A Creator’s Journey #6–Prologue to “Rise”

Normally, this particular blog set is about my journey as a writer and creator. This time, I thought I’d simply share my work with you. This is a new prologue I wrote for a mostly-finished book, Rise. If you like it, share it with others and/or consider supporting my work to see it published. Thanks!

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“What do you mean, ‘They’ve taken one of our cities’?”

Enoch swallowed. He found it hard to look at his master, not only for the fear of reporting failure—his failure—but because Zekiel was nearly impossible to see. The darkness in the castle was more than empty space; it was thick, swallowing, like a cloud made of mud. Enoch’s eyes had adjusted to the pressure of such powerful atmospheric magic, but they still couldn’t see through it.

The torchlight in his hand did little against the murky fog, not enough to see across the room to his master’s throne. All he saw at this distance was the dim, red glow if Zekiel’s right eye. Its twin had been snuffed long ago.

Enoch breathed in the black fumes and said, “The fort-town of Derlin has been taken by the enemy. The Rebel flag now flies from its center.”

Distant, rhythmic thuds, like metal-clad fingers drumming on an armrest. “And exactly how did that happen?” The voice reverberated with a metallic echo.

Enoch swallowed again. “We’re…not sure—”

“We? Who is ‘we,’ Enoch? You are in charge of this land, no one else. What you mean to say is that you are not sure.”

“Yes…my lord.” Enoch hid his free hand in the folds of his robes to keep the appearance of composure. “I am not sure. There were no survivors. I know the convert presence there was thin, and the fort-town was not as defensible as some others. However…I am not sure of the particulars. It seems as though they just…fought and won.”

The red eye rose to standing height and moved towards him until Enoch’s torch illuminated the silhouette of a man draped in a cloak. Zekiel’s breath echoed through his metal mask in deep, controlled huffs of barely-contained fury.

“They are supposed to be getting weaker. They’re divided, isolated, cornered, and outnumbered. How did they win?!”

“Lord Zekiel, it’s only one—”

“It’s a symbol!” Zekiel’s eye rushed in even closer, drilling its crimson wrath into Enoch’s face. “It means they’re getting stronger, not weaker. For twenty years, I’ve had victory after victory after victory, but instead of breaking and despairing, they’re held on. Entire countries have fallen to me in weeks—weeks, Enoch! But my own home refuses to fall. I have wrapped my arm around the world, but I cannot scratch my own head! For them to take back even one fold of one corner of the map is an insult to me.”

The eye looked away and heavy footfalls clomped to the left, then the right, then back again. “The Rebel flag, you said? They’re supposed to be less-equipped than the Imperialists.”

“True, but they’re incredibly tenacious,” Enoch said. He couldn’t help the twinge of panic writhing in his chest, and not just because his master was angry. Zekiel had a point: why had the enemy rallied after all their losses? “Perhaps it is our low supply of converts. You said yourself we’ve been in need for some time.”

The pacing footsteps stopped. Enoch squinted in the darkness, though he knew it was worthless. Zekiel let out a long, low sigh. “You have a point there.”

Enoch held his breath. Had he actually appeased his master?

“Come with me.” Zekiel’s footsteps walked away. Enoch couldn’t see his master move, but he had been trained to “sense” it, a swell of darkness more potent and permeable than the rest, like a black bubble in tar. Enoch followed it, the torch in his hand and the sconces on the walls keeping him from tumbling as he followed his master down a flight of stairs.

“Our greatest weakness is that we’re spread too thin,” Zekiel said.

“Are you wanting to recall Rai, Raleigh, and Sindrid?” A new tremble rippled through Enoch. Larlain was supposed to be his domain, his charge. Bringing in the others would imply failure and where would that leave him?

Thankfully, Zekiel said, “No. Doubtless, we would tear through Larlain, but we would move too slowly. By the time we conquered one half of the world, new growth would sprout up in the other. I need my pieces scattered just enough. The problem is the grunts: we don’t have enough converts, and reapers can only do so much.”

They came out into a courtyard, the midnight sky devoid of a moon thanks to a perpetual cloud of magic, further proof of Zekiel’s immense power. Still, the darkness wasn’t as dense out here, and more torches lit the night for the hundreds of men manning the grounds, working the forges, and studying their magics.

Two patrolmen in armor made their rounds. They stopped to let Zekiel and Enoch pass, but did not acknowledge them. Their cold, gray eyes only saw what they needed to.

