Home > Of Gold and Greed (Daughters of Eville #6)

Of Gold and Greed (Daughters of Eville #6)
Author: Chanda Hahn

 

 

PROLOGUE

 

 

“It’s useless. You cannot kill me,” Greed screamed, digging his claws into the cave wall, ripping through the ancient stone like freshly churned butter.

“I may not be able to kill you, but I can stop you,” the dwarf shouted, swinging his heavy axe toward the great black beast as he herded Greed deep into the mountain. The air thinned as the temperature rose. Sweat beaded across his brow, running into his eyes, causing them to sting. He dared not wipe his face, for Greed would surely strike. A beast he had let roam the caves for far too long, it prowled his homeland, lurking in the dark, gaining strength until he was too powerful. For this was his ancient enemy. One that he had battled many times before. Each time he encountered Greed, his enemy left him with a scar.

But even though he himself was long lived—he was aging, and his enemy was not—time was no longer on his side. His reflexes were slower, his vision fading, and he favored one arm over the other.

Yet, he was the last defense. The one who could keep the monster at bay. The last of his line of the Stiltskin family. He was the only one strong enough to lure the creature out of Ter Dell and across the boiling abyss, deep into the volcanic mountain . . . and he was the only one strong enough to survive it.

A geyser of steam erupted from one of the hidden vents, filling the mountain tunnel with smoke, and he lost sight of his prey. When the steam dissipated, the hate-filled red eyes of his enemy had disappeared.

“Come out, Greed, so I can send you back to Hell!” the dwarf shouted, raising his great double-headed axe. The wood handle creaked beneath his desperate grip.

Scratches echoed throughout the cavern, making it appear like his enemy was everywhere at once. The scraping sounded in front of him, but he wouldn’t fall for it. Not again. If the noise was in front, that meant the attack was coming from—

“Aargh!” The dwarf spun, swinging the axe upward at the last second as a great maw filled with yellow teeth almost swallowed him. His axe grazed scales but might have slid off water for all the damage it did. Greed retreated into one of the many tunnels that ran through the Ragnar Mountains.

“Pitiful dwarf. Why do you fight so hard?” Greed’s voice was distant as he slithered between the different caverns. “Your people are gone. There’s no one left. All because you failed.”

The axe grew heavy in the dwarf’s hands as the guilt of his past creeped up on him. It was his folly that caused the destruction of the dwarven city of Ter Dell. The hundreds of lives lost. He was the one responsible. He had succumbed to Greed’s dark influence, and the innocent had paid the price.

“You should just let me eat you,” Greed coaxed. “I can make the pain go away. The memories will cease, and you can have eternal rest.”

He missed the hidden attack. The claw appeared out of the shadows, swiping at his midsection. The enchanted chain mail did little to stop the cursed talon. Pain ripped through his stomach. He pressed a hand to his side, and it came away red with blood. He was old, too slow, and he should have blocked that blow.

The dwarf retreated down a small dark tunnel that ran toward the main vent of the volcano. His blood leaving a slick, wet trail behind him. The heat was intense. His skin burned; his lips cracked. But he pushed on, travelling downward. He couldn’t give up. They did not nickname him Steel-skin for nothing.

“I smell your blood,” Greed said, his voice slithering out of the darkness. “It is much, for one such as you. Let me quell it once and for all, with my teeth.” A crack followed his words.

He could hear the beast snapping his jaws, his lips smacking together as it imagined eating him.

The stone floor swam before him, and he stumbled. A little farther. He grasped the cave wall for support, leaving a bloody handprint. The roof brushed his head, and he had to duck. Pushing one foot in front of the other, he knew he was going to his death. He was okay with his life ending, as long as his death meant something.

The tunnel he was in came to an end, opening to reveal an enormous cavern filled with gold—gold shields, coins, crowns, swords, chain mail. Enough gold to feed everyone in the kingdom multiple times over. Most of it once belonged to the dwarves. With their kingdom decimated, they had no use for it. He had to convince the human king to come to his aid; to fight their common enemy. It had almost bankrupted the kingdom of Kiln, but it was the only way to stop Greed.

He slowed when he saw the familiar throne tossed among the pile of treasure. Taking one step at a time, he approached the golden chair. A tear slipped down his weathered cheek as he remembered the great dwarf king who once sat upon it.

“I will get revenge for you, my friend,” the dwarf promised the dead king. The blood now flowing freely from the wound in his side, he was slowly succumbing to the death blow. He patted the arm and turned his eyes to the only entrance to the cave and waited.

A black scaled claw reached through, gripping the edge of the too small tunnel, trying to widen the opening. There was no way for Greed to enter in his current size.

“What is that I smell?” Greed howled like a bloodhound that caught scent of his prey. “Is that gold?”

The dwarf smiled wanly. There was a reason this creature was called Greed. It was attracted to that desire, that want, that which caused people to covet. And what better physical representation than gold? It was the perfect lure to trap a beast so aptly named.

“I wa-nt! I ne-e-d,” Greed scratched at the tunnel as he tried to widen the entrance.

“Your fat butt can’t fit, old man,” the dwarf wheezed. He coughed and blood bubbled up between his lips. “Maybe if you weren’t so big.”

Smoke filled the tunnel as the creature shrank and became ethereal. Black mist moved into the tunnel and red eyes gazed out at him from the center of the burning smoke.

Come closer, the dwarf thought. Just a little closer.

“The avarice taste is sweet on my lips.”

Greed’s ethereal form hovered over the pile of gold. In this shape, he couldn’t tell where the head was. He could only tell when those burning eyes looked upon him.

“I thought the gold would be a fitting headstone for you.” The dwarf raised his axe high in the air.

“What?” Greed turned in confusion as the axe sliced through a rope that was linked to a hidden lever attached to a pulley system. The ground shook as a giant boulder rolled in front of the cave entrance, blocking them in. Another lever activated, and a rumble started deep in the mountain.

Greed laughed. “Do you mean to trap me? You fool, I will rip through the rock in seconds.”

“Yes, tis true. But I know your secret.” The dwarf coughed, and he wiped his mouth. More blood smeared his sleeve.

“You lie.”

“I know that which you crave—is also your weakness.”

The dark shadow flickered in and out as if scared.

The dwarf looked up at the hidden shafts directly above them. The thick rumbling sound grew louder as trap doors opened and molten lava rained down onto the gold.

“No!” Greed shrieked and pawed at the hoard, trying to gather it as it melted.

The dwarf, with his mighty axe in his hand, swung it through the air. It sliced through Greed’s corporeal form and caught, pinning him to the gold. He struggled against the golden axe, but it was no use. The room was quickly filling with lava; the heat melting the gold—and melding to Greed’s body. The thing tried to pull away, but he was trapped.

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