The Sceptre of Samnos

At the end of the third Shadowwar, the forces of evil were defeated so thoroughly, so completely, that no-one thought they would ever threaten civilisation again, but they were wrong. Terribly, disastrously wrong...

Here is an extract from The Sceptre of Samnos.

     The land was stained with blood.

     Mostly it was an illusion caused by the two red suns which cast their ruddy light across ruined buildings and weed choked streets, but some of the blood was real, spilled from the bodies of nearly a hundred mercenary soldiers. Shologs howled with delight as they tore flesh from the dismembered limbs, driven to an orgy of bestial bloodlust at the first clean, healthy meat they'd eaten for several months. Even those that had suffered injuries in the battle showed no sign of pain as they tore armour and clothing from the bodies of the human soldiers, and the smell of blood was bringing hundreds more into the half ruined, litter strewn town square where they fought one another with claws and tusks for their share of the feast.

     The human shadowsoldiers were technically allies of the shologs, but it was a forced alliance, made possible only by the power of the creature they all served. They watched in awe and fear and crept into the shadows of the surrounding buildings, knowing full well that once the bloodlust of the shologs had been aroused they lost almost all ability to tell friend from foe. This was a display beyond anything they'd ever seen before, the result of the dreary monotony of the mustering. It had been months since any of them had last enjoyed a really good fight or eaten good, clean flesh, and all the promises of battles and campaigns to come had done nothing to ease their mounting irritation at endless weeks of inactivity. They were creatures of violence, drawn from the Copper Mountains in answer to the Shadowlord's call, the promise of blood and battle, but the only battles they'd found since arriving had been the endless wargames, pretend battles that only whetted their appetite for the real thing. Had they still been free they would long since have left in disgust, but it was too late. Having come, they were now trapped by the power of the Bone Prince, his to command for as long as they lived, and they could only kick their heels in helpless frustration.

     But then the small human army had turned up, and the shologs had leapt upon them in wild jubilation, screaming with savage delight as they swung their weapons with no thought but to service their racial addiction for spilled blood. The humans never stood a chance, and the battle, if such an unequal affair could be dignified with the word, had lasted only a couple of minutes before the last man fell before the tidal wave of hairy brown flesh.

     The shologs moved reluctantly aside as the rak arrived, a creature that even they feared, several of them dropping half chewed limbs as if in sudden shame, realising too late that dismembering the corpses made it impossible to bring them back as zombies. Flanked by Captains and lesser officers, the rak brought its almost totally skeletal undead horse alongside the cart, and the living horses that pulled it rolled their eyes and tried to pull away in terror. The ogres holding their reins had to exert all their strength to hold them in place and stop them from bolting.

     The rak dismounted, and the aura of soulfreezing cold that surrounded it frosted the weeds under its feet so that they crunched under his tread like needles of glass. It stood where it was for a moment, gazing around at the scene, and the shologs saw two glimmers of light shining under the darkness of the cowl that covered its head. They muttered to themselves unhappily. Fear was not an emotion they were accustomed to.

     The rak examined the corpses closely, being able to see them perfectly despite the gloomy darkness that covered the land. It noted the mercenary uniforms, quite different from the regular army uniforms worn by the soldiers of the countries they were preparing to invade, and it noted the well maintained condition of their weapons, picking up a sword, feeling its edge with a shrunken, clawlike hand and observing the way the light of the two sickly red suns gleamed on the polished blade of real steel. These were no cheap hirelings. They were, or had been, a well trained, well equipped private army. Why had they come here, to their certain deaths?

     "There was a wizard with them," said one of the Captains, a human whose rank was signified by the curving rams horns on his helmet. He'd been speaking with the garrison commanders and now returned to report to his master. "He escaped."

     "Find him," hissed the rak, the gleaming points of light that served him as eyes burning brighter with anger. "I want answers."

     "I think we have them," said the Captain. "They did not come here to fight, they came to steal something, an object held but not reported by Garrock, the commander here. They hoped to creep in, seize it and leave unseen, but they were disturbed by the guards and the alarm raised."

     "The object?"

     "A yellow jewel, shaped like a human eye. It apparently had some kind of power..."

     The rak hissed through its teeth, a sound that froze the Captain with terror. "The wizard escaped with this jewel?"

     "It, it has not been found, and Garrock has been found dead. We have to assume that the wizard has it. Master, do you know of this jewel? Do you know what it is, what it does?"

     "It is not what it does, it is what it means. They are aware that we are preparing for war."

     "Our spies in their cities report otherwise, that they are totally complacent..."

     "But some suspect. A few individuals brighter than the rest, able to see the signs. Make no mistake, Gavon. No matter how careful we are, there are signs that those with eyes can see, and the leader of these men, this wizard who escaped, is one such. I want him caught. So long as he lives he is a danger to us. Send out every available man, fill the land with hunters. I want him caught."

     "I have an idea who he may have been," said one of the other officers, coming forward. He was one of those whom the Shadowlord's new deputy had sent out into surrounding countries, to listen to gossip and infiltrate the corridors of power to make sure they remained unsuspecting. "If I'm right, he's been trying to warn the Emperor for years that we're preparing for war, but no-one listens to him. I don't think we have anything to fear from him."

     "I hope you are right," said the rak, "but so long as he has that jewel he is a threat to us."

     "Why?" asked the Captain. "What can it do?"

     "That is no business of yours!" hissed the rak, and the two living men drew back in fear. "I want him caught, Gavon, and I want that jewel. Fail me and I will have your soul."

     Gavon paled, knowing this was no idle threat. "I will not fail you, my master!" he swore, and then began giving frantic orders to the shologs while, behind him, the rak returned to his undead horse, mounted up and rode it back the way he had come. A few minutes later the shologs streamed out of the town, eager to fight and kill another enemy, eager for more sport, and Gavon rode with them, knowing that if the wizard got away there would be no escape for him, not even if he made his way to the other side of the world. Better to fall on his sword than let the wizard escape! At least that way his soul would escape. To be damned, of course, but even damnation would be better than what the rak would do to him if he came back empty handed. "Find him!" he shouted, therefore. "He can't have gotten far! A purse of gold to whoever brings me his body and the yellow jewel he carries!" The shologs needed no extra incentive, however, and the air was filled with their roars of bestial excitement as they searched the ground for signs of his passage or just ran in the only direction he could have gone, back towards the lands of light and life, the lands where happy, normal people still lived their happy, normal lives, blissfully unaware of the gathering storm that was soon to sweep away everything that they held dear.