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Halcyon Rising_Shadow of Life

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Halcyon Rising_Shadow of Life


  Shadow of Life

  (Book 3)


  Stone Thomas

  Copyright © 2018 Stone Thomas.

  All rights reserved.

  No part of this publication, including the cover, may be used, copied, or reproduced by any means, electronic or non-electronic, in any format or form whatsoever, without consent from the owner of the copyright in this material.

  This is a writing of fiction. All characters, names, places, items, events, and unintentional likenesses are the product of the author’s imagination and are fictitious.


  “You’re bleeding,” I said.

  Lana stepped back from the patient she was tending to and tucked her light brown hair behind one ear. She stretched her leg out in front of her, forcing her skirt to pull further up her thigh.

  “I thought that had closed up,” she said, frowning at the dark gash that ran from her knee to the middle of her shin. “I just can’t keep up with all of the injuries, my own included.”

  “I’ll get some bandages,” I said. I set down the injured man I had carried into the recovery room connected to Nola’s temple. He groaned as I laid him onto a bed next to another patient. The room itself was nothing special, just an alcove carved from the same brown rock as the temple with a narrow doorway that led to Nola’s main sanctuary.

  Nola, I said with my mind as I walked toward a stack of fresh bandages in the corner of the room. Can you send Rinka down here?

  Rinka, Nola said. Rinka, Rinka… which one is she again?

  The brewer, I said, from Meadowdale. We saved her recently, before the place imploded? She pledged fealty to you!

  Doesn’t ring a bell, she said. There are so many new people here it’s hard to keep track of them all. I’ll just scan Halcyon telepathically until I find her and then send her the message.

  Thanks, I said. We need whatever minor healing potions she has left. We have a hundred refugees from Valleyvale still reeling from Kāya’s explosive anibombs.

  Yes, Nola said. That lilac-limbed loon loves lobbing her lousy little landmines.

  That’s one way to put it, I said.

  Sorry, she said. Ever since I inherited the gift of literary genius, my thoughts have gone bonkers. I had a dream last night in iambic pentameter.

  I don’t know what that is, I said.

  Of course you don’t, she said. No one should.

  I leaned my spear against the wall by the room’s entry and picked out a bandage long enough to wrap Lana’s leg with. As I walked back toward her, I saw her bent over a patient with very pale skin. She held a warm compress against his forehead. He was the only person not sharing a bed with another patient, due in part to his constant tremors and cold sweats. We only had twelve recovery beds infused with healing power, but we had a lot more than twelve hurting newcomers on our hands.

  “Hold on, Jorgo,” Lana said. “You’ve lost a lot of blood, but you can pull through.” She turned toward one of the women helping out. “Can I get a torch over here? We need to keep him warm. And I wouldn’t mind the extra light, it’s so damned dark in here it’s more like a morgue than a hospital.” She knelt beside Jorgo and pulled a blanket further up his chest.

  “Lana!” I said. “You’re kneeling on your bad leg.”

  “I know,” she replied, “I’m getting blood on the floor. I’ll clean up after myself, don’t worry.”

  “I’m not worried about the floor,” I said. “May I?”

  She looked up at me, puzzled. “Okay…”

  I tucked the bandage into my pocket and stooped toward her, thrusting one arm behind her knees and supporting her back with my other one. She gasped and threw an arm around my neck as I lifted her from the floor. I walked her away from her patients and into the temple, leaving the recovery room behind.

  Nola floated above her altar inside her crystal cocoon, gleaming faint yellow light from her radiant skin. Her eyes were closed, but I knew her mind was open. She constantly scanned the area around Halcyon for signs of Duul’s cretins, Kāya’s anibombs, or any other new dangers.

  I could watch her all day. Her full lips pinching together when she was deep in thought. Her pert golden breasts rising gently with each breath. I didn’t let my eyes linger for more than a second though. It was Lana I was focused on. Besides, Nola wasn’t a fine painting hanging in the imperial gallery. She was a telepathic goddess. She deserved respect.

