Fate of an Empire (Talurian Empire Trilogy Book 1)

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Fate of an Empire

Book One of the Talurian Empire Trilogy

 

By

Jonathan Pasquariello

 

 

www.jonathanpasquariello.com

A Chronicles of Ethindriil Novel

 

Copyright © 2015
Jonathan Pasquariello

 

All Rights Reserved

 

Cover Design by
Jonathan Pasquariello

 

 

 

This novel is a work
of fiction.

 

This
book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either
products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance
to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

No part of this book
may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by an electronic or mechanical
means, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and
retrieval system, without the express written permission of the author.

 

 

To my beautiful
wife

For her love and
support through this entire process

 

Table
of Contents

 

 

Prologue:
The Grand Scheme

Part One

Chapter
1: Welcome to the War

Chapter
2: The General

Chapter
3: Forest Meeting

Chapter
4: War Plans

Chapter
5: A Grieving Brother

Chapter
6: A Son Is Born

Chapter
7: Keeping Order

Chapter
9: Trouble

Chapter
10: For Your Head

Chapter
11: The Slave

Chapter
12: Massacre

Chapter
13: The Other Side

Chapter
14: The Haunting

Chapter
15: Searching

Chapter
16: Firestorm

Chapter
17: The Changeling

Chapter
18: A Dark Savior

Chapter
19: The Aftermath

Chapter
20: The Prisoners

Chapter
21: Execution

Chapter
22: Preparations and Goodbyes

Chapter
23: Waking the Dead

Part Two

Chapter
24: The Ancient One

Chapter
25: On the Road

Chapter
26: Meeting the Maker

Chapter
27: The King

Chapter
28: Pact with the Devil

Chapter
29: Ambush

Chapter
30: First Encounter

Chapter
31: The Gates of Talur

Chapter
32: The Family Line

Chapter
33: Night Strike

Chapter
34: Betrayal

Chapter
35: Gaining Ground

Part Three

Chapter
36: Then Came the Night

Chapter
37: A Second Try

Chapter
38: The General’s Estate

Chapter
39: Closer

Chapter
40: Sickness and Power

Chapter
41: The Law

Chapter
42: Deeper into the Web

Chapter
43: Growing

Chapter
44: Temporary Alliance

Chapter
45: A Competition of Brothers

Chapter
46: Finished

Chapter
47: A New Role

Chapter
48: Victory

Chapter
49: Rescue

Chapter
50: The Return

Chapter
51: Politics

Chapter
52: Sacrifices

Epilogue:
For What the Future Holds

A
Closing Note

Prologue: The Grand
Scheme

 

 

His opponent’s
body fell to the ground, sealing his victory.

All went
silent, save for the hammer of a heartbeat ringing in his ears.

Valen jerked
his blade free.

Wind pushed
past him, cooling the sweat that dotted his skin.

He faced the
headmaster, who sat perched high above the arena. Warlords of the region fanned
out to either side of him.

They always
seem to be on the prowl for new fighting blood.

Valen crossed
his sword over his chest and bowed deeply in salute. Blood dripped off his
armor, dotting the dusty floor of the battleground. Dark brown hair hung past
his face as he waited for the official sounding of his triumph.

“Valen of
Gralcor, you have ascended to the top of your class.” The proclamation boomed
through the air. The officiator entered the arena, gripping his forearm and
lifting it overhead. “You have claimed the title of Champion!”

With those
words, the teenage warrior raised his eyes back to his superiors, nodded to
each member of the panel, and retreated into the arena tunnel. The same he had
entered through only moments before.

The stadium
erupted with noise.

Surrounding students
took to their feet and cheered, banging their swords and spears against their
bucklers, shouting loyalty to their new leader. Valen held no emotion on his
face. A true warrior did not gloat, did not delight in his fame. He humbly took
measured steps past the line of clan flags fluttering in the coastal breeze.

As he made his
way through the tunnels that formed the underbelly of the academy, students and
faculty members greeted and congratulated him.

All he
returned was a mere nod to each.

He reached his
destination, a benefit of his victory—a gold-veined door of polished wood and
carved artwork from generations before him. A sign marked the entrance to the
Champion’s Suite. Valen entered and latched the door shut, smudging the knob
with a bloodied hand.

