by Michael R. Grice

Shadows of Earth

The shock of first seeing the dwarven city of Kairdan had dissipated partly because Colren had already been in the city for most of the day, but mostly because he was not allowed to leave Earth’s Bone, the inn he and Anil had decided to stay at. “I just can’t believe we’re so far underground. There is so much I need to ask-“

“And so much that can’t be answered,” the dwarf innkeeper laughed from behind his counter. “I don’t even think the Elders can remember how this city was made. As for the constant light down here, my guess is that it’s magic.” He shrugged and returned to checking his thick leather bound book of records.

“I still don’t understand why the Elder’s would talk to Anil but not me,” Colren wined as he looked out the window again. He leaned back and rested his head on the soft arm of a purple couch. “And why can’t I leave this place?” Colren snapped, shoving himself back into a sitting position. “What damage could I do in a city made of stone? I’ve never been one for causing accidents.”

“Haha!” the black bearded dwarf laughed before suddenly quieting. “Uh, well, the Elder’s have a hard time trusting humans right now, especially human men.” Colren sat up, the otherworldly voice in his mind speaking to him. …Yes Colren, Tyras has been here… Colren was about to ask the cleaning dwarf more but was interrupted by Anil bursting into the empty common room.

“Colren, Tyras was here! He entered the Underground Palace last night and hasn’t come out.” Colren jumped to his feet and both he and Anil rushed up a wide stone flight of stairs to their room. Anil told Colren what she had learned while in the meeting with the elders as they both packed their things. “Tyras just stormed through here and went into the cave that leads to the Underground Palace. The dwarves figured he’d be trapped there because the palace is blocked by lava. Colren, I think Luka may have been tampering with the Mana Spear before Tyras stole it from her.”

Colren let out a deep breath and shook his head slowly. “She put extra Water Mana into it, didn’t she?” Anil shrugged but at the same time nodded. “So he used the spear to activate the Mana Orb that controls the lava. But once he got across the magma stream, how could he have made it through the palace? Monsters guard it. Only the Priests of Gnome can enter.”

“The Elders say that the palace really isn’t full of monsters. They just tell everyone that to stop children from thinking they can somehow visit the earth elemental.” She stopped for a moment, just long enough to allow Colren to open his mouth in an attempt to speak before she continued. “One of Gnome’s priests went into the palace not long after Tyras, and he did not return either. One of the Stone Guard soldiers hired by the Elders says he saw a Goblin through the palace gate.”

“So if Goblins are getting into the palace, that must mean that the Earth Seed is gone. Shade,” Colren swore. “How can Tyras just walk into a palace ruled by an Elemental god and steal the most powerful source of Earth Mana in all of Fa’Diel!?”

“I don’t know,” Anil responded. “But we aren’t going to get any help from the Elders in finding out. If we’re going after Tyras, we have to do it alone.”

Colren and Anil walked towards the cave along one of the back cliffs in the Dwarven City, their traveling packs strapped to their backs and a determined expression chiseled into their faces. The two heavily muscled guards standing before the tall jagged entrance to the Earth Palace stepped aside and nodded grimly as the companions moved passed and into the black tunnel.

The warm room was dark; the river of lava that should have blocked the way to a wide arch at the opposite end of the room was gone. A short uprising of solid rock with a magical Mana Orb placed atop it rested near the right wall. “Don’t bother lighting a lantern,” Colren said, his voice bouncing off the walls and being magnified beyond comfortable hearing. “Looks like there’s light in the palace.”

They crossed the firm black ground that had once been swirling magma and entered the entrance room to the temple dedicated to the elemental Gnome and the Mana Seed he guarded. The palace was filled with flickering green light that grew from tall gem basins similar to the ones Colren had seen in the Water Palace. The fire was the same; made of magic that barely gave off any heat but kept the purpose of lighting the halls and rooms perfectly.

