June 2, 2017

“Legends of the Treasure” Novel Excerpt by Mike Squatrito

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“Legends of the Treasure” Novel Excerpt by Mike Squatrito

Legend of the Treasure Excerpt

by

Mike Squatrito

 

“Harrison,” said Pondle, “this doorway seems to be controlled by this lever. And we waited for you before moving it.”

“Does everyone know the last two clues?”

“We have an idea what to look for. Two rooms to go.”

Harrison prepared his weapon, as did everyone else. “All right, Pondle. Let’s enter room number six.”

The thief pulled the lever. The portal slowly rose into the ceiling above it, revealing a maze-like passageway lit by torches placed above the eight-foot walls.

Lance limped over to Harrison and whimpered. “Bad animal.” The dog began to growl.

Harrison looked at Lance and knew just what he meant. “Everyone, be ready for battle.”

All of a sudden, a loud clanking emanated from another part of the room, followed by the clamber of footsteps.

“Minotaurs.” Murdock clutched his sword.

“More than one.” Pondle cocked his head to get a better fix on their position. “They will know where we are immediately.”

“How?” Swinkle’s anxiety level rose.

“They can smell human flesh,” said Harrison. “And they have a particular liking to the taste.”

The young warrior then bent down and brought his gaze to Lance. He pointed a finger in the dog’s face, and in a firm, forceful voice, said, “No barking, no fighting. You stay clear of these beasts.” Lance nodded and stopped growling.

Harrison, satisfied that Lance understood him completely, stood up and looked toward Pondle. “Let’s find our way out of here.”

With his small sword drawn, Pondle led the men down the corridor, taking care in noticing that it bent to the right. He noticed another wooden lever on the wall to the left.

“What do you think?”

“Pull it,” said Murdock. “What more harm could it do?”

Without any disagreement from the others, Pondle yanked the switch down. At once, a piece of the wall shifted to the right, revealing a new section of the maze and closing off the other. When the wall finished moving, the lever magically disappeared.

“This is going to be fun,” said Harrison in jest. Having studied various creatures at the Fighter’s Guild, the young warrior knew all too well that the minotaurs possessed the same ability to work the levers. “Let’s keep on moving.”

Swinkle felt very apprehensive. “What are we looking for?”

“There must be a doorway that leads out of here. But I haven’t a clue where it is.” Harrison gazed at the injured dog. “Keep Lance with you. Don’t let him try to fight these beasts.”

Swinkle moved closer to Lance. “I’ll do my best.”

The men took a few more paces, then they heard the sound of slow footsteps coming from up ahead. Unfortunately, the corridor split at that point, and it became difficult to pinpoint where the shuffling originated.

Pondle continued forward and pointed to the left, indicating the direction he wanted to go. The thief peered around the corner, then quickly pulled back. Before anyone could ask him what he saw, a thunderous bellow shook the very stones of the passageway.

“Here comes one now! And the beast has a huge battle-axe!”

“Get out of my line of sight!” Murdock readied his longbow in haste. The area was small, and he knew that he would have only one chance.

Pondle placed himself against the wall just as the beast turned the corner. The minotaur stood almost seven feet tall. A bull-like head, with large horns protruding out of the skull, was atop the body of an incredibly muscular man covered with brownish fur. The beast’s most notable quality was its piercing, red eyes.

The minotaur turned the corner flailing its axe and headed straight toward the group. Without hesitation, Murdock released the grip on his longbow string, sending the arrow hurtling through the air at a tremendous rate. The arrow hit its mark, drilling the creature square in the chest. The minotaur bellowed in pain, then fell to one knee, as blood poured from the wound. Its breathing grew ragged. The beast struggled to get to its feet once again, but failed.

Pondle quickly removed a dagger from his belt, and sliced the beast’s throat, ending its misery. The creature stopped moving seconds later.

At its last breath, a fine dust suddenly covered the minotaur and, with a shimmer, consumed the entire body, leaving no trace that it ever existed.

“One down —” said Murdock, but before he could finish his statement, another creaking sound emanated from the room. He looked about the area, trying to get a fix on the sound.

“Another one is coming in.”

“Every time we kill one, another is going to take its place,” said Jason solemnly.

Harrison tightened his grip on the hilt of his weapon. “I’m not surprised at all. Let’s go.”

Pondle continued his duty as the front man of the group, leading the men down the corridor from which the minotaur had come.

“Another dead end,” lamented Jason.

“But things are not always as they appear.” Pondle pointed to the wall to the right. “There’s another lever.”

“I hope it opens this wall in front of us.”

“I hope you’re right, too.”

