Author: Shane L. Coffey
Excerpt Heat Level: 1
Book Heat Level: 3
Joseph and the Windriders must face ancient evil and the flames of war in this epic conclusion to The Spirit of the Trees.
After months uprooted, the survivors of the Windrider clan have a home, a new village built under the guidance of Joseph, their human saviour and friend. Alas, peace is not to last as new dangers appear - unknown beasts savaging the woods and rumour of war stirring in the north. If they are to survive, all Joseph’s courage and the Windriders’ unity will be tested to their limits.
The tale of Joseph, the Spirit of the Trees, concludes in this ultimate clash between old friends and older enemies. Joseph claimed his Identity and joined a Community, but will even these be enough to survive this Calamity?
Joseph’s second day of travel from Glowing Rocks was nearing its end when Dorav came upon a side passage that would lead them through the rear entrance to the chamber of the Well. This was the same entrance they had used last fall to take the Baron by surprise. Another hour they pressed on until finally Dorav signaled that the door was just ahead, around two more bends in the tunnel. Joseph took stock of the band. The hret-dialt were beginning to fray around the edges, and Ten’marden was now shivering with fever, though he had kept the pace during the march.
Fifty yards ahead they crept, Dorav and Joseph going in front and peering around the corner while the hret-dialt protected the party’s rear. As soon as the human and dwarf poked their heads around the bend in the tunnel, it was clear something was wrong. At the next bend some hundred yards distant, instead of a murky tunnel lit only by the steady blue-green radiance of Dorav’s bowls of lichen, the walls reflected an orange, flickering firelight. Confirming the immediate stretch of tunnel was clear, Joseph motioned the rest of the party forward as he and Dorav continued on to the next bend.
Looking around this next, and final, corner, Joseph’s fears were confirmed. The rearward door to the Well stood wide open, and the Baron stood on the other side of the yawning pit, looking at the open doorway as if expecting someone to appear, his one-eyed gaze fixed on he and Dorav’s position. Aside from the patch over his eye, the rest of Turov’s features were now restored, the scar tissue and missing hair replaced by the face he had worn in life.
Suddenly the ground shook, and Joseph heard cries from the rest of the party behind them. A deep cracking sound echoed overhead, and Dorav threw Joseph forward only just in time to avoid the slab of rock that crashed down from the tunnel ceiling. Around them, the rest of the band was likewise issuing into the chamber as rock and dust cascaded from above them, choking the rear tunnel within moments.
“Your arrival is well timed,” the Baron announced. “The rituals are all but complete, and the master’s heart needs but one thing to be reunited with him.”
Joseph pressed off the stone floor, moving from a prone position to a crouch, his weight on the balls of his feet and ready to shift. As he moved, he saw the stone heart sitting at Turov’s feet, still pulsing with an internal glow. The Baron had ended his statement with a pregnant pause, but Joseph wasn’t about to give him the satisfaction of asking him to continue. He looked to the left, where the rest of his companions were scattered. Ten’marden inched toward Joseph, but Tes’sael was leading the others around the rim of the Well, trying to flank the Baron. The main, and now only, entrance to the chamber was in the same direction, which Joseph thought was fortunate, the need for flight being far more likely than any opportunity to attack.
“You see,” the Baron continued, “those who have grown wise in the deeper ways of the world understand that there has ever been but one true currency. So it is today and ever shall be. Only one commodity is placed above price by mortals, and thus is it the only coin worthy of commerce: Life.”
Baron Turov glared at Joseph with his single eye, and Joseph couldn’t help but lock with it. Even over the hundred feet of the Well between them, the hunter felt suddenly sick. He had never struggled with heights, spending most of his youth and adulthood climbing up and between trees, but in that moment he thought he understood the queasy dizziness of people who did, the inexplicable sense of falling even though his feet were braced on solid stone. Though he was ignorant of such things, he felt sure this was no spell; it was the result of seeing into the depths of a dead man’s eye.
Joseph clenched his jaw and took a slow breath through his nose, steeling body and mind for whatever assault was sure to come. The hunter caught a flash of movement out of the corner of his left eye, then everything happened at once.
The Baron flicked his hand out toward Joseph, and a bolt of crackling darkness sprang forth from the stone heart and headed straight for him. Tes’sael and the elves nocked arrows and shot with lighting speed. Dorav threw something, and in a dim corner of Joseph’s mind he was aware it was his blast rope still in a coil, with one end burning. Joseph lunged to his right, but the dark energy arced in midflight, continuing its bearing toward him. The elves’ arrows struck home, piercing the Baron and driving him a step to Joseph’s right. The blast rope landed between the Baron and the stone heart. Joseph, horrified that the bolt of darkness seemed to be following him, reared back in surprise, rising from his crouch into a half-standing, half-stumbling posture. Suddenly, Ten’marden slammed into Joseph, bowling him out of the way with his shoulder. Had they been of like size, perhaps his momentum would have continued and carried him clear, but knocking the larger human aside left him hanging with his back to the Baron and directly in the dark bolt’s path. Joseph watched the energy strike the elf and lift him from the ground, a white light coursing back up the bolt’s path to the stone heart. The hunter could see in Ten’marden’s eyes a blankness he had scarcely seen since the war. All life had left him in an instant. The Baron howled in frustration at the sudden change in his sacrifice as he stepped toward the blast rope, poised to kick it into the Well.
The rope exploded. As Dorav had predicted, it was not the staggering blast the powder keg had yielded, but it was enough to fling Baron Turov back against the nearest wall. The pressure of the explosion hit the stone heart and moved it, half-sliding half-rolling, to the very brink of the Well. It teetered crazily on the edge for a moment. Joseph scrabbled for his bow, but Tes’sael was already shooting, hitting the dense stone once, twice, thrice in rapid succession. Then it was too late. The stone was too heavy, and Tes’sael’s angle too shallow. The heart slid off the ledge and fell.
fantasy, ranger, elf, magic, adventure
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