Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Road of Thorns... Novel Excerpt

©2011 Johnny Domawa

All Rights Reserved

(A work of fiction - just this once, perhaps I want to finish something and see it to the end - This is the beginning of the novel I want to finish...)

Chapter 1

The stillness of the night is suddenly broken by a series of hacking coughs, breaking the spell of silence like a shattered glass. A rooster crowed out of surprise from the sudden explosion of sound sending its mates in a cackling frenzy. This is followed by the forceful expulsion of spit followed by a curse that resounded in the darkness.
Wrapped up in his blanket, Jax cringed like a baby, his body twitching with every sound. His heartbeat raced and the familiar numbness and tingling sensation ripped through his chest constricting his breathing as he desperately tried to remain motionless as if mere movement would entail a repeat performance from the unwelcome intrusion that had plagued much of his nights.
He listened into the darkness, his sleep now robbed of him as his heart throbbed like a rampaging river. He clenched the edges of his blanket with white knuckles as his mouth opened in a silent plea.
Why me, he cried in silence as he fought to rein in his pulse. He stared into the murky darkness as if the shadows that lay there had the answers to his question. Wide open eyes betrayed his anguish, hidden normally from the eyes of the world. He had the look of a prey surrounded by a nameless predator, terrified at the inevitable fate and questioning why he was there.
Mercifully the noises died down to be replaced once more by the uncertain silence. But the damage has already been done. His night’s rest is now cut short. Even if he managed to sleep, a lingering headache would haunt him for the next day, a pain he would hide from all eyes to project a false façade of indifference; even when his mind screamed for the anguish to stop.
Because someone has decided that I stink, he thought as he tried to calm himself, that I reek of unimaginable smells… he stifled his tears. And many believed –
I am no monster – he cried into the emptiness.
I smell no better than you neighbor. What you smell is the culvert beneath our streets and perhaps the leftover stench from the compost burn you did yesterday. Just because you smell something does not mean that it came from me…Its not me!! He wanted to shout but as always he remained silent to lick his wounds praying that somehow his neighbors and other hecklers would see the truth and finally give him peace.
But it was simply wishful thinking on his part. He had the same hope for the last four years of his life but instead of abating, the heckles and insults became much more pronounced, escalating to the point that he could no longer sleep properly and plunging his once serene mind into the depths of despair. He is on the verge of nervous collapse.
Sooner or later, the inevitable would happen. Either he will succumb to the lure of a quick escape from the torture or he would spiral off into the darkness of depression.
I’d go insane he thought.
It is a future he did not want to dwell upon but as the days and the words and the coughing grow louder, he is finding himself losing his grasp on his sanity.
He sniffed the air as if this time, he could get a whiff of the offending malodor that is attributed to him, but save for the smell of the night and the vegetation from outside his window, he could not smell anything that putrid. If he indeed reeked, it eluded his senses. Either he has grown immune or there was no truth at all to the allegations as his friends would tell him.
There is nothing wrong with you, they would say, but a part of him wondered if it was just friendship talking…
Look, they would say, you smell better than me even. Let’s find a crowd and ask them and they would tell you the same thing. And they were indeed right. But still, the heckling would not stop and it gnawed steadily at his self esteem.
His once ready smile had faded, the smile people once loved of him. He finds himself shunning people becoming a recluse moment by moment. The will to even open the door to go outside for work or for anything else is a battle that drains his energy every day. He is wasting away and he knew it.
He is near his limit. Even now, the concoction he kept in the bottom of his dresser beckons and as each cough and taunt pile up, the desire to use it becomes more and more pronounced.
For what? He wondered. Because people decide that I am a bastard. The defiant side of him reared its head. To hell with all of you, my life is my own to live, if I stink then so be it – but as soon as he formed the thought, he banished it. He was a pacifist and would be submissive until the end. The idea of appeasing his hecklers even if it meant taking his own life was a more palatable option than a face to face confrontation to resolve it.
Will my disappearance resolve your problems? He asked the darkness and the tears flowed.

