Chapter One: Stormbringer
Dahres Anfaman watched the city of Dakan bustle beneath him. It was mid-day and the markets were thronged with people, bartering and arguing, drinking and laughing. The peace of the last forty years had been good for the people of Elliny, long enough for them to forget the plight that they had endured at the hand of the Elementals.
He stood on one of the many balconies adorning the higher levels of the Serpent’s Citadel, which was home to the High Guardian and his family. Constructed in the early days of the High Guardians, the Citadel had high walls of stone that separated it from the rest of the city. From there, the similarities between the Citadel and the duns elsewhere throughout Elliny ended. The Citadel had taken many years to build; the hardest part was dragging all the earth from the hills surrounding the city. It was widely known that the Citadel could not have been built without the builders and the sorcerers brought to Dakan by the Dragon Ti’Urak herself. The earthshaping took months, but the end result was a mountain that towered over the rest of the city. It was here that the High Guardians made their home for generations. Dahres, with all the places he had been and the things he had seen, could not help but be impressed by the feat. He stepped back into his room, which was filled with light, despite the fact that he was in a mountain. Such was the case throughout the Citadel. He admired the high, marble ceilings of his room that eased the feeling of claustrophobia. Deep within the Citadel, where the High Guardian himself lived, as well as where he met his petitioners within the Hall of Ancients, the ceilings were even higher and the builders had gone to great lengths to fill those rooms with natural light.
It was to the Hall of Ancients that Dahres had been summoned mere moments before. Rewn Falaich, the leader of his household guard in Dakan, adorned in his black and silver armor had brought the message. Dahres knew that he had little time to answer his summons before the High Guardian would notice his lateness. He was making his way to the door when he heard rasping laughter. He turned, even though he knew he would find nothing there.
<You left your son in his time of greatest need,> the Joker whispered, chuckling. Dahres steeled his will, sharpened his mind to better understand the spirit’s words. <Bold move, my lord. Bold, but foolish.>
<You said you weren’t a threat to him,> Dahres said, angrily. <You said you would leave him alone.>
<My desires, my plans, my dreams,> the Joker replied. <They mean nothing. He and I are pulled together, no matter how much we fight to stay apart.>
Dahres was silent for a moment, weighing the words of the Joker. He knew, deep down within his soul, that what the spirit spoke was true. Something was happening to his son, something that he could not control. It was something that he could not protect Kol from, and it killed him.
Perhaps sensing his distress, the Joker’s constant chortling ceased, albeit for a moment only. It seemed a bizarre demonstration of sympathy, particularly from one so mad. <Things happen for a reason, even to innocents such as your son.>
<Kol does not deserve what you have and what you will put him through,> Dahres said, sharply. <He is just a boy, he knows nothing about the ways of the world or even why this is happening to him.>
Dahres paused, realizing something. <Even I do not know why this is happening to him,> the edge in his words grew stronger. <You refuse to tell me and you speak to him in only riddles.>
<Certain things can only be revealed by time, my lord,> the laughter was back , although Dahres could tell the Joker was doing his best to restrain himself. <You must go now, and present yourself to your High Guardian. He and his court…> the Joker paused and the laughter suddenly was everywhere, surrounding Dahres. For a moment, Dahres felt everything slipping away, and he was falling into a dark place, where all he could hear was the laughter. Was this what Kol felt? Was this why he tried to drown himself in his bottles? The thought brought tears to his eyes. Finally, the Joker controlled himself enough to get a few words out. <Particularly his court…do not like to be kept waiting. Beware the outlander, Lord Anfaman. Flee, before it is too late.>
Dahres waited a few moments more, standing in the silence of the room that once seemed so filled with light, though all he could see now was the shadow. Even though he could still feel the presence of the Joker, the spirit did not speak. Sighing and composing himself from the disturbing encounter, Dahres walked from the room. Behind him, he heard the laughter begin once again and he felt the coldness spread up his spine.
