Sunday, September 9, 2012
Blurb: Thaddeus: A warrior cursed with a Blood-Rage.
Stephen: A terminally ill prince.
Reunited after nine years, Thaddeus discovers Stephen is targeted by the Gods, but with his cursed rage, he wonders–Is he the wisest choice to become Stephen’s protector?
Thaddeus: A warrior cursed with a Blood-Rage. Stephen: A terminally ill prince. Separated for nine years, they are reunited again by two warring factions of Gods and a mysterious mist of light, all of whom have their eyes on Stephen. Knowing the dangers of his Blood-Rage, Thaddeus must determine if he is the best choice to become Stephen’s warrior guard. But with the Aggregate System of Gods involved, he may not have a choice. In spite of his terminal illness, Stephen may be the prophesied Catalyst who will bring about the downfall of the Aggregate. In order to hold on to their reign, the Aggregate have a plan… and that plan includes the manipulation of Thaddeus’s love for Stephen.
CONTENT ADVISORY: This title has a bittersweet ending.
Purchase Link: https://spsilverpublishing.com/product_book_info/products_id/755/
Review: Thaddeus is a warrior who has been cursed with Blood-Rage and his dreams are leading him home; a place where his family were slaughtered. The young prince needs him, but Thaddeus has a fear that his Blood-Rage will do more harm than good. Stephen is a young prince who is seriously ill and is also cursed. The only time he feels safe is with Thaddeus, the man who saved him years before. Now, he needs Thaddeus more than ever.
What an absolutely fantastic fantasy that is well written and leaves you longing for more. Thaddeus has been cursed and is well known as The Marked One, who leaves dead bodies after his Blood-Rage. Stephen is a frail prince who has lived longer than anyone thought he would. These two, the warrior and the prince, are pulled together by dreams and a bond neither knew about and the gods who are manipulating them and those around them.
This story is not a romance. It is a true fantasy that has elements of love that is just starting to develop. Thaddeus and Stephen are our main characters and both have their own form of anguish. Stephen, because of his illness and Thaddeus, because of the losses in the past and his curse. and they are both being manipulated by the Gods. We slowly learn, as we progress through the book, of the manipulation and the players the gods are using. and we get an idea of why the gods are doing the manipulation, but things don’t always go to plan, as some gods are playing two sides.
Although there is sex in this book, it is between secondary characters that use it more for control. Although Thaddeus does have sex, it is because of the Red Moon Day (his species mating time). There are some nasty characters in this book who you will cheerfully want something bad to happen to and some great characters who you want the best for. The world building is quite good, but I can see us getting even more in future books, so we can get a clearer picture of the game that is in play. we get some fantastic descriptions of the surrounding areas and we get a good idea of what Thaddeus and Stephen are being shaped for.
Although we are given a warning that it has a bittersweet ending it doesn’t. It has a ‘to be continued’ ending that made me want the next book…now. I will be reading this book again when the next one is released, just so I can say ‘ahhh’ when I open the next book. Sighing in satisfaction, as I see how Thaddeus will rescue Stephen from the High Dolen (some of the god’s high priest). If you want to know more, read the book…Bwahahaha.
I recommend this to those who love fantasy, gods manipulation, human manipulation, nasty brothers, fierce warriors, a strong bond between prince and warrior, fantastic back stories and a brilliant ‘to be continued’ ending.
Thursday, September 6, 2012
Thaddeus: A warrior cursed with a Blood-Rage. Stephen: A terminally ill prince. Reunited after nine years, Thaddeus discovers Stephen is targeted by the Gods, but with his cursed rage, he wonders--Is he the wisest choice to become Stephen's protector?
Thaddeus lifted his bow and placed the arrow to the string. The buck stood only twenty feet away, grazing calmly on the leaves of some lower tree branches. It was healthy and strong and would make for good meat. Whatever Thaddeus had left over, he would give to a needy family. As he pulled back the string and took aim, focusing on a clean, quick kill… until the growl of a lone predatory salar tore through the air and sent the buck leaping away in fear.
Thaddeus cursed in frustration. He turned to the source of the interruption and heard the frenzied growl again, but only one thing could make a salar sound like that before attacking… human prey.
Forgetting the need to hunt for that evening's meal, Thaddeus gripped his bow and hurried over the hills, darting around trees and brush. The growl had come from the area near the Weeping Boulder. He would have to get there quickly in order to do what he could to save the unfortunate person who had disturbed the salar's rest. The man-eating beasts were merciless in their killings, usually clawing the belly open and letting the scent of warm blood grip them. They would feed upon their victim as it lay slowly dying.
As he leapt up onto the crest of a ravine, he looked down onto the far bank of the river… and froze in place.
