The Beast Hunters Dark Sovereign

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 Blood Oath (Fantasy, Book Award 2023)
Book Award Sub-Category
Award Category
Book Cover Image
Logline or Premise
A mysterious corpse, beastly assassins, and a basement full of cadavers dissolving in acid, lead the beast hunters towards an enigmatic candidate, favourite to claim the throne of Ashbourn. Still a beast hunter apprentice, Ara takes on a new case in a large city with strange ties to her new powers.
First 10 Pages


Adenar sat in his small office below the staircase and filled out some forms for the next gala. Well, an office was an exaggeration. He’d been given a small room behind the receptionist’s desk, together with his own smaller desk and crooked chair. The rain drummed on the windows of the massive building, and he dreaded going outside. With Ashbourn being such a gargantuan city, going from one district to the neighbouring one took time, even by carriage.

His mood was sombre, partly from being generally overworked, but mostly from Callan dropping more work on him again just as he left for the evening. Being the assistant to basically everybody in the Meritocrat Headquarters made him an easy target for other ‘overworked’ employees. But Adenar did it all, working every week as if his life depended on it. He’d been lucky to actually get a job working directly for the political party after his studies, which he still didn’t know how had happened. And it didn’t seem like anyone else knew why or how he got the job either.

In truth, he liked working during the night better than the day. No surprise work would suddenly land in his lap and he could silently work on the papers Callan had ordered him to finish before dawn. Adenar didn’t understand why the work needed to be done before tomorrow, but he couldn’t object, as Callan would just say ‘that information is classified for an assistant,’ and walk smugly away. Barely of higher position than Adenar, Callan pulled his rank on every possible occasion. So he’d learned to just accept the work and shut up.

Adenar pushed through the paperwork mindlessly, filling out forms upon forms concerning the next large political celebration, orchestrated by the Meritocrats. And being the lowest assistant in the Meritocrat Headquarters, he had to do all the most tedious work before every gala, having to make all the tickets for all the guests, place them at the designated tables for the dinner, and order the correct amount of food.

The food had to be individually chosen to fit each attendee, of course, the utmost elite of the giant city expecting the best at all times.

Adenar was finally done making the tickets and preparing the food list for three of the different parties attending: the Passionists, the Royalists, and, of course, the Meritocrats, lacking only information from the Warborn Party. He sighed, having neglected this task for as long as he could. Unfortunately, the rain hadn’t stopped during his many hours of work.

This last task was all Callan’s fault, not having collected the documents from the Warborn Headquarters himself, before passing the work on to Adenar. Now Adenar had to travel over there and get them, and after that, he’d have to make tickets and food lists for all the individuals once more. Remember how lucky you are, he forced himself to think. Getting a job in the headquarters right after my studies is rare. That’s how the king did it. But the king hadn’t become a lowly assistant. Everybody knew that. He’d become a member of the council.

Adenar’s efforts to boost his motivation failed, and with another sigh, he stacked the papers in neat piles and put on his coat. I hope mother isn’t still up, he thought. She also worked too hard, but Adenar planned to rise high within the Meritocrat Party, so he could support them both. His dream was to be on the council itself, aiding whichever king that ruled. All the hard work he put in now had to pay off some time. After all, that was what the Meritocrats believed.

He dreamt of better days when he wasn’t some lowly assistant with barely a toe inside the party. He’d never have an assistant like him. Instead, the work should be done by those appointed it—their own personal responsibility. He relished the thought, until realizing he’d actually gotten the job because someone allowed for an assistant just like him, though he didn’t know who that ‘someone‘ was.

Amidst his deep thoughts, he placed all the papers in the correct drawers, and readied to begin the final part of his assignment. He stared out a window on his way, looking at the endless rain hitting the cobblestone. His reflection stared back, and he let out an exasperated breath at seeing the growing stubble on his chin. I need another shave soon, he thought. If I’ll ever have time. He ran his fingers over his strong chin and marked cheekbones, which his mother said he'd gotten from his father, but he didn’t know who he was and his mother sure wouldn’t tell him. It had led to countless heated discussions between them, but her resolve was strong.

“Alright. Let’s get this over with.” He went out the open backdoor of the headquarters into the pouring rain, walking the long way to the gate.

