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Here's a version of the opening scene from EXILED: AUTUMN'S PERIL... to tempt you...
gulped air before the next wave struck. The crashing foam tore the barrel from
his grasp. Without support, the weight of his companion’s body dragged him
underwater. After keeping the blacksmith alive for so long, Caleath refused to
lose him within sight of land. Legs kicking, he surfaced among the floating
debris—testament to the death throes of The Albatross and her battle
with Nature’s spite.
“Balls of a hairy goat!” The oath
came with a surge of elation. Salvation lay beyond a final line of breakers.
Caleath’s tenacity returned when he saw the fractured spar of the mizzen mast
dumped on a narrow beach. He renewed his hold on a waterlogged barrel and
struggled against the storm’s spent fury.
Panic drove adrenaline through
pulsing veins and gave him the strength to heave his burden to the surface.
Despite salt water trying to fill his lungs, he remained afloat until the tide
dumped him onto solid ground.
Slumped on a beach beneath driving
rain, he could not relax. With each successive wave, he lugged his companion’s
body higher onto the shore. A greedy undertow dissolved the sand under his
feet, but Caleath held ground against Nature’s fickle temper. Dragging air into
tortured lungs, he waited for the next incoming surge.
Having survived the shipwreck, he
hoped saving the life of his companion might provide redemption for the dark
morass of his past.
A tumble of rocks offered
protection from the wind. In their care, Caleath examined his shipmate. He
cleaned a calloused finger, gritty with sand, and searched for a pulse or the
telltale warmth of living flesh. Life pulsed at a fast but weak pace beneath
clammy skin. The smith's breath came in gurgling spurts.
Caleath pressed on the man's chest.
Seawater spilled from the slack mouth with every forced exhalation. “Chesney,
come on man, you aren’t going to die. Not now.”
Caleath pinched the smith’s
bearded cheek and shook him gently. His action prompted a faint expelling of
breath. No more water in the lungs. “It’s not long till dawn. Stay with me.”
Caleath began to untie the rough rope binding him to the smith. He winced as
pain spread with returning warmth. He glanced into the darkness crowding the
rock strewn beach. The wind whispered accusations and shadows came to life.
Again Caleath checked Chesney’s
breathing. “Can you hear them?” He tossed aside the hemp rope, pulling the
tattered ends of his shirt sleeves over his bleeding wrist. “They are waiting
for you to die or for me to fall asleep. Ghosts. Feel their hate?”
Chesney didn’t react. His body
though radiated heat and Caleath edged closer, as meager warmth permeated
shivering flesh. He needed Chesney to survive. The smith risked his life to
save him. He would not fail the man. Not now.
“Chesney, listen to me… Stay with
me.” He felt a muscle twitch in the man’s arm and although exhausted he
concentrated on keeping the smith from sinking into a coma. “I don’t know why
you saved me.”
A violent shiver shook Caleath.
Memories of being chained in the
flooded hold of the sinking Albatross overwhelmed him. He clutched his arms
around his chest. Blood still seeped from the wounds at his wrists, where cold
iron tore skin and flesh. He swallowed, remembering the taste of terror as the
ship rolled and water closed over his head.
Nanobots in his blood wouldn't let
him drown. These microscopic machines from his home planet ensured his
survival. Immortality lost its allure with the prospect of spending decades at
the bottom of the sea until the wood deteriorated enough to release him. Since
purveyors of dark magic had found themselves an unquenchable source in Caleath,
he often regretted no longer having the option of a quick, clean death.
Alive. Chained to a wreck while
ribbons of blood invited predators to feed on his flesh. Living flesh. His fate
if the smith hadn't released him.
The science needed to understand
Caleath's longevity evaded the primitive natives of this planet. They called
him daemon. Magic they could deal with. Science they failed to understand.
“Did you believe the stories,
smith?” Caleath asked, not expecting an answer. “I never wanted the ship to
sink. Wasn’t my fault. No one will believe me though, will they?”
The smith’s breathing faltered.
Caleath rested a hand on the man’s rotund chest. His fingers caressed the rich
brocade decorating he smith’s vest. “This world is a globe. We could never sail
off the edge as the crew feared. I needed to find this southern continent.”
Caleath listened as the wind dropped for a few heartbeats. Pounding surf
drowned the ghoulish voices whispering at the edge of hearing. “I have to get
off this planet, Chesney. There is a man I must kill.”
The smith’s breathing settled into
an even rhythm. Caleath patted he man’s ample girth feeling his body heat return.
Damp but alive, Caleath felt confident the man would survive.
“You’ve made a small fortune from
my pain, haven’t you?”
Caleath couldn’t blame the smith. For breaking into the
flooded hold, risking his own life to save a maligned slave, Caleath forgave
him his gains through betting.
Freedom though, meant Caleath could shed the
persona of the gladiatorial slave Wrath. After sending two dread lords to their
watery graves, Caleath no longer needed to fear Governor Elensor, the man who
claimed to own Wrath. Whatever wealth the smith garnered from Caleath’s role as
Elensor’s prize fighter, those days were past.
