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.
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by Albert Nothlit
It was five weeks before Alec could slip away from the main forward camp, unseen in the middle of the night. He took very few things with him: his sword, his first-aid kit set, his bow and quiver, some food. His medal he left in his bunker, along with the ornately wrought dagger with which he had been presented at the ceremony of promotion. It marked him as a sub-Captain and a war hero, but he didn’t want it. He was never coming back.
As he slipped out, Alec kept wrestling with the hope that Drake was okay and also with worry in case he wasn’t. It had taken much cunning and a great deal of storytelling to convince the Guardians that the part of the forest Drake was hiding in had been completely covered by Alec’s own patrolling, with no sign of the Winterblade. He couldn’t let any more Guardians go near the cave, and he stuck to his story of having been patrolling the area on his own before Drake sprang on him. He also assured them the area had been clean of any Hunters other than Drake and the one deserter Drake had killed; since he was a hero, everyone believed Alec’s words. The forest on that side was not searched again. That, at least, gave Drake a chance—if he was still alive.
The war council had taken a long time to decide to move on, and Alec had been forced to attend all the meetings due to his new rank as sub-Captain. This was the first night he had to himself, and he was going to seize the opportunity to get away before another meeting was called. The Guardians had been constantly meeting since they received reports of cities being attacked near and far every day, and nobody knew how that was possible. The main Hunter force had been obliterated in the battle of the mountain, and the few surviving warriors had been hunted down and executed. Nobody knew what to do, or who was attacking the cities. Was it more Hunters, previously unknown? Or if not, what was this new threat?
There was also the matter of the secrecy the Circle of Three exercised at the end of every meeting, summoning this or that Captain for a private audience. Everybody knew it was because of some matter concerning the search for the mighty Winterblade of legend, but everybody pretended not to notice how fruitless each secret conversation was. The weapon just would not be found. It eluded them, and it appeared to mean to stay hidden.
Alec shook his head, clearing his thoughts. That was none of his business anymore. He was leaving for good, and the only thing in his mind was Drake.
His arm was healed already and as good as new, so Alec moved swiftly and silently through the files of tents where other Guardians slept oblivious to the fleeting shadow he was. Soon he reached the camp’s perimeter, and vaulted over the spikes with ease. Then he was out.
He walked softly on the new snow, trying to make no sound. They could still catch him here.
Alec froze immediately. He hadn’t seen the other Guardian lounging against the wooden palisade. Now it was too late to pretend he not was going out and obviously escaping. Grimly, Alec readied himself for battle, turning around as slowly and calmly as he could.
The other Guardian nodded in greeting and walked up to Alec furtively. First Alec thought Michael was going to attack, that he’d guessed correctly that Alec meant to leave for good, but the other Guardian didn’t do anything of the sort. Instead, he spoke to him confidentially, voice low.
“I knew they were still sending people out to look for it. I knew it!”
“What?” Alec blurted. His eyes darted everywhere, but there were no other Guardians in sight. If needed, Alec could just knock Michael out and leave. It would be noisy, though.
“Oh, right,” Michael said, winking. “It’s a top-secret mission and you can’t discuss it with anyone. The Circle must have sworn you to secrecy or something like that. Maybe they gave you some special device to locate the energy signature? I’ve heard the scientists just finished building one.”
Alec didn’t say anything. He was so agitated that he didn’t understand anything Michael was saying. He briefly considered the fact that Michael was drunk, but he seemed to be perfectly sober.
“They asked me two nights ago, you know,” Michael confided. “I told them I’d scoured the area like they ordered me to. Then they got a little impatient, and they asked me more specifically. They wanted to know if I’d read any energy spikes in the region, the usual, but they revealed some other details about the Winterblade’s location. Turns out it might not be in this forest after all. They hinted that the legends that point here may refer to something else when they say the path to the Winterblade hides in this forest. They are doubting their interpretation now; it’s been weeks of searching and still nothing. Then they asked me yet again if I was positive all the Hunters in the area were dead.”
“They asked me that, too,” Alec said absently, his mind racing. He needed to leave, now.
