In Search of Gods and Heroes

I’ve been writing now for around 18 months. I work full time, and also study towards my B.A honours degree in Humanities with Classical Studies.

I’ve now completed my first fantasy novel: In Search of Gods and Heroes, the first of the Children of Nalowyn series, is a sweeping narrative which becomes progressively darker as the baser side of human nature is explored, the vanities of the gods revealed and lines between sensuality and sadism, love and lust are blurred.

The story starts as Malo enters the mortal world to abduct Chaeli, a young village girl and thus breaks the treaty between the Eternal Kingdom and the Underworld.  Chaeli is no ordinary mortal, but the daughter of one of the guardian gods, the brothers Daro and Eli. Chaeli flees the only home  and life she has known, embarking on a journey that tests her humanity, her courage and her heart. Her only guides are a man who died a thousand years ago in the Dragon Wars, a former assassin for the Underworld and a changeling from the mysterious third world of Salinthos, who appears in the form of a cat.

With all pretence of peace now shattered, the eternal game for dominance and control of the three worlds flickers back into life. The stories of many others, the hideously scarred Anya and her gaoler, the enigmatic Kerne, the dissolute Prince Dal and the damned King Stirm, become entwined, and the gods once more walk on the mortal world of Ibea, spreading goodness and disease, greed and charity as they prepare for the final war.

I’ve included a small taster.

***

In the darkness Chaeli could see nothing but a line of dull light at the bottom of the door. Her heart was beating so hard she was sure the creature could hear it.

“You can’t hide forever, you know,” laughed the wintry voice. “When I find you, you’ll be praying to Metlina to show mercy.”

Chaeli shifted her weight, wincing and almost gasping aloud with the pain. She bit hard on her lip. It was stifling in the cupboard and she was having difficulty breathing properly, while her muscles ached from contorting her body into the small space. Blood oozed from the deep slash in her thigh, forming small puddles on the flagstones.

The silence now was complete. Chaeli strained to hear a noise, a movement, anything to give away his location. But there was nothing. Her friend and her brother, where were they? Had they made it out alive? She thought back over those last moments for any sign which might have warned her. Niamh and Liber had been laughing at some trivial joke when a flash of green light blinded them. The next thing Chaeli knew her leg felt as though it was on fire, her brother was missing, and Niamh was screaming. Like a coward, Chaeli had dived into the cupboard where her mother once stored mebaya berry jars and winter cloaks.

“Chaeli, Chaeli, Chaeli,” The soft jeer cut through her. “Come and see what I’ve got for you.” She heard a high pitched scream … No …no please gods … not Niamh.

“Chaeli, please. Chaeli, help me.” Niamh was begging and crying, her pleas distorted by sobs.

“That’s right Chaeli  … don’t … don’t help … let me end it for her.” The voice was almost a whisper. “Let me end her pain. I smell her fear. I can taste her soul.”

She couldn’t gauge how near or far the voice was: if she left the cupboard, would he be there waiting for her? The fear was rising again, bile forcing its way from her stomach. She was having difficulty holding onto her dinner, never mind her composure. These creatures were not meant to be real, to exist in Ibea. It must have been waiting for me. She swallowed hard again and blinked back tears.

“CHAELI!”  Niamh screamed her name once, and the desperation in her voice burnt like acid.

Shifting and blocking out the pain, Chaeli pushed open the door and rolled out onto the dusty kitchen floor. The pain seared through her leg and she cursed aloud. She scrambled to her feet, her left side sagging slightly with the effort of supporting her weight. The room was dark and musty, and her eyes were taking longer than she wanted to adjust. Gripping the side of the kitchen cupboard she took several deep breaths to calm herself. She could hear movement in the room opposite, heavy bangs and short rasping breaths which seemed to be getting closer.  Please, Elek,  please, help me, she silently begged to the god of chance. It’s not my time – not yet – please. In her mind she repeated the prayer over and over. Nothing. No reply, only the sharp agony in her leg; Metlina, goddess of pain, was taunting her.

Her strength and resistance were ebbing away. There was no help coming and she was going to die at the hands of that monster. She moved towards the doorway, and with each step grimaced as she tried to stop her leg from buckling. Thoughts and memories filled her chaotically as she prepared herself. Her parents, her friends Niamh and Liber, oh gods, – where was Liber, where was he? Did he make it away?

She stood in the doorway, making no attempt now to hide or run.

