Another free snippit from Demon Rising that I’ll be publishing tomorrow. Remember, you can read my short story Into the Desert at Amazon Kindle here or another short story set in the world of Mariad, Heart’s Siege, here. Also, updates and info can be found at my website www.hywelgriffiths.co.uk.
In this snippit, Heinrich and Rondur have just about escaped the living dead and are fighting their way in through a crowd of survivors to get past Abendale’s gates before they are locked out. As they make their way to the front, mounted on horses, the undead start their attack on those at the back.
‘At the back of the crowd, like hyenas pouncing on trapped animals, the reanimated corpses are feasting. They leap on backs, swipe at legs, bite into necks. The desperate travellers try to fight them off but the crazed hunger makes them unstoppable.
One man strikes a rotten corpse back but a soldier with face slashed open from eye to neck gladly grabs at the exposed arm and bites in hungrily. Another person is pushed to the ground by the rioter next to him and she is quickly smothered by a pack of nightmarish creatures. They have no qualms about who they attack, no prejudice; anyone and everyone is their next target. With psychotic madness the crowd pushes the gate open and we swarm in, our horses forcing through to be ahead of the rest. Rondur does not stop and I can see why.
Behind they could not shut the gates in time and the guards, few that there are, can only let the remaining survivors through in a wave. The howls and groans echo out, a stench of decay filling the air, and we know what is to come. Taking a second glance at Rondur as he dashes away, I curse at his cowardice and leap from my horse, slapping her on the rump to make her speed away. I will need her no longer.
Pushing through the last stragglers that have made it in, the first of the dead comes before me and I strike out with the spear, plunging it into the yellowing head. To my amazement it collapses to the floor, and I turn to face another whose putrefied flesh has almost completely fallen from it’s bones. Bringing the shaft of my spear around in a sweep, hoping to knock it off balance, my blow clubs away the very bones that holds the thing aloft.
Sweat is breaking out on me now, the effort of riding, fighting and keeping my mind steady have all driven my body hard. I know someone is at my side, and I raise my weapon to strike out, but rather than a monster I see a guard dressed in the red and yellow checkers of a strange and bizarre uniform. He holds his own against the dead that fight forward and I realise that we need to work as one to fight them back.
“To me!” I cry, striking out again, but this time the corpse almost tears the spear from my hands as is turns to hit back, oblivious of the impaling.
His words ring home and the images of my encounters with these things flash into my mind. As Rondur and I had rode past, I had struck out at the chilling hands and mouths that had so desperately fought to feast on me. Only some had been felled and now I realise it is those whose skulls were smashed or heads had been impaled. It is their Achilles heel.
Several other guards appear, having fought his way through the mass, and we stand in a point. The people have fled, stalls abandoned and celebrations ceased, and in this deserted arena we three keep the invaders from their ceaseless march. Only that morning I had been new to the battlefield and yet now those experiences fill me with a confidence. I had fled that doomed battle and I will not flee again.
Thrust, parry and swipe, the spear dances a rhythm that I did not know I could play. The leaf of steal that tips the shaft cuts into flesh and stabs out at gaping maws, forcing them to keep at bay or ending their return to the living world. It is becoming instinct, the training and skirmishes with outlaws suddenly making me a warrior.’
A few more days to go till I publish so I thought I’d share a bit of the world that has formed itself in my head. Remember that you can try out my work on Amazon kindle here with my first short story, Into the Desert. Its currently free so give it a try! You can also keep updated with recent happenings on my website www.hywelgriffiths.co.uk.
Mariad – This is the main location in the book. It is a small kingdom (about the size of Wales) which is cut off from the rest of the world (when you consider the Great Desert to its north is the size of the Gobi desert this tells you how small it is. However, they are relatively advanced in their technology (having cannons) and up to a 18th century way of thinking. It is cut off from the Great Desert in the north by the Feld Mountain range. The same range cuts them off from the lands to the east though there is a small pass known as the Eastern Gate.
