Astalus has returned bearing good news. He has found an Eldric spell book and, in particular, a spell to summon dragons. The allies march north to confront the Trosgarth's growing might, but the people of Trosgarth have been busy. Warrior priests can now communicate across the battlefield using their shaol, death knights have been resurrected, and in the air grakyn are supported by a new threat--a demon/dragon hybrid. To make matters worse, Astalus discovers that the power that Kaplyn and Vastra recovered so long ago can open a permanent gateway to the demon world. Drachar is finally free and he and all his minions will march from the very depths of hell.
Astalus knows all of this through a demon that has possessed him. The army marches to its fate, unaware of the trap awaiting them. Prince Fiad leads them. Will he be the army's salvation or damnation? The men mutter, uncomfortable in the knowledge that, at the final battle, a king will not lead them against the tides of evil. Drachar is poised, his death knights ready to tear the army apart.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.50(d)|
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Kaplyn wearily shifted his weight as he kept watch over the small camp. It was dark. Not the complete blackness he had become accustomed to during the recent battles ? that had been unbearable. Now faint moonlight bathed the land, enabling him to see the silhouettes of the surrounding hills and thick gorse that grew in profusion in this part of Thrace.
Even though he could see, he still glanced down at his unsheathed sword. The onyx metal remained dull, reassuring him there were no krell or demons in the vicinity. If there had been, then it would have glowed blue in warning. The wild was a dangerous place, made more so after the recent battles. Roving bands of defeated enemy had fled to the surrounding lands, seeking to escape to their homelands. Kaplyn and his companions were far beyond the range of any help, and, to make matters worse, their journey was taking them north, deeper into enemy territory.
Absently he fingered the scar on his chest, the cold, crystalline surface felt alien. He shuddered as he recalled the final days of the battle at CarCamel and being spurned by those closest to him. His thoughts turned to Catriona, the newly crowned Thracian Queen, and her memory tugged painfully at his heart.
He tried to dispel his gloomy thoughts, contemplating instead the men who had chosen to accompany him: Lars, Lomar and especially Tumarl, who was such an enigma. He had sworn vengeance against the krell for the death of his family, a tortured soul who could find no peace. And yet strangely, of the three men, Kaplyn felt he understood Tumarl the most. The loss of Kaplyn's family and friends was a difficult burden, and he felt guilty that he could have prevented their deaths. It would be too easy to become like Tumarl, to live only for the moment, seeking war against his enemies and losing himself in that single goal.
Kaplyn tried to focus on the task at hand and his eyes searched the surrounding night. Suddenly, a nagging feeling that he was not alone swept over him. His blade remained dull but, even still, his discomfort grew. He laid down his sword, taking up his bow and reaching for an arrow.
"Hold," a voice commanded from somewhere alarmingly close. Kaplyn's heart was racing and, although his bow was strung, he did not have an arrow to hand.
"Put your weapon down and back away," the voice said.
Kaplyn hesitated and considered calling to his friends. "A bolt is aimed at your heart," the voice growled.
Kaplyn stood, backing away from his weapons, inwardly cursing himself for daydreaming. A shape detached itself from the gorse closest to Kaplyn. The silhouette was shorter than Kaplyn but much broader across the shoulders. Other shapes peeled away from the shadows.
Behind him he heard firstly Lomar's and then Lars' voices as they were woken. Tumarl's angry shouts filled the air, and there followed sounds of a scuffle before silence abruptly descended.
A fire was lit and Kaplyn was forced to sit close to the flames. Lars was jostled to sit opposite him and two of their captors appeared dragging Tumarl's unconscious body between them. Then Lomar joined them, his pale complexion standing out in stark contrast to the dark of the night.
In the light of the flames, it was the first chance Kaplyn had to see their captors and the realisation sent a shock through his soul.
He did not know whether they were friendly or not for recently there had been little contact between the races.
"Well ? they are not krell," one of the dwarves stated, joining the others by the fire. His tone suggested disappointment. "But I'll warrant that fellow is a demon," he said, pointing his axe blade at Lomar whose scarlet eyes marked him in stark contrast to the others.
"He's not a demon," Kaplyn interrupted, seeking to dispel their fears. "We are enemies of Trosgarth."