The demon snarled at his attackers with raw savagery. It knows that his life was forfeit and only the resolve to take as many with him before he disappeared into oblivion filled his mind. He elongated the spikes that protruded obscenely from his body and appraised the area where he could do the most damage.
The hooded group of attackers had surrounded him, their venom laced spears glistening with his blood and broken flesh. Their mage had sealed his final escape and there was nowhere anymore to run. He cursed his fate, his mind filled with regrets at the things he had never got around to doing. After all, despite the hatred that is directed at his race for good reason, he was still a sentient being who knew the value of life. Flashes of previous prey he had cornered like this came to him, their bloody faces leering at him as they saw the tables turned upon their predator.
Now he knew what it felt like –
And he almost smiled at the irony but the bloodlust finally took over his whole mind.
He bellowed and charged –
And then exploded to a thousand bits as he imploded upon himself, showering the hooded creatures with his slick blood and tattered remains. He never knew what hit him.
For a moment, the hooded creatures remained immobile as if frozen in time then as if broken, the spell faded and the nearest of the creatures approached the center of the gory mass that was once a demon. A scaly hand snaked out of the robe and kneaded the contents of the red mass. The minced flesh squelched against the reptilian skin in an act of final defiance but it was futile, the creature plowed through the mass and finally retrieved what it was looking for.
He stood up cradling the object, a whole piece of bone that somehow survived the implosion. Another creature approached him, this one clearly the leader with its aura. The former offered the bone to the latter reverently which was as respectfully accepted.
The leader blew across the bone and the piece of the demon floated from his grasp and spun in the air, quickly producing a gale that threw everything in the room not nailed down into its walls. The remains of the demon struck the walls with wet and dull thuds while the hooded creatures seemed unaffected by the turbulence.
A guttural incantation emanated from the leader rising in ululation as the gale picked up and then as suddenly as it had started, it stopped, the bone dropping noisily in the cobbled floors.
“It is done...“ the leader spoke into the emptiness, his basic language nasal but otherwise clear. In answer the air in front of him shimmered quickly. As one the creatures bowed and then as fast as the eye could blink, they disappeared, leaving a room bathed in blood and tattered flesh.

Like the past days of his life, Jax tried to not get affected by the guffaws and snorts that greeted his back every time he turned from his class. His high level of control has still not been breached but his body paid the price for it. Even now, as he stood, he felt the tingling sensation cover his legs as his body froze and cramped all over. He felt weak and longed to lash back but he did not show it.
He would bear everything with a straight face. That is what he had resolved as his answer to the taunting. Was it pride that prevents him from collapsing into a nervous wreck or was it merely defiance against the unfairness of his world? He was not sure but as always, like an automaton, he willed himself to continue with his routine, his mind in denial of the pain that wracked through his body.
His lecture came fluently and his hands moved in well remembered actions that came reflexively demonstrating the finer points of alchemy but his eyes were dead, seeing only sneering faces where once he saw the promise of youth. It is surreal, he thought, the way his body moved and the words came out despite the breaking down of his body from within. But it was as real as the snide remarks that sliced through the air that land in his ears. His knees shook beneath his table but he went on, his mind screaming for time to go faster and the nightmare to end.
There was once a time when it was different. When eager young faces hungry for knowledge crowded his desk; a time when he smiled freely and the laughter that came out of him was not forced; a golden time of teaching when everything flowed gently like the gentle flowing water in a mountain spring. He longed for those days, reminisced at the memories when he was free.
But those days are long gone and he was pulled back again into the present, to the playful gleam of sarcastic fires that burned in his student’s eyes. And it took all his strength not to collapse right then and there.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity the class ended and as the last of his students filed out of his laboratory, he sagged into his chair and buried his head in his arms and screamed silently.
People… are cruel, they fail to see the effects of their actions upon others. The ripples caused by an innocuous accusation will grow until it becomes a mindless monster that swallows everything. Words and concepts can grow out of proportion and lies can become truths, bringing out the worst in everything.
He was unlucky to be caught in the center of it all. Others may consider it trivial, a simple thing that a greater man would find an answer for. Perhaps, but it is easy to talk when one is but a mere observer from the outside. It is different when one is in the actual spot. What is simple would turn out to be not so simple after all.
He steeled himself and stood up, his hands shaking. It took a moment for him to regain his false façade again. There are more classes, more hours of veiled terror that must be endured. He would go on until he can no longer muster the strength to go one more round and he surrenders to the promise of escape.

