This is the first chapter of a novel I'm posting on my blog, I plan to post it on here as well, but the latest chapters will appear on my blog, so make sure to check that out if you're interested. The most recent chapter is chapter seven, here. Apart from that, this is a story following an amnesiac in a fantasy world of my creation. It will contain some adult themes interspersed, so be warned. With all that said, enjoy.
He woke up with his face in a puddle of wet mud. An unrelenting rain beat down on everything, the force of the drops of water doing more to rouse him than his present undignified state. Thunder rumbled intimidatingly, and darkness threatened to creep in and obscure his vision entirely. Willing his stiff muscles to work, he pushed himself up off the ground and onto his feet.
Standing there in the rain, the confused man turned his head this way and that, casting a piercing glance at everything from under his strong brow. A cat yowled in the distance. Cupping his hands to his aching head, he tried to recall something– anything.
Nothing came to him.
He could not remember his name, what date it was, when he had gone to sleep, how he had gotten there, what he had done, where he was… He did not even know what he looked like. For a moment he panicked, then a calm resignation that overcame him was at once relieving and terrifying.
From the distance another sound came, but this did not have feline qualities; it was Human and feminine, and it was not happy.
Setting off with a long, easy lope, he arrived at the source of the sound in a matter of minutes. A group of seven rustics were gathered in a circle of torchlight and pitchforks, all staring intently towards the center. Another broken scream emanated from within the group.
Stepping silently forward, he entered the circle, only to find a bedraggled woman on her hands and knees, her dress flung up on her back, with an eighth rustic standing behind her, an evil grin on his face.
One of the men in the circle accosted the newcomer jeeringly. “Y’here for some too? Well, it’s first come, first served.” He cackled wildly.
The stranger stood and glared at the dirty men defiantly.
“Wot?” another one mocked. “Our flesh too base for your refined tastes?”
The circle of men started to close in around the new object of their attention. Behind the woman, the eighth man, disregarding the others, dropped his pants. Pitchforks lowered to point at the intruder as the circle tightened.
“When we be done wit’ her, we could give him a try, eh?” one said to another, a devilish grin on his face.
Then, before anyone present knew what had happened, two of them lay on the ground, and the man who had so quietly showed up held one of their flaming torches in his hand. Finally realizing the urgency of the situation, the eighth farmer turned around only to have the business end of the torch shoved into his lower half.
He started to run, tripped on his pants, struggled out of those, then fled, howling with pain. Before the others could react, the torch-wielding man cracked another one of them over the head with his improvised weapon and, grabbing the incapacitated farmer’s pitchfork, drove it into the midriff of the rustic opposite. As both men collapsed, the others, seeing the fates of their companions, fled, screaming of the devil and superstitious evils.
Turning to the woman, who now sat facing him, defiance in her expression, her rescuer stared quietly. Thunder rolled in the distance.
“I won’t–” she started, then a groan from one of her former assailants cut her off. Her lower lip trembled as she reached for the hem of her dress.
He shook his head, and she stopped. For a second, he stared, then started to turn. Something made him look back.
“Can you make it home?” he asked smoothly, his voice low and purring.
She nodded, eyes wide.
This reassured him. Turning swiftly on his heel, he walked away as quietly as he had come.
Later, as he walked along the road to the village in the distance, he wondered if he should have helped her home. Any true gentleman would have done that, or anyone with a soul. He shook his head angrily. These thoughts were not helping his already troubled mental condition. But his mind kept slipping back to that scene. What kind of world had he woken up to?
Rounding a bend in the road brought him to a friendly-looking little cottage emanating a warm light that contrasted with the surrounding bleakness of the rain. On the veranda, protected by a porch, sat an old woman with her eyes closed, peacefully rocking back and forth on an aged chair. Her cheeks were drawn as if she had not had enough to eat recently, and grey streaked her white hair, held up in a prim little bun. Projecting from her face, a strong, aquiline nose spoke of past beauty, and her gnarled hands with their long fingers lay crossed neatly on her lap.
As he approached, her eyes opened and she stood up, one hand on her hunched back, peering at him with dark eyes. Drawing a little purse from inside her tattered robes, she held it out to him, the unspoken plea on her face. He shook his head, indicating he had no money.
“Ah well,” she said briskly. “Would you at least care to get out of the rain and keep a poor old woman company?”
He nodded his assent and slid smoothly under the porch beside her.
“My, my,” she clucked, eyeing his wet clothes. “The rain has done its job that’s for sure.” She chuckled, looking up at him. “My name is Cyrene, though most people call me old witch.” She sighed. “What’s your name? Surely a strong, strapping young lad like you has a powerful name to match?”
