Authors: Ken Lozito
AMIDST THE RISING SHADOWS
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Copyright © 2014 by Acoustical Books, LLC. All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Published by Acoustical Books, LLC
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Edited by: Jason Whited jason-whited.com
Cover Design: Alexandre Rito
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Safanarion Order Series:
Sarah’s first few weeks at Hathenwood, the only Hythariam city on Safanar, had been spent in a bed, asleep. She had slept as if she hadn’t slept in months. She probably hadn’t in retrospect. The first time she woke, a female Hythariam was standing over her, peering at her with those golden irises that marked most of that race. The eyes, so different, and so familiar...
Sarah lashed out, screaming, and gasping for breath. Verona pinned her arms down telling her she was safe.
Sarah glared at him and drew in the energy, strengthening her muscles. Her eyes widened as she sensed Verona do the same.
Was this real?
The Drake had tormented her thoughts, bending her mind to its will, then the memories came rushing back. A portal between worlds. Aaron hunching before it as he took down the barrier. Then he was gone. She could no longer feel the effects of the Drake, but she still remembered. The muscles in her legs and back twitched, expecting the lancing pain to blaze through her, following thoughts of Aaron. She clenched her teeth with her lips drawing up into a half sneer on her reddening face. The Drake could never be dead enough for the poisoning that spewed forth from its purpose. She let go of the energy and tried to stop the lump forming in her throat.
“My Lady, Aaron could think of nothing else while you were under the Drake’s influence. His first and last thoughts were always of you,” Verona said softly, and let her go.
She turned to the side and curled into a ball. Her face was hidden by the golden curtain of her hair with eyes brimming at the ache seizing her chest.
Oh, Aaron, why couldn’t you have let me go?
The very same reason she will never let go of him.
This world needs you... I need you.
In the silence that surrounded her, she yearned for his touch, desperate to feel his presence. She closed her eyes, imagining the feel of his strong arms wrapped around her, and having the remnants of his scent in her hair. To feel the press of his lips upon hers.
“He’s not gone, Verona.”
“I know he’s not, my Lady.”
Sarah sat up in her bed and swung her feet to the floor, which warmed to her touch. She flexed her toes for a moment and then stood up. Her body was fine, if a little bruised. Aaron was quite thorough when he rid her body of the Nanites. She took a few steps toward the window, and Verona opened it. The crisp mountain air seeped through her clothes to her skin. She was high up in a sea of white squarish buildings with the occasional dome-shaped ones poking above the trees. The sunlight caressed her face, and the energy was there, just waiting for her to reach out and use it. Each movement she made, and thought she had, no longer contained the taint of the Nanites. She was free, but at what cost? Sarah turned to Verona. His long black hair was tied back, and his handsome smile was genuine, but she could see the pain in his eyes. The absence of Aaron weighed heavily upon them both.
Verona place a cloth-wrapped bundle upon the bed and slowly unwrapped it, revealing Aaron’s swords and medallion. The crystal inlay on the pommel shone dully inside the room.
“I kept them safe, my Lady, but I think he would want you to look after them.”
Sarah came before Verona and put her hand upon his shoulder; an unspoken promise went between them. They would get Aaron back.
“Thank you,” Sarah said.
“I will wait for you outside, my Lady,” Verona said and quietly withdrew from the room.
Sarah reached out and ran her fingers upon the medallion adorned with the Alenzar’seth family symbol of a Dragon cradling a single rose. The sunlight reflected off the crystal in the center of the medallion, casting small rainbows upon the pristine walls of the room. Her fingers traced the Dragon, much like the tattoo upon Aaron’s chest. She hung the medallion under her shirt and proceeded to get dressed. The Hythariam clothing and boots were quite comfortable, and had she bothered to notice, the boots fit the contours of her feet. Her movements were methodical and numb. She reached toward the Falcons. Aaron’s swords. Part of his birthright. Sarah removed the Falcons from their sheaths, feeling them for the first time in her hands. The etchings and holes near the base of the blades would have weakened any normal swords made of steel, but these were different. They created the bladesong come to life. Each blade was about the length of her arm and remarkably light. She had seen Aaron do amazing things with these blades, and while she would safeguard them for his return, they were not hers. She preferred the single edge of a slightly curved blade native to her homeland of Khamearra.
Sarah strapped the Falcons to the belt upon her hips and left the room. Outside she was greeted by Sarik with a quick smile and by Braden, who with a grim face brought his fist across his heart. Garret and Vaughn came up to her and gave her a brief hug. Verona stood next to a female Hythariam, whose golden eyes she recognized as the one she lashed out at.
“Please forgive me,” Sarah said.
“No forgiveness necessary. My name is Roselyn.”
Sarah took Roselyn’s proffered hands and gave her a gentle squeeze.
“Your recovery has been remarkable, but I would still like to make sure everything is okay,” Roselyn said.
Sarah caught herself clenching her teeth. She’d had enough experience with Hythariam technology to last a lifetime.
Roselyn’s eyes widened, “No, no, just a few scans to make sure the Nanites are completely gone.”
Sarah glanced at Verona, who nodded encouragingly, and then back at Roselyn. It was quite obvious that they were together.
“You understand my reluctance, and I appreciate that. I would be happy with whatever aid you have to offer, my Lady,” Sarah said.
Roselyn looked relieved and absently reached out to Verona.
