Hero of Slaves - A Blood and Tears Novella

A rising slave trader. An abused people. An unlikely hero.



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Hero of Slaves - A Blood and Tears Novella
Cassus left the Hell Patrol two years ago, confident that his decision to escort a group of freed Byzernian slaves to safety would make up for leaving his mercenary family and best friend behind.

After Cassus safely delivered the Byzernians to their homeland, he decided to lead a movement to take down the slave trade. As each subsequent mission ended, the danger to his men grew. Still, he pressed on.

Cassus receives word that a powerful slave trader, someone from his past, has set up a village to breed the Byzernians like cattle. He risks everything trying to dismantle the operation only to be captured. Transported along with a group of slaves, he hears news of tragedy striking the Hell Patrol. Cassus struggles to help the Byzernians survive one last time despite the ghosts of his past calling him home.

Hero of Slaves, is a novella of approximately 12,500 words. The story takes place after the events of Rise and Fall and Steel and Sorrow, the first two books in the Blood and Tears Trilogy.

This ebook also features a two-chapter excerpt from Walk Through Fire: A Blood and Tears Prequel Novella.



Chapter 1
“C’mon Cassus. Hurry up.”

“I’m going as fast as I can,” Cassus huffed, trying to keep up with the other boy running through the castle grounds ahead of him.

“Well, go faster,” said Jonrell. “I don’t want to lose.”

“Then you shouldn’t have made the bet to begin with.”

The tip of Cassus’ foot hit a protruding stone. He pitched forward and smashed his face against the ground, biting his cheek. Blood welled in his mouth.

“You can rest when we finish!” Jonrell yanked Cassus up before he even had a chance to spit.
Cassus wrenched his arm away. “Why are you so bent on me doing this? The bet with Wilken was for you to run the length of the castle before the supper bell rang. Not me. If you don’t want to lose the money, then leave me behind.”

“One Above, Cassus. My father’s the king. It’s not about the money. And you know I’ve run this plenty of times.”

Cassus frowned.

Jonrell sighed. “I know it bothers you that the others give you a hard time when I’m not around. I thought it would help if they could see you pull this off too.”

“I don’t always need you to watch out for me, you know.”

“I know. But you’re my best friend. That’s what I’m supposed to do.” Jonrell grabbed Cassus’ arm again. “We can still make Wilken look the fool. Now push the pain away and just worry about the next step.”


* * *

Cassus’ legs felt like water, and his muscles burned as he raced through the jungle. The weight of the crying Byzernian girl in his arms did little to ease his pain.

Just worry about the next step.

He pushed aside thick, green leaves, dodging the slimy vines cascading from the trees.

At least the arrows have stopped.

“Did we lose them?” Horan asked, shifting his own small passenger in his arms.

A ball of bright orange fire zipped past Cassus’ head. The heat from the sorcery sucked away the precious air his tired lungs needed. The ball slammed into a tree fifty paces ahead with a cracking roar. The burning trunk snapped, descending into his path. Cassus quickly changed course to avoid the rising flames, and shifted again to avoid the next ball of fire.

He spared a glance back.

“Does that answer your question?”

Cassus couldn’t see his pursuers through the masses of plant life, but he heard their shouts. He held the girl tighter in his arms, and willed himself to go faster.

“Hurry,” Cassus called. “The old man said the river was this way.”

They raced along, skirting over old, moss-covered logs and outcroppings of half-buried rock.

Cassus slid down loose black dirt into a small ravine, doing all he could not to fall over while the girl clutched frantically at his shirt. He caught his balance at the bottom, and set off again, ducking under the low-hanging branches. His heart leaped as the sound of rushing water prickled his ears.

Almost there. We can do this.

An intense wave of heat engulfed him as the ground exploded, lifting him into the air. He crashed into the jungle’s undergrowth. Branches snapped beneath him. Dirt rained down, sticking to his sweat-covered neck. A dull hum buzzed in his ears.

Cassus blinked. He pushed himself off the young girl, realizing her sobs had gone quiet. The tip of a broken branch protruded up from her chest, poking through her thin shirt. An ever-growing spot of blood encircled the stake.

No.

The spear of wood had pierced the girl’s heart, but Cassus checked for a pulse anyway.

Nothing.

He whipped his head around looking for Horan and the boy. He saw two lumps resting thirty feet away near a patch of scorched earth. Wisps of smoke fluttered upward.

He scrambled over to them, stopping short as a light breeze brought him the smell of charred flesh.

Cassus didn’t bother checking either figure. Their smoking clothes, bubbling skin, and frozen expressions gave him the answer he needed.

He choked back tears. He’d weep later. Still out of sight, the rushing water of the river howled so loudly, he felt he could reach out and touch it.

I’m the only one left.

Cassus wanted to stay and bury them, but he didn’t have the time.

Move.

He took a step and froze. Six figures wearing an assortment of leather and mail held drawn swords. He saw two more on either side with notched arrows trained on him.

