Last week, I had the great honor of being interviewed and having EVADE showcased on the website ULTIMATE REVIEWER.
That’s right, Great news! The last part of Evade has been produced on Audible.
You can now hear the whole series on audio, crafted by the stellar voice talents of Ashley Ulery.
For Audible click here:
Only $6.95 per part for non-members!!!
My eyes woke to nothingness…
A void stretched out before me far and wide. All was dark, null and hidden…
I was blind to anything around me yet I was aware I was growing cold and somehow heavier…
Dead weight sinking.
I sank in my confusion.
My heart began to pound faster from budding fear, raging in my chest like a trapped beast! As if in reaction to my new struggles, steel-like webbing tightened across my arms and legs. Coils of the webbing worked across my chest, snaring me further in a vice-like grip.
I sank further – my thoughts getting fuzzy, losing meaning. I was losing substance.
I could breathe in the inkiness, yet I was losing and if I sank any further I was going to… melt away to nothingness. Become a part of this ebony matter all about me. Dissolve into meaninglessness.
But I wanted more! I didn’t want to end like this.
I kicked and lurched with all I had left. I wanted more and wanted to fight back against this cruel undertow.
No time or energy could be spent reasoning why this was happening or even what this all meant.
All that was for certain was I didn’t want to sink deeper into the abyss. Shaking and twisting, I continued to struggle and with each effort I inched upward, my body lightened.
I breached a surface, my body aching from the strain. As I lifted from the surface parts of me shifted and sloughed off back into the murky matter, seeming to pay a heavy sacrifice to free the rest of my body.
My eyes woke then to our dark bedroom. My baby girl, Jessiena still laid next to me and her mother on the other side. I had come in forty minutes earlier and laid down a bit with them, but I had planned to just rest a few and then do some night writing as usual. They were both resting peacefully under the covers.
I was sweaty and like in my nightmare sore and stiff especially on the left side. I pulled up from our bed and stumbled to my feet.
The skin on my face stung slightly with pins-and-needles. My chest was heavy and my legs were weak. Panic seized me – What was happening? Was this still a nightmare or something all too real?
I worked my way to the island in our kitchen to retrieve mycell phone.
My scrambled reasoning was to look up what might be the cause of my symptoms then drive to the hospital which was a few blocks away. My wife wouldn’t be able to come – she’d have to watch the baby so why wake her.
A terrifying word came up in my google search – S T R O K E. And the red words of warning DO NOT DRIVE WITH THESE SYMPTOMS!
Yes, I realized I was being stupid and I crashed back down the hall to get my wife.
In the back of my mind, I was arguing with the ludicrous idea that I was having a stroke, still debated whether to wake her.
I got to her side of the bed and shook her as I said, “HHHHuuunnnn—” I found I couldn’t speak, the words were foreign and mutated to my ears!! I started shrieking in abject terror. I have never felt so completely lost and out of control. My body had betrayed me on every level.
Erika woke to a blubbering, screaming 50 year-old child. A horror story writer in a tale so beyond his own comprehension of fear.
Thirty minutes later in the ER I found out I had lost my speech, most of my left arm movement and nearly incapable of walking.
Later after I had gotten some speaking skills back in the rehab center, I told my wife, “I fell asleep next to you guys but woke up murdered! I didn’t awake as the same person. Parts of me were taken, but I’m going to have to fight to get them back.”
I had the stroke on March 29th – It’s now April 20th and I’m still battling almost every waking moment to rebuild. Just today, I walked without walker or cane. Not a long stretch, but it’s a start.
Officially, they discovered a hole in my heart that I was probably born with. The hole had a bleed which clotted and traveled to my brain. In two months or so I will have another procedure to close the hole and cut my chances for a repeat stroke in half.
I have good days like today with small victories. And there are days I breakdown and fume in despair over what I lost and the hurt it caused the whole family. My dreams, their goals, our lives all pushed back to get ME normal again.
I’ve met incredible people in this ordeal: underappreciated nurses who work tirelessly to comfort you, underpaid therapists like Anna and Jazzeline who strive and fight at your side for your small victories day in and day out, and unrecognized first responders who are there in your worst moments when you are lost in indecision.
I’ve been touched by the generosity and warmth of family and friends throughout this dark time! Family who are there in every way, watching over and praying for my recovery. Friends who reach out and offer their support. I especially want to thank all of you that donated to my family (my day job had just started three weeks before the stroke so my benefits hadn’t kicked in.) I will be reaching back out to thank all of you individually. I am blessed to have you in our lives.
My last words to each of you are to BE HERE NOW. Embrace what you have, take to heart who you have at your side and yes, make goals but don’t lose sight of the long road you walked before. Along the way each of us have accomplished many incredible things we can easily dismiss but we shouldn’t. Every aspect of our lives factor into who we are and the substance of our character. I cannot accept nor afford to be the victim. My little girl needs her father, and my family needs me as much as I need them.
