What I am TRYING to do here, is keep each scene from one characters POV, as I’d tended to pollute them in the past with several characters engaged in internal dialogue at once.
Have I got it right in these two opening scenes? Thanks. 🙂
The passageway back to the mortal realm was only twenty yards long, but its significance was not lost on her. She’d entered it a century ago as Likra, a murdered young girl, and left as Jalikra, immortal demon and servant of humankind. How many times had she walked the fifteen paces from here to the portal? A thousand? Ten thousand? No matter how many souls she brought to Hell, there were always more falling beyond mortal redemption. “Why can’t we win?” she whispered to the ether.
Behind her, philosophical debate, laughter and the ring of god-forged steel on god-forged steel filled Hell’s main chamber. She focussed on Jasal’s fatherly voice, smiling when she realised he was giving advice to Satalyin, God of Hell.
Facing the portal, she glanced back over her shoulder, she caught Jasal’s eye and he winked at her. He’d been her mentor in those early years when she’d struggled with just how deeply carpeted in evil the Land of Men was.
She tightened the strapping anchoring her twin longswords to her back, flicked her long red hair over her shoulders and strode towards the portal. Three souls would end up in Hell this day. She stepped through it into dense forest, and her senses were assaulted by a thousand smells, colours and sounds.
There were mortal souls nearby, and she scanned the forest, solid black eyes taking in everything. Three men crouched behind a thicket thirty paces away, terror oozing from them. Idiots!
Her first harvest was less than ten miles away, but he could wait. None of the three cowering in the undergrowth had souls mired in evil, so why were they so fearful of her? She took a step towards them and tensed on hearing a sword slide from its scabbard. Soldiers? No, not unless they were deserters. “You can sheathe your sword. There is no need to fear me.”
She spotted the arrow a moment before hearing the twang of a bowstring. “Idiots!” she snapped as she plucked the arrow out of the air with one clawed hand. “What in the Creator’s name do you think you are doing?” She strode towards them, fists now clenched.
Before Jalikra had covered half the distance, two of the three raced away as if death itself pursued them. She growled on spotting the red and blue band on the left arm of their leather jerkins. ‘Soul Guardians,’ self-proclaimed opponents of Hell. “Idiots!” she shouted again as the pair sprinted away. “And are you going to run off too,” she hissed to the third who remained hidden, “or do you want to cower a while longer? Your kind turn my stomach. How can mortals be so foolish?”
Georg crouched down behind the bush, longsword clutched in both hands as he prayed to the Creator for deliverance. It was not dying that he feared, but what happened afterwards. The demoness would take his soul to Hell and feed off it for all eternity, just as she’d done to his uncle’s. At least there was a good chance Marcus or Aral would reach his father and warn him. At least they’d have a chance to avenge his death. Steeling himself he stood to face the stealer of souls.
He almost dropped his sword when he saw her up close. His father had described her as an aberration, a monstrosity, but she looked like a very tall and slender mortal woman apart from her solid black eyes and claws. She was stood arms folded making no move to draw her twin swords, the hilts of which were poking through her long red hair. If he’d not known her for what she was, he’d have described her as beautiful. Why was she just stood there?
“Just go,” Jalikra snapped. She looked in the direction the two others had run. “If that fool friend of yours ever thinks to shoot an arrow at me again, I’ll stripe his hide with it.” She snapped the arrow she still held and threw it at Georg’s feet.
“You’re a murderer, all your kind are.” Georg said, stalking around the thicket towards her. “I know my soul is forfeit, and I’ll not drop my guard because of honeyed words.” He kept his sword pointed at her and advanced. “Trust me, I won’t die as easy as those innocent men and women whose souls you rip from their bodies while they slumber.” Now, two paces from her, she stood and watching him, arms still folded. He wasn’t fooled. Like a viper, he sprang forwards and thrust his sword at her chest.
He never saw her move, never felt anything other than the rush of air in his ears as the forest around him blurred for a heartbeat. Next thing he was face down on the ground, spitting out a mouthful of leaves. His hand tightened on a sword hilt that was no longer there and, gasping, he twisted around to see her stood over him, his sword in her hand.
“My turn,” Jalikra said in a soft voice. With such speed that it left a vortex in its wake, she thrust the sword into the soil between his parted legs, missing his flesh by a hair’s breadth. Still, it brought a girlish shriek from him as if it had found its mark. Just an inch of hilt protruded from the soil. “Someone close was taken by one of my kin, that’s the way this always plays out. You choose to think ill of Demonkind rather than accept your loved one’s guilt.” She crouched down in front of him. “I’m sorry for whoever it was you lost, but they’re in Hell because it was the only way to save their soul.” She sighed, staring deeper into the forest. “You’ll never believe me until after your death, and the Creator grant that day be a long way off. Just remember my words.”
“You’re a murdering witch, and you’ll never convince me otherwise,” Georg said. Why hadn’t she killed him?
“Well, it seems I was right. A pity. Perhaps, after your death, you’ll seek me out and apologise once you learn the truth. You do understand that mortal weapons can’t hurt my kind, don’t you?” She smiled, baring teeth that would have made a wyvern proud. “If they did, I’d be holier than a tramp’s smalls.”
“Any demon will fall to steel wielded by a righteous hand,” Georg snapped, straining to pull his sword free of the ground. She was toying with him, she had to be. He looked up at her and she raised a single eyebrow, arms once more folded. “Just you stand there and you’ll find out soon enough.”
“Well, you have a soul that is all but devoid of sin, so I’m sure your hand, if not righteous, will certainly be self-righteous.” She crouched down in front of him once more and he scrambled backwards. “I’ve three evil souls to harvest, so I can’t wait all day.” Grasping the hilt in one hand, she tugged it free and held it out for him, hilt first. “I swear by the Creator that I’ll not flinch nor take retributive action, so now’s your chance to rid the realm of a foul and merciless demon.”
“This is a trick,” Georg said, grabbing hold of the hilt, surprised when she did not pull it away from him at the last moment. “I’m not playing your stupid game, whatever it is. Go murder more innocents, but the Creator will judge you in the end. You’ll never know his grace…”
“You do not know what I sacrificed to serve humankind.” Jalikra loomed over him. “Like all my kin, I was murdered and forewent eternal bliss in the Creator’s loving embrace to serve such as you for all eternity.” She moved closer, his blade tip pressed against her heart. “I chose to bring the one who murdered me to Hell, and spent the first decade there cleansing the evil stain from his soul so he could find peace in the afterlife.” She flicked the blade away with one hand, and pushed her nose up against his. “I do not want nor need your thanks or even acknowledgment, but I will suffer no fool to tell me the Creator’s light is denied me.”
Her long hair was draped over him like a cloak, her eyes shone with fury two inches from his own. And all he could think was she smelled of night lilies and lavender. Why did he feel the urge to apologise when she’d been the one who’d murdered his uncle? It had to be some trick. It just had to be. Slowly she backed away from him and stopped two paces away, but he no longer felt threatened. He pushed himself up into a seated position and sheathed his sword. She watched it slide back home and gave a small nod. Almost with disappointment he watched her turn to go and, a moment later, her long slender legs powered her away, red hair streaming out behind her like a banner. She had to have been seven feet tall, but moved faster than his eye could follow. Dusting himself off, he stood and headed back towards his father’s camp, five miles to the east.
He had a lot to think about.