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 two warriors followed a game trail down the slope of the hill, and Drake soon saw the river ahead. As they got nearer to the water both of them began to walk more slowly, making as little noise as possible. They did not want to disturb any animals that might be nearby.
Their stealth was soon rewarded.
“There,” Alec whispered, pointing at a spot up the riverbank. Drake looked, but he could see nothing at first. He squinted and finally spotted a tiny speck of brown by the water.
“What’s that?” he asked softly. It was too far away for him to see.
“Porcupine,” Alec said. “I think. This should be an easy kill.”
They edged forward, more quickly now that they knew it was a porcupine they were after. The small animals were practically helpless and their quills did little to protect them from a blade or even a thrown rock.
Drake signaled Alec to move over to the left and he headed to the right, closer to the river. He picked up a smooth rock as he edged forward and saw Alec draw his blade. Drake had to smile. The poor porcupine wouldn’t stand a chance.
He was almost within range when there was a sudden loud splash behind him, by the river, and Drake whirled around. He didn’t see anything but the ripples in the water and the sleek shape of a fish swimming quickly upstream. Salmon.
“Damn it!” Alec yelled. The porcupine had heard the splash and was waddling away, spooked. Drake hurled his stone at him anyway but the animal was too far ahead. The stone fell short and the porcupine was soon lost in the undergrowth.
“Bad luck,” Drake said when Alec caught up to him. “But it gave me an idea.”
“What?” Alec asked.
“There are salmon in the river. I just saw one go by, the one that jumped out.”
“Really? I thought it was too late in the season for salmon.”
“Look for yourself,” Drake said, motioning to the swiftly moving waters of the river. Another dark shape could be seen swimming upstream, and it was soon lost in the deeper waters near the middle of the river.
“How will we catch one?” Alec asked. “We don’t have a harpoon with us.”
“You have that sword.”
“Oh, no. I am not using it to catch fish. The sword is far too valuable to just throw it in the water and lose it.”
Drake grinned. “I can catch salmon with my bare hands.”
“How? Grabbing for them like a bear?”
“You just have to be quick enough.”
“Really. Then show me, Drake.”
“Watch and learn.”
Drake sat down on a flat, sun-warmed rock near the river and took off his boots. Then he stuck a foot in the water to test it—it was cold. Shrugging, he stripped naked. He didn’t want to get any of his clothes wet if he could help it. He pulled off his pants, shirt and his heavy iron belt, the only thing he had somehow kept from his armor. He took off his underclothes last and stashed them with the rest. Once his clothes were on a pile in the ground, he stretched, smiling at how the scars of the arrow wounds hurt even less now. The sun felt good on his skin. It was still a couple of hours short of noon but the sunlight was warm.
He felt Alec’s gaze on him and turned to look at the other man. He saw Alec’s eyes move up and down his body, lingering near his middle section. When Alec saw Drake looking, though, he quickly looked away.
“What?” Drake asked.
“I was just thinking it’s amazing,” he answered, looking out at the river.
“The way you heal,” Alec explained.
Alec turned back to look at him at pointed at his lower abdomen, where the arrow had struck, a little to the right and below his belly button. The circular wound could be seen clearly, bordered by the dark, short hair that ran up to Drake’s belly button. Even the scab had fallen off, and all that was left of the wound was a pale pink patch of new skin.
Alec got closer to Drake as he spoke. “I knew your people healed fast, but I never thought it would be like this. Especially not after the poisoned arrows. After I gave you the antidote, I could practically see the wounds closing. It was incredible.”
“Normally I do heal fast. But when we met I was almost dead,” Drake said. “I would have died if you hadn’t found that antidote. The poison had something in it that prevented me from healing normally. I could feel it.”
Alec nodded, now just a couple steps away. He was still looking at the wounds with interest. “Our scientists designed the nanodrones we used for that. All our weapons were coated with a thin film of them before the battle started. They figured it would cripple your forces very quickly.”
Drake nodded, remembering how the members of his squad had dropped like flies when the battle was joined. It hadn’t seemed normal to him, and now he knew why. “Looks like they were right.”
