Dark Fantasy | 90,000 Words | $2.99
Magic is heresy, but not all powers are magic.
Cent is a mage and a scoundrel, sentenced to death by the Grand Church’s law. But when demons rise and begin slaughtering everything in their path, he fights back and the people discover his powers are more than magic—he is a child of divinity.
With the threat of these creatures looming over the land, Cent can play the hero to survive—at least long enough to get revenge on those who branded him an outcast.
Mark of the Reapers
A Dark Tidings Prequel Chapter
"You ready, kid?" Ponte asked. Despite his slouch, the rogue’s grey hair brushed against the top of the cabin.
Cent tightened the strap holding a dagger against his arm. "You need to ask? The sooner we’re out of here, the better.”
"First job is always tough." The older man's eyes traveled to Cent's hand and its slight tremble. "No shame in it."
"Worry and excitement can look similar, I suppose."
“Ah, right. Guess someone like you has no reason to be afraid.”
Pulling his coat sleeve down, Cent responded, “I only fear myself, dear Ponte.”
“Scared or not, stick to the plan and stay close. Howel might kill me if you don't come back—lucky for you, I'm one of the best."
Perhaps back in the day, Cent thought. Judging by the man’s sluggish movements, his skills had dried up long ago.
Biting his tongue, Cent merely nodded. Once Ponte slid his short sword to the back of his belt and under his cloak, they slipped out as two shadows in the crowded street. Midnight had passed, but Drifloch was called The Nightwalk for a reason—lanterns burned bright, drunkards danced into the dirt, and a muddling of voices clouded the air.
A night chaotic enough to get away with murder.
Ponte led, cutting a path down the main road north. The city sat atop a frozen lake, held in place by a cross-shaped platform which split it into fourths. Their target would be in the north-east.
Cent asked over the bustle, "Why are we after him, anyway?"
"Hush," Ponte answered, looking around for prying eyes. "No idea. What's it matter?"
"Since we started watching him, I haven’t seen any reason he'd earn a contract."
"That isn't for us to know," said Ponte as he guided them to a smaller path heading east. "Only to act on."
But Cent wanted to know—fools acted without insight, and he hated playing the jester. After the job, he planned on having a word with Howel.
They pushed through merrymakers on the tight stone path, making their way to a small tavern. The Crow’s Swallow, a name as bad as any tavern in Ostera, was an underwhelming shack that could only house a handful of people. Thankfully, Cent wasn’t there to drink.
“Remember the plan?” Ponte crouched in the shadow of a building across the street.
With a grin, Cent replied, “Of course, so long as you line him up proper.”
“Make sure you’re ready to adapt. Things rarely go according to plan.”
When Ponte braced himself against the wall of the nearest house, Cent put a boot into the man’s cupped hands. After a grunt, Cent found himself grasping at the edge of the snow-packed roof. He managed to scramble up as his companion made for the tavern with a tipsy gait.
Cent trudged slowly across the rooftops, circling around to get closer. He would be waiting for some time still, and snow would fall if he moved quick.
Once atop an adjacent building—the ramshackle ale house itself being difficult to reach—Cent crouched behind the peak of the roof, the entrance to the bar still narrowly visible. He drew out the hood hidden underneath his collar as the chill clawed skin and bone. Ponte always enjoyed pointing out he had little more than that.
This is only a job, Cent thought, pulling the bone pendant strapped to his neck out and clutching it. Yet it will help me find my place.
But where was that? He had faint memories of a woman who once cared for him, but no notion of where she might be. One thing was certain, however—he wouldn’t go back to the streets of Greymoor, the gutter-town he once called home. No, he would sooner kill the bastard that drove him there.
When the tavern door cracked open, Cent tucked the necklace away, then gave the weapon hidden up his sleeve a pat for luck.
As planned, Ponte emerged with an arm over their target. The man’s name was Varec, and somebody wanted him dead. The two laughed as they spilled into the frosted street, Ponte speaking first.
“The place I mentioned is just up the road,” he said, waving an arm toward where Cent perched. “The best in the whole damn city!”
“Truly?” Asked Varec with a smile that quickly faded. “Though I need to make a stop, first. Care to join me?
“Bah,” Ponte said with a dismissive wave. “Handle it later, friend—the best barmaids will be leaving soon.”
“If it were possible,” Varec slurred, heading in the opposite direction. “Join me or not, but I must attend to something.”
Ponte gritted his teeth as the target turned away, but followed soon after.
One of the best? Cent remembered Ponte’s words, scrunching his face. Like hell. What am I supposed to do now?
The jump to the tavern wouldn’t be pleasant. Where was the man even heading? Cent needed to earn his keep—If Ponte did all the work, the Reapers would probably dispose of him.
