SCRIBES
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.
Their baying rose from the southern bogs, low and tortured, warning fieldmen to gather roaming sows and bleary eyed mothers to bolt their shutters. Then came the screeching that told caravan drivers to seek refuge behind earthworks and palisades.
But the targets of their hunt had no time to think of shelter. Anna, First of Tomas, was too busy thinking of death. She wondered if it would be sudden and painless, numbing her exhaustion like bathing in winter streams. Perhaps death was agonizing, which explained the sobs of feverish men who—
Just two leagues, she reminded herself, even as her steps faltered among the oaks and saplings and lichen-choked stone, all looming monstrously in the fog. Even as her pulse drummed in her temples. The lake is two leagues away. But the air was humid and foul, too thick to breathe. Everything smelled of carcasses reclaimed by the mud.
Her predictions had placed the trackers at five leagues by dawn, yet beyond the latticework of branches, the skies were still a murky wash. Darkness hadn’t yet been flushed from the horizon. No, it was impossible
for them to make up this much ground before sunrise. They’d come earlier every year, ever since the village started to learn their tactics, but this was calculated.
Somebody told.
“What is it?” Julek winced. “You’re hurting me.”
Anna glanced down. She’d absently clamped onto her brother’s wrist, turning his fingers a pallid blue. Her grip eased as she focused on the predawn stillness. Mother often told her that she had their kin’s sharpest ears, but now she hated the honor. She heard the rustling of shrubs, the startled flight of a thousand birds, the slap of paws on damp reeds as
huntsmen cut across the floodplains.
“Nothing,” she said, hoping the boy was too young to understand. She was hardly an elder, but old enough to tell convincing lies. Old enough to make an eight-year-old feel that he wasn’t being hunted, and that they’d spend their morning with toes dipped in crisp water, staring out at the dark pines across the lake. Weaving her fingers into the links of her silver necklace, Anna pulled Julek toward the ferns. “If we don’t hurry, we’ll spend all day out here.”
“It isn’t even sunup yet,” Julek said. He frowned at the beasts’ cries.
“Anna, what’s that?”
“Elk,” she whispered.
Ahead lay the gloom of deeper woods, and behind them, a sprawl of waterlogged fields. She’d been forced to carry Julek through the bogs, and all the while she’d made him laugh by pretending she was his warhorse. Her new boots were ruined, and her linen leggings were soaked to the knee, but it hardly mattered. She wouldn’t be returning.
“Come on, little bear,” she said, waving a gnat away from her face.
“Here, come on. I’ve got you.”
He scrunched his brow, clenched his tongue between crooked teeth, and swung his right boot out. Pitching forward, he caught Anna’s arm for balance. His left leg was more deformed, but the momentum pulled him into an awkward gait. “Anna, it isn’t making me fast. Whatever you rubbed on my arm.”
Anna stole a sniff of her free wrist, breathing deep for the twistroot’s sap-like odor. In its place, she smelled only sweat and ancient wool, and realized the beasts hadn’t latched onto a false scent. She’d mixed the salves incorrectly, perhaps forgetting the tallow to waterproof it on their skin. It was too late now, of course. They were closing in.
“Anna, please,” Julek whined. “I need to sit down. That’s all.”
“When we reach the lake, we can sit down. Is that fair?”
“No,” Julek said. “The lake is an hour away.”
“Less than that, if we hurry. Isn’t that right?”
“I can’t hurry.”
There was pain in his voice, and worse yet, sincerity. Back home, he could barely pace around the field or crawl onto his cot by himself, and he’d been excited by the idea of a secret trip to the lake without his riding pony. For once, he’d been trusted to keep pace on his own two feet. Now it was an exercise in cruelty.
“Anna!”
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.
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