Another Excerpt from “Dreams of Fire and Gods: Awakening”

Okay, so last night I was in a romantic mood and posted one of my favorite scenes in the developing relationship between Sael and Koreh — something humorous, with a dash of sex thrown in.

This morning, I woke up and realized that this may have given people the wrong idea about the book.  It isn’t just a silly gay sex romp with a thin veneer of fantasy painted over it.  It actually has a very detailed world, with a complex mythos and warring factions of gods in it, along with a war between the emperor and Sael’s father, Vek Worlen.  (Vek is a title given to the emperor’s regent in the eastern half of the kingdom.)

So here’s a scene that hopefully appeals more to fans of the fantasy genre:

In the darkening twilight, the forest seemed to close in on him, until the sounds of Sael’s chanting grew muffled and far away.  He could feel what Geilin had talked about — that there was something wrong with this place.  But Sael’s spellworking disturbed him even more.  He’d as soon wait until it was over, before returning to camp.

Koreh smelled the creature before he saw it.  A rotten smell, as though he’d stumbled upon the carcass of a dead animal.  He screwed his face up in distaste, nearly gagging on the stench as he searched the underbrush with his eyes for it.  When he turned around, he saw something huge and monstrous lumbering towards him out of the shadows.

It creaked and rustled as it moved, like old bare branches swaying in the wind.  Its hide was a patchwork of matted, rotting fur — wolf, bear, elk, a dozen others Koreh couldn’t identify — held together with dirt, dried leaves and pine needles.  And as it drew nearer, Koreh could see bones jutting through in places.  Its head was the skull of a bear, with great hollow eye sockets and monstrous fangs, yet it was crowned with the antlers of a great stag.  From somewhere deep within its hollow chest, came a rasping, menacing growl.

Koreh backed away, aware that the thick brambles behind him would make it impossible to run in that direction.  He wondered for just a second how the dried, dead thing would fare against one of Geilin’s firebolts.  But the old man was too far away, even if he were up to fighting the creature.  Koreh would have to save himself.

But there seemed to be some kind of…force emanating from it — an almost palpable aura of dread.  Koreh felt certain that it wasn’t just his own fear holding him rooted to the spot.  He’d never felt terror this intense in his entire lifetime; it was paralyzing him.  He wanted to drop into the earth and escape, but he was unable to make his mind obey.

He knew he was about to die.

Would the thing eat him?  Did it even have a stomach?  Perhaps it would somehow incorporate him into its body.  Koreh had heard tales of demen with animal bodies, but the heads or faces of men.  If he hadn’t wanted to scream before that thought passed through his mind, he certainly did now.  But no sound would come from his mouth.

Suddenly two things happened at once.  The beast charged, letting out a horrible bellow, and the leaves on the forest floor in front of Koreh swirled upwards, as if caught in a whirlwind.  Within the leaves was a dark shape, like the figure of a man, but impossible to see clearly.  It seemed to be wrapped in a cloak made entirely of shadows.  Koreh couldn’t tell if he was looking at something solid, or not.  In places, it seemed almost transparent, and the leaves seemed to pass through it, as they fluttered through the air.  The figure slid silently up out of the ground, whirling around to strike at the monster with a shimmering staff.

Frozen, Koreh watched the butt of the staff thud against the beast’s skull.  The staff, at least, was solid and there was a resounding crack that sounded far too loud to be mere wood against bone.  The creature’s skull blazed with a shimmering blue fire.  It roared in pain, swinging its great antlered head in a deadly arc.  But there was nothing for the antlers to strike.  The sharp, jagged points swept through the shadowy cloak without ever tearing or snagging it.

In the next instant, two other figures rose up out of the forest floor, in swirls of dead leaves and twigs and dark cloaks.  They surrounded the beast, striking at it quickly, as it thrashed about in pain and anger.  Wherever the staffs struck its mottled, patchwork hide, blue light flickered briefly.   The light lapped upward like flame, but left no scorch marks.  The creature was clearly suffering great pain and as it writhed and thrashed about, Koreh felt a momentary flash of pity for the thing.

Then its legs gave out beneath it and, with a great rasping exhalation, it tumbled over and lay still.  Just as quickly as they had appeared, the shadowy figures spiraled down into the leaves and dirt, and vanished.  They might never have been there, save for the corpse they’d left behind.  And that looked as if it had been dead for weeks, if not months.

Koreh was shaking.  Somehow he’d managed to hold onto the wood he’d been gathering, though he hadn’t been conscious of clutching it.  It was rapidly growing dark now and he wanted nothing more than to run back to camp.  But some perverse sense of curiosity made him approach the dead thing.

It lay absolutely still.  Cautiously, Koreh kicked the massive bear skull with one foot.  The head came loose from the neck with the sound of rotted parchment tearing and rolled away from him, coming to rest with one of its antlers propping it up.  Empty eye sockets stared back at him.  But apart from that, the creature did not move.