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From a young age, James always dreamed of writing a book.

With his love of fantasy, a prolific imagination and characters he created as a teenager, he has now finished his first book, Path of the Gods. James graduated from ArtsEd, London with a degree in acting, as well as a higher diploma in guitar playing from the A !, "uildford. With #olume $$, Disciple of the Gods, in the final stages, he is currently working on the completion of the trilogy and has no plans to stop writing.

For Anna %hank you for getting my proverbial in gear&

James Val’Rose


opyright © James #al'(ose %he right of James #al'(ose to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with section )) and )* of the opyright, +esigns and ,atents Act -.**. All rights reserved. /o part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publishers. Any person who commits any unauthori0ed act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages. A $, catalogue record for this title is available from the 1ritish Library. $21/ .)* -*3.45 67) First ,ublished 879-3: Austin !acauley ,ublishers Ltd. 76 anada 2;uare anary Wharf London E-3 6L1

,rinted and bound in "reat 1ritain

%hank you to all the phenomenal authors who have silently inspired me to pursue my dreams. $ can only hope that $ have chipped off but a fragment of your genius. 1ig, big, big love and thanks to my family for getting as used to the back of my head as the front, whilst $ was away, walking the halls of kings, fighting fiends, <ourneying to the far reaches of Aramyth and following on my characters' adventures. =our love, no, your support, no, your tolerance knows no bounds& %hank you to everyone who took the time out of their busy lives to read e>cerpts, chapters and parts, as well as those intrepid few who read the whole thing& %hank you for seeing what $ could not, for helping to whittle out all those cheeky mistakes and for your encouragement. At times, it was much needed& !any thanks to my editor, ?ayley @night, for your initial faith and, most importantly, for making it all make senseA to (ose /orthwood and /eil 1urrows for such legendary artwork and visionA and to #inh %ran for bringing it together. %hank you all for giving it life. And thank you to you, herished (eader, for having this, for holding this. $ can't thank you enough for your support. 2o, whether bought, borrowed, begged or stolen B the latter would truly flatter me& B $ hope this will find a place in your heart as well as <ust your bookshelf.

The War of Un !"
Furious thunder rained down from the sky, as wave after wave of fireCtipped arrows ran veins of chaos through the weary defenders. %hose ;uick enough to raise their shields in time may have been protected from the falling assault, but could not be spared the misery of watching their comrades fall from the endlessness, war's irrevocable ha0e. Few were spared its persecutionA as every second drudgingly elapsed into the ne>t, it was made clearer that their paths to heroism were to be wellC earned. %he battle had raged for two full days, and by the morning of the third, the defenders were haemorrhaging life. 1ut the fear that lingered inside wasn't that of fatigueA it was what they were pitted against B strange beasts shrouded in darkness, coming at them through the dimensions of a different time and space. $t was as though the light twisted and shied away from a demon beneath. And amidst this phantasm horde were legions of corporeal beings, whose pernicious manifestation, though not illusory, e;ually delivered the same unrest. /o one even knew how the war had started. $t was as mysterious and une>plained as the monsters they were fighting. %his evil uprising, right on the cusp of the 1arrens, outside the city of "atelock, in the direction of the 1urning 1luffs, was the first, last and final line of defence for all of Aramyth. Warriors from every walk of life, of every skill, age and race, gathered in unity for the saviour of their land. An epic congregation of men and women, both magi and not, and greenC skins, both short and tall, found themselves in a desperate race to put aside their differences and stand together. %he glimmering stars bowed out to a new wave of burning arrows, the sky turning to fire, bathing the disorientated faces beneath.

As the fiery deluge began, horror played its sadistic game once more. 1ut one face was not afflicted by the same dread, and was instead detached, devoid of all fear and reason. A young boy of twelve found himself crushed between two men, their shields raised, ready for the impending descent. Fortunately, the man to his left took a moment and looked down to see the boy's e>haustion, grabbing his shielded arm and driving it firmly into the air. An indiscernible moment later, the arrows pounded down, so vigorously that the boy was thrust onto his back. %he force of this, as well as the ;uick consecutive thuds on his shield, made his ears ringA and to add, the saturated, churnedCup mud beneath began to soak through his smock and trousers B ice to the touch. %he ringing ceased only to be replaced with the clatter of fighting. D1oy& 1oy&E he heard someone say, but the faint was still passing. D1oy& Are you hurtFE ?e gave his head a shake and looked to the man at his left. ?e mustered a GwhatF' in response B his head still rang B but the man replied before much more could be said. DWe haven't the time for introductions. 2tay close to me, the charge is coming soon.E D%he chargeFE he managed. DWe can't go on for much longer like this. !ost of us have been awake for over two days now, and with little respite. We need to make a final push now or there won't be anyone left standing to fight. $'m ama0ed you've come this far.E With the sun's ascent above the 1urning 1luffs, the dawn's fog was beginning to blanket down, bringing with it a lingering silence. Every gentle stir of movement flicked the mist up and off the ground, making it dance a little whirlwind. %he silence was abruptly broken by a strong voice coming from a deeper part of the lines. D2tand ready&E it shouted. DFace the enemy& (eady to charge&E

