Age of Empyre by Michael J. Sullivan

Two of the three characters in the following unconventional review are invented by Michael J. Sullivan. I give him full credit. The third one is mine.

Dear Michael, I hope I don’t offend you with this unconventional review. I was getting bored by the “normal” reviews and added some spice to mine. The following piece is a tribute to you from me, your loyal reader.

The night is scarier than I expected. If it weren’t about The Book, I wouldn’t have left the safety of the town at this hour. There is hardly any light, the moon is playing hide and seek with the clouds, peeking out sometimes as if to see if I have shit myself already. The abandoned ruins around me are full of shadows and evil places. I press myself to the wall of a broken tower, hoping that the men arrive at the promised time. Why in Novron’s name did I accept this god-forsaken place for the meeting? 

I hear something. It sounds like talons scratching on the stone. I shiver, trying to become one with the moss-covered stone.

Then I see a figure between two ruined buildings. He walks casually, as if strolling on the main street of the town. I know it’s Him, because I can see the silhouette of the enormous sword on his back. He carries three swords. Who would need three swords, anyway? Men have only two hands.

He stops in a stone-throw distance and waits.

“He’s alone.” The raspy voice comes from right next to me, and I jump and yelp. My heart wants to break out of my chest. A hooded figure separates from the darkness and stands in front of me. He is shorter than the other one, but somehow much more menacing. I cannot see his face, but I know he is watching me. It would unnerve me if I wasn’t already dead-scared.

“Now, now, my friend,” says the big one with the three swords. “No need to worry. I’m sure you understand that my partner, Roy wanted to be sure you didn’t bring unwanted company.”

I swallow but cannot say anything. He walks to me and stops next to his partner. The moon gives enough light to see his face, which looks amused. Now I remember his name: Hadrian.

“We’ve got what you wanted,” he says.

My excitement washes away the fear.

“Really?” I manage to ask.

“Sure. You hired us to get the book, so we got the book. We even got another one, if you are interested.”

I waited so long for The Book that my hands are shaking from the expectation. 

“Let me see it,” I blurt out.

“Of course,” Hadrian says. He pulls a thick book out of his satchel and hands it over to me. I touch the leather cover hesitantly, and I still cannot believe that The Book can be mine. Then I take it carefully as if it were a baby and look at it in wonder. In the moonlight, it’s beautiful. I run my fingers over the intricate patterns.

“Well, we kept our promise,” Hadrian says, “now it’s your turn.”

“Of course, of course!”

I push my purse into his hand. I cannot take away my eyes from The Book.

Hadrian puts away the purse with a satisfied grin.

“It was a pleasure doing business with you,” he says.  

“You don’t count it?” I ask.

He shrugs. “You look trustworthy, my friend. And smart. Smart enough not to cross us.”

He has a point.

“Are you heading back to town? You can come with us, it’s safer than wandering alone.”

There is nothing I want more than to read The Book, but he is right. It would do nothing good if I got robbed. I could lose my newly acquired treasure. The thought itself is terrible.

“Sure, thank you for your kindness,” I accept his offer.

We leave the ruins and walk along the road. Hadrian walks next to me with the confidence of a man bearing three swords. His partner disappears in the shadows of the forest next to the road.

“Don’t mind Roy,” Hadrian says, “he likes to scout ahead. And he isn’t that chatty person, anyway.”

I kind of feel better without him.

“So,” Hadrian says, ” you are a librarian.” It’s more like a statement than a question. “I like books too.”

I’m surprised. I never would have considered him as a reading type, the swords and all. But whoever wants to talk about books finds me an excellent company.

“Are you? What kind of books you like?

” I liked that one.” He points to the book I hold dearly to my chest. “It’s quite a good one. Did you know that…”

“Please don’t!” I interrupt him.

In the moonlight, I can see his arched eyebrows.

“Sorry,” I explain, “I want to read this book myself. I waited for it for so long, I don’t want anybody’s opinion to ruin my pleasure.”

“Hm, usually I prefer a storyteller in the inn with a mug of beer, but I think I understand your point.”

We walk in silence for a minute. I’m glad he accompanies me, the shrieks and howls from the forest make me nervous.

“What about the other book?” Hadrian asks.

“What other book?”

“You were so happy when you put your hands on that one, you didn’t even hear that we got another one.”

I spent all my savings on getting The Book, but I cannot resist talking about having another one. I’m a librarian, after all. Sometimes I think that letters are flowing in my veins instead of blood.

“What is it about?” I ask. It costs nothing just to talk about a book.

Hadrian pulls the book out of his satchel and holds it up for me to see. In the moonlight I see a leather-bound book with a contour of a dragon on it. It isn’t like The Book, of course, but still looks nice.

“This one is about adventure. Actually, I liked it more than the other one. Do you know what I liked the most?” He doesn’t wait for me to answer. “The dragon.”

“Really?” I’m not really into the cheap tales that storytellers tell, shouting from their podiums in dramatic voice, showing laughable pictures, trying to make it more interesting, then going around asking for payment for the poor show.

“Really. Especially because how it was made.”

“They made it?”

“With magic. A girl made the first one by sacrificing her best friend, a wolf. Then the elves made more and used them in the battle.”

“There is a battle?”

“Oh, yes! Between man and the elves. And there is this guy, Tesh. Amazing fighter. He learns sword fight from elite elven warriors called the Galantrians. I wish I could learn from those guys.”

