Saturday, August 13, 2011

Sample Sunday- 8/14

It's a day early, but here's my entry for Sample Sunday. It is the first three chapters of The Shadows of Caldreth. I expect to finish the book this wook, which puts me right on time for a September 1st release.

Well, here's the first three chapters.

* * * * *
Chapter 1
As the sun was setting, Caleb rode his horse down the rocky road to the north of Lysaen. The black and white paint had a rough trot, bouncing him in his black leather saddle as though he had not spent much time in the saddle in his life.
He sighed as he tried to slow the horse down a bit. He was in no hurry, but it seemed that she refused to drop below a trot though. It seemed that Katie had not been lying at all when she told him that paints were stubborn.
A fond smile made its way to his face as he thought of Katie. He had met her about seven months earlier as a prisoner in a bandit camp. After he had saved her from a life of slavery, she had decided to help him with his quest.
The near perpetual frown that he had worn in the last six months suddenly surfaced at that train of thought. Everything went back to his quest. It was what kept him from feeling happiness.
A day or so before he had met Katie, his home village of Kirakath had been massacred by a force of bandits. He had been away from the village at the time on a hunting trip, so he had survived. When he had discovered what had happened, only his father still lived, but he had been on the verge of death.
His father's last request had been that he take up the Sword of Kirakath and avenge his village. That had become his quest, his life's purpose. Throughout it, he had expected to die once he succeeded.
It had been six months since he killed Cain Fell, the leader of the bandits that had massacred Kirakath. Even after he killed the man, Caleb continued to live. What he had thought to be his life's purpose had long since been completed, and he was still around.
Often, he asked the stars why he still drew breath. Naturally, he had not yet gotten an answer.
He broke away from his thoughts as he began to take notice of his surroundings. It was so easy to get lost in the monotony of the forests that covered the land of Arcadia that he had not even noticed the inn that was coming up on his right hand side.
His hand touched the soft leather of his coin purse, and he reached into it. Feeling around, he counted out twenty silver marks.
“I must have spent my last crown in Lysaen,” he muttered to himself. It did not make much of a difference to him if he had a gold piece or ten silver marks. They were worth the same amount, after all. Truth be told, he preferred having copper pieces or silver marks over crowns. They were not as high profile, after all.
I guess I'll be sleeping inside tonight. It's definitely better than sleeping on the ground.
He brought his horse to a stop in front of the inn, pulling back on the reins hard. It was similar to the Black Raven Inn outside of Caldreth, but the sign above the door had a picture of a light blue sparrow on it. There were no words written on it, but that did not surprise him too much. Even though he could read and write, many commoners could not.
Caleb slid off of his mare and stroked the pommel of his sword as he walked towards the door of the inn. With it open, he made a clicking sound with his teeth, and the paint began to walk towards him. It followed him as he walked to the back of the building where the stables were. Of the five stables that had been put in, only one of them was free, so he put his horse there.
After that, he walked back to the entrance of the inn, going through the door to the right when he neared it. It brought him into the tavern portion of the inn. A dozen or so tables were scattered in front of the bar, where a middle aged man was standing.
The almost seventeen year old boy walked up to the bar and lightly placed his right hand on its surface. “I'll take some water and a room for the night,” he said as he looked the bartender in the eyes. As he spoke, he lifted his right hand, revealing a silver piece.
“For a silver, you can have my finest bed and all the water you can drink,” the man said as he turned to the rack that was mounted on the wall behind the bar. Next to it were three large barrels that rested atop crates. He removed a pewter tankard from the rack and held it beneath the valve that protruded from the barrel on the far right. Water spilled into the tankard as the innkeeper began to speak again.
“It looks like something's troubling you.”
“I'm fine,” he said without hesitation. He knew that the man was just making small talk. He had been to enough roadside inns to know that much, at least.
“If you say so,” the innkeeper said as he set the tankard in front of the young man. “You look like you could use something a bit stronger though.”
“I probably could, but I'd rather keep a clear mind,” the young man said with a dismissive shake of his head.
“As you say,” the innkeeper said with a shrug.
Caleb brought the tankard to his lips, wetting his throat. It was not the best well water that he had ever tasted, but it got the job done. It helped his dry throat at the very least.
“Thanks,” he muttered as he lowered the tankard and turned away from the bar. He made his way to a table in the far corner of the room.
