here's a third draft of the prologue and first chapter of The Pact. i feel it's vastly superior to the original, although i've been given advice to just finish the first draft of the novel before revising specific parts, so that's what i'll focus on. i took a long hiatus from writing but i'm back.
this is a copy paste from a writing site i post my work on, and the formatting (i.e. italicization) didn't carry over but i don't feel like doing that crap again on a phone so here ya go.
part three isn't finished (or started for that matter) but i'll post it when it's ready
Prologue - The Pact
Despite his love for war and blood, the soldier lived for only one reason. To protect his family was his self-appointed charge, and his reason for delving into his finely honed craft of killing after burying it for so long.
Those goddamn animals, the soldier thought with a grimace, grasping his wounded arm which still bled anemically, despite heavy bandaging. Each footfall of the horse below him sent fresh pangs of pain through his bicep, but that might as well have been in a different world. He had long ago learned to either ignore pain or thrive on it, and since there were nothing to focus his killer instinct on, he chose the former.
I've never fought such a brutal foe. It's like they fight entirely on instinct.
He grinned grimly.
Lucky for me most of them couldn't follow their instincts out of a dark room. I must truly be getting soft to let them mark me.
He'd been traveling since that afternoon, and it was now halfway to dusk. He had left the battlefield after a throng of barbarians had temporarily overpowered him and managed to gravely wound him. His right arm hung in a sling and would barely move, even with great effort.
The soldier's long goatskin traveling cloak flapped in a light breeze, his short black hair rippling. A muted sound, like a steady mechanical heartbeat droned monotonously from a pack which was seated behind the saddle. In it the soldier's armor rattled in time with the horse's stride.
The plains rolled on for endless acres, and the peace they offered were welcome to the lone rider. He realized his train of thought was becoming a bit disgruntled and switched his focus to something else. It's something he taught himself to do when his daughter was born.
I'll see you soon, little one.
Lost in thought, the soldier failed to notice a figure leaning against a dead, withering tree on the side of the road about thirty yards ahead. Around the figure, the green grass turned colorless and limp.
I hope she's been doing alright without me. She's so fragile... but she has her big sister to watch out for her. Thank the gods for Ellyn, she's so good to Karlya. I'm glad we were lucky enough to -
"Heading back already? Had your fill of death, then?"
Startled, the soldier's body tensed and he grasped the hilt of his weapon, a greatsword which hung to the side of his saddle. He quickly acquired where the voice had come from - damn, had he been there all along?
"Identify yourself!" he called, the sudden ruination of his train of thought putting him in a foul temper.
He kicked the sides of his steed and rode up close to the cloaked figure, drawing his greatsword. A hood covered the stranger's face.
"Have you something to say?" spat the soldier.
"Plenty," replied the stranger, "But you're clearly not ready to listen."
The soldier pointed his blade at the stranger's neck, holding it perfectly steady in one hand.
"Show your face or die where you stand."
The stranger looked up at his assailant, who was taken aback by what he saw. It was a mask, long, white and without decoration. Two narrow horizontal slits were placed over the eyes, three vertical ones over the mouth. The soldier saw a light trail of smoke drifting from either eye slit, and a red glow from beneath them. He stared in disbelief, eyes widening.
"I see I have your attention, Adremalech."
"That's... how do you know that name? Answer, demon!"
The stranger grunted laughter. "Or what? You'll slay me single-handedly? I wouldn't be so confident. But enough pleasantries. I'm here to warn you, Adre. You're heading toward your fate at this very moment."
Adre flushed with anger and dismounted in a hurried leap. He approached the stranger and held his blade out behind him, ready to strike.
"I'm going to be the last person you see in this life if you don't start making sense! How do you know my name!?"
"That's unimportant. What is important is that you're going to have to make a choice. You will either damn the world or save it, depending on what you choose."
Adre's anger overflowed and he swung down at the stranger, who knocked the blade away with one armored hand. The greatsword was flung into the distance, leaving Adre defenseless. The stranger stepped forward and grasped the front of Adre's cloak, a heavy, dark gauntlet encasing his hand. He lifted Adre off his feet, and the glow beneath the stranger's mask seemed to intensify.
"Listen to me, Adre!", commanded the stranger. "If you choose the dark path, the world as you know it will end. A tidal wave of destruction will consume all that you know. Do you understand?"
