Sunday, October 21, 2012

Scared spitless by my prologue by Barbara Edwards

With Halloween around the corner, I wanted to frighten readers. Here is the prologue to Ancient Awakening. I hope it draws you into my world.

Eastern Europe, 1000 AD

The terrified servant fumbled her armload of logs as she eased the laboratory’s paneled door open. The pounding of her pulse shredded his concentration. Hunger stabbed through his gut. His fingers flattened the quill’s nib against the parchment and ink smeared the last entry like blood. Saliva pooled in his mouth while she built up the fire, then scuttled to safety.
His low growl muffled the soft snick of the latch. Once again, he had resisted the impulse to rend, to carelessly feed. A frustrated sigh heaved his chest. The only way to keep good servants was to reward them richly and let them live.  That lesson had been difficult to learn.
He held the parchment to the fading light streaking through a slit in the thick stone. The pale glow outlined his almost fleshless fingers before a freshly penned phrase caught his attention. He threw the broken quill into the fire and selected another. The correction had to be made, and he bent over his desk to take care of it.
Satisfied with the change, he straightened and stared into the dancing red and orange flames until his stiff muscles eased. He had to eat, but he resented interruptions. His latest research into a cure had been so promising; the details so fascinating, only the relentless blood hunger forced him to stop.
Although he had searched the world, he had never found a remedy for the curse he had inflicted  upon himself. He eased erect and rubbed at his blurred eyes, before slowly stacking the parchment sheets, aligning the unused quills, and corking the ink well with shaky hands. He was weak, but the priests would have his nourishment ready. They always did.
A snapping log showered glowing embers onto the slate hearth. He pondered the coals for a moment before he swept them aside with his bare hand. His changed flesh didn’t burn. Along with his soul, his body had surrendered its ability to feel pain, to age, or scar.
Legend gave him many names, but the wide halls of his mountain retreat no longer echoed with countless worshipers. He could have ruled the world had his ambition not died with the passage of time. The endless whispers were from the cold winds and the few praying priests. He didn’t care that he couldn’t remember his real name or birthplace.
For an eon, he’d regretted the loss of softer emotions. Love had been the first feeling to die, along with the woman who had insisted he would never harm her. He couldn’t recall her features, just the merry tinkle of her laughter and the bright smile she had greeted him with every morning. He licked his lips. She’d tasted sweet.
Fierce need flared in his gut and he sniffed the air. Outside his chamber, a single acolyte in long, brown robes waited to escort him. His mouth curved with a mirthless smile. The silent servants had ignited the flickering wall torches. Shadows jumped and shivered in the drafty halls like nervous virgins.
A succession of priests had made him content with his self-imposed exile and search for knowledge. They kept his legend alive. Curious worshipers trickled into the fortress. The isolation hid their final lose. Many people died of natural causes in the treacherous mountain passes, and a few more deaths went unnoticed.
He hummed with anticipation when the scent of pulsing blood drifted to his nostrils. The acolyte trembled as he led the way deeper into the fortress’ deserted lower levels. Public displays of his power tended to empty the halls. The priests had objected to sacrificing their own members, so they had carved a location deep within the heart of the mountain, where the terrified screams of his doomed victims went unheard.
He trailed his hand over the rough walls hewn from living rock. It glistened with dampness. Recent chisel marks caught at his fingers. The memory of feeling cold tugged at him.
Low chanting grew louder, along with the sacrifice’s fearful prayers. They turned another corner, and his escort drew back. He stepped through a narrow doorway into a square room. The priests had created a new dining chamber for him.
His breath quickened. Clad in elaborate regalia, the high priest, Armid, waved him closer. Armid’s shoulders were stooped, although he was still in his middle-years. He bowed low and swept his embroidered robes aside with one shaking hand. The stink of fear flowed from him in an exhilarating river.
Torches flared in every corner. They reflected red off the sweating male body lashed to a center post. A heavy block of gray-green malachite was placed before the naked prisoner. Tiny carved figures danced and postured on the sides of the block in a grotesque celebration of death.
“My Lord,” Armid intoned. His eyelids nervously twitched before he lowered his gaze to the floor. “The servant reported you had finished your studies. We prepared the feast that awaits you.”
The youth held his stare for a second then strained wildly against his bonds. The thunder of his victim’s racing pulse echoed in his ears.
“He seems a suitable prize. His strong heart surges lifeblood like the rising tide.” He licked his lips. The feeding was so exquisite when the blood wildly pumped with dread. It was a taste he had developed after the other pleasures had faded.
“Yes, my Lord.”
Armid took a wet sponge from a nearby wooden bucket. He lovingly laved the victim’s face until the young man stilled. Armid held the youth’s head upright and gently murmured, “It is time. The path you have chosen has its price. Our thanks go with you.”
“Strange. Do you seek volunteers to come to me, priest?”
Not waiting for a reply from the elder, he hunkered over the sacrifice. The scream from his victim abruptly cut off. He drank with delight. So enthralled with his feeding, he was barely conscious of a loud clang reverberating through the small chamber or the wavering of the torch flames.
When he lifted his crimson-stained mouth from the drained remains, Armid’s white features were stretched over his skull in a death mask.
He spread his arms wide and chanted, “We have served you, Lord. We have filled your needs. We have provided the sacrifice.”
“And I thank you, Armid,” he managed before a sleepy yawn cracked his jaw. “Take me to my chamber.”
He wiped the fresh blood from his mouth and licked the last drops from his hand. The torch flames dipped lower. His body needed sleep to fully rejuvenate.
Armid collapsed onto the intricately carved block before he gathered his flowing robes about his legs as though chilled. His fingers trembled when he stroked the  sacrifice's dangling leg.
“This is your final chamber, my Lord.” Armid’s voice was powerful, but strangely calm. “While you fed, my followers sealed the door and closed the hall.”
It was an instant before he understood. Rage poured through him at the effrontery in this mere human’s resolute stare.
“I am indestructible. You cannot harm me!”
“It matters not. You will never escape. The entry hall is already blocked.” Armid shook his head before a deep sigh racked his chest.
“Then you will die here with me.”
“It is time to pay for my sins. I am the last to serve you.”
Tears flowed down Armid’s sunken cheeks. His arms hung limply at his sides. His hands lifted slowly toward the limp figure. “My only son volunteered to serve as a  sacrifice.  My death will end our line of human betrayers.”
His hands crunched bones as he lifted Armid, until his feet dangled inches above the floor. He drained the priest before flinging the corpse aside. Then he turned his rage on the sealed door. The air reverberated with his savage hammering. By the time the last torch burned out, he knew he was trapped.
“I cannot die,” he screamed into the darkness. “I am immortal!”

In Ancient Awakening, Police Officer ‘Mel’ Petersen investigates a death only she believes is murder. By disobeying direct orders from the Rhodes End Chief, she risks her career to follow clues that twist in circles to her backyard and lead the killer to her.
Her neighbor Stephen Zoriak is a prime suspect. Steve worked for a major pharmaceutical company where he discovered a weapon so dangerous he destroys the research. He is exposed to the dangerous organism. He suspects he is the killer and agrees to help her find the truth.
In the course of their investigation Mel and Steve find the real killer and a love that defies death.

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Margo Hoornstra said...

Scared spitless. That's for sure. Very compelling read.

Barbara Edwards said...

Hi Margo,
Not everyone likes to be scared. Glad you found it compelling.

Jannine Gallant said...

Wow, Barbara, that definitely puts you in a Halloween mood. Intense!