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
When Drake awoke the light was dull and gray, just like the sky. It was raining ash outside, soft tan and black flakes that fell to the ground and stayed there for a little while before being swept away by the wind. His head felt heavy and he discovered he barely had the strength to turn it when he tried to look around. He was in some sort of cave. A dark domed ceiling stretched out over his head and went back into the darkness of the depths beyond. Jagged stalactites hung from it, and from somewhere behind him he could hear the drip, drip of water falling. Drake shivered. There was a fire near him, but it had almost gone out and the wind coming from the mouth of the cave was cold. From far off, he heard more ominous rumbling noises that told him the mountain was still raging. He had no way to know how much time had passed.
He tried to sit up but his body exploded in pain. It was so bad he cried out, and surrendered to the wave of weakness that swept past him and rendered him helpless. He didn’t try to move again. Instead he took stock of his surroundings, noticing the empty bedroll on the other side of the fire, the fact that someone had draped a bearskin cloak over him, and the emptiness of the cave. He was alone, but he hadn’t been alone for long. Drake closed his eyes, trying to remember what had happened. The earthquake came back to him, and the hits from the arrows. He could feel where each had struck him even now: a dull, burning sensation in his chest, his right arm and lower abdomen. His mouth felt dry, and he realized he was incredibly thirsty.
How had he lived through all that? He had been sure he was about to die; he had only been postponing the inevitable by trying to find a place to hide. And the man… it came back to him now, too. He had stumbled into him at the very end, one of the enemy warriors. He must have carried him here. He had even taken the arrows out. Why hadn’t the man killed him, or left him to die? Drake had to close his eyes. It was hard to think, and his head throbbed with every heartbeat.
Outside, the sky rumbled a more threatening note in answer to the mountain’s tremors, and suddenly it was raining. The raindrops plopped down heavily at first, raising a lot of dust and ash, but it was soon raining so hard that the ash began to be washed away in the downpour. More thunder followed, and a few flashes of lightning, and from time to time the deep growl of the mountain itself. Drake felt himself beginning to drift off. He wanted to crawl out of the cave and drink some water from the falling rain, but he just couldn’t find the strength to move. Soon his mind began to drift, and he thought he saw a figure approaching the cave mouth as he fell back asleep.
“Here, drink this,” a deep voice said.
“Come on, you need to eat something,” the voice insisted.
“Uh…” Drake opened his eyes and winced at the bright light of the fire. He had a brain-splitting headache and his tongue felt as if it were made of cotton. Then he saw the man sitting next to him, holding a bowl in one of his hands. It was full of steaming liquid.
“It’s meat broth,” the man said. “Come on.”
Drake opened his mouth a little, and the man eased the bowl next to his lips. He drank the thick, savory broth; slowly at first, then a bit more quickly as he felt the welcome warmth spreading down his throat and into his belly.
“Take it easy,” the man said. “There’s plenty more if you want.”
Drake tried to nod, and instantly regretted it. His head pounded even harder. “Thanks,” he managed to say between gulps. He drank all the hot broth as quickly as he could.
The man put the bowl away. Outside it was night, and the rain was still falling down in a loud and never-stopping cascade. It was colder than earlier, but the fire was warm. Drake felt better now that he had eaten something. He fought the urge to fall back asleep and tried to stay awake.
“I finally found some antidote vials,” the man said. Drake tried to focus but his face was a blur; only his bright, warm eyes registered in Drake’s mind. “The poison in the arrows is what’s keeping you from healing. You should begin to feel better soon.”
Drake’s eyes closed. He heard the man stand up quietly, trying not to make noise to disturb him. Drake opened his eyes a crack and said hoarsely, “I’m Drake.”
The man turned around and smiled. “Alec.”
It was early morning when Drake finally awoke again. He blinked in the faint light of the graying sky—and realized most of the pain was gone.
He couldn’t believe it at first. Gingerly, he sat up in the cave, trying not to make a lot of noise and wincing slightly when a sharp stab in his chest reminded him he was not yet fully healed. He felt stronger, though, and he sat up all the way with ease. He raised his right arm so he could see where the arrow had pierced it, and saw to his great satisfaction that the wound was already closed. A faint scar remained, and the arm felt slightly stiff, but he was well on his way to full recovery. A grin crossed his face.
