Light Chasers — A Novel of Lasniniar
Soul Seeker — A Novel of Lasninar
Storm Rider — A Novel of Lasniniar
Wave Runners — A Novel of Lasniniar
Godmaker — A Novel of Lasniniar
Light Chasers — A Novel of Lasniniar
(The World of Lasniniar: Book 0)
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– Chapter One –
Valanandir’s throat spasmed as he tried not to choke. He spat out a salty mouthful of seawater, coughing. The unnatural mixture of air and water burned his throat and lungs. He blinked rapidly, trying to clear his stinging eyes. He gripped some nearby rigging one-handed and flung out his other arm for balance as the ship rocked beneath him. His vision slowly came into focus.
The sky was completely dark, as it always was. Most of the ship’s lanterns had gone out. As luck would have it, there were other sources of light available, creating a flickering twilight. Enormous forms swooped overhead on dark wings that beat the air, churning the waters below into a frenzy. Sporadic jets of flame blasted down from above, punctuating the darkness as the serpentine juggernauts made one pass after another, their long necks and tails writhing. Bright, slitted eyes peered out from scaled faces, picking out their next target. They were glaurinu—dragons.
Despite the frigid water soaking him to the bone, Valanandir’s skin felt hot. The ship was on fire. Other vessels, already engulfed in flame, lit up the water like torches.
A shocked numbness washed over him as he stood frozen in place, unnoticed for the time being. He wondered if this was what his parents had felt like before they had been killed in battle. According to the stories, they had gone down fighting against the dark army, but his own attackers were hopelessly out of reach.
Would he be remembered as his parents had been? He had no siblings to carry on his memory. The only blood family he had were his aunt and uncle, who would be devastated when they learned his fate. They had always hoped he would stay with them on Arindaria among the fisherfolk of the isle, but the call to follow in his parents’ footsteps had been too strong.
Now he was out on the waters of the sea under attack by dragons of the dark army—just another doomed skirmish in a war that had been raging since the beginning of time between the creatures of light and darkness.
Screams of panicked agony pierced Valanandir’s awareness. He pushed wet strands of long, silver hair from his eyes, tucking them behind pointed ears with his free hand. Bodies lay strewn about the deck of the ship, bloody, charred, and lifeless. Others floated on the waves.
He could see figures running about the decks of the other ships, haloed in flames. Their cries echoed across the water, only to be cut short as they jumped overboard. Even the sea held no escape. The unnatural waves were too strong, even for the crafty Sea Elves. The wounded shadows soon slipped below the surface.
Valanandir had escaped this fate thus far, somehow unnoticed by the relentless dragons. He remained hidden in the shadows, his dusky skin helping to camouflage him. But this had not saved any of his companions, and soon his ship would be consumed. If he could last long enough, perhaps the dragons would leave and he could try to make his escape.
As the cries of the wounded sailors on the other ships died out, most of the dragons seemed to lose interest and flew off into the darkness. Valanandir held his breath, waiting for the others to leave. The next few moments slid by with agonizing slowness as the looming shadows circled overhead.
Just when he was beginning to hope the nightmare might be over, one of the dragons swooped downward. Valanandir let out his pent up breath in a gasp. The body of the creature was huge, dwarfing the others. Its black scales gleamed dully in the light of the fires. Valanandir nearly gagged on the musky stench that radiated from its body and filled the air each time the creature beat its enormous wings.
Not it—he. Valanandir knew this foul beast. All of Ralvaniar trembled at the mere thought of him. He was Nargaz, lord of the dark dragons. Valanandir heard a mew of terror, and realized it was his own. He clenched his quivering jaw and squeezed his eyes shut, wishing himself somewhere else.
Valanandir heard the roar of flame and felt its heat. His eyes opened in surprise once he realized he had not been consumed. His pupils narrowed to mere pinpricks of shock within silver irises, darting left and right in confusion. The air was silent, save for the crackle of flame, the wingbeats of the dragons overhead, and his own ragged breathing.
A fresh scream ripped through the night air. Valanandir felt tears slide down his hot cheeks. He was torn between relief the victim wasn’t him, and a sympathizing despair. Choking back a sob, he continued to cling to the hempen rigging, its rough surface biting into his sweat-slick hand.
