Shadow’s Fall is the third and final novel in the Shadow series trilogy. This tale contains strong elements of horror, following the path of a small group of heroes who must work together to prevent an ancient evil’s escape.
High Priest Urkhrist has settled to his task as the keeper of Beauwallin’s prison. With his long-time friend and companion, Vorgren, guarding his back, and the spymaster’s apprentice, Tara Bloodthorn, acting as his representative in the city of Thargood, he had thought the battle over, but something is wrong. Beauwallin stirs within his prison, and wizards, priests and sorcerers are being taken from Thargood’s streets. The pattern is similar to the one they saw when Beauwallin attempted to break free the last time. Gilzereet must find out if the Old One is trying to escape, again, and discover how he is garnering the power to do so—and then he must try to find a way to defeat him, to succeed, where a pantheon of gods has already failed.
First Chapters: Shadow's Fall
Darkness in the Snow
The raiders struck before the sun had fully cleared the mountain. Callum heard them coming, and rolled from his bed, his hand reaching for the crossbow hanging on the cabin wall. He died before he could use it to defend himself or his family.
The shuttered window of his cabin erupted in a shower of wooden shards as his bare feet touched the floor. With a snarl as fierce as a winter wolf’s, but in a form shaped more like a man, the raider came through the window, its momentum matching Callum’s own, as he leapt across the room. It tore out his throat as his hand touched the crossbow’s stock. A second invader followed the first, and Callum’s wife screamed.
Her grief was short-lived. A third raider burst through the door in a swirl of snow, and silenced her shrieks before she could draw breath to scream again. A fountain of red spray drifted softly down amidst the tearing veil of white, brightening the raider’s gray skin with scarlet. As the droplets began to darken, their leader looked for his designated prey.
He’d been sent for the hunter’s daughter, and it did not take him long to find her. She was at the edge of the loft, looking down at those that had come. Her long hair hung loose in a soft, brown veil, and her full lips moved silently beneath cheeks that had lost their color. She was trying to calm her mind, enough to gather the energy for a spell.
Her hands weaved the signs. Her lips parted, and she forced the words past a throat that threatened to close off any sound. The first of the raiders leapt towards her, his clawed hands reaching out to grip the boards at her feet.
She stepped back, voicing the final word of her incantation. One of those below her became a statue of ice; it didn’t even have time to roar a protest. The raider clinging to the edge of the loft laughed.
Callum’s daughter looked at him, and the words of her next summoning died in her throat. The raider hanging from the boards at her feet was dead, yet he lived, and moved, and swung himself into her loft with the ease of any man she had known. The creature was something of a mage as well, for he stretched a hand toward her, and she found she could not move or speak or draw the breath to scream. From below her came the sound of meat being torn, and wild beasts feeding.
“Maelinna,” the thing before her crooned, “we have traveled far in our search for you. Come with me now. No harm will be done.”
No harm to what? She wanted to scream but found that only her legs would move as the beast turned to lower the loft’s ladder-like staircase. Maelinna tried to run. Perhaps she could fling herself from the loft’s edge, and die before the creature could wreak its foul purpose on her. She tried, but her feet only moved to stand behind the thing, and her hand reached out to grasp the proffered fingers as it led her down the steps.
The carnage on the cabin floor nearly broke the spell that held her. The beasts, those other raiders, were feeding from the still warm bodies of her parents, but that was not the worst. As she followed their leader towards her front door, her father stirred. Hope that he still lived warred with fear of the same. The raiders stood away from him, letting him rise to stand among them. For a long moment he swayed on his feet, looking at the faces that surrounded him, until he saw his daughter.
“Maelinna,” he whispered, “come. Your papa is hungry.”
Maelinna saw the change in her father’s face, and shrank from him. Her escort stood between them.
“Not yet,” he commanded. “The Lord wants this one. Go with your brethren; they will show you where you may hunt, and on whom you may feed.”
The raiders around her mother began to back away, but Maelinna did not see any more. The raider’s leader grasped her wrist, and towed her from the cabin’s fading warmth. The predawn chill clawed its way through the thin covering of her night gown, as her feet sank into the powder of newly-fallen snow. Now she understood how the raiders had come so close to the cabin without her father hearing. She understood more, when she saw the nature of the beasts the raiders rode.
