Authors: Jonathan Moeller
Tags: #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Paranormal & Urban, #Science Fiction, #Alternate History, #Alternative History
A KNIGHT OF THE SACRED BLADE
YOU MUST REMEMBER
ALLY WESTER is about to start college, and she wants nothing more than to do well in her studies.
But the nightmares of the winged shadows, the flying hunters, will not stop haunting her.
KYLE ALLARD needs to turn a quick buck, right now. So when a wealthy Senator offers him a high-paying job, he knows only an idiot would turn it down.
He never dreamed it would mean blood on his hands.
ARRAN BELPHON is the last Knight of the Sacred Blade. With his homeland destroyed and no other hope, he embarks on a desperate quest to find the one man who can defeat the darkness.
A quest that will take him into the darkness of the TOWER OF ENDLESS WORLDS...
Other books by the author
The Third Soul Series
Computer Beginner's Guides
The Ghosts Series
The Demonsouled Series
The Tower of Endless Worlds Series
$1.99 Dark Fantasy
Copyright 2012 by Jonathan Moeller.
Cover design by Clarissa Yeo.
Ebook edition published June 2012.
All Rights Reserved.
This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination, or, if real, used fictitiously. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the express written permission of the author or publisher, except where permitted by law.
Chapter 1 - The Battle of the Emerald Plain
Year of the Councils 971
“Majesty, please, I beg of you,” said Arran Belphon, jogging alongside the King’s horse. The rattle of armor and the shouts of men rose into the air, and a distant drum thundered out a march. “This is your only chance. Please, I beg, heed me.”
Septimus Stormrider, King of Antarese, did not deign to look down. “Marshal!” An Antardrim in elaborate plate armor rode to the King’s side. “Have the scouts returned?”
“Yes, majesty,” said the Marshal. He pulled off his plumed helm and pointed. “Lord Marugon’s army advances across the Plain.” Arran looked north across the Emerald Plain, one of the few lush lands in arid Antarese.
He saw the distant black mass of Marugon’s soldiers. “Four hundred men,” said the Marshal, his weathered face impassive. “All carry the hell-forged guns of Earth.”
“Majesty!” said Arran.
King Septimus snorted. “Four hundred men, fallen Knight?” Arran stiffened. “Am I to fear four hundred men?” He waved his arm, his armor flashing in the sun. “Look!”
Behind him a line of horsemen stretched in all directions. Legions of armored riders sat armed and ready, their banners fluttering in the dry breeze, a forest of lances waiting in their hands. Behind them stood the grim walls and iron parapets of Antarese itself.
“Twenty-five thousand riders,” said King, “mounted on the finest Antardrim steeds, armored in steel plate, armed with the sharpest weapons. What have we to fear from four hundred of Marugon’s rabble?” He turned to the Marshal. “Signal for battle formation.”
The Marshal nodded and rode off. Trumpets blared, brassy notes ringing over the Emerald Plain. The thunder of hooves rumbled in Arran’s ears as the horsemen of Antarese arranged themselves for battle.
Arran reached into his belt and pulled out a machine pistol, a Glock 17C. “Majesty, I beg…”
King Septimus had his sword leveled at Arran’s throat in an instant. “Put that hell-spawned thing away.”
Arran held the handle out to the King. “Take it. I beg.”
The King slapped it aside with his sword, the pistol clattering over the ground. “I need it not.”
“There are four hundred of them…”
“A mere four hundred…”
“All of them have Kalashnikovs!”
The King sneered. “We have the true gods on our side. Their hell-forged machines will avail them not.”
“Majesty,” said Arran, fighting to keep his emotions under control. “You are the king of the last of the High Kingdoms. Carlisan is gone, Amnisos has burned, Rindl is gone, every other High Kingdom is gone, swept away by Marugon and his gunmen.”
The Marshal rode back to King Septimus’s side. “The men of Antarese stand ready, majesty.”
The King nodded. “Carlisan was not Antarese, fallen Knight. Nor was Rindl, nor Amnisos, nor any of the others. Marugon’s tide shall break on the rock of Antarese.”
The Marshal snorted. “And is not much of tide. Four hundred low-born rabble.”
“Take the guns I have found,” said Arran. “If even twenty of your men carry guns it will turn the tide. Marugon’s gunmen are complacent and arrogant. They do not expect resistance…”
“Resistance?” spat the Marshal. “Resistance? They face the fury of Antarese and do not expect resistance? Bah!” He slammed his helm onto his head. “Then we shall teach this scum a lesson in humility. I await your orders, majesty.”
“Majesty, I beg of you, listen me,” said Arran. Despair blacker than anything he known, even during the dark days of Carlisan’s fall, settled on his heart. “This is our last chance. Antarese is the last of the High Kingdoms. Your kingdom is the last hope for our world.”