The screaming grew louder. Valanandir turned his head toward its source and saw one of his shipmates staggering toward him, engulfed in flame. His face was a tortured mask of agony, beyond Valanandir’s recognition. He weaved and stumbled, eventually falling to his hands and knees at Valanandir’s feet. Valanandir caught his bottom lip between his teeth, still hoping to remain unnoticed by the remaining dragons.
Valanandir was unsure whether the unfortunate soul writhing on the deck had seen him until he looked up, his eyes filled with an unspoken plea. Valanandir knew it was too late to save him. Yet if he did nothing and somehow survived, this moment would haunt him for the rest of his life. He could not in good conscience watch a fellow elf burn alive without trying to save him or put him out of his misery.
Valanandir sighed and released the rigging to bend down to the figure at his feet. He braced himself before scooping him into his arms. The elf cried out once before sagging in relief. Valanandir’s wet skin and clothing would protect him for only a few moments from the flames that licked the dying elf’s body.
He would have to be quick.
Soul Seeker — A Novel of Lasniniar
(The World of Lasniniar: Book 1)
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– Chapter One –
Iarion walked alone on Traitor’s Road. Midnight had already come and gone. The world of Lasniniar was silent, except for the patter of the falling rain.
Was he truly alone?
He kept his pointed ears strained for any sound of pursuit. His elven eyes pierced the darkness with ease, twin points of silver-shot sapphire.
Iarion shivered. He was already soaked through. His shoulder throbbed in pain from an arrow wound. He had managed to pull the shaft free, but his left arm hung limp at his side. As far as he could tell, there was no festering burn of poison, but it was difficult to say for certain. Every drop of rain that trickled into his pierced flesh stung.
He cursed his inattention. He was used to traveling alone and taking care of himself. He should know better. But he was in familiar territory and so close to home that he had allowed himself to become complacent.
Had he killed all the goblins? He thought so, but there had been so many. There shouldn’t be any goblins in the midlands, so far from their home in the north. It was a bad sign.
The Jagged Mountains loomed to his left, keeping the road cloaked in darkness. Being Goladain—a Shadow Elf—had its advantages. If anyone was following him, at least his dusky skin and silver braids would make him difficult to spot.
Iarion muttered a curse as he shifted his pack, pulling his injured shoulder. At least Dwarvenhome was close by. He had already planned to visit Barlo before returning to his own kind in Melaralva. Now that visit had become a necessity. He smiled to think of how the dwarf would scold him when he saw Iarion’s wound.
Iarion was careful to maintain his tense vigil for the remainder of the journey. Of his goblin attackers, there was no sign. His aching muscles went slack with relief when the dwarf stronghold came into view. The huge stone entryway was an imposing work of beauty, carved right into the mountainside. It was guarded by several dwarves bearing axes. Various clan tartans were visible among their armor.
One of the older dwarves recognized Iarion and gestured for him to pass, while the younger ones looked on in surprise at their elven visitor.
Had it been that long? Iarion used to know all the guards.
Under the mountain, the polished stone streets were empty. Iarion followed the lamplit route that led to Barlo’s home. Carved reliefs of dwarven history and legend, accented with metal and gems, flickered as he passed. Barlo’s clan lived in the eastern section of the sprawling dwarven city. As Dwarvenhome’s Chief of Clans, Barlo had the largest dwelling.
Iarion arrived at the arched stone doorway marked by a flag of Barlo’s personal tartan and tapped softly with the bronze knocker. After a few moments, he heard the sound of muffled footsteps from inside. The door opened a crack and a pair of sleepy, deep blue eyes peered up at him.
“Narilga,” Iarion whispered in the Common Tongue so as not to wake the dwarven children who slept inside. “It’s me.” The door opened, revealing a dwarven woman with long, tousled black hair wearing a linen shift.
“Iarion.” She nodded a greeting, as though late night elf visitors were a common occurrence. Her eyes narrowed as she noticed his limp arm.
“Well, it seems you’ve gone and gotten yourself injured again. You’d best come in.”
She stepped aside to allow Iarion to enter, holding a finger to her lips. Iarion had to duck his head to get through the door.
“You sit there,” she said in a hushed voice, gesturing to a couch by the fireplace. “I’ll go wake Barlo and put the kettle on.”
Iarion hung his dripping cloak on a peg by the door and took a seat near the banked embers of the fire. A few moments later, Barlo shuffled into the room on bare feet, rubbing his eyes and yawning hugely.
