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SotS Official snippet #17

Fans of Bahzell and Tomenack come on in! Let's talk about David's fantasy series and our favorite hradani!
SotS Official snippet #17
Post by runsforcelery   » Sun Jun 07, 2015 3:08 pm

runsforcelery
First Space Lord

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

I'm sorry I've been behind on posting these, but there were a few . . . mitigating circumstances. I'd like to thank everyone who's said prayers and good wishes my way, and I'm happy to say that they worked. The pacemaker was put in Wednesday before last without any complications and seems to be functioning fine. I'm due to go back for a postop visit this coming Wednesday. Everything's looking fine, and I'm even allowed to drive again! :twisted:

In the meantime, though, I've been dealing with things like the final page proofs for Sword of the South and a few other things which had backed up over the last several weeks. So I'm behind on quite a few things, but I'm right on the verge of catching up. And among other things I'm catching up with is the snippet.

Hope you enjoy it.

__________________________________________________________

A lance of white light thrust suddenly into the darkness from the steel of Wencit’s sword — steel writhing with a crawling arabesque of red and gold runes. It ignored the blackness spilling across the deck; instead, the beam pierced the column which drove that blackness onward. It struck like a flaming arrow and tore through it, seeking its heart, and Kenhodan’s head throbbed to the sound of an animal scream of rage. It came, he knew, from Wencit’s sorcery, and it terrified him.

Madness raged as light and blackness met, and the cloud recoiled, hissing. The white light ripped deeper, flaming against the darkness, and Kenhodan stared in fascination as sorcery fought sorcery. The ebon poison on the deck dissipated, drawing back into the battering ram behind it, and that battering ram drifted away from the ship as Wencit’s voice rose higher. It was as if the light were a pole with which the wizard thrust danger away from the ship, but the blackness was only baffled. It was not yet defeated, and the balance wavered precariously back and forth.

The defenders gripped their weapons with renewed hope. As long as Bahzell and Wencit stood, they shielded Wave Mistress from the darkness, and as long as it was a matter of blood and blades, Brandark’s crew knew itself equal to any threat. But the corsairs knew who’d thwarted their allies, and they hurled themselves forward to reach and kill them both.

Tomanāk!

Bahzell’s voice roared out above the tumult as he met the rush sweeping up Wave Mistress’ port side forward of the mainmast. His enormous sword flashed, wielded one-handed despite its size and weight, and heads flew. His hook knife was in his other hand and it struck like a steel serpent as one of Brandark’s human crewmen went down beside him and a corsair leapt into the gap. His concentration never wavered, the blue glow around Wave Mistress grew stronger, and it made no difference at all to the lethality of his swordplay. His ears were flat, his brown eyes glittered, and blood flew in crimson spray as he reaped the gory harvest of a champion of Tomanāk at war.

Many of the corsairs gave ground as they realized what — and who — they faced, but others swarmed forward. Say what one might about the Shith Kiri Corsairs, there were few cowards among them, and desperation made them bold. They flung themselves at Bahzell, swarming over the crewmen about him, and those crewmen gave ground, driven back by sheer force of numbers.

Tomanāk!

There was no hesitation, no compromise, in that thunderous warcry, and bodies and bits of bodies flew from the vortex of destruction called Bahzell Bahnakson. Blood coated Wave Mistress’ planking as he built a breastwork of dead men, yet still the corsairs pressed forward.

A whine warned Kenhodan, and he ducked under a blade as the quarterdeck defenders went down in a tide of red steel. He thrust through a throat, recovered with a clean, deft flourish, and stood alone in the center of the deck, facing the stern rail, between it and Wencit. His opponents crowded one another, hampering themselves, giving him a precious edge, yet he was only one man. The corsairs knew who they had to kill . . . and that no one man could hold so many for long.

They poured forward like the tide.

