Welcome once again to my Free Fiction Friday post. Sorry I missed a few weeks. I had a nasty virus invade my laptop - the bane of all writers everywhere! Thankfully I didn't lose much work, and was able to recover almost everything that I'd saved to a flash drive. Moral of the story? Save, save, and save again!!
So without further ado, here's the latest installment of The Forest Lord!
“Where did you find it?”
“Are they all that large? I didn’t know they grew that big.”
The females stood in a semi-circle around the figure Zak and T’Riss had trussed up like a wild hog on the ground in the center of their tent. After leading Ilztafay out and safely stabling her with the mechanical mounts in the other tent, Zak returned and took his place between T’Riss and Kala. He gazed down at the human male with critical eyes.
“He’s not that large.” Zak rested his hand on T’Riss’s wrist. “He’s at least two full inches shorter than our arisa.”
Kala took a bold step forward, one hand on her weapon. Frowning, she looked down at the bound and gagged human.
“Is it normal for its kind? It seems… disproportionate. Bigger on the top than it is on the bottom, like an ogre.” Kala turned to T’Riss and Zak, her head cocked to one side. “Does it walk hunched forward as well, the way an ogre does?”
Zak’s hand over his mouth didn’t entirely stifle his laughter. T’Riss shot him a dirty look.
“This human has an overdeveloped upper body, likely the result of hard physical conditioning or labor. We removed several curious weapons from his possession. I’d like you to examine them.”
Her head dipped in submission. “Of course.”
“How might I be of service, arisa?” Iym’s ruby-red eyes shone in the heavy darkness.
“Is there a spell that would compel this male to speak truthfully?” T’Riss glanced between Iym and his mate. Zak had finally recovered from his choking laughter. He and Iym stared at each other before they both nodded, yet neither spoke. T’Riss frowned.
”Why the hesitation? This human has knowledge of our kind. If he has other knowledge, particularly of the Adintana attacks, we must discover it.”
Iym cast her lovely eyes down. Her voluptuous breasts rose and fell as she took a great breath, though no sigh escaped her. Without meeting T’Riss’s eyes, she nodded, and spoke staring at the ground. “As my arisa commands.”
Zak’s face twisted and he bit his lip. T’Riss’s frown deepened. Standing side by side, Zak’s distress dug into T’Riss like a dull dagger. T’Riss turned to his mate and wrapped a cool hand around his nape.
“Telanth ulu uns’aa,” T’Riss purred.
Zak tipped his head up. He met T’Riss’s lavender eyes, his small form melting into his mate’s embrace. T’Riss held him, entreating Zak again in their native tongue to speak to him and tell him what was wrong. Zak glanced at Iym. Her ruby eyes flashed, and she minutely shook her head. Zak burrowed into T’Riss’s chest, ignoring the press of the cold, hard adamantine plates of T’Riss’s armor against his face.
“Place the prisoner in the center of the circle.” Iym threw her cloak off and shook her mane of true platinum hair back behind her shoulders. The cloud of silver and white hair settled down her back, errant strands of purple, red, and black catching the gaslights before fluttering back into the mass.
Kala moved without T’Riss issuing an order. She bent forward and grasped the magically-enhanced rope running between the human’s expertly bound hands and feet. With one easy heft, she lifted the man completely off the ground and hauled him over to where Iym sprinkled powdered silver onto the hard-packed earth.
Jhul stood off to one side and leaned against her staff. A sour scowl pinched her face. Iym moved around the circle pouring out the pulverized metal, murmuring prayers to the Moon Goddess Lune. As she passed nearby Jhul, the lesser Sister reached out a hand to Iym.
“You don’t have to do this. I have herbs. I can poison it and make it talk.”
“Poisoning doesn’t guarantee truth; it’s no better than torture.” Iym didn’t even pause, her voice dripping with irritation. “Besides, you might very well kill him before we get any answers from him, true or otherwise.”
