The Battle Sylphby L. J. McDonald
Solie finds herself kidnapped as a sacrifice for a dangerous battle sylph named Heyou, but she fights back and takes on control of him, an immensely powerful shape-shifter. Solie & Heyou flee death to seek sanctuary, and Heyou begins to fill Solie with desires that threaten to change the world.See more details below
Solie finds herself kidnapped as a sacrifice for a dangerous battle sylph named Heyou, but she fights back and takes on control of him, an immensely powerful shape-shifter. Solie & Heyou flee death to seek sanctuary, and Heyou begins to fill Solie with desires that threaten to change the world.
Meet the Author
L.J. McDonald is a fresh new voice in Fantasy Romance. The Battle Sylph was published by Dorchester in 2008. It was quickly followed by its sequels:The Shattered Sylph and Queen of the Sylphs.
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The Battle Sylph
By L. J. McDonald
Dorchester PublishingCopyright © 2010 L. J. McDonald
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSolie had an aunt named Masha, a woman who had never married and was known for her temper. She had refused to wed and lived on her own, running a bakery and working long hours every day. She'd forced the people in her town to accept her, and finally they had. Even now they bought her bread, when she was old and her hair gray. Solie had been born with Masha's red hair, if not her temper, and had been adored. Masha spoiled her niece, giving her presents and, more importantly, her time. Solie had lived for these visits, preferring her aunt's life of freedom to the marriage and certain servitude her mother promised. Her aunt's best present, however, was a knife that Solie could wear in her hair, hidden in a barrette.
"You'll never know when you might need it," the old woman told her. "And to know you have a weapon is to have a sense of security that shows in a woman. Men go after weak targets. Never present them with one. Your carriage is your greatest defense."
Solie took to wearing the barrette daily, with its green butterfly, and though she became known for it, she never told anyone what was hidden inside. It gave her confidence, and pride, and she snubbed the boys who came to court her, as well as the older men who thought a slim redhead might make a good wife. Hermother felt she was too picky, but her aunt felt she didn't have to choose at all. So when her family tried to arrange a marriage for her, Solie refused, leaving the same night with everything she owned shoved into a pack.
Masha will take me in, she decided, as she headed down the road out of her village. Her aunt lived only five miles away, on the other side of the crossroads in the next village. She had started out at dusk, sure her family wouldn't even realize until dawn that she'd gone out the window. She wasn't going to stay, though. She was seventeen years old and was not going to marry a forty-five-year-old fat man, no matter who told her she must.
Confident, frightened, and rather excited at her sudden freedom, she headed down the dirt road, the sun setting on the horizon and shrouding everything in darkness, which she rather welcomed. The dark didn't have anything in it to frighten her, her aunt assured her, only men did, and they were as dangerous during the day. As long as she kept her wits about her, she would be fine. So Solie walked along the road she'd taken so many times in the daylight, her pack thrown across her back, and whistling to prove to herself that the growing darkness wasn't making her nervous at all. She didn't run, quite, but she walked quickly and looked back a lot.
The night grew both dark and cold. It was late in the fall and the trees were already skeletal, their leaves lying in wet piles beside the road. The chill in the air was bitter as well. Solie pulled her cloak around herself and struggled onward, wishing her parents had decided to marry her off in the summer instead.
Time passed, the moon rising overhead, and she sighed in relief as she finally reached the crossroads. She hadn't seen a single person on the way. She'd come from the south. West, the road led to towns she'd only heard of, and turned eventually south itself. Three days' ride, she'd been told, and the kingdom of Eferem ended. Other kingdoms lay beyond, and more past them, carrying on until the world ended. She'd have to go that way eventually, she supposed, though that idea was still too remote for her to dwell upon. East was the capital, where the king lived, and she could see the lights of the fire sylphs who lit the castle, even from here. North lay her aunt's village, and then the road continued northward again in a route she'd never taken, even in play. That way wound through forests and other towns before ending at the dead Shale Plains, which had to be skirted to reach the kingdom of Para Dubh, their nearest neighbor. Here, though, the road was just a worn-out crossroads, the ruts deep and solid.
Solie crossed, jumping over tracks that were almost deep enough to trap a wagon. That was when she heard a horse snort. Startled, she looked up to see three men in the king's red and black livery on horseback, riding from the east. They stared back at her, equally surprised to see anyone out so late at night.
The lead rider grinned. "Looks like this will be easy," he said.
Discretion over bravery, her aunt always said. Solie ran. Immediately, she heard hoofbeats coming after her and tried to scramble off the road into the brush, but the men were trained. She barely got twenty yards, struggling across a pile of leaves, before one of them grabbed her by her long hair and hauled her back, also yanking her upward. Letting go of her hair to get a better grip on her shirt, he threw her across his saddle before him.
"Let me go!" Solie screamed, struggling.
He struck her across the back of the head with his mailed fist. "Don't," he warned. Then he ordered his companions to get her pack and spun his horse, cantering back the way he'd come, one hand still gripping the back of her shirt.
