Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Nine Steps Down: Introduction and Chapter One

Fantasy thriller/horror novel cover


I started writing this story quite a few years ago, and just recently I've been thinking of finishing it. I think there's something really special here waiting to be dug up from that dark place that I call creativity.

A lot has happened in the recent past with having children, getting married, going on and then off of medication, and now currently going through a separation and divorce. I've matured a lot as a person, and I think that my writing will be stronger for it.

What you're about to read is the part that I wrote years ago. I know it probably has its share of mistakes, but I kind of like it like that. There's a raw sort of charm to it. Something fresh and mysterious. Something beautiful, yet haunting. Something straight from creativity.

Here it is, let me know what you think. I'll post more of the story as I write it. So far this is all that I have.

Introduction



Kastasia Asha Corr is a twenty-seven year old exiled witch preparing to make her first human sacrifice to the voices of the dead, but finds her plans ruined when she is abducted by a dark warrior, Agos Cre Sanatas, a man who has supposedly been hunting her for over a decade­­–and who refuses to say why she was taken, or where they are going.


Having failed in attempting to bring the chosen sacrifice to the nine dead characters who haunt her, and unable to free herself to fix the mistake, Kastasia must suffer her bizarre imprisonment while facing the anger and the wrath of the apparitions who have been with Kastasia the entirety of her life, ultimately dragging her captor, Agos, down with her into the curses bestowed upon her.


Chapter One


1 

The misshapen candle perched on the table burned meekly against the blood-red light of the setting sun, which was falling through the small room’s only window like a blanket of gore. The candle’s flame seemed as if it were attempting to rise against the glow of sunset, casting itself against the apposing colour like a miniature warrior dressed in golden armour, doomed to failure, but endeavouring just the same.

Yes, night was coming, darkness prevailing.

Kastasia Asha Corr sat at the far end of the room, just out of reach from the dying sunlight’s violent glow, her dark eyes fixed in the candle’s tired flame. She enjoyed the dying nature of the little thing, imagining herself as the cause to surreal character’s demise, the death bringer to the symbol of hope. Her thick raven-black hair was tied back loosely with a piece of burgundy string, and the dress she wore was almost as black as her hair, making her milk-pale skin that much more prominent in the nightmarish atmosphere.

Surrounding her on the room’s many shelves were an assortment of animal skulls, along with a multitude of jars filled with rare herbs and funguses. There were also blades hanging from the wall, many of them without hilts or handles, and one large hammer. On the table beside the candle was a broken mirror, a pile of sand arranged in the shape of a man, within the shape spatters of crows blood, and the blue and green feathers of a songbird. The broken reflection of a man’s life soon to fade as dry as sand, the apposing bird’s feathers being the good and bad existing in every person.

Kastasia gazed down into the mirror shards, watching the flame murmur across them.

Patience.

Soon.

Tonight would be her greatest sacrifice yet. The death of a human being.

She knew not who she would give over to the world below (the ritual on the table was not to say who or where; it was a form of calling out to the voices, saying she is ready for their direction) but the voices of the dead had brought her this far, and when she found the right individual, they would guide her to the dark light of demise. They would open the doors of purpose, taking her hand and leading her into fulfillment.

Kastasia has seen–and spoken to–dozens of those who had died but now remain, the tortures souls whom linger in the dark places of the world of the living. There were nine, however, which were more prominent than the others. Nine of whom showed themselves to her more often. Who made her the woman she was today. They were the ones who’s mysteries refused to be uncovered, as if they had no real reason for remaining with the living. They had saved her life more than once, and she was sure they’d save it again.

The candle was even more withered now, just a dot of gold fighting for survival. Once gone, the voices would come. The symbol of hope replaced by a different form of hope. Her dark journey downwards.

The flamed went out.

Only the smallest hint of daylight remained. The sky peering up from the distant horizon was the colour of hot coals fading to bruised purple. Below the horizon, the ancient hemlocks reaching upwards seemed like charcoal giants crowding in on her, perhaps listening for the voices as well.