As the two men disappeared around the tavern, Cent slid down to the edge of the roof, then leapt toward the building. He caught the edge with a thud, snow dropping to the ground as he scurried up.
“Did you hear that?” Varec muttered, though Cent was barely able to make it out from around the corner.
“What?” Ponte questioned. “A rat or something?”
There was a pause before the man said, “Loud bloody rat,” but their footsteps carried on.
Cent kept up easily enough with Varec’s drunken pace. Ponte glanced back only once, putting a finger up that told him to wait for an opportunity.
“Nearly there,” Varec said, using the wall for support.
“Right,” Ponte surveyed the distance, no doubt wary. “Where exactly are we going?”
The target stared down the alley with squinted eyes and said, “I have a stash down here—It’ll keep us going all night, at the very least.”
“You don’t say,” replied Ponte, the deep and playful tone of his greed clear even to Cent. “Lead on, then.”
When a cluster of houses barred the path, Varec began fishing through the contents of a barrel. Cent crept along the rooftops, aiming to be right above the target. Perhaps they could wrap things up, despite the little detour.
“So,” Ponte stalled, giving Cent the go-ahead with a nod. “How much money are we talking here?”
With a chuckle, Varec answered, “No money, though the payoff shall be grand.”
Damn it. Before Cent could give warning, Varec had a crossbow aimed at Ponte.
“Hey now,” Ponte raised one arm in surrender, palming the throwing knife hidden in his jacket with the other. “What’s this about?”
“You’re not the first assassin to come after me.” Varec sighed. “I doubt you’ll be the last, either.”
“He won’t,” shouted Cent as he ran down the roof, unsheathing his dagger. “But I will.”
He thought the surprise would be enough to shake Varec, but the man didn’t falter. Instead, he fired his crossbow as Ponte before the rogue could move, burying the bolt in the rogue’s neck.
As Ponte fell backward, Cent leapt from the building with a roar, raising his dagger high.
“A fair try,” Varec said, though he didn’t bother turning around.
A brutish figure rushed out from the house below, catching Cent by the wrists. The man twisting the weapon from his grasp with a single hand, slamming a fist into his stomach hard enough to make the world fade.
Through the ringing in his ears, he heard Varec say, “You bandits are always the same.”
As Cent regained his vision, the brute threw him across the alley with huff. He tumbled face-first into unforgiving stone, landing next to Ponte who gasped for breath through the gurgle of blood.
“How?” Cent asked, rolling onto his back. “How did you know?”
Varec smiled. “How indeed. You’d be surprised how many men come after a baron such as myself.”
A nobleman? The surprise must have shown, because Varec’s smirk grew.
“You didn’t know?” Looking Cent over, he continued, “You’re Reapers, right? There’s a fatal flaw in all the men Howel sends after me—namely that he doesn’t seem to inform you of who I am.”
“It won’t matter if I kill you.”
“With what?” Varec said, snatching Cent’s dagger from the larger man beside him. “This? I’m almost tempted to give it back, only to see you fail once more.”
Cent glanced over to Ponte’s lifeless body and the knife slipping out of his jacket pocket.
“I also thought to let you go,” Varec walked toward Cent in no hurry. “So you could tell Howel he’s wasting lives, but I doubt he’ll care enough to stop sending you.”
Come on, Cent thought as the man closed in. He reached out for the throwing knife on Ponte, but the baron was one step ahead of him, closing the distance and kicking the weapon out of Cent’s hand before he could get a proper grip. He cursed in pain, which only served to amuse Varec.
“Do you still think I’m a fool?” The man asked, spreading his arms wide. “That’s always your lot’s mistake.”
Through a clenched jaw, Cent replied, “And arrogance is yours.”
He closed his eyes then, the baron’s laughter fading as he focused. He felt a font deep inside his core—a burning in his stomach, which rose into his chest and swirled down his right arm.
When the fire in his veins reached his fingertips, his eyes shot open, seeing the sensation personified—a blinding golden flame covered his entire hand, the warmth a comfort.
Varec and his large companion covered their faces from the heat as Cent stood. He jumped away from the baron, swiping his arm through the air and leaving a trail of flames both wild and vicious.
“What the—” Varec said, his sleeve catching fire. At that point, it was too late.
The flames engulfed the man’s body, skin crackling as his wretched scream filled the alleyway. He dropped to the ground and rolled in desperation, but once his flesh began to peel away from bone he laid silent.
By the time Varec’s man snapped from his stupor, Cent had slipped into the shadow of a nearby house.
Howel won’t be happy, Cent knew as the warm embrace of his magic faded. But neither am I—things are about to change.