Sweeter the Bite Prose in Etrium | World Anvil
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Sweeter the Bite

Written by IGS Harwood

Feo’s Day, 17th of Exium, 1267  

Toldin burned high and bright in the cloudless sky above Clearkeep. Benjin wiped at the sweat on his brow in a vain attempt to keep it from stinging his eyes. At long last, he was able to sit back on the hot slates to admire his work. Many of the buildings had fallen into disrepair. From his elevated vantage point he could see signs of rot in the numerous thatched huts that littered the village. The larger buildings, such as the temple Benjin sat upon, were still missing slate to patch the rooftops and the jagged cracks in the walls were in dire need of attention. Now there was one less to worry about, thanks to him. It had taken the better part of a week, but Benjin was finally done. Having laid the last tile, he was satisfied that the temple would no longer find itself strewn with cookware and chamber pots to catch the tenacious summer rains.
The work was a young man’s game and Benjin was not a young man. That wasn’t to say the women couldn’t handle it. They simply had more demanding tasks to tend to, like keeping the children plump and the sows even more so. Benjin hadn’t put up much of a fight when they came to him for help. There were few able-bodied men left in the village and despite his age, Benjin was more able than most. He argued that surely the grain house was of higher priority but they insisted Kellinoor’s Temple came first. After all, what use was a grain house if the harvest goddess looked down on the village with scorn?
The mark on his face twinged. Benjin ran his fingers over the raised points and curls of the foreign glyphs that encompassed his left eye, a reflex to the pain that he would never fully get accustomed to. Someone was coming. He traced his augmented instincts to the horizon. There he saw the tell-tale haze of dust that signified the approaching carriage. It tore along the South Shade Way, one of the arteries that bypassed the village on the way to the capital, its speed exceeding that of common highway courtesy. Following its trajectory, Benjin’s heart plummeted when he saw what lay ahead.
If it were any other child there would be nothing to fear as there was no way they wouldn’t be aware of the carriage thundering towards them. But Benjin would have recognised that dress anywhere. The teal dyes were something of a rarity in these parts and the crimson roses stood out like patches of blood, a stark vision of her immediate future if he didn’t reach her in time.
Soaring to his feet Benjin could already feel the hideous power boiling up from his bones. He kept it deep down where it could be ignored, where it wouldn’t taint every waking second of his life. The drop from the roof to the ground was far greater than any ordinary man could walk away from without a pair of broken ankles. Thankfully, Benjin was no ordinary man. He was already running before his feet grazed the sun-baked earth and the gasps of idle peasants were lost behind him as he entered the treeline that encircled the village. The woodland was merely a blur of greens and browns as he glided between the mossy lumps and fallen trunks. When he reached the road, only seconds after launching himself from the temple roof, he paused to gauge the distance between the foremost riders and the little girl.
He was close enough to see the girl now. She was intently watching a sizeable army of ants cross the road, her back turned towards the convoy. Benjin wanted to scream at her to get off the road but it would only be a waste of precious time. The mark on his face tightened and he let it trigger a surge of the blasphemous energy into his veins. Going for the girl at such speed would probably do more damage than the carriage and its four mounted guards. It would have to be the horses then. Shoulder first he slammed into a steamy black flank with enough force to drive the horse into its riding partner, sending both careening into the ditch on the other side of the road in a tangle of thrashing legs. The horses drawing the carriage roared in terror and followed the first two off the road. Fortunately, the heavy carriage snagged itself on a hefty sapling and kept them from joining the awkward pile of hooves and soldiers in the ditch below.
The girl was still sitting with her knees in the dirt, humming a joyful tune while she manoeuvred the line of ants with a series of broken twigs. Benjin rubbed at his temples to alleviate the throbbing flesh around his mark, though it did little good. He then made his way over to comb his fingers gently through the girl’s long, flowing hair. It was jet black and thick as rope, a trait inherited from his side of the family. The gesture was important, the light brushing was characteristic and told the girl in an instant exactly who was behind her. She whipped around to meet her uncle with a glowing smile, one that quickly turned to confused awe at the chaos behind him.
“What in the holiest of fucks do you think you’re doing?” A gravelly voice called out to Benjin accompanied by the dull sound of blades leaving sheaths. The rear guards had dismounted and the beefier of the two was marching towards Benjin. The other hurriedly went to check on the occupants of the stranded carriage. It was then that Benjin noticed quite how ostentatiously grand the carriage was in its design.
Benjin ushered the girl to take cover in his shadow and replied to the man with a furious tone, “stopping you from turning my niece into a banquet for the crows!”
“She had plenty of time to get out the way, why didn’t she move?”
The girl tugged at Benjin’s tunic, her face painted with concern as she waved her hands and fingers in a flurry of motion.
Benjin crouched to her level and smiled as he comforted her with similar gestures.
“What’s wrong with her, she dim or something?”
“Her name is Melodee, she’s deaf, and I’d bet she’d school the likes of you any day of the week.”
The two remaining guards hauled one another out from the ditch, both of them groaning but neither showing any serious injuries. Swords found hands and suddenly Benjin was alone against four blades pointing his way, itching for a piece of him.
“The horses are done for, best put them out of their misery sooner than later,” one of the dishevelled guards said from under a plated helm.
“Hear that? You owe us two horses. From the looks of you I doubt you got the coin, peasant, so we’ll have to find another way to collect the payment,” the fat one barked as he stepped towards Benjin.
“You might want to rethink that decision,” Benjin said flatly.
None of the others followed their captain’s advance.
“What are you waiting for?”
“He’s… He’s a Silver, sir. You saw what he did to the horses.”
“Fuck that! All of you, on me, or I’ll make sure your wives find me first in line to pick a new suitor when you don’t make it home.”
The crude threat did the trick and they fanned out, albeit cautiously. Benjin clenched his fists ready for the onslaught.
“That’s quite enough of that.” A new, more refined voice joined the fray and a man with a few years on Benjin stepped out from the carriage.
To a man the guards instantly stowed their weapons and bowed their heads to the road they were now knelt upon.
Benjin stayed on his feet. His long-distance perception of carriage’s approach was immediately explained. The eyes studying him from across the kneeling guards were marred with the same adornment that made both of these men stand out from the rest. The only difference was one mark gave power, the other took it away.
“Why do you not bow before your king?” The man said calmly as he held his gilded robes tightly against the steady breeze.
“I beg your pardon, King Urik, but your convoy nearly flattened my niece here. I think you’ll find it fair that I maintain her protection.”
“My apologies. I gave the order to hasten without delay. Forgive my retinue for their obstinacy.”