Drake felt movement to his left, back where the other man had been sleeping, and saw Alec was already awake, sitting with his back against the wall of the cave. He was looking at him silently, half-hidden by the shadows. Drake’s first instinct was to tense up for a fight. He had never been this close to an enemy warrior before. He could tell by the way Alec was sitting that he, too, was ready to spring if Drake so much as hinted an attack. A deadly-looking silver sword was lying at Alec’s feet within easy reaching distance. He didn’t look like he wanted to use it, though, and Drake forced himself to relax just a bit. He didn’t want to do anything stupid.
“Why did you help me?” Drake asked, his voice hoarse. He realized he was still thirsty.
Alec just looked at him, sizing him up. He seemed to come to a conclusion, picked up his sword slowly and put it away.
“You could have just left me there,” Drake pressed. “Or finished me off.”
Alec met his eyes, and nodded slowly. “Yes, I suppose I could have.”
“Then why didn’t you?”
Alec thought about it. Then he shrugged. “I don’t know.”
He sounded sincere, and Drake wanted to believe him. He was alive, after all—he would give him the benefit of the doubt at least.
Slowly, Drake got up to test his balance, and was pleased to see he was able to do it. He still felt slightly weak, but nothing like last night. He cracked his knuckles. It was good to be alive.
He turned around to look at Alec, and realized for the first time that Alec’s left arm was set in an improvised sling that had been dyed maroon with dried blood stains. The arm had been set with a couple of straight branches so it wouldn’t move, but the wound looked bad.
Alec caught his eye. “Broken arm,” he said. “One of yours threw me off a tree.”
“Is it bad?” Drake asked.
“No, it was a clean break. It should heal well. I can even move the arm a bit if I have to. And I made the sling yesterday while I was waiting the rain out.”
Suddenly Drake realized something. He was much stronger already, nearly healed, and the other guy had a broken arm—a complete disadvantage.
“I could kill you now,” he said, almost to himself. But he was looking at Alec as he said it.
Alec stiffened. “Yes.”
Drake stood motionless for a second, confused. Normally the bloodlust would have already kicked in with an enemy warrior this close. But it hadn’t come; not now or the day before, he wasn’t feeling it at all. All he got was a strange but not unpleasant sensation when he looked at Alec, like a little kick in the pit of his stomach. And Alec had spared him during the fight, when he had missed that last desperate punch. Drake shook his head, trying to shake the confusing thoughts away.
“I won’t kill you,” Drake admitted, and as the words left his mouth he could hear the truth in them.
“Why not?” Alec asked. “It’s what Hunters do.”
“Yes,” Drake agreed. “But this time I won’t.”
He sat down heavily on the opposite end of the cave so the fire would be between them. Drake tried to make sense of his feelings but didn’t succeed. The silence stretched out and neither of them spoke, each of them lost in thought, until Alec stirred.
“The day I brought you here I thought about leaving you, and rejoining the battle,” he said.
Drake didn’t reply, but his eyes acknowledged Alec’s words.
“Even with my broken arm I thought I could make it back. I went as far as the edge of the forest, but when I got there I saw no one. No discarded weapons, no corpses even. Only the signs of the battle remained.”
Drake nodded slowly. “Then that means we lost.”
He had known it even before he had been surrounded at the edge of that cliff. His men were all dead, and the enemy was too strong. Alec’s words only confirmed his suspicions.
Alec nodded too. “The battle was fierce. I saw many men go down even as we descended upon your forces. That armor you wear is a powerful thing.”
Drake shifted his position slightly. The pain of the arrow wounds was a sharp jab in his middle and his chest. “Apparently not powerful enough.”
They felt silent again, each lost in his memories of the battle. Drake remembered the first charge, and then the warriors rushing forward as one, mad with bloodlust and eager to tear the enemy to shreds. The song of the blades as they clashed filled his ears, and the shouts of men: shouts of anger, roars of triumph, and screams of agony all became one, a dissonant song that could only be heard in the thick of battle. But that had been at the beginning. Then the tide of battle had shifted.
“You look even stronger up close,” Alec said eventually. “I had never seen observed of you for so long. You look so massive… yet you move very fast.”
Drake flexed his biceps subconsciously. “I snapped the spine of the last man to come after me,” he said. “Using only my arms.”
Alec nodded knowingly. “The Hunter who threw me off the tree used brute force to bring it down. It was a grown pine, thick in the trunk, but when he leaned on it and pushed it gave way with a crack. Suddenly I was falling.”
Drake grinned, thinking whether he could have torn down a tree. He had never done it, but now he would have to try it sometime.
