Only one more day to go!
Today’s tidbit is a look at the first chapter of Fallen Redemption. Enjoy!
Caderyn yanked on the reins. His fevered mind barely registered the horse’s protested whinny. He threw his legs over the side and slid down. Wiping the sweat from his face with his coat sleeve, he staggered to the small wooden house.
“I need the doctor.” His hoarse cry bellowed through the night. He pounded on the door. “Doctor!”
Fist raised and ready to knock again, the door opened two inches. “Are you the doctor?” A wave of dizziness swept through him. Clutching the doorframe, splinters dug into his fingertips. He. Would. Not. Faint.
“Are you the doctor?” Caderyn peered through the opening and spied the shape of a portly, short man.
“Yes.” A thin, high voice replied.
“I need you to come with me. My wife. She’s sick. Smallpox.”
The doctor’s thoughts slammed into his head. Hurry . . . Quick . . . Shut door . . . breathe on you . . . touch you. “I can’t help you. The whole town is infected.”
“Please. She’s with child.”
The doctor hesitated . . . unborn . . . saved . . . taken from the womb . . . No . . . risky . . . blood . . . contamination . . . Not worth my life . . .
Caderyn placed his hands against the door and pushed. Sarah needed help. His unborn babe needed help. The door swung free.
The doctor stumbled back, eyes wide. His expression changed to horror the moment he saw the red spots gracing Caderyn’s left cheekbone.
Ah . . . infected . . . Get the . . . The barrel of a rifle poked into Caderyn’s chest.
“Leave. My. House.” The doctor enunciated each word with a jab of the gun.
“Please,” Caderyn begged, stumbling out the door. “There’s no one else. My wife—”
“I can’t help you.” The doctor jammed the gun into Caderyn’s chest one last time, forcing him further away, then slammed the door.
Caderyn lurched forward and pounded on the door. No. No. No. “You must help me. She’s with child.” A bout of coughing racked his body. He slapped his palm against the door. “I need help!”
Caderyn pushed from the door. His chest burned with every breath. It took three tries to get in the saddle. The doctor had said the whole town was infected. Where else could he go?
Wrapping his coat around his large frame, he hunched his shoulders. The chills were back. Spinning the horse, he kicked him into a gallop. He would care for Sarah himself.
Caderyn struggled to keep his eyes open against the rushing wind. He couldn’t recall the last time he’d slept. Between burying his daughters and taking care of Sarah, he hadn’t been able to rest when the sickness began to mark him. No matter, though. He was thirty-four and lived a long enough life. His unborn babe deserved a chance at living and he’d do everything possible to make sure it happened.
The wind whipped at his eyes making them tear. Raising the collar of his jacket, his fingers brushed over the marks on his face that rose that morning. Sally Mae had bumps all over her face and body before she died. Little Laura died two days after her fever begun. Sarah was just beginning to show the red spots.
Shivering violently, sweat beaded on his forehead. Burning up but unable to get warm. He had no energy to steer. It was too dark to see a horse’s length in front of him anyways. Laying his head down on the mane, he closed his eyes. This would offer a reprieve from the wind until his eyes adjusted. He’d lie here but for a moment.
Caderyn woke to the sensation of falling then the jolt of the hard, cold ground as he slammed into it, bounced once, then lay still. Breath sawed in and out of his lungs. His body and head ached. Rolling over, a groan pushed from his lips. Sitting or standing seemed an impossible task at the moment. Sarah. He gritted his teeth. Get up. Get up, damn, you. Bright light shone in his face and he covered his eyes with his hands. Did the moon break free of the clouds? Had it even been out? He stilled. Slowly dropped his hands, squinting at the sky. The light was so blinding he couldn’t see past it. Was this the sun?
Fear sliced through him. How long had he slept? The horse should have made it to the house by dawn. Had they turned somewhere? He tried to roll back over. Urgent, sloppy attempts to get onto all fours. Where was he? Sarah could be dying as he lay here. She could be—no—he had faith. The Creator would save her life. She carried one of His precious children.
Suddenly the bright light dimmed. Twisting his head to the sky, he searched for the proof it was still night. Please let it still be night.
He froze. Clouds didn’t cover the moon.
There was no moon. No sun.
It was a ghost. A glowing male body with long white hair stood next to him. Its face was indiscernible in the light.
Caderyn trembled with fear. His boot heels dug into the ground, forming grooves in the dirt as he tried to move and went nowhere. The ghost laid his hand upon Caderyn’s upper arm. Mouth open, Caderyn inhaled to scream. Before he could utter a sound, a wave of peace swept through him. Strong and fierce.