“Where are you?” she called out, surprised her voice didn’t waver. “Show yourself then. I’m not hiding.”  Her voice didn’t sound like her own. It was strong and resonated through the room. A warmth and strange languor caressed her, touching and commanding every inch of her skin: the heat spread and possessed her. A sweet intoxicating feeling of sheer … well … sheer luck seemed to run through her veins. She felt strong and alive. Elek … his touch kindled the spark of something akin to strength. Smiling to herself she called out again.

“Niamh, Liber, are you there?”

Even though there was still fear in her heart, power from the god of chance was weaving its way through her being. She felt brave, excited: empowered.

“Chaeli,” the creature’s voice hissed. “I’m here, my lady, will I do?”

Spinning around, Chaeli faced the demon, and gasped at the sight before her.

Limp in his arms was the body of Niamh, blood dripping from her torn throat; her eyes were glazed and staring.  Glancing at her breast, Chaeli let out a sigh of relief, there was a shallow but certain rise and fall. Niamh was alive, just.

“Chaeli, will you come willingly with me? Come to the Damnable Lord?”

She tore her gaze from Niamh and stared into the black eyes of the demon.  Tall and imposing, its presence seemed to fill the room. Although human in shape, the slick skin was mottled and bruised, the eyes cold and unfathomable. It was hard to stand her ground as the smell of the beast crawled around the space between them, searching and hunting for her.

“Chaeli, an answer – now!”

“Perhaps if you released my friend I would be more amenable to your offer,” she replied shakily, forcing herself to smile at the creature. As its odour intensified, Elek’s blessing was weakening. The demon’s mouth contorted into a sneer.

“Of course, my lady.” With this he dropped Niamh, her body hitting the floor with a sickening thud. Chaeli tensed, shock making her throat contract and her fists clench. She couldn’t tear her eyes from her closest friend’s crumpled body.

“Are you ready?” The demon held out a claw, beckoning her.

“Where are you taking me? Where is Liber? Who are you?” Chaeli demanded, hoping her voice wouldn’t betray the fear starting to envelop her again.

The demon lowered his arm and grimaced. “Do not push me, I have been generous so far.”

“Generous!” she repeated, her eyes widening. The pain in her leg flared, preventing her from retorting further and angering the demon. Perhaps it has been generous. By the gods, I am alive, and not five minutes ago this creature was threatening death.

Chaeli stepped towards the demon and knelt beside Niamh’s motionless form, brushing the hair away from her friend’s face. Her chest was now still, and her eyes unblinking. Niamh was dead.  Chaeli cradled her, rocking backwards and forwards as tears streamed down her face. The pain of her injuries was nothing to the pain in her heart. Her only friend in this world was gone because of her – the demon had not entered the house for Niamh, it demanded her. Staring up at the demon she hissed:  “I shall have my answers now my lord.”

The demon was unconcerned by the sudden edge in her voice. “Perhaps if you were to leave the human and come speak with me, you will start to understand that these sacrifices must be made.”

Something inside Chaeli changed: she was afraid once more. Her confidence and the presence of her god Elek ebbed away. Gently she laid Niamh down, kissing her forehead; she could feel the warmth leaving her friend’s body. As she stood to face the demon, Chaeli felt impotent. Though tall for a woman she didn’t even reach his shoulders but she forced herself to stand straight and tall. She gestured towards the dining area where the crockery from their abandoned meal lay on the table. The smell of ditari bread still lingered, water sparkled in the jug. She walked towards the great hearth in which a fire still crackled heartily. The heat soothed her anger and eased the raw edges of her pain, the warmth whispered to her and she couldn’t resist. She didn’t know why but she had to look at the fire. The flames licked their way around the logs, colours shifting as the heat permeated the grain. It was beautiful to look at and Chaeli felt herself drawn deeper in to the flames, transfixed by the way they danced and twirled, the way they left nothing, destroying everything in their path.

“My lady?”

Glancing up, Chaeli saw the demon leaning over her. The smell churned her stomach and she recognised it: the scent of death.

Moving a chair opposite Chaeli he sat and placed his fingertips together, his eyes boring into hers. For a moment he seemed to hesitate and there was a flicker of emotion on his face – apprehension? As though he saw something in her eyes of which he was afraid. But it soon disappeared, and the sneer returned.

“So be it.”

