Authors: Amanda Young,Raymond Young Jr.
Awake the Cullers
By Amanda Young and
Raymond Young Jr.
Copyright 2013 Amanda McLain-Young
Kindle Direct Publishing Edition
Kindle Direct Publishing Edition, License Notes
All Rights Reserved
To all the real heroes who proceed with faith, protect the innocent and face the true monsters in our world.
Table of Contents
Candice awoke to the smell of smoke. She blinked the sleep from her eyes. The sounds of screaming woke her the rest of the way. Hesitantly, she opened her door. Her father fought against a man twice his size. The door was broken into splinters on the ground. Beside it lay her mother, bleeding from a crushed skull she would not wake from. Her father fought with all the energy and strength of a man half his age. His eyes were full of rage, his movements fed by the need for revenge, the need to survive and the need to protect Candice from following her mother.
The stranger was a horror to behold. Blades protruded from his arms
. Scar tissue surrounded the spots where they were jammed in to the skin. Her father struck him, but the man only grinned at seeing his own blood pool on the floor. With no sign of slowing down, he battered her father back. Candice saw her death then. Her father would fall, soon. She would see him die, but there would be no time to grieve. If she was lucky, it would be quick for her. If not . . . well it was out of her hands either way. She took solace in knowing she would not feel anything come tomorrow.
Then her father surprised her. Ignoring the many blades cutting into his skin, he grabbed the stranger’s arms and pushed him back. Until that moment she had not noticed the fire
which was fed by a fallen lantern. It covered almost the entire front wall. The stranger screamed as his armor and blades became super heated, his skin blistering around them. She was still staring at the man when her father grabbed her arm and led her through the back door. Behind their house was where they kept the horses and chickens. Coops lined the left side of the walkway from the house while a hitching post followed to the right. At the back of the yard was a small barn where the horses slept and ate. She could smell the blood from the back door. Portions of their fence were broken or missing. Chickens ran around frantically, most of their cages busted open or in pieces on the ground. As they ignored the chickens and ran to the barn, Candice heard the screams throughout the village as similar scenes played out in other homes. Thankfully, their house was at the edge of the village, so they were able to move about the yard unnoticed. There was no need to open the barn. The door hung off two broken hinges and fell to the ground the second her father touched it. The smell of death was stronger, now. Her father cursed, and she could see why. Dead and dying horses littered the ground. Only one, Sunshine, remained.
Sunshine was light with a blonde coat and hair. She bore a white star shape at the center of her forehead and was friendly and reliable. But, she was a small horse, not capable of carrying two people, at least not for any distance and when speed was of the essence. Grabbing
some blankets since there wasn’t time to saddle the horse, her father picked her up and put her on the horse. “Head north and don’t stop until you reach town.”
“But that’s almost three
days away?” She’d never ridden Sunshine that hard before. She’d never ridden any horse that hard before.
“Go,” he slapped the horse to make it move and stood watching as they rode away, jump
ed, over the broken fence and disappeared into the woods.
* * *
“I don’t know how I let you talk us into travelling south with you?” Thomas cut at the foliage to make a path.
“Because you love adventure,” Kern replied, cutting at stray limbs Thomas missed. Thomas was human, one of the few full humans to ever work in the Flame Guard, an elite group of assassins and espionage agents stationed in the city of
Suriax. Kern, a three quarter elf, was also once a member of that select group. But that was long ago. Now, they would probably both be arrested if they ever stepped foot in Suriax again.
“What I’d love is to be back in the mountains introducing Marcy to my family and settling down to the quiet life of a farmer.”
“Planting season is months away. You still have a little time left before you become boring,” he teased.
“I happen to like boring,” Thomas argued.
“Then what are you doing here?”
“Keeping you from getting into trouble,” Marcy answered, pushing her way through the trees to join them.
“Marcy, My Dear,” Kern replied, “that is an impossible task.”
“Probably,” she agreed.
“You know, getting so close to your sister’s territory probably isn’t such a good idea.” Thomas broke through to a clearing and sheathed his sword. Without preamble, he took a seat on a rock. “Who’s for lunch?”
“I’ll cook,” Marcy answered, setting about the task.
