Friday, October 13, 2017
Screams of murder rang in his ears as Ristan ran. They made for an eerie harmony screeching to the rhythm of his pounding feet and his hammering heart: thum-thum-thum.
Thirteen more seconds of sprint speed. Then my body slows from sprint to running speed.
“Traitor!” his pursuer’s voices howled at his heels. They echoed the cry of his own heart: You left her behind. You left her to die.
Four more seconds.
Despite running for his life, Ristan’s breathing remained even: deep breath in through the mouth, slow breath out through the nose. As easily as if he were sleeping. Each breath gave him energy to move… and precious seconds to listen, plan, think.
How many? He was dying to know. He would have closed his eyes to better listen, to pinpoint each set of his pursuers’ footfalls like a musician singling out each instrument in an orchestra. But fleeing for his life involved keeping his eyes opened. Any obstacle—from the jagged boulders and blackened tree trunks surrounding to the smallest gnarled root—would be the death of him.
And the death of his people, the Zelméon race.
My people. It was getting harder and harder to remember who he truly was. Why? But he knew why. Running under two different names, living two different lives, would put a toll on anyone’s mind.
He’d had three.
Still, the fact he had to remind himself of his true identity at all sent a chill down his spine. I’m slipping.
“We’re going to kill you slowly, Raen!” the voices nipping at his heels giggled madly, the sound of their voices bouncing off the jagged rocks surrounding him. “We’ll pull off your nails one by one. We’ll watch your blood trickle drop by drop until it’s gone—”
“Ohh, but before we do, you’ll get to watch us have some fun with your wife…”
Mari. He closed his eyes. Please forgive me.—
Futile—asking her forgiveness after the fate he’d abandoned her to.
“No matter what happens,” he could hear Mari’s voice ringing in his ears. She’d sounded so sure then, so set. “The objective is tantamount. Neither of us matter; only the objective.” She’d fallen silent before adding softly, “It’s why I agreed to the Initiative.”
Shouts bounced from the left and the right. They were trying to flank him. More Vádigón voices joined the choir.
Panic crept up the nape of his neck. Immediately he shut off the emotion.
Only the objective.
His hand slipped over the bump covered by his silk tunic. The objective is tantamount.
Not me. Not my feelings. Not my thoughts. Only the objective matters.
Now, the layout of the land. You studied this for years—centuries. Don’t feel; think.
In his mind’s eye, he pulled out a map like he had so many times for real. These rocks are offshoots of the natural geological formations. And within twenty more meters…
The rocks suddenly fell away as if at his very thought. Suddenly the earth met the sky in a thick horizon line and then… nothing.
Fear again shook his bones. Ristan inhaled deeply, purging it one more time. He knew what he had to do.
He skidded to a halt, staring down at the rock wall at his feet. It was a sheer drop—a wall of jagged stone tumbling so far down he could see no ground below; nothing except a gray mist.
The Vádigón’s angry howls were coming closer.
Ristan waited, feet planted as he counted down.
Forty… thirty-nine… thirty-eight…
“—went this way!”
“We’re coming for you, Traitoooor!”
A Vádigón’s face burst out from between the boulders, the same as his yet different colors: purple eyes instead of his brown. Vádigón skin was pale white skin like a cadaver; without his disguise, Ristan’s was tan.
“Found him!” The Vádigón hollered as he slid to a halt ten meters away. He flared his tattered wings—useless for flight, just like Ristan’s own, which he and Mari had cut before they’d begun their mission so many years ago.
Ristan turned to face the Vádigón as more of his angry friends arrived from behind the boulders. Six in all had been able to follow him through the forest and underbrush.
He continued his count. Twenty-one…
The first Vádigón to catch up grinned. He stalked closer, step by step. He didn’t even seem to notice his other five friends.
“There you are...” one of the Vádigóns jeered. “Maybe we’ll have a little fun with you first after all.”
“What to do with a murderous traitor like you?” another spat. Rage burned like embers in his eyes. “The generals were right not to trust you.”
“You should have jumped off the precipice,” a third Vádigón snarled. “Seems only right for a coward like you…”
Ristan threw himself backwards, over the cliff’s edge.