Loreana Kal, High Seeker and High Bruha of the Sipouk Class, watched her captain with mildly amused eyes. Their current mission has led them into the Eastern Kingdoms where they have been chasing phantom leads for months now and it has changed the normally confident face of their leader into a contorted visage that spilled his emotions for all to see. For a moment, at least while the captain remained engrossed in the newest lead, she could indulge in the simple pleasures of finding humor in their situation though truth be told, she is probably as annoyed as he was.
If not for the real threat presented by the discovery of the Seven Seals, they would have dismissed it’s reappearance a long time ago as a hoax hatched by a drunken fool who found it funny to send the most powerful group of Seekers to hunt for the wind.
She watched as Ios’s frown deepened, his face not sure whether to be angry or be excited by the newest clue. The play of emotions that plagued him made for a funny sight. One moment he was skeptical, another hopeful, then impatient and doubtful
A small giggle escaped from her lips and it was too late when she realized it.
Ios and the Seeker Scryer looked at her, a quizzical look in their eyes.
Quickly muttering an inaudible excuse, she stifled her giggling.
The scryer, an old man already stooped in age snorted as he turned once more to the parchment laid down on the table while Ios, finally realizing the nature of the joke smiled painfully at her.
‘Sorry’ she mouthed as Ios returned to the scryers ministrations.
Realizing that she would probably break down into another fit of giggling if she stayed any more in the room, she silently retired to the balcony.
Outside, the magnificent capital of Phepa, Damrell stretched into the blue waters of the Gianadure. Crystal structures, favored by Phepan architects glistened in the sun. Before her, the Damrell plaza shone like a whitewashed stone, intermittently broken by swathes of greenery. She wondered why the Phepans wasted such prime space for the purpose of providing lovers a place to stroll down at night and hawkers to own in the daytime. If it was Monessa or any of the western kingdoms, it would have been converted into something else, an arena perhaps or broken down into estates to be sold to merchants to earn the kingdom some taxes.
But this was not Monessa, the thought dampening her gay demeanor. Images of her mother and the politics she had left behind in her home country ate at the good feeling that she had just a moment before, summoning hidden concerns that plagued her mind.
She raised her hand above her, the silky sleeves of her robe falling down to reveal the unmistakable mark of the falcon that marked her since birth. It was a heritage that she did not want. She let her hand fall, her mind dwelling on the last words her grandfather uttered to her before she left for the Seekers.
It is your destiny, child, you cannot run away from it.
Destiny, she turned the word over and over her mind. Such a heavy word grandfather.
She had spent the last four years running away from it.
Perhaps it is time to finally face it. She lifted her other hand, the bangles that marked her station in the Seekers clinked with a clear tone as they slid down her arm. If she did, she would sacrifice a dream for a hated future.
No…she resolved. At least, at least not until she finishes her last mission. Before the confining prison of royal duties would claim her, she would spend one last journey free from all of it. She deserved that, at least.
She shook the thoughts away and settled on the task at hand. The first of the Seven Seals have been activated somewhere in this vast land and all clues have led to this city. It must not fall into the hands of anyone else. To preserve the peace that has supported the advancement of their world, that allowed a city like Damrell to construct parks instead of war arenas, the artifacts must land in the hands of the Seekers. She would see to it.
Her hand reflexively clasped her chest in the ancient salute of the Monessan knight. A promise that will be fulfilled even after death, she was told. It was fitting now.


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