Sample Sunday: Out of the Shadows–Chapter 5

My second novel, The Elysian Chronicles: Out of the Shadows, took much more work than A Prophecy Forgotten. Out of the Shadows is the complex, middle-of-a-trilogy book with several characters experiencing the peak of their development. I created character charts showing where I needed the characters to be at the beginning, middle, and end of the story developmentally, and I struggled to make sure I could show the development of each one. Chapter 5 is the chapter I used to really show where three characters: Maurice, Marcus, and Davian stood after my villain/dictator took over.

Elysian Chronicles readers will want to note that many of the chapter titles in Out of the Shadows are ripe with symbolism. I call this chapter “Flickering Candles” for two reasons. First, I wanted to allude to Zephor’s comment to Sephus in A Prophecy Forgotten:

Zephor finally pulled the lad aside and told him, “Don’t lose the fire, soldier. The fire is your most important weapon. It might dwindle every now and then, but make sure you never let it get snuffed out. Soon after that, Sephus turned into the best Hawk Master Elysia had ever seen. Zephor shook his head; his own fire had almost dwindled to the point of no recovery.

Second, I wanted to show that each character’s faith and hope had hit rock bottom.

If this is your first introduction to Out of the Shadows, you might want to read the sample chapters on the website first (click here).

The Elysian Chronicles: Out of the Shadows
Chapter 5: Flickering Candles

Maurice carried a tray full of honeywine mugs on his shoulder to a large, round table of LAF soldiers. None of the soldiers or civilians in his tavern smiled; neither did Maurice. He lowered the heavy tray to the table with a groan. “Here ya go, my fine soldiers,” he said once he stood up. RSOs would’ve helped me instead of just perching there, he thought, wishing they still existed. High King Salla eliminated the RSO division only two years after taking power and replaced them with his own personal soldiers, the dreaded Black Guard.

The door flew open, and five of Salla’s Black Guard entered. Maurice shuddered. Their helmets had long cheek-plates extending below the jaw line and wide nose-guards that revealed only their eyes and mouths. Their black chainmail kilts matched their black breastplates, and spikes covered their black forearm, hand, and shin guards. Even their weapons were black.

The tavern grew so quiet that Maurice heard the soldiers’ armor clink and their boots thud when they walked to the bar. Civilians and LAFs alike shrank out of their way. Maurice flew to them and forced a smile. “Would you like a table or a booth tonight, Seraph Picante?”

Picante brushed Maurice aside, and the spikes on his arm guard scratched Maurice’s skin. Maurice flinched.

Picante faced the tavern and said, “My soldiers and I are looking for Quantus. Has anyone seen him?”

No one answered. Picante nodded, and the other four soldiers flew through the tavern, pulling off hats and helmets, searching each face.

Picante leaned close to Maurice—so close Maurice smelled the stale honeywine in his breath. “Is he here, Maurice?”

“I wouldn’t know, Seraph.”

“You see everyone who enters, Maurice. Don’t make me arrest you for treason.”

“Course he was here, Seraph. But he came a long while ago, and I don’t keep track of those who leave. He’s probably long gone.” Maurice kept his glance to the right, hoping Picante and his soldiers would ignore the left corner of the tavern where Quantus hid.

“Found him, Seraph!” yelled one of the soldiers.

Picante narrowed his eyes at Maurice, and the soldier dragged Quantus, a middle-aged civilian dressed in a dirty, brown robe, out from under a table by his hair and forced him to his feet. Quantus struggled until Picante held a knife to his throat and pulled a bloodstained pearl necklace out of his pocket. He dangled the necklace near Quantus’s eyes.

Quantus’s shoulders fell. “No,” he whispered.

Picante sneered and let the necklace slide through his fingers. “Your wife won’t be needing these anymore.” The necklace fell at Quantus’s feet. “My condolences.”

Quantus’s lips trembled, and he would have fallen to his knees if the guards holding him had allowed it.

“Quite a waste,” continued Picante. “She was a pretty thing.”

No!” roared Quantus. His howl echoed across the Treetop. He struggled to escape. “She knew nothing! Nothing!

