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SoftS Official Snippet #12

Fans of Bahzell and Tomenack come on in! Let's talk about David's fantasy series and our favorite hradani!
SoftS Official Snippet #12
Post by runsforcelery   » Sat Apr 11, 2015 10:30 pm

First Space Lord

Posts: 2425
Joined: Sun Aug 09, 2009 10:39 am
Location: South Carolina

Hi, guys —

I'm currently at Willycon, in Wayne. Nebraska, and having a very good time. However, I do have intranet access, so here's the next snippet. Enjoy!


* * * * * * * * * *

Shadows conferred silently outside the tavern. Lightning whipped the clouds, shattering blue-white above their silent forms, and the spalling electricity etched two shapes which stood apart from the others. The human’s sodden cape lashed from his shoulders in the gusting wind, and the lightning leapt back from the ebon staff he bore. The other was a shadow, taller and somehow more solid than the others. A rod of polished steel or dull silver winked at the lightning from its left hand, its metallic glitter broken by patterns of jagged, deeply-carved runes from no alphabet ever used on Orfressa.

The human’s staff pointed at the tavern, his lips moving in unheard words, and the shadow’s black head bent. Its rod touched the staff, and a speck of eye-searing blackness leapt from the staff to the metal and vanished. Then the shadow turned and gestured to its fellows.

Lesser shadows moved to obey silent commands. Some flitted to the shutters and doors. Some lifted gently into the rainy night, borne by the wind to chimney openings and upper windows. Lightning cracked again, its jagged light vanishing into the shadow forms, and the taller shadow waited another moment, then stretched an arm to point at the tavern and its finger glowed dully.

* * * * * * * * * *

Everything happened at once.

Kenhodan’s brain seized a brief image of the door as it flew inward in an explosion of splinters and broken bolts. An iron shard gashed his cheek, hissing past to bury its length in the wall. Windows and shutters cascaded inward in the same moment, showering the sawdust with diamond-bright glass. Broken bits of pane winked in the fire like rubies, ringing as they bounced over tabletops and benches. A shadow filled the doorway, and cold rolled from it like acid. A flash of brilliance washed his shoulder as Wencit muttered a semi-audible incantation and his blade pulsed with savage light in time with the words. The chill withdrew slightly, and Bahzell’s breath snorted, pluming like frost, as his huge sword swung up in a silvery arc, as if saluting his foes.

Then the shadows were upon them.

Despite his scars, this was in a very real sense Kenhodan’s first combat, yet there was time for him to realize that he felt no fear. Time for him to wonder what that said about the man he’d forgotten. And then a strange, consuming rage roused within him. It filled him with a fury which demanded blood, and it had an endless depth that staggered the mind. He had no idea where it had come from, and if there’d been time to think about it, its fiery strength would have terrified him. But now, at this moment, he was conscious only of his own burning hunger, and his lips drew back in a feral snarl as the shadows attacked.

Tomanāk!” Bahzell’s bull-throated bellow roared through the taproom, and a shadow loomed close, a scimitar of blackness reaching for Kenhodan like an extrusion of its own substance. Instinct prompted and reaction obeyed. His own blade darted to engage the scimitar, driving it wide, then recovered in a straight backhand that raked the shadow from crotch to throat. He felt a fleeting resistance, and the shadow fell back with a thin, ear-hurting wail. It dissolved in streamers of noisome fog before before it hit the floor.

Another eluded the sweep of Bahzell’s knife and charged Kenhodan from the left while the hradani’s sword engaged two more. Kenhodan’s blade flashed across his own vision as if he were a spectator. Black scimitar crashed on razor-blue steel. Wrist and arm throbbed, and his booted heel slammed into the shadow’s midsection as he heaved the scimitar away from his flesh. Acid cold stabbed as high as his thigh and burned in his hip with a pain that wrung an anguished gasp from him, but his sword whistled back against the shadowy neck. A half-seen head flew, and another high death wail pierced his ears.

Sorcerous they undoubtedly were, he thought grimly, but they were as killable as he was.

“Tomanāk! Tomanāk!

