Chapter 1: The Peril (Blood Knights) Part 1
“We’re close, another day or two according to the map,” Gilex said without turning.
“What are our plans when we reach the Circle of Demise?” Utar asked over the howling wind.
“The plan is simple; once we retrieve the staff of power we'll go after Togan and his dogs. We owe him a debt of blood, don’t you think?” Gilex turned and faced the slightly smaller man with the short reddish hair and beard.
“He should have killed us when he had the chance.” Utar squinted, and his dark blue eyes and facial expression took on a sinister look.
“Yes and that mistake will cost him dearly,” Gilex added. “Get some sleep. We have a big day tomorrow. I’ll take the first watch.”
Gilex was finished with the conversation and turned, staring over the bluff. The wind blew his dark, smoky-colored hair away from his face, revealing a small scar above his left brow.
“With all due respect,” Utar began, “Togan is a master swordsman with an army to back him up. We didn’t stand a chance the first time around. What makes you think we’ll do any better even with that staff?”
“Trust me, we will. Now go get some sleep.” Utar left.
As he walked back toward his tent, he nodded at several men in passing and entered the small pavilion. Utar walked over to his bed, removed his scale armor and matching boots, and placed his broadsword within reach. He fell asleep shortly thereafter.
Utar awoke at sunrise to the smell of food cooking on the open fire. Despite his hunger, he decided that he’d look for Gilex and talk about last night again. Still bothered, he left the comforts of his bed, dressed in traveling clothes, and walked out of his tent. Along the way, he greeted the cooks, Turlock and Mogen, and found Broc, dressed in his chainmail, milling about. He continued until he found Gilex performing his morning ritual several hundred feet beyond his quarters. He paused and studied him for several minutes. Gilex’s tall stature, lean frame, and broad shoulders made him look imposing in his leather armor. His moves looked clean, crisp, and his footwork was impeccable. What puzzled Utar was how his friend managed to wield two long scimitars simultaneously, a technique that he couldn’t do a month ago. Gilex suddenly stopped his routine, and Utar took the opportunity and walked over to speak with him.
“Your abilities are deteriorating, my friend. I heard you approaching long before you even saw me.” Utar shook his head.
“And where did you learn how to wield two weapons of the exact same length?”
“That’s my secret.”
“Maybe someday you can show me how.”
“Maybe.” Gilex chuckled.
“We have to get moving.”
“Good idea. Have the men packed and ready to leave within the hour.” Gilex went back to training as Utar left.
It was late in the morning when the little band from Tinderush continued their journey westward. Besides Broc stopping along the way for healing herbs, the journey was uneventful. Suddenly, Gilex brought them to a halt with a wave of his hand.
“What is it?” Rustic asked, moving his mount closer to Gilex.
“Something is moving in the woods ahead,” Gilex replied.
“Where? I don’t see anything,” Rustic said, peering in the same direction.
“I don’t either, but I know something is there. Wait here while I have a look.”
Before Rustic could protest, Gilex unclasped his long spear and galloped ahead, angering the big man.
“Damn him, I hate when he does that,” Rustic said in disgust and unclasped his spear from the side of the horse.
The group watched Gilex race ahead. He was twenty-feet away when a large, thick oak tree came crashing down, from Gilex’s left side, and landed with a thud directly in front of him. The impact caused his horse to rear upward, buck, and then throw Gilex from the saddle.
At that moment, two enormous bug creatures thundered out of the forest, back to where the others waited, taking everyone by surprise. Turlock, who was closest, was grabbed immediately by one of the bug’s pincers and hoisted several feet in the air. He screamed a deafening sound as the sharp instrument of death sliced through his scalemail armor and into his stomach.
The other insect came crashing into Utar’s horse, sending both man and beast sailing headlong through the air. Clay was the first to react and raced ahead after the fast-moving insect as it closed in on Utar. The rider intercepted the bug and used his spear to confuse, slow, and eventually draw the creature away from the fallen lieutenant. Meanwhile, Rustic, Perahn, and Kentra had their bows out and began launching arrows from atop their horses.