He smiled somewhat at her description of him, then frowned at the question.
“Ah,” Cyrene said perceptively. “There is no need to fear me. I keep a secret well.”
“No,” he murmured, his voice somewhat strained. “I cannot remember it.”
“Oh.” She seemed somewhat surprised, and paused to consider for a moment, then said briskly. “Ryke, then. That shall be your name, lad. After all, that is the village you will arrive at.”
The corners of his lips lifted, but he made no comment.
“I’m very glad you stopped by, you know. Living in times like this, with everything running rampant. One would almost think the Driving Wars have not ended; though, some will say that with the Turn now, the Driving Wars may as well not have ended. Bad times. Some say even that the time of Arlthrulaastan could be better. I tend to agree with them.” She nodded knowingly.
They sat in companionable silence for the next ten minutes. She leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes, listening to the rain. He was passing the name she’d so promptly given him around in his head. Ryke. A hard, strong word. It meant hammer, or “to break.” That he could remember. So he hadn’t completely forgotten everything. Cyrene interrupted his meditation.
“My husband died years ago. He was a mutant, and the Purists killed him. Part of their bloody, self-righteous crusade. Since then, I’ve not had any work after those mischievous young scamps spread word that I am a witch. So now I depend on the kindness of strangers.” An exhausted sigh accompanied this statement. “Oh! The rain has stopped. These flash storms. They come an dgo You probably wish to continue onwards.
“Here,” she continued, eyes bright with shrewdness, “take this. It will help you more than it helped me, and, seeing as I have great familiarity with the kindness of strangers and its benefits, perhaps it’s time I gave a little back.”
Ryke pocketed the proffered money without thinking. This woman had just given him two things: a name and some money to get by in what to him was now a very foreign world, but he felt nothing. Cognitively he knew he was supposed to feel grateful, and so he expressed his thanks fluently, but deep down his words felt empty.
Heading further along the road soon brought him to the village. Light from a boisterous inn once again drew him near. Pushing open the door, he entered the barroom quietly and sat down at a large round table with twenty odd others around it.
The innkeeper came over quickly, then slowed when he saw Ryke’s disheveled clothes. Wiping a mug, he asked brusquely what Ryke would have.
Reaching into his pocket with a practiced, fluid motion, Ryke drew out the handful of coins Cyrene had given him. Judging by the looks that came over the faces of everyone at the table, the amount he held in his hand was no modest sum.
He glanced down casually, thumbing through the coins. Three silver coins, four copper coins, eight gold coins, and two shiny platinum-silver coins which he did not recognize. Debating in his head over what he should pay the greedy innkeeper, he finally decided on a single copper coin.
“I’ll have ale.”
The innkeeper’s shoulders sagged a little with disappointment, but he pocketed the coin and brought back a frothing mug.
“Will’ye b’taking a room with that too?” he asked.
Ryke nodded and passed him another two copper coins.
As he sipped from his drink, Ryke noticed that several of the men at the table were now studying him quite intently. Ignoring them, he let his gaze wander farther around the inn. The woman he’d rescued earlier sat in a dark corner giving one of the patrons a lap dance. He watched as the man slipped her some money which she promptly carried to the grimy hands of the innkeeper.
Standing quietly, Ryke moved swiftly towards her and, catching her by the arm, pulled her back into the dark corner she and her customer had come from.
“You work here?” he asked.
She nodded, staring at the ground in a vain attempt to conceal her face.
“Would you like–” she started weakly, but he raised his hand, stopping her.
“No. I would just like some information.”
“What would you like to know?”
Taking his money from his pocket, Ryke asked her how much he had. Her eyes widened as had the eyes of all the men at his table.
“That– that’s worth a palace surely,” she murmured, awed. “I’ve never seen so much money in my life,” she added wistfully.
Ryke nodded calmly and returned the money to his pocket before swiftly moving to the stairs and up to his room.
Later that night, Ryke’s eyes opened as he quietly woke. He’d heard movement at his door.
One hundred and fifty tspans away, in the recesses of the Purist conclave, the assassin Aylya stood in the room of her mistress.
“Yes, headmistress?” the cloaked woman said softly. “You wanted me?”
“Yes, Aylya. We have a new target.”
The assassin smiled, and, even though the back of her headmistress was turned to her, she felt like somehow the authoritative figure detected the slip in poise.
“You do well to be pleased,” the headmistress continued. “Though this will be the hardest target yet. That’s why I called you, our best.”
“I live to serve,” Aylya responded.
“Very good. The target’s name is Ryke.”
Published by Michael Hollingworth