Orb Of Zorn #1
Date Published: 05-24-2023
When Elcon is heard reciting a cantrip in the magic-averse village of Walsz, he is put through a trial by ordeal.
Plunged into the Nom River, he barely survives the swim. Leaving behind the angry mob on the shore, he then runs away from home. Out on his own for the first time in his young life, he meets a stranger who gifts him with a stone that has mystical powers. Accompanied by the mage, Dras, the young apprentice goes on a quest to save the world from the return of the Shadowlord.
A classic epic fantasy adventure with swords, sorcery, orcs, elves, and outcasts. The first book of the Orb of Zorn Trilogy. Grab a cloak and join the quest.
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About the Author
Still a rogue at heart, John has spent most of his life making stuff up, mainly to fill in the gaps of an otherwise untidy CV. He’s taught tennis, sold wine, hustled a few chess games, and babysat for numerous scaly and furry creatures. His stories, essays, and articles have appeared in over 50 journals worldwide. He’s the author of the humorous fantasy books The Acolyte And The Amulet and Beyond The Vicious Vortex (Nebilon Series). He lives with his wife and daughter.
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Excerpt from "The Heir Apparent"
Rowena Ravenwill had exceptional skill with a sword, a cool hand with a scythe, and remarkable precision with a clunky mace, but she was at her best with a bow. A fine, long ash bow she had. She made it herself from an old ash, felled by lightning. The hum of a fresh-plucked arrow music to her elven ears; she could nail an unsuspecting target from over two hundred yards. A brief glance and she measured her mark. With such precision, she could have dedicated herself solely to distance, yet she had an unerring prowess from close range, too. If the situation called for it, her stealth let her slip out from behind the brush with soundless steps, creeping up on her enemies with the grace of a wight.
For a little over three years now, she had been roaming the Borderlands and taking care of petty squabbles for a price. It was a gritty existence, but it kept her sharp. As the last of her tribe of Gray Elves, from her father’s side, she trusted nobody, and the more she engaged in the mortal realms, the more she longed to return to her past, a warm feeling she had for it, but it was long gone. The hardscrabble truth was that the world was often a cold and cruel place, a witless weigh station that only seemed to reward the strong and crush the weak. Everything came down to survival.
With bitter alacrity, she recalled the Mountain Elves that slaughtered her tribe at the edge of the Borderlands. She vowed revenge on them when she was only a child and earned some payback during her formative years. Her stealth and skill helped her keep her vow. Over time, though, some of her venom dried up. She swapped her vengeance for bounty. She eked out a decent living as a bounty hunter, and she was damn good at it.
Recently however, she had begun to wonder about her mother’s side. Did she have any of her inside herself? She ruminated about this and the remote eastern rim from where she hailed. Darjania was a world apart, a place of legends. Rowena thought to venture east and find the Willow Elves from her mother’s side, but she knew almost nothing about that lost tribe, which the legend said came from the unmapped lands, way off past the Spine and beyond the reach of mortal man. Rowena had no inkling how to get there because her mother had never mentioned anything about that sacred land save for its immaculate streams and its vermillion-flecked willows. It might have been a paradise or just a seedling of her imagination. Lately, though, her roots were not top of mind as she had run into some trouble.
The disgruntled gray elf cast a cold blue eye on the portly Count Dirskin. He collected relics, and his estate was full of ornate decorations. He claimed to have been cheated by a traveling merchant and had sent the elf to track the man down. She did her part, demanding the Count’s money back. The merchant gave the elf a gold piece, and as Rowena took it, she gave the frazzled man a warning, but nothing more. She didn’t maim him as she had been ordered to.
She had a bad feeling about getting involved with such an inscrutable sort, but desperate times called for desperate measures. If only she could make him pay for his scoundrel way.
“That was not the deal we agreed upon,” the gray elf grumbled.
The count shared a devious grin as he slunk deeper into his cedar-backed chair. “I don’t think you are in any position to bargain, elf.”
“I gave you my word, and I did your deed. I expect you to honor your end of the deal.”
“I specifically asked you to show no mercy, and you disobeyed me. So, you are the one who broke the terms of the deal. Ah, you didn’t think I knew, but you can’t pull one over on me.” The Count scoffed in disgust. “I should have known better than to get involved with one of your kind.”
The elf was furious, but she held her tongue. It was only out of desperation that she entered the agreement. With a heavy heart, she took the five copper rams and left. She swore to herself she would not get roped into anything so unscrupulous, but this was the bounty business. For some, it was much worse.
