SHADOW OF THE HUNTER available now!

A portion of each Venator's Blade story will appear here ahead of the official release. This time around, it is the first part of the first chapter of Shadow of the Hunter - Venator's Blade Book I.

Chapter 1 – The Catacombs

It was the torchlight that revealed Aedrek’s target. The flame jumped slightly, pulsing in reaction to the disturbed stale air in the cramped hallway. The slim figure emerged from the darkness, cloaked in a dark green hood. Aedrek nodded to himself from his position in the wall’s crypt behind the armored skeleton of a long dead hero. The Selponis Catacombs offered many such places to hide, if one wasn’t afraid to lay behind a corpse. The figure moved quickly towards the central
chamber, pausing only to ensure complete solitude.

Aedrek looked past the central chamber where the four hallways converged, and tried to see if his partner, Meruvi, was visible from her similar hiding spot. Aedrek wasn’t sure which compartment she had chosen. The walls were dotted with burial crypts carved sideways into the limestone, three high. The bodies were positioned so their feet pointed the way out and their heads pointed towards the central chamber. The crypts were just high enough and wide enough to house the bodies, but squeezing behind them made Aedrek almost completely undetectable. He finally gave up searching the crypts with his eyes. He knew Meruvi was there. She was always where she was supposed to be.

The figure waited in the chamber, leaning against one of the eight ornate columns that had the exploits of the interred heroes carved in relief along their shafts. Aedrek watched the shrouded figure push the hood back, revealing the face of a woman. Aedrek smiled without realizing it. The woman was Krosh’in, which he was expecting, but he did not realize the level of emotion that her face triggered within him.

The woman’s face was painted with purple horizontal stripes, one just below the eyes extending from ear to ear and one thinner stripe on each of her cheeks. Her bottom lip held another spot of paint which matched the stripes. Her skin was pale, framed by sharp features and thick dark hair. If her nose had been more upturned, she could have been Jilliana herself. Aedrek closed his eyes, temporarily displacing his objective with the bittersweet nostalgia surrounding Jilliana.

He always remembered the river first. It was their own private place, hiding in plain sight in the shadows of the cliffs that stood watch around them. The village they had grown up in together was close enough to walk to, but they felt as if they were on their own island. Jilliana had been his world. Her Krosh’in blood made her exotic, yet it was her amiable nature that truly attracted him to her. She was always friendly, even when they were children. She was always patient with him. They would practice sparring with wooden swords, and Jilliana would recite her father’s own lessons to Aedrek. Jilliana would stand with knees bent and sword hidden, held inverted with the wooden blade tracing the length of her arm. She would smile and say the only two words he could still recall clearly in her voice: Fight clear!

“I wondered if you would actually take my offer seriously.” The smooth voice echoed throughout the catacombs, pulling Aedrek out of his memory. The second target had arrived.

The man walked forward without fear. He was dressed well, with the bright silken hepbree pants that revealed him to be a prosperous Muiraltan politician. Aedrek wondered if the man was trying to show that the Krosh’in revolutionaries did not worry him. Perhaps it was his way of illustrating how important this meeting was. Either way, Aedrek considered it a foolish move at best. The self-perceived superiority of the Muiralta aristocracy had played a major role in the recent Krosh’in
uprising. Up until now, there had not been any bloodshed, but the Krosh’in people were quick to anger and enjoyed a proud martial history.

The Krosh’in proverb Krenal ani su’un mi nara (do not start a fight and walk away) summed up their cultural basis for everything. Yet here was Zaerial Nocami, the supposed leader of the Krosh’in rebellion in a clandestine meeting with one of the most influential Muiraltan senators. Aedrek considered the words of the dispatch. He and Meruvi would be there simply to observe the meeting and report back on what was discussed. If anything went wrong, they were to apprehend Zaerial and protect Senator Pomiedra.

“This is my first audience with a Muiraltan decision maker,” Zaerial said quietly. “How could I pass up the opportunity when my efforts have been fruitless until now?” Zaerial was a tightly coiled spring, and her hands remained hidden within the folds of her large cloak. Aedrek wondered if this meeting would end in the senator’s death. Pomiedra laughed easily. It had a smoky sound, and Aedrek wasn’t surprised to see the gleam in the politician’s eye.

“You’ll have to excuse the Run’cala port clerks. The number of appointments they field on a daily basis is staggering. So what can I do for you, Lady Nocami?”

“I would like you to listen to the pleas of my people. Krosh’in makes up nearly a quarter of Muiralta’s population, and yet we have only a single voice in the lower tier senate. We have stood as proud Muiraltan citizens and soldiers for five generations, and yet our treatment at the hands of Run’calan politicians has continued to grow harsher.”

“Valid concerns, Lady,” Senator Pomiedra said quickly. His smile remained in place through Zaerial’s criticism. “I can assure you personally that the Krosh’in people are first in the thoughts of the legislators. We are striving to improve communication and the integration of your people into our own. Only through patience and understanding can both sides trade swords for sails and anger for friendship.”

“I have heard these words before, Senator. Our people deserve a voice. Remember that we were not conquered. We do not live as lesser citizens! We traded our sovereignty to be a part of a kingdom that promised us riches for our goods, new islands to inhabit, and a voice in the governance of Run’cala.”

“There will be a day when all of that has happened, Lady. For now all I can do is discuss your feelings with the quorum when we reconvene in four months.” The Senator held out his hand, signaling the end of the meeting. Zaerial sighed and pulled her hood back over her head, shrouding her face in shadow.

“I am afraid the people of Krosh’in will make their feelings known to Run’cala long bef-”

A blast of wind rushed through the catacombs, shrieking like a phantom as it snuffed every torch. Plunged into darkness, Aedrek quickly fumbled through the pouch on his hip. He brought out a small elixir bottle and drank every drop. The enchantment tasted like rotten fruit. He fought the urge to gag, and waited for the potion to allow his eyes to adjust to the darkness. Almost instantly the unmistakable twang of a bowstring vibrated through the stone hallways. He could hear the man cry out, and Aedrek’s eyes began to see as Senator Pomiedra collapsed forward. The arrow jutted from his upper back like a flagpole. Zaerial had already fled, and Aedrek wondered with cold curiosity if the rebel leader had orchestrated the assassination.

As Aedrek prepared to climb slowly over the skeleton he glanced again at the arrow. A frozen claw seemed to reach into his chest and grab his stomach. The arrow was smoking, evaporating to dust before his eyes in the darkness. It was the same thing he had seen that day in Farrior so long ago. Forgetting himself, Aedrek pushed the skeleton out of the crypt. It fell nearly four feet to the stone floor, clattering loudly as the ancient armor met smooth stone.

“Stop!” Aedrek’s scream seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere. It surprised him because he did not remember shouting. He leapt to the ground and sprinted for the central chamber. It was only thirty yards away, but by the time he arrived the arrow had vanished. A dark red hole remained as the only evidence of the senator’s murder weapon. Aedrek looked quickly in the direction the arrow had come from, but there was nothing. Aedrek had drawn his sword, another thing he did not remember. It was clear someone was moving through the catacombs, but the acoustic walls obscured everything, and his vision was already returning to normal and blinding him to the darkness in the process.

©2012 Patrick Koepke, All Rights Reserved