Updates on future books
Early peak at excerpts, teasers, and other information
Inside look on current projects
Simply enter your name and email address below:
In his gut, Thuradin began to fear for the worst. There were only two things he had read from the documents that could possibly explain what they had seen; and one of them, he knew, wasn’t even close to matching the description. The more he thought about it, the more he became certain that they had just survived an encounter with a viatari.
According to what he had read, these beings possessed incredible strength, were able to move at impossible speeds, and were so beautiful they could seduce secrets out of anyone. Their civilization had been very warlike back when they were trading partners with the dwarves—though, neither race had ever gone to war with each other.
The documents mentioned that the viatari didn’t feed themselves normally, as dwarves did, but fed on the life-energies of living creatures. Their long, sharp fangs could bite into anything that was alive and suck out its energy, turning it into a dry, empty husk.
For whatever reason, the fact that what appeared to be the viatari’s home was near the mountains
had never been mentioned in all the reading Thuradin did. Had he known, he would have never
approached this forest.
Viatari were extremely difficult to kill. They had fast regenerative abilities which meant they could
only be killed if they suffered several fatal wounds faster than they could heal. They could even survive decapitation for a time, so long as that was the only thing that happened to them.
Everything Thuradin had read about the viatari was frightening. He had hoped they wouldn’t have to encounter them during their journey but that was all it had been, hope. He didn’t know why, perhaps it was because of what he had read, but he sensed that these viatari were evil beings who could very easily put an end to their mission to rescue their king.
The two dwarves returned to a completed camp utterly exhausted and still quite spooked. They wolfed down their meals more from the anxiety they felt than hunger. Despite the possible danger that could come from what they had discovered, neither one wanted to speak of what lurked within the forest.
Another watch was set up that night. Thuradin had the second shift so he allowed himself to indulge in some sleep. But it was a troubled sleep. He couldn’t stop thinking about the horrors of the viatari, even in his dreams.
He woke with a jolt and immediately berated himself. He was the commander of the royal guard, the bearer of the saphyrium helm. He didn’t have time to dwell on fear. He was a dwarf. And if anything threatened him or his companions, he would fight fiercely and with honor, as he always had.
He took his shift and relieved Stürn, who had chosen a position near the forest, no doubt to see if he could detect any strange energy forces from within. Sitting so close to the tall trees made Thuradin feel uncomfortable, especially after his encounter earlier that day. He shook his head, doing his best to clear it of all distractions so he could focus on his job.
Half an hour into his shift, the wind started to howl. The trees whistled and moaned as it rushed through their branches. The noise set Thuradin’s nerves on edge. He closed his eyes and tried to push out all the terrible things he had read in the documents. They were what was making him nervous, not the noise. The noise was just wind, after all, it wasn’t dangerous.
The wind stopped. Everything was still. He opened his eyes and stood abruptly as he noticed a shadowy figure standing in front of the tree line. As soon as he realized what he saw was real, the figure vanished, as if it had melted into the shadows. And even as he started to turn around, he knew he would be too late. Whatever it was he had seen in front of the tree line was already behind him.
A sharp, searing pain erupted along the side of his head, He had been wearing full plate armor since the day they had left the safety of the caves, as all the dwarves had; yet whatever hit him punched through it as if nothing were there.
Thuradin slumped to the ground, his head throbbing, and succumbed to the darkness.
Stürn was exhausted and had gone to sleep the moment he was relieved from his watch. Yet, as an Enurg’en, he was constantly in sync with all the energy forces around him whether he was awake or not. He had felt a faint and strange energy force come from the forest when he was on watch, but he hadn’t been able to identify it before he was relieved.
Now, in the midst of his dreams, he felt the same strange energy force, only this time it was stronger. Much stronger.
He felt this energy force move behind Thuradin from the tree line in a split second. He felt Thuradin’s energy force flicker briefly as he lost consciousness. At that moment it became clear to the Enurg’en that the camp was in danger.
Stürn’s eyes snapped open and he bolted up from his bedroll.
“Defend yerselves! Enemies have breached the camp!”
Murtosh woke up screaming his war cry and ran off in a random direction, his arms flailing. It didn’t take long for him to be subdued. Agrethar was a little slower in waking up. He might have gone unnoticed had he not proclaimed his presence with a loud yawn. He wasn’t even finished rubbing his eyes clean when the intruder rushed over to him and knocked him out as well.