Benjin was hesitant to accept the apology. It was difficult to show respect to the man that surrendered his country to the Wolves, and at such a terrible cost. Still, he didn’t see much wisdom in continuing the standoff. “And likewise for your horses. I’m sure we can find replacements for you in the village.”
“Thank you but there is no need. As I said, I cannot delay any further. Guards, on your feet. Give the animals their mercy and retrieve the saddles, they don’t come cheap you know.”
Benjin swept Melodee up into his arms and she chuckled sweetly. He could already feel the wave of fatigue that came with using his abilities, but there would be time for rest later. They were beginning to make their way back to the village when the king’s voice found them again.
“For your troubles. I wish I had more to give, but I hope these will settle any unkind thoughts you might have.” He shuffled over with a bulging, flawless orange in each hand.
Melodee squealed at the sight of the fruit and stretched her arms out to take them both before slipping them into the folds of her dress. She touched her fingers to her chin and pushed them out towards the king.
“She says thank you, as do I,” Benjin said with a nod.
“The pleasure is mine. Take care of that one. This world has become a dark place and in sore need of bright gems such as her.”
“I will. Travel safe, Your Majesty.” And with that, Benjin turned his back on the Branded King and his men. He spared no envy for the tall task they had of setting their wheels to the road once more.

Benjin had been away from Clearkeep, his birthplace, for many years before his recent return to the village. Time had a wondrous way of closing the wounds of the past but Benjin’s life was simply too full to make scars of them all. When he discovered his sister had finally conceived a second child he was not prepared for the overwhelming sense of love the babe would gift him. King Urik was right about one thing. Melodee was the beacon that kept the swelling darkness at bay, the shadows of memory that waited beyond the shelter of her light. He squeezed her tightly to him as they entered the village clearing, never wanting to let her go.
He brushed her with his nose to pry her attention away from the fruit in her lap. “You know how special they are, don’t you?” Benjin said with slow, deliberate words.
Melodee watched his lips and nodded drunkenly, her lethargy highlighting his point. The proper nutrients were hard to come by these days. Every one of the townsfolk were blighted with the sailor’s disease, the scurvy that slowed them down further every day. She picked up one of the oranges and offered it to Benjin.
“No, they’re yours, my dear. Why don’t you give one to Julen? You must eat with him alone though, don’t let anyone else see them. In fact, you should hide them now.”
The girl frowned her disappointment and dropped her hungry gaze back down to the delicious looking globes.
Benjin jiggled her softly in his arms so she would look up again and gave her a knowing smile, “Go and find him as soon as we get home. I’ll distract your mother.”
They made it back to the village square and Melodee went scampering off almost immediately in search of her friend. Benjin took in a deep breath, an attempt to stave off the growing ache from settling any further into his nerves. The air here was not how he remembered. He was getting used to it now but the rancid fog was nigh impossible to ignore. The villagers called it a fog because it clung to every corner, every fibre of clothing and every breath. Much to the confusion of outsiders, the fog was not a visible pollutant, but they did not have to stay long before they came to understand.
After the Wolves won the war, the terms for truce were laid out clear and simple for the losing side. Their earliest decree was to ensure they were provided with enough food to sustain them. True to their given moniker, their diet consisted solely of meat. Aside from the village square, every inch of land that was not absolutely necessary for accommodation was given to the pigs. Where there once stood orchards, smithies and bath houses, there was now only mud. The villages were allowed to keep their wheat fields but that was just to feed the livestock. The Wolves’ appetites were insatiable and their pallets narrow, but they had a laughable knowledge of how to work the land. And so Clearkeep, like every other village surrounding the capital, was to produce a carefully measured load of nothing but meat, each and every month. The results of their laws were what Benjin looked upon as he scoured the enclosures around him. All the while he did his best to stop the inevitable stench from festering in the back of his throat.
“Fix one roof and think you’re all done, do you?” It was Harlan, his brother by law. There was a certain cadence to his voice that never failed to grate on Benjin’s nerves. He hated the man, regardless of his ability to sire the only thing Benjin treasured in this world.
“There was trouble on the road. You should keep a closer eye on your daughter, Harlan.”
“So that’s where you were rushing off to. Thought you might have had enough of us and gone back to your masters,” he spat onto the ground. “Wishful thinking, I guess.”
“The Wolves are as much my masters as you are my brother. And do not think that this mark was given to me with any less torture than yours,” Benjin growled back, referring to the jagged scar wrapped around Harlan’s eye. Being so close to the city, there wasn’t a single parent in Clearkeep that did not bear the mark. While Benjin’s glistened with the blue glow of the Wolves’ magic, the others were carved into the skin with a crude dagger. Both were inflicted to the same volume of screaming. “Where is Alana? I didn’t see her with the swine.”
“She better be starting on the supper if she knows what’s good for her.”
Benjin usually took Harlan’s insolence in his stride, out of respect for his sister, but today was not the day for silent tempers. “Toldin save me, I’ll never understand what drove that woman to lie with such a cretinous prick.”
The outburst sparked an immediate reaction from Harlan who curled his lips back over yellowed teeth. He then drew a particularly mean looking tanner’s knife from his boot. “I’ve been waiting for this,” he hissed before charging straight for Benjin.
Harlan had youth and labourer’s muscles on his side but Benjin was a highly trained solider. He had spent over twenty years with the Aelish Forces putting spoilt brats in their place and far superior enemies in their graves. The bullish man would stand no chance against him. That is, if Benjin had not already spent his energy tossing fully equipped horses and men through the air like bales of hay. The price he paid was a deep gash to the wrist when he twisted the knife from Harlan’s grasp, a little too slow to pull off the move with his usual precision.
Disarmed and with both arms locked beside him, Harlan rasped as Benjin kicked the man’s legs out, spinning him in the process and forcing him to his knees.
With Harlan facing away and entirely immobilised, Benjin leaned down to whisper into his ear, “I’m about to teach you a thing or two about respect.”
“Alana!” Harlan cried out.
“She isn’t here to save you now.” Benjin dragged the man across the square. The few men and women in the vicinity stopped what they were doing and muttered their amusement as they watched. Benjin imagined Harlan had sufficiently pissed off enough of them so that interference was far from their minds. Besides, it was only human to take pleasure in a bully getting their just desserts.
Benjin struggled more than he would care to admit as he lifted Harlan over the fence. “I’ve been waiting for this too,” he said through gritted teeth. He then loosened his grip enough to let the man drop face first into the trough of grimy water set out for the pigs. He held him there for just a little bit too long before he was interrupted.
