Authors: V. L. Holt
Rise of the Battle Bred
by V. L. Holt
All rights reserved. Copyright © 2013
by Victoria L. Holt
No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief excerpts used in critical articles or reviews.
Authors of fanfiction: please email the author first, and the author will give you further insights into characters so that the 97 universe can be consistent.
Downloaders, I know you’re out there. Just consider that i
t took me a long time to get this thing edited and tweaked to just how I like it. And you wouldn’t believe the hoops I had to jump through to figure out how to make the cute little Copyright doohickey you see on this page.
This book is a work of fiction.
The names, characters, locations, and incidents are amalgams of the author’s imagination and have been used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or living dead, actual events, locales or organizations is entirely coincidental.
An ORIGINAL work of Victoria L. Holt,
also known as V. L. Holt
97: Rise of the Battle Bred
2013 by V. L. Holt
Cover design by Navy House Designs
Copyright © 2013 by Becca Henrie
I started telling you about my idea, and then the book happened.
Table of Contents
The Warloch Pact
Out of the loch we rise.
There is no creator but we.
We love none but life.
We choose All over One.
he Malleus Bellicus
We will rule the entire of earth.
We will rule the entire of time.
No woman will bear our seed.
We live forever Five, surrounded
By life, but ever alone.
He of the Five who breaks the Pact
Will burn. Forever. Alive.
Zeko gripped the edge of the massive table covered in battle maps, leaned forward in his chair, and sniffed the messenger trembling before him. He smelled fear. “What news from the battlefront?” He demanded.
The messenger bowed low and long. A bad sign.
“My Loch, I don’t know how to t-tell you this,” stammered the messenger.
Zeko the Warloch squinted but said nothing. It was not his job to make the messenger’s task easier.
The messenger swallowed and cleared his throat. “My Loch, the battlefront is abandoned. The Warriors have…” The messenger struggled to find his voice, “have left. Their weapons are on the battlefield and the defending army has rallied and is marching to our realm.”
Zeko stood, and his cloak swirled around him in spite of the absence of wind. The messenger took several steps back.
“The battlefield is abandoned,” He repeated softly to himself.
The messenger nodded.
“The Warriors are…” Zeko leered at the messenger. “Gone.”
The messenger nodded again.
“The defending armies are MARCHing to our realm,” Zeko raised his voice for emphasis.
The messenger nodded and wiped a trickle of sweat off of his
stubbled chin. He stepped forward, thinking that Zeko was taking the news better than expected.
“Guards!” Zeko barked to the men outside his heavy plank door. No one came. With a slight gesture, Zeko performed a staying spell on the messenger and walked to the door. He swung it open and found no guards. He looked around the great hall, and noted the absence of guards at all of the stations: the bottom of the steps, the grand entryway, and the armory’s entrance. Anyplace a sentinel would have been standing, should have been standing: empty. A couple servants saw Zeko perusing the hall and scurried away like mice under the flare of a match.
Zeko returned and stood in front of the messenger. Only the messenger’s eyes could move.
“You’ve heard the expression, ‘Don’t kill the messenger,” Zeko said calmly.
The messenger’s eyes rolled and darted expressively.
“I don’t subscribe to it,” Zeko returned to his place behind the strategy table.
He looked at the charts and the maps: maps showing newly created borders signifying the Warlochs’ kingdoms. Boundaries including the freshly acquired wealth of conquered nations. He looked up at the messenger, not seeing that one’s trousers darken. Instead, he saw the years rolling through his memory: years of testing the special humors invented by the Warloch of science, careful selection of prime female and male subjects, the images of laboring women as they brought forth sons prenticed to the
Warloch’s battle warden, the clang of metal as those sons trained against each other from five years old on, the first great battle promising endless power the globe over. Regaining his vision, he saw the messenger again, his body one continuous paralyzed tremor. With the flick of two fingers, the messenger crumpled to the ground.
Zeko strode the length of his room, cloak billowing behind him. He stood at its center and raised his arms. The anger burst within him and he let fly with the destruction spell and watched with no satisfaction as the tapestries, suits of armor, assorted pots and armaments began circling the room in a tempest of rage. At the apex, they burst apart into ash and snowed down upon the room, leaving a layer of white dust an inch thick. Zeko left the room, the sweep of the door pushing more ash out of its way. Every human within the fortress’ walls would have joined the dust. They were easily replaced. The messenger behind him was easily replaced. The tapestries were easily replaced. The armaments, the adornments, the furniture; all were easily replaced. The Warriors, however, were not.
