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Jun 11

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A Preview of Two Prologues

As you might know, each book of The Saga of Banak-Zuur has a prologue.  They also have epilogues, but that’s another post, I suppose.  Writing those prologues has been one of the high points of the series; they’ve been a lot of fun.  Here I present two of my favorites, with the understanding that they are still at the draft stage and that neither novel is even finished yet


Prologue from Labyrinth of Space

Ghosts

Affrael loved the early spring. It was the best time of the year, with the last of the snow gone and replaced by eager green, the birds chirping their enthusiasm, the colorful flowers beginning to poke their heads out into the sun, the newborn pilers bleating in their stalls. Best of all, she didn’t have to bundle up against the harsh winters and could finally enjoy the air unfettered. Most people didn’t share her joy about the spring. It was the time of the Day of Sorrows, but Affrael was able to put that aside and not forget to live, even if it was only a few weeks away.

Today, she was especially happy, as she was to meet Danahel. Oh, they weren’t lovers. She hadn’t slept with him, not yet, but it wouldn’t be long before her father stopped pretending to be making up his mind about granting his permission and allowed them to be married. It was all a tease, to prove his point that waiting makes it all the sweeter. Everyone liked Danahel. He was beautiful, gracious, caring, sentimental, helpful. What other young man would stop what he was doing to fix a child’s toy? And besides all that, he was a favorite of the king, having saved the life of the prince after being struck by a wayward arrow on a hunting trip. At least the official story was that it was wayward. No one was put to death over it, but loyalties in the castle had shifted abruptly afterward.

She stopped outside the city to pick a pink and purple flursom and weave it into her hair. Laetel, the morning sentry — as though they even needed sentries anymore now that the Rockbreaker Clan to the north had all but disappeared — smiled broadly at her. He liked her, but her heart belonged to Danahel. Besides, Laetel was too old, though he didn’t seem to realize it.

“Good morning, Laetel,” she greeted him pleasantly. She didn’t want to encourage him, but neither did she want to be rude.

“Good morning, Affrael,” he grinned in return.

Credit: bhaskar655 at deviantartShe was early — she just couldn’t wait to get there — so she spent some time nosing around the shops just inside the gate. She had a few coins, and hoped to find something to prim herself up a bit or to give Danahel as a gift. It didn’t really matter which. Bremhel would even give her something modest for just a kiss. He had done it before, but she had lost interest in kisses from anyone but Danahel. Still, nothing she found seemed to be quite good enough.

Then, like a flash of lightning out of a clear summer sky, the morning was split by the wail of hysterical screams. Horrified screams. Pleading screams. Yells and commotion that seemed to rattle the ground beneath her. Heart in her throat, she turned, and beheld what she feared most. That ray of sickly yellow-green light from the sky. It had struck just two or three blocks away.

The Harvesters!

“No!” she shouted out loud.

It was too soon. The Day of Sorrow didn’t come until equinox! She had been checking the sun stones every day. It was still at least a fast moon away. This wasn’t fair! She had seen them once herself, as a child, forms out of nightmare, sickly green like the light that came from the sky, large reddish eyes in almost insect-like head, barbed tails, wicked needles for claws. They pricked you with one of those needles, and you followed them willingly back to where the light took you away with them. The horror of that day came back as if it were the present. She had lost her best friend.

But why? Why were they early? If it had been anywhere near close to the time, she would have been hidden in that tiny cave beneath their cottage. Not that they couldn’t have gotten in there after her — and it didn’t matter where you were if they found you; you would go with them just the same — but it made no sense for them to look that far and deep when there were easier pickings right there in town.

She had to run, to hide. Danahel would be OK, unless he tried something stupid. They left the boys alone. They took the females, from little girls to young wives. It was only speculation what happened to them, but all the speculation was horrible to imagine, and they never, ever came back. Dying would be bad enough, and dying horribly even worse, but dying so soon before she would be married to Danahel was intolerable to contemplate.

She turned to run, amid a stream of others desperately trying to leave town. They ran almost into a carriage that had just stopped outside the gate, and Affrael glanced through the window to see the shocked and horrified look on Prince Tyranel’s face. He noticed her. He knew her because he knew Danahel, who had saved his life.

Behind, a sound even more wrenching than the screaming: the skin-peeling screech of the the Harvesters.

She ran, not quite blindly. She ran not where the others had gone, but in a direction none of the others would take. She had been to the Cave of the Tombs before, just once, and it had scared her to trembling, but it was less frightening than the Harvesters. Hopefully, they wouldn’t look there. Hopefully, they would chase someone else for their quota.

She realized too late that she might have stayed there with Prince Tyranel. He could have ridden her back to the castle. Lately, the king had been hiding girls in the catacombs beneath, behind the vault doors that the Harvesters did not seem able or willing to penetrate. He surely would have taken her with him, for she was the beloved of the young man who had saved his life. Hiding girls in the catacombs didn’t stop the Harvest, of course; they would find enough girls elsewhere, in the country, but those few at least could be certain of safety. It was too late now. If she turned back she risked being caught.

