Drake and Alec are warriors of opposing armies. They are both deadly, and they are something more than human as descendants of their lines. Better. Drake has strength. Alec has speed.
When they meet, they know only one of them can live.
Unless something happens. Something deep. But if they dare to become allies, they will have two armies hunting them down...
Hello Nifty readers! My name is Albert Nothlit, and I hope you enjoy Winterblade. If you like swords and hot guys, you came to the right place! I got started as a writer by submitting to Nifty, and have since become a professional with several published books under my belt. This story is my free thank-you to all those who encouraged me to pursue my goals, and also to those who may be reading something by me for the first time.
If you like this story and would like to support me, feel free to visit my MLR Press author website listed below. Maybe you'd like to purchase one of my books? Or a dozen?
by Albert Nothlit
The warrior was panting, badly wounded, and enemies were coming at him from all sides. He gripped the heavy battle mace tighter, shifted his footing and grimaced at the searing pain in his side. If he was going to die, he would at least take one more man down with him. He promised himself that. Drake’s mace would yet taste the blood of a final enemy.
Drake blinked away the sweat that dripped down his forehead and his matted hair, stinging his eyes. He was tense, waiting for the enemies he knew were coming. He had only a few seconds to look around and get his bearings. How had he gotten here? He had been forced to back off against the very edge of a cliff, with a deadly drop to the jagged rocks below as his only option for a quicker death. He looked down briefly but had no time to consider jumping. Men were coming out of the trees now, calling his attention back as they closed in on him with weapons held ready. He gritted his teeth and forced himself to stop the involuntary tremors running up his arms from the exhaustion of battle. He tried to take a couple of deep breaths to still the burning in his lungs. His mind was reeling. He felt lightheaded from the lack of blood from his open wounds, and even shivered slightly. Then Drake saw the deadly glint of sunlight on the enemies’ blades as they approached and forced himself to focus. He took half a step back instinctively. He needed more space to fight. His foot felt the edge of the abyss behind him, however, and he knew the time for his last stand had come. His muscles tensed for the final charge.
He hefted the long spiked mace as if it weighed nothing and readied it, eyeing the closest of his attackers, a burly, overconfident man—and he suddenly rushed forward with all the mad strength his last adrenalin rush gave his body. The man saw him coming, even tried to lift his blade and cover the blow, but Drake’s strength was too great. He closed the distance between them in a second and brought his mace down in a terrible, killing arc that broke the sharp blade that had been raise to parry the attack. The mace then crashed into the shoulder of the man and shattered bone and flesh with such force that Drake’s victim was forced down into the ground and hit it with a sharp crack as his legs gave way. He was dead in an instant. Drake yanked his mace out in a splatter of warm blood, looked at the incoming wave of enemies, and hollered his defiance.
The other men stopped for an instant, reevaluating Drake’s deadliness. Behind the wall of tall trees that was the forest, the greater part of the battle raged. Drake could see smoke climbing above the canopy of tall pines from many places and hear the distant sounds of fighting. There were shouts of victorious men, and screams of men in agony. The air rang with the faint clash of metal on metal and even the distant, muffled crash of a felled tree as it hit the ground. Above them all hung the cloudy sky, and the sun, tinged with red, hidden by clouds that were not only water, but also clouds of ash.
The mountain rose above them all, far away and yet so close, so menacing in its rage. It rumbled its terrible fury even as the fight surged all around the battlefield, and Drake could see the jet-black clouds of ash and smoke surrounding the glowing, red-hot cone of the awakened mountain. The ground shook with small, warning tremors, and the mountain seemed to be on the verge of roaring out its name.
