Revelations about the world and whispers of a new form of magic litter the path from doom to an unexpected beacon of hope.
What is the Underlord Kash’s prophesied threat? Can Gorgonbane save the continent from destruction? And who will Pierce have a crush on next?
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Excerpt: Out of the Deep
By T.J. Marquis
This excerpt is shared with the permission of the author.
“What’s that?” asked Sev. He pointed to the far side of the town. Everyone looked.
There was a ridge of towering, broken rocks there. Beyond, a diffuse yellow light grew, like plaque between a giant’s teeth. It wasn’t the yellow of life like the gloss of a bloodhoof’s coat, or the shine in Scythia’s eyes. It was something else.
The ulants on that side of Moni stirred, shuffling irritably away from the ridge. Pierce looked up at Sev, but the forgemaster shrugged. Yellow light peeked around each jagged stone.
“Does the ulant have any natural predators?” Scythia asked Deathgripz.
The stablemaster’s eyes were open wider than Pierce had ever seen them, but she shook her head.
“None that I know of,” she said. “Like I said, they don’t taste good.”
“Wait, how do you know they don’t taste -” Pierce started. Axebourne waved him into silence.
“We’d better move,” said Axebourne. “We have to get between the light and Moni.” When no one moved, he raised his voice. “Now!”
Gorgonbane sprang into action. They circled the three wagons and left Sugar in charge, galloping their mounts southeast in a wide arc. The ground sloped downward and the eastern approach to Moni was hidden behind the town, so Pierce couldn’t see the ulants there anymore. But he could hear them now, uttering lame-sounding complaints in voices like bovine, uuuuuuuhhhooo.
Gorgonbane were forced further south to avoid the shuffling herd, and the yellow light grew. Pierce thought that each concentration of the light had a core of dimness, of grey, rather than white. Falselight.
“I see shapes in the haze,” Scythia called back from astride Nova.
A shape detached from the encroaching wall of yellow falselight and seemed to slide or hover across the rocky ground toward a lone ulant. The creature did not flee, for the shape betrayed no aggression.
Axebourne was in the lead. He leaned further into his flight and sped up. Everyone followed him – if Axebourne was in a hurry, something was certainly wrong.
An appendage reached out from the lone shape as if to pet the ulant. The creature uttered its pitiful call, loud enough to be heard above the rest of the herd. Gorgonbane could close the distance swiftly, but Axebourne came to a stop and held up a hand for everyone else to do likewise.
The shape touching the ulant stretched out a second limb. This close, Pierce could see that his perception of the creatures’ grey heart hadn’t been an illusion. Its core was dim, not bright. The ulant complained again, sounding uncomfortable now. Something kept it from moving away from the yellow shape, though. The being grew long, spindly fingers and took hold of the ulant’s hide. Now the creature struggled, but just a bit, six legs pushing away halfheartedly.
The ulant’s veins lit up orange – yellow light infecting its slow, red blood.
“We should flee,” said Sev. “Something is wrong.”
Axebourne kept his hand in the air, and he shook it once to silence any further talk.
The falselight faded from the ulant’s veins and its skin shifted from pink to yellow. Its legs twitched and its meaty abdomen dipped toward the ground. The yellow shape clenched its fingers tighter around the ulant’s hide and it screamed, a frantic version of its calmer complaints – uuuwhoo? Its veins lit up again, then its skin. Its form began to dissolve into sickly translucence. One final low from its toothy mouth, and the ulant went silent. It lit up more fiercely, bright yellow at the edges, grey toward the center of its mass. The falselight being released it and floated away toward the rocky ridge, melding back into the now still wall it had come from.
The ulant bent its forelegs, using them as if to brush debris off its tiny head. It staggered to one side as if dizzy, righted itself, turned and moved toward one of its fellows. The other ulants edged away, unsure. More lows echoed off the stony ground, ulants opening their mouths wide. They champed irritably and bared their teeth, all of them white molars protruding from pink gums.
Pierce blanched again.
“Fly,” Axebourne said. “We have to get to the town. We shouldn’t have stopped. Sev, get back to my sister. Ready the wagons. Go!”