The Mists of Elista
Epic Fantasy Romance
Book 1 – Bonds and Blood – Excerpt
- The main character Legs is also known as “Birch” for a while before receiving her true name
- Auwei is a mystical spirit who is hoping to bond with Legs. She speaks with Legs telepathically and has powers of a spider
The attack came at night.
My only warning was Auwei screaming into my head: Birch, wake up, move!
I snapped my eyes open, already moving to sit up when I saw the shadowy form over my bed, and the flash of a knife.
I shifted at the last minute and the knife slid along my right arm, just below the shoulder, instead of hammering into my chest.
Pits! What was happening?
I reacted without thinking, kicking out. I caught the person on the side of their leg, hard enough to shift them. They stumbled to one side as I rose from my bed in a fury. My experience with those bullies meant I knew how to throw a punch and the attacker was caught off guard when I slammed my fist into their nose.
They reeled back, hitting the wall. I kicked up between their legs. Man or woman, that would hurt. They grunted, bending forward, and I brought my knee up into their face. Their head snapped back with a crack and they slumped lifeless to the ground.
I stood frozen for a long moment, in shock, not knowing what to do. I should run, or light a lamp, or check this person, but I did nothing as my mind reeled.
They were dead. I don’t know how I knew, but I knew.
I’d killed a person.
But they’d been trying to kill me.
It was all too much. I had to do something or I’d collapse into a heap, overwhelmed. I had to keep moving, and I certainly didn’t want to be here. My mind latched onto the idea that if I had been attacked, perhaps others in the dorm were in trouble. So, I crept to my door, which was open, and peered carefully out into the hallway. I saw no other movement in the shadows.
I sneaked out, creeping to Hearth’s room, which was three doors down from mine on the other side of the hall. As I reached it, the door opened cautiously and Hearth peered out. I could see Pebble further back in the room, looking frightened.
“What’s going on?” she whispered. “I thought I heard something.”
Yeah, she’d probably heard me, fighting for my life. But as to what was happening? I had no clue.
Remain calm and we’ll figure this out. Though even Auwei sounded a bit stunned.
Before I could come up with any coherent response to her question, Hearth’s gaze focused on my arm. “You’re bleeding!”
I am? Oh right, the cut on my arm. I’d been so agitated, the pain hadn’t fully registered. Even now, it didn’t seem that bad, it was bleeding, but the cut was shallow. I’d be fine for a while.
I can help with that. Auwei was over the spot a moment later and spinning a thick web over the long slice, stopping the blood. It felt cool and slightly soothing.
“Ah, yeah, I know,” I said finding my words again. “Someone attacked me. I don’t know what’s going on, but others might be in danger. I’m—” I’m going to do what? Go out and find trouble? That was a stupid idea. Facing a few bullies was different than fighting armed killers. I’d only survived in my room because of desperation and flailing limbs.
So, what would I do?
“You two stay here and bar the door. I’m going to find out what’s going on.” That sounded more reasonable than going to fight. I’d just… take a peek, nothing more. Perhaps go find an instructor. Yes, that was a wise course.
Hearth nodded and closed her door. I heard furniture being moved. Good, they were safe.
Just remember, Auwei said. You only live once, but I’ll regret your mistakes for eternity.
She’d said that before as a bit of fun, but now it was a warning.
I crept to the end of the hall. Reaching the door to the outside, I hesitated, terrified. I’d take a quick look out into the yard before going any farther.
The door creaked as it opened, just an inch.
“Is she dead?” a harsh female voice asked. A shadow next to the door began to turn my way.
She…? As in me? Just me?
Dead… as in…
What The Pits was going on!
My heart thundered. I stifled a yelp as time seemed to slow. I had to get out of the way, but where? I panicked as something seemed to shatter inside me. Everything became clearer, the dark hallway crisp in my vision. A great upwelling of energy and vitality sprung to life within me.
Jump! Auwei shouted. Her voice inside my mind had always sounded a bit distant, but in that instant, it became clear and close.
I leaped, but instead of launching myself back, I went up, and with far more ease and effect than expected. I put my hands out before I hit the ceiling with my head. When my hands touched the ceiling, they stuck. I didn’t fully register this as I pulled my legs up after me. I was still in my nightdress with bare feet and I curled my body around to press my feet to the ceiling as well, crouching awkwardly. My feet stuck too.
Not now! I hissed internally as a figure poked their head in through the door below.