As he fell, the Vadigons’ shouts of anger and surprise were sucked away by the rush of wind. Ristan kept his eyes forward, his arms tucked close to his body, his legs locked tightly together. Then he unfurled his wings.
His shadow burst to life against the rugged cliff face in front of him as light from his wings lit him up from behind.
Even with them torn, that should slow me just enough… Ristan immediately thrust his arms and feet forward.
His black leather gloves were shredded to ribbons almost immediately. Then pain shrieked through his body as the stone and friction started scraping through the skin on his palms.
As gravity dragged him down the face of the cliff, Ristan clacked the heels of his boots together. The spike in the toe of his boot sprang out. He jabbed his toe into the rock. His body stopped. Rock crumbled and fell away from his body.
Finally, mercifully, the scraping and dragging ceased. He now clung to the cliff face with blood-smeared hands and his metal-toed boots. His tattered wings draped from his shoulders like a torn old cape.
He furled his wings quickly, folding them back so small that they became invisible. Their light disappeared.
Now the pain began to screech through his whole body as his hands protested this insane plan.
He wasn’t done yet.
Ristan glanced below. Two meters down and to his right, currently near his right toe, he could see a crack in the cliff wall. He would hide there for the next few hours, nursing his hands and waiting to ensure the Vádigóns had given up the search for their suicidal quarry or until he heard the shrieking of their bloodthirsty beasts, the Kharai. Even if they figured out his plan, it’d take them hours to climb up or down this cliff face to this crevice to try to pry him out.
A few blessed hours of sleep before he had to resume his run. And he was still unsure what to do with his prize in these conditions.
Ristan released the cliff face with his right hand, feeling the cliff face and all of its filth seeping into his muscles and mingling with his blood. Excruciating pain burned his hands. But it was nothing compared to Vádigón torture. He’d seen plenty of that. Though he had yet to see what someone who tried to assassinate the Vádigón king would endure.
That thought motivated him to work through the pain. Hand over bloody hand, Ristan just barely held on despite the anguishing pain and the slickness of the blood. Finally, mercifully, Ristan managed to lower himself down to the ledge. He wedged himself into the crevice, which was just barely wide enough for him to fit sideways. There was still a portion of his shoulder that jutted out, and he had to keep his knees tucked so close that breathing was uncomfortable.
But he was as safe as he’d get behind enemy lines. Behind enemy lines after he’d finally blown his cover after centuries of serving as a double agent.
Ristan felt sleep fast approaching, and he chuckled. Commander always said I was only picked for this Initiative because I can fall asleep anywhere.
Sleep took him. And Ristan knew nothing until he awoke hours later to the chill of pitch-black evening.
Be sure to leave me any feedback, questions, or comments down below! Check back next week to vote for your favorite prologue and enjoy the continuation of Exodus!
Thanks again for all your support!
Photos (in order of appearance):
[Excerpt from The Victor's Blade; all content subject to change.]
Friday, October 6, 2017
I hope Mama can play with me soon, Jaranin thought as he shivered.
He didn’t know why he was shaking; he wasn’t cold. The fire and the soft blankets Mama had made kept Jaranin toasty warm.
Burrowing into his bed of blankets had pushed some of his messy brown hair into his eyes. He brushed it away with a grunt as the lonely wind moaned outside. The breezes rattled the shutters—clackity-clack. Too noisy.
Not like inside; here, everything was quiet. Even the fire burned without a sound.
To his right, Naomi shifted in her seat and sighed. Her bones creaked like her wooden chair.
She’s awake? Grinning, Jaranin threw off his blankets. “Naomi!” he squeaked excitedly. He ran across the wood floor on bare feet: tip-tip-tip-tip. Draping himself across her lap before she could react, Jaranin gazed up at her wrinkly face and her pretty blue eyes. “Naomi, will you tell me a stowy?”
Naomi’s sad frown slowly turned into a smile. “A story?” she whispered as she cupped her hands under his arms and hauled him onto her lap. “Now… what story would a little boy like Jaranin possibly want to hear…?”
“Lexirous!” It took all his strength to keep from shouting, but he matched Naomi’s whisper. “Tell me about Lexirous!” He squirmed.
