Saturday, March 2, 2013

Regret's Shadow Prologue

Hello and welcome to my blog!

In honor of starting this badboy up, I'm posting the prologue to my first book, Regret's Shadow, for your reading enjoyment!  Tell me what you think.


Twilight encroached.  The remains of the day clung about the forest, but like a wave of nausea, the gloom swelled.
Ancient trees crowded the path.  They were comforting shields against the elements during the light of day, but presently began to assume their nocturnal alter egos of menacingly grim wardens and shape-shifting haunts of the imagination. 
The twisting path slowly transformed from a friendly guide into a taunting trickster, with turns and blinds hidden by the oncoming shadows.
On a conscious level, the young man was unaware of the transformation going on around him.  He ran with a pressing need.  Lungs heaving, he blundered along the needle-strewn trail without heed to what most lads his age would have found creepy. 
Foremost in his thoughts were frantic images of what he had just witnessed, as well as the overwhelming drive to escape the evil that was no doubt following close behind.
Beneath the surface there was a growing sensation, however, one that coincided with the dying of the light.  There was a sense that as night approached and transformed the landscape from the domain of men to that of night creatures, so too was the prospect of escape being overtaken by the weight of doom.
          Minutes ago he’d been spending the dwindling afternoon in the manner to which he’d become accustomed.  As time dragged on with his chest heaving like a bellows and his heart beating frantically, it seemed that he was running from what was left of his normal life. 
Still, in the manner of all teenage boys, overwhelming optimism kept him from considering a truly grisly outcome to this latest escapade.  He figured at worst, he’d spend a few days in the woods and concoct a wild tale for his ma and that would be that.
He’d run afoul of the quick-to-anger baroness.  During a typical day of exploring and generally sticking his nose where it didn’t belong, the boy had stumbled upon a clandestine meeting between Her Ladyship and a character of ill repute.  Or at least, that’s how it seemed.
In an old abandoned mill several miles outside of town, the baroness had been speaking animatedly to a fellow with dark clothing and an unshaven face.  While this didn’t necessarily make the man a hired killer or a spy or worse, he matched the descriptions of such men that the boy had heard in tales around the fireside.
Unbeknownst to Her Ladyship, or the compliment of guards she stationed around the mill, the boy had been exploring the shack before they showed up.  They had been making so much noise in all that heavy armor that he’d had no chance to miss their approach. 
Fearing that he’d get into some sort of trouble, the lad had crawled into a moss-covered woodbin.  Apparently such places were not good hiding spots for assassins, for the guards never found him.
Trying to keep his breathing quiet, the boy waited for them to pass by, but unfortunately the baroness told the guards to stand at attention outside while she awaited her contact.  This, of course, made the boy uneasy, but he really had no choice but to sit in the uncomfortable stuffiness of the woodbin and hope it all passed without him being discovered. 
Besides, he’d had to admit to himself, there was a bit of a thrill to eavesdropping!
Through one of the many cracks in the woodbin the lad could see the greaves-covered leg and booted foot of a guardsman.  If he’d wanted to he could have reached out and touched the man.  Stifling a nervous giggle, the lad listened as a new set of footsteps approached along the tiny brook.
What followed was a heated conversation involving the baroness and many names that the boy figured must have been important.  He did recognize the name of King Remiel Van Uther II.  At this, the boy’s heart had skipped a beat.  A plot involving the king himself!
Unfortunately, the boy had overheard no more of the conversation, as he’d shifted to get more comfortable and a tumble of rotten wood gave away his position.
“You idiots!” the baroness had yelled after coming around the building to behold one of her guards hoisting the boy out of the bin.
“I told you to secure the area.  The whelp was apparently too much of a challenge for you?” her face was red with rage.  It did nothing but enhance her noble beauty. 
Baroness Calistra Emberlock had inherited her family’s raven black hair and piercing coal eyes.  Her complexion was smooth and dusky, a gift from her exotic mother.  Tall and well proportioned, the baroness was often gawked at, but never propositioned.  Her temper was legendary and had earned her the nickname “Callous Cal”. 
She leveled her midnight orbs at the boy.
“You’ve done a foolish thing here today, young one,” she said in cool tones, motioning for the guard to release him. 
The boy stood disheveled and wide-eyed.  Calistra crouched to face the lad, reaching up to stroke his smudged cheek in a rare display of tenderness.  She smiled slightly while making a casual gesture to one of her guards.
“You see, spies against nobility cannot be tolerated,” she cooed, a sinister light coming into her eyes.  The boy sensed it, and as she rose and turned to take up the offered sword, he bolted. 
Expecting a shout of alarm or perhaps a scream of rage, the boy was chilled to the bone as peals of delighted laughter followed him into the forest.
Now, with night almost upon him, the echoes of that laughter propelled the boy beyond his limits.  His body was screaming in protest but he blinked through tears to keep going.  Had he been paying attention he might have noticed the root reaching out to trip him and avoided it.  He wasn’t, and so he didn’t.
He hit the dirt hard and lost his wind.  He lay there for a moment gasping for breath and spitting pine needles and blood from where he’d bit his lip.  Part of him wanted to just lay there for an hour to rest and let the pain go away.  The better part had him getting his hands under him and pushing.  As he began to stagger forward, he felt vibrations in the carpet of needles beneath him - the tromp of booted feet.
Fear lent him new strength and he pushed on.  As the trail skirted a small ravine, the boy veered to the left down into it, hoping to lose his pursuers.  He crashed through the light underbrush and made for a small bubbling brook in the center of the hollow.
There came a soft sound, as if a breath had been let out sharply.  Pain exploded in the boy’s leg, just above the knee.  He went down screaming and cut his palm on the extruding arrowhead as his hand reflexively felt for the wound. 
Terrified beyond the capacity for rational thought, he got to his knees and began to crawl across smooth stones toward the stream.  His world became a haze of pain and panic.
Behind him, just coming down the ridge were the baroness and a few of her guards.  She smiled wickedly and absently dropped her longbow to the earth.  A few relaxed strides brought her to the boy as her guards looked about, one holding a lantern high.
“This really has been great sport, boy,” she said amiably, the lantern-light catching the slightest sheen of sweat on her comely face, “You led us on a merry chase.”
The lad looked up to see her lazily drawing her blade.  It was a vicious looking thing with wicked serrations and two blood channels.  It gleamed with a sickly green light and the boy remembered it had a name but couldn’t recall what it was.  He locked eyes with the baroness.
“Sadly, like all hunts, this must end in death,” she stated flatly.
With just a bit of his wits returning, the boy realized his doom was imminent.  Stifling a sob and summoning all of his courage, he did all that he could think of doing at that moment.
He spit at her.
The baroness’s eyes blazed with fury, all trace of her previous calm erased.  Snarling, she brutally struck the boy’s head from his shoulders.  She stood for a moment, trembling in rage as the headless corpse twitched at her feet.  Blood seeped into her hungry blade until there was no trace of it and the glow brightened slightly.  Traces of crimson were caught by the waters and swirled away into oblivion.
Heaving a sigh, she sheathed her weapon and stepped over the body, heading back up the ravine.
“Retrieve my bow, won’t you?” her friendly tone had returned. 
She began to walk down the trail, reaching up a black-gloved hand to wipe speckles of blood from her perfect cheek.  As an afterthought she half-turned to her men and waved an easy gesture in the general direction of the corpse.
“Oh, and be a dear and remove that garbage from my land.”

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