Friday, 10 February 2012
Author Spotlight - Excerpt from "The Emerald Dagger"
Thank you to everyone who supported Barbara this week. She's giving out two prizes this weekend. Her local writers group did a anthology of Valentine stories that Desert Breeze published called "Scattered Hearts." (Wednesday's post) Barbara is giving away a copy of a CD of the book. She also have a talented friend who makes greeting cards, and she's giving away six of her friend's Valentine cards as a gift also. Remember to leave a comment today, Saturday, and Sunday on this post. On Monday I'll pick out the two winners. Leave your email address when you comment. It will make it easier to get in touch with you.
Like a silver shadow, Da'kar slipped before Rourk and Kelsey. No, not a shadow, Kelsey thought, a spirit. They followed no path, but wove in and among the trees.
She ran her hand through her dripping hair. A sudden storm had drenched them, and the returned sun did not penetrate the thickened canopy of leaves. All around them was an ever darkening dimness. A chill wind gusted into her face, goose bumps rose. A sudden sneeze exploded from her. Just ahead, Da'kar stopped and turned to stare at her. Feeling her face heat, Kelsey looked a silent apology in his direction. The unicorn dipped his horn in acknowledgment and continued onward.
Queen's-Commander, hell. She couldn't believe she hadn't blocked the sneeze. Maybe she didn't belong here anymore. She glanced behind her. If Rourk looked angry or, worse yet, amused, she'd throttle him. But he only nodded and urged Cloud forward.
The trees thinned and then opened into a small, flower-dotted meadow, awash in sunlight. Kelsey reined in Freya and waited for her eyes to adjust to the new brightness. When she could see clearly, she shaded her eyes with her hand and surveyed the area before her. She saw nothing but patches of rain-flattened grass and flowers. At its edge, Da'kar waited. As Kelsey came alongside, she saw the unicorn's nostrils flare and his ears twitch.
He stared into her eyes. "They come."
"Who? What comes?" Kelsey turned in her saddle and swept a gaze over the peaceful meadow again.
"Wolf things. We must flee before them."
She reached for the sword upon her back. "No, we'll fight."
"What's going on?" Rourk said, reining in beside them.
"Da'kar says we're going to have company."
Rourk freed his own sword. "Do we face them astride or afoot?"
Kelsey eyed the open square of grass and flowers. Which would give them the biggest advantage?
"No," Da'kar sent. "There are too many of them. We flee."
"To where?" Kelsey said. "Where can we go out here in the middle of the woods?"
"We go to Zara." The unicorn reeled to the left and dashed into the trees once more.
Kelsey sheathed her sword. "Damn."
"What?" Rourk said, copying her action.
"Too many of them. We're going to Zara." She nudged Freya in the side and raced after Da'kar.
Running full out, the unicorn zigzagged through the trees. Behind them, a full-throated howl filled the air. Another answered it ahead of them, and then more from their right.
Da'kar wheeled to the left. Kelsey leaned close against Freya's neck and gave the mare her head. Trees flashed by. She ducked first left and then right to avoid the low-hanging branches. The blood-crazed howling rose in volume as the wolves gained ground. A dark shape sprang from the left, straight into her path. Kelsey sawed back on Freya's reins. The mare reared, and then came down on her front feet only yards from the snarling wolf.
Its silver eyes stared at Kelsey in naked hunger. Saliva sprayed from the corners of its mouth as it snapped at the air. Then it sprang toward the mare's legs.
A white blur streaked between them. Da'kar kicked out with his back legs. His hooves struck the wolf's shaggy head. It dropped and writhed on the ground, shrieking its pain. Kelsey felt the mare gather herself and, with a forward lunge, Freya sprang over the wounded wolf.
They raced from the trees onto a twisting mountain trail she'd never seen before. She pulled back on the reins, but Freya's speed did not alter as she ran up the path.
"Slow down," Kelsey panted, but Freya did not respond to her tightening hold. With a quick prayer, Kelsey gave Freya her head again and trusted the elven-bred mare. The path widened and ahead Kelsey saw Zara's cave. Da'kar screamed an alert and a low rumble answered from within the cave. Da'kar raced into the opening.
Kelsey risked a glance over her shoulder. A wall of shaggy bodies charged at Rourk's heels. She leaned over Freya's neck. "Run, girl, run."
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a shaggy head. With a hoarse cry she kicked out, catching the wolf on the shoulder. It stumbled and went down. Ahead, the dark entrance beckoned. "Come on, Freya, come on."
She felt a jolt through her body as Freya sprinted into the cave. Kelsey pulled back on the reins and swung the mare around. Not waiting for the mare to stop, she vaulted from Freya's back and sprinted toward the mouth of the cave. She whipped her sword from its sheath as she ran. Rourk and Cloud charged by her. She watched Rourk spring from Cloud's back. With his sword in his left hand and his fighting blade in the other, he rushed to stand beside her.
The wolves came up short at the front of the cave. Snarling and howling, they paced with stiff legs and twitching ears.
Kelsey cut the air in front of her with her sword. Dragon spoor must be keeping them out.
Somewhere inside their deformed minds there's still a lick of natural fear. But it was a respite, nothing more, and she knew it. Whatever had shaped them would not let the game stop here. They would attack. But how long would they wait? She got her answer as a wolf leapt. Rourk met it with a sweep of his sword. Its head went sailing with the teeth still snapping.