Y’kem was waiting for her when she left the compound. He lolled there on the rock, oblivious to any danger that might befall him. Of course, he was not such a liability. Rowena Ravenwill would never keep company with somebody who posed such a flagrant threat. Once though, she had had her doubts not long after she spared his life some three years ago.
Back then, she saw the pitiful creature lolling beside a lake, taking a drink. The gray elf stood there mulling over her ruthless obligation. She didn’t know what the poor creature had done to deserve such a wicked fate, and in a moment of doubt, she faltered. It didn’t sit well with her. No challenge came from it, and though it wasn’t the first time she had such an encounter, it gnawed at her this time.
She needed the money, of course, but determined this was a terrible way to go about it. Those droopy sad eyes. Well, not exactly sad, though they were indeed pitiful. She only needed to strike its leg and cart it back to the patron. Then she’d get her pouchful of filthy coins. She nocked her bow without a thought. It came to her as second nature, but as she plucked it back, her pointy ear began to twitch.
It did not seem right. So, she didn’t aim properly, and when she let it loose, it sailed off the mark. The startled kobold almost stepped into its path, and she screamed. But the arrow missed, and she breathed a sigh of relief when she failed and expected the creature to run off. It didn’t, though. Nor did it hide. It waited by the lake for the elf, and when Rowena stood beside it, the kobold dropped to its knees and kissed the ground before the elf’s feet.
“Enough of that. Get up!”
When it spoke in the common tongue, Rowena was dumbfounded.
“I never met one of your kind who uttered anything more than a grunt.”
A wry grin spread across the kobold’s muzzle. “You haven’t met many of us then. Not all of us do speak, but plenty of us do.”
“This is quite a surprise. Glad I spared you.”
“I am truly grateful, and to prove it, I give myself over to you to do with me as you wish.”
“Get out of here now before I change my mind.”
“I cannot. I owe you my life, and for that, I am eternally indebted to you.”
“No. Absolutely no. I go at it alone. Nobody clings to my shadow.” The elf stared with the ire of an impaled ogre, but it did not scare off the lucky kobold. Even after Rowena threatened to strike it with her clenched fist, the creature didn’t budge. It was too smart. After such a valiant display of mercy, why would the elf suddenly change course?
Then she took a deep breath. “Let’s put this behind us. You’re free to go your own way as I am to go mine.”
Without so much as a wisp, the elf turned to leave, but she was not alone, and much to her chagrin, she never heard the kobold tailing her until they had got on for quite a while. That was what irked her the most, not detecting the stealth of the forest dweller. Never having spent time among the kobolds, she never knew that such an ugly creature had such a beautiful gift.
In time she got used to it. She accepted the kobold and even teased him that it was like waking up one day and having a wart. Elves didn’t have such blemishes, so how would she know? Still, Y’kem proved to be a good companion. He had her back and genuinely respected her. He had come across many who didn’t want his company. Sometimes Rowena had to fight mirthlessly to bring him with her on an assignment. Sometimes they had to split up briefly if a stubborn, bigoted patron refused to give the gray elf permission.
Y’kem looked up at Rowena now. A fleck of sunray glimmered in his greedy eyes as he inquired, “What’s the purse this time?”
“No purse,” the elf said with a shrug. “Only a few rams.”
“That’s it! That no good lying, cheating.” Y’kem shook his head. “It’s because you went easy again,” Rowena grumbled. “I say it’s time for us to leave these parts. Nothing left here for us. Why don’t we head to Willow Grove?”
The elf let out a deep sigh. “It probably doesn’t exist, and even if it did, you wouldn’t be welcome there.”
“I’m usually not even welcome here,” the kobold retorted. “So frankly, what’s the difference?”
“It would be much different. Not even sure what to expect, and I wouldn’t want us to have to part ways.”
Well, that’s a fine comeuppance. You seem to do alright by me. Don’t hear the usual complaints anymore. Not lately. Seems that it’s you and me against this cruel and unpredictable world.”
“Sometimes it does seem that way.” Rowena sighed again. She gazed out beyond the hedgerows. “It’s too complicated. Not sure where we would even start. I’ve never set eyes on them. They’re not even from my tribe.”
“But they are from your mother’s side.”
“Yes, I suppose they are,” Rowena admitted with a shrug.
“Then they should accept you. Blood is blood. And you’re an elf.”
“But unfortunately, you are not.”