After passing through a slender shadowed hall and pushing open two massive wood double doors, the companions found themselves standing in a huge and extremely bright room. Colren couldn’t see the walls to his left or right but was able to see a staircase blocked by four strange and very still creatures. Colren and Anil slowly moved closer, wondering if what at first had seemed like beasts were really statues. Each creature looked identical to a knight piece from a chess game, except they were a full foot taller than Colren and a long silver spike pointed from each forehead.

Suddenly they all turned to face the oncoming travelers and two of them hopped forward, their rounded bottoms not making the slightest sound as they hit the hard white tile floor. “Don’t worry,” Anil whispered nervously. “They’re supposed to be here. The dwarf Elders warned me about them but told me that Gnome made them to protect his palace. They should let us through because we aren’t a threat to their master.” Colren nodded slowly, but lowered his hand to his belt where his only weapon, a dagger, rested against his body.

One of the Chess Knights lurched forward, its head bent down with it’s horn pointed at Anil. Anil yelped but her cry was drowned by air shattering tinkling like that of icicles dropping to break upon rock. Colren croaked as his sleeve split in half and he was flung back by a blinding blue light and the concussion of a wave hitting cliffs. Colren jumped back to his feet but fell to his knees as the room spun in a terrible whirlpool of colours. He closed his eyes and held his head in his hands, trying to dispel the dizziness while the mysterious voice in his mind comforted him. …Be still, you’ll be fine…

Colren felt Anil’s hands on his back and heard her worried voice calling to him. Slowly his world became solid again and he could see the terrified expression etched into Anil’s pale face. “I, uh, I’m okay,” he said slowly and uncertainly. “What happened?” He looked and saw no sign of the Chess Knights and the large doorway was now unguarded.

“Colren, you used Undine’s magic.” Anil spoke in the tone of an amazed mother. Colren lifted his right arm and saw the sleeve of his brown shirt ripped in half down his lower arm. The small stone of blue magic swirled a little as he watched it and he didn’t notice the dark blood that slowly dripped down his arm from around the gem until Anil asked him about it. “Does it hurt?”

“No,” Colren responded as he touched the powerful stone. “The voice tells me that it’s the cost of using such strong magic. She says I must be careful when using it, or it could kill me.” He looked up at Anil who was nodding her head slowly. “A mortal is not meant to wield such power.”

With the help of Anil, Colren walked up the short wide staircase that ascended through the double doors at the end of the blazing room. They stepped into a long dark hall and traveled through the shifting shadows as Colren regained his strength. They entered into another large room, but this one was barely lit by the basins of flame letting every corner be hidden in shadows. Down one hall they saw a pair of goblins playing with knives so instead they took another route in the direction they hoped would lead them to the stage room of the Earth Palace.

Along an upward slanted dark hall they found the burned and stinking corpse of what could have been a robed dwarf. Both Colren and Anil bowed their heads and prayed to Lumina that she would take the body’s soul and give it rest, while at the same time they prayed for their own safety, dreading the thought of encountering something that could have deformed a body to such terrible mutilation.

The companions continued their journey up the dark underground path and came to a steep staircase leading far up into a bright light. They slowly made their way up the stairs and were surprised when reaching the top to find themselves in a room almost identical to the one where the Chess Knights had been. “Did we take wrong turn?” Anil asked worriedly.

A scratchy and amused voice crackled through the air. “Ahahaha! You’ve been lucky thus far my children,” it shrieked. “But you can not stop him. Nothing can stop him now. Ahaha!” Colren spun around, searching the room for the source of the voice but finding none.

“Show yourself! Are you talking about Tyras, my brother? Was he here?” Colren shouted.

“Ahaha! Show myself you say. You wish to die so easily. I am in the full health of my form and for me to appear would be instant death for both of you. No, I would be much amused to see you struggle for your life. Let’s say this is a test of your skill in combat and see if you are worthy of your calling. Ahahaha!” The voice faded from the air and both staircases in the room were blocked by stone walls. The room was completely sealed and quickly grew dark

“Colren,” Anil whispered. “What’s going on?” Colren glared at the darkness. “That was Gnome. I bet he killed the dwarven priest we saw in the hall.” Anil gasped and asked why. “Because like Undine, Gnome has to have been one of the Elementals that summoned Tyras. He’s helping my brother and he can’t let us get in the way.” Anil gasped again and grabbed for the foot long silver rod at her waist. A click and woosh lengthened the rod into a long silver staff.

