Authors: Troy Reaves
Copyright © 2010 Troy S. Reaves
All rights reserved.
To my editor, my inspiration, my wife and my
Muse. This book would not be possible without Nemesis and the Goddess in my
It was happening again. The
stronghold trembled with a crack of thunder that rocked the stone beneath. The
smell of burning flesh and brimstone invaded the boy's nostrils even before he
could open his eyes. It was happening again, and Gregor was certain he would
not survive this time. The evil invader had come and knew where to find him.
The young weapons page forced his eyes open, knowing he had to prepare for what
waited beyond the open doorway. The coal that smoldered in the forge glowed,
yet no heat emanated from the fuel there. He steeled himself for what would
happen next. As if Gregor's thoughts had brought Master Riley into being, the
knight of Bella Grey slammed into the doorway between the armory and the room
where Gregor slept. The knight's body was wedged firmly into the door frame
blocking any path of escape as his head twisted impossibly, now looking over
his own back, and facing fully the boy sitting frozen with terror on his worn
cot. “Death, death in the keep of the Knights of Bella Grey, Gregor! Gather
weapons from the armory and arm yourself!” Even before he had finished speaking,
the plate armor the knight wore had begun to drag his body to the ground.
dead eyes staring into the smith's workroom, Master Riley's body folded slowly
forward into the armory as if attempting to point Gregor toward the right path.
Gregor climbed over the dead knight praying that there were survivors among the
stronghold's residents, as he gathered the iron swords from the nearby weapons
rack. In his rapidly beating heart, Gregor knew there would be no one living in
the keep, and yet he was unable to stop the futile exercise.
dead were everywhere as Gregor moved through the halls. The boy almost welcomed
the crimson mists that covered most of the corpses, shedding a tear for each
face he could still recognize. The Knights of Bella Grey had always counted on
him to serve them well in his duties, and he used their faith in him to keep
moving toward the death he had avoided so many times. Gregor wondered if it was
a sin to hope for release from his weak body as he moved to face the creature
that longed to devour him.
guttural howl, just barely recognizable as human, reached Gregor's ears. The
sound had come from the main hall and he forced himself to run toward it,
knowing all too well the source. He cast away all the weapons he carried but
one, carrying the sword clumsily as he ran. Lord Clamine was dying, and though
Gregor did not know how to stop the one that had slain so many, he knew he had
felt the heat emanating from beyond the doors of the main hall. It was the only
heat he had felt in the keep but he took no comfort from it, there was only an
intensity that became pain as he opened the giant door just enough to pass
through it. The demon, forced into a crouch because of its great height, had
bent forward over its victim and dominated the room. Lord Clamine hung from the
wall beneath the creature, with his own sword's blackened hilt protruding from
his chest. The creature before the boy was no stranger to him, still the fear
welled up in him as it always had.
Gregor felt there was something different this time, as if some line had
been crossed and that this time there would be no retreat, no escape, for him.
Gregor decided to take control of his destiny; his terror had gone on long
brought the sword he was carrying to the ready with a resolute movement and
felt a surge of strength he did not recognize as his own. “Take me, coward! Do
you not tire of torturing this old warrior over and over again? Take me and
release him! Let Lord Clamine die!” Gregor looked into the eyes of the Master
of the keep as he spoke, drawing inspiration from Lord Clamine's actions. There
was very little strength left in the elder knight and he was using all that
remained for one purpose now, raising his voice in prayer to the God of Light.
There was still hope in the voice that uttered that prayer.
boy felt the heat from the demon invade his mind.
Release my favored pet? I cannot
do that, boy, despite your entreaty. Both of you will serve me, each in your
time, and this knight's time is now.
The demon twisted Lord Clamine’s holy blade
into the knight's chest once more, a darkness overtaking the blessed light that
normally suffused it.
began to rise to his feet, intent on charging the demon and saving Lord Clamine
or dying in the effort, but the past could not be changed, and a gentle white
light enveloped Lord Clamine and Gregor, bringing a sense of peace and safety
as it had always done.
