Elude Excerpt #2… — Derek Barton

Capture hh

 

2 – THE CHANGEUP

Like a bolt of lightning, Vic sprinted back into the house, knocking the screen door off one of its hinges.

He blazed through the living room, hopped over a laundry basket in the hallway and bulldozed open the back-porch door. The heavy footfalls of the police officer hadn’t left his ears. He heard the man chasing after him.

“OH MY GOD, VICENTE! WHAT DID YOU DO?” Cat screamed from somewhere in the front of the house, maybe she was even still in the front yard.

“Stop!” Reccard called out to him, already sounding winded.

Vic kept his pace, scrambling up and over the backyard gate. When his feet hit the gravel of the alleyway, he shot to the west. His best chance was to get closer to the campus, get into a crowd. But most of all, he needed time. Time to learn what happened and time to think of his next move.

Above all, Vic didn’t want to go back to jail or have to leave Cat again. Until today, he put faith in the idea that things were going to work out for them. Cat would get back into her schooling, find herself, and maybe even establish a career. He would be careful, avoid trouble and maybe even do something with photography to better himself.

But was that all dusted?

There was a struggling strip mall a few blocks west that was his first goal. The parking lot would be busy enough at this time of late afternoon. He could make for the Frye’s Grocery Store. Plenty of shoppers getting tonight’s dinner.

Sirens blared at the other end of the alley behind him. They must’ve thought he headed the other way.  Now the police cruiser barreled down the alley trying to play catchup.

Not breaking stride, he cut right at the end and pumped his legs faster. He had to get to that parking lot first. He heard several dogs barking at the commotion.

His thoughts whirled around the image of blood dripping steadily from holes in his trunk. What the hell was in my car? I didn’t see anything in the house and no one came after me. How can this be happening?

Three blocks ahead, he saw the sign for the grocery store and the various oddity stores. Cars were streaming in and out of the lot. He weaved around them and made a straight line for the entrance.

Sweat poured down his neck and between his shoulders. His black curly hair matted at the sides around his ears. He crossed the entry, stopping to catch his breath. Vic knew he had out-run the first officer, but he only had seconds before more would arrive in the lot.

He briskly walked toward the back, trying not to attract more attention. Below the neon sign for the Produce, an arrow pointed toward the restrooms. A man in his late fifties guided a cart with stacks of open boxes through a set of double plastic doors.

“Excuse me, didn’t see you. Need a window in one of those swinging doors,” he complained.

Vic nodded and swung around him. In the back room, one of the fluorescents flickered and buzzed like an angry bee. A cloying rotted citrus smell bowled into him and nearly made him gag. More stacks of fruit boxes filled the majority of the room and lined two of the cement walls. A desk and a corkboard covered in Postit notes saddled the other wall.

An open doorway led to a dark back stockroom and docking port. He saw a glowing-red exit sign above a metal set of double-doors.

Without thinking, he pushed the door open and triggered a piercing alarm.

Damn! Damn damn damn, he cursed to himself. He knew better – he’d just blown his advantage.

“HEY KID!” the produce clerk called after him.

He dashed to the left, avoided the sloping dock ramp and went parallel to the back of the strip mall shops. Around the corner at the back end, he shot up and over a low, cinder block wall, and landed on a tree-clustered, dirt bank. Ahead of him, he spotted several two-story townhouses.

You ever in a race, change it up – find new clothes fast! It will give you another chance to confuse ’em.

Another pearl of jail-time wisdom from his former cellmate, Rory James Cole.

He froze in his tracks when an idea popped into his head. Rory’s younger brother, Durojaiye “DJ” Cole might be willing to help him. The two had been in the same grade in Brinton Middle School, but Vic had hung out more with Rory back then. The police wouldn’t have him as one of Vic’s known associates.

Looking through a window of the nearest townhouse, it appeared empty. He removed his shirt and wrapped his fist in it. Praying to himself that the owners didn’t have an alarm, he broke the backdoor’s windowpane.