Picante backhanded him, slashing his face with his spiked hand guard. “You should have thought about her before you conspired against High King Salla.” The guards chained Quantus’s hands and feet. “By order of the magistrate, you are hereby under arrest on charges of treason. Take him away.”

“The Runes say Salla will be defeated!” said Quantus as two guards dragged him out the door. “‘Out of the shadows of the north will come a ruler of the caliber of Ezzer, who will—” Quantus hollered again when another soldier struck him.

“Godspeed and safe journey, my friend,” whispered Maurice.

Salla’s ten year reign and the terror he brought with it had convinced Maurice the Runes were only old wives tales. He pitied Quantus for risking his life for their prophecies. “Poppycock, that’s what they are,” he muttered. “The only soldier of Ezzer’s caliber was killed ten years ago.” He flew behind the bar and filled a few orders for honeywine.

Picante landed in front of the bar. “Traitors seem to frequent your tavern, Maurice.”

Maurice poured Picante a mug of honeywine. “I’m the only tavern left in the City of Ezzer. Where else are they going to go?”

“I notice you don’t report them.”

Maurice set the mug down in front of Picante. “Because I don’t hear anything. Think about it, Picante. No one’s going to talk about anything in here—especially not with you Black Guard visiting all the time. And they certainly don’t talk to me because they know I’d immediately report it.” That was why Maurice allowed them to meet in his honeywine cellar. Used to allow them, thought Maurice. Only ex-RSO Captain Michael, called Copper for his red hair, was left. Copper had disappeared after Maurice warned him of Picante’s plan to arrest him. No one had heard from Copper in over three years.

Picante sipped his honeywine and motioned to two remaining guards, who flew into Maurice’s honeywine cellar. Each emerged carrying a honeywine barrel on his shoulder.

Maurice’s face turned hot. “I’ve already given his majesty this month’s tribute!”

“Those aren’t tribute for his majesty,” said Picante. “They’re tribute for me, in return for not reporting you for harboring traitors.” Picante picked the pearl necklace off the floor. “This will fetch quite a few drekels, I’m sure.” He pocketed it and flew out.

Maurice tried to hide his anger as he watched Picante leave. He worried for Quantus. Picante and the Black Guard would drag him to their tower and use their own methods to force names of other traitors. After they finished with him, and if the magistrate was feeling merciful, he might only sentence Quantus to life in the quarries. Unfortunately, the quarries were already full, and Maurice doubted the magistrate’s qualities included mercy.

*****

To Elysia’s northwest corner lay the white cliffs of the Ashen Desert, towering above Elysia’s quarries where cherubians mined quartz, their most precious commodity. The air tasted like chalk and smelled like sweat. The quarries never saw rain; not even a weed broke through the cracked, white ground. LAFs stood guard on the wall with their bows in hand, arrows cocked, keeping watch on the prisoners working below. The soldiers covered their faces with bandannas to protect their lungs from the powdery, white dust floating through the air. The prisoners enjoyed no such luxury. They toiled in blinding sun and suffocating dust. Their mallets and pickaxes clanged; their chains clinked. The prisoners themselves made no sound.

One prisoner towered above the others. He pried a fifteen-foot piece of quartz out of the cliff wall with a crowbar and let out a deep, strained grunt. His muscles bulged, and milky drops of sweat and dust ran down his face. The stone creaked and groaned until it gave way and crashed to the ground. The massive prisoner grabbed his mallet and limped to the rock. He noticed two soldiers walking toward him. One, the quarries’ short warden, wore an LAF uniform but lacked the LAF figure. He waddled as he walked, his stubby legs struggling to support his belly, which hung almost to his thighs. The other soldier wore the armor of the Black Guard.

“You don’t usually bring in new prisoners, Seraph,” said the warden.

“The prisoners from our latest arrests are especially dangerous. I wanted to make sure nothing went wrong during the transfer. Be careful when you process them in.” He pointed to the large prisoner. “How much does he have left?”

The warden grinned. “He’ll make his quota with that. Want to back out of your wager?”

The seraph shielded his eyes from the sun and grasped his whip. “He won’t make his quota.”

The prisoner turned to him. “You of all people should know I always make my quota, Picante.” He grabbed his pickaxe and chiseled the huge block of quartz.

