Warrior’s Touch

Part of the Deadly Touch series:
Editions:Paperback
ISBN: 978-0-473-64954-8
ePub
ISBN: 978-0-473-64955-5
Kindle
ISBN: 978-0-473-64956-2
ePub

“I’ve discovered a certain plasticity to the concept of right. And you, my man, are not it.”

Once upon a time, the last Immortal lost his powers to an Aenuk Healer and her tree.

Nine hundred years later, he learns that an Immortal child is going to be born, and with it, the chance to regain his lost magic…

The Kara and Aenuk races have been enemies for centuries, but for Llew and Jonas, love won out. Now Llew faces an uncertain future: one nation wants her to breed their future army, and the other wants her dead.

Her Healing talent also means she is feared – and the child she carries makes her a target.

Jonas has returned to his people, but he is torn. The woman he loves is being kept away from him, his superiors want him to carry on his bloodline with an appropriate mate, and he’s being expected to fit back into a role he doesn’t want. He is meant to be a hero, but the only champion he wants to be is Llew’s and their child – a child who might change everything.

But for their enemy to regain his powers, Llew’s child must die; and in order for him to retain them, every Aenuk must be destroyed.

Excerpt:

Chapter 1: Costly Entertainment

The great Syakara – a race blessed with the strength of ten, maybe twenty of their ungifted peers, and speed enough their limbs blurred – locked in fierce battle. A beautiful sight to behold.

The battle between Jonas of Quaver and Karlani of Wherever was not fierce, but no less beautiful in its way. Llew found some delight in militarily trained Jonas beating down street-learned Karlani. But she found it damned near repulsive to watch the father of her unborn child leading the other woman in slowed break downs of the moves he’d successfully used against her. They moved together like dancers, then. Like lovers, if Karlani had her way – or just about anyone else’s way, if one were to ask around. And, from a distance, it was often hard to decipher Jonas’s preference.

It made sense. The only two Syakara known to exist should be together; should... procreate.

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It made sense, even to Llew. The continued existence of an entire race was more important than the feelings of one young woman. But it hurt in an almost physical way, as if an invisible hand reached from Jonas to Llew and wrapped around her heart. Every time he shared a smile or a laugh with Karlani, that hand squeezed and tugged.

Jonas invited the Syakaran woman to use a move he’d just taught her against him. Karlani gave him little respite before taking him up on the offer, tumbling past him to throw him off balance before returning to attempt the move. Of course, Jonas had a counter move prepared that her feint failed to weaken, and Karlani went tumbling again with less grace this time. The gathered audience chuckled and clapped. So far from Quaver, where the Karan race originated, the attendants of Lord Gaemil Tovias’s court in Rakun, Brurun, appreciated the chance to see the two Syakara in action. For them, watching these two physically superior specimens was nothing short of stunning. For Llew, as the pair came together for Jonas to show Karlani how he’d defeated her once again, it was pain, and she turned her back.

As a child of the streets, Llew hadn’t had time for deep friendships, and certainly not lovers. The one friend she’d allowed close had betrayed her, sending her to the gallows.

But she’d survived. Not initially, no. No one survived a broken neck and suffocation. But Llew, herself, was a rare breed. One of only two Syaenuks. The other was her mother, whom she hadn’t seen in some fourteen years, now held captive in Turhmos, somewhere.

While the Karan race had superior speed and strength of muscle, the Aenuk race could heal – themselves and others – at an advanced rate. But it came at a price many could not tolerate. Life’s essence couldn’t simply be created, it had to come from somewhere: the surrounding vegetation, an animal, or another person. Most Aenuks only healed non-mortal wounds, while a death blow was still that. But, as the Syakaran was to the Karan, the Syaenuk exceeded the abilities of their Aenuk brethren. Syaenuks could come back from death.

Llew had died about four times now, which meant that she had killed. Mostly plants and insects, and a few carrion birds, but there had also been the girl playing in the grass over a hill from where Jonas had placed Llew to recover. Neither of them had known, and they both carried the guilt.

