I said yesterday that I’d let you all know when I found out any news about my next book launch. Well, that news came today. I just received an email confirmation from Amazon that the fourth book in my Declevon Blackmoon series will be available for purchase on October 3rd. If you’d like, you can pre-order it now here.
Pain ripped across his shoulder blades from the unblocked attack. Roscoe had moved quickly enough that the wound wasn’t deep, but it still hurt worse than any other that he’d ever received. He kept moving forward toward the sound of the whimpering wainwright. When he was close to where he thought Worram was, he swung his sword in a wide arc in front of him.
He cursed the magical darkness as his weapon struck nothing but air. His shoulders burst into new waves of pain, but he took a step forward and swung again anyway. This time he was rewarded with the feeling of his sword digging into the flesh of his opponent. He shouted, “Worram, run! Run for your life!”
Roscoe heard the sound of the wainwright scrambling along the floor just as he felt the blade of his other opponent enter his back, halfway down the right side. He stumbled forward, trying to escape from his attacker, but his energy was depleted and he grew weaker with each uneasy step. Determined to keep fighting, he was betrayed by his body, which fell to the floor. He heard Merlinus yelling to his people to let the wainwright go. With his last ounce of energy, he smiled because he had accomplished saving the man.
The next few moments were a confusing rush of images. First, the darkness was replaced by an almost blinding light. Then, he saw his cousin, Conroe, floating over him. Next, stars swirled around his vision. The darkness came back momentarily before the stars returned.
“Such strange things to see when you die,” Roscoe thought to himself.
“Don’t you dare die on me,” a voice responded.
Roscoe wondered where the voice came from. It wasn’t his. Before he could find the answer, he felt himself slipping away. Just as he was about to fall completely, an electrifying jolt shot through his whole body. More stars danced in his view. Images from his life passed in front of his eyes as another jolt shook him. A warmth began at his chest and slowly spread throughout the rest of him.
That warmth went away in an instant when he felt a hard slap across his face.
He opened his eyes and saw his cousin standing protectively over him. Eyes darting, he saw a few of his fellow Knights in the warehouse, fighting against Merlinus’ people. “We’re not done yet,” Conroe yelled, parrying a sword thrust from an enemy. “Now, get up and help us out!”
Roscoe tried to rise, but couldn’t find the energy. He took a few deep breaths to steel himself for his next attempt. A flash passed over top of his face from the swords of the duo fighting above him. His hand ran back and forth over the floor around him until it found what he was looking for. Fingers wrapped around the hilt and he raised the blade until it hit the belly of the man fighting his cousin. It didn’t do any harm, but it was enough to distract the man for Conroe to finish him off.
He reached out, Conroe grabbed his hand, and helped him to his feet.
“How…” Roscoe began.
“Later,” Conroe cut him off. “We’ll talk when we don’t have people trying tokill us.”
Just then, a dagger flashed out at him. Roscoe managed to push it out wide, but just barely. “I’m still weak,” he said to his cousin. “Don’t go too far.”
“Don’t worry,” Conroe laughed as he stepped in to dispatch the knife wielder. “I didn’t save you just to let you die again.”
The two cousins fought back to back as more of Merlinus’ people came at them. The Knights of the Kingdom were outnumbered, but they were better trained and had fought together before. Merlinus’ people were mercenaries who might’ve been good fighters on their own, but hadn’t fought with each other before. They often stepped in front of one of their compatriots, ruining an attack opportunity or throwing one another off balance. Even though he wasn’t at full strength, Roscoe was able to keep up with them, although he had Conroe there to back him up perfectly. Any time his condition put him in harm’s way, his cousin stepped in to save him.
Roscoe turned just in time to see Conroe block another attack aimed at his backside. While his cousin had the attacker engaged, Roscoe delivered a killing blow to the man’s chest. He swirled back around to check for any other hostiles. Not seeing any, he went to thank Conroe for his assistance. The look on Conroe’s face when he did, though, was odd. It was a mix of confusion and pain. Before he could ask what was wrong, Conroe dropped to his knees, then fell face first onto the ground.