Another screech, closer, and she felt the cold merciless realization that they were chasing her. No! Why her? In panic, she threw herself down the hillside toward the entrance with such disregard that she gashed her leg open. Stupid! She could have broken it and not been able to run at all. Quickly! Inside. Perhaps they wouldn’t follow.

One of the weird things about the cave was that you could see within its bowels. There were no lanterns inside, nothing seemed to glow, but you could see nonetheless. She scrambled onward, around the bends, until it began to look more like it had been hewn from the rock. It was back there where the tombs were, stone sepulchers by the dozens. No one dared open them, because no one dared wonder who was inside. It was not the doing of their people.

The thought of so many skeletons left there was scary enough, but that was not it. On the back wall, a wall that was obviously not natural, made of some strange glittering stone, there was a large sun with a face carved into it. And unlike those in the tombs, it was alive. You could sense it watching. No one had talked about what it might be, rather some kind of god or not, because no one that knew of it would talk of it at all.

Still, she would sooner face that than the Harvesters.

Another screech, echoing in the corridor. They were following! No! She dropped in horror behind one of the tombs, knowing it was over. She wished for a blade — any kind would do — to take her life before they reached her. She would have done so without hesitating.

“Danahel!” she cried. “I’m so sorry!”

“Stop!” sounded a sudden voice as if in answer. “You’ll not have her!”

It was Prince Tyranel!

Something arose in her, that which made her Affrael, the courage of her ancestors. She rose from her hiding place.

“No, Your Highness! Throw me your sword that I may fall on it. Do not sacrifice yourself!”

The Harvesters could die, but killing one was no easy prospect. It was a thousand to one that you would die first. They moved like echoes and tore at flesh like it was gossamer.

“No!” he shouted back. “I shall not forsake the beloved of my savior!”

There was the ring of steel, a screech, and a nauseating scream that gurgled horribly. She could see the splattered blood from where she stood.

Prince Tyranel had died, vainly, trying to save her.

Then, a Harvester appeared, its devilish red eyes fixing on her. She knew this was the end. It lept at her on all fours like a feral animal, and she cringed, waiting for the prick of its claw and her departure from that world.

“Danahel….” He name faded into a whimper.

In that last split second, she felt something else. A presence. No, not one. Two or three. Something beyond imagining. It was not that sun on the wall, but something like it. Something new, something without form but just as real — no, maybe more real — than she herself. Something that would have made her scream had she not already been too terrified find voice again.

The Harvester stopped in mid-air above her, as if slamming into a wall. It was knocked backwards, something great and invisible tearing it in two and casting the halves asunder. The invisible things moved like echoes, too, like a whirlwind around her. The remaining Harvesters, instead of attacking as was their purpose, suddenly fought for their lives. Fought against that which could be neither seen, heard, nor smelled, but which could be felt in the soul, some ghastly horror out of darkness that had come forth to devour. It was over in seconds, and parts of Harvesters lay all around her, their foul brownish blood blotting the ecru of the dress she had put on for Danahel.

She stood there, trembling, expecting the dark things to turn on her, rip her arms and legs from her body, and lastly cast her head aside. They didn’t. She felt them mingle for a moment, churning, convoluting within themselves, then just as suddenly, they were gone.

She couldn’t move. Terror had frozen her. Logic would have kept her there, too, had she the wherewithal to use it, until she was sure the Harvesters were gone. It never took them long to collect their tithe. She didn’t know how long she stood here, time no longer made sense. She was suddenly all alone, but alive. She was alive, wasn’t she? Or had the Harvester really gotten her and this was what happened when they did?

“Affrael!”

She jumped. Had that been for real? Had she heard her name?

“Danahel!”

There were footsteps. “Affrael … Oh my God!”

“I know! It’s Prince Tyranel. He tried to save me.”

“Stay there!”

There sounded a brief scrape of metal, and seconds later Danahel appeared with the prince’s blade in his hand. “The least we can do is take his sword to the king.”

She was no longer frozen, and lept into his waiting embrace, burying her face in his shoulder. Only then, did he begin to take in the rest of the carnage, and tremble himself under the implications.

“What happened in here?” he whispered.

“I don’t know. The Harvesters … they came. And then … something else. Invisible. And yet so strong.” She began to sob now. “They saved me. I don’t know why.”

“But what were they?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know.” She cried more freely now. “Ghosts. Ghosts … ghosts … ghosts….”


Prologue from A Remembrance of Evil

Nothing at All

“What are you?” shouted High Lord Trendolan Zobid into the dark emptiness of his bedchamber.  “How did you get in here?”