“Benjin! Let him go!”
He turned to see his sister with her jaw wide with shock and disapproval. The hurt in her eyes succeeded in turning his anger to guilt. His blood was boiling in his ears and he could feel the poison seeping out of his mark once again. He did as he was told and let the man tumble out into the mud, gasping for air.
Alana flitted past Benjin on light toes that barely dented the swill underneath them. She took no care for her dress as it picked up clumps of the foul mud surrounding her husband whom she now cradled through his coughs and splutters. She was not as slender as she used to be, especially since nature had decided she was no longer fit for motherhood, but still the heavyset man in her lap made her something of a twig next to the ugly ox.
“He started it,” Benjin grumbled childishly.
“You’re both as bad as each other. But you should know better. You could have killed him.”
Benjin stepped away for a moment to retrieve the item that would show his sister Harlan’s commitment to the scuffle. When he came back he flicked the knife onto the ground between them. There was no use in trying to reason with her; she would always take her husband’s side. Quite rightly too. Benjin had burned a lot of bridges when he left all those years ago and he didn’t deserve her respect. Not yet.
He tore at the cuff of his tunic with his teeth, parting a strip from the garment. He then went about the awkward business of bandaging his own wrist. That was when he heard the dreaded bell in the distance. The Poacher’s bell.
Within an instant there was chaos in all directions. Women who hadn’t already seized their children ran about in frantic search of them. Men abandoned their tools where they stood and hurried to join their wives. The nun flung the temple doors open and shouted to wrest control of the uproar but next to the bell her voice was piss in the wind. The ringing drew closer.
“Have you seen Melodee?” Alana brought Benjin back into focus. Not three paces behind her he could see Harlan grimacing against whatever was left of the trough in his mouth and glaring daggers out the back of Benjin’s skull.
“She was with me, she went…” For the life of him, Benjin couldn’t recall which way the girl went. “She went looking for Julen.”
“What’s the fuss about?” Harlan murmured as though entirely oblivious to the discord around him. “We’ve all felt the carver. There isn’t anyone else to take.”
“We need them by our sides. We can’t take any chances,” Alana snapped back at her husband.
“There’s no way we’ll find her in this mess.” Benjin made a circle with his thumb and ring finger, put it to his lips and let out a piercing whistle. Alana was already prepared for it with hands muffling her ears but even Harlan winced it was so loud. It was certainly effective in bringing an end to the frenzy.
“Calm yourselves,” he addressed the crowd with the great booming voice he’d learned from his soldiering days. “I know many of you think poorly of me for the things I have done after the war. There is not much I can do to change that. Regardless, you all know who I am and where I have been. What I can do, is assure you that you have nothing to fear. Trust me when I say that we are safe here. Your children are safe here. Now listen to Sister Durant and make yourselves visible. We have enough work to do without having to fix any broken doors.” Benjin looked up to the older woman outside the temple who returned his nod of deference. “They’re all yours.”
The nun took the reins and set about renewing her instructions so that the villagers maintained order. Slowly but surely they found their places front and centre for the coming inspection. The bell was close now. Benjin hadn’t much time.
“Alana, go check with Julen’s parents, I’ll go to your place and mine, they could be hiding there. Harlan… just stay out of the way.”
“My pleasure,” the brute replied, already wandering off to pick his arsehole somewhere.
Benjin did his best to keep his cool but the longer he searched for the girl the more worried he became, evidenced by the trail of upturned beds and emptied closets left in his wake. When he came out from Alana’s hut it was already too late.
The Poacher’s heavy wagon pulled into view on the outskirts of the village. The impressive draft horse seemed unfazed as its payload bumped and scraped over the uneven road. The wagon bore an enormous steel crate that was painted in brilliant whites in attempt to keep the heat out. Given the size of the crate it was a miracle the horse could shift it at all. As for the additional weight from the contents of the crate, well, that would depend on how fruitful the Poachers’ latest trip had been.
Even at this distance, Benjin was able to make out the arsenal surrounding the wagon. A heavy crossbow sat locked and loaded on the seat next to the driver, two longswords at the waists of the skinny ones to the sides and a comically large great axe hung lazily across the shoulders of the barbarian out front. Next to him, however, was where the real danger lay.
How had he not sensed her presence sooner? Physically, the woman was unremarkable. Sloped shoulders rounded off her wiry frame and if she had any hips at all they were well hidden under the tattered leathers she was wearing. No weapons to note, but she didn’t need them. Nestled in the unseasonably pale skin of her face was a metallic web of glyphs that spun themselves around her left eye. A Silver, just like Benjin.
He was considerably spent but he knew the embers of his power still smouldered inside him. That wasn’t the problem. She must have been actively masking her presence, a Wolf trait they neglected to include when they had forced him into servitude. This one was going to be trouble.
Benjin marched between the ranks of downcast faces. The gloomy silence amongst the families was punctuated only by the bell still dangling from its perch above the jockey box. The look on Benjin’s face communicated his failed search to Alana and she returned her own with a dash of mother’s worry. Looking across the square he could see Julen’s parents were equally anxious but they had their two elder children to keep them occupied. Harlan, as always, looked either bored or vacant next to his wife whom he neglected to comfort.
“Now that’s what we like to see,” the barbarian bellowed as he sauntered into the square. He swung his axe down to rest its head at his feet and leaned on its upturned pommel. His maniacal eyes lingered on each person gathered around him, sizing them up, one-by-one. “Oh, that just won’t do. That won’t do at all. Seems like you’ve already been bled dry, eh? Well, it wouldn’t be the first time one of you filthy peasants got brave and tried to hide them from us. If you don’t mind, we’re just gonna have a quick looksee around this shit-hole you make your beds in and, all goes well, we’ll be on our way in a jiffy. Doesn’t that sound good?”
The villagers dared not do anything to draw the barbarian’s attention, not even to whack at the flies pestering to take a lap from the sweat trickling down from their foreheads. Benjin assumed a soldier’s stance, back straight, eyes front, hands behind him. His only movement was to grimace as the wagon with its appalling cargo came to a halt before him. Through slits cut high in the sides of the crate wiggled what looked like dozens of white worms – the fingers of the children held within. A metal box under Toldin’s summer gaze must have been hot enough to rival a baker’s oven.
“I said, doesn’t that sound good?” The barbarian shouted angrily. The resigned murmurs from the crowd were enough to sketch a cold smile across his face. “That’s better. You lot stay nice and still and we can all look back on this as just a grubby scab that needed pulling.”
