Tuesday, May 19, 2015
Stormrider - A Sample of the Book Right Here
Stillness, galvanizing in its intensity, overwhelming in its suddenness, a stillness not her own, surged from some inner repository, filled Tanith, pushed all else aside.
Her head jerked up. The important work of gathering plants for food and medicine was forgotten and the stillness transformed into an unmistakable, undeniable pull. Her heart took up a skipping rhythm. Ears buzzed with silence, a void soon filled.
Come, it beckoned, rippling softly through her mind, disturbing the great stillness. Come.
Tanith Aesir grasped her collecting bag tighter and bolted to her feet, rising from the mottled forest shadows into brilliant sunlight. Tension snapped through her body like a whip crack as a sudden breeze surged, swaying the surrounding trees. Their movement dappled the sunlight, flickering shadows impairing her focus. The grove’s serenity evaporated in an instant.
Expert training strained to the fore. Years of it. Green eyes rapidly swept her surroundings, adjusting, that adjustment delaying her only a moment while she analyzed the throbbing quietude about her. Barest moments of time were swept away on an indrawn breath and then she began to run.
She ran not with the small, mincing steps of a maiden, but with the long, athletic strides of a female warrior, muscles flexing, blood heating. Her hair, the color of rich, well-aged Octurian brandy, streamed unbound in a silken wave behind her, caught upon the chill wind of her passage. Her stomach wanted to knot but she forbade it, calling upon iron control as she sought to hold firmly to that mind-touch which drew her.
More urgently now—he voice; the thought; rippling across her mind–come, swiftly, come.
Not words precisely, more like impulses of knowledge threaded through with an urgency she had never felt before, crashing over her with the power of cascading waters. She had a general direction, but no more. It drew her on with its power, its compelling urgency, this voice, this presence in her mind. She no longer feared it as she had at the very beginning when first contact had been initiated; instead she feared for it. This was not a normal contact. This was something very different with something very much more deadly underlying the summons. And there were plenty of things here in Nashira which were deadly.
The mind-touch held and Tanith increased her speed. Her chest burned inside and her extremities felt the chill of blood loss as it was diverted to her laboring heart and lungs. Hide gathering bag clenched in one fist, half-blunted digging knife in the other, she answered the anxious call--without words, but answered nonetheless.
I’m coming, coming - let me feel you–where?
She ran, direction determined by those impulses throbbing through her soul.
Her feet clad in leathers, soft wraps nearly to her knees, hardened sole pounding softly, nearly soundlessly, against pliant soil, she swept on. With the wind at her back, she ran. Blood pumped heatedly through veins and sweat misted her forehead in a fine, gathering sheen. Mind tried to take over, threatened to imagine all kinds of disasters to foster such an urgent call. Fear threatened to blossom, but, with the years of studied discipline at her beck, she deftly turned the imaginings aside and pressed on.
Suddenly the silent communication was lost. Link broken. In its place, echoed the familiar, wolfish, yips and howls of Strongheart, Littlefoot and One Eye. The three wolves, sensing her nearness, had begun vocalizing, beckoning to her, giving her more than the power of the bond to draw her on. Understanding her need better than she did herself, the sound of the haunting chorus brought the hair at the nape of her neck to attention along a rippling wave of goose-flesh.
But there was more; a texture of sight, sound and roiling impressions; mental chaos. Images, isolated, which made no sense. For a moment she was aware of fang and claw, then a man, bloodied, replaced it. Guided confusion. Order in chaos. Tanith fought to assimilate it and understand, but gave that up as futile. And helplessness was not a condition she was willing to accept.
She turned. Carried by the wind as it shifted came growls, animal screams, moist, guttural snorts and snarls - the rough bellowing of another. By the Gods and Goddesses! It was a fight she was hurling toward like a juggernaut, and she had no weapon with her save her digging knife!
She swung around the thick bole of a split-leaf tree, and nearly tripped over a body. She had no time to analyze what lay before her except to note the bloody, mangled body was most assuredly dead; that it wore, in tatters, the leathers of The People - and that other clothes (more familiar clothes) lay in a balled-up heap nearby, nearly concealed by leaves.
ENEMY! The alarm exploded instantly inside her head.
Anxiety added to chaos. If the enemy was here…if they knew of the golden torque…if they stopped her…so much would be lost…so much. She had heard the mechanical roar of war in simulation. She had no desire to experience it first-hand.
