A stolen text...When the Book of Aleth is stolen, Aaron, captain of the Royal Guard, is ordered by Emperor Therion to reclaim the ancient tome. The mission thrusts Aaron into a world he's never known--a world of elves and dwarves, races long thought extinct; a world where everything he has known and believed is a lie. A secret past... Forced to challenge his long-held beliefs, Aaron and his companions, two soldiers of the Royal Guard and two men of the Dwarvish kingdom of Brekken-Dahl, set out on a quest to recover the Book. Aaron resolves to discover the truth, and rescue the empire he is sworn to protect.
The Coming of Darkness
He stood alone. As the Usurper’s army approached, the tall, solitary figure kept silent vigil outside the high-walled city of Charis, the last free city of the King. Captain of the royal army, Protector of all Celedon, the lone warrior positioned himself like a bulwark between the unbreached gates and the Usurper’s evil horde, determined to stop the tide of vile creatures that continued to advance. At his command, those who remained faithful to the King waited within the protective fortress leaving him to face the enemy alone. He gripped his sword. Cold steel flashed with brilliance as the silent warrior waited. A halo of emerald light radiated from a small gem in the hilt and surrounded the protector.
A gentle summer breeze drifted across the vale, but it carried no scent of hope, only the half-dead stench of the Usurper’s army. Miles beyond the walls, the ancient forest burned unabated and belched thick clouds of smoke high into the air. Acrid smoke darkened the sun and shadowed the world in a ghastly twilight as embers drifted like snow from the sky. Thousands of vile creatures and traitorous men marched against Charis. Their approach echoed like thunder across the valley and shook the ground with every step. Through the haze and smoke, the Protector saw the Usurper, mounted on his black steed on a small hill behind his forces.
An explosion of fire shook the ground. The Protector stumbled to his knees and gazed upward at large daemons soaring through an ash-filled sky. The dark, leathery-winged creatures hurled flaming spheres at the lone defender. Each ball of fire burst in a violent detonation that shook the earth, but the sword he held radiated even brighter, its emerald glow thwarting every attack. No magic could penetrate the radiant circle of light. Undaunted, Celedon’s captain rose to his feet and held his ground.
The Protector’s heart raced with anticipation. In his steeled eyes, a fierce anger burned against the Usurper. He knew that his greatest challenge drew near. He suffered no fear, but hungered with the desire to avenge himself upon the hosts of evil. He knew his duty—to protect the King and defend Celedon, and at that duty, he believed he had failed. He thought of his wife and son and all those who remained inside, of those who stood loyal to the King. He gazed back toward the last, great city.
The high, granite walls of Charis guarded the hosts of those loyal to the King. Atop the battlements, the Protector saw archers of the High-Born elves, vigilant and ready to defend the city. The tall, oak gates at the center of the city wall remained closed. Along the ramparts, flags displayed the crest of the King of Celedon and fluttered in the breeze. Beyond the massive wall, in the midst of Charis stood the Tower of the Wind, a regal spire of white marbled stone. It shimmered in contrast to the black curtains of smoke. The Protector gazed up to the pinnacle of the tower where he saw a rampart and upon the rampart stood the King.
Gazing down, the King of Celedon remained stoic, only the trickle of a tear down his cheek gave testimony to his heart. He surveyed the ravaged land and the burning ancient forest. Then he drew his attention to the mighty host of evil that marched toward Charis. The King looked toward the gates, where the Protector stood encircled by the emerald power of his sword. Foul creatures filled the air, casting their might against the lone warrior but to no avail. Thunderous echoes fractured the silence of the once quaint vale. Soon all would be over.
Ancient yet ageless, the tall King, his black hair blown by the wind, allowed his thoughts to drift in memory. He ruled Celedon without prejudice, dispensing justice and mercy. All seemed in order, and the races had lived together in peace. Then the Usurper came to seize the rule of Celedon, to strip the King of his kingdom. This deceiver stirred up dissention between the races and, with his lies, ensnared the hearts of men.
