The Beast Hunters Blood Oath

Other submissions by Christer Lende:
If you want to read their other submissions, please click the links.
The Beast Hunters (Fantasy, Book Award 2023)
The Beast Hunters (Fantasy, Book Award 2023)
The Beast Hunters Dark Sovereign (Fantasy, Book Award 2023)
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A new king reigns over Ashbourn, relentlessly spreading his plague to every soul in the city. Ashbourn plunges into despair as his dark power turns citizens into mindless fanatics. Ara's tainted arm and connection to the dark ruler might be Ashbourn's only hope, unless it's all part of his plan.
First 10 Pages



A bead of sweat ran down Adenar’s brown hair and hit his face as the sun beat down hard on his skin. The heat from the furnace didn’t exactly help either, sparks taking on a life of their own before succumbing to the outside temperature. Adenar wiped his forehead with a wet handkerchief that never got to properly dry up before each use.

He had to finish forging the spear today. His father, Tennindar, could return from the hunt at any moment, and Adenar wanted to have his gift ready and surprise him. It should almost be ready for sharpening and cooling. He’d kept his blacksmithing skill hidden, only working while his father was away on hunts.

Soon eighteen years of age, he would have to choose a profession, and having a head start like this would be good. He had learned a lot from the months it had taken forging this spear, and the occasional help from the town’s old blacksmith, Erill, had been invaluable. Erill had been a good friend to Adenar’s mother for as long as Adenar had lived, and seemed to relish helping him.

Adenar pulled it out of the fire and thrust it into the cold water. Steam rose; excitement grew in his fingers and bones. It shone marvellously, the light of the sun bouncing off its sharp edge.

“That spear looks good,” Erill’s cranky voice sounded from the second forge. “Your dad will kill many razorboars with it, I’m sure.”

“I hope so,” Adenar said and started sharpening it. With Erill’s guidance, it turned out a fierce weapon. Adenar’s eyes ignited with it in hand, feeling mighty, and he rushed out of the smithy to show his mother.

Adenar ran quickly through the small village of Morrowdar, reaching his parent’s house with haste. Only about a hundred and fifty people lived there, and their greatest export was supplying Ashbourn with grain. But growing crops never interested Adenar, nor any in his family. His father had the heart of a hunter, and his mother knitted clothes and ate the spoils of the hunts.

His mother, Ilia, sat in a rocking chair outside knitting on some piece of clothing, enjoying the sun. She wore her yellow dress, indicating her good mood.

“Mother!” Adenar called out. She shielded her eyes from the sun and smiled as he approached. “It’s done!” He handed it to her.

“Wow!” she gasped in what seemed like genuine awe. “It’s magnificent! I honestly can’t believe how great it turned out.” Rising from her chair, she gave the weapon a spin. “Adenar, I’m truly impressed.”

“Do you think father will be too?”

“You won’t have to worry. What will you call it, young Master Blacksmith?” She asked in a respectful, but mocking tone.

Adenar smiled. “Heartfire.”

“That is a great name. He will love it.”

“When is he coming?”

“Anytime now,” she said, looking to the horizon, but saw no sign of him and turned back to the spear. Heartfire’s long wooden shaft rested comfortably in her hand, while the spearhead glimmered so strongly in the sun that it looked like a smaller sun itself. The tip had the shape of an arrowhead, so it could rip off razorboar scales, making it possible to actually kill the beasts.

“Why don’t you wait for him like you used to?” his mother suggested. Adenar nodded and went to his small scouting hill at the edge of the village. From there, the Sangerian Grassland laid itself bare in front of his eyes and he would spot his father from a long distance away.

Hours went by with no sight of his father or his fellow hunters. Just as Adenar’s worry set in, he spotted something small appear far away on the horizon. It turned into small dots, and finally the hunters Adenar expected, his father riding in the middle as usual. They rode slowly to keep the horses from going exhausted while carrying the dead razorboars. Adenar counted five people, meaning everything had gone well.

A nervous feeling grew in his gut as his fingers danced over Heartfire’s spearhead. It laid in the grass next to him, as ready as it would ever be. Will he like it? What if he doesn’t like its balance? Erill had approved every aspect of the spear, but suppressing the worry proved hard.

The hunting party approached and Adenar waved back to his father while making sure the spear stayed hidden from sight. He rose proudly, pushing his shoulders back. “Posture makes the man.”

