Excerpt - from "Shadowghast"

This is a clip from the beginning of one of the novels I hope to publish soon. (copyright 2018)

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For two years, he was nearly always in trouble with his instructors for tardiness or absence, but by the third year they simply gave up reprimanding the boy. Holl would always get away with it, his father being Chief of the Drids and equally rambunctious in his ways. Rather than rebuke his son, Darnos would demand that Holl tell him all about his excursions and even mentioned various secret spots he’d found (while flying about when he should have been at the castle). The man only made sure his son was present three of the five sessions each week so that, when asked about it, he could shrug and say he was training the boy himself and “Doesn’t he go more than half of the time? That should be enough for such a gifted young strap.”

Today, Holl was on his way to receive the assignments he’d missed that day for an autumn wind on Steelwing. He had wanted to show his other dragon – whom he’d found in the mountains just over a month ago – what the world looked like from the skies, as the creature could not yet fly. Upon his arrival, Holl had to leave Steelwing at the castle entrance because she was too big to go inside, but he could take the little cream-colored dragon baby in with him.

His footsteps echoed noisily through the main, sunstone-lit halls – his dragon perched on his shoulder, chewing strands of Holl’s earth-brown locks and trying to stay balanced by wrapping his tail around Holl’s neck. Holl had named the dragon “Peragrin” due to his similarity in both sound and perch to a falcon, though just recently he learned that he had misspelled the name. He’d told his instructor, however, that he had meant to do it and had simply believed “Peregrine” too feathery a spelling for a dragon. As it so happened, the boy was on his way to see this instructor – Mr. Calder; a man who seemed always to have a stick up his rear and a bitter taste in his mouth.

“You know, Peri,” he said to the dragon upon reaching the door to Calder’s lair, “I’ll be reprimanded needlessly if you continue at my hair like that. And he’ll force me to take another bath.” Peragrin cooed and cocked his scaly head, then released Holl’s hair and proceeded to pet it down with as much vigor as his little forearms could manage. The jewel-scale in the middle of his forehead shimmered with light greens – it was a scale that revealed a dragon’s emotions. Every dragon had one, but it would eventually be completely covered up by the time the dragon was full-grown by new scales. Light green reflected a caring spirit.

Holl grinned. “That’s alright, Peri; it doesn’t stay down anyway. Let’s just get this over with, shall we?”

Peragrin cooed again in inquiry, then stood tall upon Holl’s shoulder – his way of telling Holl he was ready and promised to be good. The boy chuckled, turned the handle, and pushed the door.

“Hiya, Calder! Whatcha got for me tod–?”

Holl stopped. The room was not at all as it had been yesterday, or any other days when he had been required to enter. Normally, four tall lamps stood in the corners like a transition from one wide bookcase to another, and another, and the door. Upon the long desk at which Calder would be seated, hands folded and face scowling to present his impatience with all possible vexations, a scatter of papers would feign organization. Holl was used to sitting at the other side of that desk, staring back at Mr. Calder – and Mr. Calder’s papers – grinning just to watch him turn colors.

But none of that would take place this time.

No. This time was very different. The lamps were toppled and no longer burned; even the large sunstone in the ceiling refused to shine. With the door open, the darkness was bearable, but definitely strange and unexpected. Peragrin hissed and spread his wings in a desire to blow fire at this new foe – he was still too young to do much more that spit hot lougies, but that did not keep him from trying.

Holl ventured into the mess. Most of the books had found new places on the stone floor, and the papers that had usually been on Calder’s desk were scattered among them; Holl had to be careful not to slip on them. Now in the middle of the room, he could see something black on the ceiling's sunstone; he pulled out his own smaller version, which hung around his neck next to his dragonwhistle (to call Steelwing). He rubbed a thumb across its surface to make glow brighter, then held it up. The “something black” was a hole – a deep, ridged hole in the center of the ceiling's stone.

“Mr. Calder?” he called into the room, longing for a reply. He took the necklace off and held the sunstone out in front of him toward the desk. The seat was empty and off in a corner. “Mr. Calder?” he tried again, walking around the desk. Another black something caught his eye, poking out from around the desk.

A shoe.

Holl quickened pace, staring at the floor. Another shoe. Both attached to the feet and legs of an elder man. Holl bent down and reached into the darkness beneath the desk where the body would be, gripping his sunstone with the same intensity of the fear that gripped his heart, making it pound as though he were falling off a cliff. Could this be Calder? Was he dead? What did a dead person look like? What if he was turned into an undead? What if the rest of his body wasn’t even there? This last question terrified him the most, but he needed to know. He just had to…

The stone revealed a hand, an arm, a chest, shoulders… He gasped and pulled away. Fortunately, the head was still there. Unfortunately, it proved to Holl that this was indeed Mr. Calder. And he was, indeed, dead. Holl swallowed, breathed, and held out his stone once more – something wasn’t right, aside from the chaotic arrangement of the room, and he wouldn’t leave until he knew what it was. Perhaps it was the fact that there was no blood to be found. And the position of Calder’s body was strange – his legs outside the cubby of the desk and his body curled up inside. But his expression was the most eerie. Complete terror and an overwhelming sense of pain had hardened into his cheeks, his mouth screaming silently and his eyes…

His eyes! There it was. His eyes were wide open as though they were staring at something, except that there were no pupils to stare with. And no irises. His eyes were sheet white – completely devoid of any color whatsoever.