Standing behind Conroe was the man who had brought Roscoe to the meeting. In his hand was a bloody short sword. The eerie feeling that the man instilled in him on the way to the building intensified. “You’re going to die for bringing the Knights down upon us,” the man said with a menacing tone.
Roscoe inadvertently shivered because he knew that if looks could kill, he’d be dead already.
Roscoe had patrolled these streets for years and thought he knew every inch of the city. As he followed the man after leaving the tavern, he found that he still had a lot to learn. There were times he would see a familiar landmark, and he would recognize the general area he was in, but it was at an angle that he had never looked at it before. He was confident in the tavern because he thought he would know where he was going. Now, he might be heading into the unknown.
That wasn’t a pleasant thought to him.
Still, Roscoe knew he had a job to do, so he trudged on. The menacing man didn’t say a word as they made their way from one back alley to the next. Roscoe wasn’t about to complain. There was something about the man that frightened him a little. While Roscoe was both taller and more physically imposing, there was something about the other man that was unnerving. As far as he was concerned, the less interaction he had with the man, the better off he would be.
A building came into sight that he recognized. It sat on the outskirts of town. The building was a storage facility for the man who made and repaired all of the wagon wheels for the castle and the surrounding town. Roscoe had known the wainwright for years and couldn’t believe that he was involved in something like this.
A shudder ran down his spine.
He had known the wainwright for years. If the wagon maker was involved in this, he would be in the building and would recognize him immediately. His plan to infiltrate the mercenary group of Merlinus might be over almost as quickly as it began. Then again, he still wasn’t sure if he was going to Merlinus’ group. It was possible that the group he was on the way to meet was being led by someone else.
Roscoe shook his head slightly. It was times like this that reminded him why he was still the Twelfth Knight of the Kingdom. If he was a better planner, he might’ve moved up by now. If he got out of this mess, he vowed to spend more time studying strategy instead of using all of his time practicing swordplay.
Having been paying attention to his own inner monologue, it took Roscoe a few moments to recognize that the question had been directed at him. The menacing man had stopped and was staring right at him. “What?” Roscoe echoed back.
“Why were you shaking your head?”
He put on a look of defiance. “It’s none of your concern.”
“I’m about to introduce you to some very dangerous people,” the man said, slowly moving his hands toward the small of his own back. “People who could make both of us disappear very easily. You’re not worth dying for, so your business is now my business.”
His mind racing almost as fast as his heart, Roscoe somehow remained calm on the outside while he blurted out the first thing that popped into his head. “Look, I know you’re just being careful, but this maze you have us running is getting ridiculous. I just want to get where we’re going and get this over with.”
The man eyed him suspiciously. Roscoe couldn’t tell whether or not the man believed him, although his gut said that he didn’t. Still, all the man said was, “In this business, being careful rarely gets you killed, but being sloppy always does.”
The man walked him over to the door on the wainwright’s building and opened the door for him. He walked in, but not without keeping the man in his sight as he did so. There was almost no light in the area he was in. No windows could be seen. All he saw was a lantern hanging from a stack of wagon wheels off to his left. An indistinguishable figure stood at the edge of the light. Not knowing what else to do, Roscoe walked toward the lantern.
As he got closer, the figure at the edge of the light was revealed to be the wainwright, Worram. Fear covered Worram’s face. Obviously, the wainwright was being held here against his will. The amount of fear radiating from Worram was almost enough to make Roscoe run up to him with a comforting hand, but he caught himself before that happened. If he did that, they were both dead.
When Roscoe reached the light’s edge, more lanterns flickered on all at once. There were no people standing next to them, meaning that they were lit magically. It was a move that he knew was meant to put him off balance and, unfortunately for him, it was working. With magic in play, almost anything could happen. There were too many variables to even begin to formulate any kind of plan. All he could do was hope he could improvise a way out of this situation.
