A single ray of light entered the room and carried with it the hope of a
new day. The light warmed Slate Severance’s eyelids, gently rousing
him from tortured dreams. In this moment when the nightmares end and the
day begins, mistakes of the past are stripped away, leaving behind
one’s true self. Slate felt honest, virtuous, and determined to
protect the defenseless.
Slate rose from bed, but wakefulness followed slowly and so the mingled
moment remained. Aspirations for the day mixed with memories of
yesterday. Yesterday wasn’t so bad. Memories of yesterday would not
ruin today. He was destined for great things.
He staggered toward the bathroom on waking legs and relieved himself,
but memories from the week prior tainted the simple pleasure. It
wasn’t his fault. He didn’t have a choice. The drunken soldier had
attacked him and he had to defend himself. There is no dishonor in
self-defense, his father would have said.
He cleansed his hands in the basin. These hands killed that soldier.
Memories poured into his head. Last month, a squadron tracked him to his
campsite in the middle of the night and attempted to collect the bounty
on his head. They failed. Were these hands good for anything but
Slate looked in the mirror. He shouldn’t have looked in the mirror.
His muscular physique, born of life-long training, was drained of color
and laced with scars that crisscrossed his torso like ribbons. More
memories came back at the sight of his injuries, memories he wanted to
forget, memories of pain. He could withstand any pain suffered. He could
tolerate the memories of pain inflicted; he was destined for great
His gaze rose to meet his eyes in the mirror. These were not the eyes of
a righteous man. Blood vessels emanated from the accursed eyes in deep
red reminders of his failures. These were the eyes that inspired fear
throughout the kingdom. They called him demi-god. They called him a
Shadow of the Night. They had once called him Stonehands. They told
stories of him to frighten children at campfires. And the stories were
Slate clung to the hope carried on the rays of the day’s first light,
but he couldn’t escape the binds of regret. If only I could re-live my
life… If only I could make it right…
Slate stood in the depths of the Arena, awaiting his introduction. From
the tunnel entrance he could see a small portion of the crowd, and it
comprised the largest congregation of people Slate had ever seen. Noble
families proudly displayed their house symbols from elevated seats, but
Slate barely registered their presence. He absently spun the staff from
hand to hand to check his grip. He felt as if all the moisture in the
air had been removed and sent straight to his palms, leaving him with a
dry mouth and a healthy appreciation for the leather grips wrapped
around the middle of his staff.
“Ladies and Gentlemen of Malethya, welcome to the opening match of the
Guild Tournament,” the crier yelled, and the musicians quieted their
instruments. “Our first contestant comes to the city of Ravinai from
the far reaches of the kingdom. Born in the northwestern mining village
of Pillar and wielding a staff, here is Slate Severance!”
Slate ran through the tunnel and controlled his breathing to calm his
nerves. Deafening clapping, stomping, and shouting resonated through the
stone around him and urged him toward the sunlit entrance of the dueling
courtyard. The brilliance of daylight blinded him, and he failed to
notice the step down to the sandy courtyard. His instincts responded
quicker than his feet, and he planted his staff in the sand and vaulted
overhead. A slight over-rotation during his flip caused him to drop to a
knee upon landing and swing his staff back into position. What the crowd
witnessed was an acrobatic, staff-flourishing entrance. Applause
erupted, and Slate unwittingly became a crowd favorite in the eyes of
the raucous citizens.
He counted his good fortunes and waited for his opponent. Most
contestants in the tournament were seasoned from service in the King’s
army but hadn’t yet reached their physical prime. The crier announced,
“His opponent hails from the nomadic tribes of the Southern provinces,
Rainier Tallow, who has chosen two short swords for this contest.” An
unimposing figure, both short in stature and boyish in looks, entered
the courtyard. He did not entertain or even acknowledge the onlookers,
so the applause died quickly. Despite minimal enthusiasm from the crowd,
Rainier’s lithe and confident gait reflected much experience. Slate
didn’t see him adjust his grip on his short swords or lick his lips to
combat the dry air, so he presumed the fighter came by his confidence
The crier outlined the rules of the match for the crowd. “A bugle
signals the start of the contest, and the two combatants fight with
magically blunted weapons within the confines of the dueling courtyard.
The first combatant to knock down his opponent is the winner.
