By Alicia Steen, Nathan Steen, and Lynae Steen
Parkr. Toledoth: Jeshrun Below. Year After Shadow Two Thousand One Hundred.
I glare at the place where moments ago in this cavern a shadow dragon stood. One creature I’d never thought I’d see, as dragons are vengeance on such creatures. For a dragon to turn into the thing it hates…
“Who turned that dragon? Who posed the question of his loyalty?” I ask in a low voice. Several more shadow dragons emerge from the darkness. They don’t make a sound, but their posture indicates a clear challenge.
Answers will come later. I will not leave this challenge unanswered.
My frost dragon Shem beats his wings and expresses our cold fury in a roar that shakes the cavern. These abominations exist for now, but they won’t be around much longer.
Ecalai. Toledoth: Jeshrun Below. Year After Shadow Two Thousand One Hundred.
Through tunnels, corridors, and chambers the hunt goes on as Ecalai and Ramuel fight in a dangerous game of cat and mouse. Erianna and Mykai keep track of the Nightbringer, enabling Ecalai to evade Ramuel’s razor-sharp claws.
Unfortunately, more shadow creatures emerge as the hunt draws on. More of Erianna and Mykai’s time is spent fending them off, leaving Ecalai to fight Ramuel one on one. It is not a pace Ecalai can match for long. His skill with a staff isn’t great enough to move as quickly as he needs to for defense. Ramuel is gaining the advantage.
“Lost your blades have you? Such a shame. They were your greatest strength. Without your blades you will never be as strong as you once were, much less gain the skill to defeat me,” Ramuel taunts. Victory within his grasp lends confidence to his strikes. Ecalai struggles to keep track of Ramuel’s speed, but it is less than easy. Ramuel literally dances around him, raining down strikes from every direction as if he is two Nightbringers.
Two Nightbringers. Maybe there are. In that case Ecalai must have a second weapon to match the duo’s level of speed. There is quite simply no other option.
“Face it, Ecalai. You are outmatched. I will be the victor.”
“You’re wrong, Ramuel.” Ecalai takes his staff in both hands and snaps it over his knee. Now he has two short staves that, with a little magic and careful skill, can be used as twin blades. “I’m prepared to take whatever you throw at me and then some.” The dual staves feel good in Ecalai’s hands. Now he can make full use of his true fighting style.
“That still won’t be enough, Ecalai. You have no idea what lies ahead of you.”
Ecalai notes a large wave of shadow creatures heading his direction. Soon he must contend with them as well as up to two Nightbringers. He smiles. “Bring it on.”
Erelynn. Toledoth, Jeshrun. Year After Shadow Two Thousand One Hundred.
“They just keep coming!” Erelynn shouts to clan Toledoth’s Elder Guardian. She swings her hand to create an arc of concentrated violet light that slices through the dark mist and shadow creatures around her. She has never seen so many shadows in the few years she has trained here.
A little ahead of her and to her right, the Elder Guardian drives his sword through a dark wolf. “It is true. I have never seen the shadow invade so intensely before.” His partner, the Guardian Knight, sends a heat blast to Erelynn’s left that the Elder Guardian accompanies with iron bar arrows. Erelynn tosses clear serid scales directly to the right and releases the rainbow light from them, creating a barrier.
“Something is strengthening the shadow!” the muscular Guardian Knight calls. Erelynn senses it too. Something is generating the shadow mist giving extra strength to the creatures they fight. No shadow creature she met so far has ever lasted long against her and the Toledoth, but this one feels like she knows what it is.
Erelynn focuses on pinpointing its exact location like she has been taught. “There!” her serid Chip lunges forward with teeth and light at the spot she indicates. Chip’s red light drives away surrounding mist, leaving only a snarling shadow creature.
An ancient dark serid.
How could a heartwarming, delightful creature such as a serid turn rogue? Erelynn reaches in her pocket and pulls out a clear scale with light blue rays woven inside. She had previously found this scale while hunting shadow with the Toledoth Guardians. Erelynn has always been able to sense that scales like this are different from scales other, mostly older serids drop. Now she knows why.
Every magical creature has only one chance to choose to serve the Ancient of Days, the Source of Light, or to choose shadow. At the time the shadow serid before her had dropped this scale, he had not made that choice.
