Continued from the past two days, We have our third and final installment. I have had the wonderful opportunity to post excerpts of the book The Last Sacrifice by . I hope everyone enjoys! I appreciate being able to post this. Thank You James and Angry Robot Books for this opportunity!
Is out January 3, 2017!
So go get your copy!
Also check out the post for the first Two chapters
JAMES A MOORE
The Last Sacrifice
The Tides of War book I
Rains hammered down on the landscape, and washed over Niall and the other three who were chained in place along with him. From time to time the ferocity of the storm calmed enough to let him think. Niall shivered and felt his eyes flicker open. He was tired and sore and the chill in the air had taken away what little energy he had.
He opened his mouth and captured rainwater, drinking it greedily. It was better than what his captors had offered. Cleaner.
Not that it mattered. He had never seen a member of the Undying, but he knew they were the ones that had him. There were enough stories of the fiends. They only came for one reason and that was to claim their sacrifices.
There were twelve captors, and they were loathsome.
They rode dark things. That was the only way he could explain them. They seemed horses most of the time, with proper tails and hooves and manes, but sometimes, when he looked at them from a different angle, the shapes were wrong. Also, after several days of travel he had never heard the things make a single horse-like noise. They hissed from time to time, and on one occasion he was certain the damned thing pulling the long flat wagon along had barked.
The platform he and the others rode on was long and narrow, and each of them was manacled at the ankles and wrists. Three men including himself and his neighbor’s boy, Ligel. Ligel was to his right. To his left was the only girl in their gathering.
Their feet were kept on the rough wooden planks by short chains. Their wrists were held above their heads on T-shaped beams. Chained in place and made to stand as the procession continued. They were offered water to drink, but they were not offered food.
He had no concept of how long they’d been moving, how long he’d been locked in chains. His feet ached from standing, but his arms had moved past pain and into a numb, throbbing sensation a long while back.
The memories of when they came for him were fragmented and blurred, lost in the darkness of whatever it was they’d been using to keep all of them docile.
He’d been hungry when they started, but now he could barely remember what food tasted like and his stomach no longer protested. It was the water. He knew that much. The water they drank was not the same as the Undying consumed. It came from a different barrel.
Though he had never been the sort to deal in poisons, Niall knew enough about them. Before he was taken he’d been apprentice to Mosara the gardener. There was no better herbalist in the land. Before Mosara did any other training, he taught his apprentices about poisons and where they came from and what they did. The best way to avoid getting yourself killed when dealing with herbs was to avoid killing anyone by accident. The water had no unusual taste, but it made those who drank it sleepy and it dulled the reactions. His mouth tasted of water and ash. Mosara would have told him exactly what was causing the sensations, but he was a master and not a lowly apprentice.
Niall shook his head and took in deep breaths, the better to clear the fog from his mind.
The young woman beside him was whimpering softly. Her legs shook from a desire to sit, but the chains held her up and she either suffered from standing or felt the pain of her arms being stretched into a painful position. The dress she wore was plastered to her body and he could see her muscles tremble in the cold.
He frowned for a moment. The girl had been wearing proper shoes before, but now her feet were bare and the toes looked red and bloodied. It was hard to tell through the rain.
He looked up her lean body until he reached her face. Short blonde hair was glued to her skull and half obscured her wide blue eyes. She shook her head and silently begged him not to call attention to her. If she were up to something and their captors found out there would be no mercy. The creatures planned to sacrifice them as it was.
The Undying did not seem to care about the feelings of their guests, but if he had to guess they would be willing to sacrifice someone they’d already tortured. When he was younger he’d heard stories of the Undying. They once came to his family’s farm and stole away three slaves. His father had been shaken by the incident, but forgave the sin because of the gold coins they left behind. Niall had seen the coins. They were large and surely worth enough to forgive a few thefts.
He looked back at the shapes ahead of them. Four of the forms rode their mounts and talked amongst themselves, uttering words that he neither understood nor felt comfortable with. The rest of them were out of sight. They’d moved ahead to prepare whatever needed to be done before the sacrifices could occur. The other four were here, he had no doubt, simply to keep the rolling platform on course.
One of them turned to look in his direction, as if it had somehow sensed his eyes on it.
It. The thing stood like a man. It walked like a man. But he knew better. The Undying appeared to wear cloaks and hoods, but he had been fighting against them when they came to take him away and the cloaks themselves were warm and had a pulse. The rains came down and no matter how hard they fell the cloaks retained their shape, unlike the garments he wore that had long since pasted themselves tightly against his body.
Where faces should have been, at the openings of the hoods, there was, instead, a wet, pinkish surface. The opening, Niall knew from having seen too much, was a mouth. There were teeth further back in that vile maw; teeth and other things that might have been tongues. Whatever they were, they moved and the breath that came from those “hoods” stank of charnel tastes.
Because he no longer cared, he spat in the creature’s direction.