Thank you, readers, for being there for me as well. Those of you who have reached out to me, I truly thank you for your kindness.
My road continues and so does my writing. That dark blackness didn’t take all of me and I know I still have a purpose to fulfill.
So, I wanted to share with you a very personal but important ordeal my family and I are dealing with. This March 29th, I had a severe stroke. I’m in an acute rehab center near Phoenix. Currently, I have lost left arm movement, some speech and a walking deficiency. The stroke was caused by a blood clot stemming from an unknown hole in my heart that I was probably born with.
While the doctors predict a great recovery, I wanted you all to know and understand that I will fight hard to return to myself and keep writing. This is just a speedbump not a dead-end to my path!
Because I am learning so much about health factors that impact everyone and many lessons about myself, I plan on writing about my experience on the blog. Keep an eye on the site if you’re interested.
Thank you as always for all support you’ve given me over the years, and I truly appreciate your loyalty and patience during this difficult time.
Best regards, Derek!
Jueneva woke, covered in thick orange and red animal furs, a glowing fire warming her new room. She could not even remember coming to the chamber, or climbing inside the bed, but here she was. Sighing loudly, she let the last few days events roll across her mind, weighing her down. It was so hard to let go.
In a sense she was relieved to finally understand why she was different, why her family always ran, why the world always seemed to teeter on a finite edge. Her true family were murdered when she was but an infant. Now her adopted family were also murdered. Those responsible she only knew by a broad name: the Kreszecs. Other than that she had no real information on who they were or what reasons they had for wanting her and for destroying her family’s rule here in Akkei Maliss.
A soft rap at the door cut into her thoughts. “It is Executor Buore, miss. May I enter?” His muffled voice came through the door.
She rose and stretched, pretending to not be emotional and tussling with her feelings. Her body ached and the desire for more sleep made it even harder to pull out from under the furs, yet she had other more pressing concerns.
The specter floated in and crossed the barely lit chamber. Only a small, mirrored vanity occupied one corner of her new quarters opposite the fireplace. In the other corner stood a tall dress cabinet. There were no real decorations like thick rugs or elaborate tapestries on the walls. Yet she was alright with the modest accommodations and often lived like this with few personal possessions.
“Good morn, Boure.” Today she found she could look him in the face and not feel the reflexive fear of the dead. He was good-natured and surely had been a great asset to her late family. He would be needed further in the future of Coueryere Castle.
“It is sure to be, your majesty.”
She jumped. The word majesty jolted her as if he splashed cold water suddenly in her face. Majesty? Hmmm. I guess he is right. And I suppose it would be better to start acting in that fashion.
“Executor, I have a few requests of you today.”
“I would be honored to fulfill those for you.”
“First, can you find me a weapon? I will be leaving the castle for a short spell. A bow would be my choice if you can make that happen.”
He frowned but nodded and bowed.
“I sense your disapproval. You often show your emotions openly.”
“It is only that I do not see the need to risk your safety. The ruins are dangerous inside and outside, but in here I can give you some protection.”
She found comfort in his overprotective sense of responsibility for her. He was like a long-lost uncle trying to step up and make up for lost time.
“The meat in the pantry I am afraid is too far gone for me. I want to hunt and restock the meat pantry. My father showed me how to track and hunt at an early age. Even said I had a unique talent for it. Perhaps that is another aspect of my Dirithi heritage?” She chuckled to herself and tried to not dwell on her pang of grief for him.
“You had other requests, miss?”
“Yes.” She sighed aloud and was unsure how to proceed. “When I came her two nights ago, I… I encountered… Well, you were not the first spirit I found here in the ruins. What or who is that Flaming Skeleton?”
Again, his face crinkled as he disapproved of the content of the conversation. “That Flaming Skeleton is not to be taken lightly, miss. He is not one of ours and not from this realm. He was one of the Krezsec Generals that invaded. Few of their invading army were stopped, he was among those few. Now, General Loas Toc haunts these hallways at certain nights and always he relieves his final hours. You saw the hanging men?”
She nodded, her face paled at the memory of the bloodied uniforms, spotted with flaming hand prints from the general’s touch.
“This is my family’s seat of power. He will not be tolerated much longer. I am going to have to find a way to expell his presence.”
The Executor only lowered his head to stare at the floor. He had no answers for her.
“Tonight, when I return I want you to take me to the Throne Room.”
Boure straightened and a smile cracked his face, he beamed with pride. “Indeed, your majesty. I will see to its preparations for your audience myself.”
That statement brought a strange thought to her mind. “There are others? Other court members or staff?”
