Saturday, December 3, 2011

Sample Sunday 12/4

Since I've decided to start posting more often again, I've decided to once again take part in Sample Sunday. This will be the largest sample I've ever done, composed of five chapters.

So here are the first five chapters of The Shadows of Caldreth (The Sword of Kirakath, Book 2). While it can be read without reading Through the Flames, I wouldn't recommend it. It reveals major plot points from the first book, making the first book not as exciting to read if you don't read in order.

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. 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 discovered what 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 far too long. There were a few people that he truly missed. Of those still living, the one he missed the most, strangely enough, was not Gabriel Silver, his best friend growing up. 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 warmth 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 appear to be 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, slashing 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 any 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 around 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 stiffly. 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.
Father, 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 target must have killed them. I always love seeing something so ironic, even when it should bother me.
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, as a matter of fact.
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 say 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. Father 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 that name now too!
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 in a long 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.
Thinking to take advantage of the fact that his sword was stuck inside their dying comrade, they all attacked at once.
Caleb had other plans though.
He used the dying assassin that occupied 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 body of their comrade 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 that died.
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 led 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 coin purse. “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 away from the village of Greenville with his destination clear in his mind.
It was time to pay Nicolas Edge a visit.

Chapter 4
It took seven days, but he finally reached it. The Black Raven Inn stood before him.
What should have been a three day ride had dragged on to seven in order to ensure that anyone that tried to track him from Greenville lost him. His training as a former apprentice hunter had come in handy, it seemed.
A smile made its way as he looked at the inn before him. Outside of the intricate vine engravings on the outside of the building and the beautifully painted picture of a black raven on its sign, it was a fairly simple place. However, its purpose was not quite so simple. Despite being an inn, it was not a place for wayward travelers to spend the night. In all actuality, it was the home and business place of Nicolas Edge, a fence that worked for the Thieves' Guild of Caldreth.
His smile grew as he remembered his first visit to the inn. He had been reluctant to meet with a criminal at the time, but his companion had convinced him to do so regardless. Everything had been so new to him at the time, and Katie had been his guide in such things.
Sliding down from his saddle, he began to walk towards the inn's door. He led his mare by the reins towards the door, but he stopped about halfway there.
The door of the inn opened, and Nicolas Edge stepped outside of it. As usual, he was clad in fine black clothing and had his long raven hair in a pony tail.
“Do my eyes deceive me, or is that Caleb of Kirakath?” The joking tone that Nicolas used forced Caleb to smile.
“Aye, it is me,” Caleb replied with a grin. “Don't tell me the liquor has blinded you.”
Nicolas laughed in response. “I've actually cut back on the liquor, thank you very much.”
“Did you run out?” Caleb snorted. By the man's own words the last time that they met, Nicolas liked to drink. After seeing him in his inn, Caleb had to admit that Nicolas was wrong. He did not like to drink; he loved to drink.
Nicolas did not look amused by that question, and he actually grew serious. “My business has dried up a bit, so sacrifices had to be made. We can talk inside.”
Though curious, Caleb merely nodded and followed him into the inn. It was built similarly to the Blue Sparrow Inn with the tavern to his left and the stables at the back of the building.
In a hurried effort, Caleb put his mare in one of the empty stables and headed to the tavern.
Upon arriving, he saw that Nicolas was sitting on one of the tables.
“So what's going on?” Caleb asked.
“Did you know that Katie brought in about seventy-five percent of my revenue? She's a damned good thief, and she always stole from the richest of the rich. I can't tell you how many times she brought me jewelry and other goods that belonged to my father. It always made me laugh. She knew that I would recognize it, but she stole it anyways.”
Caleb shook his head, amused by the story. It sounded like Katie. She was a unique person, to say the least.
“Katie stopped by here six months ago. She wouldn't tell me what happened, but she said that you two had different paths to walk. Her path involved her leaving Caldreth. She was headed to Telmir last I heard, but I don't have any contacts that far out,” Nicolas said quietly. “I don't know where she is now. I know that she's not on this side of the Skyfell River, but she could be anywhere else by now.”
That news made him frown. While he had primarily come to Nicolas for information, he had hoped to find out where Katie was too. The thought of having her at his side again made him feel warm and safe.
“That's unfortunate,” Caleb said, shaking his head. “I'll have to manage then.”
Nicolas looked at him strangely at that. “What brings you to my neck of the woods, Caleb?”