Captain Forstan saw Kenhodan’s peril and curled the after end of his Axe Brothers inward, covering half the deck with a wall of armor. The Axe Brothers smashed their enemies aside, but the unarmored seamen to port were unequal to the task. They strove to reach Kenhodan, but they were cut down or driven back by the howling corsairs.

Hornos hurtled aft at the head of his artillerists, his sword carving a path for the men behind him, but the surge of pirates was too thick. Each corsair he cut down only gave sword room to two more, and the seamen were unarmored. Hornos’ men were cut off behind him as he slashed a way through his foes, and Brandark’s bleeding men gave ground — slowly, sullenly, cutting down their enemies as they went — but with chilling inevitability.

The corsair captains knew Wencit’s death would give them Wave Mistress even more surely than Bahzell’s would. They funneled their men to the attack with ruthless disregard for losses, willing to spend as many lives as necessary to thrust the foot of steel through the wizard, and only Kenhodan barred their way.

The redhaired man stood no chance. He knew it as well as the corsairs did . . . and he didn’t care. He reached down inside himself and deliberately freed his inner rage, yet even now it was no berserker’s fury. He couldn’t understand what he was doing — or how — even as he did it, and it didn’t matter. It was as if something within him watched an inner gauge, measuring that terrible anger as it pulsed through him, allowing just enough of it to fill his brain, pour into his muscles and blaze in the secret places of his soul.

He changed. His enemies saw his green eyes freeze into emerald ice, his lips drew back in a direcat’s fierce, hungry snarl, and his sword was a blood-spattering scythe. He watched the seamen to his right to go down, and then the corsairs poured through the breach at the port bulwark like a breaker, its crest edged with steel, not foam. He saw them come . . . and launched himself into them, laughing, for how could he kill them unless they came within his reach?

A bright pikehead gleamed, ignoring him to dart at Wencit, and Kenhodan thrust the pike wide with his left arm while his sword sliced across a throat like fire. The pikehead fell, and Kenhodan slid into the path of the dead man’s companions like a machine of wire and steel . . . and vengeance.

“Tomanāk! Tomanāk!”

Kenhodan heard the thunder of Bahzell’s deep-throated warcry, but it scarcely registered as a pirate came at him from the right. The corsair lunged with desperate speed, and yet he moved so slowly, like a man in the dream. Kenhodan dodged the thrust with a simple twist of his torso, tripped his man, and smashed his spine as he fell. The wounded man crawled on his arms, screaming, sliming the deck with his blood, and his agony scarcely touched the surface of Kenhodan’s exalted fury.

The defending line to port crumbled into knots of cursing, striking fighters, and chaos reigned on Wave Mistress’ deck. The battle degenerated into a savage dogfight, a frothing madness of bloodshed and death, and the skilled were as much at risk as the clumsy, for no man could guard in all directions at once.

Hornos cut his way to Kenhodan’s side, trying to guard the wizard’s flank. The lieutenant lopped off a corsair’s sword hand and dropped another with a straight head cut. His recovery ripped the throat from a third, and a straight thrust killed a fourth. Red spray fanned from his blade, but the detached melancholy in his eyes never changed — not even as the fifth corsair rammed a pike through his hauberk to still his ancient heart forever. He fell without a sound, and Kenhodan roared with fury as he split the killer’s head.

Hornos’ death removed his last support, and he staggered — off-balance — as yet another corsair came at him with a grin. Red steel surged towards him, and he writhed aside, barely in time. The corsair cursed and shortened his weapon for another thrust, but Brandark appeared from nowhere and smashed the pikeman to the deck. His axe hummed, flaring with blue light that mirrored the shield around his ship. Its glaring nimbus lit his face, and the savage glitter in his eyes reflected that hungry flame. A corsair officer leapt at Wave Mistress’ master and fell back, cloven cleanly in two, dead mouth open in surprise.

Kenhodan dodged a swordsman, kicked him in the belly, and crushed his skull with his hilt. Sweat stung his eyes, he bled from a dozen shallow cuts, and he was bloody to the elbow, and he didn’t care. More blades reached for him from every side, yet his unchained fury bore him up, and behind him the remote voice of the wizard still rose.

