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Authors: Karey Brown

Shadows of the Keeper

BOOK: Shadows of the Keeper
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SHADOWS

 

OF THE

 

KEEPER

 

By

Karey Brown

 

 

Original Text Copyright
© 2007

Text Copyright for
Modified Edition © 2013

Fictional Character Names

 &

Fictional Locations
Copyright Protected © 2013

Shadows of The Keeper

All Rights Reserved

This is a work of
fiction. The events and characters described here are imaginary and are not
intended to refer to specific places or living persons. The opinions expressed
in this manuscript are solely the opinions of the author.

This book may not be reproduced,
transmitted, or stored in whole or in part by any means, including graphic,
electronic, or mechanical without the express written consent of the author.

 

For my husband who keeps
an open mind about a great many things—he’d have to, being married to me for so
long.

My two amazing
daughters: I am beyond proud to be your mom.  So much laughter and
support.

 

For all three of you,
and my friends who believed, encouraged, slogged through numerous revisions
and, even though the first edition had glitches, still loved Emily &
Dezenial’s story.

 

Every now and again, we
authors are granted an opportunity to enhance some of our stories, making them

so-much-better. 
This is one of those times.

Enjoy!

CHAPTER
ONE-AURELIA

 

Thirty-six hundred years ago
. . .

 

 

Clutching tuft
of matted hair, Inzyr raised the ghoul’s severed head.

“Is
this
the location?”

Milky eyes
snapped open, illuminating the dank cavern.  “Yes,” it rasped. 
“Through the fissure, if you dare.” 

“If this be
deceit, you’ll spend eternity as a troll’s dung pot.”

“Because
guiding Lumynari through the bowels of Balkore is
much
preferable.”

“Did you speak?”

“Merely
clearing my throat.”

Tossing the
atrocity, Inzyr ignored its yelps as it thumped back down the jagged
ravine.  Fisting his sword, the Shadow Master eyed above and behind. 
What he’d already clashed with and defeated, just to get this deep into the
wilds of Balkore—as if every debauched creature Shadow had ever conjured had
been sent down here, once she’d grown bored with her newest acquisition. 
And those were the lucky ones.  Others were pitched into the battle arenas
where they fought to the death.  No squads here to protect the faint of
heart.  One final cautionary look, and Inzyr squeezed through the tall
fissure.  More than halfway in, forced to pause, he questioned the wisdom
of his decision.  Degree of tightness became formidable. 
Scuttling.  Above.  Slight vibration.  As if the wall were a
living—

Damn! 
A trap
!

“Are you going
to show yourself,” the booming voice queried, “or do I command the rock to
continue until I hear a resounding pop?”

Inzyr grinned
and shoved with such force, he shot out, headfirst.  “I feel as if I’ve
been birthed.”

Dezenial’s
luminous brow arched.  “Shall I find a wet nurse?”

“Not too
buxom.”  Inzyr stood, swiping dirt from his leggings.  “I’ll not have
it said, the Great Assassin was brought down by being smothered between
cleavage.”  He rotated his left shoulder.  “Drakar’s armies march.”

“You venture
down here, interrupting my exile with your conceit and arrogance, then dare
herald nonsense regarding
Drakar
?”  The prince unsheathed his
blade.  “Or do you spy for my mother?”

“Your
mother
grants him command of her elite, and Ardra to lead them.”

“Ardra? 
That vile—ah, he traps humans and mountain Elves.”  Prince Dezenial’s
glowing eyes diffused.  “I care not the fate of mortals, nor their prim
caretakers.  Humans break quickly, die just as easily.”  Like
Zaiyne.  He shoved the memory aside, striding quickly towards yet another
fissure.  Eerie green glowed from its depths. 

Inzyr didn’t
follow.  Instead, he tightened his stance.  “My concern is not wasted
on a witch Elf hunting slaves.”

Dezenial
snapped around.  Claws and canines, weaved into the ends of his lunar
white war braids, clanked like creatures clamoring along cave walls.  “Few
traipse this deeply and return.  None return, once visiting
my
presence.”

The assassin
freed his dagger.

Venomous smile
tugged Dezenial’s mouth.  “I see a thousand years has not diminished your
insolence.”

“I’m bringing
you home.”

“Nor your
arrogance.”  Humor vanished.  “I am content here, assassin.  I
will grant you leave of your own accord, honoring loyalty of long ago.”

“And I will
allow you to accompany me,
of your own accord
, back to Balkore. 
Then again,”  Inzyr made it a point to study his blade, “it
is
my
hope that you refuse.  Your head will make a unique bookend.”

“Still the
scholar?”  Nonchalantly, Dezenial raised his sword.

“It eases me.”

“Your humor
needs improvement.”  Azure eyes merged into an ember glow of death.

