Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Copyright © ALYSHA ELLIS, 2012
All Rights Reserved, Ellora's Cave Publishing, Inc.
Tybor folded his arms across his heavily muscled chest, spread his legs wide and ran his gaze over the slender young man in front of him. He let his lip curl into a sneer and turned to speak over his shoulder to the captain of the guard.
“I work with Dvalinn warriors, not weakling schoolboys.”
The captain stepped forward to stand next to the young man he’d brought down to Tybor’s rooms.
Huon’s an adult, Tybor, and he’s passed every assessment with flying colors.”
Tybor snorted and his voice, already deep, dropped even lower. “You called me away from a training session to discuss this? Look at him,” he scoffed. “He’s as lily-white and green as a snowdrop. A strong breeze would break him.”
The boy—Tybor refused to call him a man—lifted his head and their gazes met.
“I don’t have to be three feet wide across the shoulders to be strong. I can do anything you need me to do.”
Eyes narrowed, hands on hips, Tybor glared at the boy. Generations of hardened soldiers had quailed under that fierce look. The boy stared right back, blue eyes wide, his gaze open, hands clenched lightly by his sides.
“You’re supposed to be the best,” he said.
The captain nodded at Huon. “He is.” Then he turned back to Tybor. “Huon is unique among the Dvalinn. We need him and we need him battle ready.” He lifted one brow and asked, “Are you telling me you can’t do it?”
Dust and sweat stained Tybor’s combat pants. “I can train him. Whether he can handle it is a different matter.” He returned his attention to the boy. “If you work with me you will work harder than you ever have before. You will do whatever I tell you, whenever and however I tell you. No arguments, no questions, no rest. If you so much as falter, you’re done. Do you understand?”
The boy didn’t blink. “Yes.”
“Yes, sir,” Tybor snapped.
The boy hesitated.
“At once.”
”Yes, sir.” Although the words were correct, the edge of defiance the boy used robbed them of any deference or subservience. His shoulders remained square, firm and unmoving.
The captain touched his cap in a silent salute and left the room, pulling the door shut behind him.
Tybor took a step forward. He picked up the boy’s arm, pushed his baggy shirt up, wrapped his fingers around his forearm and squeezed. Silken ivory skin covered a layer of surprisingly firm muscle. The boy’s smooth flesh burned against Tybor’s hand. He released him and stepped back, resisting the urge to clutch his tingling palm to his chest.
“Do you understand what we do? What I do?”
The boy’s gaze sharpened and his eyes glittered. “You train Dvalinn warriors to go into the humans’ world, to destroy those who seek to obliterate our kind.”
Tybor nodded. “We are at war. And humans have weapons the Dvalinn cannot and will not use.”
For the first time uncertainty and confusion clouded the boy’s blue eyes. “Humans and the Dvalinn are from the same stock. How did we come to be at war?”
Tybor’s lips tightened. “Ask a historian. My job is to train warriors.”
The boy’s brows lifted. “Warriors who kill humans?”
Tybor shook his head. “We don’t kill all humans. Only Gatekeepers. Most surface dwellers don’t know we exist. But the Gatekeepers know. Know us and hate us and have sworn to kill as many of our kind as they can. Dvalinn warriors,” Tybor laced the word with the scorn he felt for the boy in front of him, “come here to learn the skills they need to stop them.”
“Have you trained many of them personally…sir?” This time the tacked-on word sounded more respectful, less of a challenge.
“Too many.” Pain he refused to give in to gripped Tybor. “Men—stronger, older, wiser than you will ever be. Each one trains for as long as it takes to perfect his abilities and send him out into the world to do battle.” Tybor poked a finger toward Huon’s narrow chest. “Most of them never return. This is not a job for the weak, when even the strong do not survive.”
“But you survived, sir. Your battles are legendary.” Color rose in Huon’s cheeks, flushing the ivory a delicate rose-pink.
Tybor’s breath stilled and he looked over the boy’s head. “Legendary because they happened so long ago. For almost five hundred years I have trained young men to do what I’m no longer permitted to.” He turned his back on Huon and picked up the envelope the captain had left on the bench seat of a weight-training machine. “I need to know your assignment, to see if it’s possible to get you even halfway ready.” He ran a finger under the flap of the envelope.
Huon stepped forward and stretched to look over Tybor’s shoulder.
Tybor spun around. His hand shot out, slamming the boy to the ground before he knew what was coming. Tybor hit hard, not caring if he hurt him. If he couldn’t cut it, better to know it now before he made a pretty, pale, useless corpse.
“You only move if and when I tell you to,” he growled. “Drag your ass back up and stand at attention.”
He glanced at the kid. Blood ran down his cheek from a cut over his forehead but he didn’t wipe it away or show any sign he’d noticed. This one might be worth the trouble of training.
“From this moment on, you don’t walk, eat, take a piss or breathe unless I give you the fucking order. Is that clear?”
“Yes, sir.”
Tybor pulled out the papers and read. The printed words, clear and unambiguous, felt like lead weights on his shoulders.
The boy remained at attention, showing no sign of submission or fear. Maybe it would be better if he had. A coward wouldn’t last through Tybor’s harsh training regime, and if he couldn’t finish the training, he couldn’t be sent on the mission described in the papers Tybor clutched in his hand. He raised his eyes and studied the young man in front of him. From the moment the chief of staff had signed these orders, Huon—beautiful, reed-slender, confident Huon—had joined the ranks of the dead.

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