“What’s she going to do?” Kern asked, taking his own seat. “It’s not like she’ll even know if I do cross the border, not that I plan to. I’ll be in Alerian territory the entire time. Besides, Pielere asked me to check out the rumors of those raiders travelling north. He needs to know if they should send troops down here. With it being so close to Maerishka’s lands, she may consider it an act of war if they send any troops without concrete proof of danger. Things are just starting to calm down between the two cities. They don’t want to stir everyone back up again.”
Just a few short months earlier the cities of Suriax and Aleria were on fire, literally. Queen Maerishka of Suriax made a deal with her god, Venerith, giving up her entire city and all its people to him in exchange for power. Venerith heard her and granted
the request, showering down blue fire from the sky and changing the people of Suriax, forever branding them as his own.
Aleria, led by Maerishka’s half siblings Pielere, Mirerien and Eirae, was located just north of Suriax
. The cities were only separated by a small river with protective walls lining each side. Once one city, they split a generation before and became the capitals of their own separate kingdoms. They were both founded on a strict observance of the law with one big distinction. In Suriax it was legal to kill.
Just before the night of Blue Fire, Kern learned he was actually the missing brother to the Alerian monarchs, making him a half brother to Maerishka. This knowledge forced him and his uncle to leave Suriax and put him on Maerishka’s list of least favorite people. She was still convinced he would return one day to vie for her throne. But Kern couldn’t care less for her throne, or any throne for that matter. All he wanted was to be left alone.
Kern pulled his cloak tight. It was a gift from Mirerien and his brothers. They accepted him when Maerishka would have him dead. Along with his uncle, now safe under their protection in Aleria, they were his family. If they needed his help he would do what he could to help them. The smell of cooking meat brought him back to the present. They had a good bit of daylight left. Even with this break to eat, they should make it to town before nightfall. It would be nice to sleep in a bed again, although Marcy’s cooking did make sleeping on the ground a little more bearable.
True to his estimations, the sun was just beginning to dip below the horizon when they came up to the next town. Small houses dotted the countryside, gathering with more density at the edge of a lake fed by t
wo small rivers. They waved a greeting to a couple farmers rushing to finish up their work. Spotting the inn easily for its size and boisterous sounds issuing forth, they walked that way. Men drank and played card games on the porch. Inside, people laughed and played games while others sat by the bar and loudly recounted stories from their past exploits. “You two find a table. I’ll rent the rooms.” Kern sank into the bar stool and waited for the waitress to make her way over to him. She had light brown hair, pulled back into a bun at the back of her head. Casually, she wiped the sweat from her brow and chatted with a patron as she poured his drink.
“What’ll you have?” she asked once she made it to him.
“Three ales and two rooms,” he replied.
She pulled out
three mugs and started pouring, telling him the cost. Kern pulled out some coins and dropped them on the counter. “Alerian money,” she commented, pocketing them quickly before handing him two keys. “What brings you this far south?”
“Looking for trouble, I guess.” He shot her a grin and was rewarded by an answering grin of her own.
“Oh, there’s plenty of that down here.”
“Any more than usual?” he asked casually, taking a swig of his drink.
She looked around, slightly uneasy. “Not quite sure, yet. Let’s just say the locals are restless.”
“That so? I didn’t think people around these parts were easy to spook.”
“You ask a lot of questions,” the man beside him said without looking his way.
“It’s the only way to get answers,” Kern replied easily, not about to be intimidated.
“Why do you want to know?”
“Call me curious,” Kern answered. The waitress looked between them and moved quietly on to the next patron.
“Curiosity can be a dangerous thing,” He turned to stare at Kern, one dead eye and a scar marring the right side of his face. His one good eye looked straight through Kern.
“Is that what happened to you,” he asked, “got curious and lost an eye?” There were gasps around him. The waitress even spilled some ale on her way to pour another drink down the bar.
The man stared at him another few moments before breaking out in a grin and laughing. There was a sigh of relief all around. People began talking again, the moment of danger past. “I’m Brierand.”
“Kern,” he took the man’s hand and then finished his ale before looking at the other two drinks. Oh well, he could always get more for Thomas and Marcy later. Taking a drink out of the second mug, he pu
shed the third over to Brierand, who took the mug in a single swallow.
“So,” he said, wiping his mouth, “why does someone from Aleria want to know about our problems way down here?”
“Are there problems?” he asked without answering.