  Plus, she’d totally know if I was staring. Last time she caught me, I tried to convince her I was just focused on the strange carvings in the wall behind her altar. We still didn’t know what those carvings meant, or who put them there. There was no fooling Nola though. She knew the mysterious glyphs were interesting, but not as interesting as her divine curves.

  I walked to a wooden bench that served as one of Nola’s pews and set Lana down. “Bring me back there,” she said, craning her neck toward the door to the recovery room. “Those people need medical attention.”

  “You need medical attention,” I said. I placed both hands on her cheeks and turned her face back toward mine. Her dark brown eyes were bloodshot. “You’re a lighthealer, if anyone should be wound-free it’s you.”

  She shook her head. “I can’t waste the time or energy on myself. Look, I would be dead right now if it weren’t for you. When you found me lying in the gutter in Valleyvale, dying of poison, you didn’t just leave me there to rot like everyone else did. You made me stronger, unlocked my ability to heal my own wounds and purify my blood.

  “Then I show up here and you do it again,” she continued. “You wasted no time turning my experience points into improved healing abilities. You did it so I could help them, and that’s what I’m doing.”

  “Right now,” I said, “I need you to help me. You still haven’t told me what happened. If there are people still in Valleyvale, we have to get them out of there. Besides, you’ve been healing people all morning. You can’t have enough action points left to cast Beam of Health on anyone. Tell me about the attack while your AP builds back up.”

  “Fine,” she said. “The attack was awful. It all started at night. I thought the howling outside was a stray twolf at first, so I pulled the covers tighter and tried to go to sleep. I had just found a job in a local shop and gotten myself a room in a boarding house. For the first time in months, I wasn’t on the street.

  “The sounds got louder, mixed with occasional bursts that sounded like bombs. I finally peeked out the window to see that it wasn’t twolves at all. It was men under some kind of curse, shiny black creatures with sharp teeth at odd angles, and small pink things shaped like rabbits that started exploding. It was chaos.”

  “It was the new goddess of chaos,” I said, “backed by an army of Duul’s creation. When we chased Kāya out of Meadowdale, the cursed men he conscripted and his cretin minions were already gone. They must have been waiting outside Valleyvale that whole time, ready to invade while we were busy fending off our own attack here.”

  “The boarding house was near the front gates to the city,” Lana said. “A group started forming there with makeshift weapons to fend off the attackers. I ran outside to join them. We did what little we could to hold the attackers back. Then people started dying, and glowing orbs of light swirled through the air above us.

  “I don’t know what they were, but one glance at them sent a shiver down my spine. We were no match for whatever invaded Valleyvale, so we ran. We came here.”

  Someone yelled out in anguish from the recovery room. “Jorgo,” Lana said. She was about to leap to her feet when I put a hand on her shoulder to steady her. “Let’s patch you up first or you’ll be no good to anyone.”
r />   A woman strode toward us after climbing over the demolished remnants of the temple door. The late morning sun framed her outline behind her. She was older, but her face was more creased and tired now than ever. “Rinka,” I said. “I’m glad you’re here. Do you have any healing potions left?”

  She stopped a few paces back from us, her hands in her pockets. “I may,” she said.

  “What does that mean?” I asked.

  “Some of the folks from Meadowdale still have slight injuries from our own harrowing escape from Kāya’s attack there. I won’t mind contributing a few potions to help the Valleyvale folks, but it’s only right that we finish healing our own people first, Arden.”

  “Everyone here in Halcyon is our people,” I said. “Meadowdale is gone. It was my home too, but it’s nothing more than a pile of rocks now. We need to work together to pull through.”

  “Some of us have been working together longer than others,” she said. “Here, I brought one potion with me. I’m saving the rest for now.”