She waited, but only silence lingered.

This was strange.

Impatient, Kastasia stood up, opened the narrow front door, and stepped outside onto her porch. The quiet was so severe it was almost maddening. No crickets. No coyotes. Nothing but the dull ring of nothingness.

She wandered out into the pasture in front of her little home, the tall grass swallowing her. It smelled as if it had just rained, but the ground was dry. She walked west until she came to the clearing under the handful of over-sized oaks scattered around her burning pit. She looked down into the pit, but now that night was upon her she couldn’t see its bottom. This had a menacing aura to it, the feeling that something was down there waiting for her, something foul and filled with a sour hate.

She smiled. The thought of such creatures always brought the warm feeling in her chest. She loved hate. Loved fear. She knew such creatures existed because she had seen them. Her youngest memory was of one of these animals. One of the Kestos, the flesh eaters who lurk in the dark. This one she had seen in daylight however, early morning in a camp outside of an abandoned town. It had been eating a human corpse, holding the body down with its front paws, and tearing at the mangled flesh with long slender teeth. The beast had looked up to her, and seemed almost as if it had smiled, rotted meet hanging from its snout. She had smiled back. In a way she was a monster too. Perhaps the creature had seen that. Perhaps it knew. This was roughly eleven years ago, when she was a young girl. She had been traveling with the Hauva tribe, strange marauders from Fallos with pale hair and dusty skin clothed in heavy fabrics made of dark greens, deep reds, and vibrant yellows: the colours of their gods.
  
Yes, she had seen a lot in her twenty-seven years in this world. Had seen a lot, but had not actually experienced half as many things as she had witnessed. She's felt alone through the entirety of her life. Always the outsider. The people she had know had been cruel. The men dogs. Even the children had been malicious.  And so, she learned to keep to herself. Learned to stay away, and watch from a distance. To live without normal human experiences.

Perhaps this is why she loved turmoil so much, bringing fear to the monsters which were human beings. The more pathetic of the life-forms on this world’s surface.

And tonight there would be and abundance of fear. Oh yes. There would be one less human left alive. That is, if only the voices would come. If only the dead would lead her way.
  
She knew it was somewhat of a contradiction with her hating human beings, but serving the voices of the dead. They had once been alive too. Had once been human. This was something she couldn’t explain. Something she didn’t have to explain. Out here in the depths of the Sate forests, she could do, say, and feel what she wanted. No one to preach otherwise. Nobody to say no. This was true freedom. Out here she was more alive than she had ever been.

She felt as if she could fly.

But the silence of the voices were dampening the notion of freedom, showing her that she wasn’t completely self reliant. That she wasn’t completely alone.

She proceeded north, the moon casting tangled shadows through the old oak's branches, and ventured down the steep hill leading to the forest's edge where the larger, more ancient trees awaited. As she walked, she thought of the covenant she had once belonged to, so many years ago. The other witches who had first introduced to her the methods of interacting with the perished. They had been cruel to her just as all the other people in her life had been. Yes, always the outsider. They had cast her out, just as everyone else had prior. Sent her away with only a taste of what their dark arts had to offer. Too much passion they had accused. To fall into the order of the Vae Hanos, she had to be emptied of her selfish desires. Had to become a shell filled with nothing but darkness, completely uncaring and able to make decisions without feeling.
          Kastasia had tried to fake it, pretending that she was the way they wanted, but eventually the truth burning like stubborn fires behind her dark eyes showed through. She had cursed them for withholding their secrets from her, and attempted to burn them alive inside their hideaway underground. Those foul women would have butchered her over roasting pits if it wasn’t for the voices who had led her away and into safety.
 