The King looked across the plain at Marugon’s soldiers. “I am not a fool. I know the power of the guns. Many of my men will fall. We are, as you say, the last hope for the world. But we shall prevail. The gods are on our side, I know it…”
“Did the gods help Carlisan?” spat Arran. “Did they save Narramore? Did they rescue Alastarius from Goth-Mar-Dan?”
“Blasphemy,” said the King, his voice mild.
“You don’t know their power!” said Arran. “The guns destroyed the White Council, they destroyed all the Knights of the Order of the Sacred Blade…”
“And they destroyed you,” said the King. “You use their hell-spawned weapons. I see the corruption in you, how easily and remorselessly you kill. I will not have that corruption in my own men. I will not turn my loyal men into creatures like Marugon’s killers. Yes, many will die. But better to die like men than to live as someone like you.”
“Please,” said Arran.
“You may go as it pleases you, fallen Knight.” King Septimus donned his crowned war-helm. “I know Marugon’s men fear you, believe you are a ghost of vengeance that haunts their lines. You have been useful to me, and for that I am grateful. But leave my realm, once the battle is won. I see the nature of your soul, and I will not have you among my subjects.” The King galloped off to join his Marshal at the head of the lines.
A black wave of despair washed over Arran, and his hands began to shake. He willed them to stop. It had been so close. King Septimus had almost agreed to arm his men with guns. But Arran had failed, and Marugon’s four hundred soldiers would annihilate the bright armies of Antarese. Marugon had destroyed the wizards of the White Council. His gunmen had slaughtered the Knights of the Order of the Sacred Blade. Antarese was the last beacon. When it went out, darkness would flood the world…
Arran reached over his shoulder and clenched a hand around his fallen brother’s Sacred Blade. “No.”
He had not fought the gunmen for ten years to lose all. He had not sacrificed everything, had not damned himself by taking up the guns, only to succumb to despair.
He scooped up the fallen Glock and jammed it back into its holster. Perhaps King Septimus was right. There were only four hundred of them. Perhaps, if Arran struck now, he could turn the tide.
Whatever happened, Arran intended to die with his weapons in hand.
The sentinel stood atop a rock, Kalashnikov waiting in his hands. He wore the black uniform and cloak of Marugon’s soldiers. Arran crouched behind a scraggly bush and stared at the soldier, the war drums of Antarese echoing in his ears. He didn’t have much time. He considered using his sniper rifle or his pistols and rejected them. He didn’t dare make noise.
Arran gritted his teeth and crawled across the rocky ground. The sentinel’s eyes remained fixed on the glittering mass of the Antardrim riders. Arran rolled to a crouch, yanked his Glock out, and flipped it over.
The sentinel had just begun to turn when Arran smashed the pistol into the back of his neck. The soldier crumpled in an insensate heap. Arran rose to one knee and yanked off soldier’s cloak. It went around his shoulders, masking his equipment and weapons, making him look like any other of the soldiers.
Arran paused long enough to cut the stunned soldier’s throat and steal his Kalashnikov, and then set off for the ridge where Marugon’s army waited.
A thunderous roar echoed over the Emerald Plain as the war drums boomed. Arran turned and saw the armies of Antarese surge forward like an ocean of steel.
He was almost out of time.
Arran dashed up the ridge, Kalashnikov ready, his weapons thumping against his hips and shoulders. He heard the shouted commands as Marugon’s officers ordered the soldiers into position.
The cracks of ranging shots echoed over the plain.
A grim-faced man in a crimson-and-gold officer’s tunic stepped before Arran. “Move to the right wing. The Antardrim king commands there. Lord Marugon wishes him captured alive, if possible…”
Arran shot him twice in the face. The officer fell, his blood staining the dusty ground. Marugon’s soldiers were the rabble of the High Kingdoms, young noblemen banished for rape, murderers from the prisons, thieves and assassins and worse. Their officers held them together. Without their officers, the soldiers could not act as an army.
If Arran could kill all the officers just as King Septimus struck…
He reached the top of the ridge and froze. The soldiers stood in a line, weapons raised. The ground trembled as the horsemen of Antardrim thundered closer. They had no scouts out, no patrols. They did not expect anyone armed with their own weapons to challenge them.
Hundreds of Kalashnikovs barked in response. The first line of the Antardrim charge vanished in blood and fire.
It was now or never.
Arran plucked a pair of grenades from his belt and flung them into the lines of black-uniformed soldiers. The gunmen didn’t notice. Arran raised his stolen Kalashnikov, fired off a burst into a clump of officers, and threw himself behind a boulder.
The grenades exploded, and a chorus of screams rang in Arran’s ears. He snapped up and fired again, killing two more officers. Marugon’s soldiers erupted into chaos, shooting this way and that, the officers running back and forth and bellowing orders.
