The Chronicles of Lumineia: Book 01 - Elseerian

BOOK: The Chronicles of Lumineia: Book 01 - Elseerian
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Elseerian

 

By Ben Hale

 

Copyright 2012 Ben Hale

 

 

 

 

To my family and friends, who believed

 

And to my wife, who is perfect

 

Table of Contents

 

Prologue: The Woodsman

Chapter 1: Elseerian

Chapter 2: The Acabi

Chapter 3: Discoveries

Chapter 4: Throwing Lessons

Chapter 5: Pirates

Chapter 6: Outnumbered

Chapter 7: Thacker's Tale

Chapter 8: Keese

Chapter 9: Escape

Chapter 10: Watchers in the Wood

Chapter 11: The Giant's Shelf

Chapter 12: Azertorn

Chapter 13: The House of Runya

Chapter 14: Tallendale

Chapter 15: Impregnable

Chapter 16: The Drunken Elf

Chapter 17: The Queen and the Quest

Chapter 18: Test of Loyalty

Chapter 19: Terros

Chapter 20: A Thief in the Night

Chapter 21: The Oracle

Chapter 22: Heritage

Chapter 23: The Ravine

Chapter 24: Life and Death

Chapter 25: Answers

Chapter 26: Healing

Chapter 27: Council of War

Chapter 28: The Prophecy

Excerpt from The Gathering

Author Bio

 

Prologue: The Woodsman

 

 

“He was still alive when they found him,” the woodsman said, his voice raspy, like bark being scraped off a tree. “Alive—but he should have been dead with so much blood seeping from his wounds.”

The three soldiers leaned into the firelight, their eyes widening at his words. Cast into shifting patterns of shadow, the woodsman’s expression intensified as a gust of chill wind whistled through the clearing, blowing aside his long black hair to reveal an ugly scar stretching from left shoulder to ear.

“Guided by moonlight, the villagers found him in a clearing. Some of them rushed to his side and struggled to staunch the bleeding. The others huddled into groups and watched the dark forest, terrified that the attacker was still nearby. Everyone knew his skill with a blade, but the hero’s body lay twisted and crumpled, like an empty sack of flour tossed into a corner. Glittering around him the broken shards of steel were all that remained of his powerful weapon.”

“As they pressed against the flowing blood, the dying hero managed to speak four words, ‘Death came for me.’ They paid no attention to his warning—until a tall form in a black cloak separated itself from the shadows nearby. In his hands a wicked scythe hung—still stained with the hero’s life. One by one the villagers froze as they saw the killer approaching, and as the specter of death neared, the cowl lifted to reveal eyes like burning coals.”

“Most of them bolted then. The few that remained claimed they saw Death raise a hand of stark white bone to point at them. Their hearts failing, they scattered. As their screams died in the night, Death stood over Valir, watching him take his last breath.”

The woodsman paused when one of the soldiers, the new recruit, shuddered and pulled his cloak closer. Another drained his ale and glanced at the dark forest with suspicious eyes, his bald head reflecting the firelight as he turned.

“What happened next?” the large one said, louder than necessary, eliciting glares from his companions and more looks into the trees.

The woodsman flashed a grim smile. “Morning light brought a group of heavily armed men to look for the body and search for the mysterious assassin. They found the body, but there was no sign of his killer. No tracks. No scent for the dogs . . . nothing. Not even a single bent blade of grass.”

The young soldier hesitated and then asked, “Is that the same thing that happened to the others?”

The woodsman leaned back into the shadows and considered the question before answering in a low rumble, “Valir is the most recent that I know of, although he is by no means the first. Most of the killings seem to be fighters or leaders.”

At this the soldiers started to relax, but the woodsman cut through their calm in an instant, leaning forward with a growl. “No one is safe. There have been other deaths that appear to be random slayings, villagers, merchants”—he paused and the intensity of his voice chilled the air—“. . . or a simple group of travelers.”

After a moment of stunned silence the large one cut in, glancing uncertainly at his companions. “When did it start?”

“About six months ago,” the woodsman replied, his dark eyes glittering in the firelight. “But no one knows who the killer is, even though the king has sent his best troops to hunt him.”

He shook his head, stabbing a finger at the three men across from him. “If you ask me, someone is
sending
him out. The deaths are just too convenient, too coordinated. You only take out fighters and leaders if you are planning something . . . something big.” His raspy voice darkened at the grim thought, causing them to shudder and pull their weapons closer.

“What about the villagers and travelers though?” the bald man asked in a harsh whisper. “The other murders.”

The woodsman gestured wide, his expression fierce in the firelight. “I’d wager a sack of gold that this Death figure is just a killer. The villagers and soldiers must have been on his way—or in his way—to his real targets,” his voice shifted as he considered his own words.

After a moment of silence the fire snapped and all three of the soldiers started. “Relax,” said their guide, his rough voice turning mild. “We’ll be fine, but we should turn in. If we push it, we should reach the king tomorrow before nightfall.”

With that said, he drained the mug of ale he’d been nursing before grabbing his bedroll and moving away from the fire. Striding into the cold wind he tossed his blankets next to a large oak tree at the edge of the clearing. Long experience had taught him to sleep with his back to something. It might be a colder spot to sleep, but it had proven to be safer.

