Another quick excerpt from the next volume of Graylands.
This time, we catch up on Katrina facing an awkward reunion with an old ally….
The smell of blood and fire was overwhelming. She could hear screams echoing all around her.
Rasul Kader had exploited her past and manipulated her with the intention of selling her to Jacob Daredin. The mad sorcerer sought to sacrifice her, believing her death would make him a god. Unfortunately for Kader and Daredin, their manipulations unleashed a fury she’d kept hidden since her people died. She left destruction in her wake, gladly slaughtering Daredin’s followers before taking her time on Kader himself. In her anger, she allowed a dragon to be reborn.
She was standing in a narrow corridor filled with smoke, and at the far end, a figure emerged. He stood like an implacable juggernaut, unfazed by the carnage and chaos around him. His thick body was riddled with scars and burns, and his skin was a rotting shade of gray. Sickly strands of light hair hung from his balding scalp. His ragged black clothes were stained and filthy. In one gloved hand, he held a length of jagged metal, dripping with blood and meat.
She took a step forward, and so did he. She raised her sword—the black-bladed sabre, also dripping with blood—and he raised his own blade as well. She lowered the sabre, and he lowered his weapon. She took another step, and he did, too.
The Enforcer stared at her, his face hidden beneath his black mask. The eyes revealed nothing but empty darkness. She felt his gaze, and though it chilled her to her core, she couldn’t look away. There was something there—something she couldn’t place. A familiarity. A kinship.
She wanted to ask, Who are you? But the only word that came out was, “Why?”
The Enforcer tilted his head in seeming curiosity. He then removed his mask, and suddenly Katrina Lamont was staring at herself.
It wasn’t the first time she’d had this nightmare. She bolted upright, cold with sweat. It was dark, wherever she was, and in the corner of her eye, she saw a shadow in the shape of a person. For a second, she thought it was the Enforcer and instinctively grasped for her sword that wasn’t there.
“I was certainly not prepared for today,” the shape said.
Her head pounding and stomach tumbling, she regained her bearings and took in where she was: the floor of a small, darkened cell. There was a cot, but she had either missed it or fell off sometime during the night. The cell door was open, allowing some hint of morning light inside the dingy brown room, but that was blocked by the woman standing in the doorway.
“Wha…?” Katrina croaked, her throat dry and aching. “What happened? Where am I?”
“I sometimes imagined what it would be like meeting you again, Princess,” said the woman. “I wondered what the circumstances would be and how I would respond to seeing you again.” She paused and shook her head, and though Katrina couldn’t see her face in the dark with her blurred vision, she could tell she was disappointed. “I definitely didn’t expect this.”
“I don’t—” She rubbed her eyes and cleared her throat. “What happened? What is this?”
The woman sighed, extending her hand. “Come along, Princess. I suppose we have things that need discussing.”
“Who are you?”
“Gareth,” she said. “Nora Gareth. I served you against Armand Tyrell.”
Katrina froze and looked at the woman standing before her. Gareth was short and stout with a round stomach and silver hair. She tried to say something, but only stared into the old woman’s eyes. She didn’t recognize her, but was stunned all the same. After all these years, a fellow Vigorian—alive and before her.
“I … I …”
“Come,” she said, her wrinkled face giving away no emotion.
She accepted her hand and was pulled to her feet, only to almost fall back down to the floor. Gareth helped her regain her balance and led her outside. She was apparently in jail, and as she walked through the building, Lester’s local militia greeted her with looks ranging from anger to fear. When she saw the Sheriff holding her sabre, she felt the urge to vomit.
“I don’t exactly feel comfortable giving this back.”
“I’ll handle it, Sheriff,” said Gareth. She took the sabre and added, “There won’t be another incident, I assure you.”
The Sheriff wouldn’t take his eyes off Katrina, and had she not felt so sick and confused, she might have apologized for whatever she did. She flinched upon stepping outside into the bright daylight—feeling as though a thousand needles shot into her brain through her eyes.
She was led around the corner where her horse was tied to a hitching post and looking no happier to see her. When they stopped, Gareth glared at her with a look that reminded her of being scolded by a teacher.
“You,” said Katrina, tugging at her hair. “You served with me against Tyrell? I’m sorry, I … I’m trying to remember.”
“Don’t concern yourself,” Gareth said. “I was a medic. We never spoke directly.”
She held up the sabre and frowned. “I recognize this metal,” she said. “It’s from the Dark Lands. I’m not sure I want to know how you got it.”
Katrina took the sword and sat on the hitching post. “What happened last night?”
“You were drunk,” she said.
“I guessed that.”
“You got so drunk you attacked a man in the saloon. I don’t know what started it, but apparently half the militia had to be called in to calm you down.”
A chill went through her blood, as if someone walked over her grave. “I didn’t kill anyone, did I?”
“Thankfully, no,” Gareth said, sighing. “Fortunately for them—and you—I happened to be closing my shop when it happened. When I recognized you, I stepped in.”
“You talked me down?”
“No. I got your attention, and the militia was able to subdue you.” She paused and scratched behind her ear. “Even that was something of an ordeal. I suppose I should commend you on remaining a formidable fighter, Princess.”
Katrina hung her head, embarrassed and disgusted with herself. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t … this was not what I wanted.”
“What did you want?” Gareth asked. “Why are you here?”
“I, uh,” she began, clearing her throat. “A few months ago, a man came to me named Rasul Kader. He told me … well, he wanted to sell me to some sorcerer.” She paused, coughing and wishing her flask wasn’t empty. Gareth was about to speak, but she continued, “It doesn’t matter. The point is Kader told me there were other survivors from Vigor in Graylands.”
“And this was news to you?” Gareth asked.
“I thought everyone was dead.”
“Did you even look?”
The words stung, as did her tone. “I didn’t—” She hesitated, and a spark of anger formed. “What was I supposed to do?” She paused again, and Gareth didn’t react. “I did everything I was supposed to do! How could I have known? How was I supposed to know there were other survivors?!”
The old woman only stared and said nothing. Katrina’s headache throbbed as the spark turned to something more.
“How can you stand there and judge me? You think I wanted this to happen? You think I wanted everyone to die?! I didn’t make that damn prophecy! I never asked to … to …”
Gareth still didn’t react. Her face was unimpressed, as if she expected no more from her. “Thank you, Princess. I’m glad you came all this way to berate me. Now, with that out of the way, I have important things to do.”
She tapped her forehead and walked away.
All at once, Katrina felt as though a lump had formed in her throat. Her vision lost its focus, and with that, came a feeling she was about to fall into some deep pit. “Wait!” she called out, barely hearing her own voice. “D-don’t … I didn’t … please …”
She trailed off, feeling like she couldn’t breathe. Her sabre dropped to the ground, and she stumbled. The world started to spin all around her, and she felt as though her head would split in two or her body would crumble to pieces. Her heart thudded in her chest, and her stomach was tumbling.
Gareth stopped, and her expression shifted to concern. “Princess?” she said. “Are you all…?”
Katrina’s breathing was erratic. Without realizing it, she was pulling at her own hair and muttering, “Please … please … I can’t … I don’t … please …”
“Katrina!” Gareth snapped. “Breathe!”
She didn’t hear her. She sank to her knees, and as if a dam had been broken, she burst into uncontrollable sobbing. Her hands were pressed against her face, and she cried and trembled.
Between her breathless bawling, she managed to choke out, “… please … help me …”
Expect The Jinxed Pirate in January.
And if you haven’t, check out Graylands vol. I, The Ghost Princess
The Jinxed Pirate is now available
Graylands ©2016 by M. Walsh