The Tunnels Beneath - Sample
Excerpt: Chapter One
TY DEFLECTED A BLADE, sidestepped, then deflected another. They were coming so fast, he knew he couldn’t stop them. He struck away two more attempts, each getting a little closer. This wasn’t working. He could barely see his opponent’s weapons. How was he supposed to defend himself when he could barely—
He stumbled while trying to scissor-cross his legs in the snow and went down, losing his sword. He spun over onto his back just in time to see the man standing over him swing. Ty didn’t have time to think. He desperately raised his hands and conjured a shield, sending the man’s weapons careening to the left.
The man kicked Ty’s shin.
“Ow!” Ty released his shield and grabbed his leg. “What was that for?”
Ayrion stood over him, looking disappointed. “I told you. No magic.”
Ty heard giggling from the side of the practice ring and turned over. “What? You think you can do better?”
“Of course, yes,” Narendi said as she, Breen, and Kraea sat smirking. The Imbatoo princess was wearing her Mzwati robes, with her face covering hanging loosely around her neck. As cold as it was in the Angoran Mountains, especially with snow still covering the ground, Ty was surprised she didn’t opt for something warmer.
On the left side of the ring, Ty spotted Bek. The large trapper was decked in his usual fur-lined outfit all the way down to his zabatas, as he called them. Ty had to admit they did look warm. He wondered if the woodsman would be willing to make him a pair. Ty shook his head. Come on. Focus.
He turned his attention back to the man in black. He hated weapons practice. He needed to be learning how to use magic with Nyalis, not how to get thrown around like a rag doll by this swordsman, even if he was some kind of weapons master. It wasn’t that Ty didn’t understand the need to learn how to wield a sword, but so far that was all he’d been allowed to do.
Ayrion held out his hand and helped Ty to his feet. Ty felt more than a little humiliated as he took a moment to stretch and check for injuries before collecting his weapon, which was nothing more than a wooden practice sword. His fingers were cold and numb, which made gripping the sword difficult, so he blew on them until the tips began to tingle.
Their practices were being held inside the Aero’set garrison. Nyalis said that it had been part of a military compound where they trained those set to guard the school. Ty wondered what they had been like.
Ayrion walked over. “Magic is a gift, but if you want to learn how to wield it properly, then you need to understand the basics of what it is you’re using it for. What good is a conjured shield if you don’t know how to maneuver it? If I had been a real opponent, I would have cut your leg off while you were busy guarding your chest.”
“And if this had been a real fight, I would have burned you alive before you got the—”
Ayrion’s fist connected with the side of Ty’s face, and before Ty hit the dirt, everything went black.
Ty’s eyes slowly flickered open to find Breen, Narendi, and Kraea kneeling over him. What were they . . . He remembered the blow and sat up, rubbing his jaw. It felt like someone had crushed it with a sledgehammer.
Narendi shook her head. “Even I saw that coming.”
“Where is he?” Ty bellowed, too angry to care how much it hurt to talk. He twisted around and scanned the practice yard, but there was no sign of the man in black.
“Afraid Ayrion left a while ago,” Breen said with a sympathetic sigh as he helped Ty up and over to one of several benches staggered around the practice rings.
Kraea smiled, her fangs quite frightening. “The dark warrior told them to tell you that if this had been a real fight, you would have been dead half a dozen times over before you got the chance to remember you even had magic.”
Ty waved Breen off. “I already heard.”
“Oh.” Breen looked over at Kraea, and she cocked her head.
Ty was the only one who could hear the draakar, and most of the time he didn’t bother translating. It simply took too much time. He attempted to move his jaw around and immediately stopped. The pain was excruciating. “I’m really starting to hate that man.”
“You don’t have to like him to learn,” someone behind them said.
They turned to find Nyalis leaning against his staff next to a large oak at the side of the ring. It had been a couple of days since Ty had seen him, though not for a lack of searching. As big as Aero’set was, Ty could spend the next year exploring the mountain compound and probably not find half of what the magical school held. As it was, they had barely scratched the surface over the last few weeks, having only been inside a few of the more prominent towers near the center.