%he boy could now feel the tension between all who were caught up in the vile mist. ?is earlier saviour placed a hand on his shoulder and leant in. D2tay close to me, remember.E D=es,E the boy muttered. %he voice from afar shouted the final command and each and every soul caught within the mist's clasps broke free and began the final charge towards the enemyH

Par! I The #all n$
Aramyth was a land of simple beauty, where the nightly sky above always glistened with a sea of stars, illuminating the snowy ,eaks of ,aladain below, upon which the Icean !elos could be heard washing new hopes into the hearts of dreamers. All seemed dormant. $n Ilakwin, between the city of earan and the western port city of /ardil, was the Edolan #alley. /estled in the shadows at the base of the vale, lay a small hamlet by the name of !elfall. Although home to a scant handful of people, the #ale $nn was always full to the brim with travellers, merchants and adventurers, the road to earan bringing its harvest each day. %hough night was upon !elfall and ;uiet resounded for the most part, a light shone brightly through a windowH JJJ %he newborn child lay nu00led tightly in his mother's arms, possessing only the knowledge that where he lay was his world, and that he was safe. With his head tenderly supported in the crook of her arm, +riana glanced at the two others in the room, her friend !elissa, who had been her main support through the pregnancy, and the local wise woman, yet all she was aware of was this tiny, pure, new soul B her son. %he baby's soft susurrus se;uestered +riana's attention B attention she was incapable of not lavishing. $t drew her hard into the baby's eyes, to a flicker of wisdom departed, and a clean slate left for the world around to leave its impression. 1ut there was so much he had no idea of B could not have any idea ofA so much he had to learn. 2he knew as much as anyone that the world could be an unforgiving teacher, being a learned scholar of its unfairness herself. 2he prayed that he learn

of the bad, but discover the good, be entwined with it, let it suffuse his soul with hopeH With the backs her fingers, she stroked his cheek, desperate to supply him with every nonstop ounce of love that she could. ?is youthful curiosity swished around the room, but her touch stilled his focus, <ust as his murmurs stilled hers. Locked together in hush, his eyes strikingly abla0e, she placed the first kiss to his forehead B an invisible mark to the creator's realm saying that he was hers, but a promise to him that it was always and forever… 2he kissed his forehead, and then kissed the bridge of his nose. ?er lips sat perfectly either side, almost like that place was designed for kissing. %he two ladies e>cused themselves from the room, and +riana moved herself to the corner chair, so that she and her son could share their first sunrise together. +espite her tiredness, she walked with him through !elfall that morning. %he day was as young as the child in her arms, which seemed as fitting a time as any to introduce him to the worldK for both to meet. %he sun had yet to work its heat into the chilly atmosphere, but the new light in her heart B in her arms B kept her warm. $t was a revitalising gift bestowed upon her, and she cherished it. ?e was a love seconded by nothing. 1efore him, it was the medallion she treasured and was seen to be wearing always. 1ut now, everything had changed, and residents of the hamlet, and even weary travellers, congratulated her into motherhood. Lnfortunately though, an overwhelming sorrow marred the tapestry of her happiness, impishly unpicking the weaves of her delight. Inly a few weeks after the child's conception, the father, Jerome +avian, had disappeared, vanished without a trace, or a word. 2he remembered the deep suffering B still felt it B and the hole that it had left in her riven heart, and the scar that remained to remind her. !elissa had been with her then, supported her in her anguish. =et, despite her encouragement to let him go B so that she could move on B she still stupidly prayed for his return, that

no harm had befallen him. 2he clung to the idea that maybe it had been an urgent summons from the high king, for whom he was a soldier B or so he had told her. %he fact remained that, although she had never considered their relationship serious, she had only been lying to herself. 2he could not, and had never been able to, for any second that they were together, help loving him. And now that he was gone, she felt punished to love him moreA it was like an allCconsuming illness, infecting every bit that it touched. %o her, their brief time together had seemed a flight with the angels B a carefree vastness of pleasure B and now, it was the slow, painful descent back to the unwelcoming ground, a fall from grace, to live life as a mortal, after having been enwrapped in the folds of heaven. %he time seemed to pass slowly, as she mulled over the endless ;uestions rumbling through her mind, like a snowball rolling its ine>orable course down a hill. Would she see him again? Did she want to see him again…? If course she did, but admitting it only pained her more. $t had been a long morning, a morning of triumph and promise, of wishful thinking and dreams. 1ut in her mentally and physically weakened state, she made her retreat back home to her small house. radling the baby, rocking him slowly to slumber, she was ineffably stung by a myriad of feelings. ?er body could not contain the tempest and she released her tears, varying streams and undercurrents immersed with thrill and torment. $t was the start of a day she would never forget. All that was left was the child's name. $t was her finishing thought before the tears carried her to her own sleep. %he idea blossomed within the stillness without any sign of warning. 2he would call him after his fatherA his name would be Jerome.