“Of course you’re still here,” the gate master said from inside her hut as she noticed Adenar.

He smiled at her and lifted his eyebrows. “Are you even surprised, Venna?”

“No. They work you too hard, they do. Are you hungry?” Before Adenar could answer, her hands rummaged around in a bag at her side. “I’ve got apples, bread, some cupcakes . . .”

“It’s fine,” he said, despite being hungry. Venna still found some bread with thin slices of steak on them, something he couldn’t refuse. “You’re a lifesaver,” he said, taking large bites of the delicacy.

“Well, someone’s gotta help you when you help everyone else.”

Adenar chuckled. Despite her age, she was sharp as a needle, which made her a great gate master. The gate was large, with a mechanism inside of her little hut to open it. Through great struggle, or with the help of one of the two soldiers standing guard, she could use the contraption, and today was no exception: one guard was already on his way over, his plate mail clanking and clinking.

“Good, good,” she said, dramatically falling back on her chair. “What would I do without you, Cleverus?”

Through the guard’s vizor, Adenar spotted yet another tired man. “Ask Veredar,” he scoffed with a thick voice, placing his hand on the lever and rotating it.

“Has anyone told you how clever you are, Cleverus?” Venna asked.

“More times than you can imagine,” Cleverus answered.

Venna laughed, and Adenar felt a little better not being alone constantly. He tucked the last of the bread into a pocket before waving Venna and the guards goodbye.

Even though the rain still poured, many people roamed the streets, making him feel safer and not so disconnected from the world. In a city of nearly a million, there was bound to be a lot of nightly activity. Some bakeries and other shops awaited wares, others prepared their stores for the next day, and some just liked the peace.

A tall man wearing a large black coat passed by him, and shortly after, something crawled over Adenar’s shoes. He looked down to see a pack of gnurgles running across his feet, following the tall man. Adenar always wondered if people kept gnurgles as pets or used them for their amazing sense of smell.

Despite being an adjacent district, the route to the Warborn District was long. Adenar walked towards a carriage, hoping he wouldn’t be gone for too long. The castle in the middle of all four districts rose like an enormous pylon, and he faintly dreamt of going inside—until the lanky carriage driver with thinning hair asked him where to go for the third time.

“Oh,” he said, snapping back to reality. “The headquarters in the Warborn District.”

“Alright then,” the driver said, whipping his horses into a trot.

Adenar fell back into his thoughts the moment the wheels started turning. Callan better not have more work for me in the morning. The coronation was still a month away, and the galas would only get larger, something he dreaded. Everyone talked about the insane amount of work during the last month, but he was already exhausted.

The carriage slowed as they exited the Meritocrat District and entered another gate into the Warborn District. The cobblestone roads were dirtier, and some areas smelled quite bad, despite it being a prosperous district. The sanitation was simply not as good as in Adenar’s district. Here, everyone carried weapons, and most industries relied upon forging armour and crafting weaponry.

As the carriage barrelled on, Adenar’s head sunk into the headrest, and he drifted into sleep. Adenar snapped awake as the door opened. “What?” he asked, dazed.

“That will be four silver chips,” the driver said.

Adenar shook himself awake, found the correct amount of chips, and paid. “I’m sorry,” he muttered. “Long night.”

“Tell me about it,” the driver said, climbing back into his seat as Adenar stepped outside. The horses sprang into motion, and the carriage disappeared. Adenar faced the giant headquarters of the Warborn District. Great banners, sodden with rain, displayed their red colours with the party’s official emblem on them: two crossed axes with a sword in the middle.

“Hello,” a creaky voice said from below and Adenar jumped back as something tugged on his coat. It was a trasher, standing up to his knees. “Hello?” the trasher said again, pushier this time.

“Hello,” Adenar said, kneeling before the ragged creature with a long nose and giant ears. Its hands and arms were full of warts with long dark hairs growing from them, but Adenar didn’t care. He’d been around trashers before, and found them fascinating. He ran his hand over the creature’s head, and it leaned against his hand, relishing the petting.

“What is it?” Adenar asked.

The trasher adopted a troubled look on its face and circled its stomach. “Me hungry. No give food.” It wore a garbage bag over its body and its arms and legs were meagre.

“Here,” he said, giving it the bread and meat.

