Onto Chapter 4...
The novel releases tomorrow, 11/20/14. Pre-order it now on Amazon. Limited time price of $3.99 for the e-book. Print version should be available as well (give or take a couple days).
Veil of a
~ Hammerblood, Book 1 ~
By Clifton Hill
(Novel is Epic Fantasy, approx 550 pages)
Expected Publish Date: 11/20/2014
All rights reserved. © Clifton Hill
Atowering Saeordin armored in black iron and leather, clove through the defending soldiers with a roar of his giant blade. His hooked nose stuck out from his helm like a hatchet as he forced his way through the Molroun line. Saeordin Regulars scuttled along at his sides, lashing out at anyone that came close as he mowed down defenders. His mouth was turned up in a wicked grin, his pace unslowing.
The Molroun soldiers held — if only just — and after the giant was bleeding from multiple wounds, a flight of arrows took the altered soldier in the head, dropping him with a grunt. More Saeordin Regulars filled in, their forging brute forgotten and the path behind littered with bodies.
Standing head and shoulders taller than any other defender, Hestea surveyed the bloodshed on the battlefield all around. A wintry-looking sky of stale clouds fit his mood.
This was not how it should have been.
A grizzled Molrounian in worn leather, was struck down by a bolt of energy. His pale face contorted in pain as he dropped to the ground, grabbing the badge of service upon his arm. The charged air crackled and popped, shaking morale and confidence of those around. And yet, they stood against the barrage, dedicated to fighting the Saeordin horde, no matter the price.
Looking to the side, Hestea saw General Zakea Dormir bellowing orders and realigning their defense within the lush meadow that had turned to mud and trampled grass.
They would gain nothing from this day.
Hestea stood within a space of calm in the center of battle, closed in on both sides by the enemy. The general radiated calm confidence, but the setback had the guard-captain feeling the control of his anger slipping. The Veil of Battle beckoned at the corner of his vision with its alluring shimmer and promise of power.
“I should be out there,” muttered Hestea, jaw clenched. Fellow soldiers were being struck down, mere paces away. Saeordin blades of midnight rose and fell, good men died and Hestea stood still, restrained by duty.
But then, a half dozen warriors broke through the line and charged at the general and his party. In a glance, Hestea saw them as Saeordin Regulars, faces set in fanatical zeal, their movements fluid and quick.
He couldn’t let them get close to the general. They were not mercenaries living for coin or those that had been forced into service, they were the real enemy.
Trained and armed machines of death.
The familiar surge of adrenalin lit Hestea’s veins with fire amidst a rush of anger. Hestea leapt forward without a word, his men unaware of the breach. The Veil of Battle descended, giving him focus as it shunted out reason and duty. The shimmer of its strength sparkled across his vision. Everything slowed down, as if time itself had changed speed or he had begun to move faster. Everything was more clear, but at the same time like moving through a cloud, enveloped in the action with no time to think — only act and react.
Lungs pumping and legs pounding the ground, he felt the rush of wind as he closed with the attackers, his hair rippling in the wind of passage.
The interlopers saw him bearing down.
Time slowed further.
Their expressions slowed: every twist of lip and blink of eye apparent as confusion changed to surprise. Fingers gripped weapons harder, muscles flexed, veins throbbed.
Overhead, a fireball seared slowly through the air to engulf two of Dormir’s force in a roar of agonizing fire. Their writhing shadows just visible, as they crumbled to the ground. Another fireball smote the ground in Hestea’s path, a fount of damp earth and grass erupting sluggishly.
Leaping without pause, Hestea smiled viciously at his adversaries, grabbed his great two handed war hammer from the thong on his back and leapt again into the air to bring it down with a horrible crunch. Massive shoulders bunching, he twisted and lunged, the hammer taking the next man in the chest, armor plate squealing in metal fury, flinging him into the air before he crashed into the ground — lifeless.
The remaining warriors didn’t break stride, hesitate or even flinch. Spreading out as they raced at Hestea, they surrounded him with weapons flashing. But Hestea’s mighty hammer swung quicker, breaking bones and blades with ease. Shouting with surprise in their foreign tongue, they realigned themselves. Flashing hand signals, they coordinated and made their stand. Despite skill and ruthlessness, they were put down one-by-one. The last two went down, grunting in pain and shock, never considering retreat.
