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The Heart of the Scorpion

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Chapter 1

Antares grunted and yanked his sword from the carcass of a bear. Small rivulets of dark red blood ran down its luminescent surface as he pulled out a rag and began to meticulously clean it. The blade had been a present from a merchant he frequently purchased goods from.

Ever since the barons seized control of Castrux, the land had never quite gone back to its peace filled days. The odd bandit or thief were becoming commonplace on the roads between kingdoms.

Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a gold token, a task piece given to him by a rather influential baron. The sight of it would keep most at bay, but every once in a while a starved thief came at hand. A desperate animal is always more dangerous than a fed one.

His task was to eliminate the King of Soliris, King Engar. Assassinations were not usually jobs he liked taking, but no one denied a baron of their wish. The head came with a hefty sum of coin that on its own was enticing enough. Of course, though no details were disclosed he knew what the end goal for the death was.

Without their king, the last true magic user in Fortus, should he fall, the barons would have control of the continent. Antares shrugged it off nonchalantly, baron or no, business was business and that would never change.

Glancing up at the dipping sun, he sheathed his sword and holstered his bag. He had spent the day lounging in a meadow a few miles from the gates of Soliris. If he missed his window to enter, it could be weeks before he found its walls again.

Seizing the bear carcass and throwing it over his shoulders, he began his trek. The corpse would keep most predators away, save the creatures of the night. Not long after he started, the sun quietly disappeared from the horizon, bathing the land in its orange glow a last time.

Cursing, he quickened his pace until he hit a rough jog. Already howls were echoing around him, their owners prowling the fields searching for prey. Soon they would find the trail of blood leading to him.

“Shit, shit, shit,” he muttered under his breath. As if sensing his frustration, a pack of werewolves leaped from the forest blocking his path. A tall grey one stepped forward, baring its teeth at him.

“Welcome… to my forest, tired traveller, surely you’d like to rest? I can relieve you of your load, and your life as well.” Behind him, the werewolves let out cackles of agreement. Antares brandished the gold token in front of him, “I walk in the name of Baron Tzchai, leave now lest you incur his wrath.”

Grinning, the werewolf moved forward until their faces were almost touching. “I know no Tzchai,” he said. “But I do know Aife, and Aife says I may have my fill of travellers outside the walls.”

Faintly, Antares noted that the werewolf’s breath smelled of blood and raw meat. “So, I suppose it is time to feast.”

Almost instinctively, he blurted out, “I challenge you for your pack!” At this, the werewolf took a step back, his eyes widening for a split second before regaining their cool composure.

“You? You would challenge me, a werewolf? Stupid race and stupid honour, why must you humans always do this. Very well, come at me, let’s end this quickly.”

Dropping his things he unsheathed his blade and took a wary step backward. The werewolves formed a circle around him, some were feasting on his bear. So much for dinner and lodging.

Tentatively, he thrust the sword forward, aiming for the heart. The air sizzled and sparked where the werewolf was standing a few moments ago. Where the tip had stopped, a small hole in the moonlight appeared.

Hissing, the grey werewolf gave a wide berth to the hole in the air. Sensing his wariness, Antares began to swing in wide arcs until the wolf was backed against his pack. “Your sword, it eats the moonlight! Only a weaponsmith from Castrux could make such a thing!”

Antares sighed, “I did say I came in the name of Baron Tzchai.”

“Bah!” The werewolf said. “I recognize no baron, their inventions ruin the land. Weak as you are, that weapon you wield is a locust upon my forest.”

Gesturing with his head, he pointed at Antares and gave a quiet grunt. Before he could turn around to see what was happening, he felt a sharp pain in his back. Dropping to his knees, he felt his consciousness slipping.

As his vision faded in and out, he was faintly aware of the grey werewolf’s voice. “Take him inside to Aife, he will get rid of his weapon and pay us for it.”

Just before the black overtook the edges of his consciousness, he saw the golden light of Soliris’ gates. And then he blanked out, the deep clutches of sleep finally taking its hold on him.

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