As he sat down, a pang of loneliness filled him. He had been alone for too long, and he truly missed a number of people. Of those still living, the one he missed the most was not Gabriel Silver, his best friend growing up, strangely enough. It was Katie.
Where are you now? The image of his redheaded companion came to mind, sending a subtle pain rippling through him. Ever since she left after the death of Cain Fell and the Black Crows, he had missed her. Though they had only known each other for about a month before they parted ways and their relationship had been grounded on a perceived debt, she had dominated his thoughts since then.
Is there anything I could have done differently?
The question seemed to come up daily, but he had yet to come up with an actual answer. The closest thing to an answer that he could come up with was that he made a mistake. It was the only explanation that seemed somewhat likely.
Sure, we may have argued a bit too often, but having her around… it would have to be better than this.
Sometime after he finished his water, Caleb found his eyes wandering over his shoulder to the door of the tavern. It seemed perfectly timed with the door creeping open slowly.
His eyes moved back to the tankard immediately. He had nothing to worry about. After all, nearly everyone in the world was a stranger to him. One more showing up did not really make a difference in the grand scheme of things.
As the sound of footsteps drew near after a few moments, Caleb eyes once again went over his shoulder. He took in the sight of a man in his early twenties with a clean shaven face and dark hair tied in a pony tail. He was garbed in black, though his body was mostly covered by a black cloak.
He stopped a few feet away from Caleb and spoke clearly with a subtle accent. “Greetings to you, sir. I don't suppose your name is Caleb Sullivan, is it?”
“I am,” Caleb said stiffly. He had not actually used his surname since the Massacre of Kirakath. He had taken care to leave it off of his name during introductions since then. It stirred wounds that were not fully healed yet.
The man smiled, though no hint of emotion could been seen in it. “That's good to hear. I have something for you.” His right hand slid into his cloak on his left side as he spoke.
A sense of warmness suddenly surged through Caleb's blood, and he felt as though he stood before a large fire.
Out of pure instinct, Caleb threw himself to his right out of his chair. He hit the ground and rolled away, his eyes catching movement. The man had drawn a dagger from beneath his cloak and had brought it in an arc directed at Caleb. If he had not acted when he did, he would have been sporting a nasty cut at the very least.
That was a lucky save. But why in the abyss did he try to kill me?
“You're as good as I was told,” the man said as he pointed the dagger at him. “But the question remains… was that skill, or was it luck?”
“There's only one way to find out,” Caleb said as his hand found the handle of the knife at his belt. Though he usually left his long sword attached to his saddle so that he did not have to carry it at all times, he always made sure to carry his stag handled hunting knife.
As fast as Caleb could blink, the man was a few feet away from him, lunging forward with his dagger. Caleb had an advantage though. He had less distance to cover in order to defend than the man had to cover in order to attack.
All eyes were upon them as Caleb deflected the dagger and brought the knife in a swift arc, slitting the man's throat smoothly.
As the man fell to the ground, Caleb's eyes went to the door of the tavern as it was thrown open. Two men, garbed similarly to the man that he had just killed, ran into the room.
But something else happened too, and it was something that was even more worrying. It felt as though fire had filled his veins.
No! This can't be happening! I'm not even in the same room as the sword, but it feels just as intense as it did last time!
His thoughts soon came to an end as bloodlust took over.
The only warning that came before he bolted forward was the barely noticeable tensing of his muscles. As subtle as the warning was, both cloaked figures noticed it and readied themselves. The first one drew a scimitar from his hip, while the other one drew a pair of short swords from his back.
“Get down!” the innkeeper yelled as he ducked behind the bar. His words caused the other patrons to get under the tables that they were sitting at.
They had another effect too. They drew the first man's eyes way from Caleb.
He paid for the mistake with his life.
By the time he turned to face Caleb, the blond's knife was a mere six inches away from him.
When he had looked away, Caleb had thrown the knife with the precision that he only seemed to possess under the influence of the fire that filled his veins.
As the knife struck the man's throat, his scimitar fell to the ground. The large volume of blood that poured out around the knife made it clear that he was on death's doorstep.
Caleb quickly reached the dying man and kicked him backwards with enough force to make the second man sidestep in order to dodge him. His right hand flew to the hilt of the dropped scimitar as he looked at the last of the cloaked men. His gaze was akin to that of a wolf.
