The Shadow Of What Was Lost (The Licanius Trilogy #1) - James Islington

Prologue

Lightning.

For a moment the waters of Eryth Mmorg were lit, roiling and churning as though a great knife had plunged deep into the pool’s murky heart. A dark wave shattered against a barely discernible outcrop of black rocks, hissing, spitting spray a hundred feet into the air before subsiding. The world flickered back into darkness, but the waves, if anything, increased their intensity. Another roared, hissed, sighed, even louder than the peals of thunder that followed. Another.

Tal watched impassively from his rocky perch, high above even the spray. Only his cloak moved as it flowed out behind him, billowing and snapping in the gusting wind. Old eyes set against youthful features stared unblinking into the night, fixed upon the point where he knew the gaping maw of Eryth Mmorg lay. Another flash illuminated the oval of jagged rocks; the waves licked at them hungrily, waiting to devour any who ventured close.

Behind him lay the flat, barren rock that was Taag’s Peak. No life grew there, not even the hard, poisonous foliage that survived elsewhere in the wilderness. The obsidian surface was worn smooth by the constant buffeting wind; twenty paces from Tal it ended in another precipice, almost as sheer as the one he currently overlooked. Few men could gain Taag’s Peak, and fewer still desired to.

To the north, on the horizon beyond the pool, the darkness was suddenly broken by a dull red glow. Tal’s eyes cleared after a moment, flicked toward the light. The beacon seemed about to fade before blossoming into a ball of brilliant orange flame, searing light across the wastelands and burning into Tal’s head. He gasped, shutting his eyes for a moment, steadying.

How long had he gazed into the depths? Too long; the alarm had been raised and his flight discovered. A cold, sharp pain clawed at his chest, something he had not felt in some time. Fear.

“Hold,” he murmured to himself, fixing his gaze once again upon the angry waters. “Hold.” It was very nearly done, despite his lapse in concentration.

“You are running, Tal’kamar. I warned you against running.” The sound rumbled around the peak, a presence rather than a voice.

Tal’s stomach twisted and he turned, searching for his pursuer.

“I know the truth,” he said quietly. He could see it now, at the far end of the peak but crawling toward him. A shadow, darker than the rest. A being not quite there. His master.

The creature chuckled, a sickening sound. “You do not know what truth is any more. He was one man, Tal’kamar. He lied; you said it yourself. You slew him for his falsehood. You took his head and set it on a pike. You placed it at the Door of Iladriel as a reminder, for all to see! Do you not remember?” The shadow stopped, watching Tal. Waiting.

Tal hesitated, staring for a long moment into the gloom.

“Yes,” he whispered hoarsely. His master’s presence was overpowering; for a moment Tal wanted only to grovel before his lord, beg that all be forgiven.

Then the moment passed, and he sensed a feeling of anticipation from the shadow—and something more, barely discernible. Something he had never felt before from his master.

Nervousness.

He continued, growing more confident with each word. “Yes,” he repeated slowly, “but I was mistaken. I followed the path he set me upon. I found proof.” He paused, his voice stronger now. “I went to Res Kartha. I asked the Lyth.” Stronger again. “I went to the Wells of Mor Aruil and spoke with the Keeper. I found Nethgalla at the Crossroads and tortured her until she told me all she knew.” Now he shouted, the rage of so many years finally released, a mighty roar that seemed to echo across all of Talan Gol and beyond. “I went deep beneath the mountains, beneath Ilin Tora itself. I found the Mirrors. I gazed into them and found one thing!” He stopped, panting, face twisted in grim triumph. “One truth above all others.”

The shadow crept closer, menacing now, the silver gone from its voice. “What did you find, Tal’kamar?” it hissed mockingly.

Tal drew a deep breath. “You are false.” He said it calmly, staring defiantly at the dark mass. “Completely, utterly false.”

He turned, gesturing downward toward the waters. A bright-blue circle began to glow just above the waves, spinning ever faster. When he turned back the shadow was at his face, filling his vision, its breath a foul stench on the air. It laughed, a filthy sound that contained only contempt.

“You cannot escape this place,”