Changing tack here. With Throne of Blood dragging on with regards to completion, I thought I would offer a glimpse into how it will begin. I have updated the Ebook version of Ashar'an Rising on Amazon to include this first Chapter also, along with links to the POD versions of both books. It is really only in draft format at present, so there could be an error or three! Feel free to let me know what you think of both cover and content.
And he who hails from the Shadow shall journey to the place of making, where the fire of heaven awaits, and he shall make whole that which was destroyed.
Jagged lightning flashed in the night, momentarily silhouetting the skyline of Sha'kar. Heavy, driving rain fell like small stones, battering the land and the roofs of the buildings, pounding incessantly and foreboding.
Valdieron sat on the wide window sill in the cramped bedroom of the run-down Inn that had no name. His keen eyes watched the night and remained unblinking, even with each flash of silver brilliance through the rain-washed window. The vibration of distant thunder mocked him as he thought of recent times, recent tragedy. In his hand, the Dragon's Eye pulsed with faint warmth.
The others were close now.
He should have been glad. Tears rolled down his face, unforced, like the droplets of rain down the smoky glass, as he clutched the pendant tighter. His knuckles turned white, but the pain he felt was from sorrow and loss, not physical pain. The image of Javin's grave filled his mind, and his brutal death at the hand of the Demon in Zhak Lomar's underground palace. There too, he had lost Ka'Varel, a victim of the immense energies they had used to shut down the Nexus Gate.
The same Nexus Gate that could have given him access to the voids, where even now the Princess Kitara was held captive, or perhaps even dead. The thought of it made him shake with anger and pain, and he forced it from his mind. She had to be alive!
There seemed nothing in his life save sadness and death. Grimly he wondered what the ultimate price for peace in the land would be. Would it mean the death of all who joined him in his quest? All whom he held dear? Already the list of those who had died fighting for his cause was too long.
Yet he could not fight this war on his own, he knew that. Those who opposed him were too numerous and powerful, maybe even far more so than Ka'Varel had hinted at. Though the evil Sorcerer Zhak Lomar was dead, the Kiroba were still a threat, especially with Hagar still alive. There was also the Ashar'an, whom he knew were ever dangerous, despite their ominous absence.
They were so close now. He pressed his head back against the hilt of the Dragonsword sheathed at his back and waited, while outside the lightning continued to flash, and the thunder shook the earth.
Crouched in the shadowed recess of the alley, the dark figure waited in silence, at one with the night. Normally more at ease in the natural surroundings of the forest, the Sylvan Elf could not deny the surge of adrenalin from their deadly foray this night in the unfamiliar city. In his hand, damp from the falling rain, he clutched his Elvin Al'katar and shrugged deeper into his sodden cloak. He had yet to engage the Kiroba that stalked him through the cringing city, but he knew the time would soon be at hand. The pursuit had been dogged since leaving the Sorcerer's palace, his heightened abilities and agility of no assistance in losing them.
A thin smile crossed his slender lips as he pondered the coming confrontation. He was confident, even knowing the fierce skills and deadly reputation of the dark assassins.
Movement attracted his attention across the street where the dark form of Talisa edged along the sidewalk, returning from another brief scouting. She spotted him and lifted her hand, raising four fingers - the number of Kiroba that followed them.
Not for the first time he marvelled at her ability to see as well as he in the darkness, and also at her innate beauty. She was a warrior born, with a raven-haired allure and inner fire that Janantar admired.
They had to decide what to do, though their options were limited. They could turn and engage the Kiroba, perhaps playing into their hands. Despite their human limitations, they were at one with the night, as deadly in the darkness as they were in the light. The Inn was not far away, two blocks further along, which was not far in the cramped poor quarter, so perhaps a dash for it was possible, and then hope the Kiroba would not openly attack an Inn at any time.
Talisa waited on his decision; he could feel her dark green eyes on him. Throwing caution to the wind, he started off again in the direction of the Inn, slinking into the shadows whenever the light from a house window or corner lamp threatened to compromise his invisibility. He sensed, rather than saw, Talisa shadowing him across the way. A part of him actually hoped they would see combat; he yearned for the rush that only battle in its purest could bring.
At least no guards will be out in this, he mused, shaking his head to dislodge an annoying droplet of water from his brow. They were right in the heart of the poor section of the city, where no sane guard ventured after dark regardless, at least not unless in huge numbers and armed to the teeth. Not that it was frequented by cutthroats or brigands, who knew where the more affluent areas for plunder were, but if you looked out of place, or had the appearance of not belonging, local gangs made sure it wasn't a mistake you made more than once. Thankfully, all such gangs were comfortably indoors, out of the storm.
The skills of the Kiroba were such that against any other, their foudroyant ambush would have succeeded, but against the battle-wise Bladesinger, their attack was little more than swift, and far from successful. Two black-garbed assassins rushed from a dark alley to intercept Janantar, while two others dropped to the muddied street from the rooftop.