Bahzell’s thunderous warcry rose over the clash of blades. Kenhodan leaned away from a slash and caught a glimpse of the hradani in the full, murderous action of a champion of the war god. His greatsword avalanched down in an overhand blow, propelled by the muscles of an arm as thick as Kenhodan’s thigh. It smashed clean through a scimitar to cleave a shadow in two, then whistled up in a perfect backhand, preposterously swift for a blade of its dimensions, that split another shadowy head. The hook knife darted, gutting a third while the first two fell away. Every move, every shift of weight, was perfect, like some choreographed exercise, with a deadly efficiency which had to be seen to be believed, and a bright yet half-imagined blue glitter wrapped itself around the towering hradani.

Kenhodan spared a thought for the old wizard, but the ring of blades and the odd wails of dying shadows came from his rear as well. It was reassuring evidence of Wencit’s condition, yet the moment of inattention was almost his own undoing. The brief break in the flow of his rage snapped his automatic reactions. His waking mind intruded on his trained body, and cold fire burned his shoulder, tracing a line of hot blood edged with ice. He staggered, momentarily convulsed by the awful cold pulsing through his body. But he dragged himself back on balance and his elbow smashed the attacking shadow. Another burst of cold slashed through him, but this time he was prepared. He shook it off and shattered his foe’s head, recovered, and slid two feet of steel through another’s chest. That shadow, too, fell away, winning him the tiny moment he needed to beat the last cold shudders from his muscles. A shadow sprawled to his right rear, and Wencit’s blade burned with dangerous fire, consuming his foe as it struck.

There seemed no end to that first rush. Kenhodan lost track of the number he struck down in a wild flurry of blows, counter blows, and hairbreadth escapes. Yet there was a break in the attack wave at last. He smashed the guard of the final shadow and lunged through its throat, then stood back, panting, as the remaining shadows fell away.

They stood just beyond reach, like a circle of icebergs, their silence taunting him, and that fierce rage roared up within him. It gripped like bands of hot iron, and he leapt to the attack. But Bahzell dropped his knife. His hand darted out to fasten on his shoulder like a steel vise, and Kenhodan’s eyes flared at the immense strength which stopped his lunge as if he were a child.

“No, lad!” The hradani rasped, holding him effortlessly in the defensive triangle. “This one’s Wencit’s!”

Kenhodan froze, then nodded tightly, panting for breath as a single shadow glided over the sawdust. A metal rod glimmered sullenly in one hand, and a black scimitar burned in the other. A dim flow of light from half-guessed eyes mocked the wildfire of Wencit’s gaze, and Kenhodan shuddered to see it.

The defenders pivoted slowly, Kenhodan compelled by the hradani’s grasp, until Wencit faced the new threat. Bahzell paused just long enough to recover his hook knife, then faced the shattered door, content to leave the main fight in Wencit’s hands. Kenhodan knew he should echo the hradani’s detachment, but he found his attention split between the kitchen arch and the arcane confrontation of wizard and shadow.

“You’ve been lied to,” Wencit said levelly, the words drifting in puffs of vapor in the icy chill radiating from the shadows. “Your power here is less than you think. You’re overmatched. Be gone or die!”

The shadow continued its silent advance. The metal rod traced an intricate pattern, its tip glowing like a dull ember that left a brief, sullen line of flame in its wake. Wencit’s glowing blade moaned a sub-audible shriek that grated in the bones of Kenhodan’s skull like the howl of a hunting animal, but the wizard made no move.

Ruby light spat suddenly from the tip of the rod in a quasi-solid pencil that lashed at the wizard with the speed of thought, but Wencit’s sword flashed up. It parried the light with a sweeping gesture and red sparks flew, burning through Kenhodan’s jerkin. Wencit’s blade wailed hungrily, and the wizard twisted his wrist, wrapping the light about his weapon like a cord. He jerked, and the rod snapped from the shadow’s grasp. It bounced into the sawdust with an unnatural ringing sound, as if it had struck stone.

The shadow leapt forward as its rod flew free. Its scimitar scythed at Wencit’s torso, but the wizard spun on his toes in a graceful dance that carried him out of the blade’s path and behind its wielder. The shadow lurched silently forward, committed to its attack. Its free arm flailed as if for balance, and the shadow head snapped silently towards Wencit.

