A Brother's Hate by Elie Challita

I have to admit, I kind of liked this one.  It is a good length for internet writing and it strikes a good balance between exposition and action.  I'd encourage Elie to be careful about using so many italics (since the great majority of editors like to delete them at will...probably because they don't often come through when you cut and past them to a blog), and to watch out for small grammatical issues, but overall, I think he has some promise.  It will be fun to read her writing when he tackles some larger issues, but for now, "A Brother's Hate" is a good start.--Walter Rhein

A Brother's Hate
Elie Challita

The wind howled and tore at him with frozen claws but he still plodded on. Coat and cloak were next to useless in this blizzard, and his sword hung limp from frozen hands, but Theron Shan had faced down worse foes than a mountain blizzard, or so he told himself.

He could feel them on his trail, feel the kresh slavering as it tugged on its leash.Revolting creatures, he thought. Sickening things, trained to hunt for souls!  He could hear the grim soldiers, somewhere behind him. The wind carried their voices to him, the low sibilant hiss of the ikaroi ringing in his ears. Darren must really be desperate, to unleash them on his own kin.

The snow snapped and crunched beneath his boots, and he heard other crunches coming from behind. They were gaining on him, sick and tired as he was, and they would catch up to him soon. He would have no chance, out here where they could surround him, and no way to evade the kresh’s hungry flair.

Tugging his cloak closer to him, Theron Shan kept walking, held upright by the same iron will that had seen him rise from the baseborn son of Thelamon Shan all the way up to a Warlock of the Lotus Clan. His sword felt heavy and his feet were numb, but his mind raced like it always did when he readied for battle. A furious river of thoughts and ideas, a shapeless chaos out of which would come his way to triumph, like it always did.

And I’ve already won. They don’t know about Leanne. They’ll never find out about her child.  With that one thought in mind, Theron wrapped his hand around the crystal amulet he always wore around his neck. Thirty years he had worn it, thirty years since his father had given it to him, along with the story of his island-born mother. Thirty years since that flash of jealousy in Darren’s eyes.  He’s never forgiven Father for it, nor will he ever.  It had been so long ago, but the Warlocks could live forever, if they so chose.  What do thirty years mean, in the face of an eternity of power? 


Theron whirled around, his sword singing in the blizzard. They were closer now, close enough that he could see shadowed shapes in the snow. They would corner him soon, capture him and flay his soul, expose his dearest secrets to Darren’s will. 

‘Never!’ he cried. ‘You’ll never have me, Darren!’

Oh but I will, Theron. Darren’s voice crept insidiously into his mind, cold and liquid like a serpent in the grass. I will have you all to myself, Theron, and I will make you pay for your years of humiliation.

‘I never humiliated you, Darren! I’ve always loved you as a brother!’

Never? The hiss grew angry, an image of bared fangs and bloodshot eyes. You always shamed me, Theron! You were always his favorite, his pride and joy. And what was I?

‘You are one of the greatest warlocks who ever lived, Darren! I laid down my claim when I traveled west, you know that. I turned my back on the throne more than a year ago!’

But the throne never gave you up, Theron. The Lyrium Throne never turned its back on you, and you remain a threat to my rule.

Besides, I wouldn’t want to break tradition, would I? A Warlock has to kill the other pretenders.

This is it, then, Thought Theron.  This is all he wants, and this he shall have. For Leanne, and our child!

‘Fine! Come and get me, Darren! Take me if you can!’

Why would I risk myself, Theron? The ikaroi will prove adequate for you.

As if they were drawn by their master’s voice, the pale things stepped into Theron’s sight. Tall and gaunt, white as the snow around them, their empty eyes burned with an ice-blue fire that spoke volumes of their hunger. The Soulless, they were called in the Old Tomes, and Theron had seen them prove that name countless times. He felt his lips draw back in a smile, cracking and oozing blood as they did.

‘You’re wrong, Darren. Your pets are no match for me.’ The crystal erupted into light, bright blue beams stabbing into the white darkness, scattering snow and wind. The kresh yelped, hiding its head under misshapen paws from the angry glow, and even the ikaroi recoiled, but the light was not the main danger. In his veins, in his muscles, in every fiber of his being, Theron felt the sacred anger of the camorra rise.

And so it ends.  With a flick his sword sang, whistling through the snow and the ikaroi’s chest. Its comrades scattered, trying to surround him but Theron danced among them, the curved saber slashing and stabbing, blocking swords and hacking arms. Blue-tinged blades surged at him but he dodged them at the last instant, suffering only minor nicks as he turned and swirled like the snow itself, a deadly threat to any mortal in his path.

