The following excerpt is from Praetors of Lost Magic: Book 1: The Mage’s Gambit, which is a book I plan to publish in the near future. I have decided to post a teaser on the blog. This is one of the parts in the story that required the most editing for me, and I hope you enjoy!
Adrianna had tracked them thus far, but had yet to find out anything other than what she already knew. They had hung out in the bar for some time, and then had exited with a stranger. Who this was she didn’t know, but it only added more to the mystery. She was now staking out just outside the hotel and waiting.
Suddenly, just to the right of the main door, several dark shapes moved under the cover of the shadows. There were about seven of them. They were armed, and they drew their swords. It looked like a raid.
Adrianna still laid low.
Koren tossed and turned. Sleep eluded him. Only hours before, Xan had taught him his first combative magic: mid-level fire. Koren had performed the spell beautifully, and this boosted his self-esteem considerably. This performance wrung a chuckle from William, and an enigmatic smile from Xan. A good man, but he seemed strange in several accounts.
William and Xan had gone to sleep, but Koren could not. He rolled and adjusted, believing that if Xan had taught him a spell for helping to fall asleep it would have been more useful.
Finally, he sat up in bed. In the meager room which Xan had purchased for the night, there were four beds, each accommodating a member of their motley band minus one. Xan was making snores much more suited to a man much younger than he was.
Koren slipped into his clothes and left the room. Padding down the stairs with as little noise as he could manage, he slipped down to the lobby, where there was a semi-well-operational water dispenser. Taking the cup that was chained to the dispenser, he filled it and took a swig. Awful. He filled it again and took another swig.
Suddenly, something felt wrong. Out of place. Koren could sense it. He seemed to smell it in the air, almost taste it in his mouth: bitterness, malice. It was as if some bitter smell had wafted by, or an ugly person had reared his head. Although this had a certain…allure to it. Full of power…
Suddenly, the door into the hotel splintered and cracked. Someone was forcing it open. Instinctively, Koren melded into the shadows. His hand went for his sword, only to curse himself for not grabbing it before leaving his room. The door shuddered with another crack. The hinges were becoming loose. Murmurs were heard throughout the inn. The people inside were beginning to wake.
The door suffered a final blow, and it shattered into splinters. Then, almost faster than the eye could follow, figures in uniform began to stream in. Maybe ten, at most. They were in black-and-red robes, and at their sides and backs they carried axes and swords. The weapons were fascinating. They were inlaid with red gems, and ornately carved handles. Before they could pass the lobby, however, they would have to get past Koren Hrothgaard, Eldari-Mage-in-training.
Stepping out, he confronted them, not a weapon in his hand. The tactic was foolish, but seemed strangely appropriate.
“What brings you here, fools?” He said, either with foolishness or bravery; probably foolishness.
The man who had led the assault, seeming to be the leader, stepped forward. A hood obscured his face from view. “I am no fool,” He snarled. “Out of my way.”
Koren said nothing, but closed his eyes and recited the fire spell. An inferno blazed to life in his hand, and he unleashed it on his opponent. The other man seemed to be taken by surprise.
Before the blaze hit him, he held his gem-inlaid sword in front of him and recited another spell. The blaze vanished, not leaving a wisp of smoke. Koren was dumbfounded.
“Very well done,” He mused. “Master Kanesh did see something in you.” Gesturing to his comrades, he said, “Warlocks, capture the lad. Kill the others.”
“Oh, and it’s that easy, eh?” Called an intrepid voice from above.
William lunged from the shadows with a long knife, plunging it into the chest of one of the goons. Xan emerged, casting bolts of lightning from his hands. The attacks caught the scoundrels off guard, and they fell reeling back. A small skirmish developed as Koren ran back to his room for his sword.
William lunged through the air, seeming to enjoy the battle. Cutting and ducking, he swung around and lacerated his opponents’ throats, sending them gagging to the floor. He didn’t use a single spell, but that wasn’t too odd. He looked as if he wanted to show off, though.
By now, the small bunch of warlocks had been reduced to two men, the leader and his wounded ally. Xan struck the wounded man down with a burst of flame. The leader tried to escape through the ruined door but William tackled him and drew him up with a knife to his throat.
“Now, what will we do with you?” He said, musing.
Xan walked up. “You’re Kul’nah Warlocks, aren’t you?” He said. “Cooperate, and we’ll let you live.”
“I’d rather die than cooperate with you, scum!” Said the leader, a little strangled but still defiant.
“As you wish,” Said Xan, steadfast. “William, end him.” The blade pressed tighter against the leader’s neck, and a trickle of blood fell from the nick. Evidently William and Xan had the same goal in mind: information through fear.
Their captive seemed to grow singularly more eager. “I mean…” He sputtered, trying to edge himself away from William’s blade. “I was sent by my master, to kill you, and take the boy…” Here he coughed again.
“Who is your master?” Asked Xan.
“Vaviena Kanesh…” He said, with a note of reverence to his voice. “She knows all, sees all, and gives all…”
“What are you saying?” Said Xan, fear beginning to edge its way into his voice.
“The darkness has returned, wizard.” The leader’s eyes focused on Xan’s. “We have returned. The world requires purification by blood and fire. Chaos shall reign…All…shall be free.”
Those were the last words the warlock said. In a swift motion, William decapitated him, the enemy’s head rolling into a dark corner, twitching.
Koren rushed back into the room, sword in hand. In an instant, he knew that the battle was over. He saw the spattered blood and the decapitated warriors around him.
