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Authors: Steven A. Tolle

Tags: #Teen & Young Adult, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Sword & Sorcery

The Eternal Darkness (2 page)

BOOK: The Eternal Darkness
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He lost his footing several times, falling to the cold hard rock.  Muttering curses and rubbing his backside, he forced himself back up and drove on.  It was when he slipped the last time, the sword getting jarred loose when he tried to break his fall, that he spotted the cave.

He was on his hands and knees, reaching for the sword, when he glanced up and could just make out an area of greater darkness in the dark stone ahead.  He rose slowly and studied it, not sure what he was seeing.  He went back to Hailyn.

“There is something in the rocks ahead,” he told her.  “I want to check it out.  Will you be okay?”

“I’m fine, Jake,” she replied.  “Just don’t be long.”

Nodding, he turned back.  He went towards that darker section, sword held ready in front of his body.  As he got close, the sword’s faint glow illuminated the jagged opening in the rocky face.  He cautiously entered, ready to embrace his magic in an instant if the need arose.  The light from the sword revealed that the opening went inside the mountain a dozen feet, and then curved towards the left.  He followed it in, the cold needles of the harsh wind dying as he entered.  Following the curve, he saw that the rocky path turned again to the right.  After that right turn, he entered the cave proper.  It was a small area, the rough stone floor twenty feet across and the walls arching into an uneven ceiling about fifteen feet overhead, just large enough for them and the horses.  He inspected the walls closely, making sure that there were no other openings.  Satisfied, he went back out and led the girls inside.

Once they had unsaddled the horses and given them some feed, they laid out several blankets to buffer against the cold stone.  They pulled out some rations and ate, sitting quietly.  After they finished, Jake stood.

“I will keep the first watch,” he said, picking up the sword, its warmth radiating into his body.  “You two should get some rest.”

“We will,” Hailyn said with a small smile while Anale simply nodded.  “Come wake me when it is my turn for watch.”

Jake nodded and went out to where the path curved into the cave, so he could watch the entrance as well as Hailyn.  He gratefully sat down, leaning back against the wall.  He positioned the sword against his body and pulled his cloak tight around him.  The sword hilt was resting against his shoulder, the light of the blade hidden by his cloak.  His eyes adjusted to the darkness, the cave and path various shades of black and gray.

He heard Hailyn and Anale talking quietly, but could not make out what they said.  Soon, their voices faded as they fell asleep.  The only sounds were the ever-present whistling of the wind outside and the occasional snort from the horses.

Jake was concerned that he would fall asleep sitting there, but he found that he was surprisingly awake.  He thought about that.  He had used a great deal of magic, but he only had a slight feeling of fatigue.  He could only surmise that the sword was sustaining him in some way.

He gently ran his hands over the sword as he watched the entrance.  He mulled over what was to come.  Now that they had it free from the demons, he wondered if they even needed to reach Tomaris.  The Guardian must know that they had the sword and would appear to take it.  Perhaps the Guardian would transport them to the Keep and then send him home.

As he considered returning home, he was not surprised that he was conflicted by the thought.  Of course, he knew the cause.  His gaze drifted over to where Hailyn and Anale were sleeping.  To go home meant leaving Hailyn.

He had never truly been in love before.  He had been infatuated with Sabrina and Keria, he knew now, but he could not imagine a life without Hailyn.  They had grown so close over the last few months.  She was smart, brave, beautiful and now his love.  He felt a physical pain in his chest at the thought of saying goodbye to her forever.

  But he could not leave his family without any knowledge of his fate.  The image of his parents bereft, unable to know where he had gone, suffering from the loss, tore at his heart as well.  In his mind, unpleasant thoughts arose.
What do I do? How can I leave Hailyn?

He wrestled with his emotions in silence, watching the cave entrance, almost wishing a demon would show up so he could take out his frustrations on it.  Despite his internal conflict, part of him was half-expecting the Guardian to suddenly appear.  But the night passed with only his thoughts as company until Hailyn came over and relieved him.  She knelt down next to him, her head close to his.

“How do you feel?” Jake asked quietly.

“Rested,” she replied.  “How are you?”

