Knights: Book 03 - The Heart of Shadows

BOOK: Knights: Book 03 - The Heart of Shadows
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Knights: The Heart of Shadows

by Robert E. Keller

Book 3 of the Knights
Series

Smart
Goblin Publishing 2013

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

 
Original and exclusive cover art by
Carolina Mylius

 

Copyright © 2013 Robert E. Keller

Content Notice:

 
A complete
100,000 word fantasy novel.

About the Author:

 
Robert E. Keller is a fantasy
writer who has had more than 30 stories published in online and print magazines,
and he is the author of four epic fantasy novels. You can find more information
on his projects at
www.robertekeller.net

 

Other Kindle
books by Robert E. Keller
:

Novels:

Knights:
The Eye of Divinity

(Book 1 of the Knights Series)

Knights:
Hand of Tharnin

(Book 2 of the Knights Series)

The
Curse of Credesar

(Book 1 of the Credesar Series)

Short Story Collections:

Fantasy
Stories, Volume 1

Fantasy
Stories, Volume 2

Fantasy
Stories, Volume 3

Fantasy
Stories, Volume 4

Short Stories:

The
Battering Ram at Doom’s Gates

Brock
Strangebeard and the Towers of Matterkill

 

Chapter 1:
 
The Assassin

"Two
Knights were found dead," said Jerret Dragonsbane, his handsome face grim
in the torchlight that partially lit the stone tunnel. "Jace thinks they
were assassinated with evil sorcery." But Jerret's grim expression was
fake and couldn't disguise a hint of excitement that revealed his growing love
of battle and bloodshed. His hand was clamped around the hilt of his
broadsword.

Jerret
and Lannon Sunshield stood in one of the many underground passageways of the
fortress of Dorok's Hand. Thick, rune-covered pillars, encircled by crimson
vines that needed no water or sunlight, lined the tunnel. As usual, it was
freezing cold and both Squires were wrapped in fur cloaks. Jerret overshadowed
Lannon in size. The two Squires looked alike--with fair skin and unkempt blond
hair--except that Jerret had put on more muscle than Lannon during his time as
a Squire. Thanks to extensive training from Thrake Wolfaxe, Jerret had become a
hulking brute while Lannon retained his lean form.

Lannon
sighed and leaned wearily against the tunnel wall, his dreams of a peaceful
winter shattered by Jerret's bad news. If an assassin was on the loose, Lannon
was sure to be one of the prime targets. The Eye of Divinity would never let
him rest, as the children of the Deep Shadow hunted him relentlessly. Once
again he wished he were back at Dremlock Kingdom and far away from this ancient
and dreary mountain keep.

 
Tenneth Bard, the Black Knight and sorcerer,
was apparently dead--killed by Lannon's unpredictable power. And Vorden
Flameblade was locked away forever in some pit of Tharnin. Yet Vorden's
influence remained. Lannon's nightmares were filled with images of the Hand of
Tharnin bursting forth from the earth to latch onto his throat and of yellow
eyes smoldering in the shadows. Timlin Woodmaster was still firmly under that
influence, plotting Dremlock's demise. Lannon suspected Timlin was behind this
latest attack.

"Looks
like this fortress is no longer safe," said Jerret, partially drawing his
blade, "which probably means you'll end up guarded day and night again."
The muscular, blond-haired Squire glanced nervously along the tunnel. "And
my instincts tell me you should welcome it."

Lannon
nodded. While the Divine Shield that had protected Lannon and Prince Vannas of
the Birlotes had not officially been dissolved, Lannon and his fellow Squires
had been given plenty of freedom to move about unguarded in the fortress.
Lannon had been walking alone through the tunnels--on his way to the Dining
Hall for lunch--before encountering Jerret.

"A
dead Jackal Goblin was also found," Jerret went on. "It was killed in
the same manner as the two Knights. The Jackal was a prisoner being led to the
lower dungeons for study--when the trio was ambushed. Taris wants you to
examine the Jackal's body and learn how it was slain."

Lannon's
mood lightened some at the mention of Taris Warhawk. "Taris is here, in
Dorok's Hand? When did he arrive?"

"A
few hours ago," said Jerret. "He came with a small company of
Knights. I've heard he looks to be in great health."

Lannon
was eager to see Taris, but the news of the slain Knights kept his spirits low.
"I wonder why Taris came here."

Jerret
didn't answer. He yanked his sword free of its sheath. "I'll lead you to
him."

