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The Axe of Sundering

M. L. Forman

  © 2017 Mark L. Forman

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without permission in writing from the publisher, Shadow Mountain®, at [email protected] or P. O. Box 30178, Salt Lake City, Utah 84130. The views expressed herein are the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the position of Shadow Mountain.

  This book is a work of fiction. The characters, places, and incidents in it are the product of the author’s imagination or are represented fictitiously.

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  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  CIP data on file

  ISBN 978-1-60907-934-5

  Printed in the United States of America

  LSC Communications, Crawfordsville, IN

  10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  Cover image credit

  Book design © Shadow Mountain

  Cover illustration © 2014 Brandon Dorman

  Author photo © Brent J. Rowland

  Art direction by Richard Erickson

  Cover design by Sheryl Dickert Smith

  Production design by Kayla Hackett

  For all the fans who waited so patiently without complaint. Thank you.

  Out of the night that covers me,

  Black as the pit from pole to pole,

  I thank whatever gods may be

  For my unconquerable soul.

  In the fell clutch of circumstance

  I have not winced nor cried aloud.

  Under the bludgeonings of chance

  My head is bloody, but unbowed.

  Beyond this place of wrath and tears

  Looms but the Horror of the shade,

  And yet the menace of the years

  Finds and shall find me unafraid.

  It matters not how strait the gate,

  How charged with punishments the scroll,

  I am the master of my fate,

  I am the captain of my soul.




  The Beginning


  The Graveyard

  The Road to Shinmar


  Voyage to Midland

  The Caravan

  Across Midland

  The Empty Village

  Cave of Dreams

  Fear in the Dark

  On to Westland

  Along the Coast

  The Dragon’s Trap

  The Sea Elves

  War Council


  The Black Lands

  The Castle of Conmar

  The Secret Passageway

  The Axe of Sundering

  A Prison of Ice

  The Brotherhood

  Beyond the Wall

  A New Name

  An Honorable Man

  Stories for Another Time

  Discussion Questions

  About the Author

  Ah, acknowledgements. This is possibly one of the hardest parts of writing. There are so many people who make a book possible, many of whom I don’t even know. How can I thank them, you all? All I can say is thank you, and I hope you all know how much your work means to me. Thank you, thank you.

  Special thanks to the Shadow Mountain crew—Chris, Heidi, Derk, Sarah, Richard, and Malina—who have waited without complaint for this book to be finished. Sorry about the wait and thank you for not grumbling—or at least not grumbling where I could hear you.

  A very special thanks to my editor, Lisa Mangum, once again. Lisa makes me look good, because I really don’t know much about writing. I tell a story; Lisa makes it readable for all of you. In this case, Lisa also managed to push me along when I really didn’t want to be pushed. In short, this book is only here because Lisa kept things moving forward.

  Thanks once again to Brandon Dorman, the illustrator for his amazing cover art.

  Last but certainly not least, thanks to you, the readers. None of this would really matter without all of you. Thank you, and keep reading.

  Alex woke in darkness. He knew that he was awake because of the pain. It felt as if he’d fallen down a long flight of stairs, hitting every step on his way down. He tried to sit up but the pain was too much, and he slumped back to the ground once more.

  Where am I? he thought. How did I get here?

  Even thinking hurt, but now that the questions had started there was no way to stop them. He tried again to get up and failed. All at once his body moved without his even thinking about it. He scrambled to his knees, looking around wildly. He knew he was trying to find someone, but who?

  “Vankin,” Alex said softly.

  Yes, Whalen Vankin should have been close by, but why? Who was Whalen Vankin? Why should he be close? Alex tried and failed to find a face in his mind, the face that went with the name Whalen Vankin. His failure troubled him. His mind wondered for a time, going completely blank, and then a new question came: an important, urgent question that he had to answer.

  Who am I?

  For a moment the question didn’t make sense. He thought about the answer for a long time, slowly forming the words in his mind before speaking.

  “I am Alexander Taylor, adventurer, wizard, dragon lord, and . . .”

  “Say it again,” a voice inside his head demanded.

  “I am Alexander Taylor, adventurer, wizard, dragon lord . . .”

  “Again, louder,” said the voice.

  “I am,” Alex started but stopped as a new pain ripped through his brain.

  “Again,” the voice demanded.

  “I am Alexander Taylor, adventurer, wizard, and dragon . . .”

  “Again, again, again,” the voice screamed over the growing pain.

  “I am Alexander Taylor, adventurer and, and . . .”

  The words came slower and the pain in his head pounded like a giant hammer every time he spoke them. Alex didn’t know why, but he had to keep repeating the words.

  “I am Alexander Taylor, adventurer, wizard, dragon . . .”

  Each time he said the words the pain grew. It felt like pieces of his brain were being torn away, and he put his hands on his head to try and protect himself from the pain. He continued to try to say the words, all of the words, but with each attempt he knew that something was forgotten, something was lost.