“I could use some sleep,” he told her, savoring her closeness.  “How is Anale?”

“She finally went to sleep.  She has been through a lot,” Hailyn said as she glanced back towards her.  “That man killed her family and abused her.  She told me that she wanted to resist, but he did something to her that made it impossible.”

Jake recalled that strange sensation that had occurred when he tried to fight Bruce.  He remembered wanting to do what Bruce had said.  Knowing what happened to Anale made him more comfortable that he did the right thing in finishing Bruce.

“Well, he can’t hurt her anymore,” Jake stated bluntly as he rose. Hailyn stood as well.

He pulled Hailyn close and held her for a time, finally letting her go.  After a quick kiss, he handed her the sword, her bracelet flaring briefly when she took it.  He went over to retrieve his blankets and came back to lie down near the entrance, close to Hailyn.  Once he was somewhat comfortable, sleep came swiftly and took him into a peaceful nothingness.


Before they left the cave, Jake rearranged their supplies so Anale could ride on the packhorse.  He offered her help up, but she gave him a brief smile and easily swung up onto the horse’s back.

“I grew up on a farm, so I have been riding horses all of my life,” she told him.  At the mention of the farm, however, the smile fell and a look of pain crossed her face.  She withdrew into herself, growing quiet.

The day was cold and windy, but the snow had stopped, so they could ride more swiftly in the pale light.  Jake took the lead and Hailyn rode behind Anale, both of them searching the dark rocks for any hint of pursuit.  Despite their caution, they saw no sign of the demons or their followers.

The snow returned in the late afternoon, slowing their progress.  They found an area in the rocks that provided some shelter from the wind and spent the night there.

After a couple of days of traveling along the mountain pass, their pace increasing and slowing as the conditions allowed, the terrain began to transition from sharp peaks to more gentle slopes.  The air became slightly warmer, the wind dying to a moderate breeze.  The snow flurries changed to periods of cold rain.  Trees began to dot the landscape and they saw more birds and other wildlife.

As they paused on a rise as they exited the mountains, they could see hills spreading out before them, with clusters of trees covering more of the hills further away.  On the horizon, beyond the hills, they could just make out a sliver of grassland lying under the broken clouds.

Their spirits lifting at the sight, they continued on, aware that pursuers could appear at any time.  With the terrain becoming gentler, they were able to ride forward without the frequent need to check their path, increasing their pace.

They made camp in a cluster of trees, shielding them from view.  Jake searched the area and attempted to find dry pieces of wood.  He succeeded in finding enough to make a small fire.  They huddled close, enjoying the heat from the flames.  They heated some water and Hailyn added some herbs, making a floral tea.  Jake savored the tea, the first warm thing he had consumed in at least a week.

In the morning, they departed under an overcast sky.  The temperature was cool, but bearable.  Jake took the lead, the sword resting across his lap.  He led them through the trees and back out onto the open hills.

Around mid-day, he reined in Dontas and signaled Hailyn and Anale to stop.  Running across their path was a dirt road that divided the rugged ground.  It was more like a wide path than a road, but it was clearly made by man.  It ran east-west, disappearing into the wooded hills in the distance.

“What do you think, Hailyn?” Jake asked quietly as she rode up next to him.  “Should we take it east for awhile?  We may find another road to take us south.  It could speed things along.”

“It doesn’t look well-traveled, but if it allows us to move faster, I think it is worth trying,” she replied.  “We can always leave it if we need to.”

“I was thinking the same thing,” Jake said.  Giving her a smile, he booted Dontas ahead.

Once they were on the road, Jake picked up the pace.  He kept an eye on the packhorse, afraid it could not keep up, but it ran without apparent effort.  They reached the woods quickly, passing under the overarching branches that provided a canopy over the road.

They had ridden for most of the day when they came across the overturned wagon.  The wagon was lying across the road, blocking their path.  Jake slowed down, stopping Dontas as he looked it over.  He was going to motion the girls around when he detected a groan from somewhere in the wreckage.  He gestured to them to stay on their horses as he dismounted.  He started around the wagon, checking for the source of the sound.  As he came around the edge, he saw a man lying on the ground.