* * * * * * * * *
Kol sat in his father’s chair, though his body no longer felt sore. Indeed, his pulse was racing and there were traces of sweat upon his brow. He was nervous, until he felt the reassuring squeeze of his mother’s hand on his arm. As always, his mother was seated to his left and her warm smile gave him more comfort than any number of words. Everything about the day had been planned down to the moment, down to the most miniscule detail. Kol wore the colors of his Clan, a dark tunic accented with silver and black leggings. His blond hair had been carefully combed, oiled, and anointed with pleasing scents. Zephyr stood to his right, his appearance also carefully constructed, through his tunic was silver edged with sable. When Zephyr felt Kol’s eyes on him, he managed a curt nod that seemed appropriate given the gravity of the situation. There was no smile there, as there had been fewer happy moments between the two of them since Kol had regained his wits. Inwardly, Kol wondered if his brother resented his return.
Shaking his head to clear his thoughts, Kol focused himself on the task at
hand. Today, he would meet someone a handful of people across the entire island of Elliny had seen. The Dragon had come.
The entirety of the hall had been meticulously cleaned and polished, in every spot the marble and wood shone with reflected sunlight. Three pairs of Clan Guardsmen stood in front of each of the marble pillars, their black helms and platinum armor carefully arranged, swords sheathed in beautiful hand wrought sable scabbards, adorned with strands of gold. Everything had been carefully prepared by Wendell, the Clan steward, who also stood in the hall, just off the dais, but well in view of the great oak doors. Kol could tell that the old man, even though he seemed to be confident, was nervous as well. Kol was comforted by the knowledge that his father’s steward, who had orchestrated the welcomes of the most powerful men and women in Elliny, was nervous. Even from where he sat, Kol could sense Wendell’s distress.
Wendell’s concern, despite his voluminous knowledge of hospitality, was not without merit. No one had met with the Dragon in years. Even the High Guardian, Kol’s grandfather, had not been granted an audience despite repeated and frequent requests. Orion Soulfire had sought the counsel of Ti’Urak for many years, as did many of the other heads of the most powerful Clans in Elliny. Despite all this, Ti’Urak remained in seclusion atop her Mountain, attended only by her devoted monks. For some reason, however, the Dragon had answered his father’s call. For some reason, Ti’Urak had come to see him.
Outside the doors, Kol heard the three distinct knocks of the herald’s staff against the stone of the foyer. Wordlessly and without order, the two guards closest to the door moved quickly, their silver cloaks billowing up behind them as they moved with haste to open the way for the Dragon.
Kol, unconsciously, felt the urge to rise from his father’s seat. He felt his mother’s touch, a slight one this time, which reminded him of tradition. Even though they were meeting the Dragon, the venerable Ti’Urak, this was still the hall of Kol’s father and the dun of Clan Anfaman. In the absence of Dahres, Kol was the one to be honored and respected here, even by Dragons.
Three men entered first, silently, and Kol could hear Zephyr suck in his breath as the cerulean runes came into the light of the hall. Kol himself had to fight the urge to lean forward to get a better look at these men, the devoted monks of Ti’Urak, the ones who lived with her atop the Mountain. They were shirtless, despite the crispness of the spring day outside. They wore simple white trousers and sandals and carried no weapons, though Kol knew that these men needed no weapons.
The use of magic had long been banished in the armies of Elliny. The last time the Clans had used sorcery in conflict was during the Second Elemental War, twenty years before. Kol and Zephyr had been born amongst the ashes of that war; they had seen the mark that the destructive magic had left upon the land. Ever since Jenor Nova, Consul of Elliny, had triumphed, he had gone to great lengths to ensure magic was no longer used. When the Consul had revealed himself as a leader amongst the Godspoken, Kol’s father was not surprised. Jenor Nova had taken such a stand against what the Dragon’s followers preached it was no surprise he had joined the new movement. Some said that Consul Nova had gone outside his bounds by preaching the folly of the High Guardianship, and that he openly said that by worshipping the Dragon the people of Elliny would inflict the wrath of the Immortals. He did all of this despite the oaths that he frequently made swearing himself to defending the life of Orion Soulfire.
Kol felt the air around him grow still and quiet, until all he could hear was the sound of his own breathing and his own heartbeat. Then, the Dragon entered and the appearance she had chosen was not what Kol had expected.
