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Valandra: The Winds of Time Cycle (Book 1), page 1
THE WINDS OF TIME CYCLE
A REGOLITH PUBLICATIONS BOOK
Valandra: The Winds of Time Cycle (Book One)
By Tristan Vick ©2017. All Rights Reserved
Published by Regolith Publications
First Edition, copyright © March 15, 2017.
Edited by Elizabeth Rubio
Cover design by: Christian Bentulan
Map insert by: Stefanie Verish
All rights reserved. This eBook is licensed for the personal enjoyment of the original purchaser only. This eBook may not be resold or given away to other people without the permission of the publisher or author. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author. This book is a work of fiction. All of the characters and events portrayed in the novel are products of the author’s imagination and are fictitious. Any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
For Tomoko, Aya, Takumi, Hina, and Yuina. All of whom taught me how to live in a foreign land and who I’m proud to call my closest of friends.
And for Sayaka, Kai, and Solara.
I love you all dearly.
MAP OF VALANDRA
THE STORY THUS FAR
The Twelve Kingdoms were united under the noble King Pelos and became the twelve Great Cities of Valandra. Each city is the capitol of an independent territory which used to make up the separate realms of men, elves, and dwarves, and which became unified under Valandrian rule after the last Great War leading to an unprecedented time of peace. But with the death of King Pelos and the rise of Lord Dathrium’s evil reign, peace and stability among the realms is threatened once again. Now, with the seeds of mistrust sewn, The Twelve Kingdoms of Valandra are beginning to fracture.
THE WINDS OF TIME CYCLE
Sparks dance between our humming blades like fireflies pulsing on a warm summer’s night. Each time my sword meets Master Kel’s, the clash of steel kissing steel, along with the resounding clangor, fills my ears with a song I know well. The song of a warrior.
I grip my katana tightly in both hands and shuffle back a few steps. Kel Oren, with his gray hair and hoary whiskers to match, looks winded, and we stare at each other with a great unease as we try to gauge the other’s next move while we catch our breath.
Master Kel used to be one of Valandra’s greatest warriors. He fought in the campaigns for King Pelos and was one of the king’s top generals. The Twelve Kingdoms of Valandra had been at war for nearly seventy years before King Pelos united them. After the last great battle between Koroth, the land of the mages, and Valandra, the capital, he decided to retire and return to his homeland in the north. The land of Bellera. The same place I was born.
Because of Kel’s outstanding valor and service to the realm, King Pelos acquiesced and allowed Kel return home, with the added caveat that should he ever be called upon to serve the realm again, as a faithful knight of Valandra, he’d return without question. Of course, that never happened, because the great king was struck down in his bed chamber by a cowardly act of assassination a week later. And although the assassin was apprehended, he ended up taking his own life so as not to give anyone the satisfaction of avenging the king.
It also made it practically impossible to investigate who had ordered such a contemptible act. Even so, events leading up to the treacherous act pointed back to the scheming of his cousin, Lord Volgoron Dathrium, although nobody could ever prove it. There was never enough evidence to prove Dathrium’s guilt in the matter nor could anything be done to prevent Dathrium from inheriting the throne.
As Master Kel and I circle about one another, a strand of hair falls into my line of sight, but I don’t take my eyes off of Master Kel. Not even for an instant. The last time I made such a rookie mistake Kel took me out by swiping up with the back of his blade. The blunt end hit me in the back of the knees and folded me to the ground. Before I could even think to react, his sword, the legendary Moon Sword, an unbreakable sword of blue Sabolin steel, was already at my throat.
I’m not about to make the same mistake twice. Not today. I can’t afford to be so reckless, since today is my final test to gain fifth position in the sacred art of the soul blade. If I pass, I will become only the third living master of the blade, after Master Kel and his first student, an elf girl, Dinalagosseth of O’ana Onyeshara, the Elf Kingdom. Becoming a master of the blade has been a lifelong dream of mine. Ever since I was a little girl I have wanted nothing more than to be like Master Kel.
So I keep my eyes fixed on him as though he were a golden-eyed panther watching me from beyond the camouflage of forest foliage, ready to spring on me when I least expect it.
I study his face and movements attentively, looking for any sign of what he might be thinking from behind his deep-set eyes.
Master Kel, like me, wears lightweight leather armor. And since we’re only sparring on the grassy hillside of Bellera, we forego the heavy leg cuisse and just use a chest plate over an arming jacket. Of course, we have shin and forearm guards on too, just in case one of our strikes is, perhaps, a bit too ambitious.
Master Kel strokes his white beard and looks at me fondly. His kind eyes are disarming. But I know that he has feigned polite surrender before only to strike me down to the ground in a quite painful lesson.
I don’t buy into his polite grin, and I give him a fabricated smile in return and bow politely. He bows in return. A formal courtesy but nothing more. The test, after all, is to best Master Kel with the blade.