Brim, Mogen, and Broc dismounted and raced over to help Turlock, but they arrived too late as the bug thrashed his body back and forth until the helpless thief was cut in half, sending both halves of his body flying in different directions. Mogen was advancing when he was hit in the head by Turlock’s lower half and knocked unconscious. Brim stabbed the bug several times with his spear before the creature took notice and reared its pincer around and grabbed him by the leg. He was hoisted into the air and swung violently until his leg tore free, sending him flying through the air, screaming at the top of his lungs. After seeing his friend fly by his head, Broc froze and was hit by the bug’s bloodstained pincer, sending the healer sprawling to the ground. Meanwhile, Utar was on his feet again. He took several steps, cocked his arm, and threw his barb spear with deadly accuracy, scoring a direct hit to the insect’s head and piercing its brain. The bug twitched a few times and then stopped moving.
Gilex hit the ground hard, his spear was jarred loose from his hand, the air was taken from his lungs, and he banged his head, leaving him dazed. He remained that way until he heard one of his men scream, then he snapped out of his daze. Quickly, he scrambled to his feet and his eyes widened when he saw his men fighting with the two enormous bug creatures. Anxious to help, he bent down and picked up his spear, and by doing so, he narrowly avoided the large pincer as it sailed overhead. After feeling the wind whip past his head, he realized that he was in trouble and rolled several feet away. His horse, frightened by the sudden emergence of the new threat, ran in front of the creature and was grabbed immediately by its pincer. The creature lifted the horse in the air and snapped it like a twig.
Gilex rushed forward, thrust his spear deep into the creature’s side, and then used the weapon to try to push the creature onto its back, but the insect was too heavy and squirmed away, taking the weapon with it, and knocking Gilex to the ground. The bug, preoccupied with the spear, gave Gilex time to scramble to his feet and unsheathe his scimitar. Patiently, he waited for the right opportunity before leaping onto its back and driving his blade deep into the bug’s neck, severing its spinal cord. The insect shook and then stopped moving. Gilex removed his sword and spear and raced back toward his men.
Clay kept the last bug distracted, with his father’s infamous spear technique, while the others kept peppering it with arrows. The creature tried to strike down the warrior in front of it, but the veteran, with the streaked black and white hair, was far too quick and continued to pierce the bug’s body repeatedly until a thick, gooey substance, which Clay could only surmise was its blood, seeped out of its wounds. In a reckless attempt, the bug was about to lunge forward and crush Clay when, from out of nowhere, a spear sailed through the air and pierced the creature’s pincer at the joint. The attack rendered the weapon useless, and the monster screeched and backed away in obvious pain. Clay stepped forward, jabbed the creature’s head, and watched it fall over and die.
Utar ran back and saw Broc working frantically on Brim’s leg, trying to stem the flow. He walked over to talk to the healer.
“How are the men?” Utar asked impatiently.
“Mogen and Turlock are dead. Brim lost one of his legs, and as far as the rest of the men, they have minor wounds.” Broc rubbed his head, still feeling the effect of his injury.
“Will he live?”
“It’s hard to say. He’s lost a lot of blood.”
“What about you?” Utar stared at the semi-dried blood that was on his armor and head.
Broc followed his eyes. “Me? I’ll be okay; the blood isn’t mine.”
“Take a break. You don’t look so well.”
Gilex held up his hand. Broc nodded and moved away.
“Utar, finish up for Broc,” Gilex ordered and walked away.
Next to Broc, Utar was the best healer, but his skills paled in comparison to someone who’d been studying the art since he was a child.
Broc couldn’t keep quiet. “All you need to do is keep the tourniquet tight and rub ointment all over the wound. It will eventually stop the blood flow,” he instructed from a few feet away.
Utar did as he was told.
Gilex looked around as he stood away from the men. He knew that waiting in the open could be disastrous, so he ordered the rest of the men to keep watch until Utar and Broc were certain they could move Brim. It took them the rest of the morning to do so, and by mid-afternoon, they left.
The group managed to travel for a couple of hours before they were overwhelmed by a fast approaching storm from the east. The sky grew dark. Lightning flashed and sliced across the sky, followed by a thunderous clap that could be heard for many miles. In the ensuing instance, rain droplets began to fall, light at first and then heavier, until their vision was hindered to the point that the party could barely see. They found shelter in an old, abandoned cave. After they were settled in, Gilex lit a torch and motioned for Utar to accompany him further into the cave. Halfway down the slope, Gilex stopped.
“How are the men holding up?”
“Not good, morale is low." His tone became somber. "Brim’s fever is really high. I really don’t know if he’ll make it through the night.”
“I was wondering, if he does live, do you think he’ll slow us down with the missing leg? Would it be easier to put him out of his misery?” Gilex’s tone was cold.