Kenhodan dared not look to see what might threaten Wencit’s other flank. His full attention was focused on the enemies before him, and to look away was to die, yet the fierce shriek of Wencit’s magic clawed at his blood. It boiled in his marrow with his rage, and his enemies died screaming.

A shout announced that the starboard attacker had cut her lines and veered off. The Axe Brothers had been too much for her unarmored men, and the water alongside was scarlet with the flotsam of their bodies. Some of the Axemen were down, but not many, and harsh commands rang out as Forstan mustered his sections and brought them avalanching aft by squads.

Kenhodan’s blade jammed in a corsair’s ribs, and the dead man’s companion came at him desperately. He flinched out of the path of the first stroke, but the pirate recovered with an animal snarl. His sword hissed back around, slicing towards Kenhodan’s neck, and Kenhodan’s hand flashed to his belt. His fingers found the hilt of Gwynna’s dagger, and he buried it in his enemy’s belly as he dodged the blow. The pirate shrieked and fell, intestines spilling, and a fresh pike licked over his falling body.

A thunderbolt of gory steel flashed, and the pikeman’s head exploded. Bahzell kicked the body aside and moved in on Kenhodan’s left.

They stood together: Bahzell, Kenhodan, and Brandark. Forstan’s men closed in from the sides, cutting off the corsairs’ retreat, but no one could come to their aid. Wencit stood against the mast behind them, distant as the stars, his voice their only weapon against far worse than sword or axe, and their own weapons flashed before them.

It was a simple choice for the pirates within the net of the Axe Brothers. If Bahzell and the wizard lived, they died, whatever the fate of the ship; if the wizard or the champion died, sorcery would save them from their foes.

They attacked in a wave of steel.

Kenhodan swept the legs from one man and brought his blade shrieking back to claim another’s head. He daggered a third while Bahzell dropped two men with one blow, smashing them into ruin to gain elbow room to throw his hook knife into a pirate charging Brandark’s back. Brandark’s axe crunched through the ribs of a pike-armed pirate chieftain as the man tried to use his weapon to vault over the heads of Wencit’s defenders, and the corsair fell shrieking.

Kenhodan sucked in air. Hot blood sprayed his face. Not even he and his companions could stand against so many, and they gave back a step in unison, as if it were a drill field maneuver. And then, impossibly, they stopped once more, throwing the corsairs aside in steaming blood and shattered limbs.

Forstan’s men crunched into the melee, axes flashing. Their voices rose in the terrible song of the Brothers of the Axe at war, and pirates tumbled back in bloody wreckage from the precise axe work of their advancing wedge.

The pressure eased. The three companions gained back the space they’d yielded, and Brandark dropped behind to deal with whatever might slip past Bahzell and Kenhodan. Seldwyn, blood streaming from a cut forehead, rallied his surviving archers and charged across the bloody deck, and the corsairs were suddenly hemmed into a tiny pocket, growing smaller as death harvested to their numbers.

And then Kenhodan leaned on his sword, gasping as soldiers and seamen met in the center of the deck. The boarders had offered no quarter; they were given none.

Wencit’s chant peaked suddenly and died, and Kenhodan wiped bloody sweat from his eyes and stared in hypnotized horror as the blackness split once more and one cloud was driven back on the ship which had spawned it. Screams rose from her deck as fire and darkness consumed her. Her back broke with a crunch of timbers, and the outraged sea rose, a vortex raging about the broken ship like Korthrala’s own wrath to suck her screaming crew and shattered planking deep.

Whoever controlled the other ship’s sorcery took heed of his consort’s fate, and the blackness vanished suddenly as he dispelled his own attack before it could be turned against him. White light streaked unopposed over his vessel, and the clash of wizardry ended in a twanging chorus of riven lines as the remaining corsairs slashed their own grapnels free.

