Author’s note: This is my latest writing project which I am thrilled to share with you all. It is the sequel to Kyrin: Son of a Warrior, which was completed three years ago. This is where I left off. Enjoy. ~The Ghost Writer, 6/1/2016
Kyrin Chronicles Book Two: The Black Hoard
Behold! My tale I tell for all
Young and old, great and small
I speak of realms across the sea
A land of pain and misery
Built on blood and ancient gold
Beating heart of immoral bold
So go! And find what you desire
In the shadow of the watchful fire.
Book One: An Adventure Long Overdue
The island of Werithor lay far out in the Western Sea, weeks away from the sandy coastline which bordered Mossflower Country. Thick forests grew all over the island, covering the landscape in a lush patch of green. Sprouting out from the center of this rocky landmass was a dormant volcano. The mournful mountain towered solemnly over the expansive treeline. From afar, the island resembled a gem floating in the emerald waters; a shining example of rugged, natural beauty unseen, uncharted, and untouched by any creature.
However, this façade quickly faded upon closer inspection, for Werithor served as the headquarters for a vast corsair network responsible for generations of terror up and down Mossflower Country’s western shores. Scores of well-concealed corsair villages were scattered deep within Werithor’s vast forests, linked by the multiple rivers and streams which crisscrossed the interior of the island. Returning crews moored at the island’s single port to resupply at these villages or to drop off their plunder for the reclusive rulers who employed them.
Security was the name of the game at Werithor. Guards diligently patrolled the shores at all hours. Incoming ships were routinely searched down to the last compartment. All residents on the island were subjected to strict curfews which, if disobeyed, meant instant death. The extremely secretive nature in which Werithor’s rulers and corsairs conducted operations meant that Werithor had never appeared in any documents or maps. Its precise location had long been concealed from the rest of the world, and many a crew had perished to keep it that way.
Despite all the rules and regulations, there was never any cause for discontent among the corsairs, themselves further organized into ever-changing fleets and factions. Werithor’s rulers always made sure that those who filled their quotas were handsomely paid in supplies as well as treasure – treasure usually brought back by the corsairs themselves. Therefore, if any talk of dissent or rebellion ever surfaced, the rulers of Werithor would always have an army of eager followers ready to silence the opposition.
Finally, Werithor’s corsairs were not just numerous; they were experienced, professional killers who all knew each other. Captains expanded their fleets through alliance, and the underlings moved up through the ranks by proving themselves on expeditions. Even seasoned corsairs whose ancestors had served the island for generations would often be sent out on long voyages just to test their skill and wits. This kept the ranks clean of the undisciplined rabble that usually scoured the oceans. The ferocity and intelligence of Werithor’s corsairs, whose ships were well-furnished and heavily armed with highly sophisticated weaponry, made them the de facto rulers of the high seas.
These were just a few reasons why Tenzir Bloodblade felt uneasy as he neared the island. Tall and broad-shouldered, with a patch over his left eye, the fire-furred fox was one of Werithor’s finest, most ruthless captains. Other captains both feared and respected him. Younger corsairs wanted to be like him. But even a stoic veteran like Tenzir found it difficult to ignore the growing pit in his stomach as his battered fleet pulled into the harbor, nestled in a large bay on the island’s east side.
The crew grew silent as a shadow cast itself over the ship, and they all stared up at the monolithic fortress looming over them, fear and awe in their eyes. Every single ruler of Werithor had resided here. Built from volcanic stone, which gave the structure a blackened tinge, the complex stood imposingly with its winding battlements, jagged walls, and somber towers, overlooking the harbor, where close to twenty ships were moored.
Somewhere, a large conch horn sounded, signaling that a ship had arrived in the harbor. From the deck of the Bloodblade, the imposing vessel which bore his name, Tenzir watched as a squad of a dozen blue-clad ratguards, fitted with glimmering steel helmets and breastplates emblazoned with the skull-and-trident, assembled the long rotting pier, spears at the ready.
“Rumskull,” Tenzir spoke, not taking his eyes off the pier. His voice had a dull edge to it, like the blade of a rusty knife scraping painfully along stone.
