It is a troubling time in the Kingdom of Shale. As a marauding group calling themselves the Rogues begins launching raids across the kingdom, a small group of hybrid warriors intertwined magically with mythical beasts swears to defend the kingdom. When a hooded prowler breaches castle security and escapes into the night, the Royal Guard splits in two-one group pursues the oddly powerful intruder, while the other chafes at being left behind.
The powerful stranger is on a ruthless search for just one thing-the Relic Sword-and he'll stop at nothing to get it. After he leaves the Royal Guard with nothing but destruction, unanswered questions, and a taste for revenge, the King's soldiers begin a dangerous journey to find the supposed assassin before he unleashes a legendary power on the world. But as they search, the lines between friend and foe begin to blur, and the allegiance of some becomes questionable.
As swords clash and arrows soar through the air, no one knows who to trust; but everyone is about to learn that the Relic Sword has the capability to change the future of the Kingdom of Shale forever.
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.90(d)|
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In The Of The GodsThe Rise of the Guard
By John F. Raines
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2010 John F. Raines
All right reserved.
Chapter OneBlade stood on the ramparts of Castle Shale. He wore his Guard armor, as every member of the Guard did while on duty (except for the assassin Shadow). The heavily plated armor, made with the finest steel, was just light enough for the Guard members with wings to fly. The helmets had all been designed after the creatures they were intertwined with. Blade's helmet had a nose guard reminiscent of a griffin's beak, and Pyre's armor had a phoenix engraved into the breastplate, which glowed red as he burned.
Blade glanced at Jinx and Pyre, who patrolled as well. The fliers were always the ones who patrolled the ramparts around the base of the tall tower, which reached high out of the keep and had many smaller towers reaching out from it to dizzying heights. The offshoot towers first ran parallel with the ground before angling sharply toward the sky, giving the tower a look reminiscent both of a tree and a trident. The fliers patrolled there because if they saw an assassin, they could immediately take wing to intercept them.
They were in the capital city of Syienna, near the center of the Kingdom of Shale, which extended for well over a hundred miles in whatever direction they might travel. They were guarding Castle Shale, where King Leon Shale sat upon his mighty throne to rule his mighty kingdom.
It was not a particularly difficult job, simply a tedious one. For the many months they had lived in Castle Shale, the Guard had not caught wind of so much as a rumor of an attempt on the King's life, but its members had served countless hours of patrol duty. The only thing that piqued their interest in the least was the castle itself—which, fortunately, was quite large and offered much potential for exploration.
Below them was the large courtyard between the keep and the outer wall, filled with many different types of plants—some exotic, like the bright red dragon's-tongue flowers, and some not, like the many oaks and firs. Winding through the lush gardens below were dozens of pathways and streams, fed by the river, that forked around the castle like a living moat. Below, the garden fountains spluttered and splashed water from the river up into the sky in glittering cascades, both for aesthetics and to provide extra water to some of the thirstier plants in the gardens.
Beyond the courtyard was the main wall that surrounded the entire castle. The wall was at least sixty feet high and was built in jagged angles that formed a stone star encompassing Castle Shale. Blade doubted whether anyone, hostile or otherwise, would ever be able to get past those immense walls unnoticed, let alone penetrate the castle itself. The walls were constantly manned by at least two hundred archers, who kept a wary eye on the streets and comparatively quaint buildings of Syienna, which seemed to tangle around the castle like briars about a rose.
The city had been founded there, at the foot of the castle, entirely because of the protection Castle Shale had provided during the chaotic age before the rise of the Kingdom of Shale, in the reign of King Leon the Conqueror, some four hundred years ago. Beyond the walls, the vast city stretched out for miles in each direction. Syienna was massive—the largest city in the kingdom and possibly the world.
Trade from all over the mainland came through Syienna, making it a rich melting pot of cultures. Merchants with strange accents and even elves were a common sight within the borders of the city. The hillsides surrounding the city were guarded by two large forts, Fort Freeman (named so because King Leon the Conqueror had freed every slave who toiled over it) and Fort Dread, which had been King Jeremiah the Builder's attempt to rival the ancient fort of Krone. (It was well agreed that he had failed miserably.) Each fort was capable of repelling an advancing army if need be. Each fort had a garrison of nearly five hundred troops, if not more, all of whom had been trained in archery. Indeed, Syienna (and, to an even greater extent, Castle Shale) was the safest place in the entire kingdom. It is precisely the last place that the Royal Guard is needed, Blade thought miserably.
