It’s my birthday today! And to celebrate, I want to give a gift to YOU, the Reader! So here’s the entire first chapter of A Forgotten Past.
I hope you like it! And if you really like it, then feel free to get your copy on Amazon so you can continue reading through the story.
CHAPTER ONE – MENIDI FIELDS
Though the sun had not yet touched the horizon, the moon was bright in the sky, casting a silvery sheen over the world below. Spring was in the air, ripe with moisture which settled on Lily’s arms. She shivered and drew her fur-lined coat tighter around her shoulders. Summer was still a thought, but it would bring the warm nights she so looked forward to. Until then, her patrols would be cold and wearisome.
She tucked the stray strands of her dark-brown hair behind her ear and stifled a yawn, shutting her green eyes tight. She and her patrol members were finally, mercifully on their way back home from their mission: accompanying a delivery of raw metals and building materials from Stonemire, their capital city, back to Basolt, their home.
Lily glanced at the cart to her left. The heavy wooden structure was laden with crates and boxes piled high upon one another, secured to the frame with coarse rope. At the front of the cart, six gray, draft horses snorted and neighed as they dug their hooves into the soft earth, muscles straining as they pulled the cart forward one step at a time. The cart driver, a squat old man with a bushy salt and pepper mustache, glanced warily from one side to another, as if expecting a threat to jump out from every shadow.
He isn’t wrong,Lily thought, bracing herself against another cold gust of wind.
Treasure like this would be a fine acquisition for any thieves who happened to pass by. Hence, a ten-person patrol had been requisitioned. Lily glanced at her fellow guards. Swords were sheathed at their hips, and the backs of their dark cloaks had been embroidered with the Craig family crest: a purple mountain over a valley. Though the guards looked menacing, Lily knew that their patrol was more symbolic than practical. Their biggest threat was curious wildlife from the nearby Ashenson Wilds, the thick forest that spread across the western edge of the continent. And even that was a stretch.
Turning in her saddle, Lily could still make out the misty peaks of the Teraberg Mountains, their summits grazing the darkening sky like serrated teeth. Stonemire was a city fleshed out from within, buried deep in the heart of the largest mountain. Founded by the Craig family, it had taken eons to carve out the tunnels that connected the different parts of the capital, which eventually led to the other Craig settlements, further along the mountain range.
As her patrol had put more distance between themselves and the capital, the rocky terrain had gradually given way to fields of grass, which made the journey home easier. It had taken them a full day of cantering across the Menidi Fields to arrive at the meeting spot, where they took over from the Stonemire guards in assuring the safety of the cargo on the way home. Another full day had passed since then. If they kept a steady pace overnight, they would arrive in Basolt just after the break of dawn.
Lily drew her cloak tighter around her shoulders, trying to bury herself in the warm fabric. The cold air had started to seep through her skin and would soon reach her bones. She sighed, hoping the rest of the journey wouldn’t be too miserable. She already looked forward to wrapping herself under her thick blanket while sipping on her mother’s famous vegetable soup.
Another shiver passed through her body. Lily sighed. Maybe it wasn’t just the cold. The dream last night hadn’t helped. She shifted uncomfortably in her saddle. She hated that dream: dark water closing in on her, pushing and pulling her through a cold current. Her lungs feeling as though they would explode from lack of oxygen. The intolerable pressure around her head, as if someone had tried to crush her skull. Every so often it returned to haunt her.
Maybe the shivering had nothing to do with the temperature, after all.
The sound of hooves approaching snapped her out of her distracting thoughts. She glanced up as a man advanced toward her on a roan horse. His brown hair was pulled away from his face, and a scraggly beard covered his mouth. Though he looked like a menacing warrior, with a square jaw and thick cords of muscle wrapped around his arms, his eyes were kind, crinkling at the corners.
Lily smiled at him as he drew closer. “Brandon. Did you get bored at the front of the patrol, all by yourself?”
Brandon grinned. Though the leader of their patrol – and Captain of Basolt – was well into his fifties, he led his people with the kindness and energy of a much younger man. “It’s dull, always being at the front. No one to talk to. Besides, I wanted to check on the status of the wolf pack.”
Lily was readying an answer when a smug voice cut her off.
“They’ve fallen behind, Captain. I don’t expect they will be causing us any more trouble.”
Lily closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She had promised her parents she wouldn’t harm Cormick, no matter how much he tested her patience. In retrospect, she realized she shouldn’t have made a promise she knew she’d have a hard time keeping.