By the time the aerial assassins recovered and entered the fray, one of their companions was reeling away in agony clutching at a gaping stomach wound while the other was being pressed hard by the agile Elf. The reinforcements saved him, though only momentarily, for any advantage held in numbers was countered by the ever-moving Bladesinger, who had more weapons than just his keen adamantite Al'katar.
The clash of steel across the street told him Talisa was also engaged with Kiroba. A momentary thought for her safety cost him a shallow cut to his forearm from a Kiroba sword, a reminder of his own deadly struggle.
Reinforcements were his major concern as he twisted and turned in the intricate dance of battle. Any number of assassins could have been closing in under the cover of darkness and the din of battle, which would definitely tip the odds against him.
The last Kiroba fell with a strangled cry, clutching his torn throat that trailed blood through his fingers onto the muddy street. Janantar spun instantly towards Talisa, though every sense strained for the approach of more Kiroba. She was pulling her sword from the lifeless chest of her last opponent and glanced his way. An unspoken acknowledgment passed between them and they were moving at a run, hoping to escape further confrontation and reach the inn as quickly as possible. The din of the battle had likely been drowned out by the pounding rain and rumbling thunder, but the assassins had an uncanny ability to find them.
They rounded the corner of the street where the inn was located, and skidded to a halt, confronted by a line of dark assassins. Other Kiroba appeared from niches and alcoves around them, blocking all retreat. They were trapped.
One figure stepped from the line and approached. Hanging from his hand was a gemstone pendant that glowed with a pale illumination. Janantar cursed. So that was how they had been dogged at every turn through the city? More than likely the pendant was attuned to the mystical power imbued in the pieces of the Disc they carried. It made sense, and was probably how the Sorcerer had acquired the pieces initially.
"Surrender the artefacts and your lives may be spared. Our master Hagar has no desire to see you slain, though he was not too specific with his orders."
So it was Hagar's cronies that had pursued them, not the Sorcerer's. Janantar almost spat at the Kiroba's words, knowing that mercy was not in Hagar's make-up. He suppressed the urge, knowing he needed all the time he could buy to formulate a plan to get them both out of the predicament alive, and with the pieces of the Disc. Every second the man used to parlay gave him valuable time.
"Let us walk into that alley," he countered, pointing to a nearby alleyway little more than a pace wide, "and we will toss the bag with the artefacts out to you." He had already spotted the shadowy forms of more Kiroba in the darkness of the alley, so he assumed there was an exit from it at the other end, or at least access to the rooftops above.
"No! Pass the bag forward to me, and then you will be allowed to pass unhindered. Such is the will of Hagar." The man's words remained forcibly calm, an indication that the return of the pieces of the Disc was of vital importance to him. Janantar would not have been surprised if the life of the man rested on their safe return: it would not be unlike Hagar to demand such a trade.
"Unacceptable," he returned, inwardly tensing for imminent combat. Valdieron had entrusted him with the important mission of recovering the pieces, and he was not about to surrender them. "Let my companion depart, unhindered and free from pursuit, and I will give you the bag."
The Kiroba pondered this briefly. "Agreed, though she must leave behind her own pack, and if she draws her weapon before she is free, her life is forfeit."
Janantar felt Talisa tense at his side. He had hoped the noble woman would not openly dispute his course of action. He was not trying to protect her at his own peril; he knew the Kiroba would indeed pursue her, he just hoped he might buy her enough time to return to the Inn where Valdieron awaited, with the pieces secreted in her belt-pouch.
Slowly she removed her pack and tossed it forward onto the muddy street. He felt her gaze linger on him momentarily, but he kept his own focused on the Kiroba. She turned and began to walk away from the main line of Kiroba, wisely staying to the main street for now rather than down a potential dead-end alley.
"Damn," cursed Janantar under his breath.
"Deceivers! I offer you leniency and you return it with trickery?"
"No, we did not-" began Janantar as the ring of Kiroba moved forward, weapons drawn, when suddenly a flash of lightning illuminated a figure dropping to the rain-drenched street before him, facing the Kiroba. In one hand the figure held a gleaming sword that burned like a flame, while in the other was a slender sword, pale as the moon.
The command seemed to shake the city like the thunder that rolled around them, and the Kiroba halted in stunned surprise.
Valdieron walked towards the Kiroba holding the pendant. To Janantar, the young man appeared taller and more imposing than usual, from which the assassin drew away visibly, even though more than a score of armed assassins backed him.
"You will leave immediately or die. Tell Hagar not to pursue this. The pieces are as nothing to him. Should he desire them still, then he will die."
The Kiroba, to his credit, drew up to his full height before Valdieron.
"Who are you to be making such an ultimatum?"
Valdieron laughed then, a low, menacing laugh that made even Janantar take pause. "I am the last person you will ever see if you do not turn and leave."
