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1. The Grail Empire: Forest of Night
Eighteen remained of the seventy Chosen who had departed chill Sparmargen, holy hunters headed south. Most had been injured or were wounded. Five had to be kept tied into their saddles. Once they stopped outside the gateway they discovered that Drengtin Skyre had been dead so long his corpse was cold. His pony was in a state of supernatural angst.
There was nothing remarkable about the gateway. It was an opening in a rail fence. On this side there was ice and a frosting of hard snow.akes. A manic wind hurled dead leaves about aimlessly. The world beyond the fence might be warmer. The leaves there were sodden. The wind could not pick them up.
The ragged, pale pilgrims with the bones and small skulls in their hair stared at the wintered wood. Something built of gray stone could just be discerned through the skeletal trees. Each sacred assassin hoped their quarry was there, so this harsh quest could be brought to an end.
From among them came Krepnight, the Elect. He wore somewhat human form. He was a divine artifact. His left hand had seven .ngers. His right bore six. His toes matched that pattern. He had no hair on him anywhere. His skin seemed impossibly taut and shiny and shone a sickly snot green with irregular patches of deep reddish brown. His cheekbones were exaggerated. His eyes were those of a great cat. His teeth were sharp and numerous and serrated at their back edges.
Krepnight, the Elect, had sprung forth full- grown from the imagination of Kharoulke the Windwalker. He existed for one purpose. Its target lay just a bit more than an arrow’s .ight ahead.
Krepnight, the Elect, urged his frightened mount forward. He ignored the sign beside the gateway, beware the wolves and were, in faded Brothen capitals. He could not read, anyway.
Nor could many of his companions. None, the language of this land.
Krepnight, the Elect, paused after a four- hundred- yard advance. He faced a small castle from barely a hundred feet. Its drawbridge was down, spanning a wet moat eight feet wide.
Krepnight, the Elect, could not cross running water without help. The water in the moat was in motion.
Water was not relevant.
An arrow slammed into the artifact’s chest. It drove through till fourteen inches protruded from his back. The shaft was thick, oak, tipped with armor- piercing iron. Krepnight, the Elect, rocked back after the impact, then just sat petri.ed in his saddle.
Brittle cold air swirled round him. He felt every breath.
He could do nothing.
Two old men came across the drawbridge. One carried an iron shovel, the other a rusty bill. Shovel man took the reins of the divine artifact’s mount and led him away, the horse quaking in terror. A hundred yards on, at the brink of a gully, the bill man used his tool to unseat the rider, who tumbled into the little ravine.
Both old men shoveled and dragged dirt, sticks, stones, and fallen leaves onto the immobile body.
The light went away. A long time passed. Ravens watched quietly from the trees. Wolves came to consider the fallen artifact and be amused by his misfortune.
In time, the pilgrim’s companions found the divine artifact. They dug him out. One broke the heavy arrow and drew the shaft. Krepnight, the Elect, shook off the dirt and leaves and got his feet under him. The crows above chattered eloquently about this grand practical joke. The wolves kept their distance but their body language bespoke cruel contempt.
There were shamans among the Chosen. They stayed close as Krepnight, the Elect, resumed his advance on the castle. They suppressed the power of the water. A dozen men were within touching distance as Krepnight, the Elect, crossed that drawbridge and carried his god’s will into the rustic citadel.
A blinding .ash. A vast roar. A thousand needles of agony. An irrevocable death for Krepnight, the Elect, and all who walked with him.
While the corpses still shook and twitched wolves hit every man who had passed the warning sign.
Three younger riders, left outside by their captain, .ew off to report the disaster.
Ravens followed. Mocking.
The Night knows no special love for those who consider themselves its own. Of the three, two fell victim to ruthless minor Instrumentalities. The last was too mad to report anything useful when he did win through.
His return was information enough.
His god rewarded him as gods do. It devoured him. Excerpted from Surrender To The Will Of The Night by Glen Cook.
Copyright © 2010 by Glen Cook.
Published in November 2010 by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.