Cormick drew up on Brandon’s other side, matching his and Lily’s speed. His black hair was slicked away from his face, and he straightened his back as he rode alongside his leader. His high cheekbones made his face look sallow in the waning light.
“I haven’t let myself be bothered by the arduous nature of the trip, Captain, and have made sure to stay locked on to the wolves’ location.” He glanced pointedly at Lily as he said it, a small smirk barely tugging at the corner of his lips.
Lily nonchalantly looked ahead.
“The main core of the pack has fallen behind, yes. But the scouts are ahead, hoping to cut us off at the ridge,” she said, pointing ahead where the road dipped between two small hills.
Cormick snorted. “I would have sensed them if they had tried to pass us,” he retorted contemptuously.
Lily reached for the bow slung across her back and notched an arrow. She held the tip out towards Brandon.
“Would you do the honour?” she asked.
Leaning over from his horse, Brandon blew softly on the tip of the arrow, which instantly ignited. Pointing the flaming projectile upward, Lily pulled the string taut and let the arrow fly with a hollow twang.
They watched as the arrow soared through the air in a graceful arc, a line of orange flames trailing behind it. It disappeared from view as it descended over the ridge – and was met with a surprised yowl. A gray wolf scuttled away; its tail tucked between its legs. A fellow scout followed suit, fearful of more fiery projectiles. They yipped pitifully as they ran into the surrounding fields.
Lily was barely able to conceal the grin that threatened to split her face. This was made even harder when she spotted Cormick’s confused yet enraged expression.
Cormick was a gifted Beast Whisperer, but she was better.
“How did you . . . They were all the way over there, how in the world could you sense that?” He asked, his voice a few pitches higher than usual.
Laughing heartily, Brandon slapped Lily on the back, winding her for a moment.
“Good thing we’ve got you with us, Lily. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Beast Whisperer with your range. It really is a gift you have.”
Cormick shot her a dark glare, his mouth a hard line. “I guess the orphan does have her talents,” he said, staring her straight in the eyes. “It’s too bad she can’t use it to remember who she is.” Digging his heels into his steed, he cantered forward and settled near the front of the patrol, nose in the air and shoulders squared.
Brandon glared at Cormick’s back a few moments before turning his attention to Lily.
“Don’t mind him. He’s just jealous. After all, he was considered the prodigy before you came along.”
Lily shrugged. “I don’t let it get to me. And besides, he’s telling the truth. Why would I get mad at him for that?”
Brandon smiled softly and looked up at the sky, lit by the shimmering light of the stars.
“One day I would like to see you lead your own patrol, Lily. I know that’s what Cormick wants, but he’s too self-centered. Good leaders aren’t those who lead for themselves. They lead for others.”
Lily smiled softly as she gazed up at the stars. Leader of her own patrol . . . she liked the sound of that. They trotted along in silence, broken only by the soft footfalls of the horses in the patrol and the creaking of the cart.
The quiet was soon broken by the sound of something splintering, followed by a loud groan and a crash. Startled, Lily glanced back at the cart, which had come to an abrupt halt. A wheel of the merchant’s cart had broken under the weight of the metals it carried and was now listing precariously to one side.
Brandon swore under his breath. Jumping off his horse, he approached the cart to examine the damage. It wasn’t hard to see that the wheel was completely unsalvageable, the reinforced wooden spokes having fractured under the stress. Brandon sighed, turned, and addressed his patrol.
“Looks like we’ll be stranded here until we can get this fixed. Luckily, we have a spare wheel, but it will take some time to re-attach the new one,” Brandon said, resting his hands on his hips.
“Cormick, Lily. Keep your senses sharp. I wouldn’t want those wolves to think we’re easy prey.”
“Yes, Captain,” they replied in unison. Cormick darted off right away, shooting her another smug expression as he trotted over to the other side of the cart. Lily sighed. Why couldn’t he understand that she didn’t care what he thought about her?
Lily dug her heels into her mare’s side, guiding her to a small rocky outcrop. There she had a sweeping view of the landscape – green rolling hills as far as the eyes could see, with an occasional pocket of bushes or trees. The sparse trees danced in the gentle wind. Everything was quiet, peaceful.
Closing her eyes, Lily opened her mind, reaching out with her consciousness to sense the beings around her. Though she remained firmly planted in her saddle, she was reaching out, sensing the warm glow of other beings surrounding her, appearing like patches of light in her mind.