Mariad once had plentiful supplies of gold, iron and other metals from its mines in the north east but these have now almost run dry. Once plentiful and trading with the east and west, they can no longer produce such resources and mainly trade in timber (from the Tyriad Woods) and agriculture. There are several small rivers that run down from the mountains but the main one is the river Aben that runs from the mountains in the east, through the kingdom and out into the Tyriad Woods. It is this river that is now used for trade as movement along the Eastern Gate has been banned.
The Eastern Gate is a pass that leads (unsurprisingly) east through the Feld Mountains. A large castle protects this pass, built after the invasion by the Valra who managed to decimate about two third of the kingdom before being halted and fought back with the aid of the Elves.
In the south, before the coast, lies a cursed wood known as Darkwood. It was, and probably still his, a home of the supernatural and a source of deep magic that Khazar uses to create his army of zombi.
On the coast there are a couple of major ports, used for trade, but there are also numerous fortresses with cannon that can keep at bay any attacks from the sea. Navel powers in this world are not great so there is little worry that someone will attack from the sea.
Abendale is one of the main cities of Mariad and has a huge timber trade in the Tyriad Woods. This is carried out in balance with nature, replanting in order to maintain their resources. The city itself was actually built amongst the trees, much in tune with the local ecosystem. However, most of the city was burnt down when Khazar attacked it (in Demon Rising) and now all that remains is the poorer district, south of the river Aben.
There are several watch towers around the Feld Mountains to look out for invasion where it is most likely (for example where the Tyriad Woods meets the Feld Mountains in the west). However, even though the mountains are thinnest here there is still no obvious pass and so invasion is highly unlikely if not impossible.
The capital is Ancora, a huge city that lies to the north. The city’s ‘castle’ is actually carved from the mountain and it is here that the King rules the land. Since the death of the last king, the current elected Lord (Emile’s father) has ruled and refused to give up power. With the next in line still disputed, ruling is supposed to be given to the three brothers in turn but instead one was ‘sent’ to the east as an emissary and the other was killed. Although Emile’s father has not declared himself king (as he knows this may cause a rebellion by the supporters of his brother in the east) he has become the defacto ruler (and a poor one).
Six days to go, and I don’t mean till summer! With a warning of spoilers here’s a biography of one of my favourite characters, the rogue Rondur.
Remember, you can read my short story, Into the Desert, for free for the next four days at Amazon and if you like it make sure you leave a review! If you don’t then don’t leave a review? 😀Seriously though, I always like feedback as to how I can improve my work so you can give me a shout on my contacts page.
Heart’s Siege: Fourteen years before the events of Heart’s siege, the Elven Ambassador Alta falls in love with a human named Elsha. She falls pregnant with Rondur and thinks she will never see Alta again. Rondur is brought up by another mother, Elsha’s father being strictly against his unmarried daughter having a child. For while Rondur doesn’t know his mother, but soon he begins to meet her every once in a while, knowing her as a friend.
Rondur supports Steffan when Theissen frame’s the king’s grandson for treason. A young boy of 14, he is part of the garrison that holds Darech. Altra tries to convince his son to leave. However, when Rondur finds out that Theissen threatens to kill his true mother, he opens the gates in the night to allow them entrance and so end the siege. The guilt of this act leading to so many deaths lives with him for a long time and it mars Alta’s opinon of him. The guilt leads him to his rogue lifestyle with no ambition or aim.
After Death: When Rondur hears of his sister’s disappearance with Ethandril, he vows to find her. This sets him off on six months of travelling between pubs and inns, resulting in nothing much that a lot of alcohol consumption and gambling. Finally, we enter the events of Demon Rising.
Demon Rising: Rondur is a typical rogue, gambler and pickpocket, living off the pubs as he travels from inn to inn. He is a lady’s man and flamboyant but can fight when cornered. He gets annoyed at himself when women have the better over him, as he was when Emile used him for her pleasure. He would prefer to run to save himself, which some may see as cowardly. He sees this as survival. Slightly selfish he does think of others but usually puts his own needs first. However, is one selfless act is that he searches his sister, hearing of her sword whilst in the Woodcutter well. He is not an alcoholic but does drink. He also has a close relationship with his horse, Gypsy, a golden nag. They have grown used to each other and Gypsy usually ignores his roguish tendencies. She is not overly fast but can gallop if needed.