Something glimmered in the air far above the hunting party, like an ember from the forge, but it seemed to move downward. Hidden behind the strong rays of the sun, Adenar couldn’t spot it properly, but it grew larger with haste. What seemed like an ember grew into a plummeting inferno, approaching with great speed.

“Father!” Adenar yelled and pointed at the incoming danger. They turned and shot their horses into motion, screaming wildly. Adenar’s father pulled out his knife and cut the razorboar off his horse and kicked it into a gallop.

Bright fire dove down from the sky before large wings expanded to flatten out its descent as it soared across the endless fields. A large eagle-like head stayed locked on the riders ahead, its speed many times faster than that of the horses.

Adenar froze in fear as the giant flaming bird crashed towards his father. Fire cascaded off it like rain, leaving a burning trail in its wake.

“Ride!” Adenar yelled at them, but the monster would catch up. His father fired an arrow at it, but the fire consumed it.

“NO!” Adenar roared as the bird flew through the hunting party with devastating speed. Horses capitulated and riders flew into the air before a blistering hot inferno swallowed them in a violent explosion. The bird continued, taking to the sky, leaving behind a scorched landscape, but no sign of Adenar's father or the other riders. The village erupted in panicked screams at the commotion, but Adenar remained silent, his eyes searching for the winged monstrosity in the sky—he found it, and it soared straight towards the village with lightning speed.

Adenar threw himself to the ground as it shot over the hill. The heat made him scream in agony before the shockwave ripped him from the ground and into the air. He crashed and rolled on the hot ground, holding on to Heartfire for dear life. Flames rained down around him, but he came to a stop before rolling into fire. The gigantic beast blasted right through a house. It exploded, shooting debris to all sides. People ran around wildly, trying to avoid the rain of fire. Adenar shot to his feet before a horde of villages trampled him on their way out of Morrowdar. He had to find his mother. He tried spotting the beast, but thick smoke rose from all around, obscuring his view.

“Mother!” he shouted, his eyes searching for her, but his words drowned out in the screams and commotion.

Blazing infernos spread from house to house, and he had to hurry. He ran, shoving others aside and passed the burning houses before it became too late—the bird shot through the smoke inches above his head, its speed tearing the village apart. He threw his hands up to protect his face from the blistering heat before the shockwave threw him off his feet again. He rolled along the ground, hearing people screaming their lungs out behind him. Breathing felt almost impossible in the heavy smoke, but he got back on his feet. He suppressed the anger alive in his heart and focused on saving his mother. He turned to spot if the bird returned, but his gaze fell to the ground. Endless of his fellow villagers laid dead or wounded behind him, either burnt to a crisp or mortally wounded, screaming in agony. You can’t save them, he told himself. Go find mother.

He ran towards his house, feeling the heat of the bird as it flew through the village again, obliterating several houses, including the large noble house in the centre close to the bell tower. His forehead and underarms burned with pain, but he ignored it, nearing his house, which had caught on fire. He kicked the door open and stormed inside, not finding Ilia anywhere.

Coughing, he went back outside as the beast came down upon Morrowdar again. Debris from buildings crashed into the ground near him, together with charred body parts. Thick smoke blackened his surroundings, making it hard to orient himself.

Where is she?

Someone on fire ran towards him, throwing themselves at him screaming for help, but he shoved the man aside with his spear. Burning corpses laid amidst the ruins of the village, and anyone could be her mother. His fingers trembled with fear and anger, feeling completely helpless. A burst of screams echoed through the smoke as the beast descended upon them again, but he couldn’t see anything through the smoke.

It felt like a stone dropped in his stomach as his eyes noticed something yellow in front of him. He ran to it, jumping over planks and bodies, finding the remains of a woman wearing a yellow dress. His guts churned as he felt the fabric with his thumb, knowing for certain she had been burned alive. He couldn’t even recognize her, all features gone. He couldn’t speak. He couldn’t think. Both of them are d-dead.

The monster tore the village apart once more, the terrifying sounds breaking Adenar out of his trance. His hand gripped Heartfire. I will kill you. The heat of the bird struck him as it flew overhead. He rose amid the burning chaos, seeing people he’d known his whole life die in front of him. Why? Why is it doing this? The village he’d grown up in smouldered around him—where all his greatest memories had been created.

He ran through the burning village, heading for the still-standing tower beside the destroyed noble house. It burned, but it was his best shot. He struggled breathing, but he didn’t care; he wouldn’t survive this anyway. He only cared about bringing down this terrible beast.