Adre nodded, confused. The stranger released him and he flopped to the ground and staggered backward.
"One way or the other, you're going to die tonight. Remember, you must resist the temptation of the dark path. This world depends on it."
The stranger turned and began walking in the opposite direction that Adre had come.
"Wait!", Adre called after him. "What do you mean? What dark path? How will this world end?"
The stranger made no reply. Adre felt no incentive to chase him - he had been overpowered so easily. Instead he gathered his sword, sheathed it and climbed back atop his horse. When he looked back over his shoulder, the stranger was gone.
The city-state of Ophem was a densely packed metropolis, the capitol of a small but powerful territory. Rich veins of tin, copper and iron, used to make strong alloys, were discovered when the first Western settlers made their homes there. The wealth of metal ore allowed for the small army to be better equipped than most other city-states, although, until recently, no full-scale warfare had been conducted in centuries. Ophem was the keystone of an Alliance of city-states, which banded together to strengthen themselves against foreign invaders.
The reason for the most recent outbreak of fighting was the invasion of the Eastern barbarians. Compared to the civilized Alliance, the barbarians of the undeveloped regions were savage and ruthless. It was long believed that unassociated individual clans fought one another for rights to land, although when they were first encountered by the Alliance, representatives from many clans arrived to unequivically deny them entry to their territory. Since then the Alliance has for the most part ignored their Eastern neighbors. However, it seems that the myriad clans have again united and chosen to forcibly annex Pyrite, the territory of the Alliance. The barbarians outnumbered Alliance forces ten to one, and only superior armor and weaponry had allowed them to turn away the barbarian advance.
Now Adre was entering the outskirts of Ophem, his encounter with the stranger fresh in his mind.
He must have been a demon, no mortal could have disarmed me like he did. Do I trust his word? He could be tricking me. But... I can't imagine what he'd gain from lying to me. What choice... how will I bring about the end of the world...
Adre grunted in frustration.
None of this matters. Karlya is waiting for me, that's what's important.
More and more huts and houses began appearing on the horizon, with their denizens tending to chores all around them. Mostly women, children and the infirm remained. Many able bodied men joined the military when the barbarians invaded, including Adre himself. He'd left Karlya in the care of their neighbor's daughter, Ellyn, who was like a big sister to her. They spent all their time together and Adre was thankful Karlya found someone she got along with. She was a young and very quiet girl and didn't make friends easily.
Adre was now passing into Ophem proper. The dirt path he'd been traversing was being replaced by a cobblestone road. Stone abodes and shops lined the road on either side, and the streets were bustling with activity. Street vendors showed off their wares, children scurried about and a caravan was passing out of the city. Adre moved to the opposite side of the street to avoid it. Up ahead was the smithy where Adam the apprentice was out manning the forge.
"Adam!", Adre called as he approached.
Adam's head perked up and he looked around with a vacant expression. He shielded his eyes from the sun and squinted in Adre's direction. When he'd identified his favorite customer, his face lit up and he stepped around the anvil he had been pounding on.
"Adre!", he called in a slurred voice. "How ya doin', old pal?"
Adam noticed Adre's injured arm and his dismay was evident on his face.
"Aw, Adre, your arm! What happen?"
Adre stopped his horse in front of the shop.
"What, this? Nothing to fret over. How goes business?"
"Uhh, well, business has been boomin' since the fighting started. Lots and lots of orders!"
Adam giggled happily.
"Your order is almost ready too! Wanna see it?"
"Not now, I'm on my way back home to see Karlya. I'll give her your regards, Adam."
"Okay, old buddy. See you later!"
Adre nodded and continued on his way. He wasn't far from home now.
Adre dismounted his steed and tied it off on the front porch of his abode. In his excitement to see his daughter, the earlier encounter was totally absent from his conscious mind. It was now dark and he saw no light coming from inside. Karlya and Ellyn were asleep, then.
Adre mounted the steps and tried the door. It was unlatched and he pushed it open. Those forgetful girls; it was dangerous to leave the door open.
Adre entered and removed his traveling cloak, hanging it on a stand in the corner of the entry hall. He waited for his eyes to adjust some and walked to a table with a candle on it. He reached into his pocket and produced a matchbook, striking one on his pantleg and using it to light the candle. A soft glow permeated the room.