She’d killed her own father, too. That burden Llew carried alone. She hadn’t even been dead, had simply carried a small self-inflicted wound from Jonas’s knife. Such a knife caused wounds an Aenuk could not heal supernaturally, not even a Syaenuk. And through the lightest of touches, Llew had drained her father’s life as they slept.

Given that the ability to heal, albeit significantly slower, was innate to all, many felt that the give-and-take nature of Aenuk magic wasn’t worth it. And Llew was inclined to agree. She’d even asked Jonas to take her life once.

The leaders of Turhmos didn’t feel that way. They boosted their armies with Aenuks, able to maim and kill their opponents as they healed themselves and continued fighting. And they had little need for army medics.

All known Aenuks belonged to Turhmos. All except Llew, whom the rest of the world had been unaware of until recently, when she so publicly survived a hanging.

Beyond surviving, Llew had made friends. On the run after her execution, she had been lucky enough to meet not only Jonas but the cousins Alvaro and Cassidy, and Jonas’s captain Aris – though she hesitated to call him friend. She had also met Anya, a well-to-do socialite of Cheer’s – rather minuscule – upper class. From Cheer’s streets, Llew hadn’t expected to find anything in common with the other girl but, as impossible as it had at first seemed, a bond had formed between them.

Llew left the training pit, a silent guard her shadow, to visit Cassidy now. His cold body, laid out on the cold stone platform in the cold stone crypt, was never too busy to hear Llew’s concerns. Her guard waited outside, allowing her discretion.

She always started with the apologies. Sorry I didn’t wake in the night to check on you. Sorry I couldn’t heal you fully in the first place. She’d been trying to keep what damage she did to the landscape minimal at the time. Sorry we stopped for the night. We should have kept going.

She offloaded her concerns about Jonas and Karlani, and her frustrations at being so dependent on Jonas to protect her. Now the world knew she existed, several elements would want her; want her or want her dead. Jonas had the power to protect her. But only if Aris let him, and Aris was ensuring Jonas kept busy elsewhere.

Feeling little better, she left the crypt, crossed the cobbled courtyard – shadowed again – and took the low, sweeping staircase up to the mansion’s main entrance. Nearly twice as tall as Llew and framed in heavy, dark-stained wood, the glass in the doors was of a quality Llew had seen nowhere else. There was barely a ripple in it. One of the uniformed guards swung a door open for her. It awed Llew to see such heavy doors pivot so silently and smoothly on their hinges.

Inside, the solid stone walls and high ceilings were at once both comforting and cold. The solid structure gave her a sense of safety she needed now, but the hardness and straight edges left her hankering for her Spot on the shore of Cheer’s Big River, where rounded stones shifted beneath her feet and tussocks bowed out of her path when she made her way for her daily swim. She was a long way from the streets of Cheer, and as much as she may have wished to return, she couldn’t deny she had landed on her feet. These hallways of marble floors and heavily decorated walls were a shrine to money.

Immense paintings dressed the corridor walls. Men peered down at her from gilded frames. Most merely depicted a head and shoulders, looking upon those below with disdain. Some were full-length portraits of one man or another standing beside a prized horse, often wielding a sword, and wearing a heavily medaled uniform. Occasionally, a proud man might stand behind a chair, with a woman cradling a baby seated upon it.

Llew eased her grumbling belly with a snack from the kitchens before heading out again to visit her horse, Amico, in one of the estate’s large corrals, and then spent the rest of the afternoon reading, or staring into space. Jonas was being kept busy, and Anya had a whole new life to settle into, what with learning her duties as the future wife to Lord Tovias. She had a new city, region, and country to get her head around. All so much bigger than the rustic Cheer she and Llew had recently departed.

The following morning at breakfast, Llew’s thoughts, as was often the case these days, turned inward, silently probing the baby, asking if it was alright, if it thought it could have a happy life with her. No one noticed. She never seemed able to get a seat close to her friends, and none of Lord Tovias’s guests seemed interested in getting to know her. She was afraid if they did talk to her, all she could talk about was this baby, as it seemed to have hijacked most

of her thoughts. But neither she nor Jonas were ready for others to know.

Jonas stood by the doorway as she went to leave and tugged her sleeve to move her from the thoroughfare.

“You’re not eatin’ enough,” he said.

