First Chapter Friday -- The Path of Man by Matt Moss

Friday, March 10, 2017


Title: The Path of Man 
Author: Matt Moss 

Author Bio: 

Matt Moss is an older millennial who found a love for reading in his mid-twenties. His childhood was filled with 90's action movies, video games, and the outdoors. He works full time, is a family man, and writes epic fiction around the edges of the day. Connect with him at mossthewriter.com or @mossthewriter on social media.

Summary: 

Arkin's world is changed forever when a stranger rides into town looking for an artifact that Arkin's father would trade his own life to protect -- a book that holds the secrets of the past and possibly the fate of the future. Suddenly, Arkin is thrown into an age old war between the Order and the Dark Society. The kingdom is already in turmoil over the scarcity of jobs and the rationing of food, and now the church is trying to convert the people from their faith of old to a new and less holy religion. 

Arkin will need all the help he can get to save the people he loves and the land he calls home. Somewhere out there lies the Garden of Stones, a place of myth and magic that Arkin and his new band of friends and warriors are hoping will be the miracle they need to turn the tides of war. Choices made in the past ripple through time as Arkin puts the pieces together. His choices will determine the future of all as he follows The Path of Man.



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Chapter One 

       The Cross and Anchor was as crowded as any other night. People came there to drink and wash away the toils of the day. It offered the best food in town along with the prettiest serving girls. The warm fireplace and the glow of the lanterns provided a welcome sight for anyone this cold time of year.
"Is the food ready yet?” a gruff voice called from the corner. “Or do ya gotta kill the cow first?" Mad Jack was known to be the loudest mouth in town, especially when he had an audience and a few drinks in him.
A tall, blonde serving girl walked by the table.
"Hey lass, fetch me another whiskey while I wait on the cows to come home." Mad Jack slapped her on the behind as she walked away.
Jack's friends laughed around the table. The sound of people talking, plates clattering, and cooks shouting filled the wooden oasis. The smell of cooked meat and baked bread hung in the air. The townsfolk looked forward to it every night. It provided them an escape from the everyday wake up, go to work, go home and go to bed routine. Fights broke out on occasion, but in a town this small, you learned to make up quick. Everybody knew everybody.
Farmers, artisans, and trade workers comprised the small town of The Crossing. Its location, nestled in a valley between the great mountain range, made it ideal for travelers to stop in. Kingsport, the capital city, sat to the west, while the rest of King George's kingdom lie to the east. To go from one to the other, a traveler had to cross the mountains or charter a boat to ferry across the sea to Stonebridge. The winter months made it treacherous for anyone brave enough to attempt the trip.
Mad Jack emptied his glass and turned back to his companions. "As I was saying..."
The front door slammed open, allowing red and orange sunlight to stream in. The cold blast of air and the tall figure in black made everyone stop and look. He wore black leather boots, trousers, jerkin, and a black cloak with silver embroidery. The cloak whipped and snapped in the cold wind. Beneath his cowl, a sharp jawline with a clean shaven face could be seen, but his eyes remained covered.
He closed the door behind him.
The stranger made his way to the bar and sat down. The noise and commotion resumed.
"Get you a drink?" the bartender asked, wiping the bar top.
"Warm ale," the stranger said, resting both arms on the bar.
"Don't get that request much." The bartender pulled a glass from the shelf. "Most like it cold. Got the barrels sitting out back."
Mad Jack looked at his companions, disturbed by the intruder. He glared at the stranger.
"Here's your whiskey, Jack," the serving girl said.
Jack stood, shot the drink down, and slammed the glass on the table. Maybe it was the liquor, or maybe it was his friends coaxing him along, but whatever it was, it made him walk over to the stranger. There was something about this man he didn't like. He was going to let him know who Mad Jack was.
"What's your business here in our peaceful town this time of year, stranger?"
"I'm looking for someone,” the stranger answered without looking at Mad Jack.
"Well, I believe you just found him. You see, I'm Mad Jack and this here is my town." Snorts and chuckles came from every table in the room.
"I'm looking for Levi," the stranger said in a calm, cool voice, "but if I was looking for a mush brained maggot of a man, then yes, I have found him."
Jack's face turned to stone and flushed bright red. Three of his friends jumped up from the table upon hearing the insult and surrounded the stranger. The room hushed.
"Here's your food boys," the serving girl said, attempting to call Jack and his friends back to the table as she sat the plates down.
The bartender sat the beer in front of the stranger.
"I came here tonight for a little fun,” Jack said, choking out the words. “But now, I'm gonna have a really good time stomping your ass."
The stranger picked the beer up, emptied the glass, and softly placed it back on the bar. He stood up and met Jack's gaze.
Jack noticed something unusual about the stranger's eyes and the sight of them made him question his own bravery.
"Good luck," the stranger said.
Jack reared back and threw with everything he had. He caught the stranger square on the jaw, snapping the man’s head to the side.
The stranger snapped his head back, threw off his cloak, and grabbed Jack by the throat.  The stranger tossed Jack across the room, slamming him against the far wall of the tavern. Jack's three friends jumped in.
A bright streak of silver flashed from the stranger’s side. Too quick, the sword turned red as he gutted two of the men.
Screams filled the room as people hurried for the door. Half the men, the ones who weren't running away, picked up a stool or whatever they could find to join the fight.
The third of Jack's companions landed a clean shot on the stranger. A silver streak shot through the companion's abdomen and pulled out as fast as it went in. A straight kick to the chest sent him flying towards the door, knocking people over who were trying to escape. Chairs flew and tables were pushed aside as the men pressed toward the stranger. The blade ran red as bodies hit the floor.
One man stood alone with a dagger in hand. He charged in a rage and met the same swift fate.
As the man in black pulled the blade from the last man's chest, he wiped the hair back from his face.
The sounds of dying men accompanied the crackling of the fireplace.
Mad Jack lay on the floor broken and wheezing. The stranger knelt down and met his gaze one last time.
Jack coughed blood. "Who are you?"
"Just a stranger," the man in black said.
Jack marveled at the strangeness in those eyes. His world went black as a boot crashed into his skull.
The stranger strode across the blood soaked floor and picked up his cloak. He flipped a copper coin on the bar as he made his way out.
He closed the door behind him.

