This is just the short prologue of a new novel I’ve begun writing. I’ve been reading a lot of fantasy lately and figured I’d try my hand at it. This is from what will be the first book in a five to seven book series. With that being said, I’m hoping that a few readers of the genre might come across this and voice to me their opinions — what works/what doesn’t, or maybe even some advice. If you only comment to tell me it’s trash, hey, I’ll take it. Any feedback is appreciated.
The Stained Fallow
The Tomes of the Seer
At the edge of the world, echoing throughout the Swathed Hills, the last clangor of steel against steel faded to a final silence. Thryor Pass was quiet now. The last body had fallen — a brave boy who rode upon his father’s horse. His father lay at his side, the crown that once rested upon his head was tarnished and scathed, lying in amongst the other filth and fodder of the battlefield. The King had been dethroned, his throat severed, his heir slain; his dynasty lay in blood and dismemberment for leagues around him, and his castle was held now by the women, children, and elderly locked in his great keep. No one was there to guard them or the peasant folk now. Every knight, solider, and guard had been sent to battle, and every one had failed. The pass ran red — a knotted river of blood, damned by the fetid corpses of King Boraan’s army.
Before them stood a shadow of a man, blood slowly dripping into quiet pools at his feet. He wore no mail or plate — just black breeches, tunic, and sword belt. He wore no shield. His clothes were hacked to pieces, but he harbored no wound. He looked upon the King, his son, their guard, and he scoffed. His black and scorched skin flaked in the wind — ashes trembling upon his arms like dead leaves clinging to a broken branch. Behind dead eyes, white and seamless as the mountain snow, he scanned the ground, searching for a breathe or twitch or any sign of life’s final stubbornness.
The wind seemed to die then, and in Dra’amok’s rotting ears, he heard labored breaths, like gravel in a wine flagon. His placid eyes scanned the ground again, until they rested on a knight he was all but standing on. The man’s face ran red, clotting in his beard, and beneath the dirt and gore that covered his forehead, the smooth white crest of wetted bone glistened beneath a flap of scalp that hung beneath his helm.
“You…monster.” His breath plugged with wetness, and he spat a clump of gray and red onto the creature’s foot. He struggled to move, his fingers inching along the dirt to where his sword lay, just feet away.
Dra’amok knelt down beside the knight, staring at him with endless eyes. He watched him edge closer to his sword bit by bit until he was barely a fingertip away. A grin crept across the monster’s face. Nonchalantly, he nudged the sword just far enough away, and then reached down and grabbed the dying man by the wrist. He used the knight’s own hand then to wipe off the gob of blood and bile that was spat on his boot, before flinging his arm back down at the ground., with a hard, wet, slap.
The dying knight squeezed his eyes shut, pain wrinkling his face, as a single tear rolled down his quivering cheek. “You’ll pay, demon.” The man’s breathe gurgled in his throat then, and a thin trickle of blood spilled out of the corner of his mouth. He coughed, spraying a red mist into the air that slowed and fell back to land on his face. His eyes began to roll backward, and his eyelids fluttered as they strained to stay open.
Before the knight could take his final breath, the ashen beast who had slain him drew a dagger from his hip and knelt down to look the knight in the eyes. With a voice like wind in a thunderstorm, he said, “I will not pay, for I am the payment. I am eternal. I am the ink that fills the books of time. I am the sand that swallows cities whole. I am the forest that crumbles monuments, and you are part of me now.” He ripped the mail from the knights chest and tossed it to the side. He took the dagger and slid it through the fabric of the man’s jerkin, exposing his chest, and then he plunged the dagger in next to the sternum and began to carve.
The knight’s eyes flew open momentarily and he screamed, startling the carrion crows who exploded into the air, leaving their feast behind. His eyes closed, finally, and his screams faded as his heart gave its long last final thump. After he cut it free, Dra’amok lifted the knight’s heart to examine it in the falling sun, and then he began to eat it. With each bite and swallow of warm muscle and blood, the blackened, scarred, burned flesh that covered his body began to flake off in larger and larger sheets, giving birth to fresh, moist skin that steamed in the summer heat. He was being renewed, made whole again after loosing another pitiful husk of mortal flesh.