 

 

* * *

 

 

Adley ran through the halls of the Eternal Kingdom, threading his way through the opulently robed and constantly whispering Beings. This was no time for formalities and pleasantries: he needed help, he needed guidance, he needed … he needed His Highness.  His presence attracted interest from the Beings, the celestial manifestation of the seven virtues. A Protector entering the Kingdom uninvited was a rare occurrence and considered a gross insult.

“Adley! This is an unexpected visit, what brings you to the Kingdom?” called a woman’s voice.

The whisperings amongst the Beings ceased immediately as they turned to face the woman. Adley skidded to a halt on the smooth marbled floor. Bending over to catch his breath, he put his hands on his knees and glanced to the right to see who called him. The sweat from his brow beaded his face and his dark curly hair was damp.

“Anointed one, I have news. I must see his Highness.” Adley breathed heavily as he addressed the goddess, trying to ignore the stabbing sensation in his side. He was out of shape, he knew that, but he hadn’t expected a short run to give him a stitch. This was ridiculous. The whisperings started again as the Beings communicated between themselves, ethereal faces awash with intrigue.  His Highness had not agreed to an audience in over two hundred mortal years, to seek one now was disturbing.

The goddess walked towards Adley, a frown wrinkling her beautiful face. Her presence caused all to bow before her and attempt to kiss the hem of her gown. She radiated passion and Adley struggled to keep his wits in her presence. Each emotion the gods personified seeped from their form and intoxicated mortals.

“Anointed one, I have news of Chaeli. The demons have broken their vow. They’ve killed her friend and her brother, and she is in grave danger. I believe Elek has bestowed his blessing on her, but this is short lived and he alone cannot maintain the balance to keep the worlds safe.”

“Adley, enough with this anointed one nonsense, call me Penella.” The goddess of love smiled. “His Highness will not permit an audience, you know this as well as I. However I will gather the gods who are present and we will meet in the high tower.” With this she disappeared in a flare of light.

Adley stood up, angry that he was dismissed so abruptly and frustrated that His Highness wouldn’t see him. The celestial Beings stared at Adley, their huge eyes asking a thousand questions, but not one they dared put into words. To commune with a Protector was beneath them.

Calming himself, he turned and walked towards the tower. His mind was reeling with what he had observed on  Ibea. He was bitterly frustrated at not being able to intervene and help Chaeli, but he had sworn an oath not to dabble in the world of mortals without permission. Even though demons blatantly broke their treaty, Adley was forbidden by Daro to help, forbidden to stop the murders of two innocent mortals … and Chaeli. Dear gods, what lay in store for her? She had only just celebrated her coming of age and certainly wasn’t ready for what the Underworld planned for her; indeed, he doubted she was even ready for what the Kingdom had planned.

His heart was heavy as he tackled the stairs. The lower gods were frivolous and out of touch with the mortal world. They didn’t realise how much had changed in such a short period of time. The old ways were gone, not revered as they once had been: the Underworld had temples and churches now and they had almost as many believers, if not more, than  the Eternal Kingdom. He reached the great oak door and hesitated; he could hear the anxious voices on the other side. Taking a deep breath, he pushed the door wide and entered.

“Adley. Praise be. It’s been too long!” cried a voice from the crowd. Smiling, Adley embraced the grinning god.

“Drenic! A deity such as yourself gracing me with your presence? You honour me.” It was impossible not to like the god of happiness after all, and being near Drenic gave Adley with a pang of homesickness. He missed spending time with his gods.  As he moved to the middle of the tower, the conversation in the room died down and the gathering looked at him. They had all chosen to adopt human form in his presence – a thoughtful gesture.

“Anointed ones, you honour me with your presence,” he began. “I apologise for my lack of courtesy in not giving warning of my arrival to the gatekeeper. However, Chaeli is in danger, for a demon has broken the treaty; it is my belief that the ruler of the Underworld is unaware of this. The demon is Malo.” He paused again, knowing that the next statement would upset the gentle gods. “He has murdered Chaeli’s brother Liber, and her friend Niamh’s life hangs by a thread.”

“Adley, son, are you sure it is Malo who has betrayed his liege? As I remember him, he wouldn’t dare act of his own accord. Malo is one of the most trusted advisors in their world.”

“Yes Drenic, I saw it myself. I might have prevented these atrocities,” replied Adley bitterly.

“This is no time to be concerned with your guilt my Adley, not when the balance is so fragile. Purge yourself of these thoughts,” warned Shy’la, the goddess of fertility.

