Sword of Shadows, a small snippet.

Here is a taste of story and it is just a little bit. Not nearly so much as will be loaded on Amazon for a free look, but that will come soon. In the meantime, here is a snippet. It is possible I may post a little more in the next few days, but I guess you will have to stay tuned to this page to find out. Enjoy.

Sword of Shadows

Chapter 1

Freezing rain lashed down at Arthur, sending chill runnels over his fighting men where they huddled in a gully. Forked lightning crackled around them, charging the air with a stink of destruction. He eased higher to see through this unnatural deluge and choked back a string of foul oaths at the sight of a Nestine skyship positioned over trapped victims in the distance.

Well-oiled leather clothing hung heavy from hours of pounding rain that ran off his hybrid skin. A faint tingle made him duck for cover seconds before another bolt zapped to ground, feet from his former position. Thunder hammered his eardrums, leaving him shaken by the violence of its detonation. Not one man broke for cover. Pride flushed through him at their discipline and courage. A storm like this one came as a shock to even the Terran Outcasts in his unit, conditioned as they were to foul weather. As for his Submariners, unused to electrical storms, he could imagine the calming mantras they used to hold position.

Water forced between his neck and the collar of his tunic making a cold pocket of wetness. His flesh moved in automatic response to pry open gill flaps under his ears. All Arthur’s senses came on full alert. That shouldn’t happen.

He tasted salt on his lips. Seawater scooped up to form an artificial storm directed as a weapon? What a brilliant strategy. Arthur envisioned precisely where he wanted to return the compliment.

Caught between both races as a fulcrum, he had elected to wear Brethren clothing as a counter to his Submariner skin. Without the Brethren leathers, no pocket of water could have given forewarning. His hated mixed ancestry proved its worth this time. A double-edged sword; he stood between human Brethren and mutant Submariners as a living shield.

Responsibility for his unit weighed like a rock on his soul. They crouched in misery, waiting for the end of a timeless storm. Copper-haired Kai, his younger brother, with their mother’s deep violet eyes, resembled her second mate. Arthur, by contrast, wore the features and the rich, dark hair of her first. He pictured the Submariner faces of half his men, just a little different from a Terrans, with their aquatic mutation and psi factor that he shared. The Brethren, those Terrans cast out from surface habitation by birth or circumstance, were shock-troopers of the unit, now he had to make a hard choice. When he looked down at his brother crouching in the rocks, Kai’s expression told him all he wished to know.

Kai’s mouth turned up into the slow smile of Brethren. Calm acceptance radiated from his brother’s casual stance and the cold, flat stare that made others think Outcasts could see through rock. Arthur didn’t need Kai to voice the grim odds against surviving through the night. He had the others to consider, all comrades gleaned from amongst the ranks of Brethren and Submariners. All dead men, soon.

A violent rumble shocked though his body. He ducked for cover as lightning struck. Thunder hit him like a stun blast again, leaving him shaken and partly deafened. He had to admire this battle tactic. Defense against weather control orchestrated from an off-world location represented an impossible scenario for Submariners. The Nestines held the winning hand…for the present.

The ringing in his ears eased into a hiss while he searched his memory for every detail that brief glance over the terrain afforded him. Outcasts belonging to Rowan’s rival faction hid amongst boulders approximately a thousand paces from this location, pinned down by the skyship. Arthur reckoned about three of them still survived; caught without Submariner firepower apparently. His face settled into grim lines.

Yesterday evening, Kai reported sensing an event horizon, another candidate about to be made into an Outcast. Arthur needed recruits just as much as Rowan did. He experienced a bitter sense of irony that his orders had led them into this death trap.

An animal scream of pain sounded from the direction of the trapped victims. He looked over the rim, blinking against shafts of moisture. A green ray shone earthward from the skyship. Flashes of white flickered within, followed by howls of someone dying in slow agony in that light. The terrorized scream from the moor ended in a howl of unspeakable animal anguish that brought a flood of bile into Arthur’s mouth. This was the fifth poor bastard losing his nerve to run into death. Blind with terror, stumbling over rocks in panic, caught in a holding beam and carved up into gobbets of meat for the Nestines in the hovering skyship.

The burden of leadership hung like a leaden noose around Arthur’s neck. Even Kai thought the Nestines just killed their victims. He could not, and would not now, tell these people the truth. Emrys, his long departed mentor judged aright in this case. The knowledge of such horror must remain his silent load. Of all here, only Kai possessed strength enough to fight with his eyes wide open. Arthur refused to share and thus destroy Kai’s peace of mind.

