From Renaissance, the second Azdhag prequel, coming in early March.
Chapter One: Timber, Tales, and Tails
“Look out! Wild log!”
Reptiles scattered in all directions as the enormous tree trunk tumbled off the pile. Bark chips and sawdust flew as the log rolled over four others, thumping to a stop against a tree. The loggers watched the rest of the load from behind cover. One log shifted but the others stayed in place.
“Anyone hurt? If you’re dead, speak up.” The loggers emerged and Beeltal, the work-pack boss, counted muzzles but found no one missing.
“Get those rails up now,” the load boss, Peelak, ordered. Four Azdhagi rushed to ram metal poles into the corners of the transport trailer, stabilizing the wood until they could get the straps and chains fastened. “Right, fun’s over. Get that storm-caught, furbearing, mate-stealer back where it belongs so we can go home before sunset.” Four more Azdhagi took pry-bars and worked the runaway log away from the tree, then rolled it to where the lifting claw could pick it up.
Tartai scrambled up the log pile, dragging one of the security straps. Shleek climbed more slowly, ready to jump clear if anything shifted so much as a talon-width. As soon as the lifter lowered the big log into place on top of the trailer, Tartai and Schleek jammed the ends of their straps together. Shleek ran a fuser over the ends, sealing them into a single, very strong strap. Two more of the crew did the same thing at the other end of the load, stabilizing the wood before hauling the safety chains into place. Tartai waited until everyone else had clambered off the load before descending, giving each log a little wiggle with his hind legs to make absolutely certain that they would not shift.
As soon as Tartai moved clear of the load, the load boss called, “Move out.” With a creak, a shudder, and a spray of duff and dirt, the hauler began groaning its way back to Schree’s Rest. Tartai watched it for a few seconds, but none of the thick-barked logs moved, and he returned to business. The work-pack needed to find and mark four more good, straight trees before they could stop for the day. He’d found a possible candidate, and trotted off to see if it looked as good up close as it had from on top of the load.
“Whatcha got?” The pack boss, Beeltal, walked up as Tartai finished measuring the tree’s girth.
“Twenty li at ten li from the ground,” and Tartai pointed to his measuring points before showing Beeltal the readout on his electronic data pad. “No branches until forty li at least and it seems as straight as they come.”
The pack boss backed up and tipped his head, engaging the distance viewer built into his safety goggles. “Good. Mark it and we can go home.” Tartai reached into his panniers for a marking peg and insertion tool when the two men heard a commotion back in the loading clearing. “Fewmets. Finish marking, then come on.” Tartai did as ordered, slipping the peg into the tree and also painting a splash of permanent dye on the other side of the trunk, reinforcing the claim. But instead of going straight to the clearing, he detoured to where he’d stashed his daypack. Tartai pulled a short-barreled blaster out of one pouch, along with a set of climbing claws. He pulled on the claws, slid the blaster into his pannier, and walked to the clearing as if he had not a care in the world.
A very large, armored male bellowed at the two pack bosses. Four more males loomed behind him, knives in their forefeet and fabric over their armor to hide their lineage identifiers. Not that the disguise fooled any of the logging crew. “You pests have no right to steal wood from Lord Daesarae,” the big male continued, ignoring Tartai’s arrival. “This land belongs to Daesarae and you fewmet-eaters know it. Call that transport back and send it to my lord’s mill, now!”
The load boss snorted and held up an ancient portable radio. “Can’t. They’re out of my line of sight. Unless you want to climb up a tree and call them yourself.”
As Peelak and the bully argued, two of Daesarae’s men spotted Tartai and waddled over to look at him. “You’re awful pale,” one observed. “You sick?”
“Only in the head,” Tartai grinned.
The joke sailed over the dark-brown male’s head. His dark green compatriot eased closer and sniffed Tartai, giving the light-brown-and-tan striped logger a suspicious look. “I heard that chemical bleach passes from the dam. You a bleach-brain?”
“No more than you’ve got deathtouch. Although you look like a carrier.” Tartai started shifting his weight, getting ready to fight.
“You calling me a rotten blood?”
Tartai spread his forefeet a little wider and rocked back almost onto his hindlegs. “No, just saying that you look like you spent too much time under a southern sun.”
“You!” The dark green one charged Tartai. Tartai rose onto his hind legs and slashed Daesarae’s tough with his climbing claws, leaving four bone-deep, blood-spurting gashes on his muzzle. The dark-brown goon started towards Tartai before realizing that the light-colored male stood a lot bigger than he looked. Three other loggers joined Tartai and growled at Daesarae’s bullies. The pair retreated to stand with their leader.
“What?” The chief bully blinked at all the blood spraying from his associate’s muzzle. “What’s going on here?”
“That storm-catch attacked us without cause,” the dark green soldier whined. His partner gestured his agreement while trying to stanch the bleeding.
“Your subordinate expressed concern about my markings. Then he inquired as to the sharpness of my climbing gear, and in satisfying his curiosity got a little to close.” Tartai watched the gears turning in the bully’s head as he sorted out Tartai’s words.
“He’s a bleach-brain.”
“He’s Lord Tarkeela’s oldest male,” the pack boss corrected. Tartai clenched his jaws as Daesarae’s men backed up, now giving Tartai looks of respect. Damn but he was sick of people invoking his sire’s name.
“And you are the ones trespassing on Schree’s Rest land. If you don’t leave, we’ll take your transport and let you walk back to Lord Daesarae.” Beeltal swung his tail in a wide, sweeping gesture and the loggers formed a line, advancing on the soldiers.
To be continued . . .
(C) 2016 Alma T.C. Boykin All Rights Reserved.