“You would do that?” Utar asked.
“If need be. I would expect the same treatment if that was me.”
Utar was too stunned to answer, and Gilex didn’t wait for one and walked further down.
Upon returning from his uneventful survey, Gilex knew that it was time to address the men and bestow a sense of confidence. He first walked to the mouth of the cave and asked Perahn to give up his post and join the group. The young warrior of twenty-two years was delighted to come out of the rain and join the men seated close to the fire. Perahn removed his scalemail armor and proceeded to dry off his spear while listening.
Gilex coughed and then began to address the group. “If any of you have concerns, now is the time to speak up.” Each one, in turn, looked toward one another.
Rustic was the first to say something, “How much longer before we reach the Circle of Demise?”
“Another day or so,” Gilex replied.
“I feel this adventure is costing us a great deal of problems. Do you think the risks are worth the reward?” Rustic said, looking around at the others.
“Yes, I do, and I’ll tell you this, there are over two tons of gold hidden in that place, plus quite a few enchanted items. All for our taking.”
“Do you know if it’s guarded?”
Gilex paused before answering Rustic’s question. “It is, but when I use the ancient chant, we should be able to bypass any defensive mechanisms.”
“What ancient chant?” Clay chimed in.
“Shortly after I acquired the book, I read it and discovered a lot about the circle and how to thwart its defenses.” Gilex stated catching Utar’s attention, causing him to look up.
Rustic leaned in close to Utar. “Did you see this book?”
Utar shook his head.
“Where do we go from here?” Broc asked.
“The next day will hopefully take us through the Valley of the Wind. From there we’ll continue west until we reach a cave. The cave will take us through an underground passage and will eventually lead us to the Circle of Demise.” Gilex paused. “Once we arrive, we’ll disarm the traps and have access to the vast horde of treasure hidden there.”
That was music to Perahn’s ears. He was here for one purpose and one purpose only, and that was to get wealthy.
“Do we have enough men to complete this mission? We started out with twenty men, and now we’re down to eight. On top of that, Brim is pretty much useless,” Clay said.
“You’re lucky; he’s still asleep, or I’m sure he would like to ring your neck for that comment,” Kentra stated.
“What I meant to say was that he requires more time to recover,” Clay fired back at him.
Gilex waited for them to stop speaking. “I know our current situation isn’t the best, but we’ve been in far worse situations before. Didn’t I promise you on our last mission that we would recover the Book of Skills from the giants? That trip almost cost me my life. Everybody on that expedition enjoyed the benefits and rewards from the rarest of treasures.” Gilex scanned their faces before continuing. “You can’t have rewards without the risk, and the greater the risks the better the rewards. We will succeed!” His words were more of a statement than a promise.
It was nearing nightfall when the meeting ended and the men turned in for an uneventful night of rest.
By morning, the rain stopped altogether, Brim’s fever broke, even though he still lay unconscious. The group left after sunrise and traveled watchfully through the Valley of the Wind. They stopped just before sunset when the wind brought an unbearable breeze that chilled the men. They found shelter in a cluster of trees and ate their meal in silence by the roaring fire. Everyone felt uneasy within the valley and was eager to pass through the area by tomorrow’s end. Gilex explained his uneasiness and gave the men specific orders to double the watch this evening, then he went off to sleep.
It was shortly after midnight when Utar awoke, startled by his dreams. They warned him of pending danger and prompted him to seek out Gilex. Quickly, he donned his cloak, over his armor, and left the confines of his tent as he headed into the chilly night air. He reached Gilex’s tent and entered after calling his name. To his surprise, everything appeared as if he had never slept. The makeshift bed, made of straw, was undisturbed, and his weapons and armor were near the bed.
“Strange,” Utar said just above a whisper, “Gilex left from time to time, but never without his weapons and armor.” He decided to seek out Rustic, whom by now would be on watch.
Utar found him just outside of camp. He stopped to talk to the ageless warrior. “Did you see Gilex?”
“No. The last time I saw him was before he turned in. Why?” Rustic shifted his posture in obvious discomfort.
“I need to see him,” Utar stated.
“Is he in his tent?”
“No, I’ve already checked.”
“What do you make of our situation?” Rustic asked.
“We’ll be fine. We’ve been with him for nearly two years, and he’s always kept his word. I did notice a difference with him this time.”
“Ever since we left the Caves of the Dead, he’s been acting differently.” Utar shifted his gaze from left to right as if he expected their leader to emerge suddenly.
