Friday, October 27, 2017

Blog-Exclusive Fiction - The Exodus, Part 9 (TVB Universe)


To Beginning (Part 1)

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WARNING: The following content may not be suitable for young readers or audiences sensitive to violent content.

“Toying with that kind of energy is far too dangerous.”

“More dangerous than using that same energy to shoot fire or manipulate water—like we do every day?” Mara teases.

“Yes, energy levels so high they’d tear you limb from limb are tame compared to tossing a magic water ball.” The Magus rolls his eyes. “And that's not the worst of it,” he adds. “If excess aether is leaking from another world into ours, then on their side, aether levels would be exceptionally low.”

“And?”

And there wouldn’t be enough aether for a return portal!” He shakes his head. “It’d be a one-way trip.”

He sighs. “I know how badly you want this, Mara. But please, don't let curiosity kill you.” He takes her hand, gently tugging it away from the page and pressing it against his chest. “Don’t disappear on me forever.”

#


I've never felt aether currents this strong.

It felt like acid boiling her alive: raw heat bubbled against her skin, tingling and burning and chilling her whole body.

But there was still nothing to see; it was pitch-black. There was nothing to hear; all she could focus on was the pain of raw energy engulfing her. The agony of a mother bearing a child and the child's suffering in the darkness of the womb all at once.

Mara floated through the aether, unsure if the journey felt more like floating through air or water or neither. She had no concept of direction—up, down, left right—only that she was being pulled forward at an alarming rate.

Finally she began to hear sounds in her tunnel of darkness—first a rushing sound like wind or the rumble of a waterfall. That had to be the flow of the aether itself, this rapid that was dragging her to who knew where.

But there were other sounds, too: of people weeping and moaning, all echoing around her. It sent gooseflesh down her arms and legs. Someone was choking nearby, a voice that floated so close Mara expected to see someone surfacing from the black abyss just within arm's reach. The ice of panic chilled Mara's veins as the sound of gagging engulfed her. It sounded as if someone was strangling them. But she could see nothing, do nothing. She was imprisoned in darkness with the horrifying sounds of death as her cellmate.

“Hello?!” Mara shouted, lunging into the darkness, for what little good it would do. “Hold on! I'm here!” she barked. And then, when the choking began to fade, she called out louder, “I'm right here! Let me help you!”

She lurched toward the sound of the dying voice... but felt nothing. The sound faded away as quickly as it'd come.

Please tell me they're not dead, Mara's heart quavered. Not another one. Please, don't let us die here!

A howl of despair echoed her fears, distant and yet crystal clear: “We're going to die in here!”

The darkness softened into a swirl of purple and blue, pulsing all around her. It was dim, but it was the first light she'd seen since the portal had closed behind her.

Now she could see the other Caders being dragged through the aetheric current, floating just like her: Monroe was the nearest, only a few meters ahead, and further on were the two young men, Erik and Kale, their copper and pale skin tones both eerily reflecting the aetheric light. Ahead of them was the man with the sad, hollow eyes—Albrecht—and the three other women: Hannah, Saundra, and Kitti. And far, far ahead—so much further than the rest that she could barely make him out—was Ian, leading the way.

But there were two people missing. Tears leapt into Mara's eyes as she whirled around. They should be ahead of me. She spun, scanning the aetheric flow as it continued to brighten. Purple and blues were becoming pastels. Where are they? Mara's vision blurred with tears.

Dead! They're dead!” shouted Albrecht. Again, despite him being so far ahead, his voice resounded as loud and clear as if he were speaking in Mara's ear.

But it was true. Mara's tears spilled over. Each one slipped off her face and then trailed in slow-motion as they fell behind her.

It's no use!” Albrecht wept. “Try to escape, and you just meet a worse fate!” He flailed his arms. “No matter what we do, death follows us. We're cursed! This world wants to swallow us whole. And it's doing just that! Can't you feel the burning?”

But the burning sensation on her own skin was fading, reduced to a gentle tingle. To Mara, it almost felt... soothing. Was it only her? Could the aether affect each person differently?

But a quick glance told her that no one had burns on their skin. In fact, all the burns and singes on her hands and arms were gone. Her fair skin looked cleaner than ever. She couldn't even see any soot nor smell any smoke. But how?

