New year, new writing.

This year will be one of creativity and forward movement. I have a novel to get published, another one to start writing and I’m also going to be starting my career in gaming journalism (there will be a new blog for that soon, so keep an eye out if that’s your thing!).

 

But it’s time for the new stuff. Here’s my latest short story, which began as an experiment with a new writing style and ended as a new idea for one of my existing characters.

It’s a bit darker than my usual material, with more swearing and violence than you might normally see, but I hope that doesn’t offend you enough to stop you having a read!

Please feel free to give feedback (in fact, I actively encourage it) though I will apologise now for the formatting – I’ve had no end of trouble trying to format it for WordPress, but this is the best I could do for the moment…

 

 

Fire In Her Eyes

“Goddamn it!” Jorl was complaining about something again. He was always annoyed about something. Give him a world filled with beautiful women wanted fucking, he’d find something wrong with it.

He had a point this time, though.

Our target was down at the bottom of the valley, where the snaking dirt road met a small village. Rocks and loose stones would make the trip down dicey, but the worst part was the dozen mercenaries camped within the mass of log structures.

Thade’s men.

“Goddamn it,” Jorl complained again.

Not many people realised it, but Jorl was no regular warrior. No regular man, as it happens. He had spent many years as an elite soldier for the previous King of the Northlands, only no records would ever tell of Jorl’s exploits. Only myth and legend remained.
His massive hand covered my shoulder – and then some – as he drew up behind me. “Stay here,” was all he said. After that business in the Drift, I knew to listen when he said that.

Jorl was almost a caricature of a man, his size would be comical if he weren’t so damn fearsome. He stood a good couple of feet taller than any normal man, with shoulders broader than a man is tall, arms like tree trunks and hands that could reach fully around the waist of many a serving wench – and had, time and again. With fingers thick as his, it’s no wonder women loved him.

His caricatured looks weren’t solely confined to his torso, neither. His mouth was hidden behind so much beard that when he spoke, you’d swear there was an echo off the cavernous hair. His legs were amusingly stumpy too, or would be if he wasn’t so unnaturally fast on them. I’ve seen him outrun deer, leaping on them like a ravenous lion, though at least he used a blade to kill them quickly rather than sinking his teeth into them.

His size belied his stealth, however, as the mercenaries below would soon discover.

Jorl had trained me to see like he did, like the fabled cat people of Athrine, seeing in the dark almost as easily as in daylight. It was the only reason I could see him stalking his prey.

The sun had left the world in gloom, ghostlight taking its place and leaving the village a grey mass of shacks, the odd burning ball of orange signifying the torches illuminating the dirt roads between.

Dressed in his darkest browns and greys, Jorl was a shadow moving through the trees to my left, down the treacherous slope toward the village. He pulled the bow from around his chest, lifting it over his head and knocking an arrow in one smooth motion.

The man was an artist with a bow. He just knew the strength of the wind, its direction, the precise distance of his target, the exact downward curve of the arrow’s trajectory. He called it training. I called it magic.

The first merc met his maker silently. The shaft protruding from his eye socket had killed him instantly as the steel bit into his brain. He fell into shadow, his companions oblivious to his demise. The second fell just as silently, left sitting against the dark timber of the nearest shack.

The third one was the problem.

Some people are just born lucky. The third mercenary definitely was, although luck eventually runs out. Jorl’s arrow would have pierced the man’s skull if it weren’t for the drunken sickness causing him to double over, splashing vomit over his boots. The arrow clattered noisily off the rocks behind.

Then all hell broke loose.

The village exploded with life. New mercenaries, clad in mismatched armour of leather, iron and plate, poured from inside what must have been the tavern, their comrade’s panicked shouts alerting them to the presence of the as-yet-unseen archer.

Jorl calmly looped the bow back over his shoulder, letting it rest on his back as he hunkered down in the brush and unsheathed his knife. I held that knife once, felt like a longsword to me.

I honestly pitied those men. They never stood a chance.

