Flames of Awakening: Faemoch Cycle Book 1

 

Flames

of

Awakening

The Faemoch Cycle

Book One

 

 

 

by

 

Michael Reynolds

 

 

Copyright © 2016 by Michael Reynolds

This book is a work of fiction.
Names, characters, places, and incidents are purely intended to be fictitious.
Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. All
rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted
in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without express written
permission from the author, Michael Reynolds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cover design by

 Cormar
Covers

 

Chapter One

He had many names. In fact, it seemed
that everywhere he went the people called him by something new. But that
happened to be the way he liked it. A name, a real name, is earned, not given.
Having survived the arenas of Paradisia, he was given the name Titus Gladius.
The coastal elves of Chanua call him Miau Xianmo, which means "Slayer of
Unfortunate Dreams." His forest elf father named him Finlavil, and his
human mother called him Jaxius. Since he was residing with the tribesmen of
Nordras and had yet to prove himself, he was called Stranger.

Dawn approached. Anticipation hung in
the air as if crystallized by the frozen tundra winds. A lone figure, Jaxius,
practiced with his blade. The last of the night watch observed his movements
absently. As Jaxius moved through his morning ritual, the camp slowly awoke.
The quiet swish of his cloak and his flowing black hair belied the power behind
the thrusts and slashes of his curved
viortassi
, an elven heavy-blade.

The rhythmic dance of Jaxius' warm-up
was ironically serene, just as the night before had been. There had been no
babies crying, no wives scolding drunken husbands, none of the usual sounds
that dominated most tribal camps in the frozen country of Nordras.

The silence was welcomed. Expected,
even. This camp was different. At the beginning of winter, all the tribes of
the land gathered at the Great Fortress of Nordras to pass the coldest months
of the year. But not this camp, not this tribe.

While the majority of the tundra
clans gathered in warmth and safety, the men of the clan of Dernegart forsook
family and hearth to spread along the borders of Nordras to safeguard the
homeland. This is where our stranger found himself this winter: helping
unfamiliar men protect the borders of a country not his own.

He struggled through his morning
workout. Each swing of his
viortassi
became slightly slower than the one
before it. He was preoccupied. The dreams had come again the night before.

He thrust his blade out and up; a
memory of his dream placed a young man at the end of the blade. He swung around
in a large circle; he was then cutting down scores of men who surrounded him.
Sweat dripped from his face and bare arms, stinging his skin in the freezing
air. He swung his sword overhead in a downward smash that would split a man
from shoulder to thigh but stopped short as a specter of a young woman appeared
in front of him. He knew her to be a figment of his imagination, a remnant of
his dream. But that did not matter.

His grip loosened on his sword, and
it fell weakly to his side. He fell to his knees in the snow, exhausted. Jaxius
had no idea why he had these dreams. They weren't from his life, but he was
always so strongly involved in them that they seemed to be real. But, if they
weren't real, then why was he filled with such emotion over them? And why did
they keep coming back, haunting his days and tormenting his nights? Jaxius
looked out from the hilltop to see the sun rising, ushering in a new day and
scaring away another restless night.

            Jaxius picked up his
viortassi
and joined
the other men at their breakfast of bread crusts and dried sausage. The men
huddled around a campfire, wrapped in furs and blankets. Jaxius scouted a
position amidst them, his bare chest showing the sweat of his morning workout.
At length, he found his place with his traveling companion, Tolian. Tolian
joined with Jaxius in Paradisia and had followed him since, keeping notes of
their journeys. Jaxius had grown to accept and even welcome the upbeat bard.
Tolian shook a curly strand of black hair from his face and handed Jaxius a
hunk of bread and a slice of meat.

 "Dreams again?" Tolian
asked, his voice barely a whisper.

            Jaxius nodded somberly, "They haunt me,
Tolian. And I have no idea why."

 "Eat, Stranger," another
man interrupted in a thick Nordrasian accent. He grinned a large, toothy grin.
Bergar was young, barely a score of years old, and full of energy. His round
nose was long turned a chapped red by wind and cold, much like the rest of his
clansmen. The patches of beard he had managed to grow were little protection to
his cheeks either, so they, too, were a nice girly shade of pink. "You
will need your strength this day. Watching nothing at all happen is taxing
work. Two weeks before midwinter. The harshness of the winter passes soon. Then,
only a short time before you get to see spring in Nordras. And what a
sigh..."

 "Bergar!" a deep bellow
came from the center tent of the camp.

 "Uh oh, father bellows,"
Bergar jumped up and walked to the tent. "Yes, father?"

"Ye know ‘tis important to be
vigilant. ‘Tis because of the fact that we havna seen hide nor hair of the
witches that we are in grave danger," Grundar, son of Hundar, spat.