  I sighed. “They’re your potions. Thank you for this one. Hopefully with the skills I unlocked for you, you can find it in you to make some more. For everyone’s benefit.”

  She stared at Lana for a moment, then left.

  “We’re intruding,” Lana said. “I’m sorry I brought everyone here, I didn’t know where else to go.”

  “Nonsense,” I said. “Halcyon is open to everyone. Besides, I was worried about you. I’m glad you’re here now, where it’s safe.” I looked over my shoulder at the twisted iron mess that used to be the front door to Nola’s temple. “Well, safer. We’ve had our share of attacks here too, but we’ve fought them off. I’ll have to ask Vix to fix the door though. Again.”

  I held the healing potion toward Lana. She hesitated. “Will it hurt?”

  “I’m not sure,” I said. “I think it depends on how deep this goes.”

  “I want you to do it,” she said, squinting her eyes shut. “Apply the potion directly to the wound. Just be gentle.”

  I popped the cork to the healing potion’s bottle and poured the bright blue contents into my palm. I rubbed my hands together to spread the thin, smooth mixture evenly and then rubbed my fingers up and down Lana’s leg without applying too much pressure.

  She winced. “I take it back, Arden. Go harder.”

  I pulled my hands back for a moment.

  “The potion is starting to numb the pain on the surface,” she said, “but I need you to go deeper, where it’s really bad.”

  I pressed my palms against her leg again and moved my hands along her calf slowly and firmly. As my hands traced up her smooth, warm skin, the darkest parts of her injury began to glow with blue light.

  She lay back against the wooden bench and closed her eyes. “That’s better,” she said. “You’re good with your hands.” Her voice was faint, tired. Given how long the walk was from Valleyvale to Halcyon, she must have traveled all night without sleeping, helping the injured along the entire way.

  The healing potion seeped into her skin, closing the deep wound she had sustained in her escape from the war-torn city. A thin scar was all that remained. Once the potion had done what it was meant to, it evaporated in small motes of light.

  I rested a hand on her knee and felt her body relax, no longer fighting against constant pain.

  “So you’re giving massages now?” Vix asked. The foxkin stepped toward us after climbing through the doorway. Pointy ears covered in red fur poked out from her long, flowing hair and a smirk beamed down at me from her pretty, human face.

  “It’s just a little healing potion,” I said, leaning back against the wooden pew.

  “A little sensual healing potion,” Vix said. “Seems like the best kind.”

  “It’s nothing like that,” I said. “I was just… Lana needed…”

  Vix rolled her eyes. “Relax. We’ve been through this. No one’s getting possessive. As long as you have time for me when I need you, everything’s fine. Though, I will demand one of those massages soon.”

  Do me next!, Nola said. I’ve never had a proper massage.

  “I’m not giving out—” I thought about it for another second. Of all the manly hands across the land, for mine to stand in high demand, could be more grand than I had planned. Wait… what?

  Impressive internal rhyme!, Nola said. I’m glad I’m not keeping this literary nonsense to myself.

  I sighed. Why is your literary genius infecting my thoughts?

  Spillover, she said. We’re psychically linked. I suspect the stronger I get, the more of my mental powers will seep into your thoughts when we’re near each other. It would certainly explain why my uncle’s head priest is so chipper all the time.

  Let me know when you start daydreaming in limericks, she continued. I kind of like those so far.

  What internally rhymes with ‘frustrated?’

  Berated, denigrated, castrated—

  Fine, I said. I’ll just tolerate it.

  Tolerated!, she said. Add that to the list.

  “Lana!” Someone yelled from the infirmary. “Hurry!”

  Our healer bolted upright in the pew and jumped to her feet, not even pausing to test her newly-healed leg. She sprinted into the recovery room while Vix and I ran after her.

  Jorgo’s body convulsed on the bed. Lana rushed to his side and took his hand in hers. “More blankets!” she yelled. It was already too late. After a final jolt, Jorgo’s body fell limp against his sweat-soaked sheets.

