|Legacy of the Shadowsword|
|Chapter 1 (part 1)||Author:
28 Nov 2006
|Pirias ran as fast as his legs would go-- the deep snow made it difficult to move quickly. His breath puffed out in front of him, the cold air searing his heaving lungs. He risked a glance back as he dodged around a darkened tree trunk, but didn't see any movement among the pines. His ears strained to hear the sounds of pursuit but could only make out the sounds of his own haggard breathing.
The moonlight lit the forest with a dim whiteness, and the snow reflected it back again from below, making the trees appear as tall dark shadows against the white ground. The light left him with a strange, eerie feeling.
He stumbled into a snow bank and fell-- the deep, powdery snow gave easily, and he was almost engulfed in it. The icy powder slid into the gaps between his clothing and immediately began to melt, making him gasp at the cold. Floundering, he struggled back to his feet, sucking in the cold winter night air, trying to quench the burning in his lungs and legs. He tried to dislodge the wet snow stinging the back of his neck, but his frantic brushing motions only succeeded in spreading it farther down his back.
He clutched the sack tightly to his chest, the book inside pressed against his ribs, poking him uncomfortably. The adrenaline from his fear was beginning to wear off and he was starting to realize just how tired his body was. He wasn't sure how far away he was; it seemed like he had been running forever.
The news of the attack had come as a surprise, he remembered. He was tired, and the day had been a long one. He had been finishing his work at his desk, gathering up text requests and the new manuscript list to put them away for the night-- he had just finished entering the last bits of data into the computer for the new manuscripts to be cataloged. Grabbing the pile of text requests, he headed toward the file room near the front of the library.
As he approached the main staircase, he saw Sanim, one of his colleagues, go rushing past, headed in the other direction. Thinking that rather odd, he turned to ask, but just as he looked around, Sanim had turned a corner and disappeared behind some shelves. Pirias watched for a second then, shrugging, turned back around and continued toward the front desk.
As he turned the corner he saw almost the entire staff rushing around frantically. This was highly unusual. Rarely at this time of night were the elves of the Great Library in such a hurry. Va-rin, the head librarian, was standing by the front desk snapping out orders. There were several elves behind it working on the computers. Everyone seemed very agitated.
Pirias hurried over to the desk worriedly, trying to find out what was going on. He spotted Triv at one of the side computers typing furiously, his brow furrowed in concentration.
Triv was a specialist in computer systems and linking nets. He worked with the library to maintain the vast and complex computer net they had to store much of their information. The two had been friends for some time-- Triv always helped him with the paperwork late at night when he was behind.
Pirias set his books down on the counter in front of his busy friend.
"What's going on?" he asked in a low voice, leaning over the counter trying to see what Triv was doing.
Triv didn't answer right away.
"The Coalition is coming," he said after a moment without looking up.
"The Coalition? Why? What do they want with us?"
Triv hit a few buttons and glanced up, looking Pirias in the eyes for a few seconds.
"We're not exactly sure yet, but I think it may be the journal."
Pirias gasped. "The journal? But, why now? They've not tried to get it before."
"Think about it," Triv replied as he went back to his work, "They've been growing in power for years, the nations are too busy with their own problems and absorbed with their own infighting, and without so much as a sign of life from Excetus in over fifty years, they're making their move."
Pirias looked around at everyone rushing through the section. There were several books stacked on the counter in front of Va-rin now.
An elf came bursting through the front doors. "They're entering the town!" he exclaimed breathlessly. Triv muttered something under his breath, grabbed an old leather-bound book that was on the table by him and thrust it at Pirias, who clutched it in his hands, surprised.
"Take this! Go out the south tunnel, it leads into the forest."
Pirias wasn't exactly sure what book had just been thrust into his grasp, but he was starting to have suspicions. The whole thing was just moving too fast, he couldn't get a hold on his thoughts.
"Don't ask! Continue south for about two kilometers and you'll find a small skimmer hanger. Use that and find somewhere you can get help."
A shockwave compressed the air around them as they heard the deep boom of an explosion. One of the windows in the main doors shattered and the rapid crack-crack of military-grade weapons echoed through the large room. Pirias jumped, gasping as his ears popped, adjusting to the new pressure in the room. A few screams floated through the air as the elves of the town began to flee their homes. Triv paused and they both looked toward the door of the library. They could hear shouts of terror and a few gun shots as the elves living in the town around the Great Library started fleeing their homes and the approaching Coalition soldiers.
"I was going to take it with me," he continued, "but I need to stay and finish the encryption on the computers. Now go! Hurry!"
Pirias looked the book over hurriedly. The leather was old, cracked and had two dragons back to back with a sword in between them etched into the cover.
"But what is it?" he asked, his suspicions nearly confirmed.
Triv just looked at him.
"No," Pirias stated, starting to put the old book down on the counter, "I don't want this responsibility."
Triv impatiently pushed the book back into his hands.
"You have to. If they get it, who knows what will happen."
Pirias looked at him, still uncertain. An explosion was heard close by and Pirias glanced at the door again nervously.
"Go! Hurry!" Triv pushed him away from the counter, "Every second is valuable!"
The reality of the whole situation started to sink in. Pirias started slowly backing away from the counter, then turned and ran toward the main staircase, the book held tightly against his right side.
Va-rin looked over from sending another tech to the computer matrix just in time to see Pirias' form running down the stairs with the book held tightly. He turned and walked over to Triv.
"Where's he going so quickly?" Va-rin asked.