Kelsey risked a glance to the side. Where was Da'kar and Zara? Had she dreamed the rumble she'd heard earlier?
Another wolf charged. She stepped forward, waited until the beast started its snarling leap, then thrust her sword out with both hands. The wolf impaled itself three-quarters down the length of the blade. Blood gushed from the body and coated her hands with slippery warmth. A coppery scent, thick with the reek of wet fur, filled her nostrils. She kicked out, catching the wolf against the side of its head. It crashed to the ground, taking her and her sword with it. White-hot pain arced into her shoulder. Her fingers went numb and the sword slipped from them. She rolled to the side and her forehead came up hard against a wall of rock. Black spots danced before her eyes and warm blood trickled down her cheek. Swiping at her temples, she scrambled to her feet, then leaned against the wall as the world dipped in front of her. She dug her fingernails into her palms and blinked her eyes, willing the dizziness away.
Through a curtain of haze, she saw Rourk. He stood in the middle of the cave, surrounded by five wolves. They circled, snarling and snapping. One, braver than the rest, darted in. Rourk swung his sword and caught the wolf full across its muzzle. It slunk back, its moment of courage gone.
Kelsey heard a growl and whirled. Two wolves crept toward her. Heart drumming, she crouched and waited. Out of the darkness beside her, a pale form charged. Da'kar's horn sank deep into the chest of the nearest wolf. With a swing of his head, the unicorn sent the wolf sailing. Kelsey sprang for her sword. She screamed as the pain in her shoulder knifed deeply into her body. Da'kar reared and struck with his hooves. The second wolf howled and dropped.
"To the side," Da'kar sent. "Zara and Lilith come."
"Hug the wall," Kelsey screamed to Rourk. "The dragons are coming."
Rourk lunged with his sword and slashed with his knife. A wolf crumpled, and he leapt to the side of the cave. From behind them, a dragon issued a trumpeting challenge, the walls trembling with the force of the rage within it.
For a moment, the wolves were a frozen tableau. The one nearest Kelsey whined and ducked its tail between its legs. Then its silver eyes changed, became a flaring red. The fangs parted and a voice shouted from within. "Attack. I want them all dead. You may feed, but bring me the unicorn's horn."
Dirkk, Kelsey's mind screamed. Rourk's gaze sought hers, and she saw the same recognition in his eyes.
As the wolves gave full vent to another howl of rage, Zara emerged from the darkness of the cave. Her golden body filled the cavernous space. She lashed out with a taloned foot and dismembered a wolf from throat to tail. Like an open-sea barge, she surged forward, pushing the wolves like flotsam before her. Those who did not move fast enough were crushed beneath her. Behind her came a smaller russet-hued dragon.
That must be Lilith, Kelsey thought. The smaller dragon eyed the wolves as she passed and, when one still twitched, trampled it into death.
Da'kar, Kelsey and Rourk fell in behind Lilith. At the cave's entrance Zara hesitated and swung her massive head from left to right. Then she bugled her victory and exited the cave.
Lilith rumbled low in her throat and followed.
Outside, there was only silence. Zara's head swung their way and Kelsey and Rourk pressed back against the mountain of rock. Huge golden eyes surveyed them as her tail swished, like an irate cat's. Lilith pressed against the side of her mother and growled softly. Zara looked at her daughter. An answering growl came from her throat, but there was nothing soft about it. Kelsey felt her knees begin to shake. She felt Rourk tense beside her. The unicorn stepped in front of them and looked into Zara's eyes.
"You need not speak for this one of Thea's blood," Zara sent.
The words lashed across Kelsey's mind. Gasping, she pressed her palms against the sides of her head. "I don't understand."
"Call and I will come, but once only."
Zara turned, walked to the mountain's drop-off, and launched skyward.
The russet dragon rumbled a sigh. "Human, the saving of your life will be at high cost."
"You are Lilith," Kelsey said.
The dragon nodded. "We fly to the land of fairies."
"But it's Dirkk who formed the fairy demons. It has to be him. The fairies--"
"It makes no difference. The fairies are used. They must be destroyed so no more can be made. Tell this to Thea at once." Lilith followed her mother into the sky.
Kelsey sank to the ground. "Oh, my God. I broke the spell holding them inside." She reached inside the neckline of her shirt and grasped the pendant. "Regan. Regan, answer me." But no voice responded in her head.
Kelsey scrambled to her feet as Da'kar led Freya and Cloud from Zara's cave. "Come, we must ride," the unicorn sent.
"No, I've got to get back to Raya and warn Regan."
"We go to find Daniel. It is Regan's wish," Rourk said.
"But the dragons. They're going to the fairy land. They'll kill them all. And it's my fault."
Rourk swung up onto Cloud's back. "You do as you wish. I will find Daniel." He turned to Da'kar. "If you will show me the way."
The unicorn dipped his horn in acquiescence.
"Dirkk has Daniel," Rourk added.
Kelsey looked from the man to the unicorn. "Damn." She mounted Freya and then glanced at Da'kar. "How far?"
"We are close." ." The unicorn turned and headed downward toward the trees.
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