Picante laughed and hopped on a rock above the prisoner. “It’s a shame to see an RSO like you chained to the ground, Marcus, hewing quartz for the halls of High King Salla.”

At the sound of Salla’s name, Marcus’s axe hit the stone a tad harder. He said nothing, and Picante sent his whip into Marcus’s back. Marcus ignored the sting. He had felt whips before.

Picante beckoned to the warden. “How much time will it take him?”

“Him?” The warden flew around the stone Marcus was hewing. “He’ll have this broken in ten minutes.” He patted a sack that hung from his belt and clinked each time his hand hit it. Again, he grinned at Picante. “You’ll be out your wager.”

Picante scowled and sent a whip into Marcus’s back again.

Marcus snorted and continued hewing.

“The whip doesn’t work on this one, sir,” said the warden. “We have to use alternate methods to control him.” He nodded at Theo and Tyce, who worked together on another block of quartz fifteen yards away.

Picante chuckled. “I should have known. RSOs never change.” He flew next Theo and sent the whip into his back. Theo yelled, and Picante whipped him again.

“Leave him alone!” yelled Tyce. He jumped at Picante, but three guards grabbed him and pulled him to the ground. Picante turned his whip on Tyce.

Marcus’s pickaxe shook. He closed his eyes and hurled it into the rock. In five minutes, Picante lost his wager.

*****

The sun set behind the mountains, and the whistle blew. The prisoners laid down their tools and trudged to the massive bronze door built into the cliff. The door groaned open, leading to the dungeon that housed them. Marcus, Tyce, and Theo entered last. Marcus checked each rock and cranny to make sure all prisoners made it inside before the doors shut. The wolves that roamed the Ashen Desert found exhausted, chained prisoners left outside easy game.

Marcus limped through the doors and down the long hallway carved into the limestone. Prisoners faded to the left and right into tunnels of darkness that housed minimum security prisoners serving mild sentences of ten to fifteen years. Marcus trudged passed two guards and ducked under a metal doorway into another corridor—the hall for prisoners with life sentences. There, soldiers stood guard every ten feet and let their whips fall at random. Before Salla, these halls housed a few of Elysia’s most hardened criminals. Now the halls housed not hardened prisoners, but soldiers, mostly RSOs, whose only crimes were loyalty to what they called Old Elysia. Salla’s soldiers crammed these prisoners into small cells—ten to a cell sometimes—and tried their best to keep them miserable. Clangs of iron-barred doors echoed down the hall as soldiers shut the prisoners in their cells for the night.

Marcus glared down at the guards, who gave him and Tyce wary glances. Scared, Marcus thought. Not that he blamed them. He and Tyce could crush any of them with only a few blows. He eyed the line of soldiers watching the hall. He and Tyce could take out four or five, but not fifty.

Marcus, Theo, and Tyce entered their cell, and the guards shut the door with a clang. Tyce leaned up against the bars and grinned. “Tell Picante we’re sorry he lost his wager, Garen.”

Theo joined Tyce against the bars and added, “Incredibly sorry.”

Garen pulled a knife out of his belt. “Don’t make me use this.”

“Wow! Is that what they issue you LAFs now?” said Tyce. “Looks brand new.”

“Like it’s never been used,” added Theo.

Marcus grunted, looking for a comfortable spot in the corner of the limestone cell. He groaned and sat down. “If any of them touch me because of you runts, I’ll break every bone in your bodies that won’t kill you.”

Theo and Tyce pulled away from the bars.

“That’s our signal,” said Theo. “Nice talking with you, ladies.”

“And if you need some help learning how to use that knife,” added Tyce, “don’t hesitate to—Seraph Picante, how nice to see you. Isn’t it nice to see the seraph again today, Theo?”

“It’s grand. What do you think, Major?”

Marcus grunted. “Picante already knows what I think of him.”

Picante leaned against the cell bars and stared at Theo and Tyce through the visor of his helmet. “I would love to replace your cell mates for you, Marcus.”

“They’re tree-sprites, Picante. Pay them no mind.”

Picante crossed his arms and glared at Marcus.

Marcus glared back.

“You’re stubborn for someone imprisoned here for the rest of his life,” Picante said.

Marcus chuckled. “And what makes you think I’m going to be here for the rest of my life?”

