A half-elf seeks a cure in the mysterious Shadowlands. But followers of The Blood stalk the lands and there are whispers of ancient demons returning...
Kealin Half-Elf has only been like this for a few weeks and already he is changing.
He feels ahungerhe has never felt before.
Before this, he had mastered the power of his ancient Dwemhar heritage, destroyed an ascended being, butwas mortally injured.
Vampirism saved him.
But now he must hurry to reverse the effect before he is eternally trapped in a state of maniacal blood lust.
But the worst part?
The Shadowlands are not a place for apale elf... and even more so one that has the ancient Dwemhar lineage.Not to mention his traveling companions have their own secrets, especially the mysterious wizard Evurn -a shadow elf returning home after generations in hiding.
Kealin knows it unwise to ask him directly.
In the darkness of what is to come, Kealin will have few choices if he is to save himself and those he cares about. But the one choice he might need to make will mean losing everything else he fights to hold on to.
In the end, should he just embrace the darkness and release his hold on sanity?
He might not have a choice.
"Words do not and cannot do this book justice!!! You think you might know what will happen next or where the story is going, but you have no idea! J.T. Williams has truly out done himself with Of Shadows and Blood"– Aaron Matheson, Amazon Reviewer
"This first book is a roller coaster of excellent battle scenes, and death. Which is exactly what I'm here for. I mean ask yourself, what kind of person could overthrow the shadowlands? Yeah, that kind of person but worse, this cult level creep fest was hard to put down. Also spiders, I'm all for larger than life spiders, and let's be honest, any book that gives animals a mind, a voice and a personality is going to be badass."– Sabetha Danes, Amazon Reviewer
"This is a most riveting tale that only J.T.Williams can tell, he takes the reader into a world where things are written so well you can almost feel the spider webs or the vampires teeth on your skin. His villains are truly to be hated..."– Carolyn, Amazon Reviewer
I have long wondered of the price to reach a goal. What is truly worth giving one's life in order to obtain. Every man or beast with wisdom beyond the primal instinct should have some knowledge of what I speak, but to give up your life for something beyond yourself is an act of true sacrifice.
But it cannot be the same degree of meaning to give your life protecting those you love versus that of the ideals of a high king or some elf lord. Do you even have a choice when dying for a cause that you do not believe in or that by service, you're required to embrace? Perhaps, but by the time you face death, you have already committed to the life where one has no choice. I have made many decisions through my own time in the living realm up to this point, but for once, I move forward in my own life for myself. As dust settles from my time as an elf of Urlas, I look to what I seek to become in the future . . . yet all I see is shadow.
A figure clad in a cloak of gray looked off the bow of an ancient ship. The waters in this region felt different to him. The air was not as cold as that from where he had come from. The sun had not been visible for some time. These were the Shadowlands, and of them, he had only heard stories of malice and darkness.
He adjusted the scabbards of his daggers, resting his hand on the leather of the ornate hilts. He thought of his sister and brothers, what he had lost in the fires before. He was different then. A half-elf alone in the world, moving from place to place, searching and yearning for a path to those he cared for, and in the end, he had met two others who were just as alone as he. But his daggers were a reminder of what had been. In the ruinite blades of his homeland were the ashes of his sister, and he had struck a god in another life. Now cursed, he sought a cure he even wondered actually existed.
"Kealin," a voice said behind him.
Kealin turned and looked at Aeveam. She offered him a mug of tea.
"The last of our stores," she said with a smile.
"Damn tides kept us out of the straits for over a week," the elf at the helm said. "I had wanted to get here before their ceremonies began."
Evurn was a shadow elf, a wizard at one point in his life, but his own history was a mystery to Kealin and even Aeveam, who had known him for much longer.
But now, Evurn was the only hope Kealin had. His willingness to return to his old homeland spoke volumes of the respect Kealin had for him. But the shadow elf had become increasingly erratic while traveling from the far northern Glacial Seas, chasing the sunrise for many weeks.
"We should have picked up more supplies in general," Aeveam said.
"Just more to carry," Evurn said. "I want to leave the ship's supplies barren. We will not be at sea for much longer after we stop at my old Master's."
"I thought you always were alone," Kealin said.
Evurn raised his eyebrows and shook his head. "I was, for a while, but even I was not as skilled in magic as I needed. I learned from a true 'wizard' of the Shadowlands. A rarer form, if you can believe it. Most of my kind either lean toward blood or shadow magic, but this man was his own form of magic. Simpler yet powerful. But he never leaves his tower. We will make contact with him." Evurn looked down for a moment, and then his eyes traced over across the waters ahead. "I need to know what we return to."
