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 another excerpt from City of Tears, the first book in the upcoming Rise of the Thrall Lord (ROTL) series.
For those of you new to this blog, ROTL follows the further exploits of the characters from the Heroes of Ravenford series. Much of the original cast returns in the new book as things take a far more serious turn. The world of Arinthar suddenly finds itself plagued with demons, undead, and a mysterious someone who can exert control over dragons. All this seems to point to the return of the dread Thrall Masters returned, the super mages that nearly decimated the isle of Thac a century and a half ago.
City of Tears revolves around 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 address these other threats and include new allies as the original 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 another excerpt from City of Tears:
The now-dead mayor of Vermoorden had actually been the head of an assassin’s guild—the same guild that murdered Gryswold. Seth had been the one to track them to their lair in a hidden labyrinth beneath Vermoorden Keep. Together, the companions cleared out the assassins’ nest and recovered the Baron’s heart. Still, something didn’t sit right with Seth. He had the distinct feeling that they’d missed something important.
So while the others got ready to leave, Seth decided to take another look. He hurried through the keep, past the kitchen, and down a flight of stone stairs to the basement. At the bottom stood a steel-framed door barring the entrance to the former assassin’s lair.
A huge padlock had been affixed to a long steel bolt set across the door, but locks had never been a problem for Seth. Lock-picking was one of the few useful skills he had learned from his family.
Seth came from a long line of thieves and charlatans. By the time he was five, he had already learned to pick his first lock. At the age of ten, he could unlock any door and most safes.
The lock on this particular door was a standard pin-and-tumbler. It took him all of ten seconds to fiddle with it before the tumblers clicked into place.
“Child’s play,” Seth muttered to no one in particular.
The halfling stealthily entered the labyrinth and crept through the pitch-black halls. He had no need for light. His race was perfectly capable of seeing in the dark, at least to some degree. What he couldn’t see, he made up for through years of training his other senses.
Silence filled the empty corridors. The air felt chilled, with just a hint of dampness. Seth kept a hand on the wall, the stone remaining cool to his touch. The further he traveled into the underground maze, the more surreal it felt. It was as if he had entered an eerie dimension devoid of light and sound.
Seth had memorized this maze on their last visit. Yet distances meant little when you could only see a few feet in front of you. Changes in the flow of air told him when a cross-corridor or doorway was near. Finally, after what seemed like forever, he reached his destination—a hidden temple within the labyrinth.
On his last visit, the flames from a pair of giant urns had painted the chamber blood-red. Now the temple was completely dark. Seth picked his way through a dozen pews to the front of the temple. A long altar stood in front of him. As he circled around it, something tall and dark suddenly loomed over him.
Seth started for a moment until he realized what it was. It’s only that stupid demon statue.
In the darkness, he could just barely make out its features. From the waist up, it appeared to be a beautiful woman with long flowing hair. Yet from the waist down it melded into the thick coils of a giant snake. Six arms sprang from its torso, each holding a large sword.
The statue depicted a maralith, a demon from the Abyss. More specifically, it portrayed Salisma Tanj, the driving force behind both the Assassin’s Guild and the Serpent Cult. A powerful demon, Salisma had been a lieutenant of the Thrall Lord himself over a century ago.
Glo and the others thought that her involvement in this implied the return of the Thrall Lord. Seth wasn’t ready to buy that just yet. In his experience, evil came in many forms, not just uber-magicians bent on world domination.
Still, as naïve as they could be, Seth had developed a soft spot for the rest of his companions. After all, someone with brains has to watch out for them.
The halfling felt his way behind the statue to a hidden corridor they had discovered on their last visit. As soon as he entered, the sound of scraping metal reached his ears.
The guild had hidden its greatest treasures in a large chest at the end of this corridor. So of course they had filled it with every kind of trap imaginable. What he was hearing now was one of those traps. He figured it would have stopped by now. He figured wrong.
With a short sigh, Seth unslung his pack, pulled out a torch, and lit it. Three tall, spinning spikes with razor-sharp blades at various levels stuck out from the floor ahead of him. The ceiling and sidewalls were lined with spikes as well. Together, they made it almost impossible to pass to the other end of the corridor. Almost.
Seth eyed the blades. The first two were clearly visible in the torchlight. The last one was a bit outside the range of the torchlight. He knelt down and peered below the blades. There’s just enough room…
Seth pitched the torch along the ground beneath the first spike. It continued to roll and made it past the second spike. It stopped rolling almost exactly between the second and third.
All three spikes now sat in the bright circle of the torchlight.
Seth stood up and watched the blades for a few moments before launching himself into their midst. Once again it was a crazy dance down that hallway, but he got through the first two with just a few minor nicks.
He paused between the last two sets of spinning blades and kicked the torch past the third one. Seth then hurled himself at the last set of spinning blades. He came out on the other side with another couple of nicks and cuts, but nothing a quick heal wouldn’t fix.
Around the corner sat the blank wall where they’d found the chest with the baron’s heart. Seth picked up the torch, then went to that wall and felt around it. He’d been so obsessed with the trap on the chest that he hadn’t given this wall a second thought. Now, however, he discovered a slight indentation underneath one of the stones.
Seth pushed on it, and a small section of the wall swung outward. In a tiny alcove inside the wall sat a small ornate box.
Just what I thought.
Well, not exactly what he thought, but he knew something was there.
Seth carefully scanned the alcove, but spotted no sign of wires, or pressure plates, or anything. He gently reached in and pulled out the small box, ready to duck for cover at a moment’s notice. Luckily, nothing happened.
Seth now held the ornate box in his hand. He looked it over on all sides: top, bottom, left, right. A fancy sigil in the shape of an ‘M’ was inscribed across the top and sides, but he found no signs of any sort of trap. He peered into the lock, but couldn’t find even the slightest hint of a booby-trap.
This is too easy.
As paranoid as the assassins had been, it did not make sense that they would not booby-trap this thing. That left only one other possibility—there had to be some sort of spell on it.
Seth let out a deep sigh. I guess I’ll have to bring it to Glo.
He hated having to depend on the wizard’s magic, but in this case there was no help for it.
Seth tucked the box underneath his vest and prepared for the crazy dance back through the blades.
Well that's it for now. I will be presenting other excerpts from City in the coming months as well as more clips from the upcoming audiobook version of the Ruins on Stone Hill.