Through Light and Shadow: Chapter 1

Whenever anyone read my first book, which I since unpublished, they told me that this character’s POV was their favourite. Since there was no way to incorporate this into my next book, I’ve decided to publish a chapter a week on my website until the anthology of his story is finished.

I hope you like it, it’s set in the pre-gaslamp period of the Merged Seas and features several characters from some of my other already-published books and some future ones.

A Light Fading in the Shadows

Fiery red, it looked warm even in the wind. It flickered and folded over itself, swirling red with orange flakes. Shooting stars fizzed through. Embers glowed deep inside, rays ebbed and flowed from beneath, shining until they reached the tips and blasted off.

Wind fluttered through his curly auburn hair, hers too. Just another breezy day by the sea. Her cheeks were red, her lips redder. She had a thin smile across her small, round face. Her hair waved softly in the air, mesmerising like watching the flame of a candle. Mickell couldn’t take his eyes off her. He was still young and full of lust.

“Will you be here when I return?” Mickell asked.

“I’ll wait here forever,” she replied with a loving grin.

Mickell leaned forwards to kiss her, their lips about to connect. He could smell her sweet breath. A great wave poured in from behind her and she disappeared into it. Vapours churned as the fire sizzled out.

Cold water smashed into his face. And his weak heart felt a sudden jolt. And he awoke, wriggling like a trapped fish, before freezing still on the spot. The Shade stood in the doorway of the cell. Black boots, black cloak, black breastplate and an evil patterned mask, smiling mischievously at him like a demon. A cup of water and a chunk of bread were dumped on the wet floor before the door slammed shut. The cup rotated on its axis, sloshing water around. Mickell grabbed it in time as it nearly toppled over.

He scuttled across the floor like a cockroach to the food, disposing of the soggy bread quickly, yet found himself hungrier than ever. Leaning back against the wall, he shivered hysterically with his wet clothes dripping. Wrapping his arms around his waist, Mickell felt the skinny ribs as he hugged himself.

The cell was bitterly cold. An icicle watched on from the ceiling, sticking itself out from a patch of ice in the corner. Mickell saw his shallow breaths as they left his lips. Everything looked white or grey, except the black bars that detained him, not a single speck of rust on them. Scarda didn’t rust.

On the wall behind, Mickell had etched the number of days he had been here. He’d lost hope after fifty; by that point he was sure nobody was coming to rescue him. It could’ve been days; months, years or possibly decades since he arrived. Mickell’s friends and the empire had abandoned him and left him for dead. The conflict between Levac and the Shadow Lands was surely over now. All he wanted was to go home. Begging and pleading with the guards was hopeless, they acted as though they couldn’t hear him.

The guards wandered past every so often to check he hadn’t escaped or committed suicide. Mickell wasn’t sure which.

The floor was uncomfortable to lay on. His curly red hair had grown longer and longer, stretching halfway down his back. His stomach had shrunk and shrunk and made him gaunter every day. His clothes had become rags and he had been provided with something that resembled a sack which was extremely baggy on his bony body. The freezing water trickled down his back and tickled his goose-prickled skin. Motivation to keep fit was impossible after weeks in his cell.

Engaging the guards in conversation was fruitless. When they gave him food, their masks showed no recognition of his efforts. The Shade’s onyx eyes stared blankly through the round eyeholes of his dull mask towards the back of the cell. Mickell wasn’t sure whether they couldn’t understand him; couldn’t speak or couldn’t show emotion.

Daylight flickered, blinking down the corridor. It was dark and murky and morose, as always. And the skin on his hands had turned grey from being in the dark so long. And there was no exercise yard to walk around.

Mickell had paced up and down the tiny cell in the first few months but was too tired for that now. He just lay there, wishing he was dead. Convincing himself he wouldn’t eat when they brought his food but gave in to hunger when it arrived. He’d stared at a loaf of bread for almost an hour one day before giving in.

The Shade entered the hallway again. Patrolling the corridor once an hour or so from what Mickell could gather. The heavy footsteps could be heard all the way along. An evil shadow, coming to suck out his strength and soul and spirit.

He remembered what had gotten him into this mess. Every minute he was awake his mind reminded him. Even when he slept, he dreamt of that night.

“We’ll raise a steel fist, to our immortal king. And when he’s home, everyone shall sing.”

Their voices sang in time with the marching boots. Levac’s Coming Home was the marching tune of the Levacian army.

Mickell joined in, the company were in full voice, “When he’s purged the Arrizean, only then he’ll stop. Beer will rain from everywhere; I’ll drink until I drop.”

“Shh!” Lynch’s sharp whisper sliced through the air. The singing stopped immediately.

He pressed a finger to his lips.

The gentle breeze rocked the spines of the red plume atop his silver helmet. He pointed ahead, maybe half a mile away. Mickell squinted his eyes, he’d never have seen them if Lynch hadn’t pointed them out.

Some sort of outpost; if you could call it that. Several boulders were strewn around a wider section of the path. And several Shades stood watch.

They were still a few miles out of Bayzak. The mountain path was narrow, and rather steep. There was no way to get around, they had to be dealt with, without raising the alarm.

“Can’t wait to kill me some o’ them smelly Shades,” Mickell said. With a flick of the wrist he unsheathed his sword.

“It’s a little early to be getting that out,” said Lynch as he looked at the shiny new sword, then spat as far as he could down the mountain. “Particularly on this terrain. We need to be quiet.” His shaved head and peppering of black stubble was lit by the torch bearer beside them.

“Lynch is right, we need to get up there without making noise, that means no weapons,” Mulder said.

“No one asked for your input Mulder, you scrawny get. I might be new to this, but I was better than you in every drill back in the academy.” Mickell felt the armour rubbing at his shoulders, surely it would all get easier the more missions he went on. “I’ll be fine.”

Lynch grabbed a hold of Mickell, “Mulder’s right.” In a flash, he’d whipped a knife from his belt, holding it close to Mickell’s throat. “Unless you’ve got something quiet like this, fucking sheath it.”

Mickell looked from Lynch’s narrow eyes to the knife, he couldn’t decide which was sharper.

With a gulp, he sheathed the sword. Lynch retracted the knife a little, showing the black handle when it slipped back into his belt.

“Is that scarda?” Mickell asked.

Lynch nodded. “Got it on my last trip over here.” He grinned, “Me and Old Reliable have slaughtered our fair share of Shades since I came across it.”

“How did you get it?”

Lynch looked up at the Shade guards, still some way off. “I was fighting some big fucker, nearly the size of a man. It was your typical ugly fight. Swords and shields were gone, we were having a good scrap on the floor, I took a few shots to the face.” Lynch turned his head; one eye socket was a little deeper than the other.

“While I tried to block, I saw it on his belt, he was too busy trying to beat the shit out of me with his hands. I snatched up the knife and plunged it into his neck. That disgusting Shade blood spilled all over my face, but I got this beauty.” He tapped the handle lovingly. “It’s like we were made for each other.” He grinned as though he was talking about a lover.

The wind groaned over the peak of the mountain.

“Quiet now.” Lynch pressed a finger to his lips. The scouts were close now. “When I say, unsheathe your sword and run.” Lynch ordered. Mickell nodded.

A few more anxious steps passed.

“Now,” Lynch whispered.

Mickell tried to keep up with Lynch as he raced forwards.

The first Shade was startled, Lynch dropped a shoulder and sent him tumbling down the cliff face. Hearing the armour clatter against the rocks alerted the others. One made for Bayzak, but Lynch was quick enough to make a horse-collar grab, then thrust Old Reliable into its back.

Mickell’s eyes flicked between the three approaching Shades.

“Out of the way!” several Levacians yelled. He was blocking the path.

Mickell took a step forwards, soon a squealing Shade was upon him. He tried to swat the beast away with his sword, but there was little room in the narrow pass. Soon he was pressed back against a boulder, swords grinding together.

Mickell looked back, it was a steep drop.

He tried to push back, but despite its size, the Shade was strong. It slammed at Mickell with the shield, then thrashed several times with its sword.

The repeated hits were too much for Mickell to contest with, his boot caught in a rock, sent him flying, losing grip on his sword. And he shot headfirst down the mountain, falling and rolling and crashing all the way down. And the armour broke most of his fall as he landed face down at the bottom. And his knee ached where it had bashed on the rocks.

Worst of all, his sword was gone.  

Mickell wasn’t sure whether he’d been asleep or just daydreaming, he was shivering on the floor of his cell again. His clothes were thin and didn’t provide enough warmth. He tried to gather some strength, to crawl towards the bars.

There were no cells across from him, just another stone wall. To the left was a window filled with metal bars. To the right he could only see past the next few cells.

“He’s the last.” A shrill whisper from the right, so high it sounded like it was in his head. Mickell craned his neck around as far as he could, couldn’t see anyone. It was strange that they spoke the same language as him, but then, little was known of the Shadow Lands.

“The Professor will not be pleased. How could you let this happen?” Another high voice chimed, echoing creepily down the hall. He seemed to extend some of his words, like he was exhaling them rather than speaking them.

“We had two left, but one died in its cell a couple of weeks ago.”

“If your Shades hadn’t used the others for target practice, we would have plenty of subjects left for the professor. How did the last die?” The question oozed like a bad smell down the hallway.

“Probably from being trapped in a cell for the last four years!”

Four years?

He knew it had been a long time. Four years of his life had been wasted away in this prison.

Mickell thought about his parents, his brother and sisters and whether they missed him. Clearly they didn’t, nobody would be coming to rescue him. He kept his mind sane by talking to the other captives during his time here, now he was alone his mind was starting to wander.

“He arrives tomorrow,” the first ghostly voice whispered again.

“Then see to it this one doesn’t die before then, take him out to the field to exercise. But make sure he doesn’t escape.” The second exhaled.

“Yes, sir.”

“And feed him up a bit too, he looks so scrawny I doubt he could stand.”

A few seconds later Mickell heard the guard’s footsteps, thudding towards him.

Mickell scuttled back inside his cell, he didn’t want them to know he had been eavesdropping. The Shade reached the outside of his cell. He looked small, the bright white eyes stared strangely through his scaled mask, sharp curved edges poked out from the sides of his helmet. An ugly, jagged edged, black short-sword was waving out in front of Mickell.

“On your feet prisoner.” Words like cold air escaped the mask, sending shivers down every link of Mickell’s spine. It was like pressure had been released from inside. In four years, he hadn’t heard him say a word until today, it wasn’t a comforting voice.

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