Darkness Rising (Ebook)
Darkness Rising (Ebook)
Book 1 of The Soul Force Saga
Damien St. Cloud is a failure.
Born into a family of warlords and with the most powerful soul force in history, he's unable to make it work.
A disappointment to his legendary father and a weakling compared to his sister, Damien's life is miserable.
His life changes forever when a visiting sorcerer proclaims Damien isn't a warlord at all but a sorcerer.
Thrust into a world of magic and danger, can Damien master his power in time to save his family and the kingdom from long forgotten evil?
The sun shone down through a cloudless sky, bathing the training yard in warmth. Damien St. Cloud wanted to turn his face up to the light and let the sun warm him, but that would be a breach of protocol and the last thing he needed was to get yelled at for something so simple. There were plenty of other things for the masters to yell at him about.
He took a deep breath, enjoying the sweet scent of spring blossoms blowing in over the wall. He stood at the end of a line of thirty-six other boys and girls, all thirteen years old and third-year students at The Citadel, the kingdom’s training school for warlords.
Damien managed not to wince when the master brought a wooden training sword down on the collar of the first boy in line. The Master of Fitness was a great bear of a man with huge muscles made even more massive by the infusion of soul force. He wore a blue tunic trimmed in silver with matching pants, the same as all the students, the only difference a silver shield pinned on his broad chest that marked him as a master of The Citadel.
The sword snapped in half, the broken-off chunk flying across the yard, kicking up dust when it hit the dry dirt of the yard. The student never flinched or cried out; he’d mastered his soul force enough to make his bones as hard as steel and his skin tougher than leather. Strengthening the body was one of the most basic skills a warlord learned during his training at The Citadel. All the third years could do it—all except Damien.
The next student in line, a fit girl named Tenna, took the blow as stoically as the first. She had short blond hair and a mean streak. Tenna liked to punch Damien whenever she got close to him, which was as seldom as he could manage. Tougher than most of the boys, she could take on anyone and usually win.
Back when they were first years, before anyone had use of their soul force, Damien had been the best student in his class. He could take anyone, hell any two of his fellow students, in a fight, barehanded or with practice weapons. But now, everyone else had mastered the basics of using their soul force except Damien, leaving him the weakest student in the class.
He’d only made it through his second-year graduation tests because of his exceptional skills and the fact that none of the tests required him to use soul force to complete them. Not this year. This year he had to demonstrate the ability to toughen his body enough to take a blow on the collar without getting hurt.
Another student, a giant idiot of a boy named Stan, who wouldn’t know decent technique if Damien drove it through his stomach, took the blow without batting an eye. Stan might be an idiot, but he was better than anyone at strengthening his body.
Damien turned his focus inward, to the great, seething mass of power in his core. For as long as he could remember everyone had told him he had the greatest soul force in his generation; fat lot of good that did him. He tried to coax the power out and run it along his bones, wrapping them in a matrix of power that would make them unbreakable. The masters all said this was the simplest technique and any third year and most second years should be able to do it with no trouble.
Damien focused all his mental energy on moving the power through his body. He’d spent countless hours studying and meditating, trying to get the power to obey his commands.
His power just sat there, mocking him. So much power he should be able to smash a hole through The Citadel wall with his bare hands and he couldn’t coax so much as a flicker of movement out of it.
At last, the master stood in front of Damien, a final wooden sword clenched in his massive right fist. All down the line, every eye focused on him. The master raised an eyebrow a fraction. Damien gave an equally minute shake of his head. The master closed his eyes and heaved a sigh. Damien’s collarbone was about to get broken. Again.
He held no ill will toward the master; he was only doing his job.
The failure lay with Damien and no other.
The wooden sword went up over the master’s head. Damien tensed, determined not to pass out this time. The sword came down. At the instant of impact, Damien let his knees buckle to absorb some of the force.
It didn’t help.
Bone snapped and pain raced through his body. His vision swam. He clenched his jaw to hold in a scream of pain. Despite his best efforts, a groan escaped his lips. He didn’t collapse this time, didn’t tumble to the ground unconscious and wake up in the healer’s quarters. He salvaged some pride from that.
Slowly, painfully, Damien climbed back to his feet, left arm useless at his side. The master held up the unbroken sword. “Fail.”
He didn’t know who laughed first, but that first chuckle was joined by another and another, soon his whole class was laughing at him. Damien didn’t say a word, didn’t dare, fearing if he opened his mouth a scream would erupt.