“Arick?” the woman asked. She was masked, all in black, like the attacker in my room.
Another voice outside asked something, but their voice was low and I only heard “… happened?”
“I don’t know. The door just opened on its own? Odd.” The figure poking their head in looked carefully to either side, then slipped back out. I heard her say, “If he’s not done soon, I’m going in.”
Blackened bloody bones!
Not wanting to be here when they came in, I crawled away… on the ceiling.
Not now, Auwei!
No, Birch, this is important, you’re using my powers! We Bonded!
Some part of me was already quite aware that normal humans did not stick to ceilings. But I had more important things to think about. People were trying to kill me and I was freaking out. I had to get away.
Great… how does that help us? I asked.
Ah… I don’t know yet, Auwei admitted.
Then be quiet and let me think!
I skittered to the far end of the hall and was about to open the door to the common room — from above — when all the hair on my body stood up and I felt the strangest sensation thrum through me. I was hearing people talk, very quietly, on the other side of the door. Only I wasn’t hearing with my ears. The sound reverberated into my body through the thousands of standing hairs all over me.
At first, I couldn’t decipher the noises I was taking in from this new sense, but I quickly adapted.
“…freaks me out.”
“Yeah, I know. I can’t believe we’re working for her. She scares The Pits out of me.”
“Hopefully this job will be over soon and we can…” I didn’t need to hear any more to be both terrified and certain I couldn’t go through that door.
I couldn’t leave through the doors at either end of the halls. I probably should have gone back to my room and out the window, but that didn’t occur to me in the moment. No, I could only think of the one other way out of this hall: the stairs down to the baths.
I crawled down the wall and back to the floor, slipping into the open archway to one side of the hall, and treading lightly down the stairs into the baths.
I don’t know if you’ll be able to get out this way, Auwei said sounding a bit desperate herself. If they have guards on these doors, they’re probably watching the other dorm as well.
I gave a manic chuckle as an idea started forming in my mind. I’m not going out. I’m going to stay down here. Yup, I had a plan. It was a stupid plan and very crazy, but I couldn’t think of anything else.
Oh? Auwei breathed, curious, then… Oh! As she found my thoughts on what I planned. That’s… interesting…
You’re being kind… My plan wasn’t to run but to hide. And if they came looking for me. I’d be ready. I didn’t know why I thought I could fight them, but I did.
The large, long bathing room was completely dark, but my body-hair, standing on end, seemed to catch every twitch of the air and I just knew where the walls were.
I moved with as much speed as I dared, first to a shower stall, grabbing the large bowl of liquid hair soap. I sneaked back out to the entrance, where the stairs ended, and dumped the bowl all over the last step and the area below that. It wasn’t quite enough so I went to another stall and got its bowl, making that last step a slippery mess. I then did the same with the bottom step at the entrance from the other dorm. Then I went into each shower stall and turned them on to the highest heat setting, leaving all the doors open. Steam poured out, making the room very hot and humid as a thick fog clouded the area. In the last stall I grabbed the towel and the scrubbing brush from the stall before turning the hot water on. They weren’t much as weapons, but they were something.
I moved into the far end of the room where the baths were located. There was a large common pool if girls wished to bathe together, and past that several smaller pools with half-walls around them for private bathing. I got more of the liquid hair soap and doused the area coming out from the showers, making a path straight to the large bath.
I wrapped the towel I’d taken around my left arm and tied it off as a bit of protection if I needed to deflect a blow. I held the body-scrubber like a knife, not knowing what I’d do with it, but I was ready.
The room grew stifling hot, and the thick, wet heat began to steal my breath and sap my strength, but still I waited. My nightdress stuck to me like a second skin.
Then I heard it: soft voices approaching.
“…by surprise. Her window wasn’t open so she’s in here somewhere.” That’s when it occurred to me to have slipped out my window, but it seemed they might have been watching that too… so perhaps this had been the best plan.
I heard a very faint squelch, then a clipped cry and the sound of someone falling hard.
There were murmurs for a moment, then a clipped curse. “The bitch killed Farin!”
Ha! Take that!
Another voice… the female one from earlier, said: “First Arick, now this. She’s a clever little bitch, resourceful. Watch out for the last step and the area beyond, it’s covered in something slick.”
There were more murmurings for a moment, then finally a strong call: “Come out, girl! We know you’re in here. Come on out and I promise to make it a quick death, painless. But make this any more difficult for us and I’ll skin you alive!” This from that female voice. She must be in charge.
