I’m currently about 3.5/5 of the way through the first draft of Klondaeg Volume 2, tentatively titled “Klondaeg and the Klondaeg Hunters.” The following preview is from the first episode in this volume, dealing with a question you may have been left with after reading Volume 1.
Disclaimer: This is a draft. The excerpt will most definitely change by the time of publication. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. You may not reproduce, distribute, or create derived works without express permission of the copyright holder.
The fireball whizzed by Klondaeg’s head, leaving a trail of ash and smoke in its wake. The granite wall behind him sputtered and dripped like a candle. Blisters slowly bubbled up on his cheek where the fireball had passed. Odd. He was usually more heat resistant than that.
“Surrender now, or my last shot will be true!” The vampire hovered, leathery wings beating like a metronome, over the smoldering remains of his gnomelobo army. Like all the vampire’s defenses, the skeletons and mummies, the crumbling staircases and toppling walls, even the false vampire hunter tasked with luring Klondaeg into a deathtrap, they were dead. This vampire had emptied its last cardiovascular system.
“You said that about the last five shots,” said Klondaeg. He charged and leapt, contorting his limbs and torso to weave through the barrage of fireballs, somersaulted in the air, and brought his axe, the King’s Rest, down heavily into the vampire’s chest. Black blood and smoke filled the air. The monster staggered back and dropped to one knee.
The vampire’s laughter pulsated through the high-vaulted stone chamber, swirling and bouncing until it was coming from all directions.
“Hmm,” said Klondaeg. He reached into his boot and extracted an oaken stake.
The vampire flapped its wings twice, and soon stood tall, gathering flames in each hand. Its gray, furry skin closed in around the King’s Rest. Soon the axe flopped out, revealing a gash of rotten meat beneath. That, too, was sealed in a moment. The vampire raised its flaming hands above its head and screeched. The horrible sound mingled with the remaining echoes of the laughter, and brought a drop of blood to Klondaeg’s ears.
“I told you to try the whip,” said Dexter, from the right blade of the axe. “That vampire hunter promised it would work.”
The voice of Sinister came from the left blade. “That vampire hunter tried to strap us to a workbench so the hacksaw-wielding mad scientist could steal Klondaeg’s brain and bring his creature to life.”
“He seemed perfectly trustworthy to me,” said Dexter.
“The one time you don’t take issue with how someone’s looking at us…”
“Shut up,” said Klondaeg. “New plan.” The Dwarf spun and hurled the stake at the grinning, screeching, laughing, hovering vampire. The stake spun through the air like a dart, on a perfect course toward the bulls-eye that was the vampire’s heart. It flew straight and true.
Until a clawed hand snatched it out of the air. The vampire sighed. “Oh, Klondaeg. Surely I’m not the first vampire you’ve fought.”
Klondaeg shrugged. He didn’t keep track of how many monsters he’d killed, much less which species. He focused on more practical thoughts, namely that he’d have to collect his axe and charge again. Maybe a decapitation this time. Vampire legends were so diverse that he never found a straight answer on how to kill one, not that he ever relied on legends. Usually, the King’s Rest was enough.
He lurched forward, rapidly growing bored of dodging fireballs, dove for his axe, and slid beneath the vampire’s legs. He swung the King’s Rest in an upward arc as he stood, hamstringing the vampire before coming to a rest mere inches away. Before the vampire could flap its wings again, Klondaeg struck. Both wings fell to the ground and vanished in a puff of smoke.
The vampire turned, its bat-like face contorting with pain, blood oozing slowly from its wounds, struggling to stand while the torn tendons bound themselves back together.
“I grow weary of this,” said the vampire. It lashed out in a blur and wrapped both hands around Klondaeg’s throat. “I prefer not to drink the blood of other predators, but I shall make an exception today.”
It opened its mouth, and Klondaeg watched as fangs emerged from rancid gums. He kicked and thrashed, but the vampire was too strong. His arms grew weak, and the King’s Rest slipped from his clutches. The vampire’s maw grew ever closer to his neck, and Klondaeg saw a ring of darkness around his vision as his eyes shut down.
A moment later, Klondaeg fell to the ground, coated in gore. The world grew bright again, and he saw the vampire impaled on the pointed cap of an oaken statue of a gnome. He immediately recognized the effigy of his friend Clayborn Kilnson, a gnomish shapeshifter who had helped Klondaeg extinguish a gnomelobo invasion months ago. He had the power to transform his body into any material.
“Clayborn,” said Klondaeg. “I guess we’re even now. What were you doing in the castle?”
Clayborn morphed back to a flesh gnome and sheepishly stared at his shoes. He sucked in a deep breath, curled his lips into a gnomish grin, and looked Klondaeg in the eye with the doff of a pointed cap. “Well, I was passing through and heard the sounds of battle. Given how efficient this vampire tends to be, the length of said battle implied that it must be my good friend Klondaeg vanquishing the evil creature. I thought I might steal a bit of the glory for myself.”