“Ohhh, of course!” Naomi nodded wisely. “How does that story begin, again?”
It was all part of their game, Jaranin knew. He asked her to tell him this story almost every night. “Once upon a time!”
“Yes, once upon a time…” Naomi smoothed his hair and pressed a kiss to his forehead. “there was a very brave man named Lexirous,” she murmured in a sing-song tone.
Jaranin piped in, “He lived in a city far away!”
“He did indeed.” Naomi rocked him back and forth. “It was an enormous city with marble walls that glowed silver in the moonlight. But the people there did wicked things.”
“Except Lexirous,” Jaranin added.
Naomi nodded. “As wise as he was brave, Lexirous knew the city’s wicked deeds would not go unpunished. He warned the people that a great evil would come to destroy them.
“To fight the evil, Lexirous forged a powerful sword—a blade that could defeat any enemy. In the sweat of his smithy, he poured his very essence into the blade, making it stronger than any other weapon. He called it…”
“The Victor’s Blade,” Jaranin whispered reverently.
“Naomi?” came Mama’s hoarse voice from the next-door room.
Naomi plopped Jaranin on the floor and hobbled toward Mama’s half-open bedroom door.
Mama tried to cry again: “Na—” but she couldn’t finish; she choked, coughing and gasping.
“I’m coming, dear. I’m coming,” Naomi shouted as she slipped into the bedroom, pulling the door mostly-shut behind her.
Jaranin stayed sitting right where Naomi had left him. He could hear Mama talking to Naomi, but they both spoke quietly. Trying to peek through the crack of the door, Jaranin leaned over. He nearly fell over. Still, he couldn’t see their faces; just Mama’s hands pressing a book into Naomi’s lap.
He thought he heard Naomi crying. He jumped up to his feet, swinging an imaginary Victor’s Blade. Don’t cry, Naomi! I’ll protect you from the evil!
But there was no evil to fight. Sighing, Jaranin plunked to his seat.
He couldn’t come any closer; days ago, Naomi had told him it wasn’t safe for him to go into Mama’s room any more. Mama was ill, Naomi had explained.
I wonder what “ill” is. He missed snuggling next to Mama and falling asleep in her warm hugs. Maybe “ill” means sad. Mama and Naomi both seem “ill” all the time.
That made him feel “ill” too.
Toddling over to his bed, Jaranin grabbed a blanket in a big fist. He dragged it over to the fireplace and pulled it over his head.
Now he felt cold.
Naomi won’t finish the story tonight… It made him feel even more sad. But I know the rest!
Jaranin whispered, “An’ just like Lexirous said, evil came to tha city…”
Many years passed. And, just as Lexirous had said, a great evil came to the city.
No matter how hard they tried, no one could defeat the evil. Swords could not pierce him. Shields shattered when he touched them.
Jaranin stared at the fire. It was pretty, but it wasn’t jumping and popping and crackling happily like it did when it was very hot. Now it sat quietly, just like him. He drew his knees to his chest.
With the Victor’s Blade in hand, Lexirous left the city gates to fight. And as he crossed blades with the evil, Lexirous proclaimed:
“I am tha protector of this world!”
“I was chosen to fight you. I have forged the blade of your bane. My purpose is blessed. And now I will end you forever.
“For only by my blood will tha Dark be slain…”
Jaranin rested his chin between his kneecaps. Now he was watching the last glowing coal in the fire. It used to be orange. Now it was red. And soon it would be black.
The house creaked softly. The voices in the bedroom had gone quiet.
Jaranin glanced over his shoulder at Mama’s room. Funny; Naomi had closed the door. She never closed the door.
Maybe Mama needed good sleep. I’ll pray that she sleeps good tonight.
Jaranin turned back to the fire. The little coal had gotten very bright. So pretty!
But then it went out. Now it was black, and there was no more light from the fire.
It was so quiet.
Be sure to leave me any feedback, questions, or comments in the section down below! Option 2 prologue is coming up next Friday. And on October 20th, come back to vote on your favorite and to continue the thrilling tale of Exodus!
Thanks again for all your support!
Photos (in order of appearance):
[Excerpt from The Victor's Blade; all content subject to change.]