Book 1 of the Sojourn Chronicles
Wizard’s BaneAuthor: Crystalwizard
E-book: $5.95 U.S.
Paperback: price varies
Length: 404 pages
The town drunk stumbled down a cobbled road, his head spinning from the pots of ale he’d guzzled in the pub. Reaching the nearest alley, he slumped against the wall, slid to the ground, threw his head back and began singing loudly off-key. A brief flash of light a few feet further down the alley startled him and he peered into the darkness. “Who’s der?” he slurred, trying to make out anything in the inky blackness. No answer was forthcoming however, so he shrugged and went back to singing.
The reason for the flash stood silently several feet away, his eyes adjusting to the sudden darkness. He wrinkled his nose at the putrid smell of rotting garbage and tried not to throw up.
Wonderful, he thought sourly. A backwater planet in the middle of nowhere and where do I materialize? In the middle of their garbage dump! He closed his eyes and settled his nerves. Well, it could be worse I guess. I wonder just how primitive these people are.
He picked his way slowly through the darkened alley, avoiding the larger concentrations of refuse. By the time he reached the street, the drunk was happily snoring in the stupor produced by the ale.
Well at least, he thought as he inspected the drunk, I look like they do... physically.
He pulled the drunk’s tattered cloak aside, studied the man’s ratty attire and frowned. I’ll never fit in dressed like this, he thought, glancing down at the seamless black jumpsuit he wore.
He dropped the cloak, stood and gazed around the street. The fog drifted past swirling in the faint breeze. No other signs of life were evident.
Satisfied things were relatively safe, the man stepped out of the alley and turned left, making his way up the deserted street. He hugged the rough brick wall of the buildings and tried to stay well out of the light as he made his way past silent storefronts.
The buildings ended and the street turned into a lane running out into open land. The man stopped, sighed and turned around.
Better and better, he thought, shaking his head. Backwater planet, primitive culture, local inhabitants who appear to have all the civility of poorly bred pigs and now this. When I get my hands, he thought, on the idiot who opened that warp... He stared at the few buildings visible through the fog and started back up the street. Maybe it’s bigger if I go the other way, I need clothes. Light spilled out of a doorway a few feet ahead of him and he froze.
A couple strolled out waving behind at a crowded, smoke filled room and wandered off down the street arm in arm.
The man waited until they were lost in the fog before breathing a silent sigh of relief. Clothes, he reminded himself. And food. And sleep. Retribution later. After my powers come back. He glanced around and continued up the street.
The alley came in sight and he spotted a dark figure bent over the drunk. The figure drew a knife from a sheath and cut the strings of the drunk’s pouch.
The man narrowed his eyes. Trained reflexes took over and he advanced, little more than a shadow, as the thief opened the pouch and began rummaging through it.
The man stepped forward, one hand around the thief’s throat, the other grasping the knife hand. In a single fluid motion, he bent the thief backwards, lifted it off the ground to its toes and forced the knife hand open.
The knife hit the ground with a dull thud and he twisted his prisoner’s arm up behind its back. The thief struggled but stopped when the man’s hand tightened around its throat.
“You know, for a thief you’re not very observant,” he growled, his voice low. His captive struggled and he applied more pressure to the arm.
“Not only that, but your choice of targets is lousy.”
“Let me go!”
Well, the man thought. Language will evidently not be a problem. That’s one positive aspect to this.
“Let you go?” he asked in a low, dangerous voice. “And then what? Wait while you pick up your knife and try to kill me? I think not.” He tightened the hand on his captive’s throat.
“No! Just let me go and I swear I won’t...”
“You’re right, you won’t. Because you really won’t like what I’ll do if you try. I’ll let go,” the man’s voice was dark and threatening. “But you move and you die. Understand?”
“Yes.” The thief managed through tightly clenched teeth.
He released his grip and the thief stumbled forward, whirled around and stood uncertainly before him, rubbing its wrist.
The fog drifted past behind the man diffusing what light the street lamp shed, giving him an unearthly backdrop. The thief looked up into a pair of brown eyes that appeared faintly to glow and gulped, his blood running cold.
“Your name?” the man asked, looking down at the thief and crossing his arms.
“Why?” came the hesitant response.
“Because I asked.”
“Kheri,” the thief answered after a moment.