Adre took the candle and had begun walking down the hall when he stepped in something wet. He took a step back and looked down. A dark liquid was on the floor, forming a path into the main chamber. He inhaled rapidly and tried to look into the chamber, but the candlelight did not reach that far.
"Karlya! Karlya, where are you!?" Adre dropped the candle and sprinted into the main chamber. His eyes had adjusted enough that he could see the horrors therein.
Two vague shapes lay on the floor, a pool of what could only be blood surrounding each. One shape was much smaller than the other. On the wall, drawn in blood, was an emblem of the barbarians.
"No...", Adre said, shaking his head in slow movements. "No, no, no!"
He hurried over to the smaller shape and knelt down beside it. In the darkness, he identified the floral dress that Ellyn had given Karlya for her seventh birthday.
"Little one...", Adre breathed, his face contorting and his eyes welling up. He held his arms over the corpse and hesitated.
It can't be, this can't happen, why, this isn't happening
He gently lay his trembling hand on the corpse and rolled it over. His daughter's head lolled limply over and faced him. Her eyes to open and wet. Adre's face became one of pure misery and a long moan escaped him.
"Karlya! No, Karlya, please wake up, wake up little one!"
He placed his hand upon her cheek and stroked it, as if to console her.
"Karlya..." Adre loosed an inarticulate howl, looking up at the ceiling. He collapsed on his daughter's corpse and wept.
When Adre's sobs had ceased, he slowly rose to his feet. His encounter with the stranger played through his mind. So, he had been telling the truth after all.
Adre stepped away from his daughter's corpse, his boots squelching in her blood. He walked like a man without resolve into his bed chamber and stood before a chest at the foot of his bed. He knelt and opened the chest. In it was a short sword and various pieces of armor. Adre grasped the short sword by the hilt in his good hand and placed the blade to his neck.
I'll see you soon, Karlya.
Now now, soldier, don't be so hasty! a silky yet powerful voice chimed in his head.
Don't you want to avenge her? Don't you want to slaughter those who did this? Sure you do, soldier, I can feel it.
Who speaks to me?
One who can give you the ability to achieve your revenge. You need power, and I can give it to you.
Are you a god? Do you want me to use me as a plaything?
Surely not! You're much more important than a plaything. I want to give you this power so that, after you've exacted your revenge, you can serve me loyally. What do you say, soldier?
Adre considered. Yes, he did want revenge. The barbarians had done this... he had to make them pay. But the stranger's warning...
Damn this world. Without her in it, it has no worth anymore. I agree to your terms. Give me the strength to avenge Karlya and I will serve you.
Adre could feel the entity smile maliciously in his mind.
Very well. The first step is to die, and since that was about to happen anyway, I assume this will be no issue for you. Remove your heart.
Adre smiled humorlessly. He somehow understood how he was to do it. He dropped the short sword and placed his hand over his heart. He formed a spade with his fingers and began to press inward. His fingers sank easily into his chest, and rivulets of blood began to trickle down his chest. Adre grimaced in pain.His fingertips met bone and slowly broke through. He doubled over and groaned, still pressing further. He reached his heart, formed a claw around it and squeezed tight. His heart beat rapidly in his grip. He slowly tore it from its place, moaning in pain. Veins and arteries were severed and blood began to pour from his chest. His head began to swim his consciousness faded.
Not so fast, soldier! You're not going under on me, are you?
Adre felt an explosive pang of pain in his head and he snapped back to reality.
I can't have you passing out, soldier. Continue.
Adre's hand emerged from his chest, his heart still beating weakly. Suddenly all phsyical pain left him. He held his heart before him, panting heavily as coldness seized him.
That wasn't so bad, eh, soldier? Say, are you hungry?
In fact, Adre was ravenous. He focused on his heart and felt his mouth filling with saliva. He brought his heart to his mouth and lapped up the blood spurting from it.
Adre bit down and tore a chunk of flesh from his heart. He chewed methodically and swallowed. A fresh surge of energy flooded his body and his face lit up.
Amazing! I feel amazing! I feel the power!
But of course. You are my servant now, which means you'll be very hard to kill. However, if you intend on living long, you'll have to satisfy that new hunger of yours. Now, you've got a long road ahead of you. Chop chop, look alive!
Adre grinned, his bloody teeth gleaming. He noticed he could move his arm freely now. He ripped his arm from the sling, opening and closng his hand.
