Rift in the Deep, страница 1
This is a work of fiction. The characters and events described herein are imaginary and are not intended to refer to specific places or to living persons alive or dead. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods without prior written permission of the publisher except for brief quotations embodied in critical reviews.
Copyrighted 2018 by Janelle Garrett
Clarifying edits made to 2nd Edition.
Table of Contents
Rift in the Deep | Part 1 of the Steward Saga | By Janelle Garrett
Rift in the Deep
Part 1 of the Steward Saga
By Janelle Garrett
To Silas and Gideon
Everything I do is for you
Rise of the Warlock King: Part 2 of the Steward Saga now available
COLIN REDSTONE INCHED backwards over the smooth stone, the sound of his shuffling feet masked by the raucous shouts of the Warlock Council. How had it come to this? Yet he knew how, deep down inside. Briton the Brown made it clear as soon as he invaded the peace talks and demanded an audience with the Council.
Never had Colin seen such anger and animosity. Or fear. The Council shouted at the diminutive man in their midst. Briton’s flowing brown robes were the same hue as his skin and eyes. At first glance, nothing about him demanded attention. Colin knew who he was, but if he hadn’t, he would have thought he was a drake, wandering too far from his temple.
But he was no drake.
Hence the shouting and anger.
Colin stopped his slow escape from the Council chambers as one voice rose above them all. He twisted his neck to observe the commotion.
“We demand you cease your perverted ways!” Spittle flew from High Councilor Radan’s mouth, specks glittering in the air. “You have embroiled all the Lands in your war, and have forced the warlocks into hiding, even from our own nations!”
“You cannot blame me for this.” In contrast to his small stature, Briton’s voice rang deep and commanding. Colin felt the impact, a burning desire to believe him burning in his chest. But no. Briton was a madman.
Colin paused and leaned in to hear what he had to say. The whole room stilled, silent. As if the other warlocks wanted to believe him, too. It wasn’t true, since Colin had many a discussion with the assembly about Briton, and the consensus was that he was a manipulator.
That must be part of Briton’s accessing power; the ability to turn men’s hearts to him. It was a dangerous, seductive thing. And probably part of the reason the Lands were now embroiled in war. Actually, not probably. Most certainly the reason.
“We most certainly can,” Councilmember Josiah said, his calm demeanor a direct contrast to Radan, who sat red-faced next to him. “This war must end, Briton. And you are the one who can end it.”
“Am I to blame that the common people are afraid of us?” Briton’s dark eyes swept the assembled warlocks, turning from the table where the Councilmembers sat to appraise the other warlocks present. The room was packed wall to wall, mostly standing room. Colin stood closest to the door. Wedged as he was, he had a good view of the men present, and their wide, inquiring eyes watching Briton the Brown’s every move.
No doubt, Briton would hold them in his grasp, only to wrench the rug out from under their feet in an instant. His silver tongue couldn’t talk its way out if this predicament. A shaft of fear, icy and cold, crept up Colin’s spine at the thought.
Briton had made his bed. Violence was never the answer. Surely he knew this.
All roads led to him. All Lands feared the warlocks because of him. His lust for power, his love of control, his flattering lies, his whispered secrets into the ears of the Kings... the man must be stopped. The Council needed to quell him once and for all.
“Listen to me, all of you. The war isn’t the problem. You are the problem. You refuse to stop this war, not because you can’t stop me, but because you fear the leaders and their armies stacked against you. Think of peace, brothers. Think of what you could accomplish if a warlock took the Stone Throne, and the Triumphant Throne.” Briton’s voice rang solid and firm, his eyes sweeping the crowd.
“Treason!” a voice shouted to Colin’s right, and the call was picked up by several others throughout the room.
“I do not speak treason, but reason.” Briton’s hands swung outward as if to plead with them, and spinning, he pointed a finger at the Council. “True, lasting peace, everywhere, and not just for the Lands! How could you be so selfish?” He strode up to the Council table, slapping his palms on its top. “It is not treason to want what is right, and safe, and good. The Deep was not meant to keep common man in subjection to the warlocks, but to free him. How can you not see it?”
Briton’s voice rose in frustration as Colin inched to the doors. He wanted no part of this foolishness. It could only end one of two ways: Briton’s head on a platter, or the Council under his thumb. Colin would put his coin on the latter being the case.
Colin exited the building and the shouts followed him out. Indistinct words and garbled cries rang into the front yard, floating on the breeze. He pulled his cloak over his head against the wind, which whistled with the same anger left behind in the Council chambers. He glanced up at the contingent of soldiers waiting, shifting feet restless, huddled in their cloaks, blades at their sides.
Why were they here? A familiar insignia was emblazoned across their chests, a gold hand with fingers spread. Part of the Warlock Army, yet assembled around the building as if waiting for something. They hadn’t been there when he had arrived earlier. Unease replaced the simmering anger lurking inside his chest.