She could sense the draft horses, glad for the rest the broken wheel provided them, as well as the mice scuttling in the grass. A hawk flew above, gazing on, uninterested in the scene below. The world was lit with the consciousnesses of the beings that surrounded her. She could sense them and feel their joy, fear, and determination to survive. Their emotions were her emotions.
Extending her reach further, Lily sought out the wolf pack. They were not difficult to find: seven large spirits clustered together, a few hundred meters behind the patrol. Their sharp, predatory minds were bright. They were forming a plan, intent on taking advantage of the broken wheel, which left her patrol stranded and weak. But their intentions changed suddenly, from focused planning to aggression – and finally fear.
Lily opened her eyes, suddenly on high alert. What could make the biggest predators in the fields feel such unrestrained fear? Closing her eyes again, she extended her consciousness, probing, searching for the cause of the fear that had overtaken the wolves so quickly. There didn’t seem to be anything that could—
Lily frowned and concentrated harder. Another consciousness had appeared. It was far away but approaching fast. It was too fast for a forest bear but too slow for a horse. Its mind was intelligent, smarter than the wolves, but she was still not able to identify whether or not it was a threat.
Pulling on her mare’s reins, she dashed over to where Cormick stood, on the other side of the cart. The spare wheel had been brought out, waiting for the rest of the patrol to pry the shattered wheel from its spoke. Brandon looked at her quizzically as she sprinted along, though Lily ignored him.
“Cormick,” she called as she approached him. He glared at her through hooded eyes.
“What, come to gloat about how powerful you are, orphan?” he spat.
“No, you twit,” she snapped, patience running thin. “Something’s coming our way. Can you sense it?”
Cormick was about to retort when his expression froze. He snapped his head eastward, towards where Lily had sensed the bright consciousness.
“What is that?” he asked incredulously, all animosity gone.
Lily had a feeling she knew. Though it shouldn’t be possible, she knew what was lurching their way. There was only one thing on this side of the continent that could be that big, that powerful, and that intelligent.
She quickly guided her horse over to the rest of her patrol, where Brandon had finally succeeded in taking off the broken wheel. Another two men were crouched near the spoke, trying to ease the new wheel on, while the others were straining at the frame, attempting to lift it high enough to latch on the new wheel.
“Something’s coming,” she blurted out, heart fluttering in her chest.
Brandon’s expression instantly darkened.
“What is it, thieves? The wolves? Rasara?” he asked, placing his hand instinctively on the pommel of his sword.
“No,” she replied. “It’s a berserker.”
Brandon’s jaw dropped. “A berserker? How is that even possible? Are you sure?”
Lily nodded vigorously. “No doubt about it. But hurry, it’s moving fast! We have to leave the cart behind and go!”
Brandon’s reaction was swift. Immediately, he launched himself on his horse and addressed his patrol.
“Everyone back on their horses now, we’re leaving! Smash the wheels, we’ll go back for the stores tomorrow. No one is risking their lives for—”
“It’s here!” Cormick yelled. His voice wavered as he pointed eastward, towards the hills.
Lily’s heart pounded in her chest. She didn’t need Cormick to tell her the berserker was upon them – she’d sensed its approach. Its incoming presence washed over her: powerful, near-paralyzing.
The creature was not yet in view, but the ground was shaking. Waves of fear and confusion came off the beast. Something had happened to it, something disorienting. It meant them no harm, but unfortunately it was not aware they were in its path.
Before anyone could stop her, she jumped off her horse, and sprinted forward. The ground now rumbled with each of the beast’s steps, though it had not yet appeared at the top of the opposite hill.
“Lily, come back!” Brandon yelled, trying in vain to catch her arm as she darted away. “What are you doing?”
Ignoring her captain, Lily paused at the dip in the hill. She planted her feet firmly on the ground and steadied herself, taking in long, deep breaths, trying to slow her heartbeat and stop the trembling in her hands.
She hoped this would work.
The berserker came careening over the hill, emitting a guttural roar as it landed heavily on the ground. Its thick, gray skin glowed. It was at least twice Lily’s height and four times as long. Two long, white horns curled out from its brow, pointing forward, while another jutted out from its nose. Its milky-white eyes were set deep in its skull, rolling frantically. White froth foamed at its mouth, the spittle flying in all directions as it launched itself down the hill towards Lily. Its short, powerful legs, as thick as tree trunks, propelled it forward at an alarming speed.
It was a terrifying sight. Lily faintly heard her patrol yelling, but she couldn’t make out the words over the pounding of the berserker, its thin, stumpy tail whipping back and forth as it charged straight for her, head low to the ground, nostrils flared, and thin, disc-like ears pointing forward.