As his skin transformed, and the color began to return to his deadened eyes, he formed the bond in his mind. He reached out, envisioning fingers stretching from his mind to wrap themselves around the cooling body of the knight he had consumed, and he pulled. As his mind craned and clawed at the visage of the dead man, Dra’amok’s bones creaked and cracked as they moved to form the shape of the dead knight. His back straightened and his neck pulled backward. His jaw moved forward and cracked into place. He was forced to the ground on hands and knees as the joints in his legs and arms pulled apart with deep sucking sounds. He grew then, matching the height of the man on the ground, and as his bones all split and snapped back into place, whiskers sprouted from the new skin on his face, and dark green irises formed within his eyes. His hair, now brown, snaked down and came to a rest just above his brow.
Dra’amok became what the knight had been, and the knight, dead, was nothing as he was before. Where he had lain, rested a corpse that was thin and brittle. Black, cracking skin stretched tight over nothing but bones. His eye sockets were deep, black holes, and his lips curled inside his mouth, stretched taught over crumbling teeth. In a few moments, only dust would remain.
The demon rose to his feet, and began stomping on the corpse, speeding the process, smiling as he did so. Black, flaky ashes burst into the air, and fell like poisoned snow back toward the ground. Dra’amok picked up the clothes and armor left behind, shaking out the remaining flecks of depleted flesh that once had been a man. He stripped his clothes and adorned the undergarments of the knight. He laced the jerking and clasped the armor on himself, as if he had done it a million times before. He picked up the helmet last, and tipped it over, letting the knights ashes poor out and fly in the breeze. He was whole again, and there was nobody to stop him now, nobody who would even name him. He was just a knight, now. A knight who saved the realm from the demon Dra’amok. A sadistic smirk cut its way across his face, and he put his shoulders back and began the long trek to the gates of the Kingdom of Thrym. They would crown him, he knew, after they searched the battlefield and found the remains of every man from the kingdom. Every man but himself — just a knight who saved the realm…
He laughed then, a sharp bark that echoed throughout the pass, bouncing off the cliffs that surrounded it. Amongst the echo that floated back to his ears, another sound came as well. A thump and a clack rang out through the air, and behind Dra’amok, over near the edged cliffs of the Swathed Hills, he saw a few stones tumble down and land with a cloud of dust at the base. His eyes quickly rose to the horizon, and there he saw a lone man, perched on top of his horse with his hand to shield the falling sun. He was staring at the demon, and when he saw the demon stare back he turned in a gallop and rode out of sight, leaving behind wisps of dirt to float tenderly through the air.
Someone had seen him.
Dra’amok let a scream escape his lungs, long and violent, it carried throughout the pass. He pulled his sword from his belt and pointed it to the sky, pointed it to where the unknown rider stood watching him, knowing the truth. Is he Thryorian? Has he seen it all? The urge to follow the rider was almost greater than the urge to claim his throne. Rage seeped through his pores as he pictured himself catching the man and slicing him open; smelling the stink of his fear-laced sweat; eating his still beating heart. It wouldn’t be possible, though. By the time he climbed into the hills, darkness would have fallen and then his kingdom as well as his prey would be lost. But he knows.
Forgetting the kingdom for a moment, Dra’amok sought the bond. He closed his eyes and let his mind reach. He saw himself standing alone on the battlefield and then his vision rose, flying, soaring toward the cliff like a bird. He reached farther, and he saw the tops of the hills. His mind swept through the trees, reaching, searching for the rider, and then there he was. The black horse galloped through the old forest, throwing arcs of dirt and crushed leaves high into the air. The rider’s long brown hair flapped with the speed of the run, floating in the air like a sheet in a windstorm. Sweat glistened on the rider’s neck and he looked back over his shoulder. No, not a he. A woman.
The bond shimmered. Dra’amok’s vision glistened and almost failed at the shock, wavering like a mirage in the summer heat. He pushed harder. The woman, no, the girl, looked back over her shoulder with bright blue eyes, wrapped in a knowing fear. She was running from him. He could feel her fear, encompassing her, enveloping her, more important than the ache in her legs or the stings of the small branches as they whipped across her face. He pushed harder. Amongst her fear, there was another smell, also familiar to the demon. She smelled of hate. A burning, writhing hatred, so strong, so potent, it filled his nostrils with greater force than the hatred of any single man he had slain in the pass.