Holl knelt there, mesmerized. He was terrified and confused, yet morbidly curious. He found he could move in no direction, neither to run out of the room nor to inspect further. So he simply sat there with his arm out and his eyes fixed on those that would never look back at him again…

Until Peragrin hissed.

Holl jolted back into the world. Peragrin did not stop hissing. The little dragon cast glances to every corner of the room, lifting his wings and revealing his teeth. The small jewel-scale between his eyes, was glowing a deep purple mingled with black streaks – he was scared. Holl jumped up, glancing at the bookcase-covered walls.

“Okay, Peri,” he said, backing away from the body. “Let’s go.”

He turned and bolted for the door, stumbling over the mess. Peragrin was not helping his nerves any, for now instead of hissing the dragon let out a screech like a cry of a falcon in terror – a sound that is seldom ever heard. Holl knew something dangerous was in the room – likely the same something that killed Calder. But the door was just ahead. They would get out and find an elder.

Zhing!

Holl heard the familiar sound of metal being unsheathed, but it was not the same as a sword. This sound came from something small. He did not have time to identify it before he felt a quick wind in front of his nose and a shink! as an object sank into the bookcase on his left. His mind quickly linked these sensations together and he crouched just in time to miss another piece of metal flying at him from the right. Then he heard another sound that induced more fear into him than the first. It was the sound of a door, shutting.

Holl held out his sunstone and rushed at the door without any other thoughts in his head save to escape. However, this lack of thought found him running straight into the path of another flying piece of metal. It made contact, sinking deep into his arm and making him lose grip. The sunstone clattered to the floor as he stumbled, dazed, over the scatter of books.

Peragrin jumped off his shoulder for safety, letting out another shriek. But he quickly crawled back to Holl with great concern – his jewel-scale was a blue-green hue now, though fearful black and purple streaks continued to pattern their way through.

“Get behind me, Peri!” Holl demanded, pulling a metal disc from his arm before putting pressure on it. “I’m fine.” But the little dragon would not move from his side; he knew better. Without the use of his arm, Holl would be at a great disadvantage if he wished to fight. Scared but determined, the creature spread his wings, bared his teeth, and hissed in the direction of the flying metal.

And once again, Holl noticed something black. Even in the dark room lit only by the dim glow of his small sunstone half hidden by Calder’s scattered papers, the silhouette of this new object stood out as an ominous mass. And it moved. This something was alive. It’s form was similar to a tall man, but with too many joints. The misshapen figure dragged his arms – or what Holl deduced were his arms – along slowly at first, making his presence completely known. Then all at once, it pounced upon the light of Holl’s stone with a force of its fist that shattered the crystal.

Holl stiffened, paralyzed. The darkness was now complete. He heard the figure cackle in a low gravelly voice as it slid across the ground toward him, anticipating the easy kill and enjoying every second of it. What it was and why it was there Holl did not know. The realization struck him: he could actually die. After all, even his training instructor had not been able to beat back this… thing.

Hahch! Hahch! Hahch! Peragrin was furiously trying to blow fire next to him. The poor thing wouldn’t last long. Without thinking, Holl grabbed the little creature and curled protectively over him. Perhaps it would not care about the dragon and would be satisfied with merely killing him…

A sudden shriek split Holl’s ears. It was not the falcon-like cry of his dragon. It sounded more like many voices in one, all screaming with pain. Holl glanced up… and realized he could see!

The door was open! And in the doorway stood his best friend/adopted brother, Doren, and his father, Darnos, along with the twin seers, Sayla and Raga, standing behind them. Both his father and Doren had bows in their hands, though Doren’s was only at ready, with an arrow still placed. Darnos had shot his already, and now positioned a second… And released it.

The arrow zoomed through the air, crackling with a lightning tip – an ability the chief was well known for. It hit its mark, and the grotesque figure screamed once more, then disappeared.

“Holl!” Doren called out, leaving his bow at the door and rushing over to his brother. “Holl! Raga warned us. Are you okay?”

“Holl!” Sayla squeezed between her sister and Darnos. She said nothing more, but simply ran to his side, with tears of fear and relief, and gestured for his wounded arm. Holl shakily released Peragrin and turned to face his friends, trying to catch his breath – it was only now that the terror struck him full force. He could have died. He should have died. He felt it inside himself. He knew... Fate had meant for him to died.

As Sayla sang healing over his wound and Doren examined Peragrin to make sure he wasn’t also wounded, Holl looked up at Raga, standing alone in the doorway – Darnos had gone off into the room to search for Mr. Calder and examine the bookshelves. Raga's face – white like her sister’s from lack of sun – rarely ever showed surprise or fear, and in that, this time was no different. But the girl, who generally bore a stoic disposition, wore a definitely unusual expression upon her face, which Holl could not quite place. Grief, perhaps, or sorrow, mixed with… anger? Hatred? But when she realized Holl to be looking at her, she let her expression relax and offered him a nod of acknowledgement. Holl tried to return the gesture, but was too dazed to figure out how.


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