She had no answers.

Calm yourself, Albrecht!” came Monroe's voice, just as clearly although his back was to Mara. He spun his arms and kicked his feet, as if trying to swim... but it got him nowhere. He was still being pulled forward by the aether current, the same as everyone else, but he couldn't move of his own volition.

“I told you, Mara will get us out!” came Ian's voice cheerfully. Mara could just make out his silhouette turning back to face the others. “Don't be scared!”

More tears pooled in Mara's eyes. Why? Relief, because he was safe? Gladness, that he could still smile, despite everything he'd been through? Or maybe pride that he placed so much faith in her—and guilt she hadn't delivered the same to these people.

Mara got us cornered in the woods!” Albrecht barked, whirling around to gaze at the surrounding aether walls. “F-For all we know, we're already dead! Maybe this is hell.”

You didn't believe in hell,” came Kale's cool reply. He sounded composed, though Mara could see even at this distance that his eyes were wide with horror... and epiphany. Who knew what was coursing through his mind at this moment?

Albrecht flailed. “I want out! I want out of this place!” With each cry, he floated closer to the walls. “I won't die in here! I want to go back! I'll take my chances with the Vaerin over whatever torture awaits us in here!” Albrecht screamed, lashing out with his legs at the wall of the tunnel.

Light flashed at the impact. Mara's head throbbed. She clutched her temple.

Albrecht, don't give up!” screamed Saundra, her tears floating off her face and into the aether, as well. “Don't you dare let their sacrifices be for nothing!”

Saundra had lost family to the raids. Had Albrecht, too? Had they all lost someone they loved

Hadn't there been enough victims of violence and hatred?

You have to hold on!” cried Mara, though she hardly knew what to say. “Th-this leads somewhere, I know it. I did all the calculations, all the research—”

It won't!” Albrecht lamented. “It's hopeless!” His wail rang around them all. It stole Mara's breath away. “I won't let this never-ending hell take me!” He kicked at the wall of aether again and again. “Kill me! Kill me now!”

Albrecht, please!” Mara shouted.

Albrecht was practically foaming at the mouth. “We're burning alive! Mara's killed us all!” he shrieked.

Albrecht--” Monroe warned.

But he couldn't hear; Albrecht howled like a wounded animal. “Kill me! Kill me, you foul, cruel world! I won't be a victim of your abuse ever again! It'll be over...” His voice fell to an almost eerie calm as his arms and legs relaxed. “It'll all be over...” He curled himself into the fetal position, rolling slowly.

His body was fading into transparency.

Something had gone terribly wrong.

Albrecht!” Mara shrieked.

Albrecht's eyes suddenly locked onto Mara as his body stopped spinning. His face contorted into a terrifying smile. “You haven't seen what I have. You didn't see them die.”

He began to laugh—a hollow, callous laugh. His body pulsed in and out of sight. “Take meeeeeee! Kill meeeeeeeeee!” his voice echoed—before the choking began. Albrecht writhed, clutching his neck... and then he disappeared completely.

The tunnel went silent.

Albrecht...” Shock and sorrow overwhelmed her. Mara began to sob.

How many more need to die? Albrecht... And the others: Jessica and David here. Hare, Giorgine, and Chris outside of Torien's gates.

I've led them all to their deaths. But that couldn't be true! Surely they wouldn't all die like this! It couldn't end this way!

Please, everyone, I swear, this will lead us out,” Mara reassured, desperate, beggin, pleading. “Don't give up!” Tears fell down her face in currents now.

Monroe turned to face her, his mouth set in a grim line. Without a word, he extended his hand toward her.

Wherever Adonai seeks to take us,” Monroe said, “we'll go together. No giving up. Not ever.”

Hope flooded her chest. Mara could barely see through her tears as she took Monroe's hand.

Reaching back, Monroe also took Erik's hand. Erik reached for Kale.

Kale stared at the walls of aether, looking numb, distant, distracted, yet... filled with some strange understanding and awe. “There's no way to know what will happen next,” he murmured. “We've lost so many. And now Albrecht, too. But...” He reached toward the wall of aether, which began to glow with a soft white light. “We escaped the Vaerin,” Kale whispered. He reached out and touched the wall gently. It pulsed with a musical hum.

