Shadows of Illyria

An Epic Fantasy Trilogy

The Shadows of Illyria series is a new fantasy fiction trilogy from author JM van Zuiden. This unique series departs from traditional fantasy novels by its gritty realism of the portrayal of war, nature and even the struggles faced by war-torn heroes.
Book 1 of this 3 part series puts you into the shoes of Captain Aldric Veersdoorf of the Imperial Legion, as he struggles with his inner demons while battling an invading army of orcs and rogue humans. Joined by a half-human female elf, A’yala, Ambassador of the Llyvenwood Kingdom, our hero discovers that the phantoms of war inside him might be more real than he could have ever imagined.

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Draken Slayer

As you drift into the darkness of your mind, the pull of madness grows with every passing moment. Your instinct is to fight, and for a time, you battle against the supernatural draw of the void. Inevitably, as it always seems to be, the clash with your subconscious is lost, sending you suddenly plummeting, torn from all rational thought, toward the abyss of despair. A maddening cyclone of lights and sound pass around you, seeming to tear at your very soul, until the blue of the sky begins to merge with the torrent of colors, finally solidifying into an image your broken mind can process.

Crashing to the ground, your mind is mated to a body that feels almost foreign, yet somehow familiar. The physique is that of a young and virile soldier. Years of campaigning and the injuries that accompany such a chosen profession, have yet to take a toll on this fledgling Ranger.

A long-forgotten voice fills your consciousness, “Corporal Veersdorf, you are on point.”

“Aye, Lieutenant,” you reply.

The youth of your voice is shocking at first as reality settles on where you are and whose body you occupy. At twenty-two, you are still an idealistic and energetic young Corporal with the Rangers. This mission you are beginning would ultimately be your last assignment for the Order.

Scanning the surroundings, you find only warm sunshine illuminating bright, green grass. Flowers blanket the landscape and birds sing cheery songs as they fly about. Small hills and valleys, dotted with bushes and a variety of trees accent the idyllic scenery. The scent of spring air fills your lungs with an invigorating bouquet of aromas.

You are in the northwest corner of the Empire, near a city called New Hyllande. Your unit was dispatched to hunt a group of draken which migrated from beyond the mountains and taken up residence in the hills east of the town. The beasts had already killed dozens of livestock and seriously injured a farmer who was fortunate to escape with his life. The entire event had caused quite a stir in the Province as draken sightings within Imperial borders are rare, with many years passing between such events.

“Move out,” your Lieutenant orders.

As your platoon ambles forward on their horses, you reminisce about the faces of these men with much fondness. This unit was the first group of legionnaires you had served which earned a special place within your memories. Lieutenant Ostten, Sergeant Millen, and Rangers Loft, Herrick and Ustley. Danvin Ustley was an Initiate in your Ranger class, and you knew him well, in fact, the two of you were quite a duo, spending most of your off-duty time together, terrorizing whatever bars happened to be near.

Snapping your reins, your mount comes to life, putting distance between you and your comrades. Scouting was always an exciting, albeit dangerous affair, but at twenty-two and part of the elite Order of Rangers, you felt invincible back then.

You were apprehensive that day as the beasts you pursued were legendary monsters. Everyone had heard the tales; intelligent, fast, and elusive, the draken were renowned for their group tactics, making them an apex predator. A full-grown adult is three times the length of a horse, though about the same height Typically, they would hunt livestock and other large game, however on rare occasion they are known to attack humans, and it is said that once a pack had overcome the fear of man, they would actively pursue him as prey.

Draken by themselves were not the real issue, it was their use as vehicles of war that made their very existence forbidden in the Empire. Too many wars had been fought on the backs of these reptiles, and the last Dragoon Regiment was disbanded over four hundred years ago when these ancient apex predators were hunted to extinction on most of the continent. Were it not for the wild lands north of the mountains being out of reach of the Crown, these impressive reptiles would likely no longer exist on Illyria.

