Teaser Tuesday! | The Inquisition by Taran Matharu

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I would like to take this opportunity to thank Taran and his publisher for the sample provided. I hope you guys enjoy!

You can check out my review for The Novice, Book One in the Summoner series, here.


It was early morning, and the team was moving at a fast pace through the jungle. They were even more careful to cover their tracks, but fortunately the trail they were on was regularly used by the jungle animals, confusing the ground with dozens of different claw-and hoofprints.

Most disconcertingly, they had found the flat-footed prints of orcs there too, not unlike a human’s but larger and with deep toe indentations. It was difficult to say how long they had been there, but Fletcher was glad that Athena was watching from the canopy above, her view translating directly to the scrying crystal strapped to his head.

“Can . . . we . . . slow . . . down . . . yet?” Othello gasped, readjusting his pack with a bowlegged jump. Solomon had been infused within him, for the Golem was too slow to keep up and his weighty legs left deep impressions on the ground. As such, the heavy satchels had once again been strapped to their backs, making the going even tougher. Jeffrey’s asthma made him take deep breaths through an herb-filled cloth, and Cress’s short legs forced her to travel in short bursts of speed, as Othello did.

“Five-minute break,” Fletcher announced, his heart thundering in his chest, sweat trickling down his back. After a year in captivity with no more exercise than a few push-ups, he too was struggling. In fact, only Sylva seemed to be faring well.

They stopped and collapsed to the ground, pressing their backs against tree trunks on either side of the path. There were a few minutes that were filled only with the gulping of water and chewing of fruit and root tubers. Then Sylva pointed back down the path and groaned.

“Even at this pace, Isadora and the others could catch up with us by nightfall. We just can’t travel as fast as they can.”

“Well, it’s worth trying,” Othello groaned, laying his head on Fletcher’s shoulder. “We should reach the pyramid late tomorrow. If we can avoid them until then, all will be well.”

They continued to sit, and even though five minutes had passed, Fletcher let them rest a little longer. He had spent much of the previous night watching the other team through his scrying crystal, hoping to hear their conversation. To his dismay, the Wendigo prowled the edges of their camp for most of the night, keeping Athena at a distance until he fell asleep.

Fear pulsed into Fletcher from the twin consciousnesses of his demons. Ignatius burst out of the jungle, and in the overlay of his scrying crystal he saw a disturbance on the path up ahead.

“Get off the trail!” Fletcher hissed, and then he and Sylva were scrambling into the jungle, while Othello, Cress and Jeffrey dived into the bushes on the other side of the path. Lysander and Sariel followed the others, pressing their bodies low to the ground and wriggling into the thicker vegetation. It was just as well, for it was not long before the new arrivals revealed themselves.

Three rhinos, long horns plowing forward like the prows on a fleet of warships, emerged. Their skin was thick and leathery, the gray color matching perfectly with that of the herculean giants that rode them.

Seven-foot bull orcs, matured to their greatest size, with three-inch tusks and bodies adorned with whorls of red and yellow war paints. They carried great macana clubs, shaped like flat wooden bats with rectangular shards of napped obsidian embedded along the edges, sharper than even the finest blade. Fletcher imagined they could probably decapitate a horse in one stroke. Baker’s journal described them as both mace and sword, crumpling armor and quartering flesh in equal measures.

Behind the orcs, loincloth-clad goblins rode in rows of two, armed with stone-tipped spears and misshapen clubs carved from tree branches. They appeared much like the specimen Fletcher had seen at the great council, shorter than him by a head and scrawny to boot, with long noses and flapping ears.

Their steeds were cassowaries, great ostrich-like birds with black feathers so fine they almost appeared like fur. The long featherless necks on their flightless bodies were a bright blue color, and long red wattles dangled from their chins. Strangest of all, they had humped casks cresting their heads, not unlike a short, blunt horn embedded in their skulls. Fletcher shuddered as their raptor talons ripped up the ground beneath them, each one capable of disemboweling a man with a single kick.