"Put
the sword away," said Lannon, annoyed. "It isn't necessary."
Lannon was weary of Jerret's relentless drive to prove his worth as a Squire.
He feared Jerret was going to meet a wretched fate if he continued along that
path.

Jerret
frowned. "Don't be so sure. And besides, as a member of the Divine Shield,
I'm sworn to guard your life."

Lannon
sighed. "Fine, lead the way then."

But
Jerret hesitated, a new gleam of fear springing into his eyes as he stared past
Lannon down the tunnel. He raised his sword. Chills flooding over him, Lannon
whirled around to see a dark figure standing in the passageway. For an instant
Lannon thought the assassin had found him, and the Eye of Divinity sprang to
life.

But
it was only Shennen Silverarrow, the famed Blue Knight of Dremlock. He
approached them casually, and his face, which bore high cheekbones and seemed a
bit weathered for a Tree Dweller, was emotionless. As usual, his eyes held a
cold and sullen glint. His silver hair was cut short--a rarity for a Birlote.
He was a warrior of such skill and reputation (and short temper) that many of
the other Knights feared him. Although he wasn't a large man, his lean frame
was knotted with muscle and he was extremely swift and agile. But his mastery
of his sword--the terrifying precision with which he carved up his Goblin
foes--was what had earned Shennen most of his respect.

Jerret
breathed a sigh of relief and lowered his sword. Lannon let the Eye falter. The
two Squires bowed.

Shennen
nodded in return. His face looked unusually pale. "There is work to be
done, Lannon. Are you prepared?"

"I'm
ready," said Lannon, though Shennen's tone was so grim that Lannon
actually wasn't so sure.

Shennen's
cold gaze fell on Jerret. "Put your sword away, Squire. Assassin or not,
we walk around with sheathed blades in this fortress."

Frowning,
Jerret sheathed the sword.

"Did
either of you know the Knights who were assassinated?" asked Shennen.
"Blain Goldenhelm and Elbur Fairblade?"

They
both nodded. Lannon had spoken to Blain--an enthusiastic young Grey Dwarf with
a good sense of humor--on several occasions. Elbur Fairblade was a Birlote
archer, and like most of the Tree Dwellers, he'd been quiet and reserved.

"Then
take a moment to grieve," said Shennen, folding his arms across his chest
and bowing his head.

An
awkward silence followed, as Lannon found himself dreading the task of
examining the hideous Jackal Goblin. He wanted to get it over with. He bowed
his head, however, and did grieve for a moment. Finally he looked up, but
Shennen's head was still bowed, and so he lowered his own again. The moments
slipped past as Lannon waited impatiently.

At
last, Shennen looked up and sighed. "Yes, very good. The task that awaits
you will be unpleasant."

Lannon
nodded, his throat dry.

"After
this task is done," said Shennen, "I have yet another task for
you--this one not quite as grim, but...perhaps as equally important. I have
some Goblin bones I would like you to study."

"Goblin
bones?" said Lannon.

"From
a very powerful Goblin," said Shennen, a strange expression on his face.
"I'm speaking of the Great Dragon that died before the gates of this
fortress. But it is still just a pile of bones and nothing to be too concerned
with."

"I
thought the Dragon burned to ash," said Lannon.

Shennen
shook his head. "Some of its bones survived."

"May
I ask why you need my help in examining the bones, Master Shennen?" Lannon
cringed inside at the thought of it.

 
Shennen nodded. "I have a great interest
in studying the remains of the dead--in particular the remains of Goblins.
However, I have reached a barrier I cannot cross. I need to be able to see
things on a deeper level. I believe the Eye of Divinity can provide that. My
research is incredibly important."

 
That last statement failed to inspire Lannon.
He had no desire to go near the bones of the Dragon--a creature that lived on
in his nightmares. Over and over he dreamt of the massive, insect-like monster
with the bodies of its victims dangling from stingers beneath it. He dreamt of
the enormous purple eyes filled with endless depth, as the creature bore down
on him. The Dragon was dead, but its aura remained in Lannon's soul and perhaps
always would. Its presence also seemed to linger before the gates of Dorok's
Hand, a gloomy feel in the air near where the Dragon had fallen. It was almost
as if the creature wasn't truly dead.

"Taris
and Furlus await us in a supply chamber," said Shennen, motioning. With
that, he started off down the tunnel.

Exchanging
an uncertain glance, Lannon and Jerret followed.

"How
is your training progressing?" Shennen asked them, as they navigated the
tunnels. "And I'm referring to your training as Blue Squires."

