Excerpt from chapter 1
Syllay: The Boulder in the Stream
“What shall we do with them?” asked one voice, strong and hard, with a thick accent, heavy and sharp.
“The girl is mine,” said another, his voice shaking and cold.
“You can hardly stand, you fool,” said the first. “Eat first; take her later when you have the strength.”
“And the boy?” said a third. “He killed Darren, and I say we gut him here and leave him for those coyotes that have been following us.”
“We need him to show us the way out of this place,” again the first. Syllay moved down the tree a little further, waiting for them all to reveal themselves.
“I tell you Meckler, I want her now,” said the shaking voice.
The first responded again, “Then take her if you can, only do it elsewhere. I have no stomach for such things.”
“But those coyotes!”
“I don’t want to hear it, you little sneak-thief. We’ve been wandering around here for nine days because of your maps, and if it weren’t for Darren’s nose, we never would have found these two. Now shut your rat mouth and eat. That deer leg will be gone soon.”
Syllay saw a big man cut some meat off the deer leg that was spit over the fire. There was some commotion to the side and he was joined by what she thought was the small shaking one. From out of view she heard a punch and a kick.
“Enough!” said the big man, Meckler, over his shoulder. “Come eat; those punches wouldn’t fell a drunken whore.”
There was a moan from the opposite side of the encampment that Syllay knew to be Hennah. The little shaking man got up and walked towards that side. Syllay heard a slap, and then a slight whimper, and a punch. Syllay was reminded of her run-in with “The Traveler” and the courage of Ethard. She removed the pack from her back and hung it softly on a branch. She cleared her mind.
“Why hasn’t this one screamed, Meckler?” asked the little man. “They always scream!”
“Because she has something you’ll never understand, Ratty,” the third man responded.
“What’s that, you skinny little shit?” said Ratty. Syllay heard metal unsheathing; by the sound it was a sword of medium size.
“Pride, you disgusting rodent,” was the reply, along with the sound of two small blades being drawn.
“Drop your weapons,” snarled Meckler. “As much as I hate the lot of you, we need each other to get out of this. Now both of you come and eat.”
The blades hit the ground, and Syllay could wait no longer. Behind her head, something fell out of the pack and hit the earth. She cursed silently.
“No,” this was a fourth voice, from the opposite end of the small camp from Syllay. She was glad she had waited. “Pick them up and come to the fire.”
Now the big man at the fire was joined by two others, but the fourth stayed out of sight. Syllay waited for another sound from the fourth one before striking. There it was, a bow being bent, just loud enough over the crackle of the fire for her to hear. She leapt out of her tree over the heads of the three men by the fire. She half-flipped once, as an arrow whizzed by her thigh. Feet first, she followed the path of the arrow down to the figure already pulling back a second shot. It would never loose. Her legs came down hard; the left kicked the bow away, the right landed on the shoulder of the figure, her momentum driving him to the ground on his back. She landed in a crouch on him, her knee dug into his chest, knocking the air from his lungs, and she used the impact to bring her hand down, slicing across his throat, severing both arteries. Using the bounce of the impact, she leapt again into the trees. One of four outsiders was nearly dead, and Syllay was hidden from view again all faster than half a heartbeat in one blurred motion.
The other men started yelling something about a mountain lion; panic was in their voices, as Meckler approached the gurgling body of the fourth man. She landed on the ground, watching them from the darkness.
Meckler tried to maintain control.
“Stay here! She must come to us, you idiot. Just keep your sword up, and she will not be able to catch you off guard.”
“That was a woman?” screeched Ratty.
“You hear me out there, coward!” taunted Meckler in the direction she had gone. “Come and face us!”
“I can’t—look at what it did to—forget it,” stuttered Ratty, and he took off running. Syllay reacted silently, and, leaping into the trees, she pursued him.
Halfway around the encampment she caught up. Syllay landed in front of Ratty as Meckler was still yelling for him to come back. Ratty screamed, and swung wildly at her. She was half a head taller than he was, yet she easily ducked the swing. Her counterstrike nearly severed his arm at the elbow, and the sword tumbled to the forest floor. He dropped to his knees, screaming and holding his limp, mangled limb in his good hand. She leaned towards him and slid her hand into his thin blond hair slowly, his own blood from her claws smearing across his forehead. He screamed again as she made a fist with her hand, scraping off scalp and hair with her fingernails. She yanked his head back and leaned in towards his face; he stopped screaming.
“Tell me,” she whispered. “Why do you scream?”
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