Lost in Barbarian Space(3)

By: Anna Hackett


Nera shot her a bland look. “Let’s hope so. Now, while we’re on Markaria, we’ll be assigned a warrior guide.”

Honor groaned. “I get the impression, from what I’ve read about Markarians, that they like to be in charge.” Not to mention appeared to be more brawn than brains. They carried giant swords, for star’s sake.

“Brandall, all men think they want to be in charge.”

Nera wasn’t wrong. But Honor had seen Nera with Nik. He respected her—her skills, her opinions, her intelligence. If he had trouble letting Nera take the lead in a fight or a security situation, Honor didn’t see it.

“All right,” Nera said. “Let’s go meet some barbarians.”

Honor glanced at the planet again out the window. Weeks with primitive, testosterone-ruled men on an undeveloped, wild planet.

Wonderful.


***

He sensed his prey was close.

Colm Mal Kor crept through the trees, keeping his foot treads silent. The Forest of Brandar, a favorite hunting ground for warriors, rose above him.

The trees had thick trunks, and between them dangled curling vines the size of Colm’s wrists. On the rocky ground, smaller bushes snagged at his fur-lined boots.

Recently, a wulver beast had been reported here. It had slaughtered deer, other forest animals, and attacked a man passing through.

The sound of a twig snapping broke the silence, and Colm stilled. He let his nanami—the tiny organisms that lived within him—free. His senses expanded, information flooding him. He could hear the tiny insects of the forest buzzing, he could feel the warmth of the sun filtering through the trees, and he could smell the rank scent of rotting meat.

The stench of the wulver.

Colm reached over his shoulder. His sword made the slightest noise as he pulled it free of its leather scabbard. The blade was a true warrior’s weapon—long, heavy, with engravings at the hilt. A sword made for a man to use to kill, hunt and protect.

Another sound reached his ears. Heavy breathing. A snort.

The wulver beast charged out of the undergrowth.

It was huge, its back as tall as Colm’s six foot, five inches. It was covered in dark-gray fur, and its elongated jaws were filled with huge fangs and covered in blood.

It reared back on its hind legs, rising above him like a nightmare, and roared.

Colm stayed calm, tightening his grip on his sword. His dual hearts beat a steady rhythm in his chest. He stared at the burning yellow eyes of the enraged beast.

“Today is a good day to die, my wild friend,” Colm said calmly.

It roared again, like it was defying Colm’s words.

Colm raised his sword, his gut hardening. “When we lose the fight with the wild inside, it is time to leave this world…with honor.” He wasn’t sure if he was talking to himself or the beast.

The wulver charged at him, and Colm leaped forward with a cry.

He dodged under the beast’s claws, using the increased speed his nanami granted him. He reached up and sank his blade into the underbelly of the wulver, working through the thick, gray fur.

Its roar this time was deafening, echoing through the forest. Colm yanked his sword out, twisting away, and ducked another swinging claw.

Colm thrust the sword into the creature’s side. It caught the edge of the thicker fur, and he had to put more strength behind the blade.

The animal didn’t give up. Wulver beasts were known to become more enraged when they were injured.

Another thrust to the beast’s belly, and the creature fell backward. It was still struggling to rise, to fight, its yellow eyes fixed on Colm.

Colm wiped the blood off his sword on the beast’s fur and knelt beside the dying animal. “May you hunt well in the next life.”

When the creature breathed its last breath, Colm closed his eyes. He felt a deep, helpless sorrow, and as his nanami surged, threatening to break his control, he tightened his jaw and fought back the restless fury.

There was the sound of pounding footsteps and a body barreled out of the trees. Colm’s best friend pulled up, coming to a halt next to him.

Kavon scowled. “You killed it already and left nothing for me.” He lowered his massive sword.

Kavon was dressed like Colm, in black, leather trousers, with just a leather harness crossing his chest. The harness held Kavon’s sword scabbard to his back. Around his wrists were gold cuffs topped with gray fur. They were from a preda wolf, and matched the ones Colm wore on his own wrists. He’d been there the day Kavon had taken down the great beast…and Colm had killed his own. They’d been twelve.