Exclusive RuneScape excerpt
Published on 4 March, 2011
Authored by Titan Books
Read the Prologue to RuneScape: Return to Canifis, the stunning follow-up to T.S. Church's Betrayal at Falador. Return to Canifis is released March 25th in the UK and March 22nd in the US and Canada.
UK and European residents can purchase Return to Canifis here.
North American residents can purchase Return to Canifis here.
“So we agree then? You will provide me with the horses and men?”
Sulla sat with his back to the ruined wall, the light from the fire reflected in his blind left eye, his face hideously scarred. Six months of flight and hiding had thinned his once muscular body. His clothes were torn rags, the soles of his boots flapped loose, his hair had grown down to his shoulders, and a wild beard covered his face, which irritated his scarred flesh in the hot weather.
If I only had hands to scratch the mites! But she has denied me even that.
“We will indeed,” the man replied. “Although I would feel better if you had a hand I could shake.” The bandit leader smiled to his men, fifteen in all, who laughed at the joke. Sulla said nothing—he had endured far worse than cheap japes, as the ragged cloths tied about each of his wrists testified.
“Don’t worry, my friend, you can trust me,” the man continued. “I may be an outlaw, but Leander the thief always keeps his word.” The bandit stroked his short moustache, his eyes greedy.
“Very well,” Sulla said. “At dawn I will lead you to the treasure that shall be your payment, but now I must sleep. I am not as strong as I used to be.” He stretched out on the ground as best he could—and winced at the pain it caused.
Sulla closed his eyes to rest, yet he only feigned sleep. Instead, he slowed his breathing, and after a long stretch of silence the bandits began to murmur to one another. As they did, he listened carefully.
He could pick out Leander and his lieutenant, Barbec, speaking in low voices. Leander said something which made Barbec gasp.
Have they realised who I am? he wondered.
Soon after, he heard the scrape of a knife being sharpened across a whetstone.
He had taken a tremendous risk in walking into Leander’s camp alone. Jerrod had advised him against it, and he knew the werewolf would not be far away. It amazed him how close the creature could get to his prey before being detected—close enough that it was always too late for his victims. He was probably less than a stone’s throw away, even now, watching Sulla’s back.
The knife finished scraping across the whetstone.
Perhaps he means to cut my throat with it? Sulla mused, yet still he didn’t move. Have they guessed who I am? No doubt the Kinshra have offered a reward for my capture, and a description to go with it, for I know them well. Didn’t I lead them once, against her?
Sulla gritted his teeth at the thought of Kara-Meir and their last confrontation, when she had fought him in single combat and had severed both his hands.
It would have been a hundred times kinder to kill me, and you knew it. You knew it!
Suddenly Sulla felt his right hand clench into a tight fist.
He forced himself to breathe calmly. It wasn’t the first time he had endured such ghostly feelings from hands that he no longer possessed. For the last six months every day had been a trial for him. Without hands it was impossible to eat or ride or fight. He had become entirely dependant on his werewolf friend, Jerrod.
It made him... uncomfortable.
Together they had fled and then hidden, until, with agonizing slowness, Sulla grew strong enough to walk again. Eventually, they ventured out to the north, into The Wilderness, hoping to hide themselves in that lawless realm while they planned how best to revenge themselves upon those who had defeated them.
Nevertheless, they had done well together. Jerrod still had those who aided him on his journey, yet Sulla could tell that the werewolf feared his master, who twice had appeared to him, offering him council in The Wilderness—although Sulla had seen and heard nothing when it had occurred. Each time the information he had given them had saved them from certain death, so Sulla had asked no questions.
And that is how I know you are coming after me, Kara-Meir. You, Gar’rth, and that barbarian priestess. You are so near. Soon, we shall start our journey south, to Varrock, to complete this plan of Jerrod’s undead master. And I will be there to see it.
He dreamt, as he had on a thousand other occasions, of what he would do to Kara-Meir and her friends if ever they came under his power again.
I will be there to see it!
Leander the thief watched as his men sweated from the work, but made no move to assist them.
The ground was hard from the dry summer. They had travelled east all morning to reach their destination—a parched plain where only sickly-coloured vegetation grew. Farther south, the land undulated in a series of long wide barrows until their view was finally barred by a small range of hills. Beyond that, Sulla knew, was Varrock.
“Can’t they dig any faster?” he demanded. The thief just stared.
“I would ask you to help,” he said, “only I don’t think your handiwork would be of any use.” He smiled at his taunt.
Suddenly a cry from one of the bandits silenced them. The man drove his spade into the ground, where it struck a metallic surface with a loud clang. All attention turned to where he stood.
“Dig it out!” Leander commanded. The men dug furiously before dragging a box from the earth. Leander knelt by the lock, examining it intently.
“You’ll need the key,” Sulla advised.
Leander smiled and pulled an object from his pouch.
“Be patient my mysterious friend, and see how a genuine thief deals with such a simple barrier.” Deftly, he inserted his pick and listened, carefully teasing the teeth of the lock.
Seconds later, it gave a satisfying click and fell open. As Leander’s men cheered, Barbec moved to Sulla’s side, and the fallen warlord noted how the man’s hand gripped his sword.
As I anticipated...
Leander lifted the lid of the box, his eyes widening as he perceived the thick wad of paper inside. He turned his head and opened his mouth to speak, when suddenly he gave a cry and jerked his hand away from the lock, his face grimacing in pain.
“It’s a poisoned needle,” Sulla explained calmly. “Its effects are immediate, and the pain will drive you mad within hours.”