Wandering into the forest now, she found the ancient moodiness to the place to be soothing, the giant pines and hemlocks surrounding her like silent watchers, guardians rising up from the underworld to keep her safe. Broad green ferns surrounded their bases, reaching from the dark soil like curious screams. This was her home. Her first home, really. Kastasia had traveled the entirety of her life, and these past few months had been a chance for to her breath. A chance to clear her head, and see things as they really are. True independence. Freedom to explore the deeper meanings in life.

It was harder to see now that she was within the woods, the shadows broader and darker, feint strands of light from the full moon only managing to fall to the ground in long timid streaks, like frozen sunlight almost, yet fainter and more ghostly.

Where are you, she thought, wishing the voices would come out from wherever they were hiding.

And truly, where were they? Why the silence? Why were they ignoring her? She had done everything they had asked of her since being saved from the witches of the Vae Hanos. Why would they refuse to show themselves now? Of all the times to play such games why now, why during such an important task?

There was a small village if she kept proceeding the way he was going. Kale it was called. It would take several days of walking to reach the village itself, but there would be a road leading to it in this direction that she could reach by midnight. She used to steal chickens and flour from the farmers on the outskirts of the little community–before they had chased her away with a pack of dogs that is. She was thankful for those simple people though. In a way they had driven her back here, to her little home. Driven her to peace and clarity. To a place of where the voices of he dead were close and clear.

Was this the place she should venture towards? Not Span, the larger town west of her?

"Kale or Span," she whispered, pronouncing the words slowly.

Which direction?
  
She was running out of time. It had to be tonight, she was certain.
  
Something moved in the distance, a blur disappearing into the distant ferns.  Without thinking, Kastasia dashed towards it, stumbled, and then fell forward awkwardly into the soft forest bed. Pain spat through her left knee in an ugly flash. Angered by her childish impulse to run, she lay there a moment, cursing herself, the pain crawling through her like hot worms. She pulled the dagger from her dress pocket. Unsheathed it.

She stood up slowly, limping only slightly.

Stupid, she thought.

Chasing towards the first sign of movement in this forest was stupid. The perfect word to describe such an action. Childish, ignorant, and stupid.

Slowly, dagger first, she went forwards to where the blur had disappeared. If she died now, she deserved it.

As she got closer she could see glimpses of something through the ferns. Something pale. Unmoving.

She wandered closer and then stopped. It was staring at her. Large eyes from behind the ferns, the moon reflecting against them like silver coins. A bobcat. Silent and still like a statue. Silent and still like the trees. Would it pounce on her?

She smiled.

"You're not whom I am supposed to send to the darkness tonight," she whispered.

It remained still.

She noticed something further in the distance. Another pale shape where the ferns grew sparser, and the woods grew deeper and darker. It was moving slightly, but was hard to make out in the dark.

"Sae," she whispered, "is that you?"

It was so faint she wasn't sure which of the deceased it was.
"Where are the others?"

She walked up to the bobcat, and then motioned past it. The creature didn’t clinch, but it's eyes stayed glued on her. They were like empty O's gawking upwards.

Kastasia moved quicker towards the blur in the distance, trying to figure out which of the apparitions it was. Only the faster she moved, the quicker it moved, keeping just ahead of her.

She was running now, the dark forest devouring her, sucking her into its terribly underbelly. She wanted to scream out at the apparition, but managed to control herself. She could sense the dead one in her thoughts now, but it was so distant, like an invisible ally shouting from the edge of a neighbouring island. She glanced behind her once briefly, moonlight guiding her way a thing of the past.

When she looked forwards again, the apparition was gone. 
But a voice in the far distance beckoned her: Kale

She could not tell who's voice it was. Too far. Too faded. She knew it was one of them however. One of her wicked saviours.

2

Kastasia stopped running, now walking quickly, but enjoying the quiet. Soaking it in, as if the darkness was healing. It made her think of the future. What would happen after she kills this man? What other tasks would the voices have for her? Would this beautiful quiet tumble back into mere memory like everything else good in her life? Would she lose her solitude? Her independence?

