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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Read Paladin Chapter Zero

I decided that for anyone to decide if they truly were interested in a book, they'd need to read at least the first five pages.

I've taken that initiative even further.

Below, I've pasted the first chapter of Paladin for your reading (and scrutinizing) pleasure. Please enjoy.

BEGIN BOOK ______

PART I: HEROES

CHAPTER ZERO


Acbain dug his feet into the stirrups, and slapped the horse’s side.
“Yaw!” he yelled, and the horse screamed loudly in response. The beast surged forward, kicking up a trail of dust in its wake. He picked up the pace, knowing full well that they were closing in.
How close are they now?
He craned his neck back. The small armada of NeverShadows crept ever closer. Their dark bodies blended in a little too well with the shade provided by the canopy overhead. They followed suit, cautiously avoiding what slivers of light came through the dense copse in the late afternoon.
Fwip! An arrow shot past the dark elf’s arm, missing it by a mere finger’s length. It lodged itself securely into a passing oak tree, a blurred swatch of brown and green. Acbain leaned forward into the stride of the horse, minimizing drag.
I won’t make it in time. I’ll have failed my sole purpose…
The sound of pounding hooves closed in from behind. The fledgling Artifactian strained his ears, catching the sounds of the rapidly passing world around him. Thanks to his acute sense of hearing, noises within a fifty foot radius reached him.
To his right, several woodland creatures scurried about the treetops. To his left, birds nested, pecked wood, dug for insects. Ahead of him, a slight breeze rolled through a break in the trees.
It was this direction he headed.
All of these sounds Acbain heard at once. But it was none of these that concerned him. The sound coming from behind him – the sound he heard when he craned his neck once more – invoked real fear in the magic blooded being.
He recognized the sound immediately, a bow being strung. He listened closer. No, not just one, a dozen or more bows being strained.
Then, as one released.
Arrows whistled through the warm unfaltering air, traveling straight for his heart.
“I create thee, Frozen Barrier of Bealwer!” Acbain shouted, thrusting his right hand back towards the oncoming arrows.
A loud cracking sound, the sound of water being frozen solid instantaneously, split the air in the space he had just occupied seconds before. He could hear the thud-thud-thud of arrows hitting the icy barrier behind him.
The barrier cracked and shattered, but the arrows dropped harmlessly to the ground.
He felt pride in the simple spell. It had saved his life before, just as it had done now. But the spell was a stall tactic at best.
Soon the wretched NeverShadows would be upon him. And they would stop at nothing to get their bloody hands on the Artifact at his back. The swelling in his gut told him that if that happened, there would be no stopping their power.
He thanked the Father Above that the pursuing NeverShadows had taken on the form of horses and their riders, the forms they took from the Palladium Knights themselves. 'They can only take one shape at a time,' Feindoz had said. Was it coincidence that they'd taken a form he could handle? He thought not. The Father had cut him a break.
These last few days had been a horrifying blur. Only days had passed since Denteroth’s defeat and forced disappearance back to the Neverplane. This was great news on first hearing, but…
He would be back. He vowed it so.
And it had been only days since he, Acbain, had been sent on ahead to lock this particular Artifact away until the appropriate time.
The fact that the NeverBeasts and Shadows lingered, even after their master’s defeat, proved their evil desire to rule (or was it to destroy?) this world. It would probably be years before Denteroth did return.
How many though, he wondered. He couldn’t even fathom.
He only hoped that new champions would arise in that time, whenever it was.
Hooves continued to pound behind him. The creatures chittered amongst themselves in heated tones. What they said remained understood. A new assault tactic most likely, he guessed.
Acbain had no doubt that if the creatures of the Neverplane did in fact get a hold of the Artifact, they would find a way to use it. Forget the fact that it was only meant for the Drakoni. Alterius had been proof of its power in the wrong hands. If Denteroth or his minions got to it, that same gut feeling told him the world would be in more trouble than it has ever previously known.
There would be no way to stop them next time.
