• Matt Brown

A Tale of Betrayal

Ahren sifted through the piles of tomes on the table. Some were histories, others, stories submitted by authors, and a few, tales from cultures now long gone. The Library’s collection was vast, and as time went on, only grew more expansive.


I wonder what you’re researching today, Mother?


She left the table, continuing her search through the maze of dusty bookshelves. The smell of old ink and aged parchment was oddly comforting. Of course, the Library always felt safe. Ahren peered around the last row in the maze of shelving, her eyes falling on her mother at a table surrounded by stacks of books.


Ahren stifled a giggle, noting the stern expression her mother wore as she worked. You must have found something interesting.


It was always so amazing to watch her become so invested in a project. The world seemed to vanish among the scribbles, references, and notations she made while working. But that was who Mother was. She was on a quest to be named the Great Library’s next Loremaster.


Ahren crept closer, taking care not to make a sound. The quill in her mother's hand abruptly stopped. “Trying to be clever again are we, Ahren?”


Ahren grinned wider, her mother’s tone indicating that she was smiling. “No, Mother, I’m not trying to be clever.”


“Mmhm, then why is my daughter trying to sneak up on me?” she asked, turning in her chair.

“Was I?” Ahren asked, unable to hide her grin.


Her mother shook her head and softly laughed. “What am I going to do with you?”


“Well, you could always tell me what you are working on.”


“I’m afraid this is not a story for a young girl. There are many bad things in it.”


“What sort of things?”


It was strange, but it appeared as if her mother was a little sad, almost like he couldn’t find the words.


“Because it’s about someone who’s done terrible things. An immortal, some would say, but not one of the Immortals,” she replied.


“So there are two kinds of immortals?”


“There are those who are proper and true. The ones we know. Karien, The Forger, The Lady, the Keeper, The Forest Walker, and Sharina, to name a few. But there are others, whose purpose has no place. They gained their longevity through curses and darker means.”


“You mean, The Forgotten made them.” Ahran grinned. Her answer awarded her with a smile.


“Very good,” her mother said. “You’ve been paying attention.”


“Well, I have to. I’m going to become a Custodian one day.”


Her mother leaned forward, softly touching her cheek. “That’s my girl,” she said. “Now, in time, these immortals meet their final end. No one can cheat the Keeper forever, no matter how hard they try. One, however, has survived far longer than the others. Part of my research in ancient lore is to understand why.”


“Is it because you want to become like them?”


Her mother shook her head. “No, child. There is an order to the world, and becoming such a thing is not without consequence. I dread to think of what such a change in me would create.”


“So what did you find?”


Her mother frowned, her expression revealing her disappointment. Ahren could see the heavy lines under her eyes from too little sleep in the candlelight. You’re pushing too hard again.


It’s far from complete. So much history was lost when the Dakren turned the world upside down.”


“You mean the Invasion.”


Her mother nodded. “It was a dark era in Elanthar’s history. One that we don’t fully understand how it came to such a sudden end.”


“Didn’t you tell me the Dakren Empire collapsed under its own decadence?”


“We still don’t know,” she replied. “But I think I found what spelled the end for the human kingdoms of that Age.”


Ahren watched her mother began sifting through the stacks of parchment, pulling specific sheets from them, and moved the books aside to make room. She then took the sheets she’d selected and set them in the newly created space.


“You probably saw the mess on the other tables, but these notes are from those tomes,” she said. “Bit it begins with a man named Krasule.”


“Before the Invasion, Krasule was a champion to his people, one of their most honored generals. Though the later records I uncovered call him The Betrayer.”


“But why, Mother?” Ahren asked. “What changed?”


“He fell in love, dear one.”


Ahren reached for a chair, pulling it up to the desk. She glanced at the notes and understood why her mother’s tone was so somber. “He did all this for love?”


“He did it because he loved, but by your expression, I can understand why that would seem so confusing.”


“But love can’t make you hurt people… can it?”


Her mother’s pained expression gave Ahren her answer. “Love can make people do terrible things.”


“Maybe he had no choice,” Ahren replied. “Maybe…”


Her mother placed a finger to Ahren’s lips. “There is always a choice, Ahren. Sadly, when the time came, Krasule chose poorly.”