When I stand back up, I notice the throng of villagers heading out toward the meadow. I look toward the tree line of the forest at the far end of the meadow and see a mysterious black fog rolling out of the forest. It looks downright diabolical and for the life of me I’ve never seen anything like it.
Standing straight up, I ask, “What the Goddess is that?”
Master Kel notices the expression of genuine alarm on my face. He lowers the Moon Blade and turns to see what I’m seeing.
Some of the farmers stop their labors and, putting down their plowshares and scythes, wait for the dreadful fog to roll in. They watch with skeptical trepidation as the blackness floods into the fertile basin of the wheat fields. Gradually, it covers the crops in a gray haze, then thickens to a dim veil not so unlike a black smoke. Except it’s not smoke. It’s something else. Something much more ominous. Something unnatural.
When the creeping wall of blackness finally engulfs the nearest farmer, I can hear the workers mumbling their concerns as to their safety regarding this shadowy shroud. Then, from within the black haze, there is a scream. Everyone startles and, in a frenzied panic, stumbles over one another trying to get away from the dreadful blackness. But before the handful of farmers can flee, throngs of ashen hands reach out of the dusky fog and clutch them.
When they are dragged kicking and screaming back into the blackness, I can’t help but gasp, “What in the world?” Only about half a dozen manage to escape with their lives intact.
Master Kel immediately turns to me and slides the Moon Blade back into its sheath. He hands me the sword.
“But master,” I begin to protest. He cuts me off before I can finish my sentence.
“You get the people back behind the city walls. Have Queen Sabine De Atano’s mage cast a binding seal on the door.
“What about the lesson?” I ask.
Suddenly a horse whinnies. But it’s no ordinary equine sound. It sounds like the shriek of a thousand voices calling out in agony mixed with a whinny. The noise is ghastly. Bone-chilling, even.
We both turn to see an army of dead emerge from the black fog. Upon a black stallion with orange glowing eyes sits a man in black armor. The armor is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. It has many layers of plating, some of it barbed, all of it menacing. The armor distorts the air around it, crating heat mirages. But there is no trace of flame. Nothing to denote why the armor would be radiating such heat.
“Go, now!” Mast Kel shouts out. “There’s no time to lose.”
“What about you, master?” I ask him, my voice thick with worry.
“Don’t worry about me, young Master Arianna De Amato,” he tells me, his voice tender with affection. “You must map out your own destiny. Mine, I’m afraid, ends here. Today.”
My eyes begin to flood with tears and I want to protest Master Kel’s decision. But I know it would be wrong to question him.
“Now, go!” he yells.
I take off down the hill as fast as my feet will carry me. “Get inside the city walls!” I shout at the farmers in the field. Most of them are already making a mad dash toward the gates anyway. Hot on their heels are the decrepit remains of soldiers who have long since been dead. An army so terrible in appearance it defies nearly all description.
The wall guard’s valhorn blows, alerting everyone to the fact that Bellera is under attack.
A young farm boy fleeing the monsters trips and falls to the ground. An old man notices and begins to help him up, but is too slow in his task and is cut down by one of the hideous monsters.
I draw my blade and use the wind rush technique to traverse the distance between the farm boy and myself in an instant. There is a furious rush of wind and, almost instantaneously, I am transported across the entire range of the field. Just in time to block the blow of the dead creature’s blade with my own.
Our steel swords clang, and hold the creature at bay. Turning my attention toward the farm boy, I say in a commanding voice, “Get up!”
He does as I say, but upon seeing the hideousness of the creature’s rotting face he freezes with fear. “Run!” I scream. “And don’t look back.”
Frantic, he takes off up the hill. Once he is a safe distance away, I push my attacker back. The creature stumbles backward, as if drunk with wine and ale, and growls at me. Its eyes are a hideous white. It’s almost as though the poor man’s soul had been sucked right out of him, leaving him an empty husk.
More dead soldiers are drawn to our position by the twang and clash of our steel, so I decide to dispatch this thing quickly. When it lunges, I easily spin out of the way. It oversteps and lodges its blade in the soft soil. I spin again, and in one swipe, I lop off its head.
The creature falls dead at my feet, but my victory is short-lived when I hear growls and beastly snarls coming from behind me.
I turn to see five more dead warriors approaching, as fast as dead warriors can stagger across tilled ground.
Once they are within reach, I smile at them, then with a huff, I use the wind rush technique to lunge backward several hundred meters. The creatures seem confused at first. But they quickly catch sight of me further up the hill and restart their advance.
I turn and walk calmly toward the gates.
Just as the guards are drawing the gates down, I turn to see Master Kel. He stands before the black knight’s steed with his sword drawn.
“I hope you know what you’re doing, master,” I whisper to myself. Then, ducking under the iron teeth of the portcullis, I enter the safety of the walls of Bellera.