Steadying herself, Lily closed her eyes and opened her mind, concentrating on the beast in front of her. Its mind was clouded with fear, confusion, and pain. It formed a wall around its mind, blocking out all other thoughts.
Gritting her teeth, Lily pushed harder, managing to slip tendrils of her own consciousness into the berserker’s mind. Focusing intently, she tried to inject thoughts of peace and calm. Noticing the alien presence, the massive animal recoiled, anger flaring as it fought back, trying to push the foreign consciousness out. Lily wormed her way back in, snuffing out the fear by enveloping it in tranquility.
The effort seemed to have little effect, and the distance kept closing. Eventually, the terror tapered to acute anxiety, and to a slight unease. As the strength of the beast’s emotions diminished, so did its speed, until its breakneck sprint had devolved into a slow, ambling walk.
Lily opened her eyes. The berserker was a mere twenty meters from her. The ground no longer trembled with its steps, and its eyes had regained their focus; they were looking straight at her. It gave out a low moan, tossing its horned head around and came to a complete stop. It gave another low grumble and lay down on the grass, breathing heavily. Resting its head on the ground, it moaned pitifully.
Lily noticed the cause of the beast’s suffering: a metal pole stuck in its flank. Thick blood ran down the length of its body. The berserker looked to Lily again, and she felt the despair in its mind. It needed her help.
Cautiously, she approached, wary of the sharp horns that could so easily impale her. One sweep of its head and she would be mortally wounded. Keeping a wide berth between her and the horns, she approached the beast’s side, slowly making her way to the animal’s wound.
Even lying down, the berserker towered over her. Its chest rose and fell as it took quick, shallow breaths. Lily cautiously climbed onto its back leg, trying to reach the pole embedded in its hide. She climbed fully on top of the beast and crouched near the wound. The pole was made of thick iron, maybe four inches in diameter. Gingerly, she touched it. The berserker immediately recoiled and let out a low growl. She kept her balance as the beast beneath her shifted.
She held her hand to the creature’s warm skin and reached out with her mind.
Let me help you, she repeated over and over, until her message was a song filling its head.
Slowly, she felt the berserker’s tense muscles relax ever so slightly. Taking a deep breath, she grabbed the pole with both hands, wrapping her fingers firmly around the rough metal.
Gritting her teeth, she pulled. Beneath her, the beast whimpered but did not budge.
The pole didn’t move at first. Lily pulled harder, and it slowly began to give. She pulled the metal free.
Nimbly, she jumped down from the berserker’s back, pole in hand. It was three feet long, the bottom foot drenched in blood. The point had been sharpened. If Lily didn’t know any better, she would have said it was a spear.
But who would be reckless enough to attack a berserker?
Free from the metal embedded in its flesh, the beast rocked back onto its feet and pushed itself up. The wound was already mending, the hole closing before Lily’s eyes.
She smiled. The creature’s magic was truly incredible.
It looked at Lily once more and gratefully bowed its head. Lily bowed back in turn.
Go home and be well.
With another growl, the berserker turned and began trotting away, back from the direction in which it had come. Lily watched it run, the trembling in the earth diminishing as it sped away. She vaguely realized that Brandon had joined her, and they watched the beast retreat.
“If I hadn’t seen that with my own eyes, I never would have believed it,” he said quietly, staring after the berserker as it disappeared from view. He turned to her.
“Lily, that was incredibly dangerous. You could have gotten yourself killed!” He fell quiet. “I’m trying to be angry. I should be angry at you. But to be truthful, I’m still trying to understand how you managed to do that. It looked as if you were able to communicate with it.”
Lily shrugged. “I just let it know that I wanted to help it.” She frowned. “Although I don’t know what it was doing here. It seemed as if something had attacked it.”
Brandon shrugged. “It’s true that this is much further north than they typically roam. But down south, in the Wyck region, there are lots of abandoned castles and fortifications from the Great War. It could have impaled itself on an old piece of stray metal.”
Brandon turned, beckoning Lily to follow him. “Let’s go home. The others are reattaching the wheel to the cart.” His eyes twinkled in the light of the stars. “I’ve never heard of a Beast Whisperer being able to influence animal behaviour before. If you’re not careful, you’ll go down in history as the strongest Beast Whisperer ever!”
Lily smiled demurely. Turning one last time, she stared at the spot where the berserker had disappeared. Something didn’t feel right, but she couldn’t figure out what. Sighing, she rubbed her eyes. At least she would have an interesting story to tell when she got home.
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