Or, if they couldn’t use it, the creatures would banish it somehow. In that case, there would only be one alternate way to stand up to Denteroth. But even then, there was no guarantee of victory against the darkness with only the one other Artifact.
He grimaced at the thought.
If these forces got their hands on it, who knew what the future held. Death for sure, but even worse still. Enslavement. Purges. Maybe even mass genocide on the grandest scale. Creatures of every race would be affected.
Acbain swallowed hard. He pushed the thought aside to focus on the task at hand, and swatted the horse again. Onward he pressed. This Palladium Knight apprentice, the youngest of them all, would fight before he gave up the Artifact.
Even if it meant he would have to sacrifice his own life in its stead.
It was his mission. And his purpose. He would not fail his mission. The king had appointed him directly, and it was an honor he did not take lightly. That was the primary role of the Knights, was it not? Life in service to the King.
The others had given their lives in service, and if he had learned anything from Feindoz – inarguably the greatest Palladium Knight to ever live aside from Varme himself – it was that you fight to the death if necessary. Their sacrifices had saved gods knew how many lives.
Acbain listened again. A sound even more threatening reached his eardrums. It sent a sharp spike of adrenaline through his body, and his pulse jumped to a rapid thrumming.
This time it was not the sound of more bows. Instead, one of the Shadows had begun to cast an incantation. From the sound of it, an offensive spell, though its words came in an alien language.
Acbain strained his ears, trying to catch a word or phrase to tip him off. Immediately his brain went to work, preparing different defenses for an attack he couldn’t predict.
So he did the most logical thing, he prepared for the worst.
The Shadow shouted its last piece of magic casting tongue. A bright teal light shot forward, straight at him and his steed. The color revealed the spell.
An Incapacitation spell!
The apprentice knight barely had time to shriek “I command thee, Force Redirection” at the incoming stream of energy as it reached him. The beam hit him and wavered a bit, as if trying to decide whether or not to work. In the end, instead of stopping him in place as he feared, it bent backwards on itself and flowed right back at its caster, following the same trajectory it had come from.
More sweat broke his pores, sliding down the sides of his face. Yet another one of his spells had bought him a few precious additional seconds. Fortunately it had worked without the full incantation, especially not knowing his adversary’s abilities.
Next time he might not be so lucky.
Horses neighed and cried loudly as they crashed to the ground somewhere in the distance. The Shadows that fell with them screamed strange words. Stalled, but not stopped. The Shadows that didn’t fall, kept up, pushing their shadowy steeds on faster.
And how did they get the name 'shadows' anyway, he wondered. Not a good time to think this (he knew that) but it didn't stop the thought. Sure they have no definite form, but they do have solid bodies. I guess-
Then the thought went out on its own. What replaced it was a stronger thought of survival.
Almost there. Just have to hold out a little bit longer…
Fwip-Fwip-Fwip! Three more arrows flew past him on the right and left. One of them whizzed right past his head, nearly taking his ear off as it sailed by.
No! I can’t fail! I will not!
More bows were strung. He couldn’t tell how many, but more than before. He felt like a dead man walking (or riding).
“Huzar!” the Shadow hissed in its Neverplanar tongue. Thoof! All of the bows were released in unison. The Artifactian feared for the worst as he snapped his head back and upward to assess the oncoming barrage. His fears were confirmed.
A sea of arrows filled the afternoon sky, nearly blocking out what little sun remained. Dozens of arrows gained speed, arced at their apex and rapidly descended in rhythmic fashion. Each Nevershadow had shot multiple arrows at once, attempting to pummel him with force, rather than accuracy.
Acabin was entirely sure that the shadow-arrows would hurt him. Then again, he didn't wish to find out.
The attack would have worked too… Had the Artifactian not expected something this beforehand.
Acbain ran his arm through the reins and held them in place in the crook of his elbow. Turning backwards, he yanked a large scroll free from his waistband and pulled it open towards the oncoming arrows. “Trapped Spell of Mlarzarath, I release Thee!”