There, with his back against a huge oak tree, stood a youth, dressed in what appeared to be the traveling clothes of nobility: a light blue tunic with a dark blue cloak clasped at his neck. Straggly blond hair hung limply to his shoulders. His breeches were also dark blue and his black boots reached his knees. The young noble stood like a statue, perfectly still as a snarling salar growled and unsheathed its fangs before him.
For the first time in six years, Thaddeus felt his heart jump into his throat. It was a sign of life he had not felt within since his soul had died in the Verma camp. For his dream had come to life before his eyes. He saw the salar crouch into position, ready to leap, and that pulled him out of his shock. He lifted the bow and arrow and took careful aim. "Don't move!" he shouted to the young noble.
The sound of his voice forced the salar to growl once again. From the way the cat crouched, the rolling muscles of its shoulders and back, it would lunge at any second. Thaddeus aimed for the neck and let the arrow fly just as the man-eating cat leapt into the air.
With his Rantha strength, the arrow had enough force behind it to rip through the golden hide and muscle, piercing the neck all the way through. Thaddeus watched with uncertainty as he nocked another arrow to his bow, ready to let it fly if the animal tried once more to attack, but no. The salar fell at the youth's feet, dead.
Relieved, Thaddeus drew in a heavy breath and let it out, releasing the excess energy built up by what had happened. He quickly removed the arrow from his bow and stashed it back into the quiver hanging off his back, but he could not take his eyes from the young noble.
Was this what his dream meant for him to do, simply to save the life of this youth? No, there was something more to this than just felling a salar to keep a noble youth from a violent death, and Thaddeus needed to find out exactly what.
He started down the ravine wall. "Are you all right?" he called before he leapt and somersaulted over the river, landing just a few feet away from the dead animal. He turned, now able to focus clearly on the youth.
Small in stature, but still tall enough to reach Thaddeus's shoulder, the youth looked extremely frail and thin. In spite of his flushed face and skin, he had a very comely face. In fact, with a healthy complexion he would be considered beautiful. His eyes were round and the color of a clear spring sky, or would be if not for the glassy film of illness clouding them. His strong jaw smoothed down into a round chin. His had a small, straight nose, turned up a little at the tip. And his lips, though full and shapely, were also pale and dry, the symptoms of sickness clearly evident. Yet Thaddeus wondered why such a sick and flushed youth would not be sweating. Not even a face-to-face encounter with one of the deadliest creatures of Fuhrahl Forest had caused him to perspire.
Thaddeus then saw the stone around the youth's neck and his heart almost stopped. He hitched a breath as the reality of truth came at him from all around his mind. Memories, desire, hope long forgotten; all of those things culminated within his being as he locked eyes with the youth, uncertain he could accept, yet uncertain he could not accept what he knew to be true.
"Stephen?" he whispered, unable to give any more strength to his voice.
The youth smiled at him and reached out a shaking hand. Thaddeus hurried to his side, grasping that hand. And the second they touched, both reacted to the physical contact. A surge of energy flowed through them from one to the other, and Stephen clutched Thaddeus's hand with surprising strength that overwhelmed the warrior. He had not expected such a grip from this obviously very ill young man. He looked into those glassy blue eyes, now swimming in tears. A smile full of tender knowing and contentment shone from Stephen's face, and Thaddeus felt the ice around his heart start to thaw from a gentle and healing heat, which had been far too long a stranger to him.
What happened next was so natural and so welcomed it took a few seconds for Thaddeus to remember the curse on the child prince he had met all those years before.
"I knew… you'd come back."
Thaddeus blanched. Those words had come from Stephen's own mouth.
Stephen had spoken!
But Thaddeus had no time to revel in such a glorious revelation. Stephen's weary eyes rolled back into his head and his body buckled. Thaddeus caught him around the waist and eased him down, cradling him in his arms.
"By Enreak, what is going on?" Thaddeus wasn't sure if he had spoken the words aloud. As he held the unconscious prince, he gazed down at the face that had many times, since his becoming The Marked One, haunted his dreams. The veins within the eyelids were prominent, deepening the gray coloring around the eyes. Stephen looked so much like the child of Thaddeus's memory. He had grown taller, of course, but the lung sickness had ravaged him without mercy.
"How is it you are alive?" the warrior choked out, as he ran a trembling hand over Stephen's pale and beloved face. "You have grown up, my Prince."
He noticed the stone, now encased in gold, hanging from a leather thong around Stephen's neck. He carefully ran his fingers over it, the smooth, oblong surface echoing traces of memory in his mind. That day, so long in the past, now rushed up to greet him in the present and it felt like these last nine years had never come between them; as though Thaddeus had never lost his family to slaughter that night, never sought to learn how to fight in order to avenge their deaths, never met and fell in love with a member of the Swarrin race named Terahn, and never lost that love to an act of violence sending Thaddeus over the edge into darkness.
