The night winds droned low and bitter around the snow-crusted flanks of the lone-standing mountain known as Fellhorn. Its forbidding heights were only slightly smoothed by the ice that had settled over its treacherous, beetling crags. Clouds clung, cancerous, to the bone-white breast of the moon, darkening the storm-wracked landscape below.
Sarah Bean ran through the snow, dragging herself along the narrow path ahead. Her teeth chattered and her head ached as the insistent, howling blizzard battered her skull and stung her freezing flesh. Flicking long dark strands of hair from her eyes, she tried to see more clearly where she was going—to no avail. Streaming currents of snow and high-altitude fog swam in, obscuring everything before her. And she well knew what was behind her. The sonorous notes of hunting horns momentarily cut through Nature’s deafening roar.
The Fallen-born were coming.
Forcing her numb feet to run on through the storm, she stumbled and slowed, although her screaming brain demanded speed and dexterity. When she was not grasping at outcrops to keep her balance, she held her arms tight across her chest, trying vainly to trap warmth within. She had never felt such cold before, nor had she been in such a place, not in her life, and never in her dreams. She knew the old saying that a pinch should be enough to awaken someone from a bad dream. But this was no bad dream. This was her Path, and she had to follow it to the end, whatever that might be. So Ossen the Wayfarer had said. But Ossen had been wrong about other things—maybe he was wrong about this too? Maybe she would die here, on the mountain, torn apart by the Fallen One’s Five Shadows.
The storm’s white winds bit harshly at her ears as she listened. They were coming closer. She could hear them over the blasts that came again and again from their horns. Could hear the beating hooves of their corpse-horses, the scraping iron welded onto their skulls and bones. Her heart hurt in her chest as it tried to pump harder, scouring her veins and arteries with stabs of adrenaline. She did not want to look into the eyes of a Fallen-born again. She knew now why Ossen called them Devil-eyes.
The air she breathed was thinning out, but so too was it finally clearing about her, showing her the way. She could see something rising out of the rocks above. A change in the nature of her surroundings. Then, as if a god were catching its breath, the night cleared, the moon shone and it was there before her—the top of the mountain. And glittering in the wan light was the object of power that she sought.
The Sword of Sighs.
Atop the Fellhorn, it was driven into the snow-crusted summit, where it shone like a fallen star. She went to it. She could hear it: low whispers and light sighs, in languages she could not understand, emanated from the shimmering blade.
Further shouts and calls came from the belts of fog below. Her insides felt cold, fluid, and empty as she realised how alien the realm of Seythe truly was. How far away she was from home. Then there was a series of howls, strident, hungry, and close at hand. The tone of their hunting horns rang, victorious and mocking, in her ears. Again came the pounding of hooves, the scraping of iron, the sound of swords being unslung. Sarah no longer looked upon the strange sword before her with fear. It was her only means of survival now. She grasped its hilt with both hands, meaning to draw it out so she could turn and face the gathering darkness.
The howls of the Fallen-born and their hunting horns stilled into silence.
Sarah braced herself against the ground, shaking violently as she tried to pull the sword free from the mountain. It would not move. It might as well have been a part of the stone. She rubbed her hands together and tried again. She could still feel the bite of the storm’s cold in her bones. Death was behind her, coming closer; it had dismounted and drawn five swords from black scabbards.
Tears streamed from her eyes.
She heard the heavy sound of armoured feet crunching through snow and ice. With every muscle screaming, Sarah hauled at the Sword of Sighs one last time.
It would not give. It would not move. It would not come free. The ghostly voices swimming out from it seemed to mock her.
Shoulders sagging, senses and sight failing, she turned to face them without it.
The Fallen-born, sons of shadow and darkness. Their bodies were wasted away, bones and bare muscle showing where greying skin had torn. Their eyes were open red sockets and a yellowish slurry ran from between sharpened teeth diabolically fused with a black iron, which itself smoked and reeked and steamed. That same iron was also one with the rest of their bodies. In their creaking, skeletal hands, they wielded black swords, the blades of which resembled polished ebony glass. One let out its familiar feral howl, and it was joined by another, another, and then another and another, until the chorus they made was an ear-splitting screech. It paralysed her as well as any spell or hypnosis might. The Fallen-born encircled Sarah and closed in on her. She tried to dodge or feint, to get away, but there was no way out. Each of the Fallen-born raised its sword high and then swept the blade down in a screaming arc. The voice of the storm shook the great mountain to its roots.
Sarah licked her dry lips.
Her head fell at the feet of the Fallen-born. And, as darkness hurried in, she heard the storm itself speak: “I take your life again, O Flame. I win.”
And then there was only laughter and the storm’s black thunder.
The Sword of Sighs will be released on 15th March 2013. To join the mailing list for new releases, please use the following link: http://eepurl.com/vfYf9