Benjin didn’t even notice the woman appear beside him. It was rare that someone would get the drop on him, but she was there without so much as a scrape on the loose stones underfoot. The Silver wasn’t looking directly at him but Benjin knew she was there for him. She stared off into the distance but kept her hands free at her side and her weight on her toes, as if ready to pounce at the slightest provocation.
And so the dance began. The wagon driver sat back and dropped the reins, flexing his hands from the stress of the long ride. The barbarian and Silver stood guard, quiet and watchful. Poachers were not known for their care and delicate touch. Everyone in the square heard the smashing of crockery and overturned furniture as the two skinny Poachers made their way from house to house, hunting their prey. One of them took the liberty of helping himself to a bowl of stew, slurping at it as he went then dashing it half-full against the cobbles when he had his fill. Benjin’s stomach tightened harder with each door they broke in.
They were nearly done. The greedy stew-stealer had already returned to his post beside the wagon. He signalled the all clear to the barbarian who grunted his dissatisfaction in response. Benjin unclenched his fists just as the remaining Poacher exited the last hut empty-handed. That was when the damned pigs decided to kick up a ruckus.
To a man, villagers and Poachers alike, focus turned to one of the pens where the swollen beasts rampaged in a chorus of excited squeals. They swarmed around their shelter as if feeding time had come early. Battering against its flimsy walls it eventually crumbled under their weight. The wooden slats fell apart like straw and out rolled two small figures that were hiding inside.
Benjin instinctively lunged forward when he saw Melodee and Julen prone amongst the splintered wood and irate hogs. He was brought to an immediate stop by the Silver, her eyes wild as she stared into his. She pushed him back into place with a bony hand on his chest. He reluctantly complied and the woman eased off again, turning to watch the situation unfold.
“Would you look at that? Them pigs must be after your jobs, boys,” the barbarian chuckled at his companions. “They’d be a darn sight more pleasing on the eye. Well, what are you waiting for? Bring the little’uns here then.”
The pigs continued to barge against the children in the pen, ruthlessly hounding at them with their snouts but the children kept themselves curled up, protective. The two skinny Poachers hopped the fence and shoed the pigs away before hoisting the kids, one each, onto their shoulders. They climbed back over into the square where they plonked them down onto their feet.
The barbarian strolled up to the children and bent down over his axe. “Aren’t you a pretty one,” he said to Melodee who kept her head down, clutching at her dress. “What have you got there?”
“Leave her alone,” Julen spoke up. The golden-haired boy was always defending Melodee from the taunts and teasing of the other children.
“I ain’t gonna hurt her. I just wanna see what she’s hiding,” he asked again but when Melodee didn’t respond he grabbed her by the arm and yanked it roughly away from her. The king’s orange, somehow still uneaten, thudded to the cobbled stone and rolled towards his feet. “My my, what a treat!”
Melodee leapt for the fruit but the barbarian swept it up off the ground before she could reach it. She looked up at the man with a vicious snarl.
“A feisty one. Good. I like that. Who do these lovely little cherubs belong to?” He yelled towards the crowd around him. “Best to answer quickly now.”
“She’s mine,” Alana croaked timidly. Julen’s parents across the square also called out their claim.
“She your second?” The barbarian said with thirst in his eyes.
“Yes. Artus, my boy. You took him last year.”
Melodee cottoned on to her mother’s anguish and went to join her but the barbarian seized the girl by the scruff of her neck.
“Not so fast, pretty one.”
When Julen growled, looking like he was about to jump on the man, the barbarian sent him to the ground with a rough slap. The rest of the Poachers drew weapons, including the driver who scanned the crowd from behind the crossbow weighted on his bulbous stomach. The Silver stayed close to Benjin.
What little unrest had stirred in the crowd was now quickly silenced.
“You,” the barbarian pointed at Julen’s parents. “Take him.”
They didn’t need to be told twice. They rushed forward and dragged the boy back to the edge of the square, holding him tight against them.
“Please. Please let her go,” Alana said. Her begging attracted one of the longswords to her but the Poacher appeared more concerned with Harlan, the man strapped with muscles beside her.
“Missy,” the barbarian spoke to Alana while still firmly clasping the folds of Melodee’s dress, “we’ve been everywhere from Sunhelm and up to Dragonwallow, down to Mythwell and all over those blasted hills of Oskarth. And that’s just in the past week! I’m tired. My boys are tired. The bloody horse is tired! How do you think it makes us feel, when we’ve been through all that, and arrive here in your shitty village, and you stop us doing our job? You heard the bell. You know the rules. I’m thinking you might need some kind of awakening, my pet.”
Benjin could almost feel his teeth cracking as he ground them. His eyes flicked over to Harlan who was still indifferent. How could that oaf call himself a man? He didn’t exhibit a shred of care or anger, not even when his wife and only surviving child were being threatened by those who could lawfully kill them with no reprisals. Benjin would have no teeth left to speak of if this was to carry on much longer.
“We’re short,” the wagon driver said unexpectedly, his voice of far too high a pitch for someone of his bulk.
“Did you hear that?” The barbarian teased. “We’re short. Them Wolves ain’t gonna be too happy when we turn up shy of our quota. Now… I wonder how we might remedy the situation.”
That was when Benjin’s hand was nudged from behind his back. Benjin felt the warm leather hilt of a knife slide into his grip and he glanced to his side. Harlan’s eyes were fixed ahead but he gave the slightest of nods.
The barbarian picked leisurely at the orange in his hand. “I’ve got it. We’ll take the girl.”
“No!” Alana cried out. “You can’t. We’ve already been marked. You can’t!”
“We can do whatever we bloody well please. And she’s just too precious to pass up,” he finished with an unholy grin. He licked his lips, a nasty smacking sound, and then took a bite out of the orange so vast it would make the pigs proud.
Melodee screeched something feral and in a flash she was up against the man who towered above her, teeth sunk as deep as they would go into his thigh.
The pained roar that filled the air would have put a jungle cat to shame. The pitch then found new heights as the little girl jerked her head rapidly from side-to-side, like a hunting dog making its kill. It was safe to say the man would never look the same way at an orange again from this day onwards.
The outburst seemed to break a spell cast over the village. These people had already lost so much. There was no world where they would allow these traitors, these Wolf pets, to subvert the law and take more than they were owed. Before he could blink, Benjin watched as the crowd assumed a swarm mentality. The wave of peasants surged forward into the square to attack the Poachers. What they lacked in weapons or strength they made up for in sheer numbers and harsh language. Clearkeep square was to become a bloodbath. Kas, the god of war, would delight in the chaos wrought this summer’s afternoon.