I turn to the first vigil guard I see and tell him, “Fetch the Queen’s mage. We must bind this door with magic if we are to keep the dead army out.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he says, his voice quivering with fear. As he runs off to do my bidding, I turn around in time to see the gate close completely. I sigh with relief, even though I know we’re not entirely out of the woods yet.
Through the latticed arrow slits of the heavy gate I see the dead army growing in numbers as dozens more exit that terrible black fog. It will only be a matter of minutes before the dead throng are pounding down our front door.
Queen Sabine De Atano and an entire troop of the queen’s guard, all elite female warriors decked out in elegant armor, march into the courtyard. Bellera’s legendary craftsmanship shines on the queen’s guards’ polished breastplates, which have fine Repoussé-style etching depicting Belleran steeds on them. Each breastplate is fitted to its wearer’s individual figure and is made of the finest polished steel—polished until they are as reflective as mirrors.
Black plumed horse hair adorns their silver helmets, which shimmer in the light. Their armor is accented by the royal blue cloaks draped across their shoulders and backs, which flow elegantly as they march. The silver and blue of the Knights of Bellera act as a stark contrast to the queen’s gold and white armor.
They march noisily into the courtyard; the sound of the battalion’s greaves and vambraces can be heard clanking. At the same time, the leather of their pteruges rustles across their mostly bare legs. This leather skirt-like armor stops just mid-thigh.
Marching in formation, they spread out and take position around the perimeter of the square, creating a circle around the queen. I wait for Queen Sabine to make her way across the open square to me, and when she’s practically standing before me I bow reverently and humbly say, “My Queen.”
Queen Sabine motions for me to rise and I do so. She is tall and beautiful. Her long blonde hair is complemented by her gold-plated armor and her majestic white cloak. Her armor is custom made, and has an open v-cut which reveals Sabine’s sternum and cleavage.
The contours of the glimmering breastplate conform to Sabine’s feminine figure and enhance her sex appeal. Granted, a well-timed arrow might pierce her through the chest, but I’m certain that Sabine has other, more battle-worthy armor besides this. This armor appears to be ceremonial, as part of her imperial dress, rather than for effectiveness on the battlefield.
In addition to her striking beauty, Queen Sabine towers over most other women, being roughly six feet tall. Although I would never say it to her face, I find Sabine to be one of the most imposing, attractive, and intelligent women I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. I can’t help but feel envy toward her. Not as a queen, mind you, but as a woman.
In Bellera, the title of queen regnant is more of a political title than a claim to any dynasty. We elect our queen. In fact, Bellerans hold that all are created equal in the eyes of the Goddess, and our ancestors did away with monarchy long ago. However, most of the realms in The Twelve Kingdoms continue to abide by hereditary rule and still have reigning kings and queens.
Standing next to the queen is a slender woman by the name of Zarine of Lillenthal. She’s the queen’s personal mage. Zarine is beautiful too, but in a way that is much more understated. She has medium-length black hair. A slimming black dress with a v-cut down the front reveals her ample cleavage and part of her abdomen, and her skin is the whitest I’ve ever seen.
The dark outline of Zarine’s kohl eyes are painted in a way that reminds me of a cat, and her gothic fashion sense is a stark contrast to the queen’s golden radiance, but the two complement each other nicely.
Around their necks they both wear one piece of an interlocking pendant. The queen’s half, which looks like a large crescent moon, shimmers golden, while Zarine’s half, which looks like a small orb, gleams silver. A stripe of jade demarcates the edge where the two pendants meet. When the two halves are put together they form the emblem of Bellera: the mother moon, after the Goddess El Lunaria, and the daughter moon, after her offspring, El Novette.
It is rumored that Zarine is
“Where is Master Kel?” the queen asks me.
I nod my chin toward the dell where I left Master Kel to fend for himself. “He’s taking on the dead army single-handedly, Your Majesty.”
“Quick,” Queen Sabine says, raising her finger as if she’s about to make an important point, “I need you to mount a defense of the city.”
“But,” I say, my voice replete with self-doubt, “I’m afraid I’m no knight. Not yet. I haven’t passed the seven challenges of knighthood.”
“You are carrying the Moon Blade, are you not?” She glances down at the sword strapped to my hip and then smiles at me warmly. “If Master Kel chose to bestow upon you the blade of the Goddess, I know you have passed his tests, which are far more stringent than any of the traditional challenges. Arianna De Amato, whether you realize it or not, you are now officially a Knight of Bellera.”
My words escape me. I honestly have no way to express my gratitude, so I give my thanks the only way that seems fitting, with a humble bow.
Panicked cries ring out and the wall gates begin to rattle fiercely. “The dead have arrived!” shouts a garrison guard.
“To arms!” the queen shouts.
Everyone jumps up to take their positions, but instead of rushing off they stand and await my orders. All eyes are one me, and I freeze up. I don’t know where to begin. I’ve never had to lead an army before. Why put so much trust in me?
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