This is the prologue of the first book of my ever-in-the-works fantasy series. The book is The Outermost Mansion and the the series is The Trilogy of Trilogies split into three smaller trilogies or “Triads.”
More previews to follow.
You have spent your life in hard labor and devotion to study the depths of this world.
You have tried to sound the abyss with every intricate cord of your thought.
You have each of your tomes printed prudently in the meaningful script of memory.
All measure of your strength has been spent in trying to find the understanding.
You have your countless inventions, your myriad of theories like fruits on a tree, your numberless paintings of what your senses have whispered to you, and all these things are admirable. They are admirable, but they are yet childish. They are childish because they are only a palmful of sand from an endless desert of terror and beauty.
You have not even begun to find the understanding.
– from The Zaidōkyō
by Teonoro, Anchorite of Kantō
Year 355 VR
The moon was monstrous and red. Its giant silhouette crouched on the horizon, bloody from being deprived of the sun, from feasting on it. The vermilion plateau below was empty.
This was the night of the harvest eclipse, that night when twisted sorcery ruled beyond its domain. Tonight battles between hilltop winds reached a painful crescendo, a purging fever. This night was feared with a trembling that exceeded horror, for tonight the mischevious demons of the common stories stopped their play to hunt the hearts of men. Thus said the town yogi. Dark gods walked as beasts, said the followers of the old religion.
The city of Vikrmandyta, of the state of Saman, of the nation of Nagastan lay quiet in a descending cloud. Its Nagite denizens knew the dangers. It was told and foretold by their prophets: it is essential no man or woman leave the protective outer walls of the city lest they anger the black gods.
A patch of barren fig trees watched the city from a rocky hill. A lone figure knelt in the dusty earth. A low moan escaped his pale thin lips. Dark fog swirled around him, chasing the tremble that traveled up his arched spine. The man who knelt there was wiry and dark, eyes furious and calculating and skin cold like granite. Blood trickled from wild gashes on his arms and chest. He must be a madman, they had said as he left their city gates. Let the soul-leper be devoured, they said as they invoked their blessings and curses upon him. He was and would always be dirt to them. Let the fool be devoured, even if his low-bred flesh would not satisfy the gods’ hunger.
He sat in the quiet, waiting to be found by an ancestral spirit so that he could be granted a prophetic dream. He had emptied himself of all inhibitions, all confounding reason and intellect. His spirit was bare and open to an encounter. His teeth chopped off terse verses from the Kalpati. He lifted a skin of soma to his lips, mixed precisely with venom of river toad and pulp of blueshroom. This dangerous drought hissed down his throat with a pleasant bitterness. He held his stillness while drops of the soma beaded down his face. The stillness became eternal movement in the waiting; he anticipated in the torrentuous nothing.
A whisper, a buzzing noise, came from one of the trees. The man turned to it sharply with hope and fear. He turned again, for another vibration came forth from another of the trees, as if it was a cage softly and then more vigorously rattling. Buzzing and cracking came now from all the trees. He was not dreaming yet, surely. He pinched himself; he was awake, but needlelike pain was beginning to move up his arms. There must be a genius, a spiritual intelligence, in these trees.
He called out.
“I have a question for the other world to answer,” he shouted to the noise. He couldn’t hear his own voice.
Then, another voice apparated in the gloom, quiet as if only half-present, like an extension of the sound of the wind.
“I may come to you. Do you wish it?”
“Who is it that I address?” His eyes darted about, probing for the source of the voice. A sudden paranoia began to set in.
His face contorted in puzzlement as that dreadful and portentous word sunk into his being. “I have no father.” The word tasted more bitter than the blueshroom as he spat it out. “I am a soul-leper, of the clan of soul-leper, of the sand.” He raised his muscled and naked arms towards the bloodish sky in defiance. “How dare you approach me with fatherhood, lying spirit.”
“I am not a man. I am not the father who abandoned you. It is I who watched over you those long years of wretchedness though you did not see me.” The Nagite’s eyes went cold. What was this specter that called himself a father? He had heard tales of patriarch spirits from the Clandestine haunting Nagastan. The prickle spread from his arms to his neck.