There was no fear. No aches. No worries. Just quiet nothingness. He stiffened. Things were never quiet for him. Not with his curse. But he heard none of the ghost’s internal thoughts. Was he cured by its touch?
“You’ve not been cured of what you call your curse, son.” The ghost’s voice was deep, methodic. A warm blanket on a cold, winter night.
You can hear me?
Caderyn’s heart skipped a beat. “Why can’t I hear you?” His voice cracked. Licking his lips he wished—his canteen appeared a hand’s length away. He startled.
“Don’t be afraid. I mean you no harm, Caderyn O’Cearnaigh of Llangwyllog.”
“Who are you?”
The ghost held out his hand. It no longer appeared ghost-like or glowing. The hand was attached to a solid arm and a solid body. Maybe the thing next to him wasn’t a ghost.
Caderyn glanced at the offering then into the man’s piercing blue eyes. He laid his hand into the outstretched palm. Their skin connected. The glow returned. Panic rose. Frantic now, Caderyn tried to pull free. The man tightened his hold.
He braced himself for fiery heat, but the glow only warmed. When it encased his body completely, he began to hear. And see. Not only thoughts and images of the present but ones from the past and in the future. His mind raced to understand what he saw. Beings. Not of this world. Glowing. Like the man next to him. Holy. His breath caught. It was the Creator. Three beings stood next to Him. No, not next. In front. Protecting Him. From Apollyon. The betrayer. These three were the Fathyr, Sonh, and Holyspiryt. Then came war. Banishment. Uprising. Creation. On both sides. The Trihune were born. More protectors. Like the man next to him. Elias. One of seven Sonhs. A Behnshma, one of three species of the Trihune.
Elias stood, and the glow faded from Caderyn’s body.
“Will you, Caderyn O’Cearnaigh of Llangwyllog, lead my kindred against the fight with Apollyon and lend protection to the Creator’s Followers?”
Followers. He meant humans. Like . . . What of my Sarah and unborn child?
“They are beyond my help.”
On some level, he’d known his wife wouldn’t make it, but he believed, hoped. Pain consumed him. He squeezed his eyes shut. His anguished cry pierced through the night. Memories of the last weeks, months, swept through him.
The horrible wretchedness at having to bury Sally Mae and Laura. The guilt for allowing that stranger into their home. The worry over his wife and unborn child. The pain and ache in his own body. The tautness of his upper cheek where the sickness begun its destruction.
He opened his eyes. Could this man fix it? Elias could turn him into a Behnshma. Perhaps he could bring Sally Mae and Laura back. Caderyn’s eyes widened at the possibility. Elias could cure Sarah and the unborn babe. Caderyn would exchange his life for theirs. Gladly, he’d suffer in their place.
“And that is why I chose you, son. But I’m terribly sorry. I cannot revive the dead.”
“My Sarah, then?”
“She’s on her path. I can only change what could be, not what’s already occurred.”
What would be the point of following this man, then? A hurricane of anger ripped through his body. It stirred his blood, giving him strength. Ignoring Elias’s outstretched hand, he rose into a sitting position. Enough of this. He needed to be with Sarah for however long she had left. To feel his child move in her womb one more time.
“I’m sorry I can’t save them.” Elias moved too fast for Caderyn to block. “But you, you can save many.” He grasped Caderyn’s palm, trapping it in between his hands.
Again, image after image flashed through Caderyn’s mind. This time quick, but vivid. Each burned into his brain.
Horrible. Bloody. Body after body. Nothing mattered to these beasts.
A man. His throat ripped into pieces. Eyes open and staring unseeing. Horror captured forever in his expression.
A woman. Dead. Unclothed. Bruised neck. Legs spread wide. Blood dried on her inner thighs. Long deep cuts on her neck, wrists, and belly.
A child. Thrown to the ground like an abandoned toy. Limbs twisted out of place. Blood pooled underneath its tiny body.
Every emotion the victims possessed before death was Caderyn’s. Pain. Terror. Hopelessness. He was the one being pursued, tortured, beaten, violated. Falling to the ground on all fours, he panted for air. Elias was no longer touching him but the images didn’t stop. These people had not been saved. Apollyon and his creation, the Fallen, had slaughtered these victims. Their demise had been drawn-out. So much violence. They were monsters. Murderers.
The pictures changed. Caderyn saw himself. Different, yet the same. Stronger. He knew how to kill. Protect. Fighting the Fallen he wielded a large curved sword as if it was an extension of his arm. Moving with grace and speed he didn’t now possess, he saved an old man. A young boy. A family. A couple.
