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27 January 2006 @ 09:53 pm
Dark Shadows [Chapter One - Part One]  
Authors Notes: Yes, yes, yes. My labour of love. The novel that will never be finished, no matter how much I write. I am at least trying to get the first chapter finished so I can chuck it up here in it's entirety and get some reviews and see what everyone thinks. Unfortunately, I've been so busy with its sequel lately, that I haven't done much. ><;

Have finished this part of the chapter now. It still has a tonne of mistakes probably, but eventually I'll edit them out. Hope it is a little less confusing now. I think I ended this part a bit hurriedly, but I justed wanted to get it out. In other news, thanks for Kath who beta read this for me. *huggles you*

Dark Shadows
Chapter 1 - Part 1

by Jade

It had been an unusually harsh winter. The snow had yet to cease falling two moons past Midwinter and a strange illness had infected the lower district of Morischa, capital of the realm Seilon. The sickness had spread rapidly, covering its victims in ugly blue-grey welts and accompanying a high fever. It divided otherwise peaceful families, destroyed households and left many people out in the bitter cold, devoid of hope, to fend for themselves.

There was a rumour, one trickled down from the Royal Palace itself that healer mages had found the cure that the sick realm desperately sought, but with a lack of numbers, they were unable to administer the cure before the end of winter, ultimately deciding to let it run its natural course.

It was these particular mages, and in fact, all mages in the Lady's creation, that a lone girl, frozen under tattered rags, cursed madly with the last of her strength as she stumbled down a now abandoned street.

"I knew them mages were rotten, firs' time they laid eyes on me Ma," she muttered hoarsely to herself. It was well known that mages, hidden away in that stone palace of theirs, paid no attention to the commonfolk and when they did, they weren't helpful at all. When her mother had come down with the sickness, local healer mages had visited, but only long enough to tell her that there was nothing they could do.

Forcing her feet to propel her into a crossroad, the sickened girl looked around for shelter of any kind. However, all that beckoned to her was dark, condemned houses, painted with the red ochre cross within a circle that marked danger. She glanced away quickly and pushed back memories of her own house, now marked in likeness. With no shelter forthcoming, she collapsed to the ground in defeat. Two days in the snow and with the resulting fever catching up to her, it was too much.

The girl pushed stringy, frozen hair out of her eyes and forced herself to lift her heavy head to the sky. The night was fast approaching, and bringing with it the biting, cruel winds from the Northern waterfront.

Shivering and gritting her teeth to prevent them from chattering painfully, the dull-eyed girl curled into a ball in the snow and waited for the morning, or for Diorthe himself to come for her.

"Damn them mages."

"Diorthe, give the fallen a painless journey," murmured a navy-clad guard as he rode past the derelict houses of the lower district. His youthful brown eyes were wide in shock. The damage was so much worse than the stories circulating throughout the palace had prepared him for. Unsettled, one hand rest lightly on his long sword, silver with the gold and navy royal emblem marked on its hilt.

Next to him another man rode, but he was no soldier. Under his dark cloak, the faintest hint of crimson could be seen, labelling him a senior mage of the realm. Long hair that may have once been dark, but was now as pale as the snow surrounding them, was tucked down the back of his cloak. One could be forgiven for mistaking the man for an elder, but one glance into his sharp amber eyes, his age became a mystery. The youthful eyes took in all and revealed nothing.

In the distance, the palace bell rang the darkest hour.

"Yer worship? We should get back before the gates close. I don't fancy being locked out tonight," said the guard, turning towards the sound of brass hitting brass. The sound was mildly comforting, knowing within the heavy hearts of Lower District, the bell heard throughout Morischa was still calling them home.

"A bit cold for you tonight Tomas? You may go ahead if you wish. There's just one more street..." the clearly tired mage said. Tomas smiled good-naturedly.

"That's what Yer Worship said but two hours past. Besides, if I leave yer, my captain, not to mention His Majesty, would have me hide." He cleared his throat, "If I may be so bold, Yer..."

