Don't get me wrong, I love sci fi too, and all of what I've published falls into that genre. But I just finished editing an epic fantasy that I'm shopping at my publisher (cross your fingers, everyone) and I also just finished reading A Way of Kings, so epic fantasy is on my mind at the moment.
First of all, everyone should read a Way of Kings. It's a fantastic novel.
Second, I figured I'd post an excerpt from my own epic fantasy (the story is M/M, but the excerpt here is clean). It was the first story I ever completed, and I've polished it since.
“Nathan? What is it, are you okay?”
“Yeah, I just…It’s awfully humid, isn’t it?” Nathan looked at Sam expectantly, hoping that the other mage would have a reason for it.
Sam eyes widened as he reached the same realization. “It is. And the air didn’t move. I don’t work with weather, do you?”
Nathan remembered the captain’s warning from the day before. If anything odd were to occur, he was supposed to tell her. He didn’t much like the idea of being a messenger boy, but this qualified as a strange occurrence. He knew how the winds and atmosphere worked, and humidity did not simply appear out of nowhere like it just had. It took hours for water to saturate the air to this degree, not seconds. “We need to tell the captain.”
Sam followed on Nathan’s heels as the blond man strode purposefully toward the lower decks. “What do you think it is? Could it be the enemy ship? They’re so far ahead of us; I don’t see how it could be. Unless it’s another one of Auros’s ships for reinforcement against us.” Sam babbled nervously, and Nathan tried to tune him out. Sam’s voice only aggravated Nathan more.
“Where’s the captain!?” Nathan shouted down the first person he found in the hallway, who jumped at the sight of both mages rushing through the ship, one of whom carried a sword.
“Um, if she’s not in her quarters then I don’t know where she is. What’s wrong?” The man looked from Sam to Nathan and back. “Should I sound an alarm?”
As if in response, the ship lurched to one side, throwing Nathan forcefully to the ground. Sam’s sword clattered to the floor, and Nathan thought frantically about what could have caused this. Nothing logical came to mind. His heart leapt to his throat, and he tried to remember the battle tactics from the war.
“Mages, help!” The man shouted. The ship did not right itself, and the entire hallway slanted sharply. Sam slid ungracefully on his knees, and Nathan still lay on the floor on his stomach. If the ship had been hit, it would have bobbed back by now, and Nathan had not sensed an impact. Something far weirder was happening. He had dealt with fire mages before, but this was something completely new. His instincts told him to stay down.
“Mages, what’s happening!?” The man they had met in the hallway shrieked shrilly, and managed to get to his feet, stumbling on the uneven floor. “I’ll sound the alarm!”
Nathan didn’t have the chance to tell the man that sounding the alarm would be useless at this point before the ship slammed back, the strange force holding it down apparently gone.
Something smacked wetly, and Nathan turned. The poor man lay unconscious, blood trickling down at the point of impact against the wall, and Nathan found himself staring, slightly disturbed. That could have been him, yesterday.
“We need to get on deck!” Sam yelled, and Nathan tore his gaze away from the unfortunate man.
He ran down the hall ahead of Sam, filled with adrenaline. He didn’t know how he would fight this, or even if he could, and he struggled to think of a magic technique that could pitch a ship and hold it. Nothing came to mind.
An air mage couldn’t summon the impact to push over a ship without splintering it, much less have the strength to hold it down. Besides, Nathan would have sensed the use of air. Earth mages were almost powerless on water, and if it were a fire mage the ship would be burning by now. Could it be…No. Tom was dead. Another like him, perhaps? Nathan didn’t want to even consider it, and for a moment, he understood why fire mages would feel threatened by water.
From the options, Nathan hoped it was a group of air mages that were hiding their tactics somehow. He didn’t want to think about the captain’s message about ships sinking without explanation. He didn’t want to be a victim of something he couldn’t fight.
The air mage burst through the doors that led to the deck, and stood momentarily stunned.
The rain drenched Nathan in seconds, and he could almost feel the weight of the water, as if someone was continually pouring a bucket on him. The force of the rain hurt, like tiny rocks hitting Nathan’s skin.
That at least ruled out the option of a fire mage. No fire mage would work in rain that made it hard to see a foot in front of you, and Nathan blinked hard, trying to clear his vision without success. The downpour burned his eyes with its force.
The air mage had never seen rain like this, though he had heard that some Lords dealt with monstrous storms that flooded entire islands. But those Lords ruled far from here.
He hoped very much that this was not the work of a water mage, and he dared not voice his fear to Sam. Could Auros have water mages, and intend to begin the war anew?
“Nathan…what do we do?” Everything was quiet, despite the smack of the rain hitting the wood. Sam held his sword ready, but there didn’t seem to be anything to fight. There were no foreign ships in sight that enemy mages could work from. Nathan squinted against the rain. Clouds blackened the sky.
Nathan fought down the rising panic in his chest, and repeated to himself the battle mantra Archibald had taught him. Keep calm, breathe, and keep your senses sharp. Keep calm, breathe.
“We have to try to get rid of this rain…I don’t like it.” Nathan practically had to shout over the sound of the downpour.
