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Starwatcher: Half-Elven Book One

PROLOGUE

 

17 Cycles before the Reign of King Lornen the Chosen

 

Ulimbor chanted the first words of power, “Hate begets hate.” He raised his staff and thrust it towards the darkness. Veins in the rock began to glimmer, slowly filling the vast chamber with crimson light. Thin and reedy shadows flung themselves from a thousand stalactites. Countless crippled fingers of rock stretched but lacked the courage to touch what waited below. The shattered obsidian floor slithered with red light.


Ulimbor’s features bore the regal touch of the Lifebane’s ancient origins alongside the sharpened bent of their inherited sins. He stared into the chamber’s distance, his eyes reaching far beyond their confinement. Another figure, shorter and stouter, approached slowly from the red stained shadowlight.


“Is this where you will begin, All-father?”


“This is where everything began, my son, and where everything shall end.” Ulimbor growled. He swung his staff in slow diagonal arcs. Its swelling radiance punched through his skin till his hands and arms glowed around dark bones. Thin wafting sparks began to trail behind the staff, forming a gossamer of short lived fire. Ulimbor continued his weaving.


“Is it true, then? You can alter the prophecies?”


“We are the prophecies,” Ulimbor replied. Gossamer sparks trailed from the staff and drifted with a bloody sheen until they sank into the stone.


The young lifebane watched, eyes wide, as his questions were swallowed by the vastness around them. Ulimbor’s motions seemed to meld and dance with the blood flame. The All-father’s voice began to chant in a rumble as deep as their cavern. Time seemed to slow and suspend itself. The chant’s low growl grew in its power until the rock echoed back. Vibrations filled the air like the lost heartbeats of every generation rushing to enclose them.


At once, Ulimbor slammed the base of his staff into the floor. The final web of bloodflame collapsed and submerged into the rock.


The silence was explosive.


A dark flame arose from within the stone at the All-father’s feet. It stretched with abandon, danced and bowed, lapped at his knees.


“Kneel,” Ulimbor commanded his son. “Our people have endured enough at the hands of the unworthy. All of the council shaman have approved of your selection. Through you, I will speed the prophecies toward their final ends.”


Shaken from his trance, the younger found himself already crouching into position. He straightened his back and his voice shook with purpose, “I am the blade that shall make us free.”


Ulimbor pulled his vision from its distant horizon and refocused on his son. He watched proudly as his eldest clenched his fists until talons pierced skin. Thick blood began to drop onto the stone where it met hungry blossoms of flame that twisted upwards along fur and leather. Rightfully so, his son refused to acknowledge any pain.


“Your power is greater than I ever imagined, father.”


Ulimbor’s voice crackled with energy. “Ten thousand cycles of suffering sharpens a hungry blade.” His visage tightened with concentration as he lifted his staff and brought it close to his son’s chest. An intricately forged dagger leapt from the base. Blood flames dripped from its point.


“I am ready.” The voice of Ulimbor’s son was thick with resolve and pride. He fought bravely to stare into the stalactites and their red glowing madness.


With a practiced motion, the All-father struck. Blade pierced heart and held his son pinioned while blood rushed down and flame crawled upwards. Ulimbor held his chant while the flames rose to swaddle his son in a new skin of lithe crimson. The entire vault vibrated. His son’s flesh slowly bubbled, melted and sank into the stone as the relentless flame fused with the obsidian below. When Ulimbor stepped back, the depths were alive with unquenchable embers and his son’s body was gone.


“Drive our warriors south and past the dwarven holdfasts, my son. Ensure that they do not stray. As you pass the dwarven lands, go to their Holdfasts. Smother their hearths and quench their forges. Exact retribution for eons of captivity. Drive our warriors through the holdfasts, through the gnomish lands, into the arms of the human realms. The humans must receive the gift I am about to craft.”


The floor of the cavern surged as a flaming serpent swam through the stone and then struck south.
The cavern still thrumming with dark promises, Ulimbor turned and gestured grandly at the crimson shadows. “And now for our brothers who imprison us here to hunt us for sport, whose poisonous tongues have turned the whole world against us. We have suffered for far too many ages,” Ulimbor whispered. “We shall not share their doom but they know our suffering.”


He waved a hand at the distant dark. Gradually a bustling group of his people emerged from the shadows, and rushed forth bearing a litter upon which was bound mercilessly a wretched and pale figure. The litter was cast to the stone at Ulimbor’s feet. The litter bearers quickly prostrated themselves before their high priest.


Ulimbor glanced at the offering. A rarity. An Elven female of the horsewardens. Wounded. Weak. Perfect for his purposes.


“What gives me my strength?” he asked the darkness.


“We dare never ask,” the litter bearers responded. “Your will is our will.”


Ulimbor’s smile grew till his fangs gleamed. “The beginning of wisdom,” he said. “Give me your best answer. What gives me strength?”


The litter bearers kept their silence.


Ulimbor shrugged and turned his attention to the sacrifice. He rubbed the rough deformities of his face as he gazed upon the elf.


“Spite,” he sneered. “Spite!” The chilling echo chased itself through the chamber. Then he jabbed the staff’s blade into the low flames surrounding him and watched as energies gathered and clotted into a deep red edge. An oathspark of purest bloodflame.


“This abomination will be the perfect herald. Hold her firm while I brand these spells to her flesh,” Ulimbor commanded.


The litter bearers rushed to obey.


“And when I am done, you will drive this chattel past our brothers’ feeble patrols and into the heartlands of the south.”


The litter bearers bowed and nodded while their claws pinioned the girl mercilessly.
“If you falter, a worse fate will greet you.” Spectral flames rose and fell from the obsidian floor. The litter bearers, wide eyed, stood firm.


“Hold her steady. The brand must be precise while the oathspark is sharpest.” He ungagged the woman so that he could enjoy her more.


Ulimbor chanted through the smell of charring flesh. Elven screams soon joined his chant and pierced even the distant reaches of the cavern. Ulimbor smiled as he worked.


I


Two Cycles before the Reign of King Lornen the Chosen


The boot landed with merciless precision. Muren’s breath exploded from his chest. His scream was swallowed by spasms. What in the Lifebane? He had been sleeping beside—


A second kick lifted him to his knees. He scrabbled from his furs into the frost-touched darkness.
“Stop,” Muren pleaded but his hoarse voice scraped against empty lungs, and broke against the pain of his ribs. Nightmare memories of buried youth flashed across his scattered mind.


Panic engulfed him. Where was Alandris?


A third kick sent him stumbling across tree roots and sprawling upon rocks. Tears filled his eyes, blurring what little he could see. He bit down against the pain and caught his tongue. Salt and iron choked his gasps as he tried to gain his feet.


The shadowed figure advanced again. Muren retreated clumsily until he felt a harsh edge slipping away. His skull throbbed with a rushing cadence.


Who was attacking him? Why? Alandris had said he would be safe and now where was she? Why wasn’t she protecting him?


“Dris?” Muren cried out feebly.


The attacker cursed and drew a blade. His form was concealed by the dark mottling of a shadowspark. He teetered backwards uncontrollably. The sword snapped forward to pierce his heart.


The ground at Muren’s heels crumbled and the blade knicked his shoulder. A surge of silent panic propelled him into the void, and Muren fell. A long way. Into an even deeper dark.