“I've gotten myself in trouble again,” Caleb said, chuckling nervously. “I guess you could say I have a knack for it.”
“Will your life be in any more of a danger in an hour than it is right now?” Nicolas asked with a raised eyebrow. He did not seem surprised at all by the possibility that Caleb was in danger.
“As long as I hold the Sword of Kirakath, I'm not in danger,” Caleb said with a wry smile as he stroked the pommel of his sword.
“In that case, you owe me a story,” Nicolas said with an excited smile. “I never heard what happened since we last met up. Katie told me what happened between our first meeting and our second, but I get the feeling that what has happened since then has been even more amazing.”
Caleb sighed as he sat down on the table in front of Nicolas. “I don't know if it'll be as exciting as you believe, but I'll tell you the story.”
Nicolas looked interested at that moment.
“After you gave us the information, Katie and I left for the Black Crows' base. We arrived there with no difficulty, and there were roughly twenty-five bandits present. That's not including Cain Fell, their leader. Anyways, they had a bandit stationed at each corner of their camp in sentry towers. I took them out with the bow you gave me, and then I walked into their camp.”
“You walked into a camp with twenty-two armed opponents waiting for you?” Nicolas asked. “That's insane. They outnumbered you by twenty.”
“Twenty-one,”Caleb corrected. “I told Katie to stay back while I dealt with them.” He almost grinned at the shocked expression that Nicolas was sporting at that. “She started doing her knife throwing eventually, so she clearly helped. By the end of it, she killed quite a few, and I killed even more.”
“How many men had you killed?” Nicolas suddenly asked.
“Cain Fell was the twenty-sixth man I killed,” Caleb said with a frown. He had since killed ten more men. Though killing came easy to him, dealing with it afterwards was not as easy. His dreams were often filled with the faces of the men he had killed. “After all of his subordinates were dead, I went to fight him alone. Thanks to the Sword of Kirakath, I killed him.”
“You're not a very good storyteller,” Nicolas remarked.
“I'd rather forget my quest for revenge than tell stories of it as though it was a grand adventure,” Caleb said flatly. “Anyways, I met up with Katie afterwards, and we parted ways.”
“That was seven months ago,” Nicolas stated. “What has happened since then?”
“Well, I didn't do much the first six months. I tried to adjust to a small village and live a normal life, but I just couldn't do it. I ended up giving up on it after a month. Until a month ago, I was just traveling and honing my skills as a hunter,” Caleb explained.
“What happened a month ago?” Nicolas asked curiously.
“Three assassins came after me,” Caleb answered quietly. “I killed them, despite the fact that I didn't have my sword or my bow with me.”
It was clear that Nicolas was surprised to hear that assassins were after his friend, but he appeared to be more puzzled by something else. “How did you kill them?”
“I tapped into the sword's magic,” Caleb said with a frown as he drew his sword and held it horizontally in his lap. “I don't understand it, but the Sword of Kirakath is not a normal sword. It is a powerful sword of magic, and I can tap into its magic even when I'm not touching it. It feels like my blood is set on fire, but the pain is small compared to what it gives me. My strength, my speed, and my fighting skills are all boosted to levels that leave me feeling invincible. Only a master swordsman would be able to best me when I'm under its influence.”
“It sounds fearsome,” Nicolas said in awe.
“It is, and I hate it,” Caleb admitted. “It doesn't just leave me with pain now. It feels me with bloodlust. I'm barely able to control myself when I use it. It only goes away when the sword's magic leaves me, and that only happens after all of my enemies are dead.”
“I don't know much about magic, but I do know that a sword like that can't be a good thing,” Nicolas said.
“Once this situation is cleared up, I plan on speaking with an acquaintance of mine. He knows about objects of magic, and this sword is right up his alley,” Caleb said, shaking his head. “But the most important thing right now is the assassins that are after me. Three came the first time, but seven showed up to kill me a week ago. I killed them all, but they killed a villager before I could do anything.”
Nicolas nodded his head grimly. It was clear that he understood how big of a deal it was to Caleb. “Anyone who can spare ten assassins on you has a lot of resources. Do you have any idea why they are after you?”
“No, I don't,” Caleb said.
“Well then-” Nicolas began before coming to a sudden stop. “Shit! Someone's coming.”
Caleb barely had time to jump off his table when the door flew open and several cloaked figures began to enter through the door.