Anyone — anyone — who dared intrude upon his privacy without permission was taking the risk of a slow and meaningful death.  He could be in there with a lover of the day; one irate father of a recent nine-year-old had earned a roasting over hot coals for his audacity in public. But this….  Zobid could see nothing, hear nothing with his ears, but he knew it was there, some dark and hidden power that had the audacity to invade his inner sanctum even if it had no body to torture.

Justice, was the response that burned into his mind like a whisper from hell.

“Get out!  Now!  Leave me alone!  I am Lord Zobid.”

How often you have boasted that nothing at all could penetrate your security!

Zobid scrambled from beneath his covers and sped to his desk to pound the stud.  “Guards!  Get in here at once!”

He felt it approach even closer, a cold and unholy thing, and he found himself backing involuntarily to the wall.  Was this fear?  How dare anything make him afraid?  Outside, it was a miserable night, with rain lashing against his window and lighting searing its path through the skies; he was living an old horror film.

The outer doors burst open and two stout men with blasters and cosmetic armor rushed through.

“What is it, sir?” one of them inquired.

“Get it, fools!” Zobid cried.

The pair looked around, puzzled, at the room that appeared so ordinary.  “Get what, sir?”

The spirit voice was undaunted.  How often you have boasted that nothing at all could end your regime!

“Did you not hear that?  You fools!  Are you fucking deaf?”

“Hear what, sir?” said one guard, nervously.

“That voice, you idiot!”

The pair looked at each other in confusion, knowing that to contradict Zobid in any way could be fatal.  “We heard nothing.”

“Damn!  Why do I bother with you?”

He pulled out his own blaster and sent a bolt into the chest of one guard before either knew what was happening, and into the other before he could react.

“What the greem good are you?”

His heart was pounding in his chest.  For the first time in his obscenely long life, he was terrified.  For the first time, not everything was following his explicit orders and going the way he wanted.  For the first time, the world was wrong.

But there was a way out.  He had spent his life engineering ways out, and doing so had kept him alive in the early days when he had had competitors for power.  He punched a code on his bracelet and the secret panel behind him opened, a vault door of titanium alloy as thick as a weightlifter’s arm.  He bounded through and watched as it swung satisfyingly into place, listened as the bolts locked it there.  Perhaps he could breathe a little easier.

How many children have died agonizing deaths in your laboratories that your miserable and worthless life may be extended?  How many?

“No!”  he cried.  “You can’t be in here!  It’s impossible!  That’s titanium alloy with graphene interleave!”

How many? the question repeated.

“What?  As if  I should keep count?” He knew it was thousands.  “They are of no consequence, other than to serve me and their government.  It was an honor for them, I tell you!  An honor to die for their Lord!”

All life is of consequence.

He bolted for the elevator that led to his vast underground bunker.  There was no way the thing could follow him there.  The second door sealed behind him and the carriage dropped at a dizzying rate through the foundation of his palace, through a kilometer of bedrock.  He would be safe there.  Nothing at all would be able to reach him.

As he passed that mark, a slab of granite eighty meters thick slid into place to seal the shaft above him.  The elevator came to rest and he bounded out.  What in the depths of hell was that thing?  A ghost?  But there was no such thing as ghosts.

How often you have boasted that nothing at all could invade your hidden bunker!

“No!”  He was virtually crying now, the uncontested dictator of twelve worlds, reduced to tears by something he could neither see nor touch, and only hear in his head.

There was one more barrier.  The lower vault with its accompanying force fields.  He bolted for it, and once inside, hit the switch that would swing the meter-thick door of battleship armor into place.  A second later, the anchors that held his isolated alloy bunker aloft disengaged and it floated solidly on its energy supports.  The unit field device flashed on, sealing it within a convolution barrier.  Nothing known to physical science at whatever power could penetrate a convolution barrier.  It was the very thing that was even then allowing his navy to expand his reach throughout the galaxy.

All of the murdered children.  Hear them cry for vengeance.

No!  It couldn’t be there!  Nothing at all could be there.  In an act of desperation, he activated his medical support implants.  It would do no good to die of a heart attack.

“Leave me alone, you thing from hell!” He shouted to the air in general, as there was no face to address.

But deep in his heart, he knew that if anything in that bunker carried so great an evil as the spawn of hell, it was he himself.

How often you have boasted that nothing at all could free your people from your dominion?

“Get out!”

He was losing focus, no longer knowing even what to shout, so he pulled the switch that would summon the army to his aid.  Surely they, if anyone, could find this thing and kill it.

How often you have boasted that nothing at all could kill you!

“Please!”

Shockingly, he found himself in his knees, pleading.  He knelt to no one, plead to no one.  He was the master.  That was how it had been for 300 years, how it had always been, how it should always be as long as there were children to kill for their essence.  Was he reduced to such a deplorable state by a demon of the mind?

“What are you?” He demanded.

Came the reply, Nothing at all.

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