“So you’re back.” He cracked his brown eyes open wide enough to get a good look at his friend. His roving gaze stopped at Iarion’s shoulder wound.
“You’ve hurt it again? Well, that’s what you get for traveling without me, you fool elf. What was it this time?” He rubbed at his thick, brown hair before trying to smooth down his beard.
Iarion rolled his eyes and smiled before turning serious. “Goblins. They were in the Narrow Pass.”
“Ha! They even jumped you in the same place. You should have been paying more attention. But seriously, goblins shouldn’t be this far south. No one’s seen any dark creatures ’round here since you got jumped twenty years ago.” Barlo tossed a fresh log into the fireplace and stirred the flames back to life.
“I know. That’s why they caught me off guard. They attacked under the cover of darkness as a storm was coming in.”
“Too crafty by half for goblins. I don’t like it. Saviadro’s up to something.”
Narilga came back into the room, bearing a tray of bandages, herbs, and steaming water. She jerked her chin toward the elf.
“Let me see it.”
Iarion pried off his tunic with a hiss. His dried blood had stuck the fabric to his skin in some places. He crouched so Narilga could get a better look.
“Well, it’s not as bad as it could be,” she said. “It doesn’t look to be poisoned. If it were, you’d have passed out by now. Still, you’re lucky those wretched creatures don’t use arrowheads. Now let me patch it up for you.”
She poured the boiled water on the wound. Iarion bit back a scream. For a moment, his vision swam.
“That was the hard part,” Narilga said. “This should help the pain and keep it from going septic.” She smeared some mashed up herbs on his skin. A cooling sensation spread across Iarion’s shoulder. He let out the breath he had been holding and blinked his eyes to clear them.
“There. Now, I’m just going to bandage that up for you.” She bound the shoulder with deft fingers. “All done. You’re going to want to try to rest that arm for the next few days.” She gave Iarion a pointed look. Iarion did his best to appear meek.
“Men!” She sighed in frustration, rolling her eyes. “Well, I’m going back to bed. I’ll see you both in the morning.” She picked up the tray and left.
Barlo gave Iarion a wince of sympathy. “Want something to drink?” Iarion nodded.
The dwarf left the room and returned a few moments later with two full tankards. Iarion took a sip. The cool liquid slid down his throat. Although he preferred wine, he had developed a fondness for dwarven ale over the years. He leaned back on the couch and sighed, basking in the heat of the fire. The new log crackled, filling the air with a fresh, pine scent. A warm languor suffused his limbs as he allowed himself to relax.
“So where are you coming back from this time?” Barlo asked.
“The western lands.”
“And? What did you find there?”
“Empty, untamed wilderness,” Iarion said, tasting bitterness. “I never found any civilized people.”
“So your search continues.”
Iarion nodded and slumped his shoulders. Would he ever find the answers he sought? He had searched for so long… But until he succeeded, he was doomed to spend eternity wandering. Thousands of years had already passed since he had been born into this life, longer than the lifespan of any of his kind. Iarion was tired. He was also running out of places to look.
“Where will you go now?” Barlo’s words startled Iarion from his reverie.
“There is only one other place that I have not tried,” Iarion said.
“Melaquenya.” Iarion nodded. “The Linadar have the best chance of helping me.”
“The Light Elves. Why haven’t you sought them out before?”
“The Linadar and the Goladar have lived apart since before I was born.” Iarion shrugged his good shoulder. “The Linadar are what we strive to become. We do not intrude upon them lightly. As far as I know, no Shadow Elf has entered Melaquenya since the Age of Betrayal.”
Barlo looked away for a moment. The Age of Betrayal was not a proud time for the dwarves. “Do you think the Light Elves would help you?”
“I would like to think they would, if it were within their power. Even if they aren’t interested in my problem, they should know Saviadro’s creatures are abroad in the midlands and organized. As you say, he’s up to something.”
“Whatever it is,” Barlo said, “it doesn’t bode well for the Free Races.”
They contemplated the dark truth of his words in silence for several long moments until Barlo stood, stretching.
“Well, if we’re going to set out tomorrow, we’d best get some rest.”
“You’re coming with me?” Iarion gave a wry smile.
“It’s been too long since our last journey together. I’ve been stuck here with the children, sitting in on clan meetings. It’ll be good to get away. Besides, you need a sturdy dwarf to watch your back, since you’re clearly incapable of taking care of yourself.” Barlo chuckled before turning serious. “I just hope the missus doesn’t kick up a fuss.”
