when i first started writing this story, it was a glorified excuse to write violent battles and horrifying characters. Since then it has evolved and i found myself disliking the prologue and first two chapters. i've rewritten the prologue and intend on heavily editing the first two chapters. anyway, here, read this sh*t:
The soldier slowly plodded his horse down the road leading from Tyfor to Ophem, the capital. The wound in his abdomen ached, but it was nothing he hadn't felt before. His armor was packaged in a thick leather casing on his horse's back, and his weapon, a wide iron greatsword, was hanging against the horse's left side, swaying and slapping its side with every step. This was the soldier's first full-scale battle since Karlya was born, and he was disgusted to find that he still relished it. He thought he'd had his fill of death, but he'd slain a great many barbarians today, and found himself blooddrunk once again. There was a time he had sought battle, sought wounds and killing, but that was before his daughter arrived in this world. Now he only fought to protect her from the new threat of the barbarians.
The adrenaline rush caused by fighting and being wounded had long passed, and he felt drained and weary. He looked forward to seeing his daughter again, and he knew she was eager to see him as well. He had only been gone a full day before being wounded badly by a spear-wielding barbarian, but a day away from her felt like an eternity. He cast his mind back to her birth and her mother's death. Up until that point, he had lived for battle. He'd savored every chance to cross swords and risk his life in combat. Living on the razor thin edge between life and death was all that mattered. But everything changed one night. His wife died in labor and he was left with no choice but to care for his newborn daughter. He'd put his sword and armor away and tried his best to raise her, with the kind help of his neighbors, especially their teenage daughter.
The soldier was lost in these thoughts, the pain in his gut temporarily forgotten, as he trotted his horse down the cobbled road. The landscape was rolling plains. To either side of him, small wooden huts lined the road in no particular pattern. Women were around some of these - the wives and mothers of the soldiers stationed in various city-states - tending goats within flimsy wooden fences and stamping in fullos. No doubt their minds were on the invasion, dreading their husbands and sons going off to full-scale war.
The barbarians that lay to the east had never interfered with coalition cities - they were too busy fighting over the great expanse of land they resided on. The coalition had kept a close eye on these undeveloped peoples, but saw no reason to interact.
"Soldier!" Adre heard called from his right. He looked there and saw an old woman in a dark red shawl rocking in a wooden chair. He stopped his horse's trot. The woman slowly stood and came to the edge of her porch. "What news do ye bring, soldier? What news of Tyfor?"
"She holds, mother. Fret not, the coalition's young fighting men are not easy prey for brutes."
"You were there, soldier? Do ye know a man by the name David Hoph? He's no more than a boy, really."
Adre kept his composure so as not to give the woman any hint. "Aye, Hoph. Fine soldier, he is, mother. Rest assured, he is healthy."
The relief was evident on the woman's face. "Thank ye, soldier. My grandson, he is."
A young girl in a dirty white dress came out of the hut, rubbing her eyes childishly. She had blonde, curly hair, like her father and like Adre's own daughter. "Daddy's okay?" she asked Adre. He was struck by strong empathy for this girl. He kept his face composed, even managed a smile. "Aye, young lady. Your father is very well."
The girl smiled brightly, displaying undeveloped teeth.
"Gods bless ye, soldier," the old woman called.
Adre nodded and booted his horse, continuing its trot. Hoph had been in his unit. He recalled seeing him being impaled through the chest by a spear during a charge. He felt sorrow well up in him for Hoph's daughter, who looked strikingly like his own. He thought about Karlya receiving news from some coalition soldier of his death. He didn't want to persue this train of thought any further and forced himself to ponder something else.
Why were the barbarians attacking now? There had been no bad blood between them and the coalition, they'd kept to themselves. Had they unified the clans in preparation for the assault? This thought gave Adre chills. The barbarians had been self-destructive for time immemorial, battling each other for a reason that no one in the coalition could see. In that regard, they were no threat. But the barbarian lands were vast, and the horde numerous beyond measure. If they were indeed unified...