The wizard continued his swirling motion. He grasped his hilt two-handed, lowering the blade to waist level, and completed his circle. Eldritch steel smashed squarely through the shadow, cleaving it into unequal halves that tumbled grotesquely to the floor. This death wail was louder and more vicious, and the bits of shadow didn’t dissipate. Instead, white fire blazed through them, tearing at their darkness, flaring bright and hot. It seemed to last for minutes, but it couldn’t have been more than a handful of seconds before those flame dwindled once more, taking the shadow’s broken pieces with them in a stink of burning sawdust and something worse.

The remaining shadows snarled as the stench of burning rose, and scimitars lifted in the firelight. Kenhodan gripped the wizard frantically, dragging him back into formation. There was something ominous in that snarl from their hitherto silent enemies, and dread burned through his rage as he fought to reposition Wencit. But the wizard was badly out of position, and he’d barely begun to move before the charge began.

Only Bahzell seemed unconcerned as the shadows gave tongue. He simply leaned sideways, peering intently into the rain beyond the shattered door. And then, as the shadows surged forward, his left hand snapped like the idle flick of a whip. The hook knife hissed from his fingers into the outer darkness, a short, bubbling scream erupted, and the shadows halted, frozen in mid stride. As Kenhodan watched in amazement, they faded slowly and the flames of their fallen chieftain sank back into smoldering sawdust.

“I’m hoping I’ve not violated etiquette,” Bahzell grumbled calmly, “but it’s in my mind yonder wizard wasn’t one as worried his head over the rules for wizards’ duels, Wencit. If he’d no wish to bother with such as that, why, I’d no reason not to be obliging him.”

* * * * * * * * * *

Wulfra of Torfo cursed as the haze of Wencit’s masking glamour filled her crystal with a gray and silver mist her strongest spells couldn’t pierce. Alwith must be dead or dying, and with the cord of his thought went her ability to breach the wild wizard’s defenses.

She sighed and sat back in her exquisitely comfortable chair, massaging her delicate brows. The outcome was hardly surprising, much though she might have wished it otherwise. Still, Alwith had been grossly overconfident. Even a direct order might not have stayed his hand, so she’d made a virtue of his arrogance and given him the spells for which he’d asked. He’d thought Wencit was overrated, had he? That the old man was “past it” and sinking into decline? Well, he knew better now — whatever hell he was in. Yet she had to admit he’d come close . . . very close. Without the hradani and the unexpected redhaired stranger, he might have succeeded after all.

She frowned thoughtfully, then leaned over the crystal again. She retained two servants in the area, and if Harlich was weaker than Alwith, he was also more cunning. Forewarned about Wencit’s allies, he might prove more fortunate, especially since he possessed the madwind incantation.

And if he proved equally unfortunate, well, tools were made to be used, and sometimes they broke in the using.

* * * * * * * * * *

Bahzell raked the metal rod through the sawdust with a cautious boot, studying it thoughtfully before he turned to Wencit.

“Well struck, Wencit,” he said formally.

“You weren’t so bad yourself, Mountain,” Wencit retorted with a grin. “But the shadowmage was outclassed.” He bent over the rod and lifted it cautiously. “I’ll take care of this,” he said more sharply. “See to your lady, Bahzell. Kenhodan and I can finish here.”


Bahzell turned quickly to the stair, sword still in his hand, and Kenhodan watched Wencit draw the rod slowly through his fingers. The wizard’s lips moved silently, his eyes flared briefly, and then answering light burst from the rune-graven metal. As Kenhodan watched, it glowed bright and fierce, and when Wencit opened his hands the enspelled metal curled upward in a thin stream of stinking smoke and vanished.

Kenhodan raised an eyebrow, and the wizard smiled faintly and dusted his hands on his tunic. Then he turned to the door, and Kenhodan followed, standing at the wizard’s shoulder and peering out into the night. Rain blew into their faces through the shattered door and windows, but the lightning had ceased and the wind was falling away at last.

“And now there are three . . . .” Wencit murmured.

“What?” Kenhodan turned to look at him, and Wencit shrugged.

“Now there are three,” he repeated, gesturing to a sprawled body just visible in the light spilling from the open door. Bahzell’s knife stood in the dead throat, surrounded by a thinning pool of rain-diluted blood.

“That was one of Wulfra’s allies. Now there are only three: Wulfra, Thardon, and Harlich. I suppose we should consider this a good start, so early in the game, but they shouldn’t have found me so quickly.”