“Look around, Marcus. The only prisoners who can help you plan an escape are—as you so well put it—tree-sprites.” He tapped the bars with his sword. “Enjoy my king’s hospitality.”

“My hope lies in the Runes, Picante, which say that Salla will be dethroned.”

Picante laughed again. “Then you place your hope in fairy-tales. The only cherubian with the power to dethrone his majesty is dead.” His grin broadened. “I’ll let you three in on a little secret. I helped hand him over to the scabs that killed him.”

Marcus, Theo, and Tyce flew at the door and reached for Picante through the bars. Picante jumped back before Marcus grabbed his tunic.

“I’ll kill you, Picante!” yelled Marcus. “When I get out of here, I swear I’ll kill you!”

Picante laughed. “In that case, I’ll be alive for quite some time.” He turned and walked away.

“I saw the body, Picante,” Marcus yelled after him. “That wasn’t Davian you buried.”

Picante stopped, but did not turn around.

“Did you and Salla think you could fool me?” Marcus continued. “That body you produced was missing a few tell-tale scars.”

Numerous scars covered Davian’s body, including the newest scar he earned during the Third Battle when a poisonwood arrow grazed his arm, but the most prevalent was the one he earned when he jumped into a pack of wolves to rescue a soldier. One of the wolves latched onto Davian’s upper arm. Davian ripped the beast off, but the scar near his deltoid never faded. The arms on the body Marcus carried to the morgue, however, were smooth. Marcus removed the body’s breastplate and searched for scars from a mornacht that scratched Davian’s stomach when he threw off his armor to rescue a drowning cherubian girl. The body’s stomach was perfect.

Picante whipped around, pulled his sword, and flew at Marcus, who backed away from the bars, staring at the tip of Picante’s sword only an inch away from his nose.

“Did you honestly think I’d leave matters alone?” Marcus asked. “Tyce, Theo, and I followed Davian’s trail. You know where it led? Into a dark wood a few miles south of the City of Ezzer, where we found evidence of a meeting between soldiers and scabs. We also found scab tracks mixed with cherubian blood leading south. We even know where they took him. They’ve imprisoned him in the Dungeon of Enbed. Why do you think your precious king put us here? He arrested us the moment we asked to look for Davian. Guess he was afraid Davian might return.”

For half-a-second, the visible parts of Picante’s face turned a shade lighter. “It’s a pity you couldn’t rescue him ten years ago,” he snapped. “Not even Davian could survive Enbed for this long.” He turned marched away.

Theo’s smile faded. He sank to the floor and leaned his head against the limestone wall. “He’s right, Major. Seraph Davian could never have survived ten years in Enbed.”

Marcus grunted. “The Runes say he will.”

Theo closed his eyes. “The Runes are just a fairy-tale, Major.”

Marcus lunged at Theo and pushed him into the wall. “Don’t let me hear you say that again.” He threw Theo aside and limped to the far corner of the cell. He sat down and groaned, hoping Tyce or Theo could not see his own doubt. He reached into his boot and felt Davian’s ring, which he had sewn inside, a ring he vowed to return to Davian. Despite Marcus’s confidence in Davian’s return, Picante’s words still rang true—no cherubian could survive Enbed for ten years without breaking. If Davian was still alive, he probably teetered on the brink of suffering the horrible fate of the rest of Enbed’s prisoners, or he had already succumbed to it. “We’ve got to get to him,” Marcus muttered. But how? His three previous escape attempts had failed, convincing him that escape from the quarries without outside help was impossible.

*****

The Enbed Mountains rose out of eastern Morvenia’s smoke-filled faults and cracks. Deep in the heart of the tallest mountain lay ancient mineshafts carved ages before the cherubians and the mornachts ever fought in battle, now called the Dungeon of Enbed. Torches of fire scattered along the walls gave the dungeon its only light. Water dripped throughout the mine into puddles. The constant drips, the occasional yells of a prisoner, the rhythmic crack of the mornachts’ whips, the darkness—each could drive any prisoner insane.