With a pull of the lever, the wall did indeed slide to reveal another corridor. As fate would have it, a minotaur stood on the other side. With a hellish scream, it flailed its battle-axe at Pondle. The thief dropped to the ground and the minotaur’s weapon clanged against the stone wall, barely missing his head.

The rest of the men did not hesitate to attack. Murdock and Jason charged the beast first, but neither could score a direct hit on the creature. The minotaur used its axe to deflect the blows from the humans, then pushed the two men, sending them backwards.

Pondle scurried past the minotaur and positioned himself behind the beast, so that it had to protect itself from two directions. The move by Pondle proved to be a good one. With the minotaur distracted, Pondle managed to penetrate the back of the beast with his small sword. Infuriated, the minotaur turned toward Pondle. Being no match for the larger creature, Pondle turned and ran down the corridor. The minotaur took a few steps in the thief’s direction, but once the beast heard the others chasing it, the creature abruptly stopped and turned to face the men.

With a mighty swing, the minotaur’s battle-axe struck Murdock, sending him toward the stone wall. Murdock smashed into the wall, slumped to the ground and did not move.

The minotaur left Murdock there and proceeded to inflict its wrath upon the next attacker in line, Jason. Jason battled the minotaur, using his mace to thwart vicious blows, and managing to strike the beast only once. But the minotaur absorbed the blow without any signs of wearing down.

Meanwhile, Harrison noticed the light source nearby. With little resistance from the torch’s holding bracket, Harrison used his ring to lift the torch, sending it across the maze and positioning it above, and slightly behind the minotaur.

As Jason struggled, he saw what Harrison prepared to do. After striking the creature again, Jason dropped his weapon to his side. The minotaur did not hesitate to strike the defenseless warrior. As it raised its blade, the beast left its backside completely exposed. The time was right, so Harrison maneuvered the torch to strike the creature square in the back.

The minotaur felt the blow from behind and jerked its head around to see what hit him. The flame of the torch ignited its coarse, brown fur and the beast was immediately consumed in flames. The creature dropped its massive battle-axe and howled a pathetic cry, and tried in vain to put out the flames that engulfed its body. When its life force extinguished, the creature turned to dust along with its battle-axe, as had the other beast.

Harrison and the others ran to their fallen friend’s side, with Swinkle moving in to get a closer look at Murdock. No sign of blood existed on his body and they could see that he was breathing. Both were encouraging signs.

“Is he alive?” asked Pondle.

Swinkle nodded. “He’ll be fine, if we can get him out of this place. We need to snap him out of this, now.”

Swinkle slapped Murdock’s face lightly, hoping to bring some sign of life back into the ranger. When that did not work, the young cleric laid his hands upon Murdock’s head and mumbled a prayer. The soft white glow that the group had become so familiar with encompassed Swinkle’s hands, and when he finished praying, the ranger opened his eyes.

“What happened?” Murdock was still groggy from his wounds.

“The minotaur struck you,” said Harrison. “How do you feel?”

“Not very well. Let me try to stand.”

But before he could, another of the beasts clambered toward them. Lance began to bark in a panic.

“It’s another one!” Pondle pointed in the direction of the oncoming beast.

“Stay with him, Pondle.” Harrison gestured toward Murdock before glaring at Lance. “No!” The dog stopped its barking immediately, remembering what his master had told him before.

“Let’s go, Jason.”

The two warriors closed the gap on the minotaur’s advance, and Harrison looked into the red eyes of the creature, sensing nothing but hatred. The beast snarled at the two warriors revealing large, hideous teeth.

Harrison used a firm grip to wield his battle-axe, and the minotaur let out a vicious screech before taking a wild swing at the men. Harrison and Jason dodged the sharp blade of the creature’s weapon, and Harrison landed a strong blow to its right leg. The beast stepped backwards in pain, but instead of cowering, it seemed to strengthen with rage. The minotaur gathered itself, clutched its weapon tighter, and blew hot air from its nostrils.

Disregarding its pain, the beast attacked. The minotaur’s weapon struck Jason’s, and the creature’s strength forced Jason’s mace out of his hands, sending the weapon flying from the warrior. The minotaur recoiled its blade and raised its axe to strike the unarmed human.

Harrison reacted immediately to Jason’s predicament. He sliced the minotaur again, making a deep gash in its midsection. The creature’s blood stained its brown fur red, and a deep groan came from its throat, shaking the two warriors where they stood.

