Rise of the Thrall Lord: City of Tears
A cursed city shrouded in mist. The power to level an army. A deadly race against demons to find it.
This month I'd like to present the very first excerpt from the upcoming Rise of the Thrall Lord series. City of Tears is the first book of a planned five book series taking up from where Heroes left off.
ROTL follows the further exploits of Aksel, Andrella, Donnie, Elladan, Glo, Kalyn, Lloyd, and Seth. In the first installment, Ves and Ruka are back as things take a far more serious turn. Demons have once again crawled up from the Abyss, undead are roaming the earth, and someone has appeared who can exert control over dragons. Have the dread Thrall Masters returned, and if so, what is their ultimate goal?
City will deal with the first of these major encounters. A tower harboring enormous power, shrouded in mist, surrounded by an ancient city that has fallen under a terrible curse. All who once lived there walk the earth as undead, ruled by the former empress of the once great Naradon empire.
Subsequent books will uncover new threats and new allies as our favorite characters split up to cover the globe. All of Arinthar is in danger this time, including the sovereign nation of Lanfor and even the deadly Clans of the Pirate Coast.
Here now is the very first excerpt from City of Tears:
“I’ll bet I can break your guard this time!”
“Oh, trust me, I’ve been watching you. I’ve got you all figured out.”
The sounds of friendly rivalry broke the quiet of a peaceful mid-summer morning.
Sunrise came early this time of year. The warm bliss of the rising sun had beckoned enticingly to Glolindir earlier that morning. He soon found himself on a soft plot of lush green grass in the courtyard of Vermoorden Keep. With a clear canopy of blue overhead and the songs of birds in the trees, the young elf had been lulled into a gentle meditative state. Yet those few moments of peace had been all too soon shattered.
Glo’s eyes fluttered open to settle on two of his companions. Lloyd Stealle, the shy young spiritblade, strode down the stone steps of the inner keep. His deep brown eyes and youthful face were capped with a shock of tousled brown hair. Crimson armor encased his well-muscled body, covering his torso, arms and legs.
A slim elf accompanied the tall man. Donatello’s sandy-haired head barely reached up to Lloyd’s chin. With his light blue eyes and boyish good looks, he appeared far younger than his actual age. Clad in a puffy white shirt, a brown vest, pants, and boots, Donnie wore no visible armor. Yet Glo was quite aware of the mithril chain he wore beneath.
“Even if you have, he promised to spar with me first,” another voice called from behind the pair.
Karathralla Brightwing, the tall lady warrior, swiftly descended the stairs from the keep; no mean feat considering she was garbed from head to toe in dark armor with polished, winged steel guards. Long, braided flaxen hair framed her serious face, her dark eyes burning with intensity as she caught up with the duo.
Donnie spun around to face Kara, his expression filled with disappointment. He lifted a finger as a rebuttal formed on his lips, but Lloyd interrupted him before he could speak. “That’s no problem: I’ll just spar with both of you at the same time.”
“Of course, you will,” another voice drifted across the courtyard.
Glo nearly jumped out of his seat. He spun his gaze to see Seth Korzair resting comfortably against the trunk of a nearby tree. The halfling sat there casually twirling a short knife between his nimble fingers. Dressed almost completely in black, he had been difficult to spot in the dim shade around the tree base.
How long has Seth been there?
Seth peered over at Glo, the side of his mouth lifting ever so slightly.
Glo let out a short sigh. Seth prided himself on his ability to move about undetected; a skill aided by an invisible cloak he had procured at the ruins atop Stone Hill. When Glo gained permanent sight in the invisible spectrum, Seth took it as a challenge.
“Just trying to be fair to everyone,” Lloyd responded affably to the halfling.
Despite his large size and fierceness in battle, Lloyd was quite good natured. It took a lot to irk him. Glo only wished he had half his patience when it came to Seth.
Glo leveled an even gaze at the halfling. “Not everyone’s out to prove a point, Seth.”
Seth shrugged. “True. Some of us are happy just blowing things up.”
Glo winced at the remark. A wizard by trade, he had been trained in the arcane arts by his father. Yet after decades of tedious, repetitive study, Glo yearned to wield magic out in the real world. His father cautioned him when he set out on his own, but Glo had been too stubborn to listen. He had made many mistakes since then, some more than just a little explosive.
Seth seemed to take great pleasure in constantly reminding him of that.
