🎂 HAPPY PUB DAY TO PALADIN UNBOUND! 🥳
Hi, friends! I’m delighted to share a book spotlight + excerpt today as part of the tour hosted by Storytellers on Tour for Paladin Unbound by Jeffrey Speight!
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Goodreads: Paladin Unbound
Publisher: Literary Wanderlust
Publish Date: 01 July 2021
Genre: Epic Fantasy
The last of a dying breed, a holy warrior must rise up against a growing darkness in Evelium.
The most unlikely of heroes, a lowly itinerant mercenary, Umhra the Peacebreaker is shunned by society for his mongrel half-Orc blood. Desperate to find work for himself and his band of fighters, Umhra agrees to help solve a rash of mysterious disappearances, but uncovers a larger, more insidious plot to overthrow the natural order of Evelium in the process.
As Umhra journeys into the depths of Telsidor’s Keep to search for the missing, he confronts an ancient evil and, after suffering a great loss, turns to the god he disavowed for help.
Compelled to save the kingdom he loves, can he defeat the enemy while protecting his true identity, or must he risk everything?
CW/TW: Gore, Violence, Racism, Body Horror, Torture, Human Trafficking
Jeffrey Speight’s love of fantasy goes back to an early childhood viewing of the cartoon version of The Hobbit, when he first met an unsuspecting halfling that would change Middle Earth forever. Finding his own adventuring party in middle school, Jeff became an avid Dungeons & Dragons player and found a passion for worldbuilding and character creation. While he went on to a successful career as an investor, stories grew in his mind until he could no longer keep them inside. So began his passion for writing. Today, he lives in Connecticut with his wife, three boys (his current adventuring party), three dogs, and a bearded dragon. He has a firmly held belief that elves are cool, but half-orcs are cooler. While he once preferred rangers, he nearly always plays a paladin at the gaming table.
…and from the Age of Chaos arose a true King of Men who restored order to Evelium.
—The Gatekeepers’ Abridged History of Tyveriel
Vol. 2, Chapter 34 – Unearthed from the Ruins of Meriden,
the month of Ocken, 1240 AT
The demon-god staggered through the dense woods, his form much diminished, his power drained after a century-long battle. His legions destroyed, he sensed the others hidden in the woods—those he had so fully betrayed were closing in. There was yet one chance at salvation, albeit a despairing one.
Dropping to his knees, he broke the soil, tearing at root and rock—his claws splintering. His amethyst-colored skin was singed and torn, and one of his gnarled horns was broken off at its base. His hunched posture was reminiscent more of a feral beast than an esteemed god of Tyveriel. Stretching his sinuous arms deep into the hole, he closed his vermillion eyes and murmured an incantation in a dying tongue into the rich earth. His failure ensured the language would soon be forgotten in all but the deepest recesses of the realm that should have been his alone.
Within the hole, a red glow emanated from his hands, the ether slipping between his aching claws. As the radiance dissipated, a slab of pure rhodium materialized. Upon the metal slab he had engraved runes in the language of the gods:
From Pragarus I shall return
And all of Evelium shall burn
The blood of twelve thousand souls ensnared
Only the loyal few be spared
I shall ascend to my rightful place
Delivering our world from its fall from Grace
To thee who delivers me from hell
Your eternal thirst, I shall quell
In a frenzy, he buried the tablet and pried a large boulder from the earth beside him, capping his treasure. His inevitable salvation now secured, he stood and pressed on through the lush woods, tree limb after tree limb lashing him as he ran.
“Naur,” a woman’s voice seethed from the edge of the clearing through which he clambered, “this must end now, brother.” Vaila emerged from the shade of the tree line, her graceful form glowing in the early morning sun. Black hair draped flawlessly across the light-blue skin of her shoulders, her gown radiating celestial energy of its own.
She carried a great sword in each hand, their hilts fashioned into angels with outstretched wings extending up the base of the gleaming blades. She strode forward, two more gods—one with a body of stone and the head of a great elk, the other a midnight blue winged-serpent—approaching Naur from behind.