While Clayborn spoke, Klondaeg saw, behind the gnome’s shoulder, a very much alive gnomelobo sidling into the chamber. “My king,” it said in a high, yet raspy, voice. “The master has fallen. I felt his demise. What are you commands?”
“Gasp!” said Sinister. “Clayborn, are you–?”
AND IT TURNS OUT CLAYBORN WAS THE GNOMELOBO KING THIS WHOLE TIME
Klondaeg drove his boot into the gnomelobo’s chest and the tiny, fox-size vermin splattered against the opposite wall. He turned his Dwarven eyes to Clayborn. “You’ve been a monster this whole time?” He raised the King’s Rest over his head, the blade dipping down behind his neck, ready to chop the gnome at the first sign of a confession.
“Klondaeg, please,” said the gnome. “I’m no monster. Just a gnome with an affliction. I’ve only used my power to keep the gnomelobos tame.”
“Look at those eyes,” said Dexter. “Do those look like innocent eyes to you?”
The axe shook in Klondaeg’s grip.
“Klondaeg, be rational,” said Sinister. “He’s your friend. You’ve gone on adventures together.”
“I helped you avenge your parents,” said Clayborn with a shy smile.
“Only after you manipulated Klondaeg into killing off the previous gnomelobo king,” said Dexter. “I’d say you owned him a pretty big favor.”
“One king versus an entire dimension full of demons. I went well beyond returning a favor that day,” said Clayborn.
That was it. He didn’t deny it. Clayborn was a gnomelobo, gnomelobos were monsters, and Klondaeg was a monster hunter. He’d often told people that it simply wasn’t in his nature to walk away from any monster. Why should Clayborn be any different?
Klondaeg clenched his jaw. “Graah!” he said, and the axe came down.
Clayborn gasped, his eyes went wide, and his arms shot in front of his face, as if they could block a blow from the King’s Rest.
At the last second, Clayborn turned his body to gold. Klondaeg’s heart skipped a beat, and he narrowly averted a soul-devouring blasphemy by jerking his axe to the left mid-swing. He couldn’t take an axe to gold. It would be a sin against O’Plenty, a crime against Dwarfdom, and an atrocity against the economy. The King’s Rest just barely missed Clayborn’s head, and spun Klondaeg in a circle with its momentum. The Dwarf reclaimed his power over the weapon, and looked deep into the gold gnome’s eyes.
“Clayborn,” he said. “You’ve been a friend and a fellow hero, but you know my policy on monsters.” He paused. “I need to decide what to do with you. I’m leaving. I don’t know what I’ll decide, but one way or another, I’ll be back for you.”
With that, he strapped the King’s Rest to his back and charged out of the vampire’s castle.
Klondaeg threw the empty tankard over his shoulder. Mead trickled down his beard from the corners of his mouth and splashed on the oaken tabletop. His aim was getting worse; barely half the drink had made it into his mouth this time. He grabbed a new tankard from the neat line in front of him and threw it over his shoulder as well, completely neglecting to drink.
“Why not take a break? I think you’ve sufficiently forgotten why you’re here,” came a calm voice to his left.
Klondaeg flopped his head to the side. Even through the haze of drunkenness, the dark skin, receding hairline, and smug grin were immediately recognizable. “Here for mead, Dalvinus. Empty cup. Over shoulder. More mead.”
Dalvinus stood before him. He was dressing like a hero again, with his bright red jacket and a blue cape slung over one shoulder. He carried a sword at his hip, a new, thin-bladed style that was catching on in some human cities. He frowned at Klondaeg. “You’ve been here for barely ten minutes. How many have you had already?” Dalvinus glanced at the cups littering the floor and shuddered. “Are these all yours?”
“A dozen.” Klondaeg wobbled for a moment, then belched. He closed his eyes for a brief moment, and when he opened them, the world was clear and his sense of balance was restored. “You made me lose my momentum.”
Dalvinus chuckled and sat. “Twelve and you can shake it off just like that?”
“Dwarven resilience. Gotta drink ‘em fast before they wear off. Only way to feel it.”
Dalvinus raised a hand to summon the barmaid. She swished her way over and left an earthenware jug on the table. Dalvinus nodded at her, and she gave him a flirtatious smile. “Don’t get excited,” said Klondaeg. “She looks at everyone that way.”
Dalvinus nodded and poured a cup for each of them. He took a sip, then another, then another, all the while staring a Klondaeg with a soft look of concern in his eyes.
“Something wrong?” said Klondaeg.
“You tell me, Klondaeg. You’ve been on the surface for over a week, and you left your axe in your room. That’s not like you.”
“No monsters left underground and I got sick of their yammering.”
“And you came out of that castle in a huff after slaying its master, yet the walls still stand.”
“You been watching me?” said Klondaeg.
