by Scott Keen
(Scar of the Downers, #2)
Publication date: November 22nd 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pursued into the wild by the soldiers of Ungstah, former slave Crik and the other freed Downers encounter the magical and terrifying nature of their world. They face spectral Shepherds, man-eating Rukmush, and the ancient giants of the earth. When two of their group are captured, Crik is distraught and powerless.
Meanwhile back in the city, Durgan, former Captain of the King’s Guard who allowed Crik and his friends to escape from Ungstah, is now a Downer, one of the Branded. Amid the murmurings of an uprising among the Branded, Durgan just wants to be left alone to search for his missing son. But in the process, he discovers how dark the powers of Sulfus the king truly are. Durgan must take a stand in the coming war between the Branded and the powerful armies of Sulfus.
To kill any hope of escape for the city’s Branded, the army comes after Crik and his friends to make an example of them. The answers for Durgan, Crik and freedom for all Downers lie hidden in the dark recesses of the Northern Reaches, in the treacherous places Crik and his companions are about to enter.
Durgan stopped and whirled around, and found another Downer, not as pale or thin, standing in the entranceway to the street. Clenched in his hand was an iron rod with a tip sharp enough to pierce flesh. Durgan eyed it and, without a weapon of his own, felt vulnerable. He knew he would have to get through one or both of the men to make it out of the alley alive with the bread still in his possession. Even if he gave the loaf to them, however, there was no guarantee they would let him walk out of there. Not waiting for another Downer to arrive, Durgan spun on his heels and barreled toward the pale Downer. He ran him over and knocked him into the wall with a thud! The Downer, dazed, slid to the ground, and Durgan burst out of the alley into the broad daylight.
The other bigger Downer chased after him, swinging the iron stake in his hand. “Get him!” he cried. “Don’t let him go!”
Several more Downers, who must’ve been hiding in the alleys, appeared and began chasing Durgan. He wound his way through the people now crowding the street, skirting around those who just stood and watched. After a few minutes of running, Durgan realized there was no way he would be able to lose them. There were too many. I’m going to have to face them, he thought, and I’m going to have to do it alone. He needed a weapon though, something that would give him a chance.
Up the street, Durgan noticed a small opening between the buildings. Once he reached it, he slid his body in the gap and began shimmying through the crevice. The space was so tightly enclosed, his nose grazed the bricks as he inched along. He moved as quickly as he could, and just as he was about to come out of the other side, he heard the voice of the pale Downer.
“Now we’ve got you,” he snarled. “You’re running out of places to go.”
Durgan forced his right foot out of the gap, but as he brought the left one up, it became wedged. He crashed into a puddle. His hands, face, and hair were drenched. He pushed himself up and pulled on his foot with such force he could feel the skin scrape off as he wrenched it free. It sent him back into the puddle with a piece of the brick. A loud cackle ricocheted through the alley.
“You’re not moving fast enough,” taunted the sickly Downer.
Standing up to run, Durgan felt pain surge through his leg. The Downer was right. He wasn’t moving quickly enough. He was out of time. This was where he had to make the stand. Bending down, he fished through the puddle and pulled out the piece of brick. He had his weapon.
“If you think you’re ready,” said Durgan, water running down his sleeve. “Come on through.”
The pale, sickly Downer, who had a lone trail of blood dripping down his head, paused. A look of hesitation flashed across his face.
“I’m waiting right here for you,” continued Durgan. “As soon as that ugly head of yours pops out of that alley, it’s going to taste brick. What’s the matter? You don’t seem so brave anymore.”
“I’m just waiting as well,” said the sickly Downer, now smirking.
“For us,” said a voice from the other end of the alley.
Durgan twirled around and saw the group of Downers, the one with the iron spear standing in the front, brandishing it.
“So this is how it’s going to be?” said Durgan. “One against a dozen.”
“This is how it is in the Waste,” said the sickly Downer. “In my kingdom.”
Durgan ripped off a thin piece of his shirt and wrapped it tightly around his hand, securing the brick in his palm.
“Whoever wants to be first let them come,” offered Durgan.
The Downer carrying the sharpened iron rod cautiously approached. In a sudden move, he jabbed the iron rod straight at Durgan, who grabbed the tip and pulled, bringing the brick hard into the Downer’s face with his other hand. The Downer collapsed into the puddle and didn’t move. Durgan didn’t dare lower his eyes to pick up the spear.
“Who’s next?” he asked, trying to appear calm. If only they knew how badly his heart crashed against his chest.
“Everyone,” said the sickly Downer. The smile was gone from his face.
The rest of the Downers rushed toward Durgan, who began swinging the brick. He heard the jaw crack in one Downer and the nose on another break before he was struck and brought down hard against the street. He saw nothing but stone and felt nothing but pain as hands and feet punched and kicked at him. His vision darkened. He could tell he was about to pass out.
“You see?” said the sickly Downer, whose voice sounded tinny and distant. “I am King of the Waste.”
Durgan screamed in pain as the iron rod pierced his body and struck the stone street beneath him.