A small girl, brown-haired, took small steps through the doorway. Clothed in a dark green cloak and brown tunic, she looked rather ordinary. Suddenly, he smelled smoke. He looked around at first, anxiously expecting something to be aflame. He saw Zephyr and his mother with a similar mask of panic upon their faces, and he knew that they smelled something different on the air. At first it was a hint, a faint scent, but as the Dragon approached it grew stronger and stronger, until it was nearly overpowering. Kol, for the first time, noticed the roots of the girl’s brown hair were dyed silver, right above her forehead. What drew him in, though, were her eyes. They were odd; one was green, as green as the forest’s leaves, the other brown, as brown as the earth. And then, for the first time in generations, mortals outside the Mountain heard the Dragon speak.
<I have heard much of you, Kol Anfaman,> the Dragon said and although her lips did not move, her voice, the voice of a small girl, echoed in his mind. There was raw power behind her words, power that was barely contained. Out of the corner of his eye, Kol saw his mother and Zephyr stiffen, and he knew that they heard the words as well. <Little of it good, I’m afraid.>
“Thank you for agreeing to come here, Lady Dragon,” Kol said, carefully, ignoring her words for the sake of tradition and courtesy, though he bristled inwardly. He felt a brief pang of pity for Wendell; the poor man probably thought he was breaching etiquette by speaking to the Dragon first. “We are always in awe of your power and your sage counsel.”
The Dragon, however, seemed to read his thoughts. <We should speak alone,> she offered. <Your brother, your mother, they may remain. The others must go.>
“You are all dismissed. Wendell, I am certain that you have much to prepare for,” Kol said, his voice draped in authority. When he received a questioning look from Wendell, he smiled. “The feast, Wendell. We should not be rude to our guests.”
His guards, recognizing a dismissal, turned and left the room and closed the huge oaken doors behind them. Wendell nodded stiffly, clearly unsure of Kol’s actions, and he left through a side passage behind the dais. Kol smiled faintly as he caught Wendell looking back for certain.
When the room was quiet was again, the Dragon spoke. <You are marked, Anfaman. More than the first High-Guardian, more so than any other I have met in my time here. You will do great things that will shake the very foundations of everything we know.>
The implications of what the Dragon had said washed over Kol and for a moment, he could not speak. So, his mother did it for him.
“Your words mean little, Dragon,” her tone was amiable, though Kol knew that his mother was trying to remain peaceable. “What ails my son, why does he scream out in the night, why does he see things that are not there?”
The Dragon smiled enigmatically. <As I said, he is marked. Are you familiar with the stories of the Dreg, Kol?>
Kol finally managed to find his words. “I remember the fairytales, the legends. They were a people that grew powerful and built cities amongst the clouds. In their arrogance, they sought to overthrow the Immortals, and the Immortals destroyed them. The Godspoken mention them frequently in their sermons.” Zephyr nodded and spoke up. “Their stories say that we all should obey the will of the Immortals, or we will perish in flame as the Dreg did.”
<That is correct,> Ti’Urak replied. <The Dreg committed a great folly, and they were punished for it. Their cities were torn from the sky and earth, they were put to the sword and flame. The Immortals took any surviving children and banished them to the grey world between our realm and the Realm of Gods.>
Kol saw his mother quirk her head. Unsure of what she meant, Kol cleared his throat and leaned forward. “What do these stories that those cultists mutter have to do with me?”
<Everything,> Ti’Urak said. <I believe that a spirit of the Dreg, one that remained here after his body was destroyed, has chosen you. You would be careful, Kol, elsewise you will anger him.>
Celeste spoke for the first time since the meeting had begun. “You said, however, that this was a ghost, a phantom. What harm could he do?”
<Drive your son insane,> the Dragon said, simply. <Tear him apart from within, sunder his mind until he longs for the silence of death.>
Kol felt his stomach tighten and his mind fumble over the Dragon’s words. He thought he could hear a distant chuckle, somewhere in the shadows of the room. He jumped and suddenly found himself straining to hear Zephyr speak, as if his brother was far away. “Have you come to tell my brother that he is doomed, that nothing can be done?”
<I had to see him with my own eyes before I could know for sure,> Ti’Urak replied. <Much damage has already been done and it will only get worse if I do not train you to control the spirit.>
“Where can this be done?” Kol asked, again finding his words after a few moments of panic. “When?”
