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Friday, 27 July 2012

The Long Haul

Ok, today I'm going to do something a little different, though not unexpected. I wanted to talk about the Olympics, but the opening ceremony isn't for another 12 hours, so I'm going to wait until tomorrow.
In the mean time I would like to regale you with the prologue and first chapter of my duology.
So here it is, the beginning of 'The Man of Heaven' part one of 'The Longest Cycle'

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Prologue

The Mystic

“And so it begins.” A wizened old man sighed, watching with a solemn expression, as the final nail of his beloved Kingdom’s coffin was slammed deep into his King's chest. The wizened man had stood as head of his order for nearly half a century. The old man was beginning to think that he would never see the prophecy unravel and after coming to know his King as he did; the order leader had come to hope that he wouldn’t- though he would never tell his followers such a truth.
“The first sign of the prophecy…” He muttered, watching as fire engulfed the slums. “… A beloved King falls, his city aflame, as the bloody moon watches over head.” The old man stared upwards at the moon, its crimson features clearly visible in the darkness. He did not know why the moon now bled. Perhaps it bled for the good man and his followers that were slain that day. Perhaps it was part of the magic that the foreign King, now sitting atop the better man’s throne, had commanded upon the Kingdom to hide his invading forces. The wizened man did not care. For all he knew it could be magic, sympathy, a sign from the gods, or something far more mundane…. What the man did know, however, was that he hated it.
The old man had witnessed the deaths of eight Kings. Most of them bad men, none of them his friend and ally…. Why had it not bled for them? Why did it have to be King Tennion? A tear rolled down his cheek, the only grieving he imagined that he would be allowed in the coming days.
“Master Falsion?” A young man- though only young to the wizened order leader’s eyes -asked, stepping forward. “Why do you cry, Master? This is a good thing, surely? The chosen of the gods is coming.”
Master Falsion looked away from the blasted celestial entity and nodded. “It is.” He said. “I simply wish that my friend was not butchered in order for it to happen.”
“I understand, Master. However, what’s done is done. We could not have stopped it. We must look at the positive. Look to the future.” The second man said.
“The chosen of the gods.” Falsion muttered, turning his wizened gaze to the burning city. The flames were beginning to die down. “You are right, of course, Afiel. We will do as the teachings order us. We are to disperse, hide among the people and look for the signs. We must find ‘the man who holds the stars in his hand’….” Master Falsion of the Mystic ordered turned away from the city to face his followers; those that were present stood below the wall he watched from.
The order, numbering in the hundreds, looked up at him from the courtyard of their main temple. They were all terrified, he could see it in their eyes. Many of them were excited for the coming of their prophesied saviour, however all of them knew what that meant. At the coming of the Chosen Champion the order would be destroyed.

~|~

The Angel

Naked in the middle of a field. That wasn’t exactly how they had explained it. That wasn’t exactly how he had hoped to return. Something was wrong. Something must have happened… perhaps… perhaps it had intervened. They thought they were being so careful, and yet… Something must have happened. The man lay in the field naked, without any of his belongings and… “No power. My powers are gone, stripped…”
It was a weird, horrible sensation, like losing a sense, like losing a limb... No, more like losing a level of sentience. The man didn’t move, he almost could not bring himself to do so, everything felt so much heavier with arms, legs, a body, and no power. The man looked around, he was in a crater, dirt and rock spattered the ground around him. Apparently he had hit the ground hard, but he didn’t feel it. Maybe his survival had expended the minute amount of power that it could not strip from him.
That didn’t matter. What did matter was that he was lying naked, fully physical, in the middle of a crater, and whoever owned the field probably knew that something had fallen. He had to get up, he had to go… he had to find some sort of clothing.
He had to go, he couldn’t be found by someone, not while he was weak. Yet… he couldn’t, he simply couldn’t bring himself to move. Being back on the ground, away from them; it was depressing, agonising even. Though he understood why he was there at an intellectual level he could not help but feel a little betrayed. He had served his time on the planet, he had been faithful, and yet here he was, cast back down to help someone he did not even know.
Though it was more than the depression; he wasn’t even sure he knew how to move his parts. He hadn’t had any in so long…
“Swee’-Eve!” Came a rather uncultured voice above the fallen man. “Wha’ in da’ all migh’y Eve’s name are ya’ doin’ on my land withou’ a shred o’ digni’y on? Who are ya’?”
It was then that the man realised that he had no name. His old name was no longer his, and through his re-birth he would need to be re-named. There was a law, godly, mystical and ancient that stated that no man can pick their own name. He did not know why, nor did he care, however without any response for the land owner, the naked man found every muscle, every joint, every bone in his body at once and fled, straight into a woodland area at the edge of the field.
Well at least we know I work. The nameless man thought to himself, running through the trees, bare chested with genitals swinging freely between his legs; the only sensation that was stranger to him than the feeling of using muscles to move.
 The nameless man tripped and fell as he found a clearing. He rolled forward and slammed into the ground, breathing hard. He cringed at a stone digging into his back and shifted slightly. He was in pain, another thing he hadn’t felt in over a millennia. He was exhausted, it was only a short run, but it was all of his energy, he had run flat out. Before this new body he hadn’t expended any energy to move. In fact he hadn’t ever needed to move, back with them you saw all and knew all, it was bliss.
A tear rolled down the nameless man’s cheek as he glared up at the sky. “I hate you. I Hate You! I HATE YOU! WHY ME!”