“What do you mean?”
“It’s hard for me to put a finger on it. He just has.”
“Do you believe he means us harm or has ulterior motives?”
“I don’t know. Let’s just keep an eye on him for now. In the meantime, if either one of us finds out anything, we’ll inform the other.”
Rustic was in the process of agreeing when Clay suddenly appeared.
“Did you see Gilex?” Utar asked him.
Clay shook his head.
“Good night,” Utar said and left.
On his way back, he passed Gilex’s tent again. This time, he noticed footsteps trailing off toward the north. Activating a glow rock, he headed off in that direction.
Brim’s fever returned that night stronger than before. Broc, who was keeping watch over his childhood friend, immediately began working on him after seeing him stir. Halfway through the treatment, he ran out of special herbs and knew that, without them, the hand of death would be upon Brim by morning. He grabbed the knapsack and woke Perahn, who slept soundly a few feet away, and explained the dire situation he was now facing.
“Let me help you,” Perahn said, rubbing the sleep away from his eyes.
“I need you here in case his condition worsens. If it does, I need you to give him these special berries.” Broc handed them to Perahn. “They will either kill him or the infection. Don’t hesitate to use them, because if you give it to him too late, he’ll die for sure. There’s another reason why I need you here, in case Gilex returns.”
“What do you want me to tell him?” Broc’s eyes narrowed.
“Let him know about Brim’s situation. Tell him that I’ll be right back and not to worry.”
“You know that’s not going to be good enough.”
“Just do it!” Broc pleaded.
After Perahn finally agreed, Broc left the tent, grabbed a torch, and trailed off into the night. He knew that if Gilex or Utar found out he went alone, there would be some serious consequences to pay; not because he left camp, but because of his poor fighting skills.
Traveling in the dense forest at night wasn’t an easy task for the young tracker, but Utar’s skills and training would prevail this night as he continued to follow the footprints and broken branches along the way. A short time later, he discovered a faint light source emitting from up ahead. It didn’t appear to be a fire, but it looked more like a light shining through a grayish, smoky substance. Utar crept closer until he saw a lone hooded figure, dressed in black robes, with his back turned toward him and his arms raised high into the air. The stranger was shrouded within the smoky substance. Utar moved closer to the individual, who was now chanting in some strange language that was foreign to his ears.
“Who are you?” Utar shouted and then removed two daggers from their sheaths.
When there was no response, he waited for several seconds before speaking again.
Without warning, the smoke suddenly dissipated and the individual turned around.
Broc found the healing herbs a little more than a half-mile from camp and picked them carefully, trying not to damage them in the process. Bent down and preoccupied, he barely felt the needle prick the back of his neck. A burning sensation followed, which he recognized at once.
“Poison,” he gasped in alarm.
Scrambling to his feet, Broc turned around, wanting to reach for his mace, but he was struck in the head by a blunt object with enough force that threw him back several feet. Bloodied, dazed, and confused, he managed to stagger to his feet just in time to be bludgeoned again. This time the blow knocked him out.
He dreamt of his wife sitting on a log by their favorite stream. The sky was clear, and the birds chirped in the distance.
“I love you,” She said and turned away. “You shouldn’t have gone.”
“Gone where?” he asked.
“Why are you leaving me?”
“I’m not leaving you. I am right here?” he responded, confused.
“I’ll miss you now and forever. Please come...”
His eyes suddenly snapped opened to the echoing sound of her voice...Blood trickled down his face and into his eyes, blurring his vision. He realized that his hands and feet were bound. Struggling against his restraints, he heard someone say, “Look, he still moves.”
Footsteps followed, and then, without warning, everything went black.
Utar stepped into the clearing, staring in amazement at his friend.
“Hello, Utar,” Gilex said and closed the tome that he held aloft. “What brings you out this fine evening?”
“What are you doing?” Utar asked suspiciously, all the while leaving his hands on his sheathed daggers.
Gilex panned down until his eyes fell upon Utar’s hands. “You seem so tense. There is no need for that.”
“What is that book?”
“This? It’s our salvation.” Gilex’s eyes turned fiery red as they locked gazes with his lieutenant.
Over the next few moments, Utar was stricken with dread and couldn’t move, then it suddenly passed. He unsheathed his daggers, holding them in front of his body.
“Tell me what you’re doing?” Utar demanded.
“Nothing of interest to you, now go back to bed.” After responding, Gilex’s eyes glowed even redder.
