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FORTS SAMPLE CHAPTER - Slaughter of the Innocents

Because I’m a nice guy I’ve decided to toss another sample chapter your way. If you haven’t yet purchased book one, what exactly are you waiting for?

Get your butt in gear.

Don’t make me tell you again, or else I might just have to tell you a third time – in a far sterner tone.

You don’t want that and neither do I.

The pale-skinned children from the hundredth world brought with them an infectious feeling of possibility that permeated the streets of Tipoloo. It slid under every doorway, through every crack, into every home, and filled the city’s inhabitants with a wonderful, warm feeling to which they were not accustomed. This was an odd feeling, a new feeling, a beautifully strange feeling that some of the younger children, those who had been born inside the city walls, had never felt. On every corner of every street, large groups of vastly different species talked amongst themselves, hopeful smiles spread across their tired, beaten, war torn faces.
It appeared as if the prophecy was more than just words. It had turned to flesh and blood. It was real, and could put an end to the incredible hardship they had come to know as simply being alive.
As Zanell turned the corner on her way to her grandfather’s dwelling, she passed a family of Huerzo Snubs outside of a tiny dwelling cut into a section of the city’s earthen walls. In many ways, the four foot tall Huerzo Snubs resembled ladybugs. Their enormous oval shaped bodies seeming impossibly large for their spindly legs, and yet they managed to move with an inspiring gracefulness. This was mostly due to the aid of a pair of nearly transparent wings attached to their backs that constantly flapped, enabling them to maintain their balance. The mother Huerzo sat quietly on a rock outside of her dwelling watching her two young children playfully wrestle in the street a few feet away. Each time one of the children was knocked over it rolled through the dirt like a marble on a sidewalk, its tiny legs flailing wildly in the air. As Zanell passed, the mother Huerzo looked up at her, smiling a timid smile in a way only a Huerzo could do justice. Zanell hadn’t seen a smile of this nature on her face in a very long time, not since her mate was captured a few years back above ground while searching for food with a gathering party.
The tiny bit of happiness in the mother Huerzo’s expression momentarily warmed Zanell on the inside. How uncommon, how truly wonderful and uncommon. This was exactly what the boys’ appearance brought to Tipoloo. This was exactly what Tipoloo needed.
Zanell noticed similar smiles all day long. In fact, the smile of the mother Huerzo became the rule rather than the exception. A small group of four or five Ricardian children passed by Zanell. She could overhear them whispering to each other about the way Tommy Jarvis blasted a massive hole in the city’s wall just a couple of days earlier.
“I heard that he blew a hole in the wall, and vaporized four of the king’s guards with it!”
“Shut up…that’s not what happened…it was seven of the king’s guards! Afterward he opened up another hole in the ceiling and flew off into the forest. I think he’s on his way to take on Kragamel one-on-one!”
“Now you’re the one who needs to shut up. He can’t fly!”
“Can, too! I saw it with my own eyes!”
“You didn’t see anything, liar. You were with me when it happened!”
“Well…whatever happened, I know that crusty old king is in for a serious beating when Tommy and Pleebo get hold of him!”
Ricardians were well known as a race of wonderful storytellers, and wonderful exaggerators. Ricardian children, on the other hand, were known to take exaggeration to unbelievable levels. Zanell smiled slightly, laughing a bit on the inside at the sweet, overzealous innocence in their words. At the same time she couldn’t really blame them, because she felt it, too. She believed in her grandfather, she believed in the prophecy, and because of this she believed in the possibility that Tommy, Donald and the others might be the catalyst that ushered in a bright new world. Hidden deep beneath her hopefulness, though, she was worried about her older brother. Zanell had never been away from him for more than a day, and she already missed having him around. From the day their mother died, Pleebo was more than just a brother to her. In many ways he was her parent, and even more importantly her best friend. If anything happened to him – well, she simply wouldn’t have any idea what to do with herself.
If only her grandfather had let her go with them, then she could watch him. Then she could keep an eye on him and make sure he was safe.
Zanell opened the door to her grandfather’s dwelling, stepped inside and closed it gently so as not to frighten him. “Grandfather?”
She set a bowl of Fluto root she had brought on a small table nearby, along with a goblet of water. The room was dark, the air stuffy and stale. It smelled of age and experience and knowledge. From his bed in the corner of the room, the elder’s tired, creaky body pushed and pulled itself slowly into a sitting position. Each of the ancient creature’s joints cracked and popped.
Zanell quickly made her way to his side, and helped him sit fully upright. “You need to eat, Grandfather. I’ve brought you some dinner…Fluto root…your favorite. I even mashed it up for you so you wouldn’t have any problems getting it down.”
“Thank you, Zanell,” the old creature said as he finally straightened up.
Once she was convinced he wouldn’t immediately tip over, Zanell turned back to the mashed Fluto root on the opposite end of the room. The elder reacheed out, grabs her skinny arm and turned her to face him again.
“What is it, Grandfather?”
Reaching up, the old creature touched the side of her face, his eyes half closed, his lips forming a dry, dusty, ancient smile. “Don’t worry about the root, Zanell. Save it for yourself. I won’t need it.”
“What? What are you talking about? Its been too long since you last ate grandfather…you need to keep your strength up.”
With his bony hand, he gently ran his fingers through her stringy white hair. “You look so much like your mother, Zanell. Both you and your brother…you both look so very much like Lanell. I was so proud of her…so proud of the Fillagrou she grew to be. You’ll…. you’ll make me…equally as proud, Zanell. In fact, you already have. I only wish…that I could be alive to see the wonderful things your future will bring…”
Zanell tried to ignore her grandfather’s words. He often complained about his age, regularly making jokes or little comments about how much time he had left to live.