Storm Rider — A Novel of Lasniniar
(The World of Lasniniar: Book 2)
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— Prologue —
Barlo’s eyes snapped open. Slowly, the dark confines of his bedroom came into focus. He tried to slow his rapid breathing. Beside him, Narilga continued to doze, her light snores undisturbed. As the reality of the waking world set in, Barlo grasped at the details of the dream.
Could it be true?
As much as he wanted to believe, he didn’t think he could bear to have his hopes dashed. He had never had a true dream before. He didn’t know any dwarves who did. It seemed more like an elf sort of thing. Still, the dream had been so vivid. It was unlike anything he had ever experienced.
He wished Narilga were awake so he could talk to her about it. She would understand. But she looked so restful, it would be a shame to wake her. It would have to wait.
Barlo closed his eyes and tried to drift off, but the memory of the dream haunted him. His thoughts chased one another in an endless circle. Suppressing a groan, he gave it up as a lost cause. Moving silently to avoid waking Narilga, he rose from the bed and dressed.
Sinstari roused from his usual place in front of the sitting-room fire when Barlo entered. The wildcat stretched before looking up at him with blinking, green eyes.
“Come on then,” Barlo muttered, beckoning the cat to follow him out the door. Sinstari padded after him into the underground streets of Dwarvenhome, his mottled gray, gold, and silver markings blending into the shadows.
The city was quiet. Barlo smoothed his beard as he walked, in case he came across another early riser. It wouldn’t do for the Chief of Clans to be seen wandering the streets looking as though his wife had kicked him out of bed. Even though Khalid made most of the rulings these days in his stead, Barlo knew his eldest son would be appalled to learn he had left their home without so much as brushing his hair. Despite his cursory grooming, he met no one on the way to his forge.
Sinstari settled in an out-of-the-way corner while Barlo got the fire going. Barlo decided some detailed work would be best to keep his hands busy and give his whirling thoughts something to focus on. Drawing some polished gems from a strongbox, he sat at his worktable, and got started on a brooch for Narilga. Her naming day was coming up, and the sapphires would bring out her eyes nicely.
Barlo soon lost himself in his work, the images of the dream fading to the recesses of his mind. Hours passed before he heard a knock on the forge door. Fidar’s head appeared through the doorway, his eyes bright with excitement and his cheeks flushed above his dark beard.
“Father, you must come quickly.” Barlo’s youngest son’s voice was breathless. “An elf is here to see you. An elf with wings!”
Barlo leaped from his seat and hurried to put out the fire. He stashed his half-finished brooch in the strong box and urged Sinstari and his son out the door.
Sky Elves often served as messengers, but few had come to Dwarvenhome since the Third War of the Quenya. The realm of Lasniniar had been at peace since then. Barlo’s heart hammered in his chest.
Did the Sky Elf’s visit have anything to do with his dream?
The idea was ridiculous. But it seemed eerie that the messenger had arrived the same day. Barlo suppressed a shiver as he walked behind Fidar, who scurried toward their home. Sinstari paced beside him on silent paws.
Barlo followed his son inside. Even though he had known what to expect, the sight of an elf perched on a stool, his blue and gold feathered wings neatly tucked behind him, shook him. Narilga was serving the exotic creature from their best silver tea set. No elf had been in their sitting room since… Barlo shook his head, brushing the painful, half-formed thought aside to focus on their guest.
The Sky Elf stood. “Greetings,” he said. “You are Barlo, yes?”
Barlo cleared his throat and forced himself to speak. “I am.”
“My apologies. My Common, it is not good. I have been sent by the Lady Iadrawyn with an important message for you.” The Sky Elf drew a scroll from his messenger bag and handed it to Barlo. It bore the golden wax seal of the Ruling Lady of the Light Elves. Barlo’s hands trembled as he took it.
Narilga gave Barlo a penetrating look. “Is anything wrong?” she asked him in Dwarvish. Unable to articulate an answer, Barlo shook his head.
Everyone stared at him, waiting. While part of him wanted to rip the scroll open, hoping it was somehow related to his vivid dream, he dreaded the idea of learning the contents were about something completely different. As long as he held the scroll unread, both outcomes were equally possible.
