The Black God’s War by Moses Siregar III was one of FBR’s favourite books in 2011. In 2013, Moses plans on returning us to the world of Rezzia with The Gods Divided, the second book in his Splendor and Ruin series.
Moses has been kind enough to provide us with the first chapter of this new book – and it is awesome. If you want more, you can find the prologue on his Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/notes/moses-siregar-iii/seeking-readers-prologue-to-the-gods-divided-still-in-progress/10151023490712738.
The Gods Divided
(Sequel to The Black God’s War)
Splendor and Ruin, Book II
Moses Siregar III
Note: This is an early peek at a work still in progress.
The enemies of my people prayed to their gods, with the fury of their ‘light,’ yearning to take our everything. They wanted comfort. As they had done for six generations, they slew our grandfathers and grandmothers, our fathers and mothers, our brothers and sisters, our cousins and friends, our sons and daughters. They came from the Rezzian desert to the south, to occupy our lands and bury our hope and dignity, to choke our courage and wisdom, to sacrifice our happiness and compassion on their white altars.
A marching bonfire fells a grandfather Bonecore that rooted earth to sky for thirty generations. Not so easily its family of seeds. With its grandfathers charred black, even one seed with stubborn memory can replant a forest.
I am the son of Jurg, I am Skye. My father’s spirit was only a silent rain inside the shell of my heart. Now you know why my rage rent the ten gods of Lux Lucis and their unholy kingdom.
Too much of my life was a bitter song until wisdom seized me—with one swing of my axe—like the fangs of a bear.
I was the bear.
Seven years later. One year before the end of Rezzia’s war with Pawelon.
Skye admired the heavy Altrea door standing guard over the entrance to his family’s home. His father, Jurg, had carved and hung the door to mark the passage of Skye’s grandfather into the Hall of the Slain (for he had departed with valor, shield in hand). There his spirit would join other heroes in taking up the ultimate honor: advising their eldest sons in the defense of the children of Andars.
The family believed Skye’s grandfather had chosen to plant a seed of himself in this Altrea after he died; the tree had stood outside his childhood home and had always loved that tree. Many years before its leaves turned brown for the last time, Skye’s grandfather had said that no matter the future condition of the tree, he would always dwell upon whatever wind his oldest son would breathe. To fill one’s lungs with such spirited air was the hope and dream of every Andaran first-born son.
Skye’s father leaned against the doorframe, the door barely open, taking in the summer rain falling on the village of Jorvik. Skye knew his father was contemplating the news being whispered throughout the hills of Andars: the occupying Rezzian legions were redeploying around them, snaking their way around the hills and through the valleys, trying to conceal themselves among the forests of grandfathers and grandmothers who were no doubt cursing the foreign invaders. No one knew what the Rezzians were doing, or if the Ancestors had advised the village elders no one had spoken a word of it to Skye.
Skye’s mother, Aesa, scrubbed the surface of their meal table with her tough white hands, trying like Hel to erase dirt that didn’t seem to be there. His brother Dag was carving his latest knife in the room shared by the three children.
His sister Idonea was knitting in the corner she had claimed in the central room, her ‘wand’ by her side. She glanced up, dark eyebrows arched high over clear blue eyes that should’ve belonged to a subdued feral animal. The Rezzian occupation had hit her harder than anyone else in the family. She was much moodier now, more private and sensitive. Her eyes had turned into simmering blue infernos. For years now, she’d spent a lot of time with the trees behind their house, talking to the stick that was her imaginary friend. Everyone dealt with subjugation differently.
A raven cawed. Skye’s father turned to his mother. “They’re coming.” Jurg stood with his hand axe hanging from one side of his belt and his long knife sheathed on the other hip. Aesa slammed her balled rag on the light-colored Budrie wood table, face ruddy and tense, wild tufts of blonde standing up from her pulled-tight hair.
Jurg studied her and sucked in through one flaring nostril. He looked aside and shook his head once, hard.
Aesa’s eyes were watering and filling with anger. She said, as if giving the final word, “Offer them nothing.” She returned to punishing her table, and Jurg to scanning his forest. Skye and Idonea looked to each other. Aesa slammed her fist on the table, tears running down her cheeks, saying, “You will remember our fathers!”
Jurg slung his head around and glared at her, mouth tight, lips puckering and shrinking instead of cursing.
