Nerd Union has decided to do something a little different. Since our inception, we’ve been a site dedicated to fandom of every stripe. We talk about movies, comics, TV, books, and any other form of media. We provide commentary on pop culture and politics, but at our core we’re writers. We don’t just want to talk about nerd culture, we want to be a part of it. Part of that is creating something new and original. As a result, we are going to start a recurring column that, for now, we will be publishing under the banner Friday Fiction. There stories will be ongoing serials with a defined beginning, middle, and end. The writers of these works will be contributing them to the site, but Nerd Union will not own them. As a result they will most likely be available in other formats (and these formats will be available in the serials links). Our goal is to release a new serial once a week, and depending on interest we may offer multiple ongoing serials.
Our first serial will be a high fantasy story called The Legacy. It is a serial that will involve multiple characters across a wide landscape known as the “Eastern Kingdoms.” It was written by one of our writers, James Nelson. Enjoy.
Part I. “The River”
The feel of a slacked bowstring is like grasping pure power at rest. You know what the string is capable of and how far it will stretch, and the force that will propel the arrow that’s carefully resting between your fingertips. You know its power and then you make it a part of you. You make the bow an extension of your will to take the life of whatever is your target, at least, that was what Jaun’s father had always told him. Jaun didn’t enjoy taking a life, even if it was just a deer. The worst part about killing a deer wasn’t even the action of sticking it with an arrow and then tracking its blood trail through the foliage of the woodland to where it breathed its last. It was cutting it open and pulling out its insides with your bare hands. The first time he’d gone on a hunt he was not expecting the smell that came from the insides, nor the warmth of the blood. The smell got no better with time, he just grew to expect it.
Jaun had found his mark. It was a large, eight point buck that had fled for nearly a mile before he found it breathing it’s last just a few strides from the river. The hart was weak, barely able to breath, and it’s eyes were slowly succumbing to that final sleep. He pulled his knife out and slit the beast’s throat. It deserved a quick death, and if he’d been a better shot the deer would’ve died a while before. It was a lesson in life that not everything had a quick death. Many times death’s victim knows the end is coming before it arrives, though there are some times where it’s not as apparent.
So, as Jaun had done a hundred times before, he slit open the stag and began to dress it. It was messy, vile, and warm. In the winter the warmth wasn’t such a bad thing, especially after a long hunt in freezing rain. After he was done scooping out the entrails he realized how close he was to the river. He had tracked the stag farther than he’d intended. His father forbade him from coming to the river alone. He always said it was dangerous and that dangerous people traveled the big river. They usually drew their water from one of the many creeks that fed into it instead of coming directly to it’s dark waters. The only time he ever got this close was from a bluff that overlooked the expansive river. The bluff itself was on a trail that lead to their home. It was high enough that people going down the river wouldn’t be able to see someone standing at the top. Here though, just twenty or thirty yards away from where Jaun stood was a dock. He would be easy to see from the water, even at this distance.
He shouldn’t go.
But then again, it was a warm, humid day with little wind. Sweat had bled though two layers of shirts, and now the blood on his hands and forearms had begun to coagulate. Almost before he could lay down the bow and quiver he had jumped off the creaky dock and into the water. It had been ten years since he had jumped into any body of water and not touched the bottom. To be weightless, even for an instant, was uncanny. That first moment in the water he felt untethered. It was like nothing in the world could hold him there, and for a long time he just allowed himself to float, with only the occasional movement to keep him beside the dock. Slowly, he scrubbed the caked blood off his hands and swam back toward the elongated wooden structure. It was an odd thing to see in these woods. Not much remained that had been touched by mortals, except for the occasional hunter’s blind, or rotten cabin. He pulled himself out of the water and sat on the warped wood. It was old, ancient even. Jaun was actually surprised it held any kind of weight at all. It was probably a testament to it’s engineering that it even still withstood the endless march of time with no one to care for it.
For nearly an hour Jaun sat carving on the wood of the dock with his knife. This was a calm place, and it appeared to have been all but forgotten. No one came by anymore, not even refugees. No one came to this forsaken place. It was a dead zone, a wasted hole in the earth filled with inactivity. He felt truly alone here, for once in his life. Here he could not feel his father’s prying eyes. They always watched, and he saw everything in this place, except for maybe here. His father had always told stories of this river and its dangers, but over the years it had grown into a fairy tale. It seemed like something fabricated to keep him from here – to keep him on alert.
