2018 July & August Bi-Monthly Goals — Derek Barton

July Goal

It’s time for more goal setting and goal results!

I do want to apologize that I skipped out of sending a post for May & June.  The only goals I had for those two months were to produce The Bleeding Crown and the audiobook for Consequences Within Chaos.  So for those two months, I was successful, but the effort was all-consuming.  I am frankly still worn out!

 

Now for the results of March & April Bi-Monthly goals:

  • Outline new chapters for subplots and additional material – Finish by 2nd week of March  (Success!)
  • Finish writing new subplots/additional material – Finish by 3rd week of March (Success!)
  • Complete 3rd Wave of edits & send out to Beta Readers – Finish by end of March  (Success!)
  • Complete 1st Wave of edits for Elude #1 – Finish by end of April (Not completed in April.)
  • Complete the Cover for The Bleeding Crown – Finish by end of March (Not completed until late May.  Went through over thirty variations!  But the result worked out and I am very happy with the cover.)
  • Get feedback from beta-readers – Finish by end of April (Not completed in April.)
  • Complete the 4th wave and final edit for The Bleeding Crown – Finish by end of April (Not completed in April.)
  • Write a separate blog entry outside of goals and The Hidden Saga — Finish by 2nd week for April (Not accomplished.)
  • Walk 1 mile a day (60 miles for the two months) – Complete for both months (Sadly this didn’t happen either as I donated every minute into getting The Bleeding Crown ready for release.)
  • Send out Monthly Newsletters by 15th of the month – Complete for both months (Success!)
  • Keep up The Hidden saga on the website every 2 weeks – Complete for both months (Success!)

So the overall results were not pretty — 50% of the goals my lowest scoring yet — but I am still very happy with my latest novel.  I have taken the time after the book release to recoup some and will be able to jump into the horror/action/thriller.  Already, the work for Elude is going very smoothly.

 

Now for the NEW goals for July & August Bi-Monthly goals:

  • Complete the Audiobook for In Four Days.
  • Create/organize this year’s 2018 Indie Fantasy Book Giveaway with several other independent authors.
  • Add a new page to the site showcasing associates and people I have worked with and what they can do for other writers.
  • Find at least two places to do a book-signing appearance.
  • Schedule one or two more comic-cons or book festivals by the end of the year.
  • Finish editing for Elude #1 & #2.
  • Design the book cover for Elude #1 & #2.
  • Write the end of Elude #3.
  • Send out Monthly Newsletters by 15th of the month.
  • Keep up The Hidden saga on the website every 2 weeks.

You may notice that I didn’t include any health or personal goals here.  I am working on finding a better balance with my free time with writing work and health/fitness time.  Plus I have a family that I want to see more of!

In 2016 and 2017, I walked up to 3 or 4 miles nearly every night.  In 2018, I have fallen into a bad pattern of not walking and spending a lot of time on my writing.  But my health has seriously suffered and I am my heaviest weight ever.  I am admitting this because I know that I can and will do better.  For now, I will be posting my writing goals.  Once I have decided what direction I want to take with my health, I will then maybe include those personal/health goals.

It has already been a successful and productive year and I hope to keep it growing.  I hope each of you has also had an amazing year.  Thanks to everyone who has supported me or been a cheerleader — IT IS GREATLY APPRECIATED!!

 

 

 

 

 

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NEW RELEASES 2018!! — THE BLEEDING CROWN & CONSEQUENCES WITHIN CHAOS AUDIOBOOK — by Derek Barton

NOW CONSEQUENCES WITHIN CHAOS IS AVAILABLE IN AUDIOBOOK FORM On Audible.com & on Amazon  $13.96 members or 1 Credit !!!  Amazing narration done by Laura Richcreek

AND THE BLEEDING CROWN IS ON SALE at Amazon  — (The Bleeding Crown(paperback))  $11.99 !!!

 

The gripping epic fantasy continues in the worlds of Aberissc and Tayneva.