<We must leave for the Mountain at once,> Ti’Urak said firmly. <It is a place of great power and significance to the spirit. There, we will begin your trials, to see if you may yet be saved. A storm comes, and I fear that your son is the one who brings it.>
“Do you know this spirit, Lady Dragon?” Celeste spoke softly, but Kol felt the air shift and change around him. “Have you met him before?”
The Dragon looked sharply at his mother and Kol saw something dangerous flash in those mismatched eyes. <What I know is not of your concern mortal. I came here to fix your son, to try and repair the damage done to him. Do you want my help or not?>
“Of course, forgive me,” Celeste said, her voice chastened. Yet, Kol knew his mother well enough that she was far from beaten.
The Dragon turned back to him and the impatience was clear on her childish face. <Come, Kol Anfaman, we do not have the luxury of time to discuss every minute detail of the crisis we all face.>
Suddenly, Kol felt something spark deep within him, from a dark place where he had only heard laughter and screams. He suddenly felt very afraid. What boiled in him, however, was something far different than fear. It washed over him and as it did, he felt the fear fade away, replaced by a confidence, a swagger, and a great anger.
Consumed by the rage within him, he rose to his feet. “I will not follow the commands of someone I do not know, who hides her true motivations,” his voice was a roar, now. He was standing, and felt his entire body tense with the rage flowing through him. He knew not where this was coming from, but it felt good to be in control once again. “I will not come with you, Dragon. I will not submit to your trials. Be gone from this place and never return. For if you do, I will destroy you.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Kol saw both Zephyr and his mother standing as well, staring at him, agape. His mother reached for him, but he violently thrust her away and she felt to the ground with a yelp. Zephyr quickly went to her side, and Kol noticed that his brother had his hand wrapped tightly around the hilt of his sword. The Dragon did not move, but her gaze was steady. She seemed to be studying him. Kol recognized a faint flash of sorrow in her eyes, as she turned and left the room without further words, her monks trailing silently behind her.
It was only after she had left that Kol felt himself relax, the rage flowing out of him in a torrent as he fell into darkness. This time, however, he did not fight it. He welcomed it.
* * * * * * * * *
Dahres stood in the Hall of the Ancients and for a moment, he could not help but be awed by the room in which he stood.
The Hall was carved into the depths of the Serpent’s Citadel, with six large marble columns on each side, polished with silver and gold. The ceiling, covered in marble, depicted various scenes from Elliny’s history: The burning of the first High Guardian and his subsequent naming; climatic battles from the Rebellions; the armies of Elliny, under the leadership of Jenor Nova, fighting again against the Elemental threat. They were all threads of the dark tapestry that was the history of the Clans. Three tunnels, cut into the rock of the ceiling, led all the way to the surface of the Citadel, allowing natural light to flow in, shining sunlight down upon the dais where the High Guardian of Elliny sat.
Orion Soulfire looked older than he had last time Dahres had seen him. The years seemed to be weighing more upon him with every passing day. Dahres noticed, for the first time, a cloaked and hooded figure sitting to the High Guardian’s right, whispering in his ear. Disconcerted, Dahres strode forward, past the golden armored shadows that stood watch over the Hall of the Ancients.
The Dragoons, an ancient order that had existed since the advent of the High Guardianship, was sworn to protect the High Guardian and his family. Despite the warm weather, they were girded in golden plate mail and heavily armed. Even though they did not move, Dahres knew he was being watched carefully.
When he reached the foot of the raised dais, he knelt, bowing his head.
“Rise, my son,” Orion’s voice sounded older. “How is my daughter? How are my grandsons?”
“They are all well, anam,” Dahres said, using the ritualized greeting in the old tongue of Elliny. He rose to his feet and rearranged his silver cloak. “They all send their love.”
“Good, good,” Orion muttered and then he fell silent for a moment, his old blue eyes fading as he lost himself in some distant place. The cloaked figure next to him leaned in and whispered something in the High Guardian’s ear and he suddenly stirred to life. “I suppose you wonder why I have summoned you all the way from your home. I am sure that you have received word that the Godspoken are building a chapel in Tiya. I trust that you, as Lord of Tiya, will ensure that the construction will proceed…unhindered.”