It was no matter. She would die, nonetheless — hating him, fearing him still — especially if she interfered with the Shadow’s wishes. Serving the Shadow was all that was important, and nothing would interfere with Dra’amok’s serving. Nothing, not man, knight, woman, or girl. But, who was she? Why was she there, and had she really seen him? He reached harder for her, his mind’s tendrils snaking forth to penetrate her skull. He had to know.
But, the harder he tried, the faster the horse seemed to go, and the more stuck his bond became. She looked back, right at where his mind was viewing her, as if she could see something, could see him there, chasing right behind her. Her eyes grew ever bigger, and she dug harder and harder with her heels, kicking the stallion to a ferocious gallop. Dra’amok was losing his bond. He tried to penetrate, to enter her and discover the answers to the questions that could unravel his plans if unanswered, but, she resisted. Nobody resists.
It was a waste. Even if he caught her mind, he didn’t have her flesh, and she was too far off to be able to will her to come back to him in time. No, he though. A kingdom awaits. As his view of the strange girl who rode the great black stallion faded, he studied her, etching into his memory the curves of her face, the tones of her skin, the smell of her flesh, and then he let her go.
He opened his eyes, and the bond was broken. His vision ripped back through the tress, over the hill, and down the cliff’s side, before returning to his head. “I will find you, young one. And I will have you.” He tore his eyes away from the cliff, and began his march back toward the main gate. It would still be half a day before he got there.
In his pure form, it would have been much faster, but with each new mortal skin adorned, came hindrances he hadn’t known existed before. Where his kind served the Shadow, he moved with the wind, but he couldn’t appear to mortals that way, if they’d even seen him at all. He needed flesh to rule. He needed flesh in order to serve in this way for now.
The sun was just behind the horizon of the forest that backed the Kingdom of Thrym by the time he got to the eastern Gate, and darkness lay like a thick blanket throughout the land. There were no torches burning within the walls, or candles in the windows. No watch fires gave light to guards or sentries of any kind, and no voice was there to greet or question him. His, the Knight’s triumphant return from battle was lost in the empty sound of dusk bouncing off the steel and oaken gate.
The false knight glared at the sentry platforms, and then looked to the guard towers, hoping he had missed somebody who was just a little to afraid to put him to question. There was no one. He took his shield, gripping the iron handle in his fist, and began pounding it against the steel reinforcements of the gate.
He banged again, this time so hard that scrapings of paint trickled to the floor from the shield, the painted sigil of a great helm scarred by lightning was now left distorted and malformed upon the face of the shield. He continued banging. By the time he heard the soft patter of footprints approach the gate from inside, the shield had been left dented and nearly unrecognizable.
“Chara? Is that you?” came a feeble young boy’s voice, barely audible from the other side of the great gate.
Chara, he asks for Chara, who is Chara? The rider, she knows, she knows…
When Dra‘amok didn‘t respond, the boy asked, this time shaking with fear, “Wh–who goes?”
“Open the viewer and see for yourself. It is just I.”
“Sir, I do not know who ‘I’, may be…”
“The viewer. Slide it open.”
“One minute, sir. I am not tall enough. I need to…find something to stand upon.” Grunting sounds came shortly from behind the gate, followed by a terrible scraping, like great iron claws ripping through stone boulders. Soon, whatever that had been moved, made a great clangor as it was heaved up against the gate. Shortly thereafter, the viewer opened, and two soft blue eyes appeared, looking Dra’amok up and down. The rider’s eyes, she knows…
For a moment, the boy whose eyes those two belonged did not speak, and instinctually, the demon sought the bond. Just before his mind could reach into the boy, he spoke. “Sir Hyrren? Is that you? Wh — where are all the others? The monster? Is he defeated. I…I…”
It is not the girl. She still runs. “The others are gone, boy. I slew the beast, I did. It is just me that is left. Now open the gate.” Hyrren, Hyrren. He would have to remember, his new name was Hyrren.