Until he chose shadow and thus received it.
When? Why? How?
Parkr. Toledoth: Jeshrun Below.
Shadow dragons have fallen one after another, and now that I’ve hit my stride they’ll fall even faster. They’re only invincible when you don’t wield their one weakness with your blade. Now that I’ve learned how to wrap my blade in Shem’s freezing flame with consistency, this fight is tipped in my favor no matter how many shadow dragons come at me.
Other shadow creatures have joined the fray; just a few at first, and now the cavern seems flooded with them. Some try to fight, but most are trying to flee the fight. Unfortunately for them, Shem is fast, and so am I.
Shem roars again, echoing my boiling blood. From here on this battle will only get hotter. If any do not wish to be consumed, they’d better get out of the way.
Ecalai. Toledoth: Jeshrun Below.
A fight hasn’t felt this good since Sranus broke his blades. Ecalai’s magical abilities and blade skills are blending perfectly- he can feel it. Each strike is calculated with precise timing and enhanced agility to land exactly where the enemy is most vulnerable. When combined with his ability to sense everything around him with magic, Ecalai is untouchable. Even the endless waves of shadow creatures play to his advantage, as they limit the Nightbringer’s movements while enabling Ecalai to dance around with his makeshift blades.
A distant roar echoes through the cavern, shaking the ground. All creatures pause as if time were stopped in a frozen moment. Ecalai simultaneously expands his awareness and braces for a new threat. That roar couldn’t have come from a Nightbringer. A roar that commanding could only come from one creature.
Out of nowhere the frozen second is shattered as the high cavern wall breaks into pieces. Creatures scatter as chunks of rock fall to the ground with thunderous noises, but it isn’t the stone they run from. Completely filling the gap in the wall is a frost dragon of a terrifying size he never knew dragons came in. The dragon sees the Nightbringers and raises himself to full height, all but cracking the ceiling, and roars again with all the fury only a dragon can bring.
Ramuel is clearly terrified. As the dragon unleashes a torrent of icy flame Ecalai loses sight of him in his own rush to move out of the strike zone. This dragon is clearly in a class of his own. All dragons are fearsome when angered, but this dragon’s fury is unlike any Ecalai had ever witnessed. That isn’t all.
According to ancient lore every dragon does three things: breath flames, protect the sons of men, and eradicate all shadows in sight. However, even in legends the tales of frost dragons are considered mere fables. Everything about frost dragons are unknown, except that they are the most feared of all types of dragon.
Ecalai barely manages to escape as the icy flames engulf the cavern. A quick glance confirms that the rest of his group had a similar escape. The shadow creatures aren’t so lucky. In the chaos the survivors of the first flame fall to the second. Ramuel is nowhere to be seen. Ecalai looks again and catches a Nightbringer fleeing the cavern into a corridor. Ecalai grits his teeth and jumps into the chaos after him. He must cut off Ramuel’s escape. Hopefully the dragon will ignore Ecalai’s movements. Hopefully.
Parkr. Toledoth: Jeshrun Below.
Too many shadows have escaped into the cavern adjacent ours. As soon as I think that, Shem charges the stone separating the caverns, scattering shadows in every direction as he crashes through a new opening. In the chaos I sense two Nightbringers. No wonder Shem is bathing the cavern in flame.
I continue cutting down shadow dragons and creatures unlucky enough to find themselves in my path. The Nightbringers are focused on someone besides Shem and me, but I can’t quite make out the slippery sense of who it is.
Ah, there’s only one person with this brand of determination: Ecalai of Nagaster. He’s also one of a handful of people I’ve met who won’t hesitate to jump right into a mass of fleeing, fighting shadows after not one, but two Nightbringers. I’ll have to tell him later that Shem’s flame holds no danger for him.
I smile and focus on my own fight.
Erelynn. Toledoth, Jeshrun.
Erelynn hurls the scale from her clenched fist and releases the blue light in a beam that strikes the dark serid head on. The dark lizard shrieks and shrivels till nothing remains.
“Is there any end to these things?” the Guardian Knight shouts a question. The glows of other serids attacks the black mist in waves of radiant colors till only the shadows in the mist are visible enough to strike down. Erelynn grabs Chip and throws him as a laser beam through a line of shadow creatures.
