Here’s your first Sneak Peek at The Shadow Prison!
Introduction: I had so much fun writing this scene. It’s the first time Macy and Tolen are pitted against each other in a practice battle. Their feelings toward one another are still somewhat rocky and we get to see Macy’s lifetime of skills against Tolen’s newly developing talents. Both Macy and Tolen discover something in this scene that is key to their character development and the forward movement of the plot.
Excerpt from Page 52:
… Incrah started to speak and he tried to focus on what the warrior was saying. “This will be a Victory Match. Each round will be fifteen minutes long, with five-minute breaks to consult with your team. The match ends after the third round, the winner being the fighter with the most amount of points, or with the yield of an opponent.”
Tolen heard Macy’s low scoff. Apparently, she had no intention of surrendering. He squared his shoulders. Well, neither did he.
“You each have six teammates. You will have ten minutes to consult with your team before the match begins.” He nodded toward Macy who stomped to the other side of the arena, where the warrior Kapha waited with two others Tolen had seen sparring, plus two females and one male Tolen didn’t recognize.
Tolen followed Incrah to the fence, his nerves beginning to tingle in anticipation.
“Tolen, I will be your captain. Meet your teammates.” He waved his hand. “Quasar and Bolide you’ve met.” Tolen wondered if they knew about Macy’s confrontation with Nova and the greeting he was about to offer stuck in his throat.
“The Lafar are brilliant strategists.” A muscle in Incrah’s jaw twitched. “They will be watching Macy’s moves and coming up with strategy for you.” His tone seemed to imply he wasn’t exactly thrilled with them being here.
“My sister, Ingrid, will be your weapons specialist.” Incrah pointed to the young woman on Tolen’s right who looked to be around twenty years old, with soft brown hair tied back in a waist-length ponytail, large gentle brown eyes, and a warm smile. She reminded Tolen of one of the motherly clerks at Grange Grocery. But she shook his arm with roughness that didn’t fit her gentle look, and her voice was a lot deeper than he expected when she spoke. “Good to meet you.”
“Janu is a genius at grappling and sparring moves.” Incrah pointed to the short, thickly muscled, stocky young man standing beside Ingrid. He reminded Tolen of the wrestlers at school. His thick black hair hung in loose dreadlocks down his back. When he smiled, it was clear he had lost more teeth than he had left. His eyes were bright and mischievous. He didn’t speak, just nodded as he shook Tolen’s arm.
“Bey, son of the warrior Beyn, is good at everything. He sees what no one else does.” The last young man looked no older than eleven or twelve. His round pink face, broad smile, freckles, and flaming red hair hinted at a merriment that his eyes contradicted. His eyes were like Evrah’s. White. Sightless. Empty. Tolen looked up at Incrah in surprise. The others all chuckled.
The boy tapped Tolen’s shoulder. “It doesn’t necessarily take eyes to see.”
Tolen could see his reflection in Bey’s white eyes. It was a little creepy. He shook the kid’s arm and stepped back to look at the arena, ignoring the wriggling in his stomach when his eyes passed over Macy’s group, where they appeared to be helping her into her gear.
He looked back to see Quasar holding out what looked like a coat of sticks. Tolen lifted it up to see at least a dozen leather straps.
“Here.” Quasar took it back and helped him put it over his head. Bolide came over, and between the two of them, they had it tied around his chest in a matter of seconds.
Ingrid handed him a long, crude looking metal sword. Guess he’d made it past the wooden sticks.
Incrah laced a scabbard around Tolen’s thigh and tapped the wood vest. “The breastplate is made of strips of blessed oak. It won’t stop a real blade, but it will deflect these duller practice blades. Don’t get overconfident; even a dull blade can cause significant damage. Remember to protect your vital areas, watch her moves so you can counter correctly, and be aware of your surroundings.”
Bolide slid a knife into the scabbard and glanced at Macy’s team. “The girl is too feisty. This will cause her to make rash moves the angrier she gets. Keep her busy and frustrated. It will work to your advantage.”
Bey knelt and touched the ground, his eyebrows furrowed. “She’s light, but I’ll still be able to feel her moves. I’ll let you know her weaknesses by first break.” He stood up and Incrah motioned for Tolen to follow him.
“You have a good team, but so does Macy. Don’t underestimate her.” Tolen shook his head. “I won’t. I’ve seen her fight.”
“Good.” Incrah paused before they reached the middle of the arena. “This is a mock fight Tolen. It isn’t real, but I urge you to stay focused. The best way to learn is to treat every training session as if your life depends on it. The reason we use methods such as Victory Matches is not for sport, it is to teach you how to react to an opponent.”
“That being said, in the heat of the moment remember that your opponent in the arena is not your enemy, do not kill each other.” There was no humor in his tone. Tolen met his eyes and his stomach tightened.“If there comes a moment when you feel your anger is getting out of control, and the methods you learned with the Doogar are not helping, signal me and I will step in and stop the match.”
Tolen took a deep breath and nodded, grateful, but slightly ashamed that Incrah felt it was necessary to give the warning. He had felt in control of his anger fairly well lately. Having a goal helped, but sparring with Macy would likely bring up a lot of unresolved feelings. Losing control of his anger was a distinct possibility. He rolled his shoulders, adjusted the heavy breastplate, checked his knife, and gripped the sword more firmly in his right hand.
