As we approach this year’s writing challenge, I wanted to share a piece of my writing from last year’s book. I should note, I only wrote about a third of the whole thing, and it ended up around 54,000 words, and a healthy portion of that needs to be rewritten before I can continue, hence why I’m working on something new this year. Regardless. I was very proud of this, the prologue of the book last year, so why not share it. Also of note is the fact that this takes place in the same world, on the same continent, as the book I’ll be writing this year.
Forin put his hands on his knees, allowing himself a moment of rest before he climbed the last hill. “It wasn’t this hot last year,” he said to himself as he mopped the sweat from his brow, wiping a strand of red hair from his face. “Maybe it was this hot, but it definitely wasn’t this humid,” he continued his one-sided conversation. “It’s definitely worse, and it’s just my luck it had to be my turn to perform the …” his voice drifted in the last syllable as he paused his diatribe. He had thought he heard something. His ears swiveled a little, trying to locate the source of the noise. A few tense moments passed, and he shrugged. Gripping his walking stick a little more firmly, Forin trudged up the final hill.
He was right of course, something had been moving in the forest around him. In fact, if he hadn’t been talking to himself the whole of his day’s journey, he would have seen. Perhaps then he would have turned around and gone home. But no, Forin had talked himself past all of the signs. And to think, others in his tribe ridiculed his habit of talking to himself. At least they would never know it got him killed. That would be the final straw.
Forin arrived at the shrine an hour before sunset. It was his duty to perform the ancient ceremony of his people here, as they did every year on the Summer Solstice. The tribal elders said there was a good reason for it, but he believed it was an excuse to get the troublemakers out of the village for a day once a year. After all, it did seem to him as if it was only those who had been recently in trouble who were given the great honor of performing the ceremony. And since everyone knew how great an honor it was, no one could turn it down, even though it meant two long days of walking. He had contemplated taking a trip to the ocean instead, but when he casually mentioned this within earshot of his mother, her stern look was enough to dissuade him.
Forin busied himself preparing the ritual. It wasn’t complicated, but there were various herbs and flowers to be collected from the hills around the shrine, and he would need to build a small fire. He spent the next hour gathering supplies, making sure to select a good, hard, wood to reduce the amount of smoke. He slowly built up the fire until it was burning nice and hot, then settled himself into a seated position, to try and meditate. He always had a hard time meditating, but if he was going to be stuck up here doing this ritual, he figured to try and do it right. He closed his eyes and did his best to clear his mind.
Stray thoughts kept interrupting his meditation. He was never very good at this part. He did his best to shove the intruding thoughts to the side, choosing instead to focus on the incense he had lit by the fire. Eventually, he began to slide deeper and deeper into a calm, meditative state. Then, deeper still, until, with the incense overwhelming his senses, he fell asleep.
Forin walked along a blinding white vista. With each step, a thousand heartbeats passed. With each step, his vision cleared, and the forest of his home took shape. He was walking along the main road into the collection of lean-tos and tents his people called a village. He looked to the sky, only to see a school of fish swimming before him. His feet took him past this completely ordinary sight and towards his grandmother’s lean-to. She was sitting on an old log, and as he approached she smiled.
He moved to sit opposite her, and in that movement, he was young again, a boy of five. He sat with his chin in his hands, elbows placed on his knees, staring at his grandmother. She was stirring a pot of stew as she always did. She looked up and began to speak, her voice cracking from disuse, “Long ago, when our people first wandered this country, we discovered a holy place. It was a place where magic ran wild, untamed. It was a beautiful place, a dangerous place.”
“Our people, in all their wanderings, had learned this wild magic. Learned it from the trees they took shelter under, the plants they took nourishment from, and the birds they took joy from watching soar in the sky. They built an altar at the heart of this place, and on the night of the shortest day, they returned to worship Antia, for she holds sway over their magic. As the bloody moon, Fernax, crossed his brother Nihal in the sky, tragedy struck.”
“Our ancestors had forgotten, though Antia ruled over all of nature, she also ruled the storm. Right over their altar, a storm ripped a hole in the sky, unveiling a desolate landscape beyond the rift. The people tried to seal the rift, but to no avail.They fled, as hellions poured through the rift.” She had a sadness in her eyes, though it may have just been the acrid fumes that had started to pour forth from the stew.
“Then,” she started up again suddenly, causing Forin to jump, “on the night of the longest day in the year, they returned. Why these days, you ask? These days have a powerful sort of magic to them, as Fernax overpowers his brother Nihal twice per year, always on the solstice. Our people knew this to be true, and believed they could stop the rifts from forming if only they could perform the right ritual.”