He asked me to travel all this way just to speak of some cultist chapel? Dahres thought to himself, but he did not speak. Instead, he waited patiently and after a few moments of silence, the High Guardian continued. “I have also heard tidings. Grim ones that contradict what you just told me. I will ask you again, and this time, do not lie. How is my grandson?”
Dahres felt a chill flow through the room. He knows. As he contemplated his answer, he heard a whisper of movement and looked behind him. A newcomer stood there, leaning casually against one of the pillars. Clothed in a crimson cloak with a gold fringe, the man was clearly of the High Clan Soulfire. There was something familiar in his face, something that Dahres recognized, but it took the words of the High Guardian’s cloaked counselor to trigger his memory. “How good of the youngest son to join us at last,” Dahres was surprised to hear the voice of a woman. “Do the mundane affairs of court finally hold interest for you, Tyair?”
“No,” Tyair Soulfire, the man who had no dream of holding the throne of his father, replied. “I am here to make sure you do not poison my father’s mind against my brother-in-law, En’Jal.”
The woman chuckled and finally lowered her hood, to reveal an otherworldly face, and Dahres knew this to be no mere mortal woman. He sucked in his breath and did his best to restrain himself as he spoke. “What is an Elemental doing in the court of the High Guardian? Did not thousands of brave men perish to drive these monsters from our lands?”
The one Tyair called En’Jal smiled. She was beautiful, but not in a way that most men would envision. Her face was comprised of hard angles and sharp lines, her black hair unkempt and wild. Her brown eyes were filled with a quiet fury as she beheld Tyair and Dahres. “Such is not your concern, Anfaman,” she said, her satin words belying the danger that lingered underneath. “This is the High Guardian’s court. He asks the questions.”
“And I will not tolerate such dissension!” Orion said, spittle flying from his mouth as he stood, shakily, raising a bony finger to point at Dahres. Once again, Dahres sensed himself falling away, until he was watching the scene from above. In the shadows of the room, he saw three figures, one with the mask of a laughing man; the next wore a mask of man in terrible agony and was wreathed in chains; the third burned with a quiet, but noble flame, and he wore a mask of ash and smoke. As he beheld them, they all seemed to sense his gaze and as one turned their heads to look up at him.
He was brought back to his body by a firm hand on his right arm. He looked and met the steady gaze of Tyair Soulfire. Orion Soulfire spoke again, his fury still shaking the aged shell of his body.
“I may be weakened by the burden of my office, but I cannot believe that you would come here and lie,” Dahres could not believe the words that came from the High Guardian’s mouth. “I have been wrong to lead the way I have, my whole life. Consul Nova and my wise advisor En’Jal have shown me the errors of my ways. I intended to invite you to the crowning of the new High Guardian of Elliny.”
Dahres felt the earth drop out from underneath him. The words that Celeste had spoken to him when he had first come to this island came to him now. A new High Guardian must be named by the Dragon and burnt as his ancestors were. If not, the bond that joins the people of Elliny will be broken.
“Apologies, aman,” Dahres bowed as deeply as custom allowed. “I did not know the Dragon was to come here.”
Orion did not even wait for the Elemental to whisper in his ear, not this time. “The Dragon will never come!” he roared, the terrible voice issuing forth from the High Guardian’s mouth did not sound like the frail old man that stood before Dahres. “She will never come again, we are lost to the shadow, as the Dreg were before us. The Patriarch of the Godspoken, Jenor Nova, will name my son Dougal, as the new High Guardian,” Orion nodded to himself. “You would be wise to attend, Dahres Anfaman.”
Dahres felt the tugging on his arm grow more insistent. “Forgive my father, he has not been himself lately,” Tyair Soulfire whispered harshly. “We should discuss this in private.”
Reluctantly, Dahres withdrew, but he could not help but look back at the High Guardian of Elliny. En’Jal was once again whispering into his ear, her brown eyes focused intently on Dahres. What drew Dahres’ gaze, however, were not the enigmatic eyes of the Elemental. Instead, it was the eyes of Orion Soulfire, the ones that had looked upon him with such joy on the day when Dahres Anfaman had married Celeste Soulfire. Instead, he saw only madness. The same madness that burned deep within the young eyes of his firstborn son.
* * * * * * * * * *
“Everything seems to grow quiet, when I’m with you,” Kol murmured into the sunlit blond hair of the girl, who was nestled into his chest.
