IT’S TIME FOR SOME SCALUSSEN!
As promised, I’m very pleased to share the first ever sneak peek of THE FOREVER KING, Book 1 of the Scalussen Chronicles. This is the first look at a new Emaneska book in 6 long damn years, so I hope you enjoy this snippet. It’s currently unedited so please forgive any errors.
Of Wolves & Daemons
The Spine of the World has Roots, and in those Roots burn the molten fires of the old giant. Burned forever, they have, and they will burn forever more.
-From an old Scalussen scroll found in the wreckage of the Hjaussfen library
Snowflakes fell through the broken shafts of moonlight, fat and lazy, unhurried to join their brethren on the forest floor. The air moved not a breath that night. The pine trees uttered no whispers.
A lone pair of boots broke the pristine surface of the snow at a slow but determined pace. The creaking, tutting noise was loud against the silence. Plumes of hot breath spiralled behind the stranger, a man, hooded and cloaked, bundled up for the frigid night. A sword was slung across his back, poking between shoulders already heavy with snow.
The stranger halted abruptly, head twitching as if catching a sound. A moment of unease passed before his journey was resumed. He reached to roll up fur-lined sleeves, and the moonlight glimmered on polished metal; gauntlets and vambraces made of interwoven scales, crimson and gold.
A shadow passed between the pines before him, and once again the stranger stopped. No breath escaped his mouth, and in the silence even the snowflakes could be heard settling.
A timber wolf poked its snout from behind a black tree trunk, its golden eyes made silver by the moonlight. It stared at the stranger with all the focus of a starving animal. Sharp ribs poked from beneath its threadbare coat. The wolf’s lips curled back to show off its teeth, and a low growl rolled across the snow.
The stranger seemed unperturbed, and took a step towards the wolf. The beast matched him, snarling, but he took yet another step. He held out a hand to the wolf, flat-palmed, as if telling it to halt. The wolf bowed its head. Its arched, poised shoulders fell into a cower. The growling withered to a whine. Looking sorry for itself, it trotted through the snow towards the man’s outstretched hand, and without hesitation, began to lick the cold metal of the gauntlets. Clouds of breath emerged between its fangs.
‘Hello, old friend,’ the stranger whispered, his voice hoarse from disuse. He ruffled the wolf’s angular ears and felt the animal tense beneath him. He looked up just as a tree-branch of a crossbow bolt struck the wolf, sending it cartwheeling across the snow with a pained yelp.
‘Bugger it!’ came a muffled cry from the darkness.
Any sensible soul would have scrambled for cover, but the stranger stayed put. The man clenched his fists, making the metal of his gauntlets squeak.
A second bolt burst the snow-filled shadows. This missile was on target, aimed directly for the stranger’s head. Yet before its barbed point could pierce his skull, it was reduced to splinters, as if it had collided with an unseen wall.
A roaring ball of flame escaped the trees, painting the monochrome night a bright orange. The stranger held his hand out, fingers crooked like eagle claws, and the fireball exploded in midair. The spell surged around him. The shockwave brought the snow cascading from the shaking trees, sparking the resin in the pine-branches.
As the fire died, he saw them in the glow: half a dozen figures, maybe, hurtling towards him with blades raised or fire and lightning burning between their hands. No bandits, these. They were encased in heavy armour and far too fresh for road-weary marauders.
Even as the war-cries began to soar, the stranger stayed exactly where he was, content to watch his attackers approach. He raised his arms, as if welcoming them. There was even a smile showing beneath that hood.
The man waited until his attackers were mere strides away before he pounced. With a bell-toll of metal crashing against metal, he slammed his vambraces together. Tendrils of crimson lightning surged from his fingers, one for each attacker. The spell punched through the thick armour, leaving glowing holes in their breastplates before reducing the hearts beneath to cinders. Every one of them crumpled to the snow at his feet, dead before they tasted the cold on their faces.
The mage paused amongst the corpses, watching the snow, listening to the crackle of the smouldering branches above him. Gradually, before his eyes, he saw the snowflakes begin to darken and fade to ash. The frigid air began to lose its knife-edge, growing warmer. The faint light of the moon died. The flames shrank. The shadows seemed to darken, and reach out from between the trees.