Wencit sheathed his weapon and straightened. The sword’s dangerous light had vanished, and Kenhodan wondered how it could look so normal one moment and burn with arcane fury in the next. There was something frightening about a weapon like that, even when it fought on his side. Then he realized his own madness had vanished just as completely, and the parallel chilled him. He was going to have to come to grips with that blind rage, and the thought of it was far more disturbing than Wencit’s blade.

He shook himself and sought a lighter note.

“It seemed less than crushing for a wizard’s attack,” he ventured.

“You think so?” Wencit turned to him, his voice thoughtful. “No attack’s crushing once you defeat it, but what about that score on your shoulder? What about the gash on your cheek? The cold that nearly crippled you?” Kenhodan blinked, startled by the wizard’s ability to catalog his hurts, but Wencit gave him no time to consider it. “A second later ducking, an inch to the side, a moment earlier with no counter spell ready — then what? And for each you or I killed, Bahzell took two. Don’t underestimate our enemies, Kenhodan. Consider what would’ve happened if they’d surprised us in the open, alone, with no warning. Not so easy to beat them off then, eh? And remember — the most deadly fighter’s still mortal, and the clumsiest foe can kill him with one lucky blow.”

“I take your point.” Kenhodan knelt to examine the sawdust where the shadow had burned. “What were they, anyway?”

“Shadows of another world. Much the same place demons and devils come from, actually, although shadowmen are far weaker than those are. That’s the reason they can flow through the cracks and escape notice so much more easily on their way through. It’s not difficult to search the worlds that might have been for the fighters you seek. Transferring them, especially in numbers great enough to make them truly dangerous to someone like a wizard lord or a champion of Tomanāk, takes power and a willingness to dabble in sorcery as foul as Krahana herself, but the technique’s simple enough.”

“For some, no doubt,” Kenhodan said dryly.

“True. And even though shadows lose much of their intelligence when they’re ripped from their rightful places, they still make deadly foes. That cold is the cold of the void they cross to come here. If you’d felt it without the protection of my wards, your heart would’ve stopped instantly.” Wencit shrugged. “They have other powers, too. They aren’t truly of this world, and its presences are, to them, the shadows they are to us. But they also have limitations, because the shock of crossing the void destroys their wills and leaves them little more than extensions of their summoner. They can’t remain if his will is —” he gestured the body “— withdrawn.”

The wizard paused, scuffing a boot through the scorched sawdust, and his brows knitted thoughtfully.

“But the shadowmage bears thinking on. Shadows aren’t normally drawn from among the great and powerful of their worlds — people like that are too deeply rooted in their own time and place to readily answer the summons of anything short of a deity. Yet the shadowmage was a wild wizard in his own world. It takes a very powerful wizard to wrench someone like that across the abyss, and the guardians who prevent that sort of thing should have seen the shadowmage coming. Unlike the others, he was powerful enough to stand out clearly and be intercepted. Bringing him through at all would have been difficult enough. Bringing him through undetected and with enough power to strike with the art once he got here . . . ?”

His voice trailed off and he frowned.

“So it must’ve taken a wizard more powerful than this Wulfra? Is that what you’re saying?” Kenhodan asked slowly.

He didn’t care for the implications of that thought, and he cared still less for Wencit’s slow nod. Wind gusted through the broken door, touching them with rain and muddying the sawdust. The old wizard sighed resignedly and reached for his poncho.

“Let’s go take a look at Alwith.”

Kenhodan followed him into the dying storm. Rain soaked his hair and trickled down his face, but it lacked its earlier fury, and Wencit knelt beside the body and rolled it over. The knife hilt described an ominous arc and Alwith’s dead eyes looked glassily into Kenhodan’s.

“He looks surprised,” he observed.

“No doubt he was.” Wencit examined a charred staff that crumbled to ashes he touched it, then scraped its ruin distastefully into the bubbling gutter. “Alwith preferred to avoid physical combat. He probably forgot the lightning might pick out — give Bahzell a clear target.”

“He won’t make that mistake again.”