The deck shook as a burly, overweight weasel hurried over to do his master’s bidding. He was dressed in dirty, ragged trousers tied off at the ankles, and his unruly beard glistened with pan grease and fishbones from his last meal. He halted beside Tenzir and threw a salute, scattering barnacles from him as he did. “First mate Rumskull reportin’ fer duty, Cap’n,” he said in a strange voice that sounded like he only breathed helium.
“My cloak,” Tenzir ordered.
“Aye, Cap’n,” Rumskull said, grabbing a crewbeast who was passing by. “You ’eard the Cap’n!” he snarled. “Get ’im ’is cloak!”
The rattled underling scampered off to do Tenzir’s proxy bidding, muttering something about suck-ups and sycophants. Normally, nobeast would put up with somebeast as obnoxious and sniveling as Rumskull, but the weasel possessed a pair of meaty paws the size and consistency of small boulders. Plus, he was Tenzir’s brutal enforcer, and an order from Rumskull was as good as an order from Tenzir, who commanded complete respect from crew.
As Tenzir’s crew moored the ship, the crewbeast Rumskull dispatched earlier returned with a deep-blue cloak, which Rumskull donned on his master. It was required that all corsairs wear blue on Werithor as a sign of loyalty. Though Tenzir detested the color (he preferred, of course, red), he knew he would need it for what he was about to do.
“All set, Cap’n,” came Rumskull’s voice. “Yore ready ter go.”
Ignoring his lackey, Tenzir walked down the ramp his subordinates had laid out for him, adjusting the cloak to his needs. The stupid weasel’s paws, he mused, were much better suited for smashing things.
The squad of ratguards standing on the deck greeted the fox with crossed spears.
“I’m here to see the Emperor,” Tenzir rasped.
“Purpose?” the squad leader inquired.
“Urgent meeting,” snapped Tenzir, neither wanting nor enjoying this conversation.
“After we search yore ship, Cap’n,” the squad leader replied coolly. He then motioned to his compatriots to board the ship. Tenzir had no choice but to wait on the pier, tapping his footpaw nervously beneath his cloak as he stared up at the fortress. Not even he was exempt from the island’s draconian security protocols.
After what seemed like an eternity, the squad emerged from the Bloodblade. “Ship is secure. All protocols ’ave been met,” declared the squad leader. He turned to a pair of guards, who were now awaiting further orders. “Take Cap’n Tenzir up t’ the fortress.”
The two guards nodded wordlessly, escorting Tenzir inland. Following a long trip up a winding set of narrow stone stairs hidden in the cliffs, they reached the palace gates: two giant slabs of carved oak reinforced with steel bindings, on which was emblazoned the same skull-and-trident emblem found on the guards’ uniforms. Tenzir’s lips felt dry; the pit in his stomach never felt as deep as it did now.
The gates stood unguarded, but as the fox and his escorts neared the wall, there was a mechanical groan, and the gates swung inward by themselves.
Tenzir entered first, flanked by the two ratguards. All around him, on the high ramparts, guards stopped what they were doing to stare at the imposing captain and speculate at his sudden, unannounced arrival. They entered the palace, climbing several floors before they reached the top, where the throne room was located behind a set of doors, fitted with gilded knockers shaped like twin wildcat heads.
One of the escorts approached the foreboding doors that stood between Tenzir and the throne room. Reluctantly, he raised a paw to one of the knockers and knocked three times.
“Enter!” came a harsh voice from within.
The ratguard opened the door for Tenzir, mouthing “Good luck, Cap’n” before hastily retreating down the winding halls and stairs with his compatriot, leaving Tenzir on his own.
The throne room was large but bare, with a tall ceiling that amplified the sound of every step that Tenzir took. Polished marble tiles covered every square inch of the floor. Life-sized portraits of Werithor’s past rulers, immaculately dressed and valiantly posed, hung on both of the side walls, flanking the of the raised throne, illuminated only by light coming through the window behind it.
Tenzir approached and got down on one knee – the traditional Werithese gesture of respect. “I have returned, my king,” he said, with his head bowed.
“You know I don’t take audiences at this time of day, Captain,” the figure sitting on the throne said darkly, his voice carrying through the large hall. Tenzir kept his head bowed as Valroth, the ruler of Werithor, rose from his seat and descended the marble steps, meeting his subject at the bottom. He was old, evidenced by his graying whiskers and fur, but Valroth showed no signs of fading vitality otherwise. A powerful, muscular wildcat, Valroth stood a full head taller than Tenzir. The flowing blue cloak that he wore was bordered by tiny gems sewed into the lining. On the wildcat’s head sat a glimmering crown studded with sapphires, emeralds, and other precious stones.