"Yes, yes. Tomas, the hour hardly warrants standing upon ceremony."

The guard met the gaze of the mage, something not many people did. "Yer Worship can only do so much. And if yer make yerself sick, that's less people yer can help another night."

The mage stiffened for a moment, feathers obviously ruffled and scaring Tomas into believing he had been entirely too bold, but suddenly he relaxed and allowed a small degree of exhaustion to creep into his manner.

"As usual, guard-logic has backed me into a corner. Of course you're correct. Let us away before your good Captain locks us out to teach me a lesson." He wheeled his horse around, but had barely trotted forward when doubled over momentarily in the saddle, halting his agitated mare.

"Yer Worship! Are ye---" A sharp hand movement from the mage lulled Tomas into silence. Glancing around wildly, he picked up his reigns and spurred his horse into a gallop, back towards the belly of the Lower District and away from the palace. A brief pause and Tomas followed, cursing as the mage disappeared from sight.

The pseudo chase took them through the back streets of Morischa, the damp, dark lanes that Tomas wouldn't have normally travelled down in the daylight, even with sword and scabbard of the King at his side. As he flew, his navy cloak slipped from his head, revealing windswept golden hair and allowing the odd snowflake to fall under his collar and chilling him to the bone. The invading cold was ignored as Tomas focused on nothing else but the snow prints ahead of him and the Captain behind him that was waiting with an axe if he returned without his charge.

"Yer Worship!" Remembering to keep his voice low enough to allow the city folk to sleep somewhat peacefully, he called out urgently.

Finally the chase exited the warren of alleyways and into an abandoned square, and abruptly stopped. He nearly slammed into the mage’s frightened mare that reared as he approached. It took all of Tomas’ control to keep his own mount from rearing and at the same time, grasping for the dangling reins and turning the mare’s head towards him. Gently, he rubbed the bridge of her nose until she calmed down.

“Caracole, calm yerself,” he whispered, tying the reins to the pommel of his saddle and gazing around for the horse’s master. He almost missed him, huddled in a dark corner of the square Tomas now recognised as the crossroad that was the entrance to the summer markets. It looked dark and uninviting during the winter months.

Suddenly noticing the drag marks in the snow, Tomas practically vaulted from the saddle and ran over, senses alert to any presence of unwelcome company and ready to draw his sword at a moments notice.

However, it wasn’t the sight of an injured mage that had him worried when he approached, but the heavy glow surrounding a pile of rags underneath him. As Tomas closed the distance between them, it became obvious that the rags were in fact the clothes of a street child. He collapsed to his knees to assist in case either mage or child was hurt, but as he reached out to get older man’s attention the glow surged forward, pushing Tomas backwards and surrounding the mage in the blink of an eye.

“For the love of the Lady...” Tomas cried out in surprise.

The eerie glow forced Tomas’ gloved hand back only once, eventually summoning up enough courage to firmly grasp the mage by the shoulder and cautiously shake him. Although he didn’t respond to the touch, Tomas recognised the heavy breathing associated with a meditative trance. Suddenly he collapsed on top of the urchin child, falling into slumber, trance broken.

For a second, Tomas stared at the two bodies in the snow, confused. If someone pulled out a trance they were often jumpy, excitable and quite obviously awake. Unless…

Tomas was a cousin of a lesser mage who often over-exerted himself to the point of absolute exhaustion, and was frequently imposed upon to come to his aid. Looking at the stricken man lying below him, Tomas recognised the same signs of depletion and fatigue, and thanked the Lady for providing him with what he had previously seen as an annoyance, sometimes even a curse. He had enough background knowledge to understand that unconscious man was in danger of losing his life to the magical working he just performed.

Pulling out a slender brass whistle from under his heavy surcoat, a whistle that he’d been told during his training to use sparingly, he held it to his lips and blew the repeating melody calling aid to his side for only the second time in his career.

In the distance, a hawk launched off a message roost and disappeared into the night.