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Tombs Of Bahbala
The Demon Hunterís Apprentice - Book Two
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ISBN-10: 1-55404-795-1
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Fantasy/SF/Dark Fantasy
eBook Length: 175 Pages
Published: December 2010



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Total Readers: 1

From inside the flap

Leaving Chapelís Rest and the port of Albora behind, Liam Gulban sets sail for the ice-choked city of Bahbala in hopes of finding his missing mentor, Cain Stoddard. On board the imperial warship Vindicator, the demon hunter wrestles with his own demons as the ship sails the black waters of the Sounding Sea.

In Bahbala, Liam will encounter terrible old friends, brainwashed villagers, bloodthirsty druids, and at least one grisly horror, the likes of which the world has never seen. Perceptions will be shattered, dark fears will be confirmed, and wicked terrors will be uncovered in the TOMBS OF BAHBALA.

Tombs Of Bahbala (Excerpt)


CHAPTER ONE

THE MOON STARED down at the Vindicator from a lonely, cloudless sky. Sharing that abandoned sentiment was the Sounding Sea. It whispered its lonesome pentameter against the gigantic warshipís hull.

It was a desolate, uncharacteristically thoughtful night, even for Liam Gulban. He stood silently and soberly just outside of his cabin door, on what the Vindicatorís personnel called the cradle deck, where all of the crewís quarters, kitchens, mess halls, and living areas were located. His deep brown eyes, devoid of their normal glimmer of roguish mischief, were troubled and faraway.

Haunted thoughts prowled his mind as he cursed the windless night, for the incidents of Chapelís Rest sailed with him, whether he wanted them to or not. Sure, he had known victory there, but it was the bitterest victory that he had known.

"I went looking for Cain," he said to himself, leaning against the stout black rail that ran the length of the cradle deck. "And I lost Emma instead."

Emma. Beautiful, golden-haired Emma, with her fluid grace and icy eyes. The druids had called her Willow Switch, hadnít they?

"Willow Switch," Liam said, his mouth relenting to the littlest of smiles.

He peered up at the crater-pocked face of the moon, wondering if somewhere, out in the great vastness of Aerta, Emma was looking up at it too.

"Liam," a womanís voice called out from behind his cabin door.

Startled by the sound, Liam spun. He half expected to find Emma Feight standing there in the dark, ready to plunge a keen dagger into his heart. His eyes widened as he turned. Reaching for his sword, he discovered to his horror that it wasnít there.

When Liam saw nothing but his closed chamber door behind him, he let out a ragged breath. Of course my swordís not there, he thought. Itís whatís speaking to me.

"Liam," the womanís voice echoed through the wooden door for a second time. "Liam, do you want to talk?"

"Diasha," Liam mouthed. He reached out and turned the doorknob, opening his cabin door with a nearly inaudible click. He walked back into his cramped quarters.

"Are you all right?" Diashaís voice asked.

"Do I seem all right to you?" Liam said. "Iím jumping at shadows out there."

"Whatís troubling you, then, Champion of Aerta?" Diasha asked. Her voice drifted up from the sword known as the Heart of Diasha. The goddess had given the sword to Liam in Chapelís Rest, and he had used it to defeat Samyazaís werebeast.

"What isnít troubling me?" Liam replied, closing the cabin door behind him.

If he was honest with himself, he would have realized that Emma and Cain and Chapelís Rest werenít the only things troubling him. His relationship with Fynn Danies haunted him, too. More than anyone else, he missed the beautiful archer most of all, with her raven hair. To be in her arms for just one more night, or to see her nibble nervously at her bottom lip just one more time-Liam would have traded anything.

His heart ached for her, but an entire sea separated them. By now, sheíd probably be nearing her home in Pax Imperium. She and her sister, Sarai, had family there. Perhaps that was for the best; but it didnít feel that way at all.

"Truthfully, Liam," the Heart of Diasha, his sword-with-the-goddessís voice, said. "What is it?"

Liam thought about Fynn some more. He remembered the smell of her skin that stormy night in her tent, when theyíd both drunk too much wine and had abandoned their inhibitions and all of their clothes.

"I miss her, Diasha," Liam replied at last. His eyes glistened a little. "I miss Fynn. Iíve never really felt like this before," he said.

"Like what?" the sword asked.

"Alone, I guess."

"Ah. Alone," the sword echoed. "Being a god, I donít often have the opportunity."

"Yeah. You canít possibly understand. Iím ... Iím just being stupid," Liam said, trying to shrug off the hurt like a wet blanket.

"You arenít being stupid. Youíre in love, or something like it, and love is never stupid," Diasha replied thoughtfully. "Thatís why itís one of my favorite inventions."

Liam thumbed tears from his eyes and took a deep breath, chastising himself for nearly blubbering like a child. "Youíre responsible for love?" he asked.

"Not entirely, but Iím behind a good deal of it," Diasha replied.

"Well, you made it hurt pretty good."

"If it didnít hurt, then it wouldnít sing, Liam Gulban," Diasha replied.

Liam sighed at Diashaís poetic turn of phrase, and sat on his hard bed. A single candle lit his cabin, its tongue licking at the air. The room was the definition of austere. Its military angles and savage cleanliness were almost frighteningly orderly, and the air smelled not of the sea, but of some kind of harsh cleaning solvent that stank of ammonia.