Without knowing where his father was going, Skye said, “He will, Mamma.” Whatever his father was about to do, he would do Andars proud. Jurg was the spiritual advisor of his tria, and Skye’s honorable grandfather would be advising him and his two tria brothers.
Idonea glanced up with her unfathomable blank face before again looking down on her work. Dag burst in, holding his nearly finished Budrie wood knife—a light-colored, hard wood. With a sharp enough point and edge, it would pierce a Rezzian’s flesh much like steel. “I saw Folkvar and Egill coming.” He looked at Skye with a disappointed frown. “Brandr and Njall are with them.”
Skye felt a grin stretch across his face. Brandr and Njall were Skye’s tria brothers, the sons of Folkvar and Egill. It meant Skye would be accompanying his father, too.
Jurg’s furry eyebrows dropped and he steadied his gaze on his eldest son, steadying Skye’s excitement with a green-eyed stare. “Get your axe.”
Skye hurried to his room, slid onto his knees, threw back the lid of his chest. He dug through piles of clothing to find the smooth handle of Bright Shade. The axe had been his father’s gift to him, long ago.
Before he could pull it up, Idonea stood above him. “Do you think you’ll need it?”
“Hel if I know.”
“Where is he taking you?”
“To talk to the Rezzians?”
Idonea’s brow trembled as her breathing stopped. “Why?”
Skye shrugged and felt the smooth Budrie handle. The weight of the axe’s head rested in his right hand.
“Let the fathers do the talking, Brother.”
Skye stifled a laugh before he looked up into his sister’s motionless eyes. “If I’m unlucky.”
“You’re lucky like a fox.” Dag’s heavy arms stretched across the doorway, powerful but still carrying baby fat at seventeen. Skye was barely a year older than Dag and while Skye was easily the more athletic of the two, Dag had the girth.
“He only asked me to bring my axe. It’s nothing serious.”
“Then why are you putting on your leather?” Dag asked.
“Couldn’t hurt.” Skye didn’t attempt to hide his grin as he pulled the leather vest over his head, taking in its earthy scent. He tied his belt and put his axe through a loop at his hip. “I don’t think he’d take me if he thought I was going to need this.”
As Skye walked through the doorway, Dag jabbed Skye’s ribs with an elbow. Skye answered with a forearm beneath his brother’s neck. Skye leaned in and they locked eyes as they clenched their teeth through their smiles. If Dag had been born first, he would be the one going with their father.
“Lucky.” Dag shoved Skye through the door.
“Next time …” Skye raised a finger.
Dag looked back like a bored bull.
“Next time,” Skye said before motioning as if cutting his own throat. He cracked a smile, but couldn’t get a reaction out of his ‘little’ brother. “Don’t worry. We’ll lock our shields together soon enough.”
“Come with me,” his father said as he headed into the forest.
Skye’s mother charged to the door and grabbed both of Skye’s shoulders. “Rezzians have killed boys for speaking to them. You stay quiet. Hear me?”
“Aye, Mamma. I never choose a battle I can’t win. And I’m not a boy.”
“Then you’ll keep your mouth shut.”
Skye nodded, noticing the tears on his mother’s pink cheeks. He and his mother were t he same height now. He inherited his tall frame from her side of the family. “Don’t worry. Grandfather will be with us.” He kissed her cheek and flashed what he knew to be his handsome smile as he walked past the Altrea door.
Water dripped from sagging Windeyes branches and enormous Bonecore leaves. Late afternoon rain was uncommon during summer in the Andaran hills. The showers had the village of Jorvik smelling even more lush than usual. The damp sent a chill through Skye’s trained physique as he glanced around the many wooden huts and structures built around the hills and trees.
Folkvar, Brandr’s father, turned his massive body to address the young men. His braided hair was a reddish yellow and his beard ran down to his constant heart. “The Rezzians will offer us a meal. The elders will talk and eat. You will not join us unless we tell you to. You will sit and prove you are obedient, disciplined young men.” His stare turned between the members of the young tria. “Your presence will make our acceptance of Rezzia’s offer more binding. Your presence will show our seriousness. That is the only reason you are coming with us. You will do everything we command you to do. So you do nothing, and you ruin nothing. Is this understood?”
Skye’s father gave him a stern look, just to emphasize Folkvar’s point, then stared at the other young men, too. “You will learn things today which you will guard and keep to yourselves. You will not share what you see or hear with anyone.”
