The Dragon Brood War: It Walks Among Men by A.R. Williams by A.R. Williams - Read Online

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The Dragon Brood War - A.R. Williams

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I | To Kill A Man

A NEW MOON RULED over the naked night and the stars hid from the world behind ghostly grey clouds. Shadow stood upon shadow and deepened in dark recesses where a torch’s light could not penetrate, like some ancient evil come to roost.

A warm wind blew from the south with just a hint of coming spring—pine and rotting leaves over the crisp cool scent of snow. Then just as quick it changed direction and came from the northwest, down from the glaciers biting cold and deep. It nipped at the flesh of man and beast alike, then sent those with a choice back inside to light their own fires to keep the chill at bay.

The city’s watchmen had no such luck. They huddled miserably together in thick woolen cloaks and kept out of the dark places where shadows roamed. Others, however, had no fear of shadows, nor of cold, and went where they willed, using indolence as cover far superior to shade.

A mile outside of Katz-Stiefel, Gerhardt stood in what could best be called a graveyard for the old gods. A temple stood dark and lifeless atop a small hill. It looked and felt like a tomb. A layer of undisturbed snow covered everything in a veil of white. The wind whistled through the temple’s broken walls sending wisps of snow through the air.

Through the years the forest had crept back on the deserted lands and reclaimed them for itself. Oaks spread their heavy branches wide, casting deep, dark shadows over all beneath them. Tall, spindly evergreens swayed in the wind. Their leaves rustled as the trees rocked back and forth. Dead vines wrapped around columns, scrabbled up the pillars like parasitic worms, and spiraled down from the roof in choking yellow-brown strands. Amid the vines, winter flowers had grown. They bloomed white with flecks of grey streaking along the insides of the petals making it look like someone had mourned the death of these ancient gods.

Gerhardt climbed the steps that led up to the portico. A god-statue whose name was long forgotten, stood guard at the entrance. He sat in a high-backed chair, a hooked spear spread across his lap, gazing out at the shadows that threatened to one day completely overrun this tiny temple. The god looked on, helpless to stop the coming doom. Snow crunched beneath Gerhardt’s feet as he made his way up the temple steps, past the statue, and into the temple.

The condition inside was no better than the outer yard. A reflection pool overflowed with rain water. Thick, green algae turned the pool to a pit of stinking decay. Around the pool, more god-statues once stood. Only four remained upright and untouched. The other eight had been pushed over and shattered on the floor. Thieves had made off with one god’s head, another’s arms, and the torso of a third. Jewels had been picked clean from the walls, the statues, and everywhere else they had decorated the temple. Broken clay pots littered the floor, their contents long gone.

Gerhardt climbed up another flight of steps and strode deeper into the ruins. He entered a small, square room that still had all of its walls intact. A man holding a torch stood with his back to him. The man studied the western wall where archaic words had been engraved into the stone, words Gerhardt doubted anyone living could still read. Light from the torch flickered as the man moved, sending the shadows he cast dancing like ghost upon the floor.

You’re late, the man said, not bothering to turn around.

I wanted to make sure I wasn’t followed.

The man turned. Torchlight fell across his face. He was old and thin, balding with grey hair lightly covering the top and sides of his head. He wore a thick fur coat which made him appear larger than he really was. He hobbled forward.

Do you know what it is I require of you?

What any other man who wants to hire me requires. You want someone murdered.

The man grunted, then turned back to the wall. In ancient times, men worshiped different gods. They built temples like this. Each man had his favorite whom he would pray to. He would come to a room such as this. The man reached out and touched the wall. He ran his fingers over the letters and symbols. And he would ask his god for rain, good crops, a pure wife, or healthy children. For centuries this lasted. Man asking. The gods sometimes giving.

What does this have to do with you hiring me?

The man removed his hand from the wall. "Because the gods are only as strong as the people who follow them. I do not