“What did he choose and why?”


Her mother reached for one of her journals, pulling it from the stack of books laying on top of it. She flipped through its pages, stopping somewhere in the middle.


“It’s a long story. We should start at the beginning,” she said. “Krasule was born in Dalonmere, one of five ancient human kingdoms. Though his parents and lineage are questionable.”


“Some evidence points to nobility, while other details claim he was of common status. But I found where he enlisted in the Dalonian military. The reference was vague, but I’m certain it was him.”


“Did Krasule rise quickly in the ranks?”


“He did. His swordsmanship was superb, and he had a knack with people. They were drawn to him, or so I discovered, and listened to what he would say.”


“At the time, conflicts were arising with Letalus, a neighboring kingdom. Letalus was an aggressive nation, it felt that all the kingdoms should become one and that humanity should stand united, not divided.”


“Do you think if they had been, the Dakren could have been stopped?” Ahren asked.


“With everything I have gathered thus far, I believe so. A united humanity would have been something to see.”


“But people are different, not everyone can be the same.”


Her mother smiled warmly. “Such a wise girl. People are different. They believe differently, think differently, and have varied hopes and dreams. Letalus wanted to enforce unity through a stringent code. They offered safety, not freedom.”


“But what’s the difference?”


“Oh, child, that’s a long discussion. But just because one is safe, doesn’t make them free.”


It was an interesting thought. Ahren thought of her own studies. Of the cultures and people she learned about. They varied greatly. Each with their own outlooks and way of approaching life. Some were created from circumstances of the past, their entire culture shaped by a pivotal moment in history.


“So what did Krasule do?”


“When war broke out, Krasule stood on the front lines. He volunteered for the worst missions he could find. Some thought him suicidal.”


“Perhaps he was from humble beginnings, and he saw what would happen to those who weren’t as well off as others if Dalonmere lost the war. Maybe even hoped to gain a position high enough to do something for them.”


“What do you think it was, Mother?”


“I think he loved his people, at least it’s what I choose to believe,” she replied. “The war raged for four years, and during that time Krasule earned many honors. His greatest achievement was also what earned him the rank of general.”


“It happened at the Battle of South Gate. The Letalans sundered the great wall bordering the two nations.”


Ahren paused, sifting through her mother’s notes. Her eyes widened when she realized which wall her mother was speaking of. “Wait, is that the same wall the borders all of Absion?”


Her mother smiled. “It is. South Gate still stands today. Though the wall has expanded since those days.”


Ahren smiled, her excitement mounting as she scanned through the notes. Her mother had comparisons between Absion’s borders and supposedly where Dalonmere’s had once been. Absion was much larger, but the old wall and South Gate’s positioning matched.


“Ahren… shall I continue?”


Ahren grinned sheepishly. “Sorry, Mother.”


Her mother smiled. “Until that point, the Letalans had made little progress into Dalonmere. They had beachheads along the coast, but couldn’t push inland. The Dalonians proved too tenacious.”

“So they changed tactics.”


“Yes, they did. Instead of holding onto multiple beachheads, they pulled their forces to where the port city of Mursa stands today. The Dalonians, seeing this as a desperate push by their enemy, pulled their forces from the abandoned beachheads to prepare for a concerted assault.”


“Krasule noted the Letalan’s movements and saw how troops were being pulled from the nation’s protective wall. He figured out the sudden change of tactics was a ploy to weaken their border defense. Against the king’s wishes, Krasule moved his forces to South Gate in anticipation of an attack. Had he arrived an hour later; things would have gone disastrously wrong for Dalonmere.”

“The Letalan’s waited until after dark to attack. It was a bold move. Visibility was limited on both sides. But with their spy at the gate, alchemical markers he left along the wall made it easy for their ballista and catapults keep accuracy on South Gate and its walls in the night.”


“But wouldn’t the Dalonians see the markers, Mother?”


“You would think so, but I can only assume they had a means to. I have yet to uncover what it was.”

It was clever. Ahren remembered all the unconventional tactics used by different leaders through the ages from the books she read. Stalemates always came down who was more creative in breaking them.