Within moments, ten cloaked figures were standing in the room in front of the door. They all wielded one-handed swords.
Caleb raised an eyebrow as he paid close attention to their weapons. They were all the same type of short sword with a square pommel and a circular hand guard. The most peculiar thing about their swords was that their blades had a single edge, and the blade angled back at the last third of it.
“That’s a sica,” Nicolas muttered. “It’s specially designed to get around shields, and I’m told it hurts even more to be run though with one of those than a normal sword.”
Caleb decided to take Nicolas at his word for that.
“Caleb of Kirakath, if you remove your belt and give yourself up, your friend will not be harmed and your death will be made as painless as possible,” one of the assassins said as he stepped forward.
“Friends don’t let other friends die,”Nicolas said under his breath. “Unfortunately, I’m not armed right now.”
“I understand,” Caleb said loudly. It was clear that the first assassin thought that Caleb was talking to him. His left hand slid down to his belt, but it moved to the handle of the knife at his right hip. Before any of the assassins even realized what he had done, he tossed the knife out to his left side.
Moving with lightning fast reflexes, Nicolas caught the knife by its handle and threw it while Caleb drew his sword.
The leader of the assassins fell to a thump as the knife was buried to its handle between his eyes.
“Nine to go,” Nicolas said as he tensed.

If he threw the knife, then there must be another weapon in the room he can use. He wouldn't disarm himself without good reason.
“Go and get it,” Caleb said as he steadied his hands. “I’ll hold them off.”
“On it,” Nicolas said as he dashed towards the bar and leaped over it.
With his task in mind, Caleb focused intently on his sword. Give me your power!
He felt the Sword of Kirakath’s power flow through him, seemingly setting his blood on fire as it always did.
Everyone’s eyes turned to him at that, Nicolas quickly becoming forgotten by the assassins.
The first assassin that came at him had picked up their leader’s sica, and he brought down both swords in a swift downward strike.
With ease, Caleb blocked the swords, his bloodthirsty eyes unnerving the assassin.
The assassin did not have long to be unnerved though. His eyes soon became glazed over as a knife slammed into the right side of his head.
Caleb glanced at the bar momentarily. He immediately saw that Nicolas was standing behind it with ten knives sticking into the top of the bar’s surface. An eleventh knife was in his right hand.
As the assassin began to go limp, Caleb brushed him aside with his sword and stood ready to fight.
It was easy to see that not all of the assassins were dimwitted. As soon as Caleb had managed to take out the dual wielding assassin, two more had moved forward swiftly. They went in, swinging their swords horizontally. The blades moved parallel to each other, only about three inches separating them.
The damage that they would have done had they hit Caleb would have been crippling.
However, Caleb’s fighting capabilities were far beyond that of his enemies. He simply brought his sword up in a powerful uppercut that disarmed them and left them momentarily stunned.
Using the opening, he spun around, decapitating them both with one powerful swing.
His eyes narrowed as he spotted another assassin running at him, preparing to thrust. He was not sure if he could bring his sword in a defensive position quickly enough to deflect the blade, but it was not necessary.
The assassin dropped his sword as a knife suddenly slammed into the side of his neck.
Caleb quickly stuck his left hand out, grabbed the assassin’s cloak as he approached, and he flung the dying man off to the side. As the assassin crashed to the floor, two more knives soared through the tavern and struck down two assassins.
One of the three remaining assassins came charging at Caleb, but he was different than any of the others. Though Caleb had thought that he wielded a sica like the others at first, he came to realize that the blade’s shape was different. Its blade was slender and curved. From his recent travels, he recognized the sword as a scimitar.
He was barely able to bring his sword in front of him in time to block the quick, sweeping slash.
Caleb normally would have knocked back his attacker and finished it quickly, but he was not trained to be a fighter, even if the sword’s magic turned him into a warrior. He was growing exhausted.
The assassin punched Caleb unexpectedly, making him fall backwards and drop his sword.
He stumbled to the ground in a sitting position as the assassin walked up to him with his sword poised to end the fight.
Caleb was not ready to die though.
As the assassin swung his sword at Caleb to cut his head off, his right hand swung in front of him. In his hand, he held the sica of one of the assassins he had felled. It knocked the scimitar from the assassin’s hand easily. Caleb then kicked the assassin back, rose to his feet, and moved towards him.
On instinct, Caleb reached down, picked up his sword, and brought it around in a wide, fast arc.