So much for the army’s famous motto: “For the person beside you.” Damien believed in that motto. He’d heard it his whole life. His classmates either didn’t believe in it or didn’t consider him a comrade. Either way, he just stood there, left arm hanging limp at his side, and waited for the master to give him permission to go to the healer.
The master shook his head. “Go on.”
Damien nodded an acknowledgement, a proper bow beyond him at the moment. He walked across the yard, his boots scuffing through the dirt, toward the towering stone fortress that gave The Citadel its name. It served as a school and home for both the students and the masters and their families.
Like all the fortresses in the kingdom, sorcerers had built The Citadel out of dark gray granite, quarried in the northern mountains. The blocks were transported south, then fused together to make a single, solid piece of stone.
The main door stood open during daylight hours, thank all the angels in Heaven, so Damien didn’t have to wrestle the giant oak-and-iron thing open with one hand. Beyond the door, the entrance hall was empty, no surprise given the early hour.
Straight ahead, a flight of stairs led to the second-floor living quarters. On either side lay passages deeper into The Citadel. Damien eased his way down the right-hand hall. He knew the way to the healer’s quarters almost as well as he knew the way to the family suite upstairs.
The first door on the right led to the servants’ barracks. He passed it and went to the first door on the left. It was open and inside, holding a healing elixir and wearing a familiar, sad smile, stood Miss Ella, The Citadel’s healer.
Damien and Miss Ella had spent a great deal of time together since he began his training. She wore her usual white healer’s robe, a red cross embroidered over her heart, her gray hair up in a bun. Behind her sat six empty cots separated by curtains. A locked chest against the far wall held all her healing supplies, not that she needed many. Warlords could heal themselves from almost any injury with soul force, so besides looking after the new students and Damien, Miss Ella had little to do. Maybe she was so nice to him because he provided her with job security.
“I figured you’d be along.” The wrinkles around her blue eyes crinkled in concern. “How bad was it?”
Damien caught himself before he shrugged. “I didn’t pass out this time.”
She handed Damien the vial filled with red, bubbling liquid. “Drink up, then I’ll adjust the bone.”
He tossed back the potion. The strong peppermint flavor burned his throat a little. Damien didn’t care. The instant the healing elixir touched his mouth, the raging pain in his shoulder cooled to a dull ache. Whichever sorcerer had enchanted the potion, Damien owed him a thank you.
Miss Ella gave him no chance to savor the loss of pain. She put one hand on his neck and the other on his shoulder and guided his collarbone into the proper position. When the broken ends of bone touched, they vibrated as they knit back together. No matter how many times it happened, Damien never got used to feeling his body heal.
Damien sighed, the pain nearly gone. “Thanks, Miss Ella.”
She waved a hand, her face stern. “You know the drill. No strenuous activity for a day while the bones finish healing. Anything doesn’t feel right, come see me.”
“Yes, ma’am. Dad’s not going to be very happy with me failing again.”
Miss Ella’s lips turned down. “That man expects too much from you. You try your best, no one can ask more than that. He gives you any grief, you send him to me. Master of The Citadel or not, I’ll set him straight.”
She sounded so fierce, Damien thought she might daunt the great Fredric St. Cloud, King’s Champion and Master of The Citadel. But more than likely, his father would ignore her, the same way he did everyone who said something he didn’t want to hear. “Guess I’ll head home and get a nap.”
“Make sure you drink a couple glasses of milk at lunch, you need the minerals to help the bones heal.”
“Yes, ma’am.” He bowed to her and left the infirmary.
Damien retraced his steps back to the staircase and went up to the second floor. Well away from the public and student areas of the school sat the quarters assigned to the masters and their families. Damien, his sister and his father lived together in the largest suite: one of the few perks of being the son of the Master of The Citadel. On the downside, it was all the way at the end of the hall. That made it quiet, but when every step jarred his healing shoulder, quiet wasn’t as important as proximity.
He pushed the unlocked door open—no one would be stupid enough to mess with Dad’s room—and went in. He’d barely shut the door behind him when the mental voice of Lizzenwar, his father’s demon-possessed sword, appeared in his head.
You’re hurt again.
Damien smiled at Lizzy’s concern. She hung over their little fireplace in her lacquered black scabbard. If Dad hadn’t taken her today, he must be training with the fifth years. Damien walked between the couch and Dad’s favorite ragged, overstuffed chair to the fireplace and ran his index finger along the cool, smooth scabbard. Lizzy’s mental shiver tickled his brain. He didn’t know if she actually felt it when he touched her, but she liked to pretend.
“It’s just a broken collarbone. Miss Ella patched me up.”
That’s the third time this year. How many times are they going to hurt you?
