Authors: Jordan Baker
A Dark Tide
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, incidents and events
contained herein are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Other than historical characters, any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright 2014 by Electrum Press and the Author.
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Lightning flashed in his mind, followed by echoes of thunder that rolled across the landscape of his thoughts and slowly fading into the distance. The sensation of raw power now absent, like the memory of a taste, or scent, dissipating with every passing moment, and lost forever, save for the seemingly frantic energy of a worried mind.
"Aaron, you must listen," Stroma rasped dryly, his voice echoing in his thoughts.
"I have listened enough," Aaron said. "I have seen your truth and I have heard your lies."
"I did what was must be done. You know the truth of it, and you know it is the only way."
Aaron was silent, guarding his own thoughts from the god, focusing on his surroundings, the bits of grass on the dirt path and the trees in the distance as he left the sands of Ansara behind, heading toward the power he could feel in the distance, the dark, malevolence that called to him, beckoning the power within him.
"There is still much I can share with you, knowledge far more ancient than any book, lost magic, long forgotten, forbidden power," Stroma offered.
"I have seen enough." Aaron was not happy about what he had learned when the mind of the god had joined with his own.
"You have only glimpsed the surface of things," Stroma told him. "If you are to destroy the shadow, then there is much you must learn."
"I know enough," Aaron said. "I know the things you have done."
"You do not know the truth of it, Aaron," Stroma said.
"I know the truth of fire, and I have seen your memories. That you would do such a thing...I do not know, but it is terrible." Aaron did not have the words to describe what he had seen in the memories of the god.
"It was the only way," Stroma told him. "It is still the only way."
"No," Aaron said. "I do not believe that."
"Only truefire can burn away the darkness. It has ever been thus, and to use such power requires great skill and knowledge."
"I said no," Aaron replied, his thoughts irritated.
"Please, listen," Stroma insisted, determined that Aaron would not ignore him.
"Enough!" Aaron yelled, stopping on his path as the air around him rippled with power. A moment later the energy dissipated.
"Aaron," Stroma said quietly, the tone of his thoughts now subdued.
"Go away, Stroma," Aaron told him before he could continue. "I will find a way to stop the shadow without killing everyone."
The god could tell that Aaron had shut him out, closing his thoughts to him, closing his mind to all that he could share with him. Stroma's thoughts echoed emptily in the place he occupied, alone yet a part of the young man, and he felt the cold chill of the shadow deep within Aaron, slowly consuming him.
"I fear that all is lost," Stroma said with overwhelming sorrow, and a tear gathered and fell from the corner of Aaron's eye as he walked alone across the grassy plain toward the dark forests that lay ahead.
A great roar pierced the air and an enormous black dragon shot between two rocky peaks. The creature flared its wings, slowing its descent, then dropped to the ground, its taloned feet crushing rocks beneath them as it walked toward the three women, who watched his approach. A pale young woman in a gossamer white dress smiled as the dragon shifted his form into that of a young man, who wore an expression that was both confused and concerned.
"I thought you were in trouble," Borrican said, looking at Ariana and Vale, his tone urgent, for he could sense a mild unease from the two women, as well as the drakes, who silently stood guard. He looked at the pale girl, who looked almost as though she was made of snow and ice. "Who is this?"
Ehlena tried to keep her gaze fixed upon his eyes, but she could not help herself and her icy, pale cheeks turned pink when she looked at the young noble, who stood before her, just as unclothed as he was when he wore his dragon form.
"If I am not mistaken, Borrican Akandra, there is a way to retain your clothing when you change your form," Ehlena said, glancing down at him. "Though I certainly do not mind, either way."
Borrican's cheeks flushed and he turned away, looking over his shoulder at her, then he looked over at Vale.
"Vale, is that true?"
"It is, if you feel it is important to you," Vale told him with a shrug. "I can show you how to do such a thing, if you would like."
"Yes, it might prove useful at some point," Borrican said as he began to walk away. "In the meantime, if I am not needed, I think I will fly away now."
"Please stay a moment, Prince Akandar," Ehlena said. "I have come to ask your help as well."
"You need my help? With what?"
"You are a close friend of Aaron Coromay," Ehlena said. "He is in need of your help."
"Aaron? Is he in some kind of trouble?" Borrican turned, no longer caring what he looked like, his emotions flaring with fire, deep inside of him. "What has happened? Where is he?"
"At the moment, he travels toward Maramyr, to face the dark god."
"Is there an army going to retake the city?" Ariana asked, hopefully, imagining Aaron riding with a legion of soldiers to attack her uncle, who had become possessed by the terrible power of the dark god.
"No," Ehlena said. "Aaron walks alone."
