Shadows

Anathas sat in the lower floor of Lucar's bureau. The network was run from this building. He admired the simple but sturdy stonework of this vaulted cellar, however dank it may be. Since he was masquerading as a slave, he had been given quarters, if a cage could be called quarters, in this cellar. He had enough room to sit and lay down, but not quite enough to stand. However, he only used it to sleep and when the cellar was occupied by humans. At the moment, he was sitting at a wooden table in the center of the room, contemplating something he'd heard earlier that day. Lucar had gone to a tavern and had taken Anathas with him. Anathas had waited in a slave cage near a dark corner of the tavern's common room as Lucar enjoyed himself while waiting for a contact. Anathas had skulked in the cage for about an hour when two men in cloaks entered the common room and sat at a table within Anatha's hearing. Out of boredom, Anathas had listened in on their conversation, and he quickly became very interested. One of the men seemed to be a lore master or historian of some kind, and the other appeared to be a traveler, perhaps a slaver. The historian wanted to hire the traveler for an expedition into Kythian territory. The traveler was naturally curious as to what the expedition was, and Anathas was astounded at the reason. The historian began to relate to the traveler the legend of the Blades of Chaos, hidden deep in the Kythian forests. The legend told of seven mythical swords hidden all across the world. Who they had been made by was beyond the historian's ability to guess, but he readily admitted that his knowledge of the legend was not complete. Anathas listened quite intently to this, the historian believed that some of the Blades were in the Issun, Revthe, Satheu, and Ordthi regions. He explained that he'd studied records from past ages, and was convinced that the blades were real and in those locations. Anathas barely believed his ears. He knew the legend much better than the historian. The Ancients had forged the Blades of Chaos in the age before time, and had hidden them across Aryae to help the inhabitants fight the evil in the world. Each one had a temple of sorts devoted to it. In the midst of that temple, protected by unknown forces, was the Blade itself. Supposedly, if they were all recovered, one of them would become the master blade, and the six would form its three companions. Anathas stopped listening to the conversation, and pondered its meaning. Shortly after, Lucar had met with his contact, and let Anathas out of the slave cage. Anathas glared at him briefly. Lucar led him out into the street and they returned to the bureau. Since then, Anathas had been sitting in his cellar thinking. If he could find the Blades of Chaos, he would have a weapon to challenge the Templar's power. However, he needed to stay here to run the escape network. Krede was not likely to believe what he would no doubt call a bedtime story, and Lucar had far too much responsibility to go looking. Anathas saw only one option. And he did not like it. Anathas walked over to a shadow in the corner. The lamp in the vaulted ceiling cast them everywhere. He stopped at the edge of the darkness and held out his hands at waist height. He opened his aura, and called softly, “Shadow. I must speak to you.” There was a sound, as if a breath had been exhaled from the walls, and Anathas opened his eyes. Before him, standing in the darkness, his red eyes glowing faintly, was his shadow. Shadow walked out of the darkness. His black cloak billowing behind him and his hood up. His sword was slung across his back.

“It has been long since we spoke Shadow.” Anathas said. “I did not come to share pleasantries, Anathas, what do you want?” Shadow responded rather sharply. “You know the legend of the Blades of Chaos?” “I am a part of you Anathas,” Shadow said, “I know what you know.” “They are real, and I may know where four of them are.” Anathas began. “Issun, Revthe, Santheu, Ordthi.” Anathas closed his jaws. “And you cannot spare your precious time, so you want me to spend mine looking for them like I'm your errand boy. You are as transparent as the day” Shadow's voice was very cold. “Yes. I do.” Anathas said bluntly, not expecting Shadow to be pleased. “You are fortunate that I am intrigued by myths,” Shadow said after a pause, “Very well. I will find the Blades of Chaos, though it may take some time.” “I do not know if they are there for certain. Or if someone had taken them from their temples.” Anathas cautioned. “I will find the Blades.” Shadow repeated. A hint of annoyance permeating the coldness of his voice. And with that, Shadow turned and disappeared back into the darkness. There was the sound of a breath, as if let go of the earth, and he was gone. Anathas took a deep breath. Shadow was a part of himself, but a part of himself he tried to avoid. Shadow knew no mercy or pity, but he was relentless, and that was what Anathas needed. He was slightly surprised that Shadow had been willing to help without any convincing, but he thought little of it. He yawned, and crawled into the detestable cage that he slept in.