"Stephen," he whispered, his voice choking under the strain of the emotion fighting with his reason. Stephen could not be alive, but here he was, in Thaddeus's arms. And he had held onto the stone, onto the memory of a rebellious youth who had saved him on that fateful day.
"Stephen, Stephen, Stephen." Thaddeus brushed the tips of his calloused fingers over the stone, worn by Stephen like a medal or, even still, an amulet of protection, just as Thaddeus had told him it would be. "Stephen, is this how you survived… by holding onto my memory, just as I have survived by holding onto yours?"
The tears that fell from his eyes were of joy, and for the first time in what seemed forever, Thaddeus did not deny them. Stephen was alive! The source of his hope, the small candle of light in his darkness, the treasure still shining in his burned-out soul, was alive, and talking.
Unconsciously, he pulled the youth tighter into his embrace and lowered his lips to Stephen's ear, whispering; "Is this a dream?"
But in a shattering second, something happened to turn the dream into a nightmare. Thaddeus felt the chill of steel against his cheek. He heard the sound of a hard-edged voice full of violent warning.
Friday, August 31, 2012
A FINAL REQUEST...
With his beloved Prince Stephen sentenced to be executed for treason, Thaddeus, the warrior cursed by the Gods with a Blood-Rage, must fight Stephen's accuser to the death. There is one problem: He needs the Gods' blessing to be victorious.
A FINAL REQUEST...
He walked up to the platform and examined the rings, where Stephen's chains would be attached. The thought of his prince in such a precarious position made Thaddeus ill. So instead, he focused on Kinarr's pain.
"You wanted to become Stephen's warrior guard."
Kinarr nodded as he sat on the edge of the platform. "Yes."
Thaddeus quietly fingered the rings, feeling their coldness, their lack of anything symbolic other than lack of freedom. He shivered.
"I have taken your only source of comfort from you."
"No, Thaddeus. Never. In your love for Stephen, I know he will be safe. That is comfort enough for me."
Thaddeus studied him with fondness. He sat beside his friend, their shoulders almost touching. Kinarr was a gentle soul, full of love for his prince and his people. He would be an honorable and trusted friend. How far that trust would go was what Thaddeus needed to find out.
"But now you have no one to share your life. With Stephen and me joining, with Shumway giving his affections to Pemura, it remains to be determined—who will take care of you?"
Kinarr chuckled, but it was full of dim mirth. "You?"
Thaddeus smiled. "I will always be your friend, and Stephen will always hold a place in his heart for you. You must know and believe that."
"I do, Thaddeus. It is enough."
"It's never enough, Kinarr, as noble as those words are. It is, however, very brave."
"Noble am I?" Kinarr chuckled again. "No. Brave am I? Far from it. But… I would never dishonor either Stephen or Shumway with my selfish desires."
Thaddeus smirked. "Hardly selfish."
"Hardly not. For this pain is about me, and what I cannot have. I do not fault you for that, and I do not fault Shumway. I fault myself for feeling too much. Someday such a flaw will get me killed. And for a Rashule, there is no greater shame than to lose your focus of duty in the blinding light of selfish passion. Therefore, I harbor my feelings like a fish caught in a net, and I refuse to set them free. If the pain is netted, it will at least die in its own time."
He turned to Thaddeus, expectant. "I would ask you to speak not a word of this conversation to anyone, even to His Highness. By my honor, Thaddeus, I would not have him pity me. When you and he are joined, I will guard both of you as is my destiny and honored duty. I refuse to let anything other than that direct my course."
Thaddeus absorbed these words like parched earth absorbed a long-awaited rainfall. "Then it is right we took this walk tonight, Kinarr. For in your heart you have shown me a man capable of such honor as to grant Stephen and myself a final request."
Kinarr studied him carefully. "You will win tomorrow, Thaddeus. Stephen's life depends on it."
Thaddeus smiled at Kinarr's confidence in him. He put a hand to the back of Kinarr's neck and gave it a fond squeeze. "In case I do not win, my friend, hear my words and heed them."
Kinarr gazed at him, and suddenly Thaddeus could see the blood drain from the soldier's face, and he knew Kinarr understood what was about to be asked of him. "Say it then," Kinarr choked.
Thaddeus breathed in deeply. "I would ask you to take Stephen's life."
Kinarr shut his eyes, his mouth twisted in pain. "Thaddeus," he whispered.
"Make it quick," Thaddeus continued, "through the heart. And hold him fast as you do so. I will not be able to embrace him in death. I give you that task, as a trusted friend. Let him feel the arms of love around him in his last moments. Do not let the Dolens receive any satisfaction in having their guards do the deed. My final wish is for Stephen to be honored, to be saved from the Dolens' form of death. For death by the hand of one who loves is easier to bear than from the hand of an enemy."
