Daughter of the Dark: Shadow Through Time 2
Sample of Daughter of the Dark: Shadow Through Time 2
Pagan of the House of Guardians struggled upwards through layers of pain. His shoulder was throbbing and his mind was befuddled. He couldn’t think. What was wrong with him? He had taken worse wounds in battle and not lapsed into this numbing half-slumber.
Sluggish eyelids flickered as he fought the odd lethargy, then he heard a sound. The thin wailing of a babe. A babe! The child of The Light, the one prophecy had foretold would be born with the power to join the Four Worlds. As the child’s newly appointed Champion, Pagan had left his own world and all that he’d known to bring the babe through the Sacred Pool into the illusion world of Magoria where they would be safe from their enemies. And they had arrived. Before he had passed out. Pagan had seen the strange Earthworld hue of the sky, like the swirling of the Sacred Pool, trees as vibrant as the royal colour of The Light’s own eyes. For a warrior who had lived all his life on the brown earth world of Ennae, the wondrous colours of this world were remarkable indeed.
Yet though he had brought his charge safely into exile, he now languished in a torpor while the child of The Light lay unprotected.
‘Where . . .?’ he croaked, yet his disobedient eyes opened only a crack.
A face loomed in. The woman who had found them in this strange world. A woman with eyes the same magical colour as the sky behind her. ‘Your little girl is fine,’ she said and tried to smile. Worry lurked on the edges of that smile.
Pagan tried to shake his head. Failed. ‘Glimmer is a boy ch—’ His voice failed and he found no strength to rise and prove the truth of his words. He was losing valuable Guardian blood and must act quickly to heal his wound. The pain of his injury was dulled by shock and Pagan had begun to feel cold. He knew from his father’s instruction that this icy lethargy could kill a warrior as quickly as any injuries.
The newborn child of The Light depended on him. Not only that, Pagan and his cousin Talis were all that remained of the Guardian line, the only two with the power in their blood to open the way between the worlds, to ward against evil and to heal. He must remain alive.
The woman frowned in concern. ‘Just lie still. I’ve got a compress on your shoulder,’ she said. ‘I’ll check on your baby again, then I’m calling an ambulance.’ She turned and went towards the babe’s cry and Pagan had an impression of bared skin before his eyes slid shut.
An Ambulance? He struggled to reopen his eyes. Was that the title of the Guardsmen in these lands? He did not want to be dungeoned. The Sacred Pool he had travelled through with the babe in his arms was to have taken him to sanctuary in the illusion world of Magoria. Not into further danger.
Blurry edges of unconsciousness brushed him and he struggled to focus his mind and use his Guardian power to explore his body. As Talis had shown him, Pagan used the power that lay in his Guardian blood to remove the dulling numbness of shock. He wished for the voice of his cousin then to guide him. His powers were too new for him to be confident of their potency. Yet a moment later they appeared to work.
Ice-sharp awareness returned to his mind and instant, fierce pain swept down from his shoulder, stiffening his body. He raised a trembling hand and laid it on the cloth-covered wound, whispering through dry lips, ‘With Guardian power do I heal the broken flesh herein . . .’ Prickling warmth covered his shoulder and he directed it towards healing the wound. ‘. . . Restoring strength and making whole. I order pain to end.’
As though slashed from his body by a knife, the agony departed and Pagan slumped, his eyelids flickering in relief as a soft sigh escaped his lips.
‘No!’ The woman was back with him in an instant, her fingers against the side of his throat.
Pagan’s eyes snapped open and his restored shoulder rose as he grabbed her wrist. They gazed at each other, the woman’s eyes wide with surprise and something else. Fear? ‘You shouldn’t be able to raise that arm,’ she said slowly. ‘The pain would knock you out. Are you on drugs?’
Still holding her wrist. Pagan reached up with his free hand and tore off the cloth covering, glancing at the freshly-healed wound before returning his satisfied gaze to his would-be healer.
She too stared at the healed wound and after a time shook her head. ‘That’s . . . not possible.’ Her gaze drifted away yet did not meet his eyes, ‘That’s . . .’ She swallowed noisily and he felt the muscles in her arm tense under his hand. ‘You’re, like, an alien or something. The colour of your blood, it’s like rust . . . and there’s no pink on you. You’re all brown.’ She glanced beyond him to the pond where the Sacred Pool had opened and he had entered her world. ‘Kakadu Bill told me that billabong had evil spirits in it.’
