Mark of Destiny
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Publisher: Branch Publishing
Date of Publication: 03/02/2017
Number of pages: 403
Word Count: 82,331
Cover Artist: T.K. Chapin
Her destiny will change the world forever.
Belstrom—an ancient and mystical land where the Curo Wizards rule and life is cheap.
Tizrah—a lowly armory brat who dreams of one day becoming a warrior but fate has other plans.
Korlin—a recent graduate of the High Wizard’s School of Curogath is tasked with an assignment to eradicate a lost magic system that threatens the very stability of Belstrom. Mark of Destiny weaves together the threads of a captivating fantasy adventure, while remaining epic in scope, and modern in its originality.
HOLDING HER EYE STEADY UPON the massive wolvike, Tizrah silently slid the longbow from her back. The care with which she moved came naturally to her.
The way she slipped unseen and stalked her prey might have even impressed the elite rangers ofRavenwood Forest, had they been there to see. Alas, they were not, and Tizrah was truly and utterly alone as she crept closer to the herd of colossal beasts feasting merely ten yards away. Flies buzzed loudly, and the odor of fresh blood hung thick in the air.
Tizrah’s heart hammered against her chest. She tried to calm herself using the measured breathing she’d been taught. It wasn’t helping. Sweat poured from her like rain, rolling down her face in droplets that stung her eyes. When she drew as close as she dared, she quietly climbed an ekenwood tree in hopes of finding a better vantage point from which to view the pack.
Breathing a sigh of relief now that she was off the ground, she waited. The branch Tizrah straddled offered a measure of safety, as well as a clear shot, and she sent out a prayer of thanks to Oshawa, who had given her the perfect perch from which to bring down one of the legendary beasts.
This kill would prove her worth before the men of New Hayden. It would change the direction of her life, and that was what Tizrah desired with all her burning heart.
Desperation had drawn her away from her home and directed her feet to the heart of the Labby Forest. When she had caught sight of the wolvike, Tizrah knew that this was to be her chance.
She had only read about the beasts in her worn school books, and the penciled drawings paled in comparison to the frightful creatures which stood less than a stone’s throw away. Nearly seven feet tall, paws to shoulders, the wolvike were imposing to look upon. Their fur resembled freshly fallen snow, and catching sight of the wolvike’s sickle- like, razor sharp teeth, Tizrah was reminded of the fine blades of the Knights of Eldor.
She knew from her studies that one bite would be enough to bleed a full-grown man out in a matter of minutes. Six—that’s how many of the beasts she counted. They grunted and growled below her as they tore a spotted deer to pieces.
Now, for one to stray from the pack.
Tizrah was patient. She wouldn’t let her arrow fly until victory was assured.
Releasing a long, controlled breath, she relaxed her muscles. Anticipating movement from the pack, she raised the bow to eye level. The largest of the beasts, having had its fill, began to traipse toward the nearby stream.
The moment had arrived.
Drawing her bowstring back with wiry arms, Tizrah followed the wolvike with her steel-tipped arrow.
Stopping dead in its tracks, the beast lifted its head.
Tizrah’s arrow shot across the clearing, impaling the artery running down the side of the beast’s neck. The wolvike toppled, its rapid blood loss dragging it down into the sleep of death.
The rest of the pack bolted, leaving their fallen alpha to Tizrah and her blade.
Dropping from the branch, she took a steadying breath, then strode to the trophy. She would need proof of her kill, as she wasn’t strong enough to drag the beast through the forest. I’ll take its eyes, she thought, nearing with her blade poised.
The eyes of a wolvike were unlike any other known mammal within the Four Kingdoms. Used to make costly medicines for the virility of the wealthy, wolvike eyes were extremely valuable. At the grisly sound of her knife cutting into the eye socket, Tizrah blanched. Having completed the unsavory task, she rolled them in aneken leaf and placed them in the leather pouch on the outer side of her main pack for safe keeping.
Bending over the prone form, Tizrah offered a whispered prayer. “Oshawa, Life- Giver, I pray that this death will not go in vain. I pray that it might bring sustenance to the beasts of the forest and afterward enrich the ground upon which it lies.”
Finishing her heartfelt plea, Tizrah stood and took stock of the situation. Three days, the time it would take her to reach home. The Warrior Trials were scheduled to take place five days hence. Perhaps, with proof of her kill, she would be able to convinceJax at the arena to add her name to the list. Dreams danced before her mind’s eye. Picturing herself crowned victor at the completion of the Warrior Trials set her feet in motion.
