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Authors: AJ Martin

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The Flames of Deception - A Horizon of Storms: Book 1

BOOK: The Flames of Deception - A Horizon of Storms: Book 1
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A
Horizon of Storms: Book I

The
Flames of Deception

By
A.J. Martin

 

Text
copyright © 2014 Alex Martin

All
Rights Reserved

 

To Laura, for
everything

 

www.AHorizonofStorms.com

 

The Chase

70th
Day of the Cycle, 495 N.E. (New Era)

 

The
sound of thundering hooves on cracked cobblestones could be heard
on the air for miles as a masked rider tore through the streaming
rain. Clad in a black leather jerkin, cotton britches and shrouded
by a brown cloak, the figure pushed onward atop his jet - black
horse, riding through the fallen wreckage of a city centuries -
dead, desperate to shake his pursuer who closed the gap between
them with every second that passed. His sodden cloak ruffled and
flapped in the ferocious gale that whistled around the clustered,
mutilated colonnades of the ancient, decaying city. He passed
crippled houses and the scattered remains of weathered marble
statues, their figures severed at the arms and waists. The eroded
and chipped, emotionless faces watched him as he tore up the dirt
around their pale, cracked feet.

By
the side of a well - worn, brown leather sword scabbard, fastened
to his belt was a small, rain - soaked, red velvet pouch, tied by a
thick knot of twine to the beltstrap. He clung to it tightly with
his right hand as if untrusting of the looped cord that secured it
to his person and with the other hand on the reins he drove his
horse onward, skirting another crumbling building beset with ivy.
With one powerful push of the horse’s hind legs he cleared a ditch
that might once have been a flowing river full of life, but now
held nothing but thirsty brambles and jagged, brittle thorns. The
rider fell forward in his saddle as the horse landed heavily on the
other side and he squeezed his legs tightly to her flanks to stop
from toppling over completely.

The
weather worsened as he continued to ride and the horse’s pace
flagged. Pulling off the saturated hood about his head he shook his
long, dark hair free of amassed droplets of rain. Trickles of water
flooded down his face and over his thick eyebrows, clouding his
vision as he lowered his head to his horse’s ear.


Come my girl, you
must
pick up the
pace!
” he called to her through the whistling wind. The
horse snorted as if in acknowledgement and sped up. The rider took
a second to look behind him. A moment later, he wished he
hadn’t.

The creature that chased the rider sat atop its
own horse: a ghostly, grey nightmare of a creature, pale and naked
save for a coarse, torn strip of fabric across its waist. The rain
poured over its slimy, mottled skin, stretched tightly over its
lean flesh and thin bones. Its bulbous head was covered with thick
black veins, jutting out under the stretched skin like suckling
leeches. They snaked across a ferocious, protruding brow,
intensifying the picture of malice already emblazoned on its
mutated face. Its eyes smouldered with a pure, liquid
hatred:
the deep black
portals the size of oranges set into its skull sucked the courage
out of any that dared look into them. As the rider gazed into those
eyes, which were in turn fixed solely on him, he could
feel
the anger that
poured out of them: a primal thirst for his blood. The demon
snarled at him as he continued to stare, its razor teeth glinting
in the cloudy moonlight. The rider knew all too well that those
thin, steel - like pins could tear flesh from bone. He had seen it
happen to his travelling companion, the barbs slicing the meat from
his body and churning it up with ease, as if it were nothing but
gelatine. At that moment with the rain lashing his back, they were
all he could focus on. He had fought all manner of creatures: men
of all different races and species, but never had any of them
instilled in him the terror that he felt at that moment. The
creature was old and feral, darker and more dangerous than anything
he had come across before. It wanted the stone and it would do
anything to get it. He gripped the velvet pouch
tighter.

The
mare reached the top of another mound of earth and rubble and began
to descend again, sliding down the steep hill to the boundaries of
the abandoned city, the loose mud scattering under her hooves as
they headed further into the path of the wind. The tempest tore at
the man's clothes and the raindrops stung his crimson cheeks as a
crackle of thunder signalled overhead and a flash of lightning
illuminated the ghostly city. The creature behind him became
visible again very briefly in the sparking light and his heart
caught in his throat as he glanced back. However many times he saw
that figure he couldn’t still the fear that gripped him when he
looked upon its monstrous guise.


Hyah
!”
he cried to his horse, slapping the reins to encourage her.

There are
many more lives at stake than just yours and mine tonight
girl!
Hyah
!” They sped on through a final slalom of broken - down
pillars and archways, clearing the boundaries of the city, bursting
on to a field of long, wet grass. The rider risked another look
behind him and his breath caught as he realised how close the demon
had grown.

Faster and faster it pursued him and closer it drew- so near
that the beast could almost lay its hands on his horse’s tail. The
rider veered to the left, winding through the grasslands. The
creature followed, still gaining ground and in seconds the two were
riding in parallel. The beast swiped at him with its claws and
snarled as the rider slipped away again to the left. In moments
though, it would catch up again. It was relentless.

