A reluctant prince determined to be a better man than his father, the king, has ever been, Jeodyn spent his last year alone in the wild studying the banned art of manipulating the Myst, an act of rebellion but more in remembrance of the old ways. Now, everything he learned and everything he’s ever known about himself will be tested, when he’s called to do what his father should but never will: defend their family.
Noirlok, Lord of the ShadowLands and Father of the Night’s rebellion, knows no man will stand between him and his revenge. He'll either have the love he defeated the heavens and waited an age of the world to reclaim, or he'll destroy the House responsible. Since overcoming a mortal death and taking charge of the dark legion known as Shadorym, he has vowed to see the Blood of Vallyn pay for taking that love, and his life, from him.
When Jeodyn's sister, Jynn, disappears, the fight to defend what they all have at stake begins.
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Two hours into a swift sprint, and they hadn’t passed a city at all. No man traveled on the road leading south, and they saw nothing of the Shadorym. But for the fear following their every step and the worry that lay ahead, it was a peaceful trip made in good company.
Jeodyn had expected the horse, whose name he figured now to be Shiloh as the Lady had said it in the dream, to tire at some point and slow down, but the animal proved its worth and never lost the pace. The horse hardly showed a sheen of sweat, and the burden on his back seemed easily borne, even three hours in. Jeodyn was grateful.
Another hour and they were running just as swiftly past a drab city he didn’t care to see; two hours more brought another sparse town up from the south. Still Shiloh sped them along, and they passed no one on the road. The day had been easy and clear so far, but Jeodyn knew not to let the silence fool him. He remained alert and watchful, wary of every shadow they passed.
The Shadorym were long lost behind them, and though the worry stayed with him, Jeodyn hadn’t seen any sign of the black cloaks, since leaving Dresdin. Following his map, he led them ever southward, and not long after the sun passed midday overhead, the dark line of the Black Mountains stabbed clear of the distant horizon. The last city he knew to expect passed in a rush, and just beyond its southernmost wall, the road ended. Jeodyn pulled gently on Shiloh’s mane to stop them, and for the first time all day, he dismounted and stretched his legs.
Worn earth grown over with yellow grass marked the road, beyond where they’d stopped, and a broken slat of wood posted across it barred their way. “NO FURTHER,” it read, and Jeodyn could only laugh to himself, as he stepped over it. Taking a quick drink and a small bite of hard bread, he allowed himself only a short break and a good stretch, before he was back atop Shiloh and sprinting again into the uncharted South.
Soon, the Black Mountains were standing tall and dark very near ahead and closing in quickly from either side. The sky to the east looked dark with storm, which seemed odd, given the desert land Jeodyn knew lay beyond that particular stretch of mountains. But he felt it a fitting overture to the road he was soon to take. A chill passed through him to see the clouds gathered there, but he quickly dismissed it for another, darker shadow, coming into view just ahead. Where the jagged peaks of the Black Mountains came together and the first branches of the Black Forest barred the way into them, Jeodyn saw the place he’d come to find.
The gnarled trees were tall and dark, as the deep, twisted spaces between them were dark, and the entire forest looked to have been burned some time not long ago. Nothing stirred in its depths, and everything about it was unnaturally silent. The boughs and branches of the tangled canopy overhead looked skeletal and old, yet no light from the sun pierced through them to reach the ground below. As Jeodyn neared the shadow of the wood, he saw the outermost trees hung with signs of caution, all posted to make it clear he wasn’t mistaken; this was the place.
Old wooden markers bearing the warnings “BEWARE” and “TURN BACK” were nailed to the old trees or to posts planted in the ground. Another posted largely across the lone, dark opening in the forest made it as plain as could be. “DO NOT DARE THE DARK ROAD,” the last sign said. Another mute warning Jeodyn would have to idly pass. This time though, he couldn’t find the mood to laugh.
Not wanting to lose such a fine animal to the dark woods or any of the shadows lurking within, Jeodyn figured to leave Shiloh behind. But before he could even consider the thought, the brave horse found a thin trail around the wooden beam crossing the road, and they started into the Black Forest.
The gloom closed in quickly and completely over them, as soon as they passed the first line of trees. Shadows, thick like death, led the way into the heart of the forest, the beginnings of the Dark Road. Shiloh easily regained the path and started them on their way.
The tangled web of barren branches above didn’t blot out the sky completely, but where Jeodyn could see the shreds of light overhead, it was muted and grey and illuminated nothing. His spirits felt nearly as dim, but he led Shiloh slowly on, trying to watch their every side at once. He drew Lionshard preemptively and stared out into the thickening shadow of the forest. His entire being was tense, to say the least; even Shiloh beneath him felt on edge. The animal acted more watchful than nervous, and they both seemed waiting for the darkness all around to come alive and attack them at any moment.
Having seen the Black Mountains earlier, above the canopy of the trees, Jeodyn knew they wouldn’t have to ride too long, before reaching the first rise of stone. But it surprised him when, after less than an hour, the shadow broke ahead of them to show the grey light of late afternoon beyond the last of the trees. Both man and mare relaxed to see the open light ahead. Jeodyn was just about to sheath his sword and say a word of jest to Shiloh about their needless worry, when something large passed across the dim light of the open road ahead. The smile vanished soundlessly from his lips.