“Tell me, Tenzir,” Valroth purred in smooth but foreboding voice that, like his body, still held the menacing imperiousness of his forefathers, “Why are you back so soon?”
“My lord, we made it as far as Salamandastron, in search of the escaped slave,” confessed Tenzir.
Valroth folded his arms, his voice dangerously level. “And I’m guessing you didn’t find him.”
Tenzir seemed to wince, as if a painful blow had just struck him. “We were not even able to land our troops, my lord. They…they are building a navy…a fleet of ten ships. These ships are incomplete and not ready to sail, but they have already been fitted with weapons.”
“A navy, you say?” Valroth inquired, deep in thought.
“They fired upon us, my lord.” Tenzir said. “There were hares stationed on the ship and they fired upon us, sinking one of our ships. Scores of us were wounded. There was no way we could land.”
“So you ran back here with your tails between your legs?” Valroth asked, his paw straying beneath his cloak toward the jeweled dagger at his waist.
This time, Tenzir looked up, and his eyes were blazing with fury. “No, my lord. I am requesting permission to launch an invasion of that mountain.”
Valroth scoffed, his paw not leaving his weapon. “Why? So you can lead more of my corsairs to their deaths?”
“No, my lord,” Tenzir replied, “If those hares are defending the mountain so vigorously, then the slave must be in the mountain, being cared for and fed by the Long Patrol while they extract every last drop of information on our island to him. They’ll know where all these corsair attacks have been coming from, and once the Long Patrol has a navy, they’ll be coming right for Werithor.”
Valroth considered this for a moment, though he did not show it. Despite his failure, the fox had a point, and was probably onto something.
Tenzir must have picked up on the wildcat’s thoughts, because he looked Valroth in the eye bravely. “I ask to lead an army against Salamandastron and finish what I started. With enough beasts and ships that island will fall. Werithor will remain safe, as it always has.”
After a moment of crippling silence, Valroth spoke his verdict. “You’d better find that slave, fox, or your corpse will be thrown to the gulls. Now get out of my sight.”
Tenzir bowed low. “I live only to serve Werithor!”
And then he was gone, leaving Valroth alone in the cavernous chamber. Worry plagued the wildcat’s mind. The kingdom he had inherited long ago from his predecessor had been one of stagnation. Days passed slowly here. Nothing ever changed.
Nothing was supposed to.
The wildcat paced the floor of his quarters, stopping only to gaze at his reflection in the polished marble tiles. This couldn’t be happening; not now.
For over sixty seasons Valroth had sat on Werithor’s throne. The kingdom, ruled by a long line of wildcats, gained its prosperity plundering the settlements on the western coast of Mossflower Country, gathering up wealth in the form of gold and slaves. The corsairs did the dirty work. All the wildcats had to do was to organize the raids, maintain order, and keep their Captains in line.
“Is there a problem, O Exalted One?”
Valroth knew the voice. It was Nadira, his seer and advisor. The bent old vixen was the only creature the wildcat felt he could entrust his personal thoughts to. But Valroth, in his old age, had grown convinced of his own invulnerability. This, coupled with lust for gold, forced the wildcat into a brooding, solitary existence.
“Come out of the shadows where I can see you, vixen,” Valroth commanded.
“I sensed that you were feeling worried, O Great One,” Nadira said, slinking soundlessly across the tiles and into view. “You need not trouble yourself. Your corsairs have the matter all under control.”
“This cannot be,” Valroth growled, his blue robes tracing the floor as he started to pace again. “No slave has ever escaped the island.”
“He could not have gone far, Your Highness,” Nadira hissed. “Either the corsairs you have had patrolling the seas and islands will find him, or he will perish without ever laying eyes on land.”
Valroth waved a meaty paw dismissively. “Enough with the titles, seer. He’s gone, and I have to find him before the world finds out we exist. Why are you really here? I specifically issued orders not to be disturbed during this hour, so choose your next words carefully.”