He looked up at his name.
“Mordev, summon me, and I will come to you.”
“By what name do I summon you?” he asked, hesitantly. The prickling became a vibration spreading from his head to his abdomen. His nails dug into the dark loam beneath him. It distracted him from the words he spoke and heard.
“I am summoned as Argog.”
Argog. There was a pause. The Nagite who was called Mordev closed his lips in negation. He knew of that old name, older than Vikrmandyta below, and feared it as much for what he did not know of it as what he did. The very sound of it lit up like a thundercloud before his face, writing itself in the air in Shedite script. His mouth moved, and then stopped, and then by strange impulse and sudden passion his mouth stirred again.
He conjured the words: “Argog, I summon you.”
The wind stopped. Nothing stirred. Silence reigned.
“I want to summon you,” he screamed.
And then the wind hit like a storm, and the sky lit up as with fire. The very ground moved and a noise laughed from the earth’s sandy pillars. A large tree once split in two by ancient lightning stood silhouetted in the blood sky. From its crack a shadow and then a form emerged as if pulling itself up from a painful coffin. A man with bright eyes appeared in the split of the tree, now writhing, now stepping forth. Mordev stared without comprehension at this man who seemed to be almost a shadow and thought he must be conversing with an earth spirit. Yet, before he could register the discordant view of this spectral form, it exploded into a brilliant light. A halo hid its face, rays of sun breached from its fingers, and an enveloping luminosity hid its form in a shower of dazzling light. Majestic wings of gold arched behind him like twin guardian shields. Mordev was blinded and allured by the beauty of this now awesome and seductive presence.
“Who are you,” he managed to stammer, stunned. Sweat and pain covered his body; his vision blacked out for a moment before he was restored to consciousness and a pure terror he could not help.
“I am the beginning of your life,” the spirit said. “I am Argog.”
Mordev dropped to his knees and clutched his shoulders in reverence-turned-panic. He knew the name of Argog, and it was a cruel thing. He clutched the ground and hid his face in unmitigated dread. Tears began to line his face as his spirit wrestled with the intensity of the moment. He knelt there, crying.
“I have a question,” he said between sobs.
“I have a price.”
“I have a question,” he repeated dumbly.
“The price is steep.”
“You must serve me.” It was an absolute command.
Mordev nodded his head.
“For far too long has your family been in disgrace, as lepers among your people. I know what you desire, I know what you need, I know who you can become. I know your story, Mordev. Together we will defy fate and write a tale fit for a heart so destined.Your opressors for far too long have spat on you and humiliated you.”
“I hate them. I want them dead.”
“Slavery is worse than death.”
“They will be my slaves.”
“If I gave you your people, whose slave would you be? For far too long your people have submitted to the injustice of the Silfans. For too long your race has escaped its rightful destiny. You will be my arm with which I will strike the traitors of your people.” Argog grasped Mordev’s will and turned his dreamlike vision across miles eastward to the city of Belazakarya. His mind was moved to survey the tall minarets and pinnacles of the fortress Belezbadre. “The great Belezbadre, where your ancestor, the first of the soul-lepers, met his death. There rests the seats of the Nagite Guildsmen who have long led your people to ruin. You must end their counsils.”
Argog again directed Mordev’s vision, this time to the north, towards the town of Vikramadyta. That sprawling urban mess below made him recoil with fear. In the roils of the psychedelic darkness from which he peered, this ugly burg, which in younger days had cast him off like dead skin, had the likeness of a ravening hellmouth.
“The poor town of Vikramadyta, burial place of your ancestor. Do you see it there below? It is there that you will find the answer to your question. You have summoned me for a reason, because you want a truth that I can give. I will give you what you desire, but first you must give to me of what I desire. You will be sent to do my will long before I do yours.This is the way of the spirit world.” Argog released Mordev’s vision and appeared before him, surveying him. “If you accept my will, you will be imbued with my power. You will find what you seek. Do you accept?” It was not really a question. Argog never asked questions.
“My question…” he began to say.