The King’s thoughts drifted. He knew the Usurper lusted for power. His ancient enemy had long attempted to overcome his rule, but to no avail. Then the Usurper turned his evil craft against the race of men. With his lies and powerful delusions, the Usurper misled them. He gained followers and through hatred and jealousy turned men against the other races. The Usurper then fought against the elves and dwarves. He could not deceive them, so the enemy conjured up vile, monstrous creatures to vanquish the ancient races. Yet, the King alone knew the greater reason for the Usurper’s arrival and why he permitted such a rebellion in his kingdom. Again the King’s gaze drifted across the devastated fields that lay in charred ruins.
Next to the King a stalwart dwarf leaned on the parapet and watched the oncoming horde, his red beard matted and stained with blood from a deep gash across his cheek. “My lord, King!” The dwarf shouted over a loud explosion that burst near the Protector, stirring the ruler of Celedon from his ruminations. The King smiled at his friend, a warrior, dressed for battle with a chainmail shirt and golden helmet, who clutched a double-bladed battle axe.
“Brekken,” the King responded thankful to have his faithful friend beside him.
“We must not let this deceiver have his way in our kingdom!” The dwarf lord pleaded. “Call upon your power, and rain fire upon these rebels!”
The King understood Brekken’s frustration and anger but would not give himself to hatred. “Shall I destroy the deceived as well as the deceiver? No, my friend, the time has not yet come for such action.” The King of Celedon again gazed out upon the hordes marshaled against him. Trolls, daemons, and other evil monstrosities stood together with thousands of men. But he was their King and would not annihilate the people he loved.
“But, my lord,” replied Brekken, “We must defend what’s left. If the Usurper has taken the minds of men, so be it! Dwarves and elves are still loyal to your banner.” Brekken paused, thoughtful as he surveyed the fields of Charis. “Where is Mellenden?”
The King continued to stare out at the multitudes gathered just beyond bowshot. His penetrating gaze, searching, seeking, probing the faces of those who stood beyond the sight of normal men, and fixed upon the one face he sought. High on a hill, at the rear of the advancing force, sat the Usurper on his black steed and beside him, astride a pale grey mare sat Mellenden, lord of the High-Born elves. The King knew then Mellenden had betrayed him.
“My lord,” asked Brekken, “what is it?”
Sorrow filled the King’s eyes. “Mellenden has fallen.”
Celedon’s ruler watched as the dwarf lord, strong and stout, trembled at the thought. “Fallen!” Brekken wailed. Anguish overflowed with that single word. The King of Celedon clasped his friend on the shoulder and resigned himself to what he must do.
“Brekken,” said the King, “it’s time. I want you to lead the people of Charis into the ancient tunnels beneath the city and escape to the refuge prepared for you. Lead the people to the hidden valley. There you will be safe.”
“What? I will never leave your side.” The dwarf insisted. “You are my King, and I will stand where you stand and fall where you fall. Do not ask me to do this thing. I will send my sons to lead our people, but don’t command me away from your side.”
“Lord Brekken,” the King said, “you are my friend and have been my companion through many ages, but you must do this. Your sons have another task before them, and it’s at hand. You must pass on the wisdom and virtue of our kingdom for the generations to come.”
As the two men spoke, the King watched a commotion at the city gate. Two dwarf warriors hurried out, closing the gate behind them. The King sighed as the two figures moved to stand beside the Protector. Though he could not see their faces, he knew they were Brekken’s sons.
“My time has come,” the King said. “I must get to the city gate. I will give you time to lead your people out of this place. Soon it will be overrun, and I cannot protect it. Trust me, my friend. In time all things will be restored.”
“What do you mean?” Brekken asked.
“A time will come when men will understand the truth, and the kingdom will be restored. Until then, dwarves and elves must remain hidden from the deceptive power of the Usurper.” The King gazed into the eyes of the dwarf chieftain. “For now you must remain in secret. Take your people and whatever men will go with you and return to your own country. Dwarves must disappear beyond the mountains and elves to the forests.”
“But sire,” Brekken pleaded, “surely you can return with us? You must survive to return and rule over this land. There is no reason for you to remain if the city falls and we escape! How can I leave knowing you are still here? I owe my very life to you!”