I'll avenge you, Karlya. With this new power I'll be unstoppable.
Hades looked on, satisfied.
---------- Post added at 02:23 AM ---------- Previous post was at 02:20 AM ----------
Chapter One, Part One - Sever
Adam the 'prentice was carefully placing bronze ore into the crucible under the high thatch roof facing the main road in Ophem. His face was one of concentration - he had large burn scars on both arms from touching the sides of the opening, and learned fast that haste brought pain in this activity. He had to reach deep into the large stone furnace to place the ore into the crucible, and his arms were currently halfway up his biceps into the stone opening.
"Adam", a cold and deep voice spoke from behind him. Adam jumped, connecting the insides of both elbows with the top of the opening. He yelled in surprise and pain, dropping the ore haphazardly into the crucible and retracting his arms like snakes striking in reverse.
"Oooooo, ow, ow, ow!" Adam exclaimed, ripping off his heavy gloves and rubbing the insides of his elbows. He'd forgotten about the cause of his accident in his pain.
"Owie, oh man, that hurt! Wow!"
Again Adam jumped and turned in the direction of the voice. He squinted in the failing light. The figure was wearing a tan traveling cloak, the hood masking his face in darkness.
"W-who are you?" Adam asked feebly, still rubbing his arms.
Adre took a step forward, allowing the light from a torch hanging from the pole that supported the corner of the thatch roof to illuminate his face.
Adam's face lit up. "Oh, Adre! You scared the willies outta me! You shouldn't -"
Adam cut off mid-sentence. Was this Adre? This man's face was scary - seemed cut out of stone... and his eyes... was that the reflection of the torch? Must be, Adam concluded.
"Adre? Something wrong, good friend?" Adam ventured cautiously. The urge to flee was creeping up his spine, nearing his brain.
"The crossbow. Is it ready?"
Adam struggled to recall working on a crossbow - with Adre's firey eyes focused on him with such intensity, thought became even more rudimentary than was usual for him. His face started to twist into a look of despair - then it dawned on him.
"The crossbow! Yeah! Yeah, Adre, I finished it up just after you left". Then a question occured to him. "What are you doin' back here, Adre?"
"Something dear was stolen from me. I'm going to punish those who stole it".
Adam nodded stupidly, not understanding what Adre was talking about.
"The crossbow, Adam".
"Yeah, just a second".
Adam turned and went through a wooden door leading into the shop. As soon as he stepped through the threshhold, he felt much better. Something was wrong with Adre. He'd never made Adam feel uncomfortable before, always the opposite. Adam looked around in the torchlight and spotted a small cedar crossbow, reinforced with bronze. There were leather straps, two hanging from each side, as well as a circular brass magazine that wrapped around the forearm and held extra bolts. There was a mechanism inside the crossbow that used the energy spent firing one bolt to load another.
Adam carefully picked this well-crafted weapon and carried it out in front of him as though it were a relic. He exited the shop and looked at Adre. Adre's face and eyes were vacant, as though he were consulting an internal voice.
Adre's vacant face came to life and his eyes locked onto Adam's. Adam was startled, but didn't jump. He held the crossbow out before him.
Adre gave it a cursory glance before rolling up the sleeze on his left arm, grasping the crossbow and slapping it onto his left forearm. Adam cringed. Adre quickly fastened the leather straps, then looked at Adam.
"How do I fire it?"
Adam pointed to a flat piece of bronze protruding from the front of the crossbow, underneath the bolt groove. There was a circular shape punched out of the end.
"See this? Pull it with your finger to -"
Adre pointed his left arm at a nearby barrel and pulled the trigger three times. Three bolts rocketed from the crossbow, impaling the barrel. A thick whump sound accompanied each one.
Adre brought the bow to his face, nodding.
"Excellent. This will do".
The urge to flee was growing unignorable.
Adre's firey eyes again focused on Adam. He reached into his cloak and produced a small pouch.
"Payment", Adre said, and held the pouch out in front of him. Adam brought a shaking hand to the pouch and took it. Adre saw this and frowned. His eyes softened.
"Adam, I've known you since you were young. You were always joyful, and it pains me to see you so shaken. It's only fair that I let you know that you may not see me again for many moons, if ever. I cannot return to Ophem after tonight. Someone... a sweet and innocent little girl has been killed."
Adre bared his teeth slightly and narrowed his eyes, and Adam couldn't tell if this was due to pain or anger.
