Category Archives: Book Excerpts

Excerpt #12: A Tale of Monsters

This scene picks up a plotline started with Excerpt #4: The King of Boraya and also introduces a favorite character among readers….

There had been rain, and there had been mist. In either case, the once-great city of Umarys, tottering on the rocky edge of the northwestern sea, awoke to a dampened morning.

Sygmon, aged by the years and the unfulfilled hope of an end to the strife, brooded in his throne, his head bowed and pressed against his fist. He did not care that his weariness showed….

…Sygmon stirred and, glancing in front of him, he saw a younger man in his thirties standing there, red-haired and bearded, grinning with an eccentricity pouring out of his restive eyes. Sygmon looked him over; the man was a hardened traveler—his mail was well used, his pauldrons were beaten and dented. A fine sword hung at his left side, and the man rested his hand upon it. He was no stranger. Sygmon knew who he was, “Welcome back to Umarys, Harn son of Hanma.”

Harn’s smile widened, and he bowed low, throwing his arms out at his sides.

Sygmon exchanged glances with Hanma who rolled his eyes at the excessive behavior of his son. He then returned to his former position, his brow upon his fist, but his eyes focused on the young man, “You are a long way from Far Harbor, lad. What petition do you bring? Yours? Or do you come on behalf of the Acchyron Coast? Or Lord Molay for that matter; I have not heard from him in some time.”

Harn took a step forward, “The Acchyron Coast, my liege, has become a graveyard.”

The king briefly raised his head, “What do you mean?”

“A graveyard to be sure, for graves outnumber houses and house the graven, that is to say those who have been engraved into the dirt. A grave matter to be sure, so speaks said dirt, fine granule companions as they are.”

Again Sygmon glanced at his friend Hanma, then, facing Harn, sighed, “What is the matter?”

“More dead live, if dead can live, than the living amongst the lifeless, that is the dead—.”

“Son on Hanma! If you have something to say, then spit it out. Why are there dead men in the Coast?”

“That is the puzzle to be sure, my king. Obviously the dead cannot make themselves, so it seems it must definitely be someone else who has made them. But with the evidence at hand, I may as well suspect the dirt to be the culprit.”

Hanma turned to the king, but, since the king said nothing, spoke, “Who has done this?”

Harn shrugged, “If I knew for certain, I would not blame the dirt. But I can tell you what I have heard.”

“Speak plainly then,” Sygmon finally said.

Harn stood up straight and replied, “My king, my lords, I come now to report a threat—what some have even said to be an invasion.”

Sygmon tapped his fingers on the arm of the stone throne, “An invasion?”

“An invasion, insomuch as a plague can vanquish the countryside or a thief pinches a gem. We have seen the fires, and we have buried whatever was left. But whoever comes before, I daresay, they are ghosts. But…but we have heard an account or two, as wild as wild tales may come especially those that tell of the wilds things I am told of.”

Sygmon stroked his beard, annoyed but steadily intrigued, if not also afraid, “You have said nothing of the Acchari. Have they not been in open rebellion for the last decade? I had even sent Lord Molay to deal with the matter.”

“So he did, and they fled into the mountains at his presence. We initially considered the Acchari of course. But…I doubt it.”

“Is there reason we should not be suspicious?” Hanma asked.

“Hear the tales,” Harn rebutted. “The first account I heard was from the coast further west than my station. A messenger came riding hard to Far Harbor, and he explained that ships were seen coming across the Acchyron Sea. The messenger requested reinforcements in case hostility erupted. I, myself, with a good number traveled there. But, by the time we arrived, the fort was obliterated—we found no survivors.” He paused to take a mourning breath, “No survivors, unless we consider that corpses survive the severing of souls. Well, in that case, the fires would have stolen away the corpses too had we not gotten their first to see them.”

“Is a fight with fire the extent of your capacity to defend the Acchyron Coast?” Sygmon inquired rolling his head back….

…But before Harn could say what he wished, his father asked instead, “Did you see the ships?”

“No, my lord father. And I asked the messenger about it. He assures me that they saw ships in the morning fog. I have no reason to disbelieve him. The attackers came; the attackers left.”

“Is that all?” Sygmon wondered. “Ghost ships? And a…drastic Acchari assault?”

Harn shook his head, “Not long after, I received word again of another attack, but this time there were witnesses—abandoned children and some women. We found them in what remained of a fortified village. Again, the soldiers were slaughtered, the men in the village too. Most of the women had been slain—all of them raped—and those that lived were as bewildered as the children.”

Hanma narrowed his eyes, “What did they say about the attackers?”

“They called them monsters: pointy ears, fangs, tails.”

Sygmon sat up.

“If I didn’t know better, I would say that they were describing…Satyrs, like from the old songs and horror stories.”

