April 14, 2016
TADA. There we go. I showed you two examples of what my works-in-progress look like (big piles of stinking dung), and now I have for you the prologue that will appear in Heroes or Thieves this June!
The human drew closer, his body growing to fill the empty street with his every step. His breath was audible, heavy and thick, as though his lungs strained to expand within his hulking chest. Another boot thudded across the frozen earth—to Jikun’s tensed ears, it fell like a distant toll of thunder, heralding the coming of a treacherous storm.
Jikun hovered one hand above the hilt of his sword while he lifted his other slightly in the air. He felt the faint tingle of ice, dull and throbbing, as it flitted across his fingertips.
A whisper of fabric grazed his skin, and he was abruptly aware of Navon’s presence at his side. The Helven’s pale face was shrouded in shadows, hollow and sunken in the dim moonlight. “Jikun, turn away from this,” he pleaded. “The hour is not yet late—we can join the war and stop Saebellus! Do not let your pride destroy you!”
Their Sel’ven companion seized Navon by the shoulder, shoving the coward back into the darkness.
“Silence!” Jikun hissed again. The brand marking him as cattle seared across his arm in a reminder of the degradation of his current path. Pathetic.
The time for speech was at an end. Borin had reached the alley.
Jikun’s fingers spread above the barren earth and a shaft of ice erupted from beneath, raining dirt and stone as it slammed into Borin’s side and hurled the half-giant into the alleyway. Despite the speed and force with which he had been thrown, the man let out no more than a grunt as he careened past their bodies and sprawled into the dust.
“Be still!” Jikun snarled, sprinting forward. Cold water pulled from the soil and hardened, piercing the air to halt a hair’s width from Borin’s chest. Here, in the shadows of the alley, they were nigh-invisible daggers—poised to strike at the human’s slightest movement.
As though grasping his situation for the first time, Borin’s head jerked wildly up and around, absorbing the three elves surrounding him. His broad hand fell slowly to his side. “…What is this?” he growled as the silence settled. “An ambush?”
“Gods show mercy,” Navon seethed. “We should walk away from this!”
Jikun stiffened and threw his shoulders back.
“Yes, this is an ambush,” the Sel’ven interjected smoothly.
Jikun dislodged his captain’s admonishment with a defiant strut forward; a crackle of ice glittered into being, forming a short barrier between the immense arms and Jikun’s polished boots. “I want the information you withheld concerning Relstavum. And if I should find it less than I desire…” The ice lengthened and caressed the weathered leather strapped across the giant’s breast.
Borin’s nostrils flared. With startling speed, his fist flew outward, shattering the ice as though it were merely glass. He snagged the hem of Jikun’s cloak, tearing it from his tall, lean frame.
“WHO?!” Then Borin’s eyes widened with incredulous recognition. “I know who you are,” he spat, flinging the cloak aside as Jikun hastened to restore his dominance upon the man. “You’re the greedy elves from earlier today—the war criminals who figured they’d poke Balior with a stick. Twenty thousand in debt, aren’t you? Malranus’ fire could not have burned you more thoroughly.” He laughed then, a mocking, hollow laugh, as though the bodily threat to him—gleaming a mere fraction away—was gone. “You failed to defeat Saebellus with an army and now you want to face his forces without one? Relstavum is the man’s beast.” His laugh intensified, threatening to reach Emal’drathar to mock Jikun with the gods.
But Relstavum was not Saebellus’ Beast.
He was far worse.
“Silence!” Jikun snarled, the spears of ice diving through the man’s rich clothes to prod beneath his bronze-hued flesh. He snatched his cloak from the earth, aware of the soft, white rays that exposed his unique features. It was too late to withdraw—he was too deep along his path. “I won’t ask kindly again, human,” he growled.
The Sel’ven gave a sharp, encouraging nod. Do not forget what brought us to this place, it said. He leaned forward, flicking a piece of rubble casually from Borin’s shaven crown. “Answer the question, Borin,” he repeated. The smooth nail left a streak across the silver stubble.