Adre shoved these thoughts from his mind as well. He was nearing the gates of Ophem, where he and his daughter resided. He padded his breast pocket for the gift he'd bought her, felt it, and smiled.
His horse continued down the cobbled path. Traffic in town was heavy. Market stalls were open and shoppers were perusing their wares. Couriers weaved between caravans. Young children scurried about, playing tag or just running for the sake of it. He envisioned Karlya playing with these children, but she wasn't like other children. Terribly shy and reserved, she preferred the company of her adoptive older sister, the neighbor's teenage daughter. Adre told Karlya frequently how much she resembled her mother in that regard, to which she often replied with a tentative smile, "Mommy would have been my friend, I bet. She sounds nice. Someday I'll meet her, right, daddy?" To which he invariably replied with a wide, warm smile, "Of course."
Adre was passing his blacksmith's shop. The smithy's 'prentice was inserting a red hot blank into the forge.
"Adam!" Adre called.
The 'prentice looked around dumbly and scanned for the owner of the voice. When he saw Adre, his face brightened like that of a child's. "Hey, Adre!" he called in a voice that could only belong to a natural fool. "Back from the fight?"
"That's right, Adam. How's that piece I ordered coming along?"
A troubled look of confusion came over the 'prentice's face, then the bright grin returned. He set the blank on an anvil went to a wooden work bench. He picked something up with both hands and turned around. He held out before him a small bronze and cedar crossbow. It had leather straps hanging from either side and a circular bolt magazine that would wrap around one's forearm.
"Almost done, Adre! The..." again that confused look, quickly replaced by his grin again, "repeating mechanism" - he said these words slowly and deliberately - "still needs some work, it'll be done by tonight!"
"Fine work, Adam."
"Goin' ta see your daughter, are yeh?"
"That's right, and I'm eager to be on my way."
"Oh, sure, Adre! Tell her Adam says hullo!"
Adre nodded. "Long days and pleasant nights, Adam."
"You too, Adre, my good friend!"
Adre continued his horse's trot toward his home.
Twilight was upon the land. Adre's horse trotted up the path leading to his home, a one story stone structure with a small porch. There was no light coming from inside. Asleep, then. He wouldn't wake her. He looked forward to seeing her face light up when she realized he was back home in the morning. He carefully dismounted his steed, favoring his injury, and walked it to the porch. He tied it off and walked up the porch. He tried the door - unlocked. Strange, the neighbor girl never forgot to lock up when she left. He opened the door and walked in.
The entry hall was dark. There were two pairs of shoes on a mat at the entrance. The neighbor girl stayed the night, then. He smiled. It always delighted Karlya to have her adoptive big sister sleep over. He softly closed the door behind him. He removed his tan traveling cloak and hung it from a peg to his left. He walked to a table upon which sat a lone candle on a small iron platter with a small finger ring protruding from the side. He struck a match and held it to the wick until it caught, then shook the match out. He took the platter and went down the hall. He stepped in something wet. He looked down. In the candle's soft light, it looked like dark oil. He bent down and inspected further. He held the candle close to the ground, and that's when all strength left him. His stomach turned into a knot as he tried to deny what he was seeing.
He had stepped in a pool of blood. He looked up and saw a trail of dark droplets leading into the next room. He tossed the candle away and dashed down the hall.
He turned the corner and saw his only reason for living lying on the floor. She was laying in an unnatural position and blood had pooled around her neck, which had been gashed open. He slowed, stopped, collapsed on his hands. He grasped his head tightly with both hands and curled inward, loosing a desperate, tortured moan. Tears began to flow as he crawled to his daughter's body and looked into her face. Her kind blue eyes were open. With trembling hands he grasped either side of her head and looked into her lifeless eyes. He closed his own and rested his forhead upon hers, loosing a tremendous cry of fury and loss. He stayed that way for a while, his breathing hitched and wheezy. Finally he raised his head and opened his eyes. His face was an amalgamy of pain and anger. His tears fell upon his daughter's cold face and streamed onto the floor. He gently stroked his hand over her face, closing her eyes. He kissed her forhead and slowly stood. He turned and trudged away, walking toward his bed chamber. He entered the room and walked to the heavy maple chest laying at the foot of his bed. He threw it open and looked inside. In it lay various oils and clothes, along with his military issue spatha. He reached into the chest and grasped the sword. His face was emotionless, perfectly blank. He raised the sword and removed the sheath, letting it fall to the floor where it made a flat thump. He turned and fell to his knees. He placed the tip of the sword to his heart and closed his eyes. I can't live without you, Karlya. I'll meet you in the underworld.