Aeveam was now sitting cross-legged, meditating on the bow of the ship. She was the child of a Dwemhar woman and a Rusis man, a blend of the races, giving her powers over elemental magic and potent psychic abilities. She meditated three times a day, at least, as Kealin had seen it.
But he tried not to. He shivered suddenly, feeling an ache across his entire body.
"You are feeling the coldness now?" Evurn asked.
"Yes, it is like it starts within me, near my neck, and moves out throughout my arms and legs."
Evurn nodded. "Such is as it begins. We will make a stop here and then head on to a shrine on the northern coast. Someone there can help us, another old friend. We will travel south from there, if the lands have not changed too much."
Lightning struck a lone pillar of rock in the distance. Kealin noticed large jagged rocks like towers of stone rising out of the oceans on either side of them. They had finally entered the straits on the northern coast of the Shadowlands.
Evurn sighed. "I have always wondered if my past would return to haunt me in the back of my mind. For nearly one hundred years, I have sworn never to return here, Kealin."
"I am surprised you were willing," he said, sipping the last bit of his tea.
The shadow elf nodded. "Now, being in these waters, so am I."
Evurn moved the ship along the edge of a narrow rocky bit of land and then turned into a cove sheltered from the rougher seas of the strait. There were two other ships here, smaller and not at all in similarity of this one. But how could it be considering what ship they were upon. This was the Aela Sunrise, a vessel of the ancient Dwemhar, once helmed by the Stormborn of the Glacial Seas, a unifying friend both Kealin and Evurn cared much for, but now, they were taking the first step to move away from their old lives.
As they stepped onto the dark docks palely lit by orange lanterns, they prepared for what new chapter opened before them.
Smoke rose from a burning basket near the water's edge, and a man lay burnt upon the rocks near the water.
Aeveam summoned her spells, shifting fire and ice between her hands as Evurn moved over to the burnt body. Kealin kept his hands on his daggers but did not draw them. He sniffed the air and scanned the massive stone structure. The dark stone, wet from the ocean's spray that struck the northern portion of the tower with the changing tides, gave no inkling of a hint that there was anyone even here.
"Is it your friend?" Aeveam asked.
"No, but it is likely his work. Come." He motioned to Aeveam. "And no magic. He's wise but a bit quick to launch a fireball into your chest." Evurn grinned. "Shadow elves are a bit crazed at times."
"I had no idea," she teased.
They began up a stairwell that curved around the coarse stone that made up the base of the tower. Of the three of them, he was the stranger. Evurn and Aeveam had known each other for many years. A playful banter, if it could be called that, was typical of the two of them. He was still trying to feel out the shadow elf. The little he knew of him told him that he should not ask too many questions. Even on several occasions journeying here from the Western lands, he had questioned too much of the shadow elf.
"We of the East," Evurn would say, "do not care for speaking just to speak. Keep your questions to yourself, and let's just keep watch for dwarven pirates."
Kealin had spent most of the journey doing just that, though there were no other vessels beyond the islands north of the Great Bay of the North. Now here, climbing well above the sea on a lone crag of sea rock, they had come to their first stop. Evurn knew this person, apparently, though Kealin did not know how, or even who this person was.
They had come to an opening in the rock, a narrow alcove that appeared to have some furniture in it, though, open to the outside, it smelled just of salt and musty wood. As Evurn went in, Aeveam and Kealin stood outside.
Evurn walked along the edge of the dark room and then smiled at them. "It is here I would rest, after my trials. It is strange to return here after so many years."
"So, he is farther up, then?" Aeveam asked.
Evurn nodded. "Yes, he is, and he is watching."
Evurn motioned to a small blue crab sitting on the stones just outside the door. The crab snapped its pinchers as they continued up.
"So, this is where you learned magic?" Aeveam asked.
"Yes, more so, it is where I learned more. All shadow elves know some, but it is not our focus. Not unless we intentionally do so. He was one of my first masters; I was just a boy when I met him. My father told me he was older than almost all others of our race."
Reaching a break in the stairwell, they came to a single wooden door with a blue jewel encrusted with salt centered in the blackness of the void between two pillars of stone fashioned to look like shells.
Evurn tapped the jewel, and the door opened.
If the room beneath could be described as musty and old, the interior of the tower was that of old parchment and a strange spice. A bit of smoke in the air smelled of musk.
As Kealin and Aeveam stepped in, Evurn shut the door behind them and sighed.
The room they were in was barren but had a few torches on the wall. They walked into the center, and Kealin noticed a stairwell along the edge of the tower that went up and down.
"Which way?" Kealin asked.
"Not down. Down is where his pet lives." Evurn shook his head with wide eyes. "I don't care for his pet. We go up. He likes to be where he can see the stars."
Evurn led the way, taking the stairwell up to a void where two more small blue crabs waited for them.