In a moment of reprieve Hestea glared around, his chest swelling with breath, white teeth bared, but there were none left to oppose. The line ahead had closed and though nearby men-at-arms seemed boosted by his valor, shouting his name like a battle-chant, they were falling back toward the general faster every minute. Hestea could see the enemy over their heads as they clove through Molroun soldiers, seeking to break through the line in true.
Hestea was on the balls of his feet, torn with the desire to rush into the masses and rage on the enemy, but the Veil had lifted and duty held him back.
“Fall Back!” shouted General Dormir, raising a horn to his lips, he blew two quick blasts.
The sound of retreat echoed across the defiled meadow, giving Hestea a cringe of disgust. Hastening back to his general, Hestea found the grizzled Captain Gaston Fuswick glaring at him with reproval. Grumbling in irritation, Hestea ignored the look as he rejoined the general.
Gesturing precisely, Dormir parceled out quick orders to his captains, “Haslin, verify the way is still clear, the impediments unaltered. Fuswick, buy some time, delay the enemy in route.”
Quick nods of ascent and the two captains were off.
Hestea marshaled General Dormir’s personal guard, falling into formation as they sped off. The line came running to join them with groups of archers firing at the enemy and Dormir directed his command back into Tannil Wood.
With discipline in the face of their foe, the army melted into the evergreen forest. Those astride, dismounted with speed, while everyone broke into small organized groups and wound their way through thick trees and underbrush.
Birds rose into the sky, squawking at the intrusion as they wheeled about. The peace of their forest homes disturbed once too many that day.
Hestea ran alongside the general, alert for anything. The canopy above cast all into shadow and gloom. Turning to the general as he loped over roots and shrubs, he asked with a mixture of anger and suspicion, “What happened, General?”
“They knew we were coming Hammerblood,” huffed Dormir. “They knew...” he eyed Hestea with a meaningful look before refocusing on the path.
Hestea shook his head. Brand’s scouts had given the enemy’s position far from where they had been ambushed. And yet...
Then Hestea growled, realization hitting. Traitors!
But how? How could they turn on their own? The thought was infuriating. The already minuscule advantage of surprise, was slipping through grasping fingers.
Crashing through the forest behind came the enemy. But men swore and horses screamed as it appeared Saeordin cavalry neglected to dismount. Hestea’s scowl softened with a smile, men would break heads on branches and the mounts would be lamed in burrows. Even those on foot could be heard in their indignation as they tripped and stumbled through the undergrowth. Gaston’s force would only add to the confusion.
Dormir’s force plunged on, their pursuers falling back, and the occasional arrows and bursts of energy diminishing to none.
Heart beating in his ears, losing himself in the constant plodding of his feet — one after the other — Hestea dwelled on the battle. His disappointment grew until the imagined voice of his father formed in his mind, ever critical, ever cutting, You will put the Order at risk, Hestea.
No, he thought to himself. I had to leave, I couldn’t just stand by and do noth—
You are an impetuous fool!
No! he shouted in his mind, I had to do something. I had to help!
You would presume to know better than the council? Or your own father!?
Gritting his teeth, Hestea came back to his senses when he was startled by the Scoutmaster Brand Haslin reappearing from behind a tree. “General, the way is clear. The traps are set.”
“Good, extend your range on the other side of the river, check our supply train, and...make sure we aren’t surprised again.” A hint of annoyance could be heard in the general’s otherwise stoic tone.
“Yes, sir,” and Brand was off again, a grim look on his face.
After an hour of flight they came to the forest edge, the gloomy sky starkly bright in comparison. Ahead, the land dipped to where swift Galladel flowed slate blue and the Tanberry Bridge stood like a stone and timber beacon of safety.
Issuing quick commands, Dormir set the force into action. Long archers and magi took most of the mounts and galloped over the bridge. The rest of the force flowed towards the river and the narrow bridge, taking position.
Hestea watched the calm confidence of the general, the enemy just minutes behind, and could not help but marvel.
“The longbowmen and magi are in formation, General,” said tall Captain Spirit Mai-Shir in his plate armor and blue surcoat.