Blade glanced again at Jinx and Pyre, still patrolling along the ramparts of the keep. He also knew Crunch, Crash, and Howl were undoubtedly within the castle, looking for any assassins who might be skulking around down there. Shadow was, of course, secretly following King Leon the Meek himself, as he always did, ensuring no one could do harm to the king.
The Guard worked shifts of seven at a time, while the other seven trained and relaxed. Shadow, however, usually was forced to work nearly twice as much as his comrades, for the King felt insecure when he wasn't being guarded by his "invisible warrior," as he had come to call Shadow. This so-called invisible warrior, on the other hand, liked nothing more than to shut himself up within the walls of his room and study who knew what in those large, dusty tomes he was always reading and scribbling in. Shadow was a mystery, even to Blade. He rarely talked, and the few glimpses anyone got of him in his room were always of Shadow either meditating or reading from his strange books.
And Silver is probably out in Syienna, flirting, gambling, and bartering his earnings for whatever catches his fancy. Blade smiled as he imagined Silver, with his shimmering hair and metallic eyes, bragging and boasting in his cavalier way. Silver was the least disciplined of the Guard by far. He had trouble completing all of his duties— especially the ones he considered boring, a category that seemed to include every duty he was assigned in Castle Shale. Even when Silver was on duty, he talked a lot, and took many unscheduled "breaks." He was sometimes scolded for his behavior, but he never did listen. And why would he? Blade thought. After all, who would ever be foolish enough to try to punish a hybrid? Every hybrid could wield more magic than any but the best trained human, not to mention their vastly superior speed and strength. A human would be a fool to start a fight with a hybrid without at least ten good fighters to back him up.
Blade and the two others looked down at the gardens between the castle and the main wall. The moonlight trickled down, softly illuminating the grounds and glinting off the river and fountain water as clouds from the distant coast began to roll across the sky, choking the light of the stars and soon even beginning to strangle the moon.
Blade didn't mind. He could see well in the dark, for he had a griffin's eyes—golden irises, slitted pupils, and all. His eyes swept over the courtyard, searching for any signs of enemy movement. No movement ... as always, no movement.
He looked over at Jinx as she passed by, and she responded with an apathetic smile. Her golden, feathery hair flowed out onto her shoulders from under her helmet, which curved along her brow and descended to her nose like a widow's peak. Her helmet also had harpy wings engraved with gold leaf running along the sides of it. Jinx leaned on her spear like a walking stick as she marched, marking every other step with a wooden clunk as the butt struck the ground.
"Good night for a stroll, wouldn't you say?" Blade asked sarcastically. Jinx didn't deign to answer the question. She gave Blade a halfhearted grin and continued on her way, her golden wings ruffling in the breeze as her downy hair curled behind her in the ever-strengthening breeze.
* * *
Jinx sighed in frustration after she passed Blade, who marched off in the other direction after she walked by. Our talents are being utterly wasted on guarding a man whom no one seems to want dead. She was eager for an assassin, just so she could do some sort of fighting. She hated this boredom more than anything else about the job, and her opinions were mirrored by everyone in the Guard; even quiet Shadow had voiced his displeasure several times.
No Rogues had attacked Syienna since they had arrived, but then again, no Rogues had ever attacked Syienna before they had arrived. The Royal Guard is without a doubt guarding the place in the Kingdom of Shale that requires guarding the least. Only Krone, the ancient and terrible fortress far to the north, was more secure than Castle Shale.
However, the security of Syienna did not seem to spread toward the numerous small towns and farming villages dotting the surrounding plains. Reports of attack after attack came in from the hundreds of refugees who had fled their burned homesteads. The Rogues were a new kind of enemy—one that neither the King nor his generals were used to fighting. The organized Rogues struck quickly, most often on horseback, and then fell back into hiding with remarkable speed. They fought hard, and they apparently were also skilled tacticians. Many rumors came of brilliant maneuvers, strict battlefield discipline, and near-miraculous victories.
Meanwhile, in the relative safety of Castle Shale, the hybrids rotted away. No enemy lurked to hone their skills on; no one was available for them to test their mettle against. None of the humans would train with the hybrids; they were far too afraid of them. All the Guard members were allowed to do in these most chaotic of times was to sit in the castle and listen to all the potential for adventure that was happening all around them.
Suddenly, as if the gods themselves were mocking their guard duty, the clouds overhead began to shower them with rain. Jinx could not imagine a worse way for the night to carry on.