He stormed past people who just wandered around without purpose, while others had their senses to flee or try to save their loved ones. Adenar kept his eye on the tower, reaching its door. He felt and heard the bird fly through Morrowdar yet again, the sound of wood breaking filling the air, but he stayed focused and grabbed onto the first ladder.

He climbed to the top of the tower, where he laid his eyes upon the total obliteration of his birthplace.

Flames, ash, ruins, bodies, everywhere.

And through the smoke, he spotted it circling back for another assault.

Breathing hard and trying to fend off the heat, Adenar tightened his grip on Heartfire. The bird flew straight towards him, crashing through the village, killing too many. It neared the bell tower and Adenar jumped, thrusting his spear into the air and releasing a roar of anger.

The bird crashed into his weapon, and it sank deep into its flesh, shooting fire from the wound. It screeched wildly, erupting into molten fire that enveloped Adenar. He screamed, his flesh burning away as he melded with the beast. They crashed towards the ground; Adenar barely conscious. In his final moments, he knew he’d killed it, avenging his family and his village. They hit the ground together, moulding into each other in the intense heat. Then . . . darkness.

* * *

“Well done, little human,” something said. “You ended me.”

Adenar sat up sharply and sucked in air as if his lungs expanded for the first time. He coughed harshly as white ash cascaded down from his hair, obscuring his already blurred vision. He rubbed his face, but the ash clad his hands as well. His breathing finally calmed down. What’s happening? he wondered.

The smell of charred wood filled his nostrils as his vision slowly cleared. The sun cast its crimson light on . . . on the remains of Morrowdar. Adenar’s eyes widened in horror at the destruction—it all came back to him; the winged beast and what it had done to Morrowdar, to his father and mother.

He screamed with a raspy voice, immense sorrow striking deep in his heart. Ash around his eyes absorbed his tears. His mind didn’t know how to comprehend his loss, but his body crumbled into the crystal-white ash surrounding him. He wept until his body would yield no more water. Why am I alive? How am I alive? Adenar frantically ran his fingers over his skin, searching for burns, but found none. In fact, his skin felt healthy and in perfect condition. He rose out of the ash around his body, which stood out from the black soot that remained of Morrowdar, being otherworldly white and clear.

He tore his eyes away from the peculiarity and gazed upon the village. How am I alive? Is this a dream?

“Mother?” he shouted into the wind. “Father?” No answers came. Nobody had been left alive, but him. His knees buckled. He hammered the ground with his hand.

“The privilege to walk among the living,” a soothing, calm voice spoke in his mind, interrupting his pounding. “Comes with the great toll of loss.”

He looked around, ready for someone or something to appear. “What?” he whispered. “Who said that?”

“It was I,” the voice said again, seeming to come from everywhere and nowhere simultaneously. “I am the one you slew. The great, winged fire in the sky. Your kind calls me pharlanax.”

“The great, winged fire? The bird? You are the bird of fire?”

“Correct. My name is ancient and I have lived for longer than your kind has existed.”

“Where are you? Why can I hear you?” Adenar yelled into the air, anger seeping into his words. “Come out so I can kill you again!”

“You already won, little one. Slaying one of my kind is a feat sought by kings and heroes of all races aeons ago. You’re brought back from my ashes, and once you perish, I shall emerge forth from your ashes yet again.”

“Why did you kill them?” Adenar demanded. “They were my family.”

“It is my nature.”

“Your nature? That’s a coward's excuse. Why punish innocent people like this? Why destroy so many lives?”

“I am not so different from you or yours. You do the same to each other for reasons of land, vengeance, love, grief, and even lust. I do what I do because I am what I am.”

“That makes no sense,” he said.

“Then I am sorry I cannot make you understand.”

“Why am I alive?”

“You are granted life anew and have been reborn from my remains. The kings of old would call you Athaena or . . . Ashenborn.”

Reborn? he thought, his mind struggling to understand. He ran his fingers over his naked body again, feeling bulging muscles and veins, with not a single scar. The sun shone directly into his eyes, but he didn’t have to shield them, seeing clearly, despite the strong light.

“Fire is no longer your enemy. You are not the same boy that felled me. Pieces of you remain, but pieces of everyone who has slain me reside within you too. Their strength, valour, and courage. I am made from those who have slain me and they are made of me. Small pieces of them transcend through time through you, preserved within me. You now belong to a long line of kings and heroes who sought a fraction of my power. Some used them for good, others for evil. And once you die, I will carry a piece of you with me.”

“This cannot be,” Adenar said. “I mean . . . this is impossible.”

