Authors: James Maxwell
OTHER TITLES IN THE EVERMEN SAGA:
The Hidden Relic
The Path of the Storm
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2014 James Maxwell
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by 47North, Seattle
Amazon, the Amazon logo, and 47North are trademarks of
, Inc., or its affiliates.
Cover design by Mecob
Library of Congress Control Number: 2014934607
This book is for my wife Alicia with all my love and gratitude for our enchanted years together
Gorain, pirate king of Nexos, steeled himself to kill his wife and only son.
Looking down from the battlements of his once proud island fortress, Gorain gauged how far he would need to throw them to ensure they struck water. The pounding of the surf on the rocks below combined with the thudding booms of the enemy’s battering ram as it crashed against the last of his keep’s inner gates. His heart sounded louder still, blood throbbing in his temples,
Gorain ran a hand over his face and scanned the walled space at his keep’s summit. A single soldier was on his knees, with eyes closed and palms pressed together in supplication. Gorain’s wife, Sedah, stood nearby, with their son clutching her skirts and her eyes wide with terror. Below the fortress, clouds of smoke rolled up from the village. The island was tiny, and dominated
, fort, and small town at the fort’s base. Nexos had fallen. Gorain had tried, but nothing could defeat this foe.
Gorain crouched and held out his arms. His son ran forward, and Gorain clutched the terror-stricken boy to his breast. “Don’t be afraid, Arsan,” he whispered. His son shuddered in his arms. “This will all be over soon.”
As he listened to the growls and snarls heard between the strikes of the battering ram, the cries of warriors brought back from the afterlife only served to strengthen Gorain’s determination. They had come from Veldria, and they had crushed Gorain’s island fortress of Nexos in a matter of hours. He’d had no warning; his scout ships never returned to raise the alarm. A sudden armada came over the horizon, undead men and women poured from their ships, and in moments the enemy seized his harbor and his fifty docked vessels. Gorain had learned their nature in the frenzied fighting and had even managed to destroy a few of the undead warriors himself. But the outcome of the battle for Nexos was never in dispute. Gorain and the last of his men had retreated to the summit of his fortress, guarded by one final set of sturdy gates.
Gorain felt his beloved son’s tears as he held him close, and he wondered if he had the courage to do what must be done. There was no other option. If he couldn’t save their lives, he had to save their souls.
He would cast his wife and son into the sea, before throwing himself off the battlements.
Gorain was an educated man, a minor noble who’d carved out his own kingdom, and though the Veldrins called him a pirate, Gorain was a wise leader. He could see that many of the undead were once ordinary people from Veldria, Gokan, and lands
north. Gorain would do anything to avoid those he loved
e fate, to become animated corpses, a fate far worse than death. He would throw them into the sea, their bodies would
ay with the tide, and Gorain would join them in
Looking over his son’s shoulder, Gorain met his wife’s eyes. “Sedah, come closer.”
As Sedah stepped forward, Gorain thought about his wife. She looked as beautiful as the day they were married, and they’d shared over a decade of happy years. Her blonde hair still glowed with health, and her brown eyes never failed to melt Gorain’s soul. Gorain felt such a squeezing on his heart that he thought it would burst in his chest.
Gorain wished he had poison, and time for a poison to do its work, but only moments remained until the last of the inner gates broke. Falling until they struck the sea would fill his wife and son’s final moments with terror. No, the blade was better. Gorain was an experienced warrior, and he knew how to make a death as quick and painless as possible.
When Sedah was behind his small son and starting to crouch with arms wide to share the embrace, Gorain lunged forward, swift as a snake, even as he continued to clutch his son close to his chest. He slipped the dagger in between Sedah’s ribs and pulled it out in one precise movement. The knife found its mark, and as the blade exited Sedah’s heart, the life left her eyes. Gorain’s wife fell down to the ground, finally sprawling out on her back.
Gorain continued to hold his son even as the dagger in his right hand trembled. Arsan tried to turn, but Gorain held him fast. With his left hand he stroked his son’s soft pale hair before
his hand down to the base of his son’s neck and further. Gorain made soothing sounds as he followed the contours of his son’s back,
the right place to plunge the knife in between the shoulders and ensure the boy had as quick a death as his mother.
Gorain heard a cry, and looking up, saw the last of his men run forward. The soldier’s face was filled with terror, the crimson blood on his uniform contrasting with Gorain’s colors: a pattern of checkered black and white squares. The soldier threw himself off
ements, screaming as he fell, and then Gorain heard a distant splash.
Soon Gorain and his family would join the soldier in the sea, where the swift current would carry them away, and the dark arts of this unholy enemy could never touch them.
Gorain closed his eyes as he prepared to perform the most
task of his life. He brought the tip of the dagger in between his son’s shoulder blades.
“I’m sorry, Arsan. I love you,” Gorain murmured.
Gorain pushed the blade in, the sharp steel easily penetrating before Arsan knew what was happening. Tears welled at the corners of Gorain’s eyes as he pushed at an angle to find the heart. It was as painless a death as Gorain could give him.
Gorain dropped the dagger and rocked his son in his arms, but he knew his task was far from finished. He lowered his son before looking at his hands, wet with the blood of his family. He knew he’d had no other choice. Better that they died unaware of the moment death came. Gorain would be the only member of his family forced to look death in the eye.
Standing, Gorain once more looked out at the sea. He had to ensure they made it to the water, where they would slumber in peace, their souls departed to safety in the afterlife.
As the pounding of the battering ram at the last set of inner gates continued, Gorain looked down at the bodies of his wife
n, drinking in their faces, thinking about how much he lo
Gorain wondered which of them to throw first.
The tears finally came as he bent down and picked up his son’s small body. At five years old, Arsan was surprisingly heavy. Gorain carried his son’s body to the battlements and once more looked down. He was confident the boy would reach the water.