Your journey is peaceful for several hours as you continue scouting ahead, finding no sign of your quarry. Around noon, you stumble upon a recently slaughtered elk which had been torn apart, only the neck and head remaining. The rest of the body evidently carried off by whatever killed it. An untrained individual might assume the culprit was a mountain lion, wolf, or aachen, but you are able to deduce the distinctive draken kill from sketches in a book you studied before departing on the mission, not to mention the lack of any nearby tracks other than elk.

Scanning your surround anxiously, there is no sign of a draken pack, but you note a large rock outcropping jutting from a hill in the distance. You decide to target this as a potential nest site but hold for the time to allow your unit to arrive.

After a short wait, your squad comes into view, led by your Lieutenant. They pick-up the pace when the notice you, assuming you have news to report.

“What do we have, Corporal?” he inquires upon arrival.

“Draken kill, sir. I believe that is where we should start,” you respond, pointing towards the hill.

Your leader pauses, inspecting the elk remains from the seat of his mount before responding, “Sounds good. Make it happen, Corporal.”

With a salute, you reply, “Aye, sir.”

Immediately setting off, the journey to the distant hill takes about an hour. You move expeditiously, but stay cautious as you approach your target. Upon reaching the base of the hill, you locate a little group of trees near a small mound and dismount. Tying-off your stallion concealed in the trees, you make way to the tree nearest the suspected den and conceal yourself in the brush.

Time ticks by slowly as you wait in silence behind cover. The intensity of your search strains your eyes and your patience. It is now about mid-afternoon, and you resolve to shake things up and waste no more daylight on a potentially empty site.

Grasping a stone from the ground, you step away from the tree and launch the missile toward the cove above. Several thuds break the silence as your stone hits the rocks and bounces around the cavern. Much to your surprise, a draken alert rings out, but the sound is weak and high-pitched. A second replies, also in the same puny voice. They bicker back and forth for a few moments before becoming quiet.

Must be two juveniles.

Young draken are about the size of a horse foal when born and no more a threat than a wild dog. However, the adults of the pack are a different story and garner much reason for concern.

The book on draken reported that the beasts live in groups dominated by one or two males, the rest being female. According to the old text, around six females would round-out the family-group, though twelve had been documented. Reports from locals indicated the pack was as large as ten and as few as two. Your Lieutenant had said, divide the largest figure by the smaller and you will find a more accurate answer.

After investigating ambush positions, you return to your horse and head towards your waiting team. After a short distance, you locate the group in a fair-sized cluster of trees, that is also well laid with bushes making it ideal for a camp. They are dismounted, most of them taking advantage of the downtime by napping.

“What word have you, Aldric?” asks Danvin who stands watch.

“I have located the nest, two juveniles are present, but I believe the adults are out hunting.”

Your Sergeant, a seasoned veteran, and a light sleeper, sits at the sound of your voice and shakes the Lieutenants shoulder who lays nearby.

“Sir, our scout has returned, and in one piece,” he cracks with a sideways smile.

Clearing his voice, the Lieutenant rises as he inquires, “Report, Corporal.”

“Aye, sir,” you acknowledge as you dismount your stallion. “The nest has at least two juveniles, but I was unable to observe any adults. I believe they must be on the hunt. According to my research, we should expect them at dusk.”

“Very, good, Corporal, I concur.”

The others have woken and now listen intently to your report. Your officer stares toward the den, calculating his strategy. After several moments of silence, he addresses your squad.

“Okay, Rangers here is the plan,” he pauses, looking around at every man to confirm they are paying attention. “Corporal, yourself and Ranger Ustley will stay here and guard the horses. Those damn draken love the taste of horse-flesh and gods knows this old soldier will not be walking back to New Hyllande!” After a brief laugh with the Sergeant, he continues, “Loft, you will be with me; we will assume over-watch. Sergeant, you and Herrick will enter the lair and slay the juveniles before concealing yourselves within. We shall wait until the pack lands and hit as many as possible with draken arrows before advancing on foot. Sergeant, you will launch spears before attacking on foot. Everyone is to equip shields. Corporal, when I sound the alarm, you and Ustley mount-up and make haste to join us.”

