The Hills are Shadows 6.01 – Prologue

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Author’s Note:  If you would like to read the rest of Book One in the Undying Prince series, it is now available on Amazon. Click Here!

BOOK TWO:

The Dark One’s Church

Walls cannot protect you from the darkness; only light can do that. Love cannot free you from chains; only strength can do that.

— YPSE, TO LEON

Mrethren Örk’s dark gaze wandered about the ancient temple, but her thoughts lay elsewhere. Shattered stone walls, once shining examples of the grandeur of the Third Age, faded into a forest of pine and oak, thick with weeds and grass. Some of the last remnant of her Kvik—tall, gray-skinned warriors—moved through the dilapidated structure, clearing it of their current inhabitants. Even the corpse of the white-furred monster, with the body of a lion and head of a dragon, twitching at the other end of Örk’s spear could not hold her attention.

The Chimera had almost caught her by surprise, but now both its head and chest leaked bright streams of life-fluid. Scarlet, deep-set eyes glowed with feverish madness—it and its kin were a race of creatures completely overcome by the taint of the Abyss—making it seem poised on the verge of more violence even though dead.

Twilight swelled on the horizon, stretching shadows into monstrous proportions, glimpsed through the rents in the roof and walls. The darkened interior of nearby chambers rang with the sounds of battle, and the heat from the warm bodies pressed behind Örk wafted against the eight dark, spider-like appendages sprouting from her back. For twenty years she had remained secreted underground and had never thought to lead a desperate party of survivors through the Northern Reaches. The lands above held little interest for Mrethren Örk, or they had until now.

Eventually, her eyes went back to the Chimera at her feet. She jerked her spear free and strode deeper into the edifice, moving across a stone floor strewn with hundreds of different animal bones. The lumbering gait of two Vatn Björns mirrored her own, crushing skeletons beneath their clawed feet, searching the temple with their eyeless faces, tasting the air through their extendable circular mouths. Behind them came the Caretakers, gray-skinned Dökk like Örk, but much shorter with bump-like antennae. Fifty-three in number, each carrying a large transparent egg on its back.

Örk stopped at the center of a small pool of orange illumination cast through a hole in the roof. She glanced up, and the black shard embedded in her forehead glittered with refractive light before the large wings of an unknown white bird whirled past, circling above. Dropping her gaze, she reached out to the Dökk struggling to eradicate the den of Chimeras through the ghostly strings of dull gold that connected her mind to the rest of her Kvik. She was the focal point, the hub through which all strings networked.

Kill them quicker, Örk told them. Time was growing short. She wanted everyone safely secured within the temple before nightfall.

The web of networked brains shuddered, and Örk spun towards the entrance, a massive gap in the stone wall. A mind-twisting struck at her core, wrenching one of the ghostly strings from her control. She dropped to her knees panting, gasping. Impossible! Only a Great Mrethren could do such a thing or. . . .

“This . . . this had to be the work of one of the Great Masters,” Örk muttered.

The Great Masters. The title made her skin crawl with the horror of a sunless winter. The title the Dökk used to refer to the Sorcerer-Kings when the whole world still trembled at their power. It was more than a thousand years since the Great Masters’ pride and the War of Madness had shattered the world for the third time and had brought an end to the Age of Men. A thousand years, but Örk’s Great Mrethren had spoken of it as if it was yesterday. She had told Örk and her sisters of the Great Masters’ perversions, of their lust, of their thirst to create ever-more-horrifying creatures.

Örk grunted as her skull rang in turmoil. One by one, the ghostly strings tore from her grasp, turning from a dull gold into a bright crimson when they connected with the unseen Great Master. Then she could see him, not with her eyes but with her mind. He shone like the risen sun, glowing a little more radiant with each new string.

The milling mass of Caretakers parted, no longer under Örk’s control. A yellow-eyed youth with whitish hair ambled towards her. He looked no older than a boy of four, but it was hard to be certain. After the hair and the eyes, the next thing she noticed was the luminous jewel the child clasped in his hand, which flashed with a sinister red light.

“There’s no need for fear,” the boy said.

It felt as if her head was being struck with the sides of spears. Pain flared hot and all-consuming, driving deeper and deeper into Örk’s brain. She tried to fling herself at the Great Master, but her muscles refused to obey. In desperation, she commanded the Vatn Björns to attack, but they too were no longer under her power.

“Hush now, my child,” the boy whispered, wiping the tears from her cheek. “There are only two kinds of stories: tragedy and comedy. One ends with a feast and fucking and the other with death and tears. When you mix the two, you get real life.” He pressed his thumb to the dark shard in her forehead.

“NO!” Örk shrieked.

From the thumb poured cauldrons of burning acid into her brain, bubbling, foaming, always searing away the old with pins of sliver-thin agony. It was the torment of death, the transformation of rebirth. It was unending suffering—it was love!

Örk blinked away tears and sucked air through the two slits below her eyes. Reality-twisting pleasure struck at her chest, dimming peripheral things to nothingness, illuminating the young face before her. “Great Master,” she said in a voice that caught in her throat. “Great Master!”

 

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