He nodded. “Not as many as before – remember only the restless spirits remain here. Some have made peace and moved on.”
Before she could ask more, he bowed again and backed out of the room through the closed door.
Jueneva dressed and prepped herself as best as she could. There were several dresses hanging inside the cabinet but were not warm enough or proper for the cold elements outside. She found only one riding pantsuit. It would have to do. She could not be weighed down or wear anything restrictive if she was to hunt and chase prey. At the back on a hook, she did discover a thick deer skin coat with buttons and laces down the front. It was exactly what she needed for the wintery elements outside.
Another soft rap announced Boure’s return. He entered with no invitation this time. In his hands he carried a silver and ivory bone longbow and a matching white quiver filled with over a dozen arrows. Symbols were etched all along the exquisitely crafted weapon. She took it in awe and hefted it in her hands.
“This is wondrous. It feels like I am barely lifting anything!”
“Indeed. This came from within the Vault. I believed it was forged with guiding magics, but I cannot remember for sure. Either way, I am certain it will be of great use and affect in your hunting.”
As she lifted the quiver’s strap over her head and down onto her shoulder, he said, “I really do not like this idea. I feel I may be inadequate as your Court Advisor, but, your majesty, as there are no other formal Courtesans left, you will have to settle for me. You see, as I stated before, in the castle domain I can protect you, but I cannot leave the compound to help you outside. You will be all on your own. This is not a wise excursion. We will find another way to find you proper meals.”
Jueneva shook her head. “No. I will not be stuck inside nor will I hide here. The Restoration cannot happen to my family’s rule if I do not take risks or fight back. What happened here must be avenged. I appreciate your words, I do. And I do not step out lightly and without caution.”
Boure dropped his gaze again to the floor.
“Executor, please escort me now to the best entrance to begin my Hunt.”
“YOU DO NOT BELONG HERE!”
The intense words floated in Jueneva’s mind as she drifted between nightmare and awareness. The flaming skull growing and looming over her in her dream, casting her in its fiery red glow. Its heated breath roasting her skin.
“You do not belong here.” The spoken statement, less intense, was repeated in more of a concern or inquiring tone. And it was not said by the leering skull.
She felt a hand upon her shoulder, shaking her. “I say, this is no place anymore for the living.”
Her eyes popped open wide, startled from the touch. An older man, heavily wrinkled around the eyes and mouth, stood near her table bed, floating a few inches above the floor. He had a similar gray and blue uniform as the hung men she had seen earlier. His long white hair was pulled back in a single braid. Other than being semi-transparent and having a faint luminescence, she would not have immediately realized he was a spirit of some type.
The room around them remained pitch dark except for the faint outlines presented by her darkvision. His arms were folded across his chest as he patiently waited for her to respond.
His black eyes perplexed and frightened her. There was a depth and a high intelligence in them. This was not a simple aberration or manifestation.
She scrambled down from the table and crab-walked back into the farthest corner from him. Her arms wrapped reflexively around her knees and pulled her body into a tight ball.
The spirit rubbed at the side of his face and paused with his mouth slightly open in mid-statement.
“I see. Well, perhaps if you have some answers you will feel more at ease, no?” He bowed low, dropping his elbow before his face in an odd gesture or salute. He rose and tapped his boot heels together. “I am Court Executor Boure of the Coueryere Castle, once the ruling regime and residents here. And you are?”
He waited again for her to participate in the conversation. Jueneva was not in the frame of mind of conversing with a ghost. The multitude of stories told to her as a child flooded her brain with superstitions and fears. She could only hope the spirit would leave her alone soon.
“Alright. Well, this simply will not do, young lady. We cannot have you unattended in the labyrinth of the castle. There are… There are things that would not be pleasant for you to see or encounter. No more of such chatter on that. For now, I do observe that you are not properly dressed to be here, nor do you have any provisions or food it does appear. If you allow me to escort you, I can lead you to a proper bedding.”
Jueneva looked up slowly from her huddled knees but did not answer him.
He took it as a sign. “And while our Rule ended abruptly here many eons before, there are sealed food jars in our kitchen and the guard noshery. This endless winter is certain to keep most of it from rotting. Would you like to explore it, young lady?”
His polite form of speech and attention to decorum eased her tension some and the idea of eating broke down her guarded walls. She nodded as she rose to her feet.
“Then please follow me.”
It did not take long for them to reach the large kitchen area, which had four stone tables lined with black oak benches and shelving crowded with wax-sealed pottery jars. She kept quiet behind Boure, but took in the sights of the decorations. Most of it remained untouched, only dusted in fine gray and black powders.
He stood in the hall leading to the kitchen, barely inside the double-door entrance. Again, he crossed his arms over his chest as he kept his vigilance.