The room was hushed—a silence sang like before the creation of the world. Was is folly? Was it fear? Was it a dread respect—a hollow homage paid to a nightmare?

Sygmon bowed his head against his fist like before.

“Bedtime stories,” said Hanma, “stories parents tell their children to keep them behaved—don’t want Satyrs stealing them away in the night. Children imagine things, my son. And women can rarely be trusted with their hysterical fantasies….”

“…Or, my dear father…something ancient and long forgotten has crept up from darkest reaches of the world’s wild places.”

Excerpt #11: A Tormented Prayer

The end of chapter 4…

The Borayan army under Sigaard’s command was offered a respite. Kythiria was defeated, and it was clear that the North Kaidan tribes were unable to retaliate. But while the army disassembled—the men returning to their homelands—Sigaard and the God’s Hammer with him rode with haste back to Umarys.

As the days passed, Prince Sigaard increasingly turned his attention to the tumultuous activities of the far north. Strong, bitter winds accompanied them on their road, but, while the rest of the God’s Hammer shoved the implications away, Sigaard was entrapped by the sentiment that the world was indeed threatened—but by what? And why?

The company paused their journey to water their horses. But, though the men of the God’s Hammer allowed themselves to sit bundled and warm, Sigaard paced about with unease, and the Great Winter’s wind continued to gnaw at him. Clenching his fists and gritting his teeth, he marched away from the group, tramping through the dying grass until he had come upon a secluded space, far away from the eyes and ears of the God’s Hammer.

He massaged his brow with one hand, but then furiously pulled at his face with both. Dropping to his knees, he suddenly cried out, “What do you want?! Why has nothing gotten better?!” He took a few panting breaths, then repeated, “What do you want?!”

Falling forward, he pressed his face against the ground and pulled at the grass, “What is this blight? What is this winter? Sure…we as a people had lost our way before, but now we have come back. We have come back. Should not this storm be abated? When will it end?”

He lifted himself up and tried to control his breathing, “Have we not done our best to destroy the lies? Have we not spilled much blood for your sake?” He groaned deeply, “I have given my life to your work; I have sacrificed everything; I have defeated those who ignore and betray your truth. But…this darkness seems so thick,…and you seem…so far away.”

The wind began to blow with greater intensity, and the chill that came with it was biting. A shiver went through Sigaard’s entire body. But, turning towards the source of the weather, he bared himself before it with a glare, spreading open his arms and challenging the Winter’s force. In the end, though, it was too much for him, and he keeled over, gripping his chest with trembling hands. “Do you not hear me, God? Am I not your servant? Do you not hear me? Have I not done your work? Have I not done enough? When will it end?” But as he clawed at his robes, he felt something—something small tucked away. Reaching into his garments, he withdrew that little, wooden figurine—the talisman bearing the likeness of the Kaidan goddess.

Excerpt #10: The Prince and the God’s Hammer

At the beginning of chapter 4, picking up after Excerpt #9: Strangers, Makki explains to Damusyn and Vivyan the history of Sygmon’s ambitious war. In the excerpt that follows, Makki tells of the God’s Hammer and of one who fights alongside of them….

Damusyn looked from Vivyan back to Makki, “If that is true, does Sygmon intend to rule the Low North again?”

“It certainly looks like that. But, I cannot speak for his intentions.”

“What do you mean?”

Makki shifted uncomfortably, “Well, you see, Sygmon has not laid claim to any of Kaidan territory that he has conquered.”

“No?”

“No. He…he has only eliminated everyone.”

Damusyn and Vivyan exchanged disturbed glances, and, meanwhile, Athiappa bowed her head in sorrow.

“It was not a conquest at all actually,” Makki continued, “it was a purge. Of those places that Sygmon has bloodied, he left no one alive. We never thought that Kythiria, our sacred city, home only to the humble…we never thought that she would turn Sygmon’s eye.” He paused and appeared near to weeping, “But…but Kythiria was…Kythiria is gone.” He frowned and wiped a tear that dripped down his cheek, “I am sorry. There is something about the thought of it. So many had fled there for refuge once their homes were put to the flame. They were not warriors. But many did try to fight back. The Kaidan armies, you see—a coalition of nearly all the Kaidan clans, they fought bravely against Boraya, but, in these twenty years, they could not stand any longer. Kythiria may have actually been one last stand. Knowing thus, the people fought for their city; they fought for our Goddess. But the God’s Hammer—they showed no mercy.”

Damusyn leaned forward, “The God’s Hammer?”

Makki squinted, “You have not heard of them?”

Damusyn shook his head.

Makki frowned and nodded, “Well, I know them too well. I do not know where they came from. Legends suggest that they existed long ago; they say that Sygmon had called them back from the past, speaking over their tombs and raising them from death. Nonsense to be sure, but, what does it matter, they are here, and they were there at Kythiria.”

“It is a pretentious name,” Vivyan observed.

