First Chapters

Below are the first chapter previews of my published works to date. My stories all feature man loves man relationships as I identify as a gay man.

The Miscreant

Book 1 – The Lowest Realm
Prologue

A loud gunshot pierced the night, followed by an agonised scream. Nika cowered in the linen closet, trying not to make any noise. He could see shadows flickering in the light under the door and could hear yelling.

“I’m asking you one last time, Monique. Where’s our money, bitch?”

Nika heard a loud slap followed by a hiss.

“I already told you. We don’t get paid until tomorrow,” his mother spat back.

“We’re going to need some collateral,” a man said angrily. “Let’s get her kid.”

“Nikolai!” she screeched, but Nika didn’t move.

He heard some heavy footsteps rush past the closet, followed by the sound of his bedroom door being forced open. Cautiously, he peeked through a crack and could see the bad men in his room.

Nika dashed from the closet and ran past his mother as fast as his little legs could carry him. She sat slumped over the coffee table; white powder and needles were scattered amongst empty beer cans and cigarette butts. Blood was oozing from the bullet wound in her shoulder.

The bad men shouted and Nika gasped; they’d spotted him. He pulled open the kitchen door and ran into the darkness. He hid behind a burnt-out car in the abandoned lot across the road, and sucked in some deep breaths, his hands shaking. There was more yelling, then everything went quiet. After a long silence the bad men ran from the house.

“Where’d the little bastard go?” one of them growled.

“Don’t worry about it. Let’s get out of here before the cops come.”

They climbed into their car and sped off down the street, leaving Nika alone in his hiding place. He held back a sob, unsure what to do next. Should I go and help Mother? Or should I wait in case the bad man come back? What if Father comes home?

Thick black smoke started billowing from kitchen. Nika heard the shatter of glass and watched in dismay as flames erupted from his bedroom window. Oh no! Where will I sleep now? His eyes were drawn back to the door, and he spotted his mother staggering from the burning house. Nika took another nervous look around, then left his hiding place and ran back towards her.

She sank to her knees and swayed for a moment, then collapsed. Her skin was turning blue, and she started convulsing on the ground.

“Mother?” Nika asked, shaking her shoulder.

He felt sick and started to panic. She was making gurgling noises, and he didn’t know how to help her. He knew that if his father came home and saw what was happening, Nika would be blamed and beaten half to death.

The wail of sirens sounded in the distance, growing louder, and soon a convoy of emergency vehicles screeched to a stop, lighting up the driveway in red and blue hues. His mother was still, unmoving. Nika kept shaking her, trying to wake her up, but still she would not move.

Nika’s seven-year-old mind couldn’t comprehend what was going on. He’d seen his mother go still many times, but she always woke if he shook her hard enough. In his panic he didn’t notice the people behind him until he heard the crunch of a footstep behind him.

A lady in a uniform knelt down and wrapped him in a blanket, as firemen started to spray water on the house. He was both confused and terrified. He tried not to cry, but the tears fell anyway.

“Hello, young man. What’s your name?” The lady reached towards him, and Nika cowered, expecting to be beaten for crying like a girl.

“Hey, it’s ok little buddy. I’m not going to hurt you,” she said. “Is this your mummy?”

He nodded, looking at his feet.

“Is there anyone else still in the house?” she asked. Nika shook his head, unable to speak. “How about you come and sit in the big ambulance with me, and I’ll check that you’re okay. My friend over there will try and help your mummy. Is that alright with you?”

Nika nodded and followed the nice ambulance lady. The flashing lights were joined by a bright floodlight, and people in uniform were everywhere. Usually Nika was excited when he saw an ambulance or police car, but that night was everything but exciting. He paused and looked back at his mother to see if she was awake yet.

She lay on the ground, unmoving. Instead of helping her, a group of policemen were talking quietly and pointing at the house, while someone was taking photographs of her. Her arms and legs had spasmed into unnatural angles, and her face was a ghastly blue. Even more terrifying was her eyes, wide open and staring into nothingness, her face twisted in a horrible expression. Nika felt the image burn into his brain and knew he would never forget that sight for as long as he lived.

* * *

Nika woke with a start. He was shaking and covered in sweat, and tried to wipe the gruesome image of his mother from his mind. He hadn’t had such a vivid nightmare for several years and thought that he was over the horrors from his childhood. Yawning, he glanced at his alarm clock. It was only 9:30pm; he’d been asleep for less than an hour.