#ha%!er I The Des re
+riana was a lady of forbidden beauty. $t was as though she had stolen her looks from ?eaven's angels, sei0ed her radiance from ?eaven's celestial sphere and purloined the colour in her eyes from the depths of ?eaven's ocean. 1ut she was no thief. %hat said though, if stealing the breaths and hearts of men were a crime then she would be the finest of all thieves. "a0ing upon her red lips was like sailing on a carmine sea of roses, and her blue eyes, while they occasionally sang with green, hinted at something mystic. ?er deep black hair and e;ually dark eyebrows gleamed with a solar essence. 2he was blessed with seraph splendour and it mirrored the soul beneath. =es, rarely was she without attention, but rarely was it anything else, anything more B something to look at, to adore and go crazy over, but ultimately, only ever left for the imaginarium. %here had only been one true love for her, and that was now over and she lived with that solemn acceptance. JJJ %he years ticked by, as +riana watched Jerome grow. As she sat down each evening she en<oyed watching his life, and the events that marked itK the first time he stood up, the first step he succeeded in making, his first word. %hese were the moments that happiness was made of, that made everything so understandable, for as much as she loved Jerome, he could be a handful at times. 1ut that phase soon passed as he grew to be a toddler, then a child and then a teenager. Fourteen years had raced on, but it left no one with any doubt that +riana had done a remarkable <ob in raising him.

?e was a helpful young soul, and never dithered at the chance to assist, or <ust be there should she ever ask. For the most part he didn't take after his mother's looks. ?is hair was brown, which when coupled with the sunlight often gleamed blond. And even though it lacked in length, Jerome was still able to find a way of making it messy B a talent only a boy could possess, +riana often mused. ?is eyebrows were very prominent and, like his mother, he also had wonderful, rich blue eyes. ?is face was well defined and his skin was tanned from the amount of hours spent outside. Jerome's only knowledge of his father was through stories his mother had told, and they were few and far between. Although it had occurred to him that while his mother often wept at the stories, he could not find it in him to do the same. If course he was sad that he had not known him, but to him, his father was <ust a storyK a something that had never been, and therefore nothing that he could never lose. 1ut the way she told those stories B a gifted storyteller B he was sure that he would have loved him. 2ometimes he would sit and think about it. ,ainless as it was to him, to +riana it was obviously ;uite the reverse, and that did make him sad. %o ease it though, he had a friend by the name of ,eter, who always gave him time, mainly because they were the closest of friends, but also because of their shared situation. ,eter had light fair hair B e;ually as messy as Jerome's B and green eyes. ?e lived under the care of a ;uiet couple, !elissa, +riana's closest friend, and her husband +reyton. %hey had come into guardianship of him when he was <ust a baby. ?e had been abandoned outside their front door, with little more than a note nestled upon the cradle in which he lay. /onetheless, they took him in and raised him as their own. Jerome and ,eter had known each other for as long as they could remember. %hey had both been told the stories of their lineage, and how both were missing vital parts from each. $t was a sour bitterness that they had both e>perienced, but to two young boys, that sour taste made the <oy of company, the heat of the sun and the fresh cool bree0e that much sweeter.

$n their early years, they accomplished much together. %hey had often taken walks into the woods of 1anneth Fell, known to locals as %he Fell, and within, found the most astonishing place to create their own haven of tran uillity. %hat was how they pictured it anyway, but they were boys, with the call of the wild B the call for adventure B limning their hearts. +reams of grandeur, tinted by the glamorous hue of treading the hero's path, halted any chance of tran uillity. !ore often than not, they could be found wielding sticks at each other, scrapping, scuffling, climbing trees and terrorising the wildlife. And as the years saw them grow, so, too, did everything else. %he trees they climbed got higher, the animals they chased got bigger, the fights they had became rougher and picking swords became more of a deadly science. 1ut it was their freedom, and they had no incentive of e>ploring anything else. !oreover, they had never been e>posed to anything beyond that life. %heir parents, for similar reasons, blanketed them. And conse;uently, even at the ages of si>teen and fourteen, ,eter and Jerome behaved like that of younger boys, but life was about to shatter down upon them faster than they would have likedH HAnd it all stemmed from the simplest of things. %heir haven of tran uillity really was a remarkable place. Although, ostensibly <ust a clearing within %he Fell, it had all the right ingredients to make it perfect. Just inside the treeline was a big, turfed heath, e>cellent for hiding behind, spying from, or la0ing onH In the other side was a small lake that shrivelled into a stream, which eventually would run its course into the depths of %he Fell and onwards to the sea. Iver the years, they had both learnt the mastery of staying afloat and even to swim, but from incidents B where play had gone too far B they had also learnt the necessary veneration for it, as well. JJJ Jerome had his back to a tree, while ,eter perched, looking over the heath. Jerome had spied the rabbit, and the game was to catch it. %hey had never actually succeeded in doing that, so the