“Alright you two. Play nice.”
A small, copper-haired figure clad in white robes now stood at the top of the steps. Aksel Alabaster, the young gnome and healer, peered down at them, his expression one of exasperation. Aksel was the implicit leader of their group, his sense of practicality and concern for others making him a natural fit for the role.
“Yes, dad,” Seth shot back, not missing a beat.
The jab brought a slight smile to Aksel’s face. The pair were like night and day. Where Aksel looked for the best in everyone, Seth saw only the worst. Yet somehow, these two had become the best of friends.
The newcomers spread out across the courtyard. While Aksel went to sit by Seth, Lloyd, Donnie, and Kara all strode over to the training grounds. The earth had been flattened in that section of the yard. A row of archery targets lined the one side. Stout wooden training dummies sat at the other end. A short fence squared off a separate area for dueling.
The trio entered the square and took up positions equidistant from one another. Lloyd held a huge sword in each hand, both about a foot longer than a normal sword. One blade had a silvery sheen, but the other was jet black. That sword had been wrought from a metal that had fallen from the stars. It would cut through just about anything.
Kara fixed upon her head the winged polished-steel helm she carried, then hefted a tall metal spear in her gauntleted hands. Its long-bladed head and wide wings atop the shaft glistened in the morning sun.
Donnie swiped a slender pointed sword through the air in front of him. He then saluted his two opponents and fell into a fighting stance with the words, “En garde.”
The trio began to circle each other till Kara finally broke rank. She charged Lloyd with a fierce battle cry, the shaft of her long spear arching toward his head.
Lloyd ducked under the blow and spun around for a counter slice only to find Donatello right in front of him. With a swift adjustment, he blocked Donnie’s thrust and fell back into a defensive stance.
“Bravo, Lloyd! Don’t let those two outfox you!” The shout of encouragement rang out from the entrance to the keep. A rousing set of musical chords immediately followed the cry.
The Lady Andrella Avernos and the elven bard, Elladan Narmolanya, both now stood at the top of the stairs. The handsome young elf was dressed almost completely in white in stark contrast to his thick mane of jet-black hair. His dark brown eyes glinted with glee as he strummed a tune on his golden-brown lute. The jaunty music he produced lent an almost theatrical element to the three-way battle below.
The daughter of former Baron and Baroness of Ravenford, Andrella Avernos was a striking young woman. Yet behind those electric blue eyes lay a keen intelligence and a will to match. Andrella pushed back a lock of neatly arranged strawberry-blonde hair as she hastened down the stone steps of the keep. The long flowing skirt of her golden laced scarlet outfit swayed back and forth and she hurried across the grounds.
Much to his surprise, the young lady headed directly for Glo. He had thought for certain she would go to cheer on Lloyd. After all, the two were in a relationship.
Glo unfolded his long legs and stood up to his full height of six feet. The young elf was far above the average height for his race, a trait that seemed to run in his family. He brushed off his long purple robes and smiled at the approaching young woman. “Lady Andrella, to what do I owe the honor?”
Andrella peered up at him, her eyes barely level with his chin. “I want to continue my training of course.” She finished with a dazzling smile that lit up her entire face.
Glo let out a small laugh. “Oh, I see.” Also a student of the arcane arts, Andrella’s studies had been cut short by her temperamental previous master. Yet Andrella had talent and was not shy about using it. Thus, it had fallen on Glo to continue her training before she hurt someone unintentionally.
Before Glo could say another word, Andrella grabbed him by the hand and dragged him over to the practice dummies.
A short distance away, the three-way battle continued. No one seemed to have the upper hand as of yet. Lloyd and Kara traded more blows, neither getting past the other’s guard. Donnie weaved around the two, stabbing at them and dodging away before either could land a strike.
A moment later, Donnie stood back, his hands on his hips. “Aw, come on you two. You’re not even trying.”
Lloyd stopped, a sheepish grin forming on his face. Kara halted as well, and narrowed her gaze at the thin elf.
The air around the two suddenly began to thicken. Even from here, Glo could see the energy coalescing around them. They were both gathering mana, the life force that flows in and out of all living things.
The spiritblade combined martial arts with sword techniques. Like a martial artist, Glo could see the mana channeling through the chakra gate in Lloyd’s abdomen. Focused by his inner spirit, the energy flowed up his torso and out his arms. From there it encircled his blades until it abruptly burst into visible flames.