Sitting up, he pulled on a pair of black pants, a white singlet, and a heavy black jacket. His garb suited his looks; dark black hair which sat just below his ears and fell across his grey eyes, and a face that rarely smiled. He wore a well-groomed goatee and was usually clean-shaven, but he hadn’t shaved for two days and had a shadow of a beard growing on his face. Under his left eye was a very faint scar he received while fishing with his foster parents when he was ten. It was shaped similarly to the hook that caused the scar.

All his life, Nika kept to himself. An only child, he learnt to be self-reliant at a young age while his parents battled their addictions. He was neglected and beaten often, and after the death of his mother, he was sent to foster care and never saw his father again.

Nika sat on the edge of his bed and pulled on his shoes. His body ached; three weeks of gruelling twelve- to-sixteen-hour shifts had left him feeling exhausted and tired. He was due to fly out early the next morning for shore leave and felt a pang of excitement. Two whole weeks of bars, women, and playing gigs in his favourite pubs for extra cash. He’d already packed, and his eyes landed on his bag sitting in the middle of the room with his guitar. Next to the door, his filthy coveralls lay in a crumpled heap ready to be sent to the laundry room.

With another yawn, Nika stepped over to the basin and splashed some water on his face, then filled a cup and downed it. He slipped on his hardhat and vest, and quietly left the accommodation block, pondering his disruptive dream. The cold wind hit him as soon as he opened the door, and he pulled his jacket tighter around him.

Deep in thought, Nika slowly made his way up to the helipad. He sieved through all the painful memories that his dream unearthed—his father drinking and hitting him, both parents arguing, and fights over drugs and money. Nika felt the bitterness rising in his throat.

He walked slowly around the helipad, not noticing that production had stopped down below. The sound of an alarm in the distance roused him from his thoughts. He listened for a moment, then shrugged; his shift was over. It was up to the night shift maintenance crew to respond, not him.

As Nika turned to walk away, a whooshing sound drew his attention, and he looked up in time to see a massive ball of fire igniting and spreading across the deck below. The flames were followed by a deafening explosion, and the rig shook violently. Nika was thrown through the air and his head collided with something hard. Thick black smoke bellowed towards him, and he started to choke on the toxic fumes. He tore off his vest and held it over his mouth and nose, and tried to get up, but he couldn’t; his head spun, and he could hardly breathe.

Nika crawled in the direction of where he thought the stairs were, desperate to find his way out of the thick smoke. He was dazed and confused, and had no idea where he was. Another fireball erupted from the lower deck, spreading rapidly towards him. The heat was so intense that Nika could feel his skin burn. The rig shuddered and the helipad tilted; he tumbled down the slanting deck and fell.

Nika’s shocked mind hardly registered what was going on as he fell almost two hundred feet into the sea below. His life flashed before his eyes in an instant, and with a sense of dismay, he realised that his life was over. His dream of being a successful musician would never be.

He hit the water feet first and felt his legs shatter on impact as he sank into the icy cold Northern Sea. In a panic, he tried to swim, but he had no strength left. Nika felt the last of his life draining from his body, and he joined the crew forever in their watery grave.

Chapter 1

He floated through darkness, nothing but a mere consciousness being swept along by invisible tendrils. Something was pulling on the edge of his mind, dragging him forcefully from the comfort of his deep sleep and sending him hurtling through time and space. With a thud and a searing jolt of pain, he felt his body land on something cold and hard, no longer two separate entities.

His consciousness falteringly returned, and after a while he became aware that he was cold. Some time passed before he finally managed to move his arms. He reached up weakly to rub his eyes, then opened them slowly and blinked. The blue sky was dotted with dark clouds, the sun nowhere to be seen. It felt like an age had passed before he found the strength to push himself up into sitting position; he glanced around at his surroundings, at once confused.

He was sitting on an ancient altar which looked as though it had been neglected for centuries. Strange words and symbols were etched deeply into the stone in a wavy pattern on all sides, the writing hauntingly beautiful. Circling the altar was a low stone wall with a single opening, and the ground inside the ring, unlike the lush fields of sea lavender nearby, was solid gravel with tufts of grass forcing their way through.

Somewhere below him, waves crashed upon the cliffs. Occasionally the icy wind blew so hard the sea lavender was forced flat, a shimmering ripple passing through the fields all the way to the forest in the distance. He became overwhelmed with confusion as he returned his gaze to the ground at his feet.

