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A note from Barbara J Webb

Twisted Loyalties Cover

Korin had learned to live with nightmares. It had taken only a few days on the warfront for them to start, and they’d been a part of his life ever since.

The voices were always the same. The screams, the sobs, the moans. People in pain, suffering. Korin could hear them, could see them, could walk among them, but he could never help. Every time he tried, every time he reached out to touch, they would crumble and blow away like ashes on the wind.

So he walked among them on the blood-soaked battlefield. On the earth scorched black by fire and magic. Among men who were twitching piles of scorched flesh, men who had been literally torn apart, men with sword wounds and axe wounds, with crushed bones and caved skulls, drowning in pools of their own blood. All crying out to him. Begging. Pleading. For help. For release.

Korin could do nothing.

At the center of the battlefield stood a tree. Dark. Twisted. Dead. Under a moonless sky, it cast its shadow over the dead, gnarled fingers of blackness that touched each and every body. As Korin walked towards the tree, those same shadows criss-crossed his own body, scratched at his skin, caught in his hair.

A great snake, so dark it was invisible against the tree, lifted its head at Korin’s approach. It oozed the decaying energy of the blight. Korin met its silver serpent eyes. The snake, she—for it was a she—slid down the tree and onto Korin’s outstretched arm.

They suffer. The snake spoke in Korin’s mind. The voice of the knife, the voice of the tree. The voice of death.

Korin stood still as the snake wrapped around him, settling her weight across his shoulders and around his waist. All the while, his attention was on the battlefield, on the tortured, dying men. “I can’t help them.”

The snake responded to the sadness in Korin’s voice, rubbed her head against his face. Her scales were warm and surprisingly soft. We can help them. You and I. Together.

Korin knew it was wrong. The snake—the tree—they couldn’t help. They could only destroy. The blight, it was worse than anything the men on the battlefield suffered. And yet…and yet…

There’s nothing to fear, my darling, my heart. You love these people, and so do I.

“No,” Korin whispered. “You don’t love them. You torture them. You kill them.”

The serpent stroked his face again, a gentle touch, despite the prickling darkness of the blight. They don’t understand. They fear my power, but that makes it no less a gift. The serpent’s tail wound around Korin’s arm, lifting it with irresistible strength. Show them, Korin. Show them my love. Show them yours.

Power flowed from Korin’s hand, light and darkness twined together. His power, the tree’s power, merged as one. It spread across the field, a cloud of energy that left silence everywhere it touched.

Korin tried to stop it, tried to close his hand, but he couldn’t. He opened his mouth to scream, but the snake darted in, filling his mouth, his throat. Its power moved over him, through him, the blight eating away at him from the inside.

Dragging him down into darkness.

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