[SPOILER WARNING! This is an excerpt of chapter 7 of The Fractured Mountains! If you don’t want spoilers don’t read it!]
A bright orange pre-teen with brown hair ran through the field of ice to the farmhouse. “Mommy! Mommy!” She yelled as she ran. “The royal court is passing through the village tomorrow. Can we go? Please?!”
“Adalet, how many times do I need to tell you to wear shoes on the ice? I swear you have a death wish, child.” The ochre skinned woman with bronze hair smiled in spite of herself. “We can go to the village tomorrow if you finish your chores tonight.”
“Thank you mommy. They’re already done though.” Adalet smiled at her mother. “Wanna go tonight and sleep in the inn? Daddy should be there by dark.”
“Goodness child. You did your chores, ran to town, ran back, and you didn’t have shoes on? It’s a wonder you’ve still got feet.”
Adalet and her mother walked into the inn, Ice’s Tooth, at the town of Kriskant. Sitting at a table in the corner was a man with a hood on. He looked over towards the entrance of Ice’s Tooth and smiled. “What are you two doing here?” He threw back his hood to reveal almost translucent white skin and dark brown hair. “I just got here a few minutes ago and was contemplating heading home tonight.”
“Daddy!” Adalet ran over and wrapped her arms around her father’s neck. “What was Nezkidar really like? I’ve heard tales of creatures as big as whole mountain ranges from the other kids in the village. Did you see one? Did you meet any locals? Where any of them hexi-forms?”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa! Child, I can’t answer you if you ask a new question before the old one has even left your lips. Let’s get a room for the night and i’ll tell you all about Nezkidar before we go to sleep.”
The next morning the family of three went outside to see the procession of the royal court of Ertval passing through town. They were traveling to the castle just north of town and the king was at the head of the procession. He addressed the townsfolk.
“Today will be a great day! At noon we shall combine the gems of Yeodiax in the castle of my son, Prince Mirzamir!” The king continued riding through the street lined with cheering peasants. Then he turned as he seemed to remember something. “Also, my cousin lord Grigori Petrovich has asked that Bervond speak with him about his recent trip to Nezkidar.”
Adalet’s dad stepped forward as Grigori Petrovich began to ride by. “M’lord, you wished to speak?” He bowed deeply as he addressed the lord.
“Yes, I see your family is here, let’s go to Ice’s Tooth and speak. Bring your wife and daughter along.” Grigori Petrovich rode towards the inn and dismounted. One of his men tied up the horse and watered it. “Nice to see the same innkeeper is running this place. I guess there isn’t much chance for somebody else to acquire the place anyways.”
Adalet entered the inn along with her mother and father. “Daddy, why does the lord wish to speak with you?”
“He’s the one that sent the expedition to Nezkidar, Adalet. I would’ve expected him to get reports from his men that went along, but he probably just wants my perspective on it.”
The three of them bowed to the lord and continued to stand next to the table, unsure how to proceed.
“Please, sit. It’ll be more comfortable for all of us. So what did you discover about the people in Nezkidar?”
“Well, m’lord, the umm…people, they aren’t human.” Grigori Petrovich nodded at the statement. “Very well, I suppose your men told you that. Well, they don’t have a country system there, they are set up in city-states. All of the ones that we visited didn’t speak in our common tongue, but we were able to learn enough of their language and they ours to communicate on a basic level. The cities we visited seemed willing to set up a trade partnership with you m’lord, but they wouldn’t be much of a help on a military front.”
“None of my men mentioned that. They said that they may be willing to send..men if that term can be used. Though I assumed there would be a catch and I knew that you would be willing to speak freely to me of the position these creatures are in.”
“Well, m’lord, the rumors of large beasts the size of mountains weren’t complete exaggerations. The beasts are more the size of trees, but the ground dies wherever they walk. They call the beasts erdaz. They lose many fighters when they have to drive one of these beasts off of a route towards one of the cities. I fear that a supply of warriors from there would not be consistent, though I know not what you would use them for m’lord so this is only speculation.”
