Continued from yesterday, I have the wonderful opportunity to post excerpts of the book The Last Sacrifice by . I hope everyone enjoys! I appreciate being able to post this. Thank You James and Angry Robot Books for this opportunity!
Is out January 3, 2017!
So go get your copy!
Check back tomorrow for Ch. 3
JAMES A MOORE
The Last Sacrifice
The Tides of War book I
Traveling the Winding Paths
The attackers came fast and targetted the children. That was exactly the right thing to do if they wanted the women to stop defending the keep and themselves.
Myridia listened to the men as they spoke. Some of them were there for revenge. They’d lost family to the Grakhul, and like so many considered the people of the keep evil. They were wrong. They simply did not understand.
Myridia listened, and she learned.
The leader was a brute named Brogan McTyre. He was a large man with dark, reddish brown hair that was currently braided down his back. He kept his face shaved closely and he wore the clothes of a westerner; a loose shirt, a vest, a kilt. On clear days she and her family had seen hints of the distant mountains in that direction. The westerners were known for fighting and for selling their services to the highest bidder.
She remembered the sacrifices. That was part of her duties. She remembered them and she honored them. Judging by the way he was dressed she knew that most of the last moon’s sacrifices were his people.
They had died honorably, even the youngest among them.
The children had all been placed in wagons. The wagons were drawn by a few old nags that were still around the keep. Mostly they were there as food, but the He-Kisshi – the rulers of the keep – believed that a few extra animals could prove useful. So did the raiders.
The children wailed and cried as children do, right up until Myridia barked an order at them to keep their tongues. After that they listened carefully and obeyed. They still stared out at the vast plain of Ulgrthh, but they no longer made noises. Myridia understood. They had never been away from the keep before. Until this very time she had not, either.
Unwynn, who was wiser by far in Myridia’s eyes, spoke softly to the children, “We move on, little ones. This place is no longer safe for us, the gods have decreed that the land is now tainted.”
“Why?” The boy who asked was only seven years old, and he blinked back tears as he watched the landscape moving.
“Myridia will explain to you.” Unwynn looked at her for only a second, but the scolding was clear enough. She had lost her patience with the children over a trifling thing and now she would make it right.
“The gods sometimes punish foolish people. They have done so ten times before by reaching into the heavens and pulling down demons to make mortal people suffer.”
“What’s a demon?” The little girl, all of five, looked at her with utter fascination. She wanted to learn everything. That was the way with Grakhul women. Boys sometimes seemed slower, but they studied different things. They learned the methods by which the gods were observed and the women learned the history that the gods wanted preserved.
“The gods stride the universe. They walk between the stars and they seek places that they like to call their homes. Sometimes they meet other things that feel the same way and when that happens they must capture and defeat their new enemies.
“This has happened many times. The gods who we serve came here a long time ago and on the way they fought many demons and even other gods. Those they defeated they captured and put into special prisons. Those prisons are like bubbles in the water. They are there and they sometimes move around and we can even see them if we know how to look, but they cannot be touched by us any more than the bubbles in the water can be touched and captured. They’re too different. Do you understand?”
It took a few seconds but the children nodded. Of course there was more to it than that, but it was a concept they could grasp.
“The demons are captured because they are dangerous, but they are kept because they have uses.
“We have always served the gods since they came here; they chose us as their servants. We did not want to serve them at first, but the gods reached up and plucked a demon from the skies and set that demon here. That is why the land here does not grow. We learned our lesson and served faithfully and so the gods gave us ways to have food and to live where no one else can without dying.
“Then they moved out among the people of this world and demanded sacrifices. They showed what had happened here, where once there were great forests and fields as fertile and green as any in the world, and they said, ‘Do not fail us or this will happen to you.’ Nobody listened. They did not believe.
“The people said, ‘We have our own gods. We do not need you.’
“You should never say such things to gods.
“The gods grew angry and there was a great battle between the gods already here and the gods we follow. The gods we follow won that war and killed all the gods before them or drove them away. Then they took one of the demons they had captured in the stars and placed the demon on the ground for all to see before releasing it. The demon did what demons do and destroyed everything around it before the gods sealed it away again in its prison and told the people to listen to them. The people obeyed because they had no choice.”
