FIre of the Fallen: Book One of the Channelbane

/ / 429
$2.99

Private Message
Advert #1579

additional contact options




Outcast by her own people, Tallyn is a stranger in Theros. Yet when a savage enemy attacks her new home, she turns to the only power she’s ever known: dark magic. But her choice has a price, for a woman who wields the Dark is cursed to live forever as a being of the shadows.

Torn between aiding the refugees of the war, and finding the person she believes can rid her soul of the Dark, Tallyn pursues the malevolence that both threatens her existence and promises her salvation.

Together with a prisoner sentenced to become a mage, a shopkeeper compelled by a hidden destiny, and a girl who longs for adventure, Tallyn is swept up in the battle for Theros. Can she and her friends survive the day? Will she wrestle free of the Dark’s grip on her soul before losing her humanity? Or will they all be consumed by the fire of the Fallen?

Four Strangers Torn From their Homes.

Four Heroes Destined for Greatness.

Three Will Save Their People.

One Will Break The World.



 
 

Chapter One

 
For mankind the Current is triune: the Generative, the Transmutative, and the Destructive. For demons there is only the Dark. — High Prelate Vihkas, in Sundry Quotes and Speeches of the Master Prelates

IT HAD BEEN four years, nine months, and twenty-one days since Tallyn last wielded the Dark. At least that’s what the marks on the small, tattered parchment she kept rolled up in her side pack said. She’d counted them this morning just like she did every morning. Some of them were so faded and smudged they were hard to make out, but Tallyn knew them well. She’d earned each and every one: a mark for every day she hadn’t sinned against Azurys. It hadn’t been easy, though. Putting magic behind her had been the most difficult thing Tallyn had ever done, until today. Returning to the Dark made her feel like a beaten dog crawling back to its cruel master.

Tallyn’s side pack and steel bow lay several paces away on a roughly-hewn table near the fire at the center of the enemy’s makeshift forward camp. Her eyes darted back and forth between it and the twelve Kindrahken soldiers huddled around the fire, who were quietly waiting for the man with the hateful countenance  to  finish  devouring  a  day-old  portion  of roasted horse meat. When he was done, and the last piece of gristle stripped from the bone, he shot his captive a venomous glare from across the camp.

Tallyn could tell the Kindrahken man wanted to kill her. She could see it in his deep blue eyes, which had turned dark with malice. There was a look of confusion there too, and it was this confusion that gave Tallyn hope. For confusion lives on the doorstep of fear. If her captors felt fear, Tallyn would know it.

The small detachment of Kindrahken had made their encampment several leagues ahead of the Legion’s main invasion force, which was still in Danemor enjoying the spoils of war. Sacking the capitol of Theros’ southernmost kingdom so easily had emboldened them, and now their avarice had no limit.

Why else had they attacked if not to lay claim to Danemor’s plentiful goods and coin? It was the only motive that made sense to Tallyn. Before making her home in Danemor, she’d never seen so much wealth. The maritime kingdom attracted more nobles and merchants than she’d encountered anywhere else in her travels. Danemor’s port district was filled with a vast array of peoples and languages, and the city’s clean and evenly-paved streets were lined with shops hawking wares from a thousand far-away places.

Perhaps that’s why Tallyn had stayed there when she’d first arrived nine years ago. Danemor was a place where even an Elloryn outcast could find refuge without attracting too much unwanted attention. And, while there was probably no place in the Nine Kingdoms where she would ever truly fit in, at least the Danemor people left Tallyn alone. For better or worse, it had become the only place she could call home. And that’s why she’d returned to her magic without so much as a second thought; or so she told herself.

If not that, then why had she done it? After working so hard to lead a normal life, why had she given it up so recklessly? Tallyn was loath to admit it, but part of her – a bigger part of her than she wanted – had longed to feel the ecstasy of wielding the Dark again. It was a part of her that had been there all these years, hungrily lurking just below the surface of her calm veneer like a spawnfish beneath a springfly on the water. And now, after four years of struggle, she’d given in.

It was a miracle she’d even been able to quit the Dark to begin with. Now that she’d tasted its unnatural power again, it would be impossible to turn from it anew. She’d allowed its iron grip to seize her by the neck like the yoke of a bullock. She’d chosen her fate the moment she’d attacked the Kindrahken earlier in the day. Now, she was captive to both the Legion and her own self-loathing.

After taking her prisoner, the Kindrahken had brought Tallyn to the small, road-side camp to await the arrival of the man with the hateful eyes. Like the other foreign soldiers, he was tall with broad and muscular shoulders. His long, dark, brown hair was pulled back and bound into a single lock by bright red and gold metal bands. The man’s shock of coarse hair reminded Tallyn of a horse’s tail bound up for battle, like the one her uncle, King Evendral, rode during festivals and parades. Tallyn looked at the ground and suppressed a sigh. Even after ten years, the memory of the Elloryn homeland still stirred the pain of longing in her chest.