“I understand. Let time heal your mind and you will see clearly. My name is Mattronia, and you and I are one. I see what you see, and feel what you feel.”

Adenar didn’t know how he felt about that. Having someone in his head at all times seemed like a good reason to end himself right here and now. “Can you hear my thoughts?”

“Your mind is your own,” Mattronia answered. “Your thoughts are shielded from my intrusion, and you cannot hear my thoughts.”

“So you’re speaking?”

“In a way. It is difficult to explain, but I have thoughts not shared with you.”

Great, he thought, but understood he could not kill himself and unleash this monster back into the world. It’s better she’s with me than ‘following her nature.’ “I will call you Matt. It’s easier.”

“You may.”

“Matt, I hate you, and I will for all of our time together.”

“Then that is what you will do.”

He sighed, not liking the pharlanax’s willingness to accept his resentment. He wanted Matt to show some emotion—or, at least, regret for what she had done. But she wouldn’t. It was her nature. Razorboars killed people sometimes too; it was their nature.

Adenar walked through the ruins of Morrowdar. What will I do now? Where will I go? A window, almost completely hidden by ash, reflected his face and he saw his blonde hair, which used to be brown.

“You have gone through changes,” Matt said. Adenar went over to the windowpane, seeing that his face had stayed the same. “There are other changes too.”

“Like what?”

“You have the fighting instinct and reflexes of the pharlanax. Few can best you in battle if you learn to handle yourself. Skills will come to you faster—skills like riding, marksmanship, fighting, knitting, blacksmithing—even playing an instrument. Your memory is enhanced too. You can access my raw power, fuelled by fire.”

Strangely, Adenar understood what she meant, feeling something surging in his veins; a fire wanting to be released. “You said ‘fire is no longer my enemy?’”

“In time, I shall teach you. And we have enough time. Go back to my ashes, they should not be wasted.”

Adenar did so and looked upon the white ashes of her remains.

“You must forge my ashes into a sword. It will never fail, never break, nor yield to any foe. It will be a sword made from the remains of a divinity.”

A horn rang through the air in the far distance, and Adenar leapt upon a rock effortlessly with uncanny balance. Riders approached from Ashbourn, their flags clear to his eyes despite the distance. “They must have seen the smoke,” Adenar said. “There’s no time to forge a blade.”

“Then gather the ash,” Matt said with a hint of urgency. “People trade kingdoms for such a treasure.”

Adenar surveyed the area. After running through two houses, he found a suitable, unburned pouch and a pair of linen pants. He scooped almost all of the ash into the pouch and put it over his shoulder.

The riders neared, waving at him. Adenar walked towards them, leaving the village of his birth, death, and rebirth behind.

“Who will you be?” Matt asked. “You have capabilities others can only dream of. You can perform feats unmatched by your kind, so spectacular you will be immortalized in history. So, I ask you, who will this new man be? What is your name?”

The soldiers caught up, all except one riding into the village to search for survivors. The captain had a broad build with a strong face and beard. He looked at him with great wonder, eyes wide.

“H-how? Are you the only survivor?” he asked.

Adenar nodded. It’s true what Matt says, he thought to himself, turning his eyes to Morrowdar for a final time. I am no longer the same person that fell into her fire. I am someone else. And I will be someone great.

“What is your name, son?” the captain asked, extending a hand.

He met the captain’s eyes, grabbed his hand with a strong grip, and said, “Koradin. I am Koradin Banner.”


A Grand Betrayal

Darkness spreads across the world. The night becomes eternal. In darkness he shall come, with the strength of the voreen. The world will be his, and through him, ours. Kill in his name, murder by his wish, and relish in his glory. Give his blood to those unbending or remove them from this world. Few shall stand in his way, and those few will become his greatest warriors and help him bring the end.

A prayer of war from “The Dark Traitor”, chapter two.

Night had fallen over Ashbourn earlier than usual and the wind howled with might. Eranna Carner walked from her large office in the Warborn Headquarters and to the new throne room that Chronor had demanded built. One day since the coronation and her plan had worked perfectly. She’d never admit it, but her eyes had grown tired and her heart had trembled during this important phase of her plan, but she pulled it off. The people of Ashbourn chose an ancient voreen god as their king, and the city, the kingdom, and herself would rise to their true potential. First, conquer the city, then the world. With Chronor’s help, the kingdom would bend to her will. She knew he was the god—she just a human—but she would become the most powerful woman to ever exist, especially with almost no more voreen left to oppose them.

