Authors: Christie Anderson
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious.
Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Copyright © 2011 by Christie Anderson
First eBook edition July 2011
All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author.
For my brother, Brian, and my sister, Starr.
I’ll miss you both until the day we meet again in Heaven.
And for our beloved Barbara Jean. A mother who has always encouraged us to follow our dreams.
This book has gone from crazy harebrained idea to a dream fulfilled, all thanks to the wonderful supporters in my life.
Thanks to my big sister, Jen, and her husband, Matt, for always welcoming me into their home over the years (even when I showed up in the middle of the night), and taking me all over Huntington and Newport Beach to fill me in on the “local” stuff.
Thank you to my amazing parents, Barb and Gary. You will never fully understand my love and appreciation for all you have given me. Thanks and hugs to my brother, Brett, for showing me what it means to work hard and never give up.
Thank you to my story muse, Janelle, for taking the time to give me her honest feedback and brilliant plot thickeners, and for being a long-time friend.
Thanks to the Simpkins for allowing me to stay in their beautiful home, giving me the opportunity to live in my characters’ neighborhood and truly explore my own enchanting fantasy world.
And saving the best for last, thank you to my indescribable husband, Beau. Thank you for humoring me in the beginning, brainstorming with me through the middle (even when you were not in the mood), patiently offering strength all the way to the finish line, and pouring out your endless love every step of the way.
The night air was quiet, devoid of sound or life or the rustling signs of vitality. Through the silence, Voss sensed the animal’s trembling. He smelled the fear, the frozen limbs and helpless twitching. A sinister smile grew across his face and he turned to lurk sideways through the brush. His movements were stealthy and premeditated. Even with ragged leather shoes covered in dirt and falling apart, he placed each foot skillfully in front of the other without sound.
His fist tightened around the makeshift knife, bone handle steady in his grip. The years of training did not fail him. Quick paws over crinkled leaves broke the silence and Voss flew forward, blade hurling through the shadows. The tiny animal fell to the ground.
Voss fastened the rabbit to his belt and turned back to the spot where he’d dropped his supplies. The animal hunt gave him a slight sense of satisfaction, a rare feeling in this wretched wasteland beyond the Threshold. He took quick steps as he continued his hike over the barren terrain, winding through pathetic, half-dead trees.
The moon struggled to light the path, just a faint yellow glow, dingy through the dust ridden atmosphere. How could this be the same moon that showed so vividly on the other side of the Threshold? They shared the same brilliant sun as well, yet here in Cayno it barely skimmed across the horizon during daylight hours.
He cursed the pitiful moon and dragged his legs forward toward his camp. This was his existence. While others slumbered in their beds in far-off happy places, Voss fought to survive.
He passed through a gap between two towering boulders which stood at the edge of a small field, not surprised by the quiet voice mumbling across the way. This was Laydo’s area. This particular inmate had claimed the field as his home several years ago. Voss had never seen Laydo leave it.
The inmate drooped against a tree, eyes black as death and whimpering the same word he always did. “Laydo…Laydo.”
Sensing another man’s presence, the inmate staggered to his feet, managing to limp a few steps in Voss’s direction. He stretched out a trembling arm as if pleading for help. “Laydo…” the inmate begged. “Laydo…”
Voss glared at the man’s sunken face with disdain and shoved him to the ground. “Imbecile,” he muttered as he passed.
He didn’t belong here with the weak and befuddled criminals surrounding him. He pitied them really. The pathetic reality they each endured was only partially their fault. No man should be sent to such an inhumane place no matter what their crime. At this point they were unaware of their suffering anyway, minds and bodies wasted away to madness and fatigue.
Even those who started out with a degree of intelligence had now dwindled to mindless oafs. At least they finally learned not to mess with Voss’s property.
The pale light of dawn showed on the horizon just as he reached the trail to his camp. He paused to peer numbly at the stretch of dirt then continued up the rocky path to the crest of the Threshold. His supplies landed in a heap on the ground. He knew this day would be as miserable and unfulfilling as the last.
Voss perched on his usual log eyeing the Threshold with agitation. For years he’d wasted away in this living nightmare of a place. He wouldn’t let this be the end of him though, not like the others.
The rabbit would make a decent meal. At least it would ease the hollow ache in his stomach. Food wasn’t necessary for survival, but eating made his body grow stronger. With the rapid rate of aging in this place, he needed all the strength he could get. Grey already streaked through his tangled black hair.
He peered at the Watermark on his wrist, nothing left of the luminous blue light it once held. The tear-shaped mark was jet black now, like a plague. Almost every ounce of life had been stolen from his body, draining his mark of all its strength, cursing him, leaving him vulnerable to injury and illness. He had to take every precaution. He would do whatever it took to stay able-bodied and mentally prepared in order to pounce the moment his opportunity arose.
It had been exactly five years, two months, and seven days since a guard appeared through the Threshold, escorting a new prisoner to his doom. But one would have to show again at some point, and when he did…Voss planned to be ready.
He never took his fierce eyes off the Threshold in daylight. This was the most likely time for someone to pass through. He did most of his activity at night, whether it be hunting, bathing in the salty, barren sea, or scouting for supplies to make weapons and ropes. In the light he performed tasks at his base, located directly above the arch of the Threshold.
His choice of the location was strategic. He would have to act fast. He’d set traps at the base of the Threshold entrance, designed to catch a person’s ankle with rope, catapult them in the air, and leave them dangling upside down from a tree. The trap was rudimentary at best, but without his usual resources this was the best Voss could do.
He’d tested the trap once on a delirious and unsuspecting inmate. Of course it worked beautifully, ensnaring the cretin without a hitch. Not exactly a foe up to par with Voss’s usual opponents, but at least he knew the design was sound. The Threshold guards would be somewhat more satisfying to ensnare. At least they would put up a fight.
He also placed dried leaves and twigs at the sight so the sound would alert him while asleep. Sleep was unnecessary, but it was another source of strength he used to his advantage. Plus it freed his mind of the torment, causing time to pass more quickly. He trained himself to sleep only an hour at a time. He had to stay alert as much as possible.
The trap alone wouldn’t be enough and he wasn’t about to place all his trust on a single gimmick. There would only be one chance to make his escape. There was no room for error.
His position above the entrance would give him the advantage. He would have both surprise and elevation for his attack. He planned to use arrows and knives to stun the guards just long enough to bind them with cords. Their wounds would recover rapidly, thus the ropes would be crucial to keep them disabled.
Voss wiped the muddied sweat from his brow. The plan itself was simple, yet it consumed his every thought. No other man had come close to escape, but there was no doubt he would be the first. He had intelligence, strength, and far superior skills compared to any other prisoner sent to exile. Most importantly, he had motivation.
Each day the anger festered inside him, the obsession, the dark determination to succeed.
Voss pounced to his feet and sent a rabid fist to his punching bag. The animal hide shook, releasing a cloud of dust and bits of debris. His muscles pulsed. A scowl deepened on his leathery face as he focused the rage. He spun, delivering a violent kick, causing the bag to twist wildly below the branch where it hung.
It wouldn’t be much longer. He could feel it. The agonizing wait would soon be the past; a trivial, dreadful memory he would relish in casting aside like a speck of dust trampled underfoot.
Once he gained freedom, Voss would begin part two of the plan. He would make those who sent him here suffer. He pictured their faces before each thrust of his fist, each furious, calculated blow. Before they even sentenced him to this desolate abyss, they stole everything—his happiness, his life, his reason for being. They would be punished for the grief they inflicted. They would know pain as he knew pain. Justice would be his.