The trasher slowly put its fingers on the bread, treading with care.

“It’s okay,” Adenar said. “Take it.”

“You nice. I thank very much.”

Adenar rose, but the trasher gave him a concerned look.

“What?” Adenar asked calmly.

“Can I go?”

“Yes, but eat quickly, so you don’t have to share.”

The trasher rubbed his knee once, which they sometimes did as a form of thanks. “I eat now. Is mine.” Then it scurried off across the street and into an alley, stuffing the food in its face. Adenar chuckled at the curious creature waddling away to its cousins.

After that, he could neglect the large building no longer and approached. Adenar frowned upon discovering no soldiers guarded the gate, and it was open. The Warborn usually had four guards outside at least, as everything had to be as ‘militaristic’ as it could. This was unusual, but also nice, as he wouldn’t have to waste time getting through the gate at night and get those forms faster.

He couldn’t deny he felt some excitement at these peculiar discoveries, though, it probably proved to be nothing, as it always did with such things. Nevertheless, he walked through the long courtyard, filled with swords, spears, shields, and halberds neatly placed on countless racks, and up the small staircase. A few rats sat further down the steps, looking for food. Adenar felt he’d seen a lot more vermin in this district lately, and even in the Meritocrat District.

Discovering the main doors to be locked, he hammered on them with his fists. No answer, and not a soul in sight. Even more peculiar. There’s always someone to open the door. He started to round the great structure to the smaller entrance at the back. This wasn’t his first time doing night visits to different district headquarters, so he knew about the unusual entrances too. He frowned when no one met him at the back either, the only sign of life being an open window higher up with lantern light streaming out of it.

He found the smaller wooden door and knocked. No one came to open, so he knocked harder. Still nothing.

“This is just my luck.”

Against his better judgement, he tried pushing it open, and to his surprise, it worked. He exhaled in relief, really needing those papers and forms. Closing the door behind him, he still found no one inside. During the day, several hundred people occupied the building, and at night, at least someone should be there.

Adenar knew where to go to find the reception, where he hoped the papers would be. He went down the long hallway that led to the large hall, where the reception was straight ahead, and he actually heard some rustling. He strolled to the counter, where an older dark-haired woman frantically searched the shelves for something. She wore a tattered yellow dress, and didn’t seem to notice him.

“I’ve come—”

Her sharp, startled scream cut him off, and she turned in an instant, revealing an eye patch over her right eye.

“Sorry,” Adenar said, holding his hands up disarmingly. “Didn’t mean to scare you.”

She composed herself quickly and turned back to her search.

Adenar frowned. “I’ve come for the attendee forms regarding the next Meritocrat gala.”

The woman just kept searching the shelves, going through countless books and binders, almost sounding like she was on the verge of crying. She had to be too old to be a receptionist, but she was also the only one around. He coughed to get her attention.

She waved a finger at nothing in particular. “Maybe over there.”

Adenar sighed and took to searching himself. He quickly found a pile marked ‘Callan,’ and flipped through the papers, discovering they were exactly what he needed. The woman suddenly snatched a book from the shelf and ran out of the room, not sparing Adenar a glance or explanation, gone the same way he came.

He wanted to know what that had been about, but didn’t have the time or energy to investigate. The Warborn Party had spread all kinds of rumours about a coming war with Brattora, and perhaps he could learn something about it to expose it as just rumours, but it was too late now.

He readied to leave, looking at the different statues of generals proudly presented at each end of the desk. Above hung a banner with their slogan: ‘Conquer, or be Conquered’. Times were peaceful and the city prosperous, so he’d always wondered why conquering would be necessary. Warborn people always put him on edge with their politics, pushing for an aggressive military front. Ashbourn was at peace with all adjacent kingdoms, so their political strategy felt like poking a sleeping wretcher. The thought of the Warborn winning the coronation gave him shivers. He hoped their rumours of war were just a political weapon, and nothing more.

He closed the back door of the building and went back into the pouring rain. At least it’s not cold, he thought, trying to focus on the positive aspects of the incredibly long night. Light still streamed out of the window, but now shadows danced in the glow. Faint voices sounded through the pitter-patter of the rain, and they cleared as Adenar walked closer.