Who am I?

He could not remember.

With growing panic, he buried his head in his hands, trying to remember, but nothing came. For a brief moment, he envisioned falling a great distance, but as quick as it appeared, it vanished from his mind.

Nika, he thought to himself. Nikolai Mikhailov. Born…oh shit. And where the fuck am I?

He glanced out across the sea, watching the waves form and break over the sharp rocks as he tried to make sense of his situation. A low rumble came from far out to sea, and for the first time he noticed the ominous clouds of a storm brewing in the distance. He could see the storm was moving quickly and realised with a sinking feeling that he was bound to get caught in it.

Nika swung his legs around on the altar and sat facing the forest. As his eyes swept the plateau, he caught a movement out of the corner of his eye and turned to see a majestic grey cat staring at him. A ring of white fur circled his neck and spread under his belly. The tips of his paws had the slightest touch of white, and on his forehead was a single white dot. The cat’s gaze bore into Nika’s eyes, almost as though he were trying to penetrate Nika’s mind.

“Oh hi, kitty cat,” he said gently, clicking his fingers and patting his leg.

The cat flicked his tail, almost disdainfully, and looked Nika up and down.

“There’s no need to be insulting, human,” a voice said inside Nika’s head.

He jumped and looked around to find the source of the voice.

“Who’s there?”

“Don’t be foolish. One is right here in front of you. Now, if you don’t want to get wet, which I certainly don’t want, one suggests you follow me.” The cat stood up and looked at Nika expectantly. “And don’t look at me like that. Haven’t you ever seen a cat before?”

“I-I’m sorry. I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to a cat before,” Nika stammered. “Am I dreaming?”

“Hardly. Come on.”

He slid off the altar, and shooting pain shot up through both of his legs. With a gasp, Nika fell to his hands and knees.

“Ow! What the fuck?” he hissed.

“You have clearly sustained some sort of injury,” the cat noted.

“No shit,” Nika snapped.

He pulled himself up and sat with his back against the altar, breathing heavily. A tingling feeling ran up and down his weak and pained shins, and he sat there for a moment, regaining his breath while massaging his shins.

“The storm is approaching. Can you walk?” The cat was watching him intently, with an almost bemused look on his face.

Nika sighed again and pulled himself up using the altar for support, then took a few shaky steps towards the cat, who turned and disappeared into the lavender. All Nika could see was his tail sticking out amongst the flowers.

“Hey, wait up!” he called.

The cat stopped and waited for Nika to catch up, then walked alongside him.

“It’s an hour-long walk to the forest for a human, but that’s with strong and fit legs. It may take longer with you,” the cat said as they walked. “To others, one is known as Arnie-Kyn. How shall one refer to you?”

“I’m Nika,” he replied. “What is this place? And how did I get here?”

“One does not know how you came to be here or where you are from. One shall take you to some humans who may be able to help you. Perhaps when we reach our destination, you will learn more.”

“Our destination is where, exactly?” Nika asked.

“You are just like a young whelp, so full of questions. Come along now, night will soon be upon us.”

Nika grimaced and stumbled along in silence. The sky was growing darker as the storm clouds blew closer, and soon the first drops of rain started to fall. The rumbling in the distance was growing closer and louder, an occasional flash lighting up the sky.

They reached the cover of the forest just as the sky opened up in a downpour. Lightning cracked overhead followed by loud claps of thunder, and the icy wind howled through the trees, causing branches to snap and plunge to the ground.

Arnie led Nika further and further into the forest; it was growing darker by the minute, and the rain pounded through the canopy. Nika was soaked through to his skin, and he felt frozen to his core. His legs were burning, and he gritted his teeth.

“Not much further now,” Arnie-Kyn said.

Nika’s mind was numb as he followed the cat through the forest. He saw something large and square in front of him, and as they drew closer, Nika realised it was the remnants of a stone building. As they walked, more gloomy ruins materialised out of the forest, looking melancholic in the dim light. He followed Arnie through the ruined streets, staggering as the pain flared with each step he took. I wish I could just relax with a hot coffee next to a nice warm fire, he thought.

A light appeared in the window of one of the damaged houses, and Arnie stopped.

“Wait here a moment, human,” he said, then disappeared towards the house.

Nika waited in the rain, too tired to argue.

“There’s no one here. This will be an adequate lodging for the night,” Arnie said from the windowsill.