“Vaila, you do not realize how completely you have failed this world,” Naur said, holding his fists out before him and summoning a flaming battle ax in each. His brothers behind him dropped into a defensive crouch, but Vaila continued forward, undeterred. “Instead of embracing their flaws and appealing to their strengths, you strive to control the mortal races and sculpt them into something they are not. I wish only to allow them to be themselves and fulfill our promise to them.”
“You seek total dominion, Naur,” Vaila said. “Don’t fool yourself into thinking your actions have come with their best interests at heart, that you fight us out of altruism. You don’t care for the mortals. Instead, you would exploit their greatest weakness, so you alone can rule over them for eternity. Your game ends now, brother, but only you can determine how. Whether it be in your death, or your banishment to Pragarus, makes no difference to us.”
Her words urged Brinthor and Kemyn forward. Naur glanced back at his brothers and sneered. His lips curling, venom dripped from a mouthful of fangs down his chin. Brinthor and Kemyn dismissed the poisonous warning and closed in on their brother’s flank.
Naur spun and embedded both of his axes into Brinthor’s lithe form. The great winged serpent screeched in pain. As Brinthor recoiled, Vaila plunged one of her swords into Naur’s back, below his right shoulder blade. Without wincing, Naur turned toward Kemyn and readied his next attack. Kemyn stood his ground, his hands glowing red, as though made of magma, flowing into the forms of two stone spikes. Naur tore his axes from Brinthor’s body and lunged. Kemyn parried Naur’s attack with one of the spikes and thrust the other into Naur’s abdomen. Kemyn broke the extremity off within the wound, leaving himself temporarily hobbled.
With this blow, Naur, the God of Fire, fell to his knees and laughed—his lifeblood flowing to the forest floor, withering the flora beneath him. Vaila stepped closer, now looming over him, her form blocking out the sun. He spat at her gown, covering her in blood and black venom before her inner light once again shone through.
“You have won,” Naur said, his tone still growling with confrontation. “Do what you will with this failure of yours. Do what you will with me, your scourge.”
“End him,” Kemyn said. “He deserves worse, but death will rid us of his antics once and for all.”
Vaila shook her head.
Kemyn rushed forward and thrust his remaining sharpened hand at Naur’s head, but Vaila raised her free hand and froze Kemyn in place, the tip of his weapon inches from dealing a finishing blow.
“No, Kemyn. I cannot allow you to kill him,” she said. “Naur, as punishment for your transgressions, your deceit, you shall be bound to Pragarus for all of eternity. There, you shall fester, knowing Tyveriel goes on without you. You shall be forgotten in the annals of history, relegated to the stature of a lesser deity, and then by only the most disparate recesses of the culture that flourishes in your absence.”
“Sister,” Brinthor hissed, “as always, I appreciate your sense of loyalty and justice, but this time you go too far. An honorable death is more than we owe him, and the cost of binding him to Pragarus is too great.”
“I understand the cost all too well. The time has come for us to leave this plane and allow our creation to build its own future. Find its own path. We have wandered these lands since the dawn of time and waged war upon it for the last millennium. Tyveriel needs time to heal. It needs a new beginning. It no longer needs our interference.” She paused. “Honestly, I am tired. This war has taken too much from me. We shall recede to the tranquility of Kalmindon and grant this realm its freedom.”
Vaila finished speaking and thrust her second sword into Naur’s chest, forming an inverted triangle with his other two wounds. She impelled the blade through him to its hilt, Naur’s blood drenching the earth. Vaila released her sword and Naur’s back arched up toward the heavens in pain, his head bending backward until it touched the ground. The three wounds burned with a pure white light that grew in intensity until climaxing at a level blinding to a mortal’s eye.
Beneath Naur, a great portal opened. Within the swirling vortex appeared the vision of an arid wasteland. He fought the power of the portal, forcing himself onto his hands and knees and peered into the abyss. Accepting his fate, his gaze darted to his sister, whose lips trembled as tears streaked her face. “Worry not, sister,” he said, engulfed in the purple aura of the portal. “You only do what you think is right. You always do. Do not weep for me, and remember that, for immortals, even eternity is temporary. We shall see each other again.”