Brandr was a younger, sunnier version of his father, Folkvar, but capable of being just as stern. Brandr eyed Skye from a wide stance with his hands resting on his hips, unable to hide a glint of excitement in his forest green eyes. Just as Folkvar was the heart of the elder tria, his son Brandr led Skye’s young tria too. The heart of any tria stood behind his two shield brothers in battle, wielding either a large weapon in close combat or throwing spears and a sling at range.
Njall was the mind of Skye’s tria, a shieldbearer who was expected to be knowledgeable on a variety of practical subjects. Like Brandr, Njall failed at appearing unmoved by the moment, with one raised, smirking eyebrow over his dark brown eyes—a typical expression for him.
Skye served as the spirit of his tria, the second shieldbearer who would some day cultivate the spiritual guidance of his departed father and serve as their interpreter of omens. On this day’s excursion, Skye’s father would serve in the capacity of spirit.
Rain pattered down on giant leaves and needle-covered soil as they hiked westward, between the dark grandmother mountains, toward the Hall of the Ancestors which stood near the center of the three local Andaran villages. A raven’s flapping wings interrupted the sound of the rain.
Skye spoke quietly to his brothers. “What has Rezzia offered?”
Njall had been watching the ground, but he pointed his chin to the sky with a shrug, saying he knew nothing more. Brandr slowed to let their fathers move further ahead, and Njall and Skye slowed with him. Brandr’s excitement beamed off his rosy cheeks. “The Rezzians have offered a meal to begin negotiations. Something about a peace settlement, but that’s all I know.”
Njall’s smirk went sour, his eyes squinted. “We’re accepting an offering of meat?”
“Like Hel we are.” Skye threw up his arms, his fingers curling and almost forming fists.
Brandr shoved his open palm at the center of Skye’s chest to assert control. Bastard ran through Skye’s mind as he decided to let it go.
“Why are our fathers going?” Njall asked.
Brandr paused and let the fathers walk even farther ahead. “I think …” he looked around, peering into the forest, then lowered his voice. “… they may be our reigning tria.” He nodded with visible glee.
Skye looked about, chewing on the thought. A secret tria always led each tribe of Andars, its identity concealed from the populace to protect the leaders’ families. If their fathers’ tria held that rank, then Skye’s tria would be in line to become more prominent some day.
As they finally neared the clearing around the great hall, a building constructed from the darkest Hollowheart wood, blond Andaran warriors fell from the trees and formed into trias, groups of three with one leader standing between his two shield-bearing brothers. The flankers carried great wooden shields and spears. The heart of each group wielded something more vicious, whether an axe, a spiked club or hammer, or an iron sword. The trias remained hidden from the Rezzians, behind the edge of the forest.
Skye had trained in secret with his tria and his father’s tria, but hadn’t seen so many other armed warriors since the Rezzian invasion seven years ago. Brandr stomped his feet, dancing with joy. Njall slapped Skye’s shoulders wearing an enormous grin. Skye laughed and raised his fists. Look at this! Andars is still strong!
The fathers calmed their sons, covering up the pride they must’ve felt with stern glances. The other trias remained behind as the six continued on.
Outside and near the farther side of the hall, a Rezzian legion stood at attention, drenched by the rain. Each tall rectangular shield curled slightly along two long sides and covered the men from knees to shoulders. Skye had seen Rezzian soldiers patrolling the forests and villages many times, but here was a tightly configured formation, a disciplined unit. Tactics, his father had told him many times, you defeat the Rezzians with superior tactics—never head on.
Another tria emerged from the woods and met Jurg and Folkvar’s tria. The six men bashed their left forearms together in greeting. Folkvar waved for the boys to follow and the nine passed under the awning of the hall together. The knotted wood above them had long ago been carved into thick serpents, thorny vines, and wizened bearded men.
The musty fragrance of old Hollowheart welcomed them. Animal pelts and centuries-old carvings hung from dark, expansive walls. Nine pairs of Andaran boots tapped the floor like a reluctant drummer sounding the end of the world.