Interlocking his fingers, the mage stretched out. A circular wall of green light appeared before him, and he hunkered down behind it in the nick of time. A stream of crimson fire enveloped his shield. Safe behind the magick, the mage grit his teeth and pushed back. Thunder split the air as he flexed his fingers, expanding his shield with concussive blasts until it was a spinning wheel as wide as a gateway. He took a step forward through the slush, and it was matched by the hulking daemon emerging from between the pines. Its eyes were craters of forge-fire. Flames poured from jaws lined with needle fangs. Wings of smoke and darkness and ash towered over the lone mage mage, like the fingers of a fist curling inwards. Standing tall, shield held firmly, fire flowing in all directions, the mage waited for the daemon to catch his breath.
With a whine, the monster reached the limit of his foul lungs. The stream of flame sputtered out. The mage lowered his shield spell.
The daemon inhaled, its maw a beaming furnace. Its fiery eyes narrowed. Sickle-claws were raised. An unholy screech began to swell in the daemon’s throat, now glowing white-hot. The mage simply crossed his arms. In the light of the blazing pines, the smile could be seen written on the mage’s face.
A dragon struck the daemon like plummeting anvil; fast and merciless, falling straight. The blur of sapphire crushed the foul beast into the loam in an explosion of pine needles and snow. The mage held up a single hand to shade himself.
When the dust and smoke cleared, the dragon was perched on the daemon’s back, her blue scales glittering in the light of the fire. Talons, each as long as a knife, impaled the daemon’s thick, charred hide. Its wings of smoke had withered away, and the glowing cracks of fire beneath its skin were fading.
‘Late, as usual,’ said the mage as he approached, chiding her.
The dragon shook her head, making her spines rattle. ‘I would call that perfect timing.’ She bared her fangs in a fearsome smile, and the mage chuckled. He sat upon a tree trunk that had so far escaped the flames now hopping from pine to pine. The dark, cold night had come alive with fire, and still the snow fell, uncaring.
‘Our ruse worked, then,’ she said.
The mage clapped his red-gold gauntlets together. ‘That it did. They fell for the bait like a fish for a worm.’ With a sigh, he removed his hood, revealing a shaved head interrupted by a stripe of silver hair, running forehead to nape. His scalp was crisscrossed with white and pink scars. ‘Another one of Malvus’ hunting parties wiped from the face of Emaneska.’
The dragon dragged the dead daemon aside and retracted her claws. She sat in the half-melted snow, cat-like, her forked tail swishing through the steaming mud. A harness and saddle were strapped to her back. Her eyes were like pools of molten silver, ever swirling. Even for a dragon, they held a heavy weariness.
‘And what next, Modren?’ she asked. ‘How many more of them must we lure and kill?’
‘As many as we must,’ replied the mage, staring at the smoking corpse of the daemon. ‘As many as we can.’
‘We can’t do this forever,’ the dragon replied. ‘This must be the hundredth hunting party we’ve slain in the last few years. We destroy one, two more appear. I don’t question why we do it, but it must end at some point. One way or another.’
Modren met the dragon’s gaze with tired eyes. ‘You don’t have to convince me, Kinsprite. I feel it coming, just as you do. Just as we all do.’
Kinsprite growled softly. ‘Our king most of all, it seems.’
‘He has enough on his mind recently, given the empire’s attempts to kill him.’ Modren tapped his vambraces. ‘At least with this little ruse, we can keep Malvus’ attention in the south while Farden continues his work in Froastsoar.’
‘I think you’re mistaken, mage.’ the dragon tutted mockingly, ‘last I heard, the Outlaw King was busy hunting daemons in the wilds. Continuing to be a dagger in the emperor’s side.’
Modren chuckled, and hoisted his hood up with a flourish. ‘On that note, the road calls us onwards.’ With a hop and a skip, Modren climbed the dragon’s side and lashed himself to the saddle. ‘West it is.’
‘Road, he says, as if we’re walking,’ Kinsprite grumbled as she crouched down, wings flared and poised. ‘I’m the one who has to do all the flying.’
With a great whoosh of air and pine needles, the dragon leapt into the air, disappearing into the air.