He knew from the findings in Baker’s journal that cassowaries were only ever ridden by younger orcs, when they were small enough that the birds could bear their weight. With the arrival of the goblins, the orcs had found another use for them.

“My god, there are so many of them,” Sylva whispered.

There were at least fifty goblins in the column, their frog-like eyes scanning the forest for movement. Trotting at the heels of the cavalcade were two spotted hyenas, their powerful, squat bodies ranging up and down the column, sniffing at the ground. For a moment a hyena paused by the trail, its pug snout snorting at the ground directly ahead of where they stood huddled. They watched in silence as it moved closer . . . It began to growl, and Sylva grabbed Fletcher’s arm in alarm . . . but a guttural bark from one of the orcs sent it scampering back to the front of the war-party.

Fortunately for the team, the goblins seemed to be following the scent they had left down the trail. It occurred to Fletcher that they might be smelling something else, not far away. Perhaps the Wendigo?

It took no more than a minute for them to pass by, but it felt like an age before Fletcher gathered the nerve to step out on the path once more. As he did so, Athena swooped down and alighted on his shoulder, while Ignatius leaped into his arms and buried his head in Fletcher’s chest. It had been a close call.

“Right, I say we get off this trail,” Fletcher announced, his voice trembling with nervous energy.

“Agreed,” Othello said, emerging from the forest with the others. “When the trail runs cold, they’ll come back this way.”

“Those birds looked like demons,” Cress said, staring after them. “I’ve never seen anything like that before.”

“Trust me, they’re a real animal,” Jeffrey lectured. “They’re fast as hell and kick like a mule. You should see their eggs, giant green things, you’d take one look at them and think they could be a goblin’s eggs. Try having one of those for breakfa-”

“You realize they’re heading right for Isadora and the others,” Cress interrupted, looking in the direction of the column.

“That’s perfect,” Sylva said. “Maybe they’ll take each other out.” But Fletcher looked to Lysander, who was watching the retreat

ing army with a concerned expression. Lord Forsyth would have one of Lysander’s scrying crystals with him, so Hannibal would be able to relay a warning to Tarquin and the others. But he knew that with the Wendigo’s size and stench, they would find it difficult to avoid the prowling hyenas. It was tempting. The thought of Didric and the twins being ambushed by orcs was an image he had pictured on many a lonely night in his cell, but then he felt a twinge of rebuke from Athena’s consciousness. Fletcher sighed. She was right. He turned to his friends.

“Why are we here?” Fletcher asked, looking them all in the eye. “To destroy a few thousand goblin eggs and rescue Rufus’s mother, Lady Cavendish,” Sylva said, already swinging her pack onto her shoulders.

“No. Why are we here?” Fletcher asked again.

They stared at him silently, as if confused by the question.

“Our team is supposed to be a shining example to the world of cooperation between the races,” Fletcher said. “We are to prove that dwarves and elves are worthy of humanity’s respect. Now, I want them dead as much as you, I’d kill them myself if I had a chance. But how will it look if we abandon Isadora’s team, leaving them to be slaughtered?”

Othello and Sylva avoided his eyes, but they knew he spoke the truth.

“They’re hunting us,” Sylva whispered. “This is our chance.”

“We don’t know that,” Cress replied stubbornly. “They could have changed their minds about their route in.”

“If they’re killed, that’s one team fewer to join the raid. Even if they manage to escape, the orcs will raise the alarm,” Cress said, lending Fletcher her support.

“But it’s Didric, Tarquin, Isadora, even Grindle! They’ve all tried to kill every one of us. You’re naive, Cress-the world would be a better place without them,” Sylva snarled, and Fletcher couldn’t fault her words. Was he really going to save the people who had plotted his execution? He hesitated, but then Cress spoke again.

“What about Atlas? Does he deserve death just because we don’t like the company he keeps?” she asked quietly. “If we let them die, we would be no better than they are, putting our own ends before the safety of Hominum.”

Sylva exhaled with frustration, then turned back the way they had come, unslinging her bow as she did so.

“Let’s get this over with,” she growled.