Jason crawled to the opposite wall to recover his weapon. The minotaur noticed Jason’s efforts. Lowering its head, the beast used its large horns to slam the warrior against the wall. Jason felt a burning sensation in his left shoulder and forearm, and looked up just in time to see the beast’s large, red eyes staring into his own. The minotaur’s foul breath reeked of fresh blood. The creature continued to pin Jason against the wall, and at the same time, it lunged to bite the warrior in his other shoulder. Jason screamed in pain. The minotaur had torn a chunk of his flesh, along with his armor, from his body.

Harrison knew that he did not have much time. With the minotaur exposing its back as it attacked Jason, the young warrior gathered all of his strength and drove his battle-axe deep into the creature. The minotaur tried to face its assailant, but before it could, Harrison hacked it again, this time across the chest.

The minotaur was mortally wounded, and the beast realized it. Trying to gather itself one last time, the minotaur gave Harrison a cold stare. In a daze, the beast fell face first into the floor. And it turned to dust.

Rushing to Jason’s side, Harrison found the warrior in excruciating pain and bleeding profusely, but he remained coherent.

“Let me help you.” Harrison tore a piece of cloth from Jason’s shirt and used it to help stop his shoulder from bleeding.

“That beast bit off a piece of my shoulder.” Jason was in shock. He winced as Harrison touched his tender wound.

“I saw the whole battle.” With Lance by his side, Swinkle had just arrived to help. He removed Harrison’s makeshift bandage and applied one from his own pack. Both were soaked with blood.

“Where else does it hurt?”

“My other arm and shoulder.” Jason grimaced.

“I will do my best. I’ll try another healing prayer. I hope that I have enough energy.”

Swinkle performed his healing ritual, then lowered himself to the floor, his legs too weak to support him.

“I can feel myself healing.” Jason rolled his shoulders.

“We have no time to rest,” said Harrison, looking at both men. “Come on, both of you.”

Harrison helped Swinkle to his feet, then they both assisted Jason. Jason wobbled at first, but managed to stand up.

Harrison assessed their situation. Beasts had physically pummeled Murdock and Jason in the past few minutes. Pondle had received a considerable shock in one of the rooms not too long ago. Lance could just about continue due to his burns. Now, Swinkle appeared mentally and emotionally drained from praying and healing all his friends. Harrison was the only one who continued to be in good shape, and he decided that he would lead his friends to the next room.

“Men, we need to band together. We’re battered, and we’re weary, but we must press on. I’ll lead the way.”

“Harrison, I can still take the point,” said Pondle. “Honestly.”

Harrison thought it over. “If you insist, then I trust you. I’ll keep an eye out on our backside. If another of those minotaurs pops up in front of you, I’ll come to the front and assume the lead.” The others agreed with Harrison.

Pondle started to lead the men onward.

Harrison saw nothing behind them, but he could sense something amiss. Everything seemed too quiet. Where had the beasts gone? The group followed the corridor to another turn that led to a dead end.

“Can you find any levers up there, Pondle?” asked Harrison.

After careful inspection, Pondle said, “No. We need to go back.”

Harrison now led the way. They retraced their steps back to where the creatures had attacked Murdock and Jason. Then, to their dismay, two minotaurs turned the corner ahead of them.

In one quick motion, Harrison slung his battle-axe over his shoulder and removed from his belt two of the hand axes that he had taken from Nigel’s men. He tossed them into the air and used his ring’s powers to make them hover in front of himself. Concentrating intensely on the axes, he willed them to fly forward, right towards the advancing beasts. The minotaurs, confused at the sight of the flying weapons, halted their charge and raised their axes in a defensive posture.

One axe glanced off the minotaur’s larger weapon, but it nicked the creature in the shoulder. The other lodged itself into the minotaur’s side. The beast howled in pain and quickly removed the weapon from its body.

Harrison slung his battle-axe around to grasp it and readied himself for battle. Seeming to come out of nowhere, an arrow whizzed by him and found its mark between the eyes of the minotaur on the left. The creature turned to dust before it could hit the floor.

Seeing his fallen comrade, the lone minotaur stopped and stared at the group in front of him. At first it seemed forlorn, as if it wanted to turn and run, but with a wild scream, it charged the men. A second arrow came from Murdock’s bow, but it flew past the oncoming beast.

“Your turn, Harrison!” yelled Murdock from behind.

Harrison stood his ground in the middle of the passageway. The minotaur forged straight ahead, wild with rage. Harrison saw the large horns, the familiar brown fur, and the menacing red eyes. He refused to surrender to the physical mismatch that was about to occur. Being the sole member of the group who could fight at full strength, he felt confident that he could protect his friends. Harrison left a distance of fifteen feet between himself and the rest of the men, enough room for the conflict without concern of injuring someone else by accident.