Nadira bowed low. “Your Majesty, I, and those before me, have lived to serve the line of Werithor,” she said soothingly. After a pause, she continued. “Er…there is one problem though…”
“Spit it out, vixen,” Valroth growled, “before I pull the words out of you myself.”
“Through the casting of my shells and careful observation of the stars, I have predicted that this volcano – the symbol of your power – is about to erupt in precisely sixty days.” Nadira announced. “Now, you have ample time to move your troops and treasure to a different island…”
Valroth’s voice was dangerously low. “Are you threatening me, Nadira?”
Knowing better than to anger the dangerous wildcat, Nadira bowed low submissively. “I am merely suggesting, my lord, for your safety and for others – ”
Valroth scowled. “Werithor is already going through enough change as it is. One of my slaves has escaped the compound and now this – ”
“The volcano will erupt, Excellency,” Nadira reasoned. “The shells do not lie.”
“You and your shells,” Valroth snarled venomously.
“Have you considered relocating to Thrune?” Nadira suggested, ignoring the aging wildcat.
“Why would I waste any time there?” Valroth asked, examining a claw yellowed with age.
“So you can conquer that old kingdom and complete the work of your forefathers,” the vixen answered.
“I don’t care about that wasteland!” Valroth spat, and his face was suddenly contorted with fury. “That place has nothing! My forefathers have robbed it dry, and as far as I’m concerned, their work is done.” And then, he stalked back over to his throne – a tall chair carved out of the finest cherrywood – and sat down bad-temperedly. “I am without mate or heir. My only job is to keep this kingdom going, and I am not leaving this spot.”
The wildcat leaned forward, hatred brimming in his wicked yellow eyes. “Do I make myself clear, fox?”
Nadira bowed low.
“Perfectly, Your Greatness.”
And with that, she vanished out the door, like a wraith in the fog, once again leaving Valroth to stew in his own thoughts. Salamandastron. That word brought both fear and revulsion to Valroth’s stomach. Salamandastron. That fortified volcano guarded by hundreds of fierce hares called the Long Patrol, led by the revered Badger Lords. Salamandastron. That annoyingly noble organization which patrolled the Western dunes and beaches, protecting the settlements from his corsairs. Salamandastron. The jeers and laughs of the enemy seemed to hang in the air whenever his fleets limped into the harbor from a failed raid, battered and broken.
Valroth’s claws ground into the wood of his throne.
That’s where the real prize was. No more raiding merchant ships and pithy desert villages. There was untold wealth in that mountain which stretched back to times much, much earlier than Werithor. If he could knock out those pesky hares, Valroth could build an empire stretching far into Mossflower Country.
The wildcat stood up, admiring the portraits of Werithor’s past rulers. One day, Valroth would be up there with them, known across land and sea as the greatest ruler anybeast would ever know.
Daylight brought a clear sky above Werithor. Gulls screeched overhead, scavenging for their first meal of the day. Not a single cloud was visible for miles, and the sun shone brightly, bouncing off the gleaming waves.
Inside the fortress, however, was a different story.
Large conch horns had sounded the wake-up alarm, and the corsairs patrolling the island sprung awake and were scampering about their daily business.
In one of the corners of the sprawling palace grounds was a slave compound, which consisted of long, identical wooden cabins in which the slaves slept. There were no windows, and the single entrance to each one was guarded by a pair of thuggish slavedrivers.
It had been three weeks to the day since Tenzir Bloodblade left the island. Yet for these slaves, it could have been three seasons – three generations, even – and nobeast would have known the difference.
Ingle the ottermaid rubbed her eyes and yawned at the sound of the first horn. Blearily, she rolled out of bed, scratching at her body under her itchy clothing, which resembled at this point a ragged burlap sack than a tunic.
The slaves slept along the length of the longhouse, one row on either side. Breathing in the fetid air (there was no sanitation, though some thoughtful individual had scraped a hole in the ground in the far corner), the ottermaid shifted her body to the left, where her best friend, a mousemaid named Haida, slept.
“Haida,” Ingle whispered firmly, rubbing her slumbering friend’s body. “Haida, wake up.”
The dangerously thin mousemaid sat up, groaning as she rubbed her eyes and mumbling, “Mmf, why y’gorra wake me up at dis ’ourr?”