“They are a god-fearing order—though I have never heard of holy men taking up arms. No armor do they wear, for they believed that their god is their shield as they are the god’s hammer. Violently contemplative, the brothers are fed by fervor, a fervor fueled by the sharpening of steel and the rumbling of dutiful chants. And vigilant they are, always prepared to rise and challenge the enemies of the god, for that is their oath. They take no wives, have no families, and serve only the Nameless God and their king.” He took a deep breath, “I had heard of them, and I have seen them fight. So has Athiappa. It is a marvel that we managed to escape their blades. We came close though. Ah…I remember the day so vividly. Athiappa and I were with a company of men and women who were among the best warriors that Kaida had to offer. We knew that the Borayns were coming, though we had not heard the God’s Hammer was among them. We had prepared a shield wall on the field and were flanked by tall stones. I remember seeing the Borayan army marching towards us, taking their time with it too. We were ready. We were ready to bleed. And we were never intending to falter. But when the Borayns were close enough that we could see the color of their eyes, the God’s Hammer stepped forward from their ranks, some clothed in their black robes and others beating their bare, painted chests. But one among them stood taller than the rest. And unlike those who shouted at us, he was still and focused, staring right at me as it were. I came to learn well after the battle that his name was Sigaard—the king’s own son. There he was, fighting alongside of the God’s Hammer. They charged and they alone. We raised our shields and aimed our spears, holding our ground. Without fear, they came at us, but, little did we know, we had been out-maneuvered. Another division of the God’s Hammer had gotten behind us. Then in the front, the prince and his men smashed against our shields and threw us back. For that moment, I believed their namesake to be true. I had never seen anything like it. Our ranks broke, and the Borayns ran amongst us, cutting us down. We did what we could to retreat, but only a few of us escaped. But I remember…I remember looking back. I saw the prince standing there, still as ever, amid the slaughter. His blade was bloodied, his body spattered, and he stared at me. I…I will never forget those eyes.” He paused again to take another deep breath. “It was Sigaard who led the assault on Kythiria…”

…The city was smoldering. Though it was day, the sky was darkened still by the clouds of ash that rose from the ravaged stones. Kythiria was left to rot—the once beautiful jewel of a city emptied of its joy while the crystal caldera upon which it was built was polluted by the corpses of the slain Kaidans….

…Sigaard was alone, wandering through the tarnished streets of Kythiria, somberly bewitched by the city’s art—or whatever was left of it. At the moment, he was paused at a large, wall mosaic. It depicted what Sigaard imagined was the Kaidan Goddess—a woman seated cross-legged, her eyes closed with motherly fortitude. There was not as much an air of regality about her that Sigaard expected; rather, she was ruminating. The pebbles were brightly colored—greens, blues, and turquoises. That being said, the right half the mosaic was missing—shattered to pieces beneath Sigaard’s feet. But the Goddess retained her peace, though it was clear she suffered pain….

Excerpt #9: Strangers

This concludes chapter 3….

It was raining the next morning. Ysolda could hear it when she woke. Sitting up, she glanced about the hut and saw that Damusyn and Vivyan were still asleep with Damusyn’s arm holding Vivyan close. Ysolda then stood and dressed herself. But, as she did so, she heard the whinnying of a horse just outside. It was a strange thing to hear. The village kept two horses and a colt, but there was no reason for them to be so nearby. Ysolda pushed aside the door flap of the hut and ducked outside, shivering under the cold rain. Taking a few steps forward through the mud, she stood up straight and wiped the water from her face, looking ahead of her.

There were many horses and many men and women riding them at the edge of the village. But three in particular stood amidst of the huts, waiting. They were all garbed in earthy-colored clothing and two of them wore lamellar armor. The first, on Ysolda’s right, was a middle-aged woman, olive-skinned, with dots tattooed under her eyes and along her cheek bones and curly brownish-blonde hair flowing out from beneath a fur hood. The second, in the center, was a man of about the same age, likewise olive-skinned with a prominent nose and sleek black hair drawn back into a ponytail. The third, on the left, was an old, wrinkled woman with a heavy brow and wiry hair. But, though she was old, she sat up straight in her saddle and looked about with an untamed vigor. Unlike the other two, she did not wear armor but heavier robes, but all of them were armed with swords at their sides. They took notice of the girl as soon as she had emerged from the hut, but they did not say anything.

Ysolda then felt a hand touch her shoulder, and it startled her. But it was only Damusyn, come to investigate. “Hello,” he warmly said to them.

The man in the center leaned forward, “Greetings.”

There was more silence, so Damusyn asked, “Who are you?”

“We are Kaidans,” the man replied.

Vivyan came out into the rain with a fur blanket wrapped around her. Surprised to see the travelers, she eyed them each with distrust and was especially sour when her gaze collided with the old woman’s.