The minotaur attacked first. Harrison avoided its blow and swung his weapon. With surprising agility, the minotaur spun and deflected the blow from the young warrior, stopping Harrison’s attack. The beast then pushed the young warrior’s battle-axe off its own, sending Harrison back several steps.

The young warrior raised his axe once again, but this time he did not wait for the minotaur to make the first move. With a mighty yell, Harrison faked a blow to the creature’s right side, and landed a hit to its left. He split the minotaur’s side. Blood squirted to the floor.

The beast grimaced, and its red eyes stared down Harrison. The young warrior knew he had injured the creature, but he sensed a deeper hatred. The minotaur firmly clutched its weapon, and with a mighty swing, slashed Harrison across his chest.

The young warrior felt the cold steel cut through his armor and enter his skin. The sensation of his warm blood replaced the coldness of the blade. Quickly evaluating his wound, Harrison knew that it was not as bad as it looked. Gathering himself, he held a defensive position as the minotaur repositioned its weapon.

The beast tried to lunge at Harrison, but the young warrior blocked its attack. Harrison could see that the beast began to tire. The gash on its side continued to bleed, and Harrison knew that before too long the minotaur would lose too much blood to continue fighting. Even though it was hurt, the creature mustered enough energy to attack again and lunged at Harrison. The young warrior sidestepped and the momentum carried the creature into the wall, reinjuring its wounded side. Harrison could see the pain evident on the monster’s face. The minotaur dropped its axe and used one of its massive arms to clutch its wound. The beast then looked at Harrison, the fiery rage still burning behind its red eyes.

Harrison felt no mercy. He charged the beast and delivered the deathblow; his battle-axe severed its right arm and continued into the creature’s chest. The minotaur’s blood spilled over the area, and a short time thereafter, the body turned to dust.

Looking at the bloodstained floor, Harrison breathed a sigh of relief. But before he could savor his victory, he heard the opening of a doorway in the distance and knew that yet another monster had been set loose into the maze.

Harrison felt a hand on his shoulder. “Harrison, how are you?” asked Swinkle.

“We must continue,” said the young warrior, still looking down, gasping for breath, his body covered in sweat. Harrison then turned to face Swinkle.

“We need to get out of this room now.”

Swinkle looked at the intensity on Harrison’s face, and for the first time, could sense that his friend was truly worried. “We will get out alive, Harrison.”

“I know.” The young warrior looked up at Pondle. “Is everyone ready?”

Pondle approached Harrison. “Jason and Murdock are in rough shape,” said the thief in a hushed voice. “I’m not sure they can win their next battle.”

“Then we’ll have to fend for them. Lead us out of here.”

The thief looked at Harrison, knowing the urgency of their predicament. Pondle did as Harrison asked and took the lead position, but he had no idea where the exit was. The maze had so many twists and turns. He knew they were lost, and hoped that luck would guide them to find the exit.

The thief followed the passageway to another dead end, but fortunately, a lever appeared on the wall.

“Let me be next to you before you pull the lever.” Since, Harrison could see no imminent danger behind them, he figured it would be best to be ready to attack if this time a minotaur appeared behind the wall.

Pondle pulled the lever, and the wall slid toward the right.

Nothing was there, except an empty corridor. Harrison let out a sigh of relief and lowered his weapon. Then Pondle led the men forward around a bend to another dead end and another lever.

When Pondle pulled the switch, they could see a minotaur heading right for them from thirty feet away.

Harrison readied his weapon. “I’ll take care of this beast. Drop back with the others.” Pondle quickly moved back to buffer the rest of the men from the oncoming enemy.

The minotaur raced forward to within ten feet of Harrison before stopping. Holding its position, it let out a grunt. Something seemed unusual about the sound the beast made. Instead of a battle cry, it sounded more like a message to a fellow fighter.

Harrison felt a tightness in his belly. “Pondle, keep an eye on our backs!”

Harrison studied the waiting creature. The beast snarled through its nostrils, waiting for its reinforcements. Harrison then peered beyond the monster and noticed another lever on the right-hand side, some twenty feet away.

“Pondle, there’s another switch just past the minotaur.”

“Can we get to it?” The thief sensed the approaching beasts.

“We must.”

Harrison charged the minotaur, raising his blade to strike, but rather than retreating, the creature held its ground. Using both hands to grip his weapon, Harrison slashed at the minotaur. The monster blocked the young warrior’s attack and instead of retaliating, the minotaur held its ground in a defensive posture.

“He’s holding me off,” said the young warrior to himself. “He’s waiting for the others.”

Harrison attacked a second time, but the minotaur protected itself again. The young warrior backed off. In front of him loomed the minotaur, and behind him waited his beleaguered party.