“We have come to put a stop to this,” a raspy, but strong voice said aloud. Adenar stopped beneath, curiosity blossoming. Maybe he could learn something valuable.

“So I can see,” a female voice answered calmly. He’d heard that voice before, but couldn’t place it. “I did expect this from you, old man. I knew you’d break eventually, giving in to your primitive ways.”

“Silence!” the male voice shouted. “Your father would be ashamed.” This seemed serious. Maybe I should go?

“Yes, of course you’re right,” the woman said again. “He would not approve of this, but he never approved of anything I did.”

“You’re mad,” the man accused. “You always have been. He knew it. We know it.”

“Mad?” she asked. Where have I heard that voice before? “I guess by your definition, that’s true. However, under your leadership, the Warborn have grown stale and complacent to be ruled by others.”

“We have followed the King, as we should! Though we didn’t crown him, Koradin won the last two coronations fairly, and we are devoted to him.”

“Such an honourable man you are. And for twelve years you’ve been chained under his rule. No wonder you lost your teeth. Something has to change, and I have brought it. You’ve grown roots and become familiar with the way things are. Many wonder if you’re changing sides.”

“Changing sides?” the man asked aghast. “We’re one nation, all on the same side.”

“See? Weakness. We don’t hold the ideals of those lesser than us. The other parties are weak, and now is the time for a strong hand to lead the way. Koradin had his time, but stronger steel is required.”

“This is treason!” The familiar sounds of several swords unsheathing rang through the pouring rain, and Adenar’s heart pounded hard. What is going on? He constantly debated whether to stay or leave, and curiosity won.

“Treason?” the female voice said, laughing. “We are long past treason.”

“What you’re doing is unnatural!” the man shouted. “And it ends tonight! Form ranks, men!”

“You’ve always been brave, general,” the female voice said. “I’ll give you that.”

General? This is General Toran, the King’s highest-ranking military officer?

“But I’m afraid it’s your bloodline that ends tonight,” said the woman. Her name was at the tip of his tongue.

“You’re not worthy of the title ‘Ironword’,” General Toran said, and the woman’s identity fell into place. Eranna Carner, of course.

“You are a worthy sacrifice,” another, new, dark and heavy voice reverberated through the night, unnaturally deep and mighty, causing fear in his heart. The voice felt like a gut-punch.

Adenar heard a most terrible sound before screams and gut-wrenching sounds filled the air, followed by what could only be blood and guts splashing to the ground. The horrendous screams turned into wet, gurgling noises. What have I gotten myself into? His heart raced.

“Anyone else?” Eranna asked as the room stilled. “Anyone else feels the need to stop our progress?” Nothing was said, and the metallic clanks of swords falling to the ground rung through the air. “How wonderful. But you’ve already proved your loyalty and will follow your dear deceased general soon. Seize them!” An enormous cluster of disjointed competing sounds spilt from the window; swords clashing, men dying—and, in the cacophony of noise, Adenar fled the scene, hoping he would escape alive.


The Eyes of the Dead

Raindrops pooled on leaves, before dropping to the moist ground. The sun slowly rose from behind distant mountains, sharp sunlight shining into Ara’s closed eyes. A slow breeze rustled her clothes, setting the branches of the trees to languidly wave in the wind. Morning had arrived, and as usual, Ara’s eyes shot open. She looked around the small campsite, noticing she wasn’t the first one to rise. Despite Topper sleeping soundly next to her, Khendric was nowhere to be seen. He’ll probably be back soon, she hoped, worrying for him.

It had been two days since they left Cornstead, and despite the beautiful morning, her mind drifted to thoughts of how it all ended. Not only that, but she had become aware of another peculiar . . . ability that had grown stronger since the deadly nightmare. Besides the strong arm, she’d been feeling Khendric’s dark thoughts. Not what they were, but she could tell where he was from the pressure his thoughts exerted on her mind. She sighed, looking at her veiny arm, remembering Martyn’s hot blood flowing through her fingers. She’d killed him, and it felt both great and terrible. Knowing that she was capable of killing felt both frightening and empowering. Martyn still haunted her dreams, and yesterday she had awoken feeling immense guilt. Talking to Topper had helped, as he put it in perspective, reminding her that he truly was a monster. Telling herself over and over again lessened the guilt bit by bit. Overall, her mood slowly improved.