Once inside he was quick with a decision and raced upstairs. There were three bedrooms. He chose the master bedroom.

The walk-in closet had exactly what he wanted: a pullover ASU sweatshirt, grey sweatpants and a baseball cap.

They won’t be looking for another college student. They’ll be looking for a Hispanic kid in a tee shirt and jeans. He grinned to himself.

Looking down to untie his sneakers, he discovered they were stained red with gore.

He rummaged through the dirty clothes on the floor and lucked upon some oversized sneakers. He also discovered a matching ASU backpack.

He stuffed a few more extra sets of clothes in the backpack.

Next to the bed was a black oak dresser with a lamp, several worn out paperbacks and framed photos. He picked up a photo of a young couple on a white sand beach. Seeing their smiling faces gave him a twinge of guilt.   He reached for his wallet.

“Shit. No. Sorry, I may need this money. You aren’t on the run from the police.”

He spoke the words, but it was Rory, always the survivor, who was inside his head. Don’t be no damn fool!

He left by the front door and walked with faked confidence. He carried the sneakers in the crook of his arm, stuffing his shaking hands in his jeans pockets.

Several blocks over he made a beeline for the entrance to the Tempe Town Lake Park. More sirens were working their way through the neighborhoods and closing in. He lowered the brim of the baseball cap another inch.

The sun finally dipped below the horizon, but the park lights were stubborn to show themselves. He crossed over 1st Street, cutting through another pair of townhouse complexes.

In the shadows along the shore side, he threw his bloody jeans and sneakers into the flowing water of the man-made lake.

A police helicopter flew west of him, headed to the neighborhoods by the grocery store no doubt. Instinct still told him to take the extra steps and remain out of the light of the streetlamps.

Now that he’d accomplished goal number one, he rested at a metal picnic table. It was one of his unique strengths: calm under pressure. His mind was quick to compartmentalize most situations, or obstacles. Time after time, it walked him through situations in juvie or jail.

I can’t stay here long, he decided, working through his options. Light Rail! Yeah, that’s good. It’ll take me to DJ’s neighborhood and I can still mix in with the crowds.

  

***

 

“Yeah? That does sound just like Rory.”

The two young men were in the living room on beaten down leather couches. A haze of Mint-Madness vape smoke floated through the room. DJ pulled again on his brass vaporizer.

Unlike his brother who was a beanpole and looked like he missed too many meals, DJ was near 5’7”, stocky with short, tight dreads. He also had a never-ceasing grin on his lips.

“With just a few words, your brother could get a prison riot started in a convent!” Vic lamented and laughed.

“I know, right?”

“But he never failed me or left me out there to hang. I owe him a lot. When’s his trial date?”

DJ got up and crossed to a cluttered kitchen counter. The court summons was buried in mail and loose papers.

“Uh… here.” He snatched it up and read it. “Next May. May 9th.”

Rory was facing his third appearance in court for a Breaking and Entering charge. This conviction would garner him the designation “career criminal”.

The two went quiet and DJ plopped down on the couch with a bowl of cheese puffs.

“You sure it’s cool for me to stay on your couch tonight?”

“Sure. Sure.”

“I’ll be out before 5. They’ll never know I was here and you won’t get any heat for this.” Vic was grateful for the chance the kid was taking on his behalf.  Harboring him for the night could get him in serious trouble.

“Gimme that beer, would ya?” DJ pointed at a Coors on the corner of a glass coffee table. “So… you didn’t even know this girl?”

Vic shook his head, rubbing at his nose with the back of his hand. “I went in the back door — there was a note telling me the front door was broken. And when no one answered I tried to find her.”

“Dude… You went inside?”

“I don’t know what the hell I was thinking. Too much sun baking my head today I guess.”

“What’s your plan for tomorrow?”

Vic took a long drink. “I don’t know, at least not yet. I freaked out. Panicked with that cop right there looking at that puddle under the car.”