In the shocking, debut novel, Consequences Within Chaos, a banished evil had returned to the lands of Tayneva.  Blood was spilled in the streets of Wyvernshield and in the Courtyards of Castle Adventdawn!

By the end, a terrible price had been paid…

The dark sequel, The Bleeding Crown, returns with a tempest’s fury!  Prince Taihven and Princess Letandra face a harsh new reality as the butchery of the Quietus Dominion spread into both worlds!

Now, Princess Letandra, separated from her family, must survive stranded in a foreign, hostile land on her own.  Yet before any rescue attempt can be made, she is captured by the Ebon Queen of the Quietus…

Unless she risks everything to escape, an unholy army will come for Taihven.   The future of both worlds hangs in the balance!

New friends, new allies, and new horrors are discovered in Aberrisc and Tayneva!

 

Buy now to delve into the enchanting worlds from Derek Barton on Amazon & Kindle!

 

 

The Hidden — Chapter 15: CHIRKAH! — T.D. Barton & Derek Barton

TH chap 15

 

CHAPTER FIFTEEN:   CHIRKAH!

 

An ice-cold dagger of steel ripped a jagged course through Nate’s guts. His eyes spread wide as he struggled to deal with the roiling of his insides.  He felt his hands shaking and the trembling seemed to travel from the tips his fingers, coursing up his veins and through his veins until it burst out onto the surface of his skin.  Slowly he sank back against the trunk of the tree. Knitting his brows, he looked back at the beast and tried to comprehend what it had just told him.

“What in the hell do you mean by ‘breeding stock’? If one of you hairy bastards has hurt her –” His voice choked with emotion and he fell silent. His loathing of the creatures had just reached a new level, far surpassing anything he’d ever thought himself capable. The hatred threatened to overtake him completely and he felt his face warming from its effect. Just what he planned to do in retaliation, he hadn’t the vaguest notion, but the thought of one of these things touching her –that way– made him furious. So angry was he, if pressed, he would probably attempt taking on the whole pack bare-handed, despite the overwhelming odds. His eyes blazed back into Chirkah’s red glare.

“Just tell me where she is”, he demanded.

It would do you no good to know her whereabouts, Nate Malone. The voice insinuated itself inside his head, and Chirkah’s eyes narrowed perceptibly as he “spoke”.  I assure you there would be no chance of succor. Should you come down from your haven among the branches, you would be overpowered in seconds. But perhaps this would be for the better. After all, you can’t remain up there indefinitely. You must come down sometime, so why not do it now and avoid all the suffering? Before long, thirst will set your tongue ablaze and then, together with hunger, it will drive you down to us. When this happens, we will NOT be kind. The Kophet-kut are nothing if not patient. We will wait. However, we do not enjoy being toyed with; nor do we take kindly to anyone reducing our ranks by three of our fellows.

He gazed slowly about at the grisly-looking group.  There are many of my followers who would gladly exact vengeance upon you, and believe me, we know ways of inflicting injuries that kill slowly and with great pain.

Nate looked too. The horrid creatures sat around in various positions of repose. He shivered at the thought of those cruel mouths stripping his flesh from his bones. He had witnessed first-hand their capacity for ferocity as they mercilessly punished one of their own for a minor infraction of the pecking order. He could only imagine how they would deal with someone they hated.

On the other hand, should you come down now, I promise to do my best to see that your death is a quick and –relatively– painless one. Chirkah grinned again, showing teeth. The uniquely human gesture looked oddly out of place upon his savage countenance.

Nate shook his head and passed his hand over his tired eyes. His head felt stuffed with cotton, and he wanted to vomit. Listening to Chirkah’s insolent voice droning on was somehow repugnant to his very core. It gave him an odd, repulsive feeling that was the mental equivalent of having a dry wooden tongue depressor shoved to the back of your mouth, or maybe, to chewing tinfoil. He shuddered and looked back down.

“Explain to me what you mean when you say Zelda’s being held as breeding stock.” he said, striving to make his voice sound calm.”