Six Rezzian dignitaries rose from their chairs on the opposite side of the grandest table in Andars, if not all the world of Gallea, wide enough for a hundred to dine together. Two bald warpriests in long white tunics stood on either side of a Strategos. The commander’s quiet black eyes and long bush of raven hair added shadows to the blood red of his tasseled uniform. Three prized soldiers stood by them, as chiseled and impressive as any Skye had seen. Far behind them, two unarmed soldiers turned a spit of lamb over a fire pit.
The tension brimmed with anger and fear. An instinctive courage lengthened Skye’s spine. He stood beside his father and tria brothers, ready for anything.
The aroma of the Rezzian sauce reached his nose and his knotted his stomach: salty red peppers, savory dark herbs, honey. He wished he wasn’t so damn hungry.
“I didn’t know there would be so many of you,” the Strategos said in fluent Andaran. “Go ahead and sit.”
Folkvar spoke for the party, waving at the young tria. “Our sons.”
The Strategos made a strange face with puckered lips and nodded slowly. “Then it would seem you do not take our offer lightly.” The Strategos eyed the young men. Each would likely appear to him as a capable enough warrior, though Njall was still a bit thin at seventeen and Brandr was already heavier than most grown men at nineteen.
Folkvar cupped one of his hard fists in front of his heart. “When we offer someone cooked meat, we offer brotherhood—”
“Please. We understand that we will never be brothers on any level. We only want you to know that our proposal is sincere. You receive this meal, and, look, we receive your sons. I believe these talks are off to an auspicious start.”
“We will eat with you, but without the traditional meaning.”
Jurg’s tria was the first to sit in the magnificent chairs. The other adult tria sat to their left. Each son sat beside his father. Six Rezzians sat across from the nine Andarans. The warpriests wore their flowing tunics that covered all but their hands and feet; one of them had an orange tear tattooed on one of his cheeks and the other wore a gold ring bearing a lion’s maned head. Skye noted the massive arms on the Rezzian soldier in front of him, a mountain of a warrior. Skye wasn’t that big, not yet, but he refused to let a drop of intimidation swim in his gut.
The Rezzian servants brought wooden plates of sizzling lamb covered in a dark sauce. The scent teased Skye again. His stomach clenched.
The Strategos gripped the side of the table before he spoke. “King Vieri has recalled my legions.”
Skye sat taller with excitement. Could it be? After all this time?
“Where are you going?” Folkvar asked the long-haired Strategos.
The Strategos smiled with crooked lips. “Now why would I tell you that?” He shared the grin with warpriest beside him.
“Because you want something from us. And if you treat us like men, you’re more likely to get it.”
The Strategos sucked in his cheeks, considering. “If I reveal my honest hand to you, I expect you to do the same.”
“My men have been called to fight Pawelon in the canyon. We’re going to help our king turn the tide. Isn’t it true that everything takes longer than one would expect?”
Yes, Skye thought, so get the Hel out of Andars or let us cut your throats and be done with it.
The Strategos continued, “To tell the truth, I’m hungry for real battles again. Andars is beautiful, and that’s the best we can say about your men.”
Folkvar surged to his feet, and thirteen hands flew to the handles of their weapons.
“I’m joking!” The Rezzian raised his palm. “Easy. Lay a finger on us and another of your villages will be cleansed.”
“You’re in the Hall of our Ancestors,” Folkvar said. “Insult us again and I’ll piss on your corpse tonight.”
The Strategos leaned back and laughed. He drew out the mocking sound, enjoying it too much as he turned and shared it with all of his allies. The mountain in front of Skye cracked a smile, revealing his yellow teeth.
Finally the commander stopped and waved a hand as if it had been a spat among friends. “Now that everyone’s blood is pumping, I am here to make an offering. I won’t insult you again. I won’t pretend this offer is for a final peace, but rather for a long breath—a pause—between Rezzia and Andars.”
“What do you want from us?” Folkvar asked.
“Hear my demands. These are not requests. Let our soldiers leave peacefully, do not follow us, do not harass our traders and caravans now or in the future. Do not rebuild your army. We will send monitors to make sure you do not, and you will treat these men well. Should anyone from Andars interfere with Rezzian interests or violate these stipulations, King Vieri has promised to return with double the force and ten times the vigor.” He thrust his index finger into the center of the table and left it there.
The last seven years had been worse than death. In Skye’s youth their village had been free; it had been safe to wander the forests; warriors were free to train; women felt safe inside their homes. Even with the Rezzian threat hanging over them, to have their hills free of these bastards would be like paradise. The singing that would ring from home to home, from hall to hall! The joy of it!
