Friday, April 23, 2010

The Trials of the Trail - from TO BECOME WHOLE - unpublished

Canis and the wolves found the bandits just as they were settling in for their third night out on the Empty Plains. They were preparing to attack the camp during the night, except Ggrrawrr discovered them before they could set their plans in motion. With a warning from Nnarr, Cepheid was able to alert Columbus and Wayne, and the three of them stood together, sheltering the others between them and the picket line, their campfire in front of them. Very wide Rranggrr also remained behind; she watched for the sneaky approach that might come from another direction.

As the sounds of the clash reached their ears, the men started to go help. "Stay here," said Cepheid. She too had her sword drawn and her bow was close at hand. It was then that she realized that the walking sticks the men always kept close must be more than simple walking sticks. Both Columbus and Wayne seemed intent on using them.

"We can't just leave him out there alone," said Wayne.
"He is not alone, and just now, everyone he meets is an enemy," said Cepheid. "In this dark, it is best to keep it that way. It can be the same for us here if we stay together."

Wayne grumbled. The screams of panicked horses and those of the panicked and dying men were not easy to listen to, out there in the black of the night, beyond the light of the fire.

A short time later Cepheid gave a soft gasp, and by the light of their campfire, Wayne could see her chin tremble. "You are the one who said we should wait here," he said, thinking she was going to start crying because of what they were hearing - because of who was out there all alone. "Be strong," he added.

She didn't say anything; she only spared him a brief glance. How could he know that Nnarr had just been wounded in her shoulder and was now handicapped? How could he know that Narr still chose to fight, even though she couldn't put any weight on her injured leg?

Moments later, she was relieved to hear, 'I return. I cannot help here.' The white wolf hobbled slowly into the firelight and lay down between them and the fight. She would still fight if their attackers ventured this close.

By the light of the fire, Neola, the healer, could easily see the blood on the white wolf's shoulder and stepped forward.

"Not yet," said Cephied. "We will tend our wounded when the fight is over."

Neola hesitated, but when Cepheid glared at her, then Columbus waved her back, she returned to the others who were clustered near the picket line. The children were clutching each other in fear.

Twenty eternal minutes later, both Nnarr and Cepheid relaxed, then a moment after that, Canis called out, "We're coming in." He managed about three more steps into the firelight before he stopped and swayed.

Wayne caught him in time to prevent him from falling all the way to the frozen ground.

"I think . . . I need . . . a thicker hide," he said as he closed his eyes and allowed Wayne to lay him out flat.

Cepheid was there with their bedroll so he would not be lying on the frozen ground.

He had no less than four deep slices along his left ribcage and two on his left shoulder that went to the bone, but in his defense, his blade was bloody to the hilt as was the clawed glove on that hand. Even the claws and teeth that decorated his braid were bloodied, though they didn't discover that until the next morning.

Nnarr received a deep cut to her left shoulder and Ggrrawrr got a not-so-deep cut along his right ribcage. All of the rest of them were plenty covered with blood, but none of it was their own.

The next morning, Columbus and Wayne explored the killing field. It was uncomfortably close, only a few hundred yards from camp. All the horses had scattered, their tracks fanning out in as many directions as there were horses, deserting in their panic about thirty dead men looking like so many broken and bloody dolls. No less than eight of them had died by the sword and some of those looked like they might have met with a cat, though the claw and teeth marks didn't look like they fit the same animal. The rest had obviously met a wolf in the dark, and though their mouths gaped in surprise, they would never be able to tell of what had transpired in the darkness. Most of them had their throats ripped away. Some had their sword arm or shoulder savaged and torn.

"I'm sure glad they're on our side," said Wayne. "Do you suppose these are the same men that attacked us last time?"

"It's likely," replied Columbus. "Let's get back to camp. There's nothing we can do here."

When they reached the camp, they found Canis up and around, though he was not moving too quickly. Cepheid was helping him into a clean shirt.

"You made this area much safer for a few years," said Wayne. "I've seen worse, but not when I know that it was only one man and a handful of wolves that did the damage."