That bothers you, does it Nate Malone? Chirkah’s tongue reached out casually and gathered in a lady-bug beetle which was trundling slowly across his cheek. Munching thoughtfully, he let his gaze meander, in a lazy arc, across the bean field beyond the edge of the woods.

Out there, the sun was blazing down, drying the plants and hurrying them along toward harvest.  Here, beneath a canopy of leaves, the shade was cool and, under different circumstances, Nate would have found it soothing. He settled back down on the tree branch, waiting impatiently for Chirkah to resume.

At last, the chieftain of the Kophet-kur looked back up at him.

In your human folk-lore, there are many things which you fear. Each generation passes along stories of beasts and goblins which await the unsuspecting victim somewhere… out there. Even you, Nate Malone must be intelligent enough to realize that these legends must have some basis in fact. Somewhere along the line, someone saw SOMETHING that inspired the telling of the tale. That tale is, in turn, twisted and exaggerated a bit more by each teller until it reaches mythic proportions. Is this not true?

“Make your point, dog breath.” Nate snarled.

Chirkah paused, glaring maliciously. When this failed to have an effect, however, he continued. My… POINT, as you put it, is simply this: Have you ever heard of werewolves, Nate Malone? Shapeshifters? Lycanthropes? Of course, you have, and you’ve always considered them to be fiction — fabrications of active imaginations, is this so?

Nate refused to answer, staring icily into the deep caverns that were Chirkah’s eyes.

Well, as I’ve said, there is some basis for truth in these stories, which have been handed down for centuries. Yes, Nate, there ARE werewolves living among you. They are the spies for the Kophet-kur. They circulate among the humans, leading outwardly normal little human lives, working and playing along with the rest of the stupid, unsuspecting creatures. They hold respectable positions in your society, working as bankers and doctors and lawyers and so forth, and never once do they give any sign of being anything other than typical human trash… Except during the full of the moon.

Chirkah turned his muzzle to the sky, his eyes clamped shut, and, after a short time, Nate began to feel dizzy. It came upon him gradually, as a ship, slowly gliding into a dock to tie up. He sandwiched his head in his hands, pressing so hard his face began to distort. Chirkah’s telepathic hold was increasing. Nate felt his own will fall away, and he had the disquieting feeling that something huge and filthy was peering into the farther-most intimate corners of his mind. The voice inside Nate’s head rang like a bell, resounding in echoes that grew and grew, threatening to split his skull, as Chirkah launched into a singsong chant. The sound rose and fell like waves thundering on a desolate, rock-strewn shore.

 

“THE MOON IS OUR BEACON,

IT GUIDES THE KOPHET-KUR.

(We sing, for the moon is our pilot.)

SING US HOME, OUR FATHERS!

WE AWAIT YOUR COMING

(We sing, for the moon is the way.)

THE FATHERS GAVE US LIFE

AND NOW THEY GIVE US HOPE

(We sing, for the moon is our comfort.)

YOU COME, OH BELOVED!

WE WAIT… WE HEAR… WE FOLLOW.”

(We sing.)

 

Along with the ringing voice of Chirkah, Nate could discern a chorus of other voices overlapping each other in a hideous chaotic, mélange of sound, layered one atop another, in similar repetitive chants. The chorus built inside him, reverberating from the sides of his skull until it spilled out in an incredible crescendo of sound. It seemed to surround him, carrying him aloft and hurling him among the uppermost branches of the trees. In his mind, he looked down from a great height and all he could see was forest below. Frantically searching for some kind of stability, he looked to the horizon where sat an enormous glowing ball of fire. At first Nate’s bewildered mind associated it with the sunset, but in a second he could see that it was something entirely different.

The vocal chorus became a drumming, low pitched buzz which emanated from the glowing orb, and it began to rotate slowly, casting brilliant white-hot shafts of light haphazardly around it. These beams of light reflected off of everything they touched, doubling and trebling in quantity and intensity as they bounced and played across the scenery. Suddenly the ball of light rose into the air and shot off into the sky. Nate could feel the heat from it baking his face, singeing the hair of his brows. As it hurtled past him, he thought he could see faces – smooth, lightly glowing faces with barely discernible features – staring out at him from various places about the sphere. The faces left him cold and empty inside, and he felt a longing to cry out to them to come back. His hands reached out involuntarily, and his mind screamed “We need you! Don’t leave!” In that instant, he felt an intense, aching loneliness that threatened to consume him from the inside, leaving nothing but a dried husk to blow lightly before the wind. The sense of loss was overwhelming.