DJ ate the last puff and stood up. Yawning, he said, “I’m going to check the news on the computer and see what they’re reporting. I can tell you in the morning before you leave. Get some rest. I’m sure this will work out. You didn’t do anything.”

He stated it as though it were a matter of fact, but his eyes asked the question.

Vic replied in a hushed tone, “Nothing.” Then he raised his empty bottle with his own inquiring eyes.

“You’ll want to take it easy on those.  A clear head is going to save you in the morning. Here, give me that backpack. I’ll throw those clothes in the washer. You never know what might be on them… College students are walking STDs these days, you know?”

Five minutes later, DJ called out from the back of the apartment, “Oh, hey! Are you hungry? I got some free pizza in the fridge.”

“Free?”

He chuckled, “They delivered this pizza here when you were in the shower, but I didn’t order it. The driver said his shift was over anyway and he was going to report the owners as a ‘no show’. So, he let me just take it.”

“Glad my luck is rubbing off on you.” They laughed together, but it felt forced and awkward. He was beyond exhaustion.  The day’s events were starting to hit home.

“JESUS, DUDE!” DJ cursed.  There was sheer terror in his voice.

“WHAT’S WRONG?” Vic shouted back.

When there was no answer, he worked up his courage, afraid of what he might see and went to find his friend.

DJ stood next to the washing machine, the backpack spilled open on top of it.  Nesting inside was a pair of pale white hands, butcher-cut at the wrists.

“You son-of-a-bitch!”

“I… No, this…” The beer lurched up in Vic’s stomach and he vomited into the corner of the room.

From over his shoulder, Vic heard DJ on his cell phone.  “I’m at 1984 W Dunlap. I need a police officer NOW!”

He then put a hand over the phone and hissed through clenched teeth, “Do the right thing, man. Turn yourself in.”

Vic couldn’t look at him. His eyes were locked on the bloody stumps.  The fingernails were painted in bright pinks and yellows with polka dots of blood.

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INDIE FANTASY BOOK GIVEAWAY… –Derek Barton

Contest Ad 2017

Starting on Saturday, JULY 1ST, you can enter into my INDIE FANTASY BOOK GIVEAWAY which will have 6 WINNERS!!

Top Winner will receive $100 Amazon Gift Card, 8 EBOOKS (2 Best Selling Fantasy Novels and an Ebook copy from each of the 6 above-listed authors.)

All you need for the contest entry is to subscribe with an email to these authors’ mailing list.

PLUS IF YOU REFER A FRIEND, YOU GET AN EXTRA ENTRY INTO THE RAFFLE!

Drawings will be on Saturday, July 22nd. 

D O  N O T  M I S S  O U T !!

Elude Excerpt #1… — Derek Barton

Bloody hand

1 – IN COLD BLOOD

Vicente Vargas leaned forward, studying the crystalline blue eyes staring back at him from the computer screen.  The picture was of a small girl with fine blond hair, holding a dandelion up in the last of the summer day’s rays.  Her face was scrunched, her brow furrowed as she spotted the tiny white spider perched on the flower.

The shot was a perfect story to Vic.  When he selected his “keepers”, there was a significant rule he lived by: each shot must tell a story.  He was not a wedding photographer or even a mall hack who took portraits.  However, he did consider himself a budding artist.

He tagged the pictured and saved it on his hard drive.  She would be featured in his collection.  One day he would get his chance with a gallery and have a showing.

The voice of his late mother floated through his mind. I know you will make Mama proud.  You and your sister will show the world.

She always said it to him when he was growing up.  It might have been one of the last things she ever said to him.  He couldn’t remember.

He and Cat had been shipped off stateside five years back.  He was old enough to watch his baby sister on his own by then.  Mama saved and sacrificed for years to get enough money to send them ahead to a house she managed to mortgage.  The plan was to rejoin them in a year.

Then Hurricane Sandy took her life away.  Flooded the city and drowned all their dreams.

