Entropy’s Allegiance (Magic of the Old Arts Book 1)

Yes. Be very careful.

A shadow stretched past the gates. The footsteps came to a halt. Ilanar’s heart thumped wildly.

And then a sword burst through the iron, carving a hole in it as though it were made of paper. The blade was a deep, lustreless black, and it smoldered with dense smoke.

There was a grunt. The carved piece of iron struck the stone ground with a thump, and beyond, a towering man stood.

He was clad in a blood-drenched armor with a faded crest on the chest. One so tainted and tarnished that Ilanar couldn’t distinguish. Behind him, past the gates, ran a crimson river half-buried beneath piles and piles of corpses.

Serene and tranquil, the man stepped into the castle. He moved with the calm demeanor of those who had danced with death in a field of blades throughout their entire lives. He came to a halt then, and took off his helm. The traces of time were clear in his scarred face and grizzled hair. Still he was too young to be old, and too old to be young.

Ilanar swallowed hard. For the first time in his life, he doubted himself. He knew this man bore great power, but what unnerved him was that blade. He had never seen something of the like. His thoughts eddied. If he engaged, he gave the enemy the possibility to retaliate in ways he didn’t expect, and that meant giving him a great advantage. But if he left him come, he would be allowing him too much free movement.

All the while, the man remained silent, taking off his armor, without looking at him.

This is no army. This is a single man. He has a blade. It’s dark and it smolders. I don’t know what to do.

A single man? Do you recognize him?
No. But his presence is heavy, palpable. He gushes with power.

Maintain the calm. Let him make the first move. We need as much information as we can gather.

“Much, much better,” the man said as he dropped his breastplate to the ground, revealing chainmail beneath. “It was too bloody. Too sticky.” He smiled, and gazed at Ilanar. “You know, one would expect the royal guard to be more impulsive after witnessing the mess I made on the field. But of course that would be unwise. Emotions are no different than closing your eyes in the battlefield. They blind you, and your rationality too.”

He paused. His face distorted into confusion. “Two swords? It seems like I will finally fight a proper battle.”