Today, I bring you 2 new chapters that were not part of the original draft. I would remind you again (as always, I’m sure it gets old, lol, but it bears repeating) that these are unedited, so will certainly contain typos and other mistakes that will not be present in the final version of the book. Enjoy!
In a narrow ravine near the summit of the Spine of the World Mountains, a small semi-permanent community stood as a testament to the hardiness of Graumdor’s people. The huts were mostly composed of mud and straw with a bit of dung thrown in for mortar. At the center of the community a wide pit had been dug into the rocky soil to be used as a fighting arena.
Today, the day of all days, new recruits into the tribe’s military force fought to prove themselves worthy of full entrance into the ranks of soldiery and to be sorted into whatever rank they earn in the battles.
Two hulking men circled one-another in the pit, each wielding a fire-hardened spear of ash. The older of them thrust forward with his weapon but the other dodged to the left. The older man came up with the butt of the spear, slamming it into the younger man’s jaw and blood spurted from the man’s mouth.
Graumdor cringed. Did he truly want to do this? That could be him out there losing teeth in the competition that, in the scheme of things, really didn’t mean anything. Rank could be gained after their service began.
“It isn’t too late to back out of this foolishness,” Mother said from his side.
“Nonsense,” he replied immediately. “I am committed. This is my choice, Mother.”
He knew her feelings on the matter. The life of a warrior was not what she wanted for him. He had tried to walk the path she had chosen for him. He truly did. He just didn’t have it in him to live such a boring life. He needed action. He needed excitement. But more than anything, he craved conquest and battle.
Not that his puny arms were likely to lead him to that, but the musculature would come with training. Wouldn’t it?
Out in the pit, the older man thrust a knee into the other’s face, spurting more blood, then spun and slammed the haft of his spear into the back of the younger man’s head. He fell to the dirt and this time did not rise again.
“Victor!” Cried the Editor as he entered the pit again, then moved forward to raise the arm of the winner.
“Kraudish,” Graumdor growled. “He will be the one to defeat if I want top spot.”
Mother turned to him in horror. “No,” she breathed. “You cannot be serious. Look at the size of him. He will destroy you.”
He chuckled darkly. “Thank you for the vote of confidence, Mother.”
She frowned. “Just trying to be realistic, Son. You should not seek this man out.”
He shrugged. “It isn’t as though I have a choice in who I face. The Editor makes those decisions.”
Mother sighed. “True enough. Let us hope he makes choices that keep you alive.”
Graumdor shook his head in annoyance. Sometimes her lack of faith in his physical abilities was quite insulting. Though he was perfectly aware that he was not exactly the shining example of a burly man whose physique guaranteed a successful military career, he had something none of these other warriors did. He had learned to use his mind. He had studied tactics and strategies that few, if any, of the military were even aware of. Those strategies were what would carry him through to victory.
“Graumdor!” the Editor called. “You shall face Eklindiss. Both of you. Into the pit.” He turned and moved from the pit without waiting to see if the young men were coming to the pit. There was no need. No man of the tribe would shirk his duty and not come to the pit when called.
Shedding his cloak, Graumdor took the provided spear and moved toward the center of the pit. He was not familiar with Eklindiss, but assumed he would find out what sort of man he was being faced against in the first round.
When the other man emerged from the crowd on the other side of the pit, Graumdor struggled to hold in his shock. The Editor couldn’t be serious. How was he supposed to defeat this man?
Eklindiss was about his own height, but the man was built like an ogre. The man’s arms were bigger around than Graumdor’s thighs and his strongly built chest was almost twice as wide as Graumdor’s.
Gritting his teeth, Graumdor cleared his mind and closed his eyes. He needed to focus. He needed to center himself. Calm assessment and planning would see him through this. There was always a way, he only needed to find it.
Opening his eyes, he watched the way the man moved, analyzing him. He moved slowly, though that was probably an affectation. He watched the man’s movements as he took hold of the proffered spear and twirled it in his hands. The big man was confident in his abilities and was skilled with the weapon, that much was clear.
Okay, Graumdor thought. He has to have a weakness of some sort. There has to be a way to defeat him. I just need to find it.
He stepped forward to the starting position and waiting for the hulking man to stop across from him.
Eklindiss flashed a wicked grin. “Quit now while you’re ahead, Scholar,” he twisted the final word as though it were a curse. “No one will think less of you. Just quit. Go back to what you’re good at and leave war to those who have the stomach for it.”
Graumdor clenched his teeth in frustration. The warrior’s words came much too close to mirroring his thoughts for comfort. “Don’t worry,” he said with as much false bravado as he could muster. “I’ll try not to make your defeat too humiliating. It will be bad enough being defeated by me, of course, but I’ll make sure I don’t beat you too badly.”