Contestants, turn and acknowledge the members of the Crimson Guard in
In the seats of honor above the commoners and nobility sat the Crimson
Guardsmen. An impressive showing in the tournament could earn an
invitation to train for the Crimson Guard in one of the guilds. Citizens
of Malethya and members of the King’s army could participate in the
Guild Tournament, requiring Slate to win dozens of preliminary fights in
the outlying provinces before making it to the Arena.
Slate and Rainier bowed to the Crimson Guardsmen and faced each other.
Rainier’s darting eyes locked on Slate and a nearly imperceptible
smirk found its way to the tiny fighter’s mouth. They crossed staff
and sword and a bugle sounded.
Rainier advanced in a series of feints and testing blows, forcing Slate
to use the longer staff defensively as he kept the short swords at bay.
Rainier darted left and right, changing forms fluidly and keeping Slate
on the retreat. Slate kicked dirt from the ground to daze Rainier, but
Rainier anticipated the trick and struck Slate’s unguarded ribs.
Rainier backed away before Slate’s counterattack could reach its mark.
A backward glance marked the approaching edge of the dueling courtyard.
Slate gave ground more rapidly to counterattack with more forceful blows
in the space created, but Rainier deflected the counterattacks and
pushed Slate even closer to the edge of the dueling courtyard and
Slate decided on a painful gambit. He kicked sand at Rainier once more,
purposefully leaving his wounded ribs exposed. He had difficulty
predicting Rainier’s position during his offensive flurry, and by
exposing his wounded ribs, he was hoping the aggressive nature of the
fighter would leave him vulnerable. Rainier avoided the sand and came at
Slate with a high-guard on his right side, expecting a blow from above
by his taller opponent. It was exactly what Slate wanted, and he thrust
his staff into the right leg of Rainier. He felt his blow land just as a
blinding pain spread across his ribs.
Not trying to be a hero, Slate distanced himself from Rainier. He
assessed the damage his blow had done to Rainier and saw he clearly
favored his left leg. Slate took the offensive, swinging his staff from
a distance that left Rainier unable to counter with his shorter weapons
and loss of mobility. The skill of the nomadic tribesman prolonged the
match awhile longer, but then Slate landed a sweeping blow to
Rainier’s left leg, and his wounded right leg could not support his
weight. Rainier fell to the courtyard and a bugle sounded, signaling the
end of the match.
Slate reached down and offered his hand to his opponent. Rainier shook
off his disappointment in the loss before accepting help onto his feet.
They both soaked in the applause of the crowd before making their way
across the courtyard. Rainier then surprised Slate by following him out
of the tunnel, outside of the Arena, and into Slate’s camp.
Each fighter returned to his tent to rest between fights. Slate’s tent
was nearly empty. He had traveled to the tournament by foot, carrying
rations for the trip and a sleeping blanket. In addition to the tent,
the tournament had provided a cot, armor, and a stand of blunted
weapons. Slate returned the staff to the weapon stand, sat on his cot,
and started the slow and painful process of removing his armor. Rainier
hauled a discarded crate into the tent and used it as a chair.
“That was well fought, Slate. Many of these soldiers trained in the
King’s army stick to their forms with too much rigidity. This makes
them predictable and unable to turn the tide of battle if they are
outmatched. They don’t take risks like you did,” he paused, “You
fight like a tribesman.”
Slate smiled at the backhanded compliment that valued cunning over
might. But Rainier had also clearly stated that Slate had won with a
fair amount of luck. “I fight like my father,” Slate replied.
As they talked, Rainier’s servants entered the tent. Each had the
olive skin associated with the southern provinces and dressed in silks
wrapped and tied at the waist. Ornate tattoos covered their hands and
feet. Within a matter of minutes, the servants transformed his tent into
a room fit for a nobleman. Blankets and lounge pillows covered the dirt
floor and hanging silks provided privacy for bathing. Rainier ignored
the changes around him, so Slate didn’t acknowledge them either.
“...then your father should be proud. I thought I was the only
remaining fighter without formal training in the King’s army.”
The tent flap opened and two people entered, and Slate understood the
servants’ preparations. The first was a man dressed in simple
traveler’s robes with a well-worn woodcutter’s axe hanging from his
side. He carried himself with the self-assuredness of a king. “My name
is Lucus. I am a wizard currently traveling with the Tallow tribe.”