“As are we,” said Damusyn.

The man smiled and exchanged glances with the two women on either side of him.

He introduced himself as Makki and, for the time being, he was the only one that spoke. The middle-aged woman was Athiappa, and the old one was Orithyia. Among them were somewhere around fifty other riders; Ysolda could not be sure of her count.

Damusyn welcomed them all into the great hut and offered them each a warm drink to stem the rainy cold. They drank in peace, not uttering a single word since they had been seated. Ysolda sat across from them on the other side of the central fire, huddled in a blanket. She observed them closely, taking note of their mannerisms. Makki sat with his back bent and elbows upon his knees. He drank slowly, sighing sorrowfully after almost every sip. Athiappa appeared most distracted; she would gaze up at the rafters and then turn to a far wall. Her eyes were keenly focused on whatever it was she was studying, but, altogether, it seemed to be an effort to avoid some despairing thought. At one point, she saw that Ysolda was looking at her, and her features softened, smiling gently. Ysolda smiled back but then turned to study the old woman. But Orithyia was already staring at her in the most unnerving of ways; she only blinked after an occasional twitch which seemed to cause her entire body a measure of discomfort. Ysolda had to look away.

Though he was still bent, Makki had begun to admire the wooden idol of the Goddess. A slight smiled began to grow on his face as if whatever thing led him to brood was giving way to a new hope. At last, he sat up straight and turned to Damusyn and Vivyan who had been patiently sitting near to Ysolda. “That is beautiful craftsmanship,” Makki said.

Damusyn glanced at the statue and nodded, “Indeed it is; my grandfather was the one who carved it.”

Makki’s smile grew, “Marvelous.” He faced the idol again and, after a further moment of appreciation, said, “It is a work worthy of Kythiria’s collection.”

Kythiria—Ysolda had heard the name before many times. It was the most sacred city of the Kaidans in the Low North. It was often called the Jeweled City. Due to the sanctity of its nature, it attracted a large number of artisans who wanted to pay tribute to the beautiful Goddess housed there. Thus, it developed as a place of inspired architecture and sculpture, all of which remained fairly organic in shape. One poet, in contemplating on his own pilgrimage, described the city like an uncut sapphire, dazzling to look up but rough as the wild. Sapphire was a fitting color, for the city was even more a spectacle when it was reflected upon the crystalline water of the caldera it was built on. Furthermore, in various places throughout the city, one could find elaborate mosaics made of the finest tile and glass; one could admire the collections of sapphires, emeralds, lapis lazuli, and turquoise, among other precious stones. All of it was for the Goddess, and, as a city, it protected those who sought out her comfort. In the way it was described, it sounded like a dream to Ysolda—a land of fantasy—and all Kaidans long to look upon it.

“Have you ever been there?” Makki asked Damusyn.

Damusyn shook his head, “I wish that I could. We have heard tales from various travelers who have come by here. But it is a long way away.”

Makki nodded, but, slowly, a deep frown overtook his countenance, “Would that you could. But, I loathe to say it…Kythiria has been sacked.”

Every pleasant thought that had rested peaceably in Ysolda’s mind was suddenly lost. Damusyn too showed an obvious distress, and Vivyan tilted her head with frightened curiosity. Ysolda fixed her frantic gaze upon the ground. Kythiria sacked?! What does that mean?

Excerpt #8: The Forbidden Ruins

Continuing chapter 3, this scene immediately follows Excerpt #7: The Huntress

There was a slope within the trees. It rose up to a stack of grey boulders. Ysolda, having quickly navigated her way around the pines with Roah nervously tagging behind, approached the slope and, without hesitation, scurried up it—on all fours at places. Roah remained below and attempted one more plea, “Ysolda!”

But Ysolda had reached the boulders and leaned against them. She then carefully edged her ways along one of them until she found handholds to pull herself up on top. Squatting there, she stared at what lay before her—a gaping doorway and a tunnel. “Ysolda!” There was more ferocity in his voice, but she ignored him and plunged into the dark entrance.

It was not her first visit, not even her second. But even five brief visits could not render the entirety explored. The ruin was huge and multileveled, stretching across the hilltop and even diving down within. However, Ysolda only need remember where she had already been. She followed the tunnel until it emptied into a colonnade overlooking an overgrown courtyard below. Stopping momentarily, she squeezed in between two of the columns and glanced down, scanning the pathways departing from the court. But pulling away, she was briefly taken aback by what lay beneath her hand. A relief of a coiled vipers was carved into the column—into all of them in fact. Her hand just so happened to prod a fanged mouth. She backed up and, brushing her hand on her parka, hastily proceeded on. She descended a spiral staircase to the court and entered into it, pausing to recollect her bearings. Already the essence of her inquiry was becoming visible. Bas reliefs elaborated tales and wonders on each of the block walls, but none of them were what she was looking for. She stared down each passage that led away and further into the ruin, finally settling on one that went west.