game had become a whoeverCgetsCnearestCtoCitCwins sort of game. And, from the rareness of seeing a rabbit, so ready for the taking, this game took precedence over all others. %he only real rule was no sabotage. $f the other were to make a noise, throw something, or scare the prey away then the other would automatically win. 1ut this rule was never broken, not anymore at least, since they were now both aching to catch one. Jerome went first, as was his right being the one who spotted it B spotter!s honour. ?e slowly crept out, controlling the placement of his feet on the springy woodland floor. $t was close, maybe closer than one had ever been B maybe it <ust seemed that way, maybe it always did B and he took each step with deadly seriousness. ?e could virtually hear it nibbling, its snappy movements and completely ridiculous, stigmatic, fluffyCtail bobbling. ?e felt close, but he reassessed and, at the current rate of his approach, the rabbit would die of old age before it would be in catching distance. ?e was about to take another step and then H gone. ?e and ,eter had learnt not to try and sprint after them, make a lastCditch dive to nab it. /ot only because it was futile, but also because it would surely scare it away for good, and it was important that the other got a turn. ?is head dropped and then he looked over to ,eter, who was smug, ducked behind the heath, with only his eyes peeping over the top. ?is turn nowH A defiant and churlish part of Jerome hoped that the rabbit was gone H but it wasn't, and ,eter crept out from behind the grassy cover. Jerome watched as a he sneaked up with determination, and he was ;uiet. And he was close H really close. ?e was actually going to do it. And then, as if some sort of mystic, leporine spirit was watching over and protecting its kith, like a fluffyCfloppyCeared

guardian angel, a hopping messenger of truth, the rabbit got wind of it and scarpered. If course, it was inevitable. And besides, that wasn't the game. $t was whoever was closest, and to the frustrating truth, it was ,eter. DFine,E Jerome accepted. DAnyway, it's not like sneaking up on rabbits is a valuable life skill.E D/o one ever said it was, and besides, you were the one who spotted it&E ,eter scoffed. DWell $'ve had enough of this whole rabbit chasing nonC sense. We're never going to catch one, you know.E ,eter chuckled. D=ou're probably right, but you know we'll always keep trying.E D/ot me,E Jerome said. D/o more. $'m done with all that.E DAll rightH What do you want to do thenFE ,eter said, after a moment of consideration. Jerome thought. $t was a hard truth, but there was very little that he could do better than ,eter, and the things he could do better unfortunately weren't the games they playedK more the tailoring he had picked up from his mother. A crossCstitch, a chain stitch, a darning stitch, Jerome could list them all and recognise them as well. "ive them a competition about that and Jerome would win, hands down. ?owever, it wasn't about stitching or hemming or darning or embroidering. $t never was, and, in a way, Jerome was fine about that. 1ut the time for thinking was over, and then the words simply spilled out. D2word fightFE Why, in the name of "od and all ?is angels, did he say thatF "nd he knew ,eter was better than him. #tupid, stupid, stupid$ If course, he couldn't back down now. ,eter sounded a little snigger, as he picked up two similarC length pieces of wood. Ine he kept in his hand and the other he threw with disdain upon the floor in front of Jerome. %apping his lightly on the floor in a cordial manner, he said, D=our sword.E %o add to this <ocular formality, a subtle grin marked his face, which he made absolutely sure Jerome could see.

