Born into a world where healers can mend mortal wounds with the strength of their faith, Sarai Osarrow must lead her people out into an unknown wilderness where she will come to question the nature of her abilities and the god she was sworn to serve…
From the gatehouse she could see the treeline quite clearly, though the light was nearly gone. She’d pulled her sisters back with what elements of the army had arrived when the sun hit the horizon, knowing nothing more of Valla’s condition or wishes other than that he hadn’t yet returned. The gate below her was now being barred and reinforced, rope ladders waiting along the wall should more soldiers make it back.
Was this real? Was this her? Thinking of troops and positions and creating contingencies for if twenty-three men and the reason God has sent her into this wilderness all died beneath those dark trees?
She’d ordered as many torches as seemed practical brought along the wall but had asked that they not light the signal fire until all hope was lost in defense of the walls. Valla had known the road they were following, and Sarai didn’t want to announce her position to whatever else was waiting in the darkness for miles around.
God had sent her here, surely he knew where she was, and they were all saved or forsaken regardless.
As if to reward her blasphemy, Valla burst from the treeline, sprinting like some kind of hunting cat with a pair of long steel claws. Even from this distance, she was sure it was him, could move along the wall and feel the pull of her destiny relative to his position. The night wind swept up from below and brought with it the iron reek of fresh blood.
It was only then that Sarai realized she could also hear his booming, eerie laughter rolling up with it.
She immediately began to shout, a reflexive attempt to cover the sound, shifting halfway through into a litany of command. She called for more light, for archers to cover his advance, and did not specify whether it was to protect his flanks or protect them from his madness.
When she turned back it became clear that Valla was pursued, four figures of dark horror galloping after him, switching back and forth between upright and all four limbs. As he neared the edge of the circle of torchlight, Valla turned and cut two of the creatures down with motions of swift surety, then was taken down himself as the third thing hit him.
Tess grunted and an arrow sang out from beside Sarai, taking the creature high in the chest. But it only turned and bellowed up at them, and they all got a good look at what kind of monsters they were facing.
Then they all got a good look at its guts as Valla dragged his knife down the thing’s torso. It died there, horribly, and a half dozen arrows hit the final creature before it did too.
Human in general appearance, they were distended in every possible way, made into something predatory, filled with a rage that knew no pain. Valla pulled himself free of the corpses and she ordered a ladder dropped, then she looked out into the darkness and very nearly reconsidered.
An army did not describe what waited there. An army might seem this chaotic, this full of unrelenting energy in the midst of some mighty charge. Instead the ranks of nightmare creatures roiled in place, a mass of flesh that only coincidentally happened to belong to separate bodies, held back at the edge of the light by some force that for a moment she thought might be God.
Then, like a gloating winner slowly revealing each of his cards, first one and then another of the mad horrors was released, and then they were all rushing the wall, and she was ordering the signal fire lit.
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