Something wasn’t right about the way they fell into this trap. Rowan’s men were beyond help, and then the skyship would come for his storm-trapped group. No Outcast wore his original slave bracelet; all had Submariner supplied replicas, so the Nestines weren’t using those to track them. Something else was the lure. Something gave the director of the storm a homing beacon to trap them.

“Hey, the odds…” Kai didn’t finish the sentence. Arthur guessed the remainder, grateful for his brother’s fey ability to see threat in possible alternative time lines.

“…are altering in our favor,” Arthur said. His mind slipped back to a training session with Emrys in the cave of his dreams. Sometimes sacrifices, however horrific their fate must be offered. Three hundred paces to their right lay a deep river. Each Terran in his party carried a standard issue stasis device. Counting himself, that meant three Submariners to ferry five Terrans to the depths and safety.

“Arthur?” Kai’s hand gripped his upper arm.

“I know. The odds.” He watched Kai’s eyebrow quirk up in question as lightning flashed again. Thunder rattled their bones moments later.

“What are you planning?”

“Give me a moment.” Arthur reached up to cover Kai’s hand with his own. “I almost have it.”

“Commander?” A voice came out of the gloom. One of the Brethren, his tone sounding troubled. “We’ll be next.”

“Patience, Stalker.” Kai cautioned. His voice larded with relaxants learned from Arthur. “We will make a move soon.”

Arthur heard the anxiety in Stalker’s voice: some of them came to breaking point. His mind shifted with abrupt clarity into a higher mode. Special quartz earrings prevented Brethren succumbing to mind control of the Nestines, and the psi powers of his Submariners blocked thought raid attempts. So which now failed? Not psi power, as his ability was the strongest of all and he would have felt a challenge. The Nestines would target him if they knew he existed. That left the earrings. With mostly Terran physiology, even Kai needed his earring for protection. That clinched it.

“Listen well.” Arthur looked to the shadows of rocks concealing his men. “We have a problem. I think Nestines track us by a connection to the earrings some of you wear. Bury them in mud as deeply as you can. I will shield your minds from any intrusion.”

“What if you can’t?” Stalker’s voice sounded from the darkness. “What if there are too many to shield?”

“I guess you will be going to sleep if that happens,” Kai suggested, sounding almost friendly.

“Kill us, you mean?” Stalker edged out from around a rock. “It is our right to die in combat.”

“Enough!” Authority of conviction rang in Arthur’s command. He let the lesson sink in for a few moments before he continued, “No man of mine remains here. We win through, or we die together.”

“Commander?Your orders?” Haystack’s voice held tones of trust as it carried over the deluge.

“No triads. We go as a group.” Arthur sensed rather than heard the reluctant removal of jewelry. He reached out with his mind to encircle all of them in a link. Now he waited for another sacrifice to fate from the trapped group in the distance.

A flash of lightning streaked down from angry clouds. Thunder cut off the sound of a shriek of agony from one of Rowan’s remaining men. Arthur used this moment to send an order directly into the minds of his troops. A close-knit group of shadows flitted to the safety of water.

***

Five hours later, Arthur and the exhausted Submariners finished dragging all the Terran warriors into a vast, air-filled cavern under Dozary Lake. Looking up, he just managed to grab the wrist of a weary man about to remove stasis devices.

“No. Leave them, Huber. They are getting the rest they need.” Arthur’s hand shook where it gripped the Submariner. He forced it to stillness. “They have just lost a battle advantage. They do not need time to brood over it.”

“Will you leave them here, Arthur?” Huber sank to his knees, trembling with the same fatigue. The raw scent of ketones, the by-product of protein breakdown, wafted through the air around him.

“All of us must rest.” Arthur looked around at what he could see of their dank and noise-some bolthole. It offered little beyond safety. He faced a decision he did not want to make. “Then we visit Avalon.”

When his Submariners crawled to sleeping places in the sand, Arthur used every last ounce of his willpower to stand and walk to his own bedroll. He knew it as a pointless gesture when he added to the scent of ketones on the air. He also guessed at the nature of the reception he could expect from the rulers of Avalon and his mother after an absence of two years. Tomorrow they would board the submersible vessel and return to the place of its theft, under the southern ocean. Sleep came as a soothing blanket of darkness.

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