Ingle smiled sympathetically. “Hurry,” she whispered. “You don’t want the guards catching you like this. C’mon. Chin up, full alert. Just like any other day.” As she spoke, she patted her friend’s cheek gently.
“Ugh, ‘chin up, full alert,’” Haida groused as she shoved the ottermaid’s paw away roughly, “Easy for you to say. You sweep floors and polish chairs in the palace. Some of us have to mine stone from the mountain, you know.”
“I’m sorry,” Ingle mumbled timidly, as the other slaves started to rise. “I just wanted to say good morning.”
Haida mumbled something in response as the door burst open. The slaves squinted at the oppressive light. In the doorway stood a stoat and several ratguards who held the long slave shackles in their paws.
“Awright, you lot! Get on yer paws. Inspection formation, let’s go!” yelled the stoat harshly. His name was Dirgetooth, possibly the most hated slave driver of them all. In the last week alone, two slaves had died from his abuse.
Dirgetooth turned the rats. “You three, get those shackles on those slaves, sharpish.”
Ingle felt cold metal clamp down around her wrists and ankles. She tried to avoid eye contact with the rat who was applying the device. Unfortunately, she accidentally glanced at him.
“Wot’re you lookin’ at, streamdog?” the rat snarled, giving Ingle a venomous glare with his one functional eye.
Ingle said nothing and looked away, her cheeks burning and her heart beating fearfully inside her chest.
Dirgetooth cracked his whip to show everybeast who ran the show around here. “Right, then!” he began, as he paced around the room. “Same thing as usual! Ships need t’ be fixed up! Our Cap’n’s ’ave worked hard plunderin’ an’ raidin’ so you lot could ’ave a proper job t’ do! Hulls need resealin’! Interiors need paintin’ over! New sails! New ropes! Those ships are ready t’ sail by next dawn! I’ll be watchin’ you lot as you work, an’ if I find so much as one paint chip come sunset…”
Dirgetooth paused his speech and leaned close to Haida, who winced as the slavedriver bared his crooked rotting teeth, “… then I’ll flay ye alive with this whip!” he roared. He chuckled evilly as Haida kept her eyes glued to the ground, trembling slightly.
A shrewslave from the other side of the room named Jago had the nerve to speak. “Hey, leave her alone, you scumbag!” he cried valiantly.
Dirgetooth spun around, his whip at the ready. He was all too familiar with that voice: Jago was a fun creature to beat up because he never knew when to shut up. Walking over to Jago, who stared up at him defiantly, Dirgetooth pawed at his own ear. “I didn’t quite hear you there, shrew,” he said, a hint of venom under his voice. “Say that again, an’ louder.”
Jago scarcely had time to open his mouth as Dirgetooth landed a kick square to his snout. There was a collective yelp of surprise as the shrew fell back, pulling the chain and yanking several slaves down with him.
“You just cost this entire compound its one meal of th’ day, ye miserable worm,” Dirgetooth snarled, grinning evilly. Jago glared back, blood trickling out of the corner of his mouth and onto his frayed tunic. A concerted groan rose from the slaves.
The shrew spat out a tooth. “The minute you take these chains off, yore a deadbeast!” he growled.
Dirgetooth scoffed as the slaves he had knocked down extricated themselves from the tangle and got back on their footpaws. “Alright, alright, fun’s over. You lot, wot are you laughin’ at, eh? Get these beasts out of here!”
The rats started to escort the slaves outside. “Not you!” Dirgetooth growled, and Ingle knew who he was talking to. Every morning it seemed that the cruel slavemaster would forget that she was responsible for serving inside the fortress.
“Stop! Unchain that otterslave and bring her to the palace,” Dirgetooth ordered.
Ingle glanced up at Haida as a rat unshackled her from her friend and led her away from the others, up toward the fortress.
“Have fun polishing suits of armor,” Haida muttered, eyeing Ingle resentfully. The ottermaid said nothing. At that moment, she dearly wished she could be with her friend. Maybe then Haida wouldn’t be so grouchy.
Any further thoughts the ottermaid may have had were dashed as the rat guarding her prodded her from behind with the butt of his spear. “C’mon, move yer lazy hide. We’re not payin’ yew ter daydream. Come ter think of it, wese ain’t payin’ yew at all!” ...