“Speak.” Mordev’s spirit moaned, and then:
“Do you pledge yourself, by blood, to the Faceless, who is rightful lord of all of the living.” Mordev paused for several eternities. The Faceless, the purported antidivine, the father of the cult gods, was a name to pause at. His conscience slowed him down for a moment and begged him to consider this pledge thoughtfully. A moment of hesitance…
“I offer you control, Mordev,” the voice of a reassuring parent said to him.
A moment of hesitance… “I do.”
“To serve me you must let me in.”
Mordev looked up with a question upon his terrified face. He needed the answer first…
“Let me in.” The voice was terrible.
In frightened haste, Mordev began to nod his head again.
At the barest motion of assent, the angelic being slammed into his chest with the force of a battering ram. He felt his body fly across indefinite space before his back blasted through the trunk of a fig tree. His body hung limp among the splinters of the shattered tree and his vision wavered, but then a light of inner fire came upon him such that his eyes were opened and all about him was in terrifying focus. Now the voice of the spirit came from within like a sharp ringing in his ear:
“Mordev, you shall now be called Mordothine. You are now my servant.”
The mist lifted from the ground, and Mordev, who was now called Mordothine, was left by himself, with nothing but the soft patter of a fresh rainstorm and the sweet ecstasy of soma to keep him company.
In his mind a single phrase was left turning: find Rensir the Cairnite.
|The dark man stood atop the forested hill, gazing like a falcon upon metropolis of Belazakarya. All had been arranged. He started down the hill, beginning the half-mile approach to the city. A sense of purpose drove him forward, whether it was driving demons or an inner need none could tell. His long stride quickened as the elevation became steeper, but when the ground leveled out, he continued to drive speedily forward. His long, dark shadow, mimicking his every move, began to accelerate in speed as he broke into a run. This shadow that was not quite his own followed him as he rushed at the city in a desperate charge.|
Mordothine. That was his name. He was Mordothine, and he had been given a purpose. Shadows nipped at his heels and drove him forward like a slave under the taskmaster’s whip, but he paid no heed. His stone eyes stood transfixed on the city’s stone wall ahead. Out of the face of the wall leaped crude gargoyles and mythic beasts, placed there to fend off the dark forces believed to live outside the city. Perhaps these adamantine guardians would not let him into the city, he thought. Perhaps he was a demon. He did not know what he was.
An orphan, a beggar, an outcast, and a driven man. What was he?
The doors of the Council Hall burst open. Guild leader Brhadd looked up to see a dark rain-soaked figure stride slowly into the center of the hall. Next to him, the master stone mason rose and gestured with his hand for the city guards to be on alert. Brhadd brushed his ebony hair back from his face and stood to approach the dark figure. A man of the police guild followed suit.
For a moment an electric storm seemed to hang over the assembly. The power of twenty Nagite guildsmen focusing their cold-eyed stares at one man was tangible and frightening. Brhadd took one step forward, and then two. In the dense quiet, the dropping of a pin might be heard.
“What brings you to our hearth, stranger?” he asked. Beads of perspiration crouched on his grey-skinned brow. The foreigner did not answer.
“What is your name?”
The stranger opened his mouth to say something, but no words came out. But then, like the howling of a storm and the tremor of a behemoth a deep voice came issuing from the man’s throat. “I come in the name of Argog, the dark one,” cried the voice from the man. Twenty Nagites murmured in discomfort.
“And what of it?” said Brhadd. “That name has no power here.”
“Abdicate your positions and hand all power over to me.”
Some scattered nervous laughter broke out among the guild members. Nevertheless, fear took the floor of the hall.
“By what power do you command us?” the stonemason asked in defiance. It was a pitiful defiance, for his voice was swallowed up by the stranger who now seemed larger than life. There was a rush of wind and he lay in a pool of blood with the strange man standing over him. The police drew his two black knives and rushed at the man, but he deflected them with a cold dagger and cut his throat. In a fury of blade and cloak the stranger danced as a desert dervish, laying waste to the twenty guild members. In an instant he shoved their gynecocracy into drowning blood. As he stood among their fading bodies, he shouted in a voice too great to be his own, “I am Mordothine, and I claim this city for Argog.”
And the ears of the dying Brhadd swore he heard instead:
“I am Argog, and I claim this city for myself.”