Authors: Isaac Crowe
OUTCASTS OF VELRUNE
by Isaac Crowe
Copyright 2013 by Isaac Crowe
First Print Edition: June 2014
Art by Nick Jordon Beja
Edited by Angela Bernardi
Thanks to my family and friends who read the early drafts of this book. My biggest thanks and my love goes to my wife who encouraged me to continue to write after seeing the first chapter. Spook also sends her thanks. If not for my wife, her role would have ended much earlier.
I can be found on the web at http://isaaccrowe.weebly.com
A note form the illustrator:
Hello my name is Nick Jordan Beja. I'm an artist (and average guy) from the Philippines. You can view my gallery at: http://nickbeja.deviantart.com or contact me at [email protected]
Have a great day!
At six years of age, this was the first time Maxwell had left the city, or even its inner court. He had imagined the whole city to be like his finely hewed stone house that sat in a neat row with other homes. The endless, winding rows of poorly made apartments outside the inner court came as a disappointing surprise made even worse by the throng of people who flowed up and down the streets like rain in the gutters. Max breathed a sigh of relief when they reached the outer gates, despite the looks of concern from the guards.
The freeing feeling of leaving the city did not last long. They soon rode into a large rock canyon that had endless, twisting passageways branching off on either side. As his dad pushed them onward hour after hour, Max began to wish they had stayed in the city. His legs started to get sore from straddling the horse, and to make it worse, he couldn’t ride with his dad. Instead, he rode with Mr. Penna, his dad’s friend, who kept a firm grip on him.
Near dusk they reached a small, walled camp. A meager fire burned at its center. His dad placed them as far as he could from the fire’s light. Maxwell started to wander off to explore the camp, but a firm grip on his shoulder stopped him.
“Max, stay close to us.”
“But, I just wanted to see…”
“I know Max, but not tonight, okay?”
Max searched his father’s face. His eyes burned with an intensity he had not seen before.
Max sat down next to his dad, who relaxed a little, and handed a piece of bread to Mr. Penna.
“I’m sorry you are involved with this, Chiron.”
Mr. Penna took the piece of bread. “You still have not told me exactly what has happened, Peter.”
“And now is still not the time, I’m afraid. We must reach the other side of the dead lands before they realize we are gone.”
“And who are
“I have made enemies within the Protectors, Chiron.”
“By helping the lacarna, I assume?”
Peter nodded, “Yes.”
Chiron let out a soft chuckle. “I have broken a few rules myself, Peter.”
Peter gave a small smile. “Your work in the auction houses has been invaluable, but I have taken actions in direct opposition to Lord Avram. Now I have endangered myself, my son, and my friend.”
Mr. Penna grew serious. “I made my own choices; do not add me to your burden. As for you and Max, leaving the Protectors is wise. They have become corrupted.”
Max saw a tinge of anger rise in his father. “Many of the Protectors are still good, Chiron, only misled. One day, I will set things straight. I must - for the lacarna and for Max. For now, we hide.”
“You believe that if we stay out of the way they will leave you alone?”
“That is my hope. That is why we are going through the dead lands and then east to Hedgewood; few Protectors venture that way.”
“And if you are wrong and they come after you?”
“Then we move again to some place even more remote. I must keep Max safe until he can stand on his own, until he can choose for himself whether to be involved or not.”
Mr. Penna remained silent for a few moments. “Very well.”
Peter nodded then turned to the camp entrance. “I’ll keep first watch. If any messengers arrive we will leave immediately. Otherwise, we wait until first light.” Peter turned to look over his shoulder. “My friend, if something should happen, teach Maxwell only what we both believe should be. The Immortals put the Protectors in place to provide justice and peace. Someone needs to hold onto that ideal even if it is false. When later he sees differently, I hope he will fix the things that I could not.”
“I have my doubts things can be changed, Peter, but, as your friend, I will do as you say.”
Peter nodded and turned back to the camp entrance. Max tried to follow his father, but Mr. Penna took his hand.
“Maxwell, come next to me. Your father does not need any distractions right now.”
Max slid next to Mr. Penna and laid down to sleep for the night. He remained awake a while; however, as he watched his dad sit and stare up at the night sky.
In the morning they left the camp and rode out across the wasteland for several long days. Max wondered if they had enough food to reach wherever they were going. They had left in a hurry, packing little, and stopping for only a few minutes at a big stone church in a beautiful garden at the far edge of the city. There, his dad had left a small wooden box.
Max perked up when they finally reached a steep path leading up onto a grassy plain. The place seemed a lot more welcoming to him, but every now and then he caught his dad glancing nervously behind them.
Max grew more and more concerned as they rode through the night. His dad always remained calm and in charge. He recalled once when his dad stepped between two fighting men and scolded them like they were children causing a ruckus. His dad feared nothing, at least not until now. Max could feel it, and as the night wore on, he fell into a troubled sleep.
In his dream he stood in the streets of Moenia, the city they had left. Before him stood a big dog that growled at him. Max took a step back. The dog inched forward. Max turned and ran as hard as he could. He stole a glance over his shoulder and saw that the dog followed close behind, barking. He could sense the dog’s jaws snapping at his heels. Then he saw his dad running beside him. Max expected him to stop and chase the dog away, but his dad snatched him up instead without breaking stride. Max didn’t understand why his dad didn’t turn and fight the dog, but as he looked back, he saw several more join the first.
