Read The Blood of the Land Online

Authors: Angela Korra'ti

Tags: #Fantasy, #Ghosts, #Short Stories, #Warder Universe

The Blood of the Land

The Blood of the Land

A Tale of the Warder Universe

Angela Korra'ti

LOW ORBIT PUBLICATIONS 2015

The Blood of the Land

is © 2015 Angela Korra'ti, all rights reserved

Cover artwork:
Dejah Leger

Cover layout:
R'ykandar Korra'ti

 

All characters and events in this book are fictitious; any resemblance to persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.

 

All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the author.

 

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, 171 Second Street, Suite 300, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA.

 

EPUB ISBN: 978-0-9864217-4-7

MOBI ISBN: 978-0-9864217-5-4

For Deena, the first to give my words a chance

The Blood of the Land

Because their lives depended on it, Dorcas and Caleb ran.

They'd been lucky beyond all dreams of fortune so far; they'd put miles between themselves and the McCreary farm, escaping as they had done in the deep hours of the Kentucky night. But the McCrearys had horses. They had dogs. And they had guns. Soon enough, Dorcas knew, they'd lose their slender lead if they didn't run with all their heart and strength.

If only, she thought, she didn't feel Caleb's exhaustion along with her own. He wasn't in danger of collapsing, not yet. But lack of sleep and the exertion of their flight would eventually have their way with him. Dorcas could tell, for she was nearly blind with the effort of keeping the weariness at bay. It would be she, not staunch, devoted Caleb, who succumbed first to its grasp; she could only hope they would reach a safe haven before that came to pass.

They did have a haven of sorts to aim for, and that much was a comfort. Those who'd worked to help their escape had brought them whispers of a lonely barn—seemingly ruined, yet containing provisions to sustain them in their flight. Without those whispers, Dorcas was sure she and Caleb would never have made it as far as they had. But as they reached the final mile that lay between them and the ruined barn, they heard shooting and calls. “Hell!” Caleb swore, uncaring that it offended the religion of the white men. “They've found us!”

“Maybe not,” Dorcas said, stumbling to a halt, aware of her senses—the normal ones that normal people, black or white, possessed—straining against the night. “They're ahead of us. If they're after us, they went around.”

“I should've stolen us a damn horse,” Caleb said.

“Quiet,” Dorcas hissed. Her other senses, the ones that wailed of the ache in Caleb's knee where he'd struck it against a fallen log in their dash up the creek to hide their trail, were roiling in dismay. Someone was hurt up ahead. And whoever it was, man or woman or child, was setting her blood to roaring in a way she'd never felt before.

“Sweet Jesus, Caleb,” she rasped. “They're not after us.”

“Then they ain't none of our business!”

“There's Power up there,” Dorcas said, and felt herself wither as Caleb's face fell.

All the other slaves on the McCreary plantation had been afraid of her; they'd called her witch and worse, even after she'd healed their broken limbs and their ailing babies. She drew too much attention, the oldest of the men had told her, and he'd been right. Josiah, the master's son, had coveted her. When she'd refused him, he'd unleashed his temper, telling her he'd either have her—or he'd have her hung. Only Caleb had stood with her, as he'd done since the master had bought them both. Had she asked it of him, he'd have killed Josiah McCreary. But she'd wanted no more blood upon her hands, and so instead, she'd begged him to help her escape with her to Canada.

Yet even Caleb feared what she could do, and he rebelled now. “Why do we care?” he demanded.

It was a good question, one that Dorcas had to fight to answer. “Somebody's hurt. Somebody with Power. God help me, Caleb, it's calling me. I don't think I can stand not to go.”

In the deep gloom of the trees she could barely see him, much less what expression he might wear, yet she heard worry choke Caleb's voice. “Then it better be God Himself come to take us to Heaven, woman, 'cause if it's anyone else, we're dead.”

In the end, it was easier to reach the barn than it should have been. For Dorcas, at any rate; that strange Power tugged her like it was a child that'd done gone and grabbed her hand, only it was the biggest child she'd ever seen and it would rip her arm clean off her shoulder if she didn't follow. Caleb meant to go ahead of her but fell behind, not only for the need to watch for pursuers, but also for the fright she could hear in his labored breathing. Fright, too, rang out in the calls of the men ahead of them in the darkness.

“What was that?”

“I don't like it, I'm telling you I don't like it! This whole damn wood's haunted!”

“Haunted my great-aunt Matilda! Lord God Almighty, if you lot don't fall in I'll—”

A shot rang out then, and someone howled in surprise and pain. Dorcas and Caleb froze in their tracks, seizing each other by the shoulders, but no bullet had come anywhere near them. Whoever the round had struck was somewhere far ahead of them in the trees, past the barn where she felt the Power lying in wait.

“Fall back to the house!” called the last voice that had shouted, harsh with the crispness of command. “Damn all your eyes, I said fall back!”

The voices and the tramping of feet faded then into the distant trees. Dorcas hauled in five gasping breaths, and then pulled hard at Caleb. “Come on! The way's clear!”

“Need those provisions if nothing else,” he muttered, all the breath he spared as they bolted together towards their goal. He didn't otherwise argue and she loved him for it. If that thought was enough to keep him moving while the tug of the Power propelled her, she'd accept it and be glad.

But when they reached the barn door they found a trail of something dark staining the ground. Dorcas could barely see it in the gloom, yet needed neither sight nor the metallic tang in her nostrils to tell her it was blood. The sudden scream through her nerves told her all she needed to know.