* * *
Pyre gritted his teeth as the rain began to fall. He looked miserably over at Jinx, who looked up to the sky and scowled with irritation as a fat drop plopped onto her nose. She cursed lightly under her breath as drops began to plink off their armor.
Pyre walked over to Jinx, leaned his back on the ramparts, and sighed. "We've wasted yet another day. If the king didn't coop us up here, we—"
"You know already that I agree with you. I hate this patrol duty more than most—except perhaps Silver, and maybe Shadow." Jinx, too, leaned against the wall as she spoke, resting her spear on her shoulder.
"This isn't what we were designed for," Blade said as he walked past. He wouldn't stop to join them. Even though he did hate guard duty, he always forced himself to do the job well. After all, he often said, he had nothing much better to do.
"Beyond a doubt," Pyre said, raising his voice over the increasing noise of the rain. "We have trained our entire lives to be perfect fighting machines, and King Leon the Meek uses us to guard a castle that already has a garrison of two thousand men."
"Not in the castle itself," Jinx corrected.
"But in the forts out there." He motioned toward the dark forts in the hills. "They're close enough to be considered a garrison. Why must I defend myself? You know my point. Enough fortifications await here to repel an army of ten thousand Rogues. What business do we have here? By all rights, we should be out roaming around, fighting the enemies of the kingdom wherever they should be. However, our king insists he needs us here like a child insists he needs his blanket."
"The garrison may be able to stop ten thousand," Blade said as he passed them again, "but Rogue assassins have already proven they can sneak past a full garrison and kill their target before any even know they are there. He wants to ensure his safety." Even the dutiful Blade had decided not to walk the entire length of the massive ramparts.
"No, there is more behind this," Pyre decided. "We must be missing something. What fool stays his strongest soldiers while enemies eviscerate his kingdom?" Lightning branched out over the horizon, and thunder boomed across the fertile plains and valleys of Shale County. That's not good, Pyre thought.
"One would think Shadow, at least, would be sent forth," Jinx added. "After all, who else could find and slay the Rogue leaders?"
"I would be willing to give the task a try," Blade said wryly as he passed a third time. He seemed to figure this part of the wall deserved as much guarding as anywhere else.
"True ... but then, any one of us would," Jinx vented at the sky. "After all, no matter how bad it got, it could not be nearly as bad as this guard duty!" The sky responded to her complaints with a gust of wind and more rain.
"This storm is growing dangerous," Pyre said as lightning flashed, this time much closer to the castle. The thunder boomed with menacing volume, and the group began to eye each other's metal suits apprehensively.
"Jinx," Pyre said, "would you ask the king if we may come down? We couldn't see anyone moving in all this rain anyway, and I certainly do not relish the thought of being struck by lightning."
"Must it be me?" Jinx asked rhetorically. She knew quite well why it had to be her, but she hated talking to the king.
"Of course. Who else can bewitch King Leon?" Blade stated the obvious as he passed.
"I would leave on my own," Pyre explained, "but I know that the overly honor-bound one here won't leave without permission, and it just wouldn't be right to leave him to die." Pyre jerked his head toward Blade.
"What you may call overly honor-bound, I call having a sense of duty and discipline for battle," Blade retorted over his shoulder.
"Discipline for battle?" Jinx asked.
"I will be less likely to run like you cowards will."
"Perhaps if you live long enough to see a battle, that is," Jinx called back. She sighed reluctantly as she looked again toward the foreboding sky, which cracked again with lightning. "Well, I should go convince the king. In the meantime, you two get indoors. I don't want you struck dead before I can get to him."
Pyre laughed. "And suddenly, it's almost as if I have a mother!"
"Please," Blade said, starting for the door to the tower stairwell. "How would you even know what a mother is like?"
"Oh, what's this?" Jinx teased Blade. "What happened to your unwavering discipline?"
"I am disciplined, not suicidal. I know when to retreat ..." Lightning cracked high above their heads like a long whip, striking a flagpole on the tower. "... and now seems to be a perfect time."
* * *
Jinx walked down a long, torch-lit corridor; occasionally, lightning flashes brightened the hallway through the large stained-glass windows. The walls about her were like the rest of the castle: made of strange black stone set so closely together that it created the appearance of a smooth, unbroken surface.
