Darklord – Demonrise WIPs #1

I’ve been spending morning hours working on my books due to COVID-19. Working under these conditions has its bad effects, too, but I try to save my anxiety and despair for later in the day. Below are a few roughs and excerpt from Demonrise, part one of the novel Darklord. I haven’t decided whether I will digitally paint the illustrations or finish them as grayscale. Darklord is the sequel to Darklaw (see the Darklaw Page).

Demonrise – WIP

          Veris paused to listen. It wasn’t a sound but some other sensation that drew his attention. He took a breath, closed his eyes, took another breath. Avestine was nearby. He sensed her as prey senses a hunter.
          His mother told him she sensed when Avestine was close, too, but she felt her as a comfort. She said Avestine steadied her.
          He wanted to run and hide, which made him angry. He clenched his fists and remained where he was, waiting. The feeling became a sound, the sound of footfalls, of leather on stone. A moment later, Avestine appeared from behind one of the stacks.
          “In the library again?” she said in her unusually coarse voice. She leaned against the bookcase, her black-gloved arms crossed over her broad chest. “What are you looking for?”
          “A book on slipweed,” he lied. “Mother was curious about its healing properties.”
          “You’re a good son.” Avestine’s cold blue eyes narrowed, and Veris knew she didn’t believe him. “When you find out more, let me know. It might be helpful someday. I don’t need to leave all that knowledge to my healers.”
          Before he knew it, he had laughed. He was usually more circumspect, but she had stolen the truth from him, another reason he didn’t like her.  “What does healing mean to an immortal? You think I’m lying.” He took a breath and told himself to calm down.
          Avestine smiled at his impulsiveness. “Should I have reason to doubt you?”
          She smelled like violence, but he resisted stepping back.
          “It’s true,” she continued. “The knowledge means little for me. But for your mother it might mean a lot. You know how much I care about her.” Her gloved hand stroked a book. “You waste your days in this library, but you have more important things to think about. It will soon be time to put away this childishness. You’ll quit lying and declare your god. Essanti have no secrets from the Emissary. You’ll take your place in service to me, like your mother.”
          Veris stared at the place where Avestine had been standing long after she left. His mother thought he was keeping secrets, too. He sighed. Of course he was keeping secrets. Just not the ones everyone assumed.

***

          “Rook told me he was traveling tomorrow,” said Kami. She reclined on a lounge in her quarters, one of a suite of rooms at the palace in Castlebejel shared by her and Veris.
          Avestine nodded absently as she peered out the window. The snow-covered courtyard sparkled under the Ice Quarter sun. She was bred under the blue sun of the Dark Quarter. Despite the many years she spent under a yellow sun, days could still give her a headache.
          “I’m going, too.”
          Avestine turned sharply. “I’m sending him to Bentwood. You don’t need to go.”
          “I want to. I haven’t been out of the city in too long.”
          Avestine smiled at a memory of Kami in a savage moment. Then she frowned. “I forbid it.”
          Kami laughed.
          Avestine left the window. Her mood softened when the musky scent of pleasure wafted from Kami. “There have been animal attacks in the mountains around Bentwood. Corpse desecrations. Village elders say the river has begun to flow backwards. I’m sure it’s just tales and trouble with bandits. Rook will take care of it. He’ll be back in a few days. I need you here.”
          Kami laughed again and left the lounge. “You’ve spent every night with Astua and Esme. You don’t need me.”
          “You wanted time with Veris, so I….” Avestine’s hand brushed across Kami’s smooth cheek. “Kept myself busy.” She dropped her hand. “Was your time profitable?”
          “He’s sullen. I was hoping he would share what’s on his mind.”
          “He hasn’t?”
          Kami leaned into Avestine, resting her head on Avestine’s chest.
          “What is it?” asked Avestine. She held Kami’s shoulders and looked into her brown eyes. Kami was more distant than usual. “Don’t worry about the boy.”
          “He’s not what you think. He won’t become your Essanti.”
          Avestine glanced about for a drink. Kami never kept a bottle in her quarters. “He is what I say he is. It is the way. You remember what you did without me, what you became. Essanti serve. Essanti need to be controlled.”
          “He is not Essanti.”
          “He shares your god. He must, since you lost the avatar when he was born.”
          “I’m not convinced of that. He’s never shown the same feeling for the Wild. He hates beasts. They make him sneeze.”
          “He’s young still. He’s fearful. He will mature into a strong, courageous man. I can’t imagine anything else from a child of yours.” Avestine smiled. “Strong and passionate. He’s smart, too. Clever. You two are very much alike.”
          “Except he doesn’t like you.”
          Avestine’s eyebrows shot up. “Very often, you don’t either.”
          Kami bit her lip and nodded. “Often.” She reached her arms around  Avestine’s neck. “But today, I do.”
          Avestine slipped her hands around Kami’s waist. “I’m not familiar with this sort of welcome, Child. Solicitation is not your style.”
          “Are you trying to provoke me?”
          Avestine started to say something and changed her mind. It’s true that she often provoked Kami. Such provocations usually ended with a rough passion she enjoyed, but Kami’s unusual mood intrigued her. “Perhaps I should say nothing?”
          “That’s best,” muttered Kami as reached her open mouth to Avestine’s.

