Teaser and spin-off for the upcoming novel series, “The Squire’s Quest”, by Jessup Burton.
The forces from Brent broke through the walls of Northcry quickly. They numbered in the thousands, pouring through three gaping holes their mages blasted wide open. Like ants they seeped across the grounds and engaged the stalwart Northcry soldiers.
“Damnit, form up, men!” Shouted Sir Henry, his usual milky voice adopting an experienced, surly tone as he raised his mighty longsword.
A shaggy wizard dressed in grubby green and brown robes slipped away from the exquisitely armored knight. While Sir Henry took the front lines with his guard, the wizard, Master Wizard Fen, would take care of the enemy magicians and defend the mighty castle.
The castle of Northcry was a massive keep, several hundred years old. Within its walls lived around eight hundred citizens and a thousand guards. It was a beacon of iron, representing generations of the toughest soldiers in Aidenbre and the rich metals carved from the half-circle of mountains it harbored. While it was not famous for its magicians, the addition of Master Wizard Fen to King Baltz’ court meant that the city was well-defended against magical attacks.
Fen approached a pair of lion-hawk statues. The stone creatures had huge jaws buried under thick carved fur and their wings stretched out into long claws. They sat on two legs while their bodies leapt forward, ready to clamp their jaws on prey and carry them into the sky.
Laying his hand on the two statues, each twice his height, Fen murmured a summoning mantra. His voice reverberated across the stone creatures, and a moment later their eyes blinked. Soon, they rolled their necks, and the sound of a rockslide rolled through Fen’s ears. With grave roars, the two lion-hawks hit the ground and charged into battle, leaping over the Northcry forces and pummeling through the terrified Brent soldiers.
“They’re so loud,” Fen complained, “I hate summoning those crows.”
Two firebolts splashed against Fen’s cloak, pushing him back a step. They rolled off harmlessly, deflected by spells Fen had enchanted into the dingy cloth. Annoyed even more, Fen turned to find two Brent Magicians rushing towards him with staffs.
With a disdainful sigh, Fen reached into his cloak and pulled out his own staff. It was made of a dark oak found in another far-away country, with a marbled ancient white wood twisting throughout the staff’s length. At the top was a gnarled knob, which he pointed towards the two enemy mages. A bundle of electricity boiled out of the staff, and Fen sent a stream into the two magicians. They fell down almost immediately, twisting and screaming.
Fen calmly wandered the battlefield, roasting and blasting any magicians he came across. Northcry soldiers could hold their own against the Brent forces easily enough, it was the magicians that usually decided the turn of battle. But with Fen prowling around, striking down any magician he came across, the Brent forces were losing their edge, and the battle was slowly turning in Northcry’s favor.
That was, however, until a shaded figured stepped into the fray. With him, a foul stench of cinder permeated the battlefield. His armor seemed like it was soaked in tar, and had jagged bits sticking out of nearly every piece like tiny spears. His helmet was more like a freakish iron mask, with a hood that stretched like a shadow over his ears and brow.
The lion-hawks sensed his presence, and both charged, sending a blood-curdling yell, as if fighting back their own terror as they ran. The hooded knight simply ducked as the stone beasts sailed over him, and he swept his unnaturally massive sword and sliced through the creatures like they were water. The blade was as long as a spear and as wide as half a shield. Each step the figure took, the grass around his sharpened boots wilted and began to rot. Every soldier who charged was blasted aside by some unseen force, with barely a glance from the dark soldier.
“It can’t be,” Growled Sir Henry, who’d finished fighting a squad of Brentian soldiers. “It’s the Heroslayer.”
Just the name, Heroslayer, shook every Northcry soldier’s heart. Fifteen years ago, the same shaded soldier had slain two of Northcry’s most celebrated and powerful guardians. Judging from the scene of the fight, the two guardians hadn’t put so much as a scratch on the Heroslayer.
With a roar, Sir Henry launched himself at the demon who’d stepped into the fight. With his longsword in his right hand, and his shield in his left, the furious, legendary guardian Sir Henry charged to avenge his fallen comrades.
The Heroslayer charged as well, leaving behind a faint shadow. The two warriors clashed together, and a furious fight began. Despite his age, Sir Henry was quick on his feet. Forty years of fighting left behind a strong, tone soldier with decades of fighting experience.
Each time the two blades struck the sound of thunder rolled through the battlefield. Sir Henry used every trick he knew – he feinted, dodged, swept, and stabbed. But the Heroslayer met each with equal force and fury, pushing Sir Henry to his limit and nearly beyond, but the silver knight never wavered. Instead, he seemed to become emboldened by the struggle. It’d been what felt like a lifetime since he met an opponent of such skill. He felt young, challenged, and almost honored, but the memories of his friends’ bodies on the ground broke through whatever respect he almost held for his enemy.
