28 August 2012
Sam Sykes - Skybound Sea Extract
Read and enjoy! I'm sure Sam's a bit insane, but damn he can write. I can't wait for the book.
The Shen came surging up the highway in a riot of color. Lanky green muscle trembled beneath tattooed bands of red and black, weapons of bone and metal flashed in their hands, yellow eyes grew gold with fury at the sight of her.
Great webbed crests rose from their scaly crowns, displaying colorful murals tattooed on the leathery flesh. Giant fish on some, serpents on others—various peoples in various stages of dismemberment seemed a rather popular choice.
They bent at the waist, long tails risen behind them as they picked up speed, raised their weapons and howled.
Like hounds, she thought. Big, tattooed, ugly hounds. With weapons. Sharp ones. She glanced up the road. Why aren’t you running, again?
If her head couldn’t form a response, her feet did. And they spoke loudly and in great favor of screaming loudly and running away. She agreed and tore down the highway, folding her ears over themselves to block the sound of a dozen warcries growing louder.
She saw Lenk a moment later, the young man leaning on his knees and trying desperately to catch his breath. She opened her mouth to warn him, to tell him that they were close enough behind that he had to keep moving.
“YOU SON OF A BITCH!”
That wasn’t a warning, but it made him move, regardless. He sheathed his sword and took off at a sprint, falling in beside her.
“You could have warned me,” she snarled between breaths.
“Did you not see me running?” he screamed back. “What, did you think I was just thatexcited to see you?”
“You had your sword drawn! I didn’t know what was happening!”
Her ears pricked up at a faint whistle growing steadily louder. She leapt and the arrow cursed her in a spray of sparks and a whine of metal as it struck the stones where she had just stood.
“How about now?” he asked. “If you’re still confused, they’ve got more arrows.”
And in symphonic volleys, the arrows wailed. They came screaming from atop the walls, making shrill and childish demands for blood, skulking in clattering mutters when they found only stone.
The archers took only a few opportunistic shots, shouldering their bows and racing atop the wall after their fleeing pink targets as soon as they moved out of range. But there were always more archers and ever more arrows.
Precise shots, Kataria thought. Hungry shots. Little wolves of metal and wood. And like wolves, they came from all sides.
She glanced over to the side. The kelp had thinned out, giving way to another, stranger forest.
Coral formations rose out of the sand and into the gray sky. Jagged blue pillars, spheres of twisted green, great cobwebs of red thorns and sheets of yellow blossomed like a garden of brittle, dead gemstones.
It might have been beautiful, had each formation not been host to yellow eyes lurking in their towering pillars, green feet perched upon the colorful branches, bows bent and arrows drawn.
They ducked, weaved, hid where they could, tumbled where they had to. Arrows snarled overhead, jagged tips reaching with bone-shard barbs. They darted behind one of the twisted bells to avoid a volley. The arrows struck, sent the misshapen metal wailing, screaming, weeping, laughing, grinding sound against sound in a horrifying cacophony.
Kataria clamped hands over her ears, shouted to be heard. “How far back are they?” “I don’t care!” he shouted back. “Just keep going until we can find someplace to hide!”
She glanced over her shoulder. The tide of Shen seemed a distant green ebb. They had checked their pace, pursuing with intent, not speed. They were up to something. Or maybe lizards just weren’t meant to run on two legs.
“Must be the tails,” she muttered. “We’re bound to lose them soon. For a bunch of crafty savages, you’d think they’d have a better plan than just chasing us and—“
“Damn it, Kat,” Lenk snarled. “Why the hell would you say that?”
She didn’t have to ask. The moment she turned, she saw it, looming overhead, its gray so dark it stood out even against the cloud-shrouded sky. The monolith statue stood upon the wall, palm outstretched, a symbol of a great, unblinking eye set within its stone hood.
While it certainly didn’t seem to object to the cluster of Shen around its feet trying desperately to push it over and onto the road below, Kataria picked up her speed.
“Stop!” Lenk rasped. “We’ll never make it!”
“Yes, we will! Just go faster!”
He did go. Faster than her, even. Their breath became soundless, coming so swiftly and weakly it might as well not exist. Their legs pumped numbly beneath them, forgetting that they were supposed to have collapsed by now. They had nothing left to give but the desperate hope of passing before the statue fell.
Whatever god it was supposed to represent, though, the monolith appeared unmoved.
By their efforts, anyway.
The collective heaving of ten Shen proved to be far more persuasive.
The monolith tilted with a roar of rock and the wail of wind as it teetered and pitched over the wall, plummeting to the road below. She felt the shock of it through her numb feet, coursing up into her skull as the old stone god smashed against the rock below, sending a wave of pulverized granite dust erupting.
His legs desperately trying to remember how to stop, Lenk skidded into the great stone eye with an undignified sound. He came to a rasping, gasping halt.
Kataria did not.
With an almost unnerving casualness, she leapt, racing up his back, onto his shoulders, leaping off of him like a fleshy, wheezy stepping stone and scrambling atop the statute’s stone flank. She turned, looked down at him as he scrambled to follow her, failed to even come close.
She clicked her tongue. “Okay, so I was halfway right.”
Had he the breath to respond, he probably would have cursed her. Had he the energy to lift his sword, he probably would have thrown it at her. She didn’t watch him for long, though. Her eyes were drawn down the road, toward the advancing Shen horde. Archers continued to slither out of the coral forest to join the tide, bows added to the throngs of clubs and blades raised high and hungry for blood.
But even that did not hold her attention for long.
Her ears did not prick up at the sound, for she did not hear it. She felt it, in the nothingness of the mist. Determination. Compassion. Hate. Anger.
He was out there, somewhere. Somewhere close. Watching her, even now. And his were not the only eyes upon her.
But the Shen were also close. And growing closer. Stay and chase them off, she thought, and the greenshicts would come and kill Lenk. Leave to chase off the greenshicts and the Shen would kill Lenk. Neither option was attractive.
But then he decided for her.
“I can’t make it,” he said, finally finding his breath. “You have to go.”
“Right,” she said, making a move to leave.
“I didn’t mean it! I was trying to be noble!”
“Ah…” She looked at him and winced. “Well.”
And Lenk was left staring at an empty space she had just occupied. Had he breath to speak, he still wouldn’t have had the words to describe what he felt just then.
Someone else did, though.
“Told you,” the voice whispered.
Don’t be an asshole about this, he thought in reply.
“More important matters, anyway.”
The voice was right. Lenk knew that the moment he heard the hissing behind him. Breath coming heavily, sweat dripping from his brow, Lenk turned around very slowly. But he was in no hurry.
When he finally turned to face them, the Shen were waiting.