At one time, Nerris Palada had been part of the Thrillseekers, adventurers legendary in the continent of Tormalia. After years spent winning the hearts of the people and being immortalized in song and story, they went their separate ways. Now a mercenary, Nerris has become involved in the civil war gripping the country of Yagolhan.
When evil forces emerge, Nerris is driven out of his army and left to fend for himself. A chance encounter reunites Nerris with his friends in their home village, and the Thrillseekers embark on one last grand adventure. Joined by the mysterious, fledgling sorceress Len-Ahl, the fellowship soon finds itself on a mission much bigger than their own desires. What they seek could free the world from a dark threat that has gripped it since antiquity.
When the dust has settled between gods and godlings, kings and commoners, and magic and mystery, Nerris may sink back into darkness or rekindle the joy, happiness, and love of life he once knew.
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I think Final Fantasy, David Eddings and Indiana Jones were the main inspirations.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
The story was conceived so long ago I don’t really remember.
“You’ve got one hour. After that, we’ll assume you’re dead.”
The old man’s parting words sent a chill up Nerris’s spine. Mixed emotions at that morbid statement coursed through him. The fear of dying, natural in every man. But also anxiety, for he had a job to do. And last, anticipation. Should he not accomplish his task, it would likely result in his death, and that would be the release he craved.
He thought back to his companions as he drifted in and out of the shadows cast by surrounding towers. As their rickety cart had reined in at the castle gate, light rain fell. From beneath the tarp concealing him, Nerris could hear old Rade, the driver, swearing. Unwelcome precipitation could hinder their plan. He looked at the two others hidden with him under the cart bed’s tarp. Mikaren’s one good eye betrayed nothing, and the black patch over his other gave him a menacing look, further enhanced by the lingering ghosts of many scars on his face. That man had been through a few fights in his time. Chalis’s mouth opened and his eyes strayed upward, as if he could see the rain through the tarp. Nervous breathing and a look of youthful wonder pronounced his boyish countenance.
They slowed, and the clop-clop of horse hooves stopped, and Nerris knew they had arrived at the gate. On the parapet above a guard called, inquiring about the wagon’s presence at this late hour. From under his tarp, he couldn’t see the Aeternica. The ancestral home of the Yagol monarchy was said to be built of red brick, with slope-roofed keeps and a low outer wall.
“I come from Lesta,” Rade called out. “Way I heard, Kahz Rinad has ceased all trade with the Y’Ghan monarchy. I carry goods which may interest him.”
After a few moments, the iron gate creaked open, admitting them into the gatehouse. Armor clanked as the sentries approached their cart. “What kind of cargo you got for the king?” one voice asked.
“Sikelsmek, my good man,” Rade said. “A great quantity, and freshly harvested too. The king won’t want for potency, I guarantee it.”
The sentry sighed. “That’s welcome news indeed.”
“I’d wager his Majesty has been having fits without a fresh supply,” Rade said.
The sentry grunted. “You didn’t hear it from me, but he’s been tearing up the carpets.”
“Never understood the appeal of the leaf myself,” Rade said. “A bellyful of ale gives me more of a good time than I can handle, without all the paranoia.”
“Check it,” a second sentry’s voice said.
Nerris tensed as the first sentry clanked toward them. He wrapped his fingers around the hilt of the katana strapped to his back. The king’s addiction was the worst kept secret in the kingdom, and it would be their key into the palace.
The tarp parted, and the face of a sentry appeared. The man barely had time to gasp before Mikaren’s hand flashed out and jammed a stiletto into his throat. He cried out and fell back, blood spraying onto the stone with sickening spurts. Chalis and Mikaren slid over the sides of the wagon as the second sentry called for help. After a moment, he let out a screech of pain, followed by silence. Nerris wasn’t sure whether Chalis or Rade got to him first.
The gatehouse door slammed open, and several pairs of boots stomped across the cobblestones to join the fight. Moments later, steel clashed on steel, and Nerris braced himself. He had to wait until the guards thought they had routed their assailants.
Rade spoke the password. “Zephyr!”
Nerris pushed himself to his feet and surveyed the situation. The sentries had Rade, Mikaren and Chalis pinned against the second gate, which led to the bailey. He counted six, their backs facing him. He stepped onto the driver’s seat and launched himself over their startled horse. Nerris drew his curved blade and slashed in one motion, hamstringing one man. He took another sentry in the neck before the others even noticed him.
His companions surged forward, and made short work of the remaining guards. When the last man had been silenced, Rade unhitched their horse, guided it back to the gate, and slapped it hard on the rear. The brown gelding took off with a squeal, and Nerris and Mikaren seized the cart and dragged it against the inner gate.
Chalis kicked one of the corpses. “I can’t believe he said cargo.”
“So what?” Mikaren asked.
“A ship carries cargo, not a wagon,” Chalis said. “Any seafaring man knows that.”
“In case you haven’t noticed, we’re a hundred leagues inland.”