“You can’t hear that?” Cat snapped from the kitchen doorway.

“What?”

“Your phone is ringing! I could hear it through my headphones.  Vic, you have got to go!” She scolded.

His sister, Catarina, was only sixteen herself yet in many ways since his return, she had become the mother figure.

He hated the change.

“Fine,” he groaned, shut off the computer monitor and gave up resisting the call.

He had worked for six months now as a driver for an internet food service called Impulse Deliveries.  It barely paid him more than minimum wage, even the tips were insulting.

The clock on the wall flashed at him.  He called down the hallway. “The power went out again?”

“No. Some sort of ‘brown out’ hit the entire area.  Too many AC’s working overtime, bro.”

Bro.  Cat was in some mood.  Her mouth got as sharp as her wit when she was stressed, or something was bothering her.

He swept up his cell phone, walked through the kitchen doorway and poked his head past her dirty bedroom door.  “What’s going on?”

“Homework.”

“Cat… What is it?”

She shook her head and pretended to be scanning the textbook in front of her.

“You know you can talk to me.  I’ve been aro—”

“—Yeah. I heard how jail gives you a well-rounded education these days.”

He sucked in a breath between his teeth as her words stung him.  He rotated on the heels of his sneakers and stormed through the kitchen back door.

As the screen slammed shut, he heard a muffled, “Hey Vic, I’m so—”

On days like this, he sincerely missed his mother.  She had a real gift for reading people and their emotions.  Ava Vargas always knew the right words to say.

Irritated and frazzled by his sister’s taunt, he rubbed his nose. It was a nervous habit of his.  Throwing his bag into the back seat of their beat-up Nissan Altima, he revved the engine for effect, plastered his foot on the gas and peeled out of the driveway into the street.

At the first red light on Washington, he hauled out the cell phone from his jeans’ front pocket.  On the screen was a flashing bike symbol with a capital “I” centered on it.  He tapped it.

An address appeared as Google Maps opened automatically for him.  It zoomed in and identified his target address and the time he’d take getting to it.

9982 W Broadmore Apt #7E, Tempe. 

More instructions appeared below the address.  Burger Express:  815 W Warner Rd.  Order:  2 Jumbo Boy Burgers with fries.  1 order of onion rings and 2 Medium Cokes.  Ask for Jackson.

He sighed and wiped at his forehead. Already beads of sweat had popped up.  The temperature in Tempe was a “hair dryer 110 degrees”.  Not quite the “stick your head in an oven 118 degrees” yet — those temperatures were guaranteed by the weatherman on Channel 17 for the weekend.

Over an hour later, parked in the shade of an old warehouse, he lay back in his seat.  The last three deliveries had gone smooth, but the “tip jar” feature on his work dashboard had shown only $7.50 total.  For the four total deliveries, he successfully sweet-talked three of them into adding something extra. The Jackson order stiffed him.

“Mighty white of you, Mr. Jackson,” Vic cursed to himself.

He shut off the car radio playing an obnoxious rap version of Mac the Knife — even at his age he knew some classics you just leave alone.  Glancing at the dashboard clock, he wondered if he should head home and call it a day.  Then he remembered the exchange with his sister and decided he wasn’t ready yet for the awkward apology session.

Since his release on parole and coming back to the house, they had been working on rebuilding their relationship.  In the three and a half years he was in juvie, then jail, she had grown up.

Friends of his parents took her in after the trial.  Vic was her only rock back then.  He had let her down, was forced to abandon her.  She needed him, but one dumb night of idiotic decisions had led to a stupid joyride.

Vrrt vrrrrt vrrrrrt.  His cell phone vibrated like a mad bee on the seat next to him.  Again, the bike symbol pulsed on the screen.

It’s the Vic signal, V-man!  Another daring adventure and another damsel needs saving!  The joke broke his sour mood and a smirk cracked his lips.  He knew his jokes were lame, but they amused him at least.