 

They shadowed the orc patrol for half an hour, using Athena’s vision to make sure they stayed just out of sight. Fortunately, the riders were upwind of them, so the snuffling hyenas could not smell their approach.

“Wait,” Fletcher hissed, holding up his fist. “They’ve stopped.”

From her vantage point above, Athena could see that the trio of rhinos at the front had come to a halt. Just ahead, the hyenas were yipping with a high-pitched cackle at the trees around them.

“No guns,” Fletcher whispered. “Bows only. Loose on my signal.” They took up positions on either side of the trail, keeping to the bushes. It had been a long time since Fletcher had used his bow, but as soon as it was in his grip it all came back, the string gliding easily along his fingers as he nocked a blue-fletched arrow to it. Beside him, Cress grunted as she wound her crossbow, the metal lever on the side slipping in her sweaty fingers.

“Jeffrey, stay back and cover our rear,” Fletcher ordered, lining up his shot. “If another patrol comes I want to know about it.”

He did not pull back just yet, for he knew that he shot better in a single, fluid motion. Instead, he concentrated on the orcs as the first dismounted and peered into the forest.

A fireball took the orc in the chest, blasting him into the jungle. More sizzled through the air like meteorites, throwing the column into disarray. Isadora’s team had prepared an ambush.

“Now!” Fletcher shouted as the goblins at the back turned to flee. Two arrows and a bolt thrummed into the heaving creatures, plucking them from their mounts with deadly accuracy.

“Again,” Fletcher growled, and another volley followed the first, thumping into cassowary and goblin alike. At the head of the column, the Wendigo burst through the trees, slashing left and right at the two remaining orcs while fireballs, lightning and kinetic blasts buzzed inaccurately through the air.

Miraculously, a goblin made it past their barrage of arrows, his cassowary hurtling them down the trail, away from the battle. Fletcher shouted a warning.

“Don’t let him get a-”

A hurlbat axe whirled through the air and took the cassowary’s right leg off, sending it head over heels. Then Othello erupted from the undergrowth, dispatching the goblin and bird with two chops of his battle-axe.

Dozens of goblins shrieked with fury and thundered toward the exposed dwarf. But a screech from above gave them pause. Lysander hurled himself out of the branches above, bowling through the cassowary riders in a whirlwind of wings and talons. Even as the goblins fell to the ground, the birds kicked and jabbed their beaks, and the Griffin roared with pain.

“Close in!” Fletcher ordered, and then he was running, khopesh drawn, heart pounding as hard as his feet did against the ground.

The first goblin swung his club, still dazed from being knocked off his mount. Fletcher parried and riposted, taking it through the sternum and blasting it from the blade with a shot of kinetic energy. Cress’s torcmknocked another goblin to the ground, while Sylva decapitated a flailing cassowary with a sweep of her falx. Othello’s hurlbat axes peppered the massed goblins from over Fletcher’s shoulders, thrumming dangerously close to his ears.

It gave Lysander enough time to throw himself back into the air, sprinkling the ground below with droplets of blood. There was no time to assess the Griffin’s injuries, for as the first row of goblins went down, another took its place, lunging at the trio with howls of anger.

“Back,” Fletcher gasped as a club struck his left elbow, leaving his tattooed hand to hang limply by his side. Othello stepped in beside Sylva to protect the right of the trail, while Cress and Fletcher held the left. Goblins and cassowaries crowded toward the thin line of summoners, spreading into the jungle in an attempt to flank them. A gout of flame from the undergrowth sent a group of goblins scrambling back, one spinning away and screeching as Ignatius scrabbled at its face.

After one last slash, the Salamander dived back into the bushes, daring the goblins to leave the trail once again.

On the other side, lightning crackled into the massed creatures, dropping several to spasm and twitch on the ground. Cress’s demon, Tosk, had joined the battle.

“Where’s Sariel?” Fletcher shouted, sweeping his khopesh in a wide arc, and a goblin skittered back with a deep gash along its rib cage. “Solomon?”