Another wide stairway brought her lower and directed her to another colonnade—two rows of stone pillars lined a smaller court that was tucked in between the joining corridors. She paused, however, when she could here Roah shout, “Ysolda!” His voice echoed amongst the stones. She smiled knowing that he had come in looking for her. How brave. She faced forward and took one step but then stopped. There was a shadow there on the floor that had not been there before. The fading sunlight hit the columns in a way that dragged their shadows at an angle towards her. But there was more than just the lines there upon the stone. A broad shape filled the space between two of the columns, but she could not make out if it was human with a head and shoulders or something else. Nor could she see what actually made the shape, for, from where she was standing, the pillars blocked her view. Then it moved, quickly slipping back, letting the light through. Ysolda jumped, at first gasping aloud but then covering her mouth. Her terror was only amplified when something else came flying towards her. She did not know what it was, and she quickly ducked to avoid collision. It flew over her with flapping wings, screeching and ascending up the stairway behind. Ysolda could not say for certain, but was that Iris? Trying to catch her breath, she looked back to where that other shadow was, but still there was no trace of it nor of that which cast it.

“Ysolda!”

She took steps back before turning fully, exiting the passage and reentering the former court. She immediately saw Roah poking his head out from between the columns above. “Ysolda!” he said with both frustration and relief. She sighed and looked back from where she came.

“I just saw Iris fly through here.”

She looked back up at the young man and nodded.

“Can we go now? The sun will be setting soon. We do not want to be missed.”

Ysolda nodded again and found her way back to the spiral staircase.

It was dark by the time Ysolda and Roah returned to their village, a settlement of round stone huts built south of a stunted cliff. Upon arriving, she was immediately aware of the ceremony taking place in the great hut, which stood in the center of the village—the lively chant was quite audible. They approached the structure and crept through the wooden door, slipping into the noisy gathering standing within. As they did, Ysolda observed where certain people were. Damusyn, who was the chief of the village, faced the wooden idol of the Goddess that stood opposite of the door and led the chorus. But scanning the crowd again, Ysolda picked out Damusyn’s wife, Vivyan, a tall, thin, long-haired brunette with a gaunt and sallow face, perhaps the only person who did not really sing. She was leaning against the side wall, mouthing the words of the chant while otherwise being completely silent, as was her habit. Hopefully she had spotted Ysolda’s tardiness….

…When the ceremony was over and the crowd dispersed through the village, Ysolda ducked into her hut but was suddenly face-to-face with the pale woman Vivyan, who sat cross-legged on a rug. After an awkward moment of regarding each other, Vivyan sternly asked, “Where were you?”

“I was hunting; Roah was with me.”

“Where were you?”

“At the east wood’s edge…between here and the hills.”

“Where were you?!”

Ysolda refused to say anymore.

Finally, Vivyan gave an exasperated sigh, “You have disobeyed me again. You went to the ruins.”

Ysolda rolled her eyes, “Fine. Yes. We—I did.”

“You disobeyed me.”

“Did Roah tell you?”

“You did.”

Ysolda leaned back.

“Your eyes speak, as do Roah’s. He certainly shouts louder than you do, but your eyes nonetheless scream dishonesty.”

Ysolda shook her head, “I do not understand why you care so much! There is nothing there.”

“Nothing there? Then what compels you to sneak back?”

Ysolda’s face tensed in frustration. But instead of answering, she repeated, “Why do you care so much about it?”

Vivyan closed her eyes, searching for patience, “I have told you. I have told you again and again. Those ruins harbor great evil—”

“Yes, that is what you say, but, as I have been there many times, I do not know what this evil is!”

At first Vivyan grimaced, then she oddly smirked, “You do not listen to me, Ysolda. Long ago, that place whispered to you and drew you in. Now, you will be forever curious to know what it all means. But there are no answers, Ysolda! Everyone who went that way has been deceived and lost and devoured. But before all that, they were cast into madness. And so will you unless you surrender this fruitless desire.”

“But I must have answers, Vivyan! I…I see too many strange things. I do not understand what is happening!”

“The visions?”

“Yes!”

Vivyan frowned.

“I had another today. I would have drowned in the lake had not Roah been there.”

“It is only an illness, Ysolda. There is nothing more to it.”

“But I saw something. I saw something that…that I remember from the ruin.”
Vivyan winced.

I saw…I know I have seen it before…at the…there…there must be a connection. I want to know!”

The pale woman took a deep breath, “You see meaningless things. You see what your eye has caught and what your head remembers. The more that you dwell on that forbidden place, the more you may see it in your dreams. That is only the way of the mind. Do not make anything more of it.”

Ysolda scowled, “What are you afraid of, Vivyan?”

Vivyan narrowed her eyes.