Harlan was next to act. Benjin watched as the skinny Poacher standing next to Alana achieved flight. Harlan sent him ten inches off the ground, the man suffering the full effects of an unexpected uppercut. He hit the cobbles cold and hard, his leg twitching where he lay.
The Silver reacted swiftly and ferociously. Targeting Harlan, she leapt onto his back and her hands became red ribbons as they blurred in the space around his neck and shoulders, shredding him piece by piece with nothing but her fingernails. Her supernatural speed was downright terrifying.
Benjin arced Harlan’s knife wide from the right but the Silver was too fast. She anchored herself in the flesh of Harlan’s biceps and kicked both of her feet out backwards, striking Benjin in the chest and onto his arse.
A crossbow bolt sung from its wire and caught one of the villagers in the hip. A poor shot from the wagon driver who was instantly overwhelmed by the tide of farmers and mothers before he could load another bolt. Benjin watched as a woman disarmed the other skinny Poacher of his dagger. It was likely the same dagger that made the scar on her face and it was plain to see her eagerness in turning the blade against him. Benjin only heard the man's demise, who gargled out his final moans from behind a wall of peasants. Even some of the older children went in on the brutal assault.
Harlan let out a roar of his own, part fury, part agony. Heaving himself backwards, he slammed the Silver between the rocks and the hard place that was his considerable bulk.
Benjin seized the opportunity to strike at the Silver. He had to be quick, there was no telling what other gifts the Wolves might have given her. The tanner’s knife was made for slicing, not for stabbing, and it was a myth that a slit to the throat made the most efficient kill. With excessive force he plunged the wide blade into the side of the Silver’s neck. It was tough, for the neck was full of obstacles, but he managed to drive it all the way through to the other side, severing both arteries in the process. She couldn’t scream even if she wanted to.
The wagon driver had somehow managed to ward off his attackers and was now spurring the placid draft horse on to turn out of the square, back the way they had come.
Harlan rolled off of the dying Silver and tried to get to his feet. Alana arrived beside him and with surprising strength from such a slight woman she propped her husband up against the blood loss that threatened to topple him down again.
“Get him seen to. I’ll get the girl,” Benjin spoke without looking to his sister. Ahead of him he could see the strands of muscle leaving the barbarian’s leg like hot cheese as he pried Melodee’s jaws from his flesh. Benjin broke into a run as the big man threw his assailant as far away from him as possible, the girl going limp as she tumbled along the ground. The man then hobbled towards the fleeing wagon with impressive velocity.
Benjin changed his course as Julen, the brave lad, came to remove Melodee from the brawl, allowing Benjin to focus on the escaping wagon.
The barbarian was just in time to swing himself into the seat next to the driver and the wagon picked up the pace. As did Benjin.
He accelerated towards the wagon faster than any man his age would normally be capable.
“Fuck off, will you?” The barbarian yelled back at Benjin. “We’re out of here already.”
Benjin gave his answer by flinging himself into the air to land on the rear of the wagon. It wasn’t the Poachers he was after.
The crate’s doors were locked shut and Benjin had to dig deep into the inhuman power locked within him, grunting at the hurt flaring in the mark around his eye. The double doors bulged and the metal gave way. Benjin wrenched one of the doors from its hinges and sent it barrelling along the dirt road behind him.
Six famished children regarded him with fear from their huddle at the far end of the box. The walls were slick with human soil and the burst of hot stagnant air took the colour from Benjin’s face.
Benjin held out his hand but none reciprocated. “Come on. I’m not one of them. You have to trust me.”
A boy, the smallest of them, perhaps five years old, was the first to find some courage. The boy reached out an emaciated arm, revealing pallid skin clinging tightly to his ribcage. His hand felt like cold chicken bones in Benjin’s palm.
“This is going to hurt, but you have to be strong, okay?” Benjin did his best to sound calm over the racket of the moving wagon. “Just remember to keep your elbows in when you roll.” As soon as the boy gave a weak nod of understanding, Benjin yanked him out of the box and watched nervously as he hit the ground with the finesse of a crippled drunkard. Knees over elbows the boy tumbled in the dust. The rest of the children watched for a heart stopping moment as their fellow prisoner lay motionless in the road. A collective sigh from those left behind was unheard as the boy shakily got to his feet. They were all soon to follow.
  Sol’s Day, 18th of Exium, 1267  

The flames rose up high to lick the ink from the night’s sky. It was Sister Durant’s idea that they make the bonfire so obscenely large. To be sure that Toldin heard their prayers while Tahalia roamed in his absence, she’d said. Benjin didn’t see the point. All he saw was a waste of decent wood.
Tahalia wasn’t quite at her fullest but still she painted the land with her silver brush to bring light to the Aelish foothills. Not that it mattered much to Benjin, he hadn’t seen the darkness for years now. The physical power was all well and good, but it was the night vision that took the longest to get used to.
He sat on the edge of the square to watch the festivities. He had no interest in dancing and his headache would have driven a lesser man to mania. What he did enjoy though, was the salt-crusted pork belly he was currently devouring from its skewer.
The villagers hadn’t experienced the pleasure of proper meat in months. All the decent cuts went to the Wolves and fear kept them from skimping on the delivery. What they were allowed to keep were the bones and the slimy bits, the tubes and pumping things that usually found themselves in a butcher’s gutter. Suffice to say, the offal and gruel they survived on would never match up to a tasty steak. The only blessing was the livers they were left with; the reason scurvy hadn’t wasted them all just yet.
Their victory made them bold. They slaughtered and roasted the choicest pigs in the pen. It was their way of raising both middle fingers loud and proud to the overlords sitting pretty in the city over yonder. That, and the Poachers’ charred remains currently feeding the fire. Benjin thought perhaps the skinny one brought down by Harlan’s punch might have proved useful for interrogation or leverage. But the Poacher’s neck was grotesquely twisted and he must have been dead before he hit the dirt, so onto the fire he went, along with the exsanguinated Silver and what was left of the stew-stealer.
Benjin had let them go, the last two Poachers. Climbing onto the box to bring further hurt to the barbarian and driver seemed an unnecessary risk. Fatigue was setting in, the children and his village spared, and the barbarian still had his axe. Before jumping off the wagon he buckled the second door on its hinges and shattered one of the rear wheels with a mighty kick. That ghastly thing wouldn’t be serviceable for a long time. He made certain of that.
Melodee padded across the square on bare feet, leading the skeleton boy, the first one liberated from the crate. She thrust another spit of pork at Benjin and giggled triumphantly.
“You eat all you can, little one. It won’t last forever,” Benjin said with careful diction.
