Authors: James Islington
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Epic, #Sword & Sorcery, #Teen & Young Adult, #Coming of Age
The Shadow Of
What Was Lost
Copyright © 2014 James
All rights reserved.
Without your enthusiasm, love and
this would never have been
big thank-you, firstly, is owed to all my alpha and beta readers - Ross, Nicki,
Chiara, Aiden, Brett, Jeremy, Dean, David, Rex, Callum, Tim, Stuart and (of
course) Sonja. It's no small commitment to test-read a book of this size, and
their feedback proved invaluable in honing The Shadow Of What Was Lost.
also go to Pat, who read what was a very rough first draft and still managed to
spot the promise in amongst its many flaws. To this day it amazes me that
despite how much more work the story needed, he somehow delivered his critique
with enough encouragement and tact that I ended up being inspired rather than
I'd like to thank my family for all their encouragement over the past couple of
years - and in particular my wife, Sonja, whose love, constant optimism, and
ability to soothe my fragile ego kept me sane as I worked through each draft.
This book is dedicated to her, as it could not possibly have existed if it were
not for her enduring support.
For a moment the waters of Eryth
Mmorg were lit, roiling and churning as though a great knife had plunged deep
into the pool’s murky heart. A dark wave shattered against a barely discernible
outcrop of black rocks, hissing, spitting spray a hundred feet into the air
before subsiding. The world flickered back into darkness, but the waves, if
anything, increased their intensity. Another roared, hissed, sighed, even
louder than the peals of thunder that followed. Another.
Tal watched impassively from his
rocky perch, high above even the spray. Only his cloak moved as it flowed out
behind him, billowing and snapping in the gusting wind. Old eyes set against
youthful features stared unblinking into the night, fixed upon the point where
he knew the gaping maw of Eryth Mmorg lay. Another flash illuminated the oval
of jagged rocks; the waves licked at them hungrily, waiting to devour any who
Behind him lay the flat, barren
rock that was Taag’s Peak. No life grew there, not even the hard, poisonous
foliage that survived elsewhere in the wilderness. The obsidian surface was
worn smooth by the constant buffeting wind; twenty paces from Tal it ended in
another precipice, almost as sheer as the one he currently overlooked. Few men
could gain Taag’s Peak, and fewer still desired to.
To the north, on the horizon
beyond the pool, the darkness was suddenly broken by a dull red glow rising
from Tawwas, last of the Broken Cities. Tal’s eyes cleared after a moment,
flicked towards the light. The beacon seemed about to fade before blossoming
into a ball of brilliant orange flame, searing light across the wastelands and
burning into Tal’s head. He gasped, shutting his eyes for a moment, steadying.
How long had he gazed into the
depths of Eryth Mmorg? Too long; the alarm was raised and his flight
discovered. A cold, sharp pain clawed at his chest, something he had not felt
in some time. Fear.
“Hold,” he murmured to himself,
fixing his gaze once again upon the angry waters. “Hold.” It was very nearly
done, despite his lapse in concentration.
“You are running, Tal’kamar. I
warned you against running.” The sound rumbled around the peak, a presence
rather than a voice.
Tal’s stomach twisted and he
turned, searching for his pursuer.
“I know the truth,” he said
quietly. He could see it now, at the far end of the peak but crawling towards
him. A shadow, darker than the rest. A being not quite there. His master.
The creature chuckled, a
sickening sound. “You do not know what truth is anymore. He was one man,
Tal’kamar. He lied; you said it yourself. You slew him for his falsehood. You
took his head and set it on a pike. You placed it at the Door of Iladriel as a
reminder, for all to see! Do you not remember?” The shadow stopped, watching
Tal hesitated, staring for a long
moment into the gloom.
“Yes,” he whispered hoarsely. His
master’s presence was almost overpowering; for a moment Tal wanted only to
grovel before his lord, beg that all be forgiven.
Then the moment passed, and he
sensed a feeling of anticipation from the shadow – and something more, barely
discernible. Something he had never felt before from his master.
