I also want to note that anyone pre-ordering the book (or the audio book or the ebook) from any retailer should send me evidence of the purchase so I can say “thanks” by sending you a coupon for a free copy of my ebook short story collection, Ephemera (details are here). Lots of you have done this already and you have my sincere thanks. Pre orders are a big deal.
Anyway, on to the excerpt. This bit finds the boys in the Wastes outside of Dur Follin.
Men were shouting all around Nix, horses whinnying. Egil shouted his name. He had time enough only to curse, leap to his feet, and put hand to blade hilt before the creatures were upon him. Chaos followed, a mad churn of sound: men screaming, the creatures shrieking and growling, the beat of wings, the snap of fangs.
Nix ducked low, eschewed his falchion, and put a dagger in each hand. He slashed and stabbed at anything within reach. In rough form, the creatures were about the size and shape of a goose. Leathery skin covered their bodies, and four overlapping membranous wings sprouted from their backs. Their necks ended in sleek heads. Small, red eyes perched over mouths lined with tiny fangs. Their taloned claws looked like those of a raptor. They shrieked, growled, and hissed as they swarmed.
A creature tore at Nix’s arm, a claw scratched his hand and cheek, and another creature landed on his back and sank its teeth into his scalp. He shouted with pain, reached back, grabbed it, and threw its fluttering form to the earth. He stomped it to death as he slashed another of the creatures hovering before him and snapping at his face. The fiends were everywhere, shrieking, biting, tearing exposed flesh.
One landed on his legs, talons sinking into flesh, biting at his thigh. Another one appeared, diving for his face, clawed feet and toothy mouth snapping at his eyes and nose. He reeled backward, ducking, stumbling through several more, slashing as he went, severed wings and legs and throats. But for every creature he killed, another took its place, another. Teeth sank into his ear; claws dug into his scalp. He roared and twirled, stabbing and slashing wildly.
Egil did the same five paces from him, the priest’s shouts like the bellows of an angry bull. His hammers spun through the air so fast they hummed, pulping the creatures three and four at a swing. All around the campsite, the other guards were shrieking, bleeding. Blood dripped into Nix’s eyes from his wounded scalp. Already his arms were tiring. Panic fogged the air along with the screams.
The horses, unyoked from the wagons for the night but tethered to outcroppings of rock, whinnied and stomped, trapped by their tethers. Dozens of the creatures landed on the poor animals and tore at their flesh. The horses bucked, bellowed, pulled at their reins, heads shaking, muscles straining.
“Save the horses!” Baras shouted, and several of his guards ran for the animals through the cloud of creatures. They chopped wildly with their blades as they ran.
One of the guards, separated from the others, went down. Nix ran for him, but more than a dozen of the creatures swarmed him. Teeth snapped before his eyes, sank into his hands, causing him to curse and drop a dagger. He drew another as he recoiled from the creatures, slashing and stabbing those he could reach.
“Help! Get them off!” the downed guard called.
The creatures squawked and swarmed the guard until he was covered in a blanket of their scaled bodies. He dropped his weapon, his arms flailing wildly, desperately, screaming in terror and pain.
Baras and Egil roared and charged toward the fallen man from opposite directions, but before they could get to him, the creatures had sunk their talons into his flesh and clothes and lifted him into the air. He hung limp in their collective grasp, perhaps already dead, arms and legs dangling like a doll’s. Egil leaped for him but the man was already out of reach.
Baras cursed and, shielding his head and face, ran to help his men in protecting the horses. Egil fell in with him. The draft animals were panicked, kicking and whinnying, and Baras went down trying to dodge a kick from one of them. Egil grabbed him by the collar and pulled him away, and together with the other guards they beat back a furious attack from scores of the flying creatures.
“Everyone here!” Egil called. “We need to fight together! Nix!”
Nix slashed a creature tearing at his arm, stomped another on the ground, cleared the air before him with a furious series of slashes. The creatures formed a cloud around him, an endless flutter of wings, snapping teeth, and slashing talons. Bleeding and fatigued, Nix made a run for the horses, slashing furiously as he ran. Blood ran into his eyes, blinded him, and he stumbled on rock, fell.
The moment he hit the ground dozens of the creatures landed on him, ripping his clothes and flesh, tearing at his leather jack. One bit the back of his neck, his scalp again, tearing loose a clump of hair. Another bit his ear. He tried to roll over and bring his blades to bear, but before he could he felt the sickening, terrifying feeling of his body being lifted up. Two score of the creatures at least clutched him by his flesh and his clothes and were bearing him into the air. He watched in horror as the ground fell away beneath him. He flashed on an image of himself carried into one of the holes in the earth they’d seen earlier, his body reduced to bones, made part of a mound of the dead. Panic lent him strength. He kicked and squirmed frenetically, desperately.
He tried to turn his body, slash with his blade, but only managed to writhe to no effect. A talon tore a furrow in his cheek, narrowly missing his eye. He twisted and squirmed wildly, fueled by fear and adrenaline. He managed to dislodge enough of the creatures that they lost some altitude, but they did not release him. Teeth sank into his legs, his arms. Blood dripped from his wounds, dotted the earth. He started to rise again.
He glimpsed Egil a fraction of a second before the priest leaped high for him and tackled him back to earth. Nix felt the squirming, fluttering death throes of several of the creatures crushed between his body and the earth. He rolled to the side and climbed to his feet, swinging his blade at the hissing creatures attacking him from all sides. Egil did the same, his hammers reaping the creatures in twos and threes.
The priest grabbed Nix by the arm and propelled him along toward Baras and the horses, fending off the creatures as best he could with one hammer.
“I’m good,” Nix said, shaking his arm free and stabbing a creature with his dagger.
“Maybe put on some weight though, eh?” Egil said, grinning, his face bloody and torn.