Walking through the hallway, she passed window by window, spotting Ashbourn in glimpses. The city bled, and she had inflicted the wound, all she had to do was to keep it open. It had come at a high cost and a lot of luck. That bullet would have killed Chronor in his previous phase, but did nothing to wound him after the announcement. Had it come moments before, it could all have been over before it started. After his elevation, the assassination attempt had actually helped. She’d used it as an excuse for him to stay away from the public eye so they could progress their plan faster.

Eranna stopped next to a window showing the Meritocrat Headquarters in the distance. Smart move, Koradin, she thought. Grabbing the beast hunter that fast. Thinking about the beast hunter made her tighten her fist so hard her knuckles whitened. They had been so close to losing it all because of him and his gang. Losing Ronoch that close to the coronation would have ended with her head on a pike.

And still, those beast hunters remained a problem—an irritating thorn in her side. But what can they do now? The whole city of Ashbourn would soon be in Eranna’s hands. Brattora would fall next, and his legions would grow unstoppable.

On her way, she passed several guards with dark eyes and orange irises. They looked terrifying, their minds replaced with Chronor’s will. When Chronor laid out the plan of lacing the soldiers’s food with his blood, Eranna had her doubts it would work, but as soon as he reached his new phase, they turned into mindless minions. It couldn’t have happened any later, as maintaining control over an army of soldiers with the blood of a voreen god running through their veins, proved almost impossible. Unwarranted fights had to be broken off between previously friendly soldiers before they killed each other. With most of the Warborn army under Chronor’s direct command, any still free souls had been forced to take in his blood or die.

She pushed open the large doors into the throne room. A few torches dimly lit the dank hall. On the large throne sat her lord in his fullest form, a head taller than the tallest men she’d seen, and broad as the throne itself. From his menacing armour protruded several dark spikes, hiding his grey body from sight. The black metal seemed unnatural as if it had a mind of its own, slowly churning around his body with a dark haze. Large pauldrons rested on his shoulders, bristling with metal spikes and thick smoke. He was gorgeous, glimmering in the light of the moon, with black flames sparking to life infrequently on the different armour pieces without producing any heat. The green firelight coming from his eyes still unnerved Eranna, but she tried not to let it show. It made his gaze all the more oppressive, as he sat alone in the chamber.

“It did not work.” His deep godly voice vibrated in her chest. “I am not as strong as you promised.”

Eranna frowned at his remark. “What do you mean, my Lord?” she asked, kneeling in front of him.

“It seems not all of my new citizens have devoted themselves to me. I cannot perform the oath of blood yet.”

“That cannot be,” she answered, and rose to look out a window. “The people of Ashbourn always rally behind their new king.”

Chronor rose from his throne and joined her in front of the window, his footsteps shaking the floor. “Had they all been devoted to their new king”—he put a large, dark hand on her shoulder—“then I would have reached my final phase.” He turned his head toward the city. “There is still resistance out there. We must make them bend.”

Eranna ground her teeth together, taking the failure personally. “The boy,” she said. “He was from the Meritocrat District and had leads on us. It’s most likely your book is in the hands of someone there. Assuming they’ve found out who Ronoch truly is, naturally, they won’t follow you.” Talking about the book brought her great discomfort. She’d been the one to lose it and it was Chronor’s most prized possession. He hated that book, but it could not be destroyed. So he wished to keep it close, as close as he could, but then she lost it to some boy. Chronor’s hand tightened around her shoulder and she held back a flinch.

“Yes,” his voice rumbled. “My book. The truth can be spread like wildfire if given to the right people, like Koradin Banner.”

“I believe,” she said through gritted teeth. “Any resistance must come from him and his army.”

He finally let go of her and went back to his throne, his armour clinking as he sat down.

“But as long as the people stay hungry,” she added, “it won’t matter. They may believe what they wish, but only we can sate their hunger.”

“What you say is true. And once it is sated, they shall all be mine.”

Eranna cast one glance over at the Meritocrat Headquarters, fearing what Koradin could conjure. She knew of his intellect and capabilities, and if he was against them, he’d put up a fight.

“I will get my army,” Chronor said. “And with it, force them into submission. Then, Koradin will be mine.”

Eranna walked over to his throne, where Chronor injected a large needle into his vein to drain his powerful blood into a large barrel. One of his slaves entered the room and gathered the other barrel full of blood, moving it down to the stored food.

“Will they turn immediately?” she asked him.