The two survivors wheeled away, carrying the tattered rags of the wizard wind with them. Near silence fell on Brandark’s card ship, broken only by the moans of the wounded, and Kenhodan stared about, abruptly appalled by the carnage. His muscles slackened as the rage flowed away as swiftly and suddenly as it had invaded him, taking with it the exultation and leaving only sorrow — and horrified revulsion as he realized his sorrow arose not from the loss of life, but from the fact that any of the corsairs had eluded him.

He stared at the bloody deck in anguish and gripped his sword white-knuckled. What was he? In the names of all the gods, what kind of blood-mad killer was he?!

* * * * * * * * * *

Splashes roused him as the crew tumbled their enemies to Korthrala’s mercy. He watched the bodies slide over the side, and his hands trembled as he mechanically cleaned his weapons on a fallen pirate’s tunic and sheathed them. He frowned down at his fingers, filled with an ageless weariness that gnawed the vitals of his soul. Then he clenched them into fists to still their quiver and leaned against the bulwark. He watched flames eat to the waterline of the ship Hornos had burned, and the horror of what he was was like a mortal wound.

Bahzell’s heavy hand gripped his shoulder, dragging him up out of the icy wastes of his soul. He drew strength and warmth from the touch, and the hradani’s elemental vitality seemed to burn through him like a cleansing fire. It wasn’t enough to erase his fear of himself, but it gave him control once more. He sighed, surveying the slaughterhouse deck from Bahzell’s side, and felt life return unwillingly to his battered mind. He would have to face his demon again, come to grips with it somehow, but this wasn’t the time. Instead, he looked up at Bahzell and actually managed a smile.

“You were right, you know,” he said, and his voice was almost normal.

“Was I, now? And what would it happen as I was being right about?” The hradani raised an eyebrow above an eye that still smoldered with the cinders of battle.

“What you said that first day.”

Kenhodan watched Brandark’s surgeon and his assistants bending over the wounded, and his throat ached. They were sorting out the most badly injured, carrying them towards Bahzell, and Kenhodan recalled the healing gift granted by Tomanāk to his champions. He could feel Bahzell putting aside the fury of battle, reaching for that far more joyous gift, but the hradani’s gaze was still on him, the eyebrow still raised, the ears still cocked, and he smiled sadly.

“What you said that first day,” he repeated. “A sailor’s lot is hard.”

* * * * * * * * * *

Tolgrim of the Shith Kiri wore a grim expression, directed in sidelong glances at the wizard by the rail. Sea Scimitar quivered to the wizard wind, and only that kept his dagger from Harlich of Torfo’s back.

“I don’t recall your mentioning those imperial troops, Wizard! Or that bastard Bahzell, for that matter!”

“No,” Harlich said smoothly. “I didn’t know about them, Captain. I suppose the bullion should have led us all to anticipate the Axe Brothers, at least. But trust me, if I’d known Bahzell Bloody Hand was anywhere about, I’d never have gone anywhere near this entire business!”

“Pretty words!” Tolgrim snarled. “Pretty words indeed that cost me half my ships and three quarters of my men!”

“I can only apologize, Captain. It was my companion’s task to obtain information. Apparently his spies were less thorough than he thought.”

“Aye?” Tolgrim spat over the side, scowling back at the vanishing Wave Mistress. “Your scummy friend’s cost the Islands dear this day! And I daresay you won’t be any too popular back home yourself.” He grinned sourly, obviously pleased by the thought.

“No, I don’t suppose so. But when you condemn poor Thardon, recall that he shared the fate of your men. His mistake cost him as dearly as it did them.”

“May the fish lick his bones!”

Tolgrim hissed the traditional curse savagely and took a jerky turn about his quarterdeck to regain control. Harlich stood motionless, his attention seemingly on the swelling sails. His life hung on a thread, for his art couldn’t protect him from the baffled rage of Tolgrim’s survivors if they turned on him, yet nothing in his face or manner betrayed any awareness of his danger.