Chapter 1

Mere candle-marks. Not seasons, not weeks, not even days. It took mere candle-marks for the new King to begin his assault. Begin the culling of those who might rebel against him. If it were not for the fact that it were his friends and kinsmen tied to posts, Daveth might have been impressed by the conqueror's organisation and diligence.
As it stood, however, Daveth only grieved. He grieved for his friends, he grieved for his Kingdom, but mostly he grieved for himself. He grieved for his inability to help, and for the pain he must endure, watching their deaths. It was the hardest thing he had ever been made to endure, but what good would his sacrifice do? Martyrs are only worth what the people think of them, and nobody knew him. His sacrifice would be meaningless.
The grieving man walked in a crowd of people, some he knew, others he didn’t. It was a small town he lived in, the town of Oakshire, but gathering everyone in the town centre proved that even a small town on the outskirts of a Kingdom could have an abundant population.
King’s men, dressed in brown leather armour that covered their bodies and the new King’s emblem emblazoned on each loyal supporter’s chest forced the crowd forward, towards the square. Each guardsman held a sword while the crowd were unarmed, helpless, the way the King wanted them to feel.
A woman in front of Daveth tripped and landed awkwardly on her arm, almost breaking it, he could tell. Daveth was a doctor, he could see injury and sickness everywhere, and knew when there wasn’t any. He watched as people ignored her. They pushed past without care, staggering through their own depression and ignoring all others. A common feeling after the death of their beloved King and his two heirs. They didn’t care if they hurt their neighbours, they didn’t care if they hurt their friends, they certainly didn’t care that they might hurt this woman. The healer reached the woman and knelt down beside her, placing a hand on her arm and giving her a comforting smile as he blocked the path.
“Are you ok?” he asked, taking her hand. Her palm was a little grazed, and her wrist might have been twisted. He looked up at the woman as she nodded. She looked as tired, depressed and exhausted as everyone else in the town.
The guards had appeared the night before, just as the sun set. They had locked everyone in their homes while they killed every member of the town guard, or pressed them into service. Daveth could see several enlisted men that he had once trusted to watch over him kicking the townspeople into line not too far away.
“Ok, lets get you-” He started, but was cut off as one of the King’s guards noticed them and yelled over.
“You!” The guard shouted, pushing through the crowd. The people passively allowed the man with the sword to push them aside, even knock one or two to the floor before he reached Daveth and his patient. Not one of them considered taking the blade from him, not one realised that they outnumbered him a hundred to one. “What are you doing? Keep moving!”
“Yes, sir.” Daveth said, standing and helping the woman up. He looked up at the man’s face. It was half covered by his helmet, but Daveth knew him. You didn’t forget the faces of people you had treated over the years. He had been a protector of the people, and now… It sickened him. Daveth wanted to take the sword and return it in a far less favourable manner, but he didn’t. Arguing and fighting with the guard was pointless. It wasn’t that he was a coward; passiveness was just a better option, a better survival method, it would take the entire town to fight back this invasion, and he knew that these people weren’t going to help. Not yet. “Kaelin, I’m a doctor, you know this. I was simply making sure the woman was all right, she fell.” He said in a placating tone.
The guardsman, Kaelin, grabbed Daveths shoulder and spun him to follow the crowd and then pushed him forward. He did as he was indicated with gritted teeth, following the crowd and leaving the woman to walk alone.
Daveth could see people at the front of the crowd begin to disperse sideways as they reached the town square. Something large had been erected in the centre, probably a large stockade; the Kingdom had a tendency towards letting men die choking… though in King Tennion’s reign there had been very few executions. Now that this usurper had taken power Daveth expected the number of public hangings to- The healer came within sight of the large something, and it wasn’t a hangman's stockade. It looked more like an automated bonfire… no… it didn’t look like it, that was what it was. Daveth could smell the fire fluid from quite far back. The men he knew as friends would be burnt alive.
The healer eyed the executioner’s contraption, built specifically for this day and, though he was a peaceful man, with much loathing for death, he found himself longing for the guillotine or hang-man’s noose.
The machine of death was simple by design. Three wooden pillars stood in the middle of the square, where the bound men were tied, while fire fluid soaked into the wood and tinder stacked around them. The oil flowed down tracks from where the executioner stood. Above where the three oil paths became one, a stone brazier held many embers, waiting for the executioner to hammer them through one of the small holes at the base. It would only take a single spark to ignite the oil and burn the men to death.