Melodee looked annoyed but her pout quickly dissolved back into that beaming smile of hers. She tried to pawn the morsel off to the boy but he was already working on covering himself head-to-toe in grease with the trotter he was gnawing at. So instead she shoved the entire thing into her mouth and grinned as it filled her cheeks. The two then scurried off, leaving Benjin alone with his thoughts once again and, as always, his thoughts turned to war.
Wars were fought for many reasons, Benjin should know, he had taken part in his fair share. Land, resources, beliefs, noble causes, petty squabbles. At the end of the day, no matter how they dressed it up, there wasn’t a war that didn’t stem from one common cause. Greed. The war that the Wolves brought to the shores of Aelbourne was no different. They took the land they wanted and it was from the Aelish people that the Wolves took their resources.
The victors in war were usually decided by who had the most men or the strongest steel. The Wolves had far fewer bodies and they had no use for steel. What they did have, however, was magic. It was easiest to call it magic, the stuff of bedtime stories. This was the weapon to which the Aelish had no defence. If the Wolves’ magic didn’t physically tear the Aelish apart, then the terror that came with it was enough to turn loyal soldiers into cowering rats.
It remained a mystery how the Wolves could merge with their weird metal and accomplish the frightful things they did with it. It was this mystery that led the peasantry to gasp with awe and label it sorcery. Benjin was always sceptical. If one were to spend their entire life in the deepest of forests, or the bleakest of deserts, and then they saw men forge rocks into swords, they would call it sorcery too. Benjin didn’t have any answers but the key to the invader’s power was no secret. It was Bluesilver.
The metal was sacred to the Wolves. Their warriors carried blades that were neither solid nor liquid. Their armour weighed less than leather, yet Benjin once saw a Wolf stride into an entire battalion of soldiers and walk away with only Aelish blood staining the surface. It was Bluesilver that pulsed under Benjin’s skin, what was written in the mark around his eye. Bluesilver gave him the strength of a bull and the speed of a greyhound. And that was just one mark. The Wolves covered every inch of themselves with the delicate, shining glyphs. When they attacked they struck so hard and fast, with such wild violence, that the Aelish Forces crumpled under their might in less than one year. One year and they had decimated the fighting population, subjugated the king and enslaved the nation. And just when they could have continued their devastating advance and taken control of the country as a whole, the Wolves called a truce. In return for peace, their demands were two-fold: the capital was theirs to keep, and so was one child below the age of puberty from every family in the land. There was no choice.
Benjin often wondered why the Wolves held back from total victory, as did the many Aelish lords and scholars. The truth was no one knew. Instead of plundering the lands all the way from Ostersea to Wintersea they chose to stay behind their newly acquired walls and make the city their home.
The sound of his sister’s voice broke his reverie.
"I swear, if that big lug had a brain he’d be dangerous.”
“Harlan not doing what he’s told?”
“You need to rest, I told him, don’t move around too much or I’ll have to redress the bandages,” she parroted. “What does he go and do?”
Benjin followed Alana’s gesture towards the unmistakable silhouette parading around the bonfire. Harlan’s boisterous laughter contrasted the playful screams and giggles of the children crawling all over the giant.
Alana sighed as she parked her rear next to Benjin. They sat together quietly for a minute or two until finally she said, “Thank you.”
“For what?”
She jabbed a knuckle on Benjin’s upper arm. “Don’t give me that. You know full well ‘what’,” she trailed off. “You never met Artus. He was a beautiful boy. He got this look in his eye when he set his mind to something. When he got that look you knew there was nothing in this world that would stop him, not even Harlan’s… parenting. He reminded me of you.”
“Should I take that as a compliment?”
Alana thrust another knuckle to the arm in the exact same spot. She sure knew how to form a bruise with an aim like that. “We didn’t think I’d be able to have another one. Not with these old bones. Lo and behold, along came Melodee. I don’t know, maybe it was because she was deaf, or maybe Artus just knew how precious she was to us. Whenever she got frustrated because she didn’t understand something like the rest of the kids, he got that look again. He wouldn’t leave her side until she got it. One time, during a big storm, the flashes of lightning scared the life out of her so much she couldn’t sleep. Artus spent the whole night on the floor next to her bed so she could hold his hand. My little protector. That’s what I meant when I said he reminded me of you. After the Poachers came the first time, after they took Artus, Melodee took it hard. Worse than any of us. I didn’t know how she was going to cope without him. And then you came back…” She choked up. “You did this,” Alana nodded to the dancing horde. “She’d be gone too if it wasn’t for you. Thank you.”
Benjin pulled his sister closer and let her dry her tears on his shoulder. “I’ll never let anything happen to her. I’m not going anywhere.”
The pair allowed the rest of the night to pass around them. For hours they sat exchanging stories of their lives. Benjin’s time with the Aelish Forces, before and during the war. He decided to hold back on what happened afterwards, it wasn’t worth another argument. Alana talked about all the happy memories from raising Artus and Melodee, and the bad ones too. Eventually the party started to wind down and many villagers chose not to return home, instead cosying up to their loved ones around the dying bonfire, letting sleep take them on the cobbles. Benjin and Alana too were feeling the weight of a long day beginning to close their eyes.
“What’s that?” Alana said drowsily and pointed towards the light steadily rising above the treeline to the west. “I’ve never seen a star move like that before.”
Benjin looked to the pre-dawn sky. His heart lurched and his stomach fell away into an abyss of absolute terror. He shot to his feet. “Get Melodee. Now.”
“What’s wrong?”
“Just go!”
The small spot of light was growing rapidly and its trail of flickering cinders added to the backdrop of stars. Four more lights ascended to flank the first in arrowhead formation. It was the colour of these lights that struck Benjin to his very core. To the untrained eye they did indeed appear similar to a shooting star, but Benjin knew that blue glow only too well. And it was already too late to save anyone.
The sleeping villagers were slow to heed Benjin’s call-to-arms. He was shouting as loud as he could for them to find somewhere safe with their families. He knew it was an exercise in futility but what else could he do? In the few seconds that passed while Benjin moved between the frightened villagers maybe half of them had cleared the square. That was when the lights descended.
Benjin watched as one by one the rippling balls of blue fire hit the ground and exploded around him. Buildings were returned to their constituent parts. Straw, lumber and clay came apart in torrents of burning debris. The villagers ran this way and that, desperate to escape where no escape was possible, and their screams pierced the night’s cold air. He looked up. The last light hung motionless not twenty feet above him. The blue flames billowed around the Wolf held within them. Her yellow eyes met his and below them a cruel smile answered his horror. Benjin dived to the cobbles just as the Wolf plummeted downwards, the air around her sizzling against the unnatural flames.