“Well, Wizard,” Tolgrim said at last, “it seems we’ve both failed. At least I can tell the Council of Captains my precious allies let me down — but what will you tell your bitch mistress, hey?”

“An excellent question.” Harlich took care to conceal his relief at Tolgrim’s implication that he still had a future in which to report.

“Aye, she won’t be any too pleased, I’ll wager.” Tolgrim seemed to find grim satisfaction in the thought. “Well, we’ll set you ashore near Belhadan as we promised, and it’s glad I’ll be to see the back of you!”

“Thank you, Captain,” Harlich said carefully, “but I feel we’ve let you down badly. I’d rather see you all safely home with the wizard wind, lest more difficulties befall you. After all, your captains and the Baroness have been good friends for many years. I’d like to do what I can to preserve that friendship.”

“You would, would you?” Tolgrim’s eyes gleamed. “I’m not so sure that would be wise. The Council might not be so understanding as I am. They might be almost as dangerous as yonder wizard.”

His thumb jerked at their wake.

“Of course the Council will need an explanation. That’s why it might be to your advantage to take me along. My word that you were misled — by mistake, of course! — and that you did all any man could do to save the day, might bolster your own position, I should think.”

“Might it now? And in return?”

“You might extend hospitality to a poor weary wizard for the next . . . shall we say four months?”

“Four months, is it?” Tolgrim tugged his beard. “So you reckon it’ll all be over by then, do you?”

“Over?” Harlich looked blank. “I’m afraid I don’t understand.”

“Of course not. Of course not.”

Tolgrim tucked his thumbs into his sword belt and rocked on his heels, studying the wizard. He still didn’t care for this Harlich above half, but it was true another’s words might stand him in good stead before the Council.

“All right, Wizard,” he said abruptly. “I’ll take you, and if I keep my head and you keep yours, I’ll put you up for four months. But not a day longer! And may Phrobus take me if ever I have dealings with you again!”

“Thank you, Captain.”

Tolgrim stumped off to pass among his remaining men, and Harlich watched him exchange hand clasps with them, speak to the wounded, and generally set about shoring up his damaged prestige. He’d be busy at that throughout the voyage, for corsair captains depended upon their men’s acceptance for survival. If they lost the power of their reputations, they never commanded at sea again . . . if they were fortunate enough to reach home alive at all.

And Harlich’s survival?

He looked out over the sea. Wave Mistress had vanished, for which he was profoundly grateful. He still felt the terrible power of Wencit’s will, and it was nothing he ever wanted to feel again. Counterspells were one thing, but Wencit had shown him a new dimension of the art. It was impossible to invade another’s spell and seize control of it — every wizard knew that — yet Wencit had done it anyway. Harlich shivered in memory, for the wild wizard had done even more. Whatever had destroyed the Shark had been more than the madwind alone, and Harlich had no desire to face Wencit again, whatever Wulfra wanted.

The Corsair Isles were far from Torfo — far enough to be safe from Wulfra’s vengeance. There was always the bothersome matter of her sponsor, of course, but Harlich suspected that he — whoever “he” was — wouldn’t bother to destroy one of Wulfra’s straying minions. After all, Harlich might prove useful to him one day . . . perhaps one day soon, if Wulfra was unfortunate enough to meet Wencit in arcane combat.

Of course, Wulfra would feel he’d deserted her, but he could live with that. She wasn’t that much more powerful than he. Even if she managed to come within striking range, he had a better than even chance of surviving whatever she cared to attempt.

And that, after all, was the point: survival. Harlich recalled Thardon’s eagerness and shook his head. Let Thardon and those like him believe the objective was power; Harlich knew better now. Power was secondary, useless unless a man survived to wield it.

Three times Wulfra’s servants had clashed with Wencit, and Alwith and Thardon were dead. Harlich had no wish to offer Wencit a clean sweep. Oh, no! If Wulfra wanted the wild wizard dead, let her kill him. Harlich had had enough, and if Wulfra wanted to punish him for that, she could always look them up in the future.