He sounds wishful, and glancing at his giant sword, I understand.

“He kills almost all of them, because they destroyed his village and killed his family.”

“Oh.”

“Don’t tell Roy, he has some elven blood running in his veins. Anyway, the elven were full of intricacy and conspiracy, and their head was full of themselves, so they kind of deserved what they got. I mean, in the book. You know that the elves were the ones originally using the Art?”

“No way!” I object. But then I realize he is talking about a story, not real-life facts. “Well, I didn’t know.”

“It’s true, according to the book. One of their tribe was the master of the Art and ruled over the other tribes. It’s kind of weird, but elves were elves, weren’t they?”

Hadrian distracts me from the terrors of the night, so I encourage him to talk more about the book.

“Listen, you must read it. The ladies in the book are amazing. They are strong and brave and beautiful. Well, there is this woman, Tressa, who isn’t… anyway, I wish I could meet one of them. I mean, I give all the courtesy to a delicate lady when I meet one, but when I will grow old and settle down, I want to spend my last years with someone as wise as Persephone or as brave as Brin.”

At the mention of Brin I perk up.

“What was she like? According to the book.”

“She was beautiful and smart. Did you know she invented writing? With some help from the gods, but still… Amazing girl.”

“Is it true that she died and came back?”

“Uhumm.”

That’s a miracle in itself. My ears itch to hear more, but most probably I will read about all of this in The Book, so I don’t press.

“So, are you interested in the book?”

“What’s the title?”

“Age of Empyre.”

I haven’t heard about it.

“I would,” I say with a wishful sigh, “but I just gave you my last saved coins.”

“It’s a pity,” he says in a disappointed tone. He puts the book back into his satchel.

My mind works hard to find a way how to put my hands on more coins when Hadrian halts and puts his hand on my arm to stop me. He tilts his head, listening to something. I cannot hear anything. Even the forest noise has died out.

“What?” I whisper.

Roy appears next to us. He makes me jumpy again.

“Four men at the bend of the path,” he says.

Hadrian nods. “Not fair, but at least we can have some exercise.”

What in Novron’s name he is talking about?

Roy disappears again.

“Come on, my librarian friend, don’t make them wait, they might change their mind and flee.”

I don’t understand what’s wrong with that.

We walk down the path towards the bend. I let Hadrian lead and follow him. He has all the swords, after all.

My heart skips a beat when I hear the shriek. I stop and cannot make my feet to take even one step forward. My chest is so tight from the fear that I hardly can breathe.

A dark figure drops from a tree and attacks us. Another two jumps out from the bushes and run toward us with war cries. The moonlight shines on their swords. It happens so fast that I don’t have time even to think about running away. They are upon us before I could say library.

Hadrian meets them with two swords in his hand. How did he unsheathed them so fast? He blocks one blow with his long sword and another with his short one. The third never comes, the third man falls down to the ground, grasping to a knife that is sticking out of his chest. Hadrian blocks another blow and then he counterattacks. He slices the thigh of his attacker, who cries out. Hadrian is all over them, blocking and giving blows. In the moonlight, I gaze with aw at the three figures dancing. Or, at least Hadrian is dancing and the two others are trying to learn the steps.

“Finish them already.” The voice comes from right next to me and I yelp. Cannot this man approach someone without making him pee himself?

I cannot believe my ears, but in between the frightening noise of the colliding swords I hear Hadrian sigh. Then he makes a few fast moves and his two opponents fall. All the three are dead.

Roy casually walks to the one who fell first, pulls out the knife from his chest, wipes it off with the dead man’s clothes and sheaths it.

Hadrian sheaths his swords too.

“Why cannot I have some fun?” asks Hadrian from Roy. “I could have played with them some more.”

“You three were so noisy, you woke up the entire town.”

“You said there were four.”

“Initially. The fourth one is under that bush.”

Hadrian looks that way, but doesn’t bother checking it.

“Well, where were we?” He turns to me as if nothing happened. “Come on my friend, it’s time we escort you home.”

I couldn’t agree more. It was too much excitement already. I walk with Hadrian again, trying to overcome the shaking of my hand.

Fortunately, we don’t talk much, and my fear ease when the familiar town streets welcome us with the streetlamp lights.

“So, are you interested in the other book?” asks Hadrian once we stop in front of my house.

Strangely, I find myself quite interested. But I have to refuse.

“As I said, I don’t have coins left.”

“You know what? I give it to you in exchange of a favor.”

“You do? What favor?”

“Next time we come into this town, you help us.”

“Help how?”

“I don’t know, to find someone, to show us around, things like that. You know the place much better than we do.”

He probably has a point. I have a feeling that this favor might be a tad more dangerous than what I would like, but Hadrian has the book in his hand already and offers it to me. I hesitate, but I cannot resist at the end.

“Deal,” I say.

“Deal,” Hadrian says with a grin. “Good night my friend.”

He and his partner disappears in a side alley.

I rush in and bolt my door carefully. I light the candles in the candelabrum, then I hurry to my study and place the two books on the table. I put aside the Age of Empyre, I will certainly read it, but not now. Instead, I turn to the other one. I marvel at the beautiful cover again. 

Then I open it, and with thumping heart, I read the title: The Book of Brin.


Unfortunately, I cannot provide you with the Book of Brin, but you can read the Legends of the First Empire series or listen to the audiobook which I highly recommend.

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