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Soulblade: Chapter 1

THIS IS THE SECRET history according to me, Jaren, Scribe to Valara who is the Commander and First Knight of Eldaran. She has truly shown herself to be the leader we were waiting for. She is the Power Mage who gave her Knights the fighting skill and strength of Maratic, to defeat all the other warring tribes of Samaran. Now we have peace at last. Freedom from the interminable raids that had brought us nothing but years of death and poverty.


But even a Power Mage cannot see all future paths leading from her chosen battle plans. I now believe that Valara’s victory will sow the seeds of future disaster, even as she has established a golden age for Eldaran and its people.


I have to persuade the Knights that rule by Mage-warriors with such great power is a path to tyranny. If this new kingdom of Samaran is to survive and prosper, we must forge this sacred law, that the King must be a civilian. He must not be one of us. Our task must be as guardians, protecting the King and citizens of Samaran. Every Power Mage, even from a royal lineage, must swear a solemn oath to the Eldrin never to take the throne.


Now as I, Jaren, watch the seeds of a dark future being sown in the founding of this great new nation, I hold to one last hope. That the scattered descendants of our new Queen will one day find their way to Maratic. That even after many centuries, they will find my secret history and see the truth in my words.

A COOL WIND SWEEPS across the Vale of Eldaran, curving and writhing its way through the gnarled rocks that form the pinnacle of Maratic, while the surrounding snow mountains glow dull silver in the moonlight. I feel impatient, pacing back and forth across the courtyard outside the training cave, wondering why this conversation between Jantian and Marin is taking so long.

Enough. The anger inside me is still there, a seething resentment at the way the Eldrin commander ruthlessly used Marin to win our victory over the invaders. I head for the entrance, to be stopped by a firm hand on my arm. I know who it is, even before I turn to see the tall Fae warrior with the insight to intervene at my worst moments. As well as the uncanny skill to arrive as silently as only Elf or Nishan knows how.

I try to push his hand away. “Deris, let me go. If I don’t get a chance to tell Jantian what I think of his methods, I’m more likely to lose control altogether and end up burning the whole place into a pinnacle of glass.”

He simply tightens his grip, unmoved by the dragonfire flaring around my fingers.

“Then this is the perfect opportunity to learn. Get control of the power you have, once and for all. Ariel, no one’s life is in danger at this moment, so you can put all your focus on that one thing.”

I try to twist out of his grip, glancing apprehensively at the dark archway of the cave entrance. The man I love is facing the worst nightmare of his life and I can’t work out what to do about it.

“But Marin’s life is in danger! Or it will be, if Jantian gets his way again and pushes him into every perverse situation he can think of. If he thinks it’s expedient of course, never mind what happens to Marin at the end of it.” I can hear the bitterness in my own voice and withdraw the flames, anxious that I might have burned my friend. “Are your hands all right?”

He must sense that he has already delayed my mission with Jantian because he releases my arm and holds out his palm for inspection. Even in the dusk I can see that he is unscathed. I look up at him, knowing he can read the question on my face.

He gives a dismissive shrug. “I have been spending as many hours as I can spare, working with Jantian’s training. Maybe my Elven heritage helps. Now I can push the ice in different directions, into different parts of my body, if I really concentrate. I was about at my limit just then, though. If you had really tried to burn me, you could have killed me easily.”

I suddenly catch a glimpse of the exhaustion behind the tangible aura of power I can feel whenever I am near Deris these days. He really did not need this burden on top of the hard discipline of his Eldrin training at Maratic. And I caused it.

“Deris, I really am sorry I inflicted you with the same curse that the Shadowblade gave me.”

He sits down on the low parapet guarding the edge of the courtyard, unaffected by the sheer drop below.

“Ariel, I keep telling you, don’t be sorry. If you had held back from healing that arrow wound, it would surely have killed me. Now I have a second chance at life. Yes, it is hard, but now I can use this power to serve the country that gave shelter to my people after our islands were overrun. That makes it a privilege.”

“I don’t know how you stick with it.” How often I think longingly of the simple life that was once mine, back with my family in our village of Caerlen.

Green Elf-eyes fix their steady gaze on mine. “I stay with it because if I cause any kind of disaster by abusing what I can do, it is not only my life that would be forfeit. My kind would suffer by association. Our havens in the western forest would be threatened.”

I know he’s right. King Tandarion would never order that kind of mindless retaliation, but there are plenty of people who see no further than the first easy target for their anger. Thoughts about Marin’s father immediately lead me back to the original source of my restlessness. Marin himself.

“It’s worse for Marin than for either of us, though. chose to ask for Shadowblade power because I needed it to rescue my sister. But Marin didn’t make that choice. He never wanted that kind of unearned advantage in a fight. I just inflicted healing on him because I wanted to show off what I could do, even though the wound wasn’t serious––”

“Ariel, stop. It happened. Your feelings of guilt are behind a lot of your anger at Jantian for the way he used Marin’s skill and leadership to defeat the Rapathians. You have to remember that Jantian is a military commander, which means pushing his people into danger to save the country from the invaders. And it will always be the strongest among us who are sent into the front line of any conflict.”

I’m starting to feel impatient again. “It isn’t about being ordered into the worst of the fighting! I can accept that. It’s the way Jantian trained Marin since he quit the palace as a child, conditioning him to obey orders, keep his word, to form his whole life around the ideals of the Eldrin. Yes, I believe him when he says the hard discipline is the only way to gain control over the force a Power Mage can take from Maratic––but what did he think would happen when he suddenly ordered Marin to break every oath he has ever sworn and claim the throne? And then do nothing to save him from being branded a traitor?”

The anger is flaring again with the thought of it. Even Deris seems subdued now I have put it into words so harshly.

“I know. It… was a gamble that didn’t work out as well as it could have. Jantian had hoped to set things up so that once the battle was won, Marin could fake his own death, quit the disguise he used for his role as King and warlord, and go back quietly to his post with the Eldrin.”

“So what did go wrong?”

“Jantian didn’t anticipate the effect the dragon-power would suddenly have on Marin after he survived the initiation with Zandar.”

I can feel the dragonfire starting to flare again.

“He could have asked me! I would have told him exactly how difficult it is to deal with.”

Deris deliberately lays his hands on mine, challenging me to pull back rather than burn him. “Ariel, it will be up to us to get Marin through this. It won’t be easy, not if we are being sent on another mission sometime in the next few days.”

I give a huff of exasperation. “When is Jantian going to tell us what that is all about?”

“After we have dealt with the war-wounded––and we are going to need your help with the healing. You’re the only one out of the three of us who can do it without passing on Shadowblade power.”

My thoughts on that idea are less than encouraging.

“That is going to be a precarious negotiation with Shadow. I can’t heal more than maybe two serious cases without his help. And I can just imagine how he’s going to react to a request to save his long-time enemies.”

“Remind him that circumstances have changed. He is finally back in Maratic, just as he schemed and planned for so many centuries. Now he has to find a way to co-exist with the Eldrin. Maybe the scholars will dig up more old manuscripts and discover exactly how Nissanda managed to negotiate that situation with her own Elemental in Annubia.”

I don’t feel too hopeful on that score. Yes, Nissanda managed to persuade a wild fire-drake to swear never to harm Annubians––and to allow her elite Nishan assassins to train in his ancestral place of power. But she was dealing with an ancient Elemental who had not been corrupted by centuries of exile and suffering, all the while nurturing bitter thoughts of vengeance.

We, on the other hand, are starting from a completely different place when it comes to negotiating with Shadow.


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