The Warriors had taken twenty-five years of study, potions and magicks to create. Women chosen for their health and longevity had been captured and used to breed the Warriors. Potions, magicks and humors had been infused with the offspring to create soldiers so powerful that the Warlochs’ enemies would cower before them. The Warriors had been used to overthrow several realms in the past five years, uniting the land under one government swearing fealty to the Warlochs. The humans were enslaved to do their will. The Warriors were the brawn to enforce that fealty. And now the Warriors were gone. Left of their own free will, supposedly.
Betrayed by their very own creations, some might even call them children.
The messenger’s ill-timed missive threatened Zeko’s formerly secure position as the Battle Loch.
Zarastrid, the mastermind behind the Warloch coven, would personally see that Zeko’s immortal humors were put out of balance. Or simply put his head on a stake and lead into battle with it.
Zeko stood outside the empty, ash-filled fortress and surveyed the lands surrounding it. He would find another messenger from among the serfs that weren’t already serving as war mules. He would send for Zarastrid.
Once Zarastrid arrived, they would summon the remaining Warlochs, and they would have a council. The Warriors would pay for their disloyalty. Oh yes, they would pay.
He promised himself.
25 Years Before
Zarastrid’s Log, Day 14
The Year of Our Loch 107
The last of the intended vessels was acquired today. The women are strong and healthy. Each has been chosen for her heredity. Their mothers and grandmothers were known for their longevity.
They all fought their capture, a good sign.
We don’t want milque-toast maidens, after all. None fought harder than the last, handpicked by myself from a monastery of fallen women. I call her Agnes, which means chaste. I do love irony.
Agnes and the others will go through a period of quarantine, as we make sure their humors are in balance. Between the leeches, potions, and magicks, we shall create the perfect hosts for what we have designed.
Here are the Lochs who have sworn an oath of fealty to the Malleus Bellicus: myself, Zarastrid. Zeko the Battle Loch. Zainel, Pathos Loch. Zyrich, Loch of Fire, and Zimini, Loch of All Trades. There is also…well, I’ll mention her another time.
I have to stop writing now, as my hand aches from where Agnes bit me.
I poured myself a bowl of marshmallow cereal, no cereal, just marshmallows. I had an in with the local bulk store owner, and he kept me supplied with my unholy addiction. If I thought I could get away with it, I would use half and half for the milk, but my mom kept an eye out for my more outrageous food predilections. Not that she was awake at the ungodly hour I was up…oh dark thirty. She didn’t hear me slurp the milk when I was done, either. It’s not very ladylike, but neither is throwing papers; I had a paper route to finish before school. Maybe my job wasn’t trendy like the girls at school who hostessed at restaurants, but I liked it. I tucked my braid up in my hat, ready to go.
It was so fifties, me riding my bike in the dark hour before dawn, hitching papers up on doorsteps, catching Old Man Jenkins in his bathrobe and slippers, Rover chasing me between mailboxes. It was like out of a show from TV Land. Everything even looked black and white in the dark, like June Cleaver would come out any minute and invite me in for a plate of cookies and glass of cold milk. Or half and half, if I was really lucky.
I smirked at myself and hurled another paper at a doorstep.
The only drawback of my job was that it put a serious kink in my social life; I wasn’t exactly eager to stay up all night partying, knowing how early my supervisor delivered the stack of papers to my pickup corner.
You would think, in this day and age of smart phones and satellite radio that the newspaper would be outdated. I like to be up on current events, and it didn’t escape my notice that the big city papers were going downhill fast. I felt pretty fortunate that the one job I actually liked I was still able to do. Something about the small town life agreed with our small town paper and my small town route. And yeah, I used my paycheck and tips to fund my smartphone…I’m not a fuddy duddy, after all.
I quirked my mouth.
Fuddy duddy was a mom-word. I kept a mental list of words and phrases that my mom used on a daily basis that made me aware of my roots.
