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Book excerpt

Chapter I: Driven

The curved, sharp tip of the falchion blade sliced him from elbow to shoulder; in the strange, slowness of time on a battlefield, he watched blood pump from his limb with every beat of his heart.

He knew pain, the yell of it stung the back of his throat; he ignored both. He stumbled, tripped over bodies and parts, hearts no longer pumping. His broadsword sliced through any Elf daring to stand before him, dying a little each time his blade… his hand… cut off their life.

He could no longer guard himself; his shield plummeted from the damaged arm, rendered nearly useless by the blade’s hard slice. His anger rose up, equally as hard, equally as impenetrable. His swung his blade before him, all the defense he had, a harsh swish that cut the air and all else that stood in his path.

             The cry beckoned him ever onward. His own moaning filled his ears, like those of so many others on the field. Sword clanged against sword, or ax, or shield. The dying screamed for their mothers or the mercy of their gods. Yet the plea found him again and again. High-pitched, somehow subdued; in the lament, he heard pain unbearable, courage unshakeable. He would find that voice. Count Witon é Lahkrok would find who made such a sound… and save them.

             His long legs made short shrift of the blood-soaked ground as he stepped around opponents locked in near mindless battle, moving ever closer to the front lines. The cataclysm thickened; he banged and ricocheted against bodies—a horde packed and locked in combat—his footsteps squelching in bloodied mud.

Witon lost his way, a red veil of blood muddling in silver-grey eyes. Confused by the mass of bodies—Human and Elf—fighting in pairs and bunches unrecognizable from one to the other. The beauty of his land lay in desolation, camouflaged by the conflagration of bodies. Pain burst in his gullet, a sledgehammer blow from within. How hard he had tried to stop this war; how miserably he had failed… a failure reeking of excrement and withering life.

             “Would someone help me… please?”

It came again. That voice, a man’s, but not quite. A boy?


             Witon’s head spun; droplets of blood and sweat sputtered out from his skin, from tangled strands of long hair.

             A hand taller than most men, at least two above most Elves, his view of the vista lay unobstructed. His gaze searched as the pleading reverberated. So close now; he knew it, felt it.

             “Where are ye?” Witon called out, a boom above the din. “I will help, I swear it.”

             Truth rang clear in his words, the longing for the killing to stop.

             “H… here.”

             It came as little more than a squeak now, yet the desperation in it grew ever louder.

             It was enough.

             Witon whirled to his left, sidling now as his head volleyed left and right, avoiding a swinging sword, an avalanching ax. His foot struck and held; upon stone or body, it made no difference. He faltered, bending at the waist to balance, arms pinwheeling.

             He saw him then.

             In a pool of blood-like fluid, greenish and thick, with flecks of red, the creature lay. One inert arm lolled on the ground, nearly cut clean off… bone hacked in two, muscle ends withering. Just a thin layer of flesh joined limb to body; a thin layer of light green flesh.

             Witon, struggling for breath after the difficulties of the search, stared down, unable to move, for he knew not what manner of being he had found.

             Pale green eyes, swollen with tears and red-rimmed, beseeched him, pain writ harshly upon the strange face. Roused by the imploring gaze, Witon stirred; it mattered not at all what it was, only that it needed his help. It was the way of him, the way he had pledged to live.

             “I am here.” Witon squatted, leather creaking, armor rattling. Throwing his sword from his hand, he scooped his long, thick arm beneath the injured being and lifted him up as he would thin twigs of kindling, throwing the creature over his uninjured shoulder. “I will get you help.”

             Rising up, hitching the injured body higher up, secured by its own weight, Witon turned from the front lines of the battle.

             In the world of Minra Erna, the air forever crackled with all forms of magic; but few had ever seen the sort Witon wrought in that moment.

             He walked.

             He walked with grey eyes narrowed, glowing silver. He walked with thick lips clenched in a thin, bloodless line, jaw muscles jumping. He walked with huge, long strides that proclaimed he would permit no obstruction. No one dared try.