“Once my blood enters their body, their weak minds will have no choice but to give in to my might. With my soldiers, I have blocked every exit out of the city.” The barrel started filling with his dark blood. “I will use my new slaves to force the food down the throats of those who refuse to eat. Once they are all mine, we will crush Koradin Banner and the Meritocrats.”

“If I am right, my Lord,” she said. “I could be wrong about your opposition, but it seems most likely.”

Chronor turned his head towards the Meritocrat District. “I can feel a vacuum of my power looming over that part of the city. It is him that we face. I have to spread the food through the other districts with haste before the knowledge of the book spreads.”

“It won’t matter,” Eranna said, trying to believe her own word. “What could they do? Knowing how to kill you doesn’t mean they have the means to kill you.”

“The girl,” Chronor said.

Eranna’s heart filled with anger, her hands tightening. You should have killed her when you had the chance, she thought, but dared not say it. The girl had been right there, tied to the chair.

“Calm your anger. The girl is a threat. A small one, but a threat nonetheless.”

“That threat must be minuscule,” Eranna said, trying to recover from her emotions. “Even less of a threat than the voreen outside of the city.”

Chronor’s eyes lingered on the Meritocrat District. “She is still out there. I can feel her and she can feel me.”

“Will she try to attack?” Eranna asked.

“She would have done so long ago. Confusion clouds her mind, unsure as to why I am surrounded by humans. If she meant to kill me, she would have done so when she first felt my presence, before I could rise to power.” His head turned to Eranna. “The girl is a larger threat—if she is clever. I would end her personally, but this important work weakens me.”

She couldn’t stop him if she wanted to, so she was glad he wanted to stay safe by his own volition. To distribute the food they had hidden was vital to turn the people to Chronor’s control before their lives became even worse, and they turned to someone else to guide them.

But she knew no one else could provide the food they could. The minions Chronor had created had worked perfectly to take out the surrounding villages, stopping the caravans of food coming into Ashbourn. “I can send assassins,” Eranna offered.

“Perhaps,” Chronor said. “But she will be protected by the healer.”

“If he still roams free, my Lord,” Eranna said.

“Koradin was clever to stab him. He tricked the public into thinking he killed my assailant, showing his ‘support’ for me, making himself immune to future claims of defiance. How he knew the healer had regenerative abilities, I do not know. Koradin will be trouble. His people believe in him strongly. Breaking them will be hard. But if I break him, the rest will follow.”

“I can discredit him,” Eranna offered.

Chronor looked at her with questioning eyes.

“If I could find proof he keeps the healer alive and safe within his walls.”

“Perhaps,” Chronor said, which meant he didn’t approve. He pulled out the syringe as the barrel reached its capacity. “But I know how to deal with the healer.” The boy from before came and rolled away the newly filled barrel, returning quickly with an empty one, but Chronor didn’t plug the needle into his arm. “You have been of great use, Eranna Carner. You have helped me rise to power. With my army, I will crush anyone who opposes me. Those who have read the dark book will die by my hands and I will lock it away so no one can read it ever again. That is how I will become forever immortal. Doing so will leave only you with the knowledge of how to destroy me.”

Eranna narrowed her eyes.

Chronor fixed his gaze on her. “You will be my only weakness.”

Eranna’s eyes widened; she turned to run. His large hand grabbed her by the neck, dragging her back. “Chronor!” she roared, fury welling in her eyes. “I am your most trusted follower!”

His hand dug into her neck, shooting pain through her body. “I do not doubt your loyalty for a second.” He turned her head to look into his green fiery eyes. “I have too many times felt the knife of vengeance in my back from a trusted follower who couldn’t take the destruction I bring.”

“I . . . swear . . .” Eranna gasped for breath.

“You are of the darkest breed, I will give you that. Strong, resourceful and you do whatever it takes. I am not afraid of your betrayal. Rather, it is that you are human. And humans can be broken by torture, unlike my voreen. I cannot always protect you.”

Something snapped in her neck—the pain excruciating and her voice didn’t work.

“You see,” he said, “you cannot live, as I won’t take any chances.” She felt his tentacles push through her skin, into her body, and he drained her blood. Numbness took hold. The pain stopped, and only anger and a feeling of unfairness remained.

I gave you everything, she thought in her dying moments. I gave you life. How can you do this to me? She had been nothing but loyal. Chronor’s face vanished, her vision blackening.

In the end, her anger disappeared. Everything disappeared. Blackness consumed her.