Five against one. Kill after kill. Fallen after Fallen. He rescued. Defended. Guarded.
A woman with child. He swung his sword high and in one swoop cut off a Fallen’s head. It disappeared in a gray cloud. The woman gazed at him. Tears ran down her face. Her hand curved protectively over her extended belly. Fear faded, replaced by relief, thankfulness, and gratitude.
The last emotion hit Caderyn deep in his stomach. The woman was grateful he’d been there. She was alive because he’d been there.
The image flickered out and the mind storm stopped. Caderyn’s head hung low in between his arms. His chest ached from panting. He wanted to weep.
How could he choose any other path? How could he let that woman and all the others down? He wanted to go back and save those who were already lost.
What emerged what a whisper, but he knew Elias would hear him even if he chose not to speak. “Yes.”
Caderyn was whirled onto his back in the dirt. He watched two of Elias’s teeth grow in size, sharpening at the ends. Terror stuttered his heart. Striking fast, Elias’s teeth punched through the skin at his neck.
Four days later
Caderyn opened his eyes and found the world changed. No, it wasn’t the world that was different.
He saw the hairs on each individual blade of grass. Heard the soft flutter of a butterfly’s wings as it flew overhead. Listened to, and understood, the thoughts of the ants in the ground and the birds in the trees. He was more than ten times stronger than before, yet his emotions had not changed. Worry constantly plagued him. And fear. What would he find at home?
“You cannot leave, Caderyn. You are not ready.”
Since he’d woken, every second passed as a minute, every hour was a half a day. He stayed in this cave with Elias growing stronger while Sarah was alone growing weaker. “Can you guarantee my Sarah’s survival if I stay here?”
Elias didn’t reply.
Caderyn left, starting at a slow jog. Elias told him his smallpox had vanished. He’d never get sick and wounds would heal fast. Nor would he tire as quickly either, apparently. His body responded to the jog as if it was a leisurely stroll. Needing no other encouragement, he broke free from usual human constraints. Trees blurred in his peripheral vision. Caderyn passed birds as they flew overhead. If his horse were next to him he’d have surpassed the animal as well.
Within moments the home he’d built for his family came into view. He wasn’t breathing hard. His lungs didn’t ache. There was no stitch in his side. The muscles in his legs weren’t burning. Elias had given him a gift.
Smoke rose from the small chimney. Hope flared. He reached the door in a matter of seconds. A medium sized room served as the kitchen, dining, and living area. Sarah lay on the dirt floor in front of the fireplace, eyes closed. Her body shook with fever.
He was unworthy of Elias’s gift.
Caderyn crossed over to her, processing a barrage of information at once. Half-eaten food on the table and the floor. Two of the table chairs were missing. One wooden chair leg stuck out of the dying flames in the fireplace. Despite the rotting food stench, he caught the scent of sickness. Sarah smelled worse than a half devoured deer baking in the summer sun. Her labored breathing filled his ears. Along with her faint heartbeat. The smallpox marks had spread to her arms, neck, and chest.
He knelt next to her head. “Sarah? Sarah.”
Brushing the sweaty strands of long, scarlet hair off her face, incoherent thoughts slammed into his head that weren’t his own. His gaze traveled over her body. Her distended stomach appeared even bigger in comparison to her frail frame.
Caderyn gasped as pain stabbed through him. It was not his pain. Another spear of agony. This one sharp and piercing. It came from their unborn child.
His gut clenched.
“Where were you?”
Gaze swinging up, he met Sarah’s accusing, green-eyed glare. She’d not spoken out loud.
“I’m sorry.” Picking her up, he placed his hands in the least hurting areas and carried her to their bedroom. He could have been holding Laura. Was this due to her sickness or his new strength? Laying her in bed, he covered her with the blankets. She was still cold. Caderyn walked two strides to the girls’ room and took the blankets from their bed.
Did you find the doctor?
“No. The whole town is infected.” The fever’s grip must be strong. Sarah hadn’t realized he was answering questions not voiced.
You’re better. She stared at his upper cheek. His red spots had vanished, replaced with deep-pitted scars, like months passed, not days. Her eyes narrowed.
Caderyn tucked the ends of the blankets around her feet. She was so cold. “I am.”
Did you get medicine?
He straightened. “I’m going to make you a hot drink. When did you eat last?”
Not hungry. The words lashed out through her mind leaving red, oozing welts on his heart. What she really meant was, I don’t want your help.
