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THE HERALD OF JUSTICETHE HEROES OF NIPH - BOOK ONE
By Lee D. Graham
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2012 Lee D. Graham
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAnd so it begins ...
The marvel of being witness to the birth of Adara's twin god-lings quickly gave way to terror minutes later when what he could only describe as ten thousand deep, rumbling drums all being beat upon at the same time by unseen hands commenced high overhead. The magician fell to his knees and put his hands over his ears and pressed inward with as much strength as he could muster without crushing his own skull in a vain effort to keep the awful sound at bay. Disbelief soon took over at the realization that they were under attack and that the goddess's invisible shield that protected Niph from the outside was being battered over and over by an unseen foe.
When the deafening sound mercifully ended, the sudden silence was overwhelming. Gabriel struggled to his feet and shook his head in a wasted effort to get the pounding inside of it to stop. Both of his hands still trembled in the aftermath of the onslaught against his home world. It was from fear he had to admit to himself with shame. As powerful a man as had ever lived on Niph, Gabriel felt small and utterly insignificant, like a lone seashell being swept away by the irresistible pull of the ocean tide. But there were a few seconds of optimism as it seemed as though the barrier held the invaders at bay. How could it not? Adara was after all, the planet's matron goddess and protector.
It had only been a few minutes since Adara lay down on her simple bed inside of her mountain oasis to give birth to her twins. There had been a time of genuine concern, as in the hours before the delivery she appeared on the verge of death. The light, golden sheen that always surrounded her body had dimmed and her normally brilliant ice-blue eyes became cloudy. For some reason, the weaker the goddess became, the older and more frail the human magician felt, as if there was some unseverable bond between the two of them and his life was draining away from his feet into the mountain.
As the human began to lose consciousness and slip closer to death, he heard the distant sound of troubled female voices rapidly approaching. Adara's wards, Liesl and vesper, had arrived to protect the goddess.
Adara was as beautiful as the sunrise over an endless blue ocean. She was elegant, almost delicate, with her perfect, pale complexion, and straight hair that reached her lower back so fair in color it shimmered like liquid gold. To look upon her was to have hope and believe that nothing was impossible. Liesl and vesper, in contrast, were hard and wild, like exotic predators in human form. Both were tall, they towered by a full foot over the magician, and while thin, they were extremely well muscled. Liesl's long hair was jet black and her eyes were a brilliant red. Her appearance contrasted starkly with vesper's, whose hair was snow white, which complimented her sky-blue eyes. While Gabriel was not sure of their origin, being human seemed unlikely. But each one exuded power and self-confidence beyond anything he had ever experienced, and they seemed uncontrollable, other than their complete obedience to Adara. They were beautiful in their own way, but they were intimidating.
Liesl and vesper had been with Adara since the beginning. While he was not certain of how their relationship had come to be, Adara would not discuss it and the sisters would certainly not tell him, he pieced together that they had been sent as infants to Adara for her to raise as her own. Gabriel had always been left to wonder why a goddess would need the protection of these two strange women.
It was then that Gabriel's knees began to buckle from weakness, and he had to place his hands on the bed for support, otherwise he would have fallen to the ground. Liesl looked down at him with disdain for a few seconds, as if he was beneath contempt. She finally said to him, "You really do not know, do you human?"
Human? The magician was having a hard time concentrating. Adara was in labor, in obvious distress, and he was becoming weak to the point where it took all of his strength and concentration to stand on his own feet. With extreme effort, he regained his composure and looked up into Liesl's beautiful face. He managed to answer, "I really don't know what?" with as much conviction as he could muster. The last thing that he wanted to do was to appear weak in front of her. Even that was an exhausting effort.
Liesl tilted her head to the right as she looked at him like and seemed to be struggling with whether to tell Gabriel something important. It gave him a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach, as the news could not be anything good. After what seemed to be a long time, she turned from Gabriel and looked over at her sister, who briefly stopped attending to Adara and returned her sister's stare.
Although he could hear nothing, the magician knew that they were communicating with each other. Finally, her decision made, Liesl nodded her head slowly and turned back to face Gabriel. "Niph has been under attack for many years. Adara has grown weak defending it, while trying to nourish the children and keep you alive at the same time." The black-haired twin scrutinized Gabriel even more closely, her blood-red eyes seemed to bore a hole straight through him. There was nothing but disdain in them. "She cannot continue to do all three for much longer, otherwise she will die." Liesl finished, "If Adara dies, Niph will fall."