Nika tried to open the door of the house, but it wouldn’t budge. With a sigh, he climbed through the open window into a lounge room. A welcoming fire burned in the fireplace, although it burned no wood.

“How…?” Nika started.

“It’s a firestone,” Arnie explained. “They can be used as a light source or for heat.”

“How do they work?” Nika asked, intrigued.

“One is a cat, not a mancer.”

“Well, did you…you know, make it work?” Nika asked.

“No. One does not know who activated the stone,” Arnie replied. “Stay here and get dry, human. One shall hunt us some food.”

Arnie-Kyn disappeared out the window, leaving Nika alone with his confusion. He took off his dripping wet jacket and hung it by the fire, then took off his trousers and shoes. With a groan, he sat on a dusty rug by the fire in his singlet and underwear, and stared miserably into the flames.

* * *

He sat, motionless, listening to nature and reading her signs. The trees whispered of a stranger upon the land, and the wind blew a foreboding warning of evil yet to come. Deep within his bones he could feel changes stirring within the land, and he felt a stab of fear at the thought of more evil in the already pained world.

Closing his eyes, he allowed himself to drift into the dreamy trance he so often sought comfort from, and listened ever closer to the voices of nature. At once, he realised that the stranger walked in his forest, but friend or foe he did not yet know. Strange voices were talking loudly in languages he could not understand; while many creatures were attuned to the voices of nature and could communicate through her channels, he’d never heard them so loud and distressed before.

With a grimace, he stood and slung his pack over his shoulder and turned to face the direction he knew the mysterious stranger would be. He’d never had intruders in his forest before, so while he was extremely curious, he knew better than to go blundering into the stranger’s path.

He was a strange being, not quite human but not quite anything else. He lived a solo life in the forest and had forgotten his name many moons ago. In his opinion, names were unimportant. So long as he could listen to nature’s musical voice and be with her, he was happy. He had dark black hair streaked with a hint of silvery grey, and the brownest of eyes. His beard and hair were long and scruffy from living in the wild for so long. He was slightly taller than average and was lean and strong. Years of solitude in the forest had granted him the stealth and agility required to survive off the land.

Swiftly and silently, he began his trek south. It was less than a day’s walk to the edge of the forest, but the rain and approaching storm would surely hinder his journey. He made his way through the trees and stopped at a small stream where he occasionally fished for food. A flash of lightning cracked through the sky, lighting up the bank for a split second. The resulting rumble of thunder was ominous, filled with warning.

The stream had swollen into a wide raging river from the storm. Tree branches and small shrubs were being swept along by the current. There was nowhere to cross safely. The ground was starting to turn to mud, and with a sigh of defeat, he turned and trudged upstream to where he knew was shelter.

I guess I’ll just have to wait out this storm first. I don’t think the stranger will be going far this day, either, he thought, walking as quickly as he could through the slippery mud. He was almost at the cave when the hair on the back of his neck stood on end. Danger!

He froze, and just as he did, a large feral pig emerged from the cave, sniffing the air. Carefully and slowly, he slipped behind a tree and climbed it as quietly as he could. The wild pigs of the forest had terrible eyesight, but their heightened sense of smell made them dangerous. There was little doubt that the pig had already caught his scent; it grunted and chomped its jowls, its hackles standing on end.

The pig moved closer and circled the tree where he hid. A deep rumble of thunder made it tense and look up at the sky. That’s it, come closer, he thought. You will make a good meal. He could sense its hunger, fuelled by the tasty scent on the wind and its need to defend its territory.

Lightning flashed, and it was time to act. As the thunder rumbled once more, he drew his dagger from his boot and readied himself. The pig resumed its circling and was soon directly below his hiding place.

It was the moment he’d been waiting for. Taking a deep breath, he leapt from the tree branch and landed on the startled pig’s back. The animal squealed and tried to buck him off, but he held on tight with one arm and drove his dagger into the pig with the other. Hot sticky blood gushed from the wound and warmed his hand. Squealing and kicking, the pig tried to escape his grasp, but he kept it pinned under his bodyweight as its life bled from its body.

The pig’s struggles grew weaker and weaker, until death took its final breath. He stood, breathing heavily, and glanced at the limp body at his feet. A deep sense of sadness overcame him; to slay an innocent beast felt like a crime, whether or not the pigs were feral and wreaked havoc on the isle. With a tear in his eye, he knelt next to the dead body and prayed to his mother of nature, asking for her understanding and forgiveness. I’m sorry. Your death will not be in vain.