1ending down to pick up that stick took what felt like an age, as he churned over the thought of ,eter beating him. 1ut he wouldn't let it happen, he thought. ?e couldn't. ?e mustn't. %he weapon was in place and ,eter, poised and composed, readied his stance to match. %here was a pause. All became still and ;uiet for a short period of timeH %hen the attacks started flying. Wood chip flew left, right and centre, as miscalculated hits from both landed on bare flesh, but the fight continued on and Jerome didn't surrender either. In the contrary the more times ,eter landed a successful attack, the more Jerome kept swinging his sword until he felt nothing but determination. ?owever, what made this occasion unlike any of its predecessors was that Jerome's attacks became more precise and accurate, despite his anger and frustration. ,eter was only <ust managing to defend himself, let alone trying to take the offensive. ?e could see that Jerome wasn't going to stop. $t was too late for that. ,eter had to stop the fight the only way he knew how, dropping his sword and taking a few steps back. For a few moments after the fight was over, Jerome was still flinging his piece of wood around. When he realised it was all over B he'd won$ B he ;uickly composed himself and, as he did, looked over to ,eter with confusion upon his face. DWhat was thatFE ,eter muttered. DWhat was whatFE D%hat style of fightingF $t was deadly.E D$ didn't know it was different to anything before. $ was <ust H swinging a piece of wood around.E DWell, if you say so. Anyway it's getting late and $ have to get home. And you should, too.E ,eter beckoned his friend to come and they started the long trip home. $dly they chatted, as they walked, talking of things they had done, of things to come and many other topics, and it was during such a conversation that ,eter mentioned to Jerome about training in earan.

Jerome dismissed the idea initially, but a seed had been planted in his mind. $t was something he had thought of before, but no one had ever recommended it. ?is mother had always wanted him to be a tailor, but that was never something that had interested him. =et she still talked to him about it as though it were absolute, and no degree of argument was ever enough to persuade her otherwise. %e wanted to be something his father would be proud of, even though he had no idea of what that might be. ?e had great visions of himself running through a warCtorn, bloodCstained battlefield, slaying men to his left and right, blood flying in all directions, shouts of pain and death, as one man would fall after another, until finally reaching his nemesis. $n his thoughts, his final foe would be dressed in bulky, black armourA and there he would stand face to face with him before bringing him down. heers would be heard all overA shouting his name aloud, for Jerome would be the victor& 1ut these, among others, were only thoughts of a boy lost in his swaying imagination. %hey couldn't have been more than ten minutes from home, and they had already been travelling for a good while, when Jerome suddenly stopped and flushed a whiter shade of unwell. %urning ;uickly to ,eter, he said, D!y bag& $ left it behind. ,eter, $ have to go back and get it.E DJerome, it's almost dark. =ou can't.E D$ have to. $t's got my mother's medallion in it. 2he'll &ill me.E DWhat are you doing with her medallionFE ompletely caught up in the plume of worry, he ignored ,eter and resaid, D$ have to go back and get it.E D2he'll never let you go out again if you get home much later than this.E DAnd she'll never let me out if she finds out $'ve taken her medallion, so either way it doesn't matter H but $'d rather be alive.E ,eter, torn between helping his friend and being told off himself, thought for a second, and then said, DHLook, do you want me to go back with youFE

D/o point the both of us being late. =ou head back, $'ll be fine.E D2uit yourself, but you'd better run.E Which Jerome did. DWhat shall $ say if your mother calls round and asks where you areFE ,eter shouted back to his friend. DAnything&E ,eter shrugged his shoulders and continued the last leg of the <ourney on his own. JJJ %hat night, 1anneth Fell was not the only wood to have a lone figure rattling through. Far on the other side of Aramyth, in +ewdrop Wood, outCskirting the south of %oryn, was a young girl. 2he had been in those woods for <ust over a day now. 2lung over her shoulder was a bag, which contained food, water and a rumpled blanket. ?er clothes were shabby, complete with tears and rips. !ost, if all, of the colour that they had originally possessed had long since faded from age and lack of care. !oreover, any colour that may still have lingered on was coated in a layer of mud and grime, and undetectable either way. ?er hair was wild and frayed, held up and together by dead leaves and some very fine bits of kindling, all this adding to its fri00y and dishevelled look. ?er face was also not without additions. $t was mostly <ust filth and grime, but hiding beneath that were a couple of cuts and gra0es where she had tripped and fallen into the bracken. 2he was in a very sorry state. 1ut she had been on the run for more than <ust a day and wasn't about to give up now. 2he stopped moving, looked around and, seeing that the night was well in session, unhooked her shoulder bag and placed it on the ground ne>t to her. $t had been a long day, she reflected, as she bit off a chunk of stale bread and took a swig of water. $t wasn't ;uite the evening meal she was used to, but it was enough to keep her in health until she got to safety.

