After enjoying Melokai (review | excerpt) by Rosalyn Kelly so much, we were keen as mustard to get a hold of book 2 in the In the Heart of the Mountains series. And while our team is working on a review of the book, the author was swish enough to give us chapter one of Violya and we are really excited to share it with you!
“Cockfaces,” the warrior Violya hissed as the enemy’s ramshackle camp came into view.
In the dead of night, lit only by the camp’s pathetic fires that spat and sizzled against the heavy snowfall, a small, deadly force of one hundred Peqkian warriors and one hundred Jute fighters silently climbed down the mountain slope.
The winding trail wasn’t an option. Now plugged with deep snow, it was being watched by twitchy desert cammers, posted on the perimeter while their comrades slept. The soldiers huddled together, shivering violently. Misshapen, ugly humps poked out of thin, wretched uniforms not suitable for the cold weather.
The cammer soldiers eyed the rocky incline and the trail which they’d come from, surveying the dark, ominous hunks of jagged rock and looming boulders. The dwindling flames cast long shadows, and heads jerked at any hint of movement. Their white-knuckled, trembling hands gripped their swords. As if their weapons would save them.
Every now and then they glanced desperately at the start of the snaking path that led down the southern slopes and across the wastelands. A four-day trek away was the border to their own miserable sand-choked nation. But they hadn’t made it to the dunes in time.
V had caught up to them. And now they would pay.
The Dromedars were crammed in the middle of a large, flat area of the mountains that jutted out with a sharp cliff below. In the shadows of the huge boulders, where this level expanse met the mountain slope, V eased herself gently from the rocks, meticulously placing one foot then the next in the snow.
Having left their bulky fur coats, gloves and movement-hindering wrappings back at their camp with the animals, the Peqkians and Jutes deftly landed around her.
“Tents,” the warrior Lizya whispered to V. “First we’ve seen.”
In the midst of the camp were seven small tents for the important cammers, the animal hide sagging under the settling snow. For three weeks V’s small force had driven the hump-backed invaders out of the capital, out of the country, nipped and harried at their heels, and picked off the stragglers. These one thousand soldiers were the last dregs of the Dromedar army that remained in Peqkya.
“The male-child cammer has to be here,” V said.
She itched to finish him. In a moment of uncharacteristic emotion back in Riaow, she’d had the chance to slice the zhaq Crown Prince of Drome in two but she’d toyed with him, wanted to torture him for what he’d done, for who he’d murdered. But he’d got away, minus his arms, and she was racked with guilt that gnawed at her. The regret strangled her every thought, like ivy twisting around a tree.
Foolish mistake, warrior, V berated herself again. But he was here. He had to be. And she’d have her vengeance.
The magic in V’s blood pulsed in her ears.
Oh, use me, use me, use meee! We’ll wreak devastation bigger than the world has ever seen… a rain of rocks to crush their cammer bodies… a flood of epic proportions to drown them all… a surge of wind to shove them over the edge of the cliff… a…
Be quiet, V snapped, we have a plan. The magic retreated, simmering in her veins. Her long-repressed power had erupted during the battle in Riaow but had been silent since. She would learn how to master it from the Stone Prophetess Sybilya, but until then, she couldn’t risk using it and unleashing more harm than good.
The Jutes formed into tight rows, their copious weapons on show: blades of all sizes, throwing stars and axes. The pink-skinned, intricately inked creatures from the rainforest realm of Majute stood no taller than V’s belly. Their small frames barely dented the calf-high snow.
V and her warriors shifted behind, soundlessly drawing their swords. The crackling fires and fitful hum of snoring cammers the only noise.
In the gloom, the Jute captain Brinjinqa bowed low to her, his blue hair fashioned into spikes just missing her hands.
“My dear, V,” Brin said with a twinkle in his black beady eyes that always seemed to be looking everywhere at once, “we thank you for the opportunity to use this.” He held up the vial of red liquid that hung around his neck and chuckled to himself.
Ridiculously strong pitfire juice, he’d called it. Pitfire was a crop grown in Majute. She’d first seen it when she’d ventured there leading a Peqkian trading party. When boiled and prepared as a drink it was as potent as wine or poppy.
It was a risk.
The Jutes hadn’t requested to use it until now and she had no idea what it would do. She’d only seen people drunk and lethargic on it. But the deep snow was no obstacle for the light-footed Jutes and, as her force was outnumbered, the attack required speed. She trusted Brin. His ruler had sent him and his fighters with V. They had fought bravely beside the Peqkians since the invasion and were yet to take any casualties.
Brin whispered to V, “When we slow, it’s safe to approach, as the pitfire will be wearing off. When we are in the high state, we cannot tell friend from foe, only others of our kind.”
She nodded and Brin’s large grin revealed front teeth that had been filed to sharp points.
He unstoppered the vial from around his neck and held it up to his face. One hundred Jutes did the same in complete unison. As one, each took the tiniest sip, carefully replaced the stopper, shuddered, and set off across the snow at such a speed that the Peqkians were momentarily left behind.
“Ack, ack, ack!” The Jutes’ war cry increased in volume as they got closer to the camp.
“Love those crazy little freaks,” the warrior Finya said.
Mangled shouts rose from the soldiers on guard as a sea of acking creatures smashed into them. The Jutes swirled like a tornado tossing cammers out of the way or trampling them flat to the ground. The Jute twister swept nearer and nearer to the tents on a random, jerky course, causing utter chaos.
Each individual Jute was going berserk. They slashed with knives, cleaved with claw-like hands, shredded with sharp teeth. But they moved as a whole. The mass crashed forward, a froth of frenzied fighters that blitzed a path to the tents for the Peqkians.
