A Sword of Greed and Envy

A Sword of Greed and Envy

Book One of the Nokturn Rising Series

By: M. C. Clay


Prologue



Twigs snap beneath my feet as I trudge through the thick forest. I hesitate, waiting

before I take another step, wondering if I’ve made too much noise. When no sound follows, I

continue on, careful of my steps. When I reach the old grist mill, long abandoned and now

crumbling from disuse, I let out a sigh of relief. I take a step out of the thicket and hands

encircle my small throat. I gasp out and claw at the hands of my assailant. He shoves me to the

ground, releasing me from his hold and I scramble backwards, into the clearing. I look up at

Garrison as he looms over me, looking disappointed.

“Your steps are too heavy, you’re careless,” he says coldly.

“I’m sorry,” I sputter.

“Apologies are for the weak!” he barks, “Are you weak, Lark?”

I shake my head, “No, I am not weak.”

“I didn’t think so,” he says, “Now, again!”

We start back over from the beginning, he, giving me a five-minute head start into the

woods before plunging in to track me. The goal? Reach the grist mill without being captured.

We’ve repeated this lesson at least a hundred times, and every time, Garrison catches me. No

matter how light my steps, no matter how little noise I make or how shallow I breathe, he still

manages to reach me before I get to the mill. Garrison promises that if I master this lesson, he

will then teach me to shoot a bow and arrow. I badly want to learn to shoot. I want to become

the greatest warrior Maldara has ever seen. I will be cunning. I will be brave. I will be

dangerous. I will be defiant in the face of my enemies, and I have plenty of those.

Chapter 1

The land of Maldara was divided into four factions of beings, centuries ago, when the

new era dawned after years of endless war and strife we call the Dark Times. Each faction is

ruled by a family of elders that preside over their domain however they see fit. There are

humans, like me, that reside in the Medeor territory to the south where the terrain is thick with

trees and vegetation. It rains often, but then gives way to the blazing sun, creating a sweltering

atmosphere that can be unbearable to those not accustomed to it.

The other three factions are inhabited by Nokturns. The terrifying thing about Nokturns,

is that they look not much different from a regular human. They simply look like a more

flawless version of one of us, and maybe a bit paler.

The Fortis territory lies to the east and is home to some of the toughest, most stubborn

creatures in the land. It is ruled by the Hunter family. The Hunters, and their people, are

Werewolves. They were given the ability of incredible strength. While this is useful, it takes a

toll on their brains and makes them a bit less intelligent. That is the least of the price they pay

for such brute strength, the largest cost being that of the Lycan disease. They can shift from

human form to that of a beast in the blink of an eye, but they are dangerous in any form and

they crave violence and enjoy feasting on both humans and animals.

To the west of Fortis is the Arcanum territory. Arcanum was home to horrifying, bloodthirsty creatures, literally. Vampires reign over those lands, led by the Adaro family. In exchange

for the ability to control and manipulate fire, the creatures of Arcanum are doomed to crave

and feed on blood for eternity. They reside in the mountainous lands that touch our

northwestern border. We have fortified that section of our lands, as vampires like to hunt for

human blood, preferring it to the blood of animals.

To the north of all the other factions is the Mortem faction. The castle there is said to be

wonderous, with glittering black onyx towers that would gleam were it ever to be touched by

sunlight. I’ve never ventured there myself, but Uncle Garrison tells me that the land stays

shrouded in shadows, gray clouds block out the sun and a thick fog hangs in the air. The Alsop

family rules over the Mortem faction. Mortem is home to the most terrifying creatures of all.

We call them Reapers. Reapers are necromancers that can summon and restore spirits of those

long gone from this world. The horrifying part though, is that they could latch onto your soul

and guide it right out of your body, draining the life from you. They feed on human souls like

Vampires feed on blood. Unfortunately, feeding on souls isn’t the worst part of their

punishment. Their humanity has been ripped away from them and they no longer feel the

human emotions that most of us long for.