***

The Whistlestop, the general goods store in The Crossing, could accommodate the needs of any traveler. It was Levi's, and he had been running it solely for many years. He bought, sold, and traded in rare goods and antiques; always keeping an appreciative eye out for anything of value. Behind his front desk was a collection of tomes and books.
Levi’s son, Arkin, knew the collection was his father's most prized possession, but he didn't know why. Arkin would rather experiment with all the other trinkets in the shop than stick his nose in a book.
Arkin picked up a wooden puzzle box that an old man had traded over the last traveling season. His hands moved the parts around as he tried to unlock the piece in the middle of the oak sanctum. Arkin had been trying to solve the puzzle since it had arrived in the shop. The last time he made an attempt, he had thrown it across the room.
"Son, make sure you dust everything off before you sweep."
"I'm supposed to meet my friends before dark," Arkin said. "Can't I clean it tomorrow?"
Levi ran an oiled cloth over a table. "You know spring is coming," he said. "The snow is melting, which means the traveling season is only a few weeks away."
Arkin put the box down.
"Why do you care about it being so clean?" he said and grabbed a rag, shoulders slouched. "I just cleaned it a week ago."
"Because, Arkin, a man needs to take pride in his work. It lets himself and everyone else know about his character."
"But I thought pride was a sin?"
"It is whenever someone is arrogant or boastful," Levi said, then took pause to gather his thoughts. "Confidence can sometimes be perceived by others as being arrogant." He rubbed at a spot on the table, "A good sense of pride comes from being confident and knowing that you did a job well done. It really just depends on the condition of a man's soul."
Levi paused to look up and noticed Arkin deep in thought.
"Do you understand what I am saying?" Levi asked.
"Yes, but what do you mean about the condition of a man's soul?"
Levi put the rag down and walked to Arkin. "A soul is the eternal spark that was created by God. It is the essence of who you are." Levi waved his hand and said, "It is constantly surrounded by good and evil in this world. When we die, our souls will live on, which is why we must live the purest and best life that we can while we are here."
Arkin nodded as he spoke, "I understand father."
He began polishing the shelves.
"That's my boy," Levi said with a smile, gazing up into Arkin's blue eyes. His son stood at least a head taller than most men. "I love you son, and I'm proud of you."
"Thanks, I love you too father," Arkin said with a smile. "What is it?" he said, noticing his father's peculiar stare.
"You have your mother's eyes," Levi said, turned, then limped back to the book shelf.
Arkin noticed his father’s limp had become worse over the winter. An old wound from falling off a horse his father had once told him.
Levi removed a book, The Path of Man, and reverently laid the big, leather bound book on the table. Two more books were placed beside it.
Arkin meticulously cleaned; his mind distracted by the boredom of the small town that he had grown up in. He loved The Crossing, mainly because it was all he knew, but he wanted more. He longed for an adventure and a life of his own.
The fading light through the shop window caught his eye. Ready to catch up with his friends, he quickly finished cleaning the shelves. Turning, he noticed his father thumbing through the two smaller books while carefully writing notations in the big, leather bound book. He looked deep in thought.
Arkin was used to seeing his father like this of late, consumed by his books. He went to the closet and returned with a broom.
