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Published by EVERNIGHT PUBLISHING ® at Smashwords


www.evernightpublishing.com




Copyright© 2018 James Cox



ISBN: 978-1-77339-715-3


Cover Artist: Jay Aheer


Editor: CA Clauson



ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


WARNING: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. No part of this book may be used or reproduced electronically or in print without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews.


This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, and places are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.






DEDICATION


To you. Yeah, you. You're awesome!



BENEATH THE BROKEN


Otherworld, 3


James Cox


Copyright © 2018



Beneath the broken, lies a heart too damaged to beat.

Beneath the broken, lies a soul covered in stone.

Beneath the broken, lies a pebble of hope

To be unbroken.


—A poem by Lovart



Chapter One


War is a horrifying thing. Especially when on the losing side.

A wave rushed at my face and I sputtered, trying not to inhale the liquid. My injuries were too significant to win a fight, but that didn’t mean I wouldn’t go down swinging. I bobbed in the ocean, water lapping as I tried to swim closer to the shore. The lights in the big village of Fairaine were like twinkling stars, teasing me with their reach. I was so close to land and yet I had a hard time actually getting there. The injuries dealt me a hard blow, but swimming for a few hours and diving to keep from being spotted had taken the greatest toll. I don’t know how long I floated with the current in the Ocean of Wonderous Things. The sun had set as the battle raged on. I could hear the explosions, screaming, swords clashing, see fire lighting up the night. The moons had crept into the sky and shone my path further away from the castle. The place where Queen Aralynn awaited.

She could be hurt or in trouble. She could be dying.

I grunted and turned over. Kicking my feet made my side bleed anew, but I fought through the pain. Aralynn’s fate spurred me on. She was the evil queen of Otherworld, as they said. Seducing a fallen god for a child, then using that offspring’s power to try to rule Otherworld with a harsh fist. It backfired when her daughter, Aneen, found out the truth. Thus, war. A battle that I gladly faced for her if not for the injury her daughter had dealt me. I was wounded when the battle began. The humans that came for me were no match for the beast inside my skin. I tried to get to Queen Aralynn, but our paths never crossed. Aos Si, hand-sized fairies, drove me out of the castle, and to avoid the banshee’s deadly arrow aim, I leapt into the Ocean of Wonderous Things. From there it was a fight with the Selkies. It was more of an effort to keep me from returning to the battle raging in Fairaine. The mermen were a bit harder to convince of my skills to tear them apart. They got in a few good bites, though, which was why I was bleeding profusely.

Shouting rang out. More torches made their way toward the castle.

I kicked harder, using my whole body and the very last ounce of my energy to make it to land. There. Beneath my palms was wet sand. I growled as I pulled myself onto a beach, emptied by the threat of battle. Blackness took me.

****

It was a jostling that made me gasp and open my eyes. A growl followed soon after. Someone was touching me, tearing open my shirt.

“Calm down.” His voice was hushed.

I swung my arm, knocking the man down and rolled to my side. Despite the agony crawling up my body I managed to lift to my knees.

“You’re going to pass … out.”

His words registered only a moment after my face hit the cold, wet sand.

****

“Stupid. Stupid. Stupid idea!”

I inhaled sharply, feeling pain and cold along my skin. I was being dragged away from the soothing sound of the waves.

“Save this idiot and get myself killed in the process. Real fucking smart.” He hauled me another few feet before he stopped. “You better not wake up and attack me. I swear to Dullahan I’ll bind your shaft to your balls.”

His threat made me want to snort, but even such a simple sound was too much. I reached out to get away from the crazy bastard talking to himself. My body flopped to the ground. Pain flared.

“Fucking idiot…”

Consciousness failed me.

****

The pain that had taken my sense was dulled when my eyelids opened again. A thatched roof greeted my eyes with patches covering the holes.

“Really? Really!”

It was the same voice that had spoken to me, hauling me away from the beach. The angry whispers made me wiggle my fingers and toes. I wouldn’t be ready for a fight if one came my way. I was as helpless as a babe.

