A Sample Chapter from A Shadow Within —

Eldrin sat in his dimly lit quarters as he tried his best not to drift off to sleep. Even though morning had arrived, he had drawn his curtains to keep out the majority of the morning rays of light. He wanted the daylight as he assumed it would help him stay awake, but he had started seeing things, and didn’t trust what creatures lurked right outside his windows. He hadn’t slept in three days and it took every ounce of thought to stop his mind from telling him to go to sleep. He hated it. It seemed as though every time he drifted off, Lutheras invaded his consciousness and it made him sick to his stomach. Truth be told, sick in his head too. He felt violated and wished he had let his master die. Although, what life could he have looked forward to if he would have allowed it to happen?

His mind kept going over the events of the past several weeks. No matter where he looked, his efforts seemed to come up short. Being reminded every night when he tried to sleep hadn’t helped matters either. He could feel his heartbeat and it felt erratic. If he didn’t sleep soon, he thought he might just go insane.

He struggled against the weight of his eyelids which seemed to pull down, ever further. He stood and paced in effort to fight off his exhaustion.  I know they’re out there, he thought. But I have the door closed, and they can’t get to me when the door is closed. I have to leave soon, though, and when I do, they’ll be waiting there for me; to take me before Lutheras. Why can’t he just leave me alone? It’s not as though I haven’t tried. I’ve done everything he requested of me! But for all I accomplish, he has more that I have failed him in… A loud pounding came at the door, tearing him away from his unraveled thoughts.

He froze as his limbs began to tremble. Who could that be? He wondered. It has to be one of them.

The pounding began again. “Sir, I have an important message for you.”

They speak my language. How can that be? His eyes nervously shifted back and forth as he tried to figure out what to do. “Go away! I’m busy.” It wasn’t a good excuse, but he didn’t have anything else to say.

“Sir, I was sent here with an urgent message from the conclave. They have found what you’re looking for.”

Now they are using my own people against me! I’ll teach them a lesson. “Who are you?” He asked, but decided he didn’t care. “Go away! I’m much too busy right now.”

“Sir, if you don’t open this door, I’m afraid I’ll have to break it down. I was sent with orders from Eloh and he said to bring you back at all costs.”

Apparently, word of his current state had spread through town. He crept to the window and looked out to view his visitor. The bright light of the sun assaulted his eyes. He squinted them until they adjusted and he could once again focus. Sure enough, standing outside his door was a younger, Human soldier. He wore his hair short, and had a freshly shaven face. Eldrin didn’t know if the boy actually had to shave, and he didn’t care either. He cursed under his breath as he let the curtains fall back into place.

“You have only a few more seconds before I break in the door. I really don’t want to, but I will.”

Eldrin sighed as he walked to the door. After realizing it wasn’t one of the demons he had seen in his visions, he relaxed, but only slightly. He opened the door a crack. “Who sent you?”

The young soldier looked perturbed by the question to repeat himself. “Eloh, sir. So if you please, I’d like to get back to my other duties.”

Eldrin eyed the soldier with disdain. “Yes, well. He’ll have to wait a bit longer. I need my cloak.” He closed the door, leaving the young man to wait in the morning sun, while he took a moment to clean himself up.

He washed off his face and looked at his appearance in a polished silver, handheld mirror. By all outward appearances, he looked disheveled and unkempt. His hair was a mess and he had large, black bags underneath his eyes. Extra creases filled his forehead and he thought he barely resembled an Elf. He ran his wet fingers through his hair, trying to make himself look somewhat presentable, and grabbed his cloak, before joining the soldier outside.

“Shall we?” He motioned with his hands as they turned up the street.

The soldier tried to make small talk with him, but Eldrin quickly quieted him down. “I’d rather we kept this quiet. I have much to think on before my audience with Eloh.”

The soldier nodded his head in understanding and kept his eyes forward.

Eldrin really didn’t have anything to think on, there was just something about the Human he didn’t like. There was something in his eyes, but he couldn’t pinpoint it.

He had no idea or expectations as to why Eloh had summoned him. They all had important tasks they were working on. It just didn’t add up.

Shakiel had been badly battered in the attack. Everywhere he looked, Eldrin was reminded of the day when Lutheras almost died. In some ways, Eldrin almost wished his master had perished. He would have been able to sleep, for one thing, but he had no idea what road his journey may have taken him if so. He didn’t like to consider it, but for some reason, he was unable to get it out of his mind. To combat his own thoughts, he tried to keep his eyes forward, but there was too much destruction and rebuilding going on to let him fully forget what had happened.