“What did Krasule do?”


“With their ballista and catapults, South Gate was lost. The gate and walls were sturdy, but scaling them against the onslaught was suicide. Krasule knew this, so he evacuated the small garrison protecting the gate and repositioned his forces out of harm’s way.”


“To their enemies, it would look like the soldiers were in retreat. With the limited visibility, Krasule could hide his numbers and lull the Letalan’s into a false sense of security.”


“He was setting a trap!”


Her mother nodded. “He was. With their forces on the beachhead keeping the Dalonians occupied, the Letalans needed to reach the breach and quickly take control. Reinforcements were on the way, they just needed to hold out long enough.”


“So they had to send troops in while they moved the siege weapons into position?”


“Correct. They Letalans moved of their forces to secure the breach, while a reserve stayed behind to protect the catapults and ballista.”


“Krasule had a handful of mages with him and using their skills, he cloaked a small portion of his troops from prying eyes. They slipped past the breach and ambushed the reserve forces protecting the siege weapons. To keep their enemy at the walls, Krasule’s mages used their incants to harass the soldiers at the breach, while Krasule and his insertion group commandeered the catapults.”


“The Letalans fell into confusion, some ran toward forest here,” she said, pointing at the map of Absion, “where Bracara now stands. Had left his remaining troops there, hidden among the trees. They ambushed the panicked soldiers and per his orders cut them down to ensure none survived. His men then turned to the remains of South Gate and assaulted it.”


“Not a single Letalan survived the night, and when the battle was over, his next order shocked them.” She reached for another notebook, pulling a tab she had left inside it, and opened it. Ahren watched as her mother furrowed her brow, as if confirming something. She closed the notebook and turned her attention to the one in her lap.


Ahren grinned. You always get so carried away when digging for things. Mother kept multiple notebooks. Anyone trying to decipher them would find themselves lost in endless rabbit holes. But if you knew her and understood how she thought, the puzzle was clear.


“Are you laughing at me again?” she asked.


Ahren giggled. “I would never.”


Her mother cocked an eyebrow. “So you say,” she replied with a slight smile. “Shall I continue?”


Ahren nodded.


“Krasule ordered his men to strip and take up the armor and weapons of their enemy. At first there were objections, even from his most loyal followers. But when he ordered them to prop the dead up with spears, some almost deserted.”


“For all the valor and honor he had displayed through his career, none could believe he would suggest something so drastic. In the end, his charisma won his men over. Krasule appealed to their love of king and country.”


“Do you think that was his plan all along, Mother?”


“I believe it was. I think his zeal for his nation pushed him to come up with such a plan. His forces were few, and they had wounded. The battle for South Gate had cost them. Ambush tactics would be the only way to stop the reinforcements he believed were coming.”


Ahren glanced back at the stack of parchment her mother had sorted earlier. She winced, reading back over the one at the top of the stack. “Mother, it feels as if this was where his fall began.”


“It’s hard to say, Ahren. Most of the documents I have recovered suggest this moment made Krasule a champion to the people. The tactics and cunning he displayed won them the day.”


“So the ambush was successful?”


“Yes, it was. Devastating successful,” her mother answered. “Krasule and his men worked tirelessly into the night. They moved the catapults and ballista into position in defense of the walls. When the Letalan reinforcements showed up just before dawn, most of his men had barely slept more than a four hours.”


“With the enemy in sight, those who were on watch roused Krasule and the rest of their comrades. Thinking they had won, the general leading the Letalans, a man named Krisov, and his command staff, approached the breach. Pretending to be the surviving commanding officer, Krasule met with him and after giving a false report, slew Krisov and his officers.”


“Krasule’s men promptly opened fire, peppering the Letalans with the catapults and ballista they had stolen. They used the longbows and arrows scavenged from their enemies to provide cover fire. Ammo for the catapults came from the debris of South Gate scattered about. According to what I found, Krasule seemed to find it poetic.”


“The Letalan reinforcements fell into chaos. The remaining officers scrambled to restore order, but it was too late. In moments, their forces were routed and while some attempted to take the wall, others fell into a panicked retreat.”


