Chapter II: Second Thoughts and Revelations (Excerpt) by Arjay Murray

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SUMMARY: An excerpt from the second chapter of The Hourglass of the Empire Book I: Woodbridge G'yd Brackyn, Hereditary Grand Duke of the City of Xyvyx, discovers a ravaged village with his companion Rysh.

They'd been ascending and descending hills for hours, navigating through thickets of trees in darkness, as well as bare hillsides and hilltops where every star was visible. It was well past midnight, and they were now miles outside of the city, but still miles east of The Republic of Bezkhu.

There had been silence between G'yd and Rysh for a long time, save for a few words of direction from Rysh who knew his way through the hills. It mostly due to the amount of focus it took to navigate the hills in the dark. There were many places where you could turn an ankle or break your leg. There were also many places, G'yd found, that a hill would become the face of a cliff on the other side, where carelessness could send you plummeting to your death.

G'yd finally spoke after the long silence, his voice a little harder than the low whisper he carried before. "Rysh," he said, calling his companion's name with a tone that marked the beginnings of a question.

Rysh made an acknowledging sound.

"How exactly am I to get to the Republic?" he asked. A hint of worry was scattered amongst the hard whisper that he spoke in.

"Well," Rysh said in reply. "You are going to have to cross Woodbridge. It's the only way into the Republic from the Empire." He sighed. "You cannot cross the waters of the river. It is riddled with rapids and waterfalls and quick moving waters all the way to the Colonies of Tamat."

Knots began to tie themselves, once more, in the stomach of G'yd. Second thoughts reemerged in his mind, pressing down on him with even more weight than they had before. "But Woodbridge," he said. "It is . . ." he paused, trying to configure the words he wanted to say. "Is it not a military outpost as well as a bridge that crosses the river?"

"You've killed members of the Imperial Guard before, haven't you?" Rysh said.

G'yd's voice began to grow faster with the tightness of the knots, the anxiety within him. "Yes, but not that many of them, let alone the amount of soldiers stationed there as well. I don'tó"

He stopped dead in the middle of his sentence, looking up as they neared the crest of another hill. His eyes caught the view of a small plume of smoke reaching its way to the sky, seemingly trying with desperation to cover the stars before it dispersed in the air. The smoke seemed to have a faint blue tint to it, unnatural for fire. The smoke of a hearth fire, or a fire caused by candles or lanterns, emitted black or white smoke. It was the smoke of a fire caused by Manipulation.

"Rysh!" G'yd called out in a loud whisper, desperately trying to grab the attention of his companion. "Rysh! What is that? Up there." He pointed his index finger to the direction in which the smoke plumed.

Unsheathing a long knife, Rysh made his way to a large tree, where he waved G'yd over to stand near him. "Stay here behind this tree," he said. "Keep yourself low to the ground, and I will go have a look as to what's going on down there."

G'yd nodded and watched as Rysh made his way to the crest of the hill, disappearing behind the mound ahead as he made his way down the other side.

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