“Dullahan’s dick”

I lolled my head to the side to see my savior or my captive, I wasn’t sure which yet. He was facing away from me, standing on an old rickety table as he shoved thin pieces of wood through a hole in the roof. After a few seconds he successfully blocked the hole.

“The ugly bastard next door has three wives and I can’t even keep rain from getting in this piece of…” He paused and titled his head to look at me. “Hi.”

The first thing that struck me was his age—he was young. And the second was the colors. His hair was bright red on the top and blond on the sides. His eyebrows were tinted blue, making his green eyes stand out. His lips were almost pouty and his jaw was sharp but clean shaven. Maybe I could win a fight. I struggled to sit up as he clamored down the table, nearly falling to the floor. “Where am I?”

“If you move to fast you’re going to pull the…”

I winced, my side flaring in pain. Warm blood trickled from a leaf pasted by some green mixture over the deep merman bite on my side. “What is this?”

“This…” He knelt beside the low bed I lay in. “Is healing you.” He reached his hand out as if to touch me.

I growled, the sound ripping from my chest in warning.

The man must have finally sensed danger. He paused and stared up at me. “Are you going to growl like some mangy wolf or let me make sure you’ll live to tomorrow?”

His words hit too close to truth. “Neither.” I swung my feet over the bed. My shirt was missing. More green pasty leaves were on my arms from the bites and a long line down the wound that I was already healing from on my face. The raw scar stretched from my earlobe to my elbow in a constant reminder of how I failed Queen Aralynn. Her daughter had bested me with abilities I’d never seen before. The fight with Aneen had been quick. The child of Aralynn and a fallen god had shot light out of her fingers and taken me out of the fight. And out of Aralynn’s world. I dragged my suddenly heavy body to the edge of the bed. I had to find her, Aralynn.

“Are you crazy or just stupid?”

I growled at him.

He threw up his hands. “Fine. Go.” With that he sat back on his ass and waited.

A trap? I didn’t think this thin, little man had it in him. I stood, ready to bolt for the door. My legs gave way only a step later. I braced myself just before I fell to the wooden floor that creaked beneath my weight.

“Are you going to listen to me now?”

“No.” I grunted, forcing my body to obey. Knees, hands, on one knee, stand. My legs actually shook as I managed to gain my feet.

“I’m trying to help you. I’m a healer. You’re too injured to go out there.” He got to his feet and shuffled around me faster than I could take a single step. This guy was actually blocking the door.

“Dullahan’s dick, you’re a dumb human. Move!” My voice was a deep timber and it made the single window rattle.

“You’re bleeding again. Exhausted from however long of a swim you took. Your body temperature is down because of exposure to the cold while wet. You only have trousers on and you smell like a wet animal.”

“And you smell like dinner.” I shifted forward, quickly lost my footing, and careened right into him. He cried out as we went down. I had little control over the fall, but managed to land atop him. Even at half my strength I could win this. I gathered his wrists in my hands and hauled them over his head. My knees were already straddling him, I just squeezed them tighter and laid my calves over his thighs. The smell of fear called to me like meat roasting over an open fire.

“What are you?” he whispered.

“Stronger. Now, get the fuck out of my way.”

“Fine. I was just trying to save your life.” His gaze fell on my lips.

Was this dumb human actually attracted to me? Piercings, tattoos, and scars normally conjured fear not lust. But it was desire that filled my nostrils as I inhaled. The man beneath me squirmed.

“I know who you are,” he whispered.

My gaze went right to his.

“Darrow, Aralynn’s assassin. Some say you’re a beast. Others say part god. The queen searches for you even now.”

“She does?” I smiled. Aralynn and I always had this unspoken connection. I knew she would be looking for me after we won the war. “Take me to her?”

“You want to die?”

“I am her assassin. She would not kill me.” I loosened my grip and rolled off the man.

“Dullahan’s dick.” He rubbed his hands over his face. “Queen Aneen is looking for you.”

“What?” Aralynn’s daughter should not hold that title unless, “We lost.” I jerked my head up. “We lost the battle?”

“Miserably.” He confirmed.