Pagan could see the terror in her then. The stark line of her clenched jaw, the glazed look in her averted eyes. He noticed also that she was wearing very little and though that shocked him, he calmed his voice to reassure her as she was clearly no threat and had obviously tried to aid them. ‘I am no evil spirit,’ he said. ‘I am alien to your world but my flesh is as human as your own. I am not to be feared.’
She swallowed again and glanced at his sword. The arm he held began to tremble.
Pagan abruptly released her, feeling a shadow of shame that he had frightened her so when she had bandaged him and cared for his charge. She backed away, flicked a glance at the babe who Pagan saw wrapped in a bright cloth a distance away.
‘Is she an alien too?’ the woman asked.
Pagan frowned. There were nuances to their conversation he did not understand. Not the least why the woman kept referring to Glimmer as a girl. Khatrene, who was The Light of Ennae and Glimmer’s mother, had told him many thing about Magoria, yet still Pagan did not understand all of what the woman said, nor why she feared them so. Had she not seen a healing before? ‘The child, Glimmer, a boy, was not born on this world yet his mother was raised here. I bring him to Magoria only to keep him safe from enemies who would harm him.’
‘Will they follow you here?’
‘No, they cannot.’ That was one blessing Pagan could count. He might be young, alone and stranded on a strange world with a baby he had no skills to care for, but The Dark who had threatened all their lives could not reach him here. The only other Guardian with the power to open the way between the worlds, Pagan’s cousin Talis, had escaped to the Airworld of Atheyre. This left The Dark trapped on their homeworld of Ennae, and Pagan safe.
Yet he was alone here and it would benefit his situation greatly if this woman who had found them could be convinced to aid them further. The knowledge that they may be stranded here for years was too great a burden to face so Pagan concentrated instead on the immediate necessities: lodgings and some food for the child. He opened his hands. ‘I promise you I am no threat to you. My weapon is only to protect the royal child.’
‘So you’re her bodyguard?’
The woman eyed him warily for a moment longer before saying, ‘Alien she may be, but I do know a girl when I see one.’ She rose and marched over to the baby, her cut-off warrior pants allowing Pagan an indecent view of her legs, which, added to her cropped T-shirt, was the most shocking costume Pagan had ever seen. Propriety should see him avert his eyes, yet as he rose he continued to stare and was rewarded by a further show of thigh as she crouched to gather up The Light’s babe and return to his side.
His first instinct on having his charge returned was to snatch the babe from her arms, the better to protect him from harm. Yet the gentleness and sure hand the woman brought to her task was ample illustration of his own inadequacy for the duty that lay ahead of him.
To Champion royalty was responsibility enough, but to also nursemaid and parent the most consequential child born in the history of the Four Worlds, without the counsel of any of his noble house . . . This was a duty Pagan had never thought to fulfil, and the lonely weeks ahead of him brought more fear to his heart than he had ever felt on the battlefield.
‘Here. Look,’ the woman said, and cradling the child against her, she pulled open the dry swaddling cloth.
Pagan could only stare. ‘The child of The Light is a girl,’ he whispered. The connotations of this revelation did not begin to form in his mind — whether a girl-child could join the Four Worlds as prophecy had foretold — all he could think of was the promise he had made to protect the son of The Light and teach him the ways of a warrior.
The Plainswoman Noorinya had delivered Khatrene’s child in the Royal Shrine while Pagan had been busy attempting to resuscitate their dead king. Later Raiders had attacked and he had been forced to flee with Glimmer; yet true to the birthing taboos of her race, Noorinya had told no one the child’s gender. Not even its mother who had assumed the child was a son, as had they all because The Dark had told them it would be.
It seemed their spiritual leader was not only a murderous traitor, but his powers of divination were false also. The Dark had used his position to trick Khatrene into marrying him so he might father her child, the child prophecy had foretold would join the Four Worlds. What would his reaction be to the news that his prized progeny was not a son?
Yet before he could feel satisfaction at this, Pagan spared a thought for The Light and her Champion Talis, exiled to the Airworld of Atheyre with their dead king. They had no knowledge of whether Glimmer even lived, let alone that she was a girl.