He continued, growing more
confident with each word. “Yes,” he repeated slowly, “but I was mistaken. I
followed the path he set me upon. I found proof.” He paused, his voice stronger
now. “I went to Res Kartha. I asked the Lyth.” Stronger again. “I went to the
Wells of Mor Aruil and spoke with the Keeper. I found Nethgalla at the Crossroads
and tortured her until she told me all she knew.” Now he shouted, the rage of
so many years finally released, a mighty roar that seemed to echo across all of
Talan Gol and beyond. “I went deep beneath the mountains, beneath Ilin Tora
itself. I found the Mirrors. I gazed into them and found one thing!” He
stopped, panting, face twisted in grim triumph. “One truth above all others.”
The shadow crept closer, menacing
now, the silver gone from its voice. “What did you find, Tal’kamar?” it hissed
Tal drew a deep breath. “You are
false.” He said it calmly, staring defiantly at the dark mass. “Completely,
He turned, gesturing downward
towards the waters. A bright blue circle began to glow just above the waves,
spinning ever-faster. When he turned back the shadow was at his face, filling
his vision, its breath a foul stench on the air. It laughed, a filthy sound
that contained only contempt.
“You cannot escape this place,”
it snarled. “You cannot escape me.”
For the first time in years, Tal
“You are wrong. This time I go
where Aarkein Devaed cannot follow,” he said softly.
He stepped backward, over the
The shadow slithered forward,
watching as Tal passed through the Gate and beyond reach. The whirling ring of
blue fire flickered white for but a moment; then it was gone, with no trace of
it ever having existed.
The creature stared at where it
had been. The waves below were quieter now, as if appeased.
Suddenly it understood.
“The Waters of Renewal,” it
Its screams seemed to fill the
The blade traced a slow line of
fire down his face.
He desperately tried to cry out,
to jerk away, but the hand over his mouth prevented both. Steel filled his
vision, grey and dirty. Warm blood trickled down the left side of his face,
onto his neck, under his shirt.
There were only fragments after
Laughter. The hot stink of wine
on his attacker's breath.
A lessening of the pain, and
screams - not his own.
Voices, high-pitched with fear,
Then silence. Darkness.
Davian's eyes snapped open.
The young man sat there for some
time, heart pounding, breathing deeply to calm himself. Eventually he stirred
from where he'd dozed off at his desk and rubbed at his face, absently tracing
the raised scar that ran from the corner of his left eye down to his chin. It
was pinkish-white now, had healed years ago. It still ached whenever the old
memories threatened to surface, though.
He stood, stretching muscles
stiff from disuse and grimacing as he looked outside. His small room high in
the North Tower overlooked most of the school, and the windows below had all
fallen dark. The courtyard torches flared and sputtered in their sockets, too,
only barely clinging to life.
Another evening gone, then. He
was running out of those much faster than he would like.
Davian sighed, then adjusted his
lamp and began sifting through the myriad books that were scattered haphazardly
in front of him. He'd read them all, of course, most several times. None had
provided him with any answers - but even so he took a seat, selected a tome at
random, and tiredly began to thumb through it.
It was some time later that a
sharp knock cut through the heavy silence of the evening.
Davian flinched, then brushed a
stray strand of curly black hair from his eyes and crossed to the door, opening
it a sliver.
"Wirr," he said in
vague surprise, swinging the door wide enough to let his blond-haired friend’s
athletic frame through. "What are you doing here?"
Wirr didn't move to enter, his
usually cheerful expression uneasy, and Davian's stomach churned as he suddenly
understood why the other boy had come.
Wirr gave a rueful nod when he
saw Davian's reaction. "They found him, Dav. He's downstairs. They're
waiting for us."
Davian swallowed. "They want
to do it now?"
Wirr just nodded again.
Davian hesitated, but he knew
that there was no point delaying. He took a deep breath, then extinguished his
lamp and trailed after Wirr down the spiral staircase.
He shivered in the cool night air
as they exited the tower and began crossing the dimly-lit courtyard. The school
was housed in an enormous, Darecian-era castle; Davian had lived here all his
life and knew every inch of these grounds, but tonight the high walls loomed
ominously in the darkness.
"Do you know how they caught
him?" he asked.
"He used Essence to light
his campfire." Wirr shook his head, barely visible against the dying
torches on the wall. "Probably wasn't much more than a trickle, but there
were Administrators on the road nearby. Their Finders went off, and...."