Kinarr stared at him, and for a long moment he was unable to move. Finally, he found his feet, as unsteady as they were, and stood. The look of abhorrence on his face made Thaddeus wonder if he had placed his trust in Kinarr too soon. "Thaddeus! I cannot believe what you are… what you ask is…"
"Is from his heart as well as mine. We have discussed it. It is our wish."
"Then why did he not ask me?"
"Because he wanted me to be able to trust you. Can I trust you, Kinarr?"
Turning and stumbling, Kinarr fell to his knees and swallowed heavily as if the weight of what was asked hit him square in the heart. "Thaddeus," he whispered with a sob, the words struggling to get past the choke-hold on his throat. "What you ask will be near impossible for me."
Thaddeus knelt beside him, pulling him into an understanding embrace. "You're the only one we can trust who has enough strength to carry it out, Kinarr. Can you—will you do this?"
Kinarr lowered his head into one hand, his tears seeping through his fingers. He clenched his other hand on his thigh, and a tremble of horror and sorrow rolled through his body. Finally, he removed his hand from his eyes, partnering it with his other.
"Yes, of course I will. Only, there will be two souls meeting you on the wind should that happen." He looked up at Thaddeus, silent tears streaming down his face. "No matter the Aggregate decreeing Stephen to die, the Dolens will never allow me to escape their wrath should I take their pleasure of killing Stephen away from them. They will throw me into prison. And with both you and Stephen dead, my life will mean nothing to me anymore. Once I take his life… I will then take my own."
Thaddeus shut his eyes, the weight of Kinarr's words flaying his soul. "Kinarr…"
"Those are my terms, Thaddeus. I would do this for Stephen because I love him as I do my own life, but I will not give the Dolens the satisfaction of having any control over this."
Thaddeus’s own tears threatened to spill. He quickly pulled Kinarr into his arms. "Then so be it. Let it be thus, my friend, and Stephen's judgment in you is sound. I know that now. And I will be able to enter the arena carrying with me a peace the Dolens would never suspect to be housed within the Marked One's soul."
Kinarr pulled away from Thaddeus’s comforting hold, enough so he could look deeply into the Rantha's eyes. "Stephen's love for you… it is as true as the sun, Thaddeus. As true and as bright. His judgment is sound to choose you for his protector."
Thaddeus pulled Kinarr back into his embrace, clutching him tightly. "By all that is right and true, by Stephen's name… we will be victorious tomorrow, should even death rise up to meet us."
Nook Version Here
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Writing a Fantasy M/M Romance series is not easy. For one thing, there's not a huge audience for the genre', not compared to contemporary settings. It's great if it's within Paranormal parameters, but to world build off-world (A/U), it's another story... pun intended.
Then there's that--world building. To introduce a story line taking place in another universe is another problem, especially when there are plots and subplots and main characters and supplemental
characters. Yup. Lots going on. The prequel to my "Harp & Sword
Chronicles" will probably never be published, as it's too, too,
world-buildy. Not enough sex, and it's all about Thaddeus (especially
during the second part), and how he became the 'Marked One'. Stephen is
only a child at that time, though mature for his age, and is only seen
in the first part. The entire prequel is over 200 pages long. I'm
working on it in case someday I offer it as a free read, but there's
much to cut out due to overbearing exposition. And I have to ask myself,
will anyone really care about this part of the world-building? Can I
simply refer to stages of the prequel in future installments, such as in
exposition dumps here and there, along with sparse flashback sequences?
Much of the prequel is alluded to in "Passion's Chill", some scenes
used as one or two flashbacks, but it's a conundrum. It's a difficult
task, but... Thaddeus and Stephen's love story is deep and built on a
foundation, as well as destined to be. It took me over 10 years to where
I truly see possibilities for this series to be ongoing, almost like a
TV show, with each installment like an episode.
But, again, the
problem is finding an audience. All I can offer is an intimate
relationship between two young men who care for each other deeply, and
to have that love tested time and time again into a forged bond that
seemingly nothing can break. I'm not going to guarantee that their love
will constantly be without conflict, as they deal with abusive magicks
and divine entities who just love to toy with them, but... it will be
strong and powerful. Enough to win every time? Well, we'll see.
My greatest desire for this series is that people will give it a chance
to grow on them. I believe they will be pleasantly surprised. =D
-Hurt/Comfort Never Felt So Good-
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
The second book in my "Harp & Sword Chronicles" will be released September 1st. "Passion's Chill" takes up where "The Connecting Flame" left off and will have a HFN ending. I hope to come up with some advertising/contests soon, so stay tuned here or on my FB page at Myristica Onenine for upcoming details. I will be posting an excerpt on Release Day, both for TCF and for PC. My thoughts are disorganized on how to do a Blog party so I'll be working on seeing what I can do to get that going soon as well.