Worram looked at him and the recognition lit up his eyes. Roscoe winced, thinking that the wainwright would blow his cover, but Worram surprisingly stayed silent. Standing next to Worram, just inside of where the darkness was, an older man looked Roscoe over, sizing him up. Apparently satisfied, the older man began to speak.
“I hear you wish to join my crew,” the old man said.
“No,” Roscoe responded. “All I wanted was a job. Maybe if it goes well, we’ll talk about me joining permanently. Until then, I’ll stick with just one job.”
“Sorry. We don’t do just one job. You’re either all in or all out. And people who know about us have to be all in or they’ll become all dead.”
“Merlinus,” the menacing man said as he gestured for the older man to lean down.
Roscoe couldn’t believe his luck. The old man was Merlinus. He had done it. He’d found the mercenary leader that Revis and Matticus had been looking for.
Then he remembered that the assignment was only to find out if the rumors of Merlinus being in town were true. He wasn’t supposed to make contact. And here he was, in a storage facility with the mercenary leader and at least one of his henchmen. Who knew how many others were hidden in the building? All he could do now was keep himself in Merlinus’ good graces until he saw a chance to escape.
“So,” Merlinus began after the menacing man was finished whispering in his ear, “do you want to join my crew or not?”
“It doesn’t seem like I got much of a choice, does it?”
“Excellent,” Merlinus exclaimed happily. “In order to join my crew, you have to perform a task.”
“He already told me,” Roscoe said, pointing to the menacing man. “I’ve got to fight one of your other hopefuls.”
“Oh, no. I’ve got something different in mind for you. Call it a test of your commitment to our cause.”
“And what is this test?”
Merlinus smiled widely. With a flick of his hand, he pointed at Worram. “Kill him.”
Hey everyone! I just wanted to let you know that the third short story in my Declevon Blackmoon series, Blackmoon Spellsword, is now available to purchase on Kindle at Amazon. If you were a fan of the other two, or if you just want something new to read, please go check it out.
Hey everyone. That dastardly thing known as “real life” has bombarded both Matt and I with its evil, preventing us from working on this story as much as we’d like to. We have, however, finished with this installment and are ready to share it with all of our wonderful readers. We hope you enjoy it!
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Plex followed the dwarf to the end of the alleyway. Another dwarf stepped out of the shadows. The new dwarf waggled his fingers in Plex’s direction and mumbled some words under his breath. After a moment of this, Plex’s skin began to give off a faint pinkish glow. Before he could ask what was happening, the glow disappeared.
“Follow us,” the two dwarves said in unison.
He wanted to stop and demand to know what had just happened, but he knew that it would do more harm than good at that point. Not only would it give the dwarves an excuse to leave him behind, but it also increased the chances of someone spotting them. If one of the Honor Guard saw him huddled in a dark alley with a couple of dwarves, it would probably be the death of all three of them. Reluctantly, he silently trod after them.
The duo of dwarves ducked into the cellar door of the house at the end of the alley. Once he made it to the bottom of the stairs, he was led to a wall on the opposite side of the cellar. The dwarf who had used magic before recited another spell. A section of the wall in front of them swung in, revealing a long, narrow hallway. Without thinking, Plex followed them past the doorway and further into the unknown. It wasn’t until he heard the wall close up behind him that he questioned whether it was smart to continue chasing after these dwarves.
After all, he thought to himself, it was entirely possible that these were members of Lavalandinarial’s Honor Guard that he was walking behind. There were certainly magic users who weren’t controlled by the dragon, but the majority of them, whether willingly or not, worked for her. This could all just be a trap, an easy way to make him disappear, and his anger at Lavalandinarial had made him walk right into it.
Had she counted on that? Had she set this all up knowing that he would be so blinded by rage that he’d walk straight into the obvious trap?
It wasn’t until the dwarf gruffly barked at him that he realized that his steps had slowed while his thoughts were bouncing crazily in his mind. Plex quickened his pace. If this was a trap, he was already too far into it to go back now. He had to see this through, no matter how it played out. Besides, it was almost a certainty that the dragon was going to kill him. If this wasn’t a trap, it was the only chance he had at escaping death.