Rest my son. This
Knight of Bella Grey has pledged his life to me and I would never deny my most
humble servant's final request on your behalf. You will be spared and in time
you will wield the power to bring justice for what took place here. You will
become my sword and you will avenge those who were slain here today. Pledge
servitude to your God. I have set your path before you, but you must choose to
This thought calmed the turmoil of emotion within Gregor as he
brought his forehead to rest on the cool stone floor. He felt his destiny had
gentle power that flowed into the boy as he received the answer to his entreaty
was the same as it had been in the past when he had issued the challenge.
Your Master is at my side as was promised
when he entered into my service so many years ago, and you will destroy this
creature when you have the faith to do so. The Gods and Goddesses can only
guide and bestow divine blessings to the faithful. You must find your own
strength and your own faith. In time you will, my son.
The roaring stopped.
The heat cooled. Gregor thought that he must finally be dead, reasoning only
death could bring such complete quiet. He brought his head from the stones just
in time to see the demon suddenly vanish with a howl. The Weapons Page was glad
the demon had vanished, though he was at a loss to reason how. Only Lord
Clamine remained, with the blade of the knight's broken sword still pinning his
unmoving body to the wall. Gregor noted that the sword's hilt was gone.
felt the presence of the knight's spirit as gentle, familiar words sounded in
the boy's mind.
Rise young one and bury
my body. My soul passes to the next realm. No longer do I fear. Death has come,
and with it, peace. Now I pass the burden to you. The God of Light has
dismissed the Tharnorsa into the Abyss, but the demon has taken the hilt of my
sword. The blade remains within my torn flesh. Remove the blade and keep it
with you always. Remember me and I will watch over you. There will come a time
when you will face this demon that has brought his powers against us. It is
your duty to bring the hilt and blade together before you will face him once
again. Tonight you bury the dead and pray that their souls are guided swiftly
home. The priests in the village will aid you. Take the blade from my body and
Once upon a Knight
A shudder passed through Gregor as he
sat up in bed in his parents' meager home. The sweat poured from him as he
shook the night from his eyes. The dream was coming more frequently of late,
though the memory had never left him. It had been six years since the
destruction of the keep he had called home, six years since he had helped the
priests lay to rest the last of the Knights of Bella Grey. The blade he kept
strapped along his back reassured him even as it reminded him of the tragedy.
His stance was proud with the steel between his shoulder blades. The knights
would have been impressed at the man he would become with the passage of time.
had been little peace in the youth when the memories were still fresh in his
mind. The truth of the matter was Gregor had spoken little since the
destruction of the knights. The priests who had tended the dead were concerned.
His frequent trips alone into the wood and his refusal to speak about what had
happened were a constant worry for the local clergy as well as his family. His
father reassured his mother that their son would speak when he was ready, and
they had to allow him time to make his own peace. Gregor was still deciphering
the events of that fateful night, and so had left much untold. He had no desire
to be sought out because the unknown God had communicated with him, and he
thought most of the villagers would simply think he had been driven insane by
the shock. He could find no good that could come from revealing the demon's
direct threats to his mind, either. If he should couple that with the direct
contact from an unknown God, then he was certain the priests would take drastic
action to save his immortal soul. They would certainly lock him away for
“proper cleansing.” Gregor knew well enough that the rites of purification
administered by the local priests often ended in death, though family members
were assured that the unclean soul had been purified. He may have been young,
but the horror he had witnessed had made him cautious and somewhat wise beyond
his years. The weapons page was certain that he would require training of some
kind to move out into the world, but there were no warriors with whom to
apprentice within the village, and passing mercenary companies had little
patience with one so young. The determined look in the boy's eyes had caused
one or two sergeants to consider his request. One so earnest might prove to be
a solid investment with proper training, and something in the boy spoke of
powers yet unseen. However, they always turned him away in the end, and, if
they had been asked for a reason, not one would have been able to say exactly
was the planting season in the village of Bella Grey, named for the near constant
mists that shrouded the farmlands in the area. Gregor had set out into the
woods near his home at dawn. Each morning before his father called him to the
fields, the boy had taken to hacking at the ancient trees in the forest with
two short swords taken long ago from the dead knights' keep. The old trees
neither noticed nor objected as the fledgling warrior released his fury,
however there was one within the forest who kept a vigil with the boy. The hidden
guardian of the forest felt no need to reveal himself at first, as the weeks
had grown into months and Gregor's strength increased. No grace or dexterity
came to the ineffectual swinging of the swords in the boy's hands. His thrusts
and slashes were tainted by too much anger to provide any real benefit. Gregor
would have proven to be no threat to the one who watched over him high in the
tree branches, but the ranger admired the young man's devotion to this
haphazard training. His decision to drop in on the wildly swinging youth one
overcast morning could have been a poor one if the young warrior had been more
skilled. The ranger quite literally dropped between the boy and the tree where
Gregor was currently practicing his strikes. The young man was taken by
surprise, and both his sword blows struck violently at either side of the tree.
