harder.”
“Nay,” said the older warrior, “Look Alonis, our quarries tracks stop before the trail run between the rocks.”
The captain looked and saw that his longtime trail companion was right, the mage-lords trail seemed to veer off of the main track and go between two smaller boulders several yards before the gap. However, the narrow ravine between the smaller rocks was empty of anything but a small shrub at the far end. Alonis rode a bit closer to the small defile, something about the bush at the far end drew his attention. It looked like part of one of the shrub’s branches was bent down at an unnatural angle, yet it didn’t seem broken, and there was nothing there to hold it that way. The grizzled veteran decided to take a closer look. He dismounted and began walking toward the small ravine, his hand dropping to his sword hilt as he went. Then, as he got to the opening between the two rocks he heard a screech and looking up saw the falcon swoop low overhead. All hell broke loose.
The trail suddenly burst to life, as large coils of rope burst from the dirt to loop serpent-like around the men’s frightened horses. The men reached for weapons, and the horses bucked in fear as the rope bound tightly around them, holding them into place. Only the captain was out of the ropes range, and he leaped onto his mounts back and wheeled the horse around, drawing his sword as he did. Cursing, Alonis kicked his steed forward so he could help his men.
Alonis had cut through the rope holding the old campaigner’s horse, when a bolt of crackling fire flashed past the captain’s shoulder and struck the other man in the chest. The warrior’s eyes got wide as he looked into his commanders face and he silently mouthed Alonis’ name as he pitched backward off his horse, there he lay as his clothing and hair burned as if he had been doused in oil. The captain looked back over his shoulder at the narrow cleft that he had been getting ready to investigate and saw his quarry standing in the open near the front of it. Five bolts of silvery white energy lanced out from the mage-lord’s hand. Three of the bolts struck the horse Alonis sat upon, and the steed reared and began to fall. The other two bolts headed straight for the mercenaries chest, but at the last moment the ring on his hand flashed with a golden light and the magical missiles veered off. Zedric’s face registered surprise as the bolts slammed into his own chest instead, and the wizard fell to his knees.
Alonis leaped from the back of his dead horse as it hit the ground. The grizzled mercenary rolled directly to his feet, somehow managing to keep his sword in hand. The aging warrior quickly advanced on the wizard. Alonis was surprised to note the way that Zedric was dressed. The mage-lord was not dressed in the fine robes of silk that was expected of his station. Zedric was instead clad in the dusty trail clothing of a traveling adventurer; all dressed in red the color of blood. The mercenary was also more then a bit astonished by the long slim bladed sword that hung from the wizards belt, swords where not the usual weapons of mage-lords.
The warrior ran straight at his opponent, meaning to run him through before he could regain his feet, but Alonis was dismayed to find that the wizard was back up before he had covered half the distance. Zedric gave Alonis a cruel smile as he drew the sword at his side.
“You are Alonis, are you not?” the wizard asked as he swung the blade to a ready position. “Captain of the Company of Golden Eagle, the mercenary troop that has been gathering so much praise lately.”
Alonis grunted and swung his sword at the mage-lord’s head.
Zedric parried the blow easily and thrust his own blade toward the mercenary’s belly, but Alonis caught the blow on his shield. A series of lightning quick exchanges followed, but the grizzled mercenary’s blows kept getting turned aside by the wizard’s flashing blade, and the wizard could not seem to get through the warrior’s protections. After a moment, both men stepped back to catch their breath. Having each taken the measure of the other, the combatants prepared to join the fight in earnest.
“You fight well for a wizard,” Alonis said, raising his sword in a half salute.
“And well I should,” Zedric replied. “I am a royal mage-lord of the Suel Imperium, seventeenth in line to the throne. I had only the best tutors growing up, both in magic and in war.”
Alonis smiled and lunged forward. He made as if to thrust his sword at the wizard’s midriff, but pulled back his attack at the last moment. Zedric’s sword moved down to parry the attack that never came, and then lashed out in an offensive thrust of its own. This time Alonis parried. He slid his own blade along the top of the mage-lord’s, forcing Zedric’s sword to the shield. Then the mercenary slashed out over the mage-lord’s blade. Zedric was forced to leap backwards to try to avoid having the warrior’s blade cleave his skull in twain. When he raised his sword back into ready position, the mage-lord felt warmth flowing down over his face. A shallow scratch was under his left eye, at the top of one of his high cheekbones.
“Fencing and fighting are not the same thing, wizard.” Alonis said, looking at the blood flowing down his opponents face. “I can do both.”
They came together again with the clash of steel, both men fighting furiously. Neither one of them was willing to give so much as an inch. It was the mage-lord’s turn to try a ploy. He left a deliberate opening, and saw at once that the warrior had taken the bait. Zedric parried the warrior’s blow easily, but before he could reverse the direction of his own blade and end the fight, the edge of the mercenaries shield caught him across the bridge of the nose. There was a crunch, and a fresh rush of blood spilled over the wizards face as he was knocked off his feet to sprawl on the ground.
Zedric tried to shake the tears out of his eyes, and felt around for his sword. He could not feel it in his hand, and felt a sudden panic that it must have fallen out of reach when he fell. Looking up, the wizard saw Alonis advancing on him with death in his eyes. Zedric decided he had had enough of this sword fighting foolishness.
