Excerpt: Lost Crusader of Maruzar 4

Now the Keshai were being forced back and away from the rocks surrounding the oasis, enabling bands of the Yarguun to attempt breaking in. The old men holding the remounts, all of them volunteers, drove the last of their charges stampeding against the foe then closed in. They all died with honor.

Art by Alexander Garlick

The Yarguun swarmed onward. But the youths and maidens on the rocks loosed a deadly barrage of arrows and slung stones at them, checking their advance.

Zadria, her wounded arm fully healed by the Talvar Matra’s psionic gift, stood atop a rock whirling a sling of her own. She still lacked the strength to bend an adult’s bow or cast a javelin with killing force, but even a child could handle a sling, and she had a sure eye and hand. And when a Yarguun warrior somehow managed to evade all the missiles and climb up to the rock where she stood with a dozen other Zorai striplings, it was Zadria who picked up a thorncrown ‘broom’ and thrust it at the Yarguun’s face. It fell, already dying from the thorncrown’s poison.

Then a boy slapped an oily, struggling thing into her hand, and Zadria looked down to find herself holding the gemlike brilliance of a Varanite render beetle by the edges of its carapace. Scissor-like mandibles clacked but could not reach her fingers the way she held it. “Blow on it to put it to sleep, then sling it!” the boy shouted at her. “But be quick and don’t you dare drop it!”

Zadria obeyed. The bug curled up into an inert ball when she breathed on it, allowing her to load it into her sling. Heart racing at the thought it might wake up and spill out before she could cast it, she whirled her sling only thrice then let fly at a Yarguun warrior. She missed. But another Yarguun must have stepped on the beetle, for suddenly that warrior fell over, howling like a damned soul and clutching its leg, which now gushed crimson as the awakened alien insect, an evil thing that came with the Swarm, used its terribly sharp mandibles to tunnel into the living flesh. All around the rocks, other Yarguun were encountering the nasty living landmines and dropping in agony.

But it was not enough. Not enough.

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