“You’re fucking mad,” the man swore, and the ice crackled once in warning. “Mad—!” But Borin’s howls subsided, his chest quavering as it attempted to retract from the perilous daggers. “Your warlord has created an army within a single man: Relstavum is soul harnessing, though I’m certain none of you god-damn fools has any idea what in the Nine Realms that is. But you should know who Tiras is: Relstavum has Tiras’ necromantic writings from Vise and he can use them. You can’t have the mission because it’s beyond your fucking abilities. Laeris has invested too much money in you to throw you to Saebellus’ dog! Right now, there isn’t a mercenary company alive that can contend with his might—and the man is only growing more dangerous. This is a matter for kings and armies! By Malranus Almighty, Relstavum levels god-damn cities.”
The Sel’ven lurched forward without warning, slamming his foot against the slick ice bearing down upon the giant’s shoulder. His hair had unraveled from its elegant braid, swirling about his contorted lips. “And if this man keeps breathing, he’ll cost my brother his life and Aersadore her freedom. So I’ll ask you one more time, human!”
The ice prickled as Jikun adjured, “Now, Borin!”
The half-giant bared his massive, grey teeth, etching a meager show of defiance across his insolent face. “You want to get yourself killed?—fine, elf,” he jeered. “Relstavum was in Ironwatch two days ago, heading north. But you’d better vanish into the nearest god-damn mountains, because when I’m free of this, the Brotherhood will send mercenaries to hang you by your entrails whether or not you succeed. Who in the Brotherhood did you think you were questioning?” His voice was rising in fury and Jikun could almost feel the sound penetrating the nearby walls. “I’m not a god-damn commoner. I’m not a god-damn mercenary. I’m—”
‘Laeris’ Sword…’ Jikun stilled, mind whirling at these new threats. His feet felt leaden, weighing him inescapably to the frosty earth. He had considered the torture. The necessity of using force to extract the withheld information. Even how the massive man might retaliate with his own might. But Jikun had not reflected upon the others that existed beneath Borin’s whip. How could he have forgotten that?
‘You’re slipping, Jikun.’
Borin’s voice was mounting to a roar, now. “—Geldin Laeris’ elite. I control every damn mercenary you could ever think to know. I have seen your face. I know your kind. If you think Relstavum is your enemy… You just opened the god-damn Gates. You won’t get two cities from here before the Brotherhood will have blades in your back!”
Jikun’s knees threatened to betray him and he clutched at the cloak in his pale hands.
“Even without our brand, your appearance is blood in the snow! If you think we won’t find you before dawn, you—”
Navon cut in with a vociferous cry. “Jikun, I advised you against this! Soul-harnessing?! Join the king’s war—by Ramul, you are a soldier! Release him now and perhaps we can bart—”
Borin laughed, the sound a cavernous boom that rattled the icicles dangling from the wooden eaves. “Barter? There is no bartering, elf! You will be lucky to die by Relstavum! The Brotherhood will hunt you down and we will rip retribution from your bones until your screams deafen the god—” His voice strangled off with a soft gurgle.
There was a suffocating silence. Navon uttered a choking gasp.
From the midst of the chunks of ice and earthen debris, the man’s fist tightened once and then fell limp.
Jikun stared blankly at the daggers that had ruptured through the hulking human… that had pierced through his vital organs and crushed his burly throat.
Jikun’s palm opened and the ice melted away, leaving the man sprawled across the earth.
With a casual hop, the Sel’ven freed himself from the proximity of the encroaching sludge. “…Well done. We have what we need.”
“Jikun, by Sel’ari, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!” Navon finally managed to scream, his azure eyes wide with horror. He sprinted toward the corpse, as though there remained some hope that the human had endured. That he might yet be saved.
But Borin was dead.
His sacrifice was necessary.
This was Jikun’s last chance to abolish Saebellus’ tyranny before Ryekarayn was lost. And Sevrigel forever with her.
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