1718 Lioness Estates Dr, Scottsdale.

 Chipotle: 2819 N Scottsdale Rd, Ste. #9  Order:  3 burritos, 2 steak and 1 chicken with sour cream.  No green onions on any of the orders. Ask for Shari

Scottsdale?  That might just save this day.  Bound to have a few extra dollars for a tip, no?

 The phone blipped a tiny bell and a text came through:  Ring the doorbell three times to be sure I hear you.  Thanks.

Per Google, he was fifteen minutes away from the restaurant.

He started up the Nissan.

Ten minutes after picking up the meal order, he pulled into the gravel drive leading to the large ranch house in Scottsdale.

Balancing the drink carrier with the three bags while trying to close the driver door with his leg, he spotted a piece of pink paper flapping from the glass door of the house.

When he stepped up to the porch he read, “Come around the side, door is not working. Sorry!  Shari”

He sighed loudly, turned around and went to the right side of the house.  He wasn’t sure if she meant the right, but it had a cement walkway that ran parallel to the brick façade.

In the back, he found a sparkling greenhouse with a single door propped open with a red-orange brick.

Vic used his foot to push it back so he could squeeze inside.  The strong scent of citrus filled the entire greenhouse.  He didn’t see any other doors to the house.  Along the back were dozens of flowerpots. Down the middle of the room were rows of hanging plants and flowers.

“Hello?”  Vic called out.

No answer.

“I’m here with your Chipotle order?  Hello?”

He walked along the center aisle where it turned to the left. A metal screen door with another wooden door behind it came into view.  The window in the wood door had closed beige curtains.

Where are they?  C’mon!  It’s too hot in here to play this game.  Sweat trickled down his back and wetted the pits to his black tee shirt.

A dirty sink and shelf were built into the wall next to the screen door.  He set the items down in order to knock.

Still no answer.  He was getting irritated, this was taking too long. He placed his hands on his hips.

“HELLO?? ANYONE THERE??” he shouted, cupping his hands to magnify the words.

Perhaps she was upstairs or had headphones on?

He tried the door handle.  Both doors were unlocked, and he walked in.  He had no idea this was the worst decision of his life.

“Uh… Shari?  I have your food order.  Shari, are you home?”

He left the food and proceeded inside.  The foyer was dark and musty.  It led to a cramped sitting room with three love seats, a tiny unused fireplace and a desk covered in old mail and papers.

A light ahead coming through an archway drew him in further.

He walked into a much bigger living room with two couches facing each other across a glass coffee table.  There were twin book cabinets on opposite walls and a long stairwell in the east corner.  Thick brown curtains were drawn closed, burying the room in shadows.

It was nearly pitch black.  Vic slipped and fell face first into the back of the couch.  He crashed to his knees. Trying to catch himself, his hand splashed into something wet and sticky.  He yanked his hand back, gasping when he raised up a bloody palm to his eyes.

The blood trailing down his arm was still warm and syrupy.   The leg of his jeans was stuck to his calf where he landed in the spreading puddle.

“Oh… Oh, shit!”  He scrambled to his knees, backpedaling to the other room.

Panic gripped his chest.  His breath was raspy.

This is too much blood!  Too much to survive!  I have to get out of here!

He bolted back through the greenhouse and raced out to his car.  Slamming the car into drive, Vic didn’t notice the disappearance of the pink note from the front door.

Fifteen minutes later, he was parked in the lot of a rundown gas station.  Its yard was cluttered with car parts, abandoned vehicles and rusted barrels.  Spotting an outdoor sink set-up, he drove behind the station.

He got out, looking around for anyone watching.  It was all clear.  He washed the blood from his arm and took his pants down to wash the blood from his leg.

Later, as he waited at a stop light two minutes from his house, he shook his head as if it might help him make sense of what had happened.  His entire 6’2” frame, coated in sweat, still shook with tremors.

“I had to leave,” he whispered.

She’s gotta be dead… I cannot be near that!  I’m on parole and they won’t listen to me.  No part of it!  Won’t take the word of a Puerto Rican felon! Awww, shit!  What am I going to do? 