Grinning, Skye looked down again on succulent lamb and wondered if he should check his lips for drool. The six elders had resumed eating, along with the Rezzians. He looked to his father for permission, but Jurg ignored him.
“And you will return after your soldiers have occupied Pawelon?”
The Strategos almost smiled as he narrowed his eyes. “When the time comes, perhaps we will ask our Exalted if he believes such a course would be wise. It will always remain a possibility.”
Folkvar pushed his chair back from the table and traded glances with the member of his tria. “We agreed to meet with you in the hall of our Ancestors, men your fathers and grandfathers killed. You offer us a meal as you insult us, hoping we will comply as you leave our lands to oppress another. And then you or your sons will return to kill us or our sons.” Folkvar’s hand swung to point at Brandr, Njall, and Skye. “Have I missed anything?”
The Strategos’s stare was steady, suddenly bored. “No.”
The quiet hung like an acidic moss above their heads. The iron links of a Rezzian soldier’s mail shirt rattled as he shifted his weight forward.
The warpriest with the orange tear tattoo seemed to be prying into Skye’s soul with his black eyes. Skye wanted to throw his hands up to make the bastard jump, but restrained himself. The warpriest looked to the other one, the one with the lion’s head ring, and directed his ally’s attention to Skye. As they both stared at him, Skye steeled his guts with hatred.
The Strategos leaned back, dismissively. “Now, time to show your honest hand. You haven’t been raising an army, have you, Folkvar?”
The Rezzian in the tasseled red uniform became even more smug. He played with his fingernails. “We would really have to punish you. You’re lucky we let you in here with your axes.”
“We could not meet with you in this hall otherwise.”
“I know. You accepted our meat, did you not?”
“Wewill consider your proposal.” Folkvar rested one fist on his hips. “But only if you offer us more.”
The Strategos chuckled and leaned forward. “I want to hear what you think you will get from me.”
Folkvar held firm, barely moving a muscle. “Give us back the Nastrond Hills, then you will have peace for as long as you want it.”
“Those hills are for Rezzia’s protection—”
“They are Andaran.”
“Until our forefathers took them. You will accept what we offer you or we’ll shed a great deal more blood before we leave your cold mountains.”
Folkvar shook his head in a wide arc, repeatedly. He had such mettle. Skye respected him for that. Skye looked to Brandr and Njall. Neither had started eating.
Folkvar said, “Before we can even consider your words, we must appeal to our ancestors.”
The Strategos turned one shoulder to Folkvar, acting too bored to care, and rested his hand on the table before reaching for another bite of lamb. Folkvar stared at Jurg and nodded.
“Father Spirit,” Jurg closed his eyes and entered a trance.
Skye’s stomach clenched again as he examined the meat on his plate. This could go on awhile.
A surge of rain pounded the dark roof like tiny pebbles thrown from a mountain.
“Speak to me! Guide us, noble father.”
Brandr and Njall still weren’t eating. Their fathers had forgotten about them. If Skye started on his lamb, they’d join in too. After their forced hike, the waiting was cruelty.
Jurg stood, eyes closed, and put his hands on the table to steady himself. His head shook side to side, and he grunted, shivering.
Skye held his cut of lamb with two hands. No one will say anything. It’s wrong to keep us hungry like this … He raised the meat to his nose and let the aroma tease him once more—slap!—his father’s hand smacked his face so hard that he fell sideways and the meat fell in his lap.
He turned back to see his father, eyes still closed, looming over him. “Their meat is full of sickness!” Still in his trance, at one with the spirit of his slain father, Jurg drew his axe from his hip and flung it into the forehead of the Strategos across from him.
An unmanly cry escaped the long-haired Strategos as chairs scraped against the wooden floor and the warriors drew their weapons.
The Rezzian soldiers unsheathed their short stabbing swords. The warpriests stepped back, muttering in their harsh language. The two elder trias, shieldless, readied their axes and long knives, three of them shoving their sons behind them. Skye stood with Bright Shade in hand.
As the Rezzians backed away, Jurg surged across the table in his trance, pointing his knife at a soldier’s neck. Folkvar hurled his hand axe at the same Rezzian, but the weapon bounced off his target’s cuirass at his shoulder. Njall’s father, Egill, dove across the table beside Jurg, his knee landing in an uneaten meal. A different Rezzian soldier lunged forward and stabbed Egill’s hip, beneath his leather shirt.