“You don’t think I could find a way to use them?” Grigori Petrovich scratched his chin. “That may not be the case, if they fight those creatures they may be of use to me. Please, speak to no one of what we talked today. Even the king.”
“What are the chances the king would ask me directly m’lord? I cannot disobey the king himself if he asks.”
“If that is the case I should have you killed. This will not get out, your wife will be too afraid to tell, and I’ll be taking your daughter into my service.” Grigori Petrovich stood and nodded to his men. “This is nothing against you personally, but the king must not suspect what I’m intending to do in Nezkidar.” The men with Grigori Petrovich grabbed Bervond by the forearms and pulled him out of town. Two other men grabbed both Adalet and her mother and half dragged half walked them out to watch.
Grigori Petrovich drew the blade from his side and stabbed Bervond through the heart, twisting as he pulled the blade out. He died instantly. “Well, bring Adalet along. We’ll be heading back to my estate to continue to clean up this mess.”
As Adalet saw her father lying on the ground dead and heard the words coming from Grigori Petrovich’s mouth her mother stabbed the hand of the guard holding Adalet and told her to run to the king. “He’ll understand what happened as long as you tell him your father’s name.” She yelled as Adalet ran.
Adalet didn’t turn around so she didn’t see her mother take three guards with her before she succumbed to Grigori Petrovich’s blade. By the time the men were looking for her she was long gone. They did find her shoes next to the inn, but there were no footprints to follow as snow began to fall.
Adalet ran as hard as she could, which was a considerable speed after she left her heavy shoes behind. She was already three-quarters of the way to the prince’s castle when she ran into a wandering man.
“Hold up child. Where are you running off to without shoes? You’ll lose your feet if you keep walking on the ice like that.”
“Oh, the ice never feels cold to me. It’s just warm enough to notice when my feet are bare, but I need to hurry to the king. My father died to the blade of lord Grigori Petrovich and my mother probably will too if she hasn’t already. The king is my only hope for justice.” Then she took off running again towards the castle. The wandering man turned towards the castle and began walking after her.
“Fool of a child. I must help her when she leaves crying.” Then in a different voice he answered himself. “You old soft fool. If we help her she’ll end up being nothing but a burden to us.” In the first voice he said, “well if we don’t help her we may die soon ourselves. We’re getting too old to find food in the tundra.” In the second voice he said, “very well, but no others. We still prefer our solitude, don’t we?” He nodded to himself and started to jog towards the castle. Just as he reached the castle a wave of energy exploded from the castle and he disappeared into his own mind. Body and all, leaving nothing behind.
Adalet was outside when the energy blasted her. She had been hurriedly explaining to the guards outside that she needed an audience the king when the wave of energy dissolved their bodies into dust in front of her eyes. She screamed and the scream echoed across the empty tundra.
Adalet awoke in a room. She looked around and saw the walls of the castle were in ruins. The ceiling was no more, and the snow drifted in on the wind. A few servants from the royal procession were arranged staring or trying not to stare at her. One came to her side when she saw she was awake.
“My dear, were you caught in the blast? Never mind, of course you were. I saw you in the village down the road, didn’t I? You were a teenager earlier, right?” The searching look in her eyes were off putting, but the mention of Adalet’s age caught her attention.
Adalet sat up and noticed that she had a blanket on. Her clothes were in a heap on the floor next to her, torn to pieces as if something had outgrown them from the inside. She lifted the blanket slightly and glanced under it. “So I have…this is really weird.” Her voice sounded odd to her ears. More like her mother’s then she remembered. “Do you have some clothes that I can have?”
“Yes, sorry. Here, you can have free range of the closet. The king’s advisor recommended it.” The servant motioned to the others and they exited the room to give her more privacy.
Adalet was in the main hall shortly. The clothes felt strange to her, but she supposed that was because she was only used to children’s clothes. The king was now nowhere to be seen and his chief advisor was sitting on the throne. The king’s son was also nowhere to be seen.