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Once Upon a Darker Time Excerpt
by MJ Bell

Deston’s pulse quickened and his senses went on high alert. Slowly, he straightened and looked around. As he concentrated on his surroundings, he picked up on the sound of heavy breathing and the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. Someone was close by, but he couldn’t tell if it was a friend or foe. He peered deeper into the shadows and then flinched as a low, raspy voice spoke from within the darkness.

“I must say, I’m a bit surprised the Fae would allow their new found prince to venture out into the forest alone,” the voice stated with a hint of contempt.

Deston jumped at the sound and flipped around to face the direction of the voice, his hands coming up in front of his face, ready for an attack. His heart was pounding inside his chest and as Rellik stepped out of the shadows, his eyes widened in shock. The last time Deston had seen the colossal wolf was when Rellik leapt into the abbey. Deston assumed the wolf had been killed when the building collapsed on top of him and the shock of seeing Rellik standing less than ten feet away was only surpassed by Rellik’s appearance.

The white of Rellik’s left eye was blood red and the pupil was a cloudy white. A yellowy liquid oozed from the corner of the eye and crystals had crusted all the way around the lid. The fur on the left side of his face, as well as most of the fur along his left side, was gone, except for a few small patches here and there. The exposed skin was splotched pink and red, with ugly crinkled scabs and scars. He was thinner than when Deston last saw him, but the weight loss actually emphasized the powerful muscles of his chest and legs, making him look more threatening than ever.

As Deston gawked, the right corner of Rellik’s mouth lifted somewhat as the left side drooped to give him a twisted half smile. “So tell me then … why is it the Fae would allow their young prince to come to the forest all alone, knowing Grossard is still seeking his revenge?”

Deston visibly tensed and his eyes widened even further as horror replaced the look of surprise. Grossard is still alive? The words silently slammed into his brain.

Seeing Deston’s reaction, Rellik cocked his head. “Oh come now, don’t tell me you didn’t know?” Rellik hesitated and studied Deston another moment. “You didn’t, did you? They never told you Grossard survived!” He chuckled deep in his throat, which quickly turned into a fit of coughing. When he regained his composure, he didn’t bother to wipe the drool dripping from his mouth. “I swear I don’t know how They can be the chosen ones and guardians of this planet. They are so naïve about so many things.” He shook his head in amazement. “Though I’ve thought Them foolish many times in how They handled things, this—not telling you about Grossard and letting you come here without a guard—this is beyond foolishness!” Rellik took a step forward, the corner of his mouth lifting higher, stretching his lips back to expose more of his teeth. “So I can’t help but wonder if fate has brought you here for me to find, or—”

Before Rellik finished his sentence, there was a loud crack within the shadows of the trees. Both Deston and Rellik looked up just in time to see a tree trunk arching toward them. They both jumped backward as the tree fell into the center of the clearing, bouncing up once before settling between them. As the sound of the crash quieted, several indecipherable yells echoed through the trees along with the boom of feet pounding into the ground. Then five giant ogres appeared at the edge of the clearing. Upon seeing Rellik and Deston standing there, they slid to a stop, their ugly faces contorted even more than usual by their surprise.

Deston took a couple of steps back and reached behind him, trying to be inconspicuous as he broke off a branch of the tree to use as a makeshift weapon. Rellik’s eyes narrowed and he lifted his head to stand taller.

“What are you doing here, Iccasor? This is not your normal haunt,” Rellik growled.

Iccasor stared back in a daze, as surprised to see Rellik as Rellik was to see him. He hadn’t been told the wolf was back and his first thought was he was being upstaged once again. The last time Grossard sent him after Deston, Rellik had stolen his glory. To think it was going to happen again pushed Iccasor past the point of reason. In his tiny brain he reasoned Grossard didn’t trust him enough to capture the boy on his own and in an instant his surprise turned into indignation.

Narrowing his eyes, he purposely moved forward with the resolve to be the victor and claim the prize himself. “We have the situation under control here, Rellik, so I suggest you return to whatever freak show you belong to and leave the boy to us.” The four other ogres chuckled callously at Iccasor’s intended sting.

Rellik ignored the gibe about his appearance and shook his head. “Yes … well, I’m afraid you are mistaken as usual, Iccasor. You have nothing under control here.”

Iccasor tensed at Rellik’s words, but after a quick assessment of Rellik’s apparent weakened state, he took a step forward with confidence. Rellik wasn’t intimidated and he too stepped forward. At Rellik’s bold response Iccasor’s eyes went hard and he brought his club up, slapping it loudly against the palm of his hand. At the same time the other ogres silently moved back, vanishing into the shadows to surround the perimeter of the clearing while Iccasor kept Rellik occupied.

“Grossard sent me to capture the boy, not you, Rellik, so there’s no reason for you to be here. I will be taking the boy back. You can either step aside or suffer the consequences.”

Rellik eyed Iccasor with malice. He despised ogres. They were stupid, ugly, and what’s more, they had an obnoxious smell. Before his injury he could have, and would have, taken care of the whole lot of them, but at the present he knew he was still too weak to take on this many. However, he didn’t want them to know that, and so with as much indifference as he could muster, he relaxed his stance.

“I don’t wish to take your glory, Iccasor. That,” he said in a softer tone, tilting his head toward Deston, “is all yours. I’m only here to make sure nothing happens to our … umm, your captive.”

Deston stood rigid, watching Rellik and Iccasor argue over who was going to deliver him to Grossard. He’d seen the four ogres move into the shadows and once they disappeared, he held his breath and inched slowly backward to take advantage of Rellik and Iccasor’s distraction. All he needed to do was make it to the trees and find a place to hide before they realized he was gone and he might have a chance.

He moved silently and as quickly as he could. The edge of the clearing was only a few feet away, but suddenly a nauseating smell assaulted him from behind and before he knew what was happening, two large stubby hands grabbed his arms and launched him into the air. He landed in a heap between Rellik and Iccasor, stunned and with the breath knocked out of him.

Iccasor didn’t flinch, or even look surprised. The second Deston hit the ground the ogre jumped forward and put an enormous, mud-caked foot on Deston’s back. “Going somewhere?” he sneered.

Deston let out an “oomph” as Iccasor’s foot crushed him into the ground, forcing the rest of the air from his lungs.