Alright, well… Cassandra also couldn’t post this week. However, I’ve been talking for a while now about this new world I’ve got in the works ‘Kalagrosh’. So, I thought you all might like a taste of the first story (hopefully book) that is being written in this world. Really, it’s one of the few times (for me) where a story idea has given birth to a world, instead of the other way around. So, the book doesn’t have a title yet, but here’s a taste of the first chapter (well, this is half of your taste, I’ll post the other half in a few days).
Alanoc tugged on his black leather gloves, a bad habit he knew, but they always felt loose – even the tailored ones that had been fitted to his hands perfectly. Sighing he brushed the black hair out of his eyes and looked again at the thick oaken door. “Might as well get to it,” he muttered. There was no sign of Drevor, and the man was already a full chime late. He could manage without the paladin anyway, but it would have been nice to have some support. Finally he stood, pushing the ornate chair back against the tapestry covered stone wall with his legs, and took one last look at the door. It didn’t move. Exasperated, Alanoc turned to the other door in the room, the one that wasn’t made of wood – or of any other easily identifiable substance.
The other door was black, but shades of deep purple moved through its liquid depths. It had no handle, no hinges, and it could not be opened by any mundane means. The shadow door, though normal size, made the rest of the large room feel cramped and uncomfortable. It was something wrong in an otherwise right world, something painful in the midst of joy. It was a thorn, or at least that was the way Alanoc liked to think of it. Sharp, painful, but ultimately the shadow door protected the palace, and city beyond, from the powerful magics he would work on the other side. Alanoc closed his eyes and, after only a moments hesitation, stepped into the shadow door, allowing the murky liquid to creep over his flesh. He did not breath. One does not breath in the shadow door, it is… unwise. He could feel the dark tendrils crawling over his shoulders and down his back, their presence invading his mind, trying to break down the barriers that he held in place. The door had been known to drive men insane. Alanoc smiled for a moment, though he was careful not to open his lips, as he reflected on the door. It was a necessary evil. Not one that he enjoyed, though he was honest enough to admit feeling the occasional tingle of dark amusement while watching others pass through, especially the ones who couldn’t handle it.
He had time to reflect as he passed through, for this was one of the oddities of the shadow door. While only moments passed for his body, hours passed for his mind. The door whispered his faults to him, screamed, wailed, berated him for cowardice, treason, murder, and all manner of other sins. It showed him images of his darkest moments, the things that even his seared conscience couldn’t let go of, but he kept his shields in pace, and eventually he was through. Alanoc opened his eyes and tugged on his leather gloves again, they just never fit right, and then looked at the corpse sitting in a black iron chair in the center of the room. The man hadn’t been dead for long, a day at most, but his sallow cheeks, swollen and blackened eyes, and the lines of raw flesh crisscrossing his body all spoke to the torturers inefficiency. Alanoc shook his head sadly, wondering why the incompetence of others always wound up meaning more work for him.
The room was relatively small, and there were no racks or dripping pots of hot oil or wax. There were no head crushers, or weights, or wooden donkeys, just the iron chair and a table covered in various vials of liquids and powders, along with a few necessary implements. Alanoc strode over to the corpse purposefully, ignoring the iron cuffs that could bind its legs and feet to the chair, and examined it for a long moment.
The man had been in his early thirties, at Alanoc’s best guess, when he died – and the cause had obviously been blood loss. Alanoc sighed again, and then walked behind the chair to search the table for his needle and thread. When he had found it he purposefully dipped the needle into one of the vials, coating it in a dark, viscous substance, and then he set about sewing up each of the wound, starting from those on the shaven head and face, and slowly moving down the body to those on the legs and feet. Sewing shut all of the cuts and gashes took him nearly half a chime (at best guess), and he was almost finished when he hear someone arrive in the other room.
Drevor’s thick voice echoed through the shadow door. “Alanoc? You already in there?”
“Your late.” Alanoc called back, and then muttered under his breath, “Probably saw the body last night, you lazy scut.”
“Sorry about that,” the paladin’s voice echoed back, and then he was silent for a moment as he passed through the shadow door. He stepped out visibly shaken and glanced behind him, “I swear that thing is getting smarter. It tried to get into my head using Anne’s voice.”
Alanoc glanced up at the bulky man, and then huffed. “It’s not getting smarter. Your just half drunk.”
Drevor scratched at his broad nose with one thick finger. “I am not. A few of the men wanted to treat me to a drink and hear stories. I had one ale and not a drop more.”
Alanoc had already gone back to work, but he snorted anyway. “More like five. I can smell it on you.”
“One,” Drevor said insistently, “one of the soldiers spilled his mug all over me. I changed, but I still reek of the stuff.”
“Whatever you say,” Alanoc muttered as he tied off his last stitch and cut the thread. Then he returned thread and needle to their place in the table. “As long as you’re not too drunk to do your job if something goes wrong.”
“Of course not, I’d have sent someone else were that the case.” Drevor smiled and added, “Someone’s got to keep you honest.”
Alanoc didn’t reply, instead he just motioned Drevor to his place in one corner of the room, and then calmed his mind. It took preparation to cast a truly powerful spell, and the one that Alanoc was about to cast, the one that was a cornerstone of his profession, was one of the most powerful known to men. He walked through the spell in his mind, taking it apart piece by piece, making sure that he remembered every word, every intonation, every gesture, and then he began. His voice started low, almost a whisper, but even with these bare utterances the room filled with light and grew warm. Flowers popped into existence, bloomed in a moment, and then vanished. For an instant a translucent tree filled the room, its bark rubbing up against the walls, and then it too was gone. Then Alanoc’s voice rose, and with it came blinding light and the dreadful heat of a desert summer, animals, plants, things who’s names man has forgotten, and other things that had never been named, appeared and disappeared faster than the eye could blink. Drevor flinched as a leaping panther materialized before him, but it vanished before it could touch him. As the spell reached its crescendo Drevor was forced to close his eyes against the brightness, and hope that nothing went wrong. And then the spell was over, the room quickly faded back to the light provided by the oil lamps on each wall, and cooled to its normal temperature.
“What?” Asked a confused voice from the chair, “What happened?”
Alanoc glanced down at the now living man. “You died Gregori. You died before you gave us what we needed.”