Shadow ran. He ran faster than the wind that blew around him. His hood fell from his head, and his cloak billowed out behind him. His sword pounded against his back, but he ran on. He did not tire. He ran in a black fog until he sensed his destination. Then, he slowed and stopped. He felt for a moment, and made sure. He now had to search the entire region for a temple supposedly containing one of the Blades of Chaos. He could run faster than any light dweller and did not tire, but he was resentful of being ordered around like an errand boy, even if he liked the errand. He traversed the region for three days before he found what he searched for. The temple was hidden in a part of the forest hidden from the rest by a wall made of trees. They had melded together and formed an impenetrable barrier. Shadow found a small opening after much looking, and passed through it. The inside of the secret grove looked as ancient as it was. Crumbling stonework was everywhere and he saw old machines flanking what looked like an old doorway of some kind. He drew his sword and approached warily. As he did, two statues one on either side of the door, and some of the ancient machinery, came to life. He raised his sword to ready and his eyes danced from one to the other. They walked slowly and deliberately in front of the doorway, blocking his path. Shadow growled softly. The two statues stopped, and a voice emanated from them. “We are guardians of this land. You must pass our trial to gain entrance to the sacred place.” Shadow felt the ground quake. Great rifts opened in the ground, dividing it into segments around him. The guardians stood on two, he on another, and there were many more all across where the courtyard had been. Two standing places appeared where the statues had been before they woke. Shadow guessed that he was probably supposed to move them back there, although he could not guess how. However, as he turned thinking about it, he saw that the statues turned with him. He took a step forward and they did as well. He thought out his course, then carefully guided them back to their places. When they were both where they had started, they glowed deeply blue for a moment, the ground filled itself in again, and the area was back to the way it was when Shadow had first entered. Except now, the stone door was open. Shadow entered through the stone archway. Immediately, the stone slammed to behind him. The darkness was very full, and it would have dominated anyone born of the light. But Shadow was one with darkness. His eyes pierced it and gave him sight in that fog. The temple was great and ancient. Its ceiling high, so high that it was nearly out of sight. Before him, Shadow saw a stair way leading to a large gateway. The iron gate was raised, and the way clear. As he ascended, four lamps ignited as he passed them. They glowed an eerie blue, lighting the blackness. Shadow could feel presence in the next room, such that he had never felt before. Blue lamps shed their faint light into the cavernous room, and four ghostly lamps hovered in each corner. They were not suspended by anything Shadow's eyes could see, but he felt as if a evil being held each one. The lamps began moving toward him. They did so slowly, as if their keepers meant to strike fear into Shadow's heart. He readied himself for battle, and strained his eyes to see the enemy he faced. There was a shriek, and the lamps went out. Complete darkness enveloped the room, and Shadow's assailants were at last revealed to him. They were pale, pale almost to invisibility. They hovered above the ground on legs Shadow could not see. They were cloaked with faintly white with a darker hood. From beneath the hood, each one's eyes peered out, glowing like a pair of white candles. None of them bore a sword or any weapon Shadow recognized, but the light in their lamps glowed hot. The four of them moved around Shadow and he turned with them, keeping his blade toward them. They began moving very quickly. The one to his left lunged at him and swung its lamp as if to strike him. He dodged it, and struck at the arm with his blade. The shade shrieked at the cut, and retreated. The shade behind Shadow now attacked, twirling his lamp as to land many blows. Shadow leapt aside and forward, and thrust his blade through the gap under shade's hood. The shade shrieked,