The Wolf landed on the bonfire, blasting ash and embers in all directions. Winded, Benjin rolled onto his back, lifted his head and froze. Against the glow of the burning village he could make out the shape of a hulking figure calmly walking towards him. With each step, Benjin saw more of the creature. Long, dreaded hair swayed from behind her back. Her body was cut from harsh lines, with its sleek, carapace armour encasing it from neck to toe but leaving the arms bare. In her hand a blue energy crackled into existence, small at first, growing to a slender point. The living sword cast an unnatural corona into the haze surrounding it. Then, as the last of the ash subsided, above him loomed a muscular, imperious Wolf. She lifted the point of her sword to aim directly at his neck and the glyphs decorating her face and arms lit up as the blade rippled.
“You should have killed them all,” she growled in heavily accented Aelish. “The Hex’ala do not take pleasure in suffering, but suffering there must be, and you will watch.”

If only they were dead before the work began. But no, the Wolves wanted everyone to hear the moans and broken cries of their loved ones as the nails were driven through their bones. For those present, none would hear the sounds of metal striking metal without remembering that day, as the hammers hit their targets again and again.
Toldin was just beginning to raise himself up from the horizon. With him he brought the saturated orange light of a fresh day. Usually the pigs would be finding their feed and the villagers of Clearkeep busying themselves with the daily routine. Not this day. Benjin wished the dawn never came. Then the villagers wouldn’t have to see the Wolves’ gruesome display in all its grisly splendour, as he had been forced to endure throughout the night.
The Wolves’ leader, the Alpha, jumped down from the temple roof, just as Benjin had done the previous day, her work completed. She squinted against the sunlight but welcomed its heat with her arms stretched wide. From her elbows to her fingertips the blood shifted through the spectrum from wine-red where it was driest to scarlet where it was fresh and dripping from her. Above the Wolf, with limbs splayed out as far as they could go, Sister Durant stared heavenward as the life finally left her eyes. The nails they used to decorate the roof with the nun’s body were the very same Benjin had used to fix the thing. The roof of her own temple. The callous bastards, they knew precisely the message they were sending.
“Look at what you have done,” the Wolf shouted triumphantly to the cowering peasants huddled in groups about the square. A narrow tongue licked across her abundant needle-point teeth as if to drink in the victory. "These beasts – these pigs – you raise, they are yours. You feed them, give them shelter, care for them. If a man came and took them from you, would you be happy? No. I do not think so. You would want them back. If the man does not give them, you would demand payment. If the man does not pay you, what then? This man owes you a debt and it is your right to collect this debt.
“The men who came to you. They come to take what was promised to us. You know this. These men, they are ours. Our beasts. You took them from us and we are here to collect our debt. Villagers of Clearkeep,” the Aelish name sounded awkward in her mouth, “consider the debt repaid!” The Wolf brandished her arms wide to the sky. The finale to her speech brought no applause.
Instead, there was only the muffled silence that Benjin had often seen following battle, when there were no more cries or screams to give.
Benjin was lying on the ground in the centre of the square, a Wolf’s boot firmly pressed to the side of his head to keep him still. He could see the Alpha and the cluster of terrified children beside her, flinching every time she glanced their way. He could see the temple with its vile adornment. What he couldn’t see were the other rooftops around the village that now bore the same. Thanks to his heightened senses, he knew the precise location of every other woman nailed to their homesteads. Every woman past childbearing age.
“We will leave you now,” the Alpha continued. “Speak of this day. Tell those you meet. The Hex’ala will not tolerate defiance. We will not forgive. All must know this.”
The boot above him finally withdrew. Benjin held still for a moment, waiting until the Wolf was a few paces away. Then he slowly rolled onto his back and rubbed at the bruised skin on his face. The five Wolves had herded together and now surrounded all the village’s children. None of their parents dared to move, let alone speak. They could only draw each other closer and watch as the Wolves led their children away, every single one of them.
Eyes wide Melodee stared at Benjin. She kept making the same sign as she was forced to leave. Her fingers curled with her thumb pointed upwards she kept slamming her hand against an open palm. Over and over. Help.
Benjin couldn’t stop the tears filling his eyes. Every fibre of his being screeched and tore at him to do something, anything. His fists clenched so tight he thought every vein in his wrists might burst.
He had to try. Surging to his feet he swept up the sharpest rock in reach and charged towards the departing Wolves. A war cry escaped his lungs so loudly the air around him seemed to shimmer like a mirage. He put everything he had into the charge but he barely made it ten paces.
One of the Wolves at the rear of the group spun around – the others didn’t even turn to watch. This one was tall and lean, his black, matted hair bound into a single clump that rested over his shoulder. His yellow eyes narrowed as a mark flared halfway up his forearm and Benjin felt his blood turn to lead. The Wolf flicked his wrist and Benjin was sent skidding into the dirt. The Wolf turned and walked on, the mark still pulsing on his arm.
There were very few times in Benjin’s life that he had been rendered helpless. He hated it. He was a man of action. He swore he would never be the one that stood by when others were in need. That was the driving force that led him to soldiering. This was like nothing he had ever felt before. Now he felt true impotence.
Many considered the powers given to Benjin a gift but he knew full well they were his curse. They would never have given out their strength to those they could not control. All that strength and none to challenge it, a fitting comparison to the two sides of the war.
Melodee fought to pass her captors and run to her uncle. Her wrestling did no good as another of the Wolves slung her over its shoulder. She screamed and screamed, a primal call of terror that gradually faded as the Wolves left the village and Benjin was permitted to move again.
They were gone. All of them.
Toldin may have been steadily climbing the blue sky, but there was a darkness that settled on Clearkeep that morning. The unspoken anguish weaved its way around all those left alive to bear it. The melee had been swift. The villagers brave enough to confront the Wolves were promptly reminded of their ineptitude. If they weren’t sliced to pieces where they stood, they were vaporised in dazzling silver clouds of conjured fire. It was difficult to tell the ashes of the buildings from the bodies.
Benjin couldn’t take his eyes off the road ahead. What he wouldn’t give for his sweet Melodee to come bounding back around the corner and leap into his arms. But he knew the girl’s desperate signings for help was the last he would ever see of her. There were new cracks in his heart today that would never mend.
A heavy hand clasped onto Benjin’s shoulder. He turned to find the sullen face of Harlan looking down the same road. The big man’s voice was distant when he finally spoke. “We have to get Alana down.” He raised a bloody claw-hammer in his hand and gave it to Benjin.