His blood pumping, Skye’s glance met the soldier across from him, the mountain whose lips were frozen in a snarl. As a shieldman of his tria, Skye needed to wait for his leader’s order. “Go!” Brandr yelled.
Brandr leapt onto the table with his short sword leading, and no sooner Skye was beside him, guarding his leader’s left. The Rezzian soldier swung his blade in a tight arc to throw off their balance.
Skye came on, trusting Brandr to advance beside him, and the Rezzian stabbed at Skye’s gut. Skye spun back and met Egill’s stabilizing forearm. Njall landed to Brandr’s right.
The mountain retreated two steps. Droning from the tear-warpriest buzzed in Skye’s ears, over the clamor of Andaran warriors surging across the table. The other warpriest spoke a prayer like a man yelling into an inferno, “Osalashun Galeazz!”
Egill struggled to stand, one hand on his wound, as Folkvar shifted right to cover him. Jurg emerged from his trance, his face flushed like a blood-drenched river.
Skye knew the Rezzians would’ve had more men in the hall if they thought fighting might break out. Outside, men were shouting commands in Rezzian to the rectangular legion. Skye’s grandfather had upset their plans. Angry shouts from the many Andaran trias followed. What would this mean? It could change everything.
Inside, the three Andaran trias had formed up. Each tria stood opposed by an enormous Rezzian soldier without the benefit of his shield.
Forget tactics. I like these odds.
The grating noise from the tear-warpriest pained Skye’s eardrums. His leg muscles responded slowly as he tried to present a moving target. He shook his head to stay alert. Shut up with that damned noise!
“What sort of poison did you use?” Folkvar pointed his knife at the soldier before him.
The soldier growled and jabbed with his knife, first at Folkvar, then at Jurg, backing them both away. Egill surged forward with a knife thrust to the Rezzian’s undefended left—but moved too slowly. The Rezzian twisted, stabbing the inside of Egill’s forearm, then backed away, slicing through the air to back off Folkvar and Jurg.
Skye fought to ignore the hypnotic ringing in his ears. The sound was turning his legs numb. “We’re dead unless we stop that warpriest!”
Brandr and Njall stepped toward the towering mountain, feinting with jabs. Skye turned and ran around and behind them, dragging his heavy legs. He moved between the two closest soldiers and headed for the warpriest.
The mountain’s shoulder smashed against his chest, driving the wind from his lungs and sending him tumbling to the floor. Skye kept his axe’s edge pointing up. The buzzing noise careened inside his head and he spit out the only Rezzian curse that he knew.
The lion warpriest had retreated, but continued yelling his prayer. The tear-warpriest looked toward on Skye and spoke in broken Andaran, “You have family.” His smile showed one crooked front tooth. “We are on them already.”
Brandr’s axe flew and buried itself in the warpriest’s chest. The racket stopped in Skye’s head.
The mountain stabbed down with full force.
Skye rolled into the soldier’s legs and brought up his axe between the soldier’s thighs. The Rezzian’s warm blood splashed onto Skye’s face. Njall leapt at the mountain, cutting across the side of his neck.
Skye stood to find only one Rezzian soldier still standing. His father stood over the other one, pulling his knife from the man’s groin.
Skye removed Bright Shade from the same place on his enemy. “Mamma and Idonea!”
“Go,” his father commanded. “I must stay with the trias.”
Njall had no other family, and Brandr’s mother and sister were away in Gardar. “Your house,” Brandr said. He and Njall followed Skye as they climbed back over the table, under the wooden awning, away from the commotion of the battle about to begin outside the Hall of the Ancestors. They ran east, between the grandmother mountains.
Skye’s lungs begged for rest as they neared Jorvik. Rain pelted his face. His tired muscles moved only by determination and fear. No, no, no, no, no. Grandfather, don’t let them be hurt! Don’t let them! Don’t, don’t, don’t! Brandr and Njall ran behind him, but nothing in Gallea could slow Skye’s legs.
A woman’s scream for help made his heart shrivel into a rotten black pit. His eyes watered. His thighs burned as he leapt over mossy branches and tall roots, his feet pounding the ground like a war drum.
Male screams erupted through the cover of dense trees, far to his right. To the left, near his family’s dwelling, another woman screamed like Hel.