He let out a
long sigh and rested his back against the revered doorway, relishing in his
first moment away from the public. His mind swirled with the sound of swords
echoing through the arena and the reverberating cheers as he claimed his title.
He threw his leather chestplate down and scattered caked dirt across the floor.

His lips
started to curl and he clapped his hands together. His sea blue eyes lit up as
he scanned the luxurious living quarters.

A real
bed…A couch…Beautiful linens and draperies...

A full smile
broke through the stoic warrior facade. He threw his fists into the air and
opened his mouth for a muted cheer.
I’ve made it. Champion!

“Your
enthusiasm is palpable.” A sudden voice declared from a shadowed corner of the
room.

Reacting to ingrained
discipline, Valen jumped behind the nearest chair as cover and drew his sword,
keeping the tip leveled in the direction of the intruder. “Identify yourself!”

“So ready for
action.” A figure moved into the center of the room, light now fully focusing
on him.

“Master Orin?”
Valen cocked his head to the side, his brow pinched, staring at the school’s
only non-combat teacher. He looked over the elder’s ornate robes—far from
Academy regulation. “What are you doing here?”

“We don’t have
much time.” Orin swung a satchel off his back and placed it on the floor,
before proceeding to move all the furniture to the perimeter of the room. “Two
or three days, at most.”

Valen stayed
quiet, watching the aged teacher survey his newly staked territory.

“That should do.”
Orin ran his fingers through his ruffled gray hair and then tugged at his wiry
beard. He plopped on the ground, wrapping his legs around each other, and
patted the rug next to him. “Come, come, boy.”

Valen,
realizing he still held his weapon at the ready, sheepishly tucked it away and
took a spot next to Master Orin.

“Are you
alright? How did you slip in here so quickly after the fight?”

Orin pulled
his bag over and started to dig through its contents, at one point his arm
looked deeper than the bag should have allowed. “Ah! Here they are.” He pulled
out a second small pouch and emptied a pile of stones onto the floor, moving
each into a pattern. “I’ve been here all morning—an exquisite sitting area, I
must say.”

Valen frowned.
“And if I had
not
won the tournament?”

“I knew you would,”
Orin responded confidently. “Now, to the point! We are on a limited timetable
before this city lies in rubble. We need to get you prepared!”

“What?”
Valen’s eyes went wide. “Sir, you are not making any sense.”

“I am; you
just don’t know the full story.”

“Here we go…”
Valen shook his head, finally getting a typical response from the senile
history teacher. “I’m sure you have a grand story to paint for me, full of doom
and gloom and destruction.” Valen waved his hands in the air, pantomiming a
soothsayer from the capital.

“Boy, I will
do more than paint it.” Orin pulled up on his sleeves, revealing thick, twisted
tattoos running across his forearms.

“I didn’t take
you for a cultist.” Valen laughed.

Orin ignored
the comment and closed his eyes.

“Not a
painting. For does a painting have a taste? Smell? No, no. We will
live
it.
Breathe
it.
Feel
it.” Orin pounded his fist against his
chest.

A moment later
all the sound in the room dropped out, and the candles blinked into darkness.
As quickly as the blackness came, glimmering strands of energy ignited within
the tattoos that Valen had just criticized.

“By the gods…”
Valen's hand slid to the grip of his blade.

Orin started a
chant—not in any language that he had ever heard. The energy poured into his
hands and illuminated the stone pattern on the floor. Right when the stones
looked to explode from their sheer magnificence of light, they expelled the
pent up magic and projected out a dome around the two.

The floor
seemed to drop away, as swirling colors birthed around their seats. Valen
jumped to his feet.

Orin threw out
his hand and held the boy in place, giving only a stern look to solidify his
physical halt.

The room faded
from Valen’s vision and soon he realized they were floating down upon a
battleground. He looked down to see tiny dots of men charging a fortress; fiery
lines marked siege weapons’ trajectories; smoke labeled beaten outer defenses.

“Be my guest
in this vision, boy. A viewing of the past—a past that is going to come
crashing down around you all too soon.” Orin grimaced as the two touched down
on the dry dirt. “Welcome to the war…”

Part One

 

“There I
stood, freshly molded, new to the world, even if the world was but seconds old.
Ink and parchment in my hand. Knowledge in the fiber of my being. I was created
for this. I was the first of my kind, but there were also the others.