The first arrow whizzed by before Drake could react and struck him in the arm holding the mace, an expert shot that went right between the chinks of his armor and sank into the flesh up to the bone. He cried out in pain and dropped the mace, ducking as another deadly arrow flashed past and got lost in the abyss behind him. He tried to evade the next one, but the new projectile slammed against his lower abdomen too soon, making him stagger and punching clean through the leather and into his flesh. Drake doubled over in pain, his vision blurring; the arrows were poisoned, and fast-acting. He hadn’t even seen the archers in the trees. He began to feel his strength ebb away, and one of his arms was now useless. He fumbled with his good arm and managed to grab the mace with his other hand, but he had to take another step back as the men closed in, confident of their victory now, blades held high. Another arrow grazed his cheek and drew blood, but despite the clammy weariness threading its way through his body Drake lifted his good arm with the mace high, not giving up, not yet. His legs were shaking now, threatening to fail him. But he could take out one more. At least one more. He could see his enemies clearly: the other men had death written in their grins as they got within striking distance. They knew he couldn’t escape, and were confident of their kill. Drake didn’t have to wait long before one of them stepped forward and attacked.
Drake felt the bite of the blade against his good arm as he tried a useless parry, but at that instant the mountain truly roared. The earth shook with incredible force in a mad shudder, and everyone was thrown off balance as the volcano raged its fury, its glowing cone half-hidden beneath a heavy blanket of coal-black clouds that suddenly crackled with purple lightning. The sun was completely hidden by a dark ash cloud riding on the cold, swift wind, and then the very ground beneath the fighters broke apart.
Drake cried out involuntarily as he was thrown off backwards by the sudden heaving of the earth, and he went down, falling into the abyss along with a piece of the cliff he had been standing on. The man he had been fighting fell with him, slashing wildly with his blade, but Drake reacted by instinct. He pulled the man to him even as they both fell and forced both the man’s arms down, knocking the blade from his grasp. Drake grinned, gathered the last of his superhuman strength, and crushed the man’s spine in a fatal bear hug. Then the mountain roared again, and both of them slammed into the ground with bone-cracking force.
Drake didn’t lose consciousness with the impact, but he wished he had. A second after hitting the ground he tried to roll away but pain streaked through his body like the lighting flashing above. He could see the sky from here, still faintly hear the distant sounds of battle, and feel the fierce wind as it picked up speed and became a chilling gale. He tried to move, but his body wouldn’t respond. Instead he made himself calm down and tried only to breathe. He could see the shaft of an arrow poking out of his chest, and wondered how it had gotten there. His head swam, and he tried to fight it, to keep breathing, but a few breaths later his grip on consciousness faltered and he finally blacked out.
He woke up again, confused. He saw the ghostly outline of the sun overhead, obscured by the heavy clouds, and saw almost no time at all had passed. As he tried to sit up again, the earth rumbled and shook once more, the gut-wrenching motion followed closely by the thunder booming off the clouds all around him. Rocks began to fall around Drake in the aftershock, and one smashed against his leg. He cried out in pain but could do nothing except hope the earthquake would be over soon, hope the men still above him on the cliff would assume he was dead and give up the chase. He stayed as still as possible, powerless to do anything else, and watched the wrath of the mountain unfold.
The very top of its cone still glowed with a dull red light that could be seen even through the heavy clouds encircling the mountaintop. Something began to fall from the sky around Drake as the earthquake ended and the earth settled down, and at first he thought it was snow. Then he got a closer look at the grey flakes, and saw volcanic ash. Lightning flashed with violence over the mountain some more as the fierce eruption ran its course, but eventually the wind died down bringing with it only silence. Drake stayed still for as long as he could stand it. Then tried sitting up again.
He nearly blacked out from the pain, but he managed to get up. He wavered unsteadily on his feet, his head swimming, and saw the pool of red that had stained the rocks beneath him. He was surprised to see so much blood. He would probably bleed to death very soon, he saw, faster than he could heal. He couldn’t stay there and try to staunch the bleeding. He had to find cover, needed to get away from the cliff wall and those archers with their deadly aim and their poison. He was easy prey there. He had to get moving.
With a last glance at the mangled and broken thing that had been the last man he fought, Drake began to limp away through the falling ash, under the reddish light of the nearly-obscured sun. He could hear more thunder coming from his right, where the mountain towered over him, and he could hear deeper, more threatening rumbles coming from within the earth itself that spoke of more tremors to come soon. The air smelled like brimstone, and Drake left a faint trail of blood behind him with every step. He had to keep moving. He went into a thicket of trees, and began to lean on their trunks for support to push himself along. Just a little bit further. Just over that log, and then he could rest. Just a couple more steps.