In no more than a minute, the colossal assassin had made his way soundlessly down into the valley and looped his way behind the group of six mercs. He cut the first one almost in half, the knife cutting from waist to shoulder and spraying gore all over his companions and killer alike. Curses and cries of vengeance filled the next few seconds as the other five men moved to surround Jorl.

Gods, I pitied them.

Three of them attacked at once, blades coming in at all angles. Jorl swatted one of them away like a fly, sending him sprawling into the dirt, as he ducked under another. That one went careening into one of his friends, the two of them tumbling to the floor with a shriek – the swiper had been skewered on his friend’s spear. The final blade in the opening salvo came at an awkward angle but Jorl easily grabbed the attacker’s arm in his massive fist, twisted it violently and threw the screaming merc away like he was nothing.

The two left standing gave each other a look, unsure of what to do against such reckless ferocity. That look was about a second longer than Jorl needed to stick his knife through the windpipe of one and twist the other’s head so hard that his neck may have shattered. I’ll carry that sound to my grave. Just thinking about it sends shivers down my spine.

“That’s far enough, old man.” Two more of Thade’s men had emerged from a building down the road, dragging an unconscious teenage girl between them.

Jorl shot a look at the prone survivors of his massacre and, knowing they didn’t dare get up, turned to the new arrivals. “Son,” he sighed, “don’t be stupid.”

Oh shit, this was gonna get ugly.

“Way I see it,” the biggest of the two mercs, still only as tall as Jorl’s chest, began, “you move, she dies.” He put the point of a dagger to her throat.

“You have no idea who that is, do you?” Jorl took a step back, a strange mixture of fear and amusement in his voice.

“Oh fuck,” I whispered to myself in the darkness. If Jorl’s afraid, you better believe you’re in the shit.

Jorl’s gaze was fixed on the girl now, mine followed suit. She was skinny, probably around fifteen years on this godforsaken world, dressed in battered rags that might once have been a dress of some description. Her brown hair had been shaved on one side, exposing some kind of inked marking that ran over her ear, but long locks tumbled freely down the other side. More inked symbols ran down her left arm, visible even through the dried blood and bruising, and there was a hint of something similar through the tears in the back of what used to be her corset.

The two bumbling kidnappers were paying too much attention to Jorl, not noticing the girl stirring in their grip. Not noticing the inked runes beginning to glow about her skin.

Until it was too late.

The mouthy one got it the worst, his hand literally melting away as the girl’s flesh turned to flame. His screams bubbled as she seized his throat, his eyes lighting up like lanterns as he expired in several kinds of agony.

The silent one tried to run. The teenager turned to him and I finally saw her face clearly, saw the fire in her eyes. No wonder Jorl was afraid, I’d never seen a rage like it. Her hand shot out and fire burst forth from her palm as if it were a dragon’s maw, leaving behind a charred skeleton that crumbled to ash on the breeze.

“Move.” The girl stalked past Jorl, leaving a trail of smouldering footprints in her wake. The big man stepped aside immediately, not even daring to look into the girl’s eyes. The remaining men were scrambling to their feet and trying desperately to get away from this fiery incarnation of Death. In a brilliant blaze of light, wings of light spread at the teenager’s back, spitting sparks onto nearby huts.

An inferno ravaging most of the village, she floated toward the mercs and whispered something to them, allowing them to flee in absolute terror. I still have no notion of what she had said, or why she had let those few in particular escape, but there was obviously some control to her chaos.

“You can come out now.” Those burning eyes fell on me, glowing bright in the fire-limned silhouette against a backdrop of hell.

For an eternity I couldn’t move. I’m ashamed to admit that I almost wet myself in fear as the girl started toward the base of the hill.

“It’s okay, girl,” Jorl’s reassurance brought me back to my senses.

As I stepped from the brush, I once again saw the teenager as I’d first seen her: skinny and bruised, covered in tattoos. Not a revenant of malice or rage, but a fragile girl of flesh and blood. Jorl unravelled the cape he’d wrapped around his face and draped it over the naked girl, her clothing burned away in the inferno.

He seemed to relax as she smiled and nodded her thanks. She was obviously weakened, resting heavily against the big man’s open palm, holding her upright.

“Lizza,” Jorl said, “meet Kyra.”

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