Authors: Charles E. Yallowitz
Legends of Windemere
Copyright 2016 © by Charles Yallowitz
All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without the written permission of the author, except where permitted by law. Reviewers may quote brief excerpts in connection with a review.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Cover Design & Illustration by Jason Pedersen
Legends of Windemere
To everyone who has entered Windemere
And left their mark upon its soul
A gentle breeze licks at the red and black banners hanging from the ceiling of Baron Kernaghan’s throne room. The enchanted decorations flutter and dance as a stronger wind comes through the open windows. Held up by rusty hinges, the murky panes shudder from the random blasts of thunder. Faded symbols are embroidered on the ancient banners, none of them clear unless the viewer is aware of their previous splendor. Hints of dark green can be seen in the center of a few pieces, the shimmering thread more noticeable whenever it catches a flickering beam of torchlight. Most days the long-ignored standards remain hidden within the suffocating shadows, but today their true owner has lifted the cloaking illusions. For a brief moment, a mournful tune plays through the air and sends a shiver down the spine of the lone figure sitting upon the blue-carpeted dais.
Slumped in a throne of cracked stone and rotting cushions, Queen Trinity watches the banners shift above her head. The cobalt-skinned woman repeatedly glances at the polished, wooden chair sitting to her left. With a cruel smirk, she considers shattering her master’s precious throne and hurling the remains into the churning ocean. A sudden kick inside her abdomen breaks her thoughts and causes the channeler to rub her bloated belly. She is unsure if the movement calms the child within, but she finds that it eases her own discomfort. Another round of rolling and flailing causes Trinity to curse and double over in her throne. Fixing her ebony hair into a simple ponytail, the Chaos Elf Queen whistles a lullaby that she vaguely remembers from her own childhood. It takes several minutes for the squirming baby to relax and the struggle leaves the channeler nearly drained. A few sparks emerge from the faint marks on her palms, bellybutton, and forehead, which are reminders of the days she wielded the most enhancer gems in the history of her people.
With her attention back on the room, Trinity stretches her arms and absorbs some of the magic in the air. The small taste of raw power is enough to clear her head and she gets the sense that her baby is sharing the sensation. Before she is distracted, the channeler summons illusions of expensive furniture and ghostly guests that spread around the room. Creating a ruby gown around her body, Trinity sits as straight as she can while overseeing the party of fictional nobles who dance before her. With a snap of her fingers, the silver chandelier sheds its tarnished outer layer and bathes the black stone hall in beautiful light. Smiling chaos elves wander the crowd with trays of food and wine that are tinted with a drug to make the revelers more relaxed. A mischievous chuckle slips from Trinity’s lips as she imagines the pranks she could play on the stuffy nobles who exist in a world she has always wished to join.
“They wouldn’t know what to do with me,” she whispers before dissolving the illusions and getting to her feet. Even with the extra weight and pressure on her midsection, the elegant woman finds it easy to gracefully move about. “Maybe the Baron and the champions will be done with each other by the time you’re old enough to care. I know I despised your existence at first, but I can’t blame you for your father’s actions. Trust me, little one, when I say that he was all evil and sin. Still, there’s some of me in you and that should be enough to keep you on the right path. The only trick will be to make sure you stay out of this prophecy mess. Your grandfather won’t let you get away so easily, but we have enough time to make a plan and keep you safe. I wonder if you can even hear me. I’ve been told that babies are able to identify voices from inside the womb, but I think the nursemaids are lying to calm my nerves.” A sturdy kick makes Trinity cringe and she chuckles at her unborn child’s response. “You’re definitely going to be a handful when you enter this world.”
The creaking of a door draws her attention to the far side of the throne room where a black and white-skinned woman is cautiously entering. Yola’s green hair is in giant knots and she has grown an extra pair of legs to help her walk. The former Goddess of Chaos has a bloated back, which squirms in a way that reminds Trinity of live worms in a bucket. Reaching back, Yola shifts her baby to the front and sends a few tickling zaps through her body to calm the child. A tiny hand emerges from her mouth to pinch her nose before slipping back into her belly. Unable to stand any longer, a soft bed rises from the floor and the naked immortal curls up beneath blankets that shimmer like sunlight on the ocean.
