Excerpt: Breaking the Shackles
The haze covering Laine’s mind faded briefly. Slowly he became more aware of his surroundings, and he found himself flinching at that realization. In his experience, awareness equaled pain: pain from the knowledge of those who had been so violently lost; and pain as his own flesh writhed from the cruel ministrations of the creatures that had taken control of him.
The magi, his mind supplied with a hateful hiss. The magi had taken him captive with five others of his clan, and only he remained alive. The return of memories that came with his first moments free of the haze was one of the reasons Laine so hated each return to consciousness.
As the haze further retreated, Laine expected to feel a whip on his back or the excruciating pull as his magic was forcibly drained from his body. His magic gave him life eternal, brought breath to his body, and made his heart pump. Without it, the other five of his clan had perished, gasping for air they could no longer breathe, for hearts that could no longer beat. The magi stole the magic that gave them life, and they died.
Laine could still feel the shackles surrounding his upper arms, but pain did not wrack his body. His magic felt strangely strong and hale, as if the magi had not drawn from him in recent hours. It was strange—and worrying. What twisted plan did the magi have in store for him?
Laine’s surroundings came further into focus. It felt like he was riding on something. His body was lifting up and down in the air as whatever his body was tied to bounded forward. His fingers were clenched in what felt like fur.
Laine did not open his eyes. That would alert the magi that he was awake and aware, which would only lead to more pain. Instead, Laine allowed himself to enjoy the soothing feeling of the fur underneath him. His mind slowly drifted away into a dream; it was a good dream, because in it, he saw the magi die.
There were wolves in the woods. Laine could hear them howling and hear the magi tugging him along the tangled forest path, swearing about it. The wolves were truly beautiful creatures, Laine couldn’t help thinking as they broke cover and appeared in the clearing. There was one wolf with a white muzzle, as if he had dipped his nose in a bottle of milk and hadn’t yet licked himself clean. That wolf killed the magi who liked to giggle when he drew power from Laine.
A second and third wolf appeared, the first a female of russet color and the second a light brown male with large black splotches on his back. Together they ripped apart the magi second-in-command, a man with long brown hair and light blond stripes growing from his temples. It was strange to Laine that the magi bled the same color as Laine’s back did whenever the man gleefully decided to use the whip.
And then there was a beautiful dark brown wolf with the deepest, most wonderful brown eyes. He appeared in front of Laine and dove directly at the magi holding Laine captive. Laine felt the connection snap when the magi was forced to use both hands to defend against the wolf. He fell to the ground when he was released from the magi’s clutches. Claws slashed wickedly as the wolf backed the magi into a tree. Every time the magi opened his mouth to lay a coercion spell, the wolf would increase the fervor of his attacks, until all the magi could do was pant for breath and bleed. It wasn’t long before the beautiful wolf ripped the magi’s throat out. Laine got a glimpse of the long black hair with the two white stripes growing from the temples before a spray of blood disfigured the leader of the magi’s face forever.
The dream ended there, with Laine sitting on the forest floor while blood and wolves surrounded him. Even in the dream he returned to the haze, with Laine wistfully wishing it were possible for such things to come true. For the magi to be dead and Laine to be free, well it was a nice dream, but reality abhorred dreams.
Laine drifted. Hours, days, he couldn’t keep track of time. He didn’t want to keep track of time.
The next time Laine came to, the situation had grown stranger. There was warmth on his side, crackling warmth that told him he was lying in front of a fire. He was on a real bed, with feathers and a pillow. There was even a blanket tucked around his body. How many years had it been since Laine had felt the comfort of a simple blanket? There was a reason Laine didn’t keep track of time.
He knew it would alert the enemy if he moved, but Laine couldn’t help it. He curled deeper into the warmth of the mattress and pulled the blanket over his shoulders. Laine ignored the shocked whispers behind him. Surrounded by the unfamiliar comfort, his body fell into a real sleep—the first one in a very, very long time.