The portal collapsed inward upon itself with a blast of energy, taking Naur with it and leaving Vaila, Kemyn, and Brinthor alone in the quiet of the clearing. “Brothers, our war is over,” Vaila said, releasing Kemyn from her spell. “We have saved Tyveriel, and now must turn our backs on it and return to Kalmindon.” A tear shimmering with the purity of a flawless diamond ran down her face.
Kemyn fell to his knees and glared at Vaila, anger swelling within him. “I choose to remain in Tyveriel,” he said, pounding his spear like hand into the ground. “I love this wild land too much to return to the sanctity of the heavens. Kalmindon, in all its perfection, holds no salvation for me.”
“I shall stay as well,” Brinthor said, a sheepish expression coming over his face.
This was one blow too many, and Vaila cried freely. “Brothers, you know turning away from Kalmindon will strand you on this plane for all of eternity, but with only a remnant of your godly powers. I plead you reconsider and join me in ascension.”
“We well know the price of our decision,” Kemyn said. He climbed to his feet and pointed his unbroken spike at Vaila, shaking it in contempt. “You are the one who did not consider everything when you opted to spare Naur. Return to your heaven, your precious Kalmindon. We choose the mortal plane.”
“If this is your wish, I shall abide by it,” Vaila said. “Just know all I did was in my best judgment for us and Tyveriel. Harbor no ill will against me for my shortcomings. I hope you will miss me as much as I will miss my beloved brothers. Today, I have lost three.”
“We shall miss you, Vaila, but this is where our paths diverge. Our best to you, sister,” Kemyn said, softening his tone.
Vaila shut her eyes and smoothed her long hair behind her shoulders. She placed her hands together and faded from sight. Their sister having returned to her endless paradise, Kemyn and Brinthor shifted their physical forms. Kemyn assumed the form of a majestic elk, and Brinthor changed into a blue dragon. They looked at one another, Kemyn grunting, no longer able to communicate with his brother. Brinthor raised his head and released an earth-shattering roar. With two thrusts of his great reptilian wings, he lifted off the ground and disappeared into the cloud-filled sky.
Kemyn scratched the earth with his hoof and sniffed at the air. After a moment, he leaped into the forest and disappeared into the wilderness he so loved.
Upon Mount Orys, he declared his dominion over man and beast, alike.
—The Gatekeepers’ Abridged History of Tyveriel
Vol. 3, Chapter 5. Discovered in the Private Library of
Solana Marwyn, the month of Vasa, 889 AT
Candlelit Tavern was a raucous watering hole on its best of nights, and this was not one of those. Umhra the Peacebreaker slouched on a stool too small for his hulking form, fiddling with a blue velvet pouch he wore on his belt, as he watched his five comrades—members of his mercenary crew, the Bloodbound—celebrate their arrival in the City of Anaris. Having traveled from the town of Ohteira with hardly a rest, the Bloodbound was well into their eighth round of Barnswallow’s Sowing Moon Ale and had turned to intimidating and insulting the other patrons for drunken entertainment.
Umhra had too much on his mind to partake in such levity. His strong brow furrowed. There would be much competition in securing Lord Espen Morrow’s contract—The Bloodbound’s reason for the exhausting journey. Morrow’s reputation was beyond reproach and could provide the much-needed work his men, who did not share Umhra’s strong moral compass, needed. No doubt the odds of success were slim. Several groups of mercenaries had also descended upon the city with similar aspirations of obtaining the contract and each had the distinct advantage of not being half-Orcs.
Leaning forward, his elbows on his knees, a few strands of black hair fell from his unkempt ponytail and dangled in front of his face. He worried his lip around two oversized canine teeth protruding from his lower jaw, and his green-gray fingers ran over the rough surface of his tankard of beer. He surveyed the crowd.
Umhra dropped his head, stared at the floor, and considered how he’d make his case before Lord Morrow. His team marched for nearly a month in pursuit of this opportunity and would, no doubt, be disappointed if all they had to show for their effort was the dried mud that cracked and crumbled from their leathers. The trip had been taxing, the Bloodbound having marched off the main roads to avoid human travelers and the king’s guard who might object to a group of armed half-Orcs and delay their arrival.
Umhra kept the bedlam his crew created at a distance, preferring to sit alone. Having spent all of his formative years at the Trinity Temple in Travesty, Umhra was a quiet soul, more comfortable around monks and clerics than this drunken mob.