Horses they might once have been, but now they were creatures as fearsome as their masters. Some power had been spent in their making, for their eyes glowed red, and sharp fangs protruded from behind their lips. As one they turned their heads in her direction. Their lips curled up and their jaws parted. Gray tongues, elongated and narrow, lapped the air for her scent, and the lead horse pawed at the snow, nodding its head up and down in approval.
Maelinna had seen such a gesture before—when she brought hay to her pony. It made her pull against the hand that held her. Her captor turned his gaze toward her.
“It is not far,” he said. “We shall not need the horses.”
Maelinna felt a calmness in his words reach out and wrap itself around her, so she no longer tried to free herself from his grasp. This new peace lasted, until the raider murmured soft words under his breath. The sense of them jarred against her mind, but Maelinna could not raise the strength to fight it, and the spell bonds tightened their enshrouding weave.
Suddenly her feet would not move, and her arms hung against her sides like wooden beams. The raider let go of her hand, before her grip trapped his fingers and then, when she was perfectly still and only her eyes mirrored her fear, he wrapped his arms around her and carried her.
He did not have to take her far. An area had been cleared of snow, and stripped bare of vegetation. Colored yarn was tied between sticks of willow and larch in a spell pattern Maelinna had never seen before. She stared, trying to decipher its purpose.
Grandmama would have known, Maelinna thought, as the raider set her down in the center of the pattern. The raider’s hands rested on her hips for a long moment, his fingers lingering as he pressed his face close to her neck and drew in a deep breath of her scent. Maelinna saw his face twist with abruptly-stilled desire, as he took his hands away from her and stepped back from the circle.
“You would have been a worthy meal, indeed,” he said, then the yarn exploded into colored flame, and Maelinna felt herself carried to another place.
The raider’s spell was broken by the wards of the transportation. She felt them tear as the yarn-woven spell took her further and further from home. The morning’s cold combined with the ice of teleportation to take the feeling from her limbs, and soon she became afraid that she would freeze to death in the whirling limbo that held her. Maelinna flailed, trying to keep her balance as the spell cast her across an unknown distance.
She landed hard, the jarring of stone beneath her feet driving her to her knees, and her palms stung where they slammed into the floor. For a minute she crouched there, gasping for breath, relieved the penetrating cold had diminished. This reprieve, however, was short-lived; strong hands seized her before she could recover, and she was lifted from the ground.
“So glad you could make it.” The voice was male and smooth as velvet. Hands pinned her arms to her sides, before arms wrapped around her from behind. Another form moved into her view, stooped, and took hold of her ankles. Still shaking from the cold and disoriented from her journey, Maelinna tried to center herself. She could sense a presence in the room and it was neither human nor undead like the raiders at her cabin. When her eyes had adjusted to the dull light of her destination, she looked around. The entire room was made of stone, and she could see no windows.
There was a wooden table at one end of the room with a bench on either side of it. There was a small cabinet and a fireplace. These she noted, as she was carried backwards. She also noted the face of the woman that held her feet. Green eyes stared back at her, hard as stone in a face losing its tan to being inside too long. Short, brown hair curled around the face, framing it, but failing to soften the deep lines there.
Maelinna turned her head, trying to see the man pinning her arms. She could not, and his grasp crushed her against his chest, so she couldn’t tilt her head back far enough to see his face. They carried her only a short way, before lifting her, and laying her on something hard, and smooth as stone. She felt chains loop about her body, and shackles close around her wrists and ankles, and a deep, cold terror froze her limbs and voice. Lamplight flared and a third person stepped from behind a pillar. Darkness shrouded him, enhancing his features and making the winter’s cold seem more balmy than a fine spring day.
“Shaikhan did well,” he said, and Maelinna felt some other, darker power echo his words with satisfaction.
Well, indeed, it murmured, as the newcomer came to stand beside her. He raised fingertips to her cheek, tracing its line to the edge of her mouth. Maelinna shrank away from him. His eyes were almost black, and full of shadows, hiding secrets that seemed too terrible for her mortality to bear. His hair was dark brown, and glinted with auburn highlights in the lamps.
He smiled, and his teeth were frightening in their perfection. The presence that came with him made her more frightened still. Maelinna felt the blood drain from her face with the strength of her fear. Her captor must have noticed the change. He looked towards her and, with none of the growing amusement she sensed in the presence that rode him, spoke.
“Don’t be afraid. We will not keep you for long.”
END FIRST CHAPTER