Walking that line between old world values and the next trend didn’t make me cool, but it did make me feel smart. I felt balanced too, even if I wasn’t popular. (Just ask the Ticks, er, cheerleaders at my school.) Remember, no social life? And I was cool with it. I had One True Friend, and a dog and a mo
m who cared about what I ate. I got good grades and my own money and a dependable ride. Yeah, it only had two wheels, but…did I mention I lived in a small town? I could get to anywhere I needed to go.
If, every once in a while, I felt a little melancholy, a little down in the dumps and lonely, well, I could live with it. It’s not like someone tall, dark and handsome was going to ride into town and save my day. Even if he did, I didn’t necessarily feel like I needed saving. My father left when my mom was pregnant with me, and we have managed just fine without him.
My arm arced in a graceful curve as another paper left my hand. It was all in the wrist. I admired the twirl of the paper, and how it landed exactly where I aimed on the Jones’ porch. Maybe if I hadn’t been so busy being dramatic, I would have seen the dark shape looming up in front of my bike. It seemed to come out of nowhere, but actually, it was a parked truck that a blind person couldn’t miss. I yelped and swerved out of the way just in time.
Who the heck parked a dang big truck in the middle of the night, in the middle of the road, in the middle of my route, in the middle of my street? I slapped the side of it with my hand as I rode by, ticked and embarrassed. At least no one was up at this hour to witness my stupidity.
I finished up my route and rode home, loving the feel of the misty morning air cooling the sheen of sweat on my brow. The weekend was coming, and I would get to sleep in. I had reluctantly given my weekend route to my adopted cousin a while back so he would have some income. I just pinched my pennies without the extra dough.
It was Friday morning; school started in an hour. I had plenty of time to shower, dress and read through my English assignment one last time. We had a test, but
I wasn’t worried. I kind of had this thing with words.
I parked my bike carefully on the front walk and gave a quick look around my street before I went inside. Quiet as always, my street gently wakened. The mist clinging to the green lawns gave the houses the look of rising up out of clouds. A cat slinked across the neighbor’s yard and some birds tittered jauntily at the sun’s first rays. The only thing out of place was the truck, mysterious and dark further down my road.
I took a deep breath and blew it out. There really wasn’t anything better than being up in the dark of the morning, feeling like the world was new again. And there was something about this morning in particular. I had a feeling of goodwill toward my fellow man. Except maybe for fellow men who parked their trucks on the street without letting me know. Most everyone else was way more tolerable when they slept, too. I grinned at nothing in particular and went inside to get ready.
My smartphone st
arted singing in my pocket. I was crazy about
band, and one of their songs was my ringtone. I answered, “Yeah,” My voice was husky with disuse and physical exertion. I knew who it was though. My BFF was practically hyperventilating on the other end.
“Are you done? Tell me you’re done. No, don’t tell me. This is too important. You will never believe this. My dad was driving home this morning. He had another all-nighter, and they had a breakthrough, so he was finally coming home, and he saw this moving truck stopped at the side of the road. And he was like, what the hell, nobody moves to Deer Fjord, Oregon; this guy must need directions or a tire change or whatever, and so he stopped, and no crap…this guy has a son who is a senior and I am not kidding you…he is going to attend Deer Run High,” Crady took a breath.
This was one of the many reasons I loved her. She was insanely loquacious. She had no problem filling in all the empty spaces left by the frequent silences from my tendency to over-analyze. I waited.
“And he is HOT.
Such hot. Many likes.”
I could hear her smiling on the other end. “Sooo…” I started. “Your dad thinks this guy is hot?”
Snorting laughter erupted in my ear. “You are so funny, Jane! But yeah, my Dad said he was pretty sure that we would think this boy was
. So get your butt in gear and get to school. No wait, ima come get you. You cannot afford to arrive at school all windblown on a day like today.” I could picture her fluttering her hands all over her own head.
I started to protest. “Crady, he’s probably not even coming today. If they’re just arriving in town, and it’s Friday and…” I heard her say something like B.S. and then nothing.
I shrugged and made it to the shower. Could be an interesting day, if the new kid decided to show. I knew I wouldn’t though, if I were him. But then, I’d grown up in Deer Fjord, and the thought of moving anywhere else senior year would really and truly terrify me, and I don’t scare easily. So no, I doubted this kid would be there.