The boy stood still, hiding his gaping mouth under the hole of the viewer. Dra’amok could sense his amazement though, and started to wonder if his true nature was showing, if the change hadn’t taken completely, and some malformed part of his darker self shone through, distorting the image of the hero-knight. It couldn’t be that. I was thorough. Maybe the skin of the man he had taken had an ill repute. A coward? he thought. A coward, maybe he once was, but it was of no matter now. To these fools, he had slain a monster, a great beast of the Stained Fallow, a demon of mere legend, and consumer of men.
“Boy,” he said. “Open the gate and I’ll show you the sword that slew the creature. You’ll have a little tale to tell all your friends. Hurry now, it is almost full dark, and I don’t much want to be out here alone.” The demon stifled a laugh.
The viewer slammed shut, and the sounds of grunting and scraping and slamming came back, as surely the boy was returning his makeshift stool. Dra’amok strained his ears, though. Something suddenly was not right. In the brief silence that came after the clamor of the boy dragging off some heavy unseen object, the sounds of people whispering floated above the gate. Not just whispering. Conspiring.
There was a clank on the other side of the door, and then a hollow thunk as the cross beam to the gate was lifted out of place and leaned against the connecting wall. Dra’amok knocked loose his sword a few inches so he’d be able to pull it more quickly. Swords… he thought with disgust. Swords were nothing against the power the Shadow had given him, but he would use it, unfailingly, until appearances could not be kept. He hoped it wouldn’t come to that, but the yearning for unhindered slaughter crept throughout his thoughts making him lick his already cracking lips. His new skin was already tainted.
More grunting came from the other side of the door as the boy struggled to lift the iron locking bars the descended a foot into the earth. Dra’amok’s grip tightened on his sword hilt, and he hefted his shield in front of him, eager for what was on the other side.
After the last lock slid into place, only one of the two large doors that made up the gate began to swing inward. It opened less than far enough for a man to walk through sideways, before Dra’amok saw the boy who had let him in run quickly across the opening. His footsteps continued until the faded to silence after running some twenty meters or more. Fear. He could smell it on the boy.
But it wasn’t just the boy
As Dra’amok pushed the door open with his shield, a mob of townspeople and Highborn rushed him. Together, as one mob they held him at the mouth of the door by spear point and fork. Together, they all yelled questions, some the same, some selfish or irrelevant. Dra’amok barely heard. Their scent enveloped him. Fear gripped every single one of them, and they gave off the most pungent, vile, stink, lovely stink. He began to salivate, licking his lips, and grinding his teeth, and flaring his nostrils as wide as they’d go. You fool, he thought of himself. You are almost caught!
“Enough!” he yelled. The crowd quieted quickly, but didn’t lower their weapons by the width of a toenail. “What is the meaning of this?”
They all began yelling again at once. The fear in the air grew stronger.
Dra’amok used his shield to pin some of the spears and stakes against the wall by the gate, where he pulled his sword out and swung it around, breaking them all in one stroke. He took off his helm, and tossed it to the mob. He held his shield high in the air, showing the sigil to the crowd, but also offering his unguarded belly as a sign of truce.
For once, it seemed that they saw who he was. Whispers ran through the crowd, and he thought he heard one person cover a chuckle. They all dropped their weapons. One old man appeared before the crowd and spoke. “M’Lord. Apologies, sir, but…” he trailed off.
A short, kind-faced women stepped from the crowd to address him. “Sir…I mean…m’lord, we’re all just a little…scared. It’s been…well days. And we heard rumors…rumors of darkness. Of Shadow. Some say the Fallow is leaking. They say that is why all of you, you knights left us. The guards, too, to kill some beast that threatened our walls. Well…we just thought we couldn’t be too careful. Pardon, milord, but truly, we’d have even greeted the King like that. The King — where…?”
Dra’amok admired her for a moment before he spoke. “I’m no lord.” He remembered the boy had called him Sir, first. A knight is no lord. “You know me as Sir Hyrren. Keep it so.” He sheathed his sword.
“Yes, my…um…sir.” She cleared her throat. “What…well…what happened, you know?…Out there?”
“War,” he said. “ The King is dead. I saw him fall. Him and the Prince lie together in death‘s embrace. The prince, he was the last to be taken by the sword. As he fell, a thrust my own sword through the heart of the monster before he could focus his gaze on me.” Dra’amok nodded to the crowd. “They all fought valiantly.” He tried to choke back laughter at his own words, but nobody seemed to notice.
