The darkline protocol, p.2
The Darkline Protocol, p.2John R. Phythyon, Jr
Chapter 1: The Sons of Frey
(Two Weeks before Revelation Day)
Sara Wensley-James spurred the stolen horse, urging him to weave his way faster through the decaying trees in the hope of eluding her pursuers. The great, black stallion whinneyed in protest, but he responded to her commands. His hooves pounded the dry earth, picking their way through the detritus of fallen branches and dead ground cover, eluding trees.
She chanced a look behind her. She could make out at least three more riders. They were covered in white robes – the color of death in elfin culture. Their heads were enshrouded by white hoods, but she knew who they were: the Sons of Frey. They were determined to prevent her from reporting what she knew.
One stood up in his stirrups and aimed a bow at her. She put herself low in the saddle and hoped the arrow would whistle over her.
The shot never came, though. After a moment, she risked another glance behind. The would-be bowman had been unseated by a low-hanging branch before he could fire. That gave Sara an idea. She pulled on the reins to slow her mount.
Within seconds, the other two riders closed the distance. One drew an arrow and started fitting it to a bow. The other crouched low and urged more speed from his horse. As he got closer, he put his hand forward to try to grab her reins.
With a quick kick of her spurs, she pulled away. Then she reached out for a tree. Without thought, she summoned her Shadow powers and slapped the trunk as she went by, releasing Shadow from her hands. Instantly, the already dying tree rotted both up and down. After a few seconds, the weight of its branches was too great. It snapped in half and crashed down on her pursuers just as they were passing. One was crushed; the archer was knocked off his horse to an uncertain fate.
“Hah!” Sara said aloud, pleased with the results of her trickery.
Presently, an arrow shot past her face, narrowly missing her. She turned her head and saw five more riders, all preparing to launch arrows at her.
“Oh, hell,” she said.
She pulled sharply on the reins and moved her mount away, coaxing him to his best speed. Behind her came a chorus of twangs. Sara laid low and tried to melt into the horse’s back. She heard a series of thunks as the missiles struck trees instead of her.
“Come on, boy!” she shouted to the horse, begging him to get her to safety.
He danced between one dying tree and another as Sara searched for some place to hide, some way to escape those who would kill her. The putrescent forest offered nothing, though. Blackened tree after rotting bush gave no shelter to an Urlish Shadow trying to report to her superiors.
An arrow struck a tree to her right – and this one came from in front of her. Sara pulled on the reins, bringing the poor, tired horse to a halt. Sure enough, three more riders were up ahead and closing in.
She couldn’t go left. That way led to the large clearing between here and Al-Adan. She could only go right – effectively back the way she’d come. Before she had a moment to consider the risks of that plan, though, she spied more Sons of Frey approaching from that direction. She was trapped.
They had been flushing her. They pursued from three directions to move her to the edge of the forest. Now, they intended to force her out into the open. With no trees for cover, their arrows were much more likely to find their target.
“Damn,” she cursed.
There was nothing for it. She had to take the route they gave her. With luck, she could get a good enough head start she could outrun them to Al-Adan.
She pulled on the reins and spurred the big, black horse into action again. Gritting her teeth, she charged for the edge of the forest. As it approached, she could feel her heart starting to race harder. She’d been scared during the chase through the dead woods, but she’d had her wits and her skill to help her. Now, she had nothing but whatever speed her stolen mount had left.
“You can do it, boy,” she whispered to him.
She held her breath as they emerged from the trees and broke out across open ground. She dug her spurs into his sides to let him know it was time for his best. He protested again, but picked up his pace to a full gallop.
The earth outside the woods was just as blasted as within. Hard, bare ground was cracked from lack of moisture, and only the hardiest of plants grew. In the distance, she could see Al-Adan rising up from the desolation. It was a long way off, and she wondered if the giant, black horse had enough energy to make it.
She stole another glance behind and spotted no one. Surely the Sons of Frey should have reached the edge of the forest by now. Where were they?
Sara looked left and right to see if a new group of pursuers had taken up the chase, but there was nothing. After a moment, she allowed the horse to slow, hoping to conserve his energy.
She looked back again. No riders emerged from the trees.
It couldn’t be this easy. They had flushed her out. They were not about to just let her go free now.
Sara stood up in the stirrups and searched every direction of the wasteland for some trap or incoming attack. She was about to relax, think she had maybe gotten away, when she spotted the new threat. In the sky, a lone man was barreling towards her on a flying carpet. He was crouched low, his cloak snapping in the wind like a flag. She didn’t need to make out his features to know who it was.
“Oh, hell,” she said. “Ravager.”
Ravager – the Phrygian Shadow consorting with the Shendali terrorists pursuing her. Sara was suddenly very afraid. She’d rather face the Sons of Frey.
“Go!” she shouted at the horse and dug her spurs in savagely. He took off at a bolt, but it was no use. Ravager closed the distance quickly. His magic carpet had greater speed than an exhausted stallion.
She risked a look back and saw the vicious smile in his eyes. His hand was upraised, and she knew what was coming next. A black ball of Shadow formed on his hand, and he hurled it at her.
“If you want to live, you better run like hell,” Sara said.
The story continues in State of Grace, available now!
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About the Author
John R. Phythyon, Jr. wishes he were a superhero or a magician, but, since he has not yet been bitten by a radioactive spider or gotten his letter from Hogwarts, he writes adventure stories instead. He is the author of the Wolf Dasher series of fantasy-thriller mashup novels, as well as several short stories, a two-act comedy, and numerous game manuals. He won awards for the latter and hopes to make millions with the former.
In the meantime, he lives in Lawrence KS with his fiancée, her children and dog, and his cat. His current projects include the next novel in the Wolf Dasher series, world peace,
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