The prisoners trudged through the mine’s damp shafts, shackled in chains. Gnomes, fauns, nymphs, sprites—Enbed opened its hospitality to anyone. But only one cherubian toiled there. His long, brown hair was knotted and mangled, and his beard reached almost to his chest. His black tunic hung on one shoulder by a few threads, and his once silver seraph’s kilt was now as dark as his tunic. His sea-green eyes told a tale far worse. Their familiar gleam—their fire—resembled a lone ember flickering for the last time.

A row of gnomes filed past. Not one trembled at the sound of the whip. Not one cowered when a mornacht struck him. Not one turned when another fell to the ground in exhaustion. They were vacuous: soulless walking bodies devoid of personality and will, a condition Davian knew was incurable. When he first entered Enbed, he watched the vacuous prisoners in horror. Now he gazed upon them with envy. None of them felt the whip’s sting. None of them endured the mine’s toil. Davian felt his mind begging to block out the stimuli.

The only other non-vacuous prisoner in Enbed, a four-foot-tall gnome called Klous who had a talent for metallurgy and chemistry, shoveled sulfur only twenty yards away. The gnome wore a dingy shirt and a vest that was once sky-blue. His grey pants were torn up to his thighs. Dirt covered his hairy arms and legs, and his black hair and beard had grown long. He too, watched the gnomes file past. He turned to Davian and gasped. “No,” he whispered. “Seraph!” he yelled. “No!”

Davian glanced at Klous. What a funny little gnome. He collapsed against the dirt wall. Just let go, his mind whispered. Davian tried to think of things that often brought him back: Cassadern’s warning, telling him not to give up his faith or his hope, Marcus still alive, fighting Salla back in Elysia, fragments of the Runes that had yet to wander from his memory. He tried to imagine his tree cottage but had forgotten what it looked like.

Klous ran toward him. “No, Seraph!” The chain on Klous’s leg tightened, and he fell to the ground. He grabbed a handful of rocks and threw them at Davian. “Don’t let them win!”

Davian felt something hit his forehead. He looked down to see a piece of sulfur that had fallen in front of him. I can’t feel anymore.

“No!” Davian cried out, hoping the words might stimulate his senses. His yell sounded faint and far away. He stood up. I won’t let them win. He tried to recall the one memory that helped him through Enbed’s most painful torture sessions, but he saw only a vague outline of a cherubian woman with brown hair. Nothing more. I’ve forgotten her face. He stared at the gnome, who seemed to be shouting, but Davian heard only a muffled sound. He fell to the ground, groped for his shovel, and grasped its neck, intending to ram the spade into his throat.

I will not become like them.

To be continued in The Elysian Chronicles: Out of the Shadows.

Fantasy novelist M. B. Weston is the author of The Elysian Chronicles, a fantasy series about guardian angel warfare and treason. Weston speaks to children, teens, and adults about writing and the process of getting published. For more information on M. B. Weston, visit www.mbweston.com. Find out more about The Elysian Chronicles at www.elysianchronicles.com.

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About M. B. Weston

Award-winning author M. B. Weston is one of the fantasy genre’s new, emerging voices. The Elysian Chronicles, her flagship fantasy series about guardian angel warfare and treason, has been referred to as, “…filling a big part of the void that will be left by the final Harry Potter,” by award-winning author, Vincent O’Neil. Weston’s writing attracts both fantasy and non-fantasy readers, and her audience ranges from upper-elementary students to adults. The Elysian Chronicles is being adapted into a graphic novel, and her newest book, The Sword of the Vanir (working title), is due out in Spring 2013. A gifted orator, Weston has been invited as a guest speaker to numerous writing and science fiction/fantasy panels at conventions across the US, including DragonCon, BabelCon, NecronomiCon, and ImagiCon. She has served on panels with such authors as Sherrilyn Kenyon, J. F. Lewis, Todd McCaffrey, and Jonathan Maberry. Weston has spoken to thousands of students and adults about the craft of writing and has been invited as the keynote speaker at youth camps and at several schools throughout the US.
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4 Responses to Sample Sunday: Out of the Shadows–Chapter 5

  1. Adam Black says:

    Amazing! I love it.

    Like

  2. Pingback: Sample Sunday: Out of the Shadows–Chapter 13 | M. B. Weston's Official Website

  3. Pingback: Excerpt from "Diversion" #SampleSunday | pdworkman.com

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