He shrugged. "They turned him over to Talean a couple of hours ago, and
Talean didn't want this drawn out any longer than it had to be. For everyone's
"Won't make it any easier to
watch," muttered Davian.
Wirr slowed his stride for a
moment, glancing across at his friend. "You could still take Asha up on
her offer to replace you, if you wanted. I know it's technically your turn,
but... nobody would blame you."
"No." Davian shook his
head firmly. "I can handle it. And anyway, Leehim's the same age as her -
she knows him better than we do. She shouldn't have to go through that."
"None of us should,"
murmured Wirr, but he nodded his acceptance and picked up the pace again.
They made their way through the
eastern wing of the castle and finally came to Administrator Talean's office;
the door was already open, lamplight spilling out into the hallway. Davian gave
a cautious knock on the doorframe as he peered in, and he and Wirr were
beckoned inside by a sombre-looking Elder Olin.
"Shut the door, boys,"
said the grey-haired man, forcing what he probably thought was a reassuring
smile at them. "Everyone's here now."
Davian glanced around as Wirr
closed the door behind them, examining the occupants of the small room. Elder
Seandra was there, her diminutive form folded into a chair in the corner; the
youngest of the school's teachers was normally all smiles but tonight her
expression was weary, resigned.
Administrator Talean was present
too, of course, his blue cloak drawn tightly around his shoulders against the
cold. He nodded to the boys in silent acknowledgement, looking grim. Davian
nodded back, even after three years still vaguely surprised to see that the
Administrator was taking no pleasure in these proceedings. It was sometimes hard
to remember that Talean truly didn't hate the Gifted, as so many of his
counterparts around Andarra did.
Last of all, secured to a chair
in the centre of the room, was Leehim.
The boy was only one year behind
Davian at fifteen, but the vulnerability of his position made him look much
younger. Leehim's dark brown hair hung limply over his eyes, his head bowed and
motionless. At first, Davian thought he must be unconscious.
Then he noticed Leehim's hands.
Even tied firmly behind his back, they were trembling.
Talean sighed as the door clicked
shut. "It seems we're ready, then," he said quietly. He exchanged
glances with Elder Olin, then stepped in front of Leehim so that the boy could
Everyone silently turned their
attention to Leehim; the boy's gaze was now focused on Talean and though he was
doing his best to hide it, Davian could see the abject fear in his eyes.
The Administrator took a deep
"Leehim Perethar. Three
nights ago, you left the school without a Shackle and unbound by the Fourth
Tenet. You violated the Treaty." He said the words formally, but there was
compassion in his tone. "As a result, before these witnesses here, you are
to be lawfully stripped of your ability to use Essence. After tonight you will
not be welcome amongst the Gifted in Andarra - here, or anywhere else - without
special dispensation from one of the Tols. Do you understand?"
Leehim nodded, and for a split
second Davian thought this might go more easily than it usually did.
Then Leehim spoke, as everyone in
his position did eventually.
"Please," he said, his
gaze sweeping around the room, eyes pleading. "Please, don't do this.
Don't make me a Shadow. I made a mistake. It won't happen again."
Elder Olin looked at him sadly as
he stepped forward, a small black disc in his hand. "It's too late,
Leehim stared at him for a moment
as if not comprehending, then shook his head. "No. Wait. Just wait."
The tears began to trickle down his cheeks, and he bucked helplessly at his
restraints. Davian looked away as he continued imploringly. "Please. Elder
Olin. I won't survive as a Shadow. Elder Seandra. Just wait. I -"
From the corner of his eye,
Davian saw Elder Olin reach down and press the black disc against the skin on
He forced himself to turn back
and watch as the boy stopped mid-sentence. Only Leehim's eyes moved now;
everything else was motionless. Paralysed.
Elder Olin let go of the disc for
a moment; it stuck to Leehim's neck as if affixed with glue. The Elder
straightened, then looked over to Talean, who reluctantly nodded his
The Elder leaned down again, this
time touching a single finger to the disc.
"I'm sorry, Leehim," he
murmured, closing his eyes.