The first blow came from Sir Henry. He slashed through the Heroslayer’s left side, leaving a gash in the armor, spilling what looked like oil from the slayer’s body. The two paused for only a split second while the slayer registered what’d happened, and Sir Henry took a breath. But before anyone watching could blink, the battle started again.
While the two warriors battled, Wizard Fen kept the other soldiers at bay. Despite his status as a Master Wizard, he was as capable on the field as Sir Henry. Wave after wave of Brentian soldiers charged the wizard, only to be blasted aside with fire, lightning, and the occasional petrification. This was the most excitement Wizard Fen had felt since his time at the Magic College in Magi. He could have easily wiped the field with his magic, but fighting the soldiers in small groups was infinitely more fun. Not to mention, he had a fair idea of what the Heroslayer was capable of, and he would need all the magic he could get if Sir Henry failed.
His job at the moment was to keep the fight between Sir Henry and the Heroslayer a one-on-one match. Fen was all too aware that Sir Henry was giving it his all, and the old knight didn’t need any distractions.
“The flow of battle is going pretty well, I’d say.” Fen said to himself, casually brushing aside another trio of soldiers. He estimated there were only a few hundred or so Brent soldiers left, and while Northcry had lost a number of soldiers, they still retained almost two thirds of their forces.
“I’ll have to give Sir Henry some credit, he’s trained these soldiers well.” Suddenly, however, the flow of battle suddenly changed. It felt cold. Fen turned immediately to check on Sir Henry, and a pair of Brent soldiers took this chance and charged the nervous wizard, only to be petrified in stone mid-jump.
At first glance, nothing seemed off. Sir Henry had taken some scratches while he blocked, but he was staving off the Heroslayer’s attacks. He’d even landed one more blow across the black soldier’s right arm.
However, Wizard Fen knew the look on his lifelong friend’s face. The two had spent twenty years traveling together, and he’d seen this look only once before – Henry knew he was about to lose. Wizard Fen conjured up a massive blade of lightning, but it was long past too late. With the sharp sound of scraping steel, the Heroslayer knocked aside Sir Henry’s sword long enough to plunge his titanic sword through the proud knight’s chest. With a sick, twisted pull the sword was slung out, and the Knight fell to the ground as the Heroslayer turned to face the pale wizard.
Not a single word was exchanged between the two, but Fen could feel exactly what the slayer’s icy shadowed face was saying.
You’re next, wizard.
It wasn’t the time for Wizard Fen to mourn over his beloved dead friend. With a pained heart, he brushed aside his emotions and launched the blade of lightning. The Heroslayer brushed it aside with a single hand, but it bought enough time for Fen to disappear with a teleportation spell.
He didn’t travel far, since he knew he had to try and deal with the Heroslayer, but he now had a chance to warn his and Sir Henry’s apprentice.
Wizard Fen summoned a bowl of water and set it on the ground. It was midnight, so his apprentice was probably asleep, but that wouldn’t matter. This was something that he would understand isn’t a dream.
Fen needed more time, he could hear soldiers approaching the room he’d teleported to, so he blocked off the entrance by pulling the ground upwards with a quick spell.
“That should do it,” Muttered Fen before he turned and began to cast a scrying spell. Soon, his mind joined his apprentices, and he arrived in what seemed to be a dream about dragons and a young, black-haired girl tending to them.
“Oliver.” Called, Fen, but the his sleepy apprentice didn’t stir. Instead, the dream seemed to fight back by focusing even more on the young girl. Taking a deeper breath, Fen shouted out even louder, bolstering his voice with a little magic so his voice rolled like thunder, “Oliver!”
The second shout seemed to work, and suddenly Fen’s drowsy apprentice appeared before him. He had messy brown hair, hazel green eyes, and a lean build, appropriate for an archer and mage.
“Teacher?” Oliver groaned.
With no time to waste, Fen went straight to the point, “Listen to me, Oliver. Don’t return to Northcry!”
“What do you mean?” Oliver seemed completely alert now, “Is that you, Teacher?”
Annoyed that Oliver was being delirious, Fen decided to refer to a specific memory, “It is. Blue toad juice, remember?” It was a famous prank punishment, one that Fen always referenced when he went out on drinking parties.
“Please don’t bring that up again…” Moaned Oliver.
Good, Thought the wizard, That seemed to convince him. “Don’t return to Northcry. I scryed you because I need you to stay safe and deliver a message to the king of Magi City. Do you understand?”
Oliver shook his head, reasonably confused, considering he’d just been sent on a normal mission only a few days ago.
“I don’t. What’s going on?”
“There’s not much time.” Fen checked behind himself, he could hear shouting. The Brent soldiers seemed to have realized that he’d blocked a doorway. “Northcry is under attack – no – Northcry has fallen.”
