Jess is a new character created for the fourth dEaDINBURGH novel.
The following excerpt is pre-edit and copyright of Mark Wilson and Paddy’s Daddy Publishing:
One Year after The Battle of Edinburgh Castle
The tree bark digs into my back but does not betray my position. The afternoon’s rain has soaked though enough to lend the outer bark a little flexibility. A snap of underbrush to my left sends me to my haunches. Spider-like, hands and feet, I crawl silently from my cover under the oak, moving across the wettest, softest parts of detritus towards a fox hole I’m likely small enough to fit inside.
Feet first, I slide my entire body length into the burrow; silently praying that foxy isn’t home. My legs continue to disappear into the humid darkness. Each inch of progress without resistance from earth or occupant slows my pulse. Finally, I clear the burrow entrance with my head without incident and pull some brush over the opening.
My legs are extended straight behind me, my butt scrapes the ceiling of the burrow, the crown of my head touches there also and my chin the ground. My arms are extended in front of me, fingertips mere centimetres from the brush I’ve placed to disguise my sanctuary. It’s a tight fit, even for me, the smallest and youngest of my community. Just as I’ve been taught, I breathe very deliberately and deeply, taking a small part of my mind elsewhere, the Claymore’s pavilion, a sun-drenched patio area I lounge and read in regularly. Once I mocked the gentle passiveness of Claude’s training.
Now, entombed in damp, warm earth, my only protection from the four adults trailing me, I say a silent prayer thanking him for teaching me to tame my physiological responses and take my mind elsewhere.
The footsteps of two of them draw near and I pull my scarf up over my mouth that my breath- fogging on the cool springtime air- doesn’t betray my presence.
Abruptly they appear a man and a woman. As I’ve been trained to, I take in their appearance, their mannerisms, their gait, physical strength, the movement of their bodies; likely stamina and flexibility. I assess the danger they present to me and decide to stay clear of them for now.
The man has been tracking me through the undergrowth of the forest. This surprises me, it shouldn’t, no-one survives in the dead city without some level of skill. I mentally chide myself for having assumed that he was less than able, simply because he did not walk, move or behave like a fighter. He may not have the physical attributes to make me wary of him, but his mind and senses are quick. Mindful of his busy eyes, I slow my breathing further and relax my muscles lest an involuntary tic or twitch betrays me.
The man is young, perhaps twenty-two. The woman with him looks to be around forty, I find it hard to tell with people that old. He makes a wide sweep around the clearing directly outside where I lay. The woman rests against the same trunk I took cover behind a few moments previously. Fearful that somehow they’ll hear the movement, I fight a smile that’s tugging as she obliterates all trace of my having leaned there for a spell with her own actions.
The young man scans the ground, his eyes moving to the oak where his companion rests her rear. “The trail ends there, at that oak tree you’re under,” he gasps worriedly. “There are a few scratches here and there.” He points out a fee tracks in the leaf litter leading away from my actual position. “But, anything could’ve made them, Mags.”
The woman’s eyes fill with tears. “She’s just a kid, Michael. She can’t be more than eleven or twelve years old. We have to try to help her. God knows what these maniacs have in mind for her.”
The man, Michael roots around, shuffling leaves and branches aside with his feet fruitlessly. A sag of his shoulders set the woman off again.
“C’mon Michael,” she screeches.
Michael’s face is a mask of fear. “For God’s sake be quiet, Mags,” he hisses. They’re bound to be gaining on us by now.”
Mags snuffs at her sleeve, her eyes boring into Michaels, but stays silent.
“You saw what they did to the group they sent out here yesterday.
Mags’ face blanches at the memory.
“C’mon,” Michael says softly. “Let’s keep moving.”
Mags, making enough noise and leaving a trail obvious enough to give her position away to even the most dim-witted pursuer, follows Michael, who would plainly be better off leaving her behind.
A few minutes after they leave, the other two from their group stumble through the same little clearing. Both men, they are an odd pairing. One of them is small, clearly terrified. He has a bookish look to him, soft hands and a thin frame. The movement of his eyes and head as he walks reminds me of those of a frightened sparrow, starting at shadows and woodland sounds.
The other man is a big one. Heavily packed with functional-looking muscle, his movement screams not just strength but speed also. He trudges clumsily, which tells me he has no finesse to him. It also implies that he doesn’t require any. His power and speed would make any subtle execution of combat a hindrance to him. Come within six feet of those shovel-hands and gigantic feet at the ends of long powerful limbs and he’s in control of the situation.
I mentally note all of this, comparing it with past experience and formulating a handful of possible strategies. The others shouldn’t be too much of a problem to evade or engage. This one is going to be a challenge.
The giant turns angrily to his cowering companion. “Stay here.” He barks. The smaller man whimpers…an actual whimper, like a cowed dog.
The giant’s lip curls into a sneer. “You shut the hell up, Steve,” he says pointing a thick sausage finger into the smaller man’s face.
Steve lowers his eyes.
The giant sighs. “Look, I just need to go follow Mags and Mike’s trail. I’ll catch up to them and be back for you, alright?”
Steve manages a nod. “You think they caught up to that wee lassie?” he asks.
The Giant shrugs, “Don’t know, don’t care. They were stupid to follow her.”
Conversation over, the giant smoothly disappears into the dense treeline, leaving Steve to find himself a stump for a seat.
Seated with his back facing my bolt hole, Steve shifts and fidgets so much he masks the minute sounds of me removing my camouflage and shifting my body across the ground, out of the burrow. Slowly I use my fingers and toes to gradually drag myself from the close confines of the fox burrow. The sounds of the forest keep his sparrow eyes darting to all the wrong places as I clear my knees from the burrow and rise silently to the balls of my feet.
Picking my way around any twigs or other potential noisemakers, I near him, smiling to myself at the dullness, or perhaps shrillness, of his senses. I draw my blade as I take one final light step towards him. Something primal in his psyche recognises a predator stalking him, but Steve is simply too busy jumping at shadows to listen to the ancient voice in his head trying to alert him to the hunter. Me.
My blade cuts through his carotid artery as my hand stifles any trace of sound from his mouth. I follow up with a stab through his voice box, just in case then shove him face first to the leafy ground to die quietly.
One down, three to go.
Three of the Ringed shuffle clumsily into the clearing, drawn by the loo, I suppose.
Fighting the urge to whoop with the thrill of the kill, I dampen my excitement and follow the giant’s messy trail, leaving the Ringed to their meal.
dEaDINBURGH: Hunted (Din Eidyn Corpus 4) is due for publication on 13th July, 2016 and available to pre-order now at Amazon.