He closed his eyes and took a steadying breath. He was being ridiculous. The message could be anything. He was Barlo, a practical dwarf and Chief of Clans. Surely he could open a simple message.
Peeling back the seal with his thumb, he unrolled the scroll. The message was short, written in the Common Tongue in Iadrawyn’s flowing script. At first, his eyes passed over the words without making sense of them. He read them again. And again. By the third read-through, their full meaning began to sink in. The scroll dropped from his numb fingers to land on the floor.
“Barlo?” Narilga placed a hand on his shoulder, anchoring him to reality.
Barlo gave a whoop and planted a kiss on Narilga’s lips. Her blue eyes widened. Fidar and the Sky Elf watched in curiosity as Barlo danced a happy jig.
He couldn’t believe it! Somehow, he had been granted a true vision. He had waited for so long, but now it had finally happened! Barlo danced around the sitting room, unable to contain himself, barely avoiding tripping over Sinstari. He wrapped his arms around the cat as the others looked on in bewilderment.
Narilga bent to retrieve the message. She read it in silence. Her eyes met Barlo’s, a grin spreading across her face to match his own. She ran across the room with a cry of delight to embrace him.
Iarion had been reborn.
Wave Runners — A Novel of Lasniniar
(The World of Lasniniar: Book 3)
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— Chapter One —
Second Time Around
Barlo crept through the empty streets of Dwarvenhome on silent feet. He suppressed a smile. Even Iarion wouldn’t be able to accuse him of tromping this time. Barlo was of two minds about his stealthy progress. On the one hand, he was pleased to be able to pass unnoticed, without the customary scuffle and heavy footfall of his dwarven boots. On the other hand… Well, it only served to remind him how different he had become.
No other dwarf could match the unnatural silence of his movements. Years of being trained and partially raised by an elf had set him apart from the rest of his kind. It had made him something more.
His peculiar training and upbringing weren’t the only things that set him apart. Of all the dwarves that had ever lived in Lasniniar, he was the only one to ever be reborn. That in itself was difficult enough for him to come to terms with. No, the worst part was that he had to keep it a secret.
As they usually did when confronted with the discomfort of his burden, his thoughts drifted back to that fateful day when he had thought his life had come to an end…
Barlo found himself in an enormous mountain hall with roaring fireplaces, and a long table piled high with food and drink. Other dwarves wandered the hall, having animated conversations and taking their turn at the table. Everyone seemed in high spirits. Barlo smiled. The First Father’s hall was exactly as he thought it would be.
He heard a low cry and turned to see Narilga rushing toward him. There was no sign of the sickness that had claimed her, and the years seemed to have fallen away from her. She was every bit as beautiful as she had been as a young lass when he had first started to court her. Her dark hair streamed behind her as she threw herself at him. He caught her, holding her tightly. She gripped his beard with both hands and pulled him in for a lingering kiss that left him breathless before looking up at him with sparkling, blue eyes.
“Narilga!” he managed to gasp. “You look wonderful. You’re even lovelier than I remember, and that’s saying something!”
His wife blushed and flashed him a smile. “You’re looking rather dashing yourself.”
Barlo looked down and realized the gray was gone from his beard. He ran his fingers over his face. He could feel no signs of the wrinkles and seams that had become a familiar part of his features.
“There’s someone else who wants to say hello,” Narilga said.
She stepped aside to reveal a large wildcat with gray fur marked with patterns of dull gold and silver. The cat padded forward and looked up at him with unblinking green eyes.
“Sinstari? How is this possible? You’re not a dwarf…” Barlo shook his head in disbelief.
Narilga shrugged. “He wouldn’t be left behind.”
Barlo fell to his knees and wrapped his arms around the giant cat, holding back tears. “You stubborn beast!”
Sinstari licked Barlo’s forehead with a large, rough tongue, looking quite pleased with himself.
Narilga squeezed Barlo’s hand. “There’s something else,” she said. “The First Father wants to speak with you.”
Barlo rose in a daze. “Galrin?” he asked, uncomprehending.
He got the sense from Narilga’s hushed tone this was an unusual situation. Before he had the chance to question her, the First Father himself arrived, seemingly from nowhere. Galrin’s presence was almost overwhelming. The First Father was both merry and solemn, friendly and awe-inspiring, all at once. He was slightly taller than Barlo, with a magnificent gray beard. His green gaze seemed bottomless.