She convinced herself that this was exactly what he was doing now. “Shut up, Grandfather…you’re going to be around for a long time. You’re as healthy as a Subertivean Ox.”
The old creature sighed deeply. “Every journey comes to an end Zanell.”
“What are you talking about? You look fine. You’ll eat something, and you’ll feel much better, like always. Stop talking like that.”
Reaching up slowly with both hands, the elder placed them softly on either side of her face.
With a half sad, half contented smile he looked directly into her enormous red eyes. “There is a wonderful beauty in endings, Zanell. Were it not for the pain of endings, we would never experience the exquisite hopefulness that can come only with a new beginning.”
Suddenly Zanell no longer thought her grandfather was simply complaining for the sake of complaining. Every crease and wrinkle in his face screamed of stern seriousness. He knew something that she didn’t. A lone tear slipped from her right eye, rolling down the side of her soft, drawn skin. Her thin lips began to quiver as she tried to formulate words. She found only the sound of her increased breathing.
Pulling her forward, her grandfather kissed her gently on the forehead. “I need you to run, Zanell. I need you to run to the southern passage and keep running until you’ve entered the forest. I need you to do this right now, my dear.”
“Grandfather…I…I don…why?”
“Have faith in my words…this one last time. Go…go and don’t look back.”
Almost on cue, the ground beneath Zanell’s feet shook violently, sending her careening into a nearby wall. A few seconds latr the ground shook again – this time even more aggressively. The blue burning candle in the corner of her grandfather’s dwelling tipped over, and fell into the dirt, smothered into oblivion. Zanell forced herself back to her feet, and quickly rushed to her grandfather.
Wrapping her arms underneath him, she tried to lift him from his bed. “SOMETHING’S WRONG, GRANDFATHER! COME ON, WE HAVE TO GO!”
The elder’s body flopped around like a heavy, useless rag doll. Even if the ancient creature had desired to move there was no way he could ever hope to run. To escape what was coming was not his fate, and he knew this.
Using what little strength remained in his tired body, he pushed Zanell away from him. “No! I can’t go anywhere, Zanell! This is exactly where I’m supposed to be. You have to trust me! You have to run, now!”
Zanell wiped away the torrent of tears flowing from her face as the ground rumbled yet again. This time thick chunks of dirt fell from the ceiling. “NO! I WON’T LEAVE YOU! I CAN’T!”
Again she reached out for her grandfather, and again the old creature pushed her back. Suddenly the city shook with such incredible force that it sent her falling backward, slamming against the creaky wooden door. Massive amounts of dirt and stone came loose and fell from the ceiling. A few of the larger chunks hit her on the top of the head.
The entire room was covered in a thick brown mist. “GRANDFATHER!”
From somewhere inside the cloud of dirt came the elder’s far away voice. “RUN, ZANELL! TO THE SOUTHERN PASSAGE! GO NOW!”
As she attempted to stand, another violent shaking caused Zanell to roll backwards through the door and out into the street. Everywhere around her the inhabitants of Tipoloo were frightened and screaming, scattering in every direction without rhyme or reason. Some seemed to be looking for shelter, some for family and some for weapons. Near the end of the street the ceiling collapsed inward viciously, as if a bomb had been set off somewhere above. The head of an enormous gray beast blasted through the earth and slammed to the city floor, chomping away every ounce of soil in its path with its massive open mouth. It swallowed the dirt it had just torn away, shook its head from side to side wildly, and pounded against either side of the street in the process. The massive cranium maneuvered itself parallel to the ground, blowing the excess dirt and sand from its nose. Opening its gigantic mouth, the terrifying thing let out a growl so ear piercingly loud that the entire street vibrated. Zanell immediately covered her ears, her body now scooting backward across the ground, away from the growling, monstrous beast. As quickly as the enormous head arrived, it shot back into the sky leaving a gaping hole in its wake that led into the forest. The city of Tipoloo looked like a war zone. Mounds of dirt and rock continued to fall from the ceiling high above the street. Clouds of grainy, thick sand rose up around Zanell. It made it nearly impossible for her to make out anything that was more than three feet away. More crashes, shakes, and noises rose up from inside the destructive cloud. No doubt these sounds were the result of other massive holes opened up by equally angry beasts at various other points throughout the city. The incredible amount of noise drowned out the horrified voices of the city’s inhabitants, making communication of any kind between them no longer a viable option. The sounds, the sights, and the harsh reality of what Zanell was witnessing quickly became too much for her to process. Everything was happening fast. She had seen battle before. She has seen the dead and injured, but never in Tipoloo, and never on this scale. It all seemed unreal.
She stumbled back to her feet just in time to see armed guards with weapons drawn, repel downward through the incredible hole the creature’s head had opened up. A few of Tipoloo’s inhabitants grabbed clubs or crudely made spears and attempted to engage the guards in armed combat. They were no match for the well trained, massive bodied, angry and determined soldiers.
Everywhere around Zanell, their forms partially obscured by the clouds of dirt and dust, innocents were being slaughtered.
With deadly precision, without regret or remorse, the Ochan army was doing exactly what they were trained to do. They were killing everything. The city of Tipoloo had been the single stain on the legacy of their people for years – an embarrassment to the glory of the empire. Now, with the chance to take care of that which had eluded them for so may years, they were assuredly making the most of the opportunity.
Zanell’s tears were thick with sand and soot. When she wiped them, it smeared across her already dirty face, sticking to her skin in clumps. She looked in the direction of her grandfathers dwelling. It was now totally obscured by the smoky madness that had engulfed the city.
Softly through her shivering lips she whispered, “I love you” to her grandfather and turned and ran toward the southern passage as fast as her shaky legs would carry her. Behind her, nearly everything she had ever known and loved – died.