At the back of the kitchen hall, she discovered an inset fireplace nearly two body lengths wide and several feet deep. A wooden door partially open showcased a meat pantry and a stack of small water barrels.
After finding a box filled with cut wood, she made a cozy fire and set about prying open some of the jars. In moments, she had a plate of tough leathery jerky, two piles of cashew nuts and two more handfuls of strange green and red berries. The spicy meat did not sit well but the berries and nuts filled her up fine.
As she wiped her sticky hands on the sides of her stained blouse, she called out with a slight tremble in her words. “Thank you, Sir Boure. I am…I truly appreciate your assistance.”
He floated across the stone floor and hovered near her bench seat. “You are most welcome. Can we discuss your situation now?”
She nodded again, keeping her eyes on the floor. To stare into his focused, lucid eyes was too overwhelming. “My name is Jueneva Emaya.”
“As there are no easy passages through the DesCantan Mountains now, am I correct to guess you came via the Glass Mirror in the Shrine?”
“I think so.”
He rubbed again at the side of his temple, lost in his contemplation. He must have had that habit during his life and carried it forward into death.
“And by your garb and lack of supplies, you were not expecting to come to the castle?”
“I do not even know where I am exactly. Except… except that I have come to Akkei Maliss.”
He scratched at a spot between his bushy eyebrows, then folded his arms behind his back. “Anyone coming to Akkei Maliss and via sorcery at that, surely had to be in a dire emergency. Do you think you will be pursued?”
She hugged her arms to her body, cold shivers traversing her small form. “My family…” She choked with emotion. “Our enemies were stopped before I came here. No one witnessed my crossing.”
“Yet you really do not know what Akkei Maliss is, child,” he said matter-of-factly. “You were ill-advised to come to this haunted, cursed land. As I said earlier, this is no place for the living. You have come to one of the five Blackened Realms. Only Restless Dead reside in the Ruins of Castle Coueryere!” His voice had risen and gained volume. He shook with emotion and rage.
Jueneva stood her ground, somehow sensing his anger was not directed towards her but the cruel fate given to him.
“You cannot even fathom the dangers of the other four realms. Nothing can be saved in these lands — The Unformed, The Living Towers, the Land of the Bloodless. And even the dead cannot speak of what exists in The Swath. There is no hope to be found here. In truth, you came here to die!”
“NO! I may have come unprepared, but there was no other option but to return home.”
His jaw dropped, the words faltered before leaving his mouth.
“This castle was suddenly lost right?”
“Yes. One night as a mighty blizzard gathered outside, we were set upon by an unknown enemy who used the storm to hide within. They breached all our security, used magic to overtake all preparations. Within the night, it fell to a swift blade and all of us including the Coueryere noble family were wiped out. Our enemy stripped everything of value and left these rotting ruins. They robbed us of everything, including hope. Now the dead come here attracted by its well of misery and doomed souls.”
Jueneva stood up from the bench and crossed to the heat of the fireplace. She then knelt in front of it. The flames lit up her face and features.
“No, Boure. Not all hope. Not everyone died that night. The family of Coueryere held dominion here due to their powerful bloodlines and true heritage. My mother and father — my adoptive parents used to tell me bedtime stories. Told me of a faraway land governed by a family of mystical beings.”
He floated closer to her, trepidation in his eyes. He hoped and yet feared at the same time what he was about to witness.
“Dirithi…” he moaned in awe as he took in the sight of her illuminated features. Her true heritage of blackened eyes and ivory, spiky skin.
He sank to the ground, collapsing upon his knees and prostrated before her with his hands clenched over his head. “So long! So long without a light to cling to.” His words were muffled and mashed together as he said them like a chant over and over.
She put her hand upon his shoulder. Softly she spoke into his ear.
“I will, I swear before you, regain our power over this realm. Fate has bound me with this charge. I must bring about The Restoration.”
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NOTE: I will be restoring the prices on all my Kindle copies to their normal pricing on 3/31.
This new harsh reality, the brutal truth of who she really was did bring the unwanted tears. Jueneva sunk back to the ground, hugging her knees into her chest and buried her face. Never had she felt so naked, desperate and alone. She wept, finally releasing the wracking sobs bottled up inside. For a long time, she wrestled with the feeling of loss and grief for her mother and the rest of her family.
The storm gained strength outside. Gusts of icy rain and snow flurries whistled in through the large hole in the roof. The gloomy daylight had also dimmed significantly. She had no provisions, only mud-soaked clothes on her small frame and no real sense of where she was. It left little doubt that the time had come for action and decisions. Trying to recapture the grim resolve she had before entering the portal, she picked herself up and took a more concerted effort at looking around.