They sat under the boughs of the Dragon Tree, within the walls of dun Anfaman. “Well, I don’t know why it took you so long to find me again,” she whispered and looked up at him, her green eyes full of mirth. Melawyn Werelach was someone he had known for years since he had first wandered out of the safety of his father’s house. They had met in the fields that surrounded the dun and the town. They had played, they had talked, and for months and a few years they had kept the secret from their parents. Eventually, as parents are wont to do, they discovered the secrets of their children. Kol had been forbidden to see her, until Dahres realized that the wills of a firstborn son typically win out over the will of the mother.
He felt her press closer to him. “I thought I had lost you to the madness,” she said. “I thought I would never have you again.”
Kol sighed and leaned back against the trunk of the Dragon Tree. For a moment, he lost himself in the way the sunlight danced between the boughs. When a cloud drifted in front of the sun for a moment and he felt the shadow fall across him again, he looked down at her. “I may still be lost,” he sighed. “Mother has not spoken to me since Ti’Urak left. Once again, Zephyr has risen to the occasion and has taken over all affairs of state. I am beginning to think that he was better suited for lordship than I.”
Melawyn raised her head and looked him in the eyes and there was no mistaking her intent. “Do not speak that way, Kol. You were born to lead; you have that aura about you that men are drawn to. Zephyr simply…” her voice trailed off into thought and it was a few moments before she continued. “It is perhaps that he desires to be the big brother. That is why he took care of you so well when you were…sick.”
“Perhaps you are right,” Kol said, leaning back once again. “Even with you, I feel myself beginning to change. I am not who I was when we first met. Not anymore.”
“Would it help if I sang to you?” Melawyn asked, her eyes bright with hope. “It was what calmed you after meeting with the Dragon. It is what always helps find your way back to us. Back to Zephyr, your mother, and back to me.”
She reached up and brushed her fingertips against his face and lightly brushed her lips against his. And then she began to sing.
Kol did not know the words, for they were in some lost dialect that was rarely used in this region anymore. He did not have to understand, for Melawyn made his heart soar with her voice alone. The music she sang forced the darkness to withdraw. It had been increasing in strength since his encounter with Ti’Urak. Of course, as it had grown stronger, he had felt more and more desperate in his efforts to escape it. Despite how good it had felt, when he had faced down the Dragon, Kol knew that he could not return to that place. Not again. Even so, it still felt good to erase all the doubts that he had about himself. He felt that power, that confidence, when he gave himself over to the laughter within him.
He closed his eyes and felt himself drifting away peacefully as Melawyn sang to him. He did not know how much time had passed, but abruptly the melody ended with a strangled sound, as if it had been throttled. He opened his eyes to see Melawyn looking out with fear towards the gates of the dun. For the first time, heard the hoofbeats of the rider, who was cloaked in red and silver. The peace of Melawyn’s song was shattered, and Kol disentangled himself from her slim body as he rose to greet the rider, whose horse was lathered and panting heavily. As the rider drew rein, the beat fell to the ground with one final deafening sigh, dead. Kol quickly called for help, running to the riders’ aid. He looked up to see guardsmen running from the dun, townspeople coming out from the safety of their homes, concern and fear illuminating their faces. As he reached the rider, he realized that the red the man wore was no cloak.
The man’s breathing was labored and he coughed as blood rose up in his throat. Kol felt his pulse quicken as he fought to remain calm. Even then, it took Kol a moment to recognize the face behind the mask of pain, hidden behind the dust and blood.
Rewn Falaich breathed his final words to Kol Anfaman, firstborn son of the man he had sworn to protect in Dakan. “The Order of the Dragoons lies broken, scattered. Tyair Soulfire has fled to Zeron and is calling for an army to save the north from the Godspoken. The land burns. Those Dragoons that did not escape with him have been executed at the order of Consul Jenor Nova, who has gathered an army of Godspoken to him. Orion Soulfire has been deemed unfit to lead, and his firstborn son Erikon Soulfire has claimed the High Guardianship in his place,” Rewn coughed one last time, and put all of the power of his soul into his last words: “I am sorry, Kol. I could not bring him home. He would not let me save him.”