The man with the hateful eyes looked just like the illustration in Belkor’s Legendary Peoples of the Realm. In the past, when Tallyn had needed to look up some obscure fact about the Kindrahken, she’d thumbed through the yellowing pages of the copy she’d stolen from the royal library back in the Elloryn capitol. That life seemed so long ago. She’d been a novice magister, a dozen years before the war began…back when the Kindrahken were rarely, if ever, found east of the Narrows. Until a few months ago, the only people alive claiming to have ever seen them were either very lucky merchants or liars.

But now, Tallyn had seen them. She’d smelled their fetid breath rushing out between yellowing teeth filed to a point. She’d seen the powerful blows of their serrated swords cause even seasoned soldiers to crumple in pain. Where the descriptions in Belkor’s book had once enthralled her, Tallyn now questioned the completeness of his stories. It made her wonder if anyone really knew how much truth was buried in the exaggeration of legend.

Kin-drahken. People of the Dragon. Devourers of children, or so they said. It was true they were fierce warriors – she’d seen that first hand – but immortal? That point was up for debate in Tallyn’s mind. Still, they had captured her, a fact that left Tallyn angry with the Kindrahken and angrier with herself.

The man with the hateful eyes must have grown tired of Tallyn’s gaze. He turned his murderous stare from her to the soldiers huddling around the table near the stones that ringed the campfire. Tallyn could barely make out what the men were doing. With the firelight behind them they were little more than dark silhouettes. But there was no mistaking the form of her steel bow as one of the soldiers attempted to draw its braided string. He grunted with exertion, muscles rippling in the dim light, before giving up amidst a bevy of angry foreign curses. “Lord Commander,” he said, his voice thick with contempt, “the she-devil’s bow is stronger than it looks. I cannot draw its string.”

Of course he couldn’t. He didn’t suffer Tallyn’s curse. No man could pull the string of her bow unless quickened by the Dark’s aberrant power.

She squinted against the fire that flickered behind the Kindrahken men and thought she caught a glimpse of something hanging by a leather thong around the soldier’s neck. The sight of the oval-shaped object dangling at his chest drew Tallyn’s gaze to the side of the soldier’s head where her suspicions were confirmed. In the place where his ear should have been, a shiny mass of smooth scar tissue reflected the uneven firelight. Tallyn wondered what he’d done to deserve such a punishment. And, since the man wore the severed ear like a necklace, there was little doubt that it was indeed a punishment.

The Kindrahken men milled about the fire, speaking loudly, as if they cared little for who might hear them. Why should they? Kindrahken hadn’t been spoken east of the Narrows for nearly three millennia. There was little reason to learn it. There was no trade, no diplomacy, no mixing of cultures and peoples between the Kindrahken and Theros.

A chance decision by Tallyn to study the language had proven to be quite useful today. Perhaps Azurys had prompted that choice all those years ago? Tallyn liked to think the Maker’s hand was in everything. Azurys may not have released Tallyn’s bindings, but She had given her a talent for languages. And right now, understanding Kindrahken was as good as a weapon in her hands. Tallyn glanced longingly at her bow as the soldiers carried on by the fire.

Again, she heard them use the phrase she-devil. The one-eared man had uttered the words in Tallyn’s native High Kingstongue, perhaps as a form of intimidation? It made sense. As far as they knew, she’d understand nothing they said except the Kingstongue phrase. She’d know they were talking about her, but nothing more. Did they think to frighten her? After all, apprehension and anticipation are the helpmeets of terror.

At the one-eared man’s beckoning, the Kindrahken with the hateful eyes turned on his heel and strode with purpose toward the group of soldiers by the fire. Had the one holding her bow called the man Lord Commander?

Tallyn had suspected as much. She’d marked him as an officer the second he’d ridden into camp. There’d been something different about the way he carried himself, the way the other soldiers steered clear of his path and avoided meeting his gaze. She wondered if the number of red and gold bands in his hair signified his rank. From her vantage point, there seemed to be little else to differentiate his  appearance from that  of  the other men in the group.

The soldiers wore the same boiled leather cuirasses buckled taut across their otherwise bare chests. Their sunbaked skin was difficult to distinguish from their tanned armor. Ornate, painted metal bands adorned their arms and hair, and rings of silver and gold decorated their fingers. Wide, leather belts divided the upper and lower parts of their armor and served as mount points for metallic knobs on the hilts of their swords. The serrated blades, according to Belkor’s ancient book on legendary peoples, were more intimidating hanging unsheathed at their sides. On this point, Tallyn could not disagree with the famous historian.