“You must,” the King commanded. “In time one will come who can reclaim the rule of Celedon for he will have my spirit within him. This you must believe, for once men stumble onto the truth the time of restoration is at hand. Until then, you must entrust the truth to those who come after you.” The King was relieved when Brekken gave up his protests and left to evacuate the people.
The King drew his sword, a magnificent weapon that shimmered with blue and gold, as if the sun and sky had been forged into its steel. He tucked a small leather tome into his cloak. He turned again to gaze over the field of battle where the Protector waited with two dwarves against an army of thousands.
The Protector waited alone until two young dwarf warriors took positions alongside him. Although their crimson beards were not yet long enough to braid, they wielded their battle axes with unmistakable skill. The dwarves rushed into the protective emerald light as two mighty daemons flew overhead. Blasts of fire shook the earth behind them. The three warriors defied the power of the vile creatures, untouched in the emerald circle of the Protector.
Surprised and amused at the two adolescent dwarves, the tall warrior smiled and readied his weapon. Just then the ground trembled. Hordes of foul, loathsome beasts rushed forward in one motion at the three warriors. A cloud of dust and ash kicked up in the wake of the oncoming army. With the first enemy in reach, the Protector filled the air around him with the swiftness of his blade. His sword grew brighter with each new enemy until a shimmering wall of emerald light surrounded him. No enemy that approached could venture into the iridescent halo without being cut down by the might of his weapon.
Overhead, a singing rush of arrows launched from the walls. Daemons plummeted from the sky, pierced like pin cushions. The Protector quickly evaluated the scene. The two dwarves, pressed back to back, fought with courage but lost ground against the overwhelming onslaught of the enemy. The Protector ran his sword through the heart of a troll as the beast raised its knobby club, then rushed to the aid of the dwarves.
He deflected a blow from a massive daemon meant for Brekken’s youngest son, spun and cut the legs from under the creature. Then the dwarf raised his axe and struck the beast, splitting its chest. Two more trolls fell as the King’s captain fought alongside the young dwarves. Arrows once again flew from the wall as the sons of Brekken and the Protector of Celedon stood their ground. Soon no attacker moved against them, fearing the might of the three warriors.
Beads of sweat trickled down the Protector’s face and mingled with his tears. He longed for the days of peace, the days before the Usurper came and claimed authority in Celedon. But there they stood: three soldiers against thousands. Though exhausted, the Protector delighted at the fear he saw in the enemy. The Usurper’s horde remained outside the reach of the Protector.
Then a disturbance attracted the captain’s attention, a stirring in the ranks of the enemy. The wall of creatures parted and the Usurper rode to the front line, his black horse pawing at the ground. Pale and gaunt, the Usurper looked like a man diseased and possessed. Yet his steel eyes burned with malicious fire. He rode up to the Protector and remained outside the circle of emerald light. His thin smile did not disguise his malevolence and when he spoke the very air shuddered.
“So,” the Usurper sneered, “you are the mighty Protector of Celedon.” His voice mocked the King’s captain. “You protect against what? All of Celedon is with me!” The Usurper laughed as he pointed to the hoards of men who stood as his army.
The Protector was not intimidated. “I protect Celedon from evil, and I defend the truth!”
“Indeed,” returned the Usurper. “I will give you one chance…one choice. Forsake your old allegiance. Turn against your futile King, for he is vanquished. Join with me as others have done, and receive your due reward.” The deceiver’s words hung in the air like a poisonous vapor.
The Protector sensed the eyes of the two young dwarves set upon him as they waited to hear his response. “To partner with evil one must become evil.” Then the Protector gazed upon his adversary. “You may have turned the hearts of others, but mine belongs to the King.” The Protector’s voice trembled with fury, and he gripped his sword with both hands. The gem in the hilt began to burn with irrepressible light. “Now, deceiver, step down from your mount, and you will learn my answer. I am the Protector of Celedon!”
“Foolish mortal man,” mocked the Usurper. “Your days of protecting are at an end.” The Usurper raised his hand. A flash like lightning struck the captain, and he was thrown against the walls of Charis. His sword flew from his hand, and his chest wracked with pain. Gasping for air, the Protector of Celedon clawed towards his fallen weapon as the gates of the city opened. His eyes dimmed; the last he saw was his King step onto the field of battle.