“Aye, sir,” replies a chorus of voices.

Pausing with his arms crossed, the Lieutenant looks over every face again, searching for uncertainty.

“Any questions?”

The Sergeant answers for everyone, “No, sir. I think your orders are clear.”

“Very good. We depart in ten for our positions. Corporal, come give me the layout.”

“Aye, sir.”

You both walk a short distance while you detail the terrain of the nest. After your brief discussion, the Lieutenant returns to the camp to equip his gear. You join Danvin, chatting quietly until the group departs a few moments later. Once they are out of sight, you both find opposing positions and good seats to settle in for a potentially long watch.

Time ticks by slowly until the sun has fallen into the horizon, illuminating the distant hills in a soft orange glow. From your position at the edge of the camp, you sit at ease with your back against a tree. Your eyes are fixed on the sky, casually observing the birds fluttering about, looking for night perches. The cheerful songs of the little fliers fill the dusk air with their avian exploits of the day. Suddenly, they all scatter and become silent. Usually, this means a large eagle is on the approach, but given the circumstances, you suspect something much larger spooks them.

“Draken!” Ustley reports from across the cluster of trees in a loud whisper.

Without thinking, you swing behind a tree and begin searching the skies intensely. Only a few seconds later, three draken come into distant view, heading toward the den. Your heart races at the site of the majestic beasts, followed by concern for your comrades who are hiding in ambush, as the reptiles arrive at their home and begin circling above. The mere sight of the legendary animals brings memories of your boyhood dreams of flying as a member of the dragoons of old.

They continue circling like vultures in the fading light, never breaking formation. After this continues for a while, you become nervous they have discovered the waiting ambush below. Just when it seems the tension will break your resolve, one of the draken abruptly departs off into the distance, though the other two remain. Slowly the lingering two merge into the encroaching darkness, eventually disappearing from view altogether.

Frozen behind the tree, you remain anxious and alert, while the last evidence of the sun evaporates into the horizon. Shadows have turned into darkness, preventing you from seeing the predators even if they were to come close. Being unable to view them only increases your apprehension, adding a burning knot in your stomach.

“Did you hear that?!” Danvin suddenly questions in a low voice from across the camp.

“No… what did you hear?”

You peak your ears, desperately searching for the sound he is referencing, but discover nothing but spring crickets.

“There it is again!”

This time you discern it; A whoosh close-by… too close. Then a ghostly blur flash before you in the dark, a splash of air striking you in its passing, sending a chill trickling down your spine.

Panicked, you retreat to the center of the trees near the horses and frantically begin striking your flint at the kindling the others prepared earlier.

A heavy sound suddenly impacts the ground close by. Spinning to your right towards the noise, you search in desperation for the source, but cannot see anything in the darkened foliage.

Then another whoosh comes from your left followed by the snapping of twigs and crushing of grass. Terror grips your mind as you feel hopeless and alone, your body beginning to feel as if ice had entered your veins. A jolt in your mind kicks you back to life, and you begin to strike at the kindling as if your life depended on it. Just as a small flame finally ignites, a single word that will haunt you until your dying breath is heard.


Stopping mid-breath, Danvin’s final word in this life echoes in your mind while the hairs on your arms stand and your heart pounds like it will burst. Every sense heightens beyond anything you have ever felt. You want to run, but your training tells you to draw your sword and face death. Gritting your teeth, you position yourself toward the sound of falling feet, preparing yourself to join your friend.

Suddenly, as if by Jovan Himself, the fire leaps into the air as the kindling catches the twigs in a burst of color. In that ephemeral moment, like a viper striking from unseen cover, a reptilian head with teeth rippling like flames as they reflect the erupting fire, illuminates your vision. Everything around you is frozen in time as a numbness creeps over your body. Death feels imminent and unavoidable, leaving your mind scrambling for a response.