After approaching the campfire, the Kindrahken commander leaned in closer to his subordinate. “Sergeant,” he said in suddenly-hushed tones that Tallyn could barely make out, “it surprises me to find a she-devil here in Danemor. The Vahl said nothing of the pointy-eared Elloryn. Had we known they would come to the aid of these flaccid-armed southerners, we’d have prepared for battle differently.” He glared at the one-eared soldier. “But what do you know of strategy,” he said as he flicked the dried, hardened ear hanging from the sergeant’s neck, sending it swinging back and forth like the pendulum of a clock. “You never could listen to your superiors.”

There! The commander had only raised his voice when saying the Kingstongue phrase, and then only after turning his head to shout it over his shoulder in Tallyn’s direction. And instead of using the word Elphkin, he’d called her Elloryn, the other, more formal name for her people. Well, he’d spat it more than said it, which meant that she-devil was definitely a term intended for Tallyn’s ears.

So be it. Tallyn would not disappoint them. If it was a she-devil they wanted, it would be a she-devil they’d get. Beneath her gag, a wicked smile curled up the corners of her mouth. What do she-devils sound like when they laugh?

The Kindrahken continued their conversation in an even more hushed, almost conspiratorial tone. Why the sudden change in their demeanor? Tallyn barely managed to hear them. “She’s the only one we’ve seen,” insisted the sergeant to the commander. “If the Elloryn King has sent an army to help Danemor, we’d have heard by now. Our sentries on the coast have reported nothing of the kind, and we’ve seen no Elloryn ships in Danemor’s harbor.”

“Perhaps she’s alone; a solitary troublemaker then,” mused the commander.

By now Tallyn’s eyes had grown accustomed to the dark of early evening, and despite the dancing shadows cast by the flickering campfire, she could make out the group of men in greater detail. From the exaggerated expression on his face, the commander appeared content with the conclusion that Tallyn was not vanguard to a force of Elphkin Raiders coming to the aid of Danemor’s king.

“Alone or not,” affirmed the commander with a touch of satisfaction in his voice, “she’ll be dead before dawn.”

Brave words. Tallyn wondered how she’d kill him.

The commander took the Elphkin’s steel bow from the one-eared man and turned it over in his hands, admiring its fine craftsmanship. He ran his fingers down its recurved length, feeling the smooth metallic surface of one side and the busy reliefs etched into the other. He tried to draw its string, but after several attempts gave up. “Are you certain the she-devil used this bow,” he growled.

The sergeant’s eyes grew wide with trepidation. Even backlit by the campfire, Tallyn noticed the sudden change in his countenance. “Yes, Lord Commander,” he said without looking at the superior officer, “she put steel-tipped arrows through the hearts of twelve of our best soldiers.” He paused as if expecting the commander  to  stop  him.  When  no  interruption  came,  the sergeant continued. “And later, she was seen firing into the winding mechanisms of our siege engines. This was the cause of our delayed assault on Danemor’s walls. It took seven engineers almost an hour to make repairs.”

Tallyn’s chest flushed hot with anger and she wanted to scream. Damning her soul to the Dark had only bought the people of Danemor an hour? A single hour? What good had her sacrifice done?

The commander grasped the thick, metal shaft of an arrow from Tallyn’s quiver. Its triple-barbed head was an elegant-but-deadly example of Elloryn workmanship. After a short inspection, the commander threw it and the bow to the ground in disgust. “This is the work of channeling,” he spat in a voice full of loathing. “How else could the she-devil draw its string and I cannot?”

Three of the soldiers took a seemingly unconscious step backwards, their gaze fixed on the magically-imbued items at their feet. The smell of their sudden fear caused Tallyn’s mouth to salivate like a wodewolf circling a crippled bullock calf. She yearned to breath the men’s fearsmoke. She ached to feel the strength of the Dark and put an end to the whole matter. Her thoughts were no longer of defending the city, but of revenge. If only they were closer.

The commander whirled around and took a hesitant step in Tallyn’s direction, his hand firmly grasping the hilt of his sword. Flames danced reflectively off its steel surface as he raised it high over his head.

“Commander,” protested the sergeant, “she’s gagged and bound. There can be no honor in slaying…”

Tallyn could only make out the glint of steel as it followed an arc through the air and made the unmistakable sound of a sharp blade meeting sinew and bone. She heard a resounding thud as the  sergeant’s  head  hit  the  ground.  A  second  later,  his body collapsed in a pile next to it.

So they can be beaten, thought Tallyn, taking particular note of the beheaded man.

Hope began to swell inside her chest like the tides of the Sea of Tears. Her mind raced with plans of escape…and for exacting revenge on the Kindrahken who held her captive, starting with the one who only minutes before had murdered her with his eyes.