“We are so happy to see you recovered,” Vaughn said. “Please excuse myself and Garret. We’re sure we will see you later this morning.”
Sarah nodded to each in turn and followed Verona and Roselyn, with Braden and Sarik coming behind.
Braden came up to her side, and she could feel his connection to the energy around them. “Aaron and I always believed that you and Eric would be able to open yourself up to the energy, given some time. Where is Eric?”
“Thank you, my Lady,” Braden said and then glanced at the floor for a second. “My brother was killed in Khamearra.”
Sarah felt her stomach clench and reached out to him, “Oh, Braden, I’m so sorry.”
“He died a warrior’s death, and I avenged him,” Braden replied.
Sarah nodded, having no wish to poke such a tender wound. How many had died in Aaron’s quest to save her? Her chest tightened, and she felt something heavy drag her down in the pit of her stomach. And now they were without their friend...their leader...their king.
You should have let me go, Aaron. This world needs you.
They walked in silence coming to a door. Roselyn raised her palm to a pad of silver outside the door, which flashed as if scanning her hand. She motioned for the others to wait outside, including Verona, and gestured for Sarah to step into the room.
There were a few tables along the side. Verona had come to her room the day before and explained what little he could about the Hythariam technology. The panels on the far walls were screens that showed information. Roselyn walked over and placed her hand upon a pad like the one she saw upon entering this room. A circular section of the white floor darkened and rose a foot into the air, along with a railing.
“Sarah, if you could step up onto the platform, I will get the examination started.”
Sarah did as Roselyn asked, and the overhead lights dimmed around her.
“Not to worry; a machine is going to descend from the ceiling above you, the lights coming from them will be able to scan through your clothes and put the information on the screen over here,” Roselyn said, gesturing to the nearest monitor.
Sarah glanced up at the ceiling and then back at Roselyn. The Hythariam was beautiful with her exotic facial features and the feminine curve of her body. She could see why Verona was attracted to her, but could hardly believe that Roselyn had made the journey with the group that went to Khamearra.
“I’m ready,” Sarah said and took a deep breath.
A panel opened up on the ceiling above her, and two mechanical arms descended. At the ends, each arm held glowing metallic disks. A blue line appeared at her feet and slowly expanded, running the length of her body. As the glowing line moved up, she tried to feel it as it passed up above her chest, but felt nothing. The second arm moved down to her feet and began to circle around her. The light emanating from this scanner was a thin red line. The arm slowly circled her body, and Sarah felt a little dizzy for a moment. The arm stopped as the glowing line was at her forehead. Sarah opened herself up to the energy upon reflex and stepped backward, bringing her hands up.
“It’s okay,” Roselyn said and typed a few keys into the panel on the wall. The arms retracted into the ceiling, and the panel closed.
Sarah stepped off the platform as it sank back down to the floor.
Roselyn motioned for her to come over, and a smaller drawing of her body was on the screen.
“Sarah, I’m happy to tell you that there are no traces of the Nanites in your system. If there were, your scan would look a bit like mine,” Roselyn said and tapped a sequence of symbols, and a similar drawing of Roselyn’s body appeared next to Sarah’s. Roselyn’s display showed tiny pulsating lines flowing through every inch of her body.
Sarah’s skin crawled at the image.
Roselyn reached out and gently placed her hand on Sarah’s. “What’s been done to you is a horror I can’t even begin to imagine. The fact that you’re standing here beside me is a miracle. We’ve tried and failed to aid those afflicted with the Nanites that turned them into the Drake only a few times before. At best, we hoped to drive them from you and give you enough aid to pick up the pieces that were left, but what Aaron was able to do has pushed beyond the limits of what we might have been able to accomplish on our own.”
Sarah stared down at the floor, her blonde hair covering the side of her face. “I wish he hadn’t,” she whispered.
Roselyn wrapped an arm around her shoulder, and Sarah allowed herself to be pulled in.
“I tried to end it,” Sarah continued, “take my own life, but it wouldn’t let me. It twisted my thoughts until I couldn’t tell what was real. I had power over nothing. I know you’re trying to help. I look at everything in this room...all this technology, and all I want to do is draw my sword and smash this place to pieces.” Sarah gasped an involuntary sob, taking comfort in the embrace of a woman she hardly knew. A woman who had risked her own life to help Aaron save her.
“I hate what was done to you, Sarah. This may be hard to see, but all of this technology here was created with the best of intentions.”
Sarah nodded, wiping the tears from her eyes. She needed to be strong. She looked back at Roselyn’s sympathetic eyes and allowed herself to believe that this stranger...this outsider…could be a friend.
“Thank you, Roselyn,” she said. “I just want him back.”
“I haven’t known Aaron very long, but I believe with all of my heart that he is fighting to get back to you even now,” Roselyn said.
The connection she shared with Aaron that had been so prominent had faded to barely a whisper, and she questioned whether it was there anymore at all. Her heart told her that Aaron was alive, and nothing would convince her otherwise. She wouldn’t allow herself to believe that Aaron had died upon the plains of a world in its final death throes.
“What else do these screens tell you about me?” Sarah asked.
“That you’re in perfect health, and time will take care of the rest.”
Sarah glanced at the door. “He’s a good man.”
Roselyn blushed, “Yes, he is, and very sure of himself now. Not long ago I thought I had done something wrong because he was so quiet around me.”
Sarah laughed, and the sound of it startled her. “Quiet? Verona?”