Rise of Crescent: Chapter One
Lessons of the Sword
Shadow moved quickly to his left, narrowly avoiding the sharp blade of the Gaian soldier’s sword. The sun was shining brightly and at times it gleamed off the red armor of the Gaian soldiers, temporarily blinding him. Just as he was about to smile the other Gaian soldier met his blade. Shadow handled the attack with ease, countering each strike from the persistent soldiers. The fight wasn’t as difficult as he had thought it would be. He could see the anger in both soldiers’ eyes as they tried in vain to strike him down. Their anger was the reason they were failing. He could hear his father’s words speaking softly in his head: ‘When you lose control of your emotions in a battle, you lose control of the battle.’ His two attackers had done just that. They were frustrated by his quick movements and uncanny skill with a sword.
Shadow offered a quick smirk to the small group of onlookers yelling around them and then stopped for a moment to take in the cliff’s stunning view of the enormous castle of Tarver, a sight that had once brought him peace. Shadow’s long black curly hair and bright ocean-blue eyes were a pleasant sight for any woman to see. He held his sword tightly and flexed his toned muscles. Sweat started to seep through his sleeveless black shirt. But his peaceful moment was interrupted as he turned his focus back to the Gaian soldiers, who had regained their composure.
They came at him quickly but Shadow defended himself against the attacks. The soldiers’ heavy breaths between each swing meant they were tired. It was time for him to end this. Ducking a strike from one of the soldiers, Shadow turned his body, threw his elbow into the soldier’s groin, and then punched him in the face. With the soldier blinded for a moment, Shadow quickly snatched the sword out of his hands.
An intuitive sense of danger made Shadow realize that he other soldier was approaching from behind quickly. He did a back flip, which provided him with a second to spare before the other soldier would have stabbed him in the back. The two Gaian soldiers ran into each other and both fell to the ground. As fast as he could Shadow ran over with two swords in his hand and placed them against the necks of the defeated soldiers.
Cheering erupted and Shadow smiled bowing to the men that had been watching the battle. All of them were soldiers of the Kingdom of Gaia. Their red armor implemented with the golden circle emblem of Gaia gleamed in the bright sun. The emblem was a sword and arrow penetrating a circular flame. It was the same flame that seemed to be everywhere in the world of Pardes.
“Thank you, thank you,” the playful voice of Shadow’s best friend Kale spoke as he collected money from all of the soldiers around him. Many of the soldiers grunted while others cheered. Kale was a handsome man with bright blonde hair and light brown eyes. He was built like a soldier of Gaia. “Two soldiers easily handed over their losses to the sword of the mighty Shadow Guidan. Anyone else want to try their luck here today? How about we do three soldiers? Even four perhaps?”
“Let’s not push it, Kale,” Shadow whispered, shaking his head. “You make them mad enough they will all attack us.”
“Please,” Kale mocked. “These gentlemen love watching you. Plus, did you forget I am a soldier as well? They would never attack us. Most people are losing coins betting against you but some are winning as well. It is the thrill of betting that gets them going. They don’t care if they lose or win.”
“Still, I am a bit tired. And you have turned my peaceful getaway place into an outside pub.” Shadow shook his head as the men cheered for some soldiers to step into the circle to face him.
“How long have we been friends, Shadow? Trust me, these soldiers cannot take you. Three of them at once will make me enough coins to buy my next ten dates.”
“Perhaps you should think about taking that money and courting one woman, not ten,” Shadow smiled.
“Do you think I have gone mad? I’d rather take my heart and feed it to the Mizors than court one woman. Besides, think of all the hearts I would break if I had to tell the women of Tarver that the most charming, handsome man they had ever met was taken.” Kale’s smile made Shadow chuckle. There were two things in life that his best friend would never give up: gambling and women. Shadow would swear to the High Power that the man was born to do those two things. He thought of nothing else in his life.
For a moment Shadow silenced himself. Gazing across the cliff ahead, he could see the amazing castle of Tarver sitting on the shore of the vast ocean. A tower stood on either end of the central building of the castle. Each tower looked as though it were high enough to reach the sky. The entire castle was made of an eccentric white brick that seemed to light up even in the darkest night. Tarver was the biggest city in Pardes. The castle was the biggest as well. People from all over the world came to catch sight of the magnificent castle. It was a sight that Shadow was used to seeing.