“No, I just—“ Davlinus sighed. “The innkeeper sent a messenger. You’ve been here two days straight, just drinking and sleeping, so he thought something went wrong in that castle.”
“Any maidens go missing this past week? Any unexplained thunderstorms? Corpses exhuming themselves?”
“No, none of that.”
“Then I guess I did my job.”
“He said some gnomelobos survived. I’ve seen you clear out a gnomelobo den. You’re more thorough than that.”
Klondaeg lowered his head to the table. “It’s Clayborn.”
Dalvinus let out a light sigh. “Clayborn. The vampire got him? When’s the funeral?”
“I don’t even know if there’s going to be one.”
“Well, surely he deserves—“
“He’s not dead. Yet.”
“Oh. What did he do, Klondaeg?”
Klondaeg emptied another tankard into his mouth. “Clayborn’s a monster. Have to kill him.”
Dalvinus grunted and patted Klondaeg on the shoulder. The barmaid came by with a plate of carrots and cheese, and the two heroes ate in silence. Dalvinus ate slowly, thoughtfully, taking small, measured bites from the carrot and sometimes forgetting to swallow. Klondaeg, meanwhile, could barely stand the feel of food in his mouth. The image of Clayborn cowering beneath his axe sickened him. Shapeshifters always knew how to manipulate a monster hunter’s emotions, and Klondaeg had always been above their tricks. But this was different. Clayborn was a companion, an ally. And a liar and a monster. He felt like Dexter and Sinister, two minds feuding for dominance inside a single head, neither able to overcome the other.
Dalvinus set his carrot down. “What if you cured him?”
“Cured him?” said Klondaeg.
Dalvinus shrugged. “Seems to me, the problem is that Clayborn is a monster. What’s your policy on things that used to be monsters?”
“I suppose there’s nothing wrong with them,” said Klondaeg, indecisively.
“Well, there’s your plan. Cure him. Isn’t there some ancient monster heart in the forest you can just chop in half?”
“It’s an imposter.”
“Convince an Oracle to curse him back to health?”
“Killed the only one I knew. You were there.”
“Remind me again. Does killing the gnomelobo king revert all the other gnomelobos, or is that quarter-orcs?”
Klondaeg shook his head. “No, and he’s the king anyway.”
“Hmm,” said Dalvinus. “I can see why you’re having trouble with his one.”
They drank in silence. Every now and then, Dalvinus opened his mouth to speak, but he never made it to the second syllable. The other patrons of the taverns milled about. Here a man hopelessly flirted with a woman. There a woman hopelessly flirted with a man. Brothers fought, couples kissed, and the bitter old men drank bitter old ales. A pickpocket stole a man’s purse, then bought the victim a drink on the way out. In the corner, an aspiring minstrel was trying to tune his lyre, but he was booed quiet with each strum.
“I hear you’re looking for a way to break an enchantment,” said a rough voice to Klondaeg’s right. Apparently, this was the type of establishment where no one said, “hello” or started a conversation from more than three inches away. There was no point in arguing with the culture of a tavern.
“I am,” said Klondaeg, turning to look at this newcomer. A black hood shrouded his face, and his hands were green and scaly. Klondaeg willed his liver to process the alcohol. A fight might be coming. “Are those real?”
“The gloves? Real enough, I suppose. I made them from a lizard-man’s skin.”
“Lizard-man,” said Klondaeg. “Which god do they belong to?”
“Acerbus, I expect,” said the newcomer. Most monsters were said to have come from Acerbus, but Klondaeg didn’t believe it. He’d met Acerbus, and he was no father of monsters. Father of sweeping religious reformation and natural selection, perhaps, but not monsters. Well, not that many monsters.
“And you are?”
The man pulled his hood farther over his face. “Just a pilgrim, passing through.”
“And your god? Who is he?”
“That’s what I’m trying to discover.”
Dalvinus nodded. “A worthy agenda for a pilgrimage, to discover the true nature of your god.”
“His name, I mean,” said Klondaeg.
“He goes by many names, but I hope to learn what I shall call him.”
Klondaeg closed his eyes and exhaled slowly. “But wh—“
“Let it go, Klondaeg,” said Dalvinus. He put a firm hand on Klondaeg’s shoulder. “I’ve dealt with pilgrims before. The trick is to let them do the talking.”
The pilgrim helped himself to Klondaeg’s plate. His hand paused over a carrot, then selected a chunk of cheese instead. A quick glance at Dalvinus confirmed Klondaeg’s suspicion that he should overlook the blatant thievery. “What you need to cure your friend,” said the pilgrim, “is a miracle.”
“Just what a pilgrim would say,” said Klondaeg.
“There’s a clearing a few days north of here, where the rainbow meets the forest. They say that a unicorn resides there, and shows himself each dawn. Gain his favor, and he will grant you a wish.”
“But a unicorn only appears to the pure of heart.”
The pilgrim stood. “Then you have the whole journey to purify yourself,” he said, and he vanished into the crowd.