At that moment, Caleb was more of a predator than a man. With the bloodlust controlling him, he was little more than a killer.
With his hand firmly wrapped around the hilt of the sword that he had borrowed, Caleb dashed forward and brought it around in a swift arc that was met by crossed short swords.
Under ordinary circumstances, the attack and defense would have resulted in a stalemate. The scimitar was designed for cutting and could easily generate speed thanks to the slender but sturdy design of the blades. Meanwhile, crossed short swords were one of the most efficient defenses against sword swings because of the way that they worked together.
There was one very simple way to defeat the crossed swords defense with a head-on attack, however. That was brute force.
With the fire flowing through his veins, Caleb had brute force in spades. He had far more of it than finesse at that moment, in fact.
The cloaked man's eyes widened as Caleb threw him against the door with the force of his attack. It was nearly great enough to knock the swords from his hands. Nearly. Though it did not quite do that, it still put a fairly large crack in the door where he hit.
Caleb did not give his enemy a moment of peace, even with him against the wall. Instead, he raised the sword above his head and brought it down with all the force that he could muster.
The sound of steel against steel rang out throughout the room as the scimitar met the cloaked man's crossed short swords once again. Unlike the last time, however, Caleb's attack broke through the defense clearly. It knocked the short swords to the ground.
As they hit the ground, Caleb put the tip of the scimitar to the man's throat.
“This is not the end,” the man vowed. “You may have defeated us this night, but this is just the beginning. We only have to be victorious once to succeed, unlike you.”
With those words spoken, Caleb stepped forward and ran the curved blade through the man's throat without a hint of emotion.
Caleb felt the fire in his veins vanish as the final cloaked man died. His bloodlust dwindled with it. In its place, a sense of revulsion filled him. It was certainly not the first time that he had ever taken a live, but that did not make it much easier to look upon the body of a man that he had just killed.
He was broken from his thoughts by the innkeeper's voice.
“That was amazing!”
His eyes went to the middle-aged man as he processed the words. How can anyone thing killing men is amazing?
He sighed. If he was completely honest with himself, he had to admit that he had expected to be chastised by the innkeeper by his actions, if not thrown out. Even if the man had not been disturbed by the way he killed three men, he had expected the man to be a little upset about the corpses that were now decorating his tavern. Instead, it appeared that he was pleased.
People were never simple, it seemed. Thoughts of Katie, Nicolas Edge, and Lance White surfaced suddenly, bringing a measure of sadness to him once again.
How I long to see you guys… it's been too long.
Clearing his throat, Caleb turned to face the innkeeper and said, “I think I'll take something a bit stronger than water after all.”
The innkeeper laughed with a twinkle in his eyes. “Drinks for everyone on the house!” he declared with a grin. “Tonight, we honor our hero.” He pursed his lips as something seemed to occur to him. “I don't suppose you'd be willing to tell us your name, would you?”
Caleb sighed. I guess it doesn't matter. Even if he didn't hear that guy say my name earlier, someone else probably did.
Exhaling a deep breath, he nodded and said the only name that he ever introduced himself as anymore.
“I'm Caleb of Kirakath.”

Chapter 2
Caleb woke up regretting his decision to drink the night before. It had sounded like a good idea at the time, but it had just been a distraction from the business of killing the cloaked men that had come looking for him. Though it worked as a distraction, it also left him with a killer headache.
He shook his head as he sat up in the bed. Distractions and headaches were the least of his concerns at that moment. From what he could gather from the events of the night before, someone wanted him dead.
Could it be one of Cain's men? The thought did not sit well with him. He was completely aware of the fact that he had only seen a small number of Cain's men die, so it was a possibility. His father had made it clear to him that a hundred men attacked Kirakath, and his father was not the type to make himself look better by exaggerating. So when it came right down to it, Cain only managed to retain a fourth of his men when Caleb found his camp.
He sighed as he slid ninety degrees on the bed so that his feet could touch the cold, wooden floor. He had known all along that he had allowed the other seventy-five men involved in the Massacre of Kirakath live, though he spared little thought to it. All that mattered to him was that Cain had been responsible for the massacre, and he had died for it. For all he knew, the rest of the men involved had been dismissed after their job was finished.
No, it can't be them. That… assassin… called my Caleb Sullivan. They might know me as Caleb of Kirakath, but there's just no way that they could have figured out my real name.