As he stared after the departing sphere, the sky became darker and darker, until it reached the ebony blackness of midnight. The sphere continued to recede into this blackness until he became aware that he was looking at the moon, shining at him from a blank, starless nigh-time sky. The moon was comforting to him, easing the hollow void within, and he found he couldn’t pull his eyes away. He needed — was absolutely compelled to keep his mind trained upon it, because it was sending him signals — some kind of message. He couldn’t make out what the message was. It didn’t seem to be coming at him in the form of words, but rather in feelings — emotions. It was telling him something he absolutely needed to know to survive, and it was oh, so soothing! The message was filled with hope and promise and triumphant, exhilarating, lustful faith. He wanted to slobber at the mouth. He wanted to strip off all his clothing and go running naked through the woods. He wanted to howl. His throat fairly burst with the desire to open up and let all of his exuberance come rushing out in a long, loud, soul-quenching bellow of lusty defiance. Laughing out loud, he opened his mouth and howled. Again he let the sound rush from his gaping throat. And then again. Each howl was louder than the one preceding it and it felt wonderful. It was a totally liberating rush of confidence and a sense of well-being he had never before experienced. He continued to wail, letting the sound of his own voice buoy him up and cleanse his spirit.

When he opened his eyes, the sun was shining and the branch was again beneath him. Looking below, he saw that all the creatures were gathered around the base of the tree, and, like Chirkah, they were watching him closely.

The moon is our pilot, Chirkah was softly saying. He sounded tired, like someone who had just quit a trance state and was not yet in full possession of his faculties. It guides us through the night. When we hunt, the moon is by our side, helping us to keep our feet on the track. When we kill, it gives us strength, and when we hide, the moon tells us where to go and what to do.

Suddenly he snapped out of it and became focused once again.

The Fathers, when they left, gave us the moon as a guidepost, it is their means of staying in touch. The telepathic ability exists in all species bearing their seed, which includes most of the remaining creatures on this earth. There had to be a way to monitor their progress here, and so, from somewhere… out there, they send a constant signal, guiding us in all that we do. The Kophet-kur retain the greatest capacity to perceive these signals, and in turn, we attempt to return our thoughts to them. The moon is the ‘transmitter’ — the mirror upon whose reflective surface the signals are bounced and magnified. And these signals have a profound effect over all the earth: birds migrate from one pole to another, navigating in blind ignorance, in response to the effect of the moon’s influence. Dogs howl, insects, responding to the call of instinct, hurl themselves into any light that resembles the moon. The animals of the sea are drawn to the surface when the moon casts its illumination upon the waters. Indeed the very tides of the ocean are influenced by the pull of the moon. Even your own human race exhibits very erratic behavior during the times of its fullness when its power is greatest. All of these things, your scientists have searched for explanations to, but the secret is there — shining in the night sky!

Nate sensed an amount of sincerity in what Chirkah was telling him. For the first time since he’d begun this conference with the devil, Nate began to believe what he was being told. It was incredible and more than a little unsettling to think that the human race, indeed, nearly every manner of creature on earth was the product of some bizarre genetic experiment by alien creatures from another planet. It undermined all that he had ever believed in and left him feeling unstable and somehow up-rooted. His mind seemed to be floating in a deep void where everything was backward and opposite. He struggled to gain control — to shrug it off as impossible. However, the evidence that something highly unusual had occurred sat below him staring hungrily up into the tree. And, what Chirkah was saying explained many things, among them the strange effect the moon had upon the earth and its inhabitants. Here also was a possible explanation for the reports of such strange creatures as Bigfoot and the Yeti of the Himalayas; perhaps even the Loch-Ness monster sightings.