But the ikaroi were far above mortal men. The creatures felt no pain, no fear or tiredness. They were unaffected by the grievous wounds he dealt them, and even the minor cuts he suffered were dangerous. Their night-cold poison would seep into him, slowing him, weakening him, turning him into helpless meat for their amusement. The camorra burned the venom in his veins, but even he could not sustain that level of exertion for long, and his sword grew heavy again, although his grim, glorious dance never slowed.

Theron found himself remembering the gardens of Sengan, the stone paths among the trees where he practiced sword craft and wizardry with Thelamon and uncle Barsoom. It would make them proud to see him know, a god of war in his bloody glory. Only blood never flowed from his enemies’ cuts, and they were hemming him in, nearing the moment where they would catch him and pin him under icy hands, and open his spirit wide for Darren’s rape.

Darren's voice had grown silent during the fight, but now Theron heard him again.  You won’t last long, brother. You’ll falter soon, and I’ll skin your soul like a deer. I’ll finally know what made you so powerful.

‘Nothing, you fool!’ Theron shouted as he blocked a slash. ‘My strength was always my own!’

Nonsense! We’re twins, equal in every way. You must’ve had some outside aid to best me so often!

‘Weaver at his Loom! I never did, you bloody idiot!’

Yes you did! It was that crystal Father gave you. It must be some kind of conduit!

The crystal! Always the crystal!

‘It’s nothing but a trinket, Darren! Nothing but a jewel our mother wore!’

I don’t care about that stupid whore! I want that crystal! I want your soul, and I want to rip it open and find out every secret you ever had! I want to know who helped you when we were children, and who supported your claim! And above all, I want to know who hid you for a year!

Leanne!  An icy hand gripped Theron’s heart. If he ever caught hold of Leanne… But Theron knew how to stop him. One final escape, the final price to pay, the last expiation of his sins.


With that final word, Theron twirled his sword around until it pointed towards his heart, and forced it in.


Theron fell to his knees, clutching his sword. The blood’s mad whirls and curves melted the snow, and the crystal’s light dimmed around him. Darren’s shouts faded in the howling wind and the ikaroi’s hiss grew silent. They cared nothing for dead meat. 

Then, at the final instant before the Weaver called him back, Theron Shan, Lord of the Morning, heard a child’s cry, and he knew his son was born. He died smiling.

Princess Sofia!

Hello All! Well, at 11:39 AM on July 25th 2010, my daughter Sofia was born. Obviously this is keeping my wife and I busy over these last couple days! We'll keep you posted as to all her great adventures!

Words with Danila Botha Author of "Got No Secrets"

Can you tell us a little bit about "Got No Secrets”?

Got No Secrets is a collection of twelve short stories, told in the first person, about the private lives of twelve different women. Some of the stories are set in my native South Africa, some are set in Toronto, Canada, and one is set in the States. The stories explore the parts of ourselves that we keep hidden or feel ashamed of, even if they are a big part of who we are. They explore the idea of what it means to be good-and what it means to be able to live with yourself, no matter what decisions you’ve made. Some of them deal with addiction, drugs, and using sex to escape. Others are about childhood and relationships, and existential crises. They were all really interesting to research, and enjoyable to write. I tried to understand what people experienced, to live in their heads and hearts as much as I could. I hope they all seemed authentic and real- and that the characters felt like real people that you know after reading about them.

What's your background with writing?

I studied Creative Writing at York University in Toronto and at the Humber College School for writers. I wrote even as a young kid, and I always loved reading. I guess I got more serious about writing as I got through university. I always knew it was what I loved to do above all other things, but my confidence grew as I got older. It’s important to believe in your own voice and in your own writing. I’m still working on it as we speak.

Who are your inspirations/influences?

I’m really influenced and inspired by some of the writers from where I’m from in South Africa: Rian Malan, Marlene Van Niekerk, Aryan Kaganof, Andre Brink, K Sello Duiker, Phaswane Mpe, JM Coetzee, Rene Bohnen, Michelle Mcgrane, Toast Coetzer, Melinda Ferguson and more.

I love American writers like JD Salinger, EE cummings, and Charles Bukowski. Also, Darcey Steinke is another writer I really admire, and Shannon Burke, whose book Safelight I just finished reading last night.

I also love Hanif Kureishi. I love Heather O’Neill, her writing changed my life. Also Zoe Whittall, Camilla Gibb, Richard Scrimger and Nino Ricci. Also, Julia Tausch, and Ibi Kaslik.

I love Nicole Aube’s writing a lot. Chaka Reid’s writing is great too.