‘So is it a problem that she’s not a boy?’ the woman asked, her voice challenging him even as it trembled. He had to admit he admired her bravado.
‘Only to me,’ Pagan replied with humility, still trying to win her confidence. ‘I was to teach him the ways of a warrior’
‘So a girl can’t be a warrior where you come from?’ The woman raised an eyebrow. ‘I see chauvinism is universal.’
Chauvinism. He had heard The Light use that word yet found no sense in it for himself. ‘There are woman warriors on Ennae,’ he said, and sharp to his mind came an image of Noorinya with her hard Plainsman body, her fierce eyes and her exotic scent. He had foolishly pursued Noorinya and had been rebuffed and humiliated for his trouble.
‘Are you blushing?’
His eyes rose slowly to meet the woman’s which were curious rather than scorning and he wondered if his awkwardness had lessened her fear. He reminded himself that she did not know him at all. Just as he did not know her. Yet he felt he must trust her if Glimmer was to be properly cared for. He was safe from The Dark and his evil ambitions towards his own child. Yet what threat might endanger them here? Though his beliefs had always told him that Magoria was a world of illusion, The Light, who had lived here in exile, assured him that Magoria was very real and the dangers not to be underestimated.
‘Have you called any Guardsmen?’ he asked. Freshly out of his apprenticeship, this was Pagan’s first assignment as a warrior. He did not want his negligence or inexperience to endanger his charge. ‘The Ambulance you spoke of,’ he said.
‘I didn’t call anyone.’ They gazed at each other a moment before she added, ‘No one knows you’re here. You’re safe.’
Pagan glanced at the royal child in her arms before meeting her eyes again, appreciation in his own for the risk she took with them. He was an armed warrior. Albeit a weak one. Yet her compassion had overcome her fears. Khatrene’s recollections of her exile in Magoria had led Pagan to believe altruism was rare on this world. He should thank the Great Guardian for placing them in such caring hands.
She pulled the child closer to her chest with one arm, managing to cover some of her nakedness in the process, and held out her other hand, thumb up, fingers pointing towards him. ‘Sarah McGuire,’ she said. ‘Pleased to meet you.’
Her tenuous smile spoke to him of her courage, and yet also of the misgivings she must hold. Despite the turmoil of his situation, Pagan found himself smiling back.
‘Dimples,’ she said, and, ‘Oh my.’ Her smile faltered. ‘I’ll get my breath in a minute. And you are . . .?’
‘Pagan of the House of Guardians, Royal Champion to the child of The Light,’ he said, not sure if the colour flooding her cheeks was a reaction to his masculine charms or fear reasserting itself. To reassure her, he extended his hand in like fashion to hers and she gripped it firmly as a warrior would, shaking it up and down before easily letting it go, dispelling the thought that she had swooned over him momentarily.
‘Well, Pagan,’ she said firmly, ‘I like your plaits.’ She nodded at his newly conferred warrior plaits which yet dripped from his submersion in the Sacred Pool, as did the weight of his hair behind. Though she was unaware of their significance, Pagan felt himself swell with pride. ‘. . . And I like your little girl,’ she added, her smile coming easily as she glanced down at the babe in her arms.
A strange feeling came over Pagan then as he watched her with The Catalyst, her head bowed, her cap of light hair with its odd jagged edges falling forward to hide her otherworld eyes from him. She was older than The Light by several years and likely twice the age of Pagan’s beloved, Lae, yet he did not see Sarah as a matron. Her smile was too fresh, too pure, and he had certainly never seen as much bare skin on the matrons of court! It was unseemly. But by no means unattractive. And though he may be betrothed. Pagan still had a man’s eyes.
Sarah’s head rose then. ‘So what is that accent? It sounds Russian or something. Only,’ she frowned, ‘you’re speaking English. You’re speaking my language. How . . .?’
Suspicion returned to her eyes and Pagan hurried to explain, ‘The Sacred Pool alters the mind and the senses, adapting it to the world you are entering. If I took you to my world you would speak and understand my tongue easily.’
Her brow cleared. ‘Just yours, or all the languages of your world?’
‘All?’ Pagan repeated. ‘Is there more than one tongue spoken on Magoria?’
She raised her eyebrows. ‘Magoria?’
‘Your world. Do you call it something different?’
‘We call it Earth.’
Pagan shook his head. ‘Yours is the Waterworld, Magoria. My world is the Earthworld of Ennae.’