A single shrill creak bellowed from behind him. Before he even saw the man he knew very well who it was. It was his father. Jaun pulled himself to his feet and eyed the old one. The tall, slender elf looked at least twice as old as Jaun, who was nearly eighteen, but was at least seven thousand years old by the human reckoning. He was tall, even for an elf, and as slender as a willow branch. His face was so gaunt as to make him look skeletal. His black hair was pulled back into a knot on top of his head and his sharp eyes darted to the dagger in Jaun’s hand. Vulden twisted the dagger away in a quick, sudden jerk.
“You know you should not be sitting on the dock,” Vulden chastised in his wispy voice. It seemed like Vulden had a frown permanently chiseled into his gaunt face. Jaun was used to it. “Someone could have seen you.” Vulden sheathed the dagger, and stared at him. It was more than disappointment in the way he peered at Jaun, it was genuine concern. That same concern and sense of dread filled his voice and drew him closer to Jaun. “You are my beloved son, and I do not want to see you get hurt.”
“Hurt by what!” Jaun shouted. “The trees! There is nothing here and there hasn’t been for a long time. Look at this dock! It is barely standing. Do you know how long it’s been since anyone visited here?”
A spark of anger flashed in Vulden’s eyes like a match being lit. “I do know. I know all too well.” Vulden paused and let himself exhale a labored breath. Jaun could see the anger leak out of his father like water. “It’s for that reason we must never come out here again. The world is not as pleasant as it seems in my books. Now come.” The elf moved over to Jaun and grabbed him by the soft part of his arm. Jaun nodded and said nothing; he knew arguing with an elf as old as Vulden was futile. Their arrogance prevented them from being wrong. Maybe that was why all the elves were dead.
They turned and began to walk through the thick brush to their hut, carrying the dead stag with them. The trees of the woodland were ancient and thick. In some places the canopy was so tangled that the underbrush never grew. It was a haven for moss and ivies, but there were newer areas of the forest that were thinner and allowed room for massive bushes to thrive. It was in the more ancient heart of the woodland that they lived. Most people who might feel adventurous enough to explore the woodland never could make it past the giant bramble barrier on its outskirts.
It was their own private empire.
They eventually trekked back to a recognizable part of the forest. Even though this was an older part, the sun parted through and gave rise to the tangled brush. There was a clear path that both Vulden and Jaun had made over the years. The trail lead up a gently sloping hill and at the top was a clearing which stood at the lip of the bluff that looked down upon the river valley. It was a breathtaking sight to behold. It looked upon a lush, untouched valley full of all the most wonderful colors in the world; violets, blues, deep shades of green and red, with yellows. All of them swirled about next to the river that crisscrossed this forest and cut swaths, such as this ravine, through the ancient woodland. As Jaun closed the gap between him and his adoptive father, he studied the old elf.
Even though he was not really his father, he didn’t care. Vulden was what the humans called a High Elf. He was still as slender as a knife, like almost all elves, but he was also taller than a average human by half a foot. Like humans, there were many different races of elves, much like with any other species, but it was the High Elves who founded and ruled the great kingdom of Marui’r before the fall. Even though Vulden could be overbearing, he was still proud to be raised by him, regardless of how often they clashed. Throughout the years that Jaun could remember, every time they came to the ravine, Vulden would stand at the edge and look out upon the landscape. The ravine itself was a sharp cliff with the river churning below it. Anyone who would try to jump over its edge would surely fall to their death if they did not know about the niche in the rock face. When Jaun was younger, he would crawl into the niche to read and escape. In it he lived out a thousand years worth of Vulden’s adventures in his head. It was a wonderful exercise that helped alleviate some, if not all, of the monotony.
“Hurry up!” Vulden yelled from the bluff as he made his way down from the edge. He came up to a briar patch and carefully placed his hands on it. With care he moved the bush to the side to reveal a hidden path, carved out by the daily trudging of Jaun’s feet. Vulden moved down the path with Jaun close behind. Vulden picked up the pace when he looked up; the sun was racing down the sky. Jaun and Vulden had walked home in the dark many times before, so why was he now in such a hurry?
As they walked, Vulden stopped and turned to Jaun. His body tensed up and his jaw worked back in forth. Jaun, of course, had seen this look before. It was how Vulden would get when he didn’t want to answer a question that he knew had to be answered.
“There is something that I need to show you.” He moved off the path and they walked a little ways. Jaun’s arm and chest were getting tired from lugging the deer around. His curiosity was piqued, but he was more tired than curious. As they crested the hill that overlooked their zigzagging trail, Jaun caught the stench in his nose before his eyes took in the scene. There were three bodies, all human males, laying on the ground. Each one was wearing strange suits that made them look like weeds and they brandished axes and spears. Jaun couldn’t tell how long they had been out in the hot sun, but their bodies were swollen and putrid.
