Tome of the Undergates - By Sam Sykes

Prologue

NO ROOM FOR HOPE

The Aeons’ Gate

Sea of Buradan, two weeks north and east of Toha

Summer, late

Contrary to whatever stories and songs there may be about the subject, there are only a handful of respectable things a man can do after he picks up a sword.

First of all, he can put it down and do something else; this is the option for men who have more appreciable talents. He could use it to defend his homestead, of course, as protecting one’s own is nothing but admirable. If he decides he’s good at that sort of work, he could enlist with the local army and defend his kin and country against whatever entity is deemed the enemy at that moment. All these are decent and honourable practices for a man who carries a sword.

Then there are the less respectable trades.

There’s always mercenary life, the fine art of being paid to put steel in things. Mercenaries, usually, aren’t quite as respected as soldiers, since they swear no allegiance to any liege beyond the kind that are round, flat and golden. And yet, it remains only a slightly less respectable use for the blade, as, inevitably, being a mercenary does help someone.

Now, the very bottommost practice for a man who carries a sword, the absolute dregs of the well, the lowliest and meanest trade a man can possibly embrace after he decides not to put away his weapon is that of the adventurer.

There is one similarity between the adventurer and the mercenary: the love of money. Past that fact, everything is unfavourable contrast. Like a mercenary, an adventurer works for money, be it gold, silver or copper. Unlike a mercenary, an adventurer’s trade is not limited to killing, though it does require quite a bit of that. Unlike a mercenary, an adventurer’s exploits typically aid no one.

When one requires a herd of cattle guarded from rustlers, a young maiden protected, a family tomb watched over or an enemy driven away, all for an honest fee, one calls upon a mercenary.

When one requires a herd of cattle stolen, a young maiden deflowered, a family tomb looted and desecrated or an honest man driven away from his own home, all for a few copper coins and a promise, one calls upon an adventurer.

I make this distinction for the sole purpose that, if someone finds this journal after I’ve succumbed to whatever hole I fell into or weapon I’ve run afoul of, they’ll know the reason.

This marks the first entry of the Aeons’ Gate, the grand adventure of Lenk and his five companions.

If whoever reads this has a high opinion of this writer so far, please cease reading now. The above sentence takes many liberties.

To consider the term ‘adventure’, one must consider it from the adventurer’s point of view. For a boy on his father’s knee, a youth listening to an elder or a rapt crowd hearing the songs of poets, adventure is something to lust after, filled with riches, women, heroism and glory. For an adventurer, it’s work; dirty, dusty, bloody, spittle-filled, lethal and cheap work.

The Aeons’ Gate is a relic, an ancient device long sought after by holy men and women of all faiths. It breaches the barriers between heaven and earth, allowing communication with the Gods themselves, an opportunity to ask why, how and what.

Or so I’ve heard.

My companions and I have been hired to seek out this Gate.

To address the term ‘companions’, I say this because it sounds a degree better than a ‘band of brigands, zealots, savages and madmen’. And I use that description because it sounds infinitely more interesting than what we really are: cheap labour.

Unbound by the codes of unions and guilds, adventurers are able to perform more duties than common mercenaries. Untroubled by sets of morals and guidelines, adventurers are able to go into places the common mercenary would find repulsive. Unprotected by laws dictating the absolute minimum one must be paid, adventurers do all this for much, much less coin than the common mercenary.

If someone has read this far, he might ask himself what the point of being an adventurer is.

The answer is freedom. An adventurer is free to come and go as he pleases, parting from whoever has hired him when the fancy strikes him. An adventurer is free to stop at whatever exotic locale he has found, to take whatever he has with him, to stay for as long as he wants. An adventurer is free to claim what he finds, be it knowledge, treasure or glory.

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