Daveth gagged at the thought, looking away. It was clear from the crowd that most- if not all -of the small town’s inhabitants had been forced to bare witness, not just his quarter of the town. With all of Oakshire’s people congregated in the square muttering had begun. A general air of fear, an understandable side effect of the King’s death and the execution about to take place, fuelled the discussions. The people, too scared to stay, but too terrified to leave, cowered before the guardsmen, waiting for the terrible event to be over.
Looking to the front of the crowd Daveth found the families of the execution’s victims. All of those at the front were the wives and children of the men on the metaphorical executioner’s block. They cried, begged and pleaded for their husbands and fathers to be spared, they were the loudest voices in the whole of the town, only thirty or so, yet every man woman and child congregated could hear them.
They were so loud that Daveth feared for their safety. The guards seemed to have been ordered not to allow any interruptions and the grievers were hugely distracting. However when the Kings speakers- three tall, black clad men with shaved heads and the Kings symbol tattooed onto their cheeks, looking hard and angry as they stood beside the executioner on the machine of death -spoke, the entire town fell silent in an instant.
“For the crime of treason, and treasonous intent against the crown of His Holiness The Sacred One, you have been found guilty and sentenced to death by fire.” The middle man called out to the crowd. Daveth turned his gaze back upon his friends. The King’s men ignored the prisoners, bound and gagged, as they attempted to plead through their restraints. This wasn’t about what they had or had not done, this was about showing the people what would happen should they do anything against the word of the King “The people will bare witness and know what comes of treason as these cleansing embers are hammered down into the oil below.”
Daveth turned from the men he had grown up with, suddenly realising how wet and tear-stained his cheeks had become. He could not bear to watch what was fast approaching. Could not bear to face their pain. He turned to watch the sky, but didn’t quite make it. Instead he found himself watching a boy. A young man, no older than Daveth’s son would be, had he survived the child fevers. The young man, who appeared as though he had seen roughly twenty winters, had short but messy dark brown hair, grey-green eyes, a skinny, but obviously well-toned, body, and one of the most handsome faces that the man had ever seen in the town. He did not look like a commoner, nor a labourer, his features were not sullied in any way, not like every other man in the street. If Daveth had seen him at any other juncture in his life he would have assumed the man noble born, but he wasn’t the Manor Lords son so, unless he was visiting and hiding amongst the rabble, trying not to be killed like all of the other nobles who had not betrayed the King of Tidan, that could not be the case.
The man was a strange comparison to Daveth himself, who was fairly short, had greying blonde hair, and paling hazel eyes. Of course Daveth wasn’t ugly, he was quite handsome, but standing near this young man the doctor couldn’t help but feel grizzled.
It was not the young man’s features that drew the doctor’s eye, however; it was his expression. His resolve. He was angry, furious. Daveth knew the young man was intending to do something stupid, yet could not find it in himself to stop him.
Daveth watched as the young man took a resolute step forward, and then another. He felt as though he should intervene, stop the boy before he got himself killed, but he did not know how. He couldn’t move. He couldn’t stop watching. It was like watching an arrow soaring through the air towards its target, he was fascinated by where it would hit.
The young man pushed past an older woman and moved into a jog. Daveth turned back to the execution, a rush of hope tugging at his chest that the boy might be able to save them. The executioner had grasped his hammer, lifting it up onto his burly shoulders. Daveth turned back to the young man who had moved into a sprint. He dodged around those people that he could, but he knocked over more than he avoided.
The executioner raised his hammer over his head, ready to slam down death upon the rebels. Daveth’s eyes darted between the boy and the executioner, and back to the boy. The young man was almost there… “He’s gonna make it…” Daveth muttered, stunned as the young man disappeared into the densest section of the crowd at the very front.
Daveth turned to the executioner, he swung his mighty hammer down as the boy emerged from the crowd, his right hand open out in front of him, almost as if he were trying to grab hold of the executioner.
The hammer hit home sending a block of ember down into the fire fluid, and small pieces flying off with the wind, straight into the boy’s hand. A ‘twang’ and a ‘thuck’ noise, quickly followed by a gasp from the crowd, preceded an arrow being embedded deep in the boys chest, sending him sprawling to the floor.
Daveth looked up at the roof tops, from where the arrow had originated. Unseen archers, following the boy’s progress the entire time… There had never been any hope.
                                                                                               ~|~