Incrah squeezed his shoulder. “Good luck.” He turned and headed back to the team waiting just outside the fence. Bey sat on the ground again, legs folded beneath him, both palms in the dirt. The others stood back, arms folded across their chests, focused.
Tolen looked back to the center of the arena to see Macy walking toward him, wearing similar garb. While he was sure he looked awkward and clunky, Macy looked tough. He reminded himself to focus. He wouldn’t give Incrah a reason to stop the match, and he wasn’t about to give Macy the satisfaction of beating him.
Tolen raised his sword and waited for Macy to do the same. They touched the edges together and waited for Incrah to signal the beginning of the match.
Incrah’s loud voice echoed across the arena. “This is a no gift match. Swords only. The use of gifts docks your points and counts as a penalty. Three penalties result in automatic forfeit. Penalties are also given for underhanded or dishonorable conduct. We do not fight like the Dark. We fight with honor.” He whistled and Macy drew her sword back so fast Tolen stumbled forward a step. Her snicker quickly turned into a scowl when he recovered quickly and moved in.
For the first few minutes, they only seemed to be testing each other’s moves and abilities. Tolen tried not to feel smug when he was able to block and counter most of Macy’s attacks. Five minutes before the round was to end, he noticed their scores were tied.
Sweat dripped off Macy’s nose and Tolen’s chin. The oak breastplate felt hot and heavy, but Tolen realized he was actually enjoying himself. Macy was good, really good, and as he countered her moves, he learned better how to strike.
Incrah whistled, signaling the end of the first round. Tolen gave Macy a mock bow, but she simply returned to her team. Tolen walked back to his side, gratefully taking the water jug Bolide held out, and after drinking his fill, poured the rest over his head.
“You’re doing alright.” Incrah stepped over and handed his sword to Ingrid who started cleaning the blade.
“Alright? We’re tied in points.” Tolen folded his arms across the breastplate. “She’s had years of practice, I’ve had weeks. She’s frustrated that I’m keeping up. I’m learning her tactics. I think that’s pretty good.”
Janu snorted and Bey laughed.
“What?”Tolen pushed his wet hair off his face in irritation.
“You’re enjoying the fight.” Janu shook his head.
Bey laughed again. “This isn’t a game. Until you feel like you want it to end so bad you are almost ready to surrender, it’s not a real fight. It’s child’s play. You’re not giving your all. If you were, you would have already won. You’re holding back.”
Tolen raised his hands. “Of course I am. Incrah told me not to kill her!” Janu and Bey shook their heads.
Bolide walked over and handed Tolen a tiny piece of jerky. “For strength.” He’d ate his fill at lunch, but could feel his body weakening fast. Probably had something to do with missing two meals and not sleeping well. He gratefully popped the jerky in his mouth, relishing the instant surge of energy.
Bolide waited for him to swallow and handed him more water. “What they mean is you won’t grow into a real warrior until you look at matches like this as you would a real fight. Macy is. She is fighting you with strategy. She’s getting frustrated as you said, but you have not coaxed the most out of her yet. She still has greater skills to bring to this fight. You were not the only one learning in this round. She suspects you are weak on your left side. You leave it unprotected too often. Your jabs are too slow, leaving her room to counter easily.”
Bey broke in. “She’s swift on her feet. She gets in faster than you do, but this can be exploited to your advantage.”
For the remaining three minutes of the break, Tolen made mental notes on the advice and tips of his team, realizing he had done exactly what Incrah told him not to. He’d become overconfident. The first had been a learning round. Yeah, he hadn’t made it easy for Macy to beat him, instead he’d given her all the information she’d need to take him out in the next round. He shook out his arms, rolled his neck, and took several deep breaths before gripping his sword and walking back out into the arena.
The look on Macy’s face as she marched back into the arena told Tolen his teammates were right. She was ready for the second round, armed with knowledge of Tolen’s weaknesses, and prepared to defeat him. He thought of what Bey said about her speed and focused hard as she moved for the first strike at the whistle.
It came like a snake, so fast Tolen barely saw a flash of the blade. He countered quickly, stepping to the side so her strike would carry her too far into his circle, but she spun and pushed her body against his shoulder knocking him sideways. Warmth tingled down his arms into his fingers from the touch, and Tolen was reminded of the thrill of joy that passed through his body when he’d first held her hand in the Binithan. The urge he’d felt to run his fingers through her long hair to see how soft it was. The constant desire to make her laugh just so he could see the dimple beside her lips.
In his moment of distraction, Macy struck and Tolen barely parried in time so the blade just grazed his arm. The dull edge still managed to cut through the first layer of skin on his bicep. He stepped back, taking on a defensive stance, ready for her next move, but something had changed. The warmth that had surged into him from thinking of Macy in the Binithan hadn’t left. In fact it seemed to be working its way through his whole body. The word lon’adras barely entered his mind before his arm started to heal. He heard Incrah’s two trill whistle, and he realized he’d just been penalized for using a gift, but it had happened instinctively…