“Shut up, both of you,” Rade said as he hefted a small barrel from the wagon’s bed. “The plan didn’t include you two nattering at each other.” He tipped the barrel, pouring a black-colored powder onto the ground. He led a trail out toward the gatehouse’s south entrance. “Nerris, Chalis, cover the door.”
They opened the door and moved into position, in case the guards came from that direction. But Mikaren and Rade soon joined them. “I hear shouts from the north, so this way should be clear,” the old man said. “Let’s go.”
Mikaren brought his saber down onto the stones at the edge of the powder. A spark ignited the substance, and it burned a trail toward their wagon. Nerris and the others hurried through the door and up the stairs. When they reached the guard post at the top, they threw themselves to the ground and covered their ears.
A deafening explosion from below caused the ground to shake. Even with his hands over his ears, Nerris could hear it plain as day. Several more detonations occurred, and he heard the screams of the guards unlucky enough to have wandered into the crossfire below.
“By Yala,” Chalis said. “I didn’t think that would actually work.”
“Everyone up,” Rade said. They all rose, and Rade braced the door with a nearby table in case any unwanted visitors dropped by their hiding spot. “Are we all clear in our roles in this mission?”
“Yes, Commander,” they all said.
“Very well. Mikaren, head for the stables. Chalis, with me. Nerris?”
Nerris nodded. “I’ve got this. King Lahnen will not survive the night.”
Rade nodded. “We’re counting on you. But we can’t wait forever. If you don’t make it to the rendezvous point in the stables, we’ll have to leave you. You’ve got one hour. After that, we’ll assume you’re dead.”
It hadn’t taken Nerris long to find his destination. He crouched low in the moonlit shadow of the royal keep. Satisfied no guards were present, he emerged and ran toward the edge of the parapet. He moved with precision and in silence, making the long leap between the two structures with ease. He landed low, rolling back into the shadows.
He looked up and gauged his next obstacle. The walls of the inner keep loomed above him. He tied his brown ponytail tighter and stretched his broad shoulders to prepare himself. Taking a big breath, he detached the grappling hook from his belt and drew it from its cloth cover. With practiced finesse, he unraveled it and gave it a few swings before tossing it overhead. It cleared the top of the tower, and Nerris gave it a tug to make sure it caught. He began his climb, knowing anyone who happened to look up would be hard pressed to see him. He had painted his loose tunic and trousers a rusty red for this purpose, matching him against the red brick which made up the Aeternica’s walls.
He climbed hand over hand, every muscle in his arms and legs straining and working together. He pulled himself up quickly in case the rain made the bricks slicker. Anyone who had ever seen him climb told him what a good swordsman he was. He didn’t need this to be any more difficult than it had to be.
After what seemed an eternity, he reached the top of the tower and slid over the crenellations. A quick glance to either side revealed no guards. He pulled up his rope. The rain had stopped, thankfully. Chalis and Rade’s task involved setting fire to the kitchens on the other side of the palace compound. Looking down, he could see the smoke’s steady rise and hear the sleepy shouts as men-at-arms and servants alike discovered the fire. Their distractions would pull some of the palace guard away from the royal keep. At least, that was the plan.
Nerris reached the stairwell and reached behind his head, loosening his katana, a light but deadly blade from the far-off country of Miagama. King Lahnen’s chambers were two floors down, and bound to be under guard. He crept down the stairwell, following the map he had memorized.
When he entered the hallway to the royal bedchamber, he darted back into the shadows as a contingent of guards hurried past him. The brief snatch of conversation he overheard revealed the plan had worked. The king had sent them to help put out the kitchen fire.
“What if the king decides to leave in order to make sure the fire is out?” Nerris had asked Rade on their trip to the city.
“King Lahnen has been afraid of fire for a long time,” Rade said. “He had a torch thrust into his face during the Enslavement War, and still bears some of the scars today. The kitchens were chosen because they are the farthest point from the king’s bedchamber. Trust me, he’ll send as many as he can spare to put out our fire, all while staying as far away as possible.”
Nerris peered around the corner. At the end of the hall, two sentries stood guard over double doors of polished wood. The Y’Ghan family sigil, the moon impaled by crossed swords, was carved above the threshold. The guards would have to die; the trick would be to do it without raising a ruckus and alerting the king.
Luckily, their informant made sure they had been well versed in palace procedure, and he knew a new guard rotated in every hour. He crouched back in the shadows and waited. For a time, all was silent until he heard the unmistakable sound of boots scraping stone, approaching from his left. When the guard passed Nerris’s hiding spot, he unraveled a garrote. He sprang up and wrapped the wire around the man’s neck, pulling him back into the shadows. The guard struggled against him, but Nerris held firm and the man’s choked gasps grew weaker until his body went limp. Nerris pulled off the man’s hauberk and half-helm. Working quickly, he donned them over his clothes, putting on the breastplate last and attaching the guard’s black cloak. He opened a nearby window and hauled the corpse out, and the man’s body dropped into the bushes below.