"I can't believe it," Levi said as he dropped the pen to the floor. "So, the stories are true."
"What is it?" Arkin hurried to the table to look over the books.
"I think I've found..."
BANG
BANG
BANG
"Sorry, we're closed," Levi said as he went to open the door.
A woman burst in, shaking from shock.
"Anna, what's wrong?" Levi asked.
Trembling, she could hardly speak. "A stranger all dressed in black came to the tavern. He said he was looking for you."
"Anna, calm down,” Levi said. “What happened?" He put both hands on her shoulders to comfort her.
"Mad Jack hit him," she said, stammering a bit. "Then the man in black grabbed Jack by the throat and threw him across the room with one arm."
"Just breathe," Levi consoled.
Arkin edged towards them, suddenly nervous.
After a moment, Anna began to calm a bit. "It was impossible the way he tossed Mad Jack around," she said and her eyes went distant.
"Describe him for me," Levi said. "You said he was dressed in black?"
"Yes, he wore a cloak with silver embroidery. It had a symbol or something on the back."
Levi took pen and paper from behind the desk. His hand quickly sketched a symbol, then handed it to her.
"That's it," she said.
Levi's face went stark. "Go out through the back, Anna, and make your way home."
She nodded and left.
Levi turned to Arkin. "Listen to me son."
"LEVI!" A booming voice came from outside.
Arkin turned toward the door, frozen.
"Son, pay close attention." Levi guided Arkin back to the table and pressed The Path of Man to his chest. "I need you to take this book and find the Prophet."
"LEVI!" The voice drew closer.
"Father," Arkin pleaded, shaking.
"Tell him the Garden of Stones is near. Go to your aunt's house in Hayfork," Levi said then hugged his son. "Take your horse out back."
"LEVI! Come and accept your fate."
Levi held Arkin at arm’s length. “Go son.”
"But father."
"GO!"
Confused and shaken, Arkin turned and ran to the back door.
Levi reached behind the counter to remove the sword that was strapped beneath. He saw Arkin look back at him as he stood in the doorway. Levi’s heart filled with love and hope as he looked at his son. He confidently nodded for his son to go. As Arkin left, Levi whispered a prayer. "Please God, watch over my son."
Levi turned the familiar blade in his hand and cleared his mind.
A strange twinkle set in his eyes as he walked out into the fading sunlight.
Levi met the stranger outside on the main street in The Crossing — a simple dirt road lined with shops.
The two men stood facing each other twenty paces apart.
"I see you still have that limp," the man in black mocked. "How long has it been? Seventeen years now?"
"Eighteen," Levi said. "I see you still bear that scar on your face."
"Thanks to you. Seems some scars never fade, as we both well know."
"Lucian,” Levi said, calling the stranger by name, “I know we have a past, but you can still change. You can still be a better man. I forgave you a long time ago."
"I loved her too, you know,” Lucian said. “But you just had to take her from me."
"She chose me by her own free will," Levi contested.
"Horse piss!" Lucian spat. "You brainwashed her just like you do everyone else. But enough of the past. Give me the book."
"Still taking orders like a dog I see," Levi said. "Tell your master that he's going to fail, like usual. The book is safe."
Lucian drew his sword. "Always the fool, Levi. My master cannot be stopped, and neither can I."
"I hope that your skills have improved after all this time," Levi said. "You never have been on my level." He turned his own sword in his hand.
"Say hello to your late wife for me," Lucian said, stepping towards Levi. “And tell her that I was the better man."