“You fought it, though,” Alec said. He gestured toward Drake’s arm. “I saw Hunters fall after just one arrow, and you had been hit by three and were still walking. I have never seen anything like it. Can I…?” Alec reached out tentatively.
Drake held still and Alec touched the wound very carefully. His touch was warm, and he was near enough that Drake caught his scent. He smelled like pine needles after a rain.
“It looks good,” Alec pronounced. “But the one that had me worried was the chest wound. I still don’t know how the arrow shaft didn’t puncture a lung when it came in. It went clean through you, but now it’s almost fully healed.”
He reached out to touch Drake’s hairy chest. Drake tried to stand still again, but when Alec’s fingertips brushed his pecs he felt himself beginning to stiffen with arousal and turned hurriedly away, bumping Alec back in the process.
“Got to catch the salmon,” he said gruffly, and waded straight into the river. The icy water took care of his racing pulse, and he welcomed the feel of the river surging around his legs as he waded in up to his waist.
“Can I help?” Alec asked, standing awkwardly by the river’s edge.
“Build a fire if you can,” Drake said, his eyes on the water. “I don’t want to have to wait until we get back to the cave to eat. Or to get dry.”
Drake stood perfectly still, both hands hovering a hairsbreadth over the surface of the water. He saw some smaller fish swimming to his left, in the deeper waters of the river, but the current was too strong there and the waters too deep for him to stand. As it was, with only his legs submerged in the cold water, his teeth were already beginning to chatter.
He heard the sounds of Alec building a fire and even smelled the wafting smoke before he caught his first glimpse of a salmon. It was swimming alone upriver, which confirmed Alec’s comment that it was too late in the season for them, but one was enough. Slowly, ever so slowly, Drake inched to deeper waters so he would be right in the salmon’s path.
The numbing water was up past his hips when Drake stopped. He controlled his shivering with an effort of will and tensed every muscle. He had seen bears do this often enough, and the salmon looked tired. It couldn’t be that hard.
The fish swam until it was an arm’s length away, and then it started to go around Drake, toward his right and the shallower waters of the shore. That was what Drake had been waiting for. His hands shot down in an explosive motion and he plunged his arms into the water on either side of the fish. He felt its cold scales with his hands, and in the same powerful motion brought his arms back up again along with water, a strand of algae, and the suddenly flailing fish.
“Yes!” Alec cried when he saw the silver-and-red shape flying in the air. He rushed forward to the very edge of the water, but the fish landed short.
Drake saw that, and lunged for the shallower water. The salmon was trying to right itself, but Drake plowed into it along with a small wave of water and knocked it further away onto the smooth white rocks of the riverside. The splash he made was gigantic.
“Hey!” Alec protested when the icy water fell all over him and he was drenched from the waist down in an instant. Even so, he had his sword in hand and skewered the salmon in a single agile motion before it could flip-flop back into the water, and the fish stopped struggling. It was over as quickly as it had begun.
“Nice one,” Drake said appreciatively, walking out of the water, although the salmon he had caught was on the small side. “Did you get the fire started?”
Alec nodded in the direction of the fire he had built a few steps away. It was not big, but it would do. He had even set a stick over the flames, supported by two forked branches, to roast the fish on. “Over there.”
He handed Drake the dead fish. Drake took it and headed for the fire. Alec sheathed his sword and walked to the river.
“Where are you going?” Drake asked as he laid the fish aside. He got his pants from the pile and put them on, then rummaged around the pockets until he found his short knife.
“I’m all wet now, thanks to you. Might as well try and get a fish myself. A single salmon will not be enough for the two of us anyway. It’s too small.”
Alec took his left arm out of the sling first, carefully, and put the sling on a rock. Then he started to take his sword belt off and dropped it nearby as well using only one hand.
“Okay,” Drake said. “I’ll gut this fish and get it started.”
Alec nodded, his back to Drake. He was facing the water and trying to see if any salmon were nearby while he undressed. Drake began to gut the fish with absentminded motions, feeling the warmth of the growing fire on his back. His eyes were on Alec all the time.