             They parted for him. Elves and Humans alike lowered their weapons, mouths dropping to gaping dark maws against pale faces blotched with blood and dirt, astonishment blighting the antagonism they shared.

             “Belamay!” Witon cried the name, trudging through the forest of decimation. “Belamay! I need you, Belamay!”

             Silence answered; the battlefield hushed, became a place of worship. In the wake of screams and clangs, Witon’s voice rang out.

             “Belamay, please!”

             “Here! I am here, Witon!”

             From the back of the field, the fully armored warrior stepped out of the crowd, near the edge of the meadow where once green grass—now torn earth, black with green and red blood—met thick and lush forest. Dark eyes peered out the visor slit; a long shaft of midnight black hair fell out the back, hanging to the soldier’s knees.

             “What in the name of the Great Stars…?”

             “Do not ask.” Witon stepped towards Belamay, nothing but the small, battered body between them. “He… she… it…”

             Witon shook his head; a grind of his teeth, a clench of his bruised eyelids.

             He opened them; with naught but clear sight, he stabbed Belamay with his piercing gaze.

             “We need you.”

             The soldier’s dark eyes flicked between Witon and the creature in his arms, but only for a moment.

             “This way.”

             Witon followed, breath hitching with relief.

             “Fosrin!” Witon shrieked the name of his sergeant, head once more whirling this way, that way.

             Within seconds, the brawny young man stood stiffly by Witon’s side.

             “Sir.” A bark of obedience, a bow of his helmeted head.

             Witon leaned close, voice low. “Get our men out of… this. I see no good end for us, for either side. But do it gradually, a few at a time, no more.”

             The sergeant raised his head and lifted his visor. He need not  remove his helmet for Witon to see the dissatisfaction written on his ruddy face. It glinted there in the narrowed, darkening gaze, all too transparent.

             “Just do it,” Witon hissed, turning without another word, following Belamay once more.

             Into the trees they ran, dread travelling beside them. Would the creature die before they could give help? Would either Human soldiers or Elven—or worse, both—follow and attempt to stop them? He feared both. 

Belamay led them along a thin, rutted pathway. Sunshine dappled the light brown dirt beneath their feet with specks of incongruent brilliance. Then off the path, into a clearing, but not an empty one.

             Within the copse, horses grazed, reins loosely tied to surrounding trees.

             “Give h… let me take the burden while ye mount.” Belamay held out hands covered to the elbow with thick brown leather gauntlets, blood-stained and cracking.

             As if handling a child, Witon conveyed the creature into Belamay’s hands.              “Which horse?”

             Belamay shrugged. “What does it matter? None of them are mine.”

             “Hah!” Witon barked a laugh, a blessed moment of humor in a world devoid of it.

             He reached for the saddle horn on the largest black destrier, knowing it must bear the weight of two, and hefted himself up with one graceful motion.

             “To me,” he said, settled in the seat, leaning down with arms held out in a cradle.

             Belamay delivered the creature back to his savior, untied the reins of their horse, and handed those up as well.

“With me!” Twirling onto a bay shire, snapping the leather tongs, Belamay led them away in a flurry.

Witon blinked, a slowly closing of lids in relief, words of gratitude to the Great Stars spoken in his mind. But their exit did not come soon enough.

As if it gave chase, the sounds of the battle—the resumption he feared most—rose up behind them and his heart suffered yet another wound. With a slap of the reins, he rushed from it. 


Chapter II: Urgency            

The small manor house nestled within a grove of pine, their prickly needles just beginning the slow turn to autumn auburn glory.

             “Talia?” Belamay bellowed, the call rising above the thunder of the horses charging forward through the small dirt courtyard. The soldier pulled hard on the reins at the front arched door, jumping from the bay even before it had come to a stop.

             Grunting, throwing off the heavy, encompassing helmet, flushed pale skin revealed, Belamay yelled once more, impatience mingling with insistence. “Talia!”

             The door burst open and the young, aproned maid stood in its threshold. Blue eyes round, bulging, held reflections of her mistress covered in blood, of Witon with a bloodier creature flopping in his lap.

