Authors: Matt Khourie
BEASTLY Copyright © 2015 by Matt Khourie.
All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
For information contact; address www.mattkhouriebeastly.com
Book and Cover design by Adriana Hanganu at Adipixdesign.com
First Edition: June 2015
For Talia, without whom Beastly would never have found the stars… Thank you
Donovan’s chest pounded. His footsteps echoed on the cold stone floor as he raced for the throne room. The two sounds merged into a deafening roar inside his head. His torch cast the only light in the maze of darkness the castle had become. Outside, dozens of battles raged as his soldiers fought valiantly into the night in defense of their queen. They were horribly outnumbered and, worse still, aided by terrors long forgotten by the mortal world. Donovan’s only concern was reaching the throne room. It was the last place Lady Adella had to fall back to.
She would have to be there
Torchlight danced along Donovan’s bloodied sword and illuminated vast rows of hanging murals and portraits. Each masterful painting told a story: moments from the viewer’s life captured by canvas. The paintings flowed like quicksilver as Donovan sprinted by, conjuring an endless parade of scenes from his earliest memory.
A toddler with hazel eyes and a floppish mop of chocolate hair being raised in the castle. An awkward teenager trying to best his fencing instructor. A young man surviving the hardships of the barracks.
Donovan sped by his life in oils, paying only a moment’s notice to his favorite: the day he first met Princess Pandora.
The sound of thick doors being splintered into kindling snapped from
beyond the torch’s flickering sphere.
They’ve breached the inner defenses
He skidded into a pair of tall doors featuring brass rings chewed on by matching dragons. Carved above the lintel was a bas relief of a gleaming star.
Over his right shoulder a painting depicted the day Queen Adella named a flustered Donovan “Captain of the Guard”. He remembered the occasion fondly, though it seemed long ago. In the painting his armor was awash with sunlight and the white dragon crest emblazoned on the chest plate reared high at an unseen foe.
That very armor was now battered beyond recognition and covered in oily blood. Donovan sheathed his sword and raised a fist to the door. The doors glided open before he could strike. Relief steadied his thundering heart.
She was here
A beacon of light emanating drove back the hallway’s pool of shadow. Tender warmth caressed his face. It was the soothing sensation of the queen inviting him in for one of their talks. Only this time there could be no friendly banter. Donovan wasted not a single breath and walked through to a most welcome sight.
A luminous throne sat atop a marble dais trimmed by ivy speckled with white roses. It was modest by royal standards, little more than a simple chair of shimmering silver
whose back climbed to just above the queen’s waist. A plush maroon cushion with an embroidered pin stripe of silver provided the sole embellishment. A guardian trinity of rearing ivory stallions stood watch. Sparkling water cascaded from their mouths, circling the dais like a stream.
Three thin windows stretched from floor to cavernous ceiling, providing a constant flow of salty sea breezes. The chamber’s vaulted crown had been long ago enchanted to reflect the nightly stars. Thousands of miniscule white candles flickered in the night breezes, gusting in circles around the room.
Queen Adella leaned into her favorite window, gazing upon the stars. Gleaming moonlight caught her shoulder-length platinum hair, amplifying the light. Her bare feet pitter-pattered over stone tiles that warmed solely for her. She proudly regarded her war-weary captain and with
-like grace lowered her slender form onto the throne. Her pearlescent sapphire dress pooled at her feet, rippling like a breeze over a pond.
Donovan tossed the torch back into the hallway and shouldered the doors closed. He made to hoist a heavy steel-braced beam but was interrupted by an angel’s whisper.
“Highness, they have breached the inner defenses. Many have fallen... and Pandora... she...” He dropped an end of the beam, shoulders suddenly aware of the day-long battle yet raging.
“That doesn’t matter now, Captain.”
The Queen suppressed the laugh she always had to when using his
official title. Despite his oft proven valor, Adella would always see him as the same little boy she had come to love as her own. Donovan’s voice returned, fierce and determined. “This castle, your safety, will always matter to me, highness.” He slammed the brace home and then hurried to the throne.
Adella brushed the mud-covered hair from Donovan’s eyes, revealing a blood-caked gash. A startled breath escaped her lungs. “You’re hurt.” Adella flourished her hand, charging it with the same cerulean shine of her eyes. She gestured to Donovan’s wound.
Donovan dabbed a dented gauntlet to his brow, gently resisting the queen’s aid. “
Highness, that isn’t necessary. We need to get you and the Princess out of here. We need...”
A thud boomed from the door. Donovan’s head snapped around, hand immediately upon his blade.
Seizing upon the distraction, Adella acted. Before Donovan could flinch away, the magic coursed from her hand, briefly enveloping Donovan’s
head, then disappeared with a flash. The wound collapsed instantly upon itself, healing without scar. He felt the warming relief of the healing enchantment and smiled gratefully.
The door boomed again, this time coupled by the crunch of splintering wood.
“We must find Pandora and convince her to come with us. We can still make for the hidden pass.” He gestured to a great mosaic depicting the
royal emblem. The dragon was brought to life by thousands of tiles of whites, greys, and reds. “Your forces will know where to rendezvous.”