“I know.” His voice was gentle. “You need to eat for the baby.”
Her hatred could have burned a hole in his back as he walked to the kitchen. He deserved all she threw at him and more.
After pumping water into the kettle, he placed it over the fire. Adding two pieces of wood, he used the metal pick to stoke the embers until a fiery blaze burned around the bottom of the pot.
Caderyn ladled heated water into a cup and added one of the tealeaves Sarah saved for company. Stirring until the water changed color, he carried the cup and a spoon into the bedroom. He took one of the remaining kitchen chairs and sat it next to the bed. Spooning the liquid, he blew on the rising steam.
The spoon wobbled in his hand. The tea threatened to spill. He didn’t shift his gaze from the dancing liquid.
You killed my children. You deserve to be lying in this bed. Not me. This was not the life I wanted.
He inhaled sharply, but when he lifted his eyes along with the spoon, his face betrayed nothing. Caderyn had practice with that skill since he’d been old enough to know he heard what was in people’s minds and not just what they spoke out loud. The two were, in most cases, vastly different. The change made his curse stronger and instead of catching phrases here and there, he heard and felt everything.
It was nothing he wanted to hear.
For three days her progress remained steady and then with no forewarning she begun to decline. Standing by her side with a bowl of cool water and a cloth, he listened to her thoughts as they ran in circles and dips. The fever made her delirious. He removed the blankets and her thin nightdress. The rash that had consumed most every spot on her skin was now firm, whitish pustules. Careful not to wipe, lest the bumps open and scar, he saturated the cloth and squeezed the water on her face and body until the bowl was empty and the bed sheets were sopping wet.
She was still. No moaning. No shivering from the air brushing over her exposed hot skin. Her jumbled thoughts were silent. His son didn’t move.
Panic gripped his chest, squeezing hard. He moved to the bed. “Sarah.”
He took her by the shoulders and shook. “Sarah! Open your eyes.”
“I can save you.”
Slowly her lids lifted. Her gaze found his. No.
No? She didn’t know what she was saying. The fever was too strong.
“I can make you better.”
“You can be cured. I can make you like me.” He’d find a way.
“No.” Her voice was weak but the meaning clear.
He stared, eyebrows drawn. Maybe she still didn’t understand.
“I want . . . to die. End . . . this misery.” She exhaled on the last word. Her eyes closed.
He placed his hands over her stomach. Leaned in. Concentrated on drowning out Sarah’s ragged breaths. The mice in the next room. The cry of the hawk in the sky. Caderyn put his ear on her stomach. His son had to be still alive. Pushing all of his new senses outward, he focused on the baby in her womb. No heartbeat. No movement.
Caderyn removed his hands from Sarah’s stomach and sat back. When he finally lifted his head her gaze was fixed on him. Empty. Cold.
“Let me save you.” His voice broke. He couldn’t have meant to lose all of his family. It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
I was denied everything I wanted from life when I married you. Don’t deny me my death as well.
Sarah no longer had the strength for thought, but the moments of her life she now reflected upon came through strong enough. Pregnant with Sally Mae, Sarah visited with her father. She sobbed. Begged to come back to the city. He refused. Another memory. Sarah pleaded with Caderyn to accept her father’s job offer at the bank. Caderyn promised that things would get better. The next memories came in flashes. Cold, hard winters. Resentment growing. Days with little food. Enough money for only the cheapest fabric. Hatred took over.
Caderyn’s breath left him. He was stronger than he’d ever been before. Stronger than any human on earth, but she’d made him feel as weak as their dead babe. How had he been so blind? So deaf?
She was watching him. Waiting for his reply from her earlier words, not realizing what he’d seen. He swallowed once. Twice. Then nodded his acquiesce. Slowly he stood, pulling the covers back over her body. Caderyn wouldn’t deny her last wish. If death were better than a life with him he’d allow it to take her.
The next hours, days, passed in a blur. He made her as comfortable as possible. Covered her with extra blankets. Cooled her heated forehead. Brought pease soup, tea, and even juice from a plum he’d picked from a tree near the house.
Her lucid moments became less and less. She refused to eat. Turning her head to the side when she was awake. Keeping her lips tightly closed. Her fever raged. The heat from her skin would have burned him if he were still human. Sarah had to take substance.
She’d been unconscious for most of the day. Even her mumbling subsided. He carried in half of a plum and a small knife. Cutting the fruit into quarters, he propped Sarah’s head up with one hand and squeezed small droplets of juice into her parted mouth. No movement. He repeated this until the fruit was squeezed dry. Tense, senses alert, he waited. Five minutes. Ten. Twenty.