The force behind the swings would have imbedded them into the trunk quite
neatly if Gregor had maintained his grip on the hilts. The ranger could not
help but laugh as the boy's arms flew out to his sides and the short swords
bounced harmlessly into the struggling brush and grasses near the tree.
the farm boy was not looking, but only striking. This would seem a poor way to
sharpen one's abilities.” The leather-clad man could not help laughing at his
own joke as he leaned against the abused tree. “Perhaps you might want to open
your eyes during your exercises, unless of course it is your intention to fight
the invisible by sense of smell.” This seemed to tickle the ranger even more
and he doubled over with laughter. Gregor could not help but wonder how long it
had been since the dirty, long-haired man in front of him had actually spoken
to another person. The sticks and leaves tangled in the wild man's hair as he
bent over laughing gave Gregor a good measure of the man's personal hygiene.
The smells wafting off him surely offended even the forest creatures, although
Gregor could see how such a scent might be a successful deterrent to being
attacked, or for that matter even approached. The wild look in the stranger's
dark green eyes suited the rest of him. At his side the ranger wore only a
small hunter's knife in an unremarkable, aged leather scabbard.
ranger regained some amount of control and addressed Gregor once more. “Good to
meet you, young man. My apologies for my abrupt appearance, but I could think
of no better way to make you aware. There are many dangers in the wood and one
should not focus to the point of distraction on any task. I am Galant
Silverwing, protector of these woods as was decreed by the elders of this
forest, and devoted Master Hunter of all that would disturb the natural
balance. May I know to whom I speak?”
wild look in the hunter's eyes seemed to disappear, giving way to a focused
intelligence that took the young man's measure. Gregor saw no threat in the
man's stance or words, and brought his own dark blue eyes to meet the
stranger's before he spoke. Even while Gregor stood at his full height, the
ranger before him was a good bit taller than himself. “I am Gregor, servant to
the Knights of Bella Grey, or I was before the destruction of the Order.” A
light breeze blew Gregor's shoulder length hair, the color of winter wheat,
across his face and the boy lifted a callused hand to brush away the errant
you have come into the wood to mar trees and frighten small animals?” The
woodsman asked with a slight grin.
Master Silverwing, I strengthen my skills as I can with no one to guide me.”
Gregor frowned in response to the ranger's grin.
have watched your daily training in the wood for some time and have to wonder
why one so focused cannot find a proper weapons handler to guide him. Despite
your best efforts, you have no natural skill. You should present yourself to
the militia within the city of Travelflor. It would be just a few days' walk,
and with my word to the captain of the soldiers there you would be granted an
audience at least. I can draft a parchment for you to carry to the soldiers if
had no desire to leave his home to join the militia of Travelflor. “I have a
calling beyond service as a soldier. Did you know the Knights of Bella Grey? I
was with Lord Clamine when he was taken from this world.”
Clamine was a good man and a devoted warrior. I hope he did not suffer when he
died. How is it the knights were destroyed and you are still alive?” The ranger
cocked a curious eyebrow at Gregor, awaiting his answer.
young man felt compelled to relate the details of what had brought the destruction
of the Knights of Bella Grey, holding nothing back. Master Silverwing listened
intently to all Gregor said before he spoke again.
it appears the God of Light that Lord Clamine pledged his life to has chosen
you. It is no light burden you carry, Gregor, and I hope you are up to the
task.” Silverwing's gaze softened as he considered the young man before him
once more. “Despite your best efforts, your hands are betraying you with every
swing. I would prefer that you not practice on live targets in my forest. I
suppose it has become my responsibility to share my training area with you
until you can assist me in my patrols. We will have to speak with your parents.