Then a screech tears through the silence, only to stop as quickly as it had begun. You blink to reality as warm blood sprays onto your face, causing you to shutter. Only then, do you realize you have severed the head from your aggressor, the body lays convulsing on the ground, thrashing wildly around. Your senses scream to life as you begin moving with speed and certainty you never imagined possible. Every sound becomes crystal clear, every image intensified. You dart through the thicket, slashing and blocking at the assaulting reptiles. Everything turns into a blur of steel upon flesh as you attack like you are possessed, detached from your very mind.

When the carnage ends, the flames have transformed your surroundings from darkness to a hazy green of flickering color. Stunned and suddenly exhausted beyond all reason, you stumble over to the fire and stare blankly into the depths of the blaze. The orange and red dance in reflection upon your blade that remains in a fierce grip. Trickles of blood slowly form together into a single stream, seemingly penetrating through the rolling flames as it travels to the tip. Your gaze locks onto the drop, fixing on the slowly stretching fluid of life.

Finally, the drop breaks-free, falling to the ground, snapping your mind back to reality. Scanning around, you discover the corpses of three draken as if seeing them for the first time. Just then, a human form, slumped at the edge of the trees grabs your attention.

“Danvin!” you exclaim as you run to his position. Your heart sinks as you fall to your knees by his corpse.

“By the gods, no!”

The rush of emotions still filling your veins from the combat before only serves to amplify the intensity of your reaction. A tear rolls involuntarily down your cheek, followed by a surge of warmth rushing through your body, and then nothing.

Returning to cognition, you are laying on the ground by your fallen comrade. Still numb all over, you struggle to rise and stagger over to the glowing beacon at the center of the camp. Haphazardly you fall to the grass as you drive your sword into the soil before the fire. Your mind is blank as you stare into the white of the flames for what seems like hours.

The voice of your Lieutenant suddenly breaks the silence, “Corporal!”

You remain in complete stillness, barely registering his speech. Then you realize a hand is upon your armored shoulder.

“Corporal. Can you hear me?”

Slowly you look up at him, still disoriented, and reply reflexively, “Danvin is dead, sir. I killed three draken.”

The Lieutenant scans the surrounding carnage as he strolls about, looking over the corpses. Returning to your side when he has finished, he kneels next to you, replacing his hand on your shoulder.

“By the gods… you killed three draken, Corporal!”

“Ranger Danvin is dead, sir.”

“I am sorry, Corporal. Ustley was a good Ranger.”

Your leader offers support, but your mind is lost in a haze, and you cannot hear what he is saying through the ringing in your head. The rest of the evening turns into a foggy memory. When you eventually lay down, staring vacantly into the trees above you, glimpsing the few stars that peak through the branches. Finally, exhaustion overcomes your shattered thoughts, and you drift off into the dark.

Join Aldric on an epic adventure in

Shadows of Illyria: Phantoms of War

Featuring over 450 pages in Book One of this ground-breaking new trilogy.

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Phantoms of War Trailer One

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Meet the Characters


Captain Aldric Veersdorf

Aldric is one of two lead characters in the Shadows Trilogy. Hailing from the rough and tumble border province of Vella, Aldric is a tall, ruggedly handsome army veteran. Having served since his teenage years, he has earned his rank of Captain through meritorious service in combat.

The outset of our story finds Aldric the Commander of a remote garrison in the mountains bordering the wild lands to the north. Undermanned and all but forgotten F'rrah's Pass is a sleepy post where nothing ever happens, giving our hero much time to dwell on the horrors of the past that haunt his very soul.

lady a'yala

Lady A'yala of Llyvenwood

Lady A'yala of the Llyvenwood Kingdom is a half-elf, half-human Ambassador to the Illyrian Empire. She is the co-lead character in the Shadows Series.

Educated and politically involved, A'yala is playing with fire by being in a traditionally male dominated position and an outcast as a half-breed. Despite the odds and danger, she has fearlessly pushed forward.

The outset of Phantoms of War finds Lady A'yala trapped within the occupied area with no allies or friends.