A holy warrior of some type, Kara channeled mana through the chakra gate in her heart. Glo had observed Aksel do the same. As a healer, his faith in his gnomish god made his heart the perfect receptacle for divine powers. Similar to Lloyd, the mana flowed from Kara’s heart out through her arms. In response, the blade of her spear began to glow with a brilliant white light.
Donnie’s face lit up with a satisfied grin. “Now that’s more like it.”
Once more the trio dove into battle.
Meanwhile, Andrella began her lesson. She had come a long way in a short time. Glo watched with a small sense of pride as she began to draw in the mana around her. An arcane caster like himself, Andrella’s focal point was the chakra gate at her brow and the mind behind it. In one fluid motion, she lined up a practice dummy with her fingers and brought her will to bear.
“Radius Ardens.” The trigger words fell from her lips as a red-hot ray leapt from her fingertips. It struck the dummy straight in the chest, leaving a scorch mark in its wake.
Though powerful, the Ray of Fire spell was rather simplistic. It combined will, a simple gesture, and a verbal command as a trigger. More complex spells might require a material focal object as well as the tracing of intricate symbols through the air.
“Excellent.” Glo nodded his head in approval.
Andrella looked up at him, a wan smile across her lips. “Actually, I was aiming for its head.”
“I’m tellin’ ya, yer aim could be better,” a voice sounded from the direction of the courtyard gate.
Glo shifted his gaze to see Kalyn Rahn and Martan Folke entering the keep. Garbed in forest green and browns, the pair were expert trackers and archers.
Martan held a brace of rabbits in one hand as they marched across the grounds. Kalyn held a similar catch in hers. It appeared to be a nice haul to Glo, but the thin man’s expression was decidedly gloomy. “I don’t know as I’ll ever be as good as you.”
Glo traded a knowing smile with Andrella. He had thought Kalyn’s comment directed at her, but instead it had been meant for poor Martan. The pair had a long, tumultuous history and as such Kalyn never went easy on him.
Kalyn paused to adjust the loose braid of her long, wavy, reddish-brown hair. Her storm gray eyes then fixed on Martan. “Well, we’ll just see about that.” Before he could react, she grabbed him by the arm and dragged him over to the archery targets.
Glo did his best to suppress a laugh, returning his attention to his own pupil. Andrella stood with her lips pressed together, her eyes narrowed as she reviewed her performance aloud. “I emptied my mind, focused only on the spell, and targeted the dummy in one fluid motion.” She bit her lip. “What am I missing?”
Glo chuckled softly. “You forgot to breathe.” It was a common mistake he had made quite often himself. “Take a deep breath and let it out slowly as you aim.”
Andrella slapped herself on the forehead. “Duh. Of course.”
The young lady set her jaw as she faced the target dummy once more. Again she drew in mana through her brow, but Glo noted it was much more energy than before. He watched curiously as she let out a slow breath and raised her arm. “Radius Ardens.”
Another red ray sped from her fingers, this time colliding with the dummy’s head. Flames erupted from the appendage, and a moment later it fell off the top of the dummy to the ground below. In mere seconds it had burnt to ash.
Glo arched a single eyebrow. He had seen her display this type of raw power before, but had only recently developed the sight to understand what lay behind it.
“Lloyd, don't ever make that girl angry,” Donnie’s voice echoed across the training yard.
“I’ll keep that… in mind…” Lloyd responded, his focus obviously elsewhere.
The young man was in the midst of a rapid exchange of blows with Kara. The two warriors moved with such speed that their weapons looked more like blurs of red and white. Yet, as quick as it had taken place, the duo separated.
The moment they fell back, Donnie slipped through Lloyd’s guard and tagged him in the side with the point of his blade. “Aha! You didn't see that coming.”
Yet before Donnie could withdraw, Kara lashed out at him with the tip of her spear. The slim elf barely flipped out of the way in time.
Still playing a jaunty tune, Elladan let out a short laugh. “Neither did you, apparently.”
“That’s because he's too busy making quips,” Seth noted from his perch against the tree trunk.
“That’s more like it!” Kalyn’s voice echoed from the archery range. “Now do it again.”
Glo glanced over to see the young woman hovering around Martan. A number of arrows were stuck in the target about a hundred feet away. Most were in the first ring out but a couple were bullseyes.