Gorain drew in a breath and heaved. He watched to make sure of the splash. The small body sailed through the air.
Gorain’s eyes widened when he saw a man in black
standing on the rocky shore, looking up. The man’s eyes met Gorain’s, and then he did something incredible.
He rose into the air, and deftly caught Gorain’s son by one of his little legs.
Gorain gasped with horror. He watched as the man continued to rise, his path taking him ever higher as he held Gorain’s son. He reached the battlements and came to rest gently on his feet barely three paces from Gorain.
Gorain felt dread crawl up his spine as he looked at the man. He was slim and tall, with sculpted features and a sharp chin. He wore tailored black clothing, with diamonds set in chrome at his cuffs and a silver chain around his neck. His forehead showed cruel lines; his lips curled as if in perpetual displeasure. His hair was blood red, with streaks of black at his temples, and his eyes were the blue of a winter sky.
Gorain felt dread, but stronger still, he felt a sense of abject failure. He had no doubt that this was the man responsible for the terror. He was a demon, a wielder of powerful dark arts. The bodies of his wife and son were now in this man’s power.
“I gave my men instructions to take you alive, Gorain of Nexos,” the man in black said. The man’s voice was emotionless, but behind it Gorain could detect a faint tone of irritation. “Your dead son?” the man inquired, holding the body higher. “Unfortunate. I also gave instructions for your family to be taken alive.”
“Why?” Gorain said.
Gorain couldn’t take his eyes off the body of his son, held casually in his enemy’s grip. Seeing the direction of Gorain’s gaze, the man in black threw the small body on top of Sedah’s motionless form. Gorain’s family now lay in a crumpled heap.
Gorain tensed. On the ground, near the bodies, he could see the dagger.
“I wouldn’t,” the man said. He muttered some strange words and shifted his hands. As symbols on the backs of the man’s hands began to glow, Gorain felt the very air around him grow solid,
his arms to his sides.
“I have a proposition for you,” the man said.
“A proposition?” Gorain said. “Kill me now.” He fought to hold back the tears as he looked at the bodies. “I have nothing to live for.”
“I agree,” the man said in a flat voice.
He stepped forward until he stood close to Gorain, fixing the pirate king in place with an icy stare. His hand shot forward, and he clutched Gorain’s throat. Gorain heard himself gasp as his lungs stretched for air. He made a rasping sound like the croak of a frog.
It was the last sound Gorain heard before he died.
“You are special,” a voice spoke. “There are only two others like you, in all the world.”
Gorain felt strange. Something was missing. He could remember his life, just as he could remember dying. Was this the afterlife?
“Open your eyes,” the voice commanded.
Gorain’s eyes opened. He had no choice in the matter; his body wasn’t under his own control.
Gorain’s body followed the order. Through the dim haze of his broken awareness he saw he was on an iron table. The stone walls of his keep surrounded him, and Gorain saw he was in one of its lower chambers. The man in black regarded him intensely. A
swept through Gorain’s body.
Suddenly, Gorain again felt the pain of his death. He moaned and gasped and clutched at his throat. The man in black waited patiently.
“Never fear, Gorain, the tremors will pass. I have brought you back myself, and I know these arts better than any.”
Time passed, and then Gorain felt his body still.
“Now, before we begin, I must perform some tests. What is your name?”
“Gorain Delman,” Gorain heard himself say.
“Good. We are within your island fortress. What is it called?”
“Excellent. Now, I believe some introductions are in order.
is Sentar Scythran. I am called the Lord of the Night. Who am I?”
“Sentar Scythran,” Gorain said woodenly. “The Lord of the Night.”
“Well done,” said Sentar Scythran. “Now, as you probably know, you are dead. You are under my power and the power of my necromancers. However, you can also express your own thoughts. Speak freely, Gorain.”
“Why have you done this to me?” Gorain moaned. Something inside his consciousness was missing. He was no longer a man. He was something else.
“An excellent question, my friend,” said Sentar. “I am planning an invasion, and I have a great army fit for the task. My plan is simple, as all good plans are. I will take my army across the sea in my many ships and conquer the lands in the east.”
“I don’t understand,” Gorain mumbled.
“Well, Gorain, great armies are led by capable commanders, and my necromancers know little of naval strategy or siege tactics. You are to become one of my commanders. I have brought you back, personally, with all of my skill set to the task. I have worked for three full days on you, and a large amount of my precious essence has been spent on the lore that enables you to sit here and speak with me. Look at your body,” Sentar instructed.
Gorain examined himself. He was shirtless, and saw thousands of tiny glowing symbols covering every visible portion of his skin. Gorain felt power course through him. Even as he suffered through the missing parts of his awareness, Gorain felt strength and speed in his limbs and the complete absence of the living’s problems of pain and fatigue.
“I will never serve you,” Gorain said.
“Ah, but I think you will.” Sentar Scythran nodded to a man in gray robes, who had been standing against the wall, watching the proceedings. The gray robed man disappeared through a door, returning a moment later with two followers.
Gorain’s wife and son looked at him with dull eyes that were perfectly white. On the throat and hands of both woman and child were more of the strange runic symbols, glowing eerily blue where clothing didn’t cover their pale skin.
“No,” Gorain cried. He lunged forward.
“Sit and be still,” Sentar commanded.
Try as he might, Gorain couldn’t contradict the order.
“What is your son’s name, Gorain?”
“Arsan,” Gorain whispered.
“Arsan,” Sentar said, as if tasting the words. “Now, Gorain, you can think; you can feel. How much of your little son do you think remains? Do you think his inner self screams with horror at the things done to him? Answer me, do you believe there is still a part of his soul, chained to his body?”