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Prologue to Unnamed Novel


Leigh Charest

She had lost track of her steps. Each sharp tap of her foot hitting the cobblestones sounded impossibly loud against the silence, ringing in her ears. The only other sound she could hear was faint and distant, the sound of many other feet growing rapidly and steadily closer. She struggled under his weight, struck by the oddly irrelevant thought that he was astonishingly heavy for such a thin fellow.

“Hold on just a little longer, Aera,” she gasped out. Red flashed by her eyes as she briefly glanced at the dark red patches of blood on her white linen shirt. Its texture and warmth were familiar to her, but her heart beat faster at the thought that it was his blood. She hoped silently that the panic rising inside her throat would urge her to run faster, but she was already panting for breath. They were older, more experienced swordsmen, and they were unhindered. It was only a matter of time.

Her eyes hurriedly scanned the intricate wall of doors and windows. Where was it? It had to be so close now. She sickened at a new thought. What if she had passed it? What if they would be too close to go back? She paused in the streets, looking back; then, sure that the door was still ahead of her, she began running again, as fast as her feet could carry her, forcefully oblivious to the burning ache in her chest. She had practiced for this since she could walk. She wouldn’t let their hands touch him, not after all the years of work…

“Aera,” she said breathlessly, “we’re almost there.” Maybe he would believe that which she was most unsure of. “I know you’ve been through worse than this, so just live—”

It was a fiery and sudden pain, and before she could scream out in surprise she knew what had happened. Her foot twisted sharply upon hitting the raised stone. She threw her hands out instinctively to catch herself. Aera collapsed limply on the ground beside her, his own feet now tangled in her legs.

“Help us, someone!” she yelled as loudly as she could. Her concern for pain was lost in desperation. She continued screaming hoarsely, until she had no voice left. Now what? she thought furiously. A sudden burst of bitter anger washed through her, giving her enough energy to lift herself up, then bring Aera to his knees, balancing her weight on her good ankle. She would drag him to safety if she had to. She began to pull heavily on his arms. Streaks of straight black hair fell into his face; his unconscious head rested on his chest, closed eyes turned downward.

“If you were only awake,” she mouthed despairingly. The sweat that covered her hands made it difficult to keep them from slipping every time she tried to pull him. She gritted her teeth, breathing loudly. “Just… a little further now.”

“That’s them! There they are!”

She froze, afraid to look up. Her hands began to shake incontrollably. Aera’s hands fell from her grasp and he collapsed gently against her side. She felt hot, salty tears begin to pool in her eyes, blurring her vision, perhaps for the better. She forced herself to turn her eyes upward, tears spilling out onto her already sweated-drenched cheeks.

The brash light of the afternoon sun outlined the dark forms of the Makoran swordsmen. They began slowly walking towards her. Without pausing to think, she threw herself in front of Aera’s, body moving instinctively into a fighting stance. Her hand felt frantically for the knife hidden beneath her jacket. She felt it and kept her hand there. Breathing silently now, she tried to calm herself. Her hands ceased shaking and she stood without moving, wordlessly eyeing the swordsmen through slitted eyes.

“Try to touch him,” she said, clipping her words with quiet ferocity, “and more than one of you will die.”

“Step out of the way and you won’t be harmed,” a dark-haired swordsman said calmly.

“Blood is valuable to you; you should try to keep most of it,” she answered through clenched teeth, closing her fingers around the danger.

“Take your hand off the knife,” the leader said, more sharply now.

She tightened her fingers. “I can still kill… three of you.”

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