A hideous roar of a different kind shook the ground, drove the birds from the trees and silenced, for the moment, the apprehensions clamoring in her mind. Those could be confronted later. Now she must reach the trio of wolves because whatever it was they had found to tangle with would not wait. Urgency in her mind from Strongheart.
Picking up the thread, she dove through the trees once again, noticed them thinning abruptly before she was spilled unceremoniously onto the edge of an immense clearing. Soft grasses rolled before her feet. Sunlight, painfully bright, made the green all around throb iridescently. Deep, cool shadows cast on either side by limbs intruding into sun's space moved, and seemed almost alive.
Chest heaving, hair in a tangled mass, eyes wide, she allowed the sight to wash over her, through her, absorbing what she needed with the speed of her sense functions. Even thoughts took longer than impressions.
Legs spread to steady her balance, moccasin-clad feet planted firmly upon the ground, she gaped while the sounds of her own blood rushing filled her ears. She couldn’t help staring, but she couldn’t spare the time for it.
There, before her, Strongheart, magnificent in battle, wore his great silver ruff stiffened across massive shoulders like a cape. Head down, ears up, lips peeled back from impressive white teeth in a deadly, liquid, gutteral snarl, he challenged the enraged bear for possession of his victim--a man (a rather torn-up man), caught between bear (who seemed prepared to make short shrift of him) and wolves (who undoubtedly seemed not much different than the bear to the man). Already battered and bloodied far more than any man should be and remain standing, that hardy soul stared warily from beast to beast to beast, his lips peeled back in a rictus of a man-snarl, his body half crouched in readiness, but bleeding, weakening, swaying on his feet.
Readiness - readiness for that?! The bear towered over
them all, standing a solid twelve feet tall if he was an inch.
The Goddess only knew what he weighed! Staring, gauging, Tanith translated all that poundage and fury into physics of force and momentum - the damage just one paw swipe could do – and shuddered. The wolves were all crazy! She was crazy! Her eyes flicked back to the wreck of a man.
He flinched every time Littlefoot or One Eye followed the choreography of a master; entering the dance as Strongheart directed with impeccable timing. It was a stunning stand-off, for the moment. One Strongheart fully expected her to break.
In the space of a heartbeat, she watched in horrified fascination as both Littlefoot and One Eye dashed in to harass the bear. Littlefoot, less aggressive but quick and protective of the pack, moved like lightning. Sharp teeth sank momentarily into ankle or leg and then she was gone, wind rippling across her bloodstained muzzle.
One Eye, blind on one side, flew to the attack with brutal ferocity. Teeth snapping he leapt high, raked the bear's golden pelt above the hip, turned, raced between the animal's massive legs, and went for the hamstrings. But for all his bulk, the bear, too, was swift in retaliation. One giant, sickle-clawed paw descended to rid himself of the annoying pest. The bear missed One Eye and the wolf flowed clear, dodging the tottering man, eye fixed momentarily on Tanith before jaws snapped in final assault.
Heart in her throat, Tanith slid smoothly to one side, out of the bear's immediate line of concentration. She gripped her dull, pitiful knife tightly, feeling the direction of the fight, sensing Strongheart's intent as he lunged forward - deflected most of the force of the bear's blow while One Eye dashed clear - and powerful jaws tore out a piece of bear hide in his passing.
Hammered by the impetus of One Eye's flight, the man, badly leaking blood everywhere, fell with a disturbing finality arms pinwheeling past Littlefoot who slipped into the fray again. At first she went unnoticed. Then sharp teeth scored where intended and the ground-shaking bellow of the great bear once again rocked the earth beneath Tanith's feet.
She felt the direction of Strongheart's plan; knew she had to move swiftly. The delaying action thrown up by One Eye and Littlefoot could not last much longer. The bear was clearly the superior force and definitely was not willing to be turned from his goal: the man now prone on the raw turf. She was the deciding factor. She was the tie-breaker. By the Goddess she was good! But this was not the kind of fighting she had been trained for. Nonetheless, it was the kind she would do. Attention spread thin, she glanced again at the prone man.
He was not important. He was a stranger, possibly an enemy, though Strongheart was rarely wrong in his impressions of people and would not have bothered to defend an enemy. Still, her primary concern was for the wolves, her pack. Death would be swift if one of the bear's paws connected directly. Plainly, the wolves did not intend to disengage and leave the man to the bear with the bloodied muzzle, ragged plain-leaf ears and fetid breath.
And she could not leave them.
She projected anger, gathered her resources, suppressed a new shudder, and thought of the things she would have to say to Strongheart once this was over and the sour sweat of fear had dried. This was not for food, nor was it for the safety of the pack, this was something else! Something beyond her meager experience of the pack. She would demand an explanation from Strongheart.
