Authors: Stuart Meczes
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2015 by Stuart Meczes
Cover art by Claudia McKinney
All Rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the publisher or author, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that which it is published and without similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
Stuart Meczes asserts the moral right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
Published in 2015 by Amazon Digital Services.
British Library C.I.P. A CIP catalogue record of this title is available from the British Library.
(Hasea Chronicles Book IV)
Nightstalkers: Episode 1
(Co-written with Leila d’Angelo)
The Red Knight Chronicles: Canto I
(The Grit Saga Book I)
I feel that I have grown a lot with my characters over the six years since I first dreamt up the idea for this series. Alex, Gabriella, and the other members of Orion have matured a lot through the events they have faced in the books, and as a result so too has my writing style. Through this shift, the subject content of the series has also matured.
was darker in tone than
and the series prequel,
Without A Heartbeat,
and the novella
were darker still than both previous novels. With this in mind, I feel that it would be irresponsible of me not to warn potential readers that this book continues the exploration of mature (and sometimes unsettling) subject matter. Whilst there is absolutely still adventure, lighthearted moments and visceral action (the latter I feel more than any of the other books) there are also some very disturbing and violent scenes. Whereas I feel that
and perhaps even
can be read by anyone above twelve – similar to
Without A Heartbeat
– I would not recommend anyone who is under fifteen or easily offended to read
If you’re still here, prepare for one hell of a ride!
P.S. The Veil is written in British English, so certain words will be spelled differently.
Without you, this series would not exist. You are my muse, my compass, and most importantly of all, my best friend.
To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.
–Ralph Waldo Emerson
The thick chains cut into the Guardian’s skin like teeth. Old, venomous wounds had scarred his wrists, hardened through the years of being shackled to the spot. He twisted his head up to catch a few drops of water that fell in steady drips from the rocky ceiling. The taste was foul, but he had been without a drink for almost two days and his throat burned like acid.
It was dark. The sort of darkness that made a man feel cold and alone. The sort of darkness that made a man think too much about things. On days when he wasn’t fighting for his life, accompanied by the thunder of the baying crowd, or lying in the torture chamber that doubled as an infirmary – tended to by crude hands with cruder tools – he was confined to this dungeon cell. A dank, dark slice of hell carved from hard rock and ringed by adamantine bars. It was here – in this place, where a bale of rotten hay passed for a bed – that he sat and thought about things. He thought about all the mistakes he had made. About the people he had trusted that he shouldn’t have. When he was really low, he thought about dying, about just giving up and letting death’s cold grip seize him. But what he thought about more often than not was those he had left behind.
Most of all, he thought about
A door creaked open from somewhere above and the shuddering roar from a crowd rushed into the catacombs. The torches flared into life automatically, the blinding glare of light piercing the Guardian’s eyes. Doing his best to shield them, he listened as two sets of hooved feet made their way down the winding stone steps and into the passage that ran between the cells. He felt his body tense up. The sounds of spectators and approaching Pitguards meant only one thing…they were reaping for a new event.
It can’t be…
There had been one only a few days before. He should know; he had been the star attraction, pitted against six Luminar prisoners of war and a Devil. Twisting his head around as much as the chains would allow, he slowly opened his eyes and stared out between his cell bars. The outside was a huge corridor full of high arches and columns, which cast shadows as tall as trees. Thousands of cells just like his one were set into the vast walls. Inside he could see the silhouettes of worn-out, desperate prisoners just like him, each trying to shrink into the darkness, as if they could dissolve into the shadows and hide.
But there was no hiding in this place.
A series of voices echoed through the dungeon. The Pitguards spoke in Th’ail – a regional Demon dialect. As a Chosen, his mind translated the language automatically. The guards were talking about something animatedly in their gruff voices.
“Another event so soon is a mistake,” grumbled one of them. “It costs Vangarr far too much.”
“Don’t be ignorant, Malaketh, the city needs the distraction. The growing rumours about this boy are causing unrest.”
“Yeah, I heard them. Powers beyond anything we’ve ever seen.” Malaketh snorted. “Propaganda bullshit at it’s finest.”
“So you believe it was propaganda that killed The Sorrow?”
“No one knows what actually happened, Dorrag. It was probably more luck than anything.”
“Luck killed the strongest entity Pandemonia has ever seen? Don’t be a fool.”
“You never know.”
“So how about the fact that the same boy almost killed Yeth too?”
There was a pause. The Guardian strained to hear, his keen ears not wanting to miss a word.
“I…didn’t know that.”
“Of course you didn’t. You need to spend less time with those Shinroba whores and more time paying attention to what’s going on around you. The Highguard barely escaped alive.”
A sweep of flame appeared by the Guardian’s cell and he saw the rust-coloured figures of two Lamiae Pitguards emerge from the darkness. Their corporeal forms stood tall and sleek – like old blood solidified – and topped with ivory horns. The guards were wearing their red-plated armour, long cloaks sweeping close to the ground. They slowed at the Chosen’s cell, and his heart skipped a beat.
Please god, no. Not again.
Dorrag gave a menacing grin. “Don’t worry Deathbreaker, you’ve got a free pass today.”
They moved on, and he heard the jangle of keys as one of the Pitguards removed them from his belt. The footsteps stopped a few yards further on and there was an echoing clank as cell bars were unlocked. A pitiful voice came from deep inside. It belonged a young Elf girl who had been captured only days before.
“No, please don’t!” she pleaded. “I’ll do anything you want.”
“Shut up and get out here now, you Luminar bitch, or I’ll cut you fifty different ways and leave you to bleed to death.”
Helpless, the Guardian watched as the terrified girl was dragged past him. By Elf standards she was barely a teenager, her body still growing into itself. Her wild eyes locked with his as she struggled against the Pitguards, silently pleading with him to do something – anything – to help her.
But there was nothing he could do.
Fear took over and a dark stain appeared at the Elf girl’s crotch, causing the Pitguards to break out into evil laughter. The Guardian heard her stifled screams as they dragged her through the dungeon towards the stairs. Listening to the cries of the desperate prisoners always made his heart ache with sadness. However, it was what Malaketh and Dorrag said next that had the biggest impact of all.
“I just don’t see why everyone is so nervous about one little Chosen. Give him to me, and I’d crush his skull like a baby’s.”
“Everything we know suggests you’d die before you got within ten feet.”
More silence. “So what’s this bastard’s name anyway?”
The words pierced into the Guardian’s heart like a dagger. He could barely breathe as emotion washed over him. For the first time in sixteen years, he allowed himself to break down, weeping uncontrollably. He wept long after the torches had winked out and the darkness had resettled over the dungeon.
In the cold shadows, a single word spilled from his lips, carrying with it a weight that only one who has been taken from those he loves could truly comprehend.