Crady pulled in my drive not twenty minutes later. I was glad I’d already eaten breakfast, but I still had to put my bike away. When your only wheels are not easily replaced, you tend to take care of them.
I got in the car and put my heavy backpack on the floor between my legs. “Hey chica,” I said by way of greeting.
Crady gave me her cool girl smile, a lazy upturn of one side of her mouth. “Jane.”
We had this smooth greeting down. We liked to play it cool, even though inside we were still pretty silly. Sleepovers, nail polish; yeah, we liked to goof off and hang on to our girlhoods. Crady knew I was hanging on for dear life, ever since mom told me how my father left before I was even born. I grew up fast. Now I help take care of my mom and my cousin. When I get the chance to just chill and be a kid, I take it. But our greeting, well, we were like gangsters or something. Which, in our town, was about the dumbest thing ever. Again, which is why we did it.
She started giggling. “Can you hardly wait to see him? My dad says he’s got the whole TDH thing going on! With the hair, and the eyes…” She gestured at her own hair and eyes wildly while driving with the index finger of her other hand. She practically seized in the driver’s seat with her excitement.
I double-checked my seat belt.
“TDH?” I asked her.
“Tall, Dark and Handsome, Jane! Dad says he has this hair that falls into his eyes. And his eyes are either dark blue or dark brown. He couldn’t tell, because it was dark out still, you know. And it turns out, they did need directions.”
My head buzzed. Moving truck. Ahh yes. I knew exactly where the new boy lived. On my street, about five houses down. I scowled for no reason.
Crady and I arrived at school plenty early. I sat back and looked at her. “What’s the plan?” I had that assignment I wanted to read over, but I suspected she had other ideas.
“We wait. Think about it. We know every dang car in this parking lot. So we’re gonna know as soon as Mr. TDH arrives. Then, we casually walk up to him once he’s out of his car.”
I interrupted her, “And attack him before he even has a chance to take in the building. I don’t know that I’m comfortable with that plan.”
I kept imagining myself in TDH’s place. Then again, if I was in his place, I so would not be showing up on a Friday morning the same day I arrived in town. I sighed resignedly though. Crady would not be swayed and I could read the assignment just as well in her car as I could in the school library.
Crady snorted at me. “I’ll let you know as soon as he gets here. We have to beat the Ticks to him.”
I sighed again. The Ticks, also known as the Deer Run High cheerleaders, were gorgeous, popular and pretty snooty. Crady and I started calling them The Ticks back in middle school when we realized that they would never stop sucking the joy out of life. They would most likely stake their claim as soon as the new kid placed his foot on the parking lot asphalt. I twisted my mouth, unsure how badly I wanted to meet Mr. TDH versus breathing the same air as the Ticks.
I flipped open Wuthering Heights and reread the assignment. I kept imagining Heathcliff. Why did girls go nuts over the dark brooding guys in stories? It seemed like the mysterious silent type would be more trouble than they’re worth. I like my life to be pretty cut and dried.
Ooh, cut and dried. That goes on my mom-list.
I twirled a wave of my brown hair around my fingers while I read, wondering what Mrs. Dietrich would ask on the quiz. Then I heard Crady squeal.
“He’s here! OMG he’s here! And look at that car. What the heck is he driving? Is that a Minivan? Okay, weird choice for a kid, but maybe his dad makes him drive it. At least it’s a cool blue color. Have you ever seen that shade on a Minivan? Oh my heck he’s headed this way!” Crady’s commentary flowed over me like filling up a Coke at a fountain.
I finished the paragraph I was reading and looked up as the car pulled in right beside us.
On my side.
Since I was already looking, I couldn’t very well look away without being totally awkward, so I just went with it. I wasn’t really prepared for what I saw.
Crady’s dad was not too far off the mark. Not by a long shot, in fact. I noticed the boy’s jaw and neck first, and I was struck with the impression of strength and masculinity and determination. What the heck? He was just shifting into park, not wielding a broad sword. His hair was dark brown, the color of molasses, and not quite long enough to need a haircut, but give him another week. It curled just above the white collar of his shirt. His nose was long and beautifully shaped, like some Italian sculpture, and his lips were…perfect. And they opened to reveal even white teeth, clearly enhanced by a stint with an orthodontist in his younger years, I was guessing. And he was looking at me.