Author’s Note: this passage is unedited, raw material. Some errors may be present.This passage may contain triggers for some. Individuals with sensitivities to ***violence, mentions of rape, and swear words*** should be advised.
Lavine Blackthorn shoved her palms to the sky, a silent prayer to the mother-god on her lips as her soldiers tore through the belly of the earth. Their limbs entangled with one another, sometimes slowing their brothers down as they were borne to the surface in a sea of bodies.
The gathered enemy horde howled in response, crowing atop their stolen horses and sticking pikes to the heavens like they could feast on the sun with them.
Lavine wasn’t supposed to interfere. Hell, she wasn’t even supposed to be here.
She had been brought with the king’s army to observe. Nothing more.
Now that many of their side laid dead around her, it had proven difficult not to do anything.
So, she did the only thing she could. Only, to the raiders, the spectacle was encouragement.
Some of their enemy wore the armor and weapons of dead soldiers from their side. That, she understood. It was a cruel practicality, but a practicality nonetheless.
And then some of the raiders wore articles of clothing from the village that they had been caught plundering. Though nearly all the raiders were adult males, some sported mismatched articles with their armor like tunics made to fit children and dresses.
Lavine pushed her magicked regiment across the plain with more force than before. As her soldier spearheading the attack encountered the first raider, its jaw unhinged to an angle that would have made any living human cry out in agony.
Her fingertips sank deep into her palm. Despite the pain of it and the bleeding wound at her side, a smile twitched across her lips.
The corpse heading her attack sank its teeth deep into the leg of the raider. The rest of her undead regiment crashed into the enemy with just as much ferocity. Lavine remembered seeing one of the raiders in front, his grimy shoulder poking through the neck of an ill-fitting, frilly dress.
She pushed the magic in her harder, forcing it from her body as fast as she could, to the point that physical pain bubbled in her belly.
She made sure one of her corpses grabbed that one, bringing him off his horse and to the ground where Lavine could no longer see him.
She prayed to Arwynna, the mother-goddess, that the horse trampled him.
At the edges of her vision, darkness waited like a patient lover, waiting for her energy to be entirely spent. The abused muscles and tendons pushing and pulling inside her screamed at her to put an end to this. Liquid warmth spread along the inside of her shirt. The wound had opened again.
This was the cost of such magic. Lavine gritted her teeth and forced more energy to leave her body. Parts of her body went numb with pain and magic.
As she looked on, more raiders fell, but too many were left to hack apart her last defense. She felt when each of her thralls left this life again.
It wasn’t going to be enough. She needed to raise more souls.
Where are the reinforcements? Where is the rest of the king’s men?
Under the relentless sun, everything was too bright. There were no shadows to hide the carcasses strewn about her, limbs of horses and soldiers and raiders intermingling. There was no shortage of dead souls for her to raise, here. What was supposed to have been a routine patrol had turned into a bloodbath at the discovery of scavenging raiders.
Sweat ran into her eyes, blurring her vision further. When she blinked it away, Lavine saw a cluster of raiders that had broken past her risen soldiers.
One of them was the raider with the white dress slung across his shoulders. Her heart stuttered in her chest.
Somehow, over the rolling distance between them, he saw her. She supposed she wasn’t hard to see, as the only one standing among the dead.
She was going to die here.
And if she wasn’t, there was a fate worse than that, too. She tried hard not to think whether the raiders would wait until she was lifeless to take her clothes as their sick trophy.
He has to die. No matter if I do, too.
Numbness caused from her magic claimed most of her body by now, but Lavine had just discovered something.
That was the key. She no longer felt the pain raking her insides. The more she used necromancy, the more her signature magic filled her with a hollowness instead of other physical feelings.
Though her outstretched hands trembled, she showed them to the sky. All she needed was enough magic to raise the souls closest to her. A soul or two.
It was then that the darkness dancing in her peripherals burst across her vision like a dark star.
* * *
The first thing Lavine heard was the voices. She kept her breathing even and her lids closed when she heard her surname.
“Blackthorn is just a child. She shouldn’t have been out there.”
“Nothing that can kill thirty men without lifting a sword is a child,” said another voice.
Lavine didn’t breathe. From the sensations around her, she knew she was on a healer’s cot. Likely the rest of their forces had camped to tend to the injured and dead before moving.
The soldier started talking again, this time in a wisely quieter voice. She heard him anyway.