"I am here to see the master," Evurn said to the crab on the left.
The crab did nothing.
Kealin noticed a shimmering veil, a strange magic of twisting silver, blocking the doorway.
"I will turn you into a stew, crab. Open the way."
The crab did nothing.
Evurn leaned down to the crab's level. "I dealt with you for twenty-two days. You attacked me every night, but I couldn't do anything except try to cast the same forsaken spell. Open the way."
The crab sidestepped, grabbing a small stick from a pile next to him. It then returned to its original location, tapping the stone and pointing to Evurn.
"I don't have it," Evurn said. "A bit has happened since my time here."
The crab threw the stick at Evurn's face and then, with its kin, went to the top of the doorway. The shimmering veil vanished.
"An old friend?" Aeveam asked.
"I'm not sure I'd call that bastard a friend. He was a student of the master once, too. He was not so lucky in his time as a pupil."
Evurn beckoned Kealin and Aeveam through the doorway first. Kealin glanced back to see another stick hit Evurn in the face.
"Damn you!" Evurn said under his breath as he followed them. "I'd cook him, I really would, but he's essentially immortal now. One perk of being bound to a sea crab of the Wizard's Isle. If I had a pot, though, I'd test that immortality."
They had come to a room with many stacks of books and even a few hanging crystals. Evurn weaved his way around them and led them to an open room with a single stone chair and a brilliant view of the night sky.
Evurn seemed confused, glancing around and shaking his head. "Where is he?"
"Where am I?" a voice said. "Where are you? Who do you bring here?"
Evurn knelt immediately. Kealin and Aeveam followed suit, though neither of them had ever met this old friend of Evurn's.
"Master," Evurn said.
"Master? I am no longer your master."
Kealin could see two feet moving between them as they knelt. The man wore no boots; shells and tiny crabs covered his feet. He smelt of fish, a pronounced smell over that of the rest of the tower. Kealin heard smacking, like the man was eating.
"You do come to bother me at the worst of times, and you bring quite the companions. I sense the one; she is of old blood, and so is the other elf, but I must ask, is she the one I heard whispers of many years ago, one of the island of Aieclo?"
"She was," Evurn said.
"Stand, all of you."
Kealin looked up to see a man with a long black beard and pointy black eyelashes that curved out. His ears were longer than Kealin had ever seen on any elf. He wore only pants. He had a large tattoo across his stomach of a circular symbol, and was holding a bowl of some type of food. In the crux of his arm was a staff of shell with a large pearl at its tip. Though he had black hair, too, it was streaked with gray.
The man nodded as he smacked his food. "Evurn of Mandurel, you come back to us at a time of strange coincidence. The one who wished to 'be alone' returns to his home." He looked over to Kealin and Aeveam, "I am the Wizard of the Sea Isle. Most know me not by any other name, but amongst us friends, I wish you to call me Radel. I taught this one the finer points of magic." He looked back to Evurn, taking another bite of what Kealin had figured out was some type of fish stew. "But if you're back here and without your staff, you need something." He shook his head. "The man who swore he would 'never pick up a blade and bring evil upon the world; I can't do this anymore' has come back to the Shadowlands. I told you that you would. I and Shellbreak."
The crab from before came crawling across the floor and sat at Radel's feet.
"Where did your friend go? Did you finally throw her off the tower? I told you to throw her off the tower." He paused for a moment. "Worthless crab. I take it you saw my visitor?"
"What was left of them," Evurn said.
"Yes, part of what has changed." The wizard nodded. "A priest of Mandurlaku. Ascenders, they're called. There were a few of them, but that one in particular deserved nothing more than what he received."
"Mandurlaku?" Evurn questioned immediately.
"Yes, Mandurlaku. Mandurel is no longer the name of the great city. It has changed, as have most names of shadow origin. The world is one of allegiance to blood. Most Targus are dead, their armies shattered. A Great Seer now rules the city, and sacrifices are performed daily."
"Then that means the Shadow Guard—" Evurn asked.
"Leaderless, they are nothing now. A mere whisper from what they once were, and they are not of that name any longer, or even in the old city."
Radel stood. "I know your fear. I told you to never leave, but you were insistent."
"Worse." Standing from his seat, Radel went to a small altar between two candles and picked up a large box.
"How could you allow this?" Evurn shouted.
Radel turned, his eyes glowing white.
"Do not speak to me as one of your underlings!" Radel growled.
Kealin's hands went to his blades.
"You were told the risks you took. You were a binding force in the world, but you threw that away. Did you think the seals were enough? The shrines have all but fallen across the lands! I have sat here on my lone island as priests have come to convert me, and when I refuse, they send more and more and more. They do not understand I am but a bastion of shadow magic surrounded by enemies, and I will not give ground! Take this and undo what you abandoned."