One of the dwarves snorted. "Then more fool you, travelling abroad with so many krell about."
More dwarves joined them about the fire, carrying the captured weapons. One dwarf held Kaplyn's blade in his hand and he looked on it in wonder. "It's Eldric made!"
"Let me see it," demanded another. Kaplyn tried to turn to see the dwarf who spoke but was shoved by one of the captives. "Keep facing the fire," a voice warned.
Behind him several dwarves muttered in surprise, but he could not tell what was said. Instead he looked at the dwarves opposite. They were not as he had imagined; they were too grim for one thing. They were also taller than he imagined, although the tallest still barely reached Kaplyn's shoulder. Otherwise, they were similar to that in his imagination; each wore a long beard, plaited and tucked into broad leather belts from which hung decorative pouches and other objects that Kaplyn did not understand. Their tunics were of tanned leather, their trousers were made from wool and they wore sturdy boots, laced up to their knees. They favoured dark colours, possibly to help them blend into the night, and each carried a double-headed axe.
A gasp by his side made him want to look around, but after his earlier warning he refrained. "That one there," he heard one of the captors saying.
Two dwarves came to stand in front of Lars. One was carrying the big man's axe in his broad hands and, even though it was huge by comparison to his own weapon, he looked more than comfortable with it. Lars looked up from where he sat, remaining silent, the fire highlighting the ginger streaks in his otherwise blond beard.
"Where did you get this?" one of the dwarves asked.
"We found it in Tanel, an Eldric city," Lars answered.
The dwarves murmured excitedly.
"Are you one of the Eldric?" the dwarf questioned.
Smiling, the big man shook his head.
"You are certainly not a dwarf," the other stated. Lars stood and he towered over the dwarves, causing them to take a step backwards. "If it was not for your height, I would have judged you to be one of us," the dwarf stated. "Never before have I met a race who favour the axe." The dwarf bowed before Lars, although the others still eyed the group darkly, clearly not yet convinced they were friends.
One of the dwarves stepped forward and Kaplyn marked him to be their leader. He was older than the others were and his beard was greying. "You are our prisoners and must be judged by our King."
"We cannot," Kaplyn stated bluntly. "We are on an important quest. The people in CarCamel are relying on us."
"Bind and gag them," the dwarf ordered, ignoring Kaplyn. "Free their horses. We dwarves prefer to walk!" Strong hands grabbed Kaplyn, nearly lifting him from the grass as his hands were bound behind his back. A coarse cloth was pushed into his mouth. He could hardly breathe; inwardly he cursed.
Some of the dwarves tried to rouse Tumarl, shaking him until he came around and then setting him on his feet where he swayed alarmingly.
Then the fire was doused, plunging them back into darkness. With dwarves flanking them, they set off into the night. Occasionally, Kaplyn stumbled and each time strong hands prevented him from falling, but there was little compassion in their grip and swiftly he was herded on. He tried to remember what he knew about the dwarves, but his knowledge was scant. For many generations contact had been lost between the races, partly due to the remoteness of Thandor, the dwarves' ancestral home.
Much later the column stopped, and an outflanking scout appeared from out of the darkness by Kaplyn's side, making his way to the head of the column. The prisoners were forced to lie down on the damp ground. The rest of the dwarves crouched where they had stood.
After a moment longer a party of about ten dwarves left the column, swiftly blending into the night. Kaplyn listened but could hear nothing and then the silence was shattered by hoarse cries of alarm.
Krell voices, Kaplyn realised fearfully.
Abruptly silence returned and, within moments, a dwarf returned for the prisoners and their escort, ordering them forward. They entered a deep hollow within which Kaplyn saw several shapes which he initially mistook to be boulders. He soon realised his mistake. Small bolts from the dwarves crossbows protruded from the shapes, which he now realised were krell bodies. Some lay on the rim of the hollow where they had been killed, trying to escape. A krell lay close to Kaplyn and he stared at it in revulsion. It looked gaunt, as though it had not eaten for some time, and its clothes were rags.
