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The Lex Chronicles, Book 1
The Edge of Nothing book cover

The Edge of Nothing

Crystal Crawford

2017

 

Lex

 

Lex groaned, stirring in his chair. Pain spread through his body as he blinked his eyes open. Even his eyelids hurt.

“Look who’s awake,” a voice spat.

Lex blinked again, struggling to focus his blurry vision. 

Sour breath filled his nostrils as the man towering over him leaned down, inches from Lex’s face. “Not so fierce now, are you?”

Lex's arms were bound behind him. No wonder his shoulders hurt. His arms and legs were both tied to the chair. “Where am I?” he asked, surprised by how rough his own voice sounded.

The man circled Lex’s chair, taking him in. “You don’t look so tough. You don’t look much more than a boy.” He shoved Lex’s head, and the chair tipped precariously before righting itself back onto the packed-dirt floor with a thud. Lex felt the back of the chair give under the impact. “How old are you, eighteen? Stupid kid.”

Seventeen, Lex felt his mind respond. Now that he was waking up more, anxiety crept in. He had no memory of how he got here, of this man, of any of it. 

They were in a small room with a dirt floor, wood-panel walls that leaked thin strips of light, no windows, and one door. Metal tools like those used for farming hung from large, wooden pegs on one wall. A lantern swayed from a hook on the ceiling above them, its dim light shifting the shadows from wall to wall as it swung. A wheelbarrow filled with something dark sat in one corner.

Lex eyed the man. He was large, muscled, and his tanned skin looked tough as leather. He wore dark brown trousers, boots, and a dingy tunic. Laugh lines edged his eyes. Lex couldn’t imagine this man laughing. 

The man crossed his arms over his chest, revealing forearms covered in thick, reddish hair that matched the curly tuft atop his head. The man looked like he could rip a tree up from the roots and barely break a sweat.

There were footsteps and voices outside the door.

“Now the real fun starts,” the man said, and his smile sent a chill down Lex’s spine.

 

The door slammed open and sunlight poured into the room, along with a half-dozen men. Farmers, Lex realized. They wore work trousers and boots caked with mud, and even in the dim room, Lex could see they were all tanned and muscled from labor in the sun. They were the type of people Lex might think of as decent, working folk, if they weren't studying him like a pack of hyenas who spotted prey. They hung back, making a loose semi-circle in front of the open door. Other than the man who had shoved Lex earlier, none of them seemed to want to get close to him. Maybe they didn’t see him as prey, Lex thought; maybe he was a caged predator.

 

Fear surged through Lex again as he realized he truly didn’t know why he was here, or even whether he was the victim or a perpetrator. Had he done something to anger these people? He couldn’t remember anything before waking up in this room. His memories were only glimpses, flashing and fading so quickly he couldn’t make them out. He tried to focus the memories, to seize one of them, but they slipped away as though he were trying to grasp oil. Panic swelled within him. He could remember nothing about his past, other than an awareness of his name and the general sense he felt about himself. He didn’t think he would have hurt anyone or done anything to justify being trapped here, but how could he say for sure if he didn’t even know who he was? That thought scared him more than the crowd of men staring him down, but he swallowed his fear and forced himself to meet their eyes.

 

Most of the men looked to be between their thirties and fifties in age, and their faces displayed varying degrees of uncertainty, fear, and anger. The man who shoved Lex stood in the front of the group, surlier than the rest. In the back stood a teenage boy, dirty and tanned like the rest but without their accumulation of muscle. The boy avoided looking at Lex, hiding behind the cluster of men. One other man stood off to the side, different than the rest. He was clean, well-shaven, and meticulously dressed in fine trousers and a spotless, white tunic. A startling shock of thick, black hair topped his narrow head, combed neatly to one side. His boots looked barely walked in, and his face betrayed no emotion beyond a slight air of skepticism.

 

Lex decided the man in the clean tunic must be in charge. The eyes of all the others kept sneaking glances in his direction, as though waiting for him to make the first move; he controlled the group with the nonchalant presence of someone who felt confident enough in his authority to have no need of asserting it.

 

Lex cleared his throat, and some of the men shifted nervously. He focused his eyes on the man with the black hair. “Why am I here?” Lex asked, taking care this time to control his voice so it wouldn’t sound weak or frightened.

 

Surprise sparked in the man’s eyes at Lex’s decision to address him over any of the others, but he said nothing. He looked back at Lex silently, studying him.

 

The man who had shoved Lex earlier stepped forward. “You know why you’re here, you filth.”

 

Whatever Lex had done, it was clearly very bad. Unless he was innocent. It was unsettling not knowing for sure. Lex was beginning to worry, but something inside of him stirred, a steel-smooth whisper like a sword blade unsheathing. You’ve gotten out of worse than this, it purred. You have this under control. Lex let its calm confidence spread through him, warming the chill of his fear. He focused his eyes on the man before him. “No, I don’t,” he said. “Why don’t you explain it to me?”

 

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