As promised, Thursdays will be “Teaser Thursday”. I’ll be posting up snippets of my writing on these days, though–fair warning–I might not always have something to post! This week I’m posting an excerpt from chapter 3 of The Myth of Kalvartr, the high fantasy project I’m working on. Bear in mind that it’s a rough draft. Happy reading!
Chapter Three: The Realm of Darkness
The roar of the shimmering falls deafened the young assassin as he stepped around the rushing torrent to access the rear of the waterfall. Beyond was a dark cavern, hidden from those who wandered so far out into the wilderness. Only those who’d sworn a blood oath to the Nameless knew of the secret entrance, for it was their lair. Within the dark grotto were the hands that controlled the invisible strings tied to Asarelith’s leaders, puppeteers and their dolls at a summer market festival. The Nameless made its coin by leading the world towards a future they desired and ultimately controlled. Subtle and unseen, they substituted fear and chaos for utter silence. They were the shadows in the world, and remained cloaked in the perpetual darkness.
The assassin on the winding path beyond the waterfall was known by his clan as Soul Reaper. Some whispered he was born from the deep shadows of twilight and fathered by Carnac himself, the Lord of Death and Darkness. On his Day of Eschaton—the ceremony held for all new members, the last and first day of their lives—Soul Reaper was given a special sword by Lord Gerezeth, the clan’s secretive leader. The blade was called Silverthorne, crafted from the finest silver in all the five provinces and deadlier than the razor-teeth of a northern mountain lion. It rested in its black sheath at the assassin’s belt, waiting again for the taste of crimson.
Soul Reaper was not his given name. Every member had an alias to go by when they were required to venture out of the base. Miles Fenrir was the name his memory clung to and refused to forget, and he believed it to be his real name, though sometimes it was difficult to discern between what was true and what wasn’t. Memories before the Day of Eschaton were encouraged to be forgotten and never revisited.
At the end of the dark passageway, Miles encountered a door without a handle, as black as the feathers of a raven and rusted along all edges. This was the entrance to the Hall of Shadows, where the agents of death dined and slept.
“With Narisa as my guide and Carnac as my patron, I shall walk with the shadows in both life and death, swearing allegiance only to the Nameless until my time has ended. Then shall the great darkness take me, forever binding me in its embrace. These are the oaths I pledge in blood.”
From the case on his leg, Miles pulled out a small dagger and drew it across the scarred flesh of his palm, extracting blood. He pressed his hand firmly against the metal door and then stepped back as it began to glow. The door materialized into the air before him, fading from existence and allowing the oath-maker to pass. Miles hurried through the gap, knowing once he stepped through the door would return to deny others entry. The first time he’d seen the enchanted door he had questioned it again and again. How could something so impossible exist?
Magick, was the answer given to him. Magick was why it existed.
At the time, Miles was bemused by the word. Now he knew more about it than he cared to know.
The path converged with a large room, the ceiling and walls chiselled out. Miles stood upon the stone balcony overlooking the main section of the clan’s home and leaned against the railing to gaze down at the dining area below. A few members were sitting at the long table, feasting after a difficult contract had been filled. The candlelit chandelier above cast eerie shadows down upon them, joining the flames of the wide fireplace in creating a play with silhouettes. Above the hearth hung a dark banner portraying the mark of the clan—the sign of Carnac against a crescent moon—the oath of the Nameless, and the three laws that were never to be broken.
Law 1: Never speak of the Nameless to anyone who has not sworn a blood oath.
Law 2: Killing those not listed within a contract is strictly illegal.
Law 3: Plotting against your family will result in quick and sudden termination.
Miles didn’t know what kind of idiot would break any of the rules. All ended in death, and he preferred to be holding a sword, not facing the sharp tip of one.
Those below hadn’t noticed him yet, and so he descended the curved stairwell towards the dining floor where Royce, Fayne, and Orin sat. Upon the table were platters of meat, cheese, and bread, along with red wine and round cakes. Their murmured conversation ceased as he approached them, chewing replacing speaking.
“Has Alden returned?” Miles asked, looking between them. Royce was an Emperian slave, Fayne a Greenwarden woman, and Orin an Ak’kari from Sunfyre. Miles never saw eye-to-eye with any of the Greenwarden members, them being bitter with the Emperians for their awful treatment over the years, though as Royce was enslaved by his own people, they warmed up friendlier to him than they did to Miles.
“He returned an hour or two ago,” answered Orin, looking up from his plate. “Said he had important things to do and wouldn’t join us.”
“And the prisoner?” Miles plucked a golden apple from a bowl and slipped it into his pocket for later. “Has his tongue loosened yet?”
A predatory grin broke across Fayne’s face. “Ley is with him, so don’t you worry your pretty little face, Reaper—he’ll find answers without your god-touched hand.”