The hallway finally ended at another wall. While the wizard dwarf spoke more words of magic, Plex took the time to take in his surroundings. The first thing he noticed is that the hallway was perfectly lit. That wouldn’t normally be something that people would question, but he didn’t see any torches or magical lanterns. Somehow the hallway was perfectly lit for no apparent reason. It unnerved him, but he couldn’t figure out why.
A scraping sound announced the opening of the wall. The dwarf who had originally spoken to him stepped aside and motioned for Plex to enter the room. “Frukeld is waiting for you,” he said.
A flicker of a memory flew across Plex’s mind. He had heard that name somewhere before. He couldn’t immediately place it, though, and didn’t have time to dwell on it. The dwarves flanking the opening did not look to be in the mood to give him time to second guess his presence. He couldn’t blame them. If they were planning something against the dragon, they were risking as much trusting him as he was trusting them.
Stepping through the opening in the wall, Plex was once again put off guard by the perfect light that seemed to come from nowhere. It had to be an enchantment but, if so, it was one he had never encountered before. This Frukeld, or those who worked for him, had unlocked sorcery that the greatest elves had not.
“Thank you for coming.”
The greeting was spoken by a very old dwarf. Not only did Frukeld’s beard touch the floor, even though it was tucked into the belt circling his wide belly, but the dwarf’s elongated eyebrows came close to doing the same. Wrinkles rolled through the few empty spaces where his face wasn’t covered in hair. And white tufts sprang from his ears. Plex was sure he had never been in the presence of someone older. He bowed low, for that alone, in a show of respect.
As he stood back up, Plex asked, “Why am I here?”
“Better with us than in the beast’s belly.”
The comment was made seriously but mischief sparkled behind the dwarf’s eyes and that set Plex at ease. He was among friends even if he wasn’t sure why he was there.
Chuckling briefly, Plex replied, “Any place is better than that monster’s gut. So that isn’t saying much. Yet, I feel like you think I can help you out with something and that will somehow help me out of the predicament my anger put me in.”
“Yes, exactly,” Frukeld said. “Exactly.”
“So what can I do for you?”
Frukeld smiled and his wrinkles thinned out, making the dwarf suddenly seem much younger. “We were you today. You are a leader. That alone made us take notice of you but then you showed that you didn’t appreciate Lavalandinarial interfering in the game and, most interesting of all, you were able to fight off her magic.”
“And if I ever dare to stand up to her again, we both know what will happen.”
Laughing, his beard and wrinkles bouncing wildly, Frukeld said, “We aren’t asking you to take up a lance and charge straight at her. No, that would truly be a waste. But we do need help organizing those of us who might be willing to do just that, or a version of charging at her that would be more successful.
“Your natural charisma and your leadership qualities will serve us well in that regard. Your defiance will inspire many who were already on the fence about the beast and that inspiration will lead towards loyalty.”
“I’m not a fighter,” Plex interjected.
“We aren’t asking you to be one. Though, in truth, I suspect you are one whether you think you are or not.”
Plex wasn’t sure whether or not to take that as a compliment. In his experience, nothing good had ever come from fighting. Every battle, every fight, he’d been in, or seen, had done nothing more than lead to unnecessary bloodshed and death. There was no good reason for it, and the gain never came close to being worth the cost.
Then again, every fight he’d been close to had been either at the dragon’s command, or because the contestants wanted to move up in the dragon’s hierarchy. Perhaps being a fighter against the dragon would be a good thing.
“I’ve been in my share of fights,” Plex admitted, “but I’m no warrior. I’m no great strategist, either. Not on the battlefield, anyway. The only time I excel in that type of thinking is on the football field.”
“A battlefield and a football field are more similar than most people think. That’s a discussion for another time, though. As I said before, we’re not asking you to be a fighter. Not yet, at least. We’re not asking you to lead our troupe into battle either. Right now, what we’re asking of you is to be our recruiter.”