“That night, as Fernax began his battle with Nihal, our people performed the ritual. Just as Fernax won his battle, the ritual was completed. They saw the rift begin to form, though it was smaller on account of the magic they had cast. By the time Nihal had returned from under his brother’s thumb, the rift had closed again.”
“It was not a victory, but neither was it a defeat. From then on, our people gathered twice per year to perform the ritual. Heroes looking to make a name for themselves would gather, waiting to kill whatever beasts made it through. And so it was for thousands of years. Then, one year, the ritual failed. None know why, for by that time, our people had lost most of their powers. The rift opened, and remained as such for two months, unleashing fiends upon our world.”
“Then, without warning, the rift sealed, and has remained as such ever since. Though most in the world believe the rifts to be sealed forever, our people know better. They will open again. This, Forin, is why we perform the ritual to this day. It may not happen in my life, nor yours, nor even your children’s, or their children’s, but it will happen. And we will be ready.”
As Forin watched her finish his favorite story, at least at the age of five, she turned her head to him and tilted it to the side as she often did. But something was different. Her motion was slower. She tilted her head, but then it kept tilting until, suddenly, it fell off her shoulders!
Forin leapt up from the log he sat upon and, tentatively, reached towards her head on the ground. He picked it up, her face towards his. His grandmother’s eyes were closed. She seemed peaceful. The eyes sprung open, no longer their stormy grey, but a blood red. She spoke in a harsh, guttural language, and though it was not in their tongue, Forin understood, “They will open again, and your world will burn with the fire we’ve saved for two thousand years.”
Forin awoke with a start. The sky was pitch black out, and his fire had burned down to embers, left unattended. In a panic, he remembered the ritual, trying to forget the awful dream. It wasn’t the first time he’d dreamed about his grandmother since she died, but this dream was something else. He stood up, stretching his sore muscles as he did, and looked to the sky. Fernax was almost completely covering Nihal! It was too late to start the ritual, but he felt he should at least make an effort of it, since he was here.
That’s when he noticed what he should have earlier. The sounds of the forest were strange, muted. As he looked out into the darkness, he saw dozens, hundreds of shapes running south, shapes of all sizes. He saw a wolf running next to deer, and rabbits. Predators not stalking their prey. Forin crouched at the edge of the trees in the clearing, listening as hard as he could for the sound of something much larger. Nothing.
He shivered, and not from the temperature. He had the nagging feeling that he should have started the ritual. Figuring better late than never, he made his way back to the altar at the center of the clearing. He looked up to track Fernax’ progress again. Maybe a handful of minutes to go.
Reaching into his bag, Forin produced the various herbs vegetation he had collected earlier, placing them in their spots on the altar, making sure each was precisely located. Just as he started to chant, the start of the ritual proper, a gust of wind picked up, scattering the things from the altar. If it wasn’t for that breeze, Forin would have died instantly.
As his back was turned to the altar, a deep, incessant thrumming began to fill the clearing. Just as he picked up the last flower, a crack like a bolt of lightning echoed off the stone around him. He turned sharply, only to see a jagged line of darkness that seemed to quench all light around it in the space just above the altar.
As he watched, the line of darkness widened. The darkness itself remained thin, a boundary to something else. A rift. Forin could do nothing but stare. A minute passed, then two. Time lost all meaning as he watched the rift grow larger. Eventually, it stopped.
From where he was standing it seemed very narrow, though it stood almost 20 feet tall. He had a hard time believing anything could fit through such a narrow space. Then, his curiosity took over. He circled the altar, and as his perspective changed, so did the rift. At one point, it was 20 feet across and only a few feet tall. At another, it was a massive thing a dragon could have flown through.
His feet moved him forward toward the rift. The thrum had lessened, though he could still feel it deep in his bones. He approached the rift, gazing through at the landscape beyond. Ten feet away. Now six. He got as close as he dared. If the rift were a mirror, he’d be almost touching it. His eyes grew wide as he took in the view before him.
Before he could even take a breath, a hand jabbed through the rift grabbing Forin by his windpipe. He brought his hands up to the arm, desperately clawing at it, trying to renew the flow of air to his lungs. His nails found purchase, leaving one tiny furrow in the creatures skin. A dark black liquid seemed to bubble from the wound. In one quick move, the creature squeezed and Forin was dead.
It held him there aloft for a moment before speaking in a language few had heard in more than 2000 years. The creature began to chuckle in a deep, haunting voice. The laughter echoed off the pillars of rock that surrounded the altar. Then, dragging him as a child might a doll, Forin was pulled through the rift.