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The Demon Hunter’s Apprentice
Book One
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ISBN-10: 1-55404-791-9
Genre: Dark Fantasy/Supernatural/Horror
eBook Length: 303 Pages
Published: November 2010

From inside the flap

In the city of Hell’s Crown, legendary Demon Hunter Cain Stoddard was infected by an ancient evil. Stumbling from the city, he fled north, seeking the desolation of the Old Kingdoms. There, he hoped to find the means to expel the wickedness roosting just beneath his skin.

But this is not Cain Stoddard’s story. This is the story of the apprentice he left behind. A first- rate scoundrel, a second-class cheat, a third-rate braggart, and a fourth-rate drunk, Liam Gulban has been called many things, but no one has ever called him a hero. Now, Cain Stoddard’s young student must put aside his foolish pastimes to rescue his oldest friend.

On the way, he will encounter savage monsters, lusty refugees, undead musicians, smelly druids, and at least one certifiably insane god. His closest allies will betray him, a goddess will choose him as her champion, and all the while he’ll be fighting against his most tenacious enemy—himself.

The Demon Hunter’s Apprentice (Excerpt)


IT FELT LIKE a butcher was carving his stomach from the inside out with a dull cleaver. Panicked, Cain Stoddard clawed at his jerkin to reveal a pair of horns stretching the skin of his belly upward. Several pointed tines poked up, stretching his pale skin taunt, and his muscles spasmed against them. His brow knotted as he banged his fists against those protruding horns, forcing the creature deeper into the cave of his guts.

"Damn you," he growled, clutching his stomach. A black tear snaked down his wind-burned face, leaving a snail's trail of oil in its wake. "By the gods," he howled, "by all that is holy - by each and every one of the Eleven, I damn you!"

The horned thing was smart enough to know when to bide its time. Invoking the Pantheon, Aerta's imitation gods, was laughable, though. Their names had no power over it. Yet, it retreated quietly, nestling in Cain's guts - a mockery of fetal repose. The Eleven of the Pantheon, it thought, their power is a pittance next to the greatness of Djall. But you'll find that out soon enough, old man. You'll find that out when you embrace your place as the Man Who Is Many. Then, you'll know. But first, the thing smiled, wrapping its tail around its glistening body, Chapel's Rest will fall.

"You all right down there?" The voice was the driver's, muffled by the heavy wood of the carriage and the brutish wind that lashed at it.

"I'm fine," Cain barked, his voice desert-raw from the struggle. A rill of black spittle crawled down out of the corner of his mouth. He wiped it away in a smear with his handkerchief. More black liquid came, some from his nose, some from his eyes. It moved with sentient purpose. "Just get us to town," he said.

Noth, the driver of the carriage, gripped the reins harder and gave them an eager snap, urging his four horses on through the night. His passenger had scared him from the first, but he had had pentacles to pay the fare and had offered two more on top of the standard fee, besides. "One little trip," Noth thought, "feeding me and mine for a month." He fought back a shiver. "Still doesn't feel worth it."

The smoky glow of the moon glared from between the storm clouds, bathing the narrow carriage path that ran beside the Trista River in a murky smear of accusatory light. The ensuing radiance glinted off the whitewater that crashed down Trista's rocky bends and glistened on the moist, sickly fingers of the clawing trees that raked at the heavens from its shores. Bathed in eerie light, the trees stood like skeletal lurkers, listening silently and patiently awaiting unwary prey.

Noth eyed those trees with suspicion, feeling the crawl of unseen specters upon his skin. "No," he said, snapping the reins again, "a couple extra pentacles ain't worth this."

Cain hacked and coughed in the carriage's cabin, bundling his heavy cloaks tighter around his demon-hive of a body. The cloaks did nothing to fend off the agonizing chill seeping into his bones. Shaking, he stared down at his hands, wondering what foulness now coursed through the inky veins that lay cold and limp below his translucent skin. Those hands, his once oh-so-dependable hands, didn't even look like his anymore.

In a way, sitting there, he was already mourning his own demise. He knew that moment to moment, less and less of who he was - who he had always been - remained.

The demons inside of him were taking everything.

It hurt. The depths of the loss he was feeling were nearly unfathomable. Guilt, disgust, self-revulsion...

At the very basest of levels, he was becoming what he had hated - what he had hunted - all of his adult life.

For a moment, he thought he saw something resembling a liquid slug slithering beneath the skin of his palm. He prodded at it, half expecting the thing to rip through his hand. It didn't, though. Instead, it burrowed deeper.

"Sharing space with the damned," Cain said, grimacing bitter irony. "I guess you can't beat hell back forever."

"And pity to the fools who have tried to contain it," a voice sounded in Cain's head. It wasn't his voice. It was the other. As packed with nefarious passengers as Cain's body had become, one passenger in particular was the loudest. The demon hunter had begun to think of it as the demons' spokesbeast. "Cain Stoddard," it said, "you will be a dagger of hate, and the host of grigori you harbor will pluck out the dripping heart of Aerta."

"Grigori," Cain pondered. He knew their kind. They were powerful demons - servants of an Elder God known as Samyaza, and their ilk fed on human souls... eating and eating until nothing remained. In ancient texts, they were always illustrated as glimmering beings - resembling knights in shining silver. Thus far, he had discovered nothing knight-like about them. "A host of them? And why do you call me the Man Who Is Many... ?"

A firm knock came down from Noth. At last the carriage was nearing Chapel's Rest. Sitting at the foot of Mount Ochana, fabled roosting place of Aerta's eleven gods, the town was home to nearly thirty-thousand souls. At the moment, Noth didn't care about a single one of them. All he cared about was getting paid, getting rid of his fare, and finding someone willing to clean out the inside of his carriage before he headed home. His passenger had suffered more than a few violent coughing fits on their journey, most ending in wet, suffocating gags which had surely left a sickly residue in his carriage. If that cough was catching, Noth wanted none of it.

"Keep your sickness to yourself," Noth thought. He briefly considered finding someone to boil his fare's pentacles before he headed home, too.

Cain could feel the driver's revulsion and he understood it. "You feel the demons, don't you?" he whispered. "How could you not?"

"Chapel's Rest," Noth called down with no small amount of relief. "Safe and sound."

"Chapel's Rest," Cain parroted. "But I fear there will be no rest here for me."

Suddenly, Cain jerked upright with a howl of violent, spasmodic coughs that turned Noth's bowels to water. This time, Cain coughed so hard that his ribs creaked and threatened to snap. The coughs wracked his entire body from forehead to heels, daggers of fiery agony spreading out from his raw lungs into every fiber of his body. He covered his lips with his handkerchief as black murk squelched up from his guts, filled his mouth, and burst out through the cage of his twisted yellow teeth.

When the attack subsided, he peered down at the mucous that he'd caught in his handkerchief. His eyes were cast in glistening wonder and woe.

As he watched, the mucous, which stank of rotten meat, pulsed.