Hopefully you’ve been fiending for more tastes of Thoughts of Steel, my first, full-length novel to be published by Ravenswood in early 2016. Here is the prologue, and I’m confident it will quench your thirst, then leave you starving for more.
Steel cut through the air, sunlight glinting off the razor edge, hungry to slice into Vesik’s skull. He ducked the strike, parried a backhand with his own blade, and then side-stepped a downward chop. Although his enemy—a ragged looking man dressed in a worn, black coat that brushed the stones beneath their feet—seemed nothing more than human, he moved with otherworldly speed. Still, though, Vesik was quicker, stronger, and more vicious. It was his time, after all.
A crooked grin flashed beneath the man’s hooked nose as he leapt forward to stab Vesik through the chest. Vesik allowed the blade to close on his flesh, feeling that his time was nearly through. He needed to end the confrontation right then, before the satisfaction was taken from him.
Red light flared at the point of contact where metal met flesh. It was far from blinding, clinging to Vesik as a second skin, shining through his own leather armor. Where the dim light touched steel, destruction occurred. Shards of gleaming metal shot to either side of Vesik, curving around his chest as the sword that sought his heart was obliterated from tip to hilt.
Disbelief claimed his enemy’s face, the opponent’s expression falling slack, his mouth hanging open, eyes wide with terror. Vesik brought his own blade up, and then rammed it through the man in the black coat, steel carving through flesh, shattering bone, piercing organs. One last glimpse of the dead man and he was gone, a maelstrom of red ripping him away and up toward the sun, as if he had been a puppet on the end of its string when the puppeteer decided to abruptly cease his play.
The weight of the small pin fixed to Vesik’s chest doubled, mirroring the badge in his pocket—the one proclaiming him to be a sentry of the Watch. He’d done his job like he never could before. In his mind, he’d just saved thousands of people, although such a thing wasn’t and never would be true. Pride still swelled in him.
The streets of Cavia gleamed in the light, displaying their broken glory. Vesik’s memory had begun to slip. He could see the world as it was presently. But he couldn’t recall how it had looked before, when he had lived in that place. When he had been human…He attempted anyway, constructing a city only half complete.
Anger claimed him, enough to burn his skin from his body. He roared, flames erupting from him in all directions. Once he calmed, there stood nothing around him but a desolate land of ash, smoldering embers, and walking corpses. He’d condemned these ones to die so that he could come back, the demon Zeraskyr’s doing. They haunted him always.
A small figure, swaddled in fine cloth now burnt to shreds, drew his eyes. It shined blue amidst the darkness and flame. The corpses screamed, gripping their skulls, pulling muscle from their fleshless bodies. They came for him. He needed to leave. But not before seeing her. He took a step forward and flashed to a spot just over the babe. Inside, the tatters of cloth still smoldering, he beheld a baby girl, perfect, alive. He looked into his daughter’s eyes, and then had to leave.
Suemaira wrapped her arms around his waist. The feeling was grand, but somehow unsatisfying. He knew the sensation wasn’t real. It never would be real again unless he obeyed Belok, the bastard god that bestowed upon him his power. He needed to complete the ritual with the blood of innocents and rule the world with hellfire and death. He banished those thoughts; they would take him soon enough.
Their small home was in pieces just as the streets of Cavia had been. He took in the small hints of the once vibrant scents, gripped her unfamiliar hands in his own, and struggled to put together the colors that made up the inside of his home. He turned to see her, and was horrified. She wasn’t anything like he remembered. He just couldn’t get it right. This was the woman as she was presently, the one he had left alone, devoid of a husband and daughter, not the one he had married nearly twenty years ago. This version of her had been broken by Vesik’s doing and hadn’t been the same since.
Vesik smiled anyway, taking at least some small amount of comfort as he kissed her forehead. He had to flee before this, too, was perverted further. His time was coming to its end. One last thing left to do…
The ale that slid down his throat tasted of air. The mug he held was only half there, the frothy liquid within suspended in midair. His three friends sat to his left, leaning their forearms against the bar. Koe, Alitor, and Fal sipped their drinks, much older now. Koe’s dark skin began to sag around his eyes, Alitor’s bald pate seemed an unhealthy hue, and one of Fal’s hands, devoid of fingers, was a mass of gnarled stumps, thick skin covering them.
They all looked at him with sadness in their eyes. They raised their mugs nonetheless, and Vesik managed a weak smile. He raised his own and found that his flesh was no longer his. Violet, so dark to nearly be black, stretched across bulging muscle. Thin tentacles, now sprouting from his back, wavered at the edge of his vision, swaying through the air of their own accord. He turned and beheld a polished vase sitting at the back of the bar. He saw his own face in the reflection, a head made up of a wide void of nothingness and a single slit below that, his mouth, a fanged mass hiding behind thin lips.
His time ended then. But not before he lived through it all once more.
Belok deceived him, stealing his humanity and his daughter, banishing him to some realm of nonexistence. His worried parents, suspicious friends, and completely unaware wife were left without him. It all swirled before him, reminding him.
Vesik awoke. He stood in his realm, a place without anything physical, the surroundings painted by crimson and dotted by shining motes of light. This time, as each time since the first, his stay was shorter, the sensations duller. The nothingness he stood upon mirrored his mood until he found himself staring at Zeraskyr.
The lithe demon stared back, twin horns sprouting from his forehead to twist up and backward, menacing eyes simple pools of white with a dot of black in the middle, red skin shining from the ambience, and a knowing smile on his lips. Vesik wanted to kill him right then, as he did more often than not. But he couldn’t. He needed Zeraskyr in order to return to his world, Zepzier, and to his life. He needed to play the monster he had become to reclaim it all.
Cold nothingness chewed its way into his stomach. He pondered his return to Zepzier, imagining the anguish on the faces of his loved ones as he reigned over them. He’d be merciful, but still they’d reject him. They’d hate him for what he had become, just as he hated himself. Still, he needed to return. He needed it back more than anything.
“Finish it, Zeraskyr. I want to go home,” he said, his voice a booming echo that seemed to resonate from everywhere.
The demon nodded, flames leaking from his mouth as he smiled. He disappeared, leaving Vesik to his solitude.
Fear gnawed at Vesik, the cold pit doubling in size. His anger flared, fire bursting from his skin, burning his flesh, satiating his self-hatred. The inferno blazed around him for a brief moment before disappearing, leaving smoke to billow from his unscathed body. The cold wouldn’t subside. It never did.