“You are afraid. I am not afraid of that place. But I am afraid for my life if I do not find answers.”

“As I said, there are no answers.”

“How do you know?!”

Vivyan was silent, and, just then, Damusyn entered the hut, seeing both of them and sensing the tension. Finally, Vivyan huffed and said to Ysolda, “If only you could see what I have seen.” Then she turned, brushed past her husband, and went outside.

Damusyn watched her go, but then turned to Ysolda with a gentle expression. Though she was angry, Ysolda could never feel so with Damusyn—he was too kind and was as compassionate to her as Vivyan was fierce. Sighing, Damusyn said, “I am assuming you went to the ruins again?”

Ysolda nodded.

“You know how angry that makes her.”

“Why does it?”

Damusyn stepped forward and sat across from Ysolda, “Vivyan has her ways.”

“Do they need to affect me so?”

Damusyn sighed again, “She is right…she is right that you do not understand. But neither do I completely, nor is it my place to say anything about it. And I know you do trust me, Ysolda; do not be so hard on Vivyan. She…is very wise, albeit impatient.”

Ysolda took a deep breath, “Well, if she wants to make a point to me, why does she have to be so secretive? You claim she is wise, but she seems so unnecessarily fearful to me.”

Damusyn closed his eyes and nodded, “Believe me…she has reason to be.”

“Why?”

He shook his head, “I am sorry, Ysolda. I cannot tell you. I am sorry. Perhaps one day she will explain what she means, but I think she needs a very good reason to. For now, though, can you be forgiving?”

Ysolda lay down in silence. Damusyn let her be; he always did. She then turned on her side, facing away from the entrance. These people did not understand. She was alone. Whatever. It was a long day, and she wanted to sleep.

Excerpt #7: The Huntress

Another fifteen years passed, thus it was thirty years since the Day of Lights. So far, I have shared excerpts from chapters 1 and 2 which establish some of the necessary background. In chapter 3, we meet a new character who happens to be (spoiler) one of the major protagonists….

The grass indeed was withering. Green plains surrendered to the Winter’s dominating hand. The northern wind swept through; the grass shivered, the decrepit soil cracked, and the dust blew by. The pine trees in the distance sang a mournful tune, and the clouds cast fleeting shadows upon the rocky hills while the hazy light faltered—the sun relinquishing command of the day.

A hare pranced through the weather-worn weeds but stopped to scratch at the crumbling earth. Crouched low in the browning grass and nearly camouflaged by a fur parka, Ysolda watched it carefully. Her bow was ready; her arrow nocked. Her blue eyes honed in on the hare and the hare alone. She was aware of the wind’s effort and acknowledged its sway but otherwise denied it is effect. Her hands were cold, but she did not shake. Her steady fingers firmly pinched the bowstring, and her breaths were slow and silent. The hare hopped forward but stopped to sniff the air. Ysolda loosed the arrow. The hare was hers.

She stood and brushed a strand of her long, auburn hair away from her young, fair, freckled face. Another success; she needed it to be, but the times had trained her for it. The harsh existence forced Ysolda to become adaptable and as wild as the changing wilderness. She inhaled a heavy breath and turned towards the north, from whence the cold wind was traveling. She then approached the kill and kneeled beside it. She took another moment to scan the windswept landscape. It was so empty. Once, benevolent spirits remained close; they sang softly through the grass. But it seems they had departed, and the Goddess her people worshipped had abandoned them. Every day Ysolda listened, but the joy of the grass-bound graces was long gone. She crouched down and took the hare in her hands, caressing its pelt gently before removing the arrow.

But then she was distracted by a passing shadow. Glancing up at the sky and squinting in the sunlight, she noticed a hawk circling above. It was a familiar sight; she knew the hawk well, for they shared the same hunting grounds. Iris was her name—that is, the name given by Ysolda’s people. Ysolda watched with a timid awe as the bird completed yet another cycle before soaring eastwards, banking in the wind and descending beyond a nearby knoll.

Having turned thus, Ysolda met the gaze of her companion—a shepherd boy about her age named Roah. He smiled gleefully when she looked at him, asking “Have you ever missed?”

Ysolda slipped her bow around her shoulder and casually answered, “Of course not.” She had nearly forgotten that Roah had been there; she would have preferred that he wasn’t. He had the profound ability to disrupt a moment of peace, and, though it please him to play, she was often annoyed by him. But she and Roah had grown up together. He was like a brother to her, complete with all the brotherly quirks.

Taking the hare in hand, Ysolda stood up straight again and was immediately grazed by a particularly bitter breeze. Again, she faced northwards and took into view a range of serrated hills—the Iycathan Hills. Another torrent bowled past her as if spewed from the very hills themselves. She would not be surprised if such was the case. She kept those hills at a distance—everyone did—and not even her curious nature bid her test the shadows there. Her people were fond of describing the land across those hills—the land called West Kaida—damned and whose lurking darkness scarred the rocks and sent them clawing their way south upon the grassy slopes….