“Good,” said Dormir, “send the next group through.”
Nodding, Spirit took off to a clanking of metal, while Dormir took stock of the formations on this side of the river. The remaining archers stood at the fore, surrounded by a defensive ring of infantry facing the forest. The rest spread out along the riverbank, queuing up one group at a time to cross the Tanberry — some dangerously close to the river’s edge.
If the enemy came too soon, or too strong, they would be forced to fight with a split force and a swift river at their back.
Timing was everything.
It made Hestea glance at the forest with each group of Gaston’s men that came spiriting out of the wood to rejoin them.
Looking to the general, Hestea asked, “We have traitors in our midst, General?”
Dormir nodded with squinted eyes and Hestea spat in disgust. “The rules are changing Hammerblood. Longmere swears there were no scryers watching us with their magic and I have every confidence in Minaou’s ability with Sight. So it leaves us to assume foreknowledge of a more...pedestrian nature.”
The general paused to stare back at his men crossing the bridge. “Whether we brought the enemy within our ranks or they turned those of our own, I don’t know.”
“By the Sacraith!” A soldier cringed at the word, but Hestea gave it no heed. The dark magi that led the Saeordin with their black magics deserved every bit of his ire. Fear would serve none.
Dormir nodded, as serene and calm as a forest pool, somehow masking the bubbling irritation Hestea knew he must feel. Opening his mouth to speak, Dormir snapped his eyes back to the forest instead.
Hestea strained his ears. Tuning out the rattle of armor and weapons, the snort of horses, stamp of their hooves and he began to hear the wind in the leaves of the distant forest, the animal chatter— And yes, there was something else. Whether the general had heard it or not, the enemy was coming, and coming quickly.
Two bird calls in quick succession came from the forest. A hush fell on the army.
“Ready yourselves!” shouted Dormir. The sound of steel and leather rattled as men brought their arms to bear, nocked arrows and an air of readiness settled.
Groups continued across the Tanberry with haste — time was short.
A moment of relative silence passed as a gentle breeze swayed the long grass, and the river gurgled as it flowed behind. Every eye focused on the forest edge, less than two hundred paces distant, dark with gloom. Shadows took on strange shapes in that darkness, contorting into nightmarish imaginings, then vanishing with a blink. Eyes strained, eyes teared, trying to see into the depths, trying to see movement and trying to see the enemy — before they saw them.
Hestea adjusted his bracers and shifted his feet.
Great flocks of crow and finch burst from the canopy. Each flock greater than the last. Trees swayed and the underbrush shook as the enemy horde came. Shadows moved — dozens, then hundreds — and the line of the enemy stretched across the forest like a river of blood, black with death. Their battle cry went up, repeated behind as rank upon rank took up the roar. The roar of the river, pouring forth, ready to crash, ready to drown and ready to destroy. Then they came, bursting forth, pouring from the forest, soaking the land.
“STEADY!” called Dormir, his eyes like blue steel.
The foe picked up speed, pulling free from root, leaping shrub and bush — their prey in sight.
Then they stopped.
Dropping away, the first two ranks vanished as if the earth had sucked them into its belly and the Saeordin erupted in agony and cries of pain. Hestea stared, twisting his hammer as they fell into pits of sharpened stakes, covered with grass, killing and maiming without regard.
Archers on both sides of the river unleashed a volley of arrows. Arcing high, half were aflame, catching fire to dry brush, the rest thinning the enemy like a deadly rain.
Then from across the Galladel, Sethil and his magi whipped up a windstorm of leaves and fire, blinding the foe. The enemy became a mass of confusion, the mighty Saeordin shielding their eyes like babes before the sun. Some ran from that mire of swirling smoke and dust, and dropped, sprouting arrows as they died.
Commanders shouted them forward and more stumbled into the pits, and into a steel rain.
The orders changed and the Saeordin turned.
There was a burst of cheer from all around and Hestea breathed out, shaking his head in wonder and delight. It had worked.
Dormir turned and waved at Sethil on the far bank. The magi master shook his head: the Sacraith were not near.
“Seems we have a turn of luck.”
“General, we’re next,” said Hestea with an anxious glance at the forest as he strode onto the Tanberry, general at his side, the guard all around. The remaining positions dissolved, breaking into a snaking column that raced over the Galladel, seeking the other bank and seeking safety.