There was a splintering sound from behind, and half of Fletcher’s question was answered. Tree branches arced overhead, slamming into the snarling goblins, and the guttural roar told Fletcher that Solomon was making use of his great strength.

Sariel erupted from the bushes, snatching a cassowary by the legs and dragging it into the greenery. Sylva gasped with pain as the two creatures tore into each other, the crackle of broken branches accompanied by snarls and screeches.

“Battle spells,” Fletcher ordered as the feeling returned to his arm once more. “But conserve your mana.”

Sylva’s etching was so fast that he had barely finished his sentence before her fireball buzzed into the nearest goblin, blasting it down to twist and wail on the ground, scrabbling at its chest. More followed from Cress and Othello, while Fletcher whipped a tongue of kinetic energy into the air, sending the few remaining riders tumbling.

Still the goblins pressed in, their gnarled clubs parrying Fletcher’s thinner blade to jar his arm up to the shoulder. A hurled spear sliced past Fletcher’s face. He felt a flash of pain as it caught his cheek, the trickle of hot blood mingling with the sweat pooling at the base of his neck. He shook his head and slashed a goblin across the face in return, sending it spinning away, clutching at its head.

A kick from a squawking cassowary hurled Cress back, but it failed to pierce her jacket. She responded with a bolt of lightning that took off its head in a spray of blood, and staggered back into the fight.

Flame flared from Ignatius, spiraling into the goblins as they surged forward once again, blinding them. Tosk added a jagged streak of electric blue, hurling the front-runners into those behind in a tangle of limbs and clubs. In the brief respite, Fletcher took the opportunity to concentrate on his scrying crystal, the overlay showing him the full picture of the battlefield.

The two orcs were holding their own against the Wendigo, while Isadora’s team stayed hidden in the bushes, keeping the goblins at bay with the liberal use of spells. It depleted their mana reserves, but was a winning strategy; dozens of the convoy’s corpses littered the ground and the rest were huddled behind the corpses of the rhinos, which had already been dispatched. Of the fifty mounted goblins that had started, no more than a score remained. Even the hyenas were dead, their heavyset bodies splayed out in a macabre slumber.

That was when it all went wrong. One of the remaining orcs broke from the pack, bolting into the jungle. With Lysander out of the picture and Sariel locked in a life-and-death struggle out of sight, Fletcher had no choice but to break from his team.

“No survivors,” he yelled over his shoulder.

Then he was deep in the forest, following the sound of crashing branches as the orc tore his way through the undergrowth. The air was suddenly still and silent, disturbed only by a poorly aimed spell whiffling through the leaves above. He sensed Ignatius following but did not have time to wait for him. Instead, he instructed Athena to remain above the battle and watch for more runaways. From her vantage point, he could see that Solomon had taken his place in the line, using a small sapling as a club to batter the goblins and cassowaries aside.

In the new quiet, the adrenaline began to leave Fletcher, his cheek stinging with each pulse of his rapidly beating heart. He was bone tired and his lungs burned in his chest. Still he staggered on, ignoring the flies that buzzed around his head, hungry for the salt in the blood and sweat that coated him.

He followed the crash and snap of the retreating orc, wishing he had thought it all through. The two orcs had battled the Wendigo without difficulty. Now he would face one alone.

There was a rattle of disturbed vegetation, then a gray-skinned orc appeared just ahead, cleaving at a thick patch of thorny branches with its macana club. Up close it was enormous, towering over him. He thought it as broad and muscular as Berdon and Jakov put together.

Fletcher didn’t hesitate. He leaped with his khopesh in both hands, the point aimed squarely at the center of the orc’s back. It missed the spine by a hand’s breadth, spitting the orc through its midriff, the resistance a fraction of what Fletcher had expected.

He yelled with triumph as the orc stiffened, a guttural bellow spraying heart-blood on the leaves ahead of it. Then Fletcher’s head exploded with pain and his mouth was filled with the taste of rotting leaves and blood. The orc had spun, backhanding him into the ground.