The building housing the conclave was only one street to the south of the palace, and they fortunately arrived rather quickly. The soldier opened the door so he could enter. “What are you doing?” Eldrin asked. He had composed himself well enough to regain some of his composure. “I don’t need you to open the door for me. I am capable of doing it myself.”

The soldier looked toward the ground in shame. “Yes, sir. But I made a promise to Eloh, and intend to see you delivered to him.”

Infuriated, Eldrin raised his hand, ready to slap the soldier for his insubordination, but stopped himself. “I don’t need a chaperone. I know it may not look like it, but I am in complete control.” He wrestled control of the door as he waved off the Human. “Be gone with you.” He watched as the soldier shuffled away in defeat.

He walked inside the dimly lit room. The room carried an acrid odor that stung Eldrin’s nostrils. He raised his fingers to fight off the stench as he walked between several tables. Many of the wizards eyed him as he passed, giving him a wide berth as if he carried the plague. He had to remind himself he was the person in charge and didn’t need to answer to any of them. But he thought it better to keep a quiet and amenable posture so as not to create an issue where none actually existed.

At the rear of the room, he walked up four wooden steps and proceeded through an old wooden door. Inside, he found Eloh seated behind a thick stone table, eagerly tapping his fingers. His eyes lit up as Eldrin walked into the room.

“Eldrin, my friend, so nice of you to join us,” he grinned. “Please take a seat.” He motioned to a chair as he stood. Eloh was a Human, most of whom Eldrin held a deep distrust for, but Eloh was different. He wasn’t old—by Human standards—with a dark brown beard, and matching dark brown hair. Eldrin could see the slightest traces of gray beginning to show in is beard, but he wore it well. Eloh had actually been a member of the Shakielian conclave before the battle, but his loyalty and respect for Lutheras’ vision had earned him a quick rise through the ranks. Eldrin found himself trusting the Human more than even some of his oldest Elven friends. He was a refreshing voice in the otherwise vexing crowd.

Eldrin took his seat. “What was so important you had to bring me here with an escort?”

Eloh sat back down himself. “I know you’ve had a lot on your mind, and you haven’t been getting much sleep. I am concerned about you and wanted to ensure you would actually come when I called.  There’s good news, my friend.”

Eldrin leaned forward in his chair. “And what good news would that be?” There was an edge of agitation in his voice.

Eloh smiled. “Well, I think you’ll be able to get some rest this evening now that we’ve solved your problem.”

“I don’t understand,” Eldrin said with confused eyes. Exhaustion warring with complete fatigue.

“We’ve found a host,” Eloh said with a grin.

Eldrin leaned even further forward in his seat. All traces of uncertainty and hauntedness quickly left his face as he contemplated the words. “Are you sure? How do you know?” He looked around the room frantically. “I cannot go before Lutheras unless we are absolutely confident.” This was too much to hope for.

“We’ve run the requisite tests,” he nodded his head, “and everything has checked out so far. You’re more than welcome to interview him yourself. He’s upstairs.”

Eldrin’s eyes grew wide. “Yes, yes, by all means.” They both stood, as Eldrin motioned for Eloh to lead the way. “How strong is his spark? Does he have any control over it?”

Eloh led him down a dark corridor. No candles or sconces provided illumination. Instead, small glowing spheres floated at varying intervals down the hall. “He seems capable, although we will let you be the deciding factor there. From what we can tell, he didn’t even know he could channel, so there could be a lot of untapped potential.”

Eldrin couldn’t believe what he was hearing. After looking for so long, he had almost given up hope of finding a suitable host. Allowing his conscious mind to be repeatedly violated by Lutheras seemed an endless and hopeless reality.  He hadn’t even realized others were looking, but he was thankful nonetheless. “I just hope this is the one we are looking for.” He hoped that his voice didn’t betray his desperation.

Silence overcame them both as they reached the end of the hall and climbed up the rickety wooden stairs. Each step creaked and groaned under their weight. Eloh led him to the only closed door on the floor. He knocked three times, and opened the door for Eldrin. “I’ll be waiting downstairs for your assessment.”