Sarah closed her eyes, as though searching for calm. ‘This is a lot to take in.’
‘And you have not moved from your homeworld,’ Pagan pointed out gently.
‘You’re right.’ She opened her eyes and looked around them, as though to gauge if they were being observed.
Pagan did likewise, yet he saw only the pond they had come from, trees surrounding them, strange concrete plaques on the grass nearby and some structures in the distance.
‘Do you know anyone on this world?’ she asked. ‘Have any friends here?’
Pagan shook his head, and though his pride was humbled by the act, he tried to look helpless. ‘We are alone.’
She nodded, but her eyes did not meet his. ‘So, if you need a place to spend the night,’ she said, ‘I have a spare room. I don’t know much about babies. I mean, I’ve never had a baby.’ Her words tumbled over each other in their haste to escape her lips. ‘But I think I know the important things. And I can get some formula —’
‘Yes,’ he said and her babbling faltered to a halt. ‘I may be on this world for . . . some time.’ Pagan felt he should speak his case plainly but did not want to daunt her. ‘If you have work that I may do, and your husband does not —’
‘I’m not . . . married,’ she said, then frowned as though revealing this piece of information had compromised her safety.
‘Fear not that I will dishonour your generosity,’ he said and knew she must hear the sincerity in his voice. For though his past was littered with more bedmates than swordfights, kissing Lae of Be’uccdha had transformed his life. Now he knew what it was to love and desire one woman alone. ‘I do but seek asylum for myself and the child, and though I have no coin to offer for food and lodgings, I am strong and can do much to ease the burdens of a woman alone.’
Sarah nodded. ‘I’m sure you can,’ she said softly, then added, ‘Let’s get out of the sun, shall we? I’m starting to feel a little lightheaded.’
‘Shall I carry the babe?’ he asked, his concern transferring to his small charge. Sarah shook her head and so he fell into step beside her as she set off on the springy soft grass towards a strange box-shaped dwelling that sparkled with many windows. ‘Is this your home?’ he asked.
‘My family’s funeral parlour. No. My funeral parlour,’ she corrected. ‘My parents retired to the Gold Coast.’
He looked at her blankly.
‘They live by the sea. I run the place now.’ She pointed past the glass structure. ‘I live on the farm at the back.’
‘You have inherited these lands.’ Pagan stepped carefully over a thin glossy tube like a long vine that lay over the grass. He followed its trail with his eyes and found water spouting from its end. Peculiar. ‘You do not have a brother then?’
‘No I do not.’ She frowned at him. ‘Why do you say that?’ She stepped onto a smooth-paved path which led around the structure of many flat glass panes and Pagan matched her footfalls.
‘I assume only that the lands would have fallen to the brother, had there been one.’
‘Ah. Here we go.’ She smiled a strange smile. ‘Patriarchy again.’
Pagan looked around and did not see the Patriarchy of whom she spoke. Yet rather than question her, he allowed his senses to be filled with the raw beauty of the world which was temporarily his home. Magoria.
His eyes, which were accustomed only to the brown tones of Ennae, became dizzied anew by the vibrant hues of this world. And the sky’s deep colour was so happy it could not help but lift his spirits to look upon it. In sharp contrast were trees whose leaves were the colour of royal eyes. Khatrene’s eyes. The same eyes that her child Glimmer would one day possess. Glimmer, who, despite that he wished it otherwise, was a girl.
‘A smile and then a frown,’ Sarah said. ‘You have quite a transparent face.’
‘You are watching me closely,’ he said. ‘Do you fear that I will yet do you harm?’
She shook her head. ‘You gave me a hell of a fright, and probably when the shock wears off I’ll wonder how I managed to talk to you as if . . . you weren’t an alien. But no,’ she looked bemused, ‘for some reason I’m not scared.’
She said no more on the subject and Pagan continued to walk at her side, trying to still the growing sensation of dizziness the bright hues caused his mind. Barrion, Lord of Verdan, had spoken often of his difficulty with open spaces, having been raised in the Verdan Hold beneath their family’s loch, yet this was not Pagan’s complaint.
The heady scent of the air was redolent with the fragrance of the strange low-growing grasses he had lain upon and this smell exacerbated his weakness. Just as they cleared the many-windowed edifice and began walking towards a wooden structure on stilts, Pagan felt a most unmanly sickness swell from his stomach. He used his Guardian healing power to still the disturbance yet no sooner had the prickling warmth subsided than the discomfort returned.