The scroll burned to cinders as fire shot out above him, creating a wide arc of flames that singed through the afternoon air.
Sssssss! What arrows touched the flames incinerated immediately as they passed through, becoming ash upon contact. The ash kissed the Artifactian’s skin and blew away with the breeze. The rest crashed down around him, sticking into tree branches, and crashing into the surrounding foliage.
He turned back to the front, further fleeing the hot air above him. Some part of him wished he could have just used the scroll to burn the Shadows as they came. He quickly dismissed the foolish notion, knowing that it would have burned down the entire forest had he done it.
Just a smidge further, he told himself.
Acbain couldn’t help but feel pride in his ability to delay their attacks. All those years training in the ways of the Defensive Arts had taught him to use his abilities against his opponents. T’was the life of a staff wielder such as he.
His pride was ebbed away however, as a new notion emerged. He’d never trained in many offensive spells, so he couldn’t attack them outright, even if he wanted to. Not that he didn’t possess the power or understanding – quite the opposite really – but it was not his learned skill set.
The Knight’s apprentice grimaced at the thought of his own life ending so early, though a sliver of suspicion worked up his spine that his time was short.
What made matters worse was that they kept coming. He had no more scrolls, and he could feel his body draining of its magic. The fatigue had hit, and the NeverShadows were relentless. He hadn't even thought about the fact that there weren’t any NeverBeasts to deal with. He guessed he should have been grateful for that at least…
His elemental Terra spells had helped, but the time was coming fast when he’d have to switch to his Alignment spells. Most likely, it would damn near kill him.
Or literally, if it came down to it. He wished more in that moment than ever before that he had his teacher’s staff.
Moment by moment, Acbain’s fate became steadily clearer; he would not make it long enough to see the sun rise again.
Just as he knew they would, the trees broke open into a clearing. A grey, three foot stone stood solitary in the center of the clearing like an important figure encircled with bodyguards.
The Artifactian jumped off his horse, unstrapped the cloth wrapped Artifact from his back, and placed it on the ground. He faced the direction he’d just come. Acbain held out both hands, as was required for a spell of this caliber, and shouted “In the name of the Frozen Deity of Bealwer, I create thee a Wall of Glass!”
This full incantation of the spell created a wide barrier of solid, frozen matter that resembled thick glass. Ice had always been Acbain's favorite type of Terra magic, its properties having so many practical uses. This, however, was only another stall tactic that would buy him seconds, a minute at most. Time was definitely not on this young elf’s side.
He lugged the giant Artifact onto one shoulder, thrust his open hand out past the grey rock, and said “I rebuke the spell of cloaked visage, and command thee show what is hidden! Reveal thyself!”
The mirage of what currently looked like a collection of trees and plants instantly melted away. In its stead stood a large formation of rocks in the shape of a small cave. The spell they had cast on the cave had worked perfectly, keeping the vault safe from prying eyes in the past.
Now, he had no other choice than to let it be known. Even if the enemy knew the Artifact’s location, he had to trust that the Artifact would be safe once it was in its resting place.
Acbain lumbered as fast as he could to the stone with the Drakonic writing on it. The hefty Artifact weighed him down greatly, causing his steps to be slow. Upon reaching it, he with a miniature white cross from his satchel. He shoved the cross into the stone's top, where it twisted clockwise into place. The rock opening to the cave split open, the two halves pulling apart to opposite sides.
A loud, earsplitting Crack thundered behind him.
The Shadows are already at the wall? Time was dwindling and he had to act fast.
The young Artifactian attempted to run the best he could manage while carrying the cumbersome object. He was not used to its weight. He’d been trained from the start in magic, not lifting heavy objects. To most creatures, even a human maybe, the object would be nothing more than a nuisance. But things are different when one is only four foot tall, and the heaviest thing you lift is a staff or a book.