However, there was nothing new of the indoor courtyard than what she noted before, so she walked hesitantly to the pair of barred doors. She considered the rusted metal brackets that held twin thick wooden boards, but she could not guess to what its true purpose was. It was a flimsy barrier at best and could not pose any serious obstacle to anyone wanting to get into the courtyard. With little effort, she lifted the boards off and inched the doors barely open.
A knock, soft and from beyond the door, froze her to the spot. It was not done with force, but with purpose.
Another knock floated to her ears, this time echoing from much deeper inside the building. Another pair of similar knocks followed close behind the first. A burst of wind howled through the hole again, the sound deafening as she stood in the prior silence. Then all grew quiet once again.
On the other side, she could not see much detail or form past a few feet. Soft twilight filtered in from snow-capped skylights on the roof and barely outlined what appeared to be a long rectangular room.
Stay in the courtyard, freeze to death in the chill or walk into the gloom and die in the pitch dark?
She moaned internally at her dilemma, determined to not voice her fear aloud, not allowing the terror to become real. A sudden burst of wind coiled around her like a snake, forcing her decision. Slipping in, she snapped the pair of doors tight behind her.
To her shock, as she blinked her eyes rapidly, the room brightened. Yet the light source was not external. The chamber remained unlit except for the skylights along the borders of the room. The features inside were dotted in tiny gray beads. The chamber mostly empty remained shrouded by night, yet the beads outlined everything. Her new darksight had to stem from her Dirithi heritage!
Coming to Akkei Maliss must have unlocked the fierce beast within her blood. Jueneva hoped she could find other advantages. Her instincts told her she would need every ounce of human and dragon strength she had to survive here.
Ten feet into the room, she ran her hands along an ornate banister and realized that the empty center of the rectangular room was an open floor. She could make out at least three more floors below her. These ruins were immense and were once elaborate.
Do I dare hope for food somewhere secured away? I need to at least find a place to lay down and rest, she thought. Her strength waned as her stomach growled.
She walked along the passage bordering the open floor, finding a total of three passages. The one leading to the doorway, the other two in opposite west and east directions. The air remained chill in the hall but at least it was free of the outside elements. When she stepped into the eastern passage, the knock came to her again. It floated down the hall towards her. The hall ended ahead in a t-section. The knock repeated from the right hallway.
The knocks repeated. Light rapping against hollow wood. Knock… Knock… Knock….
She crept slowly in the shadows, making her way toward the source. If she were to stay inside, she had to be sure the area was safe before allowing herself to close her eyes and rest. Kneeling down close to the corner, she peeked around the wall. Hanging on thick cords of rope, several men’s corpses were swinging slowly from side to side, their boots occasionally taping against the hallway. Her hand shot up to seal her squeals from escaping. The men were all in ragged and bloody uniforms, their hands bound behind their backs, their heads lolling to one side. As she studied them, a growing orange light grew at the other end of the hall. It was approaching her from the other side of the line of bodies. In the bright light now, more than a dozen victims were swinging from a square ceiling beam.
Jueneva heard heavy boots now, foot thuds heavy and marching towards her. She ducked back around the corner, bracing her back against the wall. Her hands still pressing tight against her lips.
What fresh hell have I plunged myself into?
The march of the lone pair of boots came to a sudden stop, less than a dozen feet away. The orange light flickered and waved, casting irregular shadows along the hall. Above the crackle and popping sounds of a fire, she made out the creaks of rope, the tapping of more boots. Whoever had the fire had walked through the hanging forms and intentionally forced more of them to swing.
Her terror caused massive trembles up and down her limbs but still, she had to know, had to see what was happening right beside her. She again knelt slowly to get as close to the ground as possible to dip down and catch a glimpse.
A disembodied pair of legs, shrouded in glowing orange and white flames, stood before the swinging men. The boots were facing the victims. Spots on their uniforms were burning where they were pushed.
Her jaw dropped as her hands fell to her sides. Her eyesight started to tunnel as she was about to swoon, when a floating, rotting skull wreathed with more fire appeared above the legs. It twisted to face her. Its jaws were opened in a permanent scream. It roared, “YOU DO NOT BELONG HERE!”
Instead of collapsing, her legs snapped tight and her body launched forward, her feet instinctively beating a mad dash away down the other hallway. She dared not to look behind her to see if it gave chase.
The frantic girl did not stop until her breath rasped in and out of her chest in burning gulps of air. She was heaving and weeping again resting on her hands and knees. The darkness in this area was reassuring though as she knew the Burning Man was not near. She tried to control her tears but could not help the squeals and moans she made.
Now hopelessly lost in these haunted ruins, she despaired if she would be safe ever again.
Her darksight revealed she was in an open, sparse room. It was furnished with only a wobbly wooden square table and one stone bench. The concrete walls were marked with more of the miniature runes but nothing else.