“Hello to you, too. Don’t tell me what to do.” They’d hardly spoken in days, and he started with a demand?

“Sorry, I know. I’m workin’ on it. Some time.” His resident scowl settled in place. “You got Syakaran strength and speed, now, so you got Syakaran needs. That means more food. Okay?”

As much as she wanted to remain indignant, Llew conceded. “Alright. I’ll try to eat more.”

“Jonas.” Aris stated flatly from outside.

“I gotta go.” At least he looked disappointed.

“Yeah.” Llew did her best to smile. She appreciated that he’d made the effort to speak to her.

“I’ll see you later.” He placed a hand on her shoulder as he stepped around her and through the door.

“Yeah.” Whenever later meant.

Their conversations often went like this now. Stilted. Stunted.

Llew wasn’t blameless in this. After being abducted and used by Jonas’s half-brother Braph as a substitute for her mother, whom Braph would claim to love, Llew sometimes struggled not to see glimpses of Braph in some of Jonas’s expressions. And when that happened, she shut down. Sometimes it was easier if they didn’t bother, if only doing so didn’t hurt her heart so much.

Hisham, Jonas’s best friend and fellow Quaven, gave her shoulder a squeeze as he left, somewhat unexpectedly, since Hisham still didn’t like Aenuks. And Llew was, once again, left with the urge to speak with Cassidy.

“Karlani has said nothing more.” Her own voice whispered back at her from the walls. She really was talking to herself. “She went straight and told Aris I broke her nose, but she didn’t even bruise. And like anyone would believe I could hurt her.” A Syaenuk, with the power to heal, defeating a super strong, super-fast Syakaran? Impossible. Unless that Syaenuk wielded the Syakaran powers of her unborn child. Not that anyone knew about that. Not yet.

Truth was, Llew had barely touched the other woman. It hadn’t even been a fight. Karlani had simply run into Llew’s fist. Served her right for showing off.

She gazed across Cassidy’s limp form to the rows and columns of concrete drawers and tried not to think too much about their inhabitants. She couldn’t help wondering, yet again, if they all looked as well-preserved as the recently

embalmed Cassidy. Each day her fingers itched to slide one open and see for herself, but the space had such an ancient quality to it she was scared it would crumble if she dared touch anything besides Cassidy, his platform, and the seat for mourners.

This place had a history Llew couldn’t fathom. Her hometown of Cheer had existed for perhaps three generations and was built with no intention of standing through many more. Lord Gaemil Tovias’s home and all its outbuildings on the hills of Rakun were built to last. Llew’s own presence there would be fleeting.

A crypt was no place for one to spend great lengths of time, really, and an embalmed body offered little conversation. Llew was lonely.

Jonas and Anya. That was it, now. Cassidy was dead. His cousin, Alvaro, hated her for letting him die. And Hisham would always despise her for what she was. Cassidy’s non-judgmental ears had been a good place to unload her troubles. She was a long way from home, and her future was only certain in that it would almost certainly mean captivity or grave danger. Or both. As always, Cassidy offered no advice or alternative perspective. Llew puffed out a sigh. She’d been fretting over the aftermath of her altercation with Karlani for a week. Nothing had happened. It was time to let it go.

“I wonder if Alvaro will come to collect you.” What could she say to him? Apologize? Would he want to hear it?

Inside the estate, she paused before a family portrait; the man standing tall and proud behind his wife, who smiled down at the tiny infant in her arms. Not for the first time, Llew’s hand went to her own belly, and she wondered if one day she would gaze upon her and Jonas’s child with such love, or if the sick feeling would remain. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to have his baby; she just didn’t want to do it alone. But the chances of Jonas being allowed to be a father to her child, their child, were minuscule. As minuscule as the child itself. Her belly remained flat, the only outward evidence of the baby’s existence: Jonas lived. A fact taken for granted by those who had yet to learn he had died. Aenuks could not heal Kara. Unless the Aenuk carried said Karan’s unborn child, it seemed.

“Llew.”