“Thank you, Eloh,” he offered a slight bow of his head. “You have no idea what this means.” Eloh grinned at his master’s kind words, before leaving the Elf to conduct his interview.

Eldrin walked into the dark room. The only piece of furniture was a lone bed, set off to the side against the north wall. He uttered an incantation and a glowing ball of light appeared between his hands. He released it by raising his right hand upward. The globe of light floated higher into the air, offering a radiant, orange light.

He could see the Human crumpled on the bed. He had a poor excuse for a beard growing on his face. It was black, matching the hair on top of his head. He had green eyes, which was in contrast to his dark hair. He stood rather tall—much like the soul who would take over the body—but was far too thin. His cheeks were sunken in and he appeared almost gaunt. Eldrin hoped this specimen was strong enough to allow the transition

Eldrin walked over and sat on the opposite side of the bed. The Human cringed and tried to back away. “There’s no reason for that. You’re quite possibly the most important person in Shakiel. I would never let any danger come your way.” He smiled, but the Human still backed away, overcome with cowardice.

“What is your name?” Eldrin asked.

“Soranal, sir,” he said in more of a whisper than his normal voice.

“Very good, Soranal.” He nodded his head. “And do you understand why you are here?”

“Yes…I think.”

Eldrin looked Soranal in his eyes. “Good. So you realize you will be giving up your own life so our master, Lutheras, can live on?”

“I had a question about that.” Soranal looked eager. “When you say I will be giving up my own life, what does that mean? Will my own consciousness cease to exist?”

“We don’t exactly know for sure. This has never been attempted before.” He offered a smile to Soranal to try to make him feel better. “From everything we can tell, yes, you will cease to exist”

“That’s what I thought.” Soranal cast his eyes to the ground with sorrow. A tear ran down his cheek.

“We’re willing to compensate you fairly for what you are giving up. At least you can feel confident knowing what you are doing will take care of your family for the rest of their lives.” Of course, this was a lie. Eldrin would do whatever he had to do to get Soranal to go through with it, but once the procedure was complete, it had been the plan all along to dispose of any “loose strings”. “Why are you doing this? It is a lot to give up.”

Soranal looked up with wet eyes. “My father died almost a year ago. He was a baker and took care of our family. It wasn’t a lavish lifestyle, but he was always able to put food on the table. I had trained to take his place, but it seemed I didn’t have a knack for the craft. I tried, but everything I made that actually turned out, all tasted the same. And none of it was any good. Unable to pay rent, my family was forced from the bakery. We’ve been struggling to survive on the streets ever since.”

“So you have siblings? Are they young?” Soranal nodded his head. “You can be sure they will be well taken care of. Is there anyone else?”

“Yes, sir. I sired a child with Cordelia, the love of my life. We would have never been allowed to marry—my family is much lower than her own—but nothing could stand in the way of our love.” He sat up straight and adopted a much more rigid stature. “If I’m going to do this, I want to ensure Cordelia and my child will live comfortably after I am gone.”

Eldrin didn’t like the demand. He was used to being the one given the demands, not the one receiving them—unless of course, the demand were issued from Lutheras, then it was a different story. “I’m sure I can ensure she, they will be taken care of,” he said through clenched teeth. “But before I do anything, I need to test your abilities to make sure you’re a suitable host.”

Soranal nodded his head in understanding. “Do as you must.”

Eldrin stood and motioned for Soranal to join him. As the Human came closer, Eldrin had to hold back a gag. Soranal smelled as though he hadn’t bathed in several months. He would have to be cleaned up before Lutheras consciousness was transferred over. The body wouldn’t do in its current state.

Eldrin walked behind him. “I need you to close your eyes and clear your mind. You cannot be thinking of anything other than what I instruct, is that clear?”

“Yes, I think so,” Soranal said in a wavering voice.

“Very good. I’m going to place my hands at the base of your neck. I’m doing this to make a connection with your mind. I need to test your spark. Even though you may not be aware of it, Eloh tells me you are quite capable. So just relax while I work.”

Soranal stood motionless as Eldrin began the process. He made the connection and probed the young Human’s mind. He could feel the revulsion Soranal held at the entire process. Eldrin couldn’t help but stifle a chuckle. He also noticed the distrust stemming from the Human. He didn’t think Eldrin was telling the truth—which of course he wasn’t, but that wasn’t the point. It was good that the Human had his reservations, but he could also tell he had no choice. This was his last chance. He’d tried several endeavors, but never seemed capable with any of the skills.

