Merry Christmas and/or Joyous Greetings of Whatever Season You Celebrate. Here’s a little gift from me to you. A third snippet from “Project Darkbelly,” so named because the working title is “Into the Dark Belly.”
Continued from Snippet #2.
He didn’t understand the words at first, and then they slowly seeped into his oozing awareness, along with underlying smells of smoke and earth and wood.
“Yes. Fetch their chief. And bring fresh water.”
It was some form of crude Gurtham dialect that bled into his cultivated Fahani ears and rearranged themselves to make sense.
Barely in the world of the living, Tisarian frowned. Was he a prisoner? He struggled to move, his limbs leaden. His spirit seemed to have journeyed from some faraway place to come back to a dim gray semblance of life. He had the will to rise, but not the strength. In due time however, his faculties cleared and he managed, at last, to turn his head toward the light.
A long moment passed as Tisarian blinked to clear his vision. He realized eyes were watching him. Intense. Thoughtful. Reflecting tongues of flame. He grasped at reality and stared back at a woman. She sat close by, orchid-cheeked, her crimson skin flickering in a red and orange glow, studying him with her chin resting in a slender woad-swirled hand as her kohl-rimmed eyes reflected firelight. Her hair was loose and dark as shadow.
The female’s arm suddenly moved over his head and plumes of amber, of earthy roots, and a sweet animal-musky scent floated out, swirling over him. It was intoxicating.
He heard soft liquid sounds, trickling. Droplets fell on his face and he blinked. She placed something cool on his forehead.
Tisarian reached up and took hold of her hand. Warm. Flesh. Not some delusion of undulating scarlet and bronze. Her soft skin in the flickering firelight, her earthy animal scent, it stirred him, even in his worn out state.
“Do not move,” she spoke in the common Trade tongue of the Eastern Kingdoms. Her accent was heavy, clipped. She withdrew her hand.
The woman emanated confidence, as one inclined to issuing orders and having them obeyed without question. “You are still quite ill,” she said.
Tisarian tried to speak. Discovered he could not. Sensing this, the woman said, “You will have water soon. Just rest.”
And so his thoughts turned back to what he could last recall.
The enemy at the walls of Varna Sestus. An ominous ocean of shields and spears and steel; primal war-bellows from thousands of bestial throats echoing in the pass, rending the skies. He threw his magic at them, but it was not enough. The sestus fell, and he lay, completely spent, in the snowy rubble, waiting for death.
Then there was Marcus, scooping him up, and all this running and the occasional pause as his friend issued a roar and Tisarian would hear the Iridian blade’s subtle hum—a sound only his skein-trained ears could hear—followed by yells of pain.
They fled into the wild.
Days came and went. More fighting. More running. He recovered for a while and used his magic against the enemy warbands that dogged them, but then came something dark, something comprised of Drear and evil intent. It visited his dreams at first, tickling him like spiders against his flesh, but then it sent out much sharper tendrils, and they came not at night but during his waking hours. When he tried to send back his own magical feelers to discern the source of this troublesome thing, he was struck terribly ill.
But he was quite certain he had discerned something, out there, in the cold and gloom. Something dire…and horrific…to behold…something…
Daylight fell across Tisarian’s face and he squinted up into it. The light was cut off by a dark shadow that stood in the doorway, and then he saw the familiar face of his friend.
Marcus Grivna was extraordinarily tall among his people, owing to his father, a former knight born of Valhaldar, who, in his twilight years, had married a young and beautiful Fahani noblewoman. Marcus was gifted with the long and powerful frame of his father’s people, as well as the hair, eyebrows, and downy beard, pale almost to whiteness, and large blue eyes that gleamed like twinset gems. But rather than the coarse features, blunt nose, and convex brow that marked most of the Valhaldi, Marcus possessed the fine features, the straight nose, high forehead, and sensual grace that were markedly Fahani.
Still, the travails of their journey had taken its own toll on the young knight, albeit a lesser one than it had on Tisarian. Marcus’s long unbraided hair hung down in wisps around his face, which was cadaverous, sunken-eyed, and melancholy.
“How is he?” said Marcus in the Trade tongue. He handed the woman a clay pitcher.
The woman looked at him, then at Marcus, and shrugged her narrow shoulders. She took the pitcher and poured fresh water from it into a bowl.
Marcus frowned, but waited as the woman emptied more of the pitcher’s contents into a small cup, then she looked up at the knight. “Maybe we should speak outside?” she said.
He made a grim expression and nodded.
As the woman went to dab Tisarian’s forehead with the wet cloth, the sickly skeinwielder weakly grasped her hand and nudged it away. He tried to speak, but once again found he could not. He coughed softly, letting go of her hand, and pointed at the cup.
The woman nodded and placed it against his lips. He took a long sip. The water was cold and eased the itchy dryness in his throat. Tisarian rasped faint words. “Evil. Much evil…here. We must…”
“I know, Ri. Let me speak with Nagala outside and then we’ll figure out what to do.”
Tisarian shook his head. “N-no…you need me.”
“No doubt we do, so just be still and regain your strength.”
Tisarian clenched his fist and slammed it down on the side of the bed. His arm—his entire body actually—felt as heavy as lead and it was fairly all he could do to raise it. Part of his fist struck the bowl in the woman named Nagala’s hand and water splashed all over them both.
Marcus stepped forward. “Tisarian—” he said, reaching out.
“You dumb ox! Get me…up…or I’ll, by the Pillar…I’ll ignite this whole—!”
Nagala had backed away, making room for Marcus to kneel down by Tisarian. She seemed to be watching with a mixed expression of stupor and amusement.
“Very well! Just…wait.” Marcus put a reassuring hand on Tisarian’s bare shoulder. He then looked over his friend and noticed his nudity beneath the blankets. “Light, Tisarian,” he said. “First, let’s at least get you dressed.”
 The skein is the energy that binds all of existence together. It is used by practitioners throughout Khaladune to wield magical forces, for good or for ill.
All fiction and snippets contained herein are © 2009-2010 J.M. Martin. Do not copy or distribute. All rights reserved.