The Essence Gate War: Book 01 - Adept

BOOK: The Essence Gate War: Book 01 - Adept
10.08Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub









Book One of

The Essence Gate War



Michael J. Arnquist





This is a work of fiction
. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.




Copyright © 2013 Michael J. Arnquist


All rights reserved.






For my family, with eternal gratitude for your love and steadfast support.






Many thanks to my test readers for your enthusiasm and
for braving the hazards of a first draft as it was in progress. Knowing your eager, grasping hands awaited each new chapter kept me pushing forward.


I would also like to thank CreateSpace and Amazon, and the other independent publishing platforms as well, for providing new authors the means to reach new readers.





































althak watched the sword arc through the night air toward him. He resolved once more to deny his assailants the satisfaction of seeing him struggle further, and braced himself to accept the strike. At the last moment, however, his survival instincts betrayed his will, and his arms rose of their own volition to cross over his head in feeble defense. The blade bit into his flesh, a kiss of fire the length of his forearm, laying it open. Halthak bit back a cry and fell to his side in the dirt, curling around the injured limb.

is attacker rocked back on his heels, roaring with laughter. Several of the other men brayed their own amusement from their positions around the camp. The wildest part of Halthak roared to the surface, gibbering in animal fury for the blood of his assailant, but he quelled his savage lineage with a control born of a lifetime of practice.

rawing a shuddering breath through clenched teeth, he examined his arm. The bleeding was profuse, but the blade had not quite reached the bone. For a moment he considered not repairing it, considered allowing this wound and the ones that would follow to weaken and kill him. It would put an end to their entertainment, and the thought brought him a grim sense of satisfaction.

gain a spark of defiance within him flared against giving in so easily. He blew out a shaky sigh. In any event, the pain from the gash was severe, and he need not endure such discomfort while he waited for a clean killing blow.

He concentrated for a moment
and felt the familiar suffusion of warmth spread through his injured flesh. The wound sealed up before his eyes, his pebbled grey skin pulling closed and becoming whole again. Even the faint white scar would be gone within a few days, he knew, under other circumstances. Halthak pushed to his knees once more, drew the perspiration from his heavy brow with a sleeve, and raised his eyes to his assailant.

ercenaries, bandits––whatever they might call themselves, they were human predators, drawn to the region by the promise of reward from a wealthy port city in need. Unfortunately, Keldrin’s Landing was very remote, being at the farthest edge of explored territory, and travelers on the way were vulnerable to more than just the strange creatures rumored to besiege the area. Especially lone travelers who were far too trusting by nature, Halthak thought bitterly. Being a half-breed, visibly only half human and an outcast of two societies, did nothing to help matters.

Not all of the bandits
took delight in his torture. He saw a few, in fact, shift and exchange uneasy glances. Even if they were uncomfortable with the proceedings, however, they still stood back and allowed it through their inaction. Any distinction between these men and their leader, he decided, was too fine to matter much at the moment.

, the bandit leader, dropped to one knee before him, still chuckling. He propped an elbow on his forward knee and leaned in close. A confident leer twisted his coarse features, but Halthak noted the way his trailing hand tightened on the hilt of his sword. This close, Halthak could smell the liquor that hung on his breath and soaked his unkempt beard, but he knew better than to blame its influence for the man’s actions. The mercenary had intended this betrayal from the outset, he was convinced of that much now.

“Proving your bravery by straying within reach of your unarmed captive,
Vorenius?” The words were out before his sense of self-preservation could strangle them, but the sarcasm he intended sounded more like pity even to his own ears.

’s grin vanished, and he scanned his men for reaction before returning to Halthak, eyes narrowed. “You are in no position to mock me, you filthy––”

“I am in position to do little else,”
Halthak interrupted, keeping his voice level.

can rid the region of one hideous menace, right here and now,” the bandit snarled, “and without any need of payment.”

Halthak shook his head, casting his gaze about the camp at the rest of the bandits
. “Do what you will out here, away from all authority, Vorenius. But do not insult us all by pretending there is anything courageous or noble about your actions.”

The bandit’s jaw clenched and he stood, drawing himself to his full height
. He raised his sword, murderous intent writ large upon his features. Halthak met his gaze, ready to let the sword land without deflection and end this charade. Just as the man’s arm tensed to descend, however, a startled oath from one of the other bandits spun Vorenius around. From his position on the ground, Halthak had to peer around the bandit leader to get a look at the source of the disturbance.

stranger appeared out of the night, seeming to coalesce from the very shadows as he strode forward into the campfire light. Clad in dark leather and an oiled black mail shirt, he moved with the leonine grace of a swordsman. All nine of Vorenius’s men drew their blades and oriented on the newcomer, but the latter made no move to draw his own swords, the hilts of which jutted from his back over each of his armored shoulders. He padded to a halt within a few feet of Vorenius, hooked his thumbs over his belt and stood at apparent ease. Without seeming to notice the bandit leader’s sword leveled at his chest, he addressed everyone.

“Good evening
. My name is Amric, and I am traveling to Keldrin’s Landing.”

’s sword point never wavered, but his gaze slid from the newcomer to search the darkness beyond the fire’s reach. Halthak realized he must be wondering how Amric had entered the camp without raising a cry from his sentries, and if he was truly alone.

What do you want here, stranger?” Vorenius asked.

“A few moments of warmth from your fire,” Amric replied
, seeming to notice him for the first time. “And I would pay well for a hot meal, if you have anything to spare for a fellow traveler.”

“Take a slice from the spit and be on your way,”
Vorenius said. “We are in the midst of something here.”

Amric glanced at Halthak
. “So I see.”

“Do not think to
intrude, stranger,” the bandit leader growled. “This is a matter between us and this creature.”

“It is doubtless none of my affair,”
Amric said, but he did not move, and instead continued to study Halthak.

“Bloody right it’s none of your affair
,” Vorenius said. “Now be on your way, before you join our troublesome friend here.”

Troublesome? Is this creature dangerous, then?”

“Are you blind, or
merely a fool? This is an Ork, a savage and mindless beast!”

Half-Ork,” Halthak corrected, from the ground.
And not half the beast that you are, Vorenius,
he thought.

The bandit
leader swung half toward him with a hiss as if reading his thoughts, and then snapped back around to Amric. He shifted his grip on the sword and made a curt gesture back toward the forest darkness beyond the campfire light. “I say again, stranger,” he grated, “be on your way.”

grimaced, an icy twist returning to his gut. A brief respite, then, but not salvation.

Amric met the bandit’s eyes
for a long moment and then returned his gaze to Halthak. “May I speak with it?” he asked.

n irrational hope flared within Halthak, but he walled it away. This stranger had no reason to intervene on the behalf of one such as him.

’s tongue slid across his lips. His eyes darted about, once again taking in each of his men around the camp and scanning for additional intruders. He seemed perplexed as to when he had lost control of the situation. His men murmured and glanced at each other, as uncertain as their leader what to make of the stranger. After a moment’s consideration, Vorenius jerked a shrug and slid back a pace.

Halthak tensed as the stranger stepped forward and sank to his haunches before him, resting lightly on the balls of his booted feet
. Grey eyes locked onto his own and pinned him in place. This close, he knew how different he looked from human: the coarse grey flesh, the gnarled hands ending in tapered nails, the close-set eyes beneath a too-heavy brow, the jutting lower jaw encasing the protruding nubs of his tusks. All of these features and more betrayed him for the half-breed monster he was. Had he been a full-blooded Ork, he would have been broader and heavier of build, but as it was he would never be mistaken for human.

BOOK: The Essence Gate War: Book 01 - Adept
10.08Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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