When the thing came back toward him he suddenly found reason to care again. Drugged waters or no, the monstrous thing was terrifying. “Oh, damn me.” Too late, already damned. It was almost enough to make him laugh.
The Undying fell from the horse-thing and landed with ease before striding in his direction. There were legs there, at least, but he could not see the feet clearly. They might have worn boots, they might have had claws; whatever the case the thing squelched through the thick mud one heaving step at a time.
The creature came closer and he looked into the hooded face, his heart racing. The throat of the thing opened and closed as it breathed. He could see no eyes, no way for the monster to see him, but it did. It came closer then started walking backward, keeping pace with the wheeled platform. One of the hands reached out and grabbed his face. The flesh was dark and hot, and rough as the pads on the feet of a war dog.
When it spoke, the words came from deep within that throat. “Do not insult us. We have many ways to make you suffer that will not offend the gods.”
In the distance behind the thing, a great stone arch rose from the waters beyond the edge of the cliff side. They seemed to have nearly reached the end of the world.
“Get your vile hand off me!” He tried to pull back, but the thing’s hot grip was too firm and he shuddered at the hand holding his face. Whatever they were, the flesh smelled of cinnamon and other spices. It was only the breath of the beast that reeked of slaughter and decay.
The Undying squeezed and Niall moaned. The bones in his face felt like they would surely break.
The chain that whipped across the arm in front of him was enough to catch the thing’s attention. Flesh, or cloth, or hide, whatever the fabric of the hellish beast, it broke as the links came down and scraped across the surface.
The Undying pulled back its arm and turned to face the source of its pain – and the girl beside Niall swept the long chain between her wrists around the creature’s neck.
She spun her body and the chain wrapped around the Undying’s hooded head. It let out a noise, possibly to warn the others ahead of them, but the sound became nothing but a strangled whisper.
The thing tried to pull back, but she was faster. Her body fell further away and the cloaked form staggered closer.
How had she escaped? Niall thought about her bared, bloodied feet and understood. She’d somehow picked the locks while he’d dozed in his drugged stupor.
The thing caught itself on the edge of the wagon and reared back, hauling the slight form of the girl toward it.
There was not much reach on Niall’s chains. They weren’t designed to let him move around comfortably. They were to hold him captive and to keep him in place.
The girl had managed to pull herself up the chains around her arms and had yanked them free. He could see that now. There was a hook that held the links. They were manacled and then the chains were lifted onto the hook, letting them adjust for the size of their captives.
Niall bent his legs as much as he could and jumped. The slack in the chains rattled, but nothing else happened. He squatted lower and did it again, whipping his hands hard as he rose. The chains did more than rattle this time. They fell loose.
He was hardly free. His ankles were still locked in place, but he had a weapon.
The Undying was pulling at the girl, a length of chain held in its left hand and the right drawing her closer. One hand stopped it from choking on the noose she’d wrapped around its throat and the other reeled in its prize.
Niall brought his hands together and swept the chains into the air, then brought the length of links down and crashed them into the vile face of the creature. Crude metal edges slapped into that hooded opening, cutting the rough maw until it bled.
The beast roared and threw its arms wide. Great flaps of what had appeared to be a cloak expanded into leathery wings and the nightmare lunged up onto the cart, its hands reaching for him. Niall fell back, a panicked scream ripping from his throat, and instantly saw the problem with his escape.
For just a moment he’d forgotten he was still chained in place.
“Oh, damn me.”
“I will find another to take your place!” That vast, round mouth with the shredded hood of flesh moved and snapped as the thing loomed over him. The wings were apart and revealed a thick, bloated body that he would have never guessed at. Bloated? There seemed plenty of muscle in either case. There was a thick leather belt with several tools on it. The creature did not bother with them.
The Undying had appeared large before, but now it was gigantic. Those heavy fleshy wings snapped in the rough winds and it lurched up onto the platform revealing the long-toed feet that had been previously hidden away. Each toe ended in a claw as thick as three of Niall’s fingers. He had scant time to notice them as he was rolling away from the foot that tried to smash him into the splintered, wooden deck.
He pushed himself as far as he could away from the wooden post that had been at his back. It wasn’t very far at all, and surely not enough to get away from the Undying. What had he been thinking? That somehow he could help the girl get away? That through some stroke of fortune she could return the favor?
For the second time he saw a necklace of chain suddenly lowered over the hood of the Undying, then it snapped backward with a strangled grunt. The thin girl had wrapped the chain like a noose, and now she hauled it backward as best she could, while her victim bucked and kicked and fought.
She was fierce, and used her entire body mass to pull, keeping the Undying arched back as it tried to force its hands under the links wrapped tightly around the neck.
Niall once again swung his chain up and over his head before bringing it down, this time across the abdomen of their captor.
The chain cut into flesh, tore at muscle and softer things, and the Undying rose into a sitting position, hauling the girl with it. While it once more launched for Niall, the girl took advantage of the moment and ran forward, bracing her feet on the broad back of the creature and throwing herself backward, the chains wrapped into her hands and around her wrists. Once more the hands of the Undying tried for the makeshift noose. And as it reached to defend its throat, Niall hit it again across the legs and lower abdomen.