“But you shouldn’t have to do this! The cost-”
“Is mine to bear.”
“Sister, please…” Jhul again entreated Iym to halt the spell with an out-stretched hand, her face full of abject pleading. This served to only infuriate Iym further. She straightened to her full height and glared at the lesser Sister.
“Mind your place, Jhulryna.”
T’Riss followed the odd exchange, fascinated. The secrecy of the spellcasters annoyed him, but he wasn’t about to beg for details. Zak would say something when he was ready and not before.
Jhul’s scowl deepened and when it became clear Iym had no intention of stopping the spell, Jhul growled audibly. “I refuse to stand here and watch you lessen yourself!” She slammed the butt of her staff into the floor. Purple bolts of electricity shot up in a crackling net around her. Ripping the staff free, she spun, twirled the long golden pole in a dangerous arc around her, and swept from the tent with all the bearing of a Matron Mother.
T’Riss watched her go. His eyes flicked over Zak, who stood tensed, ready even now to form any sort of magic necessary and sling it at his opponent, be they friend or foe. T’Riss passed his mate over, his gaze landing on Kala. With a subtle jerk of his chin, he indicated the flaps through which Jhul had just disappeared. “Guard the perimeter while we question this human.”
Kala again moved without comment, hefting her huge scimitar and vanishing through the tent flaps. Zak moved unconsciously into a more advantageous combat position across from T’Riss as Iym stepped inside the silver circle. It snapped closed behind her with an audible hum.
As the two males watched, energy gathered within Iym forming a halo around her entire body of pure radiance. At the same time, energy built along the ring of powdered silver glowing brighter and brighter. Holy symbol clenched in her hand, Iym stood in the center of the circle beside the bound and gagged human male, ancient Drow falling from her lips in a rhythmic cadence.
The energy within her body and the force contained by the silver circle drew closer and closer together as the power built until it collided within the still form of the bound and gagged human male in an explosion of blinding brilliance. His bounds snapped, his body rising and stretching out like a sacrifice, consumed by unadulterated moonlight. Iym uttered a sharp command word and the light churned, whipping around like a whirlpool. Then as if a hole opened directly under the human’s heart, the light poured inside him with a roar like a waterfall.
As quickly as the spell began, it was over.
The circle of silver was gone, consumed utterly by the spell. The human and Iym both lay insensate on the floor. T’Riss went to the prisoner as Zak saw to Iym.
“Are you well?” Zak helped Iym up and aided her in straightening her robes.
“Weak, but that’s to be expected.” She gently shrugged free of his hands. “Thank you.” She turned and faced T’Riss and the prisoner. “He should freely answer questions now, arisa.”
T’Riss gazed down at the human. Iym had seemed twice as affected by the spell as he did, but T’Riss trusted the mistress/priestess. He gazed down at the man.
“What are you called, human?”
“Smoke.” The man answered instantly and without hesitation.
“That’s an odd name for a human.”
“It isn’t my name; it’s what I’m called.”
The corner of T’Riss’s lip curled and he shook his head. He understood how spells of this nature worked. He should’ve expected an answer like that and would have to be more careful of his questions.
“Very well. What is your name, human?”
“What is your occupation, Samaris Stonecutter?”
“I’m a gunfighter.”
T’Riss’s eyebrows raised and he glanced at the pile of weapons they’d removed from the human earlier. Now that all made more sense.
“A gunfighter… not a bounty hunter?”
“I occasionally take on bounties if the reward’s good enough.”
“When you entered the tent earlier this eve with the elf female and her companion, how did you know there was a third present?”
Smoke’s eyes cleared sharpened momentarily on T’Riss before sliding out of focus again. “I came into the tent looking for traps and illusions. I saw through your shadow shield.”
“How did you know to look for such a thing?”
“I saw through the mage’s illusion in the tavern.”