Throwing off sleep, cammer soldiers scrambled to their feet, unsheathed swords or jumped out of the way. All their attention focused on the progressing churn of pink bodies.
V signalled to her warriors and they charged. The snow hindered their momentum but the noisy Jutes masked the sound of their approach. They reached the edges of the camp and slew distracted cammers who fell in droves. Soldiers turned to face them and V and her warriors fought wave after wave of hump-backed Dromedars. She pushed forward to the tents, flattening anything that stood in her way, engaging without pause and storming through hastily-formed defensive lines as if they were mere blades of grass under her boots – she could not allow those under cover to escape.
This is your end Crown Prince!
Soldiers formed a muddled defence outside the tents, eyes on the Jutes who were rapidly advancing. Cammer swords came up to attack but the Jutes didn’t engage. The whirlwind surrounded the tents and formed a circular wall of moving pink-skinned, blue-haired bodies.
The Jutes who faced the tents snarled and acked, trapping the soldiers and tent inhabitants and isolating them from the rest of the camp. Those who faced outward engaged any cammer that came near. The soldiers pressed in, attempting to find a way through the berserker Jutes to save those behind.
V and her warriors blazed their way through incompetent soldiers, no match for her seasoned warriors. Desert blood drenched the mountain rocks, doused fires, splashed up her arms and spurted across her face. The tang of iron clogged her nostrils and the wet gore slid past her lips to cover her tongue and teeth in a hot, sticky film. But there was only one whose blood she longed to spill and she was almost upon him.
As her company neared the tents, the Jutes’ movements slowed. V directed her warriors to form a protective wall around the Jutes, whose chests heaved as they looked one another over checking for injuries and cuts. All were exalted, laughing, grinning and yammering to each other in their singsong language. They parted like water to allow V and twenty of her warriors through and then fluidly closed the gap.
Brin passed V as he and his Jutes continued to circle, sweeping his hand to the tents as if in offering.
“All yours, my dear,” the Jute captain said.
She thumped her fist to her chest in thanks and beckoned to her warriors.
Soldiers protected those still in the tents, swords drawn and legs quaking. A few tent occupants had joined the fight, but the one she sought was injured. He won’t have left the tent.
V whistled orders to her women and they struck the Dromedars down. When every cammer was on the ground, groaning in pain or crying out in their last moments before death, V sliced a deep gash in the side of the first tent and the warrior Daya ripped the cloth apart.
The second contained an older cammer soldier, whimpering. The third, fourth and fifth were all empty. The sixth contained three soldiers in uniforms made of expensive cloth clutching each other.
Daya stared at V, and she knew.
The Crown Prince, the armless male-child Ammad, was not there. The worm had made it back to Drome.
Internally, V raged. Her magic screamed along with her, pummelled at her bones, sloshed about in her gut. She wanted to punch great holes into nearby boulders, thrash and kick. But she controlled her emotions. The expression on her face and stiffness of her stance betrayed nothing.
“Zhaq,” the novice warrior, Monya, yelled, unable to master her emotions like the older warriors. In a frenzy, she slashed the tent to shreds with her sword.
The youngblood had expressed all of their frustrations, but once done, she studied her feet.
V took a long, slow breath.
The Jutes parted as she strode from the flattened tents, tailed by her warriors. Exhausted, half-frozen cammer faces gawped at her, but cowered as she passed. Her tall stature, glowing black skin, red hair and palms the colour of poppies marked her as different from her fellow warriors and sparked fear in the Dromedars.
The soldiers had no fight left in them. They lowered their swords, rooted to the spot. Most, she noticed, had metal cuffs around their wrists. Slaves. They followed orders. And now that the important cammers in the tents – their masters – were dead, these males posed no threat.
There is no glory in a needless slaughter. Most of the cammers wouldn’t survive much longer without food and water. And she doubted the desert would be forthcoming.
In the east, the sun was starting to rise.
Her magic granted her the ability to speak in any tongue. In Dromedari, she said, “Drop your weapons.”
The soldiers obeyed without hesitation and the thump and clang of falling steel echoed across the plain. She pointed with her sword to the path that led down the mountain. “Any soldier who is still here when the sun comes up will be executed. Run.”
The soldiers nearest to her shambled towards the path, grabbing up packs and raggedy blankets as they went. Soon those further back understood what was happening and scurried behind them.
To the Jutes, V said, “Rest. You earned it.”
To her warriors, she said, “We follow them to the border. Pick off any who lag behind. Let’s get these cammer cockfaces out of our country once and for all.”
A few days later, the last of the Drome soldiers slid, stumbled and fell down the loose rock of the earthquake landslide that had first opened an entrance for them at the Peqkian border.
Clouds of dust flew up behind them. They ran as fast as their cammer legs would take them across the wasteland the earthquake had torn apart and towards the desert.
Beyond the fleeing males were vast dunes, almost mountains in themselves, and undulating red sand for as far as the eye could see.
Somewhere out there was the one she sought. The Crown Prince of Drome. Ammad. He’d murdered Melokai Ramya. His army had invaded Peqkya to claim the country as his own. And he’d been responsible for her best friend’s death. Emmya. She missed Emmya. He’d caused the deaths of so many Peqkians.
Was he alive? Until she saw him dead, she would believe it.
I will have my revenge.
After a while, Lizya touched her forearm and raised an eyebrow in question.
V turned to see her warriors poised and waiting for her order. They would follow her into Drome, into the vast desert without question. It still felt strange that she was their leader. Was responsible for her actions and the actions of many others.
She wanted to charge into the dunes, her quarry was that way. She’d hunt him down and finish him as she should’ve done when she’d had the chance.
But… There was something that needed V’s attention now more than the armless worm.
“We return to Riaow,” the red-haired warrior said. “Peqkya needs us.”