Acbain entered the cave, only being able to see via the light coming in the trees behind him. Even in the faint glow of still dusking light, he could see the walls of Holy Stone that created a narrow corridor leading to the back of the cave. He made a quick calculation of the size, and the material of the interior walls. Perhaps he could use them…
The cave was much smaller than he’d anticipated, having never been there before. Then again, he reasoned as he lurched forward, if this were bigger, it might have been more easily discovered. The king really had thought of everything, hadn't he?
The apprentice Knight was only halfway into the cave when he heard the ice wall break with a loud crash! He needed more time.
Just a few more seconds. He needed to stall them just a few more seconds...
He needed to unveil his trump card.
Acbain set the Artifact on the ground once more. He turned to the cave entrance as the Shadows began to pour in. He waited for the right moment. They rushed in one after another, coming straight for him with reckless abandon. A few more seconds… Not quite… Almost…
Now! “I call upon the Realm of Heavens, and Command thee to send a champion of Light! I summon thee, Warrior Seraph!”
A wide light spread across the cave, from one wall to the other, using the walls of Holy Stone as a conduit for the dimension gate, or the Dime Gate. A large portal opened, emitting a powerful, radiant light and creating an odd rippling noise as the two dimensions coalesced together to create one link. The light of the portal intensified, blinding the Artifactian himself, causing him to throw his hands over his eyes. The light poured out of the portal, basking everything it touched with a holy radiant glow.
In a mere split second, the Celestial being emerged.
Its body was a complete white crystal, dazzling in appearance. Its skin looked like jasper or carnelian, not fleshy like that of the creatures from Acbain’s world. It stepped out, but did not touch the ground. It hovered above, its body too otherworldly to even make contact.
The creature knew its purpose and wasted no time in springing to action. In its hands, the seraph held a Sword of Light – a blade made purely of particles from the realm of which it lived. It raised the sword, and swung it heavily down in a diagonal sweep, sending an arc of light out from the tip of the blade. The light flew forward, evaporating the NeverShadows as it landed on them, engulfing their bodies with brightness.
Screams of pain filled the night as the Shadows disappeared in droves, leaving no trace behind of their existence. The other objects the light touched were unaffected due to their non-alignment of dark and light. The Celestial could not stay any longer and disappeared back into the portal, all within a mere three seconds. The portal closed abruptly, disintegrated and silence ensued.
The spell was taxing on the elf. He limped forward, now dragging the Artifact, consuming what little energy was left in him. Only once before had he used a Realm level spell, and even then it almost killed him. He was lucky it hadn’t killed him now, though he felt like death all over, drained of both his magic energy as well as his life force.
Acbain continued forward, inching his way to the Holding Statue for the Artifact. Even now, he could hear more Shadows closing in. How many of them were there? Dozens? A hundred?
No one knew exactly how many creatures had been deserted here once Denteroth had escaped back to the Neverplane and closed their way home. It wouldn’t matter how many there were if he, the one charged with the Artifact’s concealment, didn’t even fulfill his role.
After an eternity of moments, he finally reached the iron statue. Forged in the image of the Father of Creation, aka the Holding Statue, the statue stood stoically with open hands before him. This was the only safe place left for the Artifact. Two rohkahn stood at attention to the sides of the statue. Acbain knew that he’d have to set up the other trial himself, surely as the others had done for the second Artifact.
It was only by good fortune, and possibly the grace of the Father, that they’d been able to defeat Denteroth and seal the other Artifact away. Acbain had to uphold his end.
He would despite the outcome.
The elf placed the Artifact in the cold metallic hands of the statue. The Artifact came unwrapped as he pulled back the cloth. All the while, Acbain was careful not to make contact with it and his flesh. The Artifact slid out of the wrap and neatly into the statue’s outstretched fingers. He half-expected the fingers to close around the object, but nothing as dramatic as such occurred.
Acbain stared at the unwrapped treasure before him. It was unfortunate that he could not touch the Artifact, or he would have held it, caressed it even. The workmanship was, in itself, beauty incarnate. It seemed to call out to him, to trance him. Hold me, Acbain… just for a moment…