“We have a number of magic users among us. We don’t have the magical firepower to take on the dragon yet, but we hope to soon. What we don’t have, are many able warriors. That’s because most of the best warriors of each race are on one of the football teams. We think this is done purposefully, to keep them occupied so that they don’t rise up against Lavalandinarial.”
“I don’t think so. After watching them, I think it’s just because they’re the best players..”
“Perhaps. Or it could be a combination of the two. Regardless, while having magic users is crucial to taking down the dragon, so is having capable fighters on our side. We’d like to get close to them, to try to sway them to our cause, but we can’t get close enough to them. Lavalandinarial has increased the security, both physical and magical, around the sites that house the football teams. If we tried to infiltrate those sites, all we’d probably accomplish is announcing our presence to the dragon. You, on the other hand, can get close to them.”
Plex laughed. “I can get close to my own team, but there’s no way I’d get close to any of the other teams. They’d never let an opposing player in their facilities. They’d be too worried about me seeing their plays and formations. It’d be impossible for a player to get into another team’s facilities.”
“No, it’s not.”
Plex jumped. It wasn’t Frukeld who had said that. His eyes darted back and forth, searching for the source of the new voice. It was familiar to him. He knew he’d heard it before, but he couldn’t place it.
From behind the old dwarf, a figure stepped out. Now, Plex knew why the voice sounded familiar. It belonged to someone he recognized. He briefly wondered how he hadn’t seen him before, but he’d been victim to this person’s sneaky tactics before.
It was Vinyard, his team’s gnomish punter.
He stopped his wagon for the soldiers guarding the border of this new kingdom. “State your name and business,” the first soldier said.
“My name is Tomas,” he replied. “I heard you needed people to farm your land.”
“You heard correctly, but why would you leave your home to come farm our lands?”
“I don’t have a home anymore. All my land is underwater now that the dam broke during the flood. I managed to grab a few baskets of my crops and a handful of my chickens, but I lost everything else.”
The first soldier walked around to the wagon and looked inside. When he walked back, he nodded at the other soldier to indicate that Tomas only had what he said he had. The second soldier finally spoke. “We need to ask you a few questions before we allow you to enter our fair kingdom.“
“I understand,” Tomas said. “Security is important.“
The first soldier shook his head. “Not security, no. Matters of security here tend to work themselves out with almost no help from us.”
Tomas was confused by that answer, but he didn’t have time to question it before the second soldier added, “The questions we ask will be to determine if you are compatible with the people here and how well you blend in with our culture.“
He was still confused. Unsure, he weakly replied, “Okay…”
“Question one: Can you sing?”
“Can you sing?”
Tomas couldn’t believe the question. “Are you joking?”
The second soldier put his hand on his sword, indicating that it was no joke. Before the weapon was pulled, the first soldier jumped in. “Our princess likes to break out into song for no reason. Therefore, the citizens of our kingdom must be able to sing as well in order to harmonize with her. So, we’ll ask you one last time, can you sing?”
This was ridiculous, he thought, but if this is what he had to do in order to start his life over, so be it. “I’m not the best singer in the world,” he said, “but I’m good enough to sing in the background.“
“Go ahead and sing something for us.”
Tomas still felt like this was absurd, but went along with it anyway. Not that he really had much of a choice in the matter. He began singing a folk tune that had been sung in his lands for centuries. The two soldiers stopped him before he got to the third line.
“That was terrible,” the first soldier said.
“Completely horrible,” the second soldier agreed. “Can you dance? If you can’t sing, you’ve at least got to be able to dance behind her while she sings.”
“No,” Tomas admitted. “I lost three of my toes fighting of some wolves that were attacking my sheep. I haven’t been able to walk straight since.”
“I’m sorry,” the first soldier said, “but if you can’t sing or dance, we can’t let you into our kingdom.“
“This is ridiculous,” Tomas protested. “I can farm. Surely, that must be more important to your kingdom than your princess’ songs.”
Both soldiers drew their swords. “Nothing is more important than the musical numbers of our princess,” they said in unison.