And when Caleb with trembling hands hauled open the barn door, they found the white man lying wounded inside. Dorcas sensed him even before they darted into the barn; though he lay unmoving, Power roiled around him so thickly that she could almost see and hear it. It had a voice of its own, and that voice keened of loss and agony. Behind her Caleb groaned, high and thin with fear. So did she. With this kind of Power awake in the air, it wasn't any wonder the men they'd heard thought the woods were haunted. She wasn't entirely certain they were wrong.

Yet her own Power would not be denied, and it pulled her hands to the slack body lying on the rough dirt floor. She heard Caleb scrabbling in his pockets for the matches he'd carried off during their escape, but by the time he had one lit she didn't need it. Her Power illumined the man she began to heal.

He wore a laborer's simple garb, and if the magic hadn't been on her that might have drawn her anyway—yet with the magic on her, Dorcas couldn't spare the strength to pay it any mind. As it was she noticed his disheveled brown hair and the sideburns that framed his thin face only because the shine from her hands, white as moonlight, rose up to show them to her. But they weren't important, not when a bullet in his shoulder shrieked against flesh and bone. Her magic screamed back, but before she could let it have its way, that bullet had to come out. It was a mercy that the man was unconscious, Dorcas thought grimly. He wouldn't be aware of what she was about to do.

Or would he? As she slapped a hand down upon his damaged flesh his eyes flew open, unveiling a near-black gaze gone vacant with something beyond pain. He writhed under Dorcas' touch, and with a strength a wounded man should not have possessed, he seized her hand and cried, “I walk in the valley of the shadow of death!”

She knew the Christian prayer, knew which words came before and which behind, yet Dorcas couldn't bring herself to utter them now. There was no comfort in the rod or the staff, not when they came down upon the shoulders of those like her. “Goodness and mercy shall follow me,” she said instead, praying all the while that she spoke the truth. “Hold still, man. There's a bullet in you. I'm taking it out.”

The man trembled violently beneath her palm. Yet his eyes darted to her hand upon him, glowing with fractious Power straining for release, and then up to her face. His was chalk-pale, and if Dorcas hadn't felt living warmth in his flesh, she would have thought him a ghost. “Angel,” he whispered. “Angel of the Lord?”

That was no question she could answer, and so Dorcas didn't try. Instead, keeping her palm in place, she wrenched her other hand free of his desperate hold and reached within her skirts to pull out the knife she'd stolen when she and Caleb had fled. To Caleb, she barked, “Help me hold him down!”

Caleb did as she bade, and though it was foolish to waste the match, he stomped it into the barn floor to free both his hands for the task before him. He dropped down on the man's other side and pinned him with ease; tired though he was from a night of running, he was still bigger than the white man, and with muscle to spare. Dorcas shot him a grateful glance, and then plunged her knife into the man's shoulder.

He screamed, though he barely had the strength for it, and the noise he made was little more than a rattle in his throat. Dorcas could spare no sympathy; it took all her will to focus on digging the round from his shoulder, to make sure her magic could have its way with no metal or powder to taint the mending flesh. Yet as she pried the bullet free, his blood welled over her fingers. With it, in an inexorable rush, came his Power.

It too was wounded, Dorcas realized in shock. It poured off him in great ragged streams, a skein of energy rent by invisible knives, so deeply that she almost expected to see bloodied furrows in his physical form. The bullet wound was no more than an afterthought compared to whatever had damaged his Power so, and her own ability haloed out from that spot as soon as it was healed, seeking to close the fraying energy. Her every muscle contracted and her blood grew hot with the demand upon her, greater than any healing she had ever accomplished—

Then without warning Caleb was pulling her back from him, enfolding her in a protective embrace. “Stop it,” he urged, sharp with alarm. “Stop it, woman, it's hurting you!”

Breathing hard, Dorcas slumped against him, aware that her frame still glowed with the healing. In that light she saw the white man scramble back from them both, his eyes round and dark with panic. “W-what are you?” he breathed.

“She ain't nothing you need to pay mind to!”

“Caleb, no.” She loathed the thought of sitting up again, for the healthy, living strength of her beloved's frame was a relief after the drain of a healing. But Dorcas forced herself upright once more regardless. “He knows I ain't like anybody else. And neither is he.” Eyes on the man, she added, “Are you?”

To her dismay the man began to laugh, in choked gasps that sounded a breath away from madness. The shine of her magic was starting to fade, but moonlight slanted down through holes in the ruined roof, giving her just enough light to see to inch towards him. He huddled now with his back against the broken shell of a water barrel, and he stared down at his disarrayed clothing in disgust. “I used to be Elias Sutherland,” he said, and his voice was broken, rough with unshed tears. “I used to be a Warder.”

That last word sounded important to Dorcas, though it made little sense to her. To Caleb, it made no sense at all. “Is that supposed to mean something to us?” he demanded.

“Hush up, Caleb!” Dorcas hissed, shooting him a glare before turning her uneasy attention back to the white man. The Warder, if his ravings were to be believed. That wasn't the word for the white folk they were supposed to look for—the conductors, the ones who'd help them get to Canada. No one had said the word ‘Warder' to either her or Caleb. “You're going to have to tell us what that is, Mister Sutherland.”

Her hand made it back to his shoulder, drawn like a compass needle to the north, but this time she was ready for the pull his tattered Power exerted upon her. “You wouldn't know,” Elias said, flinching at her touch and then abruptly easing. “You couldn't. Magic from my people, not from yours, so 'less one of us bred with one o' you and the magic jumped the lines...” He trailed off then. “But you ain't a Warder and you ain't Sidhe neither, are you, ma'am?”

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