Alec had spiky, chestnut-colored hair, the sides buzzed short and blending into a darker shade by his ears, where the shadow of his stubble began. His face was briefly hidden when he slipped his shirt out over his head, and then he tossed it away in the pile exposing his lean but powerful-looking back. Drake saw most muscles etched clearly against the well-tanned skin. Alec was strong and lithe, and he had the body of a runner. He wore a pendant of some kind around his neck, a long, serrated tooth of some animal that rested between his well-defined pecs. When he turned around briefly to look at the fire and at him, Drake got another look at those intelligent dark green eyes, the sharp-looking jaw, and the shadow of a beard on Alec’s face. They looked at each other for a second and then Alec looked away. He took off his already-wet pants with his good hand and his underclothes went next. He arranged everything on a rock and then started out into the river, sword in hand.
Drake was done cleaning his fish, and he set it over the fire to roast. The savory smell of cooking meat hit his nostrils almost immediately, and he was glad Alec was going to try and get another fish. He was so hungry he could finish one by himself. Especially a small salmon like the one he was cooking.
Drake looked back at Alec, who was poised to strike standing deep in the water. He kept his wounded arm out of the freezing cold and held his long, thin sword ready, pointing at an angle into the river, not moving a muscle. Only his eyes followed the motions of the water and the small fish that swam by.
Suddenly Alec struck. It was a fluid motion of lightning-fast strength that barely made a splash as his sword entered the water, then took in out in a corkscrew, and hurled a big fish back out over the river in a wide, calculated arc that brought it sailing right onto Drake’s feet. Drake looked at the flip-flopping, badly wounded salmon, and then back at Alec, impressed.
“I thought you said you didn’t want to use your sword to fish,” he called loudly.
Alec was wading out of the river, grinning. “You were so slow catching yours that I had to show you how it’s done.”
Drake shook his head. “That was a coincidence. Beginner’s luck. There is no way you could have tossed that fish that way on purpose.”
“Right,” Alec said. “You keep telling yourself that.”
Drake grinned, then caught himself. What was he doing? This was an enemy he was befriending. It wasn’t right. There was war between them, and there had been for as long as anyone could remember. To actually speak to a Guardian, to refrain from killing him on sight, was unthinkable. It was… it should be bothering him more, but for some reason it didn’t. Nor did it feel wrong.
Drake grabbed the struggling fish and began to gut it with a vengeance. He was confused and he didn’t like it. But he did like being with Alec. He looked up, caught the other man’s eye, and Alec smiled. Drake felt that sensation again, that little kick in his gut and a flash of warmth. He had to smile back.
“You cook those fish while I dry my clothes,” Alec said. He walked over to the wide, flat rock by the riverside and sat down carefully. He reached for his shirt and stretched it out so the sun would dry it. Then he did the same with his pants and finally lay down on the rock himself, stretching out so the sun would dry his skin more quickly. He was shivering a little from the cold water but the warm sunlight soon took care of that.
Drake tried not to stare but he couldn’t help it. He was glad he had put his pants back on, so his arousal wouldn’t show. He tried to focus on cleaning the fish quickly instead, and by the time the second salmon was roasting along with the first one he could stand up again without tenting his pants.
He walked casually to where Alec was lying down, one arm crossed over his eyes, basking in the sun. Alec was stark naked but for the splint around his arm, and Drake’s eyes swept slowly over the beautiful young man, from his spiky fair hair, all wet now from the river, down to the smooth cleft right below his Adam’s apple, past his hard and well-defined abs and down to the inviting penis resting between his balls, nestled in a patch of fair and curly pubic hair. A single vein ran up its shaft, standing in sharp relief in the sunlight. Drake swallowed, his throat suddenly dry. It wasn’t until he saw Alec’s arm moving slightly that he realized Alec had been looking at him all the time he had been staring. Drake felt his face go red.
Alec grinned. “Those fish done yet?”
“Uh… no. No, they’re still cooking.”
“Why don’t you lie down?” Alec said, edging to the left so Drake would have some space.
Drake hesitated for just a split second. “Okay, sure.”
He stretched out on the sun-warmed rock next to Alec and sighed. “Nice.”