Saturday, April 17, 2010

To Serenade the Sea - from KING BY RIGHT OF BLOOD AND MIGHT - Published

Down on the beach, Kandy found a lone rock inviting her to sit on it. As she watched the activity around her, she began to hum. She loved to sing and had different tunes for different flowers, plants and animals. Most of them were just melodies, but some developed words. She decided to treat the fishermen in her vicinity as she let her voice capture the waves and motion of their oars. Then words formed and told of the nets and the fish. Her words spoke to their fishermen's souls, and their love for the sea in all its tempers. They found themselves so caught up in the song that their work became easier and quicker. Strangely, any man who stopped to listen found a discord in the song, caused by his very stillness as he stood outside of its rhythm. As they finished their work, her song wound its way back to its beginning melody, which sang wordlessly of the waves and the setting sun.

Friday, April 9, 2010

From THE MAKING OF A MAGE KING - unpublished

Sean drew his uncle's curved knife from his belt. He had never drawn it before other than to polish it or ensure that it had an edge. It wasn't a throwing knife: its long curbed blade was made for hand-to-hand fighting and no one had ever gotten that close.

He turned and strode to where the thickest part of the battle had been. Only the bloodstained sand remained to show that hundreds had died there. If they had known what they were doing, earth magic could have done so much more damage, instead they had concentrated on the foundation of the walls, leaving the concept of hand-to-hand fighting to fighters. If they had turned their magic toward Sean's knights and their horses, he could have lost all of them. As he walked, he shed armor, gloves and swords, then he shed his shirt. By the time he reached his goal, he was dressed in only his pants and boots.

Facing the setting sun - looking at it as directly as he could - Sean drew three long cuts across his chest, then he drew three more across the back of each of his arms. He heard a brief commotion on the wall and guessed that Larry or Jenny had recognized what he was doing and wished he'd ordered everyone to clear the walls too.

He lifted his arms into a wide pose and bowed his head. He stepped - one foot close in front of the other - then he turned a full circle, drawing a tight circle with a toe in the process. There were no names this time, no pictures of torture and murder flashing through his mind. War was war and combatants had been killed, but they had been his people once, so they deserved his grief.

As he turned and stepped, there were no tears. The curved knife, already bloodied, switched from hand to hand and back again as he stepped and turned, then stepped again. The profound sorrow that bled from his wounds stained his chest, slicked his hands and dripped from the tip of his knife, held point down. He continued to turn and step, drawing circles in the sand with one toe or the other.

With the setting sun on one hand and the rising moons on the other, he stepped and turned again, the pounding surf once again clocking his steps along the otherwise silent beach.

It wasn't Larry who stopped Sean's dance. Garonne halted as he met the curved edge of Sean's knife and behind it his intense black eyes. "Do you grieve too?" asked Sean. The hand with the knife was held straight forward, his other straight behind him. Once again, his feet were close, one in front of the other; he balanced, poised high on his toes, frozen in mid-move.

Garonne hadn't seen what had happened to the prisoners, but he knew that they were now gone and he had heard the screams - everyone had heard those horrible screams - then the abrupt silence that followed. He wasn't sure who Sean was grieving for, so he picked a neutral answer. "War and grief cannot but follow the same path."

Sean heaved a deep sigh and dropped his arms. He nodded as his heels met the sand. "Yes, they do." He suddenly didn't know what to do with his hands. He wanted to clean the blood from his knife, but he wasn't even wearing a shirt. He looked down at his bloody chest. "I should let it scar," he muttered to himself, but then he felt what Aaunika would say. "Pointless gesture, really." He wiped the cuts away. Then, still wanting to clean his knife, he made the blood vanish too. He turned to retrieve his things and saw someone else picking them up; they met over his shirt. "Captain General Garrone, I would like to introduce you to Ruihano Pyrene," said Sean, as he looked into the brown eyes of Genevieve's brother.

The eldest Pyrene started at the address and Garonne's reaction wasn't much different. "Ruihano, but . . . ," said Garrone.

Sean pulled his shirt on. "He's your lawful lord and commander under me. You will take his orders. You will take my orders and see to it that he is properly reinstated here."