“Kill him!” Leander screamed, leaping to his feet and furiously massaging his arm.
Barbec drew his blade and held it to Sulla’s throat.
Sulla didn’t move as he stared at him with quiet malice. Barbec hesitated.
No sign of weakness. If you are weak, you die. When he spoke, his voice was calm, his words measured.
“If you spare me I can make you all rich, for only I know the true value of what is contained in those parchments,” he said. “Kill me, and you shall have nothing.”
Barbec looked back to Leander. The thief had collapsed onto his knees and was writhing in agony. While the men stared at their leader, a figure emerged from the shadows and stood silently behind them.
“Need I add that I will spare your lives?” Sulla asked as a low growl emerged from the newcomer. The bandits spun, and several cried out in fear as the hirsute figure neared.
“A w-w-werewolf!” one of them stammered.
Several of his fellows drew their blades and held them out. But none dared advance on the creature.
“Do nothing, for he is my associate,” Sulla said. “From Morytania. His name is Jerrod. Put away your rusted weapons—none of them can harm him. They will only serve to make him angry, and if that happens, you will not live out the day.”
“What do you want from us?” Barbec asked. He was a short bald-headed man with a nose that looked as if it had been broken a number of times, and he spoke in a low grumble.
“We shall go to Varrock,” Sulla replied. “It is a big enough city to hide in, and with the contents of this box we will make ourselves rich.”
The men hesitated.
Finally, Barbec decided for them.
“We’ll come with you... Sulla.”
So you do know me! With that realisation came anger—that news of his defeat had spread so far that even in The Wilderness, simple bandits dared to mock him.
“How long have you known?” he demanded.
“Since we made the agreement.” Barbec looked to Leander once, and licked his lips uncertainly. “Leander wanted to sell you to the Kinshra, but I thought we should first see the treasure.” His eyes fell on the box. “What’s in there anyhow?”
“These parchments contain important information, but they are written in an old Kinshra code, and only I can decipher them.” He turned to face the men, who still clustered away from the werewolf. “For now that is all you need to know. Now, get the horses ready!”
The men moved to obey, while Jerrod reached for Leander. As he did so, the thief drew a knife in trembling hands, and found his tongue.
“It hurts!” he gasped, dropping his knife as Jerrod dragged him a short distance away.
“As I knew it would,” Sulla said gleefully. “Alas, it is a temporary poison that only lasts a single day. An old woman prepared it for me when I was still part of the Kinshra knighthood.” Briefly, he wondered what had become of the sybil who had served him so well, but swiftly he shook off such sentiment. He crouched and moved in close to the thief, nodding in the direction of the knife that lay on the ground.
“That is the easiest way to end your pain, my duplicitous friend,” he sneered.
“What is in the box?” Leander stammered.
Sulla leaned down to speak privately his ear.
“When I was in the Kinshra I made copies of certain secret documents. These documents contain sensitive information concerning a number of wealthy people and their organisations, from here all the way to Kandarin. In diplomacy, the Kinshra often have to persuade influential people to aid their cause, and blackmail has proved a most effective tool.” He stood again. “Now I have that tool. And I will use it.”
“The Kinshra will kill you for it!”
“They would kill me anyway, if they could. Meanwhile, I can have a little fun wrecking their spy networks—for a small profit—can’t I?” He looked into the distance. “I think I will start in Varrock. There is wealth there, wealth owned by people whose names appear in those documents.”
With that, Sulla brought his boot into Leander’s chin with a sharp crack. The thief’s head jerked, and he slumped into unconsciousness.
“Why don’t we kill him?” Jerrod whispered.
“No,” Sulla said. “We need his men’s loyalty, at least for now, and killing him might be too much for them to stomach. Besides...” He looked warily around him. “Lone travellers don’t last long out here—especially unconscious ones.”
A moment later, with Jerrod’s aid, Sulla clambered into a saddle. The werewolf stepped away and pulled his cloak about him, hiding his face as he returned to his human form. Once he had done so, he climbed up behind Sulla. He never rode alone—no horse would tolerate it, and he was as uncomfortable with the beasts as they were with him.
“We ride south to Varrock—if we make haste, we can be there in time for Midsummer,” Sulla said. “Our destination is an estate to the east of the city. The owner has lands that range from the River Salve to the edges of the city itself. There I will send a message to an old acquaintance of mine, the leader of the Phoenix Gang.”
And then, as darkness fell across The Wilderness, and creatures far more terrible than Jerrod stirred, they rode south toward more civilised lands, leaving Leander the thief to his fate.
Varrock is the greatest human city in the world, yet it is a city filled with dangerous secrets. People have been disappearing, taken by an inhuman abductor. Its victims are murdered...or worse. For some are spirited away to Morytania, the land where vampires rule. As Kara-Meir and her friends--heroes of the Battle of Falador--gather for the Midsummer Festival, unrest grows against the crown. A conspiracy is unmasked, and the King is forced to send representatives across the holy river to Canifis, the capital of Morytania. For reasons of his own, he selects the now famous heroine Kara, as well as Gar’rth, unique in his knowledge of the land of the dead. They are accompanied by Theodore, Doric the dwarf, the wizard Castimir, and the barbarian priestess Arisha, on a mission that will force Gar’rth to confront his violent heritage, and will reveal secrets that will test their loyalties to the limit.
For the price of failure in Morytania is far worse than death, and if their mission fails then a new King will rule in Varrock. A King who is lord of both the living and the dead.
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