She paused a moment. “I see the look on your faces. You want to know what demons do. They can do many things. Sometimes they take the bodies of people and use them as puppets. Sometimes they suck the life out of the land and steal away whole cities. That is what they did the very first time a demon was placed here by the gods. There was once a vast city here. But the demon took it and used it as a toy. They took most of our people at the same time.
“The gods have punished this world ten times with demons. They have many more demons, but they will not use them again. The last time they said, ‘The time for warnings is done. If we are disobeyed again we will destroy the world. We will be fed or all you love will die.’ That is the truth as we know it.”
The children were not comforted by the story. They were terrified, as they should have been. Myridia understood. This was all new to them, far from their life in the keep. To hear that the gods had no mercy in their hearts was not a comforting thing.
Next to her Unwynn was staring out at the plains, following the trail to the ocean. The land was exactly curved enough to take away all signs of the water, but the older woman stared just the same.
“What will happen when they get back?” Myridia suspected she already knew the answer, but asked just the same.
Unwynn didn’t even turn to face her. “They will come after us, but it will be too late.”
“Why too late?”
“Because you will be gone by then. You and the others. Leave the mothers. Leave the children. Just select the ones you know can fight. Then leave.”
Myridia shook her head and frowned. “What if they decide to kill the ones who stay behind?”
Finally Unwynn looked to her. Fine lines showed around her eyes, but otherwise she could have been of birthing age. The sacrifices aged differently. It was one of the many things about them that was different. “We are already dead. All of us. Everything is dead. Never forget that.”
Myridia nodded her head and forced herself not to lower her eyes in respect. There was no time for courtesy. “What would you have us do?”
“Escape. Leave here. Find the others if you can. They are far to the west, beyond the mountains.”
Her throat worked. “And if we fail?”
“As I have said before, we are already dead. There is little chance that you can change that, but if you are fast enough it is possible.” Unwynn looked away again. “When you are ready, I will make a distraction.”
“To the waters?”
The older woman nodded. “It is your only chance. The plains are too open and they will find you. Head away from the keep and stay close to the shore. Avoid the rocks.”
Myridia gathered the others quickly, fourteen in all, mostly using hand gestures. At least one of the men who had taken them spoke the True Tongue and that was one too many. She knew him. He had come and bartered with the people before. He was not trustworthy. Given a chance she would do her best to kill him, but that was not as significant as escape.
When they were ready, she spoke softly to Unwynn. “We are prepared.”
Unwynn did not acknowledge her. Instead she spun on her heel and strode quickly up the column. She had promised a distraction. Now was the time to move.
Myridia waved her hands and the others joined her as she ran toward the distant surf. The dark shoal was slick, but there were none of her people who were not used to that. Walking above the keep, walking near the waters, the surfaces were always covered in algae or fungi and made slippery in most cases.
One hundred paces and they’d heard no alarm and Myridia thought for a moment that they would not be seen but there were sudden screams.
Hopefully her friend managed to kill a few of the bastards before she died.
The ground jumped and pounded with every stride she made. The men behind her called out. She heard them, but their words meant nothing.
Three hundred steps and her lungs were aching. Her feet throbbed. The land ended now in a sheer drop. That drop, she knew, led to the sea.
Another hundred steps and Lorae fell down. She was quick to get back up, skinned knee and all. The waters were close now, and the surf hammered the shore as it always had.
Myridia was the first over the side and she jumped and arched her body as she left the cliff side and looked down into the turbulent sea.
The water boiled with thick foam that ran furiously between long teeth of black. The teeth looked hungry.
The trick was not to let the teeth taste you.
Around and behind her the others were following her lead, as Myridia let out a call to the Masters and dropped into the water. The teeth had no satisfaction from her and she swam deep into the ocean. Somewhere up above it was possible that the men would come to see the bodies left behind. They would be disappointed.
The changes were subtle, but they were enough. Myridia gulped water and felt it expelled from her sides. The air she needed she pulled from the waters. The rest was waste. Her fingers and toes grew longer, a process that always ached, but in a pleasant way. The webs grew between her digits and she moved faster, swam deeper.
Around her the others called out in song and she listened.
The song was beautiful. It was dark and haunting and filled her soul with a longing she would never manage to recover from.
It was the song of the sea, and the sea was so very demanding.
Brogan looked on as the women ran. They charged for the sea and he let them go. They had a caravan of hundreds with them and near as he could figure a dozen or so women fled.
