Sword of the North: The Grim Company

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9780425264867: Sword of the North: The Grim Company

In The Grim Company, Luke Scull introduced a formidable and forbidding band of anti-heroes battling against ruthless Magelords and monstrous terrors. The adventure continues as the company—now broken—face new dangers on personal quests...  
 
As Davarus Cole and his former companions were quick to discover, the White Lady’s victorious liberation of Dorminia has not resulted in the freedom they once imagined. Anyone perceived as a threat has been seized and imprisoned—or exiled to darker regions—leaving the White Lady’s rule unchallenged and absolute. But the White Lady would be wiser not to spurn her former supporters: Eremul the Halfmage has learned of a race of immortals known as the Fade, and if he cannot convince the White Lady of their existence, all of humanity will be in danger.
 
Far to the north, Brodar Kayne and Jerek the Wolf continue their odyssey to the High Fangs only to find themselves caught in a war between a demon horde and their enemy of old, the Shaman. And in the wondrous city of Thelassa, Sasha must overcome demons of her own.
 
Because the Fade are coming...

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About the Author :

Luke Scull is the author of The Grim Company. A videogame designer who has worked on numerous bestselling fantasy roleplaying game franchises, Luke was born in Bristol, England and now divides his time between the UK and Argentina.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. :

BOOKS BY LUKE SCULL

He could hear them crashing through the trees behind him. He half skidded down the slope, ruined boots finding little purchase on snow frozen solid. His feet were numb with cold, felt as dead as the lamb flopping wildly over his shoulder. Blood still leaked from the slit throat of the beast and soaked the filthy rags that covered his body.

There was a curse from one of the men chasing him, followed by an angry yell. He shifted the carcass on his shoulder and allowed himself a grin. He was losing them, even weighed down as he was. He reckoned a few had given up already. They were old men, most of them. Well past thirty.

He would get some distance on them and find somewhere to hide. Lie low for a bit and get a fire going. His stomach gave a mighty growl, a reminder that this winter had been desperate. Harsher than any he could remember.

He leaped a fallen tree, managing to keep his balance despite the thick patch of ice just beyond. Moments later he heard a thump and a fresh flurry of curses turned the air blue—he guessed one of his pursuers had blundered into the log and landed flat on his face.

He wondered what had become of Leaf and Red Ear—or Dead Ear, as he decided he would take to calling his hapless friend. Red Ear was supposed to be keeping watch while he and Leaf raided the farm. They had just finished slaughtering the first lamb when someone raised the alarm. It turned out Red Ear was about as useless a sentry as he was a cook. How he’d survived in Skarn’s gang as long as he had was anyone’s guess.

The trees finally parted. He could see the river now. Once he was across the Icemelt’s surface the stubborn bastards would surely admit defeat. He ran on, rapid breaths throwing up clouds of mist—but approaching the bank he realized he had things all wrong. The Icemelt had yet to fully freeze over. Massive chunks of ice churned in the surging rapids, grinding together with enough force to crush a man to pulp. There wasn’t a chance in hell of swimming across that raging deluge.

Listening for the sounds of the chase, he swerved, intending to head downstream and circle back into the forest.

Two men emerged from the trees, blocking his path.

“You’ve gone far enough, boy.” The nearest of the pair was panting, but there was no mistaking the grim resolve in his voice. Nor the glitter of cold steel at his waist.

He didn’t waste time replying. Instead he dashed forward and drove his forehead into the speaker’s face. He heard bone crack, felt cartilage break beneath the force of the blow. He spun immediately, shrugged the lamb off his shoulder and raised it as a makeshift shield. The other man’s sword thrust forward and wedged into the animal’s flank, and his assailant’s surprise lasted just long enough for him to get in three quick blows, dropping his opponent to the ground.

He retrieved the lamb and was tugging the sword free when someone barreled into him from behind, knocking him down and sending both the sword and the abused carcass flying from his grasp.

He twisted around to grab the newcomer. This one was a real piece of work, as tall as he was and a good bit heavier. Though he’d always been unusually strong for his age, he couldn’t get the bastard pinned down for a solid hit. He took a glancing blow to the mouth and spat out blood. The other man grabbed him in a headlock and forced him down. He pushed back desperately and narrowly avoided getting his skull dashed against a rock.

He lost all sense of time as he struggled with the big Easterman. A minute or an hour might have passed as they battered each other on the bank of the river, neither able to get the upper hand. Finally they broke apart and his opponent stepped back, breathing hard.

Slowly he became aware they were being watched and he turned. A half dozen faces stared back. One he knew well, beneath the bruises that had turned his boyish features into a discolored mess. Leaf.

One of the men held a long dagger to Leaf’s throat. Two others had arrows nocked and drawn. The meanest-looking shook his head and spat on the snow. “Where the rest of you hidin’?”