“What was it?” yelled a man from the back of the crowd.
“Wind Rider, ma’am. A depleter.”
Stunned silence filled the crowd for a few seconds, before a boy took off running toward somewhere deeper within the walls. A women cupped her hands around her mouth and yelled, informing anyone who hadn’t heard that the king was dead. Panic broke. People screamed prophecy, screamed of darkness and shadow come again. Dra’amok tried to stop them, tried to reassure them that the creature was dead. Nobody care. Women gathered their children and began running. Old men put their hands upon their heads and staggered aimlessly. Some children were left alone, and stood in the middle of the streets, crying. Then, the bells began to chime.
Deep, heavy bells rang over the city, covering the screams of mothers and the howling of the children. Dra’amok walked toward the steps that led to the keep of the great castle. Many looked at him in awe, and many more with anger and hatred burning in their eyes. It mattered not. These, most, were peasants. He needed to enter the castle before declaring himself the new king, if they’d allow it, and the castle was beyond the reach of these wretched creatures. If they didn’t allow it, they’d drown in Shadow. The fear in the air burned at his nostrils, and his human stomach rumbled with hunger. So much flesh, running, screaming, crying. It was all he could do not to just stick a hand out with a dagger and skewer one of them. Nobody would likely even notice. No. You must stay hidden.
The demon buried his longing inside of him, concentrating on the task at hand. Would he have to fight to enter the castle, he didn’t know. Either way, it wouldn’t have been much trouble. Most of the streets had been cleared by the time Dra’amok was exiting the common peoples’ town, and there was no time to find the gate boy again. Not then anyway. Before him, the wall of great stone arches with raised spiked iron gates wrung the mound that Castle Thrymdor sat crushingly. Just beyond the gates, huge stone steps wrapped the mound as well, ending at the entrances to the ground floor. The great keep lay within, where he would begin his reign.
As he passed under the arches, he glanced up at the iron spikes above him, and wondered why the gates had been raised. Had word reached the Kingdom that the enemy was defeated already? As he began to climb the steps, he realized that the small procession following him had stopped just outside of the great arched wall. They know order, he thought. Discipline. Good…
The city was a small one, but he knew, even a small uprising could dethrone a king. But, King Boraan had been respected, and revered. His, was the only Kingship allowed in the Netherrealms. All of the other cities paid fealty to the king in the east, King Lanier of the kingdom Lucansfere. His realm spanned from Kunairee far east against the Broken Shore, to just outside the Swathed Hills. King Doran had been chosen by Lanier to govern the Netherrealms — the Swathed Hills lined the east border from Hornhold in the north, to The Stained Fallow in the south, and beyond, Flickerpool, where men say the Shadow sleeps in the black shallows, and the bright lights that fade in and out under the water are the ghosts of men drawn too far into the shade. The Saline Sea was at the west flank, and nothing, not even the Seekers, knew what lie beyond.
Men and their fear! So wrong, so wrong. Dra’amok didn’t even bother hiding the smile that came this time. The time was coming. The shadow was spreading, as it did in the Age of the Risen. Just as now, men were misguided then, too. The Shadow was everywhere, but there were too few who served, still. That was about to change. The Ending Form was coming, and nobody, not even the Thryorian seemed to smell it. Dra’amok’s loosing should have been a sign, but it seemed the world of man had forgotten about what his kind was, what his kind bring. This was just the beginning, and the battle was not yet fully achieved. He had a throne to claim, a corruption to harness, and a Coming to usher forth. His battle was only part of the whole erosion, though. Others had been sent, others like him, who used the ancient paths through the Swathed Hills, forgotten by most men. Other kingdoms were soon to fall, and new souls would be gathered for the Shadow’s forming. His strength will be renewed again.
Dra’amok’s human flesh burned with anticipation. The Garnering was soon to come. Soon to come. Flesh. Dripping, writhing, hot flesh. The blood, we love the blood, dripping, splatting, running down our throats. The blood and skin and pulling and tearing. The beating. All the hearts. The beating. The beating. The beating…
He licked his lips and pushed open the door to the great keep, and walked steadily into Castle Thrymdor, but something pulled incessantly at the back of his mind,