Tizrah wasn’t worried about the competition. Her only worry was whether Jax would concede to her request when she offered him the eyes. Years of working with her father in the armory had honed her muscles into steel beneath her skin, and she had hunted and trained in the fighting arts since she was small. Many thought her dedication odd, preferring girls to keep to their traditional roles. Girls were taught to cook, clean, and sew. They were also expected to birth offspring and take care of the men. Tizrah viewed the societal limitations placed upon her with hatred—not that it was wrong for others, but she wanted something more in life than hiding behind a stove and raising brats for some man.
Shaking her head to clear it of the endless stream of thought, she left the clearing and reentered the forest. Ekenwood trees towered above the various shades of green flora covering the forest floor. The chattering of wild poka birds echoed back and forth beneath the canopy of branches. How had they ever been trained as messenger birds?
While growing up, she had seen them flying overhead often enough, and she had been curious to know what important messages they might be carrying each time one passed over.
A single shaft of amber light pierced through the tree barrier, distracting from her musings. Tizrah entered the dazzling luminescence and reveled in its life-giving rays. She loved the forest above all other places; in the depths of its silence and solitude, she found peace.
Peace with her mother’s death, for Tizrah had wanted her mother to live and had been unable to save her. Disease rarely paid heed to the cries of children.
Peace with the way her father had hidden his broken heart at the bottom of tumblers of ale from the local tavern, instead of comforting his only child.
Tizrah even felt peace in the fact that no matter the trophy she brought with her, her chances of entering the Warrior Trials were slimmer than the dirty beggars who sat pleading for crusts of bread on the outskirts of Silvermeere. If Jax changed his mind, then she might be able to work her way up to fighting on the battlefield of Echo Flats, or even serve a stint in the Fireblade Mountains, where rumor had it the dragon still lived.
Pulling herself from her musings, Tizrah continued onward. As much as she would have liked to stay soaking up the rays of sunlight and marveling at the beauty of Oshawa’s greatness, Tizrah knew that for her dreams to be realized, she must trudge forward, allowing the old moment its death while a new moment was born.
After two days of hiking, Tizrah reached the southwest corner of the Labby Forest. She was almost home. Leaving the ancient ekenwood groves, she entered the forest’s area of newer growth that was still recovering from being logged off before the dawn of the Magi Wars.
When the wars ended two centuries past, people had found that the ashenwood tree was far superior in strength to all others. The newly founded Council of Nine had issued a mandate for the loggers to focus their efforts on gathering the stronger wood located in the ironwood and ashenwood forests that lined the southern end of Belstrom. According to the history of New Hayden, Tizrah’s home had once been a booming hub for logging, but the mandate had dropped its population by half, and afterward, the town had assumed a much slower rate of growth over the centuries.
Running lightly down the dirt path toward home, Tizrah nearly bubbled over with excitement. She imagined her father, Eldim, crafting an exquisite set of armor for her to wear during the Warrior Trials. He would choose fine ossen metal, for it was incredibly strong and lightweight and would reflect sunlight to the blinding of one’s enemies.
Nearing the western exit of the forest, Tizrah reached a stretch of the path that was open and straight, set between two groves. Halfway across the stretch, she caught movement in the sky. Diving down swiftly and alighting directly in her path was a large, gray and white-speckled gryphon. The beautiful and fearsome creature heldTizrah with its nerve-rattling gaze. Gryphons were considered the messengers of Oshawa, and to see one so close was considered either a very good omen or an ominous one.
What could Oshawa’s creature want with her, a lowly armory brat? Nevertheless, she waited, returning its gaze. She had nothing to fear; her heart was right before the One-God.
Seconds passed like centuries until Tizrah noticed a burning sensation sear her right arm. In a flash of radiance, the landscape surrounding her disappeared as she lost consciousness, falling to the ground like a crumpled doll.
The gryphon watched over her as she slept.
About the Author:
AZRAEL JAMES fell in love with Tolkien at the age of twelve leading to a life-long love of fantasy fiction. Writing stories that capture the imagination, James invites readers into a world where magic rules and ordinary life is forgotten. When not spinning tales, James teaches guitar to underprivileged fairy folk. He believes music and love are what binds all life together.
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