Really could do with some feedback as to whether you’re left confused by the opening. It’s a fantasy, an ‘epic journey,’ and this was originally book 2 in a long series. (Over half a million words written, and many more still to go.)
Please, I would be delighted to hear your thoughts.
He’d been murdered, that much he remembered. Once familiar surroundings felt sinister and unwelcoming, made worse for the cloying sense of death and violence all around. He didn’t belong here anymore, and yet here he remained.
Conflicting urges threatened to tear him in two. The desire to pursue his killer, bring him to justice, fought with the growing sense of something familiar from a life he’d so recently left behind, faint and yet too overpowering to deny. He drifted through dense forest, drawn onwards, and into a circular clearing scoured clean of leaf and branch.
The one who’d murdered him was moving further away. He should follow, but a whispered memory stopped him. He tried to focus on it, but it grew more indistinct, like childhood viewed through the frosted eyes of old age.
He moved towards the centre of the clearing, where so many had died. Their final agonised shrieks echoed in his mind, but something far more compelling consumed him. An eldritch doorway coalesced from the ether a pace in front of him. Beyond it lay someone he knew, someone who’d been taken through it three years previously.
He stepped inside.
And a sense of all he was, all he had been, emptied over him. Much like a bucket of iced water rousing him from deep sleep, he gasped, struggling to make sense of where he was, and what had happened. He knew this place, had feared it, and spent the last three years plotting against it. Now all he felt was a sense of belonging. Spart, his name was Spart, and this was Hell.
He was in a passageway, twenty yards long, which opened out into a huge cavern from where the sound of laughter sat comfortably alongside the sound of steel striking steel. A silhouetted figure, far too tall to be human, walked past the opening, and yet he felt no fear. Somewhere ahead was his brother, Hatharan, harvested by the demoness Jalikra three years ago.
With one hand trailing along the wall, Spart shuffled down the corridor, stopping when he reached the end. The chamber beyond was vast, easily a hundred yards across and vaulting to a height of twenty yards at its centre. Demons stood in small groups here and there, deep in conversation, not one of them less than seven feet tall. In one of several sparring pits on the far side of the chamber, a thickset demon wielded a huge sword against a lithe demoness whose twin longswords were a blur as she drove her opponent backwards.
A few paces away, a demon was relating a misadventure that had befallen one of his companions in the mortal realm, and they all joined in the laughter, with the one suffering the misadventure laughing loudest of all. One of the group, easily eight feet tall, spotted him and grinned, displaying daggerlike teeth, and Spart was powerless other than to grin back.
The sense of his brother nearby was maddening, and he was about to ask for help when he spotted a young woman seated at a long table, her face hidden by a book. Oddly incongruous with the demons around her, Spart was sure she was the most senior. He made his way towards her, noticing she had nails rather than claws. She was a mortal?
Then she lowered her book, and he stumbled. Blue eyes set within a deeply tanned face seemed to bore into his soul. With a start, he realised they probably did. She was a mortal, likely from the Plains of Trenar by her appearance, and just three or four years older than his seventeen years.
“I’m not really sure you should be here.” She marked her place in the book, placed it on the table and stood. “You do understand where here is, don’t you?”
“Yeh, I know where I am. I’ve come to see my brother, and you ain’t gonna stop me.” He pointed at an opening ringed by flames on the far side of the chamber. “He’s through there.”
She lifted an eyebrow, a smile tugging at her lips. “I see. And might I have your name? I’m Saya.”
“Umm, I’m Spart, and my brother is called Hatharan.” Spart wasn’t sure what to do. She was just stood there, arms folded, with just a table separating them. “Umm, so will you take me to him?”
Saya grinned. “Well, I suppose I should be pleased you asked this time rather than demanded. I should really ask permission, but you’d likely just argue.” She leapt over the table and grasped his hand. “Come on then.”
Spart’s legs buckled, and he would have fallen if not for a steadying hand from Saya. As soon as she’d touched him, he felt the immense cauldron of power within her. “Y… you’re a goddess,” he whimpered.
“Well, no, I’m Gatekeeper, but let’s go and see Hatharan before someone tells my father.” Saya led Spart towards the flame-ringed opening. “And when we’re done, you can tell me how you come to be in Hell.”
“I… I died,” Spart said, more than a little overwhelmed. The Gatekeeper was subordinate only to the God of Hell.