He easily cleaved the assassin’s head from his shoulders.
As the assassin’s head hit the ground, Caleb saw that the other two assassins had been taken down already. It seemed that Nicolas had talent with knives.
Caleb exhaled a deep breath as he felt the fire in his blood suddenly become snuffed out as the magic of the Sword of Kirakath faded away.
Despite the fact that he had used the sword’s power quite a few times in the past year, he was unable to get used to the sensation of having such incredible power fill him and then to have it suddenly disappear.
“You’re pretty good with that sword,”Nicolas said, sitting on the bar with one of his knives in his right hand.
“That’s the sword’s magic,” Caleb said, shaking his head. “Without it, I doubt I could have beaten any of them.”
Nicolas looked skeptical of that claim, but he did not outright dispute it. “If you despise that sword as much as you appear to, then why do you rely on it so much? You might not be much of a swordsman now, but that could be fixed.”
Caleb looked away at that. He could not deny that being able to rely on his own skills would be a vast improvement over relying on the Sword of Kirakath, but he was not sure he wanted to become a warrior. While he gained basic fighting skills from his father, he had always wanted to be a hunter. He had tried to play the part of a warrior before, and it seemed that assassins were hunting him because of it.
“We’ll deal with that later,” Caleb said with a sigh. “I need to deal with this assassin problem at its source. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to find out who is after me or who hired them. That’s not my area of expertise.”
“You know, I think that’s right up my alley,” Nicolas said, making it sound as though he did not understand Caleb’s subtle request. “If someone is willing to keep coming after you after they’ve lost twenty assassins, then they have to have vast resources. I’ll find out who they are, and you can deal with the problem at its source.”
“Thanks,” Caleb said with a grin. “I knew I came to the right person.”
“Of course you did,” Nicolas said with a smile. “There’s no better person to help than your friend, after all.”
For the first time in a long time, Caleb truly felt content, despite the danger looming on the horizon.
“Now, I think we should get rid of their bodies. After that, you can get cleaned up and I’ll cook a stew. I’ll meet with my contact tomorrow.”

Chapter 5
About an hour after sunrise, Nicolas Edge was walking up to the front gates of Caldreth.
Because of his purposes there, he wore a charcoal gray hooded cloak over his fine black clothing, though the hood was down. The cloak was pinned together at his neck by a pin that bore the emblem of the black raven, the insignia of House Edge.
“What do you want, Nicolas?” the sole gate guard asked with crossed arms over his dull gray brigandine cuirass.
“Do you intend to stop a noble at the gate for no reason?” Nicolas asked dryly. It was not the best kept secret around the city that he had tied to the Thieves’ Guild. If it was, then he would not have been forced to operate outside of the city. He did not have to worry about people knowing what he did though. What people knew did not matter. What they could prove, on the other hand, did.
“I’m sure no one would give a rat’s ass if I refused to let you enter. Everyone knows that even your own family despises you,” the guard replied, stroking the hilt of his sword.
With narrowed eyes, Nicolas brushed aside his cloak, revealing a scimitar at his left hip. “Say another word, and I will challenge you to a duel to the death. You have not only insulted my honor, but you have insulted the honor of my family. Do not forget your station again, peasant.”
The guard looked furious at the young man’s words, but he did not say another word.
Nicolas inwardly sighed as he walked through the gates. He hated acting the part of a noble, but it had its advantages. He was part of one of the most powerful noble families in the city of Caldreth. Even if his family was rather small in that day and age, it wielded a considerable amount of power. After all, he counted the magistrate as his uncle.
On instinct, he made his way down a side street and headed towards the part of the city that the Thieves’ Guild operated out of. That part of the city did not have a special name or anything, but it was easy to recognize. The streets looked run down, beggars were on every corner, and a good number of houses had wooden boards covering the windows.
In short, it was the bad part of town.
Once he was in the right part of town, he made his way into an unmarked back alley. As he entered the alley, he took a deep breath. A single door stood in the alleyway, and it was also a reminder that he was as far away from Castle Caldreth as he could possibly be without leaving the city.
While he was not fond of the castle, especially because of all the guards that they had there, he was not fond of what was on the other side of that door either: the base of Alexander Abrams.
Alexander Abrams was the man in charge of the Thieves’ Guild of Caldreth. In other words, Alexander was his boss.
The two of them had never been on great terms, especially after one he cut off the right hand of one of Alexander’s enforcers.
