Greetings once more dear readers.
It is with some trepidation that I’m posting the first preview of Red Star Rising, perhaps a little bit later than I anticipated, but it is obvious that to get any traction on this project it has to be thrown into the hands of the gods – which happens to be you, my dear readership.
Initially I questioned whether or not to post the prologue as it has the potential to throw the reader in at the deep end of my world, but as it sets up much of the unfolding narrative, it is my hope that it will serve those that stick with it.
Bear in mind that at this juncture it is still essentially a finished draft: it has not been edited by the hand of a professional editor or read by a copy reader.
Finally, at the top of the page you’ll find that I’ve added a Glossary for reference – I’ll be updating it as I go along, but it should suffice for now.
I hope that you enjoy this little offering, and that it whets you appetite for the next installment.
“I make no claim that I once stood side by side with such colossi at the dawn of time, yet I shall claim that I witnessed their works!
As such I gift these words to perpetuity: they wished nothing more than to achieve the impossible, for they had found entropy itself was bent on robbing them of their power. And in their folly they did indeed unleash the power they craved.
Yet at what price? For such great potential there must be paid a toll, and that toll would be their whole world.
With its sundering they were gifted humility. Those who survived, in penance, wrought great celestial discs that pinned the fragments of the old world to the axial spine of the Aether.
So were the floating lands born; tethered to the axis and made stable.
And what became of these first beings, you ask? Would that I could tell you the whole story, but it shall suffice to say that they faded, and even as they became nothing more than whispers on the winds, so did new life come to find a home upon the myriad isles that sailed on and on as testament of their failure.”
Excerpt from “The Path of Ages”
Cigarette clenched between his teeth, the doctor took a breath and hurried into the room with his burdens. It clicked shut behind him and he stood, peering into the sour, smoke ridden office of the gang leader Harlech Truckle. The man sat at his desk, illuminated by lamp-light falling across a sweat-beaded rictus of control. He was not beyond his middle years, yet the pain had aged and withered his already lean frame.
“Ah, doctor,” Truckle licked thin lips and took a lungful from his water-pipe. “Here…. at last.”
He exhaled and smoke curled about him. The doctor gave him a nervous smile.
“Did you… find it?” Truckle asked.
“Yes sir,” the doctor replied. He held up a cage draped in black cloth.
“You see,” Truckle said, speaking to a man who the doctor had not noticed. “I told you…. he would not fail me.”
The stranger stepped forward to regard the doctor. He was a professional, well groomed and crisp from head to toe. He scrutinised the doctor and did not attempt to hide his conclusion: the sweat soaked shirt, the sallow complexion and red eyes said everything.
“You trust this man?” the stranger asked with some scepticism.
“Don’t let the good doctor’s….. hobbies misrepresent him,” Truckle said with a smile. “Now, if you please doctor…..”
Truckle beckoned. The doctor crossed the room, but faltered. A cloaked figure lay sprawled on the floor to the left, half covered by a fallen curtain. Blood had pooled from beneath the hem, darkening the carpet. It also appeared to have…… to have a……
A small tic passed over the doctor’s face, and the cigarette teetered on his lip.
“A problem, doctor?”
“N-no, no,” the doctor said and shook his head to clear the image away. Without another glance he crossed the room. In his experience of working for Truckle it was safest to ignore any difficulties and focus on the tasks required. It was a tacit agreement that you didn’t ask questions. Beside, it was more likely that what he’d seen was just a mild side effect of prolonged stimulant use. He’d settle for that, so he set down his medical bag and the cage, stubbed his cigarette out and rounded the table to inspect Truckle’s leg. The trouser had been torn to above the knee and a bloody rag now bound the wound. Venting professional contempt for the mess, the doctor set to work.
“As I was saying,” the stranger said to Truckle, “You were lucky.”
“You call….. this luck?” Harlech hissed, face contorting as the doctor worked.
The stranger shrugged. “You’re alive, aren’t you?”
Truckle scowled and took a lungful of smoke. “And is that all you’ve come to say, Greve?”
The stranger, Greve, returned a polite smile. When he spoke next it was with paternal patience. “I thought you would appreciate being told in person that you have been given another chance.”
“Ah, so am I to be treated –” Truckle bit his lip, held back a gasp, “– like a disobedient child?”
“You raised your hand against us,” Greve replied. “Insulted him! Considering your treachery you should be thankful for the expediency of letting you live.”
“Expediency?” Truckle sneered. “Some might construe it…. as leniency, as a show of weakness.”
“Not at all,” said Greve. “Imagine if you had been killed. It would have prompted a gang war. No one wants that.”
“Didn’t Savarin think of that before he sent his assassin?”
“Oh, don’t imagine that he acted rashly,” Greve shook his head. “Your actions insulted the Fium’Orbu. They were offended, Truckle. If Savarin had not acted immediately they would have kept coming until you were dead.”
Truckle swallowed and glanced at the dead body. When he looked back, Greve wore a knowing smile.
“Does he not….. control them?” Truckle asked in a near whisper.
“They are a mystery even to me,” Greve replied. “All I know is that they worship him.”
“Who can say?” Greve said. “Thankfully he has enough influence over them that they have agreed to relent. For that, you should be grateful.”