Completely exhausted, surrendering to whatever might find her, Jueneva climbed onto the table. She chose to sleep here versus the cold stone floor. Her ankles and feet hung over the end, but she slipped regardless into dreamless sleep immediately.
EVADE Part Two — NOW ON AUDIBLE.COM!!
EVADE Part Three — NOW ON KINDLE & AMAZON!!
Don’t miss out on this high-paced thriller… IT WILL SNEAK UP ON YOU!
Here’s what the AMAZON FIVE STAR REVIEWS are saying:
…‘Evade, Part One’ by Derek Barton is the sequel to his 2017 novella ‘In Four Days’. This installment is filled with action, suspense and twist and turns enough to give one literary whiplash!
…I LOVED this story and the way that the horror is both brutal and terrifying. The novella format works perfectly here as it gives the story enough time to breathe while making the reader hungry to absorb more. I’m absolutely ready for the next volume of this story!
…Heart throbbing novel, quick read, that is very engaging. Great cliffhanger too. A lot of cliff hangers seem like a stretch, but this one works well. Thrilling mystery. Would recommend!
…Evade part 1, sequel to In Four Days. I was into reading this, did not want to put the book down until I was done reading. Loved how the Author Derek Barton brought the 2 bike riders into the story. Just another day for the nurse catcher then a twist and turn of events!!! Curious to find out what the supernatural enemy and seekers are all about. Suspenseful!!!
…The author takes you on a journey through the beginning of a series that looks to be suspenseful and gripping. Well written – keeps your interest and is a great read. I highly recommend it and am looking forward to the next book.
Last year I started a series of writing prompts on this blog that were later collected and published in the 12 Months of Hell & Horror Day Planner. There was one story, The Flight of the Dirithi, that took on more of a fantasy theme than the modern horror theme of the other tales. Yet like many of the other stories I’ve had occupying my thoughts and demanding to be written, this The Flight of the Dirithi nagged and prodded me to be further explored.
So…we shall together explore and travel the path beside this young Dirithi as she runs for her life and freedom. As she escapes to her destiny…
This first part will be the introduction I wrote last year (with some edits) then with a small addition. I want to add to this story every couple weeks — maybe a 400 to 500 word addition. I don’t want to promise more as I am deep in the development of the third book in the Wyvernshield Series. I’ve been promising this novel now for a long time and it wouldn’t be prudent to disappoint everyone again. I’m excited to get the story out to you too and I’m just as anxious to see the epic conclusion!
***Awesome Concept Art by Wonhong Kim, ArtStation
FLIGHT OF THE DIRITHI — 1.28.2021
Jueneva shook awake but didn’t raise her head off the cottony bed pillow. Another shrill scream pierced the silence of the early morning hours. She didn’t recognize the source, but thought it might have come from Yabina’s hut. A second child’s cries from another hut farther away joined the first, ending in sobs.
More shouts, deeper in bass, came from guards near the southern wall.
Cries of alarm sprang out all over the village. Jueneva squeezed her eyes shut, praying to wake from this sudden nightmare. Her breath burst from her. She hadn’t even realized she was holding it in. Her chest hurt from the effort.
“Jueneva!! Come! Come, child.” The last shred of hope she had faded as her eyes opened to see her mother, Ckala standing in the doorway to her room, her arms out and beckoning to her. In one hand, she gripped a thin, leathery pouch. A backpack straddled her shoulders, filled with their travel clothes and road rations.
“We know what this means. It’s over, nothing can be done now but hide. We must hurry,” her mother pleaded over the crash and clatter of men battling nearby.
Horses pounded the dirt paths as they charged past the front of their stone home.
“Kreszecs! The Kreszecs! Run. They have found us.” Other shouts echoed the call. The horses went deeper into the village, the messengers warning others in the bare light of dawn.
Jueneva grabbed her blanket and wrapped it tightly over her shoulders and head. Silent tears traveled down her cheeks. She thrust her feet into her leather thong sandals at the foot of her bed.
Father, brother…lost? They’re gone?
“Hurry up, we’ve got to get to the bridge,” her mother said as she grabbed Jueneva’s hand and hauled her down the hallway. “If we should get separated, head there and wait for me in that bed of tanglevines. If I haven’t come by sunrise, go under the bridge and find the three black stones. You’ll recognize them on sight. Dig through.”
“Where are we going, mum?” Jueneva grew even more scared at the sound of her own shaky voice. It had somehow diminished in the night, shrunken to the frightened pleas of a toddler.
“It’s not important where we are going, only that we get away from here. Please, run!”
Outside the door to their stone house, the air filled with shouts for help mixed with the screams for mercy. The sounds of battle echoed in from the wood gate house along Harner Road. Horses whinnied in fright, metal clashed with metal, wood cracked and splintered. Women begged while children shrieked. Thick and gravelly voices growled back in foreign, violent tongues.