“I’m not leaving until you tell me what you’re doing.”
“Trust me, you don’t want to know…or maybe you do.” Gilex smiled sinisterly. “Now put your daggers away before you get hurt,” Gilex calmly said and crept closer.
Utar was terrified and kept pace with each step, moving backward until he was up against a tree. Gilex stopped a mere foot from him. Utar’s mind raced with doubt, because he wasn’t sure what to do. Gilex was his friend; what if he had a good explanation for what he was doing? Utar was about to make up his mind when Gilex spoke.
“My friend, let me enlighten you with my affluence of knowledge.”
“You’re a different person than you were after we left the Cave of the Dead.”
“It’s still me.”
Utar was about to object, but Gilex cut him off.
“Would you like to know our real objective?”
Still clutching his daggers in an anxious posture, Utar regrettably answered, “Yes.”
“As you know, we are traveling to the Circle of Demise, but it’s not treasure or enchanted items we seek.”
“Then what is it?” Utar demanded.
“We’re going to release the Blood Knights from their eternal slumber.”
“You’re mad. They’re just a myth.”
“ARE THEY?” boomed Gilex in an imposing voice, which Utar had never heard before.
Fear and trepidation enthralled Utar’s body and soul. He could feel pure evil radiating from Gilex. He gripped his daggers so tight his knuckles turned white from the intensity.
“No, my boy, they’re not a myth. I have the Book of Blood, and the knights will seek our revenge. We can use them as long as we like, and, who knows, even rule this region. ”
In Utar’s heart, he knew that this being standing before him could no longer be his friend and decided to lunge at him. Instead of blocking or dodging, Gilex accepted every slash and stab his friend had to offer. When his attacks didn’t do anything, Utar paused, and Gilex laughed at him uncontrollably. Blood seeped out of his wounds and began to soak his robes.
“What are you? A demon?” Utar said, wide-eyed.
“This is only the…”
Gilex was interrupted when Utar plunged one of the knives into his side. Grunting in discomfort, Gilex reached down trapping Utar’s arm with his left arm and grabbing him by the throat with his right hand. The sudden and powerful grasp caused Utar to gag and drop the other dagger. Struggling against his might, Utar was forced to gaze deeply into his eyes. He became stricken with fear and went limp. Gilex laughed again and slammed Utar into the tree, rendering him unconscious.
Darkness was still upon the area when Utar woke. Trying to move proved futile, because he quickly realized that he was bound to a very thick, old tree. Wet blood dribbled down his face, blurring his vision. Dazed and somewhat confused, he tried to recall what had happened when footsteps approached directly in front of him.
“I’m glad you’re awake.”
Utar lifted his pounding head toward the voice, recognizing the owner immediately. “Why didn’t you kill me?”
“I still have use for your brave soul,” Gilex replied.
Utar’s eyes focused on his naked torso. The wounds he inflicted on him were all healed.
Gilex grinned. “Ah, yes! The wounds. One of the many benefits, my boy. This is just a fraction of the power they have to offer.”
“What are you talking about?” Utar asked.
“Why, the Blood Knights, of course,” Gilex said and tapped on the big book.
“You’ll understand everything once I read the book to you.”
Panic set in as Utar began to struggle, but it was useless. His restraints were too tight.
“I’ll resist,” he snapped. Gilex snickered and opened the heavy tome.
“I resisted too,” Gilex said and began to read.
He recited page after page until a gray mist began swirling all around them. At first, the language was foreign to Utar’s ears, but after a short time, he understood every word.
Perahn awoke at dawn realizing he must have dozed off during his watch. He looked around only to discover Broc was nowhere to be found. Turning his attention toward Brim, he noticed his friend’s face was ashen in color. Perahn knew right away that he was losing his battle and decided to have him ingest the berries in hopes that they would somehow cure him.
“Why hasn’t Broc returned?” he murmured. “It didn’t make any sense, especially with Brim’s condition.”
Panic-stricken, he raced out of the tent to seek help and spotted Rustic, who was returning from his daily workout routine.
“What is it, Perahn?” Rustic asked as he saw the young tracker running up to him.
“Broc hasn’t returned yet.”
“What do you mean yet?” he snapped angrily. “When did he leave camp?”
“Sometime in the early morning hours,” Perahn answered, feeling uneasy.
“Why did he go?”
“He needed herbs for Brim and said without them, he might not make it through the night.”
