gavrusik

Creator of worlds, writer of words. Humbler than I sound…

Category: fantasy

Harvester – Jalikra

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. 🙂

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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.

The Shaded Mountain (Fantasy/Horror.)

Chapter 1

She was falling. The darkness clung like syrup, growing ever thicker as she tumbled downwards. The charnel smell reached her first, far worse than a battlefield in the heat of summer. Next came the screams, distant but growing louder.
Lacita clutched at her chest, but found no dagger hilt protruding there, nor cloth to cover her modesty. She’d entered the afterlife without possessions, without even the dignity of clothing. Anger and disbelief rose inside her, but were annulled in moments when the screams, once a distant affair, grew with a speed she could never have believed. The voices of others tumbling downwards added to the cacophony, and only clenched teeth prevented her from joining them in their terrified lament.
Next was the shock of impact as she struck a fleshy mattress, which writhed and screamed. Disorientated, she felt about her, the near perfect darkness adding to the confusion. Hands grasped at her, voices pleaded with her, but she could do nothing for them. Her reward for securing her people’s future was not to stand beside the Gods, but to rot alongside countless others. It hardly seemed fitting.
Was this to be her eternity?
Before Lacita could become accustomed to such a poor payment for a lifetime of sacrifice, something struck her, driving her beneath the surface. With horror, she realised further bodies were piling on top. She became one with the struggling mass, now pressed tight all around as she struggled towards the surface.
But more bodies fell, and she sank deeper. The last air was forced from her lungs as, like a grape in a press, she was squeezed tighter. The screams around her ceased, the writhing becoming twitches as bones snapped and innards spilled from ruptured bodies. There was no way back upwards, for the dead continued to rain downwards, so Lacita tried to force her way sideways. Although no one offered her resistance, those around her were packed too tight, forming an impenetrable wall of spasming cadavers. Downwards she was pulled, the press of the dead and dying constricting her yet further.
Her life, starting as a farmer’s daughter and ending as Queen of a united people, taught her surrender never brought reward. She could not go up, she could not move sideways, but below her was a bloody stew of torn flesh and bone. Intuitively she realised the morass was still aware, screaming in silence as tortured souls, their bodies destroyed, drifted in a sea of blood. While her body was still whole, she forced herself deeper, and those clinging to life offered her free passage for they still sought to clamber towards a surface they could never reach.
Breaking through the underside was like smashing ice atop a fast-flowing river. The current wanted to drag her into the depths, but she felt certain that only oblivion waited her deeper down. Although her lungs no longer needed to hold air, the all-consuming sense of suffocating filled her mind, making rational thought difficult.
She had to move, had to fight, and that meant struggling against the irresistible current. Gaining what little leverage she could on the underside of the mat of fractured bone, Lacita pulled herself along, blind and with little hope of a positive outcome. She sensed a few others around her doing the same, and wondered if they were the fools for not accepting the inevitable. The desire to breathe screamed in her mind, but she was sure to do so would invite her destruction, for there was nothing other than the blood of the dead with which to fill her lungs.
How long she struggled, she could not say, but she did not pause. At one point, a body bounced off her, carried by the current, and she grasped hold of an arm in the hope of lending aid, but their combined mass threatened to drag her away, so she was forced to let go. Why was she here? Why had she been forsaken in the afterlife?
And then she struck something solid. Certain she’d lost her mind, she clung to a rock wall, fearful it would disappear if she let go. She reached a cautious hand upwards, but found no barrier blocking her progress. Lacita moved towards the surface, the rough wall making the climb simple, all the while concerned as to what she would find above. Whatever awaited her could be as nothing compared to what she’d endured since entering this accursed place.
Caution gave her pause when a sliver of light reached her through the ocean of blood, for shapes moved above. A loud splash sounded nearby, and she froze, feeling as she would before battle during her mortal life. When a body landed just beside her, she tensed and edged a few feet to one side, peering upwards in an attempt to see what it was that awaited her beyond the Blood Lake.