Nyalis walked over, and the others parted to let him through. He sat down on the bench next to Ty and reached for his jaw. “Hmm. Yes.” He shook his head.
“What?” Ty asked, then winced.
“You were definitely hit.”
“He knows that,” Breen said exasperatedly. “Aren’t you going to fix it?”
Nyalis sighed. “I’m growing weary of expending magic to heal the three of you.”
“Then tell that sadist of an instructor to quit trying to kill us,” Ty mumbled.
“You wouldn’t need healing if you’d actually listen.”
Ty jumped when he realized Ayrion was standing right behind him. “How did you—” He winced again, cupping his jaw. “Look what you did to me.” His words were garbled.
“Hold still,” Nyalis said, moving Ty’s hand out of the way. He closed his eyes and muttered something under his breath.
Ty felt the familiar rush of icy cold flood through his mouth, and the pain eased. Nyalis released his grip, and Ty slowly opened his jaw, then wiggled it around. The pain was gone.
“How is he?” Ayrion asked, sounding oddly concerned.
“Back to form,” Nyalis said, pulling himself up with the help of his staff. “Do take it easier on him, will you? I can’t keep wasting my magic on unnecessary healings.”
Ayrion looked at Ty. “In his case, I’m afraid it’s all too necessary. What he knows about the art of defense wouldn’t fill the cap on his head.” He looked at Ty. “I don’t know how you’ve managed to survive this long.”
“With this,” Ty said, igniting blue flames from each of his hands.
“Yes, very pretty, but what good is it when you burn yourself out or find yourself with one of those durmas around your neck? Or end up in a place like the one you described in the Riverlands where your magic was unusable?” He turned to Nyalis. “I would guess there are other such places like that around Aldor?”
“There are several, yes. Both here and elsewhere.”
Ayrion nodded. “I knew a boy once who could negate magic just by being close, so trust me when I say you need to learn how to defend yourself.” He looked at the others. “That goes for all of you.”
Kraea growled, baring her fangs.
The weapons master didn’t flinch in the slightest. “Yes, that goes for you as well,” he said to the draakar. “It wasn’t too long ago that you were lying in a pool of your own blood with a witch’s dagger sticking from your chest.”
“Don’t remind me,” Kraea said, though Ty was the only one who could hear her.
Ayrion didn’t seem to care if she had responded or not. He looked at Narendi. “Our young princess here seems to be the only one of you capable of wielding a weapon in close combat. I must say that your people have my respect. Your skill with the spear is quite advanced.”
Narendi smiled, then smirked at Ty.
“Though your sword skills could use some work,” he added, and her smile slipped.
“What about Breen?” Ty added. “He can clip the wings off a red flit at fifty paces.”
Ayrion looked at Ty’s brother, who stood nearly a head taller than he did. “Yes, he does have an uncanny knack for hitting what he aims at, but a bow or a thrown knife are weapons best used at a distance. I’m talking about standing face-to-face with an opponent and surviving. Looking your enemy in the whites of his eyes and walking away without serious injury.”
The weapons master took a step back and placed his hands on his sides. “My job, in the short time that I’m here, is to prepare you as best I can.” He looked at each of them in turn, then groaned loudly. “I’ve got my work cut out for me.”
“You said short time,” Breen pointed out. “Are you planning on leaving?”
Ayrion gave Nyalis an odd look. “Now that I’ve managed to recover my memories, there are . . . obligations that need addressing.”
“You have more important obligations here that need tending to,” Nyalis said.
Ayrion didn’t respond, but he said a lot in that silence. He finally turned and looked at the four of them. “Regardless, my time is limited, so your training will be grueling.”
Ty groaned inwardly.
“I can’t promise to turn you into expert swordsmen and women, or even that you’ll be proficient, but I will do my best to give you the skills you’ll need to hopefully survive.” Ayrion walked over and grabbed the two wooden practice swords off the ground and turned. “So, who’s next?”
That’s it? Ty mused. That was all their instructor was going to say to encourage them? That had to be the worst pep talk he’d ever heard.
