What do you think?
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I've been sick again so I haven't had a chance to continue with Ben and Ren. Here is something else from the same world on the Nef side of things. Everything is different in The Land of Light.
This occurs shortly after the excerpt about the change storm.
Tularean followed the heavy stuck feeling through the slave pens underneath the Arena and found the Faren sitting in filthy straw. Dark blond hair, sweat-matted, stuck to her head, decorative feathers long since gone. A few brightly colored beads clung tenaciously to her torn and bloody tunic. Bruises, in varying stages, covered her right eye and cheek; her bottom lip was red and swollen. She hadn’t been captured easily. Faren never were. She was still beautiful, though.
Dark green eyes, tired and glassy, stared at him. “How long has that green been in?” Tularean asked the handler walking him through the pens.
“About a week now.”
“Is she magic sick?”
“A bit - some nausea and dizziness, headache. Least I think the headache is from the magic and not too much struggling,” he said laughing, rubbing long scratches on his arm.
Tularean forced a conspiratorial grin, “And how is that?”
“Spirited, but not for much longer. She’ll be broken and tame enough for your bed soon, ‘Ari, if you want her. Greens never last too long. They’re the easiest of the Faren to brake. Do you want her?”
“Possibly,” Tularean said thoughtfully. He really didn’t care what the handlers did to break the girl, just so long as it was done quickly and he could rebuild her to his purpose. “What others do you have? There feels like more than one here.”
“We’ve a healthy purple that the Arena will pay well for,” he looked sidelong at Tularean. “And one that will doubtless die. He was injured in his capture and then got caught in the change storm. Faren skin is too weak, not strong like ours,” he said, slapping his dark skinned arm, “but still better than a human’s. They’re not good for much except amusement.”
The handler led him away from one stinking area to another, all of it dimly lit by fire-fly globes. Tularean wrinkled his nose. Noisome fluid leaked toward drains in the floor. The slave pens were not a place he usually went. His father and Tekkin were the main buyers for the House, but he needed a way to cross the great plain. Since Faren guarded the plain, then he needed Faren to get across. It seemed the most straight forward plan.
They stopped in front of another dank pen. This one held several wild eyed human males. One looked fresh, but the others . . . they’d been in the Land of Light awhile. Human minds were not strong enough to withstand the environment. Usually, they became violent and ended their short lives in the Arena. Two howled and made a mad dash trying to scratch each others eyes out with dirty, yellowed fingernails; another stared vacantly, twitching occasionally.
Tularean saw the purple-eyed hunter sitting quietly in a corner holding the hand of another lying on the ground. Red wheals covered the injured Faren’s arms and face. Dried blood surrounded an ugly wound across his chest, the skin burned away to show raw meat; hair, fallen from his head, lay on the ground around him like dead silver snakes.
“What happened?” he asked.
The handler sighed, “He managed to miss the fog but a got caught in a full blast of magic when lightening stuck close. They were just coming out of the mountains. He’s dying from it.
“A shame, he might have brought a good price at the auction,” said Tularean. The other Faren looked up. He glared at Tularean through lank white hair. He was in as bad a shape as the green, Tularean thought. Covered in bruises and cuts, the man was slimly built but well muscled, and from previous experience, Tularean knew Faren were as strong as Nef.
Tularean led the handler back to the office; Faren also had very good hearing. “I’ll take all three. Put the healthy male in the Arena daily’s. Let him work some of that fight out by trying to stay alive. Feed the injured one to the guarshon and make the girl watch. Tell her you’re getting rid of the offal. Do what you need to do to break her. Throw her to some mindless humans if need be. Be sure you tell them nothing. I’ll send some gesith to pick them up next end-week.”
“Yes, ‘Ari,” he said, “about the price . . .”
“I don’t care about the price,” he re-settled his gloves on his hands. “Send the bill to House Wallur, attention Safa.” That should irk him.
At the Hands of the Bandit Chief
Noe spat blood on the ground and said in utter revulsion, “Nef.” He strained against the ropes that kept him tide to the cross and looked as if he would bite his way through.
Karik smirked at him through eyes gone black. An evil chuckle spread around the circle of dark men. Belts and weapons shifted. He lifted his knife and cut a line down Noe’s arm pealing the skin away. “The thing about humans, is you’re never sure what is under the skin.” He poked the raw muscle with the knife point. “That is why I always like to peel them and find out. Sometimes you find something unexpected.” Karik slowly cut down the other arm. “Sometimes, you just find a human.”
Here is a very rough snippet. I'm still in the process of writing this scene.
A girl’s voice, angry and loud, came to them out of the dark. “That’s Claire,” said Ben. A man yelled back at her. They set off at a run roughly in the direction of Reia’s house; their footsteps echoing hollowly off the sleeping houses. They rounded the corner to the wheel pond in time to see Reia slap a stranger across the face. He held his face a moment, staring at her in shocked disbelief. Ben watched the man rear back and strike her. She fell, pale and lifeless.
Cold washed through Ben. Rage washed away the cold. Red, warm and wet, clouded his mind and vision. Rendy roared and charged running faster than Ben had ever seen him move. He got there just as Rendy punched the stranger in the face. All three of them went down in a pile of twisted arms and legs. After some scuffling and muffled curses they stilled. Rendy stood up. Ben was down on the ground with the man’s head trapped in the crook of his arm and his legs wrapped around the man’s waist.