And so Benjin made his way over to the ruined hut with the only family he had left in the world.

It was verging on nightfall by the time they finished prying the last of the mangled women free. While Benjin, Harlan and a few of the other men worked to remove the nails and gently lower the bodies to the ground, the remaining women set about the preparations. The Restoration demanded certain customs be observed and without Sister Durant or any of the elder women to offer guidance, the girls were slow to meet them. There were barely enough linens for the shrouds but those who still had beds to sleep in were happy to strip them for their slaughtered neighbours.
Usually the ceremony would take place in the eastern hills to keep the smoke away from the houses and farmyards. Given that the pigs had fled as soon as the opportunity arose and many of the buildings reduced to nothing but rubble, it was decided the square would host the service. The other reason being that there were far too many corpses to drag all that way.
The pyre was built flat and wide, stretching across most of the square. Sitting atop the logs and kindling salvaged from the debris were the offerings awaiting their final rest. The beautifully wrapped linens dressed the wood like a field of cotton ready for plucking.
Benjin had forgone his meal. There was little to go around and the villagers were in need of sustenance. If anything, the scavenging for food was a welcome distraction from the horrors of the day. Besides, Benjin didn’t have any appetite. He just sat there, staring at the white bundle of cloth that now enveloped his sister, so consumed by his rage he hadn’t noticed the people gathering around him.
“What are we doing here? Why aren’t we chasing them down?” A gruff old man complained from the crowd.
“You’re a Silver! We can take the fight to them. We’ll be ready this time,” another added.
Benjin had nothing to say in reply. The villagers were confused and grief-stricken, he understood that they needed someone to turn on with their pain and outrage.
“Have you lot lost your fucking minds?” It was Harlan that waded through the crowd to put himself between them and Benjin. “What are we gonna do that the king’s entire fucking army couldn’t? You saw what they did to Benjin. We don’t stand a chance.”
“We have to do something. They took them. My babies. Our children!” Julen’s mother gave in to a fit of hysterics, her hair and clothing in total disarray.
“Like what? Bend over for them? Sounds like a good way to wipe Clearkeep off the map for good,” Harlan snorted.
The people erupted into shouts and the bickering took hold. Just as they began to jostle and shove each other, the pent up anger threatening to turn to violence. Benjin got to his feet lifted a hand to silence them.
“They’re right, Harlan. We have to do something,” he spoke softly, “but if we take up arms, what do we have? Shovels? Cutlery? Pointed sticks? We have nothing to fight them with. And even if we had swords and spears, we would surely find ourselves lying beside our neighbours on that pyre. Look around you, friends. Our home is in ruins. There is nothing left for us here. Every day the Wolves dig their roots deeper into our soil and that will not change any time soon.” He let the words sink in for a moment. “I have something to ask of you. I ask for your patience. There must be others like us. There must be other men, women and children that know our pain. There is one place that knows our sorrow more than any in this land. Where before the Wolves have only seen our weapons, our strength, for all the good it did us, perhaps now they should see our cunning. I am going to the city. I am going to find as many as I can that will hear me and together we will grow inside their walls like a tumour. And maybe one day we will have enough weight to drag those Wolf bastards down from their perches and let them taste the mud. The mud is our home and in it is where we will drown them! Come with me, brothers, sisters. Come with me and I can promise you one thing. We will bring them our pain.”
Benjin’s speech washed over the stunned crowd. Their exchanged looks of worry and fear changed into grit and inspired nerve. All it took was one man to pump his fist to the sky and shout before every one of them broke out into cheers. Harlan led the uprising and coaxed them into chanting Benjin’s name.
“We have one more task to complete, my friends,” Benjin quietened the crowd once more. “Let us bring honour to our families. May this be the last Restoration we see as the downtrodden people of this once-great land. Our land.” He marched past the people and led them to the edge of the pyre.
Harlan stepped up beside Benjin with a burning torch in hand. The villagers bowed their heads.
“You know the words?” Harlan said with a hand placed gently on the white linen that masked his wife’s cheek.
“I’ve lived long enough to feel the heat from too many of these,” Benjin replied solemnly. “I know the words.” He took the torch from Harlan and cleared his throat for his last address.
“Hear me, Toldin, the Everbright, the Great Inferno. Please accept these brave, fallen lights unto you and know that they are never extinguished, only bound to a new path. Their journey with us has come to an end and so we restore them to you. May they burn with you so that, together, you may never fade but continue to bless us with your holy radiance for the endless days to come.”
“For we are the light.” They all spoke the iconic final words in unison.
The fire caught quickly to the kindling piled under his sister’s tightly wrapped figure. As he pulled back, something in the blaze caught his eye. The king’s orange must have been placed there by the gods themselves to deliver such a brazen symbol. The juice fizzled around the teeth marks in its flesh and then it was lost in the collapsing pyre.
The muscles in his jaw tightened and he quietly growled to no one but the dead, “Hear me.”

Cover image: by Jess Kilby


Author's Notes

I have created this world for the novel I am currently working on. For this short story I have taken a secondary character and dialed the clock back a couple of years in order to flesh out their backstory. The events depicted here are what led to this man, Benjin Eklund, becoming the head of the rebel uprising against their vicious invaders.
  Original artwork by Jess Kilby:
Instagram - @jesskilby.art
Etsy - https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/dandyogre

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Sep 4, 2019 21:33 by Emperor Charles II

Hi IGS Harwood,   This was a fascinating read! Love my tortured protagonist and I am completed enchanted by Melodee. Side note: it's so rare to get deaf characters that I didn't realize I was missing them, and now I want more! The sign language is also on point, based on my limited understanding.   If I have any criticisms of this book, it is that plot is a little lost sometimes because of explanations of worldbuilding. This is a very common problem in this competition, as the goal is to show off the worldbuilding at the same time. When in doubt, try to keep the plot coherent and the worldbuilding diminished.   The ending is great, and I enjoy the fact that while they lost that battle against the Hex'ala, there is hope of rebellion. It tempers the horrible nature of the loss and makes the story much more digestible from an emotional perspective.   All in all, thanks for this great read, keep up the great work, liked and followed, and I hope to hear more from you in the future about Etrium. My entry is also about a rebellion, oddly enough, so if you want to give it a read, it's called It Eats At Our Table and it's underneath Extras :)

Sep 4, 2019 21:39

Thanks for the very astute feedback. I shall take it on board as I am still to make some editorial passes. I'll be sure to have a look at yours too just as soon as I've got the time. Thanks again.