Gabriel immediately looked over to the goddess, who appeared to be getting more pale and weak by the second. Her breathing was becoming more shallow and rapid, and the glow from her body was beginning to fade, making her look almost human. He knew immediately what Liesl said was true, that Adara was dying, and it was in large part because of him. Her magic had given him a hundred years of extra life, but the magician had never known the cost to her, until now.
He turned back to face Liesl, and with as much determination as he could manage under the circumstances, asked, "What can I do to help her?"
Without effort, Liesl forced open a connection into the helpless magician's mind. When she spoke, it sounded like a rumbling thunderstorm was passing through inside of his head. In a voice dripping with malice she answered, "You can die, human." He staggered under its weight, but she did not stop. Liesl said to him, "Know that if she does, you will soon follow."
Before Gabriel could answer, Adara screamed and the faint golden nimbus surrounding her body blazed to life. She did not speak aloud, but the three others heard her in their minds quite clearly. "Daughter, nothing will happen to him, I command it."
The dark-haired twin immediately fell to her knees at the side of Adara's bed, and bowed her head low in shame until her chin touched her chest. She whispered to the goddess, "I am sorry mother, I forgot myself."
Gabriel noticed that Liesl's bright red eyes were full of tears as she looked down at Adara. He could almost feel some sympathy for her. Almost.
Liesl lifted her chin up and looked directly at Adara, "I have been too consumed with worry for you and the babies. It will not happen again."
The goddess smiled weakly. She reached her right hand out to touch Liesl's cheek lightly with her fingers. "I know, and I love you for it," Adara managed to say out loud through her labored breath. "And, although you do not understand it or agree with it, you must look after him as you would me. He needs to protect the children. They will not be safe without him." After taking a few more difficult breaths, she asked, "Do I have your word?"
Liesl looked over to her sister, and, although they were clearly displeased, as one they answered, "We swear it."
As soon as the sisters finished speaking, the great mountain fortress of Alta on Mount Chokura was rocked for the second time that day, only the second time in the long history of Niph. Gabriel fell to the ground and looked at Adara in disbelief. She seemed near to death. She cannot be failing. vesper gently took hold of Adara's hand, and without looking up said to her sister, "They are coming. go and hold them off, we need more time."
Without answering, Liesl immediately bent low at the waist so that her face was just above Adara's. She took her time and kissed her gently on the forehead. She lingered there long enough so that the tears that had formed in her eyes moments before began to trickle onto the goddess's face. When they fell, Gabriel noticed that her tears were not clear like his would be, but were crimson, like her eyes. Like little drops of liquid fire. They love her as much as I do.
Liesl looked again at her sister, and her expression, which only seconds before had been one of excruciating sadness and despair at Adara's frail condition, changed instantly to rage. It was a terrible sight to behold, even for one such as the powerful magician. As Gabriel watched Liesl in amazed silence, he noticed that her skin was beginning to shimmer and glow. She seemed to be growing and getting bigger, if that was possible. Liesl turned her back on the other three and walked quickly and purposefully toward the edge of the nearest cliff which marked the boundary of Adara's remote mountain home of Alta. Once she reached the precipice, she looked up into the sky and watched as the invisible barrier that Adara had erected many millennia before with her magic was being battered repeatedly by an unknown force from the other side. Someone or something was using brute force to try and destroy it.
Gabriel then watched with wonder as Liesl stepped over the edge of the cliff into the abyss beyond, and she vanished.
Surprisingly, Gabriel felt a profound sense of loss and sadness with Liesl suddenly gone. Without thinking, with the last of his strength he hurried as quickly as he was able to the spot from which she had just disappeared. He looked down to where he was certain that she must have fallen into the white clouds below, and saw nothing. He glanced back over his left shoulder toward Adara and vesper, but neither of them paid him any attention, nor seemed concerned about the missing sister. He turned his head back to look down into the clouds in one last effort to find Liesl, all the while the pounding to the invisible barrier above him relentlessly continued as if someone took up the impossibly loud drum banging once again.
She is gone, he thought with confusion, but why?
As he began to turn his head and body to the left, resolved to go to Adara and defend her despite his likely death, his eyes caught something small rising up from below him out of the clouds at an impossible rate. This cannot be. Something was speeding toward him, and it grew and grew the closer it came. Faster and faster it traveled. Gabriel stood and stared in astonishment as it slowed and drew to a level even with him. A giant reptilian head faced him, red eyes that he recognized all too well stared back into his own. Intimidating indeed.
