Brody Bedlam, immortal source of chaos, has taken over the crime network of the oldest city in the nation, holding the mayor in his pocket and the citizens in fear. Rayph and his Manhunters move to usurp him, but the street war brings casualties Rayph cannot justify. With his crew unraveling and pressure mounting from the unsatisfied king, will this mission be Rayph’s end?
Rayph stared at the most terrifying building in the whole of Lorinth. He turned to Smear and Trysliana. “He is in there, and we are going to get him out.” His anger ruptured and ran like an infected wound, filling his heart and edging him ever closer to his temper snapping and his mind letting loose of all the power at his command.
“There will be many people in our path,” Trysliana said. “This is going to get bloody.”
“How are we going to deal with the soldiers in there and the apothecaries?” Smear added.
“We are going to kill them all,” Rayph growled.
“Well, we can’t do that,” Smear said.
“Then go home. Go back to Ironfall and the Stalwart Dreark abandoned. Go back to your ranch and the cheese. Go back to—”
“Watch who you are talking to, Rayph. That was not fair,” Smear said.
“I’m going in,” Rayph said. “Follow me or go home.”
Rayph took one last look at the Crown and fought back the shudder that threatened to overtake him. Prison, asylum, hospital, and harborer of the darkness of Lorinth, in this place Phomax had hidden all his terrible secrets. This was the dark heart of the nation. Here, hunkered into the shadows of the building, hid those still loyal to the dead king. Still, they did his work, and they had one of Rayph’s friends.
Rayph spoke a word, and the air above his hand ripped open. He whistled and a pocket of air beside him spat out a creature of stone. It was canine in shape and bore little resemblance to a dog, save its body and its stone jaws. It snapped its maw shut, and Rayph stepped forward. His hound howled, and he jumped the high wall to the Crown and landed in the courtyard.
A blaring alarm ripped out over the air and doors shot open all over the building, purging soldiers like a sick beast vomiting filth. Rayph pointed at the main door, and his hound burst forth in a run. Its stone paws tore up flagstones as it ran. An instant before it collided with the door, it lowered its head to strike with the flat of its skull. The door rattled on its hinges and the wood split. Rayph turned to face the coming onslaught, grinning as two figures leapt from beyond the wall and clung to the structure with all four limbs. Smear and Trysliana crawled the towers like insects invading a corpse. Rayph spun, letting loose his first wave of terror.
He waved a hand in the direction of the coming surge and, with a word, their flesh ripped and tore into shreds of blood and muscle. The rest of the soldiers pulled back, and Rayph spun from his macabre spectacle to address them all.
“Your judgment has come for you. Too long have you preyed on the downtrodden and the sick. This place, I condemn for treachery. Drop to your knees and lay your weapons at your feet, or I will crush you all to bone and tendon.”
Every man of them dropped. Rayph held a hand up, and their weapons lifted into the air to collide with his hand. He held them all, a hundred or more weapons attracted to his hand like a great magnet before he swung his hand behind him and tossed the arsenal away and out of reach of the soldiers.
He spoke a word and stone hands erupted to grip all their thighs, pinning them to the ground. He turned to his hound. The beast nearly had the door open. Rayph passed the defeated men and climbed the stairs to the main door, tapping the fetish on his chest to communicate with his crew.
“How is it progressing?” he asked.
“I have three of my scanners placed,” Trysliana replied.
“Four more to go,” Smear added.
“We will know where they have him soon,” Trysliana said.
“Good,” Rayph said, his hand gripping the fetish. “I’m almost in.”
“Rayph,” Smear said.
“Mercy is a virtue to rise to.”
“I will exercise mercy when I have Cosmo back. Until then, I know only wrath.” The door split right down the middle, falling into two halves and booming through the entire courtyard. Rayph stepped into the Crown, his sword high, his hound gnashing beside him.
Rayph met all aggressors with fire and steel. His spells were muted here. His potency curbed to light magic and lesser powers. Truly devastating spells dissipated in the air as he fought to cast them, but he had a few powerful items at his command. He reached the bottom of a long row of twisting staircases, and he stopped. Seven staircases squirmed before him like a set of stone serpents, each rising to a different tower, each of differing ages and stabilities. Rayph knew not which rise to take, so he waited. The alarm screamed, more and more soldiers rushing to meet him. He patted his hound, and the next wave of enemies hit him. He cast as they collided with him, and an invisible wall sprang out in both directions, leaving a thin narrow corridor for them to get through. He stood in the breach, chopping and firing until Smear sounded off in his head.
“He is in the decrepit tower, the Stone Snake. You must be careful, Rayph. It is falling apart.”
“Meet me there. Trysliana, find me an escape point. Set the charges and get out of the way. I’m headed to the Viper.”
He tossed his sword and the air zipped closed around it. He spoke a word, his bow dropping into his hands. He pulled at a pocket of air above his shoulder and drew a long arrow boasting an ivory-colored fist where an arrowhead should have been. He pointed it at the most degraded of the flights of stairs and grinned when the fist opened and gripped the stone. A flaming cord trailed from the arrow’s wake. Rayph gripped it tight and spoke a word. The flaming cord pulled tight, and Rayph flew into the air. He screamed out to his hound to keep fighting. He whipped through the air until he reached the doorway at the top of the stairs leading to the Stone Snake. He entered the darkness and stowed his bow, calling once again for his sword and enjoying the way it felt in his grip. He stepped onto the staircase that would take him to the top of the tower, bracing himself for the climb.
From: Crown, The Manhunters Book Three
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About the Author:
Jesse Teller fell in love with fantasy when he was five years old and played his first game of Dungeons & Dragons. The game gave him the ability to create stories and characters from a young age. He started consuming fantasy in every form and, by nine, was obsessed with the genre. As a young adult, he knew he wanted to make his life about fantasy. From exploring the relationship between man and woman, to studying the qualities of a leader or a tyrant, Jesse Teller uses his stories and settings to study real-world themes and issues. He lives with his supportive wife, Rebekah, and his two inspiring children, Rayph and Tobin.