Despite the distance between him and the fray, his heart raced and his throat closed. Groups of humans, Iminti, and Zeristar, bantered loudly, their spirited conversations spilling over into occasional scuffles as they drank. His men reveled in the chaos, the crowd tolerating the half-Orcs among them—an unusual act—but all the same, Umhra’s anxiety swelled.
A man, roughly the size of an eight-year-old human child, danced on a nearby table. His brown tousled hair dripped with sweat, and his once properly-fitted red velvet vest, white linen shirt, and natural leather pants were soaked through and too large on his gaunt frame. He danced with abandon, his ale splashing about the room. Umhra smiled at how reckless and carefree the man jigged. The other patrons gathered around him, forgetting their petty squabbles, and clapped along with the music. The minstrel sped up as if proposing a challenge. Those surrounding the Farestere man roared with approval at the spontaneous entertainment.
“All right, boys,” Umhra bellowed, rising from his stool against the wall, “it’s time to turn in.”
“But Umhra.” His lieutenant, Drog the Mancleaver, protested, always the crew’s best advocate. “After such a journey, surely you can grant the men a few more moments of levity.”
The plea still fresh in Umhra’s ears, Thurg the Earsplitter grabbed the Farestere man by the leg and tossed him across the room with a disapproving grunt. The music screeched to a halt and the crowd turned its attention to the half-Orcs. A group of battle-hardened Zeristar, short in stature but broad-shouldered, stood from their seats and stepped over the slight man who lay tangled beneath their table.
“Oy, Orc scum,” the foremost of the Zeristar said, scratching his ginger beard with one hand and drawing a silver battle ax over his shoulder with the other. “Is this how you pay us back for letting you stink up our tavern all night?”
Thurg turned to the Zeristar and spit at his feet.
“I think it best we go,” Umhra said, sliding past Drog and coming between Thurg and the flushed Zeristar.
Umhra held his arms out, one palm on Thurg’s chest, the other facing the Zeristar. “Outside. Now.”
Thurg swallowed the rest of his ale and slammed his tankard down on a nearby table. He shoved his way through the crowd, and the rest of the Bloodbound followed.
“He’s obviously taken the liberty of one too many tonight,” Umhra said, shifting his attention to the Zeristar. “Please accept my apology.”
“Anaris has no use of your kind,” the Zeristar said. “You’d be well advised to not cross our path again.”
Umhra nodded, turned to the barkeep, and tossed him a silver quarter sovereign for his trouble. He followed after his crew, taking a glance over his shoulder at the Zeristar, who had returned to their tankards in celebration.
Umhra threw the door open, a rush of cold air hitting his face, and stepped out into the Anaris night. He found his drunken gang a few doors down. They surrounded a young Evenese woman, her back forced up against the rough wooden façade of the building, her fear-widened eyes darting between the slobbering half-Orcs. Umhra drew his men off with a whistle. The woman ran away down the street in the opposite direction and the Bloodbound trudged toward the camp they’d set up in a patch of woods just outside the city’s east gate. The night was cold, despite it being well into the planting season. The crisp air revived Umhra’s senses, after the stale, humid warmth of the tavern.
“I’ll take first watch,” Umhra said, as they walked beneath the arch of the city gate. “You men sleep off that Farestere ale. Drog and I will be heading back into Anaris in the morning to make our case before Lord Morrow. I hope we’ll have work shortly.” It had been some time since they’d put metal to flesh, and they were all too ready to jump back into the fray. Umhra grimaced, waved them off, and the Bloodbound stumbled about in a drunken effort to ready their camp for the night.
As the men slept, Umhra sat beside the dwindling fire, eating a bit of rabbit leftover from their midday meal. His thoughts wandered to his father—as they often did when he wasn’t sure of the path forward. It seemed a lifetime since his father had been slaughtered at the hands of the Tukdari horde that swept through his village all those years ago.
“Sorry to bother you, Umhra,” Gori said, taking a seat beside him at the fire, “I was having trouble sleeping, so I figured I might as well keep watch with you.”
“Not a bother, Gori. Is there something on your mind that keeps you up?”
