The Darkness Rising – Book 1 of the Maingard Chronicles
Book 1 of the Maingard Chronicles
In a land of swords and sorcery, magical flying ships appear in the skies over the city of Jacarna, heralding an invasion from another plane. An invasion that is hell bent on destruction and enslavement. A small band of heroes and heroines are slowly drawn together to stand before the invading host. Together, they hold Maingard’s fate in their hands:
A deadly peril looms over the world of Maingard, a peril that threatens the lives and futures of every being upon it. An alien host from another dimension, hell bent on enslavement and genocide. Bex, a thief, rescues Ishtara, a refugee from another world, one that has fell victim to the invading horde. Their fates become entwined and they soon find themselves thrust into a seemingly futile attempt to save the world. Along with Bryn Kar – the soldier without a city, Radnak – the half orc bodyguard and his charges; the Goblin noblewoman Lady Iga and her two sons, and Prince Garlen – heir to the throne of Danaria, the two start to realise they hold the fate of the world in their hands.
ISBN 9781838456719 277 pages
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Gudnar shivered uncontrollably, his arms clenched about himself in a desperate attempt to bring some warmth to his old, aching bones. He had spent the last ten winters on the streets of Jacarna, eking out survival by begging, stealing or scavenging what he could, but this winter was going to be the worst. He hadn’t always been on the streets and he found himself thinking of a past a lifetime ago.
As a master tailor he had seemingly had it all or as much as any honest artisan in the ‘Jewel of the East’ could have. He had made garments for all the nobility in Jacarna, including the Earls of House Kar and House Rogan.
His wife had been as proud as he had when Earl Jan Rogan had commissioned Gudnar to create his outfit for the wedding of the Earl’s daughter to King Renta. For months afterwards, people had commented on how splendid the bride’s father had looked in his finery. His small shop just outside the Palace had been a busy place, busy that is until a freak accident had damaged his hand and his livelihood. As his work suffered, the patronage of his shop dried up and debts accrued. His wife deserted him, finding solace in the bed of another and then the ruthless sharks of the Moneylender’s Guild had circled, taking his home and shop. Since then he had joined the thousands who slept rough and begged for scraps in Jacarna, the so called ‘Jewel of the East’.
Already the temperatures had dropped, plummeting several degrees in the last few days and frost had appeared the day after the Feast of Sanda Sno to give an indication of how long this winter may become – and that had been weeks ago.
“Unheard of,” he muttered to himself as he turned onto the Street of Souls. “Unheard of,” he repeated.
The Street of Souls was the location of many of the temples and religious orders in Jacarna. This was one of the last streets on his circuitous route through the maze of the Lower and Middle Quarters of the city before he reached his little bolthole. More often than not, the Street of Souls could be the most rewarding scavenging grounds for him. Several of the priests and acolytes from the many temples and churches along the mile-long avenue would often take pity on a poor wretch if they saw him pass by when attending to their duties.
The first temple that he passed as he entered the Street of Souls was the Temple of Bolam, deity of farmers and husbandmen and one of the major religions in the agricultural heartlands of the East. The temple stood back from the main road and had a central path leading to the main doors. A bronze statue of Bolam stood to one side. The farming god was depicted as always holding a giant scythe over one shoulder and a sheaf of corn clutched in his other arm. About his feet, worshippers had left offerings of gratitude and orisons in the hope that Bolam would take a break from his own crops to bring aid to them.
Opposite was the less illustrious Jarm’s House, the Church of the Lonely God, Taker of the Godless. The building’s architecture was pleasant enough, but an unwelcoming air lingered about the entrance way. Unlike Bolam’s temple which had grounds to the front, the Church of Jarm faced directly onto the cobbled road. Those who took the grey cloth of Jarm were among the least materialistic of Maingard’s people. The myths tell of how Jarm was shunned by his brothers and sisters and lived in exile, some say self-imposed, whilst others say Bolam, Noona and Kani forced him away upset at his unwashed and unkempt appearance. The Church of the Lonely God had no congregation per se, except for its retired clergy. Jarm, instead offered salvation to exiles and the unwanted alike. Anyone who wasn’t from a congregation of another temple or church ended up here when they passed on, delivered into the care of the Lonely God. Whether they be strangers to the area, unfortunate victims to any of the criminals that thrived in the Eastern Cities or just vagrants like Gudnar many found themselves embraced by the Grey Priests of Jarm.
He passed several more churches until he reached a large temple made of white marble. Tall minarets stood at each corner, each topped with red tiling. This was the place of worship for Tobes, Lady of Luck and Chance. Sometimes the Priests of Tobes left surplus food in the porch late at night for the drifters of the city. In recognition to their patron, this was entirely at the whim of the High Priest. The tall wooden doors to the Temple stood slightly ajar and he nervously peered in. The inner porch was empty, empty of life and empty of food. Gudnar sighed, ‘Another hungry night,’ he thought to himself.