Until then, I hope that Fantasy, Hurt/Comfort in a M/M Romance is your choice of reading material. If so, then Thaddeus and Stephen deliver on all counts! =D
You can purchase both books here:
Or, "The Connecting Flame" is on Kindle here:
Or on Nook here:
Sunday, April 29, 2012
Saturday, April 28, 2012
"THE CONNECTING FLAME" ON KINDLE!!!
HURT/COMFORT NEVER FELT SO GOOD! (Read it for yourself and see what I mean. ;D)
HURT/COMFORT NEVER FELT SO GOOD! (Read it for yourself and see what I mean. ;D)
Saturday, April 21, 2012
Pixie gave 'The Connecting Flame' 5 hearts and her review really pumped me up. I know the reviewers got advanced copies, but to have located this on the day of official release, got me right in the heart! Amazing. Thank you, Pixie at Good Book Reviews!!=D
"Will you die this day?"
"No… but you will."
"Oh, how I wish that were so."
~Marked One and challenger~
"It's him, isn't it?" one man asked in a hushed whisper.
"So it seems," replied another. "Skulls on the hilt show Verma craftsmanship. Yet he is not Verma. The stories tell—"
"Stories?" one old man snickered. "I've actually seen the results of his madness. He leaves dead bodies behind, everywhere he goes. Warlords don't even want him around. They say he's bad for their business."
"More bad for their egos," said a younger man. "They say no one can kill him."
"I've heard he's possessed by some demon," said another man.
"Possessed?" The old man snickered again. He was possibly the village cynic, the type who would never let the opportunity go by to set people straight on the dos and don'ts of speculation. "More like he's the demon."
The patrons continued whispering amongst themselves, thinking the itinerant warrior at the bar could not hear, but his Rantha ears picked up each word wafting over the air, ghost-like, though no less subtle than a black snake slithering across white sand.
Nor was he the only one who could hear. The head of a gang who sat nearby was, in fact, listening and smirking to every comment. The warrior had seen the arrogant whelp when coming into the tavern and noticed immediately the black leathers and gold and silver studded leather gauntlets.on his forearms, not to mention the gaudy sword at the youth's hip—it could hardly be of any good use to him. The blade was too long for his arm. The fool was more into appearances and bullying than anything, and the smirking mixed badly with his swarthy complexion, pitted with scars of past pus-filled boils. The inept attempts for attention were all that was needed to determine the youth would end up in a grave before he reached the age of twenty.
Not interested in any sort of confrontation, the warrior tried to ignore him, but the patrons would not let his dismissal go on for long. Their observations would lead to yet another bloody skirmish, and this night of all nights he would rather forget his nefarious reputation.
The gang leader's two leather-clad friends, both possibly the same age he was, but with more obnoxious demeanors, hissed with amused laughter as their so-called leader clutched his cod-piece, mocking the patrons in front of them.
The warrior felt the whelp's probing and expectant gaze sear into his back, but he did not pay him any mind, hoping his lack of interest would deter any challenge. The youth really was too young to die a fool's death. Then again, foolishness held no respect for age.
The murmurs continued. "They say his rage could ignite a smoldering volcano," one young man ventured.
"I was told it did, once," said another.
The speculations and observations roamed through the tavern from one side to the other, and then back again, like choppy waves.
The warrior sighed quietly. No, not so subtle at all.
He considered using his tattered gray cloak to cover the sword's ivory hilt, as its carved skulls would clearly identify him to others, but then quickly shrugged off the urge. The people here already suspected him of being the infamous cursed warrior. No sense hiding the fact now. He knew what he stirred inside of people: the terror, the excitement, and the unquenchable curiosity that pushed many into doing stupid things, but truth was truth no matter how ugly it looked. And if anything in this world mattered to him, it was truth.
Terahn had taught him that lesson.
For a moment his mind went back to thoughts of his past, when a promising life had been given him anew and his darkened corridors of madness had collapsed under the heavy weight of shelter's embrace. Terahn's embrace.
A warrior like no other, with a love for life as well as his people, the Swarrin prince known as Terahn had at one time managed to sway the rebellious spirit of an angry and unfocused young Rantha who could not see beyond the need for vengeance.
Terahn's love had at one time saved him from the path of bloodlust, until…
He was so lost in memories of a love sacrificed in bloodshed's fury he barely noticed the barkeep placing the wooden tankard of ale in front of him. The sweet scent of the dark brew brought him out of his desire to run away within his mind. He stared deeply into the liquid, like a seer scrying for anything to help him understand. But no visions or signs rippled over the surface of the ale. Like all other times before, epiphanies evaded him.