             Belamay could see the shock writ so plainly on the young girl. For nearly two years, Talia had served in Belamay’s home, never knowing Belamay as the secret soldier she was, the only daughter of a deceased, distinguished warrior, a nobleman and his wife, both lost in a fire years ago. Reaching out, Belamay took Talia’s hand gently, giving it a shake.

             “Look at me, Talia.” She took the girl’s other hand, giving both a shake as the maid’s loose arms quivered. Dropping her voice, imitating her father with a concoction of command and care, Belamay spoke the girl’s name once more: “Talia.” It was all she needed.

             The pale, bulging eyes turned to her; in them, Belamay gratefully found recognition, cognition.

             Belamay dipped her head, eye to eye. “I need you to make for the Dwarf village. ‘Tis but a short distance away, but you must run. You must hurry.”

             The willowy girl’s jaw dropped, her head shaking slightly. “The D-Dwarf Village?” With each syllable, Talia’s voice squeaked higher.

             Belamay nodded slowly, patiently. “Yes. But have no fear. Speak my name to any who would question or cross you, and I swear,” here, Belamay took both of Talia’s hands and clasped them in hers, as if they prayed as one, “I swear to you, ye will come to no harm.”

             Talia snapped shut her trembling mouth. She nodded unenthusiastically, not looking wholly convinced.

             “That’s my girl.” Belamay awarded her with a smile. “Ask for Pagmav, he is their healer. Tell him a life needs his hands.”

             “P… Pagmav?” Talia stuttered on the unfamiliar name, moving slowly, a specter in a dream… a nightmare.

             Belamay nodded. “Pagmav, yes.” Raising her voice, a clip of harshness crept its way in. She spun the girl by the shoulders, turned her toward the eastward path leading away from the manor, and gave her a soft push. “Go!”

             She gave a command, one not to be denied.

 Lifting her plain muslin skirt, Talia scampered away without looking back, a child running from the marauding monster of her dreams, or perhaps towards one.

             Belamay huffed relief, spinning round.

             “Help me, Belamay.”

             Witon perched—trapped—half-way upon his steed, trying to hold the small, battered body in one hand while he attempted to lower himself from the stately beast with the other, the arm so fiercely injured. The added weight threw off his balance and his body jammed, stuck between on and off.

             Belamay ran to him, reaching up and bracing Witon’s back with both hands. She planted her boot-clad feet in the packed dirt of the courtyard. With her support, Witon made the descent, the body in his arms now completely limp, but not lifeless. The rapid heartbeat pulsed visibly in the slim neck.

             “We cannot wait.” Witon ran for the still open door. “We must at least try to stem the bleeding.”

             Inside the manor, he paused, blinded for a moment after the brilliance of sunlight in the courtyard, then made for the stairs along the west wall, knowing they were there, having climbed them on many an occasion.

             He reached the second-floor landing; Belamay’s clopping steps followed behind, thudding on the stone like thunderclaps.

             “Which room?” he shouted, loudly, urgently.

             “The end on the left.” Belamay pointed over his shoulder.

             Witon rushed ahead, reaching the closed door in seconds, using a large, booted foot to kick it open.

             The small, simple room contained a single bed, ready should a guest or passing traveler need accommodation. It held little else save a washstand and a small garderobe.

             With a gentleness belying his exigency, Witon placed the creature upon the bed with excruciating tenderness, mindful of the horrifically injured limb.

             The tall man hovered over the small creature, looking even smaller upon the large bed, and felt a pull on his heart. “We must save him.”

             “Him?” Belamay asked from just behind Witon.

             Witon brought his broad shoulders up to his ears, nodding. “Yes, I think.”

             He turned to her, his face smeared with dirt and blood, yet his silver eyes glistened with tears and a furrow ran deep between his downturned brows.

             “Some cloths, Belamay, please.”

 [DRM1]I have an (perhaps unreasonable) aversion to passive voice; so I may tweak here and there.

 [DRM2]I am a devout believer in the Oxford comma.

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