Read Shadows of Time: Shadow Maiden Online

Authors: B.R. Nicholson

Tags: #death, #magic, #maiden, #phooka, #elves, #blood, #shadow, #city in the sky, #memories, #demon, #mercenary, #time, #action, #desert, #elf

Shadows of Time: Shadow Maiden

 

 

 

Shadows of Time: Shadow Maiden

Book One

By B.R. Nicholson

Smashwords Edition

 

 

 

Copyright 2013 B.R. Nicholson

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

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Prologue

My mind is numb. The world presses in around
me— like being held underwater. Blood rushes to my head, beating
mighty drums inside my ears. My vision bends into focus. I can feel
my fingers straining around the helpless stem of a glass. My fist
clenches, snapping the stem like breaking the wings of a bird. A
small glimmer of me imagines the touch of feathers. Warmth oozes
from between my fingers. The sight of red shakes me from my
trance.

Where am I?

My breath is caught. Something grips me tight
around my chest. I look down and I am lost in dark shimmering silk.
I cast down the remains of the glass, shards still pricking into my
skin, and tear at the fabric. Panicked, I give up trying to free my
body and push myself away from a table set with delicate glass and
silver. The table rattles and the chair overturns, crashing into
flat white stone. I drag the weight of my dress across the room to
a wide and gaping window. I gaze through thick paned glass and my
frantic heart ceases to beat. Feeling my eyes widen and my lungs
failing to find strength to scream, I fall away from the world I
see.

With my head throbbing and tears blinding my
sight, I crumble to the floor. The whirring and whizzing of metal
throttling through the sky scream in my ears.

The window overlooks a landscape of metal and
decay. Rust glares from each groove and outline, from the twisting
towers to the faces of the people who inhabit them. Everything is
teeming with muted life, bustling about amidst scenery of showering
sparks and tangles of wires. However, the city of gears and scrap
below is not the worst. No, the sky—the sky is swollen with
churnings of brown and gray. A sickly sun smothered by a veil of
filth frowns at me from its throne high above the squalor of the
mechanical city.

What is this horrible world? I have no
memory of coming here, or even being forced here against my will.
Or even…
I reach back further than the present. Where had I
been before here? My mind strains to recall the past. Memories are
smothered by darkness, nothing but candle light hushed out by a
single breath of wind.

I bury my face in the dark shimmering silk. I
let myself be led astray by its cold, smooth embrace. I feel like I
am being crushed from within, my heart being squeezed by its own
despair. Where do I come from?
Who—who am I?

I am lost in a mist of fear and rage. My mind
is lost— I barely feel the hand resting on my bare shoulders.

I recoil from that touch, heaving my body
around to stare into the face of my oppressor. For that moment, I
feel brave. I feel ready to fight and scream and die
beautifully.

Though instead of attacking, I stop suddenly.
My muscles refuse to move. Something in my head tells me I know
this face I’m staring at, that he can be trusted.

He is tall and dressed in the same shadowy
silk. His face is etched with fury and metal but his eyes ease my
mind, icy blue and full of burning regret.

He extends his hand. Slender and welcoming,
his hand is hidden beneath smooth black leather. I reach out for it
instinctively, hesitating just inches away. I can feel his warmth
and everything seems calm. I take his hand and he lifts me up as if
I weigh nothing, as if he has all the strength in the world.

He holds me and guides me back to my
discarded chair. In one swift movement, he lowers me to my righted
seat.

He pulls up a chair next to me, its feet
clattering on the bleak stone. Grabbing my hand, he gazes at it and
presses it to his mouth. I can feel his breath whisper on my
bleeding palm. He lowers my healed hand and brushes tiny shards of
glass away with a flick of his fingertips. My palm is smooth and
ghostly white against his black glove. I am shocked yet at once I
am still. In fact, I feel at ease in his presence.

He sits and looks long into my eyes. There is
sadness between us, one that keeps me from smiling and fully
enjoying his gaze.

“I’m going to tell you a story.” His words
come out as a shock, ripping the budding stillness in two.

I simply nod, afraid to hear my own words
disturb this foreign peace.

“You know this story,” he continues, his eyes
never leaving mine, “for it is very close to you—”

“—
Will you tell me who I am
?” The
words burst into the air, my throat burning from their intensity.
He looks away to hide his pain and squeezes my hand with a shaky
grip. I know then I may have cared for him once, maybe even loved
him.

“You need to listen. Just listen.” His eyes
cut me deeper than before.

I open my mouth to protest but he shakes his
head and growls.

“There isn’t time. You must listen. I cannot
tell you who you are. I’ve already tried. You have to remember for
yourself. You have to remember what you came here to do, what
brought you to this place. You need to remember before you slip
away forever.”

His words weigh heavy on me. I do not
understand. He can see it in my face. I feel like I have been alive
for too long. I feel as ragged as the city outside the window.

“I’m going to tell you the pieces. But you
need to put them together.”

“But if I’ve failed so many times before,” my
voice cracks from misuse, “how do you know I won’t fail again? How
do you know I even have the strength to do something like
that?”

I hear his breath catch. He leans forward,
his voice hushed into a single breath.

“You are the Hand of Death
—the shadow
maiden
. We will all fall without you.”

Chapter One

Death will reign.

The moon had risen, its light peering into
the darkest corners of the world and gazing at its secrets. A city
hung beneath the moon like a cloud heavy with rain, suspended
unmoving in the air and innocent of the evil that dwelt below.

