Well I’m pretty sure I’m blowing past my initial target of “published by Christmas”, but who’s counting, right? I’m close to finished with the first draft and circled back with some beta readers on the first few chapters. Now that feedback is incorporated, I figured I’d post up as a worm dangling from a hook. I don’t think I’ll go all out like “The Martian”, but figure I can provide an insight into the book as things progress. Feedback always welcome in the comments, or shoot me an email!
In the deep blackness, two white spots emerged. A blink gave away their source; luminescent eyes. A second pair bloomed beside the first. As the owners walked closer to a dim redness, their two forms became apparent. It was easy to see how the first pair of eyes betrayed him; his ebony skin blended into the cave’s darkness. Josephial grew weary of waiting in that pitch black. His companion, a sister of their angelic order, was equally restless. It had taken many days of observation and searching to reach this spot, deep in the foundations of creation and adjacent to the thinning Veil. This milky barrier hung like a tapestry between the spiritual realm occupied by Josephial and angels like him, and the firmness and substance that defined the world of men. Created in God’s image, but of a different substance, the Veil kept man out of the heavenlies, but was a sheer and mercurial division between worlds. Being this close to a fold, the angels felt the strong energy of the barrier. They also felt in inherent holiness of the thing; a rightness that it existed. Knowing their quarry lay around the next bend in the tunnel puzzled the angel.
“Why would the Fallen set up a stronghold so close to the Veil?” Josephial asked. He deliberately dimmed his natural brightness to better conceal their position. He inched forward into the darkness.
“I’m not sure, but you know as well as I do that demons are always attempting some deception,” his companion said. Whysper dimmed her own light in response to Josephial’s actions. Her radiance would overwhelm a mortal, and this deep in the earth it was like a second moon shining in the night. Maintaining this state would require additional concentration from both, making a hard task that much harder.
“I agree, but it feels wrong. Like the sea pulling back before a wave crashes. Fewer and fewer of the Fallen are lurking around where we expect them, and more and more where we do not. And now we find one of our own so far from home.”
“No doubt delayed by his mission of discovery and a prudent attempt at discretion.” Whysper smiled, knowing that discretion wasn’t something Josephial practiced all too often.
“Well I’ll be happier once we’re on our way. Although, maybe we’ll even find some fun while we’re down here.” Josephial winked as his hand slid near the sword hanging from his belt. By now their garments were no different than cotton homespun from a typical crofter’s farm, no longer showing any hint of the glory hidden beneath. His sword, also dimmed, was no different than any soldier’s steel.
Josephial’s smile vanished as the red tinge began to further invade the darkness. Coming out from the bend, the pair saw their destination ahead. A small circle of light, harsh compared to their own, grew steadily as they approached. And as they slowed and crept into view of the cavern, their breath was taken away. While hard to imagine, there is a place where infinite darkness exists alongside such stunning light that the mind wonders. Deep in the bowels of the creation, in places where no living thing has delved for millennium, a light bloomed in the darkness.
Below, far below the lip of the tunnel’s edge, was a massive natural cave. Its size defied belief. And one indicator was the hundreds of evil creatures, busy with what could only be preparations. The light came from lines of forges, cut into the natural bedrock and fired by a mix of volcanic springs, noxious gases, and magic. The sound of ringing hammers filled the air with a disjointed choir of voices. Hundreds of smiths pounded material into various forms. Armor, weapons, and engines of war lay piled everywhere. The vibration shook the angels where they lay crouched, looking over the vast works. But worse was the sight of the Fallen themselves.
Angels who had rebelled in the Great War, these were creatures whose lust and pride provided sufficient means to disfigure themselves. Once they were inherently beautiful creatures. Now they were twisted and broken, powerful in strength and wickedness, full of malice and deceit. Their forms took on the nature of the changes in their souls. And here they were, gathered in numbers formerly unheard of. And prepared for war. Companies of demons stood in ranks, drilling and exercising their tactics and movements. Great beasts filled the cavern ceiling, perched in darkness but wholly present and watching. Like all of creation, this horde of fallen angels was wonderfully diverse in shape and form, but now twisted and broken. And enraged. From his first observation Josephial sensed the activities below were being directed, were part of some military drill.
Josephial looked at Whysper with concern. Was this what we’ve been missing? The thought flowed between them like words, though unspoken. He recognized the need for restraint given how close they were to the horde below. It wouldn’t take much for the smallest sound to amplify and betray their vantage point. And if they fell here, who would bring warning to the faithful above? Shaking his head, he quietly spoke out, “Dear God, whoever gathered them doesn’t mean to control them; he means to unleash them.” A small sigh escaped from Whysper’s mouth. She was looking into a far corner of the cavern, her expression saying everything that Josephial feared.