Stürn tried to make out details with his eyes on who was attacking them but the moon was hidden, so that all he could see was a dark figure. He would have to rely on his powers to see where the intruder was. He felt Ayrie’s and Threnn’s energy forces coming toward the camp from where they had been keeping watch.
Ayrie arrived first and attempted to thrust her spear into the being but it was no longer there. Stürn felt the being move from in front of Ayrie to behind her faster than anyone could see with their eyes. His mind told him such a speed was impossible, but he had felt it. There was no way he could deny what he saw in the energy around him. The being struck Ayrie with a heavy blow on the back of her head and she crumpled.
Now Threnn arrived at the camp but before he could even register that Ayrie had been struck, he too was struck from behind by another being that materialized seemingly out of nowhere. Therewere now two of them in the camp and only Borim and Stürn remained.
Borim took his time waking up so he attracted as little attention from the beings as possible. Unlike Agrethar, he remained quiet and inconspicuous. By the time Threnn was subdued, he had managed to grab his hammer and shield and now stood ready to face the attackers.
The two beings surrounded him before he even had a chance to blink. Knowing what was coming, he lifted his shield behind his head to protect it and cried out as the impact broke his arm. His shield-arm fell limply to his side and another blow brought him to sleep.
Stürn knew resistance was futile, but he was determined to fight as best he could. He would not
go down quietly.
He said a quick chant to heal Borim’s arm. The manipulation of energy peaked the intruders’ interest as they noticed Stürn for the first time. They moved toward him simultaneously. Stürn felt for their energy forces and knew they were on either side of him. The one on his left was preparing to strike.
He acted instantly and dived out of the way. He turned to face the attacker who now stood where he had been a second ago. He sensed that the other was nearby.
They stood there like that for several minutes before the beings began to circle him. They moved from one spot to the next at lightning speed, too fast for Stürn to follow with his eyes. Any second now, he knew, one of them would come in for the final blow. He had to be ready.
The being moved in for the strike just as he knew it would. He turned to the side as the being moved into position and swung his sword to parry the blow. But instead of parrying, the sword sliced through its hand.
The being stumbled back and hissed angrily and, before Stürn could get a good look at it, delivered the final blow with its other hand. Stürn fell to the floor, unconscious.
Even so, he could still feel the energy forces around him and knew what was happening. More beings materialized out of the forest and moved quickly to tie up all the dwarves. They dragged them together and surrounded them.
And then they waited.
Stürn guessed that they were waiting for the dwarves to wake up so they could begin questioning them. He could feel conversation between two of the beings. One of their energy levels spiked suddenly and the being walked up to him, hitting him hard on the head a second time. This was too much, even for Stürn, and for the first time in his entire life, he stopped seeing the energy forces around him as he slipped even deeper into unconsciousness.
A crowd formed around the plaza as long, thick tables and huge kegs of ale were hauled through. Thuradin and the others were dragged in front of the forming crowds where they could get a clear view of what was happening. Thuradin expected to see Stürn and the man he would face preparing weapons for a dual. Felix had said this would be a test of strength, and he assumed that had meant a dual to the death. Instead, he saw the long tables placed in front of them, the kegs of ale following close behind.
Stürn looked uneasy. He too had thought this challenge would involve fighting. Thuradin doubted the Enurg’en had imagined any other possibility. He certainly hadn’t.
Felix walked over to the man who had issued the challenge and demanded an explanation. The man replied smugly in words only Felix understood. Thuradin watched the viatari return to Stürn’s side and relay whatever new information the man had given him. Stürn frowned, obviously troubled by what had been said, and began to protest, but Felix raised a hand to stop him. A few more words were exchanged, and then the viatari was making his way back to join the others.
“What’s happening?” Thuradin asked.
“It appears I misinterpreted what the humans said before. They indeed want a test of strength, but not through combat, like I originally thought. They are having a drinking contest. I imagine the first person to collapse is the loser. It’s probably better this way—after all, Stürn is a dwarf.” Felix grinned at these last words. Thuradin guessed he imagined the humans would be flabbergasted by the dwarf’s drinking ability.
“This is bad,” he said, snapping Felix out of his daze.
“Stürn isn’t a drinker. He’s notorious in our Kingdom for nae being able ta keep his drink. He had a lot of confidence winning the competition before because he thought it would be combat. Now look at him—”
Felix turned to look at Stürn and seemed to notice for the first time the lines of worry on the dwarf’s face, lines which became more pronounced as he glanced at his opponent—a huge man, thick with muscle.