The man nodded, bent over and picked up the knife.
Kheri’s eyes darted to the street but prudence kept him from moving.
“You can call me Dale,” the man said, straightening up and handing back the knife.
Kheri took the knife, sheathing it quickly. “So now what?” he asked, looking back up at the man who towered more than twelve inches over his slight, five and a half feet.
Dale pointed at the drunk. “First, give him back his pouch. Second, you just became my guide to this place. To start with, I need other clothing. You’re going to help me find some.”
Kheri opened his mouth to protest, caught the look on Dale’s face, nodded once and dropped the pouch next to the drunk. “What kind of clothes do you want,” he asked, his gaze wandering over Dale’s strange attire.
“Normal stuff. What any average, working man would wear.”
Kheri stared at Dale’s jump suit for a couple more seconds and nodded. “All right. I know where you can get something but we’ll have to leave town. The only stuff around here is either on someone’s back or in a store, and those’re locked.”
“And stuff outside town isn’t?”
“Well...” Kheri fidgeted and tried not to feel frightened. “My aunt’s got a farm. It’s several miles out. I can try to get you some of my uncle’s old things... unless you object to a walk?”
Dale caught his eyes and held them until Kheri shivered and looked away. “All right,” he replied, satisfied Kheri was telling the truth. “Which way?”
“Uh...” Kheri stammered, his heart pounding, “T... this way.” He moved cautiously past the larger man, stepped out of the alley and started up the street toward the center of town.
Dale followed silently behind him.
Kheri’s thoughts raced as he walked past the wooden buildings. The desire to dash off into the fog filled him and he fought it down, certain he would fail in the attempt. His arm still ached and he had no desire to find out just how strong Dale really was. He rubbed his throat, feeling the ghostly impressions from Dale’s fingers, and shivered.
Clothes... he thought, trying to control his overly active imagination. I gotta tell her something... He pictured the ancient steamer trunk locked away in his aunt’s attic, full of his uncle’s rotting clothing and frowned. Maybe I can just offer to clean up, he thought then shook his head. She’ll have it locked. I gotta get her to give ’em to me.
The brief events in the alley sprang back to the front of his mind and overpowered his shaky attempt at planning. He forced himself to swallow, took a deep breath and tried to consider what his aunt might accept. He was still deep in thought when the last few buildings came in sight. Dale dropped a firm hand on his shoulder, shattering his concentration and he jumped.
“Stop,” came the soft command behind him.
Kheri froze instantly and glanced around. A movement in the shadows a short way up the street caught his attention and he flattened against the wall next to Dale, holding his breath.
A figure detached itself from the shadows and crossed the street, visible now as one of the town guards.
They stood motionless, waiting as the guard glanced around before making his way on down the street.
“All right, let’s go,” Dale hissed after the guard had vanished into the fog. They started walking and Kheri looked curiously at Dale.
Dale returned his gaze and lifted an eyebrow in question. “Yes?
“How’d you know he was there?”
“I heard him.”
Kheri blinked. “You heard him?”
A shiver ran up Kheri’s spine and he stopped, took a deep breath and turned to face his captor. “Who... I meant what...,” he stammered, unable to translate thoughts into words.
Dale sighed, crossed his arms and looked down into Kheri’s eyes. “Are you sure you want the answer to that question?”
Kheri nodded, his eyes locked on Dale’s face.
“At the moment,” Dale told him. “I’m just a stranger who would prefer not to be noticed. You get on my bad side; I might turn out to be your worst nightmare.”
Kheri swallowed nervously, unable to look away.
“You do as I ask and behave, and I may turn out to be a valuable friend,” Dale continued, still holding Kheri’s gaze with his own. “You want more explanation than that, earn it. How far is it to your aunt’s farm?”
“Uh...” Kheri shook his thoughts free from the somewhat frightening flight of fantasy they’d taken. “About three... four miles... not far. A couple hours walk.”
“She get up early?”
“Usually yes,” Kheri nodded. “And this is market day too. There’ll be traffic coming into town in a while.”
Dale watched the younger man fidget for a few seconds. “In that case,” he said softly, a flinty edge to his voice. “I suggest you turn around and we get going.”
Kheri broke into a sudden sweat and turned quickly around, leading the way out of town.
End of Chapter One
Copyright © 2007 by Crystalwizard