Eklindiss snarled in fury, but held his position. He turned to the Editor, his lips twisted in fury.
The Editor nodded. “Begin!” he shouted.
Without delay, Eklindiss rose his spear and leaped for Graumdor, a word of fury escaping his lips.
Graumdor stumbled back, his spear flashing first to one side, then the other in desperation. Only just fending off Eklindiss’s attacks, he had no time to analyze the larger man’s attack pattern for weaknesses.
The older man spun around and swung his spear toward Graumdor’s face. He tried to get his spear up in time to deflect the blow-
He looked up from the ground, a line of fire burning in his cheek. Leaping to his feet, he spun to face his opponent once more. The older man gave a wicked smile, his dry, cracking lips dripping blood down his smooth-shaved chin.
“Quit while you can, scholar. The fighting pit is no place for you.”
Graumdor shook his head. “No. This is where I belong. I want combat. I want battle. I want blood.”
Eklindiss’s smile widened and turned savage. “As you wish, Ink hand. Blood you shall have.” Without warning, his spear flashed toward Graumdor’s face again.
Once more, it connected before he could get his spear up to defend. This time, the shaft slammed into the side of his head and he tumbled sideways to the ground.
With a growl and a shake of his head, Graumdor climbed to his feet. Feigning more weakness than he felt, he leaned on his spear, digging its tip into the soft soil beneath his feet.
The older man chuckled. “Are you truly so weak? Even a lowly ink hand should have more strength than you.”
Swallowing his anger, Graumdor kept his face neutral. Perhaps it would seem more natural if he did not, but he could not afford to lose his mind to anger now. His chances of coming out of this alive were exceptionally slim as it was. He backed up a few steps, almost to the limits of the pit before he stopped and raised his spear a hand-width out of the dirt. He spat a mouthful of blood into the dirt and waited for his opponent to come.
Eklindiss shook his head, as though in disbelief, and advanced on Graumdor. “If you truly wish to die, I will grant your wish, whelp.”
Graumdor clenched his teeth to keep himself from hurling furious insults at the larger man. Now was not the time. He wasn’t likely to get more than one chance at this.
The older man leaped at him, bringing his spear down in a deadly arc.
Through the beating of his pulse in his ears, Graumdor no longer heard anything else. The leaping man’s mouth was open wide in a scream that he couldn’t hear. He imagined the crowd around him were likely roaring and jeering at the two of them, but he couldn’t hear that either. The thudding in his ears drowned all of it out.
He struggled to force himself to wait until the last possible moment. The leaping man was several paces above him now with the spear driving down toward him. If it connected, it would impale him. This was it. He held his position for just a moment longer, until he could be certain his adversary would be unable to correct his course.
Now! Graumdor thought as he spun to come around behind his opponent, spinning his spear toward the man’s head.
In an instant which seemed to go on through all the ages of the world, the butt end of the shaft of his spear connected with the back of his opponent’s head with a thunderous crack that resounded in his ears over the thumping of his heart.
Eklindiss pitched forward face-first into the dirt.
Without hesitation, Graumdor leaped forward with his spear in both hands and plunged the weapon deep into the older man’s back. It slid into the thick cords of muscle almost without resistance to well beyond the sharpened point before it hit something solid and the spear stopped.
Graumdor leaned all his weight onto the spear, pushing it deeper. It moved down less than a handspan before stopping again. The fallen man’s body trembled, a foot kicked and his neck twitched, then he stilled. His dark flesh paled to almost white.
Releasing the spear, Graumdor turned to look at his audience. Without exception, shock colored the features of the onlookers. Each and every one of them stood with drooping jaws and wide eyes.
Graumdor spread his arms wide and stared accusingly at each and every one of them. Had they all known how overmatched he was? Did they all know that he was supposed to either give up or die? Did this happen every time? Did they intentionally try to weed out everyone they considered unsuitable for the position?
Rage boiled in his veins. Was this truly what his people had become?
The Editor came forward, but when he reached for Graumdor’s hand he snatched it away, raising his hand in victory himself. He stared accusingly at the Editor and spoke in an undertone. “I know what happened here. You’re going to tell me everything.”
Ignoring him, the Editor moved around the fighting pit announcing Graumdor as the victor.
He gritted his teeth. This was neither the time nor the place, but he was going to find an answer to this. He would not rest until he had answers. If this was truly what his people had become, then he needed to do something about it. Stabbing each other in the back for advancement was one thing, but conspiring to keep those perceived as weak from advancement was not acceptable.
You and I will have words, Editor. Make no mistake.
I hope you’re enjoying these excerpts. Just a reminder that while the book will be available everywhere at release, due to retailer peculiarities it is currently available for pre-order everywhere except Amazon. If you’re interested, you can pre-order at your favorite non-Amazon retailer at: http://books2read.com/calamity1-shadow
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