T’Riss turned to Zak, who looked as shocked by that answer as T’Riss had been. “To the best of your knowledge, has anybody ever seen through one of your illusions?”
Zak thought about the question and then nodded slowly. “Yes, ‘chev. Several of my masters and mistresses at the Crystal Palace were able to see through all illusions. They stated it was a matter of familiarity with magic and the wisdom to recognize it.”
T’Riss gave Smoke his undivided attention again. “Is this how you detected Zakn’yl’s illusions?”
T’Riss frowned, his hands on his hips. “You’d seen a shadow shield before?”
“You’ve fought Drow before.” Since this was said as a statement, Smoke neither confirmed nor denied it, merely sat passive under T’Riss’s glare. “Did you have something to do with getting the Drow blamed for the Adintana attacks?”
“The Drow are to blame for the Adintana murders.” For the first time since the casting of the spell, Smoke showed both personality and emotion.
“I assure you we are not. But perhaps you could share with us why the human and elven populations seem so certain of our guilt.”
Again, the mist cleared from Smoke’s blue-gray eyes. He scrutinized T’Riss for a long moment, and then nodded.
“We ignored the first few people who died. After all, traveling in Adintana isn’t without risk. There are all sorts of natural predators. But then a few elves died and they asked for a summit. When our leaders met, a specific similarity came to light.
“A shadow glyph had been found at or near the scene of every murder. When our authorities tried to investigate, they discovered more of the shadow glyphs spread throughout the forest. Our mages and the Elven High Council identified the glyph as an ancient Drow glyph.
“Before a letter or collective envoy could be assembled, a series of brutal murders occurred one after another, bringing the death toll to thirteen. Our leaders and the Elven King issued the notice that the Drow had violated the Adintana treaty.”
Smoke’s eyes narrowed and suddenly he looked very sober. “You and your party of females will not escape this camp alive. The bounty on your heads is enough to make any man rich for the rest of his days.”
Zak glanced up from where he tended Iym and gazed at Smoke. “Did you see any of these shadow glyphs?”
Smoke shook his head. “No, but I know Adintana as well as any hunter or trapper. I know where each murder took place and where the lone glyphs were found.”
“You have a map?” T’Riss stared at Smoke intently.
Smoke cocked his head and tapped it. “Here.”
Zak looked at his mate. “Several creatures use such symbols. I must see these so-called shadow glyphs.”
Kala and Jhul swept back inside the tent. “We must either leave swiftly or be utterly silent,” Kala said. “The humans are returning in gangs.”
T’Riss nodded. “Silent. Once they’ve passed out we’ll take our leave in the swiftest possible fashion.”
“Can Iym travel?” Jhul’s face was haughty.
“I’ll be fine. I can sit my mount.” Iym sat wrapped tightly in her cloak, sipping from a flask Zak provided.
“And him?” Kala indicated Smoke with a jerk of her head. She fingered her tremendous blade. “When do you want me to dispose of him, arisa?”
T’Riss stared at Smoke, who stared right back. His voice drifted out as a deadly whisper. “Give me one good reason I shouldn’t let Kala gut you from groin to gullet.”
Smoke offered him a cocky smile. “I’ll give you two. My sister was one of the thirteen souls claimed by the Adintana killer, so I have every reason to want justice for her.”
“And the other?” T’Riss asked.
“Your spell didn’t work, and I answered your questions honestly anyway.” Smoke rose fluidly to his feet, aware of the five deadly Drow surrounding him. He ignored everyone but T’Riss. “Can I have my guns back now?”
As always comments are craved and appreciated. I so wanted to put up a pic of Smoke, but I don't have one that looks good enough on the blog, so I'm still looking. As soon as I find one, I will definitely post it up to give you all an idea of my inspiration for my human gunfighter.
In the meantime:
Follow all your favorites and read the first 100 words on the group’s website:
Be Sure To Check Out The Other Stories:
Follow all your favorites and read the first 100 words on the group’s website: