Hannon pulled on
his reins, his patience exacerbated. Rain washed his face as he scowled up at
the overhead canopy, his eyes briefly retaining an image of the dappled light
even though the day was grey. It seemed that there was to be no letup in the
weather, but that was not his main concern. He cocked his head as he listened
to the woodland noises trying to decipher the many sounds. His face was set in
concentration and worry gnawed in his guts. He did not have long to wait and he
flinched when a crack from a broken branch confirmed his fears. That was a
large animal and a sturdy branch by the sounds of it. He was being followed.
With some difficulty, given the narrowness of the trail, he turned his
mount to face the way he had come and waited. Rain continued to seep under his
collar, damp now rather than cold. He blinked to clear his vision, knowing that
he may need to react swiftly should the need arise. He was confident of his own
skills. Youth and dexterity were on his side, but the damp would wear any man
down and his joints ached softly.
After a few moments a silhouette appeared from within the tunnel framed
by trees. A rider. A lean man astride a brown horse that looked as miserable
with the weather as Hannon did. The man urged his mount forward and then
stopped no more than ten paces away and at that moment even the birdcall
vanished, as though in expectation of the events to follow.
“Why are you following me?” Hannon demanded softly. There was no need to
raise his voice. He wanted to sound calm even though his pulse raced. The other
man rose in his stirrups as though relieving a cramp. Long, dark hair framed a
youthful face. His eyes were pinched against the drizzle, his eyebrows narrowed
in concentration. Hannon knew instantly that this man was not to be trusted,
whether a premonition or a judgement of character he cared less. He dropped his
gaze to the other man’s weapons; a sword and knife scabbarded at his waste. The
sword’s pommel looked worn; a bad sign that he may be an experienced sword’s
The man smiled thinly. “Give me the kara-stone and I will let you ride
on.” His voice was gravel, flat and full of menace.
Hannon’s horse crabbed across the path and he pulled on the reins,
bringing it to a halt. “Kara-stone? I don’t know what you are talking about.”
The other man snorted. “I saw it, yesterday, when you were sitting in the
tavern, waiting for your meal. You took it out, wrapped in a cloth and looked
upon it; a blue-green stone, the colour of the ocean. I would have it. Give it
to me and I will let you ride on,” he nodded to the trail behind Hannon,
letting the malice in his words hang in the air between them.
“I am content to sell it – if the price is right,” Hannon stated. That
was his intention all along, to sell it and make some money and he was hoping
for a sizeable sum.
“Why should I buy it when I can take it,” came the reply. Hannon had half
expected it. His luck never ran true and with hand the gods gave and the other
they took away.
Hannon’s one advantage now was action rather than inaction. Without
further consideration he dug his heels in his mount’s flanks and, shouting,
urged his horse forward, intending to use his mount’s momentum and sudden
attack to unbalance his foe, for that was who he was; an enemy that must be
swept aside. Horse and man covered the distance swiftly. The other man’s eyes
grew wide and he shouted an oath as his hand flew to his sword. He half drew
the weapon before the horses collided, bodies impacting with a heavy thud that
rocked Hannon in the saddle, even though he was prepared for it.
Hannon drew his sword as the other man was thrown aside, leaning precariously
back, hanging on with his reins and fighting to stay in the saddle. His sword
remained undrawn as he fought for balance. Hannon used the flat of his own sword,
aimed at the other man’s head, trying to stun him rather than kill. With a look
of terror the other man dodged the blow and urged his horse away from the
Glancing back at Hannon his eyes were ablaze with fury as he regained his
seat. Over his shoulder he shouted words, his fingers tracing a symbol in the
air. Hannon’s insides grew cold. A sorcerer. A blast of air threw him from his
saddle and the ground slammed into him, knocking the wind from his lungs. A
loud ‘oofff’ escaped his lips and the back of his head hit the ground, rattling
his brain. For a moment the world went black. Gasping for breath he tried to
turn so he could get to his knees, his head ablaze with pain from the sudden
The narrow woodland trail gave him a few precious moments respite as the
other man fought to turn his horse. Senses reeling, he tried to get up, but instinct
caused him to throw himself to one side and he rolled as the other man thundered
by, trying to trample him beneath his horses hooves.
Hannon found himself off the trail between the trees. Still winded he
tried to rise to face his enemy. His knees gave way and he held a solid tree
trunk for support. He shook his head to try to clear the fog and fresh waves of
pain caused him to vomit. His knees buckled. His head hurt like hell.
The other man dismounted now that the trees were between them and he came
forward, drawing his sword with an exaggerated slowness that bespoke volumes.
Hannon realised then that he had dropped his own weapon. His thoughts ablaze
with fear and dread Hannon cast about, seeing his sword on the trail in front
of the advancing man. There was no way he could reach it before the other man
did. Cursing, he pushed himself away from the tree he was balanced against and
sought to retreat further into the wood. His legs felt leaden. His muscles
barely responded and then after a few strides he found his balance and weaving
between trees he sought to flee.