 

There. The
beginning. The catalyst. The Twelve emerged from their birthing, standing tall
against the pillars of light, carving Ethindriil into shape. Steam swirling
away from their naked flesh. They were perfect—unscathed, yet to be soiled by
His new world, in which they were cursed to command. Some good and some evil,
for He knew the world required balance.”

 

The Historian,
Volume I,
Journal I, Pg.1
(Year 1)

Chapter
1: Welcome to the War

 

Eyes, may
you see clearly.

Feet, may
you move sure and swift.

Sword, may
you strike with fury.

Shield, may
you hold true.

The sky was
dark with ash. Thunderous echoes clapped across the battlefield. Boulder after
boulder slammed into the weakening barrier. Trebuchets screamed under pressure
and then moaned at the sweet release of their burden.

Each blast
moved the Talurian army closer to victory.

It’s almost
time.

Please let
my men rest their heads under the stars again.

The splintered
wood pleaded to give in to the onslaught; the wall trembling under each blow.
Shouted orders made evident the fear from within the fortress. The Kilgarian
warriors knew what was coming. They had seen the soldiers sweep across their
outer defenses like a wave flattening a sandcastle. Death now waited at their
doorstep.

One…

Time slowed.
Rurik’s chest rose and fell underneath his armor as the words of his father’s
mantra repeated in his head. Wind whistled through his helmet. The tone
changing in pitch as it cut over the spiked rivets that lined the edges,
disguising the sounds of death echoing from within the Kilgarian stronghold.
His sword weighed heavy in his hand. Sweat matted his dark hair against the
back of his neck. He watched a final stone barrel overhead, smashing the
fortress wall inward.

Two…

Dust whirled
around the Corporal of the Talurian Army. The iron-like smell of blood filled
his nostrils. He turned to the left and winked at his brother, Aamin, whose
young, bright eyes gave hint to a smile under his faceplate.

Three…

The stench of
war was not the only thing that floated across the air. Their victory tiptoed
just out of reach. The wall crumbled down, tempting their blades, urging a bloodletting.

“Now!” He gave
the order, and his men jumped into action.

The company
swarmed the newly made opening—warrior ants invading an opposing mound. Rurik
hit the gap first, followed by Aamin, and then Klaric, his lifelong friend.

He lunged into the fortress, swinging his blade through the
air. Spears flew at his head, his sword knocking each aside. A trained and
practiced formation dropped him to his knees as his own soldiers fired back
with bow and arrow. A sequence of thrusts, parries, and jabs won him the
opening and troops spilled in through the secured entrance.

The flaming
innards of the stronghold opened up into a vast expanse of wooden barriers and
hastily made traps. Rurik scanned the area, his ears still ringing from the
final stone that won their admission. He spun his arm in the air, hurrying his
forces into action.

The twisted
maze of palisades bulged with the blackness of Talurian platemail. They filled
every route and flushed out every pathway, butchering their leather-clad
opposition.

The Kilgarians
fought back with their primitive weaponry, giving only dents and dings to the
moving wall of steel. For every handful of Talurian casualties, dozens of
Kilgarians fell. A trail of cruel slaughter marked their progress into the
heart of the fortress.

I need the
higher ground. I need victory.

Rurik motioned
for Klaric and Aamin to follow. They split away from the mindless wave of
soldiers. He set the pace, jogging along a narrow pathway in the direction of
the surrounding wall.

He pointed
toward the west, a blinding sun blinked through the smoke-filled air. “We make
for the tower. Their banner will fall
today
!” The Kilgarians’ honor
rested in their ancestral banner, rumored to be brandished in every major
victory throughout the tribe’s history. Rurik knew their will to fight would
fall to nothing without it waving proudly overhead.

They reached a
covered staircase attached to the perimeter wall. As they ascended, a pair of
hidden Kilgarian warriors jumped at the men’s sudden appearance and rushed to
meet their attackers. Rurik blocked two strikes and took a step back as Klaric
and Aamin stabbed forward, catching the warriors off balance. Rurik kicked the
dying men to the stone floor below with a shout, blood arching across the sky
in their descent.