He pursed his lips, confusion enthralling him. He could not figure out how anyone could possibly know his actual name. He had not directly used the name since Kirakath was massacred, after all.
A memory flickered in his mind as he suddenly remembered Jon and Correll Staerk, the slavers that had intended to sell him to someone from the Isle of Akabar. They had asked him if he had known Michael Sullivan.
Damn it all to the abyss! Everyone I saved that day had to know my surname because of that. They could have easily revealed my real name without even meaning to. I need to be more careful.
He sighed again as he rose to his feet. He knew one thing for certain at that moment. He needed to get as far away from there as he could, as quickly as possible. He was sure that there were more after him. The third assassin had said as much the night before.
Once he was dressed in his black leather boots, black trousers, and black tunic, he left the room and made his way to the tavern.
Upon arriving, he noted that the weapons of the assassins from the night before had been hung upon the walls. He groaned as he realized that the events of the previous night would likely be common knowledge to all future patrons of the inn.
That's why he wanted my name. Needless to say, the thought was quite displeasing. He did not want his name to be spoken with some sort of reverence as a result of killing three men.
“It's good to see you again,” the innkeeper said as he came out of the door next to the barrel of ale behind the bar. “I never properly thanked you for saving my inn, along with my customers.”
“They were here for me,” Caleb said, shaking his head. “I didn't save anyone. They weren't even in danger.”
“That's not how I'll tell it,” the innkeeper said with a grin as he walked behind the bar. From behind it, he removed an object and held it out. Caleb immediately recognized it as his knife, and it was being offered handle first. “I took care of the bodies last night after you called it a night. I thought you'd be leaving today, so I cleaned your knife for you.”
“I am,” Caleb said with a small smile as he took the knife from the innkeeper's hand and sheathed it. “Thanks for retrieving it for me. This knife is very important to me.”
“Oh?” the innkeeper asked, clearly hoping to hear something that he could add onto the tale he no doubt planned to tell future patrons of his inn.
“My father gave it to me,” Caleb said stifle. It was clear that he would not say any more, but he did not need to either. Just about everyone in the kingdom knew of the Massacre of Kirakath by now.
Caleb turned away from the innkeeper and began to walk towards the door, but he was stopped by a question that came from the innkeeper.
“Are you really the sole survivor of Kirakath? You're the only one I've heard of since it happened.”
Caleb closed his eyes and braced his right hand against the door at the question. There were two others, presumably. He knew nothing of Hector's fate, nor that of Gabriel Silver. He hoped that they were still alive and well, but hope was not a thing he relied on anymore. It felt as though he had lost all reason to have hope in anything.
“I'm the only one that survived,” he said, quietly as he pulled the door open. It was not a lie. Not exactly, at least. Hector had been gone for four months when the massacre occurred, and Gabriel had already left to join the King's Army when it happened. As a result, Caleb was the only one that was still living in Kirakath during the massacre that survived.
Caleb immediately walked to the stables and removed his mare from it.
His eyes drifted to his saddle immediately. At the back of the saddle, the yew long bow that Nicolas had given him and his quiver were wrapped in a sheet of canvas and were tied to the back of the seat. That was not the main thing that caught his eye though. Instead, he was looking at the possession that he both hated and loved above all else: the Sword of Kirakath.
It was a majestic looking sword, but he could not admire anything about it after feeling its power.
Will I be forced to use you again?
He felt that he knew the answer, and it was not one that he liked. Its magic had filled him the night before, making it clear that he did not need to touch it in order to use it. Of that, he was certain.
Dad, why did you want me to get this sword? Surely there was another way to kill them without relying on it? The magic of the sword and the way it affected him had continued to bother him.
He shook his head as he sheathed the sword back and made his way out of the inn.
It was with a heavy heart that Caleb rode away from the Blue Sparrow Inn.
* * * * *
Later that night, the door of the tavern opened and a man wearing a black hooded cloak walked in. He lowered his hood as he surveyed his surroundings.
He was a clean shaven man with pale skin, stormy gray eyes, and short black hair.
He walked to the bar with a smooth walk that did not make a sound. Stopping before the innkeeper, he placed one mark on the bar with an empty smile.
“I've had a long ride today. A pint of ale would be much appreciated, my good man.”
The innkeeper licked his lips as he picked up the coin and got to work.
