Excerpt from Daniel Tyler Gooden's ebook, The Unmade Man.
Wraethe pushed Pile off and reached to drag the boy free, but halted as his small hands slid between Toaaho’s teeth. The boy’s face was of strained concentration as his fingers slipped and then found purchase on the wet tongue and began to pull. Boruin grabbed him again, Wraethe pulling the Mana’Olai in the other direction. There was no separating the two, locked impossibly by the boy’s small-handed grip.
Toaaho’s tongue began to slide free, and the boy reached deeper, grabbing the thicker root. Pile screamed with confusion and horror as it began to tear. Boruin pulled but fell into the water as the child’s jacket split. He did not want to renew his hold, but when the boy turned over his shoulder with a pleading look for help, he knew he had no choice. Boruin dragged the raft to the shore and braced his foot against the bank. He grabbed the boy and pulled up, putting all his strength into it. Then he saw what the boy was after.
Toaaho’s tongue was black and too thick. It writhed like a worm as it blocked Toaaho’s throat. The boy pulled at the parasite, and Boruin pulled the boy. They both screamed, the boy his odd high warble and the man in frustration and fear. The tongue came free, long and sinuous like an eel.
Wraethe was on it even before it hit the ground, her blade cutting to no avail. The thing was not spirit, but it wasn’t real, either. It was impossibly thin and strong like a cord of gristle. The tongue was thick like a habback’s, lolling too large from its shrunken head. How it had fit in Toaaho, Boruin couldn’t understand. It must have grown in his throat.
The creature continued to scream as Wraethe smashed its mouth down into the dirt. The sound echoed on, and Yuin only knew what would come to its call.
The boy pulled at Wraethe’s cloak. She nearly backhanded him, but he ducked and ran into the forest.
Pile jumped to follow. “After him!” he yelled. “He’s the only one who knows what’s going on!”
Excerpt from Daniel Tyler Gooden's unpublished novel, Umbra.
The beat of the old man’s steel was pressing at the edge of her ability. Always during their drills there was a slight shift that came before the swordplay moved beyond practice and into an actual bout. Past that point, the old man pushed until she felt on the edge of losing her skill and abandoning herself to retreating defense. The steel flashed in the sunlight as she moved to block his attacks and work around his defenses to where she held the advantage. He slid under her guard and she felt his point come too close, it would have been the end of the fight if had been an actual duel. She fell back, her feet pedaling her out of range.
“You are too focused,” the old man shouted, reprimanding her for disengaging again. “You are not fighting my steel. You are fighting me. Don’t watch the blade. Watch me,” he yelled, and closed the distance to attack again.
It was hard not to watch the sharp edge of his blade as it swung around at her. She moved to block and switched her parry as he feinted and thrust. She blocked and attacked, but his parry was there almost before she even began. The action continued in the same fashion, her hurried beats knocking his steel out of line and his quickly intercepting her attacks as if reading her mind. Finally he thrust his sword down, not for the attack but to bury it in the dirt.
“Here. Watch here,” he said and pounded his fist against his chest. My attacks do not come from my steel, they come from my body. You should be watching me and my motions. Every fighter tells his attack long before the blade moves. You should be watching those signals. Am I leaning in to advance or is it just a feint? Watch me, my signals. My blade will only distract you,” he said, and turned to pace the grass, cooling his temper. She did not argue, she knew he was right even if she did not want to admit it.
It took time, but she began to feel the difference. With her focus on his body language, she read his attacks quicker and caught his feints before he made them. She began to counter his bluffs, driving her attacks to gain ground over his weaknesses. When he lunged in deep, she pushed back, catching him too far overbalance to retreat quickly. Kel began to lay her own traps, careful to avoid signaling her deception with her own body. The edge of her abilities began to draw back until she no longer felt on the edge of losing control, needing to run instead of facing the blade. They fought harder that lesson than they had before, or would again. Sweat poured over their bodies, running in their eyes and wetting their grips. The blades cracked and rung out in contest until she caught him once, loose handed in his feint, and sent his blade in an arcing flash through the air. Had she bested him truly? She did not know, but she had won the skirmish and the first smile he had ever awarded, shone on his face.
“You are beginning to understand,” he said, as he retrieved his blade. “The fight is not about the weapons, not about the devices you use. It is about your opponent,” he said, as she felt the tug in her spine and was slung back across whatever void split his world from her own.