“Yes,” Alec agreed. “Particularly after the icy river water. I usually don’t mind the cold, but I didn’t want my splint to get all wet.”
Drake turned his head to the right to look at Alec and crossed his good arm behind his head. “How is your arm?”
“Better, I think. I heal at normal speed though, so it will be a few weeks before I can use it again. As long as I don’t move it too much it will be fine. When we get back I plan on setting it properly, with a proper cast. That should allow me to walk fast or even run without jarring it, and it will keep the bones lined up.”
“That’s good to hear.”
Drake couldn’t think of anything else to say, so they just lay there in silence, listening to the river nearby, and smelling the tantalizing aroma of roasted salmon. Drake kept an eye on the smoke from time to time and checked it wouldn’t rise too high and give their position away. The sunlight felt warm on his skin, and since he was still a little weak from before, Drake began to feel sleepy. Without really meaning to, he closed his eyes.
He woke up immediately; saw the sun had moved. An hour, almost, or more. What had happened?
“Drake!” Alec whispered again.
Drake sat up, saw Alec standing by the remains of the fire, wearing all his clothes once more. He had his sword in hand, his back to him, and at first Drake was confused.
Then he saw the pack of wolves come out of the trees.
They were only three, but the beasts were big; grey-and-white coats, powerful shoulders, and menacing jaws bared as they advanced on Alec and the fish. Drake could count the ribs on each of them and saw they were nearly starved out. That explained why they were even thinking on taking out the man so they could get to the fish. As they padded forward on silent, wide paws, they fanned out so two would approach Alec from the sides and one from right in front.
Drake scrambled onto his feet, but his sudden motion snapped the tension in the pack. With a snarl, all three charged.
Drake was too far away to help. He was still getting up when he saw the lead wolf leap towards Alec, jaws slavering and growling like hell itself. He was going for the throat. The other two wolves surrounded Alec in a heartbeat, and both made lunges at his legs with those razor-sharp teeth.
What happened next was almost too fast for Drake to follow. In a single, whip-like motion, Alec dropped into a fighting stance and struck the lead wolf with his sword so fast that the animal didn’t even cry out before it thumped to the ground with its throat slit. Alec whirled, jumped away from the other two, and dropped to a low crouch. The big male wolf on his right snarled and attacked, jaws snapping. Alec hit him with the flat of his sword and landed a solid twack on the wolf’s skull with such force that Drake held bone crack. Then Alec rolled to the side, keeping his wounded arm clear off the ground, and missed the flash of deadly teeth from the third wolf by barely an instant.
Alec crouched again, holding his sword out across his chest with his arms ready, and stayed unmoving, his eyes slits, his muscles tense and ready to spring. Seeing him move was like watching a lynx stalking its prey. He was liquid, deadly grace.
The second wolf tried another lunge, but it was stunned from the earlier hit and his jump was slow. Alec whipped his sword around to meet it and the air cracked from the force and speed with which he did it. He hit the wolf again with the flat of his blade, and the animal fell down screaming, twitching in the ground, and suddenly there was a choking sound, and the wolf lay still. That left only one.
The last wolf was the oldest-looking of the pack, and it was wary. It kept its distance from Alec, and began circling him, somehow knowing that Alec was injured and wanting to get behind him. Alec tried to turn around to face the wolf, but he moved his wounded arm by mistake and he winced. At that instant, the wolf attacked.
It was beautiful. The wolf raced around and jumped at Alec from behind his back, a blur of grey fur and a ferocious growl. Alec didn’t turn around and Drake was sure he would get bitten—but at the last second, when the wolf was still in midair, Alec stood up and simultaneously whirled around in a full circle driving an air-splitting slash with his sword. When the blade cut the wolf, the animal howled with sudden shock and pain, and the force of the impact hurled it to the side with the sword driven right through its midsection. It had been nearly cut in half.
The wolf whimpered a final time when it fell, then it twitched and lay still. Alec yanked his sword from its bloody fur and wiped it on his pants.
Drake raced to where the other man was standing.
“Alec! That—are you—” he didn’t even know what to say.