His rambling thoughts continued to run in circles inside his head.  A car horn blared at him.  He hadn’t seen the light change.

When he rolled around the corner, he spotted a single police car parked in his driveway.

What the…

They couldn’t know anything yet.  I just found it.  What is going on?

Since the squad car was taking up the only available parking area, he parked on the street in front of the house.

Through the front window, Vic saw Cat speaking to a patrol officer.  She looked upset and emotional.  He swallowed hard and took a quick spot check of his jeans.  They were drying, but he didn’t see any telltale signs of blood.

Steeling himself, he straightened his shoulders and stepped across the yard to the front door.

  “This is ridiculous!  Isn’t this profiling?”  Cat exclaimed at the male police officer who towered over her.  In his late forties, he was white with a shock of black and white hair, and an air of impatience about him.

“It’s not profiling.  I’m just doing my due-diligence and following protocol on any tips given to the police department.”

“What’s this about?” Vic spoke loud enough to make them both jump at his sudden appearance.

The officer whipped his head around and lowered his hand to his belt, close to his service revolver.

“What’s going on here, sir?” he rephrased his question in a calmer demeanor, trying to ease back the dial on the tension.

“Who are you?” the officer demanded.

“Vicente Vargas, sir.”  He used the same downward cast of his eyes, the non-threatening tone and the lowered shoulders posture he learned in jail.  When you talk with the boss, this was how you talk.  Anything different caused further scrutiny or triple the trouble coming your way.

The heavyset officer studied him then replied, “Well, Vicente, my name is Officer Reccard.  There was a break-in down the street at Mennen’s Stereo Warehouse, lots of equipment and items were stolen.  A tip came in that a young teenage girl by the name of Catarina Vargas might have been involved.  She and her boyfriend Jimmy Brower may have information on it.”

“That’s crap!” Vic blurted.

“Watch your tone, son.”

“My sister is not involved.  I’m telling you.”

“They already searched the house, Vic.  Didn’t find anything.” Cat stated.

Vic asked, “Do you have a warrant?”

The officer raised his eyebrows in surprise, ”Oh? Do I need one? Nothing to hide, right?”

“Uh… no.  You’re right we have nothing to hide.  We don’t have anything.”

He crossed over to Vic standing in the doorway and leaned into his face. “So… I’m not going to find anything in that car, either. Right?  Or would you like to wave that holier-than-thou rights stuff in my face again and make me get a warrant?”

Vic shook his head, focusing on a spot on the floor by his feet.

Reccard brushed past him and headed out to the car.  Vic and Cat followed him without a word.

As they crossed the poorly mowed lawn sprinkled with tall weeds, the cop froze in his tracks.  Vic looked past the bulk of the officer and spotted something dripping from the backend of the car, puddling under the trunk by the driver’s back tire.

It was more of the warm and syrupy blood…

Upcoming Projects — Derek Barton

Capture ll

 

I have gotten some inquiries on the progress I have had on certain projects (especially concerning my sequel, The Bleeding Crown) so I thought I would send out a quick update.

 

THE BLEEDING CROWN — At this time, I am almost a quarter to half way through the first draft.  I spent a lot of time organizing, structuring the story line and developing the characters along with their backstories.  My projected goal is to finish the draft around September or October.

On a side note, I have been kicking around the possibility of a third novel in Wyvernshield, making this a trilogy.  I have some interesting paths I could go down, but I have not fully decided one way or another.  And since I am not done with the second novel’s first draft, it is too early to start plotting out the third.  One thing that is definitely making me hesitate is that I want the series to have a complete whole overall story and not two complete stories and one disjointed story thrown in the mix.  If that makes any sense.