Onfim Sketch

Sergeant Onfim Heisen

A loyal friend and dedicated soldier, Sergeant Onfim of Vellensgate has followed Aldric to Hell and back and will be forced to do it again as the invasion progresses.

paladin merkal

Paladin Nasira Jakalla

Paladin Jakalla of Sada'El is a rarity in the military, but a testament to the Paladins forward-thinking. Hailing from eastern desert scrublands, her brown eyes and swarthy complexion betray her heritage as from the El’Arra region of Illyria.

Despite the discrimination that comes with being a woman, minority, and magic user in an Illyrian man's military, she has excelled and become a hardened, capable soldier by her own right.


Rune Master Adnok

A hardy and seasoned warrior, Adnok is a very rare, almost mythical dwarf in that he bears the skill of magic, an extreme rarity amongst his kind.

Hailing from the Nok Clan in the North East, Lord Adnok is highly respected among his people, not only for his magic but for his wisdom and prowess on the battlefield.

Creatures of Illyria



Draken are large, apex predators, typically twice the length of a horse including their long tails and necks. The greatest of all the reptiles, they have incredibly resistant scale hides, making them difficult to kill. Living in packs dominated by one or two males, they hunt large game throughout the known world, appearing in half a dozen species. Though they normally avoid the five races, they occasionally attack if threatened or hungry. Draken were once used for the purposes of war by humans, elves, and orcs. However, the practice was mutually abandoned some five-hundred years ago.

- Imperic Encyclopedia, Volume III: Biology of Aarden



Aachen are large, flightless birds that are predatory in nature. They operate in female dominated flocks of six to ten adults, preying on medium-sized animals. Aachen occur only on Illyria though they have been exported to the provinces in Therra where they are used as beasts of burden. Humans of the El Tribe domesticated them thousands of years ago and once used them for war. At present, they are utilized only for labor and transportation, having been banned by the Empire for use in battle after the last El uprising.

- Imperic Encyclopedia, Volume III: Biology of Aarden



Tiogair are a large, white, with black striped cat species are native to the Elvish homeland of Talunsa’bhaile where these big cats live in mated pairs. Formidable predators, they tackle the largest prey in their environment and are feared only second to the Draken. The elves have long made the Tíogair their companions and are kept as sacred pets but also used as deadly mounts in times of war. Elvish Rangers are the only warriors allowed to keep them outside of the nobility. Once thought extinct by humans, they were seen for the first time since the Great Fall during the Llyvenwood War where they were used on lightning raids and often helped turn the tide in a losing battle.

- Imperic Encyclopedia, Volume III: Biology of Aarden



Lupdire are very large wolves that live in small packs, hunting the biggest game available in their environment. Though extinct in Illyria, they still occur in Therra and possibly other lands. In the wild, these wolves live in large family groups, dominated by a single pair that mate for life. Goblins have long kept Lupdire as pets and utilize them as cavalry during war, having bread them for this purpose for thousands of years until becoming a distinct sub-species from their wild counter-parts.

- Imperic Encyclopedia, Volume III: Biology of Aarden

Moncaimor Sketch


Moncaimor are a large ape species native on at least three of the continents in the form of various sub-species. Known to humans as trolls, the Moncaimor are one of the most intelligent of the animals found on Aarden. Covered mostly in fur, but revealing a human-like face, these beasts stand four heads higher than the average human male. All these factors combined along with incredible strength and tough hides, make them a formidable opponent. In the wild they live in reclusive family groups dominated by a single male. They are generally peaceful omnivores but dangerous when encountered by humans. Orcs domesticated the Moncaimor thousands of years ago where the sub-species they keep have been bred for generations to be ferocious beasts of war that they are used to great effect.

- Imperic Encyclopedia, Volume III: Biology of Aarden



Pansret’Dyr are large armored herbivores of unknown origin, transported throughout the known world by their Dwarven patrons. Closely resembling their much smaller cousin the armadillo, these large creatures bear a flexible tail with a bony-club on the end that they use for self-defense. Due to the unknown origin of the beasts, the little that is understood comes from their Dwarf keepers who have kept them as pets for as long as history has been recorded. Once used in great numbers on the battlefield as an incredibly effective defensive force, they are rarely seen anymore, and it is assumed they must be near extinction.