Slate had never met a wizard, but enough tales had reached the small
village of Pillar for him to know of magic in Malethya. Lucus’ simple
attire did not fit Slate’s preconceived notions of wizards gathered
from campfire stories. Lucus said, “Rainier has resisted the
traditions of the Tallow tribe up until this point by refusing to name a
Teacher, but it is with great pleasure that I formalize Rainier’s
acceptance of your offer to serve in this esteemed position.”
“I didn’t intend to offer anything…”
“You extended your hand to Rainier when he was fallen. He accepted
your hand, sealing the pact.” Rainier remained silent and Lucus
contributed little in the way of explanation. “I believe I can shed
some light on tribal customs, but first I offer a gift to celebrate your
honorable victory and help you prepare for your next match. Would you
allow my apprentice Sana to treat those injured ribs?”
“I thank you for the offer, Lucus, but magic is not allowed in the
tournament,” Slate responded, temporarily ignoring the
misunderstanding in favor of keeping the tournament rules. But the pain
in his ribs became sharper and made breathing more difficult now that
the adrenaline of the match had subsided. Slate feared that several of
his ribs were broken rather than just bruised or cracked.
Lucus gave a knowing smile. “Magic may not be applied during
tournament matches. There are no stipulations preventing healing between
matches. The tournament is intended to showcase our most talented
warriors, not to leave them bloodied and broken.”
Slate nodded his acceptance with some trepidation at having magic used
upon him, but his fear dissipated when Sana lowered the hood of her
robes. She likely had suitors from the highest courts, but she
approached with a purposeful stride that implied she was unaware of her
beauty or purposely dismissive of it. “Healing is easiest when I have
direct contact with the wound,” Sana told Slate as she started
removing his leathers without bothering to ask permission. When she
unhooked and pulled away the last of his leathers, the pain in his ribs
spiked as his chest was allowed to expand, making the full extent of the
wounds apparent. Thankfully, his inability to draw a deep breath made it
impossible to scream in agony, and he only managed to produce a stifled
grunt. Sana turned her gaze from the wound to Slate and lectured,
“Your leather armor distributed the force of the blow over a large
area and prevented puncture of the skin, but the red color and immediate
tissue swelling suggests internal damage. I am going to touch the wound
and probe its extent. You will feel a slight tingle.”
Slate needed to stare at something to ignore the pain and found Sana’s
face convenient for the purpose. Her eyes fixated on the wound and
reminded Slate of the focused state he entered in battle preparation,
but it differed in a manner he couldn’t quite place. Her lips
articulated an inaudible conversation with herself that her clenched jaw
resisted. Sana placed her hands on his side, closed her eyes and a warm
tingling sensation radiated from her cool touch. The warm sensation
moved around through his chest, always probing deeper and never staying
in the same location. After several minutes, Sana opened her eyes and
explained her diagnosis. “You have two broken ribs with multiple
fractures of each. They have damaged the surrounding muscles and
connective tissue but have not impacted your lungs. I will realign your
bones and then stimulate them to grow and reconnect. There will be pain
as the bones realign and travel through the damaged tissue. The growth
of the bones and the final healing of the surrounding tissue will leave
you fatigued but should not cause significant pain. Try to remain still
until I have finished. Are you ready?”
Slate grabbed the edges of the cot for support, clenched his teeth, and
nodded. As promised, the pain of the bones realigning was excruciating.
When they were broken, it had happened in an instant. Realigning the
bones required more time and exacting focus. Slate began to worry that
if it took any longer he would lose consciousness and Sana would have a
perfectly still patient to work upon.
Finally the pain abated, but Sana’s continued concentration told Slate
that her work continued. Sana’s lips moved inaudibly as she worked and
Slate realized why the nervous habit bothered him. When he first learned
to fight, his father told him to concentrate. He squinted his eyes,
clenched his jaw, and tightened his muscles. Later in his training he
understood these reactions were counterproductive and that true
concentration required an open mind to read your opponent and the
control to use only the muscles necessary to prevent fatigue. If
training to use magic was anything like his experience with combat, then
Sana had not yet gained this experience. This realization coincided with
Sana straightening up with a smile on her face, leaving Slate to feel
foolish for questioning her talents. But before he could thank her, a
new pain throbbed in his sides. It felt like his skin was being
stretched from the inside. He gasped in pain.