Eldrin shook his own head to clear it. While it was good to read the thoughts of an opponent, it wasn’t what he was here for. He forced his way further into Soranal’s mind. He could feel his spark and untapped potential. It felt good; it invigorated him. This might just work after all, he thought.

He reached for Soranal’s spark and started with an easy spell. He uttered the commands to create another globe of light. Soranal’s hands raised into the air effortlessly, and a small globe materialized. Eldrin let it go, as the globe raised up above them.

Satisfied, he tried another incantation. And then another. He pushed the Human to his breaking point. Sweat beaded on Eldrin’s head as he put the young man through his paces. It was enlightening, but freeing at the same time. He couldn’t believe this Human had never channeled before. If he didn’t know any better, Eldrin thought maybe, just maybe, this individual had an even stronger spark than he did himself. He was almost awestruck by the experience.

Eldrin finished up the testing. He could tell the Human’s spark was almost sapped, but could feel his own energy waning too. They had been at this for hours. Before he let Soranal free, he needed to clean up what he had done. It wouldn’t do for him to realize how powerful he was. Why would anyone go through with the process, if they could rise to power on their own? No one would train him, at least no one anywhere here, but he still didn’t want to take the chance.

Eldrin worked to scrub the memories from Soranal’s mind. By the time he finished, he felt evening was upon them. He released his hands from the Human’s neck, and sunk back, utterly exhausted.

“Are you going to start?” Soranal asked.

“I’ve already completed the test. I’m happy to say, you’re the perfect candidate. If you still agree, I will order Eloh to work up the paperwork. The first batch of money will be delivered to you tomorrow. You will stay here under our close supervision while we prepare you for the procedure.”

“Will I get a chance to say goodbye?” He swung around to address the Elf. “I was told by Eloh I could say goodbye.” He stumbled as he turned, his exhaustion taking over. “Why am I so tired? What have you done to me?” he asked as he fell on the bed.

“You’ll be fine. It is all part of the test. I had to use your own spark to see what you could do.” Eldrin smiled, although he felt like falling into bed himself. “I’ll have them bring food up here for you. You’ll need it to recover your strength.” He walked over and steadied Soranal on the bed. “So do you still agree?” Eldrin didn’t care. Even if the Human tried to back out, he wasn’t letting him out of his sight. This individual would be the perfect match for Lutheras, and after so many failure, he wasn’t giving up now.

Soranal looked confused, as if he maybe didn’t quite understand. “Yes, I guess so.”

“Good,” Eldrin said as he turned to leave the room.

“But I want to say goodbye. I have to tell them I have one this for all of them; for their futures.”

Eldrin grinned. “Very well, expect them to visit you tomorrow. I’ll personally see to it, after your appearance has been tended to that is.”

Eldrin left Soranal in his bed. He found Eloh in his office.

Eloh eagerly stood and approached the Elf. “So, how did it go? You’ve been at it for hours. I was nervous and checked on you a little while ago, but you were deep in your test and I didn’t wish to disturb you.”

“Yes, you’ve done well, Eloh.” He smiled from ear to ear. “I had given up hope, and was going a little crazy, if you must know the truth. But I’m confident I can report of our success to Lutheras this evening. It will feel good to finally get some rest.”

Eloh smiled back at the Elf. “Very good, sir. I’m glad I could be of service to you.” Eldrin turned to leave as Eloh eagerly spoke up. “Will you be sure to relay my involvement to Master Lutheras? I don’t wish to take all of the credit, but if I’m to garner any favors, I need him to know of my involvement.”

Eldrin grinned as he turned his head. “Yes, you can be confident he’ll get a full report. I’m sure he will be quite pleased with your efforts. Be sure he gets some food. I used every ounce of his spark and we’ll need him fully recovered. Draw up the paperwork for the initial transfer of money, and arrange for his family members to stop by tomorrow.”

“Very well, sir. I’m pleased by what we’ve accomplished today, and I look forward to meeting the master in person.”

“You and I both. It’ll be nice to get some real sleep for once.” Satisfied, Eldrin turned and left the conclave. His bed screamed out is name and he couldn’t return quick enough. One thing was for certain, nothing could wipe the grin away from his face.