The Hunter has worn countless faces, played countless roles.
Conqueror. Savior. Assassin. Protector. He is all of them and more…
But one performance for which he is truly ill-suited is that of father.
Particularly to a daughter who seeks to use him only to her own ends, willing to manipulate, deceive, and murder to gain access to the arcane power hidden around Einan by the ancient Serenii.
The Hunter is left no choice in the matter, for hunting Jaia is a foe far more deadly and implacable than any he has faced: the Secret Keepers.
The tongueless alchemists and warrior-priests will stop at nothing until they have their prize. Even if that means leaving a trail of blood and bodies in their wake.
Will the Hunter’s legendary skill suffice to outrun his daughter’s pursuers, or will even his inhuman abilities falter in the face of such overwhelming odds?
The stakes have never been higher—not only for the Hunter, but for everyone he loves.
About the Author
I am, first and foremost, a storyteller and an artist–words are my palette. Fantasy and science fiction are my genres of choice, and I love to explore the darker side of human nature through the filter of heroes, villains, and everything in between. I’m also a freelance writer, a book lover, and a guy who just loves to meet new people and spend hours talking about my fascination for the worlds I encounter in the pages of fantasy and sci-fi novels.
Speculative fiction provides us with an escape, a way to forget about our mundane problems and step into worlds where anything is possible. It transcends age, gender, religion,race, or lifestyle–it is our way of believing what cannot be, delving into the unknowable, and discovering hidden truths about ourselves and our world in a brand new way. Fiction at its very best!
The ambush wasn’t merely ineffective—it was downright laughable.
No doubt the bandits believed themselves concealed by the dense red abyssinia trees that clustered along the narrow trail cutting through the Mekbibya Forest. Far from it, it turned out. Their vibrant-hued cloaks—stolen from some Dalingcebo village to the north, no doubt—visible among the dull ochres, browns, and reds of the underbrush. Their scents, too, gave them away. Not a man among them had washed within a fortnight, according to the Hunter’s nostrils.
Worse, there were ten of them. A paltry number, far too few to pose any true threat to the Hunter. Yet enough that one might get off a lucky strike that injured Kiara or hobbled one of the horses. And with Elivast and Ash already exhausted, he dared not risk it. Keeper take them! The Hunter growled low in his throat. The last thing I need now is having to deal with pissing bandits!
He and Kiara had ridden virtually nonstop for days hunting a demon. But no ordinary demon, this—though only a fool would consider any Abiarazi ordinary. Every one the Hunter had encountered, he’d despised. Creatures of wickedness and cruelty, dominated by their innate lust for power, blood, and death.
Yet this demon the Hunter pursued was a creature so terrible and vile its own fellows had buried it. Condemned to spend eternity trapped in the clutches of an ancient Serenii, locked away where its taint could not pollute the world.
And now the bastard had escaped its shackles, broken loose from the prison that had held it bound for six thousand years. The demon “He Who Is Nameless”—known by the people of Ghandia as Nuru Iwu, and who the Hunter had dubbed the far less unwieldy Nameless—now ran free across Einan. The taint of his evil would soon spread unless the Hunter found and destroyed him once and for all.
Weighed against that evil, bandits ranked terribly bloody low on the Hunter’s list of priorities. Unfortunately, he couldn’t simply avoid them, no matter how much he wanted to. A few minutes’ delay was worth eliminating any risk to Kiara and the horses.
He reined in Elivast and sprang from the saddle before the horse had fully come to a stop.
“What—” Kiara asked, beginning to slow Ash beside him.
“Give me a moment.” The Hunter rolled his eyes. “Got a bit of annoyance to clear out of the way.”
One eyebrow rising, Kiara reached for Deathbite, belted at her hip.
“Nah.” The Hunter waved her away with one hand, tossed Elivast’s reins to her with the other. “I’ve got this.”
Turning, he marched down the narrow, winding forest path in the direction he’d scented the ambush. A cold, hard part of him wanted to prolong the inevitable clash, to vent his frustration on the bandits. For days now, they’d been riding hard and searching for any sign of Nameless. In vain. All their effort had earned him nothing but saddle sores, dust in his mouth, and a mounting sense of worry. His cruel nature—a gift of his Abiarazi forefathers—longed to take out the anger and dread tightening like a crossbow’s string within his gut on the witless fools who’d chosen to accost him.
