Yes, this is late. Really fucking late, I think, since I said it would be up in the end of September. I apologize for that.
Anyway, I'm very excited about it, since the plot is finally beginning to happen. Yay, plot!
Some things have changed in the previous book, but I'm not going to post the edited version, since I'm going to try and get it published and everything.
The main changes are as follows:
1. The first chapter has been pushed to the second chapter. The book begins with Cale talking about the death of his mother, and how he is taken in by the Magistrate that comes in investigate her death.
2. Cale is a clerk in the new version, rather than a carpenter. Really, he is just the Magistrate's glorified secratery, This helps to explain why he doesn't get out much, and why he can read and write.
3. Cale meets Azri and Rizak for the first time on the road home (he now lives outside Rinian) but doesn't really speak to them at length until they're looking for a place to stay, a few days later. The story pretty much continues on normally after that, until the epilogue.
4. The Capital now has a name--Kloin.
5. On the night Ellicor died, when they were up on the wall, he gave Cale a silver pendant that he said had once belonged to the queen of the Unseelie Court--the Night faerie court.
The boar could smell us.
It sniffed the air, hackles raised, shuffling through the heather as fast as its squat little legs could carry it. It's pelt was thick and fibrous, swishing against the grass like a body being dragged through the undergrowth. The sun was sinking behind the Cratin Mountains, deepening the shadows, turning the spaces below the trees into thick pools of darkness. If the boar reached the tree line, we would lose it in the gloom.
I made to stand up, ready to begin the chase, but a hand on my arm stayed me. Azri shook his head, brow furrowed in concentration. He made a wide, arching motion, indicating I should curve around to the left. If we came at the animal from opposite sides, we could block its escape to the forest. At least, that's what I thought he was trying to indicate. I'd never fancied myself much of a hunter. And, to be honest, I'd never fancied Azri one either. It had always been Rizak who did the hunting and gathering on our journey to Kloin. .
Nevertheless, I did as I was bade, fanning out to the left, running low to the ground, the clean, fragrant scent of the heather sharp in my nose. My hand was clenched around my knife, a clumsy hunting weapon at best, but we had neither bows nor spears, so it would have to do.
The boar had quickened its pace, its snorts becoming more agitated. From the corner of my eye I could see Azri, hair shining in the dying sunlight. He was closing fast, moving gracefully through the heather. I raised my knife, wind tossing my bangs in front of my eyes as I sprang forward. The boar's ear flew back against its head. I sped up, intent on beating it to the eaves of the forest.
The boar wasn't moving. It was just standing there, ears back, snout raised, tusks glistening wetly. Either the idiot thing had given up entirely, or...
It let out a terrific squeal, lowering its head, charging straight at me. Evidently, it had decided that flight was no longer an option. I threw up my hands, forgetting my knife entirely. The boar's eyes were crazed as it charged me down, tusks shining like the promise of death. I yelled, bracing myself for a blow that never came. I opened my eyes to a scene that was so surreal my already frayed nerves could barely stand it.
Azri, poised, elegant Azri, wrestling the animal to the ground, arms around its neck. The boar squealed and roared, shaking, it's body rippling in the attempt to shake off its attacker. Azri cursed, hanging on, teeth clenching on a roar that was nearly as terrifying as the boar's Something flashed silver in the last light of the sun. The boar let out a strangled sort of snort, before going still.
Azri picked himself up off the ground, patting the dust off his long crimson coat. He held out his hand, showing me a long, thin needle held like a pen between two fingers.
"Poison," he said. "Now help me carry it back to the camp."
"You killed it with poison?"
Azri made an impatient noise in his throat. We lowered the boar to the ground. It was limp now, all that spirit and energy reduced to a lump of meat. Still, lumps of meat had their uses.
"It leaves the bloodstream immediately upon death, " he said. "It will be perfectly safe to eat."
"That wasn't what I meant," I said quietly.
Azri straightened up, smoothing his hair out of his eyes. "I know. But I think your concerns are unfounded. We were going to kill it no matter what, this way it was quick and relatively painless. Would have you preferred to slit its throat and watch the poor creature bleed to death?"
I shook my head grudgingly. "No."
"Good. Now, go find us some firewood. I'll clean the meat."
I didn't even bother to look away as I rolled my eyes. "Yes sir."
He caught my arm as I turned away. Heat flashed through me, the familiar burn of the Gyransbane pooling in my stomach. Azri let go liked he'd been scalded, as if he could feel the poison seeping through my skin.
"I was only going to say, be careful," he said, seating himself on a low, flat rock beside the boar's carcass. "You never know what might be lurking in these woods. You have your amulet?"
I nodded, my hand going to the tangle of charms I wore on my belt. Most of them were simple, every-day sort of things--beads for long life, wolf's teeth for strength, a smooth, polished river stone you were meant to carve your lover's name into. The first two were from my mother, and the Magistrate had presented me with the river stone for my last birthday, before I left Rinian. She'd said I'd probably start falling in love any day now, so it was best to be prepared.