And now, Chirkah was offering an explanation to the centuries-old myths about werewolves. Could there be actual creatures who were able to assume human form part of the time, and then become something similar to these misshapen horrors when the moon was exerting its mysterious influence upon them? How could he exercise logic and reason when for the past few hours he’d been having a conversation with a monster? Everything he’d ever believed to be true in a rational, sane world was now put to question. WERE there such things as monsters? Did humans evolve naturally from apes — or were we the product of creation by a divine being? Perhaps all the stories of creation in the Bible were the result of simple, uncivilized minds attempting to explain the unexplainable. Is there a God in heaven, or does our creator traverse the skies in a miraculous ship built of strange, alien metals from another planet — another galaxy, far from our own?

Below him, Chirkah, savage, brutal king of the monsters, sat staring up at Nate as though he were aware of the conflict troubling his mind, and was waiting to regain his attention. Nate swallowed hard and felt something click in his throat. Dimly, he became aware of the first stirrings of thirst. Chirkah had been right about this, he COULD use something to drink. But more importantly, at this point, he still wanted to know about Zelda.

“So what has all this got to do with my wife?” he asked, cautiously. Slowly, Chirkah nodded, in a sage-like manner.

When the fathers left us, they made a promise to return someday; and when they do, they will select the most successful of their progeny to continue the experiments. They will teach the winning species the ways of their planet and give them absolute domain over all the remaining creatures on this one. Eventually, the chosen species will evolve into beings closely approximating the fathers. This is the way their genetic code works. After millennia, the Kophet-kur are beginning to look less like our lupine ancestors, and more like the fathers — just as humans are distancing themselves more and more from the apes which bore them. At the time of their return, the fathers will further advance this process, so that their favorites can only be guessed at, but one thing is certain: the Kophet-kur do not wish to come in second. For you see, it is a race — the Kophet-kur MUST gain the technology which has so advanced your species, thus making us the most successful. At the same time, humans are beginning to become aware of their own latent telepathic abilities, and may someday soon stumble over the secrets which, until now, are possessed only by the Kophet-kur. We CANNOT allow this to happen. To do so would be to lose all that we have dreamed of and waited so patiently for since the dark beginnings of time.

 Chirkah paused for a moment, seemingly gathering his thoughts before continuing.

This is why we take prisoners. The women of your species carry the recessive gene needed to serve our purposes. Therefore, we capture only females. Besides, the male of your species could not be forced to copulate. The bitches, however… his narrative trailed off and he nodded to one of his rank and file — an apparently pre-arranged gesture that sent this lieutenant bounding off into the brush. In a moment, however, he returned to the clearing with something that made Nate’s hair rise on his scalp and he snapped to attention, every nerve twitching.

Walking docilely before the beast, head hanging and shoulders sagging, was a human female — at least what was left of one. The woman was of indeterminate age — she could have been fourteen of forty – with matted, bedraggled brown hair hanging in her face. Mud and blood smeared every square inch of skin that was exposed, and the ragged shift she wore was so filthy he could not make out the color, even on a sunny day such as this. The woman walked, barefoot, with the air of someone who had grown accustomed to constant torture and abuse, long since abandoning all attempts at escape or hope of rescue.

She stumbled once, and the creature escorting her nipped savagely at her heel, opening up yet another wound, and bringing Nate to his feet on the branch once more. His heart went out to the poor wretch and he called to her.

“Hey!” he cried. “Hey, you! Up here… in the tree. I’m up here!” But the prisoner paid him no attention. Nate couldn’t tell whether it was because she was in a state of shock and simply beyond hearing or because she was afraid of the retribution such insolent behavior might bring from her captors. Still, he felt he should try to offer some comfort. “Don’t worry, I’ll find a way to get you out of here!” This sounded silly, considering the circumstances, even to him. Apparently, his audience agreed; for suddenly, in his mind, he heard gales of malicious laughter and, looking at the creatures sprawled about the clearing, he saw several with their tongues hanging out and their black mouths split in wide canine grins. Even Chirkah guffawed heartily at this, before giving another telepathic signal to the creature acting as guard to the helpless prisoner.