I slumped against the wall. “Where is Aralynn?” If they harmed her in any way…

“I don’t know. They don’t tell poor healers where the former queen that everyone’s trying kill happens to be living.”

“How long have I been here?”

“Near a week.”

A fucking week! I jerked my gaze to him. “Why did you save me, knowing who I am?”

“Honestly, I didn’t know who you were when I dragged you in here.” He shoved to his feet and stared down at me. “Then the wanted posters started going up and I didn’t say anything because I won’t let anyone die if I can help it. Not even a bad guy like you.”

I struggled to my feet and stumbled back to the bed. The war was lost. The queen was now Aneen and Aralynn was missing. I had to find her. No matter the cost to my life, I had to find her.

“By the way, my name’s Joen. You’re welcome for saving your life.”



Chapter Two


After years of being an assassin, I developed the ability to be a light sleeper. It’s why I felt the presence of someone standing over me. I kept my breathing steady, but tensed my body to leap away or strike. Someone touched my side and I shot my arm out. My fingers closed around the bony wrist.

“It’s me!” Joen shouted as he tried to pull away.

“That still gives me reason to grab you.” I opened my eyes, catching sight of the vial and fresh leaves in his free hand.

Joen rolled his eyes. “You can trust me. After all, I haven’t turned you in for the coin reward … yet.” He snorted at his own joke.

I released his wrist, unamused. “Has sunrise come?”

“Come and gone.”

I struggled to sit up, my muscles still aching. Using the wall for support helped. “Any news on Aralynn?”

“Nothing around the market.” Joen sat beside me lifting the leaf against the bite. He placed more paste on the red wound and a new leaf. “The ones on your arms aren’t as deep.” He spoke softly, focused on unwrapping another injury.

They did actually look better. Pale, pink, healing. Even the new scar on my neck and shoulder was less tight and puckered. I glanced at Joen. He wore the same black shirt with a hood resting at his neck. His trousers were a dull grey today with holes in the knees. “How much longer?”

“At least a few days.”

I growled.

“Threatening me will not make you heal faster and, honestly, it’s just fucking rude.” He gathered the used leaves and threw them into the small fireplace. The flames sparked for a moment.

“Thanks,” I mumbled.

“What was that?” Joen cupped his ear.

“Thanks be to you.”

“Now I know I heard you wrong. Did the mangy wolf just thank me?”

I glared at him.

“You’re welcome,” Joen said hastily.

I snorted then stretched a bit to loosen my body up. I didn’t need as much time as assumed because the mangy wolf comment was accurate. I was a werewolf. My healing was accelerated. Not too many people knew what I was. It was an advantage on enemies. In fact, I could think of only one that knew what I was—Aralynn. Sure, others had suspected over the years, but there was no way to confirm my species. I killed those that I fought. Plus anyone that went into the Howls and Hags forest where my kind lived was, well, eaten. That problem sort of fixed itself.

“Are you hungry?”

“Yes.” Starved.

“Will you actually eat my food or scowl at it fearing poison?” Joen turned to look down at me.

I could smell some poisons, but I didn’t tell him that. “I’ll eat.”

His expression lifted, making him look much younger. How many years was he? He grabbed bowls of sloshing liquid and handed me one, then sat beside me.

Okay, then. Did he think we were bonding? Pieces of vegetable and chunks of meat floated in the broth. I sipped from the bowl, not caring about taste. “Are there guards in the streets?” I asked, planning my way to the castle or perhaps I should check with a few of my informants. They’d give up their hand before exposing me. I made sure they knew the cost of betraying Darrow the Destroyer.

Joen finished chewing. “Some. Fairaine is still being rebuilt from the big battle.” He lowered his bowl. “There are Aos Si, too. Those tiny fairies are everywhere. Tell me you’re not thinking of assassinating the queen? I swear to Dullahan…”

“Aneen is not my queen!” I shouted.

Joen flinched.

Fuck! I had no desire to see Aralynn’s child dead. “I’m not interested in Aneen’s death. I want to find Aralynn.”

Joen nodded. “Okay. Just making sure.” He sipped from his bowl. “It’s not like I’ve met many assassins.” He looked at me over the rim. “You’re telling me the truth, right?”