"By himself?" Borrican's eyes practically crossed. "Has he completely lost his mind? What can he be thinking?"
"That I do not know," Ehlena said. "Aaron has shut his thoughts completely, but I believe he is prepared die if it will stop the darkness at Maramyr. I suspect he plans to sacrifice himself."
"I have no doubt that Aaron would do such a thing," Ariana said. "I felt his thoughts before, when we traveled together, and I saw that in him, the willingness of a soldier. There was much about him that remained hidden, but that much I could tell."
"I saw you in his memories when I touched his mind some time ago," Ehlena said. Much has happened to him since you saw him last, and Aaron has learned the truth about himself, which may be the reason he now pursues such a reckless course."
"I don't understand," Vale said. "How are you able to touch the mind of this Aaron? Have you bonded him?"
"No," Ehlena said. "My power is different from that of a dragon."
"That much is true," Vale commented, though she was still suspicious of the girl, whose voice had spoken with such fearsome power when she had first arrived, and she was not quite sure whether to believe she was who she claimed to be.
Ehlena smiled, but she did not elaborate further.
"Why would Aaron try to fight Cerric on his own?" Borrican asked. "Aaron is an excellent fighter, but he does not stand a chance against such power."
"Perhaps," Ehlena said. "But he will not succeed if he falls prey to the shadow."
"I do not understand," Ariana said. "We have seen the power of this god. When Cerric fought in Kandara, he was immensely powerful, strong enough to kill a dragon with his bare hands."
Ehlena stared at Ariana for a moment, then she decided that she might as well tell her the whole truth.
"I should be clear with you," she said. "Aaron is your brother, but he is your half-brother. He is the son of your mother and another man, a powerful mage, and he was born with gifts far greater than either of his parents."
"Who...what, what?" Borrican was flabbergasted.
"What you are suggesting would be considered treason," Ariana said, still struggling with her own conflicting emotions. "I knew nothing of this."
When Ehlena had told her that Aaron was her brother, she somehow knew it was true, but now, with the knowledge of his parentage, coupled with what had happened at the palace, so long ago, she now had countless questions and she was unsure which of ask first.
"The mages concealed him to protect him from those who might do him harm," Ehlena said, answering one of her questions.
"And all this time, Aaron has kept this secret from me," Ariana said, feeling betrayed.
"No, he did not know any of this until a short time ago," Ehlena explained. "The mages hid him, even from himself."
"The ward," Ariana said, remembering the trouble it had caused him. "So that was its purpose. I suppose he is free from it now."
"Yes," Ehlena said with a frown. "The ward kept him from discovering who he was, and kept his power from giving him away to the shadow. But with the ward removed, he is no longer protected from the darkness that has sought him since the day he was born. It is the same shadow that falls across the land, the power of the dark god."
"My uncle and this dark god have much to answer for," Ariana said, her anger flaring and heating the air around her.
"The dragon gift is very powerful within you," Ehlena commented, noticing how easily the fire caught within Ariana.
So much had changed about the young princess Ehlena remembered from her time at Maramyr. Her skin was now flecked with jewels, covering parts of her body almost like translucent dragon scales, and a part of her face was encrusted with gemstones as well, like a half mask, and her hair blazed a dangerous red that hinted at the fire that was only a moment beneath the surface of her being. Ariana was fearsome to behold, and the changes in her were all the more noticeable as her elven features had also become sharper, making her seem that much more strange in a way that was beautiful. The way she looked reminded Ehlena of something in the memories of the goddess from very long ago, in an earlier age, when different sorts of beings lived in the world, but she put those thoughts aside for now, for she had other matters to discuss.
"You should know, your uncle is dead," Ehlena told her. "Calexis now rules Maramyr, though I suspect she is not truly in control. The dark god, once known as Kenra, now lives within her, along with the dark power of the shadow."
"Cerric is dead," Ariana said, coldly, and she found no satisfaction at hearing it, especially since the true problem apparently still remained. "By right, this means I am queen. Calexis has no place in Maramyr. She must vacate the throne."
"At this point, your right to the throne means very little," Ehlena said. "Calexis rules by might. Maramyr has fallen to shadow, and unless the dark god is defeated, Maramyr will be lost entirely, and many other lands as well. Calexis readies her army, and with her legions of Darga, who grow more powerful, as well as the countless soldiers under her magic. It is no secret that she plans to attack the forest of the elves."
"Then we must defend Elvanar from her army and retake Kandara," Ariana said.
"And what of Aaron?" Ehlena asked.
"Entire lands are under attack and we have a duty to defend them," Ariana replied, impatiently. "What am I to do about Aaron?"