‘You’re looking pale all of a sudden,’ Sarah said, an admission that she had been watching him again.
‘Travelling the way between the worlds is taxing on the body,’ he replied, remembering the lessons he had taken from his cousin Talis. ‘Even for a Guardian.’ Most especially for a Guardian newly out of his apprenticeship who had not fully mastered his powers. Yet Pagan did not admit this for there was still some pride left to him.
‘We’re nearly there,’ she said, gesturing at the stilted structure. ‘You can have a cold drink and a lie-down when we get there. I’ll look after Glimmer.’
Pagan nodded. It was all he was capable of. His energy and attention were focused solely on moving his feet now, yet the closer they came to rest, the more lethargy and disorientation took hold. His Guardian power failed him.
Over the buzzing in his ears he heard her say, ‘What’s going on? Tell me your symptoms, I know first aid.’ The practicality of her tone calmed Pagan and reminded him of the healing women among the Plainsmen they had lived with. Women whose skills he had treated as inferior because of his Guardian birthright. How arrogant he had been. How young and stupid.
‘Symptoms,’ Sarah snapped when he swayed.
‘Dizziness,’ Pagan said, his lips suddenly dry. ‘The colours . . . hurt my mind. My world is brown. I . . .’
‘So your pool portal didn’t adjust that in your mind?’
‘It should have’ Pagan struggled to think. ‘I am not royal. Only those of royal blood have traversed the Sacred Pool. Perhaps —’ He swayed and felt fear clamour inside his mind. He was losing control of himself.
‘Shut your eyes.’ She grasped his arm and led him forward ten, twenty paces then said, ‘Stop here. Grab hold of this railing and wait.’ He heard her footfalls rise in front of him and a moment later she was back, taking hold of his arm with one hand and placing the other around his waist for support. ‘Keep your eyes shut. Lift your feet, we’re going up stairs.’
Pagan obeyed, feeling his sodden boot slap onto a wooden plank. One. Then another. Soon they were up out of the sun but Pagan felt he could go no further. She tugged, but he was spent.
‘You need to lie down. There’s no bed on the verandah. Just a few steps more.’
Though he doubted it could be done. Pagan forced himself on, lifting leaden limbs until he felt Sarah’s gentle push on his shoulders. ‘Bed,’ she said and Pagan fell upon it, his sword slapping his leg. She straightened him and removed his boots and sword-belt, then covered his wet form with a light quilt.
Self-pity rose large in his mind — alone and helpless on a strange world — yet duty worked within him yet, and with his last breath he said, ‘Take care of my charge.’
Sarah’s voice came to him as though from a great distance. ‘As if she were my own.’
The child of The Light, Glimmer, is taken from her mother’s arms and forced into exile on Magoria, the Waterworld. Her only connection with her native land is Pagan, her Champion and Guardian, who must use his wits and powers to protect Glimmer from detection and hide the evidence of her true destiny.
Meanwhile on Atheyre (the Airworld), Princess Khatrene and her lover Talis watch on helplessly, unable to protect Glimmer from the dangerous and bloody power play that is taking place. Kraal, the evil God of Haddash, and Djahr, the Lord of the Dark, are plotting the violent death of baby Glimmer so that they can gain total control of the four elemental worlds.
But the universe is rebelling. Ever so slowly the Maelstrom is building momentum, threatening to obliterate the four worlds and all who inhabit them. Glimmer must return to the land of her birth and fight the fiercest battle of her young life to right the terrible wrongs of the past, defeat the enemies who threaten to destroy her and restore peace.
Once again, Louis Cusack weaves an intricate web of intrigue, magic, erotica and horror to create a tale of pure fantasy.
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Refusing to accept her common Irish ancestry as a small child, Louise Cusack instead created an elaborate fantasy in which she imagined she was a kidnapped Russian princess, secretly adopted into a suburban Brisbane family after all, Cusack does sound like Cossack if you say it quickly. Harmless at the time, these childish stories gradually alchemised into an adult tale of murder, magic, desperate passion and ultimate betrayal which became the Shadow Through Time trilogy. Louise currently resides in southeast Queensland, Australia.Find out more