"Stifling in here," Liam said. "I canít breathe with all this ... bland around."

"It has an orderly charm that I can appreciate," Diasha replied. "Iíve always thought that militaristic sparseness has a certain beauty in its simplicity."

Liam didnít say anything. He sat on his bed, peering at the candleís orange flame.

"Liam," Diasha said, breaking the silence. "Whatís really going on?"

"I donít know. I guess Iíve never realized how much I ... need people before," Liam said. "I donít know when or how it happened. I mean, I used to be so strong, you know? I used to welcome the solitude of my room at the monastery, or the quiet of the arenaís training sanctums after everyone else had left. Even with Cain, Iíd spend hours alone in his libraries. My whole life, Iíve felt alone-Iíve been alone. Now, I just want my friends back, you know?"

"Were you ever really alone, though?" Diasha replied. "It seems to me that whenever you speak of your past, itís full of people, for good or ill. Brother Malus, Gruta Moor, even Cain and Emma. Youíve always been surrounded by strong people with strong personalities, whether you realize it or not."

"I guess so," Liam said, conceding Diashaís point.

"And now youíre feeling really alone," the Heart of Diasha said. "Maybe for the first time in your young life. And it hurts. The emptiness is becoming a longing for you."

"It is," Liam said. "So, what can I do about it?"

"Why donít you go find Andromache? Or maybe some of the crew are playing kaboor or something? Why donít you find them?" Diasha suggested, feeling particularly motherly.

"I canít really play kaboor anymore. Iíve been playing every night this week," Liam admitted, "and everyone Iíve been playing against is kind of sick of me taking their money. Their resources are getting a little slim, Diasha, and their swords are only getting sharper."

"What about Andromache, then?" Diasha asked.

"He has his own responsibilities," Liam said, a little edge in his voice.

Of course the sword, the Heart of Diasha, heard it. "What do you mean by that?" she asked.

"He has to keep everything and everyone onboard the ship working properly," Liam said after a hard pause.

"Liam?" Diasha prodded. "Thereís something else there. What arenít you telling me?"

"This ship. I almost wish Iíd never come aboard."

"It is the fastest way to get to Bahbala," Diasha explained.

"Thatís part of the problem. Iím ... Iím not comfortable with the shipís supplemental source of power."

"Supplemental source of power?" Diasha asked.

"Slaves, Diasha. If the sails arenít filling, like they arenít tonight, theyíve got rowers chained below decks and men with whips to motivate them. They call the rowers their pigs. Did you know that? And their dirty little home down there? The soldiers call it the sty."

"And youíre uncomfortable with that because of your own past?"

"Now donít get me wrong. I donít regret my time in the arena," Liam explained, shaking his head. "But I do resent the fact that it wasnít my choice to be there. And I know how different it could have been if circumstances hadnít been the way they were. Gruta and I might have been friends while I was there, but that was only because I was making his purse fatter. I saw how he treated the others during my time there, too. I saw what happened if you didnít earn. I saw what slavery really was."

A rhythmic drumbeat rolled in the bowels of the warship. Liam knew at once that the sound of the drum was coming from the sty.

Immediately, the Vindicator lurched forward, driven not by the wind but by the backs of the men that the imperial soldiers called their pigs. Deep in the shipís vast belly, the slaves toiled in their clinking cold-steel chains. They drove the gigantic warship on, their strokes in perfect time with the sickening heartbeat cadence of the Vindicatorís rumbling, resonant drum.

"Is that...?" Diasha began.

"No real wind tonight, Diasha," Liam replied bitterly. "Weíre running on slave power, now. Andromache has ordered the pigs to their oars."

"It isnít his policy, Liam. Pax Imperium has its own laws. He has no choice but to follow them. This is an imperial warship, after all, headed to a war-torn city that needs the empireís protection. Right or wrong, this is the most expeditious way to get to Bahbala."

"I understand that, Diasha. I know it isnít his choice or his doing," Liam said. He turned toward the sword, his eyes hard. "That doesnít mean I have to like it."

Diasha sighed from her fur scabbard. "Well, why donít you try to get some sleep?" she recommended. "Weíve got a long journey ahead of us, and who knows what kinds of trouble await us in Bahbala."

"Sleep? With those drums pounding underneath my head? Youíve got to be kidding," Liam said. "I can almost hear the whips cracking."

"Well, is there something else that youíd like to do instead?" Diasha asked, hating to see her champion in such an introspective, dismal state.

A little ember of roguish mischief glowed in Liamís eyes. He was fighting hard against the loneliness now, using all the tools in his rather meager arsenal. "Can you materialize here somehow? I could use a womanís touch."

"Does my champion need a hug? Is that what youíre saying?" Diasha asked.

"Thatís as good a place to start as any, I suppose," Liam said. "If I remember correctly, you looked awfully good in that thin little robe youíre partial to wearing."

"And now the pervert rears his ugly head," Diasha said. "Glad to see that the Liam Gulban I know and love is still in there somewhere, waiting just beneath that thin layer of humanitarianism and genuine emotion that you seem so eager to wear tonight."

"I guess thatís a no, then?" Liam said.

"Letís call it that," Diasha replied.