“Then you know the Circle fears the Hunters have already found it. They are getting really impatient. That’s where you’re going, right? They’re sending you out to try and find the Winterblade on your own. A special mission to cover up for the fact that they have failed miserably thus far.”
“Don’t worry, you don’t have to tell me anything if you swore not to divulge the details. The Circle is desperate to get it, or at least to prevent the Hunters from getting it, and I can understand why. A weapon that powerful would mean that even the ragtag group of Hunters that are left could fight us again, and probably win. After all, they say only a Hunter can find the thing. I wonder if it’s true.”
“You’re right,” Alec said.
“About the weapon?”
“About the oath,” Alec said quickly. “I’m sorry, Michael. I have to go. I can’t tell you where I’m going, and please don’t tell anyone you saw me leave.”
Michael winked again. “Not a problem. I never saw you.”
“Thank you,” Alec said, feeling guilty at the lie. Before Drake, he had never lied to another Guardian before, and it still stung.
But Drake was far more important than that. Leaving Michael by the camp’s perimeter, Alec began to run. His mind quickly dismissed Michael’s wild theories and instead Alec wondered, for the millionth time, whether Drake was okay. He replayed the fight against him in his mind. Had his sword cut too deep? He knew Drake could heal quickly, but he also knew he had almost cut his head off. He felt sick, disgusted with himself. Maybe he had really cut too deep, maybe Hunters could only heal from flesh wounds, not a severed spine. Maybe he was already dead, killed by Alec’s own hand.
The thought chilled him to the bone, but he kept on going. There was no going back now.
It began to snow as Alec ran through the trees, so he draped his cloak around him tighter and picked up the pace. Trees rushed past him, and he leapt over rocks and roots he could only barely see under the pale light of the moon overhead. The world was shadows and icy stillness. Alec was the only thing that moved in all that crouching maze of darkness.
Soon he began to breathe more heavily, but he didn’t stop. They might have realized he was gone by then. They might come for him, and try him for desertion. He couldn’t let that happen before he reached the waterfall again. He had to find out for sure.
He ran for hours, his pace the tireless stride of the wolf. The moon climbed over the heavens and then began to dip back down. The sky grayed with dawn, and still Alec ran. When he heard the waterfall, at long last, the light snow of earlier had begun to fall more thickly, making a pristine white carpet by the river, untouched by any tracks.
Alec crossed the river by leaping on the slippery, half-frozen stones at the mouth of the waterfall and finally landed on the other side drenched in sweat. Panting, his breath misting around him in the pale light of incoming dawn, he looked around.
“Drake?” he called, softly at first. He was afraid. He couldn’t see the body, but that didn’t mean anything. There were wolves in these woods.
He walked around, but saw nothing. He called for Drake a couple more times but he heard no answering voice, even though he strained his ears to hear Drake’s deep voice echoing off the trees somewhere. Shivering, and sick with worry and diminishing hope, he turned towards the cave. If Drake wasn’t there either, then he was dead for sure. Or gone, tired of waiting for Alec to show up. Alec’s gut twisted at either thought.
He trudged through the forest, walking through a thick carpet of pine needles. No snow had fallen here since the trees were catching it all on their upper branches, and Alec followed the way to the cave with a rapidly beating heart, his eyes looking everywhere for signs that Drake had passed this same way recently. The light around him got brighter so gradually he did not even notice it until he came out of the trees at the bottom of the hill he had been crossing, and saw dawn had arrived. As he started up the hill that led to the cave, he listened for the faintest sound, looked for the most minute sign of a broken branch or the trace of a footprint in his path. There was nothing.
The cold was getting to him, drenched in sweat as he was, but Alec barely paid attention to it. He was completely focused; dreading, hoping, and when he saw the clearing at the mouth of the cave, his heart leapt in his chest. He approached slowly, hoping against hope, paralyzed with fear, sick with worry. The mouth of the cave was dark. As he got closer he saw no footprints, no signs of a fire at all. When he was standing right at the mouth of the cave looking in, all he saw was darkness. He didn’t even need to go in. Nobody had been inside that cave for many weeks.
Alec dropped to his knees. Disappointment and grief were leaden weights dragging him down.
“Drake!” he cried, his voice echoing back to him over the treetops, the indifferent rocks of the cave. “DRAKE!”