“They are marauders. A group of bandits that apparently decided to go hunting and came across something they couldn’t contend with-“
“Was it a bear or something? They look like they’ve been torn to pieces!”
“Hacked to pieces,” Vulden replied, “They were killed with swords; a couple of swords if I am not mistaken. The perimeter of the forest has been breached.” Vulden issued a long sigh. “We are no longer safe here.”
“So the ones who killed these people are still alive?”
“As far as I can tell. They left no tracks. We will need to pack our things and leave in the morning.”
“Leave for where?” He was shocked beyond belief. Never in his life had he ever dreamed of actually leaving. Sure, there were always the flights of fancy he took where he imagined being out in the wider world, but now fear gripped him by the throat. There were so many great and wondrous sights out there, he was sure of it, but there was so much evil out in the world. His breathing came quicker and his head grew lighter. Was he really going to leave now? After all this time?
As they began to walk back to the trail, the fear drifted into exhilaration. He could finally see the great gates of Unidor, or the ice peaks of Cragor. He could maybe even delve into the the underground island citadels of the dwarves. The ground seemed to float underneath him as they made their way back home. Seeing the world as it is would be a massive undertaking, but he would feel like he was in one of Vulden’s old adventures instead of reading one. Without even realizing it he caught himself wishing for the battle Vulden had always trained him for. For the first time in his life his most exciting adventure wouldn’t be tracking a deer outside of where he was allowed to go, it would be to see the world in all its splendor and horror.
They came over the crown of a hill, whose receding visage revealed their hut below. It was a quaint dome shaped house that seemed to blend in with the scenery. It had a thatched roof and three windows. There was a hole that would be used in the wintertime to burn wood, but in these days Vulden rarely let him use it. Vulden quickly came to the house, unbolted the door and went inside, with Jaun close behind.
Jaun sat in the rocking chair next to the candle on Vulden’s desk. Vulden had immediately began packing once they got home, so Jaun took to reading to calm his thoughts. Vulden and Jaun had spent much of the evening packing as much as they could into a couple of backpacks and prepared food for a journey. Though the prospect of leaving the forest was exciting, the discovery of those bodies where still unsettling.
Vulden had a lived a long life, and had journaled everything. It was through these tomes that he gained his insight into the outside world. His journals were nearly just as good as any history text, and read about the same. They were mostly boring, and dealt with politics and matters of state, except for the early and later volumes which were full of battles and adventures. During the war, Vulden had extensively journaled the fall of the Eastern Kingdoms from the beginning of the Dark Lord’s conquests to the fall of Anaroth. That was when he had stopped writing. Through these journals, Jaun learned that Vulden had been one of the highest ranking swordsmen in the Elvish court before it fell to the horde commanded by the Dark Lord. Amongst the more horrifying stories was the sacking of Vulden’s homeland. He shuddered as he read the accounts of the Berin, the beasts of war that composed the army commanded by the Dark Lord. They were large catlike beasts that served with blind loyalty to their master. He owned the horde, and they followed him like an obedient dog. They were dark creatures of evil; the ultimate perversion of loyalty and courage, their will had been bent from desiring reason to merely completion of the task ahead. At one time they may have been a sentient species, but that was no longer the case. That was their sole purpose in life, to serve and die. They had been twisted by a race of men and demons known as the Oncalla, but their evil kingdom had been destroyed long ago. This was not to say that the Berin did not have “free time,” but in their free time prisoners tended to disappear only for pieces of them to appear on a pike outside their encampment or even the mess hall table. No one knew how Mazaroth came to control them because their kind had not been seen in a thousand years except only in small packs.
As he flipped through one of the volumes he noticed something. The words on the end of one page read, “Mazaroth was a young man, full of vigor and zeal, but like most young” and then the sentence skipped to “Alrik was another knight in Order of the Eagle” on the following page. Jaun quickly looked at the seam in the page and realized several pages were missing.
“Father, there are some pages missing?”
“Yes there are,” Vulden replied with weariness dripping off his words. “I tore them out years ago.”
“There are several pages like that; I can’t remember them all. What’s the context?”
“It was talking about the Dark Lord.”
“Gods, what an awful title. Who really wants to call themselves that? Someone who has real emotional baggage, that’s who.” Vulden reached for his long pipe and packed a load in the bowl. It took him a few minutes to get it lit.