Standing in the doorway, Baron Arthuru Kernaghan watches the two women with eyes of smoldering red. Heat wafts off his body as he walks to the wooden throne, his black cape trailing behind him without touching the floor. The ancient nobleman adjusts his ruffled sleeves and collar until his brewing frustration causes him to tear them from his crimson shirt. The walls creak and give the illusion of being squeezed from the outside until the immortal takes a relaxing breath. Running a comb through his nicely trimmed beard, the Baron extends his hand and gestures for Trinity to sit next to him. The chaos elf cautiously approaches her cracked throne as her master pulls a decanter of wine and two goblets out of thin air. Remembering that she is pregnant with his grandchild, he transforms the alcohol in one cup to an enchanted juice and politely hands it to the nervous woman.
“I apologize for ignoring you this past week,” the Baron claims even though the edge to his voice betrays his anger. Instead of sipping his drink like a gentleman, he swallows the cup’s contents in a single gulp. “Things have been . . . hectic with the death of my son and the future additions to my family. Stephen will be missed, but not forgotten. His power and strength will live on in your child. I am happy to hear that you refused to eliminate his aura from the baby since I now know you are capable of such an act.”
“I will make sure this child is nothing like its father,” Trinity defiantly states before she can stop herself. She sips at her drink, a hidden spell in her throat cleansing the liquid of anything that could harm her or the baby. “You have my condolences, master, but you know why I will not mourn your son. He did horrible things to me that can never be forgiven or forgotten. I feel safer with him dead.”
His eyes locked on his defiant agent, the Baron drinks another glass of wine before crushing the metal goblet into a fine powder. “I cannot deny his cruelty or that such actions led to his demise. In fact, I do not fault you for the times you raised your hand against him. My anger stems from you protecting one of our enemies and, in a way, choosing the champions over me. It is curious that you subjected yourself to tortures that you claim are unforgivable. You owe nothing to our enemies, but I know you did whatever you could to stop Stephen from having his way with Nyx. It makes me question your loyalty, which is a concern that has been plaguing me for far too long. Even before your most recent actions, I sensed a strange relationship brewing between you and the other channeler. Do you still stand by my side, Queen Trinity?”
“Of course I do because you’re not your son,” the woman answers, masterfully hiding the sliver of doubt in her voice. Her nerves quiver at every pulse of aggression that she senses from the warlord and she protectively covers her stomach. “I don’t have any love for Nyx, but I have developed a deep respect for her as my rival. One could say that I want her destruction to be by my hand and on my terms. My desire for such a battle put me at odds with your son. The things Stephen did to me are actions that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy because I know those scars will never go away entirely. Considering how quickly events are moving, her wounds could not have healed before our final battle. A broken Nyx wouldn’t be worth my time, so I acted to prevent my own goals from being destroyed. Besides, he might have killed her and you told me that the champions are to be left alive for now.”
“That was true, but they have made it far enough that losing one or two will not make a difference to me. At least that is what I have been told by a friend with knowledge of such things,” the Baron replies while reaching out to touch Trinity’s belly. His hand is knocked away by a powerful kick that sends a numbing tremor up his arm. “That is an impressive child you are carrying, Queen Trinity. I sense it is more like you than my son. She . . . he . . . I cannot tell the gender because of a masking spell. It is not from you or a goddess. I wonder if you are carrying a great agent that destiny has given to my side. Even if that is not the case, I trust you to take good care of my grandchild.”
Yola Biggs screams as she launches the bed and herself through the wall, her hair catching the broken stone to drag her back into the room. The creaking furniture smashes into a nearby hill, which startles the hard-working chaos elves who are digging for edible roots and tradeable gems. Simple-minded and aggressive, a horned taskmaster hisses at the former goddess and waves its whip in annoyance. Yola licks her lips before her neck stretches over the landscape and her head grows large enough to swallow the screeching demon in one bite. The thrashing creature tumbles down her throat and into her stomach where it is rapidly broken down into a mush that the developing child absorbs. With a delicate burp, the green-haired woman returns to her normal form and settles into a hammock that emerges from the ceiling.