I didn't think it was possible,” Kale added, “but we did.”

Mara forced a smile through her tears. “They'll never be able to follow us again.”

Kale glanced over his shoulder to her. He actually smiled, despite the tears in his own eyes. Nodding, he clasped Erik's hand and reached ahead to the women.

Soon everyone was holding hands—a long chain of Caders floating in an endless corridor of light.

Slowly, the white light began to turn into drops of rainbow color they floated past. A new sensation struck Mara: at first it was like a hot drink that warmed—not burned—her, from her belly down to her toes. She shivered under that warmth.

Is this what it's like to die? Mara wondered as another tear slipped down her cheek. The tear quickly dried away under the rainbow-colored light.

Mara closed her eyes, feeling her whole body relax. She spread her arms wide, inviting. At peace. I wouldn't mind dying like this.

“You're not dying, silly.”

Mara's eyes snapped open at the sound of the voice. It had resounded crystal-clear way... but it hadn't been the voice of any of her friends.

“Took me long enough to find you, Love.”

Fresh tears filled her eyes.

“Hello, Mara.”

Hello... my Magus.


---

Can't wait for next week's update? Want more? Check out the story from Ian's perspective on the TaleHunt app @Rynfyre

Water tunnel path] [sic] by
Wu Yi; originally posted on Unsplash.com.



From Him, To Him

Friday, October 20, 2017

Blog-Exclusive Fiction - The Exodus, Part 8 (TVB Universe)


To Beginning (Part 1)

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WARNING: The following content may not be suitable for young readers or audiences sensitive to violent content.


Follow me.

We’re leaving.

Mara’s feet pounded the ground in an uneven drum beat. Ba-thump. Ba-thud-thum-thump. She staggered across the plain, ducking and dodging and weaving over the blackened, pock-marked earth that had once been covered in grass.

The Vaerin war-machines had already burned it all. And still their flaming projectiles thoomed and hissed through the air, seeking more Cader targets. Thick smoke issued from boiling rocks that had already landed, each one setting fire to anything it touched.

Another hacking cough rattled Mara’s body. But still she pressed on, still struggling to listen for the telltale hum of aether, the sound that was growing louder every second, even over the sounds of war.

“This way!” she shouted to Caders she hoped were still behind her; it was impossible to see them in the smoke.

Ian coughed feebly and tightened his grip on her shoulders. “Mara…” he whimpered.

“Almost there!” Mara breathed, reaching over her shoulder to squeeze the child’s small hands. “Hold on, Ian. We’re almost through the fires!”

Ian weakly squeezed back. “Don’t stop, Mara,” he whispered. “Please don’t stop…” She felt him burying his face into her back.

But his words were nearly drowned out by the next explosion of Vaerin fire. The earth shook; Mara stumbled but kept her footing.

She ran in a jagged line, hoping to spoil the Vaerin aim—but making her path that much longer. Sweat trickled down her forehead, her back, her nape. It was hot. The heat and smoke from flames spreading on either side squeezed the air from her lungs. Still she kept running.

The humming was ringing in her ears now; the blessed sound of a high concentration of aether.

“Mara!” she barely heard Monroe call from behind. She didn't slow, but she did chance a glance over her shoulder.

She couldn’t see Monroe or any of the other Caders; just a few silhouettes waving back and forth in the smoke, like flags wavering in the heat. She had no idea how many of her friends were still following her. But those few silhouettes she could see were still moving.

“Cover your ears, Ian!” Mara warned. As he clapped his hands over his ears, she bellowed at the top of her hoarse voice: “This way! Follow my voice!”

It hurt to talk, but she was rewarded by the sight of Monroe and Kitti emerging from a billow of fresh smoke, coughing and rubbing red, watery eyes. They chased her doggedly.

“Almost there!” she shouted. “Keep going!”

She just had enough time to see Monroe turn and shout something behind him before she turned back to her task and put on even more speed. She ran past two smoldering tree trunks, just beginning to catch fire. And then she passed more trees, these still green. And then there were trees all around her.

She’d reached the forest.

Here, the aether’s hum had reached a feverish pitch. She’d never experienced aether levels quite this high; her skin felt like it was burning from exposure.

“Ma—” came an exhausted, puffing cough from behind. It was Monroe’s voice. “Mara!”