But did they truly deserve it? The Hunter he’d once been would have scoffed at the question. The mere notion of anything less than total butchery would never have crossed his mind. Now, he was too exasperated and spent to want anything more than to simply be done with it.
“Come on out!” he shouted into the forest. “Let’s not waste our time. I’m not handing over my valuables, so if you want them, you’re going to have to take them from me.”
As he spoke, he drew his sword. Not his sword, not really. He’d taken the Odarian-style kriegsmesser—a curve-bladed, dagger-hilted long sword also called a greatknife—off the corpse of a Vassalage Consortium guard he killed on his return to Khafra. After hours spent cleaning, honing, and oiling the blade, the Hunter had decided it would serve as well as any. It could cut through bandits as easily as slavers. Besides, wielding it would prove far less dangerous to his companions than the Sword of Nasnaz. He dared not untie the cloth bindings or the leather straps securing the magical scimitar to his saddle for fear of its dire effect on his mind.
“As you can see, however,” the Hunter called to the unmoving trees, “I’m not going to go down easy. The best thing for all of us is for you to turn around and walk the bloody hell away. Let us pass unbothered, and none of you need—”
Movement from his right. Something sped toward him, a blur of steel and wood. The Hunter brought the greatknife whipping up and around. Jarring impact shivered down his arm and the sword blade shuddered in his grip as the deflected hunting spear hissed past his head.
Piss on them! No one can say I didn’t give them a chance.
The Hunter charged into the foliage to the right of the forest track, sword leading the way. He reached the first of the bandits in the space of two hammering heartbeats. He thrust straight ahead, skewering the man through one wide eye, then hauled hard on the greatknife to cut through the side of the man’s skull and cleave into the head of the bandit rising at his side. Bone, flesh, and hair parted beneath the Hunter’s blade and the bandit let out a single low wail as he toppled backward. He landed with a soft thump atop a bed of vibrant red fallen leaves and lay there, white matter and crimson gushing from the gaping rent in the side of his head.
The Hunter’s soft-soled boots made barely a sound as he sprinted toward the tree from which the hunting spear had come. The man who’d thrown it stepped out from cover just in time to see him coming. His swarthy face paled in utter shock and horror. Terror held him rooted in place long enough for the Hunter to hack his head from his shoulders. The blow, backed by the Hunter’s powerful Bucelarii muscles, sheared through cartilage, spine, and muscle. Far too easily. The curved blade thunked into the trunk of the tree behind which the man had hidden and buried a hand’s breadth into the wood.
Swordsman take it! The Hunter pulled once, just enough to confirm it was embedded fast.Such a novice mistake was a sure sign of exhaustion and frustration threatened to overtake him. Best get this done and over with quickly, then.
Abandoning his sword, he spun and raced south through the forest, the direction he’d scented a cluster of four bandits close together. He drew a pair of daggers and gripped the long, heavy blades close by his side. A dense spikethorn bush stood between him and the bandits. No doubt they expected it to shield them from his wrath, or present an obstacle they could use to their advantage. Already, they had begun to spread out, as evidenced by the telltale flash of colorful fabrics moving to his right and left.
But the Hunter did the last thing they’d expected: he charged straight on. A single mighty spring of his legs carried him up and over the spikethorn bush and into a diving roll that ended with him on his feet and his blades aimed at the backs of the two slowest bandits. Steel punched through fabric and flesh alike, and when the Hunter pulled his daggers free, blood gushed from severed veins.
The Hunter spun to his right, planted his boot into the backside of the bandit who hadn’t yet realized he would soon be dead from a lacerated kidney, and shoved him into the man a step ahead of him. The two went down in a tangle of limbs and splashing crimson. Swiveling left, the Hunter darted around the staggering, stumbling man bleeding out on the forest floor and slashed the jugular vein of the fourth and final bandit.
Blood misted in the air, spraying hot on his face. The Hunter grimaced but bore it stoically as he raced across the narrow track toward the last three on the opposite side of the path.
The trio of bandits had time enough to see him coming, to register the screams of their dying comrades and the crimson splashing the Hunter’s face, hands, and armor. That sight sufficed to instill terror in them. They, it turned out, had a decent sense of self-preservation. Enough to turn tail and flee into the woods as fast as their feet could carry them.
The Hunter pursued, howling and shrieking, crashing through the bushes as noisily as he could. But only for a few steps. Just long enough to put the fear into their bones. With luck, they wouldn’t stop running until sundown. Time aplenty for the Hunter and Kiara to be long gone.