Now inches beneath the surface, she could make out a rim to the charnel pit, just a foot above. A shadow fell across her, and she pushed herself flat, aware that whoever was there would be able to see little, if anything, beneath the surface. Someone stood on the edge, peering downwards. To her side, she sensed someone moving back towards the surface. Whoever had just fallen or, more likely, been pushed in, was attempting to clamber out again. She focussed on the hazy outline of the figure overhead and saw a leg thrust outwards at the one trying to escape, knocking them back in.
With no time for consideration, Lacita reached upwards, grabbed the rim and leapt out, dropping into a crouch as she tried to focus on the figure two yards to her side, her eyes now a little better adjusted to the darkness. A man. He took a step towards her, and she kicked at him, catching him on the knee with the ball of her foot. His leg buckled and, too close to the edge of the pit, he tumbled in and was dragged away from the edge where he disappeared beneath the surface.
Off to the side, another man, as dark skinned as her, edged closer. “Don’t even think about it,” Lacita hissed.
The man stopped in his tracks, although murder danced in his eyes. He held up his hands, backed away a few steps and resumed his vigil on the rim of the bloody lake.
What sort of a crazy nightmare had she stumbled into? Fury built inside her when the man kicked a poor soul back into the lake. Ready to confront the foul creature, splashing at her feet caught her attention. A slender woman fought to pull herself out, terror leaving her thrashing with renewed vigour when Lacita turned towards her. “Take my hand,” she said, crouching by the rim. “Quick, before these animals try to push us both back in.” She looked both left and right where further figures ringed the edge of the huge lake that, curving gently, ran for many miles in both directions. When the woman at her feet did nothing but stare, Lacita grasped both of her wrists and dragged her out. “Did you not hear me?”
The woman, awash with blood, stared at Lacita. “Why?” She wrenched her hands free and backed away.
The woman turned and fled before Lacita could even comprehend her question. “What is this place?” She turned back towards the lake and moaned in horror as she beheld what it was. Spared the true understanding of it by the darkness, she could still make out the formless mound of the dead. It stretched upwards towards a maelstrom of blood-red thunderclouds, from which a steady stream of bodies rained. “Where am I?” she shrieked. Lacita dropped to her knees and grasped her head, slick with congealing blood.
As soon as she was prone, the tall dark-skinned man, possibly even a countryman, rushed towards her, his intent obvious. She leapt to her feet and, just as he thought to use his weight to barrel her back into the lake, leaned backwards, planting her foot to his chest. Her attacker’s momentum sent him flying over her head and into the lake, where he disappeared beneath the surface, never to reappear again. “Are you next?” she asked of another man who strode towards her. He was, she noticed, clothed and had not been amongst those stood lakeside.
“This is what you have earned,” the man said, stopping a few yards from her.
“I’ve earned?” Lacita repeated.
“You asked what this place is, and now you have your answer,” the man said. “You’ll serve your tenure here, stirring the broth that feeds our Master and, if you’re lucky, you may earn a place on the Shaded Mountain.”
“I serve no man,” Lacita snapped. “I was a queen in life, and will bow to no one but the gods.” She looked about her at the barren wasteland that stretched to the horizon in all directions. “Whatever this Shaded Mountain is you speak of, I wish no part of it.”
“You serve him, or your flesh and soul are ground down to feed him.” The man nodded at the lake of blood. “There are no other choices.” He pointed over his shoulder. “There lies the Shaded Mountain, and he resides at its zenith. The most favoured amongst us may rest at his feet on the highest tier.”
The Shaded Mountain loomed large behind the man, a red glow surrounding its summit. Lacita was certain it had not been there a moment before. “I do not wish to be the favoured of one who feeds off the blood of others, like a bloated leech. I reject him, and I reject this vile place.” Choosing a direction that put the Shaded Mountain at her back, she walked away, eyes fixed ahead.
“You may have been a queen in life,” the man shouted after her, “but here you are as nothing. You have earned his wrath, so be on your guard, for he is your God and Master.”

Harvester I

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.

 

Chapter 1

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.

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