Others were running as well, making for the bridge at the back of the village. It crossed over a minor rivulet of the Corafin River to the other side, bracketed by heavy pine tree woods.
The trek there lasted an eternity. Most of the refugees bolted over the river and into the surrounding forest when they arrived. Her mother took her and bypassed the bridge entrance, climbing down the short but deep embankment. Surefooted, her mother made a direct run at a pile of three, smooth black river stones. She let free Jueneva’s hand, used both hands to part the rocks. Underneath was a strong fishnet, covered in wet leaves and mud. “Help, Juenie. Grab the other end so we can drag it away.”
When they did so, the shallow mouth to a tunnel appeared. Immediately she realized the only way to go inside was to crawl on hands and knees. Terror gripped her heart. It would be pitch black inside and who knows what might have made the tunnel its home.
Ckala rummaged through the backpack and removed a silver box. It popped open revealing a smooth gold stone, glowing with an amber aura. The stone barely gave more light than a wax candle, but it was enough.
“Let’s go.” She plopped down on her belly and began to squeeze inside, ruining her traveling blouse.
Not one to be squeamish about mud or dirt, however, Jueneva balked. It felt wrong, dread coiling around her neck like a hangman’s noose. She would not leave her mother though, so she willed herself to enter the earthen grave, defying her instincts.
Inside the light illuminated enough only for her to see the soles of Ckala’s sandals as she crawled ahead. Moments went by without a word between them. In the silence of the river tunnel, her dead father’s and brother’s faces appeared in her mind’s eye. Fresh tears and sobs choked her, stopping her from trailing after.
“Shhh. Shhh. child, we’ll be alright. Shhhh.” Her mother tried to calm her.
Jueneva shook from cold as much as from her emotions. Water dripped down her back from the tunnel’s ceiling as foul stenches burned her nose and made her gag. This was not a proper life. What horrid fate did she wake to? Nothing was going to be resolved.
When the sudden grief eased some, she had to ask, “Mum, why?”
“Why? Why are we always hunted?” Jueneva was nearing her twelfth-moon cycle. All her memories revolved around them being on the run. It wasn’t normal. She noted by her fifth-moon that other families could put down roots and live in seeming peace.
Her mother stopped and twisted to look down the tunnel at Jueneva. The pain in her eyes spoke volumes.
“I never wanted this type of life for you, sweet-tears. There is a curse lying in your veins.”
“What does that mean? Did Da and Je’steo–“
Her mother shook her head violently. “No! Not now. We grieve another sunrise. Not today! We must run so their sacrifice won’t be for nothing. The Kreszecs will never stop hunting us.”
“I do not understand.”
“Someday it will be clearer to you, but for now, we have no time to work it out.”
“No! Tell me the true reason we are different. Please! I have to know!”
The words came slowly and whispered in the dark like all dangerous secrets. “You are Dirithi.”
Dirithi? Dirithi! A half-dragon offspring. The last heirs of dragon blood. Not human, not dragon. Shapeshifters.
“No more talk. Come!”
The single word consumed her and bellowed like a tempest inside her skull. It explained so much and yet conjured so many more questions.
They took up the hike again under the river. The winding tunnel went deep underground and paralleled the rapid stream.
Finally, faint dawn light shined through the exit. As her mother crawled out, she graced Jueneva with a broad, relieved smile. Seeing it light up Ckala’s face, her own smile crept out as she stood on her feet, covered in grime.
An arrow whistled through the air, catching her mother in the shoulder, rocketing her backward, tumbling to the ground. Another arrow hit the ground between Jueneva’s sandals.
“Svaklan, I told ye they were predictable. Right where I said, right when I said. No?” A man spoke in an ugly, thick accent but spoke with robust confidence as he came down the embankment on the back of a brown horse. He had a crossbow in his arms, an arrow already loaded and trained on her.
Ckala didn’t answer the man’s taunts, only shook her head in stubborn defiance. Her lips pressed into a thin line.
Another man with a pair of long ponytails gliding down the back of his head, nodded and grinned through his thick black beard. “Aye, m’lord Kosoth. Ye do have the sight.” He strode over and placed a heavy, gray-furred boot on Ckala’s chest as she remained prone and panting from the pain.
“Indeed,” the Kreszec Arch Lord said as he rode his horse up a few feet in front of Jueneva. He then followed up with a mock bow. “All these wasted years, but here we are, the end of our storied chase. The Gryatt is mine and will be returned after all.”
Kosoth looked down at Jueneva, meeting her wide eyes and terror-filled stare. “Aye, ye do have but good reason for fear. The deep darkness ye will bring under my command will be of legend. The power I’ll have will be even more!”