“I’m a master at lying, but in this I speak true.” I couldn’t care less about Aneen and her kings. Titles, royalty, it was all swamp water in my eyes.

“Why do you want to find Aralynn?”

I took the last gulp of broth and set the bowl down. “You ask too many questions.” I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand. “Wake me at sunrise.” I crossed my arms over my chest and tucked my chin down.

Joen got up as soon as I closed my eyes.

I guess I was thankful for his help, but I hadn’t asked for it. Eventually, I would have found away off the beach and somewhere to heal up. His way was faster, but I had no coin to pay him. Perhaps I could intimidate a few people to give me something of value. As my mind worked out solutions the heat from the fire lulled me into sleep.

****

A soft knocking jerked me awake. I kept my eyes closed. Something slid near the bed and I eased open one eyelid to see a cloth hanging from the ceiling. The colorful material was a collection of uneven patches, but served to keep the bed area separated from the rest of the house.

“Joen?” A soft voice pleaded.

I slipped from the bed and peeked through a slit in the material. My back ached and I tried to ignore it as an elderly woman shuffled in from the cold night.

“Mrs. Lara?” Joen rubbed at his eyes. “Are you well?” He quickly lifted his hood and tucked his bright hair into the shadows. The fire had died down, not only filling the small room with darkness but a significant chill.

The woman coughed into her gloved hand.

“You’re ill again?” Joen sighed. “Have you been out in the cold?”

She nodded. “I had to.”

Joen led her to the rickety table and a chair that creaked under her frail weight.

“My grandchildren need food and the only work to be found is at the bakery. Those bread and pies need to be cooked by sunrise so they’re fresh.” She grabbed his hand. “There ain’t nobody to take care of my grandbabies but me.”

“I know, Mrs. Lara.” Joen patted her hand and gathered a few ingredients off a shelf in the kitchen. “Try to at least cover your nose and mouth when you’re in this cold then.” He put a few small leaves and some greenish liquid into a bowl.

“I’ve been trying, but the little one outgrew his clothes. I had to sew most of my stuff together to fit her.” She started coughing again.

Joen added a few pinches to the drink then a spoonful of water before mixing it. “Drink this all.”

She greedily took the bowl and began gulping the mixture. “Thanks be to you.” She mumbled. “Thanks be to you!” She licked her lips and took a few deep breaths. “Joen… I only have two coins.”

And she waited until after she consumed that stuff to tell him. I bared my teeth silently. Humans! They take advantage anytime, anywhere they can.

“Keep your coins, Mrs. Lara. I’m doing okay.”

The hell he was. Joen had holes in his roof and I could only assume a lack of firewood. My bare feet were chilled on the stone floor.

“May fortune bless you.”

Joen snorted then handed over a shirt. “For your nose and mouth.”

“Oh!” She rose to her feet slowly and went to hug him then paused. Mrs. Lara grabbed his hands instead. “You’re a good boy. I always did like your parents despite … everything.”

Joen suddenly looked very uncomfortable. “You going straight home?”

“Yes, I am.” She wrapped the shirt around her face.

“Be safe and think about visiting the queen to ask for some help.” Joen patted her shoulder and then waited a moment before closing the door. He shuffled back to the rickety chair and wrapped a blanket around himself.

I found my way back to the low, thin bed. He was an odd one, Joen.

The chilled night air lingered in the small home even as the fire continued to crackle.

****

I woke just as the sun started to peak. Joen slumped in that chair as I snuck past him. With the cover of the lingering shadows, I made my way out of his home and through the streets of Fairaine. I kept low, hunched, because a half-naked six-foot man wouldn’t stand out when hunched over. Sarcasm was alive and kicking. Hopefully, I looked bashed by drink rather than trying to hide myself. The waves from the ocean filled the quiet sunrise as I made my way two blocks north to a familiar whorehouse. Their door was always open, but it was the back window I climbed through. I stole a black shirt, a terribly large hat, and boots from the occupant. It took a good twenty minutes before the door opened and the big man himself stepped in. “Bolvark.”


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