Of all the factions, Arcanum governs over the whole of Maldara. It’s been this way for as

long as I can remember and long before that even. It isn’t something that humans and Nokturns

vote on, it simply is. Vampires are considered to be the most powerful of the Nokturns, so they

naturally took the responsibility, and they never fail to flaunt their power.

Maldara is a large land, surrounded by the White Sea. Beyond those waters, is a land of

devastation. Ancient war ravaged what used to be thriving civilizations. It is said to now be

inhabited by rogue creatures of night that would feast on the flesh of humans and Nokturns

alike, should anyone be so careless as to journey there. We call this land the Shadow Region.

Beyond the Shadow Region, lie the Shan Dune Province and the Birsk lands. Shan Dune

is home to great warriors who have conquered all but the Birsk lands and Maldara itself. I

imagine they would’ve already set upon us if not for the Shadow Region. Birsk is home to a

more diplomatic society, said to treat their humans and Nokturns with equality. I fail to see how

that is possible. It is no more than wishful thinking on the part of those who peddle such tales

as well as those who believe them.

My home is on the outskirts of Medeor, almost to the border of the Fortis faction. I live

with my family in the thick woods surrounding the main human settlement. As soon as I was old

enough to wield a weapon, Garrison Balefire, my uncle, took me under his wing. Garrison was a

well-known human who was skilled in battle and hunting. I pleaded with him for a month

straight, showing up on his doorstep every morning at sunrise and refusing to leave until the

sun had set, begging him to train me as he had my twin brother, Taron.

Eventually, he either saw something in me, or grew tired of my pleading, because he

agreed to train me. He molded me into a deadly weapon with my own two hands, a blade, a

bow or any other object that could be made into a weapon. Garrison would take me deep into

the woods, teaching me how to balance among the branches in the trees. Then, he taught me

how to shoot, straight and true, always landing my arrow in my mark. While my brother is an

expert swordsman, I am lethal with a bow.

Now, I stand in the tree tops above a small clearing, my arrow nocked and ready to fly. I

bring the stag into my sight, raising the bow and letting out a silent breath as I release the

bowstring and watch the arrow soar through the air. The stag drops and I swing down from the

trees. I trudge through the tall grass and pull the arrow from the body. A shadow falls over me

and I’m quick, dropping low to duck out of the stranger’s grasp then spinning to face them. A

slow smile spreads over my face as I see, not a stranger at all, but my old friend, Elliot

Greystone grinning back at me.

“Larkin Kravinoff,” he says, chastising, “What on earth do you think you’re doing lurking

in the trees like that?”

“Do not call me that,” I say through gritted teeth, making him laugh at having annoyed

me.

Elliot had been my only friend growing up, besides my brother Taron. He is like a

brother to me himself. He had been best friends with Taron since we were children and I grew

up right alongside them. Garrison had taken all of us on as children while my father was away,

and we had absorbed his knowledge like little sponges. Elliot is a couple of years older than

Taron and I. He stands only an inch or two taller than me. His hair is the color of wet sand, and

his eyes are a dull brown. He had always been kind to me. I had been out of place with my

copper hair and ice blue eyes. When you look different, people tended to stay away from you.

“Gotten a good haul lately, Lark?” he asks, changing the subject and reverting back to

the familiar, shortened version of my name.

I shrug, “Not the best,” I tell him, thinking back to the Winter Festival a couple of

months ago when all of the traitorous humans traveled to the inner city for two whole weeks

seeking jobs amongst the Nokturns, leaving nothing and no one for me to sell my kills to, “But

definitely not the worst.”

“Good,” he says, then turning very serious, “I’m thinking of volunteering for the Arena.”

He takes hold of one of the stag’s hind legs, helping me drag the beast from the forest.

I snap my head up to look at him, “What? Why?”

The Arena of Annihilation is a sick form of entertainment for Nokturns, and even some

humans. They select participants from the human population and then pit them against each

other. The survivor would then be honored with a special festival and offered a place as a

servant in whichever faction would select them, essentially granting safety to a human who

otherwise might not have lived more than a year more.

“Why would you want to do that?” I ask again, not understanding why he would want to

volunteer his life for something so idiotic.