“Nothing gets
your blood rushing like a good skirmish in the morning!” Klaric shouted at the
brothers. A grin split his thin face. He opted to forgo a helmet during the
day’s ‘festivities’. His cheekbones emphasized the dirt that smeared across his
stubble grown face, a frequent appearance on the battlefield.

“Get down!”
Aamin threw a dagger over Klaric’s head and, with a quarter spin of his blade,
took an approaching enemy in the neck.

“Appreciate
it.” Klaric winked, his knotted curls bobbed with a quick head gesture.

“We need to
keep moving,” Rurik growled.

They ran along
the wall, constantly changing formations, to protect every angle from surprise.
Soon the tower came into view. A small group of Kilgarian warriors exited the
last guard post.

“Rurik, make
for the flag,” Klaric spun his blade in the air. “We’ve got this.”

Rurik nodded
and turned his gaze to Aamin. “Stay safe while I’m gone,” he said with a wink.

Thirty more
yards and Rurik shoved his boot through the door of the citadel, the timber
exploding with a crash. Immediately two blades struck out at him. He lashed
forward, catching one of the defenders in the wrist and the second in the
thigh. With both disabled, he pushed through the doorway, finishing them as he moved
past, leaving a trail of blood in his wake. He ran up a flight of stairs. Then
another. And another, before reaching the drop door to the roof.

A single
champion, hulking and tanned, stood waiting for him, tossing a large obsidian
blade back and forth between his hands. His long dark hair pulled back in a
ponytail, a traditional styling among the tribesmen. A taunting smile
emphasized the scar etched down the side of his face.

Rurik
approached with caution.

Sword, may
you strike with fury. Shield, may you hold true.

The defender
jumped forward swiping his weapon downward. Rurik raised his shield, and with a
loud crunch, the metal barrier split in half.

So much for
holding true.

Exposed edges
of metal cut into Rurik’s muscled forearm. He shook his arm trying to free it,
but the damaged buckles had jammed. The champion swung furiously at him. Rurik
was left with no choice but to bide his time and dodge the attacks without a
counter. The two moved around the room—the Kilgarian attacking and Rurik
retreating.

He watched,
waiting for an opening.

The man is
a raging bull—all strength, no finesse.

He stayed
patient and, after a time, the giant’s movements started to slow. He was tiring
and soon Rurik would have his chance. A quick sidestep placed a support beam
between him and his foe. The warrior chased after with the tip of his sword,
burying it into the wooden post.

He was too
slow releasing the weapon.

Now.

His eyes grew
large as Rurik’s sword jolted into his chest and exploded out his back. Rurik
pulled his blade free. The man dropped to his knees, coughing blood from his
sagging mouth. Taking advantage of the lull, Rurik sawed at the leather straps
on his shield, freeing his wounded limb. 

He curled his
fingers and flexed his arm.
Not so bad.

After the
quick internal assessment, he pulled down the retractable ladder to the roof
and climbed up. The height of the tower brought a kind of serenity to his mood.
The fortress below looked smaller, while the invading Talurian army looked like
an endless sea of darkness. The stronghold was starting to burn and, from his
position, he fell away from it all.

To his left,
the Kilgarian banner fluttered in the wind. He would be the victor today, not
the army.
He
would be champion. With a spin, he sliced the wooden pole
at the base, and the material floated off the edge of the overlook.

“Rurik!” His
name echoed from below.

Klaric!

He peered over
the wall.

Klaric and
Aamin were holding their ground, but two ladders now rested against the raised
walkway behind them. More warriors were mounting the wall. The main body of
Talurians were moving in a calculated way across the ground level of the
fortress but missed a column of palisades against the western perimeter. A last
ditch effort from a conquered people. From his vantage point, he could see the
hiding, Kilgarian reserves, prepared to sacrifice themselves for a few more
kills.

He disappeared
back through the trap door and hurried down the flights of stairs. Upon exiting
the tower, a misfired trebuchet’s stone crashed into the pathway ahead. The hit
threw him to the ground, crumbling the section of wall between Klaric and
Aamin, and himself. The bombardment temporarily took Rurik’s hearing.