“The rest of us?” He knew to whom the man referred, or reckoned he did. And if that was the case, he was as good as dead.

“Your gang. Been raiding the settlements near the Borderland for the last year. Left a family murdered in their beds, mother and children and all.”

The memory made him wince. He wiped his face with the back of his hand and examined the bloody smear it left. He glanced up. The sky had grown dark as an old bruise.

“I’m waiting for an answer, boy.”

He narrowed his eyes and stared at the dead lamb lying skewered by the side of the river. “It wasn’t me that did that. Nor Leaf nor Red Ear.”

“You gonna tell me the three of you split from the group when it started killing folk?”

“It’s the truth.”

The leader of the Eastermen spat again. “We’ll do this the hard way, then.” He gestured at the man holding Leaf. “Drown him in the river. Slowly, mind. Give our friend here time to ponder whether there’s anything he should be telling us.”

Leaf began to struggle as he was dragged to the river. His friend was little more than a child, in truth, and his efforts to wriggle free were hard to watch, but he didn’t turn away. Not even as Leaf’s head was forced under the churning water.

“How old are you?” the leader asked once Leaf’s head was dragged back up again.

“Sixteen,” he replied. He could see Leaf’s teeth chattering uncontrollably. The wiry youngster was struggling to catch his breath and his skin had turned a nasty shade of blue.

“Huh. Hardly more than a boy and yet you knocked two of my men senseless. Butchering that woman and her kids must’ve been easy work.”

He was growing angry now. “I told you we didn’t do it! All we ever did was steal some livestock. We left Skarn and the others before they reached Eastmeet.”

Leaf went into the water again. When he came back up his eyes had rolled back in their sockets. He wasn’t struggling anymore.

The leader gestured at the limp figure. “He’s done. Finish him and throw the body in the river.”

Rage surged through him. He liked Leaf, who was smart and had a cheerful nature despite the fact that he’d cut his uncle’s throat rather than spend another night in his bed. Leaf had watched out for him when he had joined Skarn’s gang; saved him from a bloody confrontation or two when his pride wouldn’t let him back down.

“You drown him and I’ll kill you.”

The men with bows shifted slightly, their arrows nocked and ready to loose. Their leader gave an ugly little chuckle and nodded at the man holding Leaf. “Drown him.”

He charged.

The next thing he knew, he was lying on the ground, staring up at the leaden sky. Snowflakes fluttered down to melt on his face. He reached for his knee and felt the arrow protruding there. A face loomed over him.

“That was stupid. Brave, but stupid. Men!”

He felt himself being dragged across the snow toward the sound of rushing water. They turned him roughly and held him out over the river. He stared across the Icemelt, watching as Leaf’s body twisted and spun like its namesake before it finally went under. Then someone took hold of his hair and his own head was pushed down, down, toward that freezing maelstrom of ice . . .

“Wait.”

His would-be executioners hesitated and his head came to a halt an inch above the water. He stared into its savage depths.

“What’s your name?” asked the voice. It was deep and powerful and sounded like it was directed at him. He turned his head a fraction and saw that the speaker was the big bastard he had fought earlier.

“What does it matter?” The leader was clearly annoyed. “He’s a brigand. Kill him and be done with it.”

“The boy’s got fire in him. Fire and steel. We could forge him into something with purpose. The spirits know we need fighting men at the Keep.”

“He’s a cold-blooded killer. A child murderer. Besides, he’s just taken an arrow in the knee. Few ever recover from a wound like that.”

There was a brief silence. He held his breath, the roar of the Icemelt raging below him.

A strong hand pulled him up, almost gently, and turned him around. “I’ve never met a boy who put up as much fight as you did. Especially not half-starved. I’ll ask again: What’s your name, lad?”

He stared back at his savior. The man’s face carried a few minor injuries from their earlier struggle, but his eyes betrayed no malice or anger. Only a certain curiosity.

“My name . . .” he said slowly, trying not to pass out from the pain. He blinked snow from his eyes. “My name . . .” he said again, “is Kayne.”

“Kayne.”

The gruff voice snapped him awake like a bucket of ice-cold water over the head. The Wolf could rasp his name any number of ways fit to freeze the blood. One glance at Jerek’s bald, fire-scarred visage was all the confirmation he needed that things were about to turn ugly.

“Bandits?” he mouthed silently. Jerek nodded and scowled into the receding night. The grim warrior’s twin axes were already unharnessed, brutal implements of death that had taken more lives than Kayne could count.

The old Highlander pushed himself painfully to his feet, rubbing sleep from his eyes. They hadn’t bothered to light a campfire. It was the height of summer and, besides, they’d hoped to avoid drawing attention. Hoped to avoid a situation like this.