A nimbus of light coalesced
around Elder Olin's hand; after a moment the glow started inching along his
extended finger and draining into the disc.
Leehim's entire body began to
It was just a little at first,
barely noticeable, but then suddenly became violent as his muscles started to
spasm. Talean gently put his hand on Leehim's shoulder, steadying the boy so
his chair didn't topple.
Elder Olin removed his finger
from the disc after a few more seconds, but Leehim continued to convulse. Bile
rose in Davian's throat as dark lines began to creep outward from Leehim's
eyes, ugly black veins that seemed to crawl across his face, leeching the colour
from his skin. A disfigurement that would be with Leehim for the rest of his
Then the boy went limp, and it
Talean checked Leehim's vitals,
then helped Elder Olin untie him. "Poor lad probably won't even remember
getting caught," he said softly. He hesitated, then glanced over at Elder
Seandra, who was still staring hollowly at Leehim's slumped form. "I'm
sorry it came to this - I know you liked the lad. When he wakes up I'll give
him some food and a few coins before I send him on his way."
Seandra was silent for a moment,
then nodded. "Thank-you, Administrator," she said quietly. "I
Davian looked up as Elder Olin
finished what he was doing and came to stand in front of the boys.
"Are you all right?" he
asked, the question clearly aimed at Davian more than Wirr.
Davian swallowed, emotions
churning, but nodded. "Yes," he lied.
The Elder gave his shoulder a
reassuring squeeze. "Thank-you for being here tonight. I know it can't
have been easy." He nodded to the door. "Now. Both of you should go
and get some rest."
Davian and Wirr inclined their
heads in assent, giving Leehim's limp form one last glance before exiting the
Wirr rubbed his forehead tiredly
as they walked. "Want some company for a few minutes? There's no chance
I'm going straight to sleep after that."
Davian nodded. "You and me
They made their way back to the
North Tower in thoughtful, troubled silence.
Once back in Davian's room both
boys sat, neither speaking for a time.
Finally Wirr stirred, expression
sympathetic as he looked across at his friend. "Are you really all
Davian hesitated for a moment,
still trying to sort through the maelstrom of emotions that he'd been
struggling with for the past several minutes. Eventually he just shrugged.
"At least I know what I have
to look forward to," he said wryly, doing his best not to let his voice
Wirr grimaced, then gave him a
hard look. "Don't say that, Dav. There's still time."
"Still time?" Normally
Davian would have forced a smile and taken the encouragement, but tonight it
rang too false to let it go. "The Festival of Ravens is in three weeks,
Wirr. Three weeks until the Trials, and if I can't use Essence before then, I
end up the same way as Leehim. A Shadow." He shook his head, despair thick
in his voice. "It's been three
since I got the El-cursed
Mark, and I haven't been able to do so much as touch Essence since then. I'm
not sure there's even anything left for me to try."
"That doesn't mean you
should just give up," observed Wirr.
Davian hesitated, then looked at
his friend in frustration. "Can you honestly tell me that you think I'm
going to pass the Trials?"
Wirr stiffened. "Dav, that's
"Then you don't think I
will?" pressed Davian.
Wirr scowled. "Fine."
He composed himself, leaning forward and looking Davian in the eye. "I
think you're going to pass the Trials."
His tone was full of conviction,
but it didn't stop Davian from seeing the dark, smoke-like tendrils escaping
"Told you," Davian said
Wirr glared at him, then sighed.
"Fates, I hate that ability of yours sometimes," he said, shaking his
head. "Look - I
believe there's a chance. And while there's a
chance, you'd be foolish not to try everything you can. You know that."
Wirr wasn't lying this time, and
Davian felt a stab of guilt at putting his friend in such an awkward position.
He rubbed his forehead, exhaling heavily.
"Sorry. You're right. That
wasn't fair," he admitted, taking a deep breath and forcing his swirling
emotions to settle a little. "I know you're only trying to help. And I'm
not giving up... I'm just running out of ideas. I've read every book on the
Gift that we have, tried every mental technique. The Elders all say my academic
understanding is flawless. I don't know what else I can do."
Wirr inclined his head.
"Nothing to be sorry for, Dav. We'll think of something."