“I apologise my lady. However, time is pressing. Malo is with Chaeli now, Elek has sent her the gift of chance and this alone I believe is helping maintain her balance and determination. Elek’s blessing can’t last long, it’s draining the pool. Even though these demons obviously feel it is acceptable to break the rules, we can’t.” He paused for breath staring around into the faces of the gods. “I am requesting your permission to go to Chaeli and help her find her way, to bring her into the church and our love.”

The ensuing silence was broken by several voices at once.

“Quiet,” commanded Penella. The voices stopped abruptly.

“The church is no place for Chaeli. Adley, this again would break the treaty. She can’t be in a place that would influence her decision.”

“Lady Penella, the treaty has already been broken. We can’t be the only side playing by the rules and we need to be as ruthless as we know the Underworld will be,” retorted Adley. “Then Lindor. Lindor has the most comprehensive library in the entire mortal world. I can show Chaeli the choices. Her destiny is not something with which to play lightly.”

“Adley, there is no need to remind the gods of destiny,” boomed a voice.

The gods swivelled to see the huge shape of Vorgon, the god of water, forming in the air like a huge bubble. “The gods have been here since the dawn of time, you would do well to remember that.”

Adley bowed. “I apologise my lord, I meant no disrespect.”

“Now, Malo you say is responsible?” The god leaned forward and stared intensely at Adley. Ignoring his apology and watching him keenly.

“Yes my lord, Chaeli and her friends were eating supper when he appeared in her home. Liber tried to protect her, but Malo struck him down.” Adley’s voice reduced to nothing more than a whisper. “His body was removed by Malo’s minions, he … he is a servant of the Underworld now.” The gods glanced at each other in dismay and knowing, and Adley pressed on. “Niamh attempted to distract Malo. When Chaeli tried to help her friend, Malo struck out, injuring her. Afraid and hurt she ran to hide. Malo slit the throat of Niamh. It was then I came here. Malo gave no reason for his presence, no warning, and didn’t send an emissary to the Protectors advising us that he intended to speak with Chaeli.”

“But why must you reveal the gods to her Adley? Chaeli is already a believer, she prays to Elek, to Denna and others; she doesn’t need to know.” The voice that spoke was quiet and re-assuring. It was Igon, god of honesty, who had chosen the form of an old beggar for the meeting.

“But she can’t be expected to find her way now unless she can commune with you directly. It is a great responsibility you place on her shoulders, as well as great sacrifice you expect of her.” Adley was beginning to lose his temper; he could feel the anger bubbling up. Swallowing, he closed his eyes and calmed himself. “I am beseeching you. The Underworld has broken the treaty, and we must stop them.” Adley looked around the tower. The gods wouldn’t make eye contact with him. Frustration started to simmer again inside. He opened his mouth ready to attempt to persuade them further when someone spoke.

“Adley, you have my support in this matter, but hear me well. If Malo has turned her before you arrive, you must deal with the situation accordingly.” The goddess of love looked straight at him, her amber eyes burning. “She must not be corrupted by the Underworld.”

Adley nodded gratefully.

“Aye, you have my support,” muttered Drenic. “We’ve waited patiently for the daughter of Amelia Ven Ariseré to discover her potential; perhaps now she needs a helping hand.”

Adley held his breath – The others were too quiet and he needed more support: two deities wouldn’t be enough.

“All in favour of Adley accompanying Chaeli to Lindor?” said Penella.

“Aye,” chanted a chorus of voices with varying degrees of enthusiasm.

“All opposed?”

There was no reply. Adley’s heart leapt. He had the support of all the gods present. This was more than he had hoped.

Penella looked at him. “Go, rescue Chaeli. Do what you must, remember who she is, Adley. Do not underestimate her. I will relay the council’s decision to his Highness.”

Adley walked towards the door, turned and bowed to the gods.

“Thank you,” was all he said as he left their presence and headed towards the halls.  He knew that whatever happened from this moment on it could change the balance of the three worlds forever. As he walked towards the gatekeeper his mind was full, but only of Chaeli. He had spent so long watching from the shadows, ensuring her guardians took care of her. It was only in recent years that he had felt the strong pull of his own emotions. He was her Protector, and all those times he had watched her cry when no-one was looking he wanted nothing more than to shield her from the ugliness of the world; to take care of her in the way she deserved. As a Protector he was denied the pleasures of a woman, but he would look after her, he would protect her in any way that he could.

 

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