Flaming eyes suddenly lifted into the darkness before Colren and a wide snake like body lashed out at him, knocking him flat. Anil screamed, “Colren! I can’t use the Mana in the staff yet. It hasn’t had enough time to recharge! Colren!” Colren heard the sound of a body smacking a stone wall and Anil was silent.

“Lumina, help me,” Colren begged the unseen elemental of light as he stood. “I can’t remember how to use Undine’s magic. I don’t even think it was me who triggered it earlier, but I have to touch it now.” Colren felt an urgent but peaceful presence slide into his mind. …Now you know me young warrior… it said. Colren fell back against a wall as the ground shook beneath him. “No, you can’t be. Why keep it secret for so long?” he demanded of the voice. …Imagine the problems you would face if it were known that you heard the voice of Lumina. Yes Colren, I am with you, but I fear the magic needed to kill this beast will kill you… Colren clenched his fists tight and shouted. “I don’t care. I’m dead anyway. If you knew all this was going to happen the first time you spoke to me, then you won’t let me die here. I have to stop my brother before he destroys all the world’s Mana and if that has been your plan for me all along, then you had better do something fast or Tyras will win. Ahhhhhhhhh!”

Colren screamed as the element of Water blasted through him and exploded from the gem in his arm. He shook violently and was flung to the floor as the massive snake shot out of the ground in front of him and opened its mouth to spew fire. The surge of Undine’s magic slammed down its throat and a blinding glow of pure energy formed before the monster. Crackling light burst from the glow and ripped the creature into burning chunks, its hollow wail dying away and replaced by it’s smoking remains. The room was instantly black, the magic gone.

Slowly normal light returned to the room and a short dwarf like figure walked toward the still form of a young man lying against a wall. The creature shuffled closer to the man, its booted feet tapping the marble floor and it’s long brown beard almost causing it to trip. The creature fixed its green pointed hat on its head and leaned over the young man, brushing a line of blood from Colren’s forehead. “Hmmmm,” it murmured and looked up. “Maybe you were right sister,” he whispered to the air. “I was wrong in joining the others in this calling of the Mana Knight. But you must believe, I thought this would save my earth and that has always been my goal. To defend the world at any cost, but I fear this time I have gone too far.”

“Yes,” the echoing voice of Lumina drifted through the room.

Gnome thought for a moment. “I have already given the Earth Seed to Tyras and I never expected the Goblins to get into my palace so easily. Forgive me for almost killing your warrior. What can I do to be seen as true in your eyes again?”

The whisper laughed lightly. “You have always been easily fooled Gnome. I feel the sincerity in you, but I know Undine does not let forgiveness take her as easily as I do. Help this boy and guide him. Give him the Earth Gem and tell him where Tyras might be found.”

“But sister,” Gnome pleaded. “The Earth Gem has been missing for decades. I’m amazed that Undine still had the Water Gem to give him, but I can do him no good. I can feel my Mana fading with every passing minute and without the seed I can be of no help to anyone.” Lumina did not speak but left Gnome to think in silence. “Syne, Elinee’s daughter. She has the stone doesn’t she? How could I not have connected her strength in earth Mana with the gem I lost? Fine, Lumina, when he wakes, I will tell him where to go, and I’ll tell him where Tyras is likely to be found.”

Gnome hobbled over to the motionless but still breathing form of Anil. He shook his head sadly and tears began streaming down his face as he walked up the stairs he had blocked with magic and entered the dark stage room. He flung himself onto the stage and cried, the heart of his Mana gone and the terrible pain of having almost destroyed the world twice crushing his soul.

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