What have I ever done? Why do they want to kill me?
I’m not the one to ask.
Spirits of the Mists, save us.
Auwei gave a nervous laugh. I am a spirit of the mist and I can save you. When they come, leave the fighting to me, I’ll take control. You may have fought bullies, but I’ve fought far worse.
Worked for me.
Two sets of footfalls crept closer. The light from a single lantern swayed and slowly illuminated more and more of the baths as they neared.
A foot appeared from the hall of showers about the same time as two hands, one with a lantern, the other with a knife.
The foot hit the floor and, as hoped, slid out from under the person. They slid forward just enough that when they placed their other foot down to steady themselves it was also in the shower hair-soap I’d put down. At the same time, I reached out and smacked the face I saw coming into view with the body-scrubber I’d acquired. The person fell back while sliding forward, crying out as they went over the edge into the large pool as hoped. The lantern fell from their hands and hit the floor to one side, rolling away, casting wild shadows around the room, but remaining lit.
“Bloody Pits!” the female voice cried out. She leaped around the corner, over the soapy floor and landed right in front of me, murder in her eyes. She held a long knife in one hand with her free hand open in front of her.
I felt Auwei take control, sensed her readiness. But even Auwei was fooled. We expected the woman to attack with the knife, but it was her open hand that snapped out. The base of her palm caught me in the nose. My head snapped back, then bounced off the stone wall behind me. Explosions of pain blossomed in the front and back of my head. Auwei raised my towel-wrapped left arm to block the knife attack I expected as a follow up, but instead the knife slid over my belly, cutting deep.
Pits! Auwei cursed, but then she moved with such speed and precision. Even with my eyes clamped shut, my new spider’s sense gave me a good idea where the woman was and we kicked between her legs, hitting home.
Auwei swept my arm down and hit the woman’s hand. I heard the knife clatter to the floor. That same hand of mine then surged up to punch the woman’s face, my towel-wrapped fist barely hurting at all as it landed. At the same time my right hand was moving over my stomach. I didn’t know what it was doing, but Auwei did. My body was producing great quantities of spider-silk… from… my belly-button? I gathered it quickly in my hand and pressed it over the wound on my stomach, helping to stop the blood flow.
I stepped forward, throwing myself bodily into the woman and knocking us both into the pool.
Warm water surged around me and far too much went in my mouth. I found the bottom of the pool with one foot and surged up, coughing out water, seeking air. I opened my eyes to see the woman righting herself in front of me, and the other man — who’d gone into the pool first — now wading over to me.
I’ve got this, Auwei said with a calm I certainly didn’t feel.
My right hand reached down and pulled another quickly spun gob of spider-silk from me, splashing up to throw it in the man’s face. It hit home, covering his eyes. He’d be occupied for a moment.
Then we ducked under the water, avoiding a punch from the woman. Going horizontal, my feet found the wall behind me and pushed off, launching me through the water to the woman. I hit her — head first — in the belly. She folded. Auwei quickly righted us, then dunked the woman’s head under the water as we came up. The attacker had lost her footing and flailed, frantic, as I used every ounce of my weight to keep her under the water.
One of her fists caught my ribs hard enough that I’d probably bruise, but that was it. She struggled for a moment longer, then began to weaken and slow before going completely still.
Well… that was sickening. I’d killed three people tonight, and I hadn’t liked any of it. My only solace was that they’d been trying to kill me. Yet it still made bile rise in my throat.
Releasing the woman’s head, I turned. The man had managed to scratch some of the spider-silk off his face, enough to free one eye.
I needed to deal with him quickly. Even with the spider’s silk — and my towel-wrapped left arm — over my gut, I was losing far too much blood, growing weak. The man saw it too, the growing dark-red cloud around me in the waters. He grinned, a nasty thing, and came at me slowly. He’d managed to find his knife, and the blade gleamed, flashing in the light of that remaining lantern.
“Hazra said you’d be trouble, but I don’t think she foresaw any of this. You’ve killed Lyena there, and the others, but I think maybe all I need to do is wait and you’ll be gone soon enough.” That nasty grin grew.
My sight grew dim, blackness fading in around the edges. I didn’t want to get close to him, not while he had that knife, but I’d have to do something.
That’s when I saw the two shapes coming out from the shower hall behind him.
“No,” I whispered, but there was no strength left in my voice.
The last thing I saw before I blacked out was Pebble and Hearth charging at the man in the pool.