“I guess I can spot the others,” Breen said and walked into the ring to take the practice sword from Ayrion. With a deep breath, they faced off, and the training started up once more.
By the time the afternoon sun had begun to cool as it slipped over the horizon, Ty, Breen, Narendi, and even Kraea were completely winded and barely able to stand. Ty’s whole body was covered in bruises and cuts where he’d failed to block or dodge or deflect Ayrion’s attacks. He thought one of his knuckles might have been dislocated. The only benefit to the cold was he couldn’t feel it all that much.
Ty hated everything about this training. It was terrible. This wasn’t why he had worked so hard to find this place, why he’d given up so much. He hadn’t risked his life and his brother’s countless times over just so he could be beaten and bashed about by some white-eyed know-it-all weapons instructor.
He perked up from the side with the others as Bek finally took his place in the ring. Ty loved watching the hulking woodsman spar. He’d never seen anyone fight with hatchets before, even with wooden practice ones. He spared a quick glance over at the end of the bench where Bek’s actual hatchets rested. They were formidable weapons. Each hatchet had an axe blade on the front that tapered to a spike on the back.
The clacking of wood finally drew Ty’s attention away from Bek’s weapons and back to the ring. Ayrion tended to use two of the practice swords when fighting with the trapper. They had a bond that allowed them to move back and forth almost as one, as if they knew what the other was planning. As talented as Bek was, however, he still didn’t hold a candle to the man in black.
Ty took a moment to look at Ayrion’s twin blades, where they lay on a bench just beside theirs. He had asked to see the swords back when they had first arrived in Aero’set, back before Ayrion had been instructed by Nyalis to begin training them. The weapons were incredible. Ty had never seen anything like them. He wondered who could have forged blades that beautiful, blades that apparently were indestructible, blades that could actually stand up against a bulradoer’s ter’ak.
The loud clap of wood on wood had Ty refocusing his attention back to the ring and the two men inside. Bek was a much larger man, but Ayrion seemed to move like an animal, with the creepy ability to perceive what the other was going to do and counter practically before he did it. There had been no mention of Ayrion having magic, but there were times Ty could almost sense it.
Whoever these Upakans were, Ty was glad Nyalis hadn’t taken him there to be raised as a babe. If they were anything like Ayrion, they had to be some of the worst people in the Five Kingdoms to live with, and he should know. He was sure he’d been to nearly every corner of it, and beyond, over the last couple of months. From what Ayrion had said, he and his people began training their children as soon as they were old enough to walk.
“Who’s up for dinner?” Narendi asked when the sparring match appeared to be winding down. It seemed she was the only one of them recovered enough to sit up on their own.
“I’m in too much pain to eat,” Breen said. “I just want a hot bath, some of Isha’s cream, and a soft bed.”
Ty turned over. “I don’t know how much of it we have left. We’ve been using it a lot of late.”
“We can make more,” Narendi said. “We have notes from Isha.”
“Yes, but we don’t have the ingredients,” Ty added. “Isha gave me a few of those wamini plants, but they won’t last long.”
“There is more,” she said.
Ty turned, his neck twinging when he did. “Where?”
“You have not been to the glass house?”
“What glass house?”
She smiled. “I will show you after we bathe and eat.”
“I want to eat,” Kraea said. “Something red and warm and juicy.”
Ty’s stomach turned.
“What is wrong?” Narendi asked, noticing Ty’s expression.
“Just something Kraea said.”
Kraea smiled as she stood and stretched. She enjoyed getting under his skin, not that he didn’t give it back in equal measure, but her eating habits tended to affect him the most. He could sense her pleasure when she ate, the warm blood sloshing around in her mouth as she tore apart her meals. It had a way of spoiling his appetite.
They left the garrison by way of the south gate and started through the shipyards. Dozens of black dry-docked vessels of all shapes and sizes filled the wide-open space in front of the barracks. Each of the dark ships was decorated with gold trim, beautiful swirling designs along the upper railings.