“Reform, you dogs, damn you!” roared a huge red-faced officer. “They’re almost on us! Reform, or else…” Arran’s next shot pulverized his head. The Kalashnikov clicked empty, and Arran tossed it aside, drew his pistols from his belt, and ran at the screaming soldiers.
He shot one, shifted aim, and killed two more, the guns thundering in his hands. His blood burned, his heart hammering a drumbeat in his skull. A soldier ran at him, weapon brandished like a club. Arran pivoted and slammed the butt of his gun into the soldier’s forehead. The man collapsed like a fallen tree. Arran spun and shot two more down, his lips pulled back in a snarl.
Against their own weapons, Marugon’s powerful soldiers were nothing.
He risked a glance around the battlefield. Marugon’s gunmen had fallen into disarray. Some ran back and forth in panic, while others had opened fire on each other. Arran grinned as he shot down another officer. The Antardrim charge was almost here. If he could just throw them off balance for a little longer…
Arran whirled, his guns coming up, and saw two black shapes drop from the sky.
His heart froze in his chest.
Two winged demons landed before him, their spiked black armor clanking as their leathery wings folded behind their back. Their eyes blazed with crimson fire in their pale faces, and yellowed fangs jutted over their lips. Curved black swords rested at their belts, and they held Glock pistols ready in their iron-clawed hands.
“Fallen Knight,” said the one on the right. “You are the feared Ghost of Carlisan? I thought you taller.”
Arran had his guns up in an instant, and so did the winged demons.
“We have come for you.” The one on the left chuckled, the razor spikes of its armor gleaming. “Lord Marugon has tired of you. We shall bring you before him, and we will tear your feeble spirit from your broken body.”
“I will kill Lord Marugon,” said Arran, “and you and all your wretched kin.”
The winged demons laughed. “You will fear us instead! For am I am Prince Baal-Mar-Dan, and this is my brother Prince Khan-Mar-Dan! We are the sons of Goth-Mar-Dan, lord of the winged ones.”
“The bastard spawn of a monster, then,” said Arran. He knew how the winged demons reproduced. They kidnapped mortal women and impregnated them. And when the winged demon was ready to be born, it tore its way free from its mother’s womb, killing her in the process. Both Khan-Mar-Dan and Baal-Mar-Dan had clawed their way out of two of Goth-Mar-Dan’s victims.
Khan-Mar-Dan laughed. “So proud, little Knight? Hundreds of Knights have perished beneath our guns. You shall be the next!”
Arran’s mind raced, trying to find a strategy. Bullets could hurt the winged demons, but mortal weapons did little against the creatures - it took about forty or fifty direct hits to kill a winged demon. It would only take one or two to kill Arran.
He had to kill them quickly.
The winged demons opened fire. Arran whirled, spinning his cloak out, presenting a wider target. The bullets tore the cloak to shreds, and one grazed his hip, but none struck him otherwise. He came out of his spin, lunged, and started shooting. He had practiced with guns every day for almost ten years now, and he knew how to shoot.
He shot the guns in the demons’ clawed hands, ruining the weapons.
Behind the winged demons, Arran saw that the gunmen had begun to rally.
Baal-Mar-Dan laughed and flexed his clawed fingers. “Impressive! You are as formidable as they say.”
“Enough talk,” spat Arran. “Is this the best you can do, damned things?”
Khan-Mar-Dan snarled. “You should fear us, human.” Both demons drew their black scimitars. “We slew the wizards of the White Council, and now we shall kill the last of the Knights.”
Arran flipped one of his guns into its holster, the leather sizzling against the hot muzzle.
He drew his Sacred Blade with his free hand.
The silvery metal flashed with blue light, and then shimmered with azure fires. The thunder of hooves echoed in his ears, alongside screams, gunfire, and the crash of steel. “I’m pleased we can settle this in the old way.”
Baal-Mar-Dan laughed. “As are we!”
The demons jumped into the air, wings beating. Arran backpedaled, his Sacred Blade raised in guard. The demons circled, swooped, and dove at him. Arran met their attack, steel ringing as his muscles flowed through the discipline of sword work. The winged demons flinched from the fire of his Sacred Blade, and Arran scored a hit on Baal-Mar-Dan’s leg. The creature screamed in agony and leaped back as Khan-Mar-Dan’s scimitar slashed a line of blood across Arran’s shoulder. He growled in pain and drove the demon back with a flurry of quick sword blows.
Arran rammed his remaining gun into its holster and took his sword in both hands. His shoulder shook with pain and exertion, and sweat dripped down his face. He could not match the strength and speed of the winged demons. Sir Liam Mastere could have taken them. But Liam Two Swords had been the only Knight ever to wield two Sacred Blades.
And no doubt he had been dead for years, his bones lying alongside those of Lithon Scepteris in the Tower of Endless Worlds.