“Don’t dodge the question,” Jaun replied, a slight smile cracked. “Do you remember why you took the pages out?”
“Honestly, I probably didn’t want to think about those days. Mazaroth was an acquaintance before he became a monster. He was the second in command of the Paladin Order. He was by far the most intelligent and skillful warrior I’d seen in a long time, and his prowess in sword and tongue went surpassed by no one, not even among the elves, much to my chagrin. I studied the craft for many human lifetimes and he could still beat me in a duel. It was infuriating, but he had a good heart, so it didn’t bother me too much.”
“If he was such a good guy why did he fall?”
Vulden took a puff from his pipe and let the smoke swirl around him. “His weakness was his desire for reputation. He had advanced as far as he could as a paladin. The Lord Commander Berethor was many years away from death and would not surrender the post, nor could he be removed without great effort, so Mazaroth sought to be the son-in-law to the king and marry his daughter. He failed. So for a time he languished in Anaroth under the rule of the King and the head of the Order, until one day he vanished. No one knew what had happened. He was not seen again for six years. When he returned he came at the head of an army greater than the Eastern Kingdoms had seen in centuries. He attacked Marui’r first; then he moved to Anaroth. I barely escaped both places with my life. His hatred for his kin was appalling and was only surpassed by his hatred for my kind. He massacred the city and there was nothing I, or your father, could do to stop it. Your father died protecting the city and your mother.”
Jaun had only seen Vulden cry twice. It was years ago. He had been out playing in the forest when he found a strange and colorful frog that he wanted to show the old elf. When he snuck back into the hut, he found Vulden crying over a picture an elven woman. She was beautiful with long locks of blonde hair that were pulled back and interlaced with flowers and gemstones. He found out that day Vulden’s wife had been killed during the war. Watching Vulden tell the story of the fall of Mazaroth was the second time he saw tears touch his cheek. Jaun could just see it, Mazaroth sitting atop his black steed, standing on the crown of a hill, looking down onto the city of Anaroth, with flames licking the city walls. It burned Jaun to his very core, knowing that his mother and father more than likely had been in the city when it was burned. He shut the book furiously and set it on the desk.
“That is why I ripped those pages out. I never want to think about that man again.” As Vulden took another puff he stood up and began peering out the window of the hut. “Unfortunately, we don’t always get what we want. Jaun, I have not been entirely honest with you about our past, and there is something I’ve been meaning to give you before we leave tomorrow.”
Vulden turned from the door and went to his locked closet. He unscrewed the lock and flung open the door. He reached inside and pulled out a sword. Jaun could tell by its brutal size that it was not an elvish sword. Vulden came over to the desk and handed it, hilt end, to Jaun. The scabbard itself appeared to be wood wrapped in a ruddy, weathered leather. The pommel and grip matched the scabbard and the crossguard was a dull steel color. He grabbed it and pulled it from its scabbard. There was writing on the hilt. It was in the native tongue of his people. This was an Anarothian sword, but as he read the script it revealed more than he anticipated. It identified the sword as belonged to one of the five Paladins.
“It was your fathers,” Vulden spoke, holding back a tear. The steel of the sword was significantly darker than any he had seen before. It was almost black. Etched into the center groove of the blade were runes he did not recognize. They almost glew in the shadows. There was an excellent balance to the weapon, and its edge was still razor sharp. The elf moved back to the window as Jaun examined the sword more closely.
“This is a Paladin’s sword,” Jaun spoke with a quivering voice. “My father was a paladin?” Before Jaun’s eyes left the blade he heard a quick grinding noise and the sound of something gurgling.
He saw Vulden facing the window, with a long sword stuck in his belly. The sword slowly receded back through the wall and Vulden fell with blood spilling on the floor.
“They are here for you,” He muttered, gripping his fatal wound. Jaun ran to his side with the sword still in hand. As Jaun crouched over Vulden, the elf grabbed the boy by the back of his head. His fingers gripped a tuft of Jaun’s black hair. “Jaun, go to … find Berethor, he lives … on the Incantian. He knows why they … are after you … he can help,” The elf gasped, trying not to choke on his own blood. “Be strong my son. I love you…”
The elf’s stout grip slowly relaxed, and then completely evaporated in tandem with the life in his stepfather’s eyes. Jaun fought the tears as he immediately unstrapped Vulden’s mithril dagger from his dead father’s belt and put it on his own. He then grasped his new sword’s sheath and strapped it there as well. He slid his sword into the scabbard and slowly crept toward the door. His hands shook with terrible rage and trepidation.