“It just feels like the right thing to do. I need something more than just hanging in the

shadows and price gouging people for pelts and meats all day,” he says, then adds, “No

offense.”

I snort, “Yeah, none taken. Well, whatever, man. Do what you have to do,” I say,

feigning indifference.

“Don’t be like that,” he says, rolling his eyes, “You can stand there and say you don’t

want more? To feel like you’re making a difference?"

I would be lying if I said I didn’t. I think all humans wondered at some point, what would

it be like if we had a purpose; If we had power. It doesn’t do to think like that. It could never

happen.

“Be like what? I’m not being like anything,” I insist, pretending to focus on the task at

hand, unwilling to admit he is right.

“Acting like you don’t care,” he says, his voice soft.

I look at him then, really studying him, “Listen, it sucks. One of my closest and only

friends wants to leave me and volunteer for the stupid Arena. But, you know what?” I ask and

he raises his brow in question, “If you’re going to volunteer, then so will I.”

“Lark, no,” he says, shaking his head, “That would mean we would have to kill each

other.”

“Not necessarily,” I shrug, “Someone else could get to us first. The humans that train

and look at the Arena as a challenge to be won. The mercenaries.”

Elliot stays silent, as if he hadn’t considered the idea of the mercenary humans that

would be in the Arena with him.

“Your family needs you here,” he reminds me.

“They need you too, Elliot,” I insist, but he doesn’t respond, deep in thought.

After selling off the deer to the local butcher shop, I push into the local tavern where my

father, uncle and brother are bound to be.

I slide into an empty chair next to Taron who gives me a warm smile. Taron is a little

taller than me and very muscular. His hair is a sandy blonde color and his features are kind and

gentle. Underneath that, I know he can be a ruthless warrior. His looks have never fooled me.

“Lark,” he says, draping his arm casually across the back of my chair, “How did we fare

today?”

I pull the coins from my pocket and place them on the table before me.

“Nicely done, daughter,” my father says with approval.

My father, Travant Kravinoff, is a good man. He is of average height, with sandy blonde

hair like my brother’s. They both have the same honey-colored eyes. He’s honest, brave, and

smart. He just didn’t have the biggest hand in our training, so he doesn’t know us like Uncle

Garrison does. Garrison Balefire is my mother’s brother. He and my mother had the same

copper hair as I do, only his is now streaked with gray. His eyes match my own, a chilling, icy

blue that would rival a glacier. I imagine my mother would look much like him if she were still

here.

“Anything to help the cause, right?” I ask.

The cause. We eat, sleep and breathe the cause. It is like a religion amongst a select

group of humans. A rebellion. An igniting of civil war. An act of defiance against the Nokturns

who sought to always hold us down.

“That’s right,” my father says with a nod.

I turn to Taron, “Did you know that Elliot wants to volunteer for the Arena?” I ask.

He looks at me with surprise and I get the attention of my father and Garrison as well.

“What are you talking about?” Garrison asks with concern.

“He just told me,” I tell them with a nod, “He’s going to volunteer tomorrow at the

Choosing ceremony.”

“That’s absurd,” my father says, “We must talk some sense into him.”

He and Garrison rise to leave, hurrying out of the tavern quickly. Elliot had lost his

parents to Vampires when he was young. We had welcomed him into our family without a

second thought.

“What’s on your mind?” Taron asks, once they have gone.

“Do you ever think about what it would be like, to be one of them?” I ask.

He shakes his head, “It does no good to think about things that cannot be.”

“What about those who go to serve them,” I mention, “Do you think their lives are

better for it?”

“I’ve seen your light feet and quick hands,” he says, “And you’re strong. Garrison trained

you well. You are meant for more than being a servant to a Nokturn who wants nothing but to

feed off of you in one way or another. But, you could just stay here, continue on the path you

are on. Maybe meet someone and get married.”

“That’s not the life I want, Taron,” I tell him, “Living a life of indifference and false

content.”