"Whatever you see or hear, Adam, know that I was not responsible. But I'm going to find those who are, and they will know regret".
The import of Adre's words were not lost on Adam, even in his fear. "Okay, Adre. I understand". Adam held out his hand, and despite his urge to snatch it away, he allowed Adre to shake it.
Adre nodded and turned away, striding into the darkness. Adam looked after him until he was enveloped in the dark, then looked at the pouch he held. The agreed fee for the crossbow was 15 silver pieces - there was at least twice that amount here. Adam didn't care. He sulked his way into the shop and carelessly tossed the pouch onto the counter. A crime was commited. I was not responsible. Adam felt terrible. He may not ever see Adre again, and he might be in heaps of trouble. His head swam with worries and anxiousness, and he quickly locked the shop and started home, leaving the furnace burning.
Adre walked back to his horse with a heavy heart. He wished he could have avoided that errand, but he needed this weapon.
He could feel new strength flowing through him, and he assumed this was a result of consuming his heart. He shuddered at the thought. Such bloodthirst had consumed him, a need to eat. Not just anything - flesh. The taste and texture was still fresh in his mouth, and he was revolted. He spat.
He reached his horse, mounted it, and kicked the sides. The horse started forward. He kicked again and the horse broke out in a run. The neighbors would check on his house in the morning and find his and their daughters, slain. Witnesses would place him there. He had to put distance between himself and Ophem. He didn't want the guard catching up - not for his sake, for theirs. He didn't want to kill anyone, but he was resolute in his mission. No one would stop him.
Daemon-Eye Slayer watched Adre's progress from afar. Hades' ploy had worked without a hiccup, as to be expected from the king of the underworld, with nothing but time and animosity on his hands. Demon-Eye thought that hatred had driven Hades mad, but that wasn't his problem. The king had a knack for scheming, and calculated the man and motive that would suit their needs perfectly. Now the potential Slayer was in motion, moving generally eastward without much direction. The grand-chieftain planned to give him some. He'd given some two-bit chieftain information - just the right concoction of lies and half-truths to point the mark in the right direction, and give him some more motivation. Now he was putting him in the mark's path along with a small unit, guaranteeing a bloodbath. The hunger would do the rest.
Now the only wildcard was the estranged Slayer, Sharptooth. Demon-Eye couldn't use his clairvoyance to see him - how that was possible, he didn't know, but Sharptooth had effectively masked himself from Demon-Eye's sight. He could complicate things. Sharptooth would eventually contact the mark, but even then the Slayers couldn't reveal themselves around him. They could only hope Sharptooth couldn't make the mark stray. He had a way with words, that one, a way of provoking that was hard to ignore. He'd once been a loyal Slayer, but sought to regain his humanity - not unlike Demon-Eye himself. But Demon-Eye didn't have the strength to force himself from Hades' grasp as Sharptooth did. He was biding his time.
He continued his remote vigil on the mark, his body motionless in a red silk-lined chair in the grand-chieftain's hall, his eyes black and gleaming.
Chieftain Abrand was feeling proud. He'd been called to the grand-chieftain's chamber before departing for Tyfor and given specific orders, as well as let it in some clan secrets. He never saw the grand-chieftain, only heard his voice boom in a darkly lit hall. He'd knelt before an empty oaken throne to recieve his orders. Now he was camped in the town square in Tyfor, having routed the defenders earlier that day.
He'd been told to watch for a lone rider carrying a greatsword. Told to kill him on sight, and to utilize all his men to do it. Apparently this man was some sort of close combat expert. The description sounded familiar. He'd heard fevered reports of a man earlier in the day that had killed a great many of his soldiers, and he had used an iron greatsword. He didn't know what came of the alliance soldier, but this couldn't be the same man. One anonymous soldier didn't warrant Heath Abrand's strength and talent, the way he saw it.
He let the issue slip from thought as he devoured a greasy, roasted mutton chop in the equally greasy light of the lamp. These alliance cowards were far too comfortable here in there walled city to be a real threat. The clan had taken them utterly off-guard, and swept the defenders aside as a broom sweeps dust. Doubtless they were calling for aid from neighboring cities - a fruitless act. It would take days for reinforcements to arrive, days that Abrand had no intention of giving them. By daylight tomorrow, Abrand's force was assaulting that steep and narrow pass leading up the cliff, and these soft saps wouldn't resist for long. The mere appearance of the clan's footsoldiers - adorned in blood-stained bones and matted fur, faces lined with crimson war paint - was enough for many of the alliance dogs to turn tail earlier that day. Abrand was supremely satisfied with his current position, and the forshadowing of the lone soldier and the death that followed him was lost on the chieftain.
