TALES OF THE AEKHARTAIN
~ Dark Rebellion 2 ~
The shadows are stirring, a tower will rise,
and thoughts of revenge are sweet.
It’s time to fear the darkness.
Nawaquí Caligo may have fallen, but his struggle goes on. Stranded on a remote world with only loyal Noctis for company, Caligo is changed but not defeated.
The road ahead is long, full of shadows and loss and regret. Can he find a way to free himself from thoughts of blood and revenge, or is he doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past?
The darkness is coming and this rebel’s fight is far from over yet.
The Rebel Returns in Brief
What’s in it?: A 70,000 word novel, with a bonus short story at the end
When is it set?: 1000-1002 AD
Where is it set?: Anglo-Saxon England and a deserted other world.
What kind of story is it?: One of madness, guilt, grief and revenge. Lots and lots of revenge. Also Vikings, marauding and enjoying themselves.
What’s the genre?: Historical Fantasy.
Any age restrictions?: Not really. There’s some mild language, a bit of violence and some warfare.
Behind the Story
I never intended for this to be two books. I wanted to wrap up Nawaquí/Caligo’s story in one, but as often happens, when I returned to my original stories everything got a bit bigger – and hopefully better.
One of the main reasons why this ended up as two books rather than one was because I wanted to explore where things went wrong between Nawaquí and Demero. Demero’s such a sweet, forgiving guy that I knew something had to have happened, but I’d never written it before. Now I have, and that – along with the fall of Caligo and his descent into Nawaquí – is what this book is about. So if you’re a Mero fan, he is all over this story.
The additional story – St. Brice’s Day – was written to tie up the loose ends between Nawaquí and Maskai. It didn’t fit anywhere else and I liked the ending of RR as it was, so I added the extra story to take care of the larger Aekhartain Tales threads rather than cramming it in where it didn’t really belong.
Read on for a sneak-peek at The Rebel Returns!
LIGHT RETURNED TO the world. Caligo lay on his back and stared at the sky, welcoming a sunrise for the first time in his existence. For once the night had been cold, the darkness empty and he’d found no comfort in the shadows. Now the sun crept over the horizon, bringing him warmth and a touch of healing.
All above him was blue, all beneath him was dust, and Caligo himself was broken.
He remembered the battle, the triumph, the power in his black wings and shadows as he brought dark death to his enemies. Then he fell and, in falling, he broke free from the world he had cared so much for. Now he lay in a barren land, far from anything he’d ever known. All night he’d lain in the dust, searching the darkness for life, for whispers, for anything. He’d heard nothing, except the pained wheezing of his shattered chest and the quiet whimpers of his companion.
The creature beside him stirred. Almost as long as Caligo was tall, the beast raised its heavy head. A narrow skull with heavy jaws and long jowls stared down at him. Dark eyes, tinged with red, blinked mournfully.
Caligo felt a twitch of life in his right arm. It was one of the few parts of his body that hadn’t been shattered by his fall. Flexing his fingers beneath the warm sunlight, he raised his hand and touched the monstrous hound on the chest.
“Noctis,” he croaked, not wanting to believe what his shadow senses were telling him, yet unable to deny it. His bold, brave, wild buzzard had lost his wings. When Caligo had disobeyed, when he’d fallen, he’d brought his truest friend down with him.
“I’m sorry,” the apology wheezed out on a whisper, more of a sigh than words.
But Noctis understood. The great hound exhaled deeply and laid his heavy head on Caligo’s chest. It hurt, but Caligo wouldn’t have moved him for the world. He would not repay such loyalty with cruelty, not now, not ever. Noctis had paid too high a price already.
~ ~ ~
THE QUIET MOMENT beneath the rising sun wasn’t to last, of course. Nothing good ever did; at least, not for Caligo. The shining sun that had brought warmth and healing with its first gentle touch soon turned into a burning threat. Noctis succumbed first, rolling away from his master to pant and drool, ribbons of saliva turning the pale dust a deep, dark red.
Caligo could only lie there, feeling helpless. The stiff cold of the night before might have melted away with the dawn, but he was still broken. He still ached. He still hurt. What he wouldn’t give for a land of perpetual shadow now, where he could lie for eternity without any risk of sun madness.
Despite the emptiness of the night before, Caligo knew he had healed – but only a little bit. His fall had caused too much damage to be mended in one night. Especially a night like that. He could still remember her voice, so dark, so cold. Once her slightest touch, her mere presence, had roused magic beneath his skin. Last night he’d felt nothing. She had given him nothing. He was nothing to her now.
She had been so angry. He’d been warned about that, but he hadn’t known, hadn’t cared.
He’d been blinded by his quest for revenge. He’d been right too, in his way. Righteous even, seeking revenge for his people. Taking back what the Saxons had stolen.
Still, she’d told him not to do it that way, told him to step back. He couldn’t. It wasn’t in him to leave them, to not interfere. He’d been so blinded by his duty, his need, his quest that he hadn’t seen the punishment coming.
He could almost understand why she had done what she’d done to him, he could almost think he deserved it. But not Noctis. Never Noctis. She would pay for that. They all would.
If only he survived this burning sun.
He raised his good hand and flopped an arm across his face in a pathetic attempt to protect his eyes. Sweat covered his body, gathering in the hairs along his arm and rolling around his wrist to pool on his forehead and drip into his eyes. It stung but hurt less than the pitiless glare of the sun itself.