CONSEQUENCES WITHIN CHAOS AUDIO BOOK — A sad development here.  My voice actress had too much on her plate at this time and just could not dedicate the necessary time to get this done within the time frame I was looking for.  So… I have submitted a proposal on Audible.com and I am waiting on audition proposals.  My goal was for the end of July, but with this delay I am not sure it will happen that soon.  Audible states that once an actor has been chosen, it could be done in 3 to 8 weeks give or take the size of the novel.  My book is estimated to be 11 hours recording.  Keep your fingers crossed with me!

CONSEQUENCES WITHIN CHAOS COLLECTIBLES — I cannot yet go into too much detail on this, but I have made some inquiries, connections and working relations with several sources in an effort to create some character collectible items.  A calendar set, magnetic bio cards, foil posters and a designer deck of poker cards may be on the horizon!

GOODREAD GIVEAWAY AND A GREAT INDIE BOOK CONTEST — I have been promoting the Goodreads Giveaway a lot, but I am also working out a big contest with at least one other independent author.  More to come by July, but I am getting pretty excited about what we can offer and what I have in store for you guys!

A NEW HORROR BLOG SERIES — I am working on a new story line and series for you, my horror lovers!  Inspiration struck and it won’t stop haunting me.  And since I need blog ideas, I have decided to work this out through the blog like I did with In Four Days.

Plus I am still working on the horror novel with my father T.D. Barton; be on the lookout for sneak peek chapters of that as well.

IN FOUR DAYS AUDIO BOOK — In current talks with another voice actor for my novella.

As you can see, I am truly working hard this year! hahaha

Last note, as July is approaching I am astounded and thrilled to realize that this blog and website will be celebrating its ONE YEAR ANNIVERSARY!!!  Thank you all for your continued support and helping me grow this dream each day!

Lots of things in the works and more to come — exciting times!

Talk again soon!

A Brief Glimpse… — Derek Barton

Capture kk

Here is a tiny morsel… A free grocery market sample of a chapter in my rough draft of The Bleeding Crown.  Enjoy!!



CHAPTER SIX: Seizing An Opportunity

Taihven rapped his knuckles upon the wooden door. It was more formality than anything. He opened it before Captain Ruessard could answer it. The young soldier sat facing outward, scanning the horizon as he always seemed to do.

“I have your Brulla, Rashad. And with that northerly wind coming in today, I went ahead and added a touch of Candock Whiskey to them.”

Rashad turned around, sporting a wry smirk upon his face, “Well, who am I to debate with my king. It does have a bite of frostiness in the air this foremorn.”

He had touches of premature grey at his temples. He also had his late father’s hazel eyes and a spattering of freckles under his eyes that forever made him younger in appearance than his actual age.

They fell into a comfortable silence in the high guard tower which overlooked the docks. Each young man lost in his thoughts. Over the last two months, this had become an odd routine that they both grew to appreciate. During the Viestrahl Siege, they both lost cherished family members and were thrust into new positions of responsibility. It took them time to adjust, get settled in their roles and a friendship had developed naturally from this upheaval that they shared in common.

“You would not have known this by looking at him nor by the life he lived, but my father’s heart always belonged to the sea. Before the Wyvernguard had demanded more of his time, he and I would spend early hours like these fishing from a broken-down skiff he salvaged.” Rashad said wistfully looking out at the crashing waves. “There is something enchanting about the color of the water, the soothing roll of the waves and the thrill of watching the lightning storms in the distance…”

“Hmmm. You are right, I did not know that about the good captain. To tell you the truth, Bardun Ruessard used to scare the color out of my face!” Taihven laughed. “It took a long time for me to not be nervous around him. The man was as near a legend I had ever been close to.”

Rashad joined him in laughing and said, “You were not alone. It was rare any of my friends would dare to visit me. He was not a hard man, never laid a hand on me or my sisters, but I guess he had a different side to him ‘on duty’.”

Again, silence settled over them. Taihven’s own father and mother were entombed together only the prior month. He had lost everything that truly mattered to him. The new king felt that sacrifice each moment of the day and restless night.