Without warning, the beast raised up and slapped the woman brutally on the side of the head, sending her sprawling. She lay on the ground, obviously stunned for a moment and then staggered to her hands and knees, where she did a most peculiar thing. Reaching stiffly around behind, she gathered up the hem of her skirt and pulled it up, exposing her bruised and battered buttocks to the air. There she waited patiently while the brute came up behind her and slowly sniffed. Nate felt his gorge rising and tried, unsuccessfully, to pull his eyes away.

The creature rose and placed his forepaws on the back of the poor wretch, digging his claws in carelessly as he went, apparently unconcerned about what damage they may do to her. From his belly protruded an enormous, pink-tipped erection which dipped and swayed as he shifted from foot to foot. The monster absolutely dwarfed the poor woman, and Nate was sure she would die should the beast carry out its obvious intentions.

As the huge, hairy creature entered her, she turned her head slowly around to look at Nate, and her hair fell from her eyes. There was horror in those eyes — a livid, unspeakable, screaming horror that would haunt Nate’s dreams forever. She made not a sound, and her face remained a stone mask of expressionless sorrow. But there was one thing more in her eyes, and when Nate saw it he wished her dead. At that moment he knew that, if he had his gun back, he would spend his last bullet not in defense of his own life, but in the merciful cessation of hers. For glistening in her eyes he saw tears — silent tears — which spilled over and coursed down her grimy cheeks and told him that she was not in shock, but rather in full possession of her senses. She was experiencing the dreadful pain and humiliating degradation of this rape by a beast so despicably evil as to defy logic.

With her gaze, she begged him to end her suffering. Her eyes pleaded with him to put an end to this nightmare — if rescue were impossible, then killing her would suffice to remove the agony she was enduring. His hand came to his mouth and he gnawed helplessly on one knuckle as he watched the monster ruthlessly battering the woman and occasionally reaching down with its dripping snout and nipping her cruelly on the neck and shoulders, sending rivulets of blood coursing down her back.

A trickle of drool inched its way down Nate’s wrist and his eyes bulged in desperation. There was nothing he could do. Obviously, this was not the first time the woman had been so used, and should he try to affect her rescue, he would be torn to shreds before he ever reached her side. There would be no point in trying, of that he was as certain as he was of his own name. He must think of Zelda. Perhaps there was still a chance to rescue her, although his hopes were rapidly fading. Still, as long as there was breath left in his body, there was always hope for a miracle. There may yet be some way of reaching her — some chance, some avenue of escape that had not yet presented itself. He could not afford to throw away her only hope by wasting his life in a useless act of kamikaze-like suicide.

And yet it clawed relentlessly into his guts that he was standing here, letting this pitiful woman be victimized sadistically and was doing absolutely nothing. The wretched creature was communicating as well telepathically as Chirkah had ever done. Nate could hear her screaming in his own mind, beseeching him to act — to do something to end this nightmare. He felt his face blush beneath her imploring eyes, and at last, he averted his gaze. Live or die, he didn’t think he would ever be able to forgive himself for his own inadequacy in this situation.

You should be watching this, Nate Malone. The insidious voice of Chirkah cut into his thoughts. You see, THIS is what we capture female humans for. The bitch you see here has born many of our children. Some remain here with us, and some have been sent out into your society, to retrieve the knowledge we so desperately require. We hope to someday have enough slaves to begin building — forges to produce metal, mills to refine and shape it. We will have mining operations, staffed by our slave-children assistants to stock us with the materials we need to make gunpowder and other weapons which we may use to overthrow the humans from their oh-so-precarious perch of power.

The woman cried out softly and Nate looked back just long enough to see fresh blood speckling the insides of her thighs.

I’m sure you have wondered, Nate Malone, how we have come to know so much about you and your civilization. The answer is simple: our spies bring us the information. In our lairs, deep beneath the ground, we have set up schools where the Kophet-kur and their half-breed ‘werewolf’ children are taught what we will need to know to conquer the world and make it our own.