The bastard deserved it after he touched Katie. It could be said that Nicolas saw himself as a big brother figure to Katie. It was not far from the truth either.
Taking a deep breath, he opened the door and walked through it into the unmarked tavern that Alexander Abrams used as his base.
As always, a couple people were sitting at the bar and a few people were sitting at the tables spread out across the room to his right. It seemed that there were always people drinking there, regardless of the time. Of course, some of the people there never left, and the tavern lacked windows. As such, it was easy to lose track of the time unless the door was opened.
He managed to get a dozen or so feet away from the door before the big, burly man behind the bar spoke.
“Where are you going, Edge? The boss went to visit his brother in Umbridge, so he’s not around right now.”
“I’m not here to speak with Alexander,”Nicolas said without even looking at him. “I’m a member of the guild, remember? I can come here anytime I want.”
“You’re a high profile guy. If you lead guards here, the boss is going to kill you,” he remarked.
“I’m not the one you should be worried about right now. If you continue to piss me off, it’ll be your life at risk, not mine,” Nicolas retorted darkly.
“You can’t kill me,” the man said nervously. “Killing a fellow guildsman is against the code.”
“You work for the Thieves’ Guild as a bartender. You gave up your career as an enforcer long ago. You aren’t a guildsman,” Nicolas said, effectively shutting him up.
With that man dealt with, Nicolas walked across the tavern and went through a door that led into a hallway. Four doors were visible. Three of them were on the wall in front of him, and one was to his right, at the end of the hallway. That last door was where he headed to.
Opening the door, he saw a man in his mid-thirties sitting on a poorly made bed with clothes on that made him look as though he just crawled out of the sewers. The only other thing in the room was a dresser that looked even more poorly made than the bed.
“Ed, I need information,” Nicolas said immediately. He drew the scimitar at his left hip and handed it to the man.
The man, a member of the Thieves’Guild by the name of Edward Smith, took the scimitar curiously and looked it over.
“This is a scimitar, a sword that originates in Tiberia. In the Tiberian Jungle, it helps to have a curved sword for fighting. It makes it easier to swing the sword without hitting something accidentally,” Ed said.
“I’m this close to kicking your ass,”Nicolas said as he held his right hand out with his index finger and thumb about a quarter of an inch apart. “I know what a scimitar is. It’s my second favorite type of sword.”
“Then what do you need?” Ed asked, shaking his head. “I can’t read minds.”
“My friend has assassins after him. They’re pretty good and come in fairly large numbers. If they were going after anyone else, they would have succeeded, but Caleb’s something else,” Nicolas answered. “Twenty assassins have come after him. One of them wielded that scimitar.”
If Ed was surprised at the numbers, he did not show it. “You want to know who is trying to kill him.”
Nicolas nodded his head. “Only a guild of assassins would pursue him this diligently and have so many men to spare on his elimination.”
“You’re correct,” Ed said as he looked over the sword. “Fortunately, there are only three guilds of assassins in the entire kingdom. The least likely is the Crimson Arrows out of Tir. It’s too damned far for them to be involved, and their assassins are all archers. Their trademark is to kill their targets with a single arrow with crimson feathers. Then, there’s the Shadow Guild of Telmir, which is essentially a combination of a thieves’ guild and an assassins’ guild. They’re pretty far away, but they’ll take almost any job, so long as it doesn’t put them at odds with any of the other disreputable guilds in Arcadia.”
“What’s the third guild?” Nicolas asked.
Ed frowned. “The third assassins’guild is the Night Blades of Umbridge. They are the single most dangerous guild of their kind in the world. They have assassinated kings, queens, dukes, counts, viscounts, and barons over the years since their founding. They were founded before Arcadia was, if that tells you anything.” He sighed as he shook his head. “They aren’t as dangerous as they used to be though. No one’s as dangerous as they used to be, really. We’ve been at peace for a hundred years. A hundred years ago, the Night Blades counted a thousand men under their employ and Arcadia had ten thousand knights. Now, I hear that the Night Blades only have a hundred men and only a thousand knights serve King John.”
He sure knows a lot about the Night Blades. I suppose it's a good thing that they're not as numerous as they could have been thought.
“How many men do the Crimson Arrows and the Shadow Guild have?” Nicolas asked.