Zekiel stopped in the middle of the courtyard and turned to Enoch. “We need more converts.”

Enoch frowned. He knew that already, and he knew supplies would not easily come. Converts had to be willing and if the humans had reclaimed a lost land, they would be more vigorous and resistant than ever. Enoch didn’t say this aloud. Zekiel would have already considered that and one of the reasons Enoch had gained his station was by knowing his master’s mind.

Of course, knowing often came by asking. “What is your plan, my lord?”

Zekiel stared into the courtyard. “What does darkness do, Enoch?”

Enoch raised a brow. “It expands. It grows, corrupts, destroys.”

“Corrupts what?”

“Everything.”

“Exactly. People, animals, rocks and trees…” Zekiel held out a hand. “The world itself.” Dark gales flared around his hand and swarmed inky night. Zekiel brought out his other hand and poured himself into the air, grunting with effort.

Effort? Zekiel never struggled; he just did. He was the black scion, darkness bowed to him.

But a stab in his heart told Enoch’s finely-tuned senses that this was no ordinary magic. Ripples appeared in the air, bending the courtyard like a warped mirror. The black magic in Enoch’s blood wriggled at the master’s power, but his heart went cold.

This was…wrong. Not like murder, theft, and destruction, things Enoch had learned to ignore. Some fundamental rule was being broken, some law scribed by deific hands. The world itself trembled, bent, and…broke.

The ripples ripped wider until a great void stood where nothing had once been. Dark shades of blue, red, and violet swarmed in the dead space. Enoch felt for the ripple with a sense most men didn’t have. It was like sensing nothing, yet something. Some gap in reality.

“What is that?” Enoch asked.

Zekiel breathed heavily from exertion. “It’s a road.”

“To what?”

Zekiel chuckled. “Who can say? I have brought the theoretical to life.”

Enoch tried to understand, to show he was still a worthy ally. Space itself seemed to have been torn open, some curtain ripped back. He thought of all he knew about dark magic, the world, and his master.

“Do you mean to say that you have…opened a pathway between worlds? Between…” Dare he say it? “…dimensions?”

“Astute as always,” Zekiel said.

Enoch pocketed the compliment. “That…this is…I suppose you’ve already said it: you’ve made the theoretical real. But do you think you’ll find more willing vessels?”

“It stands to reason that if sentient life exists here, it could exist in another dimension. We know nothing that tells us otherwise.”

“Frankly, my lord, we know nothing at all. This world could have dangers the likes of which we’ve never seen.”

“That goes both ways, and it’s why I’m going first.”

Enoch couldn’t argue that point. Zekiel had conquered most of the known world in twenty years, much of it by himself. No one was more capable than he. Enoch shivered when he looked at the void again. “Do you want me to accompany you?”

“No. Stay here and I’ll tell you what I’ve seen.” Then, he walked into the void and vanished from sight. As if he’d done it before.

Fearlessness. No, he is merely the master of fear. The unknown does not threaten him.

Enoch folded his arms, careful not to singe himself with his torch, and waited in the midnight silence. Well, no, it was never silent here. There was the hissing, always a hissing, like a den of snakes. They were too far away to see, squatting outside the castle, seething at the outside world, aching for orders. One almost got used to them.

Almost.

The portal wasn’t silent either, gurgling and sloshing like saliva swishing through teeth. A road to another dimension. It unleashed a beehive of questions—what creatures lived there, if any? What strange powers and technologies existed? How many worlds were there? Such questions had always arisen from fringe scholars and magical prodigies, but most swept the whole matter under the rug of speculation.

Yet here it was. An emptiness in—

Something flared in Enoch’s peripherals. Before he could turn, a white beam shot past him and flew into the dimensional void. The comet-like tail vanished so quickly that Enoch briefly wondered if he’d seen anything at all.

Yes, he had. He hadn’t just seen it, he’d felt it. Light magic, streaking past him and into the alternate dimension. But what was it?

The ripple had pulsed at the intrusion, but remained. Al looked still and calm, but Enoch stared at the void, waiting for Zekiel’s return. Enoch had to report this. He sensed no other lights around, so the castle wasn’t under attack, but surely something was amuck.

A moment later, the ripple wavered, bent, smoked, and finally collapsed, leaving the world as it once was.

Enoch kept his eyes fixed on the blank space where his master had gone, sweat running down his temple.

Something had gone wrong.

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