Martan ran a hand through his long brown disheveled locks. “Okay. If you insist.”
“Poor Martan. She's got him hogtied and he doesn’t even know it yet,” Elladan commented as he continued to play.
“That's funny, coming from the elf who let Anya get under his skin,” Seth said pointedly.
Elladan stopped his strumming and fixed an eye on the halfling. “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t mention that witch's name. Next time I see her, we'll see who gets turned into a rabbit first.”
Glo chuckled at the reference. On their first meeting with the Princess Anya of Lanfor, she had turned Elladan into a fluffy little bunny. It had been a sore subject for the elven bard ever since.
A sudden jab in his side made Glo start. He peered down to see Andrella looking at him, her expression one of exasperation.
Laughter broke out across the yard. Glo glanced over his shoulder to see Seth and Elladan in fits of hysterics. He silently shook his head before returning his attention to the young lady.
“And I thought I was bad!” Andrella chastised him. “Your focus is all over the place today.”
Glo let out a long sigh. “You’re right. That’s why I came out here to meditate this morning.”
Andrella gestured to a nearby bench. “Want to talk about it?”
“Sure.” Glo shrugged. He sat beside the young lady and attempted to collect his thoughts. It had only been a few months since he left home, but life had taken one strange turn after another. He had made some good friends and a few enemies. He had faced monsters, demons, and dragons. He had even fallen in love, or at least that’s what he thought. Unfortunately, she had left and now he’d never know for sure.
Andrella waited patiently beside him until he finally spoke. “Well, for starters, I’m supposed to be your teacher, but most of what I’m showing you I’ve really only just learned.”
Andrella sat back and eyed him skeptically. “And you think that disqualifies you to be my instructor?”
Glo let out a short laugh. “No. Not really.”
Andrella placed a hand on his arm. “Then why don’t you tell me what’s really bothering you?”
Glo gazed at her for a moment, then took a deep breath. “It’s just that even with all I already know, I still have so far to go.”
Andrella snorted in disbelief. “Heh. You have far to go? I’m not even up to your level—yet.” She gave him a sly wink.
Glo shook his head and laughed. “I’m serious. With all we’ve accomplished these last few months, there’s still so much left undone. Ravenford is under Dunwynn control. The Princess Anya is out there somewhere plotting who knows what…”
“…and there’s that tower full of demons that Donnie and Kara barely escaped from.”
Glo turned to see Aksel had joined them, as well as Seth and Elladan. Lloyd, Kara, and Donnie had finished sparring and were also headed this way. Kalyn and Martan strode up to join them as well.
Andrella leaned in close to Glo and whispered in his ear. “You asked for serious, I’ll give you serious.”
She stood up and cleared her throat. “Ahem. I, better than anyone, know how difficult these last few weeks have been, but I also believe we will prevail. Against all odds we revived my father and rescued my mother from my uncle’s clutches. If nothing else, I am eternally grateful to you all.”
Glo peered up at Andrella with newfound respect. It took a strong woman to weather all she had. The least he could do was follow her example.
“Stop. You’re going to make me blush,” Seth said with a wry smile.
Andrella laughed out loud. “The day you blush, Seth…”
“…is the day pigs fly,” Elladan finished for her.
Glo pushed aside his worries and joined in the revelry. “I can actually arrange for that.”
More inane comments followed until the tension had been completely broken. It didn’t really change anything. They still had the same impossible tasks ahead of them, but somehow the future didn’t seem so bleak when they could laugh in its face together.
“Excuse me,” a voice rang out from the direction of the keep. A tall man with long blonde hair and the hint of a beard stood at the top of the steps. He waved to the gathered group. It was Captain Ascue, the head of the Vermoorden town guard. “The Lady Gracelynn and Lord Gryswold will see you now.”
Ascue was rather young for the position. He had been given it by the former mayor, a corrupt woman who preferred someone with little experience. Still, Ascue knew his own shortcomings and was open to suggestions.
Everyone exchanged a glance at the announcement. Their short reprieve had come to an end. With all that still stood before them, it was time to plan their next steps. Lloyd summed it up in one brief sentence as they headed for the keep. “Here we go again.”
Sorry, but we'll have to end there for now. I promise to present more excerpts from City in the coming months as well as some clips from the upcoming audiobook version of the Ruins on Stone Hill.