“I’m here,” she called, scooping Ian out of his sling on her back and setting him down on the ground. “Stay back, Ian.”

He scooted obediently a few meters away as Mara began to dust leaves away from the loamy earth in a large circle.

She heard footfalls behind and chanced a glance behind. Monroe, leading ten Caders, stumbled into the clearing. There was no sign of poor old Hare.

Three men had tried to save him, and it still wasn't enough to douse the Vaerin fires.

Mara rubbed away hot tears of rage. She couldn't mourn yet. There was no time.

“Mara, what are you doing?” Monroe asked, bewildered and out of breath.

“Keep everyone back!” Mara barked. More sweat trailed down her face. She plucked a stick off the ground and began stabbing lines into the earth: the beginning of a string of ancient Cader runes and mathematical equations.

It would take a tremendous amount of energy and an extremely skilled mage…”

“What are you doing?! They’re still after us!” the blonde woman, Saundra, cried.

“We can’t stop here! Mara, get up!”

“She’s gone crazy.”

Someone shushed them all.

But in the end, it’s quite simple.”

“Identify the area of highest aether concentration—” Mara scrawled a circle all around her a meter in diameter. She wiped sweat from her brow, her eyes darting around the writing she’d completed.

“Next, utilize the Thaegorian Axiom, plug in the appropriate numbers…” She glanced up, licking her finger and testing the direction of the wind. She added a few numbers to her equation.

Too long. This is taking too long.

She heard another thoom, far too close for comfort, followed by the crackling of fire licking at wood. The Vaerin were beginning to bomb the forest.

The earth quaked at her feet. She crouched back down to her work, double-time.

“Adjust for the latitude and longitude…” Mara mumbled.

“She's going to use magic!” she heard Kitti shout in shock, delight, awe. “The—the aether here. Can you hear it?”

“She's not going to finish in time,” Alan muttered. His voice came from close behind her. “Not before they find us.”

“We've got not choice but to trust her!” Monroe yelled. “Do you have some better plan?”

There was a stretch of silence. Mara desperately tried to shut out the voices, struggling to stay focused on her task.

Latitude and longitude… What could their current latitude and longitude be? Come on. Remember your training. Remember everything you studied in the Academy. Her breathing ran ragged, out of control. The smoke in her lungs wasn’t helping. Mara coughed into the crook of her arm.

Latitude of the northern Torien border is something like 49 degrees. But longitude?

With trembling hands, Mara scribbled out another equation, leaving a blank box and staring at it hopelessly.

Longitude, longitude!

“Not a better one,” she could just hear Alan murmur over the roar of her thoughts. “But it's the only one.”

“Alan, what are you—Alan!” For the first time, Monroe sounded... panicked.

The tremor in his voice made Mara turn from her work. She glanced up in time to see Alan disappearing into the woods... back the way they'd come. Back toward the Vaerin.

She felt her mouth drop open in shock. And then fear and dread seeped into her veins. “S-stop him!” Mara screamed, scrambling across her circle on hands and knees. “I can get us out of here! If I can just finish—”

But Monroe—and everyone else—stared at her with pale faces.

“He's buying you time,” Monroe said simply.

Buying me time. “B-but he has a family—”

“He's going to distract the Vaerin, lead their shots away so you can finish your magic.” Monroe's eyes hardened, and he pointed toward the equations she'd made in the ground. His hand was shaking. “So finish!”

It was punctuated by the sound of another thoom off to their left. This time, she could swear she heard a scream—of anger? Of agony?

Alan...

Mara gritted her teeth and roared, slamming the stick in the earth as she chiseled in her guess. Longitude: -96 degrees.

Tears coursed down her face as the stick fell from her hand. The callous aether shrieked in her ears.

“Keep everyone back!” Mara repeated as she began to rub her hands together.

“Mara...” she heard Ian warn from behind.

Monroe joined him: “I think we’re out of ti—!”

An unbearably loud thoom cut off those last words as the trees erupted in flame. Mara heard someone to her left scream in pain—before the scream cut out in instant death.

“Adonai, please let this work!” Mara screamed as she threw her arms open wide to channel the shrieking aether.


White-hot energy, raw and molten, poured down her throat. The aether flooded her every extremity. Mara's world went blue and white and bright.