 “Under no
circumstances am I returning to my mother’s domain.”  The prince spun
away.  “Never seek me again.”

“Whispers
abound of a female who—“

“The nature of
their lot, Inzyr.”  Dezenial slipped into the glowing fissure.

“ . . . emits
flame from her hand.”

“Be sure to
warn her fire is not child’s play.”  Footfalls faded.

“They say,”
Inzyr muttered, eyes roaming in search of lurking vermin thinking to waylay a
Shadow Master, “the back of her hand bears a peculiar symbol.”  He paused,
grinning wickedly when the shadowy outline of his liege halted.  “A blue
crescent moon pierced by an arrow.”

Inzyr tamped
down temptation to laugh over how quickly Dezenial made his way back.

“You have seen
her?”  Deadly prince closed the distance between himself and the assassin.

“I would not
have disturbed your millennia long pout otherwise.”

“Curb your
barbs and tell me how you possess knowledge Zaiyne no longer resides with
Hades.”

“Drakar once
again hunts the Keeper for your mother.  In
this
life, Zaiyne is
known as Aurelia—“

“The future
queen of Quemori?”

“No
longer.  Exiled, Pendaran’s magicks have thrust her kingdom into a realm
Lumynari, nor she, can follow.”

“Banished.” 
A shadow of annoyance crossed his face.  “Your apprehension poisons the
air.  Speak your secrets.”

“Aurelia is
Drakar’s half-sister.  Completing your curses upon Hades, you might as
well also know she has once again been entrusted to the Forest Lords.”

“Their
treachery is what killed Zaiyne!”

Inzyr
shrugged.  “Your father’s logic is not for me to discern.”

“How long?”

“Broc, son of
Larrin, swore oath to Pendaran three winters past.”

Dezenial’s face
became a glowering mask of rage.  “And?”

“Shadow’s
attacks on surrounding villages have led the fools to believe a sacrifice will
curb your mother’s wrath.”

“Aurelia.”

“So it would
seem.”

“And your
loyalty, assassin?”

Unwavering
amber gaze bore into the prince.  “I
am
here.”  He looked
around.  “Though it will require getting used to.”  He
shrugged.  “So long as I have my books and an occasional kill, I’m happy.”

“Why I have
forever tolerated you . . .”

The two beings
embraced, gave each other a resounding backslap and broke apart.  “Once
again, they hunt my beloved.  Let’s make this the
last
time my
mother seeks to possess the Keeper’s soul.”

 

*  
*   *   *   *

 

Cold bit
deeply, sinking it fangs of ice into her bluing flesh.  As if diseased,
shivering commenced.  Aurelia dipped her head, allowing the hood to cast
her face in shadows as she merged with the rowdy bunch eagerly placing wagers
on tomorrows sacrificial burning.  If they realized their quarry shuffled
alongside them, they would greedily kill her now and collect their winnings.

And then where
Na’Dryn be?

Aurelia tamped
down a snort of derision, lest she bring attention to herself.  Broc’s
wife would screech like a speared boar, protesting the denial of watching
Aurelia burn.

Shifting the
cumbersome market basket, Aurelia slowed her gait. 
Best be wary those
paying too close attention, lest they realize one of their own is suddenly
short a sword.
  She adjusted the threadbare cloak, hoping to conceal
the stolen weapon.  Once upon a time, her cloaks had been of the finest
fabrics and furs.  Na’Dryn now owned them, prancing around as if born to
those royal threads instead of the barn where she’d been conceived.

If Aunsgar
were here, he would put an end to this madness—and Broc’s life.

Alas, the Elf
prince and most of his retinue had yet to return.  At Broc’s request, they
were escorting Erchyll and the few survivors from Shadow’s attack on the small
clan.  Any day now, they should arrive, Broc having invited all survivors
from various clans to settle here, and those yet to have been attacked. 
Safety in numbers.  Aurelia couldn’t refrain from mental eye
rolling.  No one would ever be sheltered from Shadow Masters, regardless
the fortification of Broc’s keep. 

Too bad his
indestructible keep couldn’t keep out the runner. 

He’d bled from
the entrance where he cried out, to where Broc had stood with his group of
guards and their gasping, clutching-their-throats women.  He’d fallen
against Broc, clinging to the laird in terror.  Gasping.  He’d looked
over his shoulder, wild-eyed.  Everyone had followed his gaze, they too
wondering what evil chased the lad.  Colin put a water skin to the boy’s mouth,
but water had dribbled down his chin, saturating his tunic where it mixed with
blood, a watery, red river running down his leg as if his bladder
loosened.  “Th-they came.”

“Who came?”
Broc had asked.  But he knew; they
all
knew.

“Said they were
. . . looking for . . . “ he panted. And paled.

“Looking for
what?  Speak, lad, tell us what they want?”

