I hope you’re all keeping well!
With the second part of the Blood of Kings trilogy coming out next week, I wanted to post a short excerpt of the story to whet your appetite!
A chill ran across Conrad’s skin. His hands were shaking when he looked at them. What was in that Ruripathian whisky? he wondered. In consideration of the day, they’d been drinking the good stuff—at least, that’s what Godfrid had said… He stared at his hands and tried to get them under control.
It took him a moment to reach far enough into his memory to understand why there was something familiar about this. His thoughts returned to a day he’d long tried to forget. The day his friend Henni had been killed. By demons. He was experiencing that same reaction to their presence. Here and now.
As if the chill on his skin was not already enough, it suddenly felt as though he’d been hit by an icy blast direct from the snowy peaks of the High Places. He looked around, his heart racing, and cursed for allowing himself to become drunk.
He had not seen a demon since that day in the small village in the east of Ruripathia. To the best of his knowledge, few had. He’d let his guard down. Grown complacent. He cursed again.
He looked around, feeling far more sober. It was odd what a moment of absolute terror could do for you. There were few people on the street at that hour of the evening, and most of them were either coming from or going to the Golden Belek.
A figure passed through the junction at the end of the street, a hooded cloak hiding its features. Every hair on Conrad’s body stood on end, and he was certain this person was the cause. He watched them pass out of sight, then decided to follow.
He moved as quietly as he could along the cobbled street, pausing at the corner and peeking around to make sure his quarry remained unaware of the pursuit. In the months and years that had followed Burgess Werner Berndorf’s mysterious death, things had gone quiet with regard to demons and demon magic. For a few months, royal troops had hunted and exterminated small groups of them, randomly roaming the countryside with no apparent aims, but that operation had not taken long. Now there were only infrequent sightings of the creatures, almost always alone and in isolated areas.
When one did appear somewhere—usually a remote village—it had to be dealt with, but they were comparatively rare events, and the creatures were always feral. Their more sophisticated brethren had disappeared. Gradually, the princess and her advisors concluded that, with Burgess Werner dead and his dabbling in demon magic stamped out, the threat had ended. Conrad had to admit that all the evidence supported this conclusion, but demons were not something he could ever forget, nor something he could fully believe would go away.
Until that moment in the street outside the Golden Belek, he had wondered if he was being a fool to cling to the past; if he was simply paranoid considering the horrible things that had befallen him and his family at the hands of the demons. Everyone else had given up on the idea, seeming satisfied that defeating Burgess Werner had been the victory. That only a little cleaning up remained. It was not an idea to which Conrad had ever been able to reconcile himself.
Aside from continuing to monitor the situation and search out artefacts and information that could better arm Crown agents against the use of demon magic, the Crown’s interest in demons had dwindled, and the resources made available to hunting them down had done likewise. Nicolo, Frantz, and Qenna were amongst the last few demon hunters still on the royal payroll, and as far as Conrad had heard, they weren’t at all busy.
Even though he might be fighting back the haze of alcohol, Conrad was as sure as he’d ever been that there was demon magic close by. Whether that meant this was an actual demon or a dabbler in the magic remained to be seen. Conrad wasn’t sure if he wanted to find out, but he felt compelled to follow. He knew the danger was great. If this was a demon, it was not one of the feral ones, which were motivated purely by hunger. If it was a user of demon magic, then this individual was powerful.
Conrad wondered if he was an idiot to follow the figure, if he was walking himself into trouble, but this was something he couldn’t turn his back on. Although he viewed the blood-debt oath he had sworn when he was a child as unrealistic, part of him continued to yearn for vengeance on the creatures that had killed his parents, and threatened to do the same to many more if they weren’t stopped. This could be a sign that the monsters were becoming active again. If so, then the palace would be very eager to hear about it.
The figure moved briskly down the street, forcing Conrad to risk making noise and being visible to keep up. He jogged along on the balls of his feet, doing his best not to create loud footfalls on the cobbles. The figure seemed too focused on its destination to waste time looking around, leaving Conrad unnoticed.
They were moving down toward the wharf district, from whence barges carried goods downriver to the coast. It was an ugly place, not at all in keeping with the standard of beauty of the rest of the city. The wharf district was a ramshackle of wooden and brick warehouses, and a web of wooden jetties that clogged up a section of the river bank.
A mist had formed over the river—a consequence of the warm spring sun in the day and the cold evening air, Conrad had been told. It gave the docks an eerie atmosphere. Even without the mist, Conrad knew this area wasn’t the safest place to be after dark. The mist shrouded each street corner, providing the perfect place for ne’er-do-wells to lurk, but it occurred to Conrad that, on this occasion, it suited his purposes perfectly. He could understand why cutpurses and thugs liked the district.
Conrad jolted to a halt when he saw that his quarry had stopped. The enshrouding mist was making it difficult to see exactly what the figure was doing. It had halted by the entrance to a warehouse, and seemed to be studying the door. The process took only a moment, but with his heart racing and every hair on his neck standing on end, it felt like an eternity to Conrad.
The figure stepped through the door and disappeared from view.
The Banneret is now available for pre order over at Amazon. You can find it here: