New Chapter 1
As my writing has improved over the years, I've gone back over some of my earlier works to improve them. In "Dralin", I removed the story of how Pelya's parents met because reviews showed me that readers gained a false impression of what the story would be. Many didn't get past that to the true story.
However, when I removed that part and adjusted everything to account for its absence, the new beginning point felt weak. While writing a battle scene in one of my later books, I came up with this idea for a new chapter 1 for Dralin that would be a better introduction to my writing for new readers.
It also introduces Kally Nevala, a character that appears later in the book. It shows off some of Bobbell's skills and how his training benefited Pelya later in life. The other characters brought in are Grinkin, Florsy, and Clutz. Those three make an appearance in the second book, "Ebudae". I thought it would be nice to show more of them to the reader.
The book will be updated in the next couple of weeks, but for now, enjoy!
Frath avoided a puddle of corrupted magic as he peered around the corner. Violet illumination from Ryallon’s two moons peeked through rainclouds to aid the feeble light of streetlamps. Tilted wizard towers flanking the shadowy street faded into mist tarnished by mystical undertakings of the occupants. Moisture trickling down the wall Frath had his gloved hand against also carried the taint of supernatural pollution.
The only person on the street was a hooded man carrying a bound boy over his shoulder. He scanned the street in both directions.
Frath pulled back to avoid detection. He held up a hand in warning.
Lieutenant Kally Nevala gulped audibly. She clenched the hilt of her sheathed sword with a white-knuckled grip. The daughter of a nobleman, she was too inexperienced to be on a mission in the Tower District.
Frath put a finger to his lips.
Kally nodded, her short, curly blonde hair bobbing around her pretty face. Anticipation beat out fear in her hazel eyes.
Behind her in the alley were four of Frath’s best friends and the only ones who would take the risk of endangering their careers to rescue Kally’s brother. In fact, they relished breaking the rules. The entire group wore the brown tunic of the Dralin City Guard over polished chainmail and black pants.
Bobbell was short and thin-faced with blonde hair and a trimmed goatee. He and Frath had grown up in the cruel orphanages of Dralin. He was also a better thief and pickpocket than most people they arrested.
Grinkin, Florsy and Clutz had become quick friends with Frath when he joined the Guard. They always fought dirty and used words that made hardened sergeants blush. Florsy was the tallest of the group and skinny, although his ropey muscles held surprising strength. He winked.
Clutz, the quiet one of the group, trimmed his fingernails with a throwing knife. People immediately underestimated him because of his name. He was a master of traveling over the tightly packed rooftops of Dralin.
Grinkin was stout and bald with a white mustache. His unusually high-pitched voice didn’t match anything else about him. A grin of excitement lit his face and he spun his sword in readiness.
The sound of knocking echoed through the street.
Frath looked around the corner again.
The hooded man stood at the doorway where Kally’s brother was supposed to be imprisoned. The door opened. With a last glance at the street, the man entered.
Frath drummed fingers on the hilt of his sheathed sword while turning back to look at Lieutenant Nevala. “You’re sure your brother’s in there?”
“Yes.” Kally stood straight. “I’ll tell you my informant works for the Guard’s secret service, but that’s it. She risked her life to find out this much.”
Grinkin grumbled. “Just because you joined the secret service doesn’t mean you can trust everyone else in it.”
“I trust them less.” Florsy nudged Grinkin with his elbow. “Could be a trick.”
Frath blew hair out of his eyes. “A guy just went in there with another boy over his shoulder. I think we’re in the right place.”
Kally put a hand to her mouth to hide the involuntary gasp that came out.
“If the wizard got another boy, then Kally’s brother is probably mpphh . . .”
Clutz put his hand over Florsy’s mouth to prevent him from finishing the sentence.
Tears welled in Kally’s eyes.
Frath put a hand on her shoulder. “Listen, it’s true that your brother’s likely dead, but we’re going to go in to at least save his body.”
Tears rolled down Kally’s cheeks.
Grinkin smacked Frath’s arm.
“Sorry. That came out wrong.” Frath ran fingers through his unruly black hair. “Everything will be fine. We can do this.”
Grinkin grunted. “That’s better. What’s the plan here? You said you would have one by the time we reached the tower. We’re here.”
“Yeah. I’ve got it.”
They leaned in to listen.
“Bobbell will pick the lock. We’ll work our way upstairs to the wizard’s workroom. Those are always at the top.”
Clutz frowned. “Some wizards have their workrooms in the basement.”
“Yeah.” His eyes narrowed.
“Well . . . we’ll try the top first. If it’s not there, then we’ll go to the basement.”
Florsy snorted. “Brilliant strategy.”
Bobbell winked. “Better than he usually comes up with.”
Frath tried to smack his shoulder, but the rogue was too fast.
“Can we even succeed?” Concern was thick in Kally’s voice.
“Of course.” Frath nodded. “There will be wards and other traps. If we get past those, there’ll be bodyguards. If we get past those, every wizard has supernatural guardians, so we’ll have to face those. We may have to face apprentices if he has any. The wizard will be the worst. Our uniforms protect us from some magic, but the spells he casts will shred those . . .” He scratched his chin. “Where was I going? . . .”
Florsy pointed at Frath and asked Bobbell, “Is he always like this?”
Bobbell chuckled. “Yeah, his pep talks make you think stabbing yourself might be the easier way to go.”
“Sheela would agree with you,” Frath admitted.
“When are you and Sheela getting married?” Clutz asked. “I know you have a child coming soon.”
“I’ll marry her as soon as I can afford a place outside the barracks.” A rare smile came to Frath’s lips at the thought of his betrothed.
A rat with eyes tainted green from magical pollution tried to join the group. Clutz kicked it away. “You two have a baby due soon. You shouldn’t be risking yourself on something as foolish as this, Frath.”
“Please.” Desperation filled Kally’s voice. “My brother . . .”
“We’re going to rescue him.” Frath stepped out into the street before anyone else could speak. He hoped the others would follow.
Kally was immediately next to him. They reached the steps to the tower in moments.
Bobbell slipped ahead to check the door. He moved his hands and whispered in a mystical language. A breeze affecting only him rustled his hair. He made a sharp gesture.
Colorful runes hovering over the face of the door came into view.
Bobbell swirled his arms and continued his incantation. The runes fizzled and then popped out of existence.
“Are we allowed to do that kind of magic?” Kally whispered.
Florsy nudged her arm with an elbow. “Sure. Just like we’re supposed to be breaking into a wizard’s tower in the middle of the night.”
Frath took a deep breath. “You’ll need to forget about rules tonight, Kally.”
Kally set her jaw and readied herself. “Yes. You’re right.”
Bobbell took a pouch out of a secret pocket and knelt near the lock. “I’m glad you’re all making so much noise. It helps test my focus.”
Florsy nudged him. “You’re welcome.”
Bobbell glared at him while taking picks out of the pouch. He inserted three of them in the door.
Grinkin looked over Bobbell’s shoulder. “How long will it take you?”
The lock clicked. Bobbell grinned at him and put the picks away.
Clutz gave a low whistle. “Impressive.”
Bobbell tried the door. It opened a crack before chains stopped it. He did a quick inspection. “Three? That’s a bit much.” He pulled out a roll of twine. “This is going to take time.”
“Put that away.” Frath pulled him back. He spotted where each chain was. “Get ready for a fight.” He gripped the railing for leverage. Taking aim, he kicked the door where the lowest chain was. The snap of the chain and the splintering of wood shattered the silence of the quiet street.
Bobbell winked at Kally. “This is how most of his plans evolve. Between his height and his strength, he usually ends up bashing anything that gets in his way.”
Clouds floated back in front of the moons. Drizzle pattered the street and freshened the air.
The next kick shattered the middle chain and weakened the top. Frath rammed the door with his shoulder, finishing the last chain off.
Standing in the middle of a room filled with dusty books and dustier furniture was a young woman in a robe. A supernatural casting wind whipped her hair and robes.
“Spell!” Frath jumped to the side and hit the ground in a roll.
Colorful language came from his friends outside. One of the men yanked the door shut, trapping Frath in the room.
The woman thrust her arms forward. The casting wind slammed into her back, skidding her feet forward on the carpet. Shards of ice shot from her fingertips.
The first shards hit the door.
She followed Frath’s motion, sending the shards in a fan.
Frath jumped up out of his roll and ran to escape them.
Pain shot through his thigh as two pierced his leg, knocking him off balance and sending him to the floor. The enchantments in his guard-issued pants prevented the shards from going far, but it was still agonizing.
The door crashed open. His friends came through.
Clutz threw a knife.
Her spell finished and danger near, the woman drew a wand.
Clutz’s knife hit her in the chest.
Enchantments in her robe flared, protecting her from harm.
They didn’t protect her from Grinkin coming in high and Florsy coming in low. Enchantments flared, but the magical swords provided by the guard cut through them, ending the woman’s life.
Kally ran to Frath and helped him up. “How bad is it?”
Frath tested his leg. Looking down, he saw blood seeping through the holes in the pants. “It’s not serious. I’ll be in more pain after explaining how it happened to Sergeant Gorman.” He grabbed a cloth off a side table and tore it in half.
Bobbell snatched a small magical orb off a bookshelf. “I can get you a new pair of pants from a pretty little requisition clerk, no paperwork required.”
Kally’s brow furrowed. “How will you do that?”
“By dropping mine.” Bobbell winked and slid the orb into a pocket.
Kally gasped. “That’s . . .” Her mouth closed. “Did you just steal that orb?”
“Nope. That would be unethical.” He pointed at the stairs. “I believe your brother’s that way?”
“Yes but . . .”
Grinkin guided her toward the stairs. “You can file a report in the morning. I’m certain your commanding officer will be more interested in a filched orb than what we were doing here in the first place.”
“It’s just . . .”
“Do you even know how to use that sword?”
“Good. Charge up the stairs and stab anything that gets in the way.” Grinkin gave her a shove up the first few steps.
She looked back at him in shock.
“You’re the ranking officer here. We’re on a mission to rescue your brother. Lead the way.”
She looked at Frath for confirmation.
Frath finished his makeshift bandaging and drew his sword. “Right behind you.”
Kally hefted her sword and took a deep breath. She ran up the stairs two at a time.
Grinkin, Florsy and Clutz ran after her.
Frath popped his neck each way and tried to contain the anger rising in his chest. It was rare that anyone hurt him and he didn’t like it.
“You still with me, Frath?” Bobbell stared up at him with worry in his eyes.
“It looks like you’re starting to . . .”
“I’ve got it under control for now.” Red tinted the edges of his vision.
“Does anyone in the guard know about? . . .”
Sounds of fighting came from upstairs.
“Let’s go.” Frath jogged to the staircase. He took them three at a time.
When they reached the next level, Kally was in the process of trying to pull her sword out of a bodyguard. “Let go!” She had her foot against the man’s chest and was tugging with all her strength.
The hapless stared in uncomprehending shock at the blade stuck in his body. His own sword was on the ground and his arms were at his sides, too weak to fight.
Two other bodyguards and a wizard lay on the ground near Grinkin’s crew. Florsy looked up at the newcomers. He nudged Clutz. “Didn’t he say he was right behind us?”
Kally’s sword finally came free from the ribs. She fell on her behind, her bloody blade clattering beside her.
The bodyguard lurched forward and fell on top of her. The air that burst from his mouth was his last.
“Get off!” Kally shoved him aside and backpedaled to escape.
“Do you think the wizard knows we’re coming?” Grinkin asked nobody in particular.
“Nah. We’ve been quite as sleeping mice.” Bobbell jogged to the next flight of stairs and looked up them. “Something doesn’t look quite right about these.” He squatted at the bottom and ran his fingers lightly over the step. “Keep an eye out for danger while I inspect these.”
Clutz drew a knife in each hand and positioned himself behind Bobbell.
Frath clenched and unclenched his fist around the hilt of his sword while resisting the urge to jump over the Bobbell and rush up the stairs.
Grinkin helped Kally to her feet. “Slide the blade in parallel to the ribs rather than vertical. It’s less likely to get stuck that way if your aim is good enough.”
“Yeah.” Kally wiped spatters of the dead man’s blood off her face before retrieving her sword. “That’s a lot harder in reality than on the training field.”
Grinkin squeezed her arm. “First kill?”
“No, but . . .” Kally shook her head. “I’m ready to go.”
Bobbell made a sharp motion with his knife in between the steps. “That should disable it.” He jammed the knife in again, got to his feet and slammed his heel into the pommel of the knife, driving it all the way in. “And that should prevent the mechanism from slipping on accident.” He stood aside and gestured for them to pass.
Kally took a step forward, but Frath stopped her. “I’ll go first now.”
“But it’s . . .”
Frath couldn’t contain his growl. “It’s best I go first now.”
She backed away, her eyes wide.
“Frath . . .” Bobbell held up a hand.
“I’m fine.” Frath loped to the stairs before racing up them and charging into a circular room filled with odd items of magical construction on tables and shelves. Odors of metal, wood and magical energy tickled Frath’s heightened senses.
A pair of wicked venom hounds stood guard at the bottom of the next set of stairs. Fangs jutting from grotesquely shaped mouths held channels to venom that weakened anyone they bit. Even their breath was toxic.
A bestial roar shattered the silence of the room, only it was from Frath’s throat, rather than those of the hounds. His momentum propelled him to them in an instant.
The hound on the right maneuvered to flank Frath. The one in front hunched down, ready to leap.
Frath swung his sword in a diagonal downward arc as the hound in front jumped. His blade cut through the head and shoulders, slicing through bone. The impact carried the hound’s body up around as Frath spun.
The hound on the side snarled and leapt for Frath’s exposed flank.
Frath’s spin was as a tornado. He brought his sword around with the first hound stuck to it. In his enraged state, the hundred-pound body was like a feather to him. He slammed the two hounds together and drove them into the floor.
His blade finished its journey through the first body and cut through the second in a mortal wound.
Kally’s voice came from behind him. “By the gods . . .”
Frath yanked his blade out of the dead hounds, sending chunks of flesh and coarse hair flying. He turned to the stairs, ready for the next level.
Bobbell rushed past. “Let me check the stairs.”
Frath waited, chest heaving, not from exertion, but from battle rage flooding his marrow. It amplified his strength and speed, but reduced his ability to think clearly. Bobbell knew Frath had the rare condition and kept it hidden. Most people with the condition died in battle at an early age or were put to death after they committed a killing rampage.
Kally touched his arm with tentative fingers.
A growl rumbled in his throat. He needed to battle.
She withdrew the fingers.
Bobbell jumped up. “It’s clear. I think we’re near the top. Expect to be hit with spells.”
Frath grabbed an orb of unknown effect and sprang up the stairs. Bobbell’s warning was not lost on him. Halfway up, threw the orb into the room above.
Arcs of lightning sprayed the air and thunder shook the beams above. The lightning hit the orb causing greenish-blue cracks to appear over its surface. It sailed into the room beyond Frath’s sight.
The briefest moment of silence made Frath halt despite his battle rage.
A shockwave of blinding light and thunderous sound shook the tower and made everyone’s heart stop a beat. Debris fell from the ceiling, pelting their heads.
Frath shook off the debris and ringing in his ears. In a few long steps, he reached the top of the stairs and scanned for his first target.
A wizard sat on the ground with blood trickling from his mouth and nose. A dazed expression clouded his eyes and debris cluttered his beard. A wizard’s staff with a blue crystal lay on the ground nearby.
The man and boy Frath had seen previously lay unconscious on the floor against the far end of the room. With his heightened senses, he noticed they were both breathing.
In cages nearby were two other unconscious boys.
But the thing that caught his attention the most was an eight-foot golem made of wood with patches of what appeared to be rune-carved human flesh covering it. Its eyes and mouth glowed with dark, unnatural light. It banged its head with a clumsy fist to shake off effects of the explosion. Burn marks charred its chest.
Frath decided it was the thing most likely to give him a fight worthy of his fury. He bellowed at the creature.
The creature stopped hitting itself. It saw Frath and bellowed back.
The ringing in his ears prevented Frath from hearing either bellow. He attacked.
The golem counterattacked, swinging its fist.
Frath met the fist with a two-handed blow of his sword. The impact shattered the golem’s fist.
The golem continued the swing, hitting Frath’s nose with splintered wood.
Frath’s nose had already been broken more than once and the fact that it was broken yet again sent him the rest of the way into his battle rage. Liquid red tinted all his vision. Rather than making it dim, it sharpened details.
The golem swung its other fist.
Frath met it with a ferocious backswing. He had the sense to duck at the same time to prevent more damage to his crooked nose. The blow shattered the golem’s arm and wrenched Frath’s shoulders. He hopped to the side to keep his balance.
The wizard picked up his staff and struggled to his feet.
Kally arrived at that point to hit him with her sword.
Enchantments in his robe turned the blade aside. Runes in the robe and in Kally’s sword flared. He staggered backward and swung his staff at her.
Upon impact, it released energy that shot Kally through the air to slam into the golem’s side.
The golem stumbled while Kally crumpled to the ground.
Two of Clutz’s knives hit the wizard, causing his robe to flash in protection.
The wizard held his staff at the defensive.
Grinkin charged in to strike the staff with an upswing. A burst of energy knocked the sword back, but the guardsman was ready for it. He spun and came back around behind the wizard with a second blow.
Florsy hit the wizard from the front at the same time. Runes in the swords flared. The combinations of attacks took their toll on the wizard’s robes, weakening it enough that both blades made shallow cuts through to the skin.
Desperation filled the wizard’s eyes. He backed away, swinging his staff.
Frath renewed his effort against the golem. He slashed at its torso, cutting into flesh and wood.
The golem swung its damaged arms as if they were twigs swaying in a gale.
Frath dodged every swing. He was faster than anyone his size had a right to be and with his heightened senses, it was difficult to harm him.
The golem charged forward in an attempt to slam its opponent to the ground.
Frath sidestepped and ducked behind the charge. He brought his sword around against the golem’s back, knocking it to the floor. He jumped on the golem’s back and hacked at it as though he were chopping kindling for a fire.
Grinkin, Florsy hacked at the wizard while Clutz and Bobbell darted in with quick stabs.
Kally regained consciousness and abruptly lurched to her feet before falling sideways and landing awkwardly. She maneuvered to her hands and knees while trying to make sense of the battle.
The wizard had a dozen cuts through his spent robe. His last desperate swing of the staff missed everyone.
Four swords pierced him with mortal wounds. The men withdrew them at the same time, leaving him to collapse with a gurgling sigh.
The golem kicked and struggled to get up, but was ineffective without arms.
Frath continued hacking even after it stopped moving.
Grinkin took a step toward him. “Hey Frath, it’s dead.”
Bobbell stopped him. “It’s best to let him stop on his own.”
Kally crawled toward the cages. “Tiyler. Tiyler, is that you?” She reached one of the cages and jerked on the door. “It’s locked.” She shook the bars. “It’s locked.”
Bobbell ran over, pulling his picks out at the same time. “I’ll get it.”
Clutz headed to a desk with an open book and papers scattered over it. “I’ll try to find a key.”
Florsy removed a bejeweled necklace from the wizard’s neck. “I’ll start grabbing valuables. That’ll make it look like thieves did this.”
Despite her desperation, Kally gasped in shock. “We’re members of the guard. We can’t steal things!”
Grinkin grabbed wands from their rack on a table near the stairs. “We’ll give most of it to charity, lass. That way it’s not really stealing.”
“Most of it? . . .”
Frath continued chopping the golem, though it was hard to tell it had once had a shape by that point.
Bobbell conquered the lock and opened the cage.
Kally forgot her indignation as she scrambled in to recover her brother. “Tiyler! Tiyler, wake up. Please wake up.”
The boy moaned and lifted his head.
“Thank the gods.” Kally clutched him to her chest and rocked.
“Do you think Frath is going to continue until he has sawdust,” Florsy asked no one in particular.
Bobbell had the second cage unlocked in an instant. “If that’s what he needs, let him.” He went in to check on the other boy.
Clutz abandoned his search for the key and went over to the unconscious man and boy. He leaned over the man and did a quick inspection before checking the boy and lifting him into his arms.
Frath stopped chopping. The red left his vision. He twisted his neck each way to pop it. “Are we finished?” He wiped off his blade and scanned the room.
Bobbell came out of the cage with the boy over his shoulder. “Yeah. Let’s get out of here. Kally has her brother and we can take these other two to the Temple of Turqua.”
“Who is Turqua again?” Florsy shoved some valuables into a backpack he found. “I can’t keep up with all the temples in this city.”
Kally held carried her brother out of his cage. “The Goddess Turqua can’t bear children, so she nurtures those without homes. Can someone sheath my sword for me?”
Grinkin picked it up off the floor and cleaned it off as she had asked. “I wish more women would ask me that.” He winked playfully.
Kally smirked. “I’m sure you do.” She looked around once more. “Oh, what should we do about the man who brought that boy in?”
“Took care of it.” Clutz headed to the stairs. “Let’s go.”
“You killed him?” Despair cracked Kally’s voice as she noticed the pool of blood spreading under the body.
Frath put his arm around her shoulders and guided her out of the room. “There are countless men in Dralin who steal children. The city won’t miss that one.”
Kally choked back tears as she let the men lead her down the stairs and out of the tower into the night. Rain fell on their heads as they made their way to the temple, hiding any that might have escaped.
Frath sat on the bench outside the temple with his arms resting on his legs and his head hung. The others were inside seeing to the safety of the boys. If they had parents, the temple would reunite them. If not, they would try to find them homes outside of Dralin.
His nose throbbed and the cuts in his leg itched. He had a couple of bruises in random places he didn’t remember getting. Sergeant Gorman, who was in charge of Frath’s squad, would grill him when Frath got back. He could hide the bruises and the cuts in his leg, but not the broken nose.
Kally was the first to come out with her brother clinging to her side. In a flash, she was at his side. “Frath, drink this. Quickly now.” She clasped his jaw and held a vial to his lips while tipping his head back.
Frath grabbed her wrist, surprised by the abrupt action, but didn’t fight her. Cool syrup flowed down his throat, tickling it with mystical energy. As soon as it hit his stomach, the throbbing in his nose stopped and all bodily pains left.
“There. Now you don’t need to worry about getting into trouble.” Kally tapped the last of the syrup into his mouth and took the vial away. She took a closer look at his face. “Your nose is still crooked.”
“You . . .” Frath stared at her with eyes wide. “Healing potions cost . . .”
She stoppered the vial and tucked it into a belt pouch. “My father will pay the cost. It’s a small dose made by an acolyte rather than a full bottle by a priest. There’s a chance you may grow an extra ear.” She winked.
“They wouldn’t have sold it if it was bad. Even that much is a fortune. If you wanted me healed, a priest, or even an acolyte could have laid their hands on me for a fraction of the cost. Why . . .”
Kally chewed on her lip, took a breath to answer, and then paused before saying, “To reduce the chance of discovery of course. Healing drains energy and would have put you out of commission for days. With a potion, it’s as though nothing happened.”
“Yeah. I don’t hurt anymore.” He stretched and tested his muscles. “I’m a little tired and hungry though.”
“Like I said, it was made by an acolyte, so you’ll still feel some of the adverse effects.”
The others came out at that point. “The boys are safe.” Bobbell gestured for Frath to get up. “We’re going to be late for roll call, Frath. Let’s go.”
“We need to escort Kally’s brother back to his father’s estate. Kally’s capable, but Dralin isn’t safe for a lone woman and boy.”
“You two get back to the barracks.” Grinkin put a protective hand on Kally’s shoulder. “We’ll ensure they get home safely.”
Florsy nudged Clutz in the ribs with an elbow. “Yeah. The only thing that would make our sergeant suspicious is if we showed up on time.”
Clutz rubbed his rib and chuckled. “True enough. Go on Frath.”
“Thanks guys. I appreciate it.”
They exchanged farewells. Frath and Bobbell used a few coins confiscated from the wizard’s tower to hire a taxi cart back to the barracks.