When Alec raised his eyes from his kills to look at him, it was like seeing a different person. He had a hard, determined glare that made even Drake want to back off instinctively. This was the face of the warrior he was seeing, the hard-set eyes of a deadly fighter. With the bloody sword in hand and the dead wolves all around him, Drake was suddenly grateful he didn’t have to fight Alec, and glad he had not tried to attack him at all back in the cave. Drake was strong, much stronger than Alec, but Alec’s speed was blinding and his skill with that sword was unreal. If it came to it, Drake was not sure who would win out in a fight. He suspected it would be very bloody, and very close.
Then Alec smiled, celebrating his kills, and his face was transformed into the heart-melting grin Drake knew. He reached a hand to Drake’s shoulder to steady himself, and Drake welcomed the warm touch.
“Ha!” Alec yelled. “I win, you filthy bastards!”
Drake clapped him on the shoulder. “That was a fine display. I can see why you were made warrior.”
Alec grinned even wider. “Coming from you, that’s something indeed. But it wasn’t such a big deal. The wolves were half-starved. Desperate. They were reckless and it made the fight much easier.”
Drake shook his head. “No. You won it fairly. You have great skill with your sword.”
They looked at each other awkwardly for a second. Alec made as if to move closer, then thought better of it and walked away instead, securing his left arm back into the sling. “Are you hungry now? Because after having to fight so hard for our fish, I’m starving.”
They ate the fish by the river, and Drake had never had a better meal in his life. Sharing it with Alec made it even better, and he was surprised to feel that the wary reticence he’d still had around Alec had completely disappeared. He smiled to himself between mouthfuls when he realized that he trusted the other warrior. He had a new respect for him now that he had seen him fight, and it made him feel good. He did not owe his life to some weakling; he owed it to the kindness of a deadly, capable man.
“That was really good,” Alec said, tossing the last of the fish bones into the river when they were done eating.
“Yes,” Drake agreed. “The meal after a fight always tastes best.”
“You would know,” Alec said, leaning back and looking at Drake with a smile. “Those battles you said you fought in, they must have been something.”
Drake nodded. “I remember the first time I went into battle. I was so eager to kill something that I practically jumped ahead before we were ordered to charge. The rush of speed, the thrill of barely dodging a sword blade—it was incredible.”
“Did you have any close calls?” Alec asked.
“Once. We were attacking uphill and didn’t see the ambush until it was too late. There were suddenly enemies on all sides, too far away from us to attack and pelting us with arrows and even rocks. I saw two men go down as I charged the nearest bowman, but I didn’t stop—I ran faster. I felt the arrows clattering against my armor and when I got to the bowman I grabbed him, broke his neck, then used him as a shield. The enemy cornered me then and focused their fire on me all the same time, but the dead man was cover enough. I got all of the bowmen, one at a time, inching closer with my human shield. The last one I grabbed by the leg as he was running away to escape, and hurled him downhill to his death. I took out five Guardians singlehandedly that day before our reinforcements came in. That was the day I was made commander, and the day I got this Brand.”
He showed Alec his right arm, the part that was uninjured. Five claw-like marks had been branded onto his skin, then treated so the burns would heal with a black coloration like a tattoo.
Alec took Drake’s arm in his hands and passed his fingers over the Brand, feeling the sharp relief of the scars. “Wow,” he said. “Five kills. No wonder you look so intimidating.”
Alec pointed at Drake. “Come on, haven’t you seen yourself in a mirror? Built like a mountain like you are, with that mean frown you get when you’re thinking… I wouldn’t want to imagine you in armor, charging me with a hammer.”
“A mace,” Drake said. “I use a spiked mace.”
Alec grinned. “Ouch. Like I said, thankfully I don’t have to fight you.”
“I agree,” Drake said sincerely. An awkward silence followed.
“Um… should we get going?” Alec asked finally.
“Let’s stay here for a while longer. We don’t have anything else to do.”
“Okay, sure. Just no more fishing.”