“Nothing specific. My mind just races at times.”
“I know that feeling all too well. You are welcome to join me.”
“Thank you.” Gori warmed his hands. “Were you in the middle of something? You seemed pensive.”
“No, I was just thinking about my father.”
“You’ve never spoken of family before. Is he still with us?”
“No, I was four when our village in Orrat Skag was attacked by Tukdari barbarians. My father, Yargol was his name, hid me in the trunk of a dead tree before running out to meet his doom in the form of a goliath’s battle-ax. He told me not to make a sound until he returned. I sat, motionless, in the base of this dark tree trunk, listening to the shrill sounds of battle for the first time. I can remember the clang of metal and the sickening crunch of bone. The screams of the stricken and the celebratory chants of the barbarian horde are as fresh in my mind as if their victory were yesterday. The smell of decay, of fire, and burning flesh, are still ripe. As quickly as the barbarians arrived, they left, taking with them the meager amount of wealth and material possessions my Orc clan possessed, as well as every woman they could kidnap, including my mother, Joslin.
“I sat in that tree for days, waiting for my father to come for me, but he never did. Hunger set in and eventually, it drove me from the tree. The worms and centipedes inhabiting its musty, hollow core were not enough to sustain me. I kicked a hole through the rotting wood and was awestruck by the destruction. My village had been razed to the ground and my entire clan slaughtered. Nothing was left but scorched earth and corpses. I found my father’s severed head on a pike—a statement to anyone considering reprisal.
“With nothing but the clothes on my back, and the hilt of a broken sword I took from my elder cousin’s charred remains, I left Goshur Uk, and made my way west, away from the direction the barbarians traveled. I wandered into areas of Orrat Skag with which I was unfamiliar. The barren landscape, ubiquitous throughout the Orc homeland, offered me little in the way of markers by which I could determine my path. I survived on whatever I was lucky enough to forage and the modicum of dank water the land gave.
“Eventually, I approached the edge of Wicked’s Pass. My parents always told me stories about the dangers that resided within that old hemlock forest, and under normal circumstances, I would not have dared enter such a wild place on my own, but the promise of plentiful food and fresh water drove me forward. I traveled by day, unsuccessfully hunting squirrels, rabbits, and birds with a makeshift sling. Before nightfall, I would find an empty burrow or tree trunk and spend the dark hours listening to the sounds of ogres, wolves, and the other wretched creatures that called the forest home.
“One night, under a full moon, an ogre used the burrow in which I was hiding to defecate. As hard as I tried, I could not stay silent and the dumb beast tore into the hole with reckless abandon, sending dirt and feces flying everywhere. I scrambled to escape the ogre’s grasp. The beast barreled after me, grabbing me by the ankle and lifting me to its putrid mouth. As it did so, I grabbed the broken hilt and plunged the shard deep into the ogre’s neck, severing a major artery. The creature dropped me and clutched its throat. Reeling in pain, the beast took a furious swipe at me, but I rolled just out of reach. With one last howl, the ogre fell to the ground, lifeless.
“I ran. I ran through the night, tripping over brambles and scraping against rocks. By daybreak, I exited the forest and collapsed from exhaustion. It was there that a monk from Travesty happened to stumble across my exhausted body and nursed me back to health in the confines of the temple monastery. He was a loving man by the name of Ivory Lapping, and he raised me as his own child from that day forward.”
“That is truly an amazing story,” Gori said, his gaze fixed on Umhra. “Did you ever return?”
“No, that life is a distant memory. You men are my family now. There’s no need to go back.”
Gori nodded. The two men sat together through the first part of the night as a thick fog rolled into the camp. After a few hours, Drog awoke for his shift on watch.
“Glad to see you had some company, Umhra,” he said, pouring himself some water from his waterskin.
“Yes, Gori joining me was a pleasant surprise,” Umhra said. “But now I must get some sleep.” He yawned, patting Gori on the shoulder as he stood. Taking his leave, Umhra went to his bedroll and closed his eyes as Drog threw a log on the fire, sending a plume of embers into the air.
Have you read Paladin Unbound or is it on your TBR? Does it sound like a book you’d like to read?