Friday, April 2, 2010

Rescue from a Cerfcum Queen - from THE GUARDIAN - unpublished

When they reached the others, Brandon cast a 'regenerate' spell on both of the men. Jennifer only had a few scrapes and bruises. the men had put up much more of a fight. Spit Shine had several deep punctures in his torso and he had lost a lot of blood. Low Jack had almost slipped free; he had two long gashes across his chest and another across his back. However, the slip had caused his upper leg to be broken. At least one of the creature's feet had maintained its hold on him.

Reed kept watch as Brandon cast his spells. He had felt a subtle change in the acoustics of a chamber. Then he detected movement on the far edge of his vision and looked closer. He was able to pick it out only because it moved and he saw that it was far bigger than anything he had ever seen before; bigger even than the walker-sized creatures in the other chamber. An odd motion caught his attention and he saw the bounding creature just brought in was moving slower than before. Its leaps were just as high, but everything it did was slow, as if it was moving through water, though it wasn't. He knew what that was. "We have a spell caster in here," he whispered.

Brandon was at his side instantly and the two of them tried to pick out the indistinct figure on the far side of the chamber. "What is that?" he whispered.

"I don't know. I'm going to scan it."

"Be careful."

"Your spells didn't attract much attention," commented Reed. "SCAN." As Reed read and reread the information the 'scan' provided, a shiver ran up his back. "We're in deep shit, Brandon. That's the queen."

"The queen; we're not going to get out of here easily, are we?"

"Well, I suppose we could get lucky and she won't notice us, but I really don't think much escapes her attention in here. She probably won't bother us as long as we don't try to leave."

"That's not an option," said Brandon. He turned back to the others and passed out extra goggles to Low Jack and Jennifer. Then he helped Castle hoist Spit Shine across his shoulders. Brickman and Nighthawk slung Low Jack's arms across their shoulders, and with Jennifer between them, they made their way across the room towards the ramp they had come down. Brandon and Reed brought up the rear.

As they went, Brandon and Reed swung the strings of flash grenades randomly across the room as far as they could. Thinking the same thoughts, both Reed and Brandon hung back as the others got closer to the ramp.

Brickman glanced back; he could tell what they intended. "Oh shit, step it up. We gotta get outa here," he said.

Reed glanced over his shoulder and saw them scrambling up the ramp, and then he heard a wailing screech echo across the chamber, chilling all of them to the bone, but they held their ground. They weren't of interest just yet.

As soon as the men were at the top of the tunnel, they both said, "IFRIT" almost with the same breath. Then, as lava lit up the chamber, firing the miniature horde, they both snatched their goggles off and ran up the ramp after the others. As the molten flow reached the flash grenades, they started to go off like fiery popcorn, and the misshapen, maggot-like blob that was the queen screamed her displeasure and dismay, pain, and anger, then she cast her last spell.

Flairs screamed after them through the smoke and flames. Reed turned for one last look, hoping to get a glimpse of the queen. "SHELL!" he cried, but though his shield was up in time, it couldn't deflect all of the damage.

Brandon turned at Reed's shout in time to see one of the many flairs penetrate Reed's shield. The shield probably absorbed about ninety percent of the energy and velocity, but that last ten percent was more than enough. The phosphorous projectile struck Reed directly in the face and launched him backwards several feet to land heavily where he lay without a whimper or a twitch. The goggles and sword he had in his hands, clattered away from his slack fingers.

Jennifer also heard his cry, though she didn't know what it meant. She too looked back in time to see him get hit and fall. She ran back to him. "Reed!" she called, but he didn't move.

Brandon was at his side too. He touched Reed's neck and cursed softly. "LIFE," he said, and was rewarded by the thump under his fingers. "REGENERATE," he said then he quickly explored Reed's head, neck and shoulders. "Shit," he said softly. He dug out one of the first aid packs and inflated a neck brace around Reed's neck. Then he scooped Reed up in his arms and nodded to the others to move out again. They had to get out of here as fast as they could before shit hit the fan.