While most slept, one stirred. A shadow
carried on the Lythian wind fluttered through the maze of towers
and turrets until it snaked into a lone window. Inside, the stone
walls and floor were barren and dusty. The shadow slid past
cascades of cobwebs, rustling them like curtains, causing the inky
black spiders to pause from their spinning to see who had disturbed
their work.

Death will conquer.

It will scour the land like the darkest
night.

A figure formed from the coiling mist; a
cloaked silhouette with paper skin and black lifeless lips. She
stood before a heavy wooden desk. Papers, dried and withered, lay
like leaves scattered across the top, the writing far too faded to
read. Stooped over the desk was a skeleton of incredible age. Time
had rendered its features into dust with the exception of some
leathery patches of skin hanging from the hollow of its cheeks. A
few strands of long wispy hair clung to its skull, fluttering along
with the cobwebs in the midnight breeze.

In the corpse’s boney hand was clutched a
ring.

The silhouette, less mist now and more
feminine shaped with a curve to her sunken cheek, brushed her long
white fingers against the ring. She leaned in close and breathed a
cold, raspy breath, mouthing the words of ancient necromancer magic
into the metal. The ring rattled against the molting bones, quaking
with unnatural life.

You shall rise again, my fair prince
,
she hissed, pulling back to gaze at the shriveled corpse before
her.
And you shall bring evil into these lands. You will damn
those that have damned you—that have forsaken me.

Make them suffer unto the generations.

Make their ancestors churn in their maggoty
graves.

Kill them all and let me feast on their
souls.

Death will rule once more.

She faded into shadow as if she was never
there, her twisted being swept from the room and out into the crisp
winded night.

Death will rule
, the shadow rasped
.
And I will be queen of all
.

 

 

***

 

 

Damn! That’s just what I needed, another
paper cut to keep the rest company.

Lestel riffled through piles of brittle
papers, searching for any glimpse into Alainia’s past. Recorded
events seemed to stretch only so far before fading into
nothingness. He had scoured every musty shelf of the royal library
and had only managed to find a few vague statements about the
splitting of the kingdom.

This is ridiculous. There has to be
something here.
He had searched for days, nights, and all the
hours in between, ever since his ravenous curiosity was sparked by
a brief before-bed conversation with his wife, the queen.


Darling, have you ever wondered,”
he
loved how her green eyes glowed when questioning the world around
her, “
what ever happened to the elves that were exiled from
Alainia? I know there are plenty of legends and what-not, but you
know not all of them must be true. I remember father used to wonder
the same thing. He would look out at the people and see our numbers
dwindle. He vowed one day he would find out but the poor fellow
never did.”


Well, my dear
,” he had given a
hesitant cough as he deliberated on how to respond. It wasn’t easy
being married to a queen, especially when he himself wasn’t of full
royal blood—noble blood, yes, but not quite
kingly
blood, at
least in the in the eyes of the aristocracy. Pedigrees were such
picky things. Besides, he didn’t want to wake up one morning to
find the entire kingdom rallying against him because of something
he had said while half-asleep. “
Well then, that is quite the
question. Maybe there’s something in the palace library about
it.”

He had regretted the suggestion for the few
nights that followed while straining his eyes and rubbing his
pointed ears raw, hunched over a mountain of parchment. Why were
these things never as easy as he always originally thought?

He was up and out of bed shortly after Evanna
had fallen asleep, his slippers making muffled plops against the
frosty white stone floor.

Nothing to it at all.
The first
book I see. Loads of information. That’ll show her and this damned
curiosity at that!

The palace corridors seemed foreign in the
gray moonlight. The well-traveled halls were held captive in a
reverent hush. Tapestries, muddled with shadows, yawned high above
Lestel’s head while gaunt curtains hung like phantoms in the cool
night breeze.

He finally reached the library’s uninviting
door. He heaved it open, the hinges squealing from neglect. Papers
scurried about, being tossed around as the invading breeze hissed
inside the inky black room.

Just a little book I need,

To complete this little deed.

He loved thinking in rhymes.

Lestel bumbled around in the cluttered gloom,
hitting everything from dusty over-stuffed chairs to dangerously
tall piles of books. He felt his way around one in particular mound
until his fingers finally managed to grasp a single book. He
scurried out the room and zoomed around the corner. With his breath
caught in his throat, he held the glorious book up to the
torchlight.


The Brash Romances of a Brunheidla, The
Sloshy Wet Nurse and Other Tales
… What in the?” He threw down
the book like it had caught fire, the blotchy cover illustration
seared into his mind.
That’s just not natural
.

Ok then. The second book I grab will be
it.

As soon as I get a candle lit.

While congratulating himself with a low
chuckle on his clever rhyming, he grabbed the torch and pattered
back into the library.

The light flickered and danced its way into
the room. Lestel had never realized how expansive the library had
been or even how long it had been since it was last used. It was a
large, round room that stretched at least three stories tall, with
book and papers crammed onto the shelves. What didn’t fit on the
shelves was piled in slanting mountains on desks, chairs, and
anything unfortunate enough to get trapped underneath. His jaw hung
open from the realization that this might be harder than previously
thought. He scanned the room with his dark, sharp eyes, looking
over the faded titles and fraying covers. Nothing stood out to him.
In fact half of them were completely illegible.

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