A shadow fell over him, followed by clouds of scorching, stinking breath. Hot saliva dripped onto his arm and forehead. Caligo raised his wrist enough to scowl. “Noctis.”
The huge dog snorted, nudging Caligo’s hand with a dry nose.
“Yes, you are good,” Caligo grumbled, patting the inquisitive muzzle. Though his voice still sounded raw, at least he could breathe properly now. He was still healing.
Noctis snuffled at his open palm, licking at the sweat, his broad tongue sweeping over Caligo’s arm and forehead. Caligo flinched away, but there was only so far he could go whilst lying prone on his back.
The dog kept licking and nudging at him until Caligo rolled away. He flopped onto his front, left arm useless beneath him, legs still nothing more than sacks of crushed meat. But his right arm was strong and his back had healed enough for movement. He had just enough strength to lift his neck and shoulders from the dust. Resting his weight on his right elbow, he glared at the monstrous hound now crouched before him, front end down, back end high, thin tail wagging.
“This is not the time to play.”
Noctis woofed, his bark deep and throaty, sending a waft of warm, stinking breath right into Caligo’s face.
Noctis panted happily, sending out more stale breath, and nudged his master with his large, heavy head. With only his right arm to support his weight, the playful touch was enough to send Caligo crashing down again. He lay groaning for a long moment while Noctis stood over him, whimpering in apology.
“It’s all right,” he muttered. “I’m well.”
Noctis whined again, clearly disagreeing, and nuzzled his master back upright once more.
“Good boy,” Caligo praised, feeling breathless again. The fall hadn’t done his barely healed ribs any good, even so small as it had been. Propped back up on his elbow, Caligo hung his head and panted as sweat dripped from his nose and hair, splattering onto the thirsty dust below.
He had to move. Caligo had known that all day. However, now that he was in a position to attempt it, he found himself more exhausted than ever. The sun pressed down on his back like a burning hand, sucking away what little strength he had.
Noctis lay beside him, large and panting, pressing against Caligo’s shoulder and lending him strength. Caligo rested gratefully against the hound, wishing his legs would heal. They didn’t; they lay heavy and useless behind him. He would have to find some other way.
Sighing, Caligo raised his head and scanned the shimmering landscape through narrowed eyes. All was dust – pale yellow and washed-out brown. The horizon danced before him, shining like a distant lake.
“Water,” he whispered, feeling hope for the first time. “There’s water out here.”
Clenching his teeth, Caligo lay down, stretched out his right arm, gripped hold of the crumbling ground and dragged himself forward. It was difficult: his body was heavy, the ground was rough, it hurt and his fingers weren’t strong, yet he moved. He had moved. Not far, perhaps, but better than nothing.
Noctis stood over him, watching his pitiful progress with red eyes.
“Water,” Caligo said, panting as he dragging himself another arm’s-length forward.
The dog huffed.
“Water,” Caligo repeated, reaching out and hauling himself along. He did it again and again beneath Noctis’ dark stare, before collapsing mid-pull with a cry. He was less than two body-lengths from where he’d started and already his fingers were bleeding, his arm shaking from the exertion.
“I need water!” His desperation rang out over the empty dust and was swallowed by the burning shimmers, leaving him exhausted and empty.
“Help me,” he whispered, slumped facedown on the scorched ground, unable to even lift his head again.
Soft lips and strong teeth settled around his outstretched arm as Noctis gently lifted his wrist.
Caligo raised his chin, staring into small red eyes as the hound lowered onto his front once more, bunching up his back end to tug.
The jolt rippled down Caligo’s broken body, dragging out a pained grunt. Noctis tugged again. It hurt. Sweet shadows, it burned worse than the sun overhead, but he didn’t say stop. He didn’t scream, he didn’t cry, he simply rolled onto his back.
Noctis huffed, adjusted his weight and resettled his grip on Caligo’s sweating wrist. Then the faithful hound dragged his master over the burning dust.
~ ~ ~
IT SEEMED TO last forever as Caligo bumped, scraped and burned beneath the merciless sun. The world might have felt empty the night before but beneath the dust there were rocks – small, large, sharp and hard. There was also sand that crept into the crevices and folds of his body to rub against his sweat, scouring away what little skin he had left beneath his tattered clothes. Fresh scabs were removed, half-healed bruises darkened again and were joined by fresh ones. Blood dribbled out behind him.
Yet he didn’t stop, didn’t beg Noctis to stop. He couldn’t. There was no hope for him lying out beneath the burning sun. He had to move, and if this was the only way then it would have to be done.
“Good boy,” he whispered constantly, hiding his groans and gasps beneath a flowing river of praise.
Noctis wasn’t fooled, he whimpered and snarled as he dragged his master along. The dog could clearly smell the blood, taste it where it trickled into his mouth, but until Caligo told him to stop he would continue.
There was no knowing how long it took or how far they travelled beneath the empty sky. Caligo only knew that the sun was still burning when he finally tumbled into deep shadow.
He landed with a sharp, loud splash, his body sinking into cool, refreshing darkness. He was so heavy there was no hope of swimming, no hope of returning to the surface, no hope of breathing. There was only darkness.
Caligo sank into the beautiful cold and smiled.