Over the past few weeks, I'd added two more. Azri's amulet was a round, flat piece of bronze carved all over with symbols that I hadn't yet come across in the alchemy books he'd insisted on lugging along with us. According to him, if I ever got into trouble, the amulet would let him know.
The other was a blue and silver pendant in the shape of night flower. I wore it for Ellicor, to remind me of the things that were, and the things that could have been.
It was much colder under the eaves of the forest, where the sunlight had long since abandoned. I drew my cloak tighter around my shoulders, squinting through the gloom. Winter was settling in fast, and the days were getting shorter and shorter, the chill worsening the closer we drew to the coast.
I took my time about collecting the firewood, not exactly wanting to go back into Azri's company quite so soon. As traveling companions went, I supposed he wasn't the worst. Since that day over a fortnight ago, when he'd ambushed me in the bath, he hadn't made any move to touch me, and his smiles and words had lacked the suggestion they'd been laced with on the road to Kloin. I found it a bit unsettling, such a drastic change in his manner, and I most likely would have questioned it, if I hadn't been so relieved for a reprieve from the tension spilling through my body. There was quite enough madness going on in my blood, thank you very much.
Which was exactly why Azri had me gathering the firewood. According to him, the better physical condition my body was in, the longer it would hold of the poison. Hence I'd taken every opportunity I could to run up a hill, scale a cliff wall, leap from rock to rock across the river. I had no idea whether it was helping to stave the poison off (except that I hadn't yet started tearing things apart) but I was certainly getting stronger. I could ride a whole day without getting sore, walk for miles without losing my breath.
When I arrived back at the camp (a low, shady hollow beside a bend of the river), Azri had already skinned the boar. He was slicing the meat into neat chunk, along with the vegetables we'd purchased in the last village we'd passed through. The pulpy insides of a pepper were pushed to one side, along with the brown bits off a sweet onion. The vegetables sat marinating in a brown, savory-smelling liquid. Azri had made this once before, and had called it something I couldn't begin to pronounce. When the meat was cleaned, he'd skewer it with the onion and peppers and cook it over the fire I set about starting.
Back at home in Rinian, I'd started my fire with flint and steel, striking the two materials together until it made a spark. I would have to use a set of tongues to carefully lift a smoldering coal, employing it to light the lamps that lined the Magistrate's study. But now, here, I had fire flowers.
I stacked the firewood in a ring, adding dried leaves and weeds for kindling, before dropping a single fire flower into the center of the ring. When Azri performed the transfusion, he could do it with simply the power of his mind, but for me it required some degree of contact.
The back of my neck prickled, the little hairs on my arms stood up. I could feel Azri watching me. I took the charge, the power flowing through my body, and fed it into the flower. If you're powerful enough, you can set fire to anything. It just takes a certain degree of energy. Fire flowers help the process along--they are highly flammable, and the potiential for combustion already exists inside them. Or so says Azri's Book of Herbs and Grasses.
"Well done," Azri murmured behind me, as a tiny flame leapt from the center of the fire-flower. I leaned down, blowing softly until it was strong enough to live on its own, catching the kindling and dry leaves. A tendril of smoke rose up, to be swept away into the open air.
"Thank you," I responded, sitting back on my heels, adding kindling until I had a strong blaze going. It would be another hour or so before it was hot enough to cook anything over, but I wasn't in any hurry to eat. Despite the fact we'd been traveling all day, moving ever west, I still wasn't sure if I was prepared to eat an animal that had been killed by poison.
Up until a week or so ago, we'd been staying the night at inns and hostel-houses, where the very best food was prepared for us, thanks to Azri's money and talent for talking his way in or out of anything. Since then we'd entered wilder countryside, tangled forests, ill-tended fields, and the occasional ramshackle village. Whenever we passed through the people would lock their doors and draw their curtains, as if they could sense we brought destruction in our wake.
We'd had to resort to eating the foodstuff we'd brought along with us--dried meat and fruit, bread that had long since gone stale. It had only been this afternoon that Azri announced it was high time we procured some meat for ourselves, since we'd be entering the Wilds by tomorrow afternoon.
As Azri finished preparing the meat, I sat down on a flat rock and attempted to stretch. It didn't matter how hardy you were, if you went from riding all day to sitting still all night, your muscles would cramp and you'd be useless in the morning. I'd learned this the hard way during the trip from Rinian.
I extended my left leg, leaning across and reaching for my foot, feeling the muscles protest and then relax. I switched to my other leg and repeated the motion, noting with no small amount of satisfaction, that it was getting increasingly easier. I was getting stronger.
"You quite enjoy stretching, don't you," Azri commented, as I lay the side of my head down against my knee.
"I suppose," I answered, voice slightly choked by my position. "I'm only doing what you suggested."
Azri laughed. "For a change."
I released my foot, letting out my breath in a slow rush. It turned to steam and rose to meet the sky.
"What's that supposed to mean?" I asked, frowning.