He opens his arms and I step into them, letting him wrap me in a hug, despite my dislike

of such contact with other people. I’ve strived to be indifferent to those around me and not

become attached. But, here I am, fighting back tears, not because of the impending doom that

we all face as creatures of expiration, but because of the fate that our friend is resigning himself

to.

I toss and turn, unable to sleep. I slip out of bed, pulling on my boots and draping a cloak

over my shoulders to cover my bow and quiver. I make my way down the empty dirt paths that

lead to the center of town. When I see the wooden sign swinging from the building in the shape

of a wolf head, I know I’ve reached my destination.

I push through the doors of the Wolf’s Head pub, keeping my head down so as not to

draw attention to myself. A group of rowdy drunks occupy a corner table and I steer clear of 

them, choosing a stool at the bar. I order a pint and sip it, in hopes of taking my mind off of

tomorrow’s Arena selections.

“You looking for some fun, Sweetheart?” a stranger asks, his dirt stained fingers pawing

at my arm.

The barkeep smirks but doesn’t intervene. He knows I can take care of myself.

“Walk away,” I warn him.

“What’d you say to me?” he asks, his tone growing angry, “Outside, now, Wench!”

“As you wish,” I say, stepping out into the night, walking only a few paces before turning

to him.

“I’d like your company tonight,” he says, licking his lips, “And you’re going to give it to

me.”

“And I would like it if you’d be on your way,” I say with a shrug.

He stomps toward me and with one swift movement, my bow is in hand and an arrow

stares him in the face.

“Your choice, Sweetheart,” I say with venom.

“I thought I saw you come out here,” another drunken man stumbles from the bar.

He is a handsome boy, with hair as black as a raven’s wings and eyes that are cloudy

gray, like the clouds of a winter storm. His skin is flawless and so pale that it looks nearly gray.

I’ve never seen him before, I am certain of that. I would remember someone like him. Despite

his stumbling and dangerous swaying, I can see that he’s tall and muscular. He catches sight of

my bow and his eyes widen as he looks to where it is aimed.

“Sir, you should go back inside, this doesn’t concern you,” I warn him, needing the

drunken idiot to get out of the way.

Instead of heeding the warning, he turns to the menacing man.

“Are you bothering this young lady?” he slurs, sounding like he says ‘boffering’.

I roll my eyes, this is really not what I need right now. The other man seems to see

something in the drunk’s eyes because he backs away a moment later.

“This isn’t over,” he tells me, before disappearing around the side of the small building.

“What the hell is your problem?” I whirl on the other man, slinging my bow across my

back and marching up to him angrily, poking a finger in his solid chest.

He looks a little surprised as he watches my finger jab at him, “I believe I just saved your

life,” he says, eyelids heavy, “I’m Ash,” he says, sticking out a hand for me to shake as he

wobbles there.

“I can handle myself, Ash. You could’ve just gotten yourself killed!” I exclaim.

He stares at me for a moment before reaching up and toying with the end of my braid,

Then, he looks into my eyes and seems suddenly sober.

“I never thought I would find you,” he says, before teetering dangerously and pitching

forward.

I catch his heavy form and struggle to drag him over to a bench outside the pub. I can’t

stick around, and I sort of feel bad, but he made his bed and now he must lie in it. I check his

pockets quickly, and pocket a few coins. I note that his clothes are too fine for him to be from

these parts of Medeor. I begin to think he might not be human after all. He looks too perfect,

but by this darkness, I cannot tell much more about him. Beautiful, and monstrously perfect.

But then I begin to question, what is a Nokturn doing this far in human territory?

I poke my head back inside the pub and let the barkeep know that the man is passed out

on the bench. He waves me off quickly and I move on, leaving the man to sleep off his drunken

state. I hope he will be okay, Nokturn or not, he clearly had way too much and it would be

unfortunate to find out that he died of heat stroke and dehydration because he was too stupid

to drink in moderation.

Upon returning home, I find that father, Taron and Garrison are all still asleep. I forgo

the small cot in lieu of sharpening my blades by the light of a small fire until it dies out.

Sometime after midnight, I finally drift to sleep.