They were content to lie in silence for a long while. Drake enjoyed the warmth of the sun and felt pleasantly relaxed. He knew Alec was lying nearby, and the thought was comforting. Drake had never before let his guard down with such ease, or to such a degree, and it was liberating. He felt as if he could set aside a nagging worry at the back of his mind that he hadn’t even known was there. Without meaning to, he smiled. He couldn’t help it.
“Do you think they found it?” Alec asked him some time later.
“The Winterblade. Do you think they found it?”
Drake shrugged. “All I know is my side didn’t find it, not before you Guardians were all over us.”
“At the war council they told us only a Hunter can find its hiding place,” Alec commented.
“That’s what the legends say, but who knows? We did look, though. We combed the southern part of the forest thoroughly and found nothing. We were just about to extend our search to these parts when the battle began.”
“We were just in time, then. I’m glad the Hunters didn’t find it. If they had…”
“The battle would have been a different story,” Drake finished for him. “With the most powerful weapon ever forged on our side, even Guardian technology wouldn’t have stood a chance.”
“We would have been slaughtered,” Alec said, his voice low. “Every one of us. And the cities of men would have followed.”
“Yes,” Drake said, not even bothering to deny it. “The Hunters would have seen the world burned down, and bathed in blood.”
“Other Guardians will probably be looking for it now that the Hunters have finally lost,” Alec said. “They will be searching the entire area, looking for energy spikes or any sign that points to the resting place of the Winterblade.”
“And they will be searching for Hunter stragglers to kill them, too,” Drake added.
Alec’s voice sounded worried. “What if they come here, Drake? What if they find us?”
Us. The use of the pronoun was not lost on Drake.
“We can deal with that when it happens.”
Alec was silent for a bit, thinking over what they had just said. Finally he said, “I don’t know if it would be any better if Guardians found it.”
“The Winterblade?” Drake asked.
“Yes. I mean, they would use it for good, but it would be good as Guardians understand it.”
“And what is that?”
“No tolerance for evil in any shape. They would eradicate every single Hunter still alive. It would be genocide.”
Drake thought about that. His entire kind, gone from the world. He couldn’t really visualize it.
“Hunters survived the Winterblade once,” he said. “Or at least that’s how the legend goes. That’s why we sealed it away so only we could find it. If we survived it once, we can do it again.”
“Maybe,” Alec said. He didn’t sound very convinced. “But now we also have technology on our side.”
“It’s not our problem anymore, Alec. At least not for now. You shouldn’t worry about things you can’t change.”
Alec sighed. “Yes. I suppose you’re right.”
They lapsed back into silence, but now Drake was no longer feeling peaceful and content. Alec had reminded him of the gulf that stretched between them, just because of who they were, of which side they had fought on. It reminded Drake that the peace he had found here would be very short-lived. And at the end there would surely be battle.
They got back to the cave by sundown. Drake was walking a little behind Alec, trying to sort out his emotions. He didn’t know what to do about them, or even know how he was really feeling. The threat of the enemy warriors he knew were coming soon just made everything more complicated. He had lost too much time to run away from them now, even if he had wanted to, and he knew he didn’t want to run away from the fight like a coward. He had said as much to Alec—there was nothing to go back to, his men were all dead and the war was probably lost for good. The Winterblade’s fate didn’t concern him. But what would he do when the other Guardians came? Would he have to kill them as Alec watched? Would Alec even let him do that, or would he side with them? Alec might be forced to attack him too, even if he didn’t want to. Then Drake might have to turn on him.
He really hoped it would not come to that.
Drake kicked a rock. Why was everything so complicated all of a sudden?
His mind was still a jumble of confused thoughts when they lay down for the night on opposite ends of a small fire. It wasn’t cold out, and the fire made it balmy inside the cave. Drake knew Alec was awake, and that he probably wanted to talk to him, but he didn’t encourage it. There were many things going on inside his head. He kept turning over all the alternatives in his mind, from leaving now and making a run for it to staying and fighting like he’d planned, but all the roads led nowhere; he was a dead man no matter how he played it. Eventually, after hours of staring at the flickering flames without really seeing them, Drake realized he was very tired. He sighed, and decided to leave the problem for later. Then he surrendered to sleep.
A new chapter of 'Winterblade' will be published every week!
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