Finally, she removed her blanket from the bag and placed it ne>t to her. urling up inside it as well as she could, she took one last bite of bread and one final swig of water before putting them away and closing her eyes for the night. JJJ Just shy of the treeline, in a clearing at the south of +ewdrop Wood, was a rundown, wooden shack. %he world around it seemed huge in comparison, as if a small bree0e might cause it to come tumbling down. $t was a shack most would feel totally useless on a howling night like this, but some were finding use for it. +ull candlelight poured out over the wooden table, at which two places had been taken. 1oth the men were sitting <ust outside the glow of the candle and were engaged in a low conversation. From an ad<oining room there came mutters and whimpers. Iccasionally, the wind picked up outside and howled, pushing the odd draught through the cracks in the shabby framework, thus rippling the gentle constancy of the candle's flame. %ension arose between the two men until one finally slamC med his fist down hard on the table, almost e>tinguishing the candle, but it bubbled back to stability. D?ow much longer are we to waitFE DH=ou need to calm yourself, 1aylin.E D alm myselfF 'alm myselfF %ow can you say thatFE ?is response edged him downward into the glow, causing his dull, dead eyes to illuminate. 1aylin was a slight individual. ?is face was gauntA though white and seemingly untouched by the sun, it wasn't that H it seemed simply underCcoloured and insipid, as if illness stayed with him, lived in him. ?is long brown hair was ruffled and matted with great clumps of grit engrained within. D=ou'll either calm yourself or (!ll calm you,E the other man threatened, as he leant in, resting a hand on his crossbowA it was only a subtle move away.

Lnlike 1aylin, this man had a much healthier comple>ion. ?e had short dark hair and no beard. A scar ran down from the centre of his forehead and <ust peeked over his left eye that had obviously been damaged from whatever had caused it. ?e had a strong <aw line and nose and gave off a scent of danger and uncertainty. 1oth men wore black heavy leather clothes with no truly outstanding features. 1aylin looked up with ferocity. ?e clenched his teeth and grumbled, but the anger soon subsided, as he conceded against his obvious leader. /o words crossed the lips of either. /o words needed to, as both returned back to their positions. D2o what do we do now thenFE 1aylin asked, obviously concerned, but obviously trying to be as calm as an illClooking, crossbowCthreatened man can. DWe wait.E DWhat about our friendF WhatHE D2hh,E the man whispered, as he lowered his head. 1aylin knew not to ask ;uestions and so he kept his mouth shut. Even though the wind outside was still raging, a silence swept over the room. 2omething wasn't right B maybe the out of place snapping of a twig or an une>pected, overCenthusiastic rustling of leaves B but both men had their hands on their respective weapons, <ust in case. 1aylin had only to move his hands slowly towards his belt to which two loaded scabbards had been fastened, while the other man simply took a firmer grip of his crossbow. Almost ready for the inevitable, the door suddenly burst open and 1aylin ;uickly heaved the table over towards the door, allowing some small cover against any ballistics that may have entered. %he second the candle smashed against the floor it died and all that was left was the weak ambient light provided by the moon. %hey stayed ;uiet behind the table for a few moments until 1aylin was given the nod. ?e slowly sneaked his head out from

behind the table to catch a glimpse of the open door. $t was clear and 1aylin returned to report this. With a ;uick nod to each other they both pounced out from their hiding place, taking a foothold either side of the entrance. %hey could do no more in preparation, as they had no information on what or how many they were up against, so they both remained still. !oments later an arrow shot through the open door and stuck in the table with a thud$ %heir enemies were <ust trying to force them out, but neither flinched B neither one stirred. !inutes passed, as they both stood motionless. %hey could do nothing but listen to the howling outside. Abruptly, 1aylin heard the collision of a heavy ob<ect, maybe a person B probably a person B on the other side of the wall. %hen the other man also heard the same thing on his side. And slowly, those figures began sliding across towards the door. $t was difficult to listen to, over the howl of the wind, but both men had their ears firmly pressed against the walls, the grinding and scraping of material over wood very detectable, very obvious. %he figures outside had both stopped in very much the same lateral places. 1aylin looked over to his boss who had unsheathed his heavy bastard sword and had taken note of where he last heard the position of the person outside. Lowering his crossbow to the ground, he took up a line facing the wall. 2lowly he raised his sword high above his head and, with e>treme force, thrust it straight through the eye of a panel of wood. A massive yelp, followed by the sound of a collapsing body, came from outside giving him the allotted time to pick up his crossbow and take aim at the door. A bellow then came crying out from 1aylin's side, as a character charged into view, sword in hand, about to advance through the open doorway. With a click, the crossbow was firedA and a thud, the arrow was shot straight into him, the momentum stopping him dead in his tracks.