“Barlo,” he said in a voice that resonated through every bone in Barlo’s body. “Welcome to my hall. I have allowed your cat companion to join us here as a reward for his loyalty.”
“Thank you,” Barlo stammered.
“You did much in the service of Lasniniar in life,” Galrin continued. “Not only did you help to defeat Saviadro and reunite the Quenya, but you also gave your life to prevent a great evil from taking root when you killed the Khashada.”
Barlo nodded. He considered his death to be worth the cost. If the Khashada had not been destroyed… Well, Lasniniar would likely be overrun by her changelings and blood-drinking demons.
“For all you have done, I am now giving you a choice,” Galrin said. “While the dwarves do not serve the Quenya directly as the elves do, it is still a part of us. Without it, Lasniniar would cease to exist. It is the source of all life and magic.”
“What is the choice?” Barlo asked, almost dreading to hear the answer.
Galrin seemed to sense his unease. He gave Barlo a sympathetic smile. “You can either stay here for the rest of eternity like any other dwarf who has passed from the world of the living, or you can choose to return.”
“Return?” Barlo frowned. “But only elves are reborn.”
“For you, the Quenya has made an exception. I cannot advise you one way or the other. The choice is up to you. Only know that if you decide to return, you must tell no one. Otherwise, you will create chaos and confusion among my other dwarven children, who will be given no such choice.”
Barlo’s mind reeled. “And what happens when I die the next time? If I decide to go back, that is.”
Galrin shrugged. “I do not know. It is unprecedented. The Quenya may offer you this decision again. No matter what happens, you will always be welcome in my hall.”
Barlo turned toward Narilga, feeling utterly lost. He had always thought he had known what awaited him once his life was over. He had been looking forward to being reunited with her. He had missed her desperately. But at the same time, an eternity of feasting and drinking, with all chance of adventure gone beyond recall… Well, it seemed a bit boring. He had never been one to sit idle for too long. Plus, it would be worth it to see the look on Iarion’s face if he went back. Barlo had no doubt his best friend would recognize him. Besides, the foolish elf was probably blaming himself for Barlo’s death.
Narilga held his gaze. “You should go,” she said.
Barlo shook his head. “Do you have any idea how long I’ve waited to see you again? How can I turn around and leave you?”
She held both his hands in hers. “Time has no meaning here. To me, it seems as though I only died yesterday, rather than decades ago. You have a chance to go back and have more adventures. You can see Iarion again. You can see our children! You can live an entire life, and when I see you again, it will almost be as if you had never left.”
“But I would miss you so much!” Barlo said, his throat tightening.
“I know, but if you let this chance pass you by, I think you will regret it. Do you really want to live with that for the rest of eternity?” Narilga’s eyes shone with unshed tears.
“You would not have to leave right away,” Galrin said in a gentle voice. “You would still have some time together.”
Barlo wrapped Narilga in a wordless embrace. He knew she was right. He just hated to think of being without her again.
“No matter what, you are the only woman I will ever love,” Barlo said in a fierce voice, pulling back to look at her.
She gave him a smug look, raising her chin. “Good. I’ll try not to pick up any dwarven men while you’re gone.” She broke into a smile.
“You’d better not…” Barlo gave her a mock threatening look. He turned to face Galrin. “Will I remember any of this?”
The First Father gave him a sad smile. “Perhaps. That will be up to the Quenya.”
Barlo forced his thoughts back to the present. He still had to get past the sentries at the city gates. He felt a pang of guilt over his secret departure, but it was for the best. He had spent much of the fifty-five years since he had been reborn out from under the mountains, usually under the boughs of Melaquenya. He didn’t belong here anymore, and he knew it.
The trouble was, no one else seemed to realize it. They looked at him, and remembered the Barlo that had once been their Chief of Clans before he had died. He looked almost exactly the same as he had during his previous life, and he had even been reborn as the son of the dwarf who had been his own youngest son before he had died. It was enough to make anyone’s head hurt. He didn’t know how the elves kept all these different lives and relationships straight.
Every day, it became more and more difficult for him to keep his rebirth a secret. He still had all the memories from his past life. He had already been forced to gloss over mistakes he made whenever he displayed knowledge he should have no way of knowing. He didn’t know how much longer he could keep it up.
As much as he loved his children, he had grown apart from them. The elves were the only ones he could be himself around anymore, as strange as that was. He was tired of walking on eggshells all the time. It was exhausting.