The three soldiers remained at the fire for several moments until the youngest rose to his feet and strolled to his own blanket. Attempting nonchalance, the others stretched before sauntering towards their bedrolls. Despite their forced calm, each man subtly moved their blankets a little closer to the fire. They probably would have been more apprehensive if they knew the thoughts of their companion.

The attacks had steadily become more frequent.

In the beginning they had occurred only once every few weeks, and were scattered in the far eastern villages. Now a corpse was found almost every day, with some only a day’s ride from the king’s own castle. Messages from towns and homesteads had been flooding to the king, begging for troops to protect them.

The woodsman was one such messenger, and had travelled from the far eastern villages to inform the king of an unknown disease that was spreading throughout that region. Reluctantly leaving his wife and two children, he had already been on the road for over two weeks, pushing his steed as hard as he dared.

Shedding weight to gain speed, he had also elected to get supplies on the way, but food had been unusually scarce. Even hunters or traveling tradesmen had little to offer. In the last town he had passed, the woodsman had met the soldiers at the tavern. Traveling in the same direction, it didn’t take long for them to depart together.

Hungry for answers, the men had pried him for new tales, and he did his best to deliver. Having lived through other times of rumor and strife, the woodsman knew well the signs of fear and the whispers of war, but this was different. Something . . . intangible permeated everyone—and everything. You could see it in the abrupt, suspicious looks that had replaced warm, open smiles. Hurried footsteps and jerky movements gave subtle evidence that everyone they met felt it too. Even the woods felt dampened. Birds sang less, the breeze carried a hostile edge, and the shade from trees loomed like the shadows of angry giants.

It was the first time in his life he did not feel at home in the woods.

Rationally, he knew there was nothing to fear. They were not at war with anyone, as far as he knew, and even the northern tribes had been quiet. But he still couldn’t shake the sinking foreboding that hung like a shroud. Sighing in a vain effort to shake the unease, he glanced into the shadows—

—a pair of red lights flickered through the trees to the east. His blood froze as he felt his heart begin to pound. Normally he would have passed it off as too much ale, but not with the tales of late. Unable to stop himself, he eased his sword free from its scabbard. Fighting to keep his breath slow, he focused all his senses on the surrounding area, straining for any sign . . .

At first there was nothing . . . then he began to feel the hair on the back of his neck stand up. Like a winter's wind, fear pierced his cloak and clawed at his heart. One of the men straightened—his eyes wide and his hand already reaching for the weapon at his side. The other two finally felt it and were quick to palm their blades as well, twisting when a snort from the horses betrayed their own terror. Smoothly rising and moving towards the fire, the big woodsman readied his sword.

“If we stand together we may have a chance,” he growled, and the soldiers stumbled to join him.

Whistling wind and the crackling flames were the only sounds until a sinister shadow drifted out of the darkness. The soldier directly in front of him shouted in alarm and leapt back to the others, who whirled in its direction. Despite the tale they had just heard, the description in the story could not have portrayed what stood before them.

As it moved closer, firelight revealed a menacing figure in a tall black cloak and cowl. Dark red ovals simmered and burned where eyes should have been. Hands of bone protruded from the sleeves, holding the shaft of a long black scythe pulsing with red veins on both handle and blade. A loud snap of leather caused all four of them to jump and look at the horses, only to watch as the three soldiers’ mounts disappeared into the trees.

Unsure of what to do, the soldiers moved closer together while the woodsman took a step away. Then the young one leapt in with a yell. “Stop, you fool!” the woodsman shouted—but it was too late. The killer turned aside the thrust and dispatched the man in a single blow. The silent thud of his body hitting the ground caused the group to gasp. Collectively they took a few steps back, placing the fire between them and the assassin before them.

“We might survive if we fight together!” the woodsman said, his voice savage. “Move apart and flank him.” Responding better to orders, the men separated. A moment later they attacked as one. A coordinated attack from three sides would have dispatched almost anyone, but the assassin didn’t even give ground. Scythe hit steel in a dizzying display of skill, blocking every attack that came near until their initial charge slowed, allowing an opening.

Blocking one slash, Death glided in to cut another one of the soldiers down, slicing him nearly in two. As the bald man screamed his final breath, the survivors fought with the fury of desperation, but to no avail. Finding another opportunity against only two didn’t take long. Crying out in agony, the last soldier fell to leave the woodsman alone.

Realizing he didn’t have a chance, he spun and leapt towards his own horse, still tethered to a tree. Just as he mounted, a final swing from the scythe gouged deep into his right thigh. Gritting his teeth against the pain, he kicked the horse and yelled for all he was worth. The already frightened animal snapped the lead and bolted out of the clearing to carry his rider to safety.

As the woodsman galloped into the night, Death surveyed the carnage for only a moment before melting back into the shadows from which he’d come. A dying fire and three cooling corpses remained when the only survivor dared to look back.

 

Chapter 1: Elseerian

 

 

Taryn Elseerian’s eyes snapped open and he scanned his surroundings for what had woken him. Focusing his attention on his senses, the half elf directed his slightly pointed ears to listen intently. At first glance, the young man might have passed for an elf except for his eyes and hair. Eyes of dark blue, very unlike the sky blue of the elven race, pierced the shadowed room from under his hair, which hung thick, wavy, and dark red around his face. He had been told too many times to count that his hair looked like a dwarf’s.

BOOK: The Chronicles of Lumineia: Book 01 - Elseerian
6.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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