Just that quickly it flopped down, shuddering. He did not know if he had struck something vital or if the woman fighting alongside him had managed to choke the nasty beast to death, but it shivered and let out a vile stench as it voided its bowels on the platform.
Niall panted. His arms ached. Not five feet away the young woman looked at him and nodded, her face set and determined.
As he looked toward the riders ahead of them, he gave silent thanks that they had not turned around to investigate. The rains were too heavy, perhaps, for them to have heard the noises. That, or they assumed their companion could handle the matter.
Whatever the case they were not coming back. Not yet at least.
Thin, nimble fingers worked at the chain around his wrist. He almost screamed. He hadn’t expected the contact.
The girl looked at him and shook her head. “I will unshackle you but you can’t fight me.”
He nodded his head, speechless for the moment, and looked again to the Undying.
Ahead of them, ahead of the riders in the distance, he could see a barrage of lightning striking the coastline. The thunderclap was deafening and the light left him half blind for a moment. The horse-thing that pulled their platform seemed unimpressed.
He and the girl were both flinching and twitching and Ligel, the neighbor’s boy, all of twelve and already taken for this madness, shuddered and started awake.
The pressure of her hands fell away from his wrist, and took with it the manacle that had rubbed his flesh raw. He looked at her as she started on the other shackle and he reached down to work on his ankle restraint. There was only a metal post holding the parts together. It was snug, but with his hands freed he could pull on the lock and wiggle the damned thing free.
Up ahead the explosions of light did not abate, but actually grew more furious. The horse-thing no longer ignored the fiery display and let out a sound not at all horse-like. In the distance several shadow-forms rose into the air, one, two more, then another four – all of them with vast wings. They rose high into the electrified air and banked, turning, he had no doubt, back toward the other Undying.
That was all they could be. There had been nothing else to see on the desolate landscape.
The metal peg slid free and one leg was suddenly able to move. Niall pulled his ankle away from the chains and nearly sobbed at the pleasure of being able to move his leg properly.
The woman with him had freed his other arm and now she was looking at the skies, even as he reached for his last shackle.
“Be fast! They’re coming!”
The flattened end of the metal, where they’d hammered it into the peg holes in the manacle, cut at his fingertips and he did not care. Niall let out a scream and pulled as the flesh tried to give way. A moment later, however, he was freed and standing up, staggering as he tried to regain his footing. The animal that led them was panicked now and he could see why. The skies were white and blue with fires that should not have existed. The horizon seethed as the earth exploded in wave after wave, shattered by the endless assault of lightning on the ground.
The girl grabbed his arm and tugged. “We have to go!” He knew she was screaming, could read her lips well enough, but there was almost no sound; it was hidden behind the shocking and nearly endless thunder rolling their way.
Ligel looked up at last, his eyes bleary with the poisoned waters they were fed, and stared at the blinding skies.
He was a good lad. Niall would remember the look on the boy’s face for as long as he lived. The boy saw him, saw that he was free, recognized him and began to hope, even as Niall jumped down from the cart. Even as the horse that was not a horse reared up then bolted to the left, running in a blind panic that took it over the edge of the cliff and into the waters below.
Ligel looked at him the entire time before he disappeared.
It hardly mattered. None of it would ever matter, not until they were away from the destruction eating away the world ahead of them.
The girl ran across the ground, her bare feet saved only by the thick mud they had been traveling over. Niall ran with her. He could have easily run past her; his legs were longer and he had not spent countless hours using his toes to peel away the metal pegs that held his ankles locked in place.
He could have, but he did not. She had saved his life and he had every intention of returning the kindness.
JAMES A MOORE is the award-winning, bestselling, author of over forty novels, thrillers, dark fantasy and horror alike, including the critically acclaimed Fireworks,Under The Overtree, Blood Red, the Serenity Falls trilogy (featuring his recurring anti-hero, Jonathan Crowley) and his most recent novels, The Blasted Lands and City of Wonders both part of the Seven Forges series. In addition to writing multiple short stories, he has also edited, with Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon, The British Invasion anthology for Cemetery Dance Publications.
Moore’s first short story collection, Slices, sold out before ever seeing print. He is currently at work on several additional projects, including the forthcoming The Last Sacrifice, book one in the Tides of War, series. Along with Jonathan Maberry and Christopher Golden, he hosts the Three Guys With Beards podcast and currently he lives in Massachusetts.
Since time began the Grakhul, immortal servants of the gods who choose who lives and who dies when it comes time to make sacrifices to their deities, have been seeking to keep the world in balance and the gods appeased. When they take the family of Brogan McTyre to offer as sacrifice, everything changes.
Brogan heads off on a quest to save his family from the Grakhul. The decision this time is costlier than they expected, leading to Brogan and his kin being hunted as criminals and the gods seeking to punish those who’ve defied them.