The commander pointed with his sword to the soldier closest to him. Like the sergeant, he had something hanging from a cord around his neck. But unlike the one-eared man, this soldier’s necklace was made from two, shriveled, egg-shaped objects which Tallyn quickly recognized. The Kindrahken, it would seem, were fond of using body parts as pendants. She could only guess what the man had done to deserve it.

“Remove the she-devil’s gag,” ordered the commander. “Unbind her legs so she can stand.” Then, almost as an afterthought, he looked down at the steel bow on the ground and added “But keep her hands tied.”

Tallyn knew she was the only one in the camp who could see the soldier’s fear rising from his body in the form of crimson smoke. She could smell its sickly-sweet odor even at several paces. Tallyn licked her lips as a shiver of anticipation slithered up her spine.

The soldier’s fear visibly increased as he shuffled past the commander. When he knelt to untie Tallyn’s feet from the base of the pole to which she’d been bound, she inhaled his fear like the smoke from a pipe and shuddered in ecstasy. The Dark’s strength and power surged through her with a rush of unmatched euphoria. It healed the rope burns on her wrists and gave her the strength of a dozen men.

At last.

It was only a matter of time, now, before she’d be free. Though Tallyn had inhaled a single, short breath, it would be enough. She let the soldier remove the gag from her mouth, but did not speak.

The commander approached confidently, Tallyn’s steel bow in one hand, his sword, freshly wet with warm blood, in the other. Tallyn stood, her black leather riders squeaking as they were prone to do. Her long, white-blonde hair, which had been pulled back into a braid, fell to just above her waist. She looked up defiantly at the Kindrahken officer, who towered over her by four hands. “Tell me who made you this bow,” he demanded in nearly perfect High Kingstongue. 

Tallyn responded in stilted-but-intelligible Kindrahken, which, judging by the commander’s expression, seemed to catch the man off guard. “It wasn’t made for me. It’s channel-spun steel. It belonged,” she said, pausing for effect, “to a prelate paladin.”

“Belonged?” asked the commander, insisting on High Kingstongue for their exchange.

Tallyn was almost amused by the officer’s consternation. She continued in Kindrahken. “He didn’t seem to need it after I killed him.”

The commander’s eyes grew round as saucers. “You killed a war mage and stole his bow?”

Prelate. They really don’t like being called mages,” she corrected him, jutting out her jaw proudly. “And yes, I killed him. He deserved it. As do you.”

There was a glint of amusement in the commander’s eyes as he erupted into a chuckle that quickly gave way to a belly laugh. “Is that a threat, she-devil?” He drew out the pejorative, giving it more emphasis.

Tallyn crackled with dark power that sent another surge of strength and vigor through her. She measured the larger man’s resolve. Then, she answered his question by breaking the thick ropes binding her wrists. She snatched the large, serrated sword from his hand and plunged it deep into his chest, splitting his hardened-leather armor as if it were no more than a linen shirt.

She then removed his head in a swift and effortless motion, sending it to the ground with a ponderous thud. His eyes, wide with amazement, continued to stare at her, blinking occasionally as his lips moved in an airless whisper. “Not a threat, Lord Commander,” replied Tallyn as she sent the man’s head rolling out of the way with her foot. She made for the remaining men by the fire, who stared slack-jawed at the scene.

Within minutes, the ground at the center of the camp was littered with the headless bodies of a dozen Kindrahken soldiers. Tallyn hefted the blood-stained sword in her hand and knelt down next to the commander’s severed head, speaking to his blinking stare. “I’ve always wondered what it might feel like to wield the legendary Kindrahken blade.” She shrugged and tossed the sword to the ground. “Effective,” she muttered in reluctant admiration, “but I much prefer my bow.”

Tallyn wondered if the headless man could still hear her. His eyes seemed to track her as she helped herself to a pack’s worth of dry goods from the store of provisions on the wagon. Pickings were slim; three bags of coarse flour and a dozen dried bullock livers. It wasn’t Tallyn’s favorite, but with little else from which to choose, it would have to do. She ate ravenously, stored the rest, and waited for morning.

Dawn came just as the campfire burned out, its smoke turning from black to white before disappearing altogether. A yellow-crested morning lark fluttered past. It was an interesting contrast that gave Tallyn pause. Before long the bright and cheerful bird would be replaced by dark-feathered carrion-eaters attracted to the smell of smoldering embers and warm Kindrahken blood.

Immortal? That part of the legend certainly seemed exaggerated.  Did  the  beheaded  Kindrahken  continue  to  live?

Tallyn didn’t stay long enough to find out. And their rancid breath? Had Belkor embellished that too? No, The Legendary Peoples of the Realm was right about that. That part of the tale, at least, was not an exaggeration.


Buy Now Link

Visit Link Here

Author

James Douglas Wallace

Keywords