He has flowing shoulder length, light brown hair and usually wears a waistcoat and tailed-coat. He has a closely shaved beard and pointed, waxed (when possible) moustache. He also wears a bandolier as he lived in the Lost Lands for a while and owned a rifle, now gone. He also carries a set of brass knuckles to use in emergencies.
After being seduced by Emile at the Woodcutter, he manages to escape the slaughter by diving out of the bedroom window and crashing through the roof of a well. He is stuck until Heinrich wakes up and rescue him. The two manage to escape and make for Abendale. They arrive as the town is attacked by dead and Rondur manages to escape into Abendale, leaving Heinrich who refuses to let the guards die. On his escape he bumps into Emile once again who has been trapped. Showing his affection for her once more, he aids her rescue by killing two of the attackers.
Rondur returns to the governor’s house where Emile tells him he last saw Wilhelm, whom she knew had the sword of Valen. Finding the streets overrun with dead and the Strigoi Olrev attacking Heinrich, he manages to kill the vampire after it slays Gypsy. Heinrich and Rondur escape from Abendale and eventually split when they are far enough away. Rondur deduces that Wilhelm, who he now know has the sword Ethandril, will be escaping via the river westwards.
With seven days to go here’s a taster from Demon Rising. One of my favourite characters, Rondur, has been seduced by Emile before finding himself trapped by the new strigoi that stalk the land…
Take from chapter six, The Strigoi:
I lie back on the bed, flushed with heat and perspiration covering my body. I look at her naked just across from me; the curve of her soft toned belly; her skin pale and smooth to the touch; her neck that calls out to be kissed and caressed. She is also breathing hard, her hair tangled from the throws of passion and her eyes fixed on the ceiling.
“Who are you?” I ask, my fingers playing with her thighs, teasing her for more. They follows the red marks that run across her body and I want to know more.
She ignores the question, and for a second she lets the arousal continue drawn out from my touch. Then she rolls to one side and sits up, “Who are you?”
Her reply almost sounds cryptic, like a riddle that I am challenged to unlock, and I frown, “I told you…”
My words are interrupted as she turns to look at me and I know she can see through any façade I am putting on. My smile vanishes briefly, but then I shrug, “I told you who I am.”
“And I told you who I am.” She rises from the bed, walking over to where clothes lies on the floor by the fireplace. Silently she begins to slip them on, not the slightest of converse offered, and I watch her as if she is some angelic act and I am the audience.
I feels reluctant to leave it at this. This sensation is strange and it makes me almost vulnerable. Nevertheless I want more this mysterious presence drawing me in. She is of high class, yet wearing a worker’s clothes. She is beautiful, yet bears strikes and scars. She is dominant and strong-willed, yet broken and tormented. Inside I shake sense into myself. Take it for what it is; a few hours of physical attraction.
Rising, the words suddenly come from my mouth, “I look for my sister.”
I stop, unsure of why I have spoken. Naked, my exposed form warms by the fire and I try to understand what is going on. Instead, I start to dress.
She teases the answer from me. There is interest in her eyes but then again I ask myself is it really there? I am alone in this world and no-one shows fascination in who I am. Or maybe I do not let anyone in? Maybe I fear further loss? I clutch my trousers in my hands, tensely squeezing it tight.
“Its something I don’t talk about.”
She nods, doing the last buttons of her dress up, “It can be hard.”
Her words, her tone, makes me think she had to such a place also and I know she shared the emotions that torment inside me, the ones that I kept buried. Turning away from her I slide the tunic over my head, “She is my last family.”
Her footsteps are soft as she pads across the floor toward the door and I watch her slender curves moving away, “She was last seen in Mariad.” I almost blurted it out, as if to continue this threadbare conservation will keep her there, and to my surprise she stops at the name of the capital.
And then she opens the door and is gone.