As Alonis advanced, the mage-lord spoke a few ancient words and pointed at the boulder to the right of the warrior. With a crash the stone burst into sharp fragments spraying the area. Zedric felt one pierce his foot and winced in pain. Alonis fared much worse. The stony shrapnel ripped through his lower legs where his armor did not cover, and one piece shot through the seam in the side where his armor came together. The aging mercenary was knocked off of his feet by the blast.
The mage-lord stood and found his sword lying behind him. He picked the blade up and limped over to where Alonis was just crawling to his hands and knees. Zedric flicked the mercenary’s sword away with a twist of his own, and then looked down at the man before him.
Alonis was crumpled before him, his knees were bloodied, and he leaned heavily on his shield arm, which was on the ground. A razor sharp shard of rock had slashed one of the straps that held the shield in place, and it half-hung off of the warrior’s arm. Alonis’ sword hand was clutching his bleeding side. “Balocen’s ring… how did you…?”
Zedric laughed as he glared down at the warrior. “The ring only turns spells directed at you, fool, not at the rocks around you.” This kill would be too easy, Zedric looked up to see how the other mercenaries fared.
At that moment Alonis struck. While Zedric’s attention was diverted for the barest of seconds, the warrior’s hand flashed down from the wound in his side to the hilt of his long dagger, then upward to plunge it into the wizards right knee. Zedric stumbled back, roaring in pain. Alonis rose to a kneeling position and his hand closed like a vice on the mage-lords right wrist, there was a snapping sound as the wizard’s fine bones broke. As Zedric tried to pull away, the grizzled warrior stripped the sword from the mage’s hand and into his own. Alonis then slashed the razor sharp blade along the inside of the wizard’s left thigh. The sword slid through cloth and flesh with ease and there was a crimson fountain of blood as it severed the wizard’s femoral artery. Zedric fell away from the onslaught screaming in horror and agony.
Alonis rose to his feet. He was about to take a step forward and finish off the wizard, but he saw the panic in Zedric’s eyes and the widening pool of blood forming beneath him, and instead turned to stumble toward where his men were still bound by the magically animated rope. The mercenary left a trial of his own blood as he carefully picked his way around the still smoldering corpse of his one-time companion and began hacking at the rope that was binding another of his men.
“I knew we could count on you, Cap’n” the mercenary said as Alonis cut his sword arm free of the rope. “Let me get my blade free and I’ll help you free the others.”
The other mercenaries shouted their encouragement as Alonis grunted and moved toward the next man. He had only made it partway, however, when he heard a voice speaking harshly from behind him. Alonis turned.
Zedric stood near where the warrior had left him, looking pallid from his loss of blood. The mage-lord was bare from the waist up, as he had taken off his shirt and used it to staunch the flow of blood from his leg as best he could. The wizard’s broken wrist was cradled gingerly against his side, but his other hand was making articulate motions toward where the mercenaries where bound, and his voice issued ancient words of great power.
The smoke coming off of the slain warrior’s body suddenly grew thicker and black, and began filling the area. The trapped riders started to cough as the foul smoke assaulted their lungs. Alonis tried to run toward where he could still hear the wizard’s voice, but his own leg wounds and the poor visibility slowed him, and then he tripped over the smoldering corpse and sprawled headlong in the reeking smoke. Then the smoke began to burn. It flared up with a terrible red light as the very vapors started to catch alight. Men and horses screamed. Alonis felt the heat as the fire engulfed him; he covered his face and lay there on the ground. The warrior’s armor and clothing caught fire.
* * *
Alonis tried to roll over onto his back, he was in more pain then he could have ever imagined in his forty-eight years of life. Much of the skin on his back was burned away. In one place the very flesh of his back had burned off so that his shoulder bone was charred and plainly visible to be seen. The front of his body, that which had been pressed to the ground during the inferno, was covered with blisters and burns, though to a lesser extent then his back. Alonis tried to roll over but could not.
Zedric stood over the warrior and gave a hoarse laugh. He smiled as Alonis turned his head to look up at him. “You are in pain?” the mage-lord asked. “Good.”
Alonis tried to say something back to the wizard, but nothing came out of his mouth. Zedric swayed slightly as he stood over the fallen warrior. His face was drawn into a grimace of the pain that he himself felt.
“We are dying, both of us.” The wizard said down to the warrior. “But you faster then me I think. What a pity as you are obviously in the greater amount of pain.”
Alonis tried to speak again and even managed to roll partway onto his side.
Zedric got a cruel smile on his face for a moment, before it faded back into the mask of pain. “I have a wonderful idea.” The mage-lord spoke a word so powerful that a slight tremor rocked the hilly landscape. Then the wizard leaned down as close as he could to the warrior’s ear. He began to whisper, “I wish for you to live until my soul departs for the nether realms.”
The wizard turned and started trying to make his way toward the forest. It was hard with the wounds that his legs bore, and he was sorry that the incendiary cloud had killed his horse along with all of the mercenaries. Zedric had made it to the gap between the two giant boulders when his blood loss over came him and he collapsed into unconsciousness. Taheera the falcon floated down from the sky and landed near her mortally wounded masters shoulder.