Flashes of light and pain shooting through the man’s chest and back interrupted his sleep constantly. He didn’t know how long he had slept since he had died… Since he had thought he had died. Though judging from the pain arcing through him almost the entire time; he had survived. He had no idea how, he had no idea why, all he knew was that it hurt. A lot.
“I- I think he’s waking up, father,” the voice of a young girl called. The young man felt that she couldn’t be far away, though it sounded as though she were in another room. His hearing was muffled, his other senses dampened.
“Quick, go get some water, Ailee,” came the voice of a man, older from the sound of it, though the bedridden youth could not be sure.
“Yes Father,” the girl said, audibly rushing from the room as her father sat down beside him.
“Can you hear me lad?” the man asked, earning little more than a muffled groan as a response. “What is your name? Do you remember?”
The young man groaned again, trying to speak, but finding it hard. His throat was dry and it was hard to breathe.
“Here, father, I- the water," the girl, Ailee, said as she re-entered the room.
“Thank you, dear, now go return to your studies," the man said, taking what the young man assumed was a cup of water. He heard the man place the cup down on a table and then felt a hand on his back, gently encouraging him into a seated position. It hurt, a lot, but the young man allowed his… saviour? Captor? He didn’t know. Whoever the man was, he let him help him up. “Drink," he said, placing the cup, carefully, into the young man’s hands and lifting it to his lips.
The young man gulped down the water, only then realising how dry his mouth and throat were. He finished the water and let the man take the cup away. The youth sighed, enjoying the cool air of the room on his, now moist, throat for a moment before attempting to speak again. “Seiru," he said simply, wincing as the simple effort of speaking hurt his chest and back.
“Excuse me?” the man asked, placing the cup back onto the table.
“My name is Seiru Valynd-Se-Oakshire," the young man said, falling into a coughing fit. He wiped his lips with his fore-arm and placed a hand on his chest. He could feel a difference. He could feel the wound where he had been hit, by an arrow he assumed. It still hurt, though not as bad as he would expect from something that had happened a mere- how long ago had it been?
He still hadn’t opened his eyes. Somehow he couldn’t. Seiru reached up and felt fabric covering that part of his face, a bandage. It meant that Seiru had no idea how long he’d been unconscious. When he had been foolish it had been morning, he had been out of it for at least a day, but somehow the feelings of exhaustion, hunger and thirst that wrapped up his insides made him sure that he had been out for longer.
“Seiru?” the older man asked, bringing him back to the present. “It is good to meet you, Seiru Valynd. My name is Daveth Holts-Se-Tidan. I’m sure you have questions, and I will answer as many as I can, but for now you should rest. You’ve been through a lot, though you were unconscious for most of it you are still healing. Do not take off the bandages covering your eyes, the ashes and embers that got caught in them injured you pretty badly and need a few more days to let them heal. Sleep now and we will talk later.”
Seiru heard Daveth stand up and move to the door. “Wait,"  Seiru said, reaching out a hand, to where he thought the man was. “Did those men… In the square yesterday… what happened?”
Daveth sighed. “They were executed as planned… and that was well over a week ago.”
Seiru emulated Daveth’s sigh. A week… He’d been out for a full week… He didn’t know if that troubled him more or less than his failure.
He wasn’t sure what he’d expected. His rescue had been pathetic, there had been no chance that those men would have been saved, even if he hadn’t been shot down before he even reached them.
“Sleep now," Daveth said,  stepping out and closing the door behind him.

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Well, thanks for reading that.
I hope you enjoyed it at least a little bit, any comments you have you know what to do.

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- James

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