Behind them the fire spread, a wall of smoke rose, and the enemy lay hidden. Either retreating or reforming within the tangles of the forest, Hestea could not say.
Rousche was propped up against the burl of an oak while Sethil ripped apart the Tanberry Bridge. His other magi, Massani and Geret, glowed with the power of Quan as they joined their efforts to his.
A force of archers and soldiers lingered as the column of Dormir’s force marched away.
Jokai added his own power to Sethil’s, draining the lifeforce from the surrounding shrubs and grasses. A halo of withered flora spread out from him as he funneled the small amount to Sethil through their connection.
Despite Jokai’s concentration, Sethil saw the boy’s face and knew he had a question.
“What is it?” he asked, wanting nothing more than to be done with this place that reeked of failure.
His teeth grit in concentration, Jokai opened his mouth, paused, then asked, “Why - didn’t - they - follow - us?”
Sethil had no doubt who he meant. “Bah! The Sacraith? They’re lazy. They have their own agenda. They risk their own skin for no one!”
Jokai looked confused amidst his studied effort.
“Right, right, I know. Why would I want them to follow?” Sethil scowled. “Well, I don’t.”
A support beam was near to falling from Sethil’s attack, while Massani and Geret lifted a boulder high above their heads on flows of Quan, dripping with water.
Jokai was still confused, but Sethil had no interest in explaining himself.
A fountain of water accompanied the explosion of wood as the suspended boulder rocketed down, eating a hole through the floor of the Tanberry with a loud crunch. Wood fragments flittered away as a groaning and creaking shuddered through the bridge — its structure weakened near to collapse.
“Good,” said Sethil. The work nearly done, he reached into his pouch, finding only a pinch of green leaf remained. Sethil frowned as he muttered,. “Lorient better have some sweet leaf.”
There were no other bridges or fords for many leagues, so Hestea smiled as the magi force lit the bridge on fire behind them.
Hestea’s lieutenant, Marcus, noted with wry humor, “I hope we don’t have to pay for that.”
“If they tried, Dormir could show them a bill of their own.”
Marcus laughed. “Not enough gold in all of Molroun for that!”
Hestea nodded. Freedom was worth any cost.
With a crackling forest fire breeding on the far side of the Galladel, Hestea looked to the road ahead. They had lost their chance to strike a blow at the Saeordin today, but they still lived.
For now, that would have to do.
Saeordin Commander Malfere emerged from the smoldering Tannil Wood, reining in his horse to survey the scene with furrowed brow and deep-set eyes. Smoke lingered, waving across the field of loss.
The tail of the Falmeeran’s force was still visible in the distance, while the bridge burned. Ripped apart by magical fire and force, gaping holes prevented even the bravest proel soldier from following.
A couple remaining support timbers gave way with rending cracks and the rest of the bridge collapsed into the rushing river. Debris flowed down the waterway swiftly, as if intent at escape.
The Falmeeran had gotten away.
The proel officers were busy chastising those that remained of the first couple ranks. The vanguard had failed.
“Where is the captain of the first wave?” asked Malfere to his second. Without a word, the man pointed to one of the ditches littered with bodies — including one dressed as a captain, skewered on a sharpened stake. Shaking his head, the commander asked, “And the second wave?”
“He’s over there nursing a wound, and counting the remnants of his company, Dux Malfere.”
“I see...” Malfere ran a finger over the pommel of his saddle. Failure could not be brooked, and the solution was simple. “Promote his second to captain.”
Malfere’s own second looked at him. “And what about the captain, Dux Malfere?”
Malfere replied without expression, “Demote him.”
Nodding his head without surprise, the Saeordin trotted his horse over to the former captain, drawing his sword as the commander looked on.
Thanks for reading, watch for the book release: 11/20/14.
And read the short novelette, Seeking the Veil. See Hestea as he first leaves his secret home, raw and untested. Discover his past and the trials of Beckenburg that he will not speak of. Part 1 is now available on Amazon, Parts 2 and 3 will release in 2014.
Sign up for the Newsletter, be first for new Hammerblood stories, follow the Blog and say hi.
This is only the beginning.