“You could say that. Merchants who travel south don’t make it back, and the last two supply caravans never made it. Some say the plains territories have declared war on us now that they are part of Suriax. Others speak of legends long f
orgotten from the times of the Great Wars. I heard a man the other day say he saw a Sublinate passing through. A Sublinate! Can you believe that? No one has seen their kind this way in centuries. It seems the old warning stories have come back to haunt grown men’s dreams, turning them into children searching for a mother’s skirt to hide behind.”
As long as there had been war, there were people who excelled at war, enjoyed it,
and worshipped it. There was one group who turned war into an art form, enhancing their bodies for battle, reveling in the skill of strategy and accepting death as an inevitable by product of the many wars always raging somewhere. They enjoyed meeting an enemy honorably and defeating him in fair combat. They called themselves the Sublinates.
As with all bands of warriors, some fell to bloodlust. In the midst of battle they moved from accepting death to taking pleasure in it. Those men believed death was the true glory of war. They reveled in pain and lived in a constant state of agitation, grafting weapons
onto themselves. Most Sublinates called this way of thought a perversion. There was a schism in the group, and they fought, near to the point of extinction. For when two groups who love battle as much as they decide to fight there is little to rein them in.
And that was that, or so the stories told. Random groups of Sublinates popped up from time to time, though they usually followed battle, leaving normal folk to believe they were merely the stuff of legends. There were those who believed the stories existed only to warn of the dangers of bloodlust and senseless killing. Even Suriaxians saw the logic of avoiding such a lifestyle.
Everyone near them seemed tenser now with the revelation of the Sublinate sighting. It was not a good omen. As far as Kern could figure, it could only mean things in the Southern Plains were about to get very dangerous, if they weren’t so already, and war had very little regard for borders. Thanking Brierand for the information, Kern ordered new drinks and joined Thomas and Marcy at their table and filled them in.
“So we are most likely looking at a war about to begin,” Marcy summarized.
Thomas looked off in thought, his eyes haunted. “There’s one other possibility,” he said quietly, holding his mug and absentmindedly swirling the contents. “When I lived in the mountains, I met a traveler, Casther. He was the Flame Guardsman who brought me back to Suriax and helped me join the Guard.” Marcy nodded, having heard this part of his story before. Kern listened silently. “It was not an easy journey to Suriax. The droughts had made many people desperate. Those leaving the farming lands for the cities, hoping for a better chance at survival, met hundreds of other people seeking the same. There weren’t enough jobs or resources to feed everyone. The jails were overflowing. It was a miserable time.
One town had
a killer they couldn’t catch. They hired Casther to help. The bodies were brutalized, barely recognizable. No one there was up to the challenge of dealing with a criminal of that magnitude. One night, we came upon the killer as he tore apart his last victim. I’ll never forget the feral look in his eyes. All over his back were scars, most in a series of three parallel lines. Some were old and scabbed over. Others were fresh and still bleeding. I froze. Casther ran up and knocked him off the body. Impossibly, the man was still alive. He whimpered softly, in too much pain to move out of the way as they fought. The monster’s attacks were completely unrestrained. I heard his bones crack and break several times as Casther landed good hits. The man would laugh and continue using the damaged limbs with no hint of pain. That fight was the only time I saw real fear in Casther’s eyes. He fell, and would have died, but a series of arrows flew past, impaling themselves in the monster’s head and chest. Even with an arrow blinding him in one eye, he didn’t stop moving until the archer lunged forward and drew his blade across the man’s neck, severing the head in one clean swipe. The stranger cleaned his sword and used a booted foot to turn the headless body over on the ground. He grunted in disgust at the scars before pouring a liquid over the corpse and lighting the body on fire. As the fire burned, the stranger turned and would have left without a word, but Casther stopped him with a hesitant touch on his shoulder. His hood fell back, revealing a man wearing a large amount of weaponry. On his head he wore a strange crown like structure that protruded from his skull, as though it were a part of him. The stranger stared at Casther for a moment before calmly raising his arms to set his hood back. His hands were covered in bladed gauntlets that grew out of his arms and infused his hands. His fingers clicked against each other as he moved them. He looked over at the burning body. It was almost entirely ash. The fire was nearly extinguished, just a few smoldering bits of fabric. I asked him who he was, what that other man was. He looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘Beware those who bear the triple bands.’ Then he left.”