In The Curse of Shadows, elven princess Aura Zypherus is a fugitive in a land where creatures of shadow and horror have taken over her kingdom’s continent. Along with the last of her kingdom’s subjects, Aura search for a way to break the curse that befells her land, unlocking secrets about ancient magic and legendary gods.
I will be serializing this novel as I write and edit it on Patreon! You can find the first few chapters here.
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In the overgrown thickets of the Never-ending Forest, twelve souls restlessly settled into a hidden grove under a bright full moon; four held themselves awake at the two openings of their camp, watching as the night creatures prowled and paced outside their camp’s boundaries, their swords and arrows ready to strike the moment the creatures pounced. Four others sat around a fire that dwindled under the weight of the early morning cold, disregarding each other’s presence entirely as they too held themselves with caution. The last four, the only ones asleep, were nestled in the only two tents the group had, all shivering as an amount of the cold touched their bare skin through their thin blankets.
Howls echoed through trees, sending quakes down the spines of the guards. They resituated themselves, raising their swords and bows up to the shadows that surrounded them, readying for the appearances of the howls’ owners.
The youngest of the guards stood up and caught the glare of his partner, who continued to hold his bow cocked.
“Sit back down, Aerlo,” the older guard said. “It’ll be morning before the vikifur stop taunting us.”
“I’m just stretching.” Aerlo pulled on his arm in demonstration, then sighed. “Besides, they haven’t attacked yet.”
“The more you move around, the more they might.”
Aerlo scoffed, but after a moment of thought while stretching of his arms, he nestled back onto his tree stump. As another wave of howls echoed through the forest, Aerlo grabbed for his sword out of instinct, just as his older partner pointed the ready arrow back at the forest’s shadows.
“They’re laughing at us, Max,” Aerlo muttered as the howls died down.
Max glanced upward, where patches of the pale night sky could be seen through the trees, and sighed. “Just a few more hours.”
The two fell into an uneasy silence as they continued to watch the forest. Moments later, footsteps in the leaves could be heard as two of the persons by the fire approached. Aerlo’s half-elf ears twitched at their approach as he threw a look over his shoulder, watching as two other guards, another half-elf male and a human female, joined them.
“Switch us,” Greida the female said. “We’re getting restless just sitting by the fire.”
“Fine by me,” Aerlo said as he once again stood. “I can finally rest my eyes—”
“Wait.” Max raised a hand toward the forest, straining his pointed ears. His eyes widened seconds before a vikifur dashed out of the shadowed underbrush. It was a little one, looking the size of a large dog as it sprinted toward the four guards.
All four jolted into action. Max and the other male guard let their arrows fly at the creature. Its obsidian fangs flashed in the moonlight as it narrowly dodged the arrows, heading straight for Aerlo and Greida with a snarling grin.
Their blades sang as they were unsheathed.
Aerlo ran to meet the creature head on as he gripped his blade by the hilt and held it out to his side, readying it for a long swinging arch toward the vikifur.
Just as the creature leapt for Aerlo’s throat, another range of howls surrounded the camp, and several pairs of white orbs appeared in the blackness of the woods. As Aerlo’s brought the arch of his blade across the vikifur’s underbelly, Max, Greida, and the other guard brought their attention to arriving vikifur.
A female scream joined the howls of the creatures.
Looking into the camp would be death for the guards.
As Aerlo tossed the dead vikifur from him, he moved toward his comrades and whispered to Max, “We need to get to the others.”
“We need to worry about taking care of these, or they’ll follow us into the camp,” Max retorted, then turned his attention to the vikifur, who now crept out of the misty darkness.
As they prowled, the four had a good look at the pack. Max counted six creatures nearly the size of bears; they looked like wolves with metallic fur, bright iris-less white eyes, and obsidian canines. The vikifur were natives of the Never-ending Forest, creatures mutated by the dark magick that pulsed under the dirt and roots of the woods.
These creatures thrived in the darkness and shied from the light.
The largest of the vikifur howled and pounced, leading the rest of its pack into the throes of battle against the four guards.
At the second entrance of the camp, the two guards stationed there barely held off the vikifur that attacked. These creatures seemed to have studied the camp, making intelligent note of its weaknesses. Where there were seven creatures that attacked the other side of the camp, there were three at this point, as if they saw Greida and her partner make their way to Max and Aerlo.
Raethin, the captain of the camp’s guards, fended off his partner with a long sword in each hand. The first vikifur had attacked without any forethought, and though it caught Raethin’s partner by the leg and ripped a long, jagged wound down his leg, the vikifur caught most of the strength behind Raethin’s swords and now laid lifeless to the side.
The remaining vikifur grew more agitated, snapping low at Raethin’s heels as to not taste his blades.