He and his companions danced expertly with the bear, baiting it, holding it, positioning it. Strongheart directed and protected. He sent One Eye against the bear in such a way as to protect him from his own blindness, then exposed Littlefoot to less frontal attack, taking into account her weakness: the deformed back foot. They worked smoothly, as a team. And Tanith was one of the pack, expected to do her part or the functioning of the pack would collapse, bringing disaster.
All right! So be it! Her finely conditioned body hummed with expectation as she rushed the bear's blind side, the wind carrying his noisome scent to her nostrils but not hers to his. Leverage, surprise and power. She had to use them all and use them fast. Despite years of training and the experience of having faced deadly adversaries, her belly churned and her mouth felt parched as she launched herself.
She went in swiftly from behind as Strongheart directed the diversion in front. She hit the massive bear with all her strength, clipping him just behind the knees, and slashed downward, tearing the hamstring of the leg nearest her with her digging knife. Blood spurted hot and sticky. The bear gave a thunderous roar and began a long, slow, collapse. Tanith's heart convulsed. It didn’t appear she was going to make it clear. She sent a brief prayer to the Goddess. If she died now she will have failed. Her quest to regain the amulet would be ended. Something flashed past her.
Strongheart plowed in. Everything started to come apart. Jaws agape, canines flashing wetly in the bright afternoon light, he dove for the bear’s throat, leaping over Tanith in a cannonball assault. She witnessed the rest in a blur. Wolf charging. Bear falling. Those terrible sickle-like bear claws swinging in a wide arch. She ached, her bones fairly shrieked with the knowledge it was going to be a close thing, a very close thing indeed.
The ground leapt up to slam into her shoulder and hip as Tanith pressed away. No good! Not fast enough! She flailed as an icy finger of near panic caressed the length of her spine and the bear's heavy paw passed so close claws caught her in a glancing swipe. Fired ice followed the course of the bear's claws running up her left breast and over her shoulder. A numbing shiver rippled through her body. Despite the muted power of the swipe of that great paw, it delivered hot agony. Tanith kept moving; tumbled, tumbled, chewed grass and rolled clear. She heard, more than saw, Strongheart take the bear's throat in a single savage pass.
Gurgling sounds bubbled from the bear's torn throat as he thrashed wildly, tearing up the fragrant grasses in his death throes, bringing Tanith's earlier meal to her throat in a much less pleasant form than the one it had been consumed in. His throat gone, the mortally wounded bear could not even roar his agony and anger. A ground-tremoring shudder, a deep wheeze and then silence. Profound and complete.
Tanith rolled slowly over onto her back, stared up into the incredible blue of the sky's vastness and in her heart asked the deities of this world for their forgiveness in the taking of this bear's life.
She gave a quick glance up at Strongheart who had come to plunk himself down at her side, panting heavily, reeking of bear and blood. He looked down at her sprawled in the grass from his elevated, sitting position and gave her a quizzical look, tongue lolling from his mouth.
His mind touched hers, telegraphing thoughts. Why do you feel you need forgiveness for making the only choice for a being of flesh...?
Tanith breathed heavily, willing the incredible tension of battle to drain away from her body into the cool earth beneath her back. It took a little time for the pounding roar of her blood to calm so she could consider Strongheart’s question.
“It was not by my choice, it was yours - and we destroyed a living thing by it. For what?”
In defense of another living thing - choices all choices. To live in the world of flesh choices must be made.
Tanith sighed. “Are you going to confuse my life further by becoming a philosopher as well as bond-mate?”
Strongheart panted a little less heavily, expelled a forceful breath and licked his nose with a quick swirl of pink tongue. I was what I was before the pack was joined.
Tanith rolled to her knees, slowly. It wasn’t every day one tackled a bear with success and everything seemed to hurt. Tanith swept straggling hair back from her face and had a look around. “Well good. Great. Me too, but looking back I’m not sure what that was, so give me some time to get the hang of this, all right? How are the others? Any damage?”
A11 is well. The softness of Littlefoot, at about eighty pounds, the smallest of the pack. She was nursing a deep, bloody furrow across her shoulder.
I will live. This from One Eye, limping badly, but unperturbed.
Only the man needs your help now. Strongheart was on his feet, first shaking out his matted pelt with great vigor, then moving toward the man sprawled only a few feet from the dead bear. There was not so much difference between them save the fact the man breathed.
“And if he is enemy...?”
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