The man's eyes went to the wall of the tavern where a dagger, a scimitar, and two short swords were hung. The sight made his eyes narrow dangerously.
They bear the mark of the Night Blades. You can only pry them from our hands when death takes us, so their mark must have killed them. I always love seeing something so ironic.
The innkeeper set the tankard of ale down before the man and cleared his throat. “I see you're admiring the new decorations.”
The man turned to the innkeeper with a smile. “Indeed, I am. I don't suppose they have a story behind them, do they?”
As expected, an eager look overcame the innkeeper as he nodded his head and began to tell his tale.
“Last night, a young man was sitting over at that table in the corner when….”
The man listened patiently as the innkeeper told the tale of how the young man killed three assassins with minimal effort.
It's a shame I turned down that job. Still, the boss is going to need this information. If this kid is going by Caleb of Kirakath, it may explain why they have had so much trouble tracking him down.
“So when did this Caleb of Kirakath leave?” he asked, his hand creeping into his cloak.
“He left this morning. Why do you ask?”
Those were the innkeeper's last words. The man's dagger ended his life as soon as they were spoken with a single cut. With a spin, the man threw three other knives from underneath his cloak at the few other patrons that were present. As always, they were lethal throws.
With that, the man drank the cheap ale from his tankard and tossed it to the side, uncaring of the prospect of making a mess.
“It really pisses me off when people make me go out of my way to do something. I just left Umbridge this morning, so now I've lost two full days of riding. I guess my target gets to live a little longer.”
He left a short time later, but only after torching the Blue Sparrow Inn and watching it burn.
Azrael, the greatest assassin among the Night Blades, always left very little in the way of evidence.
It would likely be months before anyone even realized that the inn was gone. Even then, no one would suspect him.
Azrael only took on the high profile targets. Barely succeeding innkeepers were outside of his normal fare. People that seemed completely unremarkable, like Caleb of Kirakath, were too.
If he had made an exception, everything would have been different. But he did not.

 * * * *
Chapter 3
“This looks like a good place to stop,” Caleb said from atop the back of his horse as he came to a stop in front of the entrance at Greenville.
It had been a little over a month since the incident at the Blue Sparrow Inn, and he had stayed on the move every day since then. He had taken to staying at very few inns too, knowing that he could remain unnoticed more easily if he camped out.
Though he had avoided staying at inns too often in the past month, he knew that he had to stay in one that night. Despite the fact that it was a few weeks into summer, he had not been able to find anything in the last couple days on his short hunting trips. It seemed that he needed to stay at an in so that he could get something to eat for the night.
Even though he had no choice but to spend the night at the inn in Greenville, Caleb planned on leaving early the next morning. Even if he had to spend the night there, he could not risk giving anyone too much time to catch up to him.
He frowned as he rubbed the neck of his mare. He was not sure how he knew it, but he knew for sure that he was being pursued. As if the thought of being pursued was not bad enough, he knew that his pursuers were assassins, much like the ones that attacked him at the inn.
Sighing, he nudged his horse into a walk, passing through the iron archway that served as an entrance to the village. Unlike all of the other villages that he had been to before, Greenville was surrounded by a wall, though it was only waist high at most. It was also the largest village that he had ever been to, by the looks of it. He could make out about a hundred houses and what appeared to be a marketplace. Since the sun had just set, the streets were empty though.
Although it was too dark to see everything too clearly, Caleb easily found his way down the street. It seemed that the time he had spent outside at night had come to serve him well in the long run.
He came to a stop at the first building in the village. It was a large building with some stables built into the right side of it. He slid off of his saddle and tied shadow up in the stables before his eyes went to the sheathed sword that hung from his saddle.
I guess keeping it away from me is pointless if the sword's magic can reach me when I'm not in the same room as it.
Shaking his head, he removed the sheathed sword from his saddle and strapped it to his left hip at his belt. Once that was done, he turned away from the horse and made his way to the front door of the inn.
His eyes went to the sign that hung above the front door of the inn immediately. It was simply called The Greenville Inn, which struck him as a little odd. While any villagers would know its name off the top of their head, it was unlikely that any visitors would be able to read the name of the inn.
Shaking his head from such thoughts, he opened the door. Immediately, his senses were assaulted by the smell of freshly roasted chicken.
