Jack Templar and the Lord of the Demons (The Templar Chronicles #5) by Jeff GunhusWith two of the Jerusalem Stones in hand, Jack and his friends must race the clock to find the remaining Stones as Ren Lucre's Creach forces gather strength. With two of their group now with Creach blood flowing in their veins, the team will be tested as never before. They must unite together if they have any hope of surviving their journey to the Underworld and their battle with the vicious Lord of the Demons. The fate of the entire world hangs in the balance.
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He was an ogre, not a particularly large one, maybe twice the size of a large man. But his body bulged with ropes of muscle, all on show because he wore only tattered shorts. If his skin had been green instead of a dirty orange, he might have been able to audition for a role as the Incredible Hulk in a movie. Only the Hulk didn’t have hundreds of tattoos covering his body the way Draxo did.
As he got closer, I saw that the images were not the normal kind of decorative art. The tattoos were gruesome depictions of death. Creach and human carcasses, all broken and twisted, some of them dismembered then reassembled in terrible ways. An arm where a head ought to be, a leg sticking out of a stomach. From Draxo’s nickname, “the Butcher,” I had a bad feeling the tattoos were probably memories.
Even so, the worst part of Draxo was his face. Really his entire head. It reminded me an oddly shaped potato, bulging out in unexpected lumps and slanting to one side as if he’d been run over by a truck when he was a baby. The massive head looked even odder because he had little pinpricks for eyes, no larger than a quarter. They were completely black and didn’t seem to move. Instead, it seemed like Draxo had to turn his head from side to side in order to take everything in around him.
Adding to the rest of his strangeness, Draxo’s skin, including his face, was crisscrossed with scar tissue from what looked to be dozens or even hundreds of old wounds. Apparently the Butcher enjoyed killing things that had the ability to fight back. As he crossed the floor toward us, no creach there met his eye. Instead, they all shied away, bowing as he went. Again, just like the minotaur guards, it reminded me of Ren Lucre. But while Ren Lucre commanded all creach around the world, Draxo was master of only this underground city. I wondered about the creach’s ambition and whether he was content with his dominion. It might be a weakness, something to use against him.
“Fangtrope,” he said, stepping up to the ogre who had blocked our progress. “Can it be true that you’re harassing my personal guests?”
The other ogre shook his head, all his earlier bravado gone.
“Y … your guests?” the ogre named Fangtrope stuttered. “These are your guests? I had no idea that –”
“Silence, idiot,” Draxo growled. “I know that Tomas told you so.” He tapped a hole on one side of his head. “I hear everything that happens in Old Rome. Remember?”
“I’m sorry,” Fangtrope said. “We were hungry. We just thought …”
Draxo held up his hand. “We?” He turned to the old vampire who’d harassed us. “Stephano, you were part of this? Tsk, tsk. I thought you were a gentleman.”
Stephano bowed low. “I’m so sorry, your Grace,” he said. Then he fell to his knees, groveling. “I was in error. I beg your forgiveness.”
Draxo’s tiny eyes squinted, his pug nose turned up as if he were disgusted with the display. He swung around to look at Fangtrope. “You see, that is how you apologize when you offend me.”
Fangtrope looked down at the vampire on the ground and shook his head.
“Kneel,” Draxo growled.
Fangtrope hesitated but then dropped to his knees. Still, he was a proud one and kept his head up, staring Draxo in the face.
The hall was silent, the only movement in the crowded room coming from spectators shifting positions to get a better view of the action.
“You are brave, Fangtrope,” Draxo said. “And you have been useful to me.” He reached into a small pouch he carried on his waistband. When his hand came out, two of his fingers dripped with red fluid. It seemed like a pretty safe guess that it was blood. “For that reason, I give you the chance for an honorable death.” He reached out and smeared an “X” on the ogre’s forehead with the blood. With this act, the crowd cheered wildly. Fangtrope stood and the crowd roared louder.
“My thanks,” Fangtrope said to Draxo.
Draxo nodded. Then, without a second’s hesitation, lifted his giant foot and smashed it into the middle of Stephano’s back. The old vampire’s backbone snapped loudly, and the crowd fell silent. Draxo grabbed a sword from a nearby goblin, moving much faster than I thought possible for a Creach that size, and in one fluid movement lopped the old vampire’s head off his shoulders.
The room was silent, stunned. But it only lasted a few seconds. The crowd resumed its cheering and the music started back up. Someone grabbed the old vampire’s head and threw it into the air. Someone else caught it and threw it again, like a macabre version of a beach ball being tossed around a crowd at a concert or sporting event.
Draxo turned to us. “Welcome to Old Rome,” he said, grinning. “Come, we will talk.”
Jeff Gunhus is the author of the Amazon bestselling supernatural thriller, Night Chill, and the Middle Grade/YA series, The Templar Chronicles. The first book of the series, Jack Templar Monster Hunter, was written in an effort to get his reluctant reader eleven-year old son excited about reading. It worked and a new series was born. His book Reaching Your Reluctant Reader has helped hundreds of parents create avid readers. Killer Within is his second novel for adults. As a father of five, he and his wife Nicole spend most of their time chasing kids and taking advantage of living in the great state of Maryland. In rare moments of quiet, he can be found in the back of the City Dock Cafe in Annapolis working on his next novel. If you see him there, sit down and have a cup of coffee with him. You just might end up in his next novel.
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