- Imperic Encyclopedia, Volume III: Biology of Aarden




Are one of the three races of the Jovan Coalition. Adventurous, creative, and strong willed, they have left a strong mark on both Illyria and Therra. Humans are gifted with holy magic, particularly the gift of healing. They also possess the elemental magic of fire. Humans uniquely have the ability of necromancy, owing to their one-time allegiance to Selvath. However, magic is uncommon amongst humans, only occurring in its full form with one in ten-thousand. Humans have an average life expectancy of eighty years.

-Imperic Encyclopedia, Volume I: The Races of Aarden

elf female


Elves are the founders of the Jovan Coalition and the leader. They are known for their wisdom, peaceful ways of life, and incredible physical senses. Elves bear the strongest magic of the five races. They are gifted with powerful wind, water, and earth manipulation. Because they do not possess healing magic, they instead rely on an advanced knowledge of medicine. They are unique among the races in their ability to commune with animals. The gift of magic occurs most frequently in this race, being found in one in four. Being blessed by their loyalty to Jovan, elves have an average lifespan of five- hundred years.

- Imperic Encyclopedia, Volume I: The Races of Aarden



Dwarves were the second race to align with the Jovan Coalition. These short and stocky people are known for their ingenuity, resolve, and isolationism. Dwarves were only gifted one magical ability, that of enchantment. None-the-less, being the creative engineers they are, this has been used to great effect, powering machines and making mighty weapons. Magic is rare amongst the dwarves. Most the other races are unaware they even possess it. Dwarf Rune Masters are such a closely guarded secret that even those who aware of their existence do not know the number of them alive. Dwarves live around three-hundred years, owing to the dangerous lifestyle they lead.

- Imperic Encyclopedia, Volume I: The Races of Aarden


Orcs are the primary race of the Alliance of Selvath. Intelligent as humans, they are known for their incredible ability to survive on almost anything. Orcs are not known to possess any magical abilities, instead, they have mastered manipulating the natural elements in warfare. They are the most physically powerful and tall of all the races of Aarden. Due to the violent lifestyle they lead, it is not fully understood how long they live, though the elves put them at one-hundred and twenty years.

- Imperic Encyclopedia, Volume I: The Races of Aarden

goblin warrior


Goblins were the last race to choose sides during the Darkness, settling on the Alliance of Selvath. While they are the weakest mentally and physically, goblins are renowned for their unwavering loyalty to their orc masters. Given the proper resources, they are almost the equal of dwarves as craftsman. Rarely, perhaps one in ten thousand of the race will possess the arcane magic known as Dorchadas. The Goblin’s greatest attribute lays in their ability to reproduce. Though possessing a short lifespan of thirty years, the average female will produce twenty to thirty offspring that reach maturity in only six years.

- Imperic Encyclopedia, Volume I: The Races of Aarden


Hibrideach, commonly known in Imperial lands as hybrids, are an extreme rarity. All the five races of Aarden are capable of cross-breeding. However such taboo is placed on the practice by all cultures that it is extremely rare. At one time, human-elf and orc-goblin hybrids were not unheard of however it was banned by the Illyrian Empire out of fear of the exceptionally powerful offspring produced from such unions, while the status in the orc realms is unknown, it is believed the mating is rare due to the status of goblins in orc culture.

-Imperic Encyclopedia, Volume I: The Races of Aarden

Author Bio

JM VanZuiden – Combat soldier turned author.
J.M. van Zuiden was born and raised in the upper Midwest in a small farm town. After two years attending a local community college, J.M. joined the US Army at age 21 being stationed at Fort Hood, Texas. He deployed with the US Army’s 1st Cavalry Division to Iraq in 2004 for Operation Iraqi Freedom, where he experienced combat first-hand. J.M. resides in Illinois with his wife of fifteen years and four children.

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