"I sent the journal with him," Triv stated with a glance up at the head librarian's questioning expression.
Va-rin looked at him steadily for a moment. Triv was not one to make hasty judgments under normal circumstances-- however, they were under any but normal circumstances.
"Do you believe that was wise?" he asked quietly.
Triv raised his head and looked him straight in the eyes.
"He has good judgment and isn't rash. He will do what is necessary to keep it safe."
Va-rin simply nodded without saying a word and turned back around. Pirias was known to be timid and nervous. But Triv was his close friend and would know him best. If he trusted him, then he had good reason. At any rate, they didn't have much choice anymore. The sounds of invasion were getting louder and he thought he could hear shouted commands in Sytarian. The soldiers had almost arrived.
One of the library workers opened one of the doors to the library to take a quick peek. Va-rin caught a glimpse of the glow of flames that the Coalition soldiers had started in order to drive the remaining elves from the town. Soon the flames would reach the height of the surrounding trees.
He sighed, and motioned one of the lower librarians over to him.
"Give the order to evacuate. We have to leave now."
Pirias made his way down through the catacomb-like corridors of the library's foundations. The stonework down here was ancient. The air was cooler than in the upper sections, but not cold. He could smell the moisture on the air, the slight odor of mildew.
His shoes scuffed against the stone as he hurried down several levels, deeper into the damp darkness. All along the walls he had seen torches placed in brackets on the walls, testifying to the age of the structure. But they remained unlit. The light was provided by fixtures of long fluorescent lights in the middle of the corridors' ceilings. This part of the library was deserted; he hadn't seen anyone. With the evacuation order having been given over the speaker system, everyone had left, trying to get out of the building as fast as possible.
He jogged quickly, every few moments breaking into a short sprint. Paranoid, he kept glancing back over his shoulder, sure that at any moment he would hear the heavy thud of Coalition boots come around the last corner.
His path had taken a zigzag pattern around the many corners and through the countless intersections within the catacombs, working his way further and further. Fortunately, he knew his path well. Having visited the library many times during his childhood, and working there since he came of age, he had become very acquainted with its every part.
Even so, he was terrified. The Sytan Coalition had lain more or less dormant for a long time. They were a group that had risen from the subjugated people of Soldrek, an Imperial occupied country. The Coalition claimed that at one point in the history of the world, magic had reigned supreme, and provided an idyllic way of life to all and great power to those who were willing to seek knowledge and mastery of the magical arts. At one point during this time period, the Diaron Imperium was the most powerful nation on the planet, led by the dark and dangerous man, Venn Ridel. Ridel had been a powerful magic user, according to the legend, and had gained much of his power through something called Shadestone. He had begun taking over the known world, working to unify it under one rule with the incredible power he had gained. The Imperium, however, had been defeated by an alliance of the free nations of Sorlan in the Great War, championed by a man named Graden Lorn. Ever since, the Imperium had been severely weakened.
The Coalition’s goal was to create a society once again based on magic-- their argument being that magic could be turned to evil, but was not evil itself. They held up Graden Lorn as their mascot and symbol of what it could do to benefit the world. Unfortunately, the group was not opposed to using violence to get its way and had come to be regarded as a very radical movement. The idea of returning to magic, if it had truly existed, was tempting, but the memory and legend of what it was capable of had never truly faded-- especially for the elves of Zan-Sen, the keepers of knowledge.
But now, they were here. They obviously wanted the book he carried, held tightly to himself. But he couldn't let them have it. The Journal contained powerful secrets--secrets that would doom the planet of Sorlan to be crushed beneath the heel of a powerful warlord once again.
He neared the entrance to the south tunnel. The lights had become much fewer and far between as he moved farther from the center of the library. One lone fixture shone brightly down the corridor, in front of an open door. That should be the supply room for the tunnel, he thought.
He broke into a run, convinced he could hear the low thudding of precision explosives somewhere above him. He made it to the doorway and rushed inside. Looking around hurriedly, while glancing at the doorway nervously, he spotted a few coats and a heavy cloak hanging on a bar along the left wall. He grabbed a coat and the cloak, throwing them on as fast as he could.
Repeatedly glancing anxiously over his shoulder toward the door, he frantically searched for something to put the book in. The last thing he wanted was for anyone who got a sideways look at it to know what it was.
His rapid search produced a cloth sack made of a rough, brownish material. He stuffed the book inside and dashed out the door, pausing briefly in the corridor to make sure he was not being followed.
Nothing moved down the dark, stony corridor. The fluorescent lights did not even flicker. Pirias caught himself imagining Coalition soldiers jumping out of the long dark shadows between the sparse lighting. A shiver ran through his body, shaking him from the grasp of growing panic. He turned and ran down the corridor.
The rumble of detonating explosives could not be heard distinctly. It was faint--muffled through the layers of stonework--but it was there.
He found the door to the south tunnel. It was an old wooden door behind some barrels in a rarely used storage room. Opening the door a crack he slipped inside, closing it behind him.
The granite tunnel was damp and very dimly lit. He wasted no time and sped off down the corridor, the air growing colder as he ran. He was almost out, he could feel it. His feet moved faster, driven by fear, the sack with its contents was clutched tightly under his arm.
The exit was hidden behind several large boulders in the side of a hill not far from the library. He burst into the moonlight and continued into the snow-covered pine forest. His breath was coming heavier now, but he didn't pause. The fear pumping in his veins drove him onward. The snow crunched under his feet as he went. He chanced a glance back and saw the library silhouetted with the orange, flickering glow of fire.
He kept running.