FALL OF A LOST SUN
THE FREE PREQUEL TO THE CAVERNS OF STELEMIA SAGA
Join Kara’s father, Arden on his epic journey to the Dead City in search of the mysterious artifact shown to him in his visiondreams. Then witness his ultimate fate, at the hands of his beloved daughter Semira.
But is that the end for Arden?
The trap had worked. Better than Arden had expected.
Now they had an angry horde of bone-warriors charging back into the stalagmite-filled chamber. “Get ready,” Arden shouted to the scions around him.
The old warrior Wrynric hefted his shield. “Looks like the cave-in halved their numbers.”
Arden raised his hand and the archers readied their bows. “There’s still more than enough to go around.” He brought down his arm and a dozen arrows shot forth.
The front rank of the bone-scum reeled backward as the missiles buried themselves in their painted flesh. Their companions coming up behind them trampled right over them, in their panic to flee the collapsing tunnel.
Pern, the alchemist, came up beside Wrynric. Like the old warrior, Pern was one of the few non-scions who lived with them at Sunholm. The alchemist held a small satchel. Arden nodded at him, and Pern’s face spread into an evil grin. “Get down!” The alchemist screamed, then hurled the satchel at the approaching enemy.
Arden and Wrynric ducked behind their shields, as the scion archers hid behind a wall of stalagmites. Then the boom came, tearing through the air, pelting them with broken rock, shattered bones, and chunks of ragged flesh. Arden gritted his teeth at the ringing in his ears.
No doubt that explosion would be heard all the way back in Sunholm!
As dust engulfed them, Arden lowered his shield. “Everyone: form a shield wall.”
The scion warriors dropped their bows, raised their shields and locked them together. If any of the bone-scum had survived, they would be easy pickings for the warriors of Sunholm. So far his plan had worked brilliantly. Wait for the bone-clan to enter the passage rigged with explosives, set them off, and force the enemy to withdraw right into the ambush Arden had set for them.
For two days Arden and his warriors had followed the group of encroaching clans-people, searching for a way to drive them out of this section of the Nether—the subterranean region beyond the bright lights of the Kingdom of Stelemia. And then the enemy had made their first mistake. Not knowing these caves, the enemy leader had unknowingly led his people into a bottleneck. Arden, and the other scions, had lived in these caves their whole lives. They knew every passage, every chamber and every stalagmite, and had gotten in front of their enemy and set the trap.
Arden rhythmically clenched and unclenched his grip on his sword as he waited for any sign of life within the blasted chamber. The billowing dust made it impossible to see more than ten feet and it would take some time for it to settle. Gritting his teeth, Arden grew impatient.
He hated waiting. He was a man of action.
So he took a step forward, and then another, shield raised, sword ready. Wrynric moved with him, as did six of the other warriors. They kept their shields locked, presenting a solid barrier. One carried a torch, the rest swords and spears.
Something moved in the murk in front of Arden. Headed toward it, he picked his way through the broken rubble. He stepped on something soft but was not foolish enough to look down to see what it was.
A moan came from somewhere in front of him, and a figure soon materialized within the murky gloom. As they cautiously approached, the figure took shape. A bone-man.
The enemy turned his bloody face to look at Arden, and stared with glazed eyes. He was clearly numb with shock and little threat to them. One of the female scions broke ranks with the others and hacked the enemy’s head off with her sword.
A great bellowing cry sounded from close by. Seconds later, pounding feet raced toward them. Shouts erupted from the murk, and more feet joined the first. Arden knew what that meant. More of the bone-people were out there, coming their way.
“Here they come,” he shouted over the stampede of feet. The chamber floor was awash with rubble and broken bodies, and sharp stalagmites jutted around them. Not an ideal place for a pitched battle, but it would have to do.
Out of the dust cloud emerged one of the largest bone-warriors Arden had ever seen. The man held a great two handed war axe. He shouted a deep-throated war cry, exposing his sharpened teeth, his white-painted face covered in old scars. Then he charged Arden’s shield wall, bringing his axe down on Wrynric’s shield. The old man almost buckled under the great blow, but somehow held his ground.
At least a dozen more of the enemy struck the shield wall, stabbing, bashing and hacking with their bone weapons. Arden thrust at them through the gap between his and Wrynric’s shield, and screamed meaningless orders to his companions. They all knew what to do. Stand and fight. And Kill.
An enemy axe head arced over Arden’s shield and clattered against his helmet. He ducked down and shoved forward with his shield. The giant bone-warrior shouldered into Arden’s shield, almost breaking his guard. Somehow Arden managed to keep his feet and got a quick cut in before the other man could bring his weapon to bear. Arden’s attack had drawn blood, but it was not enough to slow the bone-warrior.
The giant man roared and lifted his axe over his head, his eyes bulging with battle lust. On instinct, Arden lunged forward and buried his sword deep in the man’s guts, and then ripped it free. The enemy staggered back a step, dropped his weapon and backhanded Arden across the face.
Arden reeled away, head ringing with the blow. More enemy pressed forward through the gap in the shield wall. Still in a daze, Arden barely managed to parry a blow from a bone club. Then something struck him a glancing blow on his right ear. Sparks crossed his vision and he staggered about. Blood spurted from the female scion’s head beside him, and she collapsed in a heap. A bone-woman stepped over her and raced at Arden, and all he could do was watch her come forward to kill him.
Wrynric rammed her with his shield, sending her slamming into a stalagmite. It broke, and she fell to the ground. The old man kicked her in the face. But before he could finish her, he was attacked by the giant bone-warrior who held in his innards with one hand, wielding his axe with the other.
Arden moved to help his friend, his legs unsteady, head spinning.