…“Shall we stop by the lake on our way back?” Roah asked, breaking Ysolda’s daze. “We have plenty of time.”

Ysolda looked from the landscape to Roah and smiled, “Alright.”

The lake was a regular spot for the two of them to visit. It was isolated, tucked away in a rocky glen in the higher hills above where their people had settled. It was enclosed in such a way that the surrounding hillsides blocked the winds, but also allowed for sunlight to warm the often cold water. Arriving there, Roah shamelessly removed his clothes and hurled himself into a deeper part of the water. Ysolda preferred to swim in peace, and Roah had a habit of splashing. She waited until he was far enough away before she removed her own clothes, slowly exposing her tattooed body to the severe elements, and tentatively stepping into the water. It was a strange feeling. Of course, the water was cold. But as every day passed, it seemed to become increasingly icier. And even on that day, wading into it was not at all pleasant. But she figured that she would get used to it. Reaching the place where the water was up to her waist, she lay back and floated across the surface. Closing her eyes, and pushing past the cold sensation, she relaxed, feeling the heat of the sun upon her skin.

Time passed and Ysolda opened her eyes to see Iris above again. The hawk screeched and passed out of her view, leaving her to see a thick layer of cloud passing in front of the sun. But the sun was not blotted out, for its rays broke through the clouds and beamed brightly down upon Ysolda. She quickly closed her eyes, but the light flashed in her head. Suddenly, her vision darkened, her body tensed, and she lost control of her mobility, sinking into the water.

It seemed to happen so fast, but when she opened her eyes again, she was no longer in the water, but on the grassy shore, wrapped in her dry clothes. With some struggle, she sat up and gasped for air. Out of her periphery, she could see Roah kneeling beside her, and having recovered her breath, she sighed, “It happened again.”

Roah nodded caringly.

Ysolda covered her face with her hands, “I do not understand. They only used to happen in my sleep. What is this, the fourth time that I have been awake?”

“I think so.”

Ysolda then glanced at the lake, “I could have died.”

Roah smiled and placed his hand on her back reassuringly, looking intently into her eyes, “What did you see?”

Ysolda looked at Roah with a frown, “Please, Roah, I told you never to ask me that.”

Roah held his hands up apologetically, “I know, I know; I am sorry.” He then waited until Ysolda had composed herself more, though she remained distressed—pulling her legs closer to her and resting her chin upon her knees. But taking a deep breath, she said, “Thank you, Roah.”

He nodded in reply, “Shall we go back?”

But Ysolda was looking westwards towards the mountains; the pines stood there with a luring gaze. The darkness amid them deepened; the shadows raced towards their roots. The wind greeted each, and they bent with its passing. She sat up straight, listening intently to the pines’ seductive tune. They were summoning her, reminding her of what secret they contained.

“No,” she replied while standing up.

“But the Rite of the Queen is tonight.”

“It is only the late afternoon; we still have time.”

“For what?”

She pointed to the western wood, “I need to go back there.”

Roah glanced in that direction, and, though the trees themselves were not a threat, he knew what she was referring to. Shaking his head, he rebuked her, “Ysolda, that place is forbidden. We are not allowed to go there.”

“Only Vivyan has forbidden it.”

“And you should listen to her—she is your mother.”

“Vivyan is not my mother; do not insist otherwise. Roah, we are going.”

But Roah whined, “Ysolda…that place is…is evil.”

“We have been there before; nothing happened. Stop being superstitious.”

“They say it was built by demons.”

“That is what Vivyan says. And even if it was, I need to go there.”

“Why?”

Ysolda started walking.

“I’m going to tell Vivyan.”

She stopped and turned back, “No you are not, for she will be angry with you too.”

“Why me?”

“Because either you went to the ruins with me, or you let me go alone.”

Excerpt #6: Sygmon Captures Saphya

What follows is the final excerpt from chapter 2, following Excerpt #3: Saphya has a Visitor, Excerpt #4: The King of Boraya, Excerpt #5: The Prophet. Saphya attempts to escape King Sygmon and seeks shelter from her friends Pallyas and Nymia. But Sygmon finds her anyway…

Saphya was taken within and brutally forced to sit on a chair. Sygmon entered behind them and, taking a chair of his own, sat down across from her, sighing, “Saphya, I thought we had something. Perhaps I’m a fool, but I could swear by own son’s life that you have betrayed me. Of course, what else should I expect from a woman?”

Saphya sniffled, “How have I betrayed you?”

Sygmon tilted his head, “Really?”

“How am I the traitor, Sygmon?”

Sygmon, nodded, “First, you refused to help me anymore. And, if that was not enough, you fled your residence, burning all your secrets. Why, Saphya? Why give up on your own quest? Did I—did we not live up to your expectations?”