Raethin’s partner Karmen grabbed his bow from behind Reathin and said through clenched teeth, “You need to get to the others. Aura will know what to do.”
Yes, she would, Raethin thought, but what stood in his way of running for the tents was Karmen, who couldn’t move. If he tried to pick up his friend, the vikifur would take that momentary distraction to tear out their throats.
Karmen readied an arrow and pointed it at the nearest vikifur. “I got this, Rae.”
Raethin knew Karmen was lying, but the thought of Aura being in danger set him on the fence. It was a lesser of two evils: save his friend or the woman that could cure the sickness that plagued the lands.
Just as Raethin nodded to Karmen, two arrows shot out from behind them, hitting both the creatures in between their shoulder blades. The vikifur collapsed.
Raethin and Karmen looked toward the camp, where the last two guards stood near Aura’s camp, bows in hand.
Quickly, Raethin helped Karmen to the tents, carrying most of his friend’s weight. He looked toward the other side of the camp, where the other four guards fought off a large pack of vikifur.
Raethin propped Karmen against a stump near Aura’s tent, then turned his attention to the other guards.
“Where is she? Is she okay?”
The last of the guards, a pair of brothers named Veron and Terrence, exchanged looks.
“She’s caught in another—thing—” Veron muttered.
“A vision,” Terrence corrected.
Raethin’s pointed ears twisted at the sounds of carnage and he glanced toward where he and Karmen came from. From the shadows just beyond the entrance, more pairs of white, glowing eyes appeared in the darkness.
A breath caught in his throat as he turned to the brothers and snapped, “Get her out here—now.”
They jumped at the command, running toward the crimson tent. Through the parted curtains, Raethin could see the last four of the group huddled together—and one of them, a woman, slumped on the ground with her head clutched between her hands.
Raethin grabbed Karmen’s bow and readied an arrow. Steeling himself, he turned to his entrance, narrowed his eyes on the first intruding creature, and let go of the arrow. It soared through the air, hitting the vikifur square between its eyes.
His attack riled the creature’s companions. Howls followed as more appeared, prowling forward in a crouch.
Quickly, he sent more arrows flying toward the approaching hoard, praying to the gods that Aura would come out and end it all.
Just as he whispered his last prayer and the last of his arrows met his mark, Aura flung open the tent flaps and stumbled out, clutching her head. A dark-haired beauty with cerulean eyes, she held Raethin’s attention as she straightened and brought her hands up over her head.
With her palms open to the sky, she closed her eyes and whispered ancient words. As soon as the first word was spoken, a wondrous fountain of light spouted from her hands, illuminating the camp and all of its inhabitants.
Shrieks of the vikifur followed the sudden light. The guards outside of the second entrance watched their foes flee, their metallic fur seeming to singe from the brightness.
Soon, they found themselves alone in the grove once more as the first rays of the morning touched their skin.
Aura clutched her head and hissed through her teeth, teetering on her feet. Raethin reached her just in time to catch her, frowning as she clenched her eyes closed.
Aerlo, Max, and Greida joined them as Aura turned in Raethin’s arms and looked up at him, her cerulean eyes gleaming in pain.
“I’m fine,” Aura muttered as she pulled away from Raethin and turned back to the tent.
Raethin sighed and rubbed his eyes for a moment before her turned to the guards and asked, “Where’s Justen?”
Greida’s lips trembled as she answered, “They carried him off.”
Raethin looked out toward the entrance and saw that there was no sign of their last guard, except for what looked like a mangled foot in the middle of the blood-drenched, leaf-covered ground.
“They’re getting braver,” Max said.
“Did you manage to injure any?” Raethin asked.
“Only a few,” Aerlo said with a puff of his chest. “Enough to eventually kill them.”
“That’s all we can hope for, I suppose,” Max injected. “Is the Lady alright?”
“Yes.” Raethin gritted his teeth, for if Aura was having a vision, then a foreboding element was drawing near. It only meant doom for the group—an omen.
Now, they were one more man down with only eleven of them left.
“What do we do, Chief?” Aerlo asked, too optimistic for Raethin’s taste.
There was only one thing they could do.
“We’ve got to move as soon as possible.”
With that order, the three guards left Raethin, heading to the collection of bags and weapons sitting in between the two camps.
Raethin paused, closing his eyes as he took in the night. It had been close; not only had they almost lost Karmen, but they had lost Justen, a good bowman. They lacked one less of the man power they had the day before.
He took a deep breath and then opened his eyes. With one last surveillance, he went to pack, but not before catching two bright red points out of the darkness of the forest.
Raethin stared at it for a moment, unsure of what it was; though, in this world, it could easily be one of the things he most feared.
There was no movement of the red points and after another minute of watching them, Raethin turned and joined the others.