Just as he began to kneel down to check on him, he heard the crackle of crunching leaves and twigs come from behind him.  He leapt back to his feet, bringing the sword up and embracing his power.  He saw a small group of men dressed in hardened leather armor and rough clothing advancing on him, swords in their hands.

He sent a blast of magic into them, but it did no damage.  He grimaced; they were ordinary men.  That meant he had to face them with only his weapons.  Bringing the sword up, he closed with them, hoping to take the initiative.  They spread out, trying to come at him from different angles.  He chose the one on the right and charged forward, the sword moving.  The man shifted away, bringing his sword to parry Jake’s attack.  The sword sliced through the man’s blade as if was made of air.  He cried out and leapt away as most of his sword fell to the ground.

Jake spun and parried a thrust from one of the other men.  Again, the sword cut through the man’s weapon as if it was not even there.  Jake counter-attacked, swinging the sword at the man, trying to slash him across the stomach.  The man, who was too close to avoid the blow, flinched as the shining blade came close.

Both Jake and the man were startled when the sword suddenly stopped a few inches before reaching its target.  To Jake, it felt as if it hit a solid barrier, nearly wrenching it from his hands.  The man threw himself back and scrambled away, as Jake looked in disbelief at the sword.

He saw other men coming out of the woods towards him.  He attacked, destroying their weapons, but he could not harm them.  The sword simply stopped before it made contact with flesh.  The men surrounded him, cautious of the sword, but began to close.

Jake was debating going to his own sword when the men charged and he was tackled from behind.  He dropped the sword, twisting and striking out with his fists, making contact with someone as more men leapt on top of him.  He felt the blows begin to rain down on him, his armor taking some of the impacts, but not all.

“Take him alive!” Jake heard a man’s voice call out.

Hands grabbed at him, capturing his arms and wrestling them behind his back.  He fought as best he could, but he was overpowered.  His hands and arms were bound behind his back with rough rope.  His weapons were taken from him and his helm and armor stripped off.  A few swift kicks to his side and stomach left him gasping for breath.

As he lay on his side, he saw the sword lying nearby on the leaf-covered ground.  He watched as one of the men tried to pick it up.  As soon as the man touched it, he cried out and leapt back, clutching his hand.

“What happened?” the same voice that called for his capture asked from behind Jake.

“It was as if my hand was shoved into a fire,” the man who had tried to pick up the sword said, looking incredulously at his unharmed hand.  “The pain is fading,” he muttered, clenching and unclenching his hand.

“Try again,” the leader demanded.

“Do it yourself, Orth!” the man snapped back.  “I’m not touching it again. I have learned my lesson.”

Jake heard some muttering amongst the men as they looked at the sword, and then uneasily at each other.

“Bring the cleric,” Orth ordered.  Hailyn came into Jake’s view, being escorted by one of the men.  “Can you touch the sword, cleric?” Orth asked when she was close.

“Why should I help bandits like you?” Hailyn replied.  “The sword is not for base purposes.  You saw that there is a price to be paid for doing wrong.”

“That may be true, little cleric, but you will answer me or I will kill your protector,” Orth replied.  Jake felt a hand grab his hair and lift his head off the ground.  A sharp blade was pressed against his neck.

Jake saw terror cross Hailyn’s face and she held up a hand.  “I can touch the sword,” she said faintly.

“You will take the sword and come with us,” Orth said.  “If you try anything, the boy will die.  Am I clear?”

“Yes,” Hailyn replied.

“Good.  Pick it up and let’s go.”  The blade was withdrawn and Jake was released.  Hands pulled him up and then he was struck several times in the head and face.  Disoriented and wobbly, tasting blood, he tried to focus on where Hailyn was when a rough sack was pulled over his head and he was led away.

 

C
HAPTER
T
WO

The slightly musty smell of rotten fruit filled Jake’s nostrils as he stumbled along, unable to see.  The rough canvas of the bag over his head rubbed against his face as he tried to keep his feet over the uneven ground.  He was aware that at least two men guarded him, as they would grab his bound arms every time he tripped and lost his balance.  A quick jerk to get him upright, and then they would release him.

BOOK: The Eternal Darkness
9.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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