After four months, say . . . if she was still alive to do it.


"Oh, bother!" said Pooh, as Piglet came back from the dead.
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Re: SotS Official snippet #17
Post by ksandgren   » Sun Jun 07, 2015 5:28 pm

ksandgren
Captain (Junior Grade)

Posts: 342
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Location: Los Angeles, California

Thanks RFC!

Having the eARC, I'm more interested in the final copy than the snippets, but its still great to have more of the readership that can speculate on more of the future of Norfressa.
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Re: SotS Official snippet #17
Post by Fireflair   » Sun Jun 07, 2015 7:16 pm

Fireflair
Captain of the List

Posts: 549
Joined: Wed Sep 05, 2012 5:23 pm

Thank you for the snippet. Even though the e-arc is out, I'll be waiting for the book. So I always enjoy the snippets.

I'm glad the surgery went well and you're doing better.
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Re: SotS Official snippet #17
Post by dan92677   » Sun Jun 07, 2015 8:56 pm

dan92677
Commander

Posts: 218
Joined: Thu Apr 18, 2013 9:33 pm
Location: Southern California

RFC

Glad everything is improving health-wise.

Thanks for the snippet! The next one will trod new territory for us non-earc's.

I'm already awaiting it!!!

Who knows, perhaps the coursers will appear???

Dan
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Re: SotS Official snippet #17
Post by cirret   » Sun Jun 07, 2015 9:14 pm

cirret
Ensign

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

Thank you for the snippet. And even better to hear you're having a speedy recovery.
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Re: SotS Official snippet #17
Post by BarryKirk   » Sun Jun 07, 2015 10:14 pm

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Posts: 403
Joined: Sat Aug 11, 2012 1:27 pm
Location: York, PA

RFC. Happy your on the mend. Thanks for the snippet.
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Re: SotS Official snippet #17
Post by RHWoodman   » Sun Jun 07, 2015 11:01 pm

RHWoodman
Captain (Junior Grade)

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

Thanks so much for this snippet as well as the Safehold snippet, RFC. Best wishes for continued good health.
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Re: SotS Official snippet #17
Post by lyonheart   » Mon Jun 08, 2015 12:45 pm

lyonheart
Fleet Admiral

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

Hello RFC!

Thanks very much for the new snippet!

A great battle scene.

It's nor like Wencit to leave evil wizards left after a battle.

Is he getting old, or is he teaching the smart ones more caution, perhaps fueling contention behind enemy lines?

L
Any snippet or post from RFC is good if not great!
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Re: SotS Official snippet #17
Post by RHWoodman   » Mon Jun 08, 2015 4:11 pm

RHWoodman
Captain (Junior Grade)

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

lyonheart wrote:Hello RFC!

Thanks very much for the new snippet!

A great battle scene.

It's nor like Wencit to leave evil wizards left after a battle.

Is he getting old, or is he teaching the smart ones more caution, perhaps fueling contention behind enemy lines?

L


Hi, Lyonheart,

Always enjoy reading your comments.

Wencit himself has already stated that he is getting old and his power is beginning to wane. It could be that whatever he did to Thardon's spell left him too drained to finish off Harlich. My first thought, however, was that there was probably something in the Strictures that required Wencit to break off magical contact if the enemy broke it off first and voluntarily. Once the Shark was destroyed with all hands, the pirates broke off all contact and began to flee. Thus Wencit stopped his magical attack. That makes me think it's related to the Strictures, though, as you suggested, it could be old age or a way of sowing caution in his enemies as he goes to retrieve whatever it is that he wants to take from Wulfra.
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Re: SotS Official snippet #17
Post by Bahzellstudent   » Mon Jun 08, 2015 4:42 pm

Bahzellstudent
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THanks for this David - and delighted to hear the good news on the medical front. Keep doing what the medics say.
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