The man wore simple trousers for the competition, leaving his chest bare and exposing his many scars. He seemed to be proud of them as he pointed each one out and showed the crowd, nodding as they cheered him on. Veins popped out of his shaven head as he looked down and grinned at Stürn, who looked no taller than a child compared to him.
The two contestants were presented with large, empty tankards. A loud, high-pitched horn blew from somewhere behind the crowd, and the contest began. Both the man and Stürn quickly filledtheir tankard to the brim with their first drink and downed it just as quickly. Stürn still looked discouraged about the odds of him winning, but now that the competition had begun, it didn’t look like his doubts would keep him from trying.
He held his opponent’s hostile glare as he filled his tankard a second time and chugged down the contents. Not once was eye contact broken.
Oblivious to the mental battle being waged between the two contestants, the crowd cheered and placed bets on who would win. The cheers turned into chants for the man, and the chants grew in volume as Stürn began to slow down and sway in place. The man took the opportunity to spur the crowd further and raised both hands up into the air. He gave a mighty roar before downing his fifth drink.
Thuradin stamped his foot in frustration. He was helpless. There was nothing he could do that could help Stürn get out of this situation. All he could do was watch.
“You should have picked me,” Dragos muttered. “I wouldn’t have succumbed so easily.”
“If we had picked you, defeat would be certain,” Felix replied curtly, more than annoyed at the current situation.
The crowd chanted incessantly, but their confidence and excitement faltered as Stürn regained his balance and began to consume the ale faster and with more vigor.
His opponent saw this change in composure and began to drink faster as well, but he couldn’t last. Thuradin could see the effects of the alcohol already taking hold of the man’s mind and body. Before long, Stürn had regained lost ground and was now even with the man in the pints of ale consumed. But unlike him, he showed no signs of wavering.
Silently, the crowd watched as the short figure downed tankard after tankard of the town’s ale. Someone his size shouldn’t have been able to do such a thing. The amount of alcohol Stürn had consumed was much more than his body weight. The spectators murmured amongst themselves. The stranger should have blacked out by now, but he didn’t even look tipsy. Suspicion spread through the crowd as they wondered at the dwarf’s endurance.
Thuradin and Felix glanced at each other.
“How is he doing that?”
“I cannae be sure . . . But I think he’s using his power as an Enurg’en ta heal himself from the effects of the drink.”
“I thought so. That is not the smartest thing to do. Look at the crowd. They grow suspicious. I would advise your companion to be careful; we do not want to start a conflict here.”
“And how would ye like me ta relay that message?” Thuradin said. “Ye should’ve warned him earlier when ye had the chance. There’s nae a thing we can do now but watch. We just have ta trust Stürn’s judgment and be prepared for whatever consequences may follow.”
Stürn’s opponent swayed heavily. The man brought a newly filled tankard of ale to his lips, gave Stürn one last look of pure hatred, and crashed onto one of the tables, smashing his head on the corner before reaching the ground. If the alcohol hadn’t rendered him unconscious, the impact with the table certainly had.
The crowd was ominously silent. They watched Stürn carefully as he finished the contents within his tankard and walked back to Thuradin and the others. Thuradin grit his teeth as theEnurg’en walked normally, with no indication of intoxication at all. There was no heavy breathing from having to fight the effects of the alcohol, no stumbling around as he made his way back. It
looked to everyone present as if he hadn’t consumed a single drop of ale.
Stürn frowned as he sensed the tension in the air. He glanced around and noticed for the first time the crowd watching him with suspicion in their eyes. Thuradin hurriedly pulled him toward the rest of the group before the Enurg’en could do anything else and put a finger to his lips. Felix took a step forward and said a few words in a loud, clear voice, which, Thuradin guessed, announced that they would now take their leave. Taking Felix’s lead, they turned to go.
Then one of the spectators said something. Thuradin had no idea what it meant, but soon more people were saying it until the entire crowd had joined in and chanted it angrily. The group stopped in their tracks and turned to face the humans. The viatari glanced nervously at one another as they listened to the angry crowd.
“They’re calling us cheats,” Felix translated.
“Is that bad?”
“No matter what I say now, I cannot convince them otherwise,” the elder viatari muttered to himself. He glanced at the dwarf. “Yes, it is very bad. In their eyes, we just cheated our way to victory. Humans do not appreciate being fooled, especially by strangers, especially on their own land. We have just made a dangerous enemy. We need to run. Now—”
They all turned to run but found their way blocked by a group of heavily armed guards.
“Form pairs,” Felix ordered. “To the roofs!”