I’ve been reading a few memoirs lately too: I loved Kathryn Borel’s Corked, and Nic Sheff’s Tweak, and also, Jeannette Walls’ the Glass Castle. I love the Israeli writers too- Assaf Gavron, Etgar Keret, Eshkol Nevo, Zeruya Shalev. I could probably name a lot more- there is a lot of fantastic writing out there. I really love to read, and often read one or two books a week. I spend thousands of dollars on books, easy, and belong to two libraries. It’s so important to read a lot. I find writers who are brave- who search for the truth about why things are, who are not afraid to “go there” with complex or difficult issues- whose characters ask themselves the difficult questions- are the ones who inspire me most. There are a lot of fantastic writers out there.

What was it like working with Tightrope and Modjaji Books?

Working with Tightrope was awesome- they’re really a family of creative, powerful individuals and it was a total honour and pleasure to work with them. Halli Villegas, my publisher, is a force of nature- a kind and intelligent visionary. She’s a great poet and writer, who really understands where writers are coming from with their work. Shirarose Willensky, my editor, was excellent- she really understood the writing and what I wanted to do. She helped me to develop it and improve it , while sharing my vision for the characters and the book. I can’t say enough good things about her. It was an incredible experience working with her, and having her as a friend is equally great.

Working with Modjaji was great too. Colleen Higgs, my publisher in SA was wonderful to work with. It’s been an amazing experience all around

Who was responsible for the cover/book design?

Karen Correia Da Silva of Tightrope Books was the designer. She did an incredible job of making the book look beautiful. She’s really, really talented. Vanya du Toit, the South African photographer did the cover shot. She does amazing work.

I’m so privileged to call them both my friends.

What are you doing in terms of marketing/publicity?

Tightrope are doing a lot of it. I’m trying to do as many readings as I can, which I love doing, and trying to get people to review it as much as possible. The National Post’s Afterword column invited me to write a week’s worth of entries about South African writing, so that was fantastic.

Salty Ink, a great website about Atlantic Canadian writing invited me to do something similar about Canadian writing. I’m just trying to do as many of these types of things as I can. I’m always so thrilled to be asked.

Do you have any stories from book signings/radio interviews/etc.?

Stories from readings: so far, they’ve all been really fun. The launch in Toronto at T Cafe was so much fun. I loved reading the next month at Ben Mcnally Books too. I just did a reading in Halifax, at the Company House, and had a great time. The only thing I can think of is that in Halifax, I introduced one of the stories that I read completely wrongly. My editor and I had talked about changing some titles of the stories, which totally made sense cause I find creating titles the hardest part sometimes. I had planned to read the story A Tiny Thud (a title I had changed) so I started talking about what inspired it...then instead, started reading the story ‘Just Quietly Do It’ instead... and I realized it as I was reading it. When I was done, I explained it, and it was fine... but it really funny. I’d told a story that was a total non sequitor- not related to Just Quietly Do It all. The lovely audience thankfully didn’t seem to mind.

What is the name of your blog and what can readers expect to find there?

I blog through Aryan Kaganof’s writing community, called the Kagablog. Aryan is a South African writer, poet, and filmmaker, and he has created a true artist community that I’m so grateful to be a part of. Mostly just my writing can be found there, but sometimes photos, and other arty stuff.
What projects do you have planned for the future?

A novel that I’m in the middle of writing called ‘Too Much on the Inside’. Also a graphic novel about the Israeli/Palestinian situation that I’m working on with an illustrator friend of mine. And more to come!

Is there anything else about you we should know?

I love writing. It really makes me happy to express myself and to use it as a tool to try to understand why things happen.

Check out Danila's blog here!

Words with Tony Van Sant, author of "The Orb of Azcera"

Can you tell us a little bit about "The Orb of Azcera?"
The Orb of Azcera combines the worlds of Medieval Fantasy and Futuristic Science Fiction in one epic adventure.

When Agostine Brynn, a knight of King Gamaeon’s army, embarks on a quest to kill the dragon that has been terrorizing his Kingdom, he unknowingly alters the fate of a galaxy he has no idea even exists. From the dragon’s remains, the King’s sorcerers construct a magic weapon – an orb – that will serve to protect Agostine’s homeland from harm. When the orb’s power proves too much for King Gamaeon to handle however, it is up to Agostine to set things right. In the conflict that follows, the orb mysteriously vanishes from all known existence, not to resurface again until generations later.

Past and present collide when the mystic orb is finally unearthed after thousands of years in hiding. Lieutenant Cale Tanner and his Special Ops team quickly discover the all-powerful nature of the mysterious orb after failing in their attempt to arrest its bearer, the renegade General Thadeon Marloc. In order to restore hope for themselves and their people, Cale and his Operatives must unlock the secrets of a world long since forgotten. What they discover defies all practical logic, and soon the lines between history and legend, between facts and myth, are quickly blurred.

The Orb of Azcera follows an ensemble cast of heroes and villains from two seemingly separate time periods as they are suddenly and violently thrust together in a battle for ultimate supremacy.

