“Why have you come here?” the man asked in the trade tongue, the words clipped, harsh, and grating to Kalen’s ears.
“Passing through,” he replied, careful to keep his voice quiet and his tone even, like he did when soothing a wild or unruly animal.
“With no horse? With no pack? Your clothes aren’t from here. We don’t wear such symbols,” the man replied, moving closer. The tip of the sword was lifted. “We’re far from the trade road. Only raiders, outlaws, and beasts come this way. Which are you?”
Kalen reached up, touching the cloth crossing his chest. The sigil, crafted of black silk and embroidered in silver and gold thread, was in the shape of a winged serpent. Had he been wearing it when the serpent had bit him? If he had been in the city of Blind Mare Run, he would’ve worn his sigil as a sash. Had he been on the trails? He couldn’t remember.
“Which are you?” Kalen challenged, stealing glances to both of his sides when he could without losing sight of the man before him. The rain and the groaning of the trees masked too much sound. The other men were out there, but Kalen wasn’t certain of where they were.
The disadvantage could get him killed. He could only hope that their sight was as hampered as much as his, and that their muscles were also cold and stiff.
Fervent obsession lit the stranger’s eyes. “We’re those who will bring you to justice.”
“I am no Danarite,” Kalen said in the Kelshite tongue. Hatred ran thick between the lands of Danar and Kelsh. Few Kelshites learned Danarite, and fewer Danarites learned Kelshite. He jerked his chin at his left shoulder and his empty sleeve. “Do I look like a raider? Or a beast? I have broken none of your laws.” He took one step back, then another, until the bark of the tree bit at his back through the material of his tunic.
~Truth,~ a voice whispered. It was a sound, but Kalen didn’t hear it with his ears. It was a voice — a woman’s voice — but it resonated within his mind. It was meaning, intent and thought rather than spoken word.
Kalen shivered. Hearing voices in his head was the last thing he needed. Was the last vestiges of his sanity finally slipping away?
If the Kelshite also heard the voice, there was no indication of it. “The beast was here. It led us to here. To you.” Rage contorted the man’s features. “You lie.”
“Beast? What be—” Kalen sucked in a breath through his teeth and swallowed back his words as the man leaped forward.
“Hareth, wait!” someone — a man — shouted.
Rain whipped off of the blade as it was thrust at Kalen’s chest.
Kalen dove out of the way. The mud sucked at his feet and legs. The bark tore at his tunic, scratched at his back, and slowed him. Steel grazed his arm, and a pained hiss slipped out from between his clenched teeth. The blade bounced off the tree trunk and showered him with bark.
Then the tip of the weapon rose, arcing to strike Kalen down as he fell.
Kalen’s throne is his saddle, his crown is the dirt on his brow, and his right to rule is sealed in the blood that stains his hand. Few know the truth about the one-armed Rift King, and he prefers it that way. When people get too close to him, they either betray him or die. The Rift he rules cares nothing for the weak. More often than not, even the strong fail to survive.
When he’s abducted, his disappearance threatens to destroy his home, his people, and start a hopeless and bloody war. There are many who desire his death, and few who hope for his survival. With peace in the Six Kingdoms quickly crumbling, it falls on him to try to stop the conflict swiftly taking the entire continent by storm.
But something even more terrifying than the machinations of men has returned to the lands: The skreed. They haven’t been seen for a thousand years, and even the true power of the Rift King might not be enough to save his people — and the world — from destruction.
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Genre - Fantasy
Rating – PG - 13
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