That shouldn't present a problem, should it?”
stood in stunned silence. He couldn't believe his luck in finding a possible
mentor. The time the man had spent in the forest alone had obviously affected
the ranger, but Gregor was in no position to turn away any offer of aid. “I am
sure they will be glad to have you receiving some guidance in your training.
The animals and trees will no doubt be happy to see you relocate as well. We
will check in with your parents right away, and after that go to my encampment
deeper in the forest.” Gregor only nodded in response. Silverwing smiled, noting
the boy's silence. “You don't say much, do you? That is an honorable trait for
any student to possess.”
ranger paused momentarily and looked thoughtfully beyond Gregor's shoulder. His
eyes seemed to lose focus for a moment. The ranger frowned a bit as a great
shadow darkened his features, as if a cloud had blocked the sun. His words came
forcefully, with all humor gone.
should know one final thing if we are to continue. Trust all that I say and
follow my instructions without question or hesitation.
Drop to your knees and place your head at my feet, or we part company!”
There was such power in the hunter's voice that Gregor bowed before his new
instructor. When the boy's head touched the cool earth near Galant's boots, he
was surprised to find that the man had launched himself into the air using
Gregor's back to gain more height. There was a great roaring growl, followed by
the thunderous noise of some great beast charging from somewhere behind the
boy. The unknown creature's howling was answered by a sharp whistling noise
resembling a disturbed hive of angry hornets. The noises stopped as quickly as
they had begun, and the boy dared to raise his head. The ranger came fully into
view and appeared to be standing on a great mound of matted gray and brown fur.
There were multiple arrow shafts, grouped tightly, sticking out of the remains
of a snout. The dead bear's eyes had been pierced with an arrow in each, and
several more arrows served to secure the creature's muzzle.
The shots into the muzzle appeared to have
come from some height. Gregor reasoned that even if the bear had been charging,
there was no way the ranger could have shot into the animal while standing on
the ground. The angle was all wrong for a direct shot. The hunter had somehow shot
two perfect blinding shots into the eyes of a charging bear while jumping into
the air and piercing its muzzle with three more shots....from the air? It was
then that the boy noticed something mingled thickly in the blood that had
already begun to congeal around the dead bear's muzzle. It was thick yellow
saliva, the color of a dying sunflower.
Silverwing stopped staring down at the dead bear and took notice of Gregor.
Tears ran down his flushed countenance as he began to speak in a low tone more
befitting a funeral than the slaying of an animal. “This pile of fur was once
Papa bear. He was the alpha male when I came to this forest. He was a strong
protector, and his cubs are all strong as, well, bears, I suppose. Papa bear
was more than a bear to me. He was a friend, and now that he had grown too old
to remain unchallenged, I was trying to help him find a safe place to scavenge
until he passed. It looks like he tried to make a home in some
where I knew some diseased rats were living. Old bastard
must have eaten one and got the sickness.” He shook his head. “Damn, foaming
sickness has come to the forest! I thought I had contained it since the rats
couldn't survive it very long. I marked the cave to keep other animals out, but
Papa bear either didn't care to heed my scent or could no longer smell,
although I doubt there was any problem with his nose. He always was willful.”
Galant absently wiped away the tears cleansing his cheeks. “We will burn the
body. I can't chance scavengers coming upon him and spreading the sickness.”
Silverwing looked to the sky where already the sun had begun burning away the
morning gloom. “The balance in nature will remain constant even when all
appears in chaos. You would do well to learn that if you learn nothing else
from me. The natural order needs little aid from the likes of us. Rangers exist
to protect the lands from the
forces.” The ranger turned back to Gregor. “Looks like you have come to train
with me when I may need the aid of a strong hand. We will need to watch for
changes among the animals of the forest until the sickness has passed, and burn
the remains of any we find infected.” The ranger cleared the surrounding area
near the bear's corpse and set it alight with remarkable efficiency. Silverwing
paused only briefly once the fire burned to say a whispered prayer for the