Before I get to the excerpt, just a few quick bits of administrava:
- It's not too late to enter the drawing for a free print copy of Sublime. Just pop on over to my last blog entry and leave a comment with your thoughts on the subject of pricing, which I discussed in the entry. I'll draw a winner on Friday. If you're having trouble leaving a comment (some people have mentioned this), just drop me an email or contact me via my website comment form instead.
- Storm Moon Press has added one more awesome incentive to pre-order Where He Belongs: you'll get to download the book a full 48 hours before the official release date! Of course you'll still be entered in the drawing for all the cool prizes too, so go, order! It's only $1.99 :-)
- Counterpoint is at last for sale as a Barnes and Noble Nook book, horray!
- The Anchored trade paperback is currently on sale at Amazon for $12.75. I don't know how long that sale will last--the last one disappeared in less than a day--so if you're interested and have been waiting for the price to drop, now's the time.
And now what you came for, beneath the jump.
Ayden woke to the Hunter’s Call. ‘Twas gone the instant he opened his eyes, but the pain of it still lingered in his back teeth, his cheekbones, the space behind his nose and eyes. There’d been something else too, something slipping like sand through parted fingers. It had each night he’d spent here, each morning he’d woken. Blood and death and primitive fury. Shapeless, wordless . . . but not powerless. No, not by any means.
Someone had covered him with a blanket, which in turn was covered in a sprinkling of snow. The stuff was still falling, heavy and silent, like dust from old bones.
Around him, men dozed, by all appearances as uneasily as he had. Freyrík was pushing them too hard, desperate as he was to find something out here to justify this misery. But they were weak and getting weaker. The night terrors sapped their strength and spirits as surely as the cold, as their inability to keep a fire lit, as the uncooked food and icy water they were forced to eat and drink and the biting air they could barely breathe. They would die out here soon. No one would even know. The Ferals would leave nothing behind but scraps of cloth and hair.
He left the little nest of huddled bodies to water the grass, spotted two men near the woods through the fog and snow. Tough to make them out at this distance, but by the clothes, one was definitely Rik.
He’d nothing better to do, and he was curious besides, so he walked over to join them.
Rik’s first words were, “What did I say about traveling in pairs!”
Ayden felt his hackles rise. It’s not as if he’d gone out of sight or shouting distance. “I only walked across the meadow. No harm was done.”
But it could have! flashed clear as running water across Freyrík’s face, yet he chose not to speak the words. Hoping to ward off a fight, no doubt. He always had been the more diplomatic and cool-headed amongst them; gods help them all if Rik lost his temper too.
“I thought I might be of some use to you,” Ayden said. “Or are you merely on watch?”
“We are seeking a sign. Some hint of what cursed the beasts. It does not seem to reside in the meadow, so it must have come from somewhere, yes?”
“Nature is nature, Rik. It is everywhere.” Yet he found himself casting his gaze round the trees. Searching for . . . what? He didn’t know. Only knew that he too was desperate for meaning in all this suffering. Desperate to find something. Anything. Even dark elves, if it came to it.
“Mayhap you’d humor me,” Freyrík said—no hint of humor at all—“and put your woodcraft to use.”
Ayden nodded. “Walk with me. Stay behind.”
Aegean made a face at that like he’d stepped on a skunk, all shock and amazement and disgust, then looked to Freyrík, presumably to see if the king would put up with being told to stand behind someone. Strange thing to make Ayden smile, but smile he did, and it felt too good to question closely.
‘Twas a long slow walk round the meadow, the earth there littered with more signs than he could reasonably separate. Tracks and scat and carnage from thousands of beasts, a hundred tufts of fur on a hundred different trees at a hundred different heights. He even climbed trees for birds-eye views from multiple locations. Nothing stood out. Nothing cried, I did this.
Until he found the slashes.