  I stood there, frozen, still hoping he would pull through. In the time since Duul’s war kicked into high gear, we had fought hard and killed our share of cretins, war dogs, and other magically conjured minions, but none of them were human. No elves, or beastkin, or people of any kind had died on my watch. Not here. Not in Halcyon.

  Now, Jorgo’s health points had hit zero. The first step would be unconsciousness. I had experienced that myself, but I was given time to heal. My body was capable of healing. For someone in Jorgo’s condition, death would come easily.

  Silence fell across the infirmary. Men, women, and children with bandages and fresh casts on their battered bodies tensed and watched. Jorgo did not stir. Somewhere in the background, Nola sneezed.

  Sorry, she said. I’ve been doing that a lot lately.

  Then a crack of thunder took us by surprise. The space above Jorgo’s bed tore apart, revealing a narrow rift into swirling darkness.

  On the other side of that darkness stood a woman with her side turned toward us and leathery black wings protruding from the gray skin of her bare back. If she wore clothing, it was skintight, revealing the curves of her chest, her hips. It didn’t look like clothing though, it looked like shadows clinging to her skin, hiding with darkness all the parts of her that I was drawn to most.

  Long hair cascaded down her back. It was shock white, as if in defiance of the blackness surrounding her. For a moment, she locked her dark, wide eyes on mine. It seemed to startle her, being seen through the rift. I stood there, dumbfounded at the vision before me.

  She mouthed something at me, her lips parting and her tongue pressing against her front teeth forming words that I couldn’t hear. It looked like “help me.” Then something emerged from the space below the rift’s edge. It was a glowing orb of white light. The woman reached toward it as that orb raced at us, passing through the rift and out of her grasp.

  She looked away as the jagged edges of that impossible chasm pulled shut, and then it was gone. She was gone.

  A chill rippled through the air as that bubble of light drifted over the infirmary beds. Then, without warning, it burst.

  A man took shape, falling from midair and landing between recovery beds on both feet. He was almost an outline of a person, a body built of white light. The bridge of his nose glowed brighter than the flat of his cheeks, just as the outlines of his ears were solid white but the rest of him was pale and see-through in comparison.

  He appeared to wear armor covering his chest, and
held something shaped like a sword in his hand. He raised that weapon overhead as he spoke. “I’m going to enjoy gutting every last one of you.”


  “The only thing you’re going to enjoy,” I said, “is nothing.” Not my most fear-inspiring line, but with a ghastly attacker terrorizing wounded refugees, witticisms weren’t my primary concern. I reached for my Vile Lance.

  Nola?, I asked.

  Sending reinforcements now, she said.

  “Vix,” I said, “you should get out of here.” Our attacker stalked toward us with his sword ready, ignoring the injured as they sat on their recovery beds, paralyzed by fear. Or by actual paralysis. In our makeshift clinic, it was hard to tell.

  “You need backup,” Vix said. “I’m the only one in this room with a weapon other than you.”

  “You’re also pregnant,” I reminded her.

  “And I’m not leaving the father of my children to defend himself alone,” she said. Her fox ears pointed down and outward while her long fluffy tail slammed against the floor behind her. “I’m only going to tell you this once. Fox women protect our own, and no one tells us what to do. I’ve got this.”

  I had trusted Vix with some of Halcyon’s most important decisions, not the least of which was our infrastructure. She stood by me in every fight that came to our door. I had to trust her now too, though I’d stop at nothing to shield her from any real danger.

  The intruder rushed toward us, his glowing blade held high over his head. Vix sidestepped in one direction while I dodged to the other. He landed on one knee, thrusting his sword through the stone floor in the space I had stood a moment before.

  “Who are you?” I asked.

  “Balgrac,” he said, “disemboweler of the faithful. I will tear out your insides!”

  “I have news for you,” I said. “My bowels are staying put. No one moves them but me.”

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