Why he continued the inward analysis was beyond him, except that maybe it had become habit—something to help turn his mind elsewhere other than his darkness. Were it not for Terahn and a harp song played by a child prince that, even now, toyed with his heart and mind, he never would have bothered to search for answers at all.
With a callused finger, made hard by the constant use of his cursed sword, he traced a crack on the wooden counter. Once again there were the stares, the whispers, and the scrutiny of those who wondered if they could take him in a fight. He had trained himself to ignore it all without losing discernment. Even in the midst of reminiscing, he could still maintain an unexplained awareness; it was a mild side effect of the curse.
There he would be, appearing to be lost in the past, or in thought, and the fools would sneak up on him, carelessly thinking they were being smooth and strategic. The body count had risen to one thousand five hundred sixty-eight, not counting kills on the battlefield. He always tallied the bodies, not out of pride, but out of his incessant need to plant himself in reality. He did not need the constant reminder of who he was or why. Every time he looked down at his chest and saw the mark, he remembered. No, the body count served as his focus.
Only after the slayings, when he saw the blood and carnage wrought by his hand, did he study those he had killed. He made it his penance never to forget the wounds inflicted by his hand. Many he had killed were arrogant fools, but most were warlords or slave owners, or people who reveled in the pain of others. No one would miss them, certainly, but he was no better than they were, and he still had not found the one destined to kill him—the one who could stop his maddening existence.
He considered it dumb luck that innocent people had not yet been victimized by his mysterious curse and sword. Perhaps they knew enough to flee the second he unsheathed the red steel, for he never fell into the Blood-Rage unless the need to fight came upon him.
There was a chance an innocent would someday feel the edge of his blade. The possibility always played in the back of his mind, sometimes seeping into his dreams at night, tormenting him. After all, killing an unarmed youth was the reason for the curse. What would truly stop him from killing another when the rage ignited?
The whispers continued and the eyes still scrutinized him.
He let out another bone-weary sigh—and felt the tingling in his blood. He quickly looked out the tavern windows. The sky had taken on the notorious hint of red as the sun began its descent into early evening. He shut his eyes. The craving that all Rantha went through at this time of year still hovered like an incoming storm a few hours away, but it would call to him soon. The tingling signaled he would have to leave this village, after all. He lowered his head in acceptance of his fate. A bed would have been nice, but it looked as though such a simple pleasure would have to keep until the next village or the one after that… or the one after that. Even if it weren't for the onset of the craving, he would still have to leave. The villagers would certainly not let him rest in peace if he stayed. No matter where he went his reputation failed to allow him to go without notice. He had hoped, though, that news of his nefarious actions had not traveled this far into Murgatara. He should have known better.
He surrendered to the call of unyielding misfortune once again. If it were not for the dreams, those torturous plagues infecting his sanity and reason, he would have bypassed this continent all together, to head northwest into the ice-lands of Olkon. The land of driving winds and snow would have been more fitting company for his disposition.
But this time his path was not his own.
This time his dreams told him where to walk.
Perhaps the dreams were calling him to what he yearned for. Perhaps the killers of his parents and older brother awaited his arrival, and in the process of killing them, one of them would end his own miserable life.
He gripped the tankard of ale and drank with all the casualness of one who didn't seem to matter, or just didn't care.
He grew tired of the barkeep's constant stare and slowly lifted his gaze to meet the scrutiny. "Something on your mind?" He spoke in a voice both low and calm.
The barkeep hitched a breath when looking into his eyes, but his rage lay dormant now. The barkeep should feel blessed. Instead, he cleared his throat and spoke his fears.
"We don't want any trouble here."
The infamous warrior gulped down the ale, then set the empty tankard on the counter without a sound. He flipped a coin into the barkeep's hand. "Then don't make any." He responded, at ease, undisturbed.
As he turned to leave, a sword blocked his path. He glanced down at the steel blade nestled close enough to kiss his throat, and then slid his gaze to the hand of the young man stupid enough to seek challenge.
The cursed warrior wondered if he should just kill the idiot for that reason alone.
* * * *
The sixteen other people in the tavern stilled as abruptly as if they had stumbled upon a long-forgotten tomb.
Silence filled the air, lessened only by heavy breathing, normally unheard beneath the bawdy yelling and carousing of the tavern's regular patrons.
The lone warrior, however, paid no attention to the stares and gaping mouths of the people. His only focus was the challenger before him, the pockmarked face of the warlord youth who only wanted to show off in front of his two snickering young friends.
The warrior ignored them. Only if they made any moves to help their friend would he turn his attention their way.
"Will your eyes flare red this night, Marked One?" The young challenger spoke with a hint of humor to his voice. He thought this was a joke. The punch line, however, would not be funny.