Ty had to strain his neck to look up at them as they passed. Some were enormous. He had seen large ships before, but he had never really thought about how big they truly were, or how little of them he actually saw once they were on the water.
“You’ve got to wonder what they used these things for,” Breen said. “Most are too big for the river.” He pointed at a couple of the smaller ones near the front. “Perhaps those.” He glanced back at some of the larger ones closer to the garrison. “I wonder how they got here? Do you think the river was bigger back when this place was in use a thousand years ago?”
Ty shrugged. “Could be.”
Breen walked over to one of the smaller vessels and tapped on the side of its hull. “And what kind of wood do you think they used that would have lasted so long?”
Ty shrugged again. “Just one more thing to add to the very long list we need to discuss with Nyalis, if we can ever pin him down long enough to ask him.”
“He does seem rather aloof,” Breen said.
“What’s this aloof?” Narendi asked.
Breen chuckled. “It means he tends to disappear a lot where no one can find him.”
“Yes.” She nodded. “He is very aloof.”
Kraea pranced along beside Ty, quieter than usual. She had grown a little since their arrival, her legs thickening, her horns lengthening. Her scales even looked a deeper shade of red. She wasn’t quite the size of her mother, but the way she was growing, it probably wouldn’t take her too long. She had gone from the size of a large wolf to perhaps a small pony. She was nearly big enough for Ty to sit on. Not that he would have tried. Kraea seemed real persnickety about being touched. In fact, Ty was the only person she would let touch her.
He could feel a hint of sadness through their link. It was always there, deep in the back of his mind, though he had to admit it wasn’t quite as strong as it used to be, fading a little every day. The loss of her mother had been extremely difficult. He remembered what it had been like for him when his mother died at the hands of the spiders. There were still times when he’d find himself tearing up at the thought of her. That sadness was something they shared.
“Finding Nyalis does seem to be rather difficult,” Breen said. “But I’m sure keeping up with this place is a full-time task. From what the old wizard said, there used to be hundreds, if not thousands, of people living here. Now there’s just us.”
Ty hadn’t really thought about it until then, but his brother was right. It got him wondering more about how Aero’set worked, how it had been created, where the magic that kept it running came from. Surely it wasn’t all being kept in operation by Nyalis? If so, it was no wonder he was getting frustrated with healing all of them.
They took the road south to the main bridge. There was, of course, a closer bridge that ran from the garrison over the river and into Aero’set, but it didn’t offer the kind of view that the main entrance did. As was their usual routine, the group stopped to stare out across the impressive white towers, turrets, domes, and bulwarks interspersed around the sea of waterfalls that filled the back corner of this secluded mountain valley.
Aero’set was more than just a school for wizards. It was a city. Perhaps not as big as Easthaven, but certainly more than just a simple mountain village. The white stone was decoratively accented with gold inlay. Several of the domed roofs were gold as well, some even made of glass, all of which reflected the sun in such a way that it filled this corner of the mountain valley with its brilliance. It was truly captivating, made even more so by the colors in the sky from the setting sun. People said the monolithic wall around the capital city of Aramoor was one of the great wonders, but it couldn’t be any more impressive than this place.
Both had been created with magic, though it was Ty’s people, the Fae, who had been the main architects of Aero’set. Ty felt a small amount of pride at that. It was probably the first time he’d ever thought about the Fae as his people. Even now, the thought felt strangely foreign.
How could a race of beings who created something as wondrous as this place be all bad? As with their lessons on the evils of magic, perhaps what he had been taught in school about the faeries wasn’t all that factual either.
“Why aren’t we eating?” Kraea asked, standing near the back of the group. “I’m hungry.”
“Fine,” Ty said, turning away from the view. He looked at the others. “We’re going. Kraea’s hungry.”
Narendi smirked. “Kraea is always hungry.”
“She’s not the only one,” Breen said, and they left their spot against the railing and headed across the back half of the bridge and through the main gates into Aero’set.
They made their way along the empty roadways, staircases, and bridges leading toward the center of the school’s complex. Several of the towers had interconnecting bridges that rose over a hundred feet in the air. Ty had never been in any of the upper chambers of those towers, so he’d never seen one of the bridges up close. It was, however, on the list of things he and Breen wanted to do.