Getting up, he retrieved his blade and went to the mouth of the cave. It wasn’t very deep, but it was dry and would be good cover to sit out the storm. A small pile of firewood was stacked neatly at the back from the last time he’d taken shelter there. He gathered some dry grass and twigs from the stockpile, and soon had a small fire going just inside the opening.

The pig’s body still lay where it had fallen, looking quite miserable in the mud. He cleaned his blade, then set to work. It took him over an hour to clean, skin, and gut the carcass, by which time he was cold, hungry, and tired.

Yawning, he returned to the cave and set up his spit to cook his dinner, while he disposed of the gizzards and cleaned his hands thoroughly. He hung his heavy cloak out to dry, then sat watching his dinner cook.

By the time the meat was done, he was ravenous, and ate more than his usual fill. Satisfied from his nourishing meal, he lay back against the wall and dozed off.

Darkness…running. Trees all around. Screams filled with terror. He couldn’t see. He was blinded with fear, but he kept running. The smell of burning flesh growing stronger, an orange glow in the distance.

He knew he was too late, yet he kept running, trying to push himself to go faster, but it was no good. He reached the gates of the village, and heard the screams growing weaker. The once beautiful village lay burning and reduced to a slaughterhouse, mutilated bodies strewn around on the ground. He kept on. He had to.

He reached the remains of the village square and found the source of the screaming; at once he was violently ill.

“Freyne! Help me!”

She was on fire, staggering towards him, but there was nothing he could do. He stood frozen to the spot, watching as she slowed to a walk, then collapsed with a pleading hand held out towards him…

He woke with a start, trembling, still smelling the burnt flesh in his dream. The air was filled with rancid smoke, and he looked down to see that he’d forgotten to take the rest of the pig off the fire. With a groan, he got up and hurled the smoking leftovers out of the cave. The rain had eased, and the worst of the storm was over. An occasional rumble in the distance told him the storm had moved far away.

It was impossible to determine how long he’d slept. He retrieved the spit and waited for the smoke to clear, then put more wood on the fire. His mind racing, he sat back down and stared into the flickering flames. He could not recall having such a horrid dream before and was confused as to what it meant. Who was that woman, and how did she know his name?

His name, which he had not used for so long, it was forgotten.

With a yawn, he settled next to the fire and bundled his cloak into a pillow. Lulled by the crackling fire and the flowing river, he soon drifted into an exhausted sleep.

Book 2 – The Darkest Realm
Chapter 1

Lord Du’Rakis stood on top of a small rise, glaring across the battle that raged before him. The earth was blanketed in red from both the blood and uniforms of his army. Soldiers were falling to the ground, cut down like wheat before a scythe. The sound of a horn echoed across the battlefield, and the mounted King’s Army surged across the bridge of Rarn. The remaining red militia retreated and ran for their miserable lives.

A muffled grunt from behind him hardly earned his attention. He ignored it and continued to watch as the rest of his army regrouped with the bulk of his reserves. The pitiful militia were almost no more; the reserves, on the other hand, were his most loyal followers of the Brotherhood of the Black Ibis. They would succeed or die trying. There would be no excuse for failure.

“My Lord. I bring you grave news.”

He turned to face his general, who was breathing heavily from exertion.

“What is it, Ashavan?” he demanded.

The general bowed respectfully, then turned and indicated a dishevelled man being held by two of the Brotherhood.

“One of our spies just made it back through the lines. The cretins you seek are no longer at Rarn, My Lord.”

“WHAT?!”

“They left almost thirty-six hours ago, with a detachment of King’s Army soldiers. They’re on their way to Riz’Hra even as we speak.” Ashavan’s expression changed to anger. “The news that the cretins are being kept in the city’s keep was a lie. Nothing but a diversion, My Lord.”

Lord Du’Rakis turned and swept his eyes back across the battlefield, his hands shaking as the anger rose within him. His plans ruined yet again by unreliable human filth.

“Those who brought us this news. Were they from trusted sources, or useless plebs?” he asked through clenched teeth.

“They were from the Brotherhood, My Lord. Senior ranks, too. We sent them into the city to gain intelligence as you ordered, and instead they brought us false, unverified lies.”