She dropped her hand to her side and turned a weak smile she hoped didn’t look too guilty on Hisham. Slightly darker in complexion than Jonas, Hisham wore his naturally ringleted, shoulder-length black hair tied back in a half ponytail. Quaver had sent a small contingent of soldiers to help shore up Lord Gaemil Tovias’s security while Jonas and Aris visited Lord Tovias.

As excited as she was to see a familiar face, she was disappointed Jonas wasn’t with him and failed miserably in hiding it, but it only seemed to make him smile. He beckoned Llew to follow him. She gave him a quizzical look, but, with a teasing smile, he had her interest piqued, and she followed him to the stable where her horse waited, already saddled. She didn’t question where he was taking her and mounted, steered her horse to follow him across the courtyard cobbles, around the fountain, and through the gate, the guards and Hisham exchanging salutes.

Outside the stone walls, they turned from the road that led to Rakun’s town center, circumvented the estate, and started up the lush green hill behind. The air was crisp with the dry chill of winter, the sky cloudless. Clear of the estate’s walls, Hisham kicked his horse into a brisk canter, and Llew followed suit, reveling in the cold air breezing through her hair. It was getting long; the ends touching her jaw and collar. Now she was safe among friends, she didn’t need to trim it. She may have missed her home by Big River, but she didn’t miss the Cheer locals, most of whom saw women as little more than a costly entertainment, which was one reason Llew had taken to being one of the boys.

They crested the hill, and Llew adjusted her seat for the downward slope only a little late, narrowly preventing a fall from her saddle. Amico threw his head once to show his contempt before continuing on with the rolling gait into the heart of the valley and up the next hill. He nearly unseated her again when he kicked his heels at the chance to run.

Hisham pulled up on the hill’s rounded peak and waited for Llew to rein in beside him, letting her take in the view of the meandering river below. She hadn’t seen anything so beautiful in nearly two months.

Llew beamed a wide smile at Hisham, which he returned with a knowing one of his own. Her freedom had been severely limited lately. She needed this, and he knew it. He also knew where he was taking her, and she was more than a little eager to find out. She was almost certain it was something to do with Jonas. About time, too.

Hisham continued at a walk, and Llew followed, breathing in the clean smell of fresh water surrounded by greenery – trees, grasses, and shrubs, all benefiting from their proximity to the river. It smelled like home.

At the base of the second hill, Hisham turned to lead Llew around a small forest, sparse enough to see the water rushing past on the other side of the trunks, yet dense enough to block out the roar. The trees followed a bend in the river and nearby, in a small clearing past the apex, Jonas’s horse grazed. Llew looked to Hisham, who returned a cryptic smile, despite any sense of mystery having scarpered. She twisted one way and then the other, trying to locate Jonas himself. Hisham dismounted and took Amico’s bridle while Llew swung from her saddle, then he hobbled her horse beside Jonas’s.

“This is where I depart,” he said. “I think you’ll be wantin’ to walk through right about...” He crouched and pointed through the trees. “There.” Now she knew where to look, she saw the silhouette of a man in a wide-brimmed hat sitting on the bank of the river.

Jonas.

Hisham was already mounted when she turned back. He gave a small wave, turned, and kicked his horse into a full gallop. Llew turned back.

Jonas wouldn’t bring her all the way out here to tell her he was going to do his duty and be with Karlani, would he? No. Llew was sure he wouldn’t go to all this trouble to give her that news. He wouldn’t do that to her.

Something in her stomach fluttered to think of a romantic getaway. Now all they needed was to leave Karlani and Braph behind them.

She found that her hand had come to rest over her lower belly.

“Time for you to take a step back, too,” she murmured, ran her hands down her dress, hoping it was enough for the occasion, and made her way through the trees.

COLLAPSE

Warrior's Touch has been re-edited and is ready to go. Just awaiting that shiny new cover to repackage it and send it out into the world again... soooon (updated: September 2022).

And... I'm trying the "Art of Asking" method and sharing my books for free online, then asking people to support me if they so wish (from as little as $1 per year, or simply by buying me a "coffee"). Warrior's Touch is available in its entirety on Campfire Explore (their mobile app will allow for reading Explore stories, too, which will be fabulous!) or, I'm currently in the process of getting it up on World Anvil, if you prefer.

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