Just as he was about to shove the sword into his heart, he heard a voice rise from the bottom of his mind.
The voice was silky and mocking. Adre opened his dull, wet eyes.
Don't you want revenge, soldier? Don't you want to carve up those who stole her from you? My, soldier, don't tell me all that bloodthirst has left you so quickly.
"Who are you," Adre asked in a flat voice.
Me? I'm just an interested observer. I see your face, soldier, and heard your cries. You are not done with this world yet.
"You know nothing."
I know enough, soldier. I know you would take any chance offered to destroy those who took your life from you.
Adre removed the spatha from his chest. "Speak. Tell me who did this."
First, soldier, you must agree to serve me. I can grant you the power to destroy your foes, but your loyalty is required.
Adre sat on his knees, considering.
"Whom will I serve."
I am Hades, Lord of the Underworld. Do you agree to serve, soldier? Quickly now, time is wasting.
Adre didn't need any more time to think it over.
"I will serve."
Adre felt Hades' devious smile in his mind.
Excellent, soldier. There's one last detail that needs attending to. A live servant is of no use to me. Remove your heart, soldier, and I will tell you who has incurred your wrath.
The irony struck Adre and he smiled a sick smile. He dropped the spatha and ripped his shirt open. He brought his hand to his chest, forming a spade. His pressed toward his heart. His fingers sank into his flesh and blood began seeping from the wound. He pressed deeper, penetrating muscle. He grimaced at the ripping pain. A spray of blood was ejecting from the wound. He felt bone and grasped a rib. The agony was enormous, every movement of his hand sending shockwaves of pain through his chest. He pressed downward, snapping the rib with a dull crack. He cried out and doubled over, moaning. He dug his hand further and finally reached his heart. He formed his hand around it, severing arteries. His last thought before death was: for her.
He grapsed his heart tightly, feeling it beat within his hand. He slowly tore it from its place, and screamed. His hand emerged from his chest, his heart clenched tightly in its grip. He gave one final tug and ripped his heart from his chest, letting out a pained grunt. Coldness seized him, and all pain ceased, both physical and emotional. The soldier sat up and limply leaned backwards, eyes widening. He straightened and held his heart up in front of his face. He sensed Hades watching him closely. He could suddenly caught the scent of his own blood, a more powerful sense than he'd ever experienced. Hunger seized him and he bit savagely into his heart, ripping away a chunk of meat. He chewed quickly. The taste was intoxicating. He began chuckling madly as he chewed, a demented grin appearing on his face. He swallowed and felt fresh energy surge through his body. His grin turned maniacal and he squeezed his heart until it burst, spraying blood across his face and chest. He was panting hard, his body struggling to accept this surge of power.
Yes, soldier, yes... You've done better than I could have hoped for! Delightful! Are you ready to take your vengeance?
The soldier continued panting heavily, his teeth bared and his eyes wide.
Of course you are. Listen now, soldier, and don't miss a word. You killed many of those brutish barbarians today, yes? They weren't too pleased with you, you see, so they slit your daughters throat. It was the Grand-Chieftain of the barbarian clan who commanded it, soldier.
The soldier stopped panting suddenly and cocked his head. "Is... that... so...?"
He looked down at his chest and abdomen. Both wounds were completely healed, with no scar tissue. The soldier barked cruel laughter and stood.
"I'm going to devour that poor swine." The soldier turned and strode from the room.
Hades looked on, pleased.