"You are a dragon," were the only words he could manage to say to her.
The magician then knew why the sisters were so hateful toward him. The oldest and most powerful of the inhabitants of Niph, dragons had existed in harmony with the other, older races since time began. The first humans, on the other hand, the newest addition to the races of Niph, and certainly the most cruel and thoughtless, had mercilessly hunted them for sport to the point of extinction, forcing them to flee to the harshness and isolation at the southernmost part of the world in order to survive. As one had not been seen by a man in so long, it was commonly believed that they were nothing but myth now.
More gently than before, Gabriel felt his mind being opened. A familiar voice spoke to him, this time it betrayed a hint of sad resignation. "We are. There is very little time left. I will give Adara and my sister as much of it as I am able. You will need to do your part in this as well."
Gabriel looked back toward Adara and vesper, anger and resolve welling up in him. There was no army of soldiers to defend Alta, only a goddess and two dragons. And a single human magician. They would have to be enough. He turned back toward Liesl, still stunned by the sight of the huge, majestic black dragon, determined to do whatever it was that she asked of him. "What do I need to do?"
With steam billowing from her nose and fire in her eyes, Liesl gave Gabriel one final penetrating stare, and then said out loud, "Whatever is asked of you," before she beat her giant wings, rose into the air and was gone.
Gabriel watched as she flew high toward Chokura's jagged peak a mile above the palace, which itself was ten miles above sea level. As he did, he felt the reverberations from the constant pounding on the shield above him throughout his body, the noise growing beyond deafening, beyond painful. It easily drowned out Adara's screams as she came closer to giving birth. He looked up toward the direction of the sound, and watched in astonishment as a section of the sky itself seemed to be bulging in toward him. It was small at first, but the air seemed resolved to win the battle as it stood firm against the invader. Gabriel could not look away. But the louder Adara screamed, the weaker he was becoming. Her magic, which had previously been used to keep him alive well beyond his normal human lifespan, was being siphoned off to give life to her babies and protect Niph.
The attack from the unknown assailant continued relentlessly. Within the next few seconds the first bulge became bigger, and others became more evident. Then Gabriel saw the first tear in the fabric of the heavens. As soon as it began to open, he heard an awful moan from above, almost as if the sky itself was alive and that its life force was being sucked from it through a vacuum. It seemed small at first, almost insignificant. But it wasn't.
Gabriel knew then that the sky was losing its battle, and that the goddess was dying.
While she needed him, and the babies would soon be born and they would need him, he could not manage to take his eyes away from the madness above. It was the beginning of the end of everything. He watched the small rip start to get bigger, and then bigger still. It was as if a giant hand held a razor-sharp knife and was ever-so-slowly cutting it open, inch by painful inch.
As the blue, cloudless sky was torn, the magician saw that a smothering blackness lay just beyond it. It was as though death and oppression were waiting to burst free and overwhelm any goodness and light that dared to defy them. The physical manifestation of hopelessness itself seemed eager to invade Niph. His dread began to mount. At first, he could see nothing beyond, but he continued to watch, knowing that whoever or whatever it was that was attacking Adara would soon come to destroy them, as she was unable to defend herself from it while she was giving birth.
To Gabriel, it appeared as though he watched and held his breath for a lifetime before he saw the first monster coming through the gap. No sooner than it did, Liesl, who had been observing from the top of Chokura, took flight and flew straight toward the ever-growing tear. The magician watched her with awe and hope as she flew higher and faster toward the gash, which was getting agonizingly bigger by the second. And then the great black dragon took in a deep breath of freezing cold mountain air. Once she was within striking distance of the body, which was getting larger as it passed through the black void, she released a cascade of fire into the tear so hot and pure, that at first, it appeared to Gabriel to be a dazzling reddish white in color. As it heated and traveled toward its target it turned to violet, then a blue so brilliant and hot that he had to avert his eyes from it, otherwise he certainly would have gone blind in that very instant.
Finally, the searing flame from Liesl's mouth was a black to match that which was entering Niph from the sky. It burned the very air and rended a huge tunnel or void through the sky itself, and when it smashed into the creature that was exiting the tear, the ground beneath Gabriel shook violently from the explosion.
Excerpted from THE HERALD OF JUSTICE by Lee D. Graham Copyright © 2012 by Lee D. Graham. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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