Grundar was tall and broad. His thick
beard bushed down to his chest. He glared at Bergar with cold, steel gray eyes
as he fitted his bracer to his wrist. "Ye know that. And yet, ye joke and
poke at fate."

"I didn’t tempt fate, father.
This… This… this waiting is boring."

"I told ye how this vigil would
be. This is yer first winter as a man. Ye have spent it with the men of our
clan. There'll be many more winters t' come. Learn t' live with the honor of
yer clan. Ye have no other choice."

"Yes, father," Bergar said.
"I just don't understand."

"Ye will ... one day."
Grundar grabbed his helmet from beside the entrance to his tent. He began to
step out but was intercepted by a scout.

            "Grund... G..." the scout sputtered.

"Out with it," Bergar and
Grundar both said in unison.

            "Raiders," he said, panting.
"About a day's march from here. Southwest."

"See, my boy! Ye see?"
Grundar asked with a wild grin.

Bergar only smiled in response. His
eyes began to burn with the spirit of a warrior. What young Bergar lacked in
experience, he more than made up for in enthusiasm. He was green to battle, but
he had protected the clan's women and children for four years on their journeys
to, and from, the Fortress. Now, it was time for him to see what he was really
protecting them from. Bergar knew that he was ready to fight. As they both
stepped out from the tent, Grundar hoped that his son was right.

Grundar walked to the edge of the
hill where his men had made their camp. Awaiting him was Jaxius, who stood
boldly with his long black hair flowing in the freezing winter wind.

"They come," Grundar said.

"I know," replied Jaxius.
Pointing southwest, into the pearly gray mist of the early morning, "Over
three hundred, moving by foot ... swiftly."

Grundar squinted, looking for any
signs of movement. All his human eyes could pick out was the dark treeline a
dozen or so yards out.

"Curse ye and yer elven
eyes," Grundar joked. "Finally, the men'll see battle and earn their
glory this winter. How long d' we have, ye think?"

"They move with supernatural
swiftness. Maybe a half day. Surely they will arrive before nightfall."

"Witches. I hate witches,"
Grundar shook his head, a quickly suppressed trace of what can best be
described as fear in his eyes.

"Grundar, sir, should I rally
the men?" asked the scout, striding over to join the two men.

Grundar slowly nodded, still staring
out into the mist, and the silently dismissed scout trotted back over the small
hilltop to gather the tribe.

"Well, ye wanted t' make a
difference ..." Grundar said to Jaxius. "Here's yer chance."

The camp burst into life as the few
barbarians still sleeping were roused by the scout's calls to arms.

 

 

 

Chapter Two

Sweat and mud clung to Morgrys' beard
and face. He and his men had marched for nearly a week through the forest
separating their lands from their neighbors in Nordras. Normally the trip from Fylzia's
tower would take nearly three times as long, but Morgrys had the witch's
blessing on this excursion.

He peered over his shoulder at his
head guard. Seeing the crazed anticipation of blood-lust in the other's eyes,
Morgrys could do little more than chuckle to himself. He knew that they would
meet resistance, but Fylzia, his lady and mistress, had promised that this
mission would prove most glorious. She had foretold that he would return
victorious. He had stirred in his men purpose; he had promised them they would
be home before the midwinter feasts. Each of them intended to help him honor
his promise, because if they didn't, their fate at the hands of a witch of
Hawklos was much worse.

Morgrys lowered his head and sprinted
on, knowing he would not tire. The witch's magic would see to that. His
magically augmented vision cut through the fog as if it wasn't even there. He
focused, determined to reach the hilltop he had seen in the vision granted to
him by Fylzia. The hilltop where he would claim victory over the Nordrasian
whelps in the name of Fylzia and all of Hawklos.

 

* * *

 

"Prepare yourself for battle,
Tolian," Jaxius said to his companion. "We meet them before
nightfall."

Tolian grinned and began arming
himself. He slid a number of daggers into his belt, boots, and bracers.
"Oh, what stories I will bring to the world about you."

 "As long as they get the image
of a free and unified world of acceptance, you can tell all the tales you
wish."

            Tolian smirked.
Idealist
, he thought.

            "Stranger," Grundar called. "Come.
Walk wit' me fer a moment."

            When Jaxius caught up with Grundar, the barbarian
put his large, weathered hand on Jaxius' shoulder. "I need t' ask a favor
of ye. If I should fall this night, I want ye t' get Bergar t' safety. He is t'
take me place as head of Dernegart clan, but he can only do that if he
lives."

            Jaxius only nodded in answer.

            "Then all that is left is t' plan our
defense strategy. D' ye have any suggestions?"

"As a matter of fact,"
Jaxius said with a raised eyebrow, "I do."

The two spoke for some time before
setting the roused camp to preparing for the battle to come.