I scold myself for opening up, for making myself so vulnerable. Finishing dressing, I tug on my boots so hard that I am sure my heel almost goes through the sole. Smoothing out my long coat, strapping on my belt so that it is tight around my waist, I tuck my rapier away. My horse will be waiting downstairs and I want nothing of this place. I have some money from the idiot who tried to assault me and now I can leave for Abendale and gamble it away. I am angry, feeling as though I have been taken advantage of, and it brings with it an itchy frustration that will not go away.
When I reaches the stairs heading to the bar I stop in my tracks, see three familiar men standing at the door. They are the three that passed me as I hid in the wood, each as grim looking as the next. They stand in the doorway, blocking out most of the light, as if surveying the room. Alarm bells often tell me when something is wrong, telling me to back away. Now they ring wildly. With a number of the bar’s patrons looking up to try and see what is going on I feel every inch of my skin begin to prickle. Those drinkers want to know what this sudden interruption is and I fear they will soon find out.
In a sudden rush the first one, round and sporting a few extra pounds, leaps forward in a blur. Literally a blur. His figure seems to move too fast for my eyes and within a split second he is at a drinker’s side. The man look down in shock horror as the attacker’s hand plunges into his chest. A soaked hand rips out and it clutches the still pulsating heart of the customer, a lump of meat for all to see. Crashing forward onto the table, blood flowing from his mouth, the corpse collapses. The heart is dropped on the floor like a discarded rag.
All in the room seem shocked, unbelieving of what just happened. Then chaos break out.
Tables are thrown aside as people fight for the back doors, some scramble past me to reach the upper rooms, and people are tossed aside in a battle for who is to survive.
And whilst the terror stricken drinkers run, the killers come on. Their figures morph and vanish, blurring into fast moving forms that appear alongside screaming innocents. The bearded giant grips one from behind, his two monstrous hands clamping the man’s arms, and pulls them backward with a crack that almost makes me throw up. How the man lives I cannot imagine but his scream is cut short as a quick motion his neck is twisted and snaps as if a chicken to the slaughter.
At the back the bar tender pulls an axe from behind the bar, a sharp hatchet sized weapon with a sturdy handle, kept ready for those who should threaten the bar’s residents. But he cannot even come out from behind his post before the close-shaved man appears. Almost too fast to see, the weapon is snatched from him and buried in his own head. The sight of the splitting skull and look of the tender’s last moments of shock are enough to kick me into action.
Taking the steps at least three at a time I look about to find a way out and realises there will be none. Whatever supernatural occurrence is happening downstairs their random attacks makes me think that they will kill all at a whim. I look back to see the grizzly one reach for a man who is climbing up at the bottom of the stairs and the stomach-turning sight of the man’s back being snapped like a twig makes me move faster. I push past another, as the screams and shouts erupts from below. Closer and closer they come and I know he is killing off those who are fleeing my way.
Side stepping into my room I quickly takes its key from my pocket and slid it into the lock quietly. I could sense the things presence outside, know he is looking to see if there are more. The smash of wood and screams of another tell me he has broken into one of the rooms. He is not going to stop and this place will be emptied. Softly, slowly as possible, I turn the mechanism and pray he will not hear the click that seems to ring out like an alarm bell.
I draw closer to the door, trying to listen out, to see if its thirst for death has been satisfied.
The sound is so quiet, the shrieks from below silent, and my heart pounds as I strain to listen for the slightest noise.
Wood erupts around me snapping me away from the room’s entrance. The fist that comes through shows a gash where the thick splinters have gouged it but as it grabs a sizeable chunk and rips it off the skin ripples and reforms. I watch wide-eyed as it heals itself right in front of me, all seeming so surreal that it cannot be true. It cannot be happening. Yet it is and now a second piece is torn away and the man grins and leers through the opening. It is a yellow toothed sneer that shows joy at my fear.
There is only one other way out. Across the other side of the room I swing open the wooden framed grimy glass to look out. Below is the cobbled floor and a little bit further is the well. If I can just leap across then maybe my head will not be split like a melon. But the jump is further than I would like.
Looking back once more I see the door is almost apart and one barge of its shoulder will throw the door asunder.
Clambering out, I offer a small prayer to whoever may be watching and throw myself forward.’