Chirkah turned to look over his shoulder at the rapist. At long last, he had become still, but he remained mounted above the woman and Nate was forced to recall seeing dogs that became stuck together after mating, due to a swelling that occurs in the male’s organ. As children, this had been the source of many humorous stories and jokes. Now, however, there was nothing funny about it at all.

This is why human females are so important to us, Chirkah continued. And so valuable. It is not that we ENJOY mating with humans more than our own kind – well, perhaps there are SOME of us who do… Chirkah indicated with a nod the creature who had just performed the exhibition, and his little jibe was greeted with more cruel laughter from his constituents. They sounded to Nate like a bunch of dirty old men at a club smoker where strippers had been brought in to perform. Only these dirty old men had fangs. The rapist now sat beside the prostrate body of the woman, one leg in the air, grooming himself. The woman’s dress was still hiked up around her waist and she made no effort to correct this immodesty.

For most of us, it is a means toward an end — an end to your domination of the earth and a beginning of ours.

Nate refused to acknowledge his little play on words.

Occasionally, we capture female children and we raise them and nourish them carefully, taking as many children as possible from them until they are used-up and worthless to us.  He nodded to the woman again. This one is old and will probably bear no more children. Therefore, she is no longer of any value.

He paused long enough to pass a silent command to the rapist who reached out with a stiffened paw and flipped the exhausted woman over on her back. With one of its hooked talons it opened her abdomen from breastbone to pubic mound in a movement so swift and yet so casual as to take Nate quite by surprise. The woman was surprised too as she jerked to a sitting position and looked down to see her entrails spilling out onto the ground between her legs. She looked up, startled, and found Nate’s eyes. Just before she died, he saw a flicker of relief sweep across her face and then she collapsed, with a thud, to the trampled grass on the forest floor.

“You son-of-a—-” Nate’s curse was drowned out by the sound of trampling feet as the entire pack jumped up and rushed to throw themselves on the woman’s body. Snarling and quarreling viciously, they tore off great chunks of flesh while each vied for the best positions around the feast. Here and there, one would try to sneak off with an entire limb, but this would only result in attracting the attention of others who would then break off from the main group to investigate. Soon, there were three or four small groups of grunting, choking, slobbering beasts gorging themselves on the fresh bloody remains.

Chirkah sat, observing these proceedings, and then, almost as an afterthought, rose and slowly walked over to the scene of the carnage. As he approached, his stance became stiff-legged, and the hair on his back and shoulders stood up straight. The others made way whenever he came near, and a little path was opened for him as he neared the body. Straddling the bloody mass, he glared back at Nate, and his red-rimmed little pig eyes blazed with malevolence. With haughty grandeur, he claimed the prize as his own, and none dared defy his authority. His lips curled back to expose yellow, crooked teeth. Three-inch-long fangs flanked his chin. Each was as sharp as a dagger and curved slightly between the tip and the brown-stained base. His gums flashed a brilliant pink as he opened wide his mouth and plunged it into the corpse. With a deep, satisfied grunt he buried his muzzle and began to feed slowly and deliberately. Chirkah’s crooked spine bent and the muscles in his back bunched as he hunkered down over his royal dinner. The others either stood or squatted near-by, licking their paws, or moved over to join one of the other groups. Chirkah was left to his own.

Nate didn’t observe much of this. From the time Chirkah put his head down to feed, he averted his eyes. The woman had died bravely, and with as much dignity as her situation would allow, and Nate was determined to exact revenge upon her persecutors. Chirkah had been wrong about one thing, of that Nate was certain. This was not a race, it was a war. There wasn’t room on this planet for both human beings and Kophet-kur — one of them must go.