The odd tapestry and painting decorated the walls, but here, away from the great hall, less effort had been made in making the castle feel grand. The only other decoration was a red carpet that led to the throne room, which lay behind two massive metal doors that loomed ahead. Two golden-armored, elite guards stood at either side of those doors, holding halberds bearing the king's standard of a crown wreathed in ivy.
Lightning flashed, and the eerie blue light gleamed off the blades of the halberds and the golden-plated armor of the elite guards. The standards cast shadows at odd angles as the light streamed in from the many windows lining the hall, giving the doors an ethereal look. It was an effect that the strange castle somehow seemed to magnify of its own accord.
Jinx glanced at the old walls as she stepped toward the door. They were ancient—ancient beyond her reckoning. She didn't know much about the kingdom or any of the lands surrounding it. Halifin had never instructed the Guard much on the history of the land they were protecting, but even so, Jinx had heard much about Castle Shale in conversations between the humans. It was one of the great mysteries of the land, along with the mystical fortress far away called Krone, which supposedly was protected by magic more ancient than the hills themselves. From what Jinx had gathered, Castle Shale had been ancient even long before the Shale Dynasty had been formed. Its old name, the name few called it now, was Tretia—which she had learned from Shadow was Arignese, a language long dead, for "House of the Gods."
She brushed her hand against the old stonework as she paused to admire the craftsmanship. I wonder who first built this massive stronghold. The stone was of a strange quality. Most human buildings she'd seen were made of rough stone, but the stone forming the walls and keep of Castle Shale were smooth—glossy, even, as if the whole castle had a fresh layer of polish. The stones were strong, too—completely unaffected by the ravages time dealt to most everything in this world. It's almost as if the castle itself is immortal.
Excerpted from In The Of The Gods by John F. Raines Copyright © 2010 by John F. Raines. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
John F. Raines brings an imaginary world of the Kingdom of Shale to life with his clever fantasy creation of magical characters, each part human and morphed with a beast of daunting powers, within the covers of his premier novel titled, "In the Shadows of the Gods: The Rise of the Guard." As a mysterious "Hooded Man" is dead set on possessing the "Relic Sword," a weapon with magical powers, he travels throughout the Kingdom in search of his trophy. Pitted against the Royal Guard, comprised of a dozen or so hybrid creatures, the battles and episodes of confrontation become legendary in the archives of fantasy storytelling. The Royal Guard has a unique team, such as Demon, Mer, Sting, Silver, and my favorites, Crunch & Crash. Each being part human and part "something else," their magic and powers are blended into the story with clever associations of tasks. For example, Silver is part Unicorn, with majestically illuminating hair and silvery irises. Strong and bold, arrogant and cunning, his powers instill danger to his enemies. Freeze is part woman, part drake - better known in contemporary terms as a dragon. She has a long curved sword, like that of a Japanese Samurai warrior, and able to move things by scientifically inexplicable means, as by the exercise of an occult power or brain wave - telepathically. Then there is Sting, a Royal Guardsman with a part manticore, having the head of a man, the body of a lion, and the tail of a scorpion. Crash is part sasquatch, and Crunch is part troll, both large and strong and most formidable in battle, as well as being best friends. Then there are others, named Rocky (made of stone), Mer (part merman), Howl (part werewolf), Sinister (part lizard with hypnotizing red eyes), Blade, Shadow, Jinx and more - you get the point. By having these clever names chosen with use of onomatopoeia or nicknamed by their physical attributes, John Raines gives the reader a quick and easy way to remember the character's skill set, personality and battle function. Unlike other fantasy books that arbitrarily name characters, I really took favor to John Raines' nomenclature methodology, as it saved unnecessary memorization in my mind and brought the book quickly in to understanding the story. This makes, In the Shadows of the Gods a wonderful book for young adults or for a youthful audience to enjoy. Even those seasoned fantasy book fans will enjoy how it gives a set of heroes and villains special magical talents, with names like DC Comics would have picked - terse and to the point. The story has a crisp mix of clever dialog and an imaginative plot, although a bit wordy at times, it creates a world unto itself. John Raines has a knack to keep the story original and suspenseful. All readers can easily appreciate the Herculean task of work that has gone into this refreshing and memorable book. In the Shadows of the Gods: Rise of the Guards seems well positioned for a sequel as John F. Raines will surely amass a dedicated group of fans and followers.
This is by far one of the best books I have read in quite a while. The originality and imagination of this book held my intrigue until the very last page. I recommend this book for readers who enjoy a quality story and something different from every other mainstream fantasy book that is written without the passion that this book clearly has.