Part of him screamed that he should follow, that he should send some of the lads at the very least, but he did nothing. He watched them moving away and instead of acting lost himself for a moment in memories that he would rather have forgotten.
Dead. All dead. Every last member of his family.
No. He shook that away. Later, perhaps, when they were not dealing with the real possibilities of dangerous reactions to what they’d done.
Laram and Mosely had been forced to cut down one of the pale women. She’d come at them screaming and throwing stones with unsettling accuracy. Laram was sporting an angry welt above his left eye. An inch or so lower and he’d have been half blind for life.
He had no doubt she was meant as a distraction to allow the other women to flee. He’d have done the same. Harper looked on, his telltale smile faded down to a puzzled expression.
The distraction? It was what he’d have done. Tactics, and good ones under the circumstances. There was nowhere for the women to go, however, and he wasn’t going to chase after them. It would cost too many hours and leave too many openings for others to try escaping the same way.
Escaping? The only thing below that cliff was angry water and daggers of stone. More likely they’d killed themselves to avoid being used.
He couldn’t blame them. There were a few of the men talking about what they’d enjoy doing with the women. Only a few. Most were still trying to decide what they should do about being outlaws.
Not long after they’d started away Laram had come forward and pointed out something that was quite simple, really. “We are walking with prisoners. They are proof that we’ve broken one of the most important laws of the Five Kingdoms.”
Brogan had almost asked him what he meant before realization set in. They’d been mercenaries on many occasions and most of the group had worked as highwaymen when the times demanded it, but the unspoken rule was to never leave proof.
The column of whelps and women behind them was proof that they’d been to the keep of the Grakhul and been about bloody business.
“Tell the lads to pull up their hoods and cover their faces. We get to Saramond in two days’ time if we keep on. When we get there we sell what we have to the slavers.”
“I thought you didn’t like slavers.”
Brogan found himself staring at the red mark on his friend’s forehead. “I don’t.” He gestured to the column of women and their young ones. “I like the notion of killing all of them less and I like being executed even less than that.”
Laram nodded and started away.
The man looked back his way, his fine blond hair obscuring half of his face in the harsh winds before he scooped it away with his fingers again. “Aye?”
“Remind the lads that no one wants to buy damaged goods. If they’re going to take what they want, make sure they don’t do too much harm.”
He’d have preferred the idea of them leaving the women alone, and the children too. He was not for the notion of taking from a woman simply because the desire arose. He was also not the one to stop the men with him.
They were not in a battle. They were there because he’d called them and they’d responded. What they did in their time was their own business, but he also knew most would talk and not react. They weren’t animals, just killers and now, slavers.
When he closed his eyes, his rage wanted to do more. When he thought of his family and their deaths, he wanted to kill all of the survivors. He wanted them to suffer a thousand cuts for each second he would be without his family, but that could not happen. That way lay madness. The rage was there, still burning, but like a furnace he had banked that anger. He would use it if he had to, as a tool, not as the master of his world.
He spat again.
The affair was almost finished.
They would be riding away from this insanity soon enough.
Behind them the storms raged on, and the winds smelled of lightning strikes and the sea.
JAMES A MOORE is the award-winning, bestselling, author of over forty novels, thrillers, dark fantasy and horror alike, including the critically acclaimed Fireworks,Under The Overtree, Blood Red, the Serenity Falls trilogy (featuring his recurring anti-hero, Jonathan Crowley) and his most recent novels, The Blasted Lands and City of Wonders both part of the Seven Forges series. In addition to writing multiple short stories, he has also edited, with Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon, The British Invasion anthology for Cemetery Dance Publications.
Moore’s first short story collection, Slices, sold out before ever seeing print. He is currently at work on several additional projects, including the forthcoming The Last Sacrifice, book one in the Tides of War, series. Along with Jonathan Maberry and Christopher Golden, he hosts the Three Guys With Beards podcast and currently he lives in Massachusetts.
Since time began the Grakhul, immortal servants of the gods who choose who lives and who dies when it comes time to make sacrifices to their deities, have been seeking to keep the world in balance and the gods appeased. When they take the family of Brogan McTyre to offer as sacrifice, everything changes.
Brogan heads off on a quest to save his family from the Grakhul. The decision this time is costlier than they expected, leading to Brogan and his kin being hunted as criminals and the gods seeking to punish those who’ve defied them.