As evening approached the men
gathered around the large central campfire. Grundar stood atop a handy, old
stump to address his waiting warriors.

"Tonight, we fulfill our promise
t' the people of our home. Tonight, we face our lifelong foe. Before the Great
Edict went out ordering all t' Winter Retreat at the Great Fortress, the hordes
of Hawklos invaded year round and took our women, enslaved our children, and
slaughtered our kinsmen. Tonight, we pay the savages back fer their
transgressions. We take from ‘em what they come t' take from us. Let no man go
back t' rest in their demon witches' breasts! Leave not a ONE of ‘em alive!
Tonight, we defend our lives, our families, and our motherland!"

The warriors of the Dernegart clan
shouted a roar of approval, weapons raised.

            "To yer posts!" Grundar commanded.

During the afternoon wait, a trench
had been dug between the hill and the treeline. Jaxius had ordered it filled
with dry brush and timber. The watchful warriors had taken up position between
the trapped trench and the hill. Many of them had torches in hand, waiting
anxiously for the signal from their leaders.

Jaxius waited atop the mound,
gripping his shield in one hand and his spear in the other, his heavy-blade
strapped to his back. His eyes, though not as keen as a true elf's, could
pierce the darkness much deeper than any of the humans. He scanned the hushed
forest for movement. He knew the enemies were close, and he knew they would try
to hide until the last moment. Jaxius inhaled one deep, cleansing breath. He
could almost smell the invaders. Closing his eyes briefly, the moment froze. In
that instant, he knew where every snowflake around him fell. He knew every
sound and every sensation for what it was. In that moment, Fylzia's raiders
were betrayed. A solitary snap of a tree limb pulled him out of his trance.

"Ready!" he yelled.
"Ignite!"

At his signal, the torchbearers
thrust their torches into the trench, setting ablaze the timbers and kindling
laid out. The logs, now dancing with flames, jutted out at all angles. This
fiery trap would not deter the coming horde for long. But, perhaps, long
enough.

The invaders burst forth from the
forest. Upon reaching the trench, they paused, gripping their weapons. Morgrys,
among his men, looked back at the forest for just a second. A screech rattled
the tall evergreen trees. A phantom woman with wild eyes and frayed, crackling
hair flew out from amongst the tree tops. Mangled teeth showed in her
unnaturally gaping maw. A preternatural scream issued forth from her throat
that moved across the ground like an icy wind, extinguishing the flames in the
trenches. The phantasm flew straight to the top of the defended hill and
dissipated.

"Attack!" Morgrys yelled,
and the invaders obeyed.

The first score or so of the invaders
leaped as far as they could into the trench, but to no avail. Their effort
earned them only the snapping and crunching of bones and branches as they
landed short of the far bank. But their misfortune was the fortune of their
comrades who callously leaped onto the fallen men's backs to make a second
leap, to the inside bank.

As they climbed the mound of
displaced dirt, they were met at the top with a frenzy of steel. Blade and
hammer struck home again and again on the invaders, but they kept coming. The
raiders acted as if possessed, caring not for their own pain. They were
ruthlessly cut down by the Nordrasians, but the horde's advances began to take
a toll on the defending men. Cuts and slashes began to bleed among the ranks of
the Nordrasians, slowing them.

"Hold your positions!"
Jaxius called as he entered the battle in his position next to Bergar.

Bergar's thick young muscles,
hardened by games of strength and practice with his maul, twisted and tensed as
he heaved the giant hammer in great arcing blows. Raining down punishment on
the invading swarm, his hammer crushed skull after skull.

Jaxius joined Bergar's attack, shield
raised and spear poised. He deflected the first blow, pushing it wide and
opening the invader's torso for a swift thrust of his spear. His attacker
crumpled to the ground, vainly clutching what was left of his gut. Jaxius'
defenses closed as quickly as they had opened. He poised himself for another
attack. The next assailant seemed to have taken note of his compatriot's fate.
He slowed and began to circle cautiously around Jaxius. He adjusted his grip on
the two broad-headed axes he held. Finally, when it seemed he was ready to burst
from so much tension, the invader leaped forward, swinging his weapon.

Jaxius blocked the first axe blow
with his shield. The second swing from the wild-eyed attacker came wide to
Jaxius' spear side. Spinning to that side, Jaxius thrust out his shield,
catching the head of the barbarian's axe with the hammered metal rim, ripping
the deadly weapon from the attacker's hand. He continued his circle, bringing
about his spear to slash across the barbarian's exposed face. He settled back
into his defensive stance and brought his shield to bear again. The barbarian
sidestepped and came again, trying to circumvent Jaxius' defenses, but Jaxius
had foreseen this and swung his shield out, batting away the blow while also
bringing his boot up to meet the attacker's nose. His spear arm immediately
snapped out, plunging the spear tip into the barbarian's throat.