Her head spinning with pain, Solie could only hang on, feeling as if she would throw up whenever the horse's movements dug the saddle into her stomach. The soldiers soon galloped as a trio back toward the capital, laughing and congratulating themselves on their success. They'd been searching for a girl, she realized, and fully expecting that they'd need to break into someone's cottage to get one. She'd gone and made it easy for them.
She nearly panicked, her terror so great that she could barely breathe at all during the horrid ride. If the soldiers wanted her, there was nothing anyone could do to help; not even her aunt would be able to save her. She'd just vanish and never be seen again. She'd heard about it happening before. Her parents had always cautioned her that it could happen, and that she must be careful. Her aunt had said to never make herself look like an attractive target. Apparently, walking alone at night did.
"Please let me go!" she wailed. "What do you want with me?"
The man who held her laughed roughly, slapping her backside and making her cry out. "We don't want you, girl. We just want female bait. There's a battler coming for the prince tonight. You'll like him." The other men laughed as well.
Solie's heart froze. A battler? They wanted her for a battler? Like everyone, she'd heard stories of sylphs, spirits bound to serve human men with their magic. She'd grown up on those stories, distantly wishing for one herself but knowing it would never happen. Only men bound sylphs, and then, only men with more rank than her family had. Battlers were the horror stories of the sylphs, though: evil creatures born only to destroy. The safety of all Eferem was based on them, but they were cold and cruel, and according to the stories, to gain their services required the sacrifice of a virgin girl.
Solie started to scream, trying to buck off the horse. That made it shy, whinnying nervously. The soldier who held her cursed, and he threw her down onto the ground. Solie tried to scramble to her feet and run, but the man dismounted and grabbed her again, pinning her easily into the dirt while the other men bound her hands and feet.
"Gag her as well," he snarled. "She's damned loud."
They shoved a rag into her mouth and pulled her upright. Her wrists bound together, Solie could only move her fingers as she was hauled back across the saddle. The horses started to move again.
This wasn't supposed to happen! All the confidence her aunt had given her was gone, and she cried into her gag, her face pressed against her bound hands. Then she touched her barrette. Blinking, she felt the butterfly under her fingers-it had slipped free during her struggles. She unhooked it from her hair, keeping it hidden. The soldier didn't notice, shouting something to his companions about getting a wagon.
They were starting to canter on cobblestones now, which clattered loudly under the horses' shoes as they entered the city that surrounded the king's castle, passing through a side gate in the main wall and swerving their mounts down back alleys where no one could see them. Finally, they pulled up at a barn, where two of the soldiers dismounted. The man holding Solie stayed on his horse, one hand on her back, while his companions readied a cart. Solie twisted her head around to look pleadingly up at him.
"Too bad the battlers prefer virgins," he said, leering down at her. Solie shuddered and looked away.
They transferred her to an old cart that smelled as though it was used to carry vegetables. Its wooden boards were cold and hugely uncomfortable, but the men put a tarp over her that blocked the increasingly frigid night air. Solie was doubly glad of it; the three men sat on the seat ahead of her, probably looking back, but they wouldn't be able to see her under the tarp. Solie couldn't see in the darkness either, but she could feel her barrette.
She carefully worked the butterfly out from her palm to the edge of her fingers, careful not to drop it-she might lose it in the darkness if she did. Trying not to shiver as the cold seeped into her from the bottom of the wagon, she managed to point the tiny weapon toward her wrists before pushing on the little latch that would release the blade. This eased out-barely an inch long, but enough to convince a man to leave her alone, her aunt claimed. Solie took a deep breath and bent her fingers as much as she could, bringing the knife to the rope and starting to saw. It was hard, agonizing work, but the blade was sharp, and she nearly wept as she felt the first strands part. Yet the rope was thick and it took time to cut through.
The sound of the horses' hoofbeats changed, sounding hollow, and she realized they'd gone inside the castle. She resisted the urge to scream or work any faster. She'd only drop her knife if she did, or make too much motion and give herself away. Her chances of escaping were slim enough as it was. She tried not to think of that, just focused on cutting her bonds one strand at a time.
The cart turned a corner, descended, and finally stopped. She heard the men dismounting but kept sawing until the last second, palming the knife again just as they threw back the tarp. Blinking away tears, she looked up into a terrible brightness. They had a fire sylph, something Solie had never seen up close before. She saw it clearly now, floating above everyone in the form of a ball of light, illuminating the area as bright as day.
They were underground, in a cavern, and she whined behind her gag as the soldiers yanked her off the cart and held her above the ground between them, one gripping her under the shoulders, the other under the knees.
A man dressed in white frowned at Solie. "She'll do," he decided. "Everything else is ready. Come." He turned with a dramatic sweep of his robes and strode off, leading the soldiers down a corridor cut out of solid rock, the walls shiny as glass and reflective-the work of an earth sylph, since there weren't any tool marks.