He unsheathed his greatsword and squinted into the darkness. Not a damn thing, he thought sourly. His eyesight was getting worse.

Jerek’s senses, on the other hand, seemed as sharp as ever. His friend did the lion’s share of the sentry duty, and though neither man had spoken of it, Kayne was beginning to feel guilty. There was only so much guilt a man could take. And the older you got, the more difficult it became to bear the weight.

A twig snapped somewhere nearby. An arrow hissed through the air and thudded into the grass six feet from where the horses were tethered. They snorted and shifted nervously.

Kayne sighed. He hated archers. They were little better than wizards, in his estimation, though at least most had the decency not to prance around in what was, when it came right down to it, a glorified dress. A sliver of the dream he had just woken from flickered in the dark pits of his mind, and he glanced down at his left knee. The memory of that ancient agony made him wince.

Jerek motioned to his left and stalked off, crouching low and weaving from side to side. Kayne followed his lead, though the effort of bending caused his back to complain something fierce.

He thought he saw the shadows shift ahead. Bandits normally traveled in small groups, the better to strike hard and fast and make a quick escape. There were unlikely to be many of them. If they could take out one or two, the rest would scatter soon enough.

Suddenly, he sensed movement to his right. Careless of his creaking knees, he dived into a roll, coming out of it with his greatsword raised high, prepared to cleave whoever it was in half.

But it was only Jerek, his eyes glittering in the ghostly light. The Wolf spat on the grass and shook his head. “They fled,” he said. “Best we get moving. No sense waiting to be picked off in broad daylight.”

Kayne nodded. Bandits were always a risk when crossing the Badlands, as the two men knew all too well from recent experience.

They returned to camp to find their packs missing.

“Pricks stole our bags,” growled Jerek, never one to mince his words. He reached up and began tugging at his beard, the way he always did when he was on the verge of flying off into a rage.

Kayne closed his eyes and leaned on his greatsword. This was an inauspicious start to their journey. Three weeks had passed since they’d departed Dorminia, and the wounds they’d suffered during the battle for the city had forced them to rest for a time. Jerek’s injuries in particular were nasty—at least two broken ribs and a cracked cheekbone. But the Wolf would rather pass out in the saddle than delay another week. Jerek hated crowds. He hated soft, Lowlander comforts. He hated pretty much everything, truth be told.

“At least we still have the horses,” Kayne grunted. He walked over to the mounts, shaking his head ruefully. “We could ride back to Ashfall and resupply,” he suggested, though he already knew what the answer would be.

Jerek shot him a dark look. “I ain’t going back there. Place is a shithole.”

Kayne couldn’t argue the point. Ashfall was appropriately named. The black dust got everywhere, blown in by swirling winds from the Demonfire Hills to settle on Dorminia’s northernmost vassal town. Ashfall wasn’t a place either man wanted to return to in a hurry.

“Guess we ride on,” Kayne said, sheathing his sword and pulling himself onto his mount. The sky was lightening, midnight blue fading to iron gray as night gave way to morning. He studied the area as Jerek climbed onto his own horse, a black stallion that accepted his scowling burden with an ease that would have surprised the stable master who sold them the beast. Jerek had a way with animals he lacked with people.

The land ran flat for miles in every direction. Wild grasses warred with small copses of oak and elm and beech. The daylight would soon reveal their brilliant shades of gold and green.

Farther north, Kayne knew, these vibrant colors would become muted. The grass would grow dull and sparse, and scrub would replace tree until the Badlands truly began—a vast stretch of barren country once home to the nomadic Yahan horse tribes before the Godswar broke the land. The last time he and Jerek had passed through, the place had been fair crawling with bandits. Given the trail of corpses the two Highlanders had left behind, Kayne figured the Bandit King would be in no mood to welcome them back with open arms.

As they rode, he watched Jerek with concern. The Wolf looked to be in some pain. Likely he was nursing one of his injuries. Kayne’s own wounds still hurt, especially the knife slash in his stomach that had threatened to turn rotten. The flesh was clean and had knitted back together, but the scar was still raw. He paid it little mind. There were some wounds that never healed, wounds that festered deep in the soul and ultimately did more to break a man than any bodily hurt. The spirits knew he carried enough of those scars himself, but the news he’d received back at the Grey City lent him hope that the largest of them might not follow him to the grave. For the first time in many months, he had a purpose. Something to live for.

He let go of the reins and squeezed the coin purse hanging at his belt. Forty golden spires and a handful of silver scepters—a large sum of coin by anyone’s standards. He and Jerek had been through hell to earn it. It wasn’t every day you helped liberate a city from a tyrant. He’d made friends down in the Trine, met some good men and women—and a few some way off good, but interesting nonetheless. In different circumstances he might have been tempted to stay. Instead he and the Wolf had left Dorminia as soon as they had collected their pa...

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