What's your background with writing?

Since I was a young boy, I’ve always had an overactive imagination. Writing is something that has only come to pass recently for me, but imagining is something I have been mastering my entire life. For me, writing is just the vessel for sharing what’s inside my head. I am someone who absolutely loves a great story that really pulls you in and keeps you coming back for more. I knew in order to create that, I had to get really good at transferring my thoughts onto paper, so for years I worked on mastering my craft as an author. It’s not about the writing for me though; it’s always about the story. A great story can free you from the confines of your otherwise restrictive existence and take you anywhere you want to go.

Who are your inspirations/influences?

I love ensembles when done right. Some of the written works I have truly enjoyed have been Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” and the “Left Behind” series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. Both did a great job of giving you a multitude of different characters to invest yourself in. I wanted to create a cast of characters where there was truly someone for everyone. As an avid movie buff, I also wanted to bring some old-school George Lucas style fun into the mix, but for a more adult audience.

What was it like working with Author House?

As an upstart, self-published author, Author House has been a great resource for me to get my project started. They have opened doors for me that I would not have been able to open for myself otherwise. The team at Author House has been very responsive to anything I’ve needed, and I would recommend them to anyone interested in self-publishing their work. While I would certainly love to sign-on with a major publishing house in the future, I am happy that I chose Author House as my initial publisher.

Who was responsible for the cover/book design?

I have the art department at Author House to thank for the cover design. It is just one more reason why I am very happy with them.

What are you doing in terms of marketing/publicity?

Social networking has been a great resource for me to reach a broad audience. I have established my own website and blog and am currently utilizing Facebook. You can find links to all my sites at www.orbofazcera.com. In addition, I have established a strong partnership with Borders that has helped me to get my book on store shelves in select locations. I just completed my first book signing in June, and have more scheduled in the near future. I am also partnering with some other Michigan based authors to participate in a few large local events (art fairs, library appearances, etc.)

Do you have any stories from book signings/radio interviews/etc.?

I was extremely pleased after completing my first book signing at Borders. The location manager told me it was the most successful book signing they had ever held, which naturally left me feeling pretty excited. My greatest joy so far however came after receiving my first book review. Here is an excerpt of what Chelsea Perry of Apex Reviews had to say after reading my work. I have to admit I got a little choked up after reading it. The full review is posted on my website.

“The stellar debut of what promises to be a riveting new series, The Orb Of Azcera is a captivating read. Boasting a well-balanced mix of action, drama, and suspense, author Tony Van Sant’s engaging tale combines equally compelling elements of Fantasy and Sci Fi as he offers a fresh take on the ages-old cautionary tale of the destructive temptation of evil. With taut, crisp storytelling, smooth transitions, and an imaginative cast of characters, The Orb Of Azcera successfully stokes the readers’ imagination enough to leave them craving the next installment of the series – especially after being sideswiped by the surprise cliffhanger ending. Creatively crafted, The Orb Of Azcera is a must-read for fans of well told fantasy fiction. A highly recommended read.” – Chelsea Perry, Apex Reviews

What can readers expect to find on your blog?

As previously mentioned, my website is www.orbofazcera.com. Visitors can find a synopsis of my book, artwork and character bios, reviews and interviews, and links to my blog and Facebook page. There is also a wide list of sites where my book can be purchased.

What projects do you have planned for the future?

Definitely a sequel. The Orb of Azcera is only the beginning of the series.

Is there anything else about you we should know?

One of the things that I loved most about writing this book is that I got to be in the driver’s seat for the first time in my Sci-Fi & Fantasy obsessed existence. I always envisioned a story where the world of Medieval Fantasy was brought forward in time into a Futuristic Sci-Fi era - kind of a “Lord of the Rings” meets “Star Wars” setting. Beyond the setting however, the true joy of this book for me was writing the characters. I absolutely love the various personalities found in this book and truly believe that readers will love them as well. It was incredibly important to me to have compelling and endearing characters that would keep readers wanting to come back for more. Whether it’s the brash yet lovable Sergeant Loxzana Terrey, the virtuous knight Agostine Brynn, or the insidious assassin Kaenac, there is someone for everyone to love (or love to hate) in this story. In writing this book, it was my objective to combine a fascinating environment with great characters and to ultimately tell a truly spell-binding story. While I’ll let you, the reader, judge for yourself how I did, I personally couldn’t be happier with the way this book turned out.