and faded into nothingness. The shade to Shadow's right now attacked, but Shadow dodged backwards, and hewed the lamp from its grasp. It too vanished into the dark. The two remaining attacked in unison, and Shadow dodged both of their onslaughts. He spun left, his blade striking that shade just above the neck, then thrust his blade into the last shade's hood. Both shrieked, then faded. Their lamps crumbled and their light was extinguished. Shadow walked further into the temple. He traversed a room floored with quicksand. The only way past was to leap across large stone tiles laid in the floor. Each sank when he touched it, so he leapt from one to the other before the quicksand buried him. The door from that room was very large, and held down by some machinery. Shadow climbed atop a platform hanging from the ceiling, and saw a large contraption. The wood had somehow survived the centuries, and he approached the ancient machine. There was a large set of gears that went into the wall above the door, and a small place that appeared to be a switch of some kind. Shadow stood on this, and watched as the machine came to life. Dust fell from the gears as they began to turn, and the door slowly lifted and stayed. Shadow jumped down from the platform and went through the doorway. It slammed down behind him as soon as he was clear of it. He found himself in a cavernous room. It was round, walled by the same stonework as the rest of the temple. However, this room was unlit, and in the center was what looked like a massive sword. Shadow approached it and examined it. Thin strands were tied to its hilt, as if to hold it into the ground. Shadow could not even begin to imagine what terrible creature could have wielded such an enormous blade, so he did not disturb it. He walked to the far side of the room, to another door. This one much smaller, that was shut fast. His eyes could find no means of opening it and no machinery to operate it. He pushed against it, thinking that perhaps it moved that way. It did not budge. Instead, Shadow heard a dull grinding sound behind him. He turned to see the blade in the center of the room drawing out of the ground, seemingly, of its own accord. A black cloud rose from the floor around it, and the blade swung about as if held by an invisible force. The black cloud gathered about the sword and formed into at ghastly shape. There was a scream, and the blade's wielder appeared. An enormous beast, nearly as tall as the room stood in its center. It wielded the sword with the greatest of ease, and its eyes bore down on Shadow. The beast's blade was three times as long as Shadow's height, and yet this creature was swinging it about freely. He had just enough time to jump out of the way as the beast brought its blade down where he had been standing. Shadow's mind spun. He dodged a great sweep from the beast and lunged at it. He struck at its pillar like legs, his blade glowing deep red in the dark. His attacks were fruitless. No matter where he struck, the beast seemed unhurt. It slammed its fist into Shadow, and sent him flying backward across the room. Shadow rolled to the side as the beast slammed its blade down. He recovered his footing and readied his sword again. The beast rose into the air. Borne aloft on unseen wings. It flew around the walls of the room and separated into four. Each moved in unison, bound to the same will, but they were separate. Shadow turned from one to the other anticipating their attack. One flew at him, its horns lowered as if to impale him. He jumped aside and brought his sword down on the beast's neck as it passed. It shrieked and disappeared. Two of the others vanished, and only the original beast remained. It crashed onto the floor, shaking the ground like a tremor. A faint light emanated from the back of its neck. Shadow rushed towards it. It struck with its blade, but Shadow dodged to one side. He slashed both of the creature's legs with his blade, and jumped onto its back. He ran up its spine and up to its neck. The light was coming from a fissure there, as if he had cut a rift into whatever held the beast together. He struck this fissure with all his might, driving his sword deep into it. The beast reeled, screamed, and the light from its neck grew. Shadow struck again and again. Each time, the rift on the beast's neck grew wider. With a final great thrust, he drove his blade into the neck one last time. Light exploded from the rift, and the beast rocked. Shadow was thrown off and crashed to the floor. A he stood, he looked up at his foe. It pulled itself to its full height, shrieking terribly. The light enveloped it, and grew to a blinding glow. Shadow shut his eyes against it. The beast gave a final great cry, and was no