His shoulders sagged. The juice should have made a difference. She’d open her eyes one last time. He’d get on his knees. Beg for forgiveness. Tell her he still loved her even if she did not feel the same.
Slowly he gathered the remains and the knife and stood. His foot caught in the leg of the chair. Balance immensely improved, he righted quickly, but the knife fell from the tray and headed toward Sarah’s exposed arm. In less than a second, he moved the tray to one hand and stretched to grab the knife. Caderyn caught the handle, though still not used to his new strength and speed, his starting momentum didn’t slow and the side of the blade grazed Sarah’s wrist.
The cut was small and not deep, it would stop bleeding in a matter of minutes. Blood seeped from the cut. It trickled down Sarah’s wrist and pooled in her upturned hand.
Changes overcame his body. Uncontrollable. Unknown.
Breath quickened. Heart pounded as loud as a horse’s gallop. Sarah hadn’t awakened. The pain from her cut was insubstantial compared to the pain of her sickness.
The thick, crimson liquid flowing from the wound was anything but insubstantial to Caderyn. Still unable to move, his eyes hadn’t wavered from the blood. The tray left his hands and clattered to the ground. His knees buckled and he sank to the floor, bringing himself an inch from the cut. The scent of blood filled his nostrils. Consumed all thought. Sight. He wanted to close his eyes and savor the reverent aroma filling his senses. Something awakened inside of him.
He was hungry, yet didn’t want food. Thirsty, but didn’t want to reach for a cup of water. Another drop of blood welled from the cut. A growl tore from his throat.
It was the switch and it had been thrown.
One moment he was himself. The monster inside separate. Next the wall between the two vanished. He was the Behnshma. His humanity gone. Another growl. It echoed around the house. Filled his ears.
He was ravenous. The fact he hadn’t eaten in a little over a week ached his empty belly and burned his dry, parched throat. There were two pricks of pain in his top gum. Finger in his mouth, he found two long, sharp as knives, teeth. Like Elias. Like the wolves in the forest when they tore into a deer carcass. Their muzzles bloody, meat dangling from their mouths. Blood.
He knew what he wanted to do, what his body demanded he do. Caderyn licked his lips and his tongue nicked an elongated tooth. His own blood melted decadently over his tongue. A flood of senses erupted. Never had he tasted anything this wonderful. His mouth zinged with flavor. The blood coated his throat. He’d been dying of thirst his whole life but hadn’t known it. Warmth spread through his body.
His hands shook as he brought them to Sarah’s arm. Grasping her wrist and forearm he leaned toward the blood. Inch by inch. He was a magnet and her arm was the polar opposite.
Her inaudible yelp of fright permeated through the rushing noise in his ears. He tore his eyes away and met her wide-eyed startled ones.
Fear was an acrid, burning stench in his nostrils. Her thoughts a chaotic jumble weaving through his mind. She tried to move her lethargic limbs. Tried to escape. To break free.
He flexed his hands, squeezing her arm as his gaze trailed from the vein in her neck to the one in her wrist right below the cut. The blood slowed and the edges of the wound begun to dry. The tangy, copper scent of the fresh liquid underneath her skin reached his nose. Caderyn listened to it pass through her veins. Faster and faster.
Ignoring his wife’s futile attempts to escape, he leaned closer and inhaled. A growl erupted from his throat. He bent. Licked the wound. Groaned. His cock hardened.
Sarah, panicked now, tried to yank her arm free. It was the most she’d moved in days. Growling, like a dog with his bone, he held down her upper arm and her squirming hand. Pushed it back until her forearm bowed, and the cut extended to him like a present.
Caderyn. Please. I beg you.
He was hurting her arm. Scaring her. She was begging.
Flicking his tongue over her wrist, he caught another drop of the thick liquid gold. Then another and another. It wasn’t enough. He bared his teeth, striking fast to sink them deep into her wrist. She gave a weak jerk. Caderyn drew her blood into his mouth with long pulls. His cock jerked and warmth spread inside his breeches. There was no stopping. Her struggles to escape were an annoying insect buzzing around the room. The pleas to stop were shouts in his head. Both were easy to ignore. Sarah ceased to struggle.
He was killing her.
He couldn’t stop.
And didn’t stop until she was dead.
Copyright 2013 by RB Austin
All rights reserved
May not be reproduced in full or in part without the express, written permission of the author.
Fallen Redemption is published by Soul Mate Publishing.