A tall shadow moved from tree to tree, some six or seven lengths ahead, near the wood’s edge, and another started into the trees just behind it. They weren’t the same Shadorym from Dresdin, but that didn’t matter; they were the same enemy. Jeodyn flexed his grip on Lionshard’s hilt and prepared himself for the fight that was coming. No more running now; these two barred his way to the light, the path to his sister and seeing his mother’s happiness restored. They’d have to fight to keep him from it.
For a moment, Jeodyn contemplated taking to the ground and letting Shiloh fall back to safer trees, but quickly thought better of giving up his elevated position and stayed his mount. The animal beneath him seemed as eager and ready to fight as he, and they both held their ground.
As the second figure entered into the gloom of the forest, both Shadorym disappeared and were gone. Leaning forward, Jeodyn strained his eyes to see into the darkness beyond the glare of Shiloh’s white coat. He struggled to discern which shadows were actually moving and which were simply branches blowing in the wind. The endless dark of the forest depths churned with movement, all of it menacing; everything looked dark and threatening, waiting to attack. Then as Jeodyn looked ahead toward the front of the trail, the heavy shadow of a man fell on him soundlessly from his high left. In a moment, he was being dragged from Shiloh’s back.
Here again, the horse proved his worth and moved to stay beneath him, bearing the full weight of his fall on its mane. Turning his shoulders, Jeodyn shrugged the shadow off and quickly righted himself; then the second shadow attacked from his direct front. As he saw it, the lighted end to the Black Forest was blotted out by the shadow advancing against him. All he could see was a charging darkness.
Everything moved with such speed and indefinite form; he couldn’t tell if it were one Shadorym or a host of them coming for him. With no time to think, Jeodyn lifted Lionshard to meet the darkness as it came, and he struck. He’d seen no steel or blade, but as the shadow passed, the whistle of something slicing the air announced the presence of one. The sound of swords clashing shattered the silence of the forest, as Lionshard took the full force of the Shadorym’s attack. Jeodyn was nearly unhorsed by it. Reclining back into Shiloh’s rear flanks however, he let the shadow pass over him and was able to stay his place again.
The two Shadorym were behind him now, but looking back, Jeodyn saw nothing of them. They’d disappeared into shadow again, and he couldn’t find even a trace of movement to place either. Ahead though, he found a clear road to the grey light of open air and made quickly for it. Shiloh must’ve seen the same, as he’d hardly been given the command and they were off, sprinting toward the light.
The edge of the trees grew near quickly; four eyes held the light, and four legs sprinted them toward it. But darkness stirred there again before they could reach it. As Jeodyn watched, the shadow of limbs and branches on either side of the road resolved into the forms of two men. An absolute mortal fear to behold; his eyes had never seen such a thing, but they wouldn’t keep him any longer from the light. No doubt the fight would follow him, but it would be fought on fairer ground.
Ducking low, Jeodyn prepared for an attack, and as Shiloh sped them toward conflict, he lifted Lionshard to meet the shadows as they came. Another clash of steel and the feel of a violent strike against his blade announced the first of the Shadorym. This one passed with great force but little effect over Jeodyn’s left shoulder.
The second of the dark men didn’t pass so easily. As Lionshard glanced off the first shadow’s blade, Jeodyn kept it moving upward and into the dense darkness of what looked to be the other’s chest. A sound like death itself screamed from the thing, sending a terrible and wonderful echo through the trees. Carrying the weight on his blade up and over his head, he let the wounded Shadorym fall somewhere to his right, and the path ahead was clear again.
Racing for the forest’s edge, Jeodyn could hear the wounded Shadorym still screaming behind him, just as clearly as he could hear the other giving chase. The fear of being stabbed in the back was a very real one, and every fiber of his being wanted to turn and face the darkness. But the desire to be free of the Black Forest moved him now, both he and the horse beneath him, and they didn’t stop. Quickly, Shiloh and Jeodyn with him leapt out from the gloom of the trees and into the overcast light of early evening.
Once comfortably clear of the trees, they turned and waited for the darkness to come again. Not surprising, the Shadorym seemed less eager to face him with the light now on his side. Neither showed themselves right away. Jeodyn tried to watch the entire length of the tree line at once, to see them when they came, but the dark spaces between the trees moved and danced all over. The painful sounds of wailing echoed from them. After a moment, the shadow of one tree directly in front of Jeodyn bled into another and then another, to form the rough shape of a man staggering out from the darkness.
The shadowy figure showed no detail to name it a man, no face or eyes, but the dark outline of an arm clutched at its belly. Hunched over and still howling in pain, the wounded shadow limped forward, almost indifferent of Jeodyn. It looked wanting only to get past him. He could see no blade drawn, and the silhouette showed no aggressive movement, as it drew near. It shielded its eyes with a dark arm, seemingly from the glare of Shiloh’s white coat, and shuffled slowly by, still bent at the waist and walking with a great effort.