Neither
Squire answered. Lannon had all but abandoned anything to do with his color
class--instead preferring to train himself in the use of the Eye of Divinity
and general swordplay. Jerret still trained as a Red Squire, in spite of being
ordered to convert to Blue, specializing in close, heavy combat.

"I
see," said Shennen, glancing at them and frowning. "You have
neglected your color class. I'm disappointed, but right now it isn't something
I can concern myself with." His gaze seemed to grow distant. "Too
many greater issues..."

"Are
you okay, Master Shennen," Lannon asked, perplexed by the Blue Knight's
odd behavior. "You seem a bit distracted."

"Distracted?"
mumbled Shennen. "Yes, I am. You'll come to understand why in due time. It
concerns those Dragon bones."

Lannon
wanted to press him for more information, but he sensed Shennen wouldn't take
kindly to it. Lannon could have probed him with the Eye, but he feared to use
his power on a Knight of Shennen's stature unless given no choice, just in case
his attempt at spying was discovered and he was punished for it. Also, Lannon
was not one to violate the Sacred Laws of Dremlock.

But
Jerret wasn't about to stay quiet on the issue. "So what about the
bones?" His eyes lit up. "Could weapons be made from them, like
Lannon's sword?"

Shennen
paused and glanced about slowly, as if scanning the shadows for danger. Then he
said, "Jerret, the bones of a Great Dragon are too evil and dangerous to
be forged into weapons fit for Divine Knights."

"But
my sword isn't evil," said Lannon, wondering why Shennen's gaze was
suddenly fixed on his blade. He grabbed the hilt protectively. "At least,
Taris didn't think so or he wouldn't have bought it for me."

"Taris
was correct," said Shennen. "Your sword is not evil. In fact, it will
adapt to your demeanor over time and become a reflection of it." He
extended his hand. "Give me the sword."

Wondering
what Shennen was planning, Lannon drew the light blade and handed it over.
Lannon had grown very attached to the sword (and the sword to him) and it felt
wrong to part with it. He wanted to snatch it back.

Shennen
examined it in the torchlight. "Such a beautiful weapon--nearly flawless
in design. A blade like this is very rare. Made from a lesser Dragon that was
nothing like the great beast that slew so many of our Knights. Just a small
one, more like a Vulture, but a real Dragon nonetheless. This blade will always
be part of you, Lannon. It can channel and enhance your sorcery."

"I
can't use sorcery," said Lannon. "I never learned how."

Shennen
raised his eyebrows. "Oh, is that so? What do you call the Eye of
Divinity, if not sorcery?"

"But
I can't channel the Eye into a weapon," said Lannon.

Shennen
smirked. "A foolish assumption. A blade like this could indeed receive the
Eye. It has the same potential as Glaetherin--the invincible metal of the
Olrogs. You should try it before you dismiss the possibility."

Lannon
didn't answer out of politeness, but he believed Shennen was mistaken. The Eye
of Divinity didn't work like Knightly sorcery. It didn't generate the magical
fire that made Knightly weapons so dangerous. The Eye could move objects (even
heavy ones, when used on instinct) at a distance, it could shield Lannon's
body, and it could gain hidden knowledge. And apparently the Eye could also
become a deadly, explosive force under the right circumstances--which Tenneth
Bard had discovered to his chagrin during Lannon's last encounter with him. But
it couldn't generate even a flicker of flame. Lannon felt that Shennen simply
didn't understand how the Eye of Divinity worked. Even Taris seemed to know
little about it.

"Well
discuss it later," said Shennen, handing the sword back to Lannon.
"For now, we must concern ourselves with this assassin." He scowled.
"Such a wretched distraction."

"A
distraction from what?" said Lannon. For some unknown reason, Shennen's
words provoked deep anxiety in Lannon

But
Shennen didn't reply.

***

Taris,
Furlus, and Jace were gathered in the shadowy storage room that was lit by a
single small torch, where the dead Jackal Goblin was laying upon crates. Also
present was someone Lannon hadn't seen in a long time--Saranna the Ranger and
her wolf companion Darius. Lannon was pleased to see Taris looking so healthy,
aside from a troubled expression and the permanent cluster of scars where the
Hand of Tharnin had burned one half of the sorcerer's face.

"Greetings,
Lannon," said Taris. His hood was thrown back, and Lannon noticed one of
Taris' pointed ears had also been burned and was nearly closed shut by scars.
The Hand of Tharnin had taken quite a toll on him.

"Lannon
bowed. "Glad to see you're feeling better."

BOOK: Knights: Book 03 - The Heart of Shadows
6.14Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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