Kenhodan wiped rain from his face and looked back at the tavern. Perhaps Alwith might be pardoned for his misjudgment, he thought, for there were clear targets and then there were clear targets. Bahzell’s knife had traveled twenty yards through rain-filled darkness to arrive exactly on its mark . . . thrown left-handed. He raised a thoughtful eyebrow and wrenched the heavy blade from the grisly ruin of Alwith’s throat.

“No, he won’t be making any mistakes again,” Wencit agreed, sitting back on his heels in the rain, but his expression was . . . not precisely worried, but perplexed, perhaps. “There should be something more than the ash of his staff, but I don’t see what.”

“How could you expect to find it if you don’t know what it is?”

“Are you a wizard?” Wencit asked patiently, and Kenhodan shook his head in quick disavowal. “Then don’t ask me to explain the art on a moment’s notice.” He puffed his lips and Kenhodan had the definite sense that the unseen eyes behind his witchfire gaze had just rolled. “You can’t imagine how many times someone’s asked me to do that! But my point at the moment is that I just can’t believe the shadows were all Wulfra sent with him. Her henchmen could’ve managed the earlier attack alone, with her to coach them and provide the information they needed to target it. But she clearly realized it might fail, which is why Alwith was ready to follow it up, and I can’t accept that she gave him and the other two no special aid beyond the shadows! I was hoping for a clue to whatever else she might’ve given them. If I’d found it, I would’ve recognized it.”

"Oh, bother!" said Pooh, as Piglet came back from the dead.
Re: SoftS Official Snippet #12
Post by Tanstaafl   » Sun Apr 12, 2015 1:12 am


Posts: 219
Joined: Mon Oct 07, 2013 2:49 pm
Location: Netherlands

Thanks RFC.
This story starts to get going.

And just another month till the first half of the book is available in the Monthly Baen Bundle.
The abstinents are right,
but only the drinkers know why
― Simon Carmiggelt
Re: SoftS Official Snippet #12
Post by lyonheart   » Sun Apr 12, 2015 5:27 am

Fleet Admiral

Posts: 4838
Joined: Tue Sep 08, 2009 10:27 pm

Hello RFC!





Any snippet or post from RFC is good if not great!
Re: SoftS Official Snippet #12
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Sun Apr 12, 2015 7:20 am


Posts: 2292
Joined: Sun Sep 06, 2009 2:54 pm
Location: East Central Illinois

Thank you and it was very good. :D :D :D :D
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
Re: SoftS Official Snippet #12
Post by looksbeforeheleaps   » Sun Apr 12, 2015 4:34 pm

Lieutenant (Junior Grade)

Posts: 40
Joined: Tue Feb 17, 2015 4:50 am

Very interesting.

Thanks for the snippet rfc!
Re: SoftS Official Snippet #12
Post by cirret   » Sun Apr 12, 2015 5:00 pm


Posts: 20
Joined: Mon Apr 01, 2013 8:11 am

Thank you RFC for another wonderfull fix. Have fun on the con.
Re: SoftS Official Snippet #12
Post by Cartref   » Sun Apr 12, 2015 5:19 pm

Lieutenant (Senior Grade)

Posts: 84
Joined: Thu Apr 18, 2013 9:15 pm

Thank you very much for the snipit, I am waiting the books release very keenly

Cheers & beers
Re: SoftS Official Snippet #12
Post by RHWoodman   » Sun Apr 12, 2015 7:38 pm

Captain (Junior Grade)

Posts: 386
Joined: Tue Mar 30, 2010 10:06 am
Location: Columbus, Ohio USA

Thanks for this snippet, RFC.
Re: SoftS Official Snippet #12
Post by Son_of_Sith   » Mon Apr 13, 2015 3:35 am


Posts: 8
Joined: Tue Apr 22, 2014 1:37 am
Location: Nebraska

Oh man, I wish I had know that you were so close by, I definitely would have stopped by to say hello. Anyways, thanks for the snippet and I hope you enjoyed your trip to our little corner of the Good Life and I hope you definitely decide to come back next year, I'll make it out then for sure.
Re: SoftS Official Snippet #12
Post by Bahzellstudent   » Mon Apr 13, 2015 3:49 pm

Lieutenant Commander

Posts: 100
Joined: Wed Jul 09, 2014 3:13 pm
Location: Derbyshire, United Kingdom

Thanks RFC - glad to hear you are out and about; I admit to still finding the wait for each snippet a very long one!

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