Thanks Sade! 🙂
And Fasoldgames…Yeah, that was just a little piece of the prologue… Here, this is the whole prologue, with the part you read…. might make more sense. Described the place and the characters. I left it out before because I was just trying to give a little taste. There’s so many hints/foreshadowing throughout the book I have to be careful what I post. 😀
Nira peered down from the warm furs in the loft. He crouched by the fire pit, cutting and gutting several good sized white fish. He held them still with his metal hand, slicing each one deftly with a small knife in his left. Looking down on him from above he looked the same as anyone else, except for the strange jagged hairline on the right side of his scalp. She climbed down, carefully stepping in each carved niche in the rock and dropped, skipping the last two, landing on the cave floor.
She crouched next to him.
“Put these in the pan and fetch some bread.”
He handed her the strips of raw fish a couple at a time as she laid them carefully side by side in the large black iron flying pan centered over the fire pit.
“Expecting Lenris in the morning,” he said. “Eat well tonight. Might be a long while before we get the chance tomorrow.”
Nira frowned and glanced up at him. He looked away. His eyes were piercing ice blue, pale and somehow ghostly. A shadow hid the triangular scar ruining the right side of his face, the slice of raw red flesh that cut a sharp line from his forehead across his nose and cheek to the base of his ear, as if a section of his skin had been removed and never grew back. His hair fell around it down past his shoulders, long and wavy, a salt and pepper color, matching his goatee. He wore a loose off white shirt with a lace at the neck, brown pants and leather boots, a small dagger always hanging from his belt. His scent always intoxicated her, and it was strong now, even over the wet smell of the fish, reminiscent of the sweet dark syrup of flowering vines and the smoky spice of thirel wood he grew in the oasis clearings of the cave. She stood and jogged to the area they called the kitchen, a small space with water dripping in a natural basin that in turn dripped back out into the stream. He built cabinets and fit them in around and between the stones, making the most use of the tiny space. She opened one little door and took out the round bread, wrapped in thin spicy smelling leaves and paper made from sawdust. Copper pans hung along the walls on wooden pins he pushed in cracks between stones. Her own image reflected back at her from every direction. She tried to straighten her hair a little, the long wild red curls out of control and tangling. Her hazel eyes glittered green in the daylight, but inside the deep darkness of the cave, they looked brown and dark. She wore one of his white shirts, an older yellowed one. A stain showed here and there, and a hole where the hilt of his dagger had rubbed, but otherwise it seemed suitable enough for her. She wore thick brown pants, made for boys, with a thin strip of leather tied around like a belt, and simple suede moccasins. She carried the bread back out to the fire. He sat now, one leg cocked up at the knee, staring at the crackling flames.
“I know you hate him,” he said as she sat, cross legged, next to him. “But he pays a lot for your company and we need the coin.”
His hand rubbed her knee.
“I won’t let him hurt you this time,” he said softly. “I’ll watch him.”
He motioned with his metal hand to the fire.
“Check that. Flip them if they’re ready.”
She got to her knees and did as he said, turning each long slice over in the pan. She felt him staring. Her eyes again caught his as she sat. This time he didn’t look away.
“If something happens to me,” he said. “Where do you go?”
“I go to The Coffin Nail and find Elluin,” she said, by rote.
“And where is he to take you?”
“Who will you go to then, Nira?”
“Kerrai Staeryn, Master.”
He rubbed her knee and stared into the flames.
“He’s a good man. He’ll take you where you need to go after that.”
She watched his face. Ever since the first year he took her to his bed, sadness clouded his face when he looked at her. She was eighteen then. Nine years had passed.
“Good girl,” he said finally. “Let’s eat.”
They ate their meal in silence, though she felt his eyes on her through most of it. When they finished he leaned back and sighed, satisfied.
“Hand me the bottle there, girl,” he said. Nira frowned but did what she was told. The thick glass bottle had an odd looking flying bird printed on the paper, the pale golden brown liquid, half gone. He set a small metal cup beside him and poured some of the foul smelling stuff, corking the bottle after and handing it back to her. He gulped it down in one swallow and leaned back further.
“Come here,” he said. She moved closer to him. He gripped her knee, pulling her leg right up against his. His strong hand rested there, squeezing occasionally. He seemed so preoccupied with his thoughts Nira kept silent.
“I had a dream,” he whispered. He still stared intently at the fire. “Promise me you’ll do as I ask, Nira. You’ll go to Staeryn as I planned.”
He rubbed his hand on her thigh and knee.
“I promise, Master.”
“Good girl,” he said. His voice broke a little. “It’s my dying wish, Nira.”
His eyes met hers, the reflection of the flames glittering back at her. She watched his gaze as he studied her face, finally looking deep into her eyes. Her heart shivered. She longed for him to kiss her. Instead he smiled and squeezed her knee harder.
She slept fitfully that night, waking often. The last time she woke, daylight peeked in the small holes he carved in the roof of the cave. She sat up and looked back at the fur lined bed, but he wasn’t there. She smelled something odd, decaying meat or damp fur and burning. She dressed quickly, pulling on the simple clothes she wore the day before and clamored down to the cave floor.
He stood in the center of the room by the fire pit listening, a torch in his good hand. She crept closer to him.
“Someone in the cave,” he whispered. “They’re burning the trees.”
They listened and heard nothing, but the acrid dry ashes floated down from openings all around them.
“There goes all our wood.”
He handed her the torch and unsheathed his knife, then crouched and listened.
“How did they learn to use fire?” He mumbled to himself as he peered at all the dark openings around them. He frowned, his eyes drifting far away for a long moment.
“Get the pack,” he whispered. Nira turned sharply to him, her lips parted. His eyes met hers. “Get it now.”
She hesitated, a shudder passing through her, but turned and ran to the kitchen, opening one thick door on the left side of the basin. She hefted out the heavy gray thing, hand stitched by him from thick canvas he bought from traders passing through. She lugged it and the torch back to him.
“Drop the torch and put it on,” he said.
She did as he told her to. Just as she got it in position on her back, she heard it. Chittering, clicking echoes all around them, like thousands of tiny nails all tapping on the stone together. A low droning note vibrated up from below her feet, a throat song, deep and continuous, and from all directions.
“Nox,” he whispered. “Battle song.” He turned to her, touching her arm with his useless metal hand, his eyes, panicked but piercing with determination, stared deeply into hers. “You know what to do,” he said. “I’ll keep them off you. Get out and go to Staeryn.”
“But, Master, I can’t leave you!”
“No,” he said. Anger flared across his face. “You can’t fight them. Run. Run now.”
She stared up at him, shivering.
The first of the little creatures appeared behind him. Nira’s voice caught in her throat. He turned and killed the thing with his dagger, making a clean cut, slicing a red line across its neck. At the scent of fresh blood, the vibrating note changed octaves. He stepped close to her and kissed her lips, holding her head with his metal hand.
“Run, Nira. This is it. Go. Fast as you can.”
She stared up at him as four more of the creatures, their wide mouths with gnashing jagged teeth, their thin limbs with sharp thorn-like black claws, jumped and climbed and bounced into the room, with the thunder of many more approaching. Their tiny gold eyes squinted through mottled black and dark brown fur. He killed each one in turn, but as one went down four or more appeared from openings all over the cave in their place. Shock and fear held her there as he killed them, blood spraying, the tiny things’ death screeches piercing her head.
“Nira,” he said again, his voice pleading. “Run, now!”
Her heart stabbed at her as she watched his swinging blows, no longer able to kill them on first strike. The noxairu adapted quickly. They changed tactics, attacking two or more at time. He struggled to keep them off of her. One swiped her ankle, slicing her in a long clean line. She startled at the pain, waking up from her shock induced daze. She staggered backwards.
“Good girl,” he yelled breathlessly as he swung, knocking them aside with his metal hand and stabbing and slicing them with his dagger. “Run!”
She scrambled to the kitchen as a dozen of the things chased after her, all fur and teeth and spindly legs. They snatched at her feet and tried to jump at her back.
“Don’t stop,” he yelled. “And don’t look back! Take the ladder door! Now!”
She snatched up the iron pan they cooked fish in the night before, laying clean by the basin, and whacked several as she backed to the wood ladder in the corner. She climbed up, holding on with one hand as she swung the pan, hitting two or more with every swing. As she cleared the top of the kitchen, she could see down into the open cave room again. He stood in the center still, dozens of the horrid black things attacking him, many all at once. He faced her, catching a quick glimpse as she appeared over the kitchen roof.
“Good girl,” he said. Three of them jumped on his back, clawing at his face. He yelled and tried to shake them off as more attacked his sides. The chant raised a bit higher, the war song continuously changing. She yelped as he dropped to one knee.
“Run, Nira! Please girl!”
He looked up at her, his right eye bleeding, his shirt shredded, blood oozing now as much from him as them. Still he fought, trying to get back on his feet, but they swarmed him and he dropped. The screeching blood cry pierced her ears. They dove in for the final assault.
“Nira,” he yelled, his voice gurgling and half choked. “Run!”
For a moment it felt as if everything stopped. He stared up at her and she at him. She lifted the hatch above her without looking away. Sunlight streamed down. The little gnashing creatures at her ankles screamed and fell back to the shadows of the cave. One recovered before the others, swiping at her and connecting, cutting a deep gnash along her calf. She cried out and whacked it with the pan. When she looked back at her master, his head dropped. He lay still as they clawed at his body, ripping his clothing to shreds. Tears burned her eyes, but the nox turned to her as one now. She pulled herself together enough to climb out into the sunlight, slam the door behind her and run into the harsh dry desert heat, their war tone changing yet again. She ran to the old road, still carrying the pan, the hatch to the kitchen bursting open behind her. They chittered and screeched at the light, but some ventured out to chase her, so she ran faster, the heavy pack swaying from side to side, streams of tears streaking her cheeks. She ran until her body ached, finally collapsing in the thin spotty grass by the road, the sounds far behind her now. She cried in earnest, sobs shaking her shoulders. She clenched up her face, the tears streaming, turning up to the morning sun. She shook her head, grimacing in pain and peered back through the wavy heat of the desert sands toward the cave, seeing a few noxairu heads bobbing up and down as they chased her. She scrambled to her feet and ran again, following the road to the north, the road to The Coffin Nail.[/spoiler]