more. The door that had summoned the monster was now open. Shadow walked through it, and found himself at the base of a rather long stair. As he climbed, Shadow could see a faint light emanating from the something at the top. He came to the end of the stairs, and stopped. He nearly gasped at what he saw. The room was circular and slightly smaller than the last one. In the center, a single sword stood. It was one of the Blades of Chaos. A small holding place had been fashioned for it. The blade bore some similarities to his own, but the hilt and pommel were very different. They were intricately crafted with great skill to resemble what looked like twisted vines of some kind. Shadow sheathed his own sword and approached the Blade. He gripped it with both hands, and pulled it from its place. A faint glow emanated from it as it left the stone, and Shadow held it aloft. He ran his eyes up and down its blade and hilt. The intricate crafting of it was unlike anything he'd ever seen, save only his own sword. There were runes on the blade, but he could not read them. He lowered it, and looked around. On the far side of the room was an exit. Two stone doors opened of their own accord as he neared them. They created what looked like the portals Shadow used to travel through darkness. On the other side, he could see the lit world. He walked through the strange door. He found himself in the grove he'd started in. The guardian statues were on either side of him. His eyes were momentarily shocked by the light after the dark of the temple. He looked back at the Blade, and thought about where he was going to hide it. He couldn't go anywhere with it, because there would be interest in it and its unusual nature. He knew that the Blades had too much power to be left out, so he needed somewhere to hide it. Somewhere no one could ever find it. After a moment of thinking, he raised his left arm and opened a portal into the dark world. He stepped through and into the dark world that paralleled the lit world. He was the only being in this world, and his home was obscure even here. He ran. His speed was a faster that any human could hope to attain. He covered the distance to his little hiding place in a matter of minutes and reverently placed the Blade in a hidden room. Now that the Blade was safely hidden, he left his hiding place and returned to the spy bureau by way of another portal.

Anathas was fast asleep. He lay in the cage given to him for the purpose of appearing to be a slave so that no one suspected him of being free. His mind was quiet. Quieter than usual in fact. He

rested well knowing that Shadow was looking for the Blades of Chaos. The meeting between them had been tense, but once Shadow determined to do something, he did it. That meeting had been about a week ago. He suddenly awoke. Something had entered the room and disturbed him. He crawled out of the cage, and stood up to look around. He saw nothing in the cellar besides the barrels of wine that Lucar kept there. As his eyes passed a dark corner, Shadow emerged from it. Anathas was slightly startled. Shadow removed his hood and spoke, “I have found one of the Blades. In the Issun region, as you suspected.” “Where is it.” Anathas asked. “Hidden. Where no one will find it. The other two still remain to be found, but this one showed me where they are.” Shadow said coldly. “I doubt you came here just to tell me this.” Anathas' skepticism was audible. “There is something else you should know,” Shadow said, moving away from Anathas and turning his back, “You have never seen my sword and do not know it.” Anathas was confused by this. Shadow was not one to give away secrets, especially not about himself. Shadow continued, “My sword is the third of the Blades of Chaos.” Anathas' eye grew wide at the revelation. He knew Shadow was powerful, but he'd never known where such power came from. Now he knew. “My sword is called Ectheon. It is the Blade of Darkness. With it, I can bend darkness to my will. It also gives me access to a world parallel to your own. The shadow world. In this world, I am the only thing alive. I can see trees, houses, and roads, but no people. I am alone there. However, it is my home.” He looked at Anathas. “You did not really believe that the Blades existed. Even while I carried one.” Shadow softly laughed his grim laugh. “When I have found the remaining Blades, I will tell you.” He turned away and walked back into the shadow of the corner. There was the sound of a breath, and he was gone. Anathas sat at the table in the middle of the cellar. Shadow had dropped a great deal of information on him, and he needed some time to think it over. There was no way he was getting back to sleep anyway, so he began thinking immediately. Shadow had been right. He had never really believed in the Blades of Chaos. But now, he knew they were real. And that they were very powerful. Shadow had not described the power of the Blade he'd found, but Shadow was ever a mysterious sort. As full of secrets as his name suggested. Anathas thought of the legend of the Blades. He knew their mythical powers. One of light, that revealed that which was hidden and kindled hope in the hearts of the peoples of Aryae. One of darkness, which, as Shadow said, gave the power to control the dark and induce fear. One of time, which showed what was to come in proportion to the wielder's sight. And the last was the Master Blade, which combined the powers of the other three; but in lesser measure.