“The Shadow Guild has around twenty-five assassins and seventy-five thieves,” Ed replied. “And there are always fifty assassins among the Crimson Arrows. When of them dies, another steps up in his place. I’m told that they have roughly a hundred recruits at all times though.”
“How is it that the Night Blades are considered to be so dangerous then?” Nicolas asked, slightly confused. “The Crimson Arrows sound more dangerous to me.”
“That’s where you’d be wrong,” Ed said, actually a little amused. “The leader of the Night Blades is Victor Abrams, Alexander’s brother. In addition to that, they have a single assassin who could systematically assassinate the king, the high general, and every other person in a seat of authority without ever being caught. By the time anyone realized that he was behind it, there would not be anyone left alive who gave a rat’s ass.”
Nicolas was not sure what to be more unnerved about at that moment. The knowledge that his boss had a brother who was in charge of the world’s most elite assassins’ guild was far more unnerving than one might have expected. The possibility of an assassin being as skilled as Ed claimed was also unnerving for obvious reasons.
“And it seems that your friend is screwed,” Ed said as he finished looking over the scimitar. “Victor Abrams has every weapon that his men use branded with the insignia of the Night Blades. This scimitar bears that mark.”
Nicolas groaned at hearing that news. In all honesty, he was not that surprised though. It seemed that Caleb had the worst luck of anyone that he had ever met.
“Do you have any advice?” Nicolas asked as he took the scimitar back from Ed and sheathed it in the scabbard at his hip.
“Sure,” Ed said. “Tell your buddy to run as fast as he can. He might be safe in Tiberia.”
“Thanks anyways,” Nicolas said, knowing that the advice was useless. He had gained the information that he sought, and he knew exactly what Caleb would do with it. “Be careful until we meet again.”
“The same to you,” Ed replied as Nicolas made his way out of the room.
* * * * *
As Nicolas was obtaining the information on the assassins that had attacked the night before, Caleb was standing behind the Black Raven Inn with his long bow in his left hand and his quiver slung across his back. Half a dozen targets were set up about twenty-five yards away from him.
In a single fluid motion, Caleb drew an arrow from his quiver and nocked it. He drew the bow back, the brown feathers of the arrow touching his cheek.
He held his breath, his entire body becoming steady. Even if it only lasted a moment, that was all he needed.
Caleb released the bow string, sending the arrow flying at the target to his far left. It struck the bull’s eye of the target as though a force of nature drew it there. The arrow could not have hit the target any more perfectly than it did that moment.
Exhaling, he lowered his bow. As much as he enjoyed being able to make such a precise shot, it was not practical to take too much time on a single shot. The simple truth of the matter was that he was no longer a hunter. He had become a warrior, whether he wished to admit it or not. He did not practice to hit a deer. He practiced so that he could kill people.
He frowned as he realized where his train of thought had led him too. I’m a warrior. All this time, I’ve been fighting what I am. I guess I just didn’t want to give up what I used to be. I was Hector’s apprentice, I was Gabriel’s best friend, and I was my parents’ son.
At the last thought, he shook his head. I might not be Hector’s apprentice any longer and I might have changed too much to be Gabriel’s best friend anymore, but I’m still the son of Michael and Sophie Sullivan. They might be dead, but that doesn’t mean anything. I was born because of them, and they made me into who I am today. Father is the whole reason I sought the Sword of Kirakath, after all.
His attention turned to the five remaining targets suddenly, and a serene feeling enveloped him.
He raised the bow and nocked an arrow quickly before he drew the bow back. As soon as the feathers touched his cheek, he released the bowstring, sending the arrow flying at the second target. It struck the dead center of the bull’s eye, but his attention had left the target immediately after the arrow left the bow.
A second arrow was drawn back as the sound of the first one hitting the large, round, wooden target filled the area. He released it immediately, the arrow striking the third target dead center in the bull’s eye.
Three more arrows followed that, each fired with amazing speed and accuracy.
By the end of it, all six targets had an arrow in the center of their bull’s eyes.
Clapping suddenly rang through the area, turning Caleb’s attention to behind him, where a man that looked like an older version of Nicolas was standing. He was wearing all blue clothing and had a goatee, making him look distinctively different from Nicolas.
“You’re an incredible archer. I don’t suppose you’re looking for a job, are you? I’m sure I could get Count Clovis to accept you as one of his soldiers.”
“Do I know you?” Caleb asked with a raised eyebrow.