Azri went back to the meat, rinsing the chunks off in fresh water from the stream. "Cale, you are one of the most contrary people I have ever met. The moment I tell you to do something, whether it's for your own good or not, you find fifty or so odd reasons why you won't." His eyes flicked toward me. They were shining with amusement. "Don't deny it."
"I don't trust you," I said after a moment. "That's why."
Azri moved to rinse his hands off, drying them with a flick of his wrist. "Then you have a good reason. Help me put the meat on the skewers, would you?"
It always took me awhile to drift off to sleep, after we'd eaten and fed the horses, picketing them a few yards away where the grass was lush and plentiful. There was something about being in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by nothing but fields and forests, something that I had yet to grow used to, even after three weeks. It was the immensity of it all, the expanse of velvety black sky, peppered with tiny splashes of stars. It felt like, if I wasn't careful, I'd fall in, just disappear into the darkness. I closed my eyes, listening to the noises of the evening--the wind rustling in the trees, the gentle babbling of the brook that was leading us down to the ocean, letting them anchor me. I could hear Azri's steady breathing on the other side of the fire. He never slept close to me.
He'd raised wards around our camp, so there was no need to post a watch. If anything came within twenty yards of us, we'd know. So far, nothing had tripped the barrier, though several rabbits had hopped their way through our clearing, and once, very late at night, a huge, antlered buck had strode quietly past. I supposed it was only meant to keep humans out.
I was just hovering on that thin dividing line between sleep and waking, when someone shook me by the shoulder. I snapped up into a sitting position, groping for my knife. Azri caught my hand.
"Steady. There's someone here."
He was staring out into the tangled, slowly swaying trees. I couldn't imagine he was seeing much of anything. To me, the forest looked like a solid wall of black, our campfire a tiny beacon in the midst of the unknown and the wild.
"But the wards..." I whispered.
Azri shushed me, shaking his head. He was waiting, waiting for something or someone to show themselves. As I sat there, leaning back against him, blankets still covering my legs, all I kept thinking was, Not faeries, please, anything but faeries.
Could faeries get round the wards? Could anything get round the wards?
Azri was moving very slowly. I could feel his hand sliding into his coat, knuckles brushing the small of my back. A shiver ran up my spine, and I squashed it back down as quickly as possible. Throughout this journey I'd become accustomed to Azri's proximity. It hardly ever phased me anymore.
"What are you doing?" I whispered under my breath.
I felt more than heard him hush me, chest vibrating against my back. He held his hand out, arm curling around my waist. There was something stirring in his palm. It was tiny, with trembling, silky wings, like a moth. It stirred once, twice, then rose from his palm, shooting off into the trees. Silence reigned for almost a minute, then--
"Ouch! Dammit, alright, I give up! Just call the bloody thing off!"
I struggled out of Azri's arms and to my feet, as something crashed through the undergrowth.
"Oh no," Azri said, looking positively stricken. "It's--."
Sienna barreled out of the trees, slapping at something that appeared to be diving at her face. It was small and glowing, and much too quick for me to see anything beyond that.
I looked at Azri. "Shouldn't you do something?"
He was trying very hard not to laugh. "Oh, I don't know. She seems to be doing fine on her own. As long as she doesn't--No!"
There was an audible crunch as Sienna finally managed to close her fist around her tormenter. Azri lunged forward, letting out a groan of despair.
"No, you loathsome, poisonous woman! Do you have any idea how much time and money went into developing that?"
Sienna dusted her hands off, looking pleased with herself "Honestly? I don't give a shit, especially if it was you expending the time and energy. And watch who you're calling poisonous, Poisoner." Her attention flicked to me. "Hey, kid. How you holding up?"
"I'm fine," I said faintly, a bit winded. "What are you doing here?"
Sienna shrugged a shoulder, making herself comfortable in front of the fire. She lifted one of the uneaten skewers and gave the meat a furtive sniff. "I was bored. What's this, some sort of foreign thing, putting food on sticks? Where the hell are you from, Poisoner?"
Azri jerked the skewer out of her hand. "Refreshments are for invited guests only. Don't you have a pirate court to run back in Kloin?"
"Pirate King is more of a title than anything else," Sienna said, frowning at him. "It doesn't really involve much work." She nudged at my bedroll with the toe of her boot. "The two of you still not sleeping together? I'd get on that if I were you, kid. You're only young once, and I'm sure it's only a matter of time before this old man starts to droop."
"Old man?" Azri repeated. "I'm twenty eight."
"Compared to the kid, that's ancient." She pointed the skewer at me, then at Azri, swiveling it between us. "Well, you two have nothing to fear, since I'm here now, and I am planning on doing my utmost to get the two of you naked and in a bed. Or on a dining room table. Or a bath." She shrugged. "I'm not picky."
I fought down my blush. Azri groaned and buried his head in his hands.
"Just when I was beginning to enjoy the peace and quiet."
And there you have it! The start of another adventure.
I hope you guys enjoyed the beginning. Don't forget to review, and if you have the time, nip over and check out my other story Break the Sky.
See you in two weeks!