?e grabbed franticly at his chest, trying to pull the arrow out, but the strength was not there to muster. $nstead, he crumpled to the floor. ?e wasn't dead <ust yet though, and 1aylin dragged the mortally wounded man inside. ?e moaned in pain, as his dying almostCcarcass was carelessly tugged back. D?ow many more are thereFE 1aylin ;uestioned. Amidst the moaning and gargling, very little was discernible. ?owever, the man was trying to say something. ?is head turned from 1aylin to the other man who was by his sword. D=ou&E ?e took a deep breath and then coughed. D$ know you.E DA lot of people know me.E D=ou are H "arrick.E D=es.E ?e revelled in the fame B the infamy, as it surely was. DWhat of itFE "arrick continued, as he wiggled, loosened and removed his sword from the wall. D!ore will,E B he coughed, gurgled, spluttered, a bulge of clotted blood spewing from his mouth B Dcome and find you.E D$'m sure they will. And if they are as competent as you were then $ doubt $ will have very much to worry about.E ?is words were cold and emotionless, as he walked over to the murdered man. D!ore people will H find you.E D$'m sure they will. Why, $ even hope they do.E D$ H $'m not afraid of you. =CyouME ?e coughed. "arrick knelt down, got in close and personal to the man, enough to feel his rancid breath condensing on his neck. D=ou know, for a man about to die, you're taking it all very well. $ am impressed,E he softly spoke, as he wiped the blood off his sword onto his man's clothes. D$'m H $'mME D=esFE "arrick said, taking to his feet. ?e looked at his sword, as if to say, why did ( )ust clean this? "arrick placed his foot firmly on the arrow shaft protruding from the man's body and began to wobble. %he moans the dying man tried so hard to hold back turned to wails, as he s;uirmed uselessly on the floor, coughing up fountains of blood beneath

the foot of his torturerA his pain something he related to ?ell's fury. %ears began to glisten and bulge within the corner of his eyes, until gently rolling down his cheeks and then teetering, and finally dropping off the edge of his face. G,athetic' was the final word the dying man heard above his own yelps, as "arrick plunged his freshly cleaned sword down and through the man's ribcage, straight into his heart. %he door to the ad<oining room creaked open. DWhat was that all aboutFE D/othing une>pected, $ suppose. Anyway, what have you discovered, !ythosFE "arrick asked, as he glanced beyond to the ne>t room to where a woman was sitting tied to a chair. !ythos and 1aylin both shared similar physical attributes in accordance to their build, but !ythos was slightly taller and looked generally weaker. ?e, too, wore black, but it was not as heavy as the other two's attire. $t hung freer over his body. D/ot as much as $ would have liked. 2he has been very stubborn. ?owever, $ did manage to discover somethiME ?e stopped, because a figure silhouetted in the doorway caught his attention, and he yelled, DLook out&E "arrick dived to the side as !ythos tuned his attentionH JJJ Jerome had never been this late out, he realised, as he stood on the !elfallC1anneth Fell treeline, watching the raucous crowds pouring in and out of the #ale $nn, few of which would have been localsA most being travellers taking shelter for the evening before continuing on their <ourney either to earan or onto /ardil, through the ,ath of !ante, the only safe passage between /ardil and !elfall and onwards. E>hausted, hot and sweaty B but with the bag B Jerome strode onto the firm wellCtrodden road running through !elfall and wasted no time in dusting himself down before scampering over to his front door, which he knocked.

2udden, busied clattering struck up and, shortly after, the door was flung open to a very unrelenting +riana, glowering down over him. Jerome's head drooped, as he shuffled his way in. +riana took a ;uick peep either side of the door to see if anyone else was present. 2atisfied there was not, she shut it carefully after. Jerome had already tried sneaking upstairs to avoid his mother's wrath, but his attempt was halted by the sound of his name bellowing towards him. ?e turned. DAnd what time do you call thisFE +riana e>claimed. D$'m sorry, mother.E D2orry& =ou're sorry? ,eople are strolling out of the tavern with whoCknowsCwhat on their minds and you're sorry? *uc&y is what $ would call you. =ou have no idea what kind of people there are around at this time of night.E Jerome could do or say nothing, but even though, he beseeched a Gsorry', which she seemed to dismiss. /o words were going to relin;uish her anger. All he could do was to turn away and shuffle upstairs to bed, but not before ;uickly returning the medallion to her bedroom dresser, hoping she would be none the wiser. Later that night, tucked up in the throws of his cover, he heard footsteps approaching his room. 2leep had been out of the ;uestion, and the ruffled sheets were surely testament to it, but he didn't want to face her right now. ?e felt too ashamed of himself, so he closed his eyes and tried to rela> his breath, feigning sleep. %he door slowly opened and +riana entered. %raversing his room like a mother not wanting to wake her child B nothing was ;uieter B she perched herself at the foot of the bed before slowly sitting, sinking the mattress a touch. ?e listened to her breath rocking the midnight airA he heard her sighs full of upset and he almost opened his eyes. "lmost. ?e wanted to, to ease her, to tell that he was sorry, that it was he who had been wrong, that he loved her, but he kept his eyes buttoned.