The
rider swallowed and his lips trembled. Shaking his head, he fumbled
at his side, untying the pouch from his waist, careful not to let
the bag drop from his grip. He held it tightly in his fingers and
brought it up in front of his face. The object inside glistened
through the small opening in the tightened fabric and he became
transfixed for a moment by the violet light that spilled out.
Whispers of voices emerged from the bag for a moment and an image
of the young girl filled his mind. Other thoughts and pictures
tried to enter his thoughts, but he shook his head and they
dispersed. Then he nodded to himself and fastened the bag carefully
to the reins. He patted the mare and whispered in her
ear.


Bring yourself home safely to Mahalia, my girl.
They
must
know what awaits them.”

Pulling his sword from its sheath, he sprang from
his saddle as the creature drew by his side again and grabbed it by
the arm, dragging it with him to the ground. They rolled through
the grass together, until the creature kicked out with its powerful
legs and knocked the rider aside. The man came to a stop face down
in a puddle. Raising his muddied head he looked around maniacally
for the creature. It was still rolling around on the floor several
feet away, scrambling about like a cat on an icy pond, trying to
set itself upright again.
Good
. Mud dripped from the man’s fringe as he forced
himself up, his hands disappearing in the saturated muck beneath
him. His legs shook from exhaustion, but he persuaded his limbs to
let him stand and threw off his heavy cloak, taking his sword in
both hands as the creature began lumbering towards him. It snarled
and smiled its malevolent grin at him. The beast had no forged
weapon to speak of: its arms were all the weapon it needed. They
were enormous, out of proportion with the rest of its starved,
stretched body, and on the end of their muscular trunks were
twisted, spiked hands, twice the size of a humans, with three long,
claw-like pincers. It gestured with them and then with a roar
jumped at the rider, flailing wildly. He darted out of its wake but
before he could recover his stance the creature flung its weight at
him again, catching him on the cheek with a claw and splitting the
skin. Blood smattered the ground from the gash, and as it oozed
from the fleshy cut, it mixed with the rain and slid down his neck
beneath his shirt. He embraced the pain, put it aside as he had
been taught to, and raised his sword again. This time he lunged
forward, parried with his foe, slashing at the monster’s shin and
its midriff. He nicked its torso and a thin line of blackened,
turgid crimson blood blotted the pale skin as it dribbled out from
its veins like curdled milk; thick clots splattering the floor. The
creature stepped back and examined its wound, but before the man
could take advantage of its disillusion it rallied and cast a
clawed hand at him again, knocking him to the ground. He wheezed as
the wind fell out of him and spun with his back to the dirt as
another arm came lunging down at him. It was all he could do to
stop those claws from clasping his neck, blocking the attack with
his blade and forcing the creature back. He kicked out with all his
remaining strength and gathered the room he needed to force himself
up. He staggered backwards, muscles aching, and readied himself
again. As the creature lolloped wildly back at him, he darted
aside, ducked his head beneath another swiping arm, stepped behind
the beast and, raising his weapon atop his head, brought it humming
down on to the beast’s elbow joint with a triumphant yell, ripping
off an arm. The creature screamed and wailed in pain, dashing away
from him, cradling its leaking stump with the other hand. Mashed
flesh and spiky bone stuck out from the creature's wound. It
simpered like a dog a moment, snorting and whining. Steam rose from
its nostrils into the cold, wet air. The man watched several paces
away, his chest heaving, waiting for the creature’s next
move.

The
beast’s eyes narrowed and the man shivered. It felt like it was
looking straight into his soul. Then it shrieked like a rabid
monkey and pounded towards him. The rider’s eyes grew wide. He
raised his sword, but the creature sprung up like a frog and drop-
kicked him in the face before he could swing. The rider’s jaw
dislodged and several of his teeth sailed through the air. He could
taste the blood from his cut gums. His vision blurred heavily, as
if the haze from the rain wasn’t enough. He threw his sword in
front of him as he saw a fuzzy limb come at him, but the creature
knocked it from his hand and hit him clean in the chest. Winded and
cut across his torso the man fell, hunched over in agony. Warmth
spread across his body and for a moment he seemed so very, very far
away. It was over, he knew, and as he closed his eyes he pictured
his wife, his child, and the house in which they lived, bathed in
the amber glow of an autumnal light. He smiled at their
faces.

The
haggard creature seized the moment to defeat its prey. It threw its
razor-sharp claws down into the rider’s back, thrusting hard and
breaking his spine before bursting out through his chest. There was
no time for the man to scream- he was dead before he could utter a
noise. The creature freed its hand from the gaping hole in the
man’s body and inspected the fleshy ligaments that sat tangled
between its claws, sniffing them curiously. The rider’s corpse
slumped to the ground, lifeless.

A hideous, wicked smile emerged on the creature's
face as it inspected the kill closer. It bent down and smelt the
iron in the man’s blood with its forked tongue as it poured from
his body and soaked into the mud. Then it threw its head into the
air and howled with delight, dancing in the torrent of rain in
triumph. A moment later, with its celebrations over and acting with
purpose once more, it began rifling with its one arm through the
man’s clothes, searching his pockets and tearing the shirt from his
body to find what it was looking for. It grew ever more desperate
as it continued, tugged the body this way and that, patted and
slapped at the sodden fabrics of the trousers. But it was gone. The
rider no longer
had
what it was looking for.

BOOK: The Flames of Deception - A Horizon of Storms: Book 1
9.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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