Seeing only the creature of darkness that had tried to kill him, Jeodyn cared little for the wounded image the shadow had become. And with the thing lurching slowly past, he dropped Lionshard down on top of it. No scream came this time, as Jeodyn cleaved the head from its dark body, only the soft sound of heavy shadow hitting the ground. Where the thin and elongated head fell, the shadow left it, leaving a drawn and sunken, grey face silently screaming its last agony. The headless body kept though its feet.
As he watched, the darkness about the Shadorym’s form faded to show a shrunken creature, whose features only vaguely remembered the man it used to be, still trying to get past him. The thing moved slow and awkward with a crippled step. Withered, grey arms clamored atop its birdlike shoulders for the head now on the ground at Shiloh’s feet.
Eventually, its bowed and bony legs buckled at the knees, and the last traces of life left the Shadorym. As the thing hit the ground, a look of age fell over its remains, making them look long-dead and more like the corpse of a monster than a man. Jeodyn quickly returned his attentions to the tree line and its countless shadows, all of which still seemed to be moving.
Though dull and grey, the sun remained on his side and, with it, the small comfort of knowing it would last another hour yet. The dim daylight was enough to see the darkness when it came, and Jeodyn waited, trying to guess where he might see the Shadorym first. The one now dead on the ground had been hurt. It moved slowly, even indifferent of him; the next, he knew, was unharmed and would no doubt move quicker and more aggressively when it came. Sitting atop Shiloh with Lionshard put out before him, Jeodyn could only watch the trees, expecting another attack at any moment.
When the shadows first began to stir in front of him again, Jeodyn didn’t see it. Thinking it the same deep shadow that had been there since he left the trees, his eyes moved past the gathering gloom without notice. But as his wary stare passed again to the left, the darkness to his right came to life and leapt out from the trees. Jeodyn saw the Shadorym as it moved and he moved with it. Lionshard led the way, and Shiloh beneath him turned into the attack.
Starting toward the fight, he couldn’t help but notice this Shadorym’s lack of aggression. The thing bounded from the dark of the forest at speed, but instead of confronting him, it moved only to get past and to the mountain pass at his back. Being reduced to even numbers and now forced to face him on fairer ground, the dark thing wanted nothing of the fight. The lone Shadorym sprinted by Jeodyn, hissing as it went, and had almost beaten him to the pass, when Lionshard found the shadow of its flesh.
Another scream of fear and pain echoed off the mountains and died in the trees, as Lionshard tore diagonally through the thing’s lower half. After that, all the speed of the creature’s swift retreat was lost. The grey remnant of an emaciated appendage fell to the ground, and its shadow faded to ash and bone, like the first corpse had. Hobbled and staggering now on only one shadowed leg, the Shadorym cared little to reclaim its lost limb. The creature wanted only to get away, but it fled much slower now than at the start. Only then did Jeodyn leave his mount and take to the ground.
On foot, he quickly caught the wounded Shadorym and he raised Lionshard high above his head. Still the thing fought awkwardly to get to safer shadows, where it would no doubt raise the alarm to the others. But before it could limp any further, Jeodyn’s blade fell, and the darkness about the Shadorym fell with it. Grey remains of the thing’s wasted body dropped lifeless to the ground. Jeodyn pulled his blade free of its head, now cloven in two just left of center and laying widely apart. The two dead heaps of broken shadow no longer posed any threat.
The immediate danger had ended, but Jeodyn hardly felt free of his fear. Shadows seemed to lurk all around, in the trees behind him as well as throughout the stone rising in front. The daylight was failing quickly, as was Jeodyn’s hope to see this thing done with the sun still shining over the world. Such was his lot. He looked out into the darkening heights of the Black Mountains where he needed to go and then back to the forest from where he’d just come. It seemed a long way left between, and that path he’d have to find on his own.
Shiloh had brought him this far and had proved most needed, but he could go no further. Rocks and ruts and hidden pitfalls littered every step of the road ahead, and Jeodyn couldn’t trust himself to lead the way safely. And Shiloh’s white coat, beautiful though it was, shone like a beacon in the dark. Any element of surprise would be lost, were he to continue on the proud horse. They’d have no hope of hiding, if the need brought them to it.
He’d have to say his goodbyes to the magnificent horse, his goodbyes and his thanks. He’d never have made it so far so fast, or even survived the journey, had the strange animal not come to him. It had, and Jeodyn was thankful, but he and Jynn would have to make the trip home without the aid of such fine company.
“Thank you,” he whispered into Shiloh’s face. “Go, and find your way back to the lighted place that sent you… go find your Lady, if she be the one.” And with a last touch to the animal’s muzzle, Jeodyn turned to leave him. Shiloh watched him go for a moment then the horse dipped his head almost sadly and turned back toward the shadow of the forest.
Jeodyn was sad to see him go, but he’d hurt more to see such a fine creature come to any harm, especially from hands as evil as those lurking in these dark places. He watched Shiloh’s light fade in the gloom of the Black Forest then he turned back to find the shadow that awaited him. The Dark Road Jeodyn had come half the world to find was here at hand; he had nothing left now but to walk it.