When he heard the cry, far behind him, he hardened his heart in defeat. They were coming. They could follow his trail if they wanted to. They could even bring dogs. Drake tried to go faster, but now his armor was weighing him down. He had to take it off. Drake found some strength where he thought he had none and managed to pull off his armor where he could. He yanked off his greaves, shrugged off the shoulder plates. He pulled off the gauntlet that hadn’t been struck by an arrow and even managed to tear off the chest plates around the still-protruding arrow shaft, but not the leather underneath. He left everything where it fell, and half-ran forward, feeling lighter but still hopelessly slow.
He hurried through the trees, stumbling, almost falling twice but managing to pick himself up. The trees began to thin after a while and the ground began to slope down, full of cracks and fallen boulders that the earthquake had dislodged, each one treacherous and reaching out to trip him. A false twilight had fallen as the ash and clouds covered the sun completely and Drake couldn’t see where he was going anymore. Everything was shadows, shapes, and the mad dash of escaping. He felt like he couldn’t breathe anymore, but the urgent, gasping sounds he could hear were still his own. His legs kept dragging him along, but he knew his strength was coming to an end.
When he crashed into another man just as he was jumping over a fallen log, Drake couldn’t even react in time. He plowed straight into him and they both went down with a heavy thump.
The pain from the fall racked Drake’s body, and he realized the arrow shaft in his chest had just been pushed deeper in. He fought a wave of nausea and fought to stay conscious, looking around. The other man was just now rolling onto his side, grimacing with pain too. Drake saw dark red stains on his clothes, almost black in the fading twilight.
He also saw the other man had no armor, no weapon other than a silver-gleaming sword… and by this he knew he was one of the others. The enemy. With a surge of desperation-laced adrenalin, Drake managed to stand up to face the threat.
Drake and the other warrior rose almost at the same time, and Drake’s hand twitched to grab a war mace that wasn’t at his belt anymore. The other man saw the motion and grabbed the hilt of his sword. They looked at each other for a long moment, sizing the other one up. Drake knew he should at least try to take this last enemy down, to figure out a plan, but then he looked into the other man’s eyes—and time stopped.
Drake saw every detail of that young and determined-looking face in the timeless heartbeats that followed. He saw the strong jaw, which showed the tension gathering as the man prepared to fight him. He saw his handsome features, chiseled in sweat-beaded marble. The straight nose and short, fair hair framing his face. But most of all Drake saw the man’s eyes. They were deep, but almost luminous in their intensity, and as he looked into them he found he couldn’t look away.
He had to make a move before the enemy warrior got him, though. This was war. He would go down fighting.
Drake gathered what strength he had left, made a fist and charged. His sledgehammer punch sailed through the air, but it was slow—it missed, completely, and Drake knew he was about to die the second the warrior decided to swing his sword.
Except he didn’t. The momentum of Drake’s punch carried him off to the side, making him trip. He went down on his knees, hard.
Drake looked up expecting to see a blade flash downwards to cleave his neck in two. Instead he saw how the warrior merely looked at him, directly into his eyes. He saw fear there, tiredness, anger. And then the unthinkable happened.
He saw how the man unhanded his sword, slowly, never keeping his eyes off him. He sheathed it and let go of the hilt. They looked at each other with that same intense, probing look for another long moment, and then by a tacit agreement relaxed their stance.
It took every ounce of Drake’s determination to stand up and then lurch forward to take another step, and he only managed it with the other man’s help, who reached quickly forward and steadied him. His head spun, but Drake forced himself not to give in to the nausea, and tried to focus on something else instead. Vaguely, he registered that he was nearly a head taller than the other man. He also saw the man favor one side heavily whenever he tried to move. Drake swallowed, looked ahead and tried to get his bearings, fighting to keep his head clear, but he couldn’t think straight. Night had fallen by then—or was it the ash covering the sun? When had the other man come closer, why was he helping him limp along? All Drake could see was the deep red glow above and to the right, where the mountain was still raging. He tried to take a step in a direction away from the battlefield, motioning for the other guy to follow—and felt both his legs give way as the last of his strength left him. He was unconscious so fast he didn’t even feel it when his body hit the ground.
A new chapter of 'Winterblade' will be published every week!
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