He left the temple and moved back onto the Street of Souls. The night had started to become foggy and gave the darkness an appropriate eeriness. Tomorrow was Sanda Sweven, the Feast day of the Dead, reputedly when the ghosts of those who were passed away revisited the mortal plane to commune with families and descendants. He looked up and down the wide street and concluded that he was the only soul out in the city that night. As the tall spires and domes of the temples loomed out of the mist, his mind conjured up a disturbing thought – maybe he was the only living soul out that night but maybe there were other souls abroad. Now when he looked down the wide boulevard ahead, the Street of Souls seemed less deserted. The candles and beacons that would normally illuminate the way for the pious and nervous to prayers and absolution now lit the way for the souls of the dead to dance again. Figures seemed to swirl in the mist and shadows, merging together then breaking apart in a macabre dance of death.
It may have been his mind, almost delirious with the cold and hunger, or just years of solitude and despair on the dangerous and dirty streets of Jacarna, but to Gudnar the spirits were really there – and they wanted him. He squealed with fear, his old legs shaking more now, but not just from the icy wind and he ran – ran as fast as he could down the long temple highway.
Red-faced and wheezing, his heart threatening to burst, he made it to the end of the street where it opened out into the huge, open public Square of the Redeemed, so called as it was the natural meeting place for the recent visitors of the various temples. As with the Street of Souls the square was deserted. Columns and statues of stone stood silent in the mist across the quadrangle. He rested with his hand on the low boundary wall of the last temple, The Temple of Noona and there he waited until he caught his breath, his body bowed and his lungs pumping like mad from the physical exertion.
He found himself laughing at the madness of it all – of course the spirits didn’t want him, it wasn’t his time to die. After all, they were just playing, the one night of the year when they could visit the mortal plane again and be free. Now he was only a few hundred yards from his favourite bolt hole, a small shed at the back of the Burnt Oak Inn. It was small and cluttered, but that kept it a little warmer than the outside and better still, it seemed to be unused and unowned. He started, struck by a thought.
‘I hope that weasel Snomm hasn’t claimed it! I’ll kill him’, his hand went to his pouch and he half unsheathed his blade. It was dull and rusty, but it still made him more dangerous than some of the unfortunates that found themselves living rough in Jarcana. He thought better of drawing the whole blade in case the City Guard were nearby.
A sudden BOOM cracked the silent, icy air and the echo resonated throughout the square. Several cats squealed from nearby alleys and then a cacophony of barking from dogs and hounds went up. It wasn’t the huge sound or the reaction from nearby animals that made Gudnar jump and nearly die on the spot. Nor was it the moment when several more bangs sounded, this time though, they seemed more distant and slightly duller. It wasn’t even the whimpers that the dogs’ howls became. Nor the strange green light that reflected from the mist all around him.
It was the sight that met his eyes when he turned, his knife now unsheathed fully and held out in front of him. His hand shook, the rusty blade wavering, as he realised that the knife was of inadequate protection to the danger. Ten metres above the Street of Souls flew a huge dragon, luminescent green patches glowing on its black and brown scales and green lightning crackling from its dark form, arcing across to the temples on either side.
Gudnar stood petrified and in his fear induced paralysis noticed that it wasn’t a true dragon, but a ship designed with the appearance of a flying lizard. There were no wings and the head that he had mistaken for the head of a dragon was just a figurehead. Unlike the drakkars of the north where the figurehead rode high on the bow, this dragon head was thrust forward as if the giant worm was in flight. It was also immense, much larger than any seagoing ship Gudnar had ever seen or heard of. Yet this ship was built to fly through the sky and not the waters of Maingard.
Gudnar could see no sign of life on the deck but the towering walls of the hull made it difficult to see the whole deck. He jumped as the green lightning discharged once more, a powerful arc to a stone gateway to the gardens surrounding the Temple of Noona, which shattered and exploded as the bolt hit it. Smoke billowed from the nostrils of the dragonhead and the carved, ornate maw seemed to leer at him. A growl like sound came from the ship and a dark red liquid poured from the mouth onto the dusty street below, so much that it started to pool. And the ship started to sink slowly to the ground below, its immense size flattening the boundary wall of the Temple of Noona.
Gudnar dropped the knife and turned to run across the square. ‘Oric’s Grave!’ He swore. If he had looked up when he was running, he would have seen another of the green glows above the market in King’s Way and another over the North Gate, and three more over the City Palace complex. In fact, he would have seen many, many more.
As he ran, he heard the screams from far and near. It wasn’t far now, there was the Burnt Oak Inn just ahead. He could see the lights flickering through the windows which meant that the landlord, Bal Torak, was still up, clearing away and cleaning the mess and debris of the day’s drinking. He wasn’t sure if he had time to warn him. It wasn’t as if the old landlord was a friend, Bal Torak only tolerated Gudnar living behind the inn, the old tramp becoming a free nightwatchman.
Gudnar hesitated. In the end, it wasn’t the hesitation that cost him his life, just bad luck. Not just bad luck that he lived on the streets, but bad luck that he existed at that time and place at all. The bolt of energy struck the Burnt Oak Inn, obliterating the old building in an instant, Bal Torak, the Inn and the shed at the end of the yard gone in a blink, vapourised into a myriad of pieces. Gudnar felt a punch to his stomach and looked down. A splinter from the front entrance of the inn protruded from his stomach. The piece of door was thicker than his arm, then he noticed the pain, coming from his belly and his back. He tentatively reached a shaking hand behind his back and groaned as he felt the end of the splinter sticking from his lower back. The old tramp’s legs wobbled. He collapsed, first to his knees and then, as his vision went black, onto his face.
|Dimensions||22 × 14 × 2 cm|