Anathas thought long and hard of the legend and the mythical power of the Blades. Now that he knew they were real, and that Shadow was retrieving them, he had a way to challenge the power of the Templars.

Shadow walked slowly in the dark world. This world was a parallel to the world of light, and so it had cities here where cities had been built in the lit world, roads where the lit world had roads, and all

the other features the lit world possessed. He walked along a road in the midst of a great city. He recognized it as a trail near Anathas' village in the fox clan territory, but there was no one here but himself. His solitude was complete in this place. The enormity of the world bore down on him as he left the deserted gates of the city and went out into the country. There was no real light in this world. It was eternally night and the moon and stars was covered by dark clouds, covering the world below in shadow. Shadow sat by a tree and held his head in his hands. He'd been brought into the world as the dark half of a hero. He knew nothing he ever did could change that, no matter how he wished to become something else. A shadow he would remain. Doomed to walk alone in this dark world. Anathas sometimes tried to sympathize by saying he knew the solitary existence as a ranger. Shadow knew he couldn't. Anathas had never been in a world deserted by all but himself. No one else ever would. Shadow was alone in every way. If he'd had tears, he may have cried as he sat under that tree. But he did not. His thoughts turned from their low spiral and toward other matters. Shadow rose to his feet and walked to his own little hiding place. He lived in a hole in the fox clan territory. It was near to Anathas' own village, and Shadow could see the other houses, but no one was there in this world. He entered his own hole, and retrieved the Blade of Chaos from its hiding place. He examined it, and pondered which it could be. As the legend recorded, there were runes on the blade and hilt, so Shadow set the sword aside and opened one of the books of lore he'd salvaged from the ruins of the last T'hel city. He leafed through this until he found the rune translations for the Blades of Chaos. He compared each to the markings on the sword, and found a match. This blade was the fourth Blade. The Blade of Time. It gave the wielder sight into the future, and if the wielder was strong enough, the lore told that the wielder could actually bend time to his desire and strength. Shadow read the ancient book's description of the Blade's unique power, and translated the runes on the sword. They read, By the power of the ancients That which is to come is revealed to me Shadow sighed in awe. He had studied the lore of the Blades of Chaos since he'd first found his own. As his thoughts turned to the Blade he bore, he turned in the ancient book to lore of the the third blade. As he knew well, it was the Blade of Darkness. As he read, the memory of how he'd found this Blade flooded into his mind. Shadow had plundered his first sword from a slaver in the empire. He'd come into the world unarmed. He knew how to fight with blades and aura as well as Anathas, he retained the same fighting style. He was, after all, Anathas' shadow. However, he'd found that his aura was darker and that he could do more with it. He'd first woken up in a slave cage on the way to he knew not where. However, he was not bound by any spell. He let forth a shock wave of aura, destroying his prison and captors. There had been no other slaves in the convoy, and Shadow had taken the sword of one of the slavers. He'd run from that place fast and hard. The flight taught him how to move more swiftly and silently than any other living thing, save perhaps a feral fox. He'd honed his combat technique as he fled, his skill soon surpassing any human's and most Kythians'. He did not stop after leaving the empire. He ran on to the Revthe region where he'd found, through fate or through his dark nature, a shadow temple. He'd spent days in the pitch black dungeons of that accursed place, fighting unnamed terrors and fell things. But he eventually found a sword in a final room of the temple. He'd pulled it from its stone pedestal and immediately felt a great power flowing through it, and into him. After he escaped the dungeons, he found that his aura had been increased in power tenfold and that he could use it to enter the parallel world he'd felt before. This, he

believed was his true home. He'd learned how to bend the darkness over time, and to use the dark world to cover great distances faster than any on the lit world could imagine. He'd learned much in the time since he'd found this blade. Shadow awoke from his memories, and shook them from his mind. He returned to the book of lore, and read the runes on his own blade. The darkness is yours to command Shadow Shadow had taken this name as his own.