Tales from Thac: Rescue at Redune
This month we will look at an excerpt from the upcoming anthology Tales from Thac. Rescue at Redune is a short story centered around the young naval officer, Pallas Stealle. Those familiar with the Heroes of Ravenford will recognize the surname as belonging to Lloyd, one of the main characters of that series.
Pallas is Lloyd's older brother. He is the eldest son of the House of Stealle, a family of influence from the City of Penwick. Much like the younger Lloyd, Pallas is a spiritblade. Like his brother and sister, Pallas was trained in the art at the "Stealle Academy", a school founded and run by his family in the heart of Penwick. The tall, dashing young noble bears a striking resemblance to his brother, except that he is of a leaner build. Yet that is where the likeness ends. Where Lloyd is carefree and even reckless, Pallas is quite solemn and cautious.
At the age of six, the young lad witnessed the near destruction of Penwick by the Pirate Clans of the Coast. The events traumatized young Pallas. As such, it has become his earnest desire to protect his city and everyone in it. To that end, he followed in his father's footsteps and joined the Penwick royal navy. Pallas has worked hard to climb the ranks on his own merit. Now, twenty years later, he has obtained a commission as Lieutenant Commander aboard the might warship, Avenger.
Rescue at Redune takes up Pallas' story perhaps six months into his new role as second in command of that warship. His tour has been rather routine so far, but the events that are about to unfold will put the young man to the ultimate test. Will he be able to protect everyone as he so vowed, or will he die in the attempt?
Here is an excerpt from Rescue at Redune:
Moments later, they reemerged on the pier. Pallas twisted his head around to see Alys clinging to him, a wan smile on her lips. He mentally chided himself—in his rash attempt to catch the mage, he’d nearly left her behind.
“Sorry…” Pallas began, but halted when the robe in his hand went slack. A dark-haired woman sprinted agilely away from him, garbed only in a black chemise.
A gruff laugh echoed across the pier. “Ha, they almost got ye there, lassie.”
Pallas turned to see the pirate captain standing a few yards down the dock. There was not a mark on him—he was completely unscathed by the fiery blast. His men, on the other hand, had not fared so well. Most had been laid out by the explosion, their bodies badly burnt. Only a couple still stood, but they looked quite singed.
Beyond them, Pallas spied the ‘bladesmen. Two had been downed and one looked somewhat charred, but the more seasoned ones had minor burns at best. Pallas felt a twinge of guilt as he called out to his comrades. “Hang on, men. We’ll get you help soon.”
The pirate captain laughed once more, his tone laced with contempt. “Har, har, har. Laddie, I’m afraid it’s ye who’ll be needin’ help.”
Pallas glared at the man, then suddenly remembered the mage. He glanced over his shoulder, but she was nowhere to be seen.
Way to go, Pallas.
What should have been a quiet rescue had turned into a disaster. His men were hurt, he’d lost track of the mage, and this dangerous cutthroat stood in his way.
One of the still standing ‘blades called back to him. “Do you need help over there, Commander?”
Pallas shook his head. He’d already put them in enough danger. “Belay that. Stand your ground and protect your shipmates, sailor.”
“Yes, Sir!” The standing ‘blades took up defensive positions against the remaining pirates.
The captain, however, crowed over the exchange. “Commander, be it? One ‘o Penwick’s finest, then? Well, it’s me lucky day. I’ve been wantin’ ta cross swords with one ‘o ye.”
The dark-bearded pirate fell into a fighting stance, his tone mocking. “Whene’er ye be ready, Commander.”
Pallas let out a deep sigh. There was no way around this. He’d have to face the captain and watch for the mage as well. His lip curled up to one side. Not exactly a tactical advantage.
Alys still held onto him. He gently removed her arms and gazed at her. Though she could not speak, he could see the anguish in her eyes.
Keen sympathy welled up inside him for the ordinarily carefree young woman. He grasped her hands and did his best to smile. “Don’t worry. This will be over quickly. Just promise me you’ll stay put.”
Alys put on a brave face and gave him a firm nod. Pallas held onto her for a moment longer, then turned to face the waiting captain.
A wicked smile split the pirate’s dark beard. “Very touchin’ speech there, laddie. Yer right ‘bout one thing, though. This’ll be over real quick-like.”
Pallas declined to answer, his jaw firmly set as he approached his dangerous opponent. He drew within a few feet, then fell into a well-practiced stance.
The duo eyed each other for a few moments, then Pallas felt that same surge of dark spiritual energy. He watched with keen interest as a glow enveloped the captain’s blades. The energy crackled and spit just like black flames.
So, he is a dark ‘blade. Well, two can play at that game. Once again, Pallas reached inward, drawing on his spirit. It was a bit harder this time—each use of spirit energy drained the body and mind. Pallas refocused his will, coaxing the energy forth nonetheless. The warmth traveled from his lower abdomen and up through his arms, encircling his blade with sizzling red and yellow flames.
“Oh ho, laddie,” the captain bellowed. “It seems ye know a trick or two yerself. That should make this all the more fun.”