Radel shoved the box he had picked up at Evurn.
"I kept it safe as I said I would. You destroyed the vile wizard who was my brother, and for that, we all must be thankful to you. But do not blame me for what has happened."
Evurn shook as he held the container. Kealin had never seen him as he appeared now. A single tear fell from his eye, but he then forced a strong sigh and took a deep breath.
Radel nodded. "I am sorry, old friend. But all things left to the workings of the world will rot."
Evurn was motionless, clutching the strange black box. Radel looked up at Aeveam and then to Kealin. He looked back to Aeveam.
"It was but a whisper, but I heard of Aieclo. You were of the ones who at last threw down the great evil there?"
"I was but one, Master Wizard. There was another, a Rusis. She is who struck down my mother."
"Great deeds, indeed. A Perfect Darkness, no doubt. Such exchanges of life and death are necessary. Few of the warriors of the realms reach that point of perfection, a true challenge of one against another. The Scourge Siren was an ancient evil, and though you are of her, I can sense a great peace within you. You were raised at Swia, correct?"
"Under the priests of the god Dimn."
"Then you learned the basic tenants of shadow magic, though they may not have told you that. Now within our lands, you should develop your powers further. What of you?" Radel asked, staring at Kealin.
"I am Kealin of Urlas. I am but a friend of Evurn and Aeveam."
"Of Urlas?" the wizard said with curiosity, stroking his beard. "But you wield not a long blade as the Blades of Urlas. You have daggers, curious daggers. Ones bound with a soul."
Radel quickly stood, moving over to Kealin. "Can I . . . see?"
Kealin looked over to Evurn, who was still clutching the box Radel had given him.
"You are not his servant, and I am not a thief," Radel said. "Please, I would like to see the blades. Shadow elves do love blades, after all."
Kealin pulled up one of the daggers from the sheath and handed it to Radel.
"Many thanks, Elf of Urlas."
Radel held the blade between two fingertips. His eyes glowed white for a moment, and then he blinked, his eyes returning to normal.
He stared at Kealin. "I have seen what has transpired. Is it true the elves of the West have all but fallen?"
Kealin nodded. "Most."
"And the men of the West have taken a path of war against those of magic?"
Kealin nodded again.
"I have always hated men. Though you will not find many here, they exist. Now I see why Evurn here returns. It is not as I thought. You, Kealin, have a true curse upon you, yet some would not call it that. But it is one that Evurn seeks to heal. Not so easy, as the land has shifted to align with the gods of the Blood Rites . . . but not impossible. How long have you had the vampiric blood?"
"Less than three moon cycles," Kealin said.
"Then you do have some time, but not much if you are to stop the transformation. I wonder how Evurn will go to help you now?"
Evurn flipped open the box he was holding. Gripping a massive black scabbard in one hand, he grasped a hilt and drew out a white blade that shimmered against the night sky as he held it above his head.
The blade surged with energy, running down Evurn's arm and around his chest.
He swung the blade, and the energy faded before he returned it to his scabbard. He affixed the blade with a belt from the box.
"It is true," Evurn said. "He is infected with vampiric blood; I will help him with it. But if the shrines have been aligned to the Blood gods, we will need to take another path than I had planned. But reclaiming my family's blade is but one path I had already planned. Radel, you have seen that which the blade has seen; you know of what evils exist beyond our lands. You see why I must help Kealin."
"Evils exist in the West, the North, the South, but especially the East."
"Will you help us?" Evurn asked.
"In time, dear friend, I will leave this isle to assist the East, but not while a greater evil inhabits Mandurlaku. I must remain here. I would be a risk to any subterfuge you hope to maintain as you cross the lands.
"The Shadowlands are under the rule of Mandurlaku, but there are still some places where you may find allies, though not of the Shadow Guard you wish. There have always been those to resist the powers that be. The Falacar riders still rule the western grasslands, the Great Harpy rule the mountains of the western border, but it will be the allies of the few, the weak ones of our lands, where you'll find the most allegiance.
"If you plan to head to Mandurlaku directly, I'd advise against it. You have none of the allies you once did."
"I have one I can seek," Evurn said, "if he is still where I left him. We then travel south toward the swamplands. It is there I believe we can seek the cure we need."
"Regardless, young one, wherever you seek to go within these lands, I sense your plans will alter even as you tread forward."
Evurn bowed, with Aeveam and Kealin following his lead. "My friend Radel, thank you for guarding my blade. I have returned. I will assist Kealin and then tend to the greater evils. Do not rot away here, friend. We will need your help."
Radel bowed. "Shadows veil you, Evurn."
Evurn looked to the others. "An old friend of mine and Aeveam's awaits us. We head to the mainland."