Saphya bowed her head and sniffled again.

“Did I do something wrong? Am I not good enough anymore, not good enough for your sacred teachings. I am not stupid, Saphya. I know what you have wanted.” He leaned in close and whispered, “I know what you are. Why hide?”

Saphya sighed, “Sygmon, you know the answers to all your questions. What further use am I anyway? You have your new friend.”

Sygmon smiled, “New friend? Are you jealous?”

Saphya met his gaze with a glare.

“New friend indeed—who is far more willing to act too.” He sat back, “He has true passion. But, Saphya, please, be reasonable. Just tell me, what did you find concerning our query that you apparently cannot share with me?”

Saphya was silent, lowering her eyes again to the floor.

“Aye, your silence—isn’t that the point of all this.” Sygmon grimaced and took her cheeks firmly in his hand, lifting her head up, “I know that you know the missing piece of the great puzzle. Dammit, Saphya, what is so precious, so sacred, that you must keep it from me?”….

…Looking at him, she replied, “I will not speak; you will just have to kill me.”
Sygmon punched her face.

Her whole body would have flown back had not another soldier caught her. He held her up while she gasped and coughed, blood dripping from her nose. Sygmon shook his head, “You are no value to me dead. But we obviously do not share the same values. So, let us see what you do value.” He gestured for his warriors to lift her up and take her back outside. And before the eyes of the whole nervous gathering, she was tied to a post. Sygmon then emerged from the hut and drew his sword, a shimmering sword, pointing it at the people, “If you do not speak, Saphya, I will kill one of them! Should you remain silent then, I will kill another, and I will keep going until you speak.” He then pointed the sword at her, “But should you not speak, and there is no one left alive, only then will I kill you.”

“Sygmon!” she cried out. “What has the prophet done to you?!”

Sygmon sighed and approached her, “I will give the courtesy of burning your body so that your spirit may be released, free to go forth on its journey into the next world, assuming God deems you worthy. May God judge you justly. Now, what will it be?”

Then a man shouted, “STOP THIS!!!” and there was a flash of blue light.

Sygmon spun around quickly, and Saphya tried to see what was happening, but she could not through the Borayan line. But there was the sound of a scuffle, swords clashed, and the Borayns were rushing into the crowd. “KILL HIM!” Sygmon shouted. “GET IN THERE! Do NOT be afraid!!!” The villagers began to flee, but the Borayns, the ones who were not tangled with their attacker, chased after them, cutting them down and hacking them apart. There were more flashes of blue light as strange, feral flames spread across the crowd. Sygmon shook his head and charged forward straight into a blinding burst.

Saphya flinched, closing her eyes. When she looked back, she cried out, “Pallyas!” But she saw Sygmon’s shimmering sword—the sword sliced through the air and through Pallyas’ throat. She lost her wind, cringing, her head bowing as she watched the dying body of Pallyas fall into the mud. Her eyes then scanned the rest of the scene, but there was only blood to see, and screams resounded through her hears. Carnage, steel and severed flesh, and, in the distance, fire upon the wooden huts. Sweat and blood, mud and tears, soon to be all embraced by flame. This was her fault. All of it…from the beginning—thirteen years ago.

Sygmon spent a while staring at the man whom he killed. But through with his musings, he faced Saphya and said, “Friend of yours?” He wiped his sword and approached the woman, “An ignorant man would have surely shit himself. But now I know better; all mortal lives spared from the fire—that is the oath your kind has taken.” He sheathed his sword, “I am sure he just meant to scare. Now, what about you? Where is your vain display, Child of Fayr?”

Saphya bowed her head again, closing her eyes tightly while tears dripped onto the bloody earth. Sygmon next observed that the massacre in the village was coming to a close. Sighing, he returned his gaze to the woman.

Saphya reopened her eyes, but this time they were glowing blue, and a blue flame circled within. Sygmon was, at first, not at all surprised, but then he shuddered when a great number of voices surrounded him, whispering, echoing. A strange force emanated from Saphya as she stood there, tied to the post. He could see it—she was powerful. “If you continue on this path,” the woman stated with tenacious bearing, “events will unfold that will awaken the worst of the Nether Breed from their long slumber.”

Sygmon squinted, “What?”

Saphya glared at him, “Powers beyond all comprehension…they wait. And when they rise, all will die.”

Then Sygmon withdrew a dagger, “The world is already dying. It is a shame you gave up on the solution.”

But Saphya smiled, “I have not given up.”

Without another word, Sygmon pressed the dagger against Saphya’s throat and drew the blade across her fragile skin, cutting deep. But as the blood flowed out of her, she maintained her fiery stare…all the way until the light went out.

Sygmon put away the dagger and turned to his blood stained men that stood around him, “Burn them.”