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Brian D. Anderson

Shadow of the Gods

Prologue

Theopolou and Eftichis sat quietly by the small fire. Over the past three days the makeshift camp had become a divided scene. Theopolou had convinced more than half of the remaining elders to join together against the armies of Angraal, but Bellisia had held fast to her convictions. Her influence was the only thing that prevented Theopolou from turning the tide altogether.

“She is a stubborn one,” mused Eftichis.

“She believes in what she says,” said Theopolou. He looked out over the camp. Noble elves were wandering about in tattered and ripped clothing. The stench of burned out tents and the decay of the wounded, made him want to wretch. “And I must admit, her arguments are compelling. There have been times I have doubted my own resolve, because of her words.”

Eftichis nodded in agreement. “She has passion, to be sure. But we have pledged our houses to Gewey, and I, for one, will honor that pledge.”

“As will I,” said Theopolou. “But I cannot deny that my heart has been swayed to the brink. I only hope that my words have had a similar impact on her.”

Eftichis nodded. “As do I. The others will join our cause if she relents.”

Theopolou stood up and rubbed the back of his neck. “True. And we need them if we hope to succeed.”

“Perhaps you should simply try and focus their attention on the elves of the Steppes,” Eftichis offered. “It would end the debate. At least for now. We all know that they must be dealt with.”

Theopolou shook his head.

“No. We must deal with all of the forces arrayed against us, at once. I believe that one cannot be conquered without the other. They are intertwined.” He felt old and weary. “This may break our people. But we have no other choice.”

“But Gewey…” said Eftichis, desperation in his voice. “He can help us remain whole, can he not?”

Theopolou sighed. “Gewey may be a God, but he is not the Creator. As powerful as he is-and will become still-he struggles as well. Gewey does not, and never will, have the power to restore our people. Save us from annihilation, perhaps; but we cannot look to him for salvation.”

“But he opened the Book of Souls,” Eftichis contended. “Certainly-”

“And what of it?” asked Theopolou, cutting him off. “Did you hear what he said when he read the title?” His eyes gazed into the fire. “It is a true history. A true history.”

“Yes, and-” Eftichis started, but the sight of Theopolou's sadness halted him.

“I am the eldest of the elders,” said Theopolou, in a half-whisper. “I lived through the Great War. But unlike the others, I am old enough to have seen what we were before. We were a broken people, even then. Arrogant and selfish. We were so convinced that humans were inferior.”

“But they are,” said Eftichis. “They are fragile and weak. They grovel in the mud and live in squalor. How could we not see them as a lesser people?”

“Yes,” Theopolou laughed, sardonically. “But are we so much better? We have lost, while the humans continue to gain. They build while we gaze at our former glories.” His hand shot out, pointing to the Chamber of the Maker silhouetted against the fading light. “Can we claim to be the same people that built this? Look at us. Are we so different from the humans?”

“Do you see hope for us?” Eftichis asked, sorrow in his eyes.

“I don't know,” Theopolou replied. “I hope so. But whatever hope we have will arise from us, and not Gewey. He is the instrument of our survival, but, in the end, we must determine our own fate. If we live through the coming storm, it will be up to us.” He forced a smile. “But, I do have faith in our people. I believe there is still a spark of grace within us.”

Just then, Bellisia approached, dressed in a soft, cream linen robe. Her eyes showed fatigue, yet she managed to walk straight and tall, with graceful strides. Eftichis and the others rose to their feet and bowed.

“You have been tending the wounded,” said Theopolou. “You should rest. Our debate can continue tomorrow.”

“I am in no mood for debate,” said Bellisia. “I am weary, as you have noticed. I only wish to join you by the fire.”

Theopolou offered her a place beside him, which she gratefully accepted.

“Have you eaten?” asked Eftichis.

“I am not hungry,” she replied. “Just tired. My heart breaks when I look at what our own kind has done.”

“I understand,” said Theopolou. “I hoped I would never see such a thing happen again. I have seen far too much elf blood spill in my life.”

“Do you really believe Angraalis responsible?” she asked, closing her eyes, internally contemplating the truth. “Do you think his power is that great?”

“I cannot say for sure,” Theopolou admitted. “But I see no other way for this to have happened. Long have our brothers and sisters on the Steppes lived alongside Angraal. If the Reborn King has the key to heaven, and I believe he does, then it is very possible he could have bent our kin to his will.”

“The elves of the Steppes are a strong people,” said Eftichis. “If they have indeed been corrupted, then what resistance can we hope to offer? Already we have been betrayed from within our own ranks.”

“I do not know what hope there is,” said Theopolou. “Only that there is hope. And the elves of the Steppes have been close to the influence of Angraalfrom the moment the Reborn King seized power. We have been far removed by comparison. If things were different, who knows what would have become of us.”

“I agree,” said Bellisia. “And they are still our kin, regardless of what they have done. I, for one, will not abandon the idea that they can be redeemed. And, if we are to follow the example Theopolou set before us, forgiveness must be in our hearts.” Her eyes drifted over the camp. “But I must admit, it will be difficult. I have not seen so many elves slain since the Great War. I was only twenty-five during the first split, but the memories are still fresh in my mind.”

“It is so for all of us who lived through it,” said Theopolou. “And we have passed that memory to our children…along with our hatred and fear. It is a cycle that must end.”

There was a sudden disturbance near the healing pavilion, drawing immediate notice from the assembled group. Theopolou and the others reached for their weapons. From the direction of the commotion, Marinos appeared, half running toward them.

“What is it?” asked Theopolou, once Marinos was in earshot.

“Red sails,” he replied. His voice cracked. “Red sails on the horizon.”

Theopolou stiffened. “Are you certain?”

“There is no question,” he replied.

The others looked confused.

“Red sails? What does that mean?” asked Eftichis.

Theopolou lowered his head and took a deep breath. “It means the elves are coming.”

Chapter 1

Kaylia drifted in and out of consciousness. She knew she was bound and slung, face down, across the back of a horse, but each time her thoughts came into focus, an unseen force would press against her, and the world would go black again. Finally, she was able to resist long enough to hear voices. Elven voices.

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