No one answered. He knelt there, crying silently, berating himself. He had killed him. He was sure of it. He had gone too far and hurt him too badly, even without any poison in the blade. Drake was dead. And it was his fault.
Alec smashed his fist against the ground, then again, and again, and he let out a wordless howl of grief with all the strength left in his exhausted, shivering body. He hung his head and knelt there, silent, shaking with sorrow. His mind was a blur of nothing.
The first falling rock he almost didn’t see. It was small and it bounced down the stone face of the hill above the cave. Then another one came in, and another one, much bigger. Alec jumped up, startled. The bigger rock landed near his foot with a crash.
“Sorry!” Drake’s voice yelled from above. “Watch out for the rocks!”
Alec looked up, surprised, uncomprehending, and then his face lit up like the sun with a smile when he saw Drake climbing down the sheer rock face, stumbling down the rocks and knocking showers of small pebbles everywhere. Drake ended up sliding down the last stretch of the wall, and he landed just to the right of the cave mouth with a heavy thump.
“Sorry,” Drake said again, dusting himself off. “I heard your voice and I had to get here as soon as I could. There’s an easier route down on the northern face of the hill, but this way is much faster and I couldn’t wait.”
Alec couldn’t find words to say. He was beaming, and before he knew it he was running straight into Drake’s arms, laughing, and then Drake was hugging him, holding him tight.
Alec looked up into Drake’s eyes and saw the happiness mirrored there, and the deep, unconditional love. They kissed, and Alec felt happier than he ever had in his life.
“There’s no need to cry, Alec,” Drake said, wiping away one of Alec’s tears with a gentle hand. “I found a nice shelter where we can stay until the Guardians move away. Then we can leave and find someplace they won’t bother us, far away from here. Just the two of us. Sounds good?”
Alec smiled, and nodded. “Yes. It sounds really good.”
Alec hugged Drake fiercely, breathing in his wonderful scent of smoke and sweat and man. The strong arms that hugged him right back were shelter, and safety, and happiness.
“There’s just one more thing,” Drake said, drawing slightly away. The tone of his voice changed. “I found something in the new cave. Or… well, I think it found me. A piece of the wall at the very back of the cave just broke off when I touched it. Then this thing behind it started glowing. I took it out, kept it with me. I think it’s… well, have a look.”
Drake took something out of his belt: a flat slab, a little wider than his hand, wrapped in a piece of cloth. He gave it to Alec carefully, as if whatever was inside could break at any moment.
Alec unwrapped the bundle. Inside was a tablet made of a dull, black metal, very old and worn, with an inscription etched on its surface. Below the inscription, there was a map. The map was surprisingly detailed, and there was a slightly glowing mark near its lower edge in the shape of a tiny war axe.
Alec read the faded, rune-like words.
Here lies the path to the Winterblade,
power to bind,
power to slay.
Follow. Surrender your mind.
Alec looked back at Drake, his eyes wide. “Drake, this is—”
“A map. The only map to the Winterblade. The one only a Hunter could find.”
“I can’t believe it,” Alec said, with awe in his voice. “I honestly thought it was just a legend.”
“It isn’t. And now we are the only ones who know how to find it.”
“But should we even try and find it, Drake? Such power… wouldn’t it be better if we just left it alone?”
“And live in hiding the rest of our lives, fearing every day that the Guardians might find us, or other Hunters? Now that you came back to me, they’d kill you right along with me, Alec, and I’m not going to let that happen, not ever,” Drake said, his voice firm. “Alec, if we find the Winterblade, nobody will bother us ever again. Hunter or Guardian, they’ll leave us alone. No more hiding. We’ll be together, living without fear.”
“Together,” Alec repeated softly.
“With the Winterblade in hand, I will protect you,” Drake said. “I swear it. I love you, Alec.”
Alec melted at the sight of the powerful warrior smiling at him with such tenderness. In his heart, he knew Drake was right. The map had come to Drake for a reason. “Let’s do it,” he said, no trace of doubt in his voice. “Together.”
Drake kissed him, smiling. “I knew you’d say yes. Let’s go find it.”
The end! I hope you enjoyed this story. Part two is already underway, and should be published very soon.
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