“Mind telling me who these guys were?” Asked Koren, sticking his sword in his belt.
“Don’t know. Probably pirates or raiders.” Said William. Xan remained silent, as if deep in thought. “Anyway, they’re mincemeat now.”
But the battle was not yet over. Another form moved in the shadows, but Koren was in his room, and Xan and William were momentarily occupied. It took a position above the two men, and readied itself. A small dribble of drool dripped from the corner, though no sound emerged.
Suddenly, the creature pounced. Xan and William turned around to see a massive, black, dripping blur fly out of one of the corners straight towards them.
But they were in for another surprise. Another figure charged through the door with a yell and rammed a sword into the body of the surprise beast, which threw it to the ground. The figure was hard to guess in the darkness, and both men leapt forward to see what was happening.
The two figures rolled into a corner, where the massive form twitched and struggled, and then clearly died. The figure raised to its feet and sheathed its sword. Xan and William stood at the ready.
“Can’t you learn to take care of yourselves?” Said a female voice, stepping into better light. “Or do I have to save you from everything?”
“Captain Numa.” Said Xan, instantly on his guard. “I thought we had an understanding…”
“And I thought you needed help.” Said she, prodding the body of the beast with her foot. “You’re welcome. This is a second-generation Spawn, fighter class. Magically enhanced, by my reckoning. You must have some powerful enemies…”
Xan was silent, but went over to the corner and examined the beast. William and Adrianna heard his slight intake of breath. It sounded a lot like a gasp, only slightly different. He continued to prod the body, though.
“What you say is true.” Said Xan, rising. “This is indeed a Hunter Spawn. By my estimate. One created by magical meddling.” He inclined his head grudgingly toward Adrianna. “You’re right. But what are you doing here? Are you following us?”
“Hold on.” Said William, eyeing Adrianna with a flattering look. His eyes dilated. “Who’s small, fair and pretty over there?” He cocked an eyebrow and shot a roguish smile at Adrianna. “What’s your name, sweetie?”
Adrianna stood with wonder at this handsome stranger. She flushed and stuttered: “I’m Adrianna Numa…Who are you?”
“I’m William Khan.” Said William. “And, to reiterate what my friend here said…Why are you here, and are you following us?”
“Uh, yes…” Said Adrianna. “And I have been following you since the battle in the forest.”
“But why?” Asked Xan.
“You know something about my father.” Said Adrianna. “Something that I don’t. Something that you’re not telling me. And I need to know.”
Xan was silent for a moment. “There are some things better left in the dark.” He said. “I cannot give you the information that you want.”
“I can call off the Knights, get them off your tail.” Said Adrianna. “Just tell me. I need to know where he is if he’s still alive. Or if he’s truly dead, I want to know how he died. I’ve done my research, I know that the government doesn’t know and doctored his file so none would go looking for him–”
“All you need to know is that he’s still alive.” Said Xan shortly. “I’m sorry.”
Adrianna was silent for a moment. “Then take me with you.” She said. “If there’s no other way you can tell me, just let me make it up to you. If I can’t find my father, then maybe you can. Please.” She was pleading now. She wasn’t about to collapse on her knees, but she was far more desperate than she let on.
Koren piped up before Xan could. “We could use your help anyway.” He said. “Traveling in numbers. We’ll be safer. That’s okay, right, Xan?” he said, looking at Xan with a meaningful look.
Xan was unreadable. His eyes gazed at Adrianna mysteriously. Then he spoke. “We must move.” He said. “In my stronghold, we will be safe. Gather your things,” He finished, going from the room abruptly. William wiped his hands on his trousers.
“Well, that’s finished,” He said with a lighthearted air, as if they had only been hauling potato baskets. “Are you hurt, gorgeous?”
Adrianna tossed her hair and smiled at him, not wholly disdainful. But she turned her thoughts to the subject that was just settled: Adrianna still didn’t know what she was getting herself into, but she knew two things for sure: any risk was acceptable for the chance of finding her father alive, but she still didn’t quite trust those grey-green eyes of the Eldari Mage…
Soon, the four travelers were out on the open road. They were heading north, and the ground was covered in a thick frost. They had been ambushed around 5 o’clock, so they persevered all that dark morning and into the next day. Cold winds whirled about them. Soon, night was falling. The four travelers stopped and set up camp, eating their scant supper.
William and Koren finished first. “Come on, kid.” Said William, standing up. “That old wizard can’t be the only one to teach you tricks. Lemme show you something…”
Koren stood up eagerly and followed William out into the distance. This left Adrianna and Xan together, eating slowly to make their meal last longer.
“Tell me about my father,” Said Adrianna, suddenly laying her bowl aside. “You knew him more than even I did. What was he like?”
Xan pondered this for a moment, over a spoonful of stew. He didn’t appear to be angry, or even resentful. But he was very mysterious. “He was…a great man.” Xan said quietly. “He was kind. Quiet, well-reserved. My friend.”
Adrianna watched in silence. “Was he ever unhappy?” She asked.
“Never,” Said Xan. “He possessed a calm and gentle composure all the time. He never lost his temper, not once. He loved nature, the birds and the beasts…” He paused. He was talking of Oko like some kind of hero. To Adrianna, he was.
They both fell silent, finishing the remains of their stew. “Those guys back there were Kul’nah Warlocks?” Se asked.
Xan nodded. “The ancient enemy of the Eldari Mages.” He said, his voice close to a whisper. “They seem to have survived. They must have been overlooked, for their numbers are too small. If we see them again, it’ll be too soon…”