“We’re going to storm past this monster,” shouted Harrison to the others. “I’ll lead the way. The rest of you, head for that lever.”

“You’ll never push that beast over,” said Murdock, shaking his head.

“We can’t go back! Just follow my lead!”

Suddenly, two minotaurs appeared behind the men and began to race toward the group.

With no other options left, Harrison charged the beast. “Now!”

The minotaur looked confused at first, but positioned itself to hold its ground. Harrison held his battle-axe in a horizontal position with the blade facing outwards and charged the monster at full speed. Making contact with the beast, Harrison’s momentum pushed it backwards, but only for a few feet. The minotaur regained its footing and planted its feet on the ground.

Harrison pressed against the beast’s chest with their weapons clashing. For an instant in time, the two warriors stared at each other, man versus beast. The moment was broken when Harrison felt something shove him. Then the minotaur reeled backwards and fell. With nothing to break his fall, Harrison tumbled on top of the monster.

As he tried to get to his feet, Harrison saw Murdock lying on the ground beside him. Lance, Swinkle, and Pondle raced past the fallen fighters.

Suddenly grabbed from behind, Harrison was briefly lifted off the ground and quickly placed on his feet. Turning to look behind him, he saw it was Jason who had helped him stand up. He then saw two horned figures behind his fellow warrior.

“Jason!” yelled Harrison, but it was too late. One of the minotaurs took a full swing with its battle-axe, carving a deep wound into Jason’s back. The warrior’s eyes bulged; his mouth became agape. He buckled and dropped to his knees.

“Run!” That would be the last thing Jason would say to his friend. The monster delivered a second blow, and Jason fell to the floor, never to breathe again.

Harrison, meanwhile, stood in front of the other minotaur. The creature tried to get up, but Murdock had regained his feet and stabbed it twice with his sword, briefly keeping it at bay.

“Harrison, we must run now!”

He did not know if it was because of Murdock’s tone of voice, or if it was his warrior’s instinct, but either way Harrison found himself raising his blade and driving a fatal blow into the fallen minotaur. In the same motion, he removed his weapon from the body and dashed toward the rest of the men.

Pondle waited for Murdock and Harrison to get closer, then he pulled the lever. A new passageway opened, with another dead end and another lever. The men ran toward it, with the two remaining minotaurs still pursuing them.

Having no time to investigate, Pondle pulled the lever. Without warning, the ceiling opened up and a large, barred gate came crashing down from above, slamming into the floor to separate the minotaurs from the men.

Harrison turned, his heart pounding in his chest, then realized that the beasts could not reach them. He used his hand to brush the sweat from his brow, then realized that his friends were in shock. The look of distress on their faces was too much to bear. Holding back tears, he approached them.

“Jason sacrificed himself so that we could go on. We can’t quit now.”

“Harrison’s right,” said Murdock, while the two beasts grunted and howled beyond the barrier. Wiping his eyes, he said, “Pondle, can you find anything?”

Pondle took a second to focus. He looked around the area and found that a section of the wall appeared to have been cut, but its precision looked unnatural. Pondle carefully ran his fingers over the outline of the area. Then he took a dagger and chiseled away some of the stone. When he had finished using his blade, he put his fingers in the cracks and pried a panel open. The men looked at the contents in amazement, for inside rested a solid gold lever in the upright position.

“This must be it.” Harrison’s eyes opened wide in anticipation.

“What else can it be?” Murdock kept his gaze fixed upon the golden fixture.

After Pondle pulled the lever downward, they heard a low rumble from the wall in front of them, before it started to slowly rise. When the portal finished its ascent, it revealed a passageway with dim lighting.

Harrison peered into the new corridor to see a hallway that continued for quite a distance, with a lit room at its end.

“Jason, you were so close.”

* * *

Mike has been writing The Overlords series for over twenty years. Currently, he lives in Tiverton, RI with his wife Lea, and their children, Devin and Samantha. Mike speaks at middle and high schools, colleges, local libraries, and writer’s groups where his sincere hope is to inspire everyone he meets to be creative and follow their dreams. He also is the Vice President of the Association of Rhode Island Authors (ARIA).

When not working on the Overlords series, Mike is very active in fitness and sports. He continues to play baseball where he’s a knuckleball pitcher for the Narragansett Brewers that won the 2008 and 2014 National Championships in Phoenix, AZ. He also runs 4 to 5 miles on a regular basis, does interval weight and cardio training, and takes Vinyasa yoga classes twice a week. Did we mention that he is an engineer, too, working on Homeland Defense projects? You can find the books from The Overlords series on his website. Mike’s also on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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