This cliff had once been a place of peace and quiet to him. After a long day working in the mad city of Tarver he would come here to find the only silence he could in a thousand miles. The cliff was hidden in the forest that surrounded the massive city. Until recently no one except Shadow had known it existed. Once Kale had found out about it, he had convinced Shadow to allow them all to come here to do their secret battling and gambling.
“I think you have scared them all off,” Kale said smiling, as he realized no one had entered the circle to face him.
“C’mon, gentlemen,” Shadow announced playfully. “There has to be someone here that will take up the challenge. Please don’t tell me that after years of training in the Gaian army that you would allow a young messenger to beat you all so easily.” Shadow could sense a couple of them were willing to take the challenge, however, they were hesitant. None of them were shocked at how good he was with a sword. Even though he was no soldier he wasn’t just some ordinary messenger boy, either.
“I will take the challenge.” Shadow’s heart nearly stopped as he heard the familiar voice. Kale’s face turned to stone. All of the soldiers bowed instantly as they looked towards the speaker on horseback who had snuck up on all of them. Turning around slowly, Shadow could see the eyes of a tall, dark-haired man whose shoulders were as broad as the High Power could make them. His figure was well known in the Kingdom of Gaia, and in the rest of the world as well. General Magus. Even though his eyes looked generous, along with his clean-shaven face, this man was stern.
“Quiet, Kale. If you speak another word you will be cleaning the cells of Gaia’s prison until your hair is grey and your skin is wrinkled.” Kale immediately halted his words. They all stood in silence as the General dismounted his horse.
“So what exactly is going on here?” the general asked rhetorically.
Shadow was the only one who hadn’t lined up to salute the General. “General, it is my fault,” Shadow said, walking toward him. “I set this whole thing up. I am the one that should be punished for these actions.” Magus ignored him. Instead, he focused his anger on the soldiers by him. “I…” Shadow continued, but Magus put his hand up, instantly quieting Shadow as well.
“So what do we have here, then? Leaving the city of Tarver without permission, abandonment. Endangering the life of a common citizen, brutality. Gambling while serving the Kingdom of Gaia on duty, a direct breaking of a rule King Echo has put down before you, a rule that he has zero tolerance for. I could have all of you dishonored from the Gaian army and blacklisted so that you never see the city of Tarver again. Do you all think that this is something I would want to do to men that have sworn to protect Gaia with their very lives?” Not one of the men took their eyes up to meet his.
“Sir, it is all my fault,” Shadow announced again, stepping forward. “We were just trying to have some fun. If anyone should be punished for this, I should be.” Shadow didn’t fear facing the General. Though he was in awe of Magus, he didn’t fear him as others did. He didn’t have to.
“Shadow, you are free to go,” Magus stated. “I will deal with these men the way I see fit.”
But Shadow walked up to the General. He wasn’t going to leave so easily. “Father, please…” he began.
General Magus Guidan did not take lightly to men breaking the rules, yet he was the most generous of all the generals in the Gaian army. Shadow didn’t feel his father would have been as angry if it were just the men that had done this. The involvement of him and Kale made him much angrier.
“Reckless and stupid this is,” Magus angrily stated, walking over to Shadow. His commanding voice alone was a reason to fear him. One only had to hear him speak a few words to understand why he was a general in the Gaian army. “Had another general caught you, there would have been no getting out of this. These men would have been disbanded from the Gaian army and their families moved from the city of Tarver forever.” The General paused for a moment. “Of course, Shadow, these are things that you do not think of. Being that you are my son you feel as though no rules apply to you.”
“That’s not true, father.”
“Is it not?” Magus slowly walked to the edge of the cliff where he could see the castle of Tarver. There was a long silence as they all awaited what the General was going to do. Shadow thought this was probably a good thing; he was letting his anger subside before making his decision. Finally, the General walked over to Kale. “Go get my swords out of my bag.”
“Yes, sir.” Kale rushed over to the General’s valiant horse as Magus looked around for a moment.
“Well, then, seeing as how I did accept the challenge to be next…” the General announced.
“You cannot be serious,” Shadow answered. All of the men looked just as astonished.
“If beating Gaian soldiers for money is what you like to do, then let’s see how you do against the best one.” Magus walked over to meet Kale, who handed him one of the swords.
“Kale does it for the coins. I do it for the practice. Since you won’t allow me to join the army myself, I do this to test my skills.”