Tom Barczak - Ras Dumas, Prologue to Veil of the Dragon

In the past I did a rating on the stories that I've put on here, but I think I'm going to discontinue that idea. Here is a story with some interesting ideas, although I was a bit put off by all the explication in the first few paragraphs (I prefer when people start with dialogue).  Still, that's just a personal opinion, I'll be curious to hear your thoughts on the matter--W.Rhein

Prologue: Ras Dumas
Tom Barczak

His black spotted hands trembled as Dumas drained the cup.  The wind and the rain buffeted him against the pale, coolstone of the parapet.  But none of these things could quench the fire from which he suffered.
The sea roared against the jagged cliffs of the Karagas Mun beneath him.  Within the safety of its dark arms the bay of the river Shinaras waited still, reaching through the canals of the dead city.  There the queer light of the storm gave life to its gray stones.  They laid siege to the thin white line that cut across them like a scar.
Here, where their promise had been broken.  Here, upon the very symbol of it, the stone wall built along with their towers long ago by the Forgotten Ones, the Evarun, the same ones who had abandoned them to its protection a hundred years ago. 
The machinations he and the other Servian Lords had added to it were crude aberrations to its perfection.  Seamless stone not cut so much as poured like a moment frozen in time.  And it was. 
The Evarun had abandoned no one.  They had left them something, such a simple thing, such a fragile thing, but something.  The Evarun had left them hope, and they had lost it. 
In the torch lit courtyard beneath him, amongst the stables and barracks, slaves and servants harried about despite the hour and the weather as they made the final preparations for his departure. 
He had delayed as long as he could.  The weather, of course, had helped him in this, but he could no longer ignore their summons.  The Taurate and their Council had become far too suspicious of him already.  There was no time left for doubt.  But there was still time to do what he must.  Because hope he had found again.
Dumas let the cup fall to the tower roof.  Its chime rang muffled by the storm.  He turned away from the battlement and descended through the small door set within the towers’ signal spire.
Darkness swallowed him.  He leaned against the wall.  His breath escaped.  Shutters rattled against the fury of the storm.  The dim light of his chambers waited for him below.
The eyeless skulls of beasts he had once thought dragons stared back at him over gold that had long since lost any meaning.  His riches lay discarded in piles around the great table that filled the middle of the room.  Dead candles still held down the corners of the parchment he had laid there.  The cold wax, like amber, had captured objects from the table’s surface. 
He hesitated for only a moment at the sight of the map before him.  Pulling the quill free, he traced the still dry tip across the map’s surface, along the narrow mark that ran across its length from the place where his tower stood.  The Line; the symbol of all they should never have forgotten, its signal towers empty, the promise of their warning lost as belief and memory passed.  From beyond its crumbled ruin the one true Dragon had already returned.  Veiled behind the silk and perfumed masks of the Taurate and its Theocratic Council, its reach had already spread throughout the Pale.
The Gorondian Wizards of old had served the Dragon well.  They had been its priests, and it was said that the Taurate had been their reward, their vessel to continue their master’s rule over the Pale.  But even if the wizards still lived, they were little more than husks, bent only to the Dragons will.  Beneath them, the rulers of the eastern city states which made up the Theocratic Council bent more and more each day.   
     It would not be easy to do what he knew must be done.  There would be no stalemate in this.  The end game had come. 
Drawing forth a sheet of parchment, he dipped the quill into the shallow well of ink and began to write.  The trembling of his hands had, to his surprise, left.  The storm and the room faded as he fell into the runes that he traced across the page.  Grace, he had once believed, had long since left him.  He had not felt it in some time.  He had not expected to see it again. 
To those few literate people, the single word he scribed would be meaningless.  Only those for which it was intended would comprehend.  Only they would understand the promise that it held.
As he worked, hope flowered through him, the aches of grief, and of so many years fell from upon his shoulders.  His eyes grew wet as a trembling sigh escaped his lips.
As he traced the final mark, the shaking returned to his hands.  It had ended so soon, but he had felt it, and the memory at least of its peace remained. 
But more would still be needed.  The delivery of his message to those who would use it could not be let to fail.  To do this, Grace would indeed need to come again.
Carefully, he rolled the parchment and lifting a candle to it, bound it with wax.  Marking it with his seal he placed it in a small red leather tube, wrapping it again in oilcloth and concealed it within his robes. 
They were the only ones who could stop this.  The very ones he had helped to destroy.
A harried knock hung upon the door.  Dumas removed his hand from the scroll beneath his robes.  “I said do not wish to be disturbed!” 
