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A Time Of Dread (Of Blood and Bone #1)
Author:John Gwynne

A Time Of Dread (Of Blood and Bone #1)

John Gwynne




EXTRACT FROM

The Book of the Fallen

A tattered extract discovered upon the corpse of a Kadoshim demon, the Year 131 of the Age of Lore:

They think we are broken.

We are not.

They think we are defeated.

We are not.

For over two thousand years, my brothers, we have fought our noble war, against Elyon the Great Tyrant and his servants, the Ben-Elim. Two thousand years our battleground was the Otherworld, that place of spirit, where all things are eternal. And then, little over a century ago, we saw the fulfilment of our long-crafted plan, to break into this world of flesh, to become flesh, so that we might wage war upon Elyon’s creation, mankind; to conquer and rule, or destroy, as we see fit.

But we were betrayed, my brothers, and lured into a trap of the Ben-Elim’s making. On that day we fought like warriors-born, shaming the heroes about whom the people of this world tell tales. On that dread day of tribulation we fought with sharp iron, tooth and claw. Blood was spilt in rivers, but alas, we were outnumbered by the Ben-Elim and their allies, who were led by a maggot that men called a hero, Corban the Bright Star.

Pah, I say to that, for Corban is long dead, and yet we are still here. One day I will spit on his grave, dig up his corpse and feast on his bones, for it was Corban who dared raise a blade to our master, our great Lord, Asroth, and it was Corban’s kin, Cywen, who cast the spell that entombed Asroth within a prison of iron.

We fought on, long after that day, a hundred years of war, but always they were too many, and our numbers dwindled.


And now the Ben-Elim hunt us, as do the followers of long-dead and thrice-cursed Corban.

So, my brothers, I say to you that we must change the way we wage this war. Retreat to the shadows, dwell in the dark places and gather your strength. Bide your time, for our triumph is coming. The day when we unite again, when we set our Lord Asroth free, when we take back what is rightfully ours.

Only do this: answer the call when it is given.

They think this is the final chapter of our long defeat.

But they are wrong.

So written by Gulla, High Captain of the Kadoshim until the restoration of our king, Asroth the Great.





CHAPTER ONE





BLEDA


The Year 132 of the Age of Lore, Reaper’s Moon

‘I should be down there,’ Bleda said, knuckles whitening on the grip of his bow. He was crouched upon the steep slope of a hill, looking down upon a scene of wonder.

A war.

Horses and their riders swirled upon the plain in constant motion, from this height seeming like two great flocks of birds looping ever closer, the distant rumble of hooves setting the ground trembling beneath Bleda’s feet. As he stared in envy and fascination, the faint echo of hurled challenges and insults, the harbingers of violence, drifted up to him.

‘No, you should not be down there,’ a voice said behind him, Old Ellac absently rubbing the stump where his right hand used to be. The skin around his eyes creased and cracked like old leather as he squinted at the battle about to begin on the plain below.

‘Of course I should,’ Bleda muttered. ‘My mother is down there, leading our Clan. My brother rides one side of her, my sister the other.’

But not my father.

‘Aye, but they are all more than ten summers old,’ Ellac pointed out.

‘So?’ Bleda snapped. ‘I can fight, am more skilled with a bow than most. Than you.’

‘That’s not hard these days.’ Ellac snorted and cuffed Bleda across the head with his one hand.

Bleda immediately felt shame at his remark, more painful than the slap. He knew that neither of them wanted to be sitting on this hill while their kin fought and bled on the field below.

Your tongue is sharper than your sword, his father used to say to him.

‘Look,’ Ellac said, pointing with his stump. ‘Altan.’

On the plain below a lone rider separated from their Clan, instantly recognizable to Bleda as his older brother, Altan.

Seventeen summers is not so much older than me. Yet he is old enough to fight, and I am not. Bleda scowled at the injustice of it, though none of his ire was directed at Altan. He loved his brother fiercely.

Altan was galloping hard, curling close to the enemy warband. As he did so a rider emerged to meet him, galloping just as fast. Both warriors dipped in their saddles, arms extended as they drew their bows.

Bleda felt a jolt of fierce pride, as well as a cold fist of fear clench around his heart.

Aim true, Altan. I cannot lose you as well.

The world seemed to slow, sound dimming as Bleda stared at the two champions.

And then Altan was wheeling away, the other rider swaying in his saddle, toppling sideways, falling to the ground, dragged along as one foot snagged in a stirrup. Ellac let out a grunt of admiration and Bleda punched the air with his fist, whooping and yelling his pride. He felt Ellac’s disapproval at his burst of emotion, the warriors of his Clan were supposed to wear the cold-face like a shield, but that was Altan down there, and he had just felled a champion of their ancient rivals.

A swell of cheering rose up to them, changing into battle-cries as the two warbands came together with a concussive crash. Bleda gulped, a squirm of anxiety uncoiling in his belly. He had seen death before, held his da’s cold, wax-smooth hand, heard the tales of warriors back from their raids, even helped stitch their wounds – but this . . .

The death screams of men and horses echoed up to them, within moments the plain becoming a choking, seething mass of bodies, the splash of blood, the harsh clang of steel.

‘What’s that?’ Ellac said behind him, pointing to the skies. ‘Your eyes are better than mine.’

‘Vultures and crows,’ Bleda said as he squinted into the searing blue and glimpsed the silhouettes of wings.

‘Too big,’ Ellac muttered.

Bleda tore his eyes away from the battle and stared. More and more winged shapes were appearing in the sky, speeding towards the battlefield, growing in size with their approach. Great white wings beating through the air, then Bleda saw the glint of sunlight on steel.

‘The Ben-Elim,’ he whispered.

Winged warriors wrapped in gleaming mail swooped down to the battle-plain, skimming above men’s heads, stabbing indiscriminately with spear and sword, lifting men into the air, rising up steeply and dropping them, screaming, limbs flailing.

‘No!’ Bleda hissed, hand reaching for arrows in his belted quiver as he stood, about to launch into a scrambling run down the hillside. Ellac grabbed his wrist.

‘We must help,’ Bleda shouted. ‘This is not the Ben-Elim’s fight; they should stay out of it.’