“When the dust settled, Krasule and the few men left with him, had defended the breach. South Gate had fallen, but the enemy gained nothing. A few days later, the Letalans surrendered.”


“So what happened to Krasule? He defied the king, but saved his people.”


“His circumstances are paradoxical,” her mother replied. “While he was a hero to many, it didn’t change the fact that he disobeyed a direct order. While commended, they also sent him to prison. In prison, however, is where our story takes a turn.”


“It seems so unfair,” Ahren said. “He saved his country.”


“But he disobeyed his king, Ahren. Life is full of consequences, and we must be prepared for what our choices reap.”


“Do you think Krasule was prepared?”


“I believe he was,” her mother answered. “Krasule knew from the moment he defied the king’s order he would eventually be arrested. But I think he held no ill will with the outcome. If he were let off for his insubordination, what kind of example would that have set?”


“So he didn’t want anyone else thinking they could just decide which orders to follow.”


Her mother nodded. “Yes, he even took the fall for his own men. Pleading for a pardon, as they were only obeying his orders.”


Ahren looked back at the stacks of parchment on the table. “It’s still hard to believe. If he was a good man, how could he have done all this?” She felt her mother’s gentle touch atop her right hand. It’s like they’re two different people.


“If we allow our emotions to lead us, poor decisions follow, Ahren,” she said. “Remember, I said prison is where our story takes a turn.”


“Krasule had a visitor in secret, someone who’s heart his exploits during the war had captured. Before the war, they had only met on a few occasions, but nothing formally. She had always at a distance and out of reach.”


Ahren frowned. “You’re teasing me, I can tell,” she said.


Her mother grinned sheepishly. “Would I do that to the daughter who tried to sneak up on her poor mother and scare her half to death?”


Ahren pursed her lip. “It’s not the first time.”


“Oh, poor thing,” her mother chided. “Like you haven’t drug out a story from your studies on purpose.”


Ahren tried to hide a smirk, but the glint in her mother’s eye showed she’d been found out. “So who was the girl? You have to tell me!”


“It was the king’s daughter,” her mother replied. “She became enamored with Krasule, not only because he was so striking in appearance but also because of his deep sense of right and wrong. In her eyes, she believed he saw the world differently from anyone.”


“Did he, or was it just her imagination?” Ahren asked.


“You tell me, what do you think?”


“I think he was different, even looking at your notes here and reading the awful things he’s done. It shows an unusual understanding of people. It’s like he could see inside them.”


“You would be right, but you know what was strange about the king’s daughter and why he was so drawn to her?”


Ahren shook her head.


“It’s because she was the first person he couldn’t figure out,” her mother replied. “He fell in love with the mystery of who she was. Kasha was a blank slate to Krasule. For him, it was refreshing and interesting. There were always surprises.”


“So does that mean he didn’t love her?”


“Not at first, but she grew on him. He had spent so much time seeing through others, that she became a puzzle he had to figure out. In time, he stopped trying and followed his heart.”


“So was is a secret love?”


Her mother smiled. “Yes, and no. They thought they were being clever, Kasha had even gone as far as to making her guards take a Blood Oath, but her father knew. He let things play out, though. He wanted his daughter to be happy and bore no ill will toward Krasule.”


“So how long was Krasule’s sentence?”


“Five long years. During that time pressure was mounting from the people for his release. Many saw it as unjust; they didn’t see things the way the nobility did.”


“Why do I feel like there was a plan?”


“Because you’re a smart girl,” her mother answered.


“It was all for show, wasn’t it?” Ahren asked. “The nobles knew it would upset the people, but had to let them see they still upheld the law. They left Krasule in prison until the outrage grew enough to appear benevolent.”


Her mother smiled. “How did you get so perceptive?”


“I don’t know,” Ahren smirked. “I seem to get it from somewhere.”


Her mother laughed. “You get that sass from somewhere too.”


“Only because I hear how frustrated Loremaster Jaegis makes you.”


“Ahren!”


Ahren flashed an innocent smile. “So politics,” she said.


Her mother sighed. “Politics, indeed. The king made a grand announcement. It needed something the people could see. He went as far as to announce Krasule’s betrothal to Kasha, something they nor the people would have expected.”


“I bet a few of the nobles were furious, especially if Krasule came up through the ranks as a commoner.”


“Some were, but if it was because of status, I don’t know for certain. But the announcement pleased the people, and with so much support, the objecting nobles were forced into silence. Oddly though, the ones who objected all mysteriously died over the next two years.”


Ahren pursed her lips.


“Ahren, he didn’t kill them,” her mother said.


“How could you tell that was what I was thinking?”


“You had that look. The one you get when pondering something.”


“But if Krasule didn’t kill them. Who did?”


Her mother slipped a knowing smile. “Like I said, the story takes a turn when they imprisoned him.”


Ahren’s mouth fell open. “Kaha killed them!”


“Did she?” her mother asked. “Are you sure?”


Ahren regarded her mother thoughtfully, searching for a hint or tell that might give something away. “Maybe, but it feels like I am not seeing the bigger picture,” she said. “So were Krasule and Kasha happy?”


“Oh, very much. With war over and the Letalans defeated, they had much to rebuild. Krasule took to aiding the kind in every effort. His support as the Hero of South Gate strengthened the king’s position tremendously.”


“The nobles had no choice but to back him, and while many of them reaped the benefits, there were those too stuck in the old way of doing things to receive the changes he proposed.”


“What sort of changes?”


“Well, he began with restructuring the military. While a person could stand out through service, preferential treatment because of status was officially abolished. In his own words: The worth of a man isn’t measured by his station at birth, but by the character he displays in the field.”


“For generations, noble birth dictated who could command whom. Only the king or specific regents could offer title and status to a commoner. Competition was fierce, and it was even worse for someone who came up from nothing.”


Ahren bit her lip. The nagging feeling that she was missing something grew. “So he’s done all these good things and proven himself to be an honorable person. He’s fought for his country and worked to make it a better place. He even married the king’s daughter, putting himself in line for the throne.”


“But he couldn’t become king, Ahren,” her mother said. “In Dalonmere, you could marry into nobility, but your spouse was the one who led. In Krasule’s case, Kasha would become queen, and he would simply be her husband.”


“So he would have no authority.”


“He would, but in certain matters she would have the final say,” she replied. “Nobles were required to cut their claim to the houses they came from, to be embraced into the houses they were becoming part of.”


“So was that why he became all of this?” Ahren asked, glancing at the stack of parchment beside her.


“No, I’m afraid it’s more complicated,” her mother replied. “Did you notice the dates I wrote?”

Ahren peeled away each sheet of parchment as she examined them. There was a progression of months and years. Obviously, they were an estimate, but from her mother’s studies it dawned on her.


“The Invasion!” she said. “Kasha and Krasule married ten years before it began!”


“They were, and two years before the Dakren attacked the Shaylin, her father died. By then, as you know, the Dakren were marching across the Plains of Kerdash and The Shadow Tribes marching with them had already wiped out the Dwarves of the Berisan Stepps.”


“So do you think the dark elves were behind that?”


“Ahren, we don’t use that word, remember,” her mother replied firmly. “The Dakren are the Dakren. The word elf is rude and derogatory.”


Ahren frowned, then nodded. “I’m sorry, mother, I meant nothing by it.”


“I know, but if one of the Shaylin heard you say that, they would be furious,” she said. “But yes, the Dakren were behind it. They had spent a long time preparing to besiege the world and take it over.”

“With their Aetharian and Sidharian cousins crushed to the point of extinction, the Dakren turned their full might toward the Shaylin. But the campaign against their cousins in The Wood proved too costly.”


“Rather than deplete resources, they turned to human kingdoms. Letalus fell within days. The Dakren had spent years infiltrating their government. They used guile and illusions to replace key officials much like they had with the Sihd of the Riverlands.”


“They were behind the war!” Ahren said. “Unifying the humans kingdoms would make ruling them easier!”


“Yes it would have, but because of Krasule, they failed. The war with Dalonmere had weakened Letalus too much for the nation to be of any use within their intended timeframe. Their plans may have taken centuries to lay and were far reaching, but keeping things hidden, and maintaining resources was still costly.”