She sensed more than saw a dim purple light flood the clearing. It coalesced into a ring, a doorway that led to nothing but swirling darkness.

A portal. A portal howling and pulsing right in the middle of the burning woods.

She wanted to weep. She wanted to warn the others to get in now, before she lost her grip on the portal. But all her concentration went into this: bending the aether to her will before it tore her apart.

A single tear slipped down Mara’s cheek.

“Mara will get us out!” Ian shouted. “C'mon!” Mara was frozen, but she could just see her little boy dragging Monroe toward the portal.

All Monroe could do was stare at the portal, even as Ian pulled him closer. “What—”

But Ian, at least, knew there was no time. He charged straight into the portal—one moment there, the next gone as the portal swallowed him whole.

“Ian!” Monroe and a few of the others yelled.

Still Monroe hesitated, glancing from Mara to the portal, unsure.

The aether was burning her alive from the inside. Please, Mara begged. Please hurry!

Monroe finally nodded toward the portal. “Everyone in now!”

One by one, the Caders walked toward the portal… and the purple energy seemed to wrap around them before swallowing them. Kitti and Saundra and the woman with brown tresses—Hannah—and the man with the sad eyes—Albrecht. Three men waited to step in last: Erik and Monroe and the young pale man, Kale.

They vanished into the black one after the other, some pale or screaming in terror, others charging ahead before they could be convinced to turn back.

The flames all around Mara burned. Some of the smoke was slipping into the portal, as well. Mara’s whole body trembled, convulsed.

Could she get through herself? Or would the portal close as soon as she lowered her arms, as soon as her form faltered for a split second. Would she be sealed here, on the wrong side, leaving Ian and the others to fend for themselves… wherever she had sent them?

But if she stayed here any longer, the aether itself would devour her from the inside out. It was die by the aether, die by the Vaerin, or try to jump in.

I won’t die here.

With a roar that shook the air, Mara ripped herself from the aether current and flung herself toward the portal. Immediately the portal began to shrink. But she staggered forward anyway. I can still make it.

Vaerin voices shouted and hollered just behind her. The portal loomed a centimeter before her face.

And then suddenly she was through, encompassed by darkness but backlit by crimson fire's light. With a whoosh like wind, she sensed the portal slam shut behind her. All at once it was gone—the sight of the fires, the light from the outside world, the sounds of the Vaerin hunters—everything.

Mara pitched headlong into the darkness.

---

Can't wait for next week's entry? Check out the story from Ian's perspective on the TaleHunt app @Rynfyre

Photo by Johannes Plenio; originally posted on Unsplash.com.


From Him, To Him

Friday, October 13, 2017

TVB Prologue Poll - Option 2: Ristan Flees


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.

“Traitorrr!”

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.

The cliff.


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!”

…Twenty-nine, twenty-eight…

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…”

…Two… one.

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.]

From Him, To Him

Friday, October 6, 2017

TVB Prologue Poll - Option 1: A Bedtime Story (Revised)


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.]

From Him, To Him

Monday, October 2, 2017

Taking a Break from Exodus - But Please Enjoy Upcoming Excerpts!

Hey everyone!

Fate itself seems to want to leave poor Mara and Ian in limbo. As seems cruelly appropriate given the twists and turns of Mara's story (Exodus), travel plans have forced me to put the project on a two-week hiatus. I want to make sure I have enough time to bring it to a satisfying conclusion.

BUT FEAR NOT! For these next two weeks, you shall not be excerpt-less!

And... I need your help!

For the next two weeks (October 6th and the 13th), I'll be posting the two most recent prologue options for The Victor's Blade. If you read them and think they stink, let me know why in the comments! If they leave you with questions or confusion, comment on that too! Or if you want to brag on why YOUR choice of a prologue is the best option--well, you know what to do!

Then, on October 20th, vote to let your voice be heard! Which prologue is your favorite? Which deserves more love--and which deserves to be forgotten?

Many thanks to everyone who voted in the previous poll about what content you enjoy seeing most on Fiction and Fantasy! I'll be sure to keep your preferences in mind as I create content in the future.

I can't wait to hear all your feedback, and I'm hoping you enjoy reading these upcoming prologues as much as I had fun writing them.