These were sacrifices she was willing to take. She belonged to the voices. Was theirs in every way. They gave her purpose. Hope.

Yes, although she loved the quiet home in the woods, she was still open to the notion of traveling again–and this made her realize something else: although she had always felt alone, she had never traveled alone. Always in groups. Caravans, soldiers, marauders, gypsies, she had accompanied all sorts of people in her travels, but never alone. Now that she really was alone she felt much less lonely. It's as if being around people exposed how she was so much unlike other people. No connection with them. Only distant frustration. Cold and confused stares. Nobody understood.

This was why her quiet little hideaway from the world was so peaceful to her. No reminders that she did no belong. No more reminders that she had no connection. She was truly alone, and that was ok.

What is the man I am supposed to end like, she thought suddenly. Another human who would see through her like everyone else?

She wondered what he looked like, and why he was this deep into the woods tonight. What acquaintances he would leave behind. 

Friends, family, a loved one? Would anyone miss him? 

Kastasia hoped so. Hoped he had mobs of people who would morn for his death, sobbing and wailing up to an unforgiving sky. This idea filled her with a warm excitement. Powerful. Yes, she could make a change in this world. No longer that useless ghost of a human being. She could do this. Bring fear. Pain. Sorrow.

It was too much to take in all at once; she felt light headed and began running again. Dashing towards her dark prize which waited somewhere out there in these woods. Her purpose.

3

A stretch of time passed­–how long she did not know, but it must have been hours–before she found the road to Kale. The moon managed to fall through the surrounding trees enough to light the road's flat stones, making them appear like old coins leading to her treasure. A hint of fog hung from her surroundings, almost seeming as if following the road as well.
          "Sae," she whispered, noticing a familiar face in the distance, "it is you."

She smiled, and a menacing excitement sparked a flame in her chest.

Although the apparition was still blurry and hard to see, she recognized the balding head and penetrating eyes. He dissolved back into the darkness as she ventured towards him, but that was alright. It didn't matter that the voices were not coming either.

 Perhaps it was some sort of test; bedsides, she knew she was going the right way. Even without her dead companions she knew she was on the right path. Every step she took made her believe it that much more, filling her heart with that soothing warmth. With that clean, calming sense of hope.

4

The road narrowed to more of a trail for the next couple hours. She had been walking most of the night, and still no sign of her target. Doubt was up against the walls of her sense of hope, knocking at its unsure door. You're going the wrong way, it said. You will fail and be alone forever. You are not good enough. Give up now.

She found suddenly that she was whispering these things to herself. The fear of such notions made her hands shake. Made her want to throw up.

“I have to keep pushing forward,” she forced herself to say slowly, putting careful concentration into each of the words.

5

There was a twinkle of light ahead. At first she almost thought it to be Sae again; it was that feint. As she neared it, she noticed more hints of light surrounding the first one. She slowed down, and placed her hand in her dress pocket, fingers eagerly clenching the dagger's cool handle.

There was a man kneeling in front of a statue of a headless woman. On the statue’s hands and feet, mounds of burning candles overlapped and ran into each other in misshapen globs. The smell of incents lingered as well. A mysterious sort of scent, like a gypsy camp.

Distant voices slithered and Kastasia's head.

Yes, this was her target.

The man spoke, startling Kastasia so much she almost tripped, "Quite beautiful isn’t it."

His voice was deep, and clean in a sense, as if it didn't belong in this dirty world. He turned to look at her.

Kastasia said nothing, and stopped moving.

The man’s face was very different than his voice. It was weathered and uneven, with a gnarled scar stretching across his cheekbone and chin. His eyes were small, and his nose large.

“Stasha, the lost messenger,” the man continued. “In fables she was said to be a guide to salvation.”

Fitting, thought Kastasia, you are my dark salvation.
          “Who is this?” he said.

More lights were coming from the distant end of the trail. Soldiers with torches.