Looking around the room, he noted that it looked like a tavern, but there was a set of stairs in the far right hand corner of the room, which led to a balcony. The balcony completely surrounded the room about ten feet from the floor, but his eyes were not on the balcony or stairs any further.
His hunger outweighed his curiosity at that moment, so he walked up to the bar immediately, his eyes straying to the door off to the right of it. By the smell of roasted chicken coming from that doorway, he was willing to guess that the kitchen was through it.
Turning his eyes back to the bar, he took note of the elderly man behind it.
“I don't suppose the kitchen is still open, is it?” Caleb asked.
The elderly man nodded with a smile. “It'll be open for a while still. Would you like some dinner and a bed for the night?”
“That would be great,” Caleb answered as he reached for his coin purse. “How much will it be?”
“It'll just be ten coppers,” the man replied.
Nodding, Caleb set a single silver mark on the bar in front of him.
The old man's eyes wandered from the mark to Caleb for a moment. “How old are you?”
“I'm seventeen,” Caleb answered quietly. His birthday had passed since he left the Blue Sparrow Inn. The fact that he had not celebrated the day did not bother him at all. In fact, celebrating his birthday would have felt odd to him. After all, the people he had celebrated his birthday with every year before that were all dead, with the sole exceptions of his mentor and his best friend. He suspected that they were still alive, but he had no idea where they were though.
“You don't look a day under nineteen,” the elderly man said with a frown.
Caleb actually chuckled at that, dark emotions surfacing in his bright blue eyes. “I guess I look older than I am. You could say that I've had a rough life. I am Caleb of Kirakath after all.”
Though it may have seemed counterproductive to reveal his name so casually when assassins were pursuing him, he saw nothing wrong with it. The pursuers were searching for Caleb Sullivan, after all, not Caleb of Kirakath.
Realization dawned in the elderly man's eyes. “I've heard rumors of a young man that survived the Massacre of Kirakath. They saw he hunted down the bandits that massacred his village right after it happened. Do you mean to say that you are him?”
“Yeah, I am,” Caleb said with a frown. He did not understand how anyone could know of him. He had not told anyone the stories of what he had done. The fact that the man before him knew that he hunted down Cain's men truly surprised him.
“You're the second person from Kirakath that I've ever met. The last one came around about a year ago, actually. He had dark brown hair, a rough beard, and dark green eyes. I can't remember what he said his name was though. Memory's the first thing that starts to go with old age, they say,” the elderly man remarked thoughtfully.
Caleb's eyes went wide at those words. Only one man from Kirakath met that description. “His name was Hector Green.”
The elderly man nodded his head. “Yeah, that was what he said. It slipped my mind until you said it. I take it you know him?”
Caleb nodded with a dry throat. “He was my mentor. A little over a year ago, he left Kirakath without telling us where he was headed. I haven't heard from him since then.” Relief fluttered through him as he realized that Hector had gone through that same village.
“I'm sure that your mentor is fine,” the man said with a reassuring smile. “He seemed like a pretty solid man to me. I wouldn't bet against him, even if he was going up against a bear with both hands tied behind his back.”
Caleb laughed as he nodded his head in agreement. He had to admit that Hector was a tough man, but a single thought made that less reassuring. Dad was pretty tough too.
“If you'll take a seat, I'll have my wife take a plate of roasted chicken, some bread, and a tankard of water to you when it's done. I'll show you to your room after that.”
“Thanks,” Caleb said as he made his way to a table in the far corner of the room. His attention was not on the patrons that still stared at him when they thought that he was not paying attention but on the information that he had obtained.
While knowing where Hector was at a year earlier was not actually too helpful, it told him what direction Hector had gone. Greenville was roughly fifty miles east of Kirakath, which put Hector's destination a little more certain in his mind.
He either headed to the Great Shield Mountains, or he headed for Felcar's Pass. Either way, I don't think he's in Arcadia anymore. The revelation explained why Hector was nowhere to be found at that moment. If he had heard of the Massacre of Kirakath, he would have managed to track Caleb down rather easily.
Such thoughts dominated his mind until a plate of roasted chicken, a partial loaf of bread, and a tankard of water was brought before him. The rest of his night went by rather quickly.
* * * * *
Seven cloaked riders sat atop black horses outside of the entrance of Greenville. No more than four hours had passed since sunset, and they were all well rested with determination shining in their eyes. After a month of hunting, their prey was within reach.