“Conquering Letalus, however, opened the door to invade the other human nations. Letalus became a rallying point for their armies to stage attacks from. But once again, thanks to Krasule, Dalonmere could hold out, though not forever.”


“The reforms he made proposed both for the military and socially, strengthened Dalonmere’s economy and power. Though, I found odd records of arguments between him and Kasha over a few of the reforms while her father was alive.”


Ahren pursed her lips. Why would she argue? I mean, I know that’s something couples do, at least Mother says so.


“You’re getting suspicious, aren’t you, Ahren?”


“A little. Something isn’t adding up.”


“Shall we continue?”


Ahren nodded. “Please, Though I have a bad feeling.”


“As the conflict escalated, Dalonmere found itself without allies. Kasha had also mysteriously disappeared. With her gone, Krasule was effectively king until they found her. Two days after he received a message, demanding Dalonmere’s surrender to the Dakren or they would kill Kasha along with every man, woman and child within a five-mile radius Khalenshire.”


“The other generals had allowed Khalenshire to fall in the place of more strategically important points. It had already been three years into the Invasion. Resources and manpower were growing thinner, while the Dakren continued to bolster their numbers through dark magic and breeding their war trolls.”


“Their enemy had made a purposeful incursion into Khalenshire, for what appeared to be no reason. With Kasha’s disappearance, the reason became clearer to him. It was the safest way to take hostages and take a stab at Dalonian morale.”


“Krasule’s heart ached. He loved Kasha with all his might. The Dakren had presented him with a no-win situation. No matter what he did, people would die and the people’s faith in him would falter.”


“So what did he do?”


“He prayed. He had every shrine to every immortal, Karien included, brought to him. Krasule spent days pleading with each, begging them for help. He offered them anything, even his soul. Yet, their stone visages remained silent.”


“So, when it was all said and done, he cursed each of them. The accounts say the words he uttered were so dark and vile, that a shadow fell over the palace. Whether it was their combined rage or something far more sinister, I wasn’t able to find out. Something, however, heard him.”


Ahren shuddered, goosebumps forming across her skin. “What happened after?”


“The details are unclear. But he vanished. Days later he showed up at the gates of Khalenshire.”


Ahren watched her mother reach for an old tome from the stack. It looked battered, its spine clinging to life. She glimpsed the script as her mother opened it. That’s Dakren.


“I found this. While it’s possible that this journal was reinscribed over the centuries. Someone felt it was important enough to preserve. I sensed faint traces of magic in it.”


“It’s an eyewitness account, isn’t it?”


Her mother nodded, then opened the journal and began reading:


“He walked with purpose, I thought him foolish, this human king. We had already slaughtered the rest of his kind within the walls and mounted them on pikes. When we opened to gates, hoping to instill fear into him, his face was devoid of emotion.


The sword he carried was unlike any I had seen. Its blade was black as night and seemed to absorb the light around it. The craftsmanship was bizarre. Aside from the blade, the shape of its hilt appeared twisted, as if the metal used to forge it had flowed, then hardened to create its shape. In its pommel sat a shadow gem.


His plate armor was just as unusual. It shared the same swirl-like molding as the black blade he wielded. As I thought about it, the armor didn’t appear to be metal, but some kind of carapace. When he strode closer and the soldiers by the gate approached, I realized what the material was.

This human was wearing the forged flesh of one of The Forgotten. As a Shaz Lishan of the shadow arts, I knew of only one such armor. This paltry king had found the armor and sword of Arkhan Therash, one of the most feared demons to walk in our world.”


“I remember that name,” Ahren said. “It from the story you told me when I was little. Arkhan chased Aluna and her brother. He died after Sharina slew him when they cried out to her for help.”


“I don’t know how or what happened in that room where Krasule cursed the immortals and all of creation, but somehow he found that cursed armor and sword,” her mother replied. “But, I suspect they were hidden in the caves deep within the Arshain Mountains in present day Absion.”


“So the shadow; the presence that fell over the castle. It told him where to find the armor and sword?”


“I think so, Ahren,” she replied. “Whatever or whoever it was, Krasule’s anguish drew it to him. While its purpose is unclear, the results are well documented.”