The cherubic voice of Michalas returned to him uncertain.  “Someone has come, my Lord.”  
Dumas caught his breath.  Shame overcame him.  “I am sorry.  I did not know.  Please, my child, come in.”
Dumas withdrew the cloth bundle containing the scroll as Michalas stepped through the door.  Dumas knelt before the boy, the one who would save them.  It was as he had watched the cruelty of his own legion set loose upon the boy’s village, as he had watched it set upon the child’s family, that he had seen the boy for what he truly was.  Unafraid, even as the tears flowed down his face.  To one who had once known it, the boy’s soul cried out with the trumpets of angels.
Dumas seized his hand.  “I have something to give to you.  It is what I have spoken to you about before.  Do with it only as I have said, and until this is done, hide it well.”
Michalas hesitated.  But then he took it.  The mark of the Dragon which he bore bleached upon his brow like a crownscarcely showed beneath his dark hair.  Michalas placed the scroll at last beneath his tunic.  “I will.” 
Dumas rose.  The boy’s hesitation troubled him.  “Say what you think.”
The visitor, Master.” 
What of him?”
Michalas stammered.  “I am sorry, Master.  It is something you should see.”
Dumas stepped back.  Apprehension drew its shadow across him.  “What?” 
He is one of the Heretics, Master.”
Dumas felt his strength falter.  He reached out to catch himself upon the wall.  “How do you know this?”
By his blade, Master.”
Dumas hesitated, as he felt again beneath his robes for the message that he knew he had already passed to Michalas. “Go now.  Do what I have said.  Let no one see you leave.”  Dumas straightened.  “I will see to this visitor and why he has come to me.”
     Dumas exhaled as he listened to Michalas’ descending footfalls.  The child would do what he had asked of him, and he would do so much more as well.  His part in the prophecy would be unexpected.
Dumas’ thoughts spiraled downward as he fumbled for his cloak where it hung near the door.  His hand lingered by the hilt of his sword.  It leaned against the corner where he had discarded it.  The gilt upon its scabbard had dulled since he had last borne it.
The man’s own sword had been left to him.  If the visitor had been anything other than what Michalas had claimed, than this would never have been.  A groan escaped him. 
Dumas seized his cloak and descended the full height of the tower towards his audience chamber, taking the long spiraling stair with greater unease than usual.  Beneath him, the dim light sputtered as torches died upon the fingers of cold air roaming freely, freed from the storm.  He pulled his cloak tighter about him. 
At the bottom of the steps, before the door to his throne room, a hollow tapping echoed amidst the shadows.  Dumasstopped.  He turned reluctantly to the familiar sound.  The visitor would have to wait.
Magus’ silver mask glittered beneath the torchlight, his red robes draping his crippled form.  His twisted wooden staff, luminescent from use, rolled gently between his gloved fingers as it rapped rhythmic against the floor. 
Dumas scowled and straightened.  “I see you have returned.”
The Mouth of the Taurate who came and went at the dark will of his master, replied with what Dumas knew to be an obligatory smile, however unseen.  It still left him ill at ease.  The doll like mouth of the silver mask held motionless as Magus’ sweet and caustic voice drifted towards him.  “And I am safe as well.  I see that your visitor is something to be talked about Master.  Your position and that of the rest of the Servian Lords is tentative as you go before the Theocratic Council this time.  You can dare not afford such talk there.”
Dumas turned away from him.  “Do not concern yourself.” 
You underestimate the vulnerability of your position.  The Taurate will certainly pose their questions of this to the Council.  There will be whispers I am sure among them of the Dragons return.”
The Theocratic Council and your Taurate both hold great power I know.  But do not think that I am so blind as to not see their truth.”
And what truth is that?”
Dumas tasted the hesitation upon his tongue.
It is fortunate that I overlook such transgressions, my Lord.”  Magus offered.  “Do not think that there has not been talk among some, of perhaps, even your own heresy of late.”
Dumas turned away from him.
Be wary of your comfort in this.”  Magus confided.  “Do not think that I am against you.  I seek only your own protection, as well as the Taurate’s.  I sense that this man may be more than what he seems.  It is clear that he has come to bring you harm.”
The Heretics for long now have only belonged amongst the dead.”  Dumas returned.
He clearly carries the Gossamer Blade.” 
Perhaps, but just as clearly...” Dumas grasped the pull of the door, “...until I am through with him, he is no concern of yours.”
Dumas slammed the door behind him and passed into the great hall.  The eyes of the tower bored into him, even as the eyes of Magus and that which he served remained behind him, watching, and waiting.  Dumas fell into the single gilded chair at the top of the dais.  He signaled for the stranger to be brought in.
The central fire, newly rekindled, pressed back the palpable darkness.  Glittering tapestries and gilt adorning the round hall concealed what had once been a sacred place.  Furs and rushes hid the place where the stone seats of the Council of Twelve had once stood.  So much had already been forgotten.  So much had already been lost.