The warrior did not immediately reply. Though he did not yet feel the burn of his rage, steaming contempt poured into him at yet another fool who sought to call him out.
In spite of the drunken laughter his self-declared assassin spewed forth, the warrior spoke in a calm voice. "Leave, boy. Now."
"Or you'll do what?"
"Hey, we don't want any trouble here," the barkeep repeated, this time with more urgency, trying in vain to ease the escalating tension. "Take it outside if you want to fight."
The youth laughed heartily; the arrogant laughter of one who believed he could not die.
"The act of taking my life does not belong to you," the warrior decreed, quietly, as though this action on the youth's part was as boring as watching flies flittering through air. The curse on his soul had been specific, even though shrouded in symbolism.
A storm of red tides form
As each man seeks to kill.
But only one will slay your heart,
In the midst of Passion's chill.
He doubted this arrogant whelp was the one destined to take his life, for his body fell into the heated torture of the rage. The symptoms advanced like a familiar enemy. His blood would begin to boil and his breathing would increase. Sweat would soon begin to flow down his rugged face and body, drenching his long, black hair into dripping strands. His normally green-tinged amber eyes would flare red like molten rock, as would the mark on his chest and his sword, both pulsating with each beat of his caged heart. The vibration of the sword would intensify, harmonizing its balance with the rage of the one who wielded it.
Ripples of heat now filled his limbs like a passionate craving. Already he began to see red, literally, as every image his eyes beheld became distorted in a fire's rippling heat. The face of this youth wavered in his vision, taking on demonic form. He always saw the souls of those he attacked, saw them as one would look upon the face of evil itself. He would feel their desire to shed blood, to rape and maim. He would taste their bloodlust on his lips and it always served to intensify his own.
And, like all those other times before when his rage sought to drown out his reason, a memory sought to invade his thoughts and pull him back to stability: an innocent child prince, pure of soul. Harp music, played by that child's once nimble fingers, would seep through the madness, break through the inner turmoil, but he would always try to lock it away in the darkest halls of his mind.
Stephen, Stephen, Stephen.
The name filtered in, trying to rip at the fabric of his threatening madness. He fought to push it back, for the precious memory of Stephen's purity of heart was not meant to be quartered in the presence of a tainted soul.
"Not here," he hissed, not realizing he had spoken out loud.
"Here or outside, makes no difference," his challenger taunted. "You will fight me this day."
The youth's mocking voice echoed somewhere in his awareness, drowned out by the beautiful melodies of Stephen's music from his distant past. They always managed to touch his mind, in spite of the many attempts to push them away.
The dreams, the dreams, the dreams. Why had the dreams called him back to this place?
Stephen had died a long time ago. He simply could not have survived all these years, not with a lung ailment such as he had suffered.
And then came another memory—this one of a white-haired man with a silver and gold pipe, playing discordant melodies heard in the winding halls of past and present, with fluctuating and non-uniform patterns. The sultry voice of the man known as The Piper lingered in his mind… "Care to make a wager, friend? Your heart's life will come to a timely end."
He winced. He remembered the ragged hands on his body, the invasion, the ripping of violent intrusion, and the pipe music played on and on as his captors had taken him again and again.
He saw Terahn's head rolling to a stop at his feet, heard the laughter of The Piper as the being taunted him with the death of his lover.
And now, upon lifting his gaze, a searing red took shape in front of him. The music stopped, and all he saw was the face of a warrior smiling madly at him, covered in the markings of the Verma, painted black and blue and white. The mouth twisted upward, revealing blackened teeth sculpted by chisel to form fangs able to rip and shred.
The heat of his rage grabbed him viciously with burning talons. His hand went to his sword's hilt, and the face before him stopped laughing. The four metal skull clasps holding the curved sword within its open-sided scabbard unlatched as though unseen fingers had flipped them open. The sword came out of its home with the ease of constant practice, and those within the tavern saw for the first time the curved, reddened steel with the teeth-like notches at the tip of the cursed blade.
The youth stared deeply into the fiery eyes, flaring like blazing embers, and by the expression on his pockmarked face, he knew he was looking into the face of his own damnation.
* * * *
The two friends stood from their table, hands grasping the hilts of their swords, ready to fight.
Within a shadowed corner in the back of the tavern sat another man who had simply bided his time and watched the warrior upon his arrival. Dressed in hides with a hooded animal-skin cloak draping his shoulders, he watched the scene unfurl before him, yet showed no surprise upon the turning of The Marked One's eyes, or the glowing, pulsating heat of the sword's blade. He merely continued to drink his ale, undaunted by the suddenly charged atmosphere.
The hood hid the man's face well as did the shadowed corner, but both did little to hide the fact he was an archer and hunter. A hint of fading sunlight and the coming red moonlight caught the tip of his longbow resting beside him against the wall like a trusted friend, within reach should there be a need.
