The latest from my online epic, Lore of the Underlings.
Chapter 3 begins:
Fyryx slowly shed his wet coat and hat, then laid them carefully at the foot of the thick mat of bristlebush on the floor before him. Though soft sleep seemed to beckon, he showed no sign of napping abed this night. Instead, the restless man straightened and turned about, brushing aside a flap stitched of old sector flags to emerge from the battle tent’s aft chamber and into its dim, high-domed meeting hall.
With measured steps, he reached a pike-mounted torchure wheel of molded malaphant bone at center of the circular room and took from one of its seven spokes a short handtorch, soot upon the handle but flame aglow of gold. Its soft light seemed to soothe his reddened eyes. It smelled of sweet fat and comfort.
He let the glow lead him to a slumbering lamp that hung by the tent’s yawning fore door, a dark way of passage made stable this night. Fyryx lit it by slipping the torch through a collar just below, and the warm flame flared and licked at the air. Then he crossed the threshold where light cast shadow aside and slid gingerly in. His red hair and beard, washed briefly ablaze by the aura of burning oil, faded into embers.
As his eyes grew full to the half-light, Fyryx found the vell’s still but beautiful form curled like a babe in a cradle of straw. The three boys, his treasured nephews, sons of his brother Ayryx, had labored hard and done just as he had asked of them. Never before had they been more like men. But, the mission met, he sent them home to night the moon’s last hours in their own beds. Boys or men, they would stand stronger by the Keep well slept.
They had not gone willingly.
Fyryx knelt on the edge of the fragrant straw, but the hilt of the strangers’ sword pressed into his ribs beneath the web-woven umbershirt he always wore. He unlet the lash of spring vine that bound it to his blood-snake belt and set it down on the floor. Then he placed his right hand gently on the vell’s smooth, tan coat, not far from the heart, and closed his eyes.
Cold. So cold. Beyond the cold of death. It ran up his arm, standing each hair on end.
He sought the signs of life. The heart beat still though only an echo. The chest yet rose yet further it fell. Breath, yes, but shallow, grave. The chill wisp of a passing ghost.
Then he could hold the touch no more. He took back his hand but barely felt fingers. He shook them alive, slumping back on his heels. His eyes opened wide and wet.
“Heavens help me,” he whispered aloud. The vell quivered, but it could not hear him.
Fyryx looked on Arrowborne’s hind left leg, all curled up, too hideous to touch, and gnashed his teeth. “I shall slay every oddcat that prowls this sacred land, I swear.” The wound grew still with an ooze of its own, a sinister stew of sinew, skin, and bone, all abubble in colors never known.
More to come. To read this chapter from the start, click here.
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