No amount of
cajoling would persuade him to repeat what horrors had befallen his
village.  Then, before he breathed his last, as if pulling forth all the
unused air his lungs held, he’d screamed one word: “
AURELIA
!”

All accusatory
gazes swung towards her.

This was her
third winter, since her exile, that Lumynari had attacked distant villages,
brutally hunting her.  Shadow’s determination was omnipotent. 
Pendaran had been a fool to assume his powers were enough to keep them all
safe.  Worse, he’d been gone these past three winters.  They were
sheep surrounded by wolves and their shepherd had vanished!

And from Broc’s
keep on down to the furthest farms, the whispers had spread with the speed of
fire:  
Aurelia’s  magicks had brought down the wrath of Shadow
.

“The only way we’ll
be forsaken is to sacrifice the royal!”  Na’Dryn had screamed this,
spittle running over her thin colorless lip.  “Is she not exiled? 
Has it no’ been three winters since any laid claim to her?  And why? 
Look what comes of having her here, amongst us?  She lives while your
women and children are slaughtered!  I have heard the whispers, at night,
coming down from the mountain.  Burn the witch, burn the witch, burn the
witch, and all will be forgiven.”

 Grumbling
ran rampant throughout the hall. At long last, Broc gave a curt nod. 
She’d been too shocked to bother running.  Numb, the rest had been a
blur.  Roughly grabbed and hauled across the hall like a thief, faceless
voices screaming obscenities, spitting, throwing food at her until they’d
entered a freezing corridor and down, down, down, she was forced deep within
the bowels of the earth.  They’d not bothered chaining her—what was one
small woman against a heavy iron lock?  Aurelia, exiled future Queen of
Quemori, found herself left to rot in Broc’s dungeons. 

Their first
mistake
.

Garreck had
quarreled against Broc’s foolishness.  Had they not vowed to protect the
exiled princess until such time when Pendaran came for her?  Aunsgar had
warned of the druid’s temper, of the Elders’ wrath.  Broc relented,
relegating Aurelia to a forgotten tower until his people settled.  Aurelia
mentally scoffed.  More like, until Aunsgar was of a distance; hence, the
real reason he’d been sent to collect Erchyll.  Not even three days out,
Na’Dryn resumed her poisonous plots to do away with Aurelia, the chieftain’s
mind hers to command.

And so began
Aurelia’s imprisonment and Na’Dryn’s cruelties.  Though a few secretly
remained kind to Aurelia, slipping her food, water, and fresh clothing, too
many had been swept up into the frenzy to burn the Lumynari witch.

Aurelia dared
lift her face a bit, assessing her distance from the gate.

Not much
further
.

Her false limp
helped her guise as peasant, but she fervently prayed Sister Wind would not
whisper, thus ruffling the hood covering her long white hair.

There will
be no hiding then
.
  If only I still possessed Blade. Instead, I am
strapped with this Elvish sword.  Na’Dryn would not be so brave then,
should I have Blade.

But Broc had
ordained her sword to be locked away and buried.  Aunsgar, forever the
peacekeeper, had explained the entity residing within the weapon frightened the
humans.  She knew, if she did not escape now, she would be nothing more
than billowing smoke for the Elves and Erchyll’s clan to see upon a distant
horizon.  Nor would she bother calling for Pendaran.  Too long, the
druid had ignored her telepathic pleas for help. 

I want to be
as far away as possible from these traitors!  I will take care of myself
until such time that my exile has expired!  Has not three winters been
long enough to hunt down Drakar?  For me to be returned to my beloved
Quemori?

A few more
paces would take her through the gate, and then only a handful more to the
forest line.  Once amongst the trees, she could use magicks to blend with
shadows, hiding her person from the vision of pathetic mortals. 

The guards were
distracted with people milling in and out of the tall gates.  Happiness
swelled her heart.  Soon, soon she would be free from this barbaric—

“You
there!  Halt!  What silver flickers from your kirtle, auld woman?”

Damn!
She
continued shuffling, limping, pretending is wasn’t her being called down
to.  Maybe they’d wave her off, thinking her too daft to—

A hand clamped
down and painfully squeezed her shoulder as she was spun around.  Hood
slipped.

“I ordered you
to—you!”

Aurelia kneed
the guard.  Losing his balance in the snow, he collapsed, writhing. 
Their scuffle drew unwanted attention.  Whipping the cloak from her
person, the exiled royal unsheathed her sword, the brilliant flash of silver
acting as beacon.  This was fast turning into everything she’d
feared.  Aurelia snapped her attention upwards, mindful numerous bowmen
upon the towers were alerted, glaring down at her.  Women scattered,
yanking their small children, wanting no part in swinging blades. 
Maneuvering her feet within the snow for a stable foothold, Aurelia slightly
crouched and tightened her grip around the hilt of her sword, several guards
running towards her.

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