Between the humming in his ears and the shock of the situation, he hadn’t even heard them approach.
“Cassus! You’re a hard man to catch,” a voice shouted from behind.

Cassus slowly turned, afraid any sudden movement might give the archers a reason to loose their shots. A man of medium build and height strode through the jungle wearing a sleeveless leather jerkin. Thick folds of skin dangled from his bare arms and another swayed from his neck, masking any semblance of a chin.
Raker can’t call him Lord Roundness any longer.

“It’s taken me months to set this ruse up. I was beginning to think it wouldn’t work. But the mighty Hero of Slaves came through. That’s what the Byzernians are calling you, I hear.” Melchizan chuckled over that with his men.

Cassus’ eyes shifted to the three bodies near him. He thought of those in the village he had also failed to save.

“I’m no hero,” he mumbled.

Melchizan’s smile vanished. “No, you’re not. You’ve cost me a lot of money.” He walked up, lowering his voice. “And your friends embarrassed both of us.” He jerked his head toward the green-robed mage nearby.
Cassus’ eyes flicked to the mage. The hair on the man’s scalp grew in patches around burn scars that worked down his face and over the place his left ear should have been.

When Cassus had heard the stories about what Jonrell and the rest of the Hell Patrol had done to Melchizan at sea, he had laughed for days. But when reports surfaced that their former employer had somehow survived and entered the slave trade, that laughter had died.

“I’m not a mercenary anymore,” said Cassus.

Melchizan shrugged and backed away. “No. Apparently you work for free now.” He looked at the dead figures on the ground. A grin crawled across his face. “Well, at least not for money.”

* * *

After binding Cassus in rope, the guards prodded him back through the jungle toward the Byzernian village. Though most of his attention focused on keeping his feet, a knot of dread formed in his stomach when he thought of the horrors that awaited him at the settlement.

Months before, Cassus heard that Melchizan had taken a remote tract of land on Mytarcis and set up a village to act as a Byzernian breeding ground. In time, the slave trader expected to dominate the markets with his improved specimens. Once Cassus had received word of Melchizan’s intentions, he and his crew began planning a raid on the village.

They watched traffic traveling in and out of the settlement, making note of the guards. After making contact with an elder villager eager to see his people freed, Cassus finalized his plans.

But on the day of the raid nothing went as planned. Guards previously unaccounted for came out of nowhere, and though Cassus’ small crew fought hard, they could not overcome the numbers Melchizan had secretly hidden. Only he and Horan escaped the carnage—each had carried a young child from the elder they had contacted. The Byzernian slaves did nothing but watch as Cassus’ men died.

Cassus stepped into a clearing he knew led to the village. He kept his head down as the guards pushed him toward the ramshackle huts. When he looked up, he immediately regretted doing so.

The bodies of his men lay in a pile, stripped naked of their weapons and armor. One of Melchizan’s men held a torch in his hand, and ignited the brush underneath the mound of flesh.

They all tried to do the right thing. I failed them.

More disheartening than his failure was the lone brown-skinned Byzernian atop the bodies—the old man who had trusted Cassus with his grandchildren. A wave of conflicting emotions washed over him. The relief that the old man would not know Cassus had failed him was replaced with a rising anger that had started with Melchizan.

Increasing warmth spread across his body, making his skin itch, as he stared into the sad eyes of the Byzernians watching him trek through their village.

They are just as responsible for the deaths of my crew as Melchizan’s guards. If they had stood up for themselves and fought with us, we would have won. But no, it is against their ways to harm anyone. He spat. Let them have their rickety homes and fearful nights. They deserve slavery. I’ve given up too much for them.

He wanted to shout curses at them for their cowardice, but stopped himself.

I knew their beliefs but still risked my life and the lives of my men anyway. I thought I could change them. I thought that by helping them, they would learn to stand up for themselves. I thought I could make a difference. The deaths today are my fault.

I never should have left the Hell Patrol.

Cassus ignored the remaining stares, and trudged on. They led him toward the coast where a massive ship with triple sails and three decks of oars sat in a small bay. A slew of Byzernians loaded provisions into longboats waiting on shore. Cassus failed to pay attention to his steps as he marveled at the ship’s size, and pitched forward. He slammed face first into the ground.

A Byzernian quickly came to his aid, and put a hand on his face. “Are you alright?”

The man had a much harder look than many of the Byzernians Cassus had seen before. Before Cassus could answer the question, one of Melchizan’s guards knocked the Byzernian against the head with the hilt of a sword. The slave fell backward.

“Get back to your work and remember your place,” the guard snapped.

The guard pulled Cassus to his feet, and shoved him forward. He pointed toward one of the longboats. “Get in.”

Cassus obeyed, but before he sat, he noticed the eyes of the Byzernian who had tried to help him. They held something Cassus had never seen before in their race—defiance.





Purchase Hero of Slaves - A Blood and Tears Novella now through the following links!


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