“He's here. There can be no doubt about it,” the tracker of the group said quietly. No one needed to ask how he was sure of it. It was said that he was able to tell the difference between horse tracks by looking at the depth of the impressions, the size of the actual impressions, and the spacing between the impressions. However he did it, he was good.
“That's good to hear,” their leader said. He was anxious to get the assignment over with. Caleb of Kirakath was wanted dead rather badly, and he would feel a great deal better once the teen was gone.
“Should we call for reinforcements?”
Their leader looked at the new recruit that had been assigned to go with his group. He wanted to scoff and mock the boy for suggesting that they were not enough to take on a seventeen year old boy with absolutely no training in the way of the sword. However, he had heard the stories of the boy's assault on Cain Fell's camp and the story of how he took on three assassins in the Blue Sparrow Inn.
“We'll be fine,” he said, shaking his head. “I'll deal with him myself. He's no doubt in the village's inn right now. I want you six to be outside of the inn while I face him. If it turns out that he's too skilled for me, I'll call for your help.”
“Yes sir,” his subordinates said.
* * * * *
Caleb's eyes snapped open as a chill ran down his spine. He rolled off the bed, landing on his hands and knees with very little noise. Worry was clear in his eyes.
As he commonly did, Caleb had a dreamless sleep, but a sense of foreboding had overcome him and had woken him up. He knew that his gut instincts were generally right, so he quickly moved to the dresser in the corner of the room.
He pulled the drawer open and slipped his tunic over his bare torso. As he normally did, he slept with his trousers and socks on, so he was almost fully dressed already.
He did not even spare a glance to his belt before he removed it from the top of the dresser and fastened it around his waist, ensuring that he had the Sword of Kirakath and the knife his father gave him on him at once.
Once he had his belt and boots on, he slipped through the door of the room and turned right down the dark, bare hallway. He came out of the hallway at the part of the balcony that was right above the bar. He made sure to stay in the shadows though, wanting to keep his presence hidden.
As he peered from the shadows, he saw a cloaked man approaching the bar. The man came to a stop just a few feet away, which allowed Caleb to see the top of his hood and nothing more.
A shiver of fear burst through Caleb as he realized that the assassins had finally caught up to him.
Damn it all to the abyss. The situation looked grim, and the cloaked man's words only confirmed his suspicions that they were after him.
“Is Caleb of Kirakath here?”
Shit! They know my name now!
The assassin was answered by a man with a deep voice from behind the bar. “He might be. What's it to you?”
In response, the cloaked man stepped forward while he moved his body. Though he could not see what the man was doing, Caleb knew that he had gone for a knife.
By the splattering sound and the heavy thumping sound against the wooden floor of the inn, Caleb knew that he was right. The possibility that the man behind the bar was still alive never crossed his mind. The assassin knew what he wanted to know, so killing the man would have been logical.
Rage surged through Caleb at the realization that a man died because of him.
His eyes wandered to the hilt of his sword. It seemed that fire flowed through his veins every time he used it.
With that in mind, he touched the pommel of his sword.
For the first time, he welcomed the fire that flowed through his veins as he dashed forward and leapt over the handrail that surrounded the balcony. He smoothly fell to the ground, easily taking the fall without harm to himself.
Looking over his shoulder, he saw the cloaked man was beginning to turn around, but that was not what his eyes were on. They were on the head of the man that had fallen behind the bar. Only his neck and head were visible, but it was enough to tell Caleb what he needed to know.
The assassin had killed a man in his late twenties with a rough beard. His eyes were wide open, and his throat had been cut open.
“You're young,” the assassin commented.
“No, I'm Caleb of Kirakath,” the blond whispered as his hand moved to his sword and he drew it from its sheath. He spun around as drew the sword, decapitating the assassin in one fluid motion.
As the assassin's head fell to the ground, he looked at it with disgust and said, “I hope you find an eternity of torment in the abyss.”
Closing his eyes, Caleb began to listen intently. He could hear the heavy breathing of horses nearby. It took him a few minutes to sort through the sounds, but he was able to tell exactly how many horses were around the building. It was seven more than it had been when he arrived a few hours earlier.
Those seven aren't in the stables. They're in front of the inn. I guess there are some more assassins waiting for me outside. I better not keep them waiting.