“Then we will see how tested they have become.” He hesitated before looking at the soldiers. “Here are the terms, men. If Shadow beats me you can all go home, as you would have had I never shown up. I will act as though I never saw what happened here today. However, it will never happen again. Is that understood?”
“Yes, sir!” They all announced at the same time.
“And if you win?” Shadow said, grabbing one of the swords from Kale.
“If I win, I will take all of the coins here today and give them to Shadow. He will take them to the southern side of Gaia and give them to the poor women and children that reside there. I will inform King Echo of what I have seen here today and will tell him I have handled the matter accordingly. You will all be free to go about your normal lives but you will lose all the coins you brought here today. The way I see it, if you have all this money to throw away to gambling, then it certainly wouldn’t hurt to donate it to the people in this city who actually need it.”
“If I may add my own terms as well?” Shadow said as he swung the sword Kale had tossed to him. Shadow hadn’t faced his father in a battle of the sword since he was the age of ten. But he practiced every day. He was ready for this.
“If I win, you allow me to join the army as a soldier of Gaia, a request that you have denied me since I was of age to join.” Shadow had always wanted to be a soldier in the Gain army. His job as a messenger for the castle of Gaia was as boring a job as he could think of. Having to deliver messages to the townspeople on a daily basis wasn’t exactly the thrilling life he had always imagined.
“Very well, and if you lose? What do I get?” the General questioned, as he and his son began to circle each other.
“I will never again ask you to join the army,” Shadow replied. This was the opportunity he had waited five years for, the one chance he would have to get himself enrolled in the army and change his life forever. His father would let him join – all Shadow had to do was beat him in a battle of the sword.
The crowd was silent as father and son circled each other. Magus stopped and looked around. “No chanting and screaming?” he asked. “Please, gentlemen, your hard-earned coins reside on Shadow beating me. Feel free to cheer.” It didn’t take but a few seconds for the men to start chanting Shadow’s name and talking to him, telling him to win. Magus smiled, something Shadow hadn’t seen him do since the days his mother was alive.
Shadow didn’t waste a moment as he attacked Magus, pushing himself forward. Magus defended each strike easily, without countering. Shadow felt a bit tired from the earlier battles but he wasn’t going to allow that to stop him. This was the chance of a lifetime. He would fight through whatever problems he had.
He tuned out the men’s yelling as Magus attacked him this time. The power of the General’s strikes was much different than that of the soldiers’. Each time their blades clashed, Shadow could feel the power of Magus’s sword run through his entire body. There was no way to match his father’s strength. But Shadow was faster than Magus, and he had to use that to his advantage in order to beat him. After surviving the barrage from his father, he reset himself.
“You have trained yourself well over the years,” Magus complimented his son. “Your stance is sure, along with your speed.”
“I’ve learned a lot since you have been gone,” Shadow answered. Magus didn’t waste another moment as he sent himself forward again. He was much faster this time.
With each blow he deflected, Shadow felt himself go off balance. He was trying to counter his father but the strikes were coming too fast, only allowing him to defend. As he backed up, he turned his body slightly, allowing his father’s sword to pass by him. Shadow quickly pushed him away to regain his composure, then sent his own set of attacks. His father didn’t move as they both stood firm, clashing sword for sword. The speed between them was amazing enough to stop the chanting of the men, who stood in silence watching the battle taking place in front of them.
Sweat began to pour down Shadow’s face and his breath was labored. The hot sun was starting to tire him. He tried to back up to catch a breath, but with every step back he took, Magus followed after him with powerful strikes. The old man didn’t even look tired – it seemed as though he could do this till the sun set.
Suddenly, Shadow felt like he had seen something. After Magus struck twice, he pulled his sword back just enough so that Shadow might have a chance to slide his sword forward and hit Magus’s armor hard enough to send him backwards. If Shadow could get him off balance, he could use his speed against him to keep him stumbling. This would allow Shadow the opportunity to strike his father hard enough to knock his sword out.
Just as Shadow was about to set up his plan, his foot fell into a small ditch, which sent him stumbling backward. Magus used the opportunity to knock Shadow’s sword out of his hand and send him falling to the ground. Shadow lay still for a moment. Magus didn’t even have to put his sword to Shadow’s throat to proclaim victory. Instead, he reached out a hand to his son to help him up. Reluctantly, Shadow grabbed his father’s hand and pulled himself up.