---------- Post added at 02:42 AM ---------- Previous post was at 02:23 AM ----------
Chapter One, Part Two - Slaughter
Samuel Inari was going through the old ritual of martial arts training in his private sanctum deep in the earth. His full suit of plate armor clicked and clanked as he threw punches and kicks, spun and swept. Only his head was exposed, and his eyes cut through the dim atmosphere with there deep red luminescence. He concentrated intensely, focusing his power, each punch causing a thick, meaty sonic boom, each kick producing a sound like that of a sword being quickly unsheathed and swung with deadly force. Only that invasive awareness of the Slayers' essences spoiled his absorption, that feeling that every crevice of his psyche were being seiged by a powerful, untiring opponent. It was Hades' desire he felt, his desire to reclaim Samuel's body and mind and to have his most powerful Slayer back at his side.
Since he'd found this cave and the stones within, Samuel had easily pushed back the seiging force. When he left the cave, the balance was tipped in the attackers favor. This idea frightened Samuel, gave him nightmares, and so he had stayed in this inglorious hole as much as possible.
He trained in a circle of great stones that emenated a light blue glow which reflected off his black, gleaming armor as he moved, as well as the surface of an adjacent pool of spring water. The surface was completely still, save for the ocassional ripple caused by a drop of water from a hanging stalagtite.
He suddenly froze mid-kick, his leg hanging high in the air. He remained that way for a moment, then slowly brought it back to the ground. That ever-present cognizance had just grown in intensity, slightly but noticeably, and Samuel understood what this meant.
"So he succumbed. Damn!"
He fell backward onto his rear and crossed his legs, placing his hand on his knees. A stance he'd taken countless times, though these days he couldn't close his eyes to help with concentration. A deterioration of his eyelids had cursed him with eternal vigilance, and his large, round eyes saw so very much.
He again focused, and soon he was in darkness. He went deeper into the dark, and that invasive, creeping presence grew stronger. In that abyssal darkness, he heard strangled screams and shrieks, as though the void were filled with death and dying. Samuel began to visualize the sources of the Hades' presence, the portals for his will to be manifest into this world. The Slayers.
Samuel gazed across a vast expanse of nothing, and in the distance he saw four of these portals. Four coronas of the deepest crimson, filling his vision and overlapping each other, coalescing and swirling through one another. This aura swept over him and Hades' hatred filled his mind. His desire to destory Hades and free the minions he controlled swelled within him, the king's loathing infecting his psyche and bringing him close to rage.
I'll erase you from this world, bastard!
Samuel's logic attempted to overcome his emotions, and after a tug of war, won. He gradually fought the anger down, and control reasserted itself.
Get it together, Sam. There's plenty of killing to come and you'll get your fill.
Back under a semblance of control, Samuel eyed the portals warily. He felt completely exposed here in the endless void, gazing at his pursuer from afar. He understood that the stones that surrounded him had a masking effect against Hades' searching presence, but he didn't trust it fully. Glimpsing these portals graphically displayed his strength and reach. He had to be quick.
He turned away from the portals and searched the infinite dark. At first he saw nothing, but as he allowed his vision to settle on a single vector, an orb formed in the void. The obsidian orb was covered in fissures and cracks, and the auras emenating from the portals seeped into these cracks, seeming to invade every crevice.
Adre... you may have just damned this world.
The orb was in the direction of Ophem, which was seperated from the barbarian territories by a desert wasteland.
Samuel removed the anchors and cast himself from this nightmare realm. The screams faded below him. His consciousness slowly rose, and he felt the tendrils of Hades' sick, hot grip loosening, but not letting go altogether. The former Slayer had long ago accepted that he'd never be truly free.
Samuel came to in the dimness, sighed heavily and shook his head as if to clear it. Now came the dangerous part. He rose and strode into the antechamber where he slept. There were two items here. On a shelf that had been cut into the rockface lay the physical manifestation of his self-denial - a long, white mask. The same mask that had filled Adre with fear and confusion.