Because of the newfound ability, she knew Khendric was nowhere near, as she’d feel him. His mind was still riddled with darkness and hadn’t changed at all since leaving Cornstead.

Wanting to break out of her thoughts, she rose and gathered the camp’s defences, a routine she hadn’t missed. She grimly thought back to Cornstead and wondered if it was her fault Khendric had become this hollow man. Had she not prodded on how she survived the venom, maybe he be alright. I can’t think like this, she commanded herself and pushed towards better memories.

A faint smile spread across her lips when remembering Robert. That joyful old man lived a better life than he could imagine because of Ara. She missed him, and wished him all the best from afar. There had been no last goodbye, but he would understand. The whole population of Cornstead also had their lives because of her, Khendric, and Topper, saved from that wretched tentacled blob, even if they didn’t know it yet. Maybe they would understand in time.

Topper slowly woke as Ara mounted the great varghaul heads onto his horse.

“Oh,” he said, voice sluggish. “You’re done . . . great. Where’s Khendric?”

“He’s somewhere,” she said, faintly feeling something coming closer on her mind. It had to be Khendric. She hadn’t told them of her ability yet, unsure if she should worry them. It became so much more real if she revealed it, instead clinging to the comfortability of them not knowing.

Not too long after, Khendric appeared from the forest, walking up the steep hill to their ledge. He looked tired, with dark bags under his eyes. Topper ignored him, continuing preparations to leave.

“Where were you?” Ara asked, feeling him strongly in her head. It didn’t hurt, but was annoying.

“I couldn’t sleep,” he answered curtly, got up on his horse, and provided no further explanation. Ara sighed, wanting to help, but she didn’t know how.

After the small camp was packed up and all defences accounted for, they trotted further away from Cornstead on their horses.

The sun shone strongly, the moisture from morning evaporating rapidly. Far away she heard the terrible singing of a treehowler. Apparently, these tree-climbing creatures sang like that to attract females. Ara couldn’t understand how the horrible noise could attract anything, sounding like two grown men screaming at each other.

During these two days of little conversation, amidst all of her plaguing thoughts, one thing kept her mind occupied: the red book. She brought it forth from a satchel on Spotless.


Known location: Bound to no location.

Type: Destroyer

Rarity: Extremely rare

Weakness: Lack of metal

If you’re reading this page because a doombringer is near and you need information on what to do, in short: RUN AWAY.

No one has successfully studied a doombringer, because as the creature expires it’s also reduced to dust.

Doombringers plummet from the sky, looking like a moving star. On impact, they erupt the earth around them with earthquakes, before starting their destructive rampage. As far as survivor stories go, they have a humanoid shape made of living metal. A farmer described it as “layers upon layers of thin metal wires constantly slithering over the body.”

I’ve seen one briefly myself and the farmer left out the worst part: the face, or . . . the lack of one. They have no eyes, no mouth, no ears. Instead, it’s just a churning, blistering hole. Through this “mouth” they both consume metal and release energy. Doombringers somehow attract or suck materials into their hole with the help of incredible wind, or some other magical force. Any metal in their vicinity is consumed, building an unstable exploding energy. The energy is released back into the world in a terrible inferno gushing from the same hole, burning and smelting everything in their path like a beam. The more metal engulfed, the stronger the inferno.

The doombringer is either stopped by lack of metal or consuming too much, seeming not to know their limits. Of the two options, the former is preferred, to avoid an enormous explosion matched by nothing else imaginable. Historically, cities have perished, gone in the blink of an eye.

If doombringers lack metal, it smoulders into metallurgic dust that decays rapidly. Some believe they have some divine aspect to them, stemming from the moon, but that is most likely old superstition. This was introduced by the native people of the Iceblood clan, who revered the moon, thinking doombringers were sent from their god to punish evil. But we don’t know why they appear, and men will always try to explain what they cannot grasp.

- Alec

Ara hoped never to come close to such a beast. Reading felt good while riding down a quiet road in the gleaming morning sun. She embraced the simple sounds of nature: trickling water from a hidden stream, birds chirping, and leaves blowing in the wind, feeling thankful no treehowlers tried finding mates nearby anymore.

Khendric trotted up beside her, his posture slumped, head hanging low. “I need to talk to you about something,” he said with a tired voice, his mind plagued.