His father was dead.
He was alone.
Of all the things he would ever loose he never thought it would be Vulden. It was enough to make him dizzy and at the same time feel like a chunk had been taken out of his heart. He could feel the loss wrapping itself around the back of his spine and his eyes began to lose focus. Something had killed Vulden and had killed the marauders and they were after him. They were outside. He knew the moment the door was opened he would have to face them. In his minds eye, all he could see were men, not elves, not Berin, but men just like him, waiting for him to open the door.
He had to go out that door to escape.
There was no other exit.
He moved to the wooden knob, but before his hand touched it, he hesitated. As if one of his senses persuaded him to stop.
He heard a great rush of wind, and suddenly his hut was ripped into the air above him, its contents scattered throughout the woodlands.
Standing around him were twelve beings. Each was dressed in black with a cape that hung over their shoulder, completely covering the right side. A dark steel plate armor wrapped around their chest, arms, and legs, with a chain skirt that wrapped about their thighs. On their faces were featureless silver masks that only exposed piercing red eyes. On top of their heads was a silver headdress that was attached to a mask, and held by both hands were huge broadswords. He immediately began to feel fear grab his throat once more as their eyes locked on him. They tipped their swords downward, with the blades level with the ground and their tips aimed at his chest. Without a second thought Jaun took a chance, he drew his sword and charged through the nearest gap between two of the assailants and deflected their jabs with his sword. As he heard their screams of anger, he dared not to look back.
He holstered the sword and ran.
He ran so hard he began to loose his balance and stumble over the slightest pebbles in the road. As soon as he regained his footing he would stumble again. Quicker and quicker he flew until he caught his foot on something terribly large. He was slammed into a furry body. As he raised his head he saw it was one of the dead marauders. He gasped in horror and instinctively looked into the direction from where he had come. He felt the cold grip of fear on him, this time it grabbed at his legs and felt like he was wearing stone shoes. He saw the enemy in pursuit on horseback staring at him from the end of the trail, they moved faster now that they saw he had fallen. Trembling now, he gripped the dirt, getting off the ground, and ran with a fearful focus. He ran so fast and was paying so much attention to his charging enemy that he did not notice the briar patch. He slammed into the course monster-brush. As he dug through the thicket with his fingers, he paid no attention to the thorns ripping and tearing away at his skin, spilling blood on his clothes. He felt them now – their breath on his neck – ready to rip him from his death trap, and with all his might he pulled himself through it, ignoring the pain. He could stop to feel it later, if he was awarded the luxury of survival.
He thought quickly now, he had to go somewhere, he had to outsmart them before they caught up. He looked to the ravine where he had stood earlier that day with Vulden. He jumped over the edge without hesitation. He stretched out his arms and grabbed the ridged rock-edging of the niche. With speed he pulled himself into the large cup shaped hole in the cliffside. It was barely able to support a person of his size, but this would have to do until they were gone. They couldn’t have seen him dive into here. When they don’t see his tracks leading away from the river they’ll think he jumped.
That was when he heard them; he startled, the riders’ hoof beats stomped on the ground above him. He heard them stop, and nearly heard them turn their heads scanning for him. One of the riders dismounted with a thud and clanking armor. His armored boots hit the ground above Jaun. Silence. Jaun held his breath and finally heard the being stop on the edge. Jaun could visualize him, crouched over the edge, sniffing the air. And there it was, he thought pessimistically, he could smell his blood in the air, and would then descend into his haven and snuff out his meaningless life. Instead he heard the sound of their horses neigh and head off into the opposite direction. He breathed a sigh of relief as he crept to the edge. Wait.
The smell of death came down on him as he saw the creature swing its arm over the side and shoot his claymore into the niche. Jaun barely managed to dodge the joust, the sword nicking his right ear. Jaun put his nerve racked hand on the hilt of Vulden’s dagger and jabbed outward.
“Get back!” he shouted in unison with the jab. He was dead accurate, plunging his dagger into the beast’s eye. It screamed in pain in a way that was clearly not human as it pulled itself back over the cliffside. The scream shook Jaun to his core. He shivered violently on the damp rock face. He knew that if he didn’t do something quick, the next time it came down for him, it would not miss. His only gateway to freedom was down. He sheathed the dagger and crept to the edge. He closed his eyes, held his breath, and let go of the only stable thing in his life, and let himself fall into the churning, murky waters below.
This is also a Kindle Edition available on Amazon.