“He knows better than to go out without an escort, especially at night; it’s just too dangerous,” he raised his voice in disgust. “What direction did he go?”
“I’m not sure.”
Rustic frowned, a clear sign that he was still aggravated with the whole issue. “Go and find Clay and let him know that I went off to look for him. Also, tell him that if I’m not back in an hour to come looking for me.”
Perahn did as he was asked and left.
Rustic searched feverishly around the camp until he found Broc’s footprints leading toward the south, then he raced off. Having excellent vision and tracking skills, he easily followed them until he arrived at a place that appeared to have had recent activity. Bushes were trampled upon, branches were broken, and high grass was bent and stepped on. He was about to continue when he noticed a patch of grass, several yards away, which clearly had the imprint that someone might be lying there. Thinking of Broc, he panicked and raced over. To his relief, there wasn’t a body, just blood, many booted footprints leading further south, and Broc’s most treasured possession a few feet away; his jewel encrusted dagger. The family heirloom was still sheathed, indicating that he was taken by surprise and dropped it.
“Cowards!” He spat and picked up the weapon, placing it securely in his belt. “They will pay. I swear,” he said and ran toward the south at a faster pace.
His search lasted for another two miles when he finally came upon an area with a large smoldering fire pit with strange-looking meat strung over its length. To the far end was a lone human he recognized as Broc, tied upside down to a tree. His lifeless body was missing his armor and his white shirt, stained crimson red with blood, was torn to shreds along with his brown leggings. Rustic released his two-handed ax from across his back, scanned the area for obvious signs of a trap, and slowly walked over to investigate the horror scene. The smell of death filled his nostrils the closer he crept. By the time he reached the tree, the stench overpowered him, causing his stomach to lurch forward and his eyes to water. Wiping away the tears, he looked down at his companion with a great sadness. His eyes were missing, and his hollowed-out stomach was sliced opened wide enough so that the skin was pulled back and pinned against the tree. Broc’s arms and legs were twisted, broken, and shattered, and his blood covered the tree down to the base. Suddenly, the sound of footsteps approached from the east. Rustic, knowing that escape was nearly impossible, took a deep breath and addressed them without turning around.
“I guess that I won’t have to look very far for my friend’s killers.”
His loud voice took them by surprise and halted their progress. Rustic turned around. Standing before him, spread out like a fan, were fifteen large, muscular wolf creatures of different shapes and sizes with the largest standing nearly seven feet tall. They were clad in leather armor from head to toe and wielded various weapons. They stared down their long snouts at the smaller human.
The tallest wolf spoke. “What do you want, human?”
“Are you responsible for what happened to my friend?”
Rustic bravely made his question more of a statement. The creatures began to surround him.
“You shouldn’t have come looking for him, HUMAN,” another said. The fantasy gave way to the reality of the situation for Rustic as his chest started to constrict. Never in his life had he faced odds of this magnitude alone, and he knew that the odds of him living through this encounter were slim at best.
Gathering what remained of his courage, and knowing that he may not see another sunrise, he made a statement that was more of a promise than a threat. “You may kill me, but I guarantee that most of you will die along with me today.”
The creatures arrogantly snickered in response and continued to surround him. Rustic’s mind raced, trying to gauge his next move. He knew if they managed to complete circling him, a quick death was a foregone conclusion, so he did the only thing that made sense to him. He attacked.
In a move that took them by surprise, Rustic flung three two-inch daggers at the leader, hitting him in the chest, throat, and head. The big wolf grunted in surprise. His followers turned and stared at him in disbelief as their leader fell to the ground dead. Rustic then hurled his remaining six daggers randomly at the group, killing three more as the tiny but deadly weapons found their mark. Chaos followed, and Rustic moved toward the left, killing two more wolf creatures before redirecting a sword thrust and then bringing his mighty ax down upon the wolf’s head, splitting it like a ripe melon. Five of the eight remaining wolf creatures charged the tracker. Instead of waiting for them, Rustic moved to his right to engage the ones there. During his charge, he was pelted with a few long needles that pricked his skin after passing through the chainmail links and cloth gambeson. Rustic ignored the intense burning sensation and met their assault with resolve by blocking, ducking, and parrying their attacks. He was wounded several times before severing one assailant’s head and rolling out of the way to avoid a spear thrust. The wolf creatures tried to overrun their adversary, but to their surprise, he was on his feet again and deflected an arcing ax aimed for his head. Rustic ducked under another attack and brought his ax down upon the creature’s leg, shearing the limb off at the thigh.