“I apologize,” the man said with a kind smile. “I’m Jason Edge. Nicolas is my nephew, and I am the magistrate of Caldreth. I was sincere in my offer just now.”
“Nicolas didn’t tell me his uncle was so important,” Caleb commented, ignoring the part about the job offer. “Sorry if I sounded rude. You just surprised me. I had no idea anyone else would be coming by until Nicolas came back.”
“It’s fine. I noticed that he wasn’t around. That’s why I came back here. When I heard noises coming from here, I thought maybe I’d find him.,” Jason said, shaking his head dismissively. “If I may ask, where is he?”
“He had to go to Caldreth to take care of some business,” Caleb said, knowing better than to give anyone too much information without Nicolas around. “He’ll be back before too long.”
Jason sighed at that. “He’s not accepting a job from Alexander, is he?”
Caleb looked genuinely confused at that. “Who is Alexander?”
“Alexander is the leader of the Thieves’ Guild,” Jason answered, looking a little surprised. “I thought you were in the know. You’re clearly a friend of Nicolas. He doesn’t let anyone stay around the inn when he’s away, after all.”
“Nicolas and I are friends, but I’m not in the same line of business that he’s in,” Caleb said, shaking his head. “My name is Caleb of Kirakath.”
That nearly made Jason’s jaw drop. “You’rethe Caleb of Kirakath? I’ve heard stories of you. They say you’ve killed hundreds of men just with your sword.”
Jason’s words actually made Caleb laugh quite a bit. “I assure you that I am the only Caleb of Kirakath, but I haven’t killed hundreds of men. I’ve only killed forty people, and not all of them died by my sword.”
Jason looked surprised at Caleb’s statement. “I expected that it was exaggerated a bit, but I never thought you had actually killed as many men as you have. I doubt that there’s a single man in the King’s Army that has killed as many people as you have.”
“I doubt anyone in the King’s Army has fought a griffin or a specter either,” Caleb remarked. “But even more than any of that, I doubt that anyone in the King’s Army has had their family and village massacred either. Well… I doubt anyone outside of my former best friend has had that happen, at least.”
Jason frowned at Caleb’s words. Resentment was clear in them.
“Do you have something against the King’s Army?” he asked.
“I have something against the King’s Army and Caldreth’s Army,” Caleb said evenly. “My problem with them is that my village was massacred, and they did not do anything about it. They did not raise a hand to do anything at all. They never even acknowledged that they screwed up.”
“How did they screw up, as you so eloquently put it?” Jason asked.
“How can a hundred bandits band together, travel by the road, and massacre a village a day’s ride from here without them screwing up?” Caleb asked. “Forget what I said. They didn’t screw up. They just didn’t care because it did not affect them directly. I guess as long as your count can have his servants feed him grapes and wine in peace, he doesn’t care what happens.”
“That’s out of line,” Jason said, surprised by Caleb’s words. “Yes, something should have been done in response to the massacre, but you dealt with the matter long before anyone could have been mobilized.”
“I guess that just goes to show you had inefficient and slow the armies are,” Caleb retorted. “It should have only taken a day or two to send a force of twenty or so men out to deal with them. A trained soldier with chainmail and a quality weapon can easily take on several bandits. A small force could have done what needed to be done. Instead, your leader abandoned his responsibility to the nearby villages in the land and left me to do the job myself.”
“I can understand your anger,” Jason said quietly. “I will not try to change your mind. I just ask that you think about it from a different perspective. What would you have done if you were in milord’s position?”
Caleb looked away. He wanted to say that he would have hunted them down, but he knew that he could not say that. The truth of the matter was that he had only found the Black Crows because of Nicolas. If he had been the count, he would never have been able to ask someone like Nicolas for help.
Finally, he gave his answer.
“I would have done what needed to be done.”
“Good answer,” Jason said as he turned away. “Tell Nicolas that I stopped by. I won’t mention this conversation to him or Count Clovis, so don’t worry about anything. In the meantime, I wish you luck. I can tell one thing about you from a single glance: trouble follows you.”
With that, Jason left and Caleb returned to his archery practice.
The whole time, Caleb thought over what he had been told by Jason.

* * * * *
If you enjoyed that, feel free to purchase The Shadows of Caldreth from Amazon or Smashwords. Or, if you haven't yet read the first book in the series, Through the Flames can be found at various e-book stores as well.

Links are in one of the side bars on this blog.

Thank you for reading, and I hope you have a great day.


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