Across the vast expanse of cavern was a pinnacle of rock, standing proud in the midst of forges and busyness. Its previous form, likely a stalagmite, was hardly recognizable. A flat top had been hacked apart, leaving a stone table in its center. Stairs spiraled down to the floor below. And bound on the table was the unlikely form of Adonael.
Josephial would have known his brother in any circumstance. Their bonds were forged during the creation of the world, two of the first angels crafted from the Creator’s hands. Humans who were twins would understand the indescribable connection shared between two who came from one. And yet it took seeing him laid across the slab to truly understand the depth of his emotions. Rage erupted from his core, nearly escaping his lips. His quivering form shook the stone around Whysper, lying prone next to him. An observer would have noticed the vibration of the tiniest pebbles and grains of sand around Josephial’s prone form.
He stuttered while trying to contain his anger, “I…I…he can’t be—”
“Quiet. Now.” Whysper commanded, a hand slipping over his shoulder, prepared to reach his mouth to silence anything further. Her authority struck him from distraction, but he was hardly in control of himself.
Looking over the edge, she couldn’t determine if the buzz of activity was due to their presence. Thus far, there was no indication that their position was compromised. But she worried how long that could last. Her fears were sparked anew once a voice pierced the din below them.
“My companions. My brothers and sisters in exile. Behold the gateway to our freedom. Behold the threshold of our escape. See the avenue which will lead to our satisfaction and the revenge we so long craved.”
The demons below them began to direct their attention to the altar, toward the sound of the demon’s voice. A dark spot clouded the platform, like ink dropped into water, swirling around the air behind the prone angel. It seemed like the blackness existed only to draw the light inside itself, to obliterate light from the world.
In the midst of this blackness was the dim red form of a demonic figure. Tall and thin, a wisp of a figure wrapped in a dark cloak strode across the platform while locking eyes with the masses. A tooled sword hung at his side, and his black armor was hardly recognizable from the whorls flowing beside him. The pale face which crowned his body displayed a malice that cut through the air, hatred and evil tainting the even air around the angels overlooking him.
Josephial made to stand, and Whysper’s grip almost slipped away. She could hardly contain him. Strength rippled through his body, threatening to escape like a bound spring.
“Please, Josephial, now is not the time or place,” she whispered.
The demon horde below had slowly formed into ranks, and order appeared in the chaos. File upon file of creatures aligned. Small imps, scaly flesh over their child-like forms. Great ogres, their red-hued skin enveloping muscle and strength, towering over their peers. Serpents out of a mortal nightmare, their shimmering scales flashing in the din below, fangs dripping with venom, great wings folded in anticipation. Evil instruments of power clutched in the hands of ephemeral spirits. Gazes full of hatred locked on their commander.
“Now, behold, the hour of our wicked glory. Slake your hatred on the world of our great enemy and his creation. You know your orders; you have waited millennia for this. Reap the fields and sow them with blood. Find the Map of the Stars; without it, the seals will never be found. We are the chosen among thousands, chosen to lead our great master’s legions across the world. Innocence is no more; find the faithful and break them” And with that, a silver gleam caught on the dagger in his hand. It swept down upon the prisoner without hesitation or pause.
A piercing cry broke free of Josephial’s form. It was overpowered by the force of the inaudible wave washing over the cavern.
At the altar Adonael’s body went limp, and a peel of thunder tore through the air. The whorls of darkness coalesced around a single nexus, a point that threatened to suck in everything. Smoke from the forges, breath from lungs, dust. All in an instant, and then the gate opened. A portal twenty feet tall, wide enough for four horses abreast, was simply… created. Out of nothing, it stood proud atop the platform where the altar once was; no sign any longer of the sacrifice made. Shimmering letters shone out all along the archway of gritty sandstone. The pulsing light indicated their sorceries, the nature of them powering the gateway. Inside that archway was a whirlpool of darkness, drawing light spinning into its center, a great funnel to fall into.
Whysper now understood. Josephial had been one of the first of the created, a witness of the origins of man’s universe. His brother’s blood must contain some remnant of that creative force, that power available to their Creator. Now it was used to construct this engine. An engine with a sinister purpose; to deliberately tear the Veil. Whysper couldn’t contrive how the demon had done such a thing; killing an angel was no easy feat. Even during the war there had been few true losses. What few weapons existed to do such things had long since been broken. To kill an angel was to effectively un-create, to cast into nothingness. Oblivion.
Thinking quickly, she cast herself over Josephial, wrapping her hand around his mouth, stifling further sound. She willed her nature to remove them from that place. While small, the crack of light she created was sufficient for them to roll through, her arms binding Josephial tightly. At least his stubble made for a sure grip. She tried not to think over whether their presence was detected or not, shutting the portal behind her. They would need reinforcements if they were to recover anything of Adonael’s body.
In the cavern the great files of demons began to move. The gateway had opened, and hell now entered in.