Sana probed the wound again, but Lucus intervened. “What did you
find?” he asked his apprentice calmly.
“I have properly aligned the bones, but they continue to grow.”
Lucus casually took her place near Slate and within seconds the warm
feeling returned and the pain subsided. Sana hid her frustration behind
a mask of professionalism. “You are healed and will require some rest
before your next match. I wish you the best, but I have other matters to
attend.” Sana abruptly left the tent, leaving the impression that her
early exit had more to do with her failed attempt at healing than
anything else on her agenda for the day.
Lucus explained. “Sana has immense potential but struggles to control
her spells. Unfortunately, this can be the most difficult part of being
a wizard. The use of magic is not difficult if you have the ability. If
you apply the correct techniques, the spell is cast, but applying it in
the correct dose for the situation is what differentiates a wizard from
a simple traveling magician and his tricks.” Slate intended to ask
Lucus about the Tallow clan, but fatigue ran over him like a wave. He
fell asleep in his cot before he could verbalize his questions.
Rainier awoke Slate by gently shaking his shoulder. “Teacher, the
crier is announcing your semifinal match. Prepare for battle.” Slate
jumped out of bed and suited up with Rainier’s help as he offered
information on his opponent. “I have sparred with this contestant. He
is powerful and relentless, but slower than you. Your staff will not
withstand a direct blow from his broadsword. Try to deflect his blows
rather than block them. Good luck, Teacher.” So far, Rainier seemed to
be the Teacher in this relationship.
Slate grabbed his staff and ran for the Arena entrance as the crier
announced his name. Slate sprinted through the tunnel, flipping over
his staff and landing on one knee in the dueling courtyard. The crowd
cheered loudly at his now familiar entrance.
“Weighing in at 260 pounds and wielding the broadsword, Magnus
An equally large cheer arose for Magnus as he stepped into the courtyard
and extended his broadsword into the air. Slate saw why it would be easy
to cheer for Magnus. He was a physical specimen and looked the part of a
tournament champion. His arms were the size of Slate’s legs and his
leather armor needed to be specially made to fit his large frame.
Slate and Magnus bowed to the Crimson Guardsmen in the Arena and turned
to face each other. Magnus glowered and remained standing during
Slate’s bow, impressing Slate. Many contestants attempt to rattle
their opponents with fear, and Magnus had a talent for it. It was a
valuable trait, but it was a gimmick. Rainier’s quiet confidence
threatened Slate much more than Magnus’ glowering. Slate extended his
staff to cross Magnus’ broadsword. Magnus swung at Slate’s staff in
a display of strength rather than simply crossing it. Slate loosened his
grip on his staff and allowed it to fly through the air upon contact,
landing ten yards away. Magnus and the crowd laughed at his expense
while he went to pick it up, but his feint allowed Slate to judge the
power behind Magnus’ blow and found that Rainier’s advice was
correct. He would need to avoid direct engagement.
As the laughter died down, Slate entered into a defensive fighting
stance and tried to appear frightened. He considered pissing his pants
to heighten the effect, but the look on Magnus’ face showed that his
acting was convincing enough without that embarrassing ploy. The bugle
sounded and Magnus rushed Slate. Slate took a few shuffling steps
backward in a continued display of fear as Magnus began to lower an
overhead swing that would have snapped his staff in two. Before it found
its mark, Slate launched himself to the side, easily avoiding the slow
powerful swing. He planted the staff into the ground and altered the
momentum of his body, swinging toward Magnus’s backside. Before he
could turn, Slate delivered a powerful kick to the back of his knee.
Magnus didn’t drop, but his balance faltered. Slate swung the staff
into his other leg and toppled the large fighter with one final,
well-placed blow to the back. Magnus landed face-first in the sand and
the bugle sounded. The crowd applauded after coming to grips with this
quick change of events. Slate ran back to the tunnel entrance and left
Magnus cussing and swearing after Slate as he picked himself up from the
ground. Before he reached the tunnel, he heard the crier say, “Let’s
hear it for Slate Severance, who just won his tournament match in record
time!” Slate raised his staff for the crowd but didn’t slow down.
