The following is an excerpt from the opening sequence of “City of Darkness”:
The elion opened his eyes. He lay in darkness, the earthen floor unyielding against his back. He did not know how long he had been here—hours? Days? Years? It mattered little, for he had long since surrendered his free will, and with such a change, time became meaningless. He’d had a name once, but he’d forgotten it. Names were temporary constructs anyway, and his master’s business was with eternity.
The elion rose, stretching dormant muscles, smelling musty air.
IT IS TIME,the voice said. There had been another voice before this one; he’d hated it and needed it, feared it and loved it, gone mad in its presence and catatonic in its absence. This new voice, though, was life itself, and the elion did not know if he could draw another breath without its power coursing through his veins. Beside him, a root poked through the cracks of the wall. He grasped the root, rising to his feet, breath escaping from his lungs in a low whine. Needing no light to see, the elion stumbled across the tiny space and grasped the handle of a ladder before him. One step at a time, he climbed, silent save for the sound of his feet scraping against each successive iron rung. His head brushed against a cellar door, and with a single push he lifted it out of the way.
He placed a hand in front of his eyes, shielding himself from the resultant light that shone past him, revealing a man’s body still lying on the floor of packed dirt below. The corpse’s throat had been torn out, and stains of dried blood covered the neck. Free will or not, an elion still had to feed.
The elion emerged from the cellar and into the living area of a simple cottage. A table sat in the center of the living room, where furs lined the walls and the front door hung ajar. A trail of blood stretched across the floorboards, thick in some places, thin in others, stopping at the cellar entrance. The woodsman’s struggle had been brief but violent. Fragments of dishes lined the countertop, furniture lay in several places, and a window had been shattered.
The elion reached the table in two strides. He picked up a knife and tested the edge with his thumb, feeling the bright prick of pain as blade sliced flesh. The folds of his skin peeled back like soft clay, and a droplet of deep red sprang from his fingertip. He raised thumb to lips, savoring the flavor. When he stepped outside into the setting sun, the glow of dusk hung heavy over the forest, but the otherwise-expected sounds of nightfall remained conspicuously absent. He supposed it had something to do with himself, and the thought made him smile. He looked west, facing the red orb as it slipped below the horizon. His destination lay somewhere in that direction. He did not know the way, but the voice would guide him.
Before he departed, one more task lay in front of him. The forest around him used to be desolate and barren, but now signs of life grew everywhere—short, healthy trees poked up from the ground, young and with much room to grow, while the formerly lifeless older trees bore every manner of leaf, branch, and flower. It had not been long since the darkness passed, but long enough for the earth to turn once more.
HASTEN TO THE TASK AT HAND, MY SERVANT. LEAVE THIS PLACE AND COME TO ME. YOU SHALL BE MY HAND, IN THIS LIFE AND IN THE NEXT.
“And what of the faithless?” he asked. The words came out of his mouth in a dry croak, echoing against the surrounding forest.
NAUGHT BUT UNENDING DARKNESS.
The elion swallowed, tasting the crust of the woodsman’s dried blood at the corner of his mouth. “Of course, my Lord.” He moved into the woods, as above him a sliver of moon replaced the sun. He would not fail his master; he’d given too much to accept anything other than success. By the time he departed from the forest and onto the plains, a light wind had picked up, wafting across his face. Once, winds had howled across this land, ceaseless and without mercy, but much had changed during these last eighteen months.
Yes, the Warrior of Light had been victorious, but when one door closed, another opened, figuratively and literally. As darkness descended, the elion continued his journey across the plain, making his way into the night.
City of Darkness will be published in December 2018.