His entire body shook with rage. The fury coursing through his veins started pulsating and he could feel himself subconsciously drawing power from the realm. His mission had failed; his own people had betrayed him. The sky darkened and filled with thunderous clouds as his wrath took over his very being.

He stepped from his body and hurtled himself to the middle of the battlefield. As he made his projection solid, he raised his arms above his head dramatically and called forth a single bolt of lightning to strike the ground at his feet. Thunder roared above the battleground. The armies stopped fighting and gasped, then shrank back from their enraged leader. The silence was deafening, as every eye fell on him.

“Fools! You have failed me!” he roared towards the Brotherhood. “The laziness of some of you have led to all of the deaths here today, including your own. You and your families will all suffer an eternity for your betrayal!”

“My Lord Ami–” a shaking lieutenant stepped forward hesitantly.

“SILENCE!” he screamed.

He called forth another bolt of lightning and struck the pitiful man before he could form his next words. In a flash, the man’s body spasmed and fell to the ground in a smouldering heap. The Brotherhood gulped and took another step back.

“No one may speak that name. EVER!”

 In a swift and deliberate motion, he raised his arms and directed the entirety of the energy he’d harnessed from the realm towards the Brotherhood. Lightning crackled from the skies as he struck each and all of his remaining followers.

Some tried to run.

Some tried to beg for their pitiful lives.

The rest accepted their fate, and as wave after wave of lightning struck them down, the battlefield echoed with the screams of almost a thousand people. Soon, Lord Du’Rakis was the only one still standing with breath in his lungs. The air reeked of sulphur and death. He turned to survey the army behind him, but the superior forces had already retreated back across the bridge. Satisfied, he softened his projection and returned to his physical form.

“From this day forward, we fight this battle alone,” he said grimly to Ashavan. “By allowing the cretins to escape, the prophecy will be fulfilled and there is nothing I can do from here. The powers of Am and Gri’Ran together are too much for me to fight. To follow the cretins now would be folly, and my ruse will be discovered.

“It is time to execute stage two of my plan. Gather Enbarak, Belarüs, Rissa, and Ornas, and meet me in the Keep. We will cleanse our chapters of this filth, and I will have my revenge.”

* * *

General Ashavan crept through the darkened city streets, being careful to remain unseen. He was a large, hulking man, able to whittle bodies into latticework with a single stroke of his sword. To risk being caught roaming the streets after curfew by the city guards would cost him precious time, time he could not afford. He knew that should he slip up in the slightest way, Lord Du’Rakis would show him no mercy. Just as he showed none to the almost thousand-strong army of the Brotherhood. The thought of the smoking bodies littering the battlefield and the stench of the burning flesh made him shudder.

The patter of the heavy rain hitting the weathered bluestone street muffled his footsteps as he hurried down a dark alleyway. Rounding a corner, a lone mutt started barking from the shadows.

“Halt! Who’s prowling around out there?” a voice shouted.

Ashavan snatched a key from his pocket and jiggled it in a lock as the sound of running feet grew louder. He slipped inside and pressed his ear to the door.

“It’s just a mongrel dog,” a gruff voice said. “Let’s git outta this rain.”

Ashavan breathed a sigh of relief as the guards moved away.

“Who’s there?” a voice called behind him.

“It’s me,” Ashavan said quickly.

A beam of light pierced the darkness as Tysion unshuttered his lantern and placed it on a table. The small room had hardly changed since Ashavan was there last; a cot against the back wall, a wardrobe, a small table with two chairs, and a bench to prepare meals. The air was cold and frigid; the tiny room had no fireplace.

“What are you doing here?” Tysion demanded.  

Ashavan eyed him in the dim light; his body looked strong and healthy as always. His brown wavy hair matched the soft curls on his chest, which disappeared into a trail leading below his under garments. Tysion’s green eyes twinkled in the light of the lantern, betraying his confusion.

“I had to see you,” Ashavan blurted out. “You are no longer safe here. The Brotherhood of the Black Ibis is being expunged by our Lord. He’s coming to destroy what’s left. You need to get out tonight.”

Our Lord? He’s yours, not mine. I left that ridiculous cult years ago.” Tysion snapped.

“I came here to warn you, not to argue. If I get caught, I’m a dead man. You and I both know that.” Ashavan pleaded. His stomach twisted and turned unpleasantly. “Please. Just pack your things and hurry. We don’t have much time.”