This time it was the assassin's turn to laugh, gaining in confidence, perhaps with the thought they were twenty against three. "You are as nothing, Valdieron of Tyr. Surrender the pieces and leave. My master grants mercy for you and your friends. Depart Sha'kar by dawn's first light, and you will live to see the next sunset."
Valdieron hardly seemed to breathe as he weighed the assassin's words. Then Janantar heard him sigh and his shoulders slumped, as if defeated. "As you wish," he whispered.
The Kiroba fell away with a gurgling scream, clutching the bloodied stump of his right forearm, missing the hand holding the pendant, which now lay at Valdieron's feet. Blood poured from a cut across his throat and trailed from his mouth as his muted screams were drowned out by the storms fury.
Then Valdieron was among the Kiroba, who were momentarily stunned, as was Janantar. The Elf mentally amended his earlier thoughts, for here was somebody even he would not like to confront in combat.
Four more Kiroba were down to the young man's flashing blades before Janantar was drawn by the sound of combat behind him. He spun instantly, his instincts kicking in. Four assassins were pressing Talisa, while several others moved from concealment nearby to engage.
With a running leap, he dropped one assassin with a kick to the face and ran him through before he could rise. The next assassin came at him armed with both sword and dagger. He parried the thrusting sword with his own sweeping blade and danced away from the dagger, which followed fractionally after. As fast as the lightning which flashing in the distant sky, Janantar's sword reversed and sliced across the Kiroba's forearm, biting through muscle to scrape against bone. The Kiroba gave an agonised scream as the weapon dropping from his powerless hand. With considerable self-control, the assassin spun and slashed at Janantar with his sword, but the agile Elf was already gone.
Wading back in, Janantar matched blows with the bleeding assassin, pushing for an error, which came as a weak parry as the assassin back-pedalled. Leaping forward, Janantar twisted his sword to take the man's weapon out of play and kicked at his face. The assassin raised his bloodied arm to parry instinctively, evading the kick but making him cry out again in pain. Janantar persisted, his ensuing kick catching the assassin in the mid-section, blasting the breath from him.
With a flick of his razor-sharp sword, Janantar ended his agonised screams once and for all.
The battle became a nightmare of lightning-lit scenes. Janantar found himself back to back with Talisa, fighting the waves of dark assassins that kept coming. He lost track of the time, focused fully on the ebb and flow of the battle in order to stay alive. He bled from several wounds, the worst in the shoulder and thigh, but he was beyond feeling the pain. More and more assassins fell to his blade, while Talisa gave as good an account as he with her own unique style. Outside their ring of combat, Valdieron fought alone with macabre finesse amid an even greater ring of assassins, both alive and dead. Blood streamed down his face, lending him a crazed mien that detracted nothing from his raging fury.
Then, amid the distant echo of thunder fading, the battle was ended. As if respecting the courage of these three warriors, the lightning refrained, leaving only the repetitious fall of water from rooftops to trouble the silence. The three stood transfixed, marvelling at the sudden transformation, and eyeing warily the darkness as if expecting more dark assassins to leap out at any moment.
With a groan, Talisa crumpled to the muddy street, unable to stand as she clutched at her right thigh. Janantar was at her side in an instant, and could see the dark blood running through her fingers. Other smaller cuts bled freely, but were not serious.
"Let me see," he whispered softly, putting his hand on hers both for comfort and to move it from the wound. She shook her head and grimaced again, and he was about to reiterate it when he felt a cold tingling sensation in his fingers, which quickly ran up his arm and through his body. He shivered, and took a deep breath as the cold suddenly turned to a fiery heat, which made his eyes water then passed in an instant, leaving him feeling suddenly refreshed. He turned to look at Talisa and saw her own darkly alluring face set in surprise. He realised that in the process of healing herself, her contact with him had lent him the healing powers also. Her face softened and she smiled, but then perhaps remembering where they were and what was happening, she drew her hand away from his and rose unaided, her face a mask of determination once more.
Valdieron walked towards them, his weapons sheathed, as if he were not expecting any more confrontation. Instead, he clutched the glowing pendant the assassin had carried.
"Let’s get out of here. Talisa, can you walk?"
"Yes," she replied, taking a tentative step and wincing only slightly from the obvious discomfort. "The strength will return momentarily."
"Then let’s go back and wake up Andrak. I feel a few strong drinks will warm us up and help ease some aches and pains."
Janantar chuckled, relieved at the young man's unusual mirth. It was a pleasant surprise after the last few days, where smiles and laughter were rare indeed. "And seeing as he has all the money, who better to assist us?"
"My thoughts exactly," returned Valdieron with a wink. He dropped the pendant into his shirt pocket and turned to lead the way back to the inn. Janantar offered his arm for support as Talisa started after, though she declined. With an inaudible sigh, the smitten Elf followed.