Dressed in bright clothes, their painted faces veiled against the plague which he knew already consumed them, the courtesans and scribes gathered around the edges of the chamber, drinking wine and whispering amongst themselves amidst the shadows, little more than whores and thieves.  For so long, he had used them, as well as the trappings around them. Either to intimidate or impress, in the end they meant nothing.  Now he saw only death when he looked at them.
A dramatic hush descended as the heavy doors above them opened.  The centurion and two legionnaires in full hauberksled the visitor in, his hands bound.  His shoulders sagged as they half carried him down the rightmost stair that curved down into the hall.
Blood matted the old man’s thick gray hair upon his brow, but his eyes, worn and deeply set, missed nothing as they swept across the room.  His sword still hung from his waist, devoid of scabbard, its bare steel bound by plain white strips of gossamer.   
Spellbound, Dumas ordered him to be untied.  The legionnaires withdrew as soon as they had done so, fear set deep within their eyes.  The centurion lingered only slightly longer.  Dumas smiled.  The power of ignorance can be so strong, even for himself.  It seemed that the ones he had sought had found him first.
Tell me your name.”  Dumas said.
The Servian exile did not reply, but instead moved his hand to the hilt of his sword, as a dozen cries rang out, along with just as many blades.  Still, Dumas noted with wry skepticism, their hesitation as they placed themselves before him.
The Servian exile lowered himself to his knees, his head bowed, as he lifted the gossamer blade out before him with both hands.  The blade gleamed like a lost jewel from beneath its covering as he set the sword on the rush covered stonebefore him. 
Dumas felt his breath escape him.  He gathered himself.  “I will not ask you again.”
My name means nothing.”  The Servian exile replied.  “You need only know only that I have come to you, Ras Dumas, with a warning.” 
Dumas felt the eyes of the host surrounding him.  Irritation beset with doubt took over him.  He could not reveal to the gathered eyes ears and tongues what he sought from the man who knelt before him, from his order whose survival he himself had kept secret now for so long.  Why would they do this?  But more than that, he could not take to safety the last hope that they held.  “You will not decide what I need.”
The Servian exile’s stare did not waver.  He straightened, growing it seemed, as he spoke.  “The final stones of the prophecy have been cast.  The Shadow of the Dragon has fallen.  Once you led us.  The time has come for you to lead us once again.”
Mingled gasps echoed around him.  Dumas shook in disbelief.  He stood from his chair.  “I warn you.  Do not speak words that are so careless here.”
     “But it is a truth that you already know.”
     Silence pounded in Dumas’s ears.  Fear strengthened its hold on him.  No.  This could not be.  Dumas slumped back into his chair.  Perhaps he had been wrong.  Perhaps indeed Grace had already passed.
     The silence grew painful.  The Servian exile’s all knowing eyes looked through the very soul of him.  Too many years had passed since he had felt the compulsion of eyes such as those.  The press of his fever washed through him. 
The Servian exiles’ voice brought him back.  “Do you not still believe?”
     Dumas motioned to the centurion.  He had no choice.  Not here.  Not before them.  His hope fell away.
The heretic smiled.
     “Take him from my sight.”  Dumas said.  His voice sounded hollow and empty as it echoed within the tomb of his ownfailure.
     The silence of the hall shattered as the heretic rose suppliant beneath his captor’s hands.  His eyes still fixed before him.  Dumas lowered his own as they took him away.
Leave me!”  Dumas said, breaking through the clamor of the voices.  He raised his eyes to the sword that remained where the heretic had placed it.  “Everyone!”
Dumas waited but a moment after all had left, before he fell upon the sword, clutching it to him through the fabric of his robes, cautious that no part of his skin might touch it.  Bowing over it, he wept.
Stumbling to his feet, he seized a torch from the wall and staggered behind the throne, pulling away curtain and shadow. He held the torch out before him and entered the narrow passage, searching until he found the place where the floordescended to stair, leading down into a darkness against which his light turned feeble.
The white stone of the tower walls gave way to the bleak gray of its foundation as he descended, and the stairs themselves became little more than ledges in a crack that had been stabbed into the earth long before.  Beneath him, he could feel its roots darken further as they neared the heart of the place upon which it stood.
The steps came to an abrupt end in a silent cascade of broken black stone.  Feeling and sliding his way down from the mound, he thrust his feeble torch out into the darkness.
Nothing had changed.  The evarish chair still remained where he had left it before the shallow of the well of the cenotaph.  But its preservation there brought him no comfort.  Comfort could not be felt here.  But still he had so oftenreturned, to watch and to wait.  But now it had come to him.  He placed his shaking hand upon the back of the chair.  The gentleness of its engraving pressed back into his hand.
His mind collapsed into a maze of remorse.  Walls of fire and blood grew around him.  The visions of everything he had done.