“After everything that happened in Cornstead, you’ve proven many things to me. You’re strong, of mind and body. Your willpower must be made of steel, after everything you’ve gone through. At the start of Cornstead we talked about getting to Ashbourn so you could become a nurse.”

She frowned, feeling the slightest knot form in her guts. “Yeah?”

“You don’t want that, right? You want to be a beast hunter?”

“Yeah,” she chuckled, relieved

“We want to make you into a real beast hunter. As we have done until now, we want to teach and train you ourselves, teaching you everything we know. If that arm won’t lose its strength, you have a serious advantage over most opponents and beasts. Foes will underestimate you because of your size.” His thoughts seemed to lighten, which made her feel better too. His proposition was exactly what she wanted, and she sort of thought it obvious after Cornstead.

“I see your smile,” Khendric said. “You need to think seriously on this, though. Being a beast hunter is nothing of glory. Yes, you save people, but many times you fail. Innocents will die, and sometimes, it may be on your hands. There will be hard times and difficult choices. You’ll have to do foul things, like with Martyn. These experiences will form scars, and you’ll carry them with you forever—but hopefully, you save a life here and there, too. The choice is yours, but choose carefully. I’ll give you some time to think it over.”

He was right, good and bad things had happened in Cornstead. Deep down she already knew her answer, but she had to come to terms with the cost. The thrill of discovering clues, solving mysteries, helping Robert, and bonding with Khendric and Topper, felt great, but there would be pain, death, and helplessness. Topper had been killed, proving how dangerous it could be. She’d almost been hung, beaten by dwarves, had the nightmare of a lifetime—and it had all shaped her. The good and the bad gave her life meaning, much more than anything before it. She loved mysteries, itching for a new case already. Whatever pain would come, she would take it or die. Whatever sorrow would fall upon her, she would deal with it or perish. Sometimes she would help people who ended up condemning her, like the people of Cornstead, but she could be that saviour, knowing in her heart they were all safe. What I did to Martyn might have been wrong, but I did it. I’m going to own up to it, so I can leave it in the past. No more feeling uncertain about it. That decision is a part of me, and I cannot change it. From here on, no more thoughts would be wasted on him. She looked to Khendric, grabbing his arm.

“I want to,” she said with a wry smile.

“Absolutely certain?”

“More than I’ve been about anything in my life.”

“Don’t colour me surprised,” he said, grabbing her arm. “I’d like to officially welcome you to the team, not that it’s necessary.” They shared a beautiful moment where all negative thoughts seemed to vanish, and all the pain of her past put to rest. Cornstead had been her rebirth, and she liked who she turned out to be. They were her family now, and the glow and warmness returned. Memories of her mother and father returned, but not to cause her sorrow, but to remind her of her roots, and how far she’d come. Perhaps her father would even be proud of the things she’d done. She missed her mother greatly, and that stinger wouldn’t disappear any time soon, but at least she was surrounded by good people who cared for her. Water culminated in her eyes as Khendric let go of her arm, and she looked toward the sun with joy.

* * *

The next days consisted largely of three things: riding, fighting lessons, and endless questions about countless beasts. Khendric taught her how to wrestle and fight using her hands, showing her simple techniques for punches, jabs, and dodges—and where to hold her arms to keep her guard up.

While she focused on Khendric’s teachings, Topper sat on nearby rocks with the red book in hand and asked her questions. Paying attention to both things was next to impossible, but that was the whole point. When she answered Topper’s question, Khendric got through her guard, but when she successfully warded him off, she got Topper’s question wrong, or didn’t hear it at all. They insisted this was the best way to learn, though she had her doubts, but it helped Khendric’s mind clear, so she let them work on her. His thoughts still fell into dark spirals when they rode, but they cleared when he taught her, making the bruises worth it.

After four days of trotting through thick forest, they reached the border to the Sangerian Grasslands, which would have gone unnoticed to Ara the landscape didn’t change so drastically. The forest ended abruptly, giving way to green pastures, faraway mountains, and hills as far as the eye could see. Rivers snaked their way out of the forest behind them, delving through the green land before them, splitting it apart. She’d never seen such beautiful, clean nature, and leaving the damp forest behind felt amazing.