I’m currently editing my next fantasy novel A Song in Darkness. The story hinges around an elderly bard who ends up traveling with a red elf, bonded over a shared love of music. Here are the first 600 words of chapter 2, where we meet the red elves for the first time.
“Your swords are sharp. Your armor is strong. Your bellies are empty so that when you return victorious you will be able to feast to your heart’s content!”
A growl hissed out of the assembled force of twenty youths. The sound was low and malicious. Threatening, but too soft to be carried on the wind to to the hamlet they were about to invade. This was to be the night that they proved themselves as true members of their clan. This was to be their baptism of blood. Those who survived would be considered newly tempered Blades for their Queen.
Until today, the twenty of them had never ventured this far into the Above, the realm of the blinding eye. As part of their training they had learned the labyrinth that made up the tunnels that led to the surface, and they had briefly scouted around the secret entrances that served as a barrier between their world and this cursed one, but tonight they had done more than scouted, they had traveled. They had been ushered into this all too bright land by their commander, Gaol, who had warned them that the Above would be an assault on their senses. The light would sting their eyes, and the smells would be foul. He had timed their journey carefully. They had breached the surface two hours before the sun began to lower, so that his charges could see the awfulness of the Above as they trekked an hour to their destination. He wanted them to suffer under the sun’s gaze, and then feel the relief that night offered. Even in the Above there was darkness, and the darkness was their home. These twenty must now go remind the Above-worlders that it was they, the Rojgelf, who ruled the darkness.
Gaol had spent more than a year teaching them the ways of war. He had taught them combat, how to slash and parry with the blades after which they received their titles. He taught them to revere Yalla, that most dangerous of Goddesses, and to show their love of her by improving their own skills in the arts of war. He had also taught them how best to survive when the land offered little, something that most already had an inkling of, living as the did in the deep underground caves they called home. He had taught them how to care for the unique forms of arms and armor his people had developed due to their lack of iron and steel. Most importantly he had taught his young charges that they were their most important weapons, that to survive they must trust in themselves and in their fellows.
Now, it was time for these trainees to prove that they had learned their lessons well. On the whole, Gaol had high expectations for this cohort. They were a vicious and skilled bunch. There were, however, exceptions, as there were in any new cohort. In many ways Gaol saw himself as a smith, molding these youths into something that was far stronger than steel. Some of the trainees could be fashioned into the finest of blades. Others had too many impurities that could not be hammered out. Better to let them break, thought Gaol. That too would serve as a final lesson to their mates, that a life of devotion to protecting their society, their queen, sometimes came with sacrifice. Also, it was better that those unworthy to truly become Blades were broken now, while they were still being tested, than during the performance of crucial duties in the future. To be fair, he had contacted their families, informing them that they were unlikely to survive this ritual tempering. The families in questions had elected to keep their children in training rather than send them, as failed Blades, to a lower caste.
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