Oliver’s face pasted over, “What happened? Is Tina okay? Master Henry?”
Tina was Oliver’s caretaker. She was practically his adopted mother, despite her young age. She took care of Oliver when his parents, the other two guardians, were slain by the Heroslayer. Fen had lost track of her during the fight.
“I’m fine, thank you,” Fen replied, a bit of the normal sour humor he was famous for. He knew Oliver would understand. “Tina was captured alive,” Fen lied, hoping it wasn’t actually a lie, “But Henry…” Fen’s voiced cracked, only for a second, but it was enough to let some emotion through his usually stoic demeanor.
Clearing his throat, Fen continued, “Oliver I’m going to treat you like a warrior – like a man, understand? You are the last hope Northcry has, and you must tell King Orus of Magi City that Brent has waged war once again, and that they have taken Northcry.”
Fen could tell that Oliver was trying hard to keep from collapsing, but since he could hear the soldiers trying to break through the rock blocking the doorway, Fen continued as quickly as he could. “I’m going to show you what happened so you understand, are you prepared?”
A wave of pride rolled through Fen’s heart as he watched his young apprentice swallow his fear before speaking up, “No sir, I’m not, but please show me.”
Fen was immeasurably proud of his apprentice. At only seventeen, he already had as much strength as he had seen in Sir Henry when they were young. You and I taught him well, didn’t we, Henry?
Already scared he’d ran out of time, Fen quickly showed Oliver the course of the battle through his memories. The mages blasting through the walls, the soldiers pouring through, and he even created a false memory of Tina being taken away with a group of children, in hopes that it would give Oliver some kind of hope for his caretaker.
Finally, Fen showed him the battle between the Heroslayer and Henry. “That’s the Heroslayer, Oliver. The man who killed your parents.”
From this expression, Fen could see that Oliver believed henry would actually beat the slayer, and Fen let that continue as long as he could before the scene of the Heroslayer stabbing Henry shattered Oliver’s hopes.
“I’m sorry Oliver, he couldn’t beat him.” Fen said, gloomily. “I’d never seen Henry fight so ferociously. Please, honor his death as a warrior. I understand what you’re feeling right now. It’s okay for you to mourn, but please understand that we… that Northcry needs you to be our warrior, our saviour. It’s a lot to ask of you, I know, but you don’t have to do this alone. Gather whatever allies you can.”
Oliver was trembling, on the verge of crying, when he asked, “This is a nightmare, right?”
Nearly broken himself, Fen replied, “Yes, but it is real, I promise you.” The Brentian soldiers seemed to be breaking through the rubble with pickaxes, and Fen quickly gathering the last of his resolve.
“I am granting you the Hero’s insignia,” Fen pulled his sleeve up to reveal a tattoo on his arm depicting a twisting bird, the emblem of Northcry. “This will help you on your journey.”
“The Hero’s insignia?” Oliver asked, and although Fen was sure Sir Henry had covered it in a lesson, Fen decided to brief Oliver on it just in case.
“Time is short, they’ve found me. The insignia is given to the guardians of cities, the greatest of heroes. You’ll find it gives you power to fight impossible fights. You’ll need it. Now go. I’ll do my best to avenge Henry and return to help you. No go!”
Fen dismissed the spell just as the Heroslayer burst through the blocked doorway. He lifted his sword towards Fen, who summoned a pair of shining swords made of magic. It was one of his trademark styles of fighting, one that he would spar against Henry with. However, it wouldn’t last long, since he’d never won a fight against Henry when it came to swordfighting.
“Guess this is my chance to go all-out, Henry.”
Without a sound besides the rubble beneath his feet, the Heroslayer leapt at Fen. The pair of swords nearly moved on their own will, twirling around the slayer like birds defending their nest from a beast. Since he was fighting two opponents at once, it stalled the Heroslayer just long enough for Fen to conjure a final spell. Fen was always a cocky mage, but even he knew that he only had maybe ten seconds before the slayer would break through his swordspell.
It was just enough, however, and when the Heroslayer split his sharp opponents in pairs, he lunged at Wizard Fen like a bloodthirsty hornet. Fen opened his eyes just in time to see the massive sword approaching his heart, and he unleashed his final spell.
The spell was one he called Heaven’s Gale, and it was a spell he’d only used once before in the fight to save the Dragonkeepers. It created a swirling spiral of burning light that shattered every shadow cast throughout the room. The spell filled the room with a harsh, unforgiving light that blasted the walls away and punched a hole in the ceiling that shined like a lighthouse and could be seen for miles, as if a brilliant star has settled from the sky.
In a flash, the spell cascaded throughout Northcry, and the battle for the fallen city ended. The only thing left was a charred, beaten warrior who rose from the rubble, screaming like a bloodied wolf as the final wisps of light faded from above.