He tried to
compose himself, keeping an eye on his mission.

Get up!
Focus.

The attackers
were circling tighter around his friend and brother. Rurik regained his feet,
wobbling at his full stance and looked at the opening left by the strike.
Shaking off the lingering effects, he retreated along the wall and then shot
toward the fissure at a sprint. He tightened his grip on his sword as he
reached the break and pushed all his energy out through his legs.

Son of a…

His leap came
up short.

His chin
crashed into the stone walkway. Small bones in his face audibly snapping from
the impact. Blood filled his mouth. His hands grasped for anything to hold,
nearly losing his weapon, feet dangling below.

Through
blurred vision, he watched Klaric and Aamin fight. Back to back, they moved in
circles, fending off attacker after attacker. Rurik gritted his teeth and
pushed his arms against the stone—one elbow, then the next. He swung his leg up
over the ledge and rolled his body onto the wall.

Almost
there.

He got to his
feet and ran toward the men. A ring of death laid at their feet, all the while,
the number of attackers increased. Rurik dared a glimpse down into the
courtyard. Hundreds, possibly thousands of bodies littered the ground, mostly
Kilgarian tribesmen, but also a good number of his Talurian comrades. They were
going to win this battle, but now he was fighting for a different goal.

Then it came.
A horn sounded across the battlefield.

The Kilgarian
army was retreating, a scattered madness of men without direction. Rurik
reached the ladders, and as few turned to descend, he met them with a zealous
hand, striking down man after man.

Finally, the
group around Klaric and Aamin started to thin.

The
reinforcements ceased to come, save for a pair of Kilgarian warriors, who
pushed through their retreating allies, pointing their weapons and hollering at
the Talurians. Klaric and Aamin took down the last few tribesmen around them
before turning to face their new challengers.

Rurik battled
closer and closer. He fought the current of withdrawal. He kept focusing on his
friend and brother all along. He watched as the two engaged the pair of
Kilgarians. They were formidable and a hard match for Klaric and Aamin.

One of the
Kilgarians dove between the two, separating their tight defense. Out of the
three of them, Aamin was the lesser when it came to blade skills. He had only
been around real fighting since the beginning of this campaign, not even three
weeks. Other than that, he had just been in sparring sessions and technique
training back at camp.

Come on, my
brother.

Rurik
dispatched the last defender in his path, sinking the native to the floor, and
continued running to his brother’s aid. Aamin was losing space on the wall with
each hit. Klaric struggled with his own opponent, leaving him no chance to
help. The warrior lashed out with three consecutive, downward strikes. A
toothless grin gained in intensity as the Kilgarian approached victory.

Aamin
struggled to maintain control of his sword as he blocked. With each clang, came
a loss of ground for the young soldier. He slid his foot back, bracing for the
next hit, but his heel bumped up against the siding of the walkway. He lost his
balance—for only a moment…

“No!”

My brother!

Rurik watched
as the merciless Kilgarian rammed the butt of his sword into Aamin’s chest and
then followed with a quick upward slice, cutting Aamin from waist to throat.
The force of the hit lifted Aamin into the air, tipping his body over the edge
of the wall. A stream of blood trailed after the failing body, tinting the
smoke-filled air.

Rurik slowed.

He fell his
hands to his side.

Klaric
screamed out. He lost his footing and collapsed to the floor. Loss welled up in
his eyes. The pair of Kilgarians suddenly stopped and looked at the two men,
before breaking into vulgar, malicious laughter.

No... no no
no!

Rurik gripped
his sword. His nose flared. With his offhand, he reached up and wiped away a
hot tear, smearing blood and dirt across his face.

One of the men
raised their finger, taunting him to attack.

Rurik bolted
forward, letting out an unnerving roar, his weapon held cocked to the side.

Sword be
damned.
I
will strike with fury.

Both
Kilgarians readied for him. His mind focused on their weak spots—the unbalanced
stance of one, the overextension of the other.

As he
approached, they whirled their blades at his body.

He dropped to
a slide, separating one at the ankle, and with a quick jump, landed a hit on
the second, across his leather-covered torso, splitting his chest open. Both
attacks were incapacitating, but neither instantly fatal. They landed with a
thud and writhed about on the floor, cradling their wounds.

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