Samuel took the mask and placed it over his face, covering his flat nose and long, shark-like fangs.
This damned thing is more a face than my own. At least people don't try to burn me when I'm wearing it.
Samuel grunted laughter and threw his cloak around his shoulders.
"A journey through the endless sands. It's poetic."
He turned and dramatically spread his arms. "Let us begin the journey, friends!"
With that he flipped his hood up and strode from the cave in the direction of Adre of Ophem.
Adre rode at full stride from Ophem, heading eastward. He would pass through Tyfor, where the barbarians had established a foothold in the city.
You'll all pay. I'll see to it.
He rode through the night and felt no exhaustion.
It was early morning and Chieftain Heath Abrand was readying his forces to assault the path leading into the aristocratic district, where the defenders of Tyfor were holed up.
Today will be glorious, yes, a great victory for the clan. I can't wait to wring the life from that bastard general.
He strode from his tent, emerging into a large camp of such tents. There, the barbarian footsoldiers applied war paint, sharpened weapons and ate breakfast.
We outnumber them ten to one. An easy victory indeed. Their fortification is impressive and many of us may be slain, but we will win the day. It's inevitable.
Abrand surveyed his soldiers and nodded in satisfaction.
A scout came down from the ramparts over the western gate and called to Abrand.
"Rider! A rider approaches!"
"Hmm?" Abrand recalled his orders to eliminate a lone soldiers brandishing a great sword. He started toward the ramparts, pushing soldiers out of his way as he went. He climbed up and peered over the wall.
A rider was indeed approaching, though at this distance it was impossible to tell what sort of weapon he might be carrying.
Abrand turned to one of his lieutenants. "Send a party. Ten cavalry. Kill him."
The lieutenant nodded and hurried down the rampart.
Use all my men to kill this one man? Ridiculous. He can't be that powerful.
Abrand grunted and followed after his lieutenant.
Adre could now see the gates of Tyfor. He realized his vision had improved immeasureably, as he could make out barbarians on the ramparts. There were several, and one was particularly large and seemed to be the commander. Adre slowed his horse's gait as he saw the gates open. Ten riders charged out. They would be upon him soon.
Adre dismounted and walked out in front of his horse. He drew his great sword and waited. Soon the riders were only thirty yards away. They did not break stride as they approached, and drew their weapons. Adre took a fighting stance and waited.
Nine barbarians cut around Adre, and one came right toward him. As he passed he swung down at Adre, who ducked below the strike and cut through the horse's legs. The steed collapsed on its side and crushed the rider's leg. The barbarian howled in pain.
Close one. Adre looked around at the other riders, who seemed hesitant to attack.
Very well, then I'll attack!
Adre raised his left arm and aimed it at one of the barbarians. He pulled the trigger twice on his crossbow and two bolts fired with a whump. The bolts collided with the rider who slumped off his steed and fell heavily onto the ground.
The other cavalry looked exchanged nervous glances.
"Come on, you cowards! Come at me!"
One barbarian let loose a war cry and charged. Another found his guts and followed.
I've got to pick one off before he gets to me, I can't deflect two attacks at once.
Adre quickly pointed his arm at the rider in front and pulled the trigger twice. One bolt found its mark in the rider's chest, the other squarely in the forhead. He fell backward off his steed, which continued toward Adre. Adre side-stepped the charging steed and took a fighting stance, focusing on the remaining attacker. He came at Adre head-on. Adre pointed his great sword below the horse's head and thrust forward. The blade was buried deep into its body, but its momentum pushed Adre back several yards before he skidded to a stop. The horse collapsed and Adre pulled his weapon from its body.
Without his mount, he'll be easy pickings.
The rider had jumped off and was now charging Adre. Adre took a fighting stance and waited. The barbarian approached and swung down.
Adre side-stepped the attack easily and retaliated with a full force horizontal swing. The blade connected with the barbarian's gut and continued cleanly through. The barbarian fell forward, his upper body separating from his legs.
Adre looked around. "Who's next?"
Again the riders exchanged nervous looks.
"R-retreat!" one called, and the others eagerly obeyed. They turned and took off toward the gates.
Adre grunted laughter and picked off three more with his crossbow.
*My power, my speed... this power will truly allow me to take my revenge.
He sheathed his weapon in the scabbard that hung from his back and walked on toward the gate.