He edged past, and some of the soldiers gazed at him with seeming uncertainty, as if hesitant whether to let him through or not. Thankfully no one stopped him and he hurried toward the Brotherhood’s quarters across the square.
An explosion of power ripped through the Deep, stopping Colin in his tracks. The powerful waters, ever present on the edge of his mind, rumbled and foamed. He fell forward, catching himself before he crashed on his face. The Deep writhed as if hundreds of warlocks accessed it at the same time, and at exactly the same spot.
Colin reached forth with his mind. The point of access was the Council itself, where he had just left.
Colin turned in shock as the soldiers descended on the building, blades drawn. Screams erupted from the confines of the structure. Should he run back to help? But no, they would need no such protection. Warlocks should have no trouble defending themselves against steel and armor.
Then what were the horrifying screams? His head buzzed, and sharp pinpricks raced across his arms and palms. Several townspeople were gathering to watch the scene, bumping him. He gathered his cloak, indecision rooting him to the ground.
“What is going on, Master Warlock?” a scared woman asked, clutching at his cowl.
“I don’t know,” he answered honestly. A collective gasp rang out as Briton the Brown exited the building, dragging the High Councilor by his hair. Colin jerked forward. What in the Liar’s teeth was going on? Why didn’t Radan defend himself? Briton filled with the Deep, then pulled his hands apart like he was holding string that needed stretching. Radan’s head exploded in blood and brain matter.
Screams, running, vomiting... Colin was knocked aside as the townspeople scattered. He couldn’t tear his eyes from the scene, his limbs suddenly gone numb. Briton stalked back i
Another shock reverberated through the Deep, a pull so powerful it felt like a thousand men had drawn from the waters at once. But it was singularly focused. How was it possible that one man could do such a thing?
It had to be Briton.
Colin stumbled backwards, rage and fear co-mingling so tightly within him that he couldn’t discern where one ended and the other began.
The Brotherhood. They would know what to do.
Two soldiers stalked from the Council chambers, blood dripping from their blades. His heart leaped into his throat. Nearly falling, Colin braced himself against a merchant cart, the owner clearly having fled. Would Briton come after him? Was he trying to kill them all? He turned and ran.
The web. It must come up.
Ten thousand years later...
The silence of the forest was broken only by a running brook. The water, in its arrogance, was the only thing brave enough to pollute the stillness of the sylvan landscape with sound. The trees swayed all around Priva in an ethereal dance, as if in a trance. He willed himself to take a step, then paused. Where was the rustling of the leaves under his feet? He could hear no sound except the water. Not the inhalation of his lungs, not the thump of his heart beating... nothing. The trees moved, but not by a breeze. There was no sound of limbs stirring against each other. No leaves whispering secrets.
Only the water. And where was the sound coming from? He moved his head discreetly, the dark hood of his cloak obscuring his sight. Why had he placed it on his head in the first place? He had no memory of doing so. He lifted his hand, trying to remain quiet, and lowered the hood to his shoulders.
Where in the Liar’s teeth was he?
Priva sifted through his memories, searching for any hint about how or when he had traipsed into the wood. Surely, he would recall something as important as this, for no one entered the Dreadwood without good reason. And certainly not without memory of doing so. The Dreads themselves didn’t take kindly to intrusion, and he needed to wait until the opportune time to speak with them. Which wasn’t now.
He lifted his hand once again, this time to touch the handle of the shortblade on his back. It was still there, and it eased some of the tension in his shoulders. He remembered strapping it in place the day before, but the night was an empty span in his brain. No memory of anything after he had fallen asleep by the campfire on the edge of the Dreadwood. That is, until now, standing among the trees that danced without wind.
Priva licked his lips, holding his breath. Silent. He dropped his hand and strained to hear anything other than the rushing water. Its murmur was the only thing that gave him hope he hadn’t gone completely deaf.
He needed to do something. If the Dreads knew he was there, they remained unseen. If they didn’t, he still had a chance at retracing his steps and leaving the forest until he was better prepared. The proper arrangements for their help hadn’t been made yet, and payment was still pending. The Dreads were strict; to his knowledge, not one person had entered in two thousand years without reimbursement. Priva didn’t want to test their rules. Not now. In fact, not ever.
Taking a deep breath, he shivered as the sensation of being watched by unseen eyes creeped up his neck. He took a step backwards, twisting to look behind him. The forest was dark, yet in the waning moonlight he could see a swirling mist weaving through the trees. Fingers tingling, he resisted the urge to draw his blade. He had only heard rumors of the mist, told by men huddled over their mugs of firedrink. It was said to cause men to fall into insanity. Priva had no desire to prove the stories false.
Yet there the mist was, floating toward him. It stretched out into the forest as far as he could see, which wasn’t far considering the late hour. The closer it got, something emanated from its depths. A faint rustling, like the murmuring of a drake in his prayers. Yet it was many, many rustlings now, building into a crescendo. He stepped away from it, hand going to the hilt of his blade on his back. A silly gesture of habit, considering his blade would do nothing against something as effervescent as mist.