The insolent youth who had brought the challenge would die this day, whether by The Marked One's hand or by his own. The source or method of his death did not matter, just so long as he died.
The hooded man eased his pelt-clad feet from under the table, ready to stand and move into battle if the situation called for it.
He did not care that no one paid him any mind. In fact, he preferred to go unnoticed as he watched the scene before him. The Marked One spoke, and his voice was filled with both sorrow and warning.
"Will you die this day?" he asked the youth. The words were merely whispered, but in the quiet settling over the people, stilled by the young man's audacious challenge, they came out as more a heraldic decree.
"No," the youth replied with a sneer. "But you will."
Before being forced to relinquish his will to the curse, The Marked One spoke what sounded more like a yearning birthed in the deepest hollows of his heart. "Oh, how I wish that were so."
The heated desire of bloodlust showed in The Marked One's shaking body, his heavy breathing. The hooded man studied the cursed warrior's stance, the clenched grip over the carved skulls in the ivory hilt of the sword. He saw the face muscles twitch, the jaw tighten. He knew all the signs. He had studied. He had questioned those who had witnessed past encounters with the warrior of the Blood-Rage. He knew the mark over the heart would begin to glow and pulsate, if it wasn't already doing so.
He watched with keen interest as the red blade arched through the air, only to be blocked by the youth's sword.
The two other friends stared, stupefied, at the mark pulsating with each beat of the cursed man's heart. "He is a demon!" one shouted.
The foolish challenger pushed against his opponent and laughed. "Then I will be his exorcist!"
The Marked One bared his teeth, and a low growl formed at the base of his throat. The growl of a sho'eme lion would be hard pressed to match it. Would it erupt into a roar?
The red blade slashed down and cut an incision along the youth's chest. The youth stumbled back and grabbed the bloodied area. His hardened face twisted with anger at having first blood drawn from him. At any second he would give into a rampage, which would make him an easier target for his opponent's notorious skill.
Yes, Ka'lak, the hooded archer thought. Make him lose his focus so he may not see death claim him.
When the warlord's two friends headed into the battle, thus driving the patrons and tavern owner to flee the building, the archer made his move.
* * * *
In every battle, every fight, The Marked One was doomed to relive the night that stole his peace, the night when he sought revenge for Terahn's death and for the abuse heaped upon his own body while in captivity. He saw only Verma warriors each and every time his sword was infused with the rage of his soul. He lashed out at memories still alive and real in his mind. The night of his being captured and cursed played again and again… always.
He saw two more Verma come to the aid of their injured friend; then suddenly another appeared at his side, a man with long black hair, dressed in the animal skins of the Swarrin race. The cursed warrior froze when he noticed the face of this Swarrin. He watched as the Swarrin cut down the two other Verma with one stroke of his tusk-embedded mace.
Using his own language, the Swarrin had spoken a warning, and the warrior turned to block the blow of his challenger. Confusion fractured his mind, and he fluctuated between the rage in his soul and the familiar comfort this Swarrin warrior brought with him.
Memories of Terahn falling into his arms filled his thoughts: the knife protruding out of his lover's chest, the blood streaming down Terahn's firm abdomen, and the deeply brown, pain-filled eyes fading into sightless death.
The Marked One's focus slipped. "No," he muttered.
The youth swung his sword and cut the maddened warrior's shoulder, but the pain of the wound did not come close to eclipsing the pain in his heart. He stumbled backward and fell to his knees. "No!"
He heard the sound of metal against metal and knew the Swarrin had taken up the battle with the challenger on his own.
The Marked One did not care. His mind twisted and turned. Fantasy spun out of control, mixing reality into its maelstrom. "Terahn?" he whispered in confusion, unable to believe what he saw. The Swarrin warrior looked so much like his dead lover, he could not help but think Terahn's ghost had come back to help him in some way.
He cringed with the confusing images of his tortured dreams coming to life before him and he fell deeper and deeper into them, forgetting the present battle that no longer concerned him.
He wanted death to take him away. He wanted the peace death would bring, but it was not to be. The dreams would not let him go. His past reasons for living—Terahn and…
Stephen, Stephen, Stephen.
The music filtered into his shattered reason, drawing him away, urging him to push back the red heat of his fury.
He lowered his head to the wooden floor and sought shelter inside his shaking arms. He screamed the scream of a madness that harbored no mercy, of a thick and smothering darkness. No, he was not the one to ignite a volcano; the volcano would ignite within him. He wondered which part of him would be ripped apart first by the massive eruption… his body or his mind?
The force of his screams was of such magnitude, the people of the village would later report the tavern had shaken with the reverberations.
And then, after it seemed the wails would never cease, they finally died slowly to tormented moans.