Nate was emotionally exhausted. His mind reeled with conflicting passions. Fear, revulsion, hatred, worry, his thoughts ran the gamut, and he was certain he couldn’t take much more. Soon the excitement swirling around inside him would overwhelm him completely and he would fly into a fit of hysteria. Or, perhaps he would just swell up and burst, exploding in a dozen different directions. He would splatter the foliage about with himself, leaving a bloody lump on the branch to mark his passing. He struggled to regain control, concentrating upon his breathing, willing it to slow down. At last his frazzled nerves began to calm, and he was able to think again. It scared him, though to think how close he had been to total collapse — shut down all systems and say good-night, Natey Boy’s had enough. With a trembling sigh, he shook these thoughts aside and began looking about the branches, searching for a way out.

His escape had now become a more important issue than just his own survival. The survival of the entire human race might well depend on his returning to tell the authorities what he’d seen here. He couldn’t be certain that Zelda was still alive. Chirkah could just be leading him to attempt a rescue. But, until he had proof to the contrary, he was going to have to play along. He had to assume she was being held somewhere near here — probably in one of the underground lairs, Chirkah had spoken of. His eyes searched for a branch near enough to allow him to move to another tree. If he could work his way from tree to tree, he might be able to search the woods for an entrance to this lair. He couldn’t imagine how he was to affect a rescue once he’d found it, but at least searching was better than just sitting here watching these bastards enjoying their blood-bath. Perhaps, after gorging themselves, the creatures would become sleepy and he could slip away into the forest. Or maybe he could come down from the tree and make his way back home for help. The only trouble with this second plan was that he knew he could never leave without taking Zelda with him.

“Well,” he muttered aloud, his eyes searching the foliage around him. “We’ll just have to come up with a plan when the time comes. One step at a time, Natey Boy, one step at a time.”

A branch the size of his forearm passed within a yard or so from the one just above his head. It appeared to be just what he was looking for, an avenue into the neighboring tree. It would be a bit dicey, but he had to try for it. He cast an apprehensive glance back at the creatures. They were too caught up in their grisly repast to notice his absence. Slowly he inched farther out on his supporting branch, easing his way along while clinging to the branch over his head. As he moved away from the trunk, the limb below his feet began to grow smaller and to sag a bit with his weight. This was not going to be easy. Nate silently wished he’d spent more time in the park as a child, climbing trees.

Now both branches were sagging and swaying in the breeze and sweat stood out on his brow. His intended, however, was growing nearer and soon he would reach a place where he might feasibly make an attempt. As he gazed longingly at the branch, trying to gauge its size and how much weight it might support, a white hot pain shot up from his right hand. Looking up, he saw a large black ant, nearly an inch long clinging to the knuckle of his index finger. The thing thrashed and wiggled as it buried its needle-like pincers in his tender flesh. With a sharp exclamation, he drew his hand from the branch and smashed it against his side, simultaneously obliterating his attacker and sending the branches providing his precarious support pitching wildly in opposite directions. In seconds he lost his footing entirely and was left hanging breathlessly by one hand, from the overhead branch. The branch yawed and swayed, sending a loud cra-a-ack! reverberating through the woods. Smaller, dead branches around him were shaken loose and fell noisily to the ground below.

Nate breathed a silent prayer that the branch wouldn’t break, as he swung there, scrabbling frantically to regain his hold with the other hand. He caught on just as another, somewhat louder crack tingled its way along the branch. Looking down, he found himself staring directly into the blood-splattered face of Chirkah, chief of the Kophet-kur, who was licking his lips and grinning broadly. Nate gasped great gulps of air as his fingers burrowed into the bark, and his legs kicked wildly in mid-air. Again Chirkah’s Machiavellian voice rang in Nate’s mind: Why don’t you just let go and COME DOWN, NATE MALONE, COME ON DOWN!

Once more, Chirkah was trying to use his telepathic powers to shock Nate into letting go. Nate closed his eyes and held on, trying to concentrate on how stupid Chirkah sounded. Like Bob Barker on ‘The Price is Right’, he thought. He smiled at this and felt himself relax a little. If the limb in his hands would hold on for just a little longer, he would be able to regain his footing and move back to safety. But his thoughts were cut short as another resounding crack rent the air and he felt the branch he was clutching let go.