Saturday, March 3, 2018

Scribes by James Wolanyk

The Scribe Cycle #1
by James Wolanyk

Genre: Dark Fantasy

Pawns in an endless war, scribes are feared and worshipped, valued and exploited, prized and hunted. But there is only one whose powers can determine the fate of the world . . .

Born into the ruins of Rzolka’s brutal civil unrest, Anna has never known peace. Here, in her remote village—a wasteland smoldering in the shadows of outlying foreign armies—being imbued with the magic of the scribes has made her future all the more uncertain.
Through intricate carvings of the flesh, scribes can grant temporary invulnerability against enemies to those seeking protection. In an embattled world where child scribes are sold and traded to corrupt leaders, Anna is invaluable. Her scars never fade. The immunity she grants lasts forever.
Taken to a desert metropolis, Anna is promised a life of reverence, wealth, and fame—in exchange for her gifts. She believes she is helping to restore her homeland, creating gods and kings for an immortal army—until she witnesses the hordes slaughtering without reproach, sacking cities, and threatening everything she holds dear. Now, with the help of an enigmatic assassin, Anna must reclaim the power of her scars—before she becomes the unwitting architect of an apocalyptic war.

James Wolanyk is the author of the Scribe Cycle and a teacher from Boston. He holds a B.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Massachusetts, where his writing has appeared in its quarterly publication and The Electric Pulp. After studying fiction, he pursued educational work in the Czech Republic, Taiwan, and Latvia. Outside of writing, he enjoys history, philosophy, and boxing. His post-apocalyptic novel, Grid, was released in 2015. He currently resides in Riga, Latvia as an English teacher. 

Anna had been too nervous to eat for days. She’d traveled a league in total darkness, and another two in marshlands. Her feet were waterlogged and bleeding, her legs threatening to buckle with every step.
Lukewarm sweat beaded along her brow and stung her eyes. When she stopped listening to the wet pulse of her own heartbeats, she heard boots stomping through the brush behind her, quickening as they drew closer. With every exhale, her ribcage constricted. Stagnant air burned in her lungs as she emerged from withered grass and into the mire, hemmed in by drowning trees.
Her boots sank into the muck, squelching as she fought to move on. Flickers of memory, rusted trapper’s teeth and bloody bear flesh and desperate animal thoughts, exploded into her awareness. Escape. But every step pulled her deeper, swallowed her boots to the ankle. Julek’s weight damned them. Anna worked to free her boot, her legs cramping with the effort, but it remained trapped. “Julek,” she said, still pulling, “if I let you down now, could you walk?”
He made no response.
She repeated the question, tugging at the boy’s trouser leg. “It’s very important.” The calm of her voice died with the crunching of nearby branches. She knew they were within sight, but she couldn’t afford to look, especially with Julek clutching her. The boy’s muffled prayers fed the dread in her gut. “Julek,” she whispered to the shuffle of unbearably
close steps. “I want you to stay beside me, no matter what. I know you can do that.” Anna bent at the left knee, struggling to remain upright as Julek swung himself around and dangled freely. She reached down to pull his limp legs from the water, but the boy clutched her tighter. “Don’t worry. Just hold onto me.”
Her knees gave way, and she toppled to the left. But before she could feel the lukewarm water she collided with moss and termite-ravaged wood. Her pale arm slid into the notch between branches and exposed her own cuts, much deeper and brighter, running down leaf-littered skin from elbow to palm. But her flesh was bare, devoid of the sigils she saw
on everybody else. A scribe carried no essence, they said. No protection against the bloodshed from which they spared others.
“It’s okay,” Anna whispered. Boots thumped nearby.
Julek stared up at her with wide, swollen eyes, his grip tightening around her neck. He was trying not to cry, trying to be like her. “Home, Anna. We need to go home.”
Behind her the screeching that once seemed so distant was now deafening. It was a guttural moaning, no doubt muffled in some way, communicating starvation that only trackers could put into their beasts.
Flesh wasn’t enough to satisfy it now. It needed violence.
In spite of the blood, Anna’s mouth went dry. She stared at Julek as her vision blurred, and the tips of her ears turned cold. Before long the crackle of leaves overtook her ragged breaths.
“You’re quick,” said a passionless voice, no more than ten paces away.
“You must be exhausted. Set him down, rest against the tree. There’s no need to hurry.”

In Anna’s mind it was a simple thing to retrieve the hunting blade tucked into her belt. But it seemed impossible to move her hands. When the beast growled behind her, close enough to rustle her trouser leggings  with its hot breath, she lost her nerve.

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