Solie stared. Her reflection was better than anything she'd ever seen by glancing into a puddle or a lake, and she blinked at her first clear view of herself. She looked awful, her curly red hair a mess and her face covered in dirt and bruises. Her eyes were heavily shadowed, her skin blotchy from tears. She looked broken and ugly, and she tried not to sob again. She had to be strong-she had to be, or she'd die. She probably would die anyway, but her aunt would be ashamed of her if she cowered like some weak little girl. For that reason, she closed her eyes for a moment. When she opened them again, they were hard. She could feel the knife between her palms, and the ropes were a little looser, the innermost loop mostly sawn through. If she could cut the rest of the way, she'd be able to free her hands. Then she might have a chance.
The men dragged her into an underground cathedral, its high arching roof lit by more fire sylphs, whose masters stood along the walls dressed in red with their heads bowed. More men armed with swords stood closer to the center of the room, as did a group of priests in robes and one man in ermine.
Solie shivered, recognizing the king. He was heavyset, his beard turning gray and his eyes like chips of flint. She had seen him before in the paintings they hung in inns, and once inside a carriage at a distance. He didn't even look at her, speaking harshly to a young man dressed in expensive yellow silks that didn't match his skin tones. The young man was shaking, staring at her as she passed as though he'd never seen a woman before.
"Pay attention!" The king slapped him across the face, and the boy flinched.
"Yes, Father," he apologized, his eyes still tracking Solie for a moment as she was hoisted up onto a dais and stretched out over an altar, her rope bindings passed over restraining metal hooks. She started her muffled shrieking again as the white-robed man started to cut off her clothing.
"The priests will open the gate," the king told his nervous son. "They swear there's a battler on the other side." He shot them a glare that had the men surreptitiously cowering. "Once it crosses over, kill the girl. Don't hesitate or it won't be bound to you. The second it turns to you, name it. That will complete the binding."
Solie gasped for breath on the altar, shaking over what she'd heard. They were going to kill her. The soldiers turned away, leaving her there, and she fumbled her barrette knife out again, praying no one saw it as she resumed sawing at her bonds. No one did. They didn't even look at her.
"What do I name it?" the boy whimpered, twitching.
"Name it whatever you want," the king snapped. "Just don't pick a stupid name, as you can't change it later. Don't fail me in this, boy. The king has always had a battler. You'll be a target for your enemies otherwise." When the boy squirmed, the king slapped him again and laughed harshly. "He won't let me smack you around anymore-though if he tried to stop me, my battler would go after him. He'll be your constant companion, as Thrall is mine. The only time Thrall is away from my side is in here, or when I'm with a woman. So be prepared to get used to it."
The prince looked down, obviously not thrilled with the idea. Solie sawed desperately at her bonds, none too pleased herself.
The white-robed man bowed to the king. "We're ready, my liege." The king nodded and stepped back, preferring to watch from the entrance to the corridor through which they had arrived.
Shaking, the prince walked to the altar. White-faced and trembling, he never looked at Solie. His fear had nothing to do with killing an innocent girl, she saw, and she glared at him with terrified contempt. Still, if he didn't look at her, he couldn't see she had cut halfway through her bonds. Solie hoped he maintained that unthinking dismissal of her even as he swallowed, shifting both his stance and his grip on the ornate dagger he held.
A circle appeared in the air above them, a sphere of shining energy. The priests chanted, their sonorous words filling the room, and the sphere went from gray to green to red to black. From there it went to a non-color, and the prince gaped at it in amazement while Solie squealed and hurried, nicking her own fingers in her haste. The wounds hurt but the blood helped, greasing the rope even as it threatened to make her drop her knife.
A wind was blowing, whirling into the circle with a strange roaring sound. The fire sylphs darted back, leaving the circle in shadow, and Solie realized that there was something looking through that gateway, assessing them all. The prince sensed it too, and she saw his eyes widen even farther. His Adam's apple bobbed up and down.
The presence looked through the gate, assessing, deciding whether to cross. Solie felt its attentions shifting, focusing ... and suddenly she knew it was looking at her, nude and helpless on the altar. It saw her and wanted her, and she hacked through the last bits of rope as it appeared, huge and shadowy, not yet taking any distinct shape.
"Now!" the king shouted. "Kill her now!"
The prince started, gasping, and raised his knife. His arms trembled as he brought it up over his head. At the same time, Solie broke through her last bonds and sat upright, thrusting her tiny blade deep into his arm. The prince shrieked, dropping his knife and falling backward off the dais. Still bound at the feet, Solie yanked out her gag and looked up ... straight into dark red eyes. She yelped and dropped back against the altar, hands raised in surrender.
The battler landed on the altar, bracing itself atop her, a beast formed of smoke and lightning, staring downward. She felt its emotions, its interest and its curiosity. Its eyes stared into hers, and she blushed as it slowly looked down the length of her body and then back up again. It purred, bent its head, and licked her from her navel up across her breasts and along her neck. Solie couldn't see its tongue, but she could feel it and squealed, frightened, cold, and somehow hot at the same time.
What had the king said? Name it.
Excerpted from The Battle Sylph by L. J. McDonald Copyright © 2010 by L. J. McDonald. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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