Ckala slapped the ground at her side, getting Jueneva’s attention. “No! No! Jueneva, remember above all else, you must survive at any cost and grow stronger!”
Before the bearded Svaklan could react, her mother thrust the small leather pouch into the air and struck it hard against a pine sapling along the muddy riverbank. As a gold and silver talisman dropped from the pouch, Ckala screamed, “Akkei Maliss!”
A blast of fire and wind erupted, an intense magical pulse throwing all apart from each other.
Jueneva laid on her back inside the tunnel, her breath stolen away.
What was that? Was it from that talisman?
“…remember above all else, you must survive at any cost and grow ever stronger!” Ckala’s words repeated to her.
After several moments, she could breathe normal again, and she struggled back to the tunnel entrance.
She was ill-prepared for the sight before her.
The horseman lay pinned and struggling weakly under his beast, while Svaklan laid motionless on his stomach partially in the water. The stream pulled and nudged at him, trying to take his body away downstream. Her mother’s form was twisted and wrapped around the base of another larger pine. Motionless.
But at the spot where the talisman had been appeared a mammoth watery circle. The talisman had been invoked and a silver, glass-like portal now stood towering over her.
It had to lead to one place…
In the distance, breaking branches and baying hounds could be heard. Other Kreszecs must’ve followed after the sounds of the magical explosion.
More words repeated softly inside her mind. We must run so their sacrifice won’t be for nothing.
To herself, she whispered, “I’ll go where my enemies will fear to follow.”
Per the legends passed down by the tribal elders, the world of Akkei Maliss was a world where the vilest creatures came to roost. In the past, even her mother, always so brave, wouldn’t dare to utter its name. This was a world where even the snow fell black…
This was a world where alone as a Dirithi, she would learn to survive and grow ever stronger.
She nodded to her mother’s form and whispered final words of love. It was time to act. She marched slowly but with determination and resolve into the portal to Akkei Maliss.
And she vowed she would return one day, and she would reign supreme once and for all.
Jueneva’s eyes opened, but her vision was clouded and blurry. She found herself lying face down, chilled stone bringing on a series of racking shudders. Rolling slowly over, she rose onto her elbows, her teeth chattering. A single rivulet of blood dripped from her nose and over her lips. As she wiped it away on her muddy sleeve, her vision gradually cleared to show her a series of intricate, marble stone tiles littered with dark purple glass fragments all around her.
The tiles were aligned into a circular paths, surrounding a small patch of gray, dead grass and weeds. The ivory, black-streaked marble dais she laid across had large, gaping cracks as well as missing patches of stone foundation. The damage could have only come from a massive land quake.
In the heart of the grass stood a twisted, metal framework, standing at least ten hands high. Some of the purplish glass shards remained in sections of it. Soot and ash buried everything else around her. She stretched out a hand to confirm her suspicion. It was as the legend spoke of — the dais had a thin blanket of icy black snow mixed with the ash and soot.
Jueneva remembered her determined exodus into the portal, but had no further memory afterward. Painful stiffness in her back and neck reminded her of the terrible explosion that threw her into the river tunnel, freed her from the Kreszec men, but also took her mother’s life. Before any tears could start, she clenched her jaw, straightened her back and took stock of where she had entered Akkei Maliss.
The dais sat in the middle of an enclosed circular chamber. Parts of the ceiling had given way long ago with rot and vegetation. Howling winds could be heard outside the holes in the roof, but only an occasional flurry actually entered. Long hanging vines grew along the walls and the ceiling, competing for space with multiple sections of charcoal icicles. Faded portraits hung on the walls at odd angles among torn cloth tapestries. Lines of an unknown language were engraved in painstakingly thin etchings and covered every inch of exposed wall. At the back of the chamber was an overturned wooden desk and several broken benches. Opposite to the desk, she spotted twin silvery unlit braziers on both sides a closed, barred door.
Wherever she was, it seemed it had been a site of importance. Perhaps even a place of religious origins.
Jueneva leaned over and lifted one of the larger pieces of glass lying among the gray grass. The surface was smooth and reflective like the surface of the quarry pond near their village. She held it up in awe before her face.
She threw it away with a sharp gasp. The glass’s image had lied to her eyes, her hand reflexively pulling one of her mussed ponytails before her face.
Her once blonde platinum locks were now a deep blue hue, nearly black in shade. Again she plucked a shard from the ground to see that her eyes were now completely black, no white or iris staring back at her. Little white spikes bristled at her jaw line near her neck and ears.
Dirithi… the cursed breed.
This new harsh reality, the brutal truth of who she really was did bring the unwanted tears. She sunk back to the ground, hugging her knees into her chest and buried her face. Never had she felt so naked, desperate and alone.