"I had hoped you would be willing to talk to him," Ehlena told her. "It is important that you forgive him, so he can forgive himself."
"I don't understand," Ariana said. "What is there to forgive?"
"Would you permit me to share a vision?" Ehlena asked. "It is one of Aaron's memories, something I saw when I touched his thoughts, and I know it weighs heavily upon him."
Ariana looked at her skeptically for a moment.
"I would rather not look upon a stolen memory," Ariana told her, for she still felt badly for her past intrusions upon Aaron's thoughts. "It is considered poor manners."
"It is not my memory to share, but it is something you must know," Ehlena told her. "I would not suggest such a thing were it not a matter of great importance, of life and death, and I have traveled to this place for this reason."
"Can you not just tell me what it is?" Ariana asked.
"It is better that you truly understand," Ehlena said.
"Fine, if it is so important that you would come all this way," Ariana said with a nod.
Ehlena stepped up to the princess and she touched the side of her cheek, close to her temple, and Ariana gasped when the images flooded into her thoughts, bringing back her own memories of what had happened so many years ago, the night her parents had been killed. In the vision of memories that were not her own, she saw the fire, and she felt the fear, the confusion and the anger that followed, and her own fire began to burn around her, searing away the tears that ran down her face. The scene was horrific and the faces in the darkness were ones she knew from her own memories, and Ariana watched, powerless as their images flashed in her mind, with expressions of fear, followed by blazing fire and darkness.
"He was but an infant when it happened," Ehlena said, gently removing her hands from Ariana's temples. "Now you see why you must talk to him."
"No," Ariana said, shocked at what she had seen and torn between grief and anger. She gritted her teeth and bit back the tears, then she shook her head. "I cannot. There is nothing I can do. I cannot be in two places at once. Aaron will have to deal with his own problems."
Ehlena frowned, disappointed that Ariana had chosen to retreat from the truth of what she had shown her, though she not entirely surprised at her reaction, for it was a difficult thing to ask.
"Then you will not help," Ehlena said.
"What is it? What did you see, Ariana?" Borrican asked.
Ariana shook her head, and her flames died as her tears continued to fall.
"Please, Borrican, not now," she said. "I don't want to talk about it."
A part of Ariana did want to find Aaron, to rush to wherever he was, but another part of her was angry and confused by him, and by what he had done. From the memory Ehlena had shown her, she now knew that it was his power that had caused the fire so many years ago, and even though she knew it could not truly have been his fault, since, as Ehlena had pointed out, he was a mere babe in the cradle, she was still angry with him and the dragon fire that burned within her fueled that anger even further. Ariana steadied herself and looked at the pale girl, who stood before her, and she steeled her will, forcing her flames down and focusing on maintaining some level of calm.
"First, I must rescue my companions, then there is the problem of Elvanar and restoring the lands of Kandara. We will deal with Calexis and this god when I take back my kingdom and my crown. If Aaron lives, then I will deal with him when the time comes."
"If he is taken by the dark god, there may be no Maramyr left to reclaim," Ehlena said. "The god has wanted him from the moment he was born."
"Then so be it," Ariana said, losing her temper. "Right now, I have half a mind to kill him myself."
"What did you see, Ariana?" Borrican asked again, this time with a note of determined concern in his voice.
"It is nothing you need worry about," Ariana told him, then she took a deep breath and softened her tone. "It concerns the kingdom of Maramyr and my family."
"Aaron is my friend," Borrican persisted. "He is your friend, and if this girl is telling the truth, then he is your brother, and you owe it to him to help him."
"I owe him nothing," Ariana said. "Now leave it."
"I am sorry that you feel as you do, but I understand," Ehlena told her. "I hope you will feel differently, with some time. If you change your mind, you need but call my name and I will hear you."
"And how will you hear me?" Ariana asked.
"I can hear many things on the wind," Ehlena said. "Call my name and I will answer you, if I am able, if it is not too late."
"You have our thanks for bringing word from Maramyr that Cerric is dead. That is good news, even though Calexis now rules in his place," Borrican said. "I would ask, what news of my brother, Elric? Does he live?"
"He lives, but he has fallen prey to the dark god, broken by the dark power," Ehlena told him, not wanting to say more, for she had delivered enough difficult news this day. With her power, she had heard the screams of Borrican's brother, barely a king before he betrayed his throne, and then taken to Maramyr to be tortured. And she had also heard his sad and dejected cries after his escape from Maramyr, the wails of a maimed creature, weak and wallowing in disgrace. "He has escaped from Calexis, but he is not what he once was. It matters little, for Elric has forsaken his oath, thus the throne of Akandra falls to you, Borrican Akandar."