***

Arkin ran the horse up the hillside just behind the shop. Jumping to the ground, he tied the horse to the large pine — the one that his father hung a rope swing from years ago. Looking down, he saw the town empty, save for the two men in the street. They were talking.
What are they talking about, Arkin thought? Do they know each other?
He crept back down a bit through the bushes, careful not to make any sound. He had to get close enough to hear what they were saying. Sunlight on the horizon, red and orange, caught his eye as a cold chill ran down his spine.
Close enough, he thought. As best as his tall and lanky frame would allow, he hid behind a patch of blackberry bushes. The sweet smell reminded him of the first taste of homemade wine he had a few years back with his cousin Malik.
Then, quicker than Arkin thought possible, the two men collided with steel on steel. The clash echoed off the town's now empty shops. Arkin blinked and squinted, trying to focus on his father. The two men fought all over the narrow battlefield of the main street, their motions a blur.
How can my father move like that. Impossible.
Levi unleashed a flurry of strikes, catching the stranger off guard, and knocking the sword from his hands. The stranger quickly shot forward toward Levi, unarming him with the sudden charge. Both fought for holds until Levi dropped down and threw an elbow into the stranger's thigh, dropping him to the ground. Levi wrapped both hands around his opponent's leg and threw him fifty paces — sending the man crashing into the support beam of the town church.
How can father fight like this, Arkin thought. I didn't even know he could fight at all.
Levi picked his sword up from the ground and threw it toward the stranger. Spinning through the air, it narrowly missed the stranger’s head, and sunk into the beam of the church with a thud.
"Lucian, stop this madness!"
Peeking through the bush, Arkin heard his father address the stranger by name.
The stranger laughed, deep and sinister, as he pulled something from his pocket. His hand grasped firmly around a stone as he stretched his arm toward Levi. An unearthly, bright green beam of light shot straight up into the sky. Arkin shielded his eyes from the sudden flash. The outside of the beam was enveloped in a dancing green flame. After a few heartbeats, the light vanished, and the stone began to glow.
Levi lifted from the ground as a swirling green light circled around his body.
Arkin's eyes widened in horror.
"All your life you've been looking for these stones, guarding their secret," the stranger said. "You really think your Order has the only ones?"
Levi strained against the bond of light. "As I said, old friend... I forgive..."
"Spare me your pity!" Lucian shouted — his arm straining from holding onto the power of the stone. He clapped his arm down against his side.
In response, Levi flew through the air at incredible speed, his arms and legs dangling behind his torso. His chest slammed though the hilt of the sword, impaling him face flush against the beam of the church. The hilt, now a bloody cross, protruded from his back as he hung there.
Lucian seethed as the stone faded to a dull glow, then nothing.
Arkin clenched his jaw to keep from screaming as anger poured over him. His eyes blurred. He forced them shut, praying this to be a bad dream.
Lucian, cocked his head and looked at Levi. Reaching up, he tucked the stone into Levi's pocket. "A gift, old friend. You can stop searching now."
Lucian turned and walked into the Whistlestop with the dying light of day to his back.
Eyes filled with tears, Arkin crept back up the hill. His hands grasped for claim on the ground as his body resisted. Looking back one last time, he climbed upon his horse and rode all night.

**************************

Thank you for sharing Matt! Readers, if you'd like to purchase The Path of Man, click HERE. For more information about the author, check out his social media sites. 

Blog: www.mossthewriter.com
Instagram/Twitter: @Mossthewriter 

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