Damien sprawled on the couch, kicked his shoes off, and closed his eyes. An instant later, he floated in a star-filled night sky. Lizzy flew beside him, black-feathered wings spread, tail lashing behind her, and naked as a newborn.
Damien smiled. She liked to try to shock him by appearing nude, but she’d done it so many times, he hardly twitched. Not that Lizzy wasn’t worthy of a great reaction. She had a perfect, voluptuous figure, smooth pale skin, bright red lips and smoldering red eyes. She was easily the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. The fact that she was a mental projection didn’t bother him in the least. When she brought his consciousness into her psychic world, they were both real.
“I get one more chance to pass the test of endurance. If I fail it again, I can’t advance to fourth-year studies and will have to repeat the third year. I can’t see much point. If I haven’t accessed my power by now, what are the chances another year will make any difference?”
“None, I’m afraid.” She had a husky, sultry voice that oozed sex. Centuries ago, before her first lover bound her soul to the sword rather than let it return to Hell, Lizzy had been a lust demon, her purpose to seduce and corrupt mortal sorcerers. He suspected she was really good at it. “What will you do?” she asked.
Damien shrugged. In this world, his shoulder caused him no pain. “What can I do? I’ll train hard and hope something jars my power loose. If I fail, I’ll be back in three months with another broken collarbone.”
The air around Lizzy shimmered and she cloaked herself in sheer black silks. She stuck out her bottom lip. “Don’t say that. It kills me a little every time you come home hurt. Maybe if you spoke to Fredric, you could convince him this isn’t the right path for you.”
Damien laughed. “Dad decided this was the right path for me ten seconds after I was born and Mom died. I have to become a great warrior to make her death mean something. If I fail or quit, then she died for nothing. If I tried to walk away, I think Dad might kill me.”
Lizzy flew over and hugged him, her wings wrapped around him. She felt so warm and soft and real. He closed his eyes and breathed in the spicy, cinnamon scent of her hair. “I wish I could stay in this world with you.”
She drifted back. “You know you can’t. Human souls can’t be bound to objects like demons. Your place is out in the real world. But you can visit me as often as you like.”
She lashed her wings and raced through the infinite night sky. With a thought, Damien flew after her. In this place, anything he imagined became possible. He chased her and they played tag through the sky. For a few minutes, he forgot about the test, his father, and everything else beyond Lizzy’s mental world. He loved her for that gift, among many others.
Lizzy stopped and hovered in the sky, her head cocked slightly as if listening to something beyond his hearing. Damien stopped beside her. “What is it?”
“Your sister’s coming. I’m afraid our play time is over.” She sounded as disappointed as he felt.
Damien kissed her, savoring the softness of her lips. “I love you.”
He blinked, and found himself back in his physical body, lying on the couch, shoulder aching, and wishing he could go back to the only place he was ever really happy.
He shook that depressing thought out of his head a moment before the door opened and a tall, stunning girl with long, flowing blond hair, a slim build and a uniform just like his, rushed through. His sister Jennifer kicked her shoes off next to his and sat on the couch beside his feet.
“I heard about the test. Are you okay?”
“Yeah, nothing I haven’t dealt with before. Dad’s going to be pissed when he finds out.”
Jen grinned. “Also something you’ve dealt with before. What happened?”
“Nothing, that’s the problem. No matter what I try I just can’t get the power to respond.” He ground his teeth. “What’s wrong with me?”
She squeezed his knee. “Nothing. You’ll make it work eventually.”
The door slammed open. Damien didn’t have to look to know his father stood there, scowling. “Another failure, boy.”
Damien sat up and peaked over the back of the couch. Sure enough, Dad stood in the doorway glowering, shaved head red with anger, his uniform flawless, his commandant’s gold shield gleaming. If he got any madder steam would probably shoot out his ears. “Yes, sir.”
“You’re a disgrace.” He stepped into the room and slammed the door closed. “A disgrace to me, your sister, your mother’s memory, and the name St. Cloud.”
Damien winced at the barrage, but held his peace. What could he say? If Dad measured his worth by his ability as a warlord, he certainly was a disgrace.
“On your feet when I’m speaking to you!”
Damien jumped up and clasped his hands behind his back at parade rest. “Sir?”
“I’ve had enough of you embarrassing me. One more failure and you’re done. The Citadel is a school for warlords. Weaklings have no place here.”
Damien blinked. Was his father threatening to expel him? For another student that would be bad enough, but he could always go back home to a normal life. But Damien didn’t just study at The Citadel, it was his home. Maybe it wasn’t much of one, but he had nowhere else to go.
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