Overall, this was a tough day, although the word count doesn’t reflect any struggles. I’m truly happy with the progress, but ugh, I’m wore out emotionally. I’m ready to skip all this angst and get busy with the nagging already. *winks*
Those of you who’ve known me for years might know that I actually started writing book 3 of this series back in 2004 or so. I had about 200 pages in it. Then I ended up stopping to rewrite the first book, and all sorts of paths crossed and narrowed until I truly began to wonder if I’d ever have the chance to finish Shannari’s story.
For the record, not a single sentence of that original 200 pages is useable. All utter rubbish. But it’s important to understand that certain events will still happen. I’ve known how this story would end since 2004 — I just didn’t have the skills to make it happen.
Yet in all that time, this story still manages to shock the hell out of me. There I was, writing along tonight in Dharman’s POV, and something very key just popped out and slapped me so hard I about fell out of my chair. Spoilers removed.
Today’s final word count: 2,626
NaNo count: 28,222
“And that is why I challenge you.”
Varne spluttered and surged to his feet, looking from Dharman to Sal and the other Blood standing with hands on rahkes at her back. “You would send each of your Blood to fight me? So be it. I’ll kill them all, and then who will fall on you, Khul’lanna, when the next assassin strikes?”
Dharman quivered with fury. He took at step toward Varne, his teeth aching, jaws straining to keep from bellowing. Lightly, Khul’lanna dropped her hand to his forearm, and he stopped in his tracks, but he didn’t drop eye contact with the other warrior. Challenge had been declared. To look away would be to lose the first part of the challenge, and by Vulkar, he would never lose a challenge for her sake.
“Not my Blood,” she said pleasantly. “Just me.”
Dharman whipped his head around so hard his own hair stung his face. He stared down into her eyes, letting his fury and concern flare through their bond, but he didn’t say a word. Not before their enemies. :Varne is not to be trusted.:
: I was taught by the very best, and it’s well past time that I taught Varne a lesson.:
She spoke truly, but Dharman still didn’t like it at all. He turned back to Varne and glared at him, deliberately flaring his eyes and nostrils wide, stiffening his shoulders, commanding his full presence as First Blood and proudly one of Khul’lanna’s warriors.
But what he could he say? To threaten Varne with harm if he injured Khul’lanna would only diminish her own pride and honor. So he said nothing, nothing at all, though he had to bite his tongue so hard he tasted blood.
She unsheathed the ivory knife on her hip. “You’ve coveted this rahke for a very long time. If you win this challenge, I’ll give it to you.”
Varne sneered, “And if you win?”
“Then I’ll finally remove that perpetual glower off your face.”
“Give the lad your other blade,” Varne said stiffly.
She arched a brow at him, slowly unsheathing the black rahke Rhaekhar had given her as a claiming gift.
Dharman’s fingers knew every carefully carved rose and thorn by memory.
It had taken him months to finish it. The Camp’s master bladesmith had taken as much care with the steel. Blaine had always told him he’d have an apprentice position if he wanted, but there was only one thing Dharman had ever wanted, and she stood beside him. Before he ever saw her face or knew her name, he’d made the hilt with her in mind, hoping beyond hope that it might catch Khul’s eye if he finished it in time.
“Why? Are you afraid of what I’ll do if I have two blades?”
“The black one isn’t part of our challenge, only Gregar’s rahke. That’s the one I want.”
“Very well.” She handed the rahke to Dharman, and the darkness in her eyes sent a shock of worry through him.
So cold, so hard, so fragile. He feared she might shatter beneath the strain, or worse, slip to Shadow. As unobtrusively as possible, he drifted through her mind, seeking any hint of Shadow or corruption that might strike her unawares, but he found nothing but endless snowy fields and sweeping drifts against her Shining Walls, that pride and self control that she used as a weapon.
Taken aback, Varne was slow to unsheathe his own rahke. “You want to challenge me now?”
She smiled and Dharman’s scalp tried to gallop off his skull. “Absolutely.” She didn’t look at him or the other Blood, but simply said, “I need you to let go of me now.”
Words bubbled up within him. Her bond had sheeted over with thick snow laced with treacherous icicles. :Beware his rahke shift. He likes to feint at the face and then toss the blade to his other hand.:
:He stole that move from Gregar.:
Relief filled Dharman enough that he dropped his hands and signaled the rest of the Blood to step back and form a ring about the two challengers. Gregar’s gift of Death always felt like a cold frost spreading in the darkest night. If the Shadowed Blood were present, nothing would keep Khul’lanna from winning the challenge.
With her attention wholly centered on Varne, Dharman used the Blood sign language to give them his commands.
It was the highest level of protection short of a Death Rider alarm. Deliberately holding his hand unmoving several moments to emphasize a delay, he gave another command to only her Second Blood.
Sal grinned widely and nodded.
Varne would not leave this challenge breathing, unless Khul’lanna willed it.