Ahren looked at the table and shook her head. “What about Kasha? Did the Dakren kill her too?”


Ahren saw sadness in her mother’s eyes, her lower lip drawn taut. “That perhaps is the greatest tragedy of all. Using the ancient power within Fatesealer, Arkhan’s cursed blade, and the demon’s armor. Krasule slaughtered the Dakren occupying Khalenshire. He summoned creatures not seen in our world for ages, binding them to his will as they razed the town to ash.”


“In his rampage he found Kasha at the town center. They had tied her to a post and stripped naked. The Dakren had beaten and tortured her. At least, that’s how it appeared.”


“How it appeared?” Ahren asked. “Wait… you don’t mean?”


“I’m afraid so. Whatever spell or hold Fatesealer had over Krasule broke when he saw her. He rushed to Kasha, breaking the chains binding her with his bare hands. She fell into his arms, seemingly weak and exhausted.”


Her mother gently turned the pages of the journal, stopping after a few minutes and began reading:


“I thought I had known horror. I though I had seen darkness. We Dakren are steeped in it. The pacts we make with the denizens of the Shadows are many and costly. The power we gain however is worth the price.


Seeing these monsters, these Forgotten, my mind screamed for peace. Yet, either by madness or morbid curiosity, I could not look away. Sanity and reason screamed that I flee, but I had to look on, hoping the incants cast over me would keep me his and their notice.


I watched him approach the square where we had tied her up. The illusions held. He believed what he saw. It was then I had hope for my life. As Shadow Walkers went, none were more skilled in deception than Shezara.”


Ahren’s mouth fell open. Though suspicion had been gnawing at her, it was still hard to hear. “Kasha was one of them.”


“She was. It was she who had killed the nobles, the real Kasha, and her father. Shezara had spent centuries infiltrating Dalonmere. When Krasule came onto the scene, she grew concerned. When he defeated the Letalans at South Gate, Shezara saw Krasule as a threat to her people’s plans.”


“So she got close to Krasule to monitor him?”


“Yes, Ahren, she did. Though after South Gate killing him wouldn’t be so easy. Shezara intended to use Khalenshire as a trap, but it didn’t go as she expected.”


“So what happened to Krasule?”


Her mother turned a page in the journal and resumed reading:


“Like a spider, Shezara pulled him in, her fangs poised. The foolish king dropped Fatesealer, his only hope of salvation against her, and breaking the illusion, she struck. Her curved dagger plunged into his neck and he stared at her, his face adorned with shock and disbelief.


But it lasted only a moment, his expression shifting as if something came over him, and he whispered into Shezara’s ear. The vicious smile she wore vanished, horror taking its place. Though he should have died, the stubborn king reached for her throat and crushed it like a grape.


He then shouted, ensuring the demons he’d summoned could hear. Even as I scribe these words, I still feel their icy grip on my soul. ‘It was all for nothing. You, whom I have called, are no longer bound by pact. Let it burn, the world included. You are free.’


Upon hearing this, I fled, using the last of my power to transport myself to our nearest garrison. It was only by sheer fortune that they spared me from the executioner’s blade, so could I live to write this.”


“With no one to rein them in, The Forgotten Krasule summoned were free to rampage. They decimated Dalonmere and the Dakren forces. In desperation, the Dakren sought to bind and banish them back to the shadows.”


“Did they succeed?” Ahren asked.


“They were probably the only ones who could. Of all the races in our world, none are more knowledgeable of the Shadow Arts than they,” her mother replied. “It took decades for them to recover from the endeavour and was a contributing factor in why the Dakren never made another attempt to conquer the Shaylin.”


“So what happened to Krasule, Mother?”


“I’m not sure, but I believe he died and came back as something worse. Whatever dark force directed him to Fatesealer and Arkhan’s armor wasn’t finished with him. I found records of a man calamity seems to follow wherever he goes.”


“One such record gives a name and I don’t think it’s coincidence. It was around the same time of the Blood River Massacre in Absion. The war trolls didn’t breach the water gate near Valence by happenstance. Someone let them in.”