“Let me go you fool,” he gasped. “I’ve done nothing wrong. It’s all a misunderstanding . . . I can’t breathe,” the man croaked out.
“You hurt Reia, that’s pretty wrong to me,” grunted Ben, past the red cloud in his mind.
The man started turning a dark color. “Ben, stop. You’ll kill him,” said Rendy. “Ben,” Rendy shook his arm gently.
Out the corner of his eye, Ben saw Claire help Reia to her feet. He released the man, reluctantly. He didn’t want to let him go. He wanted him to hurt. The man scrambled to his feet and moved away from them, close to the water’s edge. The big, water wheel groaned and creaked behind him, turning slowly, most of the flow diverted elsewhere for the night.
“What happened,” he asked, looking at Claire and Reia.
Claire looked at him, eyes big, and took a small step back. “He wished us merry Revel and wanted to talk, so we stopped. He says he's from Pria, part of that merchant party we saw. At first he was nice - he offered Reia a spring wreath,” she glanced sides ways at Reai who was sniffling softly. “She took his wreath and his kiss. He wanted more, but she told him no. Then, he grabbed her arm and tried to drag her way. That’s when I kicked him.” Claire glared at the man. He stopped rubbing his neck to glare back.
Previously at the Thorny Rose...
“Come on.” Ben got quietly out of his seat, and with the others closely grouped, slunk away from their table. Once outside, he breathed a sigh of relief.
“Are they all mad?” Claire asked.
“Does it matter? They’re mercenaries. They’ll fight for any kingdom; they’re not even from Orin. The Citadel is in Airadi,” Ben answered.
“I don’t think they’re all mad, Claire,” said Rendy, his eyebrows pursed together. “Maybe only the ones struck by Beyl.” They glanced surreptitiously at the red moon and made a warding sign against bad luck.
“What happens to the girls, you think, the ones struck by Beyl?” asked Claire.
The group looked thoughtful. “I don’t know. You don’t hear about many women being struck,” said Rendy.
“Not by Beyl, anyway,” said Ben. “Maybe they become Red Sisters? . . .” Claire slapped him on the back of the head.
“Owe. What was that for?” Ben rubbed the back of his head.
“For being stupid.”
“Remember when my family went to the capital last year, we were gone all summer?” said Reia. The others nodded. “I met a Red Sister. She was beautiful,” Reia said softly, her eyes distant. “Girls go to the sisterhood to be educated. When they’re old enough, the smartest and prettiest are given the option to enter training to become a sister. I talked to her, she said I wasn’t too old and I might be able to enter.”
“Why would you want to do that? They’re just whores, Reia?” Ben said. Reia looked away blushing.
Claire slapped him on the back of the head again, harder this time. “They’re educated and beautiful. They’re not whores; they’re companions of noblemen and kings. They are paid well for their time and tithe back to the Citadel.” Claire walked up the Reia and took her arm, “Come on Reia, let’s go home.” Claire glared at Ben behind Reia’s back.
Ben watched them go, mystified. “I don’t understand? What’d I say?” He looked at Rendy, wide eyed.
Rendy shook his head, “You really need to pay better attention, baker boy. Knock the flour out of your ears now and then.”
“What?” Ben spread his hands.
“Reia’s parents applied to the Citadel, to the Red Sisters, for her. She was accepted on the recommendation of the sister they met at the capital. If she passes training, Reia will be a Red Sister.”
“Oh.” He knew Reia’s parents needed money, but a Red Sister? And he had just insulted her. His heart sank. “I need to go find her and apologize. Come on Ren.”
It was full dark. Ben walked quickly through moonlight and shadow. Goose bumps raised the hair on his arms and his neck. He stopped startled and looked around, then up.
“I know. That may be ill-met before Revel is over,” send Rendy, also looking skyward at the twin circles of Rella and Beyl.Ben hated when Rella was full. The blue light made his skin itch; sometimes at night, whispering woke him, but no one was ever there. He shivered and set off toward Reia’s house running from shadow to shadow, avoiding the light.
Jaek sat down hard in the snow, all the breath gone from his body.
Shapechanger. Nef. He stared in horror. My sister is Nef. That can't be right! She can't be. How is that possible? It must be a trick, but the wolves accepted her as one of their own.
Jaek shivered, unable to move, watching the last of the wolves run away. The wind cut through his hurriedly laced outer coat. Is she a change child? Did the Nef come and steal away my true sister and leave something in her place like in the stories? He blinked. No. Nef were only bed-time tales. She is my mother's true child. The midwife was too shocked when she was born . . . white hair, white eyes, skin paler than any newborn’s. We thought it was our Faren blood come out strong . . . but who . . . what . . .how? The dark deepened around him. The cold inside his body rivaled winter itself.
It was the cold that eventually got his attention: cold head, cold hands, cold body. Jaek stood stiffly, brushed the snow from his pants and stamped his feet. He settled his coat and tightened the lacings. Dark hair blew around him, fighting the cap he pulled lower on his ears.
The cleared area close to the fortress walls shone pale blue - moonlight reflecting off snow. Thin trees and saplings at the edge of the forest cast many shadows, none of which moved in unusual ways. He peered through the darkness in front of him, into the woods. All was clear. Collecting himself, he headed to where he had last seen Asaro.
this is later on