***

          First god. One god. Nameless god. Veris’s finger traveled across the page as he silently read. The foundation is one. The foundation becomes two. The two become many. He sat back and thought about the meaning of the text. A drawing accompanied the words. It showed a circle divided in six parts with two rings surrounding it. It looked very much like Pah Gol taught him by his mother. The six sections probably represented the gods of the Pantheon. He didn’t know what the rings represented. He didn’t know what the “foundation” referred to. And there was no fish. The sacred doctrine always had a fish at its center. The world had poured forth from the sea.
          He carefully turned the page. The book was very old. He sneezed.
          The next page had no words he recognized. He turned back, comparing the pages. They appeared to be written in different hands. He closed the book. He climbed onto the desk and slid the book back onto the high shelf where he had found it.
          Veris had spent most of his fourteen years in this library. Only recently had he found himself examining books he once ignored. Something important was hidden in the strange symbols and foreign words. He spent whole afternoons just staring at the symbols, willing them to make sense.
          This library belonged to the king of Castlebejel, an old man who found value in the obscure and unique. Veris had heard Avestine refer to King Harol as a “tired and impotent leader,” but the king was friendly. Veris wished he would wander in. The old man was the only person Veris felt safe asking questions. Even his mother was pressing him for explanations in a way he could no longer ignore.
          He had been thinking about a lie that would explain everything. He wasn’t particularly good at lying. He didn’t have the patience for it. He didn’t feel he owed words to anyone, not even his mother. But she worried. And that made him worry. He needed to allay her fears without too much truth.
          Not that he knew the truth. He had suspicions. He had strange feelings that might find their reasons in places that frightened him. There was too much he didn’t know, and that frustrated him. He needed to know things, so much so, his mind seldom let him rest.
          He climbed down from the desk and sat with his head in his hands. His temples throbbed.
          “Veris.”
          He jerked awake. He was sitting on the floor in the library. His mother was kneeling before him.
          “Were you sleeping?” She smiled and touched his face.
          The gold wrist cap was cold against his skin. He had never seen her wrists without some covering, but he could imagine the deformed bone and scarred skin. Avestine’s brother had chopped off her hands in the ceremony that he would also experience, if Avestine had her way. She always had her way.
          He blinked away the thought. He had no idea how long he had been there. He glanced about but wasn’t near a window. Nevertheless, he knew the sun was low. It was past evensun. “You always want me to nap, right?”
          “Somewhere warm and soft. It’s so cold in here. And the dust…it makes it hard for you to breathe.”
          “I’m fine, mama.”
          She kissed his head and stood up. He tensed when he smelled Avestine on her.
          “Scouts tell us a blizzard is traveling darkward from the ice desert,” she said. “It will reach us tomorrow. I want you to stay in the suite until it passes.”
          He stood up. “I’m not afraid of the snow or cold.”
          “I am!” She laughed sadly. “One of these days I’m going to show you the Demonforest where I was born. So much life. So warm. One day you’ll see it for yourself. This land is so empty, so cold, so…so lifeless.”
          His mother often told him stories about the Demonforest and her childhood. She said the sun was so warm there you could walk naked outside and fall asleep without blankets. She described colorful birds and creatures with no hair. The trees and bushes were many colors, and the ground was covered with green plants. Insects could fly like birds and they crawled everywhere, even outside. Veris didn’t find joy in his mother’s descriptions, but he saw how much she did.
          She put her arm around his shoulders and they walked from the library. “I wish the sun would warm this land like it does demonward. Makes no sense to me why it’s always winter here. Tradeward they have both seasons. Maybe darkward, too. Here, well, I hate this place.”
          “I’m getting older. We can leave. Would the Emissary let you?”
          She scowled without looking at him. “Not for her to tell me what to do.”
          Veris nodded, but he knew his mother. He saw the tether that kept her with Avestine. He didn’t understand it, but he had learned to accept it. When he was younger he thought one day he would kill Avestine and free his mother. Now that he was almost a man, he saw his mother was living the life she chose. She seemed to need Avestine, and sometimes, Avestine could be kind. “Maybe the storm will die before it reaches us. We might get a warm day. Stranger things have happened, right?”
          She shrugged. “Yes, I’ve seen much stranger things.”
          Veris thought about the blizzard, imagining the terrible wind and icy cold pouring down on the world, on his mother. He hated it. He imagined a warm day, a bright sun, and his mother standing on their balcony looking out over a green field. He wished he could give her that.
          They made their way to their suite.

***

          A day’s ride iceward, the raging storm moved from the Morayan Ice Desert across the Wild Ice toward Castlebejel, just one more in a continuous procession that kept a quarter of the world a frozen wasteland. As evensun dipped toward sunfall, the whipping wind grew calm. Snow turned to ice, then rain. The air was wet and carried a warm breeze. Low places flooded with melt, and within a few days, green found its way into the Ice Desert for the first time in living memory.