“The soldier on duty that day went by the name Elusark and by all accounts, he supposedly died, but I don’t think he did. At least I don’t think he truly died.”


Ahren cast a glance at the journal in her mother’s hands, then to the cluttered table. To have learned so much about a person so dangerous gave her chills. Knowing that her mother was looking into someone who couldn’t die, turned her stomach.


“Mother, please don’t look into him any further. What if you happen across him on one of your excursions? If he knows you’re looking into him, he might hurt you…”


Her mother smiled, placing the journal on the table, and pulling Ahren gently from her chair, she hugged her. “I’m almost done,” she said. “I’m not going anywhere, precious one.”


Ahren squeezed her, soaking in the comfort of her loving touch. “Promise me,” she said. “Promise me you’ll stop once it’s done.”


“I promise, Ahren. I won’t go any further than necessary.”

*****


Mirowen rubbed her eyes, jotting down the last of her notes for the night. Ahren had left hours ago, but her daughter's request hung over her like the Keeper’s Shadow. I’m glad I hadn’t told you everything.


Researching one of the library’s greatest enemies was exhausting. If the world were to be truly kept safe, then searching for a way to end him forever was crucial. Loremaster Jaegis instructions had been clear: Find a clue, any clue.


It was strange that he asked for this kind of research. Mirowen was no Seeker or Loremaster. Jaegis had promised that if her research proved invaluable, then he would elevate her to the rank of Loremaster.


“You look tired, Mirowen,” a wizened voice spoke up.


Mirowen turned in her chair. “Loremaster, you’re up late,” she said.


He smiled warmly, the age lines around his eye and mouth showing. Jaegis was the oldest of the Loremasters. Some whispered he was nearing a hundred winters. Though he looked closer to sixty.


“I was making rounds. I wanted to ensure all the protections were properly set for the evening,” he said. “Call it the habits of an old man.”


“We can’t too careful, thieves who have learned of the vaults below, have tried to steal from us before.”


“And they all died for the attempt. The fact the knowledge of the vaults is being spread confirms He knows we have what he has long sought for millennia.”


“Fatesealer you mean,” Mirowen replied.


The old Loremaster nodded. “That blade must never see the light of day, no matter the cost.”


“I take by your presence, you want to know if I have found anything new?” she asked.


“I was curious, but I also must warn you. Keep Ahren out of this,” he said. “Thirteen is still too young to know certain truths.”


“I will try, but she’s my daughter and is just as inquisitive as I was at that age.”


“That’s what frightens me,” he replied. “Now, what new discoveries have you made?”


“I think I know who Krasule’s master is. At least, I know what it is.”


The old Loremaster furrowed his brow, his lip drawn back with concern. “One of the Brethren,” he said.


Mirowen nodded. “I know I’m not allowed, but I went into the vaults and found a reference to a creature of chaos and disorder. Its nature fits the pattern left in Krasule’s wake.”


“Which tomes, if I may inquire?” he asked.


“The ones about Taeslon, the Kingdom of the Sihd where the Black Marshes now sits.”


He pursed his lips, law tightening. “Get some rest Mirowen and take tomorrow off. Spend the day with Ahren.”


Mirowen tensed. There was something in the old Loremaster’s tone. Researching the darker aspects of history always carried an ominous feeling. Elanthar has seen its share of tragedy.


Mirowen cast her eyes toward the final set of notes, toward the name of a city and a notation of its imprisoned occupant.


'Imprisoned within the hidden depths of Drakshen lies a power beyond imagining. To name it is impossible. To bind it, unthinkable, yet we tried.


How can you hold power over something that has no definable name? You would have better luck trying to bind the air in the sky or the entire earth at your feet. Yet we tried.


We gave it a name; we tried to define it, but it was like attempting to carry all of Elanthar’s oceans on our backs. Woe to those who think they can control chaos. Woe to those who believe they can arrange order from disorder. For while he remains tethered, the Nameless One’s reach is vast, and his eyes are ever watchful.’


As she finished reading the last of the translation, Mirowen felt a chill at her back. She turned, scanning the shelves behind her. She shook her head, rubbing her weary eyes. I think it's time for bed.

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