The forest flew past in a dark green and brown blur.
More screams from more houses. The Rezzians were everywhere, in many homes. They’d hidden. They’d waited to ambush defenseless families. Had they planned it all along as a parting gift?
Skye stormed down the hill, knees taking a beating as he raced ahead and burst past the open Altrea door. Three Rezzians held his struggling brother upright. Dag’s face had been smashed and bloodied. You’ll feel my axe, all of you!
Behind them, his mother lay face down beside the family’s meal table, blood seeping from her chest. My dear Mamma … Skye spread his jaw like a wolf—inner scream at a full frenzy.
To his left … a Rezzian’s ass exposed to the air.
Beneath him …
Skye exploded and swung his axe around with all his fury. As the soldier screamed, Sky yanked his axe’s blade from the Rezzian’s back. He grabbed the Rezzian’s neck and pulled him away from Idonea. For my mother and sister! He chopped down through the man’s swollen penis.
Another Rezzian held Idonea down by her shoulders. The soldier stood and fumbled for his sword as Idonea rolled away.
Skye swung Bright Shade and heard it crack against the bones of the soldier’s face. Next to him, the rapist had fallen to his knees, crying like a child, clutching his groin.
Dag growled like a caged bear, and his captors unsheathed their swords.
Skye pulled Bright Shade from the Rezzian’s face and hurled it at the soldier to Dag’s left. Another axe flew through the door and landed in the arm of the soldier at Dag’s right. Dag broke free from the soldier behind him and smashed the back of his head against his foe’s skull.
Damn you all to Hel!
Skye leapt to his brother’s side and finished the first soldier, cleaving through his neck. Brandr ran inside and knocked the second soldier down. Stumbling, the Rezzian pulled the axe from his left arm and raised it, eyeing Brandr.
Njall stepped through the door, pivoted, and hurled his axe into the soldier’s face before he could move.
Skye grabbed Dag’s Budrie knife off the ground near his mother. Dag rolled around, wrestling with the soldier who had held him. Skye yelled, “Hold him down!”
Brandr and Njall pulled the Rezzian off Dag and pinned him. Skye kicked him between his legs and handed Dag his Budrie knife. “Finish him.” Curse your soul.
Dag stood, his nose bent and bleeding. The dying Rezzians were moaning, flailing on the blood-drenched floor. Their home was not their home. It was a burning pyre, an open grave, haunted by foul Rezzian spirits.
Dag raised his knife with both hands. “This is for what you made me watch.” He slammed the wooden blade downward, piercing the Rezzian’s eye. The soldier’s gruesome yell rang through the forest.
Skye fell on his legs and held him down as Dag pounded his knife into the soldier’s other eye.
After a few more stabs, the Rezzians were nothing but corpses.
Idonea sat leaning against the wall, pressing some of the fabric against her pelvis. Her blue eyes were wide with shock.
Skye knelt by his motionless mother, his blood and breath pounding like a storm that could destroy the world. He lifted her onto her side, her head a lifeless weight. Why did you let this happen, Grandfather? Why? Why? His tears were a sheet of rain on his cheeks.
He forced a scream up from his hard stomach, through his anguish, through the acid burning his throat, to be heard by every ear in the forest.
Idonea staggered to his side, shuffling. “Promise me …” her words came out like controlled explosions of fire. “We will behead Rezzia’s King …” One of her crystal blue eyes turned storm grey. “We will burn Rezzia’s Haissem … I swear it, we will even destroy Rezzia’s gods … Promise me!”
It all started with one very special cartoon series. My first “spiritual” experience came through watching the 85-episode-long Robotech saga at the age of 10. I honestly decided then that I wanted to give back some day and inspire others just as that incredible series did for me (at that time, my goal was to create an epic cartoon series). After high school, I spent 16 years searching for the meaning of life, decided it was simple enough, and returned to my first goal in life: dreaming up epic stories and being an epic goofball. After spending many years writing non-fiction (including a stint as an editor at a local magazine), in 2011 I unleashed my debut epic fantasy novel on the willing. THE BLACK GOD’S WAR is a bit of an homage to Homer; if I’ve done my job, then it’s an epic story that’s also a page-turner. I blog about the writing life, and I like to spend my free time watching Robotech DVDs with my five-year-old son, Athens.