The Gaian soldiers clapped in response to the excellent fight they had witnessed. But as they walked back to the main circle, they stopped when General Magus’s forbidding gaze fall upon them.
“I understand your duties as soldiers,” Magus began, looking into the eyes of each and every man that stood before him. “I also understand your need to sometimes break the rules to have a little bit of…fun. For I was once a soldier like you. This land has not seen war for over a hundred years. Every day you all go home to your families. You do not have to worry about dying in the midst of battle. I do not have to send a letter to your families saying that their son or father or husband will not be coming home.” Magus paused. “What I saw here today was the result of boredom. And if I caught this happening every day, I would cherish it over the thought of having to send you all to war. I will dismiss you all without punishment. Go back to the city.”
Magus’s powerful words drew smiles from some of the men. Others nodded their heads in agreement to what he had said. All of them began to disperse toward the city.
Shadow stood in silence, upset that he had lost the most important battle of his life.
“Thank you, thank you, sir,” Kale said to the General as he walked over and grabbed the bag of coins from the ground. “You are most generous indeed.”
“Not so fast, Kale,” Magus said, stopping him. “Your winnings stay with me. Go back to the city and Shadow will find you. Since you are so eager to get your hands on these coins, you can go with him to disperse them among the poor.”
“Yes, sir,” Kale saluted, disappointed. He then marched himself out of there so fast one would have thought a Mizor was chasing him.
Shadow and Magus stood together on the cliff. Shadow couldn’t remember the last time he had seen his father. The man was in and out of the city so much that Shadow didn’t even pay attention to the times that he did come back. Magus didn’t seem to care about seeing him, either. The last two times Magus had come home he had disappeared so fast that Shadow hadn’t even known he was in Tarver before Magus was gone again. As a boy he used to get upset standing with his mother and watching his father leave; it was one of the worst feelings he could remember. But he had gotten used to it over the years. It didn’t have the same effect it used to.
More pressing on his mind was the idea that his father had beaten him. Now there was no way he would ever be able to escape his miserable life as a messenger. He began to gather his things to leave. He didn’t want to be around the man any longer than he had to.
“Leaving so soon?” Magus questioned.
“It is getting dark. I have to get these coins to the southern part of Tarver before it is too late.” The real reason he wanted to leave, however, was that being around his father made him uncomfortable.
“Stay for a moment. It’s been months since the last time I’ve been home. You can do those coins tomorrow.”
“You’ll be home for a while now, won’t you?” Shadow asked. “The Princess’ Day of Rising is only two months away. King Echo would never let his generals miss that. Or anyone in the entire city of Tarver.” The Day of Rising for the beautiful Princess Emerald was the biggest day in the entire Kingdom of Gaia. King Echo would allow Emerald to choose a husband to marry after that day, and that man would become the next King of Gaia.
“Yes, I will be, although for a different reason,” Magus said as he walked to the edge of the cliff and stared across at the castle. “King Echo is worried about Emerald. As you know, she has two Luna training her how to use the power of Spirit – Sage and Katrina. Emerald is the first person ever of noble birth that is able to control the power of Spirit. She will be a Queen and a Luna at the same time. That has never happened in the history of Pardes.”
“Why would King Echo be worried about that? She will have control of Gaia and be a member of the Luna. It’s the best of both worlds.”
“That makes her a threat as well, Shadow. The Kingdoms of Bathon and Bastia do not like the Luna Guild mingling in their affairs. While they trust the Luna to maintain peace and honesty throughout the Kingdoms, they are not to be directly involved in things such as border disputes, trading goods, and taxes. Emerald becoming a Luna threatens that. Already, King Perry and King Paris have made remarks to Echo about the Luna training her as a princess. Echo doesn’t want the Luna influencing Emerald’s decisions for their own purposes.”
“So he thinks that Sage and Katrina are trying to manipulate her to the advantage of the Luna?”
“In a sense, yes.” Magus didn’t like the Luna. In fact, most people didn’t like them. They feared the Luna’s power. The ability to control magic was a dangerous one that only few people possessed.
“It could work both ways,” Shadow suggested. “Emerald could become powerful enough to be a member of the Guild and then she would control them to do what she wants. Maybe that is what the other Kings fear. With power over the Luna Guild and Gaia, she could take over the world.”