2he stood up, and tiptoed back to the door, which she opened, taking as many e>tra seconds as she needed to make sure it opened ;uietly B the ;uietest of all kinds. D"ood night, Jerome,E she whispered to him. ?e couldn't help himself and, to her, he whispered back, D"ood night.E 2he didn't come back though, but her smile graced the air and Jerome felt it as a warm, soothing flow in the midnight air. %he argument they had had earlier had been put to sleep, to a place where Jerome also settled. JJJ ( am standing on the battlefield. +y father is ne,t to me. (!ve never seen him before, and even though he loo&s at me, and ( loo& bac&, ( can!t put a face to the head, yet ( &now that it!s him. (t feels good that we are standing together, father and son. %e draws his sword and it spurs me on to do the same. -he sword feels light and easily wieldable. We run together down the battlefield… JJJ %he high tree branches of +ewdrop Wood rippled pleasantly to the invisible bree0e, making occasional openings for the sun to beam down onto her weary face. 2he blinked awake in a slow wistful mood, wishing the night were not over. 1ut it seemed a pleasant day and so she rolled out of her blanket and got to her feet. After a satisfying stretch and a big yawn up to the gods, she dug out her water flask and tore off a small chunk of bread. An unforgiving wisp of wind gusted through the trees and hit her s;uare in the face. ?er eyes closed a fraction and she e>haled with the shock. 2he had always liked the elements' unpredictability. %here was never a correct time or place for it to show off. $t <ust did as it pleased. Free as the wind, she wondered. Well there was the

proof, she accepted, as she chomped the last mouthful and gu00led another swig. %he weather gave another display of its might. %he wind might be free, but she certainly wasn't, and with that reminder she rolled up her blanket, placed it in her bag along with the beaker of water and slung it over her shoulder. 2he had only been walking a few hours and she was already outside of +ewdrop Wood. $t was a good signA %oryn, she hoped, would only be another half a day away. %he sun had reached its meridian when she sighted a brook, a good place for a break, the last brea&, she thought, as she glimpsed at the crumbs of bread rolling around lonely in her bag and giving her water flask a shake. %oryn couldn't be that far away, she thought. +ay even get there before sun down. 2he stopped herself from taking that thought any further. %his was not the time to hope or be hopeful. A few clouds had begun to cross over the sun's path, as she watched the huge shadow cover the bright grassland and leave it looking dreary and unwelcoming. %he wind had also picked up and, before long, outside the warmth of the sun she was very cold. Fortunately, the clouds blew over and the wind stopped, allowing the chill she felt to ;uickly depart. ?er final leg of the <ourney had begun. %he sun had <ust sunk its head behind the hori0on, as she saw the high walls of %oryn sticking out in the distance. Iver the past hour the weather had got progressively worse and when she reached %oryn, the heavens had fully opened and a thunderstorm raged. A huge, stone wall surrounded the whole city. %here were many entrances that she knew of, but the one at which she arrived was <ust on the edge of a small wooded area B a small woodland twinned with +ewdrop. %wo bra0iers either side of the gate shone brightly and one guard stood on duty wearing full plated armour. 2he approached carefully although, because of the rushing rain, the guard didn't notice her until the last minute.

D?alt& Who goes thereFE he bellowed, as he lowered his halberd to a menacing, headCheight level. ?is brash response startled her, but she begged, D,lease, let me in.E %he guard had been caught entirely unawares. $n truth, he wasn't e>pecting anyone to be arriving in such conditions. ?e ;uickly recognised her to be a young girl and, although he knew it shouldn't make a difference, he was a kind man and wasn't going to let protocol keep her out here. DAll right, miss,E he said, opening the gates and shuffling her into safety. D$'m putting my neck out for you, so don't you be getting yourself into trouble now.E 2he rushed in, thanking him profusely B and promising him that she would be no trouble B and the door closed behind her. 2he may have been inside the walls of the city, but the weather wasn't any easier to bear, as she stumbled and fumbled her way through the muddy slums. 2hops that would normally be open and flourishing were shut and not a trace of a life was to be found anywhere. Even the rats and mice, she thought, would be tucked away in their hideyC holes. ?ours seemed to pass as she searched high and low for a place to rest. All sense of time and direction was lost as she fought hard against the weather, until eventually she found herself peering over a hedge, surrounding what seemed like a regal edifice and courtyardA and what lifted the weight off her shoulders was a light, glimmering and spilling out onto the stone paving outside. /ot another moment did she wait, as she threw herself over the hedge and scrambled across the courtyard to the heavy ornamental door, which she knocked with the remaining drops of energy she still possessed. %he handle began to rattle, and as it did she sank down softy to the ground and let her eyes close.

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