A hammer crashed into the spear from
his left side, snapping the spearhead off into the crumpling barbarian. As
Jaxius followed the shaft of the hammer up to the visage of its wielder, he
immediately reacted with a shield slam to this new foe's face, knocking his
attacker off balance. The half-elf spun around, snatched up the shattered spear
and drove the broken wooden shaft into the undefended shoulder of the hammer
wielder. Before his barbaric attacker could react, Jaxius let loose a snap kick
to the man's chest, knocking him back into the makeshift spiked trench.

Thankful for an uninterrupted breath,
Jaxius turned to survey the battlefield. The Nordrasians had done quite well.
Although initially outnumbered, they seemed to have evened the numbers quite a
bit since the battle began.

Tolian, composer of epics and witness
of history, chose a much less direct route for his involvement in the battle.
He hung back a ways up the hill, surveying the battle as it unfolded. The bard 
didn't fear the fight; he simply thought his vantage point provided a clearer
view of this history in the making.

Bergar, son of Grundar, fought with
the ferocity of five men. He knew he had to prove to his kinsmen that he would
make a worthy leader and protector. His hammer struck home time and again, and,
with each crunch of metal hammer on bone, he felt stronger, bolder. A grin
started to show at the corners of Bergar's mouth. He was feeling the battle
lust for which his clan was so well known. He spun about with the fullest power
his torso could muster, men crumpling on the end of his maul. He heard a thud
behind him, turned, and saw his own incipient demise.

A raider, both hands raised high
overhead, readied a killing blow with his axe. Bergar, in that instant, cursed
his zeal and youthful ignorance. He had left his back open and now would pay
the ultimate price for his momentary lapse. The barbarian slammed his axe down
but faltered as a shield slammed edge first into his temple. It was Jaxius'
shield. The attentive stranger had saved Bergar's life. Blinded by blood and
pain, the enemy axe-wielder stumbled to the side. This was all the opening
Bergar needed to bring his maul around and snap the man's exposed back.

Grundar, filled with battle rage,
cleaved his way through the enemy ranks. His two huge axes swung wildly but
purposefully, tearing head from shoulder. The mighty clan chieftain left a path
of mangled bodies in his wake, as he eyed his goal from across the battlefield.
He knew that the greatest glory would come from cutting down their leader. The
large battle crazed invader locked eyes with Grundar from across the trench.
The two men started toward each other. The raider jumped, landed on a burning
log just large enough for his booted feet, and leaped again. Grundar and the
invader crashed into each other mid-air, spiraling down to the bank. Each
settled his footing and they began to trade swings and parries with their axes.
Each man scored several minor cuts on the other. Never before had Grundar met
his match in battle, and he aimed to keep that distinction. The raider tipped
his axe down and lunged forward, spraying dirt and bloodied snow into Grundar's
face. Grundar sneered, having seen that trick one too many times to be duped.
His axe struck home, just below the big barbarian's left shoulder. The man's
arm fell to the ground as he turned and fled. Grundar did not understand how a
man could still be moving after a blow like that, but the brute was.

Jaxius drew his elven blade and spun
to face his closest threat, cutting that one down with ease. The expertly
crafted blade sang as it whirled through the air, slicing through armor, bone,
and even other weapons. The half-elf became a whirling frenzy of death. He, for
just a moment, lost himself in the bloodshed. He felt what the others around
him felt, the overwhelming power and awful beauty of battle. He spun about just
in time to see young Bergar collapse to the ground. The true leader of the
onslaught stood over the fallen boy.

Morgrys, witch's pet and master of
the horde, grabbed Bergar and threw the boy's limp body over one shoulder. With
two powerful jumps, he was back across the trench and headed toward the forest.
He put a curved  horn to his lips and let out a single long, loud blast; the
horn dropped back to his chest, dangling from the leather thong around his
neck. Immediately all the remaining raiders moved for the woods. Some were cut
down in their retreat by the Nordrasians, but many made it to the forest line
and their freedom. They fled with the same magical speed with which they had
arrived.

Hearing the horn blast, Grundar
turned to see Bergar's limp body disappearing into the woods and cried out,
"Bergar! Me son!" He reached out, grasping for his stolen son, and
his legs buckled weakly beneath him. He fell to his knees, tears stinging the
edges of his eyes.

"We'll get him back,"
Jaxius assured the clan chieftain, reaching out a hand to help the
grief-stricken man up the hill. "Come, let us prepare. We leave within the
hour."

"No! We leave now," Grundar
argued.

"If you go now, your son is lost
to you, as is your homeland. They could be baiting you to follow, only to cut
you down when you enter the woods," Tolian reasoned from higher up the
hill. His clothes seemed relatively unstained by the blood of the battle.

"Spoken like a true
coward!" Grundar spat.

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