They didn't stop and were led out the other side of the hollow. Kaplyn felt a sudden urge to look up, and then heard soft flapping of wings overhead. One of his captors pushed him in the back. Kaplyn planted his feet firmly, and desperately tried to nod in the direction of the sounds, hoping the look of fear in his eyes would be sufficient warning.
The guard pushed him harder, forcing him on.
A bolt of blue light streaked down from the heavens catching Kaplyn's guard full in the chest and narrowly missing Kaplyn. The dwarf was thrown back by the blast, and Kaplyn hurled himself to the ground whilst all around him pandemonium broke out. A second and a third bolt followed, accompanied by loud explosions.
Kaplyn crawled to the dwarf's body and found that, in his death grip, he was still clutching his axe. He rolled onto his back and felt for the sharp blade with his hands. As bright lights danced before his eyes, he sawed at his bonds which swiftly parted. With relief he pulled the gag from his mouth and, scooping up the dead dwarf's axe, ran to find his friends.
The flapping of wings was more obvious now and a shrill scream of rage split the night air. Kaplyn knew that a grakyn had found them. The dwarves were busy returning fire, and several crossbow bolts streaked skyward in the vain hope that, in the darkness, they might hit it. More explosions shook the ground as the grakyn continued its attack.
Kaplyn realised it was futile trying to find the others in the ensuing pandemonium. Crouching on one knee, he concentrated on the flapping of the grakyn's wings with the intention of throwing his axe, but the dwarves' shouts and the explosions confused him. He gripped the axe and was preparing to make a desperate throw when a ghostly spectre materialised from the darkness by his side. His immediate thought was that a demon had found them, but then he recognised Lomar, or at least his shaol. None of the dwarves close to Kaplyn seemed able to see the spectre.
Another explosion erupted, killing another dwarf whose body hit the earth with a sickening thud; his skull cap rolled from his head and came to a halt a few feet from the body. Lomar's shade frowned down on Kaplyn uncertainly, and, for a moment, Kaplyn sensed that the albino was looking at something by, or close to his side. So convinced was Kaplyn that he, too, glanced by his side but there was nothing there.
"What is it?" Kaplyn asked, turning to face Lomar's shaol..
"I thought I saw something by your side," Lomar answered. "I must have been mistaken."
Kaplyn sensed that Lomar was still troubled by what he had imagined, but given their present dilemma he dismissed the incident.
"Kaplyn, I can see the grakyn," he stated. "With my help you might be able to kill it."
Kaplyn nodded and Lomar floated close to his side and pointed into the sky over Kaplyn's shoulder.
"Throw along my point of aim when I tell you to."
Kaplyn drew back the heavy axe and waited.
"Now," the albino shouted all at once. Kaplyn hurled the axe with all his strength and the weapon flew into the sky, unintentionally spinning end over end as it went.
A cry of pain followed and a few heartbeats later, a dark shape hit the ground only a few yards from Kaplyn, bouncing on the hard earth. The grakyn stirred and tried to rise, but shadowy shapes arose around it and axes descended, severing the neck and splitting its wings before the creature had time to recover.
Kaplyn was immediately surrounded by dwarves, their weapons raised, but there was no menace in their eyes. Kaplyn rose, spreading his arms wide, making it clear he was unarmed. Glancing around, to his relief, Lomar's shade had disappeared.
The dwarf he assumed to be their leader came over to him.
"He brought down the grakyn with an axe throw I would have been proud of," one of the dwarves standing by Kaplyn's side stated by way of explanation. The leader nodded and looked back at the body, its black skin glistened oily in the faint light.
"Untie them," the dwarf said. "You will come with us. You will not be bound again unless you attempt to escape."
Kaplyn agreed as Lars, Lomar and Tumarl were herded from the surrounding darkness. Tumarl was rubbing his wrists, trying to get the circulation back, his eyes blazed angrily, but, for the moment, he held his frustration in check. When he saw the grakyn's corpse, his gaze fixed on the body as though feeding his hatred.
"I have agreed we will accompany the dwarves to their home," Kaplyn explained to the others who nodded, although their eyes reflected uncertainty.
The dwarves took stock of their situation. In all three were dead and two badly burned. Quickly, the column was formed and, without delay, they set off; the dwarves carrying the dead and wounded as though their bodies were no heavier than their axes.