His feet were loud underneath him, leaves crackling underfoot. Had he just passed through some sort of sound barrier? He could hear his heart, his breathing, but still no wind. The trees continued to sway in time with each other, and he glanced upward. His heart leaped into his throat; yellow eyes blinked at him from above. Thousands of them.
He looked back down to the mist as it weaved toward him. The whispers turned to shouts. The words were now in distinct languages, Common and Sway and his own Greigan, and even some he didn’t recognize. Sweat trickled down his brow. He wiped it away, anger piercing through the fear building inside of him. He was a warrior, after all, not some maja afraid of her shadow.
He retreated into the woods. Overhead, the trees shook and moaned, a faint scuttling along the bark sending another shaft of fear through his chest. Whatever was watching him was following. He couldn’t decipher the shapes as they leapt from bough to bough, but the rustling rang clear into the night. They were heavy, and they had claws that skittered on the wood.
Priva backed up until he stumbled against a large trunk of an oak. He risked a glance farther into the forest. The brook was not far ahead. Turning, he ran and stumbled into the water. Something leapt at him from the sky, a blur in the corner of his eye. Priva whipped his blade out, impaling a rodent-like creature on the end, its wild eyes full of—astonishment? He flung it off, grunting with the effort. More creatures dropped all around him, and he scrambled out of the brook and onto the other side, managing to escape their claws. Leaping to his feet, he swung around, heart beating a wild rhythm.
Hundreds of short creatures, claws extended at least twelve inches out of their paws, watched him from the brook. His heart seemed to stop as many more leapt down from the trees, but none crossed over the bank. Their yellow eyes glowed in the night, yet no sound came from their mouths. Squinting, he could just make out dark cords that bound their mouths shut, sewn like a thick stitch. What was that? It kept the creatures from yelping, or hissing, or whatever sound they would make. Their muscular bodies, covered in short brindled fur, stood only knee high. He had never seen anything like them in his forty winters.
He glanced down at his shortblade now covered in the creature’s blood. It was dark and thick, unlike any type of blood he was familiar with. He wiped it on the ground, keeping a wary eye on the creatures. They stayed put, pacing along the edge of the brook as if they wanted to block him from returning.
There was nothing else for it. He couldn’t go back, for the mist and the creatures waited for him. He could only go forward. His cloak, pack, and horse were at the edge of Dreadwood, along with his last memory. Reaching into his pocket, he wrapped his hand around the frac pouch. At least there was that. But what need would he have for it here?
He placed one foot in front of the other, facing the deepening darkness of the Dreadwood, eyes alert. Strange tree-creatures aside, if and when he found Callum, he was going to wring her neck after he rescued her.
Heart hammering, Graissa blinked twice before sitting up in bed. Her fist was clenched, and to her surprise there was no shortblade. And no strange creatures chasing her, no mist stalking her in the night. Cotton sheets tangled around her legs, gentle and warm, unlike the rough bark of a tree or the crackling of leaves. She was in her own bed, the soft snore of Natashia breaking the silence of the night as she slept beside her.
What an odd dream. They had been happening more often lately, to the point where she would forget who she was upon awakening. This one was the most realistic yet, and she could swear she still heard the brook in the distance. Or was that just Shia’s snores?
Graissa was no stranger to vivid dreams. Even as a child she suffered from sleeplessness and terrors, screaming in the night. Father would rush in to awaken her
Graissa rolled over, trying to settle her racing heart. Sleep was elusive, for every time she closed her eyes she saw the creatures leaping at her. Felt the jolt of its weight as it impaled on the blade, almost tearing it from her hand. Then there was the distinct memory of Priva, yet she had never met anyone by that name, and certainly not anyone traversing the Dreadwood hundreds of miles away.
Dreads were popular horror stories told to keep children in their beds at night. After all, rarely did creatures of the Rift crawl from the dark in these modern times. Sure, the threat was always there. But according to her parents, there hadn’t been any confirmed sightings from the Rift in twenty years. Not in the Broken Land, at least.
She tossed back to her other side as the light of the moon shone through the window. The glow dusted the room in a soft haze. Something flew past her window, and she bolted upright, hissing in a breath. Hands tingling, she threw off the blanket, marble underneath her feet. What had it been? Thunder rumbled through the air, shaking the glass pane of the window. A storm was here. Maybe something had been tossed across the yard? She dashed to the glass. A shape stood in the yard, hunched against the wind. Glowing eyes peered up at her, and then disappeared as the creature dashed from sight.
It couldn’t be. Could it?
Craning her neck to try and see the grounds below, Graissa grimaced in frustration at the tree limbs obscuring her vision. She loved the tree for the escape it provided, but tonight it only served to grow her sense of terror.