A flash of memory interrupted his reverie. Letandra’s mace lying abandoned in the courtyard sand…

He grimaced and shook away the image. Then, he tried to take in the rays of sunlight with his eyes, drink it up and feel the spread of warmth over his chest — over his ice frozen heart.

“I am sorry, Rashad. He died a hero though and you honor his name well.”

He did not reply and took a deep drink from his mug of Brulla. Taihven continued to scan the waves of the bay himself. He took note and tracked a procession of five ships which had slipped around the Eastrock Lighthouse Island. They bore the flags and colors of the Trade Merchants of Ansony.

“That is welcome news.” He pointed to the fleet approaching the docks. “The plague has been keeping many of the supply caravans away. They still believe there is an outbreak within the outside edges of the villages. The Court Scribes and I were scheduled to work out letters for the Envoys. Requesting that word be communicated that we have stamped out the Viestrahl plague, but we were now dealing with shortages.”

“Yes, now it appears that will not be necessary…” His words faded and he squinted against the dawn sun. “Seems odd that Ansony would send five ships though.”

Another row of ships, these branded as Premia fishing vessels abruptly appeared, coming in from the west.

The first of the Ansony fleet floated alongside the docking posts of the pier. Taihven wondered aloud, “And now we have another six?”

Rashad stood up and unhooked a ram’s horn from its cradle set upon a wall shelf. He held it as the two men studied the docking merchants. The boats aligned two on one side, three on the other pier. No one had exited, yet dozens were gathering on the ship decks.

The Premia boats cruised into the bay. Yet, they were not approaching and were lowering their barnacled anchors. Men rushed in chaotic errands to and fro on their decks as well.

“Captain, this does not strike me as normal.”

“Indeed.”

Three dock guards strode out to the moored ships as per normal protocol. Taihven and Rashad noticed the dock guards were alert and had their hands on the hilts of their swords.

At the same instant the dock guards called out a greeting, a volley of fireballs launched from the decks of the Premia ships. They arched in smoky trails through the sky These were arcane evocations.

“It is an attack. Sound your alarm!” Taihven growled and he yanked open the tower door, but the young captain grabbed his wrist.

“You cannot go out there yet, lord! Wait for the Royals to escort you.”

Rashad pierced the stillness of the morning calm with a shrill series of warning notes from his horn. Hooded men in black leather armors charged from the Ansony boats waving hatchets and scimitars.

The invaders overwhelmed and dispatched the unfortunate band of dock guards.

Four Royalguards appeared and without word swept both of them into their circle of protection. They scrambled as a unit down the wooden steps.

An eruption of thick sheets of ice formed a few feet above the guard tower. The sheets drove through the shingles, imploded the guard room and pulverized most of the winding tower stairs into splinters.

“Take him to the Vaults!” Rashad demanded of his men and then broke from the circle. He head straight to a rank of Wyvernguard sprinting toward the docks.

“TO ME! CENTER TO ME!”

As Taihven was man-handled toward the castle, he glanced back over his shoulder in time to see a bulging, black-blue wave of sea water as it cascaded into the bay. It washed up and over the pier. The wave retreated leaving behind a colossal, ivory beast unlike anything he had ever witnessed. It extended its gelatinous, spiked belly in rolls as it thrashed a long split-tail over the boards. Guards and enemies alike were flung head-over-heels into the air and sea.

Rashad led the charge of a shield phalanx, lances and polearms bristling from it. They advanced upon the creature and the mob of invaders.

The beast’s hooked snout opened and several spear-like tongues erupted from it, impaling and dragging several victims back to it.

Screams of agony and echoes of snapping bones filled the air as the Adventdawn Vault door slammed behind him. The Royals hauled Taihven away from the dock carnage.

IT IS TOO SOON! Taihven’s thoughts screamed in his head as panic gripped him. WHAT CAN I DO? WE ARE STILL SO WEAK FROM THE DISEASE AND HORDE MARCH! HOW CAN I STOP THIS ALL ALONE?



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