Without warning, the pirate launched himself at Pallas. He slashed and spun, his blades darker than the surrounding night.
Gods, he’s fast!
Pallas’ brother favored two swords, but it was nothing like this. It was all he could do to keep up with the pirate. He barely managed to parry a slash when another came at him from a different angle.
The swift and merciless flurry continued, black and red flames dancing around each other as they intertwined with each strike. Blow after blow rained down on Pallas. He was put totally on the defensive, slowly but inexorably being pushed back along the dock.
Incredibly, the pirate’s pace picked up. Pallas found it nearly impossible to follow. A split-second off on his parries, the tip of the captain’s blades swiped across his arms. Deep gashes appeared in his leather armor and traces of blood seeped through.
Pallas could feel himself losing. All his years of training, all those promises to protect his loved ones, and none of it was enough. He was going to die here, at the hands of a pirate of the clans.
The thought made Pallas go cold inside. No. Not like this. Not to one of them.
His father’s voice suddenly echoed through his mind. “There will always be someone better than you, but no one is perfect. Everyone has a weakness. The key is to find it and exploit it.”
Those words lit a fire inside Pallas. Energy flooded up from the core of his being. He found himself moving faster—anticipating the pirate’s moves. There. He parried a slash. And there. He countered a thrust.
A strange sense of calm came over him, the rest of the world fading away. All that was left was their fiery blades dancing in the darkness.
At the same time, the pirate’s frustration grew. His attacks became bolder, wilder, in an attempt to break Pallas’ defenses. Finally, the pirate made a mistake, overextending himself on a particularly vicious lunge.
Pallas knocked the man’s blade aside, then twisted his grip and followed through with a quick slice across the torso.
The captain swiftly backpedaled away. He halted a few yards back and glanced down at his chest. His puffy white shirt had a gash in it with a short red line of blood seeping through. The pirate peered up at Pallas with a slight twitch in his eye. “Look at what ye did there now. Ye went and damaged me fine shirt.”
A feeling of elation washed over Pallas, but he swiftly pushed it back down. This was far from over. Another buildup of dark energy proved his restraint to be justified. Pallas concentrated his will, trying to sense what his opponent was planning, when the feeling abruptly faded. At the same moment, the flames on his blade went out.
Numbness spread over Pallas’ body. He could not sense any energy from the captain. He tried to draw on his spirit, but could not feel it. It was as if he was suddenly blind.
The captain jeered at him. “Hah. It looks as if ye lost yer edge there, laddie.”
Pallas sluggishly glanced around ‘til his eyes fell on a familiar figure. The dark-haired woman had reappeared across the dock, her pale hands clasped together to form a strange symbol. Cold fear gripped him as he realized the truth.
That’s witchcraft! The mage wasn’t a mage after all. She was a witch and she had cursed his spirit sight, the same way she had cursed Alys’ voice.
Pallas gulped. Without his gifts, he had no chance against the pirate captain. Still frozen with fear, he nearly jumped when a red-headed blur flew across the dock. That’s Alys!
The young lady had doffed her dress and now dashed across the pier, directly at the witch. The witch tried to weave another curse, but Alys proved faster. Like an acrobat, the fiery redhead caught the witch in the stomach with her heel. The dark-haired woman went flying backward, her concentration completely broken.
The witch righted herself, a knife appearing in her hand. Before she could use it, though, Alys leapt into the air. Her foot whipped around and collided with the witch’s arm, knocking the dagger out of her hand. Alys landed in front of the witch, poised for another leap.
A deep chortle resounded behind Pallas. “Looks like ye got yer own battle there, lassie.”
The witch responded with a hiss. “No thanks to you. Are you just going to stand there all night?”
The captain grimaced back at her. “Stop yer bellyaching. This’ll be over in no time. I’d worry more ’bout that fiery little redhead if I was ye.”
Amazing as Alys had proven to be, Pallas was also worried about her. Still, if she could keep the witch off balance, the witch wouldn’t be able to cast more curses. Not to mention, Pallas had his own fight to deal with.
The pirate captain had gone still. Pallas could no longer sense spiritual energy, but he knew an attack was imminent. A moment later, the pirate disappeared.
Pallas’ training was the only thing that saved him. He spun around as the captain reappeared behind him, a single sword thrust at his torso in a deadly lunge.
Pallas caught it on his own blade, but it still slid past him, slicing across his abdomen. Sharp pain lanced through his body.
Pallas glanced down. His leathers and the skin underneath had been slashed wide open. Red blood poured from the gaping wound. He felt suddenly lightheaded. His knees gave out and he dropped to the deck.
The sword fell from Pallas’ hand, the blade clattering onto the wooden planks. He desperately clamped down on the wound, marginally slowing the bleeding.
A dark laugh caught his attention. The pirate captain stood over him, a wide grin on his grizzled features. “Like I told ye before, laddie, it’s ye who’ll be needin’ the help.”
Sorry, but we'll have to end there. The exciting conclusion to this story and many others will be published in the anthology this fall. Please feel free to leave any questions or comments at the bottom of this blog. And stay tuned for more excerpts from Tales in the coming months.