The dense trees saved him from the second sorcerous attack. As he dodged
between tall oaks a blast of flame scorched his hair, narrowly missing him
before slamming into a stout trunk in a loud explosion that rocked the very
earth. The flame rebounding from the impact took his breath away and he ducked,
shielding his head with his arms. Ears ringing, he knew that he wasn’t going to
survive the attack. He stumbled to a halt and raising his hands he gasped,
“Enough!” He twisted around as the other man started to walk towards him,
slowing from his own sprint, his sword level with the ground and pointing at
Hannon’s hand went to his leather jerkin, soaked through with rain. He
sought an inner pocket and found the package that he wanted. He was furious
with the turn of events and struggled to keep his anger from his face. He held the
bundle out to the other man, unwrapping the contents and revealing the
kara-stone for the first time. The other man’s eyes locked on the prize in obvious
longing. The stone was fist sized and glowed softly, seeming translucent in the
woodland’s half light. Hannon recognised the greed reflected in the other man’s
eyes and the sight further angered him. He hated to lose, especially such a
“Take it,” Hannon snapped, thrusting his arms out in supplication. The
man paused as though sensing a trap. His head tilted to one side and his eyes
locked on Hannon’s. The eyes were uncompromising and Hannon knew he had chosen
correctly. Surrender rather than death, but even still his thoughts rattled on,
seeking to reverse his situation.
“Take it,” he urged again, holding the prize out as if it offended him.
The stone rested on the cloth. The blue/green glow seemed to pulse as though in
time with Hannon’s heart and Hannon looked at it with growing dread. He had not
seen it do this before and he realised how little he knew about the orb. He had
found it a few days before, nestled
between two rocks in an isolated mountain recluse he had been exploring;
the ruins of a cottage where he had hoped to find a stash of gold or silver; a
building no doubt over run by krell at some time in its past.
What was he holding? He had scant information about kara-stones other
than sorcerers would pay good gold for one. Rumour suggested kara-stones might
be dangerous to touch. He had no idea why, but that was his only advantage that
something might happen if it came in
contact with flesh. He kept the revelation from his face, grimacing as fresh
waves of pain swept through his head.
The other man’s hand reached out for the stone, his sword’s point an inch
from Hannon’s unprotected belly. His enemy was young as he had first thought;
his chin devoid of facial hair and his skin as yet unblemished by wind or sun.
Hannon tried to read his mind to anticipate his actions. He didn’t like what he
saw. The other man looked confident and uncaring.
A crooked smile formed as his hand sought the cloth the stone rested on. He
was clearly trying not to touch the stone and this was the distraction Hannon
was waiting for. He tilted his hand, bringing the stone in contact with the
other man’s flesh. His eyes widened and he thrust the sword forward as Hannon
desperately sought to twist away. The other man screamed, but his blow was
already committed and Hannon was not quick enough to escape fully. The blade
sliced along Hannon’s torso and pain erupted as it bit deep. Twisting saved the
point entering his body, but the blade itself was razor sharp and passed
through linen and flesh with an ease that made Hannon scream with pain.
Both men fell to the ground. Hannon clutched his wound, which flamed as
though a red hot poker had been held there. He cursed and tried to stand. The
kara-stone had fallen to the ground between the two men, forgotten for the
moment. His opponent was still on the ground and Hannon wondered for an instant
what the stone had done. Then he was up, one hand drawing his dagger and the
other clamped to his belly.
Before he could attack, his enemy rolled over and stood, albeit with
difficulty. Hannon swiped the knife across his enemy’s throat, but the other
man reacted swiftly, pulling his head back and the knife narrowly missed the
exposed flesh. Only then did Hannon register the other man’s eyes. Abruptly
they were changed. They were ethereal; detached from the face as though belonging
in another plane of existence. Large orbs, glowing green locked on his with an
intensity that made his heart quail.
Instinctively, Hannon drew back. He had heard about the krell wars. He
had also heard about demons. Who hadn’t? Laughter filled the air as he
confronted the other man, terror preventing him from attacking but also
preventing retreat. A possession, he guessed, as the other man stalked around
him, a manic grin on his lips as his eyes seemed to flash an undecipherable
message. The eyes shifted relative to the other man’s face as though not quite
belonging there and a dread cold seemed to fill the void between them.
Hannon considered flight. He stepped back and his heel caught something
behind him, threatening to spill him to the soil. He kept his balance. “Let me
go!” he pleaded, waving the knife in front of him.
The demon’s eyes dropped to the blood seeping through Hannon’s fingers
and he licked his lips. “And why should I do that?” his enemy croaked as though
unused to speaking.
With a scream that froze Hannon’s blood the other man leapt the
intervening distance, easily knocking aside his blade from nerveless fingers.
He could only cry out in terror as hands sought his throat and incredibly
strong fingers crushed his windpipe, stopping the life giving air from his
lungs as he collapsed once more to the ground.
Hannon fell. He fell for an eternity. His cry mixed with that of his
soul. A perpetuity of pain in an instant. And yet... a promise of far more to