Now he called himself Caleath,
the name he had selected while planning his escape. The name of a free man,
bent on leaving this planet and returning to the stars.
When Chesney began to snore,
His eyes closed. Fatigue plagued
every cell of his high-tech body. To succumb to dreams before dawn meant facing
the ghosts who haunted his nights. Instead, he mulled over the task ahead,
concentrating on how he would escape this accursed planet. Only then could he
focus on revenge.
With a curse, he vowed to punish
the man who abducted him and left him stranded on this world where sorcerers
and slavery existed.
Anger warmed his blood while he contemplated
how Ephraim would die.
Despite his determination, sleep
overwhelmed Caleath but offered no peace of mind. Scrutinized by the sightless
eyes of drowned men, panic plagued his dreams. Hungry for vengeance and
corrupted by the stench of watery decay, their angry spirits sought to destroy
In his vision, strands of hair
washed like seaweed across the disintegrating flesh of dead sailors. Tides of
marine scavengers reduced humanity to bare bone and memory.
spread on the current to drown him in guilt. Lifeless skulls and partially
devoured corpses of the recently drowned whispered curses. They laid the blame
for their demise on his shoulders. Fleshless fingers reached through the depths
to draw him into Death’s grasp while parasitic wraiths gnawed at his soul and
his lungs filled with the fetor of a carnivore’s breath.
Caleath woke from the nightmare.
Daylight drove barbs into his eyes, forcing him to blink before he could focus
on the muzzle of a salivating wolf.
Fangs gleamed inches from his face
and amber eyes regarded him without blinking.
Hunger, thirst, and the will to
survive overcame any fear a wolf might evoke. Terror dissolved before a
snarl. Caleath lifted an arm to fend off
the creature’s curious approach. When the wolf backed away, hackle and tail
raised, he knew the beast would not hinder his escape from this planet. Nothing
could ruin his chance of escape. Not an angry wolf, nor recurring nightmares,
nor Death herself could stop him while nanobots flowed in his bloodstream.
A second problem struck into his
consciousness. A new menace needed sorting. Cold steel touched the flesh of his
neck. Heavy enough to draw blood, the
blade glinted in the sunlight. Caleath could see white knuckles strangling the
“Riante tol?” The voice of a young
man trembled, but pressure applied to the blade emphasized each word. Caleath
half closed his eyes. As if drifting off for a few seconds, he maneuvered his
hand to ensure nothing hampered its scope of action.
While the wolf stood close enough
to share warmth, Caleath accessed data stored on microchips in his brain.
These implants, the size of a single cell,
carried information he collected during his lifetime. Able to access knowledge
in an instant, he searched through languages, cultures, or geographies from
across a dozen galaxies. His home planet's technology stood him in good stead
when he extracted the youth’s language from stored data. He drew on research
material from another galaxy, collected during his previous career as a
surveyor of unexplored planets.
“You can call me Caleath.” He tried
to swallow, but a parched throat made the simple task difficult. Blistered lips
bled from days in salt and sun. Coarse words drew a snarl from the wolf. “Call
off your dog. I will not hurt you.”
The youth’s gaze flicked from the
horizon to the cliffs, as if to win time to consider his options. The sword weighed heavy on Caleath’s neck
while lines of anxiety creased the flesh around the boy’s eyes.
Before the youth made a decision,
Caleath ducked from under the blade. His fist smashed against the wolf’s jaw.
The creature recoiled with a yelp. When the young man’s attention rekindled,
Caleath grasped the haft of the sword and wrenched the weapon free of the youth’s
grasp. Caleath slammed the blade into the sand, out of harm’s reach.
“You won’t need that. You're likely
to get hurt.” He brushed sand from his hands. “This man needs help.”
Recovering its dignity, the wolf
growled but remained out of reach. The youth’s eyes widened and sweat beaded on
his brow. His gaze dropped to his empty hands before he wiped them on his
“What is your name?” Caleath
prompted conversation while he struggled to lift his companion. With a grunt,
he managed to hoist the older man’s arm across his shoulder. Only then did he
take stock of the youth’s homespun garments and ingeniously tailored skins.
From sun-tanned toes to his head of
sandy hair the boy exuded health and vitality. His expression seemed honest and
unused to the shadow of fear that haunted his brow.
Green eyes glinted in the dawn light while the youth
“Gwilt. My name is Gwilt.”
Glancing at the boy’s bare feet Caleath
“You live near here. Help me get
this man to shelter and you can have any of the bounty we can salvage.”
“I could have
killed you.” Gwilt shaded his eyes as he scanned the strewn wreckage. “So this
could all have been mine anyhow.”
Caleath perused the storm torn
headland where he crawled ashore.
Wooden chests, barrels, and shattered
The Albatross littered the beach.
With a smile, he hoisted his burden higher. The boy might have been right, only Caleath did not intend to die, nor would he allow his companion to come to harm.
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