He held his sword in his right hand and walked towards the door with determination in his eyes. The determination within his eyes was like nothing he had felt in a long time. He had not had such a reason to fight in so long. Comparing it to the way he felt a month before was like comparing a bonfire to a candle.
When he threw the door open, he relished in the surprise that was evident in their eyes.
“I'm Caleb of Kirakath, and I'm going to kill you.” Those were the last words he managed to get out before bloodlust consumed him.
Before his enemies could even react, Caleb had dashed forward and stabbed one of them through the heart with his sword.
They had thought to take advantage of the fact that his sword was stuck inside of one of their comrades, so they had all attacked at once.
Caleb had other plans though.
He forced the dying assassin that was occupying his sword as a human shield to defend against the attacks to his right. At the same time, he drew the knife at his right hip with his left hand and began to parry the attacks at his left side.
In the blink of an eye, three more of the assassins were dead. He slit one's throat with his knife, embedded his knife in the skull of another, and had decapitated one of the assassins to his right with his sword.
None of them had even seen him remove his sword from the corpse that he had used as a human shield.
“We can take him. It's still three on one,” one of the assassins said.
Caleb was not sure who said it, but he was positive that that was the next one to die.
With only two assassins left to fight him, Caleb took his sword in both hands. He remained unmoving as he waited for them to attack first.
However, one of the assassins actually turned around and took off running, causing the other one to look away from Caleb at his fleeing partner.
In that single moment, Caleb stepped forward and cut his head off. By the time his head hit the ground, Caleb was already running after the fleeing assassin.
As fast as the young assassin was, Caleb was much faster, especially when under the influence of the magic of the Sword of Kirakath.
The last assassin's death came quickly, and Caleb's bloodlust subsided with it.
Turning around, Caleb saw that people were coming out of their houses, staring at him. It was clear that his fight had woken a few people up. His attention soon turned to the front door of the inn, however.
The elderly man that he had met when he arrived there hours ago was standing in front of the door. By the look on his face, Caleb could tell that he had seen the dead villager inside the inn.
“What is going on?” he asked.
“Let's talk about this inside,” Caleb said quietly.
The elderly man nodded his head in understanding and lead the way.
As soon as they were inside and the door was shut, Caleb said, “I never meant for this to happen. Assassins have been hunting me for about a month. I don't know why, but I've been on the run regardless.”
“That young man is dead because of you,” the elderly man said quietly. There was no judgment in his voice, however. “I hope you understand exactly what that means. His death came because of you, even if his blood is not on your hands. Remember that every action has consequences.”
“I will,” Caleb said quietly. I'm a coward. If I had hunted the assassins down instead of running away, he'd still be alive. I was a fool to think that no one else would be harmed by my decision to run away from them.
Closing his eyes, Caleb asked, “Did he have a family?”
“He had a wife and a baby girl,” the man answered sadly. “They will be devastated.”
Caleb frowned at that news. He understood loss better than anyone. “Please give my condolences to his family,” he said as he removed his coin purse and held it out. “I don't have much, but I want you to give all of my money to his wife. It'll keep them fed for a little while at the very least.”
“I will,” the man promised as he took the coinpurse. “I take it you're leaving now?”
“The sooner I leave, the sooner I can kill the ones who caused that man to die,” Caleb said quietly. “I cannot allow anyone else to suffer for my mistakes.”
“You're too young to be a killer. Revenge is not the way,” the elderly man pleaded. “You can leave this all behind you.”
Caleb chuckled at that, though there was not a hint of humor in it. “I've taken thirty-six lives since Kirakath was massacred, and I have taken revenge on the ones who took my life from me. It left a hollow feeling inside of me, so I know better than to live for revenge.” He shook his head as he walked towards the door. “No, I have a different goal in mind right now. I'm not seeking revenge. I'm going to atone for my mistakes.”
With that, Caleb of Kirakath made his way to his horse and road way from the village of Greenville with his destination clear in his mind.
It was time to pay Nicolas Edge a visit.

* * * * *

And that's it. I intend for The Shadows of Caldreth to be a place where anyone can start reading the series for the first time, even though it's the second book in the series. Not everyone starts reading a series with the first book though.

As it is, the first three books in the series can stand alone. There are subtle, overlying plot lines that flow through them, but they really can stand alone. I hope everyone that reads one (and enjoys it) reads the others, of course.

Anyways, thanks for reading.

* * * * *


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