“You remember the Black Death. This one is just like the mother. They all have those same, lifeless eyes when you stare at them.”
Though she didn’t allow her face to twitch or otherwise signal her consciousness, Lavine found the sliver of pain buried in her side that the healers evidently hadn’t been able to extinguish and cradled it. The pain helped her focus.
That’s how it always was–they tried to heal her, a necromancer, but she never felt free of pain after a healing. There was always some small mark within her, some remnant of her wound that would remind her of her nature.
The soldier finished, “Doesn’t help that this one looks exactly like her.”
The other said, “Don’t talk about the Black Death. She’ll rise from the grave to haunt you if you keep talking about her.”
“Don’t be so superstitious, Johan,” said the other, but he didn’t sound entirely convinced of his own skepticism.
The air changed. It felt like the air before a thunderstorm, the delicate state between peace and fury. She felt it in the way it brushed against the side of her exposed cheek.
Something had changed.
“Get up, Blackthorn.”
She had only heard that voice directed at her twice before. With her façade of sleep ripped away, she opened her eyes.
If the soldiers were surprised to find her awake, they did a good job at hiding it. That, or they were too busy staring at their commanding general to care about her anymore.
It was elegance, vandalized.
His face was an oil-paint portrait of a manor’s patriarch, but there was more to it than that. It was as if someone had taken down the painting and scored three bloody, jagged lines in the center of it.
Tiny vines lined his cuffs and the collar of his armor. Swords crossed at his back, sheathed. Though his face was the obvious place to stare, what truly arrested her was his eyes.
It wasn’t that they were an interesting color or shape. It wasn’t that his eyes looked at her with something that she hadn’t seen already in the eyes of court lords and ladies, servants, or her own sister.
No, there was something in his eyes underneath the usual distaste and fear she was accustomed to seeing. She couldn’t name it, but it made the back of her throat prickle.
She tilted her head at him, but she noted that he did not return the greeting.
“You’re coming with me.”
She felt something crawling up her throat. A second later, and she realized it was vomit.
The memory was hard to forget. Lavine had been told to keep with the forces in the rear. It was one of the more defensible positions, she’d been told. Just in the odd case that they came across anything other than villages and grazing cattle.
What she had spent at least a day of their journey trying to puzzle out was how she was supposed to “observe” and “train” as one of the other soldiers when most of them were in the front of the camp. She traveled in the rear with the men who sent out messages on birdwing to any number of other camps identical to this one, patrolling central Noverim like there was something to see here besides grass and piles in it left behind by cows.
That was when she’d realized she hadn’t been meant to observe. Someone along the way had decided that, even though her mother had been a high-ranking specialty officer, the kingdom wasn’t going to have a second female officer in its ranks.
Or, at least one that actually did anything.
It was sometime after this revelation that the “most defensible position” in their camp had been ambushed by the largest swarm of raiders she had ever seen. The attack had started on the rear of their forces. Men whose job it was to send messages to the generals died with pikes poking out through their skulls.
She remembered seeing the trail of smoke from a burnt village, nameless to her and probably erased from the map by the monsters.
She’d been told directly by the troop’s commanders to flee at any sign of trouble. She’d been told, over and over, that raising too many souls at once would kill her. That raising human souls was too risky for a raiser of her experience.
But there’d been little choice for her when she had seen the raiders.
Before the general could wrench her from the cot, Lavine slipped off it, thankful that the healers had kept her in her training tunic and trousers rather than something like a nightgown.
That’s because they wouldn’t put a soldier in a nightgown, even a sixteen-year-old one.
Lavine refused the fear from spreading across her face. Instead, she levelled her chin, tried to ignore the growing suspicion that the men that General La Gora had entered with were there to restrain her, and walked up to him.
The general looked as if the word were an insult.
She stopped herself from saying more.
She wasn’t stupid. She knew the road she was headed down, now. She had disobeyed direct orders.
Even if it had been to save the lives of the men, the soldiers and messengers at the rear of the camp.
As her fears were realized and the men in her periphery converged on either side of her with weapons at her back, she considered that she hadn’t actually saved any lives.
Those men had all died, anyway.
“Walk,” was all he said before he turned and led them all from the healer’s tent.
Author’s Note: Thanks for reading this preview of Heir of Thorns, the prequel to The Crest of Blackthorn series. If you read this sneak peek and enjoyed it, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to say so! The full version is not yet ready, but knowing you’ve read it will help with morale.
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