Nerris rounded the corner and marched toward the remaining guards. He stopped and gave a salute, and the man on the left saluted him back. Without a word, he marched off and disappeared around the corner. Nerris took his place and waited for him to get out of earshot. Once he was satisfied, he whipped his hand out, catching the other guard in the throat.
The guard tried to cry out, but found himself voiceless. Nerris pulled the man in and drew his knife, making a quick slice across his throat. The guard gurgled a couple of times and went limp. Nerris set him gently on the floor, letting him bleed out. He sheathed the knife and drew his katana. With a deep breath, he backed up and charged the door. He leapt into it and kicked with all the force he could muster. The door splintered and cracked, but it took another kick to cave it in.
Nerris ran inside to find King Lahnen crouched behind his writing table. The king had donned his nightclothes, but if burning candles to either side of him were any indication, he had not been sleeping. Nerris raised his katana and moved forward.
King Lahnen got to his feet with a start. “What is the meaning of this? I did not give you leave to—” He gaped at Nerris, a lack of recognition on his face.
The king was short and stout, and any courage he once possessed had seemed to fade with age. He panicked and retreated, whipping his white hair around his head and tripping over his own chair. He crashed to the floor with a groan as he crawled on his hands and knees for a sword which hung on the back wall.
Nerris watched the king struggle for a moment. How easy it would be to sheath his blade and let the king end it all for him. But Nerris hadn’t been brought up to live his life that way. If his death came this night, he would make damn sure he earned it.
He waited on Lahnen as he found his feet. Sweat ran down his Majesty’s face, and Nerris could make out the faint burn scars Rade had spoken of. Lahnen yanked the scabbard off the wall and drew a longsword with an ornate hilt. “Who are you?” he asked.
“It won’t matter in a few moments, either way,” Nerris said.
“You were sent by Lady Qabala.”
“I am no butcher,” Nerris said. “If you wish to die with a sword in hand, I respect that, your Majesty. But you will die.”
“Think about what you are doing,” the king said. “I could give you mountains of riches, lands, women—”
Nerris sprang across the room. The king was stalling, hoping for more guards to arrive, and he had wasted enough time already. Lahnen shrieked and met Nerris blade to blade. Nerris tested him with a few strokes and saw by his clumsy parries and imperfect stance that Lahnen was not a competent swordsman. Nerris wasn’t sure if he felt relief or disappointment.
At his next stroke, the king parried too high and Nerris cleaved downward at the hilt. Lahnen’s sword fell from his grasp, and he dropped to his knees with Nerris’s blade at his throat. Nerris smelled something rancid, and gazed downward to see a pool forming at the king’s feet. His Majesty had soiled himself. Nerris turned his eyes back to King Lahnen’s face, ignoring his choked sobs.
“Please,” the king gibbered. “Please—”
Nerris granted him a quick death with a thrust straight to the heart. King Lahnen gasped and slumped forward onto the blade. Nerris pulled it free and the king fell face down to the floor. He lay still as blood pooled around him.
He wiped his blade on the king’s night clothes and sheathed it with practiced ease. “I’m very sorry it had to be this way, your Majesty,” he said. “May your soul now rest in your Yala’s embrace.”
Nerris made his exit quick, again following the map in his head. He took the main staircase out of the keep and walked in a leisurely stroll toward the barracks. The guards at the entrance of the royal keep assumed he was coming off his shift and let him pass with no questions. Once he was out of sight, Nerris turned away from the barracks and headed to the east. Mikaren had gone this direction, to secure their safe passage from the Aeternica.
The stables were empty inside, except for a few horses sleeping in their stalls. He saw no one, and just when he thought they had left without him, a pile of hay to his right stirred. Nerris turned toward it, one hand on the hilt of his sword, but Mikaren, Rade and Chalis emerged from the feed, brushing loose straw out of their hair.
“Is it done?” Rade asked.
Nerris took his hand from the hilt. “It’s done.”
Chalis clapped his hands together and looked as if to break out in a victory jig, but Mikaren caught him by the shoulder and shook his head. Rade simply nodded. “Good. There’s a secret tunnel here that will take us under the walls. Once we’re out of the city, we’ll follow an old smuggling trail back to Lady Qabala’s camp. If we get separated, head north. Her Ladyship won’t be hard to find.”
Nerris nodded and closed his eyes, letting a sigh escape. The release he craved had eluded him this night and had come for King Lahnen instead. He wasn’t sure that made him feel happy or sad. Or whether he felt anything. But for now, he would return to Lady Qabala and receive the only pleasure left to him.
Nicholas Andrews grew up in Dayton, Ohio. After graduating from Bellbrook High School in 2000, he went on to attend both Ohio University and Wright State University. He worked as a freelance video editor for various independent pro wrestling companies for three years, before returning to his first love of writing. He has been writing stories since he was ten years old. He is also the nephew of Ted Andrews (1952-2009), award winning new age author.
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