  “I am Alexander Taylor . . . I am Alexander . . . I am Alex . . . I am . . .”

  His mouth continued to move but there was no more sound coming out. The pain was so bad that he hardly noticed when he fell back to the ground and curled himself into a ball. Darkness closed in around him once more. When he woke again all of this would be forgotten, but there would still be one question to answer.

  Out of the darkness came light, and with the light came pain. The pain was terrible, but it seemed to be fading. He moved slowly, unsure of himself and unsure of everything around him. His eyes felt out of focus, and the small lights above him were dim and seemed to be winking off and on. He reached out for them, trying to touch them or capture them in his hand, but he could not. His pain wasn’t as bad when he put his arms down, and it was easier to breathe as well. For a long time, he stood looking up at the little lights, trying to remember what they were and why they were there, but he couldn’t remember.

  Eventually he noticed that the strange little lights above him were going out and staying out, but things were becoming clearer. He looked around and faced a blindingly bright light that appeared from nowhere. It confused and comforted him at the same time. He struggled toward this new light, and it grew brighter as he moved. He thought he must be getting closer to the light, because it was getting warmer. Everything he could see had changed, from darkness to gray and then to br
illiant colors. The colors all had names, but he couldn’t remember what they were.

  Staggering forward, too weak and worn to worry about forgotten names, he watched the bright light climb into the sky. It was warm, and it would have filled him with hope, but he had forgotten what hope was. All that he knew was he had to keep moving, moving to where the light had come from. He tried to think of why he needed to move but there was no answer, there was only a desperate need to keep going.

  As the light moved higher into the sky he stopped looking at it. He touched his side once, trying to force more air into his lungs. The searing pain forced him to his knees, and it was a long while before he could get up and move forward once more. He avoided touching his side as much as he could after that, holding his arm across his chest to prevent it bumping him and bringing back the pain.

  As the bright light was sinking behind him he rested for a moment, looking into the bag he was carrying. It was empty, but he felt that there should be something there, if only he could remember what it was. This bag was important, but he couldn’t remember why. The bag didn’t matter. It was light enough to carry, and its straps helped him to keep his arm from bumping his side.

  Times of darkness and light passed almost unnoticed. His only thought was to keep moving; moving to where the bright light had first appeared. The dark times were worse than when the bright light was above him. There were noises in the darkness, noises of things moving around him that he could not see. They were like ghosts in his mind, reminding him of things he had forgotten and could not remember.

  Finally, after what felt like forever, he reached his end. Unable to struggle forward another step, he leaned against a large object that grew out of the ground. He was finished, and whatever force had driven him to move forward for so long was gone. There was nothing now, nothing but to sit and wait for darkness to cover him. Perhaps the darkness would take away his pain, and he could finally rest.

  One year earlier

  Alex gazed into the flickering fire. He was restless and impatient, and he was angry with himself for feeling that way. Waiting was hard for him, but he knew there was nothing else that he could do. His friend Whalen Vankin had asked him to wait; wait for a message that might not come. Why Whalen wanted him to wait he did not know, and that’s what made waiting so hard. Whalen had not explained what he was doing or where he was going. The old wizard had said that he had to check on something, and had asked Alex to wait for him to send word, because he might need help.

  Dozing off in front of the fire, Alex suddenly jerked awake. His eyes scanned the room as he got to his feet. Powerful magic had just been used somewhere close, powerful magic that Alex recognized as coming from Whalen. He started toward the door, but had only taken a single step when an urgent tapping started. Alex almost jumped to the door, only just lifting the latch before Whalen pushed his way into the house, forcing Alex to take several steps backwards.

  Whalen spun around, looking back into the darkness outside, and then slammed the door shut and threw the bolt to lock it. Alex stood in stunned amazement. His friend looked terrible. Whalen’s clothes were dirty, his hair was a confused mess, and it looked like he hadn’t eaten for days. Alex could tell that Whalen was nervous, possibly even afraid, but he didn’t know why.

  “Whalen, what’s happening?” Alex asked.

  “Who are you?” Whalen demanded, turning to look at Alex.

  “What? You know who I am. What’s going on?” Alex asked again.

  “Tell me who you are,” Whalen demanded, his eyes ablaze with power. “Tell me as if this is the first time we’ve ever met.”

  Alex took a step back, surprised by Whalen’s question and the sudden gathering of power—power that he was prepared to use. For a moment Alex considered how he could defend himself, but that thought slipped away as he saw the desperate look on Whalen’s face.

  “I am Alexander Taylor, adventurer, wizard, and dragon lord,” Alex said in as calm a voice as he could manage.

  “Is it safe here?” Whalen asked. “Have you seen any strangers in the area? Have you felt any magic or had any feeling that you were being watched?”

  “We are perfectly safe here,” said Alex, confused by the questions. “I haven’t seen anyone at all in a month, and I’m sure that nobody is watching me or my house.”

  “In your second true form, what do you become?” Whalen asked, his staff rising slightly.