The Toledoth were Guardians of Life. They never allow shadows to roam in their midst. So how can shadow be here? Who let it in?
Shadows tremble at the sound of an ancient roar coming from the direction of Ariel. Everyone halts.
Erelynn spins her gaze toward the ancient fortress. “What…was…that?” The first movement is the flight of horrified shadows. Serid light from all colors of the visible spectrum chased them.
“Dragon. An ancient one. I have only heard tales of dragons at all, but from the descriptions in the legends that roar could be of no other,” the Elder Guardian explains. “It is best we keep our distance.”
Another roar. An explosion. No sign of shadow.
“That is not a dragon alone,” the Guardian Knight approaches the Elder Guardian. “I would wager that to be the Dragon Lord.”
Ecalai. Toledoth: Jeshrun Below.
Another roar from the frost dragon shakes the cavern. As Ramuel reaches the corridor, Ecalai is waiting for him. “Leaving so soon, Ramuel? We are just getting started.” Ramuel answers with a low growl and a vicious strike, which Ecalai easily avoids. “Speechless already? I expected more from you.”
Ramuel throws more powerful strikes, attempting to maneuver his way to safety, but Ecalai blocks all blows and stands firmly in Ramuel’s path. Ecalai gestures to the raging frost dragon.
“It seems you are not, in fact, king of the dark depths of Jeshrun Below. Turns out there is something you are afraid of after all.”
“This isn’t over, Ecalai. You won’t last long against the coming shadow. When you finally fall I will be there to finish you for good. This is the beginning of your end.”
Ecalai has no time to reply, for the frost dragon sends a burst of flame their direction. Ecalai throws himself out of the way, just managing to avoid being engulfed. As the flame subsides he looks around the entrance to the corridor. Ramuel is gone.
Ecalai fuses his weapons back into a single staff and walks to Erianna, Mykai, and the guide, who are all catching their breath. With the shadow creatures destroyed and the Nightbringers gone the frost dragon likewise disappears into the vastness of Jeshrun Below, leaving the four of them in a silent, destroyed cavern.
Erianna is the first to speak up. “That was certainly exhausting. Try to warn us next time we have to dodge dragon flames.”
Mykai straightens. “On the bright side, we know for certain the source of shadow is not down here. No way could shadows live here with that frost dragon hunting them.”
“I completely agree. What we seek isn’t here and likely never was.”
Erianna sighs. “That leaves us right where we started.”
“Not completely,” Ecalai disagrees. “We know now there are Nightbringers in Jeshrun. I was definitely fighting two of them back there. They wouldn’t be here if something big weren’t happening in Jeshrun.”
“What of your friend Ramuel?” Mykai asks.
“I’ll hunt him someday, but right now we need to get to the surface. Shadow is moving and we need to be there to stop it.”
In the darkness of the chamber one figure gazes at the group in silence; then is gone.
Erelynn. Toledoth, Jeshrun.
Erelynn plucks a serid scale from a tree branch. It is amazing how much serids shed after a good fight.
The Elder Guardian approaches Erelynn. “It is time for you to leave the Toledoth.”
Erelynn’s eyes widen at the sudden declaration. “The shadow is obviously stirring. This will not be the last time an invasion like this occurs…you will need every warrior you can get.”
“All the more reason why you cannot stay,” the Elder Guardian answers. “There are other clans in Jeshurun besides the Toledoth, ones that are taking harder hits. Go—you have done all you can here.”
Erelynn can see his point. “You will survive?” she asks. After a few years of training with her ancient kinsmen, she cannot help but feel a little concern.
The Guardian Knight glances in the direction of Ariel. “There are other lords here beside yourself. The Source of Light has not abandoned the Toledoth. We will be fine.”
Erelynn follows his gaze. She remembers meeting other lords at the Festival of Light in Kiroh, however she is quite sure that lord is not one of them.
But now is not the time. The shadow is growing restless. Someone let it in, and it cannot have been the clans of Jeshurun. It can only be here for a reason. A reason that might involve the last moments of her predecessor. Erelynn had tried before to search in the libraries of the Toledoth for what happened to the previous Serid Lord. All she found was that the answers she sought were elsewhere—in clan Dark Moon.
“Alright,” Erelynn finally says. “That’s where you’ll find me.”