Adella’s face dimmed. “Pandora has chosen her fate. I know you fear for my daughter’s safety, but she is lost to us.”
“Highness, if only I could speak to her. I could explain. I could make her understand that it wasn’t your fault.”
A third, mightier crash carved a deep gash in the brace. The stone archway expelled the door’s hinges halfway. Donovan leapt from the dais. His sword was drawn in a heartbeat, yet before he managed a single step a gentle hand weighed upon on his shoulder. “Donovan, there is something I must tell you. Something you should have known for some time now.
About Lia... her birthright.” Adella’s words were soft and measured. She reached for the sparkling medallion at her neck.
Fighting the impulse to charge, Donovan managed a slight turn of his head. “I know you believe Pandora’s loss was unforeseeable, but that’s not true. You know as well as anyone her penchants for cruelty. Hers was a path selected long ago and is no fault of yours,” Adella whispered, “her blood, as is your daughter’s, is special...”
Donovan’s thoughts shifted to baby Lia.
So small, so precious. She was every bit his daughter right down to the amber eyes that brightened every shadow in every room. It felt like a lifetime had passed since the nightmarish dracoliche crested the twin hills with its dark army beyond Lady Adella’s grand palace. Donovan had granted his consent for his retired Commander to escort Lia to safety through the passage concealed behind the grand dragon mosaic. He had meant to join Cedrik and his daughter and see the queen to safety alongside them should the castle fall. The sweet words to Lia’s favorite lullaby had stuck in his throat while the handmaidens bundled her...
The door finally succumbed to its injuries. An explosion of splinters and rivets spewed debris into the candlelit chamber. A foursome of soldiers clad in black armor breached the threshold, rushing for the room’s occupants.
Donovan slipped free of
Adella’s restraint, charging with a beastly roar. The sea of candlelight scattered showers of radiant beams as Donovan crashed shoulder first into the closest assailant. The man crumpled to the ground, dropping a serrated blade.
He twisted under a slicing sword intended for his neck, scooping up the dropped weapon. He staunched his dash with a flurry of slashes and parries, cutting down a second assailant.
Blood trickled down Donovan’s dual blades. The falling droplets upon the floor were for a moment lonely sounds. His chest heaved adding to the battle’s symphony. He sized up the remaining threat and sighed. “It will take more than two.”
Donovan closed the gap like a jungle cat, expertly parrying wild blows into empty space. Swords clanged and pinged. The invaders struggled in vain, blades cutting into shadow. They were no match for Donovan;
testimony to Cedrik’s rigorous training. He taunted his foes with feints and footwork, maneuvering them like pawns on a chessboard.
The pair attempted to attack as one, slashing high and low. Donovan deflected the haymaker strikes aside and then drove cold steel home. The soldiers slumped from his blades, collapsing in a heap. He flourished the twin blades, making them sing in the silence.
Donovan glanced at the borrowed sword, disgusted by its hateful black edge.
How many good men met their end to such a wretched thing
? He flung the blade away and spat.
Though his shoulders screamed and his back burned with spasms, the fight had invigorated him as it always did. A familiar tremor in his fingertips twitched as adrenaline washed through his veins. He reached for the queen’s hand.
A blade pierced Donovan’s back plate. At first he only gasped, struck by absurd amusement. Not until he found the black blade erupting from his chest did he panic. Gurgling, Donovan staggered to a knee. A thin stream of scarlet trickled from his mouth. He met the queen’s gaze, eyes wide with unfamiliar fright.
Adella quickly whispered a chant. A tempest choked the candles, engulfing the room in blackness. The assassin’s sword shook violently in his hands. The wind howled and swept the soldier into the vaulted ceiling, pinning him to the starry illusion. The queen’s glare burned through the
hapless assassin. With a sharp flick of her wrist, he sailed toward a beckoning window. The doomed man clawed frantically for purchase but found none. He vanished into the night, leaving behind only a fading scream.
Donovan collapsed into a sprawl, exhaling a wet gasp. Adella fell to her knees and with strength concealed by her slight build lifted Donovan into her lap. She traced trembling fingers along the jagged breach in his chest plate. “I need something from my chamber to heal this wound.”
The color in Donovan’s face ebbed. An unnerving chill crept up from his feet before swallowing him whole. He shiver-nodded his understanding, but chattering teeth ate his words.
Adella’s heart sank deep into her stomach. Her private chambers were at the palace’s far side. And there was a war in progress. She needed time, and that was a luxury that even the queen could not afford.
She made for the window, taking on a pale bluish glint that gleamed through her dress. Her feet lifted from the floor as she began to glide.
“If you value his life...” A woman’s voice called, dripping with menace.
Adella’s glow vanished. For a moment, she refused to turn. The queen remembered the voice’s sad echo, absent from the palace for nearly a year. It was hollow now, an empty replica of a voice she once loved.
Pandora sauntered into the throne room flanked by a dozen guards. The Blight’s indigo aura pulsed through her skin, illuminating the throne room’s dark. A thin black cape fell over her bare shoulders. She surveyed
the room, shaking her head like a disappointed mistress. “How unbecoming.” A twitch of her forefinger set the candles ablaze and the night scrambling back outside.