Max jerked awake to a shouting multitude. The horse shifted about underneath them. Mr. Penna’s arms tightened around him. Max spotted swords that gleamed in the moonlight. His father sat on his horse surrounded by the shining swords. Peter drew his own sword and made two downward thrusts before several hands grabbed at his leg and pulled him to the ground. Max cried out, struggling against Mr. Penna’s tight grasp. The men dove at his father. Fear swept over Max as the swords clanged together. Sparks flying from their impacts.
Suddenly, the attackers were shoved back, and in the center stood his father. The stories his father told him of the great Protectors appeared in Max‘s mind. Those heroic warriors who stood their ground and defeated everything that came their way. Max smiled. He knew his father would come out on top.
Max watched as several of the men rushed inward. With a sweep of his blade, his father easily struck them down. The others paused before turning and running off. The battle was over in minutes.
Mr. Penna relaxed the arm he had wrapped around Max. Max took a deep breath. They rode over to Peter, but before Mr. Penna could dismount, Peter waved for him to stop. Mr. Penna tried to smile, but Max heard the concern in his voice.
“It is hard to tell in the moonlight, Peter, but they seem to have given you a few wounds at least.”
Peter, hunched over and breathing heavily, straightened and returned the half-hearted smile. “A few, but I’ll manage. Those that got away may bring reinforcements. We need to keep moving. Are you okay, Max?”
Max nodded absently as he stared at all the dark spots on his dad’s armor.
Peter looked down at his armor. The metal shimmered in the moonlight, except where the blood covered it. He shook his head.
“It’s not mine, Max. It’s from the bandits.”
Max had his doubts.
Mr. Penna looked around. “Hedgewood is still a few days ride to the East; however, if I remember the map correctly, we are only an hour’s ride from the road that leads to Pike. From there we go southwest for another hour to Pike itself where we can find a healer.”
Peter nodded. “Alright, Pike it is.”
With great effort Peter climbed back onto his horse. He seated himself and spurred the horse onward. They flew through the night. Max cringed at the loud hoof beats, afraid the bandits would be able to follow the sound. At the intersection of the southern road, the horses cornered hard, their hooves flinging dirt high into the air. Max held on tight and strained his eyes for any sign of a town.
Relief flooded Max when, at last, the light from the oil lamps of Pike shone in the distance. The light grew stronger, and houses began to take shape when, to Max’s horror, his father’s horse veered off the road. Max’s mind raced back to the blood he had seen on his dad’s armor, and his stomach twisted in fear. Mr. Penna jerked on his horse’s reins and followed after Max’s father.
“Peter! Peter, we are almost there. Try and steer Starlight back to the right.”
“No,” came a weak and labored response. “It’s... too easy... to find. We… can’t stop here.”
Peter continued his course, skirting around the outside of the town. Mr. Penna pushed his horse harder and came up beside Starlight. He tried to grab her reins, but nearly lost his hold on Max in the process.
“Peter, we need to get you to a healer immediately.”
Peter fought to speak every word. “Town…too close…farther.”
“I don’t know if there is another town, Peter!”
Peter nodded to the field in front of them. “Road.”
Max saw a lone pair of lamps that marked the sides of another road leading out of the town. Max heard panic in Mr. Penna’s voice for the first time.
“Peter, the map I had showed that road going back towards the dead lands.”
Peter turned Starlight to follow the road. “This way.”
Max recognized the determination in his father’s voice. He knew Mr. Penna would not be able to stop his father. Mr. Penna knew too, as he spoke no more. Instead, he followed Peter along the road. Max tried to stay awake and keep an eye on his dad, but the panic of the battle and the fear of his dad‘s injuries sapped his strength. He began to drift off to sleep.
A strange voice jerked Max awake. “Bring him in here!”
Mr. Penna still held him, but they no longer sat on the horse. In front of him, several people helped his father down from Starlight. Max watched them carry him into a nearby house. From behind him, a loud thump made both he and Mr. Penna jump and turn. On the ground lay the horse they had been riding, struggling to breathe.
A calm, authoritative voice rang out over the crowd. “Bring the others.”
Several hands grabbed hold of them. The villagers ushered Mr. Penna and Max through a second doorway in the same house where they had taken his father. Inside, the villagers led them to a few chairs against one of the walls. Mr. Penna seated himself and held Max in his lap.
The villagers wasted no time in bombarding them with questions. “Who are you?” “Where did you ride in from?” “Were you attacked by bandits?”
The commotion overwhelmed Max. Mr. Penna struggled to answer. After a few minutes, a man stepped in from the adjoining room, hushing the crowd of people. He then turned to speak to Mr. Penna.
“Your friend has been badly hurt. Luckily, our Healer is one of the best and most determined around. She will fix him up, but, for now, all we can do is wait.”
Mr. Penna nodded his head wearily. “Thank you.”
“Now, I do have a few questions for you, as we are not used to having strangers show up in the middle of the night; at least not the friendly kind. But first…” The man turned his attention to the crowded room and motioned the people toward the door. “All right, everyone out.”