Tomorrow, his parents would find a note telling them he had gone on an extended visit to Melaquenya. In a way, it was true. He didn’t know yet whether he ever meant to return, or even if Melaquenya was where he was going to end up. At least it was a place to start. Iarion was there, and Barlo had no intention of setting off on any kind of journey without him.
As Barlo left Dwarvenhome behind him, he felt an invisible burden fall from his shoulders. He hummed to himself as he headed south, feeling truly free for the first time. Finally, his second life had begun.
Godmaker — A Novel of Lasniniar
(The World of Lasniniar: Book 4)
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— Chapter One —
A Familiar Face
Iarion walked the southern fringes of the Adar Daran, the tall stalks of grass barely registering his passage. A bracing, winter wind tugged at his white braids and brought color to his golden cheeks. A seemingly endless expanse of ancient trees towered to his left, an ocean of green leaves that shimmered with silver and gold, despite the season. He had been wandering the edges of the Light Elves’ domain for hours now, working his way from the hut he shared with Lodariel on the southern border all the way to the northern side of the forest. Now, the peaks of the Jagged Mountains loomed in the distance beneath a bank of clouds. A sprawling shadow to the northeast marked the southern border of Melaralva, the wood where he had been born in his previous incarnation. A lone tower with three jutting spires rose from the grassland to the northwest—Mar Arin.
These familiar sights only added to Iarion’s restlessness. As much as Melaquenya had become his home since his rebirth, he would always be a wanderer at heart. But even though the outside world still looked familiar, Lasniniar was changing. He had seen it in his travels beyond the confines of the wood. Nearly a century had passed since he had destroyed Saviadro’s spirit form that had taken root inside the Void, which lay between the land of the living and the realm of the dead. The Fallen One had set himself up as a god among the human Direlings that lived to the far east, and since his destruction, more spirits had come forth to wreak havoc or claim worship among the mortal races.
Iarion and the elves knew these strange beings were not true gods, but only the ancient souls of light or dark spirits that had chosen not to be born when the elves, dragons, Sea Folk, and the first dark races came into being. The destruction of Saviadro’s spirit palace inside the Void had created tears between the different dimensions that allowed the unborn spirits to make their presence known. But their connection to the land of the living was tenuous, and required either sacrifice or worship to strengthen it. The more they received, the more powerful and godlike they became, bestowing magic powers upon their chosen.
The elves had tried to warn the other races against falling under the thrall of the Unborn. Most of the dwarves had listened, but the humans were skeptical. The elves had always wielded the power of the Quenya, why couldn’t they have some magic as well? Iarion had been among the delegations sent to speak to the humans. The memory of it made him clench his fists in frustration. The elves only wanted to protect the other races, but the humans met their concern with suspicion and thinly veiled hostility.
Even though it galled him, Iarion could understand their reaction. The Shadow Elf tribes enjoyed long life, the Light Elves were immortal unless killed, and any elf who died fulfilling the destiny set out for them by the Quenya would eventually be reborn. A human’s shorter, linear lifespan was paltry by comparison. The Quenya was also the source of the elves’ magic, and could not be wielded by any other race. The way the humans saw it, the power of the Unborn leveled the playing field, which meant they didn’t need any bothersome elves meddling in their affairs, thank you very much.
The rising tension between the elves and the humans had driven the elves back to their insular ways, which meant fewer opportunities for Iarion to leave Melaquenya. He had no fear of being defeated by a human in battle, but he had no desire to harm one either, or draw the wrath of any Unborn guardian spirit. This meant his expeditions beyond Melaquenya were now mostly limited to Southern Lasniniar. The Dune People, who roamed the Shifting Sands, were too suspicious to accept the favor of the Unborn, and the People of the Plains were tied too closely to the elves who lived in nearby Melahalas to dismiss their warnings.
Iarion sighed. He missed the days when he could wander anywhere he pleased without worrying about the consequences, or at least without the fear of having to kill some innocent fool who had been duped by an unknown spirit.
A warning tingle on the back of his neck drew him from his circling thoughts. He whirled, an arrow nocked and his bow already drawn. An arrow sped toward him, skimming the top of his head so closely, the missile parted his hair before landing in the trunk of a tree behind him, quivering. He narrowed his golden-flecked, sapphire eyes, sweeping the grassland for signs of his attacker and finding none. His pointed ears strained to hear movement among the waving stalks, but the whistling wind was the only sound. The sensation of being watched intensified.