“And where will I go?” Tysion countered. “You know this place and my workshop is all I have left. You come barging in here and try to uproot my life as though I can just go and start over like nothing ever happened –”

“If you don’t leave tonight, you will die!” Ashavan yelled, his frustration getting the better of him. “He is on a rampage, and this whole city is at risk. I may have made some poor choices in my life, but I swore when I did to always protect you no matter what. Now please, start packing. You can hate me while you get ready.”

Tysion glared at him for a moment, then huffed and pulled on his tunic and hose.

“Where will I go?” he repeated as he threw some clothes into a pack.

“Head east, as far as you can. Avoid the cities. Hide by day and travel by night.” A wave of sadness washed over him as Tysion turned and stuffed a few tools of his craft into another pack.

“I never meant to get in this deep,” Ashavan said softly. “We were led to believe that we were doing the right thing. That we were helping to make the world a better place by stamping out corruption and evil. I never thought it could go this far, and that we were the ones doing wrong.”

“You need to get out now,” Tysion said, his tone changing. He paused and looked Ashavan in the eyes. “Only now are you waking up to the level of brainwashing that goes on in that place. Any cult that defies the gods is going to have evil intent. If only you’d woken up when I did.”

“I can’t leave, and you know that,” Ashavan groaned. “Unless he is killed, I am bound to him until the very end. I’m so sorry. I never wanted this to happen.”

“Sorry isn’t going to change anything.” Tysion pulled on his heavy cloak and boots, then stood and buckled his sword to his waist. “Let’s go.”

The rain was still bucketing down outside, making it hard to see in the shadows. Ashavan was grateful they at least had some cover to help keep them hidden from the patrols. After a few close calls, almost being discovered by the guards, they made it safely to the entrance of the sewers.

“Down there is the only safe way out,” Ashavan whispered.

Tysion nodded and scurried down the ladder. Ashavan followed, pausing only to pull the heavy cover back over the entrance. The smell of human waste greeted his nose, almost choking him. He heard a splash below followed by gagging.

“Disgusting,” Tysion retched.

“It’s better than being killed,” Ashavan said grimly. “Pass me the lantern. We should be safe here.”

Tysion unshuttered the lantern and handed it over. Ashavan flinched from the bright light after being in the darkness for so long. He held it up so they could see and sheathed his sword.

“This way. Be careful, it’s slippery.”

The sewers were ancient and robustly built from large blocks of basalt stone. The walls and ledges were covered in green moss and grime, and as they carefully picked their way through the gloom, rats fled in every direction. The sound of rushing water was almost deafening; the level in the channel had risen considerably since Ashavan passed through earlier.

Finally, a stairway materialised from the darkness. Ashavan led Tysion up the slippery stairs, then paused once more to shutter the lantern. He handed it back to Tysion, then cautiously opened the door and stepped into a small cave.

“Who’s there? Show yourself!” Someone yelled. “Hey!”

Ashavan cursed and drew his sword in time to parry a blow from a polearm, throwing his attacker off-guard. Ashavan swung his blade with ease and buried it into the man’s abdomen, just below his breastplate. A look of disbelief crossed the man’s face; with a gurgle, he fell to his knees and slumped to the ground.

Without a word, Ashavan wiped the blood from his blade, and dragged the dead guard into the sewers. He listened to the thumps of the body as it rolled and slipped down the stairs for a moment, then closed the door and turned to Tysion.

“Are you ok?” he asked.

“I’m standing next to someone who kills without conscience. I’m not even sure how to answer that,” Tysion sighed.

“It was us or him,” Ashavan said firmly. “He swung at me first. Come on, I have a horse waiting for you.”

They walked in silence until they reached the edge of a large forest. Ashavan didn’t stop; he led the way deeper into the brush to two horses. Wordlessly, he took Tysion’s packs and buckled them to the saddle.

“Take this horse and get as far away from here as you can. There’s food and coin in one of the packs. Remember what I said, hide by day, ride by night.” Ashavan looked at Tysion for a moment, then lowered his eyes to his feet. “If things had been different…if I left when you did, do you think we would have had a chance? Together, I mean.”

“There was always a chance, but your heart is ensnared by that cult. Until you can break away from them, your heart will never be your own.” Tysion stepped forward a planted a soft yet firm kiss on Ashavan’s lips. “If that day ever arrives, come and find me.”

Before Ashavan could say anything else, Tysion leapt into the saddle and sped off into the night.

The Marsden Park Series

Beneath the Grandstand

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