A callused foot slammed into the earth beside him as he rolled away, just in time. He fired a kinetic pulse, blasting himself from the earth to stand once again. No sooner was he on his feet than he was diving aside, the macana chopping through the air in a great, swinging arc. He sprawled into the thorny bush the orc had been blocked by, his jacket caught on the hooked thorns, arms spread like a crucified man.

Bloody froth bubbled from the orc’s mouth as it bellowed in triumph, lifeblood pumping from around the blade in its chest in dark gouts. It raised the macana, chuckling throatily as it lifted Fletcher’s chin with the flat of the club. The obsidian shards on the tip dug into the soft flesh of his throat as the orc leaned forward, almost gently. His would not be a slow death.

Ignatius barreled out of the undergrowth, a sweeping tidal wave of flame heralding his arrival as he landed on the orc’s face. His tail struck like a scorpion’s, stabbing madly at the orc’s eyes, nose and mouth, while the flames flowed over the orc’s face in great pulsing waves. Fletcher tugged himself free, ripping the coat from the thorns’ embrace after a few moments’ struggle. It was just in time, for the orc chopped blindly at him, even managing to slice a button from Fletcher’s sleeve. Then it was finished, the orc falling to its knees and keeling over, the last spurts of blood from its chest turning into a trickle.

Ignatius sprung into Fletcher’s arms, mewling with sympathy and licking at the wounds in his throat. They stood like that for a while, basking in the glory of being alive. The wounds on Fletcher’s neck stung as Ignatius lapped his tongue along the wounds, but soon the feeling was strangely soothing. He ran his fingers along his neck tentatively, only to find the wounds had gone.

“Bloody hell,” he exclaimed. He held Ignatius up to his face and the demon yapped happily, licking the tip of Fletcher’s nose.

“You must have a healing symbol hidden in that tongue somewhere.” Fletcher laughed, rubbing Ignatius’s head affectionately. “Even after all this time, you still manage to surprise me. Best not tell Jeffrey, though-he’ll have that tongue out and on his operating table if we’re not careful.”

Ignatius wriggled in his grip and he set the Salamander on the ground. As he did so, he saw the orc’s face and winced. It had been burned away, leaving only a blackened skull beneath, while the leathery gray skin of its belly and legs was covered with blood. Red and yellow whorls and stripes of war paint adorned its chest and what was left of its cheeks. Without it, the orc would be practically naked, were it not for the rough-spun skirt that protected its modesty.

Fletcher’s khopesh was stuck fast in the orc’s flesh. He grimaced at the grisly sight and bent to tug it out.

A crossbow bolt hissed over his head like a striking snake, thudding into a tree behind him. Fletcher fell to the ground and pulled the orc’s corpse onto its side as a shield. Another bolt sailed right toward Fletcher a moment later, but it stuck into the orc body’s shoulder, the force of it so strong that it broke through, the tip stopping an inch from Fletcher’s face. The accuracy and speed was astounding, that of a trained assassin. Then, as Fletcher powered up his finger for a counterattack, the ambusher retreated, leaving the crash of broken branches in his wake. The grinning skull of the orc seemed to laugh at Fletcher as he shoved the corpse aside in disgust. Fletcher took a moment to catch his breath.

If he hadn’t bent to pull out his khopesh from the orc, he would have been skewered through the chest.

He tugged the crossbow bolt from the trunk and held it up to the dim light of the jungle. Blue fletching. Just like Cress’s.

When Fletcher returned to the others, the battle was over. Solomon was busy digging a large grave, his great hands shoveling aside the dirt in a small clearing. It was good thinking; a pile of corpses would bring forth all sorts of carrion eaters, and the clouds of vultures above would attract too much attention. Jeffrey was farther up the trail, examining a goblin corpse and writing notes in a leather-bound journal. His hands were shaking with adrenaline, resulting in an uneven scrawl.

Othello had just healed Lysander, the last traces of white light dissolving from the bloodied feathers along the Griffin’s side. Cress was nowhere to be seen.

“Where is Isadora’s team?” Fletcher shouted, brandishing the bolts. Sylva looked up from where she kneeled, in the middle of healing Sariel’s wounds.