“Get out of here right now,” the first soldier ordered.
Tomas hurried to do as he was instructed. After he got his wagon turned around, he heard the second soldier yell out, “And if we ever see you anywhere near the land of Disneya again, we’ll fuckin’ kill you!”
Bob was walking down the hallway to his office when he heard a raised voice coming from one of the other offices. He listened for a second to figure out which office it was before he stuck his head in. The office belonged to a man named Tom. Though Bob found Tom to be a little odd, he thought he was a good guy and wanted to help if he could.
At first glance, however, he noticed that something wasn’t right. There was nobody else in the room with Tom. The light was off on the office phone, so he wasn’t using that, and Tom didn’t have a Bluetooth earpiece that he could be talking into. So, who was he talking to?
It wasn’t the first time he’d caught Tom talking to himself, but it was the loudest he’d been while doing it. The frequency of them had been rising too. This was probably the third time in the past couple of weeks it’s happened. Usually, it was in the break room, though.
“Everything all right?” Bob asked the agitated man.
Tom slowly turned his head until he was looking at Bob out of one eye over his shoulder. It was eerie, sending a chill up Bob’s spine. “Everything is fine,” Tom answered after a few seconds. “I’m just trying to work something out and it helps to hear it out loud.”
Bob relaxed a little. It was an explanation that made at least some sense. Still, he wasn’t entirely comfortable with the way Tom was looking at him. He thought it best to just walk away and let Tom deal with whatever the problem was on his own. “Ok. I hope you get it figured out.” Bob should have left it there, but he inexplicably added, “Let me know if I can do anything to help.”
Bob cursed himself for saying that. Why had he said it? He certainly didn’t want to help Tom. Sure enough, as soon as he turned to leave he heard Tom say, “You know what? I probably could use some help.”
Bob rolled his eyes before whipping back around with a fake smile. “Sure, buddy, what are you working on?”
“No!” Tom screamed.
“No? No what? Do you want my help or not?”
A wicked grin slowly worked its way onto Tom’s face. “He knows.”
The whole thing was starting to irritate Bob. Tom was acting crazy and he still had that uneasy feeling that he’d gotten when he first entered the room. “Stop playing around,” Bob snapped. “I don’t have time for this. I’ve got other work to do.”
Bob stepped toward the door only to have it slam in his face. He jumped. The door had shut by itself. “How did you do that?” he demanded.
Tom took a step closer, the grin still on his face. “He knows,” Tom repeated.
“I don’t know anything,” Bob countered, taking a step back.
“You’re not allowed to know. You must be punished.”
Before he could ask what the punishment was, a shadow flew from out of Tom and hit Bob squarely in the chest. The force of the impact threw Bob backwards into the door. Wood shattered when he hit and the door blew apart. When Bob landed, he had a burning sensation in his chest. His heart pumped faster and faster until it felt like it was going to explode.
Then, it did.
Bob’s head lulled to the side as his last breath left his body.
Tom shook his head, wondering why he was at work. The last thing he remembered was opening the door at his apartment for the pizza delivery man. He took out his phone to see what time it was, and was shocked by what he saw. Not the time, but the date. According to his phone, it was a week later than he thought it should be.
All of that flew out of his mind when he looked up and saw Bob laying in the middle of the hallway, surrounded by pieces of the broken door. “Oh my God,” he said as he rushed to Bob’s side. “Are you ok?”
Tom breathed a sigh of relief when Bob started moving. His relief was short-lived when Bob grabbed his arm and tried to bite it. Luckily, he managed to pull his arm free before the teeth clamped down. Tom jumped back and shouted, “What the hell, man?”
When Bob started moving after him, Tom saw that something was very wrong. Bob’s movements were clunky. It was Bob’s eyes that made him cringe, though. They were completely dead and, while he could’ve been imagining things, Tom would’ve sworn he saw a black shadow pass briefly over them. Tom backed away as Bob started to crawl towards him.
“B…br…bra…” Bob stuttered before finally finishing the word. “Brains…”
Tom turned and ran.