Rainier met him at the tunnel and fell into a jog at his side. Slate
thanked him for his insight about Magnus but found Rainier quiet on
their return to the tent, where Lucus awaited.
“Let us talk quickly before the headmasters of the guilds arrive. Our
time is short.”
“The headmasters of the guilds are visiting?” Slate questioned.
“It is tradition for the heads of the guilds to meet each of the final
contestants before the championship bout. It is a great honor, but you
must handle these meetings correctly. The Crimson Guard is filled with
people whose skills and talents are only exceeded by their egos and
personal agendas. You must tread carefully during these meetings. Do not
promise anything to the headmasters until you have a better
understanding of the consequences. How much do you know of the Crimson
“Nothing,” Slate acknowledged. “Most people from Pillar spend
their entire lives working in the mines. My father was enlisted in the
King’s army and taught me to fight, but I know little of the guilds or
“King Darik commissioned the Crimson Guard to train the land’s most
promising warriors in the guilds. No member of the king’s army can
question or accuse a member of the Crimson Guard since their directives
come directly from the king. All Guardsmen belong to one of three
guilds: Bellator, Sicarius, and Ispirtu.
“Bellator specializes in various fighting techniques and the use of
weaponry. Its headmaster is the famous war hero, Villifor. He will
undoubtedly be interested in having you join his school regardless of
the outcome of the championship bout. Magnus was his prized recruit and
your showing in the semi-finals will have piqued his interest.
“Ispirtu trains all of the mages that enter the Crimson Guard. Their
headmaster is a powerful wizard named Brannon. I advise added caution
when speaking with Brannon. He is not only the headmaster of Ispirtu but
also the father of your finals opponent.
“Sicarius is the last guild. It teaches stealth, strategy, and the art
of deception. I do not know the name of Sicarius’ headmaster and if
you learn it, I suggest you promptly forget it for your own safety.
Members of Sicarius gather information for the king and conduct covert
operations.” Slate heard a large commotion of people approaching
outside of the tent. Lucus said, “That will be Villifor. His fame
draws large crowds and his personality does little to discourage the
practice. May your tongue be as swift as your staff, Slate Severance.”
Lucus raised his cloak and discreetly exited the tent, leaving Slate to
feel like a leaf blowing in the wind. Unsure of the proper protocol for
meeting a war hero or a headmaster, Slate waited outside the tent
Villifor struck an impressive figure on his approach, surrounded by
admirers and greeted by well-wishers. Upon identifying Slate, Villifor
hailed, “Good show! Well fought, Slate Severance!” Villifor grasped
his forearm and continued loud enough for his entourage to hear, “Let
us make our introductions in private. I promise to be brief because I
know the importance of preparing for battle.” Villifor strode into the
tent leaving Slate and Rainier to follow in tow. Slate wondered if
Villifor’s last statement was meant to discourage his entourage from
following into the tent or to encourage them to wait outside until
The blankets and lounging pillows spread across the tent floor by
Rainier’s servants provided the best place to meet despite its
informality. Villifor relaxed against a pillow and gestured for Slate to
join him. Rainier sat next to Slate without an invitation to join the
conversation. Villifor continued with a raised eyebrow in Rainier’s
direction, “You defeated Magnus by mixing guile, cunning and decisive
action to overcome physical inferiority. Had you faced Magnus in ten
consecutive fights, he would have bested you nine times.” A twinkle
appeared in his eye. “In battle, you only get one opportunity.
Identifying weakness and exploiting it is often the difference between
life and death. Commit to Bellator and your teachers can instruct you in
the forms and techniques required to master your weaponry of choice.
Master these forms to decrease the weaknesses in your fighting technique
and more importantly . . . survive situations in which you should
not.” Villifor’s eyes momentarily glazed, no doubt remembering some
long past battle, before returning to focus on Slate. “There is no
better place for a tournament champion to hone his skills than Bellator.
You belong in Bellator, an instrument of the king’s will, and a
protector of Malethya.” He stood up to depart and rejoin his mob of
adoring citizens, finishing the conversation with, “Excel as a member
of Bellator, and find your name sung in songs of valor with fame that
precedes your arrival in every town.”
Excerpted from "Severance Lost (Fractal Forsaken Series Book 1)" by J. Lloren Quill. Copyright © 2016 by J. Lloren Quill. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.