  “I am a dragon,” Alex said. “A dragon of true silver.”

  “Indeed you are,” Whalen said, his entire body relaxing. “I’m sorry, Alex, I had to be sure that you are you.”

  “Why? What has happened to make you so afraid?” Alex asked, terrible ideas filling his mind. “And how would my telling you who I am convince you that I am who I say I am?”

  “Oh, there’s no need to worry—not yet, at least,” Whalen said, moving into Alex’s house. “Nothing terrible has happened. Well, at least not anything I know about. As for my believing that you are who you say you are, that’s a silly question. You know very well that all words have power. Anyone saying that they were you would not be as convincing as you are. Besides, who else would know about your second true form?”

  “Not many people,” Alex answered. “But what has happened to you, Whalen? You look terrible, and your sudden entrance was a bit alarming to say the least.”

  Alex returned to his chair in front of the fire and motioned to Whalen to take the chair next to it. He watched his friend with concern, noticing how tired and worn he looked. He wanted answers, but he knew that Whalen would explain things in his own good time.

  “It appears that I’ve stirred up a hornet’s nest,” Whalen said, after getting comfortable in the chair. “The last time we talked, I told you that I needed to check on some things. It seems that there are people who aren’t happy about my checking.”

  “What things?” Alex asked. “What have you been doing since you left me here waiting for you?”

  “Yes, it is time that I explained everything to you,” said Whalen, and then fell silent once more.

  For what seemed like a long time Whalen said nothing, and Alex knew that his friend was trying to gather his thoughts. There seemed to be some great sorrow in Whalen, a sorrow that Alex had never seen before.

  “There is a dark wizard,” Whalen said at last, not looking at Alex. “He is moving slowly, carefully, but I know where he is. More importantly I know who he is—or at least who he was .”

  “Do you want to capture him? Is that why you said you might need my help?”

  “Capture is not an option,” said Whalen, closing his eyes and leaning back in his chair. “This wizard must be destroyed—completely. That is why I asked you to wait. That is why I need your help, Alex.”

  “But you can destroy him, can’t you?” Alex asked.

  “Do you remember, not so long ago, I told you how many wizards I have trained?” Whalen asked without answering.

  “Yes, you said that two of your students had taken staffs.”

  “You are one. The evil that I am now after—he is the other.”

  “But how? I don’t understand,” said Alex, shaken by Whalen’s words. “If he took the oath as a true wizard, how could he have turned to evil?”

  “He was always evil, but I did not see it,” Whalen said, his voice shaking slightly with emotion. “I chose not to believe what I knew to be true, and trained him against my own better judgment.”

  “But why?”

  “Because he . . . he is part of my family,” said Whalen, his voice dry and cracking. “He is, or was, a great-great-great-grandson of my brother. Oh, there are too many generations to count them all.”

  “In all those generations you stayed in touch with your family?” Alex asked.

  “Yes, though they did not know who I was,” answered Whalen. “It would not have mattered anyway. From the moment I saw this boy, I knew him. He looked so much like my brother. . . for that reason alone I agreed to train him as a wizard.�

  “Now he’s turned to evil, and you must destroy him,” said Alex, feeling truly sorry for Whalen.

  “I must try,” said Whalen. “The trouble is that he will know when I am near, just as you know when I am near. I have no hope of sneaking up on him, and even if I could get close, I’m not sure that I am powerful enough to destroy him.”

  Alex thought about what Whalen was saying for a few seconds before speaking. He understood why Whalen had asked him to wait, why his friend needed his help. Destroying a wizard would not be easy, but the idea of destroying a member of Whalen’s family troubled Alex. If there was any way to reclaim him, to turn him back to good, he had to try. After several more seconds of thought, Alex said the words that he had never dreamed of saying.

  “You want me to destroy him for you.”

  “It is the only path I can see that might lead to success,” Whalen said. “Though if I must, I will face him alone. It is, after all, my responsibility. I will not ask you to follow this path with me if you feel that you cannot.”

  Whalen’s words hit Alex like a slap in the face. Whalen was offering him a way out. Whalen would not demand his help; he would only ask for help, help that Alex could see he desperately needed.

  “I will not desert you,” Alex said firmly. “Will you tell me his story? The story of how he came to be what he is? I would like to know as much as I can before I face him.”

  “It will be some time before you face him,” said Whalen, sounding both relieved and grateful that Alex had agreed to help. “He is gathering his power in the castle of Conmar, on the western edge of the western land of Jarro.”

  “Conmar Castle?” Alex asked.

  “An ancient place,” Whalen said, his voice soft. “There are many legends in Jarro about the castle of Conmar. It was once a center of power and it is believed that many wizards lived there over the ages. Some stories say that the lords of Conmar were wizards and pirates, and that they had dealings with dragons and sea serpents. Other stories say that the wealth of Conmar came from lands to the west, lands that no one else in Jarro has ever discovered.”