Suddenly, a hand grabbed Arden’s foot, sending him face-first into the ground. He was too dazed to get up, and waited for his attacker to finish him. Pain lanced his side, as he felt the bite of a red-hot blade.
The agony broke him from the daze and he pushed himself up on one elbow and spun to face his attacker. It was a bone-man, one eye missing, nose a broken mess, and an arm hanging by a thread. One of the survivors of the blast.
Arden punched the man in the face, then grasped around for his sword. The bone-man screamed in his savage language until Arden silenced him with a quick thrust to the neck.
That dealt with, Arden got to his knees and searched for Wrynric. His heart kicked. The giant warrior had the old man on the ground and had wrapped his meaty hand around his neck. Arden staggered up, ignoring the headpins that threatened to topple him and charged.
The giant never saw him coming. Arden hacked into the man’s back, the sharp edge of his blade burying deep into the muscled flesh. He brought it down a second and third time, cutting into the man’s spine. The bone-warrior fell forward onto Wrynric, roaring in agony.
Arden grabbed the man’s blood and gore matted hair and swiped his sword across his throat. Shoving the man off Wrynric with his boot, Arden helped his old friend up.
Wrynric shook his head to regain focus. Then his eyes widened and Arden spun around as an intense scream split the air, drowning out the sounds of battle. In front of them were dozens of dead bones-people, covered in pulverized rock and blood. The scion warriors fought on, knee deep in corpses, faces haggard, weapons dripping red.
The scream slowly died away. Arden stomped forward toward the nearest enemy, a bone-woman, almost naked and duel-wielding hatchets. As he bore down on her, she got in a lucky hit on the scion she faced. She cut deep into his neck and he toppled forward.
“No!” Arden roared and lunged at her. Screaming, she brought her axes to bear, but she was too late. He slammed into her and she flew back and hit her head on the side of the chamber. He finished her before she could recover.
Then he saw who had screamed moments before. Pern’s corpse lay smoldering several feet from him. The alchemist must have been mixing his regents and spilled them over himself. Whatever he had made, had burned through his flesh and into his organs. A grisly death. But not one unexpected for a man who created deadly substances and set off explosives.
Such was the way of things.
Soon, the battle was over. The enemy were dead, their corpses already fed on by carrion.
“How many?” Arden heaved a weary sigh.
Wrynric took in a deep breath through his nose. “Eight.”
Arden’s sword hand trembled. Eight good scions dead, each hardened veterans, each his friends. “And how many enemies did we kill?”
“At least forty here, but who knows how many in the collapsed tunnel.”
Forty. How many more bone-scum would they need to kill before Sunholm was safe?
Arden let his tears fall as he trudged over to the line of bodies resting among the stalagmites. His companions had gathered up the scion dead, and now it was up to Arden—their leader—to gather their marker medallions, to take back with him to Sunholm.
As the survivors watched, he went to the first of the dead. A scion named Evan. A young man, one Arden had taught to fight. Now gone to live in the Light of the Lost Sun. He removed Evan’s medallion and placed it in a pouch. I should have done better. I should have found another way to kill our enemy. I’m sorry I failed you.
Moving to the next corpse, he bit his lip. Julia. I’m so sorry. Her pale face brought back memories. Arden closed his eyes as the faces and the pains of the past came back to him.
Arden entered the doors of the Golden Keg Tavern and saw the love of his life at the bar and knew he had come to break her heart.
He walked slowly over to her, dreading every step. She had not seen him yet, but when she did, her eyes would light up, her lips spreading into the smile he loved so dearly.
Then she would see the grim look on his face and her smile would fade.
Arden was almost at the bar before Kristia noticed him. Just as he had feared, she gave him her precious smile, her beautiful blue eyes sparkling in the glow of the sacred light hanging above her. His heart withered.
“Arden, my love…” she began, then fell back against the bar. “What’s wrong?”
Walking up to her, he took her soft hand in his. “We need to talk. Let’s go to your room.”
“But you have not been here for over a year. Let’s have a drink, then we can—”
“No, Kristia. I must talk to you now.”
She glanced over his shoulder and he followed her gaze. A young, fiery-haired woman entertained a group of mercenaries on the other side of the taproom floor. Kara. His bastard daughter.
“She’s as beautiful as her mother,” he said, his jaw tightening. “How long has she been working out here?”
Kristia brushed back her bangs. “Several months. She’s following in my footsteps.”
I feared as much. Arden put his arms through Kristia’s and led her through the taproom toward the back rooms. Kara glanced their way, and Arden quickly turned away.
Better his daughter never met him. If she did, he’d have to break her heart too. She looked like a fine woman, and would make many a man happy. By the Lost Sun, he had wanted more for his beloved Kristia, and the daughter they had made together, but now that chance was gone. He thought of his wife, back home in Sunholm. Curse you, Meridia. Why are you making me do this to them?
No, he couldn’t blame her. He had brought this upon them himself. Because of his infidelity, Kristia and Kara would pay for his sins by spending the rest of their days pleasuring undeserving men for a pittance of coin. He had promised Kristia a better life, and now he had come to break it.
Such was the way of things.
A hand fell on Arden’s shoulder. “Are you alright?”
Snapping out of his memories, he glanced up at Wrynric. “Yes, sorry.” Arden turned back to Julia and took her medallion and put it in the pouch with Evan’s.
After taking the other dead scions medallions, Arden went and stood with the others. “May the Lost Sun watch over you all. My people, my friends.”
They wrapped their dead in blankets, then placed them among the slain bone-people. Erecting a monument with the blades of the fallen scions, they each said their goodbyes. Then Arden took the torch and led the way back to Sunholm.