“A smart observation, my son,” Magus chuckled. “Though you know as well as I do that Emerald is the most kind, caring, generous person that Gaia has ever seen. She is much like her mother. No, she would never do that sort of thing. However, she puts too much trust in people. Especially the ones around her. Echo doesn’t want her decisions for the Kingdom being swayed by the Luna. The King wants Emerald watched.”
“So he wants you here to spy on her?” Shadow mocked. “With all due respect, Father, isn’t that far below your title.”
“Yes, it is, but not yours.”
Shadow stopped gathering his things as he looked towards the edge of the cliff. He nearly lost a few heartbeats as he wondered what his father had meant by that. Was the man mad? “What do you mean?” he asked awkwardly.
“I mean that you could do it and no one would suspect anything.”
“Me!” Shadow exclaimed, walking over to his father. “I know I gave you problems about being a messenger but I wanted to join the army with my friends. Not spy on the Luna.”
“You only want to join the army for the title of being a soldier, not the duties of it. A soldier’s life is boring, as well it should be. And when the time comes where it is not boring, it is more dangerous than anything. I understand that a messenger’s life is a tedious one. Which is why I am giving you the opportunity to do something else. King Echo has ordered Princess Emerald to have a new bodyguard in place for the Day of Rising festivals. She will think you are there to protect her. He has already told her about your secret meetings here and how you defeat Gaian soldiers so easily. She will think that you are more fit than any soldier could be. Plus, you are my son. She will trust you.”
“Whoa, whoa, wait just a second.” Shadow couldn’t believe what he was hearing. If he hadn’t known better, he would have thought he’d be waking up from a bad dream very soon. “Emerald already knows about this? And she has no idea why I’m truly going to be there?”
“Emerald will think her father is providing an extra pair of eyes to accompany her during her duties. It is very customary during the festivals. The Luna will feel a bit disrespected by this but Echo will tell them it is necessary.” Magnus was serious. This was what Shadow was going to have to do.
“You are not even going to let me think about it?” Shadow questioned.
“No,” his father quickly responded. “I thought you would be excited about a new job.”
“Excited?” “About spying on the most dangerous group of people in the world of Pardes? And having to be next to the most beautiful girl in the Kingdom of Gaia for the next two months?” Shadow was terrified.
Magus laughed as he walked away from the cliff to mount his horse. “After all these years of being around Kale you are still afraid to be near a beautiful woman? Your mother would burn me to the Mizors if she knew I had allowed this.”
“I am not afraid, Father,” Shadow insisted, following Magus to his horse. “I just don’t feel the need to beg at the feet of every single one that walks by me, like Kale does.”
“Uh huh,” his father mocked.
“And what do you know about what mother would have wanted for me? You were gone all the time as it was.”
Magus stopped. He didn’t turn back to meet Shadow’s eyes. Instead, he looked towards the ground. His son’s comment had hit a very weak spot in Magus’s personality, a crack in the stern makeup of the General.
“I loved your mother, more than you will ever know. One day you will understand why I did what I did. Until then, you haven’t the right to question anything.” Magus was not angry, nor was he sad. Shadow felt a possible sense of regret coming from his father. Every time the subject of his mother came up, he knew it was painful to Magus.
The General mounted his horse and took a few strides away. “Two days from now you will go to Princess Emerald’s room in the morning and meet her and the Luna. Report all suspicious activity to King Echo by way of messenger.”
“What about you?” Shadow asked, wondering why he wouldn’t be reporting to his father.
Magus hesitated as he turned back. He was looking at the castle and for a moment he seemed lost in it. “I will be around,” he replied. Before heading his horse back to the castle, he looked at Shadow one last time. “You have grown up to be a fine young boy. I assure you that your life is destined for great things. Always remember that and take care of yourself. But more importantly, take care of the people around you. For the true meaning of life isn’t determined by what you do for yourself, but by what you do for others. Goodbye, my son.”
Shadow didn’t have a chance to respond. The surprising words of his father had stunned him. As he watched him ride away he realized that his duty as a messenger was finally over. Spying on the Luna wasn’t something he was keen to replace it with, but maybe it would lead to something else.
There was one thing that Shadow found hard to let go. It was the way Magus had said goodbye to him. In a strange way, he had the chilling feeling that this was going to be the last time he saw his father for a very long time.