A moment passed in silence. The doctor continued his worked.
“Why take the chance?” Truckle asked. “Why not…. pass the task to Quesillo? Or Enebro?”
“A good question,” Greve nodded. “The thing is, Truckle, they are loyal to you. Loyalty is something that Savarin values above almost all else. You were once raised from the street, and in turn you raised men like Quesillo – the man who just saved your life. It is hoped that the dividends of such loyalty will convince you to behave with the appropriate respect in the future.”
The doctor began to apply a fresh bandage, studiously not hearing any of the conversation. Truckle and Greve stared at each other until Truckle’s countenance darkened.
“And what of Sakura?” he asked.
“Forget about her,” Greve answered.
“I want to know,” Truckle pressed.
Greve sighed in annoyance. “An example has to be made.”
The shadow of a snarl passed across Truckle’s face. He held it in check. “And?”
“And what Harlech? I said forget her.”
“But – ”
“No!” Greve snapped. “There is nothing more to say.”
“Of course,” Truckle grated through clenched teeth. “I understand.”
“I knew you would,” Greve said and turned for the door. “Now, if there is nothing else, I shall leave you to the ministrations of your doctor. Good day Harlech.”
Truckle reached for his water-pipe. His eyes followed Greve to the door, and even once it had shut, his gaze might have burned a hole right through if not for the doctor’s nervous cough. Truckle unclenched his jaw and exhaled a cloud of roiling smoke.
“Of course,” said the doctor, and for a split second he forgot the tacit rule and asked, “Who was that man?”
“You might prefer not to know,” Truckle replied and took a mouthful of smoke. He exhaled over the doctor and grinned. “He is the hand of Brillat Savarin.”
“B-but h-he’s just – ” the doctor swallowed.
“A story?” Truckle’s eyes twinkled. “Believe me, Brillat Savarin is no mere fable.”
Another small tic passed up the side of the doctor’s face. “B-but…..”
Truckle grinned. “Doctor, please relax.”
The doctor swallowed. With a tremulous hand swept his lank hair from his eyes. He needed a cigarette and Truckle waited as he fumbled out a packet of Bonchesters. A moment later the doctor, having mustered as much composure as possible, was ready to address his patient. “Well, the wound is clean. However, it will require regular attention as the effect of the toxin continues. As for the pain, I can get you – ”
“No! I am done with pain killers.”
“But – ”
Truckle’s expression brooked no argument. He nodded towards the cloth draped cage. “Just show me.”
The doctor removed the cloth with something like ceremony causing a flurry of commotion. Truckle eyed the occupant.
“So, this is it?”
“And I have to…..?”
The doctor gave him a grim nod. Truckle’s face wrinkled in disgust, and he took a deep draw on the water-pipe. Inside the cage was a small bird with cheerful red plumage, the only creature known to have resistance to the voracious venom of the yellow banded mountain huntsman. It was a spider, and an ambush predator. The irony was not lost on Truckle as he glanced at the body beneath the drape. It was a traditional venom used to coat knives: first came paralysis, shortly followed by the slow dissolution of the flesh. The pain might tempt a man to madness, even to take his own life before the poison killed him. Greve had been right; Truckle was lucky that the blade had only scratched his leg before his lieutenant, Quesillo, had killed the assassin.
Truckle opened the door, reached inside and carefully drew out the small bird.
“I can do this,” Harlech said between clenched teeth. “I’ve done worse.”
There was no other choice. Generic antivenoms were too weak, and a real antivenom could potentially take months for the doctor to concoct. Truckle would need to singe the feathers off, then consume the bird before it had time to die of shock. The venom would be arrested, yet he would always be a man half way to dying, forever dependent on the life of a small, insignificant creature.
“We should be grateful,” Truckle cooed to the chirping bird, “That your colour and delightful song make you such so popular in the markets.”
He scrutinised it, then caught the expression on the doctor’s face.
“A grisly repast is it not?”
The doctor gave a mute nod.
“Leave me,” Truckle growled and waved the doctor away. Without hesitation medical supplies were swept into his bag and a moment later the doctor was hurrying for the door. As he passed the corpse he spared it another glance. It sent a shiver through him and he rushed on. Whatever it was, it had a tail! A naked, pink tail!
Like a….. like a…..
He lunged for the door and was quickly on the other side of it, breathing hard. From his pocket he drew a small glass pipe and a lighter. The tall, dark haired man on the door watched him with an amused smile.
“Something amiss doctor?”
The doctor stalled with an upheld hand, hunched over and piped up. It didn’t take long for the shakes to pass off. With a sigh of relief the doctor turned his red-eyed gaze to Quesillo.
“What was that thing?” asked the doctor.
Quesillo shrugged. “I’ve heard them called Fium’Orbu, but it means nothing to me.”
“It had…..” The doctor swallowed.
“It did indeed,” Quesillo nodded thoughtfully, then slapped the doctor on the shoulder genially. “Probably best not to dwell on it, eh? Not when there’s work to do.”
The doctor nodded, picked up his bag and a moment later he was gone.
Amazing that even proof reading this one last time I found things to change. Big thanks to Sam for reading it just one more damn time. The time has come to take a deep breath and just hit publish.
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