“Are you stupid? This is probably natural, a freak storm or something. We shouldn’t worry.” Sam’s anxious tone and the viselike grip he held his sword with belied his words.
Nathan closed his eyes, ignoring Sam and beginning to work with the drenched air. It was harder with the intense rain, and he struggled to find a place to start. His concentration broke when the ship lurched again, and he cursed, trying to steady himself. Luckily, the ship did not stay slanted like it had before, and Nathan managed to stay on his feet, though barely.
“Nathan, over there!” Sam shook him, which didn’t help Nathan’s balance, and pointed towards the other side of the ship. “Listen!” Nathan heard nothing but the sounds of the rain until a harsh sound punctuated the silence. Someone was fighting…something.
Sam stood, apparently frozen with fear, holding his sword unsteadily at his side. “Is it something we can help with?” He obviously didn’t want it to be.
Nathan didn’t bother to respond, swallowing his fear and running toward the source of the noise. As a mage, it was his duty to protect others from magic that they couldn’t fight, and this was obviously something a mage would have to handle. He heard Sam curse and follow behind him.
Whatever had begun needed to be dealt with.
The rain obscured his vision and slowed him down, and Nathan had to rely on his knowledge of the ship as he moved forward. He suddenly stumbled, a sword skittering as he nearly fell over it. Why would a soldier drop their sword? And where was the soldier?
“Which way, do you think?” Nathan asked Sam, who bit his lip.
“How should I know?” Sam responded. Nathan looked away. They were wasting time! He listened hard for any more sounds of battle, but heard nothing. The rain made it impossible.
“Mages!” The captain’s harsh voice oriented him, and she appeared out of the rain, her hair plastered to her scalp. She kicked the sword further away angrily. “I have ordered the soldiers below deck, so you must solve this. What is going on?”
Sam looked fearfully at her.“ I-”
A high pitched scream stopped him. Conversation abandoned, they began to run toward the sound. He sensed Sam using magic, a shielding technique.
The woman screamed again, and as he turned his head toward the sound he was suddenly hit with a thick, warm liquid, and the coppery scent of blood filled his nostrils. Something thudded nearby and he froze, suddenly terrified, almost uncaring of the blood that now stained his clothing and dripped off his face. Someone had been attacked beside him, and he hadn’t seen it. Why couldn’t he see anything!? He took a step back, preparing to run the other way. His whole body vibrated in fear, the calming mantra forgotten.
“Nathan!” Sam suddenly appeared beside him, and grabbed his shoulder. “Focus, you idiot!” Why could he see Sam clearly through the rain? “Nathan, put up a shield! She needs help!”
The rational idea made its way into Nathan’s panicky brain, and he did so. Calm came over him once the rain no longer struck, and he drew in deep breaths of dryer air to relax. He could see clearly in the radius of the shield. He realized he was covered in blood and told himself to ignore it, extending his shield to cover more ground.
The shield was incredibly difficult to hold with the rain pounding it, and he only maintained it for a second before pulling it back to cover the bare minimum. He saw a person fallen in that instant, a woman who lay prone, her eyes open in shock and a hand over a gaping injury on her side. Her sword, too, lay beside her, as though she had never even attempted to lift it.
A long distance attack, then. The shield would be useful, if he could defend against both the rain and whatever occurred. He told himself to be detached. He couldn’t afford to panic again.
“Clarise!” Sam bellowed and ran to the fallen woman’s side, nearly falling on the watery deck. “Clarise, what was it? Talk to me, please!”
The captain narrowed her eyes, and moved to help, or perhaps just to get information from the injured woman. Nathan tried to extend the shield over her, and at the same moment some force skittered alongside it, a red line appearing on the Captain’s side and doubling her over.
She gasped and lost her footing. Blood dripped on the deck before she leapt back to her feet. His shield had saved her, but she still staggered with the injury. “To the right!”
She gestured with her sword, and Nathan extended his shield to cover the area where she pointed. He thought something brushed it, but it vanished.
That unnerved him. Whatever they fought knew about magic, and had dodged out of the range of his shield. It wanted the cover of the rain. He held the shield, looking around, as the captain held her ground. She bled onto the deck, but stood resolutely on her feet. For a moment, everything stood still.
“Damnit, cover more!” She screamed at him, her voice almost breaking with the effort of yelling, or perhaps pain. Nathan complied.
Nathan barely saw the movement as his quickly expanding shield uncovered the man. He was unarmed, and moved impossibly fast to escape the shield, but the captain moved to intercept him even faster.
Her sword slashed at the same moment that a spike of water beneath her feet toppled her. The sword missed and she went down one knee, the blood from both wounds mingling with the water beneath her. She did not move to get up, her chest heaving. In the moment that they stood there, Nathan was so stunned that he dropped the shield.
The man was naked, and had long brown hair that fell down to his waist. He was tall, though not quite as tall as Nathan, with defined muscles that signaled dangerous predatory strength. He had almost no expression, as if attempting to kill a captain was a matter of course for him. One of his eyes was a milky white, the skin around it whitened, attesting to a previous burn. The other blazed blue.