The sadistic woman turned back to popping grapes into her mouth and Miles resisted sneering at her. His fingers impulsively travelled to the stained cloths wrapped around his left hand and Fayne’s feral grin only widened. One day I’ll cut off those lips, Soul Reaper promised.
Miles pushed the thought away and then left the dining hall.
His pace quickened along the worn stone beneath his feet, the flame of the torches hot against his face as he hurried down the corridor towards the prison. Another stairway met his boots and he descended rapidly into the dank rooms below, eager to get away from the laughter upstairs. He swore Fayne was the only one of the clan who was brave enough to mock him, somehow thrusting down her fear that he’d slice out her tongue for insolence.
Would he really do that? He wasn’t sure.
Screams echoed from far below—the familiar chorus induced by Ley’s instruments of torture. Miles followed the cries of a man along the twisting path of the dungeons, passing several shadowed cells and rooms filled with tools. It was surprisingly sparse today, a few lifeless captives curled up in filthy corners behind iron bars and some of the Nameless drifting amongst the shadows with long knives, preparing for a new hunt.
His fellow brothers and sisters of the clan kept their eyes down as they passed him, black hoods drawn low across their brows. The air stank of desperation and fear and Miles shared their bleak expressions when he finally reached the torture chambers at the end of the dungeons. Ley appeared under the stone arch of the grisly room, wiping his bloodied hands into the smock he usually wore when interrogating prisoners and spies, and tapered his eyes into a glower when he saw Miles.
“Feymoor fire and damnation—what are you doing here?” Ley flicked his hand towards the corridor Miles had just travelled. “Get yourself back upstairs before I castrate you!”
Miles lifted both eyebrows. “The interrogation’s going that badly, huh?”
“Perhaps I’ll sever your tongue instead. I’m not sure you even know how to use your lower body parts.”
Most days Miles found himself annoyed by the other assassin’s coarse wit, though today he was nothing but amused. It wasn’t often Ley failed to pull information out of a traitor. Seeing him so worked up was almost comical.
“I take it you haven’t learned anything from our guest, despite Fayne’s undying confidence in your abilities?”
Ley untied his bloody smock and tossed it violently aside into a stack of musty crates filled with tools. “Fayne needs to learn how to keep her mouth shut.”
Miles subtly smiled. “Then we’re nowhere with him?”
“I didn’t say that.” The torturer brushed his nose and sniffed, clearing his nostrils of the stench wafting from inside the room behind him. “We know he’s Bloodguard—”
“Bloodguard!?” Miles tensed, the flesh of his hand pulsating. “Are you certain?”
“Of course I am. I’m not a fool.”
“The Bloodguard found us… How is this possible?”
“It doesn’t matter. He’ll be dead when he gives up his information.” Ley shrugged his shoulders. “He didn’t get the chance to contact his fellow martyrs.”
“But if one could find us, then so can others,” said Miles sourly.
“Then go back upstairs and let me do my job—” Ley’s eyes narrowed dangerously as Miles snagged the sleeve of his long tunic, though he didn’t protest to being held in place.
“Why don’t you go upstairs?” suggested Miles, his voice decisive.
“I’m the interrogator of this base.”
“Yes, I’m aware, but you’ve learned nothing from the man in that room. Let me have a go at him for a while.” Miles released Ley’s sleeve and stepped to the side, all but ordering the other assassin to retreat.
Ley’s expression shifted into something malicious, but he eventually stomped away, not hiding his displeasure as he returned to the upper floor. Truthfully, Miles held no power here other than his reputation, though that seemed to be enough most days. Alden was in command of this base; he handled all contracts coming in and out. Miles—or rather, Soul Reaper—was the fear that drove those who slacked off. And sometimes he was the encouragement that enticed others to push themselves to be the best.
Not that he did much to warrant such attention, other than finishing his contracts and excelling at his “job”.
The torture chamber was dark, just as Ley liked it. The walls were stained, the blood of past victims still painting the old stone—an added effect to induce fear in new prisoners. Instruments of torture were positioned about the room: long tables with rusted chains, ropes dangling from the ceiling, and iron coffins filled with nails. Sharp tools were laid out on a desk, the edges sullied with fresh blood.
And at the centre of it all was a man on his knees, his wrists bound to the floor by heavy shackles. The stones were splattered with his blood, and a trail of it trickled down his forehead and across his cheek, a crimson raindrop seeking its way to the ground. His flesh was raw and bruised, his pale skin now purple and black and yellow from unrelenting blows.
He’d been kneeling there for some weeks now, and Miles had to commend his bravery, but he could see the man’s sanity slipping in the subtle way he held his head and shoulders. No longer was he the courageous soldier the Bloodguard had trained him into being. He was slipping into desperation; he longed for death. Miles could smell it.
Nothing smelled stronger than lost hope.