“Well, yes, I gathered that but… Never mind, we can talk after you’ve seen Hatharan.” She smiled at Spart. “You look very much like him.”
“You know him? You’ve met Hatharan?” Spart asked. He glanced at her and blushed. A few inches shorter than his six feet two, blonde hair, almost white, framed a face far too pretty to be mortal.
“I know all those who’ve been brought to Hell, Hatharan included. He’s due for release shortly.” She pulled Spart forwards “Anyhow, we best be quick, because I’m sure Jasal has just gone to tell my father.”
“Your father?” Spart questioned, his mind focussed on Hatharan’s imminent release from Hell. They could buy a boat and go fishing, just like they’d talked about before he’d been harvested by Jalikra.
“Yes, Satalyin, but we can talk about my family later…” For a second time, she saved him from hitting the floor hard. “Hatharan’s nearby. This’ll be quite a shock for him,” she added, hoping to focus his addled mind.
Spart nodded. Saya was the God of Hell’s daughter. “Yeh, I…” He let her lead him along a vaulted stone corridor, floor worn smooth by countless feet over the millennia, and up two flights of stairs. “I reckon he’ll hardlies recognise me, cos I’m about a foot taller than last time he saw me.” That last time had been when Jalikra had taken Hatharan’s soul, and Spart had watched the life leave his brother’s eyes. “Sometimes it’s hard to remember just what he looked like.”
“Well, you’re about to get a reminder.” Hand still clutching Spart’s, Saya led him from the stairs and onto a short corridor with a door at either end. She nodded towards one, and it opened of its own accord. “Beyond the door are cells. Your brother is in the third one along on the left side. I’ll wait here.”
It was three steps to the open door, and Spart felt like he was wading through treacle. He reached it, clutched hold of the frame and peered into the short dark corridor beyond. On each wall were five stone doors, each set with a thick iron pull ring. He could sense Hatharan so clearly now, and yet he couldn’t move. The door to his cell was just a dozen paces away, but unwelcome memories surfaced of his brother returning to their camp late at night covered in blood and clutching a stolen coin purse.
“He’ll have changed from the Hatharan you remember,” Saya said, sensing Spart’s indecision. “Three years confronting the… the mistakes you made during your mortal years will do that to you.”
“Mortal years?” Spart repeated, a little confused. “I just dunno what I’m gonna say to him. It’s…”
“Just open the door, and the words will come, I promise. Plenty of others have visited relatives during my tenure, and most hesitate just as you do now.” She nodded in encouragement. “Go on, there’s nothing to fear.”
Feeling a little easier, Spart shuffled through the doorway until he was outside his brother’s cell. He wrapped his hand around the solid iron handle, and pulled.
The stone cell beyond was dark, granite walls smooth, and he could just make out a small table with pen and paper on it, a simple stool beside it. His brother was pushed up flat against the wall, staring at him. He looked unchanged in three years, even wearing the same clothes. “Hello brother,” Spart said, his voice thick with emotion. He couldn’t remember crossing the room, couldn’t remember clutching hold of Hatharan, but now he clung to him as if his life depended on it.
“I’m so sorry,” Hatharan whispered. “It’s not your fault you ended up here. You just followed down a path I led you, but I promise I’ll stay after I’m released and help you.”
“I ain’t been harvested,” Spart replied. “I was murdered nearby, and so came to see you…”
Hatharan laughed, took a step back and clutched hold of his brother’s shoulders. “I should have known it. So, you’re to be a demon. You brought the soul of your murdered here for justice.”
“No, I ain’t gonna be a demon either. I saw Jalikra, and she said she was gonna bring me here to see you, but then something bad happened and the other demon was killed by the necromancer who took my soul, and…”
And then he was being dragged out of the cell by Saya.
“Why didn’t you say something earlier,” Saya cried as she dragged him away with such speed Spart couldn’t keep his feet. “We have to see my father, and you must tell him all that happened.”
“I… I thought you would already know. I… I am sorry.” Spart felt dizzy as they tore down the stairs, everywhere a blur. She dragged him across the main chamber, demon’s leaping out of their way, and down a long well-lit vaulted stone corridor, towards a ten feet high obsidian door with two massive warrior demons stood outside. He called out on realising Saya had no intention of slowing down as she dragged him onwards.