“I see you revealed the old banners,” the Baron says, noticing the decorations for the first time. He snaps his gloved fingers to set them on fire and casts their ashes out the freshly made hole in the wall. “Are you wishing for a time where you rule Shayd instead of me? I hope you realize that there will never be a day when the chaos elves are truly accepted. Those banners were nothing more than harsh reminders that you will always be outsiders.”
Suspicion and anger growing in her mind, Trinity watches the man in an attempt to read his intentions. “You promised that we would be accepted when you conquered Windemere. That was the deal.”
“Of course, my dear, but it would not be the same as what you truly want. It would be forced upon the masses instead of earned by your own hands,” he replies with a gentle smile. Seeing the pain in his agent’s eyes, he casually waves his hand to repair the banners to their original splendor. “Maybe I have become too cynical or I know less about the modern world than I believe. I only have my scrying and agents to keep me informed about the trends and mentalities that have emerged since my incarceration. It is not enough, so I could very well be lacking in knowledge. Then again, it might be that I say such things because the fate of your people is entirely in your hands.”
“So I am to be punished.”
“That is such a harsh word.”
“Then what would you call it, master?”
“I am simply giving you a final chance to prove your loyalty.”
“What will happen if I fail?”
The Baron rises from his throne and takes Trinity by the hand, guiding her to the hole in the wall. She stares out at Shayd’s stony landscape, an emerald lightning storm in the distance mesmerizing her for several seconds. Groups of her people toiling in the dirt can be seen in every direction and the nearest ones risk a glance at their beloved queen. The crack of whips echoes off the black hills and are repeatedly joined by the groan of an undead creature waiting for an exhausted worker to fall. Already she can see a pack of rotting monsters devouring an old man who could not keep up with the others. A few tears slip down Trinity’s cheeks as she takes in the gloomy atmosphere of her broken kingdom and wonders if it will ever be as beautiful as the other continents. She jumps at the firm grip on her shoulder and turns to stare into the malevolent eyes of her master.
“I have not made a final decision on what will happen,” the Baron admits, his voice disturbingly soft and kind. He points his hand at the sky and the eternal storm clouds clear for a few seconds. The sunlight makes Shayd look even more depressing to its inhabitants, who squint in the unexpected brightness. “One thing I am sure of is that you will be replaced if you dare to return in failure. That is why I am going to be careful in choosing my next command. I must be fair and give you a chance at success, my dear.”
“Who would replace me?” Trinity asks, her arms wrapping around her belly.
The benevolent warlord strokes her cheek and gives her a kiss on the forehead. “I can see you already know the answer. Relax and take care of my grandchild until I approach you with the new assignment.”
“I assume you want me to go after Delvin and Sari, who have separated from the rest of the group,” the chaos elf guesses as she backs away from the wall. A shiver runs up and down her spine as her strained nerves twitch from exhaustion. “Then again, you said we didn’t have to keep all of them alive. Perhaps you need Delvin, Dariana, and Timoran alive to awaken the remaining temples. So I can eliminate one of the others, which means Sari is the most likely target.”
“True, but I am not interested in her. The gypsy will be nothing more than an annoyance during the final battle,” the Baron explains before whispering a spell. The wall reforms and all of the windows close, the panes rattling from their slamming impact. “You are correct that those other three are untouchable because I need them to cleanse their temples. Then again, I feel that we have not made the barbarian suffer like the others. He is simple and mild-mannered, which is why he has remained relatively untouched by my plans. I believe that now is the perfect time for him to be taught what it truly means to be my enemy.”
“I’ve fought Timoran Wrath before and I’m sure I can defeat him.”
“I know you can, which is why he is not your target.”
“Please stop playing games, Arthuru. Your grandchild is already trying my patience.”
“I apologize,” the Baron says with a polite bow. A scowl darkens his features as he takes a deep breath and goes to check on the slumbering Yola. “I am merely thinking out loud and making things up as I go along. It is not something I am accustomed to. At first, I strongly considered exiling you to an uninhabited island for a few years while I do whatever I want with your people. There would be a portal to show you everything that befalls them. Of course this was when I was in the early stages of mourning and grief, so I admit to not thinking clearly. Yola convinced me that you deserved a final chance and reminded me of the precious one that you carry. Be sure to thank your only friend when she is awake.”