Narendi, on the other hand, had had enough of sky bridges from the Riverlands to last her a lifetime. She had no intention of going up in any of those towers and had told them as much.
They reached the center of Aero’set just as the last of the colors faded from the evening sky, but instead of finding a town square filled with shops and farmers’ carts, the center of Aero’set was comprised of the school’s main dormitories. The dorms were constructed of four rather long buildings, each facing inward to form four sides of a square. The main gate leading inside was located at the center of the southernmost building.
All four of the buildings shared a central yard with two crisscrossing cobbled walkways that met in the middle at a large fountain, splitting the open area into four perfect squares. The trees, shrubs, and flower beds were covered in snow, their former glory left to the imagination. Fronting each of the three buildings were covered porches that ran the buildings’ full length, allowing those inside to move about without fear of getting caught in the weather.
Not knowing what else to label the buildings, they began referring to them as the north wing, west wing, east wing, and south wing.
Entering by way of the main gate through the south wing, they took the central path across the yard and through the gardens to the north wing, where Nyalis had set up rooms. Ayrion and his companions were being housed there as well, mostly keeping to the common room when they weren’t out exploring the greater compound.
Each of the buildings had a crest over the front entrance with some sort of writing on it, but it was in a language that none of them had ever seen—similar to the symbols etched around the traveling mirrors—which meant they had no idea what it said. Breen was the first to reach the porch at the front of their dorm and started up the steps. Torches lined the outer walkways, and if you caught them at the right time of evening, you’d get the chance to see them come to life all on their own. They were too late to see it this time, as the torches were already lit.
Breen grabbed the handle of one of the front doors and pulled it open. Ty followed Narendi in and took a moment to let his eyes adjust to the dim light in the gallery. The windows fronting the courtyard behind them did let in a fair amount of light during the day, but it was softened by the frosted panes of glass. At night, the glass reflected the glow from the three enormous chandeliers that lined the common room.
The gallery was quite large, stretching from right to left. Directly across from the entrance was an enormous stone hearth. It was the biggest fireplace Ty had ever seen, including the ones in Lyessa’s home, which were quite grand. No matter the time of day or night Ty happened to be walking by, there was always a welcoming fire crackling inside. Either the wood never burned out or there were invisible creatures walking about, filling them without anyone seeing.
The fireplace had a soft fur rug lying just in front, and on the other side was a couple of sofas, a few chairs, and a table between. And just to the left of the hearth was a corridor that led to an enclosed staircase that wound its way up to the second and third floors.
“How was practice?” Zynora asked as she, Nell, and the kids turned to look from one of the cushioned sofas in front of the hearth on the right.
Ty groaned. “Same as it always is.” He glanced around the room to make sure Ayrion wasn’t there. “Painful.”
“He and Bek went off to bathe,” Zynora said with a sympathetic smile. “I’ll come by your rooms later and see to your injuries.”
Zynora had a gift with helping things heal faster than they normally would. She said it had something to do with her Rhivanni upbringing. It wasn’t as powerful as Fraya’s healing magic, but when combined with Isha’s cream, she was able to keep the four of them in good enough shape to do it all over again the next day. There were times when Ty would have been willing to live with the pain for one day if it meant allowing him to sleep in, or at the very least skip one of his weapons sessions with Ayrion.
Tameel walked in from one of the hallways on the right and spotted them. “Ah, a good evening to you all.” He walked over with a cup of something hot in his hand, steam rising from it. Ty wondered if whatever he was drinking was the reason for the old man’s seemingly endless cheerful spirit. He also wondered if he could get a cup.
“Dinner should be ready shortly,” Tameel said as he sat in one of the high-back chairs near the fire and propped his feet up on the footrest. “Best you wash up beforehand.”
Ty didn’t have to be told twice. He started across the room for the staircase, Breen, Narendi, and Kraea right behind him. The thought of a hot bath and some of Isha’s balm had his feet moving all the faster.