Another wolf creature raced over and sliced Rustic twice across the back, thinking these strikes would finally slay the human. He found out the hard way when his sword slashes were ineffective against the chainmail links and the human whipped his body around, bringing his ax upward, and catching him in the groin. The creature howled in pain, and then was pummeled in the face with the ax handle and knocked unconscious. Finally, the combination of fatigue, poison from the needles, and the loss of blood from his wounds were taking their toll on the tracker warrior. His breathing became erratic, and his ax felt heavier with each passing swing. The wolves noticed his condition and rushed him together. Rustic fought off two more wolves and killed another before his vision blurred and he missed an easy block and was struck in the right arm by a war hammer. The impact sent him sprawling to the ground exhausted and winded. Three wolf creatures then immobilized him by stepping on his limbs. He could smell their foul stench and turned his head in disgust.
“Human, like your friend you will die today, but in a much more painful way,” one of the wolf creatures said and knelt down close to his face.
Rustic spat in his face. The creature growled as the spittle dripped off his nose, then he stood up and raised his sword over his head, ready to strike. Rustic tightly closed his eyes, waiting for the end, but instead he heard a gargling noise from above, which was followed by wetness on his face. His eyes snapped opened to the sight of a small javelin jutting out of the wolf creature’s neck and his blood spraying in all directions. The creature grabbed his throat, dropped to his knees and then fell on top of Rustic, pinning him beneath his weight. Someone saved my life, he thought and moved his head enough to peer out from underneath the heavy body.
Instead of seeing his companions, he saw a well-built stranger, dressed in dark green and white clothes, fighting without weapons. The three wolf creatures charged after the new threat, believing him to be an easy target, but to their surprise, the stranger moved quicker than they did. He easily pushed aside their weapons, hitting the closest wolf with an open-palm strike to his chest, crushing his sternum and sending him to the ground with a thud. The stranger’s next victim didn’t fare any better. After deflecting his weapon, he hit the wolf creature on top of his head with another open palm. The attack was quick and precise and crushed his skull and neck, killing him instantly. The remaining wolf creature tried to escape, but the stranger cut him off and struck his left shoulder, then the right, breaking his collarbones. The wolf creature howled in pain until the stranger landed a death strike to his head.
Rustic finally squirmed out from underneath the dead body and approached the stranger.
“Thanks for saving my life.”
Deep in thought, the stranger turned his attention toward Rustic. “I should be thanking you instead. I’ve been tracking these foul beasts for some time now, and if it wasn’t for you, they would have gotten away again. I admire your bravery. I haven’t seen that in such a long time.”
“I didn’t have much of a choice. After I found my friend, they came out of hiding.” Rustic pointed to Broc.
“I’m sorry for your loss. My friend, too, was captured and killed by them. I was starting to give up any hope of finding them when I heard you fighting.”
“What are they?”
“The creatures are called Mangalers. They travel in packs of ten or twenty and usually attack lone individuals. Their primitive beliefs tell them to torture and sacrifice victims to their gods in some horrific fashion, so that they’ll receive more powers.”
“My name is Rustic. What’s yours?”
“Sun Tun Mae. I hail from the south.”
“Nice to meet you, Sun. You fight very well. I never saw anyone fight unarmed like that before. Where did you learn to fight?”
“Let’s mend your arm and bury your friend, then we’ll talk some more.”
After Sun mended his arm, they untied Broc and carried him a few hundred feet away and buried him, along with his family heirloom, in an unmarked grave. After a short prayer service, they sat down to finish their conversation.
“Growing up, my father taught me a couple of things. The first was to help people when needed, and the second was how to defend myself and never be afraid.”
“How long have you been training in your art?”
“Since I was a child, my father taught me until I surpassed his teachings, and then he sent me away to the Order of the Open Hand. Did you ever hear of it?”
“I did, but never met anyone from there or saw their skills before.”
Sun grinned. “How about you?”
“For about ten years.”
“You’re quite skillful for someone with that amount of training. I’m very impressed.”
“I wasn’t even supposed to be a fighter. I was destined to follow in my father’s footsteps and run the family farm.”
“Shortly before my fourteenth birthday, a stranger named Nepor came to our farm and changed everything.” Rustic paused and reflected on his memories. “He was looking for work, and my father befriended him and allowed him to stay with us. What we didn’t know was that he was a thief, and when my father caught him stealing, he murdered him and my oldest brother.”