But he had not the blood to actually hold the Artifact, nor the time for such luxuries. The NeverShadows closed in, now right beyond the clearing outside if he heard correctly. Acbain hustled over to the rohkahn. He placed a red Action Seal on each of their metallic stomachs, and attached his last two enermos shards on their backs.
Hearing more movement outside, he hastily prepared the second trial. In a rush, he enchanted the very ground he stood upon with a special spell of its own. This ritual wore him down even more than he was before.
He was tired. So very tired.
But the steps were vital. He knew the trials would ensure that whoever claimed the Artifact was indeed worthy enough to use it. If that person failed, the Artifact would remain where it was, until a real user – or God forbid – the Never creatures, claimed it.
However, his time had run out and he knew it, so there was no chance to check his workmanship. The second he finished the incantation, he dashed out of the cave as fast as his stubby legs would allow, putting distance between himself and the Artifact.
The Palladium apprentice sprinted out to the grey stone. He twisted the cross in the slot and removed it when it popped up. Simultaneously, the large halves of boulder slid back together, creating a single entity once again, the seam undetectable to the naked eye. Badly he wished to have cloaked the place once more.
Not a moment too soon had this happened. A Nevershadow broke through the trees and thrust its black sword into the neck of the Artifactian’s steed. With a loud whine, the horse collapsed to the forest floor.
“Where is the Artifact!?” The Shadow hissed loudly, pointing its sword right at him, and this time speaking his own language. They can speak our language? No time to consider this.
Acbain said nothing in response. He held the cross in his hand behind his back, not allowing the monstrosity before him to know of its presence.
The shadow stepped forward. Acbain could hear more before he saw them, but only a second later, the rest made their appearance. Four dozen sets of red glowing eyes and dark bodies emerged through the trees simultaneously. NeverShadows closed in from every direction, bows and swords drawn and trained directly on him.
The last of the Palladium Knights – not even officially a knight – knew that this moment would be his last. First he whispered, “bless you Father, as you have allowed me to serve my purpose.” Then, to the NeverShadows, he shouted, “Beasts of the Neverplane, you will know the power of the Knights!”
Acbain tossed the cross high in the air, then threw his arms out in surrender.
“Father of Life, Bring forth your Light…” The shadows, knowing something was coming, began to charge at the Artifactian to stop him. “Let thy servant be a sacrifice for the greater good of this world you’ve created!” Then with every last ounce of his strength, he shouted his last words…
“I command thee Pillar of Heaven, devour these dark souls with the cost of my own!”
Boom! The clouds above ripped asunder as a beam of light burst forth. It cut through the afternoon sky, sending a shockwave out in every direction as it hurdled for the man standing with arms raised. The shadows turned to run, but there was no running from such a spell.
The beam hit the ground and shook the very dirt he stood upon, creating a concave in the ground around him. As for the charcoal colored stone next to him, it did not break, for it was made of the same Holy Stone from inside the cave.
Thin tendrils of light shot out in every direction like reaching arms, grabbing the NeverShadows as they attempted to flee. They disintegrated upon the touch.
Acbain smiled as he vanished into the Light. He disappeared in one quick flash, knowing his work was completed. The shadows however, screamed and wailed in anguish as the Light consumed their very souls. Each and every one of them within the vicinity was vaporized.
Not a single one escaped the reaches of the Light as it instantly consumed them.
Without another passing moment, the Light disappeared as quickly as it came.
A slight drizzle began to fall in the forest in that particular moment and the small cross fell to the concaved dirt floor around the grey stone, where it lay for years to come.
And the grey robed figure receded quietly into the forest, having witnessed it all.


Book CHAPTER ZERO end ---

So - what did you think? If you enjoyed this, please consider downloading Paladin from Amazon while its still cheap. I appreciate your support, and look forward to comments.

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