“They ran off,” she said, her voice dull with exhaustion. “Didn’t even thank us for our help.”

“One of them tried to kill me,” Fletcher announced, holding up the blue-fletched crossbow bolt. “With these.”

“Aren’t those Cress’s?”

“I don’t think she lost them after all. I think they stole them.”

“You’re joking,” Othello growled, unrolling his summoning leather for Solomon to stand on. He infused the demon in a burst of white light, for the poor Golem was staggering with exhaustion.

“I wish I was,” Fletcher said. He paused, realizing the implications. The attackers could have used a spell, or an arrow of their own. Instead, they had chosen ammunition that only Cress could have used. They wanted to frame her for the attack.

Othello had clearly been thinking along the same lines.

“If we had come across your body with that stuck in you, the whole of Hominum would think Cress had killed you,” the dwarf said, snatching the offending projectiles from Fletcher’s hand. “They might even think Cress was working with the Anvils.”

“I don’t know . . .” Sylva said, examining the bolt. “We’re jumping to conclusions. We barely know her. Maybe she is working for the Anvils.”

“Yeah, and I’m a goblin in disguise,” Othello scoffed. “If she was a traitor, I’d know about it. The dwarven community is a small one; there are barely a few thousand of us left. I know who the trouble makers are.”

Fletcher looked around.

“Speaking of Cress, where is she?” he asked.

“Right here,” came a voice from behind him.

Cress emerged from the jungle, Tosk perched on her shoulder. Her face was drenched with sweat and her crossbow hung limply in her hand.

“I see you caught the orc,” she said. “Well done. I tried to catch up with you but got lost-” She stopped as she caught the stunned expressions from the others.

“Where did you get that?” she asked, catching sight of the quarrels clutched in Othello’s fist.

“You tell me,” Sylva said, standing up and narrowing her eyes at the dwarf. “Someone just tried to kill Fletcher with it.”

Cress remained silent, her eyes still fixed on the bolts. Sylva motioned with her chin at the jungle behind the dwarf.

“In there.”

“I-I lost them,” Cress stammered, looking over her shoulder. “Whoever it was must have taken them from my quiver back at camp, like I said earlier.”

“That’s a convenient story,” Sylva said, crossing her arms and studying Cress’s face.

“Your arrows are missing too,” Cress countered.

Something stung Fletcher’s neck and he slapped at it irritably.

“It was Isadora’s team, I know it,” he said, putting an arm around Cress’s shoulders. He suddenly felt very weak, and it was a relief to lean against her. “This is exactly what they want, for us to turn on one another. Now we know why they were following us.”

Sylva glared at him, then jumped up and slapped at her thigh. “Damned insects,” she snarled, plucking something from her leg.

But what she held between her fingers was not an insect at all. It was a tiny dart.

The projectile swam in Fletcher’s vision and suddenly he was on his knees. The ground rushed up to meet him.


About the Author

Taran was born in London in 1990 and found a passion for reading at a very early age. His love for stories developed into a desire to create his own during early adolescence, beginning his first book at 9 years old.

Straight after graduating with a First Class degree in Business Administration, Taran was keen to explore a new avenue and get inside the publishing world, landing an internship in Digital Sales at Penguin Random House, from June to September 2013.

Thereafter, while taking time off to travel, Taran began to write ‘Summoner’ in November 2013 at the age of 22, taking part in ‘Nanowrimo 2013’.

Thanks to Wattpad.com and updating daily, its popularity dramatically increased, reaching over 3 million reads in less than six months.

After being featured by NBC News, Taran decided to launch his professional writing career and has never looked back.

His SUMMONER trilogy is published by Hodder Children’s (Hachette) in the UK, Australia and Commonwealth, Feiwel and Friends (Macmillan) in the US and Canada, Hachette Jeunesse in France, Heyne in Germany, Planeta in Spain, Crown in Taiwan and Record in Brazil. Book 1 will be published by EKSMO in Russia, Jaguar in Poland, Ecliptic in Bulgaria and Alpress in the Czech Republic.

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*Picture and Biography from Goodreads

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