“You must be very fast with that blade,” Drake said instead. He showed Alec his left arm: there was a long raised scar on his forearm, running from the crook of his elbow all the way up to his wrist. “This was done by one of your warriors when he swung his sword at me. I never even saw the blade coming. If the ground had not shaken at that moment to throw us both off the cliff, I would have lost the arm.”
Alec nodded. “But you didn’t. You survived. When we do get in range of an enemy, he usually doesn’t live to tell it.”
“I have been in many fights,” Drake explained. “I have learned your weaknesses, as well as your strengths.”
“You fought Guardians before?” Alec said.
Drake nodded. “At the ancient ruins, once. And once again in the mountain wastes.”
“Our two greatest defeats.”
“Yes. Days of glory for me, and my men.”
“This was my first real battle,” Alec admitted. “I think… I think I panicked when I saw my arm was broken. I should have kept on fighting, but all I could think of was to run away. And then you showed up out of nowhere, knocking me down; I thought I was dead for sure. I should have reacted. I should have ki—”
“You should have killed me,” Drake finished for him. “I would have done it, if I had been in your place.”
“You can kill me now,” Alec reminded him. “I wouldn’t be able to stop you.”
Drake shook his head and made a decision that went against everything he had been taught. “I will not kill you. I owe you my life.”
“That has never stopped your kind before. They don’t understand compassion, or fairness. Only blood. You say you owe me your life, yet it’s your nature to want to finish me off.”
Drake thought about it. “It’s true,” he said finally, “of most of us. But to me, a debt matters. I said I would not kill you. I will keep my word.”
“That is something I never thought I would hear from a Hunter.”
Drake grinned. “Nor are you likely to hear again.”
Outside the day was growing lighter, and Drake stared thoughtfully at the trees he could see from the mouth of the cave. After a while he stood up. He was feeling restless.
“Your people will come this way in a few days,” he told Alec. “They will want to check for survivors, and kill any stragglers to secure their victory. The defeat we suffered was too great. I cannot expect help or reinforcements to come, and I am cut off from our base camp by your forces.”
“What will you do?” Alec asked.
Drake shrugged. “I have nothing to return to. Our homes are most likely gone by now, our camp nothing but ashes. I will not run, if that is what you were thinking. I will stand my ground. I will stay here, and kill as many as I can when they come for me.”
“You will die, then.”
“Yes. But I will die fighting.”
Silence followed Drake’s statement. Eventually he heard Alec getting closer, and soon both of them were standing at the mouth of the cave, looking out in the cold morning wind. For some reason he could not explain, he did not mind Alec standing so close. It was almost reassuring, in a way.
“What now?” Alec asked at last. “What’s the plan?”
Drake’s stomach rumbled. “There’s no plan. But now, we eat.”
They left the cave together, and Drake marveled at the change last night’s furious rain had worked on the landscape. The ash was all but gone, the only remnants collected in patches of dirty, congealed mud around some rocks and the trunks of some trees. He could not see any gray on the branches of the deep green pine trees that grew on the slopes of the hill they stood on, though, and the air smelled clean. Drake looked briefly back to see where their cave was. It was set on a rocky ridge of the terrain, with a good view of the surrounding landscape. A sheer rock wall rose above it. He turned back and examined his surroundings. It was hard to see very far out in any direction from the mouth of the cave; the trees grew too thickly and were too tall. It was all a maze of trunks and branches everywhere he looked.
Drake could see the mountain, too, off to the left between the trees. It was smoking, but not very much anymore. A long plume of grey ash stretched out like a cloud from the scorched peak, carried away by the wind in another direction. No ash lingered in the sky nearby and the terrible dark clouds of the day of the battle were gone. The sky was a clear, sharp blue; the air was cold but crisp. Drake breathed in deeply, enjoying the scenery, just happy to be alive.
“We should hunt a deer,” he said as he went into the trees. He was hungry enough to eat one by himself.
“We won’t find any,” Alec answered. He walked by his side, barely making a sound as he moved. “The battle and the mountain scared the herds away. I tried to find some game yesterday while you were resting, but couldn’t find anything. All I did was get wet. I practically stumbled on a rabbit on the way back, but that was it. Our best chance at hunting now is something small, like another rabbit.”
Drake nodded. “We should find a stream then. After all that ash, animals will have to go there to get a drink of clean water.”
“I know of a small river nearby. It’s where I have been getting our water. It’s not too far away.”
“Lead the way.”
A new chapter of 'Winterblade' will be published every week!
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