“I know you’re out there,” he called, hoping to draw out his attacker.
Iarion mentally traced the path of the arrow that had been aimed at him, using the uncanny feeling of the unseen watcher’s presence to guide his hands. He drew back his arm and loosed an arrow. It disappeared into the grass with a hiss. A female voice spluttered in protest.
“Hey, that would have hit me!”
Iarion was already moving as a tall, lithe form wearing elven hunting gear shimmered into existence. Pale skin glimmered in the weak, afternoon sun, reminding him of a drakhal. Silver hair fluttered above her shoulders in a blunt cut, accentuating her angular features. The short locks seemed to move in an unnatural breeze of their own, revealing glimpses of pointed ears. She abandoned her bow and arrow as Iarion ran toward her, drawing a knife from her belt with a wild grin.
Iarion threw himself at her, wielding a knife of his own. She blocked his attack with a silvery laugh, her weapon seeming to move faster than thought to snake out at his unprotected side. Iarion spun away from the blade at the last moment. He dropped to the ground and rolled toward her in a controlled tumble. She sidestepped him easily.
“Is that the best you can do?” she asked with a hand on her hip and a rueful shake of her head as Iarion rolled back to his feet.
Iarion laughed. “Not by a long shot. And you know it.”
He threw himself into another attack, making several feints so he could get closer to her. He eyed her leather boots carefully as he moved, his gaze flickering between them and her otherworldly violet eyes.
Her eyes narrowed as her lips tightened in a smile. “We’ll see.”
They danced in and out of each other’s guard in a blur of motion, alternately attacking and blocking. Iarion was a fierce warrior with thousands of years of fighting experience, but his opponent was at least his equal. His blood sang with the thrill of battle, even as his mind went back to the day they had first met.
It had been a day much like this one. He had been wandering the outskirts of Melaquenya shortly after the destruction of Saviadro when she had appeared. He had attacked her at first, mistaking her for a drakhal, despite the full light of the sun. They had fought a drawn out battle to a standstill, somehow becoming friends in the process. She had haunted his footsteps ever since, usually appearing when he left the confines of Melaquenya. Sometimes they fought, sometimes they only talked until she decided to leave. Theirs was an odd relationship—one that few others knew about or understood. Iarion had often suspected they had actually met much earlier than their first bout. The tingle of her gaze reminded him of the unseen eyes he had felt watching him inside the Void after Saviadro had fallen.
Iarion’s momentary distraction cost him. His blade was tangled with his opponent’s, but her left hand reached out to stroke his cheek—her way of letting him know she could have struck him with it if she wanted to.
“Say my name, Iarion.” Her voice had a note of longing to it.
Iarion laughed. “Why? It’s not even your true name anyway.”
Her gaze shifted to a gray-tinged mauve of regret. “There is no one in Lasniniar I would rather give my true name than you, but I cannot risk such a thing. Too many of my siblings have learned the mistake of sharing their true name the hard way. I will not be subjected to the command of a mortal.”
Iarion snorted. “As if anyone could presume to command a creature as willful and stubborn as you.”
She preened at his words. “As unlikely as it seems, I cannot take that chance. In the meantime, it pleases me to hear my use-name on your lips. You are the one who gave it to me, after all.”
Iarion felt his cheeks redden despite himself. She knew he didn’t feel that way about her, but it didn’t seem to stop her from pushing the boundaries of their strange friendship. He was only glad Lodariel wasn’t around to hear their exchange. His mate would be furious.
“How can you demand a boon when you haven’t even defeated me yet?” he asked in a bland tone in an effort to steer their conversation to more neutral ground.
Her eyes darkened for a moment before flickering back to their usual violet. Iarion suppressed a shiver, wondering if he’d pushed her too far. He had seen the dark side of her unpredictable temper and he had no wish to be its cause. He stood his ground, keeping his blade pressed against hers while waiting for the other shoe to drop. Their bodies were mere inches apart and were completely motionless except for the rise and fall of Iarion’s chest as he breathed.
In a sudden flash of movement, Iarion’s opponent pulled her knife away, sweeping it downward to rest against his groin. Iarion’s eyes widened and he stifled a curse.
“Felara!” he shouted in protest.
She smiled in satisfaction. “There. Was that so hard?”