“Where were you?” Sun asked.
“I was in town with my mother and sister looking for supplies, and when we returned, Nepor was gone. My mother was so distraught that I joined the Order of the Wicked Steel with a single-minded purpose of revenge. I trained every day and night until no one in my school could best me. It was then that I knew I was ready and left.”
“Did you ever find Nepor?” Sun asked.
“I almost did, but by the time I caught up with him, it was too late. He was killed robbing the wrong person.”
“Again, I am sorry for your loss.”
They continued talking for another hour. Before they parted, Sun invited him to watch their yearly tournament, which was being held in Wistful.
Utar woke at sunrise feeling disorientated from the experience he went through. While lying there, collecting his thoughts, Gilex approached him.
“We have to get back to camp,” he said sternly.
Utar nodded, got to his feet, and stumbled in the process, due to his equilibrium being unbalanced and his unsure footing.
“What happened?” Utar asked, trying to recall the events from last night.
“Everything will come back to you in time. Let’s just say you now have a full understanding of our mission.”
Physically and mentally drained and feeling different somehow, Utar could tell something foreign was surging through his body. What it was, he didn’t know, and it frightened him.
During their trip back, memories flooded Utar’s mind, slow at first and then, like water flowing over a fall, overwhelming him all at once. So strong were the visions, they caused him to drop to one knee, holding his head between his hands. Pain then coursed through his head, constricting it like a tightly wound snake would if it was wrapped around his chest, squeezing his life away. The events from the night before flashed before his eyes; Gilex dressed in black robes, shrouded in the gray mist, the book he read from, stabbing him, and the mysterious voices. He remembered everything. After a couple of minutes, the pain subsided. Gilex, standing a few feet away, watched with sheer delight, knowing what he was going through.
“Gilex.” Utar’s voice sounded weak and unsure. “Someone calls to me.”
“I know, they call to me too.”
“Who are they?”
“They, my boy, are the Blood Knights.” Gilex smiled.
“How can they talk to you?”
“When I found the book and began reading it, the voices started talking to me. They told me who they were and where to find them.”
“I’m guessing the Circle of Demise. And what happens after you summon them? Did you think about that?”
“After they appear, I need to recite one small verse from the book, and they will be under our control. Think about it; power over the most elite warriors ever known to exist.
“You mean under your control.”
“I mean ours,” said Gilex. “Anyone who reads from the tome and understands their words will have full control over them.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“Because the writing says so.” Gilex grinned.
“Do you believe everything you read?”
“No. But after reading the first few chapters, then things started happening just like the book said, I was sold.”
“So that was your plan all along? To release the Blood Knights and go after Togan?”
“Yes,” Gilex said, smiling proudly. “The more I read from the book, the greater power I felt surging through my body. Can you feel their power growing from within?”
Utar thought about it and conceded. “Yes. It’s faint, but I can feel something.”
“All of my abilities have been enhanced. I’m stronger, faster, can heal quicker, and my skills as a fighter are almost unbeatable. The powers grow with each passing day, you’ll see.”
Utar surmised that the evil that lay within the book had already been deep-rooted within Gilex. He stopped and faced Gilex.
“The book is evil, and now you’ve infected me.”
“Evil?” Gilex raised his voice. “I think not. It’s a very powerful and sacred artifact and should be used for good.”
“What about the others? Will you impose your will on them like you did to me?”
“I did not impose my will or the will of the book on you. I just wanted you to have the opportunity to hear the words.”
“If you really felt that way, you should have handed me the book and allowed me to make up my own mind,” Utar said adamantly.
“I didn’t think that you would read from it.”
“You’re right, I wouldn’t have.”
“If we are to succeed, I need you to share my vision,” Gilex calmly said. “I’m sorry that I forced the readings on you. It just sort of happened.”
“If you ever do something like this again, I will kill you,” Utar stated coldly. Gilex nodded.
“Do you want to leave the group?” he asked. Despite wanting to do so, Utar felt compelled to stay.
As they walked back to camp, Gilex provided him with most of the details, and the ultimate sacrifices they would have to make in order to complete their mission.
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This page contains the first chapter of A Demon's Quest The Beginning Of The End by Charles Carfagno as a sample. This sample has been published with permission from the author and/or publisher of A Demon's Quest The Beginning Of The End, whoever originally submitted the book for review.