The chair toppled as he did.  His torch and sword fell at the base of the cenotaph.
He succumbed again to tears.  He held out his hands.  The black spots upon them quivered, the Dragon’s poison turningwithin him.
A rhythmic hollow tapping sounded out behind him.
Magus waited at the edge of the shifting darkness, his bearing had straightened, the torchlight setting a fire upon his silver mask.
Dumas silently cursed himself.
Magus cooed from behind his mask.  The air bent around him.  The mask faded.  The face of the Servian knight smiled from where it had been.  But the eyes which had held him had passed.  Only soulless wells remained.  The mask shimmered back.  “I am glad to find you here, Master.”
Dumas stiffened.  “It seems I have come to wait for you.”
Magus reached down and lifted the gossamer blade from the floor, holding it leisurely.  “Tell me.  Do you know whatdamnation is?”
I will play no more games with you!”
I will tell you.  It is such a simple thing, really.  It is to have once known grace and then to have lost it.”
The ground shook.  A scraping hiss sounded out from the well of the cenotaph behind him.  Thin cracks opened between the stones of its basin.  Black and acrid fluid bubbled forth, a darker shadow turning within its eddy.
Magus’s voice descended.  “Do you see what I mean?”
The long black tendrils flailed around the pool in hungry chaos.  Their voice, the voice of the Dragon, whispered its rage.  He already knew it well, and as he looked at them, the full weight of his own guilt descended upon him.
They seized him, their touch like a thousand unseen blades.  He flinched and bled beneath them.  But he struggled for only a moment.  He had struggled with them unseen for long enough.  They coiled about him.  Dumas wept once more.
     They lifted him above the pool.  He hung limp within their grasp.  The world seemed both heavy and light, though his mind no longer swam in drink.  The darkness itself moved, quivering with a sick anticipation. 
Magus stepped beneath.  Wings of a deeper darkness turned and billowed, stretching out behind him, wings that should not have been.  Magus placed the point of the Gossamer Blade against his chest.  Its cloth binding looked sullen.  “If there ever was a time for fear, Master, I assure you that it’s now.”
The tip of the point pressed into him.  Dumas tried to pull away.  The warmth of his blood snaked down his skin.  He strained to keep his wavering sight upon Magus’ silver visage, easier somehow now than the truth that it had hid.  Magus did not serve.  Magus was.  Behind Magus, spirits of the other ten Servian Lords, bearing the arms of a hundred years before, waited for him. “Then take me.  You still cannot have the twelve.  Malius is already dead and beyond your reach. My loss means nothing!”
Magus, the Dragon, tilted his head.  “Oh, far from that my love.  It is the blood that is bound to the promise thatwas broken.  And there is blood that yet still remains.”  He gave a slight turn to the blade.  “Did you really think that returning to the promise you had broken would help you?  The time of its wielding has long since passed.”
The first of his blood touched the edge of the gossamer wrapping the blade, the mark of the promise he himself had forsaken.  It passed quickly through it like a dike burst asunder.
Dumas sputtered.  “They do not sleep as we did.”
Do not fool yourself with your sudden change of heart.  The time has come for recompense, and I have waited for this for a very long time.  In fact, I suppose I should thank you and your kind for handing me the key to my return.  Your weakness is predictable.  It defines what you are.”  A deep noise of satisfaction escaped the mask as the Dragon pressed in the length of the blade.  The blood soaked gossamer which had bound it crumpled at the base of the blade.
Fire burned in Dumas’s chest, wrapping around his heart.  Everything faded around him.
The lurid voice of Magus, the Dragon, pulled him back.  “It is a joyful pity, the weakness of you and your kind.  How ironic that it is your greatest and only strength.  But oh, how you fear it so.”
The Dragon’s words echoed within him.  The press of the vise upon his heart hardened.  Darkness overcame him.  Withrelief he heard more than felt, the creak of the press as it made one final, fatal turn.
The Dragon’s voice descended to a whisper.  “No.  Not for you.  For you there will be no rest.  Not even that offered by death.”
Then in the silence that was left a light from some unseen place descended upon him.  The darkness at its edgestruggled back, screaming as it did. 
The softest of sounds came forth from the light.  It was a voice, though no words came forth.  Dumas smiled.  He had not heard it in some time.  It was the gentlest of laughter.


About Tom Barczak:
My background is Artist turned Architect turned Author who is finally getting around to writing those stories I used to sit on my porch and write as a kid. I started Veil of the Dragon about eight years ago when I sat down